Saturday, April 30, 2005

Dame Julian on the prowl

Click for larger image

This picture was also taken Thursday (4/28/05) evening. There is some blurring at the fore-legs, due to the fact that I am quickly turning to track the lady.

Taking a page from Ms. Candide, I have posted several more photos of our favorite feline in my Flickr Photojournal. On the right-hand side of the page is a link which allows you to see all the photos in my journal as a slide show, which I think is about the best way to view them.

Included in the Photojournal is this shot, which was taken this morning. You'll find a pair of pictures of this morning's sky, one taken of the sun rising in the ENE, and one taken of the waning moon, which appears to be a small half circle in the southern sky above a dancing of clouds.

Haiku d’jour

Baby mice in their nest
Squeak in response
To the young sparrows.
— Basho (2005 Zen Calendar, Workman Press

Friday, April 29, 2005

Cat Friday

or, What I did last night rather than listen to our Supreme Commander lie about Social Security, mislead regarding his energy policy, and in general misspeak.

I began in contemplation. Since Wednesday, when I received the pictured Tibetan Singing Bowl, I have made this a regular practice. Well, it's only been two days, but I've got to start somewhere. Nu?
Singing Bowl on shelf by window
Here, we see the bowl back on the shelf. Just behind the bowl is another historical shot. Pictured are four generations of my paternal line: Brother Dave, Padre, Grandpa Will, and Great-Grandfather Marcus.

On the top shelf is a recently developed picture of my stepmother, Wanda. Judging by the group of negatives this was with, I believe the picture was taken between 1965-67. She was a dish, wasn't she? May she rest in peace.

After I took these shots, I sat down to read the May 2005 issue of Shambhala Sun. This has been my practice since Monday of this week. Sitting and reading for an hour or so after I get home from work is definitely better than flicking on the Glass Teat and becoming Instant Zombie. Oh, I still turn on the tube eventually, I'm too much of an addict to go cold turkey. Yes, it's only been a week, but I've got to start somewhere.

By the way, I ordered that Tibetan Singing Bowl from a company that advertises in Shambhala. Additionally, I'll mention that this is the second issue of Shambhala Sun I've bought, and I'm becoming a fan.

While all this quiet reading was going on, I had the camera at the ready so I could capture my weekly picture of our favorite Purr Ball. On occassion I would crawl on the floor and chase her in search of the perfect image. I caught two I really liked, and we'll see one of them in a moment.

I hadn't had much of a lunch, and I was getting hungry by this point. So I zapped a slice of left-over pizza and grabbed an O'Doul's. I read the latest Entertainment Weekly while I ate. Pizza leisurely consumed, and faux beer in hand, I was ready to get down to work.

On the way home I had heard that our Fearless Leader would be striving to construct intelligible sentences before a room essentially full of fawning journalists, and I knew that I wanted to avoid it. The mere sound of his voice raises my blood pressure. And who needs the grief?

So as I was driving, I considered what alternatives I had. I could watch a DVD. I could work on one of two or three ideas I've had brewing in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks now. Or I could burn a lecture by Alan Watts onto CD.

Since this last item is what I chose to do, it perhaps deserves further information. As you'll see from this bio page (ff), Alan Watts was a student of Eastern religions. Among others (notably Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg), Watts was primarily responsible for making Zen Buddhism popular in America.

The lecture in question was a thirty minute program which aired on PBS in the early 1970s. In the program, Alan says the year is 1971, so I assume the program aired a year or so later. He died in 1973.

I don't remember why I watched the program, or why I recorded it on a cassette tape, but that cassette tape has traveled with me ever since. About a week ago, I decided to see if the tape had survived the ravages of time. Happily it had, and I immediately recorded it onto my computer. The quality of the recording is good. The title of the program was "Conversation With Myself".

My co-worker has expressed an interest in Eastern Mysticism, so I decided to burn a copy of the presentation onto CD for her. Since the "Conversation" was 30 minutes long, and a CD can hold up to 80 minutes, I decided to add some tunes to fill it out. In order, they were:

  1. Deep Peace, Bill Douglas
  2. Crossing the Water, Gordon Bok
  3. Ballad of a Runaway Horse, Emmylou Harris
  4. Since You’ve Asked, Judy Collins
  5. The Guests, Leonard Cohen
  6. Smithers-Jones, The Jam
  7. The 59th Street Bridge Song, Simon & Garfunkle
  8. Joan of Arc, Judy Collins
  9. Common One, Van Morrison
Three of these tunes were on vinyl LPs, so recording them required stringing a cable from the computer in the study to my sound system in the living room. Then, I ran back and forth as I changed albums and so on.

The intent was that this music would somehow complement Mr. Watts' conversation. A few of the tunes seem obvious to me (e.g., the "Ballad of a Runaway Horse", which is based on an old Zen story). Some may seem tangetical (e.g., "Smithers-Jones", which concerns a Brittish worker being down-sized). We shall see how my co-worker likes it.

Well, if you've gotten this far, you deserve to see this week's picture of her royal catness. Here, thanks to the magic of Photoshop, she meets the woman for whom she is named.

