Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Comfort or Challenge

Time and again, when the irreligious comment upon religion, they say "Well, if it provides a bit of comfort, then it's ok, so long as it doesn't get out of hand."  Religion is being treated as if it were Prozac or Novocaine, as if it numbed and soothed life's challenges.  Well, that's what it is for some people.   When Marx said "Religion is the opium of the people" he wasn't totally wrong, he was just oversimplifying hugely.  
     The thing is, people pursue or fail to pursue both science and religion for their own reasons, and those reasons aren't the same for everyone.  There are two obvious kinds of people when it comes to this:  The first group is made up of the ones who want comfort, want structure, want answers, want to be told what to think, what to feel and what to do so their lives make sense to them.  They are concerned with being orthodox, with following, and with clinging to their religion or scientific thought, as handed down to them, prechewed and fully digested by someone else.  It really can be like a drug, a crutch, or like someone telling them what to do. 
"Tell me the story of where the world came from again..."   
"It came from God speaking/A Big Bang."   
"Oh.  Ok.  Thanks."   
"Any questions?"    
"Not really.  That's all I wanted to know." 
"Good.  Glad I was able to clear that up for you." 

    The second group is made up of seekers.  Their embracing of religion or science drives them beyond pat answers (whether delivered by organized religion or popular science).  They are always seeking, but they always somehow end up with more unanswered questions each time they dig into something.  People like this seem more interested in establishing what can and cannot be, what is and isn't actually known (what religious and scientific men of letters can and can't be trusted to know about, and what ground remains relatively unexplored.)  Popular religion readily answers "What" and "Who" and "When" questions in terms of behaviour and lifestyle, and popular science readily answers "How" questions in general.  
   The seeker is after "Why" questions, and many of these have no pat answers. Whether we're talking about science or religion, we're still talking about human beings, and their search for answers.  Religion and science aren't the same, but they're used by human beings to fulfil exactly the same psychological needs.  In both realms we find dogmatic, orthodox clingers who tend to persecute any questioning, disrespecting or disturbing of the commonly held, agreed upon, familiar approaches to things, and we also find seekers for whom the best answers of science or religion aren't nearly good enough at this time, who want to go out further and ask questions they're not supposed to ask. 
     Religion, the bible, church and God do not give me much in the way of comfort.  They offer me a challenge.  That means they upset me and get me thinking.  They cause me to need to grow, need to re-evaluate and change, raise standards and seek new approaches and mindsets.   The challenge of church for me is that I haven't been able to connect with the dogmatic/orthodox clingers, and they seem to be running everything.  Some people get very tripped out and undeniably high from going to the more orgiastic of churches.  That doesn't do it for me.  I am unable to accept it as real.  (Actually, I am well aware that people get pent-up emotion, and that our imperfect world doesn't allow them to let it all out, and that places like pubs, dance clubs, strip bars and churches serve this need, but I don't see it as "really real" but rather as wankery masquerading as consummate love-making, if that makes any sense.  I could, of course, be very wrong.) 
   The challenge of the bible for me is that I was given a filter through which to view it (the "The Bible Says We're Doing The Right Thing" self-justification of our religious efforts filter" I call it) and once I grasp that it's an anthology not written expressly to, for or about me, things get complicated, yet there's clearly gold in them thar hills.  It is a constant struggle to read the bible without falling into those fruitless, deep ruts worn in my brain from having it literally beat into me as a child, and see what it really is, and is really saying, once I've quit opening it with a trained and ingrained specific expectation as to what it will say (that "our" religious efforts and viewpoints are right) and an agenda to be told what to do.  
    It can inspire and challenge, but not if you're opening it to be reassured.  People like to compare it to a  book of rules, a map or an instruction manual.  It's horrible at being any of those in the way a screwdriver is a horrible hammer. God is a challenge to me whenever I admit that I don't understand Him and what He's up to.  It's when I think that I can explain about Him to myself and others that I'm really deluding myself and being smugly self-confident without reason so to feel.  For some people, their view on God really does simply boil down to "You will be in all ways explicable or I will decide you don't exist."  
   If only I could do that.  I know there are many inexplicable people in my life who I'd be much happier deciding didn't exist.  Many of them are the most interesting people I know, for good and/or bad reasons.  I do know a few people who seem completely predictable, explicable and justifiable.  They are boring as hell, and in a weird way, almost don't exist, at least not to the same degree their more difficult to explain counterparts do.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Approaching God


