Prayers for Standing Rock

prayer-for-standing-rock

At 10:00am Central time, on Sunday, December 4, there will be a world-wide half hour of prayer and meditation “with the water, the earth, and the global community of supporters” of the Standing Rock Sioux nation, of those whose lives depend on the Missouri River, and all who understand the importance to all beings, of clean drinking water and reverence for sacred space.

You can register to participate at praywithstandingrock.com, donate to the water protectors, and sign a petition to President Obama, requesting that he end the violence against unarmed, peaceful protestors, who understand that water is more important than oil.

Here is an interview with Wendy Egyoku Nakao, abbot of the Los Angeles Zen Center, on why she, her and her organization, and more than 500 clergy of all denominations support the Sioux nation:

“I think we are heading for more confrontation in the days ahead. The First Nation peoples are taking a ceremonial and prayerful stand for healing from historical trauma and declaring their right to live on this earth. The DAPL folks have continued their actions, with the support of the Morton County law enforcement, regardless of injunctions, and are poised to go under the Missouri River. The mainstream media all but ignores what is happening. The current POTUS has been weak on the issue; the future POTUS is invested in Energy Transfer Partners. I encourage everyone to Stand with Standing Rock and protect the Water. Water is Life.”

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I want to apologize to someone, but I don’t know who

“I cross the Green Mountain
I sit by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head
I dreamed a monstrous dream
Something came up
Out of the sea
Swept through the land of
The rich and the free” – Bob Dylan

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Lest We Forget: Eugene V. Debs and American Socialism

“The issue is Socialism versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money constitutes no proper basis of civilization. The time has come to regenerate society— we are on the eve of a universal change.” -Eugene Debs

This is great reminder of the life of of a man, almost a hundred years ago, who put his life on the line for the cause of working people. He was jailed by Woodrow Wilson for criticizing America’s entry into the first world war, but nominated for president even while in prison. However halting it may be, it’s good sometimes to look back and see that we have made progress!

southern nights

eugene-v-debs-emerges-from-prison-1

 “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

—Mother Jones

Most young people don’t even know who Eugene V. Debs (Socialist Populist, Founder of the IWW) is, much less that he was sent to prison for 10 years for criticising a sitting President (Woodrow Wilson, Progressive) for going to War (WW I):

Nearly a million Americans, in fact, voted for federal prisoner number 9653 in 1920, and many of them were odd comrades like my Republican grandfather: people who didn’t necessarily agree with Debs’ politics but who admired his devotion to the cause of labor and his courage in speaking out against the carnage of the First World War. According to my mother, my grandfather had once heard Debs speak from the caboose of his famous “Red Special,” the train that carried him across the Midwest during the election of 1908, and was appalled that” America’s conscience”…

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Hell or High Water: a movie review

Ben Foster and Chris Pine in “Hell or High Water’

Hell or High Water came out last summer. It ran only briefly in one local theater, so I finally caught it on iTunes yesterday.  I’d planed to see it since reading an editorial that claimed Hell or High Water captured the mood of the country – at least the country between the coasts – better than any of the volumes of election year analyses.

Watching it, I remembered another great movie of hard times, Tender Mercies, 1983, but that was a film of redemption. There’s no redemption in Hell or High Water, just dry laughter at desperate measures aimed at overcoming desperate circumstance. “There’ll be no peace,” Jeff Bridges tells Pine in the closing scene. “This will  haunt you all the rest of your days. And me too.”

Two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine), a divorced father, and Tanner (Ben Foster), an ex-convict, begin robbing branches of the Texas Midland Bank. Their mother died owing the bank $32,000 and back taxes after taking out a reverse-mortgage to save her failing cattle ranch. When oil is discovered on the land, the bank issues a foreclosure notice. Toby and Tanner set out to steal money from the bank to redeem the mortgage it holds.

The robberies are too small to interest the FBI, so Texas Rangers, Marcus (Jeff Bridges)  and Alberto (Gil Birmingham) are assigned to the case. On the trail of the brothers, Alberto tells Marcus, “A hundred and fifty years ago, your great grandparents stole this country from my people. Now the banks are stealing it from you.”

Alberto’s ambivalence is mirrored by other people the rangers and the brothers encounter on their way to the inevitable showdown. Toby leaves a cafe waitress a $200 tip with stolen money. When the rangers arrive and demand the bills to check for fingerprints, the waitress says, “Get a damn warrant. This is half of a month’s mortgage. All I care about is keeping a roof over my daughter’s head.”

This is a country where hope for anything more than survival is missing. Thirty years ago, Tender Mercies showed Robert Duvall’s redemption from alchohol through the power of love and faith. In Hell or High Water, the only love is fast sex after a winning night at an Indian casino. The only reference to faith is Bridges’ comments on a TV evangelist – “He wouldn’t know God if God crawled up his pant leg and bit his pecker.”

Hell or High Water is not a depressing movie; it’s a sad movie. There’s a difference. The lonesome beauty of the land mirrors the towns that are falling apart, while the soundtrack, with songs from artists like Townes Van Zandt and Ray Wiley Hubbard, echoes the mood. Bridges’ world weary humor, and the brothers’ awareness of the irony of robbing the bank to pay the bank give us humor and moments of laughter even as a darker story unfolds.

