Archive for April, 2007

Violence and the instruments of our own misfortune

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

Taoist Philosopher Lao-tzu once wrote that weapons are instruments of misfortune, and that those who are violent do not die naturally.

The recent events at the Virginia Tech campus attest to this truth.

Cho Seung-Hui, a native of South Korea, moved to the United States at age 8 with his family. At the time of the shooting, he was a senior in the English department with a chronicled history of abnormal behavior and a particularly violent writing style.

All told, between 175 and 225 bullets were fired, killing 33 people, including Cho. All indications suggest the massacre was premeditated, and that there were some signs of his instability to those around him before he carried it out.

As experts sift through the evidence trying to understand Cho’s motive, the argument is raised once again about gun control. One side is quick to point out that permissive weapons legislation allow such troubled young people to buy devices of extreme violence everywhere from local storefronts to eBay. Proponents of the constitutional right to bear arms contend this is just such an act against which a responsible public must be allowed to protect themselves.

This event, the bloodiest in modern American history, has caused me to reflect on my own personal relationship with guns, or more accurately, that of my family.

My grandfather died of cancer when I was a teenager. He was a generally angry man who seldom afforded himself any emotional intimacy, even with his wife and children. As I grew older, I learned bits and pieces about his past, generally through others.

As a boy, my grandfather found his mother’s body in the garage of their home, after she had shot herself in the head. Neither he nor anyone else in the family ever spoke about this while he was alive, though I pieced a few things together over the years. Such an experience could help explain much about his morose disposition, and his habit of waking up to a cocktail of orange juice and vodka nearly every day.

He had the triple whammy of genetically based depression, the loss of his mother and the trauma of finding her dead. In this context, his reclusive nature and tendency to self-medicate made more sense.

Strangely, though, he maintained a disturbing connection to the incident by keeping the gun she used to kill herself. As if this was not macabre enough, he gave it to my father before his death.

Throughout my childhood, my father kept two guns in his unlocked nightstand. One was a Ruger with a fully loaded clip, and the other was an old black revolver. Though I can’t confirm its origins, since we don’t speak of it, I believe the revolver is the one used in my great-grandmother’s suicide.

I remember, on occasion, sneaking into my parents’ room to peek into the drawer at the guns. The very sight of them made my skin tingle. Once or twice I actually picked up the revolver, just to feel the weight of it in my hand. There was a morbid exhilaration, both in the power it held and the knowledge of the life it had claimed.

I have fired a gun only once, at a gun range under the supervision of my father. Both the noise and the recoil of the firearm scared the hell out of me, and I’ve never touched one since.

The most frequent argument I hear in support of owning a gun is protection against others with the capacity and means to commit acts of violence against those whom we love. Self-preservation is a natural human response. However, it is not a Christ-like response. Nor is it a response advocated by any major world religion or philosophy, including mainstream Islam.

Albert Einstein once was asked how World War III would be fought. His response was, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Our dependence on mechanized tools of aggression ultimately will be the instrument of our own misfortune. The prospect of mutual annihilation may help maintain a temporary peace, but like Cho and others who find solace in these means, they point to an inevitable, and unnatural, end.

A Love Supreme (spoken word)

Friday, April 27th, 2007

A Love Supreme
(w/ Excerpt from lyrics by Leon Thomas)

In 1926 the cosmos concocted
A cacophonic spark.
When John William Coltrane made his mark,
The air was dark and heavy
To the point of choking.
America’s broken prism of idealism
Shone in racial schisms and tokenism.
The depression loomed just out of reach,
Would-be slaves, though free from chains,
Were not free in speech.
The black man could teach his children,
Just not too much, and as long
As they didn’t touch elbows with those
Whose clothes were newer, skin was whiter,
Who had a sense of veracity, or at least the capacity
To hold fast to these ideals that made real
The great divide.

In ’51, off of a stint with Dizzy
Trane’s veins trembled with the roar
Of the Dragon. For six years,
Heroin was his God.
Trane worshipped at the feet of Bird,
Charlie Parker, the junk-headed, smack-fueled
Bebop savant who was so good,
Even Trane wanted to be like him,
Play like him, shoot up like him, even die like him
If it meant touching the transcendence
Morbidly married to Bird’s dependence

By ’64, we were knee-deep in war.
While some protested, others, bare-chested,
Pressed at the time-tested tenets of patriotism,
Creating another schism of American idealism.
Then Trane soothed the pain of ingrained,
Entrenched thought, his pitch drenched
Love-torn souls,
Jetted in on a ray of radiance like the sun
To shine on those in our midst and
The still unborn in this hour of our great need.
He poured down like a cleansing rain,
Healing pain, washing stains of red
From seas of black and white.
While King had a dream of freedom at last
Malcolm said justice would come to pass
When the chickens came home to roost.

