we had a baby!  she is 4 days old.

also, today i posted this as a facebook comment:

“there are lots of things people of faith are not good at a lot of the time. my perspective is that dividing the world into atheists and people of faith is a useless dichotomy, because it generally just causes conflict and a lack of understanding. i think a lot of atheists and religious people say the same thing, they just use different language to express themselves. the dichotomy that i see and that is infinitely more frustrating to me is the dichotomy between atheists and people of faith who accept each other, and atheists and people of faith who think it’s better to use their time by being contentious. i’m kind of an optimist and tend to give people the benefit of the doubt in general, but i truly believe that people are generally doing the best they can with the resources they were given– and i include motivation, pain, ability to empathize, etc. in with those resources. i think there are very few people who are genuine jerks for no reason at all. most people are jerks because they are in some sort of pain. and i think of religion and atheism as other “resources”– or at least experiences. i think religion and atheism are pretty cultural, and that shit runs deep, you know… but i think the same person could be an atheist or a person of faith, depending on what culture they grew up in. they would be the exact same person, just have different ways to express what is important to them.”

it is probably the best i’ve every been able to articulate this, which is really important to me.  i guess the lack of sleep is good for my writing.

Advertisements
Published in: on 15 December, 2012 at 10:49 am  Comments (2)  

one of those times, again, where going to quaker meeting is such an event.  i’ve been contemplating finding a meeting or church closer to home, but haven’t been able to even work up the energy for that.

the thing is: it’s the long, sustained attendance at meeting is what really makes me feel centered, but going to meeting is a 4 hour commitment, at the least, and it’s really hard to make myself do that right now.

and i’ve been feeling a little nutty, so i feel like i really need to go to meeting.  but unfortunately, frequently, by the time my one-shot meeting attendance is done, i feel more nutty, because my day feels almost over and my work week feels so close.

i’ve been thinking about church as opposed to quaker meeting a little bit, too, because my head is a wild and frazzled place, and i barely get past the wild and frazzled in the hour of worship.  having someone do the spiritual thinking for me sometimes works to get me out of my head long enough to hear god.

i HAVE been trying to up my home spiritual practice a little bit, though, but what that amounts to right now is just trying to remember the serenity prayer when my head and heart get too wild and frazzled.

quakerism changed my life.  and i’m not currently convinced i’m living up to that.  i feel disappointed in myself right now, in my ability or drive to take care of my spiritual needs right now.  and then, of course, i know that judging myself is not actually all that helpful, of course.

my dream still is of a community of quakers and a quaker meeting, just down the street.  i hate that i even have a choice to just drift away from meeting like this, from time to time.  i hate that it takes forever to get to meeting so i don’t, and that that is understandable and acceptable.  (i would probably hate it, too, if it wasn’t understandable or acceptable.)

Published in: on 25 November, 2012 at 1:59 pm  Comments (1)  

driving lessons

i got my driver’s license last month.  i am 32 years old, have been teaching for the past 3 years, and am engaged to my pregnant partner, and i got my driver’s license last month.

when i was 12, i read that 50 simple things kids can do to save the earth book, and then immediately after it read kids can save the animals: 101 easy things to do.  i was finishing it in the car, and decided to become a vegetarian.  we’d been running errands all day, and my grandparents pulled into mcdonalds.  horrified, yet lacking creativity, i ordered my usual cheeseburger.  soon, i decided that i would cut out red meat and until the middle of my first year of college declared myself a “partial vegetarian,” eating fish, chicken, and turkey, but not beef or pork (that mid-first-year of college moment was when i decided to be a total vegetarian– now i’m more pescetarian).

the books made me more patient with the fluorescent light that took forever to turn on, in my great-grandma’s bathroom, and it made me an easily thwarted crusader for paper, rather than styrofoam for my school’s lunches.  (after a letter to the principal, i got called to the office for i think the only time of my entire school career, for a conversation that went something like this: principal: “i hear you want us to stop using styrofoam but instead use paper instead.”  me: “yes, please.”  principal: “well, the styrofoam is a lot less expensive than the paper, so we have to keep using it.”  me:  “yeah, i guess that makes sense.  thanks anyway.”)  i bought the greyish, fibrous recycled looseleaf paper, and used it religiously, horrified when the boy i had a crush on complained about it.

