Monday, October 27, 2008

"Oh, you're one of those..."

I have been avoiding politics like the plague lately. And, if you have a pulse at all, you know how tough that is.

I don't avoid it because I don't care - anything but, in fact. But as you might notice, it's awful hard to have a civil conversation with people about much of any topic these days. And there's one phrase that seems to be at the heart of it.

"Oh, you're one of those...."

It's a way of dismissing an entire person by recognizing their view on one particular hot-button topic. It's a way of saying, "Now that I know that you're 'one of those...', I don't have to listen to you any more, because I know how you are. You're just one of them. "

I've been hearing it for a while, but the place I really felt it like a slap was when I came out to some people that I knew from seminary. One fellow (who will remain nameless), who is now an ordained Lutheran pastor, had been my classmate in multiple classes; had given and received communion from me; had attended chapel with me. He had heard how much I wanted to serve God, and how hurt I was when the whole house of cards imploded on me.

But when he found out I was gay, his words were, "Oh, so now you're one of those Godless queers, eh?..."

Needless to say, that was the end of our conversations, on any topic. Without asking, without even thinking, I became one of them, one of those Queers With A Homosexual Agenda, and that was that. Never mind about how I really felt, what I had experienced (in and out of the church), or what it had taken to get there. I was one of them, and that was that.

Several weeks ago, I was with a couple friends - people I had known for years. One is a local politician, one is a former Marine, and one a philosopher and metaphysician of many trades - although describing them just that way is vastly oversimplifying any of them. They all tend to be somewhat conservative in nature, and I care deeply about them. We have traveled similar roads in a fellowship for several decades.

It was shortly after Sarah Palin had been nominated as the Republican VP candidate, and one of my friends was crowing about what an impact the nomination had made. We were talking - and, as these things often do, it heated up quite quickly. I don't remember what I said, exactly, but one of them turned to me, and said, "Oh, yeah, but you're just one of those tax-and-spend Democrats..."

And I honestly don't remember what he said after that. I remember just shutting down - like someone had kicked the plug out of the wall. I don't know that my younger friend meant to be quite so dismissive - but I instantly had this overwhelming sense that whatever else I said wasn't going to mean anything. And just that quick, I was "done." The conversation was over.

I left them to celebrate their political moment-in-the-sun, and walked off somewhere else. I'm sure they didn't even notice it - the conversation kept on despite my withdrawal. But the question in my mind lingered..."Gee, wonder what he'd think if he knew I was one of those 'Godless queers,' too?..."

(Actually, I'm pretty sure I don't really want to know. I'd rather not ask. Sometimes silence is golden.)

In Toledo, we're close enough to get Michigan NPR stations, which carry the BBC News overnight, and I often listen to them coming home from meetings. (Yes, I'm one of them, too - One Of Those People Who Listen to NPR and the BBC...) . The BBC has been sponsoring the BBC Talking America '08 Bus, traveling across the US talking to people about the nation and about the election. A recurring theme in the reports I've heard from "the Bus" has been how the US has become absolutely polarized over politics - to the point of people seemingly despising other people simply because of who they would vote for. Families divided, not some ways similar to the way the US was over slavery in the 1860's, only with fewer guns (at least, for now). The death of civility, at least on this topic...

Listen for it. Listen for how many times you or others are declared to be one of them. Listen for when you do it, too. I know I'm not innocent, in this area, either.

These are people. Your people. My people. People whom we've many cases, for years.

They are no more one-dimensional or one-issue than you or I are. Like them, I am not defined simply by where I live or who I support politically or whom I live with or whom I worship. I am not just a set of stereotypes. I am not just one of them...

And neither are you.

I pray that we can get back to seeing each other as human beings, and not as simply supporters of issues or purveyors of stereotypes.

We're all so very much more than that.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A time apart, to rest and reflect

As I write this, it's Sunday mid-afternoon. After a particularly hideous night dealing with local trash at the waterpark/hotel where Christopher works, and a week of dealing with the wreckage of the past at the condo on my part, we decided a rather-spontaneous "vacation day" was in order.

So we slept in, drowsing and listening to the excellent "Sunday Jazz Brunch" (8-12 noon Sundays on the local 101.5 - The River), then loaded up his mountain-bike and my PC and got in his truck to ride north.

