Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Punk Rock Blog Break

I need a short blog/internet break to engage the concrete things in my life: my work (until grades are due next week) my family and my friendships...myself, really. Now this break may last only a few days, but I've been on it a few days already and know I need more rest.

Right now, the rage churning inside me as I break through, listening to the New Bomb Turks...Mr. Suit, Id Slips In, ah, such sweet release as the music rips through me, taking pieces of pain with it. Anger is such a powerful component of my suffering, or anger repressed. I know some of the Cognitive people actually say that there is little scientific proof for this, repressed anger beneath depression and anxiety, but they, frankly, are full of it and themselves. Therapy, like martial arts, requires diverse approaches. Not all truth comes out in empirical studies. Releasing emotion has worked for me for years, most therapists know the truth, and I'm trusting it.

Anyway, be back soon. Pray for me to do well this weekend as I test for my Bareboat license. I'm actually very nervous and have been having trouble sleeping (over nothing but fun). Also, prayer for family members who are or will be travelling.

Peace. Sincere shout outs to Romy, Sandalstraps, Sherry, Scott, Amanda, any and all who actually read this thing from time to time; special nods to Sandalstraps and Romy for writing so well and knowing so freaking much.

I'm just need to take special care of myself for a bit. The web, used too much, can become a grazing which doesn't feed; it's like eating only one food group when it gets out of balance. that is the healing force in this universe; with others, with God, with self.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Three Things Thursday

1) I just reconnected with my anthropology professor friend on the phone and find myself wondering where the evidence is that religion is predictable based on culture. Some of religion, surely. Some of it can be predicted based on individual psychological make up. But all of it? My sense has long been that anthropology is mostly speculation, culture filling-in where no precise record exists (it is hard enough to grasp previous cultures when extensive records to exist, as with Rome). Perhaps he will enlighten me and send me to the right texts. And by religion does he mean theology, metaphysical belief, or praxis, ethic, sense of the sacred? For surely many cultures have known the holy, the holy good or the holy awful. I continue to hope that God has spoken to all or most of them throughout history, but I have no way of knowing.

2) I'm ten days from another weekend on the sea! My last two days of Bareboat are Memorial Day weekend. How cool is that! I spent a half hour this morning working on my knots. Also, I'm reading the fourteenth of the Patrick O'Brian novels and I must say: they continue to fill me with wonder.

3) This summer I will have to knuckle down and do the thing I hate most: work on my house. The baseboard from my (in)famous wood floor must finally go in; the deck and house need to be painted...these things never end. It wouldn't be so bad if I could afford to pay someone to do it; I can't. Or if I enjoyed the work. Generally, I don't. Besides just hanging out with my family, I like to read, write, sail, work out, and go to dinner parties.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ehrman and Reader Presuppositions

When I first heard Bart Ehrman on Fresh Air I was surely shaken: here's an ex-evangelical turned 'happy agnostic' after years of critical NT scholarship, primarily textual scholarship, but also studies in gnosticism and Christian origins. Fear poured through my body like heavy water.

Then I sat down (in Barnes and Noble, natch) and read chunks of Misquoting Jesus and thought, this is it? Ehrman stirs up the emotional pot and then actually notes himself that almost all of these textual variants mean absolutely nothing? And the ones he fixates on...I noted these have nothing to do with anything I believe or consider essential.

But it's Dan Wallace's review HERE which lays Ehrman's book out for what it is. I try to avoid polemic here (and Dan, may I say, does a fine job in his review of not blasting) and so I'll leave it at that. But in terms of NT scholarship, I find MJ almost without interest, amateur that I am.

What is most interesting is that Ehrman never let go of his fundamentalist black-and-white thinking, as Wallace notes. A few errors or shifts in the biblical text and his entire faith begins to go. Though Ehrman also discussed suffering in the radio interview, and his belief the Bible provides inadequate responses to the problem of human suffering. Suffering is a powerful question, and I wish he'd written a book about it instead.

