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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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Holy Family
By Father John Giuliani

Matthew 2:13   “Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”   Shall we pray that Jesus gets away?  

This weekend marked the lamentation of the Holy Innocents (children killed by Herod’s henchman), the feast of the Holy Family, as well as the anniversary or the massacre at Wounded Knee.  If you are actually interested you can look all that up on wikipedia.  Even though I wrote another of my insipid and usually passed over 1500 word responses like I have been doing every year to blog here or post on facebook, I decided  not to post it or any graphic pictures of frozen corpses of dead Lakota children either.  I am just too weary of all of this kind of discourse.  Sure many of my limousine liberal friends would “like” and share in my ineffectual moral outrage.  And most of my conservative friends would politely roll their eyes and say to themselves “well there goes Daniel again whining about dead Indians or dead whales or Yemeni children killed by drone strikes or whatever....” and of course nothing and no one changes.  The waters rise and children die, and the seeds of our next war or genocide are already germinating, sprouting, even as our last two hot wars wind down and all those dead, wounded, and maimed are quietly forgotten.  No amount of logical and reasonable argument or witty memes or bible verses seem to have any actual effect on us--especially bible verses.

I don’t know if it is even possible for an american like me (white, privileged, male, hetero) to read the bible or recognize the movements of the divine Spirit with any understanding.  We children of the empire are so insinuated into it’s consciousness and ideologies how could any words of life possibly break or seduce their way into our hearts and minds?  Our suffering and oppressed liberationist sisters and brothers have said as much and I believe them...I mostly want to believe them.  I wonder if that is why I read and others compose so much cleverly brilliant theology.  Is it in order to compensate for a lack of any transforming understanding and to buffer any encounter with meaningful and revolutionary truth?  How much of the spiritual/religiously labeled stuff that I do (including clogging up the facebook newsfeed with my rants) is an attempt to fill up or escape from an unbearable silence, or to hide from and even more threatening soul changing encounter with such profoundly simple words such as “Blessed are the poor,” or “Love your enemies,” or even “love...thy self.”  These phrases are so domesticated and distorted I despair that I can ever begin to know what they mean.  But I have stood by the mass grave of the murdered at Wounded Knee many times and I know this much; those words should never mean that.    

We americans have perfected an entirely new post-modern genre of fiction called “reality.”  And the ‘real’ fictional characters of this imaginary “reality show” that we pattern our lives after seem closer to us, more desirable and substantial, than some aphoristic and surreal character from a tragic bible story.  But the empire, the principalities and powers of this world, never stop hunting for Jesus and so all those mostly poor and dark skinned Rachels never stop weeping for their dead children.  I just stop caring or listening.

Much obliged

P.s.  Just in case anyone does want to actually study Wounded Knee further let me offer this review/mash up of quotes etc, of this excellent book “Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre.” by Heather Cox Richardson (New York: Basic Books, 2010).  It is one of the best on Wounded Knee and the politics of genocide.  Once one understands Wounded Knee the insights gained from that incident can be applied to most of the genocides/colonial wars of america’s past, present, or future and those of most other countries as well.  This particular massacre though occurred under the administration of pres. Benjamin Harrison, who believed that his presidency (like so many others) was ordained by God, and he was an ardent supporter of the interests of big business and western expansion.  The ”Illustrated Newspaper” owned by Frank Leslie was the main propaganda tool used by the republican party and by the early 1880’s (think of it as the “Fox News” of it’s day and how Fox (as well as the NYT) was instrumental in promoting the war in Iraq) and it seemed that a triumph of republican industrial economic ideology was possible.  But Harrison needed western voters in order to maintain republican power and they hoped that supporting statehood for western territories would produce republican majorities there.  So Harrison opened up Dakota reservations to white settlements in the early 1890’s and of course the railroads and settlers poured in. for years Harrison and other party operatives continuously exaggerated or invented stories about the Indian threat to settlers in order to incite whites to demand more soldiers to be sent to the territories.  More soldiers and forts brought capital from the east to the territories and was instrumental in winning support for Harrison.  A similar strategy was used effectively by democratic Pres. Andrew Jackson and his ‘Indian Removal Act” of 1830 which was effected in part to win southern voters to the democratic party, a policy that along with support of slavery consolidated democratic control of the south until the civil rights era of the 1960’s.

In the fall of 1890, the administration of the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of six Sioux Reservations in South Dakota, fell to Republican agent Daniel Royer.  The new Ghost Dance Religion, a kind of gospel preached by the Northern Paiute mystic Wovoka of an imminent millennium that would deliver Native Americans from the sufferings imposed by the whites was spreading and Royer was worried that Sioux bands would incite an uprising and called for more military assistance.  As winter approached troops flooded across the Dakotas and on December 15 Sitting Bull, the famed leader of the Battle of Little Bighorn, was killed when agency police attempted his arrest. Sioux bands feared that the whites were planning additional arrests. Reservation leaders asked Big Foot, leader of the Minneconjou Teton Sioux, to come to Pine Ridge Reservation with his followers in hopes that together they could restore the peace. Intercepted by the Seventh Cavalry commanded by Colonel James W. Forysth on December 28, Big Foot's band made camp for the night about five miles east of Wounded Knee Creek.  On the following morning as the soldiers attempted to disarm the Indian camp of their few remaining hunting weapons the gun of one man who refused to give up his rifle went off and the fearful and inexperienced soldiers opened fire. ‘At least 150 Sioux men, women, and children were killed in the ensuing massacre (along with a still undetermined number of soldiers killed by friendly fire).  Babies were shot while still in their cradleboards. The army's Hotchkiss canons tore through wagons filled with fleeing human cargo of women and children, their bodies torn apart by the cannon's volleys.’ In the aftermath the massacre, Republican politicians attempted to clean up their mess. Through portraying the massacre as a "battle," exonerating Colonel Forsyth from wrongdoing, and awarding twenty of the soldiers with the Medal of Honor.

