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.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

I did not succeed.

My goal was to get all 100 ceramic pigs in Seattle. I did not succeed. Thorns came up, and I had to buy a yoke of oxen, and I just got married. And, it turns out they pulled them all off the street today, and are going to auction them off to raise money for the poor. I thought there would be more time. You always think there will be more time. Most sad, is there were some great dolphin and salmon pigs, with dorsal fins and tail, but I could never get them when I had my camera with me.

So, here are my last four images, which I'd been saving up to add to. To see the old pigs, go here, and scroll down.
In front of the Seattle Library.

The Wright BrothersYou are what you eat.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

الراكون had an interesting visit about a month ago. A woman posted on our site, saying that she ran a program hosting visiting high school students, and some of them were from Arabic countries, and had to do community service, and wanted to teach Arabic. I contacted her, on the longshot that there might be someone who could help me learn the Yemeni dialect better. Surprisingly, there was. Even more surprisingly, I learned that this exchange program has a kick-off celebration every year, and rents out space from my church!

I just came back from my first session, which was fun, and interesting. A very sweet young girl in hijab, asking me questions in Arabic, struggling through my Moroccan dialect, and reteaching me the Yemeni dialect. It was a bit...unusual. Normally, I wouldn't meet with an Arabic girl, but insist on a guy, because of the culture and religious standards. But we met with other people present, there are no Yemeni guys in the program, this is free, and I very much want to learn the Yemeni dialect.

Afterwards I joined her and her host family for f'tur, the breaking of the fast, and made my way home. It's a long ways home from West Seattle, and it appeared that the surprises had not ended for the night. As I walked 0.4 miles to the busstop, I heard a large rustling in the weeds of the drainage ditch next to me. There was this gentleman in the weeds, staring at me
intently. I carefully put my briefcase down, and pulled out my camera. He was generous enough not to move as I inched closer to him, contemplating the latest Office and the possibilities of rabies- for this guys was the size of a bull mastiff, and if he had charged, there would have been little I could do. But it was as if he were a model, posing for the shot.

After a few pictures, I thanked Brother Coon for his patience, and wended my way home.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A Tale of Two Women

Wangari MaathaiWithin the last week I've had the opportunity to hear two famous and powerful women speak. The first was Wangari Maathai, a Nobel Peace prize winner, at a packed auditorium at the Benaroya Hall. She has done tremendous environmental work, striving for human rights and against government corruption. She spoke with a bold voice, and came from a place of deep conviction in the power of God to act in people's lives.

Last night I listened to Alice Walker as she discussed her new book, Why War is Never a Good Idea. Alice is the famed author of the Color Purple, for which she won the Pulitzer. She has done great work for civil rights and against FGM. She spoke with a very quiet voice, to a smaller audience in Town Hall, and would seem to be a convinced Animist and astrologist with tendencies towards Pantheism, occasionally making not-so-veiled snide remarks about Christianity and other organized religion. And of the two great women I heard this week, she was by far the better speaker.

Which put me in something of a quandary. For I would probably more agree with the views of Wangari, and she has accomplished something amazing in Africa, caring for the disenfranchised and those left behind. But I found myself utterly bored. She is just not a good speaker. She read passages from her book that didn't coalesce with her work, and didn't draw us in. She rambled around her subject, without telling her incredible story.

Whereas Alice Walker knew how to write, and therefore how to speak. She wrote her audience before her, as if we were a blank page waiting for the quill of her mouth. And so I ended up feeling a bit like Antonia Salieri, crying out to God about his justice in giving such extraordinary gifts to a fool like Mozart. Alice mockingly shared about how she wanted to have a bake sale for everyone who would one day go to Heaven, because she was staying around. This got a good laugh from the audience- all three times she told the joke. She even encouraged us to accept her belief in such pseudoscience quackery as water responding to our emotions (sadly something I've heard in my own church at times). The lack of respect for others' beliefs, or for basic scientific truths, was enough to turn the stomach. Almost. For it was shared in such a sweet, kindly manner, so engagingly, I couldn't refuse to embrace her.

