Of Mice and Tyrants )

bulls on parade

“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”–Thomas Jefferson

The issue of gun control is rife with stupid arguments on both sides of the isle, and I guess in some ways that’s why I love it so much…I can just float through Facebook and glean the battle-memes.  And there be many.  But no argument for the private ownership of firearms is quite as misguided as the use of the 2nd Amendment.  For those of you unfamiliar with said amendment (I can’t imagine there are many of you) it goes thusly: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (The 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as ratified by Congress).  It is the only amendment with a stated purpose and, as of late, that purpose has been most popularly translated as an individual’s ability to protect themselves and their family from a tyrannical government…Read: Federal Government.    This translation is nothing more than a romantic notion…the idea that one man with his AR-15 would be able to hold-off the feds should they determine to round us all up and send us to the salt-mines (that’s still a thing right?).    It is a notion that ignores the superiority of the weapons possessed by the government it wishes to fend off, it ignores the legal jurisdiction that has been handed over to said government by liberals and conservatives alike, and it ignores the main component that has been the historic driving force in any successful defense against governments-gone-wild: solidarity.

At the time of its penning this might have been a legitimate interpretation…the gap between the government’s arsenal and that of a well-regulated militia was not as vast as it is now.  It is no tough task to learn about the supremacy of the weapons at the beck and call of the U.S. government.  They are impressive.  Go ahead, Google them…admire them…you bought them.  Gone are the days when you had to round up a gaggle of tank drivers to drive through a public square breaking up a citizen uprising as they go (a flock of tank drivers is called a gaggle…trust me…and I know you were thinking: “it should be called a murder”…no, that’s too “on the nose”…hacky much?).  That, my friend, is exactly the scenario for which God created radio-controlled drones.  No worries though because handheld firearms and semi-automatic long-rifles work great against those; just ask our friends in Iraq or Afghanistan or Los Angeles.  There’ll be no epic “Wolverine”-yelling-shenanigans as you flee into the Coloradan hill-country, that bullshit is the stuff of film and first-person-shooter games, not revolutions…not anymore, C. Thomas Howell.

It would be impossible to exaggerate the level of legal jurisdiction that was grabbed by the federal government under the leadership of that pinko-liberal George W. Bush…wait, what?  He was a small-government conservative?  Of course he was.  The USA PATRIOT Act is nothing if not a small government, pro-Constitution, pro-Bill of Rights document of the stripe that would make Thomas Jefferson proud.  Right?  On the contrary, it is a personal-rights-striping act of the U.S. Congress that shits all over conventional jurisprudence so completely, it renders the 2nd Amendment impotent with regard to defending one’s self from the aggressions of a government turned tyrannical.  Seriously though, I know GW is not to blame; he just happened to be the guy who was sleeping at the wheel when his friends turned tragedy into opportunity.  Nobody blames Barney Fife for the ne’er-do-wells in Mayberry.  It so obviously unfair.  Instead we just chuckle in uncomfortable embarrassment, and hope that little blind squirrel doesn’t shoot himself in the foot in the process of finding his nut.  The very act of writing this post could get me into all kinds of trouble based upon the loose language found in that Act, if this were interpreted as a treatise for revolution…please allow me to be clear…this is NOT a call to revolution…I would willing go to the salt-mines should my beloved government call upon me to do so…Hell, I love salt.  Phew, that was too close for comfort…I think they’re gone now.  Go ahead and read some of the articles in the Patriot Act and imagine how easy it would be for you to land in Gitmo for an extended vacation for even attempting to assemble a well-regulated militia.  And speaking of militias…