Idée d’jour

When no thought arises, is there still any fault?
Mount Everest!
— Zen Saying

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Diane Wakoski

Here it is, Poetry Month, and I've hardly said a word about poetry. Well, I posted that old poem last week. And I picked a fight with Mike Snider (see the comments for this entry). But that's it. Otherwise, I've immersed myself in the ten-year anniversary of the Afred P. Murrah Bombing, with some interesting consequences (e.g., the misanthropic proem posted for Earth Day).

So, before the month is up, I want to say a word about Diane Wakoski. I was introduced to her work in my junior or senior year of high school. There was a week or so when the teacher let us give presentations on our favorite poets. unsurprisingly, I chose Leonard Cohen. One of the girls in class chose Diane Wakoski. The poem which made the biggest impression on me was "I Have Had to Learn to Live With My Face" from The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems (1971). In fact, the poem made such a profound impression on me that I alluded to it several years later.

Here are the opening lines of Ms. Wakoski's poem:
You see me alone tonight.
My face has betrayed me again,
the garage mechanic who promises to fix my car
and never does.

My face
that my friends tell me is so full of character;
my face
I have made an angry contract to live with
though no one could love it;
my face that I wish you would bruise and batter
and destroy, napalm it, throw acid on it,
so that I might have another
or be rid of it at last.
And here is the relevant stanza from my poem:
                I have not learned to live with
my face. I will not sign a peace treaty
with this face; I wear a death's head mask.
I'm already old. I've walked through the fire
of the trial of the spirit & survived.
I have not learned to live with my face.
(from Still Life With Icons, May 1983)
Obviously, I have name-checked the title of Ms. Wakoski's poem. Both poems reflect the fact that the narrator is profoundly uneasy with her/his visage.

In the case of Ms. Wakoski's poem, the term "profoundly uneasy" is an understatement. I squirmed when I read the lines "I wish you would bruise and batter / and destroy, napalm it, throw acid on it", and I think the reader is meant to squirm. Not only does the narrator hate her face, she wants to destroy it. I don't know. I suppose one could argue she wants to rediscover the face she had before she was born, to paraphrase a Zen koan, but that argument does not seem supported by the rest of the poem.

The title of Wakoski's poem suggests that she has been forced to live with her face, begrudgingly. There is an irony between the title, and the sense that the narrator has not learned to live with her face at all.

On the other hand, in the lines I quote from "Still Life With Icons", I come out and admit that I have not learned to live with my face. There's nothing here that displays the same depth of anger or self-loathing as Wakoski's napalm and acid, but if we'd read the lines without comparing them to Wakoski's poem, then we might find the following lines equally disturbing: "I will not sign a peace treaty / with this face; I wear a death's head mask."

It must be said that neither of us has an accurate impression of either of our faces, assuming the narrative voice is an accurate reflection of the author's voice. I remember the picture of Diane on the front cover of Motorcycle Betrayal Poems; and, while she was no classic beauty, she wasn't ugly either. The big glasses she wore (and apparantly still wears) were not flattering.

As this recent photograph suggests, she has aged well. And the big glasses somehow seem more appropriate.

In my own case, my true face is not nearly as monstrous or ugly as the face I see in my imagination. Three samples may suffice: (1) here's a portrait Drew Curtis did in the late 1980s; (2) here's a striking digital image captured by Elsie two years ago; (3) and, if I had five dollars for every time someone told me I looked like Michael Gross (the actor who played the father on "Family Ties"), I could buy dinner at a fancy restaurant. Well, it's not the same as being favorably compared to Robert Redford, but Mr. Gross isn't a bad-looking guy.

My sense of poetics has been influenced by Diane Wakoski in a few other ways. First, her sense that the poem will find its own form (this is a very rough paraphrase). Second, the way she has mythologized her life through her poetry.

And finally, I've always admired a quote from her, to the effect that poetry is the art of telling the truth, but hiding it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Idée d’jour

I am so convinced of the advantages of looking at mankind instead of
reading about them, and of the bitter effects of staying at home with all the narrow prejudices of an Islander, that I think there should be a law amongst us to set our young men abroad for a term among the few allies our wars have left us.
— Lord Byron, poet (1788-1824)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Linguistic Profile

Your Linguistic Profile:
65% General American English
20% Yankee
15% Dixie
0% Midwestern
0% Upper Midwestern

I'm indebted to Ron Silliman for directing me to this quiz. I'm pleased that so little "Dixie" is in my speech, although I am somewhat surprised. After all, in the words of the quiz, "Y'all just rolls off [my] tongue." I used to use that collective noun with a hint of irony, and would throw in an extra dipthong for good measure. Now, whether I say "You" or "y'all" for the second person plural is a fifty-fifty proposition.

Many consider Oklahoma to be in the Midwest. Some consider it to be in the South. If we understand "Dixie" in terms of its historical connotations, the question is only slighly clearer.

Oklahoma was not yet a territory at the time of the Civil War (aka, "The Late Unpleasantness"), so it could not officially choose sides in that conflict. However, most of those who did choose sides (including a few Native Americans) chose the Confederacy.

Yet, we Okies do not prefer our tea heavily sweatened. Even the more rural parts of our state do not have the same preponderance of dipthongs as Alabamans (as a random example) .

Zen Mondo d’jour

A monk asked Chao-chou: "What is zazen?"

Chao-chou replied: "It is non-zazen."

The bewildered monk said: "How can zazen be non-zazen?"

