Monday, June 30, 2003

While trolling the Salon blogsphere, I was led to the Unrelenting Fiona who in turn led me to Press Any Key and its tree-type personality quiz.

Here's how I rated:

Uncommonly attractive; vivacious; impulsive; demanding; ambitious; does not care for criticism; intelligent; talented; likes to play with its fate; can be egoistic; very reliable and trust-worthy; faithful and prudent lover; sometimes brains rule over heart; but takes partnership very serious[ly].

Naturally, I suppose this sort of thing to have about the same degree of validity as the average newspaper horoscope.  Just as naturally, I like all the positive things it says about me, and feel mildly threatened by the negatives.

"Uncommonly attractive" is not the face I see in the mirror.  I think any attractiveness I may have has more to do with the fact that I have learned to be comfortable in this flesh (note the inherent mind-body split) than it does in physical appearance.  Not sure "vivacious" applies; at parties, I'm more likely to listen (or hide in a corner) than I am to talk.  As Elsie recently noted, I don't generally say anything unless I have something to say.  Based on the number of impulse purchases I have made of late, I suppose that word may apply to where I am today.

Only my brother, Dr. Omed, or my former amours can tell you if I'm demanding.  I don't perceive myself to be ambitious; I take it as a given that if I were I would be in a different career path.

Yep, I'm pretty sensitive to criticism.  That's a big bug-bear.  Folk keep saying I'm intelligent & talented, so I have finally accepted there's is a grain of truth to that description.  Not sure what "likes to play with its fate" means; haven't jumped from any great heights, lately.  Stopped riding a motorcycle over 20 years ago.

"Can be egotistic" - well, I keep a blog with some queer notion that people have any interest in my opinion.  That's a big duh.  But I do strive to be "reliable and trustworthy."

You'd have to ask those previously mentioned amours about whether I am a "faithful and prudent lover."  Sorry, not supplying names, phone numbers, or e-mail addresses.

Yes, "sometimes brains over-rule heart"; it would also be fair to say I "live in my head."  Think it's part of the package with being intelligent.

More on WMD's

In commenting on my entry for Wednesay, June 24, Brother Dave noted that the reason Saddam may not have fired any weapons was, in fact, tactical. The theory is that Saddam encouraged his troups to surrender, and chose not to fire any weapons, in hopes of drawing the allied troups into urban guerilla warfare.

Now, some of you with exceptionally good memories that I predicted some time back that this conflict was likely to lead to urban warfare. Since the archiving module seems to be still under construction, I can't link to my article at this moment, but I know I made that prediction.

Administration spokesfolk (like Gen. Powell) have recently been revising their definition of the conflict. When he was recently challenged on the notion that the war was over — while conflict continues — Gen. Powell said that the administration's statement that the war was over meant that the major conflict was concluded. He added that the strategists expected “pockets of conflict” from the beginning.

My memory of press releases prior to the pre-emptive strike is that the strategists believed the Iraqis would lay down their arms and would cheer the liberators. Presto! No more fighting! Limited casualties! Etc.

Well, it was a tad different than that. Folk continue to die on both sides thanks to the pockets of conflict. Guess that's the official name now — the Iraq conflict — kinda like the action in Korea was a police action (see, subverting the language is nothing new).

Naturally, the Democrats and ant-war folk have been jumping on the lack of credible evidence for WMD's like a frog on a June-bug; heck, even some Republicans have been upset by it. Unfortunately, a logical conclusion might be that if we were to find chemical or biological weapons factories, such a find would justify the attack. I would disagree strongly with that logic.

What that argument does not consider is there may have been other avenues to find the weapons. Iraqi cooperation certainly seemed to increase with troops on their border. Add an increase of inspectors, share some of that intelligence with them, and results may have happened in about the same time. This sort of "carrot & cudgel" diplomacy has been used with other recalcitrant countries with positive effect.

Of course, we'll never know if UN weapons inspectors might have found evidence of weapon production or research in this amount of time. Our Fearless Leader effectively closed down that option when he issued the command for a first strike. But the argument holds both ways — those who favored the pre-emptive strike have no way to empiracally prove that "carrot & cudgel" diplomacy would not have netted the same results in about the same amount of time.

Friday, June 27, 2003

In reflecting on the entries I've recorded to date, seems I've covered those topics forbotten in polite conversation, politics and religion. There is a third topic generally held to be improper for mixed company — sex. Seeing as I named this blog "Love During Wartime," I have been curiously silent on the topic of amor.

Hmmm. May have to do something about that.

Big thanks to Cassie Lewis, who is the latest to include a link to this space on her blog. As I understand it, Cassie is a transplanted Aussie currently living in ’Frisco. She is also the moderator of the Poetry Espresso e-mail list, which has been both thought-provoking and inspiring. Being among this virtual community of poets may have re-invigorated my pen (as evidenced by the poem posted on June 26 at 8:05 am cst).

