from my notebook

A few excerpts from stuff I’ve been reading in the last couple of months that I wanted to put on here:

Malcolm X: “I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whatever benefits humanity as a whole.” (Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1965)

James Baldwin: “To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life itself and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread. … One is responsible to life. … One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible. … It is the responsibility of free men [sic] to trust and to celebrate what is constant—birth, struggle, and death are constant, and so is love…” (The Fire Next Time, 1963)

Those who do not choose the journey choose comfort as a cover for their fear of travel. The journey has great risks. We could lose our way, lose our faith, lose God. But these are risks we must take or faith soon dulls and becomes nothing more than a list of fundamental truths.

We see those for whom faith has become a list. They are wooden in all appearances, and do not live truthfully, for their inner thoughts and deepest uncertainties are never explored or expressed. Without this exploration and full expression God will never be fully incarnate in their [and in our] lives.

Faith begins as we choose to enter life as journey.

Seeking the Wilderness: A Spiritual Journey by Tim Lehman, 1993

May you each be blessed as you continue to seek, explore, question, and journey on your way, friends. And may we each walk in The Way of Love.

Much love & peace to you,


Excerpt: Crazy Brave

From Crazy Brave: A Memoir by Joy Harjo – a book I recently read and really liked:

I felt close to my ancestors when I painted. This is how I came to know my grandmother Naomi Harjo Foster intimately. I never got to know her in person because she died long before I was born.

Throughout childhood I studied her drawing of two horses running in a storm, which lived on the wall of our living room. And now, as an art major at the university, I found her in the long silences, in between the long, meditative breaths that happen when you interact with the soul of creation.

I began to know her within the memory of my hands as they sketched. Within marrow is memory. I heard her soft voice and saw where my father got his sensitive, dreaming eyes. Like her, he did not like the hard edges of earth existence. He drank to soften them. She painted to make a doorway between realms.

As I moved pencil across paper and brush across canvas, my grandmother existed again. She was as present as these words. I saw a woman who liked soft velvets, a clean-cut line. She was often perceived as “strange” because she appeared closer to death than to life. I felt sadness as grief in her lungs. The grief came from the tears of thousands of our tribe when we were uprooted and forced to walk the long miles west to Indian Territory. They were the tears of the dead and the tears of those who remained to bury the dead. We had to keep walking. We were still walking, trying to make it through to home. The tears spoiled in her lungs, became tuberculosis.

She exists in me now, just as I will and already do within my grandchildren. No one ever truly dies. The desires of our hearts make a path. We create legacy with our thoughts and dreams. This legacy either will give those who follow us joy on their road or will give them sorrow.

My grandmother Naomi copied the famed 1838 lithograph of Osceola, her uncle, to make a painting. He stands regal in a stylish turban with ostrich feathers, with a rifle in his hand. She was proud that he and the people never surrendered to the U.S. government. Osceola did not subscribe to the racist politics of blood quantum that were and continue to disappear us as native peoples. He was Seminole, and he acted in that manner.

Because my grandmother’s thinking inspired me, I was sketching an idea for a series of contemporary warriors to present in one of my university art classes. I considered including Dennis Banks, a leader of the American Indian Movement, and Phillip Deere, one of our Mvskoke spiritual and cultural leaders. He was a beloved prophet and a teacher. I considered Ada Deer, the Menominee warrior who fought for tribal recognition for her people after the U.S. government disappeared them.

As I sketched, I considered the notion of warrior. In the American mainstream imagination, warriors were always male and military, and when they were Indian warriors they were usually Plains Indian males with headdresses. What of contemporary warriors? And what of the wives, mothers, and daughters whose small daily acts of sacrifice and bravery were usually unrecognized or unrewarded? These acts were just as crucial to the safety and well-being of the people.

There were many others who fought alongside Osceola, and as a true warrior he would have been the first to say so. For the true warriors of the world, fighting is the last resort to solving a conflict. Every effort is made to avoid bloodshed.

I often painted or drew through the night, when most of the world slept and it was easier to walk through the membrane between life and death to bring back memory. I painted to the music of silence. It was here I could hear everything.

Lots of other great parts in this book; this one stands out to me most at present. (Emphases in bold mine.)


Featured Image of Crazy Brave book jacket; Jacket design by Jen Wang; Jacket photograph by Eve Domingsil.

Easter Sunday, 2017

He will swallow up death forever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. -Isaiah 25:8

I’m trying to relearn how to think about the cross—that is, about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, its theology and its necessity. Perhaps this would’ve been a post better suited to yesterday (Holy Saturday) than Easter Sunday. Ah, well.

