Monday, April 09, 2012

"Hemingway's Beard"

Luis Quintanilla in prison in Madrid, 1934

If this exposition of dry points by Luis Quintanilla had been two months ago, the list of patrons would have been headed by His Excellency the Spanish Ambassador, His Excellency the American Ambassador to Spain and followed by other dignitaries and names of people.
As it is there are no patrons, the artist is in jail in Madrid charged with being a member of the revolutionary committee of the October revolt in Spain with the prosecuting attorney asking a sentence of sixteen years at hard labor for him, and the only excellencies are in these magnificent etchings.
Good Spanish painters are always in trouble. It is a country where the tradition is, and it may be a foolish tradition, I will not argue it with you, that a man should be a man as well as an artist.

---Ernest Hemingway
from a preface he wrote to the Pierre Matisse Gallery Catalogue, "Quintanilla"

On Easter Eve a package arrived from Lulu, which besides being a provocative name for a lady is also the name of publishing company that prints and distributes books by order for authors. My old friend Paul Quintanilla has used it for a number of years, most usually for works of and about his late father, Luis Quintanilla. Another friend in Ontario used it to publish an amazing cookbook of Danish recipes, which my wife's family treats like a bible.

Inside the package was a new book Paul has written with the wonderful title you see in the subject line above. I haven't had time to read it all but it seems to be part fact and part fiction. Or maybe it's fact dressed up in fiction. But the great Ernesto---and his beard---are in it. The very first chapter shows him to us...and obviously Paul can do this intimately. But he remains a voyeur in these pages, not engaging in conversation---quite wisely, we discover. However, we meet Hemingway accompanying an unknown woman (Simone de Beauvoir?) entering a small restaurant in Paris, and sitting within arm's reach of the author. But we don't know yet who precisely the author is, and we may never know, but we must read on to find out.

Paul did not let me know he was doing this...either writing or sending me a complimentary copy. That's just like him! I stopped blogging almost exactly a year ago as a major change transpired into my life. I hadn't done much writing for a year before that, except emails, chat, and comments in the addictive Facebook. Paul continued a partnership into Facebook, but once I vanished from there several months ago we haven't been communicating. I thought about him often and kept meaning to write him a note explaining my seclusion, but you know how that goes. So now I know what he's been up to...and this is how I find out!

The first chapter, about seeing someone famous and not knowing what to do about it, is an ingenious way to begin. Surely we've all had an experience like this. People are famous because we ordinaries feel a connection with them. They express things we feel ourselves and they do so in a way that makes us feel we know them as friends...even as lovers. Obviously this arrangement becomes deadly for the famous one, who now must deal with country bumpkins like myself coming up to them and slapping them on the back. But we can't help it: just perhaps the star is just waiting for a relationship with someone who understands so well as I do. We want to risk it.

It brings to mind my occasion around 1970 or so, of walking up Fifth Avenue with my partner at the time, Ivy. Suddenly, DOWN the street, walking briskly toward us, came Harold Pinter and his then-wife Vivien Merchant. Each was on the opposite side of the wide sidewalk, and one could see instantly they weren't speaking. I mean not speaking as in the midst of a huge fight. They both appeared angry, and as with such theatre people they expert in expressing it...with icy silence. As they stormed past us, we were caught in the middle---and we actually shivered with the abrupt change of temperature.

Obviously this was no time to announce our recognition or, God forbid, ask for an autograph. Vivien might have pulled herself together, but Pinter would have blasted us off the face of the earth, or frozen us to death with a black glare. An encounter like that stays with one forever---or I guess I should say lack-of-encounter. I suddenly was in a Pinter Play! I had a new understanding of the famous "Pinter pause." Nothing can annihilate like silence. Of course, nothing can enlighten one like it either.

Well, thanks to Paul publicly for the book---and for the silence too, out of which obvious he has created a new work of art. I would be remiss not to urge you to visit Lulu, and consider a copy for delicious summertime reading. Here ya go~~~

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Living On The Streets

Rembrandt van Rijn
Beggar Man and Woman, pen and ink, ca.1630-31

Strike your own evening drum, morning bell, then shut the door.
Lamp burning low by a solitary pillow;
gray ashes where just now you stirred the stove to red.
Lie and listen to raindrops splattering the window.

---Su Tung-P'o

Simple people see God as if He stood on that side and we on this side. It is not so. God and I are one in the act of perceiving Him.

---Meister Eckhart

Zazen isn't about blissing out or going into an alpha brainwave trance. It's about facing who and what you really are, in every single goddamn moment.

