Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fat, Forty-Something, and Fed Up

Once upon a time, I was lean. I hiked. I canoed. I loved getting outdoors. I loved the fresh air.

That was a long time ago. 2 marriages, 1 kid, 1 step-kid, one career about which I have some doubts, and way more pounds of excess weight than I care to discuss right now. I lead far too sedentary a life, and get very little exercise. I had my 46th birthday in March, and during the days before that not-too-auspicious event, I have been turning this idea over in my head.

By the time I'm 50, I want to climb all 48 of the New Hampshire 4000 foot mountains. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe that's an utterly unrealistic goal. Nevertheless, it IS a goal, and one I want to stick too. If I don't climb all of them by the time I'm 50 - so what? I'm not planning on dropping dead then.

I can say that I've gotten one done. When I was 18 I climbed Mt Moosilauke at the end of my freshman trip before starting at Dartmouth. The experience did not help my outdoorsiness (it's like truthiness, but with lots of bugspray and sunscreen). My trip leader was a very - very - healthy young woman who talked us into "taking the fast way up" the steepest trail. Did I mention she was a future Olympic medalist who used to train by *running* up that trail? I made it. Eventually. For my purposes now, though, I'm saying that doesn't count. But I'll probably save it for last.

There's a lot of work I have to do, and a lot I need to learn or re-learn - flatland hiking in Michigan and Ohio woods is NOT hiking the White Mountains. Before I can even start climbing I need to get back to the right level of basic aerobic fitness - no small task. Time to start walking.

I need help. I need advice, encouragement, support, commiseration. I know one thing - I can't do this alone. ANY advice, information, suggestions, will be truly welcomed. But I'm not kidding when I say I am starting from a *very* low point of health. I believe I've got a lot to do before I can think about tackling even some of the lower 2000 footers in the southern areas of the state. Suggestions on which are the best trails up Mt. Adams are welcome and interesting information - about 2 years from now.

My first goal is to get into enough shape to climb Blue Job Mountain, which has some real advantages for me. First it's only a little over 1500 feet. Second, it's very close to my home -- a day hike, but also only a few minutes drive to the trail head.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Some meditations on Luke 1:5-24

I love this passage; like so many other good bits of Scripture it unpeels like an onion with layer after layer of meaning.

Zechariah is an old man, and let us allow him to be a good and decent one as well, for he is "righteous before God, living blamelessly." Still, old, and he and his wife Elizabeth are childless.

When the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah, he is struck down by fear so that the angel first bids him, "Do not be afraid." If you think about it though, that's often the first thing angels say.... "Do not be afraid"..."Fear not"...I mean, we might be better off visualizing angels holding up this big sign "Don't Panic," rather than all this wings and flaming sword stuff. It seems to me, we take the wrong message about fear and terror when ordinary humans encounter the divine. It's not scary because God is wrathful and condemning and judgmental; God is simply not like that (mostly). It is terrifying because to directly encounter the divine is overwhelming. It is so much more than our human sense and human experience can handle that fear and terror are often the only way we can respond.

Gabriel lays a pretty heavy burden on kindly old Zechariah: "your prayers have been answered." Think about that: an angel of the Lord comes to you and tells you your prayers have been answered. Straight up. No doubt, no ambiguity, no searching for signs. Now you have to live up to that, try to be worthy of it. As if that weren't enough, Gabriel goes on to explain that their son will be "filled with the Holy Spirit...to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." So, yeah, no pressure there or anything.

Zechariah, though, asks a perfectly reasonably question, the one that, for me, is at the heart of this passage: "How will I know that this is so?"

Now as I said, Zechariah was a good man, but also an old man, and there is something that happens to you as you live long enough: You get to know things. Well, yes, but that's a GOOD thing, right? Right? Consider this: to know one thing is to not know or un-know other things. Learning things is often as much about closing doors - sorry, no unicorns or faster-than-light spaceships - as opening them. Zechariah was a kindly old man and he knew many things. He KNEW that angels do not appear standing next to you inside the temple sanctuary; and he KNEW that his wife and he were too old to have children; and he KNEW prophecies of children to become messengers of God just do not happen. Zechariah KNEW all those things, and yet they happened.

