Beyond The Pale

On Home, Rant

Several days ago, on my first journal entry since I got back to Fayetteville from after my trip to Columbus to see my family, I was writing from my apartment, and I didn’t know what to put as my location of writing (while I was in Ohio, I switched from noting the city to noting the actual location. E. G., “Dublin” became “Dublin Starbucks,” etc.), so I noted my location as “Home.” “Home,” in this case is 1137 Capehabor Ct. in Fayetteville North Carolina, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. This was certainly the first time that I had described Fayetteville as home. I thought that I wouldn’t think of this place as being home until Andrea moved out here later in the year, but there it bled into the page of my journal, the one place that I never lie. And in retrospect, none of the other places that I used to call home seem to be willing now to keep the title.

The house that I grew up in belongs to my brother, and he has made changes that make it almost unrecognizable, but were this not true, it would still not be home because the place ceased to be my home many years before my parents sold it, so home isn’t where I grew up. My parents’ house, even though Andrea lives there now, is home only in the sense that my loved ones live there, and while the cliché that “home is where the heart is” may be true in a sense, for me at least, whenever I’m there, I’m always visiting, and you don’t visit home. You visit everywhere else. My house in Springfield, even though I still own the building, emphasizing the “my” in the “my home” equation, has degraded into nothing more than a source of slight income and a whole lot of headache for me. So home becomes a third floor apartment in an out of the way part of Fayetteville. I don’t know how this happened, but other than two missing elements, Eris and Andrea, it is home.

Which sets me to thinking: last spring when I was traveling with my dad from California to North Carolina, we detoured by Springfield to pick up some things that I had left there when I joined the Army. I stopped in at my house to talk to the tenant, Christian, and was surprised  that it was a completely different place from where I had made my home when I was a Springfieldian. Of course, I expected the furniture and decorations to be different, and I expected the temperature to be slightly different because of our tastes, but overall, I thought it would be the same place. It wasn’t. The very texture of the air, and the way that the light filled the rooms was somehow altered, and while the infrastructure was apparently the same, it was like someone had transplanted my skeleton into someone else’s body.

Dwelling on this further, I realize (Afghanistan wreaked havoc on this computer. I had to slap the “r” key three times before it finally registered for that last “realize”) that there is an atmosphere to places I live that chases me. I’m sure that it changes subtly from place to place because of the lighting or the quality of the building, but the way I know when I’m “home” comes from some king of sensation of “homeness” an amalgamation of various associations and stimulus responses that cascade one upon the other to finally crest into the sensation that I’ve made it “home.” This sensation is almost impossible to consciously notice, but it’s even less possible to ignore. I can only assume that this is true of other people as well. Thus, even though 927 W. Lombard is my house, the reason it felt so strange to enter that night was that subconsciously I expected either the emptiness of a former residence that has been cleared out, or some kind of residual “my home” ness. Instead, I wondered into someone else’s home. It was disorienting.

We carry our homes around with us just like snails, or maybe hermit crabs, who can leave their shells for a while—and even trade them in for new ones.

This train of thought brings all kinds of questions to mind. For instance, what is the definable element that creates that tipping point where home happens? How does a new object integrate into the home? When I look at my new couch and dining set, I don’t think, “hmmmm, what’s that strange table doing in my home?” On the contrary, I see a part of my home, something organic. Likewise, when I go to my storage unit, where sits an old, busted couch that used to be a part of my home (and before that, someone else’s), I don’t see an amputated part of my home waiting to be sown back on (by the way, it’s kinda fun to flip this around as well. Are my fingernails me? Will they be next week when I’ve cut them away? What about that food on the table? Is it me? Will it be when I eat it? If so, what if I get sick later? I that vomit in the toilet me?). The quality of “homeness” has been drained out of it like water from a sponge on the back of the sink.

