Monday, May 30, 2011

A Song from U2 for Memorial Day

Sojourning Spirituality blog posted this song by U2, "White as Snow," for a Memorial Day song. The song is "written form the point of view of a soldier in Afghanistan who is dying from a roadside bomb." You can read Sojourning Spirituality bloggers Sara and Brian offer their meaningful comments about the song here.


The Origins of Memorial Day

Yesterday's New York Times had an excellent op ed by David Blight on "the surprising origins and true meaning of Memorial Day." Forgetting Why We Remember can be read at

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Okra and PMS

(or how one Southern boy finally figured out that he ought to cut his wife some slack)

I know that I am on dangerous ground, having a Y chromosome and daring to claim some knowledge of PMS. Then again I won’t be the first Y chromosome holder to write about something he knows nothing of. I first made the connection between okra and PMS years ago after having had many a conversation with my wife about the trials of PMS. What brings it to mind now is my daughter’s gardening project this year.

My daughter has planted tomatoes, okra, peppers, and thyme in pots out in the back yard. When I saw the potted okra, I said, “Shouldn’t that be in the ground? I don’t think okra will produce in a pot.” My statement was based upon my experience as a boy when my father planted a vegetable garden each year and got as much work out of us kids as he could finagle. He always had lots of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, string beans, field peas, butter beans, corn, and okra. Often he would plant a little cantaloupe and watermelon just for fun.

By the end of the summer, my mom would have put up many many jars of canned tomatoes, green beans and pickles, and there would be corn and peas in the freezer. My dad’s okra, though, was serious business. There would be at least two rows of it, and it would grow up higher than my head. Picking it was an intrepid undertaking, because the plant had fine hairs all over it which could get into your skin and cause great irritation. Usually he would be the one to harvest the okra, but on at least a couple of occasions he asked me to do the okra picking.

Now you don’t just go out and pick okra any more than you would just go out and harvest honey from a hive – you must take adequate precautions. “You’ll need this butcher knife,” my father told me, “Don’t try to pick it off the stalk or you might start itching – and don’t go out there without gloves and a long sleeved shirt – otherwise that okra will surely make you itch.”

I did my best in the midsummer Alabama heat. I put on long pants which I had put away since the last day of school and had to dig through the closet to find a long sleeved shirt. Armed with a butcher knife from the kitchen and an old produce basket from Piggly Wiggly, I set out to harvest the okra. I managed to get a basket full of tender okra, just right for frying (our family didn’t go in for boiled okra). Somehow, my preparations had gone awry, however. By the time I left the garden with the okra, the heat of the day had gotten to me. I was sweating profusely, and the long sleeves and long pants didn’t help. Nor had they helped to keep out those pesky fine bristles that grew on the okra plants. I was itching all over, and nothing would get those okra hairs off. You could barely see them, and they had a way of working themselves into the skin.

I did what anyone would do when confronted by the heat, sweat, and unrelenting itching. After I deposited the okra on the porch, I ran inside to grab a hand towel to mop my sweaty face and brow. I then ran back out into the yard as if one could out run the itching. I felt as though I would explode from the inside, and I wanted to scream - maybe I did scream. (I don’t know where I left the butcher knife, which was a good thing since I was in no condition to be wielding a blade). “I’m not doing this again!” I thought. “I can live without okra – it’s not my favorite, anyway.” Maybe it was a cold shower, or perhaps it was just time that eased the sensation of okra-picking aftermath.

Years later, in one of my discussions with my wife about dealing with PMS, it occurred to me that maybe PMS was like picking okra. I related to her the incident I’ve just told here. She allowed as how it might be a reasonable facsimile, or at least she let me think that. I had resolved my problem by not picking okra. Women who live with PMS cannot resolve theirs so easily.

But back to the present day – my daughter’s okra growing is a far different experience from my father’s. That little potted okra plant puts forth blossom after blossom, each quickly turning into a nice okra pod ready for picking. All she does is walk a few feet from the back doorstep to gather enough okra to cook for dinner, with none of the ill effects I suffered. Of course, we won’t be putting up store for the winter, but neither will I be running about the yard like a mad man.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Bob: Forever Young

In honor of his 70th birthday today, here's a beautiful rendition of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" performed by Joan Baez.

