Feeling Adult

You know it’s bad news when you actually read your college’s alumni magazine and think it’s helping you stay in touch. Some days I begin to think I really am an adult. A friend sent an e-mail the other day ranting about how he’d suddenly become an adult without realizing it. I wanted to point out that he’ll be attending grad school in the fall and technically still hasn’t entered the real world. He’s got a doctorate to go before he enters the real world, and at that point you’re well beyond anything resembling a normal adult.

Some days I just feel like an adult. A stack of bills waits for me on the kitchen table. I walk in the door at 5:30 and feel like taking a nap. I actually eat vegetables without complaint or sour face. And I’m talking about more than potatoes here. Yesterday I caught myself complaining about how the service station had cheated me and how I should just do it myself and save a few bucks.

But every now and then there’s a glimmer of hope. My new bike has given me a lot of hope lately, although I do wear a helmet, which is a very responsible, adult thing to do. But I also jerk the handlebars up when I hit a bump and race minivans down subdivision streets. I even heft the bike on my shoulder and haul it up three flights of stairs after a long ride without complaint. And then, the best glimmer of all, I say out loud to no one in particular, “That felt good,” instead of, “I’m going to feel that in the morning.”

Memorial Day

Memorial Day (in case you haven’t noticed, I’m about three days behind in my topics. Oh well, it’s close-to-current events.): You know, I never really thought much about this holiday. My family never really did anything, and it was usually just another holiday like Labor Day. Just a Monday off. Shut up and don’t complain.

But I was talking with my dad this past weekend and I learned some things about my grandpa I never knew before. I knew he was in the Marines during World War II and had fought at Iwo Jima. Somewhere I think I have a Marines pin he gave me when I was little after he noticed the faded Marines symbol on my army surplus hat. My dad stowed it away somewhere for safe keeping. I also knew he was in California when they dropped the atomic bomb, waiting to be shipped out as part of an invasion force.

What I didn’t know was that he joined the Marines shortly after Pearl Harbor, much like every other young American. I also didn’t know that he met my grandmother (who died before I was born) through a friend in the service. The friend introduced my grandma and grandpa and they began writing back and forth. Apparently one thing lead to another and they got married.

My dad made the comment that if it wasn’t for Pearl Harbor we wouldn’t be here. A tragedy and desperate measures brought two people together that would one day be my grandparents. Interesting that we later credit another tragedy, the dropping of the atomic bomb, for saving my grandpa and allowing for my existence. Tragedy both saves and destroys life, in more ways than you can know.

It all makes Memorial Day a little more interesting.

Welcome to the Liturgy

On Sunday I attended a different church and it made me realize just how religious Christianity has become. The church was much more liturgical than any church I’d ever been to (aside from a Catholic church I attended with a friend in elementary school). The bulletin was full of call and response text that my wife had memorized from her days in a liturgical church.

What seemed odd to me was what all this liturgical stuff had to do with Jesus. I couldn’t quite figure out what Jesus had to do with this extremely ordered, prim and proper kind of religious service. It seemed more like religious ritual than Christianity. And then I wondered what any church service has to do with Jesus. Your Baptist church service has just as much order and primness as a liturgical church, it’s just it comes in the form of announcements and special music instead of the second lesson from the New Testament and the post communion canticle.

I’d be curious to know the origin of the typical church service. Some how I don’t think Jesus threw on a robe and a stole and recited a bunch of high sounding text for the Sabbath service. It’s no wonder the church has such difficulty reaching the world when you compare the average church service with the person of Jesus.

Another thing I don’t get is padded kneelers. We’ll take on a humble posture, but we want it to be a comfortable humble posture. That seems to embody the problem with the American church today.

City vs. Suburbs

Since moving into our little apartment at 1625 Minnehaha Avenue I’ve noticed the differences between city and suburban life.

In suburbia the car is the required mode of transportation. There is no other alternative. In most cities there are a few alternatives. Most cities have some form of bus transportation, and a few cities also have some sort of rail transportation. In the city the bike is also much more of an option. In the city five or six miles is an easy bike commute, and puts nearly every store you’d ever need within reach. In suburbia five or six miles will get you to the convenience store and maybe a fast food joint or two. If you’re lucky and the sidewalks work out you might make it to a K-Mart.

In suburbia the lawn is the crowning achievement. Developments are planned with large lots and plenty of yard. The result is curving streets and big lawns. In the city the streets are laid out in a simple grid and the houses are spaced as close as possible, resulting in minimal yard space. No one in the city would ever think of owning a riding lawn mower.

And finally we come to the more important differences. Cities tend to be lower income and more racially diverse. Suburbs tend to be higher income and white. That’s obviously a generalization, but my experience seems to back it up. There are certainly poor people in the suburbs, and there are certainly rich people in the city. There’s actually a lot of middle class people in both places. There are also plenty of different races living in the suburbs, and the city has its share of racially homogenous sectors.

