Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Supernatural Solution

Supernatural Solution

"But I tell you, : Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be the
sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain
on the righteous and the unrighteous." -- Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)

Christ's command, spoken to His disciples, was intended for all of us as well. It is difficult enough
for us to love--the word used in the above passage is from the Greek "agape," which indicates an
unconditional love--even those who are our neighbors . . . how much more so our enemies! It is
unnatural for us to love our enemies; it is, in fact, supernatural. Only God can provide the
strength necessary for us to accomplish this.

In the world's current state of affairs, this necessary love seems absent, even in those of us who
call Christ our Lord. It would appear, in fact, that certain types of hatred--and the hateful acts
that stem from this--are tolerated, or even actively condoned. When I read of or hear about people who profess to love Jesus who are directing hatred against political rivals or individuals who follow a different faith, I have to wonder exactly how we are expressing Christ's love (the immense love that led Him to die on the cross for ALL people, no matter how sinful). Rather than rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to allow us to love even those who persecute us, who oppose us (in theory or in reality), or even those we disagree with, it would seem that we rely instead on political practices, grandstanding, or complicated "excuses" for our hatred. In short, we are being more of the world than we are of God's Kingdom. The kind of "extreme love" that Christ taught and demonstrated confronts us with our hypocrisy. And, I say "we" and "ours," because I'm just as likely to fall into those traps as anyone. No, it isn't rational or logical to "love your enemies." It flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But there is no way to "spin" Christ's command to fit into our political, racial, economic, or national "agendas;" IF WE ARE TO FOLLOW JESUS, WE MUST LOVE OUR ENEMIES. Period. And that love must be visible, demonstrative, and unconditional.

Loving your enemies isn't easy. JESUS isn't easy. But if you make up your mind now to follow Him, and constantly pray for Him to love THROUGH you, it can be done. A lot of the mud being slung at various groups of "THEM" could just as easily be flung at us. The first understanding a person has to have in coming to Jesus is that we are broken, and only by accepting Him--and this means following His commandments--can we ever achieve wholeness. Are you really that taken with the big-shots and the talking heads, the "experts" of this world? How does their integrity stand up compared to the Word, made flesh for our sake in Christ? I truly believe that if more people followed Christ's lead, and truly made that effort to let His love overflow from their lives on everyone--neighbors and enemies--that the world would change for the better. It's easy for our enemies to hate us as long as we continue to direct hatred at them; imagine how difficult it would be, though, if their "enemies" started showing them LOVE? It would stand their philosophies on their heads! If you're a Christian, a follower of Jesus, then take this time, NOW, to pray for the strength to love your enemies--personal, political, or national--the way Christ loved us. If this is too hard for you to swallow, though, perhaps it's time to take a personal inventory and decide what's more important to you: your personal, political, or national welfare, or the self-sacrificial servant life that Jesus taught AND walked out, even to the worst imaginable death of His time. The only solution to the hatred that permeates our world like a cancer is the supernatural one. Angels and demons wait with bated breath to see what choice we will make.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Those Really Bad Sins," or "The Sin Rating Game."

In the popular arena, some sins are raised to a "higher status" than others. When it comes to branding somebody a "sinner," there's usually one or two favorites that are considered "really bad sins" (as opposed to . . . what? sins that aren't that bad, even though they're still wrong?) Usually, the sin or wrong being focused on is one that's either a political hot-button, or one that's out in the open and easily accessible to public knowledge.

How would any of us handle scrutiny of our lives, our thoughts, and how we behave when nobody is looking? The Bible makes it clear that if we violate ANY of God's commandments, we're guilty of violating the whole law. There's not a truly righteous person on the face of the Earth . . . it was because of this that Christ took the burden of the law on Himself, being truly righteous, as a sacrifice for all of us, putting us all on equal standing before God. Everything now comes down to a personal choice: to either accept the gift that Christ gave us, and to live according to the guidelines He laid down in His own life and words, or to reject it.

We all stand under the scrutiny of God, and there's nothing that escapes His attention. It sounds callous and unfeeling to equate something like murder with, say, being envious of your neighbor's new Lexus, but from God's standpoint, they're all violations of His law. It's easy to pinpoint a murderer, a rapist, a homosexual, a member of a hate-group or a cult . . . but less easy to scrutinize on a level that would reveal envy, greed, usury (that's charging ANY interest, not merely charging undue interest--and our entire economy is based on something that the Bible calls sin), or other sins deemed "less evil." Sorry, you don't get a pass on those, either. Just because you haven't murdered somebody, but have spent your whole life coming up with ways to profit on other people's misery, doesn't mean you can strut around as a "righteous" man.

The Bible also makes it clear how we are to deal with sin when we discover it within the body of Christ--the church--and how we are to counter it. Christ made it clear, telling us that we're to go to the person, one-on-one, in an attitude of loving reproof. If that doesn't suffice, take a couple of witnesses (by this, He meant not two of your cronies, but two impartial witnesses), and if THAT still doesn't suffice, bring it before the body of Christ as a whole . . . and if the individual's sin continues, and he refuses to accept the determination of the church--of which he is a part--then "let him be to you as a heathen or a tax collector," basically treating the person as an "outsider." Still, even in that extreme case, there's Christ's command that you are to forgive someone who commits a sin "seventy times seven" if they come to you and repent. That means that the Church must also stand ready to receive back an individual who repents of their sin. Paul continues to expound upon this doctrine of "loving reproof," an attitude that is sorely lacking in today's Church. Just because person X is a Baptist and person Y is a Methodist, you're still part of the conceptual whole of the body of Christ. Here's another: just because one member of your church is a Democrat and another is a Republican, they must put aside political differences when coming together as part of the body. But this kind of infighting between denominations or factions has become so commonplace that it's tolerated! "Loving reproof" just went out the window!

Scandal after scandal, within and without, daunts us all as Christians. The empty-headed masses are greedy for scandal, maybe because when it attaches to a person of "status," it pulls them down to the same level as the rest of us (nevermind the stupidity of elevating a person to a higher status just because they're actors or have a lot of money to throw around or have some standing in the political arena). Guess what? They're human, and the fact that they're in the public eye more often doesn't make their scandals any more sinful than those of anybody else. I'm not saying just to give them a free pass; when it comes to leaders, Paul makes it quite clear that those who lead are, in accepting leadership, putting on themselves a heavier burden, and are in effect setting a higher standard for their own behavior. What we need to do is quit keeping track of other people's "sin scorecards" and start focusing on our own! It's really easy to throw your weight around when you're a member of the body of Christ and the people you're dealing with are not . . . but that's an abuse of the name of Christ, in effect "taking the name of the Lord in vain." Do you expect the World to accept your pronouncements simply because you're of the body of Christ? Why would you? The world is set against us. We have to be in the world, but not of it . . . we have to live with these limitations, but not give up. There were a lot of people i hung out with in Union Square Park who did things that i wouldn't do, but they knew what i believed and what i represented, and i never felt like an "outcast" because of it (maybe because the world as a whole has also rejected so many of them . . . which is one reason why many of them are closer to Christ than the ones who look down on them; all it would take, in some cases, is a little nudge for those "park rats" to embrace Christ).

We live in a culture--a world--that makes having "things" something to aspire to. Making more money, having more possessions, being able to "consume" more; these are the values that the economy, politics, and wordly power make pre-eminent. There is public outcry against kids who engage in immoral sex, but the culture as a whole glorifies it, practically screams sexually charged messages from every billboard, mall, newspaper, and television show. Marijuana, of which there has never been a single recorded overdose or fatality attributed to, is still rated a Schedule 1 Drug, right up there with heroin; yet drugs with life-damaging and potentially lethal side-effects are freely marketed by pharmaceutical companies whose "cost-benefits analyses" make a few deaths acceptable losses when stacked up against making a profit. Homosexuals are subjected to hate, vilification, and rejection; yet bankers whose crimes often escape scrutiny cause more harm and misery with the stroke of a pen. Those of you who look to politics and political leaders to "make things better" are just whistling in the dark. When Christ was tempted by Satan, He was led to a high mountaintop, and shown all the nations of the world, their riches, and their glory. Satan said, in Luke 4:5-7, "I will give you their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Now, you know if Satan had been saying something that was untrue, Christ would have called him out on it. But He didn't. Instead, He refused to worship Satan, to give glory and worship to anyone but God. Kind of makes you think, doesn't it? No, i don't think all world leaders are worshipping the Devil, but they are making some pretty shady deals with Mammon, and Christ said, "You can't serve God and Mammon." Mammon is an idiom representing material wealth and its attendant power. So one has to wonder, really, what our culture is coming from, what it's teaching, and who it most stands to benefit.

