Monday, June 26, 2006

Abiquiú, New Mexico
The Yucca

I spring up in the natural desert
and in your unnatural wastelands

In times long past I watched
the inhabitants wander

on foot

stopping to drink from a creek
or to repair arrowheads

a succulent
I understand too well
their descendents' thirst
as they wander off the reservation
in cars

only to buy drink

Along the roadside
where the blacktop meets the remorseless terrain
I bear witness to human desolation

My bell-shaped flowers
silently chime
to mark the passing of each age

The Aspen

Though sturdily rooted
in the mountainside
I love motion

Stretching out my arms
in summer
I let my leaves flutter in the wind
catching each drop of sunlight

and shimmering like spangles

In autumn
my branches are rich gold

In winter
I thrill to hear the air whistle
as you ski by

Then restless
I wait
for the next
snow rider

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Brother Sun

Over at reaching for the light we're reminded that the summer solstice is almost upon us. The word solstice literally means the stopping or staying of the sun. Since light is a very important image for Quakers --and for me, as you may have inferred from the title of my blog-- I'm happy to join earthfreak in wishing everyone happy solstice!

The day when the sun decides to tarry a bit longer overhead makes me think of me of St. Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Sun, also called the Canticle of the Creatures. One of the earliest examples we have of written Italian, while hymns were mostly written and sung in Latin, it's the first item usually found in anthologies of Italian literature.

In his canticle, most certainly inspired by Psalm 148, St. Francis exhorts us to sing praises to God for all the wonderful gifts
of creation that sustain our life on earth. He does so using the literary device of personification, as though telling the sun, the moon, the birds, and the other creatures that they should praise their Creator.

Following the grammatical gender of the nouns used to name them in Italian, he addresses each creature as "brother" or "sister." Thus, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, and so on. All are equal before God, our Master. However, acknowledging the supreme importance of the sun without which life on this earth would be impossible, he gives the sun a special title, messor lo frate sole, "my lord Brother Sun."

I can only imagine how pristine the rivers and streams must have been back in St. Francis' time, since he qualifies water as casta, "pure." (Usually referring to the virtue of purity in persons, the adjective continues the author's use of personification.) Wonder what he'd think if he saw our streams and rivers

A personal recollection:

I had always been a bit puzzled when reading about St. Francis in English because his biographers would say that he called the birds "our sisters." The Italian word I knew for bird, uccello, is masculine in gender. One day I had the opportunity of asking my Italian professor. She told me that St. Francis didn't use that mundane word. He found the birds so fascinating that he called them poetically le creature dell'aria, "creatures of the air." (The word creatura is always feminine, regardless of what is refers to.)

Well, what can you expect from a blissed-out guy who stood in the middle of the piazza wearing rags and singing in Provençal? That's right, St. Francis mother, Madonna Pica, was Provençal, or so the
story goes, and taught her son the songs of the trouvères or troubadours. Francis' father, Pietro Bernardone was a well-to-do cloth merchant who had to make frequent trips to France in search of luxury fabrics, and the legend goes on to say that one day he brought back a French wife. His son was born while he was away on yet another trip, and Lady Pica, who had obviously embraced her new homeland, gave him the good Italian name Giovanni (John). But, the legend continues, when Pietro returned home and saw his new son, born while he was in France, he changed his name to Francesco, "little Frenchman."

Anyway, happy summer solstice, and as St. Francis said:

Laudate et benedicete mi Signore et rengratiate
e serviateli cum grande humilitate.

Praise and bless the Lord and give him thanks
Serving him always with great humility.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

For Thomas and Kristian

A prayer for comfort in times of war
by Susan Mark Landis

Creator of all that is good,

We mourn the deaths of the two service men captured in Iraq, as we mourn the pain and deaths of all your children who suffer the agony of war. Hold their families and friends close in their horror and despair. Comfort them.

Redeemer of our souls,

We recognize that each of us, and all of our families and friends, are caught in cycles of violence. Help us to learn your way of the cross. Your willing death taught us that the only way to stop the spiral of revenge is with undeserved love. Only your love for us can give us the strength to love others who have hurt and continue to hurt us.

