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

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

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Our Pond

For the last few days, there has been a persistent drip out of the RV. Actually, not a drip. More like a drizzle, continuously, pouring forth, about the size of small button. You only hear it when you open the door, and it was mostly masked by the dripping of the snow and ice in this latest thaw. It would appear that this drizzle also began with the thaw; that something was frozen up and broke forth. But the result has been our own pond, beginning beneath the RV, spreading to the side, and then on to the back. Then with colder temperatures again, God provided us with some ice skating surface, as the pond began to freeze over- but the drizzle continued. It became obvious that we had to get this fixed, or over time the pond would become a very large lake, and inconvenient to the neighbors.

We called a plumber to come out, and it just so happened that they were already doing a job in the area, at about that time. He came out, crawled in the mud under the RV, and saw immediately what the problem was. When he came inside I showed him where the leak was in relation to the interior, and he pulled out some drawers. Some brilliant engineers had decided that the best place to put an overflow valve was behind the kitchen drawers, so that when you push the drawers in and out, you run the risk of pulling the overflow valve, and cascading water out of the RV. It seemed at some point the valve was opened, and when it thawed, the water was released. The problem was fixed in five minutes.

Or so we thought.

About an hour later, my dad noticed a puddle forming, but this time, inside the RV, under the carpet. Pulling the drawers out showed a puddle underneath the sink too. Evidently, closing the valve put too much pressure on the pipes, and something had burst. We began to think we would have to contact the plumber yet again. But after a bit more research, removing more paneling, I found the leak. I turned off all the water, untightened the pipe and then retightened it, and wallah, no leak. Just a squishy floor to deal with.

The bonus was today, when I called the plumber. Ordinarily the standard is $96 for a visit, and the absolute minimum is half that. But considering the plumber was only out for five minutes, and financial difficulties, the plumber was generous, asking me to pay only what I thought reasonable. So it came out to be only $20. EZ Plumbing- not only do they know their stuff, but they are kind-hearted as well.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Kicking it Finnish Style

Thanks to an old friend and my brother, I recently acquired a pair of cross-country skis. I got the boots just today, so I eagerly tried them out on the short run from the corner store to home. Walking, it's only about 25 minutes, but this felt like far longer.

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In between the cold and the deep snow, it was a long journey home indeed. It took awhile to get the boots into the skis in the dark, and even when it was done, I wasn't completely weather-prepared. I had my ski mask, for cold weather or robbing banks- I'd lost my old one from working in the Bering, so had bought a new one in green-leaf camoflauge, suitable for Wisconsin in deer season. But my hat was my Seattle-style fedora, and it did not keep out the cold.

The skis I have are best for prepared tracks, and of course, the bike path I used was not a prepared track. Much of the path was obscured by the snow and wind, so I found myself repeatedly floundering through deep drifts, often using the skis as snowshoes, as my forehead began to experience frostbite. At one point the winds blew the hat off and into the nearby gulley, so I had to ski down to get it, and then back up. (Just like my forebears, the Finns resisting the Russian invaders by skiing down, shooting, and then skiing back uphill faster than the Russians could follow.)

It wasn't the most pleasant skiing experience. The best snow for cross-country is something light and hard. Most of the snow was deep and soft. I kept checking behind to see how far I'd come, and how far I had to go. When I finally arrived at the intersection near my house, I had to climb up snow drifts, as nothing had been prepared for someone actually using the bike path in the dead of winter, and then ski through the snow covered streets. I arrived home, cold, hot, and sweaty, finally getting a work-out.

I'll have to try for the more peaceful experience of the day time, in the next couple days, before the rain and warm temperatures of 1° C arrive.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Winter in Wisconsin. In an RV.

It's cold. Frightfully cold. The witch has come, and Narnia has entered its 100 Year Winter.