---Brad Warner

These days people plan for emergencies. The climate is uncertain. There may be invasions---from other countries or just down the road. What about radiation? We have canned foods, bags of rice, extra water, duct tape. What if the electricity goes off---for days?

But are you ready for homelessness? I mean if suddenly you can't make the payments. Your job is gone. Your pension is devoured. No insurance. No roof over your head. How many missed paychecks or Social Security direct deposits before this is you...and maybe your whole family? Can you all fit into your nephew's trailer?

Can you have an emergency plan for living on the streets? Should you? This article appeared in the August 3, 2009 edition of The Nation.

Picture the Homeless, a social justice organization founded and led by homeless people in New York City, has joined The Nation to come up with a list of things you need to know to live on the street--and ways we can all build movements to challenge the stigma of homelessness and put forward an alternative vision of community.

Be prepared to be blamed for your circumstances, no matter how much they may be beyond your control. Think of ways to disabuse the public of common misconceptions. Don't internalize cruelty or condescension. Let go of your pride--but hold on to your dignity.

There is no private space to which you may retreat. You are on display 24/7. Learn to travel light. Store valuables in a safe place, only carrying around what you really need: ID and documents for accessing services, a pen, etc. You can check e-mail and read at the library. You can get a post office box for a fee or use general delivery (free).

Learn the best bathroom options, where you won't be rushed, turned away or harassed. Find restrooms where it's clean enough to put your stuff down, the stalls are big enough to change in and there's hot water so you can wash up. If you're in New York City go to Restrooms in New York.

It's difficult to have much control over when, where and what you eat, so learn soup kitchen schedules and menus. Carry with you nuts, peanut butter or other foods high in protein. Click here to find a list of soup kitchens by state.

Food and clothing are easier to find than a safe place to sleep--the first truth of homelessness is sleep deprivation. Always have a blanket. Whenever possible, sleep in groups with staggered schedules, so you can look out for one another, prioritizing children's needs over those of adults.

Know your rights! Knowing constitutional amendments, legal precedents and human rights provisions can help you, even if they're routinely violated. In New York, for example, a 2003 court-ordered settlement strictly forbids selective enforcement of the law against the homeless. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement offers another resource, and the ACLU has cards, brochures, fact sheets and films.

Learn police patterns and practices. Be polite and calm to cops, even when they don't give the same respect. Support initiatives demanding independent police accountability. Link with groups from overlapping populations of nonhomeless and homeless people (i.e., black, Latino, LGBT groups) that are fighting police brutality and building nonpolice safety projects, like the Audre Lorde Project's Safe OUTside the System in Brooklyn. Organize your own CopWatch--and photograph, videotape and publicize instances of police abuse. Consider and support models like the Los Angeles Community Action Network or the People's Self Defense Campaign of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in Brooklyn.

The First Amendment protects your right to solicit aid (panhandling), especially if your pitch or sign is a statement rather than a request. To succeed, be creative, funny, engaging ("I didn't get a bailout!"). Find good, high-traffic spots where the police won't bother you.

Housing is a human right! Squat. Forge coalitions with nonhomeless but potentially displaced people in this era of mass foreclosures. Support United Workers in Baltimore, the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco, the Nashville Homeless Power Project. Learn about campaigns against homelessness in other nations, including the Landless Workers' Movement in Brazil and the Anti-Eviction Campaign in South Africa.

Don't go it alone! Always be part of an informal network of trust and mutual aid. Start your own organization, with homeless people themselves shaping the fight for a better life and world. Check out the Picture the Homeless Blog for news, updates and reports on homelessness in NY.

CONCEIVED by WALTER MOSLEY with research by Rae Gomes

Monday, April 04, 2011

Light In Dark Places

"He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see."

---The Gospel of John, Chapter 9

An inspired Father Bill Carroll shared the Lenten message with us yesterday at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio~~~

Some of you have probably heard me quote lyrics from the Indigo Girls. As you may know, the they are a duo of activist singer-songwriters who were very popular when I was in college and are still recording today. They've been especially active in movements for peace and environmental justice, women's and LGBT equality, and the rights and concerns of indigenous peoples. What is often not known is that Emily Saliers, one of the group's two members, is the daughter of Don Saliers, a United Methodist Pastor who until recently was the William R. Cannon Professor of Theology and Christian Worship at Emory University. Several years ago, Don and Emily wrote a book together on "music as a spiritual practice" and gave a joint presentation about it at the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta.

One of the songs that Emily talked about that day was "Strange Fire," which deals with some biblical themes we ignore at our peril. The part that always gets me is the following:

Mercenaries of the shrine, who are you to speak for God?
With haughty eyes and lying tongues and hands that shed innocent blood.
Who delivered you the power to interpret Calvary?
You gamble away our freedom to gain your own authority.

