Monday, September 30, 2013

Dead Languages and Online Discourse

The Internet has revolutionized our lives. This we know. The larger trends we are all aware of and need no further elaboration here. They’ve been picked apart and scrutinized constantly and will continue to be. Underneath the obvious observations are some of the more fascinating permutations and combinations. For fifteen years, I’ve been inspired and, in equal measure, challenged by the promise and problems of an online existence.

My partner notes that I am always reading. I usually define reading as having my nose stuck in a bound collection of paper and ink called a book. Yet, when I thought of the observation more closely, I found I had to amend my definition of what reading is. In this context, I don’t mean Kindles or other electronic devices meant to simulate their paper counterparts. Instead, I mean a less linear, more fragmented way of receiving data.

My work as a freelancer insists that I daily take in a vast amount of information. Background research of interview subjects requires reading. Considering which sources to cite in a written piece requires reading. Scanning to see what others have written about the same topic or person I’m about to profile requires reading. At minimum, I estimate that I probably read upwards of fifty pages a day, though not all at once, of course.

It’s not all work and no play. Often, I read online for pleasure because of my own fascination with a topic, alongside a voracious desire to learn. I love knowledge and the Internet contains multiple perspectives and much that is engrossing. One link leads to another, and another, and another. Still, I don’t think an online exchange of ideas will displace my desire for the printed word.

I’ve segmented and separated the printed word from the electronic. Each has its own function, one very different from the other. Reading, the old fashioned way, distracts me on public transportation or keeps the boredom away while in the waiting room of a doctor. It’s become a routine at bedtime, as it is for many. I am less enthusiastic about reading now largely because of grad school. Back then, I literally read three to four very dry, very academic books a week, and as many as fifteen for each course.

Since then, I’ve found reading often to be a chore. In a bad habit I picked up at school, I have a tendency to try to rush through the text and only focus on the main ideas. This was the only way to survive with the demands school placed upon me, and I did it because I had no other choice. Nevertheless, I regret that it partially ruined a pleasurable pastime I’d maintained since childhood.

There’s something inherently more comfortable to me about the asymmetric manner of online information gathering. I find precisely what words and phrases I need, pluck them from the source, and then insert them where needed. In an introductory journalism class in undergrad, I learned the logic as to how columns in a newspaper are written. The lead, the first paragraph, is the most crucial and deliberate aspect to a story, since most people read the first two paragraphs of any article and then skip to something else.

Nowadays, of course, newspapers are fighting to stay alive, but the basic premise is the same and continues in online discourse. The purists will always be fearful that we will fail to appreciate anything more than a soundbyte and a synopsis. I take their criticism seriously, but moral panics like these are sometimes short on facts and long on fears. The English language is a living language. Because we are part of it, the words, phrases, and idioms change constantly. Some persist and some outlive their usefulness and are discarded.

Every so often, a person or group worries that the language of William Shakespeare is being sullied by slang and vulgarity. English ought to be spoken properly, they assert. For them, there are right ways and wrong ways of pronunciation and sentence structure. Each effort to standardize a native tongue usually fails, mostly because language is too fluid and changeable.  

In our day, print content and online content need to find a happy medium. Both have merit, but they appeal to very different sensibilities. I don’t think that returning to the past is a tenable solution. Neither do I believe that online communication is automatically anyone’s panacea. Like language, each will change. Every year, new words and phrases enter the dictionary as other are removed. Only dead languages and methods of communication don’t routinely shed their skins and emerge reborn.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Quote of the Week, Part Two

Mark "Rent-boy" Renton: Well, I'll come back with you if you like, but like, I'm not promising anything, you know.
Diane: Do you find that this approach usually works? Or let me guess, you've never tried it before.

-From the movie Trainspotting

Quote of the Week

"Me, I can't usually get 'em myself because my girlfriend's a vegetarian, which pretty much makes me a vegetarian. But I do love the taste of a good burger."

-Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday Video

It's a family affair, it's a family affair
It's a family affair, it's a family affair

One child grows up to be
Somebody that just loves to learn
And another child grows up to be
Somebody you'd just love to burn

Mom loves the both of them
You see it's in the blood
Both kids are good to Mom
Blood's thicker than the mud

It's a family affair, it's a family affair

Newlywed a year ago
But you're still checking each other out
Nobody wants to blow
Nobody wants to be left out
You can't leave, 'cause your heart is there
But you can't stay, 'cause you been somewhere else!

You can't cry, 'cause you'll look broke down
But you're cryin' anyway 'cause you're all broke down!

It's a family affair, it's a family affair oh hey ya
It's a family's a family affair

Friday, September 27, 2013

Mending Listserve

Those of you who have set up and moderated an internet-based board, website, or listserve know something of my frustration. Almost certainly, many of you have observed how easy it is for threads to derail or the conversation to be hijacked someone with an unresolved grievance. This is just as true for people of faith as it is for anyone else. Our conversations as a group may differ in content, but not in form.

For the past six or seven months, I've tried to establish some sort of order in an online setting that often teeters dangerously into anarchy. Repeatedly, issues that are supposed to be the purview of a twice-a-year business session are raised, begging to be debated. Regardless of whatever safeguards are in place, these strong opinions consistently bubble to the surface. I often feel like the mythical Dutch boy who puts his finger in the dike to prevent a flood from overtaking his town.

Trying to fight against this tendency requires constant work. Moderators can keep interceding ad infinitum when topics for business arise, in violation of policy. But it might be a better strategy to acknowledge that there's really no way to dodge substantive issues. If only being nice would work, or, at minimum, placing an arbitrary boundary to keep topics docile and kind. My activist side fights tooth and nail against this intent, though the older I get, the more I see the limitations of proclaiming all that is wrong with the world.

As Robert Frost put it, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." I recognize that the point of this listserve is for casual informality, but it's much more complicated than that. Most posts are inevitably made by the same few Friends who want to keep it light and easy. But when a controversial or thought-provoking concern or topic is raised, I see participation on a scale twenty times the norm.

This listserve seems to have a kind of Jekyll and Hyde quality to it. Someone has to keep constantly intervening when we stray into areas that are off-limits, and that never changes. The problem never goes away. It's just delayed until the next incarnation. Sisyphus would be proud.

My Meeting had problems with intense opinions and frequent testiness on our listserve. The decision made then is the same one that I have made today. The Meeting chose to keep our original listserve for online announcements, and consigned a brand new one for opinions and discussions. This has succeeded in keeping sometimes hurtful, sometimes inappropriate conversations to a minimum.

Online discussions are often the beginnings of reforms and changes in policy. I'm not opposed to honest debate, even online, because our viewpoints tend to fester and smolder otherwise. I don't see many Friends who are truly committed to a completely hand's off approach about pertinent issues. There are drawbacks to internet discussion, certainly, but I've learned ways to block out the noise. The sorts of people who cause problems are often easy to diagnose and then ignore.

