Monday, May 29, 2006
Everbody's ringing the bells
Everbody's turning on the light
Everybody's going out
To have a good time tonight.
Everybody's finding a job
Everybody's mowing the lawn
Everybody's moving in
And then they're gone.
Once I had a friend,
Met him on the street...
But friendships end
And never again did we meet.
Everybody's buying a home
Everybody's finding a wife
Everybody's looking for
The good life.
Why is my verse
Barren of new pride?
There's a full moon
And a black crow flying outside.
Everybody's ringing the bells
Everybody's turning on the light
Everybody going out
For a good time tonight.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
The chapel is very lovely, with a high pitched roof, and stained glass patterned on Native American colors and themes.
There was a bird somewhere in the rafters of that high roof. At least one bird, that chirped throughout the evening. One of OCU's professors introduced Fr. Fox, and opened the evening with a prayer. His prayer included thanks for our unique choir.
Fr. Fox's topic was "Creativity - Where the Divine and the Human Meet", which is also the title of a book he published in 2002.
He began by asserting that the fundamental question of our time is whether humanity is sustainable. He cited a number of ways humanity has wounded the earth, ways that will be familiar to most environmentalists, progressives, and liberals. What we are currently seeing, in his view, is a crescendo of self-destruction.
Much of this is the dark side of humanity's creativity.
A beginning to the resolution to the question of humanity's sustainability is recognizing we are creative. According to Fr Fox, the anthropologists' definition of homo sapiens is "a biped who makes things". The Bible has another subtle way of stating this: when Genesis says God created humanity in God's image, it suggests that God created creators.
Matthew said that every human activity is creative. We have shortchanged ourselves by limiting the notion of "creative" to the fine arts and/or plastic arts. We must learn to honor our creativity and incorporate it into all areas of human conduct. The office worker is as creative as a painter. The garbage collector is as creative as an architect. And don't forget the art of conversation!
I would personally add that what is required for this to become true is what our Buddhist friends call mindfulness, and a degree of diligence. For example, there are moments when my desk job is more obviously creative than others. If I am to honor my intrinsic creativity, I must be diligent in seeking creative possibilities in those moments which are not so obvious.
Where does creativity come from? Fr. Fox contends it begins with our relationship with the cosmos, which is in the habit of birth, death, and resurrection. Humanity, as a species, and as individuals, is also involved in this cyclic habit.
With Newton came the notion of a clockwork universe, with God being the divine clockmaker. Note that God doesn't play a role as clock repairperson in this model. God set the perfect clock in motion, then left it alone. And the universe clicks on in mechanistic precision and regularity.
Einstein, and the quantum physicists who followed him, describe a universe that is - again - in the habit of birth, death, and resurrection. From this, Fr Fox suggests the Christ extends from one individual in history to the whole cosmos. As part of the cosmos, humanity participates in the Cosmic Christ, and participates in this cycle.
Creativity also comes from wildness, or chaos. Matthew noted most people fear chaos, but that is the source of some of the greatest works of art. And I would add that studies have shown that humans are incapable of imaging chaos. Presented with a random pattern of marbles, for example, the average person will discern an order. Another example of this is how people discern a pattern a randomized selection of music on their Ipods.
Another source of creativity is suffering. In fact, one of the sources of creativity's dark side is a person's refusal to deal with grief or suffering in creative ways. For example, if you are attacked the natural response is to attack in return. But you have the choice to engage your creative nature, and seek alternate responses.
For the shaman, suffering is not a personal wound, but is the wound of the world. This is the call of all creators: to confront our wounds, accept them as part of the world's woundedness, and seek creative responses to those wounds. All too often, we seek to be strong. We deny those dark feelings of grief or anger or distress. We deny our frustration with injustice.
Constant denial of these feelings lead to a dark night of the soul. Which is exactly where our culture is, at present - an extended Dark Night of the Soul. But the dark night is a school to purify our longings.
What are other causes for the dark side of creativity? The first, according to Fr Fox, is a lack of regard for potential consequences. I would amplify this by saying that, even at this point of our civilization, we lack the ability to accurately predict all possible consequences. For example, the man who invented the railroad thought he was doing a good thing, because he had created a means for faster travel. Environmental science did not exist to suggest that a coal-burning machine would have a negative impact on humans and other life.
So we are, to a degree, subject to the law of unintended consequences. I don't mean to suggest we give up. Divine creativity requires due diligence into possible consequences, so far as contemporary science can see. It also requires turning around when negative consequences are discerned.
Which brings us to the second cause of creativity's dark side - persisting in a project even after negative consequences have become apparent. Commonly, this persistence is based more on personal economics than ethics. Fr Fox used the example of the Los Alamos project which produced the atom bomb. One of the researchers had ethical qualms about killing so many people in one stroke, and learned that many others on the Manhattan Project shared his concerns. Why did they continue on the project? Because they had a family to feed, and a mortgage to pay.
To Fox, this confuses wealth with money. The researcher approached Fox, and asked how he could explain to the other men on the project why he was quitting. Fox reports that he quoted E.E. Cummings: "There is some sh*t I will not eat."
Money is what we require for mere survival. Wealth comes from creativity, which leads to more abundant life.
By happenstance, I already had a copy of Fr Fox's book. I had bought it a little over a year ago at a discount book store. I brought it in case he did a book signing, which he did.
He signed it: "To the joy of creativity".
Friday, May 26, 2006
- Humans are capable of great good and great evil. My goal is to cultivate the good within myself, and encourage it in others.
