Bungy-jumping, blizzards, and control

Andria and I haven’t quite made it back from New Zealand.  We’ve been stranded in southern California due to a massive, midwestern blizzard.  We’re staying with some very lovely people, friends of friends in the area.  I’ve gotta say, if you’re going to get stuck somewhere due to bad weather, getting stuck in southern California is probably the best option.  We just read a report of Chicagoans who were actually stuck last night in their cars, on Lake Shore Drive.  The wind must have been horrific.  For the upteenth time I am again humbled by the raw and awesome and unrestrained power of this world.  It is only matched by the raw and awesome and unrestrained power of God.

Nearly two weeks ago, I went bungy jumping in Queenstown. The physical shock to my body of being suddenly very unable to control my circumstances was very transformative and empowering. I had thought it would be a way to practice facing my fear and pushing through it, then surviving, but it turned out to be more about recognizing that I ultimately have no real way to prevent that which is inevitable, be that death, be that the coming reign of God. And for people of privilege, and I have much, there is scarcely anything more undoing than being confronted with the reality that our illusions about “power,” “control,” and “safety” is but shifting sand as time marches on.

Bungy jumping is just one way – albeit bourgeois, completely safe, and manufactured – to experience total powerlessness. This storm in Chicago and elsewhere, causing people to experience helplessness in their cars for twelve hours at a time, is obviously much more dire. But the central confrontation with helplessness is the same. The recognition of not being able to control our circumstances may come a lot more suddenly and easily when you’re plummeting off a bridge or freezing in your car, but it is true even at times of much more calm. One way or another, we are inching ever-forward in our lives, aging one day at time, as if on a very slow moving conveyor belt. We have exactly zero capacity to control this process. Yet, how much of the crap in our lives is devoted to the illusion that this steady march is in fact under our control, even reversible?

Whether we must march on, day by day, is not under our control. But how we do so, is. We will do well to surrender to the inevitable and embrace that which is indeed within our locus of control within every moment of every day: our choices.

Glaring racism, then and now.

Did you know that people used to name their pets after ethnic groups?

Chalk Talk for Sunday Schools, by Harlan Tarbell

I just picked up an old book (1924) about drawings for Sunday School, and there it is right on page 30: a lovely story about two kittens, Snowball and N—-r. You see, one of them has white fur, and the other, black. I leave it to you to figure out which is which. Then I recalled that large, black dog in Jack London’s Call of the Wild whose name was ‘Nig.’

So people used to name their pets N—-r. Wow! And that was once considered to be completely normal, even as today most people would regard it as blatantly wrong. By our liberated, contemporary standards, this crazy racism seems otherworldly, a totally alien thing that we clearly would never do now, right?

…And then I remembered all the mascots that are named after native folk, today, for the entertainment of the masses: the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Washington Redskins, the Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs, and many, many more.

So on the one hand, naming personal pets after ethnic groups is totally wrong.

Yet, naming public pets (mascots) after ethnic groups is totally fine.

WTF?  No, it isn’t.

Go Whitehonkies!

As a Chicagoan, I am truly proud of our hockey team, the Blackhawks. They’ve been kicking ass on ice like they were born to do it.

What, me racist?But their name is ridiculously offensive. (I don’t care if we’re all used to it by now. Stereotyping a brutally decimated minority group into a mascot is wrong on so many levels.)

To illustrate the point, I propose the following name change:  the Chicago Whitehonkies!

Sure, it’s more of a slur than “Blackhawks,” but at least white folks are in the majority.  (And seriously – it’s not like we suffered genocide and displacement at the hands of Native Americans.)  I say, we’re better off stereotyping ourselves than those whom we’ve wronged in the past.

In the meantime… GO WHITEHONKIES!!!

Meeting Blago

I met Rod Blagojevich yesterday.

He was coming out of Medici, a Hyde Park restaurant, and me and my CTS buddies Shaun and Adam were heading into Edwardo’s, a pizzeria a couple doors down.  The first thing I noticed was his hair.

As we were telling one another that yes, it really was Rod Blagojevich in the flesh, he caught us staring and came over with a grin, hand outstretched:  “Hey guys, wanna meet an innocent ex-governor?”  We shook hands, as he gave a mini-version of the same spiel he gives everywhere these days: it’s been difficult, but I can’t wait until everything gets cleared up, and yes, it’s definitely going to be all cleared up.

BlagoHe asked if we attend the University (of Chicago).  No, says Adam, we go to Chicago Theological Seminary.  Now this seemed to strike a chord.  Eyes widening, he prattled on for a moment about how this experience has really brought him closer to God, you know?  He wants us to know that he’s not just saying that because we’re seminarians, but he really believes it’s true: this is all part of God’s plan.  Maybe so, I think to myself.

Then one of his companions whisked him away to snap a picture with some coeds.  We three seminarians walked into Edwardo’s, and I said, “I don’t think we did a very good job speaking truth to power just then.  Then again, he’s doesn’t exactly have much power these days…”

As a post-script, it has since occurred to me that I need to have some quick theology ready for the next time I run into a famous, influential person, fallen or otherwise.  No more getting caught speechless.  What would you say?  (Photo credit: Adam Yates)

Bumper Car Wisdom

bumpercars1I went to Six Flags yesterday.  Rode the bumper cars and many roller coasters.  Now, at some point in the last year or so, my body has made the transition from “anything goes” to “you’re not as young as you used to be.” I’m not going to get into that here, but suffice to say, walking out of the bumper cars, I had a flash of insight into ancient wisdom: in seeking to harm others, so do I harm myself.

When you think about it, the bumper cars are a pretty good metaphor for certain aspects of dealing with others.  On several occasions I found myself trying to plow full-steam into someone – my wife, a friend, someone I don’t even know – only to find that the resulting impact is just as much of a jolt to me as it was intended to be toward the other.  Whether the metaphor works or not depends on whether one is willing to accept that this two-way impact occurs for not only physical collisions, but emotional and spiritual as well.

President Obama's Inauguration Speech

President Obama's Inauguration Speech

Made on Wordle using this transcript.

Dear Gov. Blagojevich…(2)

Um.

This, sir, is not what I had in mind when I asked you to resign:

“I intend to stay on the job and I will fight this thing every step of the way,” he said in an appearance at the James R. Thompson Center in downtown Chicago. “I will fight, I will fight, I will fight, till I take my very last breath. I have done nothing wrong.”

Not even close.

The pastoral part of me feels sort of bad…like there’s something seriously wrong here, and he’s obviously not getting the help he needs.  Still holding the governor, his family, and the rest of us Illinoisans in prayer.