Saturday, August 31, 2013

Chicago Pictures

Saturday Video

Sing, Michael, sing-on the route of the nineteen bus
Hear them sayin'
How you get a rude and a reckless?
Don't you be so crude and a feckless
You been drinking brew for breakfast
Rudie can't fail

So we reply
I know that my life make you nervous
But I tell you that I can't live in service
Like the doctor who was born for a purpose
Rudie can't fail

I went to the market to realize my soul
'Cause what I need I just don't have
First they curse, then they press me till I hurt
We say Rudie can't fail

We hear them sayin'
Now first you must cure your temper
Then you find a job in the paper
You need someone for a savior
Oh, Rudie can't fail

We reply
Now we get a rude and a reckless
We been seen lookin' cool an' a speckless
We been drinking brew for breakfast
So Rudie can't fail

So where you want to go today?
Hey boss man!
You're looking pretty smart
In your chicken skin suit

You think you're pretty hot
In your pork pie hat
But...Rudie can't fail
Look out, look out...
Sky juice!...ten cents a bottle!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Rage of Caliban

What follows is an unedited draft of a new short story. I've been working on it for a few days. Recent discussions in the feminist blogsophere have encouraged me to take on a topic I've never explored before now.

After you left, I washed every item of clothing your body touched. This included the comforter, pillow cases, and the fitted sheet. You left behind a particularly persistent smell. I'm sure you felt there was something enticing about whatever body spray or perfume you'd earlier applied liberally to yourself. Your erogenous zones had been scented like a fruity artificial flavor of chewing gum.

I tried to ignore the slightly sickly aroma, but it made me want to retch. Skin-to-skin contact with the remains of you made me reflexively scratch a thousand imaginary mosquito bites. Was I contagious now? I feared, in all seriousness, that I had taken on a contagion. In the end, it was all psychosomatic, but for the moment it was real. Perception, as we know, is often the understudy for reality. When reality fails us, perception steps into the breach.

A knowledgeable and sympathetic therapist, sometime in the recent past, had pronounced what I was experiencing as a prolonged disgust response. This is why I felt dirty and needed to reassert control over my feelings and surroundings. Cleaning has always been a way for me to remove clutter from an untidy world. I derive extreme satisfaction and gratification at the conclusion of scrubbing and scouring. If only the same could be done for people, who do not eagerly assent to a hot rinse and the spin cycle.

For the next several days, I knew I would not be a sexual being. Instead, I would feel out of sorts and gross, as if the odor was my own, not someone else's. It was my mistake, I see now, to feel that a few minutes with you might give me greater insight. You were a scientific experiment, one that went terribly wrong. This was my own immersion therapy, practiced on the cheap by a foolish novice. I wanted to shake loose the memories of a younger year, the ones my mind clung to tenaciously, the curtain I could not cast aside, no matter what I tried.

A fool and his money are soon parted. I counted out one hundred and eighty dollars and no cents in twenties upon your arrival. You teetered in on obscenely high heels. You barely had balance enough to stay upright without wobbling, much less walk in these stilettos. These were drag queen shoes, the exact kind I'd seen in the apartment of an acquaintance. They looked like they had been fashioned by hand from a block of wood and a lathe, like those Russian nesting dolls.

All desire left my body. You were not how I'd imagined. You were overly tanned to make up for the fact that you had seen much better days. Upon entering the bedroom, you drew several boundaries never to be crossed. No kissing on the mouth. No fellatio on your part for any reason. You dispensed well-meaning but entirely useless folk wisdom when I in passing, I noted my ailments. I could not reach a state of tumescence, but did not begrudge it. I'd wanted you out of my sacred space from the moment you arrived, but arrangements must be honored.

Over the phone, I had to tell you four times how to get here. I disguised my voice, making it sound deeper than normal. The meter was running from the moment you disrobed. A half-hour was somehow abbreviated to twenty minutes. You overcharged me and skimped on the time allotted, but I was too ashamed with myself and desperate for you to scram that I didn't contest your exorbitant rate. What I'd done was illegal under the law, but the cops had other, more pressing priorities.

Do you like me? I nodded my head in the affirmative. You kept asking me. I wasn't sure if you felt this would enhance the pleasure of moment or you genuinely wanted to hear words of praise. Both could have been true.

You're a good man. Very gentle.

I'd never done anything like this before, but I understood her craving to be accepted. At that moment, I wanted to confess everything, to throw it all out into the open. That was my only defense, though I used it with impunity. A line from a movie watched years ago ran through my head on a loop.

I thought you were unconscionably put out. Now I see that it's the rage of Caliban upon seeing his own reflection in the glass. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blame It on Cain

Once upon a time, I had a little money.
Government burglars took it long
before I could mail it to you.

Still, you are the only one.
Now I can't let it slip away.

So if the man with the ticker tape,
he tries to take it,
well this is what I'm gonna say.

Blame it on Cain.
Don't blame it on me.
Oh, oh, it's nobody's fault,
but we need somebody to burn.

Well if I was a saint with
a silver cup
and the money got low
we could always heat it up
or trade it in.

But then the radio to heaven
will be wired to your purse.

And then you can run down the wave band,
coast to coast, hand in hand.
Bad to worse, curse for curse,
don't be dissatisfied.
So you're not satisfied

I think I've lived a little too long
on the outskirts of town
I think I'm going insane
from talking to myself for so long.
Oh, but I've never been accused.

When they step on your face,
you wear that good look grin.
I gotta break out one weekend
if I do somebody in.

But every single time
I feel a little stronger,
they tell me it's a crime.
Well how much longer?

Blame it on Cain
Please don't blame it on me
It's nobody's fault
But it just seems to be his turn.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To Know Him Is to Love Him

This past week, members of the Ministry and Worship and Healing and Reconciliation committees met to discuss Eldering. As our guide, we used Margery Mears Barrabee's 2007 Pendle Hill pamphlet entitled Spirit-Led Eldering. Barrabee had once been a member of our Monthly Meeting, so many of the anonymous illustrations she used to articulate her points described people and situations we might know very well.

The discussion had been prompted by earlier efforts of my committee. Earlier this year, I sought support and guidance from other Friends to Elder and experienced very mixed results. Members of Ministry and Worship differed considerable in their understanding and definition of the practice. We conceded, by the end of the experiment, that many Friends saw Eldering in punitive, harsh terms, more like an admonition or scold. These persistently negative views got in the way of even the best of intentions.