i had seen the old lorax movie many times as a child, and i knew i was someone who cared a whole awful lot.  i didn’t do everything right, but i did what i knew about, as much as i knew how to do it.  to this day, in my head, there is a dying person in a hospital bed during the nuclear apocolyptic endtimes, who’s life is either prolonged or ended by the extra lights i turn on in a house (but only lights… and refrigerators and cars… trigger this thought– computer use, temperature control, stereos don’t).  i was responsible for life to continue on this planet by my choices.

early in my sophomore year of high school, there was a horrible car accident involving some of my classmates, and one of them died.  we weren’t friends, but i felt the loss, because i thought she was cool but i was too shy to talk to her.  around the same time, one of my pen pals also lost a classmate to a car accident.

so, as i neared my 16th birthday, and people started to ask me about getting my drivers’ license, the combination of environmental responsibility and terror of dying a horrible fiery death took away all motivation.

when i was 19, i did try to learn.  my mom and i went out in her pick-up truck, cruising around some school and church parking lots.  but as soon as we went on the road and i saw another car (across the median, in the furthest possible lane), i pulled over and burst into tears.

i’ve never been clear on my relationship to driving.  as a passenger, i’ve tried as hard as possible to limit myself to trips people were making anyway, getting a ride to errands with people already going on them, or asking for a block detour to run an errand i need to run.  realizing how terrifying riding the bus can be sometimes, and then biking more, helped me get over a lot of the fear aspect, but there’s always been resistance.   i cannot figure out if it’s self-righteousness, fear, god, prescience, preciousness, or what.

then at the end of last school year, i had to make a choice.  i could either follow my amazing colleagues and the wonderful students at my school to a school that is entirely inaccessible by bus (up a giant hill, it is a 45 minutes walk from the nearest regular bus stop), or i could gamble on a move to another school– and it looked like it was probably going to be a middle school.  meanwhile, t was pregnant, and i decided that the responsible thing to do was to get a drivers’ license.

i hate that kind of responsibility.  that decision between “how do i help the people closest to me?” vs. “how do i help the whole world?” (and it sounds like parenting is a lot of that)  there have been times where i’ve wondered if my time waiting at bus stops was getting in the way of my world-saving time, but in general, i’ve always felt really good about my decision not to drive.

now, i have a drivers’ license.  i get up in the morning, get ready for work, and then drive through the woods to get to my job.  it is gorgeous.  sometimes there are deer.  sometimes there are turkeys.  it’s crazy to remember that i’m even in oakland.  my favorite part, though, is listening to music.  i’ve been resurrecting cds from my collection, bopping along to wonderful and hilarious selections, like the disney peter pan soundtrack, a lot of ani difranco, and the andrews sisters’ greatest hits.  i relish my dorkiness as others pass me.

but my exercise has gone way down.  i’m trying to fix that in other ways, but the balance hasn’t been reached yet.  and it’s stressful.  it’s really really stressful.  riding the bus, you aren’t in control of this giant thing and sometimes you hear scary people say scary things, but you can retreat into books.  you don’t have to be present and in decision-making mode the whole time.  one of my friends whose been teaching me to drive, outside of that context mentioned that she read a study about how people in modern american society all show symptoms of ptsd, and she thought that made sense.  i do too.  and during one of our drives together, i asked her if she thought a lot of it had to do with cars, because i do.  these giant metal death machines that move with the merest touch of a foot but that are fueled by greed and war should NOT be how the majority of our country gets around.  i am now one of those people, but i am not okay with it.