Sin is sin. There's no getting around it, and all of us are apt to stumble. If you're looking for a religion that allows you to put yourself on a high-horse and throw a parade for yourself while flinging mud at people who practice your personal hit-list of sins, then Christ isn't for you. We all have need of loving reproof. We all have need of a fellowship of believers who can understand our failings and build us up when we're fallen. And, most of all, we have the need of Christ's representation in Heaven, His salvation and perfect love, that are the only things that can stand us on our feet and make us ready to resist the temptations that the World constantly flings at us. You've got your own bed to make, your own house to clean. Until they're spotless--and they never will be on this side of Paradise--you can't go around grumbling about how bad other people's houses look.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Re-Creating the Language: A Poet's Responsibility

I have maintained, for some time now, that it is the responsibility of poets in particular to re-invent, re-invigorate, and re-charge language. Over the years, we watch television and "news" where not only the language, but the information in dumbed-down; reporting the news has become rife with suppression by news corporations whose CEO's don't want to criticize the government that they've bought and paid for, so instead we're offered trendy stories of whatever movie star or sports figure has screwed up--along with an endless string of talking heads and media whores babbling about it--mixed lightly with news of the world presented with the proper "spin." Information about corporate, police, military, or government blunders (or out-right crimes) is culled relentlessly. One might argue that this is not necessarily affecting language as a whole, but i beg to differ. Language is, first and foremost, a way of communicating. It's a way of presenting information, a way of speaking a message, a way of sharing concerns and showing love and concern. When language is relentlessly "spun" by various political factions to support their viewpoint, or agencies within the government who don't want the masses to have TOO MUCH information, you have a gradual dumbing-down process that eventually affects everyone. This is one of the "trickle-down" theories that actually works in practice . . . Orwell would have called it "doublespeak," and decried it as a death-knell of liberty. Often, when we think, we "hear" ourselves thinking in language . . . Orwell's view was that the "doublespeak" would eventually result in people incapable of thinking anything that was out of synch with the official, established norm. In America, in particular, we assume that we have Freedom of Speech. After all, it is written in the law of the land, and it means that people whose viewpoints may not be popular can say, and print, what they want to. There are reasonable limits to this . . . language that commands or urges violent and destructive actions can (and does) fall under legal scrutiny. However, i'd like to go back to that word "assume." Rights and liberties, like muscles, are only strong when regularly exercised. Without that regular exercise, that vigorous stimulation, they become weak and atrophied, and will (like muscles) fail when they are depended on.

This is where poets come in. Recently, on, i was derided for my use of the word "proclivity." My insistence that i was simply availing myself of a wider vocabulary in order to communicate more clearly provoked verbal retaliation, the responder apparently feeling that i was being arrogant, or trying to "prove something" by using that word. Realizing that my responses were the equivalent of beating my head against a brick wall, i stopped trying to defend myself and simply ignored any further communication on the subject. As a poet, i realize that i have to embrace the vernacular--that is, communicate in the common language, the "language of the streets,"--i also realize my responsibility not to have an incestuous relationship with it! I use both street-language and (for lack of a better word) intellectualized-language in my poetry. I've never heard anyone complain about my use of the latter, although i have received some complaints about my use of the former . . . my response in those cases was that people are more apt to understand and respond to something that speaks in a way they are familiar with. When i use the larger or more complex words, or using the language of the streets, in my poetry, i'm not consciously aware of one or the other so much as i am the context of the poem as a whole. I occasionally drop "invented" words like "enphoenixed" (my own) and "frankenpoem" (coined by Ian Cohen), which are generally understandable in the context of the poem in which they're presented. I don't assume that my listeners or readers are English majors pursuing their Masters or Doctorate; by the same token, i don't assume that my listeners or readers are stupid (the way television does). I frequently use odd juxtapositions, either for metaphorical purposes, or to get people's minds in the mode of non-linear thinking. I want to surprise them, or shock them, a little . . . but i don't shock simply for it's own sake; i use it to call attention to something.

All of these things are tactics that i've seen other poets, and better poets than i am or will ever be, use. It makes me feel good when i see other poets challenging themselves or their readers/auditors with interesting metaphors, complex language, street-talk, witty turns of phrase, or shocking juxtapositions . . . all combined with the poet's eye to impart a message. Poets, i think, above all, desire desperately to communicate, to expose themselves and the culture around them to a critical and, sometimes, uncomfortable examination. The fact that some people regard poetry as "uncomfortable" is proof that it's working. In the Old Testament, the prophets often spoke their messages in a poetic form . . . that much hasn't changed. There are warnings implicit in many poets' work, as well as an unflappable determination to improve things.

Don't ask me to dumb down my language. Don't ask me not to discuss things that make you uncomfortable. Don't come to me expecting a poem that completely and neatly falls into your preconcieved notions of what poetry, literature, or language should be. I write, ultimately, because i don't know any other way of dealing with both my own emotions and the complexities of the Universe. I'm not asking for you not to critique me . . . i'll always listen to constructive criticism, even if i don't necessarily immediately agree with it. I'm asking you to understand how important it is to me that i keep working with the language, keep it moving forward, and keep breaking it up and reassembling it in order to prevent the arid locks of "doublespeak" and political or social norms from killing it. There's not much left of me but poetry, and for some reason, God's made it such a part of my life that it seems inextricable from breathing itself, and from whatever it is i'm supposed to be doing on this planet. I don't have it all figured out yet. I'm not a know-it-all, and if you perceive me as "arrogant," that may be as much your own fault as it is mine. Don't insult my intelligence by insisting that i need to "dumb it down," and i won't insult yours by assuming that you're already dumb.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Upcoming Genesis Covenant:: Core Beliefs & Personal Convictions

It's been a while since i've done any serious entries in my blog. A number of my poems i've posted directly to Facebook (most of them already having been copyrighted via PostPoems).

In order to clarify a few things, i've decided to express a number of personal beliefs and opinions in this entry. First and foremost, i'm a Christian. This means that i am a follower of Christ. I do not conform to any particular "denomination," even though i was raised in a Southern Baptist church. I think a lot of denominations are divisions over points of dogma, sometimes insignificant. Jesus said of the Pharisees, "You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel!" I suppose a more familiar metaphor would be "You can't see the forest for the trees." What does being a follower of Christ entail? This was outlined in the Covenant that i have signed to join Genesis Community Church. Christ is the Son of God, who died for our sins, and rose from the dead, ascended to Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God. I belive that the Bible is a necessary and sufficient guide to the Christian life . . . all the Scriptures we've been given as Christians have value that can be applied to daily living. I also believe that the Holy Spirit, which is likewise God, walks with us and guides us, and gives us insight into the Scriptures, and in effect provides a "direct hotline" to God through prayer. Of course, God doesn't always answer prayers in the way we expect, and certainly not on our schedule . . . which is why a lot of people seem to dismiss prayer. Prayer isn't handing God a wish-list; it's communication with God, actually CONVERSING with the Creator--that's pretty phenomenal in and of itself! As far as attempting to defend my Faith, i am not versed in apologetics, and not of a rational bent . . . i can only offer my own experiences, subjective though they might be, as personal testimony to my belief. I don't "beat people over the head" with the Bible, don't try to force God down people's throats, because--quite honestly--that's not how Jesus did it.

This is not to say i don't struggle with issues. Many of my close friends know the nature of my struggles, and i don't feel it necessary to detail that here--i've been warned before about "casting pearls before swine," and have learned that lesson the hard way--but suffice it to say that i understand that only God's grace and mercy could save me from disaster and, ultimately, doom. Part of the Convenant for Genesis involves, to quote from it, "righteous and loving discipline." This is both in giving and receiving. The Bible urges us to "lovingly correct" a fellow believer when they're out of line, and to accept such correction when it is given. This makes us interdependent, functioning as the body of Christ, much as a human body functions . . . if one part of the body hurts, the rest of the body is hurt by it. I certainly don't want any of my personal beliefs to become a stumbling block to fellow believers. There may be things that we do not agree on . . . but as a Christian i have to be willing to avoid becoming a hindrance to those who might be new in the Faith. I need to be held accountable, and to hold my fellow believers accountable. This is the only way a community can function effectively or healthily, Christian or otherwise.

