Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fun with Street Food

Yesterday I went out with a bunch of the guys to a local mall to exchange US dollars to local currency and buy some things we needed.

One of my favorite things about countries that are not America is the street vendors. I love street food! The other guys often shake their heads in disapproval at my eclectic eating habits, because I will try just about anything. I will eat rat, lizard or scorpion if you fry it and skewer it on a stick, I will eat the spiciest, the rawest, the wrigglingest food you can find. I only had food poisoning once, for about twelve hours in Nepal. Of course it happened to be the day we drove for twelve hours in a jeep over some of the worst roads I have ever seen in my life, but you know, some days are like that.

Generally speaking I enjoy most of the street food I eat. The one thing I am still unable to like is anything that contains bread in an even remotely soggy state. The texture literally makes me gag. That goes back to childhood and robs me of such crowd pleasers as sloppy-joes and thanksgiving bread stuffing. Odd how that is.

But I digress. So there I was, walking back through a narrow ally with barely room for one Philippino, let alone a burly American. I was laughing at my buddy getting aggressively and flamboyantly accosted by a skinny-jean wearing "lady boy," when a delicious smell tickled my nostrils. There, off to the right was a Philippino teenager cooking "Cheesecakes." He had a griddle shaped like a muffin pan, and he would pour each cup about half full of what looked like pancake batter, drop a small block of cheese in it, and then fill the rest of it up. The result was a yo-yo shaped cake, dripping with cooking oil, golden brown and sweet smelling with a block of gooey melted cheese in the middle. 

I, of course, am a sucker for all things cheese, and the cakes were only 8 pesos a piece (approx $0.20 US) so I bought two. Oh. My. Goodness!!! They were so delicious. I was sorry I had only bought two, but also glad, because if I had bought six, I most certainly would have eaten all of them (I had not had lunch yet.) So golden brown and crispy on the outside, light and fluffy and just the right amount of gooey on the inside, and sweet and cheesy! Heaven in a greasy brown paper bag!

Our next stop was at a McDonald's on the way back. The other guys wanted some food. I said, "Seriously, guys? Fly halfway around the world to Asia, just so you can eat... McDonald's? How is that not lame? And besides, McDonald's isn't even really food. It is an entirely different category of matter altogether.

To which they all agreed, before traipsing into McDonald's for Big Mac's or Whoppers, or whatever it is they sell. (I'm a Jack-in-the-Box man myself.)

Well, right next door to McDonald's there was a local Ma & Pop restaurant, with a deli counter full of hot plates of various stir fries and meat dishes, and half of a pig just roasting away in the sun. I went on over and had a plate of rice, a coca cola (in a dirty glass bottle, which is the only way to drink coke) and a serving of BBQ pork and another serving of bean sprout and mini-shrimp stir-fry. It was not the most delicious food I had ever tasted, but it was good, especially the bean sprout and shrimp stir-fry. In the middle of the meal a rat ran across the floor, bumped into a lady's flip-flop shod foot in a bewildered fashion, and then dashed under the refrigerator on the other side of the room. He was not a huge rat, but you could tell he wasn't missing many meals. The whole experience cost me 49 Pesos, (approx $1.20 US).

After I came out I went into McDonalds where the other guys were still waiting in line, then went to wait in the truck and read a book, while two young beggar ladies made faces at me through the tinted glass. After about fifteen minutes or so, the guys came back out carrying bags of McDonald's matter, which they proceeded to bite into with great enjoyment. Until, that is, one guy bit around something hard and white and asked the rest of the vehicle, "What the heck is that?" (He did not actually use the word "heck". That is a fictionalization on the part of the writer.)

Inside his burger I could see something white and thick and round, which at first I took to be a rather large slice of onion, but which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a bottle cap. Yes, my friends, a plastic water bottle cap, carefully and lovingly ensconced in the middle of this burger. Now, I don't care who y'are, that's funny right thar.

Then another guy picked up his Big Mac, and found that instead of having two meat patties and two bread pieces, he had three bread pieces and only one meat patty (By using the phrase "meat patty" I by no means intend to imply that McDonald's burgers are composed of anything resembling actual meat.) The irony was that this guy is a level 85 paleo/crossfit mage, and he hates carbs. All about the protein and fat, not so much about the carbs. They also paid about five times as much for their food as I did for mine.

