Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Death in all its Glory

Death, sublime and transient,
Turning ever before me,
A kaleidoscope of endings,
I plummet with them into the abyss of earth.

Death, perfect in design,
Irreducibly complex,
Central to transformed life,
The Hope of new birth.

Ever forming, ever twisting, ever controlling, all of me.
Ever fulfilling, ever describing, all of life.
Death is now the color of glory.

Death, complete and unalterable,
Grey and monotone,
Choking breath,
Hastening the end.

Death, produced in intelligence,
Reducing diversity,
Warping the fabric of beauty,
Becoming all there is.

There was once a forest here.
Now there is only the Image of God.

Saturday, 28 October 2006

Peacemaking, O. Henry Style

It's so much safer in Morocco than in America. Last year there were some 30,000 gun deaths in the U.S. Last year there were zero gun deaths in Morocco. Oh, there was the occasional knifing or being accosted on the street- but not near to the extent of danger that you might experience in the U.S., be it New York or small town Ashland, Oregon. Fights in Morocco also rarely result in a lot of damage- usually the friends of the man or woman will pull them apart before anything can happen. But on the other side, I was always so impressed at how much more often fights would occur in Morocco. I had many opportunities to break them up and practice peacemaking while I was there. Throughout the year but especially at Ramadan you would see people engaging each other with anger and violence. I was struck how seldom you see people doing that in America or Yemen. (In Yemen, of course, the other guy might have an AK-47, definitely has a jambiya, a large ceremonial sharp knife, and if you kill him, his tribe of 20,000 people will attack you. So that kind of cuts down on the possibilities of random acts of violence.) I was glad that street fights don't occur as often in America, or that I have to intercede.

Until a couple days ago. When I'm asking the woman at the local Red Apple Market where an item is, and she won't pay attention to me at all, as all of her attention is focused on the gentleman outside. The shabbily-dressed gentleman forcibly grabbing the arm of a woman and dragging her along. I went up to him (we'll call him Mark) and gently laid my hand on his arm, encouraging him to let go of her, that this was not necessary. At that point another guy came up (and he'll be Fred), yelling at Mark for attacking Fred and the woman, and Mark in turn brought up that Fred had first thrown food items at Mark. So I asked if Mark would be satisfied if Fred would simply apologize, and Mark said yes. I asked Fred if he would apologize. Fred said if Mark let go of the woman. That satisfied them both. Mark let go, and Fred apologized.

Then they continued just yelling at each other, without touching. As long as there no longer seemed a possibility of someone being hurt, especially the woman being attacked, I was happy. Especially since it turned out that Mark was dressed in dingy clothes for a reason- he was a plainclothes security guard for Red Apple, and was in the process of accusing the couple of shoplifting.

Monday, 23 October 2006

Losing Status

I moved this weekend, into a new place. $500/month. This is the place, taken from the closet. 180 sq. feet. In Morocco I shared a 2-bedroom for $220/month. I've been thinking lately of class and consciousness. There is another piece of dying here. In Morocco, it's not like I lived upper-class- more like middle-class, by Moroccan standards. Nor is it like I was always treated with great deference, like a Brit in Victorian India. We had to wait in the same long lines as everyone else, and at times perhaps were made to wait longer because we were American. But somehow there was an attitude that, as an expat American, you were special. There was something like the average person on the street gave you a bit more respect; that you were at a higher level. It's a very caste-based society. That's not good. But I did get used to it.

Now I come to America, and I'm suddenly lower-class again. Trying to make ends meet, uncertified so I can't teach, living in a very small place. I'm just a normal person, no longer at a higher level in the eyes of society. I'm told this often happens when expats return home. It's not bad. It's how Jesus lived, despised and rejected among people and all that. But it's taking some getting used to.

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

What I like about America:

I went to an international evening of poetry at the local library this evening. They had four translators there, the host, the girlfriend of one of the translators...and me. I was the only real audience member. It was kind of unique.

