Everyday Cyborg

When I dress for a run, I put my headphones in, and I run the wire under my long-sleeve shirt to the music player that perches on my wrist. I cuff my shirt over the player to hold it in place. The shirt is like a second-skin.

I hope for some near-future time when the music player would be implanted and the headphones would be braided into my auditory nerve. That would be so convenient. I wouldn’t even have to worry about blue-tooth. Of course, if things went bad, like there was an infection or rejection, it could get ugly.

In a vision, I imagine a young cyborg coming down for breakfast, much like my children do, dragging, disheveled, not quite dressed.

The mom-cyborg says, “OMG! My son! My computer! Put on some clothes – a kilt, a burka, a cloak – something! For Ford’s sake! I can see all your wires… Gross!”

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Doubting Thomas

In John 20, you can read about Thomas, known as the doubter. He is one of my patron saints.

Thomas says he will believe in Jesus’ resurrection when he has visible, tangible proof. He says, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.” Then, when Jesus does appear, eight days later, Thomas exclaims, “My Master! My God!” Which can be shortened to OMG!

I frequently recollect that Thomas went to India and converted many Hindus there, bringing Christianity to the Far East. I think that is so cool. He seems like a Beatle to me. Eventually he was martyred. He believed so profoundly in the resurrection and that Jesus is YHWH that he was willing to die. I have built my faith (to some extent) on his.

When I asked google “How did Thomas die?” It said, “Ephrem the Syrian states that the Apostle was martyred in India, and that his relics were taken then to Edessa.” And I thought, “OMG!”

You see, Thomas is still gaining converts.

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The Dragons

Every year, Forbes publishes a list of the 400 Richest Americans. In 2016, the entry criteria was a one-point-one-billion-dollar fortune. They also published a “self-made” grade, ranging from 1-10, indicating to what extent their wealth was inherited, earned, or simply maintained.

Oprah Winfrey, who grew up in poverty and overcame significant obstacles (including abuse) rates a 10 on the self-made scale. (Way to go, Oprah! Why can’t everyone be like you?!?)

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of facebook among other things, rates an 8, which is described as self-made who came from a middle or upper-middle-class background. (Kudos to you as well!)

Donald Trump gets a 5. (A five on the self-made scale?!?) He is not only self-made but also fact-making up as he goes along.

On June 17, 2016 US Senator Bernie Sanders said, “It is an outrage that in America today the top 1% makes 25 times more than the bottom 99%. That’s 20% of all income going to 1% of the people.”

Those are mind-bending, heart-breaking numbers.

I was told that if I worked hard and played by the rules, I would achieve the dream-come-true. And that was true for me. But when I look around, it seems everyone is working harder and most of them are playing by the rules, so where is the dream-come-true for them?

There is no such thing as a free lunch, but at Olathe North High School, 40% of kids qualify for free or reduced lunch. The average in Kansas is 43% on free or reduced lunch. Meanwhile, at Olathe Northwest, the percentage is 16%. Thus, Olathe Northwest is not average. For a family of 4 to qualify, your annual income must be below $44,000.

Why do we force people into poverty before we help them? Wouldn’t it be better if we prevented poverty instead of just maintaining it? Perhaps the battle against poverty could be won by a fair education for everyone, young and old and rich and poor. It seems we are fighting the wrong battle, making the investment too late in a person’s life.

This makes me think the Forbes 400 who got eight or less on the self-made scale don’t know shit about poverty. The nines are just barely acquainted with it. Did 40% of the 400 grow up on free or reduced lunch? It seems that Oprah is an exception… Why do we hold her up as an example? When really, she is a miracle.

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The Three Temptations

When the serpent comes to Eve and says, “Is it true what God said?” She says, “No. God actually said…” But from there it is all downhill. The serpent has her questioning.

And when she looks at the fruit. It looks yummy! And she has something to gain: the knowledge of good and evil! And the serpent was right. That fruit tasted good, like a good-fruit should. And although she did not get (and we have neither inherited nor attained) a functional, practical knowledge of Good and Evil, she got something else (a bonus) in the bargain: the knowledge that she is naked, vulnerable. At that moment, she probably realized she was a creature, human, made of mud, that she would die. For Nelson, that happened when he was about four.