But, there you are. Sometimes you go into McDonalds because it is familiar and seems "safe" and then you find the short order cook has a penchant for practical jokes. You see, in life, you just never know what you're going to get. The trick is to approach life with a fundamental attitude of gratefulness, and just enjoy the little things. Blessings upon all of them, including the rat.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Necessity of Frivolity

One of the things that I often ponder is the relationship between the Christian and wealth. That is, how much wealth should I accumulate, how much luxury should I enjoy before it starts becoming a spiritual issue. This has spurred me to have a number of charities that I have given to, and one that I contribute to on a regular basis. It has also made me wary of having too much stuff. In a way, the army has been good training in detachment, since I have had to move around so much. I can fit everything I own in the back of a 14 foot Uhaul (most of that space being taken up by boxes and boxes of books) and even with that I still own a lot of things that I hardly ever use.

A bank account is similar. I am not a great spender. I am more of a natural saver, but I don't like seeing my bank account getting too fat. Usually when it gets too high I have made a major donation or loaned it out to someone and gotten rid of it. Right after getting back from Afghanistan I got rid of most of it by buying a truck. Suffice it to say, I am 28 years old with not even the beginnings of a retirement plan. My reasoning is simple. I have enough to get by, God keeps sending me more, so obviously He is taking care of me. Why shouldn't I spread the blessings around?

Things change, though. My life is changing. Next year I am going to be getting married, quitting my job, and going to school. All three of those are things that require money, especially the last one. I will no longer be responsible for just myself. So I am doing two things I have never had to do before. I am planning, and I am saving. I am carefully limiting my expenditures, keeping track of my income, balancing the costs of education both in time and money and the need to care for and provide for a family, and not just financially; against the job I want to do (go to med school be a doctor) and the resources I have, i.e. savings, the G.I. Bill, Army tuition assistance, experience and certifications. And these plans are not solo plans. They have to be mutual plans, which is a whole different kind of adventure!

So my savings account is growing, rather quickly as such things go, and the presence of money in my savings account is making me antsy. It is getting up to the point where traditionally I have just chucked it. You see, like most people who naturally save rather than spend, I find it perilously easy to cross the line into hoarding, rather than saving. The gradually increasing number in the savings account becomes an end in itself, and then I become worried about how much I have, niggardly over little expenses, and just plain have less fun living. That's why I have never saved more than a few dozen grand.

Now, since I don't have the option of just chucking it, I have to find another way to practice detachment. I am finding that I need constantly to be reminded of the purpose of saving, and indeed the purpose of money at all. To put it succinctly, the only purpose of money is to do good things for people. That is it. It has no other value.

To remind myself of this I find that periodically I need to spend some money doing something frivolous for someone. I am not talking about giving money to charities, or tithing or anything like that. That is not frivolous giving, that is necessary giving. That provides (hopefully) real needs for real people. No, what I am talking about is something that is truly not necessary, like a pizza party, a baby shower gift, a "just because" surprise, even a simple ice cream cone, or an appetizer for the table. I am talking about anything that will make someone happy and cost me some money. Do they need it? No. That is the point.

Making frivolity a priority from time to time keeps me cognizant of the true purpose for my saving ways, which is not simply to see how big a number I can build in my savings account. That purpose is to do good for people. The dollars that I will spend on my family will do good for them. The money that I will spend on college tuition is an investment in the good that I will hopefully be able to do for others as a result.

However, it also teaches me detachment, because it is an act of trust, an act of letting go of control. I need to be detached enough from my life's savings that if a bank glitch or government shutdown comes along and wipes the whole thing away down to the last penny, I will be able to shrug my shoulders and say, "God has a reason." (Lest you think I jest, this was my Dad's actual response when our barn burned down, killing two thirds of our dairy herd and torching all of our hay.) I need to be able to trust that God will take care of me and my family. Whether he does that through the money I earn, the money I save, the money my fiancee (and someday wife) earns or saves, or through some other means entirely. More to the point, even if I do succeed in saving enough and earning enough to support my family and give to others and whatever other projects my wife and I want to undertake, it will not, ultimately, be us doing that. It will be God, and we will just be His instruments.

Frivolity is so necessary to this precisely because it is frivolous. There is no serious purpose. It is extra, which reminds me that God has not simply filled my needs but given me extra, and called me to imitate that generosity. Beyond that, frivolity is an entering into God's nature of self-giving, because in the final analysis, we are all frivolous. The universe itself is unnecessary. All creation is unnecessary. God did not have to create us. He did so just because He wanted to make us happy. That is it.