I ardently recommend this book for anyone who might want to know more about how power manifests itself in this world.  And yes I know that I have written an awful lot today about what i was not going to write.  Forgive me and much obliged.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Digitally produced from Pankau art

“Their Eyes Were Watching God”

 "When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks make them hunt for one another."  Zora Neale Hurston.

My holiday poem:  

#Xmas in Tinseltown

You must be as sick of it as I am
Talk about suicide or pancreatic cancer
Sure children die but must we dwell on it
And those crucifix’s everywhere...
Can’t this all wait till after the holidays

If we’re going to invent them
Why not make kind and yielding gods
Eager to fix what we break and then
Tuck away nicely into our fanny-packs

Superheroes are what we really want
Not grim anchorites sworn to silence
Invisibility is not much of a super-power
If you leave bloody tracks everywhere

Isn’t it time for fresh gods who aren’t bound
To old books and sunday mornings
Free-market gods tested by focus groups
Crowd sourced customized and tweetable  

Branded deities that can compete on wall street
Survive the blood-sport of the trading floor
No more public subsidies for gods
Who can’t hack it in the real world

Where fortunes are made amusing ourselves
With plots of planetary annihilation
Mega-industries inventing fantastic scenarios
Of extinction and doom

Monstrous molecules invading our blood-stream
The dead risen and walking among us
Falling stars pulverizing capital cities 
Computer singularities conquering the noosphere

Our new gods won’t require faith
Only the willing suspension of dis-belief
Children will still die but
Who will bother to ask why?

No need to rub-out the old gods
Look how wounded and pitiful they are
Leave them for the sick and useless
Let them all wither away together 

Let’s re-create paradise ourselves
Temples without sacrifice or virginity
Hyper-linked fractal liturgies
Bloodless virtual bodies
The stars, look to the stars

Obliged and blessed holidays.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

*** Klediments:

The Roman Catholic church has recently sent out a questionnaire to all the faithful.  I haven’t finished mine yet and after writing for 2 weeks I missed the deadline.  It’s hard to imaging any other church doing this sort of thing.  Here is a couple of examples of the kinds of questions being asked:   

Question 1a--4a: Describe how the Catholic Church's teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible, Gaudium et Spes, Familiaris Consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church's teaching on family life?  4a: Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

In other words:  How many folks in your church are just hooking up and shagging like bunnies(and probably using rubbers to boot); and how many of y’all are instead sitting around studying papal encyclicals with unpronounceable Latin titles?  Oy vey.  Anyway, here is something I started writing on the back of the bulletin at mass on Saturday:


"Stand at the brink of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it anymore, draw back a little, and have a cup of tea.”  Elder Sophrony of Essex.

Mediating the existential void is perhaps the most important work of Religion.™  In performing that function Religion™ can be as destructive as many other kinds of mediation but when used as recommended Religion™ can be a safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of void-specific existential angst. 

(*WARNING: Mixing Religion™with other substances such as patriarchy, homophobia, machismo, individualism, materialism, nationalism, fundamentalism (or ‘isms’ of most any kind) may cause severe reactive disorders such as paranoia, oppression, the exploitation of others, hallucinations, racism, narcissism, and other painful symptoms that sometimes result in violent outbursts of physical aggression that in severe cases may lead to murderous wars and the establishment of empires.  Use Religion™only as needed and described by holy traditions, inspired scriptures, and/or direct encounters with Spiritussen Sancta.  Men who over-medicate themselves with Religion™are much more likely than women to suffer from severe side-effects such as irrational beliefs, conspiratorial ‘world views,’ non-specific outrage, denial of reality, and perverse addictions to books, alcohol, sports, pornography, pick-up trucks, duck-calls, guns, and other manifestations of erectile disfunction that in extreme cases reveal themselves as a compulsion for certitude and control sometimes known as “Hierarchical Dementia by Proxy.” If any of these symptoms occur stop using Religion™ immediately and consult your pastor, priest, exorcist, or an agnostic professor of German philosophy.  While Religion™may relieve the symptoms of existential anxiety, Religion™is not an effective alternative to faith, compassion, charity, forgiveness, solidarity, long suffering, justice, or grace.  However, when these substances are combined with Religion™ patients are often able to learn how to cope with and manage their fears and anxieties of death and nothingness in non-destructive and sometimes even positive ways.  Is Religion™the right treatment for you?  Have you dared to stare into the abyss but only found the darkness staring back?  Then Religion™prayer, and medication, may be the answers that you have been searching for.

Here is a link to the questionnaire:

And then there's this: 

*Caution there are very disturbing images in this video.”  This was posted on Facebook by an old friend of mine that I used to play music and sing with.  We have traveled different paths since then but I keep in touch because he is my conduit into a type of christianity that I like to keep tabs on.

Obliged y’all and you've been warned.                      

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"after crucifixion"  (with obligations to prof. Craig Keen)

*** Klediments:  

*** It seems that my blogging often functions as an archive for my facebook ramblings, I reckon that’s ok.  

*** “I would like to write like a painter.  I would like to write like painting.”  That is the first sentence in Helene Cixous’s “The Last Painting or the Portrait of God.”  I was re-reading my thoughts about Cixous’ words that I wrote almost 20 years ago and so I tried to create a painting in response to her instead of using more words and this mess of an image is what happened.  I painted this crucifixion outside late last night but alas it got rained on for about 15 mins before I got it under cover.  All the color bled out and into itself and so it has become a ruin.  This is the third recent painting I have had ruined in this way by rain since I can’t paint large 6X6 foot or larger canvases inside my little studio.  I will probably scrape it off tomorrow and maybe try again although I am somewhat discouraged and tempted to just stop all together.