Spirit of wisdom and truth,

Gather us together into a community of your love. Teach us your bold ways of justice and peace, so that we can bring healing and hope to this world reeking of sin and agony. Amen. From
PeaceSigns (Used with permission)

For Thomas and Kristian

If bombs could soften hearts
and IEDs each vengeful impulse shatter
scattering vendettas
like so many bits of thread

Then would the mangled tissue
of our common lives be rewoven
on an invisible loom
color contrasting against color
in tightly knotted strands

A cloak
to capture
the Father's loving warmth


“I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God; and I had great openings.” —George Fox

Monday, June 19, 2006

Have some fun! Shoot an illegal!!

Here's the latest contribution to good, clean, all-American fun from those wonderful Aryan supremacist folks and their eminent leader Tom Metzger:

In case you can't read the URL, its:

Nice version of the American flag, too:

I opened the game but refused to shoot the pregnant "breeder" crossing the Rio Grande with her two children. The image of the Mexican woman crosses the screen more and more slowly and gradually gets bigger ... in other words, What's the matter? Is your aim that bad? Finally, when the image is completely of out of sight, I'm told that I've shot "0 of 88 Wetbacks." Exactly, Bunko!

Time for me to write to those fine folks and give them my review of their dainty game...

If you'd like to send them your personal review also, the email address is:

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Boys to men

The op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times was contributed by a physician who studies what she calls "gender-specific medicine." Although she takes more pains to describe what her specialty isn't than what it is, I'm assuming that she studies diseases and pathologies specific to each of the sexes.

The doctor goes on to describe how men are actually "the weaker sex." I've read most of this before: miscarriages befall male fetuses more often than female; more little boys in our modern, industrialized society are afflicted with autism and dyslexia. And I've read about how we, the female of the species --femina sapiens, I suppose we could call ourselves-- are endowed with more of what it takes to survive. As the good doctor says, "girls learn language earlier, develop richer vocabularies and even hear better than boys...Twice as many men as women die of coronary artery disease, which manifests itself a decade earlier in men than women...Women also have more vigorous immune systems than men." In addition, while the numbers of women diagnosed with depression are higher than those of men, this has actually been credited to our greater willingess to ask for help.

The doctor builds to a stunning crescendo:

"Considering the relative fragility of men, it's clearly counterintuitive for us to urge them, from boyhood on, to cope bravely with adversity, to ignore discomfort, to persevere in spite of pain and to accept without question the most dangerous jobs and tasks we have to offer."

To accept without question the most dangerous jobs and tasks we have to offer.
Like going off to war to come back dead or traumatized, perchance? (factoid: Over 2,500 American service personnel have died in Iraq, almost every one of them male.)

Military might ... recruiters walking the hallways of our high schools... male peace activists ridiculed as "girly men"... Cindy Sheehan called a cry-baby because she dares protest the death of her son in a war of aggression...9/11 widows treated with contempt for daring to say that war will not bring back their husbands... keeping the public in a constant state of fear...the either-or, he-man posturing of the House Majority Leader on Friday,"Will we fight or will we retreat? That's the question that's posed to us." No, Mr. Boehner, those are not the only two possibilities. But an easy one to advance when neither you nor your sons will be the ones fighting.

The good doctor calls for an increase of NIH funding for health studies related to men's health problems.

I think there's another problem worth studying too if the "stronger sex" wants the "weaker sex" to survive to father our children.

Fathers' Day, 2006

Saturday, June 17, 2006

How does a seashell smell?

A feast for the nose. That's the best way to describe the exhibit we attended today. Not paintings or sculpture...this unpretentious but edifying display consisted of beakers, cylinders, flasks...and even security blankets, each one carrying a scent guaranteed to conjure up a flashback or two when sniffed.

The accompanying panels explained the connection between the olfactory sense and language, how there is sometimes a disconnect between the two. Like when you smell something that is so familiar but you just can't name what it is. That's called "the tip of the nose" phenomenon.

I especially liked the set of beakers arranged around a sandbox. Each fragrant liquid was redolent of the beach...I correctly identified the scent of suntan lotion and a plastic smell ... a beach ball.

