Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Five: As dad used to say

Songbird's assignment this week is to "Name five things you used to hear your mother or father (or even a grandparent) say, especially things you might be surprised to hear coming out of your own mouth." What immediately comes to mind are tones of voice, or world views. With that in mind, here's my list:
  1. Direct quote from Padre: "It's like my dad always used to say – 'If it doesn't work the first time, get a bigger hammer'."
  2. I remember mom as having a problem with her temper and being insecure. I recognize that I have similar problems.
  3. Very rarely, I'll hear a hint of mom's vocal tone when I say something — especially something judgmental.
  4. Now and again, when I'm singing, I'll hear an echo of Padre's voice in my own. I consider this a great gift.
  5. Padre was a man of reason. He could become frustrated with those who did not act in a reasonable manner. More so with political figures than with his sons. I also tend to "live in my head", and struggle with accepting reality as it is rather than wanting reality to match my concept of "reason".

Cat Friday

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Writer's Block

It's been a slow week for postings at "LDW", as my new cyber-friend, Will Smama, has posted out. I'm not even sure the cute thing about Kermit (immediately below) counts as an entry.

No doubt I would have counted it as an entry when I was trying to reach 1800 by my third anniversary.

Dr. Omed once told me a story about F. Scott Fitzgerald. It seems that he was having writer's block. His editor suggested that he write about why he couldn't write. One of his better short stories was the result — I believe it was titled "The Big Break Up" or something seriously, and was a fictionalized account of Zelda's emotional breakdown.

I've been feeling physically low the past two weeks. I'm sleepy an hour earlier than normal. I find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. So, that's one possibility — and probably the most likely.

This begs the question of why I've been feeling physically low. The cause could be physical or psychological, right? I'd want to sleep more than normal if I were depressed, right?

The thing is, aside from the funky sleep cycle, I don't feel depressed. Sure, my job is a drag. And sometimes I feel lonely for romance. But that's been on-going for a while, and I regularly remind myself that it's very likely a temporary situation.

Maybe it's physical. Oklahoma weather has been pretty wild the past two weeks. A week ago I was able to post pictures of March snow. Today, the sky is filled with threatening dark clouds, and severe thunderstorms are predicted for this afternoon. There have been times I have seemed sensitive to barometric pressure — although I'll admit I have not scientifically tracked the phenomenon.

Plus, it's spring, which means an increase in certain pollens. I seem to be allergic to something that blooms around this time of year, so that is also a likely suspect.

There's one more detail that leads me to suspect a physical cause for these doldrums, a symptom which occurred just this morning.


Right after I used the rest room, things seemed to be spinning. I proceeded with my daily routine — start water boiling for tea, turn on tap for shower (it takes a moment for the water to warm), pull covers up on the bed. When I got into the shower, the spinning sensation got even worse, especially when I lowered my head to rinse my hair.

By the time I was done with my shower, the spinning was making me nauseous. I set a record for drying myself off and rushed back to bed. The spinning continued even while I was on my back.

Then, I remembered my bad-old drinking days. Occasionally, my hangovers would include vertigo. My memory was the vertigo would stop if I "lay in the direction of the spin" (to paraphrase driver safety). In other words, if the spin seemed to be clockwise, I lay on my right; if counter-clockwise, I lay on my left.

The spinning this morning seemed to be clockwise, so I lay on my right side. And sure enough, the spinning stopped. I had understandably panicked in the shower, so I consciously slowed down my breathing, in case blood pressure was an issue.

I'm still aware of a slight spinning sensation even as I type this, but it had decreased enough that I felt safe to drive to work.

Once I got to work, I visited with a co-worker who has suffered from chronic vertigo (doctors believe hers is connected with an issue in the middle ear). She suggested my vertigo may have been caused by low blood pressure, or by congestion.

I've just recently been taking an antihystamine to prevent allergy symptoms, so would substantiate the "congestion" hypothesis.

Thanks for listening as I worked all this out. And — whaddya know — the technique of writing about why I can't write works!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Which Muppet Am I?

You Are Kermit

Hi, ho! Lovable and friendly, you get along well with everyone you know.
You're a big thinker, and sometimes you over think life's problems.
Don't worry - everyone know's it's not easy being green.
Just remember, time's fun when you're having flies!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Happy Blogiversary

Three years ago today, I posted my first entry on this blog. I had been sending occasional essays to a select group of friends and acquaintances for some time prior to March '03, and began to think something like a blog would be more efficient. Plus, it had the potential of reaching a wider audience.

As I've mentioned before, the title of this blog was inspired by the Talking Heads song, "Life During Wartime", from their album Fear of Music. I probably free-associated to that song title because the United States had officially invaded Iraq a few days earlier, and I was dating Elsie.

The subtitle of this blog, "Chevaux de Bataille and Random Quotidian Thoughts," was inspired in two ways. "Chevaux de bataille" had been a featured word in the Word-a-day e-mail list; it roughly translates as "hobby horse". Since I was primarily ranting against the B*sh administration and its policies at the time, it seemed appropriate to acknowledge I was riding a particlar hobby horse.

But I was also, in one way or another, observing my everyday life, with occasional reports or photographs shared from things Elsie and I had done together. This was a record of ordinary dailyness, of the "quotidian".

Since then, I have focused on primarily three "hobby horses" — religion, politics, and poetry (not nesessarily in that order).

This past year, I joined the RevGalBlogPals webring, and have noticed a marked increase in my hit-rate.

In preparation for this anniversary, I have been reviewing my entries for the past year. Surprisingly, I still like much of what I wrote.

Those of you with memories that stretch back at least a month may recall that I set myself the goal of posting entry number 1500 today. Since this is entry 1480, I have fallen short of that goal.

