Monday, June 29, 2009

bad jokes

All right, all right, all right.

I wasn't going to tell you this, but I just can't resist.

My infant son Mateo told his first bawdy joke the other day. He and I were hanging out in the yard. Every kid needs some primal naked time, so I took off his clothes and let him run around, jump in the kiddie pool, whatever. After a while he got a tired and came over and sat down next to me. He then did what little boys inevitably do when they're naked - he started to play with his wee willie winkie, moving it this way and that.

After a little bit of this he looked up at me with this wicked little mischievous grin on his face, put his hand to his mouth, and made the little noise he makes when you ask him, "Mateo, what does an elephant say?"

Then he giggled, and he and I had a good chuckle for a bit. What a kidder.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


My old school chum Chad just posted this as his status on facebook:

"Christianity started out in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise."

Not sure exactly how that can be his status... unless he's in the middle of Graduate Studies in Awesome... but the point is incisive. The question that comes to my mind is, what is it that ties all of that together? What has the essence been of that big, blobular entity "Christianity" since it's inception?

I think, with the exception of the first few years, that there is a one-word tie that binds and that is: "Control". There is power in both the idea of spirituality and in the spirit itself. I think this is because spirit is the unifying principle, the metaphysical "theory of everything" that enables us in very small ways to have an holistic outlook on life.

The problem is that coinciding with a universal human yearning for unity and meaning and connection is a fear that such a state is not possible and a corresponding feeling that the best way to get around the difficulty is to take a short cut by creating a realm in which we can control things into place, to make them fit into a preconceived (and ridiculously small) notion of how they ought to be.

The problem with this is that we have enough of the Divine within us to enable us to excerpt small portions for our piffling worldview constructions. For someone not looking too closely, these bits and pieces can give intimations of the bigger, holistic Divine Truth such that the constructions almost start to seem Real. They aren't, and because they are fractional truths that pretend to be the whole truth, they lose their integrity at the start and most often end up taking on the lesser, more poopy attributes of the people who are creating them.

Like Americans and their Credit Card Christianity. Poopy. Veerrry Poopy.

Bottom line: try to control the truth - become instead controlled by the evil that lurks within the hearts of us all. Try instead to become controlled by truth, and become free in the measure by which you succeed. Why did the Palestinian Christians succeed? Because they'd just touched frickin' divinity, and hadn't yet forgotten the upside-down kingdom. They were the beleaguered, marginalized, oppressed few who did not have the option to control things, and so instead they became Socialists free of our current slavery to monetary gain, able instead to live in Love and Community, which we have all but lost.

This is why I tend to put the word "Christianity" in quotation marks, because it's a word that gets bandied about so much by the powermongerers and control-monkeys that it has become almost entirely associated with their slavery and madness. I'd like to reject that, reclaim the term, and find my identity once again in the Upside-Down King. I just don't know if I can do that without the re-conceptualization involved in re-naming it.


"Invertianity", perhaps?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I almost died last Wednesday. Really.

I had gone down to Redneckville, South Carolina to pick up a tube of caulk, and I was zipping back on my motorcycle thinking about what I was going to do with it when suddenly I realized, "wow, that's a stop sign I'm about to pass". I was coming up on an old highway where the speed limit is 55mph from a blind side road blocked by bushes and scattered with a dusting of gravel from an adjacent driveway.

I had about half a second to realize that if I hit my brakes hard I was going down, to peripherally see that there were no cars right up on me in either direction, and then just like that I was through the intersection. I flipped a quick u-ey and then rode the remaining three miles home, shaking all the way.

My immediate reaction was to find my whole family and tell them I loved them, but my mom was the only one around so I told her I loved her and gave her a hug and then just started crying. Normally, I would have hid that emotion down somewhere so it could some out in some completely unjustifiable way later, but in my newfound AA desire to be searchingly honest, I just let 'er fly, and it felt great.

Let's hear it for not dying. And for crying. Woot, woot!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Theological Thursday # 2: The Big Joke.

Dear God [An Open Letter]

Um. Aahhh... this is kind of embarrassing for me.

Last week I cooked up the idea of "Theological Thursdays". Sick and tired of what I saw as the idiot way religious nut-jobs extrapolate ad nauseum from a position of ignorance to bombastic theological arrogance by explaining the ways of God to man, I decided to make the world a better place by... um... explaining the ways of God to man.

I know you've got a pretty good sense of humor, God (the Best!), but you've got to be getting a bit tired of the same old joke. I'm not really sure of what you want from me all the time, but I'm pretty sure it isn't to explain you to everybody, or explain to everybody how screwed up they are by all the lame stuff they do - like buying garbage they don't need and that the world can't afford.

You've allotted me this hyperactive brain, I know, so it can't bug you too too much that I think about these things, or even that I want to talk about them so that I can process them in the context of my community.

I think it would dishearten me though, God, if I was you and someone like me kept trying to get all up in my biznatch, doing stuff like attempting to orchestrate the salvation of the world and the return of all the other wormlings to a right understanding of their true selves.

Pretty ridiculous, really, when you think about it.

Funny even, actually; so with my apologies I breathe a word of thanks for shedding a little light on the humor of the situation, and letting me in on the belly laugh of the universe.

Your silly, Confused, Endlessly Self-Defeating Kid,


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How I found God at the Bottom of Someone Else's Bottle

When I was eight years old, I had a neighbor named JJ who had a howler monkey. This is one of the gifts of my childhood - that for several years I had the opportunity to get in regular screaming matches with a monkey. It was easy, because this monkey (whom we'll call Bobo for purposes of privacy and a bad memory) was always ready to partake of a good holler. All you had to do was start out with a low, slow grunt and gradually increase in pace, intensity, volume and pitch. It usually didn't take more than a few grunts before he was giving as good as he got, and in a few more he was off in his own auditorially excruciating world.

