Monday, July 18, 2005

Meat on Sticks

After spending a good hour or so playing at our favorite playground, it was supper time and The Boy and I both had appetites. I listed some options in town for The Boy to choose from, a place to get sandwiches, a place to get hamburgers, or Chinese food. To my surprise and delight, because it was what I was hankering for, he chose Chinese food.

We went to China Star, a store-front restaurant offering over the counter service for eating-in or carrying-out. I read the appetizers off the menu to The Boy so he could choose what he wanted. He selected chicken fingers. I looked over the menu for something else and ordered sweet and sour pork.

When our food arrived I was disappointed to discover that despite one being an appetizer and the other an entree, chicken fingers and sweet and sour pork were very similar dishes. The chicken fingers were long cuts of chicken breast heavily battered and fried with a bowl of bright red sweet and sour sauce on the side for dipping. The sweet and sour pork was small cubes of pork heavily battered and fried and served in a plate of bright red sweet and sour sauce.

The Boy reminded me that we had ordered food for carry-out from China Star last year, but that we had beef teriyaki, which he called, “meat on sticks."

The next evening, after watching the Independence Day parade, I asked the boy again where he wanted to eat supper, and again he chose Chinese food, so we went back to the China Star. This time we ordered meat on sticks, chicken noodle soup, and mixed Chinese vegetables.

The meat on sticks reminded me of an incident from years earlier, in better times, of eating Chinese food with The Boy’s Mother. We had met in college and befriended each other. She had a boyfriend from home, but after they broke-up our mutual attraction became evident to each of us. We made plans to get together over Christmas break our sophomore year in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, halfway between our homes.

We had lunch that day at a Chinese restaurant called Dragon Island, which offered a buffet – as a college student I thought a Chinese buffet would make for a good first date. The Boy’s Mother much later confided in me, that she had never had Chinese food before, so she didn’t know what she would like from the options on the buffet. She followed my lead by selecting from the buffet the same things that I did. I remember when we were eating that she didn’t eat much of her food and she seemed perplexed as to how to go about eating the meat on sticks, attempting first to bite off the meat from the pointy end of the stick, then reconsidering before she stabbed herself.

China Star restaurant is located at 11-15 Main Street in Montpelier, Vermont. It is open seven days per week serving lunch and dinner.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


This photograph shows West Yorkshire police onTempest Road in the Beeston neighborhood of Leeds. The Absurdist and the boy's mother lived on Tempest Road in happier times in 1998 and 1999 when the Absurdist was a post-graduate student at the University of Leeds.

West Yorkshire Police raided two homes in the Beeston neighborhood earlier this week as part of the investigation into the bombings on July 7 in London. Two of the suicide bombers were from Beeston. A third was from nearby Holbeck.

The Absurdist and the boy's mother probably walked by these young men on the sidewalk or watched them play cricket in Cross Flatts Park.

Leeds is a tough city. A place where men drink and fight to pass the time. I witnessed several fist fights on busy city sidewalks and once saw a brawl break-out in a McDonald's.

Beeston was looked down-upon by people in Leeds. It was a densely populated, working-class neighborhood on the edge of the city. It was a mix of older English men and women, junkies, Sikhs and Muslims - with their roots in Kashmir, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The Muslims and Sikhs were the targets of people's derision. Paki's was the slur used in Leeds.

The boy's mother and I made many friends there, the boy's mother in particular. While I was busy with my studies, she was volunteering in the community. She was the guest of honor at several "leaving-dos" when we left.

Despite what the rest of the city may have thought of the immigrant population in Beeston, the different communities in the neighborhood got along. Strong ties have been built amongst them. The Methodist Church where we worshipped was working with the immigrant community to develop an adult day care for elderly immigrants. The boy's mother and I once ate dinner at the Kashmiri Muslim Welfare Association.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Old Schoolyard

The main attraction of the playground at Union Elementary School is the long, green slide built onto the side of a hill. I took the boy there recently for a little recreation. This is the same playground where the Absurdist was routinely picked last for kickball as a child.

It’s long been one of the boy’s favorite playgrounds (long for a four-year-old, that is). He particularly enjoys the long slide. Even as a toddler at 20 months old he would repeatedly run up the steps to go down the twenty-five foot run alone.

On this trip I explained to him that when I was a student at Union Elementary School the big, green slide had not been built yet, but we would slide down the hill in the snow on our butts. No doubt the school built the slide to stop that from happening.

The playground to the side of the school also features a large component play structure by Miracle Recreation Equipment that features three slides including a corkscrew.

