07 December 1999

On Space and Time

 A Radical View of Redemption

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; the will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more, for the first things have passed away." — Revelation 21:1-4

You are space and time. You are space, because without the space that is you and around you, you would have no place to be. You are time, because without time, you could not linger where you are long enough to be at all.

I mention these obvious things, because most Christians seem to fantasize that they will experience death as at most a fainting away, after which they will be restored to conscious experience like an interrupted narrative — like awakening from sleep. Whatever is resurrected is whatever they have become by the end of their lives. That is a paltry sort of Resurrection, considering the lifetime of "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," which each of us endures and inflicts. What needs to be Redeemed is your entire lifetime, your whole story, not just you as you are at the moment of departing this world.

Now your story takes place on the vast stage of this Universe, set up (at great cost to you and every creature in it) for you to exercise radical freedom from God. Your freedom to become yourself comes at the cost of a world in which God seems absent, in which Nature is indifferent, and in which we can commit evil against ourselves, our fellow creatures, and God. In the imagery of Genesis, we are a fallen people living in a world that fell from Grace because of us. Indeed, your time needs to be Redeemed, but so does your space.

And so the wild and crazy promise of Christianity is that all of your time will be Redeemed, that every moment you ever lived, every wound you suffered and every wound you inflicted will be made whole — and that every place you ever were, all of your space, the entire cosmos, will be made anew, set up so that you may live in radical proximity to God! A new heaven and a new earth, for a new you, in a new relationship with the Creator of All. Your whole time and your whole space Redeemed. Can you believe it?

06 November 1999

Litany in Response to the Killings at Columbine High School

by Rev. Jim Wright

We offer prayers of compassion, peace and healing:
For the two young men who committed the murders
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For the families of those who committed the murders
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For the young people and adults who were killed
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For the families of those who were killed
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For those who were wounded and for their families
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For the friends of those who were killed or wounded
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For the doctors and nurses caring for the wounded
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For the students and faculty at the school
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For the police officers who responded to and will investigate the shootings
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For those who organize cults that promote hatred and violence,
and for those who are part of such cults
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For all who have authority to respond to this violence, especially
political and religious leaders
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
For all of us as we share in the suffering of our brothers and sisters
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
We offer prayers of repentance:
We repent of our failure to reduce the level of violence in our own lives
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
We repent of our failure to reduce the level of violence in society
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
We repent of our failure to invite into our communities the unlovable and ostracized
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
We repent of our failure to act courageously for the sake of peace
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
We offer prayers of thanksgiving:
We give thanks for all acts of mercy and forgiveness that took place during the shootings
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
We give thanks for all acts of courage that took place during the shootings
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
We give thanks for all acts of compassion that have taken place in response to the shootings
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
We give thanks for all acts of justice that will take place in response to the shootings
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
Finally, we give thanks that we are united by the bonds of our common life
in offering these prayers for one another,
and we hope that those for whom we pray will pray for us as well.


One of Rev. Wright's parishoners submitted this litany to VCBC with his kind permission.

Your Grave

Birth — Death

Dear Friend,

You rocket along the trajectory of your life, a dash between your birth and death, a path through space and time with predictable turns and unexpected twists that converge upon your final resting place. Someday you must surrender all things of this world, from the most terrible to the most wonderful. Whether all at once, or through the series of catastrophes we call aging, you must surrender even the constellation of memories and abilities you have come to know as yourself. In tender and respectful tribute to your unknown struggles, your unsung triumphs and nameless defeats, we maintain this memorial for you to remember yourself.

Remember how people and your surroundings have influenced your life, and how you have influenced theirs, however slightly or indirectly. The grand total of all these influences is Culture, and its path through time is History. And yet, despite the influences of family and history, nature and nurture, your personality is your greatest creation, built by your intellect and character on the foundation of your temperament, in response to your particular and changing circumstances. As a child, you built your personality as your interface to the people around you, and in time you came to use it as your interface to the world around you as well. You even came to use your personality to have an absurdity: your relationship with yourself. Your self-relationship is so constantly present to you that you may even believe that you are your personality. As long as you are relating to yourself through your personality, you are acting rather than being, performing rather than experiencing. In states of agony, ecstasy, or meditation, you can experience directly — without the intermediary of your personality — and discover the feeling of being you, rather than the feeling of observing yourself acting as you. The real you, rather than your personality, is what Buddhists call the face you had before your parents were born. And while the memory of your personality lives in the minds of those who know you, the real you survives your passing from this world. The real you is changed by your making and bearing your personality throughout your life history. You — the real you — are the gift you embellish and return to the Giver.