As the saying goes, still waters run deep. Good intentions are cast aside without a second thought when in the heat of debate. The temptation to conduct business online is too strong for too many. Some time ago, I shared an saying that I think is especially pertinent. Quakers have short fuses about politics and long fuses about people. There's a limit to what I can modify on my own. I have to work with the prevailing culture, even as I plan out my reforms and changes.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rock and Roll Woman

There's a woman that you ought to know
And she's coming, singing soft and low 
Singing rock and roll, she's a joy to know 

'Neath the shadow of a soothing hand 
I am free there, just to make my plans 
Dream of faraway lands, and I think, close at hand 

And she will follow me wide, do you know? 
Familiar places she's been by, that I know 
Could it be, she don't have to try? 

And tomorrow, she's a friend of mine 
And the sorrow, I see her face is lined 
She's no longer blind, she's just hard to find

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Work in Progress, Part III

This is part three of a short story I've been writing. The second segment is here. The first is here. The work does not yet have a title.

Boys in makeup
, she had loudly proclaimed. I suppose that meant me. She took out eyeliner and eyeshadow, and a few other things along the way. This effort was for her gratification, not mine. Her reasons were never expressed, though she might have been in pursuit of something titillating, or merely fun.  

This is really complicated, I thought to myself. Each product had to be applied with practiced hand in a particular way. I'm afraid of irritating my eyes, so I fought to keep my eyelashes separated enough to apply a coat to the top half, then the bottom half. I was grateful when the process was over. Many women kept this routine every day, amazingly enough, believing that repairing their faces on a consistent basis was essential. 

As I began to comprehend the complexities, I recognized that not every woman spent an hour or more on her physical appearance. Not everyone aspired to be a beauty queen, a debutante, or a cheerleader. I'd known my share of tomboys and conscientious objectors growing up, but their decision to keep it simple was never talked about much. This gave me some comfort, because in my case, tomboy was about the best I could expect. I was never going to be dainty, even though I might be in my fantasies. 

Regardless of whatever very feminine woman I might admire, I was going to look like a female weightlifter. The surgery I couldn't afford and insurance didn't cover might soften a few things out here and there, but my muscular lower body would always give me away. I might choose a different haircut, but I'd look like a stage performer in a wig. In that context, I would be a man playing a woman for laughs, not to be taken seriously.  

I was mortified enough in my own current form, afraid of imaginary judgments. Why invite more upon myself? My size and stature kept away most of the creeps and I never was the kind to pick fights. I wondered if I would be able to block out the hurtful remarks of the small-minded. My family would never understand. It had taken them ten years to accept queer and I saw several very uncomfortable gatherings to follow. I viewed myself in a dress, my legs crossed like a proper lady, observing the extreme discomfort in the faces of my parents.

Thanks for the boy. Shortly after I was born my father sent flowers to my mother in the hospital. She was recovering from having me. The card that was tucked into the flowers summarized my father's feelings in a few short words. I regret that I could not make them come true.  

I'd tried to be a good son, but I could never understand how to parallel park, change a tire, or perform routine household maintenance. These were minimum requirements for him. Once, in frustration, he'd said, Are you some feminine man? I didn't answer him, but the answer was probably yes. 

My brain and my body always seemed to be at war with each other. I sought compromise first, trying to stay honest to my whole self. Easy answers were never especially forthcoming. Transition, I learned, is for those who cannot be happy in the bodies into which they were born. I could usually live with myself as male, though there were many instances where I was conscious that my sex was never a good fit and never would be. I inhabited some nebulous grey area more akin to hermaphrodite than to transgender. 

As much as I demanded individual expression, I recognized that I wanted easy acceptance just as badly, and sometimes even more. That's the quandary every person who demands both freedom of choice and freedom of expression falls into eventually. It is good to be unique and authentic, but it is also good to belong and be part of something larger than oneself. That's where I am now, and the passage of time has shown me that my understanding of self will evolve considerably.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Whatever Gets You Through the Night

Whatever gets you through the night 'salright, 'salright
It's your money or life 'salright, 'salright
Don't need a sword to cut through flowers oh no, oh no

Whatever gets you through your life 'salright, 'salright
Do it wrong or do it right 'salright, 'salright
Don't need a watch to waste your time oh no, oh no

Hold me darlin' come on listen to me
I won't do you no harm
Trust me darlin' come on listen to me, come on listen to me
Come on listen, listen

Whatever gets you to the light 'salright, 'salright
Out the blue or out of sight 'salright, 'salright
Don't need a gun to blow your mind oh no, oh no

Hold me darlin' come on listen to me
I won't do you no harm
Trust me darlin' come on listen to me, come on listen to me
Come on listen, listen

Monday, September 23, 2013

Health Care Confusion and The Eternal Dollar

A recent article proclaims that the United States is the most expensive country to give birth. Though I admit that, as a man, I am incapable of giving birth, I do understand the needlessly inflated cost of health care. In Washington, DC, the young professionals who are my friends have placed procreation as a very low priority. The cost of living here for one person is expensive enough. Most of us have crunched the numbers and determined that being a parent simply isn't an option; it may not be an option for years.

I had surgery in March to correct an overactive bladder. A battery-powered device was inserted against my spine, next to the bladder. The procedure required me to be put to sleep for a little while. Even though it may have been a slightly delicate procedure, I was fortunate because it didn't take me long to heal. My insurance did cover the procedure, but when I received the charges in the mail, I recognized that there was no way I could have afforded it without coverage. 

A couple of months later, my wounds healed, a lengthy itemized statement arrived in my mailbox. It listed each charge submitted to insurance. They were numerous and entirely excessive. Though the surgery was performed in two steps, the total bill ran to $20,000. Without going into too much detail, the surgery was necessary because I'd been having to urinate upwards of thirty times a day. 

My bladder was chronically irritated and spasming regularly. The spine emits electronic pulses to the bladder to indicated when it is time to empty itself. The pulses were chaotic and much too frequent, which is what necessitated the surgery. The battery powered device provided the proper amount of signaling and allowed me to not have to live my life within ten paces of a bathroom.   

A fellow Washingtonian, Marguerite Duane, had a similar experience of sticker shock for her pregnancy.

Because her policy stated that she was responsible for 20 percent of the costs, she carefully kept track of every service she received.
Duane, a physician herself, was stunned when she saw the bill, riddled with mistakes, for $6,000.
“I was billed for two hospital nights, each was charged to $2,241.60,” she said. “I was charged for medications I didn’t receive, such as oxytocin. And it was $958 for his nursery stay — and he didn’t spend one minute in the nursery.”
Even after Duane got the delivery bill corrected — after 15 months of negotiations — the total cost of having Ellis was huge. When she added it all up — including prenatal vitamins, radiology, midwife bills, labs and hospital fees — the final tally was $9,442.41, with Duane’s share a stunning $1,912 out of pocket.
After years of chronic illness, I have examined the system and find there is much fault to go around. Finding an easy target is anything but simple and cut-and-dried. One could blame the doctors, except that I've developed working relationships with them and have come to understand their perspective. The insurance companies are a popular scapegoat, and I do admit that I've often struggled to get medications covered. Prior authorizations before drugs will be dispensed to the patient are a way for insurance companies to save money. They require additional work from a doctor, nurse, or both to justify why a particular medication has been prescribed.

