Archive for November, 2010

Can’t you hear Jerusalem moan?

November 30, 2010

The people of Israel have cultivated a heritage of literacy for thousands of years; it’s one reason they are, as an ethnic group, so comfortable and proficient with the communicative arts. Hebrews have been talking, reading, and writing for a long time.  Beginning with Moses, Solomon, and other biblical documentarians, their meticulous oral and written histories constructed a potent cultural tradition that has matured like a fine vintage over time. The Jewish religion has also spun off two other major peoples-of-the-book–Christianity and Islam.
Hey, like it or not, Moshe, it’s what happened. Read ’em an weep. We’re all riders on this bumpy monotheistic bus.

The Torah/Bible documents how that deep heritage manifested as an ancient kingdom.  But Israel was, as kingdoms go, relatively short-lived. Right off the bat, after three kings, the country split, and it never regained that golden age magnificence of Solomon’s forty-year flash in the pan. Israel and Judah hobbled along for a few centuries until the Greeks humiliated them and the Romans subjugated them.
In 70 AD the army of the Roman empire dispersed Jewish nationalism to the four winds. For nineteen centuries after that forced diaspora, faithuful Jewish passover observers spoke of  celebrating their feasts “next year in Jerusalem.”

Jewish identity went under-canopy, and into a kind of fervently prolific survival mode.  Beneath diverse banners of other empires and nations, Jewish culture managed to proliferate and mature in a richly productive way, even without the benefit of native soil and eretz. In spite of the odds stacked against them,  Jewish people even managed to prosper beneath the adverse radar of alien hegemonies. There’s a lot to be said, I tell ya, for having a strong tradition of literacy, and a God to inspire it.

Along the way, though, some other peoples got jealous of  the inexplicably improbable Jewish well-being. Adolf Hitler and his band of Nazi thugs scapegoated the Jews in a fiercely destructive milatarism;  but it backfired on them, and it was the feuhrer’s lying face that was found lieing in the ashes of a formerly noble German heartland in 1945.

Then, lo and behold, miracle of miracles, it came to pass that,  in its darkest hour, Jewish culture, in its severally metamorphosed forms–from the Hassidic to the Socialistic–resurfaced as a nation-state.
We know they made a lot of people mad in that nascent process, most notably the Palestininians, but that was an old argument. It wasn’t any walk in the park, you know, when the Jews and Philistines were going at it for the same real estate way back in times of old. Yeah, yeah, aw go on, tell me about it. Some things never change.

But here’s where the contemporary shi’ite hits the fan. That ancient Jewish tradition is based, let’s face it, on religion and racial identity. It dropped back into the modern world like a square peg from a round-hole universe.  In today’s terms, it’s politically incorrect. I mean, think about it–is anybody even allowed any more to found a society based on race and religion? Democracy, equality, and multicultural tolerance is the going thing, the world-approved plan, these days.

When extremist Jewish groups insist on forcing their settlements upon a wannabe Palestinian west-bank state, and when an Israeli government slowly but surely corners a whole group of indiginous people into second-class citizenship, the world brands the Israelis as racist, religious bigots. The people of Israel are going to have to decide if they want to remain a cultural entity that has successfully navigated through perilous environs for thousands of years–or are they going to actually take a chance on this nation-state democracy thing?
It’s a very risky proposition, because the Palestinians will most likely, over time, outnumber the Jews in Israel and, given half a democratic chance, vote them out of power. And the Israelis know this.  So political correctness is ultimately a losing strategy, and democracy will not fly in east and west Jerusalem. You might as well cast the notions of equality and brotherhood out to Gahenna.

I think they should just go back to the God thing. That’s what their stubborn cousins, the Muslims, are doing. Mosaic Law and Shari’a will promulgate each other to death, until the grace of God doth move upon their holy blood-stained mountain.
Disclosure: My God is a Jewish carpenter.

Robby’s dream

November 28, 2010

From chapter 25 of Glass Chimera:

Robby had a dream.

It was the hammer and sickle thing.  Freedom verses Slavery:     Embryos crying out for personhood, but being herded instead into  chimeric concentration  camps under glass,  their chromatic hammers swinging with molecular  blacksmithery,  forging the  plasmidic implements of a bogus new world.

Eggs of Women crying out for fertility and progeny, but instead being scythed into  Auschwitzian  abyss.

And he heard their singing:

Hmphh .. . Ah .. .Hmphh .. . Ah .. .

That’s the sound of the men working on the chain


That’s the sound of the men working on the chain


And he knew the grunts of thousands of men a-groanin’;  he heard the songs of millions of  women a-moanin’,  giving birth. He heard the cries of their wounds,  the pangs of their wombs. Slaves, they were.  He heard them singing.  Don’t ya hear Jerusalem moan?  Don’t ya hear Jerusalem moan? No, it weren’t all voluntary.  No, Virginia, it weren’t all voluntary.  Hmphh .. . Ah .. . Hmphh .. . Ah .. . Pull that barge.  Tote that bale. He saw the burlap cotton sacks dragged upon the ground. Hmphh .. . Ah .. . Hmphh .. . Ah .. . He heard Moses demanding of the pharaoh, Let my people go. He heard Moses demanding of the pharaoh, Let my people go. He heard America singing,  follow the drinking gourd, follow the drinking gourd.

He saw the strong brown arm of Washington Jones pull his great grandfather from the  flood that swirled about a faltering riverboat. He felt the loss of  footing as the boat careened upon raging waters, felt the lurch as the boat hit the mama oak and came to a sloshing, creaking crashing halt.

