Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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The Avid Pedestrian Handbook

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ASICS size 7 1/2 in elegant black.

Over the last year and a half, I have logged 5,989,993 steps on my Fitbit.  That’s about 2,537 miles or 4,083  kilometers.  I also earned a bunch of badges to stitch onto my long lost Girl Scout sash, most recently one called Monarch Migration.

I am especially skilled at putting one foot in front of the other – on mostly paved surfaces. I nearly lost my life, discovering the hard way, that I am no hiker but a walker.

I am quite the avid pedestrian. I embrace it as a lifestyle. My wardrobe, my schedule, my reading, my writing, my socializing, my moods, and my prayer life all revolve around my walking.

Proper provisions for my daily constitutional are a must.

I carry a very compact backpack packed with enough stuff to keep me alive for a couple of days. More like keep me entertained for a couple days —  should I become stranded at some urban outpost.

Inventorying my bag (and without exaggeration) these are the essentials:

  • Wallet, sunglasses, keys, and chill pill box,
  • Colored pencils and sketchpad,
  • Colored pens and notebook,
  • Tissues and cucumber face wipes,
  • Throat lozenges and ginger mints,
  • Kindle or paperback book,
  • Checkbook and chargers,
  • Lip gloss and mascara,
  • Hand cream and sunscreen,
  • Kind Bars and water bottle,
  • Iphone

I am so prepared I put Boy Scouts to shame. Who knows? I may need to stop and sketch the next Mona Lisa. I may need to stop and write the Great American Novel.

And of course I have to look fabulous. I may meet some dark and handsome stranger along the way.

So yes, it is also critical to be properly outfitted.

In order to maximize walking opportunities I always take a change of clothes with me wherever I go. I either take my walking clothes to work or work clothes to change into after I walk. I don’t leave home without them.

Shoes are most important. Mine are size 7 ½ ASICS Nimbus. Proper socks are also a must – either Feetures or Belega. $12 a pair and worth every penny.

Sweats and jeans are way too heavy and slow you down. Running tights for freedom of movement, breathable high tech undershirt, lightweight, water repellant jacket, thin gloves, and a hat. Knit in winter, brimmed in summer.

You can shop at Target or Lululemon depending on your budget. Lululemon is pricey but their stuff wears like iron and lasts forever. This is a lifestyle choice remember.

The goal is to be as fleet of feet as possible.

And don’t forget to accessorize! A little jewelry is appropriate.

First and foremost is my Fitbit Flex.

I never take mine off (except to charge it of course!). I shower with it, sleep with it, grocery shop with it. It keeps me honest and motivated. It sends me weekly report cards in my email and gives me badges for a job well done – which greatly appeals to the third grader in me.

A wrist rosary and Tibetan prayer beads.

My two-decade wrist rosary is a souvenir a dear friend brought back from Assisi. The Tibetan prayer beads are from off the rack at Ten Thousand Villages. I pray with them as I walk. I pray with them on park benches. Both are great for sidewalk contemplation traipsing around God’s creation.

St. Christopher Necklace.

Yes, he is a totally bogus saint, a pious legend from the 13th century, but his name literally means “Christ carrier”. The medallion reminds me that when I am out and about that every driver, every cyclist, every pedestrian carries the sacred within them. Every single living, breathing thing is holy. So watch those traffic lights and look both ways before crossing the street.

NO earphones. NEVER.

The only soundtrack I want to hear is the sound of the streets. Oncoming cars, horns honking, birds singing, wind in the trees, street musicians playing, people talking, children playing. The sound and rhythm of my own footsteps on the pavement.

And so where do I go?

Depending on the weather and my moods, I change up my destination as much as possible. The best routes are both away from home and close to home — different and interesting but also doable. I rarely, if ever, walk in my own backyard.

But I do have favorites.

The Del Ray Loop

Starting at High St, down Russell Road to the train station, King Street to the river, and back again.  4.2 miles. Favorite stop: Killer ESP for latte and Hotrod Potato pie.

Old Town Riverfront

Starting at Jones Point Park beneath the Wilson Bridge, walk the Potomac riverfront through Old Town Alexandria up to Tide Lock Park, and back again. 4.5 miles. Favorite stop: Carluccio’s for coffee and scrambled eggs.

Huntley Meadows Park

Starting at the visitor center, several turns around the woodland and wetland boardwalk trails. 3.5 miles. Favorite stop: Observatory tower that overlooks beaver dams, wild geese, and cattails.

Roosevelt Island

Walking with my steady, Teddy is the best. Wetland and forest trails through this memorial wildlife preserve dedicated to our 26th President, father of the National Parks.  4 miles. Favorite stop: Photo op with the great man himself at center island.

Hometown, Downtown DC

Yes, I am a native Washingtonian. Subway to Metro Center at 12th and G streets. walk 10th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, up to the Capitol, East Capitol Street to 8th, ending up at the Eastern Market, and back again.  4.6 miles. Favorite stop? So many to choose from: Ford’s Theater, Madame Tussaud’s, the National Archives, The Botanical Gardens, and be still my heart, The Library of Congress. (And coffee, or course, at a variety of cafes along the way.)

Walking has become my spiritual discipline, my philosophy of life.

Find a path and walk it. Investigate all the twists and turns. Do not be afraid. Change direction as needed. Pay attention. Listen to the rhythms of the street. Pause and talk to strangers you meet — entertaining angels along the way. Breathe the breath of life into your lungs — bus fumes and all.

And not to worry — it is perfectly okay to get lost.

