Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Dear John Rutter,

Last night we sat in church as it became Christmas. And our little church choir, which is really quite dedicated and good, sang your Candlelight Carol. It was lovely and I wanted to tell you so.

How do you capture
The wind on the water?
How do you count all the stars in the sky?
How can you measure
The love of a mother
Or how can you write down
A baby’s first cry?

Candlelight, angel-light
Firelight and star glow
Shine on his cradle till breaking of dawn
Gloria, Gloria in excelsis Deo!
Angels are singing
The Christ child is born.

Shepherds and wise men
Will kneel and adore him
Seraphim round him their vigil will keep
Nations proclaim him
Their Lord and their Saviour
But Mary will hold him
And sing him to sleep.

Find him at Bethlehem laid in a manger
Christ our Redeemer asleep in the hay
Godhead incarnate and hope of salvation
A child with his mother
That first Christmas Day.

--John Rutter

And as I sat listening in a little church in Loudon, TN, people all over the world like these singers in London, England, singing your carol in Chinese, were celebrating light and life through the birth of Jesus and what we can see because of the light he brought.

"In Him was life, and that life was the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not comprehended it. . . The true light that gives light to everyone has come into the world." John 1.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Dear Jesus,

On the First Sunday of Advent we heard these words read in church;
"With each new candle that is lighted, may the flame of Christ's coming grow brighter and brighter so that this Christmas may see a fresh coming of the Lord of Light into each of our hearts and into the whole world."

The Fourth Sunday of Advent we emerge from our awed and horrible silence and begin the celebration. Twelve days of celebration. On Sunday, or maybe we'll wait until Christmas Eve, we light the Christ Candle. The light of the candle at the front of a church in the morning is barely visible.

T.S. Eliot expresses an idea, though. . . and my dark self hears it before I'm swept into the light of Christmas Day. . . we need darkness to reveal the light. If we are to study, not the things that light exposes but the light itself, it must be dark.

Dark reveals the light.

In Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral he puts these words in the voices of a chorus in the last scene while a Te Deum is being sung in the background.

"We praise Thee, O God, for Thy glory displayed in all the creatures of the earth, . . . For all things exist only as seen by Thee, only as known by Thee, all things exist Only in Thy light, and Thy glory is declared even in that which denies Thee; the darkness declares the glory of light."

(For you lovers of Eliot, I know there are many other passages of this flavor that I could quote, but this is the one I found most quickly. Survey: What is your favorite light/dark quote from Eliot?)

Eliot poses a hard idea. It is hard for us scrubbers and sweepers of Canterbury, and Morgantown, and Knoxville, and Chicago, and Cut Off, and Oneonta, whose backs are bent by toil and whose knees are bent under sin, whose hands are to the face under fear. We live in a glow-starved world and we long for the dawn. It is hard to embrace the darkness that you have given us as our gift at Christmas, topped with only a tiny flame of light.

Star of the East, oh Bethlehem star,
Guiding us on to heaven afar
Sorrow and grief and lull'd by the light
Thou hope of each mortal, in death's lonely night

Fearless and tranquil, we look up to Thee
Knowing thou beam'st through eternity
Help us to follow where Thou still dost guide
Pilgrims of earth so wise

Star of the East, thou hope of the soul
While round us here the dark billows roll
Lead us from sin to glory afar
Thou star of the East, thou sweet Bethlehem's star

Star of the East, oh Bethlehem's star,
What tho' the storms of grief gather loud
Faithful and pure thy rays beam to save
And bright o'er the grave

Smile of a Saviour are mirror'd in Thee
Glimpses of Heav'n in thy light we see
Guide us still onward to that blessed shore
After earth toil is o'er

Star of the East, thou hope of the soul
Oh star that leads to God above
Whose rays are peace and joy and love
Watch o'er us still till life hath ceased
Beam on, bright star, sweet Bethlehem star

This is a song that is another of my strong Christmas memories. My mother practiced it once a year, at Christmas, picking out chords and melodies that slightly exceeded her normal-level piano-playing capabilities. And she sang it with whoever would join her in front of the cherry spinet. It is a song that echoes the understandings of Eliot.

"Forgive us, O Lord, we acknowledge ourselves as type of the common person, Of the men and women who shut the door and sit by the fire; Who fear the blessing of God, the loneliness of the night of God, the surrender required, the deprivation inflicted; Who fear the injustice of men less than the justice of God; Who fear the hand at the window, the fire in the thatch, the fist in the tavern, the push into the canal, Less than we fear the love of God. Christ, have mercy upon us."
So, this last Sunday, before the celebration begins, I'm reminded by you and Eliot, and Stanislaus de Lubienietski-1666 artist of the comet, and the unknown composer of an old carol of the darkness that reveals the light. Jesus, have mercy.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

A New Carol for an Old City

Christmas 2007
by Jim Burklo

O little town of Bethlehem
A wall thee now divides
Above thy concertina wire
The silent stars go by
Beyond the wall the soldiers
Aim rifles toward the sky
Militias roaming streets inside
Ignore the baby's cry

The settlements and suicides
Injustice, greed and hate,
O little town, you seem to drown
In tears for your hapless fate
But hear the choir of angels
Their great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Dead dogma burdens Bethlehem
With grudges from the past
Muslims, Jews, and Christians, too
Say their claims are the last
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

The baby's voice is calling us
To Bethlehem again,
Where walls divide may grace abide
Forgiveness enter in
The morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises ring, for Love we sing
And peace to all on earth!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Part II--The Third Sunday of Advent--Night Visitors

Dear Gustav Dore, T.S. Eliot, and Gian Carlo Mennotti,

Our imaginations are set in our child's hood by this and that. Christmas, the premier Christian holiday holds much in my mind that is set already by what Dicken's would call Christmas Past. For me that "set" includes a Swedish Lodge, a house and Christmas Eve on 13th St., Rye Bread and Egg Salad. . .

It also includes my grandmother playing an old upright piano and singing carols, including one of my personal favorites, "We Three Kings." I liked that one, maybe because it was more like a ditty than a hymn, transferable in a moment to a ridiculous picture of men with crowns smoking rubber cigars. But it includes more serious settings too.

Gustav, your image is magical, depicting not a lonely troop of three, but a traveling carnival with not three camels, but a cavalry of them. This magic is part of my memory too.

Journey of the Magi
by T.S. Eliot

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Eliot, your Magi are more like the ones I remember from my first experience of opera. I watched Gian Carlo's classic presentation of Amahl and the Night Visitors on television. I must have seen it around 1955 on a black and white tv with a screen not bigger than a small computer monitor. The enchantment of the story, the singing, and the three kings set my musical ear for a love of opera. Though the clip pictured below (click here) doesn't include the kings, but only Amahl and his mother, it does demonstrate some of the magic of that performance and what for me is a precious and early Christmas remembrance.

Thanks for all these memories.