It's gotta be really hard to translate poetry. You have to put it in language an English-speaker can understand, keep rhythm and rhyme as much as possible, and keep it still beautiful, hopefully as the original author intended. It means a very keen grasp of both English and the original language. Tonight they shared poems from Sweden (including a woman who was part of a anarchist surrealism group but got kicked out because she started producing art in the form of poetry), Spain (excerpts from a very long metered play from the 1600's), Iran (all diaspora), and China (including some interesting early Ho Chi Min work). Turns out Chinese poetry can be quite complex. Rhyming is easy, as there are half as many sounds in Chinese than English. But in classical Chinese poetry tones on successive lines should be opposite, but meanings concordant. (If I remember that right.)

After they thanked the audience for attending, I got to thinking. Yesterday someone got really angry with me because I suggested that a teacher invite their students over to the teacher's house. Evidently that's not done anymore in America, and I wasn't aware, or forgot. Lot's of things that I can't remember, or have forgotten. There were some women where I used to work in Morocco who would have a list displayed in their home of what they liked about Morocco, often things that were better there than here. It helped them appreciate where they were and not experience as much culture shock stress. I think I need to do the same thing with America. Not that Morocco is bad. Rather the opposite. If I'm going to be here for awhile, I need to see the good points of America, 'cause it's hard not to pine. So...

  • Poetry Readings are more accessible
  • Libraries are everywhere and thus you can read lots and lots of books
  • Easy to see the latest movies
  • Keeping up with favorite TV shows like Lost, the Office, and Smallville
  • Easy to catch up on shows I missed, like the last season of West Wing
  • More diversity in food choices ethnically (like good Lebanese food)
  • Easier to get archery training
  • Greater diversity in theological viewpoints
  • Easier to keep up with politics and the coming election
  • Burger King, Subway, & Taco Hell everywhere (though not necessarily a good thing stroke-wise)
  • Lots of green and parks (at least here in the NW)
  • Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, and Diet Berries & Cream Dr. Pepper
  • Greater diversity in political viewpoints
  • Regular Open Worship
  • Fewer cultural restrictions on female relationships
  • Good spiritual encouragement in Grace from my Meeting
  • Salsa lessons freely available
  • Easier to find decent dance clubs without as much harassement

I think I'm out. You wanna help me? It's okay, we don't have to agree on the item. But can you think of any other ways living in America is better than Morocco? I need some encouragement.

Monday, 16 October 2006

A Day

It's depressing to turn 29 & 12/2. And I'm finding I'm mostly missing everyone, and life, in Morocco. Not that I haven't made the right decisions- to leave, or to stay- but I still really miss them. But they gave me a wonderful intercontinental birthday present today, all with a Georgian theme.

That was probably the highlight of the day. It was ironic, because I had heard these hints that there was going to be a surprise party, and I kept on expecting one. Surprise! Turns out, the hints I had heard were in reference to an aborted surprise party, so nothing happened, and I didn't plan anything, thinking others were. I was very much looking forward to the idea of exploring a bog nearby, something like what I visited before in Morocco, to worship some in nature, as I did with the same loving friends last year. But I was unable to get transportation there while it was still light, leaving me feeling very unfulfilled, in the most metaphysical sense.

So after service where I discovered a good friend owns a restaurant near my church (bringing back many fond memories), I waited for Kent and Trina to get home, and then we went off to a story-telling session. This group called The Moth is touring out of New York around the U.S. telling stories. These are all true stories, told without notes, maximum of 12 minutes at a time. If they go too long a professional violinist interupts them with a solo.

There's a definite New York City feel to the stories. We stayed for 4 of the 7 stories there at Town Hall. The first was by the host, sharing about how he had a kid out of wedlock in a one-night stand, and therefore over Christmas shared crack while making out with a transvestite. Yeah. The second got a little better- at least cleaner. A woman shared about how she almost drowned while on vacation in Kennebunkport, but was saved by a couple of the Kennedy's (in an ironic Chappaquiddik twist). Subsequently the storyteller accidently knocked the glass eye of her uncle out while playing Chicken Fights in the water, and then the entire family searched as the same Kennedys secretly watched in a celebrity stalker reversal. Interesting story. Only to be followed by an ex-pick-pocket sharing about how he learned his trade so well, as he got involved in drugs and alchohol, which caused him to lose his excellent pick-pocketing abilities. (I know there's a moral in there somewhere.)

