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Note: Although I don’t write a lot of them, this is a poem I wrote in April which I felt echoes a synthesis of inner and outer experience at this point in my life.
I’m standing on the shore of eternity
Wet sand beneath my feet
Ebbing and flowing
By the same
As sure as I stand
Upon this shore
Prove no more
I come to know
As I am known.
This is a poem that I played around with and wrote on a recent trip. It came in a kind of tempo ed rhythm. I’m intrigued with the scriptural accounts of Melchizedek, this otherworldly, pretty much inter-dimensional figure, as he appears to pop in and out of time.
What the heck
What’s that thing you got going?
Walking early in the pages
With the wisdom of the sages
Gifted the first-fruit wages
Are you the Bearer of ages?
You, who Abraham engages,
Roaming the land
A solitary Wayfaring Man
I don’t think it’s just a personal quest
Some kind of Holy attest
Peace and power to those you blessed
You cut a fine figure
Sans the de rigueur*
How are we to figure?
Coming out of nowhere
Or is it everywhere?
All this priestly affair!
You, to whom it is to ever care.
Plodding down a lonely road
You stoop to lift and bear the load
Time & eternity can’t keep you out
No show of force, it’s a one-man rout
Grace divine returns its clout
King of Salem Town
Checking out your ever realm
Bearing no rejected crown
Can’t keep a good man down
Made and Maker in thee are found
I bend the knee, As-Salaam.
* de rigueur- according to strict etiquette
Brenda was a close neighbor. It was Halloween night. Mom, Dad & us three kids; older sister, Karen, baby sister Wanda, and me; the extent of our family then, were gathered round the table eating dinner in the small company bungalow my parents rented from the logging outfit my dad worked for. The bungalow was one of several dozen like ones, all of which housed the families of our small community of company workers. Nestled in the wooded but logged off area at the mouth of the watershed that formed the extant of the company timber holdings, it was both workers accommodations and base of operations. Though well secluded, it was our daily world then, alive with the living.
Baby sister, Wanda, would have been probably pushing two. Cute as a button and equally as chubby with this little curl to the top of her head, she was seated in her high chair cheerily eating her dinner when in burst Brenda. Brenda wanted our family to be the first to see her in her Halloween costume.
And what a costume it was. She had chosen to dress as a hobo with the customary tattered shirt, overalls, and bundle stick; only in those days, the stereo-typical hobo was the Al Jolson ‘Mammy’-esque Negro of the early 1900s. And so to complete her attire she had taken a bottle cork which she had charred at the end of a fork over the cook stove and face painted herself with this blackened soot: Voila, a hobo, extraordinaire! And with her costume complete she had burst into our dinner gathering, loud, exuberant and emotional as ever.
The combination of hobo, extraordinaire, and natural exuberance proved too much for baby sister Wanda, who, having never seen the like, responded by jumping up in her chair as if she had been hit by an electric current and with such shrieks of utter terror; that it was all that mom could do to take her in her arms to rock and cuddle her to calm her down. Brenda meanwhile only succeeded in terrifying her more in her own efforts to reassure baby sister by trying to get her to recognize who she was by repeating, “It’s me, it’s me.” For the rest of us, it was truly one of those funny situations that you just crack- up over. I’ve never forgotten it.
I never, ever, saw Brenda mean, angry, or down. She had that uncanny ability to invite her infectious self into your world and make herself part of yours and you part of hers. She lived life in the moment and she was, well, what can I say: she was—Brenda.
Roughly about the same age as my older sister and me (we are a year-and-a-half apart) Brenda was mentally challenged or what we termed then as ‘retarded’. But it never seemed to matter; she was just one of us kids: I never ever remember there being a separation or distinction. She loved us and we loved her and we were all the better for it. She accepted you and let you know that she was emphatically there and she never hesitated to let you know that you were special in her life.
Another Brenda antic written indelibly in memory is her diving antics. Our community also had its own small lake just a stone’s throw from the front of both our adjoining yards. During the summer months Brenda lived in the water. She never tired of diving off what would have been maybe a 6—8’ diving board and she always wanted you to watch and participate in her dive. She’d called out, ‘So and so, watch this!’ and off she’d go. The only thing was that her dives were really belly flops. She never did seem to get the hang of actual diving. And instead of a graceful headlong entry into the water, she’d whack the surface of the water with the familiar ‘belly-whack’ sound, briefly disappearing under the water only to reappear splashing, sputtering, and laughing, as if each belly-flop pushed a new round of laughter from her and was something to delight in. She was exuberance personified.
