The Meaning Behind the Masks

This post was first published early today under the title “Finding Meaning in the Pandemic” on the religion-related news site, Spokane Faith and Values.   

When I was 14 years old, I made two very important discoveries.

First, I discovered the world was beautiful. Here I was in sunny Naples, Italy, waking up to the sights of Mt. Vesuvius and the Isle of Capri. Also notable were the young Italian women, whose beauty I was likewise now at an age to appreciate. I learned how to play the guitar in the summer of 1967, sitting on the balcony of the large villa that my military family was renting. With hormones pulsing in post-pubescent bliss, I played my first gig at the Allied Teen Club, hung out with groupies, and enjoyed my first kiss.

The second discovery I made was equally important. I learned that the world was horrible.

Every day I listened to the death count. The family television, continually blaring, reported just how many men had been killed daily in the unpopular Vietnam War. These were young men, only a few years older than myself. That could be me, before long.

On Italian television, I saw images of an America on fire. Protests were raging. Buildings were burning. There had been four major assassinations of powerful American figures in the past four years. The Cold War continually threatened to become hotter. The world, despite all the wonders of its beauty, was in reality a very precarious and volatile place.

Like many, I feared the worst. I feared that the end was just around the corner. If the world were not blown up in its entirety, I myself would probably be blown up in Vietnam. There seemed no way for beauty to prevail over ugliness, or for what was worthy to prevail over what was shameful.  We were all stuck on a violent planet composed of violent, greedy people.

But the years went by. The end did not come. When I was 18, I got a high number in the ’71 lottery, and was thus spared the draft. The 70’s went by, then the 80’s and 90’s. Here we are in the year 2021 already — and the world has not yet ended.

One might be tempted to become complacent, or even cavalier. Some already have:

“We’ve gotten through everything else so far, we’ll get through this too. Climate change? No worries!  It’s all under control.”

But in resorting to such a stance, one essentially defaults to a fallacy identified in Scripture:

“They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ He promised?  Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’” — 2 Peter 3:4

To think that just because everything has always proceeded in a certain way, it therefore always will, is pretty faulty logic. Backing up a bit, to think that everything today actually is proceeding as it always has is pretty funky reasoning as well.

Limits of Denial

When I first discovered that the world was at once beautiful and horrible, I collapsed under the force of that disparity. What was I to believe? In which “world” would I live? The cognitive dissonance was overwhelming.

But as time went by, I noticed that I could choose to live almost exclusively in the “beautiful world.” By hurling myself full-force into my various endeavors, I was able to wipe the horrible stuff from my mind. This worked wonderfully, as long as the horrible stuff was not right outside my door.

In fact, it worked wonderfully throughout most of my life. As long as the bad stuff was only seen and heard from a distance and not directly experienced, I was able to construct a reality that overlooked the overall state of humanity.

While years of living on the streets put a significant dent in that illusion, the pandemic destroyed it completely. It was now impossible to ignore the critical state of the planet, because the most significant planetary story was no longer being presented strictly through the media, but in plain sight, everywhere I went.

The Masses Masked and Unmasked

Everywhere I saw people wearing masks. The sight of the masses in masks is not something from which one can easily hide. No matter what one believes about the value of mask-wearing, one cannot deny the unavoidable nature of the phenomenon. In seeing humanity in masks, we see a living symbol of a massive human wound.

That wound has been exacerbated and its healing delayed by the fact that many people have denied it. They see the wearing of the masks itself as the problem, and in so doing fail to acknowledge the much more serious problem that is the reason why people are wearing them. In seeing humanity half-masked and half unmasked, we see another living symbol: that of the war between human acceptance and human denial.

We have waged that war within and among ourselves since the beginning of time — since the Garden. But never in my lifetime have I seen it displayed as brazenly as it is today. The cultural division, once displayed mostly on social media via our personal devices, is now manifest in real life, right before our eyes.

It is one thing to block out information being received on the Internet. Accounts can be blocked, subscriptions terminated, devices disabled. It’s quite another thing to block out the obvious. Those who try are only trying to do what I and many others did for years. We succeeded in constructing our own little worlds and reveling in them, in order to sidestep the disturbances of the greater picture. But we can no longer do so. The pandemic has changed all that.

That insular cubicle in which I crafted my custom-made reality can no longer contain me. The cradle in which a sheltering parent nurtured me can no longer rock me.  I used to walk about Moscow, Idaho thinking: “This is such a nice town!  Look how everybody smiles!” Now, when I walk about my home community, I walk in the presence of the problems of the planet.

