Small Sermons

Here are three small poems worth mulling over. Would have been more appropriate to post these during lent. I just post them as they are sent to me.

When the mind is attracted
To anything it senses,
You are bound.

Where there is no I,
You are free.

Where there is I,
You are bound.

Consider this.

It is easy.

Embrace nothing,
Turn nothing away.

-Ashtavakra Gita 8:3-4

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We Who Prayed And Wept

We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyrrany of things
we do not need.
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept
beneath the yoke of greed.

Those who will not learn
in plenty to keep their place
must learn it by their need
when they have had their way
and the fields spurn their seed.
We have failed Thy grace.
Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity.

— Wendell Berry

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Ashamed of what’s not shameful,
not ashamed of what is,
beings adopting wrong views
go to a bad destination.

Seeing danger where there is none,
and no danger where there is,
beings adopting wrong views,
go to a bad destination.

-Dhammapada, 22, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Heidi Cody

I generally don’t like to do “look what I found in my referrer logs” posts, but sometimes I find stuff that’s too good not to mention.

There was one google hit on my page from someone searching for “Heidi Cody” and I was wondering if it was someone I know in real life looking for us on the web. What I found when I followed the link myself was pleasant surprise.

There is a Brooklyn-based artist named Heidi Cody who does brightly-colored print art. And she’s pretty good too.

She uses her bright prints to highlight the saturation of commercialism in culture. For instance, each letter in this alphabet comes from the logo of a major american consumer brand. Can you recognize them? And how about this collection called “Fast Pitch” which contains small bits of familiar logos? I could recognize Starbucks, Oreos, and Dominoes Pizza. (Says a lot about me huh?) How ’bout you?

So Heidi and I have a cool namesake of sorts. I love the Internet.

Hair Genes

Happy DNA day! I was listening to the DNA day story on NPR just as I was trimming my beard, so my thoughts turned to hair and heredity.

My beard is just like my hair has always been. It has the same unruly, impossible nature my head of hair has.

I grew up envying kids with straight hair. Hair you could actually style instead of just tame. Hair that would obey. Back in the seventies when I was a kid everyone had “wings” ala Farrah Fawcett and Shaun Cassidy. I wanted “wings.” What I had was more like “tentacles.” My hair was thick and curly and ruled by waves and swirls and cow-licks that made every single barber I ever had remark about my hair. I had thick Black Forest Hair.

There were two times in my life I was satisfied with my hair. Once when I just let my hair win and it let it grow out unabated. The waves and swirls, about six or so inches out, turned into a thick curly mane of hair. And nowadays, when I cut it back so short that my hair has no freedom to get swirly on me.

Same goes for my beard. If I let it grow out, I look positively Hassidic, and my wife is after me to shave. And when I trim it very short it looks uniform, but kind of retro ala Miami Vice, and my wife says it’s too short. But at medium trim, you can make out the patchy shocks of thick whiskers and the unpredictable sparser areas, like an uncharted geography of follicular distribution. And so I am rarely satisfied. But it beats shaving all to hell.

The one time I shaved my beard (egged on by a particularly aggregious beard-shaping mishap) I hopped into bed with my wife and she saw me and screamed. Once she figured out it was me and not some bed-jumping marauder who vaguely looked like her husband, she said immediately, with urgency “Grow it back.” So I’ve had a beard ever since. And probably always will.

Girlzilla has inherited my thick forest hair. And she has the same love-hate relationship with it. At its current length, when she does nothing with it and lets it hang, it looks like a blonde version of Rosanna Rosanna Danna’s hair. (Old SNL reference) She wants straight hair like the other kids too. Last night she was up past her bedtime trying to straighten it with a curling iron, frustrated to tears. We had to send her to bed in mid battle. Poor kid, she has my hair genes.

Now with Mr. Freshpants, who is African American, we have ahead of us a whole new hair adventure which will require some training and adjustment. I wash the oil out of my own hair. I put oil in his hair after I wash it. It’s a whole new territory.

Petunia’s hair is like her. Wispy and petite and eminently stylable. Looks good with bows.

But neither of them has my hair genes. Girzilla does. Sorry kiddo.

My Dogma ate my Karma

A discussion in some comments below made me think: What do Karma, Zen, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle have in common?

They’re all concepts that, since they have been popularized into common usage, are usually inaccurately applied.

Take Karma, for instance. People talk about Karma as if it was some form of cosmic retribution. Like, let’s say that you made a really boorish, insensitive post on your blog and then a few days later you got attacked by a Rottweiler and were seriously hurt. That’s an unfortunate coincidence, but that’s not Karma.

Nobody, not even people who make fun of fat people, deserve to be attacked by a Rottweiler. I certainly hope that person recovers as quickly and comfortably as possible.

Karma, if I understand it right, has to do with how your choices affect your future. Like, if you are a violent, angry person who goes around acting violent and angry, you are more likely to become a victim of violence and anger yourself. Not because you *deserve* it, but because you set it up that way for yourself. Karma is not so much a religious belief as a good sense philosophy to live by.

So, if you post insensitive things on your blog, you do not deserve to be attacked by a big dog. But you do create a future for yourself that is more aligned with insensitivity which, if it becomes a habit, will probably not be good for you in the long run.

The good news is that you can always change your Karma by changing your choices. I like ending with the good news.

Berry Good

Wendell Berry captures my current mood of ambivalence, ambiguity, and equivocation in three little gems:

About the tension between public and private personas…


A Warning To My Readers

Please do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full of
fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.

— Wendell Berry

About procrastination and productivity…


Throwing Away The Mail

Nothing is simple,
not even simplification.
Thus throwing away
the mail, I exchange
the complexity of duty
for the simplicity of guilt.

