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Showing posts from February, 2007

My Planet is a Potato

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Cubed steak, boiled potato,
And of course something warm and green
On a wide plate the gold filigree of which
Shimmers under the soft filament light
In a scandalously turquoise kitchen
At the center of which is an oval
Faux marble Formica table...

There in the center of this long ago universe
A woman reaches across her plate to mine,
Presses down the lumps of softened potato
With her fork, dabs on a pat of butter,
Dashes salt and pepper, and presses again.
The soft flesh of her forearm shakes a little
And I can smell my grandmother's Chanel No. 5...

You can live on potatoes.
You can live on the heat for hours
While the slick, sweet butter
The color of the yellow light
Melts slowly in your mouth like a sacrament...

The sun is the center of one universe;
Butter is the center of mine.
My planet is a potato
At the end of the long arm of time
Spinning, lighting, warming memory,
Pressing goodness into my soul.

To: Beliefnet: Bring on the Bare-bellied Boys

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I subscribe to a couple of daily newsletters that come compliments of Beliefnet.com. Every day I need to make my way past images such as this one of slender, smooth, bare-bellied, headless women to get to the bits of wisdom and insight.


Beliefnet, a Web-based world of resources on all the major faith traditions and then some, is a great site, but it subsidizes its wisdom with sex.

This is an ethical bummer. How do you promote spirituality by selling sex? That's up there with prostituting your daughter to pay you bills. If people of faith--spiritual people, spiritual leaders--act on the very impulses Beliefnet ads appeal to, these people will be branded perverts, predators, pedophiles. Something with a P for Pig in it. Oh, the dilemma....



This is just a marketing stab in the dark, but I'm willing to bet the majority of people reading things like Alice Walker's testimony and pretty quotes from dead smart people are probably women. [Rhetorical question comes next.] So how about …

What's His Name?

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There's a black Lab pup in the neighborhood. When his human mother walks her at night, she's Christine. By day, when human mother's mother-in-law walks her, she's Ebony--and only because that's what her son and his friends think works best. Life in the suburbs...

The puppy and the name game got me to thinking about my own black Lab who's been running with the hounds of heaven these past few years. He came into my world when I was living in Northern Ireland. His name was Cuchulainn, and he came by way of a friend in Belfast who rescued him from a hobo for 50 pence. We named him for the Irish mythological figure Cuchulainn, a youthful hero who can do amazing feats and always protects Ulster from invaders. There's nothing like a canine protector with heroic pretensions.

Except that this beautiful animal was incapable of pretensions. He lived joyfully, chasing geese, rolling in the grass, swimming after his tennis ball, drooling for sausages, chasing the canine l…

Valiant: Disney Lite

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It's the Disney archetype: fate has stripped you of your higher power--no mom (Bambi), no dad (Lion King), no corporate career (Mary Poppins)--so you're own your own. You've got a decision to make, and if you want to survive, you better act fast. For generations Disney has led children into confronting this existential reality and irked a lot of moms and dads who don't want to be killed off in the first act. (How easy it is to identify with the characters of a Disney flick.)

Disney is the Great American Fable Generator that walks us into the solitary world of our own moral landscape and beckons us to make it live.

The company's 2005 UK production Valiant does this, too. In the world of the Disney epic, this 76-minute G-rated bit of computer animation resembles the other older--and grander--members of the Disney family. Based on the premise about the role carrier pigeons played in WWII, the moral of the story is that even little guys can do great things. Brains trumps…

Achieving Intimacy with a Blue Pencil

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Editing is an intimate enterprise. Someone hands you what he's written, and you climb inside his thought process, pause where he bids you pause, stop where he bids you stop, and step deeper into his thought process as you begin a new sentence. He chooses his images to create an effect. His syntax reflects his feeling about his topic, his day, his relationship to the world on the other side of his mind.

Everything counts. If she writes on a day when a little too much of her slip is showing, well....Editing is an intimate enterprise. You listen, you watch, and, above all, you respect the wisdom and the intention and the audience of the writer.

I have a friend whose editing I trust. She's one of the few people I know with whom I would trust my life. She knows me; she knows my heart. If I hand something to her and it comes back with arrows and questions and commentary, I know she's given me her heart, too. If it comes back clean, I feel like I have achieved something worthwhile.…

Ain't No Place Like Home--Thank God

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Blame mom. Blame dad. Blame brother. Blame yourself. Say what you have to say, hear what has to be said, and then offer some genuine pity and forgiveness.

