What Muhammad did

October 25, 2014

I have been reading about Muhammad in Karen Armstrong’s biography, and I have concluded that he was a genius.

That prophet’s spiritual presence was so compelling to his first followers that they accepted without question hundreds of utterings  spoken through his mouth. They later assembled these verses as the suras of the Qu’ran.

This was no small feat. The lyrical content of Islam’s holy scriptures is composed entirely of one man’s revelatory pronouncements. (If I am wrong about this, you Muslims please correct me. I understand that the hadiths, written later by others, followed, but are not  considered holy revelatory scripture.)

Compare this Mohammadan revelation to, say, the Bible, which was assembled as sixty-six books that were spoken or authored by a multiplicity of authors over thousands of years. What a legacy the Jewish people have given us. Muhammed benefited directly from the Judaic legacy, and considered himself a part of it–a most definitive and corrective part of it.

What Mohammed had to say about al-Lah to his fellow Arabs during the early seventh century c.e. was quite urgent and compelling. The essence of it is that al-Lah is one God, not some pagan collection of many gods and goddesses. This may sound like religious quibbling to modern secularists, but the monotheistic insistence was downright revolutionary to 7th-century Arabs, especially those of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca. Muhammad’s impact upon the Arabic tribal life and religion was  similar to Paul’s upending message about Jesus Messiah to his fellow-Jews, which had happened about five hundred years earlier.

Muhammad’s message of monotheism, consistent in some ways with the ancient Abrahamic covenant, has spread across the world for fourteen centuries now. It is quite amazing, even as Muhammed himself must have been a quite amazing man.

Not as amazing, however, as being resurrected.

In her biography of Muhammed, Karen Armstrong reports that in the year 621 c.e. Mohammed instructed the Muslims to pray facing Jerusalem. Because the prophet had been taken up in a night vision by an angel, Gabriel, and transported mystically to Jerusalem for certain revelations, the holy city of the Jews was shown to be “central to the Muslim faith too.”

For more than two years, the Muslims adopted Jerusalem as their qibla, or direction of prayer. But in January of 624 c.e., about eighteen months after Muhammed’s hijra (the prophet’s history-shaking, exilic journey to Medina after being rejected by the powerful Quaraysh tribe of Mecca), something happened to re-orient forever the Muslim quibla. On page 162 of her book Karen Armstrong wrote: 

“. . . Mohammed was leading prayers in a mosque . . . Suddenly, inspired by a special revelation, Muhammad made the whole congregation turn round and pray facing Mecca instead of Jerusalem. God had given the Muslims a new focus and a new direction (qibla) for their prayer.”

At that turning point in time, the Muslims redirected their salat devotions back toward Mecca, the place of their origin. I wish that they had, at that point, just left Jerusalem to the Jews. Our present-day situation in that city might have been less contentious.

Now the Jewish caretakers of the holy city would have to deal only with, instead of Ishmaelic Muslims, God and everybody else who claims to know Him.

According to the account of God’s work among homo sapiens that I subscribe to, God’s verdict on the matter is:

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”

Mark 11:17

Here’s a song about it

and another song about it

Smoke

Zeitgeists and the King of Soul

October 21, 2014

People talk about “the zeitgeist” of an historical period as if it were one spirit.  But in reality, the events of any particular epoch reflect several spiritual compulsions or visions that hover amongst the human hearts and minds of that age.

With that in mind, I have begun writing a new novel, my fourth, which is named King of Soul. The story will examine the teen years and coming-of-age of a young man,Donnie, who is growing up in the South  during the 1960s. The novel is only mildly autobiographical.

Donnie’s personal development is of course shaped by the familial, political, philosophical, economic and spiritual condition of that era. Within these influences, I Identify four zeitgeists that are especially potent during the turbulent 1960s. They are what might be called “spirits of the age”, or what Gordon Lightfoot called the “visions of their days.” But I like to think of these historical forces, each one, as collective “Souls. ”  For the decade in which I was a teenager, they are:

~Soul of Bounty

~Soul of Discontent

~Soul of Escape

~Soul of Anarchy

So that you can better understand my “Souls” concept, here are some earlier “Souls” that were dominant in former ages of the American Experience:

Soul of Exploration, Soul of Liberty, Soul of Slavery, Soul of Industry, Soul of Reform, Soul of Progress, Soul of Labor, Soul of Consumption, Soul of Entertainment.

