Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Walking With God

Art by Natalie d'Arbeloff
I’ve still been pondering the 13th installment of "Augustine Interviews God", and the statement that love is energy. Just as I was sorting out my thoughts, and about ready to jot down some notes, Natalie posted a new installment. This latest installment is not an obvious continuation of the previous segment, but I believe it comments on it.

Before I comment on this latest installment of the interview, I’ll postulate what I believe to be some givens regarding love. First, it requires an "Other". Second, it requires work and compromise. Third, it requires honesty. There’s certainly more, but this is a good beginning.

When Jesus was asked about the most important part of the Law, he quoted two parts of the Torah: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and all your soul" (in other words, your whole being), and "You shall love your neighbor as your self." As many have noted, that second statement requires that you love your self. If you hate yourself, and treat others as you treat yourself, you’re not likely to treat others very nicely. Similarly, if you love yourself more than your neighbor, you are likely to treat your neighbor poorly (at least).

So, the ideal would seem to be that you treat the Other as you would like to be treated, and treat yourself at least as well you would the Other. The best baseline we have for this is our family and society. After that, we have the example of the world’s sacred writings. It will be noted that some do not have good modeling in their family, and that many social groups are a better model of "what not to do". I’ll admit that I’m discussing ideals, and doing my best to explore their practical applications.

Installment 14 of "Augustine Interviews God" seems to me a model for the work and compromise love requires, as well as the honesty required. The first thing one notes when surveying the panels in this illustrated interview is the sifting sizes of the principles. Sometimes the interviewer, Augustine, is bigger than God; sometimes God is bigger; sometimes they are the same size.

This reminds me of an esoteric gag:
  • Q: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
  • A: As many as God wants to.
As God says in this interview, "If I’m unfathomable, how do you know if I’m big or small?" God can be any size God wants to be, or any size we allow God to be. So one interesting question in the context of this interview is which of the principles is controlling the relative sizes.

It would be simple enough to say it is Augustine, as the artist, who controls the sizes. For me, this is too easy and facile a solution. I suspect the action is more fluid than that.

In the panel I quoted above, God appears smaller than Augustine. This reflects the point God is making about his physical size. In the next panel, God appears bigger than Augustine.

In this panel, Augustine is asking whether God is involved with humanity. As God points out, Augustine is actually asking whether God is watching us, and cares about what He sees. Again, the relative sizes reflect the content of the panel – Augustine is thinking of God as a Bigger-Than-Humanity Eye in the Sky.

In the next panel, the principles are the same size. This reflects the work and compromise of an honest relationship. Augustine honestly admits that God has recognized the underlying meaning of her previous question. She goes further; here her question is "Does what I do matter", which might as well be "Do I matter?" This is a question which will arise again later in the strip; it is also a question at the heart of a loving relationship.

In the sixth panel, Augustine is larger than God. Her question is aggressive; as God points out, she’s actually asking Him to "prove it". Again, in the next two panels, the principles relate to each other as equals: Augustine admits that she’s asking for proof. When God suggests that he might refuse, Augustine honestly expresses an emotion (in her facial expression) and expresses an opinion: "That wouldn’t be very nice."

God’s response, that her reason for asking is not very nice either, puts Augustine on the defensive. Again, she is aggressive and bigger than God in the following panel. When God says her motives are insincere – she seeks the fame of creating a clever comic rather than information – Augustine becomes small again. Not only has she been caught out, she feels judged, as reflected by her blush and the down-cast position of her head.

Augustine remains small in the following four panels. Here, she is again asking whether she matters: isn’t it my duty to prove God exists? If not, what is my mission? Surely, you have a plan for me!

All these questions reflect a view of God as a parental figure or boss, and the panels mirror that theme. The thing is, a mature adult loving relationship is a partnership; one person is not the boss or parent of the other. It may be true that one partner takes the lead occasionally, in areas where that person is especially competent or gifted; but the other partner will take the lead when the occasion warrants.

The final three panels are among my favorite of the entire series. "Oy vey!" says God, "Mission Schmission! Can’t you just take me for a walk?" "Where do you want to go?" says Augustine. Now God is the smaller, child-like figure holding her hand, and says: "You decide."

Again, the panel reflects the dialogue. God is smaller because He has asked Augustine to take the lead. And I think this is only possible because of the honest discussion they have had in the previous panels.

Augustine is expecting a big flashy mission – to prove the existence of God. But God’s suggestion is basic: walk with me, be in relationship with me. I am reminded of the words of the prophet Micah: “what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:1, RSV).

That's the energy of love in action.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

West Texas Medusa

Click image for larger view.

Idée d’jour

It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.
— Thomas Paine, philosopher and writer (1737-1809)

Friday, August 26, 2005

Deep in the Heart of Crawford

by George Wallace (Suffolk County, NY)
It sneaked up on me really.

I do think that what a person does in life is a complex package of political statements, but I'm not a particularly active person politically speaking. During the Vietnam War I protested some. The usual stuff, really - when Nixon came to the War Memorial in Syracuse in 1968, for example, I sang 'Sounds of Silence' along with all the others over his 'secret plan' to end the war; helped shut down the campus during the Kent State spring, too, til the school figured out most of the students just wanted a free pass to head for Florida. They declared the school year over and the protests fizzled.

That was over thirty years ago, and if there's any other moment besides that when I was politically active, I can't think of it. Oh yeah, two years ago I contributed a poem to the online Poets Against the War collection that Sam Hamill was putting together.

On the other hand I feel I've consistently served my community, my nation and humanity - as a Peace Corps volunteer, as a public health worker, as an Air Force Hospital Administrator, as a community journalist.

The fact is, I've thought a lot about the war in Iraq and it has been bugging me more and more, but I hadn't once thought about speaking out in any big dramatic way, even as the machinations of the Bush Administration in constructing a false rationale for the war became more and more obvious.

But that was before Cindy Sheehan - the mother of a soldier who had died in Iraq, who sat down in a ditch at a Texas crossroads just outside the Crawford ranch of President Bush, and vowed to stay there during his month-long vacation. She wanted the president to meet with her and answer a simple, decent question - What was the noble cause that her son Casey died for in Iraq?

The president wouldn't come out. And Cindy Sheehan wouldn't budge. It was a standoff in the hot Texas sun.

I immediately admired the action as being pure, simple, cutting through the divisive rhetoric so prevalent in the political scene today.

Maybe in part it was because the media were all over Crawford, all month, with not much else to write about. Maybe in part it was the symbolism of the situation, or the fact that Cindy Sheehan was putting a face on an anti-war feeling that's been growing in the nation. Or maybe it was just the idea that a cat ought to be able to look at a king.

Whatever the reason, Cindy's story kept growing.

Then a neighbor shot a rifle over Cindy's head, 'dove hunting' he drawled in laconic Texan; and another local ran over several dozen crosses she'd put out on the side of the road to note those who had died in Iraq. And to top that off, talk show hosts on radio and television - in my view outright propagandists and stalking dogs for the President - began trying to smear her and attack her.

Now it's one thing for the talking heads to trash each other, they get paid lots of bucks to do that. And it's one thing for politicians to take swipes at each other.

But here's this huge political machine bearing down on the mother of a dead soldier in a bar ditch outside the Bush Ranch in Crawford?

It just got to me, that's all I can say.

So I wrote a poem for Cindy Sheehan, and right on the spot decided to deliver it to her. I decided to meet with Cindy myself - or at least stand shoulder to shoulder with those in her camp, to show I support what she was doing.

After passing the hat among some great poetry friends, I flew out - negotiated my way through striking airline mechanic picket lines through Minneapolis to Dallas, and drove the two hours south to the town of Crawford, Texas, pop. 705.

Little did I know I was destined to help 'hold down the fort' for Cindy during the portion of her vigil when she had to return home temporarily. Little did I know it was going to be a chance to meet with hundreds from around the country, from mothers of Iraqi soldiers to vets themselves, not to mention the likes of Joan Baez, Margo Kidder and Steve Earle.

Little did I know I was about to become a small part of history - to help light a spark that could very well change the course of America. I stood shoulder to shoulder with Cindy Sheehan's August 2005 vigil in Crawford, Texas.

So out across the cottonfields of Texas I went, south from Dallas, through the city of Waco, blasting through Texas heat and terrible radio, looking for an occupied ditch outside George Bush's 'Western White House.'

This is an attractive part of the state, quite unlike Wichita Falls where I'd spent some time while studying hospital administration one horrible winter in the 1970s. The central part of Texas from Fort Worth to Austin is rich with rolling green fields and prairies, full with farmable land and dotted with healthy looking small towns.

It is also populated, strangely enough to a Northerner's eyes, with innumerable welders and sheetmetal artisans. Everything - houses, sheds, massive ranch 'entrances' at the ends of driveways, water windmills, deer blinds - seems to be made of the stuff.

