Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Sunday Poetry: We Are Living, by Brendan Kennelly

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

We Are Living

What is this room
But the moments we have lived in it?
When all due has been paid
To gods of wood and stone
And recognition has been made
Of those who’ll breathe here when we are gone
Does it not takes its worth from us
Who made it because we were here?

Your words are the only furniture I can remember
Your body the book that told me most.
If this room has a ghost
It will be your laughter in the frank dark
Revealing the world as a room
Loved only for those moment when
We touched the purely human.

I could give water now to thirsty plants,
Dig up the floorboards, the foundation,
Study the worm’s confidence,
Challenge his omnipotence
Because my blind eyes have seen through walls
That make safe prisons of the days.

We are living
In ceiling, floor and windows,
We are given to where we have been.
This white door will always open
On what our hands have touched,
Our eyes have seen.

– by Brendan Kennelly


Brendan Kennelly is another Irish poet (yes, I do have my biases), and another poet who writes for normal people to read instead of for academics to study (another bias of mine). I had never heard of him until this week, when Garrison Keillor mentioned his birthday in his daily Writers Almanac – a free daily dose of literacy you should be receiving. (Here is the sign-up form.)

This poem, for me, approaches the spiritual in a familiar form. What can be more rational than a room? Wood and plaster (or drywall) and geometric space is all that a room is. It is what it is – and only that. Obvious as the off-white paint in a rented room, space is simply space.

But a part of me feels differently. We have lived in this house for more than 20 years, and it is more than simple wood and water-damaged plaster to me. And, to me, it feels like something more or at least different than the combination of smells and sounds and memories. There is a feel here, for me, that goes beyond what can be explained by the rational secular humanist – even allowing for a sentimental old man talking about his house.

I know this doesn’t make any sense, and a younger me would have shook his head and said that I’m simply too weak to accept the spare truth of the world – that it is composed of atoms, logic, and fate. And maybe that’s all true – I can’t defeat the argument.

To me, the theologians and scientists are pretty much one and the same. I can’t quite track the circular-seeming logic of the former, and the latter want me to have faith in quarks and 4th dimensions that make no more sense to me than Zeus tossing lightning bolts. Too many smart people on both sides ask too much of me, or call on me to trust that they have the Truth.

I’ve always been suspicious of those with answers, and I have none. I have beliefs that I freely admit I cannot fully defend, and I have grown away from the need to do so. I am a crappy evangelist – I readily accept that your answers are quite possibly better and more complete than my vague feelings, intuitions and chosen irrationalities.

But when I read lines like

your laughter in the frank dark
Revealing the world as a room
Loved only for those moment when
We touched the purely human,

I feel like the poet is on to something. I share his respect for the extra essence that goes beyond the gods of wood and stone, and I share his suspicion that there may be infinity in the white door and what our eyes have seen.

Is Rick Warren Abandoning His Principles?

Friday, December 19th, 2008

My fellow progressive bloggers are having a conniption fit (that’s four links – I could provide a few dozen more) about Obama’s choice of conservative pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. In a nutshell, they accuse Obama of selling out his core beliefs by daring to invite Rick Warren. The various statements attributed to Rick Warren have been dragged out and rephrased so as to make the man appear to be the world’s most vicious homophobe, and then my incredulous leftwing friends indignantly ponder which of those statements Obama is adopting as his core beliefs.

Why isn’t the shoe on the other foot?

Why is it disgraceful for Obama to invite Warren to speak, but not disgraceful for Warren to accept? If Warren is such a raging, monstrous homophobe to his very core, then why is he stepping onto the inauguration stage of a progressive, gay-friendly new President? Isn’t the day going to be much more about Obama, and people unifying behind him, than it will be about the guy giving the invocation? Why is it that some on the left are soooo fearful that a prayer offered by someone who might disagree with them on a few issues will conquer all their hopes and beliefs, converting the entire day into a celebration of homophobia rather than of Obama and our grand new future?

Hilariously, some of us are complaining that Obama is “legitimizing” Rick Warren by inviting him to speak. Umm, yeah, the right wing conservatives have been waiting with bated breath for Obama to choose their next leader, and progressives are going to put “The Purpose Driven Life” on their nightstand right next to “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot“. (Those with a memory may recall that Warren was the object of a mirror image of the current hand-wringing furor when he invited Senator Obama to speak at his Saddleback Church in 2006.)

Personally, I fully expected that anyone chosen by Obama to offer a religious invocation at his inauguration would have a few beliefs that differ from mine, on a theological, political, and policy level. I can listen to that person offer a prayer, and not feel like either one of us is abandoning his or her principles.