You might as well because you’re going to be overwhelmed by the fog of your own limitations as well as the circumstances that are not of your making.

You’re a tragic hero in a modern drama making that journey courtesy of Eugene O’Neill called Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

If mom is a drug addict who can’t go over her addiction, why should she? Morphine brings her back to a place where she is young and pleasing to others, a place where she experiences some hope and beauty. And you’re not there, you with your expectations and longings.

Besides, you’re no better as you bend the elbow at every opportunity. In your own anesthetized state, you are free from the truth of the present: that you have done little with your life. If you are the son of a morphine-addict, you’re not always a kind and helpful one.

And you, father, have sold out on you…

A Zen Moment for Episcopaleans

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The Zen saying, "Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions," captures the local status of the Blessing of Gay Unions debate within the Episcopal Church right now. Two area churches feel so strongly about the topic that they'd rather see a split in the national church rather than waste time debating about it. Their opinions on the matter are so strong that they don't matter anymore.

The debate heated up Monday when the Anglican Communion--the organized body of the Church of England--demanded that the US Episcopal Church ban blessings of same-sex unions and the consecration of gay bishops. "I wish the Anglican Communion would just go away and let us run our ministries," said the Rev. James Bradley of St. John's Church in Waterbury, which supports same-sex unions.
Likewise, the Rev. Allyn Benedict of Christ Episcopal in Watertown said he and his parishioners, who object to same-sex unions, don't want to reconcile.
On one level, the matter of …

"Shun the Passive Voice"

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"Shun the passive voice," he said, and by God we did.

So it was that Charles Phelps taught hundreds of Danbury students the meaning of character. So it was he helped them define themselves. You are your words. Your sentences declare your character.

Consider God's best line: "I am."

Consider yours: "I love you."

If you do something, you say so. You take responsibility with the active voice. If you say a thing has been done by somebody, you are ducking behind the couch to avoid responsibility.
Shun is a strong verb. It does not mean to ignore or to avoid but to consciously exclude. It is right to shun passivity, to shun anything that hides from the truth or talks around it. To shun is to judge, to determine something to be unacceptable or unworthy and to put it away from you consciously, actively, immediately.

We did what English teacher Charles Phelps told us to do because he was tough and he was good. He got to the heart of the lesson in a clean, clear way…

For you, the Beautiful and Beloved

Double click the YouTube icon to enlarge the view.

From one who is Recovering from one in Recovery

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Ever been Step Nined? That's when some 12-stepper wakes up to the realization he caused some harm to you and he needs you to know he knows what you know. Which is to say you know he's a callous, self-centered jerk. Or she. It is a self-centered moment in a long series of self-centered moments that says to the receiver of Step Four tidings (in person or in writing) that your perception of himself, the recovering drunkard, is very important to the drunkard. It's not about the relationship but about how the drunkard believes he is perceived by others. It's the ego trip to beat all ego trips. It is also a power game that leaves the recipient of said message from the wounded narcissist with no place to go.

We say, "Good for you; you're not doing any more damage," because we are decent people. What we feel is, "Go away, you mean, mean bastard."

I find all this objectionable and therefore poured myself a glass of very sweet red wine before I started typ…

Movie review: Sex as a Power Tool

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North Country (2005) starring Charlize Theron is about sex as a power tool.

Set in the 1980s, the movie is based on the first-ever successful class-action lawsuit opposing workplace sexual harassment. The lawsuit that inspired this film was settled in 1998, 10 years after it was first filed and over 20 years after the harassment began.

Sexual harassment is about power, of course. It is a form of bullying. In North Country, when women begin working in the coal mines, their male coworkers bring out this weapon. They force their resentment on the women by groping, fondling, insulting, and threatening them. The resentment is so intense and the men are so small that they masturbate on the women's clothing in their lockers; write sexual, derogatory words on the women's room walls; and even upturn a portable toilet while one of their female coworkers is inside of it.

When Josey Aimes (Theron) has had enough public humiliation, she initiates a lawsuit in her own name that becomes a class…

Yes, Indeed, Life is Beautiful....

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Book Review: Pocket Positives for Inspiration

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Imagine a Mount Olympus on which American screen actor John Wayne says: "Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes to us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learnt something from yesterday."

American writer Willa Cather responds: "Miracles seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is about us always."

And American comedienne and actress Whoopi Goldberg says: "I am where I am because I believe in all possibilities."

