cultural criticism | photography | place & space

This is a valley of ashes...

...a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Christmas Story

It’s certainly true that throughout the world, and in its many cultures, people believe and practice many things, but what happens when a people begin to forget some of the history or symbols of what they believe or practice? What happens when some people being to forget to practice what they believe? What happens when some practices evolve into something incoherent and obscure the story? What happens when an effort emerges to deliberately erase the meaning of the story if not the word Christmas itself in favor of the more Culturally, such times are Dark Ages. As an anthropologist I have an interest in these forgettings, and as a believer I have a vested interest. I cannot begin to offer the entire story or its symbolism, but some highlights show that for everything there is a season.

Advent is a liturgical season that is also the beginning of the liturgical year. It starts four Sundays prior to Christmas and ends Christmas Eve. One of the most important questions we should ask ourselves during Advent is not whether we’re ready for Christmas (shopping, decorating, mailing, baking, etc.) but whether we’re ready for Christ. Advent is actually a penitential time and one of the sparity (even fasting) needed to clear the clutter and enter ultimately into reflection. This is a special time to spiritually prepare for Jesus’ coming...his coming in his Incarnation over 2000 years ago; his coming into our lives daily; and his coming back at the end of time. As St John the Baptist teaches us, we must decrease so that Jesus might increase.

However, within Advent there are some days that elicit merriment. December 6th is the memorial of St Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra, Lycia in modern Turkey. He was known to be generous to the poor; a special protector of the innocent and wronged; and venerated as a wonderworker. He died in about 346. According to legend, upon hearing that a local man had fallen on such hard times that he was planning to sell his daughters into prostitution, Nicholas went by night to the house and threw three bags of gold in through the window which landed in their shoes, saving the girls from an evil life. As a special patron of children among others and associated with gift giving, his story evolved in northern Europe where he flies from rooftop to rooftop on a white horse on St Nicholas Eve dropping chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, as well as other such treats and trinkets, into the shoes placed out by children. This legend and practice then devolved into Santa Claus in North America.

Also of note is the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, which is one of a handful of major holy days within the year. Essentially it has nothing directly to do with the Advent-Christmas seasons and so really needn’t be discussed in this context except as a point of disambiguation. The reason why it’s not relevant to Advent-Christmas directly is because it commemorates the conception of St Mary by Sts Anne and Joachim not the conception of Jesus by St Mary, which is the commonly held belief. Another point of confusion is probably due to the many themes of Jesus’ conception at this time, but that is because, scripturally, Advent deals with events from Jesus conception to his birth as well as the many prophetic texts surrounding the advent of the messiah.

Now, the actual date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, and some place it in the spring to coincide with the likely time of the Roman census and the reason Sts Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem. It is also unknown for certain whether its placement by the early Church in the beginning of winter to coincide with (and co-opt) the pagan Saturnalia was deliberate or not. None of this ultimately matters. The birth happened, and the exact date isn’t all that important. What matters to me is unfortunately how cheapened Christmas has lacking in Christ...culturally.

The evening vigil and Christmas Day are a time to reflect deeply on one of the greatest mysteries of history and of faith...the Incarnation. The eternal, infinite, unknowable, all-powerful...the great I AM took it upon Himself to enter time and space. St John Chrysostom wrote:

It is proper and right to sing to You, bless You, praise You, thank You and worship You in all places of Your dominion; for You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same...[and]...are surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim, six-winged, many-eyed, soaring with their wings.

All of this and more have been poured into a vulnerable little baby. God entered into a human family...He entered into the whole human family so that He might bring us back home with Him.

Wisdom. Let us be attentive.

So, this isn’t really the best of times to focus our activities on crass materialism, gluttony, and boozing it up. It's just not right. Anyway, Christmas begins the liturgical season of Christmas, which lasts until Epiphany. This season is the Twelve Days of Christmas recorded in song, and this is the time for rejoicing and merriment.

Now there isn’t a day that goes by on the liturgical calendar that isn’t a feast or memorial of something or other...indeed some days contain up to a dozen possibilities, but this is a Christmas Story so I shan’t bother with the many between the beginning of Advent through Epiphany, but between Christmas Day and Epiphany there are a few that are relevant. December 26th celebrates the Holy Family, and the feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th remembers the male children who were murdered by order of King Herod the Great in his attempt to eliminate the rival king...the king as fortold in scripture and mentioned by the Magi on their way to Bethlehem...which was the reason for the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Of course chronologically, this is putting the cart before the horse, but no matter. January 1st commemorated the circumcision of the Lord one week after his birth in accords with the very Law He came to fulfill. This day is of course New Year’s Day now, and it is also the solemnity of Mary Mother of God.

