Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Song

Sometime in the past few years I lost my taste for nearly all holiday music. But this spare and haunting arrangement by Amherst's own Tim Eriksen is worth sharing:

"Lo How a Rose..."

Wishing everyone who reads this blog safe travels and a few days of blessed peace and rest.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

God's Teeth

Saw the Coen Brothers' latest, A Serious Man, over the holiday weekend. It's not as funny as Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski, not as dark as No Country for Old Men or Barton Fink. This seems to be the directors' nod toward naturalism, of sorts -- and autobiography. Set in the suburban Jewish community of 1960s Minneapolis, the film stars Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnick, a physics professor whose life quickly unravels, in a manner not entirely dissimilar from that of the Biblical protagonist, Job.

I have always had a fondness for the Job story, probably because it never really lets God off the hook. But when you make a movie about it, the really interesting part is not so much the questions, but people's reactions to them. As Professor Larry Gopnik, standing in front of a blackboard filled with an incomprehensible swarm of equations, tells his baffled students, "Even if you don't understand the material, you're still going to be responsible for it."

Throughout the movie, the only character who attempts much in the way of responsibility is Larry, in his own meek and largely ineffective way. But the events of the film beg a larger question -- can God be held responsible? At a certain point in the movie, Larry begins to believe he has been cursed by God. This of course, requires a belief in something other than random chance and rationalism.

The film walks an artful line. Is the strange old man in the prologue a dybbuk or an innocent murder victim? Is the ghost of Larry's wife's dead lover who keeps appearing a hallucination or a supernatural apparition?

Most tantalizing of all is the story related by a rabbi about a Jewish dentist in his congregation. The dentist had come to the rabbi after discovering that the back sides of the teeth of one of his gentile patients contained a mysterious message inscribed in Hebrew characters:

"Help me."

The dentist struggled with the meaning of this revelation, pondered, and sought guidance. Finding no answers, he went back to his ordinary life.

Like most of the events in the movie, the story is open to multiple interpretations. I doubt this is what the filmmakers had in mind, but my first reaction was this -- what if it meant just what it said? What if God were trapped and in need of help, crying out to humanity for rescue?

Note: the above photo is not the original film still, but Aroid on Flickr does a pretty decent job of getting the idea across.

Mailing List for Survivors of Spiritual Abuse

Posting this on behalf of my friend Renee:

Check out her blog at

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Live Blogging from WriteAngles24

Just a very brief post from the WriteAngles writers' conference on the Mt. Holyoke campus in South Hadley, MA. Panels are a good balance between marketplace and craft and I have already run across one speaker (Bob Flaherty) whose work I simply have to check out. Really glad I was able to attend this year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Civility: The Next Big Thing?

"Civility and conformity are not the same thing. Civility is what makes genuine diversity possible."

With all the talk about Kanye West and Joe Wilson this week, and the emergence of civility as a public aspiration, I thought I would exhume an article I wrote for Charlotte Magazine this past spring...

"Red State Refugee"

Some of it already reads as dated (did they even have the Internet six months ago?) but some of it is still kind of relevant. Even if civility was not the apparent buzzword of the week, the concept has a lot to do with why I got started writing this book, way back when.

One of the reasons I find the South so intriguing is that it actually contains, within a few hundred square miles, more extreme viewpoints than the rest of the country put together. Maybe that's why good manners are so prized. Of course there are exceptions (Wilson's "outburst" among them) but by and large, people try to get along.

Also, you never know who might be carrying a concealed weapon...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Where I'm At

Ok, so this isn't a real blog post.

It's more sort of a placeholder blog post...

I've actually had several ideas for things I have wanted to write about about over the last few months (everything from the Jon and Kate fiasco to Karen Armstrong's excellent memoir about her life as an ex-nun, The Spiral Staircase) but I simply have not had the time.

The reason is that my web design business has been keeping me quite busy -- which is a very good thing! In a few more months, I hope to be able to again take time to focus on revising and rewriting Southern Cross. But aside from work constraints, I think it's a good thing for me to take some time before returning to the project. I moved to Massachusetts from North Carolina a year ago, and my life has been in transition for the better part of two years. The dust is only just now beginning to settle -- from the move, from the divorce, from the economic downturn, from a serious illness, from everything else.

When I tried revising the book this spring, it was simply too early. It felt raw and painful. More importantly, I didn't know yet what I wanted to say. I am closer now, but not all the way there.

I will get, there, though -- I am too dang stubborn to give up. In the meantime, please email me if you would like to read a copy of the manuscript -- I welcome feedback and would post the whole thing up on the Internet if that didn't put my copyright in danger.

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog for your encouragement, comments, and support.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day and Star Trek

I was going to write something like a standard Mother's Day post, maybe with a few references to the Divine Feminine thrown in.

But then I went to see Star Trek on Friday night. Where is the connection, you may ask?

Now, the movie is stacking up so much critical acclaim you would think it was a Bollywood-crossover hit in Oscar season, and I won't deny Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are easy on the eyes. But that's not what caught my attention about the movie...


