Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Sunday

As Rich said this morning, this Jesus embodied the will of God in his total identification with the poor and powerless of his day, and his radical rejection of all systems of hierarchy and domination. The message of his life and death is the counter-intuitive, counter-cultural idea that we can take care of each other--that we must take care of each other. The kingdom of God is at hand; open your hand and bring it to life.

"All you who despair, all you who are overwhelmed, all you who have given up hope, all you who have seen your dreams die, all you who are weary or sick--come. For this is the day of resurrection. This is the dawn which heralds the end of the endless night. This is the day of hope beyond all hope." --Rich Gamble

Friday, March 25, 2005

Maundy Thursday

Last night was Maundy Thursday. About twenty-five of us gathered in KUCC's aptly located upper room to revisit the symbols and words of the Last Supper. Those who had arrived earliest had set up tables in a U shape, with chairs set around both the inside and outside of the U. White tablecloths covered the tables, a thin strip of torn purple fabric running lengthwise down the center of each table. Each place setting held a small ceramic dish of salt water, a goblet, and a plate with fresh bitter herbs and a boiled egg. Ceramic pitchers and larger bowls were placed at the end of each table, and plates between each pair of place settings held several pieces of matzoh bread.

We took seats inside the U across from Nell and Mary, both in their eighties. Next to Mary sat Gloria, whose retirement we celebrated during one Sunday's service by gathering into a circle and doing a ritual blessing of her transition into a new phase of her life. Melissa's husband Eric sat at the corner of the tables and quietly strummed a guitar as we began our "agape feast."

Unlit votives in small glass vases were placed evenly along the purple cloth, and we began by sending one lit taper down the table, hand to hand, until all the candles were lit.

Rich read the story of how Jesus washed his disciples' feet saying, "Unless I wash your feet, you have no part in me." Then he asked us to ritually wash each others' hands, passing pitchers of water, empty basins, and towels along the table to pour water over the hands of our neighbors.

When we had served each other this way, three voices took turns speaking words from the Bible describing the cruel oppression the Israelites suffered in Egypt. "We hold these bitter herbs in our hands," Melissa recited, "as we remember the bitterness of oppression and injustice in our world." We dipped the herbs in the salt water before us symbolizing the tears wept everywhere by victims of violence, domination, and hatred. We ate the salty herbs and sat silently in memory and sorrow for the bitter places in our world and in our lives.

Rita read to us from the book of Exodus the story of how the Israelites left Egypt in such haste that they were only able to take unleavened bread dough with them, and how when they complained later about their hardship God promised to rain bread on them. We broke pieces of the matzoh bread and held it, contemplating the places we see hope and promise given even in the midst of bitterness and despair.

Ah, my village. We ate a true feast, with salmon, boiled eggs, a delicious salad of wheat berries and fruits, and breads; as the meal wound down we suddenly saw Rich pushing a small wheeled table toward us. "Can I interest you in the dessert cart this evening?" he asked. Everyone erupted in laughter, but he mildly served dessert to us all, one by one.

After the meal we set about having communion. I realized that my goblet was still full of my last water refill, but would be needed to hold the grape juice people were beginning to pass down the table. I grabbed my goblet and gulped down water as fast as I could. I noticed Gloria, across from me, had made the same realization and was also drinking frantically; she caught my eye and started laughing, trying to stay quiet as Rich began to speak the ritual words of the communion. Of course her laughter gave me a case of the giggles, which nearly had me dribbling water down myself as I guzzled it down. When I set my glass down Gloria leaned toward me and whispered, "I'll go drinking with you anytime!" By turns solemn and merry, it was a perfect feast.