What an indictment this is of what passes for religion among us. It is a good reminder to all of us, lay and clergy alike, who are called to represent God in word and deed.

This points us in the direction of some rather central themes in today's Gospel. For, in the presence of Jesus, the man born blind gets more than just his sight back. He gets his life back as he begins to break free of a religious system that asks the kind of question we see the disciples asking Jesus, namely "Who sinned, Rabbi, this man or his parents that he was born blind?"

The disciples should know better. After all, they are Jews. They know the story of Job, whose false comforters gave the very same kinds of explanation they now offer for the man's blindness. They have the testimony of Job, who refuses to curse God, even as he protests his innocence and cries out for justice from the ash heaps of history. Job, who in the end is brought to silence only by the hidden Wisdom who creates the world in love--the living God whose gratuitous, beneficent goodness defies the cruel, tit-for tat logic of our religious landscape, filled as it is with harsh monuments to our fear of the stranger and desire for control.

No, in the presence of the Son of God, the man gets his dignity back and is restored to human community. No longer is he an object of pity, a beggar by the side of the road. Now he is a person who can testify on his own behalf. "Ask him," his parents tell the Pharisees, "He is of age and will speak for himself."

But let's back up a bit. The initial answer of Jesus to his disciples would be troubling, if we took it to mean that God is somehow glorified by the man's suffering. That's not what's at stake. As we'll see next week with Lazarus, illness and suffering and even death are but the occasion of the manifestation of God's glory--a glory consummated on the Cross, where Jesus casts out the prince of darkness and offers himself up for life of the world. God is glorified, not by suffering itself, but by the victory of God's mercy and love in the midst of it.

The debate that breaks out among the Pharisees is a sign of our differing reactions to the light that exposes the sin and violence at the root of the earthly city and its religions. It is the chosen sin of self-justifying ideologies that counts as true blindness for Jesus. The Pharisees find themselves divided between those who accept the works of God for what they are and those who find fault with Jesus for breaking the Sabbath.

In the end, even the man's parents are frightened by the escalating recriminations and threat of expulsion from the synagogue. When the Pharisees ask them whether this is their son and whether he was born blind, they defer to their son's own testimony, partly out of fear. In the dialogue that ensues, the Pharisees try again and again to convince the man to speak against Jesus, but he steadfastly refuses. On the basis of his own experience, he has come to trust the One who opened his eyes. "One thing I know," he says. "I was blind, but now I see. If this man were not from God he could do nothing."

The reaction of the mercenaries of the shrine is as swift as it is predictable. They drive him out. Only his expulsion can secure their righteousness, their position, and their authority.

Needless to say, we're on dangerous ground here. The Gospel of John was written in the immediate aftermath of the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogue. And its treatment of the Jews is polemical in ways that might have been understandable when Christians were a persecuted minority but have led to further persecution ever since. After the Emperor Constantine, we began control the keys to the shrine ourselves and have needed to look more and more critically at our own use of power. One of the unsought blessings of a post-Christian age may be a return to the margins, where we Christians can rediscover our true home and voice.

As we prepare for Holy Week, however, a traditional time for anti-Jewish violence among us, we ought to underscore our history of complicity in oppressive violence, especially against our Jewish brothers and sisters. Even though it is now rejected by all responsible Christian bodies, the theory of a genetic guilt on the part of the Jews persists in its ugly and deadly power, amounting as it does to an evasion of the shared responsibility of the human race for all forms of sin and violence.

A religion centered around a tortured and crucified Savior ought to be able to come to a place of honesty about that. We ought also to be able to admit the Church's role in propping up other forms of injustice. In the clear light of the Gospel, we ought to be able to see those whom we ourselves exclude and oppress. We ought also to be able to see those nearest to us in a new light. We ought to be able to see our fellow parishioners, our co-workers, our family and friends in new ways. Whom do we hold at arm's length? Whom do we avoid or ignore? From whom do we withhold the passing of the peace? We must learn to seek these people out and turn to them for justice and mercy. For our salvation is bound up with theirs.

It is by exposing the works of darkness among us that we draw closer to Jesus, the light of the world. And it is when we pretend, contrary to all experience, that we see clearly or completely, that we risk staying in darkness and finding ourselves judged accordingly.

We are called to something better, brothers and sisters.

For once we walked in darkness, but now we are light in the Lord.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ohio Senate Bill 5 At A Glance

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.

---George Santayana

In rain during a dark night, enter that darkness.