If you've met me sometime in the past twelve years since I left Peru and have experienced one of my reenactments of that scene from the spindly branches at the top of some high tree, this may give you some clarity: you may now rest in the understanding that it wasn't just a displaced jungle boy acting out and grubbing for your attention - it was also just a long-standing habit and a product of what being high in trees does to my abstracting, free-associating, creative-minded thought process: "Tree = Climb = Freedom = MonkeyScream". Very logical, see? And practically unavoidable.

What's illogical is this monkey-trail I've taken you on when what I really wanted to tell you about was JJ. I like the monkey story too much to axe it, though, so I'll just reach down into my grab-bag of analogy and manufacture a connection...


Oh, OK - I've got one. The fact of the matter is that for most of my life I've been less the obnoxious, taunting human and more the caged monkey. That is, I have spent a lot of time monkeying (like parroting, only louder) other people's grunts, and I think that this weekend, on a visit with JJ in Kentucky, I may just have had the lock sprung. Let me explain in as convoluted a way as possible.

JJ was an interesting neighbor to have. He was this intense, troubled, intensely-creative chap who would, for example, spend days building beautiful and elaborate paper mansions, replete with pillars and staircases and awnings and gutters, and at the end he'd just soak them in kerosene and light them on fire. He was always coming up with crazy new challenges - like the time when he was eleven that he made his own hang glider out of wood and plastic, and then actually tried to fly it.

Mostly it was these sorts of stories I remembered when I hopped on my motorcycle last Friday and headed from Waxhaw, North Carolina to Lexington, Kentucky for the first face-to-face in around twenty years, but I knew that in the intervening time he had been through a fair bit of what I, despite my Missionary Kid upbringing, am finding impossible at this moment to describe as anything other than "shit". Our mothers had kept in touch over the years, so I'd heard a few stories and imagined a few more, but they had nothing on the heart-aching reality of the things he'd had to deal with.

While the jail sentence for arson my fertile mind had invented was interesting enough, it could not compare to the sorts of things that happen to someone living under the shadow of their own and someone else's bad choices. I could probably go on about this, but even though he gave me permission to write about it, the other people in his story didn't and it isn't really the point, anyways.

So let's monkey trail our way instead to the cramped basement of a Civil War era building in Lexington, where JJ and I went on my first night in town to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Thick layers of white paint covered the hand-cut stone walls, over which were plastered plastic placards of the steps and principles of the AA program. After the approximately twenty people present had settled into the black folding chairs, someone flicked off the fluorescents and the room was then lit only by strings of Christmas lights affixed to the ceiling, which bathed the room in a warm, cave-like glow.

I was the only non-recovering alcoholic in that room, I think, so it could have been a really awkward experience for me. Instead what followed was an intense, profound, joyful, love-filled expression of common humanity - the first in a weekend of the same. It was a journey into the heart of faith so moving that I felt like I just had to come back here and write this down, so that in some small way you could go there with me.

We opened with the beginning of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

After that, there were a few readings of principles and practices of AA, and then a final reading of something that had been chosen from the "Big Book" as a discussion starter. After that, the floor opened and the room filled up with... what? Out of the mouths of everyone from white collars to white trash - and I don't mean that that's what they were in their essence, just that that is what I might have pigeonholed them as if I had seen them on the street - came one to five minute "sermonettes" packed with more honesty and truth than I felt like I had heard in a thousand carefully constructed expostulations from the pulpit. These people were real. They were God's kids. And why?

It doesn't take too long perusing the literature to figure out the answer to that question - Step One of their famous twelve-step program, in fact, in which they admitted that they were powerless over alcohol - that their lives had become unmanageable. These people had been forced to admit with their entire beings a universal human Truth that I had only ever lightly grasped with a corner of my mind - that they were incapable of managing their own lives.

From there, they had moved on to Step Two, where they came to believe that a Power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity.

I cannot begin to express to you the impact that just those two first steps had obviously had on these people. It was just so raw, so obvious. Stripped of all the lies and posturing of the religiosity of self, they had stood naked and broken before God and had just said, "help". As a result, they were more genuinely grateful and filled with wisdom, as a group, than any room full of people I think I've ever been with. They didn't speak eloquently with glorious oratorical timbre and perfectly chosen words - they just spoke honestly and humbly from the heart about their journeys as individuals who have been forced to be daily aware that they are frail and broken, powerless to control the outcomes of their lives.

For most of them, you probably couldn't fill a thimble with the formal theological training they'd received; but I tell you, these people got God and their relationship to God in a way that I never had, and it showed. No, it emanated.

JJ tries to attend two AA meetings a day, and before we sat through that one I assumed in my ignorance that it was because he had to go for some program, or out of fear that if he missed just one he'd fall back into a self-destructive pattern. While there is undoubtedly some unhealthy fear that brings a lot of people to those meetings, I can honestly say that for JJ that wasn't the case at all. He went because he loved going; because in that room he found the truth and solidarity and community he needed in order to remain whole and connected to God, free of the symptoms of his own brokenness that had enslaved him so many times before.

That was the key to the whole thing - "symptoms". Alcoholism was a symptom of a deeper ill that afflicted his entire being - a separation from God brought about by his mistaken belief that he could be the one to deal with the difficulties of citizenship in a broken world, and the belief that with just a little or even no help at all from God he could make things work. It was a heart disease of self-addiction and self-obsession he was dying of, and alcoholism was merely the chest-pain, tingley-armed sign that something was mortally wrong with him.

Many recovering alcoholics, JJ told me, are grateful for their disease, because it is their dis-ease that made them uncomfortable enough to acknowledge that they were dying of self, so that they could at long last begin to live. You probably think I'm exaggerating or lying, or that they just mean that in some theoretical, abstract sense. Nobody likes to suffer, it's true, but the point JJ was making is that we are all suffering all the time - we're just not all aware of it. These people were aware, and as a result brimmed with gratitude for one sober day. Or hour. Or minute.

Now, if you're like me, you probably chafe at the classification of alcoholism as a disease. You've been taught to believe in gumption and the power of the human will, so you think that maybe they're just making excuses so they won't have to take responsibility for their actions. If they just tried a little harder and weren't so weak-willed, you might say, they could stop drinking.