Now, I think I write too strongly to prove my point. For there was a lot of Alice Walker I really enjoyed as well. She shared how she came to her inspiration, and of her beliefs in the horror of war. She showed great compassion to the hurting in the audience, as some asked questions with emotion and vulnerability. I loved her book, with vivid illustrations and moving poetry. Even more so, I enjoyed her reading of her children's poetry books. Why War is Never a Good Idea is a great way to teach children the way of peace, and begin their training early on so that they don't grow up pursuing war and all the gifts it brings. In a culture that so regularly worships at the Martian altar; where we are constantly reminded to be strong, to be one, to be all we can be; that the only practical and realistic results are those from military action- this is the kind of gentle corrective we need to remember that, in truth, war is hell. It is an evil and a blight on our people and our planet. And if we are to have any hope as a species, we need more books like this one by Alice Walker.

Monday, 24 September 2007

And behold, the light shines in the darkness.

This past Friday was an interesting experience. I had long looked forward to a progressive Christian Meetup Group, which had regular thought-provoking movies. But it seemed that every month there was a cancellation, or no one was attending but myself. Not so this Friday.

The movie took place at the enigmatic Center of Light. Equipped with the address, I took the bus to the destination on Oswego Place. And I wandered up and down the street, many times, looking for the address. It was a small street, but there was no Center of Light. Actually, it was a rather dark small street under a freeway overpass. I began to think of how my mom met my dad, wandering around a block looking for the party she'd been invited to by the cutest guy on campus, that she could hear, but never find. (She ended up giving up and ran into my dad in a bar.)

The street in front of me ended in a large building that looked vaguely like an insane asylum. I finally stopped at a neighbor's house, who told me Oswego Place continues on, on the other side of the school. (Not an asylum, it turns out.)

From there it was easy to find the location, and I arrived at the Center of Light. I realized what had happened in the past- I was the only one signing up on Meetup, but there were other attendees- they were just a regular part of the church, which evidently Center of Light is. From descriptions, I'd thought it more of a ministry, devoted to Christian mysticism. But it was a complete church, with collared and black-frocked priests- all women. One of the members described the church as the most open and alternative he'd ever been, and therefore a perfect fit for him. I described my own church, North Seattle Friends, as a good fit for me for the same reasons. (This individual had been to two of the non-Christian Friends Meetings in town, and hadn't even realized that there was a Christian Friends church. He was surprised to hear that we were the original meeting and have been here for over a century.)

Yes, the collared priests, all women, was a little different. Also different was when one came and introduced herself, as Reverend Margaret. I didn't quite hear her, so she repeated herself, "Reverend Margaret". As if Reverend was the first name. I made light of it, saying my name was Jedidiah, and I'm not a reverend. She said, "I know."

Then others walked in. They were Brother Paul, and Sister Patty. Deacon Janet and Reverend Linda were already on the couch. Everyone had a title. And so it was all the more conspicuous when Lisa arrived late- greeted without the preformative. Mike also came. Just Mike.

The movie, Peaceful Warrior, was good if you know where you should be coming from. In the genre of Karate Kid, but without the fighting, a wise old sage (Nick Nolte) instructs a young gymnast how to expand his mind. Some of it was a bit off theologically, like that we should empty our minds and stop thinking. It had more of a Buddhist slant to it than the Christian meditative approach of focusing on God. But there were also numerous good lessons in there, that really hit home.

Afterward we had a discussion. Notably lacking in the discussion at this church was any mention of Jesus, or for that matter, God. And throughout the evening, I was getting that prickly feeling that not all was right here- you know, the one you get when you step into the realm of another spirit? When asked my thoughts, I simply shared that I enjoyed the movie, and was appreciating what others had to share. But the discussion was lead in the style of evangelism, like what I've experienced in visiting some cults, like my favorite, the Church of Christ, Boston. (What? You don't have a favorite cult? Everyone should!)

Afterwards I was invited to join them in their Mysticism classes, beginning this Wednesday, but was able to postpone the response, using classic evasive tactics I'd learned from Moroccan culture. They shared their primary books and studies for the classes- devoted to a man and woman I'd never heard of, with no mention of some of the classics like St. Francis, St. John of the Cross, or St. Theresa.

When I got home I wikied the group, with no results. Googling gave me some links, and I finally found them under their primary name, The Order of Christ Sophia. Despite their claim to orthodoxy, they also believe in reincarnation, prayer as magical force, gnostic interpretations of the Bible, and that Jesus was God in the sense that we can all reach the divine. Oh- Mary was God too. Turns out the two people they studied in their classes are their founders, and people progress from visitor to Brother to Deacon to Priest to Master Teacher. And most of the leaders are women, which explains why all the robed people at the meeting were women. They just opened their thirteenth center in various cities in the U.S.

