Monday, August 21, 2017

An Ordinary Superstition

Image result for eclipse

I want to tell you a story about a customer - an ordinary-looking woman with ordinary blue jeans, an ordinary t-shirt, ordinary sneakers, and an ordinary hair cut. She came into the office looking for a self-storage unit - an ordinary request, given that we're a self-storage facility. I sat down in my office chair behind our big, oak, Amish-built desk and she took a seat on the other side. My friendly cat, Pancake, jumped up to greet her with some head bumps and a squeak. She took to Pancake, as most customers do. I explained the rental contract, the different prices and sizes, and generally how it all works at the Wells County Lock-Up (an unfortunate play on words my father felt was quite creative back in 1999). She sat and listened, like any other customer. She decided which size was best for her needs and I assigned her unit #1310. "It's in building thirteen, and it's the tenth unit down, on the south side," I explained routinely.

"Oh," she said solemnly. "Thirteen is an unlucky number." Her eyes met mine with a shy but piercing sincerity. She was in a double-bind - afraid of the unit, but unable to really ask for a different one without bad manners and giving the game away. I offered to change the unit (which in retrospect may have been too forceful), but I'd already drawn up the rental contract and the pressure to be ordinary was just too much for this superstitious lady, "No, it's okay, I don't want to make you fill everything out again," she said, trying to keep her cool. I could see she was struggling. A few seconds passed. It was too late. She knew that I knew. Her body shifted in discomfort, her secret deviation in plain view for this lowly self-storage manager to see and judge.

"It's a good thing Pancake isn't black!" I said, looking over at my gray tabby/calico cat, trying to loosen the tension. "I used to own a black cat," she replied, doubling-down, "they keep away the dark spirits." When it rains, it pours. Perhaps she thought it wouldn't be so awkward if she just dumped it all out there (it was just as awkward). I pained to act as if this was a completely normal point of view. "Sure! Those dark spirits. Some customers worry about mice, others about dark spirits, it's all the same," was the attitude I tried to give off. I mentioned that #1310 isn't really thirteen - it's one thousand three hundred and ten. She politely agreed but her superstitious heart could tell I was trying to get one past her.

Very superstitious, writings on the wall
Very superstitious, ladders bout' to fall
Thirteen month old baby, broke the lookin' glass
Seven years of bad luck, the good things in your past
When you believe in things that you don't understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain't the way

There's a solar eclipse today. I can't help but wonder if it doesn't bring out the weirdos - not that I'm superstitious or anything.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

An Ordinary Rabbit's Head

It's close to noon here in Bluffton, IN. A dry summer day with large fluffy clouds in a bright, almost white sky. It could rain, but it probably won't. I should be outside at the storage facility putting red locks on the doors of delinquent tenants. Instead, I'm at my desk, on my computer, drinking a frothy cup of French pressed Starbucks dark coffee with coconut oil and butter. I learned in Kona last December that warm weather people don't know how to make dark things (you older readers probably already knew this). Coffee, beer, and coffee-beer, they're all the same: the flavors are weak where they should be strong and light where they should be dark. What you wind up with is an unsatisfying, watery, almost magnanimous brew. Sort of like tropical islands themselves. There's a reason Starbucks comes from the dreary American Pacific Northwest and Guinness from just below the Arctic Circle. Kona Brewing Company even makes a banana beer called the Hula Hefeweizen, a foul and offensive concoction.

I drink dark things all the year long, through Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, and Advent. Especially Advent. The coconut oil and butter blend is a compromise to my Northern principles. A near moral failing. But at least it's not sugar or milk. It also helps smooth out the caffeine effects. It's a great winter morning 6am pre-workout, especially if you stack it with a magnesium pill, an Ibuprofen, and a big swig of water. Thinking of Hawaii makes me miss all those European college kids I met at the beach hostel. We mostly drank Bud Light. I prefer a good stout, but they didn't serve those at the Americanized luaus. Old, wealthy, leathery-skinned tourists in sweat-stained Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirts like syrupy mixed-drinks heavy on the ice and free-flowing light beer to go along with fake entertainment.

