(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Walking, it's good for the heart

So I got in as argument with a sock puppet the other day. Things got kind of intense and Virginia really got up in my face, so I decided to defuse the situation and initiate some deep introspection by going on a walk.

I ended up at Wildwood Park where there's this wonderful trail with all kinds of exercise stations. Needless to say, I couldn't resist.

Sit and reach. Target muscles: Hamstring stretch

Parallel bars. Target muscles: Arms, shoulders, core

Monkey bars. Target muscles: Arms, shoulders, core. Also, monkey bars for the win!

Crunch bench. Target muscles: abdominals

Crunch bench. Alternate view.
Crunch bench. Panorama view.

I ended up being on my feet and moving for about four and a half hours. My calf muscles hated me when I finally got home and off my feet, but I needed it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Fairy Tale Sermons: Little Red

This is the first in a series of blogs titled "The Fairy Tale Sermons" wherein I take the stories both familiar and strange of childhoods past and write sermons on them much like your Sunday school teacher would do with Scripture. I invite, no, I request that you question the morals I set forth in these sermons and consider for yourself what these tales mean to you.

There was once a little girl, loved by one and all, but especially her grandmother. When she was small, her grandmother gave her a red velvet cloak. She liked it so much that she refused to wear anything else…

Here we find the picture of innocence robed in the passion of fresh blood, a foreboding sign if ever there was one. I'm sure most of you are familiar with this tale in many of its macabre and watered down forms, Little Red Riding Hood, popularized by those brothers Grimm, so I'll spare you too many of the details.

One day her mother called to Little Red, asking her to take a cake and bottle of wine to her grandmother. "She is weak and ill, and they will do her good. Go quick, but don’t run for you might break the bottle and dear grandmother will get no wine. When you get there, don't forget to say, 'Good morning," without being a nosy little ragamuffin."

Nowadays, Red would probably be sent along with some kind of locally grown, organic, whole food veggie loaf and a bottle of medicine to make dear grandmother better. She would probably prefer the wine.

Along the way to grandmothers house in the wood, Little Red Riding Hood came upon a wolf who asked her where she was going. Not knowing the danger those wolves represented to the isolated, Germanic, village-person, answered truthfully.

The wolf, knowing full well the potential treat in store for him if he played his cards right, distracted Little Red with some flowers and ran ahead to grandmother's where the greedy lump swallowed her up in one gulp.

Little Red Riding Hood wandered in soon enough with a fresh bouquet in addition to grandmother's wine and cake. Then of course comes the familiar bit with the Oh what big ears, eyes, hands and teeth you have before Red, too, finds her way down the wolf's gullet.

Enter the kindly woodsman, passing by, who steps in to check in on the kindly old woman living by herself out in the middle of the woods. He cuts open the wolf, freeing Little Red Riding Hood and grandmother who "came out, alive, but hardly able to breath."

Little Red then fills the wolf with heavy stones so that when he wakes and tries to spring away, he falls down dead from their weight. Woodsman gets a wolf pelt; grandmother gets her wine and cake; and Little Red Riding Hood gets a lesson. "I will never again wander into the forest as long as I live, if my mother forbids it."

At first glance, we learn from this story not to disobey our mothers and perhaps if we paid attention closely, not to trust strangers. Which are good morals, sure, but it would be limiting to leave it at that. Fairy tales are not parables, they do not contain but one lesson.

Within the framework of the story, we never question why it is that Red's mother sends her daughter alone into the woods to grandmother's house. The story after all suggests that Little Red is still quite little, perhaps as young as the 6 or 7 year-old audience is when we first start introducing our children to the story.

We identify with our heroine because we remember being vulnerable and innocent. Before they became big, bad wolves, they were just funny looking dogs.

It's this very naiveté that makes Red perfect host to this mission. She delivers because she doesn't know better not to. She's not some teenager who's going to sneak into the wine along the way, topping off the bottle with water from the stream and she's not some incompetent little toddler barely able to walk.

So Red's mother is right to trust her, though perhaps too irresponsible or busy to simply do it herself.

Within feminist literature, I'm sure, Little Red Riding Hood gets a bad rap because the women are helpless. Red is deceived by the clearly masculine wolf and she and grandmother need to be saved from the belly of the beast by the woodsMAN at the end of the story. The sexism is an inherent crossover from a time when the patriarchal society in charge told the stories.

But what is interesting about Little Red Riding Hood is the lack of male figures. I know, it's hard to imagine a lack when there are only five characters to begin with. But for a moment, let's take stock. We have Mother, Red, Grandmother, Wolf and Woodsman.