An Englishman and an Indian were sitting in a garden together, and the Hindu was trying to explain basic Indian philosophy to the Englishman. "Look," he said, "there is a hedge at the end of the garden---against what do you see the hedge?"
"Against the hills," said the Englishman.
"And what do you see the hills against?"
"Against the sky."
"And what do you see the sky against?"
The Englishman had no answer, so the Hindu said: "You see it against consciousness."

---Indian mondo

Ohio Senate Bill 5, having passed our Senate by 1 vote, currently has moved to the Ohio House where testimony is taking place before the Commerce and Labor Committee. Hundreds of citizens have signed up to testify, but only the first dozen or so who manage to arrive at the Statehouse each day get in. Unlike other committee sessions of the Legislature, Ohio Government Television is not broadcasting these public hearings...nor can more than a couple dozen people get in the room. The Committee has promised to finish its work on the bill by the end of March. Upon passage Governor Kasich will sign it and, unless there is a referendum, it becomes law. The deadline for petition application for a referendum in November 2011 is April 6th.

Senate Bill 5 would affect all employees whose wages, health, safety, pension benefits and vacation and sick time are compensated in any way by the State of Ohio. The bill is 500 pages long. An attorney for the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association told a group on Saturday it took him 2 days to read it. I spent an afternoon on it just to see what's in it besides union negotiation. There's a lot! If you want to get an idea of what I mean, take a look~~~

Here is a quick summary, as provided by OCSEA and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, who are opposed to the bill~~~

1) Bargaining unit state employees do NOT have the right to bargain about the following:
* Privatization of a public employer's services or contracting out of work
* Staffing
* Joint Health Care Committee
* Layoff by seniority
* Promotional Qualifications
* Starting and Quitting times
* Number of hours worked by employees
* Shift assignments
* Assignment of Overtime (and any payment beyond 1 1/2 times rate)
* Pick-a-Post
* Labor Management Committees about any prohibited topics
* Following the Work when Contracted Out
* Past Practices

2) Healthcare
* Employee share of health care premium MUST be at least 15%
* No ability to bargain health care plan design

3) Equipment & Safety
* Cannot bargain minimum staffing requirements
* May only bargain equipment (including personal protective equipment) if management chooses to do so

4) Fiscal Emergency
* Governor can declare a fiscal emergency and void ANY and EVERY provision of the contract

5) Reduces Benefits
* Vacation Accrual is reduced to 7.7 hours at 19 years of service
* Sick Leave cashout at retirement is reduced to a 1000 hour cap at 50%
* No longevity or step increases
* Maximum sick leave accrual is reduced to 3.1 hours
* Personal Leave is limited to 3 days per year
* Merit pay increases only

6) Fact-finding/Dispute Settlement/Strike
* All Strikes are ILLEGAL with possible jail time and fine for violations
* If Fact-Finder's report is rejected, parties appeal to legislative body (same body that voted on Fact-Finder Report) to pick which last offer to choose (management or union)
* No Conciliation
* No informational Pickets

Unlike Wisconsin, in Ohio there is referendum but not recall. Therefore, the issue of SB5 can be put to a statewide vote, and a petition for that action is being planned~~~

What is a Statewide Referendum? It is:
* A challenge to a bill recently passed by the Ohio General Assembly (Senate and House) and signed into law by the Governor
* A citizen-initiated request that the law in question be the subject of a statewide vote
* A referendum "stays" the bill until the people have voted, so that the bill cannot be implemented

Process (limited to 90 days, which begins when the Governor signs the bill):
1. The initial petition application must be approved by both the Secretary of State (Husted-R) and the Attorney General (DeWine-R)
2. Then, petition signatures are gathered. Number of signatures needed:
a) 6% of the total number of votes cast for the Office of Governor in the last gubernatorial election, including
b) out of the total number, signatures from 3% of the votes cast in at least 44 of the 88 counties
3. Consequently, more than 450,000 signatures will be needed to ensure the requirements are met

Between now and April 6th, information will become available widely on how interested citizens, on either side of the controversy, can help. If the Governor does not sign by that day, a referendum would be held in November 2012, a presidential election year. The law still would not go into effect, pending results of that referendum. We believe Mr. Kasich will sign within the next 2 1/2 weeks. Comments and replies of course are welcome.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Who Will Save Us?

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there.

---Jalal-ad Din Rumi

Would that life were like the shadow cast by a wall or a tree, but it is like the shadow of a bird in flight.


We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

---W.H. Auden

Those of my generation, in our seventh decade, were raised by a mom who was home and a dad who worked. They were assisted by watchful relatives and neighbors, a school you could walk to...and come home for lunch...our church and community organizations. But alone in our rooms---and many of us had rooms of our own---all of those were assisted, however dubiously, by comic books and radio drama. We had real heroes, like baseball players, but for the tough jobs like saving the world from power-hungry bad guys or a family in trouble in the Wild West we needed our imaginations.