When we held the matzoh bread and thought about the places we find hope in the darkness of the world, I thought about how much that community is one such place. This little church with maybe twenty people in attendance on any Sunday readily offers shelter and food to the homeless. Once a year they hold a three-day Festival of Hope at which they sell handcrafted goods to raise money for organizations that are working to fight poverty. They raise over ten thousand dollars in that weekend and keep not a penny of it for their own expenses. They are serious about being "an open and affirming, justice-centered faith community," but they do so calmly, without a hint of self-righteousness or smarm, and have no patience for the kind of faux-pious arrogance that loudly claims to be the only right kind of Christianity. Gay? Come on in. Shacking up? Have a seat. Agnostic, like me? Welcome to the family.

I don't really believe in God, you know. I don't take literally the narratives in the texts collectively called the Bible. I don't know if the historical person of Jesus ever existed, and I'm (to say the least) skeptical that his physical body came back from the dead.

What if, after all, that's not the point?

What if the main point was the way this Jesus character is emphatically identified with the poor, the helpless, the rejected and the hopeless?

What if the main point actually was, "Love your neighbor, and oh by the way when I say 'neighbor' I mean the person you find most unacceptable?"

The world is full of bitterness and pain; I believe that. We wreak pain on each other, and the earth wreaks it on us too. A hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed in the last two years alone, another two or three hundred thousand in the tsunami in December. Genocide continues in Sudan, and AIDS ravages Africa, and in my own tiny selfish world many of my family members and my friends' family members are suffering.

But peace and hope can be brought even into the heart of the bitter places, and I believe that as well. It's not altogether reasonable, I know. Still, I can't help believing, we can do each other good even when our leaders and our natures conspire to discourage us.

So I go to this tiny church and do the small things I can do to spread goodness. I write to my senators and representatives, I stay at the church on Monday nights once in awhile, I recycle and take the bus and try to meditate just like your archetypical tree-hugging bleeding-heart liberal. And I do it knowing all the time how small I am and how large and varied the pains of the world. I know constantly that I cannot hope to change the entire world.

Still, maybe that is the point. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it, and all that. Every time the darkness seems to have triumphed, somehow that light keeps flickering. Even through three dark days or entire dark ages when it seems to have been vanquished utterly, it is always reborn. I believe that, too.

And it is, after all, good news.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


While TV channel-surfing earlier I heard a snippet of conversation between two military recruits polishing their boots. Said one to the other, "All those people protesting the war are just doin' it 'cause they're too scared to fight themselves."

I have no idea of the channel or show, because I couldn't stand to stay for another word. Are people really that stupid? I mean, I'm totally against the occupation of Iraq, but I'm not dumb enough to say something like, "All the people in favor of the war are just excited about killing Iraqis."


Okay, I know this will only reach a few eyes, but I cannot resist gushing a teensy bit. Allow me to preface by noting my extreme lack of hipness, indie awareness, or musical coolness of any kind. But when I read a reference a few months ago on finslippy about a song called "Chimbley Sweep--" well, how can you not be intrigued by a song called "Chimbley Sweep?" I mean, aren't you? Just a little?

So I went to Rhapsody and checked out the Decemberists. Oh, God, I was hooked. With lyrics like these, from "Red Right Ankle," I was hooked:

This is the story of your gypsy uncle
You never knew 'cause he was dead
And how his face was carved and rift with wrinkles
In the picture in your head.

And remember how you found the key
To his hideout in the Pyrenees
But you wanted to keep his secret safe
So you threw the key away.
This is the story of your gypsy uncle.
Oh, there were catchy melodies and lilting harmonies--but the lyrics, the jauntily outlandish tales told in a few deft lines, the words Colin Meloy uses...I was overcome with delight.

They have a brand-new album out, Picaresque, and it's incredible. With songs like "The Mariner's Revenge Song," and "From My Own True Love (Lost at Sea)." With lyrics like these, from "The Infanta:"
And as she sits upon her place, her innocence laid on her face.
From all atop the parapets blow a multitude of coronets:
melodies rhapsodical and fair.
And all our hearts afire, the sky ablaze with cannonfire,
we all raise our voices to the air, to the air...
Seriously, how can you not enjoy that?

I've been listening to this album all evening, and I anticipate dreams of whales and pachyderms, consumptive mothers and vengeful sailors.