Sorry, Baskin Robbins ... all those hundreds of great ice cream flavors are fine, but researchers have discovered that vanilla is known and loved best the world over. And its fragrance is also very soothing. That explains all the vanilla-scented body lotions and massage oils.

However, my favorite scent was in beaker #1, teasingly labeled, "You know this smell." They can't fool me...oh, the childhood memories ...of Play-doh modeling clay!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Everything you always wanted to know about torture as practiced by our country but were ashamed to ask

My son was devouring his burger and fries with obvious pleasure. My husband was eating a much healthier salad topped with tunafish. He had opted to buy dinner for himself and our son, the only two who were eating dinner at home tonight.

Son: "How come you're not eating?"

Me: "Because I have to leave right away. I'm going to an anti-torture discussion."

Son (teasing me): "You hippie!"

Me (teasing him back): "Yeah, I'm just an old hippie.

The irony is that when I was a teenager in the hippie era, I didn't have the courage to do what I'm doing now.

We met in a lovely little church, modestly tucked into the middle of a block of houses. In each pew were several copies of the African American Heritage Hymnal. Three speakers and a moderator (a professor of Middle Eastern history, 2 attendees of the QUIT conference, and our local Amnesty International coordinator) were seated in front of the sanctuary ready to educate a mere handful of interested persons on our government's use of tortu

Some of the things I learned:
  1. Although torture had been shown since the Enlightenment period to be ineffectual as well as inhumane...
  2. The impression of pain, then, may increase to such a degree that, occupying the mind entirely, it will compel the sufferer to use the shortest method of freeing himself from torment....He will accuse himself of crimes of which he is innocent so that the very means employed to distinguish the innocent from the guilty will most effectually destroy all difference between them. Cesare Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments, 1764
    ...the CIA has devoted time and money to discovering effective techniques. Approval of the use of torture against "enemy combattants" has slipped into current national policy, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
    The nature of the new war places a high premium on...the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions . . .

    White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, Memorandum for the President, January 25, 2002.
    See also the article Torture in Our Time by Lawrence Davidson, professor of history at a local university.
    A pervasive climate of fear, ably propagated by our government officials and certain media personalities, has had the effect of numbing American citizens to the indefensibility of the use of torture.

  3. Many Guantanamo Bay captives were not captured while in combat. Many were innocent individuals denounced to American authorities by persons who wanted to collect the bounty being offered for finding and handing over terrorists. See the interview with two Afghan brothers, publishers of a satirical magazine, who ticked off the local mullahs and warlords and ended up in the hands of US authorities first in Khandahar and eventually at Guantanamo:
    As best as we can tell, Badr Zaman Badr and his brother were imprisoned in Guantanamo for three years for telling a joke....They ran a satire magazine in Pakistan that poked fun at corrupt clerics. Sort of the Pashtu edition of “The Onion.” The first joke that got them into trouble was when they published a poem about a politician called “I Am Glad to be a Leader.”...So, the guy with the big stomach [the object of the satirical piece] called up Badr and his brother. He threatened them, and, as best as they can tell, told authorities that they were linked to Al Qaeda, which landed them in Guantanamo... From "Habeas Shmabeas," This American Life, NPR.
  4. The brothers were lucky. They were university educated and spoke perfect English, which helped their lawyer considerably in eventually getting them released. There was no formal admission on the part of the authorities, however, that the brothers had been arrested erroneously.

  5. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has begun placing an anti-torture ad in major national newspapers beginning today. The signitaries of the ad are prominent members of various religious denominations, as well as President Jimmy Carter and Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel. The ad says:
    Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved – policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable. Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?
    Let America abolish torture now – without exceptions.
I'm going to look for the ad ... and tell others about it.
I would never have thought that things would come to this in the country I love.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The death of human compassion

I hope it makes sense to you, gentle reader, because it sure doesn't make sense to me.

Three Guantanamo Bay detainees hanged themselves yesterday, and one of our generals has proclaimed their suicide "an act of war." More specifically, it was an act of "asymmetrical warfare."