I'm so glad we stayed for the final guy, the author of Snow Falling on Cedars. There was a difference somehow in how he shared, being from Seattle, after the three New Yorkers. Maybe a less edgy tone? I'd loved the movie, so I looked forward to the story, and I was not disappointed. Here finally was some redemption. He shared about how he has always, up till 2 months ago, thought of himself as the top of the world, in writing, sports, everything. When he was 10 this lead him into a very short fight where a shorter boy fractured his wrist. (This after he mentioned that the shorter boy's mother engages in alternative means of gaining ready cash.) Subsequently they both were on the same jr. high basketball team, and became best friends through highschool. But then, 40 years later, he discovered that that fracture had lead to rheumatoid arthritis. And as he realized he couldn't overcome this, he fell downward into an immense spiral of depression. And then a few months ago, he hit bottom, and realized that he wasn't the top of the world, and didn't need to be. And he could now see how that fracture 40 years ago helped him in this moment, and could thank his friend for it. Which he did by calling him up on stage and hugging him.

After that story, considering the first three, we were eager to leave early on a high note. We moved on to Compline, a weekly tradition here at St. Mark's, similar to the Taize I went to a week ago. This is a very beautiful setting where an all-male choir sings Gregorian style, albeit in English, in a great hall of acoustics. We stand, sit, and lie down for 1/2 an hour, absorbing the music and listening to God, repeating the Lord's Prayer. I say lying down, because this is Seattle, and this is a very popular deal for singles, so all the pews in the great hall are filled, and men and women lounge and lie on the ground around the pews, considering what is sung.

It allowed me to contemplate trespasses. I think I like it better than sins or debtors, even if it does have more "s's" and therefore can lead to embarassement if you use it accidently in an unknown church. Sins brings to mind what you've done wrong, or others have done wrong. Debtors makes it financial- what does someone else owe me? Trespasses I think I can relate to better. How has someone trespasses on my land, territory, boundaries- or I to them? Somehow it's easier to forgive that way, be it for real or felt slights. So I went through the list of those I felt injured by, forgiving them trespasses- and I think came a long way towards actually doing so.

We returned home for some ice cream and cake, and the best physical present of the day goes to Kent and Trina, for a candle. Reminds me of my plans for this Halloween. I'm thinking of going as Black Smoke.

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Evolution Observed in Progress!

Yesterday was the first day without pain, thank God. The kidney stones had passed, and the infection was reduced, providing yet another blow to the concept of natural selection. Obviously if the concept were real, the bacteria would have been able to develop a response to my immune system response and evolve protections and I'd never have been able to get rid of them. If it were real we'd be seeing many such bacteria now unresponsive to modern day antibiotics. But here, I didn't even take antibiotics, and the bacteria weren't able to resist my natural body defenses in the slightest.

A bold day for ID. Or so I thought. For just as I was celebrating the moment, I was horrified to discover this, occuring right below in the living room- the evolution from simple pre-cellular protoplasm, something similar to a slime mold, into one of the most advanced organisms on the planet.

Press Play Twice.
(This might explain why there are now so many of these creatures in my brother's house, where only a few years ago there was only one.)

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Worship, Old School, New School

For the kidney stones, I think they have passed. But my kidney itself still remains enflamed from the backup and troubles, and I am hoping I don't have to see the doctor again tomorrow. Unfortunately, between bouts of pain and drug-induced slumber, this past week has left me barely able to function.

For my future, I had a very promising meeting with a Dr. Ruesink at U Dub yesterday. Before the meeting I felt quite good, like I was in the right place, and God was leading me. She graduated undergrad the same year as I, though taking quite a different path, and does quantitative studies of nearshore ecology and fisheries, primarily on mussels. Although I am more of a qualitative naturalist, much of what she is looking at I have an interest in. As she met me her 2 year old daughter arrived, so we took a long walk with the stroller around the green campus.

