Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent New Year

new year begins swathed in a
surprising quiet of blue, as if
I am suspended, neither buoyant
nor leaden, but simply still still
still.  I feel no need to breathe,
nor even twitch; everything I know,
in this moment, is trust.  And I
come to see that, perhaps, this
Advent suspension reveals the
blue waters of baptism in which
I am constantly suspended,
enwrapped in unmitigated
Grace, needing to neither breathe
nor even twitch, but simply Trust.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


On my facebook wall tonight I saw two photos, one after the other.  I'd seen both already, since folks have been posting them all day ~ but the fact that they happened to be juxtaposed like they were made me pause for a moment. 

The first was soldiers holding a sign that read "Occupy Bagram: Quit your Bitchin' and get back to Work". 

The next reads, "If they enforced bank regulation like they do park rules, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place". 

It seems to me like a person would fall into one of these camps or the other.  In fact, it seems to be true that our entire political system is set up so that you have to take one side or the other every time there's a conversation about anything.  It seems like, in this case, if you agree with the soldiers then you're against the protesters.  And if you agree with the protesters, then you're against the soldiers.  Perhaps that's too stark of a dichotomy, but that's the way it ends up playing out on facebook and in the news. 

Of course, some could argue that they two opinions ought to go hand in glove.  If the OWS protesters could get a job in this economy, they would probably have already followed the advice of the soldiers.  And perhaps if the authorities had enforced bank regulations, there would arguably be more jobs available. 

Then again, at the same time, others could argue that the protesters are spoiled, and their complains are about nothing substantial; that other people are getting by just fine, thank you very much, on hard work and sacrifice. 

Personally, though, I'd prefer to live in a world where war is not necessary because we recognize the value of each individual and community enough to not kill each other.  I'd prefer to live in a world where protest is not necessary because we recognize the value of each individual and community enough to not let anyone go without being able to do meaningful work and make a contribution to society.  I'd prefer to live in a world where bank regulation is not necessary because we recognize the value of each individual and community enough to not greedily gain for ourselves at the expense of our neighbor.  I'd prefer to live in a world where park regulation is not necessary because we recognize the value of each individual and community enough to respect, use wisely, and not pillage or degrade our natural resources. 

I suppose it sounds like I'd prefer to live in the Kingdom of G-d ... and perhaps I would, because (at the danger of creating G-d in my image), that's what I imagine the Kingdom of G-d looks like.  What I wonder is, why aren't we working harder together to make it reality?  Is it just greed and selfishness, or is there something more that keeps us from that work?


Full Moon in the Morning

light colors the sky
brightening the morning
darkness, adding depth
to my perception as I walk
out the door, preoccupied
with the work day

as I walk out the door, any
preoccupation vanishes,
replaced by wonder at an
almost-full moon, hanging
(suspended as a lamp from a
rafter) though, as the sun rises
the moon begins to seem
out of place, surprising
in its superfluoucity 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Three Rs

Reading and wRiting and aRithmetic help us to make our way through the world.  Take, for example, the simple act of grocery shopping.  Knowing the Three Rs would allow a person to WRITE a grocery list, to READ the ingredients list on food packaging, and to use ARITHMETIC to comparison shop for the best prices.  The Three Rs are absolutely important to our functioning as a society; if we don't teach these things to children, I have to believe that the future looks pretty bleak.

I'm sure there was a time in the history of western society when learning the Three Rs was an adequate education.  Of course at that time there were no televisions or computers, there was no air conditioning, there were no automatic weapons in the hands of normal citizens, and junk food laden with corn syrup and hydrogenated oils were much less prevalent.  All of these things conspire to keep children inside and imaginatively stunted. 

There was a time (when Three Rs education was adequate) that children's entertainment involved running around the neighborhoods or the fields and pastures.  There was a time (before music became professionalized) that people would play music together in the living room or on the front porch. 

I believe the schools were wise, as our home lives moved more and more predictably inside, to make sure that music and art and physical movement were part of the curriculum.  We as a society saw the value in educating the whole person, instead of just the Three-Rs-basics of the intellect.  At one time, the Three Rs were enough, because we received the rest from the rest of our lives.