As the story develops in my novel, King of Soul, the reader will detect in Donnie’s experience:

~The Soul of Bounty, which thrives on security and wellness. It favors the individual, rather than a collective, although its community aspect is based on abundance: plenty for everybody. The Soul of Bounty values Family, Faith, and Work for Gain. Religion is beneficial. Heaven is a good ending. Hierarchy and authority contribute to Law & Order, sometimes at the expense of equality. Self-discipline and smart work are admirable.

It is a conservative attitude. Leave well-enough alone. Soul of Bounty manifestations for the 1960s may be: Republicans, the “Establishment”, the “Powers that Be, Young Americans for Freedom. On its fringe are the John Birchers and the Ayn Rand group. Prominent movers in the Soul of Bounty during that time were: Nixon, Buckley, Reagan, Mayor Daley, Gov.Rhodes of Ohio, most suburbanites.

~The Soul of Discontent, which struggles toward justice and rightness. The collective will is higher than the individual; society is based on ideology, not religion. Activists within the Soul of Discontent are forever striving toward progress. Utopia is a real possibility.The Marxian version includes a dictatorship of the proletariat. Equality of all will be achieved  at the expense of Order. These people are purposeful,  existential in their motivation. Disruption of the established order is necessary for societal correction to be imposed. Organizations of the period include: Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Southern Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Students for Democratic Society (SDS), Free Speech Movement and the generally widespread Antiwar movement. Leaders of the 1960s manifestation include, among many others: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Malcom X,  Mario Savio, Tom Hayden, Joan Baez, the Berrigans, Daniel Ellsberg, Betty Friedan. The Soul of Discontent was most clearly expressed in: Civil Rights movement, Feminism, Berkeley, Chicago protests at 1968 Democratic convention, lethal uprisings at Kent State and Jackson State, student movements at San Francisco State U, Yale, Columbia, and eventually the Democratic party and 4th estate of 1970s-200. . .s

~Soul of Escape, which craves pleasure, ecstasy and distraction.  Expressions of this Soul are both collective and individual. Community is hoped for to afford leisure, pleasure, celebration, art and expression.  Minimal work is tolerated for the sake of these fulfillments. Utopia is cool, and Love-in is even better Serendipity is prized, at the expense of structure. Enjoy. In the ’60s, these people were known as hippies, who followed in footsteps of their 1950s predecessors, the Beats. You know who they are, even if you were not one of them for awhile, because you read about them in Time and Life: Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, most rock musicians, but most notably Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead. They sought a trippy kind of stoned-out degenerative sensuality that occasionally masqueraded as spirituality. Summer of Love in ’67 and Woodstock in ’69 were their high points.

~Soul of Anarchy, which struggles to tear down the old order so that a new something can arise. Destruction is not only necessary, but cool and glorified. These people were the epitome of  Shiva Rage: Panthers. Weathermen, Yippies on a bad day. The catch-all was “Revolutionary.” John Lennon sang about them but only skirted along their fringes. “. . .but if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.” (They didn’t make it.) Their flash in the pan came late, in ’69 and the ’70s. Heroes were Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael after he got tired of moderation, Rudd/Dohrn/Ayers. They were violent revolutionaries who might have done much more damage if the Establishment, personified by Richard Nixon, had not decided to wind the Vietnam War down and follow through with some serious programs to fulfill Johnson’s Great Society before going down in a blaze of humiliating presidential glory.

In a turbid decade called “the ’60s”, my young protagonist Donnie attends middle school and high school, enters college in 1969, avoids the draft, checks out a few antiwar happenings and tries to make sense of it all, in a nation being torn apart by the interference patterns generated when these four (Bounty, Discontent, Escape, Anarchy) encountered each other. That’s the scenario of King of Soul.

I should have it ready for you to read in a year or three.

King of Soul

To Save the World

October 11, 2014

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing, end them. . .

This problem, described in archaic language by a Shakespearean prince, Hamlet, can be stated more simply this way:

Should we suffer, or should we fight?

Should we accept the world as it, or is it better to struggle against all the bad stuff?

Should we concede, or strive toward tikkun olam, the repairing of the world?

And even if we choose to oppose the (sea of) troubles in this life, can our resistance put an end to them? Can “opposing” those troubles  actually defeat them?

If you or I can put an end to the injustice and or dysfunction of this world, then maybe we should get busy working toward that end. But if this quest–to resist the evil of this world– is fruitless,  a lost cause, then why bother? What difference does it make?