And you know what? This is a good thing. It’s no longer just my world. For better or worse, it’s our world — where each of us has a part to play. In the years to come, we may look back on this unique period of our history, when one way or another, our lives were determined by a deadly disease that had impacted the entire human race. When we do so, we may well see in hindsight how the pandemic provided a needed turning point in our shared life and our common culture.

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Gratitude List 1553

(1) Grateful for the nice change in the weather the past few days.  Sunny and warm, the walk to the Dollar Store was very enjoyable.  I never noticed how beautiful it can be on Paradise Creek before.   Grateful for the sense of vigor and new energy that is brought about by Spring.

(2) Grateful once again for my church and especially for their letting me use the grand piano for my recordings and many of the spaces for scheduled rehearsals of my musical.   I was there late last night and got a lot of new piano music recorded.  In fact, I have enough for a new album now, and have been arranging it on a SoundCloud playlist.

(3) I’ve been learning so much from some of the people I’ve met on WordPress, in addition to some of the very well-educated people whom I’ve met her in town, that I often feel like I’m going to school again – yet without the pressure of things like deadlines, midterms and grades.

(4) Had a really good meeting with Liam yesterday.  We set a groundwork of stuff for each of us to do between now and summer, and also plan to involve Cody, to the end that we get something happening again this Summer, after everybody does their homework.   I was impressed with how well-organized and encouraging the meeting was.   There’s a sense of something very exciting being drafted on the down low, behind the scenes.   

(5) There’s a feeling of people hanging together a little more right now.   I feel it in the community, and in my church group, and on the blogosphere, and even on a bigger level.   I’m encouraged to see the way people are toughing it out.   Just when I think I’m alone, someone is there for me.   We all have a lot in common, at this time.   

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
    — Desmond Tutu 

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More about Science, Theology and the Wearing of Masks

Hey I should have my version of a famous Fats Waller tune as soon as I get my hands off the computer keyboard and onto the piano keyboard (give or take a few hours).  Let’s say we shoot for 2pm PST.  I’ve been busy and a bit batty up since three in the morning on a buzz.

Specifically, I’ve been obsessed with what I hope will be a final script revision based on all the things we learned during our workshop.   I’ve got a zoom meeting with Kelsey at 10 pm, so I’ve got about an hour and a half to clean up the embarrassing last scene.   (All seven scenes beforehand are pretty cool, however.)  

In the meantime, here’s another excerpt from the discussion we had a while back.   The man in the beret is the linguistics professor named Kurt, whom I often speak of very highly.   The fellow named Doug to whom he alludes is a local pastor of dubious persuasion.  Not sure how many cups of coffee I had before my own presentation (I only know how many I’ve had this morning.)

Anyway, hope you enjoy this.   It’s about four minutes long.   

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Microcosm

This is an excerpt from a Zoom meeting held among locals in the small college town where I live.  It was done about five months into the pandemic, but now might be a good time to share.   We were all realizing how the division in our town was microcosmic of the division in America today.   And we all expressed hope for unity.    

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Gratitude List 1648

(1) Really nice talk with my friend Danielle on the East Coast this morning over coffee.   Hadn’t talked with her for a while.  It was good to catch up, and it helped energize me to make the trek to the pharmacy and back in the cold.

(2) Was able to get my thyroid medication squared away at the new pharmacy near to the new doctor’s office, though it took three visits and an odd period of “without.”  More importantly, I really do like the new doctor, whom I saw for the third time on Thursday.

(3) Grateful for the unexpected three and a half hours of sleep that struck me as soon as I got home from the pharmacy.  Having conked out at high noon in my executive chair, and not awakening till 3:30 in the afternoon, I am now smelling the coffee.  I feel as though about five wayward parts of my brain have suddenly been reactivated.   I’m grateful for the restorative power of sleep.

(4) I must add that I’m grateful to have a place to sleep.   I flopped down onto the couch from the chair, right near the open window, jacket still on, and no heater running.  The cool air blessed me whilst I slept, and the sense of safety and comfort — no doubt magnified due to my experience of years of sleeping outdoors — was huge.

(5) When I mentioned this morning that the new musicians and I had settled on a weekly rehearsal time, Danielle commented how great it is: “It’s great that it’s no longer just you.  There are actually other people learning your material.”   This is coming from someone who knew me when it was “just me” — for years, it seemed.   Days may be dark, but one must remember where one has been, and take the compass thereof, and point it to the future — with strength and hope.

