Moonbeam Dancing

Ghost light,
Empty stage, lonely spirits’
Darkened cage: silken steps,
Silken breaths, remainders of
A million deaths lingering to
Haunt the dusk. Shades converge to
Hawk and busk the living as they
Shuffle past: hurry home, the
Day won’t last.
Night will come, sight will
Dim, and phantom troubadours
Will sing again their
Ghastly, ghostly, lovely
Hymn to all that is and
All that’s been.

Definitions

Between the lines,
Meeting of minds. Reading
The signs, mixing the signals:
Copies of originals, never exact.

Society’s act, the playwright’s
Mistake with no second take, no
Chance to correct the
Misapprehension, to dull the
Contention that misleads
Intention. Beginnings of wars to
Audible snores; what more can a tree
Say of its roots?

To be (who are we?) set
Free from confusion. Fusion,
Not fission: the illusion of false
Definition put down, set aside. And
All
That is left
Is the ride. A path
Not on maps, in the
Mind; no lines to
Divide, no limiting
Pride behind which to hide
The truth of Inside.

How Much Do You Really Want To Know? (Redux)

Recently, I wrote a piece on that paragon of insincerity, the “How are you?” routine. I received a number of different responses, ranging from the “well said” to the “seek help” ends of the spectrum. I’ve even been told that, emotionally disturbed as I apparently am, it’s a good thing I don’t want kids, ’cause God knows what lunacy I might pass on to them if I did. Yes, it seems that my imbalance may well be contagious…

I fear, consequently, that some clarification is in order.

My purpose in writing the bit in question was not to elicit sympathy from the teeming masses. It was not a cry for attention. I was not out to be patted on the head and clucked at in a soothing manner. I am not in need of a tender rendition of “Soft Kitty,” or anything at all like that, anymore than anyone else. (Although, to those who did express encouragement or support, I extend many sincere thanks.)

Yes, I did use myself as an example, but that is simply because my own mind is the only one I can come anywhere close to actually knowing. The things I shared were the scary little tidbits I rarely allow out of their cages because there’s a very good chance that if I do, they will turn on me and swallow me whole. We all have them, and we all keep them hidden. Because, after all, who wants a visit from the white lab coats? Who wants to be that box in the far corner of the moving van that nobody touches, because it’s marked “Fragile” and looks like it’s two prods from falling apart?

My goal was not to highlight my own issues; it was to point out that this tendency toward “stuffing,” as they call it, is very much a part of the unspoken social contract by which we regulate our lives in community. It is strong in all of us, all the time. It fools us into thinking we’re healthy and strong, when, by very virtue of accepting the status quo of silence, we are rendered sickly and weak. We are less than we can be because we share less than all of our selves.

But it goes even further than that: Our deathly fear of interpersonal honesty often causes us to forget how to be honest even with ourselves. We don’t ask life’s important questions because we’re afraid to admit their legitimacy. We don’t shine our inner flashlights into that particular nook or cranny because that’s where the real shadows are, and they’re best left alone. Like children, we pull the covers up over our heads in the desperate hope that what we can’t see can’t hurt us. If we stay still, maybe the lions will go away.

The range of responses I’ve received since my original post shows that, out of practice as we are, not only do we often not know how to be honest, we also often have no clue how to deal with honesty when it comes our way. Suddenly, we’re missionaries stuck on Bourbon Street: we will snap our own necks trying to look anywhere but at the peepshow in progress. Which is an apt metaphor because, as it is understood, the act of revealing one’s true self–pain, problems, and all–is tantamount to removing one’s clothing in public. We become spectacle at best, public nuisance at worst. And there’s a good chance we’ll be taken into custody and tossed in a cage somewhere, if not for our own good, then at least so no one else has to deal with us anymore.

I come out of the Christian tradition which is, if anything, more coercive than society at large in the vow of silence it enforces among its adherents. Because, you see, things can’t be wrong without the entire foundation of the tradition collapsing around itself. Things can go wrong, mind you; but even then they cannot be wrong, since everything happens according to divine plan. That being the case, any acknowledgment of dismay is transmogrified into “whining” or “complaining” or, worse still, “questioning the will of God.” And how dare we do that?

In this scheme of things, honesty becomes not only difficult but downright suspect. Perhaps your faith is weak, Grasshopper. The Force is not strong in this one. Suddenly all interpersonal communication turns into a Twila Paris song (which, like much CCM material, seems on the surface deep and meaningful, but turns out on closer inspection to actually say little or nothing). And all of this is designed, not to provide a solution to the problem at hand, but to serve as a distraction from it.