But what Ehrman's example shows to me most of all is the power of presuppositions when approaching the Bible or history, of seeing what we want to see or what we can only see. Even a briliant critic can make almost unbelievable assumptions. I have strong reactions myself when reading: I've focused on the Tanakh in purely human terms, though passages of it, like Abraham's aborted sacrifice, have left me near breathless when laid alongside the teachings of the NT. In short (and my time is short at the moment) I know my mind must remain open as I continue to explore my faith. I took a while getting to that thesis in this post, but there it is: I can't let my knee-jerk reactions to the stories in the OT determine all that I will eventually think about it. A post-modern 21st century Christian reading a book by and for an ancient tribal cultus...there are some barriers.

None of us approach texts neutrally. Bacon, with his Four Idols, and Kant, with his categories (not the mention the slew of literary critics lately) both understand the shaping power of mind. Trying to get meaning from the Hebrew Bible is tricky. I know that Jesus was a Jew, and so I must continue to try, but surely...the contrast between the human scriptures and the Living and Walking Word, the Voice, is jarring. That may always be true. But I have to remember that my own mind is a critical part of both sides of that experience for me; I can't believe I alone perceive total textual truth every time I pick up the Bible. Surely I don't. And I must respect the experiences of others.

It's also true, and my priest has said it as does Wallace here: the Christian life is about embracing the risen Christ, not about a book. That's a mystery, how Christ reveals himself through the book and outside it, but it's one of many in this life.

The one place this becomes critical is when the Bible is used to bash people or to understand things way beyond its (and our) ken. How exactly the universe and men were created. Or with homosexuality: sure the Bible talks about it, but if we're willing to lump sex during the menses and women wearing head coverings in church together with the passages on homosexual sex in Leviticus and Paul, I'll listen. Of course, we don't. There are other means to truth than our book.

Yet we must love our neighbor as ourselves, that I know, this idea informs all the theology and I reach for, and I got it from the Book!

Gotta run. Picking up the Am. Lit. finals and heading to EFM.

Love to all. We need all we can get on this violent planet.

Monday, May 15, 2006


BW3 (and the fact that I use that epithet...where did I first see a sign of respect...there's only one BW3) notes on his blog (someplace) that Chesterton discusses other world religions in Orthodoxy. I remember that book, and Chesterton. The "Riddle of the Gospel" chapter in Everlasting Man was an important part of my own discovery of Christ. The gospels are in fact historical and literary riddles with enormous answers lurking in their pages; questions which must be answered one way or another, but not quickly dismissed.

I was very critical of other parts of Chesterton in the past. I felt then he was something of what I have discovered Emerson to be last year: a verbal wizard without inductive argumentative force. Perhaps I distrusted the way Chesteron simplifies things, or his casual attitude towards mental illness or anthropology. Oddly, reading him, like reading Lewis (who openly drew on Chesterton) makes me feel too safe, too like Mole in Badger's house. Inside Chesterton I feel that all things really will be okay for those who believe (is this not the central theme of the NT); it's a safe and relaxed feeling like I get from reading Winnie the Pooh. (This last is not meant to disparage; I'm a fan of the 100 acre wood). Why do I distrust that feeling of security and closure, of rest and safety?

For looking at Chesterton again HERE, reading page on page as I sit in my office, my sci. fi. students writing their final, my bronchitis drawing strength and my body aching with it, I find more than I used to find. I want to read all of Orthodoxy this week (or this month, whatever); I don't know that I ever read all of it before, and I will try to look past the limitations in the writing derived mostly from its time and place: the insane asylum is not the refuge of the self-elevating ubermenche; it's Wall Street and oh yes acadaemia. Chesteron may not have understood his world with 21st century precision, but at the same time some of the things he says are quite profound. Unlike Emerson, whose force fades each minute I am off his page, Chesterton sticks.

I take so much of modern materialism for granted I cling to faith by a slender thread and think that's the only way to have faith nowawdays. Chesterton, in contrast, takes deep strikes into materialism. A couple quotes for fun:

A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. He can
only be saved by will or faith. The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle, just as a man in a third-class carriage on the Inner Circle will go round and round the Inner Circle unless he performs the voluntary, vigorous, and mystical act of getting out at Gower Street.