This topic was deemed important enough to reach out to the clerk of the entire Meeting. He gladly offered his services and kept us more or less on the same page for two hours. Our written text turned the concept of Eldering upside down. Instead of being a matter for a particular committee, the pamphlet encouraged every member and regular attender to be responsible for the practice. Though specific instances were noted, Barrabee deliberately left the matter open ended and somewhat imprecise.

When should an individual, committee, or group Elder, we asked? According to the author, there ought to be no established protocol or lines drawn in the sand, aside from listening intently to the guidance of God and the Spirit. We were encouraged to share our own stories of intense, powerful religious experiences and other similar instances where we felt the presence of the Divine. I have been fortunate to know God and to convene with him, which I recognize may not be the experience of those who sat in the same room I did. For Friends who seek him, I truly wish that they would keep knocking, because, as we know, the door will be opened to those who persist.

What follows are definitions of the forms that Eldering can take. I took this from an outside source.

  • Being responsible
  • Being humble and profoundly acknowledging of others
  • Being curious about and interested in others
  • Accepting people and circumstances as they are
  • Being whole and complete and helping others to be the same
  • Being committed to possibilities
  • Creating empowering and trusting relationships with others
  • Coaching others to accomplish more than they think is possible
  • Creating results and being wary of self-deception
  • Listening generously
  • Thinking rigorously
  • Enrolling others in the future
  • Having committed conversations

  • By the conclusion of our discussion, we accepted that the definition of Eldering is much broader than any of us had ever imagined. I recognize the plight of Friends who have come from religious communities that resorted to shunning and disowning members who did not fit a narrow standard. Yet, we cannot pretend that our hands are entirely clean. Once upon a time, the Religious Society of Friends read out many members for not fitting a neatly defined protocol of what Friends were supposed to be.

    In Liberal Friends circles, particularly the pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction. As has been mentioned over and over again, we are afraid of confrontation, meaning we don't Elder at all. Eldering is necessary, both to people we know quite well and those who may still be strangers. A religion like ours, which is mystical and mysterious, requires that we place authority in the hands of a supreme being for final judgment. The God I believe in can make his presence known dramatically and undeniably, or can be frustratingly distant. And again, every day I seek, knowing that I will eventually find.

    I pray that others may have insight beyond themselves and their physical bodies. Any gathering of Friends must have some compass, some weighty grounding that keeps everyone on the same page. Whether we are careful to let the Spirit led us in vocal ministry or in any other pursuits, we need a tool for discernment that takes us away from the mortal and flawed.

    If we make God, not humanity, our standard, Eldering need not be seen as a punishment. As we are all called to Elder, so we are all commanded to connect with a higher power. That is the only way it can and will ever work. I've seen other religious traditions collapse when the focus is placed upon good intentions devised by people. God is more powerful than we are and the only person, in my opinion, who knows what is best for us. I will try again to listen for a voice who is, in my experience, never still, nor small.

    Monday, August 26, 2013

    You're No Good

    If you'll pardon a brief moment of vulnerability. It has been said that the camera adds ten pounds, but this one seems to add thirty. I don't look this bad in person, really. Fortunately, what I'm selling here is my singing voice and my guitar playing, not my looks.

    Feeling better now that we're through
    Feeling better 'cause I'm over you
    I learned my lesson, it left a scar
    Now I see how you really are

    You're no good
    You're no good
    You're no good
    Baby you're no good

    I'm gonna say it again
    You're no good
    You're no good
    You're no good
    Baby you're no good

    I broke a heart that's gentle and true
    Well I broke a heart over someone like you
    I'll beg his forgiveness on bended knee
    I wouldn't blame him if he said to me

    You're no good
    You're no good
    You're no good
    Baby you're no good

    I'm gonna say it again
    You're no good
    You're no good
    You're no good
    Baby you're no good

    I'm telling you now baby and I'm going my way
    Forget about you baby 'cause I'm leaving to stay

    You're no good
    You're no good
    You're no good
    Baby you're no good

    I'm gonna say it again
    You're no good
    You're no good
    You're no good
    Baby you're no good

    Saturday, August 24, 2013

    Quote of the Week

    Candy Darling

    Candy says, "I've come to hate my body and all that it requires in this world."
    Candy says, "I'd like to know completely what others so discretely talk about."

    "What do you think I'd see If I could walk away from me?" - Lou Reed, 1968

    The One I Love

    This one goes out to the one I love
    This one goes out to the one I've left behind
    A simple prop to occupy my time
    This one goes out to the one I love

    Fire (she's comin' down on her own, now)
    Fire (she's comin' down on her own, now)

    This one goes out to the one I love
    This one goes out to the one I've left behind
    A simple prop to occupy my time
    This one goes out to the one I love

    Fire (she's comin' down on her own, now)
    Fire (she's comin' down on her own, now)

    This one goes out to the one I love
    This one goes out to the one I've left behind
    Another prop has occupied my time
    This one goes out to the one I love

    Fire (she's comin' down on her own, now)
    Fire (she's comin' down on her own, now)
    Fire (she's comin' down on her own, now)
    Fire (she's comin' down on her own, now)

    Friday, August 23, 2013

    Gender is an Approximation for Everyone

    We were probably long overdue for a national discussion about transgender and transsexuals. The Manning case and conviction have opened the door for the first in a series of subsequent dialogues. Much as has been the case with other marginalized groups, news stories and the media will now continue to bring this matter up on a consistent basis. As a country, we'll add this to our current culture war debates about same-sex marriage, racism, and gender inequality. Among activists and especially among those under 35, transgender literacy is extremely important. Many older Americans have yet to really begin to wrap their minds around the topic.

    My understanding of this matter began auspiciously enough. The religious group of which I was then a member held annual conferences for young adults. At that time in my life, I was barely out of my teens and had been reared in a conservative state. My parents were moderates, politically speaking, and had little to no identification or sympathy with the sort of hard Left activist culture to which I was now exposed. That is to say, I was entirely lost, much as if I'd been in a foreign country and did not speak the native language.  

    I had no clue about what any of the terminology meant, though it was intriguing enough. Even in my ignorance, I didn't feel threatened by the transwoman sitting next to me in workshops and activities. She was the gathering's token transperson and educated more by her presence than any bullet point handout in an anti-oppression workshop. I can admit now that I saw her in the beginning as a man in a dress, but I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut about first impressions.

    Back then, I had vague notions of what transgender really meant. Like many, my opinion was largely informed by The Kinks' song "Lola".
    I pushed her away. I walked to the door.
    I fell to the floor. I got down on my knees.
    I looked at her, and she at me.
    Well that's the way that I want it to stay.
    And I always want it to be that way for my Lola.

    Girls will be boys, and boys will be girls.
    It's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world,
    Except for Lola.

