The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Meat-Eating Vegetarian

Despite the fact that I had a freezer full of beef and pork all last year, I actually consider myself a vegetarian. Well, I'm a meat-eating vegetarian. How can this be?

I support many of the arguments for a reduced meat diet. The environmental devastation due to the conventional meat industry as well as cruelty to animals are each enough of a reason in my book to steer clear and away.

Other than that, I am not against eating meat. Some animals species are simply designed to eat meat and that's the way it is. The cycles of nature depend on it or else animals would die from overpopulation. I don't subscribe to the idea that eating meat is unhealthy--although that largely depends on what you eat specifically and your overall lifestyle (which is true for anything you eat).

I tried to be a vegetarian for a while and managed to stick with it for a few months (with meat supplements about every 5-7 days). I was actually surprised that I liked it. It took a while to learn how to cook differently. I was eating nothing but eggs with a can of pinto beans, because I couldn't figure out what else to prepare. I almost went into a panic at first, with my stomach grumbling, my mind hazy and the cupboards bare. It took my body a while to transition, too. But when it was all said and done I didn't miss the meat as much as I thought I would. I was gorging myself on nuts, fruits, beans, whole grains, salads and other things I've always neglected. I discovered a lot of new dishes. It was nice going to restaurants and only having to pick from 2 options instead of wading through a 10 page menu.

However, I did not do well on the diet. Despite my best efforts to make it nutritionally balanced, I just felt like crap. I discovered later that a vegetarian diet is a problem for some people. Deficiencies of B-12, beta carotene, iron and calcium can happen. Some people are able to manage better than others, usually based on which part of the world your ancestors came from. I thought it was in my blood--my grandparents grew up in Slovakia with only occasional options for meat.

Being a vegetarian--however briefly--was an invaluable experience and I recommend it for everyone. I learned how to enjoy meatless meals more than ever. I trained my body to go without meat for sustained periods. Sure, I have always enjoyed a vegetarian meal every now and then, but I used to feel empty--even angry--if I went a full day without meat. It was good to break that meat addiction.

Still, being a full-time vegetarian just wasn't working for me at all. I decided to go back to eating meats, limiting myself to properly raised ones. As far as I'm concerned, eating naturally-raised meats offsets most of the vegetarian arguments. In some cases, eating these meats may actually be better for the environment than eating conventional vegetables!

When the power went out, I threw out the last of my meat. Being suddenly without, I got a wake-up call. When I had a freezer full of meat, I got lazy. I had a constant supply of exceptional quality meat. I bought it in bulk and got a rather good deal. If I was looking for some variety, I'd get a chicken from the farmers market or some wild caught salmon every now and then. Normally, I would just go to the freezer anytime I wanted to eat, and kept items thawing on a regular basis in the fridge.

Without that, I have suddenly remembered how expensive and difficult it is to find this kind of meat on a cut-by-cut basis. Stores like Whole Foods are outrageously expensive and stores are not exactly in everyone's backyard. Farmers markets are open mostly on weekends. Buying in bulk takes a good deal of planning and sometimes involves a wait of a month or two.

Last year, I did pretty well. I bought virtually no meat from the grocery stores that wasn't raised well. Over 99% of the meat I bought fit this description. However, I was just horrible when it came to restaurants. I ate there indiscriminately. I'd eat the naturally-raised option when restaurants like Chipotle would offer it. But if they didn't, I pretty much ate anything. This is what I need to work on.

I am here to state my re-commitment. I only want to eat meats that are sustainably and humanely raised. I'll make exceptions for when I'm invited to someone's house. But there is no reason why I can't eat vegetarian at restaurants.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Scripture Alone?

Sola Scriptura is a popular expression coming out of the Protestant Reformation. It loosely means "scripture and only scripture is the source of Christian authority."

Martin Luther had lost all faith that the Church could have any real authority as an institution, anymore. The corruption, hypocrisy and spiritual violence were just too broad and endemic in his view. However, in order to look for another source for authority, he prematurely grasped onto scripture. He overvalued the place and history of scripture in order to have something with which to balance the out of control power of the Church. However, like anything, you can over-compensate and throw the balance out of whack just as much the other way.

Here's the rub: It took about 400 years for the canon of the New Testament to be formally agreed upon as the authoritative scripture of the Christian tradition. Some writings were actually considered authoritative early on, but some books (like Revelation) were hotly debated for centuries before being finally accepted by orthodox Christianity. The New Testament did not just fall out of the sky.

It does not make any sense to consider scripture to be authoritative but not to regard the Church that actually put it together as authoritative, as well. I'm not saying the Church did it by itself--the Holy Spirit was at work. But to say that scripture is authoritative is also to admit that the Church is also a vehicle for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit used the Church to form this canon of scripture. And it did not use people as mere robots--the Church did this in the freedom in Christ and living relationship with the Holy Spirit. That is evident by the rich debates concerning scripture in the early Church.

So what was Christianity like for those 400 years without the New Testament? The reality is that people were Christian without any New Testament, including some of our most revered Christians, such as the Apostles themselves and the early martyrs.

