Friday, January 28, 2011

Prayer & the Picardy Third

I have a poem (of sorts) posted to my column at Burnside Writers Collective, "Becoming the Great Us." Here's the first stanza of "The Song We Were Made to Sing":

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
One that diminishes hatred and crescendos love.
One that fills the backbeat of every injury with pardon.
One that harmonizes every doubt with a root note of faith.
One that puts despair to rest and counts off the beat of hope.
One that makes open all the dark notes.
One that ends every minor key with a Picardy third.
You can read the rest here. Posting it here is a tad bit self-indulgent, I realize, but I liked it--especially the Picardy third thing, which holds a special, nostalgic place in my former-musician's heart. Anyway, it's my blog, so my rules; and if I can post twice on a mayoral race I can't even vote in, I can certainly pimp my own poetry.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Man Who Would Mouth Off About the Man Who Would Be Mayor

So, yesterday I posted about Rahm Emmanuel's complicated bid to become Chicago's mayor. I was making a comment about Chicago politics, how the city has a reputation for running not so much as a democracy but as a machine, operated by people who admittedly love Chicago but are not overly constrained by the nagging details of constitutionality. This reputation goes far, far back and is not isolated by any means to Chicago: multiple Illinois governors have served time for their complicated relationship to the law; meanwhile, multiple federal investigations have come and gone about the deals struck by multiple Chicago mayors. Chicago politics are fair game for commentary, in my opinion, thanks to a number of reasons:

* First and foremost, my proximity to Chicago. I'm not a resident, but I'm a very near neighbor, and as such my well-being is caught up somewhat in Chicago's.
* Second, the increasingly national and international prominence of the city. The sitting U.S. president cut his political teeth in Chicago; his former chief of staff is the leading candidate in this year's mayoral election. That candidate's replacement at the White House is the brother of Chicago's current mayor and a veteran of both local and national politics. Meanwhile, the current mayor has made regular, repeated efforts to assert the city on a global stage, most recently in the failed bid for the 2016 Olympics. If banks and auto makers are too big to fail, certainly a city like Chicago is too big to ignore.

So I don't apologize for posting my thoughts about Rahm for Mayor. I find Chicago politics fascinating, and my local news will not shut up about it, and we inhabit an era when anyone can post anything they want at any time.

Nevertheless, I've been (rightly) challenged (both publicly, in the comments to yesterday's post, and privately, in correspondence with my "anonymous" commentator) in both the tone and the assumptions I made in my post. I claim de-caffeination as my only excuse. Here I offer the caveats and retractions that have occurred to me over the past twenty-four hours; feel free to bust me on anything I've still overlooked.

I overstated things when I suggested (unconsciously) that Chicago does not function as a democracy. It does; there are no formal artificial restrictions on who can run for office and who can vote in elections. There is usually robust competition (if only within the dominant political party) for open seats. Moreover, I don't think that other democratic elections lack the kind of influence/manipulation/whatever that is undoubtedly exercised in Chicago campaigns; there are power differentials from the outset of any competition. Incumbents have advantages of name recognition and established campaign infrastructures, not to mention ease of access to people of power, influence and wealth. Dominant parties gerrymander the political landscape to reinforce their dominance. And so on. I remember an early campaign of Barack Obama's, when he staged a press conference by a grossly neglected patch of Chicago street to complain about the sitting congressman's neglect of his district; the cameras were rolling as Candidate Obama complained, while behind him city crews rolled up and repaired the road. Obama lost that campaign, and the incumbent won.

I overspoke when I insinuated that Rahm's assertion of residency is in open defiance of the reality of the situation. He has made a case that has proven compelling to plenty of people--although I think even those who aren't directly involved in his campaign are at least partly influenced by self-interest. The more candidates the better, and perhaps Rahm is in fact the best candidate. In any case, his disputed residency claims aside, he certainly has demonstrated his investment in Chicago; he's also, certainly, demonstrated his national and even international aspirations.

