Monday, March 30, 2009


When I was a child, one of my favorite films was The Neverending Story. I could probably have recited the entire film to you at one point in my childhood. One of the things that appealed to me at the time was the fantasy world, escapism, the lack of a need for peers when one has mythologies to play around with.
As I grew older I realized that one of the things that I had not even observed being a huge influence on me was the overlying theme of books that blur reality, change you, change the world around you, leak into your experiences outside of the book. I remember before falling asleep playing out stories in my head of being "saved" from school by Gandalf or Charles Xavier and taken to a place where reality was more mutable.
In my late teens and 20s I started to learn that such books did exist on some level. Robert Anton Wilson, Philip K Dick, H.P. Lovecraft and even to some extent James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon and so forth. The book I am reading right now, House of Leaves, is similar. All of them would kind of creep into reality or destroy how I look at things and rebuild it from the ground up. I imagine this is may have something to do with why I was so deeply into LSD for a time. I knew I was chasing something but I'm not sure I could have articulated what (especially when on acid.) Also I had a dream once or a vision which I don't talk about often but which gave me a glimpse behind the curtain of reality. It has haunted me all of my life. It was horrible to come back. I've told Laurie about it.
But there was always a disappointment that reality didn't really change in a Dali-esque kind of way. Blue giant beetles didn't dance on the walls.
Anyway, my spiritual walk falls under this heading as well. God kind of divinely invades His elect. The conversion of Paul is certainly one of the stories I am talking about.
I wasn't really going anywhere else with this except to explain a little about what goes on in my head, what I hunt for. I have been thinking about it since a meme I completed on my other blog earlier today.
Pardon the interruption. I guess you can set back your "Days Paul Has Gone Without Acting Utterly Berserk" calendars back to zero.


My mother had a dream where she came to visit Laurie and my house. We were at work and across the street were the bums from the last post (although she has not seen those bums on this side of The Dreaming.) So she went over to my brother's house with a tub which she filled with goat droppings. She brought it back and fertilized our lawn in the hot sun. Which, needless to say, took care of the bum problem.

I have to admit that I seriously considered this option when she told me her dream.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Apocatastasis is my middle name