Friday, December 14, 2007

The Third Sunday of Advent - Part I - And Wise Men from the East

Dear Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar,

I received my first wise man card of the year yesterday. It is a nice one, fortunately, for it is that one which we must look at every day all year long above our doorframe. I didn't learn that tradition from my family, but from my mother-in-law, stepmother of my husband.

She was an odd duck. She lived by the grudge, holding fast to wrongs, real or imagined, committed against her by family members one-by-one. Were you related to her, Melchior, she might have found the perfume you presented too strong a scent and spitefully chosen, the myrrh a redundant gift (after all she just got plenty of frankincense) and, the cash, Kaspar, not quite enough.

But, lo, the grudge, formed predictably and nursed diligently, would disappear arbitrarily and in preparation for her attentions to be drawn to another hapless member of the family whose actions or non-actions were drawn into her focus.

Mom D was also a hospitable woman, a good friend to certain people, and the woman to whom we attribute the salvation of my husband's father from the clutches of Jack Daniels, so she remains ever sweet in our memories. And we think of her fondly at Christmas, wishing she were here for one last party, but she is gone now and did not go without the histrionics she found or created in life with her consecutive grudges. Her last Christmas was spent in California with her son, and on her return flight, she passed . . . not silently, not calmly, not hushed, but with drama and to do somewhere above Albuquerque.

But that is not exactly what I had started to say in this letter. I meant to talk about my family, for they are the ones for whom your names are most beloved. Each year they wait with bated breath for the gifts they might receive from Kaspar, Melchior, or the tasteful Balthasar.

But, perhaps, I must explain. My family gift tradition was most established by my paternal grandfather. He died at age 93 and apart from that last year (which was not completely pretty), he was a quiet, hard working, non-dramatic person. He made false teeth for a living, which, for those of you who cannot readily conceptualize the process, is a bit of art in porcelein and wax. It is accompanied by a memorable odor that is acrid and, for me, poignant. I say it is an art, because the final false product must adequately mimic the former teeth of the detoothelated patient. There is, and I have some knowledge of this, nothing more hideous than poorly sculpted false teeth.

So this man, my grandfather, sat day by day for 65 or 70 years, excepting when he was serving in Europe during World War I, artfully and quietly creating the future mouths of people across central Pennsylvania. But at Christmas, his quiet art was transformed into the chief entertainment of our Christmas afternoons. For his holiday preparation included writing poems for each of his children, their spouses, the grandchildren, and whoever else might be seated around the great dining room table. His poetry was always creative and funny and personal. It was also always signed with a flair. . .from "Old Nicky Boy," from "Old Jelly Belly," etc.

From this heritage I hail and so, when my children became old enough to read gift tags, I wished to somehow mimic the sense of Christmas art that Pap R had so generously demonstrated. I dispensed with the poems, but always chose some Christmas character from whom the gift was given. To wit, my children each year wait for the best gifts, the very special ones, chosen with love and particularity, which come from Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.

Thanks for always being part of our Christmas.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Second Sunday of Advent

Dear King Wenceslaus,

When is it that a hush falls over the crowd?
In anticipation?

In awe and respect?

In loving recognition that silence is better than noise?

In horror?

Christian liturgy that tells us that in advent it is a time for quiet and waiting. We light candles one by one and the flickering glow should speak for us. We are in joyful anticipation of the Coming. O Come, O Come, Emanuel. And we, in our most childish of spirits, anticipate Christmas and all it's wondrous surprises and kindnesses which spring from the spirit you so beautifully demonstrated in your actions there in Bohemia in the early 900's on the feast of Stephen.

And the incarnation is awe inspiring. Uneducated shepherds, watching their flocks by night knew that much. But does it take a choir of the heavenly host to make us mum, or does the idea alone, that God, the ultimate instigator of existing, would assume human bodily form and could be found on earth in the most primitive of neonatal units, a manger. That should shut us up.

And does the love shown forth in the coming of the progeny of God, who so loved this world full of pitiful creatures that he extended a channel by which our offerings of belief might become eternal, bring us to rightful silence? Does it take the very need for words away? I think so.

Horror, yes, and there is horror hidden in the quiet of advent and horror is part and parcel of all that Christianity is. The horror is at our own inadequacy, sometimes called sin. But, we call it horrible and it leaves us dumbstruck whenever we see it under our own skins. This is perhaps the greatest of the reasons that we wait in quiet for Christmas. This is when the ice of our own goodnesses breaks under the weight of our own lack of pity. We are left shivering in icy horror hoping to find someone whose warm footprints can lead us home.

I think it is horror more than anthing that drives us back to the silent night, that holy night when shepherds and angels and tongue-tied folk like you and me shshed ourselves so the little Lord Jesus could sleep.

May Your Days of Quiet be Blessed,


Monday, December 03, 2007

First Sunday of Advent

Dear Gustave Dore,

It is Advent and I am back to browsing through your delicious book of woodcuts, The Dore Bible Illustrations. Today I was quite taken by the one entitled The Annunciation. The part I liked best was the face of Mary. The angel had just said, "Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favour with God," but her eyes and body language are not reacting to that but to the enormous shimmering astro-being hovering above. Favour, she is saying to herself, does not come in this flavor.

Surely, this must be a mistake.

Annunciation. What an announcement!

Lately, my husband and I have been talking about cadavers. Morbid, yes, but I'm considering a surgery on my knee that may demand the cooperation of one, so we are looking into the subject. I'm looking because as one medical source says, the current situation is "not always sufficient, and may lead to recurrent episodes of instability--a sensation that the knee may 'give out.'" So to rectify this, one might 'harvest' the patellar tendon of a cadaver, or something, and put it into the knee in question. That would be my left knee. Conversations have arisen in our daily lives about such applications of the harvested parts of cadavers. One, with a young school secretary informed us that "Sometim's they replace those with the whole bones of a conniver!" Well, that was enough for me. Bad enough to get the tissue of a cadaver, but a conniving cadaver is too much.

Words do get mixed up. And so does the word annunciation. Tracking this one down I got bounced to another work of art under the description the Enunciation of Mary by El Greco. I guess that means that El Greco's angel took more time describing exactly how this favor thing might play out. Mary seems a bit more receptive to the idea here, her arms open and eyes less skeptical.

Not to blame Gabriel though, either way, just announced or fully enunciated, the news carried a double edge and I don't doubt that Mary took some time getting used to the idea.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Let's, Indeed, Get This Party Started

Dear Pink,

I have been enjoying a rendition of your already famous song, Let's Get The Party Started. And, as you might imagine, I am struggling over the existential nature of the lyrics. Our vocalist, Anne GG, with her associates, Early GG and Margaret GG, have well interpreted the pathos, I think.

I'm coming up so you better get this party started
I'm coming up so you better get this party started

[Here immediately, we see the plight of the self, searching to affirm that there can be no, never be no party starting, unless that self comes up. And of course it begins with "up" not down. We don't hear the artist say that the integrated self goes down, hence starting the party, but up. That is a clever trick you pull right here at the beginning.]