Even the Peace House in Crawford, which I reached by late Saturday afternoon, has its sheetmetal moment - in the form of a huge 'Peace is not an Illusion' screen, cut out of the stuff, and propped up to obscure a view of the cottage's bathroom window from the road it sits along, on the wrong side of town.

To say that the Peace House is on the wrong side of the tracks in Crawford, Tx, population 705, is no exaggeration. The brainchild of a few locals, when it came time for them to find an affordable refuge for liberal thought in town, they had to go across the tracks from the wealthier side of town - the side where there's no streetlights, many tiny tract houses and mobile homes. The wrong side of the political spectrum for a conservative little town like Crawford, it seems, needs to be shunted aside.

John Wolf, one of the co founders of Crawford Peace House, told me the story of the place as he brushed fireants off his shirt and back. A school Social Studies teacher, he reckons that it's very tough not to be conservative in the small town like that. His Grandpa, he told me, remembers the KKK and how if you didn't belong to it, you might as well leave town. John Wolf said he thought he'd taught his students better than to think that way over the years, but now here it was the new millennium, there was war in Iraq, and the young adults were just as conservative as their parents and grandparents had been.

"How did they turn out this way?" he lamented. We talked about how Americans are being fed the same truisms over and over by talk show hosts and cable television 'news' stations, and how a strategy like that proved so effective in fascist nations. "You repeat something long enough and people believe it, they say it themselves, it becomes a conditioned reflex.'

Where there is no vision the people perish. Fortunately for Crawford, Wolf and others did not lose their vision, even if they saw media blackouts and increasing dominance of big media venues by propaganda mongers and henchmen of the oligarchy. So when the War in Iraq broke out Wolf and friends opened the place in March 03 on the strength of sales of anti-war buttons at $1 a go. They even found a way to do a showing of the film Fahrenheit 9-11, despite the difficulty in finding a venue. In the end they opted for an inflatable screen in the football field, 3000 showed up in the town of 700, over the shouts of pro-war protesters.

A new line of fire ants climbed up the porch column as John Wolf was telling me this. In fact they seem to leap onto him as he swayed and talked. He was soon covered in them, despite my attempts to brush them off.

We went out to the Labyrinth ('It's not a maze,' someone said pointedly - 'a maze is an Elizabethan Folly sort of thing, while a labyrinth is more primal than that, who knows what you'll find in the middle, expect a minotaur at the center, or enlightenment, or maybe just a Peace Pole'). The object is to slow down your thought process, like a Zen stepping stone garden, by walking the labyrinth. Slow down and contemplate peace.

So we walked slowly, John explaining that recently things had gotten pretty tough for the Crawford Peace House - in fact, the place was down to its last three bucks and the telephone had been cut off.

Then Cindy showed up.

Now, he says, they've got $150,000 in the bank and they've paid off the mortgage.

Cindy Sheehan didn't just come out of nowhere, of course. She'd been involved in efforts to get her concerns and the concerns of mothers of men and women who had died in Iraq heard, in the past year. But when she got the notion to plant herself in a ditch, she became a national figure.

What is a ditch? It is rock and bramble and barbed wire. It is a barrier to keep some things in and some things out. It is a trench to hunker down in when confronting an enemy. It is a place to run your car off into when things go awry. It is a place that catches runaway rainwater and controls its sudden torrents.

There are mosquitoes in a ditch and chiggers in a ditch too, probably rattlesnakes if you ask me. And as I say, plenty of water in wet season. This being dry season, it's hot even though this ditch is backed up by a stand of trees.

Cindy's Ditch is all that, and it's at a crossroads too, a strategic crossroads where traffic bound for Bush's Crawford Ranch by car have to pass.

Now we all know what a crossroads is in southern lore. It's a place where hangings take place. It's a place where a bluesman stands, guitar in hand, after having sold his soul to the Devil in order to learn how to play the darn thing. It's a place for critical decision-making

I don't know if Gandhi ever parked himself in a ditch. I'm not sure Martin Luther King did either. But it was Cindy Sheehan's stroke of genius to sit down in a ditch at a crossroads, and wait for America - and George Bush - to come to her. Deep in the heart of Crawford.

In a sense, she had the courage to expose herself to danger in the middle of Conservative George Bush country. She pulled the beard of the lion, and the lion refused to come out of his den.

A hero is someone who moves forward in the darkness, says George Seferis. Sometimes, a hero is someone who sits down in a ditch.

It is dawn of the first day and I'm an early riser. I've slept overnight in the Peace House and before going out to Camp Casey, I want to freshen up. Someone's told me there's a nice Quarry to swim in - Tonkawa Park - just up the road about a half mile, so I've decided to give that a go.

So I head on out in the opposite direction from the middle of town, my back to the huge ugly humming grain elevator at the railroad crossing, and the crossing going clang clang clang.

Along the way I pass the tiny houses which occupy this side of Crawford - cottages, mobile homes, small neatly kept yards. On the way a Chihuahua barks at me aggressively. A car eases up behind me, slowing down. I'm with war protesters, this is redneck country! Is this my easy rider moment?

It is not. The driver is a Hispanic man, he lives in the next house round the corner. He gives me a polite wave as he passes and turns into his driveway. He owns a double wide trailer, the lawn is immaculate, there's children's play equipment. The property's lined with flowering crepe myrtle, there's a peach tree weighed down by its fruit. It is modest and well kept and I find it hard to imagine he's a gung ho Bush fan.

I mean his postage stamp property is in stark contrast to the many thousand acre ranches outside of town, where the landed and the ruling class live with their proud 'entrances' and I'm thinking on this side of the track these are THE people, you won't see any kowtowing to the oligarchy here. I'm thinking Woody Guthrie, who said 'the sign said private property, and on the other side, it didn't say nothing." I'm thinking Middle Ages Europe, with serfs huddled outside the castle walls. I'm thinking Frankenstein.

Further down the road I discover a cow flop in the middle of the road, freshly steaming. Where are the cows? Down the road behind a barbed wire fence in a green field of beat down grass, sweetly lowing. There are thistles, blue clumps of cactus, and yellow sunflowers waiting which way to turn to greet the morning sun.

All the way to the park I still hear the grain elevator from the entrance to the park, but once inside it becomes quieter, a thicket of wild grapes blackening on the vine, virginia creeper, small dark-leaved trees crowded shoulder to shoulder. There's an RV camp, a Little League baseball field ("the Crawford Pirates"). There are riding stables. A pretty spot outside of a reasonably pretty western town.

But where's the quarry? I'm about to turn around when I see it. It's not a quarry at all, but a natural pool in a hollow carved out of bedrock by a small stream. Tonkawa Falls. I double back, to a small pathway and a sign that says 'swim at your own risk,' follow the rusted hurricane fencing and take the steps carved out of the stone down to the waterside.

The pool is cool and calm and still. Nothing seems to be in it but a single small fish looking back up at me. So I slip in, paddle around quietly as I can for a couple of minutes, and slip back out without a sound.

Refreshed, I walk back to the Peace House. The Chihuahua looks up at me with one eye open, barks half-heartedly but does not get up. Once again the grain elevator is humming. The railroad crossing is still clanging.

But the drivers have grown impatient - they have begun going around the guardrails. Hesitantly at first, then more boldly.

They know there's no train coming.

It is hot out here - hotter than the devil's foot up a Baptist butt - and getting hotter by the minute, so I figure to take a drive out into the country, see the sites a bit, and have breakfast.

For all that his name is plastered all over this section of the country, George Bush is nowhere to be seen. He's the invisible president, he flies in and out by helicopter. There are some say they don't like him here, he's not really a Texan, he's not really ranching out there in that spot he bought back in 1999 from a real rancher. Some say he's afraid of horses.

But there seems plenty of support for the man. Heck, the parkway out of Waco all the way to MacGregor's named after him. There are Bush signs everywhere and even a huge billboard of George and Laura welcoming people to Crawford - though not from the end of town where the Peace House is located.

I'm looking for MacGregor but not in much of a hurry as no one seems to be up yet around the Peace House except for the inveterate sleepless like myself - all day out in the hot Texas sun this time of year will do that to you. So I take some of the back roads - like Fossil Rim Road, with its abandoned shed and its dead end and its squashed armadillos. Val Verde Road with its mix of fields, some left in stubble and others with freshly planted new corn, many of them in a shallow sea of hovering dragonflies. Where the open ranch and planted fields give way to stands of trees, the woods are a mix of feathery cottonwood dark scrub trees with tight-fisted oak-like leaves, osage apple.

It is beautiful country, the southern end of North America's Midwestern prairie with all the richness that implies, tough and honest and continental. Being below the frost line it can get mighty hot and now the fire ants have invaded from South America there's a new pest to add to the old.

