e-Migration

I am moving my blog. Subsequent updates will take place at http://www.zathe.com.

And speaking of zathe, and feeling thankful, let me thank my folks as well for giving me such a wonderful idea for a website domain name.

Zathe, the “Z” in “The Big Z,” is my middle name, and it also has a funny story of its own.

Zathe, you see, is a mispelling of the family name, Zatha. Dad’s favorite cousin was Fred Zatha Daniels, Jr., son of, you guessed, it FZD, Senior. He was named after some other “Zatha Daniels,” way on back in the family line. I had a photo of Zatha once, given to me by my grandmother, blessed be her name. But, blessed be her name once more, what in heck was she thinking giving such a precious thing to a 16 year old who can’t remember where his car keys are?

When it came birthing time, and more importantly, when it came naming time, Dad just “knew” that the name ended with “e.” It had to do with the way folks in the family, New York’s equivalent of “rednecks,” pronounced the name. Up there, it ended with the ever famous shwa sound, and I suppose from there, the confusion about an “a” or an “e” ending. It shows up in the Bible under “Vaizatha,” (“strong wind” or “evil wind”) one of the sons of Haman in the book of Esther. Again in the New Testament under “Beth-Zatha” (KJV), supposedly translated “house of mercy.”

I guess it’s a fitting name. “Nice guy. Full of hot air.”

The misspelling, however, is the real genius of the thing. Toni and I once, walking in a country town in Pennsylvania, talking about names for children, debated whether or not we would use the name Zathe. I, some 9 years ago, told her, “Never. The name is a mistake. It’s Zatha or it’s nothing.”

Well, it is not an appellation sitting on a child, but it has made it to a website. And Zathe, rather than Zatha, wins the day.

Why? Because “mistakes” are gifts, once you figure out how to unwrap them.

Anyhoo, sorry for the bookmark changes and such that will need to happen, rss feeders, and all that. Hope you stick with me. See you at zathe.com

matt

Migration

My Uruguayan identity document is set to expire in a week. Back to immigration, renew the paperwork, get residency for three more years. What an amazing nation. In spite of everything it’s citizens complain about. What an amazing nation. I don’t take my “guest” status here lightly. Every three year period that clicks by, each time immigration gives me that little certificate, I remember, with love for all that is good about my own origins, that the world is a wonderful place with wonderful people, and this little corner of it that 4 million people call home, is a gem in its own right.

Thanks.

God-sponsored Genocide

I dropped an email to a friend yesterday whose son is wrestling with the big-picture issues regarding his Christian faith. I wrote


I was reading Joshua this morning and just picture Joshua and the lovers of God this morning storming Jericho, picking up rocks and beating 2 year olds with them, grabbing swords to cut off the head of some little girl who had Allie’s size and personality, and beating some poor vegetable seller senseless. Perhaps the vegetable seller was against the Jericho king’s evil and wicked ways, but because he wasn’t in tight with the whore and her family, he didn’t get saved.

If I finally had the permission to really pissed off with the author of that genocide, I would certainly be considering a divorce, or wanting to know if I could get God in for some psychiatric observation before I moved forward in the relationship.

Last night, in a separate conversation, I was talking to my wife about this (wo)Man who is now pregnant and going to have a baby. I was shocked and horrified not just that a person would despise their sexuality so much as to change it (I don’t know that I would ever give up being a woman if I was one…), and not that they would enter into a relationship with another consenting adult and take on the “Dad” role of the others’ teenage kids. It wasn’t that they were going to bring a human being into the world and pass off such transformations as “normal” (would that have been considered mental abuse in another era?). It wasn’t that all of them could appreciate good-naturedly the “change” and live the new lie, nor that the… I don’t know… heterosexual (?) wife would be down with the lack of a complete sexual change.

What was it?

Maybe it was us. Maybe it was our “front page news”-ness about the whole thing. Maybe it was the fact that we dig it so much.

As I was talking with Toni about it, it suddenly dawned on me how sick and sickening our whole stinking world can become at times. What at some times in human history would only be fodder for sensationalist rags (“Enquiring Minds Want to Know”), now only merits polite, well-meaning sensibility… “Oh, I see… how nice… how, hmmmm, interesting.”

