Freedom, Peace, and Love

“Stone free to do what I please,” sings Hendrix

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” sings Joplin

“You’re about as free as they come,” the maintenance man told me

You get into trouble if you’re too free

 

Young and free, I hated the word, “conformity.”

Now I call it cooperation

“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” the Japanese say

Cooperation, coordination make harmony, peace

 

We used to talk a lot about peace

While prizing individuality, freedom

But it turns out you’re rarely alone–completely individual

The other is always with us, in conflict, competition, or peace

 

With the other comes the possibility of love

We used to talk a lot about love

I live love now; no longer a philosophy only

And I am thankful that there is the other

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Angels

I know the way angels work

You can, too, if you don’t yet

I’ve seen the way angels work

They work for you, too, if you haven’t noticed yet

 

It’s hard to tell in the moment

They don’t compel, but their ways always work

You see this in retrospect

You see this with relief, with astonishment, with thanks, with gratitude, with worship

 

With astonishment that it worked out

With relief that you were saved

With thanks, with gratitude that good prevailed

With worship, that God oversees our doings.

Youth and Age and Aging

You’re given an inflexible format at birth

Strong flexible sinews of youth

Weaken, stiffen, strain

Youth’s enthusiasm yields to age’s patience

Headstrong demands yield to forbearance

Irritation to tolerance

Discontent to contentment

Willful drive to peace

Gratitude to happiness

Youth yields to maturity

Maturity to aging

 

Poetry Lives!

Prose about poetry.  A few years back, my church held a celebration of the arts.  We were invited to bring personal art works for sale at our national gathering.  I brought some CD’s and some booklets of poetry.  I sold some CD’s but hardly any poetry booklets.  By way of consolation, one minister told me that people just aren’t reading poetry anymore.  He told me that poetry is a lost art.  About a year ago, I placed 3 of my poetry books on the “local writers'” shelf at a bookstore near where I live.  One book is gone, to date.  I sadly had to agree with the minister, that poetry is a lost art.

Then I noticed other evidence.  In my own blogging, I usually get a better response of likes when I post a poem, rather than when I post prose.  I visit the sites of the likes I receive, and, to my surprise, there are a lot of people out there also writing poetry.  Good poetry.  I also used to go to a late night coffee shop which held a poetry night once a month.  There was usually quite a good turnout for these poetry nights, and there were a lot of local poets sharing their verses.  I found out that there are other coffee shops in town which do the same thing.  And I have to mention hip-hop.  While some of the rhymes are simple, there is strong rhythm, and solid rhyme.

Then there are those university poetry journals.  Wallace Stevens started the trend to write verse that an ordinary reader can’t understand.  I am an educated reader, otherwise ordinary, and I can’t understand these poems.  I don’t mean that the ideas are complicated, or that they use big words–like T. S. Eliot, whom I do understand.  Rather, the verses are not ordinary sentences, with subjects, verbs, and objects.  The poets I’m talking about deliberately craft sentences in which the words don’t go together.  Why they would want to do that, I don’t understand, don’t care to understand.  But the poetry I read online, that I listen to in the coffee houses, that I hear in hip-hop songs I do understand, care to understand.

Robert Frost said that strong feeling is the beginning of poetry.  With the cultural apathy we seem to be surrounded by, I find strong feeling in the poetry that I encounter.  Underneath the political rhetoric, the apparent nonchalance of people you run into, the apathy to organized religion, there is strong feeling.  One poet writes, “Indifference is by far the least/I have to fear of man or beast.”  I disagree.  Indifference is a virus that infects the human spirit and leads to spiritual death.  But if poetry lives, humans live.  Poetry lives because humans live.  And that minister wasn’t right.  Poetry isn’t moribund.  It is alive, lively; it lives.

Strong Decades and the Other

I lived through the eighties.  I didn’t like the eighties when I was living in that decade.  But one thing I will say that I do like about the eighties is that the decade had a theme, a core, a strong culture to it.  I can list the prime values of the eighties:

  1. preppy–there were actual t-shirts then that said, “Preppy and Proud.”  Movies were made about prep schools.  The prevailing fashion of the day was preppy.  Part of this trend was the drive to attain Ivy League Schools.  The plot of “Risky Business” was the hunger for Joel (Tom Cruise) to go to Princeton.  The world’s most notorious preps were married in 1981–Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles of Wales.
  2. money–when I graduated from Harvard Divinity School (1985), the Business School had its largest graduating class in Harvard’s history.  Again referencing “Risky Business,” Joel wants to major in business and most of the movie is about his successful prostitution business.  “Working Girl” was about working-class Tess (Melanie Griffith) climbing the corporate ladder of the business world and competing with preppy Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver).  “Wall Street” was all about money, wealth, and power.
  3. cocaine–the drug of choice in the eighties for everyone, especially business-oriented, success driven executive types.
  4. technology–Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started their huge empires in the eighties.  The script of “Ghostbusters” was replete with techno-sounding jargon.
  5. lastly, the eighties had a distinct style of music.  We called it techno-pop.  But it was distinctive enough for my present TV music channels to have a station devoted to eighties music.

I didn’t like the eighties because all this was a rebellion against the values of the late sixties/early seventies.  Peace and love, back to nature, contempt for materialism and money, contempt for authority, dropping out of society, and love of art dominated the values of that generation.  Woodstock, where 500,000 young people all gathered for music and fellowship WITH NO POLICE OR LAW ENFORCEMENT, in peace, happened in 1969.  I think of song lyrics like those of Jethro Tull–“I didn’t care if they groomed me for success (yukk), or if they said that I was Just a fool,” “I’m sitting in the corner feeling glad/Got no money coming in but I can’t be sad.”  And that famous song from Pink Floyd that is still being played today, “Money, get away/Is the root of all evil today.”  The strong culture of the eighties seemed to be the opposite of all that the apocalyptic ’60’s and ’70’s were about.

