Monday, June 29, 2009

Quick Update

Nothing clever, or even half so, to post tonight. We've been really working on the kitchen. Really. Removed the soffit above the south and west walls and the cabinets around the sink Saturday, then carried a trailer load of torn up kitchen to the Waste to Energy plant on Sunday, all before a marathon shopping spree at Home Depot for lumber, sub-flooring, sheet rock, tiles, and many $$$ worth of accoutrements.

Figured out lighting and electrical, and started on that midday today. The plumber came this afternoon. It's happening both too fast and too slowly.

OK, one "clever" comment. Evan called from New Zealand tonight to express his exasperation at the charge for getting his teeth cleaned there. He is on a student stipend, and so had asked for an estimate. The dentist had given a dollar range for the cleaning, but after telling Evan that his teeth weren't at all bad, he was charged an amount near the top of the range. I think that it's probably like what I experienced in dental hygiene challenged southern Indiana -- dentists there compute cleaning charges on a "per tooth" basis.

More soon....

Friday, June 26, 2009

"You're gonna need a bigger boat..."

Just as I was finishing up my post yesterday morning, my neighbor Ron came to the door wearing a tool belt and bearing a hacksaw. Ron's arrival signaled the advent of the next phase of the remodeling project. We cut the pipes for the floor radiator, disconnected the stove, and removed the dishwasher and garbage disposal. All of this needed to be done so Sally and I could commence work on the floor as a prelude to laying tile.

But I wasn't ready. Though the dishwasher had finished one last run and had been unloaded, and it only took a few minutes to empty the cabinet under the sink, it all happened too fast. I thought I was ready, but I wasn't.

Do you remember the great line ad-libbed by the late Roy Scheider in Jaws? Upon seeing the huge shark for the first time, Chief Brody turned to the shark hunter, Quint, and gasped, "You're gonna need a bigger boat!" The wide eyed look of shock and disbelief in Scheider's eyes came back to me yesterday as I surveyed the remains of the kitchen after Ron left. Until that moment I had been surfing merrily along atop the vision of the new kitchen and the turmoil with the contractor. In an instant I found myself beneath the waves, gasping for breath, unsure which way was up.

Amidst the chaos, I did what Sheldon, my alter ego from Big Bang Theory, would do: I started sorting things into piles. Like with like. Put all the food items on the table in the dining room... tools go into the blue bin... keys go into the bowl... "We keep our keys in a bowl. You should keep your keys in a bowl...."

I rode my bike part way down the hill to meet Sally on her ride home. Being on the bike helped me clear my head, and Sally's steady presence and cheery demeanor brought me the rest of the way out of my funk. Of course, she TOTALLY expected the kitchen to look like this.

By evening's end we had the appliances moved out of the way against the dining room walls, most of the remaining cupboards were bare, and a bivouac kitchen had been set up in the basement. Though our oatmeal this morning was of the instant variety, there was coffee, a hint of normalcy, and the hope that our deconstruction phase, like the economic depression, was bottoming out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Traveling without Moving

"You can't eat food here! This is a restaurant!"

It's really too bad that this diatribe, sputtered by an indignant waiter at the Copenhagen airport, is among the most memorable statements Sally and I heard on our 2006 European vacation. Well, that and "You're on the wrong train", but that's another story.

The waiter's words came back to me this morning as I was reflecting on the striking similarities between European travel and kitchen remodeling. You may recall that Sally and I are engaged in a remodeling project. Yesterday, after trips to two warehouse stores shopping for a faucet and floor tiles, and an afternoon and evening consumed by planning and revising plans for our next steps, I realized that this process is a lot like a European vacation. In each case:

- We planned the event for months before actually engaging in it.

- We spent an incredible amount of money weeks before seeing any tangible result.

- We planned each day, and then ended up doing something else after finding out that the museum was closed, or what was actually behind that wall.

- We dealt with rude and uncaring people.

- We met some extremely caring and helpful people, even if they didn't know more than we did: "You're on the wrong train." "You can just cut that copper tube, and we'll crimp it off."

- We wrestled with foreign languages: "escutcheon plate", "You'll wanna put down thinset before laying your backerboard", "Nee, Geithorn!"

- We repeatedly pulled out a wad of cash and peeled off bills, asking hopefully, "Is this enough?"