AND at the same time, i am remembering that a good part of the reason i didn’t want to drive was because i thought that there was a possibility i’d like it too much.  and part of me really does like it.  it is sort of fun.  it is sort of easy.  i get to pick my music.  it is fast.

in the first couple of weeks of the school year, t expressed concern that maybe i was drinking too much coffee because i was so stressy.  but then we realized that i’m actually drinking less coffee than last year.  and there are definitely plenty of things to be stressed about right now so i chalked it up to adrenaline.  but at the birth class last weekend, as the teacher was talking about endorphins, and oxytocin, and adrenaline, i started to put a lot of it together with my driving.  my fight-or-flight time is way up, and my exercise time is way down.  just like much of america.

*sigh*

“i want to blog this weekend.  i have so much to say!”

“about what?”

“well…  driving… and gender.”

“what about it?”

“well, i want to write it down first, because it gets all garbled when i try to say it out loud.”

in other incarnations of this post, in my head, i’ve had really good segues and connections between these issues, because parenting is part of why i’m driving and part of why i’m thinking about gender a lot right now.  but i ended that driving part pretty nicely, so i’ll use that dialogue and this monologue to change the subject.

“what are you having?”

the question is like nails on a chalkboard to me right now.  it is a complete overreaction, i know, but when i hear it, part of me wants to snap back an adolescent (adrenaline-filled?) response about how that very question goes against the very fiber of my being and all of my beliefs, and how could they ask me such a thing and and and and and!

i don’t know.  and i won’t know even when i do know.  and i still think it’s totally irrelevant to who this little person growing in t’s tummy will be.  unless they want it to be relevant, and i know there are times when it is vitally important for them, and that’s fine.

it’s hard when there is something that you believe in so strongly that is so counter to mainstream thinking.  i remember a woman at a school i worked at in seattle, who was so upset about a family raising their kids to be vegan.  “how can they impose their values on their child like that?”  i didn’t say it (i basically never say “it” btw, whatever “it” is), but i had this epiphany.  if you don’t raise your kid by your values, you are raising them by mainstream values.  you are saying that what the mainstream believes is fine and ok.  and maybe it is.  it might be.

and then in my case, it’s so tricky, right?  i don’t actively want to have a transgender child.  i don’t NOT want a transgender child, but i don’t plan on raising our kid to be trans.  binary gender assignments seem to have worked more or less okay for most of the population for quite awhile now, so i can’t assume that any bit of it will chafe on my child the way it has chafed on me.  but i really want to counter all of the messages about what is and is not okay to be that our society feeds to all of us all of the time.  that is vitally important to me.  and the idea that our favorite colors, things, and way of dealing with the world are pre-determined for us, now even before we pop out of our parents that have the right plumbing to pop us out, makes me itchy, scratchy, irritable, cranky, tired, and sad.

how do i make my child’s self as filled with possibilities as possible, without limiting it by deciding that that limitless is important?  how does my belief in that limitlessness limit my child in a world that believes so gosh-darn fiercely in those limits?  how do make sure to honor the possibility that our kid could be totally gender-normative, without just going along with the culture’s assumptions that that is how it will be?

“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace – not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”
–James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

this is one of those times that i’m posting when a number of posts and themes have been rumbling, boiling, roiling, and bumbling around in my head, and i’m trying to see if i can distill them all into something cohesive, together. 

recently, i finished reading the bible for the third time.  the first two times were in high school, one right after the other.  what the three reads have in common is that they were relatively textually easy editions that i read at night, before bed.  this reading was the message: remix, meant to be read in small chunks, over either 1, 2, or 4 years.  i took a little over 3 years, reading at a variety of paces throughout that time, sometimes missing a few days to a week at a time.  i found myself baffled and concerned by the frequent old testament battles and the bloody imagery throughout.  i felt disconnected from the frame of mind of early jews, trying to translate my own experience into this entirely different worldview.  the bible resonates the most with me when treated as metaphor, but there were so many stories and events, and long narratives, that i couldn’t find the use in, and that seemed to run counter to my own ideas of morality and god.

