Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Winter Rain

cold and wet
on pre-Easter ground
raindrops fall

                 ~ CK

Photo by Dorann Weber
Gettty Images photo


Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Music: Clark Terry, "Mumbles"

Clark Terry, famed jazz trumpeter, died last Saturday at the age of 94. From a piece on NPR:

Clark Terry broke through a color line in the music business in the early 1960s. When the National Urban League lobbied the NBC network to hire black musicians for its orchestra, the white players in the Tonight Show band recommended Clark Terry.

His occasional spotlight in front of a nationwide audience included his character Mumbles, a recording studio gag that was his sendup of some of the blues vocalists he played with back in St. Louis.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Vista

the open vista
of the grand mountain valley
sends spirit soaring

                         ~ CK

Photo: A view at Ronda, Spain
Courtesy of Latin American Studies at


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Robert Taylor, Friend and Mentor to Many

Profile picture from Robert Taylor's Facebook Page

I learned last week of the death of my friend and mentor, Robert Taylor. Bob was a clinical psychologist by profession and he was also a humorist, a poet, an avid bird-watcher, a lover of nature and a friend of the arts. He was a friend to many and a natural mentor due to his warm, friendly nature and his keen insight. Bob Taylor did many things that I wish I could do. Because he was a man of such varied activities and interests, there were many capacities in which I might have known Bob, but I knew him primarily through his love for poetry.

I first met the man years ago when I attended some small group sessions that he led called “Life Cycles Poetry.” During those informal sessions Bob guided us in reflecting upon the various stages of life by reading poetry. He also invited us to bring poems that were meaningful to us to share with the group. It was a wonderful time of stopping to reflect upon the whole of life, hearing others share from their lives, and appreciating the insights that poets have given us. Bob mentioned at one point during those sessions that he had done similar sessions in nursing homes, and that the people there were greatly appreciative of the activity.

I also knew him through the writers group that met for a time at the Birmingham Unitarian Universalist Church. I was so glad to be able to hear some of the poetry that he wrote. In a single short poem, Bob could lead the listener to a profound depth of feeling so that in that last line there would be an “aha” sensation of true being. I once told him that I admired the way he could do that with a poem because I tend to be more tentative. Too often I hold back and don’t quite say the profound thing. I don’t always acknowledge the pain, the longing, or that yet-unanswered-question which lies beneath the surface of our endeavors. Bob Taylor, however, could do that in just a few words.

Not only did Bob write some beautiful poetry, he could also read a poem better that anyone I know. He had a quiet and unassuming demeanor, yet when he read a poem, it was in a voice that knew exactly where that poem came from. Those who heard him knew that they were witnessing a true encounter.

It was also my privilege to attend a men’s group that Bob was a part of. It was a group with no real agenda except to “talk about stuff.” Sometimes conversations were about what was happening in the world, sometimes about what was happening in our lives. We talked about books and magazine articles and various philosophies that caught our interest. We spoke of fathers and brothers; politicians and artists; house repairs and first jobs.  As a man fully entering into that “midlife stage,” I knew that Bob had managed the waters of midlife. I had the unmistakable sense that if I paid attention I could manage those waters as well, and if I was lucky, I might one day manage old age as well as my friend Bob Taylor.

I will miss his smile, his calm demeanor and his welcoming nature. I will miss his witty commentary on life. More than anything, though, and for the rest of my days, I will always wish that I could hear one more poem from Bob Taylor.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rumors of War

From the U.S. Department of State
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on draft resolution
to authorize the use of military force against ISIL at the White House
 on February 11, 2015.

Last week we got a look at how our policy in the Middle East seems to be unfolding:
ISIS is a big problem. It is a problem that resulted from U.S. military intervention in Iraq which destabilized the region and has caused a generation of young people to grow up in Iraq knowing nothing but war and societal dysfunction. After a decade of military action, we were unable to establish any kind of stability in the region. Now with ISIS ascending, we have decided to try… what? A new campaign of military intervention. I suppose because it “worked so well the first time. 

A Severe Lack of Imagination

The problem is that virtually every military campaign and military offensive the U.S. has launched in my lifetime has done more harm than good. I becomes obvious that, one, we don't understand any culture other than our own (and even that is questionable); and two, we seem to always think that military intervention is the best and only option, even while claiming it is a last resort.

Our Nobel Peace Prize winning president approves of new military action and has sent a resolution to congress to authorize the use of military force. Most people, when asked, say they don’t see what else can be done in this situation. Our problem is not in lack of strength.  Our problem is a severe lack of imagination as to how to engage other countries and other cultures.

