Friday, December 28, 2007

Old Country, Where Art Thou?

I don't really know where to begin. It expands the sphere of sanity if we let it. And I worry (ever since Todd Greene put it this way in conversation) that the haste with which viewers and reviewers and organizations praise it might mean that we have yet to receive the wisdom of its vision. Are we thinking through the Why's and the How's of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell's wise posture? Do we sense the power and the glory of his unsuccess? Will we let the film bear witness to what's going on?
I have a lot of Buddhism, James Lawson, Radiohead, _The Road_, Bulb's _Digital_, deconstruction, and Mu Wing to blog about, but I also have a book to finish. The kids are a delight. Sarah's music is making its way into many a mailbox (and she's amped over all the orders). Biking to Vanderbilt, partaking of its library, and having excellent conversation with students and faculty is a whole lot of fun.My sister, Elizabeth, is blogging beautifully. And thanks to Luther Blissett's _Q_, I'm going nuts for the Anabaptists again.
I suppose this is me saying, "More to come..." before the year ends.
I hope everyone's Christman has been weird and spacious an redemptive and inspiring.

Stand by the jams,

Thursday, October 18, 2007

All Manner of Things Will Be Salvaged

“Resurrection is verified where rebellion against the demonic thrives."
William Stringfellow

I've been meaning to post something on Harmon Wray for a long time. He died in July, and the notes I took during the memorial service have been sitting around awaiting blog treatment ever since. An amazing, inspiring man I'd like to emulate. The lively, self-deprecating seriousness with which he took the teachings of Jesus (specifically in his friendships with and advocacy of individuals living within the prison system) was an inspiration (and maybe a bit of a scandal) to the people who knew him and knew of him. A deeply irreverent man, Harmon studied, practiced, and embodied a determined (and often amused) irreverence toward any notion, idea, or system which failed to practice appropriate reverence toward human beings. But he had a strong sense of APPROPRIATE reverence. You could feel it when you were around him.
Harmon's way of seeing things was narrated and celebrated during the memorial service in a creed my friend Ray Waddle once heard him intone: “I don’t believe God gives up on anyone, and neither should we.” Throughout the service, in story after story, Harmon’s friendship and hospitality to those considered beyond the pale (grounded in his faith in a God whose redeeming love is, unrelenting, indiscriminate, and without end) was recounted. Richard Goode, a history professor at Lipscomb (and another good friend), spoke of Harmon’s articulation of the possibilities of Restorative Justice and his work at the Riverbend Maximum Security Prison where, since 2003, he led a project whereby faculty, from Vanderbilt and elsewhere, conducted classes comprised of divinity school students and inmates. By Richard’s account, Harmon’s ministry with and to the inmates was a commitment to “the socially exiled and disinherited.” And as Richard shared what Harmon’s friends from Riverbend had to say about him, the shape of his life began to fit almost seamlessly within a vision of the eschaton that overturns many a reigning hierarchy, what Miroslav Volf has called, “the final social reconciliation." In view of and in faithful testimony concerning such visions, Harmon often observed aloud to the inmates that they were his church.
The week before Harmon’s death, Dean Shoemaker, a Riverbend inmate, told Richard that, upon arriving there, his cellmate had advised him to become acquainted with Harmon at the first available opportunity. While Shoemaker hadn’t been especially interested in furthering his education, he attended Harmon’s class anyway and ended up engaging him in a one-on-one conversation. As Harmon asked him questions, Shoemaker made mention of the fact that both of his parents had died and casually noted that, from here on out, there was no one left who loved him.
At this point in the story, Richard looked at the congregation and said, “We all know what Harmon said in response.” Without hesitation, Harmon said, “Well I love you.” And for the first time since he’d been incarcerated, Dean Shoemaker broke down in tears.
Richard remarked that exchanges like these, as everyone knew, characterize Harmon’s life, and, in the retelling, I believe the exchange was made to serve as a call to witnessing practice, to enact and facilitate such redeeming occasions, to remain alive to them even beyond the redeeming and witnessing occasion that was the service itself. As it was between Shoemaker and Wray, it could and must be for everyone assembled at the service. An opening has occurred, and, within it, the faithful will locate themselves. Or as Jurgen Moltmann puts it: "What was impossible before will then become possible. Energies will awaken which before were constricted. A future will be opened which was hitherto closed and inaccessible. Over against the reality of the visible world awaken the possibilities of change for that world, and its transformation into the kingdom of God."
In some sense, the service questioned, as Harmon often did, the audience’s sense of decorum. And it problematized the ways of revering (perhaps the false reverence) that characterize much ceremony. Harmon held everything up to a kind of redemptive (and redeeming) skepticism, and his seeming irreverence was, paradoxically, a deeper valuing of the human (all humans), a deeper sense of the tragic, than I’ve received from almost anyone I’ve ever known. He was even skeptical of his own sense of reverence (lest it mistake itself for practice). In light of his eschatology, he wouldn’t credit much. It all remained tentative. It made him a lot of fun to talk to (or a pain in the neck.
When Rev. Ken Carder returned to the podium, he spoke in a more self-consciously bemused fashion about the tension involved in taking seriously, as a witness, a person like Harmon. He spoke of the present world and the coming world and the fact that the world to come is forever impinging upon this one. Carder noted that we’ve all made compromises with this present world, and he said that, when it comes to the compromises he’s made with this world, nobody reminded him of them more than Harmon did. He noted the difficulties Harmon had in finding funding for his work in restorative justice and how his lack of certain credentials only added to the difficulties. And he emphasized that these issues were not Harmon’s fault, but merely further instances of the resistance Harmon met when he tried, as a faithful witness, to bring God’s world into this one. Carder’s words were met with deafening applause when he proclaimed that the world Harmon sought to represent will prevail. And the congregation was led in a prayer of thanksgiving for Harmon as a sign of the astonishing grace of God, followed by a prayer that God would disturb our despair even now that we might better follow, with renewed invigoration, Harmon’s example.
The service was not without an occasional sense of otherworldly consolation. There was talk of Harmon hearing, at the moment of the memorial, a voice saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” But in a fashion a-typical for many memorial services, even this was powerfully grounded in the hope of Harmon’s practice, a practice compelled by the notion of life lived before death on earth as it is in heaven. In keeping with the evangelical revolution he brought to his relationships, the service left its attendees with the sense that the world is more full of redemptive possibility than we have yet imagined.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

