Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Back to the beginning...

Six years ago this morning, my car got towed from the parking lot of an Osco pharmacy in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood at something like 4 in the morning. I was unemployed, desperate for money, and my friend had just paid me $150 to take care of their pets for two weeks while they were gone to South America. I had taken them to the airport, and on the way home, stopped at Dunkin Donuts in Hyde Park for an extra-large coffee and two donuts.

The tow fee was $125, plus bus fare. It was not one of my better days. As my blog post that morning also shared, it was the single most expensive snack-food I have ever eaten - figuring that the coffee figured to about $45, and the donuts were about $43 apiece, all told.

Today was much, much better by comparison.

My friends in recovery will tell me that if I want to see how important my problems are, I should try to remember what I was really worried about a week ago. Part of the joy of a blog, a journal or a diary is that I really can see what the big deals were, once upon a time. And they just aren't so very big deals, any more.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Outta my mind on a Wednesday moanin'

Yet another tribute to the late Bob Talbert of Detroit Free Press fame (1936-1999) - a Southern boy whose accent translated "morning" into moanin' and whose book, Good Moanin', is one of the unsung classics of life in Detroit (along with Richard Guindon's cartoons).

So today I divide my early-morning thoughts into Good moanin' and Jus' moanin':

Good moanin' - there is nothing like having a cat jump into your lap and start to purr and knead your tummy to prevent you from throwing a misbehaving laptop through a window. The wee beastie surely calms the savage beast.

Good moanin' - there is also nothing like having factory-service-critters come out and fix aforementioned laptop to cut off the savage beast at the pass.

(Helpful PC tip: if your laptop is a couple years old, and seems to be losing connections or periodically slowing down drastically or shutting down for seemingly no reason at all, it may just be (as it was with me) that the internal heat-sink vents had become clogged with dust, and the system is overheating just enough to make it "hinky." It also would have helped if my company's support center might have suggested the upgrade from BIOS 4.0 to 15.0... but my friendly service guy did that, too.)

Jus' moanin' - The silence remains deafening on the shortage of bankers' and investment-brokers' heads on pikes in the town square. This irks me more than the lack of progress on health-care, more than the partisan BS that passes for business as usual in DC, more than the war,l more than almost anything. These bastards helped eliminate multiple generations of savings and investment, and not one of them has been punished.

- My favorite quote on this topic comes from the sci-fi TV series Babylon 5, where Vir is asked by the evil Mr. Morden that favorite Shadow question, "What do you want?" Vir's response is exactly what I'd say to most people in the financial sector today:
I'd like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike - as a warning to the next 10 generations that some favors come with too high a price. I want to look up into your lifeless eyes and wave like this [waves at Morden]. Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?
(But then, I haven't had my first cup of coffee yet, either. I'm sure I'll be better later on.)

Jus' moanin' - for the same reason, anyone who is thinking that we brought ourselves into this economic meltdown on $25-an-hour auto jobs but we will somehow bring ourselves out of the disaster on $7-an-hour McService jobs is on drugs. People who are struggling to keep their homes and buy needed medicines are not buying $25,000 cars.

Good moanin' - my family's '76 Chevette, my former wife's '82 Monte Carlo, and my '83 Celebrity broke me of ever wanting to drive a Chevrolet product - ever, ever again (the same way my '92 Ford Probe and my '95 Mercury Sable broke me of Ford ownership and sold me on extended factory warranties). The 2010 Malibu and Camaro make me want to be a believer again. I wish GM well; I really do.

Good moanin' - But if I won the lottery, and wanted to redeem my high-school muscle-car dreams with a 2010 model, a hot contender would be the Dodge Challenger SRT8 6.1. In either Hemi Orange (shown) or Detonator Yellow.

(And yes, I know exactly what a 6.1-liter Hemi engine would do to the environment, and how much I should be choosing some plain-vanilla hybrid. And yes, I know that I'd probably have my license for about, oh, 8 minutes with a 6.1 under the hood. Blah blah blah. It's MY dream, and I'll dream what I want to. I may be gettin' old, but I still have what the Top Gun boys called "the NEED for SPEED.")

Jus' moanin' - but the bottom line is that given the current jobs environment, I will be pretty unlikely to purchase any car except the ones with the "Hyundai Assurance Plan."

Good moanin' - After a long absence from reading non-fiction about faith, I have three titles on my desk: Bulletproof Faith by Candace Chellew-Hodge, A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren, and Losing Your Religion, Finding Your Faith by Brett Hoover. I've found good bits in the early going on all three.

