Wednesday, May 16, 2007

snake-handling for jesus

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. —Mark 16:17-18

So what’s the deal with the Holy Ghost? In today’s evangelical churches we talk a little about the Holy Spirit. We might hear that we should “listen to the Spirit” or that the “Spirit moved me to talk to someone about Jesus,” but generally we stick to the more tangible two of the Trinity. I just read this book called Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington. The basic story: Raised as a Christian and ignoring his faith for years, New York Times reporter Dennis Covington travels to the backwoods of the American South to cover the murder trial of a snake-handling preacher accused of using the rattlesnakes to kill his wife. The story becomes a longer assignment to delve into the lives and religion of the poorest, rural, white folk in America whose relationship with Jesus includes singing, dancing, speaking in tongues, handling snakes and drinking strychnine from mason jars. With a couple photographers in tow, Covington rediscovers his faith and handles some snakes. From Salvation…

About that time, Brother Carl himself walked in with a serpent box containing the biggest rattlesnake I’d ever seen. Carl smelled of Old Spice and rattlesnake and something else underneath: a pleasant smell, like warm bread and apples. I associated it with the Holy Ghost. …Anyway, that is what I smelled on Brother Carl that day as he talked about the snake in the box. “I just got him today,” he said. “He’s never been in church before.” Carl looked over his glasses at me and smiled. He held the serpent box up to my face and tapped the screen until the snake started rattling good. “Got your name on him,” he said to me. A shiver went up my spine, but I just shook my head and grinned.

One of the big questions is what happens when the handlers get bit. Does it mean that they weren’t right with the Lord? Were they disobeying the Spirit? Regardless of why, snake handlers often get bit, some die and others keep doing what they feel the Lord is calling them to do. From Salvation…

Billy and Joyce lived in a neat little farmhouse behind a collapsed chicken farm outside Section. Billy was telling about a rattler that had bit Gene Sherbert on the foot. “Like to killed him,” Billy laughed. “He was so swollen he looked like a toad frog, and he was itching and the juice was running out of his hands and feet.” …That Gene Sherbert was a card. ‘And then he just got stiff,’ Billy said. He paused, real serious. “We thought he was dead. But then awhile later, he opened his eyes. He said, ‘I believe I need to handle that snake again.’ So he did.” And the Summerfords started cackling again.

Maybe the best book I’ve read this year. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in compelling stories and great writing.

Pentecost and me

When I was thirteen my family took a road trip to visit some friends in western Idaho. As a kid I loved road trips. My dad would wake at 3am and load the van. My room was directly across from the door that opened to the carport. Half-awake, I would lie in bed and listen to my dad coming in and out of the open front door, the sound of the van quietly idling. My brother and I, in pajamas, would crawl into the warm cocoon of the van and fall back asleep as my talked quietly over the sound of the heater. By 7 or 8 in the morning we would be halfway to wherever we were headed and we would wake up and put on our real clothes, eat some donuts, and start complaining about how much longer we had until we got to our final destination.

One this particular trip, the destination was in the mountains outside of Moscow, Idaho. I loved visiting my parents’ friends, Ron and Barb. They lived so far back in the woods that during the winter it was a twenty-minute snowmobile ride from the main road to their cabin. The little cabin was nestled into the side of a big rocky hill; it had tin roof that would roar when it rained. At night you might hear owls, coyotes or a mountain lion scream. That summer they had a fair amount of bear meat stored up in the freezer; a neighbor had shot the bear raiding his beehives and the beast had crawled up on their front porch to die on a sunny spring afternoon.

This is taking a long time, but what I’m getting at is this: I was raised in a very conservative church. The type of place that believed that any musical instrument was the work of the devil, that women should never speak, lead, or pray in front of the congregation, and that women who wore pants were most likely lesbians. I was thirteen when I visited my first Pentecostal church service. We attended the Sunday service with our parent’s friends and I have to tell you, I think the outright rowdiness of the service, the noise, the dancing, the shouting, and the blazing-hot rock band offended our middleclass faith. People danced up and down the aisles to rock-n-roll versions of classic hymns, prayed on their knees, spoke in tongues, rolled around on the floor. My family quietly exited the church and stood out in the grassy parking lot among the pick-ups and muscle cars waiting for the end of the service.

When my wife and I lived in Portland we attended a church with a middle-school drill team for Jesus and the people behind us in the pews spoke in tongues in low murmurs and we bolted from that church as quick as we could. But in an orderly, casual fashion – my wife got to leave first, then 3 minutes later, my brother followed, I was supposed to wait 3 or 4 minutes, but some shouting in tongues send me for the door in hot pursuit of my brother.