A central concept to Christianity (as presented in the bible, not on TV) is the idea that as human beings, we are imperfect, and start out with a dysfunctional, disrupted relationship with a God who is worth knowing and actually really wants to know us and be known by us. 
     Thing is, the starting ground upon which we stand before God puts us in the position of someone who has made a false claim, and we will be held responsible to come good on this claim unless we are willing to give up this ground. God, for His part, is quite willing to let us off the hook if we’ll let Him, but if we won’t give up the charade, His Hands are somewhat tied. 
     In order for the two of us to meet halfway, we can’t just continue stubbornly holding our distant, self-justified positions (“You’re unreasonable!” “You are selfish and lacking in integrity!” “Your standards are impossible for human beings to achieve!” “You are hurting other people for your own selfish reasons!”) but we have to “die” to our rigid, inflexible, righteous positions, and be flexible enough to lay all of it aside and come to a central meeting point. We have to be “born” into entirely new roles. 
     As human beings, we need to reach the point where we stop disagreeing with the Source of all Good, the Judge of All The Earth as to what is fair, how we’re doing, and what good and right actually are, as seen in our abilities to properly be what we were created to be. We have to lay aside “But I tried as hard as I could” and “That’s too hard” and "But he pushed me" and “That’s not fair” and “You wouldn’t throw the book at a guy like me,” and so on.  Hardest of all, we have to lay aside “If I keep at this, with the proper religious supports, I just might be able to meet God’s exacting standards for what a human being is supposed to be, or close enough that He won’t do His job and call it like it is.” 
     What God did was (in incarnation) lay aside His right to judge and His place as God, and take on a body and a human position with all of its temptations, stressors and limits. He then walked around, not judging, not saying any of the things that would signal that he was closing the book on humans and giving up. He talked to people and put out his hand and offered healing, insight, wisdom, forgiveness and help getting started on a better path. Best of all, he offered to alleviate each person’s duty to meet His impossible standard as codified in the Mosaic law. 
     He lived a whole human life, not as God Who Judges, having given that up, but as God Here Being Man So We Can Get To Know Each Other More Deeply. For our part, as humans, we have the chance to live, no longer as Humans Who Fail and Are Judged If We Can’t Meet God’s Standards (having given that up, or “died to it” as the apostle Paul would explain it) but as Children God is Helping Out and Showing Stuff To. We get a Learner’s Permit for life. God becomes driving instructor rather than road test official. God as Jesus is born human, and goes around studiously "not being God" so it's fair ("Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God") and tells us to be born anew, to live our daily lives as new creatures, no longer any more responsible to keep the Mosaic law and meet God’s quite reasonable standards for how a being created in His image should respond, both to Him, and to others like created. 
    When Paul writes to the Romans, the part we tend to call “Chapter 7” has a section which fully paints the picture of a human being who has fully realized his own limits, who is now fully in possession of the understanding that he’s not going to be able to satisfy God without the help that is offered from on high. The description is very clear: Paul can “will” or want to do good things, vow to be strong and kind and wise and meek, but his flesh (a metaphoric description of man at his best, falling short, being incomplete, giving in to the temptation to not walk according to What Is, to What God Wants, and What Would Be Good) is too weak, too childish, too foolish, too dark. Every time Paul says, “I hereby resolve to be better in this way and not do or want to do any of these bad things any more” he finds that there is something rotten through at the core of the infrastructure, and that it is weak and corrupted, and it all goes wrong every time, eventually. 
      The best of intentions fails to materialize in the harsh light of day, and troubling tendencies toward dark, petty, destructive behaviour are seen.
    The Mosaic law is good, in that it presents perfectly a codified picture of What God Expects As A Bare Minimum. It does not present how to be good. It presents how not to be bad. (Not how to excel. Just what would constitute failure.) The best it can offer is, if one were somehow able to keep from doing the things it describes as bad, then one has not done bad. God knew what He was doing when He didn’t lay a responsibility to be good on the Israelites. He was making a big point that human beings without help, without collaboration and cooperation from Him, couldn’t even keep from doing bad, stupid and weak things throughout their lives. 
     Point taken. What now? One of Carl Jung’s contributions to modern psychotherapy is the idea of a “shadow self.” The concept is simply this: there are parts of our personalities, of our inner selves, which we are tempted to pretend do not exist, habits or choices we are secretly drawn to which we want to tell ourselves we actually detest. It’s up to us what percentage of our unflattering inner selves we will pretend do not exist, or refuse to deal with. 
    The more we push these dark parts of us far back into the blackest corners of our selves, the more they are “off our radar” and will start repeatedly manifesting outwardly in troubling ways which are as much a surprise to us as to anyone looking on. 
    Another thing creating a strong "shadow self" by consigning a really significant part of us to supposed nonexistence will do is to cause us to “project,” so that the dark parts of our own selves are soon all we can see in others. The more we fail to accept the very existence of these darker parts of ourselves, the more we "meet" our own weaknesses everywhere we turn, in everyone we meet. Paul speaks of a concept quite like the Jungian shadow self when he writes, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” and explains, “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil that I would not, that I do.” He expresses how easy it is to have noble ambitions, but how impossible it is to live as if the darkness were not present, saying “for [to] will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” 
     No matter how lofty, religious, scientific or sensible the plan, it all comes down to wishful thinking and empty resolutions.  It all comes down to pretending we have more say than we do in what we will do and feel, when it comes to "the crunch." The answer to Paul’s dilemma is not acts of piety, the imitation of outer forms of religious behaviour, self-flagellation, penitence, law, religion, self-loathing and thinking upon his own wretchedness, or pretending that he can “just say no” when he needs to.  No, he reaches out for the Hand of God, extended on purpose to help him in this very situation. 
     God comes to earth as Jesus, to say “Here. You’re doing it wrong. This is how it’s done. It’s not the letter, but the spirit of it that’s the key. The letter kills (will condemn you), but the spirit I manifest here is intuitively grasped, is quite contagious, and the truth of it is able to set you free from all of this.” To further step apart from the rigid, adversarial roles that aren’t helping, God says “And if you agree to stop pretending you can do this right, completely without My help, I’d be overjoyed to remove from you that responsibility to do good rather than evil (knowing what they are, as you do) without My help. Then we’ll move ahead under a completely different understanding, in a completely different relationship.  That's going to get us both what we want a whole lot better.” 
