Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Idée d’jour

In your heart, you already know.
— Zen Saying

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ideé d’jour

You can tell a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.
— Naguib Mahfouz

Friday, August 24, 2007

Cultural Friday Five

This week's theme comes courtesy of Sally. This week, it's another simple list, where we consider popular culture, and examples of media which have helped or challenged us in our spiritual journey.
  1. Book
    Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. The connection between Prometheus and the story of Jesus may seem obvious, but it was new to me when I read this book between junior and senior year of high school.
       It forced me to confront what I now consider a fundamental question — whether a given "myth" fits my life. Ultimately, with life experience, I recognized the death and resurrection story has resonance for my life. I also realised the reality of brokenness and the need for healing — sometimes called salvation.

  2. Piece of music
    Gorécki's "Symphony no. 3" - also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. For me, it defines the phrase "joyful sorrow"; it is simply heart-breaking.
       Prior to hearing that, the piece I would name would have been Pachelbel's famous canon. The future Dr. Omed introduced me to this piece of music, describing it as "the sound of salvation". Seems an apt description to me; he played a recording of a slide guitar version which I still count as definitive.

  3. Work of art
    Seeing Picasso's Guernica in person was a profound experience. I can't describe how it may have affected my spiritual journey. Simply enriching.

  4. Film
    Passion of the Christ. A wise person once said we can learn much from people we disagree with; it can help us clarify our position. This movie clarified my distaste for "sacrificial lamb" theology. It also clarified my distaste for what Entertainment Weekly calls "torture porn" - Passion is one example; Saw, and its immitators is another.

  5. Unusual engagement with popular culture
    Two examples come to mind: one is the movie Liar, Liar, with Jim Carey; the other is the Simpson's episode in which Bart sells his soul.
        I was surprised how each, in its way, extolled "traditional values" in ways we might not expect in popular media. Liar², for example, assumed the audience would agree lying was a bad thing. In the Simpson's episode, Bart is definitely dimished by the loss of his soul: he has no reflection, his dog doesn't recognize him, and so on.

    Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why?
    Yes. As my answers to 4 and 5 make clear, I like to consider what message might underlie different forms of popular media.
        Movies, and so on, are our popular myths. This is the language of the people; it may not exactly reflect the zeitgeist, but it gives us some clear clues.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Calvin or Hobbes?

Your Score: A Bit Of Both

You are 40% Calvin and 60% Hobbes

Calvin & Hobbes, like a scruffy yin and yang, are in perfect balance within you. Like Calvin, you're weird, a bit insecure, and can be a trouble-maker. But like Hobbes, you're down to earth and sensitive. It's a risk to say it here, after just a ten question test, but I'll bet you're smarter than most. Both Calvin and Hobbes are crafty, clever characters, and any one made from equal parts of each is a force to be reckoned with.

Link: The Calvin Or Hobbes Test written by gwendolynbooks on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test
Believe it or not, I was fairly honest in all my answers.

Idée d’jour

As naturally as the oak bears an acorn and the vine a gourd, man bears a poem, either spoken or done.
— Henry David Thoreau

Monday, August 20, 2007

Remember this house

You remember this house;
You were led here by a waxed string.
You remember these stones:
The path of retribution.

You were led here by a thin string.
You remember these windows:
Their silent dolor:
The windows of broken forgiveness.

You remember this red brick.
You measured it with your wet toes.
See the imprint here
Where your shadow dare not cross.

You have walked this path.
This path of retribution.
You count the cost
When you remember this house.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Five: Word Association