Let us take this a step further. When I was in San Angelo, Texas, for half a year effectively home-less, everything I owned was in a storage unit in Monterey, California. When I was fighting in Afghanistan, it was all in a storage unit in Fayetteville, North Carolina. At neither place did I ever throw open the doors of the unit, take a deep breath, and sigh “It’s so good to be home.” All the objects that would normally comprise my home had devolved into just stuff, things. This is true to the extent that when I moved into this apartment, I was able, for the first time in years, to convince myself to throw away some books. Where before they had been part of the fabric of my home, their time in storage had temporarily stripped that from them, and I was able to prune my collection a bit (not enough).

So for me, home isn’t my house, and it isn’t the objects inside of it. Neither, contrary to all Hallmark might want me to believe, is it the residence of loved ones—that’s home in a sense, but not in this sense of “my cave,” the place where I feel safe and comfortable. If it were, I would feel a homeness in Ohio that I simply don’t feel.

All this rambling leads me to the conclusion, as I hinted before, that there is a meta process by which I impart homeness upon a house or apartment (or cardboard box), which makes it through some kind of Alchemy from a place full of stuff into the unified essence of home, from which individual objects can be removed, and to which they can be added without altering that essence. One could argue, I guess, that this is really just an issue of how much time gets spent there, the comfort of familiarity, but I don’t buy it. I think that homeness is something we bestow upon a place, and I think that essence is imparted through the incantation. We speak place and stuff into home when we truly name it as such. We say, not with our mouths, but with our sub-conscious “home” and with our incantation we change the nature of a small portion of the universe. Perspective changes, things blur (like curds forming a block of cheese) in a cognitive web of associative memory, and home happens.

April 24, 2010 Posted by | Journal Style Entries, Rant | 3 Comments

Where I’ve Been This Last Month — Part 2

I had guard duty today. That was nice, I guess, sitting out in the sun reading and writing in my journal. My arms are fairly well toasted though, as are the tops of my knees.

Dad and I rolled out of Monterey a little bit before 1:00 pm. I was driving; seeing as it was my junk that we were about to drag across the country, I figured that the least I could do was take the first shift. We took the southern route through the mountains because when we were planning, we didn’t know whether or not there was going to be storms further north, not having traveled through that part of the country often before.

There was a restaurant about 6 hours from our starting point called Tom’s that Andrea and her mom had eaten at on their way through about a year ago, and we made a hard push to get there in time for dinner. Andrea had loved the place, and I promised her that I would do everything I could to try to get to eat there. We made it about 7:30, after driving through some of the prettiest brown countryside that I’ve seen (though a green corn field does more for me than the most beautiful desert in the world), and some pretty cool wind fields. Dad wondered why some were spinning and others weren’t, and we finally decided that it must be because the ones that weren’t were down for some kind of maintenance.

Tom’s Burgers was pretty much abandoned except a gigantic couple, the male part of which was so fat that he couldn’t even walk to the counter to order, and ordered our burgers. I got an avocado and bacon burger. Dad just got a burger. We ate. We stared at each other. I pretended I wasn’t staring at the gigantic fat dude. We got up and left.

In the parking lot, I said, “Andrea and Jean must have been really hungry when they stopped there to love it that much.”

“No kidding,” Dad replied, “You want me to take over?”

“Nah, you should sleep for a while, and I’ll wake you up when I can’t take it anymore.”

We drove across the street to gas up, and I ran into the Starbucks there to order a “Black Eye,” which is a dark coffee with two shots of espresso in it, my favorite not-candy-coffee-drink, but they were out of coffee, so I just ordered a triple shot. The workers protested that they would have coffee ready in about five minutes, but I wasn’t willing to wait because I had a blushing bride waiting with bated breath back in the heartland—where there is precipitation—and wanted to get moving, so they gave me a quadruple for the price of three. I thought that was nice of them.

When I got in the truck, Dad was astonished at the small cup I was carrying, so I talked him into tasting it, which took some cajoling. Just as he was raising the cup to his lips, he breathed through his nose, caught a whiff, coughed, and asked me why I would inflict something like that on myself. So much for getting him to taste.

