Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Peace Fountain

This sculpture on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City was created in 1985 by Cathedral Artist-in-Residence Greg Wyatt.

The plaque beneath the fountain reads: "Peace Fountain celebrates the triumph of Good over Evil, and sets before us the world’s opposing forces – violence and harmony, light and darkness, life and death – which God reconciles in his peace."

Photo: The Peace Fountain beside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Credit: Noel Y.C.


Monday, January 28, 2019

Monday Music: Gentle on My Mind (John Hartford)

When I was a kid, I always enjoyed watching Glen Campbell's Goodtime Hour when John Hartford would come out and join Campbell (and usually one or two others) to sit and jam and chat about their music.

"Gentle on My Mind" was Glen Campbell's first big hit as he rose to stardom. It was written by John Hartford, who recorded it in 1967. According to Songfacts, Hartford was inspired to write the song after seeing the movie, Doctor Zhivago. We also learn there that "Gentle on My Mind" is one of the most recorded country songs in history, having been covered by Dean Martin, Aretha Franklin, Lucinda Williams, and The Band Perry.

Hartford was also known in folk music circles and was one of the pioneers in the "newgrass" genre of music.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Saturday Haiku: Reaching

things beyond our reach
may yet be within our grasp
given proper tools


Image: "Silhouetted Man Harvesting a Nest"
Artist: Ohara Koson
Medium: Woodblock print


Friday, January 25, 2019

"To a Mouse" (Robert Burns)

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Many of us of Scottish heritage thrill at the sound of bagpipes and take moments to remember other Celtic tribes on holidays from St. Patrick's Day to St. David's Day. We regale in genetic memories of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Tales of the homeland, with hearts in the highlands, tug at our souls as we plod the varied lands of our present condition. 

Today, in honor of Robert Burns' birthday, take some time to read one of the poet's many works known for down-to-earth vernacular wisdom.

To a Mouse
By Robert Burns

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
What makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell -
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me;
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects dreaer!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Not Dark Yet: 1967 Interview with Martin Luther King

In 1967, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King spoke with NBC News' Sander Vanocur about the "new phase" of the struggle for "genuine equality." King speaks of how it is much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to ensure equitable pay or social equality. "Human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually rationalizing that wrong."


Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday Music: Isn't This a Lovely Day

"Isn't This a Lovely Day," by Irving Berlin was written for the movie Top Hat (1935), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The song has been recorded by many of the jazz greats, including the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

I Have a Dream (Full speech) by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tomorrow, the nation celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Here in Birmingham, Alabama, we will have our annual Unity Breakfast downtown. there will also be a number of hands on service projects throughout the city on that day.

We have all heard snippets of King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, but it is important to stop and listen to the entire speech from time to time. Today, as we hope for some glimpses of the better angels of our nature, here is the speech delivered in its entirety by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1963. It takes about 17 minutes to view.


Saturday, January 19, 2019

Saturday Haiku: A Murder of Crows

a murder of crows
there is safety in numbers
collective wisdom


Photo: A Murder of Crows (term for flock of crows)
Credit: Online Magazine


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Remembering Mary Oliver

Photo from Orion Magazine
There are some people who, when they die, all you can think of is the light that they imparted.

It was sad to hear of the death of Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Mary Oliver. She said in an interview on National Public Radio that "The two things I loved from a very early age were the natural world and dead poets, [who] were my pals when I was a kid."

To read or listen to NPR's recollection of the widely loved American poet,  visit the link at "Beloved Poet Mary Oliver, Who Believed Poetry 'Mustn't Be Fancy,' Dies At 83"


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Bluebird, Bluebird: A Book Review

I just finished reading a beautifully written novel by Attica Locke, Bluebird, Bluebird.  I heard about it when I listened to an interview with the author on NPR while driving to work over a year ago. I was intrigued by the interview and the discussion of the book. As soon as I parked the car, I took a notepad that I keep near the dashboard and wrote, “Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke.”  Time passed and I came across the note. Remembering that is was a good interview, and that the book held some insights into race relations in the South, I decided to find the book.

Since my wife and daughter had given me a Nook last Christmas, finding the book was as simple as a search on Nook’s shopping page.  The novel is something of a crime drama, or a mystery detective story involving an African American Texas Ranger who is caught up in one unsolved murder as he goes down to investigate another murder in the rural East Texas town of Lark. That one is actually two murders. The body of a young black man washes up in the bayou, and the next day the body of a young white woman washes up in the same bayou.

Attica Locke’s storytelling is compelling and tightly woven.  Her story sheds light on the intricacies of family relationships as well as the complexities of race relations in small southern communities. One gets to hear about black families who migrated north to escape the oppression of the South. The reader also gets a view life for those who stayed.  As Locke puts it as she narrates the story, “Most black folks living in Lark came from sharecropping families, trading their physical enslavement for the crushing debt that came with tenant farming, a leap from the frying pan into the fire, from the certainty of hell to the slow, hot torture of hope.”

Bluebird, Bluebird is a suspenseful page-turner of a novel.  A great story with fully developed characters, but more than that, the writing is sheer beauty.  Locke expresses every detail of the world she invites us to inhabit so that we get the sounds, the colors, the sights and the smells of the full environment. I could almost feel the humid summer night air by that East Texas bayou as the tale unfolded.

There is one scene in which Darren, the Texas Ranger, is riding in his truck with Randie, the widow of the young black man whose murder he is investigating. He rolls down the window for a moment and then puts it back up. Even in that simple moment, Locke fully describes the aromas of the night air, the feel of the wind in the cab of the truck, and the sounds that are made by the air as the truck window closes. It is the many details like that make this make this a rich, dynamic and unforgettable story.

