"That which does no earthly good cannot be heavenly minded." R. Rivera

Monday, September 19, 2011

Answer to a Child's Question

 For Anita:

 Answer to a Child's Question
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Do you ask what the birds say? The sparrow, the dove,
The linnet, and thrush say, 'I love and I love!'
In the winter they're silent, the wind is so strong;
What it says I don't know, but it sings a loud song.
But green leaves and blossoms, and sunny warm weather,
And singing, and loving, all come back together.
Then the lark is so brimful of gladness and love,
The green fields below him, the blue sky above,
That he sings, and he sings, and forever sings he--
'I love my Love, and my Love loves me!'

------  Photo by Scott Thomas, Flickr

Friday, September 9, 2011

Where Has The Truth Gone?

By Ruben Rivera©

Let's leave aside for now Truth with a big T, as in objective, eternal, changeless realities à la Plato's forms, or as in Christian metaphysical "Word of God" absolutes. What happened to truth that allows us simply to trust the non-stop everyday things we are told? Trust, like going to a light switch and knowing that when you flip it to on, there will be light, because that's what normally functioning light switches do.

I switch on the "news" and I expect to get events and developments reported, because that's what (I thought) normally functioning news does. I do not expect or want so-called reporting slanted in favor of one political camp against another. Fox News claims that it "reports" and we the audience can decide if that's true. And in the face of video and document-backed critiques and exposés, Fox has repeatedly claimed that its reporting is not biased. Hence the need for the slogan: "We report, you decide".

Yet in a 2011 interview with comedian Jon Stewart  (in which Stewart attributed his comedic success partly to peoples' disappointment with the news media), Fox anchor Chris Wallace said: "I don't think our viewers are the least bit disappointed with us. I think our viewers think, finally, they're getting somebody who tells the other side of the story."

I may not be the sharpest knife in the butcher block, so I need a little help here. Isn't that an admission of bias? Also, if a key mission of Fox is to tell their bias or "side of the story", isn't their other slogan disingenuous? "Fair and Balanced". The implications of Chris Wallace's admission is that Fox is not presenting "fair and balanced" news, but rather news shaped to counter other views?

Fine, if the NEWS is not factual reporting (and probably never has been), then I just wish it would be called something else. When I want opinion, I read the Op-Eds. If I want propaganda I'll put my brain on coast and listen to talk radio, or watch "reality" TV and commercial ads.

At least we can get one thing clear. Wallace's admission (and I thank him for his honesty) means that we can finally stop pretending that any one news organization is simply reporting the unvarnished "facts". Maybe it would help if "news" programs would keep opinion and propaganda to a special segment:

"And now, time for, Why the Other side is of the Devil. Brought to you by, POM Pomegranate Juice. Cheat Death. Drink POM."
In 2010 the US Federal Trade Commission ripped into POM for "false and unsubstantiated" claims that its juice could save humankind from a variety of diseases from heart attack and cancer to erectile dysfunction.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Eleven Poems To Change Your Life

By Ruben Rivera

This year I have come to love poetry. I read poetry, occasionally, before and have even cherished some. But this time it's different. In the past poems inspired me, comforted me, awakened my heart and mind to the extra- in ordinary, provided an unmatched vocality for the deepest suffering, the highest joy -- every experience, emotion and expression imaginable.

The difference is that then I treated poetry more or less the way that many a pastor has said that too many Christians treat the Bible: as a source to find "your fortune." Such a reading of the Bible, as with anything else (history, contemporary social issues, political debates, even established scientific facts and, yes, poetry), lends itself to seeing that which we expect, want, or must have rubber stamped, instead of what we need. And is it not true that sometimes what "we need", may well surprise, disappoint or contradict? Is that not, as we have all heard at one time or another, how we correct our course, grow more humane?

The difference was illustrated to me just yesterday. A book arrived in the mail that my wife had wanted: "Ten Poems to Change Your Life" by Roger Housden, which I found for pennies online. My wife and I are reading some of the poems in the book, along with author commentary. There is one poem by Rumi, the 13th century Persian Muslim poet, mystic, theologian. It is titled "Zero Circle". It starts:

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
   to gather us up...

It is on page 43 and I'm a little frustrated. Everything is high-lighted yellow and underlined, rendering the book cheap-looking and the purpose of high-lighting and underlining useless. The whole book is this way, along with countless stars penned in the margins, scripture citations, quotations from other poets, and personal comments. Now I know why it cost only pennies.

I often make brief notations in books. But I remark to my wife how silly it is to high-light, underline and star everything. As this only cancels out their value of pointing out the point. For now (unless one has a photographic memory) one must re-read everything to find it again.

Then it hit me. When I judged the previous book-owner's actions, I missed the point. And that is the difference from the past: the fact that I saw it at all, let alone so quickly. This person had chomped on this book. I was getting their chewing gum and I didn't like it. But I failed (momentarily, thank God) to see what a beautiful thing was before me. 

There, on page after page, I saw evidence of a lover of poetry, a person hungry for all that "the examined life" has to offer, a person striving after the fullness of a beautifully conceived image of God.

I read the book now, and I no longer see high-lighter and scribbles. I see the colors of someone's life. I see:  

My safety lies in my defenselessness

"It's not about me." Max Lucado

"Your character shouts so loudly in my ears I can't hear what you say." Emerson

Plato said the unexamined life isn't worth living!

There are no ordinary moments.

Passion for living.

And Carpe Diem! on about ten different pages.

Put all those lines together and I actually got a book that should be titled:

Eleven Poems to Change Your Life. 

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
   to gather us up...