one piece of that that’s interesting is that in my quaker journey, i’ve found a lot of resonance in contemporary jewish writers, sometimes more so than in contemporary christian writers.  it’s actually through jewish writers that i learned to feel more comfortable looking at religious stories metaphorically.  and a reality about myself is that whenever i’m in new york, i get self-consciously giddy by all of the jewishness.  i am worried about my tendency to romanticization and exotification as i press my nose to the bus window going through hasidic neighborhoods, but my justification is that i am fascinated by that ability to live one’s faith out loud like that, jealous as a white kid who believes he has no culture.

shortly after finishing the bible, i was part of a conversation where someone was talking about his atheistic respect for this person who had actually read the bible and lived by it, despite how ugly it was.  this person and the person he was referring to were thinking about the bible of the eternally angry god.  i was saddened by this, but unable to counter it, both because of my natural timidity in conflict, the power dynamics involved, the level of alcohol consumed, and my awareness of the confusing ugliness i’d found in the bible.

one thing he said was that many christians don’t acknowledge how hard it is to actually live by the bible.  and even as i create the bible in my own image, unsure how to grapple with the pieces that make me deeply uncomfortable, i still find it difficult to live by the pieces that i absolutely believe in.  god is love.  there is no fear in love.  love your neighbor as yourself.  who is my neighbor?  the good samaritan.  these things can be distilled into fluff, i guess, but at their core, they are terribly terribly hard.  if we all succeeded in living by them, i believe the world would be a much better place, but they seem to be ignored by the people flocking to chik-fil-a, boycotting funerals, and engaging in warfare.  these people have their own piece of the bible, too.  how do i justify my piece of it, in the face of the other side of things?  is it fair to take the bible piece by piece?

i will probably continue to live my piece of the bible as much as possible.  my view is something like that comic strip that says something, “what if it’s all a hoax?  what if we fix up the ozone layer, replant trees, and make the world better, for no reason?”  that is the world that i want.

on wednesday, my 5th graders “graduated” from elementary school.  in what was technically a promotion ceremony, my students and the general education fifth graders at my school, one of the five elementary schools closing in oakland this year, charmed the crowd with their sweet spirits, huge accomplishments, and tearjerking songs and speeches.  it was a tremendously touching ceremony and if there were any dry eyes after the kids sang “true colors,” the principal fixed that with her speech, reminding us how these children have raised us as much as we’ve raised them.

last saturday, i went to a different graduation.  on thursday, it suddenly dawned on me that if i hadn’t already missed it, i could probably go to the graduation of the high schoolers i’d worked with two years ago.  out of my caseload of 28, about 20 were 10th graders, which meant that this would be their graduation year.

when i graduated high school, i was very smug.  it wasn’t a big deal to me, just a rite of passage to get past to get onto my real life.  and it’s difficult to say this in a way that won’t come off as smug or condescending, but in the past few years, i’ve learned so much about how hard graduating high school can be.  reading disabilities, bureaucratic hoops, cops watching, friends and relatives getting shot, no money for food, low expectations, and huge household responsibilities were not anything that i had to deal with in high school.  there were suicides and attempted suicides and alcohol-related car accidents and a sense of depression and ennui, and getting through and past all that was a challenge in its own way and i think high school is a challenge for pretty much anyone.  but in the end, the assumption was “of course you graduate high school.  that is what you do.”  but when i went to the graduation last week, i was immediately struck by a sense of deep pride and joy.  “we survived and conquered.  we fucking did it.”  it was a holy space.

and what was so exciting was that sense of “we did it.”  not “i did it,” which is i think what i thought of my graduation, but instead, “we did this together.”  in one of the graduation speeches, the speaker talked about her classmates as her rivals who were also her backbone.  yes.

the camaraderie among the faculty at that high school was huge.  when i went back to teaching elementary school, i compared the relationships forged at the high school as being like those on a battlefield.  and despite race differences and gang rivalries and all of those things, there is a deep bond between the students at the high school as well.

