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Exchange of Values

Exchange of Values
acrylic on board 48'X96'

"Structure of Color Perception"

"Structure of Color Perception"
48'X96' acrylic on board

Saturday, February 25, 2012

“There Eyes Were Watching God:”

Watching Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto last night, this scene from the movie suggested itself to me as something to reflect upon during lent. The movie seems to borrow a bit from Joshua in the Old Testament, Black Elk Speaks, the Gospel of John, ‘Grand Theft Auto IV, and Popul Vuh effectively (if not without some controversy, but let’s face it, without predicting the end of the world, no one would pay much attention to Mayans). Let me offer up just one scene, with obligations to Morning Minions:

On the tribe’s last night together before being attacked, scattered, enslaved and killed, the Mayan natives gather around their wise old storyteller who tells them of a Man (sic) “drenched deep in sadness:” In this traditional story, the animals, feeling empathy for the sorrow of Man, come to him and invite him to seek from them whatever he needs. Asking first for sight, the man receives it as a gift from the keen sighted vulture. Seeking strength, the jaguar then shares his own with the man. The man, wanting to know the secrets of the earth, finds even the serpent offering: ‘I will share them all with you.’ The old story teller continues: "And so it went with all the animals. And when the Man had received all the gifts that all other life could give, he left them to be with his own kind. Then the owl said to the other animals: ‘Now the Man knows much and is able to do many things. Suddenly I am afraid.’ The deer said: ‘The Man has all that he needs. Now his sadness will stop.’ But the owl replied: ‘No. I saw a hole in the Man. Deep like a hunger he will never fill. It is what makes him sad and what makes him want. He will go on taking and taking until one day the World will say: ‘I am no more and I have nothing left to give.’"

I don’t want to belabor the point, but as much as I dislike the Jew-bashing Gibson he has some interesting insights into the human condition (although “What Women Want” may not be the best example of this). Perhaps contemplating the ‘dark hole’ in his own savage heart has opened his soul to his need for mercy and grace (I know that usually works for me). Also, it’s reported that Mel fancies drinking large amounts of “Johnny Walker Black” which was also a favorite of existentialist J.P. Sartre, so let’s cut him a little slack and give the medicine time to do it’s work, who knows maybe Mel will film a version of Sartre’s “Reflections on the Jewish Question." Now for those of you in the “Jesus hates religion” crowd there’s plenty in this movie to feast on! Pompous potentates, elaborate liturgies, super-stitious spectacles, ecclesiastical intrigue, and blood, rivers of blood....

I have been re-reading Zora Neal Hurston’s “There Eyes Were Watching God” for another project (see below) and in chapter 16 she writes:

“It was inevitable that she [Janie] should accept any inconsistency and cruelty from her deity as all good worshippers do from theirs. All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood.”

We Roman Catholics share a real affinity for this kind of religion! When I saw that sacrificial scene in Apocalypto on the temple mount with the King and Queen, the Mayan Pontiffs and Mitre’s, those vestal virgins, and the knife wielding priests, well a phantasmic pre-memory arose in my innards and I compunctiously reached for my rosary and chanted ‘Our Father’s’ and ‘Hail Mary’s’ right up until the eclipse, that sacred sacrifice of the Sun, that saved the last innocent native soul from Xbalba’s wrath and our need for scapegoats.

Yes, we RC’s have always known that there’s always just the shearest veneer of catecheticaly woven lace between us and Apocalypto. 6000 years of “progress” from the pre-Socratics to Saint Paul, to Thomas Aquinas, to Barth and Balthasar, and yet the fate of the Shire still balances on the knife edge of a most bestial cataclysmia (for evidence, simply watch the trans-vaginalized speeches of Rick Sanctorum and Newt Gingrich). Well, I pray that the Lenten Quadragesima be a time for y’all of painful but spiritually fruitful self-reflection, self denial, the embracing of our own darkness, and a new rising towards the unimaginable light of an all encompassing redemption of the whole world.

Kyries Eleison


p.s. just an Easter reminder from Jesus: "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." John 6:53, 56.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

I am diligently working on the “Meaning of meaning” for Poser/Prophet but I got sidetracked by a theological blog or FB comment that said something like, “...where we, or it, all went wrong was....” And that sent me to wondering ( and questioning) the notion that there was some point in the past where things were ‘right’ to begin with; and that a worthy project is to figure out when that was, what it looked like and try to get ourselves back to it. Well, I stayed up half the night writing this little ditty and setting it to music, and obviously things got out of hand! I got ideas for another dozen verses but if any y’all got an idea just tack it there on the bottom, obliged.