My beliefs about poetry, spoken word, and such, are probably as self-evident as my Faith. They are deeply connected, because i feel that poetry is somehow my gift AND my calling. It is, along with the arts in general, one of the ways in which i feel the phrase "made in God's image" becomes evident. We have, within us, the desire and capability to create. When we do this to God's glory, God affirms our creations, and honors our using of the gifts He gave us. In addition, i feel that poetry and spoken word are particularly necessary, both as coping mechanisms and as communication. Paul told us to be "good citizens." In America, that's a particularly troublesome task, because if we hold to "the law of the land," those laws are represented in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. This means that, in effect, we ARE the government, we ARE supposed to "watch the watchmen," and if we don't, we're falling down on the job. Freedom of Speech entails within it the possibility that some people might not like what's being said . . . but, we all need to remember that linked with that freedom is the Freedom of Religion, which as Christians we enjoy here in America to the extent that we often forget other nations or other times where this was not a guaranteed freedom. It is often through the spoken word, through poetry, that the alarm is sounded. I have a number of Christian performance poet comrades in New Jersey and NYC, and they are as adamant about this as i am, if not more so. The ability to work with words, to craft poetry, is also a heavy responsibility. When we are careless with our words, we can cause harm or confusion (not to mention looking pretty slipshod in the process). The status quo disregards poetry as a whole, dismisses it or downplays its significance, forgetting--perhaps--that when the Old Testament prophets spoke, they often phrased their prophecies in poetic form. (From what Pastor John Ault has told me, it's more evident--and more beautiful--if read in Hebrew). Psalms and Song of Solomon are, in addition to Scripture, timeless poetic works that have influenced hundreds of generations, religious and secular alike. The oldest evidence of written work we have is a Babylonian epic called Gilgamesh; there are examples throughout history of the impact of poetry on society, and this isn't even taking into account the fact that song lyrics are poetry, as well. It is important that we be aware of the erosion of the rights and liberties we enjoy, and decry the injustices in this country and abroad that are often falsely perpetuated "in God's name." Oppression, regardless of the target, benefits no-one. Racism, though not the only modality of oppression, is surely one of the most egregious and historically prominent examples. I'm going to take a flying leap here: Christianity and racism are mutually exclusive. Period. There's no way you can use the word of God to justify hatred and oppression. That is, in fact, taking the Lord's name in vain (i'll refrain from going into a rant about the fact that the words "In God We Trust" printed on our money is almost blasphemous, considering Christ's warning that "you cannot serve God and Mammon"). The spoken word, and the arts at large, are a powerful way of expressing these things, of airing grievances, of proclaiming truth, of openly communicating . . . and also of expressing joy, comraderie, love, and the whole span of emotions.

In my relationship with Genesis and this group of believers, i desire to be a useful and active part of the body of Christ. This means taking the talent i've been given and bearing fruit, of investing it wisely and to the glory of God. I realize that there will be those who will "politicize" some of my statements . . . i am willing to listen to them, and to explain my statements and the convictions that gave birth to them. Becoming a fucntioning and beneficial part of Genesis is something i have longed for ever since i split away from Grace Covenant before i moved to New Jersey; it was something i looked for in NJ and NYC, but never truly found. The sense of "coming home" to Genesis is powerful, and i sense the affirmation of the Holy Spirit that, yes, this is where i'm supposed to be now.

I've talked quite a bit about my feelings and beliefs about the Christian life, my thoughts about my part in Genesis, and about poetry and the spoken word as something that was God-given, and about the responsibilities all these entail. There are quite a few other things that i believe in or feel strongly about, but the ones i've discussed are in the forefront of my mind. It is Christ and the Cross that form the central point of everything; everything gets its meaning and is put in its proper perspective by focusing on Christ. I expect quite a few blog posts in the upcoming weeks to deal with some of my other tenets, and how they relate to the central point. I am fully aware of my limitations--my "thorn in the flesh," which may simply be a confluence of out-of-balance brain chemistry, keeps me intimately aware of them--and the periodic rages, depressions, flights of fancy, or racing thoughts, are things that i'm going to have to wade through and pray through, and having the support of a strong body of fellow believers as i do this will be a major blessing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Grendel's Glossary Phase 1: A random groupings of words that will crop up in my poetry.

HARANO: “Something like a shadow has fallen between present and past, an abyss wide as war that cannot be bridged by any tangible connection, so that memory is undermined and the image of our beginnings is betrayed, dissolved, rendered not mythical but illusory. We have connived in the murder of our own origins.” - Edward Abbey

The Pain of Loss

In the quote above, Edward Abbey, famed wilderness advocate, curmudgeon and spiritual father of direct-action ecological protest, complains of the loss of primal beginnings: his childhood, when he roamed backwoods and fields, carefree and intensely in love with the landscape around him. Beyond being a cry against the loss of wilderness itself, it seems a cry against adulthood and the discerning mind that accompanies it - the mature mind, somehow separate and discreet from its upbringing in Eden. It is a cry of anger and of the loss of something that can never be regained.

ULLAGONE: An ullagone is a funeral lament or a cry of lamentation.

POLITICHRISTIAN: A catch-all word for individuals who profess to be Christians in order to further a political agenda, or people who automatically associate a political agenda or party with Christianity. The former rely on the gullibility of the latter to secure their positions of power, at which point the guise of Christianity is maintained while they further their worship of Mammon . . . at the taxpayer's expense, of course.

F'WAH: Fwah, also spelled "F'wah," is a cosmic sound made by the Universe. Sort of like, "Om," but less dignified. It can also be used as a sort of enthusiastic greeting, usually immediately following the person's name. Also known as an emotion of impending disaster.

"Galactus! F'wah!"
"This cosmic notion fills me with a great sense of fwah."
"F'wah! I just dropped a live grenade into a bathtub full of scorpions!"

MUH: Similar in ways to F'wah (q.v.), but more versatile. Originally, "muh" was a contraction of "muwahahaha," a sort of quick way of adding diabolical laughter to a phrase. It now has a number of meanings, and is often used as a random interjection, or just dispersed throughout a sentence. At the end of a sentence, it adds an emphatic note to the whole. Standing alone as an adjective, it means something so bizarre or intrisically unique that it can't be described any other way. In front of an adjective or adverb, it acts as an intensifier. Muh is also associated with a pink paranoid chihuahua, although experts haven't yet determined just how this applies. Muh can also be used as a greeting, a challenge, a threat, or just something fun to scream at the top of your lungs (an act referred to as a "screamuh").
"Now, I will destroy the space station with my positronic ray! MUH!"
"That woman has muh hair."
"This was the most muh delicious dessert I've ever eaten."

ENPHOENIXED: A metaphorical rebirth, rekindling of passions and emotions that were thought to be lost. A counterpoint to Harano (q.v.)

WARRIOR MOMENT: Similar in many ways to an epiphany, or an incident of satori. These moments are difficult to describe, and in many ways can only be alluded to through metaphor. Instances occur, but are not limited to, incidents of artistic or creative breakthrough, and may be parallel to "Eureka!" as often expressed in the sciences. It is an event wherein the person suddenly realizes that he or she sees, or understands, things on a much higher level than before, almost a mental/emotional orgasm without the sexual component. (See my earlier blog entry on my first "Warrior Moment.")

This is part 1 of a series. I'll add more entries as necessary.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

After the Waterfall--The First "Warrior Moment."

Okay, here goes.

Over the years since this event, i've tried in numerous ways to explain it, quantify it, somehow interpret it in a way that people who WEREN'T there would be able to at least gain some understanding of how important it was, of its significance. Most of these attempts were poetic in nature, because it seems that metaphor is the only tool that comes close.

In April, of my 14th year . . . shortly before i would turn 15, in fact . . . i had an experience at a waterfall that defies any normal description. It was misty, foggy, but not-quite-raining, and the hills and trees were clad in that almost spiritual light green. It had rained for several days, quite hard, and i was taking advantage of the break in the rain to walk to a spot i had been before, once when i was 13 with my father, and in the previous summer (after a long walk that took me to it in a roundabout way). The waterfall is hidden in a cleft of the mountains along the Blue Ridge Parkway, on a piece of land owned by a friend of my father's . . . it was known that i wandered all around that property (in later years), but since i was not hunting and not intending any harm to the property, i was allowed to come and go pretty much at will.

The waterfall often dries up during hot, dry weather, but the recent rains had given it a considerable flow. I walked until i stood at the base of the fall, near the small pool formed there. On the walk up, i passed numerous bloodroots, whose delicate white blossoms would wilt shortly after being picked, and whose nacarat hue stained the hand that plucked them. Responding to some impulse, i stripped my shirt off and leaned into the fall to drink. The water is very clean and cold. As i did this, my heart-rate seemed to triple, and the only other way i can describe the "event horizon" is that all my senses seemed to suddenly "jack up," and i even got the impression that i was using senses that had laid dormant; i was PERCEIVING something that was, by any of the usual parameters i'd used to measure such things, beyond my power to describe. I stood up, looked around, my heart beating a savage tempo in my chest; nothing had changed . . . but EVERYTHING had changed! Half-formed dreams and images seemed to suddenly demand my attention. I walked away from the waterfall that day in a daze, seeing the woods and trees and blossoms in a completely different way, as if there were something BEHIND them . . . the concept of a "veil" was doubly appropriate, given the misty and foggy conditions along the Parkway.

