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.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Washington Employers Mistrust

One's health is important. You want to believe you can trust people who care for your health. You want to believe that someone who helps keep you alive is someone trustworthy, that they are looking out for you, and that they will try to keep you alive. Sadly, I have recently found this not to be the case.

My insurance company, Washington Employers Trust, has been anything but trustworthy. At my previous job, I had to wait 6 1/2 months before I could get dental, which gave me only a month's worth of coverage before the job ended. Recognizing that I had a slim window, I made sure I did everything by the book. I called Washington Employers Trust to get them to preapprove me for a crown. They told me that I had to go in and get it prepped first, before they would preapprove it. 2 weeks later, just before the appointment, they told me that what they told me earlier was not their policy, necessitating me to reschedule the appointment for two weeks after that. At the appointment I had them check my teeth as they'd planned, and it was discovered that I needed another crown, and this one urgently. That of course needed preapproval as well, and it took some doing, but they did preapprove the 2nd- but there was no time available to get a dental appointment with this dentist before the insurance lapsed, as the insurance company hadn't done the preapproval when I'd first called. Now, of course, they are denying what they told me about preapproval, as the agent neglected to input the data.

The result? Since the dental insurance is pretty bad and covers only 1/2 the cost, as I look for work I have to pay $560 for one tooth, and let the more urgent tooth go. Looks like Michael Moore was right after all. I would appreciate prayer for the ability to fix these teeth, or a speedy path to Canadian citizenship.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

عيد شكور

This past week we had Thanksgiving, and for this my mom came up to spend a couple days with me and my brother Kent, and his wife, Trina. An amazing Thanksgiving dinner was prepared by Trina, her first time hosting Thanksgiving. I particularly enjoyed the gravy and turkey, and of course, the Finnish Braid Bread. And, though I can't stand cranberry sauce, Trina's was actually pretty good! As you can see, Trina found the time to have everything specially arranged, the turkey in the oven, along with all of the fixings, and without getting flustered the entire time. That is a great feat indeed.

That night me and my mom went out to see Enchanted, which I heartily recommend, as one of the sweetest, most romantic movies I've seen in a long time. My mom arrived a couple minutes late, not realizing that the movie begins as a cartoon. She told me later she thought, "Oh. Jed's into cartoons. Okay. Well, I can do this. I use to watch cartoons with them. I'll just try to enjoy it."

Yesterday, the day after Thanksgiving, we got to go to the Seattle Aquarium.

Touching the Sea Cucumber.Looking at the Jellies.

Unicorn Fish

Golden Plover
And then it was off, rushing up to the mosque in time for prayers. I shared how I got to the mosque last week, for the first time in over a year. Today was a special day, as my mom went to the mosque for the first time. She went upstairs, where she described the women listening intently, some praying during the sermon. She followed along with the others, in tying the scarf and making the motions. My mom was very impressed with the kindness of the one woman who assisted her, asking her if she was interested in following Islam.
We got there when the sermon was in progress, which is permissible- as in Eastern Christianity,
There is no god but God.
Muslims wander in throughout the service, just so long as they are there in time for the prayers (or communion, in Eastern Christianity). The Imam was speaking of hajj, coming up, the yearly pilgrimage, and how if you are financially able to, and don't at least have the intent of going on hajj, you will be treated as a Jew or Christian on Judgement Day, and God's wrath shall fall on you.
Afterwards I got this picture. I think my mom looks so cute!- just like one of those matrons I'd see on the street in Morocco. We went on to a spaghetti dinner, and discussed what our family might be like if we'd all been born Muslim. Sophia needs to get married off soon!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Music of Paradise, Five Times a Day

While looking for the khutbah sermon time for my visit to the Idriss Mosque, I came across this little nugget on their site: a free athan program for download! Yup, you can now, for free, here the call to prayer five times a day, as long as your computer is running! It lets you set the city you're in, if you have daylight savings time, which country and city you want to hear the call from, and if you want to hear a short Qur'anic verse afterward. Your computer will even declare the bismillah, "in the name of God most merciful most compassionate", everytime it turns on. It's a wonderful reminder to do all things in God's name, and to pray. And for those of us in dar al harb, the House of War, where we no longer have the pleasure of regularly hearing the Call to Prayer- it is now available! And I must say, in using the one from Mecca, it is an extremely pleasant athan, not at all tinny or artificial, which seemed to be so often the case from the mosques in Morocco.