I predicatably got a case of writer's block almost as soon as I set myself that goal. And though I threatened to "pad" with more photographs or with recycled journal material, I couldn't bring myself to do it. The closest I came to padding was with "The Story of the Lost Son," which I had originally written in June 1980; and the five-part poem I posted last Friday (I posted each part as a separate entry).

I am slightly disappointed that I fell ~20 entries short of my goal. Yet, I am glad I tried.

Post No. 1479

The snow is spread upon the ground –
what must the roses think?
The sky is a silvered photo
and the wheat still needs a drink.

It seems modern life is defined by a series of squares. Computer screens are rounded squares. TV screens are squares. Many of us work in cubicles, defined by file cabinets and shelves and other detritus.

With some notable exceptions (the vaulted arch, the geodesic dome), our living spaces are defined by squares, rectangles, and straight lines.

Movie screens may be modeled on the Golden Rectangle, which I suspect is inspired by the average field of vision. But doesn't it seem as though our field of vision should be round? Our eyes are round, our eye sockets are (roughly) oval — as are our heads.

The human body has more circles and curves than straight lines. The natural world is full of curves. Is there a tree that produces a branch that is perfectly straight, whose sky-ward progress would satisfy a plumb-line?

What sort of dissonance does it create when we force ourselves into these squares? We know the consequences of forcing a square peg into a round hole, but what happens with the reverse?

Pretty Spring Morning

Facing east:

Facing west:

Post #1478

Idée d'jour

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.
— William James
Post #1477

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Current Events

Apparantly, the "liberal blogosphere" is still rumbling about Sen. Feingold's attempt to censure the president for his illegal NSA snooping program. As a nominal member of that tribe, I feel a certain responsibility to weigh in — but doesn't that issue seem so last week?

First off, I suspect even Sen. Feingold recognized how quixotic his motion was. Granted, an increasing number of Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the president; but none are going to go on the record as censuring the de facto leader of their party. And since Republicans are still in the majority, there's no way a censure measure could have passed.

With this bit of political theater, Sen. Feingold has positioned himself as being in the brave, and liberal, wing of the Democratic party. Whether his bravery will translate into votes remains to be seen.

As for the snooping, there's no question in my mind that it was illegal. Further, given the nature of the FISA statute, I wonder why the administration felt it was necessary. The existing FISA statute makes it possible to wire-tap someone for 48 hours without a warrant.

In other words, NSA could start wiretapping my phone right now, sans warrant, and wait 48 hours to obtain a warrant. Additionally, the FISA court has never yet denied one of these post-facto warrants.

Part of the argument is the administration couldn't afford to wait to wire-tap various folk. But FISA doesn't make them wait. The government can wiretap anyone at anytime and ask for forgiveness 48 hours after the fact.

This snooping is just the latest example of Presidential over-reaching in the B*sh administration. So far as the Prez is concerned, if he says so, it must be true. If he says he has the power to do something, he must have that power.

The folks at Talking Points Cafe have been debating whether B*sh is the worst president ever. I've recently been wondering whether Georgie Porgie is more like LBJ or Nixon.

It's become fairly commonplace to compare Iraq with VietNam. And, with GWB's faux-Texas accent, he could occasionally sound a little like LBJ. In fact, I heard a GWB soundbite on Saturday wherein his voice did sound eerily like Johnson's, and he was making an argument for staying in Iraq which sounded extremely similar to LBJ's reasoning for staying in VietNam.

While VietNam is significant black mark on Johnson's presidency, the Civil Rights Act almost outweighs it. His administration achieved other accomplishments which make it more effective — and less destructive overall — than the current regime.

The administration's love of secrecy is closer to Nixon's, though. Many refer to the current regime as an "imperial presidency", because B*sh seems to think his "political currency" gives him imperial powers. Many also perceived Nixon's term as "imperial", because of his love of pomp and his perception of the reach of executive power (and priviledge).

Perhaps B*sh is just the worst of Johnson and Nixon combined, with none of the redeeming qualities of either.

Post #1476

Monday, March 20, 2006

Idée d'jour

I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.
— Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., writer (1922- )
Post #1475

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Something Rare

I did something yesterday I haven't done in quite a while.
You cleaned the bathroom?
Well, yes I did that, but this is even more exciting.

I turned on the windshield wipers. Not on intermittent, either. It started as a fine mist, but by the time I left Borders, it was a full-fledged rain. I didn't have my umbrella or rain suit, and I didn't care. Blessed, blessed rain.

You've probably heard about the fires in Oklahoma - which inspired the five-part poem below. Not only has a significant amount of farm land been affected, the flames have touched urban areas as well. Just a few miles south and east of here, for example, a neighborhood was burned.

I don't know if it was enough rain. As I understand it, the primary crop around here is wheat - and the rain has come a bit too late to help the wheat. So, many farmers will be planting something else. I heard the report as I was rushing out the door, so I'm fuzzy on the details.

But "mysterious wet stuff" came from the sky all day long. So the ground in my tiny part of the world got a good soak.

The Peace Walk is later today, to mark the 3rd anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I will be there, singing at least one song, and possibly playing mouth harp as Mary Reynolds sings other songs. I will walk, with many others, around the OKC Bombing Memorial. People will have ponchos and rain suits and umberellas. The wetness will make it feel a little cooler. But we will walk.

Nothing can stop as we walk toward peace and justice.

Not even the blessed, blessed rain.
Post # 1474

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Shuffle Game

Via Beth
Instructions: Go to your music player of choice and put it on shuffle. Say the following questions aloud, and press play. Use the song title as the answer to the question. NO CHEATING.

