Monday, December 28, 2009

symmetry

This is a fragment from a long meditation on symmetry, which will be included The Pardaes Dokkumen, a manuscript I hope to soon complete.

epigraph:
The hardest part of preparing for the days of Redemption is the need to break every symmetry, responding to each energy not with its opposite and not in kind, but by dissipating what is negative and amplifying what is positive.

How kwiklee the eevning disroebz the morning,
Hu but momentz befor had rizzen frum her bed.
     Like a chield hu seez her destin huzban,
     He iz just a littel boy on hiz way tu skool;
     Now beneeth the khoupa* he take her hand.
                              * marriage canopy
So haz the eevning taken my hand
And led me intu the shaddoez ov God.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Myth of the Eternal Jew, 2

This little excerpt for Miths ov the Ternel Jew shines a light on the scene where the cobbler who offers Jesus a drink, goes back to work as Jesus continues on his way to Golgotha:

... And the Messiya sit in iz dark vawlt,
Iz tap, tap, tap on the soel;
Iz stich on stich, bienden the layerren pees,
Thong in hand, song an song,
Kobbelz he all day az the rabbel showt
An stomp in its serkus wayz.
Thay follo the Eterna Jew up the street
Tu woch him dy, hung on a pole,
Woch him dy intu life.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Look and Feel of Pardaes Dokkumen

While composing Pardaes Dokkumen, I have simultaneously been formatting it in a way that gives it a personalized manuscript feel, perhaps along the lines of Kelmscott Press and the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Publishing online strips nearly all the formatting from the work. To give you a little preview of the actual text, I have prepared a jpeg of a page of the manuscript. Here it is, but to actually read it, you'll need to click on it. When it comes up in a new window, run the cursor over it, and click again to zoom in:

Monday, November 09, 2009

Kristallnacht remembered

Tonight is the night in 1938 when the German high command convinced itself that it could do anything to Jews and other minorities in its midst, and the world would do nothing to stop it. Tonight is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the euphemism for the state-sponsored pogrom against German and Austrian Jews on Nov. 9 and 10 of 1938.

On Nov. 9, 2001 I led a city-wide commemoration of Kristallnacht in Victoria, BC, Canada. The following were my opening remarks. Although eight years have passed, my concerns are precisely the same today as they were then.

Tonight is the 63rd anniversary of Kristallnacht. In the past I have tried, in these opening moments, to welcome you, and thank you for understanding why it’s so important to remember Kristallnacht, and the Shoah. In previous years that might have been necessary, since the reality of Kristallnacht seemed so removed from our lives here in Victoria.

But this year, unexpectedly, shockingly, the differences between Kristallnacht and this moment are not so different. Once again we see hatred becoming the dominant ideology of a people. I am forced to conclude that, having failed to see and address the rising tide of hatred in the Muslim world, I/we have failed to truly learn the lessons of Kristallnacht. In 1932 the signs were plain to see and the world ignored them, and good Germans ignored them or made excuses for them. We have done the same, and good Muslims have done the same. And throughout the 30's the free world tried to appease and make concessions to the rising tide of nazism. It made good economic sense, and of course one had to be politically realistic.

And the same is true in this era. We have not wanted to believe the depth and the extent of the envy and hatred that has deeply damaged the Muslim world. We have become used to, and desensitized to the accusations, and curses, and tirades, made by ideologues. We have watched, mute or unconcerned, as the gorgeous melody and poetry of the call to prayer has become a call to hatred and to war. We have somehow come to sympathize with, or at least accept as a valid side to the argument, the claim that the Muslim people are victims, and the problem is Israel.

The problem is not Israel, and the problem is not the United States. The problem is the ideology of envy and hatred that has been carefully nurtured in the Muslim world for most of this century.

And so we looked on the events of Sept. 11, much as the world looked upon Kristallnacht in 1938, wondering, how could this happen. And in that cold November in 1938, the dangerous slope into world war turned icy and inevitable. I do not know if we are on an equally icy slope into world war right now, but if there is still a way to turn back, it must begin now. It must begin by helping moderate Muslims, who love and value democracy and multi-cultural respect, to reassert their primacy in the world-wide Muslim community.

Jews and Christians cannot go into the mosques to redirect the nature and quality of the dialog. We don’t have that authority. Only Muslims can do that. Christians and Jews cannot speak for Islam in the Muslim media. Moderate Muslims must do that. And it is not enough if they simply make their voices heard; they must take control of the debate.

If there is a Muslim in this congregation, hear me. You are not only our last hope; more importantly, you are your own people’s last hope. Germany’s name has been forever besmirched because of it’s ideology of hatred. Don’t let that happen to your faith. In the name of God, defend your honor not with hatred and violence, but through an ideology of peace and mutual respect. And may it be God’s will.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Jerusalem

Remembering Blake’s Jerusalem, and Islam’s Jerusalem, and our Jerusalem of the Zionist dream, I remember my Jerusalem, she to whom I’ve been married these 33 years now, as of 10/30/2009, my wife, my Nancy.

While reading S.Y. Agnon’s Betrothed, I wrote the following on pages 82 and 83 this morning, responding to, “The Consul was very pleased with [Jerusalem]. True, what he had seen with his own eyes was unlike the Jerusalem of legend or the Jerusalem of his imagination.... But since one did not really know where to make a start, or how to proceed in the way of reform, it was best to leave Jerusalem as she was.

I have loved Jerusalem all the days of my living.
I loved her when I rejected her
And I loved her before I knew her.
She who lay with me in other worlds
She called to me here, and I sought her out.
Oh Jerusalem, your loving fills me.
I who was tossed as the seaweeds on the shore
Have been carried by your tides
To great depths. I who am but a grain of sand,
Now storm-tossed out to sea, there
You
and my Maker are merging into One.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Strolling Through Joshua Tree

A Hiker's journal.

3/13/05, 29 Palms Inn, Gold Park cottage

7:30am. The sun has been up for almost two hours; the cool of the night already surrendering. The chords of a light breeze strum a soft accompaniment to the birds. We drive 20 miles or so into the park to the Ryan’s Mountain Trail Head, Cal a little skeptical that the hike would be demanding enough, and thus unworthy of him.

8:00am. We did not find the trail head, but went down the Indian Cave path to a pile of huge boulders. We skirted around them, and cut parallel to the road, freestyling thru the terrain. Quickly, but by chance, we came to the main trail, a well marked and well worn path in a beautiful ascent of random height stone steps. We wondered at the toils of a crew to build such a sculpted trail. It was not long before we were panting, our legs tired at the persistent ascent running diagonally up the mountain. There were 2 mountains, actually. The 2nd was behind and to the right of the first (looking from the trail head origin), and substantially higher. I was glad the trail appeared to ascend only the nearer and lower mountain.

