Friday, October 29, 2021

My new book of poems

 Grateful that it's out and available on Amazon!

Friday, April 10, 2020

Some Reflections On Good Friday

Maybe around 7 years old, I had a set of beliefs that this syllogism sums up:

-Jesus died for my sins
-I'm responsible for my sins
-I'm responsible for Jesus having died

And because if there was one thing I knew about Jesus, it was that Jesus was everybody's favorite, I felt just unbelievably bad for what I did.  To everybody. 

Today, I don't really know how much I've evolved, but it's like there's a neural bypass I'm blessed with that goes "sin=missing the mark."  Seems like I've heard that as the original translation, and it helps me to see things differently.  Without all that caked on shame that I didn't know I had before. 

And today I've gotten to learn a little bit about the human brain.  It has something like 125 trillion synapses.  100 billion or so neurons have thousands of synaptic connections each.  It's just wonderfully, staggeringly unfathomable to me that I have that between my ears.  It's to me justifiably compared to galaxies of stars.

And the idea that I made the choice to miss the mark is like me being on one of those stars, and choosing to steer that galaxy, or all those galaxies, the wrong way.  Which seems, to me, insane.  If a whole cluster in the universe did somehow zoom off its course,  it was as part of an almost infinitely complex system of factors that was definitely not set up by any one or billion human beings. 

And I don't know if a historical Jesus literally was God incarnated in human form, literally taking on the sins of all while being crucified.  I'm not even clear on which grocery store I'm going to today.  Attempts to validate and verify that as literal miss what for me is the point.  The story has a spiritual truth that my faith connects me to sometimes, and that's a gift. 

Is it possible?  Absolutely, in my opinion.  A comedian I was watching one time was talking about this idea that there's no God, and saying "well, have you looked everywhere?"  Any one person has access to so little of the truths represented by this entire universe that I don't believe anyone can confidently rule out anything.  Even the galaxies between our ears don't hold more than a fraction of the information in the universe, do they? 

But knowing isn't the same as faith anyway, is it?  For me, there's an awareness about things that I see as faith, that extends to the material plane but isn't limited to it.  My synapses are not the last word; they simply (amazingly) tell it.  Joseph Campbell talked about how a  common theme among religions is that the material rests on the spiritual.  That's what I happen to believe, based on a strong awareness of it sometimes, as well as other experiences.

Christ is one of the characters in world religions who crossed from the spiritual into the material plane, while retaining the full awareness of the spiritual.  I have no idea how many of those characters are partly represented as sacrifically killed, or able to perform miracles.  But that interpenetration, or  interpolation, as if the spiritual has punched through the material (or come through a tear in its veil)--that seems like a common, cosmic theme. 

And while it seems absolutely understandable to take Jesus Christ's "I am the way" to mean that Christianity is the true religion and none others are, I don't hear that in those words.  Leaving aside how divine love could possibly be manifested as divisive, as fighting words, as condemnation of thousands of years of innocently followed faith paths, I go back again to that spark of awareness.  "Christ" names something in me that is my one way to the divine, to the spiritual plane and possibly a Creator present in it but not encompassed by it.  It's where the material and spiritual meet, and nearly are one, but stay separated by an almost infinitely small space, like the one crossed by a synapse.  What better symbol for that than a cross?

A dear friend told me a few years ago that Jesus's actual name was probably something like Yeshua Ben Yusef.  After that, I saw one of the pictures of what the historical Jesus, or Yeshua, might have looked like:  dark-complected, dark hair, dark beard, both trimmed fairly short but not neatly.  What I got out of those new views:  a sense of empathy.  This was someone who probably suffered like me.  Suddenly, that fact replaced the search for historical evidence or lack of it.  He didn't need to take the bad things I did in order for me to get right with God.  Both of us had missed the mark, and missing the mark suddenly became okay. 