This week's theme comes from Reverend Mother, who writes: "This one is patterned off an old Friday Five written by Songbird, our Friday Five Creator Emerita: Below you will find five words. Tell us the first thing you think of on reading each one. Your response might be simply another word, or it might be a sentence, a poem or a story. [All five words come from readings assigned for this Sunday's lectionary]"
  1. vineyard
    The vineyard is a common image in both Jewish and Christian scripture. For most suburban Americans, it is about as meaningful as "sheep" and "shepherd", since it is not part of our daily experience.
       I have, however, seen a few vineyards in various stages of development. The first was one in Texas Hill Country; as I recall, Brother Dave took me there 2-3 years ago.
       Vineyards are a relatively recent development in Oklahoma. I have been to Grape Ranch, in Okemah, OK. They offer music at the same time as the Woody Guthrie Festival in July. I may go to the "Red Dirt Harvest Festival" to be held there over Labor Day weekend.
       One of the professors I work with has bought property a few miles east of Oklahoma City which he hopes to develop into a vineyard. He took me to visit the property early last fall; it's a very impressive rolling landscape.
       I no longer drink wine outside of communion, so I don't know whether these vineyards produce a decent product. I did sip a wine slushy last year – which I don't count as a fair test – and it was a little sweet for my taste. Just the fact it was offered as an option is likely offensive to true oenophiles.
       My superficial impression of vineyards are they are relatively inhospitable environments for the average human. The terrain is open and shade-free. Good wine grapes love the heat; that's why areas of Oklahoma and Texas have been good prospects for vineyards. The vines are tangled and have (to my eye) a somewhat threatening aspect.

  2. root
    This word, by intricate association, links with "radical". The word "radical", I have been told, is related to radish – whose fruit is the root. Thus, the denotation of radical is "fundamental" or "basic". Granted, the general connotation is "an extremist with whom I disagree".
       I have the impression that most people, when they talk about getting to the root of the problem, imagine there is a single cause of that problem. Furthermore, they believe that once this cause has been identified and addressed, the problem will be resolved.
       I suppose this might sometimes be the case, though I don't care to hazard a guess as to how often that might be. In botany, a root may not be singular as we commonly think of it; many plants, like most trees, have a root system. They may begin from a single seed, but some root systems are quite complex and can extend for yards.
        I suspect this application of the metaphor is more accurate than the "single cause" image. A problem may have a "triggering event", but repurcussions spread like a complex root system. Discerning the "triggering event" may be helpful, even necessary, but it will not resolve the ancillary repurcussions.

  3. rescue
    Immediate association – the Rolling Stones song "Emotional Rescue". This counts as one of the best song titles for a song I don't like.
       The popular evangelical question "Are you saved" is often understood to mean "Have you been rescued". And some individuals within the evangelical community will understand this to mean rescue from the fiery pits of Hell.
       I don't suppose Jesus meant his life and witness, or our ministry as his disciples, to be a sort of fire insurance policy. The word commonly translated as "saved" is actually closer to the modern "salve"; Jesus is talking about healing, rather than rescue.
       I think one of the main healings Jesus offers is, ironically, a sort of rescue: rescue from a "me" centered universe. Any number of religious traditions offer escape from that stiffling universe, which suggests the illness is endemic to human nature.
       My reading of Jesus' Good News suggests that the quickest escape route from my constricted personal universe is to serve others. Even praying for another can open a door, so to speak. Better to help that person in some way. Perhaps best, where possible, to work with that person to help her/him-self.

  4. perseverance
    One of my college professors insisted on emphasizing the second syllable when saying this word: "per Sehv erance". This is possibly preferable to a mispronounciation I'm often guilty of: "PER sur veerance".
        Incidentally, that professor was talking about a mideval morality play, "The Castle of Perseverance". This play is similar to the better-known "Everyman": the main character faces a series of life-challenges and temptations en route to the Castle.

  5. divided
    A house divided against itself, quoth the Emanicpator, can not long stand.
        This is as true on the micro level as it is on the macro level. That is, it is possible to experience conflict between what one proclaims on Sunday and how one lives the rest of the week. I've talked about this before in terms of integrity or congruence.
        If one's actions reflect the faith one proclaims, that person is living a congruent life. I would count him or her as a person of integrity; which is to say that her or his actions are integrated with, or reflect, what they proclaim.
        On the other hand if one proclaims love and forgiveness on Sunday, but holds grudges the rest of the week or works to harm another, it might said that person's life and profession are incongruent. That person is divided against him/her-self.
        I'll admit there are people who seem able to live this way for extended periods of time. These people seem unaware of the dissonance between their actions and their Sunday prayers. I would guess these people are lying to themselves at some level, or don't perceive particular instances as really counting.
       But I suspect that if a person is painstaking honest about whether her or his actions are congruent with their professions, they will be incapable of maintaining that tension for long. Either they will dismiss the profession (as is often the case), or they will strive to bring their actions into congruence with their words.
In the vineyard
where the fruit is pressed
where the sun ascends
where a figure bends
let us begin:

The fruit has taken root
its seed unfolds
it drinks the sun
while a figure bends
the growth begins

The sun will rescue this growth
will ignite the tang,
the tanis, the swirling aroma
while a figure kneels
the leaves begin

With perseverance
the vine ascends
the fruit descends
and a figure gathers
the harvest begins

Good fruit from bad is divided
the good is pressed
The juice explodes
soon a figure sits
and the feast begins

Idée d’jour

Zen has been used for healing people's sicknesses, but it has also been used by the samurai for chopping off people's heads!
— Alan Watts

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Yazidi “Practice Mythology”?