It was not a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. As anyone who reads Laurie's blog knows, we have been having experiences which I will relate in brief and then discuss some unexpected side effects. Warning: this may be way more interesting to me than it is to you. Or perhaps you will get something out of this, a few moments diversion, and possibly a lesson in what to do and what not to do should you find yourself in similar circumstances.
Also, this will most likely prove to be a very long post.
We live behind a motel and across the street from us is their back wall. In the past several months, slowly and steadily, homeless people who own vehicles have parked across from our house for days, weeks, and in one case around 2 months. These are not those forced from work through massive layoff. These are not the victims of the tanking economy. These are people who have lived their entire adult life in pursuit of methamphetamines and other intoxicants. You may think it unkind for me to practice what sounds like casting aspersions on their character, but I assure you there is a point coming in this story where all of the characters involved (except for me, of course) smoke speed or possibly crack directly in front of me. To put it in Biblical terms, this is not "The Poor" that I am talking about. This is "the slothful man."
Mainly these people seem to have the last vestiges of wisdom to at least A) not bother the people who live here legitimately and B) not do and/or sell their drugs in full view of the people who live here legitimately. Or, at least, that was the case at first.
There are about 5-8 vehicles that alternate and on a few rather stifling occasions all end up here at once.
So, early on Laurie and I decided that, property values aside, they are not directly hurting us and we would rather save our "cry wolf" card with the police for when wolves are at the door.
There were two vehicles in particular that started to scream "problem" to us. One was a brown van that showed up for one day and, in essence, threw a party of tweakers directly across the street from our house. They shouted things at my family when family members were in the yard. They left within 24 hours and have yet to return.
The second red flag of a vehicle was a truck with a camper. This is the one where, about a month ago, I was walking Gina (that is my step-daughter for the newbies on this blog) out to her car after dark and someone wolf whistled at her. I went around the front of the house. Dude was sitting in the shadows across the street by the truck and camper and started cussing me out loudly. I called the police. The police came by. The truck remained and returned often although no more profanities or threats greeted us for the time being.
Over the past few weeks the man in the truck had grown far more bold in selling drugs from the back of his camper. Or, rather, we had observed people who had every physical feature associated with advanced methamphetamine abusers entering the back of his camper and leaving a few minutes later or simply knocking on the door, giving the man folded up paper, receiving small baggies which they stuff in their pocket as they leave. We naturally took this to mean that illegal drugs were being exchanged for cash, goods or services and I still see no reason to think we were mistaken in that conclusion.
Finally as we were planting our new magnolia tree (more on that in other posts very soon) I saw a car pull up to the camper full of tweakers and I watched them. In fact I did not break focus once and they grew more and more nervous as they talked. They kept looking over at me and looking away quickly. Finally they all entered the back of the camper.
The next morning Laurie called the police station's non-emergency number asking for increased patrols. When I came home... I should probably break for a moment here and add that when I came home Laurie told me that our tax return was deposited and now we had the few thousand we need to pay our property tax. Meanwhile, directly across the street...
I went out on the porch to read and the tweakers were out on the curb directly across the street on lawn chairs. They were passing around a joint. The guy with the truck left to walk to the liquor store. He brought back two forty ounce bottles of malt liquor which he gave to two of the men there. But before he did he turned, looked directly at me, and yelled out a profane suggestion (or command I suppose) for me to lay lips upon a portion of his anatomy interspersed with a word used for scatological emphasis which describes the act of copulation and rendered all the more profane being coupled with reference to maternity. And then he flipped me off. And they drank without bags. And then the pipe fashioned from aluminum foil came out and was passed. All of this on the curb of the street, all of this as I sat on my front porch, all of this directly in front of me. So I stayed there for a long time and watched allowing them to get good and intoxicated in their brazen scoff-lawery.
Then I came inside and had a good old fashioned freak out. I called my parents and my brother. My brother offered very good suggestions on how to deal with them as my brother, some of you may know, worked with indigents for many years as the director of a local soup kitchen before he was ordained. My parents offered the very good admonition that in the future one ought to avoid staring down drug dealers. Which, on one hand I took to heart and shall endeavor to follow all the days of my life that remain, on the other hand struck me with the realization that I had not handled the drug dealer well nor wisely. My brother suggested 2 things, one of which I did immediately, the other I shall do Monday on normal business hours. The first was to call the police, tell them everything I just told you, sprinkle in the phrase "I'm a home owner," and others like "I just want peace in my home and to be able to sit on my porch of a pleasant Spring evening without being sworn at and watching people smoke crack" and "I work early and my wife is here alone" and "I'm afraid for the safety of my family" and "threatened" and so on. And be very polite and well spoken to the dispatcher. Pat said along with the benefits of the police running these people off immediately, there would be the added benefit that word would get around in homeless circles that people in this area will call the police on you. The other thing he suggested strongly was calling the local soup kitchen, describing these people, telling the kitchen that if they are serving these people they are in code violation (the kitchen operated with the code that they employ a private patrol to keep their clients from camping in the surrounding neighborhoods and that they may not provide services for anyone who is camping in said neighborhoods.) In other words, cut off their food supply and they will move on.
When the cops came the people across the street, well, most of them fled immediately. The guy in the truck and two of his guests first turned into simpering fools and then into belligerent jackasses. I told Laurie that they were falling apart and that it did not look good for them. Meanwhile the cop picked up bits off of the street where they had been smoking crack or whatever. Also the cop caught one of the guys hiding something however he did not, sadly, recover whatever the man had hidden. Another officer pulled up. One came to my door and told me that the vagrants would be leaving within a few minutes. After the cops left, the guy stayed all night, but did not make a sound all night and left the next morning. He has not returned as of my writing this although both Laurie and I have observed him walking in the neighborhood within the past 48 hours. The police patrolling has increased and we may enjoy a few months of peace in our home, Lord willing.

So, I came away from this experience with 2 personal lessons. The first was upon some self-reflection the next morning at work. I realized that I need to bridle my tongue a little better and refrain from profane utterances for my own sense of decency, for my own ability to look myself in the eye in the mirror in the morning. Not in some weird, legalistic, finger wagging sort of way. And not that God isn't gracious to those of his elect who occasionally, accidentally drop F bombs directly after dropping heavy things on their toes. Or those who occasionally burst out into a bawdy tune or delight in the occasional double entendre. But I felt conviction after seeing what kind of life lays about 400 miles down a road that I occasionally take a few steps on. Or, put another way, Laurie and I recently had a conversation about racist jokes and about how one can't shake the Devil's hand and say they're only kidding. In short, seeing depravity to the point where zero regard for law, decency, morality exist filled me with a desire to nail my sanctification to my own forehead in hopes that I can more constantly set my eyes on it.

