Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pokerum Mysterium

"Poker is a metaphor for Life" is a saying that one stumbles upon often when reading in the genus --. It's easy to understand how such a catch-phrase would become popular. One could structure a side by side comparison of attributes of each quite easily. Paul Samuel, in a post on PokerPages writes, "If you want to talk to people use words, but if you want to talk to God use Maths".

I consider myself a person of prayer - I pray frequently, however I use words. Maybe that is why my prayers never seem to be answered in the way I would like, maybe that is why it seems as if my life is "swirling the drain" these days.

I can perform simple arithmetic in my head with pretty good speed. Addition, multiplication, division, percentages have always come easy to me. It's the alphabet soup stuff -- Algebra -- that has always thrown me for a loop. Our daughter is taking two algebra classes this year in HS -- she stopped asking me for help some time ago -- smart kid.

Yet, mathematics is the engine of poker -- probabilities and odds --. It's a wonder it all works, really. Mathematicians have been around for millenia, seeking to explore the universe as they find it, looking for the "end of the string" so to speak, they keep pushing the boundaries of knowledge farther and farther.

And then, there is this simple game which "takes 5 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master (obi wan Brunson)". What makes it so intriguing is the admixture of a fixed universe of mathematics - the odds and probabilities don't change, and an unlimited number of players each with their own style, personalities, assumptions, expectations and wills. These combinations are what make this game so challenging and compelling.

To me, in a "micro" sort of way -- this game mirrors the mysteries of life with its rigid parameters of birth/death, and the great uncertainties which lie between them. "Never draw to an inside straight?" depends.
Online Poker

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Vision, Again!!

It happens every so often to me. It happened again this past Sunday. Let me tell you about it............I was preparing for worship, which these days consists of looking through the worship folder to see who needed to be remembered prayer, what was happening in the congregation in the upcoming week, and marking where the hymns are in the worship book so that I wouldn't take half the verses finding the song.

In the front of our worship space is a small table filled with votive candles where people go to offer a prayer and light a candle. As a life-long Lutheran, this practice is not familiar to me as a part of my heritage. My church home now is Lutheran, this is most certainly true, but it was started by Swedish Lutherans who probably appreciated any bit of extra heat and light (especially this time of year).

I was struck by the gathering around that table of small candles on the First Sunday of Advent. Joyce and her grandson each lit a candle and paused for a moment of prayer. Joyce and Roger bring their grandson to worship often -- they are his spiritual mentors it appears. I know nothing of their family situation other than there is a generation skipped when it comes to them worshiping together.

Heather wheeled up in her motorized chair -- a young, pretty woman whose body has been ravaged by a debilitating disease, I'm guessing MS. She is a faithful member of this community and gets herself to church most Sundays. Heather had to stretch to reach the tapers and stretch to reach an unlit votive. I'm guessing most of life is a stretch for her -- it took a moment, but she lit a candle and offered her prayer.

Another woman was there also, a single Mom whose sexual orientation is same sex. She too lit a candle and offered a prayer.

I was struck by the beauty of the tableau. Our congregation prides itself on being multi-cultural and diverse. We see it most Sundays when the pews are filled with all sorts of different folks who come together because they are simply people of faith. The tableau confirmed for me that the faith that draws us and unites us is not simply some sort of ethereal "feeling", but it is trust in something that is real. The thing that is real is God's vision for life on this earth. It's not my vision.......though I claim it sometimes. It is the dream of God about how people are meant to relate to God and to each other. It gets played out in life too rarely it seems, alas, even among faith communities.

But when it happens, it is something to behold!! A vision of the reign of God among people -- plain people who live real lives. Real lives that have been touched by the hand of a Gracious God who loves and redeems them all.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ecce Homo

"Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down". Every once in a while an event takes place which startles the shit out of me. Today's event is the stampede at a suburban New York Wal-Mart where rabid shoppers broke down the doors trying to enter the store to secure whatever Chinese-made treasures their vacuous hearts were yearning after. In the "event", a worker was trampled and died from his injuries. The victim was 34 years old - Black Fucking Friday, indeed.

Events like these hold up a mirror to us. If we are willing and brave, if we are able to distance ourselves from ourselves for a brief moment, if we look carefully into the mirror, we can acknowledge the verity of Walt Kelly's line from the old "Pogo" cartoon from a couple of generations back -- "we have met the enemy, and they is us." It's not just that other person who is part of the mob that rampages when their favorite team wins the championship, or who is so fearful of not getting that $388.00 flat screen at Wal-Mart, or who believes they are justified in their killing because their government, or their religious leader, or their thirst for vengeance says they are. It is all of us who are this strange admixture we call human. Capable of such wrong and harm -- and at the same time able to find within us the capacity to care for one another, treasure life, and even sacrifice our own lives for the sake of another.

In troubled economic times, the concern is which part of our nature will be acted upon most......the rampaging mob part of us seeking to act out of, and protect, our self-interest.............or the part of us that is rarely draw upon in such times, the good, the sacrificial, the "brother's keeper", the authentic humanity we were created to be.