But Trane began to believe the power lay
Not in either way, but instead in music’s fray.
He believed melody could heal the sick.
He believed arpeggios could summon the rains.
He believed that, in his tonal dissonance
Was a cosmic constant, a Divine being,
A key to nature’s geometry
Reflecting life’s asymmetry,
Like the nectar from a healing tree,
Music was life in a dying world.
A composition of the spheres,
Transcending the style of his years
Transcribing the elliptical, orbital patterns
That gathered order into all matter,
Transposing the audible life stream
From dream to daylight,
From fantasy to true sight
His second heaven was life-bread, leavened
By perfect consciousness
Of a Love Supreme.

Late Again (spoken word)

Friday, April 27th, 2007

I know I haven’t posted a spoken word piece in forever, but it looks like I have some new motivation. First off, I set up a monthly gig with a local coffeehouse to perform a combination of Jazz (with some friends of mine) and spoken word. The first event was packed, so I’m hopeful we’ll start a new cultural trand here in little old Pueblo.

Second, I’ve hooked up with a literary agent who is helping me shop some of my projects to publishers. So far, the spoken word book is getting the most attention, with two or three publishers showing at least cursory interest.  So all of htis is to say I have the necessary impetus to get on the spoken word horse again, and to kick it off, here’s one of two pieces I’ve written recently.

And yes, before your write and ask, I talked to Amy baout htis one before performing it live. she understands both the humos and the core of truth in it!

Late Again

Marriage and children have taught me
Two truths, brought me from youth
To man, shown where I stand
In the master plan, which is
At the back of the bus.

Truth number one:
Let’s face it son, the relativity of time
Is not some just sublime paradigm,
Snatched from the mind of Albert Einstein.
Time’s relativity hinders my proclivity
For promptness.
You have relatives or you have time,
But never both.

Truth number two:
I will be late to everything,
Every day of my life,
From now on until I die.
It’s not that we don’t try,
And there’s always a good reason why,
But traveling in a pack of three or more
Opens a door to a kind of late
You’ve never seen before.

No longer controlling time’s unfolding,
The clock’s constant clip is molding me,
Holding me hostage, in the form of –
In no particular order –
Wet pants,
Time for the naked dance,
Fingers in the makeup,
Thirty minutes to wake up from naps,
A kid who craps himself,
Then yanks books off the shelf,
Goldfish crackers up the nose,
Fingerprints on windows,
And a body that grows
So pants that fit yesterday
Now look like leggings

And no begging is stronger
Than a wife’s will to take longer
Getting ready than God took
To create the friggin’ universe.
The inside of her purse is worse
Than a hazmat site. 
If you need a light to find crap
Shoved to the bottom of that
Black hole you carry on your shoulder,
While I’m getting older by the minute
As you dig around in it,
Searching for the midnight blue eye shadow,
Just like the kind Cameron Diaz wore
At the Oscars three years before,
Instead of the seventeen other shades of eye shadow,
All of which look exactly the same to me,
Right there on the shelf…
Well, then it must be very important.
I’ll wait downstairs.

Twenty minutes tardy
To a friend’s surprise party
And I finally have one foot out the door.
Then comes the voice: “Honey,”
“Did you remember the sippy cups?”
Back inside, cupboards bare, no clean cups,
I dump out what looks like milk
With green hair on it in a pooh bear cup
Rinse it quick, fill it up again, and back to the door.

“Honey?” Then the dreaded pause.
“Don’t forget the Lovey.”
What the hell is a Lovey?
I’m afraid to ask, so I grab something
That looks Lovey-ish to me,
And I’m back to the car when she looks at me
Like I’ve got teeth
Growing out of the back of my neck.
“What’s that?””
“That, in your hand. What is it?”
“Ummm, a Lovey?”
Bad father trip beginning in three…two…one…

Back to the house for the Lovey,
Why didn’t she call it his blue blanket???
Smells like pee, but far be it from me to
Come back free of said Lovey.
“He just threw up, all over his clothes.
And the back seat.
And most of the front seat.
And little on the dashboard.
And on the map to the party.
Can you grab some wet wipes and a new set of clothes?
Oh, and you’d better print some new directions too,
Unless you want to try to do it from memory like last time.”
“Yes dear.”