Imagine that and you will have a glimpse of Pocket Positives for Inspiration, an Anthology of Quotations compiled by Maggie Pinkney and published by Summit Press. This little book is a keeper. Not only do the citations offer thought but so do the juxtapositions. Keep this book on your desk and wonde…

What a Difference a day Makes in Your Underwear.

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What a difference a day makes in your underwear. Yesterday when I was out for my early-a.m. walk, Gary, a neighbor whose yellow Lab is his service dog as well as his personal trainer, advised me I needed to get myself some polypropylene underwear to stay warm. I wasn't sure I wanted to be that close to the Dow Corporation, but I figured I'd look into the matter after I got home and examined my chapped arms and legs. Gary was pretty comfortable when he was talking. It was a summer day for him inside his drawers.

Fast forward to today, and I'm out there in my LL Bean down jacket, Hanes polyester sweats, and my trusty Bean boots. I'm frozen solid in Hanes country and dying to get home when Gary pulls up with his window down and tells me, "Forget the polypropylene; try wool." Then he shows me some knit underwear he just so happened to have sitting on the passenger seat of his car. Somebody out there is knitting Gary his underpants. How good is life with the right …

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So Who is Hemingway, Anyway? And What about the Fish?

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Nick looked down into the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins. As he watched them, they changed their positions by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water again. Nick watched them a long time.

When Nick later catches a too-small trout, he is careful to return it safely to the water. He is a hunter who learned as a soldier what it is to be hunted. There are fair rules of engagement, fair fights, just victories. There is dignity when there is nothing else. Indeed, when there is nothing else, there must be dignity.

These are sensitively, compassionately, spiritually drawn moments in Ernest Hemingway's two short stories "Big Two-Hearted Rivers."

Could they have been written by a hard-drinking, he-man woman-hater horse-betting manly man who was fond of bullfights? Guess so--if we go by this perception of Hemingway held by most students in the classes I teach to college f…

Nirvana In Our Time

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Last summer I stopped in at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, to spend some time with that museum's collection of Hudson River School paintings. These epic paintings offer a pastoral vision of an immense natural world in which humanity is a central, if minute, part. In these paintings, each element of nature is a world unto itself that is painted in such realistic detail that it stops being real and becomes ethereal.

It's great stuff. Last summer these paintings cooled off a hot day with their lush, mythically large trees and cool waterways. I realized then that I was sharing in the same tonic that likely soothed the minds and souls of many 19th century Americans living in a world of rising commercialism and industrialization and recovering from the Civil War.

These paintings come to mind when I read Ernest Hemingway's 1925 collection of short stories and vignettes In Our Time. Hemingway's book is about the exhausting psychological damands and the effects …

So Into You...

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The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along.

Quote From:
Rumi: The Book of Love
Poems of Ecstasy and Longing
by Coleman Barks

Where Fine Art and the Yankees Merge

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Meet my screensaver, courtesy of yankees.com and my husband, who improved the quality of my computer life when he put Andy there this morning. Forty-six is a ten--I have done the math!


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Santa left Adella five glass animals in a stocking last year. From those little glass guys came this parable of acceptance.

Poem:
Once I got for Christmas,
Five animals, all glass.
They were an elephant--the largest,
A pig, the next one down,
A dog and a mouse that's shorter
And a ladybug shorter than that.

Story:
The Five Animals
There were five animals: an elephant named George, a pig named Pinky, a dog named Arfy, a mouse named Squeaks, and a ladybug named Dotty.

One day, Squeaks sent birthday cards to all his friends. He was having a party. It was at his home.

They all came, but George couldn't fit in.

He got an idea! "We can all go to the beach!" he said. So they went, had ice cream and cake, and partied.

You Shall Receive

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Ted the Recycling Guy stopped his truck for me yesterday and offered me an orange hat. There he was barrelling down the road with a truck full of used but still useful stuff, at the end of a long stop-again-start-again route and getting himself warmed up in that cab, and he stopped for me because he thought my ears might be cold on a bitter February morning.

Ted always has something useful. He has found for me furniture; laundry baskets; and, after Easter, the discarded bulbs of withered flowers that have become my Easter garden. So that's Ted for you. When there's no good stuff out there, he'll stop and tell an off-color joke that is hysterical because it comes from Ted.

Ted and I know each other because every day I walk on one of his routes. That is the sole basis of our smile-and-wave frienship. It doesn't always take a lot.