Requiescat in Pace.

09 September 1999

Dogs in Elk

How to take Dogs away from Meat

by Anne Verchick, et al.

From the original thread at Salon.com...

Anne V - 01:01pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1318 of 1332) Okay - I know how to take meat away from a dog. How do I take a dog away from meat? This is not, unfortunately, a joke.

AmyC - 01:02pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1319 of 1332) Um, can you give us a few more specifics here?

Anne V - 01:12pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1320 of 1332) They're inside of it. They crawled inside, and now I have a giant incredibly heavy piece of carcass in my yard, with 2 dogs inside of it, and they are NOT getting bored of it and coming out. One of them is snoring. I have company arriving in three hours, and my current plan is to 1. put up a tent over said carcass and 2. hang thousands of fly strips inside it. This has been going on since about 6:40 this morning.

AmyC - 01:19pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1321 of 1332) Oh. My. God. What sort of carcass is big enough to hold a couple of dogs inside? Given the situation, I'm afraid you're not going to be create enough of a diversion to get the dogs out of the carrion, unless they like greeting company as much as they like rolling around in dead stuff. Which seems unlikely. Can you turn a hose on the festivities?

Ase Innes-Ker - 01:31pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1322 of 1332) I'm sorry Anne. I know this is a problem (and it would have driven me crazy), but it is also incredibly funny.

Anne V - 01:31pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1323 of 1332) Elk. Elk are very big this year, because of the rain and good grazing and so forth. They aren't rolling. They are alternately napping and eating. They each have a ribcage. Other dogs are working on them from the outside. It's all way too primal in my yard right now. We tried the hose trick. At someone elses house, which is where they climbed in and began to refuse to come out. Many hours ago. I think that the hose mostly helps keep them cool and dislodges little moist snacks for them. hose failed. My new hope is that if they all continue to eat at this rate, they will be finished before the houseguests arrive. The very urban houseguests. Oh, ghod - I know it's funny. It's appalling, and funny, and completely entirely representative of life with dogs.

Kristen R. - 01:37pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1324 of 1332) I'm so glad I read this thread, dogless as I am. Dogs in elk. Dogs in elk.

Anne V - 01:41pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1325 of 1332) It's like that childrens book out there - dogs in elk, dogs on elk, dogs around elk, dogs outside elk. And there is some elk inside of, as well as on, each dog at this point.

Elizabeth K - 01:57pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1328 of 1333) Anne, aren't you in Arizona or Nevada? There are elk there? I'm so confused!We definately need to see pics of Gus Pong and Jake in the elk carcass.

Anne V - 02:03pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1329 of 1333) I am in New Mexico, but there are elk in both arizona and nevada, yes. There are elk all over the damn place. They don't look out very often. If you stand the ribcage on end they scramble to the top and look out, all red. Otherwise, you kinda have to get in there a little bit yourself to really see them. So I think there will not be pictures.

CoseyMo - 02:06pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1330 of 1333) "all red;" I'm not sure the deeper horror of all this was fully borne in upon me till I saw that little phrase.

Anne V - 02:10pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1331 of 1333) Well, you know, the Basenji (that would be Jake) is a desert dog, naturally, and infamous for it's aversion to water. And then, Gus Pong (who is coming to us, live, unamplified and with a terrific reverb which is making me a little dizzy) really doesn't mind water, but hates to be cold. Or soapy. And both of them can really run. Sprints of up to 35 mph have been clocked. So. If ever they come out, catching them and returning them to a condition where they can be considered house pets is not going to be, shall we say, pleasant.

CoseyMo - 02:15pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1332 of 1333) What if you stand the ribcage on end, wait for them to look out, grab them when they do and pull?

Anne V - 02:18pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1333 of 1333) They wedge their toes between the ribs. And scream. We tried that before we brought the elk home from the mountain with dogs inside. Jake nearly took my friends arm off. He's already short a toe, so he cherishes the 15 that remain.