There are stories in maybe multiple religions about divine beings taking on humble human forms, and interacting with people who either treat them well or don't.   Ovid wrote about that in the Metamorphosis.  There can seem to be a coldly practical social purpose for those stories:  if we treat other people well so we don't get it in the afterlife, everyone is more likely to get along.  But for me there's another, better message:  that the divine lives in the human all the time.  And there's an access to it at the point of humility, of vulnerability, of suffering, even of small hurts.  And that I believe to be heart. 

Heart, for me, is that spark of Christ in me.  It's the capacity for empathy that doesn't originate in the physical (nothing does), but has to and gets to travel through it, dance in it, play in it, surrender to its grit and finity in order to love.  It's why Jesus cries out "my God, why have You forsaken me," and suddenly I feel something.  It's what runs between me and Him, whether that event actually happened or not, and makes it a wonder of its own.  I've been there; I get it; I know the feeling; and I have this mysterious trust that everybody else does too.  It might or might not be true, but without that part of me, I don't believe I would ever try to love anyone, even me. 

Maybe there's no division between people, or between entities of any kind, on the spiritual plane.  Maybe the pain-driven leap of consciousness toward another suffering being jolts me toward that unity in this plane.  Different religions' metaphors for an afterlife seem to me to convey a sense of "it's like this life, but not, and definitely better" in different ways.  And that there's divinity, immediate, not separate, not hidden anymore.  Maybe my recognizing myself in the suffering of another, however many of the trillions of synapses carry out that act, points my awareness toward that shared being.  I don't know. 

But I believe that the power of the crucified Christ, Jesus, Yeshua Ben Yusef, and whatever other names might describe that being in that event, is in how I can feel for Him, empathize with Him, wish He wasn't going through it, then extend the same love to others, and then even to me.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Poem That Won't Leave You Alone, part 2!

What a gift getting to participate in this second part of a project that has taught me so much:

Link here

The idea seemed to come over a summer or more in 2015, and Jonathan Farmer's patient encouragement, the support of many others, and the contributions of more than a dozen so-talented contributors in addition to him, have enriched my life.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Rereading the Buddha's 5 Recollections

These 5 statements from the Upajjhatthana Sutta ("Subjects for Contemplation") have helped me for a little while now, in ways that I would not have expected:
"I am of the nature to age.”  That may seem like a depressing thing to remember at first, and like it’s already so widely known and condemned that there’s no reason to carry it further—why not focus on being youthful, on the immortal soul, or on other things like that?  But the value in realizing this can come from seeing what there is to appreciate about the older people around us, the elders in our lives—maybe they have a peace that we’d love to have, a loss of that drive to prove oneself that we’d also benefit from, and lots of stories to share, to be carried away by.  If I’m of that nature, maybe I can tap into it now—maybe I already do, and can appreciate that more.
 "I am of the nature to have ill health.”  This one, too, can seem like a pure downer at first—why not focus on having good health, or on a heaven or something else like that where all sickness might end?  Again, the benefit can come from looking at sick people, and how some of them come out of the sickness better than they went in.  How did they get built up through the experience, instead of torn down?  Did they use that as a chance to slow down?  Maybe even better, did they openly accept help, letting others care for them, giving others a chance to show love?  Did they breathe easier seeing that the world will turn without them?  Can’t that be done right now, if that nature is already here?
 "I am of the nature to die.”  There might be no better incentive, no greater reason, no more powerful thing to inspire appreciation of the moment, the day, the things that seem ordinary, the everyday that suddenly won’t be here forever.  Suddenly, it’s worth breaking routine, taking a look around, or appreciating that even the routine things are new in this moment.  And realizing that the physical form, not only of this body but of everything, can lead to the reflection that, wow, it’s all made of particles, mysterious forces, things that can’t be understood completely by us after thousands of years or more of wondering.  So, I am of the nature to inspire wonder.  Even sending a text can be wonderful, then.
 "I am of the nature to grow apart from what I love.”  This one might seem like the most painful, right off the bat.  But it doesn’t have to be.  It doesn’t have to mean growing cold toward a loved one; maybe it’s the opposite of that.  Couples or others in loving relationships who age together—don’t they come to see new things about each other?  Don’t they discard the old picture of the other and try to accept the living person in front of them?  Doesn’t that mean some growing apart, in order to grow toward this love, in this moment?  And can’t that be an adventure?  
"I own only my actions.”  How can this be?  Don’t I own things?  Yes, they’ll go away, but whose are they if they’re not mine?  Well, maybe they’re not really mine to begin with—maybe they’re passing through, like whatever I used to pay or trade for them, and whoever was on the other end of that.  Suddenly, I don’t have to sit and obsess about them and what might happen to them—I get to get out and do, take risks, help out, and see that those things really do matter.  It’s maybe easy to try and measure that by the other person’s response, and get attached to that outcome, but what if I accept that I do have an impact, and then watch what it is?  Can I see after a little while how it impacts, how my life touches, more than one other life?  Can I see or hear how it’s reached many other lives after a little while longer?  Can I imagine that it makes a mark in the universe—a beautiful one, because its owner is beautiful?  Yes.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Poem That Won't Leave You Alone

