Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Comic Relief

Sitting here grading online composition essays. This is 'advanced composition,' the sophomore critical thinking course. I require a minimum number of sources for the paper, and I run across something I haven't seen in 12 years of teaching college. On the Works Cited page, let's say the student's name is Dave Smith...

Smith, David. Self. 24 Sept. 2006.

I see. He cited his own paper in his own paper. Man, that is funny. Or maybe he considered it a personal interview.

Another essay attempts to argue against Freire's banking concept of education using a film called The Island. It would help if I'd seen it, but of course, it is fiction. Real world examples are always better than hypotheticals. And Freire himself hated what he called the banking concept in education; he coined the perjorative term. One poor girl got it entirely backwards: she blasted Freire for promoting the banking concept and not supporting problem-solving education for seven pages. That's like picking on Moses for being an antinomian. Ghandi for backing Texas cattle ranchers.

Some student papers, of course, are brilliant and some better than anything I wrote as an undergraduate. It's always humbling to see that. Anyway, I have to get back. I am still drafting posts (don't expect a ton) for the blog.

On the deeper side, Springsteen's "The River" on napster. All the poetry of seventeen. "Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir." How often physical love is not enough...at times it damned well should have been.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Still Working

I haven't posted in a while. Work is keeping me busy, yes, but I'm currently working on three different posts, all which are actually getting drafted. Yes, for someone who teaches writing process I'm actually trying it on the blog (in part inspired by Romy's writing).

In the short news, I'm slowly working through Wright's second NT book VOG. It takes time because he moves quickly between major theories and their creators; I want to feel centered in the material. Surely, just because Wright is brilliant doesn't mean he's always right; also true is that he is not de facto wrong just because some of his conclusions support orthodoxy, support, in fact, the view of Jesus his followers espoused within a generation or less of his death. All possibilities must remain open. But he takes time.

I sailed to the Farallones Saturday; an entire post is in the works there. And my hip is killing me. My lower back injury, apparently, has spread somehow into the muscles or nerves around my hip. I've been trying to take it easy, but it's been easy to reinjure and the entire thing is very discouraging. I see my doctor in less than an hour; I hope to hear something useful there.

More encouraging is rediscovering the music of the Blasters on napster.

Love and peace to all. Longer posts, one on sailing, one a faint apologetic, the other one I forget...all coming soon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Suffering on the Small Scale

Last week I left my sunglasses in my morning class. I like these glasses; I splurged and spent 35 or so bucks for them, on sale, at a sailing store. To me that's an expensive pair of glasses. I announced today that I had left them on the chalkboard in the morning class and did anyone see them?

This afternoon, after my announcement, I find my sunglasses, in urine, in the men's urinal on the same floor, around the corner from my office.

Beauty, eh.

Both classes that meet in that room (I have it for two classes in a row) have seen me working hard in the class lectures, prepared and passionate. The response seems positive. The discussions good. We haven't even had a graded assignment yet.

Sometimes the problem of evil looks awfully like idiocy.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On My Birthday

Because I am one of those with a high need to be heard, here goes:

I knew when I began grappling class injuries were a concern. Currently a tendon in my knee is tweaked, my neck has been shot for two weeks, and the left side of my lower back is pretty well wounded. I see a massage therapist Wednesday and hope for some help.

The guys try not to hurt you, but my older body is not as resilient. And, oddly, they fear my kickboxing because they've seen me work the bag. So even if I'm boxing very light, my dear 240 pound friend will charge in and yank down on my neck like a small condominum (that is the way to stop a good puncher).

On the plus side, I'm losing weight (a very little I think) and my wind is coming back. And even though I'm hurt, I love the training.

***

9/11 is a tough day for a birthday, but barring loving community in the next life, it's better than no birthday. I keep the tv off and read very little online news. Still, seeing just a few slides on msnbc, I have cried today over that dark panorama. Why the hell not? Whenever and wherever vendetta thrives, or another group becomes the Other group, humans are capable of this kind violence. That an aberrant view of religion was also responsible is sobering as well. Theology, perhaps, matters. Love, the central claim of my own religion, certainly does.

Love to all. Special shouts to Chris and Romy and my brother, if he still reads.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Zane's Story

Sandalstraps and others have been writing about suffering lately. This post, so fresh for me at the moment, is my addition.