I overspoke when I characterized efforts at globalizing Chicago "failed"; I think Chicago is, in fact, a world-class city, and has earned that designation in a number of ways. But unlike New York or Los Angeles it is unshakingly, undeniably midwestern. And so its global aspirations are complicated by its decidedly local character. A vote for Rahm tips the city global; a vote for pretty much any other candidate tips it local.

Most important, I overspoke in what was a tacit (and unintended) implication that anyone working in Chicago government is part of a machine, not part of a responsible government. That's most certainly not the case. I am actually a big fan of civil service, and the vast majority (even most of those whose decisions and actions butt up against laws of governance every now and then) are motivated by their love for their city and their conviction that governance and even politics are common goods. There's undeniably a machine in Chicago politics, but there are also lots and lots of good people.

OK, beyond that I stand by my original post, the bottom line of which is this: like most cities, Chicago wants to be global, but it wants to remain local. Like pretty much everyone, it wants to follow the law, but it doesn't want to be constrained by the law. Rahm's bid for mayor is a helpful case study in a city figuring out what it wants, what it can't have, and its path to acquiring the wisdom to know the difference. Anything else I need to recant about?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Man Who Would Be Mayor

I don't get a vote in the Chicago mayoral race. I live in the suburbs, and while my prosperity is in many ways caught up in Chicago's, I rightfully don't participate in the democratic process there. I leave that to the people who claim a Chicago residential address--people like Rahm Emmanuel.

Of course, Emmanuel's claim of a Chicago residential address is in dispute these days, and that's a matter of national (even international) interest, since Rahm is far and away the front-runner in Chicago's mayoral election.

I should quickly note that technically he's the front-runner in Chicago's Democratic mayoral primary, with the assumption that whoever wins the primary will win the election proper. Chicago is a Democratic city--thanks in large part to the "Chicago machine," which manages democracy like Google manages word searches, by which I mean steering the expressed desires of the people toward a sponsored selection. If I search for "tires" on Google, I am met with a sidebar of ads for tires, as well as four sponsored links topping the list of my search results. Technically I've expressed my desire, and technically Google has answered it, but in reality the Pep Boys ad budget is the real winner.

That's right: I just compared Rahm Emmanuel to Pep Boys. I mean no disrespect.

Anyway, Rahm Emmanuel would be the heir apparent to Chicago's mayoral office, except for the nagging detail that he hasn't lived in Chicago for two years, and election laws require that he have lived in Chicago for a year prior to the election. As I understand it (and I doubt I fully understand it), Rahm's response is that he was acting in service to his country by taking the position of President Obama's chief of staff, and that such national service overrides residency requirements.

According to Rahm, it's clear from the preponderance of evidence that he never stopped calling Chicago home, that he always intended to return, that the spirit of the thing overrides the letter of the thing. Rahm has, arguably, been an expatriate citizen of Chicago, and his bid for the mayor's office represents his grand homecoming. The problem is, it's also clear from the preponderance of evidence that he did stop calling Chicago home, that he had relocated for the foreseeable future to Washington, D.C., that he returned to Chicago only when the way seemed clear for him to assume the mayor's office.

So we have the far-and-away favorite candidate for the Chicago mayor's office disputing a seemingly clear residency requirement that, for now at least, has him off the ballot. Presumably, even a write-in campaign wouldn't resolve in Rahm's favor; he's off the ballot because he's ineligible to be mayor, not because he's ineligible to campaign.

Chicago is (or claims to be, or wants to be) a world-class city, but it has a lot of the marks of an extremely local city. The Chicago Way, much discussed since a Chicagoan assumed the U.S. presidency, assures that democracy and free markets and other nagging details don't get in the way of smooth operation. In Chicago it's the insiders who rule, and in this one small way, Rahm is an outsider.

But Rahm is also one of only two candidates for mayor with a global reputation, and his is the only good global reputation. The failed efforts of Chicago's current mayor to make Chicago a city of the world--most notably, the failed bid to bring the Olympics here in 2016--reveal perhaps the Achilles heel of the Chicago machine: we're too insular, too cloistered to be anything more than a major midwestern city; we'll never be more, in the imagination of the world, than the collective caricature of Al Capone, Michael Jordan and the Blues Brothers, with a side of cheese sauce and Polish sausage.