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Gratitude List 1647

(1) First full band rehearsal tonight at 7pm.  We’re rehearsing the opening number “Sirens of Hope” and the ballad “Turns Toward Dawn.”  Everyone seems stoked, and I’m down.

(2) Still getting more exercise, mostly brisk walking of fairly long distances.  Still losing weight, still spending less time on the Internet and more time outdoors.   Cold weather hasn’t been too much of a deterrent, though it does help me not to overdo it.

(3) Grateful for the stimulus check, being as it has helped me to rationalize four Domino’s pizzas already, not to mention the nice meal from the Co-Op I’m about to indulge on the way out the door to rehearsal.

(4) Rehearsing the “Urban Elegy” yesterday, there were spots where we all came together so nicely, and with a nice kind of driving feel throughout.  It was such a great, unexpected experience we decided to do it a second time so Keva could record it.  And then, lo and behold, the second time was even better than the first.  (Eager to hear the recording, once it materializes.)

(5) I find myself looking forward to packing up my stuff and heading into town on a slow trek toward rehearsal.  I find myself grateful that I live in such a peaceful community.  For all the insanity going on in the world today, I’m grateful for the little pockets of sanity, wherever they can be found.  Grateful for the warm and very accepting community in which I live.

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Gratitude List 1632

(1) Though a more devastating blizzard has been foretold, thus far it’s not been a deterrent to my getting out of the house.  Peak winds have been 17 mph so far, and on each day the weather’s been conducive to a long brisk walk or jog.

(2) Having determined new functions for three of my team members, we now add to the previous roles of Cody, Richard and Zazen the duties of musical direction, orchestral direction, and stage management respectively.  This not only takes a load off of me, but also it enhances the overall team spirit, giving a couple of our Actors and one musician more of a role on the team outside of that of being a performer.  It’s all about optimizing each individual’s  contribution while gradually reducing the size of my own role.  And this is a good thing, for the overall team.

(3) Zazen reports that people have sent their schedules to her, and she’s already scheduled a big “Sirens of Hope” rehearsal tomorrow afternoon.  The delegations — and semi-delegations — appear to be working.

(4) Somebody whom I probably need not identify was there for me at my lowest moment, and I felt the love and support that’s real, that’s based on something that’s not only promising in the long run, but tangible in the here and now.   In fact, a number of supportive people then arose to encourage me, and that included most of the members of the team, and beyond.  It has been this great, unprecedented experience of massive love and respect.  Moreover, to top it all off, yesterday there was another unexpected anonymous one hundred dollar donation.

(5) In pastoral counseling this afternoon, it came about that I am to be thankful for this new sense of community that has been formed in our Eden in Babylon team.  And there’s no reason for me to deprive myself of a due experience of enjoying that community, even to the casting aside of reservations and doubts.

“Unity is strength. Where there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
— Mattie Stepanek

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Gratitude List 1620

1. Grateful to have gotten a good night’s sleep and to be “up and at it” on a brand new day. There was a time in my life, not too long ago, when a good night’s sleep was out of the question.

2. Grateful to be working with such a fine team of talented, dedicated young people. Particularly grateful for the new team member, who appears already to be just as great as all the other great people on the team.

3. Even though our small, close-knit artistic community has been somewhat shattered by the Pandemic, I find gratitude in the fact that we still interact positively online, and that occasional real-life gatherings have left me feeling warm inside, with a renewed sense of hope.

4. Grateful for the Black & Decker coffeemaker and for the tasty Columbian coffee I was able to obtain at low cost at the local Winko’s. There was a time in my life, not too long ago, when obtaining a morning cup of coffee was a real struggle.

5. Grateful for the gratitude that the Giver of Life imbues upon my spirit, every time I ask for help in the morning. Grateful that, despite the pandemonium of the present day, life can still be beautiful — one day at a time.

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”
     ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Corona and Community

Here’s a brief (four minute) video clip from last Thursday’s meeting of “Theology on Tap” on Zoom.  Kurt Queller, retired Professor of Linguistics, is a Stanford Ph.D currently teaching German at the University of Idaho. The “alleged scientist” in the clip is Bob Ritter, who teaches at the school of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, seen with his wife Sue.  Others present are Garth and Nancy Sasser, Oz and Genny Garton, and artists Chris and Karen Watts.  Chris Watts is a retired Art professor at WSU; and of course, the uneducated boy with the beanie is Yours Truly.

