50, Jesus, and Stardom – Day Forty

jesus christ superstar

Last night, my dear husband surprised me by taking me to see a production of Jesus Christ Superstar at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. He scored tickets in the 8th row of this stunning venue built in 1931 with the second largest subscriber base in Illinois. It was probably the most amazing show I have ever seen and this is why.

To start, director, Ron Kellum, shares in the playbill his experience as a young man of color wondering whether there was space for him in theatre, to tell truths that translate to the whole range of audience members. Of this show he writes, “What would Jesus say if he came back today? I hope he would say, ‘Keep telling my story. Keep telling it in many different ways, but always come back to the truth of my story: the message of love and inclusion.’” I can’t imagine it told better than the cast last night did. Each person possessed supreme talent – not a single mediocre performance, regardless of the part.

Second, storytellers are most compelling when they identify with, believe the story they tell, the characters they portray. It was hard to miss the conviction with which Peter sang, “could we start again please?” and Mary, “I don’t know how to love him,” and Judas? oh, Judas – everything he observed, questioned, processed – he is all of us. In the cast bios, many included a scripture reference, thanks to God, quoted “faith without works is dead,” #EquityWorks and #GodIsThePlug, or #blacklivesmatter; Rufus Bonds, Jr. (Pontius Pilate) was even honored with Lifetime Achievement Award for his body of work by President Obama. Remarkable people.

Third, I went to Church. This story highlights the suffering of Jesus—not just the cross, but also his weariness toward the end of his ministry. Jesus knows our suffering, and I heard God speak that truth so clearly in the song, “I Only Want to Say.” The scene is Gethsemane when Jesus asks if the cup might be taken away. He sings, “I have changed, I’m not as sure as when we started. Then I was inspired. Now I’m sad and tired . . . expectations . . . Tried for three years; seems like thirty . . . . Would the things I’ve said and done matter any more?”

This, I think, is at the heart of my disquiet, the ambivalence with turning 50. I spent a good part of my adult life inspired, motivated by solid convictions, working hard to be a part of making things right in this world. And I’m tired. I wonder if any of it has mattered. And then feel ashamed that it should matter so much to me that it does.

“Then I was inspired. Now I’m sad and tired . . . I’ve tried for three years, seems like ninety. Why then am I sacred to finish what I started – what you started?” There is nothing that we experience, that we live, that God does not know, that Christ has not lived. “39 Lashes.” every. single. one. counted. Jesus knows the suffering of the slave, the wrongly accused. “Who are you to criticize her, despise her?” Jesus knows of the anguish of the woman abused, used, misunderstood. “Why have you forgotten me?” Jesus knows the despair of the overlooked, the marginalized, the left behind.

And this telling of Jesus’ story asks the crucial question – the question of belief. “Jesus Christ Superstar, are you who you say you are?” If I believe that Jesus is who he says he is, I must know, then, that Jesus knows my location in time and space. I must trust that the Jesus left the Advocate for me to empower, to be wisdom, pour Love into and through me, to strengthen my frame and do the work I cannot – because we are Christ’s body—together!

And yes, it all matters. I matter in this space-time. You matter in yours, and to me. And I am grateful to the incredibly talented people who sang words of truth and love and shone so brightly who they are last night, in a way no one else could have just so. #blacklivesmatter

Have Courage, Wait – Day Thirty-Nine

courage and wait

The Aracuraria Chilean Pine Tree can live to 1,000 years, with its upside down paintbrush-like shape that might have prevented plant-eating dinosaurs from grazing the forest’s floor. Tasmania’s Trakine Forest is home to the 3,000-year-old Huon Pines, and rivers that nurture lobster-sized crayfish in its currents. And the Japanese Cedar, or Yakusugi, thrive and have done so for about 7,000 years. But the Inyo National Forest in California guards the estimated 4,843-year-old Bristlecone Pine, Methuselah – the oldest living tree on earth. There’s also the Norway spruce in Belarus and the Baobab in South Africa, and a few others that dot our globe, that existed before homo sapiens – and persist.

The Japanese have a beautiful tradition, the practice of Shinrin-yoku. It means, taking in the forest atmosphere, and is the therapeutic, rejuvenating process of intentionally surrounding oneself with nature. The practice encourages healing as it reduces stress just by calmly walking among the trees and foliage, absorbing the sights, smells, sounds of nature. It seems fitting that this tenacious life that emerge from the earth and securely anchor to it would be a source of healing our fragile bodies and minds, soothe our weary souls. It is a reminder to me that life persists even as the moments in my own life seem to zip by at sometimes frightening speed.

