Loud and Bitter Words Indicate a Weak Cause and A Long Bloggy Ramble…

This was originally posted on September 15, 2009. I can tell you that the giant stack o’ journals referred to in this post remains largely unscaled. *sigh* I had no idea that when I searched for this story that I would be reminded of that. Oh well…

In any event, I posted a video to Facebook, that I found on The Rix Mix today, about Dr. Martin Luther King’s other words. These are words we are less familiar with and frankly they should make you stop in your tracks. I also posted something to Facebook from the NPR website, about President Eisenhower’s words regarding the future. These are the words he offered as he left office 50 years ago today.

Anyway, this is long and you may not have the day off, but what the hell. I’m posting it anyway. Read. Think. React. Or not!

Peace to all.

From my earlier post….

*Warning – Long Blog Post Ahead!*

I stare at a huge pile of old journals that I fished out of an enormous plastic bin from the basement.

*sigh*

They are the Himalayas and I must cross them. At this point, I am getting acclimated to the altitude as I work my way up. Currently I have a headache from the thin atmosphere and sheer cliffs.

*sigh indeed*

In the meantime, I am deeply disturbed by the tenor of both the right as well as the left regarding politics. There was a time when I was more strident. Trust me, I am no less passionate, but I keep thinking of a fortune I got from a cookie recently.

Loud and bitter words indicate a weak cause.

Now there would certainly seem to be a vast amount of really loud and bitter words from one side of the argument. However, there are no shortage of loud and bitter words from any side. I see this in the multiple corners of the blogworld and Facebook that I inhabit.

We as humans tend to see things in such broad strokes and in general, with a dualistic eye. I am as human as anyone in this way. That said, I don’t really want to be that way, it is truly a quest for me.

Yes, I may be nuts.

This does not mean that we should not call others out. I think it does mean that the tenor of the calling out is often pointless and much more about shouting than it is about listening, much more about staking one’s claim and telling the other that their claim is not valid. Maybe you think the other person’s point of view is invalid.

And likely they think the same of yours. Well, wherever does that get anyone? Remember, in the last post I claimed my idealism. Idealism often might call forth shouting and arguing, that is true. However, in the end, one “side” triumphs and the other side is in wait to pounce and take back what is “theirs.”

Do we not see that playing out all over the place right now?

Shouting it down forever doesn’t seem to be very effective. That is just my experience. I am reminded of a Hasidic story, a tale of Rabbi Zusya. That story is called The Lesson, by Doug Lipman. Here is a link to the story or you can read it here with my commentary. Or not read it at all, fee free!

When Reb Zusya was a young rabbi, a local merchant denounced him publicly. The Hasidic movement, the merchant said, was a dangerous innovation. Those who propounded it were fools at best and scoundrels at worst.

When his followers came to Reb Zusya with the news of this slander, Reb Zusya merely smiled. They pleaded, “Aren’t you going to counter his accusations?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

Some time later, one of Reb Zusya’s followers, known as Moishe Lieb, heard a commotion in the marketplace. A crowd had gathered around the merchant, who was spreading his opinion of Reb Zusya to any who would listen.

“He defiles the worship services! I saw him! He dances around, delays the prayers past their proper time, and insults our dignity!”

These affronts to his rabbi were too much for Moishe Lieb. He pushed his way to the center of the crowd. “I will teach you a lesson about Hasidism, you liar!”

The merchant pointed at Moishe Lieb and roared, “There is one of the fools now! See how he insults me!”

Enraged, Moishe Lieb spat at the merchant. The merchant lunged at Moishe Lieb. Had the crowd not restrained them, they would have come to blows.

I think you might see where things might be headed here…

A few days later, Reb Zusya approached Moishe Lieb. “Would you help me with something?”

“Of course, Rabbi. For you, anything.”

“Will you come with me on a three-day journey? Just the two of us.”

“Just me, Rabbi? I would be honored.”

I love the idea that they are going on a journey. As with all new understanding, we must travel to get there. Often that travel does not seem exotic, but it truly is, as we are traversing the peaks and valleys of the human heart and being.

Travel also means going places that are very wonderful, but then putting up with a lot to get there. This also means putting your own culture and expectations in place so that you might actually see, taste and touch something entirely new. Travel, when done this way, never leaves the traveler untouched, does it?

