Thursday, March 31, 2005


I try to be very careful about how I use my blogspace. The majority of blogs that I happen upon seem to be commentary on news headlines. Compilations of the news for those without aggregators. Politics, sociology, etc. Surely we don't need another from someone like me. But sometimes I just can't keep my mouth shut (fingers still).
Late this afternoon I was helping a student with his mid-term project for my MUS3302. We had to hit the net for a moment and the computer in the lab where we were working was set to as the home page in the browser. So we happened upon a collection of headlines and advertisements. Normally, I wouldn't even notice what page comes up when a browser opens as I would just quickly click on to where I was headed, but we were talking as the page loaded and when I turned around, I was struck by a very ironic juxtaposition of headline and advert.
Ok, so maybe I will keep my mouth shut. Here's a capture of the webpage. You create your own commentary about the irony of the woman in the bottom left hand corner of the page, and the advert in the top right corner.
I shed tears.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

holy week reflections

Midst the world spinning around, even the church spins in this moment that links past and future. It takes effort to stop with time, glimpse eternity and feel the weight that is both inherited and lifted in a single moment. It takes effort to stand in the panic in all of heaven and earth and under the earth during the search for the One who is worthy. It is a mystery we celebrate during holy week and on Resurrection day. Confusing and sobering.
A confusion that is rewarded with pain and grace and a peace that comes without understanding. That is, once one is content not to understand.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005


It is a terrifying prospect, to be willing to learn when you don't know what you will be taught. To completely leave one's self at the mercy of the teacher, to apprentice to a mystery.
Ok, maybe not the first time, or the first thing. But once a first lesson is learned, one realizes the possible risks at leaving one's self so utterly vulnerable.
The lesson is not in any book. The best of the books merely reveal that there is a lesson to be learned, are an invitation to the apprenticeship. But the lesson must be received from the teacher. Most often it is painful. Like surgery - torn flesh as the undesirable is extracted. Often it feels like betrayal by the teacher himself. One can never know, and one never sees it coming. Blindsided by truth. The red pill. Like an ingenious twist at the end of a movie with "to be continued", one is terrified to see the sequel. How much surgery can one endure to be made well? How much suffering can one endure to identify with the teacher?
How many times can one be offered the blue pill before he swallows it?


Sunday, March 27, 2005

agnus dei

though the sorrow may last for the night,
his joy comes in the morning

ex obscuritate in lucem


Saturday, March 26, 2005

sabado negro

From here, this is the blackest night,
Paschal moon eclipsed.
This is the night of deafening silence.
Tears, pain, and memories.
Scattered friends.
Paralyzing remorse at cowardice and denial.
Doubt, lost hope, lost direction and
shattered dreams.


Friday, March 25, 2005

paschal moon

the lentels of my life bear your provision
death passes by, but may not enter.
but you never pass by.
you open the door, sit at my table and
break the bread and pour the wine.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

klangfarben melodie

All night long, frogs. Frogs all night. Tree frogs and pond frogs singing together to produce a choral frog song. Listening closely, one can distinguish the unique timbre of individual voices, but together, they produce a nocturnal klangfarben melodie in which a constant, composite pitch is maintained but as voices are added and drop out, the composite is constantly shifting tone color, volume, texture.
No doubt, any two of these frogs are singing dreadfully out-of-tune with one another. Any one of them sounds squeaky, or chirpy, or downright burpy. All together though, their song sounds entirely different. A sonorous, constant, nocturnal klangfarben kaleidescope of aural happiness.
Sing on, little froggies. Sing on.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

blossoms and butterflies

What woman would even be noticed in a field full of daffodils?
What daffodils?


Tuesday, March 22, 2005


When a man inhales,
his chest rises.
A deep breath, a prepared sigh
is a physical surrender.
He opens himself,
presents, and becomes vulnerable.
Once the breath is taken in,
there is still one last chance -
one can still decide to forego the sigh,
to retain the breath and leave himself open
and his chest uplifted.
If he, defeated, chooses to exhale
so that his chest collapses, his shoulders hunch and
he becomes closed,
He can always choose to breathe in again.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