There weren't many special effects yet in the movies of the 1940s. Bogie lighting a cigarette was good enough for us. Flash Gordon's spaceship had sparks that came out the back and then fell down onto a table or something. Even we knew there was no gravity in outer space. The real effects were from superheroes in the comics or from the voices and sound effects on the radio. Mom and Dad worried all that stuff was a waste of time and maybe worse. Were they right? How do the Lone Ranger and Tonto help me face Ohio Senate Bill 5?

Superheroes worked best in comic books. Superman on the radio just didn't cut it. A single frame in a comic could show Superman flying around the earth to turn the clock back to an earlier time. You couldn't do that on the radio and we had to wait for Christopher Reeve to show us in the movies. The Green Hornet and the Shadow were great on radio, but they weren't true superheroes. Batman and Robin had to be comics, and the Joker on the page still transcends even Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. (Joker may be working for FoxNews though.)

What we liked about superheroes was that most of the time they were regular people. Sometimes they even were disabled people...but when duty called or ultimate danger was in the air for all humankind, they changed into beings who could fly or have incredible machines or impenetrable suits and superhuman strength. They could and did save us with these powers.

OK, we knew all that stuff was fantasy and just pretend. But Westerns were different. Here we could go to the movies...and we did every Saturday afternoon. But the most popular Western on radio never worked in the movies. Jay Silverheels WAS Tonto, but you couldn't get a Long Ranger except on the radio. He had been a lawman whose unit was ambushed and wiped out by bad guys. He wore a mask so no one would know he had survived, saved by Tonto in fact. Why Tonto was a lone Indian never was explained I think, but today we can imagine perhaps his tribe had been rubbed out or driven away.

So here were these two individuals riding around trying to right wrongs and help the Wild West become safe and peaceful. The Lone Ranger's mask made people think he was an outlaw, no matter how famous he became. Tonto was feared because of the heritage of his race, so the whole project of doing good was an uphill battle. They had a secret silver mine where they made their ammunition. His horse was named Silver and his calling card was a silver bullet. All of these aspects enriched the saga that every kid knew probably until more recent times.

Now as I hobble into our present day, what have these stories brought me? We have an overcrowded planet and countless more babies born every minute. The earth's ability to sustain life as we experience it may be in peril. Air, water, and resources are increasingly dear. Employment soon may return precisely to what the boss thinks of you rather than how you can prove you do the job well. Governments, that we set up originally as a kind of fortress against the wilds of Nature, no longer may protect us. Disasters of health and finances will be a death sentence, unless you personally can find help somewhere.

I cannot hope for the Lone Ranger to arrive in a cloud of dust and a hearty HiYo Silver! I must take the lessons he and Tonto taught me and use them to support my friends and family. I don't have the riches of Bruce Wayne or a ward who can become Robin the Boy Wonder. I have no superpowers. I can write this essay though. My imagination from all those old radio shows remains keen and sharp. Is there a way out of this mess? Is there something I can do besides cower before those who already own so much and are buying more and more? I have published my values and they may know who I am. Soon I may be completely vulnerable, exposed, captured. In that event, may I have the courage I learned in my youth!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Strangers In The Land

Stranger in the Village #13, 1998
Enamel, oil and acrylic paint, gesso, and coal dust on canvas by Glenn Ligon (1960- )
The nearly illegible text is from James Baldwin's 1953 essay of the same title, passages from which follow~~~

…I say that the culture of these people controls me — but they can scarcely be held responsible for European culture. America comes out of Europe, but these people have never seen America, nor have most of them seen more of Europe than the hamlet at the foot of their mountain. Yet they move with an authority which I shall never have; and they regard me, quite rightly , not only as a stranger in their village but as a suspect latecomer, bearing no credentials, to everything they have — however unconsciously — inherited.

For this village, even were it incomparably more remote and incredibly more primitive, is the West, the West onto which I have been so strangely grafted. These people cannot be, from the point of view of power, strangers anywhere in the world; they have made the modern world, in effect, even if they do not know it.…

The rage of the disesteemed is personally fruitless, but it is also absolutely inevitable; this rage, so generally discounted, so little understood even among the people whose daily bread it is, is one of the things that makes history. Rage can only with difficulty, and never entirely, be brought under the domination of the intelligence and is therefore not susceptible to any arguments whatever. This is a fact which ordinary representatives of the Herrenvolk, having never felt this rage and being unable to imagine, quite fail to understand.