Maybe we just have to suffer through it.

That’s what  one religious founder, Jesus of Nazareth, did. He suffered through the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that were flung upon him. He suffered all the way through torture and crucifixion until death itself overtook him.

For a few days.

But his boldly compassionate life included not only suffering and bearing the pain, it also included serious resistance against the powers that be. He was a man who took arms, spiritually, against a sea of troubles, by speaking publicly against the injustice that humans impose upon one another, and he used his hands proactively to heal people, and to release folks from suffering and oppression.

I think his life was quite unique in this respect: he actually, and very effectively, trod a middle path between these two choices–submission and resistance.

He was an example of bearing up under the burden of suffering, while simultaneously launching a campaign against what is wrong in this world of human striving that manifests as dogmatic religion and ineffective government.

Now we know from history that Jesus’ struggle to live a meaningful life, a life that truly made a difference, was a failure.

Because, you know, he ended up dead and publicly humiliated and all that.

On the other hand, if you consider what all has been done in his name since he lived, it could be that the work of his life–the suffering and the active resistance–attests that his legacy is more perpetual than it may at first appear.

From the standpoint of world history, his story is everlasting. This persistent story of a savior who conquered death itself has transcended the world. He has won the world by overcoming the world’s cynical resistance.

His was the greatest life ever lived. He opposed the slings and arrows by submitting to them. Thus he rendered them powerless against his sacred work. He  overcame the world. Who else has done such a thing? and then lived to tell about it. You gotta believe.

This was accomplished, paradoxically, without actually “taking arms.” He fired no gun, wielded no knife. Jesus’ only sword was the one in his mouth. What an exceptional way to repair the hearts of men, as if that were possible!

While other religionists have resorted to the sword of conquest, here was a man whose only weapon for opposing the evils of mankind was the sword of the Spirit.

To be, or not to be (with Him). . . that is the question.

Glass half-Full

The Unfinished War

October 4, 2014

In one sense, all war is unfinished, because the political crimes that wage death between people groups inevitably come to the surface again. Like toxic waste, old atrocities bubble up from the depths of human strife to plague subsequent  generations.

Now and then in history, a war will actually settle a divisive question. Our American Civil War established once and for all that American states of north and south would remain as one federation under a common flag, and that resolution has remained intact.

The First War was an unfinished war, because the issues that separated Germany from the rest of Europe resurfaced, zombie-like, about twenty years later as the the Second World War. Then the Second War resolved those divisive issues in a more effective way, and now Europe is reasonably, if not politically, united in peaceful coexistence.

Forty-nine years of my 63-year life have been spent in the twentieth century, which was a time period in which nations were generally at each others’ throats over ideological differences. The basic conflict between freedom and slavery was continually re-inventing itself in various ideological costumes: libertarian vs. totalitarian, democracy vs. communism, communism vs. fascism, etc.

Now it seems the world reverts to religious identities to fortify the battlefields of the 21st century: Muslim vs. Jew, Muslim vs. Christian, etc. It’s not really as simple as that, but you know what I’m talking about. The issue of whether the so-called Islamic State is actually representing Islam should be a serious point of debate among Muslims; but no matter how that identity pans out, the decapitative modus operandi of IS is undeniably a danger which is Islamic in its ethnic origin.

Furthermore, the ongoing contention between Israel and the Islamic states (with or without Caliphate) is, despite modern secularizing influences in both camps, a religious war the origin of which is shrouded in the dust of Levant history.

On a secondary level within nation-states, we see political divisions, which still revolve around ideological poles: left vs. right, progressive vs. conservative, statist vs. libertarian, etc.

Within my country, USA, the time-honored catch-all labels “left” and “right” have lately morphed from “liberal” vs. “conservative” to “progressive” vs. “conservative.” A subset of this ideological polarity is the “Occupy” crowd vs. the “Tea-Party.”

“Tea Party” derives its philosophical roots from an emphasis on individual liberty. Its tactical roots are found in the Boston Tea Party of 240 years ago, which turns upon economic and tax disputes and government get out of the way attitude.

“Occupy Wall Street” and its progeny (Occupy Oakland, Occupy Vancouver, whatever) derives its precedents from the Civil Rights and Anti-war activisms of the 1960s, and before that the socialist ideal as developed through the French Revolution, Marx, the Russian Revolution, Alinsky etc.

