Tuesday, December 30, 2014


It's the seventh day of Christmas here in Jing'An.

Yesterday I walked along Beijing Road to the Bund. At a very leisurely pace it took about two hours. I suspect I could have done it in 45 minutes, but I stop a lot. I talked to a little girl and took her picture, tried on a pair of shoes, strolled through the Jing'An Sculpture Garden, I walked around the block in a couple of places that looked interesting, and I stopped to have a jym-be just blocks before I got to the Bund. There was lots of talking there at the jym-be stop, and I took a picture of a lady and her dog there.  At the Bund I had a pot of tea and then took the train home. If you live in Jing'An, after all, why would you want to be anywhere else? I really feel that way about this neighborhood.

A jim-be is a burrito like thing which is made on a big round thing. The cook puts a blob of dough on the big round thing -- like a comal, used for tortillas, only much bigger -- and as the dough cooks they put an egg on it, toss on some green things, a yellowish thing, and then add a either a crispy bread or a chewy bread. Then they fold it in half and put some brown sauce on the half-moon bit. then roll and tuck the edges and you have a jym-be. This one was made with a chewy bread. It had noodles and seaweed inside, so it was a little different than what I am used to. But I think it's still called a jym-be... and I am not at all sure how to write the Pin Yin for it, that's just my best guess. They are from Shandong Province. You can get them on my street at the weekend, early in the morning. I like the ones here better. I'm not much on seaweed as a food for humans. I sometimes use the dried seaweed as a salt substitute, but I don't really like the limpy stuff in my jym-be.

I was surprised to see the sculpture garden. I knew it was on Bejing Lu, but I thought it was the other way. So, that was a nice surprise. There were some new sculptures and some old favorites. I went there quite a lot that time I wound up spending almost three weeks here waiting for my backpack to clear customs. Remember that? What a bother that was. Anyway, I'd go down to the sculpture garden to calm myself.

Then, if you continue on Beijing Lu, you walk through an area that sells all kinds of hardware: tools, motors, nuts, bearings, rotors, just everything you can imagine. I even saw some plumbing, which often has its own section. So that was interesting, though I am not sure I need to do it again.

Nanjing Lu also goes to the Bund and the next time I take that walk I think I'll go down Nanjing Lu. It will be more interesting.

We have not had very good air quality lately. The AQI (Air Quality Index) has been spiking up into the very unhealthy range several times a day for a few days. In the unhealthy range I sometimes get a mild eye irritation, something that I treat with drops and a nap. No big deal. But now it's the sore throat and I don't know if it's AQI or an actual sore throat. I will stuck close to home today and drink lots of tea.

Photos to follow. I know I always say that and then I never do it. I am just putting more energy into ukulele and journalism these days. I can only really love one or two hobbies at a time. I feel fortunate that there are so many things that interest me. But it also limits me. This is the nature of the Earth Plane.

Love to all.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


In haiku -- really in all of Japanese poetry -- we talk about sabi. It means to feel your own existence and to eperience its particualrity, it's edges.

the Advent disciplines of art and poetry lend themselves to expressions of sabi. Incarnation, after all, is about taking on limitation and accepting the constraints of the Earth plane. Advent calls us to the starkness of being, and being bound to time and place.

During this time we turn away from what I call LED Jesus; the bright shining transcendence who hovers over altar tables, the pantocrator on the ceiling surrounded by gold... and way, far up there.

During Advent our God has edges. God comes right up to our skin and breathes. it's close-up. Stark. And so we need a stark expression.

The haiku master Basho once talked about how other poets write in color, but his students write in black and white.

Here are some of my black and white haiku for the first week in Advent:


o come, come Emanuel
a people of hope
we want to sing, want to hope


the dark closes in
unstoppable, unyielding
where is my candle?


dark keeps creeping in
my little candle flickers
winter wind threatens


don't let the rain come
wet skies taunt me with their threats
i guard my small light


at night it goes out
then the day with its own light
i light the candle again
and again, amen. amen.
i light my candle again


can the light grow strong
when the dark is all around
when indifference rules?


On Saturday we have no haiku.
Jesus is in the womb.
It is a quiet day.

Also we are moving house on this day and we will not have time to write any haiku. But, we will have a darling little apartment and that is worth a haiku sacrifice.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


You may know haiku as the very short Japanese verse consisting of three lines and 17 syllables. And that's basically it. It's something we teach children and English language learners because it gives them a sense of being in command of the language, it reviews vowel sounds, and syllables, it uses new parts of the brain, and it's just plain fun.

But there is more to it than that. In fact, doing good haiku is hard. That's why I keep doing it. I haven't done a good one yet.

The precursor to the garden-variety 5-7-5 pattern was called thanka (or waka) and it has a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern. In a variation of that, one writer can write the 5-7-5 thanka opening, and someone else can write the last two lines. It's a poetic word game for two.

It reminds me of what Jane Hirshfield said in her Kindle Single, The Heart of Haiku:
To read a haiku is to become its co-author, to place yourself inside its words until they reveal one of the proteus-shapes of your own life.
Of course, such an exercise is different for everyone.

