“. . . It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking my turn caring for it. . . ” (James Tate)

This town is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery  and wonder.

This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder.

There’s no accounting for it, but one of my favorite poems of all time is James Tate’s “It Happens like This.”

I say there’s no accounting for it because I have no idea what it “means,” and it certainly is not the most “elevated diction” from which anyone ever composed a poem. The language—like all of Tate’s writing—is refined and graceful, but not Shakespeare.

It’s hard to imagine walking through town being followed by a goat. And any time a poem uses a phrase that I associate with the Bible—like “Prince of Peace”—I get nervous.

But something about the image of someone being followed by a goat (why not a pony, or a dog, or a raccoon—why a goat?) and that person having the presence of mind to understand that it’s the town’s goat, and that anyone who is patient will get their turn to care for it makes perfect sense to me.

I think I’ve had a few goats follow me through town. Anything I’ve been given to do that is worthwhile has happened pretty much like the town’s goat attaching itself to me to take my turn at caring for. The most worthwhile experiences of my life have been nothing that I planned. I simply accepted them and walked with them. Usually without having any idea why or how or who or when.

Right now I’m in the middle of caring for something that belongs to all of us and is precious to the town, both the small village and the big city of the world. I have a little job to do for a while—I don’t know how long. It’s just my turn. Be patient, and it will be yours. It has to do with caring about and caring for some young men who have been neglected. But it’s time for someone to look out for them, walk through town with them. Be patient. It’ll be your time soon.

While camel herding is a diminishing feature for the Palestinian Bedouin since they lack the financial ability to maintain them, each family has a herd of goats and sheep, essential to their survival for meat and dairy.

While camel herding is a diminishing feature for the Palestinian Bedouin since they lack the financial ability to maintain them, each family has a herd of goats and sheep, essential to their survival for meat and dairy.

Earlier today I was looking through some papers—insurance stuff, tax stuff, those sorts of things, the kinds of details of living in a first-world society that I find totally incomprehensible. I promised my tax man I’d keep track of the stuff so I can take it to him when we finish my taxes for two years ago. I came across a check made out to me, a rather nice amount of money, dated 6 months and 2 weeks ago. It was valid for 180 days.

It’s the check I was given for substituting as organist at one of my favorite churches. In October (it’s now April). That Sunday the choir sang the wonderful simple old-favorite anthem by Joseph Clokey, “Lay Not up for Yourself Treasures on Earth” (Matthew 6:19-21, King James Version). I guess I took the admonition literally. I certainly didn’t lay up for myself that treasure.

I don’t suppose it makes much sense that I was thinking about it being my turn to help out a few young guys and remembering the Tate poem and then thinking “Lay not up for yourself treasures on earth.”

Helping some young guys get through a really difficult time is like taking care of the town goat. (I’m not in any way comparing the guys to the goat.) And, although I don’t believe in heaven, I understand the concept of not laying up treasures on earth. (I’m not comparing my absentmindedness to not laying up treasures for myself in heaven.)

All of this goes together in my mind. I’m caring for something that is essential to the life of the town, and that caring is, in some metaphorical way I can’t figure out, the closest I will ever come to doing something not related to my wanting treasure on earth.

“Be patient. Your time is coming.”

“IT HAPPENS LIKE THIS,” By James Tate (b. 1943)

I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.

James Tate was born in Kansas City, MO, on December 8, 1943, .
___His first collection of poems, The Lost Pilot (1967), was selected by Dudley Fitts for the Yale Series of Younger Poets while Tate was still a student at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, making him one of the youngest poets to receive the honor.
___Tate published prolifically over the next two decades, including The Oblivion Ha-Ha (1970); Viper Jazz (1976);  and Selected Poems (1991), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award. Since then, he has published several collections of poems, most recently The Eternal Ones of the Dream: Selected Poems 1990 – 2010 (Ecco Press, 2012).

“Touching this goat will change your life,

“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said.

“. . . in our brokenness thrives life, thrives light, thrives the essence of our strength. . .” (Jimmy Santiago Baca)

The Supremes

The Supremes

So. This was the big day. The day a certain portion of society has been awaiting for thousands of years (hyperbole, vanity, or fact?). The showdown between Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. A moment of truth.