When Moses sees the burning bush that is not consumed by fire, which is likely just a wick for an oil well, which has been struck by lightning; he takes off his sandals, kneels, and prays. He asks, God a hypothetical question, “If I were asked what your name is, what should I say?” And God says, “I AM THAT-WHICH I AM.” [Exodus 3:14]

I translate it “Never-you-mind-what-I-am!”
And “I yam what I yam!” (The Popeye description.)
And “I am foundational being.”

But nothing sticks.

I spell it YHWH, and my mind is boggled;
I pronounce it as a voiced inhalation (YAH…)
and exhalation (WAY),
and I am thunderstruck.

If Moses had then asked, “Can you create a rock so big that you can’t lift it?” or “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” the Israelites would still be in Egypt. God would have thought, “Well. This one doesn’t get it.”

In Luke 4, when the Deceiver comes to Jesus in the Desert, after Jesus has fasted for forty-days (which is ancient Hebrew for a really-long-time) and he is hungry, the Deceiver says, “If you are God’s Son, turn this stone into bread.” Jesus says, “Homey don’t play dat.”

And that is enough to convince me
he is the Messiah right-there.

He does not need to be born of a virgin
or to be crucified, dead, and buried
and on the third day raised to Heaven
to sit at the right hand of the Father.

He just needs to know what to say to the Deceiver
when he is hungry, in the desert, and there is no one else around.

And yet, when the United States is presented with a stone and asked whether we will ween ourselves from fossil fuels or turn it into oil, we say “Drill, baby! Drill!” We frack it. And we damn the consequences, our selves, and our children.

As Jesus was tempted to turn stone into bread, Esau was tempted by his twin-brother Jacob into selling his birthright for a bowl of soup. (Genesis says that Esau took his birthright lightly, he disdained it.) Jesus refuses to use his unearthly-power to fulfill his earthly needs. We can be sure that he respects his birthright; he will fulfill his calling; he will do what he was born to do.

Returning to Luke 4, Satan lays out all the kingdoms and riches of the world. He says, “These things are mine. And I give them to whomever I choose. Worship me, and I will put them in your control.” Jesus refuses saying, “Worship YHWH and YHWH only.”

I wonder if there is any truth in what the Deceiver says, but how can there be?

It seems true that the kingdoms and riches and power are the Deceiver’s.

But Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” And Jesus will later tell Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” [John 18:36]

But this is the bargain that we make in the secular world. A little power over these people and these things is granted to us, but we must still answer to our bosses, to our masters. We wind up being driven by the question, “What is your bidding?” And we are haunted by the thought of our power and position being eroded or taken away. We are in this world, and some of us are of and from this world as well. And all of us are at least some of the time.

Jesus did not put himself in the position of borrowing power from someone or a system. He relied on God, and built his power from the ground (from the stones) up. Thus, he becomes the Chief Cornerstone in the wall between church and state.

If ever a church and state were separate, it was in Jerusalem, c. 0 BC under Roman rule. Yet, “the factions (Pilate, Herod, and the Sanhedrin) soon agreed” [as in James K. Polk by They Might Be Giants] that “this Jesus must die.” [as in Jesus Christ Superstar]

During the run-up to the 2016 election, I was thinking of Trump as Hitler. And I was thinking that some people thought Hillary was the Anti-Christ.

And then I thought, that’s all wrong.

Neither one of them is perfect, far from it. Neither one of them is pure evil. And then I thought, Jesus, when offered the kingdoms of the world, refuses to have anything to do with it. [John 4]

If Jesus didn’t want to be Roman Emperor, he surely would not run for President of the United States. Then I wondered, why? Wouldn’t that be the best way for him to establish heaven on earth?

Then I thought, politics, our idea of government by coercion must be wrong, flawed. It is a system of power, not a system of truth and grace. [Insight brought to me by What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancy]

This does not absolve us from advocating for public policy based on our moral convictions. We cannot abdicate our responsibility to the vulnerable, the immigrant, the voiceless. We cannot wash our hands. But we also must be careful if we find ourselves staking out the moral high ground, because very few of us have been to the Mountain, and none of us can tell Good from Evil.

Thirdly and finally, Jesus is tempted to jump from the top of the temple, to leap from the peak of religious power and defy the Laws of Nature. Why would you do that? To prove that you are the Son of God? Why would you play a losing game to prove a point to someone? If he jumped and flew, he couldn’t be fully-human. He wouldn’t know what it was like to be me. And he couldn’t be the Christ, the Messiah. I would never have any hope of following him.