See if you can add anything to this haiku:

in mad defiance
i will light the light again
always believing

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


William Cullen Bryant is famous for his poem To a Waterfowl. At the time -- mid-18th century -- it was thought to be one of the best poems ever written.  And it is a very clean little piece:  Eight stanzas of iambic trimiter and pentameter. In my class we just looked for the rhyming words, though. It's only college, after all. And they are only English majors. Alas, I briefly fantasized about showing them the metaphor, the anaphora, and the anastrophe; in the end I decided against it. It is a clean little piece, though... and just right for teaching. William Arnold even said that it was the best short poem in the language. I don't think that any of you will feel that way about my haiku, but I am inspired the same as Bryant by the steadfastness of the bird, and the mysterious way it makes its way home... the way we all do.

to the waterfowl
bright white snowy bird

feet to the rear, beak forward
the avian engineer

are you going home?
is your lover there?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Why People Shoot.

There's quite a lot of stupidity out there, isn't there?  Have you noticed?

A friend of mine just posted another article about some guy "accidentally" shooting himself. And there's a similar story posted in the comments. Lots of people are shooting themselves these days. Accidentally.

Here, read this for yourself... this is from a real newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times:
Emery was upset because he could not find his lighter, police said.
He picked up a revolver and threatened to shoot the dog, pulling back the hammer on the gun to emphasize his threat, police said. Later, as he tried to release the hammer, the gun fired while Emery had it pointed at his face.
Emery has had 34 contacts with Pinellas Park police since 2012
His cigarette lighter. He was upset.

So he did what any reasonable person would do, right? He got his gun and threatened to shoot the dog.

THEN as he is releasing the hammer -- because, yes, he pulled the hammer -- he got the brilliant idea of pointing the gun at his face. It is hard for me to tell which of those words should be in all caps because they are ALL SO STUPID.

And -- raise your hand if you're surprised by this -- he has had contact with the police before. Not traffic citations. 

If this were an isolated case we would say, "Whoo-Boy, that guy is wac-o..." and that would be the end of it. But it's like there's one-a-day of stuff like this.

Here is a story about ANOTHER guy who shot himself in the face while trying to kill a dog.

Obviously, if you're trying to kill a dog then God is going to get you. And that's fine by me. But, really, what's going on?

The first guy was upset.  You know, about his lighter.

The second apparently was irritated about the dog barking. He had 13 dogs. I would expect there to be barking from 13 dogs, but that's just me.

So, let's be generous and say they had their (bad) reasons.

But, take a minute to Google "man shoots self" and you'll get over 18 million hits. EIGHTEEN MILLION! And a fair number of those involve attempted dog killing.

You have probably heard about the Home Depot shopper who was carrying a pistol in his pocket, reached for his wallet and accidentally shot himself in the ass instead. And it wasn't a pellet gun either, that weapon was a .40 caliber Glock.

But, did you know that police sometimes do the same thing?  In this CBS story a state trooper shoots a man who was reaching for his wallet.

So guns and wallets are confusing for some people. I get that. But the reason that the state trooper is justified in the shooting, according to his lawyers, is that he feared for his life.

So, if I am trying to understand these things I can tell that being upset about something like a cigarette lighter, or having a fight with your wife about the dogs, or fearing for your life... even if you are armed and the other person isn't... those are all reasons to shoot.

I don't like that reporter, John Stossel, but I like something he says:

Give me a break.

My FB friend asks: 
Has this sort of carelessness and stupidity unto death been going on in the past, and we haven't been paying attention, or are we seeing an an upsurge in the past few years?
And I think a lot of us are wondering about that.

I do think that since the recent spate of school shootings, the mishandling of firearms is being reported more often. A lot of that, no doubt, is about selling adverts and raising those ratings. That's OK. That's the system we have. But I do think that there is just more of it.

There is more stupidity.

More people are behaving like beasts.

Let me ask you a question? Do you like reading the Psalms? I do. I like the Psalms. When I get to Psalm 73 I think of it as a mini-me Job. These are two touchstones in theodicy: The book of Job, and Psalm 73.

I wrote a short commentary on the book of Job one time and it was about 100 pages long, so I'm not going to ask you to read that. But let's take a look at Psalm 73. It's a Psalm of Asaph.

Now, you know me so you know that I'm going to put this in my own words, ok.  You don't have to like it, it's just how I do...

In the very beginning the writer says, "Hey, look at all those investment bankers and all the stuff they've got... Man, they have everything! They go to a fancy gym and they're all sleek and beautiful. even death doesn't scare them because they can buy the best doctors and ease their way out of here. Lucky bastards. Lucky wicked bastards..."

Do you see what he does there? He starts equating wickedness and prosperity. It may be true... maybe the prosperous are wicked, maybe they are not. But if you can believe that one group of people is wicked on account of their money, then it's pretty easy to start believing that you and your group are righteous on account of your poverty.  And, that 'aint right.

Stay with me now, because I am not trying to override any preferential option for the poor. I am trying to override a theology of them (those wicked/rich people) and us (poor/righteous children of God.) OK.  

In verse 13 the writer talks about how he had been faithful, he is not like those wicked/rich/good looking people.

But, it's a false dichotomy. The only real differences between any of us are the most superficial things.

But in verse 22 he reflects back on this belief, the notion that he is all good and that the rich are all bad and he recognizes that this attitude made him arrogant. He says, "I was upset and bitter. I was stupid and unintelligent. I acted like a beast in the presence of God."

Well, look, we've all been there. Right?

And when it's like that, when you're confused and stupid... like a beast. Well, then you might do something stupid.

I think there is a lot of confusion out there about why things are the way they are.

There are rich people. We see them... In magazines. The affluence, the abundance... NO, the decadance!  It's there. Some people have more than enough.