On the appointed morning, Reb Zusya led Moishe Lieb, on foot, out of the city. By the end of the day, the two of them had left the main road and were walking on a small, faint path through dry, uninhabited hills. Again and again, Reb Zusya had to tell Moishe Lieb, “Watch out – the path goes to the right here. No, it’s this way.”

As darkness fell, Reb Zusya pointed to a sheltering rock at the base of a large hill. “We’ll sleep under there.”

When it was still dark, Reb Zusya shook his companion awake. “Come, Reb Moishe.” The rabbi led him up the hill. When they reached the top and could see the narrow valley on the other side, Reb Zusya stopped and sat down in the path. He began staring intently into the valley before him. “Let’s look, Moishe,” he said.

Reb Moishe sat down next to him and stared, too. In the first light of day, he saw a parched valley below them, with two small fields of grain. Next to each field was a shelter built from rock. Down the center of the valley, a tiny creek trickled through the first farm and into the next. As the light broadened, he saw that, in contrast to the brown scrub around the fields, the two farms were lush with green.

For a long time, nothing happened. Then, just as the sun appeared in the sky, the door of the farther house opened. A man emerged, carrying a homemade, crude wooden bucket. He went to the tiny creek – scarcely more than a moist strip with a trickle of water down its center – and put the bucket where it could collect the few drops that ran into it. After many minutes, the man picked up the full bucket and began sprinkling the precious water on his field.

They watched the man water his field in this slow way until the sun was precisely overhead. Abruptly, the man looked up in the sky, stopped his work, and walked toward the farm which lay above his. As though on signal, a man came out of the near stone shelter and, without a word, embraced the first man – who silently gave him the bucket and returned to his stone hut.

For the rest of the day, Reb Zusya and Reb Moishe Lieb watched the second man patiently water his farm, just as the first man had. When the sun set, the upstream farmer walked to the downstream shelter, silently hugged the occupant, handed him back the bucket, and returned to his own shelter of stone.

At that, Reb Zusya stood up, turned around and began to walk the way they had come. Moishe Lieb followed him.

After a time, Moishe Lieb spoke. “Teacher, why did we come here?”

Reb Zusya said, “Sit down. I will tell you what I know of those two men.” He began to tell the story.

Now comes the time where shouting is pointless and only listening is the lamp to light the way. Reb Zusya, the teacher, begins to unpack the real story of what they eye can only see of two men in a valley.

The first time I came here (he said) I saw very much what you saw today – the two green fields in this arid place and the two men who watered them so patiently. Curious – and, besides, it was nightfall and I needed a place to sleep – I approached the first shelter. My host smiled and gestured me to enter. I soon discovered that he spoke no word of my language and I spoke no word of his. So, after a short time, I went to the shelter of the second farmer. To my amazement, he appeared to speak yet another language. He could not converse with me nor with his only neighbor.

Eventually, by way of signs and grunts, I learned their story. The “upstream” farmer, fleeing empty-handed from a war somewhere, had settled here alone. Even though he had no tools of any kind and he saw the aridity of this place, he hoped that the stream would moisten his field enough for him to grow a crop. He struggled to survive, scouring the surrounding area for berries and wild grains to eat and plant here. He carried water in his cupped hands from the trickling stream to his field.

At the end of the first winter, he was nearly starved and exhausted. One day, he saw another man enter this valley, carrying a large cloth sack over his shoulder. For a while the first man hid, fearing that he would be forced to return to the war he had deserted. When at last he emerged and spoke to the man, he learned that they spoke no common language. In spite of this, he soon realized that the other man wanted to settle here, too. The first man was about to drive him off when the other opened his cloth sack and took from it a wooden bucket. Overjoyed, the first man embraced the stranger as a friend and rescuer. Soon, by sharing the bucket, they were able to water both fields and live here in peace.

I left them, amazed at the simple, tranquil life they had carved from this dry valley.

A year or two later, I passed by here again. You can imagine my amazement when I discovered that the fields were brown, their crops were nearly dead, and a wall had been built between the two fields. When they saw me coming, they both came to greet me. But when each saw the other, they growled and shook their fists. Neither would approach me, lest he come too close to the other! I visited them one at a time in their shelters. By miming questions and watching how they acted out the answers, I was able to piece together what had happened since I came here last.

Somehow, they had quarreled over the bucket. Neither seemed able to describe the cause of their quarrel, but each seemed equally furious. Evidently, the “downstream” farmer had finally refused to share the bucket at all, leaving the upstream farmer with no way to gather the creek water. Then, in retaliation, the upstream farmer dug a ditch and diverted the water from the downstream field, into a pile of loose stones where neither could reach it. Now they were both unable to water their crops.