Getting to work has taken on new meaning, as I have to buy some deicer to be able to roll the window up and down. I poured boiling water on the door to be able to open it. But even before I get into the car, I take a shower with three minutes of hot water, as I step on frozen ice shards on the shower floor. And since the community washer wasn't working, the dryer wasn't able to get the soaking clothes dry, so I woke this morning to find pieces of ice had formed on my jeans that were stored in the closet.

We've now had three dumpings of snow, at 7", 11", and 7" respectively- the last two within two days of each other. And behold, everything is made new.
I looked out and saw all along the ground, fairy dust, sprinkled liberally. Sadly, try as I might, I couldn't capture it in this photo to the left.

That morning, we beheld our new world, snowed in.

For some reason, the neighbors have a tradition of plowing our private road early in the morning, even on the weekend. We were woken to a pounding, demanding our cars be moved immediately, so the entire road could be plowed. Not sure why they couldn't plow around us...

We took a drive to see the world around us, to see Wisconsin in the Winter. One of the first hurdles for a drive was finding the road.

These woods are lovely, dark, and deep- and a twenty minute walk from where we live.

Then, the power went out. This time, it wasn't just one breaker- tripping all the breakers produced no result. There was no power. And it got cold. I spent the first part of the night huddled with a small airhole, and began to find even breathing the -18° C air intolerable. My dad spent it with a dog. After a couple hours, despite the danger, we turned on all the burners of the stove, and that made it livable. The next morning we discovered what a frozen dawn truly looks like.
This was the dog's water dish.
And this, what showed on the door. That would be the inside of the door.

The weather outside is indeed frightful. Inside, it's so...well, still rather frightful. But happily MG&E came by at noon the next day, to fix the problem in two seconds- their breaker had tripped on their outside pole. And the extreme weather ads a certain ambiance to the joy of the holidays.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Better Angels

Recently, a friend from college contacted me, out of the blue. She'd been thinking of me, and got ahold of my email address. We hadn't talked for fifteen years, so there was a lot of catching up to do. She learned that I was having great financial difficulties of late, as work has been few and far between, and expressed that she felt lead to send her tithe to me, which I certainly appreciated. An extra $100 would certainly go a long way.

I received the check in the mail today. It was for a bit over $2,000. God is truly good.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Living in Laura Ingalls Wilder's House

It seems that the troubles of an RV in the Wisconsin winter never end. After getting the water fixed, finally getting heat tape, we had to wait a few days to actually get heat tape, because the first heat tape was broken. Once we had the heat tape, we were told we didn't need to run the water, for heat tape and lots of straw would be enough to keep the pipes warm. And that's true. But in our post-modern world, just not a truth we can relate to.

See, our metanarrative also involves the RV not having enough power within itself, and continuously tripping the breakers. And I was unaware that there is a separate breaker on the heat tape itself. So when the water went out three nights ago, I had to wait till I got home that day to find out there was a breaker, and go out and check the light- and indeed, the breaker needed to be tripped. But by that point, it was far too cold out (around -16° Celsius) for the heat tape to work, so we were without water for the foreseeable future.

I'm finding more and more that living here is great preparation for living overseas in the Middle East. (The irony is my dad didn't want to come with me to Yemen, for it would be roughing it too much.) If only RVs had been around in Laura's day, I'm sure there would have been a Little House on the Big Wheels. We've had to do a number of workarounds on the water. The first day was skipping a shower. That evening I took a walk across the entire park, in the icy wind and snow drifts, without boots, to the public toilet and shower. The benefit is that the shower has an endless supply of hot water, unlike that of the RV. The drawback is the primitiveness of the shower, though, were I in Yemen, I wouldn't think anything of it. (Except to be exceedingly stoked that I was in Yemen.)

I take my hairbrush and toothbrush into work, so I can use the water there, and not totally make my coworkers uncomfortable. Water for drinking and the toilet is another issue. With a failed starter, it isn't so easy to go out and buy water. But we have an abundance of snow. I've been getting a little snow nearby for the dog, and finding untouched snow further away to boil for the humans. Thankfully there's a continual supply of gas.

