Oil Spill

I had lunch yesterday with my writer friend Bridget and we got onto the  topic of BP’s broken oil well bleeding into the ocean.  I mentioned that of the major oil companies, BP is the one that insiders say has a history of putting profits ahead of safety.  I heard that from somebody who retired from Exxon-Mobil management.

Bridget retorted, “Say Exxon, and people think Valdez!”  She went on to say, “Every time the subject of government regulation comes up, the big oil companies say they can regulate themselves and it works better if it’s voluntary.  Well, then, they ought to volunteer right out into the Gulf of Mexico and not just leave it to BP.  They have thousands of smart engineers and billions of dollars.  Let every  one of those oil companies get out there and help do something about that oil spill.  That’s the only way they’ll come out of this with any credibility left.”

She’s got a point.   This one looks so bad.  And  so unnecessary.  The newspaper’s had plenty of reporting about blowout preventers having failed before, just not catastrophically.  This one is public knowledge to an incredible degree, too. My boss’ two-year-old grandson in Seattle asked his mom if he was too young to go help clean the birds and beaches!

The Death of Music

Kevin Winn is a professional potter, ceramics teacher, and artist in Salt Lake City, Utah. Here’s the work of art he named Death of Music. He created the  skeleton out of old piano keys and other derelict pieces of musical instruments.

The skeleton’s lair is an antique, sin-ugly bass violin case.  It was found in the storage shed when Kevin and Valerie bought their house in SLC’s old Sugar House neighborhood.

The Death of Music
photo by Alexis Glynn Latner
Kevin and The Death of Music

Valerie’s sister is my writer friend Bev Hale.  I met the creepy bass violin case a couple of summers ago, when Bev and I went and stayed with Valerie and Kevin for a few days after the World Science Fiction Convention in Denver.   I wrote the bass violin case into a dark western fantasy short story.   The short story became the first chapter of a novel that I’m revising now.   I think Death of Music will make a guest appearance in the book’s climax when demons assail Salt Lake City in 1880!

 

Jesus and Christ

Philip Pullman – author of the fabulously written, famously antireligious Dark Materials fantasy trilogy – is at it again.  According to an NPR interview, his latest novel was inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury asking him where Jesus fit into the Dark Materials world. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ posits Jesus of Nazareth having a psychologically disturbed twin brother named Christ.  The storyline plays on the inconsistencies of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.

It sounds a bit silly to me.  Progressive Christian theology distinguishes between Jesus and Christ with the phrase “Jesus the Christ.”  Jesus was a human being, the Christ is the salvific, revelatory presence of God unveiled by a human life.  Progressive Christians tend to be comfortable with the idea of more than one Christ in history, in the world, and most certainly in art and fiction.  Woman Christ?  Oh yes, see the feminist sculpture Christa by Edwina Sandya, or  read Elizabeth Moon’s fantasy novel Deed of Paksenarrion. Wizard Christ?! Harry Potter.  Google “Christ Figure” in Wikipedia and check the notes under Literature for a fascinating remark: that generally in literature (many examples listed), Christ figures stop at being martyred and don’t get as far as resurrection.   Paksenarrion and Harry do get resurrected.  So does the extraterrestrial Christ, E.T. in the movie.  Offhand I’d say that convincingly resurrecting a Christ figure is, in terms of storycraft, quite a challenge.

In Pullman’s new book the resurrection is a fraud perpetrated by the twin brother, Christ.

Well, intellectually honest theologians, intelligent believers, and Christian agnostics (of whom there are many, and some of them write novels) have grappled for a long, long time with the original incredibleness of the Gospel, the devastating imperfection of the Church, the inconsistency of the Bible, and the darkness of the human unconscious.   One of the first theologians to recognize the deep waters below the conscious mind was Martin Luther in the 1500’s. WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!! is hardly a newsflash.

On the other hand, Philip Pullman does what he’s doing very well, and faith is well served by brilliant honest skepticism.  It can clear out mindless weediness and rank undergrowth.  One of the most amazing anti-religious tales ever written is Olaf Stapleton’s classic Star Maker. That novel alone, taken with the seriousness it deserves,  destroys the credibility of  God the Supreme Being in our day.