Movies set in rural Texas have long depicted dying towns and troubled times. Think of The Last Picture Show, 1971, or No Country for Old Men, 2007. This one is filled with more topical references than any of the others. In one scene, the rangers stop as a couple of cowboys drive a small herd of cattle across the blacktop, fleeing a prairie fire that paints the sky an ugly black behind them. “It’s the 21st century,” one of the cowboys tells Bridges, “No wonder my kid doesn’t wanna do this shit!”

I’m not sure a single a single political pundit has captured as accurately the reasons this country voted the way it did in the recent election. At the same time, there’s a power in this movie I think will endure beyond any socio-economic circumstance. As Jeff Bridges character puts it, I think it will haunt the viewer for a long time.

hell-or-high-water-graffiti

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Timely quotes from Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr,By Source, Fair use, Link

Reinhold Niebuhr,By Source, Fair use, Link

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was an American theologian, ethicist, commentator on politics, and professor at Union Theological Seminary for 30 years. Among his most acclaimed books are, Moral Man and Immoral Society, and The Nature and Destiny of Man, which Modern Library named as one of the 20 best nonfiction books of the 20th century.

Neibuhr’s  best known work, however, is the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

In the wake of this year’s election cycle, his musings on history and politics have a special poignancy and relevance:

“The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism.”

“Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure. ”

“Religion, declares the modern man, is consciousness of our highest social values. Nothing could be further from the truth. True religion is a profound uneasiness about our highest social values.”

“Religion is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values.”

Neibuhr’s most haunting observation to me is this, which implies that not a single one of the countless empires that have risen and fallen before ours made much of their greatness until it was gone:

“One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun.”

Harbor Scene with Roman Ruins, Leonardo Coccorante (1680-1750), public domain

Harbor Scene with Roman Ruins, Leonardo Coccorante (1680-1750), public domain

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Irreplaceable

Leonard Cohen 1934-2016. CC-BY-SA-2.0

Leonard Cohen 1934-2016. CC-BY-SA-2.0

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
– from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

Those who know Leonard Cohen’s poetry, music, novels, and songs, know he is irreplaceable. Those who don’t know his work actually do, for unless you were raised by wolves, you’ve enjoyed some version of “Hallelujah,” which I understand has passed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the most widely covered song of all time.  Both awaken something within us to hope in a dark time.

“Hallelujah,” written in 1984, was initially rejected by a recording company as not commercial enough. A Jeff Buckley cover ten years later brought it public attention, and since then, at least 200 artists have recorded their own versions, though to hear most of the 30 verses, you have to find Leonard’s version on youTube.

I first became aware of Leonard Cohen’s music through Judy Collin’s stunning cover of “Suzanne,” almost 50 years ago.  It was covers, rather than his own gravelly voice that won him initial acclaim, though I remember vividly how his renditions of “The Stranger Song,” and “Sisters of Mercy,” were perfect for the moody western, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 1971.   “He was just some Joseph looking for a manger,” Cohen sings in the opening scene, as Warren Beaty, a hapless gambler, rides into a forsaken mining town under a lowering sky.  That’s one of those lines that has stayed with me ever since.

I don’t really have a single favorite Leonard Cohen song – so many of them are memorable. What comes to mind this morning, and is best heard Cohen’s own voice, is “Joan of Arc,” another ballad that awakens hope in some deep, visceral way as it paints the portrait of time of darkness and suffering. It still sends chills down my spine.

I send this post out to Leonard in memory of a debt of gratitude that can only be repaid as we seek for something deeper and brighter behind the apparent disasters of our lives.

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Within

Enso (public domain)

Enso (public domain)

There is Buddha in each of us right now who can never be defeated by the force of inner darkness, the force of greed, hate, attachment, and delusion, and that Buddha has no form, no image.  That Buddha, indeed, is residing in all of us as our pure, quintessential being.

We must always turn our attention inward whenever we have the desire to seek divinity, the divine, or Buddha, God, or Brahma.  This desire to seek something divine happens quite a lot, especially when we are spiritual.  From now on, whenever that desire arises, we might want to remember to immediately turn the attention inward, knowing…that whatever we are seeking is already inside.

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The Goat Speaks

A wise goat indeed!  Such great news in a season where that has grown rare.

witchlike

white-goat-pd

Oh, you silly, silly humans. Why all the nail biting, my dears? Clearly, at the beginning of this World Series, I promised you I would lift the curse.  I signed the agreement with my hoof print, did I not?

Now, a goat such as myself may possess a good deal of deceptive qualities. But one thing I guarantee is my sincerity!  A promise is a promise and I, Murphy the Billy Goat, namesake of the Billy Goat Tavern and former pet of Mr. William Sianis, am as good as my word.

The question of the Cubs winning was never in doubt.

What’s that you say? The rain? Yes, of course I sent the rain! And with it I brought a seventeen minute game delay.

rainout

There was a method to this madness, for it allowed the players to contemplate their fate. They regained their bearings and therefore could more fully…

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