on their side

We're following this one in hope and prayer and (I want to say) a sense of solidarity. But as soon as the words are out I feel very much like a mere armchair theoretician of nonviolence. Color me moved and (to whatever extent I can manage it) mindful. And may we all be ennobled by their way, not unrelated to Jesus' way, of warring on terror.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Making Believe

The fine folks at Paste (Signs of Life or Just the Power to Charm?) put up my review of Emmylou's boxed set. I was very pleased with it (the collection and the opportunity to put the words down). Sorry to say I'm still having trouble with the linkage, but it's immediately down to your right a little bit (under the attractive Amazon portals). I call it "Making Believe."
Hope everybody out there's having a pleasant weekend.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

lyricism of protest

A wee bit overdue, Sarah plays the Greenbelt festival with Billy Bragg and Over the Rhine and drops three (count 'em three) EP's. I find them amazing and crucial (clearly) and anyone who wanders over to (or the myspace) can hear and (ahem) buy. Thanks to Tony and Todd (Sarah's Bulb partners alongside Randall) and Chris Leonard and Brad Ritter and Jon Foreman. And especial thanks to Beth Gilmore (the other Goose Girl guru). I penned a splanation on Goose Girl matters below. On a quick personal note, it's a thrill to bike over the 21st ave pedestrian bridge to Vanderbilt as if I have business there on a near-daily basis.

For Those About To Honk
Local artists Beth Gilmore and Sarah Masen Dark occupy the lively intersection where artistry, motherhood, and fairy tales collide. In an attempt at inspiration and crazy prevention, they regularly meet together (with five children between them) and share reading, music, images and various gleanings from their sporadic attempts at intelligence gathering. Noteworthy sparks flew when Beth appeared with a silk screen she cobbled together from a photographic image of a woman taken on the grounds of the Belmont mansion in the late 19th century. In a fit of inspiration, she'd given the woman a beak and raced to see Sarah with an account of the tale of the goose girl.
As the story goes, the goose girl starts out as a princess on her way to be married to the prince of another land. Her mother had arranged it all, sending her packed-up with a maidservant in tow, and the goose girl was expected to perform her duty without much thought. A great distance from her home, her maidservant suddenly threatens to murder her where she stands if she doesn't hand over her clothes (the clothes literally make the princess), and swear that she’ll never tell anyone she was once a princess. Ever unsure of herself, the princess complies and accepts the whole incident as fate.
As the years pass, she ends up under the employ of the prince (who’s now the king) as a keeper of geese. Her work partner, the goose boy, is moved by her beauty, and when she refuses his advances, he issues a complaint about her to the king. The king demands that she give an account of herself, and she insists that she’s sworn to secrecy. She also observes that he wouldn’t believe her story if she told it. At this, he orders her into the kitchen and tells her to tell it (her story) to the stove. She complies, and the king secretly listens on the other side of the wall. Moved and convinced, the king restores her, receives her, and all manner of things are gradually made well.
“Accidental zen training!” Sarah decrees upon hearing the story. And the two begin an ongoing conversation about the goose business women tend to go through. The unwillingness to resist or speak against the chambermaid’s violent ambition is compared to the sound of settling, and they consider the often unarticulated, but weighty expectation women live with and under that they have to make do; they have to make something out of nothing; they have to turn dung to gold. “Women’s work is alchemy,” Beth observes.
And with this line, Sarah thanks Beth for vouchsafing a title for a recent EP, a collection of songs that fit serendipitously within the goose girl theme. Hereby invigorated, Beth arrives a few days later with a title of her own: “Information Migration.” The goose girl is now made manifest, for a time, in the form of one’s and zeroes. A plan is hatched.
Needless to say, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Beth continued to honk away, and Sarah came up with more EP’s (“History of Lights and Shadows” and “Magic That Works”) with handcrafted covers which, like snowflakes, never repeat themselves. Beth will walk willing minds through goose girl culture and Sarah will perform her songs for all interested parties in the downstairs space of Downtown Presbterian Church this Saturday (August 11th) from 6 to 8pm. Appropriately, the gold spun by nashville’s goosegirls is free.
NOTE: If'n you missed the glories of August 11th. I think they're going to do the performance again in some creaky corner of September)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Us Kids Know