When Did It All Go Wrong by Daniel Imburgia

When did it all go wrong, how did we lose our way

Where did the hope and the promises go, from the prophets of yesterday

We once were a family, that shared all our sorrows and pains

Now we are strangers alone in the world with nowhere to hide from the rain.

Don’t blame the sinners and gamblers who bet on the roll of the dice

look in the mirror when the carriage and horses, change into pumpkins and mice

The truth is not hard to find in this world, it’s just hard to look square in the face

We’d rather serve the god’s we deserve, than kneel before mercy and grace.

Don’t look at us with accusing eyes, though we traveled with the man for years

We stuck with him, through the thick and the thin, sharing his hunger and tears

But when It came down to wearing the crown, He just didn’t have the first clue

All this talk about dying and washing our feet, that’s no way to run your own crew

Yes I was the one that the Lord loved the best, I would sit on his right hand side

I Imagined the power that I would wield then, ruling heaven and earth with pride

He rebuked me and said, get behind me instead, I must become servant of all

So why risk my hide, someone’s got to survive, to run things after his fall.

We’re just in town for the high holy days, punch our ticket and get back to home

We’ve spilt enough blood of the sheep and the doves as sinners who need to atone

The next thing you know, we got caught in the flow, and the crowd turned into a mob

We were yelling out loud “crucify him!” then just let us get back to our jobs.

He had plenty of friends when it all began and the miracles fell from on high

The boozers at parties who asked for more wine, but could never drink Mary’s place dry

The cripples the blind the deaf and the bleeding all clamored for just one more touch

But how can you blame us that’s just how we are, one healing is never enough.

Our business was words, we scribe what we’re told, and don’t judge the hearts of men

Let them turn all our phrases into unholy praises, their swords cut deeper than pens

So we found a few loopholes around those commands that ask us to love and repent

They may not be found in the black and the white, but who really knows what He meant

Zeus how I hate this hot dusty place, how I pray to get home to my pasta

All these procuratorial headaches to clean, the hands of Caesar Augusta

Who the hell cares who did what and to whom, among fools flinging arrows and slings

What matters most is that everyone knows there can be just one Kinger of Kings

Don’t look at us we hid out in the desert, trying to keep ourselves undefiled

The world of the flesh will soon burn away like the dry grass stacked in the field

He was the one who mixed it all up, men an women, clean and unclean

We built high walls in our minds and our souls, that’s why they call us Essenes.

Down the dark ally by the bars and the brothels, where the righteous stalk only by night

Live the queers and the hookers that the holiest shun, forced to hide from the light

But they’re not the ones who betrayed him to death, with a lie and a fatal embrace

That was his brother who ate is last super, and then sold him out in disgrace.

We priests did our best to control the unrest, and intercede between sinners and God

Pragmatically speaking better one man goes down, than we all face the firing squad

There’ll be plenty of time some future day, to apologize and make him a saint

Now there’s necks to be slashed, checks to be cashed, money that’s got to be changed.

Don’t try to pin this on the poor and the hungry, they get blamed enough all the time

The bread on the mount, was all gone by then, so they followed the next guy in line

Their children were crying and sickly, the soldiers had stolen their grain

You can’t live on words no matter how pretty, and parables don’t ease the pain.

I’m just a guy out to make a quick buck, they need crosses and I got the wood

Business is business and empires are built, on killing so business is good

“Make us three crosses, no need to deliver each customer carries their own”

The local economy has been in a slump, since trouble’s broke out in the slums.

We don’t approve, explain or excuse, we just do our jobs for the gold

We take ten percent off the top and don’t ask, where the other percentages go

I ain’t never met him in person, I’ve seen coins with his name and his face

But the image of Caesar that’s one you best please for, he’s the god of this human race.

But It’s not the fault of the soldier, he just follows and does what he told

He misses his wife and his family, but when called he got up to go

He would rather not beat down the prisoners, and whip them until they bleed dry

But he still wove a crown for the King of the Jews, as a joke to make us all smile.

Now Pharisees become such a dirty word, meaning someone who’s stuck in their ways

A hypocrite book thumping bigot, telling lies with their outward displays

But we were just trying to help all survive, til the Messiah could make the scene

If you fight with Romans for homeland security, then sometimes you got to get mean.