    Well I left home just a week before,
    And I've never ever kissed a woman before,
    But Lola smiled and took me by the hand,
    And said, "Little boy, gonna make you a man."
    Well I'm not the world's most masculine man,
    But I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man,
    And so is Lola.
    Granted, it's not the worst start towards greater comprehension a person can take, but the lyrics treat transsexuals as freaks of nature. Transgender for the sake of sensationalism and spectacle is a common phenomenon, one that current events might slowly be erasing. Getting everyone on the same page takes a while. Eliminating hurtful, pejorative terms like "tranny" is a particularly pressing concern.  

    And there's more. Some years ago, I was privy to the struggles of a former relationship partner who opted to transition from female to male. He meticulously, methodically documented every step along the way to a captive internet audience of several thousand people. Regularly posted YouTube videos showed the progression of testosterone and his blog shared feelings and impressions on a daily basis. I observed how essential transition was to him and how motivated he was to follow it through to the end. Prior to surgery and hormone therapy, he'd worked diligently to save up the money for the necessary procedures and expenses.

    At times, I wish I had been born female. It should be said that I most certainly don't romanticize the notion. I know the societal limitations historically placed upon women and recognize that I benefit from being born male. This could well be the envy of that queer men possess, an identity crisis of a sort. Is this why some of us imagine ourselves as drag queens or as our favorite female celebrity? Everyone I talk to seems to have a different answer. Maybe it's not important to know completely, though I must admit that knowing I am not alone with these feelings has been comforting.

    With time, I came to the conclusion that the envy I felt was not substantial enough for me to want to undergo transition. I'm not unhappy being a man, but neither am I satisfied. The only term that truly fits me is genderqueer. As I apply it to myself, it means that I don't fit neatly into the male or the female box. If we were all entirely honest with each other, we'd know that gender is, at best, an approximation.

    Each of us has a masculine side and a feminine side. Whether either is a result of biology or socialization is difficult to sort out. Here is present a nebulous, grey area not yet fully understood. Much has been the case with other aspects of the LGBT spectrum, transgender awareness is proceeding at warp speed. When I first heard about transmen and transwomen, it was almost an academic curiosity, one found only among unapologetic liberals of a certain age range. Ten years later, I marvel at where we are today. I feel confident and optimistic about the future in a way I did not earlier in my life.

    Thursday, August 22, 2013

    Weeping Willow

    When morning breaks
    We hide our eyes and our love's aching
    Nothing's strange

    It was in our hands from 6 to 10
    It slipped right out again

    There'll be no better time
    There'll be no better way
    There'll be no better day to save me
    Save me
    Yeah, save me

    I hope you see like I see
    I hope you see what I see
    I hope you feel like I feel

    And the world don't stop
    There is no time for cracking up
    Believe me friend
    'Cause when freedom comes
    I'll be long gone
    You know it has to end

    There'll be no better time
    There'll be no better way
    There'll be no better day to save me
    Save me
    Yeah, save me
    Yeah, save me

    I hope you see what I see
    I hope you feel like I feel
    Someone to stand beside me
    Beside me
    Beside me
    Beside me
    Beside me

    Weeping willow
    The pills under my pillow
    Weeping willow
    Pills under my pillow
    Weeping willow
    The Gun under your pillow
    Weeping willow

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013

    Reacting without Judging

    This column was written by a Methodist pastor from Mobile, Alabama, the Rev. Brad Goode. I've edited his post somewhat from the original.

    It’s easy to act like a Christian; it’s hard to react like a Christian. These thoughts were running through my head last week. Someone asking for money interrupted my very important meeting at church.

    An unknown man barged, uninvited, through the door into a room of about ten of us. He told us that he needed some school clothing for his children. The man explained that he had mailed the uniforms he purchased to his children, but discovered later that they ended up being the wrong shade of blue. Because of that, the uniforms did not meet the school's dress code. He was frustrated and wanted to solve this problem with our help.

    My first thought was, “Seriously, can’t you see we are in a meeting!” Then I wanted to explain to him that we have a process for things like this and that he needs to come back in the morning and fill out the proper forms. But then all the people in the room began offering to help him out, ignoring the way we do things. They asked what his kids’ names were and where they went to school. Then they pulled out their wallets, ready to give freely to the need presented before them.

    I was a bit embarrassed by feeling jaded in situations like this one. On a daily basis, I encounter someone in need and have honestly gotten a bit desensitized to the whole thing. I have slipped to a place where I see things as I think they should be and not as they are. This is a dangerous place to tarry. It makes me think the only right way to live is the way I would.

    It makes me reflect on my response-ability. As a Christian, I do have a responsibility in these situations to show the love of Christ, but do I actually do this? Do I react like a Christian? Do I have, if you will, a good response-ability?

    As a parent, do I snap back at every little thing one of my two girls does wrong? Do I read every news story with heavy-handed judgment, forming an instant conclusion? Do I assume that anyone who does not do what I would have done in a situation is evil? There is a real danger when our view of God is a perfected version of ourselves. His love is beyond anything we could ever fathom.

    Some people will argue that there is no room for civil discourse in our country anymore on important issues. Maybe the root of this problem is found in our responsibility. What if, as Christians, we took a different posture in an effort to change this? What if we could grow in our responsibility to a place where we could seek the whole picture, rather than bits and pieces of it? What if we did not assume that we knew the perfect answer to everything? What if we really sought to understand others’ opinions as much as our own before we commented or cast judgment?

    One way to test your responsibility is to really reflect on the last time you changed your stance on a position. Some of us suffer from a condition called confirmation bias. It’s where we interpret every piece of information we receive to confirm our suspicions. Seeking to prove ourselves right 100 percent of the time is an exhausting way to live. We all need loftier goals in life than to simply be right all the time.

    I could make a pretty good case that I was right about that man elbowing his way in to my meeting uninvited. That being said, I can’t make a very good case against the people in that room who reacted like Christians and sought to understand his story. They embraced who he was and how they could love in that moment. I hope I can grow in my response-ability, and next time I am interrupted, I hope and pray that I can respond with questions and love without judgment.

