Thursday, October 29, 2015

Creegan Turns Five

Birthday celebrations started nice and early for Creegan yesterday. In some ways, it was a necessity. Melanie, Eddie, and Peter had to rush off to school, and that meant either we had to postpone birthday celebrations until the late afternoon or Creegan and I would be doing some celebrating on our own. We didn’t want anyone to miss out on anything major, and so we started the day with Creegan opening gifts. Truth be told, it was Creegan’s idea. He had told us the day before that he wanted to open his presents first thing in the morning. Melanie and I were totally fine with that. Fortunately for Creegan, Melanie and I had decided to let him stay home from preschool so he could spend the day enjoying his gifts. Which he did, immensely. But I’ll say more about that in the context of sharing photos, which will dominate the rest of this post. Enjoy!

One of Creegan's requested gifts was a wristwatch.

Creegan nearly filled this thick drawing pad with illustrations throughout the day.  He did most of it while listening to his new mp3 player, which you can just make out to the left of the drawing pad, standing upright and still in its plastic case.  The most played song of the day was Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe," which came pre-loaded on the mp3 player.  Did I mention this mp3 player has a speaker and doesn't require headphones?  Despite his young age, Creegan requested the mp3 player for his birthday.  Makes me kinda proud.

A plethora of plush puppies produced peals of pleasure from Creegan.

Melanie made her famous cornbread for a delicious birthday breakfast.

Creegan was quite enamored of his puppy collection.  He took many photographs of them himself, including this one.

Uncle Tom crocheted this Pikachu for Creegan.  What an awesome and sweet gift!

Creegan chose "Jason's Belly" for his birthday dinner.  He has called Jason's Deli "Jason's Belly" since we lived in Florida.  It's so cute, most of us call it that now.

This is the first time I've made a birthday cake for one of my kids.  Creegan requested chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and chocolate sprinkles and chocolate chips.  I just sprinkled the chocolate chips on top, rather than placing them nicely, which I guess doesn't look so fancy.  But I'm proud of myself nonetheless.

Disclaimer: Creegan is faking it.  He'd already blown out his candles, but we filmed it rather than snapping a photo.  Afterward, we had him pose like this so we could take a photo.  Don't tell.

Creegan was very proud of himself for being able to pour his own milk.  He just started doing it in the morning, informing me, "I can pour my own milk now because I'm five.  I couldn't do that when I was four."  It must be pretty cool to wake up with special new abilities.

Not sure what Creegan had in mind with this photo, but he posed and insisted we take it.  So here you go.

Happy birthday, Creegan!  I love you tooooooooooooooo much!

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Parliament of the World’s Religions, Part III

After three days at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, I had seen a grand total of only six presentations, plus snippets of a couple of others, and the Jewish Havdalah service. That isn’t much, considering the possibilities, but it was draining in its own right. As I mentioned in my first Parliament post, I was sleep deprived to begin with. I had trouble staying awake in several of the sessions I went to. Thus, I was torn about what to do on Sunday. I had already decided to attend church rather than Parliament in the morning hours. Nothing on the Parliament schedule compelled me to skip church, where guest visitor Steve Shields (an author, historian, and minister of Community of Christ, who converted from the LDS Church in the early 1980s) would be teaching Sunday school and Melanie would be giving the sermon. There were two Sunday afternoon Parliament sessions that interested me, and one that I was slightly curious about but also leery of. (I feared the latter would be more new age oriented than I wanted it to be.) Of the two presentations that really appealed to me, one of them could be watched live online. I packed up my backpack with everything I would normally take to Parliament and put it in our trunk before heading to church, but once church ended, the benefits of going downtown didn’t outweigh my motivation to have a relaxed day at home. I had hardly seen my family for three days, and that drew me in as well. I went home with my family and never regretted that decision.

Steve Shields and I, taken at the Community of Christ church in Salt Lake City, UT.

Monday, October 19th was the last day of Parliament. I was back in the game, showing up for an 8:30 AM session called “A Practical Vision for the Second Axial Age.” This had been one of the presentations I had most looked forward to. I was disappointed. I guess I’m a party pooper, because I wasn’t keen on breaking into small groups and tossing ideas around with other people. As an introvert, that kind of spontaneous intimacy makes me uncomfortable. But aside from that, I had really hoped that the presenters themselves were going to say a lot about the theory that was outlined on the program, which was all about us being in the midst of a great shift away from individualism and toward globalism in our religious and ethical sensibilities. They talked about this for a little while before having us break into groups, but it was all very generalized. Nothing they said made an impression on me, and when they started to divvy us up into groups, I decided to slip out the back. Like my decision to go home on Sunday, I didn’t regret this choice. It provided me an opportunity to explore the art exhibits on display at the Parliament, which had thus far been largely ignored by me. In turn, I once again had an opportunity to put my digital camera to use. Here are some of the things that I saw:

The mandala being crafted by the Tibeant Buddhist monks is nearly complete.

