Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ministers of Death

A couple of significant events this past week.
First was being able to have this terrible picture taken of myself and Mr. David Bazan (formerly of Pedro the Lion). Does it look like I let on that I am a fan? :)

I have been listening to his music for some ten years now. Bazan's music has always represented a brave and engaged criticism of Christian religion. What sets his approach apart from more reactionary criticism is how honest he remains in his own sense of hopefulness to the spirit of faith. After the show I talked with him and asked if he kept any personal ties to the church. He said that his wife and daughter attend church but that he had 'made his exit' (adding a comment of it being a hopeful exit; I think is how he put it). Having grown up as a pastor's kid he has tried to distance himself from the institution with an attempt to suspend his received assumptions. What remains is still a sense of God's existence, which in his words has created a strong dissonance to where he thought he was going. He admits that this could simply be the result of such an entrenched world view that he received growing up. I would have liked to talk longer.
David Bazan remains for me as a type of minister of death. A minister in the truest sense (though prophet may be a more appropriate term) that his engagement with the social implications of faith and religion remain significant in his work. The role of death remains prominent in much of his lyrics whether it is physical death, the death of a relationship or the death certain beliefs. To those in the church who will listen this ministry of death injects needed perspective and the possibility of change and movement. I am hoping to invite David to read this post and offer further comment. I would love an opportunity for further engagement on his journey. In transition to the second significant event of the week here are his lyrics to "Priest and Paramedics" (see IndieVision to the right).

Paramedics brave and strong
Up before the break of dawn
Putting poker faces on
Broken bodies all day long
The neighbors heard a fight
Someone had a knife
It must have have been the wife
Husband's lost a lot of blood
He wakes up screaming, "Oh my God
Am I going to die?
Am I going to die?"
As they strapped his arms down to his sides
At times like these they'd been taught to lie
"Buddy, just calm down, you'll be all right"

Several friends came to his grave
His children were so well-behaved
As the priest got up to speak
The assembly craved relief
But he himself had given up
So instead he offered them this bitter cup
"You're going to die
We're all going to die
Could be twenty years, could be tonight
Lately I have been wondering why
We go to so much trouble
To postpone the unavoidable
And prolong the pain of being alive"

I performed my second funeral yesterday and the first on my own. I had never met the man who passed away. He was 48 and died of a heart attack in his sleep with no warning (a husband and father of two). As a minister of death who works firmly within the institutional church my work stands in some contrast to David Bazan's. I hope to make death a little more palatable that its hemorrhaging force move through the system with less resistance. I remember the words at the close of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Marlow is trying to recount the words of judgment at Kurtz's death to Kurtz's wife. He fails in transmitting this message of death instead he says that Kurtz uttered her name at his death. Marlow says this in response to his action,

It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall on my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have fallen I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due? Hadn't he said he only wanted justice? But I couldn't. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark - too dark altogether . . .

David Bazan appears liberated to speak some of the dark words, but what is his community that needs to hear the dark words of faith if he remains largely unheard outside the church walls? My speech is modified within these walls and not all for bad. Some things are too crushing and need mediating, but the right mediator is crucial. I wrestle between the ministries of death. I hope to continue in both, in some way.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wilde Stuff

My local thrift store has absolute gems when it comes to used books. The money from the store goes to a reputable non-profit agency and so they don't mind asking a little more for their books as it is going to a good cause. I had to pause when I found the complete works of Oscar Wilde in an older hardcover edition, the price was $8. It was a little rich for my blood and so in order to make a sound decision I randomly flipped open the book and came across these lines in A Woman of No Importance

Mrs. Arbuthnot: Don't kiss my hands; they are cold. My heart is cold: something has broken it.
Hester: Ah, don't say that. Hearts live by being wounded. Pleasure may turn a heart to stone, riches make it callous, but sorrow - oh sorrow, cannot break it.

Well spent.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Hope of Movement and a Movement of Hope

My hope is to begin making significant shifts in whatever 'free' time I have in the coming days. My reading and writing has been demonstrating too many aspects of compulsivity. What can I read that will make for clever posting? What can I write that will engage a wider audience? Daily hits are up (normally reaching double digits!) and according to Google Analytics I have hosted visitors across the globe. Though I know I should not I remain under a subtle illusion that my work here will somehow surface as 'significant' in writing something either thoughtful or provocative. There are seasons where deadlines, clear structures and clear goals stimulate helpful thought. This season is closing for myself (though I hope to experience its warm evening breezes again). I hope to move into a hibernation where I might find undemanding spaces of contemplation. Ideas, memories, pathologies must be given some room to engage each other internally as though in a highly confidential support group. Guest speakers may be allowed to visit occasionally but they will be of a different sort than the harsh pedagogues they have been co-habitating with recently.
I hope to continue to post here but I will not be anxious as daily hits begin to reflect my own visits and the few and faithful who have remained (for almost five years now!). I have been reading on and posting on the possibility of change or transformation. I hope to engage more fully in the process now. This is not to say that a forum of expression such as this cannot be a part of someone's transformation. In my case the hope of writing for recognition has demanded too much control and vanquished transformation's subtle (I did not, and would not, say weak) movement.
No matter how we articulate our positions or what our political or religious orientation we remain all too bent on conquest. We do not believe that it is possible to receive a gift, to be touched. We do not believe that there exists in life sufficient (never mind abundant) spaces where time gives of herself. Well, okay I have not believed. Time may yet be our lover but we have been all too aggressive with her.
I have experienced movement and it has given me hope for movement. Achievement and status are not our friends. They have taken their turn with time and left her vengeful on any who would take advantage again. This is all turning out very poetic as I do indeed have time early this morning where autumn colors dapple the valley of trees out my window and the morning hues of pink and blue are just beginning to gain intensity. I have time and I peace right now and for this I am thankful. I can do no more.