Christ was also authority. We can easily forget that because it is so obvious. Jesus walked this earth and through his life and teachings he had an impact on people. Those people were so moved that even humble Galilean fishermen suddenly became the foundation of a movement which brought them across the Roman Empire and beyond. There is evidence of a living oral tradition of Jesus lasting at least a couple hundred years after the death of Jesus, and probably elements of that oral tradition have continued to shape the church in subtle ways since then.

Christians flourished for generations, many of them without any of the current books of the New Testament. They may have had other writings, but they certainly had an oral tradition or direct experience of Jesus to move them. Someone had to tell them about Jesus. You can argue that these people had some of the books of the modern New Testament. I don't think there is any way to know that, though. But we do know that the first generation didn't have them, since the earliest writings of the New Testament probably didn't come for years after the death of Jesus.

In light of all this, most mainline Protestant churches have taken a softer stance on "scripture and only scripture" lately. The relationship between the written Word of God and the living Body of Christ in the Church is a complex one. Christ came first and then the Church--a body of people spurned by the experience of Christ. Out of the Church came a written tradition. This written tradition continues to feed back into this movement and renew it. So there is a ying/yang relationship between Scripture and the Tradition of the Church as a people. The Church produced scripture which continually renews the Church, allowing the Church to look on scripture again with newer eyes, etc.

However, the mindset of sola scriptura is still alive. Fundamentalists still adhere to a scripture-only approach, denying the historical reality of the tradition that put it together.

Scripture is such a looming presence in the minds of many Christians, even those who know that the story is larger than that. Many Christians feel all they need is time alone with their Bible for their spiritual connection, even having complete detachment with the movement of people called Christians.

Scripture keeps us in touch with our roots, but it often can prevent us from moving forward. Some Christians have an innate fear of developments in culture and theology beyond what is expressed in the Bible. Later developments such as the doctrine of the Trinity are often regarded as suspect, since they are not explicitly stated as such in the Bible. But it is a huge assumption that somehow only Biblical ideas are be valid! The Church should not and cannot be stuck in the past, always looking back and trying to reconstruct what is was like in early Christianity, and neglecting the gifts of the Spirit today. Thinking in terms of "scripture alone" can impede our growth in faith and can prevent us from living in the present.

This doesn't mean we neglect scripture or see it as only the cute historical remnants of a bygone era. It is the first witness to Christ and must be consulted on an on-going basis. It keeps us from going too far from the tradition of Christ. It renews us. We must be aware of our roots, and it keeps us reminded of a very specific person in a very specific place at a very specific time. But we are also free to move forward. It was the living Body of the Church out of which this scripture came. This living Body of Christ can be (and often is) the source of continued developments in the future!

I'm sympathetic with Luther's worries about the Church. It seems to be always filled with hypocrisy and corruption. It is also filled with human beings, each of us with planks in our own eyes. It is still not hard to wonder why it has to be that bad, though. But this isn't new. Look at the first disciples of Jesus, a denser group of people is hard to find, as my scripture prof would say. Peter--the "rock--was as unreliable as he was headstrong. Christianity has never been a Church of the flawless. But to just arbitrarily pick scripture to hold onto instead of this loosey goosey Church isn't going to solve any problems, either.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Does anyone know how to solve the Last Name problem?

Lord knows we live in a patrilineal society. Our family name is passed down through the male line. Your last name is your father's father's father's father's name, on to infinity. Or at least for a long time.

People I affectionately refer to as "hyphenators" have come up with a partial solution. Mr. North and Miss South become Mr. & Mrs. North-South--or South-North. They may take away the Mr. and Mrs. titles, too, but that's a story for another day. The point is that they combine their last names into one. There is continuity with the past, and both sides of the family are appropriately represented in this new name. So far, so good.

Even further, women solve the problem of not having to give up their name in marriage. Now, I'm not entirely convinced that changing one's name in marriage is a bad thing, but it is problematic that only women are expected to do this. So hyphenating solves a lot of dilemmas. However, the cold truth is that this system isn't ending patrilinealism. The names are still the male names. The man brings his father's name to the marriage and the women also brings her father's name.

And then what happens to the kids? Do they use the hyphenated name? Or do all the boys get the father's last name and the girls get their mother's? It would be odd to group kids along gender lines like that. It wouldn't be healthy for boys to over-associate with their father and girls to their mother, but it's also not fair for them to get their daddy's name but not their mother's. But if you don't pick, you end up with a problem:

The hyphenators haven't give us much direction for the future. If the North-South's and the East-West's marry, are they the North-West's? Or are they the North-South-East-West's? It is unclear which direction they should go.

What happens when Joe North-South-East-West marries Jill Peanut-Walnut-Macadamia-Almond? It's so cumbersome, the analyst in me wants to simplify and call them the Compass-Nuts or something. That people and those people. It is a matter of grouping.

It is certainly fair to keep all the names, no question. But it is not long before this system becomes unwieldy and you end up with 216 names. You could just begin the system of hyphenation and pick an arbitrary point and continue forwrad. But as the names grow in length, there would have to be some kind of system to pick which names to keep. Do you pick the male names? Female? Draw a name out of a hat?

People in Spain actually hyphenate--sort of. They don't use a single surname like we do in America. People really do hyphenate and your official family name is as long as your family's memory can remember. Granted, you would only use your 32 surnames on a very rare occasion, such as the ceremony when you're installed as king. In most other cases, you would use 2 names. Yet, those 2 names are patrilinealy determined--one from your father's side and one from your mother, but both dominant names come through the male line. Your father's father's father's, etc. and your mother's father's father's father's, etc.