    Tuesday, August 20, 2013

    The Makings of You

    Add a little sugar, honeysuckle
    And a great big expression of happiness
    Boy, you couldn't miss

    With a dozen roses
    Such will astound you
    The joy of children laughing around you
    These are the makings of you
    It is true, the makings of you

    The righteous way to go
    Little one would know
    Or believe if I told them so
    You're second to none

    The love of all mankind
    Should reflect some sign of these words
    I've tried to recite
    They're close but not quite

    Almost impossible to do
    Reciting the makings of you

    Monday, August 19, 2013

    How to Be a Male Ally

    The self-professed king of the male feminists has had his downfall, sparking a flurry of social media outrage. My initial reaction to his reprehensible behavior was that of equal parts disgust and anxiety. So few men call themselves feminist that I was genuinely afraid I might be lumped in with him. Often, I've taken an apologist's space, speaking in front of a skeptical, yet potentially sympathetic audience. It took me a while to learn the lingo and refine my beliefs, and I intend to continue to build upon those initial gains for the rest of my life. 

    These times do not always invite trust and belief, but I have a great admiration for those who leave the possibility for both open. Polarization is the buzzword for the current day, from Congress to the workplace; I often wonder whether this is perception or reality. There have been other periods in history full of strife, mistrust, and spleen for an enemy or adversary. Today we are aboard a ship headed for the New World, with only minimal understanding of how to reach our intended destination.
    Relatively few men have been involved in feminist discourse. Some recoil from the threat of real or imagined emasculation, as though their very manhood is on the chopping block. This comes across as hostility, but it is mostly based in fear. Others have never had any prior reason to entertain what they see only as womens' issues and feel no compelling reason to start now. They've never been taught to think otherwise.

    I won't pretend that I will ever understand all of it. None of us pick our parents, our upbringing, our social class, our racial identity, our sexual orientation, and our biological gender. We are, to some extent, locked into a particular mindset from birth. All of our thoughts and feelings are filtered first through that kaleidoscope, though we can learn to look outside ourselves for the sake of compassion and mercy. Additionally, we are highly indebted to a generational mindset that will frame our thoughts for the whole of our lives. This makes it difficult for us to push aside judgment for the sake of greater comprehension, especially when that quantam leap cannot be easily understood.

    Feminism has sought to encourage intersections between broad concepts like race and poverty, religion and class conflict. If I were speaking of a religious matter, I'd say that the current state of affairs is part of continuing revelation. Ideas and philosophies change dramatically over time. Someone sees a need for change and casts aside a prior way of thinking. Forty years ago has everything and nothing in common with today.

    How does one become a male ally? The answer depends entirely on the person. Each of us starts somewhere. Listening is essential and with it a willingness to be constantly challenged for the sake of greater growth and personal development. Constructive criticism produces maturation of perspective and the humility necessary to continue to learn. We're all susceptible to hubris, especially when we think we no longer have a need to be taught. That is our challenge and the ideal we seek, although each of us will fall short of it from time to time. 

    Sunday, August 18, 2013

    Quote of the Week

    "I had such great teachers in high school who made me feel like I could do anything. Then to go to Yale, where these drama teachers made me feel like shit—if I have any advice for young people, it would be, "Don't listen to teachers who say, 'You're really not good enough.' " Just teach me. Don't tell me if you think I'm good enough or not. I didn't ask you. Teachers who do that should be fired."- Sigourney Weaver

    Saturday, August 17, 2013

    Saturday Video

    The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in '68,
    And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
    Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe

    You laugh, he says you think you're immune, go look at your eyes
    They're full of moon
    You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
    All those pretty lies, pretty lies

    When you gonna realise they're only pretty lies?
    Just pretty lies, just pretty lies

    He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer, and he pushed
    Three buttons and the thing began to whirr
    And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
    And she said "Drink up now it's gettin' on time to close."

    "Richard, you haven't really changed," I said
    It's just that now you're romanticizing some pain that's in your head
    You got tombs in your eyes, but the songs
    You punched are dreaming

    Listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
    When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
    Oh and love can be so sweet, so sweet

    Richard got married to a figure skater
    And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator
    And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
    And all the house lights left up bright

    I'm gonna blow this damn candle out
    I don't want nobody comin' over to my table
    I got nothing to talk to anybody about
    All good dreamers pass this way some day

    Hidin' behind bottles in dark cafes
    Dark cafes
    Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings
    And I fly away
    Only a phase, these dark cafe days

    Friday, August 16, 2013

    Discovering the Divine Mystery

    The following passage is from the August 2013 edition of The Sun. It is part of the "Readers Write" section, where readers submit their own personal stories. While I'm still on the mend, I'm not sure how frequently I'll be posting. The good news is that the meds are working and I am feeling better.

    My father engaged in a refined method of child abuse: he made many demands and rules, and if we broke those rules and did not admit our wrongdoing and beg forgiveness, the consequences were brutal. I lived in fear of him.

    I am speaking of my heavenly father, not my earthly one. I was constantly afraid of doing something wrong and displeasing God, and I was filled with shame over the thought that his "only begotten son" had to suffer and die to compensate for my horridness. I felt unworthy of his love.

    Maybe one reason I struggled so much with my relationship to God is because my earthly father was a kind, hardworking farmer who never went to church. He had a roaring laugh and loved to shock his kids by reciting off-color ditties. I never once doubted that this father loved me, because I experienced his love on a daily basis. Although I was told that my heavenly father loved me, I had also been told that he was a jealous God, and I had the Bible, his very word, as proof.

    As I entered my fifth decade, weary of living in fear, I grew brave enough to confront God directly. That's when I experienced the Divine Mystery for the first time. I realized that humanity had boxed in and humanized that which we cannot comprehend; that the real God cannot be the paternalistic deity I had worshiped.

    I had always been taught to love my neighbor as myself--a worthy goal. Yet, I hadn't been able to love myself while I'd lived in fear of a vengeful God. To treat my neighbor that way would have made a bully of me. If all neighbors treated each other like that, the world would be full of bullies.

    Oh, wait: it is.

    Wednesday, August 14, 2013

    Getting Through It

    The depression has eased up a little with time. I still feel it prominently, even as I write these words. It takes the form of a persistent ache in the center of my forehead. Along with physical pain, there is a more intense psychological impact that is prolonged and constant. Chronic illnesses will not leave you alone. For now, I've put my life on hold once again until the worst is over. If I had the energy or the means, I'm sure I would be either furious or in tears. Instead, I am impassive, hollow, a detached observer of my own condition.

    I can only focus on myself. Pain takes over and prevents me from seeing very far beyond it. Some people with bipolar disorder hallucinate when in an acute state. Fortunately, that has never been a symptom for me. To draw a distinction. I have a mood disorder, meaning I vacillate between joy and sorrow, contentment and distress. People with schizophrenia, by contrast, have thought disorders. They struggle with intrusive thoughts that they must constantly seek to negate and invalidate.

