All Beginnings are Hard: Genesis, Potok, and Why Choices are Good

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“All beginnings are hard.”

The opening line to the novel In the Beginning by Chaim Potok, perhaps my favorite author. Like several of Potok’s novels, it tells the story of a young Jewish boy coming of age in Brooklyn during  the first half of the twentieth century. David Lurie must discover for himself who and what God is amidst growing questions regarding the nature of suffering, a poignant query during the era of the Depression. As the plot unfolds, young David finds himself diverging from his orthodox father, Max. All beginnings are hard, David realizes, for all beginnings are also endings.

The study of religion often begins with examining creation stories. The Sumerian Eridu. The Babylonian Enuma Elish. Egyptian myths of creation out of nothing. And myths of creator parents too numerous to name. Studying religion involves studying where we began. But in almost every myth, birth requires death. Chaos must give way to order. Water is pushed away by land, yet cuts mountains to pebbles. Birth can be traced to the sexual act, but death? That’s elusive. Enigmatic. It comes in so many ways, sometimes fast other times excruciatingly slow. It baffles us. Discombobulates our sense of stasis. In fact, scientists have studied whether a fear of death has an impact on one’s religiosity.

Our sacred scriptures have two creation accounts. One that does not support misogyny, one that does. So the crafters of the Narrative Lectionary have rightly cut out the rib malarkey from the preaching text. It is time to stop the notion that somehow women are created for the benefit of men; we can continue to debate why the account is part of scripture and we can certainly wrestle with the text as scholars, but as preachers? As teachers? As presenters of the Word to congregations? It is time to end that message. It is time to bury those things that are not life-affirming and encouraging of each and every person of each and every gender identification to know that they are created in the image of God. So today, we focus on something other than a foolish notion that Eve brought down Adam. It’s a myth, folks. We’re allowed to critique it. We’re allowed to withhold our consent, to refuse to let misogyny touch our souls. To influence our girls. Our boys. All our gendered children.

The image in Genesis 2 is that of a breathing earth. There’s a flatline and then a pulse. Water is absorbed in soil like air in lungs, so deeply that dust has been created,, and then expelled until streams begin running over the surface of the earth. There is a steady pulse of creation now not a flat line. But notice that it is not from the wetness that God creates the human person. Human is of the dust. Both water and dryness play a role. Both are necessary ingredients for creation to spring forth. But it is God’s breath–the ruach— that ultimately bestows life. In the Jewish understanding, the ruach is akin to the neshema, our soul. It is an eternal reminder that present within us are particles from the moment of celestial inception. As Carl Sagan used to say, we have stardust in us. With the birth of life comes the cessation of unlife. No longer is there a world in which life does not exist. That fact is written into our very existences. 

How we explain death says much about how we regard life. In the creation stories of Genesis–in fact, in the whole of Genesis 1-11–we encounter human beings who are not content with their limits. Think about it. The expulsion from the garden for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Cain killing Abel out of jealousy? God flooding the earth because humans are so awful to one another? It’s us being too big for our britches. Discontented. The Tower of Babel is about us trying to reach heaven to make gods out of ourselves, and one need only look at a current presidential candidate and the number of yuge buildings he’s plastered with his moniker to see that God’s Word remains relevant. 

Genesis 1-11 is about us not really understanding what this life is all about, and about the great mystery of death that we hope to unlock before we find out from the other side.

Or just fall into blackness.

All beginnings are hard. They often require a death of some sort. An ending. A turning of the page. The adding of another chapter. But we humans all write in the same book. We face fundamental questions about who we are, what we do, how we love, where we live. There are many things we can’t control. If we are lucky, there are a few key things we can.

We get to make decisions.

So Eve eats of the apple. We can applaud her fortitude, perhaps. Her curiosity. Her determination to learn things on her own. These exegetics have been set forth by better scholars and thinkers than I, most notably Phyllis Trible. But if we look at the story without resorting to literalism, we can see the truth at play: every birth is followed by life; every life reaches its zenith, however that might be played out, before it begins its fall that results in death. For those who gather around the myth of Genesis 2-3, what brings death and suffering into the world is our knowledge of good and evil. For that, we are tossed out of Eden and must make our way in the world.