Today was the last (half) day of school for my sons, another marker passed, the next stage in view – time zips and hurtles by. But I am at a waiting stage – a marker that feels like for me a perpetual state. It’s as though everything around me moves, is in constant motion, still, I must wait. I have always come to accept the recognition that God is working whether or not I accomplish anything, but as I hang on by the tips of my fingernails to 49, it is especially uncomfortable. These nearly forty days of meditating on my fast-approaching place in 50, I don’t think I’ve come to any profound conclusions. Though, I am not sure what I expected, necessarily, to emerge from this 40-day practice, I’ve been engaging this practice in community.

The tree featured in the opening picture is Brazilian, but transplanted to the Singapore Botanic Garden. It is robust, with ancient roots, yet flourishes on another continent. It is a stunning reminder to me that though I have been moved to many places around the world and the country, my roots are ancient and robust and eternal. Everywhere I go, a forest of exotic, unique, healing foliage surrounds me – a community of souls that thrive and grow with me. So, will you wait with me today? Wait, listen, ponder, soak in the beauty around you, around me? May we be refreshed and rejuvenated today. If you have the time to find some nature, try some Shinrin-yoku, and please share your experience! If it is not possible just now, listen to the sounds in the link below and meditate on my picture here, or others you might have. Imagine. Dream. Have courage. Wait.

 

 

Walk This Way – Day Thirty-Eight

walk this way

And when you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear the word behind you saying, ‘this is the way, walk in it.’ Is30:21

Getting my bearings, a sense of direction, has never been much of a problem for me. In fact, it is often easier for dyslexic processing brains to create an imaginary map, visualize space and ones place in it. I also grew up in the Mile High City – Denver, Colorado – and the mountain range was my magnetic field, the force of orientation. In this way, when we would visit friends in Colorado Springs, we traveled to higher elevations, so it felt like going north to me. I have been all over the world and can easily map north and south in my brain, but set me in my family’s home and I am upside down; north is south, south, north.

It was the same with life direction, for me. I always had a strong sense of God’s call, a sort of positively-charged particle oriented by Lorentz-esque-force electromagnetic field of the Trinity, if you will. The direction was formidable (China), and while decisions along the way were not always easy to make, they were usually evident. Until poor health interfered, disrupting a feedback loop – or so it seemed.

But in this feedback loop scenario particles can also generate new electromagnetic fields (I’m no physics expert, but I love the analogy). And one infinitesimal particle only registers – is observed – by its effects, and that, by what is being acted upon it – the compelling force. They will know you are compelled by Christ – by your love . . . They will know you are God’s – by the fruit you bear . . . .

This formation-force-field I traverse is vast, complex, beyond comprehending. I am a nearly negligible particle within it. At the same time, my place in it is not static nor is it irrelevant. My existence has an effect, carrying its own force. And while I am still uncertain about the direction I must take into 50, I am certain about the Force that acts upon it. I am equally convinced of the bountiful elements that live and move and have their beings in my proximity.

And so I wish to move in the direction that is most life giving – for me and for those around me and in the effort (energy, force) to making things right in this world. That direction is traveled best with gratitude. And I take to heart the words of Ellen Bass:

The world has need of you . . .

But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,

the earth, ever so slightly, fell

toward the apple.

Savoring Goodness – Day Thirty-Seven

Savor God's goodness

One time when I was about four or five, it must have been Thanksgiving, I was sitting with my brother and two other children at the kids table in the back room. It was a communal meal so all the families contributed and somebody brought a dish of boiled peas and carrots. Peas were at the very top of my Can’t Stand list of foods, and I could only tolerate raw carrots, not cooked. But to refuse it would be impolite and my father insisted. Being the good little girl I was, I complied and took a bite. And promptly regurgitated the mess back onto my plate. I still can’t stand peas.

Science shows that children possess taste superpowers – their tongues are especially sensitive to bitter flavors, and react accordingly. Previously accepted data held there is a veritable map for various taste sensors (one part detects sweet, another tastes bitter, etc.). Now it is understood that they all work together to inform the brain of the flavors at work. And as we age taste buds stop regenerating making us less sensitive to nuances in the flavor. This makes it easier to stomach foods that tend to be healthier and promote longevity – and are more bitter.