And now I must check the breaker every little while, to make sure it's still on. And wait, hoping and hoping that the water unfreezes.

Two nights ago was incredibly cold for not just water. I had on three blankets, and the electric space heater on full, and the front of the RV closed, and it was still incredibly cold. It might help in the future to remember to shut the shower vent on top of the RV.

Today was a hopeful day. It rose up to -3° Celsius, which is the best it's going to get for the next week, except for Monday at -1°. On a whim, I tried the bathroom sink, and lo, there was water! A thin stream, with no hot water. No water at all in the kitchen sink, or the toilet, or the shower. Turning all the faucets on, under a shining sun the shower began spitting out water about fifteen minutes later. A few minutes later, we got water from the kitchen sink. Then the hot water came on in the shower, but nowhere else. Unfortunately, it became clear that the shower wasn't draining at all, and began to fill up the small minitub.

Then hot water came on in the bathroom sink, and the kitchen sink. Still nothing in the toilet. I took advantage of the shower water to bathe, so the minitub could be filled with hot water to unplug the ice dam in the pipes. Finally, about half an hour after it all began, water appeared in the toilet. And a couple hours after it all began, a great glug came from the minitub, as the last of the foot of standing water burst the dam and flowed down.

Rest assured, we will now be letting all the faucets run, day and night, regardless of heat tape and straw. But I must wonder- what's my next preparation for living overseas?


Postscript, 12/7: We woke up to running water, but hot water only in the kitchen sink. Turns out that the pipes are freezing inside the RV, and the hot water pipes to the bathroom sink and shower are frozen. We'll have to wait until tomorrow, when it gets up to -1
° Celsius, to see if we can thaw out those pipes, and from now on, run the cold and hot water, with the gas hot water heater turned off until we need it. Not such a big deal though, as you get only about 5 minutes of hot water at a time anyway, provided it's not too cold outside. (If it's colder, you get less than 5 minutes.)

We also found the breaker repeatedly tripping- the breaker that runs most of the RV. We took nearly everything off it, and it still kept on tripping, giving power for only a maximum of thirty seconds. I removed the face plate to see if, in all my inadequate electrical training, I could see a short. No change. Then I went out and disconnected the external plug for the heat tape, and lo, there was power, with no breaker tripping. After a while I reconnected the plug, and then reinstalled the breaker face plate, and everything seems to be working again. Insha'allah.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Life Circumscribed by a Failed Starter

I've been having many troubles with my car of late- the Saturn with only 45,000 miles on it. Suddenly, everything is falling apart. And it makes no sense, since the warranty ran out on it years ago.

The latest is, a week ago, my starter began to fail. Sometimes it would work, and sometimes it wouldn't. And so I now find my life circumscribed by a failed starter.

Initially I could push it with my dad in the car, and get it started. Then the snow came, and, worse yet, the ice. You can't get any traction on icy roads, neither human nor car traction. I actually had some work secretaring at a schol on Tuesday, and made sure to park at the top of a hill, so I could coast to a start.

Thankgsiving arrived, and we went off to my cousin Dave's place in Lodi. It's great to see family, especially family I've never known before. I have an aunt living in Verona, and a cousin in Lodi, and a first-cousin-once-removed who I met two years ago on Facebook, who happens to be the son of my cousin. (Weird how that works.) So it was off to their place for Thankgiving, a night of good discussion, great food, and weird games. I was happy to get to meet so many new family members, trying to trace how they were related. Happier still, to see my dad have the opportunity to connect more with family, and how much he enjoyed talking with people. (He's an extreme extrovert- 100% E on the Myers-Briggs Scale.)

And very exciting- my first deep-fried turkey, something I've been wanting to try for years. My first-cousin-once-removed Aaron made it, as he's a top chef at a high-end restaurant near our house. I particularly enjoyed his genetically-deformed turkey. They're grown without head, legs, or wings, with the dark meat on the inside, and look like giant maggots when crawling around the farm- but they are so juicy when on the plate.

