Sunday, May 27, 2007
So, we turned off the road and John immediately powers through a mud hole, up over a ledge and begins motoring up the hill. I gamely attack the mud hole and instantly end up with one foot in the mud. Getting back on, I jump on the pedal and start cranking up the ledge, only to have the tire slip out from under me, sending my groin into the handlebar shaft. Well, since this is biking and according to Lance Armstrong, it’s all about the pain, I simply grunt and start pedaling again. I get about 20 yards up the trail, crank over a rock and suddenly find that my rear tire is refusing to turn. Getting off to look at the wheel I observe that it has slipped halfway out of its slot, and is twisted sideways (though not bent) so that it is firmly jammed against the frame. John has tools, for his bike, but his bike does not require an ordinary wrench, which is what would be needed to loosen the nut, reset the wheel and secure it. We pound the wheel back in with a rock and then it’s decision time.
Option 1 – Weenie out because my bike broke, call it a day, and go home whining with my tail between my legs. I don’t think so.
Option 2 – Forge ahead on my bike, in spite of the likelihood that the wheel will dodge out again, only this time it will happen several miles from the road and make extraction of the equipment much more difficult. Possible, but not appealing.
Option 3 – Ditch the bike. Run it.
John says he doesn’t really care. He has had two hard rides already this week and knew he would be riding with an rookie today, so he had planned to mostly goof around anyway. He allows as how I’ll probably end up passing him on some of the steeper uphills, and he’ll just cruise the downs and wait for me at the junctions. I ditch the bike in the bushes, take off my helmet, grab my water bottle and we set out.
It was amazing. There are miles and miles of trails running through the woods all around town. Old roads, fire trails, snowmobile trails, paths. We continuously crossed stone walls in the middle of the woods, indicating that only 100 years ago these were open fields that have now grown over into stands of mixed hard and softwoods, beeches, maples, some oaks with hemlock and pines. We crossed grassy fields overlooking mountain vistas, went deep into hemlock swamps, tracked across sawdust piles from long ago logging operations, and slogged through mud and over rocks.
At one point we came across a horrendous washout (thanks to horrendous rains last month) with a snapping turtle stuck in the gully. He was a goodolboy, with a shell a good 14 inches in diameter He couldn't get out so I decided to help him. He did not appreciate it in the least. Here’s a hint. If you ever want to pick up a snapping turtle, don’t. If you have your mind set on it, however, grab him by the tail. I still have all my fingers, but it was a close call.
We stopped for a minute on a bridge over the Suncook River. I picked two ticks of my legs. I killed them. It felt good.
About an hour and forty five minutes into it, we pulled up to Barnstead Country Store. Here I will speak in praise of High Fructose Corn Syrup. Is it in you? The advertiser wants to know. Heck yeah. A quart of bottled Midwestern sunshine and an Almond Joy later, and I was good to go the distance. I did notice that the last mile or so that my legs were feeling pretty fatigued. On some of the uphill climbs they were just not feeling quite as springy as they had a couple hours before.
The total? According to my sources, I biked 3 miles on road, and then ran 12 miles on trails. The total, including the breakdown and the stop for refueling ran about 2.5 hours. A good mornings jaunt, I’d say. I was a little hungry after, and lagged a little, but generally felt pretty good. I ate and showered and drove up to pick my bike up. Got back and cleaned house, took a trip to the dump, and made a small home improvement. Had dinner with the family on the deck that night. A good day all in all.
I’m feeling pretty good today. I think I may be sore tomorrow. It usually hits the second day after.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
I had a moose in my yard. How cool is that!
First we were struck by how much Philadelphia is a real city – in a good way. My wife and I lived in Detroit for 9 years. Detroit certainly is a place with it’s own special problems, but it is also a great city with much to recommend it. You cannot, however, say that it’s downtown is one of it’s strengths. In Detroit, there is some activity during the day, but it’s mostly the business crowd virtually all of whom live in the suburbs. There is no sense of a truly active urban life, certainly not after 5:00. Center City Philly, on the other hand, is clearly a place where people live. We spent most of our two days there walking around downtown, and I think the girls learned more from that experience than from the museum exhibit we ostensibly came to see. The variety of people, shops, events, street life, architecture and public art was fascinating, and we spent a lot of time just pointing things out to each other and talking about them as we walked. At one point, my wife described the place as very European – at least when compared to Detroit. I think she was referring to the amount of art and public space. I had to agree with her.