I was carrying a small backpack with 3 bottles of water, 2 oranges, a handful of trail mix, a cell phone (for a clock; no reception in the park), and binocs. Saw a big flying insect that had a brilliant red spot on it; oops, a ruby throated hummer. We saw plenty of lbj’s, ravens, one or 2 hawks with red-tail coloration (but no positive ID), plenty of grey-mottled Side Blotched lizards, a couple of Zebra-tailed lizards (white, long-legged, and speedy) and we were on the lookout for lumbering tarantulas (that’s good), or maybe even a rattler (that’s not so good). Floral sightings: an abundance of little yellow flowers (scale bud?) interspersed with navy blue chias (look like clover buds with spikes) and some yellow desert poppies; an occasional brittlebush (look like daisies); some Canterbury bells, which are brilliant purple trumpet shaped flowers about a half to 2 thirds the size of my little finger, hanging on tall gangly shoots. Subtly but abundantly painting the ground were little light purple blooms, not an inch tall and maybe a half centimeter or a little more in diameter – my best guess is that it was purple mat, but I’m not convinced. Stunning. The cute but viciously unforgiving chollas were scarce, but there were a lot of creosote bushes and other low ground cover, plus a few pinyon pines clinging in the shelter of the rocks, often in seeming defiance of a functional root system.

Our stops became more common and our legs a bit wobbly, and it was clear we weren’t even half way up. Sweating heavily, and breathing heavily, when I stopped I could feel my heart thumping. But the scenery and vistas kept changing, and becoming more spectacular. As we looked closely we could see the hillside was a vast palette of colors working around a basis of deep-gray green and deep gray-blue, with light green tender plants filling in the Cezanne-like color patches, and a thousand highlights of white in the bark and rock, and of course the milky way of star-like yellow flowers, amid the light gray boulder outcrops.

As we became increasingly tired, we wondered if we got this tired on the 6 mile Kauai hike or the climb at Organ Pipe with Rick and Isaac, or the 8-miler back and forth to Lost Palms Oasis in the south of Joshua Tree with Rick, Isaac, and David. We must have, but the memory of it is washed away. Even now, writing this, not 5 hours later, I can’t remember what it felt like, only that we discussed it at length as we made regular stops on the trail.

We passed a few hikers coming down, and they assured us we were closing in on the peak, when suddenly we got to a saddle between the two mountains. The peak of the lower one was at hand, but, woe and despair, the trail turned right, up towards the higher peak. But now, for some reason, perhaps the carbs were kicking in from the snack we had 15 minutes before, but first me, then Cal got 2nd winds, and we began to pick up the pace. Also motivating us, we saw that a couple, maybe in their late 30's or early 40's were catching up to us. That was not acceptable.

The views were stunning. I mentioned that a moment ago but got sidetracked. The vast flat valley, once a seabed; the sharp, jagged rock out crops, both small and large; the mountain ridges, some totally barren and unearthly rugged, others gray green from the exuberance of a wet winter. Then the further ridges fading into the light blue gray, and beyond to the faded blue horizon, with the cerulean blue of the sky quickly turning brilliant, almost crystalline, as your gaze rises towards the zenith. With every turn in the trail the view would change. Now a valley lowland would disappear and only the higher mountain ridges would be visible; now the vista would open up into a vast expanse. We coiled around to the far side of the mountain, to a whole new panorama. And now we began to close in on the summit. The climb leveled off to a modest slope, and the trail went from rock to smooth fine gravel and dusty sand/soil. Cal began to run, pushing himself to the limit, and I walked faster, unable to drive myself to run.

The peak was at about 5400+ feet, and I estimate the vertical climb was 1500-2000 feet, on a 1.5 mile trail. Is that possible? We did it in about one hour or a tad less. The view from the top, as all the climbers we passed assured us, was unparalleled in all 360 degrees. The seabed valley extending south for 20 miles or more, enclosed by layer after layer of upthrusted ridge. We sat on a great pile of rubble rock that marked the summit, eating a bit, drinking, resting, drinking in the view, arrested by it. After about 15 minutes we headed back down, Cal wearing the backpack now. We started out about 3-400 meters behind the couple that had “pushed” us on the way up. We decided we wanted to pass them, but we really didn’t think we could since they were clearly hustling. Nonetheless, in short order, almost running, we caught them, exchanged a few niceties, and powered on, walking pretty much at top speed all the way down, keeping them in our rear view mirror, and stretching our lead little by little. The walk down was easy, shockingly fast and easy, and my knee didn’t start aching at all, which surprised me. I thought we were only about a quarter down, when suddenly we saw we were almost at the trail head! We freestyled it the last 300 or so feet of vertical descent, as the rigors of the climb had already faded almost out of memory.

We headed back to our cabin, and just before the park gate we pulled off to explore a wide wash leading to two low but steep hills. They looked like a piece of cake to climb, but appearances are deceiving. This whole hike was freestyle, and the hill we dubbed “little round top” was a hard climb over and around boulders and slippery fine gravel. When we reached the top both of us were ready to turn back and head home. Only this to say: the flowers on this hike were even more dramatic and dense than on the mountain trail. We were back at the car after about an hour’s hike, and more than ready to chill.

Profiles: Cal is ten years old, medium height and weight, strong. I am 54 years old, slim, and losing my muscle tone: too much thinking, not enough sports.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Scientific Poetic Fragments

Arkettekcherrel Fragmenz Ammung the Ruwenz

1.
You are not what you appear to be.
Consciousness is not a clear glass;
The world is not a polished mirror.
As a drop of water is distinct
     From the vapor that expressed it,
A different state of itself;
As salt dissolved is distinct from its crystal form,
So are we,
From a finer matter condensed into living crystal,
And distorted by sense, and the coarseness of thought.

2.
Speken on the sixth day:
     “O mordel Addom
     “I will kreyate a werl with yu.
     “I will brake yu
     “An grate lite will por frum yur mienz.
     “I will replakkate yu,
     “Bilden bloks aplentee,
     “All simmaller an uneek.
     “I will press yu and twist yu
     “An stress yur hart
     “Tu make yu a lume
     “An weev a bodee a lite
     “Kompilen yur faent flashen.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Myth of the Eternal Jew

Jews have inspired a remarkable range of mythic images and fantasies. Often those that revile the Jew most viciously, display a profound awe and fear at the same time. For example, the nazis could not compete with the Jew on a level playing field, seeing "him" as too powerful and dangerous, too successful in controlling the minds and obtaining wealth in the society.

I have decided to explore this myth from a Jewish perspective, painting some portraits of faces and personalities, and composing some landscapes and the tragic and miraculous events that take place within them. And embedded in these tales, the hidden immanence of the Divine, as much here with us as it is absent.