One more tempest in a teapot cooled.

In the year 2000, I predicted well in advance that Dick Cheney would somehow manage to steal the election for himself and George Bush. I had read the “Project for a New American Century.” Leading up to the election I emailed friends about it, and they all said, “Oh yadda, yadda, yadda. Don’t take stuff like that so seriously.”

Does anyone remember who was in charge of choosing Dick Cheney as W. Bush’s running-mate?

In July 2000, after serving as the head of then-Texas Governor George W. Bush’s vice presidential search committee, Dick Cheney was announced as the Republican vice presidential nominee. As the vice presidential vetter, Cheney required at least 11 potential candidates to fill out “an extraordinarily detailed, 83-question form” delving into their backgrounds.

Bush’s staff assured the press at the time that Cheney “subjected himself to the same kind of scrutiny” as the other contenders. But a new book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman reveals that Cheney “never filled out his own questionnaire.”

“Of the twenty-five people who signed the PNAC’s founding statement of principles, ten went on to serve in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.”

And then came Afghanistan and Iraq and all manner of other disasters.

While researching something unrelated, I came across an article by Nilay Saiya, “Onward Christian Soldiers: American Dispensationalists, George W. Bush and the Middle East.” Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Edinburgh University Press) 11.2 (2012): 175-204.

That led me (as only a committed researcher—remember, I’m a musicologist at the core—would be led) to an article by Frank Summers, “Violence in American Foreign Policy: A Psychoanalytic Approach.” International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 6.4 (2009): 300-320.

And that led me to Maria Ryan’s article, ““Exporting Democracy”? Neoconservatism and the Limits of Military Intervention, 1989-2008.” Diplomacy & Statecraft 21.3 (2010): 491-515.

There are more. I’m going to figure out how to post all of them as an annotated bibliography of articles about how we got to where we are as a people (or are we a “people?”)..
Scalia and Wuerl

But back to the great cooling of the teapot today. In point of fact, I never wandered from the subject. It’s all of a piece. Those guys that Dick Cheney got into W. Bush’s cabinet were able to choose two members of the Supreme Court. Well, they didn’t, exactly. W. Bush himself did that, presumably. But if Dick Cheney appointed himself Vice-President, don’t you think he had some influence there?

Those two are Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. Together they cemented the most monolithic majority the Court has ever known: five conservative Roman Catholic men. They vote in lock-step as consistently as any Court majority ever has—way more than most.

And they’re going to decide, based on arguments they heard today, if marriage is a civil right or a religious privilege.

Guess.

I wonder if they’ve ever read any of Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetry.

“What is Broken Is What God Blesses,” by Jimmy Santiago Baca (b.1952)

The lover’s footprint in the sand
the ten-year-old kid’s bare feet
in the mud picking chili for rich growers,
not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,
but those whose roots
have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned
and in those roots
do animals burrow for warmth;
what is broken is blessed,
not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom
paraphrased from textbooks,
not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction
nor the ribbons and medals
but after the privileged carriage has passed
the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away
and on the dust will again be the people’s broken
footprints.
What is broken God blesses,
not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison
but the shattered wall
that announces freedom to the world,
proclaims the irascible spirit of the human
rebelling against lies, against betrayal,
against taking what is not deserved;
the human complaint is what God blesses,
our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples,
what is broken is baptized,
the irreverent disbeliever,
the addict’s arm seamed with needle marks
is a thread line of a blanket
frayed and bare from keeping the man warm.
We are all broken ornaments,
glinting in our worn-out work gloves,
foreclosed homes, ruined marriages,
from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths,
blood from the wound,
broken ornaments—
when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were
blessed.
Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death,
yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle,
we embrace
we bury in our hearts,
broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge
we work, we worry, we love
but always with compassion
reflecting our blessings—
in our brokenness
thrives life, thrives light, thrives
the essence of our strength,
each of us a warm fragment,
broken off from the greater
ornament of the unseen,
then rejoined as dust,
to all this is.

