Dr. Ward Blanton is Reader in Biblical Cultures and European Thought at the University of Kent. He is one of an increasing number of scholars who are (re)reading Paul in conversation with continental philosophy and social theory. He recently published a book entitled, A Materialism for the Masses: Saint Paul and the Philosophy of Undying Life, where he continues to develop his thinking and reads Paul along with the likes of Freud, Nietzsche, Breton, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Pasolini and others (see here for more about the book). After reading the book, I contacted Ward and asked him if he would be willing to engage in an interview about some of the matters he discussed. What follows, below, is the exchange that we had. Along the way, I discovered that not only is Ward an intelligent fellow (something obvious to anybody familiar with his work), but he is also incredibly passionate and gracious. Thank you, Ward, for your participation in this. I look forward to those things that are to come.

(1A) In your preface, you say that you often feel you are asking only a few fundamental political questions. The questions you then mention, involved the throwing of rocks or organizing groups of rock throwers (xv-xvi). In what follows, you don’t ever explicitly return to this question. David Graeber is a fan of rock throwing (especially organized rock throwing), Chris Hedges thinks the opposite. Jensen, Churchill, and Gelderloos think we should be throwing more than rocks, but Chenoweth, Stephan and Sharp argue that it’s a mistake to throw anything at all. Rock throwing seems a bit complicated but, what I really want to know is: can we start throwing rocks now?

When the time is right for rock throwing no one ever asks permission!

But I think this is a very important question about my book, and about my Paul.
Read More…

Posted by: Dan | October 22, 2014

Another Salvation Story

He sees messages from Jesus written on the shampoo bottle a woman left in his shower. His daughter coughs and draws pictures in the mold that grows on the bottom of the drywall. He loves her and she loves him but the social workers are coming, they are coming to take her, they are coming to take her away. They will take her to a new home, a new place, a new family, a new race, where they put locks on the cupboards and the fridge, and where her new brother will touch her in new ways — until he is moved again, to a new home, a new place, to become somebody else’s son, somebody else’s brother, somebody else’s problem.

They say words he cannot comprehend and he asks them to explain:

“Unfit to parent, what does that mean?”

“Best interests of the child, what does that mean?”

“No access, what does that mean?”

He decides that he has died and that is why his daughter is no longer home. He thinks years have passed and she has grown up and moved out and that he is simply a ghost returning to haunt the places he loved because they were places where she used to be. Because he is dead, he buries himself in the leaves at the graveyard and the groundskeepers find him there the next day.

When he is committed to the mental health floor of the hospital he wonders if he is in hell because of all the times his mother told him he was bad and his father told him to sit still and his education assistant told him he was wrong. The shampoo bottles they give him are samples and they are small and blank on all sides. He takes a sharpie from his art therapy group and writes messages to Jesus on them:

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“The pasta was pretty good tonight.”

“How is my daughter doing back on earth?”

Two weeks later another man in art therapy takes a box of crayons and follows him back into his room. When he starts to tell the man about the beautiful pictures his daughter used to make when she was a kid, the man takes that box of crayons and rams it down his throat.

~

But that is not all. That is not the end.

Because Jesus read the messages he wrote on the shampoo bottles and came down to save him. Bursting into the room, Jesus found him lying on his back with a rainbow of waxy foam and fluid already drying on his lips and mouth and bubbling out of his nose. His bowels have evacuated. Reports suggested that he actually shit himself before he died. Nobody was found to be at fault for this.

Or for anything.

So Jesus went to the gift shop and bought a Teddy Bear. The daughter was in another wing of the hospital where doctors and social workers spoke in hushed tones about reconstructive surgery, D.I.D., and chronic fatigue syndrome. Jesus sat with her awhile but she never said a word. She never even turned her head to look at him. He fiddled with his phone and breathed a secret sigh of relief when the nurse came to tell him visiting hours were over. He left the Teddy Bear on the chair and went back up to Heaven.

~

And that’s all. That’s the end.

Posted by: Dan | October 4, 2014

The Fable of the Star Thrower

A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a boy who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean. As he approached, he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The boy looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean.” “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man. “The tide stranded them. If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die,” came the answer. “Surely you realize that there are miles of beach, and thousands of starfish. You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy listened politely and then picked up another starfish. As he threw it back into the sea, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”

“But, look,” the man said, “don’t you realize that it is not the tide that has stranded the starfish here? That ship you see on the horizon is equipped with a massive pump and it pumps all these starfish onto the beach. Every starfish you throw back, will simply be pumped back here again. Furthermore, the basis of the local economy in our oceanfront town is gathering these starfish and processing them in the plants at the harbour. We convert them into a cracker spread that we export to most of the culinary centres of the world.”

So the boy stopped throwing the starfish back into the ocean. He went home and he built himself a submarine. He packed the submarine with dynamite and, one cloudy night, he rode out beneath the breakers. When he rammed the ship, the explosion tore a hole into the hull the size of a house and it sank quickly, with all hands on board. Forty-seven people died, including the boy, and everyone in the town had to tighten their belts because the processing plants were temporarily closed. A number of kids didn’t get Christmas presents that year and more than one family defaulted on their mortgages. One father committed suicide after the bank took the home away. His partner took the kids, ages 2 and 5, to the local family shelter. Then, the following Spring, a new ship arrived, fresh from the boat docks in Greece, and it could pump out twice as many starfish as the first ship. The processing plants were expanded and the town experienced a new boom. Behind closed doors and far away from the family members of those who had died, more than one person secretly thanked the star throwing boy for what he did and for the bounty he had provided.