Everyone I encounter knows that the system is broken, which was the reason for the landmark health care reform legislation. Repealing it, or at least gutting it beyond all recognition, is the Holy Grail for many Republicans. My fear is not that this nullification language will succeed, but that the message will remain garbled. I am confused and perplexed, not understanding why the guts of the law has not been properly explained. If the opinion polls are to be trusted, I'm not alone. In fact, I'm in the majority. 

At the moment, I trust no one's facts and figures. Ironically, I thought I had a better understanding of this reform legislation when it was being put together, three and a half years ago. Instead of sweeping reform, I've instead picked up on minor changes here and there. Medical records like X-rays must be digitized and computerized. X-ray film can no longer be used. Prescriptions, by next year, will all be electronically sent to pharmacies except for controlled substances. These will still be written down on paper. 
Duane had tried to estimate the costs beforehand so the family could put aside money for the entire pregnancy — but that proved to be impossible.
And it’s not just a case of one woman and one hospital. NBC News called a number of hospitals around the country at random and was able to get estimates for delivery costs. But, here’s the daunting part: When NBC News called the same hospitals at different times, the prices quoted were different.
This is the problem, among many. Hospitals will charge as much as they can to extract the most profit possible. They claim that because health insurance companies pay out at different rates, the bill differs for each patients, depending on insurance carrier. If flat fees for services were in place, costs would be standardized. But as it stands now, our health care system is a patchwork of private and public. Medicare Part D, the prescription drug coverage for the retired and disabled, is a melding of private companies who have contracted with the Federal Government.

This duality reflects our values and priorities as Americans. Many of us are turned off by the idea of complete government control of our health care system, however unlikely it might be. They fear that their care will be rationed. They worry about long waits for surgical procedures. And this is why we have a capitalist patchwork of private carriers, which usually works well, provided your employer can afford it and provided you can afford the out of pocket costs.  

Medicare often requires additional steps to be followed before it agrees to cover certain procedures. For example, I have obstructive sleep apnea, which is corrected with a CPAP mask. The mask is made out of soft plastic and eventually wears out with time. I am required to meet once every year with the specialist to ensure that I continue to receive replacement parts as they are needed. Private insurance does not have this same requirement in place. Once it has its money, it doesn't care about much else.

Most of us view health care as a right, but until we lose coverage or see our co-pays increase dramatically, we rarely think about it. The changes to come have been poorly defined; we do not know what to expect. Is the law itself too complicated to be easily explained? In any case, not knowing what is to follow in 2014 is giving credence to Republicans who are fanning the flames by stating that Obamacare is some sort of job killer. In reality, everyone's projecting his or her own worst fears when actual information would put an end to idle speculation.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Quote of the Week

"The fool will upset the whole science of astronomy."-

Martin Luther, about Nicolaus Copernicus

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Video

Nightclubbing we're nightclubbing
We're what's happening
Nightclubbing we're nightclubbing
We're an ice machine

We see people brand new people
They're something to see
When we're nightclubbing
Bright-white clubbing
Oh isn't it wild?

Nightclubbing we're nightclubbing
We're walking through town
Nightclubbing we're nightclubbing
We walk like a ghost

We learn dances brand new dances
Like the nuclear bomb
When we're nightclubbing
Bright white clubbing
Oh isn't it wild...

Friday, September 20, 2013

I Was Made to Love Magic

I was born to love no one
No one to love me
Only the wind in the long green grass
The frost in a broken tree.

I was made to love magic
All its wonder to know
But you all lost that magic
Many many years ago.

I was born to use my eyes
Dream with the sun and the skies
To float away in a lifelong song
In the mist where melody flies.

I was made to love magic
All its wonder to know
But you all lost that magic
Many many years ago.

I was born to sail away
Into a land of forever
Not to be tied to an old stone grave
In your land of never.

I was made to love magic
All its wonder to know
But you all lost that magic
Many many years ago.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Religion 101 for Skeptics

Explaining religion to the uninitiated is an enormous part of what I do through my writings and through other work. It should be said that I don't see myself as an evangelical spreading the Good News and never have. I am not in the business of presuming that my understanding is better than another's, nor do I zealously wish to save souls from an eternity in hell. What I will say is that I am quite aware of the vast numbers of seekers who want to have a relationship with God.

Living by example is my first approach. Bolstering the authority of my message by skillfully utilizing persuasive argument is the other medium I've embraced. I have some fine old company in this regard, dating back centuries. Any number of activist and identity groups across the political divide use those same tactics, though some take more liberties than I ever would. I never wanted to be an extremist, nor do I believe that being intentionally offensive to make a heavy-handed point is a successful strategy.

I strive for a much more even-handed approach, but among people of my faith, our approach was once very radical. Believe it or not, the Early Friends took liberties of which most 21st Century Friends would no longer approve. Certain Quakers went around naked, asking for a sign from God. Disrupting Anglican church services by loudly interrupting sermons, mid-sentence, caused more than a few uproars and got many thrown into jail. That behavior, to me, is no different than a pro-choice group (or any other group) making a public scene during a Congressional hearing. 

The impact of this outlandish behavior in 1640's England must have been successful, as the sect grew like wildfire. We retain today some of that rabble-rousing tradition, but are paradoxically afraid of too much change. Quakers are no less strongly opinionated and individualist than we were back then, but we have, in some respects, become what we originally criticized. Our unprogrammed Worship is meant to be the pinnacle of informality. We conclude Worship with a handshake, not an ornate, elaborate piece of classical music played on a massive church organ. However, even shaking hands becomes a reverent gesture with time, ritual by any other name.  

I return to the beginning of this post. Over the years, I've learned a few things here and there. The non-religious people I regularly encounter usually take one of two approaches to faith. One group automatically rejects it out of hand for being repressive and hypocritical. The second views religious belief the way I often dismiss New Age, woo-woo practices. I'm highly skeptical of energy healing or discussion of past lives. My mind is closed, for the most part.

Listening for God isn't easy. Like most disciplines, it requires careful study and practice. But practice alone is not sufficient. Belief is not like Yoga or exercise, a learned routine that provides a greater payoff with the time one puts into it. What I find prevents most from hearing what Quakers call the still small voice of the Holy Spirit is doubt. A mind that cannot believe with the natural trust of a child, as Jesus pointed out, will never be receptive to a direct relationship with the Divine. The skeptical will parse any movement, organization, or group to find reasons not to believe.   

