Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Artsongs: The Harvesters (Bruegel)

Daily Bread

The word goes out to harvesters
From fields head-high with grain.
With scythe in hand they lay the stalks
In neatly ordered rows.

The birds are flushed out from the fields
As workers cut and reap.
The children play upon the green
As boats come to the shore.

The town embraces everyone
From beggar man to prince.
The city thrives upon those fields
Where crops are gathered in.

Some workers stop and find a place
To take their midday meal.
Their strength renewed, they carry on
So all may be sustained.

For no endeavor in the world
Will ever be fulfilled
Without the skills of laborers
Who bring our daily bread.

                                                ~ CK



Image: The Harvesters (1565) at the New York Metropolitan Museum
Artist: Pieter Bruegel
Medium: Oil on wood

[To see a very nice 5 minute video presentation from THE MET about this painting, go to]

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday Music: You Are Too Beautiful - Johnny Hartman with John Coltrane

Johnny Hartman was the smoothest of smooth jazz,  a classic crooner, The Last Balladeer. He should have been better known since his talent was superb. Here he joins John Coltrane's quartet in this 1963 studio recording.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

For the first Sunday of Advent, the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, sings the Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Mountain Rains

in mountain valleys
the rains carry memories
of so many lives


Photo: A Glen Gary Stag by Gordie Broon (Getty Images)


Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Throwback Thursday

"We Are the World"

United Support of Artists (USA) for Africa was an unprecedented effort at the time. To raise relief funds for drought-stricken Africa, recording artists gathered in 1985 following the Grammy Awards to record this song by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. Quincy Jones directed and produced the recording. One of the singers (I can't recall which one) said that Quincy Jones asked all of the artists to check their egos at the door, and they produced a truly inspiring recording! It is good to be reminded that beauty, harmony, and goodwill can sometimes prevail.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Artsongs: The Flower Carrier (Diego Rivera)

Purchasing Joy

Our joy is never quite so close
As when the flowers bloom.
The sight, the colors in the field
Make even cold hearts glad.

The fragrance bids a memory
To open long-shut doors;
It calls forth laughter, dance, and song
And weaves the days anew.

Yet we can only briefly know  
The joy of fragrant flower.
It lingers softly in the air
Then turns in darkened flight.

Seek now the vendor on the street
Bowed down by beauty’s care,
And he can sell you fresh-cut joy
To bring into your home.

He offers busy city folk
Such beauty nature brings.
His hope is but for sustenance
To fill his meager days.

Perhaps a flower will remain
When workday is complete.
Will it suffice to bring him joy?
Or give his lady peace?

                                      ~ CK


Image: The Flower Carrier (1935) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Artist: Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
Medium: Oil and tempera on masonite

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Music: I Don't Worry about a Thing (Mose Allison)

We lost another music legend last week with the passing of jazz pianist Mose Allison. “People are always trying to categorize me as blues or jazz or folk,” he once told the LA Times. “Some say I'm a jazz pianist that sings the blues.”

This piece captures the style of the iconic blues artist and songwriter. His trademark was an ironic turn of phrase as in “I don't worry about a thing 'cause I know nothin's goin' to be alright.” and in the song, Everybody's Cryin' Mercy: “Everybody's crying peace on earth, just as soon as we win this war.”


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Sleeping Dragons

in mountain forests
a slow breathing fog reveals
dragons as they sleep


Photo by Monica Volpin


Friday, November 18, 2016

Post Election: Do Not Grow Weary with Well Doing

The Year the Bat Cracked

The year was 2003, and I was quite distressed and growing weary.  The United States launched a war in Iraq, the consequences of which we are still dealing with. I was opposed to the war as was half the country. There were demonstrations in major cities with people chanting “No Blood for Oil.” It was a misguided endeavor from the beginning, and in 2003, the news reminded me each day of our nation’s misdirection.