As far as anyone can tell, the starfish have not yet expressed any opinion on the matter, although it’s hard to hear what they might be trying to say over the sounds of the washing and sorting and pressing and blending and packaging machines at the plants.

Posted by: Dan | July 14, 2014

Gospel Fragments

Once, while dining with the Pharisees and Tax-Collectors, one of the elders seated at the right hand of the host began to question Jesus about the sayings attributed to him.

“Teacher,” the elder said, “you have told us to love our neighbours and you told us who our neighbours are.  I have heard that you have also told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.  But you have not been so clear as to who our enemies are.  Tell me, teacher, who is my enemy, so that I may love him?  Who is the one who persecutes me so that I may pray for him?”

In response to this question, Jesus told the following story:

“Once there was a man whose wife had died and who had been left alone to raise a single daughter.  In order to raise her up and protect her and educate her and put money aside for her dowry, this man worked very long hours doing backbreaking work for a thankless taskmaster.  Yet he always greeted his master respectfully, he smiled and nodded and laughed at his master’s jokes.  He rose when his master rose and only sat when invited to do so.  He never complained when he was beaten.  He didn’t interrupt and he always thanked his master for his pay and for the opportunity to work for him.  Sometimes, when the master patted his shoulder or shook his hand after a job well done, he expressed a particularly great delight.  But the work was hard and he was often weary when he got home.  If his daughter did not have dinner prepared, he would be short-tempered with her.  If his work clothes were not properly washed and laid out in their place early the next morning, he would yell at her.  Sometimes, if he were particularly sore or tired or had been beaten by his master, he would hit his daughter.  This went on for some time until the man became injured at work.  He was unable to fulfill his normal duties and hoped that his years of service would incline the master to give him a different role.  Sadly, this was not the case and the master threw him out.  Unable to find other work, he was reduced to begging.  The little money he was able to raise begging in the streets with his daughter – who now joined him there – was not enough for them to survive and so, weeping a great many tears, he did what many others did before and with and after him.  He sold his daughter into slavery and that was the last he saw of his only child.”

There was silence around the table when Jesus finished his story and so he asked a question:

“Tell me, who is the enemy of this man?”

Without hesitation, the elder who had initiated the conversation responded, “Surely the taskmaster is the enemy!  Surely he is the one the man is called to love!”

“Oh, you blind and foolish fellow,” Jesus responded, “no wonder you are seated where you are at this table!  The taskmaster is not the enemy of this man – for he always greeted him as a friend and he always was respectful in his presence and he always showed delight in his company.  No, the man treated the taskmaster as his friend and so he was, regardless of how the taskmaster treated him.  The true enemy – the one the man treated like his enemy – was his daughter.  She was the one he was short with and yelled at and beat and ultimately sold into slavery, regardless of his feelings for her.  Those whom you harm are the enemies you are called to love in deed and in action for love is a doing far more than a feeling.  However, the taskmaster was the one who persecuted the man.  I do not say that it is necessary to love such a person – has he not already been treated as a friend, even by those whom he abuses? – but it may be worthwhile to pray for him.  Perhaps my Father in heaven will hear your prayers and make him into a good master instead of a cruel one or, if that proves to be too difficult, perhaps my Father in heaven will hear your prayers and strike him dead.

Your enemy is not the one who harms you, but the one you harm.  And so I say this: do no harm.  As for the one who persecutes you, leave that one in the hands of God.  Rome crushes you – whom you treat as a friend – and you crush the people – whom you treat as enemies although they are flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood.  You cannot stop Rome but one day Rome will be stopped.  Whether or not you are also stopped at that point will depend on whether or not you have ceased to do violence to those who are less than you.  If you do not learn to actively love your enemies, when judgment falls on Rome, those whom you have treated as enemies may decide to accept that designation and rise up against you.  They will be singing songs of freedom as they beat plowshares into swords and they will cut you down like the harvest and not one of you will be saved.”

When Jesus finished speaking, several of those gathered at the meal decided it was time to get serious about their plot to kill him.

Posted by: Dan | June 21, 2014

A Eulogy

For a few days, there was a pretty terrible smell in the hallway by the elevator near the entrance I use to get in and out of my building.  Then the smell was gone and there was a whole bunch of furniture stacked up by the garbage bins out back.  Apparently the forensics unit had stopped by somewhere in between the disappearance of the smell and the appearance of the furniture but I hadn’t noticed them.  Or maybe I had — I often see the police here, I just don’t pay close enough attention to them to see what units are showing up.  To be honest, I didn’t even notice that the cat who is usually sitting in the window of the apartment by the entrance had vanished.  It was only when a neighbour pointed in the window that I noticed that the cat was gone and the room was half gutted.

They say she killed the cat before she killed herself.