I listen to NPR every morning and evening, while commuting to and from work. In reporting on the recent massacre in northeastern Iraq, the Yazidis were described as "practicing mythology".

How does one "practice mythology"? Fairly or not, the word "mythology" has a negative connotation, so its use here seems a judgment of the Yazidis. It is, at best, inexact; at worst, it is a form of editorial comment.

A quick search of Google News led me to an article in the International Herald Tribune which stated that the Yazidis practice "an ancient Persian religion". Zoroastrianism seems a likely candidate; the Wikipedia article on the Yazidis mentions a few other possibilities*.

It immediately occurs to me that people like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins might say I "practice mythology" because I am a self-defined Christian. What is more, I practice a type of Christianity which involves a great deal of ritualized activity - e.g., kneeling; this ritualized activity is shared by a number of "liturgical" churches, primarily Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal.

As a lay student of Joseph Campbell, I understand that "mythology" is not synonomous with "untruth". My reading of Campbell suggests that mythology is an attempt to express deep truths that cannot be expressed in any other way. These deep truths include questions of ultimate meaning, such as "Why am I here?" or "Why do bad things happen to good people?".

The religious tradition of the Yazidis may seem odd to us, at a distance. According to both NPR and the International Herald Tribune, their beliefs combine elements of "an ancient Persian religion" with Islam and Christianity. This may appear quaint or perverse.

This view ignores the history of Christianity, which has borrowed elements from any number of religious traditions, including the so-called "myths" of ancient Rome. Obvious examples include the celebration of Christmas and Easter, both of which occur near the time of holidays celebrating Roman gods or goddess.

Earlier I mentioned Zorastrianism, which pre-dates Christianity; this religious tradition included a figure named Mithra who died for the sake of humanity and rose again. Sound familiar?

Historically, Christianity has been as "syncretic" as the Yazadi tradition. It seems the worst sort of hubris to call their beliefs "myth" while claiming a special truth for our own.

*I'm aware a recent news story calls the reliability of Wikipedia articles into question; unfortunately, this is the best resource I have available at the moment.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Haiku d’jour

The firefly
 gives light
  to its pursuer.
— Oemaru

Monday, August 13, 2007

Idée d’jour

God builds his temple in the heart on the ruins of churches and religions.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Idée d’jour

Forget not that the earth likes to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
— Kahil Gibran

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Five: Stress

This week's questions are from Sally, and look at how one deals with the stress monster:
  1. First, and before we start busting stress, what causes you the most stress, is it big things or the small stuff?
    Most honest response - the small stuff. I tend to obsess over perceived slights and missed connections. Big stuff I seem to be able to release with a little more ease.

  2. Exercise or chocolate for stress busting ( or maybe something else)?
    Exercise is the healthy answer; chocolate is the more honest one. TV is even more likely than chocolate, though the caffinated option is my drug of choice during working hours.

  3. What is your favourite music to chill out to?
    The "Ambient" playlist on my iPod has several favorites: Edgar Meyer's "Appalachian" series; some John Fahey (notably America); Goreski's Third Symphony; a fair selection of "California Elevator Music" (Windham Hill & its imitators).

  4. Where do you go to chill?
    My recliner, which sits at an approximate 45° angle to the TV set. There is a nice park not far from my house which is an occasional destination. I keep meaning to take my camera for a walk through its gardens, but the 100° temperatures discourage this worthy outing.

  5. Extrovert or introvert, do you relax at a party, or do you prefer a solitary walk?
    A solitary walk. When I was striving to walk a couple of times a week, I used a local mall. Though I saw other people, I didn't need to interact. Like most of my ambulatory compatriots, I wore ear phones; listening to music or a podcast made this an ideal activity.
       I can enjoy a gathering of friends, but a party with a large proportion of strangers or casual acquaintances tends to be stressful. I find myself playing the part of an out-going person, which can be quite tiring.