Rahm has appealed his residency problem to the Illinois Supreme Court, which I expect will overturn the appellate court's ruling against him. They'll do it not because Rahm's in compliance with the rules of candidacy for Chicago's mayoral office, but because he's what the city and the state want: an insider with an outsider's address; a would-be mayor with a fondness for the city and an unmatched rolodex. And it would not be the Chicago Way to let a little thing like a law get in the way of what Chicago wants.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Boo Hoo, Yahoo

My uncle Pete (who may be Loud Time's only reader) called me last night to let me know that my URL is broken. Why I'm blogging about it is a mystery, but I do want to let you know, Pete (and whoever else might be reading this), that I'm working on a solution. In the meantime, you may want to make your life easier by changing your shortcuts to

http://loud-time.blogspot.com

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dangerbooks! Buy This Book So I Can Go to Ethiopia

In the current reading climate, books that confront the status quo are often strategically overlooked in favor of books that are "safe for the whole family" or some other category of innocuousness. Given the choice between reading a book that makes us feel comfortable and one that makes us feel uncomfortable, we'll more often than not choose comfort. It's the books that make us uncomfortable, though--and by that I don't mean books that manipulate us with portraits of savagery or salacious details of sexual experimentation, but rather books that poke and prod at the presumed legitimacy of the comfortable life--such books are born in a belly-fire, written because they can't not be written. The best of them aren't driven by sales but by, I dare say, the Spirit.

The authors of books that threaten to change people don't see their writing as a sort of literary 401k, so they don't typically expect to break sales records. Nevertheless, I like to do my part to showcase them and their books, as much out of appreciation for their impact on me, as out of my conviction that the responsibility of publishing is to push and stretch and confront and afflict, even as it encourages and empowers and even comforts. So without further ado, I offer my latest Dangerbooks! review, this one of Buy This Book So I Can Go to Ethiopia!

Buy This Book's author, Tony Melton, is an unassuming guy. Local to the core, he substitute-teaches in our mutual hometown of Lombard, Illinois, but when he's not teaching (and even when he is) he's getting it done. I and other friends have nominated Tony on multiple occasions for Lombard citizen of the year, and I suspect the only reason he hasn't won yet is that he puts so much of his energy into the people of Lombard who are perennially overlooked or even actively marginalized by the kind of people who would deign to select and award someone with a "Citizen of the Year" award. Tony is a tireless advocate of the homeless community where we live, and not just in systematic or programmatic ways but in true relationship. He and his family know the names of the men and women who wander the streets from shelter to shelter; they know his name too, and the names of his wife and kids. While other shelter volunteers hide in the kitchen or struggle to come up with conversation topics, Tony is back-slapping and organizing book discussions and fantasy football leagues.

Those relationships inform many of the insights of Tony's book. The goal of the book is Ethiopia, but the context of the book is decidedly local and everyday, an exploration of what following Jesus offers and entails for your average American. Much of what emerges as he chases that question is a frank but winsome critique of middle-class priorities, and the hidden damage they do to those of us in the middle-class, and the great things they prevent us from doing and experiencing. The structure of the book (he calls it a "blook," book + blog, but that's just an excuse to write how he talks) is twenty-two "ideas" that have come to him as he tries to live as a person of faith somewhere in middle America. The first idea is "Quit Your Job"; the second is "Stop Biting Your Nails." One would think that these ideas are mutually exclusive, but Tony's so crazy that he makes them seem sensible together.

You'll see pretty quickly that Tony is an unembarrassed fan of megachurch Willow Creek and its present and former pastoral staff, particularly Bill Hybels and John Ortberg. For the record, I'm a former member of Willow Creek and I retain a fondness for both those leaders (my wife has a bit of a crush on Ortberg, and honestly so do I). But from the book you would never picture Tony sipping a Lamb of God Latte or freely mashing up Gospel stories with Stephen Covey leadership principles, or whatever you imagine when you hear megachurch. What you imagine when you read his book is pretty much what he is: a down-to-earth guy eagerly anticipating God's kingdom come, God's will done. Read enough of Tony's stuff and you'll start imagining "every valley . . . raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground . . . level, the rugged places a plain" (Isaiah 40:4).