Over at Books & Culture they went ahead and put up my Arcade Fire piece. I think everybody'll like it. I'd put a link in this post if'n I knew how, but (for now) you can find it over in that there Broadside section.

Peace and Justice,

Friday, June 15, 2007


"My sense of the holy is bound up with the hope that some day my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law." Richard Rorty

Sunday, May 20, 2007

There's Art On My Pizza

Couple things...Sarah's been working away on Goose Girl stuff...Paint and wooden blocks everywhere...Sam picks up a piece of half-eaten pizza with some paint on it and cries out, "There's art on my pizza!" I just wanted to make a record of that somewhere. And the amazing person pictured to the right, Ursula K. Le Guin, opens her _Four Ways to Forgiveness_ with the best description of actually receiving a written text (call it apocalypse) I can recall. Read away, mes amis:
"On the planet O there has not been a war for five thousand years,” she read, "and on Gethen there has never been a war." She stopped reading, to rest her eyes and because she was trying to train herself to read slowly, not gobble words down in chunks the way Tikuli gulped his food. "There has never been a war:' in her mind the words stood clear and bright, surrounded by and sinking into an infinite, dark, soft incredulity. What would that world be, a world without war? It would be the real world. Peace was the true life, the life of working and learning and bringing up children to work and learn. War, which devoured work, learning, and children, was the denial of reality. But my people, she thought, know only how to deny. Born in the dark shadow of power misused, we set peace outside our world, a guiding and unattainable light. All we know to do is fight. Any peace one of us can make in our life is only a denial that the war is going on, a shadow of the shadow, a doubled unbelief.
So as the cloud-shadows swept over the marshes and the page of the book open on her lap, she sighed and closed her eyes. thinking, "I am a liar." Then she opened her eyes and read more about the other worlds, the far realities.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Woman's Work is Alchemy: daily life is what gives substance to transcendent ideas. Matter. Mater. Mother.

Sarah here. I have another moment and wanted to share what I have been reading lately. Thank you to all who posted replies to my last entry. I was especially moved by everyone's openness and receptive imaginations. I wanna be more likes youse.

Ladies, anything ring here? And fellas, handle with historically sensitive, kingdom-ish, imaginative, macho-less (all respect),"neither slave nor free...", care. love to all.

It’s impossible to give our children as much attention as they need, never mind half as much as they want, for the simple reason that there isn’t enough to go around, and every mother is in competition with her children for the available supply. No matter how much she tries to do each day, she’s aware of scanting something else, something vital and timebound that won’t wait for her to catch up. Her children will be grown up and gone from home before she finds the clarity of soul she wants to devote to them. Her house will crumble, or she’ll have moved out before she ever gets it in order. Or she’ll give herself to her house and children, and her poems will never be written. More likely, both. Each part of her is inadequately served, no matter how strenuously she neglects the other.

Joan Gould _Spinning Straw Into Gold_

Friday, May 04, 2007


Catching the Big Fish is David Lynch's book on Transcendental Meditation, creativity, staying sane, and many a snippet on being aware of what's going on in yor head. Quite a treasure for someone (like me) who thinks about Lynch all the time. So thankful for him. Here's Lynch on Eraserhead:

Eraserhead is my most spiritual movie. No one understands when I say that, but it is.

Eraserhead was growing in a certain way, and I didn't know what it meant. I was looking for a key to unlock what these sequences were saying. Of course, I understood some of it; but I didn't know the thing that just pulled it all together. And it was a struggle. So I got out my Bible and I started reading. And one day, I read a sentence. And I closed the Bible, because that was it. And then I saw the thing as a whole. And it fulfilled this vision for me, 100 percent.

I don't think I'll ever say what that sentence was.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Call It Acting

Here we have Divine Sarah (a.k.a. Sarah Bernhardt), and a little piece in the New York Review of Books has us very pleased with her. To the right is her Hamlet. Here she is on acting:
"I love, I adore my profession. I serve it constantly. I never stop acting. I've always acted—always and everywhere, in all sorts of places, at every instant—always, always. I am my own double. I act in restaurants when I ask for more bread. I act when I ask Julia Bartet's husband how his wife is feeling. Blessed work that fills me with drunken joy and peace, how much I owe to you!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Cosmic Plainspeak: A Bit of Back and Forth with Brian Mclaren

Well...Mclaren's one of my favorite people. He submitted to my e-mail questions many months ago, and I'd assumed it would find its way on Lowercase People, but no dice. Here tis. And thanks to Brian for being so incredibly cool. There's a link to his site over to your right:

DD: What's the last musical recording you purchased?