So I won't be visiting again. But what I want to contemplate is the presence of the Light in the midst of such darkness. Nothing I've seen indicates this group is a cult; just a very different religion, in it's nascent form. And yet, I was immensely touched by the film they hosted- a film in itself advocating aberrant religious practices. Two thoughts rose within me as I watched, and continue with me to this day. One was the admonition to live in the moment, to be present in the moment. It brought to mind Paul's command to redeem the moment. I need to do more of that, focusing on the now.

The second thing the guru in the movie said was to realize that we can control nothing. This also resonated deep within me. God is in control of all things, and much of my angst in life is in the thought that this or that event should be controllable, or should bend to my will. In truth, it is not controllable, and often won't go with my will- and much peace is gained in remembering that. This will be my goal to practice in the coming future.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Ramadan Joy

It's here, one of the most wonderful times of the year. Every year, I look forward to this month of fasting with eager anticipation. I know, many of my friends speak of how hard it is to be in the Muslim world at this time of year. And what they say is true- people get into fights more easily, get more irritated, eat more, and speed to make it home just before sunset. But it's not that I choose to focus on something else. It's just that the other side of it is more present to me: the joy I see in Muslim faces as Ramadan begins; the excitement in zeal, in striving to complete duty and being diligent to come closer to God; the feasting at day's end; and the opportunities for fasting. And then again, the joy at being able to taste food and drink freely as 'Id al F'tur approaches- the joy of fulfillment that is only known when one has experienced the lack.

Personally, I look forward to this most as it is the greatest time of prayer for me in the year. It's something about the focus in prayers that it provides, both in fasting and the reminder to pray for blessing for Muslims, as I partake in their religious traditions. Something was missing last year when I couldn't fast because of medical conditions. But it is different being over here, where no one fasts, and no one even knows Ramadan is going on. And though I might fast at the time of the Muslim holy days, I am still Christian, and fast in the Christian manner- which means being joyful, putting oil on my face, and not going around telling people I'm fasting. (Except here. But who really reads this anyway? And yes, the oil reference was metaphorical.)

This leads to some added difficulties. Like the hardest time I've ever had during the fast, when we had the Day of Caring at United Way on Friday. Day of Caring is a great idea, an encouragement promoted by United Way of King County to donate your employee's work time to serving the poor and disenfranchised in the community. Some in our department went to Transitional Resources, a program helping the severely mentally ill adjust to life in society. We spent the day weeding, cutting tall grass, trimming hedges, and raking up piles. It was hard work, but extremely pleasurable, to do work with your The work gang.hands, as Paul says, and to be out in nature, enjoying the wonder of God's creation. It's difficult to not hold forth in song as you work, especially anything from Brother Sun Sister Moon. But also very difficult to do so without drinking all day. I've never done such physically strenuous work during Ramadan. It helped me understand a bit of what those who physically labor go through during this month. Another benefit of the fast- the opportunity to understand what others experience.

But the best part was this evening. I had some from the Arabic Meet-Up I attend come over for f'tur, the breaking of the fast which occurs every evening at sunset. We had a traditional meal of boiled eggs, dates, coke, mint tea, and harira (which was actually lentil soup because its way way too hard to make the real thing). It was good to see Sarai there, recently returned from peace-making in Palestine, who I first met at the Multi-Meting Young Adult Friends group. We read through a children's story about a trip to the zoo, and talked about our Arab travels.

It was an extreme blessing to have them over. I so much enjoy being able to host people in my home. I couldn't do it in my old place, with it's 180 square feet. And I needed to have a minimum of furniture so that people would feel welcomed when they visited. Tonight was the first time in over a year that I've been able to have people over, and it felt...complete. This was one of the things I was designed for; this is what I was made to do.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Liquid Beauty

Yes, the Kindlings Muse is back! After too long a hiatus over the summer, we can once again have a intelligent, imaginative, hospitable live podcast in frankly the very best place to listen to a Christian talk show- a bar.

This time it was to listen to the new author Jeffrey Overstreet discuss fantasy and Christianity. I was shocked to learn of the recent death of Madeline L'Engle- and greatly saddened. Host Dick Staub brought out how she didn't feel there was anything really behind the Harry Potter series, and so didn't like them. (I think I may be the last progressive Christian on Earth who doesn't like Harry Potter.) This lead into a discussion of what constitutes good fantasy, and what makes Christian fantasy. I knew Tolkien was a Christian, of course, and had been one of the influences that lead Lewis to Christ. I had never realized before, though, until this night, how much of his Christian worldview pervaded Lord of the Rings. You can listen to the whole podcast here. (My question on George MacDonald is at Minute 59.)