One of my neighbours said that he once found her crying on the front steps of the building.  When he asked her why she was crying she said she was hungry and had no food.  He asked her if she had any parents who might help her out and she had told him that they wouldn’t help her anymore.  They said maybe next month.  They said she had to be more responsible.  He was appalled and put together a big box of food for her.

She wasn’t all that old.  Younger than me by half a dozen years, I reckon.  She wore glasses and had short red curly hair.  I think she had some sort of developmental disability.  She was always friendly with the kids and I.  I know another woman in the building was bullying her.  Everyone else knows this other woman.  Most, except for a few of the hardcore drinkers who are always lounging around out back, avoid this other woman as much as possible.  The last time I spoke with the girl who is said to have killed herself and her cat, she told me that this other woman had threatened her life and told her not to talk with any of the men in the building.  The girl who is said to have killed herself and her cat said that the other woman wanted all the men to herself.

I remember thinking, “Why would anybody want to bully you?  How could anybody feel threatened by you?”  And I felt sad and angry and helpless.

Sometime around the time she stopped being who she had been, sometime around the time she stopped being at all, we were laying in bed, all mixed up together — limbs and heat and breath and thoughts and silences all tangled up together — and I was tracing the lines on your face.  The curve of your brow, the dip of your temple, the line of your jaw, I was tracing you in space, when you asked me to tell you a story.  I didn’t know what story I would tell, I did not know this story until I told it, but this was the story I told:

Once upon a time there was a boy who lived in the forest.  He made a house out of cans he had found but every night the wind would blow the cans down.  They would fall with a crash around him and wake him up and then he would lay in the dark, exposed to the night and its creatures, too scared to move.  He would cry until the sun came up.  When the sun came up, he would set his house of cans back up and then go looking for food.  By the time he came back, the cans would have fallen down again and so he would set them back up in the evening before he fell asleep and before they fell down around him and woke him up and left him crying in the night.  And this went on and on, day after day, night after night.

Some days, he would walk to the road that passed through the woods, and ask the people who traveled on that road to help him or feed him or take him away with them.  But they never seemed to see or hear him.  They passed by him like the wind and he was less than the air the wind passed through.

Other days, when out looking for food, he would discover families of people who did not live in the forest, who had stopped in this or that clearing in order to have a picnic.  Sometimes they would throw scraps to the animals — a piece of fruit for a bird, a nut for a squirrel, bread crumbs for the ants — and he would try to snatch the scraps away.  But the people would throw rocks at him and beat him with sticks.  “This food is for the animals!  It is for the bird, and the squirrel, and the ants!  Go away!”  And he would go away, sore and hungry, and back to his house of fallen cans.

One day, he decided that he would go onto the road and follow it out of the woods.  He walked and he walked and he walked until his feet were sore and blistered from the pavement.  But the woods were still all around him, so he continued walking.  He walked and he walked and he walked until his blisters had burst and his feet were trailing blood.  But the woods were still all around him, so he continued walking.  The sun began to set and the night, along with its creatures, began to awaken and, finally, he was unable to walk anymore.  He could not stand and so he crawled to the side of the road.  He was a long, long way from his house of cans.  But the woods were still all around him.  Night came.  The wind blew.  And he was less than the air the wind passed through.

The End.

Posted by: Dan | April 30, 2014

Love and Death

I recently watched a documentary about a fellow who spends some time with children in an AIDS orphanage in India.  One of the boys becomes very ill.  His body becomes covered in sores and blisters that burst and stay open and seep and make him look like his skin is peeling away from his body.  The doctors say the same thing is happening to the membranes and tissues inside of him as well.  His lips look like God or the devil has taken a potato peeler to them.  A compress is kept over his eyes, blinding him, in order to try and prevent infection from spreading there.  He frequently spits or drools out blood and mucus and, I don’t know, the kind of fluid you think oozes from wounds.

He is in a lot of pain.

His name is Surya.  He is about the same size as Charlie.  Charlie, my son, Charlie, my beloved, Charlie my beautiful one whose hair smells like sunshine.  Charlie who takes me by the hand and looks up into my eyes and tells me that I am beautiful and that I make his heart feel happy and then asks if he can sit on my lap and watch a movie with me.  This Surya, he is also somebody’s son, it’s just his parents died, ya know?  He is also beloved, it’s just that the people who love him aren’t wealthy or influential or connected, see?  And I’m sure his hair also smells like the wind and childhood and earth and the wonder, and when the person who was with him got up to leave and use the bathroom, he also took him by the hand and, speaking for the first time in days, said, “No!”  This Surya, this Charlie, this boy, this beloved child, he said “No!” because he was afraid that he would die in those moments when he was alone.

I watched all of this far away from where Suryas are too numerous to count.  I watched it play out as a movie on a flat screen HDTV.  And I cried awhile, and the gal who was with me, who loves me and whom I love, she cried awhile, too, and we held each other and later that night we made love and then the next morning the alarm went off on my smartphone (which, like most things I own, is made by children like Surya who live and die like Surya) and I went off to work and she went off to school.

And life went on.

And death did, too.