Forever Young
By Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true;
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young.

Forever young,
Forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true;
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift;
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young.

                * * * * 

 (Thank you for your indulgence as I counted down the days to Dylan's birthday. Now that we have celebrated his 70th, this blog will return to its usual odd and eclectic format.)


Monday, May 23, 2011

Countdown to Bob Dylan's Birthday: Bob Dylan's Dream

Here's an old song written in the wise folk tradition by a young Bob Dylan and performed here by Bryan Ferry.

Bob Dylan's Dream
by Bob Dylan

While riding on a train goin’ west
I fell asleep for to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had

With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughin’ and singin’ till the early hours of the morn

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside

With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one

As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split

How many a year has passed and gone
And many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a friend
And each one I’ve never seen again

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that

Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music
(Lyrics found on the Bob Dylan website at


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Countdown to Bob Dylan's Birthday: The Seven Ages of Dylan

Check this out: it's an academic conference at the University of Bristol (England), The Seven Ages of Dylan. Here are the particulars from the British Association for American Studies:


The Event:
Bob Dylan will be 70 years old on 24 May 2011. This conference will celebrate, and reflect on, the career of one of the most significant figures in the cultural life of the past fifty years by bringing together the UK's foremost Dylan scholars.

 As singer, composer, poet, performer, Dylan continues to inspire and infuriate. His radicalism was always founded on a respect for authenticity, whether in the domain of folk music, politics or religion. His 're-inventions' of himself have arguably sprung not from an unstable identity, but from a constant quest. The conference will track the changes in Dylan's sense of himself, and of his art, and our response to these changes. The conference will present a series of fresh, informed academic papers on Bob Dylan's work, from a number of different disciplinary perspectives.

Organised by:
Professor Daniel Karlin, Winterstoke Professor of English, University of Bristol
Craig Savage, Research Student in English, University of Bristol

Keynote Speaker:
Michael Gray, Critic, writer and leading authority on the works of Bob Dylan.

Confirmed Speakers to date:
David Boucher, Professorial Chair of Political Philosophy and International Relations (University of Cardiff)
Richard Brown, Reader in Modern Literature (University of Leeds)
Neil Corcoran, Emeritus Professor of English (University of Liverpool)
Aidan Day, Professor of English (University of Dundee)
Mark Ford, Poet, essayist and author
Lavinia Greenlaw, Writer
Philip Horne, Professor of English (University College London)
                                        Daniel Karlin, Winterstoke Professor of English (University of Bristol)

A selection of books on Dylan by the speakers:
       • Song and Dance Man III, Michael Gray (1999);
       • Jokerman: Reading the Lyrics of Bob Dylan, Aidan Day (1988);
       • 'Do You Mr Jones?', ed. Neil Corcoran (2002);
       • Dylan and Cohen, David Boucher (2004);
       • The Bob Dylan Encyclopaedia, Michael Gray (2006);

       • The Political Art of Bob Dylan, ed. David Boucher (with Gary 
          Browning, 2009);                  
       • The Figure of the Singer, Daniel Karlin (forthcoming, 2011).


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Countdown to Bob Dylan’s Birthday: So Many Songs – Innumerable Covers

According to some on the web, Bob Dylan has written 458 songs (and that seems to have been a tally as of 2009). Wikipedia  has a List of artists who have covered Bob Dylan songs arranged in alphabetical order. How many are listed? I stopped counting when I reached 100 and I was still in the middle of the C’s.

Josh Jackson has his 50 Best Bob Dylan Covers of All Time on PASTE (it's actually 100 because for each favorite he lists an alternate cover that he also likes - and he includes videos).
What Dylan songs would make your list of favorites? What artists offer your favorite renditions of Dylan songs? If you look on the "Playlist" page of this blog you'll see some of my favorite Dylan tunes and covers.


Countdown to Bob Dylan's Birthday: "The way he sang made everything seem like a message"

Mick Brown of The Daily Telegraph (Australia) writes about Dylan’s long career and “recalls the day he met the singer in an unexpectedly candid mood.”