Tony needs 500 people to buy this book so he can go to Ethiopia, where he'll meet and imagine with people from the village that gave him two nieces. I'd love to see enough people buy this book so he can visit again and again, like a good neighbor would, and help us better understand our own faith by the insights he brings back from our brothers and sisters there. To that end, if you'd like to contact Tony about the book or bring him to your church to speak, let me know and I'll get him in touch with you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Now Is the Time to Make Real the Promise"

A brief reflection on time, taken from a letter from Martin Luther King Jr. to white clergy, on the occasion of his arrest and imprisonment in Birmingham, Alabama, for "parading without a permit" in an effort to end legal segregation in that city. For the full text of the letter (which I read once a year, every year--a practice I recommend wholeheartedly), click here.

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Last Day of the Best of Your Life?

When I turned thirty I happened to be reading The Brothers Karamazov, which includes a melancholy reflection about turning thirty. I archived it for myself; it struck me as a gloomy though largely accurate forecast for the first day of the rest of my life.

Thirty often gives men of letters pause, it seems. Dostoyevsky couldn't leave it be; neither could Michael Stipe of REM: "I can't see myself at thirty," he sang at some point in his twenties. Randy Stonehill wrote a song about the steadfast love of the Lord never changing, even as each of his fickle followers starts "Turning Thirty." I heard a live version of that song; he added the line "I wrote this song eight years ago." The audience laughed, as did the artist. I laughed too, although it made me a little sad as well.

Thirty is foreboding to many in their twenties; it often approaches the level of existential crisis in the moment of its passing. I wouldn't call it nostalgic for those of us who long ago left it behind, but it does reassert itself to the mind every now and then--especially when we're confronted with even larger round numbers.

Last summer I turned forty, and I've since been struggling with the significance of it. Do I need to become someone new even as I become someone old? Do I need to repent of my formerly young self? Do I take pride in having survived my first and second adolescences? And what about the sheer sameness of it, the arresting fact that in reality very little of substance distinguishes my fortieth year from my thirty-ninth?

Don't worry; I'm not going to buy a sports car or pierce anything. But I'm not helped by the men of letters who openly opine over the gravity of the age--men like Mark Twain, who in his recently published autobiography recalls a conversation with John Hay, who would become Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt but who, at age forty, was simply a friend concerned about forty-two-year-old Twain's lack of initiative at writing his autobiography:

At forty a man reaches the top of the hill of life and starts down the sunset side. The ordinary man, the average man, not to particularize too closely and say the commonplace man, has at that age succeeded or failed; in either case he has lived all of his life that is likely to be worth recording.

Gack. Good thing I live with a therapist. But wait--there's more:

Also in either case the life lived is worth setting down, and cannot fail to be interesting if he comes as near to telling the truth about himself as he can. And he will tell the truth in spite of himself, for his facts and his fictions will work loyally together for the protection of the reader; each fact and each fiction will be a dab of paint, each will fall in its right place, and together they will paint his portrait; not the portrait he thinks they are painting, but his real portrait, the inside of him, the soul of him, his character.

Maybe that's what it is; forty brings with it an added responsibility. We're no longer responsible just for the living of our lives; we're now responsible for laying out our lives as a case study for those who follow, to own and confess and present our celebrations and our regrets not as some act of narcissistic self-assertion but as a way of reflecting the shared reality we all inhabit--a reality that isn't limited to three dimensions but includes the passage of time. Our history is relevant to those younger than we are because it's in many ways their future; it's also in many ways their present, and ours too. And our future, well, it's the future of all God's creatures made of dust. I'm reminded of Nada Surf's poignant lyrics from "See These Bones," in which men of letters reach out from the grave to remind their progeny of their potential and of their mortality:

