Archive for September, 2008

Trolling The Habitat

I spent Sunday out at Timberwood, the housing development being constructed by Nashville’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

The build time for the entire project is four weekends. For the Methodist’s site, on Friday there was a concrete slab, and by the time I left on Sunday there was a house with a roof. Granted the roof isn’t shingled and there’s no siding on the house, but it was still an impressive amount of progress for two days.

One of the things that struck me as I was working is, if I were a single 30-something woman, I’d do all my trolling for mates at Habitat builds. The place was crawling with middle aged do-gooder handymen types. I talked to a couple architects, an accountant, and two software developers. Professional guys who, much like myself, are looking to get out of the office on the weekend and build something substantial.

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On Waking Up — DeMello’s Awareness

At the suggestion of an old friend and mentor, I have begun reading Awareness by Anthony DeMello. I’ve been in a bit of a funk trying to integrate what I want to do with my life with my school responsibilities that are at best loosely tied to my deepest interests.

I know that I should feel lucky to have the opportunities and leisure that I have, but it’s a bit of a challenge to actually change my view on the world. I’m trying a triumvirate of gym visits, meditation and topping it off with working my way through this book.

I figure I’ll put the bits from DeMello here along with my own thoughts. Awareness is collected from a series of weekend talks, so it’s meant to unfold over time. I reckon people might not particularly get into reading my thoughts, but DeMello’s might prove interesting for some.

On Waking Up

Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence. You know, all mystics — Catholic, Christian, non-Christian, no matter what their theology, no matter what their religion — are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. Though everything is a mess, all is well. Strange paradox, to be sure. But, tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.

Last year on Spanish television I heard a story about this gentleman who knocks on his son’s door. “Jaime,” he says, “wake up!” Jaime answers, “I don’t want to get up, Papa.” The father shouts, “Get up, you have to go to school.” Jaime says, “I don’t want to go to school.” “Why not?” asks the father. “Three reasons,” says Jaime. “First, because it’s so dull; second, the kids tease me; and third, I hate school.” And the father says, “Well, I am going to give you three reasons why you must go to school. First, because it is your duty; second, because you are forty-five years old, and third, because you are the headmaster.” Wake up, wake up! You’ve grown up. You’re too big to be asleep. Wake up! Stop playing with your toys.

Most people tell you they want to get out of kindergarten, but don’t believe them. Don’t believe them! All they want you to do is to mend their broken toys. “Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success.” This is what they want; they want their toys replaced. That’s all. Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

Waking up is unpleasant, you know. You are nice and comfortable in bed. It’s irritating to be woken up. That’s the reason the wise guru will not attempt to wake people up. I hope I’m going to be wise here and make no attempt whatsoever to wake you up if you are asleep. It is really none of my business, even though I say to you at times, “Wake up!” My business is to do my thing, to dance my dance. If you profit from it, fine; if you don’t, too bad! As the Arabs say, “The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens.”

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The Wolf You Feed

This past July, Jim David Adkisson burst into a performance of Annie Jr. at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville and opened fire with a 12-gauge. Information from Adkisson directly is not readily available, but the search warrant for his house reads:

“During the interview Adkisson stated that he had targeted the church because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were a ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets. Adkisson made statements that because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office.”

After several books from popular talk radio hosts were found in Adkisson’s home, Bill Moyers did an interesting piece on talk radio and the influence that it might be having on its listeners. The piece weaves statements by Chris Buice, the pastor at TVUU, with excerpts from popular talk radio hosts.

I have my issues with both sides of the aisle at various times, but I’ll certainly say that at least the fringe liberals tend to end up burned out and living in the forest rather than toting shotguns into churches.

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Busses

Lesson for the day: time waits for no man, sale this also holds true for the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority.

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Technorati

I’ve been trying to use Technorati as my OpenId provider. Their process for claiming a blog is interesting, I have to post a link to my Technorati profile.