The season of Christmas ends with the Epiphany of the Lord on January 6th and liturgically, ordinary time beings. In most Christian cultures this has been the time to exchange gifts (or alternately on New Year’s Day) not Christmas Day, and this practice is symbolically and historically more consistent as the Epiphany is the commemoration of the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem bearing gifts. The meanings of the gifts themselves presented are important as well. Gold is for He who is a king, frankincense is for He who is a priest, and myrrh is for He who is to die.

Culture gives us seasons. It gives us the memories and the symbols, but when a culture is in large part based on a faith...a faith that is revealed directly by the ineffable, the infinite, the A-Ω much of that are we allowed to change on our own to suit our own whim, and what is our responsibility not to forget?

The first thing that must strike...

...a non-Christian about a Christian's faith is that it is all too daring. It is too beautiful to be true: The mystery of being, unveiled as absolute love, coming down to wash the feet and the souls of its creatures; a love that assumes the whole burden of our guilt and hate, that accepts the accusations that shower down...all the scorn and contempt that nails down his incomprehensible movement of self-abasement...all this absolute love accepts in order to excuse his creature before himself.....

Hans Urs von Balthasar

Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?

Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?
That's a trick question.
Silly rabbit, Gnostic tricks are for kids.

Parallels...what does it mean exactly...

Lord Krishna is the 8th incarnation
of Vishnu – one of three persons
of the Sri Trimuthithe supreme Godhead.
Lord Christ is the incarnation
of the Son of God – one of three persons
of the Holy Trinitythe supreme Godhead.

Preface      East Meets West: I >>


It has its price.
We're forced to crawl through needle's eyes.
Our price.
Our choice.
We rarely make the right one.



...and they have unwittingly revealed themselves

Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves...If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that...he therefore cannot believe in you.


In Buddhist lore, Mara is the demon that tried to seduce the Buddha. He is personified as the embodiment of unskillfulness, the death of the spiritual life. He is a tempter, distracting us from practicing the spiritual life by making the mundane alluring or the negative seem positive. He has three sons named Confusion, Gaiety, and Pride.

It's funny how the colors of the real world
only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.

Least we forget, Mara also had three daughters named Lust, Delight, and Thirst. Whatever their names, demons transcend religious traditions, and so these demons are truly real and in no way limited to Buddhists as I'm certain that I have met these and personally know many people still under yet unawares to their influence...not least of all our slumbering culture itself.

The 'Life Force', the worship of sex, and some aspects of psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work — the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshiping, what he vaguely calls 'Forces' while denying the existence of spirits — then the end of the war will be in sight.

— Screwtape

Muad'Dib said...

Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
     I will not fear, because...
I also know that fear resides in that place where it is that I gaze upon myself instead of upon Him...
     and like Peter, I being to sink into the lake. Not alone...
I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when my fear is gone I will turn and face fear's path, and only I will remain.

from the XIVth incarnation

I believe I am a reflection,
like the moon on water.
When you see me,
and I try to be a good man,
you see yourself.

Out of the Shadow

A Modern Man,
I was presupposed to be an animal
Programmed by genetic instinct and social construct
To react.

Shed one determinism only to
Put on yet another,
A vacillating slave between instinct and construct.
There’s nothing that you can do about it,
In this glamorous illusion cast by dark powers,
Unless (shudder), never mind.

Then I was awakened to find that
I’m not animal and to see
The fingerprint that is at once too small to perceive and
Too large to comprehend.

Yet too, my Father does speak to
Men...neither animal nor spirit, but
Like no other creature,
Different than the sum of both.

I take root in and tend to His garden.

The Writing on the Walls

Altamira and Lascaux are sites of some of the most famous Paleolithic cave paintings in Europe. The predominate interpretation of the cave art is that it is a part of the religious system of its creators. This is an all too common interpretation in archaeology (when in doubt, it's religious) and it doesn't shed much specific light on this matter either. One more specific interpretation however suggests that the images are a symbiotic part of shamanic transconsiousness ritual and experience. Within either of these contexts anyway, the images must certainly represent some manner of transnatural power. Regardless of aesthetics or differences between the sacred and profane, we see from earliest times man’s impulse to write on walls.

Dirt is matter out of place.

This concept from Purity and Danger is really at the heart of whether something is graffiti or not...whether the script or image belongs on the object where it is placed as determined by the owner of the object. It is also an issue of public versus private domains. So with this understanding we can pretty well assume that these cave paintings constitute matter in its proper place. Not so with graffiti. I remember volumes of it growing up in a neighborhood that was in a turf battle between the rival Hollywood and 9th Street gangs. The tags (some larger than life and some rather artistic) were essentially a form of corporate branding for the purpose of claiming territory within the public domain scripted in a highly stylized way on unwilling private property.