- God is beyond category or definition. At worst,this word is a placeholder for humanity's highest aspirations. At best, it is an humble expression that humanity is not the highest, and there is something beyond the phenomenal plane.
- It's better to be with living people than televised simulcra.
- Dark chocolate is a viable therapy for depression.
- Life delights in life. In the end, life will have the final word.
Click for larger view
Here is the last photo I'll share from my visit to Brother Dave's estate. The challenge, as I mentioned last Friday, was to take a picture of the dogs close together. This is the closest I can manage.
There are ways to tell the dogs apart - one has a greyer snout; one has more white markings (especially right back paw); and one has a thicker coat. As I recall, Fearless is the one with a thicker coat. However, as Brother Dave's comment makes clear, I've had some challenge keeping the distinctions straight.
Mostly, I appreciated their unconditional affection and companionship.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
This is the penultimate picture I'd like to share from my vacation. What you see is a third of the full picture — click the image to see the full panoramic view. This is a view of the western skyline, from the veranda on Brother Dave's property.
There is a guard rail at the edge of the verada. I used this to support my camera. I only moved it a couple of foot between each shot, and ended up with over 30 pictures of this horizon. As it turned out, this was excessive, but this was only the second time I've tried to create a panoramic shot.
I went into the cyber dark room to stitch the shots together, and here we are.
One more thing: between all these shots and the multiple shots of the hummingbird feeder (with and without hummingbird), I filled up my memory card.
- Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
Ms. Didion is best known for her erudite novels, such as Book of Common Prayer, and her highly literate essays (e.g., Slouching Toward Babylon). Normally, her writing is emotionally distant. Which makes this book unique in her oeuvre, as it is an account of her grieving process the year following the death of her husband. She is remarkably self-conscious, almost to the point of pathologic neurosis.
I recommend this book for anyone who has lost a loved one, especially if it has been a year or more since the loss. Ms. Didion's precise description of her feelings may be too close for comfort if the loss has been more recent. I would definitely put this book on the shelf next to C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed, which is surely the touchstone for this sub-genre of personal memoir.
- Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth
I only read the title story during my visit. It is a letter from Satan reflecting his visit to the earth. Themes of human hypocrisy (especially that of Christians) will be familiar to serious students of Twain's work.
The whole book is a collection of essays and stories which were not published during Twain's lifetime.
Unlike much of his later work, which was so dark it lacked any semblance of humor, there are many lines in this story that are laugh-out-loud funny.
- Davidson Loehr, America, Fascism, And God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher
Rev. Loehr is a Unitarian minister, and this is a collection of sermons he gave at his church. I believe the earliest was delivered the Sunday following 9/11.
It seemed appropriate to read this right after "Letters from the Earth," because Loehr criticizes the popular image of God (Old Greybeard, as I call it) for much the same reasons Twain did. Loehr makes many of the same points, he just isn't as humerous in doing so.
The word "fascism" is a loaded term. It is most commonly used these days by certain wild-eyed members of the blogosphere whose blood pressure rises whenever they see the name "B*sh". Therefore, it's easy to dismiss it's use.
Rev. Loehr carefully points out the meaning of the word; the root mean (faeces) is a bundle of sticks, and Davidson notes there is actually such a bundle in the Seal of the Unites States.
Aside from the excesses of Hitler and Mussolini, "fascism" means a close collaboration between government and business. This collaboration is typically reinforced by appeal to religion.
One need not look much further than the clandestine meeting held in B*sh's first term, when VP Ch*n*y called together energy executives to draw up the nation's energy policy. Among those executives was "Kenny Boy" Lay, now under indictment. It would seem obvious that the executives would draw up a policy most beneficial to their stockholders, rather than the greater good of the nation.
Another rather obvious example are the no-bid contracts granted to Halliburton (coincidentally Mr. Ch*n*y's former employer) in Iraq.
The book does preach rather much to the choir. No one who favors Mr. B*sh's policies (the 32% or so left) is likely to pick up this book. But it is worthwhile reading. If, like me, you're inclined to believe that hope is a good thing, Rev. Loehr offers some evidence for hope.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Selected quotes from Ms. Pagels' article on Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code:
As a historian, I would agree that no reputable scholar has ever found evidence of author Dan Brown's assertion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had a child, and no scholar would take seriously Brown's conspiracy theories about the Catholic group Opus Dei.Ms. Pagels then goes on to say the book is popular because of some things Mr. Brown got right: first "that some views of Christian history were buried for centuries because leaders of the early Catholic Church wanted to present one version of Jesus' life: theirs."
But what is compelling about Brown's work of fiction, and part of what may be worrying Catholic and evangelical leaders, is not the book's many falsehoods.
She goes on to say that "Brown [has] brought up subjects that the Catholic Church would like to avoid. He raised the big what-ifs: What if the version of Jesus' life that Christians are taught isn't the right one? And perhaps as troubling in a still-patriarchal church: What if Mary Magdalene played a more important role in Jesus' life than we've been led to believe, not as his wife perhaps, but as a beloved and valued disciple?"She goes on to remind us, briefly of the Gnostic Gospels. As I have mentioned before, she is the recognized authority on this collection of writings.
What, then, do these texts say, and why did certain leaders find them so threatening?Second, and perhaps worst of all, she says, "was that many of these secret texts speak of God not only in masculine images, but also in feminine images".
First, they suggest that the way to God can be found by anyone who seeks. According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus suggests that when we come to know ourselves at the deepest level, we come to know God: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you." This message – to seek for oneself – was not one that bishops like Irenaeus appreciated: Instead, he insisted, one must come to God through the church, "outside of which," he said, "there is no salvation."