CNN explains this term to those of us insufficiently schooled in just how sneaky these dangerous terrorists can be after 4 years of incarceration, deprived of contact with their families as well as the most rudimentary of legal rights. Asymmetrical warfare is "a conflict in which a much weaker opponent uses unorthodox or surprise tactics to attack the weak points of the much stronger opponent."

What weak point of ours were the prisoners attacking by taking their own lives?

According to another top-ranking official, it's all "a good PR move to attract attention."

The men
were part of Camp 1, one of the more...comfortable of the facilities. They were allowed 30 minutes of exercise a week, besides such "amenities" as "prayer rugs, canvas sneakers, toiletries, flip-flops, cotton underwear, shorts, trousers and a shirt." And they hanged themselves. Now there's gratitude!

As Rear Adm. Harry Harris, commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, explains it: "They are smart. They are creative. They are committed. They have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own... It was premeditated."

Perhaps someone will tell the general that most suicides are premeditated.

This is a long shot, I know. I'm just a fool and a dupe of these crafty terrorists, who'll stop at nothing to focus the atte
ntion of the world on the fact that they're being held without formal charge and without promise of a trial...but maybe, just maybe ... could they have been driven to despair after 4 years of wearing orange prison garb and being kept behind barbed wire?

Could they perhaps have been human beings too?

Nous n'irons plus au bois
la colombe est blessée
Nous n'allons pas au bois
nous allons la tuer

We'll go no more into the wood
the dove has been wounded
How can we go into the wood ever again
now that we've finished her off?
--Jacques Brel (free translation)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Forgiveness is...

...not rejoicing when the man who may be the masked executioner, the one seen wielding a sword and shouting, "Allu akhbar!" before decapitating your son on a grisly video splashed all over the Internet for the world to see ... Forgiveness is not rejoicing when he is killed.

Such is forgiveness for Michael Berg, father of Nick, beheaded by hooded hoodlums in Iraq in May 2004.

And if some day before I die, I can actually have reconciliation with my son’s murderers, I will know that it is On Earth as it is in Heaven! And so, now, this is as close as I’ve come, on my long journey to that fiftieth, but oh so most important ingredient for peace. Peace within my own heart. Forgiveness not revenge, love and not hate.
Read Mike's entire speech, "On Earth as It Is in Heaven," given on October 27, 2005, at Villanova University, when he was awarded the Adela Dwyer-St. Thomas of Villanova 2005 Peace Award.

I thought about this speech today because Mike has been the subject (or rather, the object) of interviews these last couple of days, following the announcement of the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to have been Nick's brutal murderer. I've read the transcripts of several of the conversations, and the interviewers do no honor to their profession. Their questions are often phrased in cynical terms, obviously with the intent of evoking statements from Mike that can be ridiculed later on. Interviewers usually cut Mike's comments short, just when he is about to speak at greater length about forgiveness, about ending the cycle of revenge, about all of us being linked by a common humanity, regardless of the nation, the tribe, or the insurgent group we may belong to.

I have had the privilege to know Mike Berg, even to embrace him. I am a richer, better person for knowing him.

Forgiveness is Mike Berg.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Today we got our man

By continual bombing we were probably bound to get him sooner or later. However, the number of innocent persons also killed in that particular raid, not to mention all the others we've launched, will never be made known. No one will mourn them, except their families who may never find out what happened to their loved ones.

And our young men in uniform? They are now safe from the designs of the "bloodthirsty and violent thug." He who sought to harm them (along with any Iraqi civilians who happened to be in the way) is dead. That is a reality. But the killing we force our soldiers to do will take its toll on them when they return. That is a competing reality, one that we are reluctant to face, though century follows century.

I feel sad today...sad that our leaders believe that the only way to make us safe is with a heavier "footprint" in the Middle East, a heavier dose of violence...sad that many will believe that this war has been all about our safety, about "fighting them over there so they don't come over here"...sad that Iraq has been reduced to the state of a lunar landscape...sad that yet again we have opted for fighting with outward weapons, sad that our children will come home and be haunted by this for years to come.