"It's alive!" was Chao-chou's reply.

(from 2005 Zen Calendar, Workman Press)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Idée d’jour

Every man has beneath his feet ground enough to do zazen on.
— Zen Saying (2005 Zen Calendar, Workman Press)

And every step is a temple.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Earth Day

In celebration of Earth Day, the president signed legislation which made it possible to drill in ANWR.

In celebration of Earth Day, legislation passed which made it possible to inject hazardous chemicals near underground water sources, in the search for oil.

In celebration of Earth Day, Republicans passed bankruptcy legislation which, added to increasing debt and decreasing jobs, will effectively kill the poor.

Social darwinism at its finest. Kill the beast of government, and the poor along with it.

We cannot walk without wounding the earth.

Almost every improvement that humanity has imagined has befouled their Mother.

Many attempts to correct the harm humanity has inflicted on Earth have ended up making matters worse.

We are the masters & mistresses of unintended consequences.

Humanity is a cancer upon the earth.
We are a cancer which has metatasized to unimaginable proportions.
We are a virulent cancer.
We are a cancer which is eating away at itself.

Mother, forgive us.
We only knew what we doing half the time.
No, we thought we knew what we were doing.
And when we did know, we often did not care.

Every footfall leaves a bruise.
Mother, forgive us.

Just this: that

Just this:
that I saw two crows -
a shadow on the sidewalk
& its reflection against a cloud.
the echo of caw! caw!
suggesting I come to you
tonight wearing my old crow voice;
let it crackle against your neck
& cackle in your cavernous hair.
I could fly to your door
in my best imitation of a Muse,
dress you in an April dress
& teach you to sing like the night.
Then later:
I could pose as your shadow,
or the highlight about your eyes;
perhaps your pupil, or
the sparkle on your ring -
Mistress! wear the gown of promises
I gave you last year;
wear that hat of good intent
you bought at the drug store
and, for a night,
I'll be your crow again.
I'll be your crow until
the sun ushers us out from the stage
with his soft pink fog.

A selection from my on-line chapbook, in honor of Poetry Month.

Elie Wiesel on Confronting Fanaticism

Even on the edge of the abyss, it is possible to dream wonderful dreams of redemption.
On Wednesday evening, Alexandria and I went to hear Elie Wiesel. He was speaking as part of the Distinguished Speakers Series at Oklahoma City University . A number of other distinguished speakers have been part of this series — I've heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Helen Thomas, and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Mr. Wiesel was also speaking as part of a week long commemoration of the Alfred P. Murrah bombing, which occurred ten years ago. As you may know, Elie Wiesel survived a much more profound tragedy - the Holocaust. Two of the four concentration camps at which he and his family were held have significant name recognition — Auschwitz and Buchenwald. His father died at Buchenwald in January, 1945. Four months later, the allies would liberate the camp.

"Those soldiers were fighting to build a society they could be proud of. A society that did not include horrors like the concentration camps. It's said that Dante was the first living man to see Hell. I'm not sure. I know that when we survivors first saw the faces of the Americans entering the camp, we believed we were seeing the faces of the first free men to see Hell."

Here follow rough notes taken during Elie's speech. By no means are these notes thorough. But at least you may get the flavor of his address. The title of the address was "Confronting Fanaticism: Building Moral Unity in a Diverse Society."

He began by recognizing the honor paid him to be part of the week-long celebration. "Oklahoma City has become a symbol of man's absurd cruelty and man's compassion." One is led to ask "Why did this happen?" What would lead a person to believe that murdering 168 people would have any effect on the government? After all, any idiot can kill.

What do Timothy McVeigh and the 9/11 highjackers have in common, aside from proximity in time? They shared a culture of death. They also had fanaticism in common.

A fanatic believes he has all the answers. He does not allow any doubt. A fanatic is a lonely person who forges alliances with other lonely people. He would strongly agree with the sentiment, "You're either for us or against us."

The fanatic does not believe that the person who disagrees with him as any right to be happy. In fact, the person who disagrees with him does not have a right to live.

The fanatic uses his hatred as a weapon.

Parenthetically, Mr. Wiesel recognized that women may also be fanatical terrorists. But he believes male fanatics far out-number female fanatics.

Elie sponsored a conference sometime in the early 90s, and one of the speakers was a child psychologist. This psychologist report that studies indicate that children do not begin to hate until the age of three. This suggests that, as Oscar Hammerstien wrote in the musical South Pacific, "You've got to be taught to hate."

Well, if people can be taught to hate, surely they can be taught NOT to hate. Which suggests that education is key.

The 20th Century had an impressive record of slaughter. The Turks essentially wiped out the Armenians. Two World Wars. The Holocaust. Stalin's Gulags. Pol Pot. Mai Lai. Legalized racial prejudice in the American South and in South Africa. The list goes on and on. In many ways, it seemed as if the killer had more imagination than the victim.

We believed the year 2000 would usher in a new millennium. We believed were leaving all that horror and cruelty behind when the cosmic odometer rolled from 1999 to 2000. We shot down the old century with our fireworks, and toasted its death with our champagne.

But we were naive. The beast tracked us from one millennium into the next.

In his way, Timothy McVeigh foreshadowed the face of a new type of terrorist for the new century: one who was willing to kill children. But the new enemy for the new century was even more profound than that.