According to Christopher Key, citing the revered name of Harry Potter, or of J.K. Rowling — the scribe who records Harry's adventures — may improve search engine results for one's site. Well, like my good friend R.S., I have no shame when it comes to self-promotion.

I have read through Goblet of Fire, and own a copy of Chamber of Secrets. Obviously, unlike the likely attitude of my de facto sponsors (those ad links hovering above), I do not believe the Harry Potter books promote witchcraft, Satan worship, or the like. Religious folk who fear fairy tales are pretty much in the wrong line, so far as I'm concerned.

Fairy tales and myth, as the esteemed Joseph Campbell would say, reveal a deep truth about who we are, and about The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. The truth of the story lies with the wanderer, not with the incredible creatures s/he encounters.

Hopefully, I've said "Harry Potter" and "Joseph Campbell" a sufficient number of times for the ghost in the machine to select a new set of (preferably non-religious) ads. And maybe I should hit Amazon up for a commision since I've linked to them so often.

Some of you might be saying "Jeez, if the ads bug him so much, why doesn't he just shell out the bucks to have them removed?" Good question. Honestly, I'm seriously considering packing my bags & moving to the Salon blogs (believe it or not, they're less expensive than blogspot).

I promise I'll give you fair warning if I move that direction.
Have to plug today's entry at Real Live Preacher.  He retells, in very modern terms, the story of James and John (the "Sons of  Thunder") requesting seats of honor in Jesus' kingdom.  Go ahead and click on the link; the story is longish, but I promise it's worth it.  I'll wait for you.

Preacher Man puts some pretty rough language into Jesus' mouth, doesn't he?  Certainly the folk at Sermon Resources (an ad which frequents the top of this page) would be shocked at this sort of language.  I believe our fundie friends would declare the Preacher Man a heretic because he describes Jesus in such human terms.

Most protestants would agree with Martin Luther's declaration that Jesus was "fully human/fully divine," but — as I say in my comments on the Preacher's site — it's often a precarious balance.  I would hazard a guess that most churches emphasize Jesus' divinity over his humanity.  The primary exception might be the Unitarians, some of whom could be accused of the opposite emphasis (i.e., humanity over divinity).

Of course, part of the problem is that our source texts (i.e., the four gospels) don't reflect a lot of what we would recognize as human characteristics as they tell the story of Jesus' life.  Aside from eating, getting angry when he cleansed the temple, and suffering on the cross, we don't have much record of Jesus' human nature.

The mystic 18th century poet William Blake addresses this same issue in his poem The Everlasting Gospel. He asks, “Was Jesus gentle, or did He/Give any marks of gentility?”  He then responds with instances in which Jesus is far from gentle:  the twelve year old who "sasses" his parents; the young man who confronts the Tempter in the desert; the mature man who challenges the religious authorities.

Blake's poem is over 300 lines long, citing examples which contradict the popular image of "Jesus, meek & mild."  I see this as a necessary corrective, and view the Preacher's retelling of the Sons of Thunder story in much the same light.

Those who would bear his name accept the responsibility of being "Christ-like."  They are called to be "Christ Bearers," like the Theotokos.  To expand the Apostle Paul's image, we are called to be Christ's hands & feet in the world.  This might seem an impossibly high calling if we view Jesus as being divine only.  Jesus is both teacher and exemplar; put another way, he teaches by example as well as by words.  But Jesus' example seems meaningless unless he was human as well as divine;  since most of us perceive ourselves as "only human," and therefore incapable of doing as Jesus did.

It's interesting that Jesus rarely (if ever) refers to himself as the Son of God; the title he most frequently applies to himself is "Son of Man."  Granted, this is a title the Book of Daniel gives to the coming Messiah; but by embracing this title, Jesus also embraces his humanity. 

Elsewhere, William Blake wrote that God became as we are, that we might become as he is.  Thus, as we acknowledge the humanity of Jesus, we may also come to recognize the spark of the divine in ourselves.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Name, Please

Christopher Key, on his Salon blog The Barbaric Yawp, has written a nice meditation on how people tend to shorten his name.  Most people call him “Chris,” which he strongly dislikes. I know how he feels. 

I call it “the used car salesman syndrome,” as that is the class of people most likely to shorten your name to a familiar form without asking permission.  This is the sort of person who is likely to shorten my name to three letters, or — even worse — will add two more letters to those three and add a “y”.  I might not even show up for dinner if you call me one of these variants.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, my name is related to Jacob, which transliterates to mean "(God) has protected."  Well, I suppose that explains how I have managed to survive to this point!