(Now I'm wanting to play with it to find the prayer times in Antarctica. It's also made me wonder about the direction of prayer towards Mecca, from the exact opposite side of the Earth. If the traditional method is to just use the shortest distance to Mecca on a round globe, if you're in a mosque in French Polynesia, will any direction do?)

Monday, 19 November 2007

A Bird in the Hand

Yes. I'm selling it. Geordie Glass, the guy who sold me the car, lied to me. It's rather depressing actually. He seemed really trustworthy, and I even googled him and confirmed that he had the job he said he did. I had this idea that, if he was telling the truth about that, and if I could track him down if need be, he'd be honest about other things. But an odometer simply doesn't stop working the very moment that you sell it, and the windshield start leaking at the first rainfall after the sale. Even more depressing is the idea that someone who works to heal people for a living would so blatantly lie. Sure, maybe that's the real world. But then I'm depressed that I'm so easily fooled.

So here's my Craig's List ad:

I bought this car a month and a half ago on Craig's list, and the guy lied
to me. I therefore have to resell it, at a loss, as is, for parts, and be honest
with the problems with it.

Grey 95 T-Bird, V8 Engine, 158,000 miles. But the odometer is broken,
so it could be more than that. Power doors and windows and seats, with the
driver's side seat controls attached but falling off. Front blinkers, licence
light, and reverse lights do not work, due to a wiring issue. Gas mileage
approximately 16 mpg. Leak all along the front of the interior, due to an
improper windshield seal. Windshield needs to be replaced. Rear brakes nearly
completely shot and rotting off- currently the front brakes take 90% of the load
and it has about a month of safe driving left on it.

Still interested? :-) Mechanic tells me it's got good parts on it still.

Yeah. Turns out it will cost $1,000 to replace the odometer. $350 for the
windshield. $600 for the brakes. No idea how much for the blinkers, but a lot. I
already put in $100 for taxes and registration, $70 for new oil and windshield
wipers, and $50 to fix the muffler. After paying $800 for the car itself. It's
just not going to be worth keeping it.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Sophia, Star of Stage and Screen

I previously shared how my brother and dad entered the media. Now it's my sister's turn. Sophia Not my sister.Palosaari has been written up in her local paper as the star of an art film, Spin of Fabrications! It describes a woman coming to understanding of herself as she meets her fantasies. (Unfortunately it does not look to be a movie for those under 18, though not due to any of my sister's screentime.) Reserve your tickets today for the June 7th, 2008 showing in Ashland, Oregon!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

صلاة الجمعة - An Etic Perspective

Listening to Tasha speak last weekend, I was struck by how effortlessly she shared about the strange culture that is Islam. By strange, I don't mean something negative, but rather different- it is different for most Americans. And in studying it for so long, I've grown used to it, so that I don't fully see it's difference. Islam feels more comfortable, like an old slipper. So I described it less while I was in Morocco. And those few times I was able to enter a mosque, all happened before I began blogging. So there was never the opportunity to share with my readers what the experience is for a Christian to worship in a mosque with Muslims. Until now.

It was difficult to tell from the Idriss Mosque website when the sermons began, so I arrived a half-hour early. The Idriss Mosque is the largest and most authentic-looking mosque in the Seattle area, and I find it very architecturally beautiful. It has the classic dome and a small unused minaret (for there are no public calls to prayer in Seattle). Some of us went out and helped with the mosque's security shortly after 9/11, and I have off-and-on attended in the years before I went to Morocco, but I have had no opportunity to come on a Friday since I returned.

