Monday, April 21, 2008

it's hard to believe

that one weekend could make up for the worst winter ever. but i played catch friday, and sat on the front porch with my guitar and a pot of coffee on saturday and sunday. both are very favorite passtimes of mine. i also went back to the shaved head summer mode, despite jodi's two votes for a cut with the old #1 length trimmer, and alisa's request for a mohawk. i could believe how long my hair got between september and now.

also hung out with the two J's, and chris and pam last night. it was a very funny night, including attempts at sexy cracker eating, and improvisational dance to no music...something at which i'm quite gifted.

then last night i went to Gallery Cabaret for the sunday night open mic. it was my first time at the sunday edition, and it's quite the different crowd. saw some pretty talented people i've not heard over there before, and then got the most complete and best compliment i've ever gotten about my music. it came from a 63 year old guy who's been in music his whole life and has known and played with some of the most well known folk artists of the 60's and 70's. it was more of a discussion, but i came away a little shocked. it made me want to work even harder, and i'm already working harder than i ever have.

and now today is absolutely beautiful. i get to ride my bike to work, and then i'm rehearsing with chris tofilon again tonight for thursday's show. should be good times.

i'm so glad winter is over.

and congrats to jessica hockaday on her engagement

the cubs are in first place

one of my kids i tutor went from mostly f's and some d's at the beginning of this year to all a's and one b. awesome work, gerald! (this was a collaborative effort...miss ruth, the 5th grade teacher at By The Hand, should get the lion's share of the credit).

so, yeah...outside of a ridiculous weekend of gun violence (37 shot, 7 killed), it's been a good few days.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Standing on the corner of Church and State

so...i've had a long bus ride and a few days to let my day in Springfield roll around in my brain. it's been no small task. it's not like there was just a few hours of governance to think about. the process i watched cranks up the deconstruction/reconstruction machine in me. it causes me to look at what my parents thought about government (a book in itself), what i heard from the Church about government (probably more of a set of never defined guidelines that i still was somehow supposed to adopt into life), what i've learned over the past 3 years about our country's history of government, particularly around social/justice issues, and what i've done...or not done...over the sum of my voting years.

i've only had the slightest interest in our government for the past 5 years or so. prior to that i voted, but avoided discussion or debate around voting, planks, baby-kissing, candidates, etc., at all costs. in my mind, government was a necessary thing. we couldn't do without it. we could barely live with it. but i had no real thoughts about it as a social construct. it did not affect me, for the most part, and i did not affect it. i knew that "of the people, by the people, and for the people" was an antiquated idea and that government in the 20th/21st centuries was more like "government of the government, by the government, and for the government". i paid and didn't cheat on my taxes, i joined the army after high school (something i'd actively resist at this point), and voted. i had a run-in or three with local governmental officers due to a rather heavy right foot, but i'm pretty sure they've forgotten about me by now.

i did once write a letter to the Sun-Times rebutting an editorial that bashed a christian candidate for something or other. i told the writer he did not seem to harangue other candidates for the planks they had chosen...that he should, as a fair-minded reporter (there's no picture in the dictionary for that one) not bring his personal thoughts on God into a political discussion. however, i then went on to admonish christians for trying to "legislate morality". i said it wasn't our place, and that we were supposed to change this world through our amazing inter-personal relationships. you know, those ones that are like "they'll know we are christians by our love"? yeah... anyway, someone over at the S-T liked it. it was their "letter of the day", and boy was i proud to get that message out there. i imagine a few evil people smiled happily, too.

so, i've pretty much hung my hat on that position for a number of years. then came this move back to the city. then came this move from the lucrative world of computer consulting to the...what's the opposite of lucrative??? of social justice...race, economics, education, justice. and as much of my life over the past 5 years is nearly the complete opposite of life 10 years ago, now this whole "Church stay out of government" thing is changing.

i could, and may someday, write a whole lot on the current relationship between Church and State. democrat/republican, liberal/conservative...there's already a strong tie. but it's more on the systemic level than on a low level involvement. most of us aren't actively calling, writing, and visiting our elected officials (unless the words prayer in schools, abortion, or gay rights come up) and that's what i'm having to add into the reconstruction. i know the answer to the world's problems isn't government. but it sure ain't staying out of government, either.