Perhaps the most striking parallel is the discovery that we could actually do a better job ourselves. In the case of European travel, after being seated in the VERY LAST ROW for every flight, and being given an electronic ticket that was only missing 3 numbers, and trying to book a trip to an island our travel agent argued did not exist, we made most of our own arrangements. We may not have done everything perfectly, but it became our trip.

We are now newly baptized members of the DIY (Do It Yourself) remodeling community. The project is going in new directions now that we are without the benefit of rude professionals to tell us what kind of flooring we should like. Cork, by the way, is perfectly appropriate for wine bottles and bulletin boards. Our kitchen may never be featured on Hometime, but it will be ours.

Looking back now, our European trip was an absolute delight. Even the snooty waiter occupies an honored place in our memory. I am so looking forward to looking back on this kitchen remodel in the same light.

And speaking of lighting, do we want a low-voltage puck light there, a pendant, or another can light?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

General Henry Knox

In the movie, Patriot Games, an Irish bookseller tries to show IRA terrorists his mettle with a gun, and fails miserably. The story ended badly for him. There was, however, an American bookseller who made the unlikely transition from shop keeper to military hero: Henry Knox.

One of my favorite college professors, George Geib, was a master story teller. From Dr. Geib's lectures I learned of the Populist Party roots of the Wizard of Oz stories, how red brick business buildings in West Lafayette, Indiana were transformed into a red light district, and little known stories of General Henry Knox, the first U.S. Secretary of War.

Official biographies of Henry Knox gloss over the fact that his military training consisted of his committing to memory a number of "how-to-do-it" books on warfare. Perhaps more so in those days than the present, every aspect of engaging in battle was subject rigid rules. As a bookseller, Knox had access to the official British manuals on the subject, and had developed an encyclopedic understanding of artillery strategy. So, as Dr. Geib told it, the humble bookseller approached General Washington with a request that he be commissioned in the Continental Army. He backed up his request by telling General Washington some of what he knew, and was rewarded with a commission as Colonel.

Knox first gained fame by putting his knowledge to use in the Siege of Boston, where cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys were placed above Boston Harbor on the Heights of Dorchester. The British, knowing the artillery manuals as well as Knox did, realized that their fleet was threatened from the high ground, and fled the city. The valiant colonials cheered. Huzzah!

According to Dr. Geib, another incident involving Henry Knox didn't turn out so well. Though my class notes are long gone, I think it may have been the Battle of Princeton. In this case, troops led by Knox were in pursuit of retreating British forces when they passed a tower where 2 or 3 British soldiers had holed up. Knox recalled words from the warfare manuals: "Never leave a castle to your rear." Deciding that a couple soldiers in a tower constituted a castle, Knox called off the pursuit and laid siege, as his "training" dictated. The retreating British took advantage of the lull to regroup, and recaptured the town.

Though this incident was clearly not significant enough to sully the legacy of a military hero after whom Fort Knox and Knoxville, Tennessee are named, I often think of General Knox when wrestling with literalists, legalists, and anyone who is most comfortable in a world of absolutes. What such people fail to recognize, again and again, is the important of context. There was nothing wrong with the manuals memorized by Henry Knox. The problem was his inability to discern whether, when, and how to apply his knowledge.

The first missionaries to the Sandwich Islands had a similar difficulty. These stolid Yankees, having donned woolen long johns every October of their lives, did so their first years in Hawaii, despite marked discomfort in the warm weather there. The long johns were not at fault. The problem was with the failure to take context into account.

In popular culture, so-called situational ethics have gotten a bad rap. Conservatives are quick to defend solid black or white, right or wrong absolutes, and to scorn any who attempt to determine the best decision or course of action based on the situation they face. Once again, I believe that it's about time, as we shall see.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice

Despite the fact that I complained a great deal about this past winter's snowy weather, the dominant feature of living this far north is not the cycles of heat and cold, or alternating aridity and monsoon moisture, but rather changes in the length of daylight. In Spokane today sunrise was at 4:52 PDT, and sunset, barring some cataclysm brought on by Kim Jong-il, will be at 8:51 this evening. During this solstice period we topped out with about 16 hours of daylight. Of course, in December we cope with a mere 8 hours and 25 minutes of daylight, and not very strong light at that.

