Pieces of Charlemagne 

The poor man was hardly cold
Before the intrigues began
Brother Antonius
Took an ankle to Sicily
And was never seen again
Hans the young coroner’s assistant
Carefully trimmed the glorious beard
And swept the results into his pocket
Though some imperial cat hairs
May have been mixed in with the cuttings
The sisters who prepared the body
Kept tightly curled souvenirs
Hidden in lockets and scapulars
Slowly, pieces of Charlemagne
Meandered across his old empire
Some wrapped in burlap
Some swaddled in gold and lapis lazuli
Here, this is his ulna
Here is a paten made from his patella
Here is the finger he gave to a peasant in Armenia
But what I want to see is not his skull
But the furrows from his brow

​WORK TILL THE WORK GETS DONE

We gotta work, work, work till the work gets done
But the work is never done so I
Guess we’ll just keep on workin
Work, work, work till the work gets done
Gotta work till the work gets done

We gotta pray, pray, pray until the prayin’s done
But the prayin’s never done so I
Guess we’ll just keep on prayin
Pray, pray, pray till the prayin’s done
Gotta pray till the prayin’s done

I look at what we gotta do and there’s
No end to it
What are we supposed to do?
I suppose we’re supposed to do it
Work, work, work till the work gets done
Gotta work till the work gets done

We gotta hope, hope, hope until the hope is gone
But the hope is never gone so I
Guess we’ll just keep on hopin
Hope, hope, hope until the hope is gone
Gotta hope till the hope is gone

We gotta love, love, love until the love is gone
But the love is never gone so I
Guess we’ll just keep on lovin
Love, love, love until the love is gone
Gotta love till the love is gone

I look on down the road, can’t
See the end of it
Guess we’ll keep goin on
Till we get to rise above it
Love, love, love until the love is gone
Gotta love till the love is gone

We gotta live, live, live until the life is gone
But the life keeps goin on so I
Guess we’ll just keep on livin
Live, live, live until the life is gone
Gotta live till the life is gone
Gotta live till the life is gone
Gotta live till the life is gone

(2012)

Throwdown in Jerusalem (A Modest Proposal)

The combination briar patch and powder keg that is sometimes called “the Holy Land” is chock-full of contentious and seemingly irresolvable issues. One of the thorniest involves the area of Jerusalem called the Temple Mount, which houses some of the holiest sites of both Judaism and Islam. It is also revered by Christians, especially those of the apocalyptic variety, since the restoration of the ancient Jewish Temple is an important part of their eschatological timeline, and the desired site is presently physically occupied by a mosque.

I won’t even try to recount the whole history here – there are plenty of sources you can find for that. Suffice it to say that recent events have once more brought the tenuous and sensitive question of ownership to the fore.

Oh, and one more thing: I think I may have a solution to this conundrum.

It’s simple enough, if you accept my premise, which is that if the Almighty has an opinion on this matter – and the disputing parties all agree that He does – then we should be able to ask Him about it.

There is a precedent for the sort of thing I have in mind. Back in the Old Testament, in 1 Kings 18 in fact, there’s a great story about the prophet Elijah and his throwdown with the priests of Baal. Elijah suggests that they set up ritual sacrifices to their respective gods, and see what happens – the idea being that the real deity will cause his sacrifice to be devoured  in flame.

Baal’s guys try their best, but nothing happens – and Elijah has some fun talking smack at them all the while. Then he not only sets up his sacrifice, he has it doused thoroughly with water (so the story says) – but Yahweh blows ir all sky-high anyway.

So here’s my idea. Let’s get some hardcore representatives of the three faiths involved – an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, a radical Islamic imam, and a fundamentalist pro-Israel Christian preacher like, say, James Hagee – to set up some old-school sacrifices, and then beseech the Almighty to let His Will be known.

And then we see what happens… with this caveat: if nothing happens at all, then the parties agree that this will be interpreted as a clear sign from The Creator that we should all start acting like grownups and learn how to share.

