Monday, November 18, 2013

the devil in the kitchen

Both their cars were gone, but the door was unlocked, which was not unusual.

"Welcome home," the stranger greeted her as she entered the kitchen.

"Who let you in?"

"The door was open."

"What do you want?"

"Just checking in. Have to make my rounds, you know."

She scowled, but had no reply. She knew he was closer these days.

"You're starting to warm up to me."

"Not because I want to. You're not welcome here."

"Have it your way. Nice seeing you again," he said with a slight smirk, and he was gone. She thought she detected a hint of smoke where he had been, and a faint acrid odor.

She shook her head to clear it. Can't let it get to me, she thought. I won't go that far.

She went to her room, set down her keys, and came back to find something to eat.

the American ...nightmare

Why can I not use strike through in the title? How frustrating. Here's what I wanted the title to be: the American dream nightmare.
Was that hard? no. but I couldn't do it in the subject line. sigh.

Why has the American dream always come at the cost of someone else's American dream? Why do so many little dreams get squashed by big dreams? Why do we run around trampling one another in the name of profit and the stock market? Why do the big corporations have to compete over so many different things. Why can they not leave some market niches to others? Why does Walmart even have a bakery? And while the big guys duke it out, a thousand little guys are scrambling around trying to avoid getting stepped on, just trying to scrape by.

Who even invented the idea of an American dream? American daydream, maybe.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thoughts on retail

I find myself once again working retail, despite my many desires to the contrary. I was getting desperate to have some income, and my desperation coincided with this store's desperation for new employees, so I got a job. It does not offer a good wage, however. It also is, overall, not a very good quality of employment. I only have one other retail experience to compare it to, so I can't make broad generalizations, but this is worse than my previous retail experience. The pay is worse, the company seems much more 'parental' in an unhelpful way, and, as a coworker said today, "if we wasn't poor we wouldn't work here." Many of my coworkers have second jobs, and at the same time, the automated scheduling program gives less hours when a person is less available, which is meant as incentive to be more available, but sometimes is just troublesome.
How do you get really inexpensive products at the store? People working there don't get paid enough to live on. The employee has to buy shirts of a certain color to wear (I suppose, at least, that buying them at the company also means one shirt only costs about the same as an hour's pay), though employees used to wear any color and put on a vest or apron as a work uniform. I imagine this changed so the company could save that money. You almost have to shop there if you work there bc you could hardly afford anything else. And yet the company tries to create a family experience and seem family friendly. Which may be well and good except that it seems to me more like a ploy to deny the idea that if they really supported people with families they would pay them a living wage.
There are nice people that I work with, and some of the managers even seem nice, though I don't quite understand why some stay working there so long and seem happy about it. But then again, maybe it's partly because they've drunk so much of the kool-aid. My department manager said the other day to me that people really shouldn't expect much more money for a position like the one I have, bc it's not so much work and doesn't require much ability. I argued for the standard of a living wage regardless of the work required. I also wonder if the company would need as many 'parental' policies if they paid people more.
I have a friend who would often talk about not being paid enough to care. At first I didn't understand, because I thought any good and moral person should always care, no matter what compensation they receive. But now I understand. If you're paid so little that you have to work another job to make ends meet and work way over the standard 40 hours a week, that pay is not incentive enough to use too much of your valuable energy. When your pay for one hour's work is less than many meals at a restaurant, the return on an investment of hard work and concentration is negative. When a nice cup of coffee costs more than you get for half an hour's work, that's not much of a reward for a hard day.
Because this is not a glowing endorsement I can't tell you where I work (you say something too bad and you could lose your job at most of these places), and this is not meant to tell anyone where to shop or not shop, but as a consideration: many cashiers are not paid enough to be nice to mean customers, and many other associates are not paid enough to pick up after you when you randomly stick something on a shelf bc you decided you didn't want it after all. Really, many retail associates aren't paid enough to fake cheerfulness when they're having a bad day, so you might should hope for common courtesy (or try it yourself) in those cases. Theoretically giant retail has helped the consumer, but there are a lot of casualties along the way.

Friday, September 13, 2013

off the calendar

I've been traveling and on vacation for a little over a week now, and perhaps it's because I feel like I'm too old to be unable to answer the question "what's your address?" (or even "where do you live?" with anything more specific than a state), but this time I was off the calendar for almost two weeks, and when my sister and I 'landed' yesterday and I was sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table, I glanced over and placed myself again in one of those little squares on the calendar, and it was a strange sensation.
I drove across the country (the shorter way) after finishing school and school employment, which was two days of being unsure not only of when I was but also where. Then my sister and I hopped into her vehicle and drove across Texas, visiting some caverns and mountains and then the beach. We were on the border of two time zones for a few days, which adds to the confusion (especially when her alarm went off twice, 5AM central time, then 5AM mountain time because we walked across the campground... really gives perspective to that saying 'it's 5 o'clock somewhere'). We had spotty cell phone service at times, and I don't have a car charger for mine, so I even turned it off for the few days we tent camped (can't plug into a cactus, after all). So we didn't really know even what day of the week it was half the time (or even what time), much less date. It was freeing in a way, being in mountains way up high, hiking through cactus and thorny plants and rain and a few critters, and at other times being way down in caverns, dimly lit only by artificial light, and lastly camped on the beach, hearing the roar of the ocean and the occasional rain shower, connected much more deeply to earth and it's rhythms than the artificial calendar and 24 hours. To move around based on daylight, weather, temperature, and being hungry or tired or wet, rather than what specific time and day it was. So when, a week later, we arrived back to 'life as we knew it', and I glanced over at those squares on a page, each one with it's own number, in rows of seven, and put myself in that little box, I felt the world condense around me again (and the panic set in...). Fascinating to compare the vastness of space and earth, the smallness of a person in this great world, with our usual marching through boxes on a page, one square at a time. One world of many worlds, indeed.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

neutrality or denial?