Back on the road, Dad sacked out, and I started watching the first new Star Wars movie. I know. It’s dangerous. You don’t need to tell me. It won’t change my behavior.  For those who are going to harass me, I have two rationalizations: 1) I’d rather run off the road because I swerved a bit much on an abandoned road while watching a movie in the middle of the night than die because I fell asleep from boredom, and 2) I got it honest, only now we have laptops, so I don’t have to do like Dad did when we were kids and find a place to put the TV and VCR between the front seats.

About 5:00 the following morning, having just finished Episode Three, I had a micro-second of narcolepsy, one of those ever so frightening head-bobs that can get people killed, and I immediately woke dad up and headed for the next exit, where we traded off and I got to curl up and sleep.

About nine o’clock, we stopped for breakfast in Albuquerque, and I got Dad to eat at an IHOP for what he said was the first time in about 30 years. Sadly, it wasn’t the best IHOP I’ve been to. Actually it was the worst, which meant that it was only mildly awesome.

Dad wasn’t impressed.

Back in the truck, I had a genius idea that could make life much easier for both Dad and myself, but I’m mature enough to know a bad plan when I see it, so I didn’t even bother to mention it to Dad. About three hours later, dad woke me up at a gas station to say that he needed to sleep some, and as I was grogging to consciousness, he sat staring ahead of him like he was wrestling with an internal conundrum. Finally, he turned to me and said, “Do you think we could clear that couch in the back of the truck?”

Ah ha! I knew that my idiocy came from somewhere. What a horrible, retarded, dangerous, insurance liability nullifying idea!

“Yeah, I was thinking about that earlier,” was my reply. “I think that we could move the kayak over to the other side of the truck and use a couple boxes of books to brace it there.”

As I locked him into the truck, I said “call me on your cell if you need anything.”

“Try not to wreck,” he replied.

Roughly twenty-four hours later, forty eight hours and 2500 miles from the time that we started our little expedition, having stopped only for food, gas, and once in Springfield, Missouri to pick up a ladder I had left in my house there, we arrived at my parents’ home in Dublin, Ohio where that afternoon I would see my sorely missed wife.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | Journal Style Entries, Travel | 3 Comments

Where I’ve Been This Last Month

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but not from laziness, per se, more from lack of access to the internets. In the month-plus since my last post, I’ve gone to airborne school in Ft. Benning, Georgia, Driven across the country—literally—and finally gotten signed into my unit. Now I’m getting ready to leave again.

Before actually going, all my knowledge of airborne school came from Band of Brothers and some cryptic remarks that my already-airborne-qualified friends had made about keeping feet and legs together and calling people dirty, nasty legs. It turns out that airborne is just like any other school that I have been to, not nearly as hard as it is made out to be, but just as gay as people claim. From my perspective it looked like a two week “you can’t sue me; I trained you well” course that could have been done over a weekend, followed by a couple days of sitting on a bench, not allowed to fall asleep or talk, waiting to jump out of a plane. If that sounds retarded and boring, it is. If it sounds like it wouldn’t be worth the wait though, it is worth every second of it.

Jumping out of “a perfectly good airplane,” as people are so fond of saying, is an experience that I find hard to explain. Most people just call it a rush, and it is; those two or three minutes of waiting for the green light to jump and the two or three seconds of waiting for the chute to open are pure adrenalin. Some of my friends said they were scared of jumping. I was scared that I would hesitate and be disappointed with myself. When I jump and start to count, “one thousand, two thousand three thou—“ (I never made it to four thousand, which is when you start thinking about activating your reserve) and then the parachute catches me, I don’t have time to feel any kind of internal rush because I’m busy.