Linda Hewitt - 02:30pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1336 of 1356) Have you thought about calling your friendly vet and paying him to come pick up the dogs, elk and letting the dogs stay at the vets overnight. If anyone would know what to do, it would be your vet. It might cost some money, but it would solve the immediate crisis. Keep us posted.

ChristiPeters - 02:37pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1337 of 1356) Yikes! My sympathy! When I lived in New Mexico, my best friend's dog (the escape artist) was continually bringing home road kill. When there was no road kill convenient, he would visit the neighbor's house. Said neighbor slaughtered his own beef. The dog found all kinds of impossibly gross toys in the neighbor's trash pit. I have always had medium to large dogs. The smallest dog I ever had was a mutt from the SPCA who matured out at just above knee high and about 55 pounds. Our current dog (daughter's choice) is a Pomeranian. A very small Pomeranian. She's 8 months old now and not quite 4 pounds. I'm afraid I'll break her.

Lori Shiraishi - 02:38pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1338 of 1356) Bet you could fit a whole lot of Pomeranians in that there elk carcass! Anne - my condolences on what must be a unbelievable situation!

Anne V - 02:44pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1339 of 1356) I did call my vet. He laughed until he was gagging and breathless. He says a lot of things, which can be summed as *what did you expect?* and *no, there is no such thing as too much elk meat for a dog.* He is planning to stop over and take a look on his way home. Thanks, Lori. I am almost surrendered to the absurdity of it.

Lori Shiraishi - 02:49pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1340 of 1356) "He is planning to stop over and take a look on his way home." So he can fall down laughing in person?

Anne V - 02:50pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1341 of 1356) Basically, yeah. That would be about it.

AmyC - 02:56pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1342 of 1356) >no, there is no such thing as too much elk meat for a dog." Oh, sweet lord, Anne. You have my deepest sympathies in this, perhaps the most peculiar of the Gus Pong Adventures. You are truly a woman of superhuman patience. wait -- you carried the carcass down from the mountains with the dogs inside?

Anne V - 02:59pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1343 of 1356) >the carcass down from the mountains with the dogs inside? no, well, sort of. My part in the whole thing was to get really stressed about a meeting that I had to go to, and say *yeah, ok, whatever* when it was suggested that the ribcages, since we couldn't get the dogs out of them and the dogs couldn't be left there, be brought to my house. Because, you know - I just thought they would get bored of it sooner or later. But it appears to be later, in the misty uncertain future, that they will get bored. Now, they are still interested. And very loud, one singing, one snoring.

Lori Shiraishi - 03:04pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1344 of 1356) >And very loud, one singing, one snoring. wow. I can't even begin to imagine the acoustics involved with singing from the inside of an elk.

Anne V - 03:04pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1345 of 1356) reverb. lots and lots of reverb. Anne V - 03:15pm Sep 9, 1999 PDT (# 1347 of 1356) I'll tell you the thing that is causing me to lose it again and again, and then I have to go back outside and stay there for a while. After the meeting, I said to my (extraordinary) boss, *look, I've gotta go home for the rest of the day, I think. Jake and Gus Pong are inside some elk ribcages, and my dad is coming tonight, so I've got to get them out somehow.* And he said, pale and huge-eyed, *Annie, how did you explain the elk to the clients?* The poor, poor man thought I had the carcasses brought to work with me. For some reason, I find this deeply funny.

(weekend pause)