Jimmy Santiago Baca was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on January 2, 1952. Abandoned by his parents at the age of two, he lived with one of his grandparents for several years before being placed in an orphanage. He wound up living on the streets, and at the age of twenty-one he was convicted on charges of drug possession and incarcerated. He served six years in prison, four of them in isolation. During this time, Baca taught himself to read and write, and he began to compose poetry. A fellow inmate convinced him to submit some of his poems to Mother Jones magazine, then edited by Denise Levertov. Levertov printed Baca’s poems and began corresponding with him, eventually finding a publisher for his first book. (More. . .)
GAY MARRIAGE OPPONENT HOLDS SIGN IN PROTEST OUTSIDE STATEHOUSE

“Upon reflection, you are genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have become. . .” (Eleanor Lerman)

Park under the Museum.

Park under the Museum.

One of the marvels of being a human being is that other human beings, even if they don’t understand why, can affect others deeply and well. Eleanor Lerman was only 53 when she published her poem, “Starfish.” It seems almost impossible she or anyone else under 70 years of age can understand it.

I am genuinely surprised to find how quiet I have become.

For the first 65 years of my life I thought I was going to do something wonderful for which I would be remembered for the duration of human civilization. A ridiculous thought, but I held onto it. That thought gave me reason to go on in my circumscribed, parochial, mundane little life.

I’ve never been good at “living in the moment.” I don’t have any idea what that means. I’ve thought since I first read Susanne Langer’s Mind: An Essay in Human Feeling (in about 1975) that the two attributes that make humans different from other creatures (different from, not better than) are 1) our ability to live in a world of symbolic processes—language like Eleanor Lerman’s for starters—and 2) our ability to remember the past and project into the future. What any of that has to do with “living in the moment” I cannot guess.

I’ve given up any thought that I will ever do anything that anyone will remember for longer than about a week after I die. Pity. The world would be so much better if I had had my chance to be brilliantly creative.

Oh, you say, I did have the chance, but I blew it? Anyone who believes that most likely also believes that if one is as energetic and clever as Charles and David Koch, one can be a billionaire. But that’s a pile of horse-pucky. Neither their brains nor their hard work made them rich. They were born with a billion dollars in their father’s checking account. Like the myth I’ve always told myself about being brilliant and creative, they have spun a myth about hard work and ingenuity and all of those other things the rich can afford to believe. I have to believe things that aren’t true in order not to be depressed, and they have to make you believe things that aren’t true in order to justify their greed and power.

It’s all done with mirrors and wires and a supreme evolutionary process of fooling ourselves as we try (with greater or lesser degrees of success) to fool others.

I can’t speak from the vantage of having accomplished great things. So perhaps it’s true that had I worked hard and put my mind to good use, I would be leaving some sort of “legacy” behind when I shuffle off this mortal coil.

The other day as I walked to the SMU center for the Athletic Development of Student Athletes I had a little exchange with the two men, one Hispanic and the other African American, not quite my age, but close, who were holding up signs at the corner of Bishop Boulevard and Schlegel Street on the campus of the university. Signs that said simply,
photo(20)Whenever the Methodist Church on the corner of the campus (the BIIIIGGGG Methodist Church that accompanies Southern Methodist University) has a BIIIIGGGG funeral, these men are paid to hold these signs so people will know whether to park in the church lot or in the lot under the Meadows Museum or on the Boulevard.

Cars. Hundreds of cars. Whoever had died was apparently energetic and clever and brilliant and creative and ingenious and hard-working. The funeral of a personage. My guess is, this being Dallas, it was someone who had made oodles of money and was, therefore, important.

I said to the sign-holders, “Big funeral.” And one replied, “When your time comes, your time comes.” I said, “I guess they’re just as dead as you and I will be.” My other new friend said, “Their money isn’t doing them any good now.” We shook hands, and I went off to tutor university athletes while the cars kept pouring in and the organist was quieting the congregation with lovely improvisations on funeral hymns.

My new friends and I had celebrated about all the funeral the rich man needed. And in the process, we had exchanged authentic communion with each other that the three of us will remember and cherish for a long time to come. And the next time they’re directing traffic and I come hobbling up the street, we will greet each other as friends. Genuine.

