Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

The Duke

Live music. On a Sunday afternoon. It was Black history month and the Saint Paul Public Library put on a tribute to Duke Ellington, by The Dean Brewington quartet.

Sunday in the park with Duke. The program included a presentation by Tony Garret, discussing the historical perspective of what Duke was trying to accomplish. With his life. In the times that he was born into. As America was building a nation. In the days of Jim Crow, the Duke was doing his part building a powerful nation.

It was hard to keep together the big bands in the 1950s. After the Depression was over. After the war was over. It was because of the cost. And television came around. The presentation showed Duke Ellington with his musicians in the Amos and Andy films. Making a statement.

The Love of the music. When Duke met the prejudice of his time, his response was to go home and write. Music brought people together. Dean Brewington with his saxophone and his quartet performed the music, with a singer giving voice to her interpretation of the music sixty-some years later. It was all about the writing. And these 4 musicians working together to give a modern day meaning to the music.

There was on this Sunday a humility about it all. The program. The history. Of the performers to Duke. Of what he endured. Of the life he wrote into the music. And the music coming alive in this performance in 2010.


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The Ashes

The dust of memory.

Right and wrong.  Good and evil.  Wrongdoers and righteous people.  The struggle between wrongdoers and righteous people.

The ashes.  Like in Sodom.  What did you know about the Civil War in Spain, with the 2000 churches burnt? What did you know in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, before the Civil War in Spain with essentially the churches gone?

Yes, the story “begins with Creation which, as we have seen, is the story of the acts of distinguishing one thing from another.  It ends by alluding to the most crucial distinction of all …..”

The holocausts.  The biographical reality of evil.  Baggage.  The relation between wrongdoing and existence.  Images of right and wrong, in a world where the vulgar with the mean flourish.

Evil. Lent was all about the focus on evil. In the world. In my life. Lingering regret, lasting regret about the past. My own degree of evil. With selfish worries, about where the market is gonna end up? Where they all end up? Power, domination and possessions.

Lingering regret, lasting regret about the past was the problem of history.  The challenge to advancement, with lingering memory.  With a history.

I have a friend who once carried the title of vice president of institutional advancement, before he advanced himself to run the whole university –a different one – himself.

Spirituality’s impediment. Evil. Forgiveness. Advancement with forgiveness. Ritual sacrifice and holocaust. Reconciliation, through communal and institutional advancement.

The tensions in society. Between liberals and conservatives. Among prodigal sons and the ones left behind. Between men and women. Or just the tensions in God. Between religions. Between the sexes. Looking for unity, and the quest to be God-like. One God. Three in One, if you were Christian. The tension in the struggle between wrongdoers and righteous people.

In the context of the times. The search for God. And God’s search for man/woman. This search for God over and over. The search for meaning, in each other. In relationship. In institutional advancement. In the ashes of relationships, with the serial failure.

It can be a phony world. Of phony relationships. With phony politics. Propelled by money. With a lot of artificial love. And evil.

And so Lent begins, in the context of these times, with these readings on the 1st Sunday in Lent.

“…And when they were over he was hungry. The devil said to him: “ If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” ….and then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant.

The devil said to him: “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.”

Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “ If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written:He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” And Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”


And so Lent begins, with these readings. In a sense the readings on Good Friday were about the same temptation, of power, of domination, and of possessions. Over the identity of the Messiah. Over my own identity. After three years of public ministry. After teaching his followers to pray, “Deliver us from evil.” And so Lent beings in the context of these times, with people ‘giving things up’ which might relate to the same temptation of power, domination and possessions, to establish some connection to a personal identity to Jesus of Nazareth, if he was believed to be the Messiah and made a difference in personal identity. In the context of these times.

In the context of these times, to have your own identity “marked” in some way. “If” you were, “If” I was a son, a daughter of God. The challenge of Lent was always about identity. And it included the doubt. Lent was about images of right and wrong. About the delivery from evil. And that means of delivery.

Note the reading today where Jesus instructed the devil not to put him to the test. Ironically, it would be in 6 weeks that God would put Jesus to the test. Over this identity of the Messiah. And what this “marked” identity, so publicly, meant in the real world. When he also was led to Jerusalem. God, who had destroyed the world and saved only Noah. God, who in a sense destroys Himself, this time through His son. Yes, through the Messiah. To prove a point. Yes, “remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust though shall return.”

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….and so institutional advancement. “The story begins with Creation which, as we have seen, is the story of the acts of distinguishing one thing from another. It ends by alluding to the most crucial distinction of all …..”


Glaciers. Still feeling the affects of glaciers, of hardship. At Inishmore in the Aran Islands, looking out across the Atlantic, from a site where a fortress had been built 3,000 years ago. Inishmore was a place about hardship.

There are community norms, on an island. John Fogarty had made a movie, Man of Aran, showing daily routines of getting soil and seaweed, forming a soil, in order to grow potatoes, in a land with little soil, in a place long before the Great Famine. And after. Where Aran Island woman made heavy identifying sweaters for fisherman-husbands to drown faster amidst the high seas, as few husbands knew how to swim.

