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.

Monday, 28 May 2007

We play both types of music: Folk and Traditional.

A small portion of the venue.This weekend I spent a couple wonderful days at my second Northwest Folk Life Festival. Although arguably the finest music ever made was the folk music in the U.S. in the 60's, Folk Life is thankfully much broader than that and covers folk music from around the globe. The experiences were so varied I think it best to record them pictorially, with only occasional verbiage and hovertext to describe the different pics. Unfortunately, my camera doesn't record sound, so don't expect to hear any of the wonderful music.

Tahitian Drummers
Tahitian Dancers. As in Hawaii, keep your eyes on thePeruvian singers.  Interesting how their performance style is to huddle together, backs to the crowd. hands, not the hips- it's the Hurdy-Gurdies.  But no monkey.  Thank God.hands that tell the story.

Korean Drummers

Korean Fan Dancers

Korean Ribbon Dancers
This group was quite interesting. Very beautiful, acapello Christmas carols, but with new words. The signs kind of speak of what the words were. These were equal-opportunity attackers, for Lyndon LaRouche. I left as they sang of how Gore would kill us all because he was a Nazi. I think the tune was "I heard the bells on Christmas Morn".
Quoting a recent statement by VP Cheney.  Except Cheney was more explicit when describing another politician.
Modern folk singer, with a sweet, melodic voice, singing of the love between a mother and child.
High School marimba players- very nice sound.
I got to participate in this, the Tahitian Drum Workshop. We all had Moroccan style drums, and those who were brave enough could go up front and try out the wooden Tahitian drums, with a loud percussive sound. We learned some of the rather complex beats of Tahiti.
A bit of a vaudville act with Irish ballads.

Now here's where I got very confused. It started off with Middle Eastern music, which I was very looking forward to. This group had more of a classical style, like of Um Kalthoum, with music from Turkey, Iran, and Arab countries. But then they had to go and get a belly dancer for all of us to watch. A number of Middle Eastern musicians did that over the course of the weekend. Why do they do this? It's completely inappropriate. Belly dancing occurs within it's natal culture only in front of your spouse, or in all-female parties. Or for tourists. It's hard to find a strict comparison in American culture, but it might be like seeing presentations of a girl's pajama party, for everyone to watch in the audience. That it's done all over for tourists doesn't make it any more appropriate. It just continues the stereotype in the West of the lascivious male Arab with his harem, the exotic Orientalism that Said preached against. I kept on reading about Arab music and dance, and would get excited, thinking I was going to see something authentic, like the debke- and I kept on getting objectifying belly dancing.

Directly thereafter I went to a participatory workshop to learn Pirate Shanties, and think fondly of David. Actually, strictly speaking the pirate age evidently predates the shanty age, so there are no real pirate shanties that were sung by pirates- just anti-pirate songs sung by sailors. So this group changed the words around to make them more pro-pirate. They said they were all about putting the "Arr" back in Warshington. We sang choruses like this one:
And its all for me grog
me jolly, jolly grog.
All for me beer and tobacco
For I spent all my tin on the lassies drinking gin
Far across the Western Ocean I must wander.

(The singalong took place in the Beer Garden.)

And then I rushed off to listen to all white choirs sing Gospel music in praise of Jesus. The one pictured here is called "Sparkling Choir, of Love". Really. This praise music was within the span of an hour and a half, including pirate songs in praise of beer and Middle Eastern music. Now do you understand my grave state of confusion? And yet it didn't end there.

For immediately afterward I was at the didjeridu workshop, where you learn how to play the famed Australian instrument from a couple of guys giving a very good impression of Car Talk. We received our very own black PVC didjeridus (one can be seen in the picture to the left) and learned how to play the instrument. Well, learned only the very beginning of how incredibly hard it is to play. Sure, you can get a sound out of it by making a raspberry (an infant in the audience was particularly good at this). But learning to breath through your nose while exhaling out the mouth at the same time? Forget about it!