Monday, March 21, 2005

My Village

Seen recently in this space: me whining about how introverted and isolated I can be. Ho HO, not lately. I spent today in Vancouver, B.C. for a work-related meeting/training session (ahhh, poor me, making new friends in a beautiful city on a sunshiny day, and being paid for my time...). Saturday I mostly stood and walked around in the pouring rain together with some friends from my village, whom I admire tremendously.

I also had the unexpected pleasure of seeing someone who was a good friend some time ago, but whom I hadn't even seen in almost five years. It was delightful to reconnect and exchange contact info--even the "thirty-second summary of your last few years," a ritual I usually despise, was a pleasant conversation.

I am slowly (and nobody is more surprised by or suspicious of this development than I) finding a village for myself, though it may be a bit sparsely populated by some village standards. Bit by bit, I make room for people to move into this space in my heart--some old friends rediscovered or reconciled, some new friends; some I only "see" online, some I only talk to on the phone, some I only see at Christmas or on Sundays. The hardest part is forcing myself to show my personality, rather than smile and listen quietly to them, which I would cheerfully do all the time if I could get away with it. While I usually do get away with it, I'm finding that this village of people will gently prod me to speak, to act, to unfold and reveal myself.

It's so uncomfortable. It's like a social equivalent of the ache you feel the day after a long, wonderful hike, though--it hurts, but secretly I like being reminded that I worked those muscles. I like being occasionally prodded from my hermit-crab shell and challenged to make a genuine connection.

I'm pretty sure it was frog's blog where I picked up the "village" phrasing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Jim Hightower nailed it:

George has even played the security card, declaring that "our national security makes it urgent" to open this unspoiled wilderness [ANWR] to the oil giants.

But in a gusher of political irony, guess what? The oil giants have little interest in drilling there! Even a Bush advisor on this issue confided that "No oil company really cares about ANWR," adding that "If the government gave them the [drilling] leases for free they wouldn't take them." Indeed, Chevron Texaco, BP, and ConocoPhillips have so little interest in ANWR that they have withdrawn from Arctic Power, the chief lobbying front behind Bush's push to open the refuge.

Why the corporate disinterest? Because, unlike George, companies have to base their decisions at least partially on reality, and the geological reality is that ANWR doesn't hold enough oil to make private investment there worthwhile. Only one actual test of the refuge's oil potential has been done – a secret test by Chevron Texaco and BP, two of the giants that have now backed away from Bush's ANWR scheme. If it had real production potential, these profit-seekers would be lobbying hard to get in there.

What's really behind the Bushites' insistence on drilling in a wildlife refuge is nothing but their reactionary, knee-jerk laissez-faire ideology. They hate the idea that the public can protect any piece of nature from corporate intrusion – even if the corporations don't choose to intrude. ANWR is a case of their ideological loopiness.
Via this blog, randomly found through the "next blog" button, which I love.

Despair for the World

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry
We sprawl, and unfurl concrete like a carpet behind us, and slice through the hearts of ancient trees for the few boards they can yield us, and despair grows in me.

We squint, and hate, and reach out to thwart the lives and bodies and choices we disapprove, and despair grows in me.

We maim, and kill, and destroy, dress our cold arrogance in frills and send it marching relentlessly across the world, and despair grows in me.

As Berry so eloquently describes, the peace of wild things is often a comfort to those who despair.

What will we do, I wonder, when we have finally trampled through all the peace of the wild things?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


Just to make clear--that last post wasn't insinuating that all men are creepy assholes. Plenty are, of course. And plenty of women are conniving, gold-digging bitches. Blah blah blah. I think our stereotypes of each other are pretty well mined for material already.

Actually, when I reflected on those encounters (and I'm lucky, to be sure, that those kinds of encounters are rare for me) I was interested in the fact that the encounters themselves were pretty much harmless--no overt threats, either verbal or physical--but that my reaction was automatically one of mistrust and apprehension.