Or, in reference to a particular materialist philosopher:

Somehow his scheme, like the lucid scheme of the madman, seems unconscious of the alien energies and the large indifference of the earth; it is not thinking of the real things of the earth, of fighting peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon the sea.

So I think GKC deserves another chance.

Will he argue for a Fall? Sure. The book is called Orthodoxy. Does the Fall derive from Genesis (according to source theory, in the J and E strands)? Yes, but not just from there. We can see the conflict in every person: a moral code not one of use can meet let alone transcend; the daily need to resist powerful instincts which acted on we know would destroy those nearest us. And even if evolutionary process is true (and Chesterton has no problem with it in this book; the evidence seems very strong for shared ancestry to me) no one was there to observe its every process, to see if mankind was not at one time in the distant past united to the Creator in a more profound way. Eden may be a myth, but there are explicit echoes of it in Hinduism, Confucianism, Platonism, conventional Greek religion...I wonder how many others. In short, since we are talking about deeply ancient pre-history, there is as much evidence for a fall as there is that one never happened; we may have simply evolved to be morally conscious yet simultaneously immperfectly moral, or we may have descended from something that was once better.

But I'm drifting off topic. I'll sit back and let Chesterton do the work for a while this week, between essays, perhaps sipping hot tea.

Peace to all.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Feeling, Writing, Thinking (On the OT 1.0)

'My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
'Speak to me. Why do you never speak? Speak.

Okay, I'll speak.

You see, writing relaxes me; work settles me.

For some reason this evening has turned hard. I've had a good week, even a very good one, even two or maybe three. I've gone into pleasant places inside myself I once only hoped were real. 'Don't quit before your miracles:' I haven't.

But, still, tonight.

Sometimes my faith flies through and past me like the gust from a shut door. This evening, for no reason, I feel anxious about God. I think the cure for me is to put something onto paper, well, e-paper.


First, the OT is not the product of a single divine mind as I was always taught. To say so is absurd. Many who believe that have never read the entire thing; this I can understand. Those who have read it and still believe it, I can't understand. Even if we accept the harsh covenantal God, the conditional love and salvation, the judgment and child-destruction and piquing nationalism, the internal problems are too vast and the prophetic nuances too diverse to read it as a cohesive unit. Fair enough. There is a very human component to the revelation of the prophets and certainly to the prior histories which never claim to be divine in the first place.

Yet Jesus was born into this particular faith-nation, and according to the Evangelists, claims pieces (at least) of this text are all about him.

Strangely, many seem to be. I realize that all OT passages later applied to Christ had a different meaning in their own time. I believe some were applied overzealously, even incorrectly if such a thing can be done incorrectly, by the NT writers. But Isaiah 53 is eerily close. If Israel is the servant, or the author of 2nd Isaiah is the servant, the servant suddenly, and for the first time in the OT, becomes without sin. The same nation that even the writer of 2nd Isaiah has berated as stiff-necked suddenly becomes the meek and God-driven sacrificial lamb, a human or nation without guilt which is sacrificed for the sins of the many and then is exalted above all others. The chapter stands out to me as ambiguous and awkward placed next to the chapters around it. I'm with the Ethiopian of Acts: who the heck is the servant here, the prophet, the nation, who?

The early followers of Jesus, while probably aware of however the servant text had already been interpreted, saw it in a new and explosive way. A way I have to say makes spooky sense. A way Jesus himself probably saw it. Something similar is true with Isaiah 7, the famous young/woman virgin passage.

First, it's quite possible, though I know no evidence exists at this time, that the Septuagint writers had a manuscript of Isaiah which did use a less ambiguous term. I'm not a Hebrew scholar, but I have heard this is true of Jeremiah. A group of manuscripts was discovered in this century which featured different versions of Jeremiah, but one of them was letter for letter what we have in the LXX. Any input on this is appreciated.

Even if the Septuagint writers did not have a variant reading, even if the only 'sign' in Isaiah relates to the age of the child when the kings are dead (and this is quite possible) it's odd that Matthew applied this very un-Messianic passage to Jesus unless Mary was already rumored to have delivered a virgin. I suppose he could have felt that a deity should have been virgin-born, but that was by no means a universal pagan concept; the virgin birth of ancient deities is far overstated. I don't believe it was a Jewish expectation, that God would someday invade the earth by overshadowing a willing woman (unlike Zeus' conquests) and produce a human child!

