Thursday, January 26, 2012

Learning to Drive

It must have been quite an ordeal for my father ("Pop") teaching me to drive. I seem to have no natural aptitude for it whatsoever--all those times I stepped on the break instead of the gas, or vice versa ... And that time he was teaching me his rule of thumb for how far to stop behind another car at the traffic signal:

Pop: It should look like the tires of the car in front of you are gently resting on the hood.
Me: I can't see the hood.

Or that one time ....

Pop: Just choose one lane and stay in it.
Me: There are two lanes here?!

I only failed the driving test once. I ought to have failed the second time, too, as evidenced by the fact that a week after getting my license I totaled my car.

So anyway, I always joke seriously about what a horrible driver I am.

The other night I dreamed I was in the backseat of a van, doing something on my laptop. I looked up and there was no one in the driver's seat. I was thinking the van could actually drive itself better by following the ruts in the road, but eventually I got anxious and decided I ought to get behind the wheel.

At first the dream struck me as just another joke about my complete lack of skill as a motorist. But I've been realizing, it's really about how often I let other people take charge and refuse to be a leader myself. It's so much easier to let someone else set the agenda, make the decisions, take the initiative. Let them go out on a limb. Let them be responsible. In fact, at times I'm so afraid of taking charge, I feel safer with no one in the driver's seat at all.

I complain in private about how my denomination wastes obscene amounts of paper; I lament the fact that so many congregations, so many pastors are just going through the motions and have no vision, no fire, no Spirit; I observe the lackluster sermons, boring liturgies, and vacuous songs used in worship; and sometimes I daydream about preaching great sermons and developing a great liturgical program, and implementing strategies for bringing congregations to life ... but to actually do any of that would take a great deal of initiative; it would mean taking risks, it would mean making a decision and committing myself to a mission on the basis of personal conviction--not because anyone else expected it, or had told me to do it, but because I believed in it.

When people ask me how I envision my first call, I usually tell them I'd like to be an Associate Pastor--Teaching Pastor, or Pastor of Family Ministries, something like that. Just start out somewhere, get some experience, and kinda go from there.

But I'm realizing now, I am not satisfied with my own answer. I don't want to just get a job, learn to meet expectations, and fall into a routine. I don't want to be just sitting in the backseat working away at some little project. No; it's time to learn how to drive.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Internet and the Perils of Democracy

Reflections on SOPA and PIPA

It took me a while to get into facebook, but since becoming only partially employed I have time to read various articles friends have posted. A lot of them are written by professional journalists. Many of them are just blogs written by who knows whom. The amazing thing is, the blog posts feel just as authoritative as anything published by a news corporation.

The internet has demonstrated that the power of the written word is not actually in the supposed authority of the institution publishing it (New York Times, Chicago Sun, etc.), but in the author's ability to persuade. The internet is helping us face the shocking, frightening fact that the people in charge (the ones who write congressional bills and newspaper editorials and economics text books) are oftentimes not any smarter or more knowledgeable or better equipped to make decisions than many of the smart people you know in person.

A blog post by an intelligent "nobody" who's done the research may, in fact, carry more weight (be more persuasive) than an article on the NPR website. This makes the internet an incredible tool for democracy because it encourages the free flow of ideas and opinions regardless of what the-powers-that-be would like to disseminate as the prevailing "knowledge." And this is why SOPA and PIPA are such a horrifying possibility.

But I also feel like pointing out here: democracy doesn't work very well. Because most people are not very good at vetting their sources of information. They just find someone who's saying what they want to hear and don't bother to think critically about their opinions or do any real research.

The internet really is an amazing gift, but it's one that is often squandered. I feel that as a populace, we Americans have proven that we don't deserve the gift of democracy. We, the people, don't deserve to be the ruling class. The thing is, our elected officials have proven the same thing. We've elected people who are truly representative of us: not fit to rule.

So often I try to think about politics and eventually break down and say "AUUGH, it's all a big huge mess and there is no way to fix it" ... which is true. But I would be disappointed in myself if that was how I ended this post.

There is no way of fixing things ... people are lazy and stubborn and the internet will always be wasted on those who just use it to puff themselves up with hot air. But I can be part of the countering tide, those who use the internet to become better citizens.

And I can be numbered among those who appreciated the gift of the internet enough to call my congressperson and my senators and fight the misguided, idiotic, unconstitutional legislation that is threatening the freedom of the press.

(I can also enjoy the 50 Brilliant Fan-Made Re-Mixes, Mash-ups, and Supercuts That Will Be Strictly Prohibited under SOPA while they are still available.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

that familiar sinking feeling

You know, people have always said of Brandon that he's the absent-minded professor type. He's always losing things--hats, books, keys--he's left his debit card in the ATM--I occasionally have to remind him not to leave his wallet behind on store counters and restaurant tabletops.