Now hee’s the main point, and my challenge: I do not belive that ANYBODY – Muslim, Jewish, or Christian – actually has the faith, or the confidence in their position, to put their claim to such a test. They might talk a good game, and trot out historical and scriptural evidence to back themselves up, but they don’t really believe their own rhetoric.

Maybe I’m wrong. We’ll see. Continue reading

JUDGMENT DAY (from the Anticalypse)

(An excerpt from the Anticalypse of Sebastian of Appalachia)

And then behold, I found I sat as in a park, upon a bench, in the shade of trees, and the day was clear and bright. And the pigeons did flock all about, and I heard the barking of dogs, and the laughter of children playing. But I knew that beyond this park, all was discord and conflict and fire, and the destruction of the world continued apace.

And next to me sat an angel, tall, dark-skinned, radiant; but he seemed as a street musician or travelling minstrel; and behold he was garbed all in blue, from the soft cloth hat on his head to the shoes of his feet, and butterflies danced upon him, shining with a light like unto rainbows, and the soft tinklings of bells were heard about him.

“The Justice of the Lord is perfect and absolute,” said the blue one to me, “but His Mercy is also infinite. This is the mercy that I know you seek. But consider, and consider well, for this is the choice to be made, by you, upon this, your Day of Judgment: He can extend this mercy unto you, but if so then He shall extend it to all, even those who have harmed or frightened or angered you, whom you have judged to be evil and worthy of punishment. Or he can exact his terrible justice upon them, and so satisfy your thirst for retribution; but then that same awful gaze must needs be turned upon you, and you know what that means.

“And so, beloved… how do you want this all to go down, hmmm?”

PLAUSIBLE NEWS: EXCLUSIVE TRUMP INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

PLAUSIBLE NEWS SERVICE
Staying Ahead of Reality since 2001

EXCLUSIVE TRUMP INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

(Senior Reporter Otto B. True of the Plausible News Service was recently given the opportunity to interview Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office. Complete transcript follows.)

Interviewer: “So, how are you?”

Trump: “Great. Fantastic. America’s becoming great again, respect, trade deals, we’re stronger than ever…”

Int: “Indeed. But how are you?”

Trump: “Incredible. Poll numbers up. Rallies, great crowds at rallies. People are supporting me, great Americans, great people….”

Int: “Yes, but how are you? Yourself?”

Trump: “Amazing. Met with world leaders, fabulous people. Great round of golf last weekend. Great foursome…”

Int (leans in slightly, softens voice): “Yes, of course. But how is… Donald?”

Trump (hesitates): “Fine. Great. Great family, beautiful wife, kids are amazing, standing up for me, terrible witch hunt…”

Int: “I mean, how are you feeling these days?”

Trump: “Fantastic. Never better. Doctor says I’m the most fit man to ever hold the office. Thinks I should get out more, though, play more golf…” (chuckles)

Int (removes glasses, locks eyes with Trump, a penetrating gaze deep into his soul): “Donald. It’s okay, Donald… How are you doing? I mean, really…?”

Trump (chin quivers): “I… I…” (looks around the room, eyes begin to water) “It’s… so hard…”

Handler: “Thank you, that’s all. We’re done here.”

(transcript ends)

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: HOW ARE WE DOING?

(My column for July 2017…)

First, a quick update: my time in Germany has been fabulous, but is soon coming to an end, for now at least. My next column will be sent from Belgrade, in Serbia, where I will be spending at least the month of August volunteering with a refugee assistance agency called BelgrAid. Check my Facebook account for news as it happens.

Now then…

I hope everyone had a thoroughly enjoyable Independence Day. (I also hope we get to have another one!) The Fourth found me in a nice little Italian restaurant here in Krefeld, with a glass of pinot noir and a yummy plate of pasta with shrimp in cream sauce, thinking about where we are, where we’re going, and the importance of goals.

I got introduced to the concepts of “Total Quality Management” while I worked for a software company down in Stroudsburg back in the late nineties. Many of those concepts had to do with goal setting – everything from determining the overall purpose of a company down to identifying the acceptable error rate for widget production. I learned that goals, to be really useful, needed to be SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-oriented… at least, that was one interpretation of the acronym “SMART.” (There are others – see for instance https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/smart-goals.php.)