This, the opening scene, probably not what you expect:

Miths ov the Ternel Jew

Here I stand, ammung hem tall aeks,
Brambellen bush I am up to my nek.
Louk I over a rivver, its wayz,
Its musselz rippel, o ellaggen, streng.

Down at the shor, all pebbel and sans,
Dans the gerlz, like the rivver thay sway.
Gownz an vaelz all likwiddee wet.
Brests thay sway, thiez a trembel.
Like the tinee waevz tu glitterree sun.

Siy. Du yu heer it? Aspiyerz the wind,
An divvine seeng ov the siyrennee gerlz
Drifts like the mists on the fiyeree wotter.
Don iz kum but the aenjelz doent see me.
Don iz kum. Wy kant yu see me?

This my parabbel now I tell
Ov the ternen Jew, him noktern seeng.
Not even he kan see the don,
And all ov us at the rivver side.
Seeng we dans an taest ov song
But not we understan ov fiyer.
Trembel thi, an sway owwer brest,
And we, messsiyaz, all ov us.
Yes, yu ar tu. Kant yu see?

Dreem on sleeper in yur noktern day.
Woch for hem Jew. Will he retern?
Wut du yu see, o dreemer a dreemz?
That Jew yu see, an yu ar he.
This my parabbel. I that Jew,
And I will tell yu hu yu ar,
And I will tell abowt how far
Frum the donnee rivver and the fade a star.

Take my hand, o dreemee wokker
And let us wok intu the wotter...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jerusalem, city of peace

The derivation of "Jerusalem," or more accurately "Yerushalliyim" in Hebrew, is "city of peace." Alas. In my post "Natural Gradients" I discuss "Dar al Islam" and "Dar al Harb." You may want to refer to that post if you don't understand what follows.

The following poem postulates a third region, distinct from Islam's Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb (roughly, the Islamic regions of the world, and the regions that are yet to be converted to Islam, "dar" being "region"). This third region is the Dar ov Yoesheya, where "Yoesheya" is the Hebrew for redeemer or redemption. It's grammatical variant, "Moesheya", "that which brings redemption," is another way to refer to this region. Yet a third way is "Israel."

Sittee a Pese, Dar al Yoesheya

Battalyanz aswormen Yerrushalliyim:
Baddel on, o worreyer krass.
Woshen the kobbelz and ashfalt in blud
Then klenz the blud in raen a sarro.
This hows a pese, a howlz a wor.

But a day iz here tho the raen iz por
And a salm iz hum, lissen, lissen klose.
Sittee ov pese an aretz a pese,
A sing arrizzen frum morter and mort.

Tho kingz and kalifs and konkerz kum
Tu brake theze wall, tu bild them pallas,*
                        *others say howlzen,
Oenlee wun Tempel astand in this plase
Tempel a Lor and the Lorz redeem.

Here iz not the LiyonHart grael
Nor evver kontroel ov the Brutish mand.
An here iz alzo not Dar al Islom,
This bak-woddee hole ov kalif land.

An here iz not the Dar al Wor
Ware grabberz grabben and rajerz ror.
Sittee ov Pese iz the Dar ov Hoesheya
Portel ov redeemenz, thay rize and teech.

This therd rejen, haf ov this werl
And haf abbuv iz haf belo.
Raechel an Laya ar wall ov the Plase
Ware moesheyakhs* wok, ware redeemen begin.
                        *Hebrew for “messiah”

Iz Dar ov Moesheya, not ov this werl
Haz a serven preest with a preestee kast.
Yisroyel an hiz mennee shaddiy
Kast by the Lor, kast frum the Lor,
Shaddiy kast ov the Holeyess Lite.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lost in Ertha

Continuing with my revisions towards a fair copy of The Song ov Elmallahz Kumming, Bouk 6, Gottesverdammerung: In the End ov Time, here is a scene as the nazi war machine overruns a Jewish village in Poland.

A few terms: “Shtettel” is the Yiddish word for “little town” or “village” from the German “stadt.” A “khussid” is a very pious Jew. The two deeply indented stanzas at the beginning of the poem reference an earlier scene in The Song ov Elmallahz Kumming (Levvel 1:1) and an earlier poem series (Elegies en Nance) with a related theme. You can view a slideshow of an illuminated version of Elegies en Nance on Shivvetee.com. Here’s a direct link: http://www.shivvetee.com/theaters/slide_show_elegies/sld001.html.

I Tryd Tu Rezist

                    I tryd tu rezist
                    But then loukt bak.
                    In the rizing Soel
                    Her feecherz touk shape...
                    – Levvel 1:1

Tuday I am nuthing but a shaddo
     And yu ar a Khussid praying,
     Yur boddee a tempel, engulft in fiyer.
                    Today I am nothing but a body
                    And You are a spirit escaping,
                    Rising out of a fire.
                    – Elegies en Nance

Torn frum the handz that wer kasting me.
     Like a potter hu haz throne a pot,
     Kast and spun and eezd it intu shaep,
     And az he lifts it frum the weel
     It slips and kollapsez at hiz feet...

So my God haz kast me frum my huzband.
     Skoopt me frum hiz klay pit,
     Spun me in Hiz Soel,
     Shaept me in Hiz handz;
     Dropt me and left me a shatterz,
           Wile my huzband iz bernd in a kiln.

My God iz kast me owt ov my shtettel:
     The shist we chizzeld tu pile owwer wawlz,
     The klay we pakt tu fase owwer huts,
     The mud that gusht intu owwer shuez;
     The rokkee feeldz that broke owwer plowz;
          That iz my bone, my tung, my hart.

But now a mashene rumbelz down streets,
     It krushez owwer gaets, owwer dorpoests, owwer hoemz,
     It bernz owwer feeldz, it swalloez wut is left.
     Wut du we hav ov valew tu steel?
          Areyanz hav trampeld on owwer saekred skroelz.

I ternd awway and then ternd bak.
     I koud see my streets; even pebbelz and puddelz,
          The krouked windoez and krankee widdoez.
          The Sabbath songz wer lilting on the aer;
     Ower praerz roze up, and fell bak, weeping.
          Now the howl ov Areyanz, rape and skreem.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Descent into Ertha

Here is an excerpt from The Song ov Elmallahz Kumming, Bouk 6, Gottesverdammerung: In the End ov Time. Although the original writing dates from over a decade ago, I am still in the process of revising it and producing a fair copy. You can find other excerpts from this long poem by scrolling down to the list of “Labels” (a bit below the four slide shows), and clicking on “Song ov Elmallah.”

In this particular scene, the Messenger Elmallah stands in his Heaven and looks out over the worlds, preparing to descend into our world, into Ertha. His mission is to lift his loved one, Ertha, from her miseries and inconscience. But the problem is, once he descends into this world, he too becomes blind and lost like us. Yet he must somehow remember his mission and convey his message, his knowledge, to his Bride of Ages, so that she might be able to arise to him in time to come.