In 2015, I woke up one day with the blurry version or vision of a poetry project inspired at least partly by Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project, that might be focused on poems that won't leave our consciousness.  Steph Burt and John Gallaher helped steer me to Jonathan Farmer, at At Length, and it's grown since then, including wonderful contributors and a fantastic format.

Link to the project

Sunday, March 26, 2017

To Bay or To Be

Maybe 10 months ago, I first saw a video of this guy, Ben Crystal, and his dad, a linguist, pronouncing Shakespeare's English as they believe it would have been pronounced back then.  What Ben pointed out, I have found to be true, just as a listener--it's more fluid, moving quicker, than the theatrical Shakespeare we're maybe more used to hearing in staged and filmed versions of the plays.

It raises the question whether the staged Shakespeare dialect, like Dothraki and Tolkien's Elvish, is a kind of language existing in the cultural artifact, in the show, and not spoken in daily life by anyone.

Either way, his recitation of Hamlet's, well, "to bay or not to bay" soliloquy, looks especially striking contrasted with Laurence Olivier's.  No idea whether whoever directed Ben picked a water's-edge location to echo Laurence's performance, but it adds something, doesn't it?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trump's Miseducation

Trump University, for awhile, seemed like a hamhandedly sleazy attempt at getting people's money--one to laugh off, without a lot of thought about the people whose money actually got stolen.  It also seemed so like him--this childish grab at anything that connotes power, luxury or prestige.  Gold.  Steaks.  University.  A vision of the good life that I might have had at 5.  At 70, he was continuing to not just rush after it, but pursue it with an obsessiveness that meant others getting crushed.  And, okay, maybe people who believed that he was a skilled businessman might buy that his university would share what he knew, help them even in the midst of the silly rhetoric, and get out before they got hurt.  

Then, several dozen million people voted for him to become president--to hold possibly the most powerful position on earth.  And what I believed I could see, what I still believe I can see, as the sham of the man, the transparent cash grab that his life is, came to seem complicated.  A way for people to get reeled in that must be investigated, probably by a lot of people with a lot more knowledge and/or experience than I have.  Not, ha ha, educated at Trump University . . . though millions and millions of people appear to have been taken in by it.  In one way or another.  

What is this education?  And have I had it, myself, in different ways?  


At 8, in third grade, I went to school in a church--a private, Christian school, with not a lot of funding but a lot of conviction and a staff of teachers, was housed there.  We had a curriculum, but a lot of freedom, and I remember being able, at least for a while, to run in the woods across the giant-seeming parking lot from that dark brick building, and building a snow fort carefully designed by my brother when the winter hit just right.  And, for a little while, a lot of us got into designing our dream homes.  We had no limits, and we had markers and paper.  

Helicopter landing pads on roofs, gardens next to gardens, central buildings that led to hallways that led to wings and other wings--we taped notebook paper together to make them even better, more enormous, more ostentatious, anything and everything more.  And I can't remember a single thing that made mine unlike the others; I tried to do theirs, but better.  I was going to look richer than them, because I had that kind of a dream--yours, but better.  It might have lasted a week, or even less--until we had to go back to whatever school work we'd left.  But we left the project with our homes plotted out.  