Biblical Mystery

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

The week before this one, the First Reading at Mass began with:

Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.

That should answer any questions that Fundamentalists may have regarding how to vote on Missouri Amendment #1. Straight from Exodus 22.

Time Magazine – Only Two Years Behind Bloggers

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Time magazine, presumably while perusing the archives of this and other blogs, came up with the startling realization that some fathers are having ceremonies where their daughters pledge their virginity to their fathers. As written about years ago here and elsewhere, EEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWW! (Followed by Clarification on Purity Balls.)

But Time manages to come up with a favorable spin on the practice, and the whole thing hangs on one crucial sentence that masterfully renders all common sense inapplicable – “Leave aside for a moment the critics who recoil at the symbols, the patriarchy, the very use of the term purity, with its shadow of stains and stigma.” Leave aside the fact that a girl is being told her father owns her sexuality. Leave aside the disturbing symbolism of men holding “large swords” over kneeling girls. Leave aside the girl who felt “too dirty” to wear a purity ring because she was sexually assaulted.

You know, if you “leave aside for a moment” everything wrong about it, what cannot be made to seem okay? Severe gas pains? Genocide? Fathers creepily obsessed with their daughters’ hymens?

State Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford’s Inside View of the Battle Over Religious Freedom In Jefferson City

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

The following piece was written by Missouri State Representative Jeanette Mott Oxford from the 59th Distict. She gave me permission to publish it here. I’ve never met her, but I look forward to the privilege!

It was an interesting day on the Floor of the MO House. We debated Rep. Mike McGhee’s House Joint Resolution (HJR) 55 which calls for a vote to amend the Missouri Constitution in the November 2008 election in order to reaffirm “religious freedom in public places.” This is fairly similar to a bill that former St. Charles rep Carl Bearden carried the past couple of years.

It is clear that the real purpose of the constitutional amendment is to throw a bone to the radical right (especially theocrats who would like to impose one model of christianity on all of us) in order to attempt to bring out the Republican base in the November election. (This is also the purpose of Rep. Nieves “English for official proceedings” constitutional amendment – only the appeal there is to anti-immigrant or anti-multicultural bigots. In an inquiry that I did with Rep. Nieves, he admitted that there is no problem currently in Missouri – all official proceedings, that is, meetings covered by the Sunshine Law, are conducted in English.)

My Democratic colleagues had some interesting amendments and debate points to offer. First Rep. Trent Skaggs of Clay County attempted to move the ballot date from November to August. Rep. McGhee said children had been banned from bringing their Bibles on school buses in his framing of the resolution. Skaggs said he was concerned about that, and since school starts in August,shouldn’t we move the date up?

Several GOP members replied that a constitutional amendment is very important, so we should want the biggest possible number of people to go to the polls, and historically that’s in November, so they asked the body to vote no. I spoke in favor of the amendment, arguing that if people really believe in personal responsibility, then we would expect every registered voter to do his or her duty and go out and vote in August. I suggested that we are encouraging laziness and irresponsibility if we excuse our neighbors from voting in August by setting the date for November.

Rep. Levota and Rep. Skaggs then talked about why the GOP ought to want the vote to be in August. They said the voters don’t seem very excited about coming out for McCain in November, but since there’s a hotly contested Republican primary in August, that ought to draw voters out.

The August vote amendment failed on a party line vote.

Next Rep. Leonard “Jonas” Hughes of Kansas City offered and amendment to add “the saints and Virgin Mary” after the word “God” so that Catholic children would know they were able to pray any way they wanted to as well. Rep. Ryan Silvey did an inquiry with Hughes and argued that the word God encompasses the saints and the Virgin Mary and Vishnu for that matter. (We won’t be nominating Mr. Silvey to represent us at an interreligious dialogue group any time soon obviously. People of different faiths tend to want to state their own definitions and theologies about the divine instead of having others lump everything under the one heading “God.”) Hughes amendment also failed (by a bigger margin – guess some of my Democratic colleagues come from predominantly Protestant districts where the “saints and the Virgin Mary” amendment could get them in trouble; the 59th where I live is so predominantly Catholic that I “voted my district” by pushing Aye.)

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed os St. Louis (one of three Muslim members in the House) also had an amendment ready to add “Allah” to the resolution. Before the Speaker could call on Nasheed, Majority Floor Leader Tilley laid the bill over. The bill could come back up at any time. Maybe some on this listserve will want to write a letter to the editor about it. Find the language of the HJR at:

Personally I don’t see why anyone would believe that Missourians who aren’t informed and responsible enough to exercise their First Amendment Freedoms now will suddenly be able to do so after a constitutional amendment to reaffirm freedoms that we already have. I wonder how many of my colleagues who belong to the NRA would argue that we have to amend Missouri’s constitution to protect gun rights. I think instead they would argue that this is already protected by our constitution (well, unless they were trying to draw certain voters out in November….). Why should we be any less passionate and clear about asserting our religious freedoms then the right to bear arms?