A certain detachment from the surrounding world causes me to examine that world as if it were an archaeological project. Maybe this could be considered a three dimensional anthropologic ethnography where a discreet and singular snapshot is taken from a living four dimensional culture, and so my attention to graffiti began to sharpen when, about a year ago, I noticed serial tags, or that is the same graffiti tag repeated. I began to think, why? The repeated tags don’t make sense in the same way as the repeated tags of the gang rivalry of my childhood. Are these serial tags simply copycatism or is someone trying to deliberately communicate something. That’s hard to say because most of the messages are seemingly rather trite, while others are just plain cryptic. Then I came across a tag that made me much more alert. 23.

I See Good Spirits, I See Bad Spirits.

I became suspicious of the meaning behind that 23 because I recognized that number to have primary occult significance to the Temple ov Psychick Youth (TOPY) whom I first gained acquaintance with during my sophomore year in college. TOPY cannot much be defined as it really seems to present an un-dogma, but most simply it seeks manifestation of magical concepts lacking mysticism or worship of gods. There is considerable overlap with occult sex-magick and chaos-magick, and ultimately I believe that its roots are in Thelema and Gnosis. Of interest is also a similarity between its information ratio system and the 3 degrees of initiation in various secret societies, yet TOPY maintains that all of the ratios are open to all. Incidentally, chaos is also a serial tag, but I have never come across the tag of an eight-pointed compass (symbol of chaos-magick) nor have I come across a tag of TOPY's distinct psychick cross, but 23 has also become a serial tag. So, am I reading too much into meaningless bits of dirt, or has my landscape become a canvas for subliminal messaging?

There are just some, uh, eccentric housewives
trying to imagine the devil under every bed.

Who knows. It is quite possible particularly because TOPY ritualism involves the creation of sigils, which are image compositions often containing collages, symbols, fractals, and pornography. The creation of sigils is believed to be a highly potent act. Extrapolated, random and deliberate objects from billboards and legitimate signage down to graffiti may potentially be used as bits and pieces put together to present a semblance of the whole. If it is true that the landscape is purposely being used as a canvas for sigils...that public space is a sanctuary of occult ritualism, then is this the Altamira and Lascaux for the New Age?

She gave away the secrets of her past and said I’ve lost control again.

schau mal. hör mal.

intersections, webs, ripples.

a grain of sand. a pebble. a boulder.

the patterns of individuals, relationships, and time
ripples formed by our own undoing

shall we talk about the weather?
are you looking for a sign?

look. listen.
there are no victimless crimes.

magnolia avenue

The Beat from London to San Francisco

Meat Beat Manifesto sez to...Give Your Body its Freedom. I cock my head quizzically to the side...but isn't one of the greatest freedoms of all the freedom from desire? Jack Danger also sez to Degrade Yourself...ahh, I scratch my head. Huh?

Good beat with a bad rap.

Madame Guillotine is Back
having seen the prophet Ka-Spel at 1st Ave

She washed her hands 300 times,
but still they're dripping red.
We caught her in the pauper's pit;
she stole the prince's head,
still cursing blasphemy.
O mercy me...

lpd...I will fill in the Dots retroactively.

Oh the irony...of history repeating

Peace activists in Rome June 4, 2004

Read in halls and stairs of soft, worn marble

Coriander meanders and
Cumin seeds come while
Saffron canary eats
Juniper berry ignoring open
Sesame seed on the ground

he no longer picks sides

left coast, right coast: blue states
great flyover: red states
purple state of my mind: third coast

The Erasure of Place: There's no There, There

The idea that all new suburban residential and commercial developments in this vast terrain are virtually identical...where if the vernacular has not been obliterated completely, it has been co-opted in the most superficial of veneers...has been much discussed, so I will only raise the issue as a focal point of serious meditation...beyond the vulgarity that is the aesthetics of the bottom line. Pods where we plug space undifferentiated from the next...vast organimetric patterns. From this omnipresence of tangible space we move on to...

...the reordering of how we identify that space. Space, place, thing is renamed due to politics, economics, ideology. The culture is then required to reorder their history, identity, aims in reaction to place. Saint Petersburg > Leningrad > Petrograd. Candlestick Park becomes 3Com Park, but how do San Franciscans identify that will they in subsequent generations? One singular entity has the power to re-identify re-order culture. There's unease, and it's all too common so we have to sublimate...we have to laugh. The Who plays Olde Springfield's historic Yahoo! Arena. The mundane...Northern States Power is now X-cel Energy. Geographical considerations are rendered irrelevant and substituted with attitudes of success. Power doesn't come from a plant, it comes from a grid...a matrix, until we finally reach the evolutionary leap where...