Or to put it in other terms, we have the innocent maid, working woman and old crone, plus the polar male opposites of the Man and Beast. Three women, like that other holy trinity, the Fates: Moerae, Parcae, the Norns. As much as Wolf and Woodsman may have played their parts as archetypal Tempter and Redeemer, it was the ladies in this story who sealed their fate, so to speak.

It was they who set this story in motion, who sent Little Red on her mission to begin with. The Woodsman may have cut the wolf open, but it was the actions of Little Red Riding Hood in filling his now-empty belly with stones that caused his death and it is the at the end of the story that we find ourselves once again returned to that essential three. The wolf is dead, the woodsman gone home, but the three remain.

Perhaps the warning is not for Red after all, but for the Wolf whose folly was his attempt to deny his fate. In impersonating kindly, old grandmother, he defied the natural order, and as much as Fairy Tales are about the fantastical, the talking animals, witches and fairies, et al, there are some things that don't get messed with.

So there's another lesson in Little Red Riding Hood, one of consigning yourself to your fate, which is all well and good for the medieval peasantry of its original audience, where social ostracism could quite literally mean the difference between life and death, but to the modern -- though perhaps by that I should mean postmodern -- reader of fairy tales the lesson is moot. In the American dream culture of anyone can do anything if they work hard enough, the wolf can be the grandmother. There are no explicit boundaries keeping you from that kind of success.

Fate has been overtaken by free will and Little Red has strayed from the path.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Touched by the presence of the Lord

While I was at the library the other day, I was interrupted from whatever internet browsing I was doing by a kindly seeming, middle-aged, Korean woman. She told me she'd felt called to come talk to me, like I was somehow open to what she had to say.

In a way, she had been right. I was open, I listened to her with my whole heart, which is probably why the experience ended up being so intense.

She started by telling me about an email her pastor sent her and some of the scripture he quoted, particularly a verse from Isaiah 60 about light in the darkness.

As we explored parts of the Gospels together, she had me understand how the Word of God, of Yahweh, was Jesus Christ and that He was the light in the darkness. And so on and so forth, Jesus died for our sins and so only through Him can I truly be forgiven and accepted into the arms of the Lord.

She told me about her 11 year-old son and reading scripture with him. Several times she interrupted herself to pull out a small, circular sponge like you would find in a makeup kit to use to wipe her nose of her allergies. And she cried. She cried for me, at the power of what she was saying, so strong was her belief.

While I truly did try to listen with an open heart, and even read aloud some of the scripture she passed in front of me, (John 6:44, Psalm 139), I cannot fully accept this sacrifice. God sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to absolve us of our sins so that His blood may show us the way to the throne of heaven. The part I cannot understand or perhaps cannot accept is why? And this is a very specific why in that I'm not questioning the motivation of why must He do this, but rather why must it only be this way?

To paraphrase Derrida, only I can be responsible for my life, and conversely, for my death.   But examining the divine sacrifice within this discourse, we come across an intersection of the responsibility that is uniquely of man and the grace of that which we call God.

As an immortal being, God is exempt from the kind of responsibilities faced by man. He is beyond being good, being understood, morality. Who does He answer to for His actions but Himself? So for Christ to die for us, to offer to take responsibility for us and for our sins, creates a symbol wherein God accepts responsibility for His own actions.

To me at least, it says, I made this what it is. It's my fault and so I must be the one to fix it. Your failings in my eyes are because of Me, so your salvation must also come through Me, through Jesus Christ.

This is why I am not Christian. My faith is not put in Jesus Christ. I do not trust Him explicitly and wholly. The way I view it, I answer to a higher power than that, creation, that eternal force of life that moves us forward. In less secular terms, I suppose many would call this God, but that is one thing I deliberately choose not to do. How can one fathom to name and so attempt to define that which is, was and will be? Only man.

"All other sins, stealing, killing, etc, are secondary." To what? To the greatest sin which is to fail to honor your responsibility to your creator. For according to Psalm 139:13-16, we were each formed even before our birth, seen and witnessed before life itself. I cannot refer to this as God though. It's not disrespect because to me, every act of creation, which is indeed every action, is or should be a celebration and honoring of the original creation.

At the end of our conversation -- a term I use rather loosely considering I said maybe a total of 10 words of my own in the course of something like 45 minutes -- this woman prayed for me. She prayed for the Lord to bless me in all I do and to give me strength, but also to give me strength in Him. Perhaps I need that strength, but not right now, not until I'm ready to accept it.

And I admit, I felt it, what she would have called the presence of God. It was a pressure in my head given to the intensity of the moment. Something I felt physically and made me tremble. But is that God? I struggle to name and describe it, so I'm not going to rationalize with some attempt at a scientific explanation, but is it God? And if so, which god? Which faith and belief has that kind of power except that which we give it?