Then it was time to leave- but the car wouldn't start. So a few guys came out to push the car backwards up the hill, and then down the road.

The next day began a long tradition of being pushed by other cars, as most days are far too icy. This means being pushed down one stretch by a truck, and not catching enough speed to pop the clutch, and having to be pushed down the next. With enough speed, we were able to head over to the Five Os, Oconomowoc, where my dad grew up, and the Spransys now live. I got to see Linnea of Kansas City again, have another great meal, and have the pleasure of my dad enjoying long, leisurly talks with Matt, something he hasn't had the chance to do in decades. And then it was off to be pushed. Perhaps best of all was something I've been looking forward to for months- introducing my dad's dog Sammy to the Spransys' bitch, Maya. (You may recognize her from her acting gig as the Polar Bear on Lost.) She's half again as big as Sammy, but I think he likes big women, and I think I saw a spark between them. I'm really pulling for those two!

Oconomowoc gets a lot more snow than the Madison area, so it was a number of guys pushing me around the corner and down a slope to get started.

We had a break on Saturday, and then it was off to Black River Falls, to meet my uncle and brother coming in from Minneapolis. Black River Falls is about half-way between us, and surprisingly, the car started right up without any pushing. We drove the two hours into ever-increasing snow, for a comfortable meal with my uncle and brother. (I had a stack of blueberry pancakes.) It was the first time I'd gotten to see my uncle since my journey out West, back in August of '01. While my dad and uncle talked for a bit, me and Kent went out and played in the snow. They have a very large orange moose there.

Again, the car started on his own, as if by miracle. We took US-12 all the way back, mistakingly thinking that it would be quicker than 94, through many small towns that grew progressively less interesting as darkness arrived. There was, however, a sojourn through The Dells, which bears further investigation in the future. (The Dells is Wisconsin's Disneyland, with a heavy focus on water, about an hour from where we live.)

My plan for the next week was to get the starter fixed. Shockingly, I got more work- two temp jobs. Sadly, this meant that I didn't have the time to work on the car. So every day, an incredibly kind and generous neighbor (who thankfully is already up) has taken his car and pushed me down the road. Each day, it seems he has to push me further. Friday, it was pushing me down the first stretch, then the second, then the third, then up the main driveway, and then out on the main road, before I could pop the clutch. I've been trying to pop it into second, to avoid the traction issues of wheels spinning in the opposite direction in first, but I think now I need to try for first, as second gear requires too much speed. And I found a Yellow Book near my current assignment, who were kind enough to allow me to park in their parking lot, which is at the top of two hills, allowing for an easy clutch popping to arrive home.

This, however, doesn't assist me when I stupidly stall at a red light, on the way to work. Friday morning I was stuck in traffic, in the middle lane, and had to get out and push my car over to the side. Another guy came up behind me and got out to help, and then a policecar arrived with flashing lights. The officers helped push me over into a gas station, but I didn't have a chance to tell them I wanted to pop the clutch as we went down the hill into the station. Happily, one of the attendants was kind enough to get in his truck and get me going after two pushes.

But I can't keep on relying on my neighbor Tim to get me going in the morning. I understand a friend, Mike Drahfel, has gone hunting for a starter, and, provided that's the problem (and not a solenoid), we will be one step closer to getting the car repaired, and moving forward.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Blogyear Three

Yes, it's now been three years of blogging. Three years since I began my first real post. Three years of sharing my soul within unknown numbers of random people all over the planet.

As has become tradition, I now review the significant events of the past year. And it has certainly been a more eventful year than that of the previous blogyear. Naturally, what I pick as significant reveals far more about me, than it does about the events themselves.

