Saturday, March 31, 2007

Leni, Come Back to Us!

I wrote this poem the other day when I read that there are two new books coming out telling the story of Leni Riefenstahl, the German actress and film director who most people know as the director of the film “Triumph of the Will”, about Hitler and his burgeoning Nazi movement, and the Rally at Nuremberg. I was feeling a bit cynical and angry when I wrote this poem. Seemed like the bad guys were winning……..

Leni come back to us
You didn’t live long enough
To make the sequel
To Triumph of the Will.

“Bush at Nuremberg”
Legions of fascist christians parading
With banners of the end times, bloody gold crosses, red white and blue streamers blowing in the spring breeze.,
It’s endless
But not to this crowd. The rapture is coming. Ultimate art, they say. Good art, they say.

Bring ‘em on,
The new fuehrer says
Burn the books
Burn the music
Burn the condoms
Abstain in the name of the Lord and our president.
Support our brave men and women in uniform.
And put your sex into the war.

Leni, Leni where are you now?
Every movement needs “art”
This fascist christian regime
Shoves arrogance up your ass,
But not “artfully”.

You said you knew nothing
About the holocaust.
You stuck to your art
Like a fly in a pile of shit
But in this regime
A shit pile is art.
A pile of charred children is art;
“certainly not too much of a price to pay for oil, er, I mean freedom”
It’s the art made by smart bombs who know just enough to kill as many future terrorists as possible.

The crowd roars,
Bush in a camouflage generals uniform. Cocaine high.
Mutters to the crowd (you could make this look “good” Leni)
Simultaneous orgasm of the fascist “mind”
Then Cheney speaks. Rove. Gonzalez. A frenzy. Hate and religion mixed.
The “enemy combatants” from Guantanamo are paraded through the crowd in chains. People spit on them. Others recite the Old Testament. “Its in the bible”, the crowd shouts, “we can do anything if it’s in the Bible”

Leni, come back.

Imagine, you could be “embedded” with a patrol somewhere on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Imagine the artistry of, the shock, the awe of an Improvised Explosive Device blowing through armor that isn’t even there. That never was there.

Blowing through brains, through limbs, splintering bone, blood spurting. But its art, so you can still say you never knew. Art is always apolitical, you might say. You could show our troops, bravely, beautifully, fighting for “freedom”. Fighting for the “American Way of Life”. I

Members of Congress, in their own little viewing stand, clap politely. A few cheer. Some, like the Senator from Connecticut, foam at the mouth, others get erections. Look what a few taxpayers bucks can buy. We’re buying a war. WAR is the ART America has brought to the world. The rapture is the big painted backdrop to this passion play.

Think of the possibilities Leni. You left us too soon.. Your greatest opportunities are here. Now. But rest easy. Your art goes on. This Bush regime is dangerous, horrible, brutal enough. If they discovered how to use art, they might be unstoppable.

Good bye, Leni. I wonder what you could have done with television. I shudder and turn if off.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jim Wallis on Iraq.....

I've copied some of Jim Wallis's recent speech about Iraq from Sojourners. I feel it is relevant to people of faith, not just Christians, even though he is speaking as the Christiam Evangelical pastor that he is....somewhat different than the "Christianity" of the Pat Robertson's and the James Dobson's...

"Four years ago today, my son Jack was born – two days before the war began. I always know how long this awful war has gone on.

The war in Iraq is personal for me. It’s personal for you too, or you wouldn’t be here tonight.

It’s personal for the families and loved ones of the more than 3,200 American soldiers who have lost the precious gift of life. The stories I hear every day on the radio and TV break my heart. They are so young to die, and it is so unnecessary. When I look at my son and celebrate his birthday, I think of all the children whose fathers or mothers won’t be coming back from the war to celebrate theirs.

It’s personal for the tens of thousands of service men and women who have lost their limbs or their mental and emotional health, and who now feel abandoned and mistreated.

It’s personal for all the Iraqis who have lost their loved ones, as many as hundreds of thousands. What would it be like to wait in line at morgues to check dead bodies, desperately hoping that you don’t recognize someone you love? I can only imagine. And when I look at my son, I think of all the Iraqi children who will never celebrate another birthday.

This isn’t just political; it’s personal for millions of us now. And for all of us here tonight, the war in Iraq is actually more than personal – it has become a matter of faith.

By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. This war, from a Christian point of view, is morally wrong – and was from the very start. It cannot be justified with either the teaching of Jesus Christ or the criteria of St. Augustine’s just war. It simply doesn’t pass either test, and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities – this war is also an offense against God.

........I believe it will take faith to end this war. It will take prayer to end it. It will take a mobilization of the faith community to end it – to change the political climate, to change the wind. It will take a revolution of love to end it, because this endless war in Iraq is based ultimately on fear, and Jesus says that only perfect love will cast out fear.