it’s funny, right.  the way that god is found in those places that hurt so much.  the pain is inexcusable.  causing that pain is inexcusable.  causing that pain with our inequitable laws, prejudices, and greedy fears is absolutely inexcusable.  the world needs to be better than that.  and so it’s ironic that those deep pain moments are the places where i see god the most.

though it also makes sense.  these “comfortable” lives of ours with on-demand tv and microwave dinners, that are based on the sweat of workers we don’t even think about and that smooth over oppression and negative emotion, cannot be the kingdom of god (or the gateway to the kingdom of god if you believe that heaven comes later).  neither are the experiences that would make for that deep sense of celebration for even surviving high school.  that is not the kingdom of god either.  but being in that place of togetherness and joy, if we could just keep that instead of working for trinkets and pushing past each other for what we think is ours, then those inequities and fears could stop.

this post seems equal parts white guilt manifesto, hallmark card, and sermon.  i believe what i’m saying and i also think i cannot put it into words without simplifying people’s experiences and without simplifying god.  i was excited about posting this, but now my lack of appropriate words makes me wonder if it’s worth it, or if it will just go into the collection of words written by good-hearted white liberals that repeat each other and are based on unrealistic idealism.

so i’m going to change the subject to something related but different.  now i’m going to start writing about the morality of lgbtq rights.   because i rarely post and this is something else i’ve been wanting to post and i think i can actually make a good point at the end of all of this.  and at least i know if i idealize the lives of lgbtq people, i’m idealizing my own life.

i’ve been thinking about lgbtq rights as a moral issue in a totally new way recently.  i suddenly realized what a moral nonissue the right to love who you want to love is, and how the focus on that takes a lot of the heat off of everybody, queers, queer-hating folks, and queer allies, to actually fix real problems in the world.  i suddenly started thinking about all of the things lgbtq folks could be doing with their precious and dynamic time, energy, and hearts, if they weren’t stuck being so busy defending their rights to love who they want to love.  again, i am totally idealizing a whole lot of things, but just think what could be done if people weren’t fighting so hard over their ability to hate, or to not be hated.

bah.  it’s coming out all wrong still.  it seems so vitally important, but the words are not strong enough.

i am thinking a lot about that part in huckleberry finn where huck decides that if helping jim makes him a bad person, well then, he might as well just get used to being a bad person.  and we sadly chuckle because we the readers know that he is actually a good person, he just thinks he’s a bad person.  and in the same way, all this angst about the morality of queerness is just totally beside the point of what life and morality is really about.  not that we shouldn’t fight for queer rights.  that’s not what i mean at all.  but the whole hatred of queerness thing just suddenly seems like nothing more than a colossal waste of energy.  god does not want us using our time and energy on justifying our hatred or our self-hatred.  that cannot be what this world is about.  the question suddenly reframed itself from, “queerness: good or bad?” to “why would anyone spend any moment of their time trying to convince people to hate others, rather than just helping people who need help?  who came up with those priorities?”

i want to ‘lectrify my soul.

yesterday at meeting for worship there were a lot of tears. and when somebody spoke/sang about the belief that there will be laughter even after people go, my natural tendency toward making people laugh when times are sad, went into high gear.

i wanted to tell the “hilarious” story of my first quaker meeting. i was an american tourist in whitby, england, and i had a cold. i tried to get tissues before the meeting started but nowhere was open, and that hunt took so long that i got to the meetinghouse just as meeting was started so i couldn’t find the bathroom. so i dashed in and sat there, for my very first hour of silence. except thanks to me, it wasn’t silence. the silence was regularly punctuated by my sniffles, as i tried to sink into the worship in some way. as i remember, there were multiple doors into and out of the worship room, and so even if i had felt brave enough to get up to go to a restroom at such a mysterious and holy time, i didn’t know where any of the doors led. so i just sat there. and sniffled. and felt american.

at the end of the worship time, the elderly woman next to me, kindly turned and told me that she wanted to offer me a tissue, but they were all up her sleeve and she wasn’t sure if that would bother me or not, so she hadn’t offered me a tissue.