How does the world see you?
Ship in the Sky (Woody Guthrie)

Will I have a happy life?
My Warfare Will Soon Be Over (Ginny Hawker)

What do my friends really think of me?
The Briar & The Rose (Holly Cole)

Do people secretly lust after me?
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

How can I make myself happy?
Jesus Christ (Woody Guthrie)

What should I do with my life?
Biggest Thing Man Has Ever Done (Woody Guthrie)

Will I ever have children?
Accussi Va La Barca Al Mari

What is some good advice for me?
Etude in C Min (Chopin, performed by Horowitz)

How will I be remembered?
Brownsville Girl (Bob Dylan)

What is my signature dancing song?
Amazing Grace (as recorded by Dave Grisman & Jerry Garcia)

What do I think my current theme song is?
Child's Play (Edgar Meyer)

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
The Wanderer (U2 / Johnny Cash, from Zooropa)

What song will play at my funeral?
When I Grow Up (John McCutcheon)

What type of men/women do you like?
So Long, It's Been Good to Know Ya

What is my day going to be like?
Why, Oh Why (Woody Guthrie)
Pam and Alexandria sometimes check up on me through this page. I can't wait to hear what they think of these random responses!

Post #1473

The 23rd Psalm

(Arr. by Bobby McFerrin; ©1989 ProbNoblem Music/BMI)

The Lord is my Shepard, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark and dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won't forsake me,
I'm in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil,
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever and ever.

Glory be to our Mother, and Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen
When you say "Psalm", this is the one most people will think of. You're likely to hear it in depictions of funerals in movies and on tv. Granted, you're much more likely to hear the King James' Version than this one. But you get the point.

The Psalms have survived a number of different translations, and variations. Some translations are better than others; some seem dead (e.g., the Revised English Bible). But the music of the psalms still shines through even the flattest translation.

McFerrin's version of the 23rd Psalm, included on his album Medicine Music, is very nice. Musically, he works with a relatively limited scale, similar to plain song or chant. The power of the song, musically, is in the harmonies realized within that limited scale.

Poetically, it's a nice variation of the original. Since McFerrin dedicates the piece to his mother, it makes since to use the feminine pronoun when referring to the divinity. Since I believe the Godhead either transcends gender, or incorporates both genders, I don't mind the use of the pronoun.

There is one striking difference between McFerrin's version and the original - his is in third person throughout. If you read the original, you'll notice the pronoun changes from "he" in the first three lines to "you" from the fourth line to the end.

There is another subtle shift in the poem, which we might miss. In the first four lines, the speaker is (by inference) a sheep. If the Lord is the speaker's shepherd, then the speaker is a metaphorical sheep. Then comes the fifth line "You annoint my head with oil". A sheep's head is not normally annointed with oil - this is an action performed for kings (e.g., David).

The dominant structure of the psalms is chiastic. That is, the first half of a line makes a statement, and the second half repeats it in a different way. It's as though you were shouting the line across a chasm, and the echo had a mind of its own. For example, the second line of Psalm 24: "For [the Lord] hath founded [the earth] upon the seas / and established it upon the floods." (KJV)

The "echoes" in the 23rd Psalm are more subtle than normal. For example, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; / he leadeth me beside the still waters" is an echo of theme rather than of meaning.

I've begun to suspect that a similar chiasm exists within certain psalms as a whole. That the second half of a psalm is intended to comment on the first half. In this instance, verses 5 and 6 are a reflection, if you will, of verses 3 and 4 (with verse 1 being an introduction). Obviously, it's not an exact reflection. The juxtaposition of "king" and "sheep" forces the reader to compare and contrast the ideas. How might a king be like a sheep?

The psalm implies, through this juxtaposition, that even a king relies on God as a sheep depends for its survival on the shepherd. Even the king, who is narrating this psalm, accepts a position of vulnerability.

As Dylan sings, "Even the President of the United States must sometimes stand naked."
Post #1472

Friday, March 17, 2006


Fire on the east
Houses melt like wax
Jackals circle

Post #1471


Storms to the north
Cleanse the forgotten heart
Ravens sit in judgement


Drought on the west
Astmatic air gasps
Vultures study philosophy


And in the secret north
The blinded king speaks false
The castle door is hollow


We draw our maps
on torn paper sacks
and forget mother dust

Friday Five: Spring Break

As suggested by Songbird.

The challenge is to list five places I have been to on spring break, or vacation. The problem is, I'm such a workaholic that I don't normally go on vacation unless it's goal-oriented. In other words, I'll take off a couple of days to attend a conference, or a week to attend a music festival, but I rarely take off "just because." Mental health days are far and few between.

Two childhood trips stand out, although the details are sketchy. Sometime after Padre remarried, the three of us went on a trip west. We visited Carlsbad Caverns, and the near-by desert. Both made an impression on me, especially the fact that my sweat evaporated before I could feel it form.

The second childhood trip was earlier, probably dating prior to my parents' divorce. Which means I was under six years old. My maternal grandmother and I rode the train to a farm owned by some friends of her. I primarily remember the smell of the livestock, and the appearance of the cotton.

The closest experience I had to one of those "Spring Break" movies was the summer I spent in Princeton, NJ. I lived in a two bedroom apartment with three other guys. The apartment was upstairs from a hoagie shop, right on Princeton's main street. I dated a high school senior for most of that time, until my drug use (alcohol and speed) became more than she cared to deal with.

I've visited Denver, Colorado, three times. The first was as part of a wedding party (groomsman), and was an over-night stay. I immediately fell in love with the architecture in that city. The next two times were 4-5 day stays, with the couple whose wedding I had attended. The wife served as my tour guide the second trip - we drove all over that quadrant of Colorado. The following trip I was my own tour guide, and had a great deal of fun exploring the back streets and 'burbs.