Only two items of equipment on the playground date to the Absurdist’s childhood, the swing-sets and a set of parallel bars. Both were once orange but are now green.

There is also a small younger children’s playground behind the school.

Union Elementary School is located at 1 Park Avenue in Montpelier, Vermont.To reach Union Elementary School take Exit 8 off Interstate-89. Continue straight through the first three traffic lights (Route 2). At the third traffic light, turn into the left lane. At the fourth traffic light, turn left onto the bridge (Main Street). You will pass Shaw's Supermarket on the left and Sarducci's Restaurant on the right. Continue straight past City Hall on the right. At the traffic light, turn into the right lane and continue straight past the City Center (a large brick building housing BEN & JERRY'S ICE CREAM). Turn right at the 4-corners onto School Street (you will see churches and the Kellogg Hubbard Library). Continue straight and you will see Union Elementary School ahead of you in a brick building. It is located on the corner of School and Park Streets.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Holy Boldness

Like many people in Washington, I work in politics. I also have a one track mind, so when I was asked to deliver the homily for this evening, the only thing I could think to speak about was politics and faith.

Now, don’t worry; I’m not going to make a plea for Christians to vote for candidates with progressive values. I’ve heard that plea from many others in recent months as I am sure all of you have too. You don’t need to hear it from me.

We have all heard that the nation has become polarized between a secular left on one side and a religious right on the other – in last fall’s election roughly three quarters of evangelical Protestants voted for one candidate while the same rate of Americans with no religious affiliation voted for the other. I don’t know about you, but I don’t belong in either of those groups. The truth is, small as they may be, there are also a religious left and a religious center.

I want to raise a concern that I haven’t heard anyone else address. My concern is not the impact that religion has on the outcome of elections, rather, my concern is about the impact that politics is having on religion in our society. Specifically, I have two concerns: One that the religious center is declining as the place where Americans of all political affiliations can find common ground and two that the non-religious – and those whose faith is not secure – will think that Christianity is an inherently political movement – concerned primarily with the accumulation of power – and that those people will be driven away from our churches rather than being drawn into them.

When I was growing-up in the Methodist church it never occurred to me that there was an inherent connection between religion and party identification. I believed at the time – and I still do believe it was true – that there were both Republicans and Democrats in my church. That is the way it should be. Society needs a place where we can find common ground on values - a place where we can talk about values outside of a political context.

The public discussion should be about how best to address society’s needs. Instead we seem to be moving into an ideological debate. Unfortunately, when we talk about the emergent split, a message is sent about religion that is inherently divisive. The message implicit in the way we talk about religion and politics in society today is that religion divides us. It doesn't have to be that way.

The emergent split of our society along religious and political lines isn’t good for our society and it isn’t good for our churches. This split was engineered for political purposes. It will take determination to reverse the trend.

The good news is that our Methodist tradition offers guidance as to how to respond to this situation. The answer is holy boldness – a favorite phrase of John Wesley’s – we know he used it in at least three of his sermons. Holy Boldness is being a Christian with integrity no matter what the challenges or circumstances. Holy boldness can be understood in terms of walking the walk and talking the talk.

Usually people are criticized for talking the talk without living the life they claim to live – the walking part of the analogy. In the Methodist churches where I have worshipped over the years I have often heard encouragements to do more to walk the walk – always good advice, but in my experience, we do O.K. at walking the walk. We don’t do so much talking the talk. We need to do more

My experience has been that there is a tendency not to speak openly about faith outside of church in our community of Methodists. I think other communities display this tendency, especially other mainline Christians. While I am sure this tendency is born in part out of genuine humility, it has also contributed to making the left and center of Christianity invisible. We need to raise our profile to show wider society that Christianity is more than just the religious right. We need to show that there is a vibrant religious center where people with different political identities and objectives can find common ground.

Learning holy boldness – in both words and deeds – has not come naturally to me. Indeed, I have far to go. I grew-up in a community that treated religion has a private matter. I am learning to be comfortable speaking-up, but I do believe it is important to do so. I do believe that holy boldness includes talking the talk, and that may be our most important contribution to the world right now.

In closing, from now on when I am confronted - either by those from the secular left, who believe that Christians do not truly love humanity, or by those from the religious right, who believe that progressives do not have faith, or even by those in the middle who feel they cannot reconcile their faith with their politics, I will speak up – with holy boldness – and say: “I am a believer. I feel the love of Jesus Christ and a love for humanity and it motivates and informs my actions in the world.”