My experiences in those Pentecostal churches have always led me to wonder about the Holy Spirit. But the book I started reading this week has got me wondering in a major way. I’m reading Dennis Covington’s Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia. Review to come.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

home? at last

so here we are, settled in at the lake house with tricia's parents. it's a great place to spend the summer and relax. i've applied to burlington-edison high school. it's pretty exciting; they have a really cool social studies curriculum. i'll keep you up to date. the big issue lately is whether we could live here in the pnw. obviously a large number of friends and family and our church is here = lots of support for new parents. but seriously, the weather is an issue. luckily, it has been quite nice and sunny so i feel a little less sad to be back. i do miss mexico, the humidity and sun, the ocean and the people. i gotta work something out to do both. maybe in a few years. now we're just settling back into normal life. i miss the road.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

road tripping in the american sw

we’re making some major drives from leakey, tx to bellingam. the first day was to las cruces. it’s funny, so much of texas is not worth seeing for more than a few minutes, but when you pass into n.mexico it’s obvious. It’s just prettier. The air is clear and and the desert sky is crisp and the food is great. i'm seriously addicted to new mexican chile. red or green hatch valley chile sauce on enchiladas, eggs, ice cream.

utah is also gorgeous. all the little towns look the same - they're all these perfect little towns nestled against the small mountains/big hills that run through the middle of utah. the streets are clean and quiet. the houses are well maintained and the mormon churches are spotless and always surrounded by new little sub-divisions. a little too perfect. kinda scary. we stayed in the town of nephi, south of provo on our way through. after spending too much money on fancy/mid-range hotels in las cruces and flagstaff, we found a 1950s hotel with big, quiet rooms and broken neons out front. nice and cheap. we were especially thankful that we had not tried to make it into provo - apparently it was byu graduation and all the hotels were full. not to mention cheney was in town for the commencement speech. almost as scary as the recent rollingstone article that interviews right-wing christian groups willing to vote for a mormon republican for the '08 presidential election to punish centrist republicans for not sticking to "family issues"! yikes.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

texas - could i live here?

so, some of you may know that we have been offered a free place to live in texas. a three bedroom, two bath log cabin with a huge front porch across the street from my parents. ok, so that might be a little strange. but texas is a little strange. when most people think of texas, they imagine northwest texas - all dust and sagebrush. the only thing taller than the barbwire fences are the occasional cow or oil derrick. but southwest texas is totally different. texas in high summer is one of my favorite places in the world. Why?
1. the nighttime - fireflies flash from the grass as they rise into the trees, cicadas buzz and crickets chirp. the stars are dizzyingly bright and numerous. the air is warm and soft and smells like grass and warm earth. we take the ranger on night runs with a big flashlight - last summer with matt and effie and my brother, we saw the usual herds of deer bedding down, whitetail and the exotic axis, a skunk, a family of raccoons, and two armadillos. last week when we drove into texas, the road was covered with huge rattlesnakes, soaking up the heat from the blacktop as the air cooled.

2. the river. my folks live about a half mile from the frio river. it’s not that cold and it’s clean, clear, and beautiful. you can innertube or kayak, swim, or just feed the fish.

3. the people. everyone acts like people in the nw are so friendly. But if you say hi to, or smile at someone you don’t know in the nw, you have about a 75% return rate. in texas it’s right around 99.9%. when people say “have a nice day,” the mean it. as long as you're white.

4. blue bell ice cream – nothing compares.

Monday, April 23, 2007

america at last

it was with serious doubts and with a few tears, that i sat in the long line waiting to cross the boarder back into america. i missed the obvious conviniences of home. mexico has a major lack of well-made consumer products. we lived on a steep hill in a sleepy mexican neighborhood with cobbled streets. walking without turning your ankle could be tricky. you had brush your teeth with bottled water (i never did), no phone, no computer. america held the material dreams of my heart. but sitting in line to cross the boarder i was already missing the mexican children, the families, the smiling abuelitas, the warm evenings and cool mornings, views of the pacific and long walks through little neighborhoods full of scrappy dogs and crowing roosters. i'm gonna miss that place. but man did i miss my friends. and being able to flush toliet paper down the toilet.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