It's just another one of those things I'm sort of pondering lately, learning more about for pretty much the first time. I'm not the one to turn to for informed discussion about gender issues--you want some smart, fun discussion about that, you need to visit Bitch. Ph.D., Alas, a Blog, feministe, Mouse Words--hell, just go to What She Said! and scroll down the right side. I'm just rattling new ideas around in my head here, occasionally rolling them out like dice here to see what lands.

Like learning how many differences between men and women, things I was always taught are fundamental gender differences, turn out to be the result of socialization rather than genetics.

Like the subtle (and not so subtle) ways women are still portrayed as the "other" in our society. I'm not used to seeing that as blatantly as the man in the elevator revealed it--"should I let the woman out first?" There was a mild furor online recently about a Bell ad that, as Amanda at Mouse Words said, "is clearly meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but even so the joke doesn't make sense unless the intended audience is comfortable with the misogynist notion that the female body is something children must be 'protected' from seeing." And that's a fairly common notion, at least among the people I grew up with. (Remember when John Ashcroft ordered draperies to cover the exposed breast of the Spirit of Justice?)

Like noticing when I read a nonfiction book and can't find a single positive portrayal of a woman, when every single woman for a hundred pages is dismissed as "cranky" or "probably a prostitute" or "fat and slow."

Just thoughts, that's all. I'm by no means accusing all men of being misogynist assholes. And collective guilt seems unnecessary to me. Unless, you know, it spurs you to stand up to your brothers when you encounter their sexist behavior, as Hugo encourages here. (Scroll down through the recap of the past discussion until you see the bold line, "Men aren't hard enough on each other." Oh, and if you only click one link in this linky-dink post, I'd have to suggest you make it that last one.)

That's all. Thanks for listening, internet. You're too good to me.

Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady

In honor of International Women's Day, I present three encounters I had within the space of two days last week. Maybe they are merely examples of my own timidity and paranoia. Or maybe not. I report, you decide.


I am unloading groceries into the back of my car late in the evening. Nearby, two male store employees are gathering empty carts to wheel back into the store. One of them lingers quietly until I am finished so he can take my cart back for me. I smile gratefully at him and say, "Thanks."

As he wheels the cart away, the other employee shouts something like, "Hey, I'll see you tomorrow," at him. I don't pay attention but continue settling the groceries into the car. The man shouts again, and then a third time. I notice that the first employee is walking away without answering, and glance over at the shouting man to gauge his hostility level, wondering if the two are fighting about something.

He is standing still and staring at me from a couple of car lengths away. "Yeah, I'm talking to you," he shouts when we make eye contact. I don't recognize him, and I can't judge his facial expression in the darkness, so I nod an acknowledgment and get into the car before he says anything else.


I catch the bus home from my first day of jury duty. Being so near the beginning of the bus line, I easily find an empty seat and settle in, pulling a book out of my bag.

A man sitting alone in the seat behind mine immediately peeks over the back of my seat. "Wow, you have beautiful eyes," he says. He is wearing sunglasses.

"Thank you," I respond, smiling at him, surprised and flattered.

He leans closer. "What color are they?" he asks.


"What color are your eyes? They're beautiful," he repeats. He is very close to my face now.

"," I answer, opening my book and edging slightly away.

"Where are you headed?" he asks.

"Home," I say without looking up.

He is offended by my aloofness, or catches on that I am uncomfortable, and snaps, "O-kay," flopping heavily back into his own seat.


Downtown at the courthouse for my second day of jury duty, I step into an open elevator on the seventh floor to walk outside during the morning break. Three men follow me in before the doors close, a fact noted with mild discomfort by an ever-alert corner of my brain.

The four of us ride down in silence until we near the bottom and the man nearest the door turns with a smirk to one of the other men. "How does this work, now?" he says. "Even though I'm closest to the door, am I supposed to let the woman out first?" He emphasizes the word "woman," drawing out the syllables in his mouth.