Sometimes, in the midst of a world in which it seems like we always have to be grasping, scratching, fighting just to get by, it is important to do something frivolous for someone else, just to remind ourselves not to be stingy. God isn't. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Sole Defense

In the end I shall be judged on love alone.

Love stands alone, my sole defense; The one
Criterion that matters, the moments in
And yet still out of time. Moments spent
In rapt awareness of the ineffable other,
In the museum, library, movies or a play;
In quiet nights wrapped up in loving arms;
In moments of extreme and total effort;
In the last expenditure of self, no longer
Able to remember that the self exists at all.
The far too rare moment of total gift
Of everything that moment has given me.
The self-forgetful, self-effacing moment,
The end and death of self. The self-intention,
Self-deceit and self-determination,
Self-absorption, attention, awareness… Slain
Swallowed up in a moment of otherly love.
Holy moments, moments scattered far
And wide across the night sky of my soul,
The general nothingness of self, gazing at self
With inward growing eyes, blackening the sky.
(Or perhaps the blackness of eyelids screwed
Tight shut against the bursting light of dawn?)

Regardless, when I stand before the Judge
Naked, with sins piled heavy on my back
In that moment I shall not plead innocence
For, of course, I have none. My sole defense
Will be the few, the few, the far too few moments
Of Love (not mine) that I was empty enough to receive.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Oh, you poor thing! You poor, poor hideous
Ancient crippled thing! Once you were the prettiest
Maid, the handsomest youth! The slow insidious
March of death has brought you here. How piteous!

My heart bleeds for you, after a fashion.
I hate death and sickness! With fierce passion
I denounce this slow wasting, this crashing
Crushing, cresting wave of disability,
And in my deepest, most heartfelt compassion
I offer you escape from your senility.
Go on, I say. It is quite all right. Utility
Outlived, it is quite right to embrace the finality
Of the morphine drip.

                                      (But do you know how much I
Hate you for the crime of being fat?
Of not being perfect? I hate the disgusting flab
That flips and flops and slides across your lap
When you try to sit up in bed. I hate the gasps
Of weakening breath, of death. I want to slap
Your wrinkled, flabby face for blocking my path
With your hobbling. I hate you at meal and bath
And checkout line. You stand condemned by the math
Of usefulness. Keep up or else incur the wrath
Of my generation.)

          You shall not waste in futility
But railing against it you shall dare to die
And cease to remind me of my own creeping mortality.
Thus shall I cure you of death. When once you lie
In convenient, forgotten darkness, on the slab
In the morgue, (or in the assisted living facility
Dying by slow degrees of useless drab
Aloneness,) then I will forget at last that I
Too must die. 

Rather a dark poem, so here is a little lightness to wash it away. Enjoy!


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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Car without a Driver

In one of my college course that I am currently doing, (one of the reasons that I am so absent from this blog of late) I was asked the question, "How important is spirituality to your overall well-being?"

This was my response. (You see how I cheated there? Wrote a blogpost and a school post in one fell swoop? heck yeah! That is called time management!)

Also, here is my latest post over at Ignitum Today:

To ask how important spirituality is to your overall well being is similar to asking how important health is to being healthy. People often think, speak, and even behave as if spirituality was an optional add-on, like seat warmers in an SUV: nice if you have the time and money for such things and happen to be into it. For those of us who generate our own body heat and are always warm it is nothing more than a luxury, and an expensive one at that.

This attitude, however, misses the meaning of the word. Asking whether spirituality is necessary for well being is like asking whether a car needs a driver. On one hand, the answer is no. A car will be a car and will, presumably, run just as well without a driver as with one, assuming that someone turns the key and leaves it idling in a parking lot. The engine, brakes, lights and air-conditioning will all be fully functional, but what is the point?

Without a driver and a destination to go to, or even just the capacity to enjoy moving and seeing sights, a car makes no sense.

And so, in the discussion of the role of spirituality in healthcare, a strict, logical analysis finds us reversing our terms, if we are honest. It is not whether or not spirituality has a place in healthcare. It is what place does healthcare have in spirituality. Just like we don't ask what the role of a driver in a care should be, we ask how best to design a car to fit the driver.

Unless it finds its place within a total, integrated vision of well-being and purpose, of meaning and truth and worth, healthcare is a waste of time. At best it tell us how to keep the body healthy, and even at that it falls short. What is certain, however, is that it can never tell us whyto keep the body healthy. To answer that we must ask for meaning in life, and any serious quest for meaning is always and essentially a spiritual question.

Thus the correst question is not what role spirituality plays in well-being, but what role well-being plays in the life of the spirit.