    High doses of antidepressants are activating and stimulating. They hype you up. One of the most common side effects is insomnia. As is true for many who have bipolar, I no longer have the ability to attain natural sleep on my own. Instead, I have to rely on strong medications to sedate me enough to get in a full night's rest. Last night, I had to take an increased dosage of a medication that at one tenth the strength would put the average person to sleep for hours within minutes.

    The lesson to be learned here is that I will need to take an antidepressant to supplement my other psych meds for a long time. The mistake I made was that I was seeking to prune down the vast number of prescription drugs I already take. When I got to twelve, I knew something had to change. Three months maximum is the length of time I can go without an antidepressant; I found this out the hard way.

    I've seen my mother struggle with similar ailments and felt powerless to come to her aid. Her suffering was mainly in silence, behind the closed door of her bedroom. She was ashamed to be seen by her children in that state and didn't want to cause us psychological scars. One always had to get the news from my father. I, however, have made a conscious decision that I would live my life openly as a person with mental illness.

    When this lifts, my life will resume. I will feel reborn and rejuvenated. For the moment, I am too much in the middle of it to have a clear perspective. One is never sure why these things occur, though asking questions is understandable. In seeking to have some answer, I sometimes wonder if God is punishing me for past misdeeds. This is unlikely. I believe in a loving God, but I wonder why any higher power would allow illness like this to exist for anyone, not just myself.

    I've mostly stopped looking for answers. Now I just have to get through it.

    Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    The Weight

    I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling 'bout half past dead
    I just need some place where I can lay my head
    Hey, mister, can you tell me, where a man might find a bed?
    He just grinned and shook my hand, "No" was all he said.

    Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
    Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me

    I picked up my bags, I went looking for a place to hide
    When I saw old Carmen and the Devil, walking side by side
    I said, "Hey, Carmen, c'mon, let's go downtown"
    She said, "I gotta go, but my friend can stick around"

    Go down, Miss Moses, ain't nothin' you can say
    It's just old Luke, and Luke's waiting on the judgment day
    Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Annalee
    He said, "Do me a favor, son, won't you stay and keep Annalee company"

    Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog
    Said, "I will fix your rag, if you'll take Jack, my dog"
    I said, "Wait a minute Chester, you know, I'm a peaceful man"
    He said, "That's okay, boy, won't you feed him when you can"

    Catch the cannonball, now to take me down the line
    My bag is sinking low, and I do believe it's time
    To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she's the only one
    Who sent me here, with her regards for everyone

    Monday, August 12, 2013

    Manic Depression

    How did I know that someday — at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere — the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn't descend again?- Sylvia Plath

    Eight days ago, the worst depression in years arrived. Perhaps I'd been a little too optimistic that I'd beat the odds and managed to side-step the real pain and discomfort for a while. I'd experienced brief periods of depression three or four times in the past five years, but nothing like this. Depression arrived, stealthily, and before I knew it, it had me under its control. 

    One of the most troublesome aspects of mental illness is how little psychiatrists truly understand about it. An analogy I've often heard compares psychiatry to alchemy. In other words, it's all about proportion. The medications prescribed often take weeks to work, and their effectiveness depends entirely upon the person taking them. A drug that works exceptionally well for one patient may be completely ineffective for another. I've known patients who discovered a successful cocktail within a few years and others who are still searching. 

    Trial and error is the rule of thumb. I've taken somewhere between twenty-five and thirty medications since this endless cycle began, when I was in high school. Bipolar disorder is successfully treated by very different classes of medication. Lithium is the gold standard of mood stabilizers, and the drug that most people unfamiliar with mental illness recognize, but can be entirely ineffective for some. Fortunately, it works well for me. Drugs used originally to treat seizures like Lamictal and Depakote are another option, but they haven't done much for me.  

    The proverbial silver lining does exist. I am on the right combination, finally, but I must be patient. Diagnosing my illness is more guesswork than it is hard science. The day these feelings lift and I feel normal again cannot be accurately predicted. It could be three days from now or three weeks. This is what keeps me frustrated. I don't know when the discomfort will leave me alone. Depression contains a component of both psychological hurt and physical pain. In tandem, I feel exhausted by the end of the day.   

    I've learned the hard way that I have to continue to take an antidepressant, possibly forever. The side effects are significant, particularly the sexual side effects. I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but suffice it to say that we're all inherently sexual beings. Having decreased urge and desire makes me feel hollow and sub-human. I enjoy my sexuality and for now, it doesn't exist. I pray every day that a new breakthrough will be discovered and more effective pills will eliminate many of the problems I'm dealing with this very minute.  

    One doesn't have to look hard to observe and experience the drawbacks of the medications currently available. In addition to treating my symptoms, they bring with them other problematic issues. I know that, because of the length of time I've taken prescription drugs, my body has been changed irrevocably for good and for bad. I've gotten addicted to antidepressants, and have realized recently that I might never be able to stop taking them. Every drug, even a legal, necessary drug, is poison to some extent. Side effects cannot be eliminated completely.

    Each day is an improvement upon the day before it. Psych meds do not work quickly. Psychiatrists give me approximations, not specifics. I hope to feel better by the end of the week, but full recovery may take a week longer than that. In the meantime, I keep myself busy the best way I can and try not to worry about missing out on my life. This is a time for rest.    

    Sunday, August 11, 2013

    Quote of the Week

    "He is only a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of the Conservative."- G.K. Chesterton

    Saturday, August 10, 2013

    Saturday Video

    I lit a thin green candle
    to make you jealous of me,
    But the room just filled up with mosquitoes,
    they heard that my body was free

    Then I took the dust of a long sleepless night
    and I put it in your little shoe
    And then I confess that I tortured the dress
    that you wore for the world to look through

    I showed my heart to the doctor.
    He said I'd just have to quit
    Then he wrote himself a prescription,
    your name was mentioned in it

    Then he locked himself in a library shelf
    with the details of our honeymoon
    And I hear from the nurse that he's gotten much worse
    and his practice is all in a ruin

    I heard of a saint who had loved you,
    I studied all night in his school
    He taught that the duty of lovers is to tarnish the golden rule

    And just when I was sure that his teachings were pure
    he drowned himself in the pool
    His body is gone but back here on the lawn
    his spirit continues to drool

    An Eskimo showed me a movie
    he'd recently taken of you
    The poor man could hardly stop shivering,
    his lips and his fingers were blue

    I suppose that he froze when the wind tore off your clothes
    And I guess he just never got warm,
    but you stand there so nice in your blizzard of ice
    Oh please let me come into the storm

    Thursday, August 08, 2013

    I'm So Tired

    I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink
    I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink
    I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink
    No, no, no.