i've never been to europe. never seen france in the springtime. never paddled around the waterways of venice. but i've been to guanajuato, mx. i liked vallarta a lot - i'm a born beachbum i can swim in the ocean for hours without growing tired or bored - but i'm not sure i could live there for more than a year at a time. guanajuato is the city for me. if it was closer to the ocen, i would do everything in my power to move there. first, it's a university town of 70,000, about the size of bellingham. after living in vallarta it was so refreshing to see college-age students with their shirts on and with out giant cups of booze in hand. second, the city is beautiful; look at the pictures. third, all above-ground city traffic moves from east to west. all other traffic moves through a massive maze of tunnels underneath the city. it's unbelievable. the central plaza is a shady tunnel of trees, filled with wandering mariachis. no more words.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

the long road home

we woke up early and loaded the truck. had a last minute breakfast at the casa de hotcakes and hit the road. on the drive to vallarta we chose to travel along the main route. it was beautiful, lots of stunning views of dormant volcanos and lush hills and pretty little valleys full of corn or banana trees. on the way home we wanted to try the road less traveled. while it was quite stunning - the pine forests amd cool air made you forget that you were in the middle of mexico, the road was insanely twisty with steep cliffs and no guard rails. it made folks a little nervous. we passed through the town of mascota and was reminded that we were deep in the heart of mexico. the sleepy sunday town was full of picturesque alleys, dilapidated buildings, and cathedrals. we had the chance to explore the ruins of one of the cathedrals and got a lot of pictures. no one else was there but us and the lizards. even with the trecherous roads, it was worth the drive. it's a little hard to describe the countryside there. it's almost like a perfect, fictionalized west. we saw some cowboys and old men with burros laden with firewood, mesquite and scrub oak. makes you want to sleep under the stars and make coffee over roaring fire and listen to the coyotes cry you to sleep. that evening we pulled into ajijic totally exhausted. the folks had reserved us some rooms at a quiet little b&b and we settled in nicely. in the morning we woke to a new sound - for almost three months in vallarta we were woken by barking dogs. on this morning it was birds. the b&b had seperate little houses in a jungly yard that was filled with lush gardens. now we have a day to shop in tonala and visit with my grandpa and then it's off to guanajuato.
mascota cathedral ruins
mascota new cathedral
cowboys (yes those trees are purple)
blue agave = tequila!

Monday, April 16, 2007

mamma, i'm comming home

so my folks arrived in vallarta and we took them around town. had some great dinners and took them to see our favorite beach. it was a little sad - some crazy storm way out in the pacific blew violent currents and punishing waves into the bay and really stirred up the beaches. our favorite beach close to town (playa gemelas) was totally changed. the soft slope of the beach and gentle waves and clear water were replaced with a huge drop off, a six-foot shore break, and strange rip currents. our other favorite beach (destiladeras) was changed as well. the sandy beach and perfect waves were replaced by rocks and huge, dangerous breaks. must have been a good time to leave vallarta. while i am a little sad to be leaving, tricia is ready to get home. i'm sure that once we start seeing family and friends agaiin, i'll be more than happy to get back. while my parents were here we went to the botanical gardens -very nice.

Monday, April 9, 2007

that's it

our time is up in mexico. my teaching is done and we spent the last week relaxing, reading, and walking around. everyone has been talking up the semana santa weeks - fear and terror of the thoudands of mexican tourists who arrive for the craziest week of the year to camp on the beaches and empty out the grocery stores. most people from the american school leave the city and everyone has stories of muggings ect. we prepared as we were told to - we shopped for groceries and filled our fridge with food, we checked out a dozen books from the library and bought some cheap pirated movies. but it really wasn't that bad. yes there were a lot more people in town. when i walked around the city in the morning the biggest difference was that all the main streets in the centro were lined with cars filled with sleeping families. sleepy-eyed little kids wrapped in tatty blankets sat drinking juice and eating donuts on the tailgates of rusty pick-ups while parents slept in the cabs or in the truck beds with their feet dangling off the sides. on the corners, small bands of young mexican toughs dressed in jeans and sharp, button-down cowboy shirts, and white loafers drink modelo from sweating cans. other groups of of young mexicans, obviously from the city sit along the malacon, drinking coffee, and harrasing joggers and women. we avoided the streets at night when things seem to get a little out of control when the huge crowds of mexican tourists face off with the shirtless, sunburnt and wasted springbreakers from the states. we still hit the beaches and it really was nowhere nera as bad as everyone made it out to be. on thursday my folks come from texas and we eat a little, swim a little and then adventure back to the states. i can't believe the time went this fast.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