Understanding the real nature of religion, in its purest form, does not require us to jettison our common sense. It does, however, insist that we momentarily suspend our disbelief and open ourselves up to the possibility of more. We are not alone. Even the most observant believer loses sight of God from time to time. The people for whom God is always present and always barking orders are the ones I worry about the most.  
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." "My Lord and my God!" Thomas exclaimed. Then Jesus told him, "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me."

Doubting Thomas wanted to believe. Had he not, even direct proof would not have been enough. Though we may be living in a so-called Post-Christian world, where shared biblical references become fewer and far between, and fewer people attend Worship, people continue to desire a relationship with God. It will never work, however, if God always must exist on their own terms. This idolatry is hardwired into us, but we must resist, if we wish to truly find what our hearts have been seeking most. 

There is room at the inn for everyone. We will never be abandoned or cast aside, though if our whims deviate from his because of our headstrong attitudes, it may appear that we are being ignored. A Quaker term of which I am very fond implores Friends not to outrun their Guide. So long as we listen to the guidance of the Spirit, our actions will be neatly in line with God, and therein lies true happiness. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


I have doctor's appointments today. I might be able to get a post of substance up by the end of the day, or not. In any case, there's always tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Moonage Daydream

For one of my readers, who requested this song.

I'm an alligator, I'm a mama-papa coming for you
I'm the space invader, I'll be a rock 'n' rollin' bitch for you
Keep your mouth shut, you're squawking like a pink monkey bird
And I'm busting up my brains for the words

Keep your 'lectric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah!

Don't fake it baby, lay the real thing on me
The church of man, love, is such a holy place to be
Make me baby, make me know you really care
Make me jump into the air

Keep your 'lectric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah!

Keep your 'lectric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah!

Keep your 'lectric eye on me babe
Put your ray gun to my head
Press your space face close to mine, love
Freak out in a moonage daydream oh yeah!

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Final Clerk's Report

At the end of this year, my committee responsibilities will be no more. I'll have spent three years on Ministry and Worship and one year as the committee's clerk. Truthfully, I am spent. Much like the month of March, I went in like a lion and am going out like a lamb. I began this endeavor charging hard, seeking to make reforms all over the place. Now I recognize how slow and deliberative is Quaker process, and how it resists much structural change.

Quaker process was designed, in my estimation, to make Friends take a step back and carefully consider their proposals. In certain sensitive matters, this approach may be precisely what is needed. But often I find that a plodding pace impedes progress, rather than seasoning an idea that might be rash, impulsive, or otherwise not fully realized. I can't change the culture, but I do wish I had some ways of knowing what my limits would be before I plunged in head first.

Many people admire our consensus process as the ideal and fairest method of resolving conflict or making decisions. I will say that I have seen it work miracles and also seen it fail dismally. The personalities involved inevitably determine success from failure. In theory, it is a optimist's paradise. In reality, it can be a nightmare for everyone, regardless of outlook on life.

I'm most proud of my willingness to look outside the box. Though I did set up a successful system of sending specially designed postcards to visitors, this is modest change, though essential. I arranged Head of Meeting assignments into a codified, orderly schedule, making sure someone would always begin and conclude Worship; I see that more as common sense than innovation. It was my intention to sidestep incremental, protracted stuffiness and constipation, something likely common to the decision process of every house of worship.

Allow me to elaborate further. The British comedian Josie Long mentions Friends favorably in her 2008 film Trying is Good. I happened to watch the film initially only to be entertained, not expecting a reference to Friends. I was overjoyed that we were given such a resounding endorsement. In particular, she makes Light of that old Quaker standard, the Edward Hicks painting The Peaceable Kingdom.

A minor celebrity in her native United Kingdom, she is a virtual unknown in the United States. For the past month I've asked her if she might consider flying out here to Washington, DC. Unfortunately, she can't afford a visit at the moment and is booked up with UK engagements for the rest of the year. I wish our budget was infinite and that we could get her out here for a talk when her schedule clears.

The good news is that Long is willing to Skype chat with our Young Adult Friends group, though this will need to wait until December. I hope it will allow her the ability to have a richer understanding of the Religious Society of Friends. Like many of liberal sensibilities, I believe Josie Long is in love with a superficial ideal of Quakerism. I myself was when I became Convinced (converted).

A few years ago, some enterprising soul decided to put the face of a plain dress Quaker on a box of oatmeal. Quakers became well regarded for setting fixed prices for goods in their shops and had a reputation for being honest in their business dealings. The implication was that Quakers were trustworthy and any product bearing their likeness could be seen in the same way. Even Abraham Lincoln, should his written discourse with Friends of the period be shown as evidence, might have believed in the very same set of high expectations.

I do have a few regrets here and there. At the beginning of my tenure, I sought to have Rush Holt, a U.S. Representative from New Jersey, speak to our children. He is the sole Quaker in the Congress. Congressman Holt was willing to do it, but scheduling conflicts ultimately doomed the proposal. We rent out our Meeting space to a variety of other organizations, and the dates that worked for him did not work for us. When I tried again, months later, Holt no longer had the time. I'm sure it was nothing personal.

I turn 33 next month, meaning I am not yet older than Jesus. I had just turned thirty when I accepted a role in leadership. What has kept me working harder than others is that I am significantly younger than most committee members. I am the youngest clerk by far, at least for the time being. In the beginning, I do know that there was some question as to whether I was responsible enough for the role. I admit to being a little overzealous at first, but I found my stride within a couple months on the job.

My approach was unorthodox and confrontational. My activist identity led me to stress both of these qualities heavily. When I became established within the system, those who opposed me moved from abstract bogeymen to real people. When one lashes out at unknown enemies or impediments, it's easy to want to come crashing down on offenders. When one's eyes are opened and people are known as flesh and blood beings, a gentler pragmatism takes its place. With time, they knew me and I knew them, and diplomacy starts there.

As I said, I seek to depart with gentle pragmatism, not anger or resentment. I recognize that the stress I've taken on is to be expected for the most high impact and responsible of all committee assignments. As I have implored people to leave their safety zones, so too have I been encouraged to do the same myself. Committee service tends to deplete everyone in leadership with enough time. Members and regular attenders expect much from the Meeting, but sometimes lay that burden on everyone else's shoulders but their own.

One final thought. Ego aside, I would like to leave a legacy behind me, and I may very well have. More than one Friend has told me that people recognize and are thankful for my service. I've tried to keep the Meeting aware of the biblical teachings that were important enough to our founders that they faced persecution, trial, jail, and sometimes death. I've sought to keep politics and non-religious topics out of Meeting for Worship, even though they are seductive to many.

But mainly I've sought to remind Friends of the reverence and awe of God and an experience with the Divine that can easily be lost if we look only for rational explanations of what we have experienced.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Quote of the Week

"Have you any notion how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?"

-Virginia Woolf

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Video

Some things never change, thirty years later.