The other thing I kept thinking about, that kept nagging at me, was what kind of a man I've become. A few years ago I would not call the police for anything short of violent crime being committed against me personally. Now I'm using words like "property values" and I am using words like "bums." And I thought about what a bourgeois, suburban sell-out Paul of 12 years ago would think of modern day Paul.
"What's the matter, man? You used to be cool!"
But I think I came to a place of peace over this last night in talking to a friend of ours from the next block over (where they do not have these sorts of problems.) We were talking about (and later I followed the thought to include) improving the community through keeping a nice yard, planting things, going on walks, using and supporting the library, supporting the local NPR station during their current pledge drive and so on. There's a concept in my spiritual walk called Apocatastatis. You can trace this concept through Christian spirituality (although it is not entirely peculiar to us and you will also find it rich in Gnosticism.) Hopefully not to put it in too poetic of terms but it means the transformation of the infernal to the celestial. Which rather strikes me as being a description of the Gospel. My namesake's story is certainly a textbook example of the concept.
I think I can say that crack is not a good force in the world. I am coming out right here and now as anti-crack cocaine and anti-methamphetamine abuse. I think I can also say that able bodied men ought to do their best to work at a job which supports them financially if possible or, if not possible, seek to find employment. I know the times in which we live. I know that jobs are scarce and that people are being laid off left and right. Believe me, I am hyper-aware that this could just as well happen to me. However, I am not talking about that or those people. I am talking about people on curbs with crack and bad beer. And don't even get me started on my hypothesis that bad people drink bad beer.
Brightening the world around you in any way you can not only expands the light (sorry to get all Quaker in my lingo) but in doing so the cockroaches tend to flee more to the darkness. We realized as we talked to my friend from around the block that had we a motion light on our garage, the graffiti (of the territorial peeing variety, not of the art variety) that appeared on the side of our neighbor's garage last week probably would not have appeared. Light drives away darkness.
I hasten to add that the Gospel is a message in words. It is that we are all depraved sinners who fall short of God but that God, in His grace, sent His Son to atone for the sins of those who believe in Him. I do not believe, nor does Laurie, in the (probably apocryphal anyway) St. Francis quote of "Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary." No, Frank, it is in words (or rather Apocryphal Frank. I think I just came up with a new band name.) Expressing the Gospel in words is necessary. Seeking to do good in the world is an expression of one in whom grace has been shown. One will not communicate the Gospel message through giving out cold bottles of water on a hot day without also communicating the Gospel, passing a tract with the bottle, or at the very least identifying yourself as being a part of a congregation where one could learn more if one were so inclined. Any number of reality tunnels can lead one to do something that ameliorates the community. This is not salvific and does not communicate the means to salvation although it can be the natural expression of one who experiences the infinite mercies of God.
So, I do want to do good and I do want to spread the gospel. Working to keep my area tidy, safe, and beautiful does make the world a better place. Did I forward the Gospel? Well, maybe not directly in the story, but the story did give an opportunity to talk about it. Did I handle the experience well? Mixed. I think it worked out well. I think I learned some valuable lessons. Hopefully you did too. I am sure I should not have stared the drug dealers down (lesson learned.) And boy oh boy you have no idea how much freaking out I did when the police were in transit. Laurie called my brother to come over and talk me down.

More soon.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Walking season begins

It is my day off and it was tooth cleaning day. I have five cavities. This should surprise no one.
We went to the library. We got Cinema Paradiso and Macbeth to watch. I borrowed a Daniel Handler book and I think Laurie borrowed a Nicholas Baker book.
We did manage to get a nice walk in this afternoon. It is decidedly Spring in Chico (although the cold part of Spring at night.) Those who know me know that I love hiking so this was an exciting taste of things to come.