Ben Camino tells me it's Ordinary Time. The liturgical color of Ordinary Time is green, the color of salads and avocados and not-yet-ripe bananas. I'm eating a lot of bananas and avocados and salads these days. I grew tired of sweet potatoes and roots. That was a diet for Advent. Seasons pass and seasons come again. I also grew tired of church. Thoreau said something about living each season as it passes. In the last chapter of Walden, he wrote that he left his cabin in the woods for as good a reason as he went there: that it seemed to him that he had several more lives to live and could not spare any more time for that one. It's cliche to talk metaphorically about life and change and seasons, but what better liturgical season to appreciate a tried and true cliche than Ordinary Time?

More than piety or justice, the religious life requires wisdom. I reckon we can't even discuss piety or justice without wisdom (though that doesn't seem to stop folks from trying). Wisdom, I think, involves understanding the difference between a perplexing, unfamiliar, challenging season of life and a life in smoldering ruins. Wisdom can mean taking a posture of non-judgement towards those who experience the faith in strange ways. It can also mean patience, and trust, and believing in that blessed assurance my grandmother used to sing about. Seasons pass and seasons come again. A time away from church service doesn't mean a life away from church service. This is true of writing, reading, prayer, meditation, exercise, social events, friends, cooking, and other things. We all have the right to step away for a time. To everything there is a season. There's probably something in Ecclesiastes about this.

I think this is the real lesson of Thoreau's project: not to move to the woods or quit your job or buy a tiny house or stare out at trees for hours on end, but to live with confidence, to move slowly in a direction that is true, to strip life bare, to find your road, follow your road, to bend with your road, to feel the sun on your skin when it is bright and shining, to wear a coat when there is frost and chill.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we could substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality.

I've shipwrecked myself on a vain reality a time or two or three. Maybe I'm shipwrecked again. It's hard to say. Reality is tricky. Maybe that's why we need Ordinary Time. To breathe in the ordinary, to remember that without the ordinary there can be no miraculous - no virgin birth, no resurrection, no kingdom come; and while the Teacher of Ecclesiastes mourns that there's nothing new under the sun, maybe Ordinary Time is also, and paradoxically, a reminder that this doesn't make the birth of a new baby or a teenage love or a softball championship or a cup of rich, savory, dark roasted coffee any less the work of a miraculous God, even though they will one day be lost to all memory. "All is vanity!" says the Teacher. Ordinary Time looks the Book of Ecclesiastes in the eye and replies, "so what?"

In a typical year, the Indiana countryside by this time would be as golden-brown as a November cornfield, but it's been a wet summer and so the roadside foliage and city lawns all remain a deep, dark green. I'm mowing the grass at least once a week here at the storage facility and as sometimes happens the other day I hit rabbit. I was making my usual passes, running the mower in straight, vertical lines, when I looked to my left and saw it: a decapitated rabbit's head, cleanly cut, resting in the fresh lawn, blood running out into the ground, a distinct mix of chlorophyll green and crimson red. This is an ordinary thing to the earth, but death is a peculiar thing to me. Moments like that sit with me because even though they feel strange, I know they're not. There's lots of dead rabbits in the ground, and mothers and their babies, too. More than I could ever count. I've written somewhere on this blog that death wins all it seeks. What are our small acts of kindness and mercy supposed to achieve against an enemy like that? What good are "inclusivity" and "empathy" and "love" against the god of death? Here's a thing I think I think: death is universal, love is particular. Universal love is a fool's errand, playing death's game on death's terms.

There's a fine line between the poetic and the superstitious. I once heard a story about a woman who watched a hawk devour some small creature and as it flew away blood dripped down from its talons and onto her forehead. That week she was diagnosed with cancer. Marked for death. Ben Camino told me that sort of thing is ordinary, we just miss it. Ordinary Time asks us to pay a little more attention. I'm not sure what it will accomplish, it may not conquer the grave, but it's better than resignation - and I think that's more than we have the right to ask of ordinary things, that they help us beat back the looming shadow of resignation, surrender, capitulation. If a dark, foamy, buttery cup of French pressed coffee from Seattle is what it takes to delay the inevitable, then I'm alright with that.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Epiphanic Cacophony #3: New Year, New Things

That's me in the mask (2011).
On December 31st, at midnight, when humanity happily showed 2016 the nearest exit and awarded 2017 a presumptuous Nobel Peace Prize, I was at a bar in Hawaii staring face to face with a beautiful French-Canadian girl. I did not kiss her. I expect I'll regret this decision for the rest of my life - or until I forget about it.