That’s a highly romanticized view of the importance of our exchange—I know it. And the deceased may have been one of the humble and meek that will be exalted. And it may be sour grapes on my part because I know no one will have to direct traffic for my funeral. I won’t yet have been organist for a service at the National Cathedral or written the Great American Novel or been Poet Laureate at the Library of Congress.

I was on my way to tutor four university athletes. I have been cheerleader for them for a semester. Their writing has improved (more because they’ve done more of it than because of anything I’ve said), and they have—all of them—come to trust me in the special way a good teacher can be trusted. No judgment, only support and—on good days—some humor and joy in a job well done.

It’s terrifying to know someone trusts me to teach them.

Do I regret that I haven’t reached my “full potential?” Sure. But I don’t know how to verbalize my gratitude. My “legacy” will be that perhaps I helped a bunch of kids figure out how to reach more of their potential than they might have if I hadn’t cared about them, cajoled them, guided them, been vulnerable with them.

Not a bad legacy. In this moment or any other.

“STARFISH,” BY ELEANOR LERMAN

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Where my funeral will not be.
hpumc

“. . . delete with my own hand what isn’t needed . . .” Péter Kántor

Where did you get them, and why do you keep them?

Where did you get them, and why do you keep them?

This is not really writing. It’s spewing forth a lot of nonsense that only 70-year-olds can possibly understand. Sometimes I just have to put this kind of stuff down to get it out of my mind.

Yesterday I woke up (as usual) at about 4:30 AM. I wrote. I fiddled around. I read some poetry. I cleaned the cat boxes. I took a shower. I didn’t do the two loads of laundry that were my goal. I didn’t do much of anything worth talking about.

At 10:00 I left home to go to a lecture by Robert Ashmore. I asked my friend if I was going to learn anything or just be angry when I left. Poor deluded old man talks about ethics and morality in relation to Palestine and Israel instead of politics, self-protection, manifest destiny, and the non-Biblical so-called theology espoused by members of at least two of the “Abrahamic” religions.

I didn’t learn much because he was, of course, preaching to the choir.

But I digress.

I got home from the lecture after stopping off at Kroger—where I’m going to stop going because they refuse to deny entrance to anyone carrying a gun—and had a little lunch. Lunch was some almonds, a bit of Greek yogurt, some left over Brussels sprouts, and one square of 90% cocoa chocolate. I sat down about 1:30 to take a little nap and woke up about 3, having missed square dancing.

The rest of the day was a waste. Nothing on TV worth spending a whole hour concentrating on. I did those two loads of laundry. I puttered and sputtered trying to get the day going, and when it didn’t happen, I went to bed at about 11 PM.

The last thing I did before I went to bed was to send the following email to a friend:

It isn’t unwillingness to try to make contacts on “Our time.”
It isn’t not wanting to date.

It is being at a time in life when those things should not be necessary. When I should be settled with someone or a community of someones with whom I am already comfortable, who already know me. When I should not be having to wonder what anyone I am with thinks of me — because the people I am with already know me.

I could say, “It isn’t fair.” But I don’t know whether that’s true or not. It is what it is.
And it’s just being old and alone and lonely, and I don’t think there’s any way to change that.

Looking for a date, or a fuck buddy, or a partner, or a husband, or . . . is not the point. The point is that anyone 70 years old should not be alone, but he should be living with and sharing his life with old friends, with family. He should not be looking for someone “new” in his life.

This was engendered, of course, by my feeling alone and lonely and depressed. Well, not, depressed. I didn’t land in a good funk. Just the painful truth (once again) that I am, for all practical purposes, alone in this little world I inhabit. Siblings in Baton Rouge and Sacramento. Lots of friends who would probably take turns visiting me in the hospital or the old folks’ home or such a place should I end up there. They’d come every day for three months, then every other day, then once a week, then once a month, then—by then I’d be dead.

My friend answered my email by pointing out all the times I said “should.” I know what he meant, that I shouldn’t beat up on myself by telling myself what I “should” or “should not” do.

Here’s the other exegesis of what I said. It isn’t about what I “should” or “should not” be doing. It’s about what, in a world that made sense, would be true simply because that’s the way things work.

No 70-year-old should feel (or be) alone. We all should not live such mobile (which is a euphemism for “scattered” or “shattered”) lives that we end up so far from our loved ones that we can hardly stay in contact. Texting is a pain in the thumbs.