But my given name has a history beyond that:  I received my first name from my paternal grandfather, William James C—.  His middle name derives from his mother's maiden name; my paternal great-grandmother was born Elizabeth James.  His first name came from one of Elizabeth's brothers, William, who reportedly wrote philosophical books.

If I know my intended audience at all, I suspect you're shaking your heads and saying “Surely he's not claiming to be related to William James!”  Well, honestly, I'm not.  I think it would be way cool if I were, but I have absolutely no documentation or research to support such a claim.  While Elizabeth was about the right age to be in the famous James family; and while Henry and William did have a sister named Elizabeth, I can't quite figure out why a lady of New England Brahmin extraction
would marry my great-grandfather Mark and move to the wilds of Texas.

Even before I was aware of this history, I insisted on being called my given name.  This was true from the time I could speak, and is a rare instance of assertiveness.

Folk have suggested that this insistence on being called my given name makes me seem formal and unfriendly.  Well, I don't believe my given name is any harder to say than the three-letter version, and it's even easier to say than the version that ends in "y" — since my given name is one syllable and the "y"-ending variation is two syllables.

As I said above, the most likely people to use the familiar form of a name are used car salesmen.  The intent is to gain your trust by seeming like a long-lost friend.  Therefore, I don't trust a person who uses the familiar form of my name within the first few minutes of meeting me.  Nine times out of ten, that person is trying to sell me something.
I Fought the Law & the Law Won. An image of your irregular correspondent. Flip through the whole Mirror Project site — there are several very inventive pictures that don't involve bathroom mirrors.

Of course, the above costume is related to the poem-lette recorded below.
Devout daisies
bow to Mecca
too bad
they lose their heads this evening.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

My main source of information is National Public Radio. Although it is far from unbiased, it is still superior to most of the commercial outlets (take that Fox News). So, I was glad to hear a report on the primary at about 20 minutes into the second hour. Here's a link to today's Morning Edition. If you read my entry after Wednesday, June 25, be sure to search for that date; the story itself is about 3/4 down the page.

The fact that both CNN and NPR should take the story seriously is very encouraging. My hope is that the Democratic Party will pay special attention to the top three candidates – Dean, Gephart, and Kucinich. Senators Dean and Kucinich have been fairly consistent voices in opposition to the pre-emptive strike against Iraq. All three, to varying degrees, support a more liberal agenda than Joe Lieberman; and all three are definitely more liberal than the current prez.

I have no great love for Dick Gephart, but I would vote for him without having to hold my nose too vigorously. My greatest fear is that Lieberman will win the nomination. Since Lieberman has been pretty much "Bush Lite," I suspect such a campaign will insure a Bush win in 2004. In my book, Lieberman is that mythic "yellow dog" for whom I would vote simply in hopes of having someone other than Busch (ptui) in office.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003


Just read a moving speech by Senator Robert S. Bird. Please take a few minutes to read it, as it accurately details statements our Fearless Leader and his advisors have been making over the past two years concerning Iraq's possesion of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the [fictional] Iraq – Al-Queda connection, Iraq's quest for nuclear arms, etc.

Two weeks ago, our own military said it was going to stop looking in the places we thought there were WMD – where, in April, Donald Rumsfeld said that we knew there would be WMD – and were going to look in other locations. The fact no weapons have been found leads one to believe that they have been moved to other countries — Syria being the most likely candidate — or they never existed. The former argument is too terrible to consider; it will certainly give our leaders the excuse to promote further pre-emptive attacks. It may, indeed, facilitate the sort of attacks on our country which we thought this war would help prevent.

So, being an optimist, allow me to make a simple argument in favor of the proposition that there are no longer any WMD's in Iraq nor were any available to Saddam Hussein. I'll frame it as a question, a question that has not yet been answered to my satisfaction:

If Saddam Hussein had access to weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, etc, why didn't he use them? Certainly, Hussein had no compunction about using missles against a superior force in the first Gulf War. He used Scud missles against the allies, against Kuwait, and even against Israel. What prevented him from using all those weapons, which he could reportedly call up within 45 minutes?

The most basic human instinct is self-preservation. And Hussein's actions since the first Gulf War reflect a healthy regard for his own preservation (if not the preservation of his country's people). Our Fearless Leader certainly gave sufficient warning of an imminent attack. If I had been in Hussein's shoes, I would have been drawing up battle strategies immediatley following the Axis of Evil speech. But even if Hussein had waited til that last 24-hour ultimatum, he had several 45-minute periods in which to arm his supposed biochemical arsenal.

Again, the most natural instinct when attacked is to strike back. How is it possible that Hussein resisted this urge, when past history suggests that he is willing to sacrifice thousands of Iraqis in order to maintain his power?