So tonight we say, as people of faith................that the deep fear that has paralyzed the conscience of this nation, which has caused us to become the kind of people that we are not called to be, that has allowed us to tolerate violations of our most basic values, and that has perpetuated an endless cycle of violence and counter-violence must be exorcised as the demon it is – this fear must be cast out!

..........Ironically, this war has often been cloaked in the name and symbols of our faith, confused American imperial designs with God’s purposes, and tragically discredited Christian faith around the world, having so tied it to flawed American behavior and agendas. Millions of people around the world sadly believe this is a Christian war. So as people of faith, let us say tonight to our brothers and sisters around the world, and as clearly as we can – America is not the hope of the earth and the light of the world, Jesus Christ is! And it is his way that we follow, and not the flawed path of our nation’s leaders who prosecute this war. As an evangelical Christian, I must say that the war in Iraq has hindered the cause of Christ...............

Let’s march tonight, as Dr. Martin Luther King told us in another magnificent house of worship 40 years ago this spring, to "rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter-but beautiful-struggle for a new world."

.........And all of this must be wrapped in the power of prayer. Because we believe that God can still work miracles in and through our prayers – and that prayer followed by action can turn valleys of despair into mountains of hope. God has acted before in history and we believe that God will act again through us. Tonight we leave this Cathedral humbly hoping to be God’s instruments of peace and the earthly agents of the kingdom of God......................"

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bruce Cockburn Concert Review

My son and I went to hear and see Bruce Cockburn last night at the Barrymore. I realized I’ve been listening to him for over half my 50 years. His album “Stealing Fire” nursed me through a deep depression back in the 80’s. When I traveled to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace in ’87, Bruce had blazed a trail for me with music about HIS travels in Nicaragua just a couple years before.

Last night, when he came out on stage, he seemed somewhat subdued compared to the other half-dozen times I’ve seen him. He looked….old. He even cracked some wry jokes about it, as if he was self-conscious about aging, about putting on a few pounds (haven’t we all…). He started with an old song “last Night of the World” and flipped back and forth after that from his newest album “Life’s Short, Call Now” and older material such as his signature tune, “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, much to my son’s delight. He reminded me that he is a very skilled guitarist, showing off his acoustic prowess on a very intense, riveting instrumental and a wistful instrumental version of “Crazy”. (I guess it’s always sort of a wistful song……).

Of course, he showed his activist side with the standard and unfortunately still-relevant “They Call It Democracy” and a newer song called “Tell the Universe”, an ode to George W. Bush, asking him to “tell the world what he’s done” in Iraq, with his “blood-stained shoes, and his Texas grin”.

I needed some inspiration and got it. He’s definitely one of my heroes. I hope to grow old(er) like him. Always paying attention to events, being passionate, and speaking out.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Broken Toes and a Cold

Went to see the podiatrist today. He said I had stress fractures in two toes on my left foot. No wonder it hurt so much. I don’t remember any trauma. Woke up a month ago and could barely walk. My foot swelled up. Went to see my doctor who looked at it and said it’s not gout and it’s not broken. He didn’t take an X ray. I did tell him that I strained the flexor tendons in my toes at the YMCA in December, but that it had felt better with time. So he gave me the name of a podiatrist. I got in to see him today. He felt the foot, said he’d bet I had a stress fracture and let’s take some X rays. One toe had a hairline fracture; the other looked as though someone had dropped a safe on it. Multiple fragments. I asked him why it had been bad in December with the initial injury, felt much better, then one morning I woke up and couldn’t walk. He said the toes may have been damaged in December, even fractured, then like a weakened steel pipe, finally given way on that morning a month ago. Hmmmmmm. So now I’m wearing this giant Frankenstein “air cast” for three weeks. It’s not painful. Anymore. I wish the doctor would have taken an X ray a month ago, but that’s water under the dam. Oh, and I have a cold.

But I do have potable water, food, health care, shelter, heat, a job, insurance, a son who loves me, lots of wonderful friends. Guess I have it pretty easy. A lot to be grateful about. As my mom would say, “time to count your blessings”. Excuse me while I blow my nose.......

Badgers Lost!!!!

The Badgers lost to THE Ohio State University yesterday in men’s basketball in the championship game of the Big Ten Conference tournament. They’d played Ohio State twice before this year and the games had been close, intense struggles, with each team winning on its home court. Yesterday, the Badgers got behind early and couldn’t quite close the gap, although they made some runs. After their last run fell short in the second half, the Buckeyes made a couple of “dagger” baskets and you could see the Badgers just sag with exhaustion. Well, one thing that’s nice about sports is that there is usually a second chance. That second chance is the NCAA tournament. The Badgers are up against Texas A and M (what exactly does the M stand for?). So, time to get some rest and have another go.