None of them looks at me while they all share a chuckle. When the doors open, I stand motionless in the corner. The man who spoke turns and gestures dramatically at the open door; the other two are also waiting. I squeeze past them without making eye contact, a fixed polite smile on my face.

As I hurry out of the building, I catch myself thinking guiltily, "You bitch, you should have said, 'thanks.'"

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Planned Parenthood

Good posts about the side of Planned Parenthood you usually won't hear about here and here. Good to read--especially if you have an immediate, viscerally negative reaction to the words "Planned Parenthood." From the first link:

The doc asked if this was my first ever pelvic [exam], I said yes. She told me everything she was doing before she did it, was very gentle, asked me if things were ok, did this hurt, talked me through the process. I felt treated with dignity and concern. She made quite a point of asking me more than once if I had questions, making sure that I understood my b.c. [birth control] options, telling me what side effects I might expect and what to do if I had them, talked to me about STDs and condom use, asked if I'd had sex yet, commended me for coming in for birth control and bringing my boyfriend ("good for you! And good for him!"), and sent me on my way.... Perhaps because my first visit to PP was so good, I've always had a very high expectation of my health care providers, and I've always felt entitled to ask questions and take up their time if I don't understand something.

My other revelation about PP came many years later, in a casual conversation with my sister-in-law. She mentioned going to PP and I was a bit surprised, because in my mind PP was something I'd used as a teenager, not an adult. SIL pointed out that she didn't have health insurance and that, because of that PP was the only health care she received, period. When she went in for her bcp, they also asked her about her general health, gave her physicals, and provided prescriptions she needed for other issues. Suddenly I realized that those who attack PP, who picket it, who make it difficult for women to go there, are not only hindering women receiving gynecological care; they're also standing in the way of many, many women for whom PP is the only affordable, respectful, thorough health care they get. At all.

....This, of course, is the real point: abortion is only a small (but necessary) part of what women's health clinics provide. The attack on women's health clinics is, effectively, an attack on women's health; when and if anti-abortion crusaders shut down clinics, all they do is promote more, not fewer, unwanted pregnancies--by removing access to birth control, by removing respectful, affordable health care, by removing the education and support women need to learn how to take care of themselves, including planning pregnancies when and if they want them.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


Mr. Thel is a big fan of Rush. (The rock band, not the windbag.) He recently bought a book (Ghost Rider) about the epic motorcyle trip the band's drummer, Neil Peart, embarked upon after the deaths of his daughter and wife. I picked up the book and almost immediately found a nice description of my own social clumsiness:

I confess that I am one of those people who, in a deep and secret place, can never imagine why anyone would actually like them. Respect maybe, or even appreciate, but not really care for. not about self-esteem or pride... but it is more a sense of one's ineptitude in the social graces, a perceived "disability" in what seemed to be the normal social routines of being charming, funny, entertaining, and forthcoming with another person.

This existential discomfort causes more social awkwardness than the contrary self-image (as evinced by one friend of mine who, in that same deep and secret place, can't imagine why anyone wouldn't like him.) And for those of us who feel deficient in such socially valued qualities, it can also be that the effort of opening ourselves up to another is so difficult we're willing to at least attempt the operation in close relationships, but not for casual encounters. [author's italics;bold added]
That's me! Being charming, funny, entertaining, and forthcoming with another person" is such an effort that I avoid it whenever possible. It's not as hard with people I'm close to--people with whom I feel a comfortable familiarity, having already done the hard work of chopping through the initial awkwardness. Everyone has to spend time "breaking the ice," of course, but the normal time allotted for that process implies that this is flimsy ice, a thin film easily broken, and that I who need an Arctic ice-breaking ship to cut a sufficient passage into friendship am feeble and broken, myself.

I do have manic bursts of social frenzy that would belie my introversion, except that when the night is over or the party has wound down I am utterly exhausted. I may have had a great time, and be glad I made myself attend, but I'll be wiped out from the effort.