Cixous’s essay seems to lament the power of painters (images) over poets (language) but of course when is it ever that straightforward?  She writes:  “All I can do is tell the desire.  But the painter can break your heart with the epiphany of a sea....  I am an awkward sorceress of the invisible:  my sorcery is powerless to evoke without the help of your sorcery.  Everything I invoke depends on your trust, on your faith.  And the painter?  Paints from hope to hope.  And between the two?  Is there despair?  Nonhope.  Between hope.....  But straightaway hope arises.”

Hope?  Nonhope? Despair? Like I said above it’s usually never that straightforward.  And sure I would really like to be a poet rather than a painter and I do work at it, but I just don’t have the crucial skills needed with words to write great poetry; too much of my language bleeds itself out.  In any event, I have been painting God’s portrait most of my life and I am no closer to ‘capturing‘ it now than when I started (oh how I loathe the metaphor of ‘capture‘ in the context of images).  How very vain and foolish I have been.  And so with just a little rain all my work and life is bled out and washed away.  Cixous says it like this:

“All I will have done will have been to attempt a portrait of God.  Of the God.  Of what escapes us and makes us wonder.  Of what we do not know but feel.  Of what makes us live.  I mean our own divinity, awkward, twisted, throbbing, our own mystery--we who are lords of this earth and do not know it, we who are touches of vermillion and yellow cadmium in the haystack and do not see it, we who are the eyes of this world and so often do not even look at it, we who could be the painters, the poets, the artists of life if only we wanted to be, we who could be the lovers of the universe.  We who are bits of sun, drops of ocean, atoms of the god and who so often forget this.  We who forget we could also be luminous as light....but what we forget, the painter who sees God each day in the process of changing, does not forget.” 

Remembering can bring such suffering, but I would like to be a painter against forgetting.  Pray for that.

*** a poem by Frank O’Hara:

Why I Am Not A Painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES. 


Monday, November 4, 2013

"Trinity"  60X48 in.  Acrylic on board 1993

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder - a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.”  Susan Sontag, “On Photography.”

***  How much of art making is a way of claiming power over the imaginations of those who serve, over those who rule, over the gods of nature, and even over death.  This is one of the great temptations of artists and one that ought to be continually examined.  Of course death will end the artist’s will to power but does it break their hold on simulacra and illusion?  I wonder if the will to power and the denial of death are not to some degree behind every image we make, even the simplest snap-shot taken with our phone cameras and then instantly messaged or posted on Facebook.  How much of our ‘on-line‘ presence isn’t just a kind of digital embalming of our false selves?   

Of course, we might ask the same thing about language.  One of the great iconoclastic interlocutors of Saint John of Damascus’ (an ardent iconodule) argued against the use of icons writing that, ‘...images enter the mind unimpeded by reason.‘  He also argued (I write “He” because his name is lost to history, as we say. That is, he was killed and most of his writings were burned by the church) that it might be possible to allow some limited use of icons within the confines of a church building where the images could be carefully administered and constricted by language and doctrine.  Saint Johnny D rebutted the iconoclasts by writing that if the human nature of christ is unrepresentable then isn’t language about Jesus also idolatry?  For many Orthodox icons are often given a similar authority as the bible and engaged as another expression in which divine and human forms and actions become blended.  In any event, like most important theological issues, the real arguments about icons in the 6th to 8th c. and later on in England and Europe had much more to do with the control and distribution of power and resources, control of trade routes, access to raw materials, etc., than it did with semiotics or any obtuse doctrines about the hypostatic union or analogia entis.  

***  “Man is created in the image of God and God’s image cannot be captured by any human machine. Only the divine artist divinely inspired, may be allowed, in a moment of solemnity at the higher call of his genius, to dare to reproduce the divine-human features, but never by means of a mechanical aid! Here, in all its ponderous vulgarity, treads forth the philistine notion of art, dismissive of every technical consideration yet, sensing its doom as the new technology makes its provocative entry. Nevertheless, it is this fetishistic, fundamentally anti-technical notion of Art which theorists of photography have tussled for almost a century without, of course, achieving the slightest result.”  (Walter Benjamin- A Short History of Photography).

*** When the first human drew a circle on a cave wall and named it the sun, that cave became a church and the artist became a priest, and then the hunters feared her because she took for herself some of their power.  And so the warriors came to her before every hunt and battle to bless them and to give them strength and take away their fear.  She drew pictures of the hunters on the stone walls for them, and then she drew a great beast with a spear through it’s heart.  After that she drew a roaring fire in ochres and reds that so amazed the people that they were afraid to touch it lest it burn them.  And around the fire she drew all the people dancing and feasting, and so the hearts of the hunters were filled with courage and the minds of the people were at peace.    

But when a beast escaped, or hunters were killed and the people went hungry or they were attacked by other tribes it was then that the priest proved just how much power she really wielded. For In this world of constant threats and dangers where humans are just one among many small, naked, and vulnerable animals whose survival rests on innumerable contingencies and unknown dangers over which they have limited control, fear rules all emotions, life-ways, and affections.  But that same fear that compels vulnerable humans to live together in familial and interdependent communities also constantly threatens any forms of common life and mutual sacrifice; and so the people must continually make supplications for life to the gods of earth, water, fire, and sky.  Sometimes with words.  Sometimes with blood.

Whenever there was too much rain or not enough and the rivers flooded or ran dry, or when the migrating herds failed to arrive as expected, or when the ice and snow came earlier and lingered longer each year, or when the people’s enemies grew in numbers and boldness, then the priest would venture alone into the cave with only her instruments of charcoal made from fire and wood, and pigments distilled from earth, rock, and sacred flora.  It was only she who  would dare to speak to the gods for her people, to stand in their place, to re-present them, to beg or to barter for life.  And if the priest could assuage their anger or stir them from their indifference or even arouse their pity, then the gods might choose to guide the priest’s hands as she translated and inscribed onto the cave’s walls what they would require to give the people victory over their enemies, success with the hunt, rain in season, and children that survived.