Here's an article I read this morning from Deutsche Welle (the article's in English):

In case you can't or don't want to read it, the gist is that in Berlin they are thinking about changing the name of the traditional Christmas market (Weihnachtsm√§rkte) to Winter festival (Winterfest). The reason is that they want to be more neutral and leave religion out of it so that the many people of different faiths (and no faith) can feel more welcome, or, as the article says, "providing an even playing field and promoting equality for those of every religion, as well as for non-believers."

It cites this kind of thing already being done in the U.S. (how we've "tried to achieve inclusion by promoting secularism"), and the author does not think it relates to an anti religious sentiment. However, I am not sure this is the case (in the U.S. or Europe). The author talks about walking down the streets of Berlin and seeing mosques, churches, temples, and other religious buildings all near one another. But those are all distinctly religious. Should they all become uniform buildings with no indication of the religious type they relate to so that everyone feels included (or not excluded)? Do non religious people feel left out because of all the religious buildings they see?

Secularization is an anti religious sentiment. That's what the word means, that's the point of secularization. This is not a post about whether secularization is good or bad, but let's be realistic about what we're doing with it. Changing the name of the Christmas market to Winter festival will not in itself make it not a Christmas market. It is this paragraph from the article I have particular problems with: 

"In the way Americans say 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas,' Kreuzberg is saying Winterfest to mean Christmas market. In countries as deeply Christian as both the US and Germany, the name of the holiday itself will continue to refer to the celebration of Jesus' birth, but the change of related terminology at least makes the festivities more inclusive."

Maybe the Christmas market has already taken a secular flair and the name change reflects that. But if it is still a Christmas market, still related to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, why can't it just be the Christmas market? I doubt they ask for your Christian identification before you can browse the market or enjoy the festivities (and they certainly shouldn't!). Inclusivity is allowing all the religions to have their own public celebrations, not taking them all away. Neutrality would be the same. Arguably, disallowing any religious sentiment favors the non-religious and is therefore no longer neutral. Neutrality would be allowing the gamut and favoring neither religion nor non-religion.

This is certainly a very complicated topic, and obviously agreement is hard to come by. The question of changing the Christmas market name is a case in point, not the point itself. Nobody is going to be included in everything (Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, etc etc etc). We are all too different to have everything fit our needs or desires, but that is how we can learn from one another. If we embraced these differences rather than denying them, we might actually feel more included overall, because we could be invited to ask questions and explore rather than being sent away empty handed. And sometimes it's okay to take your toys and go home when you want to, but that's different from letting no one play just because you are feeling untoward.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

living with children

So, I am staying with a friend in my homeless between moves interim, and she is married with two young children. I haven't spent much time with children in several years, really not since I finished college I suppose, and I am realizing that being a full fledged adult gives me an entirely new perspective on children. (I suppose living with them also creates a perspective different from just babysitting or spending an hour or two with them)
Anyway, some things I am seeing differently. Learning to negotiate one's own space, sharing space and things, and dealing with feelings, experiences, and emotions, is quite a task. A lot happens in life, and my abilities to regulate my emotions (more or less successfully) I often take for granted now.
Life is simpler, and at the same time it's still a lot to deal with. Milk or juice, Elmo or Pingu, which ball bounces best, and whether or not a bath or diaper change is really necessary are all very serious choices. And at the same time, the mind seems to be always working, taking in information, trying things out, figuring out what everything means and what consequences come with what actions. Watching the little guy poke things, drop things, throw things, pick up things, and otherwise explore is really fascinating.
At the same time, he also has personality and humor, and sometimes just likes to say no because he can. I had what I felt was a victorious moment when I bested him in a philosophical debate. It was time for supper, and his mom called them to come eat, and he stayed on the couch. I went over to him and said "Let's go eat," and he responded with a simple "No." (which is much cuter when he says it, but try to imagine that from a 20 month old) I said, "No? Don't you want to eat?" to which he again replied, "No." So I asked, "Why not?" He sat there for a short while, seemingly contemplating the question, and I can only suppose he couldn't come up with a good answer, because with no further ado he crawled off the couch and went to the bathroom to wash his hands.
Besides all the complicated parts of negotiating emotions and negative feedback and uncomfortable feelings, there is little more fun and contagious to listen to than little people laughing. It is often very simple things that make them laugh, such as funny faces or noises or even just playing along and throwing a ball, but get them laughing and I can't help but laugh too.
Raising children, I see most clearly now, is no small task, and makes for tired parents and a lot of randomness (I never know what I will find in the bathroom when I go to take a shower, or in the yard or living room when I get home from work), and at the same time is a powerful work, guiding the development of young minds, bodies, and souls. Amazing, really, and not something to be taken lightly.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

suggestions for direction

Hey all, here's the very beginning of a story. I'm looking for suggestions and plot ideas. Let me know what you think. Thanks! (poll the audience... why not?)