At the same time, less sensitivity tempts us to ignore the potion of herbs and spices that infuse the mango that roasts with garlic on that lovely piece of salmon. Or allow the hints of mint and basal linger on the tongue before washing it down with a sip of wine. In this way it also creates the conditions for overconsumption since I can rush through the meal more quickly than my stomach can tell my brain it is full. Too I did not take the moments required to find enjoyment in the way an interesting combination of ingredients make a chicken breast taste—a practice that improves a sense of well-being and staves off a common reason for eating more than is healthy to begin with.

Along with my connective tissue disease, I am also allergic to wheat, dairy and coconut. My diet is much different from when I was a kid, and sometimes it is easiest to limit what I eat to what I know is healthy and will not trigger an asthma attack, while also providing enough calories. Sometimes I will eat something that I find no enjoyment in purely because I need to eat something substantial and do not have the energy to explore other options. But since Greer has come home we’ve had many conversations about how controlled we are by food, instead of appreciating it in healthy ways—and that it is a luxury that many in the world cannot conceive.

There is something mystical and alluring about Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” This idea that the sense of taste can bring insight—vision—to understanding the goodness of God, is evocative. The images of the banquet table and narratives around a meal and creating the best wine for the wedding party, these are scattered liberally throughout scripture. It can run both ways: when I notice and savor the goodness of God I can almost taste the nearness of God’s Spirit, ingest the aromas and flavors of heaven; and, when I allow a bite from the meal prepared by my sons – or an expert chef – to linger, notice the delicious concoction and appreciate the company around my table, heaven is at hand.

This weekend I will celebrate my birthday with my husband, and my brother and his wife around a meal and drinks. It is always a beautiful time with them to linger over skillfully prepared creations and freely chat and laugh and be. And as 50 is fast approaching I am hyper aware of the necessity for being intentional about savoring each moment. Will you practice with me today, the very spiritual mindfulness practice of relishing each food and drink consumed?

Inhale the aroma wafting up to nose.

Is it hot or cold, somewhere in between?

Do my taste buds wake up and tingle inside my mouth?

Exhale and receive the bite.

Inhale as I allow the piece to mix on the tongue, the senses register nuance.

Is the flavor strong? Can I distinguish the ingredients?

What memories do these flavors conjure for me?

Exhale and remain a few moments with those thoughts.

Be grateful for God’s goodness. See, the Lord is good.

Music is Human – Day Thirty-Six

listen music is human

Some of the most popular songs in 1967 included, the Beetle’s “Penny Lane” and “All You Need is Love,” Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” “Light My Fire” – The Doors, “Soul Man” by Sam & Dave (though many will know it from the Blues Brothers), and the Tremeloes’, “Silence is Golden.” In Gospel music that same year “Oh Happy Day” resonated with its hopeful tune of deliverance and salvation in the bleak time of the Vietnam War. And “Amazing Grace” is the all time most popular hymn since the reformation.

Thomas Aquinas defined a hymn in this way: “Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem.” (“A hymn is the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.” But not until 1820 was approval given to sing hymns in the Church of England. Indeed, the Wesley’s were not afforded the luxury of singing Charles’ hymns in church in their lifetime. What is more, Charles only provisionally included a single melody line with his poetic theology because he was ambivalent to the suitability of singing parts. And John and Charles did not even agree with each other on what was an appropriate level of affection in the lyrics.

Music is by far the most prevalent subject of disagreement in the church. Just yesterday Howie was cornered by someone accusing him of single-handedly ruining his church by leading with subpar, non-hymn/Wesley-prescribed music. Greer noted that in every church in which we’ve served, music has been the biggest source of criticism and venom. What is it about music that provokes such scorn, so much bitterness? Mozart was considered an apostate in his time, for heaven’s sake!

Scientists have dated flutes made from bone to 42,000 years ago, and one large collection of musical instruments dates to 7,000BCE China. Clearly, creating music is a key feature of being human. But just as each person is unique and every culture is distinctive in societal expressions, ought not a variety in music style and composition provide a greater, richer expression of devotion to the Creator God that made us creative in the first place?