Dr. Ruesink was incredibly helpful. She was my last best hope for U Dub, having been recommended to me by 3 different people- and she confirmed that it wouldn't be an appropriate fit. She was fascinated by my interest in Suqutra, and encouraged me that this is definitely a dream worth pursuing, if only for the sake of science and discovery. But U Dub remains a very temperately-focused school. She did however know of a number of promising leads, including possibly getting general tropical studies in U Puerto Rico and U Guam. (Personally, because of the increased warmth of the Atlantic Ocean in the near future, I'd prefer to avoid the E/S coastal colleges. And I enjoy Indo-Pacific languages more than Spanish.) But she also highly praised Columbia and the Fisheries Dept. at U BC as good marine biology programs that have a strong international focus and are willing to try out new ideas- something helpful for working on an isolated island with a UN project already underway, in an area of the world with few Americans. Dr. Ruesink also helped set me at ease about the U of Wales in Bangor. Though it would be nice to study in Wales, and there seemed to be some links between that institution and Suqutra, I couldnt' tell from the website if it was a reputable school. Dr. Ruesink affirmed that it was actually a highly respected school. All together, this left me for the first time with a number of excellent leads to pursue.

Now, there's a place in the Dijon region of France I stumbled into one day, quite unexpectedly. I had a week in France during Spring Break while I was teaching, and was loosly following The Christian Traveler's Guide to France, a guidebook that takes you to significant historical Christian sites in France. Sadly, in France, most of them are historical. But there was one little snippet in the back of the book about a living worship, a place called Taize. I went just after Easter, expecting maybe a few 100 people. I found instead 4,000 people there worshipping- and 7,000 if I'd been a few days earlier. Mostly visiting, in the most primitive of conditions, in bunk beds with simple meals, they'd come from all over the world to worship Jesus. A large number weren't Christians, but they'd come there to worship Jesus. It turns out Taize is quite famous, being the largest and oldest Protestant monastery in the world- though with small numbers of Catholic and Orthodox monks present. A place where Kofi Annan, Pope Jean Paul, Archbishop Tutu, and the Archbishop of Canterbury have visited. Taize is famous because of a unique brand of ecumenical, international worship they have discovered. They repeatedly sing the same phrase in chanting form, but in many different languages- Latin, English, German, French, Korean, Chinese... some 25 different languages are in their repretoir. This allows you to engage in the worship, understanding the meaning, to bond with those of different countries next to you, and to fully dwell on each word that you are chanting in a large cavernous dwelling. If you have room for only one place in all of France to visit, I'd make it Taize.

Last night, for the first time since that visit years ago, I got to attend another Taize service, over at St. James Cathedral in Seattle. For the monks of Taize have exported their worship style around the world, and it has become quite popular. Arriving a few minutes late, I sat down on the side of the nave, with perhaps some 650 other worshippers, in complete silence. Above us were cavernous Gothic arches, stretching high into the heavens, willing the mind to leap with them. And then a pure voice rang out, leading us solo,

"Na-da te tur-be, na-da te es-pan-te.
Quien a Dios tie-ne na-da le fal-ta.
So-lo Dios bas-ta."

"Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten.
Those who seek God shall never go wanting.
God alone fills us."

And we began a Taize mass of peace and reconciliation. After the first solo everyone joins in the chant, all 650 voices. It takes a bit for me to focus as we go through the cycles of chants, and then I can focus on each element. Here, if we seek after God, we will always be filled; but then, it is only God who fills, and He fills completely.

We alternated between Latin and English, till near the end,

"I am sure I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the liv-ing.
Yes, I shall see the goodness of our God, hold firm, trust in the Lord."

The stanza promises that we will see God's goodness one day. What is the land of the living? Heaven. Where those who follow Christ are now. Where those who are alive to the Joys are now. But we aren't allowed to stop, seeing it as if only I get there, I shall see goodness. For the second line is bold to state that, yes, I will see that goodness- it is not simply a pipe dream.

