Saturday, July 11, 2020

Trumpeter



My father, Reverend Sherman W. “Trumpeter” Swan, died twelve years ago, July 9, 2018. I felt we hadn’t finished an important conversation we were having. When my niece called and told me the news I fell into a big emptiness.

I last saw you in March of that year at a rehab center in Sebring, Florida, where you were recovering from hip replacement surgery and dying of cancer.

You shouldn’t be out when it’s like this, you said.

When it’s like what?

It is very dangerous out there. I heard someone in the next room saying, maybe it was on TV, terrible things are happening outside.

No, I was outside and everything is normal. And I wanted to see you again before we leave.

You were in the hospital bed, passing in and out of consciousness and in and out of coherence. You didn’t know if you were hallucinating or dreaming. Your roommate told me that the morphine had this effect on you, talking out of your head like this, and fearful.

I thought your visions of tribulation were projections of some spiritual conflict you were undergoing as you approached death. Your confusions and delusions drew from your apocalyptic orientation. Tribulation in the last days. Heaven and Earth will pass away and Jesus will return and take the throne. Some of us may be taken up before then, in the Rapture.

I told you that the drugs they had given you were causing you to hallucinate and that these things you were talking about were creations of your nervous system and projections of your fears, like bad dreams.

How could I have helped you with your fear? How can I reassure you about death without lying but without you dying afraid of my unbelief. How can I believe what you want me to believe? How can I show you I love you?

I didn’t know what to say to you. What did you want me to believe? What did it mean or matter?  We prayed together and I gave you a back rub. I could do that.

My father and I would often talk about the Bible. We could talk from our shared love of scripture, if not always a shared experience or understanding. My way of reading scripture comes from literature and philosophy. You and Mom read scripture every day and prayed often and tried to live righteous biblical lives. 

God is love and we are to love God and to love one another and to love our neighbor and this is how you tried to live.

Both of you believed that holy scripture is absolutely true in every sense. What the Bible says happened really happened and what the Bible says will happen will really happen and now I am thinking about how to talk to you about what the Bible says about death and resurrection and what do I really think about that?

I thought you would die any moment and this was a holy time, so we prayed and I read scripture to you.

Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, chapter 12:

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.  And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.

I tell you my opinion that the mystical experience Paul described was an altered state of consciousness. He is being taken up, in or out of the body, maybe a dream body, like in Tibetan dream yoga, a spirit body, taken up into the third heaven where he heard things he is unable to put into words, but he is transformed by whatever happened to him. I think Paul’s revolutionary mysticism began with an episode like this in which he believed he encountered the resurrected Jesus, called Messiah.

I read 2 Corinthians, chapter 15. I always read that at funerals, you said.

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

My idea was that when Paul was caught up into Paradise he was “raptured” — he had an ecstatic experience — a state of unitive consciousness that eludes the nets of language and logic, into the Infinite, and beyond life and death.

Have you ever had such an experience? you asked.

Twelve years later, I still work on my reply.


Friday, July 03, 2020

elephant



Lori quoted Dr. Seuss sometimes:

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.”


I can see her saying it and hear her.

This is a message from her.

She is stating that she tells the truth and the truth is that the virtue of faithfulness exists, that faithfulness can be found and is possible and is good.


I am not having a seance.

I am sitting in the dark and gazing into an electronic screen, not a crystal ball, and reading messages from my memory, not from The Other Side.


I don’t remember how many times Lori said the Seuss quote, but more than once, and I can’t recall what the context was, even once, but I know how she looked and how she sounded when she said it and I can see her saying it and hear her.


It is the kind of recollection that sneaks up on me and makes me cry.


This crying would happen in what I call seizures of grief. Grief seizures that belong to the shock of the loss and remind me of my loss and scare me. I read C.S. Lewis’ book about his grief and he said it is much like fear and I thought, no, grief IS fear, isn’t it?

We fear that which would make us grieve.

We fear the loss of our well being and the loss of what we treasure and we fear pain and the grief seizures are painful. What is called the grief process is a period of great pain that unsettles us with the loss of our world and with the reality of death as an Absolute condition of life and conclusion of life.


I recall Lori looking me in the eyes with her sincerity and saying it with her profound inner child:

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.”


As if, How dare I even question her sincerity?

The faithfulness of the elephant is an Absolute.


Yeah, it made me cry, but the pain has changed, because the memory is a joy, and the message is true. The message that we loved, that love exists, love can be found and is good.


The message that the truth of our love is Absolute.


So of course I cry for the loss of love but — this is going to sound wrong — but, the Absoluteness of love maybe narcotizes the pain away — with joy?


Yesterday there was a sudden cloudburst that drenched the city in an instant. Did you get caught in that? — people asked for the rest of the day — or told a story about being caught in it — it was a super-soaker of a storm and I heard there was a rainbow. 


I am inside when that storm hits. I quickly shut the windows before too much water comes in and see how, despite the rain, bright it is outside. 

White midsummer sun shines through the clear curtains of water like through glass.