So what’s the end result of all that? Stereotypes. Ask anyone from my hometown (a suburb of Detroit) what they think of downtown Detroit and the answers will invariably be negative and reflect a fearful attitude. More often than not those same people have rarely been to downtown Detroit, save for a Tigers game. Suburban life is not only filled with green lawns and curving streets, it’s also filled with fear and racism. The homogenous nature of the suburbs only worsens racial stereotypes. When you see more African Americans on TV than you do in real life, it’s pretty easy to let a few television stereotypes take over. You expect the Chevy Caprice with tinted windows to be a gang banger. You expect the two kids talking on the corner to pull guns on you when you ride by.

You don’t see them as people, you see them as a threat. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs. While riding my bike today I had all these thoughts going through my head as I wrote through the city neighborhoods of St. Paul. I felt horribly out of place, riding my new bike with my shiny new helmet and my wife with her new bike and shiny new helmet, and digital camera around her neck. I felt very upper-middle class, despite the fact that my income puts me on the lowest end of middle class (I’ve realized lately how spoiled I am). I also realized how very little solidarity I have with my neighbors.

This morning I went to a different church than I usually do, one smack in the middle of city, only a few blocks from my apartment. I immediately noticed that the church wasn’t reaching the surrounding demographics. This area has a high concentration of Asians and African Americans. I noticed only three African American kids in a sea of predominately old white people. I also noticed that most of the pews were empty. The church was maybe one-third full. I’m guessing this is because the demographics of the surrounding community have changed and the church has failed to capture the new demographic. What’s left is the old guard, pews full of silver haired men and women. The church will probably die with them.

All of this made me think intently about who the church is reaching. I’ve grown up all my life in suburban churches. The church I’ve called home for the past few years is a suburban church. Now that I’m living in the city I’m thinking of attending more of a city church, and I’m curious to see how these churches meet the needs of their community, needs that are much more tangible. Suburban churches tend to easily become country clubs. I guess I’m hoping to find something more in a city church. Not that there should be a whole lot of difference. Maybe the church is simply becoming ineffective at reaching the common person, which is a fact I don’t doubt at all.

The Neighborhood

The world can be an interesting place. One morning you’re walking through the rain to the bus stop, slumping into the seat in a total daze, arriving at 14th and Hennepin before you know it. Another day you’re taking the 7F past the Minnehaha Market for the first time, wondering at the passing houses in this quiet section of St. Paul you’ve never seen before. You notice the red and white sign alerting people of the close circuit television surveillance and you wonder about the small house with the front porch and what it’d be like to move in there.

All in a sudden daze, a passing moment, a flicker on the television screen.

There’s an old brick building I pass everyday. It’s less than a block from my apartment, across the street from the Valvoline place that charges too much for an oil change. On the corner there’s an Oriental Supermarket. The signs in the window are in another language. The brick building is three stories high. Apartment windows can be seen above the Oriental market, the kind of windows old, half-crazed geniuses stare out of. The kind of windows that make for the kind of apartment you wish you could find, but never will.

A few weeks ago something strange happened to that red brick building. One day I walked by and everything was perfectly normal. The next day I walked by and bits of brick and concrete dust littered the sidewalk. There were a few intact bricks, and lots of red chips and shards. I looked skyward to find that part of the edifice had let go and fallen to the sidewalk. Part of the ornate pattern–as ornate as that building got–had given way and crumbled to the street below.

The next day yellow caution tape circled the sidewalk in front of the building, with wooden blockades as rickety as the building itself barring the sidewalk. You had to step into the street to walk around the diversion.

omewhere at some point someone walked those same steps I do every morning, but they had the unfortunate circumstance of being stuck in a particularly negative moment they couldn’t get out of. Perhaps they didn’t find it quite so negative. Perhaps they found it enlightening that the facade of a building could fall down upon them. Perhaps they were merely nobody and only the alley cat watched the bricks fall and shatter across the concrete sidewalk. Perhaps the bricks never did fall.

Every day I walk by, look up to the exposed concrete of the building, which stands out like nakedness, and I wonder what it would have been like to see that moment. Then as I walk by my eyes fall to the pavement, to that one bit of brick lying next to the rickety wooden blockade. That one bit of brick just the right size to sit on my desk and make me think of all the wrong moments and all the right moments and being stuck in between every one. One of these days I’ll pick that broken edifice up off the ground and drop it in my pocket for safe keeping. One of these moments I’ll scoop the red brick up and wonder which moment I’m stuck in.

Silent Spring

It’s amazing how disconnected modern man is from nature. We live in a world of concrete and asphalt where nature is confined to a few median strips and empty lots. It’s amazing how we completely forsake nature for own bottom line. I’ve been reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson lately. It says basically the same thing my Environmental Science textbook said, and it’s amazing the intricacy inherent in nature. It only makes sense that nature takes a beating when we rain down poisons like DDT to control a few pesky insects. Next thing we know the birds are dropping dead.