Second .... Jesus appears as human, yet one through whom the light of God now shines.... People might end up thinking that they could be like Jesus themselves.
Those possibilities opened by the "Gnostic" gospels – that God could have a feminine side and that Jesus could be human – are key ideas that Dan Brown explored in "The Da Vinci Code,'' and are no doubt part of what made the book so alluring.Elaine Pagels is the author of The Gnostic Gospels and Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, is a professor of religion at Princeton. She wrote this article for the Perspective section of the San Jose Mercury News (linked above).
The strongest criticism I have heard regarding the Gnostics is their rejection of humanity's physical being. They consider human flesh something base and crass that the (superior) soul must escape from.
In the recently recovered "Gospel Of Judas," Judas is portrayed as a hero because he helps Jesus escape his fleshy prison.
This is in strong contrast to Christian thought in the early church, which considered the soul and body to be indivisible. There is a reason why Jesus, the Epistles, and John's Revelation all emphasize a physical resurrection. The early Christian Church considered the human body to be part of God's sacred creation.
The church began to turn from this view around the time of Augustine, and an anti-body bias has persisted through both Roman Catholic and Protestant theology ever since.
Another criticism which seems to be common is the Gnostic belief that only those who shared their "secret knowledge" would be saved.
However, Ms. Pagels has drawn our attention to bits and pieces of the canon which also speak of "secret knowledge". For example, in Matthew, Jesus says he reveals the truth in parables because the common people aren't ready for the truth. He then reveals this "secret" truth to his inner circle, by explaining the meaning of the parables.
The fact that the recorded explication is flat-footed allegory is beside the point.
If indeed the Gnostics believed they alone had the secret knowledge of salvation, it's a trait they share with many modern believers. Doesn't matter what denomination, religion, or tradition a person belongs to, we are awfully fond of defining ourselves as superior to those who hold differing opinions.
There is no question Gnostic literature is unorthodox. The Gnostic tradition was as diverse, in its way, as the modern Protestant tradition. I've tried to read Gnostic documents as a unified whole, and it's nigh unto impossible.
In addition to the church politics Ms Pagels details, it is possible the Gnostic movement died out because they could not produce a set of documents which had an internal unity as strong as the existing canon.
Regardless, there may be insights to be gained from the tradition. The notion of a Godhead which incorporates male and female appeals to me (though I would also argue God transcends gender). I am also attracted to the notion that we each have a divine spark, and have the capacity to be Christ.
I freely admit that I cherry-pick from Scripture to support what I have come to believe. I don't suppose myself to be unique. I chose to ignore the vinctictive and capricious God of the Torah, and focus on the compassionate God illustrated by the Prophets and Jesus.I suggest it is possible to cherry-pick from the Gnostic literature in a similar fashion. Be nourished by that which inspires your inner spark; disregard that which does not. As the sage said, "Take the meat, and leave the rest."
I haven't talked much about what motivated the trip, or the drive down there.
I had already arranged to take May 16-19 off, because I had a meeting to attend in Seminole on the 16th and 17th . This was an overnight meeting of the Diocesan Commission on Christian Formation (neé Christian Education) at our church conference center in Seminole, OK. It's been a slack time at work, and I have the vacation time available, so it made sense to take as much of the week as I could.
About two weeks prior to this scheduled vacation time, things at work became stressful. This stress was related to interpersonal issues, rather than the job itself. At that point, I decided I needed to get as far away from the situation as possible. The goal was to gain some emotional distance through creating physical distance.
Seminole is south of OKC, and Brother Dave is even further south. It occurred to me that my stop in Seminole was en route to his place. What I had failed to take into account was the fact that Seminole is only about ten miles south of OKC, but is about 20 miles east (give or take). Brother Dave's place is roughly WSW of OKC, so I would have to double back on that 20 miles.
In the past, the route to the estate has involved driving south on I-35, driving west on some other interstate, then driving south on Highway 281. Not surprisingly, I've gotten lost each time. Sometime in the past couple of years, Dave and Linda discovered that Hwy 281 links with I-44 in Oklahoma — pretty much a straight shot.My primary goal was to arrive at the last major turn-off before sundown. I left Seminole a little after 12; I had estimated an eight-hour drive. There was a strong wind from the west, so I had a headwind as I re-drove that 20 miles.
Not too far from the Oklahoma/Texas border is Jack County. One of the towns in Jack County is Mineral Wells. As is common in smaller towns, the highway is also main street. I got to Mineral Wells between 4:30 and 5.
The road was blocked.
I could see fire trucks. High school marching bands. People on horse back. I assume this was some sort of Founders' Day Parade. On a Wednesday.
My first idea was to parallel the parade on the closest available street. It was only a block away, so I had the potential of seeing where the parade's southern-most turning point was. Problem was, the closest available street wasn't a through street; for a while, it zigzagged, then came to a dead end.
Have I mentioned my talent for getting lost?
At this point, it seemed best to cut my losses and wait the parade out. So, I drove back toward the main drag. I put the car in park and switched off the ignition, and chose to enjoy the parade.
I was impressed by a couple of things. First, several mounted posses were rode by. They seemed to represent about every town in the county. Second, there was a very small child on a horse, with his mother riding ahead of him. The mother was not holding the horse's reins (I suspect the horse was exceptionally well-trained). Judging from the boy's size, I would guess he was between one and two years old.
Sure do start early in those rural Texas counties.