To my mind, the fact that not a single weapon of mass destruction was used during GWII is a powerful argument that those weapons were a mass delusion on the part of the American administration.
Was heartend to notice that the CNN site had an article on's internet-based primary. Considering the source, the article seems fairly balanced. They declare Howard Dean a front-runner, primarily because he has made the most robust use of the internet to date. What I've read about Dean's positions makes me confortable with supporting him should Kucinich not win the nomination.

I think it's important to support the candidate whose positions come the closest to mirroring our own as we approach the primaries. The Democrats have gained no merit by trying to appear to be slightly less bad Republicans. Many of the populist issues Senators Dean and Kucinich support also have broader support from various segments of the electorate. There must be a candidate who speaks clearly and sincerely against the Patriot Act, against the lack of nation-building occuring in Afganistan and Iraq, against any future pre-emptive attacks. If a sufficient number of people support such candidates now, leading up to the primaries, odds are that candidate will be selected to run against our Fearless Leader.

Once November 2004 comes, however, I am prepared to hold my nose and vote for any yellow dog other than (ptui) Bush. Even (retch) Joe Lieberman.

By the way, just checked the ads currently at the top of the page. Both are both Christian in nature, but at least the ad for Sermon Links is gone. I checked out that site, and its theology is pretty scary.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Rant On

If you have not already done so, register for's PAC Primary. The folk at this website would probably agree that the 2000 election was hijacked by the Supreme Court, but they are not lingering in that past. They are "moving on" beyond that negativity.

Their straw poll is an innovative concept, and it will be interesting to see what impact it has — both in the general population and in the popular media. I suspect the more people who take part in this, the harder it will be for the media to ignore. Not to mention the Democratic party, and the potential candidates.

I personally endorse Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. He may be “as handsome as Lincoln”, but his words are also as moving & well-constructed as Lincoln's. Please take a few minutes to read his statement and the interview with him. I agree with at least 97% of his proposed policies.

The key to restoring our government to some semplance of sanity is for "we the people" to actively re-claim it. That means supporting a candidate we believe in (not just one who can win), but then voting for the person most likely to defeat King George II in fall 2004. If the Greens who voted for Nader in 2000 had voted for Gore, we might not be in the current mess. If more people in general had voted in 2000, Florida would have been an anomolous blip – rather than the linch-pin of the election.

One change I would make to the Electoral College is to eliminate the "winner take all" standard which currently exists in many states. If only 3% of the people vote for some candidate, their votes should still count for something. My state is a "winner take all state," and my vote for Gore meant nothing on the national level. Rather discouraging.

By the way — all you flag wavers and war supporters? If you didn't vote in 2000, don't waste my time preaching about patriotism. And you folk who were brave enough to march in opposition to the imminent war on Feb 15, 2003? Don't dare call your act patriotic unless you supplement by voting in 2004. Even better, work to support a peace candidate (like Kucinich), and work tireless to encourage everyone you know to vote in the next election.

Rant out.
I wonder if Fr. Pat has been reading my blog. Seems his greeting may have been a comment on my entry concerning him, below (6/17). Yesterday, he blessed me, in the traditionally formal fashion. Well, being blessed by my Spiritual Father, Pat, is a true blessing indeed!

Thanks, Pat. And I'll see you next Sunday.
The latest ads I've seen have to do with sermons & Christianity. Which, more or less, reflect the themes I've been exploring in the last couple of posts. I wonder if I can subvert the power?

Milton. Whitman. Dante. William Blake & T.S. Eliot. Smokin' up in Kendell, down by the lakeside (Van Morrison). The healing of the popular song. Smatterings of star time, intimations of crow time. Looking for love in the right places. Misplaced spectacles. Harvey. Iraq. Iran. Afganistan.

Well, that's an experiment that exhausts its charm pretty quickly. Next, we free-associate while wearing an Allen Ginsberg mask with a dollop of Whitman.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Out of curiousity, I clicked the two ads which are in the banner at the moment (~4:15 cst). Both are under construction. Sorry folks, I don't chose 'em, I'm just too cheap to pay to get rid of 'em. It does seem like some google intelligence is selecting the ads, as they seem to sort of comment on whatever the dominant theme of my blog is at the moment.

At the moment, both ads have to do with quotes, and (perhaps coicidentally) a number of recent entries have been "Thought(s) for the day." Couple of weeks when I was ranting about our Fearless Leader, et al, the ads were more political. Like I say, might be just chance, but since Blogger has been consumed by our friends at Google, seems like the technology wouldn't be too challenging.

This past weekend was an interesting confluence of observances — Saturday was Flag Day; Sunday was Father's Day and (in the Christian tradition) Trinity Sunday. Now, personally I subscribe to the notion that the divine does not have gender as we understand gender. But the preacher on Sunday did use his grandfather and grand uncles as an icon of the Trinity.