I make my living off the evening news
Just give me something-something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry

Well, I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here
I just have to look good, I don't have to be clear
Come and whisper in my ear
Give us dirty laundry

Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em all around

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who
Comes on at five
She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam
In her eye
It's interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry

Can we film the operation?
Is the head dead yet?
You know, the boys in the newsroom got a
Running bet
Get the widow on the set!
We need dirty laundry

You don't really need to find out what's going on
You don't really want to know just how far it's gone
Just leave well enough alone
Eat your dirty laundry

Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down

Kick 'em when they're up
Kick 'em when they're down
Kick 'em when they're stiff
Kick 'em all around

Dirty little secrets
Dirty little lies
We got our dirty little fingers in everybody's pie
We love to cut you down to size
We love dirty laundry

We can do "The Innuendo"
We can dance and sing
When it's said and done we haven't told you a thing
We all know that crap is king
Give us dirty laundry

Friday, September 13, 2013

(Straight to Your Heart) Like a Cannonball

Well you know sometimes it gets so hard
And everything, everything don't seem to rhyme
I take a walk out in my backyard and go
Do do loo do do, do do loo do do

Waiting for the sun to shine
And you know sometimes it gets so painful
Just like talking to yourself
When everything don't seem to have no rhyme or reason we all go
Do do loo do do, do do loo do do
Waiting for the sun to shine

We move along
Keep singing our song
Straight to your heart like a cannonball
La la ti da, la la ti da
Doo do loo do do
(Waiting for the sun to shine)

Well you know, everyday we hear it through the grapevine
That's why I'm so tired of hearing it through the grapevine anymore
Because you hear it through the grapevine
It's just a dirty rotten waste of time, we go
Do do loo do do do do loo do do
While waiting for the sun to shine

We move along
Keeping singing our song
Straight to your heart like a cannonball
La la ti da, la la ti da
We move along
Keep singing our song
Straight to your heart like a cannonball
We move along
Keep singing our song
Straight to your heart like a cannonball
We move along
Keep singing our song

Straight to your heart like a cannonball

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Therapist Speed Dating

Time for a change.

I saw the same therapist for over two years, a tough love Israeli woman in early middle age. Unlike most Americans, she was neither effusive, nor gushy. She was, instead, restrained and reserved, but not remote. A therapist prior had been more than a little patronizing, often abruptly interrupting my train of thought. Thankfully, I found a trusted Hebrew confidante and co-conspirator. I would rather not leave her care, but I have no say in the matter.

The policies at the clinic have recently changed. I suppose money was a factor. Though long-term psychotherapy is the best course of treatment for me, it has been decided that shorter-term counseling is now preferred. The non-profit clinic gets more patients that way, even though I argued vociferously that my insurance has been a reliable source of income for them. New management always has its own ideas. No one was rude about the change. If anything, they were over-apologetic and over-accommodating.  

My first impressions are usually accurate, but I'm going to try something different. For the next three weeks, I will be auditioning new psychologists. Over time, I've learned that it pays to be picky. If one can't develop a easy rapport between therapist and client, then one is merely wasting time. Shrinks tend to like me because I'm self-aware and brutally honest. Any regular reader of this blog knows that much. I tend to make their job easier and in the process get helped sooner, which is a win-win situation for both parties.

Much like lawyers, psychologists and therapists in private practice often have to hustle for business. In big cities, like where I live, there are simply too many of them. Money is to be made in cities, but the need is strongest in rural areas and small towns. This is especially true for medical practitioners. In part, the Health Care Reform Act was designed to address this shortfall. Whether it will or not is anyone's guess.  

Perhaps then you can see how it isn't shocking that it didn't take me long to grab the attention of ten therapists. Within a day, I found myself fielding calls and e-mails left and right. One even called me while in the process of writing this post. Getting well is sometimes a full-time job and this starts well before one sits down on the therapist's couch. Half wanted a per session fee that I could not afford. Four of them offered a reasonable co-pay and take my insurance. 

Session One begins at 2 pm this afternoon. When hard data cannot be found, supposition and initial impressions have to suffice. I'm going into this cold, without any advanced preparation. I've tried to look at the matter logically, though I recognize that aspects of personal bias often guide our decisions. At times, I concede that I've felt drawn to therapists who I find physically attractive, though I have resisted this impulse as best I can. 

I'm really no different from anyone else, but I still seek to avoid projecting too many of my own feelings onto someone else. If the theory of transference holds up, I suppose I will over time feel a variety of emotions towards my therapist. But that's for later. I am left now with questions.  

Who is a better fit? Someone close to my own age who has a shared frame of reference, but potentially less wisdom and life lessons? Or, should I chose someone old enough to be my parent, knowing that it may take a while to get on the same page with him or her? A purely objective viewpoint is impossible to ascertain, but I do want to be fair. In a therapeutic setting, I will say that I've never wanted a surrogate parent. I've wanted to speak with a contemporary and, for the most part, have been treated as such.       

I won't know much of anything for a while. Again, I wish I didn't have to start completely over. It takes a while to get to know a stranger. The first two or three months are mostly extended introductions. Here I go again.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Quakers: the Quiet Revolutionaries

Ever wanted to know more about the Religious Society of Friends? Begin here. If the Spirit moves you, donate a few dollars so that the filmmakers can complete the project.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Making Up for Lost Time

I wrote this originally for a Quaker LGBT listserve, but felt it needed to be shared here as well. As is often the case with many religious groups, the membership is top heavy with baby boomers, who hold a very different perspective to the one espoused by my own generation. I admit I get frustrated at how they sometimes dominate the discussion with trivialities and specious commentary. A dose of reality was past due and I was glad to provide it.

I usually don't self-disclose my sexual orientation, for many reasons. First among them is that I am bisexual, an identity which can be rendered invisible quite easily, even if that is never the intent. When partnered with a man, I am seen as gay. When partnered with a woman, I am seen as straight. Queer folks have a better understanding of the concept and how it boxes a person in whether one would like it to or not. I've also known friends and acquaintances who've adopted a label of gay for convenience's sake when bisexual would probably have been a more accurate rendering of the truth.

For years, one of my sisters and I had an acrimonious, poisoned relationship. We were estranged for over ten years and during that time we never exchanged a single word. During Christmas dinner and the traditional Thanksgiving orgy of food we sat silently across the table from each other, engaging with everyone else but ourselves. I fully anticipated having no relationship with her to speak of for the rest of my life. We'd probably only come together later in life to bury our mother and father, or for something significant like the marriage of our younger sister.

As it turns out, my sister also identifies as bisexual. I'd always known this, but only recently we've actually talked about it. She tried to keep her relationships with women secret, but my homophobic father had a background as a private investigator. He always knew about my sister's girlfriend, regardless how she sought to cover her tracks. She hid her sexual orientation to a degree, but was more or less open with her college classmates and friends.

I was more private about my relationships with men, who usually lived in a much more queer-friendly city that was two hour's drive away from home. I did not want my parents to know and evaded my father's meddling on a regular basis. My sister's attraction to women was more offensive to him than my own same-sex desire. With me, my father would rather not know. With my sister, he wanted to know everything. 

