Category Archives: Writing

From a Detail in “Warrior”, by Gordon R. Dickson

That man sounds like some cheap gangster

Faking up the public anger

Necessary when a coward

Has a killing to move forward

But can’t find the guts within him

In cold blood to kill his victim

So his fear of looking foolish

After threats both wild and stupid

Gives the shove he needs to do what

Worse men do more easily.

So there’s that

For consolation, once destruction

Runs its course:

It could have been worse.

The Hermit of Walden Pond Meets the Sage of Tuscumbia, Alabama

This morning in church, the responsive reading from Singing the Living Tradition was #660–just six short!–“Why should we live in such a hurry and waste of life?” from Henry David Thoreau. I do and did respond.

The call: “I do not wish to live what is not life, living is so dear,”

The response: “Nor do I wish to practice resignation, unless it is quite necessary.”

President “That Guy” Knows What He Is Doing

Don’t lie to yourself. That Guy knows exactly what he’s doing.

Yesterday, about the attempted bombings:

Any acts or threats of political violence are an attack on democracy itself.

The day before, about a Republican congressman who assaulted a reporter:

Any guy who can do a bodyslam, he’s my kinda guy.

And then he acted out the bodyslam. Don’t lie to yourself. That Guy knows exactly what he’s doing.

CNN President Jeff Zucker Has Failed In The Current Crisis

After yesterday’s attempted bombing of CNN headquarters, CNN president Jeff Zucker issued this statement:

There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media. The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.

That statement is a serious, possibly fatal, failure of journalistic standards. Why?

CNN and the press has been strict about not calling false statements from “The President and the White House Press Secretary” lies, on the grounds they don’t know the state of mind of a person making a statement, that they usually can’t know a false statement is a lie.

A liar has to know he’s lying in order to tell a lie. A false statement made in good faith, or even in ignorance, is not a lie. Depending on the circumstances, it is something else: A false statement, a negligent act, an irresponsible statement, but not a lie.

The time my boss told me I was getting a raise, and his boss make him take it back? While the expression is “made him a liar”, and while he was rightly chagrined at going back on his word, that is not a lie. He told what he believed to be the truth. He was not a liar.

(I still hold a grudge over that, as much over my boss getting jerked around by his boss as over losing my tiny cost of living raise.)

So read this again:

There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media. The President, and especially the White House Press Secretary, should understand their words matter. Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.

That is an example of Jeff Zucker assuming he knows the state of mind of “The President and the White House Press Secretary”. He assumes they don’t understand what they are doing. He is assuming he knows their state of mind, which he does not.

Possibly Zucker is trying to de-escalate. That is an understandable mistake, but it is still a mistake. It’s wrong to go against journalistic standards to give powerful people a break in one case while obeying those standards elsewhere, also to give powerful people a break.

It’s also a grave misunderstanding of the situation. What was the response from “The President and the White House Press Secretary”? Here are the words of President That Guy earlier this morning:

A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!

So here is my question to Jeff Zucker: What makes you think That Guy doesn’t know what he’s doing?

You Are On Fire

It was a pleasure to burn.

The President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Susan Frederick-Gray wrote a thoughtful call to action, Time for cold anger. It’s a quick read and worth your time. It contains several pointers to useful actions, and one piece of false hope when it says:

Anger is the legitimate response to pain, but it can become destructive. Turned inward and swallowed, it can consume us with shame, self-destruction, and despair. Turned outward, it can be explosive and violent. But when we understand the concept of cold anger—an anger that burns without consuming—we understand that anger can be the fire and the energy for action, for organizing, for creating justice. (emphasis added)

Right now, you are on fire. Every breath you take pulls oxygen in to burn in your guts; every exhalation puts out the carbon dioxide generated by the sacred trash fire that is our body. Every moment consumes a tiny bit more of us, some moments eating more than others. When we stop that burning, we are dead.

Take it from an anger swallower who wants to fly: There is no form of anger that does not consume you. Everything we do has a cost, even if it is only–only!–seconds of our life. Sometimes hot anger slices through stone cold bullshit like nobody’s business, saving precious time. Saving precious life. Precious lives.

Great Artists have told us this about fury and anger.

There’s anger that costs more and anger that costs less, and anger that gets more done or less done. We all pick our way through these choices and burn a little of ourselves every step of the way. Some of it is conscious choice–a slow and cautious way–and most of us run on habit and reaction and inertia. Sometimes you have to burn your way out of a rut.

Not that burning is a pure good. It’s not. Fire is a great refiner, a wonderful source of heat and light, all that. And if you’ve ever spent a fun night around a trash barrel with friends and a six-pack, you will remember that “It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.”