So, my Technorati OpenId (since I keep forgetting it) is: http://technorati.com/people/technorati/wholcomb.

On a related note, I also added my blog to Feedburner so that my friends who don’t use RSS readers can get e-mail updates.

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Mommy Palin

I’ve been thinking about the recent controversies surrounding motherhood and Palin’s fitness to run for Vice President. During Giuliani’s speech at the convention he said:

How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her children and be vice president. How dare they do that.

When do they ever ask a man that question? When?

This has generally been passed around as a viable feminist perspective since it is essentially saying “a woman can do anything a man can do.” My biggest question though is why would they want to.

Being Vice President (or being President if John McCain, the oldest Presidential candidate ever, leaves the picture) is, I would think anyone would agree, a huge time commitment. I am absolutely fine with Sarah Palin deciding that she is willing to take on that commitment. I don’t personally like her politics, but there’s absolutely nothing in her genetic makeup that prevents her from doing a fine job of it.

No amount of feeling good about the role of women in the world or supermomery is going to change the fact that there’s just not enough time in the day to take an active role in the lives of five small children while doing a good job as one of the most powerful politicians in the world.

This is a point where I disagree with many traditional feminists who tend to see the world in terms of men grabbing up all the power and then using that to oppress women. I’m certainly not saying a wide variety of shitty things have been and are still being done to women. What I disagree with is the idea that it’s just been roses for guys.

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Making Giving More Fun

I’ve been to a few different events where someone gave me something in the past few days.

The first was Warner Park’s Full Moon Pickin’ Party. It was about sixty or so folks from the Nashville area who all just showed up with their instruments and formed impromptu bluegrass bands.

The structure of bluegrass is such that the group as a whole would play the basic tune and then they’d go around the circle, and allow each artist to jam for a bit.

I’m honestly not such a bluegrass fan that I listen to it much in the car, but I really enjoy watching people make music. There’s just not the opportunities for someone to learn an instrument in their basement and get to play with a band in other genres.

Then, on Sunday, the Methodists had a BBQ lunch after church for the college students. The ladies of the church prepared deviled eggs, bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, baked beans and seventeen different desserts to go along with the meal.

In both of these times I was struck by how happy it seemed to make people just to be appreciated. Be it the musicians or the chefs, knowing that you’ve created something that made someone else happy, feels nice.

For my part, I think alot of the time I sorta hang back because I don’t want to be seen as overly enthusiastic or fawning. It’s certainly possible to try and force appreciation such that it shows as false. At the same time learning to find that place in myself that is simply happy with the music or the food or the care, and simply showing that to other people works out well for everyone. As much as it is possible to force it, it’s possible to play it cool and squelch a genuine appreciativeness.

Well, the Muslim Student Association has been doing a fast today in honor of Ramadan to raise food for the local food bank, and it’s about time to break fast. I’m pretty sure finding my appreciation oughtn’t be very hard. I’m starving. ☺

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Matthew’s Misinterpretation

This morning I went to the Methodist church. They had a New Testament scholar, A.-J. Levine, of Vandy’s Divinity School come and discuss as a Jew some of the origins of the differences in Christian and Jewish doctrines.

One of the examples I found the most interesting was her discussion of Matthew’s:

The virgin shall be with child, and will give birth to a son, and they shall call him Immanuel; which means, ‘God with us.’

This writing is seeking to cast Jesus as the fulfillment of a previous Jewish prophecy and give him authority within the Jewish tradition. Specifically, this is a citation of the writings of Issiah:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

This text comes from the Greek translations of the Nevi’im that use the term “parthenos” which generally refers to a virgin (though is also used to refer to Dinah who was raped).

The problem is that the original Hebrew, as seen in Dead Sea Scrolls, uses the term “almah” which is “a young woman of marriable age.” The term loosely implies virginhood, but there’s another term, “betulah,” which would generally be used to convey virgin status. Matthew was working from the Greek translation, and so used the virgin birth of Jesus as a authority-granting “fulfillment citation.”