Anne V - 08:37am Sep 13, 1999 PDT (# 1395 of 1405) So what we did was put the ribcages (containing dogs) on tarps and drag them around to the side yard, where I figured they would at least be harder to see, and then opened my bedroom window so that the dogs could let me know when they were ready to be plunged into a de-elking solution and let in the house. Then I went to the airport. Came home, no visible elk, no visible dogs. Peeked around the shrubs, and there they were, still in the elk. By this time, they had gnawed out some little portholes between some of the ribs, and you got the occasional very frightening glimpse of something moving around in there if you watched long enough. After a lot of agonizing, I went to bed. I closed the back door, made sure my window was open, talked to the dogs out of it until I as sure they knew it was open, and then I fell asleep. Sometimes, sleep is a mistake, no matter how tired you are. And especially if you are very very tired, and some of your dogs are outside, inside some elks. Because when you are that tired, you sleep through bumping kind of noises, or you kind of think that it's just the house guests. It was't the house guests. It was my dogs, having an attack of teamwork unprecedented in our domestic history. When I finally woke all the way up, it was to a horrible vision. Somehow, 3 dogs with a combined weight of about 90 pounds, managed to hoist one of the ribcages (the meatier one, of course) up 3 feet to rest on top of the swamp cooler outside the window, and push out the screen. What woke me was Gus Pong, howling in frustration from inside the ribcage, very close to my head, combined with feverish little grunts from Jake, who was standing on the nightstand, bracing himself against the curtains with remarkably bloody little feet. Here are some things I have learned, this Rosh Hashanah weekend: 1. almond milk removes elk blood from curtains and pillowcases, 2. We can all exercise superhuman strength when it comes to getting elk carcasses out of our yard, 3. The sight of elk ribcages hurtling over the fence really frightens the nice deputy sheriff who lives across the street, and 4. the dogs can pop the screens out of the windows, without damaging them, from either side.

Anne V - 09:58am Sep 13, 1999 PDT (# 1401 of 1405) What I am is really grateful that they didn't actually get the damn thing in the window, which is clearly the direction they were going in. And that the nice deputy didn't arrest me for terrifying her with elk parts before dawn.

AmyC - 09:59am Sep 13, 1999 PDT (# 1402 of 1405) Imagine waking up with a gnawed elk carcass in your bed, like a real-life "Godfather" with an all-dog cast.

Anne V - 10:01am Sep 13, 1999 PDT (# 1403 of 1405) There is not enough almond milk in the world to solve an event of that kind.

... end of thread capture.

 Editor's Note: This was emailed all over the world. We maintain an edited version of it here in case Salon moves or deletes the original. Thanks to Selena for tracing its origin. Its copyright belongs either to the authors, Salon.com, or both, we think.

23 May 1999

The Future of our Past

Every middle aged writer has a commencement address somewhere inside. Here is part of what I would say to the class of 2000 at my alma mater.

The future isn't what it used to be. — Yogi Beara

...If the century now past has taught us anything, it is that to predict the future is to invite posterity’s ridicule. Little in the last hundred years turned out as anyone thought it would. In the words of Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." It was a century of miraculous promise, it was a century of despair. War, genocide, pollution, the politics of mutual assured destruction, and the politics of abandoning the already disenfranchised shattered the hopes that Machine Age wealth would establish an earthly Paradise. And yet, the discovery of antibiotics and new vaccines conquered many infectious diseases, the "Green Revolution" postponed Malthus' world famine, and people took to the skies and to the moon.

Now, for better or worse, the tools and technologies with which we built the last century have enabled us to create the even newer tools with which we will shape the next. It is my purpose in the remaining minutes to survey the equipment we have for constructing the future, rather than to describe my hazy vision of its blueprint.

The first of the future building tools is Artificial Intelligence, or AI. The growing capability of machines to work with ambiguity, to recognize patterns, to draw inferences, to learn from experience, and to communicate with humans in natural languages is reshaping the very definition of knowledge. Rather than to know a subject in detail, it may become more useful to know about many subjects, and to leave the details to your computer. At best, we may have an unmanageable explosion of creativity, with every person an inventor, or rather, a manager of invention — and if nanotechnology lives up to its promise — a manager of production. At worst we have the possibility of automata built for terrorism or war — intelligent machines of all sizes created to inflict devastation faster than thought — giving a macabre ring to John von Neumann’s prediction that computers would become more important for war than bombs.

The second tool is provided by Physics. Modern theoretical physics may be on the verge of understanding the source of space and time, of matter and energy, of gravity and inertia. The possibility of Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘inertialless drive’ seems somewhat less fanciful now than when he first described it in the 1950’s. At best, such near lightspeed travel would bring people together in a real global village (apologies to Marshall McLuhan), and perhaps take humankind to the stars. At worst, the knowledge of how space-time is put together may enable us to take it apart, creating planet-shattering technologies that may make us long for the comparative safety of nuclear weapons. And the true global village itself may strain our endurance. As George Herbert observed in 1651, ‘Love your neighbor, yet pull not down your hedge.’