Why do we think of this as a death? Why is being cast out of the garden a negative? While we should be careful of not slipping into binding binaries, I think we can all agree on some level that our understanding of joy is deepened when we understand sorrow. Our emotions grow and adapt based upon our experiences, and through that we too gain a knowledge of good and evil. The tree does not give Adam and Eve an awareness of good and evil. It gives them the knowledge of good and evil. Interestingly, the Hebrew word used for knowledge is well-known in our culture because of a certain Seinfeld episode. Tri yada. It is like the Greek word gnosis; an understanding that is beyond book learning. A mixture of study and experience. It is the highway upon which you travel to wisdom. It is a beginning.

The story of Genesis 2-3 tells us that the ability to do both good and evil exists within each one of us. And we should not think that any person is strictly one or another. To be sure, there are those who hang out on the extreme poles, but a vast majority of us are within the pithy middle. We are not monsters, we are not saints. But we have within each one of us the possibility to behave like either.

Our Abrahamic spiritual story begins with a simple declaration. There are parameters to life. We’re going to die. Sometimes that is a good thing, sometimes that is an evil thing. We’re going to have a life, but we don’t know how long it will last. We have no guarantees. We almost always have a choice, though. We can orientate ourselves toward good, or we can point the ship toward evil.

Each day, each moment we have beginnings. Deaths. Things that rise, things that converge. Things that come into being, things that cease to exist.

All beginnings are hard. That’s why God gives us one another. Amen.

 

On Turning Forty: Back in

There’s a peace that comes with surrendering. Believe me, I’ve pushed back on that idea for most of my life. Everything I had been taught pushed me to question. To demand evidence. To require definitive answers. Theology is the wrong subject to go into if you simply want to be an academic. If you don’t want your soul or your emotions involved in what you do for a living, don’t pick theology. You can’t hide.

In the past fifteen years, I have completed three masters degrees and started three doctorates. I have taught at four universities/colleges and worked as a youth pastor, a pulpit supply, and a stated supply (Presbyterian for “permanent but paid like the help”). I have applied to ten doctoral programs, and been accepted to six. I don’t state this as a matter of pride. Not at all. Look at the hot mess that is that CV. I’m like whiny Luke in the Degoba System. “All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was… what he was doing.”

I left the classroom two years ago. My Visiting Professorship was up; I was feeling wounded and pouty about having to return to adjuncting, and frankly, I was burned out. There is a certain type of madness that comes with adjuncting at two univiersities teaching five classes total while finishing a graduate degree. I did it twice. By the time I was finishing up my M.Div., I had not updated my class materials in nearly three years because I was so burned out trying to get a leg up to get into a PhD program that would pay for itself, I sacrificed just about everything. The last semester I taught I was awful. I was also having problems in my family relationships. My health was suffering. My sanity was slipping.

Bipolar does some amazing things. If I can harness a mania, I’m a beast of productivity. But bipolar will kill you. Legit, no playin’, fuck you up kill you. Leaving teaching was the first sign, in retrospect, that I was on an unsustainable path.

I tried a new identity as a campus minister and I met some amazing people who I value and cherish, but it was not my calling. That was tough to take. I believed in the mission and I was inspired by the educators. But it just didn’t work. And my brain finally had enough. Full system shut down commenced. I had a nervous breakdown. I was able to get to the church on Sundays, but the rest of the week I was in bed. I was broken. I quit my campus ministry position. With it, I committed us to financial poverty.

For the second time in my life, God was revealed to me through difficult circumstances. The first, of course, was Stephen’s death; the second, my own dance with madness. Had I lived at another time; if I did not have a certain security net provided by my family; if I had not won the genetic lottery in terms of when and where and how I was brought to this earth, I don’t know if I would have recovered from that experience.