Of course, my annual trip to the music festival in Winfield, KS, each September. About once every other year or so, I make the treck to west Texas to visit Brother Dave. I've spent long weekends in Seattle, WA and Springfield, MO. Then there's the two trips I've made to Kansas City, MO; I got lost both times.

Songbird offers a bonus question of where I might like to travel in the future. It may seem too easy an answer on St Paddy's Day, but I've always wanted to visit Ireland.

Post #1466

Cat's Eyes

DJs Eyes
As promised, a close-up of the lady's eyes. Yes, this is a detail from the previous picture. The nice thing about my new camera is the original image is so big, I can capture smaller details such as this without losing quality.

Cat Friday (I)

Later today, we will see an extreme close-up of those lovely eyes. Stay tuned.
Post #1464

Idée d’jour

The writing of a poem is like a child throwing stones into a mineshaft. You compose first, then you listen for the reverberation.
— James Fenton, poet and professor (1949- )
Post #1463

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Jesus Is The Answer

The bumpersticker reads, "Jesus is the answer." I pass the car in the parking lot, en route to my own car, at day's end. The car is a four-door sedan, a pinch smaller than a land whale. I'd guess it dates from the late 80s or early 90s. The car isn't in bad shape, but the paint no longer has a new sheen. There's a fair accumulation of stuff inside the car, a bit more than my car – which often serves as a traveling briefcase.

I want to ask the driver, if Jesus is the answer, what's the question? It's like a perverse Jeopardy question.

I can imagine that person would respond that Jesus is the answer for all life's problems.

Which immediately reminds me of a portion of Kurt Vonnegut's novel, Breakfast of Champions. The narrator is talking about his mother, who committed suicide by drinking bleach. He notes that this precedent makes suicide seem like an elegant response to many hard questions; for example:

What is your great-grandmother's maiden name?
I think I'll kill myself

A train leaves the station, traveling north at a rate of 60 mph; a car is traveling west at 35 mph. When will the crash occur?
I think I'll kill myself

Why is a mouse when it spins?
I think I'll kill myself
Post #1462

Idée d’jour

A poet looks at the world as a man looks at a woman.
— Wallace Stevens, poet (1879-1955)
Post #1461

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Little Altar

Little AltarPicking up from my previous entry, this is an "altar" I made the first weekend of February at a "Nurturing Weekend" for "Sunday School" teachers. The base is a glazed ceramic dish — similar to the base for a potted plant. The stones are intended to represent major life events.

Slightly below center is a clear stone, which represents my birth. To the right of it, at about the two o'clock position, is a red stone — representing the years immediately following W–'s attempted suicide. Continuing counter-clockwise, there is a large black stone which represents dark times in my life - especially times I have been tempted by suicide.

At the nine o'clock position is a blue stone, representing the hope of a blue sky. Just below it is a white stone, which symbolizes the presence of the Holy Spirit (or generic divine, if you prefer) in my life.

The final elements in this little altar are the shell (nearest five o'clock) and the dirt everything rests upon. The conference took place at St. Crispin's Camp, a place I have mentioned several times the past few days (and weeks). I found the shell on the camp grounds, and used it to dig dirt from the river bank.

My first experience at St. Crispin's, when I attended the camp as a teenager, was not entirely positive. Believe or not, even kids at a church camp can have a herd mentality programmed to attack a weak member. For some reason, I was chosen as the weak member that week.

However, I have been at St. Crispin's several times since then, and new memories are supplanting and superseding the old.

If you compare this picture with the image in the previous entry, you might notice one subtle addition: another shell. This shell represents St. James' church, which was a profound part of my return to the Christian tradition.

Post #1460

My Home-made Altar

Altar 1
  1. Mom and Apple Pie, or, Pandora's Ark ; a "Scissor Dance" by Dr. Omed
  2. Altar built in church camp, circa 1967
  3. Sacred Heart prayer card
  4. Anglican prayer beads, made in February of last year
  5. Christus Rex, purchased in late 1960s
  6. Angel
  7. Little Altar (more to follow)
  8. Fossil from Dr. Omed
  9. Small statue of St. Francis, also purchased in late 1960s
  10. Another fossil from Dr. Omed, which had been a part of his labyrinth. He gave it to me as a "seed" toward my own labyrinth.
  11. The program from Padre's funeral
Post #1459

Idée d’jour

Courage is not the absence of fear, it's the control of fear.
— Dickey Chapelle

Post #1458

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Infant Jesus of Prague

Over the past few days I have been sharing photographs I took in early February, when I attended an event at St. Crispins', a camp in southeast Oklahoma.
Infant Jesus of PragueThis most recent photograph reflects an indulgence I allowed myself on the way home from this conference.

I have driven east on I-40 several times, most often to visit Elsie. Almost every time, I have noted a weathered sign advertising the "Infant Jesus of Prague".

Prague (pronounced with a long "a"), Oklahoma, does have a kinship with the capital of the Czech republic (pronounced with a short "a"). As the linked article mentions, the town was founded by Czechs, and many in the town are of Czech descent. In fact, the town hosts a kolache festival every May.

Something about the sign – perhaps its somewhat beleagured condition – intrigued me, and I've always wanted to go to Prague to see what it was all about.

As it turns out, the closest north-south highway to Seminole is Highway 99, which also goes north to Prague. The map indicated that Prague was only 19 miles north of I-40, which did not seem like an extreme detour. So I decided to drive to Prague on my way home from St. Crispins'.

Happily, the "National Shrine to the Infant Jesus of Prague" was on the highway, which was also Prague's main street. The shrine is at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church.

I suppose the statue (pictured above) is modeled on the statue described in this article. The article says the original statue has a bird in its right hand. The Oklahoma version of the statue is definitely holding something in its right hand — at first, I thought it was the cosmic egg. This close-up suggests that there might be a bird in there.