But now I am getting over my amateur head.

The fact for me is that there are strange passages in the already strange OT which foreshadow the Christ of the gospels. And not all the ones we'd expect. Some messianic expectations are left unfulfilled or are only fulfilled metaphorically, like the return of Elijah from Malachi 4 discussed in the Synoptics. Jesus says in Mark 6 that Elijah has indeed come "and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him." He could be talking about the historical Elijah, but Mark says the disciples assume that Jesus is referring to JBap and this seems reasonable considering John's end. (On a sidenote: after months I finally looked up something EddieF tossed out on edgeoffaith: he noted that here JBap is Elijah and in John 1 he's not Elijah. Not really. In John JBap says he's not Elijah when questioned; this hardly discounts Jesus' metaphoric response to the disciples and application of OT prophecy both to JBap and himself in my mind). The point I'm windily making is that Jesus applied the OT prophecies loosely also!

Still, some from the Psalms and Isaiah seem awkward in their original context yet were directly fulfilled by events in Jesus' life.

Much more interesting to me right now is how Christ is depicted by the Evangelists using OT parables and language. Many question that Jesus saw himself as Divine. Again, all I have are the Evangelists' accounts, but reading the OT, if nothing else, has opened my eyes to what they are really saying about Jesus.

Two examples: here is a passage from Ezekiel 34:

'As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats….

'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

The rest of this chapter is about the anger the LORD feels toward the priests who are misleading his sheep and also, as noted in this passage, those in power who are exploiting the poor (I assume this is what fat sheep are up to with the lean).

Fair enough. It's a nice chapter with a beautiful and hopeful ending. So?

Most of you who read know what's coming: from Matthew 25: I'm only including the first two paragraphs:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

The parallel is just too close to be accidental: Jesus is placing himself, the Son of Man, in the role of the LORD God as judge in Ezekiel. This material is special Matthew, or M, and it could have come either from material collected by the disciple or from the redactor only. If ahistorical, it's a darned bold redaction. Note also that the parable changes so that Jesus stands in for the sick and suffering, and that lack of charitable action is what condemns the goats, or shows that they have in fact been goats among the sheep all along.

I've run across other examples:

From Isaiah 55:

"Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.

"Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare

Contrast this with John 6:

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.


"I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

And in John 7:

On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."

Could the flesh and blood passage be a later addition reflecting first century eucharistic experiences? Maybe. Could the final passage, when Jesus speaks about himself, at a critical moment in Temple ritual, in a way no OT prophet ever did be an invention of the author? Perhaps. But again, I'm interested in how close the content is to what we find the LORD God saying in Isaiah. In short, Jesus speaks directly to people like an updated version of Jehovah. As BW3 has noted, without any 'thus says the LORD' prefixes.

The point is that the Jesus of Mark and John not only saw himself as the fulfillment of the OT prophecies consistently, vague as some of them were and are, he also put himself in the place of God himself.

And that's what's interesting me about the OT these days: Jesus' own continual echo of it, his elevation of himself smack into the center of it. 'Before Abraham was, I am.' Sure, that's a big one. But there are many other examples and I'd like to know them better.

Will this convince mythicists who believe Jesus didn't exist at all? Or those who think the Gospels are completely fictional characterizations of a very different person? No. It might in fact strengthen their convictions (always look at a person's first premise before you listen too long). So far, I've found neither of those explanations reasonable. What I find is claim after claim to deity by Christ in the Gospels using the sacred texts of his nation, not a few scant half-references as I once believed. The old Lewis' trilemma actually makes more sense to me: either Jesus was religiously mental (thinking Under the Banner of Heaven here) or a con artist (much less likely) or he was, or may, in fact have been God's agent to a desperate and wounded world speaking, in an updated and love-centered language, the religious language they already knew


Now it is time for me to start the barbecue, get the chicken ready, and let the feelings in me roll. Work helps me get a handle on my feelings, and this has been work! I don't know what's causing me to hurt (I think it's more than Chris getting kicked off AI, though that was awful) but I do know it will pass. Anxiety and depression always do. I also know that the stronger my pain or symptom, the closer I am to whatever needs to be felt, to the person inside me that needs to be nurtured. Selah. That is real. Sailing is real. My wife is real. My son is real. I am real.

