Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Pasture, Pastoring and Systems

I recently had an incredible, although mostly ordinary opportunity to tour part of the surrounding county with a local farmer. I was struck by many things on this afternoon "field trip." But before I get to the land, a preface regarding this man will be needed:

Having grown up with one foot in the city and one in the country, he eventually drifted completely to the countryside, a natural slide based on his personality - a relatively silent, introspective man with a tremendous work ethic, and a great capacity to live simply. He happened into a farm family, who graciously took him in, and in due time released him to do his own farming - selling him some acreage and leaving the rest to God and seasons.

He has done well for himself, a literal self-made man. A news story was written about him some years ago, complete with a picture of his prime: tall and sturdy standing between rows of tobacco plants, an elegantly natural tool of wood and metal in his hand - a type of mini-scythe used to disrobe the tobacco plant leaf by leaf.

In this picture, his face is browned, caressed and tanned by long days in the sun. He stands in the afternoon sun, a king of tobacco - the plant that brought good fortune to many in this part of the country, the same plant that now leaves these strong men coughing away their health. It's the crop that blessed them, the crop that is leaving this land damned.

He grows other plants - mostly soybean and corn now, since those are the two crops that form the underbelly of what is an industrial giant: the American agribusiness. In total, he owns over five hundred acres of land - vast stretches of dark soil this time of year. Neither trees nor wild flowers stand or blow on this land; those things impede the mechanization of it all.

This concerns me. The conservationists and environmentalists - people like Wendell Berry and David James Duncan - whom I have been reading are quick to point out the ills this spells for our future. Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma in particular has been a popular read in our household recently, which is a grand exploration of America's current food production system. More and more, the food we eat is less and less rooted to a local community. Instead, food is becoming more and more homogeneous, energy inefficient and hazardous.


The term "pasture" hardly even exists in reality these days. More and more, land does not contain life in wild, necessary varieties. (Such spaces are marked off as national park land.) By and large, farmland is now nothing more than a factory without walls - managed and manufactured by huge machines and intricate chemistry and biology. The line between natural food and innovative technology is thin these days. (For example, Pfizer is in bed with food giant Monsanto. ) All things are succumbing to the demands and interests of an international, industrialized, capitalist economy.


Pesticides and global shipping, genetic modification and gargantuan processing plants: it all begins, in part, here - in the heartland, on farms like the ones this man owns. But, this is what really gets me: I like this man. He is the salt of the earth, tremendously kind and giving. He never intended to get rich, and he's still a long way from the wealth executives in the grain, processing and food industries are raking in. He just found himself drawn into a vortex that no one knew would multiply and spread; it just so happened it has grown far beyond anyone's imagination and beyond any local communities control.

And, as it is now, he is far removed from the end of the food chain. He does his job because it is what he has come to know, what he loves: "I've never felt closer to God then setting down a straight row on a Sunday morning when the sun is just coming up," he says, as testimony to his deep satisfaction. He is proud.

And rightly he should be. There is a type of beauty even in this new farming. Each year brings its own hopes and fears, satisfactions and tribulations. And the semblance of pasture remains. While not all together in one place, you can still see some cattle gathered into a pen some miles away, still feel the wind and see its effects in a windmill. Even if he never knows exactly which family will eat his corn - like the farmer who takes her crop into the local market - he can be sure that he has produced food and done well for the rest of humankind.


I mention this largely because I believe all things are connected through a grand design, a careful, well-planned sovereignty. And to realize that the idea of pasture has been negated and nullified in the actual sense is to recognize that the role of the pastor is also being usurped and challenged. Eugene Peterson has said as much. I don't have anything new to add.

But, I cannot help but comment on this episode: the tension of walking good earth, farmed by a good man who just so happens to use dangerous chemicals and toxins. I found myself struggling with the endearing nature of this man's personality while remaining firmly against the system that has swallowed he, myself and many more whole.

Sin is systems, or maybe it's that systems are sinful. Either way, I learned recently how easy it is to love a servant of the system, while being reinforced in my disdain and defiance of the mechanizations that reduce and marginalize life.


A Phrase that Reeks

"You'll get use to it."

I think that is a terrible expression; the type of thing you might say to someone entering a concentration camp. It reeks of resignation and despair - a hollow phrase spoken by someone already engulfed by death-dealing forces.