Friday, 25 May 2007

On Being a Virgin

This week was another Kindlings Muse, actually the last of the season. The Muse has been running through a series of late, on C.S. Lewis, but I hadn't yet attended, until this past Monday. The series is running at a new venue- not Hales Ales, but rather the Burke Natural History Museum. Monday's topic was Lewis and sexuality. Not sure why I attended.

It was interesting as always, but I'm not sure that the Lewis format agrees with me. An expert of some sort, this time Dr. Bryan Burton of Fuller Seminary, speaks on Lewis' ideas on a particular topic, and then two people of a younger generation disagree on Lewis' relevance to the post-modern era. Generally they are strawmen, not truly believing what they are arguing, but rather creating a false Socratic dialogue in the hopes of bringing out something new. I think I prefer when both parties truly believe what they are saying, as happened in the earlier Muse with Adrian. And I miss the old venue, where there was plenty of beer.

Much of what Dr. Burton shared on Lewis wasn't new, but still quite good. Burton spoke of the classic sexuality metaphor that Lewis used: What would you think if you came upon a society that brought out a giant cooked turkey, slowly uncovered it, and then stared at it in awe, without eating it. Lewis's detractors suggested such a society would be one that was starving, but Lewis responded that, on the contrary, this society would be likely to be one with an over-abundance of food, so much that they could waste it on such a display, where the real purpose of the food is forgotten. Just so, our society now treats sex. It is not over-valued; it is under-valued, as it is near omnipresent. Echoing Lewis, Burton spoke of how Christians actually greatly value sex, and see it as a wonderful thing- it is modern society's treatment of sex that diminishes the beauty of intercourse. It reminded me a lot of the feminist critique of the objectification of women which I've recently read, Female Chauvinist Pigs. There Levy discusses how we no longer aspire to real sexuality, but now try to be like porn stars, who were always merely a caricature of the real thing. You can hear the entire discussion, along with my perfunctory question, at the Muse.

In the course of the night the awful movie Forty Year Old Virgin was brought up. This represents where society is at, that sex is so highly valued that someone being 40 and still a virgin is unbelievable, and can only be an extended joke. We have come so far that virginity, once a value in itself, is now distasteful as soon as you reach puberty and can remove the blight on your body. There is no longer any consideration of the value of merging two souls in the act of sex, and what is lost when you have sex without the commitment of marriage. And sadly, Christians in America are no better at this than the general populace. Those who make the chastity pledge in high school prolong the first time by a couple years- they statistically are no likely to abstain than those who never made the pledge at all. A quick survey of statistics reveals that 80% of American teenagers have had sex. Only 33% of single Christians are virgins. And the saddest fact of all, 79% of women have sex before marriage, and 93% of men.

So when we got to the human sexuality section of biology, I would let my students know that I was part of that 7%, so that they could have some sort of positive male role model in that regard. Even in Morocco, this was important. Casablanca's a city with two red light districts, where wealthy fathers will often take their sons to a prostitute for their first time, in an Islamic double standard looking only towards the Qur'anic prohibitions of female sexuality. I begin to despair that around the world, and especially in my own country, there is no longer any value to virginity. Oh, sure, people will often pay lip service to it, but their actions tell a different story. Even when premarital sex is fought against, it is only for teenagers, as they "aren't ready". No one speaks anymore of the moral value of abstaining until marriage even as an adult. And I have no answers.

The nationally famous Seattle Folk Life Festival is on this weekend. I'll share more about my time there later. But yesterday there were some guys out with rather large signs. There was a lot of writing on the signs, but it basically boiled down to "Got Jesus? If not, you're going to hell." (I'm not making this up. It actually said that.) In front of them were a small horde of clean-cut, well-dressed teenagers, holding up dingy cardboard signs with bad writing, along the lines of "I'd rather go to hell than believe this shit." (Again, not making it up.) Rarely have I so vociferously disagreed with two parties that were so completely at odds with each other.

Every little while one of the teenagers would get a sly grin on his face, and sidle up to right of one of the hellmongers. He'd pull up an even dingier cardboard sign, with a simple statement, and an arrow pointing to the left. The sign read, "Virgin". And the crowd would roar with laughter, as the most despicable term imaginable was applied to someone the crowd was already disposed to dislike.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Women are a Wonder. This is no Wonder Pill.