Music heals. Music congregates. Music lifts the spirit and wallows with it in agony. It carries sentiments of love and strengthens the summons to revolt. Rhythms and tones are discerned in the expert thumping of hands on animal skin, carrying a message or supporting a communal dance. Music clears the mind and can clear a space, and it touches the deepest parts of us, indelible. A song can conjure the angsty, stomach-churning feeling from junior high while ice-skating with friends (and that boy I liked); or the comfort I felt when hearing my father sing How Great Thou Art beside me in church.

The power of music is indisputable. And it is incredibly fulfilling to really appreciate all types of music (well, except Country—I just really can’t appreciate Country music). It has changed throughout human history; the combinations of sounds and the sequences of chords are infinite. There is no inherent virtue in any specific sequence. One cannot determine an ethic of sounds ought or ought not to be combined. Music is art—it is an audible expression of the soul, meaningful to the composer and capable of evoking meaning for the audience. And music is to be celebrated.

We do not all appreciate the same style (or volume) of music. Why would anyone think that any community that gathers on Sunday morning would always fully appreciate all of the music all of the time? Charles Wesley wanted to put theology to music, expressions of devotion to Jesus in song, so people might carry them through the difficult week and be encouraged.

But I suspect the deeper issue is not that I think this music is unholy or that song not appropriate for church. The weightier concern is that change is uncomfortable, and listening to each other is work. It isn’t the music. It’s that I am more concerned about my well being than those in the community. And then I miss out on hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit in a new way. And sometimes, there is music even in the silence. Because it is not until I have ears ready to listen that we can grow together—in worship, in community, in Love.

Practice with me mindful listening: sound a chime or bell (the one on your phone is fine).

Listen for that space where the sound ends and the silence begins.

Listen some more.

What do you hear?

Rustling in the kitchen?   A bird chirping outside the window?   Water running on the other side of the wall?

Listen.

Be grateful.

See and be Known – Day Thirty-Four

see and be known

When I was growing up, our family lived in four different houses, but they were basically in the same school district. So, for me, I went to one elementary school, one junior high, and one high school. Then I went to university in the same state, but began a (thus far) thirty year succession of moves—out of country, different states, more education, different jobs . . . . One thing I learned quickly was that each new place harbored new bugs, and the first year is one of accepting new illnesses while my body’s immune system learned how to fight them.

When I finally discovered some of my physical pain was due to autoimmune disease, I began a life-long journey of finding a balance to supporting my immune system. Autoimmune disease is basically an internal overreaction. Certain sectors of the immune system no longer focus on disease but attack healthy cells. So, many “normal” modes of targeting a virus can trigger a heightened attack on my joints and nerves. It requires listening to my body, noticing how it responds to certain supplements and foods, exercises and activities. It is a mindfulness practice that, for me, holds some urgency.

It seems as if we do a similar psychic thing to ourselves. That is, maybe I am overreacting to an internal judgment about my inadequacy and undermine – attack – the healthy strengths I do possess, rendering myself socially or professionally infirm. Also, perhaps we do this as a society by passing judgment without thought, without real insight, and attack the whole of another’s position. In doing so, we debilitate constructive civil conversation.

Recently, I have been reading some of the musings of the German-Jewish philosopher, Hannah Arendt. She writes about that intersection of thinking and action—that both are necessary for making things right in the world. An expert on Arendt, Lyndsey Stonebridge, observes, “Thinking, [Arendt] says, is not the same as judgment, but it creates the right conditions for judgment. But also, she says, if you can’t have that inner dialogue, then you can’t speak and act with others. What she called ‘the banality of evil’ was the inability to hear another voice, the inability to have a dialogue either with oneself or the world, the moral world.”

It is this sense that is so important for our time as it was in Arendt’s, found in a concept she coined and elaborates on: “organized loneliness.” It is this experience of living in a society in which individuals are unseen and disconnected, of feeling superfluous in the world. It is certainly something that I wrestle with as I draw closer to turning 50. And it seems to be an overarching universal experience in our globalizing world—more connected and more isolated. But just as I cannot really see a truth about my capabilities until another person observes it, sees me as I am, so as a society we cannot see our system for what it is until we can understand it from another cultural perspective.

Of course, that is a very oversimplified observation. Still, though I feel like I cannot really change a political system, I can be a part of changing culture. One way is to actively open my eyes to see another person, another culture, another belief system. And when my eyes are open, they remain open for another to return that gaze. It is vulnerable. It is frightening. It is thrilling. How beautiful it is when two people extend trust and really look at one another. I am changed, and just maybe, together we can change our culture, and the world.