BM: I just purchased a collection of music from a variety of artists from Mali (in Africa) from Putumayo World Music. It's the happiest and most exciting music I've heard in a long time, even though I don't understand one word of lyric.

DD: Sarah and I have been beaming lately as our kids request repeated listens of Bruce Cockburn (you guessed it: "Wondering Where the Lions Are") as we drive around in our minivan. We understand you're pretty batty for Cockburn too. What keeps you going back to him?

BM: Ah, great question. It sounds daft to say "The lyrics and the music,"but that's about it. I guess I could also say "the politics and the mysticism" or "the honesty and the hope" or "the cynicism and the sincerity." I think two of the greatest songs ever written are Bob Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand" and Cockburn's "Rumors of Glory" ...along with "Fascist Architecture" and "Understanding Nothing" and ...I'd better stop there.

DD: How funny. We've made a tradition of listening to "Rumors of Glory" on the kids' drive to school each morning. I think I once read where Elvis Costello named Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand" as a favorite all-time single. Somehow, simultaneous sincerity and cynicism might name my favorite genre in any medium. Sounds awfullly biblical really. Devastatingly (and hopefully) reality-based. What film earns your highest recommendation and why?

BM: What film in all of history? Wow, that feels like a pretty scary question. In the last year, by far it's "Hotel Rwanda." To me, the film does what good art should do ... it humanizes, informs, moves, disturbs, and creates a longing for something holy. I'm a big fan of stupid movies too, the best of which (to me) is Weird Al Yankovic's "UHF." As for somewhat-oldies ... I'm a big fan of "The Color Purple" and "Mr. Holland's Opus."

DD: Play the sunset!! Any science fiction that's done anything for you?

BM: I often refer people to "Contact" to understand the modern-postmodern transition. It captures the issues beautifully. I actually like Science Fiction a lot ... I'm a fan of several of Orson Scott Card's books. But outside of the Star Trek movies, I'm drawing a blank on any science fiction movies that I've seen. Star Wars never really grabbed me for some reason.

DD: Where should I begin with Orson Scott Card? I've been meaning to give him a looksee for ages.

BM: Ender's Game is a quick read, along with Speaker for the Dead and Xenophobia. But he has a series called "Return to Earth" that's really pretty strange and powerful. And his "Alvin Maker" series is also good. A few things of his that I've read were crappy.

DD: What do you think of when you hear the phrase, "social justice"?

BM: I think of the prophets of the Old Testament telling us that God is sick of all our religious music and meetings, and that God wishes we would do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

DD: Where do you see this happening?

BM: Well, I'm on the board of Sojourners (, and I'm a fan of their work over the decades now. The Catholic Worker movement, the Consistent Life movement, and the New Monasticism movement are all wonderful examples of this prophetic voice. With Evangelicalism now filling the role of America's civil religion (replacing Mainline Protestantism in the 1970's), we really need these alternative visions of what the Christian faith is supposed to be, other than a) a civil religion, or b) an isolated subculture.

DD: Or a special interest group. It recently occured to me that the term "evangelist" ought to mean "multipartisan good news bringer" with an open door to dialogue over whether or not the news proffered by the supposed evangelist is actually good for most parties. I think of Sojourners as a powerful resource for dialogue and a "How To Get Embodied" check list for a demonstrably good news proclamation. So many ways of being pro-human. How do you differentiate between politics and religion?

BM: First, it depends on how you define politics. If you define it as the game between left and right, then they are so far apart I don't have to differentiate them any more than I have to differentiate blue whales from bluebirds. If you define it as how people get to seek to get along harmoniously and productively and wisely, then I'd say politics is an expression of religion. Second, it depends on how you define religion. If you define it as in-groups and out-groups arguing about God, then it seems to be a form of politics (defined as the game between left and right). If you define it as the search among human beings for our highest purpose and meaning, then I'd say it and politics are two wings on the bluebird or two fins on the blue whale.

DD: I remember reading somewhere that they're essentially two words, alternatively treasured and detested, for the same thing. And I found I couldn't quite disagree. I guess when someone says "I'm not political" or "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual," they're often just trying to communicate that they aren't prone to quibbling or being aggressively judgemental. "Spiritual" is the one that bugs me lately, because it often seems like a way of disembodying the devastatingly life-giving, earthbound social criticism of the biblical witness. Do you happen to have any useful uses for the word "spiritual?

BM: Well, I see your point, especially if the word plays into old dualisms like spirit versus body or spiritual versus secular. More sanguinely, I think many people use the word to refer to the parts of their lives that can't be reduced to biology, physics, economics, and cosmetics. But even there, if we create another inward versus outward dualism, we're missing the point - which is that the two interpenetrate, and that both inner and outer worlds are a mess and need healing for the same reasons.

DD: I'll take "spiritual" as the irreducible; that which transcends every mode of compartmentalization. I suppose I especially cringe when folks talk about how they're doing "spiritually" as if it's a separate category from how they're treating people, spending money, or consuming. I guess I also think of it as a marketing term that ends up messing with our ability to think coherently.