Back in July, Professor Bill Schneider of George Mason University wondered if 2016 wasn't this generation's 1968. This was before Trump won the election and the Cubs won the World Series.

Last night I had a dream that Donald Trump started a nuclear war. I was in a restaurant and we all did the "duck and cover" drill like school children from the 1950s. I hope that if I was stuck under a table and world was going all to shit, maybe then I'd say to hell with propriety and kiss that French-Canadian girl.

But I can't worry about Trump. Or perhaps I can worry a little, but I don't want to ruminate on it. It's better to spend your life energy on things you can control than to rage over things you can't. The nuclear war will kill you either way.

So, with that said, I want to celebrate a couple of things from 2016 and write down some health plans for 2017. After all, it's the season of Epiphany; we're learning how to live, how to belong to this world, to our country, to our places. Thanks to Brett Jenkins for the format of this post.

I took my life back
Between mid-2013 and the end of 2015, I lost my health, my passions and routines and networks, a 3-year relationship, and my family. In 2016, I rebuilt my life.

A Softball Championship

A little story: In 2015, my softball team finished the regular season undefeated but lost in the semi-finals after a controversial rule change to the tournament format (we got screwed). In 2016, we lost a couple games during the regular season, but upset the defending champions in the title game. I love the dudes on my softball team. I even made a few circus catches out in right field because I'm that damned good. 

I discovered Whole30
Brett Jenkins also gets credit for this. Social media gets a lot of flak, and rightly so, but if it wasn't for Brett's Facebook pics of avocados and raspberries and black coffee, I'd have never learned about the Whole30. It changed the way I eat and the way I think about food.

I learned new songs on my acoustic
Most of them are from Jackson Browne.

I got back into the gym
After I got sick, my gym routine died a slow, agonizing death and for a year or so I didn't go. Then the old gym I loved closed its doors, and that made getting back into it even more of a chore. But in 2016, I pushed through, I got a gym membership, and I started easing my way in. Now, I'm back at it, 4 days a week, doing the 5/3/1.

I traveled a lot
Dallas for WrestleMania; Hawaii and San Fran over Christmas (#travelingwithkev); Las Vegas with dad for a business expo; a family ski trip to Crystal Mountain; Holland and Silver Lake, Michigan with the girl who was way too young and I shouldn't have been dating. What an awesome year.

I was in a play
I was cast as the King of Bohemia in a Sherlock Holmes play. Rehearsals 5 nights a week for a month and a half. Performances 3 nights a week (and a night of brush ups) for 3 weeks. I'd never done community theatre before, but it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. 

I learned how to saunter
I read Walking by Thoreau and I took up the practice of sauntering, which around here means putting on some good walking shoes and trespassing over backyards and farms and taking summer naps by ponds and rivers. Walk like the whole planet is yours to enjoy.

I saw Weird Al in concert
Bob Vanderkolk and I had a drunkenly good time at the arcade before the show.

I saw two musicals
Antigone and Oklahoma! Both at Taylor University. They were wonderful.

I discovered Rick and Morty
If you haven't watched it, go change that.

I went to Cedar Point
With two lifelong friends, Jordan and Daniel. One of the best times of my life.

I became the Bluffton Elementary and Middle School chess coach
I'm not great at chess. I'm not even sure I qualify as good. But I know enough to introduce kids to the game and to the Masters on YouTube.

I redesigned our business website
This was a project I'd had in mind for a while and this past spring I finally did it. It took a several 12-hour days and then some but I'm happy with how it turned out. I did a lot of other good things here at the storage facility in 2016.

I visited a therapist once a week for over 8 months

This was helpful.

I learned how to set helpful boundaries for myself with other people
Especially customers, and on a related note, I became better at telling people "yes" when I mean "yes" and "no" when I mean "no fucking way, that's your fucking problem, own your shit and deal with it."

I ended a dating relationship that needed to end
And not a moment too soon (though possibly a little late, as is my habit).

I gave a sermon at my church
It was my first sermon and it was about politics.

My closest friends all survived
Some people I knew died in 2016, but my closest mates and all my family made it through. It won't always be that way.