One night, determined on revenge, the upstream farmer sneaked into the other’s house to steal the bucket. The downstream farmer, however, had taken to wrapping his body around the bucket as he slept, and woke up in time to chase the empty-handed upstream farmer away. But the next day, he began dragging stones between their fields, forming a wall that neither could cross.

That was how I found them: slowly starving to death, neither able to use the water that still flowed slowly into their valley.

Such great bounty goes to waste here because they cannot agree. Now it would be oh-so-very-easy to say that whatever our own perspective is is the good, but that might not always be true. The point is how to negotiate and live with what is. Now that is hard, it requires openness, potential compromise and cooperation. What risk.

What could I do? I took the bottle of Sabbath wine from the sack I carried. I opened it, carried it to the first farmer’s shelter, and walked backward holding the wine out toward him, enticing him up the hill as you might lure a stray cat. I signaled him to stay there, then led the second farmer with the same promise of wine. They each stayed a considerable distance away from me, one above me on the hill and the other below. They showed no willingness to get too close to each other, yet they both appeared to understand that I meant to offer them each wine.

I took out a tin cup from my sack and filled it with wine. I extended it first toward one of them, then toward the other, offering the cup to them both. At last they understood that I meant for them to drink from the same cup. Suspiciously, they each approached. I brought their hands together, put the cup in their joined hands, and stood back to let them drink.

They continued to eye each other as they brought their mouths closer to the wine. Then one of them tried to pull the wine away. The other pulled back. In a short while, they had spilled the entire cup of wine over each other and the ground. They both looked at me imploringly.

I retrieved the cup, filled it again, and set it on the ground between them. This time they each managed to drink a mouthful before starting to tussle – and spilling the rest.

I filled the cup several times. At last, they had learned to drink from the same cup. By now, the wine was gone, but the two men remained facing each other on the path. The first one pointed at the wine stains on the other’s shirt and laughed. Then the second one pointed back. When the first one looked down and discovered similar stains on his shirt, they both laughed.

Dominance… someone must always dominate and have “their” way.

Rabbi Zusya looked at his companion. “That’s how I left them a year ago,” he said. “Laughing on the path. As you can see, they must have stopped trying to retaliate.”

Moishe Lieb nodded. “I see. You taught them without teaching them. Just like you taught me.”

“What did I teach you?”

Moishe Lieb sighed. “That I didn’t help you by ‘fighting over the bucket’ with the merchant.”

Reb Zusya put his arm around his companion. “I know you meant to help. You couldn’t bear to see me attacked.”

“Did I hurt your work?”

“Yes, a little. But maybe now you know other ways to help him learn?”

The next morning, the companions began the walk back home. Reb Zusya did not have to tell Moishe Lieb where to walk. By now, he knew the way.

How will we ever learn the way? I am convinced that it is through some sort of conversation and conversion. (Not always of the religious form!)

Back to the mountains, I have my own journey to under take. I hope you will join me, I am grateful to those who do.

After all, how could I do any of this alone? And why would I want to?

A Long and Winding Pentecost Story… Update

I had hoped to finish up today, but that is not going to happen…  Today I have to go out of town for a confirmation of all things! How very Pentecost-y! In any case, I am very privileged to be the sponsor for my niece today, so off I go.

In the meantime, here is a Taize video of Veni Sancte Spiritus. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Heal, console, inform, love, reconcile, enlighten, transform us all.

The Lord is My Shepherd, There is Nothing I Shall Want – A Reflection on Good Shepherd Sunday

I wanted to write something evocative for this Sunday’s Gospel; short though it is, there is much meaning.



Jesus said:
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”

Nothing wise has seemed to come – so much for my homiletic skills!

Then today I got into a conversation over on my personal Facebook page, about liturgical music. Someone that I have affection for noted that she did not like Marty Haugen’s music. This got me to thinking about one of my favorite hymns, Haugen’s Shepherd Me O God. I really love this piece of music actually and you will find a video of it at the end of this post.

This got me further thinking about God as shepherd and how we hear God’s voice.

When I was far from church, but still interested in some kind of relationship with God, I had an experience, that I can see today, was my shepherd calling out to me.

I used to travel a lot, this was in 1986 or so. At that time, I would take a shared van service to the airport and I often had the same driver, an old African-American man. He was always quite cheerful, even at 5am, which is when I was usually in his van.