The rest of us struggle.

People don't understand that. They don't know why they don't have any money; they work, after all. Most work longer and harder than their parents did. They genuinely expected more out of life and they don't understand how they could still be poor.

And, like the psalmist, they are jealous! Sometimes I am too. There have been times in my life when I thought how wonderful it would be to have a day where I wasn't worried about money. Just one day. I didn't envy the jets, and boats, and sleek bodies... just the lack of worry. And I think a lot of you may remember times like that too, or maybe you are living it right now.

Many of the people in my age group will be the first generation in memory who have not done better than our parents. I have some understanding of why that is. But I still find it frustrating. Imagine if I didn't have any understanding? I'd be beastly over it, I imagine.

I think this is especially hard for white men, many of whom do not even understand that they have been on the top of the heap for all recorded time. They do not understand that they will have to yield for others. This is perceived as a real injustice for them. Trust me. I know some of these guys... they feel victimized.  And I think that it is so deep, and so frustrating, that sometimes they shoot themselves in the face.

I wonder a lot about the increasing violence in our society. But, even more than that, I wonder at the increasing stupidity. It's all so beastly. And this Psalm -- Psalm 73 -- it offers an explanaion for me:  When we falsely divide the world into US and THEM it turns us into beasts... stupid beasts. .

One more time, because I've said this before, there is no US and THEM. We are ALL in it together.

But as long as there is no understanding, as long as people set up divisions between the haves and the have nots, then there will be beasts. And they will shoot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Time to Practice

Back when I was just a young pup, and not as smart as I thought I was, Shirley Rabb Winston -- adviser, mentor, and general agent provocateur -- used to tell me, and I can just about hear her melodious voice in my head,

"Daaahing, everyone is doing the very best that they can." 

And she said it in that dramatic way that only old divas can. And then we'd sing a song from the 50's or something from an opera.  And she let me sing along with her even though my voice is untrained and wild, while hers was still clear, strong, and disciplined. Once in awhile she would say something about my singing, I know I sometimes irritated her, but I would always look at her in that way I do, and I'd say that I was doing the very best that I could. We'd have a big laugh out of that because I didn't agree with her about the "very best..." I didn't agree at all.

I once told Shirley that I could give her a list of people who most assuredly were not doing their very best. She advised me to examine my compassion.

As the years have gone by, and Shirley has since gone to that great spotlight in the sky, I've had occasion to watch people. Some people think that I am quiet and reserved. The truth is that I am just watching. I am very interested in all of you people. And what I have seen is that people really are doing the best they can, in each moment, given the resources they have. All of you are.

Sure, sometimes it looks like they are just being big dicks, I know. Oh, I can sure see that. But if you look a little closer you can see that they might not have the resources that some others have. I feel very fortunate that I have had so many opportunities to practice patience, to practice expressing myself authentically, and to practice not knocking people up'side the head. It's an art. I've practiced. Not everyone has had the advantages of practice that I've had. I know that.

Unto whom much is given, much shall be required. Us first-worlders don't like to think about that one too much, but it's in there. And unto me has been given much compassion, many second chances, and opportunities to practice not being a dick.  But, the times I have failed, I failed because of the resources I had in that moment, not because I just wasn't doing my best. Recognizing this is a short exercise in self-compassion and it is one of the shortest and easiest spiritual exercises you can do. And one of the most important. If you can't have compassion for yourself, then it will be hard to have any for others.

And when I see someone who lacks compassion for others, that is one of the saddest things, because you know they lack self-compassion too. And no condemnation is as nasty as self-condemnation. You don't deserve that. You deserve to treated kindly. And others can treat you with compassion, kindness; but until you treat yourself that way you can't really share it with others.

So, look, when you see these rioters, or the terrorists from abroad, or idiots with a pulpit, whatever... there's no shortage of candidates here!.. when you see that, remember that they are operating out of the resources that they have, and it may not be very much, but it's what they've got. It's your chance to practice compassion! Don't loose your chance to practice! Look, it happens to me all the time too:  I have a chance to practice compassion, but I practice something else instead. Woe is me, I do the very thing I hate. I want to do better on that.

When Jesus redeemed the world, the power of his life was such that it set every single soul, every plant, every animal, every thing that has ever been or ever will be on the road to glory. If salvation is something less than that, then I want out. I don't need no half-ass salvation. But, here's the thing, for some reason some of us have more resources for dealing with the earth plane and it's limitation and dimensionality. I don't know why that is. It's too high for me to think about things like that. And I don't think any of you know either. But it does seem to be the case.

Everybody's best is not the same.

Shirley is not here to hear me say this, but maybe if I say it on the internet she will somehow know: 

Shirley, I was wrong. Everybody is doing their best.  You were right all along, my friend. And sometimes, I think about that and I miss you and wish I could tell you. I hope you get this message.

People are trying.They are using the resources they have. If their behavior is not what we would like it to be then there are other questions to ask:

How can I show love and compassion in this situation?
What resources does this person need to be able to cope here and now?
What kind of world am I creating with my own actions and attitudes?
Am I putting out love, compassion, joy?
Am I not?
What do I need to be compassionate with myself?

Oh, the list goes on... and you should make your own list.

But there is more to all this than just blaming people for not acting right. There's more to it than that.