Have you witnessed a good example of anything resembling a “well regulated militia” in the U.S. in your life time?  I’ve found them to be astonishingly absent.  And not just absent in reality, they don’t even make much of an appearance in our fiction.  Our folklore is rife with the imagery of rugged individualists coming in and saving the lemmings from their would-be oppressors…all the while using witty quips like “Yipee-Ki-Yay Motherfucker”.  Even the toppling of the Soviet Union, in a fascinating case of revisionist history, is popularly attributed to a lone-cowboy demanding: “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.”, instead of the reality that through the policies of “Glasnost” the people of the Soviet Union became more resistant to tyrannical rule.  Solidarity topples tyrannies.  And yet the idea of solidarity in the American narrative is the modus-operandi  of terrorists, radicals, and commies.  Our tradition seems to have little patience for the gathering of like-minded people in the interest of unseating a common enemy.  Even the most recognizable visage in modernity of a well-regulated militia, the volunteer “border patrollers” in our south-western states, have a disdain for their fellow “minutemen” that is veiled only a little less thinly than their racism.  Our founders, who were better historians than the average lay-person of today, understood the concept that revolution is best accomplished using “the buddy system”.  As such, they clothed the 2nd Amendment in the language of solidarity.

I hope that this isn’t read as an anti-gun tirade.  I love guns.  They’re a lot of fun, and if I wanted to possess guns I would do so.  I have owned guns; I don’t own guns right now.  I may, one day, purchase a gun.  I don’t know, the thought doesn’t occupy my imagination much.  But I do have an intolerance for illogical group-thought arguments whose use is limited to shilling the interests of the gun industry.  If you feel the need to own a firearm to protect yourself and your family from people who’d do you harm, I fully support your decision in that pursuit.  If you own guns because they are a part of your culture or an important component of your hobbies, awesome.  If you own guns for any reason short of gunning down people to accomplish your own self-interests, I’m right behind you (it’s safer there).  But please, don’t tell me that you need an AR-15, or the like, to hold your government in check.  I’m too smart for that…and I think you are too.  Additionally, please don’t revolt against your government (see, Mr. Rove, I’m against revolution), but if you do, know this: with solidarity it matters little what weaponry you lack, without solidarity it matters little what weaponry you have…that’s just history folks, plain and simple…

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I Am Not A Poet and I Always Kind of Suspected That That Was True

St. Francis

“All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.” –Oscar Wilde

Medium is a large part of effective communication.  If you miss the correct forum or mechanism for your voice, you run the risk of ultimately losing your audience…it matters little how important your message.  Recently, I watched a movie that was made using a book that I really enjoyed as its source material.  The titles of the book and the movie were both “Blue Like Jazz“.  The book was an autobiographical account of a man named Donald Miller and his search of understanding his own faith in Christ beyond the pale of his parent’s faith, beyond the faith that he’d co-opted as a result of his upbringing.  The movie was not.  The movie was a confused coming of age story that used scenes and themes from the book, but massaged and bathed them in clichés and simple-minded tropes to the point of being almost unrecognizable to those in the book.  The movie galvanized a suspicion I’d held for a long time: there is more to good media than just earnestness.  The folks working on the movie, a group that included the book’s author, probably wanted to make a good movie…I’m sure they were intent on making an authentic representation of the book.  But, in the end, what they made was a movie, most aptly described by my friend Scott, that “Blew like Jazz”…Scott later apologized for his harsh treatment of Jazz…but I think he got it right.  I learned through experiencing these two forms of media–medium that were ostensibly created by the same mind–that being good at one form of writing does not make you good at all of them.  It’s not as though the book was an impossible impetus for a movie, two guys whose names are Mike Birbiglia and Ira Glass made a film called “Sleep Walk with Me” (available to stream on Netflix), and it is a great example of the sort of storytelling that was being attempted by “Jazz“.  It is also proof that autobiographical material is the stuff of great movies when handled with a clarity of vision.

I’ve always had a passing interest in poetry.  I’ve read a lot of it and even tried my hand at it a few times to dismal results.  It became clear that there existed a disconnect between what I thought the secret to good poetry was and the actual secret.  I longed to be a poet…I find myself drawn to their tortured disposition and stubborn reluctant attitude toward the commoditization of literature.  While I was at the  writer’s conference in San Francisco last year, I went to a class about writing poetry and prose.  I’ve since come to determine that while poetry and prose share many things in common, to lump them together and try and teach something important about them in the span of an hour and a half is, at the very least, obtuse.  But they had my money so everyone was happy…it’s not as though I came to this conclusion while they were talking.  Ignorance truly is bliss, at times.  The teachers, both professors, had very little to say about poetry I hadn’t heard before.  There was a great deal of time spent on metering and tempo and the use of vocabulary to accomplish the poet’s intended purpose.  Then came the most audacious claim of the class: “There is no right or wrong way to write poetry.”  While I can appreciate their intended message, that one’s voice is not validated or made invalid by another’s opinion concerning said voice, to say that there exists no right or wrong way to write poetry is as obtuse as the class’ syllabus.