Theologian Paul Tillich’s God Beyond God and God the Ground of Being held up to the 20th Century a lot better than orthodoxy’s  Supreme Being or the Watchmaker of Deism.  Process Theology has held up too.  Liberation Theology brewed in the 20th Century, proclaiming God’s “preferential option for the poor” and stirring the pot of the Roman Catholic Church.  One thing critics like Pullman may miss – understandably, if they decamped from organized religion at an early age – is the extend of the prophetic, i.e., critical and reformational, tradition, in religion.  And the mystical undercurrents.  Christian mystics across the centuries called God  shining darkness, mystery that terrifies and fascinates, lover of souls,  cloud of unknowing, and on and on, images and stories that didn’t square with Church doctrine and sometimes got the mystics into trouble.

My copy of the Dark Materials trilogy was a gift from a Roman Catholic priest who valued its message against the worst perversions of organized religion. This priest – since deceased and celebrated by a funeral Mass that drew in all sorts of friends and clergy – knew well that Church and Christ are not coextensive.   He also knew how mystical and prophetic movements always bubble up in organized religion and are never welcome there.

The mystics experienced God in ways that doctrine made little or  no allowance for.  Reformation happened because Luther saw the Church in dire need of reforming from the top down.  And then there was the real Jesus of Nazareth.  Believe me, many intellectually honest theologians, seminary professors, and Biblical scholars and historians have studied the words and works of Jesus to learn what he really said and meant.  Much of the best scholarship points to this:  with his parables and his paradoxical sayings wasn’t spelling out what people should think about God.  He was dislodging God from the mental and cultural boxes in which the idea of God was contained.  And he was freeing people from mind-bending, heart-breaking condictions imposed by religious authorities.  Which is, to say the least, work that forever needs doing.

Bluebirds

The first time my mother and I ever visited the Gardens at Calvary, we noticed a bluebird perched in one of the slender trees on the Moon Road side of the grounds.

Mom was not happy to make such a visit at all.  She was very reluctant to consider leaving her home of many years to move to assisted living.  But the little bird with its bright blue back and rusty breast seemed like a good sign to both of us. There ‘s an old figure of speech—celebrated in at least one big band song—about the bluebird of happiness.

The hope of happiness came true.

For Mom, happiness is having friends and companions and living a place where she doesn’t need to manage all of life’s details by herself.  It makes me happy to know that she’s safe in the care of capable and compassionate staff, in a building that’s attractive, well-designed, graced with natural light, and located beside a stream with trees and wild creatures.

For both of us, it matters that an assisted living facility be faith-based.  One inescapable truth is that people in assisted living are fragile in body, mind or both.  They exist in a holy place, not very far from death, and therefore closer than most of the rest of us to the nearer presence of God.  That truth needs to be honored.  At the Gardens, it is. Vern Jordin is an able chaplain.  I’ve attended his Sunday services with Mom.  The flock is small and fragile;  Chaplain Vern cares for each one of them tenderly.  When Mom’s last living sibling died a couple of years ago, Chaplain Vern sought Mom out minutes after I spoke to the staff in the front office.  He sat with us in the private dining room while the news sank in.  Mom was able to begin to grieve for her brother there, in that sheltered place and time.

Last fall, I finally visited the Greenhouse—the special Alzheimer’s place up the road from the Gardens.  Knowing that Mom may one day need to live in the Greenhouse, I had to see how it felt.  It felt gentle and good.  Now I know not to be afraid of Mom being there in her final days.

This is the third springtime since we first visited the Gardens.  There are still bluebirds around.  My mother and I are happy that she found an unexpected new home at the Gardens at Calvary, thanks be to God.

Brave New Word

This in today’s Houston Chronicle.  WASHINGTON – Hollywood’s glitterati mingled with Washington Twitterati at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner….

OK, first there were literati, then glitterati, and now the meaning has been cantilevered out to Twitterati!

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