Good stuff. Now, here are some wellness goals for 2017:

5/3/1 and Agile 8
I'm going to get back to my old training routine. 4 days in the gym per week, doing the 5/3/1 and the Agile 8. The former is for strength, the latter is for agility. In the past I've always let my agility work slide, but not this time - my new rule is that before I lift I must do my agility training. I like the 5/3/1 for its simplicity and the way it splits up the lifts. I'll post the basics here. If you're interested, click on the link or do a web search.

Monday - Overhead Press
Tuesday - Deadlift
Wednesday - Rest
Thursday - Squat
Friday - Bench Press

The Agile 8 is a straightforward flexibility routine. The video is very helpful.

Intermittent Fasting
This is something very new for me. Towards the end of 2016 I began fasting regularly, usually on Mondays. This year, for spiritual practice, physical health, and proper attitude towards food and eating, I'm going to begin an Intermittent Fasting routine. I'm good at following eating plans. I actually keep a food log. What this looks like in practice is a 6 hour eating window each day followed by an 18 hour fasting period. So if I eat from 2-8pm on Monday, I won't eat again until 2pm on Tuesday, stopping at 8pm, rinse and repeat. It's called the 18/6. 18 hours of fasting, 6 hours of eating, per day. I've been doing it for a week and it works well for me. I may need to tinker with the exact eating hours, but generally I like this approach. I've stacked it with the Whole30.

Finishing what I started
I'm getting back in the ring and finishing my pro-wrestling training and I'm not quitting. I want to learn how to tell a story through the medium of pro-wrestling. That probably sounds funny to a lot of you; I want to become good enough such that if you come watch me, you won't find it so laughable.

I hope 2017 treats you well. Maybe you'll meet a French-Canadian.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Epiphanic Cacophony #2: A Preachy Post About Epiphany and Progressivism

If you read my Epiphany reflection from yesterday, you might be wondering, still, what’s the point of this season? Something about the color green and discipleship and stardust? I admit, I didn’t spell it out all that clearly. That’s partly because I’m overcoming a disrupted and out-of-sorts sleep schedule, it’s also because I’m trying to figure it out, myself. It’s worth noting that all the Christian seasons have a singular purpose in that they help us remember and participate in the life of Jesus Christ, so we don’t end up like those “foolish Galatians.” 

Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and the season after Pentecost.

This liturgical rhythm, if you blog about it every evening, or observe it some other way, has a surprising energy about it. It’s got a poetic soul. It can change you. Your eyes and ears and other senses start to work a little different than before. Or maybe it’s not the liturgy. Maybe it’s just the commitment to something other than appetite and distraction (which could be the whole point of liturgy, I don’t know).

Like I mentioned in the previous post: Advent is the waiting, Christmas is the celebration of the coming, and Epiphany is the living, going out into the wilderness, squaring off with temptation. Why did God come to the planet in the first place? He’s going to show us (hint: it’s not about posting political memes). Epiphany means “to make manifest.” This is where we discover what it means that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Epiphany is an especially Anabaptist liturgical season. Theologically, Anabaptists emphasize the daily grind. Yes, yes, Christmas and Easter are important, but I get my high off not buying things and wearing black and fasting and eating roots and being constitutionally unsettled by empire and consumerism. January is buy nothing month for me. If a need comes up, I’ll see what I can borrow. I’m already off to a good start: I’m using my nephew’s old snow jacket for a family ski trip this week (thanks, sis!)

All this emphasis on Jesus can, if you’re not careful, reduce a man to parroting progressive talking points and sharing Democracy Now links and reading Sojourners op-eds and thinking that all this means he’s on the narrow way. I gave a sermon about this problem in early November, back when we all thought Hillary was going to win the election in an historic landslide. I get it, though. And I don’t pretend to know what does and doesn’t cross the line between Christianity and cultural progressivism. I just know that there is a line. It’s one of those questions we just have to feel out, through trial and error and prayer and honest reflection. But make no mistake, the gospel is calling the rich and the poor, conservative and liberal, employer and employee, white and black, to repentance.

Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand!

If switching from Fox News to MSNBC is why God came to the planet, then we might as well give this whole thing up. If that’s all you’re getting from it, then you’d better open your Bible or take a fast or go on a pilgrimage. It’s not just the conservatives who get comfortable with fundamentalism. The progressives do, too. And too often they equate their heart for the poor with the policies they advocate, such that anyone who disagrees with their means becomes an opponent of their ends, which is caring for the “least of these,” which means if you oppose the ACA or a minimum wage bump you’re a Pharisee putting heavy burdens on the people Jesus loved the most. This is all part of the Rachel Held Evans system (or Rachel HELL Evans, as a pilgrim I know would say).