The big problem with everyone saying, "I'm not sure what else we can do," is that nothing but warfare gets done, and societies are made dysfunctional and our own soldiers are wounded at every level. Just look at the PTSD, suicides, unemployed veterans, families bearing the burden for our claims for "fighting for freedom" when we are in actuality just doing the bidding of corporations. Moreover, there would not be the mess that needs fixing if we had not intervened in the first place. 

We didn't know what we were starting when we invaded Iraq, and now we don't know how to stop it. We are Empire, and our footsteps carry mostly destruction.

Re-imagining the World

If the 20th century taught us anything, it should have been that war is no longer a viable option for a workable society. Our world is too small, and our weapons are too large. Europe was devastated when modern nations tried to settle their differences the way leaders settled them in the past - by launching military offensives. The problem was that it was no longer kings sending out soldiers and knights on horseback with spears, swords, and lances to fight in some field outside the city gates, with the occasional crashing of the city gates. The modern army had tanks and artillery, planes and bombs, that immediately brought unspeakable devastation to civilian populations. We need a way to re-imagine conflict. we need a new way to settle our differences.

Historically, since the mid 17th century, the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) have shown the world a radical way of living that does not include war and violence. While most Christian churches through the years have backed their national governments in matters of war and other violent acts such as the death penalty, The Quakers have made it their Christian witness to stand against violence, war and oppression. The American Friends Service Committee has a strong track record in the area of non-violent alternatives. Thankfully, others have followed their lead and today we have a number of organizations helping the cause for peace and helping us all to rethink our courses of action.

The American Friends Service Committee The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social relations and systems.
            See their website at

Although the Catholic Church has been criticized for historically standing on the side of emperors and empire, Catholic social teaching based upon the New Testament Gospel and the Old Testament prophets has spawned a number of groups seeking to bring about a more just, equitable and peaceful society. Pax Christi is one example:

Pax Christi USA Grounded in the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, Pax Christi USA (PCUSA) is a membership organization that rejects war, preparation for war, every form of violence and domination, and personal and systemic racism.

            Check out their website at

There are also many non-religious, secular-based groups that are effectively supporting peace and justice in the world. Peace Direct is just one of those groups:

Peace Direct – Supporting local action against conflict

We believe that local people have the power to find their own solutions to conflict – and to build their own better futures. Our mission is to help them make this happen. We are an international charity dedicated to supporting local peacebuilding.

In the world’s most fragile countries, we seek out local peacebuilders who are making a real difference – building peace from the grassroots up, preventing conflict in the places where it starts – locally.

They are disarming rebels, resettling refugees, healing communities, reviving economies. They work at great personal risk on crucial problems like child soldiers, women and conflict, youth and peace, political violence. They are the key to preventing conflicts and creating a lasting peace.

We find them, fund them, and promote their work to those in the wider world who can help with finance or influence.

            You can read more about Peace Direct at

For those who say, "I don't see what else we can do," these are just three examples of groups that are willing to re-imagine a world where peace and justice are possible – a world that is not dominated by empires that know only war and aggression. There are other organizations as well that are involved in the cause of peace and justice. Please take some time to look into some of these groups that are doing so much to advance peace and justice while our governments and empires flail about, crushing many innocents and uprooting whole communities in their unimaginative attempts to govern.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Music: There Is a Balm in Gilead

I always find some inner conflict and incongruity when I recognize the beauty that can arise in the midst of sorrow, especially when that sorrow is inflicted by society. Nevertheless, it is a human trait to find strength and courage in the midst of hardship. Such is the beauty of this musical gift that comes to us from the African American heritage. "There Is A Balm in Gilead" is a well-known and well-loved Negro Spiritual. The text takes its origin from a cry of despair from the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why, then, is there no healing for the wounds of my people?" (Jeremiah 8:22) Remarkably, the African American slaves turned the Old Testament prophet's cry of despair into a song hope, affirming that there is indeed a balm in Gilead.

[Note: This post originally appeared at The Music of the Spheres]

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Springtime Teases

Springtime Teases

Springtime teases like a cat
Stretching out a paw
To test the air.
A whirl
A dance
Then she is gone
Slipping back under the ice
Whispering, “Watch and wait.”