Monday, March 23, 2009

my verdict

I've seen all the major film versions of Hamlet. Branagh, Olivier, Gibson, I even have a VHS tape of the Mystery Science Theater version of that weird German TV one. Branagh's is the most visually beautiful for sure although I thought there were some uneven performances by the supporters (really, starting the film with Jack Lemmon trying to do Shakespeare?)
But now I can say that I think that the BBC version with Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart is the best film version of Hamlet.
We will be turning it back in to the library on Wednesday so those of you in Chico can wrassle over who gets to borrow it next.

Blues for AIG

I've been thinking a lot about the AIG "scandal" lately. Partly because Laurie and I are rabid NPR listeners and, like most other news outlets, they are squeezing every drop from that turnip. Or, rather, they were. They seemed to have calmed down a bit since the president went on a popular entertainment show and announced that we are going to begin practicing taxation without representation as millions cheered him on.

Yes. It's going to be that kind of a blog by the way.

But also because I've been teaching a class on the history of the Puritans. I felt that American culture and my own stack of misgivings behooved me to tackle the subject of the Salem Witch Trials fairly early on in the class. In studying for that class, the personal conclusion that I came to was that the trials had little to do with the religious group in particular or rather that the doctrines of Puritanism were kind of arbitrary as this is something that happens in small, isolated groups with 1) rigid, immovable dogma and 2) threats to something they find important. The witch hunts didn't happen because of Puritanism, it happened because of people getting worked into a very unhealthy mindset. I am not the first to make this observation. Arthur Miller's career took off from making this observation. And then he had an affair which lead to a marriage with Marilyn Monroe. With a later wife he had a Downs Syndrome child who he institutionalized and refused to have any contact with. All of which has nothing to do with what I'm talking about. Or does it?

I have an internet friend who works for AIG as a web designer. He is not getting a huge bonus. He is working for the most hated company in the world right now. I keep hearing about employees getting threats, fearing for their lives while simultaneously sharing everyone's privilege of fearing for their jobs. I hear about employees receiving anonymous notes saying that the author of the note is going to garrot them and their children. And blogs which show the AIG building in the skyline with some rather sinister invitations to less stable individuals which recall a September morn in New York 8 years gone.

And as for the AIG bailouts... I don't even know where to start with how messed up this has been handled by the media, the American public and the government. You think the banks and other divers and sundry lenders have mismanaged things? Well, wait until we get our hands on reacting to it. Taxation, contracts, way inflating the numbers to fuel public outrage, seeking any scapegoat and misdirection for a terrified and often recently unemployed or foreclosed upon public. On and on it goes.

Witch hunts happen. They are evil and sick and hateful, sure. But they happen.

Which brings me to my main point and that is that the concept of sin disappearing even from common Christian circles strikes me as one of the more disturbing trends I see today. I remember the point of my conversion when I was in my early 20s. The pastor of the Quaker church I was attending started talking about how everyone is a sinner and all fall short of the glory of God. And I remember sitting there thinking "This is true. I see this all around me and in myself constantly. This is the first theological point that has ever made sense to me."

There's another dangerous trend in Christian circles, actually possibly a more dangerous trend and without a doubt one that has been around far longer than the abolition of the doctrine of Original Sin or Total Depravity, that I notice. It is the trend in Christians to say/believe/react to the world with "Hate the sin, not the sinner."

This is entirely unscriptural.

The problem with "hate the sin, not the sinner" is that it comes across to the sinner as hating the sinner. As Laurie put it it's like saying "I sure do love sin fountains. I hate the stuff that's pouring out of them all the time though." Sin is what a sinner does. We are all sinners. Scripturally it goes "Love the sinner. I am a sinner too no better than anyone else. I was saved by grace alone, by no work I did. I am no better than anyone else and I love you." No matter how good you become, no matter how sanctified you get, you are no better of a person than the most rank sinner. You need to love them. You are commanded to. And none of this "but hate the sin" crap. Don't make excuses to hate and don't use God as an excuse to have no contact with people you don't like or disagree with.

People are people just like you and I no matter what they do, how they live, or who they are. Get over yourself.