I surrendered. I said, God, I am tired of making plans that blow up in my face.

“So don’t.”

This doesn’t mean that I am passive, or that I do not have goals and aspirations. Not at all. Spend five minutes with me and you’ll learn that I am a go-getter and I like to try to make things better. But I don’t have to go out looking for problems or places to serve. God is presenting them to me in good time and for good reasons. Sure, I fret about money but thankfully Jesus said a whole lot about that and I have his words to assure me. I am following God’s lead.

I was back in the classroom this week.

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I’m no longer an academic. Not the way that I imagined myself. I’m a preacher and teacher of the Word. I am a teacher of history and religion; a pastoral theologian and a servant to God’s people. And if you’re wondering if you’re God’s people, let me assure you that you are. And I can’t know God fully without getting to know you. I think that’s pretty cool.

I’m back up to full speed and I know that there are some nervous people. I get it. I really do. I know that there is a danger of overloading myself. Believe me, I have contingency plans. I always have a plan. It is what I do. But I can tell you this: I don’t dread waking up in the morning. I am not having anxiety attacks about upcoming events, and even when I have full days, I pretty much go at a pace that works for me, and right now it also gets stuff done.

I can’t explain why I have been able to come back from the brink and others have not. I can also safely say that there are people who go through much, much more than do I and they bear it all and continue to be reliable, strong people. I don’t always understand how grace works in other people’s lives, but I see it so clearly in my own. In the end, that is all I can affirm. I’m not making this stuff up. At least, I don’t think so. If I am, that’s okay, too. I like me having surrendered completely to God. This feeling that I will be shown what I am meant to do is working thus far. For that, I am grateful. And let the people of the Church say,

Locker Slappin’ Good Time: The 6th Annual Cyclops Fest

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Justin Galvin and I technically went to school together for a year before he moved away. I was in sixth grade. I knew of him only because I had a huge, huge crush on his sister.* In fact, I am about to share a story I have never uttered to a single person, but one that has been with me since sixth grade.

It was the last day of school in a building that would no longer serve as a middle school. There was no small degree of chaos and don’t give a fuck in the air. The building itself had no windows, except those that were at the entrance. The classrooms were largely divided off by retractable walls. The lockers were in a pit, with two sets of stairs leading to two sides. If there was not a teacher around, you get get away with just about anything in the locker pit; and even if there were a teacher around, their sight lines were minimal. On this day, I honestly think all the teachers were in the back getting drunk, or had already done gone home.

As I was walking from the gym, I heard what was distinctly flesh slapping up against a locker. I knew that from having had my own face shoved into those lockers more than once. As I looked down into the pit, I saw Justin’s sister making out with a guy; she was slapping the locker above her head, presumably because the kiss was that intense.

Think about that. A locker slappin’ good kiss.

I’ve never been able to shake that image and I don’t want to; it has been a standard of measurement for me since sixth grade. “I know it’s good, but is is locker slappin’ good?” I would ask myself. Sometimes in situations I would think it to myself and start chuckling, and people’d ask what was so funny and I would just have to say “nothing.” It’s too long a story to tell and not get a laugh; I always thought that I’d just keep it to myself.

But then Justin came back to the area with his amazing wife Dj and their awesome sauce daughter, and opened up Urban Handmade. Now, they probably won’t tell you this the first time you speak to them because they are humble, good people, but both Justin and Dj were very successful as advertising designers. They were certainly set in terms of money and job stability, but they made the conscious decision to open a shop that provides opportunities and exposure for artists, artisans, jewelry designers, and others. Some of these artists can most likely only have their crafts sold in boutique shops such as this one.  The Galvins’ commitment to art, economic justice, and artistic honesty are central to the ethos of Yellow Springs; they have utilized their cultural privilege to help crafts persons take products to the market in ethical ways that benefit both the artist and the business, as well as the communities they serve. The Galvins’ design business, Clay+Stan, is also integral to their contributions; again, they wouldn’t say it, but they are donating a considerable amount of talent and time to helping launch The Beloved Community Project of Yellow Springs.

