Flaneur about H-Town: Harrisburg Arts Museum

I am not sophisticated enough to be a true flaneur, but I have flaneur-like tendencies. I find myself wandering neighborhoods I find on my path when I have no pressing reason to hurry. I am especially drawn to local color, art, and cultural interests. 

So coming back from my class at TXRX Labs last Saturday afternoon, I came out of one of my neighborhood detours and realized that I was across the street from Harrisburg Art Museum. The “HAM” is an “Art Museum” in a very unconventional sense, but is one of the roomier and impressive venues for urban mural art and graffiti in Houston. I’ve been there about six times and it is always in flux, evolving. I prefer it at sunset when the light is warm and reddish.

Recommend you visit if you have an extra 20 minutes and are in the East End.

Religious, not Spiritual

I remembered a factoid from one of my pastor’s homilies that the root of the word “religion” comes from the Latin “religio,” which means to be “bound again.”

To the uninitiated, this makes the idea of religion not sound very attractive. I can see why so many people like to say they are “spiritual but not religious.” But after praying about it I’ve decided I am more like “Religious, but not Spiritual.”

I checked on this etymological factoid later and found that, as with all historical tidbits streamlined for popular consumption, the roots of the word “religion” are not quite that simple.

Sure,  “religion” does come from the Latin root “religio,” but the origins of that root are disputed. Cicero asserted that “religio” comes from the verb “relegere,” meaning “to re-read or go over a text,” religion being a text-based tradition requiring study and transmission. The Christian writer Lactantius, among others, assert the most popular hypothesis that “religion” comes from “religare” which means to be “bound again.” Augustine preferred that version to Cicero’s, but offered that it also could come from “reeligare” meaning to “choose again.”

From what I have read so far, I am not sure I have a preference. As a Catholic Christian, I bind myself to study the Gospel of Jesus Christ and transmit it with the way I live my life. I am bound by the obligation to serve others in Love — a bond made most immediate to me in my role as husband and father.

When I rise each morning, I put on my wedding band, pocket my wallet and keys, grab my “wireless leash,” aka my phone. All of these are symbols of my vocation and life’s mission. I take them on each morning as a prayerful practice, taking up the yoke Christ offers me before going out into the world where I am bound to serve in myriad ways.

As with distractions in prayer, I get distracted in life. I drift away on a regular basis (sin,  you can call it) and must “choose again” each day, each hour, each minute, to come back.

On the face of it, to the modern sensibility, this sounds like a big drag. Nobody nowadays wants to be tied-down, to be bound, by anything.

But in my heart of hearts I long for Love and Mercy. What better way is there for me to encounter Love and Mercy than to submit my whole self to them? This means I submit my hands, heart, head, feet, body, soul, and spirit all at once — a complete package. I cannot describe myself as “Spiritual” because I seek to be all in when it comes to Love. I can’t just give my “spirit.”

So I seek to be “Religious, not (just) Spiritual.” And I’ll take “Religious” in any sense of the word since all of them work for me.
Read more: http://forward.com/articles/10776/roots-of-religion/#ixzz3wJ1IdDe6

My Philosophy of Chili

So, I am participating in a chili cookoff this weekend. Not a sanctioned event. Just a friendly competition at church. But one of our requirements is to produce an ingredient list and, as is my style, I can’t resist the opportunity to think on the purpose and vision of things and philosophize. So my ingredient list turned into my “philosophy of chili.”

Elevation Chili Ingredient List (and Chili Manifesto)

Every culture has a dish they use to transform humble ingredients into something heart-warming, satisfying, and culturally iconic. Whether it’s gumbo, curry, stew, hash, minestrone, wat, pho, or goulash, the idea of taking ordinary foodstuffs and making them extraordinary by artful combination and extraction of flavors is universal. And the idea of taking ordinary things and elevating them is at the core of my faith.

In Texas, that dish is Chili and, for me, it is a sacred experience. If I do my job right, the lowly will be exalted and all who partake will go forth with full bellies, dilated capillaries, and praise for the Lord on their lips! So let’s introduce the cast.

Chiles:

The name of the dish is “Chili,” not “Meat Mush.” Chiles should be the superhero of the dish. Not only do chile peppers direct the complex orchestra of flavors in the pot, they elevate all the humble ingredients into a magnificent gustatory team.