what i got from reliving that story in my mind yesterday, was actually less about the funniness of the story but of the tissues we all have up our sleeves that we are too self-conscious to share.

but i didn’t tell the story or the lesson i had learned from it. there’s this flowchart that’s somewhere in our meeting’s seeker’s packets that gets referred to sometimes, and it’s about how to test whether to share a message. the part that i remember the most is that you can ask yourself if the message is just for you or for the group.

here is my embarrassing and guilty quaker confession:

what keeps me from speaking at meeting for worship, more than anything, when i have these “enlightening” moments is that as i start asking myself if the message is for me or the group, another piece comes in, which is, “am i willing to live by this?” and sometimes i’m not sure. sometimes the idea of living by my own grand advice that seems like it’s from god to the group, with me sort of tangentially involved, is so terrifying or exhausting-seeming, that i keep it to myself.

also, yesterday, i finished reading a pendle hill pamphlet by ben pink dandelion, “confident quakerism.” when i went to return it to the library, the library committee member behind the desk asked what i’d thought. and it was hard to answer, because i’d started the pamphlet months ago, read half of it, and then read the other half today. as i recalled, the beginning had been somewhat irritating, but yesterday’s reading had been useful. as i recall, the beginning dealt with some theological mistakes the author had made, and something in how they were presented had irked me. but there was a sentence near the end about how conversations about our spiritual mistakes breaks open things between people. in my conversation, i hypothesised that maybe our mistakes our better talked about than written about (and now i am writing about that idea). maybe they crystallize a little out of context, when you see them in print.

but it was interesting to read that yesterday, because besides theological mistakes, another place where stuff breaks up in important ways, is when people talk about race and oppression. i’m looking at ph. d. programs right now and i just discovered this week that there are education programs that have whiteness studies as part of it, and that has gotten me really excited. so i got all excited about that as a theological exercise, too.

but of course i don’t want to mix up an academic field with worship.

but probably the core of my belief system is that god is there when you are open to the truth. and frequently that is messy and awkward.

(and at the same time something i am continually learning is the boundaries of one’s own messy-and-awkward and others’ messy-and-awkward. as a writer who has very little filter, i must be mindful that others have filters and boundaries, and they are there for a reason.)

after meeting for worship, my girlfriend and i trekked over to ocean beach to see gillian welch, old crow medicine show, and emmylou harris pay tribute to warren hellman, the man who had started the hardly strictly bluegrass festival, a free music festival in golden gate park. i can never be convinced to go to the festival anymore because it is too crowded and full of alcohol and pot, even if i think it’s a good idea. but i liked the slightly smaller (though still robust) crowd of this event, the considerably rarer instances of people lighting up anything near me (though i did have this funny interaction on the phone with my mom between sets. she said, “we’re lighting a fire in the pit out here,” JUST as pulled out a pipe and lit it right next to me, and so i said, “yeah, someone’s got a little one going over here, too.), the explicitly respectful vibe of the event, and the beautiful escape valve of the roaring ocean just behind me. i was actually able to enjoy the music.

life is sadder than sometimes i’d like to admit. and it’s hard. and growth is hard. but there is god in the music and the laughter and the time shared together and the solitude of the ocean and the mistakes we make and our ability to open up about those mistakes. and if there’s not, there’s something really close, pointing to what god really is.

living through the dry, oaty bits.

the first week of 2012 has been full of paradox for me. or maybe not paradox, but big… confusion. big… holding of awkward truths.

objectively and retrospectively, i’m a big fan of breaking open. the change that comes after the world has shattered you and you come back. in the moment, though, it sucks. in the moment, while you are breaking or watching someone break or the world seems to be so irreparably broken, it just needs to stop.

at the same time, sometimes when things are breaking, things also slow down and get soft. circumstances beat at your heart but people who love you are gentle. when my dad died, i had a rotating circle of friends who shared my bed, cuddling me to sleep. right now, things are like that. our house is a house of dazed, sad confusion, but the guests give us love and laughter. as we keep watch in the dark, our friends are the lights.

that is one thing that is going on.