When I was about twenty and first came to the Evangelical church where I was to spend almost a decade, I met Zane (of course, not his name). Zane was bright and personable, a leader in the college group, an articulate and friendly young man. His girlfriend was beautiful in the girl-next-door way; I saw a recent picture of her on the church website and she still is. Zane was known, above all, for wisdom. He could give life-advice, and often good life-advice, better than anyone his age in a large church. He was also deeply sensitive. When I attended my first retreat with the college group, fresh from my burn-out at Little Geneva, the Reformed bookstore that drove the TULIP nail through my brain, Zane asked in a small group discussion if anyone had heard of Imitation of Christ. I said yes, he looked at me for the first time, and said, "Troy probably taught on it." I had not taught on it, or even read it, but he read in my face, then, much of what I am and have become. I took to Zane right away.

We hung out from time to time; I don't remember how it started. I recall once lifting weights in my garage together when I was about 23. But the thing Zane did most for me was support me, again and again, through the diurnal youth-nightmare which was Estella and me. As the love of my young life found another guy in the church to love (at least sit with in church, and kiss, and date) it was Zane who took me, wounded and anxious, to Casa Sanchez to eat greasy Mexican food and talk. He could listen, and listen well, for long periods. There were times Estella and I were dating (and non-dating) that Zane was our primary go-between. Always, I was impressed by his communication skills and balanced advice.

When I was around 23 or 24, Zane and I were in the same accountability group. This was a bunch of Christian guys who were dating or engaged and trying to live purely with the girls in our lives. Most of the group didn't do as well as I and Estella (by now, we were dating and rocketing towards engagement). This includes Zane. I don't believe any of the couples were having intercourse, but there is a vast, hot country between kissing and penetration, and most of us tried with varying effort and levels of guilt to navigate our way across, awaiting, always, the promised land of the marital bed. Zane was always a lover, a physical and sexual man, and I think he threw in the towel someplace like leading off third base, but since he was one of the engaged guys and nearly married, it actually didn't bother him much. He'd say, "something happened this week three times" without specifying. I'd say, "is there anything you could do in the future to keep it from happening?" He'd answer without hesitation, "no."

I attended his wedding. I admired that he and his bride, in the haute 80's, had a modest reception in the gym at the church (of all of us, he was the only one not to have an expensive reception off-site). Zane was also a philosophy B.A., and when he entered the business world (he never went to graduate school), his moderate disdain for the material had him wearing a backpack to work instead of carrying a briefcase. He bought his dress clothes at thift stores and garage sales. It wasn't that he was slovenly, he simply wanted to maintain his philosophy cred. while working for the Man. This, I thought, was admirable.

As soon as Estella and I were married we moved into what I later dubbed Club J, an apartment building on a street that began with J. This building was famous in our church for lower than normal rent and, though the owner and manager were not church people, it was half-stocked with couples or roomates from our church. It worked out that Zane and his wife lived just across the pool from Estella and me, on the second floor. The night before my wedding Estella stayed at Zane's. I came to see her at their apartment, Zane bringing her out to spend time alone with me like a father would a special daughter. I remember he said of her, "she's a keeper." Oh yes, well, time has told that tale.

When I came back from my honeymoon it was Zane who helped me unload my car and asked me, "so, how did it go." As I've written elsewhere, I was keeping a stiff lip and being cheerful as I could, but I told him, "well, we did it twice." He was shocked and said, "we did it three times the first night!" Good for Zane. In fact, his marriage always seemed physical. I know he and his wife slept in a full-sized bed and never wanted a bigger mattress. They slept touching, through the night. Listing these details, knowing what I know now, dread is moving into my chest like forest shadows in autumn.

Zane wanted to be a missionary, had already been abroad in short-term projects, and natural spiritual leader that he had always been (how often I thought of him, and his life, as perfect) it seemed likely he'd make it. His wife, I think, shared the same values. They named their first daughter an odd name which they felt would be acceptable in Turkey. Zane had a passion for converting Muslism, knew the religion and Koran thoughtfully well. I don't know what sidetracked the pair of them, but years and two more children later, they never made it to the mission field.

Zane had read Kant. The Critique of Pure Reason. He wrote a strong paper on the problem of suffering (which I took to read, and don't know if I ever did or if I still have it). His thinking was analytic, clear, deep. He was one of the smartest people I knew.

Sensitive, passionate, brilliant.

When my first major depression tore into me like a wolf-pack Zane was one of the first I told. The four of us were watching a movie at his house and my pain became so great, my thoughts of suicide so strong, he saw my face turn color. At the end of the movie he asked if I needed to talk and we went down into the garage below his apartment. I remember I began sobbing, sobbing, telling him I couldn't stop thinking of killing myself or hurting myself and I didn't know why. I felt strange sharing so much and I told him so. He said, "I'll be here for you as long as you need me to be." At that, my emotion poured out like hot water. Such relief. Such blessed relief.