There were themes this year. Politics played a large role in my life, as I followed my favorite sporting event in the world, the U.S. Presidential elections. I went to Obama's largest rally at the time. (Ah, the halcyon days when we thought a 20,000 person Obama rally was large!) I attended my first caucus, and got to celebrate the the first time the guy I voted for actually won; the first time someone from my culture (TCK) is President; the first time I can relate to the President. (I basically just voted for the guy I wanted to have a drink with. This is just the first time there's been anyone running I wanted to have a drink with.)

Health issues figured prominently this year as well. At the very beginning of 08, I had the opportunity to help someone with a seizure. I had my first operation, and my dad became gravely ill, having to go to the ER and stay at the hospital for a couple weeks. Sadly, he suffered great loss this year too, as a few months before he got sick he lost lost his wife of ten years.

For this reason, I moved down to LA, and then to Wisconsin, leading to travel being another theme. I felt lead to Wisconsin in the HMS reunion this summer, and it seemed a good place for my dad to recuperate. (Actually, we'd heard about this "snow birds" thing, and thought it meant that you travel up to where there's snow...) That trip was rather hellacious, with repeated car problems that continue to the present. But I did get to see the oldest town in America along the way, and we arrived safely in our new country estate. Now I spend most of my time preparing for a Winter that is even now upon us in full fury, and wondering day to day if we'll have running water.

Oh, and my most significant travel- I finally got to see what I'd wanted to get to for the past two years: the remains of the greatest flood on Earth for which we have evidence. Geology expressed itself again later in a minor 5.4 earthquake. (I've lived through Northridge and Whittier, so this was just a little bit of fun. Northridge and Whittier were a lot of fun.)

Economics has played a major role in the world this year, and has also in my life. I had a part-time permament job in LA, getting finally to teach again, and moved to Wisconsin hoping full-time jobs would be easier to come by. Alas. But God expressed his presence earlier in getting an issue of potentially having to return unemployment funds worked out, as well as, finally, after two years of working on it, the IRS admitting that, as an overseas worker, in truth I did not owe them $1454 in back-taxes on money I made outside the U.S. when I was receiving no services from the U.S. government.

And some minor housekeeping posts- I realized my long-lived Geocities HMS page had become a bit old school, with blogs supplanting the old Geocities, so I moved by HMS page to my blog. And then I realized that there was just far too much bling on my blog that no one knew of, so I gave a helpful navigation post to blog bling.

Truly, I have the Chinese blessing: I live in interesting times.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Running Water

The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that running water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
Our manager spent an hour in the middle of the night trying to repair our frozen hose, but to no avail. He came the next day, and had an awful time of it. He and an employee spent hours wrapping the line in heat tape, and then laying down straw above and below, over the ice pond that had formed, to ensure that the line is kept warm and he doesn't need to come out again in 30 below weather. He put down bricks to keep the wind from blowing the straw away. And then, I asked him about the water coming out. He had felt our special hose to keep the water tasting clean was not wide enough, and would freeze too easily, so he used his own hose. But that one had sprung a major leak. In a fit of rage with much cussing, he removed all of the electrical tape and straw bales, to discover a large pond forming beneath the hose. He had to turn the water off, and come back to it later. (I feel for him, but, had he done this two months ago, when he said he would, when the weather was warmer, his work would have been far quicker.)

As he was doing all this, we had to run the water inside the cab so that it would clean the lines. Unfortunately, it appears that the bathroom sink runs down into the sewer line. RVs typically have two lines, grey and black. Grey water is water from the sink. Black water is for your unmentionables (sewage). Typically, only one line is open at a time, to prevent undesired smells. And one would think the bathroom sink runs to the grey line.

So I opened all the water lines, and went below the RV, to open the black line (which must be done from outside), just to flush everything out. Unfortunately the black line was frozen shut. And while I was below, trying to open it, suddenly a torrent of water began dripping down over me. Yes, the the bathroom sink runs to the black line. It filled up the tank, and ran into the shut valve. Then every opening began backing up, including the toilet. So yes, this was raw sewage dumping down on me. And yes, when I went back into the RV, the sewage from the toilet had dumped all over the carpet of the bathroom. (Who puts carpeting in a bathroom? How does that even begin to make sense?)