In any case, I gave the young king the proper homage, and am pleased to share him with you now.

Post #1457

Today's Disciples — Oklahoma Style

On March 3rd and 4th , Oklahoma's Department of Christian Formation sponsored an overnight conference titled "Today's Disciples in Today's World — Oklahoma Style." This conference is the third of its kind, patterned on a conference held in Kansas City, Missouri, in the spring of 2005.

These conferences model a new way to consider Christian adult formation. This model has several dimensions. First, it asserts that people are in a continual process of being "formed" as Christians, and confronts the misconception that our "education" ends shortly after confirmation. Second, it recognizes that many of our members are previously unchurched . Last, it recommends a dynamic program, with at least one class (or Learning Opportunity) for every 25 members — which would necessitate a break from the traditional norm of one adult class being led by a clergy person.

The conference began Friday evening with a Faith Sharing exercise patterned on the Quaker model. It continued Saturday morning with a presentation by Vycke M—, which introduced the participants to basic educational concepts, as they apply to Christian Formation. During the remainder of the day, participants had a number of sample "Learning Opportunities" to choose from. Individual small groups met three times during the day, so members could compare notes and discuss which of these Opportunities might work in their individual church communities.

The conference was attended by 37 people, representing churches from Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Durant, Muskogee, Norman, Shawnee, Ada, Bartlesville and Seminole.

Post #1456

Monday, March 13, 2006

More on "The Lost Son"

Luke 15:11-32

On Sunday, I posted a version of the parable of the prodigal son which I originally wrote a little over 20 years ago. I made some minor alterations as I typed it, but it is essentially unchanged from the original.

The post inspired a rather strongly worded comment from Dr. Omed, to whit:
In my experience, the prodigal son doesn't get a big welcome home party when he comes home. One must renounce one's prodigiousness, I imagine, to get the steak dinner. But the story of the prodigal son is one of the biggest pieces of Horsesh*t in the Bible — if he crawled on his knees his Dad might give him the job as a hired hand, and a chance to work his way up. And the faithful son would be his supervisor.
The evangelical atheist has a point. The story is not believable today, and I doubt that it was any more "reality based" when Jesus told it. My version has a fairly obvious "fairy tale" quality — "There once was a farmer" is certainly a variation of "Once upon a time."

Although the notion of fairy tale might have been foreign to Jesus' audience, they did know what a parable was. Parables were popular teaching device with prophets as far back as Elijah. They would not have expected verisimilitude in the same way we might.

You'll notice that, in my reworking of the story, I title it "The Lost Son" rather than "The Prodigal Son". The parable is one of a series in Luke 15 which have to do with lost items: first the Lost Sheep (a.k.a., "The Good Shepherd"), then the Lost Coin, then the Lost Son. This context suggests that the emphasis is on finding what has been lost, rather than the son's prodigality.

In fact, there is more than one prodigal in the parable. The son is prodigal is the sense of being "recklessly wasteful"; the father is prodigal in the sense of being extravagant, or profuse in giving. The first instance of the father's prodigality in the original story is the fact that he gives the son his share of the inheritance so willingly. I suspect this would have been contrary to the experience of any in Jesus' audience. At the very least, the father would have argued the point.

The father is then extravagant in welcoming the son home. The best of everything — the best clothes, the best food, a big party. This by itself defies all reason. And, as Dr. Omed points out, it's highly unlikely the father would have welcomed the son back as a full member of the family without some kind of test or means of proving himself.

We are often tempted to read parables allegorically; which is to say that each character in the story exactly represents something else. In this case, we might say the Lost Son represents the average sinner, the Older Brother represents the judgmental Pharisees, and the father represents God. I think this is an accurate, if incomplete, reading.

One of the draws of the parables is the fact that the roles may be fluid; in other words, we may find ourselves playing different roles at different times in our lives.

It must be admitted that most people seem to identify with the younger son in this story. I think part of this reflects the fairy-tale quality of the parable. Fairy tales always seem to favor the smallest, or the youngest, or the plainest. And, as participants in the tale, we are more likely to identify with Cinderella than the stepsiblings or stepmother.

Additionally, many people of my generation share the experience of turning their backs on organized religion for a time. Some of these may indeed perceive themselves as one who has strayed and been reclaimed. Others may have had times in their lives when they felt distant from God, for example during major life challenges (deaths, divorce, etc), and they now feel close to God again.

I just mentioned that we are unlikely to identify with the "villains" of a fairy tale — the stepsiblings, et al; we are equally unlikely to identify with the Older Brother in this parable. But it is a role many of us play, from time to time. We may want to set standards for inclusion in our denomination. We may expect newcomers to quickly adopt our beliefs and customs. We may feel resentful of a newcomer who is quickly entrusted with responsibilities.

We may feel reluctant to even broach the idea of identifying ourselves with the Father in the story. It might feel sacrilegious, if indeed the Father represents God. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus tells the disciples to be perfect even as God is perfect (Mt 5:48). While this may seem an impossible goal, we are certainly called to strive to imitate God (or, to paraphrase Thomas a Kempis, Imitate Christ). So, it may be that we are to imitate the father in this parable. Rather than focusing on how we have strayed and returned, or on how others need to measure up to certain standards, perhaps we are meant to rejoice for those who join (and rejoin) us on the journey.

Post #1455

February Dawn

Another picture taken in early February, a few miles east of Seminole, OK.
Post #1454

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Story of The Lost Son

[Rewritten from an old notebook; the entry is dated 29.June.1980]

Now, there once was a well-to-do Kansas farmer who lived with his two sons. He loved them both very much. One day, his youngest son came to him and said, "I want my share of the year's receipts." And the farmer gladly gave it to him, and it was no small sum.