R - Run away from your past
A - Attract people with the same wounds as you
C - Create a space where you can monetize resentment
H - Hammer out blog posts that use all the buzzwords
E - Elicit social media disciples to spread your message
L - Let the virus spread

(Okay, this is very uncharitable. I promise I’m mostly kidding.)

Epiphany. To make manifest. I’m not saying we can’t have some idea of what Jesus was getting at. I’m saying that his words cut deeper than perhaps we’re willing to admit. I’m saying we’re never so clean as to not need baptism and fire and the Holy Spirit. I’m saying the moment we think we’ve got the Way, the Truth, and the Life figured out is the moment we need to change things up. Sometimes I tell people I’m looking for lowercase-t truth.

Lowercase-t truth ain’t a bore
That’s the thing I’m looking for
Cut a broad swath and shave close
Make room for the Holy Ghost

When I think I’m getting too partisan, too secure in my own views, I like to read philosophy and poetry. It keeps me unplugged. There are all kinds of peddlers out there trying to make a mark out of you, selling this and that, promising answers. Not that answers are a bad thing, but they’re more an apartment than a home. Don’t pay for a house when you’re renting a flat. Be ready to move when the Spirit calls. Don’t bury your intuition in certainty. This is getting a little preachy. But I think Epiphany is the right time for preachiness. Epiphany wouldn’t be worth its name if it didn’t have the potential for making a person say, “Oh! Of course! It’s obvious! How could I have been so blind!?”

Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand!

Some folks say, “People don’t change.” Nah. People do change, and sometimes they change very quickly. The Christian faith puts a lot of stock in the power of change. Epiphany is all about change. Preaching and repenting and dropping your nets and following the shepherd-leader. I want to be comfortable with change; mind-altering, earth-shattering, divinely-inspired change. Someone once told me that with my long hair and scraggly beard, the only thing I’d be getting is change (spare change, he meant). I think he was giving me an Epiphany sermon.

If you think I’ve been too hard on progressives in this post, just wait for the reflection where I take a shot at conservatives; it’s coming, I just don’t know when. In the meantime, I hope you have an epiphanous 2nd day of Epiphany, and 3rd day, since this one’s almost over. And one more time, since I feel sort of bad about it, that RACHEL system thing is a joke, even if it’s a tiny bit true.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Epiphanic Cacophony #1: A Cosmological Pilgrimage

A painting called Epiphany by an internet anon named Art Enrico.
Stars and roots and stars as roots and three desert pilgrims. 

“Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of learning. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come.” - Rumi

Welcome to Epiphany, which, according to my $15 liturgical calendar, means “to make manifest.” We’ve waited for Jesus (Advent), we’ve celebrated his birth (Christmas), and now we’re following him into new life (or being dragged, I don’t know). The color green is the color of Epiphany and it signifies growth, discipleship, and pilgrimage.

An Eastern star, a river baptism, bright lights on a mountain; this whole Word becoming flesh business involves a lot of earthy, material stuff. It starts with amniotic fluid and baby spit and ends with blood and burial robes. Then there’s the credit cookie, where the dead body gets up. It’s an epiphanic cacophony. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Since I skipped the end of Advent and the whole of Christmas with an impromptu trip to Hawaii, I reckon I’ve got a writing debt to pay, so I’m go keep this going with some Epiphany reflections. It’ll be a little rough since I don’t know what I’m doing, but I didn’t know what I was doing when I landed in Hawaii without a ride and without a place to stay. I’ve always learned best when I’m in over my head and getting blasted by waves and being dragged against rocks.

Today is January 6th. "Three Kings Day," according to Wikipedia. I don’t pretend to have anything close to a thorough understanding as to who these Magi were (from the sound of it, no one really does), but from what I can piece together, they’re a strange bunch. For starters, they dabbled in astrology and magic, which ‘round these parts is a big no-no (lots of church-goers can’t even handle Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings). The Wise Men let the universe speak; they offered it a listening ear. The planet wasn’t just a bunch of stuff for manipulation and consumption. The cosmos had a life about it, a spirit. Owen Barfield probably liked them (thanks, Edwin).

