Sunday, June 18, 2006


Hiding behind my plexiglass reflection
I watch as others stare straight
ahead or down into their laps
Except a man in yellow --
under fluorescent yellow tubes.
I'm yellow.

He smiles.
What does he know?
it's nothing.
I try to smile back
but can't
find solace in the silent stares.
I look down,
put pen to page.

Pages pass.

A lady in the back
fluffs frizzy hair
so wild,
the illusion of wind
when the window's closed.

Another smile?
Or smirk?
I write it down and wait.
This, too, shall pass
like staged shadows,
the sputtering flutter of flame
from sand candles,
like her,
asleep in the back.

So tired of life.
So far away.
Slipping down in her seat
behind the smiling
yellow man.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Who are we?
Why are we here?
How ought we to live?

People often ask why anyone (I think they mean me) would teach English. They imply that nothing could be less useful in the real world. I disagree.

Here's my philosophy of literature:

Literature is not practical. It doesn't tell you how to repair a computer, build a bookcase, or change a tire. What it does do, however, is far more powerful. Literature takes you out of yourself, provides transcendent experiences that give a taste of what might be. And it takes you into yourself, helps you to process the events of your own life, to produce your own narratives.

I believe in the notion that literature -- our attempts to make sense of the world through story -- is a form of truth-seeking and truth-telling that draws us ever closer to relationship with each other, with creation, with our Creator. We find in story -- all stories -- attempts to answer these questions: Who are we? Why are we here? How ought we to live? And we find in each story reflections of the STORY: relationship, rejection, redemption, and reunion.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Grasping at New Idols

there has been a tendency to
institutionalize belief, to set up boundaries around who we are in order to protect what we have

The history of Christian idolatry (in three brief stages):

If we look back in time, we can see that the Church has passed through different stages, and in each stage, there has been a tendency to institutionalize belief, to set up boundaries around who we are in order to protect what we have. Unfortunately, these walls also limit future growth and tend to cut us off from direct relationship with God. Looking at the walls from the past can help us to think about our present walls and to consider what walls might become a danger in the future. Here are three examples:

1) The wall of hierarchy. As the Church grew, it became more and more difficult for those with a direct experience of Christ (in the flesh) to share their experiences with new believers. Because of this, we see a slow transition from gathering together in the temple courts to the sending of missionaries and later to the widespread practice of sharing epistles. Over hundreds of years, these practices, combined with systems of government (Constantine), created a hierarchical system of authority that was meant to centralize issues of doctrine and organization. But it also took the focus of many away from God and put it on the Church, leaving us with what has been called pope worship, a form of idolatry.

2) The wall of literalism. Luther broke through the wall of hierarchy by claiming scripture as a common-ground connection for all Christians. Gutenberg strengthened Luther's claim by making the Bible more accessible. Individual believers were no longer dependent on the Church hierarchy for teaching, organization, and the filtering of God's message to his people. But even though this broke through the walls of institutional hierarchy, it also set up a new problem by simplifying faith, pulling us away from God's Word (Christ) in order to replace it with the much more tangible form of God's word (scripture). This created an artificial requirement that we defend the Bible at all costs, and whole institutions have been created to do just that. Could we have King James-only churches or a Creation Research Institute or people like the Bible Answer Man if this change hadn't taken place? We like to think that we're an informed and educated people, that we're better than those Dark Age Christians. But we just have a new form of idolatry, identifying the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures.

3) The wall of individualism. George Fox's message broke through the wall of literalism (even though I'm not convinced he recognized the wall he was breaking). He taught a kind of progressive revelation, claiming that the Light of Christ is in all and accessible to all -- men and women, English and Turk, slave and free. Because we are each made in God's image, each of us carries within the image of God, which allows us to recognize and speak Truth. We can hear God, and we can obey. But almost immediately, the freedom that Fox preached turned into a kind of license -- wearing hats in worship, public nudity, claiming to be Christ -- a kind of individualism that threatened to do more than break down a few walls. It looked as if there might be a chance that the entire structure would come crashing down, leaving every man to do whatever was right in his own eyes. Unfortunately (or fortunately as far as many Christians are concerned), Fox and other Friends were ultimately unsuccessful in spreading this message very far. But in a postmodern age, this message of individualism is being preached -- not by religious revolutionaries but by consumers. Feed me. Comfort me. Entertain me. And we have in this a new form of idolatry, the worship of self.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mr. Clean

Cleanliness is next to Godliness
because God is so clean
like Mr. Clean,
a machine --
a God machine,
who likes to clean
and is bald
with an earring
and a fresh lemon-y scent.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gettysburg Address

I was surprised
to see how poor
his sentences,
so many words
and always in
the wrong order --
less orator
than foreigner
who with a
strange tongue

Four score and seven?
His sentences
(at least that long)
squander the strong start,
smother it under
stale strings of words,
no verbs.