...there's no there, there. They taught that to children, explaining cyberspace. She remembered a smiling tutor's lecture in the arcology's executive crèche, images shifting on a screen: pilots in enormous helmets and clumsy-looking gloves, the neuroelectronically primitive "virtual world" technology linking them more effectively with their planes, pairs of miniature video terminals pumping them a computer-generated flood of combat data, the vibrotactile feedback gloves providing a touch-world of studs and triggers. As the technology evolved, the helmets shrank, the video terminals there, there.
William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive


Cyberspace is where a long distance telephone call takes place, but it's also where the bank keeps your money. Cyberspace is where your medical records are stored. All of this stuff is out there somehow in a relationship to all of the other bits of it, and there's really no point in thinking about its geographical location.
— William Gibson, Interview for Rabid Eye 3, 1995

Project 80 Cabaret Voltaire from The Conversation, 1994. Postscript:

Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts...A graphical representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding...
— William Gibson, Neuromancer

"When it freezes...the molecules have’s clean."

The Ice Storm has been on my watch list for over a year, but given some knowledge of its subject matter, until now, I’ve always said to myself that I wouldn’t be in the mood to watch it. Interestingly, even though I believe I would have viewed this film in the same way a year ago as I did now (as it would have tugged on all of the same memories and attitudes) I don’t think that I would have had been able to articulate my impression of it in as clear a way as I shall attempt to do now. After viewing the film I cannot say that I have learned anything new about our societal heritage or the human condition, but I did gain some new metaphors and new understandings of personification to add to my lexicon. More than anything, I was enthralled by the ice.

This film has a large and impressive cast...very large, and so any kind of in-depth character study is really impossible, but that doesn’t seem to matter, because, all of the characters are portrayed as fairly single-issue and rather interchangeable...that is, all except for Mikey Carver. Is that why he had to die? So in order to make sense of character, a certain abstraction has to be undertaken, and that abstraction delivers up two characters in this film...nature and anti-nature. Yes, the protagonist is really the ice storm of countless manifestations of nature. The antagonist is 1973 American society...heir to all previous years and progenitor to all subsequent. Let’s take a look and step into that snapshot.

From the beginning we know that the ice storm is coming. It is all over the television. Even the youngest child (those who are less likely to reject mystery) makes prophecy to the impending danger, but the storm is ignored because we are too preoccupied pursuing all of our societal and personal pathologies and aspirations. We are trying to find meaning and fulfillment in a world where the ability to attain those very things has just been compromised in a cultural revolution.

This is why the society is manifest as an anti-nature, because those benefics that are inherent to our human nature have been reordered into malifics. Added to this is the resigned optimism towards our new, psychology, sociology, and the revolution itself...along with the endless drumbeat of freedom and liberation...freedom and liberation ultimately from our own humanity. Through it all, we instinctively resist going along with our liberation...much of what it asks of us is really a bit repulsive. We succumb and we still criticize. No, we’re not hypocrites as long as we really believe.

Although animate, the ice storm is not sentient, and so it is oblivious to us. The storm is also a metaphor reflecting the culture that it is slowly enveloping...oblivious to what it is, developing unrelentingly one seeming innocuous layer after another, until some lives go spinning and sliding out of control while others become entombed in glass...that is until the final snap under the weight of it all. To this day, some have not yet experienced the snap...

...but for others there is melting...not only of ice, but of hearts.

Just an Arc

Beware then when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out on a great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end. There is not a piece of science but its flank may be turned tomorrow; there is not any literary reputation, not the so-called eternal names of fame, that may not be revised and condemned. The very hopes of man, the thoughts of his heart, the religion of nations, the manners and morals of mankind are all at the mercy of a new generalization.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Circles

Version: Failures

Don't speak of false messiahs — failure of the modern man
To the centre of our life's desires — as a whole not an also ran
Love in a hollow field — made the image of your father's son
Drawn to an inner feel — he was thought of as the only one

He no longer denies — all the failures of the modern man
He no longer picks sides — sees the failures of the modern man
Wise words and sympathy — tell the story of our history
New strength gives a real touch — sense and reason make it all too much
With a strange fatality — fade the spirits of a lesser man
Some other race could see — in his way he was the only one

He no longer denies — all the failures of the modern man
No, no his God decides — sees the failures of the modern man
Now that it's right to decide — in his time he was a total man
Taken from Caesar's side — kept in silence just to prove who's wrong
No, no his God decides — all the failures of the modern man
No, no longer denies — all the failures of the modern man

Joy Division

shot twice and blown up

you have lost the body
the body that was in the park
only to find in its place
a car full of mimes

lentis | レンズ | Optik | линза | lens | φακός | 名 | objectif | lente

No matter how you spell it, we all have one. Actually, we all have many lenses and each of them undergo changes over time…retooling. Now I really often despise putting ideas into words, not because many ideas are all that complicated, but because they are often so simple and the hearer of such an idea wants to attach all manner irrelevant or incorrect meaning to the idea from the vaults of their own beliefs.