David Horowitz, a (rare) seasoned veteran of both left and right activisms, has identified, in his autobiography Radical Son, this truth:

“. . . conservatism was (is) an attitude about the lessons of the actual past. By contrast, the attention of progressives was (is) directed toward an imagined future.”

During the Vietnam war, a time when I was entering draftable age, the “left” was dragging our American sins of racism and napalmic militarism out into the streets for all the world to see. They imagined a more perfect United States that would successfully rid itself of the hegemonic abuses of capitalistic neo-colonialist empire-building.

Eventually the student-led antiwar movement was able to convince us to withdraw from Vietnam. But the more perfect United States they were dreaming of did not emerge. We are now still the same good n’ bad nation we were then, manifesting a tri-part government of checks and balances that can, every generation or two, arrest our reprobate tendencies.

The activist left of the 1960s, of which I was (like many others) a curious, though non-involved part, also imagined an idealized Vietnam. But it did not materialize after we pulled out.

After the beginning of U.S. withdrawal in 1973, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (in whom the American anti-war activists had placed their hope) was crushed by the North Vietnamese army. Oppressive reeducation camps were set up and filled with hundred of thousands of prisoners. Tens of thousands were executed without trials. The bloodbath spilled into Cambodia. Millions were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

The consequences of U.S. withdrawal were tragic. More people died in the first two years of communist peace than had been killed during the U.S. war effort.

http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~sdenney/Vietnam-Reeducation-Camps-1982

So distressed were many Americans who had formerly worked to get us out of Vietnam, that a group of high-profile war-objectors published an ad in the Washington Post protesting the arrests of “thousands upon thousands of detainees”, who suffered enforced reeducation with starvation, physical abuse and use of prisoners as mine-detectors.

http://keywiki.org/Joan_Baez#Open_Letter_to_the_Socialist_Republic_of_Vietnam

While some leftists were grief-stricken at the widespread abuses in postwar, communist Vietnam, many more activists were not appalled. They blamed the aftermath on us–the United States, who were fighting to protect the Vietnamese people from the oppression that followed when the North Vietnamese took over.

That was a long time ago. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge in our river of time, since then.

Now it’s Iraq.

We have an eerily parallel situation in Iraq, with the IS attacking from Syria to enforce an “Islamic” Caliphate, just as the North Viet Cong descended on the South in 1973-75 with cruel, murderous intent.

And once again, the leftists want to blame us because we sent our troops over there and knocked the dictator Saddam out of power and tried to help them establish a just government.

But history, and prudent policy, does not hinge upon what might have happened or not happened because of the military assistance that came from the people of the United States, provided to the people of Iraq.

To those who want to blame us for the IS insurgency now threatening Iraq, we must say: don’t even think about it.

It’s time to subdue the beast that videos decapitations. No one in their right mind wants that kind of vengeful retribution, masquerading as “justice”, established in the world.

Smoke

SFMuni Bus #48

September 29, 2014

Yesterday I took the #48 SFMuni bus ride from the Mission district over Diamond Heights to the West Portal.

I ambled around a bit, wandered lonely as a cloud through a corner of Golden Gate Park, then strolled straight up Haight, past Ashbury to Masonic, then northward through the Panhandle to Fulton and by n by took a long jaunt back  to mid-town and the San Francisco Opera house.

This morning, Pat and I hopped on the #48 and rode out to West Portal. Now we are kickin’ around, having taken a trolley(modern version) over to catch a view of the Pacific, which we had seen earlier this year, but that was down the coast a bit, in Costa Rica.

I like the #48 bus. I was surprised to see it depicted in this mural, which we were viewing yesterday afternoon on Balmy alley in the Mission:

ProtestMural

At the present moment, early Monday afternoon Sept. 29, 2014, I am sitting at a Starbucks preparing to send you this little digital communicado. You may see the skullish fellow in the painting. He is is typing away on a laptop, as I am at this moment, and probably hoping to connect  cyber-cytizens of the world to some idea or story that will lead them to hell or heaven or somewhere in between. I hope the artist did not have this old white guy (me) in mind in that detail.

That cannot be me in the pic anyway, because I am not wearing a black robe. I’m wearing a Carolina blue shirt.

As for the excellent painting jpg’d here, I recommend you study it closely. It is very well done. But somehow I feel not entirely empathetic to its angstish message. On the other hand I can tell you that the painting itself is evidence that not all is well in this present arrangement of things: this truth I acknowledge.