Now is the time to practice whatever you can.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Baptism of Jesus

Regarding the baptism of Jesus, a friend recently pointed out to me that in Matthew (the reading we have today) and Luke the heavens are opened, but in Mark they are torn open. That sounds like a completely different thing to me.

We can open a door, a window. We choose to open ourselves in various ways. But opening is at the discretion of the opener. If something is torn... well, that's completely different.

Of course it's about creation. Birth and creation go together. And I would like to think that it's easy to create something new, smooth sailing. But I think we have to wonder.

Just thinking out loud this morning.

I wrote a haiku about it:

opened gently or
were the heavens torn open
ripped, bleeding, and sore?

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Haiku

Two things happen this time of year:  The farmers burn the last of their crops, believing that the ash helps the soil; and the coal burning starts in earnest as the wind comes blasting off the steppe.  It makes for some pretty heavy air.

Air so heavy, brown
Farmers burn and coal fires up
trembling in the cold

You all have a good day.  Stay bundled up if you're cold.  And if you can breathe, then breathe a prayer of thanks.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Haiku

Here's a haiku from last week:

last bit of summer
strug'ling to still warm my bones
you are fading now

And for several days last week I wore a coat. 

There were days when the sun came out during the middle part of the day and it was almost like spring again.  But as soon as the afternoon blooms there is a crispness in the air.  It's going to be winter soon.

The Talents

We had the parable of the talents this morning.  One of my favorites.  In fact, the entire Matthean Olivet discourse is in my favorites column.  So, here's the text in case you missed it:

Matthew 25:14-30English Standard Version (ESV) 

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a] and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

In my church we also had the I Thessalonians reading, which I thought went along nicely with last week's gospel reading.  Light and dark, and all.  We did not have a reading from the Hebrew Bible, nor a proper Psalm... though there was a little song with a verse or two from Psalms in it, but it hardly counts as a reading.

And we had a sermon. 

A bad one.

It was not the worst sermon I've ever heard, but it was perilously close.

And we had a very bad sermon the week before on the ten virgins.  Very, very poorly done.  But I was able to live with that.  To me, the crux of that one turns out to be personal.  How do you handle the dark?  Are you waiting or are you out working for your salvation?  Don't you know that you're going to be welcomed with wide open arms regardless of the status of your little lantern?  If it gets dark you should just calm people, and let them wait with you, in the glow of your light... do not send them away.  The ones who sent the poor, scared, virgins away are the evil doers in this story.  They're in the wedding feast alright.  But they are the evil doers.  The thing is it's not about the oil, the lanterns, or even the sleeping.  It's about how you wait.  Whether or not you help others learn to wait.  It's personal.  So the fact that the sermon on that was botched didn't bug me too much.

But today's sermon does not appeal to one's private situation.  This is about the dominant order of things and whether or not we are going to participate in it.  It's about how we overthrow the kingdom of the world in some hope that the Kingdom of God might come.  This one is important.

Today the preacher at my church gave some kind of interpenetration where the master of the household was God, and the servants were all of us, and the ones who took their talents and made more were rewarded and got to go to Heaven and sing praise songs all day.  He said that the trustees worried about being successful and that good worry can spur you to action, but bad worry makes you bury your talent in the ground.  Oh, and we were all urged to examine our many talents (because he assured us all that we were the kind of trustee that would get a million dollars from the householder)  we should make sure we are using our prodigious talents. It was a bunch of crap.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist, or even a theologian, to see that that wears a little thin in  places.  For example:

  • How did the servants double their money?  Did they do it like their master, reaping where they did not sow?  Because that doesn't sound like very good behavior to me.  Nor does it sound like anything God would do.  God sows everywhere, even on rocky ground.  It's like he's the god of seeds... he just throws them everywhere and doesn't care much if they grow or not.  It just doesn't fit.
  • Also, what does it mean to "come into the rest of your master?"  I mean, who is the master?  I do think that's an important question...  Because I believe in the devil.
  • And, finally, how do the actions of the master square with what we know of Jesus?  Jesus doesn't kick people out.  He is all about the second chance.  "Today you will be in Paradise with me,"  he says to the thief on the cross.  To the woman caught in adultery, he has no condemnation.  He is always reaching out to the lowest man on the totem pole... or up in a Sycamore Tree.  You never see Jesus casting people into darkness.  So I think it's odd that he'd be doing it here.

So what is this story about?  

Well, the first thing you need to know is that it was not written for 21st century Americans.  It was written in probably 70 or so, maybe earlier.  It was written for Jews who had converted to Christianity, though I think the two were not as far apart even then as they are today.  Anyway, and it was probably sourced from Mark.  But I wasn't there and I don't know.  I got that from some notes I made in the margin on my Bible.  Always get a Bible with wide margins.  That's my advice. 

So, if we are not the intended audience then it is important to think about what the story sounded like in those first century Jewish convert ears.  You can't skip that step.  I have heard a lot of sermons lately where people skip that step.  No, people.  You have to do that step.  So, here's what you need to know about that.

The economic system in first century Palestine was as corrupt as Wall Street is today.  No foolin',. it was bad.   And the way this wicked householder made his money way by robbing the serf/slave laborers who worked on his land.  It is likely that at one time the land had belonged to them. or at least to their fathers and grandfathers.   But, times change.  Things get hard.  And over the years the land had been sold off.  Now the former small land holders were renters, and they were perennially in debt to the new land holder... the man who reaps where he does not sow. 

If you reap where you have not sown that means you are stealing.  I don't know how to be any clearer about it.  The householder was a thief.  That is how he got rich.