I understand, on a certain level, structuring sentences and phrases in a way that both communicates and sings in one’s mind–I’ve written songs for a decade and a half now–some of which I’m quite proud, but I’ve never been able to write a single poem in a way that satisfies my curiosity with the medium and my grasp of it.  While listening to an episode of “What The Fuck?“, a podcast hosted by comedian Marc Maron, I was struck by this subject as it was being discussed by Marc and, his guest for that episode, Iris DeMent.  If ever there was a cross-over between the two disciplines of song-writing and poetry, she would be a candidate who could make the jump.  She was the daughter of a poet and college professor who, as her father, would constantly encourage her that the poems she thought she was writing were actually songs.  He also was of the unpopular opinion that Bob Dylan was a songwriter and not a poet, a distinction he thought was important.  Thank God he did so…the world is a better place because Iris DeMent realized that she was a songwriter.

My friend Matt is a poet.  He is the only poet that I’ve ever had the honor to meet whose poetry didn’t make me blush for lack of a response that was both honest and kind upon hearing one of his pieces.  I love his work.  Here is a piece he’s kindly allowed me to use in the interest of making my point:

CHURCH OF POST-LATTER DAY SAINTS

Saint Francis stands in the corner.

His eyes track the even click

of the second-hand around the face

of his wristwatch, his foot

impatiently tapping as if there is

some place he’d rather be.

The law of diminished expectations

was coined for an occasion

like this. Nothing, finally,

really means nothing.

Francis seems to know

it too, swatting with his Bible

at a mosquito, which carves

itself into the scene

like a demand or a question,

a tiny black angel

now crushed like a bug

against the silvery white of the walls…

This was one of the first examples of poetry that convinced me I didn’t get it, I’m no poet.  Later in life, Matt and I were talking about this.  He told me that he’d finally finished a grip of poems on which he’d been working for years but for which he’d struggled to find a suitable ending.  He said that in poetry the end is a delicate and subtle thing…it is not a punch-line.  Boom, there it was…my whole sensibility in communication is punch-line.  This isn’t to say I’ve quit the pursuit, why would I quit having learned an important piece of the puzzle?  It is to say that the cross-over of medium is not as simple as some would have you believe…as I’d have myself believe.  Recent efforts have produced this:

Suicide is painless the singer lies

in dulcet tones like lullabies.

But I’ve seen the pain in a daughter’s eyes

because her daddy chose to believe it.

I don’t know what that is per-se, but it’s something…and I’m not as embarrassed by it as I have been by previous attempts.

Maychance you’re asking yourself, “What is the point?”   Is this nothing more than a self-indulgent description of journey where-in I learned something about poetry?  Maybe.  But I do think there is a lack of respect in western culture for craft…an imprecise attitude toward tools and unique disciplines.  I once had the attitude that a poem was nothing more than a song with no music, and when I tried to write it as such, the result was not a poem.  It was a song with no music.  Looking back, this seems as foolish as trying to use a broken economic system to control a society…like communism…or, for that matter, capitalism…

Futility, You Ought to be in Pictures

This looked different in person...

This looked different in person…

While watching the movie War Games on Netflix the other day (yes it still holds up), I was struck by a notion concerning futility and the game of Tic-Tac-Toe. The model goes that eventually people figure out that there really is no winning the game against anyone who is aware of the simplest concepts in strategy. My daughters–Ruby and LuLu–who are 4 and 5 respectively, are still shocked by the game’s twists and turns; but most of the people I know are able to steer the game toward the inevitable stalemate finale. Dr. Falken, the only competent scientist in the movie, pontificates that this is the basic end to all games (and nuclear proliferation which was the object of said pontification), it is just more easily seen in Tic-Tac-Toe because the game lacks sophistication. This conversation, the conversation in the movie, was interesting in a very 1983 sort of way…Reagan was in the White-House and convoluted philosophical concepts were not the stuff of cinema…John Wayne doesn’t carry a book on his hip, Poindexter. But, again, the movie still holds up. I have found a new tell-tale of futility that is every bit as efficient as Tic-Tac-Toe: Taking pictures in Kaua’i in the interest of conveying, reliably, what I had witnessed.