That year, baseball, the national pastime, was a great national distraction for many of us weary of the drumbeats of war. Sammy Sosa was on a roll as he continued what he was best known for: hitting home runs. A few years earlier, he and Mark McGuire had been in competition as they were both trying to break the world record for the most home runs in a single season. He seemed to still be on top of his game when in March of 2003 he stepped up to the plate, got a solid hit, and his bat cracked revealing that it was corked. A home run hero was found to be using an illegal bat. It was symbolic to me for so much of what I was seeing in the country.

This year we have seen another crack that is showing us who we are as a nation: what values we hold at our core. There was an ominous foreshadowing soon after Barrack Obama’s election in 2008. I was elated as I watched that first inaugural ceremony and thrilled that we had finally taken further steps toward racial equality in America. Yet almost before they could get the folding chairs put away, we began to see the hatred and racism that had been just beneath the surface breaking out into the open. Racist memes about President Obama were appearing in the social media and angry Tea Party protesters were disrupting Democratic as well as Republican town hall meetings, using racial slurs to protest healthcare legislation.

With the 2016 Presidential election, our bat cracked. The racism and hatred that we tried to keep under wraps, and which some of us hoped we could move on away from is suddenly exposed to the world, but more important, revealed to ourselves.

A Divided Nation

Many have been writing about what the election of Donald Trump to the presidency means for the days ahead and for our future. My initial response of how to go forward was a bit humorous, but also a serious call to carry on with daily life:
  • Jesus said to love your neighbor.
  • St. Paul said to take a little wine for the stomach’s sake.
  • The only thing I would add is to eat your vegetables and get some sunshine and we will make it through this together.
In other words, we go about our daily tasks of doing what we need to do. We keep our social ethic and we also practice self-care. I see this as being in line with the Zen proverb, “Before enlightenment, tote water, chop wood. After enlightenment, tote water, chop wood.” 

Neal Gabler wrote a bleak commentary about the election outcome in an essay,  “Farewell, America.” He wonders if we as a nation will recover, yet he finds some hope in quoting from W.H. Auden’s poem. “September, 1939”:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

As disheartening as it is that we have elected a man who demeans women as sex objects, who spouts words hatred and fear, and who taps into the racism of the populace; and as distressing as it is to hear Christian leaders thanking God for his election victory, we must remember that fully half of the country also rejected that vision of America.

It is that other half that carries some hope going forward, yet also underscores the fact that we are a nation divided. Whoever had won the election would have to face governing a polarized and divided country.

Nothing Really New

I am not an expert in history, so there are people who can recall dark times in our nation’s history better than I, but the two great evils that continue to characterize America are the institutionalizing of slavery from the very beginning, and the acts of genocide committed toward the indigenous population. We were born out of a conflicting ethos of securing freedom for all while condoning slavery and ethnic cleansing.

History tells the story of how the Cherokee Nation made use of the legal process in order to remain in their ancestral lands. They took their case to the U. S. Supreme Court and won. Yet that victory did them no good when President Andrew Jackson disregarded the rule of law and implemented the Indian Removal Act by military force. There were some highly shameful acts that established our “sweet land of liberty” of which we love to sing. The evil in our midst that we must face is nothing new. 

There are three things that I take away from the lessons of the 2016 election cycle:
  • Our country’s racism, hatred, and bigotry has been exposed (like Sammy Sosa’s bat) to reveal what is at its core.
  • It is dismaying for me as a Christian that so many Christians were willing to overlook the corrupt character of a presidential candidate in order to keep their ties to the political empire.
  • It is also true (and herein lies some hope) that fully half of the country voted against a legacy of hate, racism, and bigotry.
We have made it through some dark days of division in the past, and we can make it through these times as well.

Now What Do We Do?

We must now face the reality of our hatred and bigotry. Like Sammy Sosa's cork filled bat, we would be more honorable without it, but it has been exposed. Now we can choose to celebrate the points of light in our darkness (as W. H. Auden noted in his poem). “We must not grow weary in well-doing,” as St. Paul encouraged the Galatians who were living under another corrupt empire years ago. 