We just did our best to follow the law, keeping strict every jot and each tittle

But he got in our face and called us all snakes, so none of us voted acquittal

We did what we could to survive as we should, choosing the least of two evils

Turned the law inside out, to bury our doubts, but the ends justify the illegals

Don’t blame the lepers whose skin you won’t touch, we got healed and gratefully bowed

He took all our shame, and our bloody robes stained, and gave us new faces for now

But we didn’t know who he was on that road, with his body broke and betrayed

As he staggered down the Via Dolorosa, dragging his cross on the way.

We Zealots took to the streets with our knives, we would cut the throats of all traitors

Then we’d pull the kings down from their thrones, by the strength of our mighty Creator

We sang about Judah the Hammer and waited, for heaven to lend us a hand

But when no one appeared, as most of us feared, we voted Barabbas our savior.

The King had his hands full at home, with his concubines, mistress and wives

Keeping the peace was a full time job, needing money, torture and lies

It’s not his fault if his subjects below, would not render to those up on high

So once in awhile he killed just to show, how to keep all the others in line.

Don’t blame the devil, ole beelzebub, don’t lay it all on his neck

He played out the hand that was dealt him, we were warned to never look back

Maybe Job had a right to question the Lord, about why his whole life went to hell

But lucifer got the OK to whack him, it’s just business so don’t take it personal!

As slaves we’re good at taking commands, and not asking the who’s and the why’s

We talk about freedom and liberty, but our chains have become paradise

All that talk about justice and mercy and prisoners walking scott-free

But its been more than four thousand years, and were still waiting for one Jubilee

Lazarus asleep for days in his tomb, waiting for michael to blow

blinked at the light and then asked is it right to be woken before time to go?

But he wasn’t there when they beat him and jeered, and nailed him up on that cross

He got raised up once, now he sits back and waits, just like the rest of us.

When did it all go wrong, how did we lose our way

Where did the hope and the promises go, from the prophets of yesterday

We once were one family, that shared all our sorrows and pains

Now we are strangers alone in the world and nowhere to hide from the rain

Obliged y’all.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My friend Dan Oudshoorn over at On Journeying With Those In Exile <> has asked me and some other folks to share a guest post on his blog. I appreciated the offer but I often have a hard time self-starting on anything longer than a FB comment (that’s why there are only 6 or 7 posts on this blog in 3 years; and really, FB wisecracks and sarcastic blog comments should not suggest one be given the responsibility and honor of a whole post on my favorite and a highly esteemed blog). However, I asked Dan to pose me some questions an I would see if anything came to me, this is what he sent me:

(1) What is meaning?

(2) What is the significance of meaning?

(3) What is the relationship of meaning to ethics?

(4) What is the relationship of meaning to events?

(5) What is the relationship of meaning to actions?

(6) What is the relationship of meaning to desire?

(7) What is the relationship of meaning to language?

(8) What is the relationship of meaning to being?

(9) What is the relationship of one person's sense of meaning to other senses of meaning?

(10) What is the relationship of meaning to meaninglessness?

Of course, this freaked me out, and is a good example of what happens when you shoot your mouth off a lot on other folks blogs with pseudo-intellectual pretentiousness and didactic pontificating (along with large forkful’s of quasi-B.S.). Still I am accepting DanO’s challenge and I am working diligently on my response. Bear in mind, I have never actually posed myself as anything other than a mediocre Hillbilly-folk singer; and since all my friends and family are on FB and read this blog, they can keep in check any tendency I have towards self-aggrandizement and exaggeration--especially my wife!

Now while I am working on my response I asked DanO to answer a question for me as well, and he accepted. I have great respect for DanO’s writing, insights, scholarship, intellectual heft and experience living and working in places of homelessness and suffering (see his blog for bio). So, since DanO and others have been writing a lot lately on the experience of “godforsakeness” and the larger questions of God’s presence (or absence, indifference, of disappearance) in the terrible places of suffering, despair and death in this world my question was: “What is your experience and understanding of the Jewish concept of TziTzum?” “TzimTzum” you may have noticed is the name of this blog. Below is DanO’s excellent reply:

Dear Daniel,

In response to the relatively simple and playful questions that I asked you, you responded with one that is more serious and difficult to answer. You asked about my “experience and understanding of the Jewish concept of Tzim Tzum.” I will reverse the order of your question to speak of my “understanding” of the concept and then will turn to the question of my “experience” thereof (although, it should be noted at the outset that any “understanding” I have is questionable based upon the limitations of my experience).