So how do you:
1. Maintain the tradition of family names
2. Avoid preference of one gender over another?

Each married couple could invent a new name. You could have a name for your particular incarnation of the nuclear family, but it would have no consistency over time and through generations. To me, this destroys the whole idea of a family name, and I would give serious pause before throwing out that tradition.

I'm somewhat partial to hyphenating. I've never thought of myself as Frank Lesko. I've more aptly thought of myself as Frank Lesko-Hricison-Burek-Yakubov. Those families are very alive to me. It is a little less true on my father's side, as most of those relatives are living in Europe and unknown to us, but the overall point is the same. Hyphenating gives voice to each of these. But each name is a misnomer of sorts. The people I call the Burek's are really the Burek-Jawarski's (I need to verify that name). Each name makes sense from my vantage point, as it is the name I've come to use for the particular group of people, but that particular people is also the product of several families coming together, each with their own names and lineage. Once I go back a couple of generations, I'm happy just using one name for each family group. And most outsiders are quite content to think of your family with only one name, as well.

Long last names are also giving more emphasis to an issue that may not be as important anymore. In the olden days, it was more relevant that a certain person was from the Carpenter-Tailor-Smith-Wesson clan. There were matters of inheritance and alliances that went along with that. The people you talk with will actually know each of those families and have a reference point. Nowadays, people move around so much from city to city it hardly matters. Outside of a small town, feudal land system, does it matter which clans you hail from?

Hyphenating may ironically make things simpler now that there are so many mixed families. Parents divorce and remarry, and with hyphenation everyone would know who comes from who without having to ask all the time. But isn't there something special about a family all coming together under one name? I do. But how do you decide on a name??

And yes, it's only a name, but we know names are important or we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tragic Irony--When the Victim Becomes the Victimizer

My uncle used to say that we become what we hate.

I always thought that was a dismal point of view. Sure, some people project, as a friend pointed out. And it may be true for some people, but for all?

Whether it is a universal trend or not, I will say that it is a risk for all of us if we leave our emotional hurt unhealed. See how it plays out:

Person 1

Imagine someone who has been continually controlled by her family. They were always in her business, disrespecting her privacy and lambasting her with all sorts of guilt to live the life that they wanted her to lead. They treated her like a marionette on a string. She even buys into their reasoning out of family obligation, at least partially.

As a result, she has gotten so frustrated from this control that she is determined not to let anyone else ever control her again. She locks her heart up tight. She doesn't do a single thing that she doesn't want to do. It's her life and she will live it as she wants.

The problem is that it is impossible to be in relationship with this person. Everything must go her way. It has to be on her terms, at her pace and when she is good and ready. The person struggling to free herself from obsessive, unreasonably controlling parents has now become the person who controls others. In her quest to make her life her own, she had made herself unable to bend with the people she is in relationship with. The only way to be in relationship with this person is to bend to accomodate them. You either do things on their terms or not at all.

Person 2

Imagine a person who is afraid of rejection. This shouldn't be too hard, since it is the story of many of us: We've been hurt in relationships or by our peers in school. We gave our heart and got it stomped on. What do we do? We withhold commitment from the next person. We love 'em and leave 'em. We flirt with intimacy, then pull back. We give our hearts in one conversation one day then vanish the next day. It's all duck and cover. The cruel twist is that we try to convince the other person that they are crazy to think there is anything unusual about this behavior. "What do you mean your heart is hurting? You are just trying to bind and shackle me!" Let's be honest: We're running like hell.

The result? The person who is afraid of rejection leaves a trail of rejected people in their wake. We always want to get them before they get us. The problem with this reasoning is that those people may never have rejected us in the first place! And the other problem is that we've now become the one who rejects.

Person 3

And let's not forget the peace activist who crusades against strong forces so much that he becomes . . . militant.

Doncha Think

This is dramatic irony right out of an Ancient Greek tragedy. There are no evil people, just folks caught up in this long chain of violence that goes back to the Garden of Eden. Every bit of hurt comes from another hurt before it. Yet, we have power to break the chain. We have the power to say that we won't perpetuate what's been perpetuated onto us. The chain of violence--that goes back tens of thousands of years--can stop with us.

ADDED LATER: This can be excruciating to face. It suggests that the people who have hurt us--the people we want to hate--may not be all that different from us. They may, in fact, be very similar. But as painful as this may be, it may also be the door which is cracked open on the road to healing. Because once you realize that your enemies aren't that different from you--and that the anger and pain which they are lashing out against the world may not be all that different from the same anger you are throwing out into the world--and that maybe they went through the same kinds of experiences that made them who they are just like you had experiences that made you were you are--it can be the true foundation for true reconciliation, for health and healing.

"for he saw his enemies like unto himself . . . and then he was answered."
Moody Blues, The Balance

ADDED EVEN LATER: Here are some more examples:

A woman is determined to make it in the male dominated workplace. In order to succeed, she tries to be stronger, more aggressive, more demanding, more cutting, and more dominant than any man she can find. She assumes this is how it is in the male-dominated workplace, and maybe she's right and maybe she's exaggerating. The end result: She becomes what she did not want others to be to her.

