(for Philip)

We live our lives life in a delicate

Balance between chaos and peace.

Each short-lived, the one the other will implicate.

The ancients wanted neither–sought release.


An empty chair in the middle of

A grassy yard, reflecting bright sunlight.

I set it there.  But hesitated when I saw it.

Where is the self that seeks to know despite

The onslaught of experience, who seeks to understand it?

Who tries to grasp ahold of love?


The ancients reasoned “no-self” sidesteps Karma;

And David sees Jehovah as a rock;

And other systems turn from social Maya:

Prestige, respectability sneering mock.


Paul in prison and Christ a capitol criminal?

Christ in prison and Paul an evangel?

Who draws the lines, who forms the frame?

Living shatters all our images–nothing stays the same.


“Because everything changes, all is nothing.”

But I, I sit in the chair, on the lawn.

I hear the many birds singing.

I remember the tree tops’ hue at dawn.

I see the leaves flicker, the limbs’ easy swaying.


We trace the lines and leave them drawn.

And we are left with the chair, on the lawn.

The ’50’s Lie

Contemporary television varies from the mediocre to indecent.  I think of the plethora of reality shows.  A short while back Jerry Springer paraded the underbelly of society before us for entertainment.  Now we have Dr. Phil who makes a fortune parading seedy neurotics before our faces who seem to lack modesty as much as they do morality.  A new series is coming out which promised to air difficulties in newlywed couples before us for our entertainment.  The promo clip they keep showing depicts a man telling his spouse he wants a divorce.

I think of the television programs I grew up with in the ’50’s and early 60’s.  Ozzie and Harriet, Donna Reed, Leave It to Beaver all depicted perfect families including housewives who wore dresses and pearl necklaces as they busied themselves with housework.  In cinema, Mary Poppins and Sound of Music showed stern fathers becoming child-friendly under the influence of odd governesses, both played by Julie Andrews.

So television in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s depicted wholesome content, in fact, uplifting content.  But an idealized kind of wholesomeness.  When I became a teen, we rebelled against the strictures of propriety that the ’50’s packaged and sold us.  We grew our hair long, participated in free-love, listened to acid-rock music, used drugs–all the the horror and chagrin of our parents.

But were the images television broadcast in the ’50’s and ’60’s accurate?  Clearly, the happy families were ideals and not real.  But the values of the television shows were actually enforced in society.  Men all wore short haircuts; girls skirts and dresses at school.  I remember when the controversial new policy was instituted which allowed girls to wear slacks to school.  Most of society went to church or temple.  Streets were clean and white in suburbia, which is where white people moved to, out of downtown.  That is how I remember society then.  I didn’t know then about the house parties my parents went to with neighborhood parents where drunkenness was widespread.  Or why one of my parents spent mornings bent over the toilet.  Or the bowling teams where adults also drank, taking an hour-and-a-half break at midnight to attend mass.

I don’t see a predominance of television depicting marriage, family, and suburbia these days.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  Now, instead of shows about families, more often they are about dating and meeting.  Single people dominate media.  While I feel disappointed at how insipid and scurrilous current programming is, I wouldn’t want the whitewashed shows of the ’50’s either.  We have much more freedom, today.  But with freedom comes responsibility.  That’s what seems missing from the mix today.  Society flails without a moral gravitas.  Even if Donna Reed was an ideal, at least it put forth a moral ethic.  Today, we have the Kardashians and Dr. Phil leading the way.  Yes, I believe it’s come to that.