After an hour we wended our way out of the sanctuary to the dulcet choir of men and women singing, "Dona nobis pacem Domine." "Give us peace, O Lord." I was filled with great joy, singing the tune as I headed to downtown Seattle to catch my bus.

Friday, 6 October 2006

The Ironman

A necessarily short post, but one that fits nowhere else, and yet is of the utmost importance. Just as my dad will be on TV later this month, my brother Cody will be running for the honor, and biking, and swimming. He has gotten into quite the Triathalon craze, and this past spring ran in the Arizona Ironman. I'll leave it in suspense on if he won or not, as you can also possibly see him on TV, on Versus, the old OLN, this Sunday at 1200 PST and Monday at 1300 PST. We're going to have our eyes glued to the DVR.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

Nakedness and Shame

I've been reflecting a lot on the concept of nakedness. When we were in the garden, it wasn't a problem. Then it was. Why? This isn't certainly the end of the theology on the matter, but just a thought. Nudity represents who we are, in all our glory. We were comfortable with who we were. In a Middle Eastern society, for which the story of Eden was written, it is especially true that men should not show their nudity to other men- witness how Ham is cursed by his father later on in Genesis. What changed? When we learned the difference between good and evil, when we learned what they were, we no longer recognized ourselves. We were no longer sure of who we were.

God's question, "Where are you?", was not because he couldn't find us. After all, He knows everything. Rather He was asking us to identify for ourselves our place in the cosmos at that time, and in respect to Him. But we had covered ourselves up, because of our shame.

What had we to be ashamed of? What had changed? Our nakedness quite obviously was still the same. It's clear that the nakedness is a metaphor to who we are, in all our glory, or in all our shame. Even a husband and wife are embarassed to show themselves for the first time the first night together; and in some cultures they never completely show themselves to each other. You are open, vulnerable, showing all of who you are. And we are body-spirits, alone in the creation that we know of, both spirit and body, and therefore one influencing the other. The openness of the body then is not mere metaphor- it partakes in the spiritual openness. This many married couples have discovered for themselves.

After the Fall, we no longer know where we are. We are confused, knowing both good and evil, and no longer know how we stand in relationship to God. And so our answer to "Where are you?" is to respond that we are naked, and hiding. God makes it clear in His next question that the knowledge of nakedness was directly because of learning of both good and evil. Innocence, the lack of knowledge of either, means that we are unaware of our nakedness, and so happy, blissful, and unashamed. I know where I stand in relationship to God, and I am unashamed. Knowing good and evil, I no longer know where I stand in relationship to God, and I look upon myself, and see myself now as unworthy, and am ashamed. Perhaps this is because, upon knowing good and evil, we can in no way see how we can be close to God.

Now, in some societies like the West, there will be attempts to encroach on nudity, or even reach it, beyond what the culture allows. This will then be exported to other cultures, like the Mid-East- one of the crimes that Ossama bin Laden used as an excuse to attack the U.S. on 9/11. But it's not as if we can go back, to the care-free days of nudity, as if everything was like it was in the garden. Because we still carry our shame with us. We still think it's funny, or sexual. I don't speak of cultures like Sub-Saharan Africa or the South Pacific, where topless nudity is the norm- they have a different standard of nakedness. But in any society there is a standard, and when people cross that standard, it is notable. Body nakedness by itself doesn't work, for it doesn't accompany the spiritual nakedness we had in the Garden, when we knew where we were. We must still embrace that.

I spoke before of Our Lady of the Snack, who hovers above the GWA cafeteria. She was naked, and unashamed. But though she fit into American culture, she did not fit into Moroccan culture, and caused people to go astray. And so the Lord saw fit to provide her with clothing, for she was now in a place where she know longer knew where she was, and was ashamed. But now she has again rejected that clothing. (How, I'm unclear. It certainly can't be Amine, the head of the cafeteria, since he publically claimed to have painted her in previously.) But you can't go back. For what is left is not the pristine beauty of before, but only an ugly smudge, worse than the clothing itself, showing all of the sin laid out for all to see.