The cold naturally made her cry. It was getting dark and she hurried down the sidewalk, ready for a reprieve from the cold air and a chance to dry the cold tears. It was the middle of December, and there were bright wreaths and sparkling multi-colored lights on many of the houses, brightening the walk. She tried to take notice of these things, revel in the way the lights reflected off the snow and how crisp the neatly shoveled walks looked as they ran dark ribbons through the bright snow. The snow had a bluish tint from the darkening sky.
                She arrived at her ribbon sidewalk and followed it around the house to a back door. She let herself in and went up the stairs to her attic apartment. The stairs opened into a small kitchen, and she immediately filled the kettle with water and put it on the stove to heat. She set down a brown paper bag with the bagel she had picked up on the way home and went to put her bag down in the corner of her living room that was her work space. She went to hang her coat in the bedroom closet and pulled off her boots. She glanced quickly out the window in her bedroom and saw that it had started to snow again. She watched the flakes fall for a minute until she was pulled out of her reverie by the whistling kettle and hurried back to the kitchen.
                She pulled a mug from a cabinet and grabbed a package of hot chocolate from the box on the counter. She poured that in the mug and then filled it with hot water, stirring as she poured. She grabbed an orange from the basket on the counter and sat down at the kitchen table, pulling the bagel out of the paper bag. She took a bite, staring thoughtfully out the kitchen window. It was completely dark outside now, but the snow always made the night brighter, and the streetlights reflected off some of the snowflakes as they fell.
                She had not taken the time to pay attention to these things in a while.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

just a spider

This is an excerpt from a paper, so it may seem a little disconnected, but I wanted to share it anyway.

"I’m watching a spider slowly make its way across the ceiling. It falls, catches itself with web, and climbs back up. It falls again after travelling a bit further, and appears to be trying to find ground, sinking a bit lower in exploration, before giving up and climbing up again. I do not know how it got up there, and it probably has no recollection of that either. However it happened, we find it there now and it must fight gravity and rough terrain to continue its journey. Persistence is required.
Sometimes I look at myself and am not quite sure how I got here. Sometimes I fall off the ceiling and hang there for a bit, hoping maybe ground will appear beneath me. Then I climb up and keep going. I could catch the spider the next time it falls off the ceiling and move it outside, which would keep me from having a spider web in my apartment, although I am not sure the spider would find it helpful (even though we usually like to consider that a rescue)."

Monday, June 17, 2013

people we meet

As I'm getting close to what is likely the end of my time in Minnesota (various details still to be worked out), and being all graduated and having classmates already beginning the post-graduation migration throughout the wild blue yonder, I'm reflecting on the people I know, the people I've met here, and people in other places.
Some people we meet and we know our interactions with them will be short lived. Some people come and go, many whose names we will never even know.
Thanks to the internet and all the ways of keeping in touch with people instantly all over the world, many people that would be part of our lives for only a short time get to remain on the peripheries, connected with us through the occasional e-mail, Facebook post, or online chat.
Then there are those people that we spend more time with, in classes or working together, connecting regularly for social occasions, etc. We share some common interests and a decent bit of time, often becoming familiar with some of each others' idiosyncrasies.
There are many layers of connections we make with people, from student-teacher relationships, peer relationships, random common interest relationships, etc. We are relational by nature, and we naturally connect with others in various ways while we are in a place. The thing about moving is how all those relationships change. They change over time anyway, but a geographic jump has a large affect. Who will I still be in regular contact with? Through which media? Will I ever see some of these people in person again? Probably not.
To me this also makes the idea of networking fascinating. We network with one another to fill various roles and needs in our lives, and while sometimes that can be manipulative, most of the time it is human relation and ingenuity at work.
The deeper bit of this that I ponder is those connections that have been deep and helpful that must change. We often meet someone who touches our life especially, maybe in a way we needed most at the time, or simply finding connections to some people that mean more to us than others. We experience this all the time, greater affinity for some people over others. These must also change over time and through distance, and I can't help but think about those old images of heaven I grew up with, when we all meet again together. Our life is never perfect now, and circumstances take us to and from people all the time, whether we want them to or not. Is this part of our promise for a hope and a future, a chance to spend time with not just family but also friends that we lose sight or touch of over the years? Can there be reunion of these treasured moments of relationship, in whatever form, when we are all redeemed and renewed? I want to think so. It seems to fall in line with God's vision for the future. I hope so.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

God's ambivalence

I will tell you, a week of manual labor when one has spent the last several years mostly sitting and studying will certainly clear the head through monotony and exhaustion. That and some helpful conversations. And I could use some clarity. I just graduated, and once again I am stuck in post graduation ambiguity. Unlike many of my classmates, I do not have a clear path ahead and no immediate full time job prospects. Thus I had been feeling quite a bit of anxiety as the semester wrapped up and since graduation, with various distractions thrown in, until this past week and the start of my summer job on grounds crew, mowing, weeding, etc.
Then I also had the chance to have some conversations, one in particular on balancing independence and dependence, that helped me chill out some and recenter myself a bit. Then this morning I went to worship and the sermon was, to use words from a conversation I had yesterday, about the ambivalence of God. Not that God does not care about us, but that God does not micromanage. Sometimes we will be presented with various opportunities, and sometimes they mean we have to make a choice where there is no clear right choice. So we seek guidance, and then do the best we can with our choice, and God can and will still work with and through us regardless of which way we end up going. One thing that often frustrates me is the inability to see very far into the future and thus being unable to discern what consequences lie on the path ahead, which leads to a proper amount of trust and dependence on God and others, which is something I have long struggled with (I am far too independent much of the time).
I still can't tell where exactly I'm headed, but I'm starting to take some small steps and hopefully will continue to be reminded to pause, breathe, and listen to the still small voices that will speak if I stop getting so distracted by the storm swirling around me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