there's always someone talking into these people's ears. there's a voice...of reason, of greed, of compassion, of power. and each ear is attached to people moved by all those things. what i learned is that something i've been saying to the people CURE (my NFP job) for a couple of years really applices to this. and the place i wouldn't want to be found dead isn't too very far from where i was. these numbers are arbitrary, simply designed to show the situation. in truth the middle ground number is probably even greater. but it goes like this. 5% of people are actively trying to take advantage of anyone and anything in order to get what they want. 5% are actively the checks and balances to those people. and 90% are either informed and too busy or lazy to do anything, or are completely ignorant of the state of things.

we have to be in that second group. it's our mission. it's true. i know we have a hard enough time with feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the orphan, widow, and prisoner, and protecting the oppressed. but for each one of those groups is a group of people who have no problem putting and keeping them in that place. it's head out of the hole time. there are people who are unwilling to give up what they have or can get to do any of those things. that is the opposite mission of ours. we are supposed to give up what we cannot keep anyway, to gain what we cannot lose.

this is not "not doing injustice" anymore. this is doing justice. this is actively participating within the confines of our government to influence how our laws are made, and how and whom they benefit. if we are silent, if we are few, then those who are loud and many will drive how it works. this will take less American Idol (The Office for me) and more study on what legislation is coming up for voting. it will take more calling, more writing, more activism. it might mean taking a vacation day to work the rail or attend a rally.

it will mean talking about these issues within the Church. ok...this might make a few people mad. i pretty much don't care at this point. there is a part of the Church that is particularly disconnected from all this. it's me. and where i come from. it's white evangelicals. we don't talk about politics in the church. and do we ever look down our noses at anyone that would make the church a political place. well, there's got to be room for this. we've got to get over ourselves. i'm not saying to tell people how to vote (though we do seem to get our subtle, or not, ideas across on that, right?). but why can't we say educatedly "people, there's a plan by the state or city or county to do X. these groups are pushing hard to see it happen. here's how the whole idea of that is in contradition to the bible and the life of Jesus, and we've got to speak out, and stand alongside those who are affected."

it's like were the Sleeping Beauty bride. we're out cold and waiting for the Prince to come wake us and take us. this body, this Church is supposed to be fighting....not just to keep the 10 Commandments on a plaque in some courthouse. it's ironic, isn't it? we fight harder for that right than for the rights of the people who God says are His heart. seriously, people. we are...i am disconnected from how to fight these systems of injustice. sure, there are lots of things for us to do in our communities (might as well check ourselves on that, we KNOW any Matthew 25 people?). but giving a dollar to a homeless guy, or even teaching them english has a personal effect. if we want to affect systems, broken systems, intentionally destructive systems, evil systems...anywhere on the spectrum, we need to be intelligent, loud, and wise. and they'll probably come in that order, too.

it's time to get busy. we have work to do. it's not all at the rail. but it's out there. it's not singing in the choir or teaching sunday school. those are important. but they do not generally include the Matthew 25, Isaiah 58, Micah 6 people. and it doesn't to a damn thing to oppose those who are bent on making this all go their way. the Kingdom will never be complete here on earth. but we say we follow Jesus, just like the people that asked Him how to pray. part of what He told them was to pray "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done...ON EARTH, as it is in heaven." guess what part makes it our work? Your will be done. here's the text from Isaiah 58, a commonly repeated text of His will. the highlights are mine just as they relate to this blog.

"Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
'Why do we fast and you don't look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'

3-5"Well, here's why:

"The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won't get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

6-9"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places
9-12"If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people's sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again. 13-14"If you watch your step on the Sabbath
and don't use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
God's holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing 'business as usual,'
making money, running here and there—
Then you'll be free to enjoy God!
Oh, I'll make you ride high and soar above it all.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mr. Heldman goes to

yesterday i had the opportunity to go to Springfield, IL with a group of CAPS (Community Alternative Policing Strategy) volunteers, organizers, and police representatives. the goal was to lobby two bills being put before the House. one, HR 758, was calling for universal background checks, regardless of where one purchases a gun. its main goal was to close the loophole that lets private handgun sales (person to person) be conducted without a background check(this bill would not affect rifles/shotgun sales). currently only sales from registered gun dealers are required to have background checks. the second bill never made it up for a vote, but it was to re-enact the assault weapons ban here in the state.

i learned a few things in this lobbying process yesterday. as our leader, Glen Brooks, told us on the way down, this legislature thing is an art, not a science. here's a few things about the process itself.