We should not live such fragmented (which is a euphemism for “busy” and “frantic”) lives that we end up without close friends. I mean the kind who can come to your apartment when you haven’t vacuumed for a week and neither of you be embarrassed. Or bring you chicken soup when you are sick.

Such a huge percentage of the gay men my age should not have died from AIDS in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Which is a euphemism for nothing, it just is.

What if I do pay attention to “OurTime.com” and follow up on the flirts and messages and find some guy I really like who is attractive enough to me to want to have sex with him—see, I said at the outset this is not for everyone. If that upsets you, you need to get a life.

So I find Mr. Right. How the hell are we going to have a “relationship” or even a “friendship” long enough to find out where we both were when Neil Armstrong took his famous step or where I got (and why I keep) those funny “women’s circle” dessert and coffee sets. Or anything else that makes people comfortable with each other.

And why would someone I meet tomorrow want to take care of me when I fall again and break my hip instead of damaging it?

Come on. Give me a break (no pun intended). It ain’t going to happen. And no matter how many lovers I have or how many people I find who will go to Easter Island with me, there’s no time left to be husband and husband.

So I’m feeling sorry for myself. So what?

The point is that a 70-year-old should not be alone, but he should be living with and sharing his life with old friends, with family. He should not be looking for someone “new” in his life.

How did we arrange our society so that so many of us (both gay and straight) are in this place?

“Little Night Prayer,” Péter Kántor (b. 1949)
Lord, I’m tired,
the bunion on my right foot is throbbing,
I worry about myself.

Who is this anguished man, Lord?
it can’t be me,
so woeful and sluggish.

I would like to trust quietly,
but like waves in the ocean,
tempers bubble up in me.

I try a smile,
but some hairdespair
impedes me.

This isn’t all right, Lord,
feel pity for me, be scared,
reward my endeavors.

Evaluate things with me,
delete with my own hand
what isn’t needed.

Taste with me what needs to be tasted,
and say to me:
this is sweet! this is sour!

Remind me
of the small red car,
of something that was good.

There was a lot that was good, wasn’t there?
a lot of sunken islands,
crumbled glamour.
Place a net into my hands
to fish with, in the past
and in the present.

I’m a fish too, in the night,
puckering silver,
bubble-lifed.

Turn me inside out, freshen me up,
throw me up high and catch me!
What’s it to you, Lord?

If you must,
lay down your cards,
show me something new.

How your leaves fall!
your sun scorches
your wind whistles.

Speak to me!
Talk with me through the night,
it’s nothing to you, Lord!

From Unknown Places: Selected Poems of Péter Kántor. Copyright © 2010 by Michael Blumenthal and Pleasure Boat Studio. Péter Kántor (born 1949) is one of Hungary’s foremost poets of the day.

“. . . it is enough to frighten me into paying more attention. . .” (Billy Collins)

“. . . these small leaves, these sentinel thorns, whose employment it is to guard the rose. . .”

“. . . these small leaves, these sentinel thorns, whose employment it is to guard the rose. . .”

Holy Week and Easter Day are over for this year. I attended almost as many Holy Week services as I used to do as a matter of course. I played the organ at a church on Maundy Thursday. I attended “my” church (St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal) for the Saturday Easter Vigil, and I played for the two small services in the chapel there on Easter morning.

Nothing but the music matters to me—the impossible words of the creeds, the sermons about Jesus rising from the dead, the acclamations, “The Lord is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!”—in the services for which I play. It’s all about the music.

The 1500-or-so-year-old Easter Vigil liturgy used to affect me both emotionally and intellectually. But for the past few years it hasn’t because I’ve come to the same conclusion Roz Kaveney describes in an opinion piece in The Guardian:

The idea that texts written in a specific time and social context in human, often poetic, language with clear artistic intent can be the inerrant declaration of the mind of an eternal god depends on a leap of faith so vast that many of us cannot make it.

Until recently the Vigil liturgy remained for me one of the “thin places” described by Marcus Borg.