natural gas and being smart

I'm not sure that's the most appropriate title for this post, but let's go with it. You might say this is a tale with a hidden public service message (or slightly explicit one). 'Tis a harrowing tale (or could have been).
This past weekend I had been out a little later than anticipated playing games with some friends. I got back to my apartment building around midnight, and when I unlocked the front door and stepped in, I was immediately struck by the strong odor of natural gas. We have gas stoves in our apartments, but I knew there was no gas line running through the front stairwell anywhere, and it was much stronger than a hint of gas where maybe someone had just started cooking. There was a brief moment of wondering what on earth I should do since it was midnight and I was fairly certain everyone else in the building was already asleep. I was also trying to remember all the things I'd ever learned about natural gas, like if it was lighter or heavier than air (thus would it rise or fall) and if it had any other side effects besides being explosive (none too insignificant a property, either). I determined if nothing else I should open the front windows to let some of the gas out, and I should not flip any light switches.
The next thing I did is never recommended, and had there been no one else in the building I might not have done it, but after letting some of the gas out of the stairwell I went searching for a source to what must be a leak. I moved very cautiously and did not flip any light switches and tried to avoid anything that might cause a spark (I do not know what the concentration needs to be before it ignites, but I can only imagine we were getting near that). There was too much of the smell in a large portion of the building, however, so after finding someone else awake in the building and asking if they smelled gas, too (looking back that seems rather silly, but I was beginning to second guess myself; after a while the smell almost seems to follow a person and goes to the head). They said they had noticed that, so I determined I needed to call someone. This all took probably much more time than it should have, but I had opened a few more windows in the building by now, so at least the concentration of gas in the building was going down. I called our campus watch number, they came and checked it out, and then used their calling procedure to call those who could appropriately respond to the situation. After several phone calls (by this time everyone we called was asleep), opening more windows and doors to create more ventilation, and determining that none of the gas lines in public places were leaking, and waiting, the head of facilities came over and woke all the residents to check each apartment for leaks (and I imagine at this time to make sure we were all still alive). The leak was found in one of the apartments, that resident was instructed to leave all the windows of the apartment open and the facilities head turned off the gas line in that apt and would call the plumber in the morning to fix it.
As all of these adventures concluded, and I crawled into bed at 3am, I reflected on the whole thing and realized just how dangerous that could have been. Had I already been home, already asleep as well, or had come home an hour or two earlier (the resident in the apt with the leak had noticed a smell around 9 or 10 but didn't know what it was), there would have been gas leaking all night and we likely would have either asphyxiated or exploded. Rather sobering thought, really.
So I conclude with the admonition: if you have any appliance or anything that uses natural gas in your home, be familiar with the smell (it is an added smell because natural gas is odorless by nature) (and this can be done, especially if you have a gas stove, by paying attention to the smell that comes out when you first turn on and ignite a burner) and take it seriously when it seems strong or otherwise more than you smell on a regular basis. It's great to cook with (and otherwise a useful fuel), but like most things, requires attention and responsibility.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

reflections on this end

It's funny how quickly we get to the end of something when, at the beginning, it seemed like it would take forever. That's a bit how I feel these four years of seminary have gone. Four years sounded like forever four years ago. And now they're over and I don't really believe it. A lot has happened, and I am not the person I was when I started. I have learned a lot and done a lot. And yet I still feel there is so much more to learn.
I turned in the last of my assignments, and now I am just waiting until graduation. (I have stuff to keep me occupied, no worries) It's weird to not have homework anymore, even as it was weird to start having homework again. My habits are going to have to change again, and I never enjoy that.
And now I walk around campus and start thinking about some of these things being the last time I will do them, the last time I will see something from this perspective. Everything changes, so we walk around and soak it up while we can. (well, this year the weather's been rather reluctant to change from winter to spring, but most everything else is moving full steam ahead)
However, I think my brain may still be a bit mushy from all the thinking I've been doing lately, so I think this post is even more mundane and pointless than I originally imagined. Sorry y'all. Give me a topic and I'll try to do better next time.

Friday, April 26, 2013

why the fascination?

After the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and after any tragedy that involves a human perpetrator, the days after the event are filled with news stories about the accused; the person's life, hobbies, mental health status, goals, and plans. Contrast this to the number of national news stories of some 'natural' or 'accidental' tragedy such as the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. There will be a story or two when they figure out what happened, but nothing to the extent of the psycho-thriller of analyzing the criminal mind. What are we so fascinated with in these cases? Is it that we want to reassure ourselves that we are different from someone who could do something so atrocious? Do we want to justify ourselves? Or are we afraid we might be just as bad? Is it a chance to entertain ideas that we otherwise would not permit? To hear about it from someone else keeps us safe from ourselves?
Perhaps it is any number of combinations of the above. Maybe something else. Maybe because we can learn from that, and the evil represented or enacted by a person seems more manageable than the tragedy perpetrated by nature or neglect of property. The accidents of life are beyond us, and maybe we don't want to dwell so much in them. I don't know for sure, and I suspect there are many varied and complicated reasons behind this. It still bothers me, though, and I feel that something is amiss around it all. Is this the best way to respond to these things? Of course the investigators must do in depth exploration both of the human perpetrators and the natural disasters, but do all of us need all of these details? Then again, maybe it is not so different from the common fascination with celebrities. For many reasons we seek to learn more about the lives of others in ways that I think can be quite invasive but that we perpetuate nonetheless. Humanity is a fascinating collection of creatures, and I think we are as often mysteries to ourselves as we are anything else.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


The darkness is coming
Or is it the future? This forward motion that keeps me turning, twisting, blinking, breathing
hurtling into the unknown.
What is this thing we have stepped into?
Life, sun, flowers, cool breezes; the serenity of peace and comfort of care
snow, shadows, bitter cold, threatening to divorce me from my very soul.
And who are we? Tiny creatures that think we are large
and large creatures that think we are small.
The snow reflects the sun and holds its own light.
The cool breeze becomes a tornado.
I walk along the sidewalk and take these things in, following where it may lead.
Beware the poisonous berries.

Friday, April 5, 2013

what am I talking about?