The third tool for shaping the future is Biotechnology. In its infancy, biotechnology conquered bacterial disease, and in its adolescence it is making inroads on viral and genetic disorders. Now the emerging capability to engineer the genome of somatic and germ cells may enable us to eradicate the class of inherited diseases, of which what we call aging may be a member. At best we may ‘improve’ the human species, if we are wise. At worst, we may de-stroy it through biological warfare or ill-considered ‘improvements’ upon the human genome, if we are foolish.

The fourth and final future making tool I mention today is the set of disciplines I call the Study of Humankind. In these I include Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Linguistics, and the like. These are the sciences (some say the pseudosciences) of human minds and societies. At best these disciplines may improve our collective judgement, liberating humanity from self-imposed bondage. At worst, they may permit the fashioning of ever more refined practices of deception, disinformation, manipulation, and oppression.

Such are the four implements for creating the coming century. Without sufficient wisdom, they may be a high-tech version of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

From where will the wisdom come? For all practical purposes, Philosophy has succeeded only in making itself generally inaccessible, while Religion has sought mainly to avoid rather than to answer questions, and to negate the human spirit by denying the validity of personal and historical experience as bases upon which to reshape Religion. Political Economy has done no better: Capitalist democracy impoverishes even as it rewards, and disenfranchises as it empowers, while obsolete Communism merely legitimized a criminal ruling class, and reduced everyone else to a common level of mediocrity. Finally, the now popular human potential movement merely profits charlatans at the expense of the gullible. In short, our values have not kept pace with our technologies and techniques. But one thing is certain — we must discover, or re-discover, some sacred aspect of ourselves and our existence, lest we destroy ourselves spiritually or even physically.

Will we survive this next century? Well, we survived the ten thousand centuries before it. But we humans, we tool-making animals, are now forging tools of exceeding subtlety and power, which will remake our economies, which will remake our societies, which will remake ourselves. Such effects are familiar to us in our myths — as when Prometheus brought fire from Olympus. Thus, if humans do survive (and I believe they will), they may become unrecognizable to us, the people of former times, and we and our history to them.

And so I think Prometheus may be about to burst his chains. In some of you he may even be graduating from college today. "Use well thy freedom." I congratulate you all.

09 May 1999

The Creation of Fast Food


by Author Identity Requested

In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

And Satan said, "It doesn't get any better than this."

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

And God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit," and God saw that it was good.

And Satan said, "There goes the neighborhood."

And God said, "Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air and over the cattle, and over all the Earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the Earth." And so God created Man in his own image; and likewise Woman to be Man's partner.

And God looked upon Man and Woman and saw that they were lean and fit.

And Satan said, "I know how I can get back in this game."

And God made the soil to bring forth broccoli and cauliflower and spinach, green and yellow vegetables of all kinds, so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

And Satan created McDonald's. And McDonald's brought forth the 99-cent double cheeseburger. And Satan said to Man, "You want fries with that?"

And Man said, "Super-size them," and gained 5 pounds.

And God created healthful yogurt, that Woman might keep her figure that man found so fair.

And Satan brought forth chocolate,and Woman gained 5 pounds.

And God said, "Try my crispy fresh salad."

And Satan brought forth Ben and Jerry's. And Woman gained 10 pounds.

And God said, "I have sent thee heart-healthy vegetables and olive oil with which to cook them."

And Satan brought forth chicken-fried steak so big it needed its own platter. And Man gained 10 pounds and his bad cholesterol went through the roof.

And God brought forth running shoes and Man resolved to lose those extra pounds.

And Satan brought forth cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil to change channels between ESPN and ESPN2. And Man gained another 20 pounds.

And God said, "You're running up the score, Devil." And God brought forth the potato, a vegetable low in fat and brimming with nutrition.

And Satan peeled off the healthful skin and sliced the starchy center into chips and deep-fat fried them. And he created sour cream dip also.

And Man clutched his remote control and ate the potato chips swaddled in cholesterol. And Satan saw and said, "Oooo, Daddy likes!"

And Man went into cardiac arrest.

And God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery.

And Satan created HMO's and other forms of managed health care.