I was never considered "normal" by any of my peers, but this marked the beginning of a time during which i no longer CARED. "Fitting in" was impossible to me now. I had experienced something that catapulted me into a state that might have been called "satori," or "epiphany," or--as a poet friend of mine, Marty Evans, called them--a "warrior moment." (Marty was with me years later, in Georgia, when i experienced a similar moment, and though i didn't know how to describe it, he seemed to understand, and that was the first time i'd heard the term "warrior moment" described to me). I felt as if i'd been yanked halfway in to another world, a dream-world, a parallel dimension, or what-have-you. THE NEXT FEW YEARS OF MY LIFE, I WAS IN THAT STATE. My dreams became more vivid, my fantasies more intricate, and my beliefs marked with something that some people called "mysticism" (and my mother, God bless her, used the term "unrealistic," but in all fairness, it did seem kind of "unreal"). I could lay down, close my eyes, and see clear images of places i'd never been, and wrote many of them down in my notebooks of the time . . . over several years, i'd described worlds and places and creatures, drawing partly on my knowledge of mythology, that to me seemed all-too-likely.

I once discussed my mother's resistance to these things to our youth counsellor at the church, who told me that my mother might be afraid FOR me, because i believed these things. Years later, Pastor John Ault, a mentor and good friend, told me that--because i was an artist--i had the ability to experience on a creative level what Paul experienced in 2 Corinthians 12: Paul describes being "hijacked into paradise . . . whether in or out of the body, I don't know, God knows." He said there he heard "the unspeakable spoken, but was forbidden to tell what he heard." It's no coincidence that immediately thereafter, Paul describes his "thorn in the flesh," "a gift of a handicap, to keep me in constant touch with my limitations." He says it was BECAUSE of the "extravagance of these revelations" that he was limited by this (and he does not describe it specifically). I began to understand a lot about the creative gift i was given, and that the very extremes that i experienced through it were the "flip side" of the limitations i experienced. In latter years, it would be described (or, rather, categorized) as "anxiety-depressive disorder," "bipolar disorder," and so forth. I think those are just words that people use so they can gain some kind of "handle" on it. I don't really pay that much attention to the terms or diagnoses anymore. That moment . . . and some of the other moments that have come, rare but undeniable, almost frightening in intensity . . . were worth anything i suffered because of my inordinate imagination and fucked-up brain chemistry.

When people who are rigid or narrowminded in their outlook encounter things like these, their minds reject them. They run to a psychiatrist who prescribes some chemical concotion that allows them to "numb" the feelings. They focus on their jobs, on TV, on mundane things, and try to deny that they've been afforded a glimpse of wonder. It is what Michael Yaconelli would describe as "dangerous wonder." Wonder, and awe, are often uncomfortable feelings, partially because modern society lacks these qualities. They, along with imagination, are generally neglected by people whose focus on "rationalism" and "practicality" have actually stunted their growth. Sadly, too many of these people are Christians. I consider myself blessed, extravagantly blessed, by these few glimpses of an almost terrifying wonder, an eclipsing awe, that--despite my inability to fully describe them--have remained fixed in my head, indelibly written on my soul. My vain efforts through poetry to communicate the experience at the waterfall . . . or any of the other "warrior moments" in my life . . . are, at least in my mind, only reaffirmation of what happened. I was "let in" on a secret, was temporarily caught up in the Mystery that i pursued for so long, without knowing that perhaps that Mystery was pursuing me as well. I think Heaven will be much like those experiences, only heightened and endless . . . to live such a way, in the presence of the Almighty Creator who allowed such a flawed and fragile creature to glimpse them, is--in a way--almost terrifying. If it were not for God's love and mercy, the things i experienced would have undoubtedly broken my mind. Perhaps they have. I would consider nothing more honorable than to be broken for God. It may be that that first "warrior moment" was NOT the most powerful i will experience, though none that have happened since have neared that supernal level. I can only thank God that, somehow, those very things that limit me, cause me grief, and trouble my sleep, are also the essential flaw that He works through, His strength coming into its own through my weakness, and--in an outpouring of undeserved grace--allows me to experience moments like these.

New Poem: What if They Created an Economy, and Nobody Showed Up?

What if They Created an Economy, and Nobody Showed Up?
do you dream in chocolate
while your Toyota's gas pedal
gets stuck to the floor
while you're talking on your cellphone
discussing last night's American Idol?
is your American Idol
already entered into evidence?
what if they created an economy,
and nobody showed up?
does your economy
lose its flavor
on the bedpost overnight?
all your experts have been
bought and paid for
by whatever political party is in favor--
the flavor of the week, one might say--
and you have to take advantage
of the opportunity, especially
if what all the Mayan Calender theories say
are true (what? haven't you seen
the movie
paid for by corporate sponsors
and endorsed by all the appropriate
everbody's saying the same thing,
which sounds like
played at a very high volume
turning CNN up loud
so it drowns out doubts and conscious thoughts
alike, and the commercials have that sense of
because you have less than 2 years
to repair the economy,
and if you're not responding to this emergency
by dreaming in chocolate (which is mostly artificially-flavored CRAP)
driving in your Toyota (or other overpriced death machine)
and talking on cellphones (which are monitored by
elected officials, telemarketers, and the DoD)
about reality shows
(that don't give a damn about anything REAL
that doesn't drive up ratings
by dumbing down the content) . . .
if you're not
choosing Pepsi or Coke
if you're not
believing the political lies
that compel us to vote
if you're not
spending, pretending
that we're not already broke . . .
you're not supporting the Economy,
the Almighty Mammon whose
floppy teats supply
the rancid milk of overindulgence
that, like heroin,
ultimately consumes the consumers.
if that's not already a crime,
they'll make sure that it is
before the 2012 election
(participation in which will be mandatory
and saying the whole game is rigged
will be considered treason,
the only non-violent crime
which is punishable by death) . . .
but, if you're shot, at least
you won't have to live through
the disaster
that will be brought to you

Sunday, February 21, 2010

New Poem: The Wrong Side of the Rainbow

The Wrong Side of the Rainbow
crash landed, stranded, here on
the wrong side of the rainbow
where i live,
and this twister
ain't your magic bus
to the Emerald City
wallpapered in your favorite shade of green;
those greenbacks you're backing
have backed you against the wall,
and won't even stand you the price of a ticket,
so keep punching that clock
and i'll punch your ticket
and kick you around the block.
you don't want to go
over any rainbow
where you can't buy indigo
and put a down payment on purple;
this one'll sure pull you down
to the underground, the wrong side of town,
show you around the Slum of Oz
where the munchkins have fangs
of chromium steel, and still
look more human than you do;
they'll punch a hole in your soul
and see if you can bleed for real
when you've bartered your last swindle
for a half-decent meal
and there's nothing left for you to steel
because everyone's a broke as you . . .
you know, everyone goes through hell,
some people just have to stay,
and that ticket you bought is just one-way,
and you'll punch a clock THERE too, sucker,
but don't hold your breath for a payday,
because everything adds up to paybacks,
and you know what THEY are.
that tribe that lived on the backside of your rainbow--
the ones you refused to lend, give, or rent to--
won't be building tracks
for your runaway train now more.
hock your ruby slippers and blue suede shoes,
no matter who wins at the game you played, you lose.
they'll fold the monopoly board up around you;
no Emerald City, here . . . maybe,
if you're lucky,
they'll leave a tenement on Baltic for you . . .
all the graffiti artists who bombed and tagged
back on the block
have gone away, and
there won't be anyone to paint a rainbow
on your walls of leaden gray.