May God continue to show me his reality! I see through a really dark glass. I have placed faith in Jesus, I don't doubt this, but those of you who know me know…when it comes to experiencing God or faith-assurance, mostly, I sail into the wind, beating every mile.

Love to all and sincere thanks for reading. Comments and insights welcome as always.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Light in August

Right now I have no time for a long post, but I'm reading Faulkner's Light in August and I'm absolutely hypnotized. I never read him, except for "A Rose for Emily," which shows up in every anthology; in grad school, even though I chanted Dylan Thomas in the shower, I wouldn't read Faulkner because of the modernism, the obscurity, in works like The Sound and the Fury or As I Lay Dying. My best friend in school was a huge fan, but he never got me to try WF.

Light in August, granted, isn't that experimental; it provides quickly understandable point of view. Still, it is one of the most remarkable American novels, and, as Robert Penn Warren also is, deeply male (not that women can't enjoy this book). In fact, the opening passages, a pregnant teenage girl who sets out on foot to find the lover who abandoned her, certainly a feminine theme. While the woman's point of view is represented (say with Mrs. Armistid also) there is some unspeakable manful thing about the prose I can't label. Southern, male, tautly psycholgoical...ooh, I'm only half way through but had to take the weekend off. Hope to finish it this week.


Things are even harder at my parish. Our choir director, my best friend at the church, has resigned, mostly because of the outspoken pressure of a view individuals who do not represent the congregation as a whole. At leat, this is my view. His loss is sad for us; first a deacon gone, then our choir. In ten months I'll be off vestry and perhaps that will make things easier for me; doubt it.

It's all a very sober dose of another side to church reality (or any organizational reality, truly): politics, personalities, petty bullshit. I think rectors work as hard as deans for half the money (or less). This is another one of those times I can't see the lighthouse light; is it out or sweeping or dark? I don't know. I woke up sick this morning, in part I think because I was so upset over what is going on, even though my college experience has given me a thicker skin than most.

To make things even more interesting, both our (ex) choir director and one of his most vivid opponents are in my small group. I got to serve dinner and wine to both of them in my home the day after I found out. Fun. Good times.

And another thing that's disappointing me: the first small group meeting was a success. Several people came from our early service I'd never met. I like everyone (generally speaking, this is true). And yet when I asked them what they want to do, it's not pray and have a group prayer journal (what I was hoping for); it's not do a gospel study. It's party. They want to get together once a month and eat and drink and socialize, and as older people need to do, tell their stories.

Fair enough. I felt again that one strong voice led this trend, but I did speak up (my voice isn't exactly squeaky) and it seemed the idea had carried. We'll just socialize.

This is a great accomplishment for the parish, truly, to get people together who live so far apart and build relationships. It is an end in itself. Since the parish offers other activities, EFM for one, also Daughters, which is a prayer group, maybe this is what the people most need. Episcopalians, especially older ones, will tell you what they feel and want. And I appreciate the bottom up structure of our group, as opposed to a top down project: we're doing a book study on Acts like it or not....

Still, I'm a bit sad. I know these are Christian people; I don't feel like I'm with a group that avoids issues of faith as individuals. I surely didn't want a chance to teach them anything. I wasn't thinking that. But when we met before, with a smaller group, we were reading John and praying for each other and I liked it. I guess I do have EFM; we study and pray there. It's just a fact that right now, this particular want to talk and party. I suppose I should celebrate this. In time I know I will. Relationships are vital, vital, for parish. The next step is to do something with the handful of couples who have kids that are still in school. Steph has a great idea how to get us together.

Peace to all. I share here because I need to, not for gossip's sake. It's tough leading in a church, any church, but certainly one where I still feel unsure about my own position, one with a long history of which I am a recent part.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sandalstraps' Sanctuary Blowing Up

Just a quick note to suggest all check out the Exodus thread at Sandalstraps' blog, link to the right. Great stuff happening.