I need to learn either how to be comfortable with this, to be happy with one or two close friends, or how to stretch myself without breaking, because as it is I'm stuck in a bit of a cycle:

Step one: Spend a week without having a serious conversation with anyone.
Step two: Realize I have spent a week without having a serious conversation with anyone.
Step three: Feel lonely and anxious about small number of close friendships.
Step four: Worry that this lack reflects serious flaws in myself.
Steps five and six: Repeat steps three and four.
Step seven: Arrange social outings for near future to remedy this flaw.
Step eight: Attend social outing: spend evening talking, laughing, and making merry.
Step nine: Collapse, exhausted, into bed.
Step ten: Review every word and gesture during social outing, finding much to criticize. Ponder the ineptitude and cluelessness that have ended past friendships, and decide it's too risky and unpleasant to continue this game.

Lather, rinse, and repeat!

I would like to find a balance, to be comfortable that there are a number of people with whom I feel I can be myself--my true, warty, socially awkward, occasionally goofy and strident self--and slowly stop feeling broken for my inability to make that number huge.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


The Jurorista

I'm "enjoying" the use of quotation marks in the online guide for jurors.

Welcome to jury service!

Your job as a juror is to listen to all the evidence presented at trial, then "decide the facts"-- decide what really happened. The judge's job is to "decide the law" -- make decisions on legal issues that come up during the trial. All must do their job well if our system of trial by jury is to work.

Also Pondering
A veteran comes back from the war suffering from severe trauma. In a very short time, he finds his marriage collapsing and ends up on the street. A woman flees for her life. An abusive and violent spouse has threatened her with prolonged violence.... An elderly person suffers from cancer and has drained all of her resources in this life-threatening crisis. She has no caretaker, struggles to keep going, and is not sure what the future holds....

All of these situations are true stories within our community. Oftentimes such men, women and children have no advocate. Overwhelmed, they may despair and wonder if there is any hope whatsoever....

Everyone has an obligation to speak out for justice. Once you are aware of the situations that I have described, you simply cannot walk away and say, “It is their problem, not mine.” Christians everywhere are called upon by Christ himself to exemplify compassion.

I found the full text from which the above quote is taken by googling curiously about the St. Martin de Porres shelter. The shelter in downtown Seattle provides space for 212 homeless men, age 50 and older, every night of the year; during the winter months the shelter makes arrangements with six local churches to provide space for 34 additional men each night.

Up to ten of those men stay at KUCC on Monday nights during the winter. Janet and I stayed with them last night, and her husband cooked everyone breakfast this morning. Ten men snoring in a room together...that's an impressive chorus you don't hear every day.

Well, of course, unless you're without a home, just looking for a warm place to sleep through the night and some kind of food in your belly. Then you get used to a lot more than snores disrupting your sleep.
By 2009, funding for non-entitlement programs in areas such as national resources and the environment, veterans’ health benefits, health, and agriculture would be 10 percent to 20 percent below the 2004 funding levels, adjusted for inflation....The proposed cuts include a cut of $5.7 billion — or 17 percent — in veterans’ health benefits. (via billmon)

Veterans account for nearly one-third of all homeless men in America, even though the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says they comprise only 13 percent of adult males in the general population.

"Studies show that mental health issues for homeless vets begin later in their lives -- as much as twelve years later," [Linda] Boone [executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless Veterans (NCHV) in Washington, DC.] explained. "They will seem to be doing well mentally, despite being on the street, and then some event will trigger a problem. The public should be really concerned about that because the VA doesn’t have the facilities or resources to treat the current number of homeless vets with mental health issues, let alone any new ones."

Meanwhile, say veterans’ advocates, the Pentagon appears to be a in state of denial. While admitting to some problems in treating soldiers returning from Iraq, Pentagon officials have told the press that the situation has been addressed.

Homeless vet advocates remain unimpressed. "The military has done a terrible job easing vets back into American life once their tour of duty ends," Stoops said.[/understatement] you really think that yellow ribbon is doing anything to, you know, actually "support" the troops?