And this is where we come to so-called reverse discrimination. In our culture, it has become fashionable to people who were oppressed to lash out against their oppressors--usually white people, or men, and most often it is white men. Victims of racism and other prejudice lash out with white men stereotypes, jokes, and feel it is okay to discriminate against white men to make up for what white men did (even though the white men who did that are usually long dead, with only a portion of their oppressive culture still alive today).

Is reverse discrimination just a justifiable balancing out that is needed? Or is it the fact that the victims have become the victimizers? Have they assumed the traits of the people they are fighting against?

This is why I oppose "reverse discrimination." To me, it is just regular ole discrimation--nothing "reverse" about it. Sure, the white man can take a few blows and we'll be alright. But unfairness is unfairness. Rudeness is still rudeness. And spiritual health is still spiritual health. Reverse discrimination isn't spiritual health. It isn't fair. And it often victimizes people who didn't do anything wrong in the first place.

The Life of a Caffeine Addict

I was 18 years old the last time I remember being free from caffeine addiction. I had been addicted before that, but managed to break it for about a year. I started up again in college and that was it. All told, we're looking at 15 years under a caffeine addiction, most of that an unbroken line.

It is more than disturbing to consider that I have been under the influence of a drug almost consistently since that time. Caffeine has been a constant presence in my veins. I have seen life through the lens of a drug for the past 15 years. Those are heavy statements.

It is not a strong drug, they say. But caffeine does have mood altering features. It often brings me a rush of euphoria. It cures depression and makes the world seem right. It makes me jittery. We all know it helps a body wake up and stay up. It does affect your personality, even if you don't realize it. The hook is that I get severe headaches and intense lethargy when I go without it. (Is “intense lethargy” an oxymoron?) While caffeine in the form of coffee and tea does bring healthy antioxidants into your system, they can also bring prostrate problems and other health concerns, especially when consumed in large doses. You know you have an addiction when you are willing to harm your body in order to continue getting that chemical in your bloodstream.

Every few years or so, I have tried to quit. I’ve even made it for a couple of months on a couple of occasions without any caffeine. The problem is that I would get into a serious fog that I just could not shake. I was worried that in my multiple-year dependence on caffeine my body lost the ability to completely function without it. Is there some chemical my body can’t create on its own anymore? I have seriously wondered. Why couldn’t I snap out of this mental haze even though--from a physical standpoint--I should have been clearly weaned off of the drug? Was my body’s response some kind of self-imposed pouting that I need to grab by the reins and bring in line?

Exercise helps. It brings the same rush of endorphins, but in a healthier way. Caffeine probably doesn't bring anything I can't get off a natural high. When I exercise regularly, my desire for caffeine usually goes down naturally. But it is so hard to break that dependence on my morning cup . . . er . . . pot of coffee. Well, it's a mini-pot, let’s be clear. And the booster shot around 10:00. Then another at noon. Then about 4-5:00 is my last. I'd love more, but I can't fall asleep at a reasonable hour if I do.

As you can see by that schedule, I keep a steady stream of caffeine in my body. I schedule my days around coffee breaks. I plan ahead to make sure there will be coffee available around those specified times. I make sure I can get away from work or stock the supplies on hand. Caffeine is considered any time I plan any excursion of any kind. Hypothetically speaking, If I were certain I'd have no access to caffeine on a particular excursion (which is very rare), I simply wouldn't go.

For many years, I didn’t even drink a lot of coffee. It was rather weak and it was only 1-2 cups daily. But the addiction was no less real. Periodically, I have been able to reduce my coffee significantly, but those 1-2 cups have been a bitch to shake. I've been drinking exceptionally strong coffee lately and getting sick of it. It really hasn't been giving me much of an "up" anyway. The effects have clearly diminished, and I drink it mostly for the hopes of a pick-me-up that only partialy comes and just to stave off the withdrawal headaches.

I’d like to quit again. Being addicted to something is not much to be proud of. I do think that any addiction limits the availability of a person to the people around them. Any addiction fills a “gap” in a person’s life which makes them less open in relationships. My belief is that it is probably unlikely to have fulfilling relationships when addicted to a substance. And I know it can’t be doing my spirit any good to have convinced myself that I need a drug for enjoyment . . . to feel complete. I know I can break the physical addiction, headache or not. But the mental addiction is worse.

Due to the recent power outages, I couldn't roll out of bed and immediately make that morning pot. I had to pick it up on the road or else make it at work. I've liked that. Going a few hours in the morning without coffee may be a way to chip away at it. In the past, I have always tried to quit by reducing my evening doses, not daring to tamper with that morning shot until I had reduced my daily intake substantially. Perhaps delaying the morning dose is another way to go.

Mornings without caffeine lately have been nice. Everything seems fuller. Caffeine has a narrowing effect--it makes me more intense, more driven. Without it, I feel like I can breathe more . . . in an existential sort of way. I see more around me and take in more. I am in the present more. I probably do physically breathe better, too.

I had some coffee this morning at home, though. Power's back on, I woke up tired, so coffee was on the agenda. I think I need to remove the coffee fixin's from the house in order to be successful at this.