Then I thought about God, clicking on bbc.com, reading the whole thing, and I was a bit more sympathetic to his occasional choice to wipe out vast swaths of humanity.

Sorry, if you were hoping for a theodicy here, you will have to come back another day. I will however, for your reading pleasure, or for your criticism, place the rest of my email comment to my friend here below.

I still can’t get my heart around God-sponsored genocide, but having fought that intellectual battle and surrendered to a very real psycho-spiritual (heart? spirit?) encounter with the living Christ (or whoever it is that I have by faith chosen to believe is the living Christ of the Bible), i can say, “Joshua and other genocides blow all my capacity to understand you, but nevertheless, there is no better explanation than yours for the way things are, you have drawn near to me, sung over me, called me the Beloved, and even now hold me in whatever mental/emotional chaos I enter. I surrender to you and your ways. Please don’t unnecessarily kill anyone else. I trust you.”

Another Harry Potter Junkie

True confessions time I guess.  I thought I had escaped the whole Harry Potter thing.  I prefer William Falkner, Ernest Hemingway, et al.  I like to be able to drop obscure references to literary greats at coctail parties, impressing people with my literary acumen, and hoping beyond hope they’ll walk away saying, “Um, so intelligent, and a Christian too.”  That’s right, hordes of people will come into Christ’s kingdom simply because I allude to Holden Caulfield’s encounter with a prostitute or the importance of viewing Addie Bundren through a feminist lens. 

But Harry Potter?  Blame it on Steve, and Claire, and Maddie, for that matter. Having left such “literature” lying around open for all to see, and especially where our new reader, Ally Daniels, could get a hold of it, was like laying match to gasoline.  One chapter read in a second-story girl’s bedroom on Ulverston Street in Oak Park, and the rest is history.  That was 9 January.  It’s 27 February today, and I have only a hundred pages left of the Goblet of Fire, book 4, for the uninitiated. 

I was about to give up hope for the future of my “evangelization through intellectual prowess” campaign, when a dear friend of mine who is not a Christ-follower spied our bookshelf and told me that we had something in common.  “What’s that’,” I asked.  “We both love Harry Potter.”  “Oh yeah,” I assured her.  “We’re hooked.” 

“Nicolas and I were going to buy you a copy, but we figured that because you guys are Christians you wouldn’t like books like that.” 

Touché.   

So, in an addition to amazingly wonderful conversations with Ally about sources and use of benevolent and malevolent supernatural power, about structures of power over and through the human soul, we see once again where by simply being who we are, stereotypes are challenged and overcome. 

Now, the only remaining step is to deal with my budding obsession.  The moment I start calling friends and colleagues Ron and Hermione and imagining that I am working at Hogwarts on a mission to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort will be the day I hang up my robe and wand.   But all my friends at my HP fan group* assure me that what others call “obsession” is simply normal.

(*I’m not really a part of a fan group.  It just seemed a funny thing to say…  Really.)

Weird dream last night…

Last night I dreamed that I was in Brazil in a four star hotel.  Wonderful place to be.  I suppose I was in Sao Paulo, because there was city everywhere I looked. The paulinhos love that sort of thing, I guess.  “Concrete, give me concrete!” 

But my only dilemma was this.  The hotel was in the middle of a giant favela.  I was out and away from the hotel, having fun with friends in the city, and then it came time to get back.  My friends were able to, somehow, but I kept getting lost in the wandering alleys and serpentine corridors of the favela. 

All eyes looked at my act of provocation.  Little faces appeared in doorways.  I had on shorts and a backpack and sandals, like a German tourist.  Or, um, like a USAmerican tourist. 

Just being there without a reason was an act of provocation. 

Night was coming and I began to get more and more scared.   I could see the hotel towering up out of the midst of the favela.  I could see the road that led me straight to the front door.  But as soon as I walked toward it, BOOM, lost in the favela again, each time more and more threatening, more and more threatened. 

I walked away from it all and sat down in a bar to size up the situation.  To size up myself.   Like Dorothy with her ruby slippers, I just wanted to go home.  I just wanted to go home. 