And I had picked out the girl in class who'd be my girlfriend if she'd just wake up to that fact.  She was blond, and that qualified her.  Because I knew blond was what everyone wanted, what I should want if I was the kind of guy people wanted to be.  She had some traits I didn't really like--too excited about Christmas, too talkative, and too close to the window, a cold spot.  But I was willing to be her boyfriend, as long as I didn't have to ask her, and risk, not rejection, but public rejection--everyone in class either seeing her turn me down or hearing about it.  Because they would.  

From that year, I don't remember any subject matter--any actual schoolwork.  Along with the snowfort, I remember playing kind of an abstract game of chasing through the woods with two sisters who were not quite the golden blond of my intended girlfriend (or the principal's daughter, which she was--the right alliance, for sure).  And some of us collected honeysuckle blossoms in McDonald's clamshells, if that's what they're called.  And we played in other ways, and I read and read.  

But I also remember signing my name in cursive on a piece of paper--so big it took up the whole page, just my name, nothing attached to it.  A red-haired, older girl came into the classroom where I sat with it, and I showed it to her--my name.  Stylish.  Ready to be brandished, shown to everyone, used for some kind of pride.  Pride wasn't big in our part of the Christian faith, but I had stumbled onto a streak of it.  And maybe my mansion was part of the reason.  So what if it would never be real?  

His pick for Secretary of Education would have supported that school, probably, but wanted tax dollars to go to it.  She might have fought for me two years later, when I was crying to my mom for sending me to a public school, where I heard curse words maybe daily on the playground, where I had no common bond of religion or church membership, where my being a "gifted kid" started to get me set apart, put in different classes, encouraged to enter contests, and generally taken way out of a comfort zone I identified with a magical past.  Suddenly, the kid who decided to be my friend was African-American, and he told me "be cool."  And I couldn't, and never could be.  I needed, believed I needed someone to sweep me up into a school I could run myself, if need be.  And the tears came without my trying, not just to Mom, but at school, where I got sent to the guidance counsellor because I couldn't stop crying.  Not really knowing why, I offered some of the reasons I just shared.  But I really didn't know.  

Betsy DeVos might say "toughen up," but another message of hers, and of his, of the whole administration, of fascism and its corollaries, is that we have to go back to the great way it was, and our plan means removing whatever blocks us from that.  Schools, homes, religion, whatever were safer, warmer, more competitive, and most important, respected once upon a time, and that group of people ruined it.  Or they will, if we don't stop them.  Or they mostly have, but (and this is really the message, isn't it?) we can undo their dark, dirty work, with this plan.  That's how a colossal wall, one drawn across a whole border like a mansion on a sheet of notebook paper, can seem reasonable.  It blocks us from what is, and we're left with what was.  And it's the best.  It's Eden.  It's who we really are.  And we're not men, are we, if we won't step into that identity?  That's his message, because it's in maybe some primitive drive, but definitely in our history.  Mussolini more than Hitler.  


Reading about him seems too close to deification--about his life, I mean.  He might be an interesting part of history after impeachment, or if the even more out there possibility does blossom and this election is actually reversed because of electors changing votes or something else.  It also seems secondary--nobody voted in a man, did they?  It's an image, animated by their fears.  Isn't it?  

But I can easily imagine this:  he learned how to be educated before he went to school.  And he learned that appearance is everything, in the sense that one can become an image and let it permeate nearly to the level of spirit, so he could imagine his gene code reading "TRUMP," if he could imagine.  He learned that education endangers--really learning things attacks that mindset, that sense of self, that storyline in which the hero gets fame and pride not only for himself but for everyone he defends, and he learned, on a level below knowing, how to store fear so it catches the right kind of fire, eating at weak feelings and anything else that threatens that "man" in him, the one he must have seen in someone else.  

He learned that he was all alone.