Carson’s book isn’t exactly up to date anymore. It was written in the early 1960s and I imagine a lot has changed. But I also imagine a lot hasn’t changed. We’re even more disconnected now than we were in the 1960s. Although now there is an environmental consciousness. Although you wouldn’t know it from the president. He tacks conservation onto his energy program as a second thought, and the vice president doesn’t think conservation is worth our effort. They’d rather drill oil in Alaska.

I’m beginning to realize that a lot of man’s problems would be solved if he stopped worrying about the bottom line. That’s all that ever matters. You’d think some things would be more important. You’d think a world full of diverse natural creatures would be worth something. You’d think clean air and healthy people would be worth something.

It’s kind of sad that not much has changed since Carson’s days.

Too much fun, not enough time.

Why do there have to be so many fun things to do in life? It’s just about bedtime and I’ve hardly spent any of my evening getting some of the things I wanted to accomplished. I think that has to be the most frustrating thing about joining the real world. When you’re in college your time is so fragmented that it feels like you have more free time. Then you join the 9 to 5 workforce and your free time is suddenly slammed into a tiny little chunk of space in the evening between paying the bills and brushing your teeth. If you’re lucky you have time to trim your toe nails.

Alas, the joys of a busy life in the twenty-first century.

Art is Hard

I’m beginning to realize that all great art is hard work. There is little you can do that will be excellent if it comes easily. For something to be truly great it requires effort and hard work. Something may come easily at times, but it will still require a massive effort, and parts of it will truly be hard work.

A work of art takes hours upon hours to paint. The artist has to hand paint every tiny detail. Every nuance of color, every shadow, every shade, every leaf on the tallest oak. Painting the leaves may be seem easy, but try painting a few thousand of them. It takes a lot of dedication to paint a forest.

Every book takes hours upon hours to write. Every word has to be chosen, every sentence has to be crafted, every paragraph has to be thought out. And then the writer has to go back and hack off the fat and slop and the just plain crappy writing and do it again. It’s not that writing a book is that hard. It’s the dedication required to fill a few hundred pages that keeps most of us from becoming published authors. It’s one thing to fill several hundred pages of text, it’s an entirely different thing to make those hundred pages interesting, and it’s an entirely different thing to make those hundred pages flow. And if that’s not enough, it’s an entirely different thing to go back through those hundred pages and be brave enough to throw away the fifty pages that really suck.

I don’t think any thing that comes easy is worth much. And if you think something comes easy, you might want to think again. Even the work of Jackson Pollack–the famous drip painter of the late 1950s (he literally poured paint onto a wall-sized canvas)–involves a tremendous amount of work. Try simulating one of his works. You can slop some paint on a canvas, but it won’t be a Jackson Pollack.

True art requires hard work. Fortunately for the artist, the hard work is the best work.


So my formal education is completed. It’s all official now. I’ve done the little song and dance, I walked across the stage, I posed for the pictures. The diploma is in hand.

At least that’s what they tell me. I think I’m going to miss the classroom. I don’t know about the tests, the busy work, or the group projects. I suppose it’s a package deal. But I’m going to miss formal education. I’m going to miss walking into the classroom and having someone be paid to instruct me. I don’t think I’ve ever realized what a privilege that is. Those teachers were paid to show me how it’s done. And many of them really cared about making sure I got it. That will rarely happen again.

I’m going to miss the passion some of my professors could impart. I remember American Literature in the fall of my sophomore year. We read Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. First of all, I’m not a big fan of poetry. Second of all, I’m not a big fan of poetry. I read the assigned works by these two the night before and didn’t get much out of it. A mess of words that flow pretty well but don’t impart a lot of anything to me. I tossed the book aside and went to watch The Simpsons.

The next morning my professor would be overflowing with exuberance about these poets. He read them with a passion I couldn’t seem to muster. The text came alive, and I actually began to realize there was more to Dickinson than the darkness of a lonely woman.

I’m going to miss that kind of dedication. That willingness to do what it takes to teach these people something. Teaching is not an easy job. There are so many great teachers I’m thankful for. They’ve changed my outlook on life. They’ve made me see things I never noticed before. They’ve shown me that I can do things I’ve never done before.

For all of that they have done, I am truly thankful.

But we all know education is something that never really ends. You keep learning for the rest of your life, it just may not be as rigorous, and the tests don’t come back with red x’s and a percentage at the top. Your learning will continue, and this time the teachers won’t be salaried.

There will be mentors who come alongside and teach you a thing or two here and there, if you’re paying attention. There will be people you can learn from, people who can guide you, as long as you’re willing to keep your mind open, and to continue to grow. In a sense you become your own teacher. You can only continue to learn if you are willing to realize the lessons those around you have to teach.

And in that sense my education is not over. And it never will be. For I have a lot to learn about a lot of things.