Saturday, August 29, 2015

Here is a new picture of the bird who lives at the end of the lane. He does not like to have his picture taken so I try to be discrete, but it's hard to get anything over on him.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sometimes people ask me why I live in Jing’An. It’s expensive, and it’s far from where I work. I usually just smile and say, “Oh, I don’t know… I just like Jing’An,” and I let it go at that. But, here’s the real reason:

Last night I came out of the subway about 8 pm. The first thing I heard was a guy playing saxophone. He was standing at the entrance to a little consumerist festival which we have every weekend. It’s a small lane that wends across the back side of the park. People set up tables and sell whatever they’ve got, and it’s different every week! So I paused at the sax player, and looked at the goods for sale. I rarely see anything I want, but I talked to people and I petted a small dog.

After I crossed the street I dipped back into the subway station and bought a loaf of blueberry, walnut bread. On the way out I spoke to the brolly seller. He kind of knows me because I’ve bought a couple of umbrellas. Then I noticed the Ports building which is clad in lighted bricks. The whole building is made of lighted bricks. It’s amazing. We don’t have anything like that in Sweeny.

At the Kerry Center I stopped to watch the dogs play. Most of the dogs are only interested in their doggy business, but one old beagle came over and touched my leg with his nose so I gave him a head rub. I didn’t see the dog that bit me that time, but I always look for him and his guardians.

At the corner I saw some people whom I see frequently. They have a little baby who reached out for me and gave me the nicest little baby cuddle.

At the other corner I saw one of the homeless guys. He wants a yuan, but he also wants to feel that he is part of the regular ebb and flow of life, so I talk to him and pay attention to what he says. This reminds me that, though I may be made of stardust, I am closer to dust than to the stars.

As I walk down Tong Ren I speak to a lady I see. I thought I said “good evening” to her but it turns out I said “good morning.” I always get them mixed up. She corrected me and then herded me into her shop where she really, really wanted me to buy something. I kept telling her, “I fat… this very small,” but she made me try on the biggest thing in the shop before agreeing with me. Then she tried to sell me a purse.

After that I stopped by to see the hookers at Red Sky Bar. I trade them a little English and I tell them Bible stories. I don’t really trade them FOR anything, but we call it a trade. They can give good information, like where to get keys made. I’ve gotten that information from them. There was only one hooker and she felt sad because nobody had picked her. She needs the work. It is getting hard, though, because she is older now and… we talked about that. They have been enjoying the stories of the kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. My friends at the tranny bar like the stories about women: The one getting water, the one who was a whore, the virgin… what a hoot, that one. They love those stories. But these women like hearing about betrayal, opulence, God coming in dreams. They have dreams… still.

Then I finally got to 330 Tong Ren where most everybody was sleeping. I checked on the bird at the gate. He was awake, but I told him he should be sleeping. Two white cats ran out to look at me. I paused at the door for the all-night mah jongg parlour and heard the click of the tiles. My neighbour had taken some of my laundry in the day before when it started raining and he returned it. It was mainly towels and I had assumed that someone stole them. But it was just the neighbor taking care of me again.

There is a club across the street from the lane where sometimes they let me sing.

The juice seller around the corner remembers what I want. Blueberry, strawberry, and a couple kiwi slices. I call it the Lindy. Nobody else calls it that though.

Almost everybody who has a cart and sells things off it knows me.

It’s a great neighborhood for walking. People’s Square and the Bund are an easy walk, as is the former French Concession.

It has a lot of cool history.

My friends from other parts of town enjoy visiting because… Jing’An.

So, why do I live in Jing’An? Why doesn’t everyone? Sure, I might save 1000 RMB a month living somewhere else, but… I dunno.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

I had trouble with the internet this morning, or maybe just the VPN. Hard to tell. I'll say this, though, on December 13 when my subscription to Astrill runs out, I won't be renewing. It has got to be the worst VPN in history. But I don't want to be one of those people always complaining about my technical problems.

I enjoyed reading a few more chapters in the Tao Te Ching book. A lot of the chapters are about power, or have power in the title. The one I'll give this morning is Kinds Of Power, Chapter 33:

Knowing other people is intelligence,
knowing yourself is wisdom.
Overcoming others takes strength,
overcoming yourself takes greatness.
Contentment is wealth.

Boldly pushing forward takes resolution,
Staying put keeps you in position.

To live till you die
is to live long enough.


I loved each line more than the one before it.