This certainly doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin, it just means that if he was, it was just an interesting metaphysical fact rather than something tying him into the Jewish tradition.

Why do I care since my faith requires the critical evaluation of the writings attributed to Jesus regardless of whether there were any virgins involved or not? I mostly find it fascinating to see the ways that language and history can show us how the actions and understandings of millennia ago are still shaping our lives today. I also really liked that the Methodists had the spiritual cahones to have someone come in and take the Bible apart.

I talked to the preacher at the college student luncheon and essentially told him that I really liked his church other than the Christocentrism of his sermons, and asked him if he wanted the whole world to be Christian. He kinda waffled a bit saying “no, but I want the whole world to be changed in a way that only comes through knowing Jesus.” Rather than digging into it there, I’ve got his card and I’m going to pay him a visit in the next week or so.


I actually e-mailed what I wrote here to A.-J. Levine and asked her for comment. She disagrees with my statement that Matthew’s actions don’t quality as a valid citation. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew, was an accepted part of the Jewish canon at the time that the writer of Matthew was operating. The idea of operating solely from the Hebrew didn’t come until later. Levine, therefore, sees him as operating as within the Judaism of his time and thus validly within the larger structure of Judaism as a whole.

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Paganism Today

I hauled myself out of bed this morning and headed to Pagan Pride Day.

The event is interesting because much of it is structured using the metaphor of “coming out of the broom closet.” Many of the people there have been exploring paganism in their private lives for a while, but keep this part of their lives secret from their friends, families and coworkers.

The event opened with everyone standing in a big circle probably 20 feet across. Five of the people standing roughly equally spaced around the circle said parts of a welcoming speech and as they did they tossed a big ball of yarn around. The order that they used made a big star in the middle of the circle. Then they passed the ball to each of the people around the outside, and as they did each person said what in their path brought them to this place.

The people ran the gamut from the well experienced to “solitary” people for whom this was their first public gathering to spouses to simple tourists like myself. It was surprising to see that there were at least ten percent of the people for whom this was a real coming out. This was the first time for them to publicly let other people know that they’re pagan. I can only imagine how exciting that was.

I was really curious and I talked to a couple different people about how exactly paganism fits into their lives. One of the most interesting was an ex-Baptist minister who told me that for fifteen years every morning he wakes up and ask God to use him as a tool in his work that day, each evening he spends in prayer of thanksgiving for God using him that day.

I understand the Baptists and I understand generally the context of how a Baptist would expect that prayer to be answered. Becoming a pagan is decidedly not what the average Baptist would expect God to want them to do. I asked him about it and he said he’s at a place in his life where he can’t explain why God wants what God wants, his job is just to do it.

I’m reminded of a quotation from Rilke:

I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

At this point in my life I can only really stand in awe of a faith like that.

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Torn To Pieces

I think when I die, I would like to have a sky burial. Not that I think the US government would allow someone to feed me to vultures, but if I happen to die in Tibet, I think that’s what I want.

It’s not that I like the idea that my body, which I am unlikely to need again, could be useful to some other living creatures. It’s also not that I like the idea of my remnants being carried into the sky rather buried under ground. It’s not even the distaste I have for idea of plunking $10,000 down to put me in a fancy coffin and taking up a spot in the ground in perpetuity.

It’s that I want the people in my life to see that I’m really dead. Really really dead. Game over. No redos. No illusion that I’m sleeping in a box under the ground. If I could perform one act of generosity with my death, it would be to remind the people around me that their days are as numbered as mine were.

I think many people would make their decisions a bit (or a lot differently) if they really came to terms with the real possibility that every single thing you do every single day could well be your last. And even if it isn’t your last, what if it’s your next to last? Your third from last? You five thousandth from last? How many moments do you need to know that you have left before they’re no longer precious?

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