In addition, the out-gay circles in Birmingham were incestuous and tiny. I did not want to be gossip fodder and I didn't want to have less than two degrees of separation from any partner I might take. This is why I swam in a much larger pond, preserving most of my anonymity in the process.

It might not seem like it, but next comes the good news. She's just turned 30 and I will turn 33 in a month. She lived on the West Coast for years and there she managed to heal herself. She put most of the past behind her. Now we are speaking to each other, but the going is a little awkward because we never learned how to have a relationship. 

Recently we've spoken to each other about our shared history, which is considerable. Nothing has been held back and I myself have finally learned to fully love her. I wish we hadn't quarreled back then and worry about lost time. The similarities we held between us might have made each of us feel more acceptable to the other. Both of us hold scars, but unlike before, we do not hold them back or deny their existence.

I could lament the past, but I'm thankful for the future. Though we are two very different people with very different interests, we are also blood relatives. Genetically, we have more in common with each other than we do both of our parents, because we share the genes of the same mother and the same father. We are a biological melding of two people, creating combinations that only God and chance could manage. I'm thankful for what we have, even if we're stepping into uncomfortable territory and may always be forever.

Golden Slumbers

Once there was a way,
To get back homeward.

Once there was a way
To get back home.

Sleep, pretty darling,
Dot not cry
And I will sing a lullaby.

Golden slumbers,
Fill your eyes
Smiles await you when you rise

Sleep pretty darling
Do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby.

Once there was a way
To get back homeward

Once there was a way
To get back home

Sleep, pretty darling
Do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Tales of a Former Football Player

Now that another college football season is upon us, I'd like to finally share my own story. It is both commonplace and unique, indebted as much to tradition and consistency as it is to the next big thing. Around this time every year, this account becomes someone else's. Each player adds to the living legacy of those who have come before while making an indelible mark of his own regarding individual accomplishment.

I'd wanted to play football as soon as possible, which in the suburban committee I grew up meant third grade. Ever since my birth, I'd been a dyed-in-the-wool Alabama Crimson Tide fan. I attended my first game as an infant; I was taken along by my father on a regular basis as I grew older. Mostly I attended the games played at Legion Field, the old grey lady of Graymont Avenue, in my hometown of Birmingham.

It didn't take long before I became a voracious and learned fan. I took to the sport almost immediately, learning the strategy and correctly predicting each penalty before the referees methodically marked them off. I was especially fascinated by the back and forth drama of the game, the way that wave after wave of momentum changed the dynamic and outcome of the action on the field.

Despite my zeal, my mother insisted I wait another year before signing up. By then, I was ten years old. As a means of keeping the game competitive, players could not take part if they exceeded a certain weight class, much as is the case with wrestlers and boxers. 90 pounds was the absolute maximum threshold. Because I was one of the biggest kids, I almost always came within a pound or two of not being able to suit up and play. This was due more to a matter of genetics and biology than being overweight.

Fat bodies! I could hear the coach all the way across the field, especially the way his voice reverberated and carried well across the playing surface. Should I exceed the threshold upon weigh in, this was now my cue to start vigorously jogging around the perimeter of the gridiron. Thirty minutes later, having shed some excess water weight, I stepped on the scales again. This time, I passed muster.

The loose informality of Pop Warner football is nothing like the seriousness assigned to the game once middle school and high school arrive. I lived a block away from the practice field, within walking distance to where we practiced. With one hand, I learned to hold the face mask of my helmet. It stuck out through the center of my shoulder pads, where my head was meant to go. I took the same shortcut through the woods, emerging and then putting on the remaining pads and protection.

A few years later, I'd make the same reluctant journey with my fellow players, not in solitude as I once had before. To me it felt like descending into the bowels below. It somehow seemed to me as though I was making my way downward to hell itself. I wonder if my teammates shared my feelings and I bet more than a few did.

Returning to my youngest playing days, for a moment, the head coach took an immediate shine to me. I don't remember why I was pegged to be an offensive lineman, having never taken a snap, nor played anything other than backyard full contact tackle football with the neighborhood boys. Even at a very young age, I suppose I had the natural physique needed. The coaches could see how I would look when I reached full physical maturation, only a few short years away, really.

Though painfully shy away from football, I was aggressive on the field and had good form. Form and technique cannot easily be coached. Those with a natural athletic ability were already one up on the competition. After practice one day, the head coach ambled off the field, which for us was a converted baseball diamond. He sought out my father. They began to chat about me and my potential as a player. You know he's the right color. My father nodded up and down in agreement.

I didn't think much of that remark then, but I knew what was meant by it. Until the early 1970's, the football teams of every major Southern school were all white. Steadily and with time, black players moved from the minority to the majority. This became the case within ten to fifteen years. In the beginning of integration, black players were usually running backs and wide receivers. About the same time they became defensive stalwarts, often at linebacker and free safety. Now, most defenses in elite schools in the South are comprised entirely of African-Americans.

A few positions have, often by design, been designated for white players. One of them is quarterback. Another is place kicker. A third is punter. And the fourth is the entire offensive line: two guards, two tackles, a center, and a tight end. A black player might take on one of these positions from time to time, but these slots are the last bastion of Caucasian pride. At first, I was a offensive tackle, but I later became a guard. This was because I was deceptively fast for someone as large as myself.

The head coach had a horrible temper, one that used to scare the hell out of me, but he doted over me. I made him look good and helped his teams win games. Though I didn't know it at the time, he was a long-time yellow dog Democrat, and had done political consulting for the party for a while. He told stories about Bill Clinton when the latter was still Arkansas governor and unknown to a national audience. As is the case with many states in the South, politics and football intersect. With me as his trump card, the coach could call in some old favors.

Even with the intensity, there was a kind of laid back attitude attached to the brand of football played by earnest and somewhat clumsy elementary school kids. The coaches gave their time voluntarily. We only practiced a couple of times a week before the games. No one else had the time for more than that. This was soon to change, though I didn't know it yet.

Once coaches began to be paid for their labors, the pressure was ratcheted up. Regardless of whatever history, driver's ed, or physical education class they taught to justify their existence to the school system, football was their primary occupation. And we knew it.

I began to despise practices, which were now scheduled every day during the week, minus game day. For punishment following losses, we had to practice on Saturday mornings, too. Training camp began during the sweltering early August heat and humidity. My freshman year of high school was one such example. The most intense heat wave in years descended and overstayed its welcome. We started two-a-days in 105 degree heat with a 130 degree heat index.

I'm amazed we all survived and I mean this literally. As for myself, I arose early in the morning to prepare myself for the first intense and punishing practice. At its conclusion, I slowly dragged myself off the field, was driven home in exhausted silence, drank two liters of Gatorade, took a two hour nap, then awoke to do the same thing all over again.

The process of recruiting starts earlier and earlier these days, especially as money continues to flood the college game. Recently, an eighth-grader was offered a scholarship before he'd even played a single snap in high school. But even twenty years ago, good players were wooed and courted with much fanfare.