So in relation to Brandon I've adopted this identity as the-one-who-knows-where-things-are. I keep pretty good track not just of where I've left things, but where Brandon has left them. So when he desperately asks, "Where are my keys!?" I can say, "I think they're under the sweater, on the armchair nearest the kitchen." And sure enough, there they are. It's fun. Kind of like being a magician or a psychic.

The thing is, though ... I'm actually also the absent minded professor type and kind of even worse about losing things than Brandon is ...

Last week I lost my glasses again. They must have fallen out of my bag somewhere in San Diego when I was removing other objects. I said to Brandon, "Well, at least I didn't leave my wallet on the bus stop this time, like I did several years back." Definitely should not have said that. Yesterday ... apparently, my wallet fell out of the bag it was in somewhere between the grocery store and home.

I'm really bummed, not just because of the hassle it's going to be to get my Driver's License replaced--and my insurance cards, library cards--and the loss of $25.20 and a McDonald's gift card and a Cold Stone coupon and a Ralphs coupon for Kikkoman soy sauce (see, I do keep good track of my things--except when they fall out of bags and coat pockets without me noticing)--but that wallet had sentimental value.

Well, I kind of always wanted to get a new wallet that would be slimmer, but I really loved the old one. It was so pretty, and I bought it the very first time I visited Mexico as a teenager. Maybe sometime I'll blog about that trip.

Anyway, it's such an awful feeling to have lost something--that moment when it starts to sink in--it's really gone--gone forever, as far as I know, and I'm never getting it back. No, it's not where I left it. I know because I keep good track of my things, and I know exactly where it ought to be. And it's not there.

I am sad for the things I've lost ... but ... maybe someone else will find them and appreciate them. One person's loss could be another's free gift. Especially the cash and McDonald's gift card. Enjoy, anonymous person(s)!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Calendar Madness!

Okay, so, I love calendars. I mean, I really, really love calendars. And, well, I think I'm ready to admit that my calendar addiction has gotten a little bit out of hand. I was at the 99 cent only store ... and I just couldn't resist--there was the Wonders of the World calendar ... and the motivational sayings knock off calendar ... and I decided that was it; I already had four calendars on the walls at home, I only needed two more ... but then I saw the Mickey Mouse calendar.

Oh, I stood there, holding the first two calendars, and the bags of yogurt covered raisins and dill potato chips(! what a find!), and the amazingly-high-quality-for-being-at-the-99-cent-only-store scarves, and the 2 for 99.99 cents(!) muzak CDs, and the post-Christmas sale holiday decor, all the stuff just about falling out of my arms because I didn't realize I was going to buy so much so I didn't get a basket, and I debated with myself--do I really need the Mickey Mouse calendar? Should I put one of the other calendars back? No, no, they're all so great! I have to have them all! I NEED THEM!

I love calendars! When I was a kid, the first of the month was such a happy day because there were so many calendars in our house to be changed--at least seven, usually more, I think. Calendars! (Sorry, that was just a spontaneous exclamation of my love for calendars.)

I guess I don't love every calendar. Some calendars are of no interest to me. The ones with puppies or kittens or gardens or flowers or motorcycles or classic cars or planes or golf courses or lighthouses. No, no, none of those calendars will do. But beautiful, artsy calendars, calendars of antique maps and paintings that are great but not super famous and photographs of spectacular landscapes and unusual animals in funny poses (but not with costumes or props).

Calendars! Calendars are so great because every month you get a new picture, a new beautiful image to enjoy. And calendars are so great because they evoke a different a mood for every month--how else would those of us who grew up without traditional American seasons know to identify January with snowy landscapes and May with pink and purple flowers and September with apples and turning leaves?

Oh calendars. And then after the year changes, they can be saved and used as gift-wrapping!

Sunday, January 1, 2012


And with deafening crack, showers of sparks, cheers and clinking glasses, we welcome the first hour of a brand new year, striving to kick free of all the mistakes and failures of the past twelve months. Let it not be a token protestation, “I’ll do better next time,” as if with fingers crossed we secretly swore never to change.

And let us not consign our regrets to the unchanging past like millstones tied around the neck. Dead memories are dead weight and we are formed by our past no matter how hard we try to forget.

We bid farewell, but the old year will never leave us. We can only surrender our ugliest moments trusting Mercy and Wisdom to salvage beauty from the wreckage.

And though we know the will is weak, let our resolutions spring from a surer heart this year, and may the hope that flies high today still carry us, never abandon us to easy despair, and when we are about to give up, burst with the sudden brilliance of that shower of sparks in the apex of night’s parabola, and recall to us that every second--not just the one that takes us from December into January, but every second--all things are new.