     Paul thanks God that through Him in the form of Jesus Christ, Paul is delivered from this unenviable position. He no longer lives a life with the understanding that, without any help from God he won’t screw up. He will screw up. God and Paul have agreed that this is the case, and to work together to deal with it. God as Jesus has redirected any of the judgement that God as judge would otherwise be responsible to aim Paul’s way, onto Himself. 
   So, Paul screws up. He steals an Oh Henry bar. He loses his temper with someone who doesn’t deserve it, feels superior to him, and cusses him out just to feel better about himself. This whole time, he lusts after the wife of someone he knows, rather than going and winning the heart of a woman he can call wife.  As a human being, gifted with the knowledge of good and evil (but not the ability to do good), he knows that this isn’t good. If things with God hadn’t all changed, he’d be in trouble now. He’d be completely responsible to not do and be that fleshly, sinful, stupid, mean kind of person. He’d stand accused, convicted and awaiting punishment. But the punishment is gone. Even the accusation is gone. You see, Paul is no longer responsible not to ever sin. He has laid aside that responsibility, that understanding, that ground, that role. 
    This doesn’t mean that if he sins, or acts stupid, weak, corrupt or fleshly that this is now good. It doesn’t mean that his failure isn’t bad. But it isn’t anymore Paul’s obligation to never do bad things. Together, he and God can address the root of the problem. He can grow increasingly into a person who shows more and more of the spirit of Christ and is less and less weak and corrupt, and while he grows, the pressure is off because he’s got as many mulligans, as many do-overs, as he needs. This used to be called “grace.” It doesn’t make sinning ok. It just means we have a special arrangement whereby when we do things that aren’t ok, it’s handled. 
    It is very possible for Paul to lose sight of his new arrangement with God. It is very possible for him to, quite apart from God, adopt a bunch of ritualistic behaviours intended to brainwash him  into stopping doing the bad things that he genuinely, deep down, actually wants to do and doesn't know why. The more he cuts off from parts of his real, imperfect inner self, the more divided he becomes. Jesus pointed out that a house divided against itself will fall, all as part of explaining how stupid the accusation that he was casting demons out of people by using demonic power was. 
    The Jungians have a point when they say that, the more you push those “darker” parts of you away and refuse to look at them and accept that they are real and relevant and there, the more you are creating a monstrous part of yourself which will pop up in the very worst places and times. Men love darkness rather than light, Jesus said, because their deeds are evil. When you've got something to hide, you love having unmentionables, taboo subjects, and lots of shadows. 
    Jesus said this, and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde about a man who tries to scientifically remove all the dark, ugly and bad parts of himself, leaving only the good, handsome and noble, and in so doing repeatedly becomes and lets loose an ugly, violent, selfish little monster on the city.  When religion tries the same thing in real life that Henry Jekyll tried in science fiction, exactly the same result is seen. Moving in religious circles can very quickly engender competitive piety, and fear of not being genuinely affected by what everyone else is immersing themselves in, resulting in pretence. 
    The thinking of Carl Jung led (somewhat indirectly) to the thinking of the men who formed Alcoholics Anonymous. For this particular addictions program to work, it is essential that people are able to let the cold light of day shine upon the dark corners of their inner selves, and to walk in the truth of what’s really going on. There could be no more useless addictions program (let's call it "Abstinence Rocks!") than one at which people merely sang songs about how great it is not to be addicted, and then didn’t let on whether or not they were actually, personally struggling with addiction in any way, then drank coffee and went home. 
    Conversely, an addictions program (let's call it "Never Forget What You Are") that only allowed addicts who were clean to participate in any way, and which felt that the best way to deal with these "clean" addicts was to fill each session with numerous reminders to feel deep, unrelenting shame for what they’d done in the past, and then a careful, dutiful, studied dread as to what future missteps they might take, then to drink coffee and go home crestfallen, would be equally pointless, and truly horrible. 
     When I meet Christians, I must admit I tend to judge them on how much of themselves they are able to be. I think of them as "more alive" if they are being more of themselves, and "less alive" if most of them is locked away in a cell with loose bricks and a shovel in one corner.  With too many, it’s like they’re letting themselves feel free to be only a 5% of themselves that they’re content with, and their eyes show the strain of keeping 95% of their deepest, darkest, truest, most passionate selves secret, crushed flat, relegated to the shadows with no hope of any change apart from their outer shells getting more and more brittle, and Mr. Hyde going on more insidious nightly prowlings. 
    The lacks are not usually seen in their thinking so much as in their emotions being unconvincing, due to not being their own, real feelings coming from their own, real selves. If the work of Christ works for you, then the idea is to be able to sit down whenever you want with a friendly God and let Him shine the light of truth on anything inside you that He thinks needs looking at. Despite what the effect of modern religion upon people usually is, God Himself doesn’t shine this light into your dark corners because He wants to remind you of things you need to feel shame about, because you forgot or didn’t know to feel it. 
     He does it to make you free from more and more stuff through demystifying and revealling the true nature of it all, to make you more yourself, more what He intended you to be when He thought “Hey! Y’know what? I think I’ll make a [George Simmons or whatever].”  When God says "Hey!  You're doing that wrong!" He means "Hey!  You're being you wrong!"
It is scriptural and healthy to view ourselves as dead to the old problems and obligation before God to not sin, and born anew to a new way of living and dealing with God. It is unscriptural and unhealthy to view ourselves as divided now into two halves (“natures”), one of which (the 5%) has turned over a new leaf, and the other of which we don’t talk about, but wrestle with daily, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we close our eyes in repose at night.  The work of Christ worked.  If we're trying to do it ourselves, then we're doing it wrong. 
   God is ceaselessly, endlessly creative. He insists upon and delights in staggering diversity. Just look at kinds of butterflies He felt it important to design. In a way, knowing Him will make you more, not less different from His other children. There is no one-size-fits all path. Mottos, platitudes and mass-produced and distributed “individual interpretations” won’t cut it. They need to get tossed out in favour of something realer, truer and more alive.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Monday, Monday