College football has its own pecking order and hierarchy. I may have been a ravenous Alabama fan, but I was too small to play for my favorite team. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Though I was a fast offensive lineman and a tough one, I weighed a paltry 200 pounds. Offensive lineman in elite teams need to be upwards of 300 pounds. How could I gain that much weight in a short period of time, without resorting to performance-enhancing drugs?

The second-tier SEC schools were a better fit, I conceded. Though it hurt my pride a little, I recognized that schools like Kentucky and Vanderbilt were my only real options. That these schools were perennial losers was certainly not lost on me. The little league coach became my most enthusiastic booster, believing the rate of return he'd eventually receive from my services on the field would be worth his effort.

My father was taken to Lexington, Kentucky, ostensible for fun, but with an ulterior motive that became evident immediately. Several big wheels with the university were present, including the first female governor of the state, Martha Layne Collins. My booster was well connected with the state Democratic Party indeed, and I suppose this big show was meant to impress and awe. If I were to commit to play for the Wildcats, I'd surely be considered for a job as a starter.

Alas, my heart was not in the game. But what really did me in was the onset of the first of many depressive episodes, which then became full-fledged bipolar disorder when I reached my early twenties. After I quit, midway through high school, some of my teammates decided to hang it up as well. This lack of talent led to three subpar seasons by the remaining players. During that sorry span, the team had losing records and missed the playoffs. Following the year of my graduation, an ineffective head coach was replaced by a dynamic, though arrogant firebrand.

This upstart, Rush Propst, would eventually become the most successful high school coach in the state of Alabama. The potential for greatness at my high school had always been there, but finally someone put the pieces together in the proper order. And yet, I have to say I never regretted not playing for him or anyone, really. I left the sport without any illusions. Some of my teammates questioned my decision to quit, assuming I'd desperately return after a year of guilt and longing. I never did.

This is what really haunted me. I saw myself in a three point stance, lined up at left guard. Across the neutral zone from me were players from the other team. They wore a striking shade of crimson, the very uniforms that still give me goosebumps as each player runs onto the field to start another game. I'd hear the same fight song that even now gets stuck in my head with every contest I watch as a casual observer. If we played on the road, it would be even worse. I knew I'd have mixed feelings, but perhaps I could channel my envy and sharpen the chip on my shoulder.

Every now and again I play the what if game. Would I have been happy toiling away in the hot sun for a team that lost more games than it won? I know I would have had mixed emotions when trying to play my best against a larger, more talented defensive front. We might steal a game here and there. We might even pull an upset when a better team had a bad day. But even though the coaches might call us champions, or better yet, implore us to play like champions on the field, we'd still be losers.

I console myself sometimes by saying that at least I would have gotten a good education. Though I would like this to be the case, I am skeptical. I have a feeling that I wouldn't have had enough time to be an academic superstar. In college, I genuinely enjoyed most of my classes. The athletes I had classes with in college, especially if they had to travel regularly, had no choice but to painstakingly carve out time to complete classwork. I'm sure graduate assistants would have been glad to assist me, but I wonder if I'd really have the time to absorb everything. College is difficult, even for smart, motivated people who aren't athletes.

Saturdays in the fall will always have a fond place in my heart. With new technology, I can, from the comfort of my sofa, view twenty games at the same time when before one had to make do with two or three. The experience of playing football was not a total loss. I learned what it is like to push one's body to the absolute breaking point and somehow manage to survive. People always talk about how the game builds teamwork, and that may be true for some, but never was the case for me. I never had to be reminded to do my job, hold my block, remember my assignment, and work in tandem with others. That's how I've chosen to live my life and how I was taught by my parents.

Nowadays, I can wax nostalgically and maybe tell a good story or two. But in fairness, that's about the extent of my enthusiasm for old times. Even though I think the concept of a scholar-athlete is a joke, I do have a sympathy for the players on the field. It's hard work. Being the entertainment and self-esteem agent for a particular school, state, conference, and region is a real pressure-cooker. I probably should be more understanding when young men usually between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two fall short and make bad decisions, though they know what they are in for the moment they sign to a team.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Quote of the Week

"Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are."

 -Augustine of Hippo

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Saturday Video

So I thought to myself, "Why not?"

He was born in Oklahoma,
His wife's name is Betty Lou Thelma Liz
He's not responsible for what he's doing
Cause his mother made him what he is.

And it's up against the wall Redneck Mother,
Mother, who has raised her son so well.
He's thirty-four and drinking in a honky tonk.
Just kicking hippies asses and raising hell.

Sure does like his Falstaff beer,
Likes to chase it down with that Wild Turkey liquor;
Drives a fifty-seven GMC pickup truck;
He's got a gun rack; "Goat ropers need love, too" sticker

And it's up against the wall Redneck Mother,
Mother, who has raised her son so well.
He's thirty-four and drinking in a honky tonk.
Just kicking hippies asses and raising hell.

M is for the mud flaps you give me for my pickup truck
O is for the Oil I put on my hair
T is for T-bird
H is for Haggard
E is for eggs, and
R is for REDNECK.

Up against the wall Redneck Mother,
Mother, who has raised her son so well.
He's thirty-four and drinking in a honky tonk.
Kicking hippies asses and raising hell.

It's up against the wall Redneck Mother,
Mother, who has raised her son so well.
He's thirty-four and drinking in a honky tonk.
Just kicking hippies asses and raising hell.

Friday, September 06, 2013

What I Did Today

This is a CT scan of my sinus cavities. Looks a little Satanic somehow to me.

Here's the problematic area of the upper sinus. Over time, tissue has grown and has partially blocked the cavity from properly draining. Fixing it will be the next phase of treatment.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Work in Progress, Part II

This is the second unedited section of a forthcoming short story. Part I is here. As yet, I have not selected a title.


I started cross-dressing when I was fourteen. When I had some time alone I would sneak into the laundry room, close the door reassuringly behind me, turn on the light, and root around in the dirty laundry of my sisters and my mother. Being that I was the oldest child and had the largest body size, I rarely found much that fit me. But what I did find produced some of the strongest mixed emotions I have ever felt in the course of my life.

One of my sisters owned a form-fitting dress that I had always silently coveted. When no one was around, which was rare in the those days, I would begin my explorations. Full of nerves but strangely excited, I made my way to the bathroom mirror. The dress fit queerly, designed for curves and angles I did not possess, but somehow I liked the effect anyway. Paradoxically, it was comfortable as much as it was uncomfortable.

Too much, too soon. My image turned from an idealized and thrilling notion of perfect gender balance to disgust and shame. I quickly removed the garment, resumed male attire, and placed it back in the basket exactly where I’d found it. I became very adept at memorizing the precise way the pilfered clothes had been tossed into a laundry basket. In my mind’s eye, as though I’d taken a photograph of the crime scene, I knew what had gone on the top of a stack and the pattern it formed upon a heap of soiled wash. I was a thief, making sure not to leave behind fingerprints or other telltale signs of what I’d done.