It's often been said that one can't preach on the Trinity without committing heresy. Certainly folk from other religious traditions — especially our Jewish friends — hear this doctrine & think we're polytheists. I don't know of any obvious heresies that Fr Luke committed in his sermon — aside from failing to make it clear that God is neither male nor female (as we understand those terms). My firm belief is the doctrine of the Trinity says more about humans and our attempts to understand God than it says about the nature of God. As I've said in comments on Dr. Omed's site, I agree with Bernard of Claivaux, who said that the only definitive thing we can say about God is what God is not.

The fact that Flag Day would fall on the same weekend is a neat coincidence, because I've been thinking about cheap patriotism and its similarity to cheap Christianity. A couple of articles down, in my open letter to Canon Joplin, I described the worst-case pew-warmer who hears the Word but does not act on it (to paraphrase the Rabbi). To wear your cross, or display your rosary, and still treat others with disrespect is to buy a water-color version of Christianity. I think the same thing is true for waving the flag without consideration.

Are you really proud of how our government has acted in Afganistan and Iraq? Do you feel safer as the possibility of war with Iran or North Korea is being contemplated? Are you really ready to trade in the liberties our fathers believed they were fighting for in WWII for the illusion of "security"?

If so, fine. I don't agree with you, but one of the glories of our country is that I still have the right to disagree with you. I still have the right to say mildly unkind and insulting things about our Fearless Leader. At least for today.

If I were to display a flag, I would want to include an essay with it, so no one would mistake my meaning. I could only salute the flag of the ideal of what our country could be — not what it currently is, not what it is currently doing. To suggest that my waving a flag or not waving a flag has any impact on a service man on the other side of the globe is patently absurd.

Is the ideal of America "every man for himself"? Seems like a shabby ideal to me.
The basement band rehearsed again this past Sunday. I know, the normal term is "garage band," but we literally rehearse in Gary's basement. Plus, I like the shout-out to Dylan's "Basement Tapes."

In some ways, there is a correlation — we're working out early rock just like Dylan (according to Greil Marcus) was working out the mysteries of American music. Like Dylan and the Band in Big Pink's basement, we're mainly getting together to have a good time. Tape is not yet rolling, nor is anyone running upstairs to type out appropriately mysterious lyrics — "Yeah, heavy and a bottle of bread!"

Seems like this thing was Jim's idea — Jim had a similar band in high school and/or college. In his day job, Jim is an M.D. studying childhood rheumatism; in the band, he's the lead guitarist and has suggested many of the songs. Gary is a local corporate attorney, and plays bass. Rod (the god) plays awesome rhythm guitar (and supplemental lead); by day, he works for the local Daily Disappointment. Brian is our drummer, and is also a local attorney. I'm primarily a back-up singer and harmonica player, who should not quite yet quit his day job. All of us attend the same church.

The group has been jamming in Gary's basement for 2-3 months now. Brian joined the weekend before Memorial Day. Gary has invited me to join several times since the group started, but I didn't say yes until the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. We rehearsed that Sunday night, then performed at a garden party Monday afternoon. Given that I had only rehearsed with them the night before, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well.

In honor of my cousin Gerry, I've actually been attempting to "cross-harp" on some of the numbers – with moderate success. If I back off the mike a pinch, not many can hear over the electric guitars. The other guys in the band seem to like my harmonica playing, and it's gotten a fairly positive response from the two audiences who have heard us to date.

Part of my function seems to be talking to the audience. I just sort of started doing it without asking permission, just because nobody else was. Guess my gift of chatter comes from my brief shining career as a radio dj, and my briefer more shining career as half of "Lark & Harp." Anyway, one of the running gags has been what to name our band. I had been lobbying for "Blast Furnace and the Heat Waves," but no one was fond of that. For a while, Jim was lobbying for the "Cantor Barrys", which happily fell on unsympathetic ears. When we played the gig for the CPAs and Drs. two Fridays back, I introduced us as the "Heritage Hills Hooligans." Finally, this past Sunday, we settled on "St Jim & the Infirms."

Don't know that we'll ever do the song that name derives from, but I'm up for it.

Well, I'm digging being part of a rough-edged rock band. I appreciate the challenge of being part of a group, and doing my best to sublimate my rapacious ego for the good of the whole.
As I was trolling the cybersphere, I stumbled onto the antibloggies awards. Seems this is a series of awards for the worst weblogs; there's a number of categories — worst written, most redesigns, etc. The category which caught my eye was "most unfinished projects." Considering the status of the second half of that Bud Welch essay, or the essays for the April 19 side site, or my epic poem on the Challenger tragedy, or ... well, you get the idea. Think I could be a contender.

Fr. Pat and I have a nice ritual we go through each Sunday. Each time as I pass him, Pat makes some gesture to acknowledge me. This past Sunday, he made the peace sign. Last Sunday, we exchanged an oriental-style bow.