The scene begins with an epigraph from an earlier time in history, from Bouk 4, during the reign of the Byzantine rulers Justinian and Theodora.

Az If Planting a Seed
                          The hi preestess assendz the stare.
                              The waevz ov the see bow thaer hedz
                              And wun by wun thay fawl tu thaer neez.
                              With eech prostraten a lo moen rizez,
                              The wotterz speeking in a singel tung.
                              – Levvel 1:4

In my divvine yewth I assend the skaelz
     The waevz ov plezher rush thru my limz
     Thay brake on the shor ov my Soel a thunder.
     O hevvenlee werlz, o hevvenlee bewteez!

In my sworthee yewth, in owwer twilite werld
     The waevz ov unsertentee* krash on my shorz
                    * utherz: konshents
     Awwakening feerz and gilts and douts.
     O devowwering werldz,
          O danjerres bewteez.

O twilite werld with yur fals storreez,
     Yur narrativ mazez, yur pathz inkomplete.
     I stand on the dizzeying ej ov yur klefs
     Preparing tu leep and enter aggen.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Natural Gradients, Part II stevespell

This is the stevespell recension of Natural Gradients. My suggestion is to use the normspell version, posted July 17, as a guide to unpack this recension. FYI, I’m still struggling with the first stanza, the introduction.

This recension includes a number of Arabic/Muslim terms. Most are noted and defined in the text, except these three: shahid (shahheedz), Shahada (shahhoddaz), and sharia (sharreya). Shahid is a martyr, although currently the term has strong overtones of terrorism. Shahada is the Muslim profession of faith. Sharia is the Muslim body of law.

II. Dissintegrel Plasez, Innershel Fors

Theze lower werlz, divvienlee bliend
Tu the kalkuless konnekten Seel* tu deed.
               * sum say “The Werd”
How konshents abenden in the hewman feelz,
Dekayz in hate, verb and reverb,
Til the Seel iz torn ov its knowen root.
The hate-sik men, loss thaer gide,
Flownder intu thaer oen noos.

So goez Eron and the Kanannite horz
In sexuwel frenzeez, all hate an despaerz.
The dotteren Libnon an Gozza depraevd
Spred thaer legz an bluddee rape.
Thaer sunz thay bedek in dinammite
Tu pay obesans tu thaer molokh godz.
Idel worshippen the toolz a deth,
Thay spind until thay baenkerrupt.
All konsumen thay morrel det.
     The Juj a naeshenz, iz bend them kors
     And bend thay neez a biter remors.

Sureya, Arrabeya: a blowen sanz.
A breth divvine iz blo yu owt.
Sureya, jest a toothless maw;
Arrabeya, all achoek in tar.
Stomp yur fout and shaek yur fist,
But nun afeerd, an mennee spit,
A breth divvine, the windz revers,
An sandz inter yur liefless werks.

Felastinnee, witherz yur roots.
Ware yur foutpathz in the aenshen hillz?
Mennee the fabel, few the maps.
Ware iz the shepper leed yu sheep?
Tu sakraffise! Yur blud so cheep.
Deth by drone or suwasside;
Deth the oenlee hoep yu kno.
Deth bekumz yu, Felastee.
Hu ar yu? A mith a desees.

Ejipt iz a rotten ship.
Usa-buks ar plug it hoel,
An set the kors iz kapten chart,
But underdeks a brutherhoud
Iz seethen por, extremen heet.
Sparkz a leep, ignite a berth
Engulpen all in Misserree.*
               * Mis’r is the Arabic for Egypt

Erak, Pakkastan: rejen ov pees?*
               * Dar al Islom
Rajen a pesez for jakkel an kro.
Shahheedz an shahhoddaz, sharreya* in shrowdz,
               * 3 Islamic terms; see above
Furee an deth-wish a relijjes vowz.
The mud flats krakkel in persisten drowt.
A kaffeya unravvelz on a dried owt reed.
Trikkellen blud an a kar in flaemd.
Sekt an tribe the fragmen a state.

Ewrope, nostaljen, reternz tu the slash
An bern ov sikkel an kattel kar.
Az evree extreem in its oppazzit meet;
Leftess proffessenz an notsee kreeps.
Tugether, drunk on the mithek Jew,
Obsesst tu klip hem egel weengz,
Az faro did, an maek em groen.
Kno thay not wut faroez fate?
But slopee thot it roelz the way
An mith an trueth an self deseet
An arraggans all innermix.
But Ziyon fenikslife endorz.
     So hate ye Ziyon wile ye may.
     Yur beer awaets. Yur drunken nite
     Will end at yur dissonner grave.

Kerserz ov Ziyon in a titen biend
Tu kontroel the mith kontrolen yu.
Like Layokkowon, yu kannot unwiend
The koyeld konfuze agrip ov yu.
Islom, ware iz yur self-kritteek?
A kompashen, a merseeful God, yu pray?
Re-rit yur Korron. Now it say:
     “In the name of the errashennat, the kerseeful,”
     “Thare iz no God; mo tromma iz owwer messij.”
Yur ulamma* sez the jehod iz meen
               * Muslim legal scholars
     “Wor iz a shor a pruver a faeth.”
But wut leeder say, “we ar da falt!
     “Owwer faeth iz an utter desrepaer;
     “Vilens an anger a braken ar law.”
O the nacherrel gradeyenz
Muev in arks we kant perdikt.
Dar al Islom iz no mor,
And Islom iz now a Dar al Horb.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Natural Gradients, Part II

My blog has been much too quiet as I have been working studiously to complete Part II of Natural Gradients (Nacherrel Gradeyenz). Part II particularly, is a difficult and controversial statement, as you will see, and so I have worked with especial care and concern for accuracy, altho I expect I will offend not a few people. I have not yet completed the stevespell recension, which I hope to post in a day or two, but here is the normspell. Like Part I above, posted on June 28, the two versions are complementary, but by no means identical. Each should help expand the insights of the other.

In the text below you will need to know three Muslim terms: “dhimma,” “Dar al Islam,” and “Dar al Harb.” You can google them to find a range of meanings and usages.

Briefly, as I understand and use them, the dhimma is the body of Islamic laws dealing with non-Muslims. It means “protected” but many, if not most non-Muslims would consider that a euphemism. Jews and Christians do not have equal status to Muslims under the law. “Idolaters” like Hindus and Buddhists have even lower status. Bluntly, it is a legal system of apartheid, pure and simple.