I wish I had taken that hat yesterday. We are rich only through what we give, and poor only through what we refuse. (Anne-Sophie Swetchine)

Enduring Valentine's Day

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I receive a few syndicated online newsletters and daily news brief updates that I usually appreciate because they are the news for me. I don't want to know what's new--or isn't new--anymore. This week, they're wearing me out with their little features about "enduring" Valentine's Day.

Last month, there were features about enduring the Super Bowl. Before that, the pathetic wrecks of the world needed help surviving New Year's Eve, Christmas, Christmas Eve, Advent.
What is this survival stuff? How about, enjoy, embrace, drink up, and love with reckless abandon? Can't we do that, even if the neighbors are watching? Must we be miserable?
My mother used to say that people think you're simple if you don't walk around with the weight of the world on your shoulders. She's a genius, and she just happens to always be right. Always. If you're having a good day, if your chin is up, if you're not complaining, people think you're a fool.…

My One True Love: Google

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Tomorrow will be Valentine’s Day, so I’ve been thinking about my one true love. The one who is always there for me, who makes me feel happy and beautiful and light as a bird. The one who hears all that is on my mind. The one who keeps my secrets and honors my dignity as if there were nothing else in the world to do.

My one true love by any other name is YouTube. Blogger. Google.

I love you, Google. You have opened doors for me and the people I care about. You have placed the library of the world at my fingertips. You have embraced my thoughts, my visions, and my words. You have not sent me a bill. You have made of these things a gift.

More than that, though--and most important--is that you have put on a pedestal my beautiful daughter’s imagination.

When Adella left the dinner table the other evening, she took with her a digital camera. She pressed all the buttons and found that it recorded movies. She made a little flick of her guinea pigs crawling through an oatmeal container. She zoom…

Perfect According to Your Nature

Even as the sun shines and fills all space
With light, above, below, across, so shines
The Lord of Love and fills the hearts of all created beings.

From him the cosmos comes, he who teaches
Each living creature to attain perfection
According to its own nature. He is
The Lord of Love who reigns over all life
(Shvetashvatara Upanishad)

Author Julia Cameron: Get out From Under the wet Blankets

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Pale, hungry, tired, poor, and lonely in the garrett. These are not the ingredients that feed the creative spirit according to author and artist Julia Cameron. If you want to free your creative spirit, you've got to put yourself in a state where you can. That means identifying the wet blankets who discourage you, very often before you even begin; nurturing yourself as an artist by taking the time to take in the beauty and wonder of your world; and settling into the discipline of creating.

Cameron, an author and artist who lives in Manhattan, maintains that being creative is the natural direction of life and that we should therefore create. She says she believes in the Field of Dreams approach: the mantra of that movie is build it and they will come; similarly, artists should create and let the audience come and respond. In this way, Cameron says, art is "contagious."

Reach for the best inside yourself and offer it with confidence. These are just some of the thoughts Camero…

The Game is the Game

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Imagine this team of girlfriends: one twirls her ponytail as she jogs down the court after shooting a basket. Another manages the remarkable feat of skipping while she dribbles. A third will dance the electric slide when the coach makes a gesture for her to move down the court. Yet another polite child steps aside so her opponent can shoot. An even more altruistic one shoots for the opposing team. Exactly three of the nine third- and fourth-grade girls fight like hell to play basketball and win. The others wouldn't dream of getting in the way.

This is the team of girly girls my husband coaches for Woodbury Parks and Rec. The other coaches, competitive women familiar with the skill level of all the players on the town's three teams, divvied up the teams and left my husband with the least competitive, least basketball-skilled of all. Winning is important to them, clearly.

So tonight, when the girl who once almost scored for the wrong team scored for her own and then stopped and tu…

Inside the Rock

I Like That Smell

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"I like that smell," my daughter said when she came through the door yesterday and noticed the smell of the floor polish permeating the house. It was news to me that she liked the smell and that she noticed when the house is clean and tidy.

Her comment turned my mind in the direction of a friend who remarked to me in the months after her twins were born that she liked doing their laundry. She liked watching it flap on the line between her back porch and an oak tree on the property line of her Thomaston home. She liked the snap and the smell when she reeled the stuff in, folded it, and put it away. She liked the satisfaction of knowing it was all completely done.