How do I need to change my perspectival lens so I can really see someone today?

Life and Breath and Meaning – Day Thirty-Three

the air I breathe

All that lives must breathe. If it does not breathe, it is not living. The trees and shrubbery outside my window inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. The birds in its branches and the 2nd grader walking home take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. The tree and the girl exist because the other does. Indeed, a coal miner might take that same bird into the cave to test the breathability of the air. The bird stops breathing, the miner is soon to follow. Find oxygen. breathe. live.

Breathing is at the forefront of my mind because for me it is not a given the function will behave properly. For some reason my lungs do not make the O2 – CO2 exchange correctly. Apparently, my heart is skewed at an “awkward” angle, the pulmonary arterial valve allows some regurgitation, and the pulmonary artery strains with pressure. So, when I performed the comprehensive pulmonary functions test this morning, I nearly ended up in the ER. Thankfully, my doctorate in mindfulness practices became useful, preventing me from passing out. Ugh.

The device for measure pulmonary function has been around for quite a while. Originally invented in the 1840s by the British surgeon, John Hutchinson, the Spirometry, spiro (to breathe) and meter (to measure), provides diagnostic information to assess lung function. Other devices and technology are now recruited to gauge a range of elements that impact lung function. That my daughters and several nephews live with impaired lunch function, I am grateful for these specialists who can monitor this very important somatic task! God bless Gale who did just that – expert and with great compassion – for me today.

But there is so much more involved than the inhalation of air, the expulsion of carbon. Our bodies are complex systems, each affecting the other, and when one piece isn’t working properly, other vital organs react. And everyone has unique reactions to dysfunctions that may occur. And these physical operations within the body are affected by equally complex outward systems of atmosphere, climate, social interactions, emotional counteractions, and countless other effects in between. I love the observation made by Pablo Neruda after a childhood exchange with another boy through a hole in the fence:

“To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses — that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.”

A simple exchange of a toy for a resin pinecone inspired Neruda to poetry, to leave gifts of words to those he would never meet, but with whom he will ever be connected. And this is the source of art, the reason we do art – it is human to create. It is divine to create.

My words, my being are linked to you, as you are to me. And just as the shrub outside my window exists because the girl walking past it does, I thrive because you are also in this world. Jesus said, As the Father loves me, so I love you; abide – live, breathe – in my love. And as I love you, love each other. My life for yours; yours, for each other. (Jn15:9-13) Yours is the air I breathe.

Breathe in gratitude for the stranger who offers unexpected kindness today.

Breathe out the fear from not understanding exactly what is going on.

Breathe in a sense of the very presence of the Holy Spirit.

Breathe out the remaining malaise and unease.

Breathe in gratitude for the gift of each breath.

Creative Conversation – Day Thirty-Two

Relationship changes us

When I returned home from visiting my daughter in Indonesia bands of muscle in the guise of steel ropes threaded with industrial hex nuts formed a latticework on my back. No amount of stretching, yoga, or deep breathing seemed to loosen the grip these giant pods of lactic acid had on my back. This morning, my dear husband had some extra time to finally begin work on the trellis. Thank you, God, for giving me this man! I believe my neck is a full inch longer now. (note to Howie: I think you’ve only loosened a top layer)

Message therapy can be traced back to 2800s BCE Egypt and China. Hindu practitioners perfected the Ayurveda art of healing touch through the millennia, and then a Swedish doctor (former gymnast) developed the “Swedish Movement System” in the early 1800s. This and Japanese Shiatsu seem to be the most commonly used in the western hemisphere. Interesting, recent research found that the efficacy of massage therapy has more to do with the mechanisms of DNA than squeezing out lactic acid. It actually triggers the process that turns off the inflammation-promoting gene, PGC-1alpha, and turns on the gene, NFkB, that contributes to healing muscle tissue. As one with a connective tissue disease, this information is enlightening and strengthens my resolve to appeal for regular massages. (ummm, Howie?)

There is so much more that happens when a massage is given. First, the action occurs between two human beings (massage chairs and tables notwithstanding). And when a friend or lover performs the therapy, it is an expression of compassion, an act of love. It is relationship, it is being human. Maria Popova goes so far as to ascribe this as the perpetuation of creation: “Action is therefore the most optimistic and miraculous of our faculties, for it alone gives rise to what hadn’t existed before — it is the supreme force of creation.” Because when Howie gave me a massage this morning, he was putting his declarations of love into action, and we grew to know something of each other afresh.