Upon entering I removed my shoes to indicate that this is holy ground, and went and sat in the back. There were few men who had arrived yet, variously involved in voluntary prayers and reading the Qur'an. One man older was staring at me, and I greeted him in the tradtional manner, with the hand to the chest. The women enter from the back, and go upstairs, sitting behind a tilj grating, so they can see the Imam but no men can see them. I heard an automated recorded Qur'anic recitation from upstairs for a few seconds, and that was the last I heard of anything from upstairs.

I sat and observed for awhile, contemplating and praying. The room is large, for this is no store-front mosque. A few columns divide the front from the back, and there is plush blue carpeting throughout the room, with white lines to indicate the rows that men should be in. I was surprised to see the mihrab, the depressed niche in the wall indicating the qibla, the direction of the Ka'aba, in Mecca, a black cube building towards which all Muslims pray. I wasn't surprised to see the mihrab, but rather it's placement, indicating towards the northeast. Of course, this makes sense. In the traditional method of reckoning qibla, the quickest way from Seattle to Mecca is by to the northeast. But I still have in my mind a Mercator map projection, where Mecca is to the southeast.

Next to the mihrab is the minbar, the raised pulpit. As is often the case, this was covered with beautiful tilj, a thatched intricate artwork of wood, expressing beauty without forbidden images. It rises up a few steps until you reach the pulpit, separated from the steps by a crossbar.

After sitting for awhile I headed downstairs for wudud. Wudud is the ritual washing that occurs before prayers- again, a reminder that you are entering into the holy. It involves washing the hands and wrists, the mouth, inside the nose, the face, the right and left arm, the top of the head, the ears, and the right and left feet. Everything is to be washed three times. The facilities for washing were very convenient, with something like sinks at ankle level.

Upstairs men were starting to filter in in greater numbers. I think I may have been the only white American, and so probably stood out. But it was a heady mix of the world's population, with African-Americans and immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Clothing was a vibrant mix of Western and various ethnic styles, with jallibiyah, a full-length male dress, predominating. English was the most widely spoken language, but there was also Arabic and languages I didn't recognize. Initially those entering were quieter, but as the room filled up, the volume of conversation increased.

At a certain point the Imam, the pastor, climbed the minbar to speak. He read a chapter from the Qur'an, of which I recognized a few words, and then he translated it into English, the common language for most present.

His sermon initially discussed how all things are possible with God. He shared a true story of a man who felt called to be a martyr in Medina. When asked how this would be possible, when Medina is populated by Muslims, the man said, with God all things are posible.

Then the Imam moved to how we should look to Mohammed (pbuh) above all others, and love him before anyone else. His example should be followed in appearance, in actions, and 24 hours a day. He taught us how to leave the negative example of the Jews and the Christians. There was a time in early Islam when the example of Mohammed (pbuh) was taught just as much as the Qur'an, and children were expected to be as family with what he did as they were with what the Qur'an said. We go astray when we look for happiness and satisfaction in other places, but we will stand with Mohammed (pbuh) on Judgement Day and go to Paradise, if we follow his example in all ways to the utmost.

Frankly, the focus on Mohammed (pbuh) surprised me. I'm not sure if all Muslims would agree with this hagiolatry of Mohammed (pbuh), where we should love him more than all others. I know for certain I have heard Muslims speak against such an idea in the past. And the Imam's ideas of copying Mohammed in the style of the beard and how one uses the restroom- I have heard these ideas before, but usually from more extremist groups, like the Wahhabi or Ikhwani. Truly, the idea of loving Mohammed (pbuh) is very similar to the Christian teaching on Jesus- but Christians justify it only because we believe Jesus to be God. Indeed, this is why some groups preach against a hagiolatry of Mohammed (pbuh)- it is too similar to the Christian teaching on Jesus, and, for these groups, amounts to a divinization of Mohammed. I also found it interesting that some words in the sermon were not translated into English- God, martyr, Jews, and Christians. Almost as if the Imam was wary of having non-Muslims understand his meaning at certain times, as it would run contrary to the attempt to portray Islam as a liberal, more universalist religion. (An idea often encouraged by Imams in America.)

The sermon lasted about an hour, and then the Imam climbed down the stairs and sat down on the lowest stair, for a moment of communal selah. He climbed back up for a brief continuation of the sermon, but I think he was mindful of the clock, and that, in America, Muslims can only go to payer during a lunch hour on Fridays.