That wasn't the last time Zane supported me. It's also true the four of us just hung out. I remember once, after the birth of his first baby, his wife pumping breast milk in the back seat of our car as Estella and I drove them around the parking lot at the movies. That was an experience for me. When Estella left me, Zane still lived in my building. My punching bag, the physical relief of anger which saved my life, hung from a beam in my carport, just under Zane's living room. He and his wife were so sweet to let me beat on that thing every day while the vibrations thumped through their carpet and kitchen floor.

And a couple years after that, when I wrote Estella and told her maybe we should wait and not divorce, and she wrote back and told me she wanted to get on with her life and have children (which she has done) I took the letter to Zane's house. By now he had moved, we had both moved. I was at home and he and his wife had bought a house not far from Club J. It was the last time I saw him. He now had two children, his first and a baby, and he and his wife talked to me in the quiet of their living room, Zane read the letter where E gave it the final quits and looked at me and said, "this is quite a letter." We talked a little of other things. Thoreau, who I was teaching in college (I now had adjunct work at the University and local J.C.). I could tell Zane liked Thoreau, but he kept bringing up his wife in contrast. I think she would not have liked Thoreau's vision of economy and simple living.

I don't know how Zane ever got pulled into it, but I can remember him working twelve and fifteen hour days at his aerospace job, under pressure, coming home late at night to a dark and empty Club J, his tie loose, his backpack on one shoulder. He would say, "at least she doesn't have to work." She didn't. I'd notice her doing aerobics in the morning in their living room, or taking their child to the park. If there was anything wrong with Zane, it was that I thought he was too passive, too controlled, at times, by his wife and her vision of the American dream. That isn't much, though, considering how well I knew him. And I knew him well. He told me things, I found out later, he had only told his wife.

As I said, the last time I saw Zane I was grieving the last fits of my marriage. This was December of 1994. We may have spoken a few times after that, but soon I moved out of my mom's and to Belmont Shore. I began partying, doing martial arts, trying to enjoy life. I met Steph. Oh, I was wrong: I saw Zane one more time in a Carl's Jr. when I was with Stephanie and Mikey. A few years had gone by. I told him he looked the same, he told me I did also. This must have been just before I moved north. He had a third child now, and he seemed a bit stressed. I knew, in addition to his career, he was very active with the church I had attended and he and his family still attended. He was in leadership in his young families church group. I remember him saying that having children helped him understand God's love for us better. I wasn't sure I believed in God then and surely didn't think I believed in his Love. I said nothing about this.

I have thought of Zane from time to time, once such a close friend; I've hoped he isn't working too hard and have wondered if he ever got around to Thoreau.

Until last week.

I emailed an old friend, someone who also used to live in the building. She had been Estella's friend and became mine. I hadn't written or spoken to her in many years. In her first email response to me she mentioned, quickly considering the gravity of the news, that Zane had 'lost it' after 9/11, that his wife had just divorced him recently. I was shocked, and wondered if in fact my friend, who suffered from deep depressions most of her life, had in fact lost it.

But I spoke to Zane's recent ex-wife a few days ago, and it is all true and more than true. Zane had what we might call a nervous breakdown obsessively watching the constant media coverage of that awful day (it was my birthday, and I called in to work and sat in front of the television and bawled; even now, the anniversaries shake me and I stay as far from media as I can; this year will be no exception). He was unable to sleep for four days. He became delusional. Fair enough. There is one trauma in Zane's life, something he told only his wife, and me, many years ago. I will not relate it here. When I was bawling, pounding, talking, scraping my way out of my own pain Zane would relate his almost casually. He was not working his shit, as we'd say. Like many, he had been wounded but for some reason didn't address his trauma directly. It wasn't light, but it wasn't enormous. I've seen much worse in others.

Regardless, it was enough for Zane. He became paranoid and delusional and was hospitalized a few weeks later. Instead of recovering, he got better and then worse, and was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. At 35. His first psychotic episode. Five years later, he has not fully recovered.

I listened to his wife's story for a long time on the phone last week. She felt she really tried, but his willingness to take medication or seek help was limited. Sometimes he did not believe he as sick at all. Trying to raise their three children and care for Zane eventually became too difficult; they separated, he moved to his parents, a year later she filed for divorce. The conservative Evangelical church she attended for twenty years kicked her out soon after. As in, told her she could no longer attend services. Well fuck me. I was as shocked by that as anything. The group of women she used for support had already told her, when she separated from Zane, that they could no longer associate with her. She talked to the head pastor, the associate pastor, the marriage counselor they keep on staff (once a close friend of Zane's). But what she got from each of them was judgement and anger. Her three children, the youngest only eight, can still attend; she is not allowed.