 “Of all the several hundred songs that Bob Dylan has recorded over the past 50 years there is one which I have found myself playing a lot lately. A relic from Dylan’s distant past, it seems somehow to be a song that vividly prefigured his future.

'I Was Young When I Left Home' was recorded in December 1961, one of two dozen that Dylan recorded in the apartment of a girlfriend, Bonnie Beecher, when he was returning home to Minnesota after his first year in New York.”...

Read The Daily Telegraph article here (and you can also hear a snippet from the 1984 interview).

* * * *

Also from The Daily Telegraph, a brief article by Tim Martin "examines the enduring appeal of the legendary rock star" in light of his upcoming 70th birthday by briefly reviewing several books written about the musician. You can read "Bob Dylan's 70th Birthday" here.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Countdown to Bob Dylan's Birthday: Dylan and the Legal System

The Los Angeles Times printed this article by Carol J. Williams, Times Staff Writer, on May 9, 2011:

Judges hand down the law with help from Bob Dylan

The protest era's vagabond poet is cited more often than any other songwriter in legal opinions and briefs. His ballads have become models for legal storytelling.

Read the article at the Los Angeles Times online site here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Countdown to Bob Dylan's Birthday: "An Inconvenient Pilgrim"

Bob Dylan: A Man Out of Time was written by Graham Reid for the New Zealand Herald.  Written during Dylan's China Tour, he describes Dylan as one who continues to tour and write, who continues to be present in ever-changing ways, yet his past also continues to be present.

"The achievement is so large and so confusing that the impulse to ignore all that came after his partial disappearance in 1966 is understandable. It's simpler that way - and cheaper. You need only seven discs, instead of 40."

                                                                                    *     *     *

"The pleasure of Dylan today - as much as the frustration he causes those who want faithful readings of old hits, or expect he might stand up to the Chinese authorities - is that he's an inconvenient pilgrim wandering between worlds, equally at home in the past or the now."

Read the full article here.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Countdown to Bob Dylan's Birthday: Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen

I found an interesting article, written many years ago, comparing and contrasting the works of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. The essay in reference is titled "Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan: Poetry and the Popular Song" by Frank Davey:

"Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen represent two highly contrasting directions from which the attempt to restore significance and integrity of vision to the popular song can be made. Bob Dylan is the child runaway who became a professional songwriter by deliberate hard work, and whose emergence as a poet of some talent seems to have been accidental, almost as if he had unconsciously realized that good songs have to contain reasonably good lyric poetry. Leonard Cohen is a university-educated formalistic poet who has moved in an opposite direction with his recent discovery that a good lyric poem could equally be a good song. Dylan brings to poetry a spontaneity of rhythm and a resourcefulness in imagery that had long been qualities of American folk music, as in that of Huddie Ledbetter or of Dylan's own idol, Woodie Guthrie. Cohen takes to the poem as popular song a scholarly precision of language and an obsession for extemal form." Read the entire article here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Countdown to Bob Dylan's Birthday: Dylan at Newport

The New York Post published a brief article by Larry Getlen, "Bob's rock 'n' roll riot," about a film which documents Dylan's break with the acoustic folk music scene:

“By 1964, Bob Dylan was so revered at the Newport Folk Festival that he freely walked the festival grounds with his girlfriend, Joan Baez, while randomly cracking a bullwhip. One year later, the festival whipped him back.”  Read the entire article here.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Heads Up: Dylan Turns 70 This Month

Bob Dylan will turn 70 on May 24th. eHow has the following suggestions found at

How to Celebrate Bob Dylan’s Birthday
(Things you’ll need: harmonicas, CD players, VCRs, Bob Dylan CDs, Bob Dylan videos)
        1.  Write a private birthday card addressed to Robert Zimmerman, Bob Dylan's original birth name.
2.    Play a little harmonica in tribute to the man who made a name with this unique instrument.
3.    Break out your CD collection and play Bob's first hit original album from beginning to end. "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" was released in 1963 and was his first step on the path to international fame.
4.    Bust out your dusty tambourine and make some noise in celebration of one of Mr. Dylan's most famous ditties, "Mr. Tambourine Man."
5.    Rent the films, "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid", "Don't Look Back" and "The Last Waltz," Bob's claims to fame on the movie circuit.
6.    Do something that makes you feel free. Bob Dylan is known for his timely, poetic lyrics and his ability to speak to our need for freedom.