For me, the most difficult aspect of our short winter days is getting up in the morning. Beginning the day in the cold and dark makes ordinary events seem ominous. Conversely, it is evening and bedtime that are challenging in the summer. We often get busy working or playing outside, and forget to eat supper. Our minds, responding to the lavish, late day sunshine, are fooled into thinking it to be 4 or 5 o'clock when it is already 8. And going to bed when there's still a glimmer of light in the west? It just doesn't feel right.

Remembering winter's dark chill, and thus desiring to take full advantage of the light afforded to us in these days, we pack as much activity into our hours as we possibly can. Yesterday that meant starting up the lawn mower after 8 p.m., in part in deference to the weather forecast, and in part because it was still light out, and we wanted to take advantage of that fact.

In these next days I hope to soak up enough light and warmth to see me through another long, northern winter. I am writing this in part so I can come back to this post in December and January and remind myself that summer is not a figment of my imagination.

This continuing cycle reminds us that we shouldn't take our good fortune for granted, but accept and use life's blessings with deep gratitude. And 6 months from now, once more in the grip of winter, we can recall these days and be filled with hope, for June will come again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Battling Skynet

I just returned from wiring some funds to New Zealand on behalf of Evan's sweetie, Angie. She is joining Evan there in a couple weeks, and wanted to share the expenses for the travel they will do together. As Sally and I have free wire transfers as a part of our account, I did the banking.

As our account is with a bank that just got purchased by another, bigger bank, I asked how the ownership transition was going. "Just great! Really smooth!" was the reply.

Then we started the transfer process. My banker tried finding me in their system by using my Washington driver's license. No go. After a couple tries he found me in their system by using my account number. He then tried to initiate the transfer by using Evan's cell phone number, labeled "cell phone number", as the Swift Code. Several tries. No go. He was about to give up when I looked at the information I had provided and read it back to him. Then he realized he was using the wrong number.

How is this going so far? Just great. Really smooth.

Next, confused by the unfamiliar wire forms used by the new bank, he failed to find where to enter a transfer amount in US dollars. He asked for assistance for another banker, and after a few moments they figured it out.

"Since we're one of the biggest banks in the country our employees have fabulous job security." He told me that. Really.

Finally the transfer was complete. He went to the copier (twice) to pick up my copy. When he handed it to me, I immediately noticed that my address was listed as 14843 E. Radcliff Place, Aurora, Colorado. That was where we lived in the late 1980's. "You must have had an account with our bank there." I really don't remember, but don't think so.

He assured me that the glitch wouldn't effect the wire transfer, and then changed my address in the computer. Sally's address was already correct. As I put on my bike helmet, he cheerily added, "Have a nice ride home!" I said I'd better get started, as Aurora, Colorado was a long way off. My ride home went fine. Just great. Really smooth.

On my ride home I thought about all of the personal information that is in one data base or another. Or perhaps there aren't separate data bases anymore, but rather one ginormous, amalgamation of everything that was ever entered anywhere. I couldn't help but think of Skynet from the Terminator movies, the worldwide computer network that was waging war against all of humanity.

I'd be worried, but they'll never find me if they're looking in Colorado.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Time as my Lens

John related that, as he aged, his thoughts turned more and more to the hereafter.
He would often enter a room, stop, and wonder, "What was I here after?"

In 1984 Sally and I moved our two little girls across the country to Oakland, California, where I was enrolled in a graduate program with Matthew Fox. In preparation for our journey we had sold almost everything we owned, borrowed every penny we could, and relied on many people for favors, support, and goodwill. We arrived in Oakland without having ever seen the city or the school, without having met anyone associated with the program, and without anywhere to live. The mere fact that Sally was willing to accompany me on this boondoggle tells you a lot about her. That's right, she had no other prospects.

We had been given the name of another family whose husband/father was similarly tetched, and had made arrangements to stay with them "a night or two" until we could make our own housing arrangements. We were so happy to have the chance, finally, to meet some real people with whom we would share our sojourn. Larry and Connie (whose daughters were named Erin and Megan, in contrast to our Megan and Erin) greeted us warmly before informing us that they had had enough of California, and were returning to Ontario. Their reason for leaving? They couldn't tolerate the overt discrimination against Canadians they had experienced.