I see her every night in the blues club

There is where she finds community

Not a drunk, as I was, she is a regular

The bar’s her church she once confessed to me


She was dealt a harder deck that I was

Foster homes, running away, the streets

I had advantages of middle-class

Her past defines her life and who she meets


She holds out love and acceptance to everyone

It’s a sobering lesson for me

She even asks me weekly for a sermon

And each night demonstrates Christian charity


Jesus hung around with disdained people

And reached out with his heart to one and all

The blues club is her church without a steeple

The benefit from our relationship is mutual



Something to be filled

Not enough of

Passes unnoticed, unpondered

Work, family, sleep

Filled fulfilling aspirations

Perfecting, learning, creating


How we fill the time we have

Young people chase their dreams

My friends who partied with me

When we were young

Went to school, found a career, retired

–I’ve watched whole lives

Career, family, retirement, death—

And it all means, has meaning

Means a lot

Some just get by

Passing time

Pastime, time passed

Time management

Time: “My most precious commodity”

Not enough ours in the day

Racing the clock

The Reaper

Time, pastime, time passed

Time out


Beset with a serious illness

I waste away weak

And unwilling, rage and rail at everyone and the world

Enervated, I lack the energy

Necessary for goodness

I languish, lamenting my lack

Of energy, enervated, angry

I know I am better than I am

Suffering, I grow insufferable

Strain the patience of my friends

Alienate my acquaintances

Struggle with my beloved

Commitments constrain the convalescence I crave

I rave at the world in this illness

And pray my relations will stay

Until I return their love

When I heal, return whole, regain my heart


To answer my question

An Indigenous teacher

Once told me

If you know who you are

You will never be lonely

I didn’t understand


White, I grew up

In bland, blanched suburbia

Moved to

A small, rural town

We people were the entertainment

The gravitas


Porch sitting hours

Moved to

A hip, slick, cultured, sophisticated, city of universities

America’s Athens

Loneliness, assimilation, knowledge, alienation from self

Moved to

A wealthy, beach retirement town

Boredom, self-discovery, self-recovery

Toured foreign countries

Europe and the roots of Western Civilization

Meso-America, Maya

Tropical Island


I am

Wherever I go

I understand


Some of the trees have buds

Majestic V’s honking Canadian Geese can be glimpsed in the sky

I’m not wearing a jacket

Neither am I wearing shorts

It’s too soon for Dionysian ecstasy

My eyes squint as the brilliant sun shines above the horizon line

When it used to be night a month back

Winter’s sand remains on the roads

Even though they drive the street-cleaners late at night

It feels like I have more energy

Exceptional Mental States, Eccentricity, and Normalcy

William James wrote an unpublished book about “Exceptional Mental States,” which was really about mental illnesses.  He made the astute observation that the difference between normal and abnormal is a continuum, not a discrete divide.  So mental illnesses are not a break from ordinary consciousness.  Rather, there is a spectrum that starts at normal and ends at psychosis.  At this point in my experience, I’m not even sure that normalcy exists at all, or how to point to what is normal.

The person who defines normal would need to be normal him or herself.  Where would we begin to define normal?  Law abiding?  Holding down a steady job?  Family?  I know someone who was all these things but morally bankrupt.  There are other things to consider in a definition of normalcy.  Culture and art may be important.  Physically fit?  Sports?  Education?  Maybe we’re now entering exceptional or “above” normal?  What about spirituality?  Can a person be normal without being spiritual?  Maybe a person can’t be normal and spiritual.  Because spirituality can make a person weird.  Read Augustine’s Confessions.

There are a couple people who dance really weirdly at a blues club I frequent.  One observer pointed them out to me.  Even laughed at them.  Asked to explain what they were doing, I said, “Half crazy, half drunk?”  The other person agreed.  I had made up my mind not to talk with them.  Too out there.  Little by little, the girl began to talk to me.  She found out I am a pastor and asked me about the sermon I was working on that Sunday.  After church, that night, she asked me how the sermon came out.  She was delighted when I gave her a hard copy.  Now She eagerly asks for my sermons Sunday nights at the blues club.  Her on-again-off-again boyfriend also dances weird–like he is teetering on the brink of a cliff.  We gradually got to know one another.  Last conversation we had was about Jack Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, and A Clockwork Orange.  This guy may not be normal, but he’s certainly intelligent and intellectual.  Maybe there’s something about intellectuals that makes them abnormal.