If you've never read Brave New World, you should. It's an amazing book, a gruesome dystopia. In a world where everything is mechanized, including birth, where Ford has taken the place of God, there's a drug called Soma that makes you feel wonderful, and has no harmful side-effects. You are less in control of yourself, you are high and peaceful, and less in touch with reality. It's such a wonder-drug that the government uses it to spray rioters and protesters, to help them forget their anger and rage, and help them calm down. All done quite peacefully.

I'm a guy. For those who know me, I hope this doesn't come as too much of a surprise. For those who don't know me, now knowing this, you hopefully also will not be surprised that I have a male perspective, and am limited in all that I can fully understand. So please understand what I say from that limited point of view. To misquote an old Moroccan proverb, "I am only a man. I know nothing."

There is much I admire about women. Despite all they must endure and suffer, at the hands of men, at the behest of the curse, and in obligation to their own biology, they have a lot going for them. Indeed, my doctrine of suffering is such that I believe it is because of their suffering that women have gained so much. We are told that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, character hope, and hope does not disappoint. Women have the pain of childbirth, which certainly doesn't begin at the actual birth. They also have regular suffering every month, which, though it varies in intensity from woman to woman, is at the very least inconvenient. For some women, the pain of cramps can be quite intense; for others, mood swings are a real battle.

I think there is something women have that we (men) lack. There's a lot, actually, but I'm focusing specifically on biology here. When we experience suffering, and turn to God in the midst of that suffering, we are able to come closer to Her, depending more fully on Her, as She identifies with us. Jesus demonstrated this empathy when he had compassion on the bleeding woman, by implication a woman suffering from constant menses. Women by their very nature have more of this opportunity for suffering. Not just from the oppressive hegemony of mankind, but from the way their bodies work. Yes, of course, men can suffer. They can die in war, or in fights, or be hurt tilling the ground. But if we're to be honest, those are not uniquely male traits and actions. Women can and do participate in them too. I'm never going to give birth.

In the midst of the wisdom gained in suffering, I think at the heart of it is a greater understanding of one's own body. As a man, I think very little of my body. It just doesn't come up much. In talking with women, I find that they are quite aware of their bodies, and what they do. They are in touch with themselves in a way I can not comprehend. They understand how their very being communicates with the long-ago ebb of the sea from which we all came, as lunar tides pulled on the primordial soup.

And a body is not just a body. Christianity has long rightly condemned that ancient Gnostic heresy that put the mind or the spirit ahead of the body, claiming that the ethereal was all that was. God made creation, and She loved it! She reveled in it, like a Leviathan of the deep. Our bodies are also good, and we look forward to the resurrection of the dead- not just as a disembodied ghost, but as a body-spirit, as Jesus Himself proved. Paul also spoke of how, if we do not look forward to the bodily resurrection of the dead, then we are the most to be pitied of all people. This body is good, and has a definite effect on the spirit, and the spirit on the body. So to understand the body better is to better understand some part of the spirit. We are Body-Spirits, as Lewis Smedes says, not merely one or the other. When a woman is regularly connected with her body, I believe she also understand a little bit better who she is, in a way beyond my ken, at least this side of eternity.

This week they announced a new wonder drug. It's based on The Pill, but it's a lower dosage, and you take it every day, with no seven day placebo. If you take it, you have no period. Never. For as long as you take it, every day. For women suffering the strength of menstrual cramps, I am all for them taking some sort of pain reliever. For those who suffer intensely from the monthly cycle, I think this new pill can be great as well. But for the vast majority of women, I wonder. I wonder if, without the regular experience of what their body goes through, they will lose some of what it is like to be a woman. If it won't mean a little bit of a loss of the presence of their own bodies, a little bit more of a theft of intimacy with their body. If it won't be a bit like when we are heavily medicated with Benadryl to make it through an allergen-filled day. Yes, this new wonder pill will mean no more irksome cycle to deal with. But like Soma, is the trade-off too great? It works, and makes you feel wonderful, but is one then perhaps a little too far out of touch with who they are?

