The Kidney Stones of Thanksgiving

I spent the Saturday afternoon after Thanksgiving  Day in the waiting room of an urgent care center. The last place I wanted to be during my four-day weekend from working at a nearby hospital. My friend, however, had a confirmed 4mm kidney stone in his bladder. I’ve been calling it “Little Shatner” after William Shatner sold his kidney stone on eBay. Passing a kidney stone is the closest thing that a man will ever get to childbirth. I know because I delivered my own kidney stone on Thanksgiving Day 1995, which forever changed my life as a Christian.

After being kicked out of San Jose State University in Spring 1995 for failing calculus, I took a literature class each semester in the 1995-96 school year at San Jose City College to figure out what to do with my life. I felt a sharp jabbing pain in what I later learned to be my right kidney and started having trouble urinating in mid-November. I went to the nurse’s office on campus to have the doctor looked at me. She suspected that I had urinary track infection, prescribed some antibiotics, and sent me over to Valley Medical Hospital to be poke and prodded by an emergency room doctor to see if I had an erupted appendix.

I went up to Sacramento to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. The antibiotics didn’t seem to work. After we had Thanksgiving dinner and I laid down for a nap, I felt the urgent need to urinate and made a mad dash to the bathroom. As I leaned over the toilet, the pain from waiting to go became agony.

Ever see a snake swallowing a whole egg that moves through its tubular body? I stared in horror as an egg-shaped bulge slowly moved through and distorted the shape of my penis. When the kidney stone finally exited, a river of blood, pus and urine poured out as my bladder emptied for the next ten minutes.  My mother knocked at the door, asking if I was okay. I was shaken but never felt so relieved in my life. My father said I had passed a kidney stone.

The school doctor later conceded that I might have passed  a kidney stone.

I commiserated with my roommate, Bruce, who had also passed a kidney stone a few weeks earlier. We first met eight years earlier at a church workshop on a Saturday morning a week after I was baptized into Christ. Until I moved in his household, we had little contact during those years. He confided to me that he was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease and wanted me to take care of him until the day he died. Without passing that kidney stone, I doubted I would have said yes. I became one of five brothers who took care of him until he died five years later, watching him become angry with God for losing his ability to live an independent life and peacefully accepting that his life was in God’s hands in the end.

Getting Older With Sweet Young Things

My birthday came and went without notice. Always a good thing. After I turned 42 a while back, it became increasingly difficult to remember exactly how old I am. (A friend told me I was 43-years-old this year.) We went to Hooters in Campbell for my birthday dinner, watched the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s play baseball on different screens, and talked about the sweet young things who waited on the tables.

Hooters has always been a difficult place for me to enjoy eating food there. Besides being too loud when a major game blared from all the  screens and the bar brimmed with louder drunks, I don’t have a favorite menu item. If I go to Pasta Pomodoro on The Alameda or at Santana Row, I always ordered the tortellini. But at Hooters? Meh. (My favorite new word for this year.)

I keep trying something new. The western BBQ burger was a top contender for several visits, but that’s something I normally get at Carl’s Jr. The boneless chicken wings fell flat with the Parmesan garlic sauce. This time I tried the buffalo chicken sandwich with Parmesan garlic sauce and liked it well enough to try it again on my next visit. This might become my new favorite—or maybe not.

As for the Giants and the A’s, I don’t think anyone cared. This was a regular game, not the playoffs. Everyone wanted to watch the London Olympics. I was shocked to discover that the Munich Olympics massacre took place 40 years ago around the same time as my birthday. I had vague memories of seeing that on TV at the time. The resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974 made a stronger impression as I was destined to be a political news junkie.

No one at Hooters knew it was my birthday. I didn’t want a bunch of sweet young things singing the Hooters birthday song and giving me a heart attack at the same time.

I find it difficult to be enthusiastic for sweet young things that are more than half my age and whose ultra-thin waists are smaller than my hand. I’m a big guy with big hands who like mature—but still younger—women with “hips made for babies” (my favorite description of Aviendha in Robort Jordan’s The Wheel of Time fantasy series). These sweet young things had neither maturity nor hips for they are still babies themselves.