If your meat is the star in your pot, you’re doing it wrong. (More on this later.)

Chili should be spicy, sure, but if you use chiles in your pot to create some sort of macho capsaicin dare for your tasters, you’re doing it wrong too. You don’t need to burn their faces off. Chiles should elevate, not dominate. In my chili base I use:

Guajillos – They establish a complex, deep base of flavor

Anchos – They lay on a sweet smoky layer of flavor

Jalapenos – They top it off with bright, grassy heat

Meat:

At home I use ground beef and meat scraps from the refrigerator. But since I am cooking for company today, I am using a ground combination of lowly, tough cuts of beef. No leftovers for you.

Please, please, if you have a nice piece of meat, like a ribeye or tenderloin, please step away from the chili pot! Respect that noble beast by grilling it properly! Enjoy it the way it should be enjoyed; medium rare on a plate with a baked potato and a maybe a beer.

Chili wasn’t invented to grind the best parts of the cow into a mush. Its purpose is to elevate the tough, cheaper parts, the scraps, the cast-offs. Redemption of humble fare is what chili is all about.

Beer:

I use lager for the dark notes and the sweetness, but I mainly use it for the alcohol. There are flavor compounds in many foods, such as tomatoes, that are only soluble in alcohol. Almost all the alcohol cooks away and, if I do my job right, you won’t taste the beer.

Beans and Tomatoes:

Yes, I put pinto beans in my chili. And my tomatoes are visible, yes, against chili purist rules. My core mission is not just to make something that tastes good. I want to feed people. Beans are probably the most nutritious thing in the pot and, as a Dad, I never lose a chance to amp up the wholesome factor when I can. If that means my chili is not officially sanctioned, so be it. I’ll choose making a crowd of hungry people full and happy over a trophy any day.

Aromatics, Spices, and Seasonings:

Like the background singers and the horn section of the pot. Earthy and sweet, they round out the flavor profile.

Onions, Garlic, Cumin, Cocoa Powder, Backstrap Molasses, Salt

There you have it. Relatively simple. As with many things, the magic is in the combination, the relationship, the team.

How to have an awesome marriage

  • Get married young. Be poor. Work six jobs between you. Scrape your life together.
  • Know, love and accept yourself. Continue to learn about your spouse.
  • Look for stuff to admire about your spouse. Seek awesomeness and you will find it. There’s plenty there.
  • See your spouse’s flaws as the flip side of their essential awesomeness. See her flaws as a chance for you to step in and be awesome yourself.
  • Stand shoulder to shoulder. In front of the kids, and the rest of the world, your spouse is always right and you stand with her. Keep disagreements between you.
  • Let the kids know quite plainly that you love your husband/wife more than them. Nothing personal, but in your house the family comes from Mom and Dad’s love, not the other way around.
  • Understand that giving (in the right spirit) is receiving. You can “pour yourself out like a libation” and be totally fulfilled in your marriage. (Prayer is a prerequisite for this step. For you non-religious folks, substitute some practice that allows you to transcend and subdue your own ego, whatever that looks like.)
  • Adopt children, foster animals from the pound, take in stray teenagers, invite people over all the time, be that home that tends to accumulate neighborhood kids. Cram your life to the gills and be overwhelmed often. Then you can watch God do some awesome things through your marriage and you can see your sacrament bear fruit.
  • Become a marriage geek. Keep up with the research. Read books. Approach marriage as if you’re a professional spouse and you’re bucking for a raise.
  • Teach others about marriage. Because, even if you feel sort of like a hypocrite standing up there talking about marriage in theory when you know marriage in reality lately, that stuff sinks in.
  • That said, here is the essence of every marriage course we’ve ever taught: 1) You and your spouse are different in various ways 2) Know yourself and accept yourself 3) Know and love your spouse as they are and don’t try to change them 4) Get out of yourself and relate to your spouse in a way that suits them, not you (See prayer prerequisite above)
  • Don’t ever stop dating. Do fun stuff together. Laugh a lot.
  • Communicate well and communicate often.
  • Sex is does not count as doing fun stuff. Sex is communication.
  • Get a bunch of others around you who love marriage. If there’s not a couples’ dinner group around you, start one.
  • Find stuff to talk about that does not involve kids, gossip, work, money, or household logistics.
  • That said, find regular time to communicate about kids, work, money, and household logistics.
  • You can do all the above and still screw things up if you do not speak kindly to one another.  if you avoid speaking at all and let resentments build up. Sarcasm, yelling, avoidance, and disrespect are all toxic.