BM: Amen on that.

DD: How does George W. Bush's talk of God most differ from yours?

BM: We're both fallen human beings who are prone to pontificate about God in ways that put both of us in the need of much mercy. While I am less prone than our president to equate American national interests with God's will, I am surely wrong and misguided in my own ways too.

DD: Are there any career politicians whose work or voting record you find encouraging?

BM: I think of the retired Mark Hatfield of Oregon and his great legacy as a Republican who voted from a thoughtful life of faith. I'm sure there must be some more contemporary people ... but since I can't think of too many at the moment, maybe that says something. By and large, I have the most confidence in Catholic legislators who are well catechized in Catholic social teaching (not the ones who join Evangelicals as being one- or two-issue voters). I'm hoping more of them will speak out more vigorously in the coming years.

DD: Would you include Dennis Kucinich among them?

BM: I don't know anything about Kucinich's faith commitments, but it would make perfect sense to me to learn that his politics flows from Catholic social teaching. Perhaps we are nearing a day where intelligence and moral reflection are seen as a necessary asset for our political leaders ... not just "likability" or rhetorical ability or the ability to play the game.

DD: Yes indeed. These days, it's almost as if being a genuinely self-critical, person who's eager to discover how much he/she has yet to know would be perceived as a liability. Nobody feels like they can change their mind in public. What do you appreciate most about the work of Jacques Derrida?

BM: I believe his work, contrary to what many folk say, was at heart a moral endeavor, a sustained attempt to show that the "justice" of western colonialism was a fraud and deserved to be deconstructed that a higher justice could possibly show through. I know a lot of people think he was overly mischievous and troublesome in so doing, but as Kierkegaard said, it is not an easy thing to dislodge people who are held in the grip of a cherished illusion.

DD: That's my feeling too. I think it was in a Brueggemann footnote that I read Derrida saying "Justice isn't deconstructible." I found that very helpful in all kinds of ways. What would you recommend as a good start for someone wanting to know more about Derrida or deconstructionism.

BM: I'd recommend Jack Caputo's "Deconstruction in a Nutshell." His "Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida" is also very moving - but not an easy read, as is "God, the Gift, and Postmodernism." On a more popular level, Bruce Ellis Benson's "Graven Ideologies," and Carl Raschke's "The Next Reformation" are helpful. Jamie Smith has a book called "Who's Afraid of Postmodernism" or something close to that - and it is excellent (I just read the manuscript). I'd also recommend people check out a new website - The posting there by Mabiala Kenzo is utterly fantastic.

DD: If you could assign one book to high school Seniors across the country, what would it be?

BM: I think it would be "King Leopold's Ghost." Or maybe David Quammen's "The Song of the Dodo." Or maybe Annie LaMott's "Traveling Mercies," although this one would probably be removed by censors. Maybe I'd give them the Book of Genesis, the Book of Ruth, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and the Book of Luke in one bound volume.

DD: Have you read any JD Salinger?

BM: His "Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters" brought tears to my eyes on many occasions.

DD: With whom would you most like to be stuck in an elevator for two hours?

BM: Jane Goodall Or Desmond Tutu.

DD:What is it about Jane Goodall?

BM: Jane's biography for me epitomizes the postmodern turn, in the best sense of the word. First, you're a detached observer taking notes on chimpanzees in the jungle. Then you name them - you enter into a relationship with them. There goes "objectivity." Then you grow to love and respect them. Then, when one is brutally killed by poachers, you weep for them and dedicate the rest of your life to saving them, protecting them. Then you realize that you can't save chimpanzees without saving the rainforest. Then you realize you can't save the rainforest without changing the way people think and value and believe and live. At that point, you've become (in the best sense of the word) an evangelist, trying to save the world.

DD: That's rather beautifully put.

BM: I also love Jane Goodall because she sees science and faith as beautifully integrated. She sees the wonder and mystery of evolution as God's creation. A friend of mine went to hear her speak about chimpanzees and her work at Gombe, and my friend wept through the whole lecture. "The weird thing," she said, "was that I didn't know why I was weeping. And weirder still, I think everyone in the room felt almost the same way. We weren't sure why we were so moved, but we were." I think the Spirit that was "hovering over the waters" at the world's creation also hovers over places where creation is being honored, respected, loved, and saved.

DD: That’s a very good word. I can’t think of that hovering, brooding-over-the-waters image without think of the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. One particular piece of his, “Pied Beauty,” always makes me think of people who are intersexual (sometimes called "hermaphrodite") and their (I think) redemptively unsettling presence among the more definitively gendered among us. Taken alongside Flannery O’Connor’s “Temple of the Holy Ghost,” I’ve long fancied the possibility of a scene (something of a climax) in a film where a maligned, intersexual person stands up in a gathering (synagogue, church, PTA meeting) and recites Hopkins’ words:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

DD: I suppose it's that part, "Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)" that gets me. In your latest book, you feature an intersexual named Pat who enters the life of your protagonist, Pastor Dan, with words of encouragement, the cosmic plainspeak of poetry, and that disarmingly blessed presence. Could you comment a little on what you had in mind with the character of Pat?