Also: take note, Indiana, of the enormous difference between kneeling at the crib of the infant Jesus and promoting theocratic political power in Jesus’ name. For kings, these men possessed an uncommon humility. In fact, the idea of men with political power kneeling before a baby is perhaps the most hard-to-believe part of the whole New Testament (though they may not have really been kings). But that’s the story. And they didn’t just kneel. They took a pilgrimage.

"Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him."

I started a good thing in 2016, fasting, and I’m going to keep doing it 2017. It required fundamental shift in my diet and in my attitude towards eating, but it’s been worth it. I’ve learned a thing or two (though I’m going to keep those lessons to myself). I’ll just note that, in my experience, and in the story of the Magi, a good, earthy pilgrimage involves listening to the world around you. An important part of that world is your body. If it’s too much of a stretch to take life advice from a volcanic island, try a fast. The Magi were cosmological pilgrims, Jesus was a cosmological pilgrim, you’re a cosmological pilgrim, even if you don’t know it. We’re made of starstuff, right? Isn’t that what Carl Sagan said? Follow the stars.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Post-Advent Ironic Advent Meditation: Waiting for Everyman

Jackson Browne

Hawaii took a lot longer than expected. I left on Dec. 19th and just got home tonight, Jan. 4th. I’m jet lagged and exhausted, so this won’t be long. I just wanted to check in and put down a few thoughts.

Advent is long past. Today is the 11th day of Christmas, somehow. I celebrated Christmas Day with the hostel I stayed at and it was good and we sang folk songs and I played the banjo, the uke, and the 6 string while I drank and smoked. Christmas with strangers. I recommend it. That was in the evening. On Christmas morning I took a boat ride along the coast of The Big Island, went swimming with dolphins and whale watching. Seeing that island from out there in the blue ocean, the mountain paradise shooting into the misty clouds above, the topical volcano looking down on me, it was a spiritual experience. The world felt so big, so impossible to understand, and I felt completely at peace with it. And yes, my long, sun-bleached hair, was blowing wildly in the wind, like Zaphod Beeblebrox speeding across the seas of Damogran.

Afterwards, I posted this on Facebook

Just took a boat around the island and swam with dolphins and the whole thing was spiritual and nothing is as it seems and the world is too big to understand. Advent is over. Merry Christmas.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the island. I'm still not sure how I wound up there. On the flight to Kona I wrote in my journal, “I don’t know when I’m coming home. I won’t know until I get there.” On the 26th of December, I went swimming and the waves threw me into some rocks, rocks which a little sea urchin called home, and he tore up my right hand and forearm with his spikes; the waves also blasted my prescription sunglasses off my face (they are forever lost at sea). The whole thing was my fault. I swam towards the closest shore instead of the shore I was more familiar with, the one I’d used to enter the water in the first place. I took it as a lesson to go home sooner rather than later (or never). I tell my chess students, “Don’t play hope chess. Don’t just move a piece and hope for the best. Know what you’re doing. Think about each move.” This advice has a broad application.

Let me take a second to plug My Hawaii Hostel. It’s wonderful. Clean, friendly, hospitable, and inexpensive. $45 per night for a bed, a shower, and access to the kitchen, which usually has community food available. I didn’t spend a dime on food until my fourth or fifth day on the island. I met people from all over: Germany, Austria, Australia, Canada, Alaska, Switzerland, France, and more (while I’m discussing world regions and such, I’d like to apologize for saying that Hawaii is in the South Pacific. It’s not. It’s in the North Pacific). If you ever decide to visit Kona, Hawaii, look up My Hawaii Hostel.

I went to a luau with a bunch of Europeans and we just about got kicked out during the show. The security guard told us he’d been getting complaints. Too much drinking, too much laughter. The Austrian was a little pissed. “Is this how Americans do holiday!? They just sit and watch shows and eat and never talk to anyone!?” “Yeah, a lot of them,” I said. He asked me if I was comfortable with the luau, which he compared to a Disney World production. “No, I’m not. I’m not even sure why Hawaii should be a state. I guess that’s imperialism. They get tourist dollars, we get shows, and we all lose a piece of ourselves.” The whole luau was a nightmare of colonialism and Americanism, like a Hawaiian version of the Lawrence Welk Show. God save us all.