So we moved to a beautiful call to prayer, done by the mu'ethin, almost always different from the Imam. He walked into the mithrab, and sang in Arabic,

God is great.
God is great.
God is great.
God is great.
I say there is no god but God.
I say there is no god but God.
I say Mohammed is the prophet of God.
I say Mohammed is the prophet of God.
Come to the good.
Come to the good.
Come to prayer.
Come to prayer.
God is great.
God is great.
There is no god but God.

The men gather in rows, with a verbal reminder every time to stand shoulder to shoulder with toes touching, so that there are no gaps. The mu'ethin calls out Allahu akbar, God is great, and we raise our hands, repeating after him, and clasp them to our stomachs, right hand over left. The prayer involves a series of bows and full prostrations, with each cycle called a raka. For juma'a prayers, Friday prayers, there are the fewest number of rakas, with only two. (For the five prayers done each day, there are a different number of rakas.) After the prayers are done, while kneeling, we greet the angels on the right and left shoulder, one angel recording bad deeds and the other good deeds, and greet those near us, as the Imam does any announcements. As I don't believe there are angels on both sides, for me, I consider it a greeting to those on either side of me. But I appreciate the reminder that all of our deeds are constantly recorded and God is aware of them.

While I am not Muslim, I find great peace in this form of worship. There are some aspects I don't theologically agree with, but everything said in the worship itself I am in agreement with. Much comes from the Fatiha, the opening chapter to the Qur'an, which expresses theology in concordance with that of Christianity. My Arabic tutor was asking me what I get out of it. There is nowhere else in Seattle where I can be so immersed in Arabic Islamic culture. But more than this, there is something so very holistic in this style of worship, where I can use my whole body to worship God. True, the Eastern Orthodox do this, but we have largely lost it in the West. It is also a time where I can affirm with my Muslim brothers that we worship the same God, and express my love and joy in Him together. And there is that which is powerful in the unison of action, as we affirm the greatness of God.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Stories over Dirty Feet

I realized the other day, when volunteering at Bethany Pres where they feed the homeless, how rejuvenated I felt. I felt more alive, more present, more joyous, serving food and breaking bread with the homeless.

Today was the United Way United to End Homelessness Community Resource Exchange, in downtown Seattle, at the Seattle Center. It's done monthly in San Francisco, and has been tried in other cities, but this was the first time it was done in Seattle. The idea is to provide complete one-stop service to the homeless: medical and dental care, counseling, services for veterans, legal assistance, eye exams, help in applying for public benefits and food stamps, hair cuts, employment programs, wheelchair maintenance, foot washing, and prayer. (The last is not provided by United Way of King County.) United Way is partnered in this with the City of Seattle and the Fannie Mae Foundation, who are very behind the campaign to eradicate chronic homelessness in King County- but there are a number of other independent partners in the Community Resource Exchange. A second Community Resource Exchange will occur for homeless families in Renton in two days, from 1400 to 1900 at the Spirit of Washington Event Center.

We began with a short inspirational speech by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and ended up serving around 850 people today. I had the pleasure of washing feet throughout the day. This involved removing the socks and shoes, soaking the feet in warm water, washing them with soap, drying and applying lotion, and offering towels and clippers for the clients to take with them. Between every client we would get a new bowl, with fresh hot water. The soaking time provides a great chance to talk, and hear stories. Sometimes clients would ask what the impetus was for this, and I would explain how Jesus modeled the idea of being like the lowliest of servants, for in his time feet were very dirty, in a world without socks or asphalt. Yet, though he was an esteemed rabbi, he removed his outer clothing and took on the role of a servant for his disciples. This then is how we should love others.