    I'm so tired, I don't know what to do
    I'm so tired, my mind is set on you
    I wonder should I call you but I know what you would do

    You'd say I'm putting you on
    But it's no joke, it's doing me harm
    You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
    You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane

    You know I'd give you everything I've got
    For a little peace of mind.

    I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset
    Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette
    And curse Sir Walter Raleigh
    He was such a stupid get.

    You'd say I'm putting you on
    But it's no joke, it's doing me harm
    You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
    You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane

    You know I'd give you everything I've got
    For a little peace of mind.

    Give you everything I've got
    For a little peace of mind.

    I'd give you everything I've got
    For a little peace of mind.

    Wednesday, August 07, 2013

    Crimson Tide, Warts and All

    At long last, football season is only a few weeks away. When it begins, I will resume a tradition that stretches back to before I can even remember. Prior to my birth, my father purchased a particular t-shirt at a game. It was just the right size to fit an infant. The shirt read, "Hang on Bear, I'm coming!" I've seen the picture myself, taken on a grainy Polaroid, showing two young parents and child beaming at the camera.

    By "Bear", of course one means Paul "Bear" Bryant, the Alabama Crimson Tide's larger-than-life head coach. Sadly, I did not get a chance to play for him, as he died when I was two. But as I grew up over the years and seasons, football games became family events on Saturdays in the fall. Assuming we didn't have tickets to a game, my mother, father, and myself watched them together on television. 

    My mother's family didn't follow football. Her father, in keeping with the preferences of his generation, was a baseball fan. Though Alabama had a tradition of winning that hearkened back to the Twenties, baseball was the undisputed champion in the minds and hearts of Americans. Football steadily grew in popularity, and by the time I was born, it had dislodged baseball somewhat from the number one position the sport had held throughout most of the 20th Century. 

    My mother was a hippie, and abstained from sports for that reason. This was until she met her husband, my father, who was a voracious Tide fan. For his sake, she tried her hand at being a supporter, and found she liked it. Within a few seasons, she could talk strategy like a pro and analyze each play.    

    I was an emotional child, and the outcome of any game sent me spiraling in one of two directions. With a victory, I experienced great joy. With a loss, I burst into tears and could not be consoled. Though I have grown to be an adult, what I feel now following the conclusion of a game is a more restrained version of how I felt back then. Disappointment follows a tough loss, sticks around for a day or two, and then largely fades away. Wins are cherished, to be remembered for years, and immortalized for posterity.  

    On the days we got up early to make our way to the stadium, going to the games in person challenged me. Even at a very young age, I learned lessons about how to be a better, more tolerant person. Some of them I have taken to heart and others may need additional time to season. Once you start making summary judgments of people, it's a difficult habit to break.  

    I can be very judgmental, especially when making assumptions about people I deem aren't like me. Alabama, like many states, is divided between the more affluent cities  and the poorer rural areas. Tension between the two has always existed, based mostly on mutual misunderstanding. An Alabama football game is a microcosm of the entire state, if not the entire region. The affluent suburb I called home was safe and homogeneous, and I had never really spent much time around people from small towns.     

    To city dwellers, country folk are little more than backward rubes and rednecks. To rural residents, city slickers are snobs and holier-than-thou. Both of these are unfair characterizations, certainly, but they are perfect examples of opposing attitudes between social classes. I set high expectations for myself and for other people, and when people can't measure up, I can be dismissive. 

    My personal challenge to myself is this: if I can't accept people where they are, especially those who grew up in the same small state I did, how can I begin to accept anyone else on the face of the Earth? Forming identity starts early, and what took hold for me in childhood has had a long time to fester and festoon.    

    People often talk about the obscene amount of over-emphasis placed upon sports, as well as the money that changes hands. The college game is supposedly a contest between unpaid amateurs, but recent developments with last year's Heisman Trophy winner may have revealed otherwise. It will not stop there.

    I can't disagree that we as a society pay dearly to be entertained. But I try to keep in mind the mechanic or factory worker who works hard at a monotonous job. He or she (as women are often devoted fans themselves) toils away Monday through Friday, but lives for the games. Alabama may always be a poor state, but its football team wins consistently, providing a sense of pride and accomplishment. If the success of a team improves a person's self-image, far be it for me to discourage it. 

    In theory, sports is the great leveler, but this is only a superficial characterization. The inhabitants of an entire stadium might momentarily feel closer and less inhibited to each other over the course of three hours, united in more-or-less common sympathy. But take a closer look. Observe where people are sitting and what sort of people are seated there. The seats with the best view of the game cost much more than those in the end zone. For a short time, social class and place of origin might be less important, but the minute the crowd heads for the turnstiles, class distinctions resume.    

    Several of my friends from where I grew up boycotted sports altogether. In part, they were reacting to how pervasive and all-encompassing the games were in the grand scheme of things. Some protested to the royal treatment players are given, so long as they could perform on game day. Here is one of my favorite sayings of Gertrude Stein. "Money is always there, but the pockets change." With every passing year, it seems like college football grows out of proportion a little more. More pockets and more changing of the pockets.
    And even though I cannot fault anyone for opting out, I still have my Saturdays afternoons and evenings in Autumn. I'm in the minority now, having moved miles and miles away, but I periodically encounter other fans in the city on my way to and from somewhere else. We are grateful for the familiar. Even the most satisfied person gets a little homesick now and then. As long as we stick to sports, and not politics, I have the satisfaction of knowing that we're on the same team.    

    Tuesday, August 06, 2013

    Time to Go

    Thanks to everyone for everything you've done but now
    It's time to go

    You know it's hard
    We've had some fun
    But now the moment's come
    It's time to go

    Who could ask for more?
    Who could ask for more?

    Thanks to everyone for everything you've done but now
    It's time to go
    You know it's hard
    We've had some fun
    But now the moment's come
    It's time to go

    Who could ask for more?

    Monday, August 05, 2013

    Religions and the Ex-Believers Who Believe in Them

    The mother of a friend of mine is a recovered Catholic. Actually, that's not true. One couldn't even honestly call her a recovering Catholic. Both terms would imply that some form of greater healing and reconciliation had taken place. Instead, the wound remains, on plain display in person or posted on a religiously updated Facebook page. She keeps hyper-vigilant watch over every significant act of the latest Pope. She delights when a Cardinal or a church official speaks with intolerance, proving once again that she was right to leave the church.