So Zechariah asked his perfectly reasonable question. Unfortunately for Zechariah, he was being relentlessly reasonable in the face of completely unreasonable events. The experience of God - divinity, what have you - isn't reasonable, in any sense of the word -- neither subject to merely rational comprehension, nor confined to polite boundaries. And so Gabriel, because the old man "did not believe my words", renders Zechariah mute until the prophesized events come to pass. I don't think Gabriel was punishing Zechariah; I think he was teaching him. Reason and intelligence are mighty gifts of God, yet there is an insidious trap for learned people to think they are tools fit for all purposes. Faith is not a subject to be studied, but a reality to be experienced. I suppose Gabriel could have explained all of this to Zechariah, had him re-read the good bits of Job if nothing else, but intellectually explaining the insufficiency of intellect is rather ironically pointless. Instead, Gabriel renders Zechariah mute, cutting him off, in some ways, from his rational/intellectual ways of "knowing" and leaves him to the experience of faith.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Perverting the Preamble

Earlier on DailyKos, I posted a comment to the effect that the neo-con corporatists and their GOP clients have have inverted and perverted every word and clause of the preamble to the Constitution.

I do not accept that the text of the Preamble is just window-dressing. Rather it is the framing spirit of the document, embodying the intentions of the Framers, encompassing what they are attempting to accomplish beyond the bare frame of the words on the page. It is the offset to the minimalist, strict constructionist school of Constitution interpretation. These words are in the Constitution as well, put there by those same sainted Founding Fathers.

If you're a certain age, you can literally hum along with me (Schoolhouse Rock rocks!), but if not, well, you know the words....

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Let's take those one at a time shall we...

n order to form a more perfect union,
Well, let's be honest, President Obama has said more and more eloquently than I could ever dream of about this one. The union is not perfect, will never be perfect. But it can be made more perfect. And it is a binding obligation laid on anyone who swears an oath to the Constitution to do so.

establish justice,
Okay, let's go over this again, kids. The same law applies to everyone. The law treats people fairly. It is not one law for rich and privileged people and another law for everyone else.

insure domestic tranquility,
Millions in fear, hundreds of thousands in want and desperation -- real tranquility. Of course it's hard to be tranquil when you're broke because your job's in China, your health insurance is in fantasyland, your retirement fund has been evaporated to pay some unearned bonus for some phony mandarin toady investment banker, and your future is well, hard to imagine as any better. Happy Holidays, everyone. (And yet, we hope anyway. Yes we can.)

provide for the common defense,
More and bigger guns is not the common defense. Attacking enemies we don't have in pursuit of your own wishful thinking fantasies is not the common defense. Dogged pursuit and extirpation of the people who DO attack us IS the common defense. Accurate assessment of the real threats we face is the common defense. Defense funding decisions by campaign contribution is not the common defense.

promote the general welfare,
General welfare, not corporate welfare. We seem to have covered this before but we'll go over again. And again.

and secure the blessings of liberty
Wireless wiretaps. Emprisonment without trial. The Unitary Executive theory. I could go on, but I don't have any more bricks to throw at things I can afford to break. You might be surprised to know that the Unitary Executive theory has a long tradition in the constitutional tradition the United States, although it reaches back to the English roots of American constitutional law. Charles I tried to implement this, under the heading "the divine right of Kings." He couldn't make it work, and ultimately, provoked a civil war that caused the rebel (New Model) army to brand him "Charles Stuart, that man of blood" and cut off his head. As an appellation for Cheney "that man of blood" works for me.

to ourselves
The antecedent was "We, the People" not "We the corporations," nor "We, the Rich People." Despite stringent attempts at keeping all those poor unwashed masses out of the body politic, they are part of it, even those, crazy, only count for three-fifths of a person African-American type persons. Them, too.

and our posterity
We are thus bound and required to take a long view. How long? Next week? Next month? Posterity is a long time. Generations upon generations. Your grandchildren's grandchildren. One cannot anticipate all of the consequences of one's action over that time, but one can have the humility to be aware that your actions will echo down the years in ways that you cannot now understand.


Reading this over, there are some themes I want to develop further. First the notion that the Preamble to the Constitution is in fact part of the constitution, not just window-dressing. One cannot declare oneself to be in favor of the original intent of the Framers and ignore that the original intent of the Framers was captured by the Preamble and their purposes were defined by that Preamble, with the remainder of the Constitution the instrument for those purposes.

Second is the idea that American constitutional history begins, really, with the accession of Charles I. and that the core of American constitutional thought was formed between that time and the evolution of parliamentary government under the Hanoverians

A Place to Belong Whoever you are Just as you are

That is the motto of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Concord, NH.

When the Right Reverend Eugene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire is just Gene, another child of God, it's where he goes to Church.

In light of all the nonsense that the Bishop's invocation didn't get broadcast, and the fingerpointing about why, I ask you to pause for a minute, and just listen to what he said.

"I didn't support Gene for Bishop because he was gay, I supported him because he was Gene," one of my fellow NH Episcopalians said to me once. I understand, full well the symbolic importance of the Gay Bishop(tm), but guys, really, he's our bishop because he's a fantastically great pastoral leader.