Ultimately, like Gene Kranz said, “Failure is not an option.” And like Tim Gunn said, “Make it work.”

Works for us. Twenty-six years of marriage today. To my best friend. Praise God.

 

Holding up Moses’ Arms

In my men’s bible study today we were reading from Exodus 17 where Aaron and Hur had to help Moses hold up his arms so that the Israelites could fend off an attack from the Amalekites (yes, I had to look that up). I’ve read this reading dozens of times before and usually associated it with the “persistence in prayer” lesson of that particular week in the liturgical calendar.

But today it hit me harder. It’s probably where I am right now, but I was filled with compassion for Moses. Here is this great leader. He is in charge, poor guy, with the very lives of people depending on him and his strength. Then he’s in this situation where the very lives of people seem to depend on him holding up his arms. When he drops his arms, in the story, his people, his charges who depend on him, lose their lives.

It’s a hell of a thing to realize that your personal weakness – your inability to hold up your own damned arms — puts others in harm’s way. I’m not too proud to accept help when I am faced with an extraordinary task or problem, or if I know that what’s needed is not in my set of God-given gifts. But having someone to come help you do something so ordinary as holding up your own arms so that the people you are supposed to be taking care of aren’t hurt, that’s pretty humiliating.

So translate this story to the life of a parent, a spouse, etc. Some daily discipline, something personal, something that anybody could and should do on a daily basis, if neglected out of weakness, can put the people you have vowed to love and protect in harm’s way. This is one of the main motivators for starting a moderately successful diet this year — I realized that my bad food choices put my family in harm’s way. And I had to ask for help to hold up my damn arms. Turns out that’s not the only personal discipline area where my weakness puts my charges in harms way. So I need to be held up in many ways.

So God, not one to let me wallow in self-pity for too long, reminded me of this old poem, which I now have printed out and posted front and center.

A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER’S PRAYER
Author Unknown,
(Attributed to a battle weary C.S.A soldier near the end of the war)

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.

Words to live by. I’ll never read Exodus 17 the way I used to again.

Aw geez, pro-lifers, can we talk?

Pro-life people, can we talk? Especially you Pro-life politicians out there.Please stop talking about rape. Seriously.

Why do you let Pro-choice folks lead you into those waters? They know those waters are murky and full of traps. Don’t you see that? You’re like one of those people at the start of the slasher flick who leave the safety of the lighted room to check out that noise. You’re gonna get killed!

Besides, you keep the conversation about abortion in this country focused on the wrong things. The cases of rape and incest (and for that matter pregnancies the life of the mother) concern only a tiny portion of abortions. Why not, for now, just cede those cases and focus on the vast majority of abortions?

The base assumption that justifies abortion on demand in this country is about when life does or does not begin. Pro-choice positions on abortion depend on distracting us from that very basic question. So please don’t play along. Don’t start speculating on whether a pregnancy resulting from a rape is God’s Will or not. Don’t speculate about legitimate rape or whether a woman’s body can prevent pregnancies from rape.

Focus instead over whether there are one or two persons in a pregnant woman’s body. My view, the Catholic view, is that the fertilized embryo should be regarded as a person and here’s why:

  1. Catholics do not know exactly when the soul enters the body. Science cannot tell us for sure.
  2. But we do believe that conception is the earliest point at which the soul could enter. The new life does not start developing until fertilization.
  3. Since we have deference to all life, especially lives of the weakest and most vulnerable persons, we think that we need to take the most cautious approach in determining personhood. If it may be a person, we need to treat it as a person and consider its rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness alongside the the mother’s.

At that point, you have the abortion conversation where it needs to be — how to balance the rights of two persons occupying the same body. Does a woman’s right to privacy, self-determination, etc override the right of a smaller, weaker person’s rights to continue to exist?