ADDED LATER: I have experienced a burst of energy this weekend: Creativity, emotions, just enthusiasm. I can't credit caffeine, it was due to my intense physical exercise and exuberant fun chopping wood. So there is hope!

Gardening, Year 2

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, you couldn't stop the tomatoes if you tried. Just about any summer vegetable thrived in the pleasant planting weather then subsequent steady summer sun.

However, the fruit trees were bare. An early thaw in February caused the trees to bud, only to be re-frozen as the winter returned. The onslaught of the Japanese Beetles combined with birds made sure there was nary a grape to be had in the land.

This year, spring vegetables were outstanding. We took a chance and planted way before the frost date, knowing in our bones another frost was not going to happen. We planted an early crop of spinach, potatoes, lettuce and peas, and they all produced famously. We expected the summer to continue in like fashion, but it was not to be had. Tomatoes stumbled to a weak harvest. Peppers were interrupted by some parched days and have only now started to recover (better management on our part would have helped). The broccoli bolted. Cute lil cucumber beetles ransacked our pumpkins, cukes and gourds. Basil, however, could not be stopped. Carrots and beets did just fine, too.

Then all of a sudden, there was fruit! Peaches were falling off the trees, a little unripe but sweet and juicy. We picked them early to beat the squirrels to them. A couple of baskets of grapes were picked, which Erin made into jelly (we lost much of it in the power outage). Then we discovered an old apple tree! Small but great tasting apples right out of the backyard! A little pruning and that tree may have a lot of fruit left in it to give.

I never had much hope for the fruit. In my grandma's yard growing up, there was a virtual orchard of trees, but if my dad didn't spray them, you would be hard pressed to find any fruit that wasn't absolutely invaded with insects. I once picked a couple pecks of small apples that my mom got me to sell to Nolan's grocery store in Garrettsville. The good hearted owner bought them off of me, knowing he couldn't make a dime off of them. We'd go into the store in the days and weeks to follow, and I'd see my little apples still sitting there, untouched. Nowadays, local, fresh produce would be appealing to consumers, but at the time they looked so pale and sickly next to the robust commercial fruit. So I was pleasantly surprised to see Erin's unsprayed, organic trees yielding edible fruit.

Berry bushes and asparagus have been planted this year and last, so hopefully it won't be long before they start yielding, as well.

Hatchet Man

Erin bought me a new hatchet, and I'm as happy Paul Bunyan in front of a stack of flapjacks.

She wanted some trees cut down. A neighbor volunteered to be right over with his chainsaw, but I calmly assured everyone that I could make quick work of these trees with my trusty hand saw. It was a male territorial thing.

The saw had served me well in the past, and I expected to need only a few minutes and some elbow grease. I bought the saw a couple years ago to cut down a Christmas tree. It was sharp and very handy. But then I tried using it the other day and it was like it had spontaneously quit. Like every tooth had gotten dull all on cue. I would've had better luck using a butter knife, it just would not make a dent in these trees.

So off we went to the store. I found something between an ax and a handheld hatchet. I wasn't sure to go the saw route or not, but gave this a try to try something new.

I couldn't believe how sharp and dexterous it was. I was tearing through these trees like Zorro. I had them felled and defoliated in moments. In just a swish-swish-swish they were reduced to a pile of fire wood and a pile of leaves for composting. Two chops did all the work that 20 minutes of shared labor on the saw could barely do.

As a teenager, I used to chop up wood for exercise and stress management. I'm not sure what my family did with all the firewood, but my dad often had big logs behind the barn, and I would go out usually with a hammer and wedge to split them up. It was very gratifying work and some serious exercise to boot. Axes and hatchets were frequently on the scene, as well.

My new one has the plastic handle molded over the head. I'm generally a traditionalist and prefer wood handles, but I can't argue with this. I'm surprised I didn't kill myself as a teenager with that ax head flying off the handle so many times. I'd put nails and all sorts of things in there to hold it in, but it would never fail to come off. This new one ain't going nowhere.

I'm thoroughly sore but feeling really, really good.

This is a fine time to find wood around Columbus. Virtually every house has piles of branches in the front from the Hurricane Ike windstorm last week. The city hasn't gotten around to picking it up, yet. Many homes even have neat stacks of freshly cut firewood just sitting out there. I have never seen anything like it. In the country, you may see a "Firewood 4 Sale" sign but I have never seen piles of logs just sitting by the curb waiting for someone to pick them up. Never.

We got two loads in Erin's Scion just driving around the block. I'd toss my hatchet in the back and we'd be off for another wood cutting adventure. The truth is that we didn't have to work very hard to get much of this wood, though. We were like rats in the grain silo. We'd just drive up to a house, pick the choice pieces then go off to the next one.

In a related thought, we removed the leaves from the large pile of branches in front of the house. The line of twisted, bare branches now looks like a World War II-era barricade. After the storm, we dragged the wreckage to the front like the neighbors were doing, but as the days have gone on we have realized the value and started picking out wood, mulch and kindling. We ended up with 3 large piles of leaves to mulch the garden. I wonder how many people will buy fertilizer and yet let the city take away piles of grass and leaves from their yard. I'm composting lots of wood chips and twigs as well, but decided to let some of it go just due to volume. However, if the pile is still there at the end of work today, we may just take the rest of it to the back for keeping.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Doctor: I'm having . . . Contractions!