Between 20 to 30 minutes later, the parade was done. I cautiously trailed behind them, at a safe distance and speed. I almost felt like I was an unofficial part of the parade. Part of my caution, reasonably enough, involved avoiding horse apples to the best of my ability.
So. Back on the road. I lost some time there, but I figured I would still get to the turn-off by dusk, at the latest.
One of my landmarks, so to speak, was the town of Burnett. I was a little less than 20 miles north of Burnett when I hit road construction. There was a sign man there, who informed me that a guide vehicle would have to take me through the construction; it had just left, and it would be about 25 minutes before it returned.
Like I had a choice?
Happily, I had purchased a pay-as-you-go phone especially for this journey. I called the estate, and let my hosts know of the delays. They told me I had about two hours more to drive. It was between 6:30 and 7 by now.
Sure enough, the sun set between 8:30 and 9, as I had expected. I drove the last 45 minutes or so with headlights on, squinting to see the turn-off sign.
I saw the five mile warning for the turn-off, then the turn-off itself. I made the turn without incident. I pulled to the side of the road, and let Brother Dave know I was very close indeed. He told me not to worry about bringing in any of my gear, that I should focus on dinner (lovely lintel soup) and unwinding from the road.
Which I did, most gratefully.And as I have said, the stay was relaxing. Both forms of distance were achieved.
Monday, May 22, 2006
One of the canine companions brought this arachnid to our attention either Friday or Saturday night. You would have thought the dog had been trained for such events, for it stood at the door and stared at the floor. I was closest to the door, and commented that there was a large black spider at the doorway.
I don’t believe I’ve seen a tarantula in real life before. This particular tarantula was just inside Linda’s greenhouse annex, which is on the other side of the kitchen/dining room area. Brother Dave calmly got a bit of cardboard, coached the tarantula on to it, and relocated the uninvited guest to a different area of the greenhouse. Then he closed the door.
According to Wikipedia, the tarantula has an undeserved fearsome reputation. It is not nearly as deadly as its appearance, or horror movies, would have us believe.
If the tarantula did visit us Friday night, it was shortly before we watched Frida, starring Salma Hayek, and directed by Julie Taymor. For some reason, it would seem appropriate for the two events to be coincidentally on the same evening.
Frida is a biopic of Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist. The movie is Ms. Taymor’s second effort for the big screen (IMDB lists three TV credits); she is best known for her work on Broadway (e.g., The Lion King). So, I watched the movie closely to see if it was "stagey."
Happily, it is not. The film is full of bright colors; it has a rich palette which reflects both Ms. Kahlo’s art, and the art of her lover/sometime husband Diego Rivera. Many of Ms. Kahlo’s canvases are brought to life, either literally or through implicit exposition. The camera moves briskly through each mis en scene.
The film primarily owes its existence to Ms. Hayek, who has producer credit. She pushed hard for a script and direction which would honor an artist who has previously received only limited recognition. I definitely felt like I was watching Frida, rather than an actress portraying her.
My only negative comment on the movie is that it seemed to rush through Frida's final years. Granted, all film biographies will be compressed – or will focus on one central event in a person's life (witness Capote). But, ideally, the viewer should not feel rushed in any part of the picture.
The appearance of the tarantula, if it did appear on this evening, is appropriate because Ms. Kahlo had a dark life which was reflected through sometimes brutal art. Early on, she is involved in a severe bus accident which breaks most of her bones and leaves her in severe pain for the rest of her life. It is suggested that she became (understandably) addicted to pain medication in her last years.
Like the tarantula, it would be easy to mistake the brutality of Frida Kahlo’s art — as merely revolutionary (she was a communist) or merely autobiographical. But I think the movie directs us more toward the notion that her art reflected much more; that it reflected the fullness of a passionate woman.
I have put the movie in my Netflix que, to watch once again. Recommended.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Click for larger view
Here we are, on the west side of the estate. There are at least two bird feeding zones out here. It's late morning, and the three of us are quietly bird watching. My camera is still set up on a tripod, with the zoom lens on.
Pastor Elsie, who I dated a couple of years ago, had a special affection for cardinals. For her, they were icons of the divine. They also reminded her of her mother.
I'm pretty poor with bird names, and even worse in recognizing bird songs. I initially mistook the cardinal's song for Poor Will's, but Brother Dave matter-of-factly pointed out the difference.
It seemed to me that the canyon wren had a little descending laugh that Mozart would envy, which was punctuated with a chirp or hiccup.
Dave and Linda sat. Sister and Fearless were on the south-east, on a sort of board walk Dave built from the house to their car port. I leaned against the railing when I wasn't swinging the camera to and fro, and taking bird shots.
The three of us spent much of our time bird-watching. Either the natural aviary around the estate, or the pergrine falcons now starring in their own web-cam series.
The cardinal blessed it all.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Brother Dave made a supportive comment on Saturday, to the effect that my new camera had expanded my creative palette. Earlier that day, he had suggested that I take a shot of this lace cactus, which is growing just a bit below their veranda.
Actually, he had suggested that I take one of my "Georgia O'Keefe" shots. I tried, but the focus and light would not cooperate. I tried again Sunday, morning, only to learn that the flower was photosensitive. It was waiting for the sun, and there was heavy cloud cover Sunday morning.
Friday, May 19, 2006
I am pleased to report that DJ is still speaking to me, even though I was gone for almost a week. She did have her Aunt Alexandria to watch her, so maybe that compensated.
It's even more impressive that she didn't get huffy about the amount of dog on my clothes. She was - as is her nature - curious, but she didn' t shun me.