There were many clients who had very dirty feet. And I was struck with how little we are aware of this. Not all, but many of the homeless try to look decent for the public, just as we all do, for social acceptance, or to get money. But they face great hurtles, in not having regular access to a home or a shower. I've spent a couple days on the streets, just to understand a very little of what it's like. What I experienced was nothing like what those who live it day in and day out of necessity. But I do remember how hard it was to keep clean. And if you're using the sink at a McDonalds, you go for the hands and face- it's just too difficult to get to the feet. When you have to spend a great deal of energy to get clean, you do only what is absolutely necessary. Since feet don't show, you don't have to care for them as much, and you suffer the health effects from the lack of care. Many of those we saw today were grievously suffering from lack of care. And since most of the body's nerves run down to the feet, if you're standing for long periods, and have foot injuries, your entire body suffers. Thus without exception, those we saw were very grateful for what we were doing. They get so few opportunities to clean their feet, or be affirmed as equals. And caring for the feet can have positive effects on the whole body in the same way that the lack of care can harm it.

I also found great gain in this, and thought that it was I who was served by the homeless. One individual suggested I did this to get blessing from God, and I tweaked his statement to say that, yes, I am blessed by God, but the blessing was the interaction with him. Particularly this was true in the stories. A number of clients spoke of just getting out of prison. One shared about having to appear to be strong in prison in order to survive, and how much he missed, not the camaraderie of prison, but rather certain individuals he had come to be friends with there. He has dreams of going to live in Thailand, where the US Government no longer has him stigmatized by a prison ID number that never leaves his records. I thought of how his dreams are just like my dreams, to travel, to find new life abroad- that we were brothers. As he and others shared about their lives in professional jobs or the military in the past, I saw how easily it is for any of us to end up on the streets.

I was surprised to see a few that I've met at the Wednesday outreaches- including one man that I was sure I knew, but I couldn't remember from where. It was only after, in a different light, that I remembered that I'd just eaten dinner across from him three weeks ago! He showed me a doctor's note, saying that, due to carbon monoxide poisoning, he had severe cognitive impairment. He wanted to know what the word "cognitive" meant.

But the man who will not leave my memory was another. This was a guy that one of the other volunteers asked me to take, for she could not stop the gag reflex upon seeing and smelling his feet. And indeed, there was sight and smell. When I came over he had removed a large collection of his toenails- not the ends, but nearly the entire amount. From this layman's perspective, it appeared as if his feet were rotting off. As I washed his feet I also strongly encouraged him to visit the health services section of the Community Resource Exchange. And then he shared his story.

I asked him the same questions I asked most clients: How long have you been in Seattle? Which area do you hang out in? What area of Seattle do you like the best, and why? He spoke of Lake City Way as being his favorite area, which is an odd choice if you know Seattle, being composed of rather nondescript shops and businesses, a surface street thruway between more interesting areas. But he began crying as he shared that that is the place that his brother had lived in. He was very close to this brother, now passed away. But he has now outlived his brother, his mother and father, his sisters and all his siblings, his wife, and his daughter. Last year, in those fierce winter storms that we had, he got a call from the police, as he was executor of his deceased brother's estate. The house of his brother had collapsed from the wind and the rain. He was able to rescue only one item from the house that belonged to him, a cuckoo clock. But he realized that he couldn't keep it secure on the streets, and someone would try to steal it. So a few weeks ago he gave it to a man who has been very generous to him in the past.

I finished applying the lotion and put his socks and shoes back on, and hugged him goodbye. I'm not giving answers here, or conclusions, only stories. These are what I heard, while washing dirty feet.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Blessing of Friendship

It was such a blessing to be able to spend time with Tasha this past week. It had been over a year since I'd seen her, and nearly a year since I'd last seen anyone from GWA. Tasha came up to spend time with an old roommate of hers who lives in Seattle, and to get Mt. Hoodto the wedding of Adam and Kattie, which we had the pleasure of attending with Janette. Yesterday was the first opportunity really to spend a good chunk of the day together, and we had really meaningful conversation driving South to a speaking engagement of Tasha's way down in Orting, where she shared about her experiences at GWA and in Morocco. And she did such an amazing job as well! Much better than I could have done. I forget too much how other-worldly Islam often seems to Americans. Tasha knew how to describe it in a way that people could relate to, and at the same time exciting and encouraging them to work in Morocco as well. I was going to take pictures of her speaking, but I was too enraptured in listening to her share. So all I got was this mountain outside the building where she was speaking.
We saw this on the way.
That evening we met up, along with her old roommate, Tham, to go out to Vietnamese. But we had some time to kill, so we walked down from the International District to the Waterfront, to see the sights along the Boardwalk. There's a curio shop there, with lots of knickknacks and strange objects on display, like this two-headed calf. I don't know if it was the lighting or Tasha doesn't do well without enough sleep.what, but at a certain point, it really became clear how truly jet-lagged Tasha was once it got dark.