Get this party started,
on a saturday night,
everybody's waiting for me to arrive
Sending out the message to all of my friends
we'll be looking flashy in my Mercedes Benz
I got lots of style with my gold diamond rings
I can go for miles if you know what I mean

["If you know what I mean." Friends, of course we know, our hearts pump with the rhythm of this desperate cry for release from the materialism of the age that equates the essence of the "me" we are waiting for with the arrival of gaudy, insubstantial replacements, a.k.a. a Mercedes Benz, gold, and diamonds. We surely do know what you mean, Pink my friend. You have sent us that message and we understand.]

I'm coming up so you better get this party started
I'm coming up so you better get this party started

Pumpin up the volume,
breaking down to the beat
cruisin' through the west side
I'll be checkin' the scene
Boulevard is freaking as I'm coming fast
I'll be burning rubber,
you'll be kissin my ass
Pull up to the bumper get out of the car
License plate says
Number One Superstar

[The heartbreak of this realization, that the present experience of soulishness is so very fleeting--"Boulevard is freaking as I'm coming fast," "burning rubber," et al--is pronounced here and particularly in this rendition of the song. Our 15 minutes of, not just fame, Number One Superstar, but existence at all, symbolized with the kiss of death and, of course the picture of the Gates of Hades itself, "Pull up to the bumper get out of the car," creates or, perhaps, reveals a rising angst that cannot be overstated.]

I'm coming up so you better get this party started
I'm coming up so you better get this party started

(get this party started)

Making my connection as I enter the room
everybody is chillin'

[Funeral parloresque, we see not just the self in this existential predicament, but everybody facing the same chillin' dilemna!]

as I set up the groove
Pumpin up the volume
with this brand new beat
everybody's dancin'
and they're dancin' for me
I'm the operator
you can call anytime
I'll be your connection to
the party line

[Finally, we see the Danse Macabre begin,

and our selves face the dance of death, not with the elegance we had hoped for, but a new uncertain beat, hammering. We turn in hopes of finding salvation from the other dancers, but see that they are all dancin' for me, with the only connection busy, because it is, after all a "party" line.]

I'm coming up so you better get this party started
I'm coming up so you better get this party started
I'm coming up so you better get this party started
I'm coming up so you better get this party started

(get this party started)

(ooooh, get this party started right now)

(get this party started)

(get this party started, right now)

[Ending, of course, not with a bang, but a whimper.]

You have certainly "brought us down" with this one!



Monday, November 19, 2007

Survey: Do Raccoons Like Cheese Nips?

The question being investigated in this blog is one that has plagued the minds of humans since the rise of the raccoon in the United States and Germany.

Do Raccoons like Cheese Nips? And, if so, what brand do they prefer?

Some visual evidence is presented below.

However, other evidence is available. One female from British Columbia reports that:
"The raccoons came and took food from my hand with their weird hands and I had the squirrels climbing up my LEG to come get cheese nips."

Another Canadian (from Quebec) named Ross indicates that his research points to the fact that raccoons prefer American brand cheese nips.

A raccoon by the name of Higgins, who keeps a journal of these things, has reportedly been somewhat hostile when presented with cheese and nips.

If you do not believe the veracity of this research, please, check it for yourself. It is on the internet!

Any further evidence would be greatly appreciated.

brd (Wildlife Investigator)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Art Museum of Western Virginia

Dear Art and Architecture Lovers,

I was driving down the road in Roanoke, Va., minding my own business, just trying to find the Wonju exit so I could go see my dear friend from West Virginia days. Then, wow, I wanted to drive right off the road and see what was going on!

This my friends is the visual definition of supercalifragalisticexpialidocious. (sp?) I did not, due to the rush of traffic and an equivalent acceleration of good sense jump the concrete banister and land like a bundle of dropped groceries on Market Street, but I did, after a brief consort on Colonial Ave., demand a tour of the downtown construction.

I was photographically unarmed and disappointedly so. However, I have since discovered that both the city itself and other travelers have made the imagery quite available. The city has set up a delightful web cam, delivering desktop updates at intervals. I have set the one linked to my shortcut at 10 seconds so I can watch constructioneers do specific tasks and can be a traffic voyeur.

The source of a great tour, though, is Jennifer's Picasa site. She was obviously as enamoured as I was but armed, and with a photo weapon and skill unavailable to me anyway. Her site has a goodly number of tours, from New York City to Robin's wedding, but this one is stellar.

If you visit the web site of The Art Museum of Western Virginia, you will find that: "The Art Museum’s new 81,000 square foot facility has been designed by emerging Los Angeles architect Randall Stout, principal of Randall Stout Architects, Inc. and an internationally admired proponent of sustainable “green” architecture. The building is a dramatic composition of flowing, layered forms in steel, patinated zinc and high performance glass that pay sculptural tribute to the famous mountains that provide the city’s backdrop and shape the region's spirit. The new facility will be constructed on Salem Avenue, between Market Street and Williamson Road, at one of the most visible intersections in downtown Roanoke."

If you visit the web site of Randall Stout Architects, you'll find that the group is: "Known for its evocative design aesthetic, Randall Stout Architects consistently challenges architectural conventions, while transforming light, shadow, form and material into dynamic architecture." For those of Tennessee connection, they also designed Hunter Museum in Chattanooga.

Did I ever tell you that in my next life I want to be an architect?


Friday, November 09, 2007

Analogies, Metaphors, and Typos

Dear Editors,

We are an odd breed. We care about the delicacies of spelling, grammar, and usage. Why? We don't know. It has something to do with our mothers and our second grade teacher I think.

My mother is a founding member of WIGS. That is the acronym for the Word Improvement Game Society. She and her best friend spend hours discussing the proper pronunciation of the word naive and whether the word adroit should be given full scoring credit in Boggle because it is closely derived from French.

No wonder I edit. I am still working through linguistic psychological neuroses developed in childhood, like the impulse to correct extraneous punctuation, bipolar adjectival disorder, and psychotic run-on delusions marked by paragraph anhedonia and feelings of excessive adverbial depression, accompanied by a lump in the throat and frequency of urination.

And no wonder we suffer. From the typographical error to the surfeit of metaphor, our lives are crowded with that which needs to be corrected.

For instance, who was responsible for editing the government publication delivered to private schools in the State of West Virginia, a bulletin for: "Non-Pubic Schools." Or, who could have interceded for that college freshman whose biographical paragraph claimed that: "In high school I was a baseball."

The following collection of analogies and metaphors from high school essays cry for red pen. I just cry.

—Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

—He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

—She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

—She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

—Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

—He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

—The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

—The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

—From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

—Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

—John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

—He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.

—He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

—The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

—He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

—It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.



Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Our Raccoon Friends

Important Update, with medium level believability due to bluriness of photo. A fox came to visit last night!!! I think we'll name him Xerox, no, Zerox.