Here we see an extreme close-up of Sister. Her companion, Fearless, is in the distant background. Sister loves to be petted, and I think she was trying to get the camera to pet her.
Another one of my photographic challenges was to capture a shot of the dogs close together. Although they get along quite well, they rarely lay down in close proximity. I do have one other shot of the ladies in which they are closer together, but I think this one is more charming.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
It was over dinner Friday night that we were trying to remember the last time I visited the estates in West Texas. Our best guess was about three years ago; I had first visited in April of the previous year, which would have been 2002.
The first thing that impressed me about the property when I first went (whenever that was) was the vast amount of cactus. I mentioned to Brother Dave that it seemed to grow like a weed. He was in process of landscaping the property, and muttered that the only difference was that cactus was harder to pull than weeds.
My impression is that there is somewhat less cactus on the property than there was about four years ago. I suppose there's just no getting rid of it. Plus, cactus plays its own unique role in the West Texas ecosystem. No one who cares about the environment, as Brother Dave does, is going to try to irradicate the cactus altogether.
I've come to really like gallardias - they seem rather hopeful in their distinctive southwestern colors. I took over a dozen shots of gallardias: group shots, extreme close-ups, and so on. I especially like this shot because of the contrast between the colorful gallardia and the spiny cactus.
Somehow, it seems not only hopeful but also brave as it dares challenge the cactus' territory.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I naturally took my high-powered Canon Digital SLR with me on my trip. Linda, Brother Dave's primary human companion, had one simple request: take a picture of a hummingbird at this particular feeder.
Of course, one of my photographic goals from the first time I visited their property was to catch a shot of a hummingbird at one of the feeders.
There are at least three hummingbird feeders on their property. My unscientific observation is that the feeders on the south side of the house are more popular than this feeder, which hangs from the east end of their veranda.
I have over a dozen pictures of the feeder alone, taken from several angles. I have a series of shots of a hummingbird darting back and forth from one of these eggs, which could easily be a little movie (we'll see if I can pull that off).
What I ultimately did was set the camera up on a tripod at what I considered to be the best angle, using my zoom lens. I focused the shot and waited. And waited. And waited.
Of the shots including a hummingbird, I feel this one is the best.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
I went to the West Texas foot hills to visit Brother Dave and his companions, Linda, Sister and Fearless. Two of those names belong to dogs.
Happily, they have an Internet connection, and Linda let me borrow her computer; which explains how I was able to still keep in touch through this space.
As you can see from the above image, the view from their back veranda is quite impressive. I'll be sharing other images from my trip over the next few days, one of which will be a panorama of the western hills.
Brother Dave and I resemble each other strongly. We also each resemble Padre, in our unique ways. One of the resemblances is brevity of speech. Typically, we don't speak unless we have something to say. It may seem odd, but one of my favorite memories will be a companionable silence Dave & I shared Saturday night. We were sitting on the veranda. Canyon wrens, cardinals, and other small birds were darting around the feeders. Hawks were riding thermals high above us.
The earth slowly rotated in its traditional fashion. And silence between.
I spent most of my time reading, when I wasn't touring their property with my camera. We also watched a couple of movies. Brother Dave and I watched an episode of "Mash" Thursday night, which seemed oddly familiar. Padre and I watched the series together when it was originally on.
Brother Dave and I are different in some ways as well. Dave's opinion of humanity shares much with Mark Twain's (i.e., he has little hope for us). One of his first comments to me was that I'm the sole member of the family left who thinks hope is a good thing.
In a perverse way, it's nice to have someone who makes me look like an optimist by comparison.
Yet, it's clear he cares for me - and not just because he feels obliged to. Over dinner Saturday - my last night to be with the group - he told me to be sure to list him as an emergency contact if I should need to go to the hospital for something serious. You don't know Brother Dave, but to me this pledge spoke a wealth of love.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Sunday, May 14, 2006
So, I was pleased, a year ago, when I received an email concerning the history of Mother's Day. It may have become a greeting-card holiday, filled with unrealistic nostalgia. But it began as a response to the Civil War. It was, in essence, an anti-war commemoration.
For more, see my entry from this time last year.
I suggest it is well past time that we reclaim the anti-war roots of this holiday.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
to reveal the Judas face
to praise the brave betrayer.
The wound is a hidden scar
it's a thin white ghost
it is not a betrayal.
It remains ever faithful.
Dark circles under the eyes.
Stubble defines the cheek bones.
The mirror's morning joke.
The mirror has its own code
it will not let me see:
a pinhole intimation of sanctity.
The mirror is one.
Its dark silver is also its light.
Its Judas is also its savior.
Melt the mirror, melt the face.
Light in the darkness remains
to comfort the secret heart.
Who remains? Who stays?
Who sleeps beneath the forbidden tree?
Let this thin face melt away. Let the shallow face betray its shadows. The wound is not a betrayal. It is courage in training. It is experience in training. It is the villagers with the pitchforks.
The brave Judas face will not be betryed. It lives within its mortal flesh. The cross roads are at the foot of the world. The face makes its bargain. Makes a bargain with darkness and light.
The notebook records a few other variations on this theme, but the above are among the most notable.
against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.
— Aristotle, philosopher (384-322 BCE)
Friday, May 12, 2006
Idealism centers around the belief that we are moving towards something greater. An odd mix of evolutionist and spiritualist, you see the divine within ourselves, waiting to emerge over time. Many religious traditions express how the divine spirit lost its identity, thus creating our world of turmoil, but in time it will find itself and all things will again become one.I don't recall the exact definition of "Cultural Creative", but it was to the effect that I took the best from all systems. Best as I define it, or discern it, of course.