I promise that I’m not writing an advertisement here; I’m starting a series of entries I will do over the course of the year to highlight businesses and events in Yellow Springs that reflect the giving, nurturing, mindful work that goes on in our village. Thanks to Justin and Dj, one of those events is celebrating its sixth anniversary, Cyclops Fest, which takes place on Saturday, September 10 at Mills Lawn from 10am-6pm.

Now I’m going to start writing like this is being published in some cute little zine and not on the blog of a guy who is 40 and still wears cargo shorts. Also, heads up, I’m taking answers Justin gave to The City Paper‘s questions and re-appropriating them, so this conversation never happened anywhere but my mind, but the answers are still accurate.

We’ve gotta start with the name, right? What’s up with the name?

Honestly, because all the other mythological creatures were already taken by other art and music festivals. Traditionally, the Cyclops is a really weird and unique character in stories and fairy tales. They also have a tendency to terrorize small towns and villages. So we thought, let’s just take a Cyclops, make him loveable and huggable, endear him to an amazing small town and brand an entire handmade festival around him. Luckily, it’s worked out pretty good.

Actually, that’s pretty rad. I like this idea. But Justin. Baby. Don’t we have enough festivals in YS? Is this just another Street Fair? 

Well, first of all we’re smaller and second of all we focus strictly on handmade culture. The Street Fair is an amazing event that the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce has been able to pull off each year with an incredible amount of organization and infrastructure. As retail shop owners in town it’s also a huge boost for business. However, our focus has been to remain a relatively small festival that celebrates the power of creativity and community on a more personal level. 

Wow. That’s cool. So, what has been the reaction of our temperamental village in which no one is happy unless someone is upset? 

Well, Yellow Springs in particular has been incredibly supportive and invested in our success. In addition to organizing Cyclops Fest we also own Urban Handmade and a small ad agency called Clay + Stan. Being able to make a living doing what makes us happy is truly because of all the love and support this weird, inspiring, crazy and amazing town has given us. 

People can go to the website to see the amazing number of vendors, along with learning about the music, food, beer, stuff for the kiddos, and all those goodies. But what kind of goods can people expect? 

This year we’ll feature apparel, accessories, jewelry, bath & body, kids, home goods, food trucks and just about every type of art imaginable. The best part is, independent artists and small businesses make everything. Each person who visits Cyclops Fest has the opportunity to not only support independent artists and small business owners but also have the experience of getting a t-shirt that the artist not only designed but also picked the garment, the ink, made the screen and printed themselves. Handmade culture has a very personal vibe to it. You get to know the person you are buying from. A sort of history lesson, if you will.

Alright, man. Well, make the check out to Rev. Aaron Maurice Saari, and I’ll post this after it clears.


For realsies, though, here’s the deal. One of the things that has always made Yellow Springs special is how supportive we are of artists. Of all types. Think of how many dance concerts, plays, band concerts, chamber music performances, gigs at the Peach or the Emporium, you’ve been to in just the past two years. We support art here. Justin and Dj are doing something special and important, and they are doing it here in the village because they want to give back. And I know my Communist friends are going to argue that capitalism is inherently cruel and even altruistic motives do not mitigate the damage that is done. Blah. Yeah, perhaps. And we can go to the Sunrise and take turns at who gets to play Trotsky and who gets to be Lenin, but for right now I’m gonna say that Cyclops Fest is locker slappin’ good. Each year the festival gets bigger, but for the right reasons: more sponsors, more vendors, more local bands, more local food trucks. Yellow Springs continues the tradition of providing space and time and opportunity for artists of all sorts to support themselves and one another.

I hope that you’ll come. Check out Cyclops. Help support local business. We fight hard to prevent sprawl; let’s make sure we support those people that help keep YS weird.

*Sister, if you read this I know that you are engaged and I am offering to do your wedding for free (especially if you are in any way embarrassed, which I hope you’re not because that memory is like one of my favorites and you’re why).