A pier and some mountains...whateves

A pier and some mountains…whateves

I think that trying to capture the beauty of Kaua’i on camera is a bit like live-tweeting an alien abduction #TheProbingSoundsALotWorseThanItIs…the tools lack the necessary influence.
My friend Anna does a great job taking pictures, as does my friend Jefro and his wife Kim. I singled out these names because these are friends of mine who not only take beautiful pictures, but who’ve all taken beautiful picture on and of Kaua’i. I’ve seen some of their photos of the island, and while they are sufficiently capable of sparking one’s imagination to visit this paradisiacal locale, they still fall short of recreating the depth of its beauty. I suspect they didn’t use cell-phone cameras.
Even with a nice camera I would just set about aimlessly pointing and clicking like a kindergartener hell-bent on placing my “X” in the center square…because that’s how winners play, Charlie…that’s how winners play. Hey look, a rooster! Hey, a flower! What? Water! Hey, people…PEOPLE! Click, flash…Click, flash…Click, flash. All the time with visions of grandeur concerning a slide-show that I’ll piece together and that people will go to great lengths to avoid…it is going to be splendid! “Hey Patso, is that a picture of an omelet regurgitated in the throes of a near-death-terror-puke?” “No, that’s a sunrise.” “Oh…Because it looks…” “I know…I know.” Wow, that last paragraph was rife with ellipses. “Where does this guy get off?” You’re thinking. Where indeed…

Hey look some waves of unknown size!  Impressive?

Hey look some waves of unknown size! Impressive?

I suspect that when my aforementioned friends walk around an island paradise they have a very deliberate method where-by they make decisions about what is worth capturing, whether or not the lighting is sufficient, and if their subjects have the patience to be still long enough to allow all of these axes (Axi?) to intersect. Or, mayhaps, they take a metric butt-ton of pictures and edit accordingly. Irrespective of their particular methods, I’m confident that they’ve faced similar frustrations to my own when trying to take a photo that accurately portrays the sense of awe and wonder that the object first inspired in them.
The ubiquitous nature of cameras these days, the technology is as democratized as it has ever been, has only served to punctuate the futility that, even in the right hands, the camera is incapable of telling the truth. It only offers an honest paraphrase.

Here we were being consumed by a giant people-eating creature...this picture belies the scariness

Here we were being consumed by a giant people-eating creature…this picture belies the scariness

Given all of this, one could reasonably ask the question: “Why bother with the game…why bother with pictures?”. I’m glad you asked.
My family and I, having visited the island after suspecting that God was calling us to help out with a work down there, have decided that we are going to move to Kaua’i. Some of our friends are already down there, and we’re all excited about planting a community of grace not entirely alien from the one I helped start here in Bremerton the better part of a decade ago. These are folks, who like me, take the idea of love and service seriously. And, as such, are continually disappointed by our impotence and blown away by God’s ability to be strong in our lack with regard to the topics of love and service. We are very eager for this move. We are also scared and sad, as we will be leaving the majority of our loved ones 3000 miles and two time-zones to our past. Or is it East? I’m bad with compasses. Our plan is to make this jump in the Summer, upcoming, after LuLu is finished with her school year. There will be other posts on this topic as I continue to flesh-out and process what the next chapter of mine and my family’s life will look like. Finally, I know it was a nasty trick, rambling on for paragraph after laborious paragraph only to hide this announcement at the end. “Where does he get off?” Where indeed…

Kris: My Friend

Kris' Pink Jesus and "Homemade Wine"

Kris’ Pink Jesus and “Homemade Wine”

“Someone asked me once if I knew the difference between a civilian and a citizen. I know now. A citizen has the courage to make the safety of the human race their personal responsibility. Dizzy was my friend. She was a soldier. But most important, she was a citizen of the Federation.” –Johnny Rico Starship Troopers

