Back to School

I’m currently sitting in the basement room of the Stumptown on 12th Ave beneath the huge sign reading DRUGS, listening to The Exhumation of Virginia Madison. A man with several bad tattoos is tending the Pro-Bat with the kind of attention I envision NASA engineers lavishing on space shuttles during a final pre-flight safety check.

Yesterday was the last first day of school in my life. Getting back into the spirit of things Sunday night I dropped by the home of one of my professors for a barbeque. While I was there I met a guy named Mark Scandrette for the first time and sat in on a conversation he and Dwight facilitated. Mark, who looks to be in his mid-forties, was wearing a blue scarf, jeans with zippers on the pockets and motorcycle boots while sporting a kind of grown out half-pompadour vaguely reminiscent of something Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka might have endorsed. He thereby served as a perfect example of the kind of midlife fashion transition that I’ve discussed at length with my brother. Will we become lost to the same sartorial black hole that has devoured our father’s generation, the millions of baby boomers whose wives have helped dress them for the last 30 years? Will we devolve into men who wear blindingly white New Balance tennis shoes? No, Jon has argued, we’re different, we’ll always retain a sense of personal style because we’ve cared more about that as young men, for better or for worse, than much of our father’s generation did. We’ve fretted over the selvage on our jeans and the cut of our pea coats. A quick glance at family photo albums in which our progenitor blithely sports plaid pants and polyester shirts with collars the size of formal dinner napkins serves to confirm a kind of… disconnect.

But I digress.

During the wide-ranging chat that followed dinner at Dwight’s a local pastor made the observation that he has encountered a paradox in his relationships (whether only recently, particularly in Seattle, or across a long period of time or range of places I’m not sure) where people seemingly possessed of a rich inner life of faith often seem to be less active in tangibly serving and loving the world around them, while many people who are involved in loving the poor, doing something in the world for good, etc. are people who claim no religious affiliation, faith stance, or relationship with God. He didn’t elaborate at any length, and I’m aware of my propensity for blanket statements, but I will say that something about the observation struck a personal chord.

I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s “Life and Holiness” and have been moved by the way he both calls his reader to remember that only through grace can we hope to love others, while also contending that being active in the world, being pro-active that is, in attempting to alleviate the suffering of others and live out the commands of Jesus, is something that we can’t ignore. We have a responsibility, a duty that we cannot abdicate. The marriage of duty and grace is something I feel like my generation has difficulty with. There’s another blanket statement. Maybe it’s just something I have trouble with.



A couple weeks after returning from visiting Jerusalem and the West Bank, and with peace talks set to begin yet again, a tragedy that underscores the tensions always simmering just underneath the surface.

A piece on the shooting from the perspective of Haaretz, the largest Israeli daily.

And one from Al Jazeera


2 thoughts on “Back to School

  1. Ben,

    Google lets me know when my name pops up anywhere on the internets. Fun to see your smart writing on this blog. It was good to meet you. Sorry to be so quick to answer the question or comment you were trying to make. Best wishes!

    FYI I’m 39 but I will take your sartorial compliment.


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