So the next two hours were spent renting and using a steam cleaner from Ace Hardware (who gave us a generously discounted rate), driving into Waunakee and back only to discover I'd left the carpet cleaner at Ace, and driving back into town and returning. The RV is now cleaner than it ever was, and happily, the raw sewage is no longer sitting on the bathroom floor.

Meanwhile, our manager was able to repair the hose, only to discover that the heat tape system was now soggy with water, and had to be replaced or dried out. Evidently, heat tape isn't actually tape. I had this image in my mind of something like electrical tape, wrapped round and round the water hose. Heat tape is actually a euphemism for an electrical system with a cord running down the length of the hose and plugged into an outlet.

Late in the day he returned, applying more bales to completely cover the hose. He has to wait for the heat tape to dry out before he can reapply it in the next few days. But after hours of work, our manager has provided us something immeasurably important this winter: running water, so we don't have to return again and again to the well Piggly Wiggly to refill. I am forced to admit, he is an agent of the coming Kingdom of God.

Friday, 21 November 2008

What's going on behind our RV right now.

Our manager has taken his own time to apply heat tape to the hose for our water. It was supposed to happen two months ago, but he seems to be always too busy. So today, even before sunset, our pipes froze, again. We would have run the water tonight, but didn't expect it to run into freezing between 2 and 430 in the afternoon. While I was off at a theology discussion Meetup, the manager came over for an hour in the bitter cold to try to unfreeze the hose, but was unsuccessful. Therefore the water has to spray out so the whole thing doesn't freeze permanently, creating a beautiful fairy winterland outside behind our RV.

Mystery is in part unveiled in the light of day...

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

A Horrible Dream

Last night I dreamt I was on a road trip with Obama. He was still about to be President, but he was ten years younger- my age. Obama, another friend, and I were driving in a small car over a great distance, when we came to a very mountainous coastal area, similar to what you find in Northern California, but on the East Coast. Our friend was driving, and Obama was instructing him on how to shift, for evidently this particular manual was rather complicated.

Too complicated for our friend. As we came to a particularly sharp curve, above a particularly tall cliff overlooking the ocean, he shifted wrong, and didn't pull the right lever. Instead of going around the curve, we went over the cliff, falling 1,000 feet to the sea below. All three of us fell out of the car. I knew enough to angle my body to surf the wind, so that I would not land on the rocks below. I continued to catch the updrafts, looking for deep ocean to catch me, but aware I might not succeed. At the last moment a rocky islet appeared, and I almost hit it, until I kicked my feet up at the last moment, and splashed in the ocean beyond. (In a dream, falling 1,000 feet into water doesn't kill you.) I was relieved to have landed safely, but had a foreboding feeling of dread, that Obama and out other friend had not managed to land in the water.

Shortly thereafter a massive rescue operation commenced, looking for Obama and our friend. They were never found. We knew that they had both died, and I wept. I knew Obama would be the first black President Elect, but never the first black President. All around me people cried, for the end of a dream.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Drinking the Kool-Aid

This moment marks thirty years. Thirty years ago today was the greatest mass murder-suicide in modern history. It's the first political event that I remember, and it profoundly changed my life.

I remember seeing the centerfold of Time Magazine, with the bodies splayed everywhere. It seemed only a centerfold could hold them all, there were so many. I still remember the smaller photo of a dead child, sandwiched between the bodies of her parents. I was in the second grade, and our commune was there in the city of San Francisco, where the People's Temple of Jim Jones had started, and where most of its victims had lived.

It's hard to know why memory remains. Maybe its the horror of the event. Maybe its the similarities in difference with us that caused it to stick in my mind. Maybe its the impact it had on my future.