the other thing is the bus ride every day. every day i get on the bus at 6:18 am, close my eyes and open them again at about 7:05 on the last stop. usually i don’t fall asleep, but sometimes i doze a little bit in the middle. then at the end of the day, i stand in front of a gas station and wait for the bus to pick me up.

thursday in the late afternoon, with me at the bus stop was a family. a young woman, a young man, and two kids, one in a stroller. the adults talked about drugs and sex and the baby in the stroller screamed. then the woman took the baby out of the stroller and got in it herself. on the bus, the baby screamed, the young man got off the bus, both children screamed, the young woman hit them, they continued to scream. i’d just finished a day that included one student’s near-violent screaming meltdown that ended with his parents being called and him being picked up early.

friday morning, there was a woman on the bus talking to anyone who would listen. 20 minutes before my bus stop, she started yelling at me to wake up and then at the bus driver about how she was worried this woman wouldn’t wake up. i opened my eyes and grouchily told her that i wasn’t a woman and that i did this all the time and had never missed my stop. she apologized. then she apologized. then she apologized. i closed my eyes. then she told me about her heroin addiction, selling methadone, setting a car on fire, jumping off an overpass, and getting her leg amputated. multiple times. in multiple ways.

these moments make me want to stop, to move away, to live somewhere where it is not so hard. i think what i really need is to become less permeable, to stop carrying these things around. because really my job, as a teacher, is to make sure my students don’t become these people. that’s like, the biggest, scariest job in the world.

all the bus stuff has been rolling around in me for a bit and a clever blog entry title that i came up with was “wrapped up like a douche,” like the misheard version of “blinded by the light” and my desire to wrap myself cosily away from all the bad things in the world, like a selfish jerk… but that’s a little too self-deprecating and crude for a title.

and, lest you think the oakland city bus makes one give up all hope, last night, as i was going to see friends downtown, i walked onto a very crowded bus, and the first thing i witnessed was a girl, about 8 years old, singing to an appreciative woman who i could tell had been a stranger before this meeting, “happy birthday to ya, happy birthday to ya, happy birthday to ya.”

god’s work isn’t done by god. it’s done by people.

oh, right. there was another part of christmas eve that i forgot to write about.

over vacations, i like to work at an independent bookstore in bernal heights. i used to work there regularly before teaching, but now i don’t have the time or energy– except during long breaks from school. since it’s my “fake job,” it doesn’t feel like work as much as just a fun thing to do. the only part that feels like work is waking up and getting there. once i’m there, i have a great time shelving books, talking to customers, making me to-read list even longer.

i’ve got another friend who works in retail around here, but it’s her real job and it’s a bigger store. not just a little neighborhood bookstore with loyal customers, but a department store downtown. as i was leaving my shift at 3 on christmas eve, i texted her something about being in the home stretch.

she didn’t respond until i was walking down 24th to the christmas pageant. i felt my phone buzz and looked to see she had sent me a text message that said, “dead god.”

it turns out that she meant dear god, but from a large retail perspective, christmas eve is about as “dead god” as you can get. not only is god dead, but you’re about there, too. i remember when i worked at jo-ann fabrics and crafts, etc. just how soul-sucking it all is.

and that’s the irony of the season that we all know. christmas corporate retail may be the biggest reason for atheism there is. “THIS is how we celebrate god’s birthday!? f*** that. if he was real, he wouldn’t let this happen for any reason, let alone for him.”

so, i laughed a lot out there on 24th, about getting “dead god” text message on my way to a christmas pageant. but then, that christmas pageant, with it’s men in angel wings and a real live baby for jesus, reminded me of the aliveness of god. in fact, there was a line that we in the congregation said, “christ has died, christ is risen, christ will come again,” which can metaphorically describe that paradoxical moment, the paradoxical moment we all live in every day. every day we are killing christ, and every day… we can be christ.

after i got home from the pageant, i discovered that the issue of “western friend” i was about to read had a big section on the occupy movement. and from someone who is either not called to actively participate in that movement or who is too lazy… i see that christ aliveness in the occupy movement.

