Category Archives: Writing

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

If History Won’t Save You, What Will?

I fondly remember the death of Richard M. Nixon, on Earth Day, 1994, like the planet finally taking out trash gone rancid decades ago. It’s rare that a death makes me happy, but this one did. He was an actively evil man who got away with it and died old and free with a clear record.

Get caught with a nickel bag brother-man
Get caught with a nickel bag sister-lady on your way to get your hair fixed
You’ll do Big Ben, and Big Ben is time
But the man who tried to fix America will not do time

Gil Scott-Heron wrote those words and he did not die free and clear.


In the liner notes to Winter In America, Gil Scott-Heron made the earliest on-record call for the impeachment of Richard Nixon that I am personally aware of. There may be an earlier one, but I haven’t seen it, though I have seen later ones which claimed to be first. The same country that showed Nixon mercy because he had phlebitis showed Gil Scott-Heron–who said of phlebitis, “Rats bite us. No pardon in the ghetto”–to prison for crack addiction. Gil Scott-Heron died too young on parole with a felony record.

Continue reading If History Won’t Save You, What Will?

Rich Boss Cries Crocodile Tears Over Fate Of Worker He Fired After Twenty-Five Years

Cartoonist Rob Rogers was fired from the Pittsburg Post-GazetteThis is his website.
A cartoon to get fired over

This was his publisher:

“He’s just become too angry for his health or for his own good,” John Block, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, told POLITICO in his first interview since the firing earlier this week.

How thoughtful!

“I wanted clever and funny instead of angry and mean,” he said in an interview in Lakeville, Connecticut, at a reunion of his boarding school Hotchkiss.

So the rich boss is a Hotchkiss man. How appropriate! Was he angry when he fired cartoonist Rob Rogers? Or was he just mean? Because if he was just mean, and not angry, he’s not a hypocrite. He’s still mean, though, still rich and powerful, willing and able to hurt people.

How able?

Rogers said that when he was hired in 1993 the Post-Gazette was a liberal paper, largely reflecting the Democratic leanings of its city. Then as now, John Robinson Block was its publisher. He has been photographed shaking hands with Hillary Clinton and beaming beside Trump on his private jet.

How willing?

In January of this year, the editorial board ran a piece defending Trump’s use of the term “shithole countries” when referring to African nations as well as Haiti and El Salvador. The editorial, titled “Reason as racism,” sparked outrage among current and former employees at the newspaper, including Rogers who described it as “blatantly racist.”

I realize many of my friends have faith in wealthy people and their market ventures, to make wise decisions that lead to more for everyone. I have a similar faith. I believe wealthy people make wise decisions that lead to more for themselves.

The markets are rising for a reason: Wealthy people of all persuasions can see profit on the horizon. They will not save you.

Internalized Anti-Intellectualism

Yesterday, Kim Hampton asked this question (it’s short and good–read it!):

Why is it, for all of our supposed intellectualism on a wide range of subjects, most Unitarian Universalists show absolutely no curiosity regarding religion itself?

This is true enough. I’d qualify it by adding there are Unitarian Universalists who effectively practice another religion and have some interest in their own. Very few of them have the sort of wide-ranging curiosity about religion she’s talking about.

What I had noticed is that most Unitarian Universalists I’ve met are particularly uninterested in Unitarian Universalism. They aren’t interested in Unitarianism or Universalism, either. I’m not sure this is internalized anti-intellectualism, but that’s my working theory.

In Praise of Amber Ruffin, or How Seth Meyers could help your church

For a comedy fan, YouTube and late-night talk shows are the perfect combination. All the monologues, all the skits and sketches, none of the boring interviews. Just the laughs, and the hard thoughts sometimes behind them.

My current favorite of the late-night comedians isn’t a host but a writer-actor, Amber Ruffin, a writer on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Meyers is very funny, and he’s confident enough in his abilities to put his writers on stage with him. At least weekly the woman writers–most of the sketch/skit acting is done by women–are on the show, with good juicy parts, often upstaging Meyers. Here he’s playing straight man so Ruffin can be top banana:

There is so much to love in that sketch. Ruffin pulls laughs out of unpleasant places. Her girlish demeanor is a great pivot point. She can go from there to sarcastic, contrarian, sexy, angry, almost anywhere. Here she makes the hugest move with it: At the time of the Charlottesville attack, a frightening time, she shows us how she guards her soft spots with a happy “Come oooooon!” Most comedians don’t ever get to that level of public insight.  She’s early in her career and doing it in front of a national audience.

Until I started to write this, I did not know that in 2014, Ruffin became the first black woman to write for a network late-night talk show, but I had figured she’s on track to be the first black woman–and maybe the first woman–with a late-night network talk show.

Apparently I’m not the only person who’s considered that. Just this week, Seth Meyers was interviewed in The Atlantic:

Continue reading In Praise of Amber Ruffin, or How Seth Meyers could help your church