The Resurrection I “get.” The ultimate triumph of Life over Death, and the hope of bodily resurrection after death into a new kind of life that, unlike a mortal existence, lasts forever, and in which there is no longer any division between Creator and created, or created beings with one another and Creation as a whole. The framework for how to view/think about the death of Christ preceding his Resurrection, however, is bit trickier for me.

I suppose virtually every child growing up in a Protestant tradition in America (or any Western culture, perhaps) learns one way or another to view the death of Christ on the cross through the “courtroom” framework, or at least encounters this metaphor at one time or another during their early spiritual development. I know I did. The narrative is familiar to many: God as Judge passes a sentence of death on human beings for their many sins, and requires this bloody payment of the guilty, who are thus disqualified from being able to enter paradise; but when this sentence is pronounced, the One perfect Human Being (God’s Son Jesus Christ—perhaps in the courtroom as a lawyer or something) offers to take the punishment in place of the guilty criminals(s)—the guilty ones being humanity—and thus purchases their pardon and access to heaven for them. For a number of reasons, I now no longer find this framework (which I believe is called the “Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory,” what a mouthful!) very helpful; on the contrary, I find it, at the very least, highly disturbing and unsettling—and not in the healthy kind of “God’s gonna trouble the waters” for deliverance way.

I’d say I’m a fairly amateur theologian—a large portion of my (informal) personal pursuit of”theology studies” lies in engaging with the work of poets and poetry and writers of fiction and stories and creative essays. Sorta literary eclectic. Hardly up to seminary-rigorous snuff. (Though for awhile now, I have started to seriously consider Div School as one of my more likely options for “someday soon.” Or at least, I’m considering considering. But that’s another post altogether.) With that mini-disclaimer, here’s some of what I’ve got so far as a better way (for me, at least) of thinking about Christ’s work of salvation through his incarnation, life, death on the cross, and resurrection:

  • Sin as an illness or sickness leading to death, of which the brokenness in our world and individual lives is symptomatic. On the cross, Christ took our sickness upon himself, allowing it to break his body and yet ultimately transcending that sickness with his triumph over the grave in his being raised back to life.
  • Christ’s passion, suffering, and death as full solidarity with the whole human experience; how could he fully help/aid, comfort, and lead human beings without experiencing all of what it means to be a mortal being, which turns upon the fact that—as mortals—we all will die someday…? The Human Condition as we know it now inevitably involves pain and death; Jesus, as fully human as well as fully God, needed to undergo death in order to complete his perfection as the perfect human being; and then in his resurrection, he showed us what we are destined for, too—that we humans are meant to live forever, and enjoy the full vitality and healthfulness of all the life can be. (I think.)
  • Christ’s death as example, and even simply as the inevitable outcome of what happens when one preaches and lives out such radical teachings as “love one another” and “love your enemies” (and all the other of Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom of God teachings that he both preached and practiced) on this earth; it gets you killed. More often than not (I’m starting to think) as the victim of state-sanctioned, “necessary” violence. (Remember the words of Caiaphas, the high priest when Christ was killed: “it is expedient that one man should die for the people, that the whole nation should not perish…” —which was ironically/paradoxically also a prophesy of exactly what Jesus’ death was/accomplished. See John 11:49-52.)
  • The Cross is powerful in its physical symbolism as well as in its actual meaning of redemption via whatever theological theory; the physical dimension of the cross represent both reconciliation w/ God (vertical beam) and reconciliation w/ self & others (horizontal).
  • ALSO, Christ’s unresisting and violent crucifixion on the cross is, paradoxically, the ulitimate act of resistance and creative non-violence (supreme act of NVDA), taking/absorbing an act of violence and converting it into salvation of the world via the means of Christ’s willingness to take the world’s sin and the violence of pain upon Himself, voluntarily, absorbing it with his own body to the point of it breaking him, and thus swallowing up Death forever, so that it can no longer swallow/devour us.

Yesterday I watched this very moving 2012 documentary by Shola Lynch—Free Angela and All Political Prisoners—about the trial of Angela Davis in the 70’s. (It’s excellent. I highly recommend. It literally left me weeping when the verdicts of Not Guilty were pronounced, and she was fully free. But the work goes on…)

Being Holy Saturday and all, the doc. made me think of a different trial, that of Jesus before his execution—the outcome of which trial, unlike Angela’s, was a miscarriage of justice.