---James Baldwin
"Stranger in the Village" is the concluding essay of his Notes of a Native Son, published in 1955.

A few Sundays ago, our Episcopal rector gave us a sermon I promised to post when I had the chance. As usual he was glad to hear that, but said it might be a while because he already had offered it online and wanted to be sure that site got credited. Father Bill Carroll's piece now is available and I urge you to take a moment to reflect on it~~~

On immigration: Are we heeding Moses and the prophets?
Not long ago, we asked people how they preached on the difficult gospel passage below. The Rev. Bill Carroll responded.

By Bill Carroll

Jesus said, "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
(Luke 16:19-31)

I wrote this sermon for one of the women who cleaned my parents' house when I was growing up. Her name is Gilda, and she took over the job from her mother Lupe, whom my mother hired not long after we moved to San Diego when I was ten. Gilda spoke very little English. She was a Mexican citizen with documentation to work in this country. Twice a week she worked at our house, and I assume she had other jobs during the week. She came by public transit from Tijuana, Mexico, some twenty-five miles away.

I remember my mother's efforts to be fair. She paid Gilda more than the going rate. She made or bought lunch for her every day, and she tried to give her a ride to and from the bus stop, which was about a mile from our house. At the same time, however, even as a child, I was aware that Gilda was living on the edge. She must have been bone tired, emotionally and physically weary. Nearly every day, she was harassed and shaken down for bribes by officials on both sides of the border. Despite the fact that she needed the job and seemed to appreciate kindnesses that her other employers did not extend, nothing can really change the brute, social facts surrounding our relationship.

I was thinking about Gilda when the House of Bishops met in Arizona recently. There was some controversy about whether they should meet there at all, in light of recent events in that state. One of the positive things to come out of that decision was a delegation of thirty bishops, who spent two days on both sides of the border, meeting with everyone from immigrants to ranchers to border patrol agents to clergy ministering along the border. The bishops also adopted a pastoral letter, drafted by a committee chaired by our own bishop (Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio), on comprehensive immigration reform.

The letter is available here. It is addressed to "the People of God." As is true of any letter written by committee for a diverse audience, the letter strives for balance. The legitimate concerns of ranchers, law enforcement, and border security advocates are acknowledged. Nevertheless, our bishops do manage to say something clear and substantive. More importantly, they put front and center the needs of poor people crossing the border for work, whether documented or not. Here is the meat of what the bishops had to say:

(1) Ours is a migratory world in which many people move across borders to escape poverty, hunger, injustice and violence. We categorically reject efforts to criminalize undocumented migrants and immigrants, and deplore the separation of families and the unnecessary incarceration of undocumented workers. Since, as we are convinced, it is natural to seek gainful employment to sustain oneself and one’s family, we cannot agree that the efforts of undocumented workers to feed and shelter their households through honest labor are criminal.

(2) We profess that inhumane policies directed against undocumented persons (raids, separation of families, denial of health services) are intolerable on religious and humanitarian grounds, as is attested by the consensus of a wide range of religious bodies on this matter.

(3) We call on the government of the United States and all governments to create fair and
humane immigration policies...

In taking this stand, which will not be popular in every corner of the Church, our bishops have done what they promised at their ordination. Among the vows that bishops take is a particular promise to "be merciful to all, show compassion to the poor and strangers, and defend those who have no helper."

But the bishops, seeking to encourage us all, appeal not primarily to this promise of theirs but instead to the baptismal covenant they share with all of us, wherein we promise to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."

In their role as teachers of the Word of God, the bishops also cite the Scriptures. In particular, they mention the law given to Moses on Sinai, as recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Numbers: There shall be for you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. And they refer to a glorious passage from Ephesians, chapter two, which speaks of how in Christ, we are no longer "strangers and aliens" but "citizens with the saints and...members of the household of God."

The bishops might just have well referred to the story of Lazarus and the rich man, appointed for Sunday right after their letter came out. This Gospel is one of several passages in the New Testament, the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew also comes to mind, where it is made clear to us that our decisions about how to respond to brothers and sisters in need, particularly when they are poor and vulnerable, are decisions for or against God and God's Kingdom.

In this life, the rich man ignored the cries of poor Lazarus, who lay wounded and hungry at his gate. Perhaps he could scarcely see him for who he was. Even if he did see him, he averted his gaze, ignored him, and tried to pretend he wasn't there. He certainly didn't respond to his needs, get to know him, or find out what gifts he had to offer.

I believe that for Christians living in the United States, which despite our recent difficulties is still the richest country on earth, this parable provides a challenge and a warning. Do we see the poor of the world? Do we see the poor who are already among us, both immigrant and "native-born"? Do we see the growing underclass among us, as poverty and extreme poverty rates continue to climb?