It's the jargon of the institutionalized, the dehumanized, the dead soul. It's a terribly coercive, manipulative, insidious, toxic mentality - a cancer.

When people say, "you'll get use to it," they usually mean it like so:

-I have found myself humiliated and demoralized by [....], but it is what it is and you can't do anything about it.
-The pain and dreariness of it all will eventually wash out all the color, but there will still be gray tones.
-I have suffered this; what makes you think you're any different?

When people say, "you'll get use to it," you can usually expect that something God-forsaken and awful is going to occur.

Which is precisely why anytime I hear that phrase I cringe. In fact, I'll never get use to it. I reeks. It stinks. It forever pains me.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Blocks: Many Pieces

While Wyatt may not be the next Rodin, we did find the little dude had compiled a nice arrangement of blocks in his room yesterday. Anna said he was being remarkably quiet, and when she went back to check on him ... lo and behold, he was standing next to a box of blocks - assembling them in the style of Frank Gehry.

The cherry on top this week: Wyatt has begun mouthing the words "da ... da" when he sees me outside the window or when I walk in from work. Anna says it's official, too. Wyatt's first "sound" to be associated with a person, place or thing: me. Sweet.

However, we did miss out on our opportunity to ride Wyatt's looks into brief fame and a few bucks. The local mall had a screening on Friday night for television and commercial spots. But, no luck; it was past his bed time. Just one of the many incredible opportunities Wyatt will miss because his parents believe in a decent bed time hour.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Green Chair

Yesterday I went around the church snapping pictures of everything - exteriors, interiors, pencils, crafts, Bibles, pews, pianos, steeples, statues, baptismal fonts, sun pouring in through sanctuary windows. I have now determined my favorite "thing" in the church. It's a chair.

Actually, it's this chair:

Isn't it great. I love it.

Now, just imagine two of those chairs, plus a nifty book case and some worn-down Bibles from, say the 60's or 70's. That would look pretty cool, right!? In fact, it might look like this:



Monday, February 19, 2007

New Tricks, A Ticker, and Two Tickets

This weekend we made it to our second movie in the theatre since Wyatt has been born. We chose wisely. Breach was the movie - starring Chris Cooper, best known for his work in Adaption & Seabiscuit. The movie is based on actual events concerning America's most dangerous spy, who was only recently uncovered. The agent, Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), is an enigma and a paradox. His public career, his family, his personal habits of devotion, even his ardent morality turns out to be nothing more than a sham. Beneath the surface, lie a great many demons, which he manages eerily to conceal: sexual perversion, pride, self-loathing, jealousy, anger. There is a great scene at the end of the movie where Chris Cooper is questioned by Dennis Haysbert (24/Allstate dude, who Anna and I sat next to while watching The Incredibles in Pasadena). Haysbert asked Cooper the question that drives a great deal of the viewer's interest: why? Why did Agent Hanssen go down a path of complete corruption? The scene is somewhat similar to the great dialogue between Brad Pitt and Kevin Spacey in Se7en.

You would really have to be a mature, reflective, aware person to pull off the performance Cooper does in this movie.

Something else reinforced my appreciation for actors/actresses today. I found myself watching a documentary on the making of Rocky. It seems rather absurd to think of Sly Stallone as a mature, reflective person, but he surely has to be. Watching the documentary proved as much to me. Granted, the overall course of the Rocky series eventually trailed further and further from true theatre. But, the first Rocky was a work of art; it was full of drama, complex characters, and, best of all, it didn't opt for an unrealistic ending.

Now, all I have to do is convince Anna it is worth watching. She doesn't quite believe that it really did win the Oscar for Best Film in 1976.


I'm currently wearing a heart monitor, and early today, I had the opportunity to view my heart through the sketchy gray-tones of an ultra-sound machine. Hopefully, this brief examination of my heart will lead to no news. I recently saw a doctor for a physical (first one in about five years), and I mentioned that my heart seemed to go out of sync once in a blue moon. He didn't seem too concerned about it, but he did want to observe for safety sake.


Bought, Lost: Season 2 on DVD this weekend. I have only watched the first four episodes, but three out of the four were fantastic. The first two seasons of Lost will go down in history as some of the best seasons of television.