I'm serious, what DOES the M in 'A and M' stand for??

Saturday, March 10, 2007

More than just the "King of Calypso"

Belafonte's fires undimmed at 80
By Stephen Evans
BBC News, New York
(note: this is a summary of an interview I heard of Belafonte on the BBC tonight. I was very moved)

Harry Belafonte at 80 has a real story to tell. He remembers, for example, a barely known political hopeful turning up at his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. John F Kennedy, who was trying to become the Democratic candidate for the presidency, wanted advice and endorsement from the biggest black star in showbusiness.

Nearly half a century on, Belafonte sits in an easy chair and reflects on the meeting: "I listened to him and I refused to endorse him, telling him that his best bet was that he should begin to seek out more details of our struggle and who our leaders were and begin to talk to them rather than just seeking to talk to celebrities." He advised JFK to seek out Martin Luther King, then a young activist preacher in Montgomery, Alabama. "He hardly knew who Dr King was. That pointed out to me that he was really distant from our struggle."

But Kennedy listened and learned, and made contact with the black leader. In a tight election, the black vote split 70:30 Kennedy's way, enough to tip the finest balance.

Under JFK and then Lyndon B Johnson , Belafonte was Dr King's conduit to Washington, and also the financial provider at crucial moments, particularly when the civil rights leader had been jailed and needed to be bailed out. He also provided support at a cataclysmic moment that Dr King would never live to appreciate. Belafonte took out life insurance on his friend to ensure the family's financial stability after any assassination.
"I saw the threats on his life and decided to take out insurance on his life for his family's benefit so that if anything happened to him they would not be economically destitute".

Belafonte's mentor was Paul Robeson, the great American singer who, according to Belafonte, was politically energised when he met a group of Welsh miners picketing in London in 1928. When Robeson was blacklisted and had his passport taken away by the American authorities, Belafonte paid for a transatlantic link for him to sing to the National Eisteddfod of the South Wales miners' union. According to Belafonte, Robeson's advice was "Get them to sing your song and they'll want to know who you are".

It was advice well taken. In 1956 Belafonte recorded Calypso, which became the first album to sell more than a million copies. Even today, who can't sing its trade-mark "Daay-oh"?

Fame led to television, which brought its own challenges. He did it on his terms, refusing to do shows which were uneasy about blacks and whites appearing together.
When Petula Clark touched his hand on her primetime show in 1968, the sponsors - Plymouth automobile company - wanted the shot cut. As he remembers: "That touch on the hand wasn't just a white hand on a black hand it was a white female hand on a black male hand and that touches the deepest sensibilities of racist thinking.

"So when Petula Clark in this innocent moment reached out and touched my hand, it was rather a very friendly thing. Nothing was overt or implied by that touch other than a moment of friendly joy".

Belafonte and Clark refused to cut the shot, which became a seminal moment in American television, indeed in American life.

He also jolted America when he had his own show, Tonight with Belafonte and chose to invite a string of guests with whom white America was not quite at ease, including Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jnr, both of whom offended hard-line white opinion.

Harry Belafonte at 80 still has a righteous, burning anger. After all, close friends of his have been killed for their beliefs. But has nothing changed, I asked him?

"A lot has changed. I can sit here in New York and talk with you, people of two different races, which when I was born there were laws that prohibited such associations.

"But if you talk about racism it's far from over. The evils of racism are as commanding as ever".

He dismisses the appointment of Condoleezza Rice and before her, Colin Powell, to positions of genuine power in George W Bush's administration. He has described them as "house slaves", and doesn't feel their presence has helped his cause in any way.
"He puts them there in the service of power. They are quite powerless - powerless - powerless," he says. "They are extensions of George W Bush, Condoleezza Rice is revered nowhere. She has influence over a nothingness." Does she not make even one millimetre of difference, I asked. "She makes a difference for the worse," Belafonte replied

Harry Belafonte, despite the rhetoric, does not come over like an ideologue but as a man with righteous anger. He's open to argument. His mind remains alert and curious. Intelligence, curiosity and openness to argument shine out. He's up for disagreement and debate.

So, is he hopeful?

"I'm very optimistic. That is the only basis on which I can get up every day. If I were not, I'd have long since gone.

"I'd have either drunk myself to death or shot myself full of heroin or something to try to numb the pain that is so prevalent in so many places in the world.

"But I see promise. I see promise in the human family. I see promise in human beings. I see promise even in white folks," he says, emitting a loud, warm laugh to this particular white folk.

Stephen Evans interviewing Harry Belafonte at 80 can be heard as follows:

Radio 4: Archive Hour: Saturday 10 March 2000GMT
World Service: The Interview: Saturday 10 Mar 0730GMT, repeated Sunday 11 March 1130, 1630 & 2330GMT
Online: via programme links on right hand side of page above.