So, I warn you. I've been thinking about too many things lately to make thinking about any one thing extremely coherent or sound good, but I'm not really interested in starting fights so if I make you mad, go tell someone else. I make me mad, too, and do the same thing, so I only expect the same from you. (equality, see?)
I read an article from a random author (random to me, at least) about seminary education in the US now. Some of it was some valid points, much of it sounded like words of an outsider who doesn't necessarily know what's actually going on on the inside. It also brought up questions to me of the postmodern entitlement culture. Where is the line between our developing conscience as humans (with or without religious or moral compass in the form of God or organized religion) and a selective moral conscience that is actually self-motivated but disguised as something larger.
I feel like I live in the middle of two worlds, eras, and social frameworks (well, at least two). To some level, responsibility seems to have gone out the window as something more than just an arbitrary when I feel like it deal. We want to eat responsibly and live responsibly and be sustainable- when it's convenient and makes me feel good. We want to refuse to eat food that isn't organic and responsibly handled, but do we have a right to then turn away food all the time when we just don't like it, even though people have worked hard to feed us? Back to the seminary metaphor, when one lives on a campus in student housing, eats in the cafeteria, and claims to be called to serve God and the greater community of faith and the world, perhaps we should consider checking some of our entitlement at the door. I by no means advocate for unclean, unhealthy, and abusive or inhumane living situations for anyone. But everything does not have to be new and sparkly. I am all in favor of speaking out for true injustices, true bad stewardship practices, and ways of living that are irresponsible. But is it not also irresponsible to throw away something just because it's a few years old? Is it not also irresponsible to not eat something just because it wasn't prepared exactly the way you wanted? If you don't mind starving, then I have no complaint with you. And maybe this comes out a little starker and harsher than I mean. But really. Can we think about how our actions actually line up with our values? How often do you go buy new clothes? How much alcohol do you consume at your leisure? Are those practices also in line with your food and housing values? Does your life make sense beyond a first world middle or upper class lifestyle? How can we actually think more about these things? I know it's complicated, but I think it's worth the consideration.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

brain and attachment

I read The Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel for class the last two weeks, and it was quite interesting (the brain and its many abilities never ceases to amaze me). One thing that was pointed out over and over in that book was how important attachment is, and how many things an insecure attachment can affect. This led to questions of how we, as church, as pastoral caregivers, and even as fellow humans can help promote secure attachment and provide resources for new parents about attachment and raising children. It also made me wonder about the connections between these things and acts of violence in the world, and how this might be one thing we should focus more on that can have positive impacts on the future mental health of many. We have a lot of symptoms in the world today, and addressing the symptoms is only a partial solution. How can we dig deeper into cultural and social issues and patterns and root out causes of violence and suffering? And how do we do that when some are already content to stay in it? What questions can we ask? What do we stand on? How do we appeal to the personhood of all persons and then also reach for something beyond ourselves?

Friday, February 15, 2013


My friend Ben told me I needed more tension in my writing and thus I should write about monkeys. I'm still not sure I get what he means, but who knows, I'll try it.
I don't particularly care for monkeys, and never really have. Perhaps it's something about their similarities to humans yet differences. Or maybe because they don't look very soft. Little monkeys that are less brown and such are more tolerable to me. (I really don't pay much attention to all the different types of monkeys)
However, I also find monkeys a useful analogy for when I think things aren't going very well. For instance, when a place (such as the institution I currently am under) does things that seem as if all higher order thinking has been abandoned, I generally will say the place is run by monkeys. Monkeys have enough abilities to make things function, but lack the higher order thinking skills to decide that some things should perhaps be better organized or even thought through. This is not to say that I think the people working in such places are themselves monkeys and not humans, just that under everything else there must be monkeys. Maybe these monkeys only come out at night and hide under people's desks during the day. I'm not really sure how it works, but to me this is the only logical explanation when there are no logical explanations happening. (I'm a concrete rational thinker as long as we're in either a concrete or rational realm, but when we leave concrete I often go random)
So I also don't care for the monkey exhibits in zoos, nor do I care for stuffed monkeys or toy monkeys or monkey anything. I also abhor bananas, so I find this an appropriate connection. There is nothing good about a banana. Blech. æsj. (that's a fun Norwegian word I learned that means ick) Sometimes I wonder if there's some deep psychological tension or distress or disparity that leads me to my dislike of monkeys. Maybe I have some disconnect in my psyche about humanity and what it means to be human and thus a monkey triggers that. I dunno, I made all that up. But it could happen, I suppose.
I'm fairly certain I did not accomplish the goal or idea Ben had when he said I should write about monkeys, but the moral of this story is that a monkey (in any form, fashion, or state of being) is not a good gift for me and not really a way to try to make friends. Now you know. Take your monkeys elsewhere.
I do like the word monkey wrench though. Because that's a wrench, and I don't know what it has to do with monkeys. It rolls off the tongue nicely, and I like wrenches because they are useful.
Okay, Ben, how did I do? Totally off base?

Saturday, February 9, 2013

It sure ain't easy

Yesterday and today I was in a series of meetings that had to deal with some serious issues in an organization. The saddest part about all of it is that these things didn't have to happen, but through a series of factors they did. Because of some decisions that were not carefully made, because of oversights, and because of lacking skill sets and perhaps a bit of pride that didn't allow asking for help these things got out of hand. A few people kept sweeping things under the rug so that help was not found soon enough and now a whole lot more people, many who even tried to warn of impending disaster, or at least tried to raise issues are now going to suffer consequences that, to be frank, aren't fair. The saddest part, I think, is that, really, no one wins now. There will just be a lot of loss. This is not to say that the future beyond this hurt does not hold a lot of promise and potential, and a lot of things have been and are still being learned from this. Also, things like this happen more often than we'd like, and that too makes me sad. So I was glad to see the seriousness, the sadness, and the good work of the people at the meeting today, but I still wish we could all be more careful so that these things don't have to happen. Because they don't have to happen. This may forever be my plea to the world. Please, please think about what you are doing, and if you don't know, and it's something big, please ask someone. And may peace, mercy, and grace carry us through these hard times.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