The people would kneel and wait at the mouth of the cavern where they witnessed shadows and light wrestling inside the dark hole.  They could hear the echoes of the moans and cries of the priest, but they also heard other voices and unknown tongues sometimes whispering, sometimes howling in rage and anger.  And when the priest emerged form the cave her bloody body was covered with indecipherable markings, colored lines and intricate glyphs, signs that the gods had spoken with her and through her.  She then gathered the people into a circle around her and led them in chant as she leaped and twirled choreographing (dance-writing) the messages from the invisible other-world that surrounds all.  The people were astonished and joining her they chanted and danced until all fear was exorcized from their hearts and so the people were awed and her power increased. 

*** Hebrews 1 v. 3, “Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Acrylic on plaster.  2002 30X42 in.

God bless and much obliged.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

*** Klediments:  “In the Beginning Was the Sausage.”  Joseph Brodsky


(part one of what is evolving into a extraordinary series written by a growing list of insightful and talented writers and theologians that will hopefully be available in some format somewhere else on the internet in the near future):

cc Miley Cyrus, Sinead O’Connor.

Re. “The society we know, our own culture, is based upon the exchange of women....The passage into the social order, into the symbolic order, into order as such, is assured by the fact that men, or groups of men, circulate women as commodities among themselves.  Commodities can only enter into relationship under the watchful eyes of their ‘guardians’...and the interests of businessmen require that commodities relate to each other as rivals.”  Luce Irigaray, “This Sex Which Is Not One.” pg. 170.

My Overlords, I acknowledge that you have won yet again, but then you always win, we always lose (especially women when it attends to monetized forms of specular phallic functions).  Even when you let us think we are wining we are losing; winning itself is always and everywhere just another form of losing.  If a celebrity like Miley Cyrus chooses(?) to strip herself naked before us you win.  If she later covers herself head to toe with a burqa you win.  If Sinead O’Connor shaves her head and rips up a phot of the pope you win.  If Miley later joins the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus you win.  And if Miley or Sinead twerks Satan himself during the Super Bowl halftime show you win; you always and everywhere win because we are all prostitutes down on our knees before the power of the logic of the marketplace.  And when we squabble over who is the biggest whore?  You win even more.

Overlords, I do understand that each click of my mouse and every letter I type here is more money in your pocket; each word is tracked, counted, categorized, tranched, assigned value, resold, leveraged, and used to increase your power.  And if I become outraged and take to your streets to demonstrate and dissent, you win, because you not only own the streets but you also own the ‘news machine’ and control and define “news,” itself.  Thus you have the power to copyright my “resistance” and market my images of outrage back to me. You profit on the protest signs I print and carry, the soles of the boots I march in, the windows I break, the police and the baton I am struck down with, the judge who sentences me, and the jail I am locked away in, you even take your tiny cut from the cough drop I suck on to ease my sore throat from  screaming in rage as I call for your destruction.  The more I resist and fight the shadows and mirrors of your power, the stronger you become, the weaker I get, and the more you win.

Knowledge, information, and critical understanding, will not translate into an over-coming power but merely function as its diplegic spectre.  Even when I pay for the privilege of attending your universities and buying your diplomas, and even if I major in studying your strategies and deconstructing your discourses and become conscious of the force and potency of your hegemony and omni-presence; I may only come to further acknowledge the hopelessness of my resistance and the impossibility of change.  And so you profit again from the hospitals and doctors who treat my symptoms and prescribe the placebo’s and anti-depressants I use to cope with my powerlessness and exploitation.  Sometimes you afford me the privilege of making a spectacle of my dysfunction and suffering and you commercialize and broadcast the broken images of my anguished face and you entertain and pacify others with the pictures of my torment and your dominance over my life.  And when all that I am or might have been, and all that I have has been given over to you, and when I have reached the place of utter despair and I am sitting alone in the darkness and I put your gun, that arch-symbol of my personal freedom into my mouth and blow my brains out, you even take your percentage from that bullet and you win.

Overlords, all this is to say, for now, I just want you to know that I know.

Update:  Perhaps the case of “Bansky,” the so-called, “subversive, anarchist, counter-cultural, anti-capitalist, revenge” street-artist pointedly affirms my thesis above.  Whole buildings have been taken down (and squatters de-homed) to dismantle and transport his art and send it to auction houses in NY and London were our Overlords bid against each other for possession.  In the current system even our generosity and the free gift of our creative selves is confiscated, colonized, re-appropriated, and installed into the market system (and yet here I sit writing with a silver crucifix hanging around my neck, oh the spiraling circles of irony!).

***  I was reading again (and weeping over) the letters of Van-Gogh and his brother Theo last night as I did some preparation for another painting attending to Vincent's writing on Jesus and the Pieta.  I strongly assert that Van Gogh was not “crazy.”  I think that he felt and saw more clearly the actual state of the world than most of those other artists around him.  His self-killing was not an irrational act but very much a conscious and deliberate response to the de-humanizing and Spirit crushing cultural system that tried to imprison him.  Yes, that system and  it’s overlords eventually broke him down and then exploited his death and image, but even so the realities that he “worlded” in the language of color, and the light that he brought into the world though his art, has never been extinguished.  The painting I’v posted is the view from the window of the asylum that he chose to live in.  Many of my own paintings are from the perspective of my own asylums.

Vincent’s brother Theo’s letter to his sister Elizabeth, 5th August 1890, 4 days after his death.