They say that in trial studies, 99% of women were able to begin ovulating again within three months of stopping the use of the new pill. The trials are probably too limited to speak of the possibility or not of effects on a future fetus. But I'd hate to be part of that 1%.

Not that I ever could. As you read this, remember, I am only a man, after all. What do I know?

Monday, 21 May 2007

Meeting the Richest Man in the World

Well, sort of. Last week was the Gates Challenge Gala Event, where we thanked those who gave $100,000 or more to the Gates Challenge with United Way, matched by the Gates Fund. Our goals have been more than met this year, with $38 Million raised for United Way, and over $15 Million for the Gates Challenge. And these were goals that were an order of magnitude higher than the goals of previous years.

So the Thank You was to these 100K+ Givers, and hosted by Jeff Raikes, who spoke of wanting to help King County see what United Way actually does, and how focused we now are on key priorities of the area- this isn't your Father's United Way, only disbursing money to others. We now have strict guidelines that charities need to follow in order to get United Way funds, so that we can find those who can best assist others, and encourage them to higher rates of excellence.

I was there simply to help my boss, Ruby, who's baby this was. The big givers were there to get some face time with Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. After a fabulous 5-star lunch (with creme brulée, no less), Bill and Warren came on stage to share some of their thoughts on giving. Warren, in an inimically folksy style, spoke of how Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations inspired the specialization of labor, and how we can use that as a model for philanthropy. He argued that the enemy of progress is complacency, and shared how nothing in his life had ever changed because of contributions he's made; he hadn't suffered or given up anything, so he deserves no credit for the billions he's given to the Gates Foundation. He's given only on surplus; the credit goes to those who truly give of the little they have.

At one point Warren's company, Berkshire Hathaway, had a great shareholder giving plan. He didn't want to decide where the money was donated- he felt that was the right of the shareholders. So any shareholder could specify up to three charities, and Berkshire Hathaway would give to those three, commensurate with the number of share of that particular shareholder. As one might think, a wide variety of charities then received money from Berkshire Hathaway- some 4000 charities, for the amount of $200 Million total. Some were pro-life, and some pro-choice, and most not at all related to the issue. But controversy rose over Planned Parenthood receiving some funds. Pampered Chef, a sort of Amway for kitchen wares that was meaningful in empowering many women, was bought by Berkshire Hathaway, and then immediately targeted by Pro-Lifers, with a rather vicious campaign to destroy the livelihood of those working for Pampered Chef. Warren felt that a $100 Million boycott of See's Candies wouldn't have hurt him, but this did, and so the unique giving campaign was ended.

Bill reminded me in features a lot of a young Stephen Hawking, before his illness. Not overbearing in the slightest, and almost shy. He shared about how his mom was heavily involved with the United Way of King County, and she had had a great influence on him in his commitment to United Way. He wanted to encourage giving throughout Microsoft, but not in the mandatory manner that was common in companies at the time. Instead he used a carrot and stick approach, to inspire greater giving. He waxed eloquent on United Way, and how our oversight (in his opinion) is more efficient. In the past United Way of King County did well with traditional companies (like banks) with strong CEOs, who encouraged giving throughout the organization. But now those traditional companies are a smaller portion of the economy, and people in America want to have more autonomy in their giving, and giving is therefore now more diverse. He saw United Way as being able to move with the times, and restructure our fundraising strategies rather successively.

Lastly he shared some about the Gates Foundation, with it's primary focus on world health. They realized that if health is improved, countless other areas of life would be improved. He hopes to contribute to finding some level of cure for half the diseases that are on their list, within the next ten years. Additionally, the Gates Foundation is giving back to the U.S., with 25% of it's funds committed to improving high school programs. To give an indication on what these billions could do, the U.S. government doesn't do research on drug discovery for the malaria vaccine currently. The Gates Foundation hopes to invest in finding a cure. Were they to do so, not only would many millions no longer die from malaria, but due to the nature of recessive gene natural selection in African populations, within a couple hundred years sickle cell anemia could completely disappear as well. Already the rate of the disease in the African-American population is much lower than those in Africa, because there is nearly no malaria to contend with in the U.S.