But after the eighties, culture faded away.  There was a lack of gravitas to the succeeding decades.  By way of documentation, my TV movie channels have no station dedicated to ’90’s music, or 2000’s music.  There are indeed channels that are called “Clubbing” and “Urban” but these sounds are not likely to be memorable decades from now.  There may be a cause for this apparent cultural vacuity.  The ’60’s and early ’70’s were a rebellion against the strait-laced family values of the ’50’s, which, in turn, were a retrenchment from the horrid whole generation of war the early 20th century lived through.  And in the ’60’s and early ’70’s, the Vietnam War was spewing out carnage printed in living color in Life magazine each week.  But after Vietnam, there was no war or other strong ferment in society.  The ’50’s were the product of the World Wars; the ’60’s and ’70’s of the Vietnam War; and the eighties were a rebellion against the “Flower Children” of the ’60’s and ’70’s.

By no means am I wishing war upon society so that I might enjoy a strong culture again, and find memorable contributions to western history!  This blog is only an attempt to account for the apparent cultural vacuity I now live in, compared with the strong cultures I lived in when I was young.  I expect I will offend readers who are young now, as what I am writing may seem to be criticism of their world.  Elders criticized my generation when I was growing up, and it is a perennial fact of existence that elders criticize the young–it’s in the Renaissance Book of the Courtier.  But we rebelled against our elders, and their disapproval was a kind of badge of honor.  I am not criticizing young people.  As an olding man, I enjoy the company of the young.  But I’m not happy with the blandness I see around me in society.  It’s an easy way to live, but growing up in a world steeped in philosophy, with strongly held values, the world in which I now find myself is as bland as bread without gluten.

A Naif Meets the World

I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of intangibles: poetry, theology, philosophy, music.  My pursuit was essentially free.  My professors told me what to read and study, which was good guidance in the formation of my mind and my critical judgement.  But when it came to writing papers, I freely chose what subject to write on, who and what to study, what to say.  In the writing of poetry, I chose when to write, what to write, what style to use, what feeling to express.  In music, I wrote what was in my heart as the muse beckoned.

I remember my early impressions of professional ministry.  When I first took on a parish, I remember thinking, “This is a job!”  I was compelled to write a 2 1/2 page single spaced talk every week.  I was compelled to pick hymns, Bible readings, Psalters, and every Sunday to suit up and lead the service.  Then there was dealing with the personalities, petty complaints, infighting, and other distasteful things that arise in seemingly every parish.  Previous to taking on professional ministry, I would read theology at my leisure, pray when my heart was moved, commune freely with my Creator and Friend.  Now I prayed on demand, read theology with an eye to using it in my homily, communed according to the prescriptions of the job.  But this is not complaint.  I love this job more than any other job I’ve ever done.  I just never thought that my heartfelt devotion would feel like a job.

Now I am discovering that music is a business.  Sure, you hear talk about the music business all the time.  But to find yourself in it?!  It is a business that requires as much delicacy as does balancing the personalities in a parish.  A good friend of mine, who is an international pianist, has been giving me much appreciated, much needed advice about the “business” of music.  I am making a CD of my original music.  In order to make a quality disk, I needed first rate musicians.  I inquired of a well-established musician in my home town, and he set me up with a musician to play on one song.  This musician took an interest in my music, or my money.  He appointed himself executive producer, and made plans about the future of my disk and my musical career.  When I decided he was getting too intrusive, I made calls on my own to hire my own musicians.  The musicians I contacted talked, the “executive producer” found out I was making decisions on my own, confronted me, and laid down the law of how our business relationship was to be.  Now I am embroiled in an imbroglio.  All I want to do is record my originals.  But there is a business side to music, even as there is a business side to theology.  Even as there is a business side to everything in this material world.

One of the characteristics of my music is a tone of peacefulness.  The music is all written, and only needs recording, mixing, and mastering.  And that can’t be done without entering the business of music.  But that peace I entered into in the writing of my music is seriously compromised now with the business of production and the soap opera of the interwoven world of musicians.  I had no idea that manifesting my music would mean entering an internecine world of rivals for my wallet and musical future.  It’s comforting to know that it’s all written, and written when I was in a better place.  Where this new magical mystery tour will take me, I can’t foresee.  What it will do to my future compositions, I don’t know.  I only know this, my naivety has met the world.  It seems that on this material plane, intangibles manifest through business.  Some people make business their life’s calling.  I have dedicated my life to intangibles, not business.  But I now see, sadly, that maturity means dirtying one’s hands with the negotiation of money and the people who come with it.

It Isn’t Even Interesting

After I got over the shock of Trump’s election to the office of the presidency, I became interested in politics.  I was never much interested in politics before.  Now I became an avid follower of American politics.

I called my cable company and added CNN and MSNBC.  I started watching with righteous outrage.  I was glad that the news networks were calling out Trump and bringing to the public his glaring missteps and violations of constitutional norms and good practice.

Later, I watched with amusement as the best reality show on the air.  “What was he up to next?” I asked, glued to the TV news.

Now I’m just getting sick of it all.  I don’t watch much, anymore.  I have this kind of resignation to low standards of human decency, unbridled violations of presidential protocols, bragging, influence peddling, conflicts of interest, and the list goes on.  I just want all this over as soon as possible.  It isn’t funny anymore.  Isn’t even interesting.