1/2 way point

so here we are. half way through our time in mexico. first, here are a few things about mexicans i'd like to point out. these are gross generalizations:1. dislike - mexicans have a tolerance for noise that would shock your average white american. between buses, barking dogs, live bands, roosters, singing drunks and boom-boxes blasting the hottest banda, quiet moments are few and far between. (ps check out valentin elizalde -he's the biggest thing on the west coast right now - like tupac! he was affiliated with the west coast drug cartels and was gunned down by members of the east coast cartel after a concert. you can't go anywhere in vallarta without hearing his jazzy norteƱa style.)
2. like - i love how generous mexicans are. you can't ride a bus across town without getting hit up by people looking for a little change. nurses, nuns, teens por cristo, drunks, musicians, clowns, the crippled. not to mention the random people who get on the bus and shout about something i can't understand at all. the mexicans on the bus ALWAYS pony up. at least half of the people on the bus willingly part with some change. if some one got on the bus in bellingham and started shouting about needing money for jesus - they would be arrested. that sort of thing just goes against our protestant sensibilities. sad. the other thing i want to talk about is the beaches. back in bellingham, about a month before we moved here (sight unseen), a student from our youth group said to me, "puerto vallarta sucks! the beaches are all rocky and the water is cold." needless to say, i wanted to pop this kid in the nose. however, it hurts to admit that he was almost right. here is a short list of a number of beaches for your consideration:a. all beaches between downtown and the hotel zone - sometimes scummy, dangerous riptides, sandy beaches and two steps into the water you find a nice layer of foot-bruising rocks.
b. olas altas (tall waves) - this is a good place to die. huge, punishing shore-break due to a steep drop-off. i've seen the surf big enough to break your legs.
c. playa del muerto - southside beach is the best in town. we swam there today and the water was clear and cool. not too many vendors walking around, but plenty selling food - which is good if you're pregnant. men in white pants and t-shirts walk the beach peddling skewers of barbequed shrimp and fish, fresh peeled mangos on a stick, fried treats, pastries and empenadas, and cups full of sliced cucumber, jicima, watermelon, or pineapple. there were also a million people there. playing soccer, swimming, tanning, eating, necking, sleeping, and getting seriously wasted at 2 in the afternoon.
d. nuevo vallarta - i haven't been there myself, but tricia tells me it's pretty nice, more like muerto than other beaches in town.
e. bucerias - nice beach for laying about, kind of weird for swimming. the beach has a 4 ft. section of rocks right as you enter the water, then a four foot drop-off, then in levels out at about 3 ft for 30 yrds out in the bay. smooth, almost muddy sand.
f. destiladoras - this is the best beach around as far as i am concerned. not too many people, perfect waves (sometimes there can be a strong rip), clear green water. totally beautiful. the bus ride there is a bit long.
e. sayulita - another perfect beach, a few too many beginning surfers and hippies. anyway enough of that- we are well and happy, we miss you all and are starting to get excited to return to the nw. as soon as it stops freakin' snowing. i think i'll crank up some really loud music on our hello kitty boom box and stroll down to the beach.
Currently listening : Vencedor By Valentin Elizalde Release date: By 18 April, 2006

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

could i really live here?

could i really live here?
ok, so mexico has a lot of problems. poverty, trash, tourists, etc. Vallarta in particular is similar to New Orleans. people walk the streets with beers or big styrofoam mugs of booze at all hours. sleazy timeshare salesmen chase you down the street. but yesterday we found playa destiladeras about 45min north of vallarta. the bus ride was fierce but the beach was beautiful. lots of mexican holiday makers (it was constitution day) but walk a half a mile north on the beach and it is empty. the water is clear and cool and the waves a great for swimming and boogie boarding. it might become a weekly trip.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