It took me until Sunday to get to the IMAX theatre in the city to see The Dark Knight.  It wasn't perfect, but it was plenty good enough to make you not care.  It's like they're saying: it's not so much a superhero franchise movie as it's a movie unto itself.  
 It's like Heat or The Usual Suspects. On the edge of my seat the whole time.  
   Ruined it a bit for myself by saying "Now they're going to wreck the Batmobile.  Now they're going to wreck the Lamborghini .  Now they're going to kill the girl.  Now they're going to wreck the helicopter." and so on.  
  The only place that the CGI was out-of-place and poorly done was the helicopter crashing, which was videogamey bad (with the two SWAT team guys twice saying "This is NOT good!" which, ironically, was the only dialogue in the movie which WAS not good.  It was not good to have them dropping in Speed-grade dialogue into a movie with so many quotable lines.  If I were the commanding officer of some SWAT guys who said "This is NOT good" when things started going wrong, I'd slap them and tell them to learn to deal with crisis, as this is their job.) 
   Oh, and Two-face's scarred face wasn't scary, burn-victim messed up like it could have been.  The Joker's face was disturbing, but Two-face's was cartoonish and "stuck on with a computer" looking.  Still, didn't matter. 
   Batmanuel from The Tick was the mayor.  Mickey from  The Equalizer was a cop.  The Scarecrow showed up twice in unimportant roles which tied this movie to the other one without getting bogged down in so doing.  There was never a moment when the Scarecrow, the Joker and Two-face stood shoulder to shoulder and took on Batman.   
   So, I enjoyed the full-on well-written, giant-screen, superloud speakers glory of it.  Heath Ledger as The Joker was so mesmerizing that Batman and the rest looked boring when he was onscreen and you wanted him back when he was off. 
    I went out to my car, and managed to hook back up some wires Dad unhooked from my engine, without using a single tool, nor removing the stuff that was in the way.  I just squirmed my hands in around the wires, pipes and hot metal bits and got it back together.  Then I bought lots of groceries. 
   Had a long conversation with M__ on the phone because his wife was supposed to call me earlier, and did, but my cat had managed to tear the phone wiring out of the socket and I didn't notice until she'd gone to bed, but he was awake. I had been researching "Nice Guy Syndrome" online, as it's been suggested I suffer from it.  It turns out a lot of people mean a lot of things by it.  I'm not a nice guy in the sense of being scared of conflict, and addicted to pleasing and placating everyone.  I'm not like that at all.  I am a "nice guy" in not going after what I want, being timid about that kind of thing, and being willing to do anything for anyone, including listening endlessly to the complaints of women who will never date me, about the guys they ARE dating.  I approach women with the "nice guy" problem in full bloom, but the rest of my life is less like that.  Nice guys make unspoken contracts with themselves such as "I'll let her not call me back when she said she would three times, and then I'll not phone her at all for two weeks" and the whole time the woman is unaware, and doesn't feel the "punishment" or anger of the guy, as he's keeping it to himself too much.   
   Today I talked online to various people about various things, did laundry and made another crockpot of chicken gumbo, trying for less smoky, and putting celery in, and a dash of wine.  It worked out pretty well.  I did dishes, cleaned the cat's litter box out entirely and tidied a bit.  I also watched miscellaneous things I'd downloaded.  Then I proofed the first batch of yearbook pages they sent me.   Tomorrow I am supposed to drop my car to be looked at by a mechanic, and will probably take some gumbo for my family to eat, and get dropped off back here by someone.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Random bit of Wisdom about Work