What really struck me was the central role that birth, mothers, and motherhood played in the movie. Just think about the opening sequence, where Jim Kirk's mother gives birth in a shuttle, under attack from enemy spacecraft -- when was the last time you saw that in a science fiction blockbuster?

Amanda Grayson, Spock's doomed mother (played by Winona Ryder) gets mega screentime. Via flashback, we even see the pregnant wife of the villainous Romulan spaceship captain.

Birth and pregnancy are common motifs for director J.J. Abrams, as anyone knows who has even casually followed the television show Lost. He must be aware that these are themes with immense emotional resonance, that have been largely ignored by traditional male modes of storytelling.

A small number of action films, such as the Terminator and Kill Bill movies, feature mothers as lead role ass-kickers. But I cannot think of another action movie where protecting or avenging the hero's mother is important to the plot. Compare to Inigo ("You killed my father") Montoya in the Princess Bride, not to mention the genre's other sacred text -- I mean, really, how can Luke go through nearly two entire Star Wars movies all hot and bothered about Darth Vader killing his father without it occuring to him that he killed his mother too? Adding insult to injury, the only dialogue about Luke's mother gets relegated to a scene in the third movie, in the sucky Ewok Village, of all places.

By contrast, in the current Star Trek movie, Spock's relationship with his mother is the emotional core of his character, at least as much so as his nascent friendship with Kirk. Spock only loses control of his emotions when his human mother is involved -- from schoolyard taunts to the anger and grief he finds impossible to contain after her death. By the end of the movie, Spock argues for leaving a defeated foe to die, rather than rescue him. His emotions have propelled him from cool Vulcan logic almost to a Romulan code of vengeance.

Could we finally be at a point in time where our storytellers value mothers as much as fathers? If so, that time has arrived not a moment too soon. The way in which the current Star Trek feature conflates the death of Spock's mother with the catastrophic implosion of her adopted planet is surely not accidental.

Tiamat was murdered. Eve was framed.

If we can conceive of a new and different set of myths, then perhaps our planet has a fighting chance to survive.

Postscript: Mad props to my mother and grandma and all the other amazing moms I know (including my friend Crystal, with whom I saw the movie) -- you carry out a truly heroic mission every day with courage, perseverance, love, and grace.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter from an Egg Thief

Ok... so Easter Sunday 2009 didn't get off to such a great start.

I was just getting ready to go to church when a neighbor came up and knocked on my door to tell me that my dog had pulled her trolley loose. The hook had held for eight months, screwed into my back door frame, and it had to come loose today. Still have no idea how I'm going to fix it.

Luckily, my dog was ok, so after giving her a brief walk, I drove over to St. James Episcopal Church in Greenfield. After I parked my car, I saw a grey-haired woman with a cane walking toward me on the sidewalk. In the true Easter spirit of things, I decided to smile and wish her a hearty "Good morning!"

She gave me the finger.

Not deterred, oozing with Christian charity, I tried talking to her a second time. "I hope your day gets better from here."

"Piss off!" she yelled, flipping me the dirty bird once more.

I don't think she was headed to church anywhere. I imagined her frustrated with all the smug, smiling families going to church in their Easter hats and dresses. Come to think of it, I could empathize. Still never know quite which side I'm on.

A few steps later, I found a painted egg on the ground in front of somebody's house. It was a blown egg, meaning that the insides had been sucked out and it would last indefinitely. I didn't see any more like it, and concluded it must have been dropped or overlooked in an earlier egg hunt. I liked it for its colors (different from the normal Easter pastels) and the way that the blowhole resembled a tiny eye. I suppose the proper thing would have been to let it lie where it was, or else give it to some cute child after the service, but that's not what I did.

Morality and religion, these are open to debate. Beauty is worth stealing when you find it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Not Knowing

It is one of the oldest stories we have.

The man rides in to the city, triumphant, greeted by adoring throngs. A few days later those same crowds turn on him, prompted by an elite who do not wish the current order disturbed. Things go badly. The man is captured. His followers disburse. He is mocked and tortured. He dies in agony and shame.

This is the part where I am supposed to skip to the Easter Narrative and talk about the promise of resurrection--how life follows death, joy follows sorrow.

Except that we're not there yet. I would rather spend a little more time where we are right now, today, on Good Friday.

Who exactly did Jesus think he was? How did he conceive his mission? It's an interesting question, whether you are talking about the historical person, the literary character, or the religious symbol. Whether he saw himself primarily as military messiah, social reformer, or divine savior, he must have had doubts along the way. In those final hours, did he wonder whether he had deluded himself? Whether his death had any meaning or purpose, after all?

"Eloi, Eloi, lema sabacthani?" "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34)

These are the dying words of Jesus on the cross. These are words of hurt and confusion. These are the words of someone abandoned by the very same God to whom he has given everything. This would feel like betrayal--an even worse betrayal than the famous kiss of Judas.