In shock and disbelief, we asked how they had been discriminated against. They described the inability to access funds from a cashier's cheque from their bank in Toronto for eight business days, and the difficulty they had in obtaining a California ID without which even local checks weren't accepted. They talked about how Connie and the girls had drawn stares when they walked to the nearby park one afternoon. Enough was enough. They were going back to Toronto.

As Sally and I learned, funds in cashier's checks from Wisconsin weren't available for eight business days. People from Wisconsin couldn't get a California ID without calling a number that was always busy in order to make an appointment for six weeks later for the privilege of standing in line for hours to apply for a photo ID or driver's license that would come in the mail some weeks hence. As for Connie and the girl's park outing? It's sad that race relations in Richmond Annex, CA weren't more like those in Toronto. My guess is that Connie and her girls were the first three whites to visit that particular park in decades. Having evolved beyond judging people by the color of their skin, they reasoned that the stares they drew were the result of it being obvious that they were Canadians. In truth, it was probably assumed they were from another planet.

We bid a sad farewell to our new, nearly friends. Having interpreted their experiences through the lens of being Canadian, they would not, they could not, entertain any alternate explanation for their tribulations.

We all wear lenses. Our lenses, ground, shaped and polished by family histories and individual experience, race, geography, education, vocation, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, help us make sense of the world. Or at least what seems like sense to us.

Over the past few years, I have increasingly viewed and interpreted the world through the lens of time. My time orientation is not about time moving so quickly, or my mortality, or the wisdom that comes with age, or turning my thoughts to the hereafter. My lens is that of seeing many of the world's ills as they are related to human inability to understand time.

Let me cut to the chase: There are too many of us. Our activities are degrading the nature of life on this planet, and the impacts are irreversible. We are using too much wood, water, and energy. We create too much waste. The Earth is finite, and we believe in an economy based on infinite expansion. The only way we can avoid becoming totally overwhelmed by these facts is to remain in denial of their reality.

The future is not out there, flowing toward us. Rather we are creating the future through our decisions and actions in the here and now. This is my lens, and it colors the way I see every issue, every newscast, and every decision. From this time-centric viewpoint, issues that once seemed vital are of no consequence at all, and others to which I devoted little thought have taken on immense importance.

I confess that the view isn't rosy through my lenses. I'm not Canadian, so Toronto offers scant refuge.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rain Happens

I had just bent down to connect a hose to our "irrigation system" on the raspberries when the first large raindrop hit my back. I'd been waiting all afternoon, watching the local radar, wondering if it would rain. Finally giving up, I put on my shoes (which greatly excited the dogs) and made my way out to the back fence. Then it rained.

So many of my associations with rain are negative:

  • memories of golf outings and weekend plans cancelled,
  • camping and canoeing in Canada amidst 11 straight days of rain
  • anxious hours at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway looking to the west and hoping that "it's clear in Terre Haute".
There are memories of the times that rain came in too great a quantity, or when we were unprepared:

  • transporting a king-sized mattress through a thunderstorm in Denver,
  • wading through stormwater on the flat roof in Mount Vernon, trying to find the single drain
  • our camping vacation in 1991 where we were even rained out in the Utah desert
  • the entire summer of 1993 in Nebraska
My view of rain began to change after meeting Sally, who grew up in arid western Colorado. When our life journey brought us to the Plains and back to the West, I began to understand for the first time the experience of seeing a far away rain storm, and wishing, hoping, and praying that it might come our way. My experience of frequent sunburns as a child and of basal cell carcinomas as an adult has made me leery of the sun's power, and more welcoming of the rain.

I'm not saying I ran out and danced in last evening's storm, as I might have done were we in the grips of a drought. I simply stood on the front porch and breathed in the freshness, giving thanks for the life-giving moisture. I thought for just a moment that I could hear the grass and the raspberries singing.

Friday, June 12, 2009

30 Year Conventional Mortgage

There was a point in my life when 30 years seemed like a long time. Actually, there were quite a few points in my life where that was true.

This afternoon Sally and I signed the documents refinancing our house for another 30 years. Does that sound conventional to you? In 1985, we obtained a mortgage for the first time. I remember trying to image being 63 years old, and making the final payment. The age of 63 no longer seems old at all. Today I am attempting to image paying off this new mortgage at the age of 87, which would be a marked increase over the longevity achieved by the majority of my male ancestors. I have my doubts.