Contentment really is the wealth I want, and I think it's the wealth most people want. But my poor students are so intent on getting money. I am sure they would say right out that money is their god. If I asked them to choose between money and family, most would choose family, but quite a lot of them would have to think long and hard about it. I always have to remind myself that these are the children of the survivors. Morality, loyalty... those are luxuries. Surviving is still key for them. Give it a few more generations.

Once you are in survival mode it is hard to break out of it. But there is so much more to life when you're not devoting all your energy to survival.

To live until you die is to live long enough... easy enough for Lao Tzu, he was what?... I dunno... a hundred? 
What about the children and young people in Bangkok this week? I am not sure they'd agree. I have always said that the factions would never let the violence come near the tourist centers, and I've always felt perfectly safe in Bangkok. I've been to both blast sites lots of times. I used to shop at the Big C and the Boots just a block away from the Erawan Shrine... Whoever did that, was trying to hurt tourists and upper class Thais. It's a shame. I hope it really was long enough...

I do have a big theology of enough. It comes from Hannukah. There was only a tiny little bit of oil, but they lit it, and it was enough. There is enough, I think. Use what you have. It's enough.

Monday, August 17, 2015

In the gospel reading this morning we see that the leaders of the religious institution are afraid of the crowds. Sometimes I think that not much has changed. The religious leaders still live in fear of "the sheep." That is why they call us sheep. Because they are afraid, bless their hearts.

Absolom did something interesting. I don't think I've ever noticed this before. But, he knew that there wouldn't be anyone to build a monument to him, so he set one up himself. For some of us it's not a bad idea. There won't be anyone to put a stone on my grave, I know that, and probably very few who will even remember me. But all of us can leave some kind of monument. Hopefully it's not a stone in the desert! But we have our lives, the investments we make in others. That's a kind of monument. 

I think the worst of my spring cold is behind me. I had a pretty good night's sleep and I feel ready to go again. Like a puny little baby I have been taking taxis to work, but I'll take the train today. I feel ready to face the hoary masses of humanity, their smells, and jostles. I complain, but it is interesting to me to see what they wear. Shanghainese really dress up. I am sure they think I am a countryside person, which I am, because I don't wear the high heels and sparkly things. I do put on a nice suit every day, and the patent leather shoes... but nothing on me sparkles. I am going to work, after all, not the disco. Though, I do admit to a penchant for the patent leather.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

fig tree leaves wave
even when there is no fruit
where's the fruit, fig tree?

We have the story of the crazy fig tree this morning.

Fig trees are different from all other fruit trees. Fig trees put out fruit before they put out leaves. I don't know why, but they do. The leaves come later and cover the delicate fruit. But this crazy fig tree put out its leaves even though it didn't have any fruit to cover. Of course we see this in religion all the time, the showy leaves of fine vestments and furnishings, but no fruit. People like me who are not in church do it too, but it's most easily apparent in church. That's why the story where Jesus throws the money changers out of the temple is inserted into the crazy fig story. An immature fig is a pretty hard little bulb. But the mature fruit is tender and delicate. Too much sun, birds, all kinds of insects, even small mammals are a threat. Thus the big leaves. For protection. It's not a story condemning the big leaves, it's a story condemning the lack of fruit. So, just because we see billowing incense, and golden chasubles, and the like doesn't mean it's all just showy nonsense. Those things can be protecting delicate fruit. But, of course, they can also just be showy. It's pretty much up to Jesus, though, to decide which is which.

The reading from Psalms tells us that we become like our idols. And I think it's not just those idols where we have a little golden statue and bow down before it. But event he things we admire. I think we really do become like the people we hang out around. Whether or not that's causative or coincidence, I don't know. Still. Something to think about.

I am still coughing and wheezing, but I've had a good night sleep and some fruit for breakfast. My medications seem to be getting me through. I am admittedly a big baby about the least little bodily complaint, I know. I am grateful for my body. Everything on it works to one degree or another, and it gets me around.

Off I go to teach some English and be in the world.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

It's early in the morning, about 6 am. That's early for me. There is just the gentlest rain falling. My flat is down a lane and to see the sky I have to look straight up. It's going to be a gray day. Maybe rainy too. Yesterday we had what I call a rain burst. It rained hard for about ten minutes, then it was clear.