Among the new sights, we were able to see and meet several homeless people. This was a new experience for the girls. “Why is he sleeping in the doorway?” “Why did you give him money?” When we explained, the questions became, “Why doesn’t he have a home?” On the way home, we saw a woman at a rest stop along I-87 who was sitting outside with a sign that said she had no money for gas. She was wearing bedroom slippers for shoes, and it was apparent that she had fled her house in a hurry. We gave her some money and some food. The whole experience along this line was not only a good lesson for the girls, but also for me. As I tend to be a pretty stingy person, I was consciously trying to give to these people generously, and out of a sense of my own abundance, realizing that the small amount I would barely be missed. I fully realize that what little I gave them would not solve their problem, but was a simple act of human kindness. This may seem like a small thing, but as I said, I am stingy. Giving away cash does not come naturally to me.
I have to say that my favorite part of the trip was our excursion into the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. We had a little time to kill before our scheduled entry to the Tut exhibition and we found ourselves in front of the Cathedral and decided to go in to take a look around. Not being Catholic, and being raised in a small town, my girls had never seen anything quite like this before. My oldest was simply transported. So many colors, and shapes and so much artistry! There is a dome at the top of the cathedral, with stained glass windows surrounding it. They are actually quite hard to see from the floor of the nave, and I asked why they would take so much trouble to put all those windows and paintings and sculpture way up there where no one could see them. The oldest got it right off the bat. She said, “God can see them.” As we walked around, talking about the basilica, the transept making the shape of the cross, the purpose of the altar, and why the pulpit is off to the side, her face shone. As we viewed the devotional art in the chapels, and talked about why people come here to pray, and how these things can help us to see God more clearly, her eyes were bright. I loved it.
And then the next day, we found ourselves sitting in a 225 year old Quaker Meeting House. What a contrast! And another great opportunity to talk about how we go about Meeting with God.
I haven’t even touched on the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the golden artifacts of ancient Egypt and the fact that my girls at ages 9 and 5 still get totally fired up about a Merry Go Round. I’ll have to come back to those things later, perhaps. It was a good trip.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
We reached one of those pauses in the conversation where we both retreated into our own space for a few minutes. Then he asked me if I believed in Astrology.
I answered that I really had not thought much about astrology. He then began explaining to me the scientific nature of the discipline and why it is so helpful and valuable. I asked about differences between Indian astrology and the astrology commonly practiced in the states. He did not seem to think there was much difference. This conversation continued on for some time and then ended as the plane landed.
I remember thinking about how odd it is that a man of his education, an engineer no less, would put such faith in such a system. He is obviously trained in western scientific method, and in the kind of analysis and problem solving necessary for an engineer, and yet he believes in astrology. Go figure.
Then it struck me that I am not so much different. I had a conversation recently with another friend, regarding a central doctrine of the Christian faith, that little thing called the Trinity. My friend does not believe that God is three and one. When she started explaining why it doesn’t make much sense to have One God also be three persons, I had to agree with her. It does not. And frankly, this very improbability actually makes the concept more appealing and even more sensible to me.
If one were to invent a god, and make him really really big and powerful, it would be relatively easy to come up with a Simple God (my own term. I’m not sure I like it, but bear with me). But why would anyone ever come up with this concept of Three and One? In some sense, one might take this as evidence (certainly nothing to clinch the case, but evidence nonetheless) of the truth of the matter. So many things in this world are stranger than we might think, and Occam’s Razor notwithstanding, the world is much more complex than we imagine. Now if God actually revealed himself, might there be certain things about Him that are exactly the opposite of what we might expect? No one would invent a Triune God, but a Triune God might indeed reveal Himself as such. The very unexpectedness of it rings true.
Not that astrology is on the same level as the Trinity. Rather, I find that in some ways, I am on the same level as the astrologicalizing engineer.
Not a sound biblical argument, I grant you. Just a random thought I’m inflicting on you, dear reader.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Intersect is really the right word. This, I think, is perhaps what makes humanity unique in the created order and what gives us preeminence. It is in us, humanity, that physical matter and spiritual essence are uniquely connected. We are both body and spirit. When the two are separated, we are no longer alive nor fully human. Consider this quote from Wendell Barry’s essay Christianity and the Survival of Creation. He comments on Genesis 2:7 thusly:
My mind like most peoples, has been deeply influence by dualism, and I can see how dualistic minds deal with this verse. They conclude that the formula for man making is man = body + soul. But that conclusion cannot be derived, except by violence, from Gen 2:7, which is not dualistic. The formula given in Gen 2:7 is not man = body + soul; the formula there is soul = dust + breath…The dust, formed as a man and made to live, did not embody a soul. It became a soul.