Haiku d’jour

The shell of a cicada —
  it sang itself
   utterly away.

Definition d'jour

Pray, v. To ask the laws of the universe to be annulled on behalf of a
single petitioner confessedly unworthy.
— Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), [The Devil's Dictionary, 1906]

Friday, August 03, 2007

Quote of the Day

“Oh, George Bush, don't go by the bridge! You'll just make things worse!”
— Katie Fecke (age 4), responding to a news report that President Bush would visit the 35W Mississippi River Bridge site on Saturday.
Courtesy of the folks at Shakesville.

Friday Five: Post-Pilgrimage Edition

This week's theme courtesy of Reverend Mother, who recently returned from a pilgrimage to Iona, "the cradle of Scottish Christianity".
  1. Have you ever been on a pilgrimage?
    I believe the closest I've come to a pilgrimage similar to RM's visit to Iona was my visit to the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, CO. The actual shrine is at the top of a hill. There is a path to the shrine, with plaques for the Rosary along the way. So, I very intentionally prayed the Rosary as ascended the hill, stopping to briefly meditate at each plaque.
       Reverend Mother recently posted a poem which, as I read it, suggests that any point in life's path may be a pilgrimage. The difference between a hike up a hill and my ascension of that hill in Golden, CO is intention and focus.
       I talk about my annual pilgrimage to the Walnut Valley Festival. This is not a blatantly religious event. Excepting the first year, when I began each morning in prayer, I have not engaged in obviously religious activities while there. Yet, my journey is intentional: I carefully pack, I plan what music I will listen to enroute, and the week is focused on music and fellowship. Since music is a major aspect of my spirituality, this journey can, and often has, enriched my spiritual life.
       I just finished an article in the July 2007 issue of Shambhalla Sun which suggests the primary difference between normal thought and meditation is a matter of awareness. I suggest the same applies to the difference between a ordinary trip or vacation and pilgrimage.

  2. Share a place you've always wanted to visit on pilgrimage.
    Iona seems an excellent destination.

  3. What would you make sure to pack in your suitcase or backpack to make the pilgrimage more meaningful? Or does "stuff" just distract from the experience?
    "Stuff" has distracted from the experience. Again, I think intention and awareness plays a large part. I have taken my guitar on retreat at least twice: one time playing music was a part of my prayer; a few years later, playing music distracted, in a sense, from my prayer. Same guitar, possibly even the same songs; the only difference was me, my discipline and intentionality.
       A book I have taken on retreat is the St. Augustine's Book of Prayer. It's extremely Anglo-Catholic, but I like many of the prayers included, it's small (light-weight and easy to pack), and the copy I have originally belonged to Padre – so it has sentimental value.

  4. If you could make a pilgrimage with someone (living, dead or fictional) as your guide, who would it be?
    Ummm ... Virgil? Dante? William Blake? I did start a poem, years ago, in which I played guide to Dante.

  5. Eventually the pilgrim must return home, but can you suggest any strategies for keeping that deep "mountaintop" perspective in the midst of everyday life?
    Boy, the person who could develop successful strategies for that could make a mint!
       Thing is, we already know the way. Being fully awake to each moment is hard work, so most of us chose to be fully awake for relatively brief periods of time, for retreats or pilgrimages.
       Previous pilgrims, such as Brother Lawrence or Dorothy Day, suggested ways of finding the sacred in the ordinary, in quotidian activity.
       It is humanly possible. Thing is, we're easily distracted (oo, pretty!), and sometimes we're lazy.

Cat Friday

From the archives: the Lady when she was about six months old. Reverend Mommy recently posted some shots which suggested the framing technique used here.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Now is the time
this is the place
where her hand counts the cost

Now is the time
this is her hand
placed in her lap

This is the place
now is her hand
where her breath costs

Now her hand is a bird
this is the cage
placed in your heart

Placed among hollow walls
this is the moment
now, when you wonder

The time is shadows
beneath her eyes
her head on your shoulder

Her face is the place
now is the wonder
where the wound rests

She dresses the wound
in its tender place
where time meets time

This is her hand
now is her time
where you finally sleep

Placed in her lap
this is the tender place
Now is the time

Idée d’jour

You can't outhate a fundamentalist. They will always win.
— Yossi Klein Halevi