Made two more songs using Mac's Garageband: "Down" and "You Should Have Been There." I wish there were some way to broadcast these silly little diddies, but I don't think it is possible. So, the music will have to stay confined to the Kendall household, but I'll be happy to play them for anyone visitors willing to listen.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007


When I was a college freshman I was encouraged to join a fraternity for all the real world benefits it offered: business connections, accomplishing demands on very limited sleep, understanding committees (and Robert’s Rules of Order), a sense of class, and plenty of memories to link me imperceptibly, but definitely to a band of brothers.

According to these impressive assets, not pledging seemed like a tragic mistake – one that would forever doom you to the realm of starving artist, social outcast or, worse, a kid destined to return home with nothing more than a college degree and no progress up the social ladder. Consequently, most freshmen – including me – were willing to swallow these supposed truths out of fear and faith – hoping that at the end of four years these upperclassmen were not just feeding them a corporate lie.

In reality, though, most of us joined a fraternity not because of the benefits it could add to our careers. That would have been much too mature. We joined – frankly – because we wanted to belong … or, perhaps more accurately, we were afraid of being left out in the cold, having to suffer and despair through nine months in a new place with no definite social life, no gang to belong to.

It’s funny. If you walked up to someone and asked them to pledge himself to something right then and there, it might seem rather ridiculous … or frightening. Pledging oneself to something carries a gravity to it more often associated with cults (which, of course, some people see fraternities as). But, throw in the promise of weekend toga parties, pictures of beautiful girls, and a hyper-masculine whirlwind of noise, revelry and bravado, and, hey, sign me up.

Of course, one of the great secrets of fraternities (and sororities) is the constant, deeply pervasive fear that you – as a freshman – may very well not be admitted into this community, this social circle of promise. You might just be left off “their” list when the final vote is taken, and you may never make it to the day when you can offer your consent and desire. This “you may get to” attitude has a very subtle, yet profound effect – playing upon fear and privilege. Tell me how it is any different than what a Latino kid faces in East Los Angeles or a young black male trying to eek out some security and some status in Queens.

So … if you asked me now what I got out of being in a fraternity … from pledging myself to the virtues and ideals of Delta Upsilon, I can’t give you just one answer.

There is a crap-load of funny stories. There are some moments that make me extremely proud. There are moments that make me extremely sad and embarrassed. There are people I will never forget and for whom I will always care. There are some tangible, practical lessons I learned about life – e.g. all of us have deep-seeded brokenness and hope mixed together in our tender souls. There is a mysterious, shall I say religious, tie that comes from common memory, song and place. There is this realization: we have a deep desire to be significant (and to be a part of something significant) – a desire so strong we are willing to take a leap of faith.

Most of us are willing to swallow propaganda and hope it is truth … especially if it comes with free beer and immediate inclusion.

Dikaia Upotheke

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Music on Tuesdays

As Anna sits in front of the television on Tuesday nights watching American Idol, I find myself drawn over to the computer (which is in the same room as the television). I unplug the speakers from the computer, plug in my headphones and hop on iTunes.

Anna enjoys hearing the yet-unrecognized talent of America get their first audition in front of the American public ("I like seeing people succeed since I don't feel like I accomplish much these days," she says).

I enjoy being reminded of songs I haven't heard in a long, long time. So, I go to the source; I hop on iTunes and find the original version to see how good the future stars rendition is (I also go there to remember what the song SHOULD sound like before some tone-deaf wannabe butchers the song to pieces).

One of my favorites tonight was a young African-American man singing Sam Cook's "A Change is Gonna Come." So, I found myself listening to samples of Sam Cook's work on the internet.

Let me preface a brief thought on Sam Cook by saying I love "Soul" music, and all day today I was hankering to get home and listen to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" album.

Sam Cook's classics - Chain Gang, Only Sixteen, Cupid, (What A) Wonderful World, Twistin' The Night Away - are chock full of smooth, easy beats, great background vocals, stabbing horns and Cook's velvety voice. Most of his hits are instantly recongnizable - especially for me as I grew up driving around Zionsville with my old man tuning the radio to the Golden Oldies.

And, wouldn't you know it, the final person to receive the allusive golden ticket on American Idol tonight sang his way to Hollywood with a little help from Sam Cook. Just for the record, the song was "Cupid."