I just finished a thing for The Episcopal Cafe and there is a story that I wasn't able to fit in. It's about King Solomon. He had his good points and his bad, you know. But there is an Islamic tale that he had a special rapport with the animal world. You know, the Muslims never say anything bad about their holy people. It's a lot more black and white for them. Anyway, there's a story that when Solomon and his army were going through a valley an ant saw them coming. The ant, being very conscientious, yelled ahead to warn the other ants that they should take cover lest Solomon inadvertently harm them. Solomon smiled when he heard about it because he was glad that the ant knew that he'd never hurt any part of Allah's creation, and he thanked Allah for saving the ant's lives. You know, they also have a story that Solomon can talk to the animals. That would be cool.

If you go to church this morning you will probably have a sermon about bread and wine. I just couldn't bring myself to write about it. I wish I still believed that it was something, that it meant something, just anything. But it doesn't make any sense to me anymore. When I see it in church it strikes me as an oddity. It is hard to believe I ever lined up for it, much less believed. I feel very far removed from church. For good or for bad, don't know. I suspect the later.

I saw a leaf fall on Tuesday: It was not an earthshaking event, just one leaf. It was large, brown, like other leaves. It is not the sort of event I should remember; but this one leaf, wending its way down, end over end, has stayed with me.

On the Lunar Calendar, observed in China and some other Asian countries, the first day of fall was last week. Maybe it was the day the leaf fell. I don't know.

The Hebrew month of Elul, a time of self-reflection and turning, is now upon us. Elul started yesterday, I think.

Summer, with its stiffing heat, is almost over. Soon enough we will  be complaining about the cold and digging out the coats.

Things are changing.

In our reading this week, Israel has changed kings. King David sleeps with his ancestors, and King Solomon will reign. He is wise, but he screws it up... like most of us.

I have a new Tao Te Ching. Ann sent it to me. I am trying to take it slowly, only one or two chapters a day. I am not being organized at all about it, just opening it up to see where the pages fall. I read 79 and 80 this morning. Here's a bit of wisdom from Chapter 79:
People whose power is real fulfill their obligations;
people whose power is hollow insist on their claims.
So all those insisting that they are in the right... maybe their power is hollow.

I still have my cough, and now my whole head is stopped up. I have some Chinese herbs to sniff and that helps some. I would just about kill for a Sudafed, though.

I am running out of western medicine.

In the daily readings for today Jesus tells people to stop with their incessant Torah study and listen to him. I will admit that I'd rather study the Bible than sit quietly and listen for Jesus. For one thing, he never says anything to me and it seems pointless to tell him anything. Also, I like to feel that I am doing something; you know, doing something, working at it. But it is the sitting with this confounding silence that is the real work, and I hate it. So, sometimes I say to my self, "Look, Muffin, you don't have to try... give it a rest, go easy on yourself." But, here's the thing, I've got all my eggs in this one basket. I have no other eggs, and I have no other basket. And so. If praying is easy, or if praying is hard, or if I'd rather just write a long-ish blog post instead of trying to pray... whatever... I will try anyway.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

If you put all your eggs in one basket and it turns out that the basket has a hole in it... Well, that is unfortunate.

I read some about Jonathan Daniels this morning. I hadn't known of him before, but I think people are making a big deal out of it this year. There seems to be a lot of racial business going on in the USA these days. For good or not, hard to say. But it has held the attention of my FB friends for more than the usual week or so.

I am sick. I feel so bad, with a sore throat and cough.

I have felt bad for a long time, though. There's not much life in me. My world is flat. I try to choose joy, I try to be interested, I want to rejoin the living, but I have to admit that I am dead inside.

Something inside me used to be alive. It would pray all the time. When I woke up in the night, or in the morning, I could hear it. Now there is just silence. I can not pray. I don't think I even know how. It has been unconscious for so long, like breathing, I didn't have to think about it. Now I realize that I don't even know how!

My body was the only thing moving things forward. Now it is weak too.

In the evening Psalm last night the Psalmist says:  

I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
          I have no good apart from you.”  (Ps 16:2)

And I worry about him because he has put all his eggs in this one basket, much as I have, and the basket has a hole in it.

I should have gotten another basket. I have put all my hope in this Christian God, and now look. I have no good apart from God, and I don't have God either!

God is not what I need anyway. I need cough medicine, that is what I need. And some tea.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From Psalm 97:7

All worshipers of images are put to shame,
          those who make their boast in worthless idols;
          all gods bow down before him.

I do a class where we talk about corporate image, and towards the class we talk about self image. I ask the students how they see themselves, and how others see them. I think there's some image worshiping going on there. 