The thing we do now is what good people have always done in our country. Christian groups have the example set forth by Protestant Evangelicals of the 19th Century who advocated for the abolition of slavery, prison reform, education, and an end to child labor. There is also the Catholic tradition of advocating on behalf of the poor and implementing works of mercy to create a better society.

In the 20th century during the Great Depression we saw the Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, which sought to live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ, taking the Sermon on the Mount as their social ethic.  We witnessed the long struggle for civil rights, voting rights (first for women, then for African Americans), and equal rights for all. We saw a new awareness of people with disabilities as we made room for them in the public square rather than shutting them away from society. We saw safeguards put into place to provide a safety net and access to healthcare for the elderly as well as the poor and disadvantaged.

All of these changes that have benefited our neighbor and helped us as a society were hard won by farsighted people who understood the ethics of living together with peace and justice. It was good people of all faiths and of no faith who understood the need for a better way and saw many changes slowly put into place.

Charity vs. Systemic Change

There is a difference between charity and systemic change. Growing up in the South, I saw that difference. Charity would help some poor black families have a little more to eat and clothes to wear during the holidays, but with civil rights legislation, we saw systemic change that enabled those same families to make a way for themselves in society, allowing them to have the long-lasting and substantive benefits of full participation in society. 

That systemic change, however, is not yet complete and that is the thing that people of goodwill must ensure for all of our citizens. It will require vigilance and advocacy for the vulnerable groups in our society that now feel threatened by the advent of a new administration. 

None of our efforts need stop with a new president in the White House. We still have half the country eager to see those points of light. We still have people of good will who will hold our government accountable. We will continue to do what we have been doing, so that in spite of setbacks, we will still make it a priority to work for the common good.  

Now we have to carry water and chop wood, which reminds me of those matters of infrastructure. We'll save that topic for another day. 


Photo by Marco Vincenti: Zen sand garden


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Artsongs: Self Portrait (Rembrandt)

Rembrandt at Forty-four

How many times have people sat
Before the artist’s eyes?
He masterfully will observe
And bring their image forth.

The eyes, the nose, the countenance
Will all be recognized.
Yet something deep within is seen
Revealed by artist’s hand.

But now the artist takes a look
At his own face and form,
And taking stock of all he sees
Reveals himself to all.

At midlife he is in his prime;
He rests on strength of years.
While all his suffering and success
Weigh lightly in his gaze.

The other years were different
While painting out his life,
Yet somehow very similar –
The man we now behold.

And he will show us, yet again,
In future painting still
How he has borne the years of time
While letting art flow on.

                                                ~ CK

* Note: The painting above was once thought to be a self-portrait, which is how it was titled in my portfolio of masterpiece prints and is the view from which I wrote the poem. It was later determined that the painting was done by one of the painters in Rembrandt's workshop, hence the "Anonymous" attribution below.

Upper - Portrait of Rembrandt, 1650 (National Gallery of Art)
              Artist: Anonymous* (from the Rembrandt Workshop)
              Medium: Oil on canvas

Lower: Screen shot of a Google search for Rembrandt self-portraits

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday Music: Leonard Cohen

[This is a Monday Music post from 2013 that I am replaying today to honor Mr. Cohen who died last week. My friend, Jane Philips also posted a beautiful tribute sharing many of his words at Spiritually Speaking]

                "Everybody knows the deal is rotten
                Old black Joe’s still pickin' cotton
                For your ribbons and bows
                And everybody knows."

The best version of "Everybody Knows" that I've heard is from a live performance in London. I was dismayed to see that the video of that performance has been removed from You Tube. I was able to find the same video on the Chinese version of You Tube, Youku, but then I noticed difficulties in playback -- the video kept freezing up. Fortunately, I found the video yet again, this time with a server in Turkey.