These days, though, we seem to be making the mistake of assuming that if the Three Rs were enough then, they're enough now as well.  We make the mistake of ignoring the changes that have taken place in our world.  We make the mistake of removing art and music and physical education from our schools to balance the budget. 

We make these mistakes because we make the mistake of not wanting to pay taxes because we believe that having money in today's bank account is better than investing that money in our children and the future of our society. 

Now, we could climb up onto our high-horse-pedestal and say schools shouldn't need to teach art and music and physical education because families ought to be making their kids get outside, that families ought to be exposing their children to music, that families ought to be turning off the television and the computer.  We could say that ~ but we also must recognize that as much as we might say it, it isn't going to happen.

So we have a choice, as a society.  We could say that the Three Rs are enough, and that we're willing to surrender our children to the trappings of poor health, cultural ignorance, and the power of advertisement, thereby allowing our children to become little more than passive beings with atrophied muscles and atrophied minds.  In this case, we can continue to pay teachers barely a living wage, seeing them as unskilled laborers and treating them worse (as if the degrees they've earned and the hours they spend dedicated to teaching our children are meaningless and insignificant). 

Or we could choose to raise taxes and fund schools the way they should be funded, paying teachers the professional salary they deserve as professionals. 

Because I dream of a more just and compassionate and beautiful society for the future, I choose the latter.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

At the DMV

I spent three hours at the DMV the other day.  I know, I'm not the only one.  It seems like if anyone wants to complain about inefficiencies in government, or about long lines, or if anyone wants to just generally complain, the DMV seems to be a perfect target.

For this reason, every time I've gone into the DMV, I've done my best to be cordial and polite, and tried to recognize that the people who work there probably receive complaints all day.  Plus, I'm sure they hear 'jokes' and other comments even when they're not at work.  So I do everything I can to treat these people well when I find myself at the DMV. 

However, I found my patience wearing thin in my most recent DMV endeavors.  Here's what happened ... my sob story, if you will:

We bought a new car.  Well, we bought a used car, new to us.  I found the car at a smaller dealer up in Boulder.  And just to be financially safe and responsible, we took out a loan to pay for the car.  Now, I'll admit that I haven't bought many cars before, so I was unfamiliar with the paperwork that goes along with buying a car, and trusted the dealer and the credit union to guide me through.
Now, I was trying to be responsible.  So, a couple weeks after I bought the car, I went in to the DMV to get it registered.  After waiting for an hour, I got to the counter where I discovered that it takes weeks for the paperwork to arrive and be processed.  That hour was my fault.
So I returned a couple days before the temporary tag expired.  After waiting for over an hour, I discovered from the polite woman at the counter that DMV had received the paperwork, but hadn't had time to process it yet (but that the would over the weekend).  They issued me another permit, my hour having been wasted. 
So I returned the next week, and again waited for an hour.  When I got to the counter, the worker there informed me that the paperwork had been returned to the loan agency because it was incomplete.  It should be noted here that I had a copy of the missing form with the papers in my possession.  At this point, either the loan company had lost this piece of paper, or the DMV worker had missed it in the packet.  At this point, I needed a new temporary permit ~ but this time I had to pay for it. 
Two weeks later, the paperwork had not been received by the loan company.  However, I needed another temporary permit, so had to return to the DMV again.  This time, the wait was three hours.  When I got to the counter and explained the situation, I was informed that I'd need to pay for another temporary permit.  
Finally, after over two weeks, the paperwork made it to the credit union, where they discovered that the DMV had simply missed the form in the packet.  But since I had paid off the loan during the three months I'd been dealing with this, I was able to hand carry the paperwork to the DMV.  So I took it to the office, waited my required hour, and got up to the counter where the worker had trouble sorting through the different forms, since the loan paperwork was no longer pertinent.  But I came away, after five trips to DMV, four of them necessary, I came away with plates for the car.

I know this is a first world problem, and that many people in the world deal with much bigger issues than mine.  But most of my waiting could have been alleviated.  During my three-hour stint on the one day, someone standing near me asked, perhaps rhetorically, why it was taking so long.  Perhaps to his surprise, I offered an actual answer.  I believe the waits were so long, and the process was so slow, because the DMV is understaffed.  And I believe the DMV is understaffed because people don't want to pay taxes.  When I said this, my new friend asked if I didn't think we were paying a lot of taxes already (between income and sales and gasoline and all the rest).  