Dear Zorro,

We are sorry you are no longer around. I fear the worst, but am glad I have not seen any raccoon tails flying from the bicycle bars of biking children or the from the seats of bandana bedecked motorcyclists in the neighborhood.

How nice that your son or daughter takes after you in friendliness and spirit. We call her/him Zero.

The mom and sibling are still around too, but a bit shyer, though they will pose for quick snaps.

Missing you,

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Survey: What Should I Do in Budapest?

*Note: Results of My Tour Posted Here!!!

Dear Experienced Traveler,

I am finally doing it. I'm going with my husband to Budapest. My husband has been to Budapest and it's environs (i.e. little places in Central Europe) many times. Every time he has said, "Please come with me." I have never said, "Wow, yes!"

"What is wrong with you?" you say. And that is the question I put to myself. What is wrong with me? Why haven't I started packing my bags at the very opportunity, throwing financial responsibilities and well tended calendars to the winds, and climbed aboard the appropriate jumbo jet headed for Budapest Ferihegy International. I finally admitted the dirty truth. I'm a scared traveler. I don't want to go anywhere. I don't want to pack my bags and decide in advance what I will be wearing on Day 6. I don't want to get lost in a major metropolitan airport where no one speaks English as their heart language (although I have been to Memphis).

I don't want to think about comfortable walking shoes or what if I get a deep cut in the bathroom while shaving in a foreign city, I don't want to decide who to ask to feed the animals while I'm gone or how to change dollars into fandangos or whatever money they use over there. These are scary things for me.

However, it is wrong for me to be this scared little self. I know it is wrong and I loved it when my husband forced me onto the plane to go to London and Paris. So perhaps I will love it when I go to Budapest.

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was scared like this. I didn't want to have a human subset grow inside me. My only hope in that situation was advanced knowledge, so I got a book by Lennart Nilsson, called A Child is Born and read. The description might scare those of you who do not have children and do not want to. . . as well as the accompanying high resolution photographs. A blurb like, "Nilsson zooms in on sperm racing towards the egg, the brand-new zygote, the embryo clinging to the lining of the uterus, a tadpole-like fetus and the remarkably developed ear of a 18-week old fetus, among other moments in the process of human reproduction," is not necessarily comforting to someone whose breath has been knocked out of them by the news that they are impregnated. However, for me, knowledge is always curative, and by the time I'd reach the last picture in A Child is Born, I was ready to pant-pant-breathe.

So I'm hoping that is what will happen here. If I just learn enough about Buda + Pesh, maybe I'll be able to appreciate the glow of the sun on the Danube. I mean, that castle is pretty cool!

When I went to Paris, I studied. I read at least six travel books, studied pictures and maps. I had a list of 100 places to see in Paris (in 5 days.) I divided the city up into sectors and started each morning at the farthest point, coming back toward the hotel through tourist spots like the grave of Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, the Louvre, the Big Thumb Statue by the Grande Arche, and so forth.

I can do this!

So, survey is. . . what are the best sites to see in Budapest? I need your help. We leave in February and I'm just on my first travel guide!


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Read Classic Literature: #5 of Ten Things for a Young Person to Do

Dear Stevie,

#5 is read classic literature. We talked about this, I know, but how can I write #6 here without including #5. So, let me 'splain, no, there is too much, let me sum up.

When I was your age, I think that I missed an opportunity. I did some good things and I read some good things, but I missed some good things too. I read non-fiction. Your father warned me. "Why don't you read fiction?" he said. I failed to heed his warning for quite a while, but he was right.

So, I pass along to you this recommendation. Read fiction, but read good fiction. And I'm not quite sure how one might define that. I think it must be different for different people. I think it should be fun but not necessarily easy. I think you should train your reading eyes with books that are recognized by many as classics. However, when you look at the lists of 100 best books of all time, of which there are many, you will be surprised that they are each horrifyingly unique, which can only mean that no one agrees about "best" in books.

Random House
NY Times

Here are my ten starter novels and maybe I'm saying they are my ten starter authors. They are not top ten because I don't think I know the top ten yet.

Adam Bede by George Eliot
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hamlet by Shakespeare
The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
The Plague by Albert Camus
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Father Sergius by Leo Tolstoy

You might say, "hey there, ho there, this is more than ten!" But one is a play and one is a short story, so I can get away with it. I would include The Living by Annie Dillard, but her best writing really falls into the non-fiction category.

So, that's it.

MOM aka brd

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lost in the Cosmos

Dear Walker Percy,

The Wall Street Journal (says the book jacket of the edition of Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book that I am reading) was quoted as proposing that this book is “one of Percy’s best books.” Of course who are we to believe the strange quotations that camp out on the frontispieces and such of paperbacks? One of the best of your books? Well, maybe if they mean one of the top twelve of your books. How many books did you write?

I’m not sure if it’s a very good book. It’s a good title. I feel lost in the cosmos half the time, don’t you? And what a hope it raises. This could be the last self-help book I may ever need. A-a-ah!

But it rambles about with your tongue in its cheek, not really trying to be helpful at all. I’m wondering though, what were you trying to talk about, really? Certainly it is a repetition of material found in your other books. You talk about knowing or not knowing ourselves, transcendence, sex, religion, the uniqueness of humans and human language, being screwed up, being alone and lonely, and how we are desperately seeking others and ourselves, or perhaps desperately trying not to seek ourselves.

It is interesting that while talking with others about this non-fiction book, which, hypothetically is not subject to the veil that covers fiction, we constantly looked to your fiction for disclosure of the words of this text. When we talked about the “unformulability” of ourselves, we looked to Will Barrett in The Last Gentleman. When we consider sex and the sexual eroticism that permeates contemporary life, we look to Lancelot.

But there is much to be considered in this book, and I did appreciate it. The one thing it confirms for me is an idea that I feared might be true, the little helpful concept that you dropped into my lap and that I will doubtless forget in my own hopeful treks through the universe, is that I cannot know myself. As you mused, “Why it is possible to learn more in ten minutes about the Crab Nebula in Taurus, which is 6,000 light-years away, than you presently know about yourself, even though you’ve been stuck with yourself all your life.” Your targeted example is that of the horoscope reader who finds accidentally that she has read the entry for Aries when really seeking for Gemini. Before realizing her mistake, the reader says, “Hm, quite true.” Then having identified the proper column of information, she likewise nods and agrees, “I’m like that.”

Shall we ever come to know ourselves, if you are correct in identifying that we are wandering about the Cosmos like ghosts of ourselves without any idea what we are really like? (Might we, perhaps, rely on the imaging that only a friend in community can provide?) Or as Brock Eide points out, you are fond of quoting Kierkegaard…something like, “The self can only know itself as it stands transparently before God.” Perhaps that is the apparitional way we can come to know ourselves.