~

A year ago, I would have laughed at the idea of referring to sex as “making love”.  Who talks that way?  If sex was transcendental, it was simply because the nearly pure physicality of it could permit sad and lonely and broken and lost and angry and weary people — people like me — to momentarily forget all of these things.  In sex, you can lose your self in touching and being touched, in giving and taking, in caressing, and in fucking.  You can give yourself away, you can become absorbed in another — just as another can become absorbed in you — and in that forgetting you can also forget that this life doesn’t seem worth living.  But, hell, all the reasons for dying seem like bullshit, too, and so, in this limbo between the living and the dead, there is, at least, la petite mort.

Funny just how much can change in a year.

~

In the documentary that featured Surya, the Charlie covered in sores, there was also a young girl who becomes very ill and comatose and is on the verge of dying.  The father eventually tries to rush her to the hospital — he is sitting on the back of a motorbike, holding her in his arms — she is naked but for a blanket — and they get caught on the road waiting for a train to pass at a rail crossing.  She dies then.  We see her die — her head falls back, her mouth open, everything totally limp and the father cannot close her mouth.  He takes her in his arms, the blanket falling from her body and turns and starts walking back into the night with her.  “I am taking her home.”

What was her name?  I don’t remember her name.  But the film makers thought the scene was dramatic enough that they decided to include it twice — once at the beginning, without any subtitles or talking (what better hook for those of us far way watching this movie on HDTVs, right?), and once later one within the context of the story and with a voice over.  I do remember this though: wrapped in a shroud, her body looked tiny, as did the grave they buried her in.  When she was buried, she didn’t look any bigger than my Ruby, my beloved, my beautiful girl who isn’t afraid to say, “No!” to me when I tell her it is bath time, and who asks me to be a monster so she can sit me down and bring me presents in the closet, and who want to hold my head on her stomach when she is falling asleep.  I watched the dad bury this little girl, I watched him weep and hit himself in the forehead when he looked at pictures of her, I watched him love his Ruby and lose her.  Forever and ever and ever.  And this is not uncommon.  To cite just one, from any number of possible examples, around 2000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhea-related disease.  That’s two thousand Charlies and Rubies every day.  That’s more than one every minute. Gone forever and ever and ever.

Welcome to the world we live in.  Things don’t have to be this way.  We all know that.  It’s just that we haven’t wanted to love one another at least well enough to prevent the needless suffering and dying of children.  And we never will.  Things will always be this way with us.  We know this, too.

~

Last weekend I went to my father’s wedding.  I missed the first (wasn’t born then) and the second (wasn’t speaking with him then) but I made the third.  It was a small ceremony in an old stone Anglican church with beautiful wood floors, and candles, and stained glass windows, and a pipe organ that I loved as much as all the other parts combined.  Ruby thought we were in a castle, she thought the priest — who was wearing a white robe — was a ghost, and she thought the bride was a princess.  She was pretty excited about the whole thing and stood on the pew the whole time so that she could “see the princess.”  Charlie was a lot less excited about the actually ceremony but he played games on my phone and it kept him still and quiet.

And me?  I don’t know what all I was feeling.  Or maybe I do but I don’t think I can talk about the way it felt without, in that very act of talking (or writing), retroactively changing what happened.  So I’ll say no more about that.

What a mess life is, eh?  How often we hurt when we desire to help, how often we betray when we desire to love, how often we curse when we desire to bless.  It is very hard to know what we are doing, regardless of what our intentions are.

And how often we get bogged down in our own wounds, our own cuts and scars and insecurities, and never see anything beyond ourselves.  Even now — I watched a movie and I feel things about characters therein by comparing them to my own children, whom I will continue to love in practical ways (just as I will continue to ignore or oppress the Suryas and the girls whose names I forget in practical ways), so, really, am I even seeing anything beyond myself here?

~

After I watched this documentary, I wanted to be more kind.  I wanted to never be angry at another person again.  I just wanted to love… and be loved, too.  I’m weary of anger and frustration and pettiness and violence, violence, violence everywhere.  But, you know, after I went to work the next morning somebody was rude to the fellow who helps me out and makes coffee in the Resource Centre I supervise and so I decided to be rude back to the fellow who disrespected my helper.  I didn’t say anything rude in words — but in my tone and in my body language, I basically told the fellow that he could fuck off and I didn’t give a shit about anything he might have to say about that.  Then, that night, Charlie and Ruby were refusing to go to sleep and I felt frustrated, even after reflecting upon Surya and the girl whose name I forgot, even after thinking how I failed that fellow at my work, even after recognizing these things in the midst of feeling frustrated… I still felt frustrated and, after sternly telling the kids to be quiet and go to bed, I went to another room and dropped a number of whispered eff bombs as I washed the dishes (in an overly aggressive manner… fucking dishes).

Do I ever learn anything at all?  Woe to me if I can watch a documentary like that and go on unchanged and unchanging.

~

~

But I will tell you a secret.  A very exciting one.  One wholly unanticipated.  One I stopped believing in a long, long time ago.  Are you ready?  This is the secret:

I have already begun to change.