To say we must be grateful that he rests - I still hesitate to do so. Maybe I should call it one of the great cruelties of life on this earth and maybe we should count him among the martyrs who died with a smile on their face.   He did not wish to stay alive and his mind was so calm because he had always fought for his convictions, convictions that he had measured against the best and noblest of his predecessors. His love for his father, for the gospel, for the poor and the unhappy, for the great men of literature and painting, is enough proof for that. In the last letter which he wrote me and which dates from some four days before his death, it says, “I try to do as well as certain painters whom I have greatly loved and admired.” People should realize that he was a great artist, something which often coincides with being a great human being. In the course of time this will surely be acknowledged, and many will regret his early death. He himself wanted to die, when I sat at his bedside and said that we would try to get him better and that we hoped that he would then be spared this kind of despair, he said, “La tristesse durera toujours” [The sadness will last forever]. I understood what he wanted to say with those words.
A few moments later he felt suffocated and within one minute he closed his eyes. A great rest came over him from which he did not come to life again.

Much obliged.

Monday, September 23, 2013

***  Klediments:  From my spiritual director, Rabbi Mordechi Rosenbaum: ‘While Pharisees were fighting over theology, prostitutes were falling at the Savior's feet and slipping into the kingdom of God on their tears.’

***"  "Mercying"

Perhaps my favorite part of Pope Francis’s most famous recent interview was the neologism he created in this sentence: “Jesus saw a publican, and since he looked at him with feelings of love and chose him, he said to him, ‘Follow me.... I think the Latin gerund miserando is impossible to translate in both Italian and Spanish. I like to translate it with another gerund that does not exist: misericordiando [“mercy-ing”]."

Mercying.  Perhaps used in a sentence this way?:  Mercying the unclean woman who was inhabited by seven devils, Jesus took her in his arms and they drank wine and they cried and laughed and danced in the desert under the night sky.  Sometimes in their dance Jesus would fling the woman towards heaven and she would spin in the sky and sparks would shoot from her body like electric stars. Then he would draw her down, calling to her by her secret names and she would slowly whirl back down to the earth and her beloved.  And so even the devils were mercied into grace and the woman was set free.

*** “God Sees.”

Rabbi Ben: You don't think God sees?

Judah: God is a luxury I can't afford.

(From Woody Allen’s, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”).

I posed this question on Facebook late last saturday night:

“Much is written about ‘The Dark Nights of the Soul.’ Perhaps more needs to be written about the dark nights of the flesh? I pray for just enough grace that I may at least be counted among the sparrows.”

I received some thoughtful and challenging responses.  I know that I have several friends that also struggle with painful physical/spiritual/psychological infirmities that keeps them awake some nights and I will keep you all in my prayers.  But when my heart is inflamed and I can’t lie down and I must sit up in a chair all night, and there is too much pain for reading or even TV, I sit in the darkness for hours listening to my heart beating so erratically.  Sometimes, when there are long gaps between heart beats I see slight zips of light flashes and subtle changes and movement in the darkness.  Maybe it’s just a momentary lack of oxygen but sometimes I like to think that those flashes are tiny angels, maybe the spirits of birds or dragonflies or babies who only lived for a few seconds in their mother's womb.

In the dark nights what does it mean that “God sees?”  

Matthew 10: 29.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

And yet we fall. The parable of the sparrows, as with all of Jesus’ parables, obscures as much as it reveals. Similar to my oblique anguished facebook post at midnight when most of my fb friends were peacefully asleep. It was sent to all, but only understood by a few. Like the difference between 2nd Samuel chaps. 13 and 14 and the novel “Absalom Absolom” by W. Faulkner. Some will already know what I mean (but even more blessed are those who do not). Our new Pope Francis is quite a master of revealing/obscuring as his recent interview demonstrates. He says: “Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation....The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking. There have been periods in the Society in which Jesuits have lived in an environment of closed and rigid thought, more instructive-ascetic than mystical: this distortion of Jesuit life gave birth to the Epitome Instituti.”

All that is to say, that in the dark nights, as the pain-killers wear off (but of course they don’t *kill* pain, drugs only use our own god-like capacity for imagining paradise to deceive us) it’s best to not over-think the parables, and leave the edges undefined (has Pope Francis been reading Of Grammatology?).  PF has also apparently adopted the motto of Pope John XXIII, ‘See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.’ Did he learn that from the Holy Spirit too,  or from his mother, or is that an institutionalized way of spinning the gospel of the falling sparrows? Let me prescribe to anyone who struggles to understand this parable and who also suffers from painful sleepless nights, to study Woody Allen’s (perhaps) greatest film, and one of my favorites, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (maybe the only film with a character patterned after Heidegger?). 

Then again, maybe there are more helpful readings one could reflect on in your dark night.  like this from Matthew Fox in “Original Blessing” : “Facing the darkness, admitting the pain, allowing the pain to be pain, is never easy. This is why courage – big-heartedness – is the most essential virtue on the spiritual journey. But if we fail to let pain be pain – and our entire patriarchal culture refuses to let this happen – then pain will haunt us in nightmarish ways. We will become pain’s victims instead of the healers we might become.” Of course, that sort of thing always reads better in the sunshine and when it’s about someone else’s pain.  Still, once one surrenders to the proposition that “God sees,” that is only the beginning of a long journey. Perhaps we’all have gotten so caught up up in the narrative of king David and and his son Absolom that we forgot about Tamar? Does God see Tamar? Do we?

And so we fall
But the god of the sparrows
Falls with us

Falling first before
Or it’s theory

Falls with us
Not instead
Not hardest

Some might have
Thought “jumped!”
Others “pushed”

We crash and shard
God, sparrow, and I
A mash of smithereens

But even
May fly

Much obliged. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Klediments:  Buzz Bombs

The president is making his case for “striking” Syria.

The Pink salmon runs are surging through Puget Sound along with some Silvers and Kings (although we can’t keep the Kings anymore and must throw them back).  Fishing madness is invading the Island!

So it’s war then, again! 