I realize, slowing to a stop and taking a walk around, you can't understand any place in this world without smelling it and hearing it. Without hearing, in this case, the creak of a water windmill against the big blue empty sky. Without smelling the tall emerald blue and green grasses beyond the roadside baking in 100+ degree sun.

I duck inside a coffee shop in MacGregor. Here we have it now - this is all-Texas, the town's got a Dairy Queen, stacks of deer blinds, plenty of beer to go. Inside are small groups of well-scrubbed good old boys, rod and gun men, hair combed and wearing tight clean bluejeans, they're gathered four or five to a table and everyone knows everyone except me. The place is chock full of George 'W' memorabilia. At the register under glass, they even have a letter from Bush on White House stationery, and a big check under the glass - it's a Texas size check, blown up to quadruple size - with his name scrawled in oversized childlike pen script, the bank and account number removed. The check's made out for $32.63.

No one says a word to me except the waitress, who has no choice.

I eat my grits and eggs and Texas Toast, and watch the local weather channel. The same images, over and over. Doppler Radar, nothing. 100 degrees all week. Dew Point 10 percent. There's a tornado watch map for the entire region.

No tornadoes anywhere in Texas today.

How quickly a scene grows.

Two weeks or so ago, Cindy was essentially alone out here at the crossroads. Now, even with her away, there are two Camp Caseys, tens of thousands of people have come through, there's many hundreds camped here every day to show that her message for Bush, to "Meet With Cindy," is from her but is also a message from America - that the president ought to meet those who disagree with him, not just play before those who agree with him.

Speaking of Bush supporters, a handful of counterdemonstrators have set up camps too. Lining Prairie Chapel Road, are pro-Bush slogans "Get along home Cindy" til you get to the crossroads.

Prairie Chapel Road, by the way, that's where the stand of 'Our Lady of the Ditch' is felt most profoundly. Cindy's encampment awaits her return, dozens are camped here, just off a triangular patch of grass that was declared 'off limits' by the local authorities, essentially down in the ditch.

While a mere handful of Bush supporters are here on any particular day, all over Crawford you find anti-war vigils. Camped at the Peace House. In the ditch. And on a parcel of property provided by a neighbor who took pity on them, an area of flatter land but no shade, there's a huge tent erected there, big enough to handle three New York Bar Mitzvahs or one big gathering of anti-war vigils.

Of course this is Texas, it seems tiny on the huge prairie horizon. But like I say how quickly a scene grows. The media with nothing to do is there for Cindy and despite the fact that Bush operatives have tried to expand her message and then 'git' her, and despite the fact that the normally effective smear and discrediting plans have been put into vociferous action, she won't go away.

The people come, they drop everything and leave their kitchens or their work.

The main story here is Cindy, who has as they say 'put a face' on the opposition. The main story here is mothers of fallen soldiers, the dead and the injured. The main story here is soldiers who have yet to go, families of soldier, peace activists, people compelled by the simple decency and sincerity of her question to come, veterans of former wars who know better.

The main story here is America standing with Cindy.

I plant myself down in Cindy's ditch, holding signs and taking communion with those there. The Oregon wife. The Chicago veteran. The Arizona mystic The Iraqi marine vet.

It is a kind of a throw down chili. There are spinners, quilters and guitar pickers. Poets, priests, politicians. There's a banner maker from Homer Alaska, she's brought dozens of colorfully painted peace banners with her and has them on display.

There's the wife of an active duty soldier about to be deployed, all bravado and brass along the side of the road, she confronts me to make sure I'm not one of 'them'. After a moment though, that changes. She has accepted me into the group, and takes me to a collage of photos of soldiers in Iraq. She points to a dead soldier, covered in chalk-like dust.

"I can't look at those," she chokes, and falls into an inconsolable weeping. I can't look at them either.

Who and who and who. There are conscientious objectors and Vietnam vets. There are mothers whose sons have died and mothers whose sons are still living. There's a woman from Lake George who had been following the story and just couldn't stand by and let something like this happen. There's a former Russian orthodox priest who worked soup kitchens from San Francisco to New York City, who sees this as 'a spiritual thing' (he's assigned to 'waste management' at the camp, on one morning alone I help him shift more than 100 bags onto a trailer - it's one thing to attract support, it's another to feed and clean up after it.)

There's Ann Wright, a 29 year Air Force veteran who is 'second in command'-ing the camp in Cindy's absence. There's the 20 year old from Tulsa with a Celtic tattoo on her chest to 'catch evil,' who just had to drive on down here - and on the way, picked up two folk singers in Abilene." There are folk singers and playwrights and poets. There's a Mama Cass class torch singer in a flowing purple dress. There's a playwright from Venice Beach California with perfect hair, and a gal named Chappy, a roaring performance poet from Austin who brings the crowd to their feet with her ranting.

And there's a bedraggled mystic ditch warrior from the woods of Arizona named Rick who whispers his fourteen stanza poem - which he says he 'channeled' - in anybody's ear, a surprising powerful cadence despite the sing-song and overt focus on the authority of Jesus, somewhat odd in the ear of someone from secular 21st century New York: 'the president has told us/that Jesus changed his heart/but if he's really read the Bible,/it seems he's missed one part/I know he'll hate to hear it/because it's a bitter pill/but the Bible's fifth commandment is/thou shalt not kill.'

And then there's the African-American mom, saying what many are saying - never mind draft, this is poor people fighting a rich man's war. Her son was killed during the invasion, the first from Georgia. 'Bush knows it was wrong," she says. "We know it was wrong. The point is to get them out. My son died in a unit that went the wrong way, the day Jessica Lynch was captured. It was supposed to be a 41 day war.'

Bush hasn't met with her yet.

On stage a succession of individuals offer testimony to their anguish and their determination, well into the dark hours of the night, the Texas plain giving back some of the heat it has absorbed all day. Individuals whose lives have been moved, shaped, altered or irrevocably bound up in the trauma of the war in Iraq.

There is Jeff Keys, a Marine Lance Corporal who plays taps over the improvised graves when the sun goes down.

All told, it is a moving vigil. Simply stated, deeply felt, and profoundly heard.

I retire to the tent I have set up on the perimeter of Camp Casey (my sign: Peace. Poetry. Tent). I've taken my turn at the podium, I've read and delivered my poem for Cindy. I have shared poems from Poets Against the War to those who stopped to talk with me, and poems sent to me by friends who want them read out. I've heard story after story from those who could not fail to come to Crawford, as I have, and be part of this thing Cindy Sheehan began.

I'm tired, and hot, and dirty, and a tent is just the thing. At night it's just me and Texas again, Scorpio rising in the August heat. So quiet. I can hear a horse neighing, a ranch of two away. I can hear some cows engaged in some flagrant cow ecstasy. Silence conceals so much, reveals so much, and profiles much more.

A rooster crows at dawn.

Under the tent, the entertainment has taken a serious turn. Cindy is not back yet, but major figures - congressmen, commentators, celebrities - are showing up to add their voice of support to the effort, to show that like America, they stand with Cindy. Including Steve Earle, a gravel voiced Texas rocker who exudes folk history with each strum of the guitar, sings 'The Revolution Starts Now,' electrifying the audience.

I get interviewed by Lois Lane, aka Margo Kidder reporting for a small newspaper in Montana. I talk with independent photographers from LA to Spain. I meet a grandchild of American poet Louis MacNeice. I help Jeff Keys - who has given a cathartic 90 minute monologue series of vignettes of Marine life in Iraq late one night - adjust the oversized coffin which provides sober reminder of those who have died there.

It is all very communal and supportive and despite the harshness of the conditions - each day heat prostration hits a couple of people, bug bites and sheer exhaustion of exposure to the heat debilitates many) - congenial enough. But there is an undercurrent of uneasiness running through the camp. Is that a secret service guy? Did you hear that the cops were pulling out shotguns down at Tonkawa Park? Would it be a bad thing to offer the counter-demonstrators some water?

I'm writing notes, a young stud asks me who I'm writing for and if I have an id. The next day, a man in khakis and a Brooks Brothers shirt interviews me, saying he's from the Washington Post. Someone confronts him, asking for press ID, he flashes something plastic and indistinct, and leaves off quickly.

And there is the hardship. Heat prostration. People stop making sense or become somewhat inarticulate. We sweat mightily. We get bitten up and unwashed.

I tell someone I went swimming in the quarry. Oh there's water moccasins in there, he says blandly. Don't swim in there alone.

On Sunday Joan Baez arrives on the scene with the resilience and beautiful serenity of a lifelong Quaker. No resignation even at this stage of her life (her mother's parasailing at 92, so who will stop Joan?). Joan Baez, a sunflower in a Texas field. She's been protesting since she was a kid in the high school lunchroom. She was with Martin Luther King, sang lullabies to him to lull him to troubled sleep. She was everywhere during the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam movement. "I didn't think this would happen again in my lifetime," she tells me.