    This person of whom I speak has such lingering animosity towards the church of Rome that she has even gone to the trouble to have her baptism and confirmation revoked. That takes some commitment and patience, especially when one recognizes that the church has its own plodding, methodical bureaucracy. She has become an Ex-Catholic, but keeps the same sort of zeal as an ardent believer. Her lasting hurt and feelings of betrayal have, with time, grown to a severe hatred. I am careful to use the term "hatred" lightly, but in this situation it could not be more appropriate.

    The problem is that she is, even years later, far too emotionally invested with the Catholic Church. Her behavior mimics that of a bad breakup or a divorce, complete with smoldering, residual bitterness. I wonder if she realizes the power that the church still has over her if she is led to delight in every misstep or controversial remark. Of course, I'll never have this conversation with her, meaning that my analysis is somewhat limited, but I've seen enough to question whether twenty years' worth of holding a grudge is healthy.

    In an 1957 sermon, preached when he was still minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the silent and not-so-silent toil hatred takes upon us.

    There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things.
    You can’t see straight when you hate. You can’t walk straight when you hate. You can’t stand upright. Your vision is distorted. There is nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is filled with hate. He comes to the point that he becomes a pathological case. For the person who hates, you can stand up and see a person and that person can be beautiful, and you will call them ugly.
    For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does. You can’t see right. The symbol of objectivity is lost. Hate destroys the very structure of the personality of the hater.

    I could well call myself an Ex-Unitarian, but I won't. Even when I left, that was a label I had no interest in pinning to me. The time I left that church roughly coincided with the time I developed an audience as a blogger. I wrote my online goodbyes in the form of an essay, and then started the process of getting over it. The first couple of years were the worst, mostly because I myself was emotionally invested and attempting not to be. These feelings eventually faded into the background and now, I don't think of them nearly as much as I once did. I'm happier now where I am.

    Earlier last week, I had a slightly tense e-mail conversation with a Friend who defined herself as an Ex-Quaker. I was taken a little aback by this, not sure how to respond. My instant assumption was that her separation and mine had taken similar paths. I stopped attending Sunday worship service, no longer participated in the young adult programming, and canceled my subscription to both the church newsletter and the denominational monthly magazine. I wanted a clean break and I received it.

    Hers was a different path altogether. She wanted to keep company with other Quakers, even if she no longer wore the Quaker label. She'd always been agnostic and, according to her, she no longer wanted to feel guilty about it. She'd sought to believe for a great long while, without success. And yet, even when feeling isolated and misunderstood she never cut ties completely. One might say she was still emotionally invested and unwilling to sever herself from a network of people.

    People want to believe and to belong, although sometimes it has to be on their own terms alone. Quakerism tends to attract skeptics or at least those less inclined to disguise their authentic religious preferences and beliefs. Here it is difficult to know where theology begins and a person's inner religious life ends. Some people might be quite happy to take part in a proscribed existence where the search for individual truth is less elongated. Churchgoing people of every flavor have always had doubts.

    I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where the Bible Belt is alive and well. The Baptist and Conservative Presbyterian kids I went to school with were obsessed with the notion of Salvation by Works. They had to be perfect and flawless on the outside. The inside work went on as well, but because these kids were trying diligently to look the part, they had little time left over for anything else. I feel sorry for them now and sympathize with their plight. I was not always so gracious.

    We are sensitive creatures looking for community and validation by others. Memory is a component of the bond we form with other human beings. I'm sure every Ex-Catholic or Ex-Quaker or Ex-Unitarian holds within them the memory of good times. If what any person experienced was completely negative and damaging, then returning to the epicenter of pain would be a task fit only for a masochist. Blessed are the disappointed and the disillusioned, for they will find peace.

    Sunday, August 04, 2013

    Quote of the Week

    "But after looking at these things and admitting these things, we must face the fact that an individual might dislike us because of something that we’ve done deep down in the past, some personality attribute that we possess, something that we’ve done deep down in the past and we’ve forgotten about it; but it was that something that aroused the hate response within the individual. That is why I say, begin with yourself. There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual."- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Saturday, August 03, 2013

    Loving Your Enemies

    This is an excerpt from a longer sermon, preached by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957.


    So I want to turn your attention to this subject: "Loving Your Enemies." It’s so basic to me because it is a part of my basic philosophical and theological orientation—the whole idea of love, the whole philosophy of love. In the fifth chapter of the gospel as recorded by Saint Matthew, we read these very arresting words flowing from the lips of our Lord and Master: "Ye have heard that it has been said, ‘Thou shall love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven."

    Certainly these are great words, words lifted to cosmic proportions. And over the centuries, many persons have argued that this is an extremely difficult command. Many would go so far as to say that it just isn’t possible to move out into the actual practice of this glorious command. They would go on to say that this is just additional proof that Jesus was an impractical idealist who never quite came down to earth. 

    So the arguments abound. But far from being an impractical idealist, Jesus has become the practical realist. The words of this text glitter in our eyes with a new urgency. Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.

    Now let me hasten to say that Jesus was very serious when he gave this command; he wasn’t playing. He realized that it’s hard to love your enemies. He realized that it’s difficult to love those persons who seek to defeat you, those persons who say evil things about you. He realized that it was painfully hard, pressingly hard. But he wasn’t playing. And we cannot dismiss this passage as just another example of Oriental hyperbole, just a sort of exaggeration to get over the point. 

    Now first let us deal with this question, which is the practical question: How do you go about loving your enemies? I think the first thing is this: In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self. And I’m sure that seems strange to you, that I start out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning with a look at self. It seems to me that that is the first and foremost way to come to an adequate discovery to the how of this situation.

    Now, I’m aware of the fact that some people will not like you, not because of something you have done to them, but they just won’t like you. I’m quite aware of that. Some people aren’t going to like the way you walk; some people aren’t going to like the way you talk. Some people aren’t going to like you because you can do your job better than they can do theirs. 

    Some people aren’t going to like you because other people like you, and because you’re popular, and because you’re well-liked, they aren’t going to like you. Some people aren’t going to like you because your hair is a little shorter than theirs or your hair is a little longer than theirs. 

    Some people aren’t going to like you because your skin is a little brighter than theirs; and others aren’t going to like you because your skin is a little darker than theirs. So that some people aren’t going to like you. They’re going to dislike you, not because of something that you’ve done to them, but because of various jealous reactions and other reactions that are so prevalent in human nature.

    That is why I say, begin with yourself. There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual.

    And this is what Jesus means when he said: "How is it that you can see the mote in your brother’s eye and not see the beam in your own eye?" Or to put it in Moffatt’s translation: "How is it that you see the splinter in your brother’s eye and fail to see the plank in your own eye?" And this is one of the tragedies of human nature. So we begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us whether in collective life or individual life by looking at ourselves.