Most fishers are using “Pink Buzz Bombs.”  Last night I saw one guy using a silver-spoon spinner but he didn’t catch anything.  Then again neither did I.

“Surgical strikes,” he says.  I had one of those once, it damn near killed me.

“Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.”  (Thomas Merton).  I think that may be true about our ideas about our ‘enemies’ as well.

The flesh of pink salmon are oily and soft and the fish don’t keep well.  They are best smoked or canned immediately.  Once the pinks hit the fresh water they start rotting quickly and will die soon.

"We cannot avoid missing the point of almost everything we do. But what of it? Life is not a matter of getting something out of everything. Life itself is imperfect. All created beings begin to die as soon as they begin to live, and no one expects any one of them to become absolutely perfect, still less to stay that way. Each individual thing is only a sketch of the specific perfection planned for its kind. Why should we ask it to be anything more?"  (Thomas Merton).

At the hardware store where I got my salmon fishing license (and a lot of other business all over the island) there are collection jars put out to raise money for a cute 5 year old girl with cancer.  Her family doesn’t have insurance and her treatment may cost as much 250.000 $  But so many people only carry cash cards these days that they don’t have change in their pockets.  Perhaps that is why the collection jar is almost empty?

I prefer a dry rub overnight with paprika, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Soaking pinks in a brine makes the flesh too moist for my palate.  Plus, the more fluid the more prone to spoilage and bacteria.   

“People...including children were murdered,” the president says, and that, “this menace must be confronted.”

There is a picture of 5 year old Alice on the collection jar.  She is bald and getting thinner and there are darkening shadows under her eyes.  She is smiling for the picture though.  It could break ones heart.

The Wash. state dept. of fisheries rules insist that fishers cut the barbs off of their hooks.  This limits the killing and allows some salmon to slip off the hooks and escape up river and spawn.  In theory I know that this makes sense.  But when I’m reeling in an 8 pound silver and it wiggles off my hook 5 feet from shore I swear silently and feel that I have been cheated.

The president asks:  “...what message do we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children without consequence?”

Against common wisdom, fish don’t rot from the head first.  At least not pink salmon, they rot from the middle and then it spreads to the tail and then to the head.

High tide is at 5:30 tonight.  Those of us without boats must try and cast our lures as far as we can out into the surf to reach the schooling fish.  It’s frustrating to watch big salmon jumping just yards away from my farthest cast!  Sometimes I cast for hours without even a nibble, and then someone else shows up and starts fishing right next to me and catches their limit almost immediately!  It’s hard for me not to think of those fish as mine, that they have been stolen from me.  Shouldn’t there be some proportionality between effort and reward?  I can’t help but be a little pissed off.  It doesn’t help that he looks so deserving and smug. 

I see that Alice’s picture and story are posted on facebook now.  Her posting has gotten more than 650 likes and 30 shares!  Everyone is praying for her and giving her (((hugs))).  It’s the exact same picture as the one on the jars but somehow she looks more hopeful now, the smile less coaxed.  I “like” and (((hug))) her too.   

“Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another.” (Thomas Merton).

He says: “what message do we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children without consequence?”  I wish there was someway to “dislike” things on facebook.  I would certainly “dislike” dictators that kill children, and cancer too.

Other key phrases cast out:

“Make an example to other countries...
Ancient sectarian differences...
We must not turn a blind eye to what happens in Damascus...
Some things are more important than the politics of the moment...
Limited in scope...
Deter behavior...
National security interests...
This menace must be confronted...
Right makes might....”

(I reckon that that last line is supposed to be a clever play on that old saying that “might makes right.”  I wonder who came up with that idea and how many it will hook?).

"You are fed up with words, and I don't blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean.  It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right....  The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important."  (Thoman Merton).

I am going to try glueing  shiny yellow dots on the sides of my buzz bombs.  I am hoping that those reflective circles will look like fish-eyes and will fool some salmon into thinking that these painted lead buzz bombs are tasty little fish!


(And special thanks to Beth Cioffoletti over at for reminding me so often of Thomas Merton's words and wisdom.  And to Ben Myers over at the blog  for directing my attention again to the relationships among words and life).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's not you, it's me.

Ok.  Let’s just say that things between God and earth didn’t work out.  And let’s imagine that God and earth parted ways amicably (I know, I still have supplies left over from the Y2K cataclysmic scare!).  So then if God went shopping for a new planet and wanted to use the bible as a resume on God’s on-line profile.  And let’s say that for old times sake God asked Earth for our opinion on composing a dating profile. What parts of the bible would you suggest be emphasized?  What parts would you recommend God leave out completely?  And what parts would you just tweak a bit (you know, not actually lie, but just put the best possible face on things. I mean, can God wait until the third date before bringing up Noah and the flood?  Is it ok for God to call the destruction of all life on the planet a “reboot” rather than an a apocalyptic horror?).

Of course, this is a two way street cupcake so the same goes for Us.  If we were shopping around for a new God what parts of the bible’s story of Us should we mention, and what parts should we...say...conveniently forget until after consummation (of course there’s a few incidence like crucifying God’s son that might be a deal breaker for a lot of God’s so maybe it’s best that that bit of personal history remains in the vault).  Now any God reading our profile for sure knows that we’re somewhere between 6,000 and 6,000,000,000 years old so they would have to expect that Earth has some past baggage, a few scars, some stretch marks.  But under flattering lights and after a few beers I think the right sort of God could ‘drink Us pretty’ again don’t you?  

On a scale of one to five what overall dateabiity rating would you give to both God as God, and Us Earth dwellers as worshipers/believers/subjects/children/whatever?

Perhaps y’all can help me compose a singles ad for Earth?

Hi, my name is Earth.  I’v been out of a serious relationship for a while and I’m ready to jump back into the dating pool again! LoL.  I like long spins in the universe, fresh ozone, and no strings attached.