"working the rail". that's what we went to do...along with a few hundred other people. and that's just the everyday sorts of folks. there were lots of meetings happening in hallways and rooms with people going on, as well. working the rail is essentially crowding around the entrance to chambers and requesting an audience with one's Representative. we were given a list of state reps who were on the fence on the universal handgun background check issue, and told to request for them to come out and meet with us. my rep (Berrios) was not on the list, but Annazette Collins was. her district lies pretty much in the middle of the triangle made by where i live, work, and tutor...humboldt park, lawndale, and austin, respectively.

it took a bit but she finally came out and we talked for about 5 minutes about the various common sense gun bills out there. she told me she would vote yes on HR 758. seemed pretty much like she had already decided that, but Glen told me later that was a huge conversation...he had listened in, i guess. we worked to get other reps out to talk...some came...some didn't. one chicago rep, whose name i didn't get, came and talked with us for several minutes. he pretty much gave us the lay of the land regarding both sides of the line on this bill.

we worked the rail for about an hour and then went up to the gallery to watch our legislature at work. hmmmm...what a process. what may have worked quite well in 1808, and maybe even 1908, sure seems to be a little overmatched for 2008. i doubt the founding fathers could have seen the sorts of issues that would come up for the governments of today. we sat in chambers for about an hour. we saw about 10 bills come up to a vote. while the bills were explained and debated (if they were debated), our reps were talking on the phone, talking to each other, out at the rail. and then when the votes came up, i watched one rep go and press the voting button of 6 or 7 reps (a whole row) who weren't at their desks. not once, not twice, but on nearly every bill.

not only were they not at their desks, or listening to the bill or debate...several times they didn't know at all what the bill was about prior to the introduction of the bill to the floor. this is where i don't think Washington/Adams/Jefferson could ever have foreseen the volume and variance of things presented to the lawmakers. so we had 116 reps on the floor that day and we expect that they have qualified knowledge on dozens of bills. it's not possible. i watched one rep, probably barely 30 years old, struggle to explain a bill he was presenting. when pressed by republicans on the purpose of the bill, he stammered, hemmed and hawed, about exactly what veterans this will would serve (under 100 in the whole state). he had an assistant to his right who looked up answers in a few different file folders. after a few minutes of being pressed, he asked that the assembly vote "Aye" on his bill. it passed without a "Nay" vote. and was one of the bills for which i saw one person press several voting buttons.

our bill hadn't come up by 2 pm, and we were supposed to be part of a press conference, so we left the gallery and went to a press room. we were instructed to not comment or ask questions of the 12 or so alderman, deputy police superintendent, and several other pretty high ranking city officials that had come down in support of HR 758. they had come to meet with House Speaker Madigan, as well as several representatives who were opposed to passage. it took about 20 minutes for them to get there, as well as the reporters. the aldermen and other officials spoke for about 15 minutes and then the floor was opened for questions. the first two were from a 70 something year old man and a pastor, both part of our group. it was hilarious. (when we debriefed on the bus later, the pastor said "it's not my fault...they asked for questions" however, he didn't ask one. he preached...literally)

after about 10 minutes of questions from the press it was over and we were told that HR758 had just been presented for debate. it was our original intent to leave after the press conference, but we were told by a lobby group (IGA...don't know exactly how they relate to us) that we had been effective in our lobbying and we should watch. so...back up to the gallery for lesson number 2 on the legislative process.

none of the bills we had seen to this point were debated to this extent. it went for over an hour. and it could not have been more divided down party lines. essentially, we the people, were told that this gun problem, this 20 out of 23 CPS students killed by gunfire, this illegal gun running into the city...this was all a chicago problem. we were told that because owning a handgun in chicago is already illegal, that if we simply enforced the laws we already have we would quite obviously cure the ills of illegal handguns. never mind the fact that we add laws to currently enforceable laws all the time to tighten the restrictions (e.g. zero-tolerance laws for underage drinking, or new penalties/restrictions for driving in construction zones. we were told that the only real intent of this bill was to force law-abiding citizens who desire to sell their handguns to add another step to the process. apparently everyone outside of the city of chicago is a law-abiding citizen.

the time for voting came. the speaker had to ask for a verified vote, meaning this vote would be actually voted on by each rep. no button pressing for the row on this one. this was going to be verified. sort of makes one less thrilled with all the non-verified votes out there.