A small Jain temple was constructed for Parliament.

One of my favorite photos from Parliament.

Ordain Women had an interactive art piece on display called simply "The Keys." Those who wanted to show support for women's ordination in the LDS Church could choose a key, write their name on the key, and affix it to the display.

I realized at Parliament just how much I am drawn to art that incorporates glass.

Parliament gave me the opportunity to walk my first meditation labyrinth.  I've long wanted to try a labyrinth.  I'm not sure this was the ideal setting—the fact that it was the final day of Parliament is evidenced by those packing up in the background—but I can see the potential for it to be a reflective and tranquilizing activity.  

The "Remembered Light" exhibit featured the art of Frederick A. McDonald. As a chaplain in the U.S. Army during WWII, McDonald gathered pieces of broken stained glass from destroyed churches and the like as he moved around Europe. He then transformed those fragments into beautiful pieces such as you see here.

I wish I had taken a photo of the description of this piece.  It said something about the "improbable" note sequence and the fact that the line of notes endlessly repeats, all of which is meant to symbolize our striving for world peace.  Or something like that.  Trust me, it was all very profound when not paraphrased by a jack ass.

At 10:30 AM, I went to the plenary session called “Spotlight on Indigenous Peoples.” My friend Dan went with me. The plenary was good, from what I saw, but I was quickly fighting off sleep. (Dan passed out almost as soon as the meeting started, making me feel better about my own struggles.) Eventually, I felt I needed to call my mom to check on her picking up Creegan from preschool, which she had agreed to do so I could make it to Parliament. I was also very interested in a session that would be starting right after the plenary session, so I thought I should eat sooner than later. I woke Dan, told him I needed to go, and left. All was well with Creegan and my mom, so food became my next priority. I wandered in the direction of a sandwich shop I used to enjoy many years ago when I worked downtown, but I wasn’t fully convinced I would eat there. I kept my eyes open on the way. Melanie and the boys were going to pick me up that night, and we were all going to go to dinner, so I didn’t want anything too filling. I soon spotted, just across from the sandwich shop I had been considering, a hot dog place. I thought of the hot dog place I used to frequent in Atlanta that had awesome and unique hot dogs. It sounded fun to do something like that, and I thought it would be slightly less filling than something else. And so, I headed over to Redhot and had a “Hawaii Five-0” and some fries. The Hawaii Five-0 consists of a bacon-wraped Kobe beef hot dog with teriyaki sauce, pineapple salsa, and Japanese mayo. It was good. The fries were good, too, but I had no idea I’d be getting such a large plate of them. It ended up being a rather filling meal after all.

A crap load o' fries.  They were tasty.  The fry sauce was really good, too, and not typical.  It reminded me a little bit of the fry sauce I've had that's made with BBQ sauce, a touch on the sweet side.

I made it back to the Salt Palace just in time for a 12:15 PM session titled “Pathways to Peace: Different Perspectives.” The session included brief speeches from representatives of various faiths, including Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism. I’m not sure how much it was part of the original plan—I had the impression it wasn’t—but the session concluded with a woman singing some selection from an opera. She was quite good.

I was scheduled to be at the Community of Christ booth from 2 – 4 PM. The “Pathways to Peace” session ended just before 2. I hurried to the exhibit hall and found that most booths were already being deconstructed. The Community of Christ booth had itself been dismantled. To be fair, I had never received confirmation that I would be “working” the booth that day, but I had volunteered to do so and had it in my head. I just assumed they’d need me. Apparently, they did not. The unfortunate thing was that Melanie wasn’t going to pick me up for another two-and-a-half hours. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, and so I wandered. It ended up being a good experience. Some rock band was cranking music out in one of the foyers. It was extremely loud, but people were loving it. There was quite a large crowd dancing around immediately in front of the band when I arrived. I stuck around for a handful of songs. The crowd dissipated between songs, but there were always people dancing. I filmed some of the performance, but it seems rather subdued when I watch the videos. You can’t tell that it was bloody loud. I don’t know much about technology, but I wonder if the music was so loud that my simple cell phone microphone couldn’t adequately capture it. (Does that even make sense? I don’t know.) It just seems like much of the music is magically missing in the video. Even so, I’ll share some of those videos now.

I want to say, "Watch for the Jew who comes in at the 0:22 mark and steals the show!" but I fear it will be misconstrued as racist.

I loved the slow, deliberate dancing of the Indian (?) woman in pink at the center of the frame when the video begins. I wasn't really looking at my camera while filming, so I noticed her a bit later and then refocused the camera on her for a few moments, not realizing she had already been showcased pretty well at the beginning of the video.