* * * * *

(Look for more Dylan entries between now at May 24.)


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Here's to a Legend

There is something quite profound about live drama that can touch you in a way that television and cinema cannot achieve. I must have been around seven years old when I first experienced live theatre. The play was “Our Town”. At that age, I didn’t follow all of the plot line, but I can remember being quite impressed. On top of that, I was able to see the cast members back stage afterward. The reason I was able to mingle with the cast is that my mother was the director of the play, and the production was done by the senior class of Dadeville High School.

My mother, Mary Elizabeth Cook Kinnaird, was a Southern lady of class who believed that if you had Shakespeare, the Bible, and a silver tea service, you were set for life. She had a mission to bring culture wherever she lived. I witnessed firsthand how she sought to bring education, culture, refinement and faith to a small mill town where opportunities could be both limited and limiting. She would have been ninety years old on May 10, but she departed this life during the summer of 2000 at the age of 79.

She did all of those motherly things: kissing skinned knees to make them better, baking cookies, reading bedtime stories, sharing her children’s wonder at a snail on a leaf or a bug in a jar or a bird taking flight. Because she was also a high school English teacher, she had an influence on many other lives as well. My mother saw teaching as her calling and she was always very proud when she saw one of her former high school students doing well in life.

On a couple of occasions I had the privilege of hearing from her former students. Once I was at a gathering, and someone who saw my name asked if I was related to Mary Kinnaird. He then spoke with a kind of hushed pride that she had been his English teacher at Dadeville High School. “I didn't fully grasp when I was 16 the significance of all of those literary works she guided us through," he told me, "but by the time I was 40, I realized how much we really need that wealth of wisdom that is available in literature.” On another occasion, one of my former classmates happened to show up at my place of work. She told my work colleague, “His mother was a legend in our hometown.”

As a teacher, she was also proud of the high school plays she produced. In addition to “Our Town,” I recall seeing such classics as "I Remember Mama," "You Can't Take it With You," “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and "Pygmalion." These plays had appeared on Broadway, and I saw them for the first time at the Dadeville High School auditorium. My mother saw those plays and the many others her students produced as vehicles for her students' talent, and as one more way to give back to the community.

As a woman of faith, she continued in her role as teacher. She was just as comfortable teaching the Bible in her Sunday School class as she was teaching Shakespeare and Mark Twain to her high school students. She loved promoting education and the church. I can't tell you how many prospective students she took to Judson College (her alma mater) in her years as teacher, and there is no telling how many others she encouraged to go on to higher education. When the time came that she could no longer teach, that was a loss that she grieved over.

She certainly left the world a little better than she found it. That is the inspiration and challenge for all of us as we live our lives. She may have been a legend, but she was also my mother. I certainly think lovingly of her whenever I think of homemade cookies, bandaged knees, bugs collected in jars by kids, bedtime stories, literary works, live theater, and any number of other things that make life large and sweet.


Silver tea service photo by Miki Duisterhoff (Getty Images)


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Now They Call Him Blessed

Now They Call Him Blessed  Saint

Note: this essay, as you will see, was written in 2011 after the beatification of Pope John Paul II. It has been getting some views this week in light of his canonization on Sunday, April 27.

Last Sunday, on May 1, the Vatican beatified Pope John Paul II, having placed him on the fast track to sainthood and echoing the shouts of "santo subito" that were heard at the late Pontiff's funeral. It was by all accounts a momentous and festive occasion. (You can read the Associated Press account here.)

The event was not without controversy. Some have questioned the rush to canonize the telegenic and charismatic pope who left his mark as he traveled the world during his long papal reign. The most chilling of the objections is the way the Vatican handled the cases of priests accused of sexual abuse during John Paul's tenure.