This enemy was even more closely wed to the culture of death than McVeigh was. This enemy was the suicide terrorist.

Up through World War I, the primary people to lose their lives in a conflict were the soldiers on the front lines. Then, in World War II, bombs would be dropped on cities, and civilians would lose their lives. But these cities were still "behind enemy lines".

Today, the average victim is far away from those front lines.

Or, it may be more accurate to say that every city is a front line. And every person is a target.

We must fight terrorism without compromising our ideals. What good is it to be safe if you have no liberty? We must fight, then, in such a way that we maintain a society we may be proud of.

We all know the story of Pandora's box. We remember how curiosity led her to open the box, which released a host of ills on the world - pestilence, famine, and so on. It's said that hope was at the bottom of that box. Does this mean you must go through all those negatives in order to find hope? Or does it mean that hope itself is a kind of curse?

Well, there is such a thing as false hope. This is something the Jewish people are very familiar with. For, time and again, the enemy would use hope to lure them into his trap. Hope would lure the victim into the enemy's machine.

Thus, it may be said that only another human being may drive you to despair. Likewise, only another human may give you hope.

Even on the edge of the abyss, it is possible to dream wonderful dreams of redemption.

"I believe in human beings in spite of human beings. I believe in humanity in spite of what they've done to G-d's image."

As a Jew, Wiesel believes that death is not the answer, but is the question. And, whatever the question, despair is not the answer.

Remember that education is key. "The teacher has faith in the student, just as the student has faith in the teacher. This forges a link which is a work of art."

Friday's Cat

Dame Julian near historical images
I couldn't make up my mind on which picture to use (both were taken last night), so here's an alternate view of Our Lady on the same shelf.

One reason I chose the above image is because of the pictures near Ms Julian. Just behind her is a picture of some kin on my father's maternal side. The distinguished gentleman in the middle is Robert Dukemeinheer, Gran's great-uncle. He served on the Confederate side in the Civil War.

On the next shelf below La Belle Dame is a picture of Padre, taken when he was about two years old.

Haiku d’jour

In my hut this spring,
there is nothing —
there is everything!
— Sodo

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Untitled #2

Untitled #2

Untitled #1

Untitled #1
Click for full-size image

Required Reading

First up, "Horatio the Unicorn" by Jim Behrle. You'll laugh so much, you'll weep. Or vice versa.

Then, read this Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision (pdf document). This is one of the most reasonable defenses of a woman's right to choose I've read in some time. Early in the document is the radical notion that women are mature moral agents who are capable of making the decision as to whether abortion is the ethical and moral choice for their unique situation.

The next bullet point is also note-worthy: the life of the mother must take precedence over the life of the fetus. This is accord with my long held belief that abortion is a question of the potential life of the infant versus the actual life of the mother.

According to the news release, this document was
Developed at a colloquium of theologians sponsored by the Religious Institute and funded by the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Open Letter addresses such current issues as fetal rights, adolescent access to services, and provider conscience clauses. It has been signed by leading theologians and ordained clergy from a diverse range of religious perspectives including the American Baptist, Roman Catholic, Church of the Brethren, Jewish, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Unitarian Universalist faiths
Go read. Have your hopes raised that there is some sanity, even in the religious community.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Memories of April 19

It was a Wednesday morning ten years ago when Tim McVeigh parked a Ryder truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The truck was filled with several steel drums, which had been converted into home-made bombs. Mr. McVeigh had served honorably in the first Gulf War, but had not been a munitions expert. There's no indication that his co-conspirators knew much more than the formula they could have gotten from a pamphlet: a little fertilizer, a little of this and that, and – presto! – you have a bomb.

It's quite possible that McVeigh had no idea how much damage that amount of home-made explosive would do. He was later quoted as saying he intended to park near the day care center, as "pay back" for the children who had been killed at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. But, who knows? That might have been after-the-fact bravado.

Tim parked and exited the truck at 9:01. By 9:03, 168 people were dead. Thirteen were children. The front of the building was gone, and a sizable crater was left where the truck had been.

I was working for the Infernal Bookstore. A little before 9, I had left the main branch to make deliveries to our satellite locations. The Infernal Bookstore is in Norman, OK, which is about 166 miles south of Oklahoma City. I heard an explosion. I already had the radio on, and a news report came on shortly after. The reporter said they were unclear as the cause of the explosion, which had occurred in downtown Oklahoma City, but authorities believed it might have been a gas explosion.

It didn't take long for authorities to find the source of the explosion. By the time I returned to the main store, between 9:15 and 9:30, they reported that someone had blown up the Murrah Building.

I worked in the receiving area, so it was possible for us to have the radio on the rest of the day, tuned to our local NPR station (KGOU=KROU, owned & operated by the University of Oklahoma). We immersed ourselves in the reports and speculations. Some believed there was a connection with Hitler's birthday (many neo-Nazi groups celebrate this event on the 19th). Others believed there was a connection with the events at Waco, which had occurred two years previously.

There were constant reports of survivors found or rescued, as well as updates on the death toll.

When I got home shortly after 5 that evening, I immediately turned on the news. My wife and I were absorbed in the reports which dominated the airwaves for the next several days.