New Poem: Mystery Reporter

Mystery Reporter
here's a news-flash for you:
either nothing is amazing, or everything is.
either the unbelievable never happens, or it's going on all the time.

poets, you see, don't quit being poets, alive or dead.
prophets don't get to retire.
troubadours aren't ever gone when their verses are still being read.
coals and ashes, when stirred, remember the fire.

one crocus doesn't make it spring, but it's one thing spring
won't get started without,
and for want of one snowflake, and avalanche would never slide.
an interstate will go from point A to point B, missing everything
on the old country route,
and a chrysalis whispers no secrets of the butterfly burgeoning inside.

thngs you can see in daylight change their forms and natures
in the dark,
and shadows only grow when light from some source flows.
the most brilliant flowers are never seen, and pass away
without a mark,
and birds flock as one, but how they choreograph their wingdance,
nobody knows.

the sun burns across rippling waters,
heliographing hieroglyphics that can't be translated,
only red in the moment before they change,
explaining things that in language can't be communicated.

every leaf on every tree is a verse in an unending song;
even in their falling, they sing; and, on the ground,
still they sigh, brittle papyri, underneath your feet.

in a universe that rings like a bell,
what further evidence of a Divine Hand
would you demand
when you can't even understand
the wonders that cascade around you--
a world at your fingertips, and
yet so much slips
through your mind like water
sluicing through a sieve,
because it takes an uncomfortable risk
to believe . . . .

don't wish for myths or miracles,
your brains are too tight to contain them
because every bit of knowledge you gain
gets rejected if you can't explain them
or turn a profit on them.

either nothing is amazing, and the unbelievable never occurs . . . .
oh, but it IS--it's going on all the time.
i'm just a reporter, i didn't make the news,
i'm just rying
in feeble meter and fumbling rhyme
to focus your attention
on what you're missing
all the time.


Before i post a couple of poems (1 that i was able to finish after Genesis and a second one i wrote on the heels of that one), i need to say a couple of words about Genesis.

What is Genesis? It's a church plant here in the Roanoke Valley. If you want to find out some of the basics, check out their link: Their core beliefs, information, and staff are posted there. My friend and comrade from the old Slam days, Lewis Kleiner, is a staff member, and was instrumental in getting me to Genesis.

I've only been to 2 services, which have been held every 2 weeks, in the evening. At both of those services, i was struck by several things almost immediately:

I did not feel like an Outsider. This is an unusual experience for me, because as a person who--in the words of Pastor John Ault--"walks the edge," i usually find myself on the periphery of any group i come into contact with. To walk into a church where this was NOT the case was a powerful draw. The dynamic is utterly different from so many churches i've been privileged to attend. Even the word "attend" doesn't fit . . . any more than you would "attend" your home. Even more strongly tonight i was struck by the feeling of COMING HOME.

The Spirit was at work at Genesis . . . in a strong, powerful, forward-moving way. I've attended several churches who had the Spirit at work, in a powerful, convincing, CONVICTING way, but this is by far the strongest i've felt this. I can only report on my own reactions to this "phenomenon," but as someone who is aware of the Holy Spirit, i assure you, this is no fluke. There was a palpable sense--in the people, the music, the pastor (more about him in a moment)--that God was right there in the trenches with us. (WITH US! I actually said "US!" I'm used to talking in terms of "them," but man, i was a PART of this!)

There was no judgementalism here. This goes back to the first thing i mentioned . . . i could feel people looking at me, but it wasn't a cold or suspicious "looking-at" that i sometimes get. It was more of a "Hey, he's new here." Instead, i felt almost immediately embraced. I "clicked." And, brother, when somebody like me is able to sense that "click," it's an experience. I know i'm a bit of a freak (yes, i'll say it, and i'm not ashamed of it), and can be somewhat intimidating on short notice (i am Grendel, after all) . . . so imagine how powerful that felt. How simultaneously welcoming and, in a way, almost scary . . . when you know you're in a place or among a group of people who've cast their whole lot on Christ, and are willing to go the distance for Him REGARDLESS OF THE COST, it can be a very awe-inspiring experience.

The pastor--Craig Tackett--is HANDS DOWN one of the most powerful, energetic, and gifted speakers i've heard. I DO NOT EXAGGERATE. It's amazing to watch him take a single, simple, and maybe even oft-repeated passage of Scripture, and drive it home with what is undoubtedly the sheer force of the Holy Spirit working through him. He means what he says, too . . . there's no pretense, no "better-than-thou" attitude, none of the "party line" rhetoric. God has obviously called this man to do exactly what he's doing, and when he spoke, i could hear something inside me practically screaming "YES! YES! YES!" It was all i could do to restrain myself from doing just that . . . jumping up and screaming "YEAH, MAN, YOU TELL IT LIKE IT IS!" And, as intimidating as something like that can be, he's approachable, and that sense of welcoming, that he's really glad to see you there, flows as much from him as from the congregation as a whole.

I could sit here and rhapsodize about the experience for pages, but in all honesty, i couldn't do it justice. I've been talking and wishing and all-around WHINING about wanting to go back to NYC or NJ, and a part of me really wants that, but now i'm not so sure that God wants that . . . or if He intends for it to happen as quickly as i want it to happen. THIS CHURCH FEELS LIKE HOME. If God wants me here, to hang my wanderer's hat here and become a part of what Genesis is doing here in Roanoke, then i'll do it. I'll throw everything i've hoped and planned and dreamed on the altar for God, even if it's in Roanoke. God is everywhere, and He's everything good in my life, and if He wants me here, then "here am i, send me." This powerful conviction isn't something i take lightly . . . it's something i've felt in the past when i came to a place i was supposed to be. I felt it at the Poetry Slam. I felt it at Grace Covenant. I felt it in NYC. And i feel it now. This "waiting stage" of my life might have been nothing more than God preparing me for something else . . . something i couldn't have imagined. And, when you're talking about an imagination like the one that ravages me every day of my life, that's saying something.

I could think of nothing better than getting down here in the trenches with this group of committed people, LOVING people, and putting what shoulder i have to the wheel.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

New Poem: You Are Not Here

You Are Not Here
town dump gulls, foraging
like Rio kids in a mound of garbage
looking for edible discards, and
"everybody's lookin' for a
free ride," shallow mockery cries
echo "get a job" = "work for free"
echo "protect & serve" = "neglect & sever,"
and even the gulls are crying,
dying for a seashore
without a high-rise.
still, hear
"quit givin' people handouts, and those
______s will have to
W.O.R.K." = Worry Overpay Rich Killers,
would you pay your tithes
if they weren't tax write-offs, or
would you crawl on the floor,
squall, bawl, and bemoan
that lousy 10%
that you didn't get to spend
on Lotto & Beer?
chickadee, chickadee in the trees,
backhoe-fart, no more trees,
so no more chickadees,
no more cock-a-doodle-doo
until the backhoe man goes home,
jacks off over internet porn
until his cock crows,
silently disdainful of the dreadlocks
and cornrows
of kids busted for spray-painting
a new Picasso
on a gray underpass, "Hi,
i'm a cop, and
i can kick your ass and
get a free pass
when i flash my badge."
and it's no need explainin'
that the ones who get paid for complainin'
on talk radio or teevee
look like the fattest gulls in the dump,
knee-jerk reflex action-figures
that aim kicks at anybody
bent over to scrounge nickels from the gutters
or half a sandwich from a garbage can
in the park
where "rummaging through rubbage"
is punishable by law,
you may have to pay a FINE, tee-hee,
from nonexistent funds
stolen from your wallet
by tax-cuts for the rich,
the wealthy Bible-thumpers
who've forgotten how to read
about the widow's great gift of 2 pennies
or the warning about serving Mammon.
for every white suburbian girl
who gets into a stranger's pick-up truck,
a thousand non-white non-suburbian kids
get written off as acceptable losses
in wars that are more about profit-margins
than about the boys * girls who die on foreign soil
to pave the way for those
to arrogant to fight & too rich to care . . .
and you are not here
and you are not seeing this
and you aren't to blame
and you aren't doing anything wrong,
and you aren't doing ANYTHING
and you are WRONG
and you ARE to blame
and you ARE seeing this
and you are HERE
right where the arrow points down
and nails your insignificant mortal speck
to the spot.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Love Hurts, Especially When it's Your Family


Let me state first and foremost, for the record, that i am extremely grateful to my parents for providing for me after the "economic downturn" (which the economists refuse to call a Depression despite the fact that it is), and for everything they've done since then.


I am repeatedly chided by my Mom . . . to wit, i'm "too extreme," i'm "paranoid," i don't take enough initiative (which is her excuse to nag me about anything that springs to mind), and various other comments in reference to my clothes, my attitude (she often says i get a "tone in my voice," and when i FINALLY responded the other day that she gets a tone in HER voice, her response was "maybe you should think about WHY i get a tone in my voice), and anything else that springs to mind. She doesn't start the day off with "good morning . . . ." Instead, 4 out of 5 mornings, she begins with a complaint. Something i did, something i didn't do, something i did wrong (and, believe me, she can always find something WRONG about what i did, no matter how much initiative i took or whether or not it was done well). Just now, i received information from the Labor Department in NYC. It's just the same information i get every week . . . this propelled her into a mini lecture about how i should be calling every third day (regardless of what the instructions say), to go over the internet to find out if i'm "approved" rather than use the phone (she never uses the internet for anything that she can get Dad, me, or Jordan to do for her), and on and on and on and . . . .