Golden Slumber in Three Parts


Monday, February 05, 2007

Income Inequality

I encourage all of you to go to the link listed below. It is a story NPR is doing on income inequality and how the gap between the richest and poorest in our country has continued to widen in the last 30 years (particularly in the last 5):

As a former economics major, and as someone who took a class on income inequality, I may have a unique concern for this issue. BUT, you should to if you ever find yourself asking:

1. Is it appropriate for CEO’s to make 300 times more than the average American worker?
2. How does a society, which claims to be Christian, acknowledge the vast differences in income in light of the Sermon on the Mount and Luke, chapter 6?
3. What role do I play in creating an economy where money is increasingly disassociated from local communities and associated with corporations, mega-industries and the global market?
4. Do other people realize that our society has begun to serve the economy rather than the economy serving our society?


Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Colt = Wyatt = Little Warrior

Pins and Needles

T-minus three and a half hours before kick-off of the Super Bowl. This is it. The Colts have come to the event that they were destined for; this is the game they should have been in last year ... and that, perhaps more than anything, is why my stomach is doing more flips than Reggie Bush headed for the end-zone.

Two weeks ago - when the Colts overthrew their Goliath - I was supremely confident. The Super Bowl game was just a formality, a small hurdle on the way to blue and white confetti, cheesy interviews with Peyton Manning (with Archie standing beside his son), and Tony Dungy humbly holding the Vince Lambordi trophy.

But, then somewhere between the glee of disposing with the Patriots and a million reasons why the Colts should win, I started to realize that this is the last place the Colts want to be in. What do I mean? Well, the Colts are not the type of team that handles the spotlight well. Indy isn't a "favorite" kind of town.

I just hope the Colts don't lay an egg like they've done in the past. I gotta believe they've been in games like this too many times to not fumble it away in a quivering mass of nerves and mistakes.

But, then again, they've never been in the Super Bowl.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Definitely one of the funny things I've read recently

I don't know what is funnier: Chewbecca saying, "nobody tells this wookie what to do" or Superman serving as a witness ... you'll see, keep reading ...

Ersatz Chewbacca succumbs to dark side

By Andrew Blankstein, Times Staff Writer
1:41 PM PST, February 2, 2007

A street performer dressed as Chewbacca from "Star Wars" apparently succumbed to the dark side when he allegedly head-butted a tour guide operator in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles police said today.

The incident comes as the Los Angeles Police Department and Hollywood officials are trying to rein in the colorful assortment of actors dressed as various cartoon and movie characters who perform for crowds outside the landmark theater.

After tourists complained that the actors got aggressive and abusive when they refused to pay for posed pictures, the city passed ordinances last year meant to regulate how the characters behaved.


The incident was reported about 1:20 p.m. Thursday by security guards who patrol the theater area around the 6900 block of Hollywood Boulevard.

Police said that 6-foot-4 street performer was seen arguing with a 32-year-old Star Line Tours tour guide, who had expressed concern that the wookie impersonator was "harassing and touching tourists" in violation of the city law.

The security guards, who work for the Hollywood Business Improvement District, escorted him off theater property. But police said Young, like the Empire, decided to strike back.

"Chewbacca head-butted the tour guide," Vernon said. "Security guards saw it and ended up detaining him."

The Star Line Tours guide, Brian Sapir, said in an interview today that the Chewbacca character was harassing two young Japanese tourists when he told him to stop. "You could see him exploding in his mask," Sapir said. "He said, 'Nobody tells this wookie what to do."

Young then threw his mask off and head-butted him, Sapir added.

A police source said that a performer dressed as Superman witnessed the assault and was interviewed by police. He was not identified.

In the past, there have been disputes among performers and tourists, who either turn down requests to pose with the characters or refuse to give them donations, Vernon said.

On occasion, the disputes have led to arguments and even fisticuffs between characters as they fight over turf. That led city officials to pass several ordinances regulating the behavior of the street performers.

Under city rules, street performers can't state a price or demand money to take a photo with them, Vernon said. "They only can ask for a donation. They also cannot touch or follow the tourists if they walk away."

Continuing disputes led to a meeting between authorities and about a dozen of the performers, which police said significantly reduced conflict on the boulevard.

"The lesson here is you can have the force with you," Vernon said. "You just can't use illegal force."

Times staff writer Bob Pool contributed to this report.