And I have to say this partly to myself. I like to think that I love my fellow man. But the street around my house has been discovered by the "homeless with a vehicle" population as some kind of safeplace. Our house is surrounded by jalopies. They sit outside of them in lawn chairs on the curb behind the motel across the street. They wolf whistle and shout profanities at everyone (including my wife and step-daughter when they are in the yard.) I turn instantly into Archie Bunker when they are around right down to referring to them as "dem bums" or "does bums over dere." This is a fault on my part (although my pride makes me hasten to add that these are not "hard workers thrown cruelly out of a job." These are people selling meth out of the vehicles. These are people who long before any of this started chose "public intoxication and public urination" as occupations.) I am no better than the worst of them (which is the guy with the mustache and the long hair.)

In short, there are a few things that we can be sure of. One, I'm fairly certain, we can be certain that the financial crises in our country is going to get worse. I don't know if it's going to get "rioting for food" worse or just "we used to have a million dollar home, now we are in a low-rent apartment and only have basic cable" worse.

And, another thing we can be sure of is the truth of the passage I am still working on memorizing:

"Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north;around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full;to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"?It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Impoverished Snob

Laurie and I are in the habit of hitting the library on Wednesdays. We usually get two movies and very often trade around the books we are borrowing. Of course if you get a clunker, you have paid nothing for it and can simply trade it out for something better (or worse.) Libraries trump bookstores for the adventurous reader.
You may ask why a couple with over 6,000 books in stock in their used book business borrow from the library... But I'm not sure I have a clear answer to that aside from right at the moment we do not own copies of A Wolf At The Table by Augusten Burroughs or The World Without Us by Alan Weisman and I found that I must read those immediately. Something to do with the remnants of our instant gratification culture to a couple which can afford next to nothing.
Which brings me to my second point.
If I had the unending supply of money I would be one of those freaks who travels the world to attend Wagner's Ring Cycles like they were Grateful Dead concerts. I would turn to the people next to me and say "yes, this is my 36th Ring Cycle and we already have tickets for Bayreuth next year."
The Chico Public Library has a collection of operas by Richard Wagner. I don't know why. As far as we can tell, they don't have any other operas. They aren't all the same company or put out by the same label. But I'm not complaining or looking that gift horse in the mouth mind you. We saw Die Meistersinger with Donald MacIntyre as Hans Sachs. He was fantastic. The film production was very good (they pretty much just filmed the opera.) The supporting cast was merely adequate.
We just watched Der fliegende Holländer which was wonderful and we enjoyed (with few misgivings) quite a bit more. I think it's a much stronger work. The entire cast was amazing. It was really quite wonderful except for one thing that almost completely destroyed any enjoyment. The filming was horrid. They kept superimposing waves over the action. They would replay the same close up of a character over and over while they were actually singing onstage (which, call me crazy, might be something the audience might be interested in seeing.) Sometimes they would cut completely from the main action to show reaction shots of other characters, which is fine when done properly. This was not that kind of production. As a side note to long time friends and supporters, this is exactly why I did not allow filming of my one-man show.
And, of course, no one gets to see these productions live anymore so it's kind of like finding a treasure chest in the attic.
They also have the complete works of Shakespeare from the BBC from I'm thinking the 1980s. We saw John Cleese in The Taming of the Shrew. We also watched a strangely extremely homo-erotic production of The Tempest. We are now watching Hamlet with Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart. Win.
There is the perrennial problem that the characters from La Boheme would not be able to afford to go and see a production of La Boheme.
Go to your library. These are times when the arts suffer, but there are so many resources out there that one need not go without. There are podcasts. There is a wealth of resources available to anyone.
If I end up having a podcast at some point, I will probably do one along the lines of what I'm talking about here.

Continuing the awkward move into this blog, I posted a Glenn Gould sort of tie-in with this post on the other blog:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stilted Welcomes, Everyone!

Hello. I'm Paul Mathers. Some of you know me as Laurie's husband. Some as Possumbane from Livejournal and still others not at all. Welcome all.
I had a Livejournal for years. It slowly degenerated into pretty much what most people do with Tumblr (i.e. use it to show people beautiful and cool stuff, photos, videos, poems and quotes with very little original material.) Slowly weighing my options over time I decided, with all the fast action of a glacier, to start a Blogger to house anything of original thought, any opinion, or any personal update that I put into blog form and keep the Livejournal pretty much for what I've already been using it for. If you want to see the pretty things:
Which means that this will most likely be my primary and then only blog but so be it.
So, I guess the next step is to get to friending people and assure those people that more exciting blogs will follow presently.