Basically, i'm almost to the point of chucking it all, shoving a few belongings in a backpack, and living on the road. I'd probably starve to death or die from exposure, but at least i'd die in relative peace. I think the basic problem is, while i was away in NJ and NYC, i GREW UP. A LOT. I managed to survive on less than anyone in my family does (with the possible exception of Mom before she was married), and had my own mind about things, and was a LOT closer to God during those hard times than i am here . . . how strange it is to think that, while anyone else would have thought that i was in dire straits, my relationship with Christ was much stronger, and i spent a lot more time in prayer. And perhaps, to anyone who's firmly entrenched in the status quo (and, God help her, Mom is), a lot of what i perceive and believe is "extreme," although i have a hard time believing that it's "paranoid," because a paranoid person believes that __________ is out to get HIM, because he's somehow special . . . i know better. I'm only a threat to the status quo in my poetry and Life-Path, and as long as that's generally ignored (and it is), no "great conspiracy" or whatever is going to regard me as a threat!) It's been on the tip of my tongue to tell Mom that all the Prophets, and Christ Himself, were regarded as "too extreme" by the status quo of their times. And a lot of modern figures who were regarded as revolutionary, even pacifists like Gandhi and MLK, were also considered extreme (extreme enough for someone or a group of someones to kill them). This, however, would just ignite a veritable powderkeg. My mother is, after all, getting on in years, and she's entitled to her beliefs and feelings, and she's probably too old to change. But by the same token, i should be entitled to my beliefs and feelings, and not immediately "given in" to her way of thinking just because i'm living here. I don't want to start a fight . . . but i can't speak about Faith, religion, politics, philosphy, or most of the stuff i write poetry about, around her, because that simply turns into another thing on the "List," which is apparently a page in my Mom's mind she turns to for her nagging. I'm sure that in some regards, she's right . . . i've not been the most exemplary human being, and i've fallen short of my own goals (let alone hers, which are apparently on a completely different track than mine), and as long as this situation maintains, it's only going to generate more antipathy. I avoid her . . . and i hate feeling that way. My Dad remains, for the most part, neutral and uninvolved . . . although he's been chiding me about a few things now and then. I CANNOT LIVE HERE MUCH LONGER AND RETAIN MY SANITY.

I'm now praying for patience, and for an open door that clearly marks a direction. I can't believe, at this point in time, that thinking about a "career" (in the terms the status-quo uses to describe that hell of ladder-climbing and struggling to make ends meet while you're stabbing your friends in the back to gain access to the next rung--my parents were never back-stabbers, but they didn't "love" their jobs, and the way they--Mom in particular--talked about their co-workers, bosses, etc., didn't exactly encourage me) is going to be in any way viable. The ways of this world are foolishness, and even people who should know better seem to think that acquiring more material things is what success is made of. Success at what? The things you own end up owning you. I'm getting too used to having all this space, TV, computer access, snacks, and all the "benefits" that go along with it. My writing has suffered. The funny thing is, if i'd remained in NYC, i'd have more access to "help" (as loath as i am to lean on the government for support) and to things like food-stamps and job programs than i have in Roanoke, and i would have more access to the Spoken Word scene that still calls to me every living day. I know i'm supposed to do more there than i did. I pray God will forgive me for not pursuing that more aggressively even when i had the opportunity. My dependence on Christ and my poetic endeavors both were stronger and more whole-hearted when i had it "rough" than now. I've come to understand the concept of "suffering" better . . . God doesn't "inflict" suffering or hardships on His people as PUNISHMENT, but rather as TRAINING, character-building . . . as the Message translation puts Christ's words, "using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, so you'll live, really live, and not just get complacently by on good behavior." That last part stings, because in this day and age, it's too easy to just be a middle-of-the-road, "law-abiding," church-attending person, and to think you're doing pretty good when all you're really doing is going through the motions, creating a microcosm in which you can exist without thinking, where everything can be a reflex rather than the result of an actual active thought-process, and where you can be "comfortable" and "succesful" without stirring up waves or making anybody else "uncomfortable" in the process. But doing the right thing, if other people can see it, is bound to make some of them uncomfortable . . . either because they just don't like it, or because it makes them feel guilty on some level, or just because doing the right thing is DIFFICULT, and requires EFFORT, and a lot of people get confused when someone would struggle to do the right thing when it's so much easier to "go with the flow." Despite the fact that you're just as likely to get ignored for doing the right thing, or snubbed, or out-and-out hated, i want that. I want whatever God is pointing me towards, no matter what kind of crap i have to wade through to get there. I'm not giving up just because i'm surrounded by people who already have, and i'm not going to let my love and thankfulness for my parents mislead me into thinking that i have to BELIEVE and THINK the way they do. No free-thinking, independently intelligent individual should ever try to force or compel another person to do that. And that goes double for Christians . . . if--by the way you're living, the courageous and bold speaking of God's truth, and the compassion and giving that you show towards others--people aren't going to be convinced, then they're not going to be any more responsive to browbeating, nagging, pushing, or bullying.

God, please keep me together until something better comes through . . . .

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Poem: If Gemstones Had Voices

If Gemstones Had Voices
if gemstones had voices,
how many of them would scream
when the jeweler's hand
sliced off a piece of them
to better display their beauty?
part of the craftsman's duty
is to decide which parts are unnecessary
and remove them,
and what once looked
like an ugly rock
becomes a token of burning joy.
yeah, i'm sure if rocks felt pain
they'd surely complain
when a chunk of themselves
got sliced off, like an amputation . . .
"hey, that might be ugly, man,
but it was CONNECTED to me!"
if they had some idea
of the end result, i still believe
that the faceting would be uncomfortable--
or worse--
but they might be less inclined to curse
the hand that did the carving . . .
or would you tell the doctor and nurse,
"oh, just leave that old tumor there,
it's been there so long,
it's kind of grown on me."
we're not rocks. when you cut us,
we bleed, and even if it's surgery we need,
pain is usually part of the price we pay
when a deformity
is sliced away . . .
but we've been given a glimpse of glory,
we already know
that at the end of the story, we'll be
crown jewels,
our price beyond the riches
of any earthly king.
yes, this is going to hurt.
the operation isn't exploratory,
and some of us worry so much
about the pain, we'd rather
remain lying in the dirt . . .
but the craftsman isn't careless,
his skill is divine, and
when the cutting is done
we will outshine any jewel
mankind has ever dug
from the earth.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bashers, Whiners, Subscription-Cancel-Threateners: An Overview of the Editorial Section

Reading the editorial section of our newspaper, "The Roanoke Times," and on Sundays the larger "Horizon" section, is an action fraught with peril and despair. It isn't so much the difference of opinions, or the supposed "liberal" bent of the paper's editors (which, to someone who's experienced life and literature in NYC, isn't all that "liberal"), but the bizarre way mountains are made out of molehills (and, the reverse, molehills are made out of mountains). There are several modes that these things follow, and i will attempt, in the following, a discussion of a few of these modes (and why they i find them irritating).

1) The "I'm Gonna Cancel My Subscription" Mode: This is typically expressed by an individual who has been "offended" by something in the newspaper. It could be anything . . . i've seen this expressed over general content, suspected or real bias. specific editorial columns, lack of focus on local issues, and even comic strips (one was over the comic strip "Boondocks," which the newspaper eventually struck . . . apparently, more than one reader was "offended" by a couple of Black kids in a comic strip dealing with socially relevant issues). First of all, if the readers "cancel their subscriptions," they've pretty much cut themselves off from the only large newspaper that covers Southwestern Virginia. Perhaps they're better served by the numerous smaller newspapers in the area which tend to cover mostly local events, and whose attitude could best be described as "HOORAY FOR OUR_______ (insert town, county, neighborhood)." Naturally, the strictly local focus and attitude certainly limits the number of potentially "offensive" subjects. The next thing to consider is whether or not the Roanoke Times is going to be really concerned over one individual threatening to cancel their subscriptions (apparently, there was a great enough volume of "offended" people to warrant pulling "Boondocks"). I mean, COME ON. Get a grip. If you want to protest something in the paper, don't resort to such childish tactics, acting like a kid who owns the Monopoly board threatening to take the game home if everybody refuses to play by his rules. All you're really doing is revealing your own childishness and taking up space that could be relegated to people actually attempting to DEAL with the issues at hand (i suppose the paper feels some obligation to reprint SOME of these letters). Grow up, people.