In this sense, at least, Karl Marx was right: Religion is the opium of the people, and the supposed heart of a heartless world. We are, all of us, caught up in what is broadly termed “the human condition,” and religion (in this case, Christianity) is often set up as the only viable outlet, the only feasible response to a situation beyond our control. We can’t stop this craziness; surely there’s Someone out there who can. In seeing through the pretensions of religious thought, Marx also understood that we have another option. What is structural can be demolished and redesigned, rebuilt. It can be replaced. His genius lay not necessarily in his specific solution–socialism–but in his general point: the true solution to the human condition is a reimagining of community. We have, if nothing else, each other. It is not religion, but we, who are the true heart of a heartless world.

We all have baggage, a nice array of Samsonite we carry with us as we move from experience to experience, cradle to grave. Life is about what we do with those pieces of luggage: we can conceal them in our closets, locked and impenetrable, or we can open them, lay out the contents, and deal with the jumble. Life is about what we do with where we’ve come from. But in order to do this, we need to be free to air all that dirty laundry conventional wisdom encourages us to pretend we don’t have; we need to be free to strip our selves bare for all to see, to be the broken toys we all become, to one degree or another, as life plays with us through the years. We need the freedom to be weak, because in vulnerability we will find strength, if not in the eyes of others, at least in our own.

Weakness lies not in admitting the painful nature of life; weakness lies in pretending we are strong; weakness lies in not having the courage to face our pain head-on. Life is not just a flesh-wound. It is a gaping, bleeding, oozing GSW to the chest, and we need each other like an assault victim needs a paramedic. So, instead of hiding our struggles and whispering them at the sky, we need to take a look at our fellow travelers (I mean this not as a political label, but as a genetic one). We need to talk to one another, freely and openly, and listen to one another in the same way.

Perhaps this is pie in the sky, but it has to beat the idea that there actually is pie in the sky, and nowhere else…

Pascal’s Wager

Believing is not something you can decide to do as a matter of policy. At least, it is not something I can decide to do as an act of will. I can decide to go to church and I can decide to recite the Nicene Creed, and I can decide to swear on a stack of bibles that I believe every word inside them. But none of that can make me actually believe if I don’t. Pascal’s Wager could only ever be an argument for feigning belief in God. And the God that you claim to believe in had better not be of the omniscient kind or he’d see through the deception.

-Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (2006)

Book Review: The Celtic Way of Evangelism

The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West...AgainThe Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again by George G. Hunter III

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Hunter’s book is a perfect example of the disconnect between professional and amateur Celtic studies. In his defense, the author is up front about his lack of expertise in most things Celtic, but this is not an encouraging bit of honesty when it comes to the practical application of his book. Similar to saying “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV,” to a patient right before the anaesthesia kicks in.

The application of Bible scholar-style hermeneutics to material from hagiography to history is far from satisfying to one whose interest is primarily historical, and rather than reinforcing an interest in “Celtic Christianity,” tends to support the protestations of many scholars that no such entity ever really existed. In other words, it is a fabulous flight of fancy, and as a missiological text it contains a good deal of insight. But that is a far stretch from claiming for Hunter’s theories any but the most tenuous of connections with the Celtic past.

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There’s a difference…

There’s a difference in shouting “Oh my God!” upon being suddenly startled and asking God to help me when I need something (which I no longer do, as I see no point in talking to the ceiling). I also do not believe that there is such a thing as sacred manure, but I tend to call on that from time to time, as well…

In response to someone who insisted that atheists aren’t really atheists if they sometimes say God’s name. This is totally me, but I’m so darn proud of it I had to share…

Apostasy

Apostasy’s
An empty tree where nothing
Hangs but human chains. A race
Defined by all its crimes, fooled
By grace, a hollow taste of
Metal tears, the rust of
Years congealed in hope, a swinging
Rope. Soap in mouth, headed
South, planetary rout from (toward)
Who knows what. The end is near.
Or is it here?

Book Review: An African Millionaire

An African MillionaireAn African Millionaire by Grant Allen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply put, I love this book, and I look forward to reading Allen’s other works.

When I picked it up, I did not expect “African Millionaire” to be as deep and well-crafted as it turned out to be. It is not (no spoiler) at all what I expected, which was essentially a series of twelve “capers,” good guy against bad guy. Instead, I got a well-written, amusing bit of social commentary. Granted, it is not overt in its message, but Allen’s stories leave the reader with very little doubt as to whose side the author is taking.