My childhood was fairly typical. I grew up in a Christian commune, surrounded by 80 brothers and sisters, something like a fictive kinship society. I tell most people overseas that it was a like a traveling tribe, as that is the closest it comes to making sense to them. We were inside American culture yet outside, at times traveling in 8 buses and sleeping in church basements, at other times owning property like 24 acres in Southern Oregon. We shared everything in common, and put the group before the individual. Privacy was minimal, but not immorally so. Individualism was greatly devalued, and it felt like one giant family. Though I lived in a separate room or house with my nuclear family, Those 80 others, mostly older than I, were genuinely older brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers. It was a wonderful way to grow up.

It was part of the Fourth Great Awakening- but this Awakening was the first in American history that wasn't primarily Christian. America tends to go through revivalistic cycles every few decades, when a new social paradigm emerges, and there is an intense battle between the old lights and the new lights. This was the 60s. We were part of that small Christian element, the Jesus Freaks, or Jesus People. And we were growing.

Though there were some fringe elements of the Jesus Movement like Calvary Chapel, the heart of it was communal. It wasn't organized in the slightest. It was perhaps the first major Christian movement not tied to one leader. Though Lonnie Frisbee comes the closest to being a founder, even he played only a bit part compared to the movement as a whole. It was the Spirit who truly lead, and he did that through communes. There were hundreds of communes cropping up all over the U.S., in Europe, even as far away as Afghanistan. Christianity Today hailed the Communal Movement as the next great step in Christianity.

Then came Jonestown. My father was visiting Keith Green that day. As my dad drove up, Keith told him, "It's a dark day for Christian community." He was never more prophetic. Immediately the Communal Movement ended. We had 80 people in our commune. After Jonestown, we never grew in numbers, and eventually, like every other Jesus People commune except for JPUSA, faded away. The entire nation became freaked out. There were people coming up to my dad, the head elder, telling him that their parents had told them to leave, because he happened to share the same first name as Jim Jones, and ran a commune. No one could think straight anymore.

To this day, I see its legacy. Most of my peers have no memory of Jonestown, for it didn't have the impact on them that it did me. But there is an underlying fear of anything communal. In communes I have participated in since then, like Intervarsity in Southern California, parents remember, and try to dissuade their children from joining. Other members of communes don't want to admit they are in a commune, but prefer the more generic and unspecific word "community", because they remember how badly everything went arwy in Jonestown. Though "intentional communites" have become more in vogue over the last few years, they lack the commitment that we had in communes, and often seem to be little more than a number of Christians who are friends and roommates. Some are a good deal more, but it doesn't compare, yet, in numbers to what we saw in the 70s.

How do I reconcile something like Jonestown with my memories of such a wonderful childhood? Certainly, there was also darkness in my childhood, and some darkness that I didn't find out about till years later. We weren't perfect. But I loved how I grew up, and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I think that is how Christ calls us all to live, when we can.

I see Jonestown as an abberation, and a warning. The greatest goods in life can be corrupted into the greatest evils. Jonestown is a warning of what we do in community if we seek to much power. Jim Jones stripped his message of the power of the cross, with no willing suffering of his own. The message of grace and agape of love of Jesus Christ was lost. Indeed, though he began within the covenant of Christianity, by the time the People's Temple arrived in Guyana, it seems to have mostly been devoted to Communism, and the Soviet variety at that. While there were Christian communes that truly went off the reservation and had too many heresies and errors of control, Jonestown doesn't seem to be among them. It is rather a Communist heresy, going further along the road of Marxist-Leninism than even Stalin in all his purges would have desired. Jonestown wasn't part of our tradition in the Jesus Movement, though it was a reminder of what can happen if we don't follow the Way. And it we in communes were all perceived as being part of the same hydra organization as Jim Jones.

And so today, we find a very lonely Christianity in America, stripped of it's communal element of the First Century, or the 1960s, and often among Evangelicals, filled with unnamed and named fears. Countless times in this last political season, I would have people tell me I had "drunk the kool-aid" in supporting Obama. People who had no idea of the meaning of those words to me, and how much they had torn my life apart. Drinking the Kool-Aid has become a political metaphor, part of the modern lexicon, and is now used blithely without conscious memory of the horror of its origin, and aftermath.