A thin place is anywhere our hearts are opened. They are places where the boundary between the two levels becomes very soft, porous, permeable. Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts and we behold (the “ahaah of The Divine”)….all around us and in us (Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity. New York: HarperOne, 2004).

Last year at Easter time I wrote about “thin places.” In the Easter Vigil Service this year the times I had the sense of a “thin” place were during the choir’s singing a Palestrina motet. And when James Diaz played the “Finale” from Louis Vierne’s First Organ Symphony after the service.

Having arrived at age 70, I have better things to worry about than religion and the final disposal of my immortal soul. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. . .” is no longer a thin place for me. My guess is that on Good Friday this year Kentucky Christians felt they had been buried in a death like the Wildcats’, and on Easter Monday many North Carolina Christians felt they had been united in a resurrection like the Blue Devils’—felt it at a deeper and more significant level than they felt Christ’s death and resurrection, whatever they said on Easter morning.

That is not a judgment, simply an observation.

I can’t any longer live in the tension of believing religion is a “thin place” and at the same time knowing Palestrina’s counterpoint (my own private March Madness), not the words that ride on it, is touching my heart. It’s not because I’m so good, or so smart, or so wise, but because I have so little time left to become rigorously honest with myself.

I’m still, nearly 50 years later, one of Spiro Agnew’s “effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” Except that I’m no intellectual. Smart, somewhat educated, minimally talented, but not an intellectual. Just part of the effete corps.

Not being any more intellectual than I am is probably fortunate for me. If I had any more ability to figure things out, I’d be in BIG trouble. I can’t figure “it” out, so the best I can do is try to be consistent and direct in what I think and do.

In one corner of my mind is certain knowledge that the moment I die, I will be dead. So dead that I won’t even know I’m dead or that I used to be alive. That corner of my mind tells me there’s no point worrying about how I live the 8.4 years the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control says I have left. If the end result—the end—is the same, what does it matter how I live?

Here’s the crazy thing (seems crazy to me). I used to think I would leave behind a legacy of music or poetry or the Great American Novel. Just the same as everyone reading this believes deep down they will be the next member of the club of billionaires.

Both my thinking and everyone else’s—is wacko. It ain’t gonna happen.

So what is going to happen? I don’t have a clue. But I have a growing sense that, besides continuing to thrive in the love of my family and friends, the only way to make sense of this screeching-to-a-halt life is to throw myself into work I didn’t even know was possible a year ago.

Tutoring athletes at SMU’s center for the Academic Development of Student Athletes and teaching an ESL preparation class at the Aberg Center for Literacy give me a sense of purpose different, almost certainly greater, than I have ever had. Is that a touch of the drama queen? Yes, but these two activities are in a way redeeming the work I’ve been doing since 1985. I’ve been practice teaching to prepare myself to do something for reasons far greater than for my own satisfaction.

Perhaps I have finally found the real “thin places.”

For most of my adult life I have struggled with the words of St. Paul the Apostle that, “. . . the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19, NRSV). I don’t have to mix that up with sin and Jesus and churchy stuff. I think anyone who has any consciousness of self would have to admit that’s true. It is what it is.

So I want to learn, to have the peace of knowing, that the good I would, I do. And the evil I would not, I don’t. That’s all.

“The First Night,” by Billy Collins (b. 1941)

“The worst thing about death must be
the first night.” —Juan Ramón Jiménez

Before I opened you, Jiménez,
it never occurred to me that day and night
would continue to circle each other in the ring of death,

but now you have me wondering
if there will also be a sun and a moon
and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set

then repair, each soul alone,
to some ghastly equivalent of a bed.
Or will the first night be the only night,

a darkness for which we have no other name?
How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death,
How impossible to write it down.

This is where language will stop,
the horse we have ridden all our lives
rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff.

The word that was in the beginning
and the word that was made flesh—
those and all the other words will cease.

Even now, reading you on this trellised porch,
how can I describe a sun that will shine after death?
But it is enough to frighten me

into paying more attention to the world’s day-moon,
to sunlight bright on water
or fragmented in a grove of trees,

and to look more closely here at these small leaves,
these sentinel thorns,
whose employment it is to guard the rose.