An interesting experience, overall. I didn't actually meet Bill, of course, nor did I expect to. But it was the first time I was in the room with him, and the elite of Seattle, who have all given so much in order to help out others who are in need.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Remembering Autumn

Autumn being washed in the sink with caleb.Yesterday we traveled up to BC for Autumn's funeral. It was a time of great sorrow, and great memories. Many traveled far to attend, and many more earnestly desired to travel, but had to remember Autumn in their hearts.

There were representatives from the community, from Autumn's work, from her natal family, from her years of school, and from those she helped. All had been touched by this amazing woman, and wondered to hear how many more she had touched.Children of the community, wearing the shirts of our band, Servant.

We began the day at the gravesite, where about 100 of us gathered to hear the brother of Paul (Autumn's father) read a eulogy with Catholic call and response. It was fitting weather for a funeral- light rain, that bolstered to a heavy downpour and shifts of strong wind. The casket was carried in by Owen and others, and Paul handed out flowers that individuals could lay on the coffin to remember her. My mom brought orange flowers, for Autumn dearly loved that colour.
Autumn and her mom Lydia, in one of our many costume pagaents.
Then we moved on to Emmanuel Mennonite for a light lunch and the service.

The service was heavily attended, with very few available seats. It began with Elsie Weibe-Klingler, a co-worker of Autumn's leading the eulogy, remembering her entire life. We were struck how God's hand had been there through it all, through the ups and downs, formulating her to be the great woman of passionate compassion that she became. Elise began withMy birthday, with Autumn holding a cupcake. Autumn's life in the commune she was born into, as one of the middle-aged children. Autumn often described her childhood as idyllic. In this time she lived a long while on land in Southern Oregon, but also traveled a fair bit. She was exposed to ideals of social justice and commitment to a greater cause. Elise in particular mentioned how much Autumn fondly remembered Caleb, her closest playmate, and Linnea, with whom only a couple weeks prior Autumn had mentioned she wanted to reconnect with.

Autumn, Linnea, & CalebWhen her family had to leave the community, like many other children, she found it difficult to adjust. She learned to navigate high-school, and went through a time when her natural flamboyance was a source of some difficulty for her. She hitch-hiked as a young woman around Canada, and at this time her daughter, Djambe, was born.

In the nine years since she had not risen above those challenges. She had incorporated them to become a greater woman. This was the repeated Halloween costuming- an important holiday for us.  Autumn as an angel with a bag on it's head.testimony of many yesterday. Her growing up in the commune, her trials, the teaching of her parents, and the birth of her daughter had all taught her to have great commitment to justice, and a great compassion for those in need.

Her brother Dylan rose to speak next, sharing from the heart of his journey in relationship with Autumn, and how in the last few months before her death that relationship had grown more than ever before. Autumn had expressed her desire to have a relationship with Dylan not simply with Autumn, Jeremiah, Dylan, & Calebtheir parents between them, but something more direct.

It was then that we sang Creation Calls, a song I have never heard before, but which moved me deeply.

I have felt the wind blow, whispering your name.
I have seen your tears fall, when I watch the rain.

How could I say there is no God

Autumn, Caleb, Daniel, Linnea, & Siv

When all around creation calls

A singing bird, a mighty tree,

The vast expanse of open sea.

Gazing at a bird in flight, soaring through the air,

Lying down beneath the stars, I feel your presence there.

I love to stand at ocean's shore
and feel the thund'ring breakers roar,
To walk through golden fields of grain
Autumn, Caleb, & Daniel'neath endless blue horizons frame.

Listening to a river run, watering the earth,

The fragrance of a rose in bloom,

A newborn's cry at birth.

I believe,

I believe.

I believe,

I Autumn & Calebbelieve.