Maybe you’ve been in one of those annual performance reviews – where you and your manager sat down, looked at the goals you’d set last time, compared them to actual performance, and talked about what had worked well and where improvement was still possible. Properly handled, such talks can be immensely useful, both for employees and management.

Well, we have goals as a country, you know. They’re in the Preamble to the Constitution. (Test yourself! See how many you remember before reading the next paragraph!)

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Now, of course the Founders didn’t have TQM, or the idea of “SMART goals,” so perhaps they can be excused for setting some pretty fuzzy and difficult-to-measure goals. Just what did they mean by “a more perfect Union,” say, or “the Blessings of Liberty”? Heck, judging from the state of the healthcare debate, we can’t even seem to agree on what is meant by “the general Welfare.”

But here’s another important thing to remember about goals: they are not carved in stone. Situations change, and goals can change with them. Some might not prove to be realistic; some might not go far enough. The process of goal-setting can lead to some pretty serious self-examination, and also encourage some audacious visions.

So here’s your opportunity to engage in a little exercise – I’ve set up a survey called “Progress Towards America’s Goals” on the SurveyMonkey website. Go to https://www.surveymonkey.de/r/MCKVFVM, and have at it. It should take about ten to fifteen minutes to complete, maybe more if you want to get really thoughtful about it. In a couple of weeks, I hope to have enough responses to generate a kind of report card, which I can then share with you. Thanks in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

TRIBES (2009)

(My “Peace and Justice Files” column from June 2009.)

Whenever I see someone here in the North displaying a Confederate flag – whether it’s on a truck, a front porch, or a belt buckle – I find myself wondering just what, exactly, that flag means to that person, and what message that person intends to convey. Did they have ancestors, perhaps, who fought for the South in what some down there still refer to as “the recent unpleasantness,” and they’re just showing some pride in their heritage? Do they mean to demonstrate a hankerin’ for secession, or just a desire to be left alone? Are they making a nuanced political statement regarding states’ rights, encroaching Federal power, and the Tenth Amendment? Or are they simply letting it be known that their weekend schedule is likely to involve some combination of Toby Keith, Bud Light, and NASCAR?

There are all sorts of tribes – ideologies, heritages, lifestyles – and all sorts of ways to display your allegiance to the tribe (or tribes!) of your choice, from uniforms and flags to tattoos and license plate frames.

In some places, so I am told, displaying the wrong tribal symbols can get you killed – wearing the other gang’s colors, having the wrong kind of name, praying in this manner rather than that, sending your daughter to a school, that kind of thing. Sometimes the consequences are more subtle – a little delay in service, perhaps, or an extra-thorough examination at an airport gate, or maybe a bit of preventive detention.

But if you’re connected to whatever tribe happens to be in power, well then! Life becomes much easier. After all, tribes exist (among other things) to provide mutual protection for their members, and to guard the tribe’s resources against attacks from outsiders. So maybe it’s not all that surprising that folks on President Obama’s economic team like Timothy Geitner and Larry Summers, whom we might well consider members in good standing of the “Wall Street Tribe,” have been acting first and foremost to further the interests of their fellows.

Such tribal thinking has its limitations, however, in an interconnected and interdependent world. More dominant “tribes,” whether on local or global levels, can no longer afford to be quite so callous about the effects of their dominance, or imagine themselves immune either from larger responsibilities or from the consequences of irresponsible actions. I am writing these words just a few hours after President Obama delivered his “New Beginning” speech in Cairo, calling on various “tribes” (our own included) to focus more on their connections than on their differences, and to think more about how to make this a better world for everyone. The world can no longer be seen as a “zero-sum” game, where my tribe can only win at the expense of yours – ways must be found for everyone to progress, or we shall all lose ground instead.

Identifying with our various tribes helps us form part of our identities. We don’t have to completely surrender our roots, or our passions, or our beliefs in order to coexist, but we must also remain mindful that, for this short time only, we are each members of the same tribe: the tribe of the living.