The word that I would use to describe the overall experience isn’t “rush” or “exciting” or any of those things, though it is all of them. Rather, I would call it serene. Since I’ve been in the Army, I’ve found that it is often difficult to find the time to just enjoy a moment of unrequired silence (it doesn’t count when people are forcing you to do it and yelling at all the people who don’t have the disciple to stay silent), but the minute or so between the opening of the chute and preparing to land is great. It is a time to feel the stillness of the world, the quiet. Every time that I jumped, I found myself praying on the way down, and I wasn’t praying that I wouldn’t break my leg; I was praying in thanks to God for creating such a beautiful world that I hadn’t had opportunity to see from quite that angle before. That moment, suspended there alone with God and the gentle noise of the world made all the stupidity of the previous weeks obsolete.

As soon as airborne school was done, I hopped a plane for California (we graduated at 11:00 and I was in a taxi headed for Atlanta by 12:00). When I moved to Texas, I left all of my stuff out there in storage, and Dad and I had planned on meeting out there to bring it back. Our plans were foiled by the airlines though because we ended up arriving in Monterey not only on the same flight, but sitting right next to each other. Matt, a friend from church, was kind enough to pick us up at the airport and drive us to the Naval Post Graduate School, where I had rented a room for the night, and the next morning he picked us up and drove us over to the Budget Truck rental place in Salinas. Before we picked up the truck, though, we stopped at a restaurant place called Elli’s, which had the biggest plates that I have ever seen. From Budget, we said goodbye to Matt, and Dad and I headed over to the storage unit, filling the truck in about an hour, and rolling out of Monterey before 1:00 pm.

From there we started our drive across the country, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

May 2, 2009 Posted by | Army, Journal Style Entries, Travel | 3 Comments

The Event Formerly Known as FTX

This has been another week where thinking about a good topic to blog on would have been impossible, though I should have plenty of time this coming week. Rachel, if you read this, next week should have a discussion of what homeschooling was like for me, which I think was what you wanted to hear about.

The reason I didn’t have much time for brainstorming and drafting a post for the week was that I was with my unit on the final exercise of my training, JICTC, or the event formerly known as FTX. Yes, apparently we can get in trouble if we call it FTX.

I had heard horror stories about the FTX from all of my friends who had been on one. They said that there was nothing to do, the training was unrealistic, and the NCOs in charge were a bunch of moronic jerks. Being a pessimist, I figured that the event was going to be like a flashback to basic training. It turns out that it wasn’t that bad.

Don’t get me wrong, there was definitely some idiocy involved, especially from the NCOs in charge of the training, but OUR NCOs were super chill, and they did everything that they could to shelter us from the bullcrap going on all around us, which wasn’t really that extreme anyway.

Here’s an example of the kind of stuff that was going on: we had paintball guns that were designed to look like M4s, and even though they are pretty safe, there is still a distance at which if you get hit, you are going to really feel it, so we did most of our missions with a “safety kill.” To safety kill, if you find yourself within ten to fifteen feet of an enemy, instead of shooting them, you just yell “safety kill” and they are considered dead. This is a basic rule that a lot of paintball places have.

On one mission, we had been receiving fire from a lot of directions, and we hadn’t been doing a very good job of covering our escape, so we were pinned down against a wall when some “Iraqis,” aka NCOs in turbans, came rolling upon their golf cart. We thought they were friendly when they stopped by where we were all slumped against the wall until one of them raised his weapon and said “safety kill” before proceeding to shoot one of my fellow soldiers, Corbett (who deserves a blog post all to himself), in the leg. The shot was so close that it tore the skin open and left him bleeding freely. The “Insurgent” turned to me and pointed his weapon at me, so I shot him—right in the nuts.

Granted, it wasn’t the best shot, but I was shooting right handed because I’d gotten shot in the right arm a couple of minutes earlier, and we were supposed to play like any parts that had been shot were out of commission.

He freaked out, saying that I was dangerous and not following orders, etc. He kept asking me why I did it, and wanted to know if I thought he didn’t want to have kids someday, blah blah blah. From previous experience with that NCO, I knew that it was pointless to try to explain that his own rule said that if he shot at us from a dangerous distance, then we were allowed to reciprocate, so I just kept on repeating “I screwed up.” He didn’t know how to deal with my lack of self defense, so he had to give up on yelling at me, but he did ban me from using the paintball guns for two days, during which I had to carry around an M16 with blanks. Not very effective in a paintfight.