Joan Baez. She has got to be the only person on earth who can make Kumbaya sound good in the 21st century - even without doing the uptempo version she learned from some rural blacks when she first started singing it.

A legend, but a real person, she headlines one evening's entertainment, but doesn't do the celebrity thing - soak up the limelight and then split - she stays day after day, talking to people, sharing her experiences, supporting the moment. Like me, holding down the fort until Cindy returns.

To Ann Wright and the thousands who have come together under the tent at Camp Casey, she says, "You give me hope." Back in her trailer afterwards she gives me a hug. "Bring that back to the people in Woodstock and in New York," she says.

In all, I will stay here at camp four days, and fly back just in time to learn that Cindy is on her way back to Crawford. Though I haven't had a chance to shake her hand, something even more important has been accomplished - I've helped keep her camp going and demonstrate that her question to the president is decent and simple and is America's question. America deserves more than spin and smear, it needs an adequate answer - what noble cause are the soldiers dying for in Iraq?

I don't know if Cindy Sheehan's stand in Crawford is a watershed moment for America over the war, but the nation has finally been brought into sharp focus about the issue, and its division over the issue as well. The dissent has begun in earnest, and it sure feels like a historic moment for the nation. In fact someone has already put up a temporary historical marker on the site of Camp Casey.

There are not too many monuments to dissent in America. Where are the monuments to those whose patriotism and sense of humanity and moral integrity led them to question their government - in the labor movement, peace activist across several wars, Spanish Civil War brigade volunteers.

After Vietnam, Abbie Hoffman said 'this is the first time in history a people rose up against its own army, said we don't want it, and made them stop.'

One day there may be something here to permanently mark the spot where Cindy Sheehan accomplished that for America. Until then, the best monument to dissent is the justice and the liberty it brings to the people.

Grace happens in the strangest places. I picture in my mind the silouhette of tiny Joan Baez and Jeff Keys, a huge Marine, on the horizon at dusk, he blowing taps on a bugle with the crowd gathered around the crosses of Arlington South.

Grace happens in the face of danger. Deep into the night the pickups fly by with people shouting. There's a rumor that a group of belligerent pro-war people are gathering up a caravan, and have already provoked trouble in California. The community is confronted with a proposal to make it illegal to park, stop or stand on Prairie Chapel Road. Other roads? Mattlage, Homestead, Quiet Valley, Canaan Church, Castle Creek, West Middle Bosque and the other roads around the Bush ranch. ('The roads are the people's roads,' counters an opponent. 'You can't have a de-constitutionalized zone around the President.').

Liberty and justice have to be guarded vigilantly, against threats both from the outside and from within. At a protest rally in Crawford a year ago, five were arrested, though their conviction overturned as unconstitutional. How will the authorities deal with thousands?

And how will they deal with the inevitable hundreds of thousands protesting this war, in Washington?

I'm thinking of 250 thousand people in Washington protesting Vietnam.

Allen Ginsberg tried to 'levitate the Pentagon' through his peace chants. He was one part delusional and two parts right.

John Lennon said 'war is over if you want it.' He was three parts showman and four parts visionary.

Now Steve Earle says the war in Vietnam stopped not because he opposed it, but when his Father came to oppose it. And that we can do it again.

Me? My brains are as addled as George Bush in the Texas heat. I'm wishing I could take a nice cool swim down by the Quarry at Tonkawa Falls, but thinking about those water moccasins.

Then I remember. Someone has said that if you go with a crowd, and splash first, you should be all right. The snakes are more afraid of you then you are of them. And anyhow, there may not be any snakes at all - it may just be that locals are telling you that so they can keep the swimming hole for themselves.

So I decide, I will go back into that water.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Idée d’jour

We have met the enemy and he is us.
Walt Kelly, born this date in 1913; died Oct. 18, 1973

This phrase is timeless. Mr. Kelly originally wrote it in 1953 at the height of the McCarthy era. He later repeated it in 1972, as a comment on the problem of pollution.

It could also be seen as a comment on our current time.

Speaking of timeless quotes, here's another. This is Chuang Tzu, writing around 4 BCE, as rendered by Thomas Merton:

The invention
Of weights and measures
Makes robbery easier.
Signing contracts, setting seals,
Makes robbery more sure.
Teaching love and duty
Provides a fitting language
With which to prove that robbery
Is really for the general good.
A poor man must swing
For stealing a belt buckle
But if a rich man steals a whole state
He is acclaimed
As stateman of the year.
By ethical argument
And moral principle
The greatest crimes are eventually shown
To have been necessary, and, in fact,
A signal benefit
To mankind.


Walking to the bathroom
Sneezed so hard
Made the doorbell ring

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Idée d’jour

Wealth is the number of things one can do without.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Listening to God

Shut up & Let God Speak!

Illustration by Natalie d'Arbeloff
I am a fan of Augustine's Blog, on which she has been having an on-going Interview with God. I discovered the space through Real Live Preacher, and as has been true of many things he has recommended, I have not been disappointed.

Often, when people presume to speak for God - or interview God - they end up just putting their own words and prejudices into God's mouth. Or, they end up putting some variation of Deepak Chopra new-age speak into God's mouth.

Through most of the God Interview series at Augustine's place, it's been clear that the author carefully meditates on the topic before creating the illustrated interview. I get the impression that Natalie truly strives to allow God to speak through her creation.

I've been anticipating the latest interview for some time; it's been at least a month since the last segment in this series. So, while there was much to enjoy about this segment, I was mildly disappointed.

Here's the basics: God and Augustine are discussing love. Near the end of the strip, God explains that love is a problem for humans because we think it's a feeling.

"It isn't?" asks Augustine. "Of course not," God replies, "it's energy."

Now, I'll agree that one of the problems Westerners have with love is the belief that it is a feeling. Part of the problem is what we call love is usually either about sex or limerace. Either of these might grow into love, if both parties are willing to do the work. Unfortunately, either can also lead to unhealthy places as well.

So, I want to unpack the statement that love is energy. On the surface, the statement is so amorphous that it resembles the new-age speak I disdained earlier.

This notion of love as energy may be related to Mother Sarah's definition of faith. In brief, she defines faith as trust in action. If love is energy, this is true because love is an action rather than a feeling.

I think it's significant that this interview segment begins in a movie theater, which is showing a movie titled "Alien Love". This suggests that God's understanding of love in action is alien to us.

After his statement about energy, God says "If you're stuck in the feeling, you haven't got the energy." Which makes a great deal of sense. If I am constantly obsessing on MY feelings, or worrying about how someone is responding to ME, then I don't have the energy to focus on the other.

In the penultimate panel, God explains that we are already plugged in to the energy of love, and the last panel shows a cord going from God to Augustine.

In the hymn that appears in the 13th chapter of St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he explains that love is the greatest spiritual gift. I believe Paul, in talking about the agape the early Christians strove for, is talking about love in action, which is the love energy discussed in this interview.

To Clarify

Just in case it's necessary, I hereby disassociate myself from all statements made by Pat Robertson — past, present, and future. I hesitate to speak on behalf of the godhead (lest I become like unto my enemy), but I cannot recall a single instance of Jesus calling for the assassination of anyone. Sure, he called people broods of vipers and whitewashed tombs, but he never suggested that they be murdered.

While I'm at it, I also disassociate myself from any pronouncements made by Jerry Falwell. There are probably others I should include in this list. Billy Graham's son comes immediately to mind. But Robertson and Falwell are probably the most notorious example of why many in America have a poor opinion of Christians.

Last night I watched the first part of a program about Ben Franklin on PBS. He was quoted as saying that, when we come before thejudgmentt seat, we will not be judged by what we said or what we believed. We will be judged, he said, by how much we helped our fellow humans.

This seems to me sound Christian teaching. I wonder if Mr. Robertson or Mr. Falwell have ever heard it.

Idée d’jour

There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.
— Hippocrates

Monday, August 22, 2005

Driving with Ezekiel

Awoke at 4 this morning with purrs rumbling up from my lap and thunder rumbling down the street. Lightening was climbing from the earth to the sky. The storm system had taken a leisurely stroll across western Oklahoma. It spent most of its energy in Weatherford and Watonga, which are considerable distance from here. But the lightening was still fairly strong. Sounded like wheels of fire whirling through the pre-dawn morning.

Some go down to the sea in great ships. Some cover themselves with darkness. Some drive cyber roads in lonely confusion. Some do not know why they dance. Some sleep under bridges. Some squander their dreamsfor a handful of misery. Some have forgotten their name.

I have so many names. I will remember at least one. I'm riding in a convertible with Ezekiel. We're watching fireworks rise over Colorado. We're watching owls rise from the ashes. We're going east, young man. We've forgotten all about Barstow, and the Angels of Vengence.