From there we walked on to the aquarium, closed at this point, but we were able to peek inside to see the Windows on Washington Waters, and the small tank outside.

An elevator takes you up 8 stories from the waterfront to 3rd and Pike, the top floor of the Pike Place Market, the souq modeled on Turkish souqs. The market was closing about this time, 1730, but we did get to wander into the Moroccan store, where Tasha practiced some of her Arabic with the proprietor. And then, a special treat, having a cup of jo at the first ever Starbucks in the world. (You'll have to click and magnify to see why the logo got changed worldwide.)
The First Starbucks, with the original logo.
Then it was off to some exceptional Vietnamese food at a restaurant chosen by Tham.

And I am left feeling elation at the experience of seeing my friend again, and yet great sorrow, for the time was far too short.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

To Have and To Hold

Just Married! It is not often that the past returns and we get to celebrate old friendships and relationships. This week Tasha from my old school in Morocco came out for a visit, to see her old roommate, and to come to the wedding of our former co-workers, Adam and Kattie Normand. (Well, now, it's Normand.)

We drove down with Janette, and spent the night with Steve and Julie- which was very meaningful for me, as it marked the first time that I had people from the two most significant parts of my life meeting together- my time at GWA in Morocco, and the commune I grew up in.
Sadly, Blogger only allows 100 MB max for videos- for the rest of the wedding videos I took you'll have to go to my Facebook account.

Signing the CertificateThe wedding was an intimate affair, upstairs in the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. Kattie had a beautiful dress made by her sister, and another sister in this multi-talented family made about 15 different cakes. (The best was the chocolate-mint, imo.)

After the cutting of the cake, Adam and Kattie were off to Bend, capitol of Eastern Oregon. (It's the only community of any size in the vast deserts of Eastern Oregon.) And the rest of us were left with some very hard goodbyes. Although I know this is The Special Day for The Marriage CertificateKattie and Adam, for me, it was simply getting to see them- and Lillis and Heather and Kristi and Norm and Reta and Ed and Barbara and Amanda and Catie (with whom I had some of my very best travels in Morocco) and Ashton, and some surprises, like Nessa and Jared, and the rest- those I haven't seen for so long, and missed so dearly, that a part of me is removed. I really enjoyed talking with Catie, even if mean Amanda wouldn't let me give Catie any of the Merlot :-( It felt like the reunion was far too short to truly reconnect, before everyone flew off, back to their Cutting the Cakerespective states and countries- Lillis to finishing her BA in music teaching in Florida; Heather and Kristi to teaching at the same school in SoCal; Norm and Reta to Ontario, looking for ways to help overseas and waiting on a kidney transplant; Ed and Barbara to their retirement about ten miles from the wedding; Amanda and Catie back home to Dar Baida; Ashton and her mom and siblings back East to Spokane, WA; and Nessa and Jared to beauty school and music school in Wisconsin. (Let the reader guess which is doing what.) Adam will be working with Americorps in Portland, but sadly and ironically, Tasha, Sarah, Heather, & KristiI know nothing else of the wedding couple's plans, as they were naturally so busy with their special day. I, I returned to Seattle with Janette teaching in Bellevue, and Tasha subbing and teaching ESL in Alabama.
Sue and Jan
Lillis & AshtonScott, Tasha, & KarineNessa & JaredThe Beautiful Bridesmaids:  Amanda & CatieNorm, Reta, Ed, & Barb

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Why the Link with Death?