As for the worldy injustice that is alluded to herein, I could write a book (yet to come.) It would be a long book, the fourth I have written, a labor of love, an opus, although others have probably done it better than I.

Nevertheless, If I may offer one brief advisement with which to leave you, it would be: read Matthew 5, 6,7. The message there is, I believe, even more powerful than, say, Marx, Mao or Che. And even more revolutionary than this painting, but not as colorful.

Glass Chimera

the prim and the propr

September 28, 2014

Here we have the primitive and the proprietary:

Little fence

Somebody’s busy hands wove this low fence along the sidewalk bordering Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

I like it. The little fence is primitive; the massive building and campus looming in the background is UCSF Medical Center, which is definitely not primitive, but it is proprietary. That is to say, it is property which is owned by somebody, presumably the people of California.

The UCSF Med Center is a large institution; the little primitive fence is not.

You might think that a fence so near that major institutional presence would be be impressive, expensive and engineered to provide big work for a local contractor or landscaper.

Not so. I like this little primitive fence. Here are my thoughts about  the person(s) who so skillfully wove it:

little fence, little fence, standing low

by the sidewalk just for show

what skillful hand or eye

hath woven thy primi asymet-try?

Glass Chimera

In the Park at sunset

September 28, 2014

Late afternoon Washington Square september

people on green grass lolling recline laughing

hold hands layback chill.

Here come Deep basso fellow dark and confident

singing with no inhibition he

serenade folk in the park

makin rounds group to little group.

We on park bench in late gold sun,

black basso man he come our way with singing

on his mind.

Meanwhile ole sourpuss geezer on bench he wear

no sunshine but he say:

“He juz want some goddam money. He come ev day,

every dam day!”

And yet here come deep basso man wit white shirt bow tie vest

lookn sharp and ready

so I say:

“You know Ole Man River?”

“I only know the Paul Robeson version.”

“The one you know– tha’s the one I want.”

And so the wise man sing and he fill the ev’n air wi strong

song and he modulate into Irving classic version Ole Man Riva,

and he finish by sliding into Louie’s What a wonderful world

with great vocal fortitude n excellence.

And by the sound of it the world be a betta place than was before, so I

lay the five spot in his hat.

Then ole geezer on bench he don say nothin, no beta than he was before.

Now I know there be two kinds men in world: them that do

and them that won’t.

An life go on in Washington Square an I guess sun when down

juz after we left.

Glass half-Full

The Slithering Slitter

September 21, 2014

Fierce, I tell you, be the sacrilege of this evil,

and immense in its fear upheaval.

His murderous blade slits shock across our necked world,

under flitting black flag of blood unfurled,

on video violence broadcasting;

it proclaimeth fear everlasting.

Yea I say unto thee this be

raw sorcery if

ever there was one, you see.

So fair and foul a day we have not seen,

and it aint just no bad dream:

this hurly-burly that’s been done–

it slitteth slicker than a gun.

But as that masked weirdo he judgment proclaim

upon our foul and decadent game,

he discerneth not the stink of his own slit,

he smelleth not his own foul shit!

You know,

amongst the high, beneath the low,

we all be sinners on this bus,

while innocent children wail amidst the fuss;

This bus trundles along our streets of rage,

while he slithers through the terror of our age.

but Jesus savin’ Christ! stop the bus!

Is there no way out for us?

Glass half-Full

Them Russians are so misunderstood

September 21, 2014

I don’t understand Russia. Churchill called the country a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Many of us Americans and Europeans who grew up during the Cold War agree with his assessment. Winston was, you know, right about a lot of things.

Russia is a complicated place; it’s probably as complex as it is big. One fact that is, however, very simple about Russia: it is very cold there, dangerously cold.

Recently, I read Helen Dunmore’s excellent novel The Siege,

http://www.amazon.com/The-Siege-Novel-Helen-Dunmore/dp/0802139582, which is a story about the gruesome ordeal suffered by the the people of St. Petersburg (aka Leningrad, Petrograd) during the winter of 1941.  Hitler had broken his pact with Stalin and then sent the army of the Third Reich to surround the city and starve its residents to death.

It was terrible time, tragically fatal for thousands of people. I would not want to wish such misery and hunger as Helen’s story describes, on anyone. To have survived such a winter as that one in Russia is beyond my comprehension. I don’t understand how the Russians who did survive did survive. I don’t even understand why human beings would  live so far up north.