You know what? If you and I said that, we'd be dead wrong: dead wrong in just about the most important matter of our lives, because after taking Step Three and making a decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God as they understood Him, these people were willing to plow through Steps Four through Nine:

Step Four; "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves",

Step Five; "Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs",

Step Six; "Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character",

Step Seven; "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings",

Step Eight; "Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all",


Step Nine; "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

They didn't stop there, though. I got no hint of the sort of arrogant presumption I've experienced in so many religious people like myself that they thought they had arrived, or would ever be whole and right without the consistent intervention and support of God and their fellow self-addicted wayfarers as they did the work necessary to be healed.

Step Ten; "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it",

Step Eleven; " Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out",

Step Twelve; "Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs".

Again, the effort they were making to follow these steps had achieved real results in their lives. The twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous has been proven for over seventy years to be highly effective for those who are willing to fully own the various steps. If all it was was a good vibe in a clustered room then I could have dismissed it as another example of euphoric group delusion, like a political rally or some of the over-hyped religious events I've attended in my life. But over the weekend I spent time with JJ's friends, many of whom he knew from rehab or through the recovery meetings with AA. I got from these people a real warmth and love, uninhibited and heartfelt hugs, and an honest yearning for God and truth such as I, at least, had rarely experienced in my own self. It wasn't that they had accepted some convoluted propositional set of religious beliefs - they had just accepted the very basic truth of their own finite creatureliness.

I understand that I was just popping in and out of their world. I saw only a small piece of their lives - I missed completely the relapses and all that brokenness from which they were straining to be free. Those things were undoubtedly still a part of their lives, because the point of the program isn't that you stop having problems or being broken, it's that you acknowledge in an ongoing way your brokenness and believe that God and the community of the broken that He provides is the only path to freedom from the symptoms of your self addiction that you've got. Despite that, however, I did glimpse in those hurting and often marginalized people a truth that I have been missing for way too long.

I had come to Lexington, in part, to take a break from some personal problems that were just about driving me to the edge. I had been trying so hard for so long to fix them and nothing had been working. After a lifetime of striving and doing and figuring, I had finally arrived at just that baffled point where I could conceive of taking the First Step, and stop seeing God as just another tool I could use to get over the hump until I was able to manage things again on my own. It was invigorating. It was real. It was a glimpse of the Divine stripped of the stuff of religiosity against which I had been gnashing my teeth for a lot of my adult life.

None of this negates the thought and toil I have put into understanding what it really ought to mean to love God and serve God with my life. I haven't suddenly abandoned my sorrow at the hypocrisy and lies rife within the syncretized Christian religious tradition in which I have been raised and even now continue to live and operate.

On the contrary; I am as angry and grieved as ever at the arrogance and consumerism and destruction that eats away at a sub-culture that claims to have Jesus in its back pocket and God in a box.

What I found at the bottom of someone else's bottle, however, is an awareness of how deeply and fundamentally I am exactly like them and every other hurting, broken person on this planet. I, too, am manifesting the symptoms of the disease of self-love, believing that I can diagnose the problem and with hard work and a good roll of duct tape I can patch it all back together.


I can't even keep the smallest bits of my personal life in order. I'm falling apart and I have to stop trying to fix relationships and other people. I have to stop long enough that I can sit down, shut up, and notice that I've got a massive log in my eye and an overflowing septic tank in my mouth.

Look. I'm not an idiot. I know that a lot of what I've written here sounds exactly like the same-old, same-old Christian mumbo jumbo I've been spoon fed my whole life. That's because it is, kinda. But it's the part that is real and sits down near the cockles of my being, but that gets piled over so high with the poopy lies of moral certitude that I end up puffing out my chest and holding my head high in an effort to hold my breath and ignore the fact that I'm metaphorically wallowing in my own excrement.

I'm not claiming here to have suddenly figured out what it is all about, or who God is, or how it all works. I just think I have finally bought into the truism that "there is a God, and I am not it". I know that seems like a no-brainer, but there it is. I don't think I've ever completely believed that until this weekend. Beyond that, I'm stumbling as blindly as I ever was. It's enough, though, and probably all I ever need or can expect to know. It doesn't fix my problems, it just allows me to see past the symptoms to the cancer.

I'm almost done here, I swear, but I want to finish out by saying the thing that saddens me most. It is that there may be some friends of mine - people I love dearly - who could read this and think, "Yes. Josh Barkey has finally bought into the party line. He believes this core thing and now he'll do all those other things and fit oh-so-much-more nicely into the approved slot. No more vaguely heretical and uncomfortable ideas from Mr. Artsy Pants."

To which I reply:

"Shut Up! Listen. No, not to me, you fool - to yourself! To God! To that still small voice raging inside of you, hollering like a deranged howler monkey for you to stop trying to fix the world and make sense of it all. God does not need me to make sense for you. God does not want me to accommodate myself to your warped ideas of how I ought to be. I have very little idea at all of what God wants from you or me, but I'm pretty sure it has not got much more to it than a few simple steps. If God is only available to the "theologically sound" or the "morally correct" (whatever the farfignoogan that means), well then... er... may God have mercy on us all."

This weekend I hung out with the sorts of people who aren't normally a part of my little bubble of a life: gays, lesbians, alcoholics, vegans - people who are willing in very small, provisional ways to *"wail, for the world's wrong"; and to acknowledge that that wrong is lodged deep within their own hearts.

If your response to my story is to rejoice (in a crude perversion of that term) that I have seen the light and joined the ranks of the elect who've figured out God, then it is to you that I direct my deepest sorrow. For I fear that you, to once again quote Frederick Buechner, "labor less under a cross than a delusion."

None of those recovering alcoholics is any different than you or I or anybody else. They still leave that room and go out and do idiot things that hurt themselves and others. They still live the lie of their symptoms and follow destructive behavioral patterns. In those few moments in that basement, however, they are united in honesty, able for a while to stop howling back the monkey-lies and admit who they really are. I can only imagine what might happen if I can join them in that and live on in the the awareness that I, too, am a broken alcoholic.