But the real idiocy of the week didn’t come from the NCOs who, when the realized that the Bco people weren’t losers, eventually became really cool. It came from the other soldiers, one in particular.

On Tuesday night, it started raining, and it rained for the rest of the trip. It also got a little cold, not cold in a really dangerous, or even uncomfortable, sense, just chilly—the mid 40s I’d guess. Well, this guy couldn’t take it, and because he happens to coach the Sergeant Major’s kid in baseball, he has the Sergeant Major’s telephone numbers, home and cell. After a couple hours of shivering in his sleeping bag (while I was in mine, sleeping better than I do at home), he couldn’t take it any more and called the Sergeant Major’s house. The Sergeant Major wasn’t there, but his wife told this soldier that he had his cell phone with him, so the soldier called his cell phone and told him that he was cold and he thought that there were going to be some people with cold weather injuries if someone didn’t do something about is being out in the cold. Keep in mind that it was only in the 40s and we had all kinds of cold weather gear with us. The Sergeant Major told him he would take care of it within the next hour.

About 30 minutes later, there comes some shouting outside the gate. I don’t wake up because, like I said, I was perfectly warm and dry in my bag, but the gate guards catch a guy carrying a bag, yelling that it needs to be delivered to the soldier who called the Sergeant Major. The guards lose their minds. They think that this is some part of the scenario, and they want to search the guy to make sure that the bag isn’t an IED. He won’t let them because he isn’t part of the scenario (which they should have known because he wasn’t wearing any protective gear), and the bag is full of arctic quality winter gear that the soldier had called him and asked him to bring. They came and got this soldier, and he got his gear, but while he was still out there, the Sergeant Major came rolling up in his car and gathered all of the NCOs together to tell them that if they didn’t shut down the FTX right away for the night, he was going to see to it that they lost rank and their careers were over.

Yep, I’m not joking.

We ended up spending the next two nights sleeping in the high bay of the fire school instead of in our tents, which was nice because we ordered pizza both nights, but wasn’t what I would call the most realistic of training environments.

This is the weakness of the modern soldier.

March 16, 2009 Posted by | Army, Journal Style Entries | , | 4 Comments

Afraid of Emerging

Of all the different types of post that I’m going to put on this blog, today’s will probably be an example of the most informal besides memes, which I haven’t actually decided if I want to use or not. Usually I want to post something that either falls into a series that I’m working on, or that stands alone as an example of the best musings that I can pull from my paper journal for the week, but because the last week was so ridiculously busy with WTBD, and because next week will be worse with JICTC, I’m going to fall back on simply posting some notes on what me week was like.

WTBD stands for “Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills,” and it was the first of the two weeks that I have been dreading the most since I got to Goodfellow Airforce Base. I’ve heard horror stories about the sergeants in charge forgetting that we aren’t in basic training anymore and thinking that what they are teaching us matters when it actually doesn’t. It turned out that that the sergeants we were working with last week took a much more relaxed view of things, and a lot of what we went over was stuff that we went over was stuff that we will probably need to know at some point. Regardless, it was good review. We touched on the basics of first aid and calling in a 9 line, CASE reports, movement formations, reaction to ambush and contact, dealing with indirect fire, running radios, and using PRD. All basic stuff, but a good refresher.

But all that’s neither here nor there. It’s what happened, not what I’ve been thinking about, and what happened isn’t usually that interesting to me. What I’ve been thinking about, what I want to mull over here (I don’t say “what I want to write about” because that would imply some sort of structure, that I’ve been planning this, and I haven’t), is this fear of the Emergent Church that Andrea keeps on telling me she is hearing from my Dad and brother at their Church.