“Theology on Tap” is a low-key theological discussion group created by Walter Hesford, a retired English professor at U.I., and comprised largely of members of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow, Idaho.   In this excerpt, we discuss the political and philosophical issues around the wearing of masks.  The person referred to by Kurt Queller is the pastor of a local megachurch who encourages his parishioners not to wear them.    

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Gratitude List 1510

1. The main thing that I’m grateful for, in the midst of this worldwide trial, is that I have realized how sweet it is for me to be more of a homebody. As I slowly begin to make my abode a more pleasing place to dwell, I remember — bit by bit — all kinds of visions, dreams, and prayers from a former time, when I was homeless. Thoughts of how I would fix up my home if ever I would be so lucky as to live inside again.

2. Another thing that has been a blessing is this. Rather than feel a need to rush to get out the door to get to church in the morning, I can slow down, take my time, and listen to sermons being filmed in empty sanctuaries all over the world.

3. The impact of COVID-19 has also rekindled an athletic spirit that somehow, throughout time, I have lost. Three days ago I ran three miles before sunset, faster and more freely than usual. Yesterday I did a nine mile bike ride before sunset. A rhythm of cross-training is unfolding: walk, run, bike; walk, run, bike – in 3 day patterns.

4. Producing an interactive version of Eden in Babylon is also an idea that would never have come to any of us who have struggled for nearly a year and a half now to overcome all the obstacles toward a live stage production. And yet, it brings out the best in me and others, in a way that a live stage show could never have done.

5. In believing that a cure will be found, and encouraging us all to pray in that direction, maybe history will show that this is a time when all of us and our families chose to turn inward for reflection, and turn to God Above for guidance.  We may find in the process that we have become the best people we can possibly be. There is always hope — and hope has seen the human race through trial after trial since time immemorial. We of the planet Earth are not a people who ever gives up hope.

“Jesus looked at them and said: “With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”     — Matthew 19:26 BSB

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Fifth Column Published on Religious News Site

Just to let you know, my story from the previous blog post has been published on the religious news site, Spokane Faith and Values. Here’s a snapshot of an RT from Tracy Simmons, the editor in chief, followed by a link to the story below.

 

Capture

Social Distancing and the Summer of Love to Come

 

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A little bit goes a long, long way. 

 
 
 

Tuesday Tuneup 44

Q. Where would you like to be?

A. I would like to be in a place where I no longer have to hear that question.

Q. What’s wrong with that question?

A. Nothing.  I’ve just heard it too many times.

Q. How many times have your heard it?

A. Twenty-two times.

Q. And you don’t want  to hear it a 23rd time?

A. No, I don’t.  I’d rather hear a different question.

Q. What question would you like to hear?

A. Any other question at all — with one exception.

Q. What’s the exception?

A. Don’t ask me if I know who you are.   

Q. Why not?

A. Because you have asked that question too many times.

Q. How many times have I asked it?

A. Twenty-two times.

Q. So you don’t want to hear any question more than twenty-two times??

A. I didn’t say that!  In fact, if the new question is good enough, I wouldn’t mind hearing it sixty-six times.

Q. And if it’s not good enough?

A. Twenty-two times will suffice — as it did for the previous two questions.

Q. And how shall we determine what the new question will be?

A. Let’s leave that up to my readers.   Let them decide what question you should ask me.

Q. Can you run all this past me again, please?

A. Certainly.  On the first 22 of the Tuesday Tuneups, you asked me: “Do you know who I am?”  On the second 22 of the Tuesday Tuneups, you asked me: “Where would you like to be?”  Now, for either 22 or 66 further future Tuesday tuneups, you will ask me a new and different question.   That question will be determined once we hear from my readers.

Q. But what if they all want to hear a different question?

A. That’s the whole point!   They absolutely will all want to hear a different question!  I will not permit any of my readers to ask a question that one of them has already asked.   All questions must be new.

Q. Will the winner get some kind of reward for having chosen the question that most meets your approval?

New $10 Bill Will Be a Major Win for Women Leaders | WIREDA. Sure!  I’ll shoot ’em $10 USD.

Q. Ten bucks?

A. Yup.

Q. Can you afford to let go of ten bucks?

A. Um — er – let’s just say I have a tendency to get a bit generous after the 1st of the month.

Q. So you are essentially holding a contest among your readers to see who will choose the question that most meets your approval?

A. You got it.

Q. And the winner gets ten bucks?

A. Yessir, Mr. Q!  A whoppin’ ten bucks.

Q. Isn’t this a bit crass?

A. I don’t think so.  It’s supposed to be fun!

Q. Are we having fun yet?

A. Yes.

The Questioner is silent. 

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