So, anyway, he decides to go on a trip:  a vacation, business trip, off to see his mistress... we don't know.  He's going away.  And he wants someone to look after his loot while he's gone. So the storyteller here presents us with three trustees:  One who receives FIVE talents, one who receives only two, and one who gets just one. 

The trustee who got five talents had obviously proven himself to the householder, because five talents is a lot of dough.  In other words, he is well acquainted with the machinations of evil.  He can turn five into another five easily, and probably still had some to tuck away for himself.  That's just how things worked back then.

The trustee who got two talents was probably pretty good too.  But, he was more like a junior partner.  He might have still had a few things to learn, but the householder trusted him.  Even two talents is a lot of dough.

But the last one... he is different.  This trustee was only given one talent.  I think that in the honor/shame culture of that time and place that might have looked like one of two things:  It might have seemed like a slap in the face.  Only one talent, after all.  Or, it might have been an opportunity to prove himself worthy/evil by going along with the householders financial shenanigans. 

Trustee one and two get to work right away extorting money from their poor neighbors, and they are ready for the master's return.

The other trustee, he refuses to participate.  And he knows his master.  In fact,. when the master comes home trustee three calls him out,  "You are a bad guy.  You take what is not yours.  I am scared of you," he says, "But I will not extort and rob either.  I am not going to play these games with people's lives.  Here's what's rightfully yours." 

Trustee three is the hero of the story.  It is possible that he was given the money as a joke, because the master of the house knew that the trustee was honest.  It's possible that the trustee had been on the fence and the master wanted to see which way he would go.  We can only speculate about these things.  But something happened that forced a decision on the part of the third trustee.

The first two were taken into the masters house to live with him.  Why?  Because they would have been killed if the master had left them out there with the peasants.

The other trustee... he could walk freely among the peasants without fear because he had not defrauded them.

The questions we should ask ourselves today are:

  • What am I doing to overthrow the oppressive economic systems in the world today?

  • How is my participation in capitalism perpetuating the poverty of others?

  • How can I begin a personal revolution to live in a way that does not aid and abet the terrorists of industry and government in their relentless enslavement of the poor? 

  • How can I begin an economic revolution to overthrow capitalism and bring economic stability to all?

  • Am I ready to live with the consequences of dissent? 

You come up with your own questions.  I have to go to work.  Oh, perfect.  I work so much I don't even have time to blog.

Addition:  When I lived in Myanmar I saw lots of houses surrounded with razor wire and I would often put up a little prayer that I am never so rich that I need razor wire.  I'd rather be poor and have the friendship of the peasants than rich, isolated, and fearful. 

We really do have to have some compassion for the first two trustees.  They had to live in the master's house.  And I'll bet it had razor wire.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Wet Blessings

There was a most blessed event last week... in my fish tank.  I glanced over and noticed movement, something different in the water.  And, on closer inspection, much closer, I discerned five tiny little fish which had not been there the day  before.  I had not seen them anyway.  Some new life has come into being right under my nose! 

Every morning since then -- well, every afternoon too -- Actually, anytime I enter the room -- I check on the little ones.  My first concern is for them.  Oh, I still love my sleek orange babies, and the fluttering guppy with their tails and all... But, it's the little ones I look for first.  I count one, two, three, four... three, four, and five.  You have to count carefully.

And this morning I wonder if God isn't a little like that.  Just after getting up and stretching, maybe a few Sun Salutations, the Almighty looks down on a small blue speck and counts the little ones, the most likely to have been eaten, or sucked up by the (filtration) system.  Does God count?  Is God's joy in the smallest, the ones which are hard to see, hidden for safety in the tall grass?  I kind of think so.  And it makes me want to hide in tall grass too.

                       So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts its mouth. 
Job 5:16

Monday, November 3, 2014

Status Update

It has been a busy week, but less stressful than anticipated.  Things move slowly.  I am trying not to get ahead of myself. 

As you can see from the post below, I am reading Strange Glory, the book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  It's a luxury for me, really.  I don't have time for it.  But it IS a nice read and I need a little luxury.  I do.

I want to do a blog post on why when we destroy creation we destroy God.  It's not Pantheism.  You'll have to let me explain.  But it is so deep, and it's been there for so long, that I am not sure I can pull the words up.  I am just starting to practice writing again and it's not that easy.

And I want to do a blog post on what I learned at church last Sunday.  It was pretty remarkable, and it surprised me because that was not what I was expecting. 

But, I am tired.  These days, at this school... it takes the life right out of me.  So I am going to go right to bed.  There are other things I'd rather do:  Listen to Jan Nunley's sermon, read the paper, watch these videos I have on Kierkegaard, write some haiku, or read some Basho... But I'm going to bed. 

Love to all.

Lindy's Late Night Reading Club - Strange Glory

I'd just like to say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn't go to church very often.  In his new biography of Bonhoeffer, Strange Glory, Charles Marsh says:
In Berlin he had never shown much interest in religious practice -- that is, going to church -- and even now as a student in a Lutheran theology program, he rarely appeared at his parish church on Furtwangler Strasse. (Loc 1250)
and later...
His dissertation may have focused on the church community, but he had been reluctant to spend much time in the church himself. (Loc 1337)
It seems that he was pretty spiritual, but not very religious.  I rather like that.