                                ~ CK

Photo by Jennifer Barnard
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Clearing Skies

clearing skies
a warm kitchen fire
heart’s delight

                 ~ CK

Picture: The Promenade at Argenteuil II
Painting by Claude Monet


Friday, February 13, 2015

"One River, One Boat" A Word from South Carolina's Poet Laureate

[Last month Jeremy Patterson posted an important poem on his blog, Language or Parole? With his permission, I am re-posting his blog here. ~ CK]

"One River, One Boat" 

The poet laureate of South Carolina, the state I live in, is Marjory Wentworth. She has written and read a poem for every gubernatorial inauguration since she became poet laureate in 2003. Yesterday, January 14, 2015, Governor Nikki Haley had her second inauguration, but this time the governor's office informed Wentworth that she would not be reading a poem this time. She had already written a (fairly political) poem that speaks forcefully to the state's contemporary life and identity. The stated reason for which she was not included was time. Two minutes to read a poem simply would not fit into the governor's inaugural schedule. The reader may be the judge of the sincerity of that reason, but in any case, I wanted to share the poem. It manages both to express local identity and a state's social imaginary and to balance that with the need for constant revision of such imaginaries and for introspection and self-examination in regard to identity. Note especially the first and penultimate stanzas.

One River, One Boat
by Marjory Wentworth

I know there’s something better down the road.
-- Elizabeth Alexander

Because our history is a knot
we try to unravel, while others
try to tighten it, we tire easily
and fray the cords that bind us.

The cord is a slow moving river,
spiraling across the land
in a succession of S’s,
splintering near the sea.

Picture us all, crowded onto a boat
at the last bend in the river:
watch children stepping off the school bus,
parents late for work, grandparents

fishing for favorite memories,
teachers tapping their desks
with red pens, firemen suiting up
to save us, nurses making rounds,

baristas grinding coffee beans,
dockworkers unloading apartment size
containers of computers and toys
from factories across the sea.

Every morning a different veteran
stands at the base of the bridge
holding a cardboard sign
with misspelled words and an empty cup.

In fields at daybreak, rows of migrant
farm workers standing on ladders, break open
iced peach blossoms; their breath rising
and resting above the frozen fields like clouds.

A jonboat drifts down the river.
Inside, a small boy lies on his back;
hand laced behind his head, he watches
stars fade from the sky and dreams.

Consider the prophet John, calling us
from the edge of the wilderness to name
the harm that has been done, to make it
plain, and enter the river and rise.

It is not about asking for forgiveness.
It is not about bowing our heads in shame;
because it all begins and ends here:
while workers unearth trenches

at Gadsden’s Wharf, where 100,000
Africans were imprisoned within brick walls
awaiting auction, death, or worse.
Where the dead were thrown into the water,

and the river clogged with corpses
has kept centuries of silence.
It is time to gather at the water’s edge,
and toss wreaths into this watery grave.

And it is time to praise the judge
who cleared George Stinney’s name,
seventy years after the fact,
we honor him; we pray.

Here, where the Confederate flag still flies
beside the Statehouse, haunted by our past,
conflicted about the future; at the heart
of it, we are at war with ourselves

huddled together on this boat
handed down to us – stuck
at the last bend of a wide river
splintering near the sea. 

From Jeremy Patterson's  Langue or Parole?: "One River, One Boat"



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Kayla Mueller, “Presente!”

We learned this week of the death of American hostage Kayla Mueller who had been in Syria doing humanitarian relief work when she was kidnapped back in 2013.

In an article from Reuters News Service we read:
Mueller went to Turkey in December 2012 to work for a Turkish organization providing humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees along the border with Syria. She previously volunteered for schools and aid groups abroad including in the West Bank, Israel and India.
Mueller's family quoted from another letter she sent her father on his birthday in 2011: "I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature.
Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."

The public was not aware of Kayla Mueller until her death due to the family’s wishes that her being taken hostage not be discussed in the news. After hearing of her life and her dedication to helping those in need, one senses the tragic loss even as her bright life is recounted. We naturally want to celebrate that short life and the good that she lived for. We can hope that her spirit of life and her example of giving will continue as a beacon in a world of terrible and needless violence.

Several years ago I heard about a Latin American custom of shouting “Presente” during the All Saints’ Day service (November 1) when the names of those who have died during the past year are read. With each name, the congregation shouts, “Presente!” signifying that though they have died, they are still “present” in the company of the faithful. 

In honor of all the good that humanity can offer, and in remembrance of her life, we affirm: Kayla Mueller, Presente! 

Kayla Mueller, family photo, from ABC News

Monday, February 9, 2015

Monday Music: Unclouded Day

[Today's post is simultaneously featured at The Music of the Spheres]
Bob Dylan in the AARP interview recently talked about listening to the radio at night when he was a teenager in Hibbing, Minnesota:

One night, I remember listening to the Staple Singers,“Uncloudy Day.” And it was the most mysterious thing I’d ever heard. It was like the fog rolling in. What was that? How do you make that? It just went through me. I managed to get an LP, and I’m like, “Man!” I looked at the cover, and I knew who Mavis was without having to be told. She looked to be about the same age as me. Her singing just knocked me out.  This was before folk music had ever entered my life. I was still an aspiring rock ’n’ roller.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Lesser Lights

    lesser lights
    shining in the night
    guide us home

                 ~ CK

Picture: Starry Night Over the Rhone
Painting by Vincent van Gogh


Friday, February 6, 2015

A New Novel by Harper Lee - Literary Prize, or Vulture's Prey?