If you are determined to teach a child about work, you can't just teach him that people who don't work are lazy, and about all the things he's not doing quite right.  You also have to teach him that doing the job well makes some kind of difference, or he won't bother.  Why would he?

Saturday, 19 July 2008

More Stuff to Learn

     Thing is, sometimes believers can talk to you like you're a person, even if, to their church or their ideology, you are an outsider. This is tough, because one thing I learned from a young age was that, if one had "outsider" thoughts or perspectives in many churches or other human groups, no one wanted to hear them.  Certainly no one would discuss said thoughts, except perhaps to make a last-ditch effort to "correct" them.
Billy Idol: professional sneerer 
I grew up in the 80s.  The 80s were a pretty cheesy, plastic, cocaine-fuelled, neon/pastel, rolled-up-sleeves and popped collars time, with bored affluence being synonymous with "cool."  Earnestness and sincerity were verboten.  Sneering was witty. 
Stryper: painfully sincere Christian metal band 
In the middle of all of this "jaded success" chic, I occasionally had people try to interest me in Christian music, books, videos or the like.  The artists presented themselves as fashionably as they could, but there was always a strained attempt to appear cool, when they were actually painfully sincere, or feignedly sincere, at the same time.  And they stole.  They stole their sound, their look, their riffs, even their fans.  They stole everything but their lyrics.  "Follow You" would spring up, and it would really be almost a Christian parody of "Waterloo" by Abba, but no one wanted to talk about that.
Twila Paris: Queen of inoffensive 80s Christian songstresses (Amy Grant was the Brittney) 
At their most financially successful, Christian music really seemed to achieve merely the unconvincing, saccharine, cheesy flavour of Celine Dion performing in Las Vegas. 
 There were some problems.  Nonchristian artists had music that would appeal to the hips.  Elvis borrowed from the panoply of black artists and showed the white world how that could work, without just imitating the black artists, and trying to "be black."  That's what "making it your own" is.  Bruce Springsteen said "Get the ass moving and the rest will follow."  Christian music wasn't supposed to do that.  Nonchristian music could sneer, and had the advent of punk to show them how.  Christian music wasn't supposed to express much in the way of spite, anger, or frustration.  It was supposed to express a limited palette of pious emotions: awe in the presence of God, teary gratitude for Christ's sacrifice, grave solemnity at the price Christ paid and our contribution to that, and endless blissed-out "high on Jesus" tunes of the 7-11 variety (7 words repeated 11 times).   
     It turned out that people (even Christian people) felt a whole lot of other things in the course of a week, and reached out to music which reflected their feelings more, rather than less, when they were in those moods.  Person after person ejected Twila Paris and reached for The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, or even, dare I say it, those paragons of emotional depth, Kiss.  And felt like failures as Christians for so doing.  Sometimes they wanted "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" instead of "I'll Never Stop Loving My Savior (Hallelujah)."  
U2 looking sincere (check those pained eyes) 
Is there anything wrong with eagerness and sincerity?  Not in and of themselves.  Thing is, sincerity is hard to "do" right.  I think Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno almost tricked U2 (on the Joshua Tree album, during the bored-cool 80s) to be and sound sincere in a way that was convincing.  
     You see, when someone is sincere about religion (or spirituality, as some prefer to call their world view) it should give a glimpse into their heart.  There should be the tang of inarguable reality to it, and there should be a slight sense of "otherness" to it.  There should not be anything plastic or contrived.  "Otherness" is what Lanois and Eno lent to the Joshua Tree album (by actually defining what musical direction the songs would take, and not stopping short of actually playing the iconic keyboard and some of the defining guitars themselves).  U2 brought their sincerity.  
    Left to their own devices, they have since tended toward intentional plasticness, and purposeful unconvincingness, intermingled with in-jokes that most miss.  Bono likes being cool.  Cool is about inaccessibilty.  Sincerity, though, is about being open.  I don't think you can have it both ways.  Bono is sometimes afraid, often almost embarassed of being open.  He is mocked for being pretentious whenever he tries it.
Today, there are Christian bands which sound like death metal, with names like "Tourniquet" and "Mortification."  There are many Christian rap artists.  Some are trying to keep precisely the sound that angry black men or frustrated white guys are expressing, but then say things that are, by contrast, meant to be uplifting.
putting a rude caption on this photo would be like shooting fish in a barrel 
 It makes me think of Mr. T, 80s paragon of anger, angrily telling kids to drink their milk, not do drugs, and stay in school.  Also of after school specials, and groups that visited us in school, and tried to convey messages like "saying 'no' is rad!"  
 As Tom Petty said about the attitude expressed by rock music "It's not supposed to be good!" (the attitude, I assume, not the music)
 There are two human beings in this picture.  Living their lives. 
 So I go up to the boonies with some friends of friends, and they mock the pregnant teen moms with the knee-high snakeskin boots, they mock the run-down buildings, the drunk natives, the glaringly obvious signs that "these people just don't get what we feel no self-respecting person would convey as their image."  
     I laughed too, but I was starting to feel dirty.  Thing is, all you have to do is say "mullet" and people start to sneer and laugh nowadays.  You see, knowing to laugh at a mullet for not being a sound fashion choice in 2008 is apparently all the entry-level test-passing acumen you need in order to be better than anyone with one.  So, I was totally just as filled with glee at towns full of people who seemed to be less sophisticated than me as the friends of friends were.  But I started to see what we were like.  
   People from cities like Ottawa, Canada, feeling like sophisticated urbanites, or at the very least, flipping that on its head so we could laugh at anyone more hick, more yokel than we, all so we could be hoisted closer to sophisticated urbanite status on their backs, without letting on that we cared.  And I sure hate when people from Toronto, Vancouver or New York city come to where I live and start sniggering at the people and sights around here. And I think I learned that laughing at poor people, at addicts, at whores, at hicks, at farmers, at stupid people, at ugly people, at fat people, at people deficient in education, taste, class or wisdom, I think I learned that deriving a feeling of smug "I know what's wrong with that and apparently they don't!" makes us ugly people.  It's nasty.  
   I'm not very PC, but I can at least agree that feeling better about yourself by feeling better than others...well, it sucks.  It's embarassing.  I'm a teacher.  How can I convey that being stupid isn't wonderful, but that we shouldn't feel better about ourselves because we managed to find someone stupid to stand beside?  Hard one.
 On Canada Day I was interviewed by Cory from the Internet Christian radio show.  Their stated ambition is to make the cross (Christianity) current in modern society.  Because it is relevant, and many people want to treat it as an idea that should have never been, whose time is long since past, and whose relevance is non-existent.  So these guys at Cross Current do the "reality show interview" thing.  Cory interviewed me, and I was tempted to mock (which is, of course, a way to say "don't get your evangelical Christian cooties on me.  I'm not that type"), but couldn't help being a bit impressed.  Cory didn't really look like the usual Christian guy.  I've known an awful lot of Christian guys.  By and large, the specific guys who seemed like the ones anyone could instantly recognize as Christian guys (as opposed to the ones who just looked pretty normal) were painfully clean-cut, keen, fit, direct gaze, Gap Model types with intensity and rapid-fire social interaction, or awkward Bill Gates types with huge, uncertain smiles and confused, frightened eyes.  Cory was more like the former, if you had to pick, but there was a certain lack of cheesiness and Gap model to him.
 Some Christians do look like this, of course.  Some are proud of it 
 It's been a long time since I could have looked at Cory with an "insiders" or "us" perspective.  Even when I used to sit in the Gospel Hall every Sunday night, hearing the preaching, on the very rare occasions that someone we didn't know would come in (that happened maybe 4 times in 20 years) I would sit and listen to the message from their perspective, and all too often, cringe at the jargon, the quaintness, the psycho-ness of the general failure to reach them that we were all witnesses to.
 The only thing that made Cory stand out from the other people in the theatre building, apart from his digital recorder, was his almost frightening, rapid-fire intensity.  He stood close, he looked you in the eye, and there was warmth, sincerity and humanity there, but he was on a mission.  It's like when you talk to a police officer or security guard and they're too busy or professional to drop their facade.  He was doing something he cared about, and he was doing it hard, and I wasn't sure how I felt about any of it.  If you want to pull people in, you have to be relaxed, right? I felt like he was trying to lead me toward talking about "what did I believe, and how much."  To most modern people, that's private.  Cory was socially adept and tactful, but he wanted to know, and right now.  So I wrote on my blog that he was no doubt looking for me to be a believer and agree with him (because the end of the interview really did start to be just him preaching, with occasional pauses for me to agree.  