Dar al Islam” and “Dar al Harb” are complementary terms. “Dar” can be translated as “region;” “Islam” as “peace,” and “harb” as war. The Dar al Islam is that portion of the world where governments and social norms are based on Islam (the religion). The Dar al Harb is the rest of the world. In Muslim ideology the whole world must be brought to Islam. Naturally, not all Muslims believe that, but it is, and always has been a dominant force in Islam.

I find it ironic that so many Muslims are bitter about Western colonialism, when in fact, Islam is a fundamentally colonialist religion. Its outer borders have always been regions of war as it has sought to bring the whole world into the Dar al Islam, while other cultures have fought to maintain (or expand) their own identities. The modern ring of conflict around the Muslim world is not something new or unusual in history. But let us not forget that Christianity, capitalism, and Marxism, among other ideologies, have been equally expansionist and ringed by conflict.

Nacherrel Gradeyenz
Natural Gradients
II. Dissintegrel Plasez, Momenz ov Inersha

And so it is in these lower worlds
Where dissembling despots gag on lies,
And choke their sickly souls in hate.
In quicksand to their necks, they flail
And point, accusing those they fear,
Clueless they are soon to sink away.
A coin flipped, a data point forgot.

You Zion haters! You bigot nations,
Led by Iran and Lebanon.
You think your place in the world secure,
And time will serve your hate-filled ends,
But day by day you sink in the muck
Of your hate and lies and your moral debt.
The Judge of nations, that strange attractor,
Will call your debt and melt you down.

Syria, Arabia: blowing sands
Erase your borders, a storm divine.
Petromuck pollutes your lands.
And petrogold pollutes your soul.
You walk the world with arrogance,
But wolves gather to tear you apart.

Palestinian: can an orchard grow
In a dry wadi or watered with salt?
How then can your people arise,
Nurtured on the salt of Arab hate,
And your parched self-image: an anti-Jew?

Egypt: your greatness was stripped long ago.
From pharaoh your fate as a minor state.
Now the Brotherhood will cause your place,
Petty as it is, to disappear.

Iraq, Pakistan: flay yourselves.
Like a sick old man with multiple ills:
A hundred doctors, a hundred scalpels,
Tearing your sick and wrinkled bodies.

You anti-Zionists! Show me what good
You bring to the world. I see nothing!
No arts, no science, no freedom of thought.
But this you have in great abundance:
Your hanging judges, your dhimma laws,
Your people muzzled, your knowledge twisted,
Classrooms that teach your children to hate.
Rival warlords terrorize your streets;
The most vicious are those that rule the state.
You squander your wealth on death machines
Driven by the jihad that Islam breeds.
Dar al Islam is the Dar al Harb!
A parable of hatred is all you are.

And you think you anti-Zionists in Europe
Won’t stumble and fall, just the same?
You leftist professors, skinheads, nazis,
Vomiting your hatred in double standards.
You march through your halls with your jackboot books,
Your political positions, mere billy clubs.
Say it straight, like your teacher Horst Wessel:
Jews should be weak and live in fear.
And Israel’s strength is just too much to bear.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Natural Gradients

Here, now, is Part 1 of Nacherrel Gradeyenz, first in a normspell translation of the first rough draft, and then the stevespell version, having gone thru 4-6 revisions.

I. Integral Moments in Higher Dimensions

Like a planet held in the grip of a star,
Slowly, slowly it spirals around,
Slowly accelerating inward and down
Til it plunges into its inevitable fate.

Like a lone hunter, like a mountain lion
Pursuing its prey; turn and cut,
Leap and slide, closer and close,
Its life more important than any other life.

Like a true coin, randomly flipped,
Approaching a perfect ratio.
Like nonlinear systems of varying phase
But boundaries form with a wandering nave.

Certainty seethes in the clashing currents
But the truth of the moment cannot be derived.
Yes, random events, but they have a direction,
As we: holy sparks glowing in the wind.

I. Integrel Moments an Hiyer Dimmenshenz

On ar planna appoold in the soel aspin,
Slolee, wobbellee, spirellee rownd,
Aksellen erazzistallee, koyelz ee down
Tu the lite koer fernassee breth ov it all.

The hungree liyen, hem Seel a rize.
Persu hem pray, all yern an seek,
All tern an leep. Hem Seel a roerz,
“O werl, o my deziyer serv.”

A monnark an priest ar wager all
Uppon the all faetful die. Enormus
Gaen an loss in the heven the erth,
Ov parallel, perfek perporshend werlz.

If thare ar orderz ov tohu an vohu
In the bliend unwiending and willess naecherz,
Iz thare not ashor ov hiyer arderz
Biending the hewman Seel tu konshents?

Godbeet seethen in the klashee kerrents;
The brethee groen, the proffet he drum
Owt Holee kwarks frum hem khashmal simbelz,
Orderen ar Seel in the Addomz a tiem.

Friday, June 19, 2009

some literary mechanics

Unpacking the literary mechanics of a work in progress:
I have been working on a 3 part poem for some time called Nacherrel Gradeyenz (Natural Gradients). Part one of the poem is a bit abstract, a kind of exploration into the causality behind randomness. My first draft of the first stanza looked like this:

Like a planet held in the grip of a star,
Slowly, slowly it spirals around,
Slowly accelerating inward and down
Til it plunges into its inevitable fate.

Besides some rhythmic roughness, it tells its story rather explicitly, and in a one dimensional manner. Like a painting built up in layers, it became the ground, providing the basic shapes and tones from which I worked. Borrowing a term from rabbinical exegesis, it provided the “peshat” meaning, the plain or most directly accessible meaning. After a series of overlays and glazes, the stanza took on a more complex and superimposed quality, attempting to merge inner vision and outer vision. As you will see, this version includes some unavoidable stevespell. Thus...

Like our planna spun in the solar sway,
Slowly, wobbly, spiraling around,
Accelerating irresistibly, coils it down
To the light core emanating breath of it all.

But of course, my actual composing was happening in stevespell, not normspell. That had a big impact on the evolution of the text. Now consider the stanza. With a further sacrifice of simplicity, for the sake of amplified communication, multiple and more complex impressions can sparkle out of the language. This is what it looks like:

On ar planna appool in the sol aspin,
Slolee, wobbellee, spirellee rownd,
Aksellen erazzistallee, koyelz ee down
Tu the lite koer emmannaten breethen ov all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Berer, shaved!!



So, the cancer club at school was struggling a bit. They wanted to raise $1000, but couldn't get off the ground. I said I'd shave my beard if they met their goal. Three weeks ago they had raised $200 and I began to goad them. "Not even a single hair off my chinny chin chin." Two days ago...
After taking this pic with Photo Booth I decided to play around. After about 2 minutes I had snapped the following two.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Concerning Israeli settlements

I just sent the President of the United States the following email:

Dear Mr. President,

Let me first say, may God guide you in all your endeavors to bring prosperity and peace to our country and to the world.