This results for me in complete frustration. It’s like Cinderella’s stepsisters when they tried to fit their feet into the rigid confines of the glass slipper. They had to cut away parts and still their feet didn’t fit right. What they ended up with was a painful, bloody mess. Yes, that’s it. My ideas are like the pudgy feet of greedy young women. Well, not really, but it brings into better view the concept that some ideas that may seem rigid may not necessarily be so. Maybe it is our (in)ability to express and to hear those ideas and the confines of our languages that are rigid.

There are two points in this that we should remain conscious of. The first is that of the habit of listening where we add to what is being said and thereby change the meaning of what is being said. We add from the deep wells of our fundamental assumptions and from our moods. The other is when we remove essential parts of the idea. Usually what gets tossed out or neglected is that part of nuance that is hardest to put into words but is critical to bringing the idea into sharpest focus, but most shamefully, nowadays what is eliminated is usually done for political reasons whether consciously or not.

Now Where am I Going with This

Good question. Let’s find out together. I should start with why I’m presenting the principle of the lens, as it really should be a fairly self-evident idea, and why I think that it is important that I should do this. I begin with the recognition of the tension between philosophical paradigms…namely that of absolutism and relativism. The tension between these two paradigms is increasing, and even though it may sound rather abstract and of little practical importance, I believe that it is this tension (as well as the very nature of definition itself) that is one of the primary roots of our most divisive and intractable societal issues today, and this is most important in understandings and discussions of what is intrinsically true and what is false, and the increasing tension in our society is not simply an academic matter.

Absolutism has been the paradigm in the western philosophical tradition ever since the ancient Greeks determined that, yes, reality is indeed real. Absolutism doesn’t maintain that everything is known or that everything is necessarily knowable, but it does maintain that truth in the matter of ethics (and subsequently law) that is objective and universal does exist. This was a rather unchallenged position until the mid twentieth century when a whole host of factors such as agnosticism, nihilism, post-war ennui, over reliance and faith in science with its subsequent disillusionment, cultural difference apparent in a shrinking world, academic inbreeding, the devil in a blue dress…Who knows for sure…resulted in postmodernism, where ethics and therefore law are entirely situational and subjectively determined.

Sweet, sweet relativism was always a pipe-dream, because absolute relativism is, well, an absolute. What really happened was the trading in of all of the old Sacred Cows for new and diametrically opposed ones, yet coo-coo-cooing relativism is still trotted out to dull the mind and breed cultural schizophrenia. This is the heart of the paradigmatic tension. One lexicon that illustrates this states:

war is peace
freedom is slavery
ignorance is strength

The updated lexicon would add:

intolerance is tolerance
pride is liberation
subjectivity is objectivity

Anyway, the principle of the lens is a useful alternative to relativism in reconciling obvious interpersonal and intercultural difference with ethical absolutism, while still maintaining that ethical truth is objective and universal. A lens is a device through which an individual views objective reality, and while more than one can be used simultaneously, the lens will color, inform, distort, nuance, sharpen, etc. that individual’s view of reality, but as always, reality and truth are independent of how and by whom they are viewed.

And so Without Beating a Horse

The basis of the lens is perception. At the lowest level the five sensory input modes along with the brain use physiologic matter to input raw (objective) information into human consciousness. This concept is readily recognizable to anyone who didn’t sleep through Psych 101 so I won’t go into any detail, but it is very important to keep in mind that the individual’s cognitive abilities as well as their affective state places limits and erects filters in what each person perceives and how those perceptions are processed. Such is the foundation, but I am really interested in the transpersonal…whether in psychology or anthropology (mythology, social systems, arts & literature, and finally pop culture).

In some circles, cultural conditioning and social constructs are looked upon as bogeymen. This is usually by those who frequently brandish terms such as hegemony and patriarchy. It seems that the complaint goes like this: all cultural knowledge (conditioning and constructs, practices and traditions) pollutes and prevents the individual from being who he is truly meant to be. Yikes, but what is a human void of cultural information? He is either a blank and blinking empty computer ripe for their programming or an animal that has had no interaction with any other human. Its seems to me that the secularist view of who a person truly is (that is existing in a world without universal boundaries) is a disturbing world of machines and beasts…such then will be our fates in this worldview, that is a view that lacks a transcendent purpose for individuals, a view that lacks objective truth, a view that lacks God.

Now that we have passed through that tangent, let’s look at conditioning, because it is an essential fashioner of many lenses. Basically it is instruction and repetition. For example, if peasants introduced to the modern world are told enough times that a toilette is used to relieve themselves in, hopefully, soon enough they will stop washing their olives in it. Likewise, if a particular behavior repulses a person, but they are told many times a day for several years that that behavior is instead beautiful and good, they will likely become conditioned. So when someone comes along and tells them once again that it is repulsive, they will likely think that person wrong, crazy, or that modern buzzword, unenlightened. Their response might even be hostile or threatened. Conditioning doesn’t need to answer to objectivity.