musings on The X Files

I decided to write my Ethics paper about the X Files (specifically CSM) and Bonhoeffer. This meant I had to rewatch some episodes because it's been over a year since I've watched any. I also had some new revelations in some of the episodes where I realized some of the things that happened made more sense. I also decided that the aliens also watched the X Files and decided too many people knew about their plans for recolonization, which is why they decided not to come back on Dec. 22 after all.
Because I was specifically paying attention to character motive while I watched these episodes, I felt somewhat more involved with the characters, and never could decide if I felt sorry for CSM or just think he's slimy and twisted. He has sacrificed his entire life to his work on the Project, his work with the Syndicate, and his quest for power. He believes, really, in neither good nor evil but merely might and survival. The one that manipulates best wins, the one who plays the game best wins, and at the same time he is lonely and and somewhat of a coward. He knows so much more than most, and believes it is his responsibility to keep it that way. He may be right about most people not being equipped to handle all this information, but when highly classified information is maintained among the types that are typically drawn to such secrecy and seclusion, the blood trail is surely close behind (literally or figuratively).
Bonhoeffer struggled with some of these issues. He became privy to information that was not widely known, and he also had to face the responsibility that comes with that. The difference between Bonhoeffer and CSM is their allegiances and their trust in something greater than themselves. To CSM, there was no God, only aliens, and his highest allegiance was to his country and his survival. Bonhoeffer put his faith in Christ as his highest allegiance, and thus, in some ways, shares a role with Mulder in his attempts to expose the truth and change the course of history.
We don't all get put in a place where we learn things we have to deal with the way Bonhoeffer did, but we still make choices every day based on our highest ideals and what they represent. What do our choices convey about our deepest allegiances?

Thursday, January 31, 2013


I'm at the end of my Ethics of Dietrich Bonhoeffer class, and it has been quite interesting. I now have to write my final paper about something ethical, and I am not sure where to go with it. I am contemplating the ethics of caring/not caring, as in when and why we care about some issues and not others, or some things some of the time. Why do we carefully recycle at home and not worry about throwing something away when we're out? Why do we give things to Goodwill and yet worry about why people need Goodwill? How do we decide what is 'above pay grade' to worry about? What is a work ethic, and should it be related to job or pay? I know people that say they don't get paid enough to care. How much is enough? And why should that matter how much one cares? Is there no higher calling to care?

In other news, this Bonhoeffer class has reminded me of something I learned in my German class this summer and something I'm now concerned about. I think I'm more Prussian than I perhaps realized, and I can't decide if this is good or bad. Can one be genetically so in addition to socialized so? What is identity anyway? Ah well. I guess I'll just keep washing disposable plates and sitting in the same seat and otherwise ordering my life so it runs smoothly. Integrity, order, quality.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


She walked through the alley, carefully making her way through the snow. Snow was still falling lightly around her, and it was quiet except for the crunching under her feet. She still marveled at how bright and still the snow made everything; it was almost surreal. Snow decorated the trees and houses, and she passed two rabbits sitting quietly, hoping they weren't noticed. A few steps further and she saw rabbit tracks across the path.
She crossed a street where the snow had been packed and was beginning to be brown tinged. That always reminded her of the sugar and butter mix that was the first step to making chocolate chip cookies. Then back on the sidewalk, identified mostly by a few pairs of previous footsteps. This took her along the side of a hill. On one side were snow covered trees and a faintly lined pattern of light on the snow on the ground. On the other side she had a view of the city, multicolored lights twinkling through the snow.
She reveled in the beauty of the fresh scene before her, and then reveled in the fact that she reveled. There always seemed to be so little time for reveling these days, not to mention all the things she kept in the back of her mind to ponder or worry about.
But for the moment there was only the scene before her, the snow softly falling, the quiet that fallen snow holds that almost begs one to pause and absorb the calm. There was the brightness of the fresh white flakes, and she was beginning to understand why many found these things compelling. It was a bit like being in a story, for she had read of snow and winter, but the experiences were truly real, and she was living now what she had only read for so many years.
Then she encountered another person and the spell was broken. Despite its necessity, she still hated to see the smooth surface of the snow broken by footprints and shoveled walks. So she carried on, back to the tasks at hand.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

just me

So I'm kind of a bachelor. I had to move into an apartment on campus from my dorm room due to outside circumstances, and while I do like my apartment I was not really ever intending to move into one nor did I want to move a bunch of stuff up for one last school year (about 9 months). So I basically have a dorm's accommodations spread over a one bedroom apartment. I got a futon from someone who couldn't fit it into his new apartment, which means I don't have to always sit on the floor.
I do half the time anyway, though. Illogical though it might be, I use my desk as a table/collection of papers I don't feel like dealing with, put my computer on a chair, and sit on the floor to type. I also don't have a table, although I figure if I ever have guests and need one I can always get the one out of my car (still love that feature of my car).
The cleanliness of my apartment usually reflects my life, I think. Fairly clean and organized, but some scattered papers and disorganization around the edges. But of course there are the occasional times where it's a complete disaster.
One place where I'm regularly clean is the kitchen, because I have enough dishes for someone who lives in a dorm (with the exception of some pots and pans that I bought for the apartment). This means I don't have enough dishes to not do dishes every day or two. It's amazing how quickly one can go through 6 spoons.I have a few staples in the kitchen food wise, but it's really not very exciting to cook for one person, and I do still eat in the cafeteria fairly regularly. Milk, eggs, pancake mix, grits, pasta, bread (because some friends gave me a toaster oven!), rice, cereal. Those are my staples. Plus some fake meat product or other.
I have no TV, and because internet comes with the apartment through the school the guy at Xcel sounded very amazed that all I needed was the electric bill in my name, but no phone, internet, or TV. So I watch movies on my computer and get news from Google.
The best part is, I live by myself. So I can be as weird as I want, and no one cares. It's lovely. I'm not much for entertaining, though...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inauguration Day thoughts