Hanging around, I also had the chance to film one of the Tibetan Buddhist monks working on the mandala I wrote about previously. If you don’t know the method for creating these amazing works of art, just watch. The patience and precision it involves is mind-blowing. It was also around this time that I had my final angelic visitation at Parliament.

With all the angels hanging around, naturally the queue for the angels-only restroom grew quite long.

I soon found myself outside, enjoying the cool late afternoon air. I took some final shots, read a little tiny bit, and listened to podcasts while waiting for Melanie to call and tell me she was nearby—something that wouldn’t happen for at least an hour. But I was content. And that brings me to the end of Parliament. Just so you’re not completely wondering, I’ll mention that dinner at Blue Iguana was yummy as always.

Parliament in Panorama.

At Blue Iguana.  I think the skeleton is to warn customers that the service is kind of slow.

My adventures for the night didn’t end with Mexican food. After dinner, Melanie and I went to our monthly book club meeting at the SLC Community of Christ. That was a very enjoyable meeting in and of itself, and it seemed an appropriate way to top off my Parliament experience. The book we had read is Living Buddha, Living Christ, written by the Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, who argues that Buddhism and Christianity, when lived to their fullest and properly understood, are really teaching the same things. I saved a whole bunch of quotes from this book, but I’ll conclude by sharing just one small portion of one quote that I particularly enjoyed. It captures the Interfaith spirit that the Parliament of the World’s Religions is all about, and I find it quite profound.

It is good that an orange is an orange and a mango is a mango. The colors, the smells, and the tastes are different, but looking deeply, we see that they are both authentic fruits. Looking more deeply, we can see the sunshine, the rain, the minerals, and the earth in both of them. Only their manifestations are different.

I’d like to add my amen to this. Although I’ve long been a kind of universalist—someone who believes salvation will ultimately come to all and that myriad legitimate and equally effective religious traditions exist—the quotation above really struck me. Most of my life was spent in a religious tradition where, I believe it is safe to say, the assumption is that conformity and uniformity are evidence of God’s influence in your life. If you are truly in touch with the Spirit and being directed by God, you will be the same as all of the other people in a select group in terms of how you understand, believe, experience, and express your spirituality. Such was the thinking. But the quote from Thích Nhất Hạnh made me realize just how much this type of mindset presumes that we humans are all the same. And yet we’re not the same. And if we’re not the same, then we won’t become identical just because the same God is working in all of us. A lemon and a blueberry are quite different from each other, and yet it truly is the same sun and the same rain that gives them life and makes them what they are. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? I think it is. I think it is.

Goodbye, Parliament!  I'll miss you!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Parliament of the World’s Religions, Part II

Saturday, October 17th was the third day of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I didn’t get to the Salt Palace Convention Center until around noonday. That means the first session I attended was the 1:30 PM plenary on income inequality. This ended up being the only plenary session I attended in its entirety. Prior to the plenary session, I passed some time listening to musicians, exploring a few more of the exhibits, and visiting with people. I also snapped several more photos. This was my third day of lugging around a camera which had barely received any use, and I decided to change that. Let me begin by sharing some of those photos now.

Tibetan Buddhist monks creating a mandala.  This photo was taken on Friday, October 16th, but I failed to share it in my previous post.

When I arrived at the Salt Palace on Saturday the 17th, it was to the sounds of Solaris.

Having your photo taken with the cardboard cutout of Joseph Smith III became the thing to do for members of Community of Christ who visited our booth.

Giving you a sense of the Exhibit Hall.  The Community of Christ booth is to the right, nearer to the viewer than anything you can actually see here.  Our booth was at the end of a row, so it would be facing toward you if you could see it, perpendicular to the booths more obviously showcased here.

The Tibetan Buddhist monks kicked off the plenary on income equality.  Check out the video directly below.

A sampling of the monks' chanting (praying? singing?).  You should really do yourself a favor and see the beginning of their chant, which you can do by clicking here.  It's fascinating.

I ran into a couple of guys who were tour guides in Nauvoo with me this past summer. Before the plenary session, I saw Jared. After the plenary, I happened upon Shad. I got photos with each of them. Both Jared and Shad attend college in Utah, but in cities are that are roughly 90 minutes away from SLC. This was my first and only time seeing them since coming back to Utah.

With Jared.

With Shad.

At 3:30 PM, I attended a session called “Poverty and Transcending Greed.” Community of Christ President Steve Veazey was the first presenter at this session. He spoke about Outreach International, one of the church’s charitable organizations. Apostle Barbara Carter followed President Veazey, talking about the Open Table project, which Community of Christ has collaborated with. The session concluded with Pamela Ayo Yetunde, who had years earlier left her job as a financial consultant because she could no longer stand participating in a business that had the primary purpose of facilitating greed. Ms. Yetunde spoke about the importance of engaging in spiritual practices that foster non-greedy mindsets. A video recording of this particular conference session can be accessed by clicking here. The same video appears below.