He saw, beyond the torrential horizon,  the sod ripped from prairies by oxen teams, and he heard their bellowing, the cracking of the whips as Herculean animals strained and primordial prairie grasses became torn, the black earth turning up its wormy, smarmy loam to be kissed by the sun and drenched by the spring rains, the winter snows, the corn’s roots, the wheat’s shoots.  He heard America singing,  strains of music born of the resolve of freedmen, homesteaders, pioneers, farmers, Scandinavians, Scotch, Irish, African, indentured to the soil, and to their hopes for promised land.

Oklahoma! He heard Oklahoma, thousands of homesteaders spread in expectation across the dawning prairie horizon, buckboard wagons, horses, mules in anticipation of that great sounding signal from Uncle Sam, brought forth beneath the billowing skirts of fertile farming women, freckle-faced children in the shaded wagons, oxen in the sun, horses on the run.

Freedom? Yes, some were free, but ‘t’weren’t all that sweat dripping into from free brows, Virginia. Much of it had come slitherin’  in wet slavery drops of toil and blood and tears.

He heard low, slow, insidious  munching of the dreaded boll weevil, chomping into oblivion acres upon millions of acres of lily-white wads of forced servitude.

He heard, like God, innocent blood crying out from the ground.

He heard the clanking of chains, the clashing of  cultures and civilizations.  Can you hear the Cherokee moan?  Can you hear the Chickasaw moan?. He felt the tearing of their platted cords, the stomping of their ancestral hordes. It was a mournful cry heard round the world.

He heard the  low, slow  voice of Willie’s embryonic call, Freedom!

He heard the  high, spry  response of Bo’s ironic refrain,  Freedom! blasting forth in totipotent nuclear song.  The strains were there, ringing  in his dream, clear as a splitting bell, bringing forth the clarion knell.  He knew he heard the song; then it was gone.

Reggie, king of the Seattle saw

November 24, 2010

Daughter Katie was out in Seattle couple a days ago, prowling around with her video camera. I was tagging along. We tapped into the mother lode of our world’s most unique people when we met Reggie, king of the Seattle Saw.

Many years ago when the seasoned, dobro-playin’ blues man first slid into his niche as a saw-singer, he had not yet attained the level of virtuosity that he has today. But in those early days he was excited about the saw and its unusual musical possibilities, so he got out on the street playing one anyway. He just couldn’t wait.  I know that feeling. I’m a little like Reggie in that regard–throwing my novels out at the marketplace kinda half-baked. I like his approach, anyway…

Reggie Miles has mastered the musical saw since those first days of inspired learning. You can see and hear for yourself the exquisite tenderness with which he draws the bow across his blade.

Two days ago, November 22, sitting in a quiet spot at Pike’s Place Market, Reggie told us a few tales about his musical adventures. Back in those early days of learning the instrument, when he was playing on the street and still making a lot of “mistakes,” he found himself lol whenever he’d hit a .wrong note.  As it turned out, his good natured, roll-with-the-crosscuts demeanor prompted some listeners to laugh with him. He said they often had a “laughfest.”

What a great attitude about life.  We need more folks like him in America if we’re gon’ turn this ole wreck around
“Saw ya later,” said Reggie as we parted ways after a few fascinating hours with this unique artist of the springy steel.

Carey Rowland, author of Glass half-Full

I do cut off my ear, sir.

November 23, 2010

In a wintry afternoon on a busy Seattle street corner, the societal rules of conformity and how we collectively impose them are played out for all to see. You know the scene: Busy, bundled pedestrians scurry back and forth and all around. The steady grind of cars and buses goes and goes. It’s late November.
Now  here’s one lonely man who decides to make his presence known.  Casting his sudden voice outward with some obscure  announcement,  the man talks loudly to himself, but really you know he’s addressing the world.
But guess what.
People hurry by and lower their eyes, or stare straight ahead. Don’t make eye contact.  We”ll have no exuberance here is what their silent stubborn plodding says to him. We’ll permit  no  self-expressive outbursts here. We’ve got places to go, obviously, and people to see, but not to see,   you know…thee. Let’s  just keep things as they are; we need to move along here.
And we all agree, you know–we, here on this corner: just shut up and let us stick to the plan here.
Still he persists;  he erupts, seeks to disrupt.
What the guy is saying is not clear, but it seems to be something like:  I am here! Do you hear me? Do you see me?
That is all he’s really trying to say, don’tcha know.
The world wags on.  Who cares? Not me, not thee, as we can see. It’s half-past three.

Three miles from here in a birthing room, one little baby forces his way out of mommy’s hips and plops into the world; Right out of the tunnel he’s raising the waawaa voice so everyone can hear:  I am here! Do you hear me? Do you see me? is all he’s really trying to say.  Who cares?

Well, I do. Lets give the kid a chance. Maybe he’ll do better in this life than the fool on the hill, er…the corner. Maybe he’ll learn how to make his  own way,  how to be responsible, and be  pretty much like everyone else.
A big honkin’ suv trundles by.
Or maybe he’ll be,  like,  a Vincent van Go or something.

on Death

November 21, 2010

Here in Seattle today, I heard the most potent gospel message within my memory.

Eugene Cho spoke of his first real encounter with death. It happened many years ago as he visited a dying person and that person’s family in a hospital room. Finding himself suddenly seized with treacherous doubt–a moment in which he thought that this present existence might just be the very end of it all, he chose instead to believe Jesus’ message of eternal life.

The power of that decisive moment in Cho’s life, and his subsequent work to establish Quest, made a joyous impact on me today, and I thank God that my son Micah took me there to hear about it.