If we must include a courtroom scene in how we think theologically of the death of Jesus, then I think Jesus is like Angela Davis: the defendant, the Innocent accused, being put on trial before the world, and in that trial representing/standing for more than just their individual selves. And God, angry or otherwise, is not the one bringing the false charges. Only, in the case of Jesus (again, unlike Angela’s trial), the Innocent is pronounced Guilty, and sentenced to the worst kind of death. The wheels of the perversely Almighty System turn, and another innocent victim of state violence is crushed beneath them, as things keep rolling on, business as usual, the status quo protected and maintained.

. . .

Only—thank God!! And this is Easter’s great hope—in the story of Jesus, that was not the end. Violence, Injustice, and Death does not have the last word, and because Christ rose again and Life overcame/overcomes Death in the end, we have the hope and the promise that the same can and will happen for the followers of Jesus, too. For those who walk in the way of Christ—the way of self-emptying love that leads, in one way or another, to death on behalf of others for the cause of peace and for the healing of the world—for all those who follow in that way, we can be confident that Death never has the final say. Life is the last word, and Love the destiny to which we are all called. We already know the end of the story; and it is a good, happy ending. (Ultimately. Eventually.) The story we are a part of is not—in the end—a tragedy. (Though it may sometimes feel that way for a little while; I don’t want to minimize at all the very real pain that all people experience in some way during life.)

But returning to “Literary-Quirky” theology, I’ve saved the best of my current attempts at better ideas/images for how to view the death of Christ for last: Harry Potter. And no, I don’t mean Harry’s death/come back to life scene in Book 7 (though that is also certainly in the running). As silly as it may seem, by far the best image (again—for me) I’ve come across to date for illustrating the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus is in Book 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It comes in one of the very last chapters of the book, near the end of Dumbledore’s epic wizards’ duel with the series’ wicked top-villain, Voldemort:

There was a burst of flame in midair above Dumbledore just as Voldemort reappeared, standing on the plinth in the middle of the pool where so recently the five statues has stood.

“Look out!” Harry yelled.

But even as he shouted, one more jet of green light had flown at Dumbledore from Voldemort’s want and the snake had struck—

Fawkes swooped down in front of Dumbledore, opened his beak wide, and swallowed the jet of green light whole. He burst into flame and fell to the floor, small, wrinkled, and flightless. – from Chapter 36, “The Only One He Ever Feared”

He has swallowed up death…

Maybe it’s completely childish, but I get chills when I read this passage and imagine Fawkes the Phoenix sweeping down in front of Dumbledore (the bird’s owner), with total disregard for his own safety, and swallowing the death-curse so it doesn’t hit his beloved friend. And then, as those mythical creatures do, Fawkes is reborn out of the ashes.

(Also/By the way, as I remember it from my Medieval Lit. class in college, attributing Christ-like qualities to the phoenix in stories is not original with me; the phoenix as a symbol for Christ was a fairly common occurrence in medieval literature…so, one could say that I’m drawing on ancient as well as modern sources for my Fawkes-the-Phoenix imagery of Christ here in my attempts to depict the the death and resurrection in more helpful terms, haha.)

He has swallowed up death forever… The season of singing has come! upon us once again, now that all the migratory birds have returned and spring is here! Warm weather is back again, and new life is all around us. The grass is actually green again. There are all these pretty little purple wildflowers that I don’t know the name for under all the trees that Finley and I walk under when I take him outside in the morning and evening. There’s a light spring rain falling softly outside my open window as I sit in my wicker-bottomed old desk chair and type these words. Finley is asleep in his crate, curled into himself and heart-breakingly adorable. There’s a whole lot of hurt and mess and fragility in the world right now, but there’s also a lot of life, and a lot of hope.

And He will swallow up death forever. … He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. That’s what I’m holding onto this Easter Sunday night.

Happy Easter, everyone! Whatever way is most helpful to intellectually try to grasp/think about Christ’s death and resurrection, I think what is most important,  perhaps, for those of us who believe, is to rejoice in His victory over the grave…and all of the hopeful Big Picture implications of Christ’s Death & Resurrection, whatever the theological details. (Yes, even after all those meandering bullet points of mine! 🙂 )

Now the crickets are chirping…

Christ is Risen—He is Risen, Indeed! Alleluia, ALLELUIA!!!