I seem to remember the church the BTK killer attended said they'd continue to support him spiritually after his arrest.

I know the men who made this decision. One of them, the head elder, though he may have been the bearer of bad news and not the source (yet he is a man, ostensibly, for all that) was once a very good friend. I've known the head pastor, though not personally, since I was 19 and in Crusade. Zane's wife's take: well, you know what, I'm not going to share that. What is astounding is that she has found another church and is attending (first meeting with the pastor and his wife to make sure she was welcome). Mine is that I see almost reason to exclude a person from worship unless the individual is a danger to others in the service or utterly disruptive. Tell a person you disagree with her life decisions? Sure. Offer alternative choices and support? Yes. Exclude from leadership in certain cases? I can see this. But bar from the communion of saints? By what authority? And no, that is not what St. Paul really says. Because a woman divorces a paranoid schizophrenic husband after five years of trying to live with his delusions, explain him to the children...what gain is it to kick her out of fellowship?

And now for the final piece. I began writing as Beethoven's 9th was playing, and meant to finish before it did. Well, the final movement just ended. I'll begin again at the choral and say one last thing about Zane.

I spoke with him this morning.

It took me a few days to get the courage to call his parents' house. I read the DSM on his disorder and a little online (not that this was encouraging). I recall the conversation well enough to write it here near-verbatim, but I can't see how that is going to help someone who is already paranoid schizophrenic. I'm sorry, but as achingly tragic as the situation is, that was a little funny. The words and details of my phone conversation with Zane do not belong on the world wide web only hours after we spoke them.

Suffice to say I too am angry at his wife right now (though I would never kick her out of my church). He told me he was recently divorced, that he didn't want the divorce, that he wanted to stay married. He isn't working. He's reading what he called the classics: Grapes of Wrath, Black Like Me, the kind of books English undergrads read; he gets them from the library. I could tell the medication has slowed him down, but he laughed at a couple of my jokes with his old laugh. He was certainly there though not himself at the same time: it felt sadly like talking to Zane through a window. He did not want to discuss what he had been going through, even when asked. I could sense, above all, that he was fighting enormously to hold his thoughts and words together. That glorious, gorgeous, intricate mind. Reduced to struggling to sound sane, to stay present in a conversation for fifteen minutes. To avoid any content which would trigger his delusions. To hide from me that fact that he is, in fact, not fully sane.

When he first picked up the phone, and said hello Troy, I heard his voice fill with emotion. Once or twice that happened, but mostly, he sounded vigilant, cautious, as if all his energy was going to sound like the old Zane with his old friend. Sad, working through a loss, but not mad.

And now, as the first soloist begins, I am sobbing.

Of all men, why was Zane laid low? I have no answer. Why so late in life? Again, no answer. I knew him very well and he showed absolutely no signs of schizophrenia in his twenties. That he has had it for five years is unbelievable. If I hadn't talked to my old friend from the building and Zane's wife, I would not have been able to tell. I would have thought he was on the edge of heavy tears, depressed, but sane. There were hints in the conversation, but I would not have caught them. One thing I know for sure: today, at some level, he knows he has been ill and is ill still. He wants to do better.

I asked him if I could do anything for him. He said no. I gave him my number and told him to call anytime. He took it. I said I'd like to have lunch next time I'm in So. Cal. At the end, I told him I loved him. I don't know how much of it sunk in, if any. I am most afraid I could end up as part of his delusion, see him become paranoid of me (I didn't tell him I had talked to his wife), distrustful, believe I am part of a conspiracy. This has not happened yet. I pray to God it never does.

I've read paranoid schizophrenia has a better prognosis than other forms. That late-life onsets also may resolve. That meds are getting better. But there is no easy road back for Zane and there may not be any road back at all. I could scream at God, but I've given that up for the time being. I tried to reach out to Zane; I hope it had some impact, enough to lead to another phone call and a face to face meeting. The most I could do is encourage him to get more professional help. His wife said two of his psychiatrists quit suddenly and one therapist died of a heart attack. These were difficult losses. I don't know if he is in therapy at all now.