I am writing this email to explain to you why your demands for Israel to end its settlement activity is unjust. It is a position that is lacking historical substantiation. Rather, it serves the ends of the clearly stated and widely desired Arab commitment to destroy Israel. Let me explain why.

Since Israel's creation on Nov. 29, 1947 by a 2/3 vote in the UN, partitioning the land into Jewish and Arab regions, the Arabs have unconditionally denied Israel's right to exist. And even before 1947, Arab riots and terrorism, notably in 1919, 1929, 1936-1939, and then throughout the years preceding Israel's establishment, showed Arab bigotry towards Jews and Arab intransigence towards the Biblical, historical, and societal necessity for Jews to have a nation. That nation is meant to be a safe haven against the very hatred that is embodied by a majority of Arabs in the world today.

Before we can postulate an appropriate policy towards settlements, we must understand why Palestinians do not have a nation today. There are 3 primary reasons:

1. They rejected nationhood and chose war. This persistent choice since the UN partition plan has consistently denied them any possibility of national aspirations. It has also undermined any trust in the goodwill that some of their people have generated over the years. There must be a cost for promoting hatred and choosing war.

2. Arab nations have no interest in creating a Palestinian nation. When Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan controlled the West Bank (from 1948-1967), they aggressively rejected turning that territory into an independent Palestinian state. After 1967 Arab nations continued to vilify Israel, but made no effort to facilitate a Palestinian nation. Instead of investing in a Palestinian infrastructure, they fomented war, both in the halls of their governments and in the classrooms of their schools. There must be a cost to the cynical use of Palestinians as an excuse by Arab nations to justify their denial of Israel's unconditional right to exist.

3. Palestinians themselves have failed to invest in their own national identity and national unity. The Hamas-Fatah chasm is only the most obvious of the self-destructive fractures in Palestinian society. Palestinians have not, in any way, invested in their future, but rather have devoted themselves unrestrainedly to building only one kind of infrastructure: an infrastructure of hatred. They curse Israel for existing and in the same breath demand Israel support them. There must be a cost to the dysfunctional investment in hatred.

Israel's settlements are the cost of Arab hatred and Arab violence for over 60 years. This is the true, and ONLY viable meaning of "land for peace."

Israel must continue to build and expand settlements until the Arabs unconditionally commit themselves to non-violence and peace with Israel. And that must include the teaching of peace and acceptance of Israel in their schools. There will NEVER be peace when children are taught hatred.

I voted for you Mr. President, with the hope that you would re-establish the moral leadership of this nation. So far you have not let me down. You began that process from your first day in office, and you extended it last week with your speech in Cairo. However, moral leadership also demands the bold and honest exposure of hatred, and the condemnation of the double standards and lies that inform the vast majority of Arabs. Placating the Arabs by confronting Israel concerning its settlements is empty of realpolitik value, and empty of moral leadership. You are equivocating, perhaps with the hope of cajoling change in the Arab world. Enough equivocating, Mr. President. There is no future in it. You have read, and know well, the Hebrew Prophets. I ask you, judge your words and your policies by THEIR standards, not by the standards of the kings and dictators of the Arab world.

Proper policy cannot be derived when one includes hatred and ruthless vilification as a valid part of the political spectrum. Arab demands for a "just" solution are founded on their hatred and vilification of Israel and Jews. Take your hand and sweep these immoral demands from the table like so many marked and false cards. Then look at what remains. You will see that Israeli settlements are not the problem. They are merely one more excuse for refusing to welcome a Jewish nation into the community of nations.

I urge you to rethink your policy. And I wish you every blessing and all the good will that a man of your greatness and your clarity of vision deserves.

Your loyal supporter,
Stephen M. Berer

Friday, June 05, 2009

Images and poems, Sequoia National Park

On Feb. 7, 2009 I posted an image from a little book I drew and calligraphed while at Sequoia National Park. The book was done in pencil, and didn't scan very well. However, I finally took a little time to enhance the scans, using IPhoto on my Mac. I have Gimp2 on my PC, but the menu structure is obtuse, and the software requires the user know a large number of keyboard combos to accomplish the simplest task. Since none of those combos are intuitive or easy to find, I never really figured out how to enhance the scans.

So let this Mac skeptic say very clearly: sure was easy with IPhoto. Never used it before, and still it was, boom, boom, boom, done!

Anyway, here are some snippets I prepared for another document. Hope you enjoy them. Oh, and btw, "sequoia" is one of only a few words in English that has all 5 regular vowels in it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yahrzeit of my mother and father, 4/25, 2003 & 2009

This might be the beginning of a Kaddish for my father, may his memory be a blessing.

I sit in my father’s house the day after he has died, and I confess I feel, at this moment, no connection to his house or anything in it, but for a few books and a picture or two. Thus, for the house I grew up in, and since leaving home, have been visiting for 41 years. In like measure I sit in this world. I feel no attachment to it, but for a few people. What is there to be attached to here?

All that I see with my eyes and sense with my other four senses I do not believe. I do not believe it and I do not believe in it. Falsehood, illusion, misperception and partial perception is all that we see. We have access thru our senses to only a part of the picture, and we have access thru our minds, shaped by and shaping these senses, to conceptual tools that are incomplete, at best.

Let us not even begin to address the morass of ethics and human behavior. Just look out of any window (as we are reminded by the Gratefully Dead). It is a world framed by solid walls, impenetrable to light. So it is with our senses. We peer thru cracks, like those frustrating and fearful dreams where we struggle to open our eyes, as we stumble thru a dangerous world, almost blind.

My father’s body lay on the hospital bed, his mouth agape, jutting like a ledge on a chalky cliff. He died, and this same body that for me embodied my attention, love, and all the complexities of a full relationship, this same body that for my 58 years, almost 59 now, that was for me My Father, was now an empty shell, not My Father at all, but something, indeed, that was utterly without value, but for the illusory memories that tied it to a living past. (This may not accord well with Jewish burial practices and beliefs, but that is another matter entirely.)

We all stood in the room. His current wife – my stepmother, leaned her forehead upon his shoulder and grieved. My sister Marge sat behind her; Elliott, Dee Jay, Margie Beth, Gert, Cal, myself; we stood or sat variously crying or pondering in emotional poses like some Delacroix painting, Cal on the computer filtering the scene further thru a keyboard.

I don’t know when My Father left that room. Perhaps by the time his still living, but rapidly dying body had been brought to the hospital, he had already ceased to inhabit this world.

We ascribe his death to a stroke. I don’t see it that way. I ascribe his stroke to the departure of his Soul. He had to tear his way out of this world, and the stroke was the tear. Perhaps it is thus with every medical issue, as our Souls struggle with the constant decision to remain here or break out.