But the really remarkable thing about the weird dancers is the way they relate to others in the blues club.  They respond to everyone with love in their hearts.  I say this as someone who easily writes off people out of the norm, who I decide that I don’t want to talk to.  This couple cares about everyone in the club, befriending and genuinely caring about other people.  They have become treasured friends of mine.  This means something to me because Christian love means a great deal to me.  I learn about Christian love from this weird couple by observing them in the club and by my interactions with them.  I have a job, am law abiding, am in a committed relationship, own a condo, car, am a faculty adviser at a local college–indicators of normalcy.  But I don’t have the love, caring, and acceptance the weird dancers do–who don’t look normal from the outside.  We are all on different frequencies on the spectrum of normalcy, if it makes sense at all to talk about “the normal.”


Winning, Success, and Fairness

When The University of Virginia beat Auburn to advance to the NCAA finals, there was some controversy about a missed double-dribble call against Virginia.  The winning shots were scored by Kyle Guy due to a penalty.  Virginia was ecstatic at advancing to the finals.  Naturally, the TV interviewed Kyle Guy, because he saved the day for Virginia by making three foul shots to bring U VA into the lead with 6.1 seconds left on the clock.  I was struck with Guy’s comments.  He said something like, “I don’t know about the controversial call; this feels great, I can’t say how fantastic this feels.”  Guy’s team won, and, despite controversy, they won.  End of story.

A part of me says, “But was it fair?”  Regarding the whole question of fairness, in my own life, I am still resentful about an incident that happened to me in 8th grade.  In auto shop, we all made model cars out of wood.  There were two categories of model cars–wooden wheels and rubber wheels.  My car had rubber wheels and when we raced our cars down an inclined track, my car beat all the other cars.  I came in first.  Then we raced the winner of the rubber wheels (me) against the winner of the wooden wheels.  As our cars raced down the track, the wooden-wheel car jumped out of the track because a screw was sticking up.  I won it all.  But it wasn’t fair, so I said we should do the race again.  Trouble is, the guy who was supposed to catch my car at the end of the track had left, my car slammed against the wall, and the guard that protected the axle broke off leaving the axle exposed.  The shop teacher thought me incredible arrogant and allowed everyone in the class to challenge my win.  With my car’s axle exposed, my car kept getting stuck on the track.  The result was I came in last.  When we went to our next class, the girls asked who won.  They told them the guy who now won.  When they asked how I did, the guys said I came in last–with no clarification.

I don’t write this to vent a resentment from 8th grade.  Rather, this is a reflection on winning, success, and fairness.  The University of Virginia won against Auburn.  That was the result of the game.  About the missed double-dribble call–how many other calls were missed on either side that, to be fair, would need to be added to the results?  God would know how many missed calls there were in the whole game.  No human could, most likely.  We mortals make the best calls we can, we will never be perfect, and the final call stands.

This expands into other areas.  It looks like affirmative action makes some minorities succeed due to their minority status.  This may not seem fair.  But it counts.  Before affirmative action, minorities were consciously discriminated against and marginalized.  That certainly wasn’t fair.  So if success or winning is due to controversy, affirmative action, or efforts to level the playing field, it counts.  Fairness is an extremely vague measure.  It is naive to think that merit and competence will win out.  “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  Laws like affirmative action, which seek to return fairness into an unjust system, are necessary, as are the results of affirmative action.  Fairness is at best an ideal.  If we find success amid controversy, if we find success due to favoritism, if we fail due to laws like affirmative action, it’s all part of the mix.  Accept success with grace.  Accept failure with forbearance.  While the world may not be fair, determining what exactly is fair is far beyond any human’s calculation.




Support, community

Parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents


When it all works


And then


Vocation, relocation, isolation

Alone, unknown in a strange town

The whole wide world

Strangers, business associates

Stabs at connection

Church, gyms, bars, gangs, the streets

Alcohol and drugs and one-night stands


Screams at connection


And then


Incredibly good fortune,

or Providence

“O Lord thou pluckest me out”

Intimacy, soulmate, conjunction



Family again




After so much

A friend to the whole wide world

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