Written in 1992, the song is relevant today. The second verse is especially poignant:

          Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
          Everybody knows that the captain lied
          Everybody got this broken feeling
          Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody Knows
By Leonard Cohen

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you've been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that it's now or never
Everybody knows that it's me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you've done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black Joe’s still pickin' cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you're in trouble
Everybody knows what you've been through
From the bloody cross on top of Calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows it's coming apart
Take one last look at this sacred heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Oh everybody knows, everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Some Sunday Music: Sanctuary

From the liner notes of the album, The Beautiful not Yet, by Carrie Newcomer about the song, “Sanctuary”:

This song was written after a conversation with my friend Parker J. Palmer.
I asked him, “What can we do when we are personally or politically
heartbroken?” He responded, “We take sanctuary. We gather with those we
love, in places like Brown Chapel. We remember, we share stories or we sit
in silence until we can go on.”


Will you be my refuge,
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm,
When my fire’s all but gone?
Will you remember,
And bring me sprigs of rosemary,
Be my sanctuary,
’Til I can carry on
Carry on
Carry on.

This one knocked me to the ground,
This one dropped me to my knees,
I should have seen it coming,
But it surprised me.
Will you be my refuge,
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm,
When my fire’s all but gone?
Will you remember,
And bring me sprigs of rosemary,
Be my sanctuary,
’Til I can carry on
Carry on
Carry on.

In a state of true believers,
On streets called us and them,
Its gonna take some time,
’Til the world feels safe again.
Will you be my refuge,
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm,
When my fire’s all but gone?
Will you remember,
And bring me sprigs of rosemary,
Be my sanctuary,
’Til I can carry on
Carry on
Carry on.

You can rest here in Brown Chapel,
Or with a circle of friends,
Or quiet grove of trees,
Or between two bookends.
Will you be my refuge,
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm,
When my fire’s all but gone?
Will you remember,
And bring me sprigs of rosemary,
Be my sanctuary,
’Til I can carry on
Carry on
Carry on.

Words and Music by Carrie Newcomer
©2016 Carrie Newcomer Music (BMI), Administered by BMG



Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Autumn Waters

waters in autumn
carry the summer’s remains
to a quiet place


Photo by Richard Danek


Friday, November 11, 2016

"For Everything that Matters, Carry On"

                          "Carry on my sweet survivor
                           You've carried it so long,
                           So it may come again, carry on
                           Carry on, carry on."

I was too young to be a part of the folk scene of the early 1960s, but I began to tap into the energy of that dream in my grad school days at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary in Mill Valley, California (1978 -1981). By then the "movement" had receded into the shadows. The war had ended, Martin Luther King's birthday was made a federal holiday, and the public sentiment for peace and the common good was giving way to a time of corporate boom. Carrying the torch for social justice was not the "in thing." Public demonstrations and marches had become passé, but some of us saw the need to carry on. We knew that ending the draft and creating public holidays did not automatically create a just society.

So it was that in the 1980s after we had struggled for civil rights and protested the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s that the country put on the brakes. We will usually brake for business, which is why we must be vigilant about justice.

This is a song that helped me during those early Reagan years, and maybe it will speak to some today (from Peter Paul & Mary's Reunion album)

Sweet Survivor

You have asked me why the days fly by so quickly
And why each one feels no different from the last?
And you say that you are fearful for the future
And you have grown suspicious of the past

And you wonder if the dreams we shared together
Have abandoned us or we abandoned them
And you cast about and try to find new meaning
So that you can feel that closeness once again

Carry on my sweet survivor
Carry on my lonely friend
Don't give up on the dream and don't you let it end

Carry on my sweet survivor
Though you know that something's gone
For everything that matters, carry on

You remember when you felt each person mattered
When we all had to care for all was lost
But now you see believers turn to cynics
And you wonder was the struggle worth the cost

Then you see someone too young to know the difference
And a veil of isolation in their eyes
And inside you know you've got to leave them something
Or the hope for something better slowly dies

Carry on my sweet survivor
Carry on my lonely friends
Don't give up on the dream and don't you let it end

Carry on my sweet survivor
Though you know that something's gone
For everything that matters, carry on

Carry on my sweet survivor
You've carried it so long
So it may come again, carry on
Carry on, carry on


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Artsongs: White Vase with Flowers (Redon)

[Note: When I went online to find a representation of Redon's "White vase with Flowers," I discovered that Redon painted quite a few vases with flowers, so I decided to include several of them]

Redon’s Flowers

When Redon took a vase with flowers
To paint a masterpiece,
The beauty was yet twice removed
From nature’s morning light.