Well, Caiaphas, the chief priest, will take that leap of faith. He will pass judgement on the Son of God just to prove that it is he (and he alone) at the head of the Jewish religious establishment. And he will fall, and no angel will rescue him. Still, perhaps, Jesus did rescue him. I can’t deny Jesus that right, that ability, that Grace.

The first temptation (turn this stone into bread) is about trusting God (not yourself) from moment to moment. And the second establishes the division between church and state. After all, politics is a graceless system. It is a hopeless cause, doomed to exist only on this side of eternity. The third is about not testing God. God is an axiom. God cannot be proven because God cannot be put to the test (scientific, logical or theological).

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2088: Friends’ Running Base of Kansas City

Nelson lived in the time of Trump the First. Trump built the Mexican Wall, repealed the Affordable Care Act, replaced it with Trump Care, and removed the fetters that were preventing the Incorporations from maximizing their profits.

Universal Basic Income replaced the welfare state; but it just meant everyone had a few dollars to play the lottery and there were no government agencies employing federal workers with attitudes. Congress got to save a lot of money, private industry became fully-automated, and the motor of the Western world spun on to another extreme. [Cut to the Chase by Rush]

Nelson opened the Friends’ Running Base of Kansas City. It was a place where you could get a shower, change clothes, go to the bathroom, and then go to work. Runners and the homeless were his most frequent guests. There was a small kitchen, and you could fix yourself some food. It was self-serve from the pantry. Some people brought their own food and usually left some behind. Nelson spent Friday afternoons clearing out the fridge and freezer.

The Running Base really took off after the Sanctuary Cities united. Times were so hard that people were allowed a fresh start once every seven years. Trump called it Freedom Year, but it was based on the Sabbath Year from Leviticus. That’s how he sold it to the Republicans.

The concept was simple. For a week in early spring, the gates of the Sanctuary Cities would open, and anyone from anywhere could move without papers. People who were in jail for non-violent crimes could leave the city, and try for a fresh start somewhere else.

When you arrived in a city, you checked in with the Settlement Department. You were given an apartment, work clothes, and an account for your Basic Income deposits. It was a little like getting to the end of a race, where there are bagels and bananas and space blankets. The catch was if you got stuck in the Country, you were on your own. Still, some people wanted to live in the Country.

See Cherith Brook.

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College Years

I’m nobody! Who are you? [Emily Dickinson]

I was nobody my Freshman year at KU, just a kid. I was a medium-fish in a huge pond. I was a smart, zany kid from small-town Kansas. That was the way I wanted it: anonymous, no expectations, lots of options. I was exactly where I wanted to be/ On the Road to Nowhere by the Talking Heads.

I lived in Pearson Scholarship Hall at KU. This was a communal living arrangement, a low-cost alternative to a fraternity or dorm for students who were more academically fit for college than economically or socially fit. At the time, there were four women’s and four men’s halls.

The people of the hall did most of the work; like cooking the meals, cleaning the bathrooms, and washing the dishes, pots, and pans. This kept the costs low and it meant you learned a lot about others by the way they did their jobs. The hall was full of eccentric characters, and it was a blast to live there. These four years were so good/ the best.
Most of the men were from small-town Kansas, but there was also a clique of Johnson County upper classmen. I admired them, and I did not share the festering resentment that I could feel from some of my small-town peers. The Johnson County folks had a condescension, an easy-acquaintance with privilege, and the careless avoidance of anything uncomfortable. And I understood the resentment of those who were not privileged, those who had not grown up with house-keepers, those who already knew how to mop the floor. And now that I have come to live in Johnson County, I guard against that mindset, but we do have house-keepers.

In the first week, we voted on the rules for the hall. It was like a Constitutional Convention. For the most part, the rules were adopted unquestioned from the past year. But this question was posed, “Are female guests allowed to visit twenty-four hours per day?” And there was unanimous acclamation. The raucous atmosphere of college men deciding on the loose rules that they would live by was unnerving at first, but quickly embraced by me and the other Freshmen.

