the divine mystery

I was watching a reprise of the Frontline documentary Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero the other day in honor of the five year anniversary of 9/11. In it, I found some fascinating reflections on the nature of God on the part of Jewish rabbis in New York City. One reflects on the presence of God in New York City on that day:

Since September 11th, people keep asking me, “Where was God?” And they think because I’m a rabbi, I have answers. And I actually think that my job as a rabbi is to help them live with those questions. If God’s ways are mysterious, live with the mystery. It’s upsetting. It’s scary. It’s painful. It’s deep. And it’s interesting. No plan. That’s what mystery is. It’s all of those things.

You want plan? Then tell me about plan. But if you’re going to tell me about how the plan saved you, you better also be able to explain how the plan killed them. And the test of that has nothing to do with saying it in your synagogue or your church. The test of that has to do with going and saying it to the person who just buried someone and look in their eyes and tell them God’s plan was to blow your loved one apart. Look at them and tell them that God’s plan was that their children should go to bed every night for the rest of their lives without a parent. And if you can say that, well, at least you’re honest. I don’t worship the same God, but that at least has integrity.

It’s just it’s too easy. That’s my problem with the answer. Not that I think they’re being inauthentic when people say it or being dishonest, it’s just too damn easy. It’s easy because it gets God off the hook. And it’s easy because it gets their religious beliefs off the hook. And right now, everything is on the hook.

Another rabbi chants the words from voice mail messages left by the passengers from the hijacked planes when he gets up every morning. Hearing them in this way cuts to the purity of the emotions of the moment, revealing their almost sacred character. The people on those planes were full of fear, yes… but they were also full of love for those they were going to miss.

My point in this lengthy digression is about the nature of God. So many people today seem to believe in a notion of God that is almost cartoonish — a wise old man, full of human hopes and motives, who controls everything for the betterment of all. Even worse, some people (including a lot of the wealthy political elites of the United States) seem to believe that God rewards the worthy with material wealth, and curse the unfortunate with poverty… despite the fact that Jesus said that it would be harder for a wealthy man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. As a rich nation, perhaps the richest nation, some believe that we are uniquely chosen and shielded by God… and capable of doing almost no wrong.

An event like 9/11 reminds me that all of this is utter crap… that is more for those who wish to justify their own material comfort than anyone who really wants to cultivate a sense of the spiritual. God is a mystery… something far beyond our ordinary every day experience. How can he be human when we feel him everywhere but see him nowhere? Yes, we are created in his image, but perhaps that image is in the animus that is a free and creative will rather than any absurd part of the human form. God is more a question, than an answer… and a question that grows more profound each time it is asked.

I sometimes get in trouble with Mrs. Geek when I talk like this. She tends to think that I sound more and more and like an agnostic. I suppose that is true, but I recall a sermon on once heard in Church. In it, a man starts out praying by reciting “Lord, Lord, Lord” over and over again. Then he has a change in his understanding for God, and prays by repeating “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”. Finally, he prays just by saying the name “Dave” to himself. The priest suggested that even though this might seem sacreligious on its face, it was not; the man just discovered that “Dave” was the word that seemed to most directly connect him with God. That’s what I like to hope I am doing in my spiritual journey as well.

dr. (band) geek

I used to be a band geek back in high school. No, I never said the phrase “this one time, at band camp…” I did play music though, a lot. By the time I was a senior in high school, I played the flute in the concert band, the wind ensemble, and the orchestra. I played in the pit orchestra for a local Gilbert and Sullivan summer stock troop. I played in the local youth symphony, though I never got past the “junior varsity” orchestra. I took music lessons from various teachers from the age of about 8 to about 20. I even performed the Chaminade Concerto for Flute with the university orchestra during my senior year as an undergrad.

I was reminded of all this the other day when I got my flute out of the closet and played it for the first time in three or four years. I was pleased to see that my tone still had some pleasant qualities. My finger dexterity is largely gone though. Plus, my flute needs an badly overhaul — one of the pads cracked, taking out the ability to a few notes. I need to find a repair shop to do the work, since I have not taken it to be repaired since leaving the land of my birth. (Anyone have any ideas on how to find a good repairperson for a near-professional quality solid silver bore open hole flute?)

I was talking with a saxophone player recently while he was working his day job as the music/media expert at an Apple store. He asked me what it was like being a boy playing flute back in the day. I said it was kind of lonely since all the other flautists were girls… who looked at me in a rather brotherly way. He said that the flute is a cool instrument for boys to play now. I wonder why… has something changed to enhance its cachet? And do these boy flute players have to put up with an endless stream of “flute” double entendres as I did at times?

*sigh* I should play again. It’s something that used to be a big part of my life. I miss it.

ok, so I bought a drill

Ok. I must be a wimp. I went out and bought a cordless drill yesterday rather than assemble that third Bonde bookcase completely by hand. With almost 70 screws to tighten on just that one case, I did not want to spend another hour with a ratcheting screwdriver in hand.

Of course, the way I really rationalized the purchase has to do with where that bookcase is installed: two of the bookcases sit against a wall in our computer room. There is an outlet and a light switch on that wall, both which are now obscured by the bookcases. To protect access to the switch and the low profile plug in the outlet, I used some blocks on back of the cases that prevent them from being pushed flush against the wall. This required that some pilot holes be drilled to prevent cracking and splitting of wood. That required a drill… or a least so I told myself.

Of course, drill buying turns out to be a tricky business. I ended up buying an 18 volt cordless drill from a well known tool manufacturer. I saw an 19.5 volt cordless drill by another maker (one more associated in my mind with motorcycles than hand tools) that was about a third the price, but I discovered in the fine print that the case contained lead. The fine print recommended washing hands after using the drill. Sorry… no thanks.