None of this epiphanizing and awareness even changes my relationship to God - not, at least, from God's side of it. It does, however, at long last free me from the Sisyphean task of my own salvation and the world's, and allows me to rest at last in the palm of God's hands. There are a lot of ways I could have become aware of my freedom to enter that rest, I know; but for my part I am deeply grateful for a monkey, a motorcycle, and a momentary migration into the God-soaked world of Alcoholics Anonymous.


* A Dirge, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Rough Wind, that moanest loud
Grief too sad for song;
Wild wind, when sullen cloud
Knells all the night long;
Sad storm, whose tears are vain,
Bare woods, whose branches strain,
Deep caves and dreary main,
Wail, for the world's wrong!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sheep Go To Heaven

Slacktivist, in his weekly evisceration of the Left Behind tripe, has written a fairly insightful bit on how self-defeating the idea is in our North American Evangelical Grace-Alone Tradition that we gain salvation by intellectual assent to a few propositions. Me likey. Read here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Theological Thursday

I really don't like the term "theology". It seems so pretentious - a systematic study of the nature of God. To re-word something Angelina Jolie once said in a movie: "talking about God is like dancing about architecture".

Maybe that would be more appropriate - to dance about God. Or sing about God. Or draw about God or even play the piccolo about God. I dunno. Maybe I'm just thinking this way because it's the point I'm trying to make in the book I'm trying to write. Today I reached the twenty-sixth page of my rough draft. Pathetic. Must... write... harder. I somehow seem to have turned all Kierkegaardian without ever actually reading him. Maybe it's 'cause he prefigured po-mo and I'm just a peon channeling the postulations of this age.

That's probably it, but since that is a po-mo thing to say, I'm going to forgo the cyclical thinking and just tell you the thought that's been going through my head this week: Jesus isn't about rules.

That's a no-brainer, right? Except, I really, really mean it. Not only is he not about rules, he doesn't really care all that much about them. Sure, he's willing to admit that some actions are less advisable than others, but the things that make Jesus unique among all religious figures - the very reasons why I like to think of him as divine - none of them are rules.

They're more like... guidelines. They're principles. They're attitudes to adopt. To name a few, they are: Grace, Humility, Love, Self-Sacrifice, Forgiveness and Freedom. I will go so far as to say that wherever and whenever somebody starts to harp on a rule, you can put a check in the box marked "not Jesus", and just check out and think about celebrities. I might even say that people who spend all their time harping on rules and demanding justice are big poo-poo stinkey heads.

That's not to say that good character and morals are not important. They are, but because of the complexity of people and cultures, they are never universally applicable - they're just the contingent, provisional way we enact or avoid the principles that are universal and that really matter.

My counsel to you, therefore (should you soul-search and discover your own poo-poo stinkiness), is to flagrantly break some small rule today. It might be the only way you'll get over your self-obsession. Eat that extra doughnut. Say that potty word. Inhale that second-hand smoke and enjoy it. Defy gravity. Will this work? I have no idea.


Switching topics entirely, I can tell this blog is going to be hard to do. It's going to get more difficult to do two things at once, but despite my committment to this book, I think I'm going to try to maintain a dedication to Theological Thursdays all summer. Cause all book and no play makes Josh a snippy harpie (if men can be harpies).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why Other People Hate Twilight

OK, so, apparently I'm not the only one. Somebody else actually read the whole thing, and wrote about it in a blogpost entitled, "I Want to Beat Edward Cullen with a Stick".

When I wrote about why I hate Twilight, some of my friends came to the books' defense - some who had not even read them. So I'm going to post a section of the abovelinked article in which the author, in lieu of an actual scathing review, offers a catalog of the sort of nonsense you'll find in the book. I recommend clicking on the link and reading the rest of her post, where she re-writes Twilight how it should have ended in the style of Twilight as it was, in fact written. It's much, much shorter than the interminable saga of poopiness, so it should save you a whole lot of time.

- - -

The Catalog

Number of Pages in the Book: 498
The First Hint of a Plot that Is Not Bella and Edward's Romance: page 328
When the Plot Actually Arrives: page 372

Boys that Totally Love Bella (Including Edward Cullen): 5

Approximate Amount of Time Bella and Edward are Romantically Involved Before Bella Is Begging Edward to Turn Her into a Vampire so They Can Be Together Forever: Like, two weeks. Maybe three. The timeline's a bit fuzzy.

References to Edward's Beauty: 165

Broken Down into the following categories -
  • Face: 24 (Favorite adjectives: glorious, heavenly, seraphic)
  • Voice: 20 (The voice of an archangel, donchaknow.)
  • Eyes: 17
  • Movement: 11
  • Smile: 10
  • Teeth: 8
  • Muscles: 7
  • Skin: 7 (Note: This only contains accounts of Edward's skin being beautiful. I didn't count references to it as "pale," "cold," or "white." If I had, this number would be about ten times larger.)
  • Iron Strength or Limbs: 5
  • Scent: 4
  • Laughter: 3
  • Handwriting: 2
  • Chest: 2
  • Driving Skills: 1

The Number of Times...
  • Bella Is Clumsy or Makes a Reference to Her Clumsiness: 26
  • Bella Sneers at Forks or Its Inhabitants: 22
  • Bella is "Dazzled" or Rendered Speechless by Edward's Beauty or Touch: 17
  • Edward Tells Bella to Stay Away from Him While Completely Contradicting Himself with His Behavior: 16
  • Bella is Utterly Desolate at Edward's Absence: 12
  • Edward and Bella Kiss: 8
    • Bella's Hormones Get the Better of Her and She Attacks Edward, Almost Causing Him to Eat Her: 2 (She's not even allowed to kiss him back! Where's the fun in that?)
    • Edward's Kiss Makes Bella Faint: 1
    • Edward's Kiss Makes Bella's Heart Literally Stop: 1
  • Bella Thinks She Isn't Good Enough for Edward: 6
  • Edward Is Referred to As Godlike: 5 (Note: This number might be off, as I didn't start counting until three or four mentions in.)
  • Edward Tells Bella She's Unnatural: 5
  • Edward Sparkles: 3
  • Bella is in Mortal Danger: 3
    • Edward Saves Bella from Mortal Danger: 3
  • Edward Stalks Bella, For Real: 2 (Note: One of these instances involves watching her sleep every night for, like, months.)
  • Bella says "Holy Crow!": 2
  • Bella and Edward Argue About Who Loves the Other Most: 1
  • Edward's Inability to Read Bella's Mind is Explained: 0