   To be fair, preaching or "sharing Jesus" is what he's about, so that's a duh, however much I suddenly felt like he'd stopped talking to me and started preaching to the people who would listen later) or to reveal my unbelief so he could guide me toward questions that he would no doubt assume I hadn't contemplated, or come up with any decent answers to. Someone else from the show (Kevin) commented on my blog, mostly to object a bit, or to clarify, that he didn't feel I was accurately representing their intent.  And to me, their intent was a small thing which affected only that one encounter, whereas to them, it's their whole mission, or focus.  It's life-encompassing, so no wonder it matters to him.  
   I don't actually feel like I should hand out Jack Chick tracts, nor stand on the corner and shout preaching at people nor sing "I Love Jesus, My Friend" songs either.   I do feel that my respect (that word being, obviously, inadequate here) for Jesus of Nazareth, and my belief that he was born to "do being human" right, that he was a real guy, that he was sent from God so we could know God in new ways, that he was always intended, and also chose to sacrifice his unique "living with God's full approval" status for a time and shoulder our "In God's doghouse" one, so that we could one day share that same enviable position of his, that he knew what he was doing, that his influence on the world has been corrupted and misused by evil people from time to time (well, continually) is stuff that people who know me for any length of time know all about. 
  Just like with the teen mom pushing the stroller in the snakeskin, stilleto-heeled hooker boots, it is very natural for someone of my generation to laugh at foolish, unsuccessful or uncool people.  It is uncool to preach religion, obviously, to most.  South Park and the Simpsons have generally done such an accurate and fair job of presenting what people actually think of Christians and their shortcomings, that these should be watched in churches across the world every Sunday just so church-goers don't forget what people really think of them.  
   But, mocking... mocking kinda sucks.  Especially knee-jerk, thoughtless mocking.  It's so natural, so easy, though.  We look for people we feel deserve it.  Go here, and see if you aren't tempted to mock and laugh and link your friends.  I dare you. 
   When I was 23, and a guy forcefully handed me an "outreach pamphlet" after Sunday morning church, I felt resentment.  He knew I considered myself a believer, and in that church, "outreach" stuff was still foisted upon us anyway, not matter how much we said we didn't want any, and it was not given to outsiders in the area much at all.  It was all going to Africa and India.  This seemed odd.  Also, the tenor, image and content of so much of the outreach stuff was horrible, I thought.  It was all from the 1940s, or done in the same style.  It was cracked-sounding and clueless as to how to talk to nonchurch people.  You don't start off by calling them "Dear Sinner" for one thing.  
 The outreach tract in question 
Anyway, the "outreach" tract (some will argue whether it was intended to hand to what some have termed "rank unbelievers" or to convert the children of Christian parents, but the fact remains that it is handed out daily to "rank unbelievers" in hundreds of languages the world over) had a story called "Wild Whipped Cream" on the cover.  Now, my room-mate had observed that in video stores, the word "wild" was a marketing way of saying "erotica."  So, there were comedies, and "wild comedies" and there were videos of girls at college, and "Girls Gone Wild At College."  Not only that, but whipped cream has for many couples, a sexual role or connotation.  So, the church kids, tired of being handed these things, were beside themselves with delight over the apparent porn that was being handed out in church.
My parody of said pamphlet 
 Annoyed and amused, I went home and wrote a "pretend porn" version which accurately lampooned (read: mocked in a superior way) the tone, the content and format of the original pamphlet.  At no point did anything sexual occur, but I amped up the suggestiveness of the original (which already said things like "A second later we were looking at one another in amazement!  Our faces, arms, clothes and hair were covered with whipped cream.  Some of it had shot past us and landed on the wall behind us and even on the ceiling") so that it sounded even more like porn was about to ensue ("Beads of sweat glistened on her taut, sensuous body and her lower lip was held firmly in her even white teeth.") I did it to amuse myself, and I mailed a copy to two friends.  
   Five years later, someone who didn't like me took a copy from my apartment and turned it in to the church elders.  I was kicked out of that group (no longer allowed to play an active role in the church, including not being allowed to take communion or attend church social functions) and officially shunned.  The letter kicking me out is here.
 Mocking: not the display of wit you think it is 
  I had a lesson to learn about mockery.  The people who were writing and publishing this pamphlet were sincere.  They were trying to reach people, and were too old, or too out of touch to have any idea about how they would be recieved by the average person.  Whether or not they would have been in any way interested in my insights, at the age of 23, I don't know.  I didn't give them the chance, though.  I just mocked them and felt superior.  
   There is a difference between quiet smugness, and actually laughing at someone.  I don't think laughing is any better.  What I should have done was be sensitive to their feelings, at least until such time as I had given them the chance to hear me and respond, and then decided both that it was time to use satire, and that satire (used by God and His apostles and prophets in the bible on occasion, in case you question whether satire is ever OK) is the best tool to use, rather than just being a child about it and going "Ha ha!" like Nelson on The Simpsons
   Not long after that, I noted that my church was poised to have another huge Martin Luther style fight and split into another two or three warring factions who went elsewhere Sunday, with acrimony and pettiness enough for all.  This had already happened.  It was stupid.  Lessons were not learned.  Not enough had changed.  People wouldn't talk about it.  People wouldn't listen about it.  People thought it was a very serious thing.  I chose to reach for satire.  
   I made a flash cartoon with the intention of presenting these church wars as silly.  Some have questioned whether it is ok to mock something as seriously foolish as this, and others have said that sharing dirty church laundry will turn unbelievers away, but at the moment I don't feel either view is sensible.  We live in a time of too many dirty church secrets, which never remain secrets long.  
   You can look up Plymouth Brethren on wikipedia, (looking at Closed, Exclusive, Tunbridge Wells and Taylor-Hale brethren in particular) and you'll learn of their inherent tendency to divide into warring factions, and essentially say, in the words of Cartman "Screw you guys, I'm going home (or to a new church they will make, which will 'do things properly')" along with "Respect my authoritah!" 
    So, Kevin and Cory impressed me by reading what I wrote, and taking the time to respond without just judging and threatening me, when I wrote about their show on this little blog.  This has allowed me to be challenged by their thoughts, rather than just get smeared with disapproval and judgment, which is what my primary experience of Christians has always been characterized by.  It is so easy to mock. 
   I thought hard about Kevin's view (to paraphrase) that most evangelists to either: 
-drop hellfire and brimstone on people, focussing on the difficulties in being a human, trying to have a relationship with a God we've failed to meet the expectations of, or else 
-to just let people watch our lives and let them figure things out for themselves without our actually, y'know, telling them anything we think we know. 
 My upbringing tempts me to feel the first route is the "real" route, and that the second one (which I'm more apt to do now) is weak.  I know in my heart, though, that reaching people isn't done through preaching at them.  Jesus sat and talked with people.  He tossed in what he wanted to, but he didn't direct the conversation, nor let others railroad him into corners by letting them direct it either.  In a conversation, both get to play, and neither writes all the rules and then watches to see they are enforced. 
 I guess I really question how much connection can be achieved between someone with a religious agenda, and a stranger on the street who they don't really intend to speak with again, or by a pamphlet.  My experience of evangelists is that they are going for the numbers.  Cory wasn't up to that, though he was of course aware that what he said would be heard by many people, and he was understandably taking full advantage of that.  
When I write this, I tend to forget that, as long as I leave comments enabled, it is a two-way thing.  I also forget for months at a time that anyone will be reading it at all. So, I'm trying to learn a bunch of things.  
Things like not assuming I will be judged, like not mocking unless satire seems useful and timely, like not feeling I need to respond to people immediately, like giving people's thoughts time to sink in, like giving people time to process my thoughts, like having open conversations rather than making speeches which are introduced, concluded and wrapped up with a bow, leaving the other person with little role to play, like having fun, like growing not always or only being painful, like if people hate you, that's not always a bad thing, like if people like you, that's not always a good thing, like you don't need to talk to everyone just because they want to talk to you, like often you can't help hurting people, like people don't mean what they say a lot of the time, like things are not often what they seem, like people don't always know what they want but they want it now anyway, like taking positions is something to be avoided, like delving into issues has merit apart from merely leading you to position-taking, like there is value in community and in an outsider's perspective as well.