And I thought I could use that to describe what it’s now like when I cry.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Hey You

Fireworks every night, firecrackers that sound like bombs.

I hear skateboards on the pavement at 4 AM.

The adult infant sucks Cafe Bustelo from a hot ceramic breast

and confronts the blank tablet.

At night all tablets are blank but the brain fills them with dream pictures and messages.

Should I be composing an agenda? A dissertation? A business plan? Doing my taxes?

What is required of me? 

What do I require of the world and myself?

I have been reading the instructions for the first bardo,

for the state in between life and so-called death.

The main thing is to remember where you are.

Hey, you.

You are in between.

It is dark but the clear light of reality shines upon you.

Reality is staring in your face but you keep averting your eyes.

Hey, noble one, now is the time for your kind to drop and die,

for your ego, the sterling silver mastermind of the mess you call life, to collapse like the hollow statue of a Confederate general.

Your master race is a disgrace to humanity,

your founding fathers are dust and their legacy is shame, you know it’s a mess, and you’ll never get these scrambled eggs back into their shells.

Hey, white boy, hey white boy

Who are you talking to?

Are you talking to me?

Are you talking to me?

Are you talking to me?

Hey, you.













Pan-demos Panels 1-16

















Pan-demos Panels

acrylic and ink on paper mounted on wood

2020


1. 10” X 10” December

2. 10” X 10” January

3. 10” X 10” January

4. 10” X 10” January

5. 10” X 10” February

6. 18” X 18” February

7. 10” X 10” Fevruary

8. 10” X 10” March

9. 10” X 10” February

10. 12” X 12” March

11. 12” X 12” March

12. 10” X 10” April

13. 12” X 12” April

14. 10” X 10” April

15. 12” X 12” April

16. 12” X 12” May

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Household idol

We had a lawn jockey. I don’t know why. I don’t know if someone gave it to us. Or if my father bought it. 

But there it was at the entrance of the driveway holding an iron ring you could hitch your horse to. Dressed in white with a red vest, black face. We had it in Jupiter and brought it with us to Palm Beach Gardens and it stood at the entrance of the driveway.

A few years later, maybe 1968, someone left a note on it saying it was racist. I would’ve been 13 or 14. I’m not at all sure of the year. People were becoming more conscious of racism and even we were becoming aware of racist words and symbols. Instead of getting rid of it I proposed changing his race. I painted the face beige and the jockey kept his position as a hitching post for nonexistent horses. Now that the jockey was beige we could convince ourselves that we were not racist and never were.

Then he was gone. Someone stole the beige jockey and it was gone for a long time. Then it returned with a note saying he had run away, needed a change of scene, had a good time, many adventures, but missed us.

A newspaper writer and a photographer came over and wrote this pointless human interest story. A few years later it disappeared again. Then a different jockey, similar but different, appeared at the entrance to the driveway. I knew who put it there. It was two teenage brothers who had heard about the jockey and said they had it. They had stolen it and still had it, they said. But they had stolen a different jockey and now we had it. The strange jockey had also been painted over, deracinated with white paint, not with my beige, and it had a different base.

This is a stupid story about a stupid object we were stupid to have. Maybe it reminded my parents of Kentucky. I don’t know. It was a household idol. When we came back from a road trip it was there to greet us. Here’s home! Dad would say, as he pulled into the carport. I don’t know what became of the second jockey.

Another household idol we had was an iron Robert E. Lee figure, about ten inches tall, that my father kept on a table by the front door to use as a weapon if someone attempted to invade our home.

This object was purchased in 1965 during the road trip we took visiting Civil War battlefields. It was the Civll War centennial. We weren’t Confederate sympathizers. My ancestors had fought in the Union Army, but we picked up this souvenir of someone we had been told was an honorable general. I had a picture book that said he was honorable. I was told Civil War stories in which brother fought against brother and now we are at peace and try to work together.

Now that Confederate monuments are coming down in many places I think about that little idol, that little Confederate monument that stood in our entranceway and I can’t explain it. 

I wish I’d forgotten it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Good white people


Good white people,
if you are good,
listen to black people.

If black lives matter,
listen to black people.

Good white people,
if you are good,
don’t be silent.

If black lives matter,
say “Black Lives Matter,”
and don’t be silent.

Because when a black life doesn’t matter,
no lives matter,
and you don’t matter.

When Breonna Taylor’s life,
or Eric Garner’s life,
doesn’t matter to the police,
no lives matter,
because black lives didn’t matter.

Good white people,
don’t be silent.
Black lives matter.

You are right,
good white people,
and the racist is wrong.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Introduction to reality.


Reality would like to introduce itself to you.

I'm afraid the next phase in this adventure will be around June 20 when many will be stricken down by the virus.

When the next wave of the pandemic hits we will be completely dependent on social media and we have to seriously attempt to communicate with each other. This is an emergency and our information needs to be true and our messages clear. 

We will depend on social media and the few essential workers -- who we need to take care of and more than compensate.