I would have kept track of how many times Edward's mood shifts unexpectedly and for no reason, but I didn't have that much paper. I am sad, though, that I didn't keep track of how many times words like "granite," "stone," and "marble" are used in reference to Edward. His arms, his lips. Explain to me how kissing cold, marble lips is at all appealing. And yet it makes Bella faint. I give up.


Lines That Made Me Laugh Out Loud Because...Well, You'll See:

I couldn't imagine how an angel could be any more glorious.

Note: Unless I say otherwise, just assume such sentiments are referring to Edward in all his glory.

He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare.

Incandescent. Scintillating. The adjectives in this book cracked me up. Because he sparkles!

The meadow, so spectacular to me at first, paled next to his magnificence.

Paled! Is that a joke? Oh, she's serious? I was afraid of that.

As I had just that once before, I smelled his cool breath in my face. Sweet, delicious, the scent made my mouth water.

This to me was the most disturbing aspect of Edward's inhuman perfection. It's just weird. And gross. And weird.

Edward: "There are other hungers. Hungers I don't even understand, that are foreign to me."

Um, Ed, babe? You were seventeen when you were turned. I highly doubt those "hungers" were foreign to you.

I could smell the unbearably sweet fragrance coming off his chest.

He pressed his cool lips to my forehead, and the room spun. The smell of his breath made it impossible to think.

Because, through the heavy water, I heard the sound of an angel calling my name, calling me to the only heaven I wanted.

He leaned in slowly, the beeping noise accelerated wildly before his lips even touched me. But when they did, though with the most gentle of pressure, the beeping stopped altogether.

...EDWARD KISSES HER AND HER HEART LITERALLY STOPS. I just...I don't even know what to do with this. Other than laugh hysterically while I beat my head against the table.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Time to Kill?

I recently participated in a lively, mostly civil and thoughtful discussion/debate in the comments for this blog post on slacktivist regarding the history of the "Pro-Life" movement in the United States and the recent killing of abortion doctor George Tiller. I generally try not to get involved on slacktivist because a lot of people who discuss there tend to disagree with me pretty rigorously about a lot of things and it makes me uncomfortable. Some of them are pretty incisive when it comes to ripping apart bad logic, and it takes me a while to figure out why I still disagree with them (if, in fact, I do). Maybe I just think slower, but I need to really weigh things out carefully before I jump in or I end up overextending myself into an untenable position. So that's what this post is: an attempt to sort out for myself what's really going on in the abortion debate.

The first step I think is to point out that, as with most things, there is a lot more nuance to this than the boxers and de-humanizers would have us think. Not everything fits quite so comfortably under the "Pro-Life"/"Pro-Choice" headings. People are complicated, and when you get a bunch of them together, their belief systems become almost infinitely complicated. Still, writers are in the business of making sense of the world by simplifying it and then pointing back to complexity, so let me try to complicate things out a bit more while acknowledging that I am nowhere near to nailing down the actual positions of everyone on this issue.

Let's start with people who are generally lumped under the title "Pro-Choice". Whom you feel belongs in either camp will largely depend on where you are on the spectrum, but chances are good that if you fit in one of the categories I'll outline, people on the "other side" would lump you as a "Pro-Choicer" (and vice-versa, when we come to "Pro-Life") I'm just going to list, because it's easier.

1. The people who think that abortion is always wrong, but should never be regulated by government.

2. The people who think that abortion always becomes wrong at some point between conception and birth, and only at that point ought to become illegal.

3. The people who think that abortion becomes wrong at some point and at that point ought to become illegal, with exceptions at any time for rape, to save the mother's life, or because the fetus is not and will not be viable outside of the womb, as in cases of ectopic pregnancies or cases with serious fetal deformity.

4. The people who think that abortion is never wrong in any circumstance, and should always be a legal option available to the mother.

There are also a variety of opinions under the umbrella of the term "Pro-Life".

1. The people who think that abortion is always wrong and should be illegal no matter what from even before conception, because every sperm is sacred.

2. The people who think that abortion is always wrong and should be illegal right from conception.

3. The people who think that abortion is wrong and should always be illegal except in cases where there is a threat to the life of the mother, in which case the mother should be allowed to decide.

4. The people who think that abortion is wrong and should be illegal; except in cases of rape, cases where the mother's life is at risk, or cases where the fetus has zero chance of being viable outside of the womb.

That, I think, provides a fairly general overview of the situation. These positions could be nuanced ad nauseum, but I think I'll leave it at that.

Before I go any further, I think I will point out a few approaches that people on both "sides" of the debate take that keep them from ever actually discussing anything - starting off with how they try so hard to slot everyone else into one position or another so that they can write them off as "those idiots" and stop listening. Having said that, I admit with trepidation that I fit more generally into the category of "Pro Life", and at the flip of the coin have decided to begin with a critique of what everybody would want to call my "side".

First and foremost, I think it's important to stand in horror against the actions taken by nutjobs (like this guy who just shot an abortion doctor at church) - people who think that lethal violence against those who perform abortion, and/or hatred of those who have them performed, can somehow possibly make things better. These people are nutjobs. I also want to stand wholeheartedly against the morons who gloat about these sorts of things, instead of weeping with those who weep and mourning with those who mourn yet another senseless killing.