The next day, the youngest son packed his belongings and ran away to New York City. He was in such a rush to get out of Kansas, he didn't even say goodbye. Now, he learned his money could buy him many things in New York City: booze, to make you silly; drugs, to make you crazy; and a woman's favors - if only for one night. But, as often happens in the Big Apple, his money quickly ran out. It wasn't long before he got himself in trouble with the law, and was sentenced to a year's hard labor on a Correction Farm in upstate New York.

One day, as he was slopping the hogs, he thought to himself that he'd gladly eat their leftovers. The meals on this farm left much to be desired. Then he remembered his father's farm, and how the hired help never went without. It was then that he came to his senses. "I will go to my father, and ask him to hire me as a farm hand. For I don't deserve to even be called his son."

So, when his sentence was up, he went back to Kansas. But as he came to his father's farm, his father saw him and recognized him. In his joy, the farmer ran to his son and hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. Then the son said, "Father, I have wronged you. Hire me as a hand, for I have no right to be called your son."

But the farmer called to his housekeeper and said, "Go get my clothes some clothes to wear." Then he called his hired hands together and said, "Slaughter the finest calf, and make merry, for my son who was as dead is alive, and returned to me." And all was done as he had asked.

Then his oldest son came to him, saying: "Dad, why do you carry on this way? My brother nearly broke your heart, and cared nothing for you as he spent time with whores and drunks. On the other hand, I have stayed with you, and helped on the farm, and have asked nothing. Yet, you never killed the finest calf for me, or threw me this kind of bash."

The father answered: "Why are you so jealous? You know I love you, and always will. It's a good thing that we celebrate this way. For my son - your brother, mind you — who once was as dead is living. He who had strayed from me, has returned."

Post #1453

Sign o'the Season

Post #1452

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Idée d’jour

It's hard to feel middle-aged, because how can you tell how long you are going to live?
— Mignon McLaughlin

Post #1451

February Sky

I took this picture in early February, at St. Crispin's just east of Seminole, OK. It's about 6:00 in the evening.

Post #1450


Somehow, it seemed like a good idea to stay in bed this morning. Sure, I woke up at 5:30. But I went back to sleep. Sure, I listened when the alarm/cd player spun 30 minutes worth of Isle of View. But I went back to sleep. Sure, the cat was using my bladder as a launching pad as she ran to the east window-sill. Sure, I got up and used the rest room. Sure, I turned on the overhead light. Sure, I read my daily meditation, and caught up on yesterday's. Sure, I sat up in bed for a few minutes after I read those meditations. I went back to sleep anyway.

It's not that this past week was all that tiring or stressful. Pretty much the opposite, truth to tell. Only worked four days. Didn't have any deadlines during those four days, so I could take things slow. Heck, I fell asleep in front of the tv Thursday and Friday both. Wouldn't think I was sleep-deprived.

But, the week before was hard. Insomnia several nights in a row. No rest Friday night. Sleep-walking through Saturday.

Then there was the conflict with a friend and respected mentor on Tuesday. That was an emotional tsunami. We were equally at fault, and by Friday we had equally admitted our fault.

Maybe that was it. Maybe that's why the bed felt so good this morning. Maybe that's why I curled under the covers. Maybe that's why I drew my right arm over my eyes.

Maybe that's why I slept until 10:00 this morning.

Somehow, it seemed like a good idea.
Post #1449

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday Five: Hair

As suggested by Songbird
  1. Do you like your hair?
    Yes, although I'm sad that my hair is thinning. One day, I fully expect to have a natural tonsure.

  2. Have you ever colored your hair? If not, would you consider it?
    I have never colored/dyed my hair or beard. I have chosen to allow my beard to go natually grey. No grecian formula for me!
       Padre asked me once if I died my beard, because my beard was dark and my hair is blonde. My beard just happened to come in dark!
       Now, the grey hairs in my beard out-number the dark hairs - so I appear to have a goatee or soul patch. There's a certain irony to this, because - when I first started trying to grow a beard (senior year of high school) - all that would come in was a goatee.

  3. What's the longest you've ever worn your hair? The shortest?
    From highschool graduation through the first few years of college, my hair was shoulder-length. Once I became a wage-slave, I adapted the traditional "business man's" cut - above the ears, and blocked in back.

  4. When and what was your worst. haircut. ever?
    I guess the worst haircut might have been when I let the young lady at the style shop talk me into a mullett. This was in college, and I was young & foolish.
        Worse than that might be the style I adopted a couple of years ago, when I decided to finger-comb my hair back. It took me a while to realize this looked less like a natural duck-tail than it did a bad comb-over.

  5. Tell us a favorite song or scene from a book or movie dealing with hair.
    The first thing that comes to mind is the title song from the musical Hair. As I recall, the scene in the movie was fun.
Post #1448

Cat Friday

Post #1447

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Of Time and Leaf

This is another image which was orginally posted at my temporary Typepad site. It is essentially a composite: the background is a building in Oklahoma City's Leadership Square, and the foreground is a leaf which had blown into my driveway last August.

Aside from compositing, I have not altered either image in any way. The building has mirrored windows, which are reflecting another building.

Post #1446


There are a few poems in my back-catalogue which I consider "typographics". By which I mean, that at the time I wrote the poems I was very concerned with where the words fell on the page. These poems were originally printed in notebooks, then recorded using a Selectric typewriter.