Look alive, see these bones
What you are now, we were once
And just like we are, you'll be dust
And just like we are, permanent

Friday, January 14, 2011

I Am What I Play

Last week at a "Strengths Essentials" workshop with many of my coworkers, we were asked to think of what our dream job would be. I hate questions like that in moments like that. I suddenly go blank and default to what I'm doing right now. It may be a question only for people at crisis points--fresh out of college, laid off, in the throes of a mid- or quarter-life crisis. But you can't not answer it, you know? I made the mistake of sitting at the front of the room, at the same table as the head of our company, and everyone else knew exactly what they would do. So I scanned my brain and came up with "radio DJ."

That's about the only thing that stuck with me from the course. I've come across some of this material before; I took a Strengths Finder(tm) assessment some years ago, and I wrote a pretty negative review of the source material for this spinoff, The Truth About You, when I read that. That's where Buckingham makes the argument that "strengths" are what strengthens you, and therefore you need to identify what you lose track of time doing, what puts wind beneath your wings, that sort of thing.

But back to the dream job. I wouldn't have thought that such an icebreaker question would be so provocative for me, but I keep thinking about it. It depends, first, on what you initially imagine when you hear DJ. My boss heard it and thought of those guys who play music at wedding receptions, which for the record is not my dream job. I do like to be in charge of the music and to craft something by the range and sequence of my musical choices, but for the record my dream job as I identified it that day was a radio DJ, which for me involves waking people up in the morning or accompanying them on their ride home or road trip, picking songs for them, telling them stories, getting behind the music by talking to artists and groups, dissecting and unpacking the songs to discern what makes them brilliant, that sort of thing.

I think (or better, I like to think) I listen to a slightly higher class of radio; Chicago's WXRT is a perennial on the short list of top stations for Rolling Stone, Paste and other music industry trackers. Its DJs are artists, historians, musicologists, cultural anthropologists, all sorts of ists. WXRT is the National Public Radio of rock n roll, if you could imagine such a thing. Their morning drive show, hosted by Lin Brehmer, is utterly unique; their late-night and weekend offerings are predictably fresh and well-presented. I interviewed afternoon on-air talent Frank E. Lee for my first book (Comic Book Character), and he confirmed every geeky, idolatrous quality I'd projected on to him over the airwaves. These DJs know their stuff; they know what they're doing; they add value to music that's already a national treasure.

Sure, that's over the top, but it's a dream job. Lighten up. DJs are also celebrities, sort of by proxy. We know their names, mainly because they put us in more direct contact with people whose names we know. Frank E. Lee interviews Led Zeppelin alum Robert Plant and I suddenly know both better, and I am more awestruck by both. Lin Brehmer talks shop with Elvis Costello or Death Cab for Cutie and I get new insight into the songwriting process. Paul McCartney wins the Gershwin Prize for Popular Music and performs at the White House, and I squeal and point and shout, "There's WXRT DJ Teri Hemmert in the second row!" I'm embarrassed to admit it, but there are parts of me that want that squeal for myself.

So, radio DJ is my dream job, but I will never pursue it, and more than that, I'll likely never leave my current job as a book editor unless forced. Because when I think about radio DJs, I realize that what they do for music, I sort of do for books--at least enough of it to keep it interesting. I get to know and spend time with people I admire. I get to crack open the craftsmanship of writing with them. I get early exposure to what their fans will be reading from them next. I get to think about artist and audience and cultural moment, and I regularly get to help craft a catalog that brings those three elements together in a creative concoction. I get to go into green rooms or after parties and meet people who have interested me from afar. I get to show off to my friends about who I've talked to or hung out with or read manuscripts by lately. I get to dabble in my own creative process, and no one is surprised or put off by the fact that I do that. I don't need to become a DJ because, in my mind at least, I already am a DJ.