Mary Ellen and I had been married for a little less than ten years by now. One of Mary's proudest moments was when she served as a counselor to those who had survived the shootings at the Edmond Post Office in 1986 (shortly before we were married). Based on that experience, she felt she could serve the same function in the aftermath of this tragedy.

By Wednesday morning, the First Christian Church, at NW 36th and Walker, had been designated as the place for families and survivors to gather. The Red Cross had arranged for meals as well as professional counselors. Mary Ellen arrived, confident that would be glad for her expertise. She was turned down. They were only seeking credentialled counselors, and Mary lacked the appropriate alphabet soup behind her name (she had recently achieved her Masters of Education).

As I have said elsewhere, I count this as a turning point in our marriage. It seems frivolous to say we were victims of the bombing, especially compared to those who lost their lives or loved ones to the blast. Regardless, I feel there is an element of truth in that characterization.

A potential contributor to the strain was the fact that I did play a very small part in the story. I was also working part-time for KGOU=KROU Radio at the time, early mornings on the weekend (5 am - noon Saturday; 5 am - 9 Sunday). I was the host of a local music program, Ambient Morning Music, and monitored the board during satelite broadcasts.

The phone rang during the music program. It was BBC Ireland, wanting an interview. None of KGOU's news staff were present, so I agreed to the interview. I asked the interviewer to call back after the music program was done, in about an hour and a half.

I suppose I gave an adequate interview, for a non-news person. I didn't think much of it, even when I received a check from BBC Ireland. Mary Ellen seemed supportive at the time, and even proud, but I wouldn't doubt she felt jealous as well.

Like any one else, Mary did not enjoy blows to her ego. In other instances, her response has been to try to prove herself, in order to prove those who had rejected her wrong.

This perceived rejection was a relatively small piece in a much larger picture, which included working at three part-time jobs and negotiating the stresses of marriage. All this lead her to accept a position as a teacher of English as a Second Language in Seoul, South Korea in September.

She left sometime in the first two weeks of September, so it was a little less than five months following the bombing. The connection may seem too distant to be obvious, but I believe being accepted by the school in Seoul was a way to "off-set" the rejection she felt on Wednesday, April 20th.

Four years later, it became obvious that she had no plans to come back to America. I have speculated elsewhere as to how I may have contributed to Mary's desire to leave, and to the end of the marriage. Regardless, the end was made official in February 2000.

Perhaps this is a story about how the bombing affected even a small corner of the state. As I say, our marriage was the least of the victims of this horrific event. But I wonder how many other Oklahomans have similar stories that have yet to be shared?

Idée d’jour

Meditate and do, and you shall know.
— Elizabeth Barrington (2005 Zen Calendar, Workman Press)

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The F Word

One of the readings assigned for this past Sunday, April 17, was the story of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). His last words, as translated in the New Revised Standard Version, were "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Hopefully, this line reminds us somewhat of words Jesus spoke from the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." ( Lk 23:34)

This might give us the impression that forgiveness is easy. The victim just says the magic words, and it's done. The perpetrator of the injury gets off scott free, with no cost.

According to Father Michael Lapsley , director of the Institute for Healing of Memories in Cape Town, South Africa, forgiveness is not so easy. In fact, forgiveness is so hard and challenging, it may seem a dirty word. For, when we feel attacked, the natural response is to strike back. The natural response is to trade blow for blow, at the least — an "eye for an eye", as the saying goes. Sometimes, and more primitively, the impulse is to return double the injury you have received.

Many see forgiveness as a sign of weakness. That certainly seems to be the dominant view. Most saw it as appropriate to condemn Timothy McVeigh to death for his role in the April 19 bombing in downtown Oklahoma City. Many saw US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq in response to September 11th as being appropriate. People had to be taught a lesson. Others who might consider similar acts must be warned through these dramatic object lessons.

So, it must be acknowledged that choosing forgiveness is not the immediate human response. To choose forgiveness involves going against one's natural impulses.

Fr. Lapsley believes true forgiveness involves at least three steps: acknowledgement, reverence, and reconciliation. The victim must acknowledge and reverence their wound. The victim must claim his or her emotions — even the "negative" emotions, like anger.

Ideally, the perpetrator will be the one to seek reconciliation. Ideally, the perpetrator will express sorrow for the hurtful act, and seek ways to make restitution, in order to rejoin the human family. Of course, this ideal is rarely achieved. Often, it is the victim who must forge the path of reconciliation — whether the perpetrator seeks forgiveness or not.

Fr. Lapsley admits that he has confronted a challenge in this process, for he was a victim of state-sponsored terrorism in South Africa. Fr. Lapsley was an outspoken critic of apartheid. One day, a few years before the end of that regime, he received a letter bomb hidden between the pages of two religious magazines. He lost both his hands, one eye, and his eardrums were shattered. He does not know the name of the person who created the bomb. He does not know who wrote his name on the envelope. He does not know who authorized the letter bomb. Therefore, he cannot forgive any individual.

However, he can imagine a meeting with the bomber. He can imagine the person coming to his door and asking for forgiveness. Fr. Lapsley imagines his first question would be, "Please, do you plan to continue sending letter bombs?" The answer to that question would have to be "No" in order for forgiveness and reconciliation to begin.