You see, relationships cultivate, prune and transform our truths. Adrienne Rich poignantly explains in her 1975 essay: “An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.” Our words carry the truths, but truths spring from action.

It is not enough to say, “I love you,” though often it is sufficient in the moment. To love is to act on that love. And keep on.

It is not enough to say, “That is unjust,” though many times it sparks a movement. To make things right is to act on the system that supports injustice. And keep on.

It is not enough to say, “I believe,” though frequently it reawakens the seed of trust buried deep within. To believe is to live that belief. And keep on.

Still, Popova warns, “contrary to the popular indictment that speech is the cowardly absence of action, action cannot take place without speech. Above all . . . it is through the integration of the two that we reveal ourselves to one another, as well as to ourselves.”

Speech and action. Act and being.

Another May-born, Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861–August 7, 1941) places all the weight on relationship: “Relationship is the fundamental truth in this world of appearance.” It is not as if I know precisely what I mean when I speak, articulate a position. I may not even understand precisely what I want to say about how I feel. To speak it, to say it out loud, I do not know whom I reveal when I disclose myself. But with Hannah Arendt, I must “be willing to risk the exposure.”

When we are with one another, and not necessarily for or against—actively with the other—such risks seem possible. And worth it. Throughout these 40 days of meditations on turning 50 I’ve been a bit more vulnerable, exposing some struggles and many perspectives previously hesitant to express. Yet, I have discovered a few beautiful souls who are with me, hints of what is possible after I pass through next Friday, with these people – and others along the way. I also know that I am different from when I said “yes” to Howie nearly 24 years ago. I am constantly amazed by how much we are changed when we converse, share our thoughts—it is a creative moment, creating more of ourselves, becoming more.

So how can I be with someone today – and create something more, something beautiful?

License to Commune – Day Thirty-One

vine connectedToday I spent time at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Since I’m turning a certain age soon (in nine days, but who’s counting) they find it necessary to check my vision. Also, there is a new process in place that requires my information and photo be processed through a centralized system. To do this, I am issued a temporary printout of a provisional license until the card is sent in 2-3 weeks. This made me wonder about the history of the driver’s license and what this new change means.

So, Chicago (of course!) and New York City were the first (in 1899) to require a test of driver’s competency before granting permission to drive a motorized vehicle. Missouri and Massachusetts were first 1903) to require a license, but MO did not actually call for an exam to acquire one. Pennsylvania was first to insist the driver be at least 18 years old in 1909, and Connecticut gave permission for those who are 16 or older in 1921. But some states did not include a photo of the driver until well into the 1980s in response to activism by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, and underage drinking.

It wasn’t until 2005 that the Department of Homeland Security instituted the Real ID Act to set a national standard all states must follow for issuing secure driver’s licenses. Since the US has no national ID card, a Federal guideline is understandable. At the same time, driver’s license protocol is within the purview of each state. Whereas the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act supported state-federal cooperation to implement the more uniform, secure protocol, Real ID circumvents state input. I certainly appreciate more secure identification, and the newer enhanced versions can be used in lieu of a passport when driving across a border country.

More people travel and work across multiple states, so a connected database is convenient. It does presage another step away from independent state governing, a large piece of the identity of the United States. But is that a bad thing? Centralized databases that encompass more of our lives and liberties do impinge on privacy. At the same time, while we are gravitating away from the mythological ideal of a 1950s era nuclear family, we are becoming still more connected to more people across a broader space—global space. When there are clever computer wizards with extra time on their hands hacking into government and financial systems across this global space, I am glad for some added security and greater recourse when said clever hackers attempt to obtain my documentation.

My daughter lives in a country that has no real traffic laws. She is also getting around on a motorcycle in this crazy land with no traffic laws. In crowded cities. With slender, winding roads. And frequent torrential rainfalls. I know—I rode on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle in this crazy traffic, on twisting roads, during a torrential rainfall! I appreciate uniform traffic laws!