BM: A friend of mine who is a committed gay Christian refers to himself as a unicorn. He believes, before God, that who he is is precious and rare and beautiful, but so many people just want to capture him and "kill" him. We do that, don't we? When something is different – hard to categorize, hard to figure out - we try to cut it to make it fit our boxes, even if doing so destroys the beauty that could have been there.
I think of a neighbor child with Down's syndrome. There is a beauty
in him that is irreplaceable, if we have eyes to see.
That's what I tried to convey with the character Pat. I made her/him
intersexual because I think that before we can successfully understand
or respond to homosexuality, which doubtless involves complex and
invisible matters of brain chemistry or genetics or both in many cases
... we should grapple with intersexuality, which involves obvious
physical features of the genitals.
I often think that we underestimate Jesus' life and teachings; we
focus so much on his death and resurrection. The fact that he touched
lepers, befriended tax collectors, defended adulteresses, and cared
for non-Jews ... tells us that the kingdom of God is about "the other"
being seen as "my neighbor."

DD: Much of your work, to my mind, wants to prioritize God's ongoing love for all of creation (including us human creatures) over whatever issues make us anxious, unlistening, and defensive; letting the world-without-end of God's unfathomable affection frame all our tentative, feverish hashing-outs of issues. I often suspect it's an inability, on our part, to believe that God's love for us is in no way prerequisite upon us believing the right things that keeps us incapable of having good conversations or hearing the testimony of someone whose experience (or anatomy) is a challenge to our thinking. It's as if we subconsciously believe God is made angry or anxious by our own confusion as we project upon God our own quandaries. Somewhere, you describe Pastor Dan (and, in a sense, all of us) as "a mix of fragmentary insight against a backdrop of ignorance." That is such a good word and such a relief. We're called to be human and faithful as we can be within our blessED finiteness and our ongoing, not-knowing-it-all-at-all worldviews. I wish more people had a phrase like yours in mind when they described themselves as "humble sinners." I wish more of us took more pleasure in saying, "I don't know." Any words on that dark, starry backdrop of ignorance? Does _Contact_ come to mind?

BM: -- Jamie Smith, a theologian at Calvin Seminary, wrote a tremendously
helpful (to me) book with IVP called "The Fall of Interpretation." He
explores what you (very aptly!) describe as "blessed finiteness." To
think that I as a creature get to have a unique, once in a
universe-time perspective on reality - including God - is quite
stunning. Being limited to a single perspective, in this way, isn't a
limitation; it's a gift. It means I need other people and have much
to gain from them, and I have something to offer them too. I don't
think it's stretching things too far to say that a tree growing on a
mountain in a corner of Guatemala also has a unique perspective, a
unique slice of experience, possible to it and no other created thing
that ever has been or will be in the universe. It enjoys (in whatever
way trees enjoy) a unique slant of sunlight, a unique climate, a
unique kind of soil, a unique set of companions or relationships
(birds, people, lizards, whatever). And the same could be said for
every member of God's amazing community. It takes my breath away as I
think about it.
It's great you mention Contact because a kind of secondary theme in
the film - after the theme of loneliness and our search for connection
and a place in the community of creation - is the theme of humility.
We finally discover other intelligent life, and we learn that we're
pretty low on the intelligence scale! Sir Isaac Newton's so-called
laws, it turns out, only describe a narrow slice of reality, and that
slice is bounded by mystery. How funny to look back and think that we
had found the keys to everything, when really we found the keys to a
very small closet in a very big mansion.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sifting through the madness for the Word, the Line, the Way

(sarah here) had a moment out. read this and wanted to share it. it makes me think of van gogh and trying to get at something utterly heartbroken in the hopes for something new. or something old come alive. or just anything come alive. anyhoo, here 'tis.
"A new language?"

"Yes. A language that will at last say what we have to say. For our words no longer correspond to the world. When things were whole, we felt confident that our words could express them. But little by little these things have broken apart, shattered, collapsed into chaos. And yet our words have remained the same. They have not adapted themselves to the new reality. Hence, every time we try to speak of what we see, we speak falsely, distorting the very thing we are trying to represent. It's made a mess of everything. But words, as you yourself understand, are capable of change. The problem is how to demonstrate this. That is why I now work with the simplest means possible –so simple that even a child can grasp what I am saying. Consider a word that refers to a thing – ‘umbrella’ for example. When I say the word 'umbrella,' you see the object in your mind. You see a kind of stick, with collapsible metal spokes on top that form an armature for a waterproof material which, when opened, will protect you from the rain. This last detail is important. Not only is an umbrella a thing, it is a thing that performs a function –in other words expresses the will of man. When you stop to think of it, every object is similar to the umbrella, in that it serves a function. A pencil is for writing, a shoe is for wearing, a car is for driving. Now, my question is this. What happens when a thing no longer perfoms its function? Is it still the thing, or has it become something else? When you rip the cloth off the umbrella, is the umbrella still an umbrella? You open the spokes, put them over your head, walk out into the rain, and you get drenched. Is it possible to go on calling this object an umbrella? In general, people do. At the very limit, they will say the umbrella is broken. To me this is a serious error, the source of all our troubles. Because it can no longer perform its function, the umbrella has ceased to be an umbrella. It might resemble an umbrella, it might once have been an umbrella, but now it has changed into something else. The word, however, has remained the same. Therefore, it can no longer express the thing. It is imprecise; it is false; it hides the thing it is supposed to reveal. And if we cannot even name a common, everyday object that we hold in our hands, how can we expect to speak of the things that truly concern us? Unless we can begin to embody the notion of change in the words we use, we will continue to be lost."