2) The ______-Bashing Mode: There's an overabundance of individuals who write in this mode (you could say that i'm writing in this mode now, which is why i'm not going to send it to the editors of the newspapers), and you all know the drill. The targets are numerous: conservatives, liberals (or "lib'rals"), Muslims, Christians, secular people, or other large groups that are easily lumped into one category that can be vilified by focusing on the negative aspects of a few representatives of the group. Uh-huh, that's what it is. Actually, i'm not "bashing," because in singling out a few modes, i'm actually indicating that there are other letters to the editor and editorials who use other modes, such as reasoning, statistics, appealing to common decency or compassion, etc. At any rate, i've read enough of these to know that most of them are written out of vengeance, or out of ignorance. Sometimes both. Now, to be fair, there are certainly members of all these groups, and others, who have traits that are unattractive, criminal, "offensive," repulsive, or frustrating. No sub-category of humanity is entirely free of these elements . . . they are part and parcel of the human condition. It is a mistake, however, to take a few examples from a group (particularly those "examples" which justify a person's pre-existing bias) and use their negative qualities to condemn the whole. One might just as well, on the basis of encountering a few apples with bad spots, declare that all apples were bad. (Even an apple with bad spots can be improved by cutting the bad spots out, but that's a topic for another rant). When you write a letter for the purpose of "bashing" one group or the other, you not only paint yourself as a prejudiced individual, you paint a target on yourself for somebody else's "bashing." If the intent of your letter is to point out a flaw (and a way it can be corrected), well and good. If your only focus is "those _______s are BAD, BAD people," you deserve to have a target painted on yourself, and have no right to complain when you become the focal point of somebody else's "bashing" letter.

3) The "Department of Whining" Mode: These letters may resemble either (or both) of the previously named modes, but their identifying quality is tonal. The complaints (and they are always complaints) have an unmistakable effect in that, if one imagines them read aloud, they would sound much like a spoiled child whining when something they feel they deserve is denied them. A lot of these letters are complaints about the lack of focus on some local event, or the conclusions made in such a report. Granted, the larger the newspaper, the less coverage is given to specific local events. I was once appalled when i lived in the Bronx by the fact that a young man was gunned down at the end of the block where i lived (the fact that i heard this go down may have added to my emotional response), and nothing was said in the paper in the following days (i referred to several newspapers, but saw no mention of it, not even in the "Police Blotter" section). I would argue that the death of a teenager should certainly take precedence over the latest Hollywood scandal . . . but i didn't express my distress in a letter to any of the newspapers, especially after some of my more streetwise friends pointed out that kids being shot was just another fact of life in the city). This event resulted in several poems, and i could advise those who write the "whining" letters to take up poetry as a way to express their frustrations . . . but such an exhortation would undoubtedly fall on deaf ears, since society at large tends to ignore poetry, and those who write these letters undoubtedly would quail at the thought of being ignored. Their issues are IMPORTANT, they would tell me. Why isn't more attention being paid to their pet subjects? A more enlightened approach might be to simply write a letter to the editor ABOUT the subject, without any of the "i-don't-know-why-you-didn't-report-more-on-this" blather that just takes up extra space. Or start your own newspaper.

These are 3 of the modes that seem to irritate me the most, perhaps because it takes the least amount of focused thought or imagination to write them. When i write, i like to focus all my intellect and imagination in what i'm writing . . . to invest less than that is to insult my readers. One could say i'm investing TOO much time an energy in a blog that's only read by a few, but a few is enough. ONE is enough. If something i wrote was going to be read by the readership of the Roanoke Times at large, i would certainly invest the whole of my thought and imagination in writing it . . . and not worry one bit about the whiners, bashers, or people who cancelled their subscriptions over what i wrote.

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Poem: Path to Freedom

if there's a path to freedom, put me on it.
not the kind of self-serving egocentric striving
that only confines,
defined by the status quo and possessions
that end up possessing,
where greed and appetites bind me
and blind me to what i need
and what's required of me.

if there's a direction towards truth, set me free to follow it.
like a tiger burning bright whose stripes
match the patterns of my scars,
forward through the darkness towards
that galactic centrifuge where stars
begin and end,
and no bars or barriers designed
by mankind can limit it.

if the truth leads me into mystery, let it be my destiny.
let it grab me by the scruff of my neck
and with a strength that defies
the tides of the times
carry me,
eyes wide open in fearful joy and expectation
to wonders unfolding before me,
microscopic to cosmic,
a dangerous uncharted land
where only the visionary can stand.

if that doesn't sound like freedom to you,
don't stand in front of me . . .
because the force of what drives me on
might realign your gravity,
tug you into an alternate reality
that mocks the tawdry baubles you've used
to decorate your soul,
and that fog that clouds your vision
might be torn to tatters, and freedom
shatters the walls of the prison
you took for granted.

is never selfish,
for it knows no mortal master,
and the pursuit of freedom is a head-on, headlong dash
into a Mystery
whose arms are open wide
to receive those who perceive it.

if the truth will set us free,
it is always fraught with the unexpected,
the inexplicable coloring-outside-the-lines
of the tunnel-vision that freedom's call has rejected,
a process, a yearning
that's burning all bridges behind us,
and all forces that would divert us
are deflected.
we'll ring like bells, and peal like thunder,
scattering seeds of wonder,
and those who've yet to come will reap it.

so if your definition of freedom
keeps you locked inside yourself,
you can KEEP it!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Necessary Poetry

I've just spoken via FB Chat to Elysee Thomas, who is back home! Fellow poetic associates in the NJ/NYC area are posting like mad, pictures and comments, about this. For those of you who don't know, Elysee Thomas is an incredible young poet, a friend of mine whom i met during my time as MC/host of the People's Open Mic, "back in the day." Although i don't know all the details of his arrest and imprisonment, a great many people that i personally know and respect vouched for his innocence, and a massive campaign of the spoken word was undertaken by the poetic family to demand his release. I extracted a promise from him to "tell us all about it," which he will no doubt be doing in his poetry.

Right now, my life is pretty much on "hold," but even in times like these, i can rejoice for my brother, and can practically feel the waves of relief and happiness, as if it was a channel that the radio in my skull was tuned to. It reaffirms my commitment to poetry . . . because if Thomas can weather these troubles and come out stronger, then my meager problems are certainly no threat. I keep remembering what Paul said, in Romans, "The One who died for us is standing at the right hand of God, sticking up for us!" and "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Paul, by the way, was in PRISON when he wrote that. God was certainly with Thomas during this time, and He is the author of perfect and true Justice . . . God hears the prayers of the oppressed, and is responsive to their needs.

But this is no time for idleness, no time to rest on our laurels. I'm speaking both to my Christian family and my poetic family. We are weathering great storms here in our own nation, and at the same time reaching forth to those in Haiti who are in such pain . . . and it is my firm belief that if God is going to bless this nation, it is our actions and attitude towards those in Haiti, to ALL who are oppressed or burdened, that is going to create the necessary channel for those blessings. Even in an economic catastrophe, we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, one that has been so gifted with freedoms, and it is an abomination that we've become complacent, haughty, and selfish. So many in America seem to assume that we are somehow "morally superior" to those who are oppressed, that "it's their own fault" for not embracing the WASP middle-class (a rapidly dwindling middle class at that) "virtues" that are--at their root--Mammon worship. And the freedoms we claim to love? Their being etched away, by an acid compounded of ignorance, greed, bigotry, and political sleight-of-hand.

And why is poetry so important? I've expounded on this plenty of times, but at the risk of being redundant, here it is: poetry, in particular the spoken word, is the native tongue of the human soul. It is the freest of free speech, often the only way the poor, oppressed, outcasts, and outsiders have of expressing their emotions that are probably more real, raw, and honest than anything any of us have come up against. But just because you're "safe" right now, don't think that you're invulnerable to the horrific types of misery and injustice that thousands, millions of individuals you regard as "those OTHER people." The oldest example of the written word we have is a Babylonian epic poem about the hero Gilgamesh. That alone should stand to represent the importance of poetry in history . . . and even if it didn't, pick up your Bible and check out the Old Testament prophets, as well as Psalms and Song of Solomon . . . poetry. Every epoch in history has had plenty of poetic voices to speak for it, and the great shame is that the contemporaries of those voices didn't listen very well (and didn't like what they heard). Poetry IS the voice of the oppressed, the cry of the outsiders, the howl of the prophets, and the echo of the Universe. It's not a plaything . . . it's a weapon of war, a way of cutting our way clear through the wilderness of the banal, the boring, and the mass of red-tape and doublespeak that pervert our language, as well as the supidity of most television and movies and radio talk-show hosts who dumb it down. Speech, and the ability to use it, holds us accountable for the ways in which we do--or don't--use it. Freedom of Speech, like a muscle, must be exercised regularly, and in the right way, in order to remain strong.