How do we respond when we notice these children of God lying at our gates? Do we cover our eyes? Do we call the cops? Or do we invite them in, offer them a seat at the table, and find ways for them to contribute and belong? We dare not turn a blind eye to the fundamental realities already on the ground. Immigrants are already contributing mightily to the economy, to the communities they live in, and to the society as a whole. There are law enforcement challenges to be sure and no one has all the answers, but the existing laws are out of touch with reality. And the climate of fear and scapegoating is dangerous. It runs contrary to both our best instincts as a nation and the Gospel mandate to tear down every wall that divides human beings.

This commandment from God is rooted in Israel's history as a nation of migrant workers, who came to Egypt to avoid famine and were mistreated by Pharaoh, until GOD came and set them free. This is why, again and again, the prophets remind us of our obligation to create justice for the poor and vulnerable among us: remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

In the story from Luke 16, when the rich man asks father Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, Abraham tells him that they already have Moses and the prophets and should listen to them. Truly, brothers and sisters, if WE will not heed Moses and the prophets, and respond to our brothers and sisters in need, there is perhaps no hope for us. No, not even if someone rises from the dead.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.
Posted by Jim Naughton on October 19, 2010 4:17 AM

You may access the original and reply directly to Father Carroll at this site where there already are a few fine comments.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

A Sincere Heart

Cindy Yeager pictures herself.

What are we waiting for? A woman? Two trees? Three flags? Nothing. What are we waiting for?

---Andre Breton

Whenever I catch a frog's eye I am aware of this, but I do not find it depressing. I stand quite still and try hard not to move or lift a hand since it would only frighten him. And standing thus it finally comes to me that this is the most enormous extension of vision of which life is capable: the projection of itself into other lives. This is the lonely, magnificent power of humanity. It is, far more than any spatial adventure, the supreme epitome of the reaching out.

---Loren Eiseley

For years, copying other people, I tried to know myself. From within, I couldn't decide what to do. Unable to see, I heard my name being called. Then I walked outside.

---Jalal-ad-Din Rumi

Once in a rare while, someone you've never seen before walks into a room and rivets your attention. It may be the flair, it may be the grace, it may be the bravado...and sometimes it is angelic humility. It is with the last quality that Cindy Yeager entered my consciousness. She came in the room almost as if she wanted to be invisible. It wasn't because she felt ashamed of how she looked. She was a most natural, windy wheatfield kind of way. It was because she didn't like how she felt, but knew this was the place to be.

It was a room where people talk about very basic feelings...or attempt to...and practice doing. For many of us talking about our feelings is not least to do it with complete honesty. She knew she would have to do that here...and so she sort of curled up in a chair, ran her graceful hand through shocks of hair every shade of blonde imaginable, and took for granted the hair would stay the way her hand had passed through. And it did for a while. Then she continued with lowered head and eyes to sit contemplatively until it was her turn to try to put it into words.

Cindy was in the midst of a painful divorce. Her relationship with her husband had been deteriorating for some time, as apparently was his mental health. A diagnosis finally revealed the cause, and Cindy wondered what to do. Should she now shift to caring for this man, who perhaps could no longer care for her, plus continue to mother their 2 teen-aged sons as well? Would she not also have to provide for this family with some kind of job? It was overwhelming and she had wept every day about it. And as she told us, she began to weep right then. Her tears, her honest emotion, her humility was such that everybody in the place started weeping. It was a catharsis.

But Cindy didn't even notice that. This wasn't for audience reaction. This wasn't for pity. She was working. She was working hard. To work it out. It was tragic for her to divorce because she loved him...and, for a Catholic, it also was wrong. But a friend had told her convincingly, "Cindy, you have suffered so much. Now you deserve to be happy." She believed her friend. She knew the suffering was eating her alive...and she felt the pain she now endured through the divorce was more worthwhile than fighting perhaps a hopeless battle of her husband's condition.

And for the next several months Cindy would come into these rooms and suffer, and try to put it into words, and get it out. And she would cry...and we would cry. And we all went through it together. And as we did everyone developed a love for Cindy...and for each other too. Because a group can't go through something like this and not end up in love. And Cindy loves us. And so everybody hugs everybody else when Cindy is around. That in itself is a successful life.

Now I'm telling you all this because it certainly is worth telling. But there's more. Cindy writes and even teaches poetry. Unlike most of us, she even has found a way to make sort of a living at it. That's not all she does to support herself and the boys, but it is what we're looking at today. Last week Cindy walked into a room again, and over to me, and handed me three poems. With customary humility, she asked, "Would you take a look at these when you have a chance?"