Chicago Tribune photo by Terrence Antonio James
The news this week is about a “new” novel by Harper Lee. Last summer on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, I did a blog post in honor of the acclaimed Alabama author. When I heard the news of another novel by Ms. Lee, Go Set a Watchman, I was at once excited by it but also skeptical about the author’s wishes to have it published.

Here is a quote from the publisher's announcement:

Go Set a Watchman is set during the mid-1950s and features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus. She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.

Many news outlets, of course, have had a field day with the news. NPR noted on their website:

As second novels go, this one should prove a doozy. More than five decades after Harper Lee published her firstand, so far, only — novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee's publisher has announced that she plans to release a new one. The book, currently titled Go Set a Watchman, will be published July 14.

The Associated Press, which broke the news, reports that Lee actually finished the 304-page novel in the mid-1950s — before Mockingbird was published in 1960 — but Lee had decided to shelve the work at the time. Lee says she was surprised to stumble upon Watchman again last fall, after her friend and attorney Tonja Carter unearthed an old manuscript that had been attached to an original typescript of Mockingbird.

Some Were Skeptical

The problem I had, in the midst of my excitement, is that I know there have been questions in recent years about whether Ms. Lee has been manipulated into signing things by those in charge of her legal affairs. It turns out I am not the only one who has some concerns.

Birmingham journalist, Kyle Whitmire, grew up in Southwest Alabama near Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville. In his article for The Birmingham News he tells of his early class room experience where “Our teachers also taught us the rule. If by some chance you meet her, you may introduce yourself, and you may ask her about almost whatever you wanted - politics, the weather - but never the book.” Whitmire is skeptical about the release of a new novel by the author. “I want there to be another book,” he writes, “But the bucket brigade of publishers, agents and lawyers between her and the public need to give a complete account first of how this other book came to be found and published, or I won't read it. They have a lot of explaining to do. I'll respect Nelle Harper Lee's silence, as I was taught as a child. But not theirs.”

In another article from Real Time News from, Connor Sheets is equally skeptical:

The historical record seems to demonstrate that Lee did not want her other book published, as it remained a closely held secret for decades. Her sister, Alice Lee, died at the age of 103 in November after defending Lee's legacy and estate against circling vultures in the publishing industry who might have caught wind of her unpublished novel.

According to Ed Pilkington writing from Monroeville, the whole town has questions about the publication of the new book. In “Harper Lee book news leaves home town surprised, bemused and skeptical” Pilkington writes:

But with such meager access, many in the town are left wondering whether Lee has been manipulated. Many also wonder why so many strange things began to happen once Alice, her greatest friend and protector – her “Atticus in a skirt”, as she was said to have once called her – retired and then passed away.

A Measured View

If I may be allowed to have conflicted views, here is my thinking at the moment.  It may be that the publishers are the vultures who finally got through to make a little more money. On the other hand, since the novel was written prior to To Kill A Mockingbird, I can see literary value in it just to see what the author was thinking, what her writing was like and what she was focused on in the period leading up to TKAM. For those defending Harper Lee’s privacy and personal wishes, I can see that it is quite possible that the author may simply not have wanted her earlier writing made public, given that she was so reticent in all things regarding TKAM in spite of so much public interest throughout the years.

I want to read it. I’m not sure I want to buy it. I want to take a long look, I want to drink it in, but I don’t want to invade a respected author’s privacy. I want to walk through her wonderful house, as it were, but I don’t want to barge in uninvited.  I want Harper Lee to tell us everything, but I respect her right to tell us nothing more than what she has already said in her acclaimed novel. I want this information to be out there in public, just like the keepers of J.R.R. Tolkein’s estate released so many unpublished tales from Middle Earth to shed light on The Lord of the Rings. I do not want to think about how the keepers of Harper Lee’s estate may be pulling a fast one. 

But it is Harper Lee’s writing – it must be good. It is about Scout all grown up, and Atticus is there to. Surely there is great benefit in that. In the end, our life’s choices are like what I imagine Atticus Finch would advise, we walk with our eyes open to all the nuances of justice and injustice, then we do the thing that we can best live with as we carry on with our lives.


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