Ruth told me: Friday morning at around 5:00am she saw him standing at the foot of the bed, wobbly, yawning, but not really yawning. Perhaps he was trying to cry out, but by then he had already lost the ability to talk. Perhaps in the minutes prior, My Father had left this world, or was rapidly leaving it, so rapidly that his body had already lost its ability to speak. For a few more hours he would respond to stimuli, and then even that, largely, ceased.

What is this body that cannot speak? What is this world we see thru narrow windows? What are these narrow windows of “sense” or partial sense, these constructions of reason, the illusion of reason?

I sit in my father’s house. It means so little to me, compared to what my Father means to me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yom HaShoah, 5769

An essay for Yom HaShoah, first composed for the commemoration of Kristallnacht, 1999, and edited today, Yom HaShoah, April 21, 2009 (27 Nisan, 5769).

A delicate, an exquisite vase, once upon a time, fell from a high window, and broke on the sidewalk. Some of the pieces were swept into the gutter. Many more were trampled underfoot. A few were picked up and analyzed, and then set aside. One or two became the central objects of a lifetime of study and devotion. The original vase could never be restored, but perhaps a new one, sometime, could be created up from the earth. What genius and what expertise would be required: to re-envision the original and understand its purpose; and then to recompose the shape, the design; and then to carefully pick the right clay and the perfect grains of sand and the pure minerals to recreate the brilliance and clarity of that one which was lost. But... who is qualified to begin such a work?

The great rabbi of Kotsk, Menachem Mendel once said: “Do not be satisfied with the speech of your lips and the promises and good sayings in your mouth, nor all the good thoughts in your heart. Rather, you must arise and do!” Well, this is all well and good, but tell me, dear Rebbe, what am I to do, and how am I to do it?

A delicate, an exquisite way of life, once upon a time, was cast from its high vantage point, and destroyed. Its individuals were swept into the gutter and trampled underfoot. Afterwards, a few people began to collect small fragments of what remained of those lives, unique shards, hoping a master artist could somehow bring them back to the fullness of their lives.

A strong, a greatly exulted culture, once upon a time, cast itself from its high vantage point, and committed suicide. Rejecting its central values, it turned monstrous and contemptible. To avoid seeing itself, it shattered every mirror. But the conscience is a mirror that cannot be shattered, and cannot be avoided. The gun aimed at that mirror will surely destroy the one that pulls the trigger.

What can we learn from this broken vase and this broken conscience? First, I believe we must understand that those that hate us Jews (and that includes those that hate our Jewish nation) are people who also hate God. They would like God removed from this world in the same measure as they would like us Jews removed. This is obvious because anyone that exults hatred and seeks genocide must also want to drive out from this world the God that will judge us for our hatred and genocide.

Second, we must realize that, so long as God is in this place, we Jews will be here too. We have been invited into the Monarch's castle, and a place has been set for us at the table among all the other peoples and nations. And having been assigned a permanent and an honored seat, we deserve to be welcomed here. But I also want to say that we Jews, like Jonah, had best defer a vacation in Tarshish, and devote ourselves to our assigned tasks: to be a priestly and a holy people, and to be a voice for justice and compassion and moral responsibility.

And finally, let me repeat: we have all been invited to the Monarch's table. Each of us is supposed to be here, and each of us has a particular, and holy, mission. Some few of us are already very clear about that. Many more of us are aware that we might have a holy mission, but we need a fair amount of help remembering it on an hourly or daily basis. There are very many of us here who have never imagined their life is of value and that they have a purpose. This world anxiously awaits their awakening. As the Kotsker taught, for them it is not enough to think good thoughts. We must arise and do. There are some of us who have lost or abandoned hope. What healing must they experience, and how can we help them? And finally, there are some who live primarily in defiance of goodness, kindness, and justice. What is the path out of such defilement?

A vase has fallen and is shattered. It can never be restored. But, everyone that is here has come with unique and special elements and tools. So let us begin, together, to create a new vase worthy of the Monarch's table.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Transmigrant Journals, 2

Here's something raw from the jungle, another scene in Tranzmiegren Jernelz, a prose poem I began this winter. You can find the first post Dec. 25, 2008. That scene was entitled
Door to a Room
Mysterious Tale of the Beloved Son

I have no idea of the writing quality of this new scene. In fact, it's still in the editing process. You will notice parenthetic and bracketed text. They are unresolved alternatives I am considering, but they also mark potential segue and lacuna issues. I would love your feedback -- general, technical, detailed.
I call this one:
Door to a Closet
The Strange Tale of the Girl in the Amulet

... O, I hav had my share ov wimmen
who walked out on me [for one reason or another].
One moved out while I was [hitchhiking to Provincetown and back][hiking on Cape Cod]. I had no idea why she left.
Another got involved with a friend of mine and for awhile we lashed ourselves together in a love triangle, but it was more like a tesseract among higher dimensions of perversity and insanity. Strange tortures we give ourselves, after which we measure the scars, show them off in public, compare them to previous disasters as if they were some kind of trophy.
Yes, I know. There are some people who hang their scars like secret amulets in locked rooms and become obsessed. like cult members,
Like aenshent Kananniets hu, beneeth karvd poelz, tare thaer skin in ekstattek aggoneez.

Recently I began making the rounds with a [new] woman(.)( named Venus. I met her in a Shell station.) She’s a dancer who studies architecture. Lithe and graceful she is, with her hair cut to just below her ears. It bounces and gets tousled but falls (out)(back into place) like she’s always put-together. She’s a dancer. But for me she was like a cloud whorling in mythic shapes.
But like ennee uther klowd, she chaenjd in blu awway.
Now she is an hour, and a lifetime away. It didn’t happen suddenly, but I understood suddenly – she had moved to another town, not just for the job, but to leave me. Maybe there was another man.
A Kanannite preest sharpenz hiz nife, massojjez hiz skin...
All I knew was I was stuck in my apartment, the one where I slept on the long, low, slanting staircase so I could have a place to write. I realized she was farther away than I thought, so I left everything and hitched a ride to her new place, not so far south.
I was still on the road when I realized it was futile, that she had left, not for the job, but because I couldn’t find a way into her (ancient ruins)(dreams). Or maybe she was just a short-lived downpour I got caught in.
She was a gilt-edged cloud full of turbulence and she blew away. I guess it was really me that got blown away. When my ride arrived in Providence, I stumbled out of the car. It was an hour and a lifetime later and I hardly had the strength to walk. Each thought was a thunderstorm, eroding [my (energy)(will)][me in stark gullies][the clay off my faces], and my gut was tied up like some [sacrifice on a Mayan pyramid][torture victim in Teheran or Guantanamo].
That was the first hour and the first lifetime after the myth of her departed.