hey vern

I overslept this morning. Actually, I wanted to get up, shower and be ready for the day before Spring arrived. But my alarmS went off and I shut them off without actually becoming coherent. I was jolted awake from inside my head and sat up in bed. I glanced at the clock thinking it might be noon. It was 7:32am and I realized that in two minutes it would be spring. I laid back down on my side and looked out the window to the east to watch spring arrive. The sun was just beginning to show itself through the trees in the back of the house in exactly the same way that 2005 arrived. I stared out and felt the moment when the sun passed over the equator and night and day were of equal length. As it passed, I felt the moment when day became longer than night and light stronger than dark.
I thought it apt that spring should arrive at precisely this time of day and on Resurrection day and Palm Sunday even. The sun was in the exact same position as the waning snow moon that was only visible for a few minutes as it rose before the sun washed it out. It was as if she was being replaced by the first light of spring. The dawn of spring. A solar blossom. It was a sunny, warm, and glorious day.
Welcome back, Vern. We've been waiting for you.


Saturday, March 19, 2005


Remember that night we drove to Charleston for your birthday to get dessert at Kaminsky’s Most Excellent Cafe? We stood on the sidewalk and talked and watched people while we waited for a table, I had the most beautiful woman in the holy city. Once inside, we sat under the painting of the boy and I sang for you all those old Steve Miller songs. Across the table, your eyes shone, your hair was perfect, your hands reached out and your smile warmed. No one could understand why you were with me. You had that fruit goo in a bowl and I had the Famous Brownie Sunday. We both had the house blend of Sumatran and Kenyan. Do you remember waking up the next morning as if the night had never ended, your first breakfast as a 41-year-old taken in the hotel lobby? All my life, I’ve dreamed of waking beside a 41 year-old woman, and today that dream came true.
Even at my best I could never give you the birthday you deserve, could never celebrate you the way you deserve to be celebrated, could never make you see how truly aware I am that not only do I have the most beautiful 41 year-old wife on earth, I have the most beautiful wife on earth. But alas,I am never at my best, and thus, fall even further short of what I desire to give you. But I do desire it, and I promise from the bottom of my heart, to try and go beyond just the day, and make your 42nd year the best of your entire life.
Happy Birthday, my love.


Thursday, March 17, 2005


Cling. Hold on.


Wednesday, March 16, 2005


If you walk around one day with a matte finish - all dull and tarnished - your bling bling will show up more and everyone will notice. It's really the same thing as how the stars can't be seen until the sun goes down. When your normal, inner bling fails for a time, the external, extraneous bling will shine.
I know, the stars are beautiful in absence of the sun, but who wants to be outshone by his bling?


Tuesday, March 15, 2005


I'm sitting in my FROG working on Sunday's service and listening to the who who who of an owl in the back yard. Listening to him ask that question over and over, I'm reminded of all the strange fowl incidents I've had in the past several days. There must be some message here that I'm missing. First, I was riding with D and E up to Molly's Rock and glanced in a field beside the road to see a sizeable flock of turkeys staring at my noisy windhorse. Sunday afternoon Dan stopped by on his way home to see if I wanted to ride. He told me that he'd actually been pegged in the chest by a bird on his way to church that morning. We did take a ride and not 3 miles from the house, I nearly hit a buzzard as big as me who was dining at the edge of the road and panicked as I came upon him. In one flap he was up 3 feet and directly in front of my bike. I was this close to being splattered with fresh buzzard and day old raccoon. An hour later I passed by a heron standing ankle deep in a puddle on the side of the road. Then Sunday night after church, I went to the dam to take the picture you now see as the background for the cyberdeck, and after I'd been standing there for 20 or 30 minutes or so talking to dad on the phone, a giant owl lifted over the guardrail 5 feet in front of me and flew right over my head as silent as the night and out of sight.
Add to that the geese that fly over the house screaming every night at approximately 3:00am, and the woodpecker who serves as my 6:00am alarm clock thinking that despite yesterday's fruitless search, surely this time my bedroom window frame will yield some tasty six-legged morsels.
Hitchcock is no longer with us, is he?
Poe, Poe pitiful me.




Perhaps the secret then, is not to write beautiful words, but to write words that make the reader think of beautiful words. No, that can't be it, it's not about the words at all.