Sally and I took this step in part because of the exceptionally low interest rate, but more-so in order to draw on our home's equity to remodel the kitchen. Since buying our home in 2004 we have been redoing it one room at a time. Now, having completed all the less expensive updates, we are turning our attention to the kitchen and bathrooms. Having a clear idea of what we wanted to do with the kitchen, we contacted some remodelers to obtain bids. The first tried to talk us out of our exciting plans, urging us to spend a considerable sum to simply replace the kitchen we have with newer, shinier materials. That's not what we want to do.

The second remodeler immediately embraced our ideas, encouraged us, and produced lovely drawings which gave us a clear idea of how things would look. Excellent! The estimated cost, though considerable, was within our reach, if barely. We ordered cabinets based on the new design and began selecting other materials.

As it has turned out, this remodeler and I have at least one thing in common: He now says that he underestimated the price of the project by more than 50%, and I realize that I overestimated his character to about the same degree.

The new cabinets, which will require a change of floor plan, are paid for and due to arrive early in July. However, rather than signing the property over to the remodeler, we are not contracting with him for any additional services. Instead, I am determined to take up a new trade. With my determination, Sally's skill and patience, the work of several subcontractors, and the technical advice of a retired builder across the street, we shall endeavor to remodel the kitchen ourselves. I am confident that we will get it done at a fraction of the cost that our ethically-challenged remodeler was demanding.

As to when we will get it done?

There was a point in my life when 30 years seemed like a long time....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Not Quite Up to Common

In 1949, my parents purchased a plot of land in the midst of Ottawa National Forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In subsequent years a ten by fourteen foot, one room plywood "cabin" was built and enlarged, a well was drilled, and a pit toilet was dug. Each summer was built around our family's 612 mile journey to the "Northwoods".

There were a number of activities associated with our annual Northwoods trip that took on the nature of ritual. There was the ceremonial packing of the trailer, my dad's ceremonial huffing and puffing about our being late, and my mom's ceremonial work to get us away on time. Even the hour of departure became ritual: we had to leave around 4 a.m. in order to arrive in Iron River, Michigan before the stores closed. In Iron River we bought ice blocks cut from a lake for our ice boxes, and ordered LP gas in later years after we modernized with a gas refrigerator. We shopped for perishables at Angeli's Market, and purchased boat gas and fishing licenses at Remondini's Standard. On the way out of town we got an ice cream cone at the White Way Dairy.

One especially treasured feature of our Michigan migration was a detour off of highway 41 to Schoneman's Log Cabin Inn in Howards Grove, Wisconsin, for steak sandwiches and bratwursts. Dad had gone to college and seminary at nearby Mission House (now Lakeland College) and knew the place well. The brats were smashed flat, grilled over an open flame, and served on a semi hard roll dripping with butter. The only condiment we ever ordered was pickles. I can still almost taste them.

It was nearly a 7-hour drive from central Indiana to Howards Grove in those days before interstate highways. Rebuffing Mom's repeated offer of egg salad on Wonder Bread, we would talk at length about which kind and how many sandwiches we would order: single brats, double brats, and steaks, our mouths watering the entire time.

The Schoneman's always greeted us warmly and served up their special fare. After (over)eating, we often ordered just one more sandwich to carry with us to the Oldsmobile. It was generally at this point that Dad would offer the ritual malediction: "Well, it wasn't quite up to common." These words, spoken after his consumption of at least two massive double brat sandwiches (and perhaps one steak as well), cued our earnest protestations that our brats were just as good as ever, and maybe better, and that he shouldn't even THINK about not bringing us back for more on the trip back to Indiana.

Associated as it was with all the other wonders of our annual trek to the Northwoods, eating brats in Howards Grove played such a formative role in my life that I could hardly wait to share the experience with Sally. Indeed, our honeymoon trip through Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota was specifically planned around sandwiches at the Log Cabin.

Now, we were married on March 2, 1977. It takes neither first hand experience nor much imagination to envision Wisconsin weather in March. In my defense, we originally planned to be married on Memorial Day, but Sally was simply so eager to enter into matrimonial bliss that we decided to move the date up. Either that or her job in Wyoming became so intolerable that marrying me became the lesser of evils, and even the prospect of a late winter honeymoon in Wisconsin didn't dissuade her.