Ain’t that something?  Because I was dead but I am now alive.  And that breaking process, that slow inexorable shattering that drained me of my insides and filled me up with darkness inside?  It wasn’t the final word.  My pieces are coming together again.  But I am not going back to being who I was before.  I am being made new.  I, too, have experienced the resurrection of the dead.  Here and now, I have been born again — this time from the dead.

This is what love has done with me.  How about that, eh?  I wouldn’t trade this love for anything in the world.  Not that I could trade it even if (for some unimaginably absurd reason) I wanted to do so.  This love after all, is something I am in,  not something I produce.  It is more an event and an environment than a choice.  At least for me.  Perhaps the one who loves me, who introduced me to this love in which we are now situated, perhaps for her it was a choice.  For me it was not.  The dead don’t make choices.  They’re simply dead.  I could not choose myself back alive.  I could not heal myself.  My heart felt as though it had been broken into pieces, and the pieces had been burned, and then the charred remains had been wrapped all around with barbed wire.  But when she first laid her head on my shoulder, when she first held my hand, when she first said to me, “I love you,” everything changed and the wires were cut and the ashes were swept away and the pieces came back together and, just like the motherfucking Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day… and it hasn’t stopped growing since.  I’ve got a long way to go yet, my hair still stinks like the grave and I’m a bit of a mess and sometimes old feelings or reactions still surface, but a resurrection is more like an insurrection than a makeover.  It takes times but, baby, it runs all the way up and all the way down and the fruit that it bears are a lot longer lasting than a tan and botox injections.

~

And the girl, the Ruby who died?  Her name is Vembadi.  I will not forget it again.  She died but our time with her has not ended.  Because we know her story now.  We are responsible for it and we our responsible for ourselves and how we will live in light of it.

Whether or not this proves to be a responsibility we can handle will be determined, I think, by whether or not we are in love.

Posted by: Dan | September 26, 2013

This is a Love Letter

I.

Last week I attended a funeral for a young man I knew from my work.  He died in a bed in a homeless shelter.  He was barely over thirty but, in many ways, he was still a child.  His brain didn’t work the same as most other people’s brains work.  Some of his family members showed up for the funeral – it was our first time seeing any of them in the two years that we knew this fellow – and they put together a montage of pictures from his childhood.  He looks sweet and happy and maybe a little bit awkward in the pictures.  He, too, got his heart broken along with his mind… although I’m never sure if minds that we consider broken actually are, or if we are the ones with broken minds, or if all of us have broken minds, in which case, I’m not sure why it matters to emphasize the brokenness of some minds over others.  Regardless, his body broke as well and he then never got up again.  He went from laying in his bed to laying in a stretcher to laying on a slab to laying in a coffin.  I felt like I was attending the funeral of a child and it made me weep.  He often made me laugh, with the accents he would assume when he spoke, with the way he pretended to shoot us with his fingers, “Bang! Bang!” and with the ways he was constantly sneaking in and out of places he was told not to go.  This, too, is a Charlie, I kept thinking, this, too, is a Ruby.  And he is dead, he is dead, he has been carried away, and we will never see him again.

~

Nietzsche said that God is dead and we have killed him, but he neglected to mention that all of us on the way to becoming supermen and superwomen are killing children on the way.

~

At the funeral the priest – the family asked for a Catholic service of sorts – talked about God’s love and how this young man was being welcomed home and being embraced in the love of God.  And I wept because of this, too.  It’s such a beautiful story and I remember how beautiful the world was when I believed that story, but now I don’t know what to believe.  I just don’t know.

I do know this – this young man was the fourth “street person” that I knew who died in about a five week period.  People are dying faster here than I remember them dying in Vancouver.  All this despite the City Managers and public advocates and professional service providers who talk about how they are curing homelessness in this town.  I’ve noticed that these people like to talk about poverty and health and the public good but none of them seem to talk about oppression.  Until they do, people will continue to die here.

II.

As all these people were dying, I got word from a dear friend out West that the eight year old son of one of her dear friends had been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.  They cut the kid’s head open once to try and remove it, but they weren’t able to get all of it.  He’s in a hospital room confused and frightened and in a lot of pain when his meds start wearing off.  His mom is barely holding on with the help of booze and pills and a loving husband and a loving friend.

I did mention that the kid is eight years old, right?  Can you understand this?  The world is full of parents grieving the loss of their children and children grieving the loss of their parents and lovers grieving the loss of their friends and all of us grieving, deep in our bones, everything that has been taken away before its time.  When we recognize that this grief is inside all of us, how can anyone be condemned?

~

I’ve been rereading The Brothers Karamazov lately and I was struck by the words of Father Zossima when he tells Alyosha to hold himself responsible for all the sin in the world and hold himself accountable to all the pain in the world – to take it all into himself and carry it as his own.  My God, I thought, I made the mistake of taking this advice seriously!  It’s terrible advice.  Don’t do it.  It’s unbearable.

III.

At the same time, another dear friend of mine told me his marriage had fallen apart.  He has been very involved, from the very beginning, with a lot of the Truth and Reconciliation work that has been taking place in Vancouver.  When I was at my lowest point there, I was a poor friend to him but he was a good friend to me, and he took me in for a time and gave me a home and was kind and gentle and considerate with and to me.  I remember sitting in his kitchen and watching him make peanut butter and jam sandwiches for his kids.  He was an amazing sandwich maker.  He did everything just the way the kids wanted it done and he did it like it was nothing at all and just kept chatting happily with me all the while.  I remember thinking, “I hope, one day, to be the kind of father you are.”