I'm trying to be open to learning stuff lately, and there's certainly no lack of things I see that I'm screwing up, if I look for them. One thing to learn: my religious background prepared me for a reality in which religion and religious people are ghettoized into their own little box, and they don't listen to what's said about them by "outsiders" and "outsiders" aren't the least bit interested in what they are saying either.  
     In that reality, the struggle is to be always seen by "insiders" as a fellow insider, who feels and thinks and acts in such a way as to be always clearly manifesting insiderness.  In my own case, there was a life-long fear every day of my life that I would feel or think or say something which would reveal me to be more of an "outsider," thereby disqualifying me from claiming any "insider" status.  It's all "us and them" thinking, really.  Saved and lost.  Christian and nonchristian.  Believer and unbeliever.  "Going on well" and "not going on well."  

Thursday, 17 July 2008


Summer is the time when it is a big challenge not to stagnate.  Yesterday I went into the city.  Because gas is so expensive, I needed to have more than one reason.  I picked up frames for my Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars: A New Hope concept art that I got printed at the local office supply place.  Michael's seems to be the best frame place around. 
I delivered D__'s birthday gift to T__.  T___ is colour-blind, and owns a Robosapien toy or two, so D__ got him three 10 cent Robosapien colouring books.  It's not just that T__ is colour-blind that makes buying him the colouring books funny, but also that every page in every book displays nothing but Robosapien, who is, of course, white with black, so there's nothing at all to colour.  It is obvious that the people who made the book didn't really think about that.
 I also gave T__ (who is a soda connoisseur) some Temogami cream soda, which was very good, which I picked up when I was up north.
     In addition, I traded him a Sega Genesis game that he wanted (Lakers Vs. Celtics, I believe it was called) for an Atari 2600 Empire Strikes Back and an extra Genesis X-Men game.     
Not only these, but I picked up the two DVD ROMS onto which I paid a guy to transfer my parents' old super-8 silent film movies.  I want to get a scanner which scans slides, so I can incoporate slides also.  These old super-8 movies are from when I was born and learning to walk, and no one's watched them in maybe 20 years.  The slides, likewise, but covering more time.  I think I'll stick in some footage of Woodstock, Vietnam and the lunar landing, as I was born in 1969.  Some period music as well.   
    Today I went to my folks' to use Dad's papercutter to trim the prints to put in the frames.  I stopped by the high school to do that and pick up and return some stuff, but they were closed.  Dad looked at my car and tried unhooking things to see what was what with my car's automatic transmission not shifting consistently and falling into neutral when the brake is pressed.  He unhitched things until the car stopped starting, then unaccountably, unhitched something and it had no effect whatsoever except that the car drove perfectly for a bit before falling back into its nonsense of not dropping into gear once I've come to a complete stop.  I'm going back when he's got more time.  He thinks he might have unhitched the thing that makes sure I can't shift into park while tooling down the highway.  Hooray.   
   On the way back I dropped off some Disney DVDs I made for my four year old niece.  She watched part of Mulan, and then switched to Pocahontas before bedtime.  She likes the songs, but says "That's embarassing!" when a song starts, because we tease her about singing tuneless, wordless Disneyesque stuff to herself at the dinner table.  I saw my nephew of course, as well.  A four month old 20lb+ baby is quite something to lug around, and he is very wiggly also.  Always cheerful, though.  

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Ben Stein's "Expelled"

I'm usually quite impatient with people who want to argue for or against creation and evolution.  I like Ben Stein, so I decided to go see the movie he was in, about Intelligent Design, as I know nothing about it.  The movie was good, I thought.  Stein trying to be Michael Moore didn't work, and none of the humour really flew, but hearing long, unMichael Moore styled interviews which weren't edited all to crap and easy to take out of context, with really smart people whose voices aren't normally heard, and to see the emotional responses of the evolutionists to having their assumptions questioned, that made it worth watching, I thought, though I'm sure many wouldn't agree. I was interviewed right afterward by a guy from a Christian radio station.  I was trying hard to not just help him preach a sermon, and to be harder to peg than he wanted me to be.  He wanted an unbeliever to prove wrong, or a believer to agree.  I was trying hard to be a believer who didn't necessarily agree with his approach, focus or preoccupations.  You can listen to the entire, unedited thing here (July 11th "Politics and Popcorn" episode).

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Selfish or Serving

This will function both as another bit of me getting my head straight as to upbringing, and for people for whom that sort of thinking and living is foreign, to get an insight into it. I grew up hearing (at church, in my house, at my relatives' and church associates') a contrast between how "those of this world" (i.e. normal, natural people) lived, and how "we" were to live.  "Those of this world" were said to live entirely for themselves.  The natural man, without God (or even, religion) only did things for selfish motives.  He had sex with whomever he wanted to that he could, he partied constantly for no reason, he earned money purely to spend it on cars, electronics, entertainment and vacations, and he took all sorts of substances in quantity, purely to make him feel good.  
     You see, we were taught, he had a huge hole in his life that only God could fill, of which all the partying was a symptom.  If he only spoke with us, we'd set him straight soon enough, if he was able to give up his worldly ways. 
    You see, we weren't to live for ourselves.  Christ had died for us, meaning we'd been bought by blood, and were no longer slaves of the sin the worldly man enjoyed, and now servants (slaves) of God.  When we worked, we weren't supposed to earn money for our own comfort, when we had sex, it was because we were in a godly marriage and we were doing it for our partner and to be a picture of Christ and His Church, and to have children.  When we went on trips, we were never to go on trips to places where there wasn't one of our churches nearby, and we were to visit and try to teach and encourage other church members in "the things of the Lord" or learn and be encouraged ourselves.  
    Our cars and electronics were to be functional and modest.   There were some who were zealous, and they actually sold their houses and moved to South America, Africa or India, doing things like preaching to folk (often in countries such as Ghana, which had been Christian countries since before America was a country, so they were essentially trying to save people before Catholics, Mormons, Baptists and Presbyterians got to them with their watered-down, inferior doctrine).  Not a lot of building wells, feeding the poor or the like seemed to be getting done by our folk, who used stuff like that purely as bait to get people where you could preach at them. 
    People like my family didn't take things so far.  We didn't go to Africa.  We didn't hand out pamphlets on the street.  We didn't sell our cars and houses.  So, what did we do to serve God?  We gave a bit of pocket money each Sunday (certainly not 10%, or a "tithe"), most of which went to pay church men who travelled around to all of our churches, speaking to folk there about how our churches were doing the right thing.  
    We sacrificed things like smoking, alcohol, "worldly" books, music, television, dancing, partying, swearing, cards, movies and the like.  So long as we weren't serving ourselves, and living to make ourselves happy, we didn't for the most part sweat the fact that if someone asked us what positive contribution we were making for God, we'd not have much to say.  I think that's the spirit of puritanism: sacrificing joy because we somehow believed that our enjoying ourselves would make God grit His teeth and send misfortune our way.
    The idea that there was some inherent good in self-imposed doing without. 
    Thing is, what is heaven supposed to be like?  A place of joy and celebration.  Drinking of the fruit of the vine in a new way with each other and with Jesus.  (Yes, drinking.  Singing isn't mentioned in the bible as a heavenly activity.  Just drinking.)  What was the Creation like?  A place of serenity and beauty.  It's still quite a bit like that, despite our best efforts.  Who made sex and why is it fun?  Who made all the cool stuff that's in the world, including the human mind, made in the image of His own endlessly-creative one?  
   These are simple questions which call into doubt any system which results in grey, joyless people who think God will get upset if we're moved by Coldplay, Pink Floyd, Beethoven, a woman dancing, a painting, an amazing save in hockey or something. 
    And here's my summer.  All year long, as a teacher, I do a lot of work outside of work hours.  I am "serving" to quite an extent.  Kids are better people if I do my job right.  But in the summer?  I don't have a growing family to tend.  I don't have a lawn to mow.  I have only a small apartment and I don't tend it very much at all. Out on the street are kids buying drugs and having a lot of sex anywhere they can.  Far be it from me to go out and tell them that they shouldn't be doing all of that stuff, and that I "have more" because of my relationship with God.  I don't.  And that's my own fault.  
    How can I serve God?  Not by pretending that He's swept all my problems away and now all I want to do is praise Him, that's for sure.  Not by singing happy songs that I don't mean. Maybe I could start by pissing people off less.  Time to learn how to do that.  Time to be saved from the limitations of my current lifestyle, coping mechanisms, habits and routines.  Time to be reborn, again.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Trigger Messages