But here’s the strange part. It was just a dream and when I woke up I couldn’t remember ever knowing her, or ever having a girl leave me like that. And yet it was all so familiar. What kind of dream is that?
A rume full ov ammulets and meererz;
A rume with onlee wun dor
But wen I left, I kame owt intu difrent plasez.
I was tied up in knots, and all day I kept thinking I had just climbed out of that car, or I was still heading south when I realized the truth.
Maybe this detail is somehow connected: yesterday I was reading Amos, Ch.7, v. 17, “Your wife shall be a harlot in the city...” and now I feel like I am chasing after her. And then I remember... it’s only a dream.
Oenlee a dreem...
I passed through a room of amulets. She was one of them, a tiny dancing figurine hanging in front of a mirror painted with stars.
I wen in thru her iyz
An kame owt thru a berth kannal,
Krusht and krying.

I walked into a room of talismans and charms. She greeted me like the Hindu goddess Parvati, wearing a low-cut, satin dress embroidered with her sexual exploits; gold bangles up her arms, and tiny silver bells around one ankle. Her eyes were lined in kohl, and a mysterious henna pattern, like a Celtic knot, encircled her face.
“Du yu wont opeyum,
Or du yu wont me,
Or du yu wont the passijway owt ov yur littel werl?”
“All of them,” I answered, and looked down at her jingling bells. I saw that her feet were clay. I looked into her eyes, fell into a dream, and woke up in a car heading south.

Well, not exactly. I went to bed last night and dreamed of bygone days and long lost friends. Galvin, and Louise, and her. I met her in a bar drinking shots of tequila. I offered her a cabochon of turquoise that I bought in Meshad (near the forbidden shrine where I got stoned by the devout)(na).
I can’t remember the first time she came home with me, but I recall sleeping on the stairway, piles of blankets beneath us. When did she take the job in Providence? I’ve forgotten so many crucial details that I’ll never be able to analyze this properly. No wonder the only thing I could do was wake up and start again.

Now she is an amulet locked in a room.
Gashez on my armz, (like an) serpen tattuez;
A krouked kee iz in the lok.
Shall I (go in)(tern it) and [try tu (fien revive) her?][see if the ammulets ar still willen tu tok.]

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Science Adrift, 2

Responding to my "Science Adrift" post of 4/8/09,
god-free morals said...

I think the problem is just that science does not only focus on matter. That is, what it can actually make statements about. It tries to apply itself to all aspects of humanity; religious, social, even artistic.

"People today believe that scientists are there to instruct them, writers and musicians to entertain them. That the latter have something to teach them never occurs to them." Wittgenstein

Dear Chris, god-free morals:

Thanks for helping to align the focus of this post. Your Wittgenstein quote was brilliant, pointing exactly to my intention. I am not speaking about scientific inquiry itself, which is often poorly conceived, sloppily done, and opinionated in its interpretations. That’s the nature of this (hopefully) self-correcting beast. I’m speaking about public perception and public education in the West, which is now based on scientific triumphalism. Religion is imagined to be outdated, primitive, and worse. There was a time when religious institutions controlled education (and it still does in some schools and many countries in the world), and that surely carried/carries its own set of problems.

However, my concern here is that our wholesale abandonment of religion and religious education is seriously, if not fatally damaging us. The trajectory of our secular culture was set in motion in an era in which religious/ethical values were foundational to our thinking. The democratic revolution begun 200+ years ago carried with it the ideals of universal freedom and dignity, and leadership based on merit and accomplishment; in short, an attempt to create a human-authored utopian society. But, as with all revolutions, there were other sides to the story. One of those sides was the power struggle with religious authority. The secular/scientific school has not merely won that battle, but routed its opponent. And we are left with a one-sided, materialistic focus, dominated by “number, weight and measure” (Marriage of Heaven and Hell, proverb 14), which is to say, an educational focus bereft of ethical values and the skills to develop psychological sensitivities.

Look at the curriculum of any high school (gymnasium), college, or university. Engineering is our obsession: mechanical, chemical, biological, electronic, ecological, nuclear, corporate, financial, medical, legal. We are fabulous at teaching the skills to build ingenious tools, models, historical scenarios, balance sheets, and other Rube Goldberg constructions, be they physical or mental, but how many course offerings (much less course requirements) are offered on practical ethics, conflict dynamics, life dilemmas, real-time ethical decision making, the conflicts between self and society, or identity building and religious tradition? We are taught professional skills but not how to live.

I sat in on a Sabbath morning study session with Rabbi Mordechai Finley last week. He asked us how we, as a society, define “the good life.” It was widely agreed that it means lots of money, leisure, and sex. But Finley’s definition, without denying the pleasure of money and sex, was very different. For him it means:
- learning how to endure existential despair with dignity;
- including people of all faiths, creeds, nationalities, and social strata among one’s group of friends (which means inviting them into one’s house regularly;)
- learning how to effectively engage with political diversity;
- taking time on a regular basis to pray, meditate, explore one’s inner being
- making learning an essential and regular part of one’s life.

The promulgating of meaningful values was once the provenance of our religious communities. In our secular societies, however, religious communities have become nearly vestigial. We need to revive those communities or replace them, because, assuredly, we cannot continue on a trajectory towards utopian ideals without a commitment to the values that will implement those ideals.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Science Adrift

It is taught,
We have become wise in science
And cast off the superstition of religion.”
If you have been taught thus,
You have been taught poorly.
Rather,
We have become skillful in manipulation,
And cast off the constraints that guide our Soul.”

For science is but a process to observe carefully,
But in this era that process is only applied to matter,
And as for matters of conscience,
And the transmission of values, we are woefully careless.

We have become crude in our sensitivities,
Blind to our Soul, arrogantly so.
I refuse to consider the knowledge in religion;
Nor will I constrain my desires.

I louk at this kine an I despaer.
Neether past nor prezzen ar dezerven ov onnor,
And az for owwer fewcher,
We ar on a ship, asael in daenjerz,
And we kaer not ennee mor ov kapten or krew.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Waeting for the Don

I lie awwake in darkness, tiemless.
The song uv a berd, like a breef stanza,
     And then a retern tu silens.

I am in the Pallas.
Faent liets flikker down mennee kerving hallz,
     But reelee, I am not serten....

Konstant dowt.
My iyz attune tu such suttel chaenjez
     In shaddoez, in silensez.

But reelee, du I kno enneething?
My feengerz gro numm in the darkness,
     Feeling my way allong koeld wallz.

I take a step.I stand.
     I slolee konsidder.

Now it iz Dawn.
A sharp hunger,
     But thare iz no food...

Moeshenless the klowdz, az my thots.
The sun this moment rizez abbuv horizen,
     Porz its lite in my windo.
          But this iz not the lite that will help me see.