The implications of this understanding are enormous and profound. As Barry goes on to explain, the very dust that we are made of is an expression of God’s spirit. As created by the Living God, our bodies are not dirty, sinful or unholy in any way. If this is true, then so many things that seemed forbidden become gifts of God.
How else could the incarnation be possible?
How else could the Church actually be the Body of Christ? Do we think this is just a metaphor? If it were, why would Jesus have asked Saul why he was persecuting Him (rather than saying “why are you persecuting my people.)?
If this is so, then suddenly grace can be given to us through mundane material objects like the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Now the sacraments become a work of Christ, a gift to us. How then can the regular and common acceptance of these gifts become "commonplace" or "mean less?"
Why else would God then make it clear that He plans to remake Heaven and Earth? He will simply fix whatever has gone wrong with the physical world he made. But he will not annihilate it completely. We are made to inhabit a world of matter with both our bodies and our spirits joined together forever. We will not be disembodied sprit beings hovering in the heavens.
I grew up in a milieu that liked to imagine that if we could only peel off this mortal coil and live in the spirit, we would be holy. Not so, I think. We are called to holiness now and in this life and in this body. And Christ has given us the means to do so.
Somewhat to my surprise, I am becoming a sacramentalist.
Friday, May 11, 2007
I am just astounded at the alchemy that occurs when one looks at black scratches on a sheet of baked wood pulp and derives from them some sort of meaning. I know that the experience of learning to read has been a profoundly lifechanging event that continues for me even today. I am constantly shaped and reshaped by what I read. When I think of the worlds that will open up for my daughter from this, I feel a deep and abiding satisfaction, amazement and pleasure.
Here's what especially funny. Her choice of reading for fun? Calvin & Hobbes. When she is done with her "school" books, she goes straight for C&H. Not an easy primer for someone who is just learning the ropes. She needs a little coaching through a lot of the bigger words. And much of the intended humor goes over her head. Nevertheless, she enjoys it so much that I take immense plesure in just watching her laugh for the pure joy of reading.
Reading is good.
And then, there are the black flies. They are the surest and most powerful sign of spring. For those of you who are not privileged to live in the Great North Woods of the East, Black Flies are a species of the Family Simuliidae. They are renowned for the way they love to swarm around your head, crawl into the hair around your hairline, or behind your ears, and bite. There are also some species that don't bite, but still love to fly around your face. They start in soon after the snow melts and the running water in the streams warms up just a bit, and the will continue in this part of New England until mid June, depending on the weather. Further north and in higher elevations they may last until mid July. After that, we don't really notice them again until next year.
While they are here, they are much worse than mosquitoes for their sheer aggravation factor. Because their appearance and disappearance are so pronounced, we call this time of year Black Fly Season.
For all their aggravation, I find that I actually feel a certain fondness for for the Black Fly. Mostly I think this is because the Black Flies keeps the tourists from becoming too numerous too early in the season. Tourists are actually just another form of swarming insect that infests the region on a seasonal basis. The primary difference between the two is that tourist bring money, and so we generally tolerate them better.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
I’m getting fairly suspicious of this contemporary trend toward organized sports for children. In fact, I have always been fairly suspicious of it, even as a child. One could accuse me of sour grapes, since after all, I did not make the cut for most organized sports teams, and the few that I did allowed me to see little, if any, playing time. OK then, just to clear the air let me say right now that those coaches were clearly blind to the talent that lay before them, as an amateur rockhound might miss the rough diamond sitting at his feet amongst the pebbles. I also take consolation in the fact that I’m pretty confident that today I could kick the collective asses of 98% of those kids who were just “great athletes” in school.
Without going too deeply into our specific family situation here are my basic objections in outline:
- The benefits of highly organized and supervised sports for young children are limited. Free play is much more valuable. Nothing wrong with playing ball, but let the kids get together and have a game. If there aren’t enough to field a full team, let them figure out how to adapt.
- Over-emphasis on competition as opposed to the joy of play and movement will stunt their growth as surely as smoking cigarettes.
- By my observation, adult organized sports for kids younger than 10 do not teach social skills. They learn social skills through interaction. I see limited interaction in these settings. Free play seems much more effective.
- Team sports have a limited lifespan for all but the gifted and disciplined few. Better to teach a sport that one can take into adulthood: tennis, golf, skiing, running, paddling, hiking, climbing, walking, yoga, pilates, weight training, calisthenics, etc.
