driving past the graveyard
on snow swept lanes
invisible you along for the ride
my monologue a travelogue
of murderous celebrities
and crashing planes
monster clowns, a suicide
and other spectacular
attractions of the roadside
interrupted by the bright thoughtlight
that nothing is more serene
than lily lying in a sunbeam
chasing rabbits in a dream
driving past the graveyard
A friend asked me what it means to love thy neighbor.
She is a librarian, and let me begin by saying that I love librarians; sitting above me now is my painting of Hypatia of Alexandria. Librarians are guardians of civilization and this role will not diminish regardless of how many gigabytes can dance on the head of a googlecloud; no AI can replace the capability of a human mind to process and cata-organize information. Most importantly, no AI can replace the conscience of a librarian; this is why tyrants loathe and fear librarians at least as much as they do teachers, artists, authors, actors and scientists.
For the most part, Jesus taught in parables, but when we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves the message is a direct commandment that brooks no argument; nor does it exist in a vacuum. It was not just something that popped out of His mouth after a day of fishing with the boys. He was in Jerusalem on Holy Tuesday where He was teaching in the Temple to the crowd; He begins with the Parable of the Wicked Tenants which is a warning to the Priests and Elders who are watching and clearly want to have Him arrested on the spot but they are afraid of the crowd and so they leave and send the Pharisees and Herodians to argue with Him in the hope that they can trip Him up in front of the crowd. They fail by instead setting Him up for the ‘Render unto Caesar’ line that leaves them ‘amazed’. Then the Sadducees try to get metaphysical by asking about how many husbands a resurrected woman could have but He informs them that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses is the God of the living, not the dead, and that they are gravely mistaken in their thinking.
I like to think of the scribe in the story as a Temple librarian who saw how well Jesus was answering all of these challenges and simply asks Him what is the most important commandment. To this Jesus answers the first commandment is to love God and His exact phrase is a perfect merge of passages from Deuteronomy and Leviticus; then Jesus adds a second commandment of His own which is to love our neighbors as ourselves. This revolutionary synthesis so impressed the scribe that he not only agreed on the first point but said that the second one was more important than any sacrifices or burnt offerings; Jesus told the scribe that he was getting close to the Kingdom of God. After that, there were no more questions. His admonition for us to love our neighbors was in every sense the summation and distillation of His message.
I think that was the moment when Jesus sealed His doom with the Priests and Elders; even though they would charge Him with breaking the Sabbath it was when the scribe agreed that loving each other was more important than making burnt sacrifices that was completely unacceptable to them. Loving thy neighbor remains the most radical and difficult aspect of Christianity for Christians to face; consider how LGBT people are treated by contemporary Christians or how so many of the righteous in Missouri cheered on the police in Ferguson. Think of how all of the people with Jesus bumper stickers feel about people with ebola or children from Guatemala showing up at our borders. Wonder at how many Christians embrace Ayn Rand’s exhortations to selfishness or decry feeding the hungry or healing the sick. Jesus Christ was tortured to death because He could convincingly argue that we should all love each other; today Christians make torturous arguments to find ways to convince themselves that Jesus wasn’t really that serious about it.
I’ve put this together piecemeal over the past week, adding a sentence here and rewriting another there; I think about this commandment often and am challenged by it every day. For example, when I see the people who call themselves Christians act more like Pharisees and Romans than anything else it is difficult to love them. It is difficult to love the KKK and the other racists that are threatening the people of Ferguson. It is difficult to love people who are cruel to children and impatient with the handicapped. It is difficult to love selfish people. It is difficult to love stubborn and willfully ignorant people who would rather shout and shove than listen and think. It is difficult to love people who want others dead because they don’t like who they love. It is difficult to love people who would value their own fevered egos over the wisdom and compassion of the greatest teachers humanity has known; however, it is those teachers who demand that we find the wisdom and compassion that will allow us to love these most unlovable people around us.
I’m sorry my response to you this morning was so brief and thoughtless. It’s not an excuse, but I was in the middle of something at the Clown Factory and could not drop it.
I’m sorry I used the phrase ‘terrible mercy’. I meant so much more; but now that I have all of this space and time I am speechless.