I've just started the book and, boy-o-boy, what a nice read!  It's one of those books that is just a pleasure to pick up.  Right from the beginning it is clear that Charles Marsh has done his homework.  We get shining little pearls along the way:

  • Like the fact that his mother was a devotee of Rudolph Steiner.  (Loc 196)  We don't know how much that influenced the way she educated Dietrich and the other Bonhoeffer children, but it's interesting to think about. Space aliens and all...
  • And we get details, details, details... like the fact that when Dietrich was a boy he enjoyed dressing up in a white party dress with a "blue silk petticoat underneath." (Loc 209)
  • We even learn that Barth listened to Mozart while studying.  (Loc 1140)  I love that about Barth.  I have my own relationship with Barth, not as fawning as Dietrich.  But I am often heard saying that Jesus has nothing to do with religion, and Marsh throws that in as one of his little gems. 
There is quite a lot about Barth and Harnack, whom I don't really know.  But I have enjoyed watching the proud young Dietrich fall in love with Barth and walk a line between that and his theology professors at Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin. (Barth had been a student there too, but was considered something of a wild hair.  Dietrich somehow manages to reconcile Barth and the Reformation Protestants in his own unique voice.  Marsh calls him a "natural ecuminist.")   

I am only on chapter three or four so I can't give a full-on review, but I thought you all might enjoy this little glimpse.  I will go ahead and recommend the book on the basis of it's lovely prose.  I think it's going to be one of my top reads for the year. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Haiku

Actually, it's a double haiku:  5-5-7-7-5-5.  Still not very sophisticated... just longer.

hard grey sky above 
hard cold ground below
both grim reflections of me
weary of it all, 
 and tired

for a 


And change is in the air... it's in the air!

Do you like what I did with the typography?  It changes... get it?  In the first lines the text is moving across the page, then it changes!  In the last lines the text is going up and down on the page.  It's subtle.  And perhaps not as clever as I intended.  But it IS change.

I wrote this for my colleagues and I who are all growing just a wee bit weary.

But change is in the air.

I have always said, "We live in hope."  But lately I've changed that to be, "We live in the hope we make."  And I've been making hope!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Psalm 116:7

I can't see all that well anyway, but it's worse in the morning.  Earlier is worse.  So there are lots of times that even with my glasses I have difficulty with the readings.  I don't like the magnifier function on the computer and so I just don't use it and that means that sometimes I read a word or two incorrectly.

But sometimes my mistakes (which I usually notice so it's not a big deal) some of the mistakes seem on target to me. 

Like NEST for REST in this morning's Psalm:

   Return, O my soul, to your nest,
          for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

So, everybody cuddle up in a nice blanket and find your nest.  Then rest.  You've got all you need. 

That's what this verse says to me.

Also, here's a quick haiku about it:

to snuggle in peace
to breathe and sigh in safety
that is all I need

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Status Update

It has been a nice Saturday morning here in China.

I have been happy to see that the air quality is very good... at least it looks good.  The sky is blue and you can see clouds.  You know I never saw any blue in the sky when I was in Wuxi.  I suspect that being close to the sea has something to do with it.  There is somewhere for the bad air to go.  It gets blown away.

There's a spot in Southern California that's similar to Wuxi in that respect.  I don't remember what they call it, but there's an area between the hills, quite developed, and the smog gets trapped between the hills and you can hardly see!  The sea breezes can't get in to blow the smog away.  So, sometimes we would have a lovely day in Laguna Beach, but my colleagues in this area between the hills wouldn't.

This principle applies in organizations too.  Not regarding air pollution, but regarding complaints... legitimate or not.  If there is no outlet, no means of making a complaint and being heard, then... well, like smog between the hills, it builds up and gets toxic. 

You all can apply that little insight however you see fit.

I got everything done this morning that I wanted to.  By 8:30 I'd done two loads of laundry (folded and put away), I cleaned the bathroom, swept and mopped my floor, fed the insects, watered the plants, made my bed, did some reading, and made toast in my new toaster oven.  Overall not a bad start to the day. 

Since then I've marked some papers.  I did some on-line stuff for one of my classes.  And I've generally looked for excuses to stay in and be a slug. 

Yeah, so that's the report.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Psalm 97

A Psalm of Moshe, reinterpreted:

Let all troubles melt
let them simply go away
Like a wax mountain

I'm your faithless one
In fire, smoke, and clouds you hide
Through the shards I see

Darkly, in pieces
your righteous foundations set
help me see, believe.

Grasshopper Haiku

The way grasshoppers and crickets make that sound -- the clicking, chirping, sing-song sound -- is that they rub their wings together.  On the underside of each wing there are some ridges and the friction between the ridges rubbing together is what makes the sound.  That's how the guy at the insect and bird market explained it to me.  And I can see the transparent wings vibrating, so he must be right.  That's why, if you want a grasshopper with a high-pitched sound, which is more highly valued among collectors, then you want to get one with broad wings.  That's how I picked the one I've got. The one that bites.  Not that I still think about that, the blood pouring forth from the gaping wound... No, I'm over it. 

They are looking for a mate when they sing like that.  So the next time you are out in the great outdoors enjoying the many insect sounds out by the lake -- or wherever you go to enjoy insect sounds -- well, those insects are horny. 

But, anyway, I was watching my grasshopper this morning and thinking about what sweet sounds come from his over-sexed frictive rubbing and I got to feeling all poetic about it.