Calling the Kinsman: Radical Community in Ruth 4

Read Ruth 4

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God wrote it. I believe it. That settles it.

I first saw this hanging from the keychain of a community relations manager trainer. Before I had a slip and fall that led to four months of disability as I dealt with herniated discs and an impinged sciatic nerve, I was 29 and working retail. I knew I couldn’t go back to food service, so retail it was. I had my MA in Theology and had studied for a year at Claremont Graduate School for a PhD in New Testament. A falling apart marriage and a realization that I am not strong with languages other than English led me to conclude, after divorce was requested, that I needed a new plan. I had landed a job as a book seller at a well-known national chain, and the manager took a liking to me. Within three months I was made a manager.

And I had to tell everyone I had an MA in Theology when I was the lead of the religion book section. I was trying to convince myself that I was okay where I had landed. I wasn’t. The people were awesome, but after I recovered from the fall I left, began teaching at two universities, and enrolled in an English graduate program from which I would earn my second graduate degree.

When in doubt, I go to school. Except this time. This time I have no doubt.

I imagine I would have run into the statement somewhere, given that I was determined to study religion. But this was after my conversion and before my becoming serious about my faith. The slip and fall did it. I began to realize that I needed to give more to God than I was giving. That’s another story, though.

Literal interpretations of the Bible make no sense. For a lot of reasons. And this is perhaps nowhere better exemplified than in the fourth chapter of the Book of Ruth.

We return to the story with Boaz seeking out the man who has a more immediate levitical claim to Ruth. They gather at the gates of the village. Archaeology shows that many communities had parks with benches next to the gates; villagers would gather and serve as juries and witnesses to grievances or legal matters that needed to be settled. But scholars are not certain about what exactly went on, and the story itself seems to explain customs (such as the sandal) that had fallen out of practice at the time the Book of Ruth was written down, not mentioning the ones of Ruth’s contemporaries that are lost to us today. 

God wrote it. I believe it. That settles it.

But what is it?

The Hebrew in chapter four is filled with double entendres, just like with the third chapter. Boaz never refers to the kinsman by name. In fact, the word used is most accurately translated as “so and so,” like many of us might do when we are telling a story in which we forget the name of one of the players, but it makes little difference because the story is not about them. Right? Remember that time when we were, oh, what’s his name, that so and so who worked at the pizza place. 

And Boaz calls the kinsman over for a purpose. English translations lose the sting. What is rendered “So I thought I would tell you of it”falls short. The author uses the same word we encountered in Ruth 3 in relationship to her “uncovering” Boaz’s “feet.” What Boaz is doing, some scholars argue, is uncovering a situation to which the so and so must respond.

Again, as was the case in Ruth 3, there are plays on words regarding redeeming; this time it is in relationship to both the land of Elimelech and to Naomi. What exactly happens in this ancient legal transaction remains a matter of dispute. Some interpreters says that what Boaz is saying is this: “Elimelech had some land in the past, but he left for 10 years. Someone else claimed it, but it rightfully belongs to Elimilech’s heirs. You are first, I am second. Are you interested in purchasing it?” Here redeem is used like one would redeem a coupon.

Others say, no. That’s not it. Boaz is saying this: “Elimelech has passed away and his ancestral lines have been broken; it falls upon one of us to redeem it.” Here redeem is used in the sense of restoring honor and pride.

But the transaction gets more complicated. When so and so says, “Yeah, I’ll redeem it” (and, again, we’re not sure what exactly that means), Boaz says “Acha! Acha!”

“It is not that simple. With the land comes Naomi and Ruth.” We might ask why. Why is this the case? Are the women slaves? Chattel?