If I were Pastafarian, I would say in that moment I was being touched by His Noodly Appendage (RAmen). I'm not mocking faith in questioning this, I'm searching for my own.

There was one other thing she said that really struck me. Religion is dead, she said, to believe in Christ is to believe in the living spirit. This as she urged me to find a church in my area, a Foursquare where I could find Christ.

It struck me as particularly serendipitous that I should draw the attention of this woman, because I still remember rather distinctly the conversation I had about a month ago when a man stopped me in Red Square up at Western.

"I could tell the Lord had opened you to hear my message."

Perhaps I am touched by the presence of the Lord. Touched so that I may stay open to these experiences and listen and experience the diversities of Faith across our world. Religion is dead, yes, but the spirit is very much alive. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A journal entry: January 17 2009

Today was/is a fun day. I basically slept in and hung out with Dani and Grace all day. Dani and I stalked our targets. She got hers but mine was a stubborn poopyface. He wouldn't come out of his room.
Then we went asploring downtown. Checked out the thrift stores. Got a few cool shirts.
And I shaved the 'stache. That's big and it's going to freak people's freak. I'm so excited.
It doesn't feel like just one day, there's been so much.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Obligatory post-Power of Hope Post

I'm writing this to make one thing clear. I do not need Power of Hope, and for most of you reading this (particularly those of the ages between 16 and 19 who have been to PoH camps before) neither do you, or at least not as much as you might think you do. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but it's true.

Now, I'm not saying PoH isn't a wonderful, beautiful thing that we all can learn from, but there comes a point where you have to reevaluate. There comes a point where you have to look at where you are, where you're coming from and try to understand, how much do I need this?

It might be the moment where you realize that this doesn't quite rock your world the way it used to. It might be the moment where you realize you stopped coming because you needed it, but because you want to give back. It might be the moment you realize you can't quite connect with everyone else because you've started to own who you are in a way they're still figuring out.

Power of Hope is about creating change, right? It's about connecting youth in a safe, heart-centered, multi-generationally, culturally-diverse community where they can experience and grow into leaders through the arts and creative expression. Empowerment is a buzz word that gets used a lot and we've put a good focus on privilege and oppression as well.

But there's this myth that has built up around Power of Hope. There is this idea that it's so life changing. That it's so transformational. That it's so empowering. But when it comes down to it, Power of Hope still falls into the very traps it tries to steer us away from, it can still fail exactly where it attempts so hard to succeed.

Maybe these individuals are introverted. Maybe they're suffering mentally, physically, emotionally because of some outside reason and it keeps them from ever really connecting with the group. Despite the kindness and despite the love, there are those that fall through the cracks. Sometimes they do open up, they do grow more powerful in themselves from this experience, but they never quite internalize the message we're sending. Sometimes they never fully open up to begin with.

This was my second year as staff, my first year at an overnight program, and I saw degrees of this as well as the more positive transformations that glamorize this wonderful thing and make it into this myth. It was my first year where perhaps I jumped off the bandwagon long enough to really look at what we're doing.

We're doing good things and I would never dare put down the hard work, the sweat and tears and hours that go into making this happen and keep this non-profit organization afloat amidst one of the hardest recessions in recent memory, but I'm challenging this.

The last few days of camp, I very deliberately spent my time going around and asking youth one-on-one how they planned to bring Power of Hope home with them at the end of the week, and then often following up with the question of why they kept returning to PoH or why they planned to return. These are tough questions, and they should be tough questions.

Every year I have heard it said, "There are two types of people in the world, those that have been to Power of Hope and those that haven't." I disagree with this.

There is only one kind of people in the world: people. Whether or not you have been to Power of Hope means jack shit. Power of Hope does not make you special. What makes you special is what you do with Power of Hope. What makes you special is how you live your life, how you create change, how you use the power of Hope to better the world.

Power of Hope is a privilege, one that might not be around forever if we're being painfully honest. I'm dedicated to making it last as long as possible, but that means it can't be just a passive experience. Power of Hope does not change you. You change yourself because you see that it's possible and worth it and then you go on to support other people in their own change.

Sometimes true leadership isn't about stepping up. Sometimes it's knowing when to step down and let someone else step up and gain that experience.  So I'm stating this intention now and I'm asking you all to hold me to it. Give me two more years with Power of Hope as a volunteer and mentor so I can give back everything I've gained from this program and then some, and then ask me to step down, to pass the torch to those who need to step up into that same potential everyone saw in me as a graduate.

I'm still learning, but part of learning is learning when to let go of your teachers and strike off on your own.  In this case, I think it means living a full, heart-centered life and constantly inspiring everyone around you to do the same. Listen with your ears and your heart, no matter what's being said. Step up and down in your leadership positions. Make yourself uncomfortable and push those boundaries. Confront your privileges and fight oppression.