    A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and everytime you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points.

    I’ve said to you on many occasions that each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves. And there is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolting against the North of our soul. And there is this continual struggle within the very structure of every individual life.

    That within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. 

    And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls "the image of God," you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.

    Now for the few moments left, let us move from the practical how to the theoretical why. It’s not only necessary to know how to go about loving your enemies, but also to go down into the question of why we should love our enemies. I think the first reason that we should love our enemies, and I think this was at the very center of Jesus’ thinking, is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. [tapping on pulpit] It just never ends. 

    Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.

    There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You can’t see straight when you hate. You can’t walk straight when you hate. You can’t stand upright. Your vision is distorted. 

    There is nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is filled with hate. He comes to the point that he becomes a pathological case. For the person who hates, you can stand up and see a person and that person can be beautiful, and you will call them ugly. For the person who hates, the beautiful becomes ugly and the ugly becomes beautiful. 

    For the person who hates, the good becomes bad and the bad becomes good. For the person who hates, the true becomes false and the false becomes true. That’s what hate does. You can’t see right. The symbol of objectivity is lost.

    Saturday Video

    Visiting is pretty
    Visiting is good
    Seems that all they ever wanted was a brother

    This can be a secret
    We can keep it good
    Even all the ever wanting had a problem

    This is a call to all my
    Past resignations
    This is a call to all

    Fingernails are pretty
    Fingernails are good
    Seems that all they ever wanted was a marking

    Them balloons are pretty big
    And say they should
    Ever fall to ground
    Call the magic marker

    This is a call to all my
    Past resignations
    This is a call to all
    This is a call to all my
    Past resignations
    It's been too long

    Minocin is pretty
    Minocin is good
    Even all the cysts and mollusks tend to barter

    Ritalin is easy
    Ritalin is good
    Even all the ones
    Who watered down the daughter

    This is a call to all my
    Past resignations
    This is a call to all
    This is a call to all my
    Past resignations
    It's been too long

    Fingernails are pretty
    Fingernails are good
    Seems that all they ever wanted was a marking

    Them balloons are pretty big
    And say they should
    Ever fall to ground
    Call the magic marker

    This is a call to all my
    Past resignations
    This is a call to all
    This is a call to all my
    Past resignations
    It's been too long

    Friday, August 02, 2013

    Wear It as Long as Thou Canst

    One of the ironies of my life is that I began it as a warrior and have now ended up a pacifist Quaker. My last name, Camp, originally designated a soldier. Genealogical research has informed me that my ancestors were originally ruthless Vikings who, somewhere around 900 A.D., took a liking to France. Having conquered and plundered the land, they settled there for a time, but not forever. Vikings never stayed anywhere for very long.

    With typically restless spirit, these hardy souls became known as Norman French. In 1066, they took part in the first and to date only successful invasion of the island of England. Historians refer to the ultimate result as the Battle of Hastings. My ancestors changed the course of history, added a few persistent French words to the English language, then anchored down for several centuries in southeast England. As the New World opened up, the possibility of new lands and new experiences led several families with the surname Camp to take part once again in lengthy, interminable sea voyages.  

    Now to my own life. As a child, the brutality, power dynamics, pecking order, and violence of the playground were accepted as inevitable. I might not have been burning villages or asserting superiority, but I was fighting for my reputation. The system itself was built on dominance and submission, rivalry and challenge. Everyone knew his role. Older boys ruled. Younger boys tried to stay out of the way. Often they took their fears and aggression out upon the boys beneath them.

    Not wanting to be thought of as effeminate I showed, at least superficially, the physical toughness required for survival. I did not shrink from hand-to-hand combat, as I'd been granted a healthy competitive streak. I accepted the bruises and the cuts. When someone else turned an ankle or broke a bone, I counted my blessings. Those who protested the system by running to sympathetic parents or teachers were punished severely for their transgressions.

    I never questioned the hierarchy and the unwritten rules. Though the game was undeniably vicious, I never wanted to be on the sidelines. I was a good enough athlete to win the respect of other players and, like my forefathers, I was fearless in battle. The most detrimental practices are often those no one questions. They become consigned to the shadow of subtext, never a topic for discussion. My childhood frequently reminds me of the book Lord of the Flies, which I read in high school and understood perfectly.  

    A story often shared among Quakers addresses the nobleman and statesman William Penn. He is best known for his Holy Experiment, the colony of Pennsylvania. Before he received a massive land grant bearing his name, he struggled with his new-found faith. As befitting someone of his social rank, Penn was entitled to wear a sword. Now he had converted to a religion that swore to remove the occasion for all war. With a troubled conscience, Penn came to George Fox, the founder of the faith, for guidance.

    Fox’s response was matter-of-fact. "Wear it as long as thou canst.” He implied that Penn would eventually resolve the crisis raging within himself. Eventually, Penn did indeed cast aside his weapon and everything for which it stood. The approach taken was far different than how we would conduct it today.

    These days, we are more inclined to impatiently rush people to swear allegiance to one side or the other, one cause to another. This is particularly true for those we wish to dramatically influence, hoping that they might believe like we do. Everyone comes from a different starting point and possesses unique life experiences. The soft sell approach might be a better starting point than overplaying our hand.

    I wore my own sword until I found I could no longer do it. Eventually, I adopted pacifism in keeping with Jesus’ teachings, the ones which are collectively known as The Sermon on the Mount. I found that my own metaphorical sword was weighing me down. It was a burden I saw fit to lay down for years, but did not adopt it until I was good and ready. This is sometimes a difficult reality for activists to accept.  

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    It is easy to prepare false dilemmas for others. Us versus Them. Choose or Lose. We should take caution before our zeal steps in the way of personal choice. What we want to accomplish cannot always be reconciled by reading the right books or conforming to the right viewpoint. Our current do-nothing Congress is a case study in groupthink and gridlock. Nothing would make me happier than if someday soon a few courageous souls might lay down their sword. They have worn it long enough.  

    Thursday, August 01, 2013

    Steel and Glass

    There you stand
    With your LA tan
    And your New York walk
    And your New York talk

    Your mother left you
    When you were small
    But you're gonna wish
    You wasn't born at all
    Steel and glass
    Steel and glass

    Steel and glass
    Steel and glass

    Your phone don't ring
    No one answers your call
    How does it feel
    To be off the wall?

    Well your mouthpiece squawks
    As he spread your lies
    But you can't pull strings
    If your hands are tied

    Well your teeth are clean
    And your mind is capped
    You leave your smell
    Like an alley cat

    Steel and glass
    Steel and glass
    Steel and glass
    Steel and glass