With my free time, I played Spades and Ultimate. I was excellent at Spades, though I never was much good at Hearts, and I never had the patience for Bridge. I was great at Ultimate, sometimes called Frisbee-football. I once said that it was a perfect game for me because I had no understanding for the parabolic motion of balls. Reading a disc, however, (figuring out the earliest possible moment you can catch the Frisbee as it comes slicing through the air) came naturally. You had to be fast, but (with no tackling) you didn’t need to be big.
During the summer after my Freshman year, I went to Cheyenne, where my cousin Eric connected me with a job working in a warehouse. He is a softball enthusiast, and they don’t play Ultimate; so I played softball.

I was weak and inexperienced as an outfielder, and I started in right field. I caught very few fly balls. Then, after several days of practice shagging balls with Eric, I got promoted to left field. One of the highlights of my athletic career (burned in my muscle-memory) was running down a line drive. It was hit solid and low, and I reflexively shot off for it. I read it perfectly. Running at full tilt, I put my left hand out. At the final moment, I swear I was a line from my right foot that had just pushed off the ground to my left hand that snagged the ball. The force of the ball in my mitt nearly tore it off, but everything held. The batter was out.

Eric, who originally introduced me to Rush, now expanded my repertoire with music and movies that summer. I remember listening for the first time to Moody Blues, Peter Gabriel, and lots of Talking Heads. I made a bunch of tapes from the CDs in his collection, and I would play them on the twenty-minute drive to and from work. I watched Blade Runner for the first time and the gaps in Monty Python were filled in.

He also made me familiar with the phrase, “That bastard!” I began using it too easily. Over the summer, I saved enough money to buy a Macintosh, which I named Schnoopy.
In college, by the beginning of Sophomore year, I was thrift-store-chic, I was alternative-eccentric-music-savvy. I knew what I liked, I was sure of myself. By Thanksgiving, I fell in love with my future wife, Melanie. I was obsessed with her. I wandered and wondered my way through Philosophy, Business, Mathematics, and English, finally earning a B.S. and a B.A. in the latter two. It took me five years.

But… One of my low points was as a waiter at Pearson. Waiters set the tables family-style, clear the tables, and clean the dining hall. We were cleaning up after dinner, and one of the waiters had not shown up on time. At least, I thought he had not shown up. He was a Native American who had transferred from Haskell Indian Nations University. And I was remarking… “That bastard.” When someone pointed him out, “Who? Henry? He’s here.” And yes, there he was, glowering at me, on the opposite side of the trashcan, scraping food off the serving dishes while I did the same. We were mirror images. Only I didn’t see him. I was blind, busy with resentment and complaining.

I felt horrible. I maybe said, oh, and muttered an I’m sorry. But I couldn’t really fix it. The privilege had slipped out. I was part of the in-crowd, and he was out.

Henry was gone after that semester.

I’m afraid I was a racist. That’s hard to change.

In my Junior year, I was the Social Chair for the hall. This was the year Pearson was in exile, living in a dorm, while the hall was getting remodeled, improved, and made handicap-accessible. Being Social Chair for geeks was fun.

I became Proctor in my first Senior year, and my self-assurance melted away. My joie de vivre took a mortal blow, though it would still be a couple of decades before it was dead. The Proctor is the man “in charge” of the Hall; he assigns the shifts and enforces Housing Policies. I thought that it would be a resume builder. I thought that it would be the best job ever; because I loved Pearson, and I loved the people who lived there, and I thought I could make it even better. But I learned some lessons about myself.

I learned that I did not want to be in middle-management, stuck between the people (my constituents, colleagues, friends) and the Man (KU Housing, the system). I had to enforce the dry campus rules. In the past, some proctors established a beer-tax. The concept was you paid in beer to have beer; but I didn’t go for that. I just turned a blind eye when I could. Still, I caught one of the residents during checkout with an open bottle of liquor. I had to bust two parties because they got so loud that they were spilling into the neighborhood. I had to write people up. And that sucked. And I was a hard-ass about other things. I woke one guy up at 8:00 on a Saturday morning, because he had not properly cleaned the kitchen the night before. He got up and did it, yes; but he was not happy about it.

One Saturday night, as I was drifting off to sleep, as the rest of the hall was nearly empty, there was a roar in the hall that startled me (terrorized me). It sounded like a plane taking off or a wicked tornado siren wailing.