I was so impressed with Overstreet I bought a signed copy of Aurelia's Colors. Overstreet described how he came on the idea on a hike with his wife, overlooking a lake. He had an image of a woman with a coat of splendid colors, and she had come to bring it to a city where no color is allowed. From that sprung the book- with a wife who is a poet, and helped him hone every word. I've begun the book, and it's true. Every word drips honey. This is a work of art. The fantasy is so full you have to put the book down every few minutes, to contemplate the tapestry you've been drawn into. I am transported into another land, into myth on the level of MacDonald. Don't wait. Don't walk. Run, and get this book, and know what true pleasure is.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Nice. Soft. Pretty.

When you come back from an extended time of living overseas, I don't think a lot of people realize how little you have. Most of your furniture was given away or sold or lent and disappeared, long before you went overseas, and even that which was stored is sometimes difficult to track down. So it was with great joy that I inherited an item from Aimee, since she just got married. After a year of sleeping on a fold-out couch, I now have a real bed!

Last night I slept on it. I had forgotten what they were like. Beds are soft. And they don't have big bars in the middle of them right where the small of your back is. I like beds.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

The One Where I Blacked Out

There's this question on eHarmony, "What's the most adventuresome thing you did this past year?" I never know how to answer that - without regular travels life just seems less adventurous. Today I got my answer.

Eric was going to use his truck to help me get my bed today, which I'm inheriting from Aimee since she'll no longer need it when she gets married tomorrow. But he wasn't available till 6, and I had my sister-in-law Trina's birthday to get to at 8. One must understand that bus system here in Seattle is really not that great- especially if you're going East-West. So I called Metro Transit to find out which bus I needed and when. I waited the requisite 15 minutes before I could get ahold of anyone (after the standard two or more hang-ups because they don't have enough people manning the lines). Just as I arrived at the bus stop I missed one bus headed North. In this particular case I didn't know if I needed to go North or South, so I guessed South.

The guy came on the line just as the bus appeared in the distance. I quickly told him where I needed to go and when, pointing out that I needed to know now because the bus was coming. He proceeded to give a long answer for different routes I should take, as the bus pulled up in front of me. At this point I am shouting at him to stop talking, to listen to me, just to tell me if I should take the bus headed North or South, as he still hasn't gotten around to that. He ignores me and continues. The driver looks at me, as I am telling the Metro Transit official on the phone to tell me which direction to go, and then the driver closes the door and drives off. Now the Metro official listens to me, and tells me I should take the bus that just went South. I told him that was no longer possible, because he wouldn't stop talking long enough to listen to me, and he suggested I take the one headed North. "The one just pulling away across the street?" I ask.

I called Eric and let him know my situation, and he agreed to come pick me up at Market and 15th, a 30 minute walk or 7 minute bus ride. I called Metro again to find out when the next bus was coming, and I was told at 651. Plenty of time to walk to the next stop. Except two buses drove right past me at 649. I called Metro to find out what was going on, and they stated they could only explain when buses should be there, not when they would be. I figured that since the previous buses were evidently running 20-30 minutes late, the next one couldn't possibly be on time, so I could walk to the next bus stop. (I have a fatal flaw in wanting to walk rather than needlessly wait.) I was wrong. The 651 was on time, and pulled past me as I crossed the Ballard Bridge. Thankfully the bridge was being raised for passing boat traffic, so the bus pulled up and stopped abreast of me. I knocked on the door and begged with folded hands to be let in, but understandably, the driver couldn't do so.

So as soon as the partition for the bridge began to lift, I ducked under the pedestrian partition, and ran across the bridge, making it to the other end of the drawbridge portion before that had even been raised. I continued to run down the bridge, to the next bus stop. This is not a small bridge, for those who have not been in Seattle. This is a large bridge. But because of a kindly bus driver who waited 30 seconds for me, I made that bus.