"Being able to see the overlap between our regular humanity and the ceremony and celebration of greatness, of great office, of great achievement, is always a moving thing. We're reminded of that in this city of monuments,  monuments to human achievement that are rendered of course superhuman in their scale. We’re reminded of this on days that are full of pageantry and ceremony and displays of national  power when, nevertheless, they turn out to be rendered in human scale, walking flesh and blood, when the President and First Lady get out of the car and walk the parade route themselves. We’re reminded of that overlap of human scale achievement and towering achievement on holidays like this, the federal holiday honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., today on that holiday swearing in the nation’s first African American president not for the first time but for the second time." ~Rachel Maddow

I watched this episode of Rachel Maddow (Monday's show, Inauguration Day) because a friend told me the part where Rachel tells about who made the dress and shoes for the First Lady was funny. And it's true, that part was somewhat entertaining. But the section with this quote in it was what struck me the most out of this show. I thought it was a well said summation of the excitement of Inauguration Day as well as the story of our life together as citizens and fellow humans. 
We all likely have had moments where we imagined being a star, being superhuman, being extra special. The glamour, excitement, and other attraction to being someone everyone knows probably appeals to us all at some time or another. 
At the same time, it is precisely the counter to that, a connection to the realness of our humanity, that attracts us to those in the spotlight. In a negative way we latch on to the stories of scandals and misappropriations because it shows us that even heroes have faults and the most respected people do stupid things. On the other hand, and in the case of the President and his family acting simply as humans and walking like we do even as they must walk in ways we don't, is something that reaches us, too, because it simultaneously tells us that all leaders are humans like us so we might have the chance to be leaders, too, and it tells us that this leader is not so different and maybe that we can allow him the chance to be human, as well, because no one is perfect.
It is moments like this that remind us that every great achievement, every great destruction, every grand effort that has come about in history has had human hands in it. We are more powerful and less powerful than we think, and moments like this help remind us of the delicacy of that balance. We have done some amazing things, and we have done some terrible things, we humans. We have great capacity for good and evil within our humanity. We must make choices every day that usually have greater reach than we will ever know. I want to hope that good will triumph and that the depth of the goodness of humanity is deeper than that of evil. But we all have to make choices that lead us beyond ourselves, so I hope we can reflect beyond ourselves and embrace the possibility of good greatness, though it is rarely an easy choice.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I went for a walk

I did, in fact, go for a walk today. Class got out a little early and according to one of my weather apps it was 42 degrees outside. After single digit and barely two digit temps, 42 merely feels cool and brisk. Plus the sun is shining, although there is a slight breeze.
So after being cooped up in class all week, a walk was practically begging to be had on such a (relatively) lovely day. So I walked. And saw. I've been busy enough lately that I haven't seen much, and there is a lot to see.
I saw where the snow is melted, and where it is still not melted. The sidewalk was clear in places, wet in places, icy in places, and snowy in places. This requires attention so one does not slip. Not only are the icy spots tricky, but also walking on snowy spots after wet spots, because the wet sort of freezes on your boots then. I saw layers of snow, dirty snow that had been plowed, and snow that was hardly touched. I put my boot prints on top of other shoe prints and animal prints and thought about where they had gone.
I saw trees that were extra knobbly, bare trees, trees tall and knarled and trees short and thin. I saw shade and shadow and sunlight. I saw a squirrel run across the street in front of me. I walked past houses with different landscaping and things in the yards. Places with lots of shade had more snow, and sunnier places and those under trees were bare.
I thought about nothing and I thought about everything. Watched the melting snow run in rivulets. Now I'm watching the sun set behind the minneapolis skyline. The moon is out, the wispy clouds are tinged with purple and gold. The trees are still, people are heading home, and another day winds down. What did you see today?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Crosswords are a world of their own. I have been doing crosswords with my grandmother for most of my life, and now I have a group of people here at school I do crosswords with. They say crosswords keep your brain young. They also get easier the more you do them, because clues repeat and they often ask similar things. Mondays are the easiest and they get harder through Sunday. There's a sense of accomplishment in finishing crosswords, and often we do four a day. Two in the Strib, one in USA Today, and the New York Times. By myself I can do the beginning of the week, but especially by the end of the week the group factor is very important (and we usually end up looking things up or making things up on the Friday crosswords anyway). We don't get weekend papers at school, so it's a M-F gig (which is good, because the weekends are worse than Friday). And the NYTimes puzzle is usually good for some strange puzzle or weird set of clues. Once it had a bunch of O's and it was a dozen eggs. And the NYTimes puzzle in the Strib is an old puzzle from the NYTimes, which I had wondered about and we finally figured out when we realized once that we had already done that puzzle at some point previously in the actual NYTimes.
Sorry I'm not more interesting today, I have class all day all week and am kind of tired, but theoretically I'll have something interesting to say about class here soon. It's been decent. If you have any suggestions for topics let me know.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