After our nuptials in Indianapolis, Sally and I turned our wheels North, as my family had done so many times through the years. Since we departed way later than 4 a.m., we stopped for the night at a Red Roof Inn south of Chicago. It was there that Sally's bronchitis worsened (she might say that marriage made her sick) and she developed the worst cough I had ever heard. In the course of that long night the prospect of lighthearted fun in an uninsulated cabin 21 miles from the nearest electrical outlet became dimmer than a smoky kerosene lantern. However, I was not about to give up on my dream of sharing brats and steaks with my beloved, despite her declining condition, so we continued the trip to Howards Grove.

We ate sandwiches, and then drove back home to Illinois to get Sally to a doctor. As I remember it, the sandwiches were fantastic. Our marriage has survived and thrived. The honeymoon, however, was not quite up to common.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Time Cone - Apricots!

Sally got a wonderful surprise the other day. She found a tiny seedling coming up in one of the pots where she was attempting to sprout some apricot seeds. This seedling isn't just any apricot, for it represents the second generation derived from the McMillin Family Tree in Grand Junction, Colorado. That stately tree just across the driveway from the house Sally grew up in provided an unbelievable bounty of tasty apricots so juicy that they always managed to drip down your chin! Eight years ago, as Sally's parents were moving out of the old home place, Sally's sister collected a couple dozen apricots from this grand tree and shipped them to us in Washington. Though they arrived too mushy to eat, Sally had the idea of saving the seeds to grow her own trees.

Sally managed to get five seedlings from those twenty-four apricot seeds. As time passed, some prospered and others did not. Three of the seedlings were eventually transferred to pots and transported to Spokane when we moved here in 2004. After 
the first winter in our back yard, one tree died, leaving us with two slender 
descendants of the Family Tree. They grew taller and stronger each year until finally, last summer, we had our first tiny apricot harvest. We enjoyed the fruit, and saved the seeds, hoping to foster a new generation. Sally kept the seeds cool and dark through our long winter, and then placed them in pots as spring arrived. She had almost given up hope when her surprise seedling made its appearance just a few days ago. Sally will tend and nurture it in hopes that it will eventually stand next to the other two descendants of the McMillin Family Tree.

In my post on May 5, When Dad Changed the Future, I wrote of the time cone:
Though the concept is not easily summarized in a blog post, the visual image I would place before you is of an hourglass, placed on its side. There is no sand in the glass... it is time which is flowing. One end of the glass represents the future, and the other the past. The narrow center of the glass is the here and now. But here is the surprising thing about the time cone: Rather than the future flowing through the here and now into the past, the current is reversed! It is the past which flows into every present moment. And it is from the here and now that the future, until now indeterminate, bursts into possibility.
I would like to explore this concept further, using Sally's apricots as the central image to guide our inquiry.

You read above that the past flows into every present moment. Sally's apricots embody the past in countless ways: There is the genetic history of the apricots, tracing back through the Family Tree to its predecessors, back to the origin of flowering plants, back to the first plants which sent down exploratory roots on dry land. There is the history of human horticulture, reaching past all the Johnny Appleseeds and Sally Apricotseeds who planted fruit trees so that we might enjoy their bounty. There is the geological history of this place, Spokane, where otherwise unrecorded wind, snow and rainstorms wrought rich volcanic soils from the basaltic aftermath of Earth's flowing eruptions. Indeed, in our apricots, the whole history of the planet, the solar system, and the Cosmos have come to bear. We begin to understand that the past is not behind us, for all of the richness of history is flowing into every present moment.

You read above that it is from the here and now that the future bursts into possibility. In the moment that Sally decided to raise and nurture her seedlings, each apricot hanging from every limb of her two graceful trees became possible. The juice that will drip down the chins of those who eat these luscious delicacies in July became possible. The memories of apricots that will enrich the lives of the children of the eventual residents of this house became possible. Those children and the stories of apricots they will tell are not "out there, somewhere" coming at us. They are becoming possible in the decisions and actions of countless others, known and unknown, who are in this moment making their reality possible

The past flows into each present moment, and informs our decisions and actions. Those decisions and actions, for good or ill, create the future into which we will live. This is the time cone. It is a concept that recognizes the awesome and awful power we have for good or ill. It is a concept that allows our decisions to be shaped by our conceptions of Good, or Truth, or Life, or God, but they remain our decisions nonetheless. If salvation, peace, and prosperity are to be in our future, they will be so as a result of our actions in the here and now

In this light, maybe you've read enough for today. Go out and do something! The future is in your hands....