As I was saying, I don’t understand Russia.

In 1917, right in the middle of a damned world war (the first one), the Russian Bolsheviks deposed the czar, instituted a revolutionary communist government and began the long, torturous process of trying to restructure, from the ground up, the government and administration of the largest country in the world.

Although their program of godless communism was fundamentally flawed because it was too idealistic, they might have made a go of it if it hadn’t been for one very cruel, heartless dictator, Josef Stalin.

Later on, in 1956, after both world wars, and after Stalin had died, Nikita Khrushchev initiated the process of thawing Russia out of its brutal gulag-ridden Stalinist icepack straightjacket. Khrushchev skittishly let it leak out in 1956 that yes, indeed, Stalin and his secret police and party goons had been inflicting terrible crimes against the people of Russia for the last twenty years or more. And Khrushchev seemed to be signaling that they should to do something to eliminate, or at least correct, the systemic horrible abuse that Russian leaders were inflicting on their own people, not to mention the Ukrainians, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Czechs, Hungarians, Romanians, Moldovans, Kamchatkans and God-knows-who else, and  oh yeah, the East Germans.

Speaking of the East Germans, during that time, the 1950s and 1960s, the Russians, under their hyped-up mantle called Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, were throwing their newfound weight around there in the eastern (Soviet-occupied after WWII) part of Germny. The Soviets were trying to run the place after The Allies had divvied up the territories formerly terrorized by those contentious Third Reichers.

A few years went by and our President Kennedy visited Berlin and told the citizens there “Ich bin ein Berliner!” which meant, figuratively speaking, that all the world was watching you swarthy Ruskies since you went and built this obscene wall around Berlin (long story) and we did not like it (paraphrasing) one damned bit!

By n by, after another twenty or so years went by, US President Reagan came along, visited Berlin  and updated the saga of the Berlin Wall by publicly demanding that “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Then after a few more years, in 1989, the wall did come down. Praise God! And also a thank you to Mr. Reagan, for his bold challenge, although we do understand it wasn’t entirely his doing that the Russians decided to take his advice. It was a great line though: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” We could use some of that spunk these days, like Mr. ISIS, tear down your . . . caliphate!

After that, the Russians did undertake the sticky business of tearing down their “evil empire.”

Now if we ever dismantle our own abusive reprobations maybe we can have some real peace and freedom. Good luck with that.

Now fast forward to 2014. We’ve got new mystery Russian, Vladimir Putin. Now there’s an enigmatic guy. You betcha. What the hell is he up to?

I certainly don’t know. (I do not understand Russia.) But I do seem to remember this: the Russians have had a naval base at Sevastopol since. . . forever? There’s no way in hell that NATO should presume to abscond it. As far as this American is concerned, they can have the place, if that’s what a majority of the Crimeans choose. As for the Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine, whadya say we just convince all parties concerned to have another referendum about the East Ukraine situation, this time internationally supervised.

Now I want to end this thing on a positive note. Although I do not understand Russia, I do understand music. I feel it.

To fully grok this, let’s  harken back to the year 1909; that’s when the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote his amazing Piano Concerto No. 3.

I do understand how a man could create such an intricately woven musical opus. Yes, I understand it about as well as I can understand Russia. This piece of music boggles my mind.

The pianist is Olga Kern, 2001 winner of the Van Cliburn prize (among her many triumphs.) Watch her lively treatment at the Steinway while conductor James Conlon propels his skilled musicians through Rachmaninoff’s delicate blending of strings, horns,  and of course piano,  evoking lush orchestral harmonies that modulate back and forth between soft and strong on a colorful tapestry of raw, though exquisitely channeled, Russian passion.

Performed by an American orchestra! The Fort Worth orchestra. Who’d have thought a bunch of Texans could so tenderly interpret a Russian’s music! Watch the musicians’ faces. To witness their polished performance is to behold a work of visual art in progress. I think these people do understand Russia! Or at least that one particular Ruskie, Sergei Rachmaninoff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AapjpeqmviM

If you’ve got 43 minutes to listen or watch the Rach 3, you will be amazed as I was. When you see/hear Olga pounding out the last four minutes of the piece, you will understand what the Romantic movement in music was all about. (It’s much more potent when viewed from the musicians’ perspective than what you see in the movies.)