And now he too has been abandoned.  Now he too will only see his kids part-time.  This, too, seems like an unbearable thought.

Intermezzo

IV.

I’ve continued to talk to the birds and the trees and the river and the grass and the bugs and the bushes and the flowers when I walk to work in the morning.  I still invite them to meet me in my dreams so that we can speak a common language and understand each other.  I’ve done this, now, for about two months straight.  Then, the other day something miraculous happened – they spoke back.

I had just finished speaking my invitation to my dreams when I suddenly realized, I didn’t need to wait for my dreams to hear what they were saying to me.  And then, two words appeared in my mind:

“Be grateful.”

And that was all.  Be grateful.

~

At first I was confused by this because, in many ways, I have spent the last few weeks feeling far more grateful than I have felt in years.  Because I had fallen in love, you see?  But as I thought about it more I thought they were recommending that I be grateful even for the things that I am not usually grateful for.  And then I thought about how I also apologize to the plants and the animals and the river and the soil every day because I am counted amongst those who are poisoning and killing them all.  And this is what I thought they were saying:

“We know that we are sick.  But every day we continue to sing, we continue to flow, we continue to bloom.  We know that we are dying and that you have poisoned us.  But every day we choose to offer ourselves as something beautiful and good to the world.  We don’t want your apologies.  We know you’re sorry and we know you can’t make it better.  Stop saying sorry and start saying thank you.”

And then I thought about the kid with brain cancer and I thought about other kids who are dying and I thought about how they still draw pictures and they still sing songs and they still dance and they still tell stories – while they still can – and they don’t want us to spend all our time crying over them and saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”  Instead, they want us to say, “My God, what a beautiful picture.  Thank you.  It’s perfect, I love it, can I have another?”

And so I decided to try and be grateful.  I said thank you to the birds and the trees and the river and the grass and the bugs and the bushes and the flowers and I didn’t say sorry and I said I couldn’t wait to see them again tomorrow.

~

The very next day when I was walking under the bridge, I saw something that made me forget to keep moving my feet.  A pigeon had become tangled in some of the debris dangling from a pipe that ran under the bridge and it was hanging in the air above the river.  One wing was above its head and the other was hanging at its side.  It had suffocated and died and its body was left there hanging and spinning and twirling.  I couldn’t look away and I only remembered to keep walking after somebody almost hit me on a bicycle.  The world seemed to be speaking again and it felt ominous.  And I didn’t know how this fit into feeling grateful…

…And then the girl I fell in love with said she didn’t want to be with me and said we couldn’t talk anymore and I understood what was going on.

And I said thank you.  For everything.  For being.  Even though I felt like I was spinning and twirling in the air, I said thank you.  Because I felt that, too.

~

This is what it means to have your heart come back to life again.  Living hearts know joy but living hearts also know sorrow.  That’s why we numb our hearts – that’s why I numbed mine.  I was tired of feeling sorrow.  But I have decided to accept the sorrow again.  And so I grieve the young man and the three others who died, and so I grieve the child with brain cancer, and so I grieve the divorce my friend is experiencing, and so I grieve my own broken heart… and still I say thank you.

V.

I was walking to the bar a week or so ago and a leaf, already yellow, landed on me and I realized that it was shaped exactly like a heart.  I opened my eyes and noticed that the sidewalk and the lawn beside me were littered with leaves and all of them were heart shaped.  How about that, eh?

~

I always thought my mom was a little crazy – albeit in a harmless way – because she sees everything as a love letter to her from God.  These butterflies, the shape of that snowbank, they all spoke to her of God’s love for her.  Now I think I understand it a little more.  My mom is simply in love.  And when you’re in love, everything strikes you as a love letter from and to your Beloved.

Postscript

My God, what a beautiful picture.  Thank you.  It’s perfect, I love it, can I have another?

Posted by: Dan | September 8, 2013

Ruby’s Squirrels

In Iraq babies are being born with all sorts of deformities.  And we’re not talking cleft lips or shortened limbs or missing/extra digits on their hands or feet.  We’re talking about babies that look like this:

Image

And this:

Image

~

I don’t want to see anymore.

~

These babies are thought to be one of the long-term effects of the Depleted Uranium that the Americans used with the shells and bullets they poured into the Iraqi people and the Iraqi land and the Iraqi water and the Iraqi air… not to mention the animals, and plants and creeping things.

The Americans are a lot like the God they worship.  They are jealous and, if you go astray, they will visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation.

~

I remember when my children were born.  I remember when both of their heads started crowning.  I remember when they emerged from the water and the body and the blood of my wife and began to breath and began to cry.  I remember holding them and saying hello and saying I love you and saying you’re beautiful and saying it’s so good to meet you.

I wonder if that’s what the Iraqi parents said to their babies.  To the one’s that survived, anyway.  Some were born with organs on the outside instead of on the inside.  Some were born without all their organs.  Some weren’t able to live very long.  Some were already dead.