E-mail this to a friend Printable version

Quaker Book Review

Listening Spirituality, Volume 1: Personal Spiritual Practices Among Friends
Written by Patricia Loring

This book literally sat on my shelf for two years, gathering dust. I picked it up several times, meaning to read it, but didn’t get too far, putting it down each time. About six months ago, I picked it up once again, and “got it”. I started reading and couldn’t stop.

This volume is a rich source of ideas Friends can use to come closer to God. Loring discusses methods various Friends utilize to center, to quiet the mind so they can hear the voice of God in Meeting for Worship and in “times of retirement”. She advocates setting aside these “times of retirement”, a time each day for spiritual reflection and offers many ideas for friends to try during (and outside) that time. She borrows ideas from a variety of traditions and frequently points out that not all Friends will be comfortable with the particular idea, but that she’s offering it to us. Each chapter has extensive reference lists for more detailed reading as well as “exercises” to enable the reader to explore some of the ideas if they choose.

One of the most important parts of the book for me is the chapter called “Personal Practices Which Embody and Support Listening Faithfulness to God in the Outer Life”. In other words, how do we bring these spiritual practices into our hectic lives filled with bills, mortgages, medical expenses, piano recitals, soccer games, etc? And how do we bring these practices into our Quaker Meeting life, where there is so much important work to do, leading some to feel overwhelmed, burned out. Life seems so busy; it’s hard to get a breath. How do we apply Quaker values to this outer life? Loring speaks of this as “outer practice”.

“Because this outer practice is undefined, it often is not recognized as spiritual practice. In Quaker spirituality, it has been seen as the true fruit of the inner life with God. We reach toward God and are returned to this world changed, to embody or incarnate the Divine Spirit for others in our own faltering, fallible, flawed ways.”

She speaks specifically to our work in the Quaker Meeting and elsewhere:

“So often we can be seduced into an activity simply because there does not seem to be anyone else to do it or no one else is stepping forward. Before we leap into the breach, we need to question whether the task is really necessary or whether it is satisfying some need in ourselves: avoidance of quiet, perfectionism, desire to be thought well of, need to take charge and create solutions, etc. If the task is, in fact necessary and we move too soon to take it up, we may actually hinder someone else’s laggard appreciation of the fact that the task is actually his work to do or her learning experience. We may short-circuit some elaborate unfolding of events headed for another outcome----and add to our own burdens and possible resentments into the bargain”

I encounter this myself in the form of a “should” or wanting to be a “good Quaker”, leading sometimes, I’ll admit, to some resentment. Loring writes:

“Our resentment may also be a sign that undertaking this task is not ours to do. It may be a sign that this undertaking is keeping us from something that is, in fact, ours to do.”

So what to do, what tasks to take on? One final quote from the book:

“In Quaker spirituality, the central issue is always, ‘Where is the Spirit leading you?’ If God sets before us every day the choice of Life and Death and says, ‘Choose Life!’ (Deut. 30:19-20), where is the Life?”
I’ve read this book in little tasty morsels over the last few months, sometimes at the start of Meeting to help me become “present” so I can hear God. Sometimes I read it when I’m feeling spiritual pain or confusion. I suggest that Friends give this book a try. It has been used for spiritual exploration groups and could accompany any spiritual journey. We can learn a great deal from other spiritual traditions, while remaining faithful to Quaker values.

Loring has written a second volume entitled: “Listening Spirituality ,Volume 2: Corporate Spiritual Practice Among Friends”. I can guarantee that this volume will NOT be gathering dust on my shelves!

Reviewed by poodledoc

Monday, March 5, 2007

This is Baghdad

I just picked up the new Bruce Cockburn album, Life Short, Call Now. I really like it. My son and I are going to hear him at the Barrymore on March 15. I shamelessly admit to being a groupy! I've seen him 8 or 9 times over the years. I'm thrilled that my 12 year old son loves Bruce and what his songs have to say. Our concert reviews are coming after the 15th. This is a song off the album, called "This is Baghdad"

Everything's broken in the birthplace of law
As Generation Two tries on his tragic flaw
America's might under desert sun
I saw her frightened eyes behind the muzzle of her gun

Uranium dust and the smell of decay
Sewage in the street where the kids run and play
Not enough morphine and not enough gauze
Firefight in darkness like snapping of jaws

This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad

You couldn't see the blast-the morning was bright-
But some radiant energy flared up into the light
Like the sky throwing its hands up in a horrified dismay
Or the souls of the dead as they sped on their way

Carbombed and carjacked and kidnapped and shot
How do you like it, this freedom we brought
We packed all the ordnance but the thing we forgot
Was a plan in case it didn't turn out quite like we thought

This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad
This is Baghdad