we always say that if we had been there, we would have been right there with jesus, or we would have fought the nazis, and then there are those moments where we realize we might have just been cozily at home instead. would that have been a moral failing then, and is it a moral failing now? or is that the wrong question?

tonight, i followed my recent christmas tradition of visiting a new church for one of their holiday services. a few years ago, i managed to pack in 3 services in one christmas, but this year it will just be the one. i’m not going to make it to meeting tomorrow, even.

tonight’s service was at a church in noe valley called holy innocents. i started my decision-making process based on churches that would be near where i was today and that had an early evening service that wasn’t at 5:00 because I wouldn’t be able to make it for that. i found 3 churches that fit those criteria, via google, and then i decided on this one, because it was a christmas pageant and because the website invites you to come early so you can get a costume.

as i walked through the mission at 5:30, i marveled at all the things that were closed. there was sort of a nice hush over things. i have mixed feelings about holidays, but i like moments that are set aside for coziness, nonetheless. i know it probably sucks for a lot of people who don’t celebrate christmas, but the idea of everyone being still on some level is appealing to me. perhaps that is judeochristianically oppressive of me…

the pageant was wonderful. it not only told the story of the birth in the manger, but also the story of the first christmas pageant, which they attributed to francis of assisi, and we all got to be involved, in costume or not. i was a strange stranger, in my bright yellow bert sweatshirt, with an ill-placed coffee stain on my pants, and a “michelle obama, first lady of fabulous” totebag, but i still felt welcome.

ever since christopher hitchens died, i’ve been doing some extra thinking about religion. it actually happened as i was starting karen armstrong’s the case for god, and if you know me, you know i’m a much bigger fan of armstrong than of hitchens. the way i think of it is that armstrong and hitchens are in opposite camps, not because one believes in god and the other didn’t, but because of their very different conceptions of what god even means and what the debate over religion is really about. because to me christopher hitchens and “the religious right” are on the same side, because they think god is about going to heaven and believing in impossible things. but for me, and from what i’ve read by armstrong, for her as well, god is about living in such a way that the kingdom of god can be here and believing in god is more about trusting in the possibility of that world. and that kingdom/world is not about others going to hell but about merciful, inclusive love and justice…

one of the ways to bring about that world involves discipline, as i am reminded over and over again by armstrong’s tracing of the history of faith. at one of my first quaker meetings, robin m. spoke about discipline. at the time, i thought she was being too hard on herself about whatever it was she was speaking about, and smugly thought discipline wasn’t that important. but the thing with god, for me, i think, is that… things can be fine without god, actually, but they are so much better with god (like sex and love). there is some anne lamott quote, i think, about how god is sort of found by accident, but prayer makes you accident-prone. and so that’s where the discipline part comes in. i’ve been using a method of prayer i found in a book by brent bill recently, and even though i’ve been extra-aware lately of my lack of discipline, i think i’m getting better.

as a quaker and as a liberal, i have mixed feelings about holidays. as a quaker because everyday is sacramental and as a liberal because our society’s main form of christianity is pretty oppressive. and then there’s the whole commercialism aspect etc. but man, i love light in the darkness. as a weak, undisciplined human i love it. every christmas tree in a window makes me smile, every christmas song on the radio (except “do they know it’s christmas,” ugh) makes my toes wiggle, and i’m wearing a red-and-green set of pajamas right now.

anyway, before i left the church, i took a final restroom break before getting on the bart to go home. the toilet paper was running out, and so i hunted down a new roll. and i thought about how sometimes that better, kingdom-of-heaven world that is possible, gets it start from small moments of discipline, like the ministry of putting on a new roll. that sounds potentially sardonic, but i don’t mean anything disrespectful. i mean, respecting the next stranger who comes along, having no idea who they will be.

not to be too cutesy, but…

i’ve been sort of g. d. mad at g-d, lately.

Published in: on 29 November, 2011 at 7:55 pm  Leave a Comment