Panting, I paid my fare, and stood there, good for about 30 seconds. And then I started to have a stomach ache. I realized I needed to sit down. The next event as like nothing I've ever experienced. I laid my head on the seat back, and my next thought was that I must have been tired, for I'd fallen asleep. I realized I'd been dreaming of this science fiction book about talking communal dogs I'd been reading. Then it dawned on me that I'd gotten enough sleep, so I couldn't have been tired, and it occurred to me that I must have blacked out. I immediately felt to see if I'd had another stroke, an omnipresent fear. And I struggled to make my way out of that lethargy that accompanies a black out, going to the bus driver to ask if I'd missed my stop. "No," he told me, "We're just pulling up to it now." I'd blacked out for only about four blocks, and likely none of the other passengers had even realized it.

Eric was waiting for me at the stop, and that might have been the end of this eventful story. It was not. His car sounded strange, he said. He'd lent it to someone the day before and they had neglected to include the radiator cap with the car when they returned it to him. It began banging and pinging, and finally ground to a halt. Not to worry- we were on a downhill slope, one of many in Seattle. Of more concern was Eric's feeling that we could coast down that slope with enough momentum to make it up the next hill, so as to get to the main drag of Aurora. We almost did. We stopped again, with traffic behind us on the two-lane road, and were rescued by a guy who donated his work-out time to help push the truck. As the truck picked up speed I jumped on the back and we coasted down that hill to the Aurora, and were saved by the presence of gas stations.

No, not really. There were no gas stations there. We went through the red slowly, so as not to lose momentum, and took a right to the Shell gas station I saw in the distance. But to get there, we had to cross at a No Left Turn sign, and into oncoming traffic, on a 6-lane road. To accomplish this, I had to get out, stopping oncoming traffic with my hand and ushering Eric through, so he could take back parking lots to the gas station, where we could get water to fix the radiator and hopefully heal the car.

We couldn't find the water at the gas station. I went inside to ask where it was. The attendant said the water was broken, but I could buy a gallon for a $1.65. After verifying that this was indeed a gas station, I returned to Eric, and he happily reported the car was again running. So we drove slowly North, where he knew there was a (real) gas station, and we made it- just short of one hill. There was no way we could get up there now, but Eric was excited that at least we were on a six-lane road and no longer blocking traffic. I was thinking how much faster cars go on a six-lane road.

Thankfully another kindly gentleman came up with his souped-up pick-up with the racing engine inside, and offered to tow us. Unfortunately, neither he nor Eric had their towlines with them, which was odd, considering how handy both of them were. So we stripped some rope from the back of Eric's bed, and used that to pull the truck. Unfortunately the rope had seen better days, and it took three attempts before the rope could pull without breaking in two. The racing pickup pulled us into the gas station, breaking it's line just as we pulled in. And they did have water.

A guy who I later learned was named Jesper came up and asked if I had change for a twenty so he could make a phone call. I told him I didn't, but suggested that he try the convenience store, which I was also headed to to replenish fluids after all this running and pushing large trucks. When I came out, Jesper was going through the guide, looking for hotels. Turns out he was on holiday from Denmark, and was desperate to find a place for the night. He tried my cell, but still couldn't find a place to stay. As it was now 755, and too late to get the bed, Eric had kindly agreed to take me back to my place to get the present and drop me off downtown. I offered Jesper a ride to downtown, which he gladly accepted. Along the way he called other places, but every where was booked. The local hostel informed us that there were two football games and a large conference in town, and there was no hope.

So I was blessed to have Jesper spend the night with me tonight, and come to the birthday party, where he was roundly well-received. I still have no bed, but here is the marvelous providence of God- had Eric not been busy, had I not missed those buses, had the car not broke down, had I gotten a bed- Jasper would not have had one tonight, and I would have missed out on getting to know a very interesting guy.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Dream and Nightmare

It is an unending moment.
A flash.
It is light.
She came and dwelt among us for awhile.
And suffusing all the dream.
Surely it will end.
Surely I will end it.
Everything is brighter,
Everything is clearer.
So many plans,
So many thoughts,
So many possibilities.
Now I know what perfection is.
Not the presence of full good,
but the becoming of something greater.
This is the comfort of knowing home.

It is not home, she says.
And the record plays back
with demonic whisperings.
In the shadows you saw us dancing.
Shadows looming as specters.
Once innocence thought
is now filled with every recrimination and regret.
I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.
And so they end.
So the dance stops, broken.
And there are only memories.

Then why do you keep talking to me?
Why are we still deep in conversation?
I heard your voice, just an hour ago, and we laughed,
about some not forgotten event.