Ezekiel is talking a blue streak, trying to keep me awake. We pass shopping malls, multiplexes. One town the carbon copy of the last. Ezekiel is wondering whether the melting pot has fractured or been reducedto dross.

Then we come to Ardmore. Charming town square. Canon in the courtyard. Okie gothic court house. Like stepping back in time. Sure it's the same same for about a mile and a quarter from the interstate, but then it's the town square and the barbershop. Yeah, the red and white barbershop pole slowly spinning like lightening sending signals up to the heavens. And sure, there's the yellow ribbons and the W's and the good and thebad. And all of that.

We forgot about all of that. We were driving in a different country. One that remembered how to talk. One that remembered truth was more important than yes sir no sir. We were driving blue highway backroads,where we could see windmills spinning electricity.

Some crawl back into dreams. Some have forgotten their names. Some will pester the judges. Some will conjure the storms. Some will speak to thedarkness. Some will open the infinite door.

As for me, I'll keep on driving with Ezekiel.

Idée d’jour

You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.
— Naguib Mahfouz, writer (1911- )

Friday, August 19, 2005

More on Br Roger's Murder

To follow up on my entry concerning the death of Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé community, on Tuesday evening.

The latest information I have found on Br Roger's murder indicates the woman who attacked him was mentally ill. The 36 year-old Romanian woman's name is Luminita Solcan, and a recent AP article reports that she suffers from schizoaffective disorder.

Early reports suggested that Ms. Solcan had been at the Taizé compound for "several weeks", but had been recently asked to leave because she had been disruptive during services (by shouting). She had been trying to see Br Roger for the past several days, but his assistants prevented her. Some believe she had not intended to kill Br Roger, but had only intended to get his attention.

The church should be a shelter for this sort of person. Taizé, more so than the average corner church. At the same time, church should be sanctuary for all sorts and conditions, and when one member is behaving in a threatening manner, than member may have to be asked to leave.

It's a challenge to strike that balance.

I am reminded of an incident at Holy Apostles, a mission church in south OKC. One Sunday I noticed a woman sitting on the north side of the church, wearing the brown robes of a Franciscan. She remained quiet through most of the service, and behaved appropriately. Until the sermon. During the sermon time, she persistently interrupted the priest. She was shouting, tearful, manic, about what she called the "scourge of abortion".

It should be noted that the sermon had nothing to do with abortion.

The priest, Rev Bev, calmly talked the woman down. She would remind the woman that it was the priest's turn to talk. Finally, the woman cycled down and Bev was able to continue with the service.

Something similar was rumored to have happened at St Paul's last summer. Peter is a self-acknowledged alcoholic who has chosen to continue drinking. He would sit in with the group who meets every other Monday to study the Rule of St Benedict. He would basically make the church his home most of Sunday.

On the whole, Pete was non-threatening. During the Benedict study, he could be bright and perceptive. But, last summer, he also could just start chattering non-sequitors. He was reportedly calling one of the older female priests at home. He also was calling one of the female parishioners at home (she had not invited such contact).

Now, both these women are capable of taking care of themselves. Regardless, Pete's behavior was unacceptable.

I don't know how the clergy handled it. I imagine it was similar to a process St. Paul the Apostle outlines in one of his epistles: first, you confront the person on your own; then you confront him/her with two elders; last, you ask the person to leave the community.

The rumor was that Pete had been asked to leave the community.

I've seen him back in church the last few Sundays. I suppose, if the rumors were true, that he has gained a probation. In other words, he may continue as part of the community so long as he is not disruptive and does not act inappropriately.

Ideally, the church should be a sanctuary for those at the margins of society – what the Hebrew scriptures call the widow and orphan (which would also include the destitute and the mentally ill). Too often we treat the church as a sanctuary for the moderately well-adjusted and well-to-do.

Too often, in subtle ways, we send the subliminal message that persons on the margin are not welcome in our Christian communities until they can come closer to "normal" standards of dress, appearance, behavior. We forget that Jesus hang out with the people on the margins of his society. We forget that he told us that he was present with the prisoner and orphan. We forget that he promised that when we ministered to any of these "on the margins", we were actually ministering to him.

I don't know Ms. Solcan's full story. I don't know for a fact how the brothers in the Taizé community treated her. I suspect, because Taizé has a history of radical acceptance of all sorts and conditions, that the brothers used a model similar to the one recommended by St. Paul.

I do know that Br Roger would ask that we pray for Ms. Solcan's healing even as we pray for the repose of his soul.

Baby Got Bling

aka, "Cat Friday"
Click either of these images for a larger view.

In the first, the lady seems to be begging for something. Actually, we're playing with her favorite mousie.

It was a challenging shot, because it required hitting the shutter with the thumb of my non-dominant left hand. But it's a shot I've been longing to capture for several weeks.

In the 2nd shot, DJ has a little bling left over from Mardi Gras. If you think the lens flare is a PhotoShop gimmick, you're absolutely right. I think it adds a nice touch to the shot.

Visitor 13,000

Welcome, visitor number 13,000. I wish I could send you a complimentary gift, but you live in Thailand. It was 2:00 Friday afternoon (your time) when you chose to visit here after viewing the naughty nuns at Dr. Omed's place. I hope you weren't disappointed that there aren't salacious pictures here. You might have been disappointed that I don't discuss my love-life in detail. But since I barely have even an imaginary love-life, there's not that much to tell.

Why did I name this web-log "Love During Wartime"? Well, I did start it as our Fearless Leader was making plans to invade Iraq. But I mainly gave it this name because of a song by the Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime". I love the Talking Heads. Somehow, I misplaced Fear of Music, the album on which this song appears; but I remember how liberating that album was for me.

That song, "Life During Wartime", doesn't repeat the title anywhere in the song (as I recall). The chorus is something like "This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, / This ain’t no fooling around / This ain’t no mudd club, or c. b. g. b., / I ain’t got time for that now..." David Bryne, the lead singer sounds particularly desperate and manic on this song - desperate and manic is pretty much his specialty- but even more so here.

The song describes a life in desperation, that feels under attack. That's how things feel these days, when our national legislature has lengthened and strengthened the Patriot Act. When our young men and women are dying in two foreign countries (lest we forget Afganistan).

I didn't agree with the attack on Afganistan, but at least I understood the desire for vengence. I still don't understand why GWB invaded Iraq, though I have a host of suspicions.

I live in a society that has wonderful and high ideals, and lately has been subverting each last one. "Freedom of Speech" so long as you agree with the President's follies. "States' rights" unless the state wants to make medical use of marijuana legal, or wants to allow a person the right to a good death, a death with a degree of dignity. This notion of rights may seem foreign to you, since you live in Thailand, but we Americans pretty much take these freedoms for granted. So much so, that many of us think we can afford to lose one or two, or dillute them somewhat.

So sometimes, visitor number 13,000 from Thailand, I feel like Jonah in the Whale. You may not know that story. It's a prophecy in the Jewish holy writings, which we Christians presumptiously call the Old Testament. It's one of the funniest stories in the Bible. Have your favorite missionary tell it to you. That person should especially enjoy the irony.

You were not here long, according to SiteMeter: 0 min, 0 seconds. I'm not sure that time is always accurate (Visitor 12,996 was here over 9 min, which seems extreme). But, if you took time to scroll down the page, you got a good idea of the sort of stuff I do here:
  • Poetry
  • Regilious reflections
  • Personal essays
  • Altered photos
  • And, always, persistent pictures of my lovely feline companion.
Thanks for dropping by, visitor 13,000. Feel free to come back any time!

Ideé d’jour

Seeing is never from memory. It has no memory. It is looking now. The total organism is involved in seeing. Not thinking about what is said from memory, but listening and looking openly now.
— Toni Packer

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Ones We Don't Forget

by George Wallace (of Suffolk County, NY)

this one would not paddle a boat
this one would not bait a hook
this one slept on the side of a mountain
this one swam in a minnesota lake
this one grew as tall as a cornfield
this one traveled to new orleans
this one had the arms of a blacksmith
this one's hair was black and thick
these trainloads of young men
these trainloads of young women
these trainloads of young women
these trainloads of young men
this one sat on a porch for hours
this one ate like an alligator
this one cried over algebra
this one laughed in pouring rain
i cannot spell this out more clearly
i cannot be more precise than this
this one died for no reason
this one died for a friend
this one died in an alleyway
this one's childhood had to end
these are the ones we don't forget
these are the ones we will remember
we sing their names like trumpets
we sing their names like saints or nails
we sing their names like fountains
we sing their names like graves
in new york and texas and california
in mississippi and oregon and ames and maine
the ocean will support them on its watery shoulders
the sky will carry them on its windy hips
like the first woman to cross the face of this earth
as they cross over the line of battle
from your war to our peace

Idée d’jour

In prayer, come empty, do nothing.
— St. John of the Cross

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In Memorium: Brother Roger

Br Roger's Cross
A friend e-mailed the La Monde article to me. Although my French is this side of nonexistent, I got the gist of the headline: Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé community in France, had been assassinated.