A number of her coworkers also rose to share, universally speaking of how far beyond her years she was, and what a hope and inspiration to the Social Ministry of B.C. she was. At one point my favorite story of the day was shared, to speak of Autumn's care for all. Once, during a lunch with coworkers, she was startled to see a bird fluttering helplessly out in the middle of traffic. Autumn, Caleb, & RobbyWithout a second thought she dashed from the table, and ran to the bird's assistance. She began to direct traffic around the bird, so that it could be saved. Then she looked down, to see it was not one bird, but rather two. And both were so greatly devoted to the preservation of their species that they were completely oblivious to the traffic. A bit chagrined, Autumn returned to her seat. That was the kind of passionate compassion this woman had.

Autumn's BirthdaySome music that Autumn greatly loved was played by Francis Edwards, including the song Brother Sun Sister Moon, the music by Donovan, the words by St. Francis. It was the theme song from the film we toured with around the U.S., leading many to Christ through the story of Francis' message of compassion and poverty. Like the Creation song, it also speaks of Francis love of nature, and how he saw all of Autumn and her mother Lydia in the snow.creation as a brother and sister, because all was made from the same God.

After the service we had a repast, with tables set up with different items and photos bringing Autumn to life before us, while individuals lined up to pay their respects to the family. Finally those who remained and so desired were able to stand up and share some of what Autumn had meant to them, and many from the community Autumn & Linneaspoke at this time, including Sandie, recapitulating her days in front of the mike, her daughter Shaina Rose, Steve, and my mom. In the end Paul & Lydia, Autumn's parents, rose to thank everyone for coming, expressing their grief and gratitude for Autumn's presence in their lives as well.

I had some trepidation of taking photos while at the funeral, but wanted to be able to share the experience with the many who wanted to come Autumn & Calebbut were unable to do so. All the pictures have hovertext so you can identify who is in them.

We shall miss you Autumn. But not always. For one day we shall see you again, and know you, when we meet Him, face to face.
Autumn & Caleb

Autumn & Caleb Autumn & Caleb
Autumn & Caleb Autumn & Caleb
AutumnThe graveside funeral, with Autumn's father Paul, Autumn's sister Bernadette, and Autumn's aunt and uncle, John & Suzie.

The graveside funeral.

Elsie giving the eulogy.Dylan, Autumn's brother, speaking at the funeral.Francis Edwards playing Brother Sun, Sister Moon.My mom, Susan, sharing at the funeral.Shaina Rose sharing at the funeral.Sandie sharing at the funeral.Paul & Lydia, Autumn's parents, thanking everyone for their love for Autumn.

Friday, 18 May 2007

What's a Box Seat?

Yesterday one of my coworkers at United Way posted a note that he had two extra tickets for tonight's Mariners game. Having heard the night before that Janette (of GWA) was a huge Mariners fan, I called her up to find out if she was free, and grabbed the tickets.

Now, I don't know much about baseball. So help me out here. Are these good tickets?

I was told that they were box seats, and then had to ask what a box seat was. When Janette arrived at the stadium, I kept the tickets close to the vest, saying that unfortunately, I wasn't sure how good the seats were. We walked around till we got to Section 120, and then started to walk down. Janette questioned me, that I'd said the tickets weren't that good- these were great! I told her I'd lied.

And the best part of the evening (as, after all, the Mariners didn't win) was seeing the progressive joy on her face as we got closer and closer to our designation, Row 2, Seats 7 & 8. (Please note- you can see individual blades of grass.) She was utterly shocked when we made it down, and totally thrilled, having been a fan of the Mariners in particular since Junior High. She new all about the different players, and obscure rules- even more about baseball than my brother Kent! She even knew the birthdays of some of the players.

We had to get up after the third inning to get some food. (It was okay- the sweat from the players was getting in our eyes.) Upon returning we discovered we'd accidentally sat in Section 121- we were too far away! We moved to our correct seats- right next to the dugout. We were able to watch the coach interacting with the players, and I got to hear even more about all the stats on the different players, and a very helpful commentary (for me) of what was going on. There was some fluke, and the Angels didn't lose (it seems to be a regular theme for me when I go to professional games), but the experience was highly rewarding nonetheless.