For now I’m not interested in anything too serious or any God that’s too clingy and needy.  I would really prefer an “open relationship” where we both could date others (before we went exclusive my last God became increasingly possessive until if I even looked at another God there was hell to pay!).

I’m looking for a God that’s not into rule-making, moralizing, and one that doesn’t need constant reassurance.  I’m not very introspective or interested in dredging up painful histories but enjoy living in the moment and having fun fun fun!  So if your the silent, brooding type of God then maybe you should keep looking for a different planet.  But, if you are like me and you are ready to live free and bust loose then let’s party together like spring break and let some one else worry about cleaning up the mess!

Favorite movies:  All those “Over Vermont” and “Over Chesapeake Bay” type of movies, they really show off my prettiest bits (I hate all those “Over Favellas” or “Over Hiroshima” types of documentaries).

Turn Ons:  I love dogs and cats (other creatures not so much).  Nature in the raw (without the bacteria, hurricanes, and scorpions please).  And a sense of humor (about things like golden calves, can you give it a rest already it was a one time thing!).

Turn Offs:  Bossyness, obsessiveness, accountability.    

Obliged, Earth.

Monday, August 12, 2013


*** “This concern for death, this awakening that keeps vigil over death, this conscience that looks death in the face is another name for freedom.” — Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death.

*** Creeper, by John Updike

With what stoic delicacy does
Virginia creeper let go:
the feeblest tug brings down
a sheaf of leaves kite-high,
as if to say, To live is good
but not to live - to be pulled down
with scarce a ripping sound, 
still flourishing, still
stretching toward the sun - 
is good also,
all photosynthesis
abandoned, quite quits. Next spring
the hairy rootlets left upulled
snake out a leafy afterlife
up that same smooth-barked oak.
up that same smooth-barked oak.

***  I live on, what most folks agree, is a beautiful island.  Many people move here to ‘get away form it all,’ and yet people still die here all the time.  Here in Langley on the south end the dominant cultural discourses (visual, material, spiritual, political) are what are now being called “progressive.”   A log skidder operator I used to work with packed up and moved to Montana because he wanted to get away from all the “queers, peaceniks, and tree huggers that have taken over the island.”  We had never talked politics or religion at work but he knew that I used to be a logger too so I think he reckoned that we were culturally simpatico (how many LGBT supporting, communistic/ anarcho-roman-catholic loggers are there anyway?).  Ironically, after he had moved to Montana with all his guns, pit-bulls, and confederate flags, he found out that the small town he moved next to and most of the surrounding land was pretty much bought and owned by Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, and a bunch of other Hollywood liberal folk!  

To live is good
but not to live...
still flourishing
is good also

I did an electrical service call at a Buddhist hospice house here on the island.  The monks and caregivers there are quite amazing and truly compassionate.  In Tibet after someone dies the monks dismember the body, place the pieces away from the village, and let the vultures consume and carry it away dispersing the bodies materiality throughout the landscape.  I reckon there are codes against that sort of thing here on Whidbey, plus we don’t have those kind of vultures around here to clean up the mess (although we do have lots of eagles and coyotes).  I’m really a bit squeemish about this sort of thing.  I think I prefer the funeral practices of the Coast Salish Native peoples who used to visit and live in this region.  They would place their dead inside of artistically painted canoes and then lodge them high up into the trees.

To live is good
but not to live
still flourishing - 
is good also

Of course, sometimes people fall into such deep comas that they can appear to be dead.  There are a quite a few Catholic saints (and near saints) that have experienced this phenomenon.  My favorite is *Saint Christina the Astonishing.*  She was a peasant-born orphan raised by sisters around 1050.  When she was 21 she had a seizure that left her cataleptic and everyone thought that she had died.  During her funeral mass she astonished everyone by sitting bolt upright in her coffin and then levitating up to the roof of the church.  The startled priest commanded her to come down and she floated down to the altar and began witnessing to the congregation about her experience of visiting hell, purgatory, and heaven.  She went on to spend much of her life talking with birds and praying to The Virgin Mary high up in the treetops.   But she would also torment herself by doing things like rolling around in fires and then screaming in agony even though the flames left her body uninjured.  Throughout her life she was homeless, dressed in rags, and would cavort wildly in the street, swim in frozen rivers, hurl herself in front of wagons, etc. and in general terrify everyone she encountered (btw, she is the patron saint of “lunatics”).  That sort of thing doesn’t seem to happen much any more, and even if it did one can imagine the kind of controversy it would cause.  The Tibetan Buddhists have a similar kind of category of holy people that they also call saints, but their funeral practices make it unlikely that they have anyone to match Saint Christine.

To live is good
but not to live
still flourishing - 
is good also

"As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades" (Agamemnon to Odysseus in Book IX in Homer’s Odyssey).  Faulkner used this phrase for the title of what is perhaps his best novel, “As I Lay Dying.”  I just learned that it has recently been made into a movie.  I haven’t watched it yet but I am looking fwd to seeing how they structure a movie from this kind of ‘stream of consciousness‘ writing with more than a dozen different narrators.  Here is one of my favorite sections from the book and I am already visualizing, making icons in my mind so to speak, of how this scene might be pictured cinematically.  Here is the deceased Aidee speaking from inside her coffin:

“I knew that living was terrible and that this was the answer to it. That was when I learned that words are not good; that words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn’t care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride. I knew that it had been, not that they had dirty noses, but that we had had to use one another by words like spiders dangling by their mouths from a beam, swinging and twisting and never touching, and that only through the blows of the switch could my blood and their blood flow as one stream....

He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear.  One day I was talking to Cora. She prayed for me because she believed I was blind to sin, wanting me to kneel and pray too, because people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.”