This verse is not just about ancient gods, long past from the scene. Nor is it just the thing that gave rise to the iconoclasm of the Byzantine era, or the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation -- Yes! Some of the newly-minted Protestants went a little over-board. And there is iconoclasm even today in the desecration of sacred sites by Muslim extremists. But, I think these little icons of ourselves may be the most dangerous of all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

If you've ever clicked through pictures of Shanghai on the internet, you are sure to have seen this thing. I don't know what it's supposed to be, but it's interesting. Another thing I didn't know is that you can get right up close to it. So, I did.

You can see that it's in a pretty busy part of PuDong. There are two parts of Shanghai: PuDong is the newer part, Puxie is the older part. The names just refer to either side of the river. I live in Puxie.

I was really happy to be able to get some close-ups. Until this, I'd only seen it from a distance. There's a selfie towards the end.

Solomon was wise,
A big-shot murderer too.
God loved all of him.

The RCL readings for this week include a reading from the books of Kings. It starts in I Kings 2:10-12, and then it skips to chapter 3:3-14. When the lectionary skips like that, it always makes me go, hummm.

It is easy enough to just look at all the good stuff, like the readings do. But the verses it leaves out are pretty telling, I think. And I think they are hopeful. Yes... those verses about murder, betrayal, deceit. That is hopeful to me because it means that I don't have to be all wise and good to be in God's favor. Because I am not.

We all have a dark side. I wonder why the lectionary isn't showing us Solomon's. It seems to me that if we deny the darkness in Solomon, we might deny it in ourselves too, and our institutions. I don't think that's very smart.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

We have mail on tong Ren Lu!
My pal in Oregon sent me a copy of the Tao Te Ching, translated by Ursula K. LeGuin.

This morning I will share Chapter One with you:

The way you can go
isn't the real way.
The name you can say
isn't the real name.

Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
names's the mother of ten thousdand things.

So the unwanting soul
sees what's huidden,
and the ever-wanting soul sees only want it wants.

Two things, one oriogin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Myatery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.


Here is want she says in the comments:  A satisfactory translation of the chapter is, I believe, perfectly impossible. It contains the book. I think of it as the Aleph, in Borge's story: If you see it rightly, it contains everything.


Of course, that is not a very original thing to say. It's in most commentaries. But it is true not just for the book, but for us readers as well. The more you think you see and know of the Tao, the faster it slips away. it's like smoke. You can see it, but once you reach out to possess... Nothing.

I don't know about Borge's story, but I do know about the Aleph, the hidden Aleph. You probably know that the first letter of the first word of Torah is NOT an Aleph, as you might expect. It's a Bet! The second letter of the Aleph Bet. So that tells us that something -- the Aleph -- has come before. That's right. "In the beginning..." was not THE beginning. It was a beginning again. God, the story goes, was not happy with previous creations. His subsequent attempts show that God had mercy and compassion on himself. God gave Godself second, and third chances. So we can say that the very first creation was self-compassion. And God knows other people have said other things. The sages warn against looking into this hidden period too deeply. It is not for us to know. Some things aren't. I think that's hard for our western, always expanding, and oh-so curious minds. But, really, some things are beyond us.

There is actually a lot more to tell about Aleph, but now I am off to work.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho...

Saturday, August 8, 2015

From Psalm 103 we have this:

13  As a father has compassion for his children,
          so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him.
14  For he knows how we were made;
          he remembers that we are dust.

And if you can't relate to that, maybe you are lucky enough to be a teacher. Teachers have compassion for their students. We know how hard they are trying. They don't realize that their problems aren't really unique, most students have the same issues. We have compassion for them because we know... maybe we don't know how they are made, but we know how languages are made.

I am glad to think that God is not surprised by my shortcomings. She knows already.

It's the same kind of knowing, though, that lets Amnon off the hook for Tamar's rape. David didn't say anything to Amnon because he knew, he understood. So the other side of the coin is that as much compassion as God has for me, she has at least equal compassion for guys I'd rather see knocked down and beaten with a rod of iron... to borrow a little imagery.

I actually prefer my way, but I am not God.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Even the sparrow finds a home,
          and the swallow a nest for herself,
          where she may lay her young,
     at your altars, O LORD of hosts,
          my King and my God. 
Psalm 84:3
Wait! Aren't the altars in the churches? Those special tables where the high and holy priest works her magic... aren't those the altars?

Of course they are not... Not any more than sacraments or holiness or any other uncontainable, unmanageable, wild thing of God.