- Team sports do not teach physical fitness. They train children to think that the only reason to get up and run around is to win the game. When the game is removed, then they sit and watch others play games.
- Team schedules take too much time away from home and family. In short order, I can see that if my daughter wants to pursue softball that will mean 4-5 nights a week we are out of the house of several hours.
So, just who is pushing this crap? It's just expected. And I'm in a situation where the pressure is minimal compared to some high-powered suburban sub-cultures. I reject their pathetic notions of healthy well-rounded physical education. I reject the notion the team sports are necessary to success in life. I reject the assumption that team sports must become progressively more competitive and time consuming as children become older.
I gotta go. My kids wanna play tag. Wanna play?
Monday, May 7, 2007
As time went on they both worked extremely hard to build their home and their farm. They worked so hard that they saw each other seldom and communicated mostly through notes left on the kitchen table. It became their habit to write the notes in bullet points to keep things brief and to the point. With this system they were able to very efficiently communicate most of their day-to-day needs to one another. Every month they would sit down at the table to review the books and cover any important issues that required decisions. The ate their meals quickly with little time to savor the food. At night, they would go to bed early, tired to the bone, beyond speaking, and fall into restless, dreamless sleep, far apart on a king size bed.
Their farm prospered and they became wealthy.
During one of their monthly meetings, they came to the end of their agenda. It has been a very good year. In fact, all that they had set out to do so many years ago had been accomplished. They sat across from each other in silence drinking in the fact of it. They realized that while they had been speaking the snow had been falling. The animals had plenty of food and bedding. There were no crops to tend or plant, for it was the dead of winter. The house was quiet. The farmer got a bottle of wine from the cupboard, opened it and poured each of them a glass. She lit a fire in the fireplace. They sat together at the fire. They did not talk for a long, long while, for they felt they had said enough about the farm that night. Instead they simply sat close together. They fell asleep right there in each other’s arms.
They continued their habit of monthly meetings, but now always ended it with wine and fire, sitting together and holding each other. Eventually they found that they did not need to write notes, because they began to find time to meet each day, often several times a day to talk. They often talked about other things besides business – a story about something that happened in town, or a description of a delicate mist rimmed sunrise on a fall morning on the field back by the river.
Their farm continued to prosper, but now they noticed that when they ate together their food was more flavorful and fulfilling, and their sleep was long and deep and full of dreams. Now they remembered the early days, when it was not just about their work, but also about their love. Now they realized that they had figured out how to build on that too.
Their farm prospered, and they continued to enjoy the blessings of their wealth, and they were filled with joy in the midst of it.
Now before she made this picture, she had been having a snack, and her face was very messy with chocolate and fruit stains. Her hands had left finger prints and smudges on the paper, and although she wasn’t quite sure how it happened, the paper was no longer nice and flat, but had many creases and crinkles in it. When her father saw her standing there, he smiled and knelt down to look at her. He took out a bandanna from his pocket and gently and carefully wiped all the stains from her face – even the syrup that had gotten into her hair. Then he looked at the picture she was offering him and she smiled again. He was a man who had seen many things, and knew a great deal about life. He himself was a great and renowned artist with his pictures displayed in museums and the homes of immensely wealthy patrons. He took the picture and could see beyond the smudges, creases, crude figures and scribbles, right into her heart. He loved it and told her so. He loved her, and told her so. She walked away feeling that very special joy of one who knows that she is loved completely. As she grew, and continued to speak through the work of her hands, she became in her own right a great artist – a beautiful woman full of grace and power. One day, her father invited her to work with him in his own studio. Even today she continues to create work of surpassing beauty, and she always does her best work for her father.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
His anger is clear. I'm not sure that his analysis is as clear. He tends to go ad hominem, blaming the problem on bad motives rather than on well meaning people who are simply wrong about important issues.
To his credit, he has not abandoned Jesus. He has begun attending another church that is known in the area for it's growing vital ministry. I have seen too many who throw out the baby with the bathwater. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the body of Christ for Christ himself.
My look at EC has been pretty surface. I suppose I should actually read some of the primary sources. I just find it fascinating that this is becoming a large enough issue in Christendom that I know people who are making significant life changing decisions. Get ready. I think it'll get worse before it gets better.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Two friends introduced me to the world of bodybuilding through a program called Body For Life. You may have seen the book. It’s the one with a million photos of people before and after the completed the program. The photos are amazing, and that is what finally sold the book for me. I figured if I achieved half of what these folks achieved I would be very happy with the results. In short, BFL is set up so that in 12 weeks you can dramatically reduce your percentage of body fat, add lots of muscle and generally reshape your body. It’s a great program, and it worked. I’ll spare you my before and after photos, but they were quite dramatic. I cut my body fat percentage from 15% to 9%. While I dropped several pounds of fat, I also gained several pounds of muscle so my net weight ended up almost the same, but distributed VERY differently. I found it to be a great introduction to strength training.