We journeyed along the wooded areas around Toledo to see the beginnings of fall colors - to revel in God's magnificent skill with a color-palette. From there, we drove to near Brighton, MI to Island Lake State Park. There are a pair of particularly wonderful mountain-biking trails there, and a chance for me to sit down and just mentally detox. While Chris is off riding, I am here at the trailhead, writing, reading, and enjoying a beautiful day of "Indian-summer."

It's been a draining week.

Chris made his decision, last week, that he was just pushing too hard to try to get to his dream jobs - which are out there, sometime in the future, but not on the immediate horizon (pardon the pun). As I posted earlier, the dream is not dead - but the economy seems to have ensured that it is deferred, at least for now. So that was one emotionally-charged decision made last week.

In the midst of that decision, it became clear that we needed to make a decision about what we as a couple were going to do above our living arrangement. While Chris' one-bedroom apartment is comfortable for one, it's pretty close-quarters for two on an ongoing basis. But the lease runs through December, and the one lone nibble we had on subletting it crumbled about the same time we decided not to go to Champaign. But shuttling back and forth between the condo (where my internet connection was, thus where I had to work) and the apartment (which has become "the rest of my life") was getting increasingly obnoxious, now that Sue and Jeff are mostly out of the place.

So this week, it was my turn to start moving out. We got a larger storage unit - to store what I would keep once we had a 2 bedroom apartment, and moved from our former unit to the new one. I'm glad to see that the winnowing-down process we've been doing is finally showing progress - it only took us about 2 hours to move stuff out of the old holding-cell into the new.

I finally got new cable/internet/phone at the apartment on Friday. Once I knew the online connection was working, I started the process of changing his address to "our" address. We will stay in this place until springtime, and then start the process of looking for something more permanent - work and residence-wise.

(It's been pretty clear that the relationship had reached "permanent" status a while ago.)

A recurring theme over the last weeks has been to pick out the few books that I would want to keep with me during the five-to-six month stay in the storage-deprived apartment. Here's a few from my list:
  • Wounded Prophet by Michael Ford - a excellent biography of one of my spiritual mentors, Henri Nouwen
  • The Wounded Healer and Return of the Prodigal Son, the classic texts by Nouwen
  • Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba's Child by Brennan Manning - number two in my "spiritual mentors" trinity
  • Messy Spirituality and Dangerous Wonder, by Mike Yaconelli - with great thanks to Renee' Altson - completing my "earthly trinity"
  • Gentle Closings: How To Say Goodbye to Someone You Love, The Gentle Closings Companion, and Where Is Heaven? Children's Thoughts on Death and Dying all by Ted Menten - better than most of the pastoral-care books I've read, so far
  • In Ordinary Time by Roberta Bondi - a great one when it seems like God's voice has gone silent, and
  • stumbling toward faith, a classic of faith despite every reason not to have it, by Renee Altson
There's more in the box, but they aren't leaping to mind.

I had to give up on the music-digitizing process, for now. At some point, I will have to replace the CD/DVD drive in the desktop - it's clearly starting to fail, because the error-correction routines are slowing the process way, way down. But there's four boxes of books to go, and a box and a half of CDs - 2 boxes of books and about 3/4 box of CDs each to the church and the local public library.

Interestingly enough, there is a large ELCA congregation in Maumee, to whom I originally offered my resources - but their education/library director never bothered to return my repeated calls. Epiphany Lutheran in Toledo is smaller, but hosts a half-dozen AA groups a week, and was the start of my journey back to faith - and their Christian education director was ecstatic when she got the last delivery. So, it's sad, but it's a case of "who loves ya, baby?"

The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library is one of the gems of living in Toledo. While I can't speak to their staffing situations (their management caused my former wife and a lot of library professionals unspeakable agony back in the late 80's), they seem to have come light-years in the collection and technology departments. The ability to browse their collection online, including ALL of their music and video offerings, and to request items to a local branch in a day or two, brings them right up there with library systems four and five times their size. (When we were looking at moving to Champaign, one of the big down-sides to the move would have been the differences in the public libraries). So I am very glad to be able to send some of my books home to them - either to their collection or their book-sale, I don't know (and don't care) which.

The thing that pains me is some of the big stuff, which is really worthwhile, which we can't sell because of the no-garage-sales clause in the condo association, and I really hate to just give away because they're too good NOT to get some value from them. And I can't bring myself to just give them away - although that may very well be what happens in the end, because I'm not moving this crap again.