We burn trillions of dollars to the war god and we have the worst healthcare system in the world.
We give our treasures to the defense contractors and we militarize the police, but we cannot mobilize to provide healthcare workers with the equipment they need.

The American healthcare industry cannot take care of everybody because it is an industry with the aim of increasing profits. Healthcare should be better funded than warfare. Healthcare should be universal.

Everyone should have enough to take care of themselves and the time to more freely create themselves. That should be what a functioning economy should provide — the means to survive and the means to grow. To have more free time at home or traveling or migrating — to be treated with compassion, to have compassion be the reasonable and expected response, when one is suffering.


To agree on what is a threat and what is not a threat. To come to a consensus about what is real and what is not. To not point our guns at people. To not shoot first and ask questions later.  Cops and citizens cannot be so trigger happy, so quick to hurt somebody. And we can’t be so quick to hurt ourselves.

Nonviolence doesn’t mean you don’t defend yourself. It means you don’t set out with the intention to hurt somebody. It means you are not a ticking time bomb because you recognize you have anger issues. Nonviolence means not being set to panic or attack. Nonviolence means to have the courage of your moral autonomy. Nonviolence means to not be trigger happy but to have a good aim.

We all saw what the policeman did to George Floyd and we all agree it was wrong. It is good we can agree about that. We cannot heal this nation with a police state. Can we agree that there is no military solution? Insurgencies go on forever until the empire gives up and goes home. 


We are the Empire. We are the United States and we were designed to adapt, and to become more just, but “in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds.” Like it or not, we inherited an empire and it is up to us to make it the empire of Caesar or the empire of heaven. It is time to be transformed. It is the moment of metanoia. We are storming the gates of heaven.


The world is being reset. This is an apocalypse, a sudden catastrophic awakening to the necessity to wake up and stay awake and see what needs to be done and keep everybody calm. What would Jesus do? He said Love one another. What would bodhisattva do? They become awakened when we awaken, they come alive when we come alive.

Hosanna

We ask that everyone calmly go to the exits and leave the building. There is a fire in the building and we need to evacuate. We will be alright. Do not panic. Do not be afraid. The building is on fire and we need to leave.


Uncle Lars loves you.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Altar call


I saw The Reverend Doctor William Barber preach at Riverside Church in April 2017, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s revolutionary speech at that church. 

Rev. Barber read passages from MLK’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail, such as: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” It was clear that King’s call to liberal Christians to put themselves on the line was still urgent, that it was time to show up. I heard that call and needed to respond to that call and join the Movement, but I didn’t know what to do.

The second time I saw Rev. Barber was at Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village on the last night of something they called a Revolutionary Love Conference. I returned the following Sunday and immediately felt at home, or felt I was someplace that could become a home, a community, a place where I could get involved in the movement. I started going every Sunday and hadn’t been going long when Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, the senior minister, asked for volunteers to go to Washington, DC to commit an act of civil disobedience and likely get arrested. 

King’s call from the Birmingham Jail was summoning me. “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” is what King said. I had nothing to lose. I was unemployed, and no family responsibilities at all, so I joined a group of 31 clergy, medical professionals, and other activists to disrupt the Senate Republican effort to do away with affordable healthcare. We were arrested and charged with the crime of disrupting the crime of robbing people of healthcare. I didn’t go to jail, I had to do community service.

The experience was an initiation, a baptism into the Movement, and I officially became a member of Middle Church the following Sunday. I fulfilled my community service obligation at Middle, doing clerical work and helping hand out sandwiches to the homeless people in Tompkins Square Park and Sara Roosevelt Park with the Butterfly meal program. I continued with the Butterfly mission after my community service hours were done and got more involved with Middle, going to protests and rallies, book groups and support groups.

I joined Middle Collegiate Church three years ago. Two years ago Rev. Dr. Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis founded the New Poor Peoples Campaign and I signed up. They were taking up the revolutionary movement MLK had started in 1968, one that unites blacks and whites and Asians and everybody else who labors and who are heavy laden and not getting a living wage, who are without healthcare, who are serving in a system that rewards those who exploit workers, punishes the poor for being poor, and punishes the sick for being sick. 

A system that punishes the black for being black.

I joined this campaign because it was evident we are now in a revolutionary situation and we need to get our values straight. We call this a moral fusion movement. We know that poverty is not a crime and is not natural selection but conditioned by an economic system that concentrates too much wealth in the hands of the few and that fails to provide enough for the essential workers. And all workers are essential in an economy. 

From quarantine to curfew in three easy months. Two years of preparing for the big June 20 rally in DC and now we are reinventing it as a virtual rally, but who knows what will be happening in two weeks? I was ready to get arrested in DC on June 20. How can we really put ourselves on the line? How can we turn this moment into a movement and this uprising into a revolution?

I stand with this call:

“Building a movement to overcome systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy. Everybody's got a right to live. #PoorPeoplesCampaign”
#STOPWHEREYOUAREMONDAY
Join us: June2020.org