"And your work?"

"My work is very simple. I have come to New York because it is the most forlorn of places, the most abject. The brokenness is everywhere, the disarray is universal. You have only to open your eyes to see it. The broken people, the broken things, the broken thoughts. The whole city is a junk heap. It suits my purpose admirably. I find the streets an endless source of material, an inexhaustible storehouse of shattered things. Each day I go out with my bag and collect objects that seem worthy of investigation. My samples now number in the hundreds –from the chipped to the smashed, from the dented to the squashed, from the pulverized to the putrid." "What do you do with these things?"

"I give them names."

- Paul Auster. City of Glass

sending love and hope to all reading with a sci-fi "wah-wah-wah-wah" sound, wishing for the technology to make it travel for real. everyone's so so important.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I wrote a poem for Mark Masen as a Christmas
gift to accompany a couple of mix CDs. And
I feel happier with it with every read. I
read it aloud in Pittsburgh as part of my
"On Being Able To Say Everything" talk
(ever-in-progress), and enough people
expressed interest to drive me to go ahead and
paste the thing on here. Maybe it'll be
part of a larger collection in time. Maybe said
it before: I think I'm only beginning to see
how poetry functions (how it's long functioned
in my life anyway). And i imagine this poem to
be a bit of a progress report. I'm always
geeked to talk about it. It's a long 'un, and
I hope it'll be a benefit:

Collage Is Our Only Hope (That And Honesty)

I want to talk about this morning.
I mean to signify.
Signs Signals Significance
How to mean
Not to merely say we mean well
“I meant well”
“I didn’t mean…I never meant”
But to mean well…
To let other people tell us
What we meant.
THAT IS what it all meant
There is no personal, private meaning
We don’t define what we meant.
Other people do.
The near and dear.
There’s only other people after all.
“What does what I say and do
Mean to you,
Talk to me.
I’m listening.
You can tell me.
Hopes and fears
Of all our combined years
Are met in this possibility
Of actually sending and receiving.
Maintaining silence
Long enough to hear.
Hearing well
Giving well
Gift exchange
Meaning well is
Our meaning problem.
It’s mutual.

The work of learning how to mean.
To get it
To mean it
To lose our lives
To find them
Is called liturgy.
Beginning with confession
“We don’t even know how to mean well…
We have yet to get it.”
We’re summoned
By something other.
We’re here to learn
To cobble together meaning
To institute ceremonies
Out of thin air
As we’re here to learn
To endure
The meanings of love.
God’s love to which
We are
None of us
Especially accustomed.
Come custom.
Make us accustomed,
O Lord,
To your kingdom
With customs.
Redeem them.
Call this one Christmas.
How to let it mean?
Let us endure its meanings.

We have
A not-very-complicated arrangement of signs
To signify our seriousness
To indicate that we should be
Christened Christian
A tie
For instance
To spot the gentleman
And phrases and postures
Designed to communicate
Our distance from the stupid
The lazy irresponsible selfish shameful.
Stories too
To tell ourselves to ourselves.
To angrily make known that
We’re not angry.
Not mirrored in one another
As we inescapably are.
Inescapably human form divine
Every woman
Every man.
Never quite forever lost
We hope.

The good word brings us
Back to our senses.
The good word

The good line makes reality
Unmasks what isn’t real
As unintelligible
A problem.
Good lines articulate
Saying the devastatingly not-yet-said.
Devastating UNTIL said.
Cried out loud.
When said aloud
The words
Make us reckon with our own blindness
Our muted awareness
The good line speaks of what actually takes place…
The good line MAKES SENSE…
This is why we call it good,
Oh learners of goodness.

The good line is the lyric
And the lyric is not an escape from reality
The lyric is an attempt to engage it
To remember well.
To know better what we’re talking about.
To make known ourselves to ourselves.
To ring true to each other.

How hard it is
To see what’s in front of us
How hard it is
To even try to understand

Them’s got ears,
Hear the lyric.
See the noise.
Think about it
And understand it.
Our addiction
To not following
One another’s words well
To only hearing
What we’ve already decided
In our unhearing heads
Unremembering minds
Is tight
And intense
And hardwired.