And that is another reason for my gladness at Thomas' release: we need all the good, strong voices we can get.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Dose of Reality for Reality TV

With all the new "reality" television shows today, the ideas must be running a bit thin. I'd like to propose an alternate concept that would inject some hard reality into these shows, which would also coincidentally make them more gripping, and thereby more entertaining. Here are a few suggestions:

Ubiquitous Disclaimer: To those of my readers who might not be aware of such obscure concepts as "parody," "satire," and "irony," this is not meant to make light of the subjects involved. Consider it, instead, as a contrast of what REALITY means as opposed to "reality television," as well as an opportunity to flex one's mental muscles by assuming uncomfortable positions not generally accepted or promoted by the status quo, which generally involves the least amount of effort combined with the greatest amount of ignorance. You have been warned.


Take 10 average middle-class white American citizens, drop them in an area like the Bedford-Stuy, or perhaps Flatbush, clad in nothing but their underwear, and tell them that there are subway passes and McDonald's food coupons hidden in locations within a 10-block radius from their drop-off point. The drop-off time will be at midnight. They will, of course, have to "survive" the night (during this time, an arrangement could be made with the local police precincts to avoid any intervention . . . a sufficient cash donation, or perhaps an arms deal, would facilitate this). Part of the contract for the show's participants would include a codicil that indemnifies any of the local citizens from any actions that might result in bodily harm to the participants--after all, the point is SURVIVAL, which always entails a risk of physical harm. As far as advertising and sponsorship, which is always vital to a show's continuation, i have already mentioned McDonald's, and even the NYC Police could use commercial time to run recruitment ads (because, even in this massive recession, it seems like the police force is always hiring). In addition, having the participants clad only in underwear would be a prime opportunity for manufacturers of those apparel to prove how tough and resistant to damage their garments are . . . "And as this Survivor shows, a night on Flatbush Avenue and several assaults by the locals haven't managed to damage Fruit-of-the-Loom's super-tensile waistband!" The prize for the winners (if there are any who truly survive) would be . . . drum-roll, please . . . TO CONTINUE TO LIVE! Yes, the true meaning of survival would hit home to these middle-class Americans who are so bored with their hum-drum existence of shopping malls, cheerful kitchens, tranquil bathrooms, and 500+ HD channels of bullshit.


A true "iron chef" must make the most from his or her supplies, no matter what they are, and serve them with flair. What better place to put those skills to the test than a third-world country where starvation is rampant? Of course, these chefs would have the most advanced cooking equipment (although finding power sources for this equipment would be part of their challenge), and they would have any food-like substances that the local inhabitants had access to. On a positive note, the judges would be the inhabitants, who could possibly benefit from having a few top-notch chefs to prepare their food and make the most out of their meager rations. Again, contracts would have to be drawn up to indemnify the locals, because the presence of so much American "culture" could easily cause riots, thefts, and other events (which viewing audiences in America appear to appreciate so long as they themselves are not involved).
The prize, of course, is to be able to return to their lives and jobs in America, where they'd have a greater appreciation for ANY food they are able to get.


How can one truly appreciate the drama of cat-fights and estrogen overload in a location of relative wealth and comfort? Such conflicts could be shown to greater effect if the attractive denizens of some upscale neighborhood were transplanted in some out-of-the-way, poor, and less "enlightened" location. Each houswife would be assigned a trailer or shack, and their families would be portrayed by casting a group of the locals in those roles. Shopping trips would be occasions of great drama, considering that the housewives in question would be given a stipend roughly equivalent to the average wage in that region . . . a trip to the local "____ mart" would be quite grueling, especially with half a dozen kids and an alcoholic husband in tow. The housewives themselves, of course, would receive no prizes at the end of the show, but the families that they lived with would receive stipends based upon what the "housewives" had before the show . . . including real estate and personal property. And all of America would have a chance to view a show that involved REAL people who aren't coached or refereed by directors and actors and makeup artists.

It's easy to see how these shows could become part of a real improvement in the "reality" part of "reality tv," contrasting the "values" of WASP middle-class America with what it truly takes to survive . . . things that seem to matter so much would take on an entirely different light when survival, sustenance, and relationships are not mere buzzwords, but are the very things that one's life hinges upon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Deals With the Devil: The Church in Bed With Politics

Recently, Pat Robertson, who is one among many individuals who are more interested in acquiring capital and entrenching themselves in politics (what i call "politichristians"), had the utter lack of sensitivity and compassion to say that the recent tragedy in Haiti was caused by their "pact with the devil," referring to a historical event centuries ago. Regardless of whether or not the event occurred in the way it was construed, the statement itself reveals the actual extent of Robertson's "compassion," which is about as deep as a mud-puddle. When an opportunity arises to come alongside another individual or nation, out of compassion and love (true expressions of Christ's presence in a person's life), this little bit of caustic fare is nothing more than a political statement wrapped in sanctimonious garb.

The Christian church, by and large, seems to believe that political power and standpoint are more important than spiritual power . . . it's a deadly poison that's spread through all denominations. Once an event or issue becomes politicized within the church, it creates dissention and division, which is exactly what it's intended to do. Any person in a position of leadership realizes the power that comes from associating himself or herself with God, or gods . . . regardless of whether the person in question shows the qualities that one of Faith would consider valuable. The "leader" in question can easily demonize any opposition by saying that their opponents are "against God" or "heretics," and in a time when people within the congregation or range of influence are troubled or afraid, they are less likely to cast aspersion on a person who makes strong verbal claims to being a servant of God (or gods). This is true for any religion . . . when mankind gets its hands on religion, the first thing that occurs to many is that it's a great tool for "putting people in their place." Christianity has been used, over the centuries, as an excuse for war, racism, and hatreds of every type. For a man of Robertson's influence to make a careless statement should, in a fair world, immediately destroy any credibility the man has gained by quoting gospel and claiming to be a servant of Christ. Unfortunately, there are many people who will believe that because a good Christian like Pat Robertson said something like this, then it must be true.

Haiti has had a long history of troubles, both political and natural. Its inhabitants suffer from frequent hurricanes because of its location. It has had a long and bloody history. The United States, its neighbor, regards it--for the most part--as insignificant, partly because it doesn't have a wealth of exploitable resources. "Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion." (see for more information on this). This alone seems to chafe the predominantly Anglo-Saxon "politichristians," many of whom carry the smoldering embers of racism and colonialism in their hearts. Most of Haiti's people are poor and uneducated--but poverty and lack of education are not, or should not be, a reason for hatred, exclusion, or oppression (although they often are). I am reminded of the words of the Ghost of Christmas Present to Scrooge, in reference to Tiny Tim--"It may be that in the sight of Heaven, you are no more fit to live than millions like this poor man's child." In fact, i'd argue that the wealthy are closer to being the "surplus population" than the poor. To vilify or demonize a people in a time of great hardship, especially when one carries the name of Christ, is odious at best, and verges on blasphemy, flying in the face of Christ and all the Prophets. When Christ walked the earth, He associated with people who--in that time--were considered the lowest of the low, people that the status quo regarded as untouchable. If a person is to affirm Christ as their Lord and Savior (and, if asked, Pat Robertson would undoubtedly claim this), then they are to exhibit Christlike qualities. Any reasonable individual, Christian or otherwise, would have difficulty equating Robertson's statement with Christ's example.

This is a symptom of a larger problem that i have already mentioned. Too many people within the Christian church are too willing--almost eager--to immediately gravitate to an individual in politics who claims to be a "Christian," especially when that person touches all the right political "hot-buttons" that are almost guaranteed to generate the appropriate knee-jerks: abortion, the "war on drugs," the "dangers" of Islam, homosexuality, and so on. I'm going to take this a step further: a political "knee-jerk" is NOT a sign of a person's Christianity. The Enemy knows exactly how this process works, and uses it to both cause discord within the Church (the body of believers as a whole), and to distract the Church from its true mission: the spreading of the Message, and the alleviation of human suffering. Christians must, as a whole and as individuals, rush to the aid of those who are oppressed or suffering. The early Christian church made the Message of Christ their first priority; directly behind that, and intimately connected to it, was to render assistance to the poor. If we are to be "on our job," these things need to be pre-eminent features of our lives. Everything else must fall behind--possessions, politics, power, prestige, family ties. I'd call on Pat Robertson to make a public apology for his insensitive, inflammatory remarks--regardless of whether or not they were historically accurate--unless, of course, he wants the same kind of judgement to "boomerang" on him, and hold him accountable for the atrocities perpetrated falsely in "God's name" throughout the ages, from the Inquisition up to the present.