Here's the International Herald Tribune's article. As you'll see, Br Roger was attacked by a Romanian woman wielding a knife. Based on the articles I've read so far, the woman's motivation is unknown. At least one article has described the woman as deranged, but the Trib cites a French officer as saying she was not so deranged as to require psychiatric commitment.

The Taizé community is an ecumenical monastic order in Saône-et-Loire, Burgundy, France. Brother Roger founded the order in 1940. His original vision was that the community would be an oasis of peace and reconciliation. He sheltered Jews during Nazi Germany's occupation of France, then gave asylum to German soldiers following the war.

Coincidentally, Mother Susan had given a presentation on Brother Roger as the 11:00 sermon a couple of Sundays back. She talked about how he went to a lonely place in the woods outside the monastery to pray.

He was seeking a simpler more direct method of prayer. He began to sing a phrase, perhaps from the psalms, over and over again. The melody is similar to Gregorian chant. The repetition may remind one of the rosary's repitition, or of mantras from the East.

Brother Roger once wrote that, "Short chants, repeated over and over, emphasize the meditative quality of prayer. They express in a few words a basic truth which is quickly grasped by the mind and gradually penetrates into one's whole being."

The Taizé songbook states: "Song is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short chants, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words, they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind."

This prayer/song has attracted Christians of all denominations, primarily youth. Accounts of last night's attack report there were over 20,000 youth present in chapel when Br Roger was murdered.

I am part of a Taizé choir. Not all the music we sing is directly from the Taizé community. Some is inspired by the tradition. The effect is the same.

At a certain point of repitition, the words lose their meaning. The sound reverberates in the head, the thorax, throughout the cellular system. The sound goes beyond intellectual construct to experiential reality.

Music has been an intregal part of my spirituality from the time Grandmother H— put me in the children's choir. So, Taizé has been an extemely powerful and healing service for me.

I join with Archbishop Williams, Pope Benedict, the world's faithful, and all people of good will in mourning the loss of the man who led us to this form of prayer.

Times Obit

Idée d’jour

There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the
— G.K. Chesterton, essayist and novelist (1874-1936)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Voices Echo

Voices echo

Village Green Preservation Society

I saw a blurb for the concert in the Oklahoma Gazette, which is a local free newspaper. A group of local musicians were going to perform The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society in its entirety. It seemed like a unique idea, and was a good excuse to get out of the house on a Saturday night.

Of course, this sort of thing is not entirely original. Brian Wilson has performed two Beach Boys albums in concert over the past couple of years – Pet Sounds and the legendary SMiLE . However, this was the first time I had noticed local musicians were doing this sort of thing – and definitely the first time I had a chance to attend this type of concert.

The cover charge was only $5, and it was only a 25 minute drive, so it seemed a relatively small investment.

Ironically, I am not a big fan of The Kinks. Not that I dislike their music – what I've heard is perfectly fine. But I've never been inspired to buy one of their albums. The review made Village Green sound really unique, as did several reviews on Amazon, so I thought ‘What the hey'.

The concert venue, the Electric Chair, is on SW 64 th . The venue is owned and operated by Beat Books. This is a new location for Beat Books. I had visited the store in their original location, a little over a year ago, and felt like I was stepping into the late 60s.

In any other state it would have felt like the mid 60s, the 60s didn't make it to Oklahoma until about 1969 or '70.

Turned out the venue was about 75 ft long and 50 ft wide, with a high ceiling. Looked like a typical warehouse space. The guy at the door asked if I had any alcohol, or was planning to bring any in. The point of this was he would need to check my i.d. if I planned to bring in alcohol. He helpfully pointed out that there was a Quik Stop right across the street if I wanted to get some beer.

Nope. No 3.2 beer for me, thank you.

About fifty metal folding chairs were lined up along the long sides of the rectangle.

I got there about 10 minutes before the concert was going to start (8:00). I was alone in the warehouse. Sometime after 8, another guy came in. The owner walked through, looking he could have been Allen Ginsberg's brother (horn-rimmed glasses and all), the other guy asked if he could go into the bookstore section. "Yeah," said the owner, "it's open."

More time passed. One or two more people showed up. I began to question whether this little jaunt was that great an idea after all. Somewhere between 8:30 and 9, I heard the owner on the phone: "The earliest it'll start is 10:00."

Members of the band started to filter in, tune their instruments, hook up the speakers. One the band members came around where we were sitting: "I know this was listed to start at 8, but it doesn't look like we'll start until about 10. The opening band hasn't even arrived yet. But the bookstore is open, so check it out. Tons of goodies guaranteed."

Well, ten o'clock is my pumpkin hour. On the other hand, I had come a ways and had spent some money for an adventure. So, I compromised with my inner miser, and committed to staying until I felt like I had heard five dollars worth of music.

I wandered the book store portion for about an hour. As you might expect, Beat Books had a number of titles from the Beat Generation – Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs. That whole crew. Healthy selection of 60s stuff too, including Abbie Hoffman's autobiography. I was tempted to nab that one, but I had already spent my book budget.

Sounds drifted from the warehouse that sounded somewhat hopeful, so I meandered back there. Sure enough, the opening act had arrived – guitar, bass, and drums. The Evangelicals might have been high school age or early college. They had driven up from Norman. If their music was as religious as their name, I couldn't tell. The vocals bounced into the high ceiling and came back as gibberish. Like some other language that had little relationship to an earthly human tongue.

The main thing that impressed me about their playing was the guitarist, who was also the lead vocalist. His right hand was a constant blur. Well, now and then it would slow down to something sweet and melodic, but mostly it was thrash. Speed. Blur. Distortion.

Ah, youth.

My inner miser wanted to renegotiate our contract at this point. It was getting late, and I was getting tired. Plus, people were smoking cigarettes, and that was pretty unpleasant. Well, ok. I'll stay long enough for the equivalent of side one of the Kinks album – which I figured would be about six songs.

It took another 15 to 30 minutes for the Evangelicals to strike their gear, and the main act to get their stuff set up.

According to the reviews, Village Green Preservation Society is a concept album in which Ray Davies (the Kink's primary songwriter) waxes nostalgic for British rural life of his youth. The Gazette pointed out that some of this nostalgia reflected the way he wishes it had been, rather than the reality. To paraphrase Karl Shapiro.

It was clear the lyrics were important. Unfortunately, most of this group's vocals were also consumed by the space. Concrete floor, brick walls, concrete ceiling. No acoustical tiles anywhere. Concrete is especially unforgiving with sound waves. Drums and guitars get emphasized over vocals.

But musically, this group was tight. And it was clear that Davies' original music was quite accomplished. A little blues, a little music hall, a little pop. The full mix.

I stayed through the penultimate song of side two. By that point, I'd caught my second wind. Besides, I was enjoying the music.

It was also a multi-media event. A woman had a projector on which she did those swirling colors like you see in documentaries of the Fillmore. Several women (and a few men) wore an artist's colorful ceramic corsets. Two college age girls dressed as cheerleaders did a dance just in front of the band for one song. Then they quickly stripped down to bras and panties and danced for the next tune.

Yep. Pretty much like an Okie version of the 60s.

I stayed awake on the drive home. Hit the bed sometime after one, and fell asleep by one thirty.

Though I'm within spitting distance of my half century, I guess I'm not too old for this sort of thing yet.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Today's Abstract

Abstract, 8/15/05
Sometime last week, I received a positive response to one of these images. I believe it was Karen who commented "I don't normally like abstracts, but I like this."

I suppose calling these abstracts is appropriate. They certainly seem to be in that style. And "abstracting" from reality is part of the process.

What I do is take an image (e.g., photograph) which has a lot of colors or a pattern that interests me. I then "abstract" from that original image using a number of different tools available in Photoshop (version 6.0.1) until I arrive at a final product that satisfies my aesthetic.

If it may be said I have an aesthetic. I certainly couldn't express it in traditional art theory words. I'd have an easier time expressing my poetic aesthetic than my "painterly" one, and I've been trying to find a way to express my poetics for over a year.

Just to give you an idea what I'm up against.

It's very much one of those "I know what I like when I see it" kind of things. The trick is to not overdo.

This image might be a good example. It began as two different views of a cancer cell, at two different magnifications. I erased one layer until bits of the other were visible, then I started playing with the liquify tool, and the art history brush, and so on, until I hit something I thought looked good.

I thought it might need something more, so I took one layer and flipped it 180° and started erasing bits of that. That looked too busy, so I deleted the new layer. Happily, I had not saved in a while, so I was able to step back a couple more "overdo's". This was a rare case where it was a good thing that I didn't do frequent back-ups.