Image source: Phoenix by Frau-Kruspe on DeviantArt


4/17/17 Postscript: Relevant to the above – came across the following this evening in the “Mosaic” section (“A patchwork of Anabaptist news and ideas”) in the April 10, 2017 issue of the Mennonite World Review, which arrived in my mailbox today:

A God who doesn’t require death

Mennonite theologian J. Denny Weaver presents the theology of nonviolent atonement in the March issue of the Church of the Brethren Messenger. ‘God does not require death,’ Weaver says. ‘On the contrary, God acts to restore Jesus’ life.’ Salvation without violence by God invites people to join in the reign of God with Jesus as its Lord.

for Good Friday

A man who was completely innocent offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.


Image source: Article “When Christianity Co-Opts Justice Movements” on

a cacophony of notes—fairy tales, irony, polyphony, & more

More half-baked thoughts/notes on poetics and life and such…

For some reason, the following 3 excerpts all seem to me to belong together – so I’m gonna hastily cobble and stick ’em to dry here:

That period of excitement and protest still carries a powerful charge: Angela Carter’s name, more than twenty years after her death, can still fill a hall like a rock star. But she was herself very skeptical about the difference she or anyone else could make, and acutely aware of the warnings sounded by philosophers, such as Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno, that under the present arrangements of markets and media there can be no subversive act or work that will not end up absorbed, and de-fanged. Yet she did not give up the struggle. Just as love of fairy-tales drew her to them irresistibly while loathing of their values roused her to disfigure their sweetness, so romance and cynicism are entangled in her ferocious refashionings. She was a utopian and a satirist, and a fight between idealism and despair flourished, unresolved, inside her.

-Marina Warner, Once Upon A Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale; emphases mine.

Adrienne Rich on avante garde art:

“Avante-garde” may well be a declaration that “something is very wrong in society.” It may be a true “Howl” against a pervasively square, exclusive, dominant art allied with sexual, economic, racial repression. But, as [Paul] Goodman saw well, in an age of disinformation and co-optation, ‘avant-garde’ may become merely one dish on a buffet table of ‘entertainment’ so arranged that no one item can dominate. It may be drafted into the service of TV commercials, or videos for executives on retreat. Its attempts to shatter structures of meaning may very well be complicit with a system that depends on our viewing our lives as random and meaningless or, at best, unserious.

What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, 2003. (1st published in 1993.)

And Rilke in his 2nd letter to that young poet – on irony, and the great “deep things” of life:

Irony: Do not let yourself be governed by it, especially not in uncreative moments. In creative moments try to make use of it as one more means of grasping life. Cleanly used, it too is clean, and one need not be ashamed of it; and if you feel you are getting too familiar with it, if you fear this growing intimacy with it, then turn to great and serious objects, before which it becomes small and helpless. Seek the depth of things: thither irony never descends—and when you come thus close to the edge of greatness, test out at the same time whether this ironic attitude springs from a necessity of your nature. For under the influence of serious things either it will fall from you (if it is something fortuitous), or else it will (if it really innately belongs to you) strengthen into a stern instrument and take its place in the series of tools with which you will have to shape your art.

Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, Translation by M.D. Herter Norton

I find the above leading me further to a somewhat hazy remembrance – stemming from my very scant background knowledge – of Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the dialogic in literature (especially in reference to his work on Dostoevsky & his poetics/polyphonic novels) – a theoretical concept not to be confused, apparently, w/ dialectic or so that eminent source, Wikipedia, tells me:

Sociologist Richard Sennett has stated that the distinction between dialogic and dialectic is fundamental to understanding human communication. Sennett says that dialectic deals with the explicit meaning of statements, and tends to lead to closure and resolution. Whereas dialogic processes, especially those involved with regular spoken conversation, involve a type of listening that attends to the implicit intentions behind the speakers actual words. Unlike a dialectic process, dialogics often do not lead to closure and remain unresolved. Compared to dialectics, a dialogic exchange can be less competitive, and more suitable for facilitating cooperation.

All very interesting…though there is also another Wikipedia entry  on “Relational dialectics,” (! Connect to idea of “relational poetics” discussed by Adrienne Rich in final essay of new edition of her Notebooks on P&P, “Six Meditations in Place of a Lecture”…!) btw, which also references/credits Bakhtin and his idea of dialogics as the source of the idea of Relational Dialectics…so it all kinda ends up meshing together after all. Sort of.

I really don’t know enough about this stuff to be writing much on it; mostly just making notes on these things—and also noting that they have some sort relation to one another. This haphazard method of stringing such notes together is one way to learn, I guess.

some rando notes (half-baked)

Archbishop Oscar Romero, quoted in Salvador Witness:

Because the Church has opted for the real, and not for the fictitious poor, because it has opted for those who really are oppressed and repressed, the Church lives in a political world, and it fulfills itself as Church also through politics. It cannot be otherwise if the Church, like Jesus, is to turn itself toward the poor.