one month in vallarta

so here we are, one month away from the 'ham and three weeks in mexico. i'm not sure how i feel about everything. in the quiet mornings while i kill the night's influx of micro-ants i think, "i'm not really into this." but the moment the i hit the street and see the clouds moving across the jungle-covered mountain that pv is backed against, hear the roosters and see the palm trees lining the ocean as the sun comes up - i'm sold on this place. but in the afternoon, the bus ride often rattles and bakes the joy from my heart. but then an old abuelito gets on the bus with his 7-year old grandson and a beat up guitar and they sing a few songs together - the little boy hitting all the high harmonies in songs full of sadness and broken hearts. the walk up our hill in long pants and dress shoes tries to crush me, but you should see the view from the top - the sun lights up the ocean in a way that can't be described in words. sure, you have to pay to use the bathroom all over the city - and you still can't flush the paper. sure, you have to learn how to brush your teeth with bottled water and you can never safely eat at those little corner stands packed with young mexicans eating tostadas covered in fresh ceviche or crispy burritos stuffed with shrimp or shredded smoked marlin. but you can find hundreds of places that serve amazing food at 1990 prices. so a can of refried beans costs $2 and a scratchy set of burlap bedsheets runs $30 at walmart. but fresh fruits and vegetables are almost free. old men sell iced coconut and big cups of fresh fruit covered in salt, chile, and lime. and when you walk the streets at night and the little kids play soccer in the cobbled streets under the street lights and the little kids smile and wave and the parents smile, proud of their little ones and sun sets over the ocean and men throw nets over the rocks to catch jaiba and the tamale guy comes through your neighborhood calling out like the muslim call to prayers you really feel like you could live here forever. you had a great dinner of homemade tacos and you're tired from a long day of work, capped with an afternoon spent reading on the beach and swimming against the riptide. and you crawl into bed and the dogs start barking.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

things to get used to

things to get used to
1. barking dogs - on our small block there are at least 17 dogs. they like to bark. a lot.
2. geckos - they run up the walls when you least expect it. at least they eat the ants.
3. ants - millions of microscopic ants. slightly creepy.
4. insane bus rides - totally packed, psycho drivers, singing children, balloon-making clowns.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


So yesterday we drove to Sayulita. I love it there. It's basically this quiet little surfer cove with great food and a fantasic break. A few too many tourists, hippies, and hippie tourists, and their dogs. But pretty much a tropical dream. I think I'll be taking the bus there as often as possible.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


The food in mexico is pretty much the best. Last week we were at the centro mercado in a little town called Jocotopec on lake Chapala. We had these salads that were unbelievable. Julianed carrots, jicima, cucumbers, mangos and beets piled high on a little tray and covered with a mild chili sauce. One of the most refreshing and delicious things I've ever had. Last night we had the famous PV fish tacos. Fresh mahi mahi hand rolled in a flour batter and fried in corn oil, placed on warm, fresh tortillas spread with a little lime mayo and then piled with pickled onions, carrots, lettuce, avacado, and pinapple salsa; a dollar a piece! I still have mixed feelings about the molcajete. It's a stone bowl placed in the oven until it is hotter than the devil's pajamas. Then they line it cheese and pour a saucy mixture of meat and veggies on top. The cheese closest to the food melts and mixes with the saucy mix, bubbling over the sides and creating the richest cheese sauce/chunky fondo thingy you've ever had. The cheese closest to the hot stone gets crispy like fried cheese and you can break off pieces to dip into the cheesy sauce and you can feel your heart slowing as it labors to pump the greasy goodness to your soon-to-be chubby extremities. Tricia's dad would love it more than anything in the world - fried cheese dipped in cheesy meat sauce! Anyway, lots of walking and swimming in the ocean are the only things that may keep me from becoming obese.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

whole lotta nothin'

Conservatives are always complaining that the country is running out of room for people-"too many immigrants!" Liberals are like, "too many humans - period." These people need to drive I-5 from Sacramento to Bakersfield. Right on I-5 there are long stretches of road with nothing but knee-high weeds (Next gas 42 miles). Drive from San Diego to Texas and you see the same thing - hundreds of miles of nothing. OK, so these areas have little water and lots of snakes, but this country is still pretty damn empty. Check out the map sometime between San Antonio and Guadalajara. Sure there are a couple of large cities. But I can tell you that massive stretches of Mexico's buisiest highways are essentially empty. Exept for deer. I hit one coming accross the border. It was sad, but it jumped over a fence afterward, so maybe it's alright.

Friday, January 12, 2007

road trip part two

We survived our trip to Texas, saw some friends and family along the way, and saw a fair portion of the West. Moving to LA is out of the question. Bakersfield was even worse. Bakerfield makes Everret look like Rome. Imagine ten miles in every direction: Carl's Jr., Home Depot, Safeway, Cheveron, etc., on a loop, forever. The Bakerfield Chamber of Commerce boasts that Bakersfield metro area is over 224 square miles, and I think I hate every one of them. But a half a million Bakersfielders can't be wrong, can they? I don't know, they have the largest Basque population in the U.S. if that counts for anything. But it was nice to see Ron, even if he is living a squatter's life in his apartment (lacking a bed, Ron slept on a loveseat -which was not as sweet as our "sleep machine" - a large pile of plankets, pillows and assorted yoga mats on the floor - it was not bad!). Still if we move anywhere on the west coast it would be San Diego, founded by the Germans in 1904...