I leapt out of bed, took a deep breath, and opened the door. There/ Staring at me/ Was a vacuum cleaner.

My room was at the end of the hall, and the vacuum was plugged into the outlet way down the hall, near the stairwell. Nice. Well-thought-out-plan. The perpetrator was well-away by the time I reached the door.

I whipped the cord out of the outlet, silencing the vacuum, and wheeled it into my room. Problem solved.

Message received. Resentment brewing.

Some would call it brain-washing, but I say KU opened my mind about homosexuality.

I met a student who was discreetly gay. He was a handsome, athletic man; and he could have dated any of the women for miles around, but he didn’t. He had a boyfriend to whom he was faithful for the two years that I knew him. He was worried about being found out by someone who would just hate him for being gay, who would maybe try to beat him up. He was deeply afraid. This did not square with the “hedonistic, gay lifestyle-choice” with-which I had grown up, what I half-thought, what I believed without knowing. The way I came to know a real-life homosexual did not square with my expectations, my preconceived notions, my stereotypes.

Why be gay if you were so desirable? Why endure the slings and arrows of other people’s judgement, hatred, disgust, and possible violence? Why be faithful if you were just in it for the sex?

I grew to respect this man for his honesty, sense of humor, and integrity. I sympathized with his worry about the perceptions of others. None of the reasons I had been told people were gay would compute. The only thing that made sense was he was born that way. It was not a choice; it was chance, determined.

I was introduced to this question, “When did I decide to be hetro?” And I realized I never did; I just always was. More hetro than homo; that’s me.

I thought I would always live in the hall, even if it took me five years to get through college. But early in my Proctor year, my fourth year, I knew I could not come back.

Until that First Senior summer, I still thought I could be socially-liberal and fiscally conservative. Then, I read Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, and I thought, “That’ll never work!” As a Sophomore, even at KU, the heart of liberal Kansas, I was an NRA apologist, and I even gave a speech in Communications about stopping gun control legislation, back in 1990. My argument was that the guns used to commit crime were obtained illegally for the most part; so what good is it to outlaw something that is already against the law? Enforce the laws you already have.

Now I see that the law can be leveraged and exploited. I see that some laws are impossible to enforce. I see that a handgun in a bedside table might be used in a fit of rage, or it might be shown to a friend or sibling when no one else is around, or it might be used in “self-defense” when a teenage child comes home unexpectedly from a late-night party. It is better to not even have the tools of the trade in circulation.

In my fifth year, I decided to move into an apartment with a convenient friend from the hall. That’s when I transitioned to married life. My roommate and I (both with our own girlfriends) fought over what food to buy; it was good-natured and fun. I imagined people might mistake us for a gay couple. That summer I got married, and Melanie and I went to grad school. She got a Masters of Civil Engineering, and I got a Masters of Mathematics at the University of Illinois.

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Our Father

YHWH, let my soul rise to meet you
as the day rises to meet the sun.

Prayers for Others

Our Everlasting Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your freedom come; Your neighborhood and family come.
Your will be done, on the earth-here-now as it is in heaven-ever-after.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive our debts (what we owe), our sins (when we have missed the mark), and our trespasses (when we have gone astray or damaged the critical edge) as we forgive our debtors (by letting go of grudges), those who sin against us (by not harboring resentment, or planning revenge, or rehashing the past), and those who step on us or disrespect us.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
And do not put us through the trial (like Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 or Job), but deliver us, save us, provide for us, and have mercy on us.
For the freedom, the neighborhood, and family; and the power, the truth, and the grace; and the glory and the cross are Yours, now and forever. Amen.

(Daily Prayer) Remind me that true wealth comes from a sustainable way of life for all.
Grant me peace with who I am and the courage to become more like the Messiah.
Give me the words to protect the worker, widow, and orphan; because I-myself am a working man, I may become an orphan, my children may become orphans, and my wife may become a widow.
Give me a heart that will welcome the immigrant (those who are passing through and those who wander) into your family, because I was once the new-kid in a small-town. [Malachi 3:5]
Help me fit in with my family, eat and drink wisely, find a healthy weight, and become a better runner.

Benediction Now listen and remember this: wherever you are led by the Spirit, whatever may happen during the storm of your life, in everything you do, and whoever you become; you are God’s child and you are in God’s hands. Go in peace. Serve YHWH.

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