It's a challenge to reproduce these poems on the web; the difference in pixels-per-inch from one computer screen to the next make it impossible to predict where the words will appear from reader's point of view. Aside from complex coding to cover all potential platforms, I can think of three potential solutions: Flash, image (or PDF), or accepting the limitations of HTML and cascading stylesheets. For the poems in my on-line chap-book, The Saturn Sequence, I have chosen the last solution — creating something on my personal screen that I find satisfying, and accepting the reality that it will not appear exactly the same on every other screen.

These typographic poems seem to fall into two categories. The first category cover instances where a word or phrase begins a new thought, but I want it to be "counted" as part of the preceding line. This is a technique I picked up from certain editions of Shakespeare's plays.

As you are probably aware, Shakespeare's plays are written in iambic pentameter [see Wikipedia entry]. Occasionally, one character's line will consist of one part of the line of pentameter, and another character will complete it. These editions of Shakespeare's plays make this clear by printing the lines thus:
One: Blah, blah, blah.
Two: Ah, but blah blah blah blah blah.

In "Farmer of the Night", an attempted sonnet, my motivation for word placement is the same:
Now I am autumn.
 And I was the sea.

Whether the two halves of this "line" combine to produce true iambic pentameter may be debatable, but there is no question that the second half introduces a new idea.

A free-verse poem in which I use this technique is "Never Thunders in Hades". Here, the word "watching" serves as one of several repetends, and seems to float back and forth across the page. The intention is that different subjects are "watching" throughout the poem — "when the night is full" in the first four lines; "for starry evenings" in the third paragraph (assuming the indention of the word "watching" defines the beginning of a new paragraph).

Two other poems use typography in a different way. Both "Poetry Tonight" and "The Green House" have blocks of words which appear in different areas of the page. These block of words are stanzas. The intent of the technique seems most obvious in "Poetry Tonight," where the stanzas are juxtaposed with black-and-white photographs, as if to suggest the stanzas are themselves a type of emotional photograph. In fact, the penultimate stanza reads, "Just faces in a crowd scene / Painted in gouache / By George Grosz."

"The Green House" is the most experimental of this set. Sentences are broken apart. One line is spread across the page/screen. The title appears at the bottom of the poem, rather than the top. One might reasonably charge that the typographic format is more self-conscious display than poetic device.

As in "Poetry Tonight," the stanzas are grouped by sense-unit. The scattering of these sense-units might reflect the fact that the history of the house in question is scattered and fragmentary.

The poetry I've written over the past two years has been more typographically traditional. I suspect this is primarily because I do most of my composing on screen, rather than on a page.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An Eyelash of Time

I heard her story last night.

Her greatest concern, as a mother, was who would care for her children if she died. She has no doubt her husband had the same concern – who would care for their children if he died – but it is her story, and she can only speak for herself.

She had suffered a stroke. She was taken to the hospital, then to the ER. While on the operating table, she died.

She described that period between life, death, and return to life as "an eyelash of time."

She did not exactly see Jesus, but could sense his presence. She could feel Him through her whole body, through her whole being.

He did not speak, but she could hear him.

He said, "Wait. Do not be afraid."

In that moment, she was no longer worried about her children or her husband. She was content to remain in His presence.

He said, "Wait. Do not be afraid."

But she did not want to return to the world she had known. She did not want to return to her children or husband or house. She wanted to remain with Him, to know his pure love.

He said, "Wait. Do not be afraid."

She described that period between life, death, and return to life as "an eyelash of time."

Her experience of life has been brighter since then. In every step, she recognizes the echo of his voice: "Wait. Do not be afraid."

She told the story. I heard her tell the story.

It has been said that the most common phrase in the Bible is "Don't be afraid", that it appears 365 times. I don't know.

All I know is, I heard her story, and glimpsed an eyelash of time.
Post #1444

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Idée d’jour

You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
— Anne Lamott, writer (1954- )

Post #1443


The Christian Education conference this weekend, titled "Today's Disciples in Today's World – Oklahoma Style," was a success. I was not in best form, but (happily) the success of the conference did not depend on what form I was in.

I had been suffering insomnia for several nights, and was tired when I arrived at the conference. I think the insomnia was related to the conference in that I was excited about it, and had made several commitments related to it.

It's entirely possible that I over-committed. I don't always recognize my limits until I hit them.

I had committed to provide music for a Friday evening service, lead one of the classes, and write two articles about the conference. And, oh yeah, I was going to take photographs as well (this last did not happen).

That class was a special stressor, as I was supposed to introduce people to a book I did not see until two days before the conference.

My sleep deprivation was made even worse Friday night. My room was apparently near a malfunctioning air-handler. I was awakened at 2 a.m. by a grinding sound which seemed to go on forever. Then, even the normal sound of the system moving air seemed loud.

I was pretty much brain dead through most of the day. Unfortunately, this was the day I was supposed to give that class. I think I did OK, but I was definitely less than 100%.

At three o'clock, I was supposed to be part of a panel discussion. I was doing well to remember my name, much less what I was doing there or what I had hoped to accomplish.

Participant response was positive, both for my individual class and for the conference as a whole.

And I did get home in one piece.

Post #1442

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Quote d’jour

If you know how to practice mindful walking, then you enjoy walking in the pure land of Buddha in the here and now.... When I talk to Christians I say that the Kingdom of God is now or never. You are free, and then the kingdom is there for you. If you are not free, well, the kingdom does not exist, even in the future.
— Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala Sun, March 2006, 101

Post #1441

Friday, March 03, 2006

Suburban Dawn

I've been passing this tree every morning, on my way to work. I've been consistently impressed by its majesty against the wakening sky.

Having some free time this morning, I walked the block or so to where this tree stands. There I was, wearing my black suede jacket, and poor-boy's cap (turned backwards, of course).

The street is not terribly busy (this was taken shortly after 7), so I was able to take a couple of shots while standing on the center line. I think this may be one of them.