It bothers me that Blogger's spell check feature considers all my contractions to be errors. Did some kind of rule change where we're not allowed to use them, anymore? I've always loved using them, and couldn't see myself going without them.

It concerns me primarily because the use of contractions seems't've gone down over the years. I wouldn't've guessed it, but it's happened. Pick up some older novels, and you'll spot all sorts of contractions you may never've seen before. I shan't be counted among those who'll've allowed this fine tradition to fall by the wayside!

Perhaps I should be consoled as new slang terms have come along to fill this gap. I'm gonna hafta start usin' these new forms of contractions to cure this fix that I'm havin', and feggeddabout the ones we usta use.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I have often shied away from using the word “relationship” when talking about 'mating & dating' issues. It seemed like an overused term in pop psychology, and frankly I just didn’t want to come across sounding like a caller on the Delilah radio show.

However, I’ve come to a place where I can say I really like the word. The reason is because it gets at the substance of the issue. When two people come together to date, marry or some other arrangement, the entire experience is one of relating to one other—how they communicate, make decisions, the energy between them, and the outcome of this—how they feel about themselves and grow through this interaction.

The opposite of a relationship would be a purchase. In that, you would select someone who has certain traits, and you pick and choose between favorable and unfavorable attributes to “get” the person you seek. Think of a White Knight swooping in to scoop up the blushing princess who he has spied from afar and fell instantly “in love” with, despite only looking at her. She's "in love" with the whole scenario, too. For some, that is a romantic dream. The truth is that it is the definition of Hell. It is utterly mechanistic.

Most of us would exclaim that we would never look at our partner as a "purchase", but I think we all fall into that trap from time to time. All of us can get caught up focusing on the particular traits of a person and not enough on the dynamic between two people. Those individual traits do play a role in that dynamic as well as in the long-term sustainability of the relationship. But the truth that when two people come together, there is a bit of mystery and magic that just can't be boiled down to a list of attributes and compatibility criteria--no matter what eHarmony says!

Understanding this as a relating-ship is key to reminding ourselves that it is not about the qualities of one person or the other, it is about the space they create when they come together, what happens naturally and what they choose to build.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What I learned from Hurricane Ike

Being without power for over 1 week (projected return: Sunday @ midnight) wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have nagging commitments. School is the big one here. The pace of the modern lifestyle, when you're working full time and going to school full time, doesn't allow for much flexibility with the ebb and flow of Mother Nature. Fortunately, school and work have also experienced some down time, so we're somewhat in sync there.

The last of my cow and pig was finished off by this power outage. Luckily, there was only a bunch of liver, heart, tongue, and kidney left. A few decent cuts got thrown out, but virtually all that was left were these organs, which just weren't moving through my kitchen at a fast rate at all. I probably squandered all the carbon benefits by buying this organic, pasture-raised meat in bulk by having to throw it out, but it was still great for my health as well as the welfare of the animals.

If I were more on top of things, I would have just distributed the meat around the neighborhood. My poor grilling techniques and the actual cuts remaining made me squeamish about offering it to others. Imagine knocking on the door of neighbors you've never met, saying, "Here's some fresh grilled liver! Yep, all 5 lbs of it!" Who's really going to cook up soup bones on a portable Coleman stove?

If you study the Bible or other ancient peoples, scholars are quick to educate you how much these people were keenly aware of the cycles of the moon, even building structures to predict it. Students today have a hard time understanding this, seeing it as some ultra-primitive mindset, almost like a nature religion, something that we just cannot understand. It is actually not that hard: Spend a few days without power, and it would be actually more amazing if you weren't aware of the role of moon! Walking around at night with a full moon is worlds apart from pitch blackness.

In the olden days, candle making wasn't just some cutesy little craft. It was a matter of survival. Lanterns work so much better by keeping the light out of your eyes and projecting forward.

I've met more neighbors than ever. The next door neighbor and I pulled down a tree that was suspended among some branches. We shared equipment. We talked to some others over the backyard fence. Nice.

I really like the quiet of a city without electricity. It reminds me of growing up in the country. You can't read much at night, but there's not a whole lot of other loss. Families tend to stay together around a firelight, playing games, telling stories, doing what people have been doing for countless centuries before the rise of modern technology which has done more to break these most natural rhythms than anything else.

It is definitely an adjustment to realize that when the sun goes down so does most of your activity. We have clearly forgotten this. Without power, it is really dark at night. A few candles can keep you from bumping your head, but they won't help you do much else. As the sun goes down, what's not done is going to be left undone until the morning. That's all that there is to it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Unity in Diversity

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a regular parish priest and a Jesuit priest? What does it mean to be a Franciscan Catholic instead of, say, just a regular Catholic?

Some assume that those different orders just pertain to different tasks. For example, a Maryknoll priest is usually off on missions, while Jesuits are known for their scholarship and social justice activism.

There is more than that, though--and it could be the key to the future of Christian unity of all denominations.

The word charism is usually thrown around to describe these differences. The people who follow these different orders would traditionally feel called to a different kind of spirituality. The Franciscans started out as mendicants (poor beggars) who sold what they owned, gave it to the poor (as expressed in the gospel), and lived a life of poetic simplicity in works of charity. Dominicans are equally mendicant, but more theological. Think St. Francis with his nature mysticism in contrast to a Dominican like St. Thomas Aquinas who wrote thousands of pages of intense, logical formulas. Yet, they are all part of the same Church. Two methods to the same destination, as Chesterton suggests in his books on Aquinas and Francis (now in one handy volume).