I suppose I ate a big plate of rice and black beans with some oranges and tomatoes on the side.  Not because I dreamed it, but because it was Brazil. 

I tried to go back “home” again and once again, became trapped in the favela, in the dark, at night, afraid, standing just under the awning of a food vendor stall, looking at elderly, unshaven men sitting across from each other at plastic tables, drinking cachaca and playing a game.  

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Subtexts?  Don’t even get me started.  Just to even write this in a blog, for me, feels too incredibly revealing.  I trust, at the end of the day, that I will not be punished for who I am, but will be bathed in grace.  However, such an invitation to awareness, such an invitation to look at undesirable aspects of myself full on in a mirror, and to follow the invitation to honor the dead ends and serpentine curves and to say yes to the detours, such an invitation does not go unaccepted without consequences.

I don’t know how much of the dream had to do with residual fear from the hold-up (old news by now), how much has to do with the eternal vigilance anyone must have who owns anything, how much of the dream has to do with supposed “first world / ‘third’ world” contrasts.   But I really think I have to look underneath all those surface realities for one that is much larger.

If the hotel in the middle is anything, it is the glorious homecoming meant for all of us.   There is meant to be an end to fear for each and every human being.  There is meant to be a safe and illustrious place.   We are meant to go there.  It is our home, and that is why we long for it so badly.  

But for now, we all live in the favela.  Rumi’s Tavern, possibly? 

Estevao lives in a favela.  Sao Paulo’s largest favela, Paraisopolis.  He has also, I supposed, built the tall tower inside the favela.  My four star hotel.  He has built it out of mesh, wire, wood, thrown away clocks and cell phones and dishes and doll heads and coins and broken glass.  He has built for his wife and children the most wonderful island paradise in the midst of such a reality of suffering. 

Another lesson?  Yes, believe in the illustrious and safe tower of escape in the midst of a reality of fear and pain.  You will get there some day.   Remember Dumbledore?  “Death, to the organized mind, is just the next great adventure.”  Or better yet, Jesus, “In my father’s house are many rooms.  I go there to prepare a place for you.   I am the way.  No one comes to the father but through me.” 

But Jesus didn’t just say he would go and build me a tower.  He said, “When I leave, I will send you a Comforter.”  The Holy Spirit.  Comforter.  Helper.  Teacher.  Guide.    

And from the readings of Jesus’ life in the Scriptures, I am reminded of one who is at home in the favelas.  Who is not afraid there.  Who knows and trusts in the presence of the eternal and illustrious safe place of God’s presence.   And who takes his seat at the table with cachaca and dominoes, looking up at me with a toothless smile.

“I live here too.”

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The Secret Life of Bees

I am sixty pages into this “chick lit” book by Sue Monk Kidd, and I have to tell you, I am amazed and inspired. 

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Morning in Tennessee

This morning I woke up early and drove.  I don’t know if I was asphyxiated by close quarters with relatives, or close encounters with religious and political ideologies that seem so different than my own, but “my feet tugged at the floor,” and the blessed backroads, the ones I no longer live with in the southlands, came acallin’. 

Point and shoot was the order of the day as I meandered down to Goodlettsville, TN, and then out in some general direction that seemed like the right way.  And for half an hour I assaulted by eyes with frosted white hillsides and scraggly treetops, and drove on, thinking about the topography of the soul.

Something inside wanted to keep on driving.  Something inside always wants to keep on driving. 

I wonder if the backroads in Uruguay will ever cradle my soul the way these backwoods do. 

I passed through “Alta Loma” and remembered that before English was the dominant language in these parts and after the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Shawnee lost prominence, it was SPANISH that was spoken here, with old Hernando De Soto and his chaps romping around these backwoods. 

I wonder if, when Hernando De Soto was wandering around the backwoods if he missed the ridges and valleys of Extremadura, or if there was something here that made him feel at home.

Of course, maybe hunger, hunger for fame, for wealth, for power…  maybe he never even saw them at all.

I decided that I had seen enough backwoods for one morning, and remembered that I had promised to make breakfast this morning.  So I drove back from Alta Loma to Ridgetop, watching the “red wafer” of sun break over the hills, gave thanks for the breath I draw and for another day to live and love in this beautiful world.

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