One day it turned out that I was the only passenger, so we got into quite a conversation. He told me that he began every day thanking God and ended each day the same way. This intrigued me. I am sorry to say that at that shallow point of my life, it did not occur to me to thank God very regularly.  I asked this man to say more about this and he said that he prayed and read “God’s Holy Word” every morning and every night.

Hmmm… The Bible. I always had a sort of academic interest in the Bible, so I pressed on. He seemed shocked that I did not have a Bible and he urged me to go get one.  Being a book-loving person, I never needed much encouragement to go get another one!

So I did go get a Bible!  I got one off a sale table at a bookstore, a King James version (no offense KJV peeps)that was very hard for me to read. I persisted however.

The one thing that I found I could read with ease were the Psalms and the Psalm I sort of knew and read most frequently was Psalm 23. I came to read this Psalm all the time. Thus began my somewhat regular reading of Scripture.

The Lord is my shepherd – there is nothing that I shall want. I particularly love the language of the Jerusalem Bible for this psalm. (Yes, I am aware of the don’t-use-Yaweh-rule, but that is this translation and I am sticking with it.)



PSALM 23
The Good Shepherd
Psalm Of David

Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.

In meadows of green grass he lets me lie.
To the waters of repose he leads me;
there he revives my soul.

He guides me by paths of virtue
for the sake of his name.

Though I pass through a gloomy valley,
I fear no harm;
beside me your rod and your staff
are there, to hearten me.

You prepare a table before me
under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil,
my cup brims over.

Ah, how goodness and kindness pursue me,
every day of my life;
my home, the house of Yahweh,
as long as I live!

It is really something – my heart leaps when I read it even now. Don’t you love the last part, it sounds so ardent…. “goodness and kindness pursue me.” It is like I am being chased!! I hear the voice of my shepherd and I recognize it. I know my shepherd and my shepherd knows me and he is calling out for me!

This reminds me of the post I had up on Friday, about time. Who knew in 1986, when that nice man told me about thanking God, that that would lead me to a Bible and that a psalm would lead me to a whole other life? 

These days I thank God every day – at the beginning and at the end and so very often in the middle. As Anne Lamott says, there are really only two prayers “help me, help me” and “thank you, thank you.”
 
Today I say – The Lord is my shepherd! Thank you! Thank you!

Brother Ash, Sister Flight

Recently I have been thinking about the movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon. It is in my Netflix queue, but I keep pushing it to let other things in. It may be time for me to watch it now that I have it on my mind so much. I saw it a long time ago; I wonder what I will think of it now.

For those who are not familiar with this film, it is the story of St. Francis. The name is taken from a canticle of Francis‘ of that same name. If you know me, you know I love me some St. Francis. He is one of my heroes and a truly transformational person, a real agent of God.

Lately I have also been considering post-modern life and its impact on spirituality and faith. How can the post-modern condition and faith be reconciled? It seems at one level impossible and then again, quite possible. This has caused me to pull down a favorite book from the shelf, Meeting Mystery by Nathan Mitchell. Mitchell is writing about sacraments and liturgy, but very much framed in our post-modern times.

Then  I happened to read one of Richard Rohr’s daily meditations entitled, “How Much Time Do I Spend Connected to Nature?” Rohr refers to Francis’ ability to connect with nature in a particular way, which is made clear in the link to Rohr. To St. Francis, he had a “brother” this and a “sister” that for almost everything. He called his own body “brother ass,” referring to how harshly he treated it.

All this led me to consider the contemporary plight of stranded travelers due to the plume of volcanic ash from Iceland. It is quite a reminder of the old theme of literature, man vs. nature… Guess who wins. We love to feel so master-of-the-universe-y by creating technology that can do pretty much anything in pretty much the face of everything.

But we can’t fly through the cloud. And who knows how long this will last? Or even if it ends, when it will happen again?

I am also aware of how much St. Francis’ was in touch with nature. In our postmodern world we like to think about nature a lot, but perhaps more as a commodity, rather than in what it is, which we are a part of.

Brother Ash. Sister Flight. How they struggle with one another in these days.

I imagine myself stranded somewhere, like maybe Paris. Part of that seems good enough, I mean, there are worse places to be stranded! On the other hand, life goes on and work must be attended to, bills paid and so forth. Not to mention, floating the expense of the Parisian extension. Airline vouchers only go so far.