Monday, March 14, 2005

he who has ears (part 2)

Even in the form of a human, God is an artist. Jesus constantly taught using stories that contained as the characters, people they knew and understood, situations, culture and lifestyles with which they were familiar. Jesus’ metaphors used levels of his listeners’ understanding to cause them to search for similarities in the concepts he was trying to convey. We know that this was his main method of communication because nearly all of his recorded teaching appears this way, and on the very night that he died, his disciples expressed surprise that he was speaking straight up with no figures of speech.
Jesus seems to have created an atmosphere for learning in which all the pieces would fit together at once, and each piece would suddenly make sense of all the others. It seems highly likely that the disciples wouldn’t have been surprised by his straight talk had he talked straight before. I suspect that the vast majority, if not all of Jesus’ teaching was done artistically, through metaphors and myth and figures of speech.
While Jesus’ stories and metaphors and teachings require all the others to make sense, we tend to tear his teaching apart, explain away the art, present it a detail at a time, scientifically, with big modern words like soteriology and propitiation. Thus the gospel is reduced to fire insurance and the fine print reads like the indecipherable ten pages that come with your State Farm bill every month. Relationship is reduced to religion, love is reduced to life-style, eternity starts when you die, and the kingdom is no longer at hand, but probably will be presently.
These were the very same things that Jesus was trying to restore while he was here. Lost relationship, and real living in this life. Amazing that we can reduce his teaching to the exact thing he was trying to overcome.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

waxing worm moon

she may not look like much to you, showing only 6% of her face, but give her time, in a couple weeks she'll be completely unveiled and her bright smile will light up the night. Each month, she brings promise and is named accordingly. This month, she's called the worm moon because the ground thaws and the rains increase so that the earthworms surface and aerate the soil for spring planting and provide food for the Robins as they follow spring Northward.
Yes, she is fickle, but she always comes around. And this month she brings with her, warm breezes and daffadils. Surely there is a connection of which she's aware, between warm breezes and prepared soil. That's why she's smiling. It is not a teasing smile, which I have erroneously perceived while gazing at her with a heavy heart. Once, I even thought she was laughing at me, her eyes seemed so cold and uncaring. But tonight her smile is as warm as the breeze across the dam as she sets on the west side of the lake. Tonight she whispers promises. Promises of sprouts and buds and blossoms and the return of Venus to the evening sky.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

some days 3

Some days you have to walk through the sky to get to the mailbox.
The porch is enshrouded and the air is wet on your skin.

Some days the very same sky hangs just above the trees
creating a low ceiling that seems to box you in even more than the fog.

Some days the sky is white with consistent thin, high clouds.

Some days the sky is completely clear and the blue color of a ’65 Chevy pickup truck,
but stretched tight and flat high overhead.
They name crayons after this sky.

Some days the sky is round and clear and rich and so
deep that it is an ocean floating just above the house whose sandy floor is leagues above.
On these days you can simply let go with your feet and fall into the blue, stirring the wispy clouds, and look up at the earth and wonder what kept you there so long.


Friday, March 11, 2005

good news

We heard the good news today in chapel. It was in the form of a lengthy life story of one of our campus employees. As I listened, I thought of Jesus' words, "I came that you might have life, and more abundantly." Basically, that's it. That's what the four narratives contain. Jesus goes around giving people life and teaching them to live that life. The good news, "I've got life to give." Give. Gift.
Today we heard a living man up on the platform quietly telling us about receiving a gift. It was offered and he took it. Life begun. Relationship.
Basically that was how Jesus did it, offered himself, taught us how to take him. He didn't make a big deal to us about how the gift would be made possible, he took care of that. Just offered himself. I'm sad that we've added so much to the gift that we've made it less than it is. We've taken away the spirituality of it. We've removed the friendship. We've drained the life.
Good news is the same as it's always been. Though we've misrepresented it and made a bomb of it, the gift is still offered, we can still take it and everything can change.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

there she goes

snow moon wanes
and with her, winter.
gone, the old man's icy breath.
warm breeze lifts
the dying sliver -
blossoms rising underneath.


Monday, March 07, 2005




Sunday, March 06, 2005

my eternal green plant

When I was a kid, I used to hear the older folks speak with more than resolution about impending death. For many, it couldn't come quickly enough. Some folks in my church would practically beg to move on. I could never understand it, there on the verge of my experience with all of life ahead, wondering at rumors of wonders I could only vaguely imagine. These people were tired, ready for rest and the next set of wonders. Perhaps they felt exactly as I did - on the verge of experience, life ahead, dim mirror images only vaguely imagined. I was standing in a doorway, looking into a room that they had long since passed through and I could see their doorway, but they could glimpse into the next room.
As I sat and listened to the longing expressed by those old folks, in my incomplete, uninformed state, over time, I was allowed to see a little bit of what they were experiencing. Weary, encumbered, inhibited. As I’ve grown, I’ve actually felt weary, encumbered, inhibited, weighted. I too, have developed a growing longing.