Well, great. I just checked Conusmer Reports. The review of my drill starts with “there are better choices”. *sigh* I should not have looked this particular horse in the mouth. I guess I will buy another drill before I buy a house and build an addition on the back. At least I’m not a wimp for wanting to do that.

IKEA, Star Wars, vacation travel, and the blues

Again, I’ve been bad — I haven’t updated in over a week. Last week seemed to go by in a blur. I wasn’t able to find the time or energy to write.

My parents finally settled on their holiday travel plans. They will arrive from the Land of My Birth a few days after Christmas, and stay until a few days into the New Year. I somehow look forward to the prospect of not having to travel for the holidays this year.

Of course, my parents are trying to act like parents. Even though we offered them a room in our apartment, they insist on staying at a hotel nearby. When we discussed the possibility of traveling for Thanksgiving, my Mom said “I could make Thanksgiving dinner at your place”. She became somewhat amused when I corrected her by saying “No, we could make dinner at our place.” I swear, I’ll be lucking if I get to take them to dinner while they are here and pay for it. They’re great parents, and we love each other dearly, but when do I get to show that I am an adult well able to make my way in the world?

I also just finished Escaping The Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. It was a largely enjoyable read for someone, like myself, who has an interest in blues music. It makes me curious to hear more of the “popular” blue artists that don’t fall into the Delta category, like Peetie Wheastraw, Big Bill Broonzy, Charley Patton, and Bessie Smith. As an interesting companion to the book, I happened to catch The Howlin’ Wolf Story on cable recently. The film includes much of the Howlin’ Wolf performance at the Newport Folk Festival mentioned in the book, plus other discussions of the life of a bluesman in the mid-20th Century. It really helped to fill in certain gaps in a way that made the material more alive.

I picked up the newly released limited edition DVDs of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on Friday for $13.99 each. I went to see the “updated” version of Star Wars when it came out in the late ’90s. It was 10 years at that point since I’d probably watched the movie at all, and nearly 20 since I’d seen it in the theater. Now with these DVDs, I got to see the original once again (based I am told on the laserdisc edition.) The colors may be more muted, and the images less crisp, but I find the original films still to be the best. I wonder at the ego of George Lucas to think that after he lucked into one of the great hero stories of modern time, that he should be able to tinker with it again and again as time goes by with little or no apparent improvement.

Finally, Mrs. Geek and I made a pilgrimage to the holy shrine known as IKEA over the weekend to buy some Bonde bookcases for our apartment. It takes about two hours and a lot of work with a screwdriver to assemble one of them. We got three. I’ve assembled two, and not looking forward to the last one. My hands aren’t allergic to hard work, but they’re more used to tapping on a keyboard than holding hand tools. They’re feeling a little raw today.

a dead soldier that should not have died…

Dead soldiers = empty bottles.

Let’s get that out of the way before you think this is some sort of treatise about the state of United States Imperialism abroad… which I think is deplorable… but it’s not what I’m talking about right now.

No, I happened to look through my wine collection last week and discovered that two bottles of Kendall-Jackson Great Estates wines had corks that were leaking. Both of these bottles contained red wine: one was cabernet sauvignon and the other pinot noir. Out of fear for the integrity of the wines and the carpets of our apartment, I decided that I absolutely had to open at least one of them soon.

I opened the pinot noir tonight with some leftover homemade Texas chili. It was delightful, with a delicate balance of fruit with earth tones. It was a shame to open it up without guests in attendance. Truly, it was the kind of pinot noir of which Miles from Sideways would have approved. I need to find some friends to come over to drink the cabernet.

Speaking of which, I am awash in a sea of good wine. Wine club shipments have been turning up faithfully for the last few months, I haven’t been keeping up. I need to have a dinner party for some folks who appreciate a good wine. I have a cabernet vertical from the same winery going back nearly a decade. I have a lot of very tasty California Zinfandel (which at 13+% alcohol can quickly knock the unsuspecting on their posteriors). I have an excellent 1998 Merlot that probably needs to be opened and enjoyed. I live in an apartment, and do not have a cellar to properly store wine in the long term! Does anyone want to come by and crack a few bottles? Please? We tried inviting some people over last weekend, but everyone was busy.

In a related matter, I know that I have some vegetarian readers… do you have any recommendations for a vegetarian dish that pairs well with a hearty red wine like a merlot, old vine zinfandel, or cabernet? We have some vegetarian friends, and we want to eventually include them in this party… but red wine traditionally goes with red meat or strong cheese, which might not be appropriate. Is there a good cajun-style tofu recipe or a hearty vegetarian stew that goes well with red wine? If so, I’d like to know.

one of my feeble attempts at being artistic

I took this photo with Mrs. Geek’s camera during our travels over the summer in a feeble attempt to do something artistic. I hope you like it.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

I’ve viewed this image on two computer monitors. On my new flat panel monitor at home, the luminous nature of the different blue hues comes through very well. On my older CRT monitor at work (ssshh… don’t let Company O. know), it seems flat and a little dark.

old places, familiar faces

People I haven’t heard from in a long time seem to be cropping up in my life lately. I heard from a friend from college late last week by e-mail with whom I have not communicated for better part of 10 years. As he is part of a group of people from my college years that I haven’t spoken to in a long, long time, I was thrilled to get a message from him. I had a more mixed reaction when I came across someone I dated briefly about 11 years ago. I was amazed that I could recognize her, and she looked well… but I had no inclination to get in touch with her at all, thank God.

It seems like the way that people move in and out of my life in a rather tidal fashion. People drop out… and then they drop back in. Does this happen to anyone else?