Monday, 2 October 2006

A New Direction

I've put off writing this because the pain continues, and the rock in my path remains. Congressman Smith's office has sent me a form to give them permission to investigate my case against Homeland, but the pain mixed with exhaustion, nausea, and vicodin-induced lethargy have made it difficult to even fill that form out.

But now reasonably doped up...You may recall my sharing of my decision to go to Yemen, coalesced in Assisi. There I received some powerful messages, to the tune that sometimes we are on one path, and find out later that the path was not actually the right one, but God still worked through every moment anyway; how our paths can be not what we expect; how God cares for the Arabs; that God will provide, and not to worry; and that real gain occurs by giving everything up. From this, I felt God saying I should go to Yemen to teach. But I've come to realize that this was the best choice available from what I had. I was passionate about going to Yemen- studying Yemeni culture and language- but not so much about teaching ESL. Frankly, the idea of teaching biology at an English-speaking Yemeni school down in Ta'izz sounded a lot more interesting, but for it being in a less traditional city, and the director not writing back. But I needed something- it would be too shameful to leave Morocco without a plan. So I decided to go. 2 days later I had a stroke.

I've been doing a lot of thinking. About why I decided to go. About why I got interested in Arabic culture in the first place, long ago. And what I'm passionate about. Thing is, I'm not that passionate. And I need to be. I need to be excited about God, and not just doing my duty. And I feel like for too long I have been lacking in passion. Oh, I enjoy studying Arabic culture, but that's not that which satisfies me the most, or where I enter a state of worship the most.

I've been realizing more and more that that place is studying nature. To give glory to God in His amazing creation. Actually, I have the struggle with my former school's teaching the intelligent design hypothesis to thank. Dealing with regular attacks on this matter forced me to read more and consider ideas that I had long ago figured out, and then dropped for other pursuits. I started off as a strong literal creationist, but became convinced in college, both scientifically and theologically, that evolution was the way. It has been years since I'd had to consider these arguments. So now I began to look at other authors, and see how God was present within a creation based on evolution. And I found it both fascinating and glorious. Truly, we serve an awesome God, who doesn't take the easy way out, but forms a creation that is actually involved in it's own creation! He asks us to partner with Him, forming something new- what we don't know, but He is the God of the Future, and all of salvation history is something more amazing than we can ever begin to imagine.

I have found that when I am happiest, when I am most joyful, is in nature, studying God's creation. I want to again see the romance within nature. It is more than simply a materialist machine- there is that of God in what He made. For all things come from Him, and he is in all places. Yes, he dwells more in those of us who are more aware of His presence, dwelling by His good pleasure, if you will, but He is also in all things. Francis of Assisi had it right, that we should refer to Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Air- for they too are cocreations, and there is that of God in them. Creation is not to be appreciated simply because our human race will die if we don't, taking with it the rest of the planet, however true that might be. It's not to be appreciated simply because we are commanded to. But because, most of all, it provides a place to worship God. It is complex, it is wonderful, and comes directly from His hand. The numinous of the Lord is present within it.

I need to be in a place of continual worship. And for me, that's in studying nature. So I began to consider the idea of going back to grad school, to pursue marine biology, after a year of learning language and cultue in Yemen. As soon as I began to share this, I received multiple very strong confirmations from others, with the idea that I not go over to Yemen right now at all! This in turn fit with a recent sermon by my pastor, where Paul heads in one direction and is told "No", then another, and is told "No", and then finally receives a vision of "Yes". Our God is not a linear thinker, though he can work with linear thinkers, thank God. Often the steps on the journey are what we need. I needed to be headed to Yemen initially.

The passages I had received in Assisi I still affirm, but I realized one piece I'd left out- giving up everything for the sake of the Kingdom. Not just denying, but denying to come closer to God. I've started to realize that service is not as important as worship, for authentic service can only come out of authentic worship. But God will provide, just not in the path that I was expecting.