While all commentaries state that Colonel Clay is the first “gentleman rogue” of literature, the true protagonist of the stories is Sir Charles, who presents an excellent type of the over-confident man of the world, whose self-styled shrewdness provides a perfect foil for his total lack of common sense. The genius of Allen’s style is that Vandrift is not at all an ironic character – the author takes him as seriously as he takes himself, and in so doing gives the reader a perfect view between the lines. This is underscored by the narrator, Wentworth, a character of unrivalled ambiguity and double vision. We know what he thinks of his brother-in-law at the same time that he does not.

Brilliantly written, and a must read (even if crime fiction is not your thing). Because, you see, that’s not really what it is…

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Book Review: Queer (In)Justice

Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United StatesQueer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The authors of Queer (In)Justice set out to prove two complementary theses. The first deals with the tendency of the “criminal legal system” to deal more harshly with LGBT citizens than with others, and to assume guilt or criminality on the basis of that orientation/identity. It is difficult, based on the evidence they produce, to disagree on this point.

The second thesis is equally compelling, although less thoroughly argued or defended: within the LGBT community at large, LGBT individuals who also belong to minorities are both more persecuted by the legal system and, largely, ignored by LGBT rights groups in favor of the more easily defensible white gay male. In fairness, this second point is harder to demonstrate due to the susceptibility of minority status in general to such discrimination, but even so, the authors choose somewhat weak targets: for example, increased violence toward LGBT Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11 may have little to do with their LGBT identities and much to do with their overarching religious or ethnic backgrounds. There may be a case here to be made, but a choice of less ambiguous examples would be warranted in order to make it.

In any case, whether or not the second hypothesis is warranted, the first in itself demands attention. The authors highlight specifically the weaknesses inherent in the dominant “hate crime” approach to dealing with anti-LGBT violence: giving enhanced punishment capability to law enforcement is pointless if it is law enforcement that ignores these crimes in the first place.

They conclude:

“The choice to pursue strategies that rely on increased policing and punishment to produce safety for queers requires a leap of faith that the system can and will be able to distinguish between the “good” or reputable gay, lesbian, or transgender victim and the “bad,” presumptively criminalized queers. Such faith is deeply misplaced” (p. 146).

Since the LGBT community cannot rely on legal institutions to provide for their security, the authors argue, it is necessary for the LGBT community to create innovative ways of protecting (and policing) itself. They point to action groups that are networking with local businesses to establish Safe Spaces and Safe Havens as unofficial refuges for victims of anti-LGBT violence, and developing HIV/AIDS education and support mechanisms within the American penitentiary system. The only way to get out of the box LGBT individuals have been placed in by the structural deficiencies of the criminal legal system, they argue, is to think outside of it.

Queer (In)Justice is a fascinating and extremely disturbing, yet totally indispensable read, and gives important insight into the plight of the LGBT community in the United States and the extent to which they continue to struggle for equality before the law. As the authors seek to illustrate, LGBT inequality goes far, far beyond the issue of marriage; in many ways, they argue, that is the least of their concerns.

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Dear Person…

Dear Person I Don’t Know Who Was Kind Enough To Write Today And Point Out The Error Of My Ways,

I am sure that to you this unwonted (and unwanted) interference in my daily life counts as “caring about me.” Allow me to put your mind at ease: There are plenty of folks “caring about me” as we speak. In fact, they’re doing their best to “care” me right out of existence.

I’m also sure that you will take this response as evidence that I am in need of this “care” you so generously have tossed my way. All I will say to this is that, in spite of the fact that once, long ago, I disagreed with you on Facebook (and we all know how very intellectually charged Facebook exchanges are), you really don’t know enough about me to make a decision as to my need or lack thereof in this regard. Perhaps if you had started by asking how I am, or what I believe/stand for, instead of just quoting inane biblical passages at me in passing, I might be more inclined to send a modicum of attention your way. As it stands…not so much.

I’m almost certain that, having thought of me, the lowly apostate, it came as a complete surprise to you that the first story to pop into your head was the one about the prodigal son. I mean, that’s how God works, right? You’re just sitting there thinking about someone, and a passage of scripture comes completely out of left field, leaving you wondering how the connection was made, unexpected as it was. Downright miraculous! Must have been divine intervention…

Finally, I expect that my response to your intrusion will confirm the justice (nay, the godliness) of your concern. You have struck a blow for the Truth, the Gospel, and the Christian way! Well, bully for you! If all those things boil down to bugging the unwary with condescending and unsolicited advice, you have indeed done it. You can rest easy: message received.

By the way, in case you’re interested, that message goes something like this: “As a Christian, living in a world full of evil, violence, poverty, and despair (often within a stone’s throw of my door), I can think of nothing better to do than reach out and bother someone I don’t even know about the ways I think he isn’t living a sufficiently moral life.”

Takes one to know one…

Sincerely, Me