Monday, June 29, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
So, that's how credit cards work. As I said at the beginning, there's a lot of talk out there at this point that banks are beginning a variety of strategies to try and milk more money from them, ranging from the restoration of annual fees to the truly outrageous moves of changing the dates the bills are due without due notice or changing the interest rates dramatically, and doing it all right now so as to get in before the new credit card reform law goes into effect. The New York Times noted in an article last week that the banks being given the most in the bailout are, of course, the ones demanding the highest fees.
A last thing -- you know how when you sign in for a credit card, the information sheets they give you are so complicated and convoluted, they make it pretty near impossible to actually know what the fees are? Well, a number of graphic designers have suggested a simple form very similar to a nutrition label. The full article, which is very short and worth reading, is here.
And here's the label they suggest:
A recent PhD candidate at a nearby school entitled their dissertation, "The Tyranny of the Nuclear Family".
And, a major fault line runs right through the part of Berkeley through which I live. (The whistle on my house key chain, I am told, is to allow me to indicate my position if I am trapped in a building that has collapsed.) As a cherry on top, nuclear material is being handled regularly in the hills directly above us. (Think "The Simpsons".)
And so, walking the streets of Berkeley for the first time this afternoon, I had certain viewing expectations, most of which I’m sure you could rattle off yourself: pungently-scented big-bearded men with dreadlocks, Bob Marley T-Shirts and Rasta hats; skateboards, panhandlers, free love, and earth mothers; organic foods, art house cinemas, smoke shops, independent booksellers; crystals, piercings, graffiti, tattoos and solar powered everything.
But I must say, the reality was quite tame. Shattuck Avenue, a main thoroughfare near the campus of UC Berkeley, certainly has an independent feeling to it, with far more self-owned sorts of businesses than chains, including the wonderful Pegasus Fine Books, the Tony Award-winning Berkeley Rep Theater and Bowzer’s Pizza, which hosts on one wall photos of such famous dogs as Toto, Astro, and Rowlf from the Muppets.
There are also skateboarders, tattoos and people asking for money. But really, what’s notable at first glance is not the community’s outrageousness but its sensory stimulation. The hills of Berkeley are an Edenic land of vibrant hues, spectacular vistas and rich, sweet scents that turn your head. Walking here you begin to appreciate what it must be like to be a bee in springtime, every flowerbed, a new, irresistible seduction.
Flowers in a Berkeley nursery.
Still, the perception of Berkeley as radical is not simply a visitor’s point of view. One California friend told me that everyone selling marijuana on the streets of Berkeley was a cop, an idea that seemed to take a bit of the grunge-sparkle out of the Berkeley image.
Likewise, walking home today across the Berkeley campus, I came upon a group of college age students, looking as though a part of some sort of orientation. As I passed five or six college-age Asian men from the group, in button-up shirts and dress slacks, ran forward, hollering loud and awkwardly, mentally looking over their shoulder as they raced to a finish line to complete some sort of ice breaking exercise. I turned to find myself approaching a heavy set African American man in baggy clothes, carrying a triple ply garbage bag as big as himself filled with cans. He grinned at me and shook his head. “Only in Berkeley, son.”
And I thought of how often I’ve seen this very scene enacted at orientations on other college campuses. Or of how Cambridge, Massachusetts, too, is also known as the “People’s Republic”, and how before finals week at Harvard, the entire student body descends on the Freshman quad and screams over and over in the darkness, while, if you can believe it, freshmen race in a circle around the quad, naked. Known as the Harvard Howl, the whole thing plays out like a (really creepy) scene from Dante.
I thought all these things, and I grinned back and nodded politely. It all seems pretty tame, but then again, it’s only my first day.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
God, please grant me a bone (and whatever the kid wants).
Friday, June 5, 2009
Thursday, June 4, 2009
From the pews, a homily that bombs is rarely comprehensible. We ask the priest to do one thing, say a few good words. What is so hard about that?
Except, it’s not just one thing that a priest is asked to do. There’s the baptisms and the funerals and the marriage prep and the hospital visits and the school visits and the parish council meetings. And there are fewer guys and diocesan meetings and parish subcommittees and bishops who’d like you to do one more thing and factions in the parish fighting and people waiting for you to say one wrong thing before they go to the bishop, and it doesn’t matter what thing you say, someone in the parish is pretty much going to be offended if you say much of anything, including “God loves you”, because what about those lousy terrorists, knuckleheaded Republicans or baby killers, you soft-on-abortion embarrassment.
And then there’s the opposite case – you work on a homily, work hard, really knock yourself out, reading the commentaries, mulling things over, pushing yourself to say something that will be meaningful, that actually expresses something of the mystery that is God and love and our fallen but still kicking humanity. And it still fails.
Believe it or not, that really does happen. I know, practice makes perfect and the early bird gets the worm and something about the grasshopper, but it’s true. Sometimes you knock yourself out and the rocket still fails to launch. Or it gets going and then suddenly loses steam and begins falling end over end. Or it just explodes.
And other times, you have no time to prepare, you are literally considering the readings for the first time 6am Sunday with three masses to follow, and nothing much comes but self-recrimination, but when you’re standing up there feeling absolutely naked and foolish yet again it all just falls into place, there’s a lit path and good words and a breath of fresh air and maybe even a moment of beauty and you have no idea where the heck it came from but you’re grateful as hell.
There’s a lot we can do as preachers to improve our odds of speaking something inspired and worthwhile on a Sunday. And frankly, if we’re not doing some sort of preparation, we really can’t be surprised that the final product isn’t much, anymore than we’d be surprised that a band making up its music as it goes along doesn’t produce a quality set.
But just when I think I’ve got it all together, I’ve done all the work and I am going to nail it, halfway through the first section it falls apart like cheesecloth in my hands and I realize it’s not quite as simple as that.
Congregations should still expect all that they do, if you ask me. Just as long as they realize, it's still a human venture. And so it just doesn't always work out.