I was late to the conference this weekend because of the kidney stones. All of the recent medical problems have been a reminder that physically, this might not be the best time to be overseas. But because I was late I walked into an outbreak session at just a particular moment. They were talking about how God leads us in paths we don't expect; how going to the place where one suffers the most is not a good choice; but rather God calls us to go with our passions, which as my pastor often mentions, are what God gave us. They are gifts, to use well, and to prepare us for future work. Looking then at an accomanying sheet of the way different individuals naturally worship, I found my highest were intellectualist, naturalist, and activist- approaches that can all be fulfilled in a new approach. When the decision was finally made, and announced, the independent leadings of the Spirit in other people only became stronger.

This is indeed a radical departure. I did teach marine biology the last few years, and it's what my undergrad was in, but for years I have put it 2nd to other pursuits. I feel it's time to return. It's been 15 years since I've studied it, so I don't know what kind of school I can get into. I have to take the GREs- General and Bio, and the Bio will require a lot of study, particularly in the cellular area, where I am weak. And then I have to find a professor doing work in the area I'm interested in, as in science, it's not the school you pick but rather the professor. And this is no mean feat- there's no listing anywhere of what all the professors are doing in the U.S. And I'm interested in something rather specific.

I want to go back to study intertidal invertebrate ecology. But particularly in the tropical desert island capacity. And even more particularly, the island of Suqutra (Socotra), a fascinating place that I've long wanted to research. It's the largest Arab island in the world, owned by Yemen, but closer to the Horn of Africa. The people there speak a language that diverged off Arabic 1000 years ago (and you remember how familiar Canterbury Tales sounds to us these days). They are ethnically a mix of African, Arabic, and Portugese, and were once nominally Christian, though are all now Muslim. Fierce winter storms keep the island isolated for half the year, and it's only recently that limited regular plane flights began to the island- previously you had to cross open ocean for 3 days in a 30 foot boat. But the flora and fauna of the island is incredible. For millions of years this island has been isolated, and so classic island giganticism has developed, with an incredibly high number of endemic species. This is to be expected from the most isolated piece of continental rock in the world. Cucumbers have grown to the size of trees, and Dragon's Blood trees look like upside-down umbrellas- these exist nowhere else on the planet. There are an equally high number of unique animals. But though the UN has been working recently on preserving the land there, and had only done preliminary research, the marine life is even more unstudied. There are hints at incredible endemic diversity, with a unique confliguration of the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, Arabia, E. Africa, and the Indo-Pacific creating an ecology like nowhere else on earth.

I want to help to preserve this zone of diversity, by studying it, catalouging it. So that we can learn from it, and benefit from the organisms, with perhaps new medicines to be discovered. So that we can preserve it and keep the ecosystem alive. But most of all, so that we can have it around to be aware of the unique way that God has put the system together, and worship Him for that. Praise God, he does not only think 2-dimensionally, as the Klingon fatally did in Wrath of Khan. Yes, He is to be credited with incredibly complex interations in the now. But even more so, He thinks temporally, with ongoing changing complex interactions through evolution. So I want to see how these organisms interact throughout times, and in the now; how they behave; how different invertebrate rely on each other to create a stable ecosystem. And that which was incredibly difficult for me at the time, dealing with the propositioning of the intelligent design hypothesis- even this, I now see, has become part of God's providence.

To do this, I have to find a professor working on Suqutra- so far I've found mostly only non-Americans doing any work there, as Americans tend not to do studies in the Middle East. There is a possibility of a Welsh school- I do need a school using English as it's base. But if not Suqutra, then a professor working on desert tropical ecology, or intertidal invertebrate ecology, who will be willing to let me have my project to work on. This is a long road ahead. In the short-term, find some work and a place to live here in Seattle. I could go over to Yemen for a year, like I ws previously thinking, but I don't feel like that's God's best. And being here gives me a couple extra months to study for GREs, and makes applying to grad schools by December a whole lot easier.