The Grasshopper Haiku

only by friction
can the sweet music come forth
sing grasshopper sing

Basil of Cesaerea would probably approve.  I like to think so anyway.  I like Basil.

You probably know him as one of the Cappadocian Fathers, a pioneer in communal monasticism, an ardent foe of the Arians, and a liturgist.  (Did you realize that Basil's Divine Liturgy is even longer than John Chrysostom's?  It's hard to believe, I know.) 

But something that I think is less well known is his series of nine sermons about the creation:  The hexameron... and YES, I had to look up how to spell that.  It's a series of nine sermons he preached on the creation.  Basil was into creation.  He said that if we pay attention to nature, we'll probably get around to thinking about who made it all.  That sounds reasonable.

Basil was so into nature that in one of his hexameron sermons he said this:

"...  [all creation] is really the school where reasonable souls exercise themselves, the training ground where they learn to know God; since by the sight of visible and sensible things the mind is led, as by a hand, to the contemplation of invisible things." (1)
And, really, isn't it helpful to have something to look at?  Something visible?  It helps me. 

You want to know who else is into creation and nature?   Bonaventure.  Bonaventure even listed all the attributes of nature that you should meditate on.  I think there are eleven of them.  John Calvin was so into it that he used it as his proof for God's existence.  He proclaimed that you should be able to tell that there's a God just by looking around, for crying out loud. 

See, it's not just the "spiritual but not religious" who find God in the sunset or a giant oak.  Or a grasshopper.  There are some veritable heavy-hitters who feel the same way about sunrise in a fishing boat. 

Francis Bacon said:
"God has, in fact, written two books, not just one.  Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture.  But he has written a second book called creation." (2) 
So the next time you hear the almighty Lillian Daniel going on about how you can't prove the existence of God by looking at a sunset, just look at her and say, "Bitch, who you think you are?  Immanuel Kant?"  Nobody is making the ontological argument.  We are just saying that there's merit in observing and entering into the life of nature.  It teaches us to notice things, to pay attention, to be quiet. 

See, Kant (and Lillian Daniel)  forgot something.  They forgot that people have their heart and their treasure in the same place.  And if God is your treasure then you are going to see God everywhere.  When someone tells me that they find God in sunsets and on their toast, then I think "Hallelujah... thank ya Geasus."  Because that is a person who can see God just about anywhere.  They may be a little weird (toast) but I know where their treasure is.  

 You can get Jesus on your toast too!  Less than fifty bucks on Ebay.  

Where Immanuel and Lillian differ is that Kant actually did make a moral argument for the existence of God.  Lillian Dainel...? Not too sure.  I think she has some blog posts or something. 

So, anyway, just let nature speak to you and take joy in horny insect sounds.  That's as good and spiritual and Christian as anything else.  And I hope you liked the haiku. 

Sorry I went off on Lillian Daniel.
OK, not really.


1 -  Bacon, Francis. The Advancement of Learning,. Eugene, Ore.: Oregon Renascence Editions, 199.

2 -  Translated by Blomfield Jackson. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 8. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/32011.htm>.

You can read the entire text of Basil's sermons on the hexaemeron here.

If you want to see some pictures of Jesus and his mother on various food items, go here

If you're interested to know why Jesus doesn't show up on your food, go here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Morning Prayer

Things aren't going that well at the new job.  FYI.

Psalm 143

1   Hear my prayer, O LORD;
          Sometimes I wonder if you are really listening.  I hope you are.  I really do because I need some  
          help.  And I am sorry if that is faithless.  I am.  But sometimes I do wonder.  I can't see you or hear
          you... it's hard for me.
          You are more faithful than I am; so please listen.
          Please answer me in your righteousness.
2   And don't judge me too harshly,
          I know I've made mistakes.  You know it.  It's not a secret.  But, nobody living on this earth is
          righteous before you.  So, help me out.

3   For my boss and those guys upstairs are bullying me,
          they are crushing the life right out of me,
          I don't even know why I'm here.  I'd might as well be dead because I am not doing anything here.
4   You know how I'm feeling about all that, how it hurts my heart and my spirit is getting weak within me;
          I am actually appalled  by their bad behaviour.  Appalled.  They'd be in trouble if they did this in the   
          USA you know. My mind might be wondering.  It does that, you know.

5   Look, I remember the good old days,  Lord
          I think about all the great things you've done for me:
          teching me to read your books, to hear your saints, to love a little bit more           
          I think about that a lot and.
6   I stretch out my hands to you;
          my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
          I miss the good old days                   Selah

7   Answer me quickly, O LORD;
          you know othe clock is ticking on this thing.
          I need quick action, before
          my spirit fails even more and before the deadline.
     Keep watching out for me,
          or I shall be like those whose lives don't mean anything.
8   Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
          for in you I put my trust. I belong to you, so help me.
     Teach me the way I should go, I'm not sure what to do so you're going to have to be clearer.  You know
         you have to be clear with me.  I try to be all intuitive and spiritual, but you really have to spell it out for
         me.  You know how I am..  I lift up my soul to you.

9   Save me, O LORD, from those people... they are so mean!
          I have fled to you for refuge because... well, you know.
10  Teach me to do your will,
          for you are my God. So help me.
     Let your good spirit lead me
          on a level path.

11  For your name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life.
          In your righteousness bring me out of this place.
12  In your steadfast love cut those guys down to size.  Make them quit bullying us!
          destroy them... I don't care.  Just get them out of my life,
          Help me
          for I am your servant.
          So help me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oh, the things I know...