But the quote continues, “He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.” If I were asked to give an example of Evil without violence, burning books would be a good choice. There’s a special terror in seeing what isn’t built to die–unlike a human, for whom death is just another punch on our ticket–die anyway. A book, a painting, a hope, an idea. They don’t die like we die, though in the long term they do die as we die. We live short term and save what we can.

So accept that you are on fire, that you are burning as we speak and will eventually go out. You may rise again like the phoenix, disperse like smoke, or settle like ash. You may just be a process that ends, or you may be one more cycle round the center. No one knows for sure, and I think most of those who claim they do harbor secret doubts.

Go ahead and burn as you wish, hot or cold, fast or slow, over under sideways down. Here are two opportunities to Catch Fire, two of many Great Ways To Burn:

Walk through the fire
Fly through the smoke
See my enemy
At the end of their rope

I can’t believe that the axis turns
On suffering when you taste so good
I can’t believe that the axis turns
On suffering when my head it burns

You don’t have to pick one or the other, or either one. You just have to choose something.

The Mathematics of the Soul

In 1960, physicist Eugene Wigner published The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences. The gist of it is in the title: Math is weirdly good at describing the physical world, good enough to seem unreasonable.

At the end, Wigner says:

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning. (emphasis added)

I could’ve cut that off after the first sentence, but that phrase: to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement. I’ve had that feeling with math, when something click click clicked into place and made the most wonderful, most unexpected kind of sense.

What, then, is the mathematics of the soul?

It can’t be mathematics, because the soul

  1. isn’t physical, and
  2. doesn’t exist.

So let’s ask the question this way: What is unreasonably effective at expressing, communicating, shaping, and preserving the fruits of the human heart? What carries those precious things through time and space and past the death of the individual?

Beauty. Art. But most especially song and story, story and song.

Song and story intersect at rhythm and narrative. Song has harmony and melody; story has plot and character. Song slices through reason like a sharp knife through the butterlike-brain; story marinates and soaks and dissolves and precipitates thought from reverie.

Song and story are unreasonably effective in transmitting and preserving culture, persevering when written word and graven image do not. What’s sung and said is the most Permanent Record. Erasing that takes genocide, and even that doesn’t always work.

I could not accept a theory of humanity, a theology or a philosophy of life, without song and story as one of its foundations. Along with human solidarity and grateful wonder at the world, it is one foundation of mine.

Why and How You Should Use The Word “Chickenshit” In Church Services

Everyone knows this one, right?

Rev. Meg Barnhouse‘s lovely variation on the words of Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic and the first woman known to have written a book in English.

This is one of the songs, and links to a song, I keep in my back pocket for troubles, my own and others. It helps me. When I think I know when it will help a friend, I apply it to them gently. It seems to work; I don’t think it harms. It heals by virtue of being beautiful, in many different ways.

When I first encountered the next song, I’d passed through my first period of fascination with mystics and visionaries–Smart, Blake, Sor Juana, and St. John mostly*–so I didn’t see Julian of Norwich in it. Probably the authors didn’t either; I find the ways of the Spirit are even more mysterious to us atheists than to any believer. I was also far too hip to like anything Big On The Radio, and this whole record was big! Big! BIG!! It took my great and wasted friend Orlis to make me actually listen to the damned thing–on a cassette, no less, in a house stuffed with vinyl records–and discover it was really good. It took listening since him to see how it was great. Continue reading Why and How You Should Use The Word “Chickenshit” In Church Services

Mysteries Revealed! A Simple Typo, Now Corrected, Makes It All Clear.

I finally figured out one of the Great Mysteries of TrumpWorld. It was a simple typo anyone, even the President Of This United States, could make, which I can now interpret. Here’s the original tweet, in full:

Despite the negative press covfefe,

Now here’s my corrected version:

Despite the negative press kayfabe,

He wrote covfefe when he meant kayfabe. It’s just that simple and it explains so much!

“Babies in Cages”, by Patterson Hood

I used to mock Deadheads. Now I’ve seen Drive-By Truckers and various members over five dozen times. Below are two reasons why.

This Is What Resistance Looks Like, Too.

Babies in Cages

The world wakes up this morning
I’m sorry for the news
Wrapped up in a tinfoil blanket without any shoes
Babies in cages

I’m sorry to my children
I’m sorry what they see
I’m sorry for the world that they’ll inherit from me
Babies in cages

Are we so divided
That we can’t at least agree
This ain’t the country that our granddad’s fought for us to be
Babies in cages
_______________________________________________

Surf’s up in the cities
Where the next wars will be fought
I’m sorry we’ve forsaken every word that we were taught
Babies in cages

I bang my head against it
Smash guitars and scream and shout
Standing on the beach watching the tide go out
Babies in cages

Standing in the darkness
To answer for our sins
Children changing each others diapers in a pen
Babies in cages

Copyright Patterson Hood – Dunwoody GA. June 19, 2018