A friend who blogs at Pretty Fakes, talks about the temptations of Halloween, the one day in which we are permitted to openly live our masked lives. But maybe it is not a masked life we are living. Maybe we are simply living who we might be, unable to know, but taking a stab at it. Today, I am Gemini. Tomorrow Capricorn. You say in Love in the Ruins, when “a person has so abstracted himself from himself and from the world around him, seeing things as theories and himself as a shadow. . . he cannot, so to speak, reenter the lovely ordinary world. Instead he orbits the earth and himself. Such a person, and there are millions, is destined to haunt the human condition like the Flying Dutchman.”

You might know, that I love The Flying Dutchman. I saw a wonderful production of the opera in Knoxville, of all places, a few years ago. Wagner’s bent to the dark is interesting, but this is one of his works in which it is love that triumphs in redemptive majesty. It carries a bit of the high-minded that is present in the immolation scene of Brunnhilde from Gotterdammerung. Brunnhilde knows that sacrificial love alone has the infinite power to over come the bitter and brutal of life. The Dutchman is trying to find this. His ghostly, glowing ship sails under a curse that it shall never reach it’s destination until the end of the world. Wagner adds a modifier to the curse. The curse will be broken should the captain find true love.

Your conclusion of Lost Cosmos is a confused tangle of sci-fi, religio-sexual speculation. Oh dear, and so filled with sexism I could barely stand it. (You didn’t exactly get feminism did you? But you are in very good company there.) No one in your book seems able to love or find love. You seem to miss the qualifier that Wagner finds. Love can make a difference. There is a redemptive quality to love. Not sex though. That is beside the point. (Not non-existent, but beside.) You seem to be unable to break through there. Perhaps it is your low view of women that prevents you from finding the mirror you need in a loving relationship. Your female characters are always real pasty. Did you know that some women are real? But now I’m rambling.

So, may I know myself? No, not completely, not clearly, hardly at all perhaps. But it is the quest I am on for life. Your perceptions may serve me, i.e. your book leads to my self-help in knowing myself. And it is in clarity of the seeking mind, that I would continue this quest, with a healthy dose of standing as transparently as possible before God. Yet I think that it is in well-developed, mutually respectful love relationships that we can best find our reflection, our possibility for a glimmer of seeing and understanding ourselves.

That vision of a higher level of relationship is present in your books in relationships between men to some degree. And you allow for that in relation to God. Unfortunately, you seem to miss it in terms of its possibility within heterosexual relationships. And it is here that your ship, whether it is the Dutchman or the starship Copernicus 4, sinks off the cape of good hope.

I’m thinking I’d best return to your fiction.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Fighting Polio in 1952 Part III

Dear March of Dimes,

This is just a word of thanks for what you did for my sister back in 1952. My mother has, see March on Polio photo above, worked out her own thanks over the course of many years. In fact at 87 years old, this is the first year since 1952 that she has not volunteered to collect money for your organization in her neighborhood. In the 50’s era photo here, she acted as city of Altoona chairperson.

I found this photo last week as I rummaged through old photos and memories at my home place. My childhood room is pine-paneled with plenty of dark brown knots that for years, in my imagination, transformed themselves into the eyes and pointy nose of a fox or the snout and furry ears of a bear cub as I fell asleep to the lullaby traffic of 25th Avenue. There are small pullaway eave doors in that room through which we access storage compartments. There I found a treasure trove of pictures, clippings, and other precious paraphernalia.

At any rate among all that stuff, I found the pictures and clippings for this and the last “polio post.” How our distant past rises sometimes? For my sister, it rises when she notices a weakness that might be attributable to Post Polio Syndrome. For me, it is a reminder that this old mother of mine was transformed in her early marriage and early mothering by the Herculean challenge of fighting, for her child, a disease that struck fear in hearts.

And, dear March of Dimes, they fought successfully because of you and the work you did then. So thank you for the dollars you invested, not just in research that eventually resulted in a highly successful and universally used polio vaccine, but for the dollars that paid for an enormous hospital bill and the treatment that saved my sister from the crippling power of polio.


The text of the article pictured below follows.

Debbie Rupe Successfully Conquers Germ

The shocking words, “Your daughter has been moved to the polio ward for treatment” brought the first realization to Mrs. Jack Rupe of Altoona that three year old Debbie had become number 31 of the polio cases admitted to the Altoona hospital during 1952.

It was early in September when Debbie’s usual sunny disposition began to undergo a change. She became cranky during the day and wakeful at night. Though her mother treated her for her sore throat Debbie was too young to explain how she really felt. When it became obvious that it was an effort for her to sit up and that she didn’t want to stand on her feet, she was admitted to the hospital for observation. In time came the frightening words dreaded by every parent.

That evening, filled with worry and apprehension, Mr. and Mrs. Rupe visited the polio ward to talk with Miss Mardell Gunsallus, supervisor of the department. Since Debbie was in isolation they could do no more than look in at her from the door of the room. They found the nurse’s words reassuring. Even more of a relief was the sight of other youngsters, playing cheerfully in their beds, obviously getting the best and friendliest of care.

On their next visit the Rupes found that Debbie had been joined in the isolation room by Denny Fortney, three and one-half, of Mount Union. It was the beginning of a friendship destined to last even after both had been discharged from the hospital. Tears which began to flow as Debbie’s mother and dad prepared to leave were stopped when Denny offered her his treasured music box.

Weeks passed as Debbie went through the polio ward’s routine of hot packs, stretching exercise and lessons in walking. It was found that she was one of the lucky ones who suffered a general weakness of the limbs rather than any definite paralysis.

November 18 was the happy day when her parents were notified that Debbie was ready to be discharged from the hospital. She was walking proudly but she was reluctant to take leave of Denny, her playmate of the past seven weeks. Denny, on his part, was to miss his “diri fren” during his remaining weeks in the ward.

Jack Rupe was fortunate enough to have hospital insurance which covered part of the bill for Debbie’s care, but the remainder was still a heavy burden since polio is a most expensive illness to treat.

In an interview with Roy Thompson, chairman of the Blair county chapter of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, he learned that the March of Dimes money not only equips and staffs the polio ward, but also pays for patient care when needed.

The American people give annually to the March of Dimes to assure that no one stricken with the disease will go without adequate medical and hospital care for lack of funds. Each year thousands of these same people suddenly find that they are the recipients of this aid.

PS--Want to Donate?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fighting Polio in 1952 Part II

Dear Deb,

I'm glad that the outcome of this fight, was, for all of us, so good.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Fighting Polio in 1952

Occasionally I have submitted posts here that were not written by me. The last one, on social security has become, hands down, the second most popular of all my posts. My post today is a letter written to me by my mother, answering the question, "What do you remember about fighting polio in 1952?" As you read her answer, which is a mix of medical, emotional, spiritual, and other personal memories, you will find the story line. She refers a number of times to my medical fight for my daughter that was against a different enemy, leukemia. Mother's fight, on behalf of my older sister was against the most dreaded enemy of the early 50's, polio.