Monday, June 8, 2009

Does it seem warm to you, or is it just Climate Change?

Our son, Evan, wrote about an interesting event in Wellington, New Zealand this weekend. The "Wellington Freeze" was an event to focus attention on the need for action in response to global climate change. You can see a video about the event HERE. Evan appears briefly on the left of the screen at 1:30. Yes, he has a fantastic haircut.

Given the sheer scale and complexity of the issue, climate change is a difficult issue to address, even by those best educated and equipped to respond. Most of us have to trust the experts who have access to historical weather records from around the world, and also to the climate modeling programs used to predict climate change. Even with these tools, the predictions vary. A recent MIT climate change study  published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate doubled the extent of estimated warming by the end of the century that had been predicted in a similar, 2003 study. At the same time, the crack, long-range forecaster whose columns run in the crack, Spokane newspaper continues to argue that the climate is cooling. He also argues that mere human activity could never impact global climate anyway.

There are many reasons for the confusion around this issue, including the huge effects of small changes in global temperature, the failure to understand the distinction between weather and climate, the dumbing down of society in general, and the resulting failure to appreciate the impact of human activity on natural systems. In this latter regard, until relatively recently the idea that fishing could impact the future availability of fish was routinely dismissed. Too late we seem to be realizing that human actions matter. And yet, those who continue to disregard the evidence are all around us.

As you might expect, I believe that an important factor in this equation is a misunderstanding of the nature of time. The western world has developed within the context of a static concept of time. Folk wisdom embodied in sayings like the more things change, the more they stay the same, and, those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it give credence to the notion that nothing really changes. In this view the divine-human drama is played out again and again with the natural world little more than a backdrop. Some within religious traditions have attempted to address environmental issues, but generally without altering the context of supernatural theism and a view of time that leaves the future in "God's hands" [sic].

We are actually in the grips of the insanity of continuing to believe and do what we've always believed and done, while expecting the results to change. As an antidote, or at least a poultice, we might further explore the concept of the time cone, of which I introduced in a previous post, When Dad Changed the Future. The time cone helps us understand that the past comes to bear, and that the future springs into possibility, in the present moment. Tune in next time for another thrilling exploration of this concept.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Post from HAHL iss BREAD away

Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, took Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to task this week in his blog for pronouncing her name as if it had Spanish origins:

So, are we supposed to use the Spanish pronunciation, so-toe-my-OR, or the natural English pronunciation, SO-tuh-my-er, like Niedermeyer? of the areas where conformity is appropriate is how your new countrymen say your name, since that's not something the rest of us can just ignore, unlike what church you go to or what you eat for lunch. And there are basically two options -- the newcomer adapts to us, or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there's a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.

It is so hard not typing [sic] into that quotation multiple times, following such references as natural English, countrymen, and we adapt to him. Instead, I'll just type Mark Krikorian [sick] [sic]. Blissfully, I had never heard of this guy before. I'd be happy if he crawled back under his stone. And by the way, people who critique the way immigrants pronounce their names are famous for ignoring what church they attend and what they eat for lunch [sic].

Most of you know that my full name is John Hollis Bredeweg. Many of you know that I was, and still am, called Holly by my parents, family members and some friends. Here's the story: I was the fourth son born to my parents, following my three older brothers, Bill, Dick and Tom. (People often said, "Not Tom, Dick, and Harry" Of course, Harry was my dad's name.)

My parents hoped to have a daughter after the three boys, and planned to name her Holly. They so liked the sound of it that they named me John Hollis and called me Holly anyway. As an aside, I recently learned that I have several ancestors with the initials JHB who were called by their middle name. My parents may have known that, too, though I don't remember them having ever told me.

Early in life I became accustomed to the constant taunts, Holly is a girl's name!, but was still unprepared for Mrs. Campbell, my sixth grade math and homeroom teacher. Though I told her my name was Holly, she refused to call me anything other than John. There were many times when I distinctly heard her calling on John, without response. As her tone grew louder and more insistent, I would think that John was going to be in real trouble for not paying attention. Then would come the moment of utter humiliation when I realized that I was John, and that she was addressing me.