Hans K√ľng opened my eyes to this in The Catholic Church: A Short History. He argued that these could easily have been breakaway movements. Their practice and sometimes even their theology differed sharply with the established Church. However, flexible Church leadership at the time recognized that there was no reason that these movements should break away. The Dominicans and Franciscans could be within the Church and reflect a particular charism--a different style of practicing their Christianity with different emphases, but not out of communion with everyone else.

It would surprise a lot of Catholics today to realize that Francis could have been the first Protestant--the differences were strong enough to warrant it. But Pope Innocent III realized there was another approach: Unity in diversity.

The benefit to the whole Church is that we are all influenced by their wonderful example. It is a wild and crazy church where a poor, begging Franciscan can sit in the pews next to the persuasive Dominicans and the pomp and circumstance of the hierarchy. Francis is your crazy hippie uncle, not a bitter rival! Besides, you know deep down that Francis--like your hippie uncle--is really onto something. There is no need to break communion over this, but rather to learn from each other and balance each other out.

A Model of Christian Unity?

The concept of a charism will be a better way to describe denominational differences as the future unfolds. People simply do not split off into different denominations over minutiae of theology, like they used to do. The days when mutual shunning and restrictions on even attending the service of another denomination are winding down.

Are you really going to change your church affiliation based on whether you believe the Holy Spirit emanates from the Father and Son or just the Father? The theological arguments over each of those would leave most people scratching theirs heads wondering what the big deal is. It is hard to believe that at one time half of Europe went once way and half the other over this very issue--this being a key reason for the Catholic-Orthodox schism (the issue is naturally more complex than that, and has more to do with how the Church makes decisions as a body as well as other political differences, but it has been oversimplified as an argument over the nature of the Holy Spirit).

The truth is also that most theological differences between denominations have been largely reconciled. It's not that there aren't differences, it's that the differences probably wouldn't be enough to warrant a split in today's terms. Even among Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Orthodox, quite a bit has been ironed out. The splits remain largely over institutional tensions--most of these Churches are simply not going to submit to the authority of each other at this point.

I would guess that among Protestants, people don't really choose their denominational allegiance based on strict theological beliefs, anymore. I can't imagine a Presbyterian converting to the Methodist church because of some profound change in theology. Those kinds of conversions have more to do with an attraction to the tradition of the faith and the charism it manifests--the parts of the gospel it emphasizes and the way it does community. In Catholic terms, this wouldn't technically be a conversion--just a shift from one group with their own approach and style to another--like a Franciscan becoming a Dominican. Same Church, different order.

Church practices reflect this: You can be ordained a Presbyterian minister after attending a Methodist seminary, even with a modest smattering of Presbyterian professors. Then what does it mean to be Presbyterian? What is the essence of Presbyterianism in such an environment? Mainline Protestants aren't really separate religions--they are better understood as different charisms under the umbrella of Protestantism--or perhaps better said--under Christianity.

I apologize if I misrepresent how things work among Protestants, but my overall point is that I see a general movement away from denominational separation, which raises the question: What does denominational identity mean?

Even if all the denominations were 100% reconciled theologically, we would not necessarily lose the identity of our respective traditions. We can all come to table as Christians with different charisms--an approach to spirituality that respects our unity but also provides flexibility to interpret the Christian call in different ways. Protestants show us how to have a personal relationship with Scripture. The Orthodox remind us of our roots as a unified church that once made decisions more unilaterally. Anabaptists keep us from forgetting the gospel call of radical simplicity. Catholics remind us of the Passion of Christ, Protestants Pentecost.

The true power of these different charisms shows itself not when we stay apart, but when we come together. In other words, we need both unity as well as diversity at the same time. We can--and perhaps should--stay in our private orders, honing our spiritual gifts. Let the monks live in meditative contemplation and the Lutherans in scientific biblical scholarship. Just imagine the power in the room when these people come together so strongly rooted in one charism but tied together in Christian unity.

As a Catholic, let me tell you we have benefited from the diversity in our tradition. We aren't all monks who live in quiet meditation, but every time you enter a Catholic Church you can feel their influence on all of us. The Dominicans remind us that we need to get the details right. The Franciscans remind us to let some of the details go. They're both correct, and I'm glad they are both here. I wish you all were here, too.

While each of us may want to follow Christ's call in a particular way, we need to remember that we all share the same faith. A denominational identify should be more about the style of worship and the kinds of ministries practiced, not a matter of who's valid as a Christian and who isn't.

(In addition to the authors mentioned, thanks also to Jackie for contributions brought up in conversation.)

Friday, September 5, 2008


I just finished G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. Easily one of the best books I have ever read. Chesterton is an incomparable genius, and I enjoyed soaking up his brilliant use of language as well as his tremendous British humor and insight.

As I was reading this book, I had the mental image of a train slowing down, like the brakes were on, and I could hear the squealing on the tracks. This book was stabilizing me. My mental train that barrels down through those logical systems and spiritual dead ends was stopping in its tracks, and I couldn't have been happier. I want off this train big time.

