THEODICY

“Hey Laura!  Lookin’ hot!”  Jackie exclaimed at coffee hour after church
Broadcasting her own bisexuality, which struck me as attention-seeking
And I thought about her mother’s own attention-seeking behaviors
Of her childhood abuse she now struggles as an adult to survive
And her several marriages, separations
I wonder how many generations down
The iniquities of the fathers are visited
And I have to survive the iniquities my father visited upon me
Complicit with my mother’s silent abetting

Once riding with a Harvard friend in his boat off the coast of Atlantic Florida,
Which we were able to enjoy through his wife’s wealth,
We glimpsed the mansion visited upon the young Kennedys
—I think I saw a yacht moored in front of the Kennedy mansion—
And try to wrap my mind around why, from one perspective,
Some don’t seem to catch a break
The Aqualung types hanging around the convenience store down the street
Made something by Jethro Tull’s ‘70’s rock album, otherwise despised
And to discourage them from hanging around the convenience store
Scaring people by being who they are or were made to be
By iniquities of vague, distant Fathers
The cashiers won’t let me buy them a sandwich
Won’t let me practice Mi’kmaq Star Teachings
Won’t let me care

From one perspective, the fates spin an unjust thread
What a cheat life would be were that myth exclusive
A shade drawn on the glimpse through ultimate reality’s greater window
Vanishing lines that converge upon the perspective of conviction
That an ultimate equity may yet inhere here, inherited curses be confounded,
Or else redemption were a vacuous term,
Rebirth but a rabbinic dialogue written in a Sacred Text
Close the embossed leather covers and lock the words in silence
Yet were there another perspective, vanishing lines of inquiry pointing to
An unjust inquisition’s verdict denied, then there were another perspective.
Swedenborg said he saw it;–what if temporal goods matter
Only insofar as they remain eternally?  What if matters of soul matter
As much as material goods in this material world
And the Madonna of antiquity means more than a pop star
Even now relegated to antiquity
Then the ode to Jackie, her mother, the Aqualung types, and I is composed
in quite another key.  Overcoming the iniquities of the fathers,
The iniquities of vague, distant Fathers, we see the material of humanity
when our eyes meet, and belie Blake’s HUMAN ABSTRACT
Rise up in new birth, reform into new selves, new souls, Arise all Souls Arise

The vanishing lines of ultimate reality’s perspective converge on
The crucified One
I try to wrap my mind around how He just couldn’t seem to catch a break
And look where He ended up
Have I tried to squeeze the universe into a ball? 
To roll it to an overwhelming question I can scarce conceive:

Really, where did He end up?

COFFEE HOUSE

Way back, I went to one Coffee House
Folk music, acoustic guitar, harpsichord
Hot chocolate, and coffee; dim lights
The only Coffee House I ever went to

            they don’t have them, now

Simon and Garfunkel; Peter, Paul, and Mary
And there was Dylan—Coffee Houses and folk music
Poetic, political, sensitive, intellectual, gently passionate
Or so I hear, but for the one I experienced

            passing away as I came of age

I knew rock concerts in stadia, electric, loud
I went to them when they were underground
(Jethro Tull barely filled the cement floor with folding chairs)
Now rock concerts, rock-stars are mainstream industry

            underground surfacing into pop-culture dominance

Music calling to my youthful intentions heavy and I followed
Bore down on scales, arpeggios, mambos, and fugues
Theory filled my interests; I practiced hours daily in late youth
Until two roads diverged; I divested my passion of full-time art work

            conscious submerging into secret recesses, private

In maturity I must modulate my practice time
Rest and build up piano-specific muscles otherwise unused
Not unlike the arthritis in the great E. Power Biggs’ Bach fingers
My wrists, shoulder, hurt, ribs stiffen

            to replay scales, chords, changes

Modulation of effort’s tonality
Depressing keys, depressing decrepitude
Making music’s exercise caution
Within all this beauty, this duet of body and keystroke

            we all call music in our cultural forms’ venues

I recently checked out a new club
I couldn’t follow any pattern to the loud bass tones
A woman wrapped herself in a flag while singing
A song I couldn’t pick out any real melody: only notes

            looks like things are going that way now

I went in and out of a club
Lights flashing, beats oscillating
I think they call it Techno
Bodies bumping into shots dancing

            Looks like things are going that way now

SOME WORDS I GREW UP WITH

Vietnam, establishment, protest, revolution, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., assassination, J. Edgar Hoover, Twiggy,

Woodstock, Buffalo Springfield, Richie Havens, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Crosby, stills, Nash, and Young, Janis Joplin, Cream, Ravi Shankar, Jefferson Airplane, Melanie, Ten Years After, Mountain, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

mind expansion, weed, LSD, hash, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau

The Man, tear gas, mod, freaks, hippies, bikers, jocks, counter-culture, mini-skirt, long hair, crew-cut, bell-bottoms, Spock, freedom, riots, tie-dye, Motown

peace, Nature, love

While the Eternal Clock Ticks

There’s that song by REM, an ’80’s band, that tells us to “Think about Direction.”  I think for a lot of us, our aims–our direction–are rather short-term.  When I was younger, I had an aim to get into a good school.  That was a goal of several years.  Then, when I got in, it was to get a good grade.  That was a goal of several months.  Then it was get a Ph.D., which was a goal of several years.  Some people, mostly business-oriented people, talk about having a five-year plan.  “Where do you want to be in 5-years?”  I think mostly this is about material things–being an executive, having a 3-bedroom house, making a 6-figure income, a family (which isn’t a material goal), etc.