What does it do to a woman to carry a child marked and set apart for death because some people on the other side of the world decided they wanted something that was connected to you and decided to take it in just about the most vicious way imaginable?  What does it do to a father to see his beloved son or daughter born this way?  What would it do to me?

~

I don’t want to know anymore.

~

King Saul fell on his sword
When it all went wrong
And Joseph’s brother sold him down the river for a song
And Sonny Liston rubbed some tiger balm into his glove

Some things you do for money
And some you do for love love love

Raskolnikov felt sick
And he couldn’t say why
When he saw his face reflected
In his victim’s twinkling eye

Some things you’ll do for money
Some you’ll do for fun
But the things you do for love are gonna come back to you
One by one

Love love is gonna lead you be the hand
Into a white and soundless place

Now we see things
As in a mirror dimly
Then we shall see each other
Face
To face

And way out in Seattle,
Young Kirk Cobain
Snuck out to the greenhouse
And put a bullet in his brain

Snakes in the grass beneath our feet
Rain in the clouds above
Some moments last forever
But some flair out
With love love love

~

Scientists at Tufts University have grown ectopic eyes on the bodies of tadpoles and then removed the other eyes – the one’s in their heads – in order to study how the brain and body adapt to major changes.  Apparently this is an important question in regenerative medicine, bioengineering, and sensory augmentation research, although it’s probably not a question the tadpoles were asking.

~

The Vacanti Mouse was a mouse that had an ear-shaped structure grown on its back by seeding cow cartilage cells into a biodegradable ear-shaped mold implanted under its skin.  Scientists in South Korea created glow-in-the-dark cats which then became the mothers of their own cloned selves.  By adding mouse DNA and some E Coli Bacteria to a pig embryo, another group of geniuses created a pig that produced significantly less phosphorus than other pigs.  Meanwhile, the good folks over at Nexia Biotechnologies created a goat that produced spiders’ web protein in its milk.  Philip Morris still tests various carcinogenic blends on mice and rats, even though it also now tests its products on human lung tissue that it grows in its labs.  Elsewhere:

“In 2011, Pfizer experimented on nearly 50,000 animals—including 2,557 dogs, 1,159 primates, 452 cats, 7,076 guinea pigs, 31,560 hamsters, 5,512 rabbits, 1,680 gerbils, and 161 horses—in its own laboratories. More than 15,000 of these animals were forced to endure painful experiments, and more than 6,000 were denied pain relief. These numbers don’t even include mice and rats or any of the animals tormented for Pfizer experiments in contract testing laboratories.”

The same is true of every other major pharmaceutical company I looked up.  And don’t forget that producing all of these animals to be caged and tortured and killed is a big money business, too!  Thanks so much, Charles River Laboratories.

~

Already, back in the ‘50s, Vladimir Demikhov was creating two-headed dogs by transplanting the head of one dog, onto the body of another.  This inspired Harvard-grad, Dr. Robert White, to do the same thing with monkeys in the ‘70s. The monkeys were all paralyzed in the process and, after being studied for awhile, they were killed. I’m not sure what they studied them for… “yep, that there is a two-headed monkey”… but I’m sure they learned something.

~

We create and we destroy like gods but we are monsters, we are monsters, we are monsters.

~

I don’t want to learn anymore.

~

My daughter, my Ruby Violet Beloved, who isn’t really “mine,” (she isn’t a “thing” to be owned, I know), but whom I adore, still gets excited and points and laughs and kicks her feet around when she sees a squirrel.  “Squirrel!  Squirrel!” she yells in a bubbly voice overflowing with happiness.  Because, yeah, it’s a squirrel.  Probably the 173rd one we’ve seen today.  And she loves it.  Loves it to pieces and thinks it is the most wonderful and exciting and pretty thing in the world.  And she’s right.  It is.

~

My daughter has five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot.  She has two arms and two legs and all her organs, and they’re all on the inside where they’re supposed to be.  She can’t even imagine a person wanting to cut open an animal or cause it to grow new parts (before it is killed) because that person is curious about such questions as “how do the body and mind respond to dramatic changes?”  Nor can she imagine a person wanting to cut open human beings with munitions that cause those left behind to have babies that grow new parts (before they, too, are killed by the mutations).  She can’t imagine any of these things.  Because she is a child and she is white and she is middle-classed and she was born into a part of the world where Depleted Uranium wasn’t anywhere close to her mother when she was pregnant.

Image

~

I don’t know how to express the kind of love she makes me feel in my heart.  I think about her and I think about my Charlie (who also isn’t really “mine”, I know, but whom I adore) and I think about how dear and wonderful they are and how good they are, how good it is for the world that they exist, how they are a gift to me and to us and to each other… and then I think about Ruby’s squirrels and I think of how they, too, are a gift… and then I think about those puppies in those labs and those monkeys and those pigs and those mice and I think about what we do with gifts, and I think about those kids in Iraq and I think about what we do with each other, and I think, “that girl born with no face, that’s my Ruby, too,” and I think, “that boy born with no lungs, that’s my Charlie, too” and I think, “that puppy in that lab, that’s Ruby’s squirrel, too,” and then my mind kinda loses track of itself and forgets which way is up and mistakes colours for words and lights for sounds, and I find myself weeping and weeping and weeping, like Rachel in Ramah mourning for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.