I will be going to a Christian Education conference in about two hours. I mentioned this conference in passing a couple of entries back.

I've actually received a reprieve: originally, the organizers were asked to arrive by noon. Since only 3 or 4 of us could get to the conference at that hour, our arrival has been rescheduled to 2:00 p.m.

And how am I spending that found time? Surfing. Blogging. Of course.

Post #1440

Cat Friday

Post #1439

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Getting to Know Your Correspondent

This quiz came via e-mail from my step-sister.
  1. What time did you get up this morning? 6:00 a.m.
  2. Diamonds or pearls? I don't wear either. I think a simple strand of pearls is very classy, though.
  3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? King Kong
  4. What is your favorite TV show? Scrubs
  5. What did you have for breakfast? Cereal medley
  6. What is your middle name? Andrew
  7. What is your favorite cuisine? American, Italian
  8. What foods do you dislike? Liver, colard greens
  9. What is your favorite Potato chip? Pringles
  10. What is your favorite CD at the moment? Pretenders, Isle of View
  11. What kind of car do you drive? Ford escort
  12. What is your favorite sandwich? I've been craving P B & J
  13. What characteristics do you despise? Hypocrisy
  14. What is your favorite item of clothing? Vest
  15. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would it be? New York City
  16. What color is your bathroom? Predominately white
  17. Favorite brand of clothing? Land's End
  18. Favorite time of day? Quittin' Time!
  19. Where were you born? Oklahoma City
  20. Favorite sport to watch? Basketball
  21. Coke or Pepsi? I'd rather have a rootbeer or a Sprite
  22. Are you a morning person or night owl? Morning
  23. Do you have pets? Have you heard of a little feline named Dame Julian?
  24. Any new & exciting news you'd like to share? One of my photographs was published in the state-wide church newspaper; unfortunately, I did not receive credit.
  25. What did you want to be when you were little? doctor
  26. Favorite Candy Bar? Rollo
  27. What are the different jobs you have had in your life? Clerk, dog groomer, cashier, receiving room clerk, secretatry
  28. Nicknames: jac, Jonah
  29. Piercing: None
  30. Eye color? Hazel
  31. Ever been to Africa? No.
  32. Ever been toilet papered? No.
  33. Ever Loved someone so much it made you cry? Yes.
  34. Been in a car accident? Only one - my car was totalled, but I walked away
  35. Croutons or bacon bits? Croutons
  36. Favorite day of the week? Saturday
  37. Favorite restaurant? Olive Garden
  38. Favorite flower? Jonquils
  39. Favorite ice cream? Peppermint. I've also been craving a strawberry shake
  40. Disney or Warner Brothers? Why? Warner Brothers - much less domesticated and sacharine than Disney.
  41. Favorite fast food restaurant? Braums
  42. What color is your bedroom carpet? Brown
  43. How many times did you fail your driver's test? Passed it the first time.
  44. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card?
  45. What do you do most often when you are bored? Watch TV
  46. Ford or Chevy? Ford, I guess.
  47. What are you listening to right now? The computer's hum.
  48. What person have you learned the most about life from? Padre
  49. How many tattoos do you have? None.
Post #1438


I'm sleepy, so very sleepy. So perhaps I will be forgiven for posting this image (originally posted at Practicing Patience).

I've had insomnia the past few nights. I get to sleep alright, but wake up somewhere between 12:30 a.m. and 3. If I rest at all following that wake up, it's fitfully at best.

What's going on? Why is it hard for me to stay asleep?

I suspect it has something to do with all those commitments I mentioned a couple of days ago (see "Status Report", two entries down).

It seems unlikely that I'm stressed about posting 62 more entries between now and March 23, but it's possible. Even though I have a plan - post pictures, post old poems - it's a "duty" lingering at the back of my consciousness.

A word about this image: it is a collage, of sorts, made from two pictures from Entertainment Weekly. The foreground image comes from an advertisement; the background comes from a photoshoot with Cameron Diaz.

Post #1437

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

Remember you are dust
"Remember, O child of God, that you are dust and to dust you shall return"

As this prayer is recited, a bit of dust is rubbed on your forehead. This dust is from palm branches that were used for the previous year's Palm Sunday. St. James' arranged with a local mortuary to burn its palm branches in the mortuary's crematorium each year. As I understand it, there was no way to guarantee that the ashes of "Uncle Joe" were not mixed with the palm ashes.

Which is appropriate, when you think about it. After all, the ashes are a memento mori (reminder of one's death).

In like manner, I have posted this picture for the past couple of Ash Wednesdays. The picture in the background is a painting by my high school friend Michael. At the time it was painted (c. 1975), this was the oldest human skull that archaeologists had discovered. Anthropologists are certain it is a woman's skull.

In the foreground is a distorted image of your correspondent. I claim kinship with that ancestor. I embrace my advancing years, with my receding hairline, and grey beard. I boldly face the one St. Francis named "Sister Death".

I remember Ash Wednesday services at St James very well. Deacon Pierce was well past retirement age, but was in good health and continued to serve the community. He would move around the altar rail, marking the foreheads of these people he had come to know and love. It was especially moving when he would come to a child. Something in his voice - or perhaps in his eyes - made it clear that he did not want to remind the child s/he would die. This is a fact of life we normally hide from our children.

I was always touched by this interaction between the generations. The child - if s/he understood any part of the ritual - most likely understood best of all that s/he was loved by this man.

We were formed from dust - from swirling motes in our parents' eyes. With age, our bodies weaken; with time, we die. More years pass, and (assuming no chemical interference) our bodies decay and return to the dust.

Remember: you are dust. To dust you shall return.

[Correction: Alexandria corrected my spelling of memento mori]

Post 1436