But all the while I was pursuing my academic goals, I recall having an overarching goal, which I still have today.  Wisdom and virtue.  In my schoolwork, I took interdisciplinary programs to broaden my knowing.  I didn’t specialize in one discipline in order to fit into a job mold.  And as I was going about my life, I continued personal inventory to measure my life against what I understood to be good.  My conception of what the good is grew and developed as I learned more through my education and my life experiences.

On one end of the spectrum of goals are people who intentionally choose a lifestyle.  There aren’t many of these, I think.  Henry David Thoreau was maybe the classic example.  He intentionally set about a life in harmony with nature, moved out of the city, left capitalism behind, and communed with nature at Walden Pond.  On the other side of the spectrum are people whose main goal is to get through the day, get paid, pay their bills, hit the bar, and do the same thing tomorrow.

There are short-range aims and long-range goals.  Everyone needs to get up and go to work and get through the day.  But while we are doing this, there is room for farther-reaching goals.  Why are we going to work?  What are we intending to do with our money?  Who are we as we go about our quotidian lives?  Midway among these are like people who hit the gym before they hit the bar, having an intentional goal of being fit.  Some longer-ranged goals are creative accomplishments such as my interest in music–learning to play and writing songs.  This avocation is almost as important to me as is my career.  In school, one of my roommates was a body-builder.  Another roommate told me that bodybuilding was as important to him as was my music to me.  I had trouble thinking of bodybuilding as an equal kind of avocation as music.  But he was a dedicated bodybuilder.

Work, pastimes, longer-range goals, and the ultimate goal are all part of the virtuous life, I think.  I want to make beautiful and heartfelt music.  I like having an appreciative audience.  I have enough money and a small, comfortable condo.  But those two aims I had when I was younger are still with me.  Wisdom and virtue.

I know that I’m only a pilgrim on this material plane.  What really matters to me is the kind of soul I am cultivating.  In my thinking, that is what is of eternal value.  Money comes and goes.  Children grow up and live their own lives.  Our bodies deteriorate.  Fame passes, over time.  (Where is Jethro Tull, now?)  But what I’ve made of myself, with the One who has all power, lasts.  Rather, the process of spiritual growth lasts forever.  Because the One who has all power is infinite, and I am finite.  Because this is true, I have all eternity to approach nearer and nearer to the Perfect All Powerful One.  And all the wisdom, virtue, and joy that that means.  That’s the ultimate direction in my life.  And everything else either contributes to it, or keeps time while the eternal clock ticks.

The Decay of a Dream

It wasn’t just sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  It was more importantly do your own thing, peace, and love.  We read Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau who taught us to be our own person regardless of status, style, or what other people said we should be or do.  We weren’t concerned much with making money.  Jethro Tull, “I didn’t care if they groomed me for success, or if they said that I was just a fool.”  So with a love for music, with an ethic of doing your own thing, and little concern for money, the late ’60’s and early ’70’s generated a bewildering diversity of music.  Who ever heard the kind of music that Led Zeppelin came up with.  Their music is now engraved on our brains by repetition, but when it came out it was original.  “Stairway to Heaven” struck a nerve with everyone which is why we make jokes about it now–everyone was enthralled with it when it first came out.  Who would have thought that a man standing on one foot playing rock and roll flute would fill stadiums, as did Jethro Tull?

I still do my own thing.  For my birthday I had an artist make me an earring with a lapis Lazuli stone and a feather dangling on short chains.  People always comment on it–for good or ill.  I have Tibetan pants that I wear with a Nepalese shirt on the streets of the city.  At home I have statuettes of the Buddha, Guru Rimpoche, a Mayan god, Saint Francis, and Egyptian falcon deity, and Eastern Orthodox icons.  I self-identify as Christian.  I majored in Religion and Literature because I like poetry and religion.  It wasn’t a wise career choice if I was after money.

In the late ’60’s, early ’70’s, we bought good stereo systems because we wanted to hear our music clearly.  Then people started bragging about their systems.  What started out as technology for good quality music reproduction became a status symbol.  Then people started bragging about which concerts they had been to.  What started out as a live version of music we loved to listen to became status symbols.  We used drugs to give us alternative states of mind and raise consciousness.  Drugs degenerated into amusement alone, and bragging about using drugs became a status symbol.  Witness Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke.”

The final blow came in the ’80’s.  Then, earning a 6-digit income became people’s ideal.  The Yuppies were born.  People made excuses for Nixon, saying that he only did what everyone else was doing–he just got caught.  Cocaine became the drug of choice, and something to brag about.  David Byrne said that being a musician was, “A good job.”   The dream of the late ’60’s early ’70’s was successfully, and I think deliberately, ruined.