Mrs. Campbell (pronounced camel, by the way, not camp' bell) refused to adapt to me. Not knowing Mark Krikorian at the time, and thus unaware that conformity to my teacher's whim was appropriate, I pretty much resented her and had a miserable year. Given my experience, I am deeply moved by the stories told by the children of First Nations peoples who were removed to "schools" where they could be reeducated as English speaking Christians. My God, what humiliation, pain, and anger they must have felt. And what a richness our nation lost in failure to appreciate the depth of the cultures they embodied.

Look, I'm from Indiana, so I know xenophobia. I also know that it's probably a lost cause to argue the merits of multiculturalism with those who equate an excursion to the Taco Bell drive-up window with having an exotic palate. So let's try it differently: How does it feel to have some mispronounce your name...again and again...intentionally? Doesn't feel good? Want to make something of it, spic, kike, nigger, jap, frog, fag, jew, honky, ho', kraut, squaw, slope....? (Sorry, I was practicing my natural English pronunciations.)

Oh, and welcome to Mark Krikorian's America.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Brief Version of Previous Post for Twitter Users and Those with Adult ADHD

cut my hair


"Mommy, Mommy, look at that funny man!"

Those are words that none of us likes to hear, and especially not as we are walking out of the styling salon. Though I'm only guessing this is true for my female readers, as a man I speak from personal experience.

It all started in 1977  when Sally and I were newlyweds. We were living in Yorkville, Illinois, where I was completing a year's internship. My hair, always a bit shaggy, had gotten completely out of hand. Needing a haircut before leading worship that weekend, I had intended to make an appointment for myself at a newly minted men's styling salon at the Yorkville mall. I'd forgotten, and was late for a meeting, and so asked Sally to make an appointment for me.

Later, when Sally told me the time of my appointment, it became clear that she had called a women's beauty shop, not the new, manly, Men's styling salon. I was alarmed, but Sally reassured me that women had been cutting long hair for eons, and that I would be fine. I was further reassured when my stylist greeted me warmly with the words, "Your hair is just like my brother's. I know just what to do!"

I relaxed as the stylist went about her job. She clipped and fussed and teased and brushed... and finally turned me around for a look, stating emphatically, "That's the only thing you can do to cover that bald spot."

Now let's be clear, in those days my baldness was merely a spot. It was on the back of my head, out of (my) sight and thus out of (my) mind. The stylist saw it and minded, and thus did her best to make amends. She had teased and blow dried my long hair up and back to cover the damn-ed spot. The effect, when combined with my overly full beard, was that I was pretty much a dead ringer for Mr. Potato Head.

I mumbled my appreciation for the stylist's efforts, and stumbled out of the salon. That's when I heard those fateful words... "Mommy, Mommy...." They still sting.

Though you still see occasional television commercials for the Hair Club for Men, times have changed. Baldness doesn't carry the stigma it once did. Men, some women, and even celebrities actually shave their heads completely, and go out in public that way! Truth be told, I've done it myself.

These many years later, I have survived run-ins with snooty stylists on the one hand, and Buzz the Barber (really) on the other. My bald spot, no longer out of sight, is now an expansive plain. Oh sure, I've tried from time to time to recapture the carefree look of my hippy past, but my scraggly pony-tail comprised more hair from my neck than from my head. My wild child finally had to join my hairline in retreat after I was subjected to the scathing judgement of one of our metro-sexual Seattle pastors. Before a stint as a guest speaker in his church, I apologized for the ugly, oozing sores all over my face that were the result of a chemical peel to combat pre-cancerous lesions. The pastor said that he hadn't noticed my face, but that my hair was "a bit fly-away". 

I cut my own hair now. It saves time, money, and any threat of unwanted interest from women other than my wife. As for that long ago, traumatic styling session, I want to be clear that I don't blame Sally. Yes, she did say, "Next time call for your own appointment", but she wasn't being passive aggressive. We didn't even know that term in those halcyon days. Besides, when I came home from the mall in humiliation, with the words of that cruel child ringing in my hair-covered ears, it was Sally who took scissors and clippers and tamed my monstrous mane so that I could go outside without being subjected to ridicule. I like to think it was her way of showing that, though I could learn to live without hair, I couldn't live without her.