Of course the sparse early signals of Spring have me thinking of these things. Those white blossoms on scattered bushes around town, the twin tulip trees, today’s tiny purple blossoms nearly hidden in the brown, brittle grass.
Seasons are symbols of death and rebirth and living and waiting. We speak of winter as death, spring as rebirth, or resurrection, the summer, the long hot toiling, productive years. Autumn is that beautiful, colorful period of old age- that glorious restful, contented time of fulfillment in the waning years.
This is certainly a beautiful picture of life as each segment of time seems to be a microcosm of life itself. Months were once measured and marked by the birth of the new moon who after a few days of darkness emerges as a sliver and waxes to full glory at middle age before waning and returning to darkness to be reborn. The cycle of life of the moon is my favorite microsm picture of the vapor we call life, for like the Phoenix, the moon must surrender, and die to be reborn. But there are others. Each week closes with the restful exhalation of the weekend and begins anew with the excited new resurrection day. Each day is born with a glorious dawn - darkness overcome with new mercies. The day plays itself out through long, toiling, vain hours and the sun sets. We lay ourselves down to peaceful rest- a reward for perseverance more than productivity and contribution. We awake to start again. We breathe in and are born. We breathe out and die.
Over and over, on and on, we live in tiny, nested microcosms of larger versions of themselves. All around us, the cycle is played out. Birth, life, death. We inhale, we exhale. All there to create a longing for something completely different. Something we've imagined, perhaps even glimpsed, maybe even touched or tasted in the long afternoon or summer, or full moon - before death came and we were made to be reborn yet again.
I’ve symbolized this longing in many ways – a symbolic washing, death and rebirth, an engraved Phoenix on my shoulder blade. But there is so much more in me and of me that still needs to die. Oh that I could kill it all soon enough to watch the new blossoms burst with Spring ’05. I long for the death of cycles and symbols and mirror images. A glimpse of consistency and constancy. An eternal green plant. A flower that does not fade. A condensation of life that does not evaporate.
What blossoms will emerge tomorrow, never to wither and fall?


Saturday, March 05, 2005

lit up with anticipation

You'll remember that last Saturday, the tulip trees down Irmo drive had begun to break open their blossoms exactly a week earlier than last year. All week long we've had beautiful but quite chilly weather. Temperatures have been below freezing four nights in a row, and daytime highs haven't been high enough when combined with winds from the first week of March to keep one's lips from quivering when walking across campus.
Well it's a week later. Its 9:00am and the sun is shining brightly. It's 57 degrees and the weather man is promising 68 this afternoon. So far, the Bradford pears haven't not yet blossomed and the air is still clean and clear of pine pollen. Any guesses on what time today the pear trees will burst?


Thursday, March 03, 2005

a mile and a half

Today was Jack's FIRST track meet.
He ran the 1600 meters and the 800 meters. Both these events are considered "runs" in middle school. I was a long sprinter in High School, which included the 800 meters, but I didn't run it very often. My regular events were the 400m, the 800m relay and the 1600m relay. Tonight, I was reminded of the greatest challenge of early track season - frigid temps. I was reminded of how difficult it is to hang out on an open field in the blowing wind with the thermometer reading 46 degrees while trying to stay warm enough not to cause bodily damage when the gun goes off and sudden exertion tries to rip sinews in two.
So as I stood along lane 6 at the start/finish line tonight with winter gloves on with my hands in my pockets and my toes tingling, then numb. My heart went out to my middle distance runner son who shaved a truckload of time off both the half and the mile, and only at his first meet. Smiles all around and a prideful father heart. May this be the beginning of an ever-improving scholastic track and field career.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