I find our society now views much that is good as more Jim Jones Kool-Aid, much as they percieved all of our communes as mere extensions of the evil of Jonestown. But as with us, many times, it's not actually Kool-Aid. It only looks like it from the outside. Once you drink it, you can find it is actually cool, clear running water. But fear reigns so supreme, no one can reach out and taste the living water.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Key to Good Neighbors

I have been repeatedly impressed at the community built up here at Don's Mobile Manor. It's a small collection of maybe some seventy homes isolated here in the middle of the Waunakee countryside. Perhaps it's because there are no walls, and no fences. Nor is there anyone who can expect a tax increase under Obama. But repeatedly, when we have been in need, neighbors have stepped up, often offering even before there was a need. There is a constant spirit of sharing resources and tasty desserts. This was most impressed on me this morning at 730, when my next-door neighbor knocked on the door, his dog's leash in one hand, and my car keys in the other. Somehow, the keys had been left all night on the street next to the car. Not only had no one driven over them, but no one had taken the car, or even dreamed of it. Instead, a neighbor came by in the early morning to deliver the lost keys.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

I've never done this before.

Vote for someone who actually wins the Presidency. Will this be the first time ever? Oh, glorious day!

You should all totally move to the country. Waiting in line to vote is a lot more fun here.
This is an Obama Papa.

I asked for more than one, but they would only give me the one ballot.

For only the second time, I got to vote for a man to be President who will be the first person of colour in the Oval Office. (Well, if you count the VP, the second person of colour in the Oval Office.) Last time was a caucus- this was the first time I was able to put a mark next to his name. Let it be known, for all time, I got to vote for the first black man for President.

And a bit anti-climatic, but still a joy- there was actually a ballot initiative, in our supposedly initiativeless state, but at the county level. Thankfully it was a gimmie, similar to Obama's plans- universal health care, at the state level, mandated to be the same as what those in state office get.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Pretty Animamals

My father and I had the opportunity to visit the Henry Vilas Zoo, one of the few remaining free zoos in America.

I've never heard lions roaring before. These lions roared a lot, sounding like a barking dog more than something from The Lion King.

We visited some of our close relatives.

My sleeping father.
It was rather eerie how much this sleeping chimp reminded me of my father...

They definitely had some sort of communion, as they both stared at each other, disheartened at the glass separating them.

The capbara, at four feet the largest rodent in the world. Imagine these rats under your floorboards!

It's exciting that the zoo has some marine life, like harbor seals. Sadly, the penguins and river otters were hiding, so we'll have to visit the zoo another day to see them. But there were some freshwater fish.

I actually didn't know there was such a thing as a freshwater stingray.

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree...

and black swans sleeping.

The other marine animal at the zoo. (Or, if you're Sarah Palin, the other white meat.) Along with the elephant, the most dangerous zoo animal.

The Henry Vilas Herpetarium

A lesson in diffraction. Beware the actual location of the alligator.

Or else lose a foot.

One of only two poisonous lizards in the world, the Gila Monster.

Aldabra Tortoises aren't Galapagos, but they look to be the same size. I remember getting to kiss one in South Dakota.

My dad remembers dogs in the UP coming back, covered in these quills.

At one point, this beautiful animal was believed to be related to the pig, but we now know it is closely related to the rhinoceros and the horse.

Aaaaah- kangaroos! (Let the reader understand.)
It is well known that camels are no fun to ride. I'd sooner ride a horse than the one-humped camel, or dromedary. But the Bactrian Camel of Mongolia- that looks to be a lot more pleasant.
Our final stop was to visit a Brahman and Pot Belly. I was disappointed that the Pot Belly didn't want to talk much, even after I uttered the standard swinian mating call, chant de coeur, which usually never fails to please.