Dear Betsy,

I didn't forget about your letter asking about our memories of Debby's polio experience. I'll try to write down what I remember and how we felt.

In those days when more and more people were being attacked by the disease, we parents were frightened-especially in the summer. No one really knew how it was spread, but there was a feat it might be from swimming pools-even children's little pools. We learned the symptoms, one of which was that the back got stiff.

Debby was suffering from a sore throat. Our pediatrician was on vacation or something and we took her to another one. He did not detect anything serious. Debby didn't improve. One night she woke up crying. I went to her crib, noticed that she did not sit straight up, but turned over and got up on her knees. I carried her to the bathroom and put her down on her feet and she cried in pain. I knew there was something seriously wrong.

Next morning we took her to our pediatrician, dear Dr. Keagy. He put her on the table and when he tried to lift her upper body, she was stiffer than normal-a scary sign. I said, "Is it polio?" He said, "That's a possibility."

Jack took her directly to the hospital and I walked up to the lab-about a block away-carrying you. You were about nine months old. This was in September-somehow the 17th is in my mind as the date-September of 1952.

Debby was put in the pediatrics department for a week-in isolation. We weren't allowed in the room. We could look at her from the hall. She was able to walk around her crib. They were not sure yet if it was polio. Something they called radiclia-neurinitis (as I remember it) was suspected. Bob Deuel at the time said, "Be glad it was not that."

In a week Dr. Keagy and the doctor in charge of polio admitted her to the polio ward in the basement of the hospital. There were probably eight or nine patients-at least one on an iron lung and two little tots, Debby and a little boy called "Yummy." They competed for the use of the little tricycle.

Debby never became paralyzed, praise the Lord, but she had weakness in her back and right leg and trouble walking.

The treatment they used was the Sister Kenny treatments with the hot packs. Debby hated that. We never saw her get the treatments. We were only permitted to visit two times a week-I think it was Wednesday night and Sunday. We saw her an extra day on Saturday at the YMCA when they took the patients to exercise in the pool there. The Rotary Club members worked with the patients in the pool. Then they showed them a movie and gave them hot dogs. We were so thankful for the time with Debby.

She was in the hospital from September until just before Thanksgiving. I have a vague recollection of our going to the Thanksgiving service at Calvary although we did not attend Calvary at the time.

We had a list of exercises we had to have her do for some time. She hated them.

When we took her back to Dr. Keagy for a checkup, Jack asked him what we owed him. He said, "To see her walk is all the pay I wanted." We had no health insurance at that time, as far as I remember. The expenses at the hospital were paid entirely by the Polio Foundation.

When Debby was diagnosed, our friends who had children were very concerned because it was considered to be very contagious. Soon they came out wit a treatment called Gamma Globulin. I think they use it for measles. I started working with the Polio Foundation to raise funds, etc. I remember one day our ladies with the Polio group were invited for tea at the governor's house in Harrisburg. Then the wonderful Salk vaccine was discovered. What a blessing. We were very thankful for the treatment at the hospital and for Dr. Hull who gave his time for those patients. They would bring musicians and clowns and other entertainment in on the days we could visit.

They were scary days and we feared that Debby might become a cripple. We prayed earnestly that that would not happen to her. We kept pleading with the Lord. I remember that one day, as Jack and I prayed together, we were able to say to the Lord that if she became crippled, it was all right. We quit striving, and the Lord gave us peace about it. Praise Him, we never had to see her become paralyzed or crippled.

I have memories of giving Debby her exercises in our little living room in the 28th Avenue home, sometimes with grandparents watching and little Betsy watching from her playpen. I hope we didn't neglect you when Debby needed so much attention.

We didn't have to see Deb go through such painful treatment as Diane did. And her recovery did not take so very long. I don't remember her suffering pain after the beginning and I don't know if she was given any medication.

Years later, when Deb was an adult, I first read about Post-Polio-Syndrome. That was frightening to me-thinking it might come back. I know a young woman who suffers quite a bit with PPS. Deb seems to be doing quite well. She says she sometimes minds it when she is very tired-limps a little.

We have been richly blessed in both Debby's and Diane's lives and recovery. Thank you Lord.

NJR aka Mother

Friday, October 05, 2007

Item 4 Peoples is Peoples

Dear Steve, with a special thanks to Dave (who couldn't bowl too well) and Walker Percy,

I do not have to tell you this, yet I was reminded of it during a book study with your old buddy, metaphorically known here as Forest Old-Rambler-Model. We are looking at the book Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy. In it there is a section that talks about how a characteristic of some people is to sense that they are transcendent, that they can understand others but others cannot understand them.

Now, I can't say for sure that I "transcend" the text enough to know what Walker Percy is trying to say, but I do remember an incident from my life when I was your age. I went bowling with a man, perhaps now I would call him a boy. We went bowling. I bowled better than he did. That rankled him. I suppose, in that era, I was expected to gutter a few so that the male of the species in this coupling could crow and strut, et al. However, this post is not about feminism. It is about human dynamic. The incident was enough to make this guy say what was on his mind about me. He told me, "You are so proud and think that you are better than everyone else."

I received that blow full-face. What? Who was this punk? I understood his kind. He didn't even make good grades in school. I had consented to go bowling with him, not because I was interested in him, but because I was being nice to him. I transcended him, didn't I? And did he appreciate it? "NO." He insulted me.

There are some things, some events, even hurtful ones, that a person takes and ponders, and keeps tenderly, respectfully in one's heart. For me, this was such an event. I don't know if I have ever verbalized what happened that night to anyone before. I was ashamed. I still am, for I still fall prey to the tendency described by Percy in his book. We stop listening to other people. We put them in a box of our own imaginings, thinking that we transcend them, and we no longer hear what they are saying, pay attention to what they are doing, or are willing, on the basis of input from a relationship with another human revelator--or as Percy might call them, co-namer, co-sustainer, co-discoverer, co-sign-user of our world--change ourselves on the basis of information they can provide.

I don't have to tell you this, because you have not stopped listening to other people. That is one of your special gifts. Perhaps it is what makes you an effective leader. You are a bit like Kermit. Willing to hear and willing to change and willing to lead. We need Peoples like you in our world. Not listening, not being open to others is a form of pride, and it makes leaders unfit to lead.

In contrast to people who practice transcendency, I think about the life and teaching of Henri Nouwen. Here are a couple of comments from his books,
“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing... not healing, not curing... that is a friend who cares.”
Nouwen lived pretty incarnationally, and the older he got the more he lived that way. I think that is a good way to live.

Tell you what is, "There's tomatoes huh, there's peoples, there's dancing, there's music, there's peoples. So, peoples is peoples." I know that helps a lot.

MOM aka brd

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ten Most Important Studies for a Young Person (Items 2 and 3)

Dear Stevie,

As I said in my last post, you asked me to suggest some important works for you to study in this, your first year out of school. You have studied hard already, through high school, college, grad school, and of course all those athletic trials. Now you are free. Free not to "NOT study," but free to study what you choose.