Yes dear: The words of a defeated man.
The sound of a masculine plan emasculated by
The machinations of maternal malingering
And child-borne chaos.
I’m not above help.
Step one: admit you are powerless over lateness
And that your life has become unmanageable.
“Hi, my name is Christian, and I’m late again.”

Lost: Thoughts on last two episodes

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

I’ve been out of town for a while, which is why I have not had a chance to post about the last two episodes of Lost. This week, I’m watching my son by myself while my wife is away at a retreat, so this will be shorter than some, as I have to go pick him up shortly.

Let me first say “I told you so” about Juliette. It was pretty clear there was more going on there than appearances might suggest. However, I do wonder about a couple of things. First off, why the heck is Juliette doing anything Ben says?  Now that they apparently have no way off the island, what trump card does he have left to play?  Perhaps this ties back in with the “Magic Box” which Locke has gone with them to see, in my opinion. I think we’ll get some resolution to this by the end of the season. It could be also that Juliette simply is playing both sides and really isn’t loyal to Ben. However given his understanding of people, you’d think he would realize that and not send her in among the survivors if htis was the case.

This brings me to another question: Are the Others really bad?  It’s easy to think so if you have empathy for the survivors, but I think there’s more gray area than good guys/bad guys. I think before the end of this season, we’ll have the tables somewhat turned, with a revelation or two that may suggest that some of the behavior identified to date by the others as bad (ie, kidnapping Claire and conducting tests on her and her baby in particular) might have had some more altruistic motive.

Regarding the Desmond episode from last week, I enjoyed it, though not as much as the Juliette epi. Seeing more about his background was interesting, though I would rather know more about Penelope and the Widmores than why he says “Brotha” all the time.

Oh, but did anyone else notice the picture sitting on the monk’s desk when Desmond wnet to turn his monk garb in?  If you play it back in slow motion, it appears that the gray-haired woman in the picture with the monk is the same one who refused to sell Desmond the ring at the jewelry store. This suggests to me that, like the Jewelry store lady, the monk in charge knows Desmond is supposed to leave the order. It’s not simply a matter of “higher calling,” but rather that he really KNOWS he’s not supposed to stay there.

As far as the skydiving lady in the Darth Vader suit, did anyone really think Penelope would airdrop herself in like that?  No, she’s the kind of person who hires people to do that kind of thing for her. I’m guessing that’s who the woman is: an employee of Penelope Widmore. Who else would possibly know how to find the island?  Who else would know Desmond’s name on sight? how else did the picture in the book get there if she wasn’t sent with it?  So this would suggest not only that Penelope is on Desmond’s trail. The greater implication is that the island actually CAN be located by the outisde world, which raises the prospect of rescue, independent of the Others.

That’s all I have time for today. I’ll look forward to others’ thoughts, so consider this a “to be continued…”

Abstinence-only program failures provide an opportunity

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

A multi-year study of several abstinence-until-marriage sex education courses has found recently that the programs have no effect on the number of sex partners participants have or the age at which they first engage in sexual activity.

The same legislative body that spends more than $175 million on these programs every year ordered the study, though proponents of the approach were swift to argue reasons for the negative results. The programs in question, they say, are some of the oldest in existence, and do not reflect the more recent advances in abstinence-only education.

That having been said, there were many differences among the programs. Some were voluntary while others were mandatory. Some took place during the school day and some were after school. All programs offered what were considered to be intensive programs (more than 50 hours), and thousands of students were tracked over a seven-year period.

No statistically significant differences between those in any of the studies and members of the control group were found.

In the interest of fairness, critics of such programs have argued for years that abstinence programs actually have a negative effect, causing more children to engage in risky sex activity than if they had received no instruction. This was not found the case to be either. So at least we can say our $175 million has had no impact, at the worst.

What strikes me as most interesting about this is not that the programs didn’t work. Instead, the most compelling point is the collective surprise demonstrated by those who believed in them. For the most part, advocates were and still are generally theologically conservative folks who believe there is a moral basis for not teaching the use of contraception, or any means of risk-reduction other than abstinence, for that matter.

It seems to me that if this group was using Scripture as the basis for their position, they’d see that there were some indicators that this approach might be less than effective.