(Sorry for the so. cal. slang in my title here; blowing up is a good thing).

Floyd's The Wall on napster, online papers ready to is a composite of opposites, surely.


Monday, May 01, 2006

Father Water, Mother Sea

First, I must say that I read a short story by Anthony Doerr called "The Hunter's Wife" yesterday. A student gave it to me. It is one of the finest pieces of short fiction I've read in a long time. It's highly recommended. It has nothing direct to do with the rest of this blog, but I had to throw it out there.


I spent two and a half days this weekend sailing on San Francisco Bay. It is hard to describe how good I feel after this. I don't know what it is about the sea and about sailing in particular.

A significant piece is that the steady sea-wind soothes me and has done so all my life. Once, when my high school girlfriend went to Wyoming with her family for two weeks in summer and I flung into a genuine grief state, unable even to eat, it was only when my mother, by then absent from the family for a year or two, bought me Arby's and took me, providentially, to the beach for the afternoon that I was able to get down the roast beef sandwich and the cherry turnover. To embrace living again. Even as a girl-dependent 15 year old boy, I knew it was the wind that held and calmed me.

Also, and this is much more apparent when I'm actually on the sea, there is the continual poetic variance of the water and sky: wild and black one dusk, still and sunny-warm the next morning. Pleasure and adventure, fear and gratitude, all come together sailing the sea, and on the Bay in particular, where at two or three one can be barely moving under all sail around Treasure Island and then in less than an hour be beating towards Alcatraz in a 30 knot headwind and hammering chop under double reef. I have great respect for those who sail the Bay because no matter how much one goes out it is never the same thing twice. Without my skipper (who will sail in almost any weather) I'd be over my head many times.

Which is a good place to begin the story of this weekend.

I was only supposed to go out Sunday, but then a call Friday morning let me know I could drive to Berkeley that afternoon, bring my skipper with, and stay on the boat all weekend. I suddenly forgot everything I was suppposed to do that day and Saturday and I agreed. We would sail, just the two of us, Friday night, then all day Saturday and Sunday with other crew. I would spend spend two nights on the boat in my sleeping bag, over a fresh sheet from home and boat cushions, the wind keening and chiming all night through the sticks and rigging. Berkeley marina is especially windy this time of year because as the blister hot valley air rises, air from the Pacific rushes in to fill the void, much of that air passing through the Golden Gate itself. That Gate, a true venturi, is directly to seaward of the Berkeley marina. This is a good place for a boy who needs wind.

I picked my skipper up at his house, where he came out to greet me, bald, glasses, a grey manchu mustache and naked except for a towel around his waist. His girlfriend and I ate very hot, and very good, chili he had made that morning. Then he dressed, we loaded our stuff into my car, and off we went.

He's an intriguing conversationalist, a Buddhist with deep convictions who makes a genuine effort to live peacefully and charitably. I have real respect for this, and frankly, find more spirituality and reflection in him than I find in some Christians.

My experience on the water Friday night was one of those life events that are lived in fear, looked back on with quiet pride. It was dark, cloudy, very windy, between 28 and 35 knots, and the Bay was throwing wind waves three feet high one right after the other. This is very different from a sea swell; that a boat glides over, up and down, like gray-green hills (unless they too get close together, the rule of squared seas: worry when the wave height equals the interval in seconds; there's a substantial difference between nine foot swell at 12 or 13 seconds and nine foot swell at nine seconds or less). We were in the famous Bay chop, and even in a 36 foot Catalina with a dodger (a viny/plastic windshield at the front of the cockpit) waves were breaking over the bow, coming down the entire length of the boat, blasting over the dodger and soaking me at the wheel. My lee foot was ankle deep in water. Naturally, for such a short sail, I had left my foulies below.

And, besides the skipper, I was the only person on board.