I was very touched that you asked me what I thought would be good for you to study. And I have been thinking alot about what I wanted to recommend. I am working on a list of ten suggestions in no particular order.

One. Read your Bible as a disciplined regular practice. See last post!

Two. America in the King Years, An historical trilogy studying the period between 1954 and 1968.

The introduction to the third volumne of Taylor Branch's Pulitzer prize winning study of America in the King years begins with these words.

"Non-violence is an orphan among democratic ideas. It has nearly vanished from public discourse even though the most basic element of free government, the vote, has no other meaning. Every ballot is a piece of non-violence signifying hard won consent to raise politics above fire power and bloody conquest. . . But the whole architecture of representative democracy springs from the handiwork of non-violence."

Your heart is already filled with the kinds of thinking about issues of justice that make me proud. This history will just fill in some important information that will help you understand our world, what it was, what it is, and what it should become in relation to class and race. The books center around Martin Luther King, Jr. but really cover all the main action of the Civil Rights Era.

Three. Get a solid foundation for understanding classical music. I have used a metaphor at times which has been offensive for some people. And I may be all wrong. The metaphor is this. Popular music is like eating McDonald's hamburgers. Everybody likes them. They are easy to get. They are cheap. Classical music is like a fine steak. They aren't always available, and when they are, they are expensive. The taste is more refined, but oh so much better than a Big Mac. And it is true that not everybody likes classical music, but my opinion is that it is lack of education and understanding that blocks their appreciation. I would hate to see you miss the depth and delight of classical music.

Here is where you should start, as I said in a post, some time ago, the lectures of Robert Greenberg, entitled, How to Listen to and Understand Great Music. This is about 40 hours of listening, so it is a large undertaking. I did it while driving to and fro to work. and it is done best in chunks. Listen to lectures, which include large portions of great musical works as samples, then check out some CDs from the library that are from the periods he is teaching about and listen to them. The Greenberg Lectures are pretty standard fare at public library audio sections.

OK. That is three. Enough for now. I will post again soon.


MOM aka brd

Monday, October 01, 2007

Read Your Bible, Pray Every Day

Dear Son,

Quite a while ago I promised to give you a list of the ten most important things that you should do in your first year of freedom. What is important to do? What is important to know?

I have thought about that for a while and hardly know where to start. I have several unfinished postings that talk about different things, literature, music, justice. But yesterday during the church service that I was attending, I realized where I should begin. You will, perhaps find this to be a repeat of what you have heard over the years, what you have heard from your grandmother. It is, however, the number one thing I have to suggest of all the things I might say.

Let me start with the "New Testament reading of the day" from the 17th Sunday after Pentecost.

1Tim 6:6 (NRSV) Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;

7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;

8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.

12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pon'tius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you

14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

15 which he will bring about at the right time--he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords.

16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share,

19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

It was that last phrase, "Life that really is life," that most captured my imagination. Where in our world do we find much active talk about finding life that really is life. Where do we hear teaching about the importance of doing good over the importance of getting rich. All about us from billboards to movies, from sitcoms to malls, from the internet to ball field scoreboards, hucksters are telling us what to buy, what material goods to want, what gusto to grab. Few are the messages that we receive that say, stop. Riches and goods are not the summum bonum.

However, you will find that as regular fare in the Bible. Your palette is whetted with words like, "Be ye kind, one to another."
"I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."

"Real joy."

"Let him who glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practice kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth."

So #1 on my list of ten things to do this year echos the old children's song, "Read your Bible, pray every day, and you'll grow, grow, grow." You won't grow into some predetermined ideal. You'll grow into you, and the you who is conscious of the life that can be lived above or beyond the surface of a society carefully constructed with Madison Avenue paper mache and glitter. You won't find the answers to every question that will arise in the course of living, but you will find direction and hope and good.

Invest in this discipline.

MOM aka brd

Friday, September 28, 2007

Petitions Requesting Intervention and Change


Dear Governor Blanco,

I am writing to request your intervention into a situation of great injustice taking place in Jena, LA.

Dear District Attorney Reed Walters,

It is your duty to enforce the law fairly and equally. Your handling of the case of "the Jena Six," your disinterest in pursuing the multiple instances of white-on-black violence that preceded the beating of Justin Barker, and your threats to Black students protesting the presence of nooses on their campus, have been neither fair nor equal.




is a site for petitions to Governor Blanco and District Attorney Reed Walters. The site is supported by Color of Change, an organization set up in the wake of the Katrina disaster. There are other petitions around including one suggested by Collateral News on YouTube, where there is a rather good video from last summer to summarize the case up to that point.

Here is the latest from Collateral News.

Notice that this footage ends, not in Jena, but in Philadelphia, PA, (the skyline and murals of that city) and with the reminder that this is not a Southern issue. This is a national issue. It is time we make our national institutions: schools, courts, and workplaces, safe for our young black men and women.

Jena 6 Defense Committee
PO Box 2798,
Jena, LA 71342

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Free the Jena 6

Jena 6, a photo story © Michael David Murphy, 2007
This video was made with audio, video, photographs, and scans of court documents on June 25, 2007, in Jena, Louisiana

Dear United States of America,

A boy remains in jail today:

Bell remains in jail pending a possible appeal by prosecutors, a situation that activist Rev. Al Sharpton hopes will be addressed in a scheduled meeting Wednesday with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

The world is watching:

More than 20,000 people converged on the small town of Jena last week to protest the case, and Sharpton said those non-violent protests may increase if Bell is not released quickly.
"We started with a mass demonstration, and then next step would be non-violent civil disobedience," Sharpton said.

The issue is equal justice under the law:

"We are not fighting for black kids that beat up white kids. We're talking about the disparity in how the law works," the New York-based activist said, adding that he still expects the local county prosecutor who brought the charges to be called to testify before Congress.

My thoughts:

Our system of justice must be tended, guarded, protected, from injustice, hatred, and racism. Incidents like these cannot be allowed to slide by. For the sake of future, our peace and our moral selves, we must not allow Jena, LA, or Decatur, TN, (where there is still a sign in the local diner that says, "We have the right to serve whoever we choose") to step outside the bounds of civil rights laws that have been won with the blood of some of the finest and bravest human beings of our collective memory.

Let's not forget.


The Jena 6 and the Little Rock 9

Dear Jena 6,

I don't know where to start, exactly. But I know where not to start—silently. I don't know exactly what to say—but I will say something. I know that issues are rarely completely clear—but that doesn't mean that they aren't clear enough.

Fifty years ago, before you kids were born, and before I was old enough to have to care, because I was white and living in Pennsylvania in a town with a fairly small black population, nine children like you risked their lives, before the nation and the national guard, to grasp a piece of justice, a shard of dream, a handhold of education. Little Rock has changed over the years. Click to the high school web site and you'll see that they proudly list the nine graduates as featured alumni.