God must have a place for those of us who doubt, who feel used and betrayed, who cry out to the heavens in anger, bewilderment, and pain. After all, at the very end, Jesus himself was one of us.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Being Tagged as the "Good Little Church Girl"

By now, if you have any kind of Facebook presence at all, you have probably seen a certain cartoon photo album making the rounds: you can tag it to show which of your friends is "The Grumpy One," "The Jock," "The Drama Queen," etc. (It's about time. All those "15 Things About Me" spinoffs were getting kind of old...)

A few days ago, I got tagged as "The Good Little Church Girl. " I think this was a joke. (Hi Rachael!) But it did get me thinking. A lot of people have made certain assumptions based on the fact that I was writing this book--like, that I would be shocked by the use of profanity or (far more disturbing) that I blandly approved and endorsed all forms and functions of institutional Christianity. This amused me, at first, but like all stereotypes, it wears a little thin.

I could try to lose the Good Girl rep by talking about my tattoos, my leather miniskirt, or the albums I have by Fugazi and the Sex Pistols. Except that nothing is sadder than Christian bloggers trying to prove that they are "hip," "edgy," and "relevant." (Just be yourselves, ok?) Plus, somebody might confuse me with the Barlow Girls:

Revolution is not to be confused with its trappings. Rock n' roll is the health of the state.

Here's the thing about religion. It's not nearly as safe as people think it is.

For the most part, religious institutions prop up the existing social order, but the same ideas have the latent power to transform (or destroy) that social order.

Take Jesus, for instance. He was executed because he represented a threat to the status quo of first century Palestine. Re-read the Sermon on the Mount and you may begin to get a sense of why. Flash forward to Joan of Arc, George Fox, John Brown, or Martin Luther King Jr. All were able to move and mobilize for social change, precisely because they stood for something more than the existing social, economic, and military power structures of their time.

We don't have to talk about exclusively Christian movements, either. Gandhi or the Dalai Lama, anyone?

We don't even have to talk about movements whose politics or principles I agree with. The Ayatollah Khomeini was one heck of a revolutionary. At least initially, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran had huge popular support.

Religion is dangerous. For this good little church girl, that may be part of the appeal.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I wasn't going to do an Ash Wednesday post. Spiritual musings that follow a liturgical calendar nearly always feel forced to me -- much like those newspaper columns you see about Thanksgiving recipes and Christmas memories from years past. But as a lapsed Episcopalian (how the hell did I manage that?) the day still holds some pull. These days I am skeptical of any message coming from organized religion telling us to Feel More Guilt -- smacks of atonement theology to me. Still, I find the ritual of Ash Wednesday beautiful.

"From dust you came, and to dust you shall return," the priest intones, as he or she daubs each person's forehead with a cross of ashes (made from the remains of last year's Palm Sunday palms.)

I have always been moved by that honesty, that starkness. Whether devout Christian or atheist, death is one thing we can all agree on. We are going to die. Our time is limited.

We don't get a do-over. Our choices matter.

Whether or not you believe there is a life after this one, let's make what time we have count...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

It's Time

It's been a little over a year since I finished the fist draft of the manuscript. Since then, the project has mostly lain dormant. Sure, I've sent out a handful of queries to agents and publishers, but nothing like the degree of effort I put into actually researching and writing the book.

Part of that is because I have been going through major life change (divorce, career change, move to a different state) but a lot of it was because I just wasn't ready to face the project again. Among other things, I was angry at God -- more on that another time.

This past year was an experience like no other. I think I am through the worst of it. But I guess we never know. All I know for sure is that I right now have the opportunity to return to Southern Cross and make it better, and I am not sure when the next such opportunity will arise. So I'm going to take it and run...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wholeness and the Implicate Order

I am generally skeptical of authors who claim to find scientific proof for the existence of God. Whether New Age or Intelligent Design, they tend to oversimplify, if not actively mislead.

David Bohm is a little bit different. For one thing, he's oldschool -- died in 1992, worked with Einstein and Oppenheimer. Bohm posited the "non-local" hidden variable theory, an interpretation of quantum mechanics that requires that all particles in the universe be able to instantaneously exchange information with all others. This theory has not been disproven and was still the subject of active investigation as recently as 2007. (Nature 446, 871-875)

So what does all this have to with God? In his later writings, Bohm argues that our universe is better viewed as a living organism than as a mechanistic, deterministic system. What we experience as reality is actually a hologram-like projection of information from an immense multidimensional ground. Consciousness plays a rather special role. The interesting thing is that he has math to back it up.

I don't have the technical skills to evaluate that core tenets of his thesis, but I do like the way that he presents it. Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980, Routledge) does not tell people what to do or how to act. Rather he shares a somewhat dry series of equations and analogies exploring what he freely acknowledges is a "necessarily sketchy treatment."

Bohm admits that his findings are not authoritative, but does not hesitate to ask the very biggest of big questions. That's my kind of belief system.