Smoke

This World

September 13, 2014

There’s something wrong with this world. Can’t you feel it?

Something a little out of whack.

We detect that something is a little out of kilter, maybe a little rotten in Denmark, and Detroit, in Darjeeling, something amiss in Mississippi, Malaysia and Malawi, out of sync in Singapore, Sevastopol, and Sao Paulo, and probably in our own back yard.

Everywhere we look in the world we notice folks, including me and you, who are playing the game without a full deck, making mistakes, screwing up; we see them building cities and societies using resources that are one brick shy of a load, with a screw loose somewhere and trying to put things on the straight and narrow with instruments that are about half a bubble off level.

What’s up with that?

Many moons ago, when men were crawling out of the caves and bushes, when women were roasting critters over fire and worshipping the sun and stars and rocks and trees and bulls and bitches, back in the mists of antiquity when humans hung together in packs and tribes, then in camps, cities and even empires– along came a fellow who marched to a different drummer.

He managed to do–not that he was trying to do so– what a lot of celebs these days spend their whole lives attempting–he made a name for himself. You’ve probably heard of him:

Abraham.

Scads of people throughout history claim kinship or faith with him. Why? What was it he did that was so important?  Well, how about this–history, oral and written, records that he believed God.

Abraham had noticed that, as I mentioned above, something was wrong in this world. So he asked God if there was something he could do about it. God urged him to leave the old world that he had been born into, and emigrate to a new place. So Abraham accepted God’s counsel; he picked up stakes and moved.

Since that time, a lot of people of have, you know, done something like that.

Abraham was an immigrant. He was hoping, I suppose, that he would not be turned back at some border somewhere.

He did manage, thank God, to get settled into a new place, and a lot of things happened after that. His young’uns came along–Isaac, Ismail, and so forth and so on.

By n’ by, a certain strain of his descendant family tree got themselves stuck in a slavery situation.

Then another fellow, Moses, came along and sought God’s counsel. He got the people organized and led them out of slavery. While his people were wandering around in the middle east trying to get it together, Moses inquired further of God, and so God gave him a revelation of what was to be done about the situation.

That situation being this world, which is about half screwed up, and what could the people do about it. They needed some laws and principles to get themselves straightened out and going in the right direction, so God gave them some instructions. Nowadays some folks call it Torah, others call it Pentateuch, or Bible. Some call it myth. I call it part of the Bible.

The short-term outcome of all that was, in the ensuing centuries, Moses’ people founded a kingdom and ran it for a few hundred years; it was supposed to be based on righteousness and justice. But, over time, things did not work as planned, and the kingdom was overcome by others and it all fell apart.

A few centuries after that, but in the same place, Jesus came along.

Now the main deal with Jesus is his Resurrection, and our resurrection, which accompanies his if we are willing to go with him. Either you believe it, or you don’t. As for me and my house, I do believe that he was was raised from being dead after being crucified to atone for all the bad stuff that makes this world, including me, wrong.

But of course that’s not the end of it all.

A few more centuries rolled by. Mohammed came along and noticed the same thing that I alluded to above–there’s something wrong with the world. He claimed to have a revelation from God of what’s to be done to get this crooked ole world straightened out.

Now the thing about Mohammed is: although he was a genius in religion, politics, and military strategy, he was a mere human like you and me. And so all the carefully-crafted constructs of his legacy later degenerated into more of the same-old same-old dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest manipulations of selfish lecherous ego-driven men , like everything else in this damned world.

There is no fixing this world. The Jews have been trying to fix life for thousands of years. Now the Muslims are taking their shot at it. Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, Shintos, God bless ‘em all for trying, but  none of it works for getting this earth and its people corrected. The world just continues to get worse and worse, and the stakes higher and higher, like carbon emitted and rising to entrap the atmosphere, while human compulsions descend lower and lower, like carbon emitted and accumulating in the tombs of our ancestors and ultimately in our own graves.

But each one of us faces death alone; the wicked world that hath confounded me, stumbled you, for lo these many years– it does not die with us. It just keeps going on and on and on in all its incendiary dysfunction.

When it gets right down to it, each man, each woman, must decide what is to be done about his/her own life, and what role he/she will attempt within the revolving restrictions of the great mandala. As for me–I’m going with the one Creator who, allowing himself to be crucified at the hands of this world’s dysfunction, has already conquered and surpassed the death that awaits us all.

my song about it

Smoke


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