Fr. Lapsley imagines asking the bomber what his current occupation is. "Suppose this person says his current work is in a hospital," he says, "In that case, I would say 'I'd rather you continue working in a hospital for the next fifty years, rather than spend that time in prison. However, I also hope you will agree to pay for my assistant, the aide I must have because of the loss of my hands and part of my sight.'" This last request would not be a condition of forgiveness, but would be a means for the bomber to work toward reconciliation.

Father Lapsley spoke as part of a panel discussion titled "Exploring Justice Without Revenge" at 2:30 Sunday afternoon. Other speakers had also experienced terrorist acts: three, the Oklahoma City bombing; one, the attack on the twin towers on September 11; and one was the father of the first civilian beheaded in Iraq. Each told his or her own story of confronting evil and choosing forgiveness rather than revenge.

The first to speak after Father Lapsley was Susan Urbach, who worked on the second floor of the Journal Record Building. Her office was close to the blast, and she was severely wounded. The other thirteen people in her office were killed. Ms. Urbach read selections from a journal she kept following the bombing.

Her journal entries primarily had to do with her perception of the justice system. It was very pragmatic; in her view, the justice system exists to determine guilt, then to mete out punishment. The existing system has little to do with restitution or reconciliation; it is more focused on revenge. One phrase that stood out in this regard was "Even Lady Justice has her limits."

"Lady Justice's broad sword wounds both perpetrator and victin", she read. Of course, the victim is wounded initially, but is then wounded again in the course of a trial which rehearses the events which caused the wound. And, since the system favors retribution over restitution and reconciliation, the victim is often left empty once the sentence has been declared.

Susan recognized, as Fr Lapsley did, that hate is a killer disease. Again, the victim has a choice to hate the perpetrator, but is sure to find that hate is a poison eats away at the one who hates more than the one who is hated.

The other option is mercy. Mercy heals both giver and receiver. Mercy enables the process of true reconciliation.
The next to speak was Michael Berg. His son, Nick, was the first civilian to be beheaded in Iraq. Mr. Berg perceives that the challenge is to be the first to stop blaming, and trying to get even. "It's easy to see 'the Other' as totally Evil, and ourselves as totally Good. But the reality is that the line between good and evil crosses the heart of every human being."

Mr. Berg believes that forgiveness does not mean the lack of anger. He says the victim must be allowed to express his or her anger. The victim has a right to expect the perpetrator to express sorrow for the act. The victim has a right to expect an attempt be made for reconciliation.

Michael acted on his own advice, and expressed anger toward those who had beheaded his son. He also expressed anger with President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, for invading Iraq, and for implicitly approving the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Girab. He believes the beheading of his son was in retribution for that mistreatment.

I especially appreciated this image: "Sometimes forgiveness is like quitting smoking — sometimes the evil draws you back, and you have to quit again." Like many of the other speakers, Mr. Berg asserted that forgiveness is an on-going process. One does not so much arrive as continue growing.

Hate stiffles growth. Forgiveness and mercy engender growth. As such, forgiveness is a choice of enlightened self-interest.
Colleen Kelly's sister worked in the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of one of the Twin Towers. Her sister was actually a singer and actress who loved performing and loved New York. Like many other aspiring actors, she had to earn a living, and had begun working at this restaurant just a few days before September 11th.

When Colleen watched the towers fall, she did not realize that she was watching her sister die. She received the call that evening, and was the one who had to call her parents.

It's just been a little over three years since the death of Ms Kelly's sister. She is at the beginning of her walk down the forgiveness path. She is a member of Peacful Tomorrows, "an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn our grief into action for peace."

Colleen admits she still has a great deal of anger. She is especially angry that violence is being committed in her name (as an American citizen) in response to the 9/11 attacks.

She also told the story of how survivors of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki blasts contacted Peaceful Tomorrows with a request to accompany the family members to Ground Zero. This was an awe-inspiring request, for these Japanese families had been the victims of a profound act of violence committed by Americans. And yet, they reached to console the children of the people who had bombed them.

This story demonstrated how healing could come through reaching out to others who have suffered similar wounds.
There were two other speakers, Frank Silovsky and Bud Welch. I have related Mr. Silovky's story in this entry. In brief, his wife was a survivor of the blast, but committed three years after. I have related Bud Welch's story here. You may also read Bud's story in his own words in this excellent Beliefnet article.

We must chose forgiveness over retribution. Not because Jesus said to "turn the other cheek", but because it is the only path which may lead to true healing. Once the criminal is jailed, or the murderer is murdered, the victim remains with no tools to heal her wounds.

Retribution seems powerful. Wars and bombs and death chambers are decisive actions. They have a definite beginning and end, as a rule. But this power is illusory, for there is always the likelihood that someone else will seek retribution in return.

As Gandi said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the world hungry and blind."

But forgiveness offers true tools for healing. Forgiveness offers the victim the means to clean poisonous hate from her system. Forgiveness offers victim and perpetrator the means to rejoin the human family.

To read other stories of people who have chosen the courageous path of forgiveness, check out The Forgiveness Project.

April 19, 2005

Today is the day before Hitler's birthday.
Today is the anniversary of the tragedy on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
Today is the tenth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
I hope to have more to say regarding this last anniversary later today.
In the meantime, here's an essay I wrote for the fifth anniversary, April 19, 2000.
And this page will lead you to a series of photographs of the Oklahoma Memorial site.