I am turning 45 tomorrow. Halfway to 90. You have been one of my closest friends for 26 years since I met you in 1988. We regard each other as family and my sorrow is deep as I think of the horror and grief yours is experiencing now. I wish I had some meaningful words of comfort beyond the obvious I love yous.
Life is not fair; it is finite and arbitrary. When I was twenty I laughed when They Might Be Giants sang, ‘Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful’. I heard it for the first time in years a few months ago and I didn’t laugh; it gave me chills.
All I can tell you is to be brave and strong because even if you are not it will still happen anyway; be honest with it, look it in the face and don’t be afraid to laugh at it. Even now as the orbit becomes an inevitable spiral never lose faith because faith never meant that it wasn’t going to happen but rather the opposite; faith is hoping while knowing we are all on a conveyor belt to the furnace. Faith is accepting that death is the stamp that gives our lives meaning; we only have so many days and hours to be in the world and no lifetime is enough for anyone. Even Lazarus had to go back down eventually.
Dave McKinney resigns from the Sun-Times.
This is heartbreaking for me because I have long loved the Sun-Times and loathe that the the editorial board and owners have more care and concern for Bruce Rauner than the people of the city I love.
It’s Sunday night around eleven. I just started the shuffle of the pair of new Prince albums with ‘U Know’. It starts sinuous and sparse and blows up into big lush beauty. I’ve been living in these records for a week and they have been so good for my newpower soul; I have been one of the two million people who have bought every Prince album for over thirty years now and these are crazy amazing, the gold standard, indeed. I got the digital copies last Saturday and the discs came in the mail on Wednesday; I brought them over to Wendy’s to play for her but her computer doesn’t have a disc drive that could play a CD.
Thirty years ago Lara gave me ‘Purple Rain’ for Christmas on cassette and we played it at New Years in Paul’s yard on a boombox while we had a snowball fight. These albums address the distance between these moments in various ways including the artwork; the cover of ‘Art Official Age’ features Prince standing in front of what are clear vinyl lp’s from his Paisley Park label and the inside cover reverses the colors and replaces the lp’s with binary code. Time may be my favorite song as well as the theme that runs through both records. ‘Art Official Age’ looks forward to a timeless future and is linked by a loose concept that the Artist has awoken after 45 years in suspended animation; in this it is reminiscent of albums such as ‘Ƭ̵̬̊’ or the Gold Experience and provides opportunity for trippy operatic melodrama that cocoons very powerful personal expression such as ‘Way Back Home’ which evoked tears from me. ‘Art Official Age’ is a great modern r&b record in the same vein as ‘Controversy’; slick yet soulful with distinctly baroque production and melodic funk as sweet as it is nasty that has themes that embrace the spiritual and carnal with equal passion.
When I was fifteen my mom took my double cassette of ‘Controversy’/Dirty Mind’ and hid it because she heard ‘Sister’ from the ‘Dirty Mind’ side leaking out of my headphones. ‘Dirty Mind’ was a brilliant punk funk rock record that was a bunch of demos recorded while on tour and was as raw as ‘Controversy’ was sleek. Recorded without overdubs with 3rdEyeGirl, ‘Plectrum Electrum’ is is to ‘Dirty Mind’ as ‘Art Official Age’ is to ‘Controversy’ or any of the other gemini pairings that can be found throughout his career; the song FUNKNROLL shows up on both records in different forms, reminiscent of how ‘When 2 Are In Love’ tied together The Black Album and Lovesexy. While Prince can play the studio like an instrument, he is also the best bandleader of his age and 3rdEyeGirl is as great a band as he has ever assembled. He is generous with letting them shine and takes advantage of their vocal gifts. If you don’t enjoy Prince, I don’t know why you’re still reading this so I’ll just pretend you’re not; the rest of you, buy them both and shuffle them up and let them be your background for a bit. Let them soak in like a bubble bath where you keep your pants on, savor them with the exquisite taste of 100% Italian silk, imported Egyptian lace, wear them like Cynthia Rose’s happy face.
the aether reeks of ozone
& is sparking
crackling & thrumming
with dangerous potential
seeking to escape;
invisible fields winding
themselves into tightly
spiraled coils of probability
spinning karmic flywheels;
unseen beneath & behind
closer it comes
inevitable & unstoppable;
may we pass unnoticed.