Next, I want to point out the failure of many, many, many of the people on the "Pro-Life" side of the issue to care as much about the lives and well-being of the women involved in these cases and to be willing to work just as hard and just as tirelessly to love on them and help to heal. I know the argument among so-called "Christians" is often that the mothers are the more culpable ones because they made their own choices; but folks, that is a ridiculous oversimplification and a damnable attitude that reveals an anti-Christian, hypocritical sentiment.

Third, I want to stand against what I view as the inconsistency of claiming the moral high ground with regard to the "sanctity of life" while at the same time raging on in bombastic bombasticity about the merits and necessity of capital punishment and killing during war. I realize that those are different issues with their own nuances and complexities, but if you are going to be passionate about the value of life and the need to preserve it, then you ought to at least pretend that it bothers you when you have to (as you believe) kill someone yourself.

Finally, I want to stand against liars and propagandists who intentionally, willfully stir up hatred against those who disagree with them by lying and spin doctoring away the truth. Go BACK, I say, to the PIT!

I will be nicer, now, to those whom I'll lump together under the category of "those with whom I disagree". I will do this not because I disagree any less, but because I am aware that the actions of many who lump themselves in with me have really hurt some of them, and I desperately want them to know that I am sorry for that, and hope they will be willing to hear me out.

Still, I do take issue with some things. I don't like people who both think abortion is always right and then go further to hate/dehumanize anyone who disagrees with them. It may not hold water with them if I were to quote Jesus' upside-down call to "love your enemies", but hopefully they can see that it's stupid to hate your enemies, if for nothing else than that it doesn't work. I also don't like people who don't value human life and have that as the reason why they think abortion is no big deal. You know who you are, you haters, and we're gonna getcha... all of us. Finally, I get just as mad at the propagandizers on the "Pro-Choice" side who oversimplify the issues, demonize anyone who disagrees with them, and willfully tell lies and manipulate facts in order to whip up hatred and shut down the truth. Cut it out. Please.

OK. I've nuanced the arguments a bit, and pointed out some of my pet peeves against both "sides", so now I want to get down to the gritty and ask what, really, is the core question at hand here. This is important, so pay attention: Before we can actually have a discussion about this, we need to know what it is we're really arguing about. Setting aside the name-calling and the propaganda, I think the question is double-pronged:

One: At what point does the fetus become a human being, worthy of protection by law and society?

And Two: If it becomes a human being worthy of this protection while in the womb, is its "right to life", as they say, more important than the right we would all want to uphold for a woman (or a man, for that matter) to be able to control what happens to her own body? In other words, when those two are in conflict, which should win?

I hope you got that, because those two questions are the crux of the issue and, in our superheated cultural climate, almost never get talked about. There are three reasons why they do not. First, because people like conflict and will use it for all sorts of nefarious purposes. Second, because for a great many people, the abortion issue is a deeply personal one with very real emotional associations. And Third, because communication is difficult and with all the background noise, folks coming from all points of view end up getting distracted by side issues and just talking at each other using arguments that are easier for them to make because they require less work, such as just screaming at your "enemy" that they are "murderers". This does not help.

This lack of communication is often exacerbated by the psychos and the people who foolishly endorse them. The media knows a good story has controversy and an ability to produce knee-jerk, gut reactions, so they ramp up the broo-haw-haw and watch as escalating tensions diminish the chance of communication and meaningful dialog.

Let me just pause, quickly, to head off anybody who is just about to skip down to the bottom of the post so they can comment how "you just can't talk to those people" by begging them to consider that those people are probably saying the exact same things about you, and that it is decidedly not virtuous to give up just because it is hard.

Now, you may have noticed that this post is about trying to get people to understand people - not about trying to argue my own point. Nonetheless, I am a person as well and will therefore throw in my two bits. It is, after all, my party.

This I believe:

I believe that a human life is begun at conception and that it will generally, if unimpeded, develop into a rickety old man or woman with dentures. I believe that any attempt to pick a point other than conception at which human life begins is arbitrary nonsense. I do.

I also believe that all human life is precious and ought to be treasured and valued and nourished more than anything else in this world. I believe this partially because of my Christian idea of the mystery that people are made as bearers of the Divine image, and partly because of my personal experience of the the wondermussness of the sacks of flesh, guts and bone that are people. I believe that ours is a culture that holds human life in tragically low regard - on all sides of the abortion debate - and that as Pope John Paul II said, we live in a "culture of death". I believe that when we do not value the life and well-being of the mother as highly as we value the life of the unborn (and vice-versa), we lose the right to plant our flag on the moral high ground in the debate.

I believe that the laws of a country only ever provisionally and loosely parallel the actual Truth and that they never actually define or contain it. Therefore, I do not believe that changing laws will ever solve the key issues, which are always issues of the heart and soul. To bring it back to my home turf, I believe that the so-called "Pro-Life" movement has often lost its moral footing by acting shamefully, hypocritically, and in tandem with other movements that show great contempt for human life and for Truth. Changing the laws will not magically change the people who do these things into kinder, more loving folks.

I also believe that in a perfect world, abortion would never be a legal question because no one would ever rape anyone, women would not have health issues in childbirth, and everyone would see sexuality in a more holistic sense as not just a recreational activity for self-gratification, but also as a foundational aspect of personal identity and a cornerstone of community and society as a whole. I also believe (and this one takes very little effort) that we do not live in such a perfect world. As a result, I am conflicted about the nuances of the argument and about what, in fact, is the best way to stop what I continue to view as a tragedy. I am troubled as well because I know that at some point it can (and should) become personal and difficult for me.

I have a son, who was delivered after 18 hours by emergency c-section. If we had not had that medical option available to us, at some point we would have had to think about who would die and what, if anything, we should actively decide to do. Therefore, I have thought about this. I do not know what I would have chosen to do. I also have a brother, who has suffered with his wife through two miscarriages. There has been so much pain there, and I heartily recommend that you take a moment to go read their story.