I can highly recommend this book. I have no disclosures to make. No one asked me to write this review. Barnes and Noble is not paying me to say I read it on my Nook, nor do I have any financial investments in Nook or any other Barnes and Noble products.  Moreover, I am not employed by NPR. I’m just a guy who listens to Public Radio and enjoys a good book, passing this one along to you.

*   *   *

About halfway into the novel, the title is explained when the jukebox in Geneva’s café plays a John Lee Hooker record as the protagonist is leaving and he hears the opening line, “Bluebird, bluebird, take this letter down south for me…”


Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday Music: Blow, Blow Thou Bitter Wind (John Rutter)

Just because it is the middle of January, here is some winter music. The lyrics are from Shakespeare
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII), and the music by John Rutter.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Saturday Haiku: Snowlight

"icy finger waves
ski trails on a mountain side
snowlight in Vermont*"

*From the lyrics to "Moonlight in Vermont," by John Blackburn. The song is unique in that there is no rhyme, and each verse is in a haiku format. For my favorite rendition of the song, go here.

*   *   *

For five years I have been posting a new haiku each Saturday. Today's post is the first one that I have not written myself.

Photo: "A winter drive in Vermont" 
Credit: LJ Corliss on BetterPhoto
Found on Pinterest at Winter in Vermont

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

When I Die - A Poem by Rumi

Rumi's poem recited in his native Farsi, with written English translation


Monday, January 7, 2019

Monday Music: Lullabye in Ragtime

From the movie, The Five Pennies, Danny Kaye & Barbara Bel Geddes singing "Lullaby in Ragtime" (music and lyrics by Sylvia Fine, who was Danny Kaye's wife)).


Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Journey of the Magi

On this, the Feast of the Epiphany, what better time to sit back and listen to Alec Guinness read T.S. Elliot's poem, "Journey of the Magi."

For a bit of commentary on the poem and to hear T.S. Elliot read the poem himself, check out Michael Rennier's blog post at Dappled Things.


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Saturday Haiku: Evening Moon

full moon bathes the pines
as light glows from the farmhouse
the fields are at rest


Image: "Full moon in Magome
Artist: Kawase Hasui  (1883 - 1957)
Medium: Japanese woodblock print


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Place of Gratitude

For my first post of the new year, here is a repeat essay, "On Poetry, Prayer, and Gratitude." A version of it was first in April of 2011. Looking to the year ahead, we will always be well served by finding that place of gratitude.

I mentioned in one of my one of my past blog entries that my own experiences of mystery and wonder led me first to poetry then to theology, and later back to poetry. I think poetry is a more primary response.  Theology, like philosophy and psychology are secondary responses in that they require categories, definitions, rules, and analyses.

With poetry, one can find genuine reflections on life as it is lived as well as authentic expressions of the soul. Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, says that every poem is about death and gratitude. The awareness of death heightens the beauty of the world as we see it. As one who attempts to write poetry, I heartily agree with that notion. Poetry conveys that sense of awareness and gratitude.

Doorways to the Divine

I consider poetry to be an open canon of scripture, one that is still being written every day, but that’s just me. You have your own canon of scripture, I’m sure. Maybe you are like John Muir who saw “the scripture of nature” and marveled in the presence of nature and its author. Perhaps music is your doorway to the divine.

I must also consider the great souls, such as Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, who made service to others their witness of God’s presence on the world. Jim Wallis (Sojourners, Washington, D.C.) and Birmingham’s own Jim Douglass (Mary’s Catholic Worker House, Ensley) are examples of people who bear witness to the divine by way of social activism. I believe the mystery of God is conveyed through words, beauty, and actions.

Responding to the Mystery

So how does prayer fit in? I was in an online blog discussion a while back in which the question was posed, “Is it okay to pray for material things?” That same week another blogger friend was writing about how he had been influenced by encounters with different faith expressions and wanted to know what others had experienced. Both of those discussions prompted me to take a look at my own attitude toward prayer and faith.

Certainly one’s concept of God will affect that person’s understanding of prayer. I am one who is enlivened by the contact with many faith expressions that we are seeing more and more as our society becomes more pluralistic. I grew up Baptist in a rural, provincial setting and that was enough for awhile. Later, I came to enjoy worship in the liturgical settings of the Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches. It was like learning a new language for worship. As with any new language, new insights arise in the learning. I have also benefitted in personal devotions by reading the works of Quakers (e.g. John Woolman, Rufus Jones, Elton Trueblood), Catholics (e.g. Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington) as well as Buddhist practitioners (e.g. Jack Kornfield, Thich Nhat Hanh, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama).

From a Place of Gratitude 

For me, gratitude is one of the most enriching kinds of prayer. It immediately assumes a relationship with the divine and a trust even in uncertainty. Throughout my pilgrimage, my image of God has certainly changed, but I have never lost that sense of gratitude toward a loving ultimate force behind an ultimately friendly universe. This brings me back to Billy Collins’ statement about poetry: every poem is about death and gratitude. Every prayer, every poem, every offering of service we can make is undergirded by the awareness of our own mortality and by our gratitude for the wonder of existence.


Photo by Charles Kinnaird: Shades Creek at Flora Johnston Park, Birmingham, Alabama


Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Here's to a Bright New Year

An updated version of a cartoon by  José María Nieto 
(originally published in 2017, but I think it is a great vision for 2019)

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