I can’t remember exactly how long we lived in that community but I do know that mom and dad were good friends with her parents. Somewhere in the middle of my grade school years we moved to a bigger town but still kept in touch and our families would visit each other occasionally. I haven’t seen her or her family for well over 40 years; I don’t even know if she’s still alive now or not, but I’ve never forgotten Brenda. She’s never once diminished from my life. Unlike many others who have come and gone in my life, she was able to write herself indelibly into mine and remain
s part of me.
But Brenda’s story doesn’t end here because I think her, or someone just like her, is in a lot of people’s lives. And how is it a scary story besides the dreadful fright it gave to my baby sister? It’s really scary for the fact that in our modern desire for a perfect world there just may not be a place for Brenda & she, all alike, may well be relegated to just that: a story about somebody who once was, who once existed, swept from the pages of life. ‘Why’, say they, ‘let’s factor out these genetic mutations, prescreen her out; we desire babies just like our lives, designer lives, designer babies, that’s the story of our future. We’ll put a patent on them genes. We’ll make them ours or we’ll not make em.’
I find it strange that in so an imperfect world as ours, full of the imperfect people we know ourselves to be, that we demand perfection in others. It’s as if such sought after perfection might perhaps assuage our own imperfect consciences. Do we really want to cast such a first stone?
As for Brenda & her peers, do we really want to factor them out? Odds are, I don’t think anyone could ever design a life as beautiful, as perfect as Brenda
*The photo included above isn’t an actual photo of Brenda but it sure reminds me of her.
In writing recently to counter a flawed argument on the part of a columnist of our local paper (see my former post I am religious Charlie), I was reminded of a mindset that is really tripping a lot of people up these days.
The trend today socially is for people to disassociate themselves from externally originated (institutionalized) thought and practice, whether in the political, religious or scientific spheres, and to replace such with some sort of vaguely defined personal internal moral or ethical compass. In other words, I become my own guide and arbitrator in life: I determine both what’s right or wrong, as well as what’s meaningful and what’s not, for both me and the world around me.
In fact, the newspaper article referred to above has the author stating: “Reason and common sense are better sources of morality, a morality that can be universally recognized and accepted.” A point that is totally discredited by the weight of historical evidence: But that’s a whole other argument.
Well, this universally recognized and accepted morality sounds all wonderful and good and flowery, etc., but what you then have is a rather skewered social order because you quickly discover that both ‘reason’ and ‘morality’ can be and are different things to different people and humankind is no longer ‘on the same page’ so to speak. And, as we all experience, in trying to have even the simplest of conversations and come to the simplest of understandings, that in order for people to communicate, interact and get along socially, they need to be ‘on the same page’, meaning ‘everyone agrees or understands what was said or needs to be done.’ Otherwise you have misunderstanding and confusion leading to wrong actions or conduct; even in the simplest of circumstances
Sad to say, or sadder still to discover, that there isn’t this internal universal compass that is going to automatically set and magically pull everyone in line with ‘true north’, or in our case, ‘true reason and rightness’. In fact, due to the inherencies of human nature, you’re going to find the pull in rather detrimental ways as if someone’s produced a magnet and is deliberately pulling that needle in all kinds of unseemly ways.
I think Oswald Chambers spelled it out very succinctly when he wrote (seeking to verbalize the inner thought processes) of the moralist:
I may prefer to live morally because it is better for me: I am responsible to no one, my conscience is my god. That is the very essence of sin.
There it is. The self-styled independent moralist prefers to live that way, why? ‘Because it is better for me’ (self pleasing) ‘I’m responsible to no one ‘ (self rule) ‘my conscience is my god’ (self aggrandizement). Indeed, their conscience has become their god. It’s really the epitome of counterfeit, and deception and it’s easy to see the author behind it. He or she has in effect become their own god: I prefer to add, ‘‘fallen’ to become their own god.’ Who’s to say or tell them any differently? Whose page is it anyway?
The following is an opinion piece I sent in to our local paper in response to another that had been submitted earlier, as I couldn’t help but take exception to the conclusions the writer draws and her concept of ‘freedom of expression’. She certainly wasn’t speaking for me. I’m sorry that it’s a bit of a long post but I didn’t know how else to share it:
I’m sharing this opinion in response to a recent one that appeared in a recent issue of the paper titled ‘We need secular government’ by Jane Roberts, which I feel fell far short of her intentions and indeed became little more than a venting of personal bias. She was writing in response to two recent tragic events, one, the Charlie Hebdo French newspaper attack by militant extremists and the suicide of transgender Leelah Alcorn.
I can well understand what led her to write her article, but where her argument fails is over the very point she purports to advocate: freedom of expression. It’s one thing to feel solidarity with the freedom of expression that the words ‘I am Charlie’ have come to represent and want to trumpet that freedom. If this was her intention, then I salute her, as I too view it as a barbaric act which should be abhorrent to all people of all persuasions, which by reaction around the world it has been (except to its perpetrators of course), and we are all well to be reminded of the preciousness of freedom of expression.