Selected Lenses

Physio-psychological makeup, affective state, and cultural conditioning are more or less all Built-in Lenses, because either we cannot change them, we are unaware of them, or they are part of taken for granted belief systems. Yes, even the most hardened atheist or that hugely common group of people who say that they are “spiritual but not religious” have a belief system with many hard and fast conditioned rules and beliefs as dogmatic as any fundamentalist. You see, if it is true that nature abhors a vacuum as the physicists inform us, then is it even more true that super-nature abhors a super-vacuum?

Selected Lenses on the other hand, are largely chosen, although they may be informed by those that are built in. These are the subjects that we chose to learn or the methods that we chose to employ, and through which we begin our understanding the world around us in a systematic way. I chose to study, architecture & urban design, geography, art & history, anthropology, archaeology, and belief systems. I have also come to understand that pop culture (in spite of much of its trashy low-browness) is a rich source of information. I can use each of these to study any of the others or anything else that comes across my path. Awareness of what we do, why and how we do it is as essential to scraping away the layers of subjectivity and misinformation that obscure our view of truth as is availing ourselves to those best sources.

Everything that I have been exposed to is retained within deep vaults…all of my personal experiences, everything that I have read, all the music I have heard, and all of the films and television that I have seen. These things form who I am in the sense of my history, and they are also lenses, but more than that, they are a palette through which I express my thoughts…at times in the manner of a collage of samples that is likely to be meaningless to those uninitiated in the references used.

I disagree that it’s all relative, but I do believe that it’s all referential.

From the vaults of memory...a time forlorn

do not turn your heads above
fruitless tries
immerse yourself whence you came
therein lies
the depths of an ocean's love

Haiku of Courage

sitting in the group
choir preaching to choir
what a circle-jerk

It's a Poet's Poet's World

I was...

...but would have rather been

ee cummings

An experimental gram- matical poet, ee cummings was surprisingly boring as an actual person. He wrote on topics of sex and war, and pioneered a new almost concretist style of avant-garde poetry which makes very little sense to the uninitiated.
Lord Byron

Quite the Ladies' man, Byron wrote during the early 19th century. He was born with a deformity, and much of his life was spent with a sense of urgency, trying to suck up as much life as he could to make up for his own insecurities. He was a bisexual and died very young of fever.

anyone lived in a pretty how town

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then) they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

My Soul is Dark

My soul is dark - Oh! quickly string
  The harp I yet can brook to hear;
And let thy gentle fingers fling
  Its melting murmurs o'er mine ear.
If in this heart a hope be dear,
  That sound shall charm it forth again:
If in these eyes there lurk a tear,
  'Twill flow, and cease to burn my brain.

But bid the strain be wild and deep,
  Nor let thy notes of joy be first:
I tell thee, minstrel, I must weep,
  Or else this heavy heart will burst;
For it hath been by sorrow nursed,
  And ached in sleepless silence, long;
And now 'tis doomed to know the worst,
  And break at once - or yield to song.

I had to dust off my high school humanities textbook. ee was a mighty fine poet. At least anyone lived in a pretty how town is brilliant. Poor anyone and noone. At least they found each other and have herein been immortalized.

Now Byron…fabulous silk turbans and jackets. What an ambi-dandy, and that sense of urgency, trying to suck up as much life as he could…some things we feel in our marrow. My Soul is Dark. Yes, indeed my soul is restless until it rests in Thee o Lord.

Which famous poet are you?

Passionate About the Passion

Why did you send me this? It’s too thought provoking for me to ignore, and I have enough "homework" to do with two impending book clubs, compiling music for dad, arranging music with Cyn & Chels, modifying photos so that I can make cards, other essay correspondence, whine, whine, whine. Now I am compelled to write an essay in response this article, or maybe I just like to argue anyway - the academic’s curse.

This article gave me a perspective on this film that I haven’t come across until now. The two perspectives that I have been exposed to are Catholic and secular. I obviously follow Catholic news sources on television and the Internet, and this film has been all the buzz in those venues and among those I know for well over a year. All of the Catholic review sources (and there have been many as there have been many pre-screenings) constantly comment on the themes of art, devotion, and mystery as being central to the film - themes that are very familiar to me. Indeed Mel Gibson is Catholic, so this should make sense, and being a tribal lot, the hand wringing in defense of this project and the sniffing of Mr. Gibson’s ass to judge his fidelity began early on.

Now, the greater portion of hand wringing (and the other perspective I spoke of) has come from secular detractors - the amorphous group that is largely comprised of the self-important, so-called progressive talking-heads who if they haven’t killed God in their own minds already, have recreated Him in their own banal image and relegated Him to a sphere so private as to barely exist at all. Their three main concerns to date have been anti-Semitism, film violence, and the historical factuality of the events portrayed.