This is me and my life, but I have never known anyone who has been forced to deal with a child conceived of rape. I cannot begin to place myself in that excruciating position, nor in the positions of the hopeless, overcrowded throngs I saw in Port-au-Prince, Haiti this year - nor all those others who suffer in poverty and despair around the world, ignored by the wealthy few who claim to believe that the lives of others are sacred and are more important than just as a point of argument for their particular Shouting Club.

Abortion has many faces and they all wear pain in some manner or another. It would be ugly and arrogant of me to prescribe some sort of catch-all solution, and then to act as though it ought to be obvious to everyone.

Nonetheless, I believe what I believe about where human life begins, and I believe what I believe about the sanctity of that life. Two wrongs do not make a right, and I do not believe that the answer to a forced or inadvisable pregnancy is further force or further destructive action. It gets really conflicting when in an "inevitable-life-or-death" situation, but I think it's a shame to apply the genuine conflict of a truly difficult situation to all related situations. My gut tells me that a just society would not allow this killing to occur, but my heart reminds me that it is never as simple as it seems, and that the most important factor in this equation is people, God Bless 'Em.

For just a second, can't we all just put down our rocks and swords and try to defeat each other as God intended - not with violence and aggression, but with love?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Everybody Hurts... Sometimes.

You wouldn't think a game of bocce is the sort of thing anyone would end up sobbing about. It's an Italian game though, and along with things like laughing, playing accordion, making love and drinking wine, Italians are known for emotional volatility. Who knows but that they might get really burbly about a bocce game... which is exactly what I did two summers ago at my ten year high school reunion.

Most of the old crowd had congregated on my folk's acreage in Waxhaw and had been enjoying a great time of fun, feasting and balding, pudgy old friends. There I was, in the middle of all this frivolity, walking away from a game of bocce with dead silence turning into snuffles turning into sobs.

Oh, how I hate sobs. They make me feel stupid because once they start, no matter how calm and rational I feel like I'm being in my head, I am incapable of producing anything other than snot. I blame the bowling ball - it was the bowling ball that started it. My parents live on an old highway, which to lazy rednecks is the equivalent of "Extra-Special-Redneck-Dumping-Zone". These beautifully misguided people throw all manner of hoo-haws out the windows of their jacked-up trucks, but the craziest thing ever was a big old yellow, marbled bowling ball.

I was doing most of the organizing for this event, which meant, basically, that I was doing a lot of dishes; but I looked out the window and saw that most of the guys were playing bocce so I decided to go join them. There weren't enough balls to go around, but most of them were just walking around yakking. I didn't know this. I thought they were sharing balls and all playing, so I grabbed the bowling ball and tried to join in.

My older brother - who takes sports of any kind fairly seriously - was not impressed that I was rolling this over-sized ball into the mix, messing up his game. We brother-battled for a bit, but when it became obvious that he was going to win in the stubborn department, I did that thing where I go all cold and turtle-y inside, so I turned without saying a thing and walked away. I started to cry, which made me mad because I didn't know why in bahootsie I would be - which frustrated me so that I started to cry even more. At which point my brother ran me down, being all sympathetic, and that really busted open the floodgates of crybabyness. It was infuriating.

Gradually I was able to talk again, and with my brother's help I realized that in that moment with the bowling ball and all my old friends, I had emoti-warped back to the seventh grade, when I got dumped for the first time and started to stuff it deep and walk the path that would lead to all this sobbery.

Maybe it would be better to say I got dumped on, because seventh grade was a seriously conflicted time for everybody; I just felt like I had taken on the role of corporate whipping boy, having returned to my jungle home from traipsing around Canada and the U.S. to a world in the throes of a transition I could not share. Most of my friends were starting to change, as pooberty had brought hair in odd places and a predisposition to do whatever they were not told to do. I, on the other hand, was stuck. I was what you'd call a late bloomer. A really late bloomer. I know everybody gets slapped around during the whole pooberty thing, but I'd bet a good box of lively fishing crickets that the people who suffer the most are the slow-blooming boys.

Suddenly all their friends are different people. They don't care about the same stuff. They look, talk and act differently and they... that is, we... are left standing there saying, "um... hey... ah, remember me? Still me, here. Still the guy you've been friends with your whole life."

That's just the problem. I was still the same person, and they were not.

It is easy to understand this, now; that they were also confused and conflicted so they weren't particularly available to hold my hand and be all sensitive about it. I had the benefit of a pretty long-term, tight-knit group, but history can only carry you up to a point. There were major differences between us all, and it would have been unnatural for them to stick around in my world just to make me feel better. So I got dumped. And dumped on. They were rough on me in the way that they were rough on each other, and when they saw how poorly I responded, they pulled away and let me alone, which was even worse.

Thus began my five-year stint in Josh-Stinkyland. When you live on a lake in a tropical climate, there are a lot of opportunities to take your shirt off and reveal your blossoming "secondary male sexual characteristics". I had none, and in the lose-lose situation of high school identity-forging, I felt that leaving my shirt on just made my baby-smooth skin even more glaringly obvious. So there were constant reminders that I was different.

I got depressed a lot. I developed a mindset in which I would create elaborate fantasy worlds where I was the sexy beast or the bullet-ridden Sackett brother who just kept shooting. What I did not do was talk about it. Instead, I internalized my anger and blamed myself, seeking to justify how everyone else was treating me. It couldn't just be some unfortunate biological happenstancing, I figured... there had to be something really wrong with me.

As a result of this bit of delusion, I hid who I was and what I was suffering - apparently rather well. People thought of me as funny, creative, virtuous and smart. I was a little out of it, socially, but I think they gave me some extra pity-credit, empathizing with how it might feel to be the perpetual ninety pound wuss. I'm sure they felt for me, but because I couldn't talk about it, neither could they. On I went in my little cocoon, pretending everything was OK and then slinking off to the uppermost branches of a tree to sway around, fifty to a hundred feet in the air, feeling sorry for myself and pondering how bad they'd all feel if I were to slip.