Soon after completing the program, however, I started to want something more. My primary objective for lifting is not so much to gain big muscles to impress the girls. Actually, I simply want to be functionally stronger so that I could count on my body to do more things I want it to do – like lift up my girls. BFL’s focus is very much on bodybuilding. I definitely saw improvements in strength, but there was just too much emphasis on how you LOOK – especially if that meant big pecs, big biceps and flexing them all on the beach. A true strongman does not look like the guys on the covers of today’s muscle magazines. If you look at pictures of the old time strongmen, they really look totally different. They are definitely hard looking, but usually much more compact, not all bulgy. And the things they could DO!!! So I began to seek out non-traditional methods of strength training.
Today, I use a combination of bodyweight training (caslisthenics) and weight lifting using a rather unusual device of torture known commonly as a kettlebell. A kettlebell is a ball of iron with an integral loop handle. It comes is various sizes, the typical starting weight for men is 16kg (about 35 lbs), with most men who work at it regularly will move up to the standard 24kg (about 53 lbs). What makes the kb particularly devious is that the use of the eccentrically placed handle allows for ballistic movements and off-center positioning of the weight when picked up.
In addition to using a kettlebell I am fond of unusual forms of pushups including the hindu pushup, the handstand pushup, the one-handed pushup and all manner of arrangements and contortions. When combined with squats (aka deep knee bends) I find that one can achieve quite dramatic results without the use of weights or complex equipment.
I don’ need no stinking gym.
Last year I was able to perform 100 consecutive Hindu Pushups. This year I intend to perform 500 consecutive two arm Kettlebell swings. I fully expect that when I have completed this senseless act of personal violence against myself that I will promptly cough up a lung. After which I will also pick up my house over my head, just to show that I can.
Why? Perhaps it is a latent need to perform penance for my sins. Mostly though, it's because chicks dig a guy that can tear a phone book in half with his bare hands.
As the snow has receded temporarily, and the ground begins to dry up and lose that squishy spongey moist quality so characteristic of the New England Mud Season (yes, it is the official 5th season) thoughts turn again to the ping of the ball flying of the face of my persimmon wood driver. I honor this ridiculous pastime now with a selection of Haiku. Special curses to Tom Weber who got me started.
Nine holes spaced on a lawn
I find them, each one.
A divining rod without a fork.
Graphite clubs, new balls,
A land full of promise.
The search for meaning begins.
The club, the tee, grass
Carpeting rolling hills.
The ball mocking silently.
Dimples on the white
Orb; it makes me sad.
The blue sky sliced by a ball.
I see the pin, white
And orange on short grass.
No gin for me. A dry day.
I will spare you most of the recap of the plot and simply express a few random comments. If you wish to more fully understand my comments, then I recommend that you view the film yourself. It is well worth it.
I love the title. The central theme of the movie is the problem of people speaking different languages. English and Spanish are the metaphor here. Our emotional language is the real subject. The metaphor is beautifully used. I didn’t really get it until after the film was over. I’m usually pretty sharp about these things, but the filmmakers managed to keep it understated.
Tia Leone was painful to watch – in a good way. Her character is so over the top, yet she didn’t seem to me to be overacting. I actually believed that people could be that freaked out about everything. Chloris Leachman is outstanding playing Tia's mother, a role that could have been a throwaway. Yet she brings to it a liveliness, realness and empathy that really makes the film.
The film is a great reminder that most people move through life alone, where even those who are supposed to “get you” seem unable to really see or hear you. To be seen and heard is all most of us really want. The moments when this occurred are highlights of the film. Making noise is not to be confused with actually communicating, no matter how loudly or with what amount passion we seek to imbue our own personal noise.
There are a few most excellent quotes:
Evelyn Wright: Lately, your low self esteem is just good common sense.
Deborah Clasky: [upon first seeing Cristina] Flor! Look at this child! You could
make a fortune doing surrogate pregnancy!
Deborah Clasky: Mother, are you buzzed?
Evelyn Wright: No. I quit drinking weeks ago! No one noticed, but I guess that's a pretty good indicator that I conducted myself quite well when I was drunk.