The anthropology. The temptation. Of filling the void. The normal human void of loneliness. The fear, in the real world. Of hunger. Of death. Of hardship. Of glaciers and hardship, and the rock left behind. . . while still feeling the affects of Famine.

The illusion. Of internet dating websites. The choosing. With pictures. And what was the truth. The problems that went with the choosing. The fear about living in community, and community norms. And the isolation. All of the isolation.

Creation, and the fear about it all. When all reproductions were based on temptation. Upon attraction. Upon sex. Dating. Relationships. The choosing. With people intriguing enough to start a conversation. Belief. Fidelity. Touching.

In a world filled with individuals battling problems with unconditional love, when there were so many doubts about true love, Happy Valentine’s Day.

There was a piece I read in The New York Times about dating websites. A hockey coach I knew had sent me an e-mail in 2008 citing how the internet was changing the world, where something like 25% of the American brides and grooms in a recent year had met on-line.

Successful internet websites were about finding other people like me hanging out, and then I would join. If they had joined.

OkCupid. It was Valentine’s Day. I had taken one of the surveys: How many times per day do you brush your teeth? And I checked my answer against the answer of a woman. Once? She only brushed her teeth once?

Community norms. OKCupid. The anthropology, melting the glaciers. Led with the maps and the beautiful charts. And their questions. As if they would work in the real world, charting your loves. With their maps and beautiful charts, have you had, if you divide your age by two, sex with more than that number? How important was your prospective date’s answer to the same question?

Community norms. Relationships. Living in community. Dating websites.

Glaciers. Still feeling the affects of glaciers, the challenge with internet dating, with any dating, was to build trust, with the website and the candidates. Melting the glacier. Finding the rock within. In a world with people of different belief. In a world that did have devil worshipers. The invaders. Having dates, having sex with the invaders. My grandmother would never believe what had happened to the world. Dating, and ultimately having sex with a pagan, an invader? Unconditionally. When the successful relationship was based on the heart and soul within the body. And creating identifying sweaters for the next generation.

The need to add legitimacy to a website’s matchmaking approach. To find someone to live in relationships. Okay Cupid! Go!

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The Murphys

At an early age I had come to believe that a vacation was supposed to be about re-creating myself. Through others. In a place where I was a stranger.

To try to see the future through the past, for the most part I went to places to learn the past. The past was that ocean that I tried to steer my own ship in everyday life. Sometimes the waves got a bit rough.

At the age of 32, I made my first trip alone to a foreign nation. When travel could be a lonely experience. Especially when I did not know more than a few words of the local tongue.

Previously, I had spent a week on the Carribean, at a younger age, in my last vacation which seemed to have little change on my consciousness, 25 years ago. A young resident in his post medical school training had issued these behind the ear patches that all of us might avoid seasickness. At the table that I shared on the ship was the Murphy family from Boston. One of the Murphys failed to show up for any meal until day five of the voyage. I thought of her when I shared a pint in the Aran Islands with another woman named Murphy, as I looked for my own land legs after a 45 minute ferry ride on ocean waters which had reached the top of the ferry.

The man on my left on the ferry did not suffer the loss of his equilibrium on the ferry crossing to the Inishmore. He offered advice later when we hit land that I should have kept my eyes open. At the time I just did not want to look. The question is still lingering whether to keep your eyes open when you were overcome by seasickness.

At breakfast I had met this Murphy from Toronto who was doing research for a theatrical production about “The Great Famine.” Per fate, she was immersed for 4 weeks into research on the Great Famine. The only reason I had been in Ireland was because of the same Great Famine. She had discussed her plans for the day to catch the 10:30 am ferry to Inishmore.

Ireland had been the locale of my first European vacation. The Great Famine was the only reason I was a stranger there. My other seven trips to the continent since that first Irish trip had focused to a small part on the Holocaust.

Where my mind this month has been on Ireland, per chance, I had come across a PBS show last night about the 2 Jews who escaped from Auschwitz, to tell all the world what was going on. This was after hearing a panel discussion at a library event for which I had had volunteered with real Holocaust survivors on Super Bowl Sunday at the local library.

Re-creation was never supposed to be strictly about leisure, I have long come to believe. Re-creation was a lot like sleep, or a lot like education. When consciousness changes, beyond myself.

When the vacation was over, in finding myself back in a place where I was not a stranger, in my consciousness. Reflecting on how anyone could stare into the history day after day of Famine; or of a Holocaust which had tried to destroy a people. Was it much different than trying to decide to keep your eyes open when you were seasick?

I had come home from Ireland two weeks ago. Reviewing the photographs. of a dog named Guinness, I thought about how quickly the seas, the environment, could change my own awareness, my own well being. I was still searching for the answer whether to keep your eyes open when you were overcome by seasickness. When the world changed so fast, and I had no control over my own equilibrium in a world in such great need of re-creating.

A possible detached retina can disrupt a blog. Everyone should check out symptoms as soon as possible, even before you connect all the things of the past few weeks. Because whether keeping your own eyes open, or shutting the eyes, the problem was still there.