- But I have to admit that I learned a lot of what I'm seeing in Hoover's book 15 years ago from Jesus for A New Generation by Kevin Ford, which I still believe ought to be required reading for all seminarians and people involved in ministry.

Jus' moanin' - and I'm not sure how much I'm really called to finish these books, to be honest. I find the ideas in each book interesting, but I am so post-church-and-denominations that I could almost hurl at the thought of getting-back-into-it. When it comes to organized religion, I have become the "Anti-Tareyton Man" - I'd much rather switch than fight.

Good moanin' - I love our church; I really do. But whenever I hear my recording of Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Prayer, my eyes tear up, and I am transported to a more naive, simpler time when I was surrounded by friends and family in a beautiful, simple worship service. I want to hear my friend Natalie playing the piano, I want to hear "Friends of Faith" leading the service, and I so very much wish I had a DeLorean with a flux capacitor. Not to stay, of course - but it would be so very cool to visit.

That's all for now. Let's all be careful out there, and try to play nice with each other. I'll try to do the same.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Changes in the air

Taking a moment to reflect on some interesting - and challenging - events out here in the slushy, mushy tundra of the Big Ten College Town in the Cornfields...

One of fun trips we allow ourselves is a trip to Indianapolis each year to see the AMA/FIM Supercross (indoor motorcycle dirt-track) races. Yes, I know, you'd never peg me for a motorcycle-racing guy - but it's a good time. The racing is the one "sport" I get enthused about, and it's something that Chris introduced me to that I really "get." The race is held at the reasonably-new Lucas Oil Stadium, downtown Indy, which is a really nice venue.

The racing has been particularly fun this year because the two "big-name" racers, James Stewart and Chad Reed, are both out with injuries. Without adding to the drama between these two, I would just say that the racing has been much more exciting without either of them - and it wouldn't bother me a bit if neither of them came back this season. A lot of younger racers have had a lot more chances to shine without them, and to be honest, it's much more exciting to me.

I could get into the other "dramas" - especially related to perennial bad-boy Jason Lawrence - but I put this kind of crap in the same category with People magazine and Fox News: "sound and fury, signifying nothing." The race was fun, with lots of switch-ups and battles going on.

The big stories, for us, came afterwards. Chris is a small-town guy, and had never seen homeless people as up-close as we did walking from the car to the stadium. Men and women, sleeping on the sidewalks under the railroad overpasses - it un-nerved him to see them that up-close. Chris had been less than happy about the way his week at work had gone - but he was a lot more grateful as we went home than he'd been in a while. Travel does open one's eyes...

I'd told Chris I wanted to stay overnight in Indy because I'd wanted to visit Jesus Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) on the east side of town. Their pastor, Jeff Miner, had written The Children Are Free: Re-examining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships, and had appeared on the Gay Christian Network's "GCN Radio" program. His book had been the first one to discuss the possibility that how I'd been reading the Bible regarding same-sex relationships might be off-base (long before I had a same-sex relationship, I should add), and I really wanted to see what JMCC was like.

So off we went - stopping at Hubbard & Cravens coffee-shop on Carrollton first. We got to the church, and were greeted by two people, welcomed, handed two "visitor bags," and pointed toward the refreshments and the sanctuary. Can you guess what happened next?


Absolutely nothing.

Now, I know - two gay men at an MCC church (made-up primarily of GLBT members) is not a rarity. But two people - regardless of gender or orientation - at a church carrying "visitor bags" should be a red-flag (or at least bright-orange) for a church to welcome the strangers in their midst. Yet not a single person welcomed us, introduced themselves, or acknowledged that we existed. We went through the service, and except for the prayers said over us by the person giving us communion (which I have always loved about the MCC), we remain untouched until the service end.

Pastor Miner was standing at the door at the end of the service, and I introduced myself and thanked him for The Children Are Free. When he was done greeting worshipers, he showed me the other resources JMCC had available. But other than the greeter and the pastor, not a single member of the church noted our presence.

I enjoyed the music (a blend of praise choruses and traditional hymns), and the sermon from their clergy intern. But the welcome at our home church (McKinley Presbyterian) 10 months ago has evidently spoiled us for life at other churches. We felt more welcome, and more joy at our presence, from McKinley in the first ten minutes we were there than we felt at this nearly-all-GLBT church during our whole visit. I'm glad we went (I got a couple great books from their resource area). But I don't think we'll be missing a Sunday "at home" to attend there again.