Let’s consider the Garden of Eden. God provides a paradise for his beloved humans, and gives them one caveat: Don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge. So what do Adam and Eve do? Exactly what they are not supposed to.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that the term for sex in the Bible generally is “to know” someone. So do we really believe they were fiends for actual fruit, or is it possible that the very first morality tale has to do with sex?

Furthermore, if God batted less than a thousand keeping us in line once we were given the ability to choose our own way, what makes us think we’d be any better at it with our young folks?

Later on, King David struggles to keep his loincloth tied, and so the stories go, particularly throughout the Old Testament. Though it’s not sexually related, even Peter, the cornerstone of the Christian church, faces the weakness of his own flesh. Though confronted by Jesus himself about his denials to come, Peter says, “Come on, not me, right?”

Then, with the best of intentions, he goes and does it anyway when faced with mortal fear.

Even Paul, the fiercest defender of the faith, decries his tendency to do the very things he hates. Some role models we have! All prone to human weakness and fallibility.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestselling “The Tipping Point,” discusses in his book why, though America is spending hundreds of millions on teen smoking campaigns, teen smoking is on the rise. He notes that it’s in the nature of teens to rebel and even to seek out behavior they know is risky. His answer? Do what you can to mitigate risk factors, rather than focusing on the impossible task of hoping to change teens into compliant, risk-averse mini-adults.

Plenty of folks will continue to argue that talking about condoms and other protective measures is tantamount to sexual permission. However, when you’ve spent more than a billion dollars on programs proven not to work, maybe it’s time to consider the possibility your moral compass is pointing you in the wrong direction.

Clarification on discount

Friday, April 20th, 2007

I apologize for any confusion about this, but apparently, the 40% discount only works for orders done by email, phone or fax. The correct phone number listed in the prior email is correct (1-800-366-3383) and the email where you can send any orders is

Again, sorry for the confusion.

Deep discount Chalice Press promotion

Friday, April 20th, 2007

In case you or anyone you know has interest in the many titles offered by my publisher, Chalice Press (, now is a pretty good time to check out their website.

From now until May 25th, you can buy ANY of their books (including my LOST book and advance copies of our upcoming book, MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation) for 40% off the full list price.  For what it’s worth, this is the same discount I get on their titles as an author, including for my own books, so I think it’s a pretty sweet deal.

When you go to their wbesite at, enter the promotional code “SEM” at checkout in the box that says “Enter Special Offer Code” to get the 40% discount.  You can also use this code if you order by phone. Their customer service number is 1-800-366-3383. I don’t think there are quantity or title limits on this, so if you’ve thought of grabbing some of their books, this is the best discount I’ve seen them offer.

Feel free to pass this along to others who might appreciate the promotion as well.



No Joke: Ignorance may be blissful, but it can be a killer

Saturday, April 14th, 2007

I am a fan of political satire shows such as “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

Like Jonathan Swift, these modern social commentators recognize that one poignant way to comment on the many absurdities in national and global politics is through humor.

Stephen Colbert, the host of “The Colbert Report,” recently interviewed a congressman in his ongoing series, “Better Know a District.” In it, Colbert puts tongue-in-cheek questions to members of Congress, generally causing them to laugh nervously, squirm in their chairs and fumble for the most politically benign response.

One of the many notable interviews included Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Georgia, a politician noted for co-sponsoring a bill to display the Ten Commandments in both the House and Senate chambers. However, when Colbert asked Westmoreland if he could name the Ten Commandments, he could think of only three.

Unfortunately, Westmoreland’s lack of biblical knowledge is indicative of the general American population. A recent USA Today article noted that 60 percent of Americans cannot name at least five of the Ten Commandments, and half of high school seniors polled believe that Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple.

Theology experts quoted in the article claim that our collective “religious illiteracy” has the potential to be the most dangerous weapon in our ideological arsenal.

“We’re doomed if we don’t understand what motivates the beliefs and behaviors of the rest of the world,” says Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University. “We can’t outsource this to demagogues, pundits and preachers with a political agenda.”

Rev. Joan Brown, former general secretary of the National Council of Churches, fears that our lack of knowledge has an impoverishing effect. “You can’t draw on the resources of faith if you only have an emotional understanding,” she says, “not a sense of the texts and teachings.”

These only are a few symptoms. In a 2006 poll of young Americans aged 18 to 24, 88 percent could not identify Afghanistan on a map. Sixty-three percent could not find Iraq or Saudi Arabia, and three-fourths were unable to locate Israel or Iran. Following the devastation of hurricane Katrina, one-third still could not find Louisiana on an American map.