But the lyric breaks through.
It’s the breakthrough
We’ve been waiting for.
It helps us come clean
As it says what we mean.
Saying it better than we could.
So we appropriate the appropriate word.
Cut and paste.
Love and steal.
Collage away as a way of
Meaning what we wanted to say.
Ringing as true as a million churches
A million ministries
When we write the pain down.
The lyric (now ours)
Let’s the air in.
Airing out our meaning problem.

What’s the use?
Why explain complaint?
Or articulate lament?
The facts we choose to sing
Crush less
When we give them
A moment of truth
A spark illuminating
These hieroglyphs
Otherwise meaningless.
Less sorrow less shame
For a moment.
Tragedy truthfully told,
Even acknowledged,
Affords an altered state
Of kinder imagining.
Facts suffer sea change
Made rich and strange.
No cellophane salvation
No shrink-wrapped explanation
Will make us new again.
But the lyrical differs.
Prophesying cosmic plainspeak
Not later
Life before death
Before rapture
But all toward hope in a day
Coming yonder
Still shining through
Already and not yet.

In light of all the light,
Let us have a meeting
Beyond advertising
And love talk.
We can have Christmas
And democracy that comes
From the feeling
That realistic
Isn’t all it’s cracking up to be.
It comes from a sorrowful feeling
That most of us are
Buying into false idols
Most of the time
That we’re barely escaping
With our lives.
Waiting on better days
While not bothering
With God’s image
In other people
In the meantime.
If we don’t try loving them now,
Why would we get all interested
All excited
And loving
Later on?
If we’re bored by one another now…
Why would we?

Heavy with thunder
All going down in your mind.
Memory recording and playing back
Fallible selections
All too human accounts of what went down
Yesterday and today and before.
The prophet
(the one who tells truthful or at least tries)
Hunts and gathers.
Gathering intelligence,
The lyric is gathered intelligence (collage).
The lyric is the broadcast
Of living research.
Strange ways coming to our made-up minds
Sending and receiving.
Submitted for our analysis
If we have time to hear it.
The tide pulling to oblivion
Ever Ill at ease
Only has time for its own voice
Listening to its own hollowness
Hollower hollower.
Quick to anger
Quick to speak
Quick to only listen to itself
Ticker tape feeding the mind.
Lethargic whatevers
No longer susceptible to mercy
Or gracious magnanimous imaginings.

But the lyric
Like the child
Like a face
Penetrates powerlessly.
Powerless enough
To change everything
To turn the world
A goodness by which we are known
Without ever quite returning the favor.
Too good to be known fully
More hope than our confidence can hold.
Our Conversion transformation
Waiting on our little wills
Our desires
Our force of habit.

The word made flesh
Announces that we weren’t
As it happens
Born for Hell.
No one is.
This hope
Isn’t property or boast.
It’s hope.
Hope has us.
Moves us.
Moving sun and other stars.
All gift
All grace
All along.
And forever
Calling “Come.”
Lifting us
To become what we’re called
To be
Merely be

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Gospel with Something to Offend Everyone smiling man is one Will Campbell (sometimes you're better off googling "Will D. Campbell"). And I suppose I have him in my mind as much or more than almost anyone else whenever I use a words like Church, gospel, or reconciliation. If my whole literary legacy was nothing more than popularizing him and spreading the good word of his existence, I think I will have done rather well. He's finally on Wikipedia. He's sitting (I'm guessing) in Mt. Juliet, TN right now. I feel better just thinking about him. His endorsement on the back of GATA was a high point of my life thus far. He is/was tight with MLK, Kris Kristofferson, Daniel Berrigan, Jimmy Carter, Waylon Jennings, Thomas Merton, AND Tom T. Hall. And I'm talking about him with whoever shows up at Borders on West End on Thursday night at 7:00 (reception following at Vanderbilt's Interfaith Council). I left a message on his phone to see if he'd be willing to be brought out for it (in which case, it'll be me asking him questions and him telling amazing stories), but I'm guessing that isn't going to happen. Anyway, come out if you're in the area. Either way, get busy with the google and do some intelligence gathering. That "Objectionable Subject Matter" link to the right is mostly about Will.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Children of Men

When I was but a child, I often emerged from the cinema waxing on about my just-seen, new favorite movie. My brother rightly made fun of me, and it was all completely cool. I think it's been maybe 10 years since I''ve pulled that kind of silliness, but as of Children of Men, I'm completely there again. It strikes me as the most morally thick film of recent memory. So rich. So resonating. So Kubrickish. My brother hasn't seen it, but my partner was on hand to make fun of me when I said something to the effect of, "This movie is a deal breaker. If James Dobson, for instance, can't say anything good about it, he needs to resign." And Sarah graciously pointed out that people who dig their heels in for a living (or 9to5 a brand image) aren't on duty all the time. Maybe Dobson doesn't even own a television, she said. Take it easy. Maybe the movie wouldn't register at all. Different generation. Have mercy. And she's right. But I will say that the film feels like one of those cultivating forces that hit me every so often. I want to be the target audience. I want to be associated with what the film's up to. It quieted me. It was like, "This is where the next conversation begins." Or something like that.
Anyway, somebody tell me what you made of it.