I hold the leaders of the US and Iraq, all military personnel and contractors, the Iraqi people, and those of us who oppose this and all wars in one great embrace and pray that we all may benefit from a heavy dose of the Light.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Fun with blue...

I needed to lighten up, so I took one of those Internet quizzes to find out what shade of blue I am... Here's the not terribly enlightening result:

You Are Royal Blue

People find you difficult to understand. In fact, you often find it hard to understand yourself.
You think so much that sometimes you get lost in your own thoughts!

...guess I'm just royally enigmatic!

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Play ball (in the name of the Lord)!

I don't usually follow the baseball news. That's more my older son's territory. But this recent USA Today story caught my attention:

Baseball's Rockies seek revival on two levels

According to pitcher Jason Jennings, his teammates now have something the other teams don't: character. Character defined as: no reading of Playboy or Penthouse (sports and car mags are OK), no swearing (well... a player might utter a colorful word under his breath now and then, but basically they keep it clean), Bible reading, and regular attendance at Sunday chapel services. In short, the ball team is "embracing a Christian-based code of conduct they believe will bring them focus and success."

To the extent that this religious revival keeps the Rockies players drug-free, well and good. That will certainly set an excellent example for the sport. As for the faith-based success effort though, I've really had it with the way we invoke God's name for victory on the ball well as on the pre-emptive war battlefield.

Success, first place in the league...or in the world...I don't remember Jesus promising that to his followers.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

The latest in distinctive automotive fashion

Just read a post by Nancy, a Friend in Ontario, who tells about placing an Every Church a Peace Church bumper sticker on her car. (ECAPC website here) I started to write her a comment about my own recent "coming out" experience, but I thought I'd just do a post.

A Friend from our meeting had given me the FCNL bumper sticker proclaiming "War is not the answer" over a year ago. It took me until just a couple months ago to finally slap it on my car. I'm not big on bumper stickers. I had one on the very first car I owned, back when I was about 20 or so. I don't recall what it said. It was just something whimsical with a picture of Charlie Brown and Snoopy on it. Since then, I've been reluctant to turn my car into a roving billboard.

I've participated in two anti-war demonstrations in Washington, D.C., as well as several vigils at the local county seat with members of our local peace group. I'm also a member of a local Amnesty International chapter. But, as they say, there's safety in numbers, even if the numbers are small. Gathering with others of like mind is a lot less threatening than a lone display of an unpopular point of view.

For although although Noam Chomsky tries to assure me that there's a "sharp divide between public opinion and public policy," I can't help feeling that my point of view is largely unpopular. At best, I sense an aura of "well, the government has sure made some blunders but ... it's not patriotic to rock the boat" ... a sort of collective mantra: Whatever happens, we mustn't openly admit we've been wrong ...

It was the second wave of Abu Ghraib photos that did it. I just couldn't stand being silent any longer, for silence implies consent ... or so the old saying goes.

So I finally put both the FCNL bumper sticker and one that had just arrived from Amnesty International (Torture: Stop it. Investigate it. Prosecute it.) on my car.

I totally understand how Nancy feels. I feel the same:

..."there it is on my car for all the world to see. My neighbours, my friends, dog walkers, shoppers. It's like I'm outed as a pacifist....I feel naked."

No one has accosted me or reacted with hostility. Almost no one.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a work-related conference in the D.C. area. I suddenly found myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic and thought, I have to be crazy driving down here with an anti-war sticker on my car!

Fortunately, the only incident I can report took place on the way back from the conference. A red pickup truck passed me to the left on the interstate. A young man naked to the waist (well...that was all of him I could see) leaned out the passenger-side window, turned very deliberately toward me, and spat. The pickup was way ahead by that time, however, so his gesture was purely symbolic.

The only other thing I dread is the reaction of some family members who will be visiting soon. Or rather, their nonreaction, for I know they won't say anything. Once again, tension so thick you can cut it with a knife. It's the flip side of open hostility, in its own way just as nerve-wracking. I know they won't say anything but that the distance between us will widen.

But hey, there's also this totally practical plus: I can spot my car more easily in the huge parking lot at the end of the day!