The sweet young thing who waited on our table made the evening more melancholy for me. She reminded me that if my life had went differently when I joined a Christian campus ministry group 20 years ago, I might have been married and she would’ve been my daughter. I’m old enough now to have regrets.

My friend, however, had no qualms about dating a sweet young thing half his age. Until I pointed out that these sweet young things were probably living at home with a father who owned a shotgun. He frowned at me, I smiled back. Nothing curbs the enthusiasm for a sweet young thing than a shotgun.

Surviving The Y2K Rapture & Other Nonsense

A radio evangelist predicted the Rapture would come this past Saturday and nothing happened. Not surprising. Several major conditions weren’t meant: the Bible haven’t been preached to every living person in the world (about seven billion or so) and Christians had to be feared, hated and put to death for who they are (except for China and the Middle East, this isn’t happening at all). Then the rapture will happen—or maybe not. Having survived the Y2K Rapture in 2000 and 2001, I’m skeptical whenever a religious authority or some other nut job proclaims the end of the world.

I was part of a church that spent nearly 30 years putting a church in every major city in every country of the world by the year 2000, which it did by planting over a hundred international churches during that time. Now everyone in the fellowship assumed that the Rapture would happen. The founder of the church made no Monty Python-esque ass trumpeting announcements of what would happen on January 1, 2000. What did happen? Nothing. Everything came and went as it usually does after the disco ball drops on Time Square in New York City. Not even the Y2K bug turned out to be that much of a big deal. Perhaps it was the wrong date since the new millennium didn’t start until January 1, 2001. A year later, nothing happened.

I noticed that the church message went from “being faithful to the end” to “being faithful to the end of your lifetime” a few months later. After 30 years of sacrificing to put a church in every major city of the world, the new message meant that the fellowship would have to continue sacrificing for another 30 or 40 years until they die. Some members didn’t like that. If the Rapture didn’t happen at the Millennium, it would never happen in their lifetime.

Wasn’t long before the church founder was tossed out by the narcissistic baby boomers who made up the church leadership. If he couldn’t deliver the Rapture (never mind that he never promised anyone the Rapture), he had no business leading the church. These 100 church plantings were soon torn apart by the infighting as the leadership couldn’t decide who among themselves was worthy enough to be the anointed one to lead God’s people, forming regional churches that no longer wanted to associate with each other and take up the cause to preach the Gospel to the world.

After 13 years of being in the church, and nearly six years of being out of the church, I have grown cynical about organized religion. Too often the leadership becomes committed to serving itself rather than meeting the needs of the fellowship. As one young minister told me on my last day with the church, the leadership had far more important priorities then helping me do well spiritually and left in a hurry to fetch a video projector for the lead evangelist. God knows that the salvation of that video projector was far more important. I had always considered the Rapture and/or Judgment Day to to be something of a crapshoot: you either roll a 7 or 11, or pull up snake-eyes. That never did sat well with the leadership. Then again, they never did like people who could make lemonade out of the lemons that God handed out in life with surprising regularity.

Pondering The Secret Gospel Of Mark On Easter Morning

When my radio alarm blared at 6:30AM on Easter morning, I listened to Brent Walters, who is the host for God Talk on Sunday mornings for KGO-Radio 810AM, talking about the spiritual significance of Easter. The second and third hours told the story about how he, as a young man in still seminary school, was trying to learn about the real Jesus beyond the traditional biblical references. He read all the available books he could find. After ordering a 12-volume set written by a leading biblical scholar through the bookstore, and reading all those books, he felt no closer to discovering the real Jesus. His father, who was a minister, then asked him if he read “The Secret Gospel of Mark” by Morton Smith, which he hadn’t, and his father refused to tell him anymore. He went to one bookstore to order the book, but the clerk refused to do so. Several more bookstores refused to order it for him. Eventually, he got the book. Today it’s very easy to get “The Secret Gospel of Mark” through Amazon. A very interesting topic for Easter.

The canonical version of the Gospel of Mark was supposedly edited by a rival faction within the early church to suppress certain church doctrines that weren’t widely accepted elsewhere. This doesn’t surprise me at all. There are at least forty authors who had written the Bible. Each one had their own political viewpoint to shape and mold the text as they like, presumably under divine influence. The most recent controversy was the Old Testament (the Hebrew bible) being edited to remove references of God having a wife to present a single god rather than multiple gods that were common prior to the Jews being exiled to Babylon.