The first removal came from hands
That gathered luscious blooms.
And placed them all together in
A finely crafted vase.

The second move from nature came
When pigment plied the hues
To tell the beauty of the flower
Within a stilted frame.

The artist’s brush preserves in time
The flower’s transient form.
How many years will eyes behold
Such beauty in a glance?

Yet can we truly represent
The grace of flowered fields?
Will paint and brush and careful hands
Replace what nature brings?

Consider now the lily’s bloom
So fair upon the hills.
It lasts for just one season’s growth
Yet fills the heart with joy.

                                                ~ CK

Image at bottom: White Vase with Flowers at Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France
Artist: Odilon Redon (1840 - 1916)
Medium: Pastel on paper

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Choosing America

I went to the polls yesterday and saw the polling place far busier than usual with the high voter turn out. As the results have come in, it is clear that about half the country voted one way, and half voted the other. We are proud to live in a country where we are free to choose as each election day rolls around. May we continue with each day that passes to choose America and all that Lady Liberty in New York Harbor reminds us of. 

But how do we go forward, with the the country so divided? We can do this because we are America. We still carry the hopes and dreams that we carried yesterday. We still have the flaws and dangers that we had yesterday, but we will continue to make this grand experiment work. Last night I came up with a formula for going forward that works for me:
  • Jesus said to love your neighbor.
  • St. Paul said to take a little wine for the stomach's sake.
  • The only thing I would add is, eat your vegetables, get some sunshine, and we will make it through this together.


(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday Music: Timo Andres - Etude No. 16 by Philip Glass

Last week my wife and I heard the Alabama Symphony Orchestra play a composition by Timo Andres, "Paraphrase on Themes of Brian Eno." We were so impressed that I wanted to find out more about Timo Andres. He is a concert pianist as well as a composer. Here is a beautiful piece he plays by Philip Glass, "Etude N. 16."


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Sunrise on the Bay

softly the day breaks
as ocean waves wash the shore
and the heron waits


Photo taken at Perdido Bay by Mac McAleer


Friday, November 4, 2016

A Prayer for Wisdom During the U.S. Presidential Election

While I have refrained from posting political essays recently, readers of my blog will know my political views and hopes for the common good. In the closing days of a troublingly divisive political campaign on all sides, I have been tempted to post one more essay, as if I could write a clarion call to sanity for the days ahead. Instead of writing that essay, I found a beautiful prayer to share from Alden Solovy. Alden Solvoy is a liturgist, poet, and teacher in the Reform Jewish tradition.

For Wisdom During U.S. Presidential Elections

God of Justice,
Protector and Redeemer,
Grant guidance to our nation
As we select leaders,
Senators, Congresspersons and a President,
The men and women who promise
To uphold the Constitution,
To uphold our values,
To serve and to govern,
To bring prosperity to our land,
To protect our homes and secure our future.

Grant wisdom and courage to voters
To select a visionary President
And steadfast leaders,
People who will serve our citizens,
And all who reside within our borders,
With honor and integrity
To forge a flourishing and peaceful future.

Bless our future President with
Wisdom and strength,
Fortitude and insight,
Balanced by a deep humanity
And a love of peace,
Leading us to a time
When liberty and equality will
Reign supreme throughout the land.

God of Truth,
Source and Shelter,
Grant safety and security to all nations,
So that truth and harmony will resound
From the four corners of the earth.
Let the light of our U.S. democracy
Shine brightly,
A beacon of hope
For every land and every people.

© 2016 Alden Solovy and All rights reserved. This prayer is based on “For Wisdom during Democratic Elections.”

(From A Prayer for Wisdom During the U.S. Presidential Election |

[Solvoy is the author of Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing. His work also appears in several CCAR Press books, including a forthcoming anthology of his work, This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day (Summer 2017).]

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