now, of the current 4 common sense gun bills, none has ever passed. they've been presented for at least four years each now. they are greatly opposed by the NRA (if you need to know how powerful, and insensitive, that group is, go watch Bowling for Columbine). last wednesday the "one gun a month" bill which would allow a person to only purchase one handgun a month received only 53 of the 60 votes it would need to pass. and, like HR 758, it would not apply to rifles or shotguns...only handguns. so when the voting started and no's quickly outnumbered yes's, we thought we were in for more of the same. but the sides evened up around 40, and eventually green was up 59-55. two votes left to cast. and then before the last two were cast, someone switched. it went to 58-56. and then the last two votes. two red ones. 59-57. and still we heard a murmer through the gallery...a majority! and then from the floor came "WAIT!" and someone again switched. 58-58. dead even. it didn't pass. it's the closest one has ever come. last week's 53 votes was the highest before that.

i'll leave this entry to end here. it's more of the working of the government. rather than lengthen it more, i'll put my thoughts and feelings into another entry, so as to save your eyes and scrollbar. but based on yesterday, my guess is Mr. Heldman goes to Springfield again. and probably gets a little more involved in the political process than he ever hoped or intended to.

Monday, April 14, 2008

i need some ment-lax

i am in a freaking lyrical funk. which is somewhat of a problem since every time i touch my guitar i write a new song..or two...or three. i am doing a study in two and three chord songs right now...seeing what i come up with when i drop some of the 2nds and 6ths and such and just work in simplicity. and i'm loving it.

don't get me wrong. the stuff i've written that has survived and made it into my sets these days is some of my favorite music ever. i've got stuff in DADGAD tuning with two capos and keep finding more interesting configurations. the group of musicians i spend every thursday night with have had nothing but praise for that stuff...which always feels good. and i did an hour long set last monday for about 10 people who had good things to say about my lyrics. but i was inspired by one Glen Hansard to see how simple i could go.

my roommate, danny, bought the Once soundtrack and we sat down to listen to it. i got my guitar out and, i'll be darned...i was able to play pretty much everything he did within 30 seconds. standard tunings, simple finger picking patterns, easy rhythms...and yet i freaking loved the songs.

so, i started with two chords...eventually added a third for the chorus...and literally played it for about two straight hours. i had so much fun creating melodies to those two chords. then i picked a couple of different chords, in a different key, capoed the guitar up about 7 frets to see what might come ouf of that...and played that for about two more hours.

trouble is, i need to find a lyrical laxative. i wrote one set for the second song. it was the most pathetic thing i've ever written. not bad/pathetic. sad/pathetic. like if someone took vince gill's most sorrowful music and attached that machine from The Princess Bride/pathetic. i saved it, of course, in case vince ever comes calling again for a song (you must know about the best burn ever to understand the "again" part). but it's not going into my repertoire.

my friend, brooke, used to tell me free writing was the ultimate unblockage technique, so i'll probably get to doing some of that tonight...and tomorrow...and for as along as it takes for a decent line to pop out of my head. meanwhile...if you know anyone who's writing lyrics every time they sit down with a pen but is haveing a severe music blockage, please send them my way.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

when i knew you...

amnesia has always been an intriguing thing to me i can't imagine just forgetting everything you knew...or even a significant part of it. i get frustrated when i can't remember a name or song title or something, so forgetting it all has gotta suck.

i remember (thank God!) watching The Notebook and thinking how hard that situation would be on both parties. maybe the woman with alzheimers doesn't ever notice that she doesn't remember. maybe she's just in this place of getting through each day. maybe she's not really all that frustrated because she doesn't know what she's forgotten.

but the husband? how difficult must that be? what kind of love prompts someone to continue to try bringing back the one that once loved back? how many times had he read that story to her? how many times did she get a glimpse of their former glory? the passion and history that once bonded the two as one?

well, i was thinking the other day on something i've heard my whole life. in jeremiah 1 it says that before we were formed in the womb God knew us. i used to sort of dismiss that as He knew about us. had a blueprint somewhere on the wall for when it came time to put cells together. but yesterday i was thinking...what if He KNEW us? and now we're here in these human bodies and we've forgotten what it's like to be known? i mean, we fight our whole lives to be know ourselves, or to find someone that knows us. we use not being known by someone as a way to remind them of the distance they actually are from us. we long to be known.

what if the part of each of us that knows there is a God in pursuit of us is like that woman from The Notebook? we'd be unaware of the depth of love we've forgotten. we'd get weary trying to fight through the cloudy haze that always seemed to cover whatever parts of us were aware. and wouldn't we seem to be empty...nearly shells of what it seems we were made to be?

wouldn't the husband long to see the amnesia go away? wouldn't He do anything to bring His bride out of it? wouldn't He tell His love story in the hopes that one day the faded, foggy, and lost memories would be lifted and His love would be returned fully by one who knew Him?

i wonder if there's not something deep inside us that knows...and just needs to hear the story over and over again to be reminded...being known is possible. it's already happened. we've just forgotten...