Fr. Pat has been retired from the active priesthood for several years. To my mind, his claim to fame is in founding a local crisis line back in the early 70s. My father went through one of the early trainings, and as I recall he and Fr. Pat were on good terms. I got to know Pat several years later, when he served as interim priest at the mission church I was attending at the time. We got to be pretty good friends at the time. And we have maintained a sporadic e-mail correspondence the past several years.

Pat is the roughly the same generation as my dad. Pat actually landed with the troups on D-Day. Padre was not able to enlist until shortly before V-J day, which may have been a disappointment to him. Pat & my dad also share politics — which is to say, very liberal. One thing that is currently troubling to Pat is the impression that our nation is becoming the type of tyranny he fought against in WWII. I have no doubt that dad would have similar mis-givings.

So, there are ways in which Pat is sort of a surrogate father for me, in ways beyond the sense most priests are. I am pleased to call him friend.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Sorry for the double-up of entries below. Missed a quotation mark (in an "href") the first time, and it stymied the "edit" function. Often my creativity runs ahead of the details.
Brother Dave sent us this speech by Bill Moyers. In his speech, Mr. Moyers more cogently covers much of the territory I have been pondering. He also has a better sense of history than I. I strongly recommend you take the 15-20 min to read the speech. And see if you can spot the same slight historical inaccuracy I did (I suspect it was a typo, since Bill M. would have known the date intimately).

The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange.
G.K. Chesterton, essayist and novelist (1874-1936) via Word a Day

Chesterton is another one of my heroes. I recommend any of his Fr Brown mysteries – some of which are so aesthetic, they could have been written by Oscar Wilde. Chesterton wrote a very fine book on St. Francis, which reclaims Francis from romantic watercolors.

Although I don't have the citation in front of me, I have it on good authority that Chesterton (not Joseph Campbell) said that angels could fly because they took themselves lightly.
Brother Dave sent us this speech by Bill Moyers. In his speech, Mr. Moyers more cogently covers much of the territory I have been pondering. He also has a better sense of history than I. I strongly recommend you take the 15-20 min to read the speech. And see if you can spot the same slight historical inaccuracy I did (I suspect it was a typo, since Bill M. would have none the date intimately).

The function of the imagination is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange.
G.K. Chesterton, essayist and novelist (1874-1936) [via

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Dear Canon Joplin:
I write in belated response to your “Good Shepherd Sunday” sermon of May 11.  The Gospel reading on this Sunday is one of the times when Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd – this particular Sunday, the reading was John 10:11-16.  The psalm assigned is normally the 23rd Psalm, which begins “The Lord is my shepherd.”

It’s common to preach on the role of shepherds in Jesus’ time.  Many priests go so far as to describe their experience of shepherds during visits to modern Israel.   Your sermons are generally my favorites among our rotating preachers, and you did not disappoint on this Sunday. You did a better than average job of describing the shepherd's function, and of delineating the difference between a good shepherd and a bad one.

There’s just one problem.

The majority of our congregation — indeed of any average American congregation — are primarily urban dwellers.  The most recent experience most of us have had with sheep was the movie “Babe.”  Few have had any personal experience with sheep, and therefore have little inkling how insulting it is to be compared to them.

Granted, the “Good Shepherd” image is a metaphor; but if a metaphor is not rooted in one’s daily experiences, it loses its meaning and power.  It becomes romantic in the worst sense of the word — which is to say, it has no cost.  Put another way, if a metaphor is not grounded in our daily reality, our response is not likely to have any practical application.  The extreme example would be of the pew warmer who smiles to himself, thinking “Isn’t that nice – Jesus is my shepherd,” and then behaves the remainder of the week without regard to Jesus’ life and teachings.

Is there a modern parallel for shepherd which we could substitute?  One aspect of the metaphor is as protector — so one might be tempted to say “Jesus is the Good Cop.”  Unfortunately, the extension of this metaphor is the sort of legalism Jesus cautions against elsewhere in the Gospel.

Garrison Keeler, in his famous retelling of the Christmas story, compares shepherds to parking lot attendants, which is a fairly apt description of a shepherd’s social standing.  There are good (trust-worthy) parking lot attendants, just as there are good shepherds and good cops.  This metaphor would definitely lack any romantic sheen!

Honestly, I don’t have the resolution to this problem.   Because I love the language, and have come to appreciate the power of effective rhetoric, I strongly believe we must revise our metaphors.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Episcopal Church made the bold move of shifting from Elizabethan language to more contemporary English.  Isn’t it time we found new names and metaphors and names for Jesus which have equal contemporary meaning?  Isn’t it time to release metaphors that began to lose their potency shortly after the dawn of the Industrial Revolution?