This is no apocalyptic warning, this is no call to admonish our modern ways. It is just a moment to consider our contemporary plight.

We can’t control everything, even if it seems we can. In the nexus of can/can’t there is a space that I think is most revealing. While I find it hard to articulate just what I see there, I am called to spend some time in that space. 

I think some people may think I have lost my mind. I just wonder if at last, I haven’t found it.

It seems to me that God does not call us to be Luddites, but rather calls us to be who we are in the world that we have around us. That may invite us to some, pardon the irresistible pun, deus ex machina moment, who knows.

(That last line was completely unnecessary wasn’t it?)

Prayers of Remembrance and A Few Thoughts on Blogging, Faith and Community

This morning I read a blogpost from Alcibiades at Caliban’s Dream. The post was in remembrance of Catherine Peters, who died in a tragic accident one year ago. From all accounts, Catherine was truly remarkable. She was the daughter of the inimitable priest and blogger, Bosco Peters and his wife Helen Peters. (If you pray, please hold this family in your prayers; their on-going vibrant lives and joy are apparent, but one can only imagine their sorrow.)

Blogging and faith have worked strangely in my own life and they have worked very powerfully.

So much of who I am and what I do are ground into the foundation of blogging – something that did not even exist before 1997. It is strange, isn’t it? We all know each other and write and talk and pray and fight and discuss and debate. We inform, we debunk, we decry, deny, demand.

When I think about my own blogging one this is clear… Community.

The concept of community is at the heart of blogging.

For me, this is inexorably connected to faith, even when I am in community with people who are not of faith.

Today I am sharply reminded us of this as I have an on-going conversation with my beloved Grandmere’ Mimi, about one topic that we do not share the same opinion about. I love Mimi and hold her in the highest esteem; we agree on so many, many things. And sometimes we do not. Do we walk away in a huff?

No. We are in community and we continue to exchange our thoughts and ideas. When it is not fruitful to do so, I suspect that we will continue to exchange our thoughts and ideas, even if we lay off what we have not agreed upon. Agreement is not the criteria for love and respect. If it is – then love and respect are not at the heart of what is happening.

I am also acutely aware that it has been one year since the passing of Catherine Peters, daughter of the inimitable Fr. Bosco Peters and Helen Peters. In my experience of the blogosphere (is that word very 5 minutes ago or is it me?) I have experienced other deaths, the most recent being Jon Swift, who was not at all a faith blogger. (May he rest in peace. If you go to this link and read the comments, you will learn that Jon/Al, in writing of another’s loss, has himself passed away.)

I remember how Grendel’s the misanthropic dog’s death impacted us and also Lee’s. Of course, I don’t have a link for Lee – I did not really know him, but he was part of a community that I was part of and it affected us all.

However, few deaths shot around the world of bloggers like Catherine’s did. We all wrote and prayed and held the Peters family in our collective prayers. It astounded me then and it astounds me still. And I continue to hold the Peters’ in the heart of my prayer even though I have never met them in person and am unlikely to do soon. (Alcibiades at Caliban’s Dream has a lovely remembrance of Catherine up and some reflections upon his time spent with Bosco and Helen when he was in New Zealand.)

The whole business is very strange and wonderful to me – which is how my faith is to me as well. It is a strange and wonderful thing which makes my heart break more and yet binds each wound with tremendous love.

This love extends to all – I am many things, but an ideologue is not among them. Walk your own path. Hopefully you know the value of community, you have an open mind and heart but you know what you believe.

And may community always open our hearts and minds… Not to necessarily change our minds and/or hearts (but possibly) and also to continue to enrich them both.

(There are so many other things that I could say and links to add, but time is short. I am going to hit publish, but share your stories of community and blogging in the comments if you wish.)

Mimi On The Beach and Othe Parts of My Sunday


I love Jane Siberry. I was actually looking for her song “Extra Executives.” I could not find that one but I came across “Mimi on the Beach” and had to post it. No – not that Mimi!

This is from the album No Borders Here, one that played a major role in my life way back in the 80′s. *sigh*

Jane is now known as Issa. She is a wonderful artist and marching to her own little beat, bless her quirky and talented heart!

Anyway it is Sunday – enjoy! I am busy today. An article to write for an actual publication (if it gets accepted) and school starts tomorrow for me.

It occurs to me that this is the first summer, in more than I can count, that I did not go the beach – not even once! I did put my feet in Lake George from a dock, that was it!

Mimi On The Beach – Jane Siberry