Friday, October 05, 2007

The Spirt/Demon of Modern Criticism and the Search for a Perfect Structure

St. John of the Cross is accredited with exploring The Dark Night of the Soul. The use of darkness in his thought represents a type of purity, a sensual finality which the senses cease to engage reality. In his prequel Ascent of Mount Carmel St. John speaks of the movement from meditating on things to the greater goal of spiritual contemplation which does engage objects of imagination. When a person enters into this movement of contemplation the experience will appear to be one of void and obscurity. There is lack of clarity in purity (at least in our experience of it). St. John offers this example to explain.

If we consider a ray of sunlight entering through a window, we see that, the more the said ray is charged with atoms and particles of matter, the more palpable, visible and bright it appears to the eye of sense; yet it is clear that the ray is in itself least pure, clear, simple and perfect at that time, since it is full of so many particles and atoms. And we likewise that, when it is purest and freest from those particles and atoms, the least palpable and the darkest does it appear to the material eye; and the purer it is, the darker and less apprehensible it appears to it. And if the ray were completely pure and free from all these atoms and particles, even from the minutest specks of dust, it would appear completely dark and invisible to the eye, since everything that could be seen would be absent from it - namely the objects of sight. For the eye would find no objects whereon to rest, since light is no proper object of vision.

This reminded me in part of my recent reading of Evagrius of Pontus. Evagrius addresses the demons that attack the soul and manifest themselves in one of the Eight Deadly Thoughts. These demons are not a homogeneous mass of bullies trying to get you to smoke up or trip some old lady. I see them perhaps not unlike the spirit of modern of criticism (give me a minute to unpack this). Modern criticism is relentless in its pursuit of exposure. If there is instability in a given structure then criticism is that tool which will expose it. This too is the swarming of demons who expose the vices of a given subject whether it is through "shameful acts" or the conceit of pride. Listen to how Evagrius describes the work of demons.

The more the soul progresses, the greater are the antagonists that follow it in succession, for I am not convinced that it is always the same demons that persist against it. They know this best who perceive the temptations with greater precision and who see the impassibility they have attained being dislodged by the successive demons.

Impassibility is one of the main goals for the monk. This would in essence reflect a "perfect structure" in which no weakness is exposed. The demons constantly work to dislodge the monk's perceived stability. Perhaps simplistically this reflects a major stream of criticism at least since Descartes. The challenge of course comes in what to do with the exposed weaknesses. I still get the sense that many theorists assume that the work of rigorous criticism is in itself the development of good theory or practice. But here criticism is insatiable and if it is satiated then this likely means that the theory has been stripped of any nutritional value. St. John and Evagrius conceive of another movement. I have normally understood impassibility in a very negative light. To be impassible is to be unfeeling, disengaged staring glassy eyed out into the void. What I am beginning to understand is that these monks do in fact believe that ultimately their bodies are perfect structures. This is not like the theorists hope that criticism will leave that which is pure. The structure rather is pure in its suitability for spirit and love. The demonic, like criticism, reveals where those movements are impeded.
Evagrius again,
Love is the offspring of impassibility, and impassibility is the blossom of the practical life.

I think I should probably end it here for now, this is all getting pretty sketchy. Hopefully something a little more coherent can follow.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007


I will begin with the confession that must be made. I am a political mess. Never mind political theory. The prospect of participation in local and national politics always makes my skin crawl (no really it is actually doing that while I write this). Perhaps when I have more time and energy I will delve into all the environmental factors that have led to this condition. For now I will offer an anecdote.
I do try (weakly) to participate in politics reading the odd newspaper commentary or pursuing policy on party websites. On October 10th Ontario is holding its provincial election. I am a new resident of a newly configured riding with no incumbent running (and so most locals in town are of no help to me). I can't vote for a party because I am not pulling for any particular team. In the local rag I finally saw a brief profile of each candidate running (seven of them!; including candidates from the lesser known Freedom Party, Libertarian Party and the Family Coalition). As I was looking at the candidates I noticed that a number of them were quite young being in their late 20s. Then I saw the profile for Mark Cairns, the candidate for the New Democratic Party (Our "third" option for those reading outside of Canada).
I did a double take when I saw the number 20 pop up after his name. Hmmmm is that number in reference to his years in politics, no the picture does not match. It is indeed the age of the candidate running in my riding. After doing a little research I came across a link to his Myspace site.
Here I learned that my future leader's mood is optimistic. He expressed himself further in his About Me section.

I'm a punk from Kitchener Ont. I love my friends and family lots. I'm a workin class joe who wants to make the world a better place some how someday…...... I am the Kitchener/Conestoga N.D.P. candidate for the upcoming provincial election in Oct.(MAKE YOUR MARK, HOMMIES!) If you like what you see drop me a msg. and i'll get back to you.
KxWxDxP Mark

(I am not sure if he missed the xNx in Kitchener-Waterloo NDP)
His general interests are (directly copied and pasted) "chillin. skankin. partying. rockin out. pondering life."

This October Kitchener-Conestoga (Hommies included) remember Mark Cairns your NDP candidate.