Thirteen years of church had left me a cynic. When I first came into the church in 1992, we were encouraged to study the sermon and verify the message against the Bible. When I left the church in 2005, neither the ministry nor the fellowship were doing that. The word of God should be trusted through faith and a grain of salt. But not the men who wrote and edited the Bible in the past, and those who claim to know the know the will of God today. Everyone has an agenda that they are trying to push on others. If someone claims not to have an agenda when preaching the word of God, they are lying to themselves and others. I think being a Christian today requires examining the controversies behind the Bible, the motivations of those who wrote the Bible, and questioning those who preach the Bible.

Protesting Radical Islam With Concealed Weapons

The Christian fundamentalist preacher, Terry Jones, from Gainesville, FL, responsible for burning the Koran that led to 20 deaths in the rioting that broke out in Afghanistan last month (although that might have been politically incited by the Afghanistan government), is planning to hold a protest against radical Islam outside the largest mosque in the United States in Dearborn, MI, this Good Friday. His protesters will be armed with concealed weapons.

“We have made it very clear that we are coming there with very, very peaceful intentions,” Jones told the television station. “We will be armed. We do have concealed weapons permits.”

There will also be a counter protest. No word yet if they will be armed with concealed weapons. The local prosecutor is seeking a court injunction against the protest to prevent a possible riot from breaking out.

When I was a young Christian in the San Jose City College campus ministry, our church established a campus ministry at De Anza College in 1993. The two campus ministries with ten people were given the task to evangelize the campus by sharing our faith with 200 people each in the first month. We shared our faith with as many people as we could from Monday through Friday in the late afternoons to early evenings. We each got 200 rejections. Why? Because the biggest religious group on campus was the Muslim student association. They were far more serious about their religion than many of the Christians I knew then and now. For every conversation I had with a Muslim student, I walked away impressed by their unshakeable faith and disturbed by my own shakeable faith. Although our church hailed the new campus ministry a success (at least, by the numbers), it was a discouraging month for each of us individually.

What is the point of protesting against radical Islam in front of a mosque with people who are least likely to convert to Christianity and generally don’t support radical Islam?

Terry Jones is trouble looking for more trouble. A Christian extremist trying to make Islamic extremists unhappy. A part of me hopes that a gun battle breaks out and everyone dies at the protest. One, it would cleanse the gene pool faster of these idiots who think they are doing God a favor. Two, senseless violence for a cause is still senseless violence. Three, this is what America is becoming in the 21st century, where the threat of violence speaks louder than actual civil discourse.

Something About That Beard

I was coming home on the bus after working out at the gym and shopping at the grocery store. The bus trip takes about five minutes. Unfortunately, this particular bus trip was the longest five minutes in my life. A mostly bald gentleman with wispy sideburns and long hair at the base of his neck mentioned that I look like a rabbi with my long beard. That’s a strange comparison. Most people say I either look like a merchant marine or a Middle Eastern terrorist. This is the first time someone told me that I look like a rabbi.

I’m surprised that no one has ever said that I look like a Greek philosopher—or as Mel Brooks describes it, a professional BS artist—since I wear the beard without the mustache. A style I adopted during my first tour through college in the early 1990’s, which suited my facial features better as I started working at the gym and trimming down five years ago.

With the passing of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some people—mostly members of a Christian non-denominational church I belonged to until a few years ago—would come up to me to say that I looked like a terrorist and asked if I was planning to blow something up. They were joking around. I gave them a serious response that made some run away screaming: “No, but if I do, you will be the first to know.”

The gentleman on the bus may have been a professional BS artist himself as he expounded on how rabbis maintain their beards in Old Testament and New Testament times, how beards never go out of style, and, of course, women always love bearded men. When I got up to get off at my bus stop, he encouraged me to read a few pages of the Old Testament every day. An odd conversation. It never occurred to me until later that he might be Jewish. Most American Christians tend to forget that Jesus was a Jewish carpenter.

I think I learned more than I wanted to know about beards in those five minutes. Since I’m the only student in my ceramics class with a beard, I’d created a small statuette of a human face with a beard in the classical style. This is in preparation for the larger-than-life self-portrait bust that I’ll be completing for the class final.