Billy Collins was born in New York City on March 22, 1941. He is the author of several books of poetry, including Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems (Random House, 2013), Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems (Random House, 2012); Ballistics: Poems (2008); and many more.
Collins’s poetry has appeared in anthologies, textbooks, and a variety of periodicals, including Poetry, American Poetry Review, American Scholar, Harper’s, Paris Review, and The New Yorker.
Collins served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003, and as the New York State Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. His other honors and awards include the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry, as well as fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has taught at Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, and Lehman College, City University of New York. He lives in Somers, New York.

“. . .Or will the first night be the only night, a darkness for which we have no other name. . .” (Photo by Harold Knight, Port Orford, OR, 2012)

“. . .Or will the first night be the only night, a darkness for which we have no other name. . .” (Photo by Harold Knight, Port Orford, OR, 2012)

“The olive trees are dying of embarrassment. . . “ (Lahab Assef Al-Jundi)

Tent of Nations

Tent of Nations


(Please see
Palestine InSight for background of this posting. More importantly, please see Tent of Nations website!)

On Tuesday, April 7, 2015 11:01 PM, Ann Hafften wrote on behalf of the The North Texas-Northern Louisiana Mission Area of the ELCA:

Dear friends,
I am sorry to report that the Daoud Nassar events in Denton, Fort Worth and Dallas have been cancelled. It is necessary for Mr. Nassar to be on hand at the family farm right now and in the days to come. Bill Plitt, Executive Director of Friends of Tent of Nations North America, writes:

“As you know, the Nassar family has been fighting in the Israeli courts since 1991 to retain their ownership of the family’s land which was originally purchased and registered in 1916. The local authorities in the Gush Etzion Settlement area, in which the Tent of Nations is located, are now requiring the land be re-registered for the fourth time, and have placed new requirements on the family to provide additional evidence in their application. The deadline for doing so is April 21st.

“Continually shortened times allowed for response to these requirements are making it more difficult for Daoud to be away from the land, and the family is fearful that some kind of unforeseen action will be taken against the land, and think this is more likely if he is out of the country.

“As you know, life under the occupation is not only oppressive, but unpredictable for Palestinians. The rules often change on the spur of the moment. It’s amazing how resilient the Palestinian people have been under such circumstances. We hope you will continue to lift up the Nassar family and all Palestinians in your prayer and action.”

Thank you for your patience and understanding. We look forward to another opportunity to hear the witness of Tent of Nations in the NT-NL mission.
Easter blessings of joy!
Ann Hafften
Weatherford, Texas
tol-boys_photo

____________
“Holy Landers,” by Lahab Assef Al-Jundi

Listen!
You are fighting over a land that can fit,
with wilderness to spare,
in the Panhandle of Texas.

You are building walls to segregate,
splitting wholes till little is left,
killing and dying for pieces of sky
in the same window.

The olive trees are dying
of embarrassment.
They have enough fruits
and pits for all of you.
All they want is for you to stop
uprooting them.
Sending your children to die
in their names.

Listen!
Your land is no holier than my backyard.
None of you is any more chosen
than the homeless veteran panhandling
with a God Bless cardboard sign
at the light of Mecca
and San Pedro.

Draw a borderline around the place.
Call it home for all the living,
all the dead,
all the tired exiles with its dust
gummed on their tongues.

There are no heroes left.

Lahab Assef Al-Jundi was born, and grew up, in Damascus, Syria. Attended The University of Texas in Austin, where he graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Not long after graduation, he discovered his passion for writing. He published his first poetry collection, “A Long Way”, in 1985. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary publications, and many Anthologies including: “In These Latitudes, Ten Contemporary Poets”, edited by Robert Bonazzi, “Inclined to Speak, An Anthology of Contemporary Arab American Poetry”, edited by Hayan Charara, and “Between Heaven and Texas”, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye.