While speaking about power to the people out of one side of their face, the progressive cognoscenti (including the ADL) then speak out of the other side as to how the masses are unable to think without proper guidance by the elite, and so the masses, that bunch of knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers (that’s you and me folks) cannot be trusted to watch this film. It will spur us on to violent acts of anti-Semitism. Tosh! Indeed, France (the country with the highest incidence of anti-Semitic crime in the EU) has banned the film. The problem with France (well one of them) is their denial of facts when the facts don’t conform to their preferred ideology. An EU study found that the overwhelming majority of anti-Semitic crime (racism) in the EU is committed by Muslims, but the study was "thrown out", because those who read the study felt that it would be racist to accuse Muslims of racism. You know, I just have a hard time seeing French Muslims getting all whipped up over a Jesus flick if they weren’t before. Even in our own country, the most anti-Semitic among us are leftist anti-Zionists - not exactly the prime demographic for this film.

This brings me to violence, the violence portrayed in the film that is. This is really a personal matter and people’s sensibilities are different and so I will not fault them, but for myself and many of those in my generation, after a steady diet of Jason of Friday the 13th, Quentin Tarantino, and the (if it bleeds, it leads) TV news all of our lives, what else could possibly compare? One such reviewer betrayed her own hypocrisy when she was shocked by the graphicness of the flogging when bits of flesh were torn and flung away. From what I know from my studies of the Bronze and Iron Age Europe, that’s the way it was folks. The Romans were masters of brutality and sadism. That glistening brains from a snuff-job hanging in Jackson’s geri curls in a Tarantino film barely raises an eyebrow for Jami Bernard is the bigger issue for me, but the point of the matter is that all sin ultimately does violence, and this is what it looks like. Someone said that, film reviewers are "like most of us when confronted with our sinfulness, it's easier to blame the messenger than the confront the message itself." This is the message of the cross and it is a stumbling block for many. The cross was a scandal to the Jews and a folly to the gentiles. Why should God almighty subject Himself to that? The wood of the cross, oh come let us worship.

Then there is that matter of the historical factualness of the film. At least the chattering classes concede that Jesus was an historical fact - this is coming a long way, but most of the criticisms to this point have really amounted to not much more than dreadfully all-important nit picking - like Jesus’ hair would have been shorter, Pilate would have spoken Greek, the crowds wouldn’t have been that large. In my best Fr. Groeschel voice, all I can say is, "You were there?" Also, this isn’t even the point. Gibson doesn’t claim to have made an historical documentary, but rather a devotional piece of art that does not contradict the Gospel accounts. Since as a people we no longer tend to paint masterpieces on ceilings or to carve the sublime out of marble, we use film as our medium. This is how this film should be encountered.

So finally, I can get to Wayment’s article. His primary query seems to be regarding the historical accuracy of this film. All in all his research into the political machinations of Roman-Province relations squares with my own studies on the matter. It was always a symbiotic dance between imperialists, local client kings/priests, and everyone concerned’s patrons. There was really a lot of subtlety to the game of rulership, but when the smack needed to come down, come down it did - hard. The thing is that Wayment is so concerned with the events and the political reasons for the events prior to where the film begins, that I cannot help but believe that he profoundly misunderstands it.

This film in no way attempts to investigate or offer an explanation for who was responsible for the death of Jesus, and so Wayment’s presentation of Judeo-Roman politics offers an interesting historical footnote, but it is ultimately moot. This fact is craftily woven into the way this art was staged. It is Mel Gibson’s hand that is filmed holding the spike driven into Jesus’ hand. Why? Because Gibson is responsible for His death. I am responsible. You are responsible. Wayment is responsible, and so I think that the raison d’être for his thesis melts away. There is no special onus upon the Jews - actual or implied.

He then makes the bold assertion that, "In The Passion, the idea is presented that the Atonement was efficacious because of the sheer brutality of Jesus’ punishments." Now what I think he should have said instead is that he personally interprets the film that way, but where is the evidence? The level of brutality exists, but it has nothing to do with efficaciousness; this is a non sequitur without any additional knowledge. One could just as easily come away with the impression that the sacrifice was efficacious because the victim was the Son of God. I’ve seen three interviews given by Mel Gibson, and not once does he state or imply that he believes that the level of brutality and sacrificial efficaciousness are related, nor is there any Catholic theology that teaches this. I do know that Gibson personally believes that the passion simply was not only that violent, but more so. Again, the film that Wayment is describing I believe comes from his own uninformed interpretation, not from the script or from the big screen.