Now that’s the conversation we should be having. Pro-lifers have wasted another entire national election splitting hairs over exceptions like rape. Maybe next time we can have a real conversation?

Why I Stand With The 47%

Pay taxes… Check. Don’t feel like a victim… Check. Not a “Freeloader”… Check. Take responsibility for my life… Check. Not in President Obama’s back pocket… Check.

So, as far as I can tell, I am part of Mr. Romney’s 53%.But I stand firmly with the 47% and here’s why:

I stand with the 47% because my daughter wants to be a Second Grade teacher. Her choice of careers may doom her to the 47% for a number of years. Some of the 47% understand that it is necessary to not only take responsibility for their own lives, but they forgo income to help others with their lives too.

I stand with the 47% because way too many of the people who defended my country so bravely and honorably are included in these ranks.

I stand with the 47% because my Mother-in-Law, a lady who worked hard all her life, owned a business, took care of so many others, and voted Republican, by the way, now depends on others completely, including the help our government provides.

I stand with the 47% because some day I will be beyond my working years and will depend on others to take care of me.

I stand with the 47% because I used to be a young person trying to make my way in this world. Dependent on others for the mentoring and opportunities and, yes, monetary support, I needed to get my start in life.

I stand with the 47% because so many of the ones in my path every day seem to work so hard for so little. They get up earlier than me, stay at work later than me, work harder than me, and make much less than me. I don’t necessarily think they deserve to have what I have instead of me, but I do think they deserve some respect and gratitude from me because they make my personal world more livable.

I stand with the 47% because I have known a few irresponsible, ne’er-do-well, .”freeloader” types in my life. My sense is that these people are “lost.” But I have seen a number of them become “found,” usually because some of those who were in a better place cared enough to try to help them find their way.

I stand with the 47% because if I ever get “lost” I don’t want my community to dismiss me as unreachable. I want them to lovingly smack me until I snap out of it

I stand with the 47% because there, but for the grace of God, go I. I am counted among the    “53%” because, for whatever reason God put me here and not there. (Might have something to do with being charged with adopting three special needs kids. I dunno.)

I stand with the 47% because my faith tells me I have nothing that does not come from God. Nothing. I am holding it for Him to use for His purpose, not mine.

I stand with the 47% because Jesus told me to. Because I can’t love Jesus any more than I love the least of these 47% types. And for that matter, the most self-righteous of the 53% as well.

I stand with the 47% because this new dividing line is really kind of stupid.

Well there I go

After ten years I am no longer on staff at St. Paul’s. Apparently the job-sharing arrangement Heidi and I had with the pastor, the parish administrator, and the search committee that hired us way back when had some legal problems with Social Security, IRS, Diocesan policy, and such. To add insult to injury I apparently was never legally on staff at St. Paul’s. Like it was all a dream or something.

I knew this might be coming for a few weeks, but it all came down in within the space of a day. Kind of like ripping off a bandage.

I surprised myself about how attached I was to being a part of the parish staff. I mean, I was basically a glorified volunteer anyway. I plan to do the same (more or less) work now that I’m not on staff. All I am stripped of is the title, the position, the keys which are tokens of access. Nothing else was changed.

So why was I suddenly so angry?

After some prayer I moved from angry to ashamed. I realized that I was *attached* to the recognition, the title, the fact that I had trusted access to the parish facility, that I was an *insider.* I always thought of myself as having a servant’s heart, but now I have to question just how true that is.

Truly, in my heart, alongside the attachment I apparently have to my own importance, is my joy at having been able to serve my parish in this special way. I realize that that service is more my own blessing than anyone else’s and I feel privileged to have been allowed to participate in God’s work at all.

If I were a really mature and humble person, I would have turned over my keys and my badge and said “Whatever. Praise God anyway.”

But I didn’t, did I? And now I have another occasion to be gentle to my foolish self and allow myself to grieve a loss that I wasn’t supposed to be attached to in the first place.

But to the members of my parish family, thanks for the awesome opportunity. Thanks for giving me the privilege to serve you on parish staff for ten years.

I’ll still be glad to make your coffee on Sunday, but I won’t be able to unlock your classroom door for you.