In the meantime, enjoy what he said:
"O God of our many understandings,

We pray that you will bless us with tears – tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child, Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for all people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain.

Give him stirring words; We will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand, that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace.

Amen."

A couple minor glosses to this: Thanksgiving for your pain and anger and discomfort; I have heard Gene use this form before in invocations. And about daughters, Gene knows whereof he speaks. He was married before he came out and has at least one daughter and grandchildren

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stopping by Woods on an Icy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
...
Between the woods and frozen lake
...
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Driving through the woods of the rural part of New Hampshire where I live has been oddly disturbing these last few days and it's taken me until today to figure out why. On the small country roads I mostly drive on, one's eye becomes accustomed to the rhythm of the woods as you pass, the long straight lines of the trunks, punctuated by the fractal puffery of branches. Seasons paint the trees and branches different colors but the stark pure lines in winter have their own power. Something's been wrong though, in the last few days. My peripheral vision has been telling me something is...naggingly, irritatingly, off... about the landscape. Finally, today, I realized what it was. That clean rhythm of straight lines and syncopation of branches is broken. Trees, branches, everything are smashed and dragged down, no longer vertical, but horizontal, diagonal, everything they shouldn't be.

Things are not as they should be, in the cold and in the dark.

I drove out to my house tonight, from the office at the factory where I work, to look in on my cats, and check the water in my basement, and learn from neighbors if there was any news of when electricity might return to my little town.

Tonight, maybe, or tomorrow, or maybe the weekend, I'm told. The school has power now; school will be back day after tomorrow. Good thing; I'm not sure my wife and daughter will survive one another much longer. "When do you think you'll get power again?" has become the first topic of conversation at the office. I'm lucky, really, because the power lines to my house are fine. Once the power on the town road is restored, I should be okay. My boss had the line connecting his house to the main power line knocked down by a falling branch. It may be several more days until his house gets power back, as individual homes are at the bottom of the priority list.

I checked into the house, put down food and fresh water for the cats. I looked down into the basement, tool; there's not much more water in there than there was over the weekend, which I suppose is somewhat of a good thing. It means that maybe the furnace won't be too damaged when I can finally get the sump pump running again, after the power comes back.

After, that is, the electrical crews turn long inert cords of metal wire back into the lifelines we didn't really appreciate they were.

In small-town, rural New Hampshire, there is no town water. There are no town sewers. No natural gas lines. No curbside garbage pickup. Wells, septic tanks, oil and propane tanks and the transfer station, respectively, do for us. When the electricity fails, EVERYTHING fails. Without electrical power, furnaces and wells do not run. There's no point in opening the transfer station for people to drop off garbage if the massive compactors can't be powered. Backup generators and alternative heat sources can provide some coverage for a little while, but not for long and not for everyone. Either solution dumps large amounts of either gasoline exhaust or woodsmoke into the environment.

I'm very lucky, in turns out, that I have good insurance, and that my home was damaged in a tornado last summer, so I'm living in an apartment, in a larger town. It means I'm not living in my house right now, and not having to cope with all of that reality every moment, unlike several thousand of my fellow Granite Staters. Instead, I only lost power for 48 hours or so and had to only cope with 2 frigid nights. Unless of course, the power, which went out again this afternoon, according to my wife, is still out when I get home....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Regarding Hillary

I think in all of the talk about Hillary, there's been one simple obvious explanation that's been overlooked.

Naming Hillary to Secretary of State makes some sense - she does have real qualifications, true. But the same could also be said for Attorney General and or Secretary of Health and Human Services. My best guess is that this is The Deal. This was the price Hillary put on her unconditional support for the general election - she gets to be the first person offered a cabinet position, and it's one of the Big 4. Honestly, I think that's a fair price, really. If I'm right, in practical terms it came down to State or Justice - Hillary doesn't have the technical background for Treasury or Defense. The problem with any cabinet post for Hillary is this unique, multi-dimensional boat anchor she's married to. Interestingly, any and all concerns regarding Bill are probably magnified at State compared to the 2 most plausible alternatives (Justice and Health and Human Services)

The Clinton Foundation has been much discussed, but it may be the smallest real concern It's possible something genuinely problematic turns up in the vetting process about President Clinton's foundation. He has always been willing and able to skate extremely close to the ethical edge. It's a consequence of his character that, frankly, prevented a good President from being a near-great one. It created one opening after another for his political enemies to attack and kept his political allies on the permanent defensive. Eight years as President didn't change that, eight years out of office sure as hell won't. But Clinton always went right up to the edge, never quite truly over it, the way, say, Dick Cheney does. So forget that for the time being.