Can we mix and match without polluting one side or the other? I know I am only relatively unorthodox in seeking sources of truth and inspiration outside of Christian tradition. I have such wise and spiritual examples as Thomas Merton and Bede Griffiths ahead of me. One thing I'm sensing is that observance of a tradition actually gives one greater freedom for exploration. Following his conversion, Merton spent most of his life as a recluse at Gethesmanie Abbey in Tennessee. Yet, it was from this radically conservative tradition that he sought out commonality with Zen.
Bede Griffiths, interestingly enough, was a friend of C.S. Lewis. Lewis, at the time an agnostic, was one of Griffiths' professors at Oxford. Griffiths was also either atheist or agnostic. They became friends. They had conversion experiences within a year of each other, though there's no hint that one influenced the other.
C.S. Lewis was one of the chief Christian apologists of the 20th Century. You can hardly imagine a more "orthodox" mind. Yet, even he recognized that inklings of truth might be found in world religions. Bede Griffiths even more so, for he founded a Christian ashram in southern India. So, I argue the tradition gave these people a safety net to explore and experiment.
That seems to be where I'm at, right now. The ritual and tradition of the Episcopal Church is my safety net, as I test the teachings of other traditions, and as I test where the spirit might be leading me.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
— Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, and author (1872-1970)
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Our mutual friend, Joanna, was standing with the group, and added a point to the loving ribbing. Then she said something remarkable: "Jonah, on the other hand, is a true gentleman." Then she turned to me and asked, "How is it that some woman hasn't snatched you up?"
I responded that I wasn't sure, but that I had been married for a time. "And I'm available and interested." This is sort of my standard line.
I'll note that Joanna is happily married. In fact, most of the women who've mentioned that I would make great husband material are already married. Obviously, it would be too forward for a single woman (who lives within a reasonable distance) to make this sort of comment.
Joanna's question has haunted me. I try not to think of my marital status too much. Obsessively worrying about it leads to an aura of desperation which tends to scare many of the women in my age group away, for one thing. For another, I really do believe the right woman will enter my life at the right time.
As I have mentioned before, I tend to be introverted. The past couple of years, I have striven to be more social. But I get anxious if I'm away from my house for more than a 2-3 nights a week. So, I perceive I need to strike a balance between being social, of being in situations where I might meet available women of a certain age, and of honoring my need for alone time.
Most of my social interactions have been through my church. This has seemed a safe atmosphere to begin with. At the very least, we share a common community. With more luck, we share a desire for a spiritually rich life.
There is a slight risk in dating women you meet at church. Actually, two risks having to do with the rumor mill. I've been made aware that, if two opposite-sex singles sit close together in church, there is a group of people (primarily female) who imagine they are a couple. If the singles do start dating, the mill gets into high gear, and these would-be matchmakers start opining on whether the two are good for each other.
The other risk is the awkwardness which may follow if you break up. I've been through a miniature version of this, and it's very uncomfortable. It can distract one from a focus on divine, at least for a month or so (depending on the seriousness of the relationship).
I am expanding my social circles, through my involvement with a local Folk Music club, and will soon have increased involvement with Oklahoma poets.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that one probable reason I don't have a steady girlfriend (to use an archaic term) is because I don't socialize in places where potential candidates are likely to congregate.
It must be noted, of course, that I haven't seriously asked someone out in over a year. That may have something to do with it, as well.
I've assumed these factors were pretty much it.
Then, I had the strangest dream this morning. It occurred in a state on the semi-conscious side of REM. The dream was basically a re-run of the conversation with Joanna, only this time my dream-self thought, "What am I saying? I'm still married to M–"
Could it be that I haven't totally closed the book on that relationship? Inspecting the notion in the light of day, it just doesn't make sense. M– left in the fall of 1995; we officially divorced in 2000. So, we've been separated for over ten years.
I've done a lot of work on that relationship. I've striven to confront areas where I may have contributed to its end. I've striven to forgive M– for how she contributed to its end. I even believed I had forgiven myself.
Have I missed a step? Is the dream telling me I'm still connected to M– in some way? Is it possible that this connection is preventing me from forming new potentially romantic relationships?
It's also possible, given the fact the dream occurred on the REM/full awareness borderlands that it doesn't mean anything. Could be a little time distortion wafting through my dream field.I offer these concerns for your prayer list.
Monday, May 08, 2006
I was more involved in the creation of this book than I had planned or expected. I initially volunteered to write two meditations. Wrote those, and thought I was done.
Then, I was in RLP chat, and one of the other writers mentioned he needed someone to pick up at least two of the dates he had volunteered for. The scripture assigned for one pair of dates was the Summary of the Law (Mk 12:28-34); I thought I could write something on that pretty easily, and volunteered to fill in for those dates. Wrote a two-part mediation, and thought I was done.
A few weeks later, I was in RLP chat again. Reverend Mommy, the general editor of the book, asked if I could take on several more dates. Like, maybe, as many as five or six. And, since the deadline had passed two weeks previous, could I write something by that Friday?
Up to this point, the goal was to write meditations on Sunday's Eucharistic Lectionary (most Protestant denominations share a common set of readings for each Sunday). I obtained a dispensation to write on any Bible verse I wanted to.
Thus, I was able to recycle blog entries on the Prodigal Son and Psalm 22. Including the process of polishing those entries for paper publication, I wrote an essay a day that week. I have not written so intensively since finals week in college.