— Wendell Berry

About contemplation and companionship…


Except

Now that you have gone
and I am alone and quiet,
my contentment would be
complete, if I did not wish
you were here so I could say,
“How good it is, Tanya,
to be alone and quiet.”

— Wendell Berry

I know he’s the “Mad Farmer” and i am a middle-aged city boy, but I can never read him without a nod of acknowledgement and agreement.

Pinocchio World I World I'd Like to See

So I’m already in a bad mood. Seeing as how this creeping crud in my chest has not let me draw a good breath in several days and I still have this earache and headache and it’s really cramping my style.

And then I run into this post on a blog about this story. For a further exhibit of human kindness and charity, read some of the comments below the post. Priceless specimens there I tell you.

First of all, let me say that I am basically against the lawsuit in the story. And I’ll be the first to own up to the fact that obesity is usually a condition created by bad choices. Granted there is a huge very profitable infrastructure that is invested in encouraging folks to get fat and keeping them that way while making them feel insecure about being fat so they’ll spend lots of money on loopy shortcuts to get skinny again. And there is a reasonable body of medical evidence that at least some obesity is determined by genetics — some people can eat like pigs and get a free pass from putting on the pounds which is most decidedly not fair. But in most cases, I believe it is a matter of personal responsibility and behavior. I know that first hand.

But you know…

You know what I’d like to see, if only for a glimpse? I’d like to see *everyone’s* fundamental character flaws and poor choices manifest themselves physically in a way that is unmistakeable and unnatractive. Kind of like the Pinnochio phenomenon writ universal — you lie, your nose grows. That kind of thing.

Lesse, what if people who, say, made rude insensitive comments grew hairy moles on their foreheads and with each little smug remark the mole grew a little bigger? Or what if malicious gossip made your eyes slide slightly out of alignment so that you looked a little more like a Picasso with each little juicy tidbit you share with your peeps? Yeah, a whole world that could not hide their pettiness, shallowness, and, yes, lack of self-discipline, behind an attractive face and body. That way, no one could be beautiful on the outside without being beautiful on the inside. Just maybe the world would be a better place.

Pinocchio World. That would be some sweet justice. It wouldn’t relieve any of my problems at all. But it would be kind of cool to see.

But only in my mind’s eye. For a minute. I wouldn’t wish that kind of humiliation on anyone. If you are so blessed, then please appreciate it if you have the option of hiding the evidence of your faults. Not everyone can do that.

I guess Jesus would have me pray for this person and the conversion of their heart or something. So I will. But not because I want to.

Beyond Lovers

As I sat at dinner last night my line of sight was directly on this older couple in the booth by our table. They must have been in their eighties. Her hands were palsied as she poked at her salad. He stooped slightly over his. They didn’t say a word to each other the entire time as far as I could tell, but their eyes held contact often. It seemed as if they’d been together so long that they had abandoned words and gone telepathic. Their eyes did their speaking.

They shared a dessert, cheesecake, as apparently was their habit. The waitress seemed to know their routine. After they paid he gently stroked her hair as he helped her up from the booth. They left slowly, her on his arm. The two forks crossed on the empty dessert plate they left behind seemed touchingly significant.

Beautiful. To be beyond being lovers, beyond mere soulmates, to the undefinable next level. What more inspiring vision for any married person can there be?

Deconstraction

I had this weird experience in Church last night.

You ever get that kind of odd feeling when you’re listening to someone talk and you suddenly notice their makeup? Or their hair? And you have this totally absurd feeling and think, “This person has paint on her face as she is talking to me. And she has combed petroleum products through her hair. And she is wearing spun plant fibers woven with strands of more petroleum products on her body. And she has breasts. And a sternum. And bones. Which are made up of bone cells which have all these different kinds of organelles those have complex molecules and all those molecules have atoms like calcium. And atoms have, you know, protons and stuff and protons are made up of God only knows how many different kinds of subatomic particles like muons and quarks and such. And all are separated by space. So this woman I am talking to is a well-organized pile of particles made mostly of empty space. And on a quantum level, each of her particles is a probability function. She’s a complex probability function. And I am a complex probability function. And were talking about what to eat for lunch”

That ever happen to you, in a split-second, as you are talking to someone? The person you are relating to suddenly deconstructs in your mind’s eye when you least expect it?

It’s like how I could be driving down the street and think suddenly, “I am operating a pile of heavy machine-tooled metal parts at a speed that would certainly kill me were they not moving with me at the same speed. My life depends not on those parts, but on the relationship they have to one another. My life is in the hands of an army of people who machine-tooled and arranged this pile of parts for me.”

I call it deconstraction. We create for ourselves a curtain of reality so we don’t have to deal with all of reality at one time and our brains do not explode. The curtain is necessary for us to function, but it is a curtain indeed. Yes, it may be an enormously complex pile of parts, but I call it a “Car” because most of the time I must deal with it as one unit. My friend is a “person” and not a pile of particles because that is how I must relate to her most of the time. Every once in a while my mind pulls back the curtain for a tiny glimpse at what lies behind my carefully constructed reality filter curtain. And I find it very distracting. Decon-straction.

And so as Fr. Albert was bowing to the paschal candle last night, I had a Spiritual Deconstraction. Symbolism, history, traditions, mystery, beliefs exploded from behind the Paschal Candle and then kept coming out as the Mass progressed. Everything I laid eyes on was deconstracted briefly. I had to work to turn it off in my head. I came out of Easter mass a bit disoriented, as if I’d just walked on to (supposedly) solid ground after stumbling my way over a number of sand dunes.

And this rambling post is not really just a post, but a vast number of signs and symbols arranged from bytes which are made of bits, which are just electrical charges held in certain arrangements, this way and that…

Quick, close the curtain!