I'm not giving up on studying Arab anthropology and language- just putting it to the back for a few years. I am quite shocked to see the turn my life is taking. It's not how I planned. But I am feeling very lead into it. The vicadin I'm taking makes me sleepy. During Open Worship at service this past Sunday, I had a waking dream, vividly seeing a number of roads being laid out over the ocean- another confirmation. But this is also scary- for 15 years I've headed in one direction, and now it's a brave new world. I'm excited to see what God might bring.

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Empathizing with the Archetypal Feminine

You ever hear people talk about the worst pain imaginable? Of our regular biological processes, that is. Yup, last night. While I was down in Portland for a conference, staying with my friend Julie from my commune, woke up just before 2 in the morning, to intense hot lower back pain. But this wasn't in the normal place, muscular, on the side. This was just overlaying the backbone. As with the stroke, I had my suspicions. I tried to bend over, and the pain just increased. I got up and headed to the bathroom, and found myself lying on the floor, as the pain increased. And then again. And again. It would come in waves, and I could barely stand at times; at other times not at all. I felt nautious, and began groaning. But I'm proud to say I remained very manly and didn't wake up my host until a full hour of pain had passed.

I called out to Julie, and when she came down I suggested to her my prognosis: kidney stones. Her experience with her sister confirmed this, as did the progressive locus of the pain from the mid lower back to the bladder. Not having insurance or money, I resisted the idea of going to the ER for another half-hour, until the pain became too unbearable. I stumbled into Julie's car, and just before we left opened the door and did what nausea ultimatly requires. It woudn't be the last time that night.

When we got to the hospital they were very kind, but asked me questions in triplicate, with three different people: What is your name? How old are you? Where do you live? etc. I was thinking in the meantime, "Just give me some bloody medication. I'll coherently answer all these questions later!" When I couldn't sit on the chair any longer and collapsed on the floor, the nurse gruffly told me the floor was dirty and I could get up myself without her help. They repeatedly asked me how bad the pain was, and depending on the moment, I'd groan out somewhere between 7 and 10 (in a scale of 1 to 10). Finally 20 minutes later they brought me into a separate room, as I stumbled in, clutching my belly.

About five minutes after that they took my blood pressure, again, and five minutes later, the doctor came in. Upon hearing my symptoms he comfirmed my diagnosis had a high probability of accuracy, but he wanted to run a catscan on my bowels as well. If the stone was too big, more than 5 mm, it could need to be operated on, or I could lose all kidney function. And then about five minutes later, ah, the sweet drip of an IV full of morphine. It actually didn't make me feel out of it or light-headed, as I've heard morphine does. It just took the pain away.

They wheeled me into the catscan room, and the good news is that the stone was there, but only 3 mm in diameter, easily passable. Then more morphine, but as soon as the IV was removed, the pain began again. Enter the oral vicadine. The doctor thought that the stone would pass within 24 hours. If so, I've missed it. But there still is ocassional pain, so I think I'm still working on it, as I am working on the vicadine.

Leaving the hospital at 6 in the morning, again, thanks to a very loving Julie, I slept in and missed the first half of Day 2 of the conference. And then, another long journey on Amtrak, an hour late from Portland, accompanying the worry that my vicadine would run out before the pain.

Why did it happen? Doctor said we don't really know. But caffeine can increase dehydration, and dehydrating can increase the possibility of kidney stones, as calcium builds up as a precipitate without the water. Therefore, the lack of fluids in my system due to Ramadan would also be a contributing factor. As such, like the guy who gave up fasting for Lent, I'm suspending that for the first time in order to recuperate.

Downside- likely a rather large doctor bill. Please pray for me that God provides. Upside- I think it was instrumental in helping me make some major decisions, which I'll share about tomorrow. But even more so, they say that women who have both given birth and had kidney stones say that the pain of kidney stones is worse. So I'm happy to be able to empathize a bit more with the pain that women experience. Although my labor was decidedly easier than the norm- I gave up and went for the epideral after only 2 hours.