[Insert “O for the P” – Option for the Poor – Paul Farmer quote from Mts. Bynd Mts. here.]

2 new favorite musical discoveries:

(first found while stuck in the office on first warm day in long time)

(first heard a couple wks ago on Radio Woodstock driving to Dover late at night to get ice cream)

What if—?

What would happen if one woman told the truth about
        her life?
     The world would split open
-Muriel Rukeyser, “Käthe Kollwitz”

Self portraits by Kollwitz

A revolutionary poem wil not tell you who or when to kill, what and when to burn, or even how to theorize. It reminds you (for you have known, somehow, all along, maybe lost track) where and when and how you are living and might live—it is a wick of desire. It may do its work in the language and images of dreams, lists, love letters, prison letters, chants, filmic jump cuts, meditations, cries of pain, documentary fragments, blues, late-night long-distance calls. It is not programmatic: it searches for words amid the jamming of unfree, free-market idiom, for images that will burn true outside the emotional theme parks. A revolutionary poem is written out of one individual’s confrontation with her/his own longings (including all that s/he is expected to deny) in the belief that its readers or hearers (in that old, unending sense of the people) deserve an art as complex, as open to contradictions as themselves.

Any true revoltionary art is an alchemy through which waste, greed, brutality, frozen indifference, “blind sorrow,” and anger are transmuted into some drenching recognition of the What if?—the possible. What if—?—the first revolutionary question, the question the dying forces don’t know how to ask.

-From essay “What if?” by Adrienne Rich, What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics

Advisory: Explicit

Build a wall
It won’t keep us from loving each other
Rewrite the laws
It won’t keep us from loving each other
Build a wall (Build a wall)
It won’t keep us from loving each other (Never gonna build a wall)
(We’re never gonna let you build it)

[Outro – Whispered]
Resist, Resist, Resist
Resist, Resist, Resist
Resist, Resist, Resist
Resist, Resist, Resist

(Also, this: “Jussie Smollett’s new video might be the wokest thing ever…”)

poetry post: for World Poetry Day

From De Amor Oscuro/Of Dark Love (1991) by Francisco X. Alarcón – for World Poetry Day:


tus manos son dos martillos que clavan
y desclavan alegres la mañana,
tiernos puños desdoblados de tierra,
dulces pencas de plátanos pequeños

tus manos huelen a las zarzamoras
que cosechas en los campos que roban
tu sudor a dos dólares el bote,
son duras, tibias, jóvenes y sabias

azadones que traen pan a las mesas,
oscuras piedras que al chocar dan luz,
gozo, sostén, ancla del mundo entero

yo las venero como relicarios
porque como gaviotas anidadas,
me consuelan, me alagran, me defienden


cómo consolar al hombre más solo
de la tierra? cómo aliviar su pena?
cómo llamar a su puerta atrancada
y decirle al oído embocado de alma:

“hermano, la guerra ya ha terminado:
todos, por fin, salimos vencedores:
sal, goza los campos liberados:
la explotación es cosa del pasado”?

qué hacer cuando regrese malherido
con alambre de púas entre las piernas?
cómo encarar sus ojos que denuncian:

“hermano, el mundo sigue igual:
los pobres todavia somos presa fácil:
el amor, si no es de todos, no basta”?


your hands are two hammers that joyful
nail down and pry up the morning,
tender fists that unfold from earth,
sweet bunches of small bananas

your hands smell of the blackberries
you harvest in the fields that steal
your sweat at two dollars a bucket,
they are hard, warm, young and wise

hoes that bring bread to the tables,
dark stones that give light when struck,
pleasure, support, anchor of the world

I worship them as reliquaries
because like nesting sea gulls,
they console, delight, defend me


how to console the loneliest man
on earth? how to relieve his pain?
how to call through his bolted door
and have one’s soul speak to his ear:

“brother, the war is now over:
all of us in the end emerged victors:
go forth and enjoy the liberated fields:
exploitation is a thing of the past”?

what to do when he returns, wounded
with barbed wire between his legs?
how to face his eyes accusing:

“brother, the world goes on the same:
we the poor are still easy prey: love,
if it isn’t from all, is just not enough”?

Source: Essay “Format and form,” What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics by Adrienne Rich, W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.

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