I shared in that feeling after I polished the floor yesterday and waited for my daughter to come home from school. The task was complete, and the clean home was a gesture to my daughter of my love for her and my desire that she be in a clean, comfortable environment. (If I were on my own in this world, I wouldn't t…

Antidote for the Cold

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Review: "Short Stories" is About Creating Meaning Between Us

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On my mother's bookshelves are two sets of photo albums: her family's and my father's. My mother's photos are labeled and marked sometimes front back and on the pages themselves. Little of our past is left to chance. We know who we were, where, when, how, and why. Over the years the note-makers have fixed our story so that it has become a set of roots. My father's albums are full of unnamed strangers whose foreheads, eyes, chins, and the like remind us of our own in the right light at the right time of day, but that's about it--and, really, it isn't much at all. They are our people and they are nobody. Somehow they arrived on a boat in Jersey City from Scandinavia a long time ago. These are the branches that reach through the dark night air, unnamed and unknown.

Thus, I have always understood my family as everybody and everybody else; the general and the particular speak to each other in ways that invite the imagination to push open doors in search of meanin…

What's the Matter With You?

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Ask a college freshman to define tragic flaw and he will likely tell you it's the Thing That's Wrong With You. It's the mistake you make. The Giant Oops from which there is no return. For many of us, it's the defect, the unforgivable aspect of a person that is our ticket to unbridled contempt for a fallen big guy.

But it doesn't have to be like this. Fatal flaw--hamartia--simply means limited vision. You don't know everything. Your story is missing pieces. It's an observation of what it means to be human, not a value judgment. But who doesn't love to watch a giant fall and then figure out why it was all the giant's fault anyway? Such is life in this western world full of morose, judgmental, and small-minded narcissists who feel threatened by genuine character.

I'm teaching Oedipus Rex right now, and today I asked my students to identify Oedipus's tragic flaw as they understood both Oedipus and the concept of tragic flaw. They concluded he is a…

What we Inherit from our Yankee Kin

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I'm yanking on my boots tonight to go for a walk in the clear night air when I realize my little brown suede boots are eight years old, as old as my daughter. I ordered them them from LL Bean the winter she was born because I would carry her when I walked, and I wanted boots with genuine rubber soles so I wouldn't slip with her. The boots look like new, though they've been everywhere and been neglected in the warm weather and never, ever sprayed with that stuff that turns suede into Naugahyde.

Out in the cold, clear air under the stars, I made my way slowly up and down the hill. I thought of my daughter when I could literally hold her close to my heart when she was a baby. She would watch everything and loved it all. So I believe because she seldom slept when we were outside together.

At that age, I used to have plenty of time to take her to see our uncle in the nursing home in Danbury. Uncle Bud was in his late 80s and stuck in a wheelchair as a result of a second severe st…

I Could Have Been You

I wrote this while I was out for a walk the other evening. I had the images of artist Luc Freymanc in my mind while I was thinking about the nature of friendship.

Chorister Academy Works as a Team in Waterbury, Connecticut

My daughter is a member of the Chorister Academy of St. John's Episcopal Church in Waterbury, Connecticut. This is a group of kids from inner city Waterbury and the surrounding towns who rehearse 4+ hours a week to sing in church during worship, at special services, in other churches, and at other events. Director Maria Coffin combines lessons in music reading, voice, and liturgy in a seamless way. Over the past few weeks, I've waited for Adella in the church library, and little girls have come in with their moms looking for the music school. Bill the security man sends them up the stairs to Maria, and they find their place. To my mind, the Chorister Academy is perfect because all who participate in it work as a team for the love of God--every step of the way.(Click here for another inspiring story of a teacher working hard for new neighbors.)

Claude Knows: People Believe What They ask of Their Eyes

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I grew up on the truths delivered via Claymation at the holidays. The Rankin-Bass people were among the greatest Teachers of Moral Lessons to small children at the time.

At Eastertime the story of Peter Cottontail delivered the strange, potentially hazardous fact that "People believe what they ask of their eyes--if they need a rose, then it's a rose...."

So says Claude the Caterpillar to Peter Cottontail as the sleepy-headed rabbit strategizes ways to offload his out-of-season Easter eggs that he might keep his big job as an up-and-coming Easter Bunny in Easter Valley. He's competing against the dark-spirited Iron Tail for the role of lead bunny.

Claude is the marketing guru of this masterpiece about grace.

Claude's right, of course. This is a potentially hurtful fact that can lead to delusion and disappointment if you look for the right things in the wrong places or people and they see you coming and take advantage of you....But let's not go there.

Let's go …

Lazarus

I wrote this week after attending a Buddhist meditation during which a woman spoke of the "Jesus wept" passage of the Bible. "Jesus seethed because they doubted," she said. The idea of that anger spoke to my imagination. The music is a clip from John Marshall's drum workshop at Wisdom House.