Once again, I thought I was done. Ironically, the first two essays I wrote – the ones I had initially signed on for – were about a page long, and relatively orthodox. The fill-in essays I subsequently wrote were a little over a page long, and some were less orthodox than those first two.
About a week later, Reverend Mommy e-mailed a month's worth of essays, and asked me to share copyediting duties for this section with another member of the web-ring. As it turned out, Lorna and I co-copyedited two months' worth of essays.
Then, then, I was done.
My day job doesn't know it, but they donated my time for this project. The past month has been slow. Naturally, any work-related projects took precedence, but I still had time left to help with this project. My day job involves some proof-reading and copyediting, so I have the experience – plus I would look appropriately busy whenever a supervisor would happen by.
This has been a rewarding project. I was very honored that Reverend Mommy respected my writing skills so much that she asked me to fill in some gaps. I assume the same respect moved her to ask for my help as a copyeditor. So, it's been an ego-validation.I also put a lot of myself into this project. I lost all track of time, both when I was writing and when I was copyediting. I believe I'm good writer, and a fair copyeditor. As I say, it was nice to have this validated; it was even nicer to put my talents to use.
On Sale now for $18.99
If you click through on the book image, you'll notice the second name listed is James C-. That's my birth name. The list is in alphabetical order. I'm one of the five people whose name is listed because I also served as a copyeditor.
I really like the book description, which comes from the introduction:
This particular book of devotional readings span Ordinary Time, that season of the church year in which there are no high holy days to celebrate; the long stretch of green for those of us who are liturgical in our practice. They have been written by women and men of diverse denominational backgrounds; all with the aim of bringing scripture alive for both writer and reader. These writings reflect on the lectionary passages for Year B, and it is our prayer that in the green and ordinary time they will bring forth a bountiful harvest for all who read them.I'll have more to say about my part in this later today.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
— Leonard Cohen, musician/poet (1934- ) [from "Anthem"]
For years I have been repeating formulae I learned to
keep my devils away; and now I don't have any devils, but I say
the same formulae when angels are around
they go away too.
— Diane Wakoski, poet (1937- )
Friday, May 05, 2006
- Favorite birthday cake/ice cream/dessert
a) Carrot Cake; b) vanilla, with fresh strawberries; c) [alternate to (a)] Black Midnight Cake
- Surprise Parties — have you ever given or received one?
- Favorite birthday present
The wooden whale Dr. Omed gave me last year (pictured below, and above)
- What do you think of those candles that won't blow out?
Not my style of humor
- Best. birthday. ever.
Last year's concert/birthday bash
Thursday, May 04, 2006
- Say thank you.
- Close mouth
- Tell internal critic to be silent.
- Send internal critic to closet if necessary.
- Use Padlocks, chains, etc., if extreme measures are called for
- Repeat compliment to self, and drown out inner critic
- Compliment someone else - pass the compliments along
Why did I choose Jonah as a nom de blog? Mostly on a whim. That's the short answer.
Here's the longer answer.
In high school, I was "jac", which are also my initials. In college, my poetic alter-ego was Jason. I chose Jason because he was a seeker. I perceived the Golden Fleece as an aspect of the divine (may've picked this up from Joseph Campbell), and this fit where I was at during that time.
One day, a little over three years ago, I was leaving a comment on a friend's blog. I started to type "Jason" in the name slot, but that didn't seem to fit. Not that I've "found what I'm looking for", but because I don't feel quite as spiritually restless.
I was in a puckish mood, so I typed "Jeremiah". Maybe I was feeling prophetic. Maybe I was feeling "assaulted" or "ravished" by God. Honestly don't remember.
The Salon system stores a cookie on the user's computer which remembers the name you use. So I was Jeremiah for a while, until the next time I cleared out the cookies.
I often speak of being in the "belly of the beast", meaning American consumer culture. It's also a term I use when I am going to be in large crowded situations (e.g., the state fair). Jonah spent time in the belly of leviathan, so the connection seemed obvious.
So, I typed "Jonah".
Shortly after that, Real Live Preacher had moved to his new server and offered the opportunity to register as part of his community, which is also expressed in the chat room. "Jonah" still felt right, so that's what I typed when I registered.
The name was beginning to stick. All because I felt like I was in the belly of the beast one day.
The thing is, as I have mentioned a couple of times before, Jonah's time in the big fish wasn't necessarily negative. Sure, Jonah's response wasn't positive – he compares it to dying. But if the great fish hadn't swallowed him, he would have drowned. One might argue that Jonah's time in leviathan was a protected time, preparing him for his ministry – prophesying to the people of Nineveh.
It occurs to me that the next logical question is whether the name still fits, given my revised interpretation of Jonah's three-day sojourn in the whale. I don't think I need to change my blog identity – most people still think of the time in the whale hotel as a negative event. But the question does deserve some attention.
In what ways am I like the Biblical prophet, and in what ways do I differ? Let's compare.
To begin with, I'm no prophet. Well, probably not. I'm not shy about sharing my opinion, goodness knows. I'm often quite discerning about hearing what a person is really saying, or what the mood of a group may be. These may be gifts, as the Apostle Paul defines gifts, but they are not necessarily associated with the gift of prophesy.
One gets the impression that Jonah was a bit of a kvetcher. He complains about being sent to Nineveh – in fact, he deserts. He complains about being in the whale. He complains about the Lord sparing the Ninevites after they've heeded his prophecy. Only a consummate kvetcher could complain about having a successful preaching mission.