he who has ears

I think I’ve written before on this blog about my simplistic definition of art. What is it that actually lies beneath the surface of art that distinguishes it from superficial pop fare where there is nothing below the proverbial epidermis? Pop tells the listener all there is to tell. There is no more. Art doesn’t have to tell the listener anything. Art can serve as a catalyst for images, sounds, memories, and information that allows the listener to formulate the story that the artist intended.
In this way, the listener is involved in the telling of the story to himself; he creates scenery, meaning and application based on his own knowledge, memories and experiences. He is the discoverer, and one is much more likely to be affected by and claim ownership of his own discovery than by something he is told by someone else. The artist then, causes one to call upon himself and engage with the artwork in a way that allows him to assimilate his own experience and knowledge, even identity, in ways that he hasn’t previously done, to arrive at new insight and understanding.
Thus, art requires an education to fully mean. That is not to say that one has to be educated to understand or be affected by all art. Though art may use elements that one’s experience doesn’t include and therefore require knowledge of them, the education that I am talking about can be purely experiential. The wonder of most art is that it contains something for everyone, regardless of the level at which they can experience and understand the work.
At this point, I am talking about more than appreciation. We often use that word when we really mean respect for something that we don’t think we can understand. We respect it as something we think is too big for us, but we don’t really appreciate it, or even know what is there for us not to understand. We are always suspect then, of people who seem to or say that they understand it on a deeper level.
In class, for the past couple years I’ve used an unlikely example of my concept of art as an attempt to help my students understand what I’m talking about with experiential layers. The example I’ve used has been the “Ozzy’s Nightmare”, Pepsi Twist commercial that premiered during Superbowl XXXVI. I felt like that commercial better summarized and commented on loads of stuff about 30 years of pop culture in 30 seconds than any piece I’ve ever seen that intentionally set about commenting on and summarizing 30 years of pop culture.
The reason that I use that example is because my students can easily see the layers of experience that they have or don’t have. Preceding the commercial, was an original campaign featuring a darling little girl named Halley Eisenberg with whom Pepsi drinkers had fallen in love. That campaign was tweaked when Pepsi twist exemplified the morphing of Pepsi with the girl morphing into Halle Berry. Halle Berry, in turn morphed into Barry Bostwick for the final disappointing twist on the process. This name-related sequence of unlikely connections was very clever, and the first experiential requirement to understand the Ozzy commercial on its most superficial level.
At the time of the commercial, Ozzy and his family were the talk of a nation with their reality tv show. Everyone felt that they knew the quirky, irreverent, dysfunctional family. At this level, even the kids watching tv could enjoy the commercial even if they didn’t recognize the other characters that invaded Ozzy’s dream. But the real truth and art of the short spot was reserved for those who not only knew who Donnie and Marie were, but had experienced them and a culture that embraced and celebrated the tv persona of a squeaky clean, bright smiled, purity of the brother/sister team - direct antithesis of Jack and Kelly Osbourne. (The Osbourne/Osmond name thing being connected to the original “twist” commercials is nothing short of a gift from God.) Finally, the depth of the commercial goes back a few more years to nod to those who are old enough to have experienced a culture that embraced the Brady Bunch as the definitive sitcom family and Carol Brady as the antithesis to Sharon Osbourne. Sure, all these shows have probably been seen by even the youngest viewers in eternal re-runs on cable, but the culture that produced them can never be re-run. You either were there or you weren’t. You can only learn about what was, not why and what it felt like.
But you also have to have experienced everything in between to see the commentary on a grafted household of half-siblings run by a man, morally supported by a woman and held together by a maid as opposed to an original surviving family unit, with a man unable even to open a garbage bag, much less run his family. The real commentary here is that Ozzy had no counterpart in the commercial. He is our pop culture’s icon of masculinity. Bumbling, unkempt, confused, incoherent, laughable, and filthy rich. The woman in both her manifestations takes up the slack and saves the day. And the children provide the evidence.
But all that is just a digression.

I would like to say then that art should never be qualified by its age or appreciated timelessness, or even its mere beauty. What does it do in the eye or ear or mind of its beholder? The Mona Lisa, or the Venus de Milo, or Antigone, or Les Miserable, are wonders that will live on, but their role has changed. We can’t possibly hear from them what they originally, in their contexts, said to those in their contexts. It is ironic that we save the definition of art as that which has stood the test of time. The test of time has changed the role of those works and therefore our definition. Ironic that we won’t designate anything as art that is new, for it is in art’s original context that it has the ability to do what art originally does – speak. We close our ears to it and wait to see if it is still around years from now so that we can appreciate it because it is old rather than for what it has to say. In most cases, when we come to appreciate it, it will no longer have anything to say, except maybe, “I’m pretty.” Perhaps with this mindset, we sell short not only new art, but also the stuff that we revere, by expecting less from it than it has to give.