In the life of an avid pedestrian, that’s what God, and therapy, and Google Maps are for.

So strap on your shoes, my friends, go outside, and take a walk.

JoaniSign

 


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I fear and tremble…therefore I am…

Kierkegaard cartoon question

“The existential question & the Dane’s answer.”

I had a bad case of Kierkegaard in college.

My diagnosis was directly attributable to Sister Mary Clare, my high school principal at Immaculata Prep.

You see — from my Jesuit educated dad, I inherited an insatiable curiosity and an inquiring mind. Virtually all my sentences ended in question marks – especially in religion class.

“Transubstantiation makes no sense, Sister. Why would Jesus want us to eat him?”

“The atonement? Why does God kill his only son to save us? What kind of God is that?”

“Bad Catholics go to heaven? Loving Buddhists go to hell? What’s up with that?”

And the deepest and most disturbing question: “Why is French kissing a mortal sin?”

Called into the principal’s office, Sister Mary Clare sat me down to set me straight.

“Joani, you have to stop asking questions in religion class. You are confusing the other girls.”

“Joani, you are intellectually gifted but you are spiritually retarded.”

Yes, “spiritually retarded”. That’s a direct quote.

So I skipped my senior year at Immaculata to start Catholic University early as a philosophy major — a philosophy major who could ask all the f*ing questions she wanted.

I loved my three years at Catholic U. Historically we read the greatest thinkers of all times: ancient, medieval, modern, existentialist and more.

We didn’t read about philosophy, we read the philosophers themselves: Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Boethius, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Hume, Heidegger, Hegel, Spinoza, Levinas, Wittgenstein, Sartre – and of course Kierkegaard. (Achoo!)

And because I left in my final year without finishing, I missed out on a generation or two of 20th century thinkers: Foucault, Derrida, etc.

But what I did not miss out on was a first class education. Philosophy not only exercises the brain and challenges the mind –philosophy is therapy for the soul.

I aced logic and excelled at metaphysics. I ached with existential angst. I entered Catholic U a parochial school girl and by the time I left I was a Platonic, Hegelian, Enlightened, phenomenological agnostic.

(What does this exactly mean? I don’t exactly know.)

I loved it and my grades proved it. I was invited by my professors to enter the prestigious School of Philosophy.

All of my professors were men. All of the School’s students were seminarians. Need I state the obvious? All men.

Even though I would have been the only woman –I declined. Because I would have been the only woman, I decided to stay behind in the more diverse and down to earth Department of Philosophy.

Women’s numbers in philosophy departments have dramatically improved since my college days – approximately 20% now in the US and higher the UK. But these are still low ball numbers compared to the numbers of women scholars in other halls of the humanities.

A book review in the July 17th issue of The Times Literary Supplement suggests the gender gap is not just a matter of bias – but women like myself – self-selecting out.

I studied philosophy to learn how to think clearly and creatively. I studied philosophy so I could ask Life’s most profound questions. I wanted to be in conversation with other seekers – in a community that mattered. I studied philosophy to expand my soul.

But philosophy – as does theology – gets carried away with itself for the sake of itself – tripping over technical jargon and getting lost in mind numbing minutia.

So lots of brilliant women just say “NO!”.

David Papineau’s TLS piece on “Women in Philosophy: What needs to change?” proposes that “pointlessness, pugilism, nitpicking, pin-dancing” are “all possibilities of why women avoid philosophy.”

 Hysterically he uses the example of professional snooker – a limited but very illuminating analogy.

“Even though women are eligible to compete as professionals, none is ranked in the top hundred. The six-times world champion, Steve Davis, has no doubt about the reason. It’s not that women are incapable of the highest levels of skill. It is rather that as a group they are disinclined to devote obsessive effort to ‘something that must be said is a complete waste of time – trying to put snooker balls into pockets with a pointed stick.’”

 “As Davis sees it, ‘practicing eight hours a day to get to world championship level’ ranks high among the ‘most stupid things to do with your life.’”

 In other words, women philosophers, might ask more truly meaningful questions – and then choose to explore them in life affirming ways – not wasting their time contemplating “how many angels dance on the head of a pin.”

After marriage and children, I meandered back to school and matriculated in philosophy once again – but this time with an interdisciplinary flair. My undergraduate thesis was on comparative Christology according to George William Friedrich Hegel, Carl Gustav Jung, and John A.T. Robinson.(Don’t you love all those names?)

I remember virtually nothing of what I wrote (the manuscript is lost to time, thanks be to God). I do remember though that it mattered a great deal to me at the time.

A matter of vital importance, I did the best I could to answer Christ’s question:

Who do you say that I am?

 “I” here is reflexive pronoun, plural and not just singular. For Christ and me. “I and Thou”.

I continue to ask this question as an Anglican, as a woman, a priest and a bipolar crazy person. I ask this question every day when I get I up and every night when I lay me down to sleep. I ask it every time I look in the mirror. I ask it every time I preach a sermon or teach a class.

“Who do you say that I am?”

It’s a very bipolar question – this philosophical and theological question. And better than 100 milligrams of Seroquel – it keeps me focused. Trying to answer it sharpens my mind. It clarifies my thoughts. It keeps me grounded and tethered to the ground – the “ground of my being”. It keeps me honest. It keeps me whole.

A dose of philosophy can be good therapy – exercise for the mind, medicine for the psyche, a balm for a fevered brain.

 And regardless of the answers – as a seminary professor once famously said — “learn to love the questions.”

Learn to lean into the questions.

It might just save your sanity.

It might just save your soul.

JoaniSign