There were a couple of Taize' songs (which Chris recognized from McKinley) being sung that morning. I had the chance on the way home to explain more about Taize' and their tradition of meditative worship music, which Chris had been unfamiliar with before then. I have warm memories of Taize' singing, or our best approximation of it, from my "Friends of Faith" days in Kansas, and find it to be a great comfort to me.

It's funny, but having been (at one time) a big proponent of praise music, I've found some of the so-called "praise choruses" I've experienced lately to be quite empty, at times. Being a heretic, I find singing "You're WORTHY" repeatedly (OK, seemingly unendingly) to be one of the ultimate redundancies in the known universe. After all, folks, if God's not "worthy," we're pretty much screwed, aren't we?...

There's a lot more to talk about on that topic, but I won't digress much more for now.

I have been reflecting a lot about items of faith and recovery - about Lent and how twisted (or enabling) Lenten practices can be; about the supposed divide between spirituality and religion; about what makes "a church"; about calling and being called. Lots to write, lots to share. But for now, off to a meeting, dinner, and back to work, sadly. Peace for now.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Finding answers

We are expecting the next "great wave" of snowfall here in central Illinois - generally, two-to-four inches of the white stuff can medium-paralyze The Big-Ten-College-Town-On-The-Prairie. So we are stocked up with enough groceries that we will survive, well-fed, for a while. Actually, I'm pretty sure we have enough food for Thanksgiving dinner for 12, if we only had enough places for them to sit.

I've been ignoring several questions, and using pretty typical practices to avoid asking myself what's going on. My first choice, of course, is over-work; my employer has come to expect that one, sadly. My second is obsessing over TV shows - NCIS is the current drug-of-choice, followed by Stargate SG-1 and I can fill in any leftover space in my life with Food Network programs (don't even get me started there).

We added a couple extra distractions last Monday - meet Blackie and SuzieQ:

I had not had a cat since getting divorced and getting sober in 1990. Chris has always been around animals, and his mom has had cats forever. But since moving out, he's never had a cat of his own. And I'd been thinking that since things seemed to be "settling down" (at least a little), it would be great to get back-in-the-saddle with a cat (note the singular usage of the noun...).

We visited the Champaign County Humane Society several times - lots of close calls but no final sale. I had my eye on a couple part-Maine-Coons, but I was also partial to a couple orange tabbies Chris was fond of. But this one was an outside cat, and Chris wanted an inside cat. That one had all four claws, and we both really wanted front-declawed cats. So we went round and round, until the shelter folks introduced us to these two.

They were older (7 years each), and had been together since they'd been kittens. The previous owner had to surrender them when they entered a nursing home, and the shelter folks were looking to place them in a new home together. They put us in a "get-acquainted" room with the two of them - and that pretty much was the end of that. Not what we went looking for; certainly not what we expected. But that's been the story of our lives since we met....

So it's easy to see that between the cats and Netflix and Facebook and whatever was next, I was doing a good job at avoiding something. It took a friend in recovery to comment on his own avoidance activities - and referring to them as drunk thinking - that got me wondering: what is the deal here?...

Yesterday's church service triggered at least part of it. As part of our stewardship drive, folks from church were doing video vignettes of members, asking them why they came to McKinley Presbyterian, why we stayed, and what the future held for the church. Chris agreed to be part ("...but only if YOU do all the talking..."), and a friend taped a couple-minute segment of us.

I said that we had come to McKinley because we'd heard that we'd be accepted and welcomed, just as we were - and we stayed partly because we found welcome and acceptance beyond our imagination. But we mostly stayed because of the variety of worship experiences and the congregation's commitment to social-justice work in our community and the world.

Frankly, I didn't think they'd use our segment - but when it showed up as part of Sunday's segment, I got several comments about how as a relative newcomer to McKinley, I'd managed to capture much of the heart of this congregation.

That's when the lights started to come on, and I started thinking, "I still have more to say..." Not just about McKinley, but on a number of topics. I think part of what I've been willing to call "seasonal malaise" is at least partly brain gridlock - too much stuff in my head left unexamined, un-shared and un-purged. I will never have a pulpit to share from - other than the occasional speaking at AA meetings. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't at least be emptying my mind of some of the racing thoughts...

So I'm here, and this is a start. Or re-start.

Note to self: more things to consider:

- Daring to dream, again
- Things that don't change, don't change
- "Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem" and Christian music
- Once again, storytelling

For now, it's time to make some coffee and get into this day. Happy Monday.