It’s one thing to be ignorant. It’s another to speak and act with conviction based upon this ignorance. I would not begrudge anyone a lack of information, but I believe we should be held accountable for decisions we make – as well as people and legislation for which we vote – without the necessary information.

There’s a reason why fascist political regimes ban books and imprison intellectuals. Such information is the most powerful armament of a population. Without it, we are beholden to the very demagogues, pundits and agenda-driven religious leaders who are left holding the keys.

In effect, our willing ignorance is tantamount to handing these keys of power over to those who will seize them. The results can be chilling. One need only look back to the effects of the Crusades to witness the devastating effects of a complicit relationship between politicians and religious heads, unchecked by the general public.

It is assumed that our congressmen and women, presidents, judges, and ministers are equipped with the necessary information to make decisions in our stead, always with the best interests of their contingency at heart. But whom are we fooling?

Today, we are enmeshed in what many would call an ideological war with religiously fueled extremists in the Middle East. It can be argued, however, that on the whole we don’t know what and who it is we’re fighting. What’s worse, we don’t seem to be particularly clear what it is we stand for here at home.

It may be entertaining to watch our political and religious figureheads squirm in the hot seat, but the deeper symptoms to which it points hardly are a laughing matter.

Hey Christians: What’s With the Easter Party?

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

I’ve put off writing my Easter column as long as possible. It’s not that I don’t like Easter; on the contrary, it’s always been one of my favorite holidays. Aside from the celebratory atmosphere at church, it always has represented for me the dominance of spring over the desolate grip of winter.

I love watching children scramble excitedly for eggs, and the smell of tulips and lilies invigorates even the dustiest of souls.

So why the reluctance?

Short of a “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” approach to Scripture, Easter can be the most challenging phenomenon in one’s Christian faith. Anyone can relate to the birth of a child, and though the threat of death looms at Christmas with Herod’s order of mass male infant executions, little of this creeps into the birth narrative.

However, there is no getting to Easter Sunday without first going through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It would be pleasant enough to celebrate the empty tomb without focusing on Jesus’ betrayal, imprisonment, torture and crucifixion.

But that’s not really telling the whole story, is it?

I have seen church signs for weeks that say “The tomb is empty!” Well yeah, it’s empty because he didn’t die until the Friday before Easter. There are even churches that have an Easter celebration service on Saturday, which to me is a bit like throwing a party for someone a day before they get there. I know I’m showing my liturgical colors (pun intended), but if we’re not willing to suffer alongside Jesus, even just a little bit, what business do we have celebrating with him at resurrection?

This is not unlike the friends I had in college who drove en masse from Texas to New Orleans every year to participate in Mardi Gras. They would go crazy on Fat Tuesday and come back, adorned in beads and reeking of beer. But by Ash Wednesday they were back to their old routine. They just wanted to show up for the party and ignore the hard part.

Jumping to the party without doing the necessary preparations just doesn’t seem appropriate.

Then there’s the matter of resurrection. Growing up, I was presented with one of those challenging if/then statements that went something along the lines of, “if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, body and all, our faith is meaningless.”

This worked for me until I got into the typical questioning stage of my life, when I tried to reconcile my understanding of resurrection with the rest of what I knew, or thought I knew, about the universe.

Had I ever witnessed a resurrection? I’d seen trees hibernate and re-emerge right around Easter time. We even have adopted various pagan fertility symbols like eggs, bunnies (wicked procreators, those rabbits) and baby chicks. All of these suggest new life, but none is quite the same as resurrection.

Something from nothing, as in the case of a new birth, is something around which I can wrap my mind and heart. Why? Because I was there when my son was born.

I can understand awakening from the long slumber of winter, not only because I witness the verdant explosion around us every April, but because a strange malaise of my own always seems to lift this time of year.

But life from death? Come on: Who has a context in which that fits? It’s hard to explain other than by saying, “That’s what the Bible says and I believe it.” So if we can’t really even explain resurrection, what does our celebration represent?

It represents a faith whose cornerstone is hope.

It represents an existence in which death is not the period at the end of the sentence.

And for me, it represents a mystery that doesn’t have to be solved; one that can live amid the awe and wonder that helps me remember I don’t have it all figured out.

Living with mystery as part of your faith isn’t a sign of failure. Actually, it’s a pretty good reason to celebrate.