Eight years later, I’d begun buying my own clothing. I began with underwear and intimate wear first. Making sure not to blow my cover, I invented a non-existent girlfriend for whom I was purchasing these items. Curiously, she always wore the same size that I did. It was my defense had anyone called me out on it, but I was obsessive enough about my privacy that no one ever did.

In my ignorance, I imagined that female retail employees were kinder to me for obviously having a curvaceous, voluptuous relationship partner who wasn’t a size 3. In reality, I was merely another customer, another man rendered uncomfortable and clueless within the walls of the store, seeking to make his purchases and scram. An adrenalin rush followed my exit. I began bringing along my own bags, because it felt incriminating and wrong to advertise where I’d been shopping. For what it’s worth, I felt the same way when girlfriends asked me to hold their purses for a little while.

Alone, in the solitude of my bedroom, I tried on each article of clothing, but not before locking the door behind me. This was a secretive ritual I never shared with anyone else. I had always felt out of step somehow with others and circumstances like these only confirmed that I was strange. I had accepted my idiosyncrasies, but this one seemed the least forgivable. Alone by myself was the place I felt most comfortable, which continues even to the current day.

Sometimes my proportions were not well-suited to the cut of whatever it was I was trying on. I never had the ability to try on anything before buying it, fearful of the gender police. While I had learned in buying men’s jeans and pants that a stated size might not be standard from brand to brand, I found this same problem was fifty times worse when it came to selecting clothing designed to be worn by women. I suppose I could have returned the ones I threw aside with great disappointment, but I was too ashamed. I donated the remainder of my shopping hauls to thrift stores, hoping someone might get some use out of them.

All was not gloomy. Along with all this grave seriousness came pleasure, though it was slightly muted because I believed I was engaging in taboo, unacceptable behavior. It was the same sort of euphoria I’d felt years before when stealing undergarments from middle aged women, friends of my mother. These tended to fit much better, usually because of the weight gain that comes from age and a lower metabolism.

Once I deftly lifted a pair, put it on, and got a rush of excitement. I sprinted up a huge hill until arriving at my destination five minutes later, panting and breathing heavily, as though I’d gotten away with robbing Fort Knox. In those days, I did not keep what I took. Within a week, that pair was placed inside a paper lunch sake, then burned outside. It felt cleansing. There would always be time for plotting my next move, whenever it might be.

We Just Disagree

Been away, haven't seen you in a while
How've you been, have you changed your style?
And do you think that we've grown up differently?
Don't seem the same, seems you've lost your feel for me

So let's leave it alone 'cause we can't see eye to eye
There ain't no good guys, there ain't no bad guys
There's only you and me and we just disagree
Ooh ooh ooh, oh oh oh

I'm goin' back to a place that's far away, how 'bout you?
Have you got a place to stay?
Why should I care when I'm just trying to get along
We were friends and now it's the end of our love song

So let's leave it alone 'cause we can't see eye to eye
There ain't no good guys, there ain't no bad guys
There's only you and me and we just disagree
Ooh ooh ooh, oh oh oh

So let's leave it alone 'cause we can't see eye to eye
There ain't no good guys, there ain't no bad guys
There's only you and me and we just disagree

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Just Wars and Cautious Discernment

Each and every time the United States considers military action, those of us who are members of pacifist peace churches feel conflicted and torn. We protest, we march, we register our complaints, but almost everyone ignores us. Once again, we are the keepers of a frustrating, even demanding standard, brushed aside by the majority of Americans with the onset of hostilities. And in the end, even we wonder again if there really is such a thing as a just war.

Multiple ironies abound. Friends were born out of war, birthed out of uncertainty and upheaval. The English Civil War of the Seventeenth Century carried on for years with no end in sight. An intensely religious people, English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh alike believed that God was somehow punishing them for their misdeeds. Any number of religions and nations have been formed in the fiery furnace of conflict and violent squabble. Indeed, should one examine every country's history and the history of many faith groups, the causes are very similar. When the world turns upside down, there is no limit to what might follow.

The concept of just war stretches back across the centuries. According to early Christian church leader Saint Augustine, who codified the concept, it requires that every single nonviolent effort of negotiation should be taken and exhausted before the war is declared. Furthermore, it demanded that no weapons should be used under any circumstances. Today, this would include bombs and explosive devices. Under this precise criteria, even World War II would not be considered a Just War.

If we are to start somewhere with our sober analysis, we should probably begin around two thousands years ago.
"You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.
This passage in the Gospel of Matthew has been controversial since the very day it was uttered. In a era less imbued with compassion and mercy than the current day, these ideas were radical and offensive. They still are. Since the advent of Christendom, religions, countries, alliances, and individuals have struggled to understand just what Jesus meant. A literal interpretation leaves no wiggle room, but many people have taken liberties with what the text says because it does not fit with their schemes and plans.

I happen to be part of a group that has taken this passage word for word. No war under any circumstance is the hard line I take. It's not easy and I doubt it ever will be. I do know that we as a race of primates and sentient beings are probably nowhere near ready to adopt this difficult challenge without consistently failing at it. We've been willing to entertain some of these notions in piecemeal fashion, but full implementation is, in my opinion, still centuries away.

Though many of us may not believe in any religion, much less Christianity, our beliefs about war are shaped by centuries of Christian thought. A little less than a thousand years following Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas built upon the concept of his predecessor. Aquinas' approach was three-part.
First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. (Proper Authority is first: represents the common good: which is peace for the sake of man's true end—God.)

Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain (for example, "in the nation's interest" is not just) or as an exercise of power. (Just Cause: for the sake of restoring some good that has been denied. i.e., lost territory, lost goods, punishment for an evil perpetrated by a government, army, or even citizen population.)

Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence. (Right Intention: an authority must fight for the just reasons it has expressly claimed for declaring war in the first place. Soldiers must also fight for this intention.)

These are worthwhile goals and aspirations, but difficult to put into practice. Are we seeking to win the peace, or is that very statement an oxymoron? This philosophy insists upon restraint and a higher purpose, but war by its very nature can easily become sadistic and bloodthirsty, especially when revenge and retaliation make savages of us all. It doesn't really matter who started it, but even as children on the playground we use that justification to back up our actions.

Now to the current day. Regarding Syria, we are engaged once again in a great discussion as to whether military action is necessary. I am preparing my metaphorical marching shoes for one more go-round. To use a sports analogy, I sometimes feel like I am part of a football team who, outclassed and out-manned, loses a series of close games to other squads with better players and superior talent. I content myself with moral victories, but I concede it would be nice to win every now and again.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Quote of the Week

“It is not the evil itself which is horrifying about our times – it is the way we not only tolerate evil, but have made a cult of positively worshiping weakness, depravity, rottenness and evil itself.”

-George Lincoln Rockwell, founder and leader of the American Nazi party