To live is good
but not to live
still flourishing - 
is good also

We still need those words for love though (and words for fear, sin, joy, and salvation--even spiders and buzzards have a crucial role in creation’s economy).  But because they are always signing a “lack,” words will never fill the voids between signatures and hand-shakes, Idols and gods, being and becoming, the living and the dead.  After Aidee Bundren dies and is nailed into her coffin, it seems that her son Vardaman cannot accept the finality and truth of those nails, of his mother’s death, so he drills breathing holes through the lid of the coffin (and inadvertently through his mother’s head!).  I wonder if this is what much of Faulkner’s writing about language in *As I Lay Dying* is about; that using language can be like the futile gesture of drilling holes through what we perceive are the barriers, the many veils between flourishing life or life pulled down, ripped out, and abandoned, between our worlds and whatever other worlds might exist?  “I live my death in writing,” Derrida says in his last interview (*Learning To Live Finally: The Last Interview*), perhaps Faulkner would agree?  But those holes in Aidee’s coffin let out into the world a terrible stench of decay and death as her coffin is trundled from town to town, and the vultures picking up the scent, circle and follow the corpse.

To live is good
but not to live
still flourishing - 
is good also
But could we also interpret making those holes in Aidee’s coffin as a sign of hope?  Why not  understand Vardaman’s motive as providing a way for her spirit to escape the confining structures imposed on bodies in both life and death, as offering Aidee’s spirit a way to continue her journey back to her creator?  Coast Salish canoe coffins wisely had no top covering.  Their bodies are ‘buried’ in the sky, so to speak, and at the resurrection, all those Natives in their brightly colored canoes, along with all the Tibetans briefly entombed in the gullets of birds, and Saint Christine the astonished too, will all surely be just that much closer to any manner of heaven!

*** Here is a poem of mine I found in one of my old chapbooks:

Graduate School

After reading my chapbook of 25 poems
One of the first things they asked me to explain
Was my “theory of poetics”
In literary departments theory is a license
Permitting one to expend gross amounts of wordage
Via Institutionally approved avant-garde mediums
If your theory is compelling enough
Oblique enough
Then the actual poems hardly matter
Or the poet too as it turns out
I wrote a lot of poetry about searching for truth
About angels, hell, signifying stars, gods and devils
Theodicy, tzimtzum, and cataphaticism
They referred me to their school of theology

Theology was a career choice
Slightly more profitable than poetry
But you had to defend your dissertation
In German rather than French or Italian
But god’s tongue kept sticking in Goethe’s craw 
Everything with them was words and more words
Learning the grammar of divinity
Who would have supposed that studying God
Required as much attention to punctuation
As it did to puncturation  
After 2 semesters I still could not
Conjugate Greek verbs
“But neither could Van Gogh,” I pleaded
They directed me to the art department

An MFA in fine arts seemed sensical 
More in sync with my passions and illusions
But the advisor barely looked up from my transcript
The room was institutional gray
I don’t recall the color of the walls
The advisor searched the records for my “studio time”
25 credit hours of studio class time was required
Mandatory time as it turns out
They never even looked at a single image of mine
I wanted to study under dynamic cubist Jacob Lawrence
They wanted me to render still-lifes into xeroxs
I wanted to throw color around the room like a lunatic
Picture the face of God or the
Negative space of the absence of face
They wanted people faced like themselves
I wanted to drink whiskey paint the unimaginable and die poor
They wanted students with potential for success
I wanted to be an artist that could make people weep
They wanted artists who could make people pay

To be accepted into the creative writing program 
I had to submit a sample story
So I wrote a tale about Virgil
A lowly worker in a city dog pound
His job was “putting down” all of the surplus animals
The un-cute, the un-petable, the un-adorable 
Virgil was a type of saint really
Who’s soul was tormented by all the killing 
One night he sets free all of the condemned dogs and cats
His actions are discovered and
The authorities seek to arrest him  
The police hound him through the streets of the city
He and one scarred up old pit-bull
Are eventually cornered inside a mall where Virgil
“Snaps” and goes on a killing spree in the
Fur department at Nordstroms
I wrote in the mixed styles of Gertrude Stein and 
Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfant’s Terribles 
Creating small alternating scenes with repetitive lines
Staggering symbolism with imagism 
It was all very non-linear, un-accessible, and post-modern
I even glued fake rabbit fur on the outside of the folder
(Actually, it was “real” rabbit fur, just not real “fur” fur
Which was part of the point I was trying to make
Anyway, if not for that one brief dalliance with veganism
I might be a successful writer today!)
But after reading my short story about Virgil
And following a thorough review of my complete academic file
All of the university departments agreed
I was more suited to working with my hands
Than with my mind

Came next monday morning I just showed up at the shop
With my saws and corks that I had wisely hung on to
Mondays are good days for getting timber falling jobs
Lots of guys party all weekend then miss the 4:15 alarm
The straw boss took a minute to look me over
Then told me to jump in the crummy
By 6:30 a.m. I was falling an 80 acre strip West of Chinook Pass
The next faller was almost a mile away
So the woods were safe and peaceful, considering
That I was actually cutting down the forest
But now I had time to ponder things like--
Is there is a hierarchy of life forms in what we call nature
Is beauty a categorical imperative
Do trees feel pain or have souls
As I refueled and sharpened the teeth on my saw
I could pause and compose arrangements of
Mountains, deer, sky, sun, and shadows
Reflections in an alpine lake
Contemplate what a new heaven and earth might look like
Think up words that rhyme with Husqvarna
And pray in my own tongue

Much Obliged.

(p.s. at the top is my most recent Icon of the Virgin Mary.  Hopefully I will be showing it soon at an art display at the Seattle graduate school of theology next week.  I really wasn’t planning on having any more art shows, but I am looking fwd to showing in this particular venue.  I will try to post more info about location and times etc. next week.  Again, obliged).