~

I wish I could take it all back.  Everything I’ve seen.  Everything I’ve learned.  Everything I can do nothing about, if, at least, I want to be around to care for my children.  And I do want to be around to care for my children.  All I want, now, is to be a good father to my kids for as long as they want me to be.  All I want now is to love and to be loved.

~

Sometimes, when walking around with a broken heart, you forget to be kind to others.  Sometimes, when overwhelmed by the violence of the world, you forget to be gentle with others.  Sometimes, when blinded by tears, it is hard to see the beauty in everyone.  I have often been unkind.  I have often been harsh.  I have often been blind.  I’m trying to change that now.  I hope you’ll bear with me.

~

By the time that we woke up,
We couldn’t stop the sparks,
We couldn’t see outside,
When the curtains fell apart.

We couldn’t hear the books
When the pages curled away.
We should shut that window we both left open now.

We lost our chance to run,
Now the door’s too hot to touch.
We should hold our breaths with mouths together now.

Posted by: Dan | August 24, 2013

What the Elephants Remember: A Fable

Elephant Crying

Some cold and flu germs only live for a few minutes.

The mayfly has a life expectancy ranging from half an hour up until a maximum of twenty-four hours.

Our skin cells live, on average, two to four weeks.

Some octopuses live six months.  Others, up to five years.

In 2010, the worldwide average life expectancy for homo sapiens was 67.2 years, although, currently, where I live, it is closer to 80 years.

Some species of turtle can live between 150-250 years.

Some pine trees can live over 5000 years.  Some sponges are thought to be more than 10,000 years old.

Tirritopsis nutricula is a species of jellyfish that is immortal — it will live as long as the ocean will sustain it.

Our sun is estimated to be 5 billion years old and is expected to live another 5 billion years before it dies.

The universe, although harder to calculate, may be somewhere around 13.75 +/- 0.1 gigayears old.  I’m not sure how much older it’s supposed to live before it doesn’t anymore.

How can all these “things” co-exist?  How can we inhabit a space together?  Isn’t that amazing?

~

What is the measure of a life?  The mayfly is born, reproduces, and dies in a day or less.  Does it experience angst?  Does the pine tree?  Do we want them to?

Does the sun feel the same about us as we feel about our skin cells?

Does a cold germ feel about itself the same as we feel about ourselves?

Does a 10,000 year old sponge look at the brevity of our lives and wonder if, between being born, reproducing, and dying, we ever find time to ask bigger questions about meaning and beauty and truth?

~

Does the length of time that one lives determine the kind of meaning one finds in life?

Elephants have the same lifespan as we do.  Do elephants think the same as we do?  They, too, bury their dead.  They mourn the loss of loved ones with tears streaming down their faces.  Their children play.  They like to shower.

Why are they not like us?  Why have they not developed civilizations and cities and guns?  We do they let us slaughter them?

Is it because they were wise enough to not put the men in charge? 

Or is it because they’ve decided that they do not want to be like us?  Is it because they remember that if we forget that we are animals we become brutes?  Perhaps they would rather die with the earth instead of becoming like those who got civilized and killed the earth?

Instead, they roam their ranges, follow the water, and forage for food.  Perhaps their lives look hard to us.  But that, too, may be a sign of all that we have forgotten.  And all that they have not.

 

First Thought:

“Is there a triangle in this sentence?”

Second Thought:

What is this?

Image

Third Thought:

What is this?

Image

Commentary

I encourage you all to come up with your own answers before reading what follows.

First Thought:

It seems to me that whether or not a triangle is contained in the sentence quoted, depends upon what  a triangle is and if  a triangle is and what the relation is between this supposed triangle and the name given to it (i.e. “triangle”).  If a triangle is something that exists outside of language and apart from the name we give to it (does anything exist outside of language?  How can we talk about it then?  And if we can’t talk about it, how can we know it?), then one could argue that there is no triangle contained within the sentence.  But is a triangle divorced from the name “triangle” still a triangle?  If it is not then the name “triangle” itself contains or is a triangle, in which case there is a triangle in the sentence.

Second thought:

I came up with the following although I’m sure answer could be multiplied endlessly:

  1. A tetrahedron;
  2. Four triangles;
  3. A quadrilateral divided into four uneven parts;
  4. A quadrilateral divided in half;
  5. A symbol;
  6. A shape;
  7. A thing;
  8. The representation of something else;
  9. No( )thing;
  10. An empty signifier;
  11. Modern art;
  12. Not a pipe.

Third Thought:

  1. Me;
  2. A picture of me;
  3. A simulacrum;
  4. A series of tiny coloured dots displayed on a computer monitor;
  5. A singularity;
  6. One in a series;
  7. A multitude;
  8. The same thing as that explored in the Second Thought above;
  9. Something different than that explored in the Second Thought above;
  10. A stunningly attractive and intelligent young man;
  11. All of the above;
  12. None of the above.

And you all?  What answers did you give to these questions?

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