Not exactly. And I’m not saying it is ideal. But it might be a good thing for them, given their predicament. Some scholars think that the levitical responsibility that would fall upon whoever purchases the land would include fathering a child that would not be considered of one’s own line. In other words, so and so would have to impregnate Ruth and then raise the child as Elimelech’s. So and so does not want to do this because, in essence, it means that he has to pay the purchase price, and then produce an heir who would, upon becoming of age, have right and title to the land. So and so is in a lose-lose situation.He recognizes that this could impact the inheritance rights of his own children and descendants, and smartly decides to pass.

So the deal is sealed with a sandal and the reader is left…celebrating?

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Scholars believe that this story was written during the time of the return under Cyrus the Persian. Many Jewish men had married foreign wives. There were clashes over what it meant to be Jewish and how. Much like now, there were varying views on the merits of immigration and integration. Of syncretism.

Recall that Ruth is a Moabite, the tribe that emerged from Lot being raped by one of his daughters. A similar story is linked to the Bethlehemites. They are related to Judah through Perez, who is one of the twins that is born after Tamar tricks Judah into sleeping with her. In fact, all of the women named as matriarchs are wily tricksters.

The return to the land was accompanied by the work of Ezra and Nehemiah, who wanted to cleanse the land of any foreigners or foreign elements. It is possible that the Book of Ruth was written in order for people to see that God often works with those we least expect, and for Jews of the time the idea that they might interfere with God sending another King David would have been enough to make them pause.

For Christians historically, Ruth is necessary for Christ, given the lineages described in Matthew.

For Christians now, the message seems clear. We are once again asking questions about what it means to be part of a covenant community. Our national covenant is the Constitution. The Bill of Rights. The inscription upon Lady Liberty. The words of Woody Guthrie. This land is our land.

We leave Ruth as she has worked the system to protect her and Naomi. They fought for radical community. For inclusion. For a grander sweep in how we view one another. May the ingenuity and pushing of the system help us to think about policies and attitudes in our own surroundings that marginalize people because of their ancestry. Because of our presumptions or assumptions. Because of a hijab. Let the story help us think about the ways God might be working in our own lives, and where we might not be paying enough attention.

On Turning Forty: Over the Rhine, Divorce, and Wanting Everything These Latter Days

Press play:

I’ve fallen in love five times. Well, actually five million. But I’ve had five sustained loves. I won’t use names. Four of them know who they are; the other, well that’s another story. He knew but he didn’t know. The closet is a hell of a thing.

I had a magical summer back in the 1990s. After Ireland. I had dropped out of K College to try my hand at being a working musician. Four years later I would realize I was a great bartender and that it was time to go back to school. But before that, in the midst of boy bands taking over the airwaves, I met my ex. She was rad. Still is. Strong. Funny. Talented. Beautiful. Smart as all get out. Like, damn smart. Still is.

Things ended painfully.

I still love her. Or maybe I confuse her with the memory of her. That’s possible, too.

We had a summer. A summer in which dandelions sparkled and clouds sang. A summer in which we had our clothes off most of the time, and not just when we were alone. With our group of friends we were living our own Summer of Love. Right here in the Shire. Clothing optional.

Three times that summer we saw Over the Rhine live. It was their Good Dog, Bad Dog tour. Karen’s voice. Linford’s piano. I didn’t know enough of the back catalog  yet to call myself a fan. But that album. That goddamn album with twelve perfect songs provided the soundtrack to one of the most intense and vibrant three month periods I’d ever experienced. I had really thought that after the heartache experienced with my first love–for whom I would still do just about anything because she’s got a piece of my heart forever–I couldn’t ever really love again. I was wrong.

I don’t write details about periods of my life that involve others and their pain, especially pain I caused. Or at least contributed to. Breakups suck.

After our divorce, I tried to listen to Good Dog, Bad Dog again and I couldn’t. It hurt too much. It made me feel like a failure, like I had let myself down. I had let her down. I had let our love down. While it takes two to end a relationship, I did everything I could subconsciously in the marriage to push her away. I think we both held on for a few years longer because of that summer. Because of what we had once had.

All we needed was everything.