Steve Veazey, President of Commmunity of Christ, speaks.

Community of Christ Apostle Barbara Carter.

Although it was 5 PM at this point, I wanted to stick around for a 7:30 PM Havdalah service, a Jewish ritual celebrating Shabbat. In the interim, I went to dinner with my pastor Robin and fellow SLC CofC congregants Brittany, her husband Josh (whom I had hung out with much on Friday), and Monica. We opted for the food court at the nearby City Creek Mall, which made dinner much cheaper and more casual. When we wandered back to the Salt Palace, most people were planning on attending the 7 PM plenary on war, violence, and hate speech. Because the Havdalah service overlapped with the plenary session, I couldn’t attend both. But I heard my associate pastor, Seth, might be getting a shout-out at the beginning of the plenary, so I decided to go for the first 20 or 25 minutes, which would still allow me to attend the Havdalah service in its entirety. This ended up being the best decision I made during all of Parliament. Barb Carter (mentioned earlier) also had reason to leave the plenary session early, and so she and I ended up sitting by ourselves in a place where our leaving wouldn’t be so interruptive. This gave us an opportunity to chat. Now, I had already spoken a little bit with Barbara on a previous day, and I could tell from that very brief interaction that she is a really neat person. Her sincerity and love shines through as she speaks with you. She’s one of those people who can’t help but radiate such warmth. That drew me to her from the get-go, but I believe I can say that my conversation with her as we waited for the Saturday night plenary session to begin was for me the true spiritual highlight of the entire Parliament. It all started with Barb asking me to tell her more about myself. I gave my spiel, which included an admission that, in certain aspects of my life, at least in certain ways, I feel kind of aimless right now. Barbara then counseled me. I don’t think she was trying to counsel me, exactly. She was just a good listener who then shared some of her own experiences, very much from the heart. But it was a truly sacred moment for me. Barbara’s words resonated deeply with me and spoke very much to my own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, even beyond the more superficial details I had shared with her. It was a beautiful moment, and I was on a spiritual high. Within a few minutes, Emma’s Revolution would be on stage, performing an opening song for the plenary, a song titled “Peace, Salaam, Shalom.” They would be accompanied by a chorus of children, and they would indeed begin with a shout-out to Seth. (Watch the video below for more details.) Riding the spiritual high of my conversation with Barbara, this was all very powerful to me. I questioned my decision to leave for the Havdalah service, but it was time to do so. I found the willpower to drag myself away and headed outside, where the Havdalah was set to take place.

At seemingly random times, in seemingly random places, a group of angels would appear at Parliament.  They would sing and walk.  Some of them didn't sing.  Some of them just made eye contact with anyone they could, a beaming smile on their faces.  This group appeared just as my entourage and I made our way out of the Salt Palace to go to City Creek Mall for dinner.

Emma's Revolution performs "Peace, Salaam, Shalom" at the Saturday evening plenary session.

"Peace, salaam, shalom!"

If you play the video here, you’ll start at the beginning of the plenary session. If you click here, however, you will be taken immediately to the moment when Emma’s Revolution takes the stage and introduces the song.

While I couldn’t hear much other than the singing at the Havdalah service—whenever the Rabbi simply addressed the crowd, he was so soft-spoken that his microphone didn’t help much—I very much enjoyed myself. Huddled together in a group, under the night sky, a candle flickering, with those who were able singing along in Hebrew—it felt holy. At one part of the service, various fragrant items were passed around—sage, something like a lemon, etc. We were told the scents were meant to invigorate and restore us. There was a mindfulness in the passing of these items that truly made it feel sacred. I remember holding out my hands, close together, as the woman beside me gently and purposefully placed an aromatic object in my hand. I remember gently lifting it to my nose and inhaling, slowly but deeply, taking the scent deep into my breast and soul. Perhaps it sounds strange, but I wanted to preserve the inner tranquility I was feeling, and so I chose to slip away before the ceremony officially came to a close. I was heading for the train, but I did not want to slip my headphones over my head, as is usual for me. I wanted that internal stillness to persist. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. I wanted to enjoy the melodic rise and fall of Hebraic chant-singing fading away behind me as I walked into the night. It was a lovely conclusion to my Saturday.

Parliament lasted another two days, but this seems like a good spot for a break. I’ll end with a photo of Barbara Carter and me taken on the night of Monday, October 19th. Barb attended our monthly Community of Christ Book Club meeting, and I didn’t want to let her go without getting a picture with her. She graciously agreed. So, yes, this is officially a non-Parliament photo, but since Barbara was here for Parliament, it all makes sense.

To be continued…