Matt Blunt, Zen Master

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

Everyone’s buzzing about Matt Blunt’s decision to step away from the Governor’s mansion at the end of his term. Clever insiders are speculating about replacements for the top of the Republican ticket, odd sycophants are continuing to express loyalty, and our next Governor is graciously focusing on the future.

Me? I’m just left wondering about his reason for quitting – he said he had accomplished all he set out to do.

Wow. So Matt Blunt woke up yesterday morning, took a look around the state of Missouri, and said, “Yup, this is it. This is pretty much the ideal political world. Can’t get much better than this . . .”?

Really? This is it? This is what he had in mind?

There’s something very Zen about this. He denied 100,000 kids health insurance, but he hadn’t denied all of them health insurance. He made college out of reach for thousands and thousands of Missourians, but some are still able to afford it. He never even got around to making it impossible for the poor and elderly to vote. And yet, somehow, Matt Blunt has found inner peace.

Inner fulfillment is a rare and precious thing. Our governor has found it, by deciding that Missouri has the proper balance of wealth and stark poverty, of health and desperate illness, of enfranchisement and disenfranchisement. I’m left behind, marveling at his achievement, and wondering how Governor Nixon will rid the Governor’s mansion of the scent from incense and patchouli.

I have not yet achieved Matt Blunt’s level of Zen awareness. I still want things to get better.

Merry Christmas, Conservatives!

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Here at Casa Gonemild, we’ve had a peaceful Christmas, complete with nativity scenes and family time. We had dinner with Johnson County Republicans, and had too much great food and not a word of politics. A lot of well-chosen books were exchanged around our Christmas tree, other fun stuff, and a new guitar player will soon be adding music to the world.

I was wryly amused by the people who sought to use “Merry Christmas” as “fighting words” agsinst to liberals. Yes, they thought that they could somehow use Jesus’ birthday as a political weapon.

From the bottom of my heart, I wish those people peace on earth, and good will to men (and women).

Wise Thoughts on Faith, Politics and Party

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

This is just a small section of a long post, but it gives a flavor of the whole:

We’ve reached the point where Republican voters can claim the philosophy of absolute greed.
“I make a great deal of money through my own hard work. I don’t want to pay for someone else’s child to eat breakfast at school anymore.”

Get that? She makes not just enough money, but a “great deal of money.” How dare anyone take it away for something so frivolous as feeding a poor child? And yet Republicans, through their actions in blurring the lines between church and state, have become the “party of faith.” Because they say so. Because they are bold in their actions and snarling in their defense.

We need to be just as adamant. We need to not hide behind any abstraction or evasion. We need to be unafraid to address this voter and say “I am going to take some of your money, and give it to that poor kid, because it’s more important — both to the child and to society — that he eat, rather than that you have an extra week in Cabo.”

Note that we should not pretend that “a program will take your money.” Or “the government will take your money.” This is a democracy, and we are the government. I will take your money. I will. Some of that money you worked hard for and want to keep. I will give it to a kid who is hungry. If your concern is that poverty should be addressed by individuals, then there’s a simple solution: feed him. If there are no poor children needing food, I won’t have to take anything for them. If your position is that people would be more generous if only the government would stay out of it, then sorry. I’m not willing to put this child at risk to as part of your experiment. Besides, if that were true, then why were their more hungry kids before we started these programs to give them a little breakfast? If your position is that your being able to keep all your money is more important than a child being fed, then I simply think you’re wrong. And sick. You want to keep that money? You better beat me at the polls.

There’s much, much more there to read and think about.

Interesting Post on Religion and the Left

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

I was in the grocery store this weekend, and saw Andrea Bough adding a Time Magazine to her purchases at the check-out stand. “I don’t normally read it,” she explained, “but the cover story looks like it’s worth reading.”

Sunday evening, Steve Bough penned this post covering the same topic, observing that

The Time article quoted Howard Dean on the 700 Club as saying that Democrats “have an enormous amount in common with the Christian community.” I would think so – BECAUSE I AM BOTH, you knucklehead. A political party should not hold God hostage; rather people of faith should work to achieve results focused on loving your neighbor.

It’s good to see more and more Democrats and liberals being unafraid to acknowledge the role of their religion in their life. It’s also good to see that Steve has such a wonderful muse . . .