A group of us were having a huge breakfast, and I didn't want to spill syrup on poems...but carefully I couldn't wait to read the first one, which is called "To My Odysseus." I got halfway through and realized I was reading an intensely personal love poem. I shifted gears...and then I began to utter little noises as I read on. The three poems that are posted here are Cindy's effort to put the ache into poetry. I don't know when I've read such personal expression as these works. Rest assured, the gentleman under discussion, her ex-, knows this is happening. They're going online and he's OK with it.

I think you'll find these are magnificent poems, whether you know Cindy personally or not. And of course after you've read them, you will know Cindy personally. That is what poetry is for.

To My Odysseus

Our sons have told me that Sasquatch
has been found, in a northern Canadian cabin,
DNA evidence on a nail
protruding from a floorboard.
It may happen. Mythical creatures,
whose very existence we thought a
fabrication of human longing, manifest.
Isn't that was longing does?

Yesterday I returned
overdue magazines to the library. They
get caught up in the landscape of belongings,
take residence in the bathroom or
at the foot of the bed,
the Rolling Stone in the former, the
Natural Home, the latter, a testament
to my ridiculous aspiration to
neatness, every cover
a perfect, orderly dream.

The circulation manager told me
I had a credit on my account. "That's
impossible," I said, but we agreed,
miracles should not be ignored.
And so, just now,

I thought of you telling me
how you dream you hear me breathing
next to you in the night
though I haven't been there
on the left side, my side, of the bed
for months. You tell me this,
your breath warm on my naked shoulder,
my arms around your back like
a sea creature, a siren,
this moment
both mythical, and real.

These nights when I gaze the sky alone
I easily find Orion
who's marked the passing decades
like blood reinvents us,
every seven years, the person I am now
completely different from the one
that you married
all those years ago.

From the corner of my eye, Orion
in the eastern sky, me, here
in the front yard, far from the sea, you,
sleeping in the bed inside, not a ship,
though you toss and turn
like its waves that move you.

Outside, I am singing,
like a woman who cannot stop herself,
singing, singing,
the sound, hope
to the sailor
long absent from his home,
from the sound of someone breathing,
his wife's familiar taste, the salty
tendril of her hair,
gone so long
her very existence
now the thing of stories.


The Gift

This morning I am giving you my body
for the last time. These breasts
which fed your sons so well, now
older, soft, a safe and restful place,
hide the beating heart beneath
a steady drum, the measure
of my one true self. These hips

which held those babies up
above the fray of absence
and resentment, the ones
you pulled to your own
each morning before light;
they are taking up their journey
now; these hips are leaving.

The legs you first noticed
and desired, long as yours and strong
as steel, these legs are longing
for another place to fold themselves
underneath themselves.

The skin we all agree
has aged with grace.
Your face upon my shoulder,
your fingertips along
my arm, remember these
because they will
not brush this skin again.

This body has been my only answer
to your questions of despair.
I gave it willfully; you took it
every time. It bought a home,
allowed a dog, made a fence--
the fence I wanted--raised a family
but it's leaving now. The mind,
the heart have called it back
to be with me in stillness
which is not death, but life, again,
though you doubt it so.


Pill Bug

The poem begins with a sock curled in
upon itself, the way they do when boys
pull them off and leave them where they fall.
The ball of white so different from the nearly
feathered bird, still upon the concrete
where I found him dead tonight, skin,
translucent, gentle neck, eyes blue
pearls of sleep. The fragile shift we all
could make when no one holds us back.

And then the image of that not quite formed
baby boy, the one at fifteen weeks
the nurse held in her palm, the one
my body pushed away, a bloody mess
of hemorrhage, and you across the room
sickened, now, I understand, afraid
you'd lose me in the bleeding though I knew
I'd stay if I survived. You were my family now.
You and I and sons who'd later come
to fill the gap of emptiness, began that day
in March, the first hard tug of gut
as painful as the last. I said DON'T LOOK
our thumb-sized son already named,
but we looked, you and I, at what we had
become, two lonely souls, two tired angels,
briefly clinging to a bedrail,
the knowledge of aloneness
like a new book's broken spine, permission granted
to read on, the story had to write itself.

And then,
the pill bug that I find
curled in fright beneath the last
of ash and oak, a nesting place
for such small things, and now
I curl upon myself, the memory
of your sweet tongue
drawing me to come to you,
in a ball, protected
by the outer shell of nothing,
the illusion that I can
live like this and so
I just let go, accept the pulse,
the blood, the heart, the wound
of sex that brought us back
to our beginning, the loneliness,
the gripping hands, the death
of someone you're expecting
but who never will arrive.