Now, I'm not exactly Mr. Happy Go Lucky. It's possible, if you caught me during a bad week, that you'd think I was a chronic complainer as well. On the other hand, I do strive to find the best in people. While I acknowledge that people are as capable of great evil as they are of great good, I try to emphasize the good.
I have inklings that God is leading me in a certain direction, and I'm doing my best to test those inklings. Included in this testing is service on a number of church boards and committees. I have complained about frustrations connected with this service, but I haven't run away. Nor have I complained when the work is successfully completed. You're not likely to find me sulking under any tamarisk trees.
Just yesterday afternoon, I was told I was compassionate. I don't think Jonah felt compassion for the Ninevites. He was more interested in seeing them receive the punishment he felt they deserved. We might say Jonah was judgmental, though we have little evidence outside of his eponymous book.
I recognize that I can be judgmental. I don't suppose I am more or less judgmental than the next person. It's still a part of my personality I don't like, and on the average day I'd rather deny it.So: how much am I like Jonah? I report, you decide.
Like unto it, Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
On a more pleasant note, Sam greets the day with rhetoric worthy of Barry Lopez.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
There are about ten items in each category (depending on how you count). Included are links to each individual part of the autobiographical digest, My Half Decade.
Please take a look at my selected "Best of" for the past year. You may recommend additions, deletions, and substitutions in the comments below.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Why are you so troubled?
Why are you amazed?
Do not be afraid.
Fear is a poor pet.
Release it to the wild, and
let it return to its dark home.
Grey thoughts, and silver heartbeat.
Cool air drifting through your daydreams.
Are you troubled?
Have we lost the gift,
the gift of amazement?
Monday, May 01, 2006
When I originally rejoined the church, in the early 80s, I was seeking structure for my spirituality. I had spent the previous two years trying to create a synthesis of world religions (via Joseph Campbell, et al), Gnosticism, William Blake, and Leo Buscaglia. The result of this undirected search was extreme anxiety and something like a nervous breakdown.
An additional benefit I discerned within the first year after I returned was community. I am an introvert, and can be content (up to a point) sitting in my room alone with my thoughts. The downside to this comfort zone is loneliness. Attending church forced me to be with people, and allowed me the opportunity to form friendships. This is still true, and I have done social things outside of church with friends I have made there.
There are times when attending church seems like an opportunity to recharge one's spiritual battery. A notion I had for a time – which I suspect was not a unique notion – was that one went to church to "plug into God" so one could make it through the week in the working world.
Let's face it, we are darned lucky if the morals of our wage-earning life even come close to the morals espoused Sunday mornings. Capitalism, at best, is amoral. The current version of pseudo laissez-faire capitalism has a strong Darwinian impulse. Which may be translated as "it's a dog-eat-dog world, and I've got to get mine before anyone else does." This is the exact opposite of the "love your neighbor" goal taught in most mainstream religions (most share some version of what we call the Golden Rule).
The latest benefit of involvement at church that I've become aware of is a combination of the social interaction I refer to above, and to this sense of recharging the battery. I use the term "involvement" advisedly, for I just began my second year on the Vestry (church board), serve on three committees, and have led discussions for several adult classes.
This level of involvement requires interaction with a wide variety of people and personalities. This variety is a microcosm of the types and conditions you will encounter the rest of the week. Thus, church is a protected environment in which one learns how to love and work with all sorts of folk.
Ideally, one applies the ideals one has heard on Sunday morning to one's behavior on church committees. Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, has suggested a paradigm for the monastery which seems to apply to the church board: one assumes that the other has my welfare in mind, just as I have their welfare in mind, just as we both have the greater good of our Christian community in mind.
As I say, this is an ideal. Being a human institution, the church is susceptible to conflicting egos, control needs, and other aspects of politics. It may be that the best one can hope for is that more good is accomplished than harm. This position may seem outrageously naïve, but it seems precisely the place Jesus would have us operate from.
I have two illustrations for this. The first is the situation with my co-worker, which I obliquely referred to in my Saturday morning post. For me, the resolution came when I ceased to take her tone of voice personally, and when I assumed we both had positive intentions.
The second is my work on the soon-to-be published book Ordinary Time, a collaborative project of the RevGalBlogPals web-ring. In a sense, the Rev Gal ring is as protected an environment as church is – the vast majority are not only Christians, but are ordained ministers in their denomination (I am of the handful who are not ordained). They call themselves an intentional on-line community, and appear to strive for that goal.
In working on this book, a collection of meditations for Ordinary Time (from June 1 through November 1), there was just as ripe an opportunity for conflicting goals and egos as on any church committee or in any business boardroom. And, because most discussions were conducted via e-mail, there was an even greater opportunity for cross-communication and hurt feelings.
There were at least a few opportunities for me to take offense. There was, in fact, cross-communication and duplication of effort. It would have been easy to rail against inefficiency, and poor planning, and people failing to fulfill their commitments (or forgetting what their self-defined commitments were). It might have been tempting to express all this in ill-considered e-mails.
Happily, neither of these things happened. Oh sure, I grumbled sotto voce now and again. But each time I did, I also reminded myself that all involved had a common goal – the best book possible. I think I was tempted to send an angry e-mail only once, and happily gave myself about half a day to consider prior to hitting the send button. I focused on our common goal, and the belief in our shared good intentions; the grumbling went away, and I was able to write an e-mail which maturely addressed the situation.I give thanks for how my Christian life is shaping me, and how I am able to practice what I've learned in my daily life.
— Rabbi Ben Kamin, Thinking Passover, pg 85 [Dutton, New York, © 1997]