On a cold, rainy Thursday morning in January my friend Kris passed away.  He spent his last two months-ish in a hospice in East Bremerton.  It was a nice place on the inside, but as you pulled into the lot you were confronted by a towering rock wall that exuded a foreboding vibe…it was like the final battle scene in Starship Troopers…an uphill battle against alien bugs…

I met Kris at my friend The Ricker’s house.  He was The Ricker’s neighbor and had been invited to a guy’s group that had been meeting on Thursday nights at The Ricker’s place for some time.  I was made aware of this former radio personality by my friend Chris (different Chris…different spelling) and, being a lifelong fan of radio, I felt compelled to not only meet him but strike up a conversation about a love we both shared.  We became fast friends.  Little did I know the price of this friendship.  Had I known, I might not have committed.  Thank God I didn’t know.

Together, Kris and I walked through some heavy shit…we learned a great deal about who we are before God in Christ.  We learned that there is no need for false pretense in Christ.  We learned that love means walking through anything that comes our way in the process of glorifying God.  Then we were tested on that material…pop-quiz, hotshot–what do you do?  I still don’t know the full scope of what God was trying to teach us all through Kris’ life.  I’m convinced it was something important.

I learned a great many things from my friend Kris.  He had the Zen attitude that comes from defying death’s icy-cold grip enough times to make a cat ask: “What the fuck?!”.  One evening we were all sitting on The Ricker’s back patio.  It was Summer.  Kris had just bought the fillet of a white fish that had been crab-stuffed by the skilled hands of some Trader Joe’s lackey.  When he told the story of his acquisition, preparation, and subsequent consumption of this dish, his face told the story of a blissful nirvana accessible to anyone with an oven and a working knowledge of rooting out Trader Joe’s locations.  I knew instantly that I needed the recipe for this fish dish.  He gave me all of the steps he followed.  I made note of them all.  Then began my journey toward the realization of this entree of which dreams were made, if one were to stuff one’s dreams with crab…which I do.  I told Kristy, my wife, all about it and she gathered the requisite ingredients.  The stars aligned and we came to the evening when we could enjoy this fish.  I sat down and, remembering the look on Kris’ face, I gleefully took my first bite.  Were evolution not so lazy my taste buds would have grown arms with shovels attached to them to clear my tongue of the hideous flavor that accompanied this fillet.  The trip to nirvana that seemed too good to be true, was.  During the ensuing three days, while I tried anything and everything that wouldn’t cause permanent nerve damage to rid my mouth of that repulsive flavor, I contemplated why Kris would’ve given me such horrible culinary advice.  Was it some kind of a prank?  Did Kris lack the sophistication to discern between good and bad dishes (dishi?)?  Did Kris not like me?  All of these were important questions as they’d all play a role in formulating the response I gave to the inevitable question: “How did you like the stuffed fillet?”.

In the end, I decided it was none of those options.  And what I learned through this contemplation was, prossibly (a word I invented to bridge the substantial chasm that the terms possible and probable leave between one another), one of the most valuable lessons of all of the things I learned from Kris.  You see the secret was, and is, that Kris didn’t let a mediocre meal taint his view of life…he used his view of life to change a mediocre meal.  When you live on borrowed time everything tastes better…but borrowed time doesn’t actually exist…or it is all that exists.  My point being: Kris’ close calls with death never changed the length of his life, anymore than my lack of close encounters has modified the length of my life.  We only have the time we’re given, but Kris experienced things that changed his perspective about the life he’d left to live, and I, by meeting Kris, also experienced something capable of changing my perspective.  If I allow such change.  I do…Sometimes.

The following Thursday Kris asked me: “How was the fish?”.  “Not bad”, I told him…it was a lie, but I just didn’t see a reason to contradict his view of the fillet.  Maybe that was wrong.  Time will tell; she always do.

Redemption is a subject that preoccupies the human experience more than anything else.  It’s in our songs, poems, stories, and movies.  We use it to understand the hero’s plight, and it is a hook upon which we hang our hope.  I had the opportunity to watch a hero strive toward redemption, and while I missed the beginning, I saw the end.  It was beautiful.  Thursday, January the 24th heaven received a new voice to join in the refrain: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty Who Was and Is and Is to Come.”  Kris: My Friend.