That, I think, is what's most valuable about that "dream job" question. It's not a great question for making career decisions or for letting off steam about what frustrates you at work. I'm not sure it's even a helpful question for people who are actively job-seeking, the victims of our economic downturn. The lead-in to the "dream job" question is always, if only implicitly, "If money were no object . . ." or "In a perfect world . . ." Money is always an object--it's the object, actually, of a job. And the world will be perfect only after our fantasies and realities have been redeemed by the Great Redeemer. No, the "dream job" is a working metaphor, a parable even, shedding light on what you're doing right now, and what sustains you in that work over time. As for me, I quote David Bowie: "I am a DJ; I am what I play."

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Epiphany

Lights come up and we see three kings outside a hut. Balthazar (B), Melchior (M) and Caspar (C) have traveled far, with great expectations driving them forward. This place, the home of Joseph (J) and Mary, is not what they anticipated, not what their research and the corroborating evidence of King Herod's advisors, have led them to expect. This brief moment has all the markings of epiphany--a moment that shrouds in mystery as much as it reveals, one that burdens as much as it enlightens.

B: What travesty is this?
M: Balthazar! Keep quiet!
B: I will not. We’ve been traveling forever. And this is where we’ve been coming?
C: It does seem odd . . .
B: I’m leaving.
M: You are not leaving. You’re staying.
B: Listen to me, Melchior. It’s cold. There’s no place to sleep here. It stinks. I’m not wasting such a valuable gift on peasants. I’m going to find shelter somewhere in this backwater town and start making my way home in the morning.
C: But the star led us here. The stars don’t lie.
M: Right, Caspar! The stars don’t lie, Melchior. We’ve built our fortunes on that assumption.
B: No we didn’t. Don’t tell me you believe that. We built our fortunes on wit and will; the stars help, but they don’t dictate.
C: Oh come now, both of you. Neither the stars nor our wit had anything to do with our fortunes; our wills, maybe . . .
B: What’s that supposed to mean?
C: You inherited your wealth, didn’t you? And with it your privilege and power. Only a fool could fall from the heights we were born to, and whatever we are, we aren’t fools.
B: Hmph. Well, I won’t be made a fool by this filthy child and his filthy parents either. I’m leaving.
M: Wait! We’ve invested so much in this journey. And it’s not like the star alone guided us. We researched this. Even the king’s advisors confirmed our thesis.
C: We should think this through . . .
B: Bah. You think too much!
M: And you think too little! [a baby’s cries come from the house]
C: Quiet! You’ve woken the child.
B: Great. A crying baby. The one thing missing from this historic moment.
J: [comes out of the house] What are you doing out here?
M: Sir, we’ve come to meet the child.
J: Who sent you?
M: We followed a star in the heavens.
J: What star?
M: Well, it’s hard to make out tonight, but we’ve followed it for months, and tonight it came to rest over this stable.
J: Why should I believe you?
C: Your king sends his greetings; he confirmed our research for us.
J: The king?!?
B: Your king, sir. Your response doesn’t reflect well on your fidelity.
J: I’m sorry. Of course. May I offer you anything? We don’t have much . . .
B: Do you have any beds?
M: Balthazar! Sir, we have gifts for your child.
C: And then we’ll be on our way. The king has requested an audience once we’ve paid homage to your son.
J: Paid homage?
M: Sir, the stars suggest that your son will inherit the throne.
B: Seems bloody unlikely to me, all things considered.
J: No . . . the stars are right. But not in the way you think . . .
C: What’s this?
J: I’ve had dreams that confirm your research. Our son will be king, but he won’t sit on the throne of Herod.
C: That’s not Herod’s opinion.
J: Sirs, please don’t report us to Herod. He’ll kill our son.
B: Such impudence!
M: No, he’s right. I could tell during our audience with Herod that he was not eager to receive this newborn king.
C: And yet we agreed to report back. Our office demands we honor our commitments.
M: We committed ourselves to finding the king as well, and bestowing these gifts on him.
B: Enough. It’s cold, it stinks here, and I’m tired. Will we meet the boy or no?
J: Well, he’s awake now . . .
B: Good! It’s settled then. Let’s have a look. [enters house]
J: But . . .
C: You may as well let him go in, sir. He’s not easily stopped.