sports and habits

I keep seeing posts on Facebook about football teams and games, and now that I know people from so many parts of the country (and world) I think I have about half the NFL covered. The thing is, I don't care. I think sometimes I'm glad the only sport that truly gets me worked up and sucked in and passionate like all these people is still only a second thought for most of this country. Soccer is it for me, and we just don't do that much here. Granted my personal sports rabidity is also greatly influenced by access, and when it's not easily accessible I go to no great lengths. What I don't know can't make me crazy (something like that). So while I do admit that, since being at school here where I had access to cable (since I don't have a TV in my personal possessions) I watched virtually every single game of the men's World Cup in 2010 and women's World Cup in 2011, that was the first time I've done that for access reasons (believe it or not, soccer rarely comes on regular television). If I lived in virtually any other part of the world, however, it might be a different story, so if that happens I'll check back in and let you know if I've flipped like most people I know. But until then, I merely watch my newsfeed bemusedly while people rant, rail, taunt, moan, and otherwise publicly share their deep investment in a sport and significant capitalistic endeavor. (and sometimes I can even figure out who's playing who...)
Now, on the the second unrelated and yet also related topic of habits. I am reading one of the other books for my course next week, and this one is a million times more interesting than the last. It is about habits and how they unconsciously and consciously guide our lives for better and worse. It talks about habits as business strategy and how starting with seemingly insignificant habits can influence many other habits in our daily and work lives that can lead to significant improvement (it also reminds me somewhat of family systems theory and I wonder if any of these people ever read Freedman).
I know I operate under lots of habits, as do most people, and I realize sometimes that my frustration with people not thinking about what they're doing probably stems from their habits taking over (and sometimes my frustration with myself stems from my doing too much thinking rather than letting habits take over). But I had some more thought provoking thoughts recently (funny how getting older and life in general can continually present thought provoking thoughts) and so I will add habits to the collection and mull over them some more. Who knows, I may come up with something good out of this yet.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

train stations

One thing I like is trains. Perhaps partly because of the more controlled nature of them as opposed to cars or planes. The other thing I like is the opportunity they afford to people and scenery watch, because all you have to do is pay attention to which stop is yours. And train stations, at least in Europe, are quite interesting. (some in the US are, too, and I haven't seen as many so I can't make a broad generalization, but the ones in Germany, of which I can most speak to, are quite interesting)
I was in Berlin for a couple of months this summer, and it was the longest I've ever spent in a single European city (also the longest I've spent in most any major city in the world), so I got a chance to get pretty familiar with the U- and S-Bahn system. And every U- and S-Bahn station was different, which I loved. The one at the Zoo was painted with animals. One was fancy and marbled because it was remodeled with marble that came out of Hitler's palace when it was demolished. Some had quotes decoratively painted or tiled in them, some just had interesting paint or tile patterns, some had more complicated mosaics, some had more ornate arches and things, and some were still old and restored because they had been 'ghost stations' all throughout the division of Berlin (which meant they were shut off because they were in or under no man's land near the Wall, thus they sat vacant for some 30 odd years). Then there were the brand new ones that are the beginnings of a new line still under construction, and those had photos of various historical train stations.
There is a lot that can be said by and in a train station. And I like to think about all the generations of people that have come through them, all the trains that have come through them, and all the history and life stories they have been part of. The secrets they hold, and the secrets held by those traveling in them. Especially, to me, in a city so fraught with history as Berlin. To see the photos of the old stations, and to see photos in some of the 'ghost stations' from that time, to smell how they still have a slightly stale air, to wonder what they were like all empty and shut up and how many people snuck into them, makes me feel connected to all the people who saw them before me and who will see them after.
It is amazing how many different people one can see in a city so large, even when one's train riding routine is about the same. Always different people, and always so many languages. One can see the city at night, when the sun shines, when it rains, (and when it snows, although it did not snow during the summer). Life and activity and hopes and dreams and fears all around, carried around by the trains. I do love trains.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

More random thoughts

I had so much fun doing this yesterday I thought I'd write more today. I think the best option for blogging is to write about things that are important but at the same time have very little controversial significance. Or in other words, what amuses me. Then again, someone could probably disagree with most anything I would say.
I read a terrible book today. Well, I read most if it. I gave up by the end. It was kind of stupid and not engaging and otherwise disappointing and lame and I don't think very well written. And if it really addresses a significant issue like it thinks it does then I feel sad about the world. So I read some more from my other book and then decided I wanted to blog again. I really do like writing. And I'm tired and this is what my brain has energy for. so perhaps today is not the day to judge my writing skill (or the entertainment value).
I think I'm a little weird. Granted that seems to be one of the requirements for seminary entrance, but sometimes I like to think I'm normal so I feel better about odd things, and at the same time I think I must be odd because there's no way the world would be like this if everyone were odd like me. (I'd like to think it would be a lot nicer. But maybe it would just be a little bit arrogant)
Are you asleep yet? I'm getting close. Alas. I was hoping to say something a bit more coherent and intelligent, but I fear I did not achieve that tonight. Better luck next time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Wow it's been a while. Would I be more interesting if I were more interesting? What do people really blog about anyway? You would think I would write more, seeing as I like to write. But what do you want to read? Would you like to know that I've gone through two seasons of M*A*S*H in the last 4 days? That I really like M*A*S*H? That I keep wanting to write novels but can't ever decide what I want to write? That I've been thinking I need to write more again to keep up the practice? That I have too much to read and never enough time to read it? That I wish I could skip eating and sleeping if only I could read and write all the time, with maybe a little time for socialization? That I realized the other day that lately I say more by taking photos than I say with words?

I don't really understand the world anymore. Or I never did. All the social networking and blogging and gazillions of things on the internet, the added security where I never remember my usernames and passwords to my email and bank account anymore. The way the internet always knows what I've seen on it. How you can't take all your Christmas gifts home in your carry on luggage on the airplane anymore because you never know who wants to put explosives in their fruit preserves or snowglobe. Did you know they have double decker airplanes? I saw one at the airport the other day and was amazed. How does it fly? Wow. We have the most amazing technology these days for saving life and destroying it. Somehow they come one with the other. It's a lot of art, and a lot of science, and sometimes it just gets all mixed up and stains the carpet.

Well that was fun. I keep thinking I'll do this more often. Who wants to read? Who has time for that? I don't.