It’s quite another thing to then use this as a platform to advocate one’s personal bias, which in her case is one of avowed adamant secularism as being the panacea of the world’s problems, as well as the only valid social stance or position. Well, that’s her ‘take’ and she is welcome to it.
But this is where her argument unravels for me, because to follow such line of reasoning leads to disavowal of the very freedom of expression advocated. How can freedom of expression be served if only one form of expression is considered valid? Are we supposed to conclude from these grappling issues that the only valid viewpoint is a secular one, that it’s no longer valid to hold a religious or non-secular point of view and that indeed such a viewpoint should no longer be tolerated or allowed? Those adhering to such ‘reasoning’ undermine the very position they purport to advocate.
The lessons I draw from such events is not that everyone should now lay down their personal beliefs or ‘isms’ (which, let’s face it, we all hold precious), and be forced in their place, to adopt some sort of universal mass-controlled secularism. That would be the very anti-thesis to draw from this. But, rather, how very dear, delicate, and in danger of being snuffed out, freedom of expression is in our world today and that we should be vigilante to guard against that happening and welcoming of any and all true forms of expression, religious or non-religious.
To those seeking to advocate such an exclusivity of thought, attitude, and position, I would say please allow others the ‘freedom’ you purport to uphold; to cherish and espouse other points of view as having a validity of their own.
As a religious person, would I like to see the world share my beliefs? Yes, of course. Would I like to see that belief imposed on others by force? –No, not on your life. I know imposition does not work. The point is true freedom can never be imposed, regulated or legislated. But it does need a certain atmosphere, a certain amount of give and take in which to grow and thrive. Not even God denies us that.
Jane, like it or not, I am religious Charlie. Shouldn’t there be room for me in your world of ‘freedom’?
Here is her opinion as it appeared:
We need secular government by Jane Roberts
When I went to the French website http://www.charliehebdo.fr on Wednesday there was nothing but a big black box and inside the box the words “Je Suis Charlie,” I am Charlie.
Well, I am Charlie.
This left-wing satirical weekly paper was the victim of terrorism today in Paris with the majority of its editorial staff gunned down in cold blood, targeted no doubt for its anti-Islam cartoons.
One had Muhammad in a passionate (obviously homosexual) embrace of Charlie. This would be the equivalent of showing the “Virgin Mary” having teen sex with some bloke.
Another was of Muhammad lamenting “It’s yucky being loved by Jihadis” i.e. fundamentalists. In this cartoon Muhammad is against all this fundamentalism done in his name.
Upcoming was an issue with a play on words Sharia and Charia i.e. Charlie.
In the Muslim world today there are many who think Sharia law, law based solely on their particular interpretation of Islam, is all that is needed for government. These people completely reject secularism, pluralism and democracy. There are strong factions of Sharia adherents in many countries, mostly in the Middle East.
In our own country there are those who tout America as a Christian nation and would like nothing better than to run the country according to their interpretation of the Bible. We are extremely fortunate to have founding fathers and authors of the Constitution who opposed any such sectarian admonitions.
Ronald Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, has written a cogent argument for secularism in his new book “The Necessity of Secularism: Why God Can’t Tell Us What to Do” His main point is that if one bases one’s views concerning public policy on one’s religion, this is a conversation stopper. Reasoned discourse goes out the window. He points out that both adherents of the right and the left are guilty of this to some degree. The debate on abortion, same-sex marriage and assisted suicide, i.e. death with dignity, are examples where some on the right invoke God to support their position. Opposition to the death penalty and to war by those on the left can come from religious persuasion. All this is illegitimate in a secular pluralistic society according to Lindsay.
The book also contains reasoned argument showing that morality does not come from religion. In human history religion has been used to justify slavery, the subjugation of women and the persecution of Jews.
Reason and common sense are better sources of morality, a morality that can be universally recognized and accepted.
One further note about secularism on a small scale. Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio committed suicide just recently by stepping in front of a tractor-trailer. She was born a boy but from the age of 4 knew she was really a girl.
Her conservative Christian parents rejected her pleas to change her gender and live her life openly.
“I told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. That won’t do anything but make them hate themselves. That’s exactly what it did to me.”
Her family blew it.
They based their morality on religion, which turned into a conversation stopper. Reasoned discourse went out the window with horrible results. They needed secular understanding and morality.
People tell me they like my book recommendations. So read “Golden Boy” by Abigail Tarttelin. It’s a very moving tale of a boy with a penis and a vagina and how he and his family cope.
So let’s hear it for secularism on a world, country and family scale.
— Jane Roberts