I think everybody has a specific phrase or message which is really all anyone at all has to say, in order to cut them to the quick.  I think people all have their own specific trigger messages, the use of which are guaranteed to get them where they live instantly.  They don't even have to be conveyed in words to work.  I think I know what mine is: Go away.  You don't matter.  I am more than content to live the rest of my life as if you didn't exist. In other words, I get far more hurt and annoyed by people who simply ignore me than by people who are rude to me.  Say that to me with your words or your manner and I will want to murder you where you stand, because you have cut me to the ground with that simple message.  If I knew why that was, or how to get past it with serenity, I'd probably be a much more stable and grounded person than I am right now.  Having "buttons" for people to push isn't an ideal way to be.

Saturday, 12 July 2008


Despite being in Timmins, we forewent the Shania Twain museum (she grew up here, and was named Ellen) and instead went on a nature trail ride thing which allowed us to feed moose, elk and bison. We saw a tiny newborn deer skipping all over, behind his little mother, and families of ducks and geese. Stroking a live moose's fuzzy, wooden-seeming rack while he was eating branches was quite an experience. We also played Wii and ate at a Chinese Buffet, returned a defective weedwhacker and looked at all the urban decay and vandalism. There's a two story hotel building that an irate and probably drunk owner took a backhoe to the back of and tore out the entire rear wall in chunks so you can see the beds and chairs and bathrooms inside from the street ("World's Biggest Dollhouse" D__ calls it.)

Northern Ontario

Well, there was quite a bit of trouble finding where I was waiting, but eventually we left at supper time and drove the rented PT Cruiser up north, listening to the new Coldplay. I talked too much as usual, but they were very polite about it. D__ and C__ have an adorable tiny chihuahua puppy that my little cat would positively eat, and some pet rats in a cage, which are not much smaller. One of the local points of pride is a locally made cream soda, which I tried, and which is amazing. The whole neighborhood looks like it was built by people who only got motivated and full of building ideas once they were drunk.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Into the Wild

It's Friday, it's payday, and we're set to drive up into the middle of nowhere to see D and C at their Ultimate Housewarming of Ultimate Terror.  But first, B needs to pick up an iPhone.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Guaranteed to be Personal

This blog is no longer by invitation only, as that was really hampering the readership, and because the reason for doing that is no more, namely that I had been indulging myself in names-changed anecdotes about my professional day, which posts have all been removed due to objections from people in said workplace about professionalism, and which practice I no longer indulge in, amusing as it may be.  So, from now on, this blog will bare my own soul, and the daily lives of no one else.  You can read it if you find that interesting, and if you know me in the real world and use this blog to keep up on what's going on with me, then God bless you.  If you use it to try to embarrass, judge, dismiss or annoy me, then I think you know what kind of person that makes you.

Happy July, random thoughts

So the school year ended, I finished up the yearbook, and started my long, hot stay in this little stuffy apartment for another summer vacation. There's been a fair bit of driving my father to and from hospital, as he had a radical prostectomy, and I've been having long phone conversations with old friends I fell out of the habit of phoning. 
     My little black cat likes to lie on the linoleum kitchen floor during the day to keep cool, and he's altogether too aggressive about begging for food every single time I go into the kitchen and open anything. I've been listening to Martin Zender webcasts again. He rants and raves, and raises interesting points. 
      I lent my mother Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz and she read it, which is cool. My parents' religion is treated like a closed book to us (because they exclude us, due to our not attending and agreeing with everything they believe), so it's cool to have Mom open a book that I got something out of.  
     Up until now I had two TV stands with shelves, one with the TV on it and DVDs underneath, and the other with the VCR, DVD player, amplifier and more DVDs. Thing is, I now have four gaming consoles. I have a Nintendo Entertainment System, a Nintendo 64, a Sega Genesis and an Atari 2600. I also have a lot of games for them. They've been kinda everywhere. 
     So, I boxed up the DVDs prior to perhaps getting serious about tossing out old VHS, perhaps getting them a new shelf, and got a single TV stand which is lower and wider and has more shelving. I put each console with its controllers and games on its own shelf, and rewired everything up perfectly. Now the TV can display whatever's on the computer, the VCR, the DVD player or any of the four consoles without unhitching a single wire and rewiring anything. And everything comes through the speakers as well. I have a small switchbox beside the TV that allows that. 
     Contrarily, though, this is unlikely to be one of my summers in which I watch lots of DVDs and TV shows. I've mostly lost interest in spending much time doing that, though I don't know what else I want to do instead either. 
     The plan this weekend is to go see D, up in the boonies where he lives, 7 hours north of here. My car has transmission problems (they appear to be problems with the electronic shifting, not with the gears) and gas is insanely overpriced, so seeing him up there was unlikely to happen until he bought a house with his girlfriend and invited people to a housewarming. Enough people from here are going that I can go up with friends of his girlfriend. Should be a time. 
     I'm practicing music each week with J and his brother and father have joined in on bass guitar and drums, respectively. They're cool, so it's fun to do. Too bad T is going away to school next fall. Having competent keyboarding is a rare pleasure. 
    Everybody and his brother seems to be adding me as a friend on Facebook right now. Obviously I'm ignoring requests from high school students. I've been playing Scrabulous (Facebook Scrabble) with a few of my Facebook friends. 
   Besides the games console shelving, the other big improvement to my place, not that there's much room to hang them, is a set of four prints by Andy Lee, who does Buddhist style brushwork versions of comic book art. The morans who ship his prints messed this one up. They didn't notice I'd ordered the prints, so I had to email them and remind them. They took a week to answer each email. Then they UPSed the prints, which came late, and crinkled on their edges from sliding up and down in the giant tube they mailed them in, and the exorbitant fee of $20 for shipping was doubled by trouble at the border. They look like this, though: