Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Five: What Are You...

This week's laconic theme suggested by Reverend Mother; "What are you":
  1. Wearing
    I am wearing my traditional Friday garb: black shirt and black pants. Since it was chilly this morning (46°), I am also wearing my off-white linen jacket.

  2. Pondering
    "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" Brain asks of Pinky.
    "That ‘W’ should be forced to complete his enlistment in the National Guard and be stop-lossed to Iraq?"

  3. Reading
    The Audacity of Hope by Barak Obama. I have only read the first two chapters so far. He is very intentional about finding a middle path.

  4. Dreaming
    I'm sure I dream; it's just been so long since I've remembered one. There are times when I attempt automatic writing that curious images and verbal constructions come forth which may be dream refugees; see, for example, "Jack Frost Is Dead".

  5. Eating
    Breakfast - mixed cereals, consisting of Kashi Go Lean Crunch and a generic granola. Lunch - whatever is on special at the cafeteria. Dinner - an entree from the Prairie Gypsies, a local catering company which also sells delicious entrees directly to individuals. This latter is one of my traditional Friday indulgences.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Best Of 2006

I've finally selected the "best" entries for the past "fiscal" year. Since I began this blog in March 2003, I observe a "fiscal year" from March to March.

Yep, believe it or not, I've been blogging in this space since March 2003 — that's four years! My Jonah 365 blog has gotten more attention of late, but I still add an entry here now and again. My intent is to use this space primarily for politics and poetry. The Jonah 365 space intended to be more focused on images - primarily photographic, but some imagist poetry has appeared over there as well.

Anyway, check out what I've selected as the "Best Of" for the past year, and see if you agree. Nominations are still being accepted for alternate entries.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Idée d’jour

I'm not young enough to know everything.
— J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Idée d’jour

When we ask "Where is God," we are like fish in the ocean asking where all the water is.
— Sufi saying

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tragedy

Larry Johnson, at TPM Cafe, notes that the death of 32 people at Virginia Tech yesterday is, more or less, equivalent to a normal day in Baghdad. He wonders why Americans are shocked by the former, and not by the latter. Let's face it, the majority of those who favor prompt withdrawl of American troops are thinking primarily of American sons and daughters rather than the children of Iraq.

Let us not, however, minimize one tragedy by comparing it to another. What happened in Viginia Monday morning and early afternoon was tragic. Dateline, on NBC, ran a news special on the event Monday evening. CBS will have a news special on Wednesday evening. I have no doubt that many commentators will perform long-distance psychoanalysis to explain why this person went berserk.

The boys at Columbine were loners. They were abused and ostracized by fellow students. They killed for revenge. I might seek revenge as well, but never to that degree.

University officials are still reluctant, as I write this, to say the same person was responsible for the incident in the morning and the one in the afternoon. The first incident was considered to be a domestic disturbance. According to the New York Times, the man who eventually killed himself, after killing at least 30 others, was Seung-Hui Cho, an Asian student. There are suggestions this man is relatively new to our country.

So, he also may have been an object of verbal and physical abuse. Photographs suggest the campus is primarily Caucasian. It's possible Mr. Cho was an object of ridicule and/or prejudice. Granted, one of the victims was black, but this doesn't negate my hypothesis.

Now, like one of those commentators, I'm trying to explain Mr. Cho's actions. We want to understand. We want to discern a motive. "Bull goose crazy" may be acceptable, but we much prefer explanations we can understand. If we can, order is restored. And, while we may understand the motive, we can reassure ourselves that we would never do something similar.

Someone once said, "Nothing human is foreign to me." What this writer meant, I think, is the full range of human emotions is available to us. As is the full range of human response to those emotions.

Hitler is not an aberration. Timothy McVeigh was a true believer. The boys in Columbine displayed one type of violence, just as the people who teased them displayed another.

The people who rush to help others after a tragedy may be braver than some, but each of us the capacity for that same level of caring and self-sacrifice.

Human beings are neither intrinsically good, nor intrinsically evil. Human beings have the capacity for the full range of that ethical pole. Any one of us are capable of the same sort of extremes I've mentioned.

I could be a Hitler. There are times, in my most egotistical moments, when I want to rule the world. Times when I believe I know the right way to behave and think, and I want to impose it on the rest of the world.

I'm not typically the sort of person who rushes to help in an accident. I reason, given my limited skills, I'm more likely to be a hindrance than a help. I can pray, but first aid is not one of my gifts. But I have reached out to others, and have a patience and thoughtfulness others have admired.

I suspect, if you do an honest self-inventory, you will see you have these same capabilities. Just magnify your best and worst qualities, and you'll recognize you are also capable of being Hitler or Mother Theresa.

A fundamental guideline of human ethics, mirrored in every major world religion, is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It follows that, as I do not want to die or being seriously injured, I will strive to avoid killing or injuring others.

And yet, we constantly find justifications for killing others. Most often, for revenge; or, most recently, as a sort of preemptive revenge.

Seung-Hui Cho, the man who killed so many at Virginia Tech, undoubtedly convinced himself he was justified in killing so many. We may never know why.

President B*sh, who reportedly expressed "shock and sadness" in response to this tragedy, is ultimately responsible for many multiples of 32 human beings in Iraq and Afghanistan. He can be saddened by the first tragedy, and not the second, because he has convinced himself the deaths in those two countries are justified. That, somehow, these deaths will lead to a greater good for America. He may even sincerely believe all these deaths will lead to Western-style democracy in these two countries.

He has convinced himself, in other words, that the ends justify the means. Just as the boys at Columbine did. Just as Tim McVeigh did. Just as, perhaps, Mr. Seung-Hui Cho did.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Five: Dental Edition

This week's theme suggested by Reverend Mother. She and Cheesehead have both recently gone to the dentist with various oral maladies.
  1. Are you a regular patron of dentists' offices?
    dentist? what is this "dentist" thing you speak of?

    I haven't been to the dentist in over *mumble* years. I think my teenage experience with my orthodontist scarred me for life.

  2. Whatever became of your wisdom teeth?
    I'm not sure they ever came in.

  3. Favorite thing to eat that's BAAAAAD for your teeth.
    [Sings] "I like candy ...." And cake. And chocolate. And sweets. And ....

  4. Ever had oral surgery? Commiserate with me.
    I did have a root canal, sometime in my late teens or twenties. As I recall, it was not quite as traumatic as advertised.

  5. "I'd rather have a root canal than _________________."
    I'm speechless. Guess I'd have another one, if my life depended on it. Or if I were in severe pain. I'm a wimp that way.
Bonus: Does your dentist recommend Trident?
I refer you to my response to the first question. However, I have started chewing a stick of Ice Breakers after lunch. A friend got me started on this habit.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Station: Holy Saturday

Beloved Daughter, Blessed Mother,
this is your son.
Do not look upon this broken body;
look to your right.
Adopt the young face you look upon.
Beloved Friend, this is your mother.

I thirst.

This is not my dancing day.
I cannot dance on this wormy wood.

Beloved daughter,
will you not leave this place?
Beloved friend,
will you not shield your mother's face
from this horror?

I thirst.

Hear my voice.
I cry from the horns of unicorns.
Bulls of Bashan surround me.
I am a reproach of men,
they laugh and mock me.
They gave me a robe in jest,
now they gamble for it.

Daddy! hear my voice.
Forgive them.
Bless this mother.
Preserve this adopted son.

I thirst for life
I thirst for love
I thirst for forgiveness
I thirst for compassion
I thirst for justice

Father, have I completed
the work you gave me to do?

It is finished.

They took the body down.
It was laid
in a stranger's tomb.
A stone was rolled unto the door of the tomb.
And Mary Magdalene
and Mary the mother of Joses
beheld where he was laid.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Station V: Simon Cyrene

Let the world be crucified
where the light is lost,
far from our eyes.
Let my fear be crucified.
Let my death be crucified.
Because my eyes cannot see
the invisible kingdom;
Because my lips have forgotten
the godsong heartbeat eternal hum;
Because I build my cross
as I walk my path
as I betray my forgotten heart
as I lose the sweet secret room
where godsong prays:
Can we turn back?
Where can we turn back?
Please, Daddy, can we turn back?
Where godsong prays
under starlight
after betrayal
after being abandoned.
Godsong prays for the crucified.
I pray for the crucified
for those about to die
for the dreams I salute.

I am not worthy to bear the beam
because I do not come from Crete;
because I am not Libyan;
because I am not Roman;
I am not worthy to bear the beam
I am not dust from the Ten Cities.
I am less than a chink in the wall
of a ruined temple.
I accept the virtuous beam
let it burn my shoulder
let it incense the secret room
in the forgotten chamber
of my stony heart.
I will bear the beam.
I will watch the sky rend its curtain.
I will hear the Temple cry.
Though I am not worthy
even to speak your name.


Beginning Monday, I have been posting a series of works inspired by the Stations of the Cross. This is a Roman Catholic tradition, which some other liturgical churches also observe.

I had this idea last year, of conflating the Stations of the Cross with news stories. The method has been similar to Wm S. Burroughs' "cut-up technique": in other words, I slice paragraphs from the newspaper, interpolate descriptions of the Via Dolorosa, paste it all together, and then create verse from the "mash up". I think two of these have been successful experiments.

The problem is, there are 14 stations, I've only gotten as far as the fourth, and today is Good Friday. I'm not sure I have it in me to write ten more sections in one day.

We'll see. Work has already begun on Station V: Cross Laid on Simon of Cyrene.
Added Holy Saturday morning. Plan now is observe last few Stations, then one last entry tomorrow.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Station IV: Mother

We regret to inform you
34 people were killed in Iraq
On Wednesday.

We regret to inform you
The sick grow sicker and the hungry starve.

We regret to inform you
Your son may be held
In an undisclosed location
For questioning.

We regret to inform you
You may not touch his wounds
You may not speak his name.
Every moment is an eternity.

We regret to inform you
Four British soldiers were killed
In an ambush in southern Iraq.
Five U.S. troops died in Baghdad.
An Army helicopter went down
South of the capital.

Renewed fighting in Afganistan:
Five Taliban and two policemen dead.
We regret to inform you
Dozens more were wounded.

We regret to inform you
Our patience is not unlimited.

We regret to inform you
Matthew, 18, and Alan, 20,
May have been killed
By friendly fire.

Gunmen opened fire on a minibus.
We regret to inform you.
Six men died. West of
Baghdad, 22 shepherds were abducted.

At least 34 people were killed
Or found dead in Iraq
On Wednesday.
Blessed Mother.
We regret to inform you
Your child carries a rifle
In Darfur.

We regret to inform you
Holy Lady
Your child is ready to kill.

We regret to inform you
You may not wipe the blood
From this face.

Holy Lady. Your children persevere
In hate and death worship.
We regret our regret.

We regret our information.
We beseech your love.
We beseech freedom
From our deadly dreams.

We beseech, Holy Lady,
Blessed Mother.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Station III: We Fall

Poetry Month: Mad Farmer

A friend just recommended Wendell Berry's poem "Mad Farmer Liberation Front". You can read it here. Here's the first stanza:
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Station II: Bearing the Cross

We adore thee, O Christ,
because we find Olivia
sitting on a bench outside
holding a bloody cloth
over her face.
The beam is a secret joy you carry
because the world is not quite as warm
as when police arrested Jeremy
for first degree murder.
It is an instrument of redemption,
so avoid worrying over past bruises.
A heavy cross.
A suicide truck crashed into a Kurdish neighborhood.
Nick lost a black guitar in last week's tornado.
Jason, 24, of Amelia, VA, died Sunday.
O Christ, your Holy Cross
with which you redeem
a suicide truck bomber.
Amish children return to school,
they survived the shooting
that killed five classmates last fall.
They survived to forgive.
Your heavy cross was born
for a man convicted of killing
two teenage girls.
You carry your cross with meekness
for an Oklahoma marine
killed while serving in Iraq.
A black guitar.
Jason died from wounds suffered in the attack.
The heavy beam.
Your bruised shoulders.
O grant us, by your virtue,
to submit to suffering.
Grant us, by your suffering,
to submit to peace.

Poetry Month: Recommended Poems

In another venue, I have suggested we spend Poetry Month (April) listing some of our favorite poems.

The first poem I listed was T.S. Elliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," which I memorized for a high school talent show:
Let us go then, you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table.
The next poem that comes to mind is Diane Wakoski's "I Have Not Learned to Live With My Face." It was originally in The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems and is now in the collection, Emerald Ice. A girl introduced our high school English class to Ms. Wakoski's work, and I've been a fan ever since.

Ms. Waksoski is grouped with the "deep image" poets. As you might imagine, the emphasis is on the image rather than sound, narrative, or lyrical quality. At the same time, her poems have a confessional quality, with an admixture of personal and universal myth. Examples include her George Washington and Beethoven poems. Her most recent series, The Archaeology of Movies and Books (I've read the first two collections in this four-part series), takes this to the next level - mixing her personal history with the myth of Jason and Medea in the first two books.

Also worthy of study is her epic work, Greed, which appears to be a work still in progress. Future generations may well consider it an epic for the 20th/21st Centuries.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Station I: Born to Die

Clayton was five when he died.
His sister was three
when the flames
took her breath.
They were condemned to die.
The house was found
engulfed in flames
at 2 p.m.
Kent J was nine
when the tractor trailer
condemned him to die.
Douglas locked his children
in the trunk.
He judged them ready.
He condemned them to die.
Sean and Jeffrey were on patrol,
responding to a domestic dispute
when an unknown person shot
and condemned them to die.
An unknown person
made an unborn child
an orphan.
Page 13A is filled with
names and ages.
Lives touched, loves passing.
Each born to die.
Each condemned to die
from the moment seed mixed with water.
Eva Sue, Ella Mae, Kenneth Paul.
Each born of woman.
Born with ashes
already hidden on each brow.

Idée d’jour

A monk asked Ummon: "What is it that surpasses the Buddhas, surpasses the patriarchs?"

Ummon replied: "Buns."
— Zen Mondo
Zen stories can have an element of the absurd that Samuel Beckett or Woody Allen would envy. One question this story raises is whether Ummon is referring to something you eat (like hot cross buns) or to the posterior.

What do you think?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Friday Five: Passiontide

This week's theme suggested by Reverend Mother.
  1. Will this Sunday be Palms only, Passion only, or hyphenated?
    Hyphenated, which seems to be the norm amoung Oklahoma Episcopal churches. My reading of the Book of Common Prayer suggests it could be separate services, but my memory it's been one service since 197-mumble

  2. Maundy Thursday Footwashing: Discuss.
    The last time I experienced this was at St. James' As has been noted, it's easier to wash someone else's feet than it is to have your feet washed. By the end of the day, when such services are normally held, my feet can be a little sweltery, and potentially stinky. Plus, the toenails on my right foot are yellowed. So, footwashing can be quite humbling. Since humility is one theme of Maundy Thursday, it seems appropriate. As a typical Caucasian middle-middle class American, I need an occasional lesson in humility.

  3. Share a particularly meaningful Good Friday worship experience.
    One year, at St. James', I stayed through the entire vigil which begins Maundy Thursday. When I felt sleepy, I went to the choir loft and laid down. I also was on a liquid fast until sundown Good Friday. When awake, I was aware of my own breathing. I occasionally read prayers assigned for the vigil from the St. Augustine Prayerbook. There was no question in my mind I was striving to keep prayerful watch that year.

       Not a discipline I recommend. Nor one I plan to repeat in the near future.

  4. Easter Sunrise Services--choose one:
    1. "Resurrection tradition par excellence!"
    2. "Eh. As long as it's sunrise with coffee, I can live with it."
    3. "[Yawn] Can't Jesus stay in the tomb just five more minutes, Mom?!?"

    I have only experienced one Sunrise Service. I was one of the people in our congregation who lobbied for it. I did need my coffee. At the time, it was just Mary and I; her kids were on their own by this point, so option "c" would not apply.

       There is an amusing story connected with that service. Holy Apostles was a de facto rural church — there was a large field to the north of it, and horse ranches to the south. The service began in pitch darkness, with the service of the new fire — lighting the Pascal Candle and relighting the sanctuary light. As it got light, we heard hissing from outside. Choir members were facing the north window, and — along with certain acolytes — were the first to see what was going on. Harriet muttered, "It's my husband; I'm going to kill him."

       The field to the north of our church was often used by a local ballooning club. That hissing we had heard was the gas filling the great multi-colored balloons. The acolytes were getting quite restive, as were some members of the congregation. Acolytes on the other side of the chancel were rubber-necking to see what was going on. The minister, however, absolutely refused to turn around.

       Just as the opening hymn began, one of the balloons rose up quite near the north window. The balloon had a picture of Pistol Pete, the mascot of a local college sports team.

       The opening hymn was "He is risen, he is risen."

  5. Complete this sentence: It just isn't Easter without...
    Dinner at Gary's. Gary hosts an annual dinner for everyone at the Cathedral who wants to come. It's primarily, I think, for those who have no other plans or other places to go, but it seems like a tradition for everybody to attend this event. It's potluck, and the food is marvelous.

       Another tradition at Gary's dinner is the Easter Egg hunt. The older kids hide eggs for the younger ones. Seeing the little girls in their cute Easter dresses digging under bushes and peering in the crannies of walls and fences should be enough to open every old heart.
Bonus: Any Easter Vigil aficionados out there? Please share.
This is my tradition. And it often happens that I attend the Vigil and the service the next morning. This year, I'm scheduled to do something at that morning service, so I have no choice. Rather, I choose to attend both, because the Vigil is so meaningful to me.

   I've already spoken of the lighting of the New Fire. This can be quite awesome, if one puts his spiritual imagination to work. Plus, at the Cathedral, this is the time (as of old) when people are confirmed or renew their baptismal vows. There are times tears come to my eyes during this ceremony.

Idée d’jour

Tung-kuo Tzu asked Chuang-tzu: "What is the Way? Where is it?"

"It is everywhere," replied Chuang-tzu.

Tung-kuo Tzu said, "It will not do unless you are more specific."

"It is in the ant," said Chuang-tzu.

— Taoist Mondo
Jesus said, "I am the Way." Which may also be translated, "the path." Another understanding of the word "Torah" is also The Way; we commonly translate "Torah" as "Law", in reference to the "Five Books of Moses".

The meaning may not be precisely the same, but I suspect this commonality points to a common understanding of spirituality. I suggest this story may also answer our question, "What is God" or "Where is God".

Prayer d’jour

Dear God, sometimes I can hear You, but I can't understand your words.
Please help me understand so I may do well.
Just think of me as an angel in training.
— written by a resident of Covenant House, a shelter for runaway teens.