Chesterton exposes the fundamental errors of so many modern mental traps: The materialist. The pantheist. The optimist. The pessimist. The stoic. The nihilist. The maniac. And of course, the logician. I have been all of these people. And so has Chesterton. I have faced the cold dead ends of their terrible paths of logic but didn't know how to find another way or if even another way existed. I have stayed up late at night following these thought pattens to their logical conclusions and reeled in despair over the futility they unfolded. Yet something was unsettling about each of them. There had to be more, there must be another story to tell, but it has been hard to make a claim to that.

As my professor says, Chesterton shows a way through the fog. Not that his is the only way, but he suggests a method--a way of going about it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pet Peeve #37

You go to an event. It may be a lecture by some distinguished person or a panel discussion of experts. Perhaps it is a workshop and training. There is usually a question & answer session afterwards or even an open discussion.

I don't know if it's bad luck or what, but it seems every time I go to one of these things there is always somebody from the audience who gets up and proceeds to talk. And then talk. And talk. They go on and on and on. And on and on and on and on.

And I watch with both horror and intense curiosity, like watching an accident happen in slow motion. I just can't find it within me to understand how these people just don't know how inappropriate they are. We didn't all come to this event to listen to them. At one talk I attended recently, one of the keynote speakers was allotted 10 minutes for his piece, and yet an audience member later took at least 5 for his own "presentation"! I know I sound judgmental as hell, but how could they not know how unwelcome this is? The sheer rudeness leaves me dumbfounded. Often, these people are just rambling without a coherent thought, without taking a breath--no specific question or anything. And we all sit there prisoner to them.

The rest of us feel awkward as hell. Tell me how logical this is: It is rude to interrupt an event to give your own uninvited presentation. But yet the audience feels it is even more rude to interrupt that person! I just want to stand up and say, "You need to stop." This is where a good facilitator should step in and temper these folks.

This happens not just in lecture-type settings. I've also been in groups where this same phenomenon occurs: There is a round table discussion among equals, yet one person doesn't hesitate to absolutely dominate the discussion and go off on a 10-minute monologue. Do they not realize what they are doing? Or do they feel their opinions are so important in relation to everyone else's?

You can try to be sympathetic and say that maybe they just don't understand verbal cues or the phenomenon of taking turns in a conversation. Maybe they are innocently babbling. But I will assert that they are masters of these verbal cues. They speak in such a way as to never give anyone a chance to step in. They don't trail off, use concluding words or show hesitation in places where it would be natural for someone else to pick up the conversation. They aren't just naturally exuberant, they are planful to all get out, and they offer no quarter. The only way to step in is to forcibly interrupt them--which they know we won't do. Sheer obliviousness just does not apply. They work hard to maintain their place in the conversation. This is not an accident.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tent Making, not the Pauline Kind

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." (New American Bible Mark 9:2-5)

Jesus and his disciples definitely had a "peak" experience on this mountaintop. Jesus shone like a diamond and chatted with legends from the past. It was a total "wow" moment. Imagine getting a chance to hear the Beatles play together one last time or interviewing Thomas Jefferson--maybe even asking Socrates a few questions, for a change. The time-space continuum was shattered--it was truly a transcendent experience--literally.

When we have a soul stirring experience, one of our first instincts is to do what Peter suggests: Let's make a tent here. We want to create some kind of permanent structure in the hopes of keeping this experience going indefinitely. And why not?

The problem is that this was a living experience. Trying to set it in stone runs contrary to the very nature of the experience itself. It was a pure moment where everything came together at the right place and time.

I can relate. I have been on retreats and left absolutely stunned--People living in community, doing outreach work, praying together, bonding, supporting one another. Why would I want to be anywhere else? I have had similar experiences at music concerts or reunions of family and friends.

I have seen people get stuck in these moments. They become passive in life, dependent on the experience to provide them with the stimulation they need. They put their life on hold, waiting for the next concert or retreat. It is almost like a drug dependency. They sabotage their ability to experience something like that again because they have disabled the very traits that probably encouraged the experience to happen in the first place! In these moments, we are wide-eyed, receptive and purely in the moment. Maybe we are caught off guard so the experience creeps past our defenses of cynicism and logic. We don't want to be anywhere else.

We have all had times when everything came together just right. Maybe it was a road trip you had with a buddy. Yet, when you take some other friends there the next day to try to walk them through it or in hopes of experiencing it again, it often is flat. "We went to this restaurant and it was so fun." But yet, it is not quite so much fun the next day. Why is that?

This passage reminds us to live in the present.

Yet, one of the most fundamental things we do as Christians is remember. We remember one man who lived at a particular time and place who did marvelous things and touched our hearts. We carry on traditions begun in his own life 2,000 years ago.

So how do we distinguish the need to live in the present with the need to savor the past?

What does it mean to "move on"? It does not mean that we forget. On the contrary, we need to savor the past and continually draw strength and wisdom from it. It does not mean that we devalue it.

Moving on simply means that we are available to be present in the present. We can be right here, right now--neither caught up trying to artificially recreate something from the past nor living in a made-up future. It just means being able to be fully here in the moment. The life we have is right here, right now. To be anywhere else is to squander that gift.