But things in the United States have not changed enough over those 50 years. I am ashamed for us. I am ashamed for what that lack of change has meant for you. Media, from across the United States has begun to cover the case of the Jena 6. Here is a link to a Chicago Tribune article and below is a quote from a Christian Science Monitor article:

"The story of the Jena 6 is long and filled with stunning details. The basic points are these: In the predominantly white town of Jena, La., white students hung three nooses last September after black students sat under a schoolyard tree where white students normally congregated. The white students were suspended for three days. After black students protested peacefully, the La Salle Parish district attorney threatened them, saying, "I can make your life go away with a stroke of a pen." Eventually there was a schoolyard fight in which a white student was beaten; he was treated for a concussion and multiple bruises. Although the student was well enough to attend a school function the same evening, six black boys between the ages of 15 and 17 were arrested, five of whom were charged as adults with attempted murder and conspiracy. The sixth student was charged as a juvenile.

"Some in mainstream America may think that blacks feel vindicated or satisfied by tales of racism such as this one, since America often lives in denial about racism and racial inequality. On the contrary, for black Americans to hear of the Jena 6 is to feel as though the color has been washed out of our lives, that we are suddenly watching ourselves in grainy black-and-white footage of the Jim Crow South. Our vulnerabilities are laid bare before all the world; a school fight can cost our children their lives, and it can happen without America giving so much as a second look. "

I am also ashamed that I have not raised my voice enough, or loudly enough to say "No!" to the injustices and racisms in this world and in our land, and in my town, and in your town. I raised no voice in 1957 when 9 students did something to change the lives of everyone in the United States for the good. I know better now. My voice is a rather small voice, I warn you, but I will raise my voice now, on your behalf.

Free the Jena 6.

My prayers are with you,


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Survey Says! Gumby!

And Pokey!

Pokey is fine!


Monday, September 17, 2007

Another Who is this man? Survey or Do you really think I resemble a clay figure?

Dear Art Clokey (Click for need-to-know information.),

As a long time fan of Davey and Goliath and the shy masked man below, I was not offended when some of my college friends were sure that I resembled this green clay figure so strongly that they nicknamed me "________"!

I think it's the eyes. Somehow the likeness is pretty striking. As they say, it's a zen-like quality.

But I remember Davey and Goliath. That, my friend, was real television! I'll bet you look back and say, "Those were the good old days."

And they were. I think that Davey and his Philestinian pup came onscreen Sunday mornings right before the Oral Roberts Hour. Roberts, he too in black and white, preached, and offered healing. He would stretch his hand, palm out to the TV camera and offer a healing touch to those of us in TVland. I would often match my small hand to his, or on even better days, I would pull out my Winky Dink drawing screen and trace around the wide fingers of Roberts for a more permanent impression.

Nick Parks and company have taken up the mantle that you threw down as far as claymation is concerned, but still, those were the days. Plus, I think I would rather look like "_______" than either Wallace or Gromit.

Though I do like the looks of this Brazilian fellow from Creature Comforts.

Betsy or should I say, "________"

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stencil Street Art

Dear Banksy,

I know that you are the king of street art. I suppose that is not a good analogy. You are the Picasso of street art. Better? And I must say, your work is incredible. But I have to also say that Knoxville, TN, has it's own, umh.mh.mh, DaVinci of cinder block and mortar.

I don't know if he has a street name, and I surely won't tell who he is! But our entire office has enjoyed a form of art survey based on his work that can be found between 5th and Gay on King St. A French photographer (Jacques Gautreau) came to our locale to snap some shots and an image of the image ended up in this little rag we've got called the Metro Pulse. At any rate, for me it was an opportunity for a survey, so I hung it up in the office kitchen. See questions, responses and clues below. (Article here.)

Click here for a great image!

Close-up of stencil image.


I never claimed to be an existentialist,
Though my books and thoughts may seem absurd. Rebellion gained me being as a perquisite,
That titled me a thinker, which I vehemently preferred.

Now, I personally was surprised that no one actually succeeded in guessing the ID of this fellow, even with my highly obvious clue.

I have enjoyed the other forms of street art floating about, including yours.

Some other nice examples are here, (if you like to look at the work of the street competition.) As a bookish person, though, I like this experience. The Street Book. Talk about reading on your way to work. This beats all.

Is this really the future of the book?

Go here to read the end of the story!

At any rate. I love your stuff and I love having a local street artist too. It's like living next door to an art museum, isn't it?


P.S. Who is that man?

Josh (in comments) was obviously right and submitted this suggested image with cigarette to clarify!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Beloved Israel

Dear Josh,

In a recent post comment you raised a good question for those of us who live in a place where we cannot see Israel with our own eyes and for those of us who are very much in favor of a place for Israel on our globe. Those of us who hate oppression of any kind, I think, have warm and tender feelings for the people group which has, through history, received the most cruel treatment—the children of Israel.

I would not, for a minute, wish ill for the nation of Israel. In fact, it is for that very reason that I responded when my Jewish friends who are involved in the organization Women in Black asked me to join them in weekly "protests" calling for peace with justice in Palestine. One of those Jewish friends recently tried to visit Israel and Palestine, but she was refused entrance because, on her itinerary, it stated that she wished to visit areas in the West Bank that are in crisis. These areas have come to be known as "occupied areas." The Longstreths, a husband/wife medical team from San Diego did make that visit this past summer. The following link takes you to a description of what they observed.

Here is another piece written by Seth Freedman in the Jerusalem Post.

When I say that I wish no ill for Israel, that does include my belief that the worst ill is doing evil, not being the recipient of evil. It is terrible to be oppressed. It is worse to be an oppressor. It is terrible to be victimized. It is worse to be a victimizer.

Palestinians include both Christian and Muslim individuals. Most of the Palestinians I know here in Knoxville are Christians. Some are Muslim. Both groups are equally oppressed in Palestine. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women here are working together for the same goal. Peace with Justice in Palestine.

As I think of this, my mind randomly jumps to two things. One is Psalm 137. It is not the words of this Psalm that are "dead on," but the emotion.

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How shall we sing the Lord's song
in a foreign land?

Palestinian, Jew, American, Muslim, Josh, Betsy--we all can sing this song when we are tormented or far from home. Humans understand this sentiment.

I am reminded, too, of the book I finished last night. The End by Lemony Snicket. Yes, I have finished the last book of the Series of Unfortunate Events, the sad tale of the Baudelaire children. I am fascinated by this study of good and evil written for the 12 year old crowd. As this book points out, the world is a complicated place and one does not do noble things without doing a fair share of treacherous ones. That is certainly happening in Israel. I pray that the leaders of the government there will become more self aware, introspective, and realize that they are investing in too much treachery and too little nobility in relation to the Palestinian population. If they do not, they will find that though they are in The Lord's land, the timbre of the lyres will be sour indeed.