The Christian religion would like you to believe that the body and blood of Christ are in the church, on the altar. They would like to manage the sacraments for you. There's no need to pursue a broken open, bloodied, unpredictable and sacramental life when you have an institution which can do it for you, after all. And if the church can manage the sacraments for you, then they can use those sacraments to manipulate you. Smart people fall for it all the time. I did. It's all so neat and clean: the seven sacraments, all with a special liturgy. It's orderly. That's appealing, isn't it? Sure, because if God is organized then life makes sense. Good on you if you can live in that kind of delusion. I mean it. Live the dream as long as you can. But sometimes there comes a thing called reality.  If you live in the real world it is not hard to see through the Sunday sham. Neither God, nor our lives are organized, predictable, or neat and clean. Altars do exist, but they are more than tables in churches. They are the areas of stillness where sparrows lay their young. The vulnerable, feathered, small, and unnecessary are safe at the altar. I don't think you'll be finding that much in church. I can hardly think of a more spiritually dangerous place than the institutional church. But if you can sit quietly, you might find an altar closer than you think.

This is also the day when shining stars and sea monsters are commanded to praise God, so if you're a star or a sea monster...

Monday, August 3, 2015

On my way home I noticed how soft the light was.
It was just before a full moon, the blue moon. Maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe the light is always soft and I just noticed. Either way, I couldn't resist it. I observed its texture and form, so grateful for its almost-living presence. There are stories in the light, of course, but we'd never see them without the darkness. The soft light lets reality in gently. Note the soft edges, the color. Light has as much shape as the things it illuminates. Can you see it dancing?

This is the day we remember Gamaliel. He is on the Christian calendar of saints, even though he was a Jew. Gamaliel may have saved the lives of Peter and John by his reminder to the Sanhedrin that most things play out if you give them a little time. I find that this is a good rule to follow whether you're wanting to convict heretics or just get through contract negations. A little time works wonders.

Here is a passage said to be a quote from Gamaliel's speech to the Sanhedrin regarding John and Peter:
But a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up, ordered the men to be put outside for a short time, and said to them, “Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing. After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” They were persuaded by him.*

Also, from today's readings we have this little gem:  

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

I think that most of the time my own mind is set on human things. I wonder if Jesus has softened his tone on that any?
* “Saint Gamaliel“. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 July 2015. Web. 3 August 2015. <>

Sunday, August 2, 2015

As you have come to expect, I started out with the wrong readings for this morning. But the readings that popped up included this gem from Psalm 146:

3   Do not put your trust in princes,
          in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4   When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
          on that very day their plans perish.

Even those who don't recognize that they are princes have to admit that they are mortals... don't look to anybody for help, and not yourself either. As soon as any of us dies, there go all our big plans. That doesn't stop me from planning. I've got plans. But I am always aware that they could go PooF in a heartbeat... or, rather, a lack of heartbeat. Act on your plans while you can, that's my way of looking at it.

In the actual readings for today we have David dancing before the ark of the covenant and his wife Michal mocking him for it. Apparently David was dancing like a commoner, not behaving "royal" at all. Imagine Michal's embarrassment. LOL. David was just being himself, which is what God asks him to be.

When we are reading these passages it's important to keep in mind that there are good guys and bad guys. The writer is saying: Be like this guy, don't be like that guy: be like Abigail, be like David, be like Samuel; don't  be like Michal, don't be like Saul, don't be like Nabal, etc. Of course, people's status changes from good to bad and back again, so you have to read carefully. But in this passage I think the message is that God has rejected the trappings and dignity of high office and replaced it with authenticity, action from the heart, dancing with the common people.

I wrote a thing for Speaking To The Soul for yesterday about Nathan and David. I especially like the picture I chose for it because it shows David and Nathan talking it over. Most of the images I looked at showed Nathan pointing an accusing finger at David, but I don't think that's how it went down. I mean, I wasn't there, but Nathan didn't come in all accusatory. He came in and told a story. That sounds to me more like a guy who intended to let revelation take its course, to let the light shine at its own pace. Of course, David turned out to be a little denser than Nathan had thought and he had to say, "Look, it's you! You are the man." But, even then, I suspect he was gentler than some of the pictures I saw.

Here's something you might not know about the story of David and Bathsheba. Did you know that during those times it was common for men to divorce their wives before they went off to battle? So, it's possible that Bathsheba wasn't actually married at the time David took her. It's still not right, what he did. But it might not have been adultery the way it gets portrayed. She was still the much-loved little lamb of another.

OK. Everybody have a great day. I'll see you later.