“. . . there’s a place in my brain where hate won’t grow. . .” (Naomi Shihab Nye)

The view of olive trees and the Wall near Bethlehem

The view of olive trees and the Wall near Bethlehem


TWO SPEAKERS AND A POET

Thursday, April 16, 7:00 P.M.
DR. ROBERT ASHMORE, JR.
Northaven United Methodist Church
11211 Preston Road, Dallas

Sunday, April 19, 10:30 A.M.
DR. ROBERT ASHMORE, JR.
Dallas Hall
Southern Methodist University

Sunday, April 19, 6:30 P.M.
DAOUD NASSER
Trinity Lutheran Church
3621 Tulsa Way, Fort Worth

Tuesday April 21, 7:00 P.M.
DAOUD NASSER
Bethany Lutheran Church, Nelson Hall
10101 Walnut Hill, Dallas

DAOUD NASSER WILL SHARE THE MESSAGE OF TENT OF NATIONS.
daoud-nassar_72dpi

Mr. Nasser is from Bethlehem and a member of Christmas Lutheran Church there. He is a leader in the Tent of Nations organization.

Tent of Nations seeks to prepare young people in Palestine to make positive contributions to their society through the values of understanding and peaceful coexistence. The organic farm where the education and work camps take place is under threat of confiscation by the Israeli military. It is about 33 miles southwest of Bethlehem.

The Nassar family land is located in the fertile hill country 9 KM southwest of Bethlehem in the West Bank, in an area totally controlled by Israel per the Oslo Agreement of 1993.
In fulfillment of his father’s dream to establish an institute for the building of peace and coexistence on the family land, Daoud Nassar, grandson of Daher Nassar who purchased the land in 1916, established The Tent of Nations. Tent of Nations has established projects to develop and protect the land and to make the land a center for people from different countries to come together and build bridges of trust and hope.

In May 2014, the Israeli military bulldozed 1,500 productive fruit trees growing on the Nasser farm. Daoud Nasser will explain the challenges facing his family’s farming efforts from the military and surrounding Israeli settlements. (More. . .

Daoud Nasser’s presentation is part of the NT-NL Mission’s participation in the ELCA strategy: Peace Not Walls: Stand for Justice in the Holy Land.

DR. ROBERT ASHMORE, JR., WILL SPEAK ABOUT THE HUMAN RIGHTS AND ETHICS OF THE PALESTINIAN/ISRAELI SITUATION.

robert ashmore-001

Dr. Ashmore is professor emeritus of philosophy and former director of the center for ethics studies at Marquette University. He serves on the national advisory board of Middle East Policy Council, and is a member of both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

He is a native of Dallas.

As director of Marquette’s Center for Ethics Studies, Ashmore received two successive grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Active since 1982 on human rights issues relating to the Middle East conflicts, Ashmore has made many trips the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel. He serves on the national advisory board of Middle East Policy Council, and is a member of both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Dr. Ashmore also serves on the boards of the Center for Peacemaking at Marquette University, and the Wisconsin Chapter of American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).

Dr. Ashmore’s publications include a chapter titled “State Terrorism and Its Sponsors” in Philosophical Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, edited by Tomis Kapitan (M.E. Sharpe, 1997); “Israel and South Africa: A Natural Alliance,” The Link, Oct. 1988, Vo. 21, No. 4; “The Crusades Then and Now,” The Link, July 2002, Vo. 35, No. 3;
“Palestinian Universities Under Israeli Occupation—A Human Rights Analysis,” American Arab Affairs, Spring 1986, No. 16; “Nonviolence as an Intifada Strategy,” American Arab Affairs, Spring 1990, No. 32.

Dr. Ashmore’s presentations are sponsored by
Northaven United Methodist Church 2015 Speaker Series: Faith Voices on Justice
Embrey Human Rights Program Southern Methodist University
The Dallas Area Christian Progressive Alliance

“JERUSALEM,” BY NAOMI SHIHAB NYE

“Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.”
—Tommy Olofsson, Sweden

I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.

Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddle: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Later his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.

Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.
A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.

Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head just slightly
it’s ridiculous.

There’s a place in my brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.

It’s late but everything comes next.

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Palestine, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her BA in English and world religions from Trinity University.

Nye is the author of numerous books of poems, including Transfer (BOA Editions, 2011); You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award; 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (Greenwillow Books, 2002), a collection of new and selected poems about the Middle East; Fuel (BOA Editions, 1998); Red Suitcase (BOA Editions, 1994); and Hugging the Jukebox (Far Corner Books, 1982).
naomi_shihab_nye