One last thing. I was stuck in San Francisco for a couple nights before I made it to Hawaii. I was traveling with my friends Kevin and Sarah. We walked around the touristy places by the bay and for about an hour we split up. They went to a winery and I went to the street where Nicholas Cage chased Sean Connery. A Buddhist monk approached me and gave me a bracelet and a nod. “Peace.” That’s all he said. That’s what I’d like to leave you with tonight. Peace. Have peace with where you are. Hawaii’s okay. But warm weather and waves alone have nothing to offer humanity. Flowers aren’t better than bare trees and sandy beaches aren’t better than frozen grass. During my last few days in Hawaii and on the flights home I experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude for where I come from. Stepping off the plane in Indianapolis, I’d never been so happy to feel cold. I suppose It’s easy to sit here and tell you this. Maybe you need a trip all your own to learn it. I did. So take one, if you can. Maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for. I’m not saying you won’t. Just don’t drive yourself crazy thinking the answers are out there.

Seems like I've always been
Looking for some other place
To get it together
Where with a few of my friends
I could give up the race
And maybe find something better
But all my fine dreams
Well thought out schemes
To gain the motherland
Have all eventually come down
To waiting for Everyman

Monday, December 19, 2016

Ironic Advent 2016 MediCATION #18: Aloha Advent

A lot has happened since my last meditation.

I was stranded in Indianapolis all weekend after freezing rain covered the roads in a blanket of ice. I watched a Ford Mustang spin out of control and slam into a median, whereupon an SUV, which was following, banged into the Mustang's passenger door. I was behind both vehicles and narrowly missed the whole mess. My GPS was lit up with wrecks all over the area. It took over an hour to get from the south side of Indy to the north side, where I slept on a friend's surprisingly comfortable fold out bed. Props to Kevin for his hospitality. On Saturday the weather didn't let up much so we went to a breakfast joint and I ordered the Mexican omelet. Deeeeelish. Props to The Roost in Indy for knowing how to do it right. The whole reason I went to Indy was to watch Star Wars with some old college friends, so props, also, to Tim and Sarah. Props all around.

Super mega bonus props to Kevin for hooking me up with a cheap flight to Hawaii. Yes, I'm running off to the South Pacific to get away from ice storms and out of control Mustangs. It's a quick trip (I'll be back in time for Christmas) so I don't plan to take my laptop with me, which means this might be my last meditation (unless I can get one out on Christmas Eve, if the jet lag doesn't kill me). If this is the last meditation of 2016, then I'd consider it a fitting end to this first year of Ironic Advent. We've spent a lot of time kicking up dust, chewing on roots, looking for I don't know what. I've puked up a lot of weaknesses on here. It's been exhausting. And I'm still battling the cold I got from all the 1am writing, so I'm alright with this pilgrimage ending in Honolulu, even if it is the least Advent-ish place on Earth.

I feel satisfied. It's good I did it. And I appreciate all those who spent time with my words and shared Advent with me from a distance. I was in over my head from the start, but I've learned a thing or two about swimming in the deep end. This blog isn't going anywhere, and I may still write a little something for Christmas Eve, or even Christmas. Could be I show up here for Lent. Anyways (or anyway as Joe Martyn Ricke says), I want to give you some Ironic Advent reminders. Here they are:

1. take naps
2. go on walks
3. go on walks and take naps in strange places when the weather gets warmer (or if you visit Hawaii)
4. don't buy new TVs just because they're cheap
5. live like an Unmercenary Saint
6. this planet is enemy occupied territory
7. people need rhythm and stillness
8. change usually happens slowly
9. Advent is a good time to cuss
10. read poetry
11. you can't fix a broken heart with stuff or distractions
12. say yes when you mean yes
12. say no when you mean no
14. maybe learn how to be healthily and helpfully dependent
15. go read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Thanks for reading, pilgrim. I would leave you with a Thoreau quote but I've got to get some sleep. So I'll just say this: as long as there are pilgrims, there will be pilgrimages. Take a nap, chew on some roots, and read a poem. See what comes from it, maybe you'll learn some good advice you can send my way, or maybe you'll hear a new calling, or maybe you'll learn how to relax (that's a real art). As for me, I'm heading to bed and dreaming of women in hula skirts. Aloha.