I first heard about this on the pro-evolution anti-ID site, Panda's Thumb. They were preempting likely Literal Creationist attempts to paint the individual as pro-evolution, and therefore make an argument for how evolution leads to murder and anarchy. But the impetus for the Panda's Thumb post was horrific. There's been another school shooting. This time in Finland, of all places. Finland is a country that has fought wars, but never really won them. It's a country that in the post-WWII period has remained staunchly neutral, with an incredibly low murder rate. It's a safe place to be. And yet, here, there was another shooting, a massacre, with nine individuals killed, including the shooter. No one really knows why he did it- even more than other similar stories, he seemed to be a nice guy, until he began being isolated recently.

People are saying it will causes a sea-change in Finland, which has the third highest gun-ownership rate in the world. Most Finns use guns for hunting, a prominent pastime in a country still largely wilderness. With an emergency session of Parliament called to deal with the greatest peace-time massacre in Finnish history, gun ownership laws are likely to be greatly restricted.

But I find it odd, and a bit eerie, to see this connection between the land of my ancestors and the land of my birth. For, of course, the country with the highest rate of gun ownership is America, the Land of Violence, and one of the most dangerous countries on the planet, even excluding her penchant for war. As Michael Moore showed, gun ownership does not directly correlate to violence against people- but it certainly helps. You get angry people in lots of countries- like Morocco, where I used to live. But an angry guy with a gun can do a lot more than an angry guy with a knife.

The part even stranger is that the country with the second highest rate of gun ownership is, you guessed it, Yemen- the country I have long desired to live in, and visited two Christmases ago. Yemen is often portrayed as the Wild West, where tribes often resist the government by kidnapping foreigners, and an insurrection has been going on for years. There are said to be two guns for every Yemeni (though not every Yemeni owns a gun), and most tribesmen wear a jambiya, a large traditional curved knife at the front of the belt. Yemeni get angry at each other, but this rarely leads to violence. If you kill another person, you face a death penalty determined by their family, who reserves the right to public execution or a monetary compensation of their choosing. Or it could lead to inter-tribal warfare, where the aforementioned guns are used.

What am I to make of this coincidence, where the land of my ancestory, my birth, and my future are connected by such a widespread use of an instrument of violence? In truth I had known about American and Yemen before, but it took this tragedy for me to learn about Finland. What am I to make of this connection of violence tracing itself through my life? In truth I do not know. I believe there is an answer, but for the moment, I have only the beginnings of the question. I know there is the prophesy of peacemaking, and I wait to see its fulfillment, and I long to see its fulfillment. And I wonder if these are complimentary threads in the seamless tapestry of my life.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

One, Last, Time.

I learned something awful yesterday. Horrendous, really. Today, November 6th, 2007, is the final day to vote in person in Washington. Ever. In 2008 they are moving to an all-mail-in election, with the possible exception of Pierce County, but they are probably going to go mail-in there too. This means that this may be the last time I vote in person, ever. Which is incredibly sad. I love the franchise. I love going in and meeting people, all of us gathered to celebrate our right to vote and that we control the government. (I mean, hypothetically. It's still a pleasant fantasy.) It's just not the same when you do it by mail. My polling location was in an elementary school, and I arrived as kids were leaving- children who would never know what it was like to join their fellow citizens in a polling party.

So, here's my experience, for the last time. Because I have absolutely no private sphere. I did this last year, but now I've got audio. And for the first and last time, I voted electronic- with a paper record, of course.
Remember, this is for posterity.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

The Episode of the Purse

I had a really great day at the aquarium today. The last few times volunteering have been a bit...draining, for various reasons. So it helped that, due to illness and other commitments, I took the last month off. I came into teaching with renewed vigor and excitement, and I was reminded how much I miss teaching.

We have a new octopus now. Meet Emrick.

All of my talks- on plankton, Pacific coral reef fishes, Orcas, seastar feeding, anemone clone wars, and sea cucumber breathing out the butt- went excellent. The crowd listened attentively and interestedly, eager to know why they should be afraid of Coke machines. The setups to get guests to put their fingers in anemone butts went perfectly. I really enjoyed talking with some of the guests. The children were really interested in the storytime, where I read The Whales' Song. (They were so cute, climbing over me to see pictures and find out how Lilly hears the whales call her name!) And there were large crowds for all of my talks. Until the plankton tow, that is.