Monday, April 18, 2005

"I'm Wearing My Bob Dylan Mask"

Another archival photograph of your correspondent, taken sometime between 1980-’85. The aviator mirror shades are definitely a nod to Bob.

Don't know that I'm actually playing a Dylan tune here, but odds are good.

Just under my left hand I can make out an audio cassette and some sheet music. I can barely make out the title on the sheet music, but it seems to be "Time in a Bottle" by Jim Croce.

Ah, the indiscretions of youth!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Idée d’jour

Whatever you think is delusion.
— Katagiri Rosi (2005 Zen Calendar, Workman Press)
Everything you know is wrong
— The Firesign Theater

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Bonus Kitty

Click for full-scale image

As promised, here's a picture of DJ atop my bedroom door. I'll note that I've doctored her eyes slightly, but otherwise the image has not been tampered with.

She undoubtably enjoys being the queen of all she surveys!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Review: Revelations

The NBC miniseries Revelations debuted this Wednesday, April 13, at 8:00 pm (CDT). I will admit that I was prejudiced against it based on the title alone. I was under the impression the program was to be based on the last book of the New Testament, which is properly the Book of Revelation. My prejudice was that if the producers could not get the name of the book right, they probably didn't get anything else right.

The program has been promoted as being "inspired" by the Book of Revelation, along with other Bibical apocalyptic writings. David Seltzer, the writer/creator of the miniseries, has been quoted as saying he takes these prophecies seriously. So, I was suspicious that Mr. Seltzer's production would be similar to Tim LeHaye's "Left Behind" series — a supposedly literal interpretation of apocalyptic writings which owes as much to the "Rapture Index" as it does the Bible. [For more information on the Rapture Index, I refer you to the seventh paragraph of this speech by Bill Moyers].

Based on the debut episode, I needn't have worried. There are three events in this episode which are supposedly signs of the End Times: a shadow appears on the side of a mountain that "onlookers say is the image of Christ" when there is no object to cast such a shadow; an infant is found in the midst of the storm, apparantly the survivor of a shipwreck; and a brain-dead girl is reciting Biblical passages in Latin and writing in archaic code. All of these certainly fit into the category of the generic "wonders" Jesus mentions when speaking of the End Times, but none relate to specific events prophesied in Revelation or elsewhere — so far as I am aware.

What we are left with, then, are the main characters and the plot. Dr. Massey is ably portrayed by Bill Pullman, a journeyman actor who brings an appropriate mix of skepticism and grief to the role of a scientist who has recently lost a daughter and is confronted with supposed "miraculous" events. I am inclined to like the character simply because I like the performer.

Natascha McElhone portrays Sister Josepha Montafiore, who belongs to an unspecified order (NBC's web site refers to the "Sisters of Mercy"). It's made clear that Sister Montafiore is a member of a renegade order, which neatly avoids any charge of anti-Catholocism in the series; that is, if she's a member of a renegade order, no one can claim her views reflect those of orthodox Catholocism. She has a habit of quoting scripture, saying that many people find it comforting. I'm inclined to agree with Dr. Massey's character, that it's just annoying. The sister is less than skeptical about whether these are the End Times, and would seem a poor choice to try to prove the matter in any meaningful way.

In spite of the fact that she quotes scripture, she does not cite a single passage to substantiate her claim that the "signs are in place for the End Times". Not once does she say, for example, "This girl is speaking even though she is technically dead. Her body seems to be channeling Dr. Massey's dead daughter. Thus, the dead have returned, as Jesus promised in Matthew 24." This seems a flaw in the character, if not the program as a whole.

There are a number of equally niggling matters left unexplained: how the code written by the brain-dead girl leads Sister Montafiore to Dr. Massey; why the infant is considered so special that he is reverenced at a Greek Church (the shipwreck occurs conveniently close to the island of Patmos, where the Book of Revelation was written). Some of these questions may fall under the "suspension of disbelief" rule; others may be answered as the series continues. Those which are left unanswered reflect disturbing plot holes.

There are certainly worse dramas out there. If I were reviewing this program for Entertainment Weekly, I would give it a "C" – it's about average. In no way is the program Biblically based, and knowledgeable people seeking that are likely to be disappointed. If, however, you are seeking a quasi-religious mystery/suspense story that plays out like a watered-down "X-Files", you are likely to be entertained by this series.

Oh – by the way " the nun accurately refers to the Biblical text as the Book of Revelation. So, extra credit for at least that level of accuracy.

Cat Friday

DJ meditates
Her royal felineness during a quiet moment last night.

DJ has a new tradition: she jumps up on the bedroom door as I am putting on my tie before going to work.

Here's how she does it. There's a massage table propped against the wall behind the door. She jumps up on the edge of the massage table, and then onto the top of the door. The distance she covers between the top of the table and the door is about two-and-a-half times the length of her body.

Later this evening, I will post a picture showing the aspiring mountain lion on her perch.

Idée d’jour

True enlightenment and wholeness arise when we are without anxiety about nonperfection.
— The Third Patriarch (2005 Zen Calendar, Workman Press)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Idée d’jour

In spiritual practice there are only two things:  you sit and you sweep the garden.  And it doesn't matter how big the garden is.
— Zen Saying (2005 Zen Calendar, Workman Press)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Happy and young Jonah
Here, you see your correspondent as a very young child with his dachshund, Happy. Happy was part of my world prior to my parents' divorce, so I guess I'm between 4 and 7 in this shot.