It means not stopping at the Power of Hope community, but going out and changing your own community.

It's not enough for me to merely tell you this though, it's the kind of thing you have to decide to experience for yourself. I could tell you all sorts of things, but it doesn't mean you'll learn them.

The challenge I am issuing is not to be someone that needs Power of Hope, but rather to become someone who Power of Hope needs and then filling that need. Do you support me in this? But more importantly, can you support yourself in this?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Follow Where You Will

Part 1 of a short story I started writing a while ago.

“And if I don’t mean what I say
Don’t take me for a liar
I’m the Pied Piper, the rebel town crier
Follow me down to the sea
Follow where you will
Follow me to madness, let the water stand still”

Their song amused me. It was a madness of strings and passion; an angry little rant against the religious and political structures so stifling to the freedom of thought the lyricist so clearly believed in, dressed in the metaphorical guise of the tale of the poor residents of Hamelin.

I stepped back from the crowd, feeling their energy as they cheered, crowded around the stage that had been set-up in the corner of the small cafĂ©. There was joy here, and perhaps some misunderstanding. Wordplay has always been a hallmark of the political, cleverly disguising the real messages in plain view. The nuances of the message were probably lost on half the group, absorbed and ignored as part of the musical experience, but music itself has always been a message. We speak in code to share what we mean with plausible deniability so as to avoid repercussions should the powers in charge decide they don’t like what we have to say.

I nodded to the barista/bartender as I stepped through the door and out into the summer night air. It was early by most standards, the bars and clubs were barely half an hour past opening for the night, but it was peaceful as far as my eye could see. The moon hung on the very cusp of being full, a fat, white, perfectly round maggot marring the perfect darkness of the night sky. As if from nowhere I pulled out my trusty pipe and played a soft little tune, echoing and playing with the song I’d so recently heard.

At my call, they stirred from their hiding places. Thousands of beady little eyes looked on from the shadows, drawn to the sound of my pipe. They knew this sound as surely as they knew the scent of the discarded sandwich in the dumpster behind the Starbucks. It was ingrained in their little rodent brains the way sweet-looking forest fauna instinctively know the song of the helpless princess as she waits for her prince charming whilst lost in their tree-filled home.

With a hop in my step and a half dance, we twirled our way down the urban streets as I led the unwitting rats somewhere far removed from their metropolitan love-nests. Who knew I’d still be in the business of pest control after all these years?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Let my people go: Exodus Revisited

I offer no explanations and certainly no apologies.


A member of a suppressed socio-political group, fearing for his life, sends her only son out from the working-class proletariat of which she is a part so as to save him the death ordered by the king (Pharaoh). Hiding him in an ark - and here we cannot ignore the resonances back to that other political dissident, Noah - she saves him by setting him afloat in a river.

He is found and raised by none other than one of the ruling class who, ironically enough, pays his own blood-mother to act as a surrogate, he is planted as a deep undercover sleeper agent. Little is known about his childhood except that he was named Moses "Because I drew him out of the water."

Some time later "when Moses was grown," he encountered a situation which we must assume activated his latent training, causing him to kill an "Egyptian and hid him in the sand." Because of the nature of his assumed position as adopted son of the Pharaoh's daughter, it would take more than the killing of one man to fail the safeguards of his position (especially in a pre-feudal, iron(?)-age society) and cause him to receive an immediate death penalty.

Indeed the Pharaoh's reaction in 2:15: "When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses" suggests not the  ethical upholding of justice but rather the socio-political strivings of a man seeking to rid himself of an unwelcome outsider much in the way this same Pharaoh commanded  the sons of the Hebrew women to death.

Thus, whatever code that awakened Moses, also marked him as not quite belonging to the Egyptian caste to which he had been adopted. "Then he said, 'Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?'" Exodus 2:14

Moses fled to the land of Midian, presumably to complete his training, where among other things, it is said that he communed with God, a euphemism that combined with the visions he saw, suggest experimentation with psychoactive substances. Here he married and settled down until such time as he could return from exile without fear of the repercussions of his earlier trespass against Egypt, the statute of limitations on such crimes being the longevity of the men who would seek to punish you.

Ten times Moses met with the Pharaoh, attempting to negotiate some kind of deal by which the Israeli people could be released from their bondage to the militaristic, monarchal state. His ultimatums, however, were met upon deaf ears, so Moses, acting in the interests of God resorted to fear tactics, inciting the bourgeoisie and elite to appeal to their leader and submit to Moses' demands.

 It took the death of every firstborn child of Egypt before Pharaoh actually let his people go, and even then, the decision was arbitrary.