My experience of the divine has been that it is too profound and broad to be comfortably limited to any single name or title — sometimes even the three persons of the Trinity seem inadequate. 

There are times Jesus is my heartbeat.  There are times Jesus is the path maker and guide, cutting away brush and brambles as he leads me where he would have me go.  Sometimes Jesus is my companion, and walks beside me, occasionally suggesting new directions.  Sometimes Jesus is the contrarian who challenges my unexamined assumptions.  There are times Jesus is a search light which exposes the dark recesses within, which I would prefer to pretend don’t exist.  And often Jesus is the physician who speeds my healing when that darkness has been removed.

I cannot settle on one name or title for Jesus, for He will not be limited in that manner.  And I certainly cannot be content with a metaphor for Jesus which has lost all practical meaning.

Yours in Christ,

Care to Comment?

Assuming I've pushed the proper buttons, and made the proper sacrifices, you should now be able to add comments, thanks to our friends at Haloscan. The thing I enjoy most about reading other blogs is reading the comments people have made on different entries. Really been wishing I could do that here. Well, wish me luck!

Speaking of comments, Dr. Omed took space on his blog to respond to one of my comments. I sometimes lurk over there under the mythonym "Jonah" (one of the funnier books of the Bible). I encourage you to visit Dr. Omed's Tent Show once or twice a week; that's why it's one of the standing links to the left.

Another blog that I regularly visit is Real Live Preacher. The focus is definitely more on the quotidian than theology, but that's why I like it.

Thought for today

What a strange machine man is! You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out comes sighs, laughter, and dreams.
Nikos Kazantzakis, poet and novelist (1883-1957)From Word a Day

I promise I'll pick back up on Bud Welch's story (there's a charming denoument), and there's a little more to tell about that musical weekend — namely, my experience with a basement band.

But, recent events have lead me back to wonder about the role of government. My first assumption about the role of government is the belief that a group of people working on a large project is more efficient than a single person. Menonite house-raising comes immediately to mind as an example. So long as we bipods require some rate of exchange, such projects require money. Even the menonites have to buy lumber for that house. So long as this is the case, government will require to collect money in order to provide services — that is, taxes.

This is where our current situation seems a little schizophrenic to me. Pretty universal that folk will vote against taxes when they're brought to a popular vote. Yet folk still expect the same level of service. And whether the service comes from the community, the state, or the national level is irrelevant — it still requires tax dollars to run the machine. At least until we reach that communist [lower case is intentional] utopia .

Many services work best on the local level — water delivery, for example; local police service, for another. Some services work best on a national level. One I remember from American history studies is the regulation of interstate commerce. I suspect even the most ardent "state's rights" supporters would agree this makes sense.

So perhaps — as I have suggested in a previous post — it's time to re-assess the role of government in today's society. I'll return to this topic as time and the muse allow.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Memorial Day Music

Been off-blog for some time, but once you read about the events of Memorial Day week-end, you may understand why it has taken so long to gird my loins to record them.

Emily called on Thursday. She had been one of the organizers of the Spiritual Walk for Peace. I had already learned, through my friends at Code Pink, that the Spiritual Walk people would have a booth at the Paseo Festival. Emily was calling to ask if I would play music during the course of the three-day weekend. The idea was that the music might draw people.

The Spiritual Walk people had always met around two on Sunday afternoon, and Mary Reynolds had reportedly agreed to provide music at that time – as she had through most of the walks.

Well, anything that gets me out of the house and into the company of people (especially positive-spirited people like the majority of the Spiritual Walk folk) is to the good. So I agreed.

About 10 o’clock Saturday morning, I went to the Paseo. The Spiritual Walk tent was on the western edge of the neighborhood, about a block off the main path. Turned out that Emily had not touched base with the other organizers before she called me — so they were pleasantly surprised when I came packing guitar. But not really prepared. For one thing, there was no sound system; and when a sound system was ultimately obtained (by the good graces of the erstwhile Mary R), it was decided that a sound system was too formal for the occasion. In retrospect, I see positives and negatives to this decision.

For me, one of the negatives was the fact that I felt a need to sing loud in hopes of folk hearing me beyond a few feet. So, by the end of the week-end my voice was a little raw. I also think the music might have drawn a few more people if it had been amplified. On the other hand, having the mike would have indeed made things a little more formal — putting things into the realm of "speakers" and "audience." The lack of a microphone may have encouraged more people to share than would have otherwise.

The high-point of the experience for me was jamming with Mary Reynolds. An outsider might think we’re in a mutual admiration society, because I always say something about how honored I am to sing with her, and she always returns the compliment. The fact is, Mary has one of the best voices singing professionally in OKC. Only Lark comes close. On the other hand, I have a very fine (if untrained) tenor voice – with a pretty fair range (three to four octave). Mary came by the “Peace Tent” about two o'clock Saturday afternoon, and we played (with others joining off & on) for about two and a half hours.