As far as privacy is concerned, I wonder how much one might reasonably expect and still have access to convenient, high-tech, deftly connected services. I am absolutely not saying the government or corporations or whomever should have carte blanche access to my personal information. There is sufficient tech to securely mask my identity from necessary information. At the same time (beginning to feel a bit like Tevye’s many hands, ‘on the other hand’) it seems we are often more concerned with privacy than with the implications of how connected we actually are.

No matter how hard I might try to be alone, block others off from access to me, my existence impacts others—and others impact my life. The question is, do I want that influence to be formative or disfiguring? Today’s Ignatius meditation is from John 15:1-8, about how dwelling in the vine makes the branches produce good fruit. And all of the branches are connected to the vine. If mine is malnourished, it will affect a neighboring branch. The key principle here is ‘dwelling.’ To dwell is to live and linger, nourish and nurture, and protect. It implies relating to those with whom I dwell and impacts the confidence with which I enter this great big world—that is, the fruit I produce. Be mindful with me: How do I impact those with whom I am connected? What is beautiful about those connections?

Flavor Fusions and Angels – Day Thirty

entertain angels

The year before I was born (1966, if you haven’t been keeping up) McDonald’s started using frozen french fries. The first credit card in Great Britain, the Barclaycard, was also introduced that year. Mississippi repealed Prohibition – its last holdout, Simon and Garfunkel released ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme;’ the first law requiring ingredients listings on packaged food is passed, and Quaker instant oatmeal is introduced that year. In 1967, Wisconsin legalizes yellow margarine, the Wholesome Meat Act is passed, and ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ (staring Sidney Poitier) premieres.

Dominos, Hardee’s, Taco Bell, Arby’s, Blimpie, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Long John Silver’s, and Wendy’s all open in the 1960s. And, well, Happiness is a place called Shakey’s! Shakey’s, probably one of my favorite childhood restaurants—I loved watching the cooks throwing around pizza dough and slinging scoops of sauce over the pies – and the balloon chef? anyone remember those? Incidentally, the Andy Warhol directed film, ‘The Nude Restaurant,’ was also released in 1967. I hope no one remembers that!

The trend is self-evident—fast, cheap food, with little variety. All-American meant beef patties, hotdogs, and pizza. And fast food drew the family out making it that much easier to dismiss the communal meal each evening at home. The first part (introducing cheap, preservative-laden, toxic food) signed the death warrant for the people of the superpower. The second fueled a symptom of the illusion that hasn’t really existed in this country—not in the sense politicians often portray this ideal—save (possibly) a couple of decades mid-20th century. But that’s for another blog.

Despite a recent scuffle over the reluctance to receive the displaced, the principle on which our constitution rests is that of welcome. The statue of liberty – a gift in support of abolition and freedom, and a beacon for the dispossessed – invites all peoples to augment, enhance the community. The best evidence for this is the types and range of food available to dwellers in this fair land. Now I can order salmon with citrus salsa verde and jicama cilantro slaw; or, mojo chicken, tomatillo & avocado salsa with pickled red onion tacos! And if you must get a burger, make it one with pineapple, Benton’s bacon, lettuce, cilantro and Sriracha; or with granny smith apple, muenster and chipotle aioli!

My sons are benefiting from this flavor fusion, too. At Howie’s instigation, the three of them are learning to cook meals that use a variety of ingredients and cooking techniques. The new combinations and compositions work so well that one night they fought over the remaining brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts! Holidays’ growing up my mother was always inviting people to join us for the big meal. It was usually a family whose relatives lived in another state, or was from a different country, or not comfortable in their own home. They always introduced new traditions or foods, some of which I still use.

We need food to survive. Our bodies require the nutrients. Our souls require the ritual, the pleasure of fragrance and flavor igniting the senses, the motivation to gather and linger together. Our culture thrives on the practice of amalgamating herb and spice, oil and game, potions passed down through generations. How much we learn of our heritage through a simple meal. I’ve dined in Hong Kong and London, Turkey and Ireland, Indonesia and Oklahoma, and enjoyed Korean food in Seoul, and Singapore, and Palatine, IL. But the most amazing food I think I’ve had is where they experiment with ingredients and techniques from different cultures.

The gift acquired by inviting a visitor is invaluable. Not only do I see the face of God in a new light, I might learn the means to make Brussels sprouts even enjoyable! It is also a good opportunity for mindfulness practice: allow the flavor to linger in the mouth and discern distinct flavors, provoke old memories, make new memories. And, I just might find I’m entertaining angels.