I know, I know... I was quite the drama, er, "prince". But it was a shattering time for me, and melodrama was how I coped. The problem with that is that I was doing exactly the opposite of what I needed to do in order to get what I craved the most: a feeling that I mattered and was loved, even though I was different. There are a lot of people with problems way bigger than just looking young and feeling younger, but that's no consolation in the self-absorption of perennial pre-pubescence.

This may just be me projecting my issues, but I've since come to think that just about all my friends were feeling something of the same. For different reasons, yes, but the effect of isolation and loneliness was just as debilitating. We were hiding our pain and our issues because we all thought that everybody else was doing great (or at least better). We thought that if we presented a happy enough, talented enough, put-together enough version of ourselves to the world, people would assume we were doing as well as they, and they'd like us and we would matter. This tended to backfire, because whenever we got the affirmation, we'd just assume it was because of the product-of-self we had manufactured, packaged and marketed to our peers and we'd fall back into the pattern of trying to earn significance and love.

The most tragic part of all this was that we didn't really need the affirmation, we needed each other. We needed an honest, open sharing of who we really were so that community could develop. I don't mean that we all needed to air all our dirty laundry all the time - we just needed to be able to feel that we could, and maybe the only way that would happen is if someone would have just taken the steps to hang up some brown or yellow-streaked bloomers.

A young student once went to his Rabbi and said, "Rabbi, I love you." The Rabbi replied, "No you don't - you don't even know what love is." The young man was hurt and, indignant, he replied, "How can you say that? I've just told you I love you?" The Rabbi looked at him kindly and said, "My son, my son. Do you even know what hurts me? You cannot say you love me until you know what hurts me".

So I guess this is me, sharing what hurts me. Because this is the sort of pain that hurts you until you share it free. This is the sort of pain that follows you and sucks you into this lame cycle of "Love me - leave me - love me - leave me" that will taint every relationship you have until you smoke it out of its hole and pop its dang-fool head off. It is the sort of pain that had followed me right down to where I was sitting this past week in this counselor's office, blubbering (once again) about how painful all this late-puberty stuff was (I'm surprised he doesn't charge me more for all the snot-rags I use up).

You know what he told me? He told me that this is all normal, and that it was, in fact a majorly painful time for me. He told me that I can know with my brainstuff all about how I was just at a different lifestage than other folks so it was inevitable that we'd lose connection; but that none of that could change the fact that it did hurt like the bejeebers, and I had to let that go. In the midst of all that blubbering, a lot of my bizarre and self-diminishing behaviors started to line up and make sense.

A. Like, how I have developed this crippling fear that, creatively, I'm a one-trick pony whose trick has been done and if I really put myself out there and take the risk of a new trick, people are going to get annoyed and start beating this dead horse. I've played it safe because the risk of failing and losing the love and significance was too great.

B. Or how I never really learned to have open, healthy friendships with women. Women are exceptionally easy to deal with for the loner who lives in a fantasy world. They become a little more complex when you have to try to start seeing them as human beings of a variety that in some very fundamental ways is not at all like you!

C. Or why I have always tended to idolize strong, athletic men with really snazzy secondary sex characteristics, and no matter what they said or did I'd always feel like they weren't really my friends because they were real men and I was just a boy-man, if that.

D. Or why I tended to find physically tough women so attractive, because I thought (with the perverse illogic of the hurting) that they could bear my pain for me.

E. Or why I was always so passive-aggressive and needy in college, where I was actually finally going through full-fledged puberty but still hiding all that turmoil and conflict from people whom I figured would never understand, empathize, or love me through it - and how that kept me from developing very many real, significant friendships.

F. Or why, when we started this school year with a teachers-and-students weekend mountain retreat, I spent a lot of time feeling self-conscious around all the big, broad-shouldered young rock-hurling males. I graduated high school twelve years ago, and I still worry about this - as if the kids I'm there to teach aren't the ones going through all the knee-knocking self-doubt.

In my head, I know this is all silly. It takes all kinds of attributes to make a man, and perhaps one of the most straightforward to attain is a stronger, more robust body. There are things like character and integrity and kindness and humility which are a lot harder becuase you actually have to work for them in ways more complicated than moving around heavy stuff. There are also a lot of fellas out there who are less sure of themselves than I, less athletic, less strong, and less attractive and manly than I by the ridiculous, perverse standards of masculinity set by this delusional culture. Fact is, I'm not too bad on the soccer field, I performed exceptionally well in my ten summers of manual labor, and I have a bit of a pretty-boy visage (which I maintain with a rigorous regimen of face exercises).

But, you know what? I'm tired of spending so much time flaunting my assets as a way to hide from my hurt and convince you I'm worth your time. This is not helping. I just keep blundering on, driven by pain and fear and guilt. I lob Josh-Grenades at the world and then run for it, and it is not only keeping me from actually accomplishing much of anything, creatively speaking, it is also making me live a diminished, less-than-abundant life.

I'm also thinking that maybe I'm at a point where if I'm going to ask you to sit through these incredibly long blog posts, then at least I ought to tell you what I'm compensating for.

So now you know. You know I'm not writing out of strength, but out of the cringing weakness of a blubberer who'll cry at the drop of a bowling ball. You know that the only reason why I jab at you and your foibles with my pen is because I just want you to like me, and I'm a just little bit afraid that if I can't stay ahead of you, you're liable to assume I'm the slow guy who has fallen behind. Then maybe you'll drop me, and I'll have to go back to seventh grade again.

I can't dwell on that anymore, though. I am almost thirty. I have a son to man up, and the trees around here are much to sticky or poky or pointy or brittle to climb regularly. Instead, I think I'll just relax down here between these roots and wait for you to come by, sit down, and tell me what hurts you. Let the love and crying begin.


If you made it all the way through this entire post, consider yourself a wonderful (bored) person. Please reward yourself with a stickless, dehydrated frozen popsickle.

Oh, and watch the music video for REM's song, Everybody Hurts. It basically says what I just did, only more beautifully and in only five minutes and thirty-nine seconds.