I've read Nash's biography, A Beautiful Mind. Zane surely had a beautiful mind as well. But now my friend's mind is disturbed and bent, tormented by unreal horrors, driven by genuine past horror but clearly by a brain illness as well. May God find him, today, and help him on his way back. I have no other prayer.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Errata

More than once I've thought of things I've said in blogs in the past which need correction. Thanks to Sandalstraps for setting me straight on my misrepresentation of Borg. I will read Borg. It's only a matter of time.

Resistance is futile.

Sorry.

And I'm actually looking forward to it. The naive biblical literalism of some very good scholars leaves me shaken. Ditto those who do nothing with the Bible but dismantle it (operating, almost always, with logical conclusions derived from the fundamentalists themselves: if this book is the product of a divine Mind surely every line will agree with every other piece of the revelation and God's voice will be heard in each part).

Really? That's not fair to the texts we have.

The prophets may claim to be speaking directly for God, but is the author of Chronicles or Samuel doing the same? It never seems so in those books.

I don't want to talk about the Bible today, though.

***

My depression is kicking me pretty good today still, though last night was easier. I know it will pass, but the pain is very real. I need to finish my Estella story in the blog so all this makes more sense in the blogsphere, and I don't know when I can do that. Suffice to say when I do, it will make sense.

Depression is like a fog which dulls all the senses except the inner Great Pain and yet heightens the mind at the same time. I'm okay, I'm hanging in, I worked out yesterday and am going to grappling class tonight, but this is just a shitty week.

Love to all.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On Your Mark

As usual, I don't have time for a 'real' blog entry; then again, almost none of my blog entries are 'real.'

I have begun Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God, and am again struck by his intellectual talent. Incidentally, I read Mark's gospel since my last post, and am once again struck by the force of that document. I do have trouble with the demon possessions, though I know demons were considered the cause of many illnesses by Jews of that period. But when the demons talk to Jesus? Fact is, I haven't seen or heard a demon.

This does not mean they're not real, however. There are also other possible explanations for the demon-component in these healings (besides the 'Mark is pure fiction' stance): the two demons who do talk (other times a person is delivered with no dialogue) could be embellishment (on Mark's part or, perhaps more likely, before he received the tradition) meant to show Jesus' true nature and his power over all other powers, including those of Satan; it is possible the demoniacs belived they themselves were demon-possessed (when in fact they had other mental/physical illnesses) and spoke accordingly, maybe not precisely what we have in Mark but close enough to provide an oral record; it's also possible demons are real spoke through these individuals, though I admit my 'modern' mind cringes at that last one. Stories of supernatural evil are common in less developed cultures (say, the Fillipines) but I have to admit because I don't see this phenomenon in America doesn't mean demons aren't real! If Satan is a genuine being (and I don't know) he's doing fine in the West with the whole materialism thing. Why show his hand? A clearly genuine demon possession, with some kind of supernatural manifestation, caught on television, would pack churches in one week.

What must be remembered is that in each case the man is left in his right mind, at peace and well, sometimes to the shock of others. And each demonic healing where the demon speaks is quite public. Once in a synagogue, once in the presence of the disciples and an unknown number of gentiles.

I have other questions. The footnotes in my Oxford note that the two miraculous feelings end with symbolic numbers of basket-leftovers. Twelve when the feeding of the multitude occurs in Israel proper; seven when the feeding occurs outside Israel (seven is supposed to represent the surrounding nations, though it didn't say why). Again, it doesn't mean it didn't happen (and I don't see these as mere repetitions of Elijah's tradition) but it's an interesting point.

Is Mark so creative that we have no real history? That is the great question, of course. Wright is devoting his book to it I believe. Even if Mark contains exaggerations, the question still remains why a crucified leader, religious or political or philosophical, would inspire such narrative so closely after his own death. A narrative using the sacred book of a nation where the dead leader is elevated to divine status and seen as the fulfillment of centuries of tradition. I know Ehrman and Borg's answer. So far, I'm not buying it. I am far from admitting Mark is creative non-history, or midrash, or wish fulfillment, at this time.

The thing I want to end by saying, again, is that I was stunned by the force of the narrative, especially the passion narrative. Mark seems to have drawn on different sources, I don't know, but the final half of the book is even more remarkable than the first. Once again, I knew I was in the presence of Something Different. Mark's own genuine faith is blindingly clear.

***

On another note, I talked to someone who knows the 'end' of the Estella story. I've only gotten so far in my series on my ex-wife, and haven't written anything in months, but it's time to do another post. I'm not ready, yet, though. Frankly, I'm hurting. Depressed. But working through it well enough. Even after a dozen years and more, the self-blame and pain are very real. More to come.