There must be
something hidden there
of character?

An editor
might only
mess it up.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A place for searching,
for inspiration, a place of peace
in the midst of a busy city.

Imagine an entire city block devoted to books. A place where kilted, mohawked, multiple-pierced punks browse quietly, side by side with slightly-hunched grandmothers, shaggy rpg enthusiasts, and bag ladies. A place with Jesus Action figures and nun-shaped lighters just 50 feet away from Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare. Down a flight of stairs and just around the corner stand rows and rows for railroad enthusiasts. Climb up three flights to an art gallery and rare book room. Cross through spaces devoted to classic literature, reference materials, religious studies, philosophy, education, the martial arts, cookbooks, quilting . . . And everywhere you go, there are people sitting, pacing, staring off into the distance, lounging on the floor with a book or a pile. It’s like a microcosm of the world, like what you might find at an airport or a train station. Except in this place, there’s less physical rush. These are travelers. But they leave their bodies behind as they zoom around the universe, back and forth in time, hitching rides as visitors in some hapless narrator's brain.

And they come back changed — peaceful, thoughtful, calm — whispering quiet excuses as they step over others who are still traveling, recognizing somehow that this is a holy place, a temple to human wisdom and beauty and truth. A place for searching. For inspiration. A place of peace in the midst of a busy city.

And they always come back. To Powell’s.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Truth or Fiction?

Great works of truth
and beauty are often little more than hopeful fictions.

After examining a number of paintings in the Library of Congress, I've made a simple discovery. American artists of the 19th century erroneously believed that the ancient Romans utilized Krazy Glue (more commonly called super glue) or some similar substance for the artistic draping of fabrics, some substance so powerful that there was no need for zippers and snaps and buttons and such.

Here's an example from a mural above the door of a large conference room. A venerable teacher sits on a stone bench with a gathering of youths circled around him, listening intently to his wise and instructive discourse. Said teacher has a simple slip of cloth across his privy parts, which puts him in a precarious position. For even the slightest shifting of a leg is frought with the danger of exhibitionism. Yet he shows no sign of discomfort.

In another painting (in another room), it seems that nothing more than a wisp of wind provides the necessary force to clasp a garment's corner above what otherwise might prove a woman's bared bosom. But her face shows none of the anxiety I'd expect to experience in such an awkward social situation. Instead, she seems secure.

And I wonder how it's taken me so long to notice that the truly great works of truth and beaty are often little more than hopeful fictions.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cheap Thrills

There's a Subway sandwich shop
In one of the Smithsonians,
Crowded with kids on a field trip.
They're bored with architecture and art,
Just want to crowd around tables
And text each other.

A few moments ago,
I admired art-carved rock
in an outdoor garden.
The teenagers there were
Plugged up with iPods

And later, at the Lincoln Memorial,
Sit on the steps,
Swatting mosquitoes,
Eating pizza
Talking too loud.
Nobody reads the words.

That statue?
It's nice enough, I guess.
But once you've seen one statue,
You've seen them

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Orange Line

Others stare
Just a moment
Before bending back to books
Or coffee,
Scanning newspaper print,
Reading between the lines.

Lady across sits straight.
Arms around her bags.

Next to her, a boy.
His book is upside down.
He stares it down.
As pines slide by the window.
And the freeway.

While the operator warns
Of suspicious packages

And me in my black socks and brown shoes.

That woman loves the sun.
Pile of yellow curls.
Freckled face.
Pink glasses
Hide her eyes.

This girl asleep in her seat,
She has stars in her ears.

A man in a black suit swallows.
Looks down at his square leather toes.

What happens when the bomb blows?

When we cross the Blue Line,
I look up.
The lady is gone.
With the man and sleeping girl.
But the boy
With the book
In reverse.

I hate these socks.