After pointing out that taxes are lower than they've been in decades, I told him that I'm paying anyway.  I'm paying for my lower tax rate by waiting for hours at the DMV.  I'm paying for my lower tax rate in repairs to my car when it's damaged on roads that aren't maintained.  I'm paying for my lower tax rate when my insurance and medical expenses rise.  And we're all paying for a lower tax rate (especially a lower tax rate on the wealthiest among us) as we struggle through a recession brought on by a housing crisis a banking crisis greed and politics.  

We're also making our children pay for our lower taxes today, because the education we're providing them is substandard ... because we're unwilling to pay more in taxes.  But that's for the next blog post. 


Monday, November 14, 2011

November at the Concert Hall

outside, rain turns to
snow as autumn's grasp
weakens, succumbing slowly
to winter's impatience;

winter disappears inside
the warmth of wood
vibrating sympathetically
with metal pulled taut;

as snow still falls, sound
fills the room, bouncing
off the walls and into our
souls, warming us from within

Sunday, November 6, 2011

All Saint's Sunday

children's playing
intrudes upon and mixes with the
first Sunday in November litany
as it brings to mind and heart
saints of all times and places

are those, the littlest making noise,
raindrops from such a
great cloud of witnesses?

Friday, November 4, 2011

brief ode to the cello

toned and tuned from the lowest to the
upper range of the human voice

and played with the whole body,
sound emanating from the
heart of the player's being

the cello may very well be

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Taxes and Education

I was talking with someone on Tuesday about taxes.  We were talking about taxes because Tuesday was voting day (which took me by surprise, having learned in school that voting day is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November ... did we change that without my awareness?), and because there was a proposal to raise taxes on the Colorado ballot.   

The revenue from this tax increase would have gone to pay for schools.  As it turns out (the votes having been counted), the proposal failed miserably.  Of course, as you can see from the previous blog post, I voted in favor of this increase.  It makes me sick that this measure failed ~ it makes me sick from my perspective as a citizen, and it makes me sick from my perspective as a Christian.

As a citizen, I find it to be tremendously short-sighted that we prefer individual comfort in the short term to societal well-being in the long term.  Sure, each household may end up with a little more money in our bank account next year; but having chosen to continue to underfund our schools, we are dooming the long term well-being of our society. 

It seems to me that one question we haven't resolved, a question we might not have even adequately asked, is the question, 'What is the goal of public education in this state/country?'  If our goal is that students graduate knowing how to read, how to write, and how to do basic and essential math, we could do that job with much less money than we spend now.  If, however, we choose to value educational goals that are not as easily measurable (skill in and appreciation of art and music and literature, long-term physical fitness, critical thinking skills, etc.), then we must fund schools so that we can teach these things to our future, because most of those items are being (or have been) written out of school budgets.  

If we choose the former, we will end up with individual graduates who can read and write and do basic math.  If we choose the latter, we will end up with a generation who can build a healthy, sustainable, and life-giving society.  I choose the latter, and for this reason will always vote in favor of tax increases that will benefit schools.

On the other hand, as a Christian, I find it unconscionable that any Christian would vote against this sort of measure.  Sure, the educational issues mentioned above may have a role to play in our decision; but ignore those completely for a moment.  For Christian adults to vote against increasing taxes which would benefit schools teaches Christian children that looking out for the self is more important than looking out for the other.  In a word, it teaches greed.  Whether you have children in your household or not, is this what we want our Christian witness to be?  We can say all we want about loving other people, but children pay more attention to what we do than to what we say; and if our actions don't follow our words, then our words are meaningless.

I wonder whether the fact that so many people think that our nation is a Christian nation causes problems for our faith.  It seems to me that if we see our nation as a Christian nation, we will assume that our national values are Christian values ... and, often, they most certainly are not.  But that's a topic for another blog post.  

For now, I'll simply hope that other measures end up on future ballots, and that we come to our senses.