When I called Andrea this afternoon, the first thing she did after saying “hi” was to ask me to explain to her exactly what the expression “Emergent Church” really means. I thought this was a weird question because I know good and well that she had a pretty good grasp on the concept, but I indulged her, and because I wanted to be precise as possible, rather than explain it in my own words, I read her the Wikipedia article while adding in explanatory commentary. Basically, to boil it all down though, the emergent church could be described as: a movement where we try to live out our faith in this postmodern society by embracing the decentralized nature of our societal ideals and focusing more on the conversation of Christianity than on the sameness of it. I know, that doesn’t really say much, so let me explain what some of the really important aspects of this whole thing are. We live by Trinitarian based values, we want to imitate Jesus, even if it isn’t cool and the institutional church doesn’t like it. We want to be hospitable, welcoming outsiders just as they are. We want to be coparticipatory in creation, emphasizing expressions of the creativity that God has built into us. We want to live missional lives, taking the gospel to everyone. We embrace a generous orthodoxy…I could go on forever, but you probably get the point, and if you don’t, there are plenty of places that you can go for a better explanation than I can give here, though I might try to explain it in some future posts that are better thought out.

Andrea told me, “I thought that’s what it was.” She told me that this morning in service, Dad was talking about the emergent church, and he talked about some guy who got a thousand people to follow him, and they all went and either killed themselves or tried to (she wasn’t clear on that). Now, I don’t know what Dad was talking about, but it wasn’t the kind of church that I think of when I think about the emergent church.

I also don’t think about really good music or stylish hair, though good music might make me more inclined to come back to hear more of the teaching. What I think about is the fantastic fascination with Jesus and what he was trying to do when he came to share God’s love with us.

So maybe there was some confusion, but hey, that happens.

However, this wasn’t the first time that I’d heard comments like that coming from that direction. A couple of weeks ago, Andrea sent me a text asking what exactly was wrong with the Emergent Church model. I told her that nothing was wrong with it, that it was probably the best thing that had happened to the evangelical church in the last hundred years. She said that is what she had thought, but she had heard my brother telling someone in the hall at church that an Emergent church was exactly the kind of place that they wanted to stay away from. Seeing as I don’t have any problem with starting fights in my family (we generally all have a good time, and no one, or none of the males at least, gets all butt-hurt about it), I texted Chris and asked him why he had said that. He sent back a text saying that a lot of the movement’s leaders deny Christ as the only way to heaven, and he gave Rob Bell as an example. Now, Rob Bell might deny heaven as the goal that we all think of it as because he believes that the mission that Jesus gave us happens here on earth, and salvation is about this life before it is about another one, but the last thing that he does is deny Jesus as savior (I listen to the sermons coming out of Mars Hill by Podcast every week, and I read his books. If anyone has seen or heard a comment by Rob Bell that might seem to negate what I am saying, let me know). Rob Bell affirms the work of Christ on a level that I have never seen from anyone, certainly not from any leaders in the movement of which I grew up and still consider myself to be a part.

The main difference I see is that the Emergent Church seems much more interested in meeting people here, where they are, where Jesus also met them. And that seems to frighten other evangelicals because we have spent such a long time saying that the whole point of what Jesus did for us was all about what happens in some life to come, not in this one. We took his good news and twisted it into some sort of institutional suicide complex where the greatest thing we could say was “when I die hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away.” And now there is a new movement that doesn’t necessarily deny that life in the world to come but affirms that first, before anything else, and above all, Jesus wants to give us fulfilled life in the here and now.

Why is this so frightening?

Note: I know this might sound like an attack on my brother and Dad, and I guess on this particular issue it is in a way, but I don’t mean it that way. For me the issue is that there seems to be this fear among what we might call “the old guard” that this new generation of believers are really going to ruin things, that things are going to just deteriorate until God can’t do anything but step in and start over. And yeah, things are bad, but if I’m going to continue to believe in this Christianity, then I have to believe in and affirm the work of Christ here and now, and I think that they want to believe in this too, but they fail to make the connection.

March 8, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, Church, Journal Style Entries | 1 Comment