Since so much of this has to do with my eye - in terms of colors, patterns, and framing - I'm going to be so bold as to call it art. The only gallery available is on-line, and the current nature of the things is such that I couldn't sell any at an arts festival.

Well, since you asked.... Two works of art are for sale:

This is available as a notecard, and this artistic vision of the princess is available as a postcard. Go to Jonah's Shop for ordering information.

Many of these art works have been archived on my flickr page. I may start copying more there, so they'll all be in one place.

Any original images - photos or abstracts - you'd like to see as notecards? Let me know, and I'll start switching out.

Discussion: Island of Dr. Moreau

I read H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau this past week. I had picked it up at a thrift shop last weekend; it was a Dover Thrift Edition, which originally cost a buck. I got it for a quarter.

Moreau was Wells' third novel. In the thrift edition, it's a little over 90 pages long. Although typically considered science fiction, the novel could also fit into the horror genre.

As you probably know from the cinematic adaptations of this novel, the basic premise is that Dr. Moreau has created human-like creatures by patching together pieces of lower animals (pumas, swine, etc). These creatures eventually revert to their beastly natures, and kill Moreau and his assistant.

I suggest this novel fits into the horror genre because Wells does an admirable job of suggesting the products of Moreau's experiments bit by bit. Additionally, the descriptions of the creations are sketchy (at best), so the reader produces the final image of each beast/human.

According to the one-page introduction in the Dover Thrift Edition, Wells was a member of the British Academy of Science. However, I question whether the "science" of this novel - or of The Invisible Man - was accurate even for its time. I have a notion that Wells concocted his science much as Stan Lee did for Marvel in the early 60s - as a pseudo-reasonable explanation for the marvalous in order to get on with the story.

Many reviews of the latest version of War of the Worlds have suggested that Wells was commenting on British Imperialism through his novel. So, as I reached the final chapters of Moreau, I wondered what Wells might have been commenting on here.

On one level, it would be easy to read the novel as being opposed to vivesection. There is, after all, moving descriptions of the pain the creatures experience.

However, it seems more likely that the novel is not a comment on animals, or human treatment of animals. It seems to me the novel is more a comment on humanity's "animal nature". By the final chapter, the narrator sounds as misanthropic as Gulliver did at the end of his famous travels.

It is in the final chapter that the narrator notes that he is never sure whether the people he sees in the city are humans, like himself, or are more of Moreau's beast/humans.

This "animal nature" of humanity is reflected in the motivations of Moreau and his assistant (Montgomery). Moreau conducts his experiments more or less in the spririt of "pure science". That is, he began his experiments with no hypothesis in mind, but with a curiosity concerning what might happen. Once he successfully creates a hybrid human-like beast, he continues simply because he can. Not to get closer to the human, not to improve the process, but simply because he can.

Can we think of a modern actor who seems to have chosen his action simply because he could? The results have certainly been, and continue to be, as beastly and destructive as Moreau's.

Idée d’jour

Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life.
— Immanuel Kant, philosopher (1724-1804)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Friday's Cat, II

Here, the tigress has found a very unique jungle in which to hide.

I have applied to very subtle PhotoShop filters to this shot: lighting effects and lens flare. Hopefully, this knowledge does not distract from your appreciation of her ladyship in her element.
Late ad: Click the image for a larger view.

Lawrence Meets Hemingway

you, with your mighty gun.
you, who spoke women to a shadow.
who are you to greet me now?
i know snakes mightier than you.
you only know death, death, death,
and i've had enough of that.
your cuban hand sleeps on the page.
my phoenix is mightier than your bull.
don't waste my time with your ghosts,
i've got a black sun waiting.
you'll wake up amoung the magpies.
you'll be an old elephant
in a forlorn circus.
you'll be shadows stretched across Idaho.
you, with your mighty gun.
you'll be the saint's tears in the August sky.
i become restless watching you.
i grow weary listening to you describe
your great unfinished sculptures.
i am a refugee in your dark jungles,
your mountains, your corn prairies.
i do not envy your ambulance.
i do not envy your mighty gun.

you do not know your fish;
it slips between your page & your pen.
it is because you want to know your fish,
because you want to make it more
than the hot life that flows with the water,
that the fish swims away from you.

it is because the mountains will not bow down
that you seek to seize them.
because the bulls are a restless army
that you seek to overpower them.

Do not come to me with your restless ghosts
until you can love the woman laying beside you.

Friday's Cat

St Julian
Since the lady is named for an Anglican Divine (Dame Julian of Norwich), I decided to give her a hallo. The background is derived from a close-up of the lady's fur, after the typical manipulations and distortions.

I may post another shot of DJ this afternoon, just to test Blogger's new image-post feature.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Just When

Second Draft
Just when I thought you had forgotten me,
you returned in a midnight dream:
Your coffee hair drank in the cotten sheets,
your saphire eyes danced upon the pillow.

Just when you thought your name was lost,
the chamomile drapes whispered it to Spica.
Your name was written in the jet stream,
along the everlasting ecliptic.

Just when your touch became a shadow,
it rose from midnight's ash.
Pennywhistle ravens pondered the river's
edge and magpies stole your song.

The door has opened, and there you are.
Your lightening breath, a forgotten September breeze.
Your hand, an autumn leaf upon the moon,
opens the door of night. Silent sands return.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Just When

Just when I thought I had forgotten you,
you returned in a midnight dream:
Your coffee hair drank in the cotten sheets,
your saphire eyes danced upon the pillow.

Just when you thought your name was forgotten,
the chamomile drapes whispered it to Spica.
Your name was written in the jet stream,
along the everlasting ecliptic.

Just when it seemed your touch was a shadow,
the moon opened the inner door.
The pennywhistle ravens pondered river's
edge where you roiled beside me.

The door has opened, and there you are.
Your breath is September breeze forgotten.
Your hand is autumn leaf on my shoulder.
Just as the ghost is fading, silent sands return.

Idée d’jour

The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of the divine.
— St. John of the Cross

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Back Warp

Back Warp


I hear her voice when the cicadas sing.
Sixty years on, I still hear her voice
rising and falling in the dark,
pulsing like summer heat.

We were praying before flickering votive flames
when the fatman came.
His voice spoke like thunder
and his mighty judgement
rolled through the chapel.

And I heard her cry.

The breakers of death rolled over us.
The roots of the mountains shook.
The earth rolled and rocked.
Blue-grey smoke rose from his nostrils.

He wraps darkness about him.
He makes the darkness bright
and burns the day into night.

His hand fell on his enemies.
He made them a fiery furnace.
His wrath has consumed them,
his shadow has swallowed them up.

When the fatman arrived
her voice became
a shadow frozen on the rubble.

See here for an excellent historical overview

Monday, August 08, 2005

Idée d’jour

Our scientific power has outstripped our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

At the Peace Walk

Jac singing
Click for larger view
This picture was taken yesterday morning by a fellow peace activist.

I went to Civic Center Park Saturday morning to provide music to encourage fellow peace activists before we took the long walk around the OKC Bombing Memorial. I started playing at about 9:40, when a little over 10 people were present. I was joined by "Batch", the event organizer, and by Sharon and her boyfriend TJ.

There was only one mic, and my guitar has no pick-up, so I strummed with a pick. What it lacked in artistry, it made up for in volume.

A few local news organizations showed up. The guy from the local Fox affiliate stuck his camera about five inches away from my face while I was performing. I later heard that I was featured prominently on the local NBC affiliate.

I mostly played songs from the sixties - If I Had a Hammer; Turn, Turn, Turn; Blowin' in the Wind. For good or ill, the guy from Fox was right on top of me while I was singing "Blowin' in the Wind." I'm afraid it was a visual sound bite that was used to prove how out-dated and passe peace activists are.

I did sing Peter Yarrow's "Light One Candle," which is more recent, and taught the crowd "Love is Little", which is a Shaker hymn:
Love is little, love is low,
Love will make our spirits grow:
Grow in peace, grow in light.
Love will do the thing that's right.
The crowd was a little over 75, I would guess. The speeches began a little after 10. The final speech was made by a WW II vet who simply said he loved America, but hated what was happening, and that he supported what we were doing that day.

As per tradition, we walked in silence toward the Memorial, which was about three blocks from Civic Center Park. The visitors to the Memorial came to the sidewalk and watched us. Many stared. Many simply watched.

I had sung "Love is Little" earlier as a way to suggest a solution, or response, to war and violence. Following the walk, I heard a practical application.

Molly is working with programs that introduce animals to inner city children. The children are taught how to care for and train the animals. Thus, they learn responsibility and the importance of caring for another creature. She is also aware of a similar program in Colorado which unites abused horses (a chronic problem in Colorado) to troubled teens. She believes there is a true sense in which the teens and horses minister to each other.