I do not agree with everything John Paul II said or did. I didn’t like his rebuke of Ernesto Cardinal or his silencing of liberation theology in Latin America. I did like his rebuke of capitalism in the same breath as his warnings about communism. I loved his stance against capital punishment and his speaking out against the U.S. going to war in Iraq (he said that “war would be a failure of humanity” – and he was right). I did not agree with a lot of his stances that seemed to be coming from an Old World culture. I agreed with his ecumenical spirit as exemplified by his visit to a Jewish synagogue in Rome (against the objection of Cardinal Ratzinger). I disagreed with his traditionalist stance regarding women.

But more than what I agreed with or disagreed with him about, the man made me hopeful. Here is what I wrote about John Paul II back in 2002, a little over a year after my family and I came into the Catholic Church:

On the Holy Father

How well I remember the day back in 1981 when we heard the news that the pope had been shot. I was not a Catholic then, but I was shocked that day. I felt sadness. I also felt fear and dread. I had seen a glimpse of what this pope could do in the face of totalitarianism, materialism, and oppression. The man who had stood in the sunshine and said to us all, “Be not afraid,” had been gunned down. Somehow, I sensed the abundant possibilities of this great man, and the thought of losing him felt like having to start all over. I was a Baptist seminarian in  Mill Valley, California at the
 time. One of our professors, Dr. William Hendricks, called upon the student body to pray for "our brother in Christ, John Paul II."

Now, as I look back over the twenty-one years since that day, I feel extremely blessed to have had those years living on the same planet as Pope John Paul II. If John XXIII opened a window, John Paul II threw open doors and tore down walls. He has stood in the open air of human dignity and freedom. Even though I may have sensed the possibilities 20 years ago, I could not have imagined what would unfold. He has been the ecumenical pope, a champion of the people, a spiritual advocate for justice, freedom, and peace. I have a brighter outlook on life and a greater hope that the world will work, and even thrive.

It was almost exactly 20 years after that fearful day in 1981 that I came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Yet even if I had never become Catholic, it would have been enough just to live in the world during the time of Pope John Paul II.

Charles Kinnaird
July, 2002

James Martin, Jesuit priest and a liberal voice wrote about JPII in America  magazine:

“One Vatican official stated recently that Pope Benedict XVI is beatifying his predecessor for who he was as a person, not for what he did during his papacy. In short, he’s not being named a “blessed” for his decisions as pope. This makes sense. Beatification (and later, canonization) does not mean that everything he did as pope is now somehow beyond critique. (Any more than everything St. Thomas More did is beyond critique: Should we believe that heretics should be burned because More has been canonized?) On the other hand, that line of thinking is a little mystifying: for you cannot separate a person’s actions from his personal life.

"But the emphasis on the personal life is an important one. The church beatifies a Christian, not an administrator. In that light, John Paul II clearly deserves to be a blessed and, later, a saint. Karol Wojtyla certainly led a life of “heroic sanctity,” as the traditional phrase has it; he was faithful to God in extreme situations (Nazism, Communism, consumerism); he was a tireless “evangelist,” that is, a promoter of the Gospel, even in the face of severe infirmity; and he worked ardently for the world’s poor, as Jesus asked his followers to do. The new blessed was prayerful, fearless and zealous. He was, in short, holy. And, in my eyes, anyone who visits the prison cell of his would-be assassin and forgives the man is a saint.”

You can read Father Martin’s entire article here.

There is another excellent article in Commonweal on the subject by journalist E.J. Dionne which you can read here.

You may also want to read the following posts on this blog site:

Something Is Happening Here but You Don't Know What It Is

Trending up, or moving backward?


Monday, May 2, 2011

On the Death of Osama Bin Laden

On this day, some will rejoice and shout, some will feel relief but no resolution, and others will fear what may happen next. I've read a few comments of bloggers online and recommend the following:

Jim Burklo (Musings)  "A Meditation of the Death of Osama Bin Laden."

Nicholas Kristof, (On the Ground"After Osama Bin Laden..."

Patrick Burrows, (Ordeal by Moleskin"The Bible and enemies"

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