Saturday, April 5, 2008


i like to think a lot of things about myself. i'd like to think i have a pretty even-keeled notion of who i am, what i believe, etc. etc.. i do, however, seem to find myself lately in situations where what i think i know, and who i think i am aren't necessarily who i am and what i know.

so...if one were to peruse my facebook page one would see that my religious views are stated as "i follow Jesus' teaching." i'd say that implies that i know them to a reasonable extent. i do try to live like He did, as best as i can. anyone who knows me know i'm not very concerned with living the way the church says to do it...unless that lines up with how Jesus did. i've got little use for religion and rules that are man-made. so, if i'm gonna live like that, again, i should be able to feel confident in knowing the bracelet phrase...what would Jesus do. uh...yeah...about that?

so i'm riding the bus on wednesday, heading down ashland to the green line so i can go do the good thing of tutoring these really amazing 5th graders in the austin neighborhood. children and justice were always dear to the heart of God, so i'm sure i'm on the right track. only, when we get to the fullerton stop, headed south, the mostly full bus fills up with exactly the right number of people so that no seat shall be left empty. the last one is next to me, and while i gaze out the window, the last woman to get on sits down next to me. no worries. i never hog a seat (see how well i do this life?). so, i'm chilling to chopin on my ipod and i notice the smell of alchohol. or maybe, more accurately, i'm overwhelmed by it. a moment after it hits me, i get a tap on the shoulder. i turn to see a lovely, middle-aged woman who is plastered, hammered, three sheets to the wind, gone. she wants to talk.

she's bright-eyed for her condition and definitely a friendly drinker. she is not intelligible, though, and sounds much like bill cosby's take on drinking and talking. i do get one word from her...daughter. i'm not sure what about her daughter, but she's animatedly talking about her. i smile and nod for about 2 minutes and realize this is going nowhere. i begin looking for the slightest break in the action to put my headphones back on and turn back toward the window. the moment comes and i seize it. she is undeterred.

though i am watching the same scenery i've seen every wednesday for the past 6 months, and have my ears covered, she is is continuing to talk to me. she's bumping into me as she talks, certainly trying to regain my attention. now i am undeterred. after about 5 minutes she gets up and moves to another open seat where she proceeds to fall asleep.

and i am struck with this thought: although i cannot say what He would have done in my situation, the one thing about which i am sure is that He would not have put His headphones back on and turned away toward the window. i have done the one thing i am sure would not have happened. it wasn't because i lacked compassion for her. it wasn't because she disgusted me. it wasn't because i had something to which i was already committed. i just didn't know what to do.

i started thinking about the bracelet phrase and what Jesus would do in my shoes. would He just continue to listen to her blather? would He simply understand it and be able to converse with her because of that? would He just reach out and touch her and say "Be Sober!" and she'd be shocked and awed and fall at His feet? the scenarios i thought out all seemed to lead to one conclusion...He had power that i just didn't have. and then i remembered...

"you will do greater things that these..." or that peter raised someone from the dead, which certainly has to be harder than sobering up a drunk person. or that he walked on water, which might be harder than both of those. that chains fell off imprisoned people. a litany of "powered up" people came to mind and i thought about my supposed connection to that power. or my supposed knowledge of the God behind it all. and i realized...i don't know Jesus anywhere near as well as i'd like to think. i didn't stop and ask for wisdom in what to do. i didn't pray for strength, or for understanding, or for anything really. i did eventually, but it was 6 hours later during a meditation time at church.

so...who knows what Jesus would do. i don't. i'm aiming to find out...or to be more prepared for what comes across my path spontaneously rather than what's planned. i'm not beating myself up for finding out i'm really not all that much like God. i was pretty clear on the gap before this happened. but i do want to follow Jesus' teaching. i do want to treat people like He did. i do want to care for those who are not cared for and fight for the shalom of the see the Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. i'm not content with "oops...guess i messed that up." i do want to know that i'm plugged in to a dead-raising, chain-breaking, sickness-healing God in such a way that He could use me for whatever might need to happen and i'd not suddenly think i was the Pope. i guess the perspective on the gap allows me to move to close it.