M: I doubt he’ll leave his gift. Gold is precious, and Balthazar envisioned laying it at the feet of nobility.
J: If it helps, we’re of the line of King David.
C: If it helped, you’d be in Herod’s place already, wouldn’t you?
B: [returns from the house] Well, he’s definitely a king.
M: Balthazar? What did you see in there?
B: I can’t rightly say. But that boy is special. Good sir, I apologize for my outbursts.
J: Thank you sir.
B: Please accept this gold in trust for the boy. I hope that one day the streets of his kingdom will be lined with it.
J: You’re too kind, sir.
B: Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to be by myself for a while. [exits]
C: Hmmm. I’d like to see the child that changed Balthazar’s opinion so abruptly. [enters house]
M: Sir, why does the family of a king live in such humble condition?
J: Our people are under the authority of Rome, and the posturing of our leaders over time has eroded our national strength. I’m not sure it’s fair to call us a people anymore . . .
C: [returns from house] Well, we can’t go back to Herod, that’s for sure.
J: Sir?
C: The boy will be killed before he enters into his kingdom. No, we’ll serve him well by leaving Herod in the dark.
J: Bless you, sir!
C: And you, sir. Please accept this frankincense on behalf of the boy. I anticipate that he’ll be more than a mere king for your people. He has the aura of a priest—and a priest requires the elements of sacrifice.
M: I must see this boy king. [enters the house]
C: Your name, sir?
J: Joseph.
C: And I am Caspar. Take care of that boy; he has a great burden to bear, I suspect.
M: [returns from house] Well, we may as well go now.
J: Sir?
M: Oh, I’ve brought some myrrh for the boy. It’s yours if you’d like it.
J: Sir, before you leave, please, can I offer you some bread? Some wine?
M: No, I couldn’t . . .
C: But Melchior, we must.
B: [returns] May I visit the boy one more time, sir?
J: Of course. May I give you some bread? Some wine?
B: You’re too kind. One moment. [enters house]
M: What does he see in him? . . .
C: What was that, Melchior?
M: Oh, nothing. We really should be going.
J: Please, sir, I insist you take some provisions for your journey.
C: We gladly accept, sir. God bless your kindness to three strangers.
B: [returns from house] OK. Let’s be on our way. Thank you, sir, for your kindness. Be assured that Herod will hear nothing more of the boy from us.
C: Honestly, whether we do or not—and we won’t—the king undoubtedly knows of you already. Spies have followed us as we’ve followed the star.
B: What?!?
C: That’s what I would have done—and you as well, Balthazar.
B: Hmm. Yes. I’m afraid you’re no longer safe here, sir, thanks to us.
C: You’ll want to disappear, at least long enough for Herod to give up hope.
B: I’d stay away till he’s dead. Kings have long memories when they’re threatened.
M: Hmmm. Well, we must be going.
J: Sir—your bread, your wine?
M: Yes, of course. Many thanks. [M exits]
J: Oh, the baby is crying again. Please excuse me—blessings on your journey. [J bows and returns to the house]
C: Well, I don’t think he sees what we saw in the boy, but Melchior has certainly changed his opinion since we’ve been here.
B: As have we all, it seems. I look forward to your thoughts on how such a king can occupy such a lowly throne as this.
C: It strikes me that it’s not so much a question of how, but of what we learn of this world, in which such a king can occupy such a throne.
B: Yes, we have much to unlearn. [B & C exit]

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Remedial Resolution

For those of us whose strength and courage and hope and joy have been eroded by a year of financial distress, natural disaster, human error, wars and rumors of war, let this song, recorded thirteen years ago now by Alanis Morissette, be your remedial resolution:

That I would be good even if I did nothing
That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
That I would be good if I got and stayed sick
That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds

That I would be fine even if I went bankrupt
That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
That I would be great if I was no longer queen
That I would be grand if I was not all knowing

That I would be loved even when I numb myself
That I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
That I would be loved even when I was fuming
That I would be good even if I was clingy

That I would be good even if I lost sanity
That I would be good whether with or without you

New Year's Resolution

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.