Did you know that Mt. Everest gets about two inches taller every year?  It does.  In fact, it is about eight feet taller today than when  Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first climbed it.  

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay at the summit

I am in possession of this arcane knowledge because I had to teach it this week.  You never learn something so well as when you teach it.

So, one of my students said that it might be a big mountain but all you have to do to climb it is to keep walking.  I doubt that's true.  I mean, at the summit of Everest there is only about 33 percent as much oxygen as at sea level.  So that would seem to indicate that there might be more to it than to just keep walking. But, in the main, my student might be on to something.

There are mountains, but I wonder how much of overcoming is to just keep going. Every day, one foot in front of the other.  We read the readings, say the prayers, hope that it all means something.  Everyday, the summit obscured, we keep walking.

(Photo by AP)

Oh, God...

I belong to you
like fish belong to water
Only, I can't swim

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Psalm 103

I have a confession to make. 
Are you ready?
I believe, in my heart of hearts, that if someone is tapping on their mobile phone, I am at liberty to cut in line in front of them.  Or knock them over.  Either or both.  That's a belief I hold and even though it's not particularly Christ-like I have been unable, as well as unwilling, to convince myself otherwise.  

Sometimes I feel bad about this.  Sometimes I do not, and I feel bad about that too.  Because I should.  You know... 

But, I have been reading Psalm 103 a lot lately, and that kind of helps me. 

We don't have much of an internet here in China.  I mean, sometimes we do.  And, when we do, it's pretty good.  I have a good VPN and I can surf the web with an IP address from anywhere in the world.  But you have to have the internet to have a VPN.  And sometimes we don't have that. 

The upshot is that I can't always get to the RCL when I want to and I have wound up reading the readings for July 13 a  lot more often than I would have otherwise.  That's what is somehow cached.  The Psalm for July 13 is 103 which is one of the better ones.  That's just my opinion, of course.  But, it is pretty good.  And that's how I came to read it so often.

I have gotten to where I especially look forward to verse 14. The writer has just said how our sins are put far from us, and God is compassionate towards us.  Then he says, "God knows... God knows how you are."

OK.  That may be my own private paraphrase, but it's true.

God knows how you are:  How you have that little bit of bitterness left over from long ago, that secret fear of yours, the daily challenges that you think you're papering over.  God knows.  Get over your bad self, God knows already.  God forgives.  Lots.

You want to cut in line, knock people over, secretly think you're better than them?  God is not at all surprised.  God knows how you are, after all.  God forgives.  Lots.

God is not surprised when you have one of those little outbursts... God knows how you are, after all.  God forgives.  Lots.

God is not surprised by your besetting sins, your inattention in prayer, your wandering mind... God knows how you are, after all.  God forgives.  Lots.

God already knows that you did that thing, had those thoughts, said those words, didn't do that thing, or wish for certain irritating people to just vanish.  It's not a surprise.  God knows how you are, after all.  God forgives.  Lots. 

That comforts me.  That God knows already... God knows how I am.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Haiku For Sukkot

It is odd to me that a sukkah is supposed to remind of us of living on the road, of not having a real home.  But here I am, far from home, and I can't get a sukkah built.  How did that happen? 

Anyway, I love Sukkas.  I like the big old sukkah my buddy Ruth used to build and how she would invite us all over to shake the lulav and eat some nuts in there.  And there was a lot of talking and stuff like that.  Mainly stuff like that.

Remember that time I wrote a blog post on the date palm, the myrtle, and the willow?  Yeah, that was a good post.  In case you've forgotten, there are a couple meanings ascribed to all the stuff in the lulav, plus the etrog.  Don't forget the etrog.  But, one of the most popular interpretations is that the etrog and the lulav are  like certain kinds of Jews:

The etrog, which has taste and scent... oh, how nice they smell... that is like a good Jew who has both good works and a lot of learning.  In other words, a smart cookie who walks the talk.

The date palm has taste, but no scent.  Seriously, you can't smell anything at all from it.  So that's like a smart woman who doesn't put any of her learning into practice. 

The myrtle is just the opposite, it has a nice scent, but don't eat it because it doesn't taste like anything.  That's like a Jew who maybe does some mitzvot or something, but there's no learning behind it.

Finally, you have the willow.  Now, the willow is kind of interesting.  It has no taste and no smell.  But somehow it is still in the lulav.  I think the willow can teach us a lot about who is in and who is out in the Good Jew category... or maybe some other categories too.  It offers nothing.  Nothing at all.  But, even the date palm and the myrtle together don't merit a blessing without it.  Even the useless willow is important.  There's a thought for sukkot!

And here's my haiku:

Blood moon ushers you in
Leaves fall and wind crisps
Sukkah shelter me!

You can find all the Bible business on that in Leviticus 23:40, btw.  I looked it up.  Yes!  I have a Bible.  Shesh...

Blogging Again

I'm not going to sugar coat this... This blog is about me. 
It's not about you.  It's about me.  It's not about the gays, the Episcopalians, the expats or anybody else.  Just me.  Just so you know.

I might want to write something important.  More likely I will just give little synopsis of my days and the occasional haiku.  But I sort of yen for a place on the web again.  Truth is, I miss the old blogging days.  Remember how we used to click over to one another's blogs and read entire sentences?  Some radicals even used punctuation.

I am not saying that I'll go THAT far, but I might want to write again.  We'll just have to see how it goes.