I have two significant memories related to Happy. The first involves the time he got out of the house. I ran after him, and eventually got him to come to me. Then, I would let him go again. I saw chasing Happy as a marvelously fun game — until I realized I was lost.

I started crying, and calling out to the world in general: "I'm lost." Now, this was in the early 1960s, and this was a relatively suburban neighborhood. I think I went to someone's door, and asked for help. They asked my father's name, looked up the number in the book, and called my parents.

Padre immediately helped me memorize our phone number.

The second memory related to Happy came within a week after Padre's death. Among the effects I inherited were a cache of color slides (which I have since misplaced). And among those slides was a color photograph of Happy and me in front of a Christmas tree. Seeing that slide brought tears to my eyes.

Of course, I had cried in response to Padre's death. I suppose these additional tears were similarly motivated. But they may have also been in response to my lost childhood.

Best Of

I have finally gotten around to archiving the "Best of" this past year's entries. The index page is here.

As you'll see, there are only five entries in the "Prose" category, and ten in the "Poetry" category. The challenge I had with the prose selections was the fact that so many of my prose entries this past year were parts of on-going series (e.g., "Watonga" and "Rosary"). One of those five represent a nomination made by Sam; she was especially touched by an entry concerning my mother which was part of the "Rosary" series. At least, I'm pretty sure that's the entry she's referring to.

I may add other prose selections to that "Best Of" page as time goes on. There's an entry from the Winfield series that I think is especially representative of the whole. There's also a couple of entries concerning Padre, which were part of the Rosary series, which may be worth high-lighting.

In any case, give the pages a look. Let me know whether you agree or disagree. I'm still accepting nominations, especially for the prose category.

By the way, speaking of the "Rosary" series, I may soon have that entire series available as a PDF document. Let me know if you're interested in that.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Idée d’jour

What do you want to get enlightened for? You may not like it.
— Shunryu Suzuki

Friday, April 08, 2005

Cat Friday

Elaine's Siamese
I'm not positive, but I think this is the Siamese cat I always thought of as being my mother's. I was about five years old when my parents divorced, so you can understand why I'm not clear on the identity of this particular cat. As I've mentioned before, it was a rather foul-tempered beast, but that may have been due to having to live with two very active boys (Brother Dave was around nine). Additionally, the cat had its tail broken at some point — the story I recall was that the tail got caught in the door.
Dame at breakfast
On a happier note, here's the lady watching me have breakfast. She began her day around 2 a.m. my time, but lying across my throat. It was petting time. Just to prove what a doting father I am, I didn't move her. Instead, I pet her for some time. Then, I let her fall asleep. Right there. On top of my throat. Near my adam's apple.

Hmmm... who's in charge here?


my hair is straw spun through ginger mornings
my fingers are daffodil stems leaning on the garden wall
my heartbeat is thunderbolt ecstasy hidden in birdsong

well, that's the cloud-covered symphonic dance
with woodwind and north wind and moist grass
that's the dawn-breaking twilight we count out

like beads
the moon is a faint tarot card
guarding the western gate
ivory horns guard her brow

I stand with mercury's wings at my temples
and a garland of summer wheat at my throat
I walk past infinite white crosses
then continue, until dawn's last echo

Idée d’jour

There are no Zen masters. There is only Zen.
— Obaku

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Where I've Been

In brief, I've been sick. Early last week, I had a nasty upper-respiratory bug. It might be more accurate to say that said bug did a hammerlock and pile-driver on me. I had been coughing in the mornings for a week or so previously, but thought it was probably allergies. Then, last Monday, I just couldn't stop coughing. Monday evening, I had a case of the chills. Which I figured was a sure sign Iwas running a fever.

Tuesday morning, I still felt feverish, and I took the day off. Aside from a couple of TV shows, and a DVD, I slept most of the day. I still felt bad the last three days of the week, but had some work I felt oblidged to attend to (a deadline was involved), so I went in to work. I barely controlled the coughing with some Halls, and took some Tylenol forthe fever.

I took off at noon on Friday. Slept most of that afternoon. And, although the weekend was absolutely gorgeous, I slept the better part ofSaturday and Sunday as well.

I believe I'm on the mend. There's a vestige of the cough, but nothing like what it was. I've got a bit of a headache this morning, but Isuspect that it comes from the coughing.

I think I must have been depressed with that illness as well, because I was totally uninterested in myself. I had nothing of interest to say. I had been reading last year's entries, seeking "Best of" selections, and found it all flat and uninspired. I couldn't face the thought of typingone more word in the process of sorting out my belly-button lint.

I couldn't even come up with a poem about how bored I was with myself.

Here's a mystery: two different people really liked the last poem I posted, "The Vagrant Daughter". There haven't been any comments posted on this space, but George Wallace (poet laurette of Suffolk County, NY) said it was the best thing I've shared with him. Alexandria liked it too.

The thing is, it was a bit of automatic writing, which I didn't think too much about, or of, at the time. So — how can I do it again?

Idée d’jour

What you see with your eyes closed is what counts.
— Lame Deer, Lakota Sage

Living is easy with eyes closed.
— John Lennon, Liverpool Mystic