Skipper tells me there are two keys to being a good skipper (besides knowing how to sail well, I assume). One is preparation, and two is confidence, or better, its appearance. He says that no matter what is going on, act like you see it all the time. Otherwise, the crew, which looks to the skipper, scared children to father, will panic. Most of the time Friday night my skipper was at the helm and I was on the lines, alone, running all the rigging on the boat after having not sailed since last October! I only took the helm when he went on the foredeck to reef, or shorten, the mainsail. This is very important in high wind; less sail means less wind pressure and makes the boat easier and safer to handle. He had a tether on, though it was far too long to actually keep him on the boat; as he and I both knew, if he had slipped over the side he would have gone in and been towed and hammered by the chop. I might have had to cut him free. I knew we had two radios on board and I've seen the coastie zodiacs move very, very fast. Still, I began to wish he had a shorter tether, that I had a tether and harness, a strobe attached to my pfd, my own radio and gps on my body...stuff I still don't own but every sailor who sails in this kind of weather should have! To make the whole evening more interesting, I was feeling nauseous. I can get seasick to varying degree, and it was setting in a bit as I spent most of my time head down over cleats and lines. I was queasy, scared, wet to my skin and tired as hell; my fingertips, in summer gloves, were numb and one thumb was cracked and bleeding.

I started to wonder why I put so much summer school money into this sport last year to begin with.

We weren't out long, a couple long tacks into the wind is all I remember, then a longer reach back, sailing with the wind coming from the back corner of the boat. I would swear the whole thing lasted thirty or forty minutes. It was more than two hours, actually, before we got back behind the marina breakwall.

I've only sailed with skipper seven or eight times; I've had six actual instruction days besides in Santa Cruz, and he calls me swab with genial affection. That night, after we ate some of the hottest vegetarian Indian food white people can have and not die, and after I stepped on a fire extinguisher in the v-berth and set it off, white powder blowing into and onto everything, before he shut the door to his quarter berth he said, night, mate; you're the second mate now; you could be the first mate, but she sleeps with the captain.

He has a regular crew who all have more experience than me, and if they were aboard I don't know about the 'mate' status, but it was a moving statement, a friend and father's blessing to me, nonetheless.

Later, he told me he's only seen the Bay worse than that one other time, so I guess I earned something. At the time, I was simply holding on and staying low and doing what I was told. As we came in, I saw a group of smaller boats going out, around 26 feet, with full racing crews in professional gear. I think the racing teams wanted to go out and play! It was profound to watch them work in team, hoisting mainsail in seconds. As Dan Inosanto used to say, one man's ceiling is another man's floor.

The rest of the weekend, Sunday especially, was exquisite weather. Sunday night, with a boat full of people of varying experience, I was again at the helm on a close haul, with the wind coming over the front corner of the boat, heading into wind nearly as strong as what we had Friday night. But the sun was shining, there wasn't a cloud to see, and the chop was not nearly as strong. I didn't even get very wet (though this time I was dressed correctly).

My brain is almost constantly thinking, processing, worrying, repeating, whether it's the horror-weight of an obsession or something positive: thinking about weightlifting or some other thing I look forward to. By the third day of sailing, driving home last night, driving to work today...I am living in a different brain, for a little while at least. Sailing takes me to a recreational and life-embracing place few other things do. Along with my spiritual practice, I can think of nothing else, except perhaps those strategically won moments of intimacy with my wife or son, which makes me feel so well. Well as one feels well after long illness, like inhaling the breath of spring I described below. Sailing is expensive, at least until one becomes like my skipper and others pay for the boat (even then, there is some cost for him). It's a drive from my house, too. It's a funny fact that I keep getting into ocean sports when I live in the mountains, forty minutes from a ski resort. But somehow, some way, I want and need more of it. It was hard to come back. I understand, a little, those who don't. Those who put their families on boats and just go. The week long trips which become summer sails to Mexico which become four year circumnavigations.

May I find, with God's help, more ways and times. Sailing on the ocean has aesthetic and utility; I am moved by beauty and also changed within.


Last night, my first night back, after falling almost at once to sleep, I dreamt all night long; I'd wake up and go to sleep and dream even more, vivid, concrete narratives in color, powerful feelings surging. I wish I remembered any of them! I don't and don't have to, but for me my was mind healing, stretching and moving, tousling in the land of dreams, the water of dreams, a place, surely, where the sea wind blows at all hours.