As time passed, and especially after Mimi and I committed to each other (on our first date!), I have listened to Good Dog, Bad God from time to time. I smile most often. Sometimes I cry, but because the songs are so beautiful. Because that time was so beautiful. A group of us numbering from 4-12 would gather almost every night. The first apartment. The irresponsible decisions. The parties and laughter and love. The love. The love.

Being a Christian, in many ways, means needing less. Wanting less. There are times, though, when I want everything again. The everything I defined as everything then. For my world to be less complicated. Less filled with uncertainties that nip and bite slowly, but insistently, until I become agitated. Inflamed. I want to feel invincible again. That the future will take care of itself. To have the energy to work a double shift and then go out to the bar.

Well, maybe not that. But I sometimes miss those friends. That time. Don’t get me wrong, a vast majority of the people from that time in my life are still my dear friends. They are fantastic human beings, and I love them. But from time to time I miss who were were then. The stupid, wild, reckless and intense relationships. The sense that tomorrow would never come. Or always come. Perhaps both.

God has given me a wonderful life. I try to embrace the blessings of each day. I try to serve and love and respond with an open mind and a full heart. (Can’t lose!) Today, I miss that kid. That uncomplicated life. I’m going to go back there in my mind, in my heart, for a little while longer, and then I’ll look up.

I wonder what I’ll see.

Press play:

Giving Until it Hurts

The mosh pit went still when Trent began to play the opening chords. The lights went dark. It was in the days before cell phones everywhere. We were young. Post-Kurt, pre-9/11. The future. Decked out in flannel.

A still mosh pit is rarely good.

This was good.

Voices flowed together. Hands joined. Hurt was released. I cried. No one laughed.

Don’t look for it now. You won’t find it. Some things are just gone.

But if you listen real close to Johnny, you might just feel it. Like a whispering breeze on a sweltering day. Fleeting. Almost torturous, but a blessing all the same.

Even then, I was preparing myself for religion.

**

I almost forget what I thought pastoring would be like when I decided to attend seminary. Clerics tried to tell me. War stories. Confessions. Scars I couldn’t see because I had not been initiated into the club were offered for viewing.

Blindness can sometimes be unwillingly willful.

My scars were a different color at the time. A different shape. Born on the inside.

 

**

I sometimes think it was a mistake. Parts of my life simply don’t belong to me any more. I feel tethered. Controlled. Watched. Monitored.

Judged.

People having conversations about my livelihood. Talking about what I’m allowed to do.

I guess I found my price. It is a lot lower than I thought it might be. It doesn’t facilitate end meeting end.

Pastors aren’t supposed to talk about things like this, it might reflect badly on…

If then answer is the pastor, I have no sense of self.

**

It is bigger than me. Don’t ask me what. The answer is too complicated to fit in a three letter word.

Grind Out Disappointment.

**

I’m told it is not about me. But can it be, sometimes? Please?

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

But let’s go slow. I’m feeling a little uncertain.

I hope that’s okay.

I really need that to be okay.

 

 

A Tale of Two Springs: Life in a Tourist Trap

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In the short time it took me to drive downtown this morning, drop Miriam off for work, get my gallon of diet chemicals and drive home, I saw a bicyclist have to swerve out of his lane because of the SUV that was turning in front of both of us, only to speed away while I made a gesture that was not the sign of the cross.

Shit. I did that right in front of the church, too. Bad pastor. Bad, bad pastor.

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An entire family was wandering from Short street onto Walnut, which means nothing if you’re not from here, but locals are seeing it. They stopped traffic on both sides–this was a family of about 5, mind you–and all but one of them made it to the sidewalk without looking to see that there were cars, I dunno, using the fucking road as it is designed to be used! The one who did notice did not respond the way I would have had my entire family’s collected ass been hanging out on public display looking like a jack-o-lantern in December. Like Christmas lights in March. He gave a pathetic little wave, not even bothering to do the awkward half-run, half-walk that I felt was owed because of the fucking severity of the offense. At least give me the worst impression of a speed walker you can muster up while still pulling up your metaphorical pants because, you know, the ass thing.