I agree with Molly: it is by training our children the path of mutual respect and personal responsibility that we begin to turn humanity away from the easy answer of violence for violence toward the challenging answer of nonviolence and peace.

Idée d’jour

The trouble is that you think you have time.
— Zen Master

Saturday, August 06, 2005


If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith.
— Albert Einstein
America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima 60 years ago today. Tuesday, Aug 9th, is the 60th anniversary of the A-bomb dropping on Nagasaki.

The standard defense for this action is that more Americans and Japanese would have died if America had invaded Japan. I don't know.

America had already been dropping standard bombs on a number of Japanese cities, and that would certainly have continued. Plans were in the works for a pincher movement between the Americans, who would have come from the south, and the Soviets, who would have come from the north. So - who can say how many would have died altogether?

I'm just glad I don't have to do the kind of math that values one life against another, or decides that a few thousand deaths is preferable to a hundred thousand deaths.

Are 1776 American deaths in Iraq "enough", just because that number reflects the day America declared independence? Is today's figure, 1828, enough?

Are 26,396 Iraqis dead since the May invasion enough? Do we count the Iraqi dead due to American bombings between the end of Gulf War I and the current conflict? Do we count those dead from starvation during the American embargo? Do we count those who suffered and died from lack of medicine during that embargo?

How many deaths must it take before we know too many people have died?

One person is enough. One person is too many.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Lady Litany

O Holy Mother, Lady Infinity,
without existence, beyond nonbeing,
shall we have mercy?
Let us have mercy upon one another.

O Lady, Little Mother, whose names run through us
like a river of wolves, to strange ends.
Shall we be redeemed?
Let us redeem ourselves.

O Grandmother, to whose house we go,
whose hand holds the scissors,
Shall we be saved?
Let us save the world.

In the unspeakable blessing and glory
of this unfinished creation,
Mother of all,
let us save ourselves.

Do not remember, Lady, our arrogance,
nor the arrogance of our forefathers and longmothers .
Shall we be spared vengeance?
Let us not take vengeance.

Can we be forgiven?
Let us forgive the unforgiven.
Let us forget the unforgiveable .
Let us spare all we can for each other.
Let us not remember our anger,
nor cherish our rage as righteousness.
Lady, let us not be angry forever.
Let us love mercy more than justice,
and justice more than revenge.

Let us not become the evil we would oppose.
May we turn away from our engines of death.
Let us realize our better angels;
let us turn from armies of death & darkness
to angels of light & life.

Let us turn our backs on the greed
which tempts us to destroy and maim
every living being in the biosphere.

Let us not commit soul arson in the name of god.
May we honor our own dignity
and that of every other living being.
May we turn our backs on murder.
May we turn our backs on our guns,
our bombs, our gas, on all our killing machines.
May we turn our backs on torture.

Let us not make people less than human,
by training them to torture.
Let us not reduce people into predators,
that pray as they prey.

Let us not assemble armies out of anarchy,
that eat nations from the inside out like cannibal insects.

Spare the blue sky, white clouds, and the all hues of Earth,
good Lady, from our blind wrath
and everlasting stupidity.

Spare us, Good Lady.

From blinded minds,
from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy,
from envy, hatred and malice,
from false charity, wrong righteousness, and all unkindness of heart.

Good Lady, deliver us.

From deadly lust and unlucky love,
and all the deceits
of the world, the flesh,
and the devil in the details.

Good Lady, deliver us.

From all the consequences of our own actions in the days to come.

Good Lady, bear us.
This is my latest edit of a poem in progress by the Rt Rev. Dr. Omed.

Cat Friday

Multi-views of her ladyship
This is actually four views of her ladyship: two in two different windows and two sleeping in my lap. One of the lap views has been distorted and used as a background (that swirl in the lower right-hand quadrant).

Here's the original of that one:
DJ sleeps

Ideée d’jour

A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they're dead.
— Leo Rosten, author (1908-1997)
Mr. Rosten was the compiler of one of my favorite dictionaries, The Joys of Yiddish

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Kingdom of Heaven

For most of July, the Gospel readings assigned by the Episcopal Eucharistic Lectionary focused on the Kingdom of Heaven. The Gospel for last Sunday, July 24th is a case in point:
He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age."

Mt. 13:31-49 (NRSV)
If we've become accustomed to the notion of a parable as a sort of short story (e.g., The Good Samaritan ), then these parables may seem disappointing. They may suggest a short story, but are actually more a series of similes. The preacher last Sunday compared this particular set of parables to a sort of Baedeker's for Heaven – a guide to its geography, economics, and customs.

I think it's interesting to consider who the main character represents in each parable. I suppose the average reader is predisposed to identify with the main actor in any story. That is, when we hear about a widow cooking bread, we are likely to picture our own face above that mixing bowl; or, the face of a woman close to us. When we hear about the treasure hidden in a field, we are likely to imagine our own hands digging in the field.

Read in this fashion, the stories seem to reflect the experience of joy. Recall that Jesus began his ministry by saying the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. When he said this, he wasn't describing some pie in the sky emporium; he literally meant the Kingdom was as close as his (or his audience's) hands. So, when one experiences joy, one has had a taste of the Kingdom of Heaven.

John Sanford, in his book The Kingdom Within, suggests that each parable be considered individually. Thus, in one parable the widow may represent a believer; in another parable, the merchant may represent God. In the latter instance, we may read the merchant's extreme reaction (selling everything he owns for the pearl) as a demonstration of God's extravagant love.

Coincidentally, I read a Zen story that morning which put these parables in yet another perspective:
For forty years, a fisherman in China used a straight needle to fish with. Whenever someone asked him why he didn't use a bent hook, the fisherman always replied, "You can catch an ordinary fish with a bent hook, but I will catch a great fish with my straight hook."

Finally, word of this reached the Emperor, who decided to visit this foolish fisherman himself. After the Emperor saw the man fishing with a straight needle, he asked, "What are you fishing for?"

The fisherman said: "I am fishing for you, Emperor!"
Hearing the parable of the pearl with this story in mind led me to think that the pearl was the key element of the story – the unexpected item which catches our eye and causes us to see things in a new way.

Since this story involves fishing, it could almost be one of Jesus' parables. We might think of God as the fisherman who uses the unusual and unique to catch our attention. So too, we might see the pearl as the thing that catches our attention. In either case, the goal could be to "Wake up!", or to "Cleanse the doors of perception." In other words, to become aware of the Kingdom of Heaven which surrounds us and engulfs us.

Imagine getting so much out of a story that can be told in one sentence. Perhaps part of its power is its lack of detail – we, as listeners, become more involved because we unconsciously add those details.

Perhaps the effect of these stories is in itself another simile for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Zen d’jour

In Zen, you let your frontal lobe rest.
— Katagiri Roshi

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Abstract 05Aug02

Originally, this was a picture from my honeymoon, in 1985. The deconstruction and distortion of it does not reflect my feelings concerning that event, or on the marriage that followed.

It's just more fun with Photoshop.

Haiku d’jour

Summer moon —
hands clapping,
I greet dawn.
— Basho

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Peace Events in Oklahoma City this Weekend

Below is a list of events being held in Okla. City this weekend to
commemorate the dropping of the A-Bomb on Hiroshima. I will be providing preliminary music at the Peace Walk Saturday morning, beginning around 9:45.
August 6th, 1945 - to - August 6th, 2005
Hiroshima to Iraq - 60 Years of Uranium Weapons
PEACE Events in Oklahoma City

PEACE Walk // PEACE Video // PEACE Speaker

PEACE Walk: 10 am, Saturday, August 6th.
Civic Center Park, 201 N. Walker. Gather for centering, signing petitions, introductory words. Silent walk will encircle the Murrah National Memorial.

PEACE Video: 11:15 am, Saturday, August 6th.
In the Downtown Public Library, 300 W. Park Ave. 30-minute video documentary and discussion: "Poison Dust" about uranium weapons. Information and petitions available. Free & open to public.

PEACE Speaker: 6:30 pm, Monday, August 8th
At Mayflower Congregational Church, 3901 NW 63rd Street.
Following a 6:30 shared potluck supper, conscientious objector Camilo Mejia will present his story at 7 pm: "A soldier's journey through military prison to peace." Mejia led his US Army squad five months in Iraq, then chose prison rather than return. A free-will offering to be collected at this otherwise free event.

Events sponsored by:
The Peace House, Spiritual Walk for Peace, Episcopal Peace & Justice Commission, Mayflower Congregational Church, Social Justice Committee First Unitarian Church, Church of the Open Arms UCC, OKC Friends Meeting, Joy Mennonite Church, others...

Please come, if you are within driving distance.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Idée d’jour

Wonder is the basis of worship.
— Francis Bacon