There are 2 other concerns about Bill, though. One is high politics and the other is low farce. Which would rather hear about first? Yeah, I thought so. We're still doing the politics first.

As a matter of high politics, William Jefferson Clinton is an ex-President of the United States. While no longer in office, his word and opinion can, properly used, carry weight and meaning in world affairs. Jimmy Carter is the preeminent example of how this can be done right. Ex-Presidents are very useful folks in international relations. They are the guys you send when you want to send a public, not private signal, that you care, but not to the point of official action, about some matter of interest. But that is partly precisely because ex-President's can't be given diplomatic instructions, marching orders, or hell, even talking points they're likely to pay attention to. However, the role of the spouse of the Secretary of State of the United States is basically twofold: 1)Be gracious at diplomatic receptions, parties, etc as required. 2)Make no news whatsoever. Bill can handle 1. 2 is flat impossible for the man, both by his own nature and his position as ex-President. This will enormously complicate Hillary's job as Secretary.

As a slightly trivial matter, there's also the protocol matter of an ex-head of state being the spouse of a minister. In diplomatic protocol there's a well-established pecking order and protocol for head of state, head of government, and government minister with corresponding protocol for ex- all of those. I'm not sure that Bill being an Ex-head of both state and government doesn't create some technical headaches in this area.

So that's the high politics. The low farce...Bill Clinton was willing to publicly humiliate his wife when he was governor and President both by chasing, well, pretty much anything with a pussy and two legs. Rumors are that behavior hasn't changed, either. It's Hillary's lot and choice in life to choose to put up with that or not. At the end of the day, she knows what her husband is like and her call what to do about it. But now the shoe will be on the other foot - now, Hillary will be the public face of the United States representing us to the world, and Bill is her private citizen spouse. Bill chasing after free poontang now - and getting caught - is public mortification to our Secretary of State, and possibly a diplomatic incident. Is Bill ready - is Bill even able - to keep it in his pants for 4 to 8 years?

Monday, November 10, 2008

There Ain't No Such Thing As A Second-Class Child of God

This is something you'll here me say a lot. Here. In person. Elsewhere on line. This is the LGBT marriage version of this.

It sounds like a blitheringly, blindingly obvious statement. It is. Living up to it is the hard part.

Let me put my cards on the table here. I am not just privileged, I am about as uber-privileged as you can get.

White (as it gets. Trust me. I AM that joke)
WASP (with some German bits thrown in)
Episcopalian (by baptism, same as one parent)
Upper-middle class (dad was a lawyer in a firm founded in the 19th century)
Prep school. (Catholic, Jesuit, and the best school in town - was and is a prep school if not quite prepared to admit it then)
Ivy League (Dartmouth, if you really wanna know.)

Short of an actual trust-fund of meaningful proportions, I am about as privileged as you can get in American society. The rules were made by and for people like me.

(And I think that fucking sucks, and kinda undermines everything we hold ourselves out to be, but nevermind.)

The first person I knew well who came out was black, dirt-poor, and fundamentalist Christian. She was also a Dartmouth student which is how we knew each other. I watched her struggles and her first girlfriend's to reconcile their identity as lesbians, Christians, and African-American women. I'm not sure if her first girlfriend ever succeeded, and it's not my story to tell what kind of peace my friend made for herself, although I know she did.

But knowing and loving Deb as I did helped teach me this lesson: There ain't no such thing as a second-class child of God. None. But knowing that and living it are 2 different things.

Now some of you to whom these words come are probably agnostic or atheist or follow other faith paths. Bear with me on this for this next part. I am Christian, if a liberal one, and the people I'm speaking to, I think mostly are as well -- much though I doubt any will read it -- so that is the language I'm using. Feel free to sing the same song in a different key if it helps.

The language used to talk about gays as different, as other, as somehow not accepted by God, as somehow not beloved children of God, is the same language, the same tired-ass worn-out rundown hungdown bullshit that has been used to talk about, well, everybody.

The Jews.
The Irish.
The Catholics in general.
....to pick just a few from the long and awful hit parade...

And, oh yeah, in this country, most especially, and particularly, people of color.

So when you hear an argument about what's wrong with letting gays and lesbians get married or have equal rights or in anyway shape or form, remember, if you're a person of color, that your parents and grandparents heard that same shit pointed at them.

It was bullshit then and it was bullshit now.

Because there ain't no such thing as a second-class child of God. We are all God's beloved children. Each and every one of us, period, no exceptions. Start acting like it. Start treating others like it. Start expecting it.

Jesus said the first commandment is to love God and the second commandment is to love one another as he has loved us. From these 2 commandments he said, hang all the law and the prophets. That's it. Simple to explain, harder to do.

But impossible to square with saying that 2 people who love each other shouldn't get married.