I like the idea of FreeCycle, but getting a thousand emails a day (only a mild exaggeration) is a frustration. So we will start with CraigsList, and move to FreeCycle after that. We have two or three weeks to get it out - two would be preferable. It would be very nice to be done by Reformation Day, October 31st....

There are a hundred other topics I need (and want) to write about -
  • the housing crisis (which has not stopped being a crisis, even though the stock market and credit crunch has vastly overshadowed it)
  • the credit crunch - and how it may finally bring about the death of conspicuous consumption (albeit too late to really help anyone)
  • how we are going to teach an entire generation (or two) the difference between "needs" and wants - and if it will take an honest-to-God Great Depression to make it stick
  • why an awful lot of people of deep-and-abiding faith continue to ditch The Institutional Church; and
  • living between Death and Resurrection - and why most churches don't recognize Easter Saturday when it happens in October.
On the first two topics, there are still an awful lot of people who are asking, "How the hell did we get here?" I'd like to recommend three very powerful, very informative stories - each will take about an hour of your time, and each one is absolutely worth it:
  • Chicago Public Radio's This American Life has done two very insightful, powerful programs on the economy - "The Giant Pool of Money (talking about the fundamentals of the housing crisis) and "Another Really Scary Program About The Economy. Both should be required listening - especially if you think you know what caused the whole sub-prime crisis.

  • Dick Gordon's The Story on NPR had a particularly powerful program called "Blowing The Whistle" (click on the link to go to the archive to listen). The second half of the program is an interview with Bill Thornton, a real-estate appraiser who had to get out of the business because his practice of giving reasonable appraisals didn't support the housing-market insanity. For 20 years, he was a home appraiser. But as prices climbed during the housing boom, lenders stopped calling him. Yet when he recently heard how Wall Street helped create the housing and financial meltdown, he realized that losing his business wasn't exactly his fault.
Powerful, painful, and yet so informative. I'd really, really recommend you set aside an hour to listen to the first two, and a half hour to listen to "The Story."

It might just open your mind to some new ideas about what's been happening...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Life is like a balloon race....

...because everything's up in the air.

So, company #2 is in the "we've passed things on to the hiring manager, they will call you" stage of the game. Chris has been dealing with company #2 for years in the retail hobby business, and has never been overly impressed with their customer service. It seems their general & administrative service ain't all that much better.

In the meantime, the HR contact at Company #1 (his first choice) called back on Monday, with a "no news - it's just too bad you couldn't be here in Champaign for our Job Fair this Thursday night..." message. And of course, ol' "WTF Steve" said to Chris, "Well, why the hell not?..." (Guess that would be "WTH not?"...)

So the itinerary is...
  • Leave Wednesday night, about 7 PM, get to Champaign about 1 AM
  • Crash until 8; Steve gets up and signs in to work from the hotel
  • Do the late checkout thing; Chris gets his stuff ready to go
  • Steve signs in from Panera Bread (talk about the joys of telecommuting); Chris goes looking at potential housing
  • Chris goes to the Job Fair from 5 - 7
  • Once he gets done with he needs to do, Chris picks Steve up, and we roll on "eastbound and down," as Smokey and the Bandit would say
  • Back in Toledo about 2 AM Friday
Total cost - about $200. Insanity factor, medium-high. But it's worth 30 hours of insanity to get an idea whether to go now, or wait out the winter and go next spring. I figure that all told, the move would be about $1,500 - truck, gas, deposit on a new place and utilities, etc. And at least meeting people face-to-face can't hurt in the recruiting process...

So I'm loading up the iPod with dance and "rollin' down the highway" music, and gathering my mobile computing needs, and printing off maps. Nothing like spontaneity, eh?

Prayers, as always, are appreciated.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Not sure what to pray for...

What a difference 72 hours can make.

On Monday night, after almost two months of questioning, it seemed that the opportunity to move to Champaign, IL to pursue Chris' dream job was going to have to be deferred. Both potential employers seemed to be pulling back, not ready to hire him for either sales or product support positions. Chris also had a disappointing weekend as he'd been working hard on the replacement of steering bearings on his motorcycle, and the process had been (to be kind) fraught with adventures.

So by Monday night, we both concluded that the thing to do would be to put everything on hold, settle in for the winter, and see what comes next spring. We'd finish closing up the condo, and we'd eke through the winter in his one-bedroom apartment (the lease runs out in December, but we really didn't want another winter-time move).