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I mean, what the fuck is wrong with some of the people who come into this village and act like the laws of basic human decency don’t apply? I know, I know, it happens everywhere. But unless you live in a tourist trap like this, you might not understand the particular type of entitled stupidity that we locals endure. It used to be just a few times a year; like, we’d meet our jackass quotient in June and October; but now, because Street Fair has become something unto itself, there’s free-range jackass as far as the eye can see. Even the living ancestors can’t remember a time when jackasses were so plentiful. And not just on Street Fair.

Hmmm. Do I want to go there?

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I tend to stay out of the Street Fair Wars.

Oh, do you not know of the Street Fair Wars? Child, we have lost a lot of good people in the SFW. Decent people who have been shoved to one pole or another, either adamant that it return to the original sidewalk festival (some of us even know that there was a film made with just such a conversation 20 years ago), or believe that Street Fairs are an engine of the local economy and the tent poles upon which our ever-growing list of festivals and events hang. Many argue that the benefits to local business owners, of which my wife’s family is one, are negligible, and that most of the money is made by interlopers and professionals who travel from event to event. Others argue that the benefits come through sustained relationships with local businesses that begin with exposure at Street Fair.

But like I said, I try to stay out of it.

As pastor of First Presbyterian, and therefore part of the attenuating Strawberry and Apple Festivals, I remain neutral. But I have friends on all sides. Most people are reasonable, but it is pretty much a guaranteed fight if you get the wrong people in the room together, throw some liquor in them, and then toss out something like, “I feel like the village was more authentic when the event was for locals,” and watch a bloodbath ensue.

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I appreciate that there is life in the village. I really do. There is almost always something cool going on; we have vibrant art and music and theater scenes. There are lectures and dozens of organizations that span the whole of intellectual and spiritual life. But there are times when I don’t go downtown; there are weekends that I only venture to the church on Sunday. I have friends who leave the village completely on SF days each year because they are so tired of people parking on their lawns and then getting into fights over it. People who just don’t want to receive the energy. Because, for some reason, a percentage of that energy is hostile. There are people who come here to stare at the freaks.

The richness of Trump supporters coming to where I live to look at “freaks”surpasses even the phony net worth that the Orange Baboon claims to possess.

So these are clear Tea Party conservatives who are not “live and let live” Christians, but people who say wholly inappropriate and aggressive things to bait people or to slam our collective values. I have a dear friend who has an incisive, cutting wit and who, with his badass wife, runs one of the coolest shops in town. He posts these stories about customer questions and reactions that are so jaw-droppingly ignorant, this is me on video cam while reading one of his updates:

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Here’s the deal. I may disagree with you on 100 out of 100 things, but I’m still going to love you. I’m still going to extend respect. Because I follow Jesus and I take the shit seriously. But I don’t understand the point of coming into a community with the expressed purpose of denigrating local shopkeeps, the products they carry, the way they price their items, the food options that are available, the sort of political beliefs that are expressed through signs, flags, T-shirts, and conversations, and all the other disrespectful, jackwagon shit that goes on more and more in this place I love.

In the scheme of things, it is a small price to pay for living in this place. This is totally a first world problem, and I am blessed to be where I’m at.

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I was uncertain about writing today. I have to confess something through, Faithful Reader. Things are unsettled right now in The Shire. There is a very serious situation involving rape, race, harassment, sexual assault, predatory behavior, social justice circles, accusations of racism, of misogyny; there’s pain and fear and uncertainty. And that’s what I want to write about, but I can’t. Not now. It is not mine to write. Not yet, if ever. But I can’t pretend that it is not happening. I write so I can joke about; so I can use words to create humor so my mind won’t drift to the people I love who are scared. Who are angry. Who feel unsafe and unheard.

So this blog is the tale of two Springs. Both real. At times unreal. But the place where I call home.

Oh, and one last thing. For the love of God, will you leave Dave Chappelle the hell alone? Damn, people. Act like you got some sense.