Of course, we sang all the traditional peace songs — “Get Together”, “Turn, Turn, Turn”, and so on. Mary is very fond of my interpretation of Phil Och’s “There But For Fortune,” and requested I sing it. One of the more interesting points is when I sang the Quaker hymn “How Can I Keep From Singing?” As the spirit moves, I often do a vocalize thing – sort of a poor man’s yodel mixed with open-mouth humming – as a break in this song. Somehow, this seems appropriate. Much to my pleasant surprise, Mary and others vocalized with me. It was like open-air church!

Have I ever mentioned that a large part of my spirituality is tied up in music? I feel closest to the divine when I’m singing — especially when I just "let go."

If anyone is interested, I’d like my epitaph to be “How Can I Keep From Singing?” If there is a life after this, I believe I’ll be singing at the edge of the Celestial Rose around some eternal campfire with friends & loved ones.

Between my ragged voice and weary fingers, I ran out of steam around five, and went home.

Of course, there was church Sunday morning. Mary Reynolds sings in the choir at the church I attend, so naturally I saw her then. Turned out that something had come up, and she would not be able to lead the music for the Peace Tent that afternoon. "So, it’s all up to you," she said, "I’m confident you’ll do fine." Well, I can be a bit of a wild card when I’m performing, and I told her I depended on her leadership to rein me in. "Well," she said, "just pretend I'm there."

Well, the lack of a sound system gave me the freedom to sing things like "Masters of War" without fear of causing offense. In a moment, I’ll talk about the main speaker, but after his presentation we had a Quaker sit. People speak as the spirit moves. The spirit moved me to lead the group in a Sanskrit chant:
Lead us from the unreal to the real
Lead us from the darkness into light
Lead us from death into life

I recently read that this is one of Houston Smith’s favorite prayers. Personally, I learned it via the Forest of Peace Benedictine monastery near Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

Think I was filmed singing standard peace songs by one of the local stations. Since my mental health is improved by avoiding local news (or any variety of television news), I don’t know whether I was seen by the greater metro area.

Largo: Bud Welch

The main speaker at the Peace Tent Sunday afternoon was Bud Welch. Bud Welch has lived in OKC all his life. He used to own the filling station around 16th and Classen. He began his presentation by saying “I’d like to try to put a human face on one of the 168 people who died on April 19, 1995.”

Yes, it does seem like that event is haunting me lately, doesn’t it?

When his daughter Julie was in fifth grade, a Spanish-speaking girl joined her class. Julie noticed how lonely this new-comer seemed, and formed a friendship with her. She learned Spanish to better communicate with her.

Julie was a bright young woman, and obtained a scholarship to attend Bishop McGuiness, an exceptional private parochial school in Okla. City. The day of enrollment, while she was waiting in line to visit with the advisor, she filled out her course choices. When she finally met with the advisor, the advisor was quite disturbed. Seems that Julie had elected to take three languages during her first year of high school. Julie convinced her advisor (and her father) that she could handle the load. And, by using a study period for class time, she did.

She later earned a scholarship to a fine private college, and spent a year in Europe. She eventually went to work at the Social Security Administration service housed at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.

The morning of April 19, Julie was called from her office to help assist an upset Hispanic client. She was walking the man to his truck at 9:01 when Timothy McVeigh ignited the explosives in the rear of a Ryder panel truck.

The first year following that tragedy, Mr. Welch was filled with anger and a desire for revenge. If Timothy McVeigh had not been wearing a bullet-proof vest, Bud would have been tempted to execute him prior to trial. But, even in the midst of this, he was touched by a moment of compassion for McVeigh’s father. He saw the man being interviewed on television, and recognized that this man had lost his son as much as he had lost his daughter.

Finally, Bud Welch hit bottom. Through a number of symptoms, he recognized how his anger and desire for revenge was destroying his life. As his healing progressed, he began to speak against the death penalty across the country — and has now spoken all over the world.

To be continued ....

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Thoughts d'jour

When governments fear the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny.
Thomas Jefferson, third US president, architect and author (1743-1826)

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."
H.L.Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)
Our friends at Netscape led me to this Reuters article about the World Dracula Conference recently held in Transylvania. Seems Bram Stoker had never visited Transylvania, and knew little about the 15th Century Vlad Tepes, from whom the name "Dracula" comes.

Must say, in the great battle between Frankenstein and Dracula, I'm in Frank's corner. Have often identified with the Karloff version of the creature.

I know I've been slaggard in maintaining this blog. Been working on a lengthy entry to report on my Memorial Day activities. Hope to have it posted by this Saturday. Stay tuned.