I said earlier that this film is a devotional art form, but what is it more specifically? It is a passion play - a theatrical art form that to the best of my knowledge began to develop about 1000 years ago - hence the name of the film. Passion plays were limited to portraying the events of Good Friday, and it appears that Wayment is unaware of this and therefore the nature of this film. He has done a great deal of research into what he thinks this film should be, but it seems that he has done no research into the spirituality of the artist and what it is that he has created. Wayment ends up spilling an inordinate amount of ink complaining that the film The Passion is only about the passion and in the end betrays a certain spiritual poverty. Of course the passion play or the similar Stations of the Cross or Sorrowful Mysteries aren’t the only devotions or art forms in millennia of unbroken tradition. There are art forms, devotions, and meditations for every aspect of redemption, for every mystery, for every discipline, and for every personal spirituality. Each have their due season and each have their particular adherents.

Now what other centrally important themes are absent from Wayment’s redaction? For one thing, this film is very Eucharistic. Why were the flashback scenes of the Last Supper brought to bear on the crucifixion scenes? Because they are one in the same thing. This is the Passover of the Lord, the sacred meal, the sacrifice of the Lamb. This is the Mass itself - not mere symbols. Mary says, "Why is this night different from all others?" Because that night is the Keystone that holds all of history together, just as the crucifixion is Key to understanding the Passover in its fullness. This is what the film is about, and Wayment completely missed it. The film is full of images that speak to those mysteries that are beyond the Temple Veil and those mysteries that came to Earth.

On second thought, Wayment’s criticisms aren’t any different from the other perspectives that I have encountered as a matter of content. He is primarily concerned with historical reasons that are outside of the scope of the film’s subject; he is concerned with disproportionately applying guilt to Jews; and he is concerned with violence to the point that he imagines whole new theology. Where he differs from others is in matter of form - he is more reasoned and doesn’t fall into the Chicken Little Syndrome that is so common with other reviewers. Incidentally, since the film has opened, the newest issue to crop up is about the fact that it appears it is on its way to becoming a huge box office success. Oops, Hollywood fumbled on this one big-time, and now the charge being leveled at Gibson & Co. is that they are pimping Jesus. How they wail and gnash.

He is Passing By

I'm looking for an cultural milieu where I can live, love, create, explore in joy and my unconventionalness and still be ever faithful to my God. What I have found is two very different and not altogether different camps who will welcome me, but their welcome implies a certain expectation that I will be accountable to their respective groupthink. However, will I stand before either camp to account on that last day?

This first camp, let’s call them Sinestra, challenges me to cherish, respect, and stand in awe of the created order, well up to a point. I know that this created order is a work of high art, and that it points me to the Artist. The problem is that Sinestra asks me to pay no attention to the Man behind the curtain...the temple veil. Sinestra also curiously expects that I should use my body...this created order writ ways that disrespect how and why it was created. When pressed, Sinestra will wax spiritual and say that the Artist says, "it is good," and create a new unchallengeable dogma. In the face of everything that I everything that has been revealed to me in the artwork and by the Artist Himself...I cannot cotton to this notion.

Further Sinestra prods me on to use my gifts to bring joy to myself and to go out on a limb and to birth forth. Only the sole appropriate limb has been carefully chosen to the exclusion of spite of their language of inclusivity. Our gifts and our accumulating and yet selective knowledge divorced from Wisdom propel us toward progress. This new dogma expects me to believe that the progress wrought will somehow be what saves us. Again, I am witness...eyes wide open and in what has been wrought. Pity...this squandering of talent and wonder that so often goes misused or totally unused for that fear.

The other camp, Destra if a name must be used, has the clear and often consuming desire to remain faithful. They see what is behind that curtain...even if imperfectly. Maybe it is this inevitable and wholly acceptable imperfection that results in their handwringing over minutia. Well, the devil is in the details; I have met him there often, and always to my undoing. Joy and the desire to explore and to serve in love become sabotaged by ruminating over the cracks in the chimney. Ah the smoke is all around it is even in the sanctuary. Yes indeed it is...has been for a long time really. What can I do about this? I am but a very small creature. I will not fret if I have not the power to affect change, and if I have such power, please let me use it in a way that is proactive, creative, constructive, and without fear. This is my challenge to myself and to any who will listen.

While I perceive that Destra’s reading of the signs is more often than not true, their reaction just as often denies that what they behold is itself the Truth. I get the impression at times that we are expected turn ourselves inside out over every incidence of improper act, speech, and thought. I’ve seen men do as much. The response to this toxic shame or to that primal fear and to whatever other affective instability inherent in their makeup lead them to a near bottomless despair that must in itself have cried out to heaven. It certainly made me stand up within myself and say this is not the work of the Spirit.

The thing is that Sinestra and Destra are really one in the same people, from our brokenness we react out of fear...fear of the other...fear of the self. All to defend our crumbs, at the beginning of the day fear is what lashes out and at the end of the day fear is what wins out. I am unimpressed and I am weary. I don’t much want to play with either Sinestra or Destra even though I mustn’t be alone...or so both keep telling me. I simply want to gaze in awe, to soak up and contribute to that beauty, and reach out and grab onto His hem when He passes by.