The mirror tells us which one the advertisers and merchandisers would prefer ----

"They is us....Ecce Homo".

Happy Holidays

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Timely Question

Who am I? They often tell me I would step from my cell's confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I? They often tell me I would talk to my warden freely and friendly and clearly, as though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of, or am I only what I know of myself, restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, thirsting for
words of kindness, for neighborliness, trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation, tossing in expectation of great events,

powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, faint and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today, and tomorrow another? Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling? Or is something within me still like a beaten army, fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

The words were written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer over sixty years ago as he sat awaiting execution for his role in an unsuccessful assasination attempt on Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer was a pastor of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Germany. His rationale for participating in an assasination attempt was, "it is better to do evil than to become evil".

The words of the poem are pertinent to me as I reflect upon my life. Now unemployed for the first time since I was 15 I ask the question daily, Who Am I?". My questioning ends the same as Bonhoeffer's, "Whoever I am, Thou Knowest, O God, I am thine."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Morning After

I slept in this morning. I wasn't up late or anything like that (though I did consume several Coors Lights over the limit). I was election fatigued and took the opportunity to snooze all the attack ads out of my system.

It was a storied election. Exciting, exhilarating, enlivening. Of course, I voted for Obama - this old, mid-west liberal sat with tears in his eyes as he watched the President-Elect deliver his "victory speech". I was transfixed, once again I was reminded of the power of words to create and punctuate a moment in time. Words have power - they can kill or make alive. Our new President knows that well, I believe. I will offer prayers for him, and the country often in the days and years ahead.

I hope that we will be patient with him -- he has inherited a horribly dysfunctional economy. I trust his wisdom to gather around him other folks to try to sort out the morass in which we find ourselves.

I'm glad to be done with "Palin". Although, to the extent that she contributed to the defeat of the Repbulican ticket, I'm glad she got the exposure she did. Her choice should be a reminder to all of us that our country is too complex to be governed with "gimmicks". She should become the lowest common benchmark by which women are measured on the political scene from now on. McCain's flaw in his VP choice, in my humble opinion,was that he couldn't convince Condoleeza Rice to run with him. That would have been a highly formidable ticket and the election might have had a different outcome -- certainly it would have been a much closer battle.

On the Poler front -- I haven't been playing online much lately. I used a bunch of my bankroll earlier in the summer to prop up the family while we were struggling with the restaurant debacle (another post -- a long one). I tried to win an entry to the BC Open later in
November but couldn't get there. I played well, just never could get the big stack accumulated.

Paula (wife) and I spent a couple of nights at Spirit Mountain (Grande Ronde, Or.) about a week and a half ago. We left on the day we signed the sale papers on The Albina Green. We got out of town late so I missed the Thursday night bounty tourney. I played Friday's tourney - got through the first level and 1/2. Saw three flops in that time -- got it all in w AK against A9hh - flop came Jh,7h,Qd - turn was 3s, river came 9c -- rivered and out. Played cash game from 2pm till 9pm. Cashed out the princely sum of 60.00.

Saturday we played Pai Gow together for most of the day -- dreadly boring game - but an action game nonetheless. She snagged a couple of straight-flushes on the prop bets and we ended up up a few hundred bucks. Pai Gow creates an interesting social scene -- all players play against the dealer and no one can screw up the play(like in Blackjack where folks can affect the outcome of play by hitting/not hitting correctly. A little community forms at the Pai Gow table where folks are in each other's corner and bonded by the constant vision of the dealer with a Jack high Pai Gow.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Welcome to my world....such as it is.

My mother, rest her soul, used to comment, "just when I thought things couldn't get worse, by God they DID!! Her life, though lived simply in a small town near Milwaukee, Wi. , was fairly complicated. Some of the complications clouding her life were: living in close to her in-laws - within four doors of half of my father's family, being married to a man who was seasonally out of work and spent his days "networking" at the local tavern, having to care for her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease (though in those days it was more likely called, "hardening of the arteries"), and having to work full-time to support the family.

The family, thanks be to God, was small. My father and I were dependent upon her earnings often in our life. When dad was working, things were good -- but the dreaded winter would arrive and home construction would come to a standstill for several months, sometime 1/2 a year. When the layoff inevitably came, the tension in our household became palpable.

When the stress of life became too much for her she would "take to her bed". Phantom illness sometimes lasting weeks or months would descend upon her and she would become unavailable to us emotionally, if not physically.

My memories of such times are more viscerally felt now as I reflect on them. I am reflecting on them these days quite often as the nation's economy is in the toilet, many folks I know are out of work (I among them), and it seems like everyone is anxious facing an uncertain future.

The ancient mathematician Archimedes once said, "give me one firm place to stand and I can move the world". He was referring, of course, to the power of the lever, from which we get the word, "leverage". It seems as if, for many people, there is no leverage available for them when facing the burdens they need to lift. It is a scary time in America and the world.

It is tempting to "take to our beds" and await the shadows passing.