I am only familiar with the concept of Tzim Tzum through the writings of a Christian theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, who employs the idea extensively in his book, God In Creation. It has been some time since I read that book, but I remember that Moltmann did engage the Jewish sources in some detail. Thus, the notion of Tzim Tzum, according to (my memory of) Moltmann, is one that seeks to explain how there can be that-which-is-not-God when God is all-encompassing. The explanation is that God withdraws into God's self in order to create a space that is free for the development of that-which-is-not-God. Perhaps a womb would be a good analogy. A space exists, within a given woman, for the development of that-which-is-not-the-woman. That which develops in that space within the woman is not the woman, but it still develops within the woman. So is creation unto God, from this perspective.

This then, leads Moltmann to two or three points that are important to his theology. First, it leads to his development of the notion of panentheism – not that all things are God(s), but that all things are in God. Secondly, Tzim Tzum then develops a different perspective on the experience of exile – didn't some Rabbis relate Tzim Tzum to exile (I don't remember)? Basically, the point is that God has been withdrawing into an exile of God's own, from the moment of creation onwards, and so God's people, who experience exile, can also meet with the exiled God there. Hence, one finds God with the godforsaken in their experience of godforsakenness. Third, and moving into explicitly Christian content, Moltmann uses this concept to support his perspective on kenosis and the sufferings of God, in that God's choice to limit God's self, and God's choice to do so on behalf of creation, is revealed to be rooted in the character of God from the origins of the universe. Jesus, then, according to Moltmann, is simply revealing what God has done and been doing from the beginning of time/space.

So much for my understanding of things. I don't know how much of what I know is true of the Jewish sources or has been added on by Moltmann – other than the obvious addition of Jesus to the mix. The harder question is how I have experienced Tzim Tzum (how does one “experience” a “concept”?).

Half a dozen years ago, when I first really began to explore notions of godforsakenness, exile and suffering not only conceptually but by moving into spaces that appeared to be marked by those things, I found encouragement in this way of thinking. It helped motivate that course of action. Being inspired by a narrative that spoke of a God who journeyed into places of godforsakenness – a God who went into exile, who suffered alongside of creation, a Spirit who groaned, a Messiah who was crucified – I also sought out places that were identified by those things – godforsakenness, suffering, groaning, crucifixion – and thought that I could both help to be a Christ-like presence there while simultaneously finding the presence of Christ there. And, for many years, I found that and, perhaps in some small ways, I was that.

Now I don't know... everything related to meaning, theology, even language, seems to be a game we create and play, in many ways, to get around or away from how events actually feel. Godforsakenness just feels like abandonment. Suffering just hurts. Groaning comes because we have no other words. Crucifixion sucks.

To borrow from Cormac McCarthy's novels – violence simply is. Trauma simply is. Now I don't know any sort of over-coding or narrative that makes sense of those things. Not that I want to discourage others from finding ways to deal with those things by means of meaningful over-codings, narratives, or other ways of making sense. I just have trouble buying into any of it all myself. I want violence to not be. I want trauma to not be. Full stop.

So, Tzim Tzum now seems like a beautiful idea but one that does not connect to the world as it is experienced, not necessarily by me (because I am not as much the focus of my own thinking any more) but by others. If I prioritize the experiences of others whom I have known then Tzim Tzum, or a God in exile, a groaning Spirit and a crucified Christ, doesn't make much of a difference in a meaningful, experiential way.

And that is the place where I find myself. Perhaps still in the womb of God... but who knows if that makes any tangible sort of difference... maybe it makes a difference after we die... maybe... but for now, so what?”

Friday, February 10, 2012

A little ditty about the gray whales that are due here on whidbey Island. As someone who has worked for many years in ‘resource extraction’ jobs, like logging, open-pit mining and crab fishing in the Bering sea, for what it's worth I confess my own culpability in planetary degradation.

The last Supper

I imagine that last whale

Coming to a dead stop and just


And not hearing her song return to her

Lies still gray silent

Not accusing her maker for her circumstances

Even the last whale song is beautiful

They have watched us from the beginning

Bobbing on the surface, splashing, laughing, crying, dying

Not Standoffish at all, for ones so small

Though it turns out that the entire ocean was

Not big enough

We won’t know for sure when the last whale died

Technically speaking

The whale--killers will return from the sea empty handed again

Another venture will be written off as a loss on the balance sheets

The ship will be refitted to hunt penguins or starfish or angels

Then one day a marine biologist or responsible government agency

Someone with authority

Will simply state the obvious, “they are all gone,” dead

Then back to business as usual

Some family in Osaka or Haugesund will look up from their plates

And say, ‘had we known, we would have savored it all the more’

One day the gods will notice how quiet earth is

No clamor of war, no prayers for more

And after seeing no lights on at night for awhile

Will say something like, “huh” now when did that happen?