The teaser for the plankton talk is two-fold- you get to see the kind of organisms that the movie Aliens was based on, and you get to participate in actual scientific practices. It's the only time this happens at the aquarium, as guests help in retrieving the plankton samples through repeated drops into the water. For the first time I had adults eager to throw out the plankton net.

Now, usually, I'm told, a woman keeps close watch on her purse, cognizant of its placement on her body and the collection of valuables therein. Sadly, not in this case. For as the young lady threw out the net, her arm went out, along with the black purse. There it was, floating in the mucky harbor 20 feet below us.

We tried repeatedly to retrieve it with the plankton net, but the bar across the net's mouth preluded retrieval, and eventually our efforts only resulted in the loss of the air bubble within the purse. The woman watched her expensive purse, with her ID and credit cards, as well as those of her friend's, disappear into the murky depths.

Needless to say, the guests found the Episode of the Purse vastly more interesting than the 7 million viruses in a tablespoon of seawater, and so I lost most of my crowd as I went in to see the organisms on the projecting scope. Divers will go down in the next couple days, but we are not optimistic. The water is dark, and the purse is black, and currents can rapidly move an object about the harbor.

There is that of God in George Bush

Tonight I saw another phenomenal movie, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Like Soldiers of Conscience, this movie was about Iraq, this time looking at what happened, step-by-step, to create the situation conducive to American torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The movie shows so clearly that what happened was premeditated and planned from the highest levels. It equally shows how America no longer has any moral standing in the rest of the world. Whereas once we were considered to have the highest ethical standards, treating enemies better than required under international law, now we are seen as torturers and terrorists, looking for legal maneuvering out of justice and kindness, as we parse what the definition of is is so we can waterboard one more enemy combatant. This movie provoked great sorrow from the gut as I contemplated what remained of this once noble experiment that was America.

This evening was part of the Meaningful Movies series at a local church, something I've seen on often, but had not attended in the past, thinking erroneously that the movies had been canceled due to lack of participation. After the movie there was the opportunity for discussion and sharing- something I really needed, for the images were as horrific as the thoughts inspired by them.

Because the movie showed how, step-by-step, individuals who had no greater inclination to torture than is typically found in the military could come to a place of engaging in sadism and sexual torture, because it built this up slowly, I could relate. I could see in myself how I could walk that same road. For there are times when I've been angry with others, and wanted evil to befall them. And this is the first step that those at Abu Ghraib took, on their road to perdition. And then, watching this movie, when Rumsfield and George Bush came up, I wanted something bad to befall them. I wanted justice to be done, and they to be responsible for all the lies they've told and all the vampirous delight they've taken in all the deaths they are responsible for. There was a rage in me. And suddenly I saw how I had come to the place of dehumanizing Bush and Rumsfield- just as those at Abu Ghraib had done to their victims, just as Bush had done when he authorized the use of torture for American prisoners of war.

I was also disturbed by the hisses and cat calls from the audience, whenever Bush's face appeared on the screen. Oh, it wasn't the whole audience, just some loud members. And it isn't as if Bush didn't deserve it, or deserved more respect because he's our president. It was more that visceral rage, that lack of compassion for him, that I found shamefully echoed in my own heart. For ironically it was lack of compassion that was the entire focus of this movie. But what good is it if we pick and choose who we are compassionate towards? How does this make us any better than the US military or those at Abu Ghraib?

And so that is what I shared in the discussion after the movie. How the slippery slope towards torture allowed me to see the echoes in my own heart, particularly in my feelings towards Bush and Rumsfield, and needing to recognize my desire to dehumanize others- for we only dehumanize those we feel deserve it. And from the crowd I heard a few in agreement, as well as a number of those vocally disagreeing with me, advocating that Bush and Rumsfield really deserved this and worse. And I was struck that, it is so hard to see that we are all made in the image of God, and that there is therefore that of God in everyone. Even Osama bin Laden. Even George Bush.