Barefoot Zen?

Barefoot Zen?
Namaste, Y'all...

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Tank is Half Empty, The Glass is Half Full

Nostradamus would've loved being an American, because we'd have made his gig so much easier. I think Americans are just lil' self-fulfilling prophecies.

And Atlanta seems to be the trendsetter here. You know the horde mentality: snow flurries put the bread and milk industries into overdrive in the ATL. Tell us there may be a gas shortage and we make sure there is one. I'm really surprised two-thirds of Georgians haven't pulled their money out of their banks and hid the cash under their collective mattresses, causing further financial plight. We're more brutally reactive than an act three Stanley Kowalski.

Lest I be a hypocrite, I'm certainly guilty of this way of thinking too, and if there's anything good to be learned from all this recent chaos it's a line that the great prophet Gordon Sumner (Sting, people...Sting) shared with us twenty years ago: that we're "Forever conditioned to believe that we can't live, We can't live here and be happy with less."

God knows I've got more creature comforts than are necessary. To be a fan of Thoreau's philosophy while adding a whole second floor onto your house - ain't that America? (Ain't that me?). Blackberries, Ipods, Wi-Fi. Yet, for all my connectivity, I feel vastly disconnected from life much of the time.

But as I walked from church to the coffee shop and back again yesterday, I watched dozens of Decatur-ites on bikes and on foot, making their way to their morning obligations. No one seemed stressed, no one seemed frantic or angst-ridden about their plight. I know folks will be more antsy today, trying to catch MARTA or figure out the whole carpool thing. But, it seemed like people were somewhat at peace with things yesterday, and if only for a fleeting moment, it felt like we weren't the panic-stricken little worker ants, but people embracing the ebb and flow of a world that we - at least for the moment - cannot control.

I could sorta hear that Foo Fighters song in my head as I took in the leisurely smiles a sunny morning - even a tempestuous sunny morning - brought: "In Times Like These, You Learn to Love Again". I dunno. I saw a flock of geese fly over. I saw a hawk. I saw families walking, laughing. Maybe there's a lesson in all this we're not supposed to miss. Maybe there are things we're supposed to love tucked inside these clouds. Maybe we're supposed to notice.

Yes, it feels like the ghost of Tom Joad still looms over our shoulder, but yesterday reminded me that, though we're a selfish, grubby little species, we've also got the potential to put it into neutral, or even park, and make the most of a given moment.

Maybe the tank isn't half empty. Maybe it's half full.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Everything is Sacred

What is it with me and hot-button topics this week? I know I should be sharing CD reviews and pining about the Braves waning season, just to assuage those reluctant of controversy, but here I go with sacred cow #2: religion.

I received an email from a very nice lady at our church opining our inability to be at an 11am service this Sunday because Grady has a baseball game at noon, and thus, he and his coach (that'd be me) have to be there at 11:30. She kindly tried to offer solutions, involving Wendy, a change of clothes and a hot PB&J in the car, but I told her Wendy had to be at work, and we'd just have to miss this particular service. The reason this date was so important to her was that they were presenting 3rd graders with their very own Bible in church, and she saw this as a rite of passage on the same strata with being Mitzvahed.

She was very nice, but her regret came with a gentle chiding about how important sports have become in our culture, and how 'kids these days' aren't as involved in church as they used to be. Then there was a follow up letter sent to all parents of 3rd graders, with a reinforcement of how important this Sunday is, as the Bible is, after all, "God's Word" and receiving their very own Bible is the opening of an amazing world of Truth to the kids.

Eh. That's a conversation she and I are best off not having. I'm a fairly liberal theologian. In fact, the best way for me to stay tethered to the Christian angle of my faith is to write off huge chunks of the Bible and a fraction of church doctrine as 'man's misguided interpretation of what God wants'. I know, I know - "Hey Tommy, enjoy hanging out in hell with Scorsese and Lennon."

Anyway, I was starting to feel 'tsk-tsk-ed' about all this, even though we're racing from a kids' Sunday School service which I'm leading (and having to fudge my own theological dogma to even share some of the notions with kids), then to two baseball games, then home to host an evening of dinner with three other couples and their three pairs of kids. Busy? Yes. In the mood for subliminal guilt? No. Surrounded by the Holy all day? Hell yeah.

I know I've still got the Universalist philosophy running through my veins, but I really wanted to invite this lady to skip church and come to Grady's ball game. She'd see something just as holy on that ball field as she would in the front pew on Sunday. Truly, a 6-4-3 double play, pulled off by 8 year old boys, is Grace, pure and simple. And our dinner party - the laughter of friends, communing over food, taking shelter from the storms of life for a couple of hours to connect with each other - why, Jesus would show up for that just to turn our filtered water into Cabernet. I'm sure of it.

One of the hardest tasks we face as spiritual beings on this earth, and one that I have always struggled with when the 'church card' gets played, is that divinity - call it God, nature, or human endeavor - surround us constantly. We just spend most of our time dodging it or neglecting it.

What's Sacred? Philip Roth's most visceral words on the page, every note the morally questionable Miles Davis ever played, my son telling a joke, my daughter's laughter, my wife's hand on my cheek, packing my kids' lunches in the morning, a strong cup of coffee, a morning run, the hawks that fly over our neighborhood, the smell of fresh vegetables on the dinner table, kind words passed between friends, impassioned debate over who to vote for, the smile of a stranger, an imperfect yoga pose, Willie Nelson's soul, Keith Richard's scarred fingers, Mandela's existence...and don't get me started on sunsets, full moons, and Emmylou Harris' voice.

Sacred? We've got our Bible, thanks.

For me, "Faith" can never be a fixed notion. It's an eternal game of tag between me and whatever or whoever God is or isn't. (God, btw, looks like Meryl Streep in my mind - a pillar of gentility, grace, and strength, and capable of flawless accents). Some days I'm seeking Eastern Enlightenment, other days God's mercy, other days, I'm a evangelical agnostic, shouting out "I'm not sure, and neither are you!" And that's the journey. Beware those who tell you they have all the answers and can quit seeking. We're here to seek, methinks.

On good days, I recognize that.

Sunday is going to be a good day. A holy one. Be it at the diocese, in the dugout, or at the dinner table.

Maybe the greatest form of prayer is just to recognize we're living one.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Truth in Comedy

One of my favorite election year stories comes from comedian Bill Hicks, though to call him a comedian really does him a vast disservice. Socio-political prophet of doom and hope, perhaps?

This is a chilling reminder to those of us who are praying November 4th brings us a new political landscape, regardless of who we're rooting for. This is how Bill tells it, and I'm paraphrasing, b/c I don't have this routine recorded anywhere:

The U.S. elects a new president, a 'get things done' guy who is enthused at the possibility of really doing some good for our nation. On the first day of office, he is directed to a meeting in a secret bunker at the White House. He walks in, and sees heads in silhouette, rings of cigar smoke billowing to the ceiling. These shadows are the top leaders of industry - big oil, big tobacco, the engine that keeps the stock market in motion, powerful lobbyists, and those invested in what happens here and in a desert far, far away. The President sits. A gruff voice says, "Roll the film!"

The President is then shown a video clip of the Kennedy assassination from an angle no one has ever seen before.

The video cuts off abruptly as Kennedy's car is whisked away, Jackie cradling his wounded head.

The voice then asks the new President, "Any questions?"