And Chris seemed at peace with that - even ready to change shifts (or jobs) to get to enjoy life more over the winter seasons. As the sun came up on Tuesday, and the pain in his back from all the efforts over the weekend eased, it seemed the right thing to do.

Then the phone call came at 4:50 this afternoon. Company #2 was calling; how soon might he be in Champaign? Sales openings were available now...

And once again everything is in the air.

Are we crazy - to be relocating in the midst of the worst economy and financial market in 20 years? Moving away before Thanksgiving, before Christmas? It doesn't matter much to me - and almost any job market would be better than Toledo, I guess (being tied heavily to the housing and auto markets, so being double sucker-punched by the credit crunch). But there is this voice in the back of my head that says
  • You were wrong about seminary. Your worst fears came to pass.
  • You were wrong about working at the Conservatory.
  • You were wrong about your current employer.
  • Moving to Toledo hasn't done much of anyone any good.
So now I'm second-guessing my second-guesses about almost everything I have to make a decision about - everything but my commitment and love for this guy. (There's no second-guessing there.)

Does being spooked about this move make it a good thing? Has God brought me to this scary place just to get me to trust Him again to jump off? Or am I so broken that I'm not even ready to hear guidance? What is faith, and what's just foolhardiness? I'm not sure that I can discern that, any more...

And I'm one to resist change - I always have been. Going out on a limb is not my favorite place.

In 20 minutes, I'll find out more from Chris. But for right now, it's a "where the hell is God's will in all this insanity?" I just don't know...

So prayers would be welcome.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Alive and well...

Storytelling is alive and well!
Gather 'round people, and listen for a spell,
I've got stories and fables and tales to tell!

Listen to each story with imagination -
The stories you hear will be your own creation!
Storytelling is alive and well!

(as heard from Heather Forest, a long time ago)

Starting tonight, I imagine the traffic this weekend will be considerably heavier along Interstates 81 and 26, headed toward Jonesborough, Tennessee. Friday marks the kickoff of the 38th annual National Storytelling Festival in and around historic Jonesborough.

A dozen huge tents will be erected across town - with names like "Tent on the Hill" and "The Railroad Tent" - that will hold anywhere from 250 to 1,000 people. Every shop and vendor in Jonesborough will have warm cider, fresh donuts, homemade candy, and every kind of comfort food available all along the "downtown" area. for the throngs of people (usually upwards of 10,000) who flock from around the country to the Festival.

Friday night will kick off with an "olio," a kind of storyteller's sampler to give everyone a taste of what's ahead. Then on Saturday the storyteller's lineup will rotate between tents all over town, giving people a smorgasbord of amazing imagery, music, even dance. Saturday night will have the traditional Ghost Story Concert and the more recent Midnight Cabaret (for more "adult" themes). Sunday will be Sacred Storytelling - with open "swappin' grounds," storytelling areas for anyone who wants to sign up. There will be pure performance pieces, participation stories, and every kind of storytelling experience one can imagine.

Several of my all-time favorite storytellers - including preacher/storyteller Donald Davis, singer-storyteller John McCutcheon, Kathryn Tucker Windham and cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell - will be in the line-up. And the weather promises to be perfect festival weather - highs in the upper 60's to low 70's, overnight lows in the 40's, and blessedly clear skies. It should be a beautiful weekend for it.

Do I regret not being there? A little - Chris and I talked about going some year in the future, when things aren't quite so up in the air (although I think that $2.50 gas prices to make it economical have gone the way of once upon a time...). The problem is that the tickets have gotten up to $135 a person for the weekend - much cheaper than a big-name concert (especially on a per-hour basis) but a good-sized investment. That, plus hotel and food, plus gas for the 11-hour-each-way trip just wasn't going to make it in the budget this year.

Still, the idea of the drive through the changing colors, the drive in from hotels in Johnson City, and the smell of Krispy Kremes (the official corporate sponsor of the festival) wafting over the main streets of Jonesborough bring back the kinds of memories that just don't fade. So sometime this weekend, Chris and I will listen to The Storytellers version of "No News (or, What Killed The Dawg)," Gamble Rogers' infamous story "War Bunny" and Ed Stivender's classic retelling of Adam and Eve's story, and maybe even have a mug of warm spiced cider and donuts - and dream of October weekends stuffed, pressed-down and overflowing with stories.

To all the folks at the National Storytelling Network (formerly the National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling, or NAPPS), to all the tellers, and to children of every age who come to Jonesborough with wide eyes and open hearts: all my best to you.