You Can Always Find Friends if You are Willing to Lie to Them

As a corollary you can always find a place which will accept you and satisfy your need to belong, if you are willing to lie to the group, and support its communal self-deception and amour propre.  You can tell a group that runs on self-deception by how intent it is on policing language and guarding against offense.   If a group announces that offense is a crime, they send the message: we do not want truth here.

And yet — should we not regard this puritanical commitment to truth at the cost of love and human community with a certain skepticism?  One of the uses of language is to form larger wholes out of smaller atoms, or perhaps more accurately, are not the individual human atoms ontologically posterior to a whole that is formed from human practices, linguistic and otherwise, that are deeper than true or false because without them we cannot have the practices of calling something true or false?

A philosopher once said “Nobody can offend me.  Because what he says is either true in which case I thank him, or false in which case I ignore him” whereupon his interlocutor slapped him in the face.  The philosopher, if he is to stick to his position must make a profound withdrawal from human commonality with his slapping dialogue-mate.   Otherwise if he slaps back or forgives he has asserted the fundamental bond.

You can find human bandmates who will trade trust for lying.  Even better is to find a human bond strong enough for any truth.  If you find that you have found something better than a lover, you have found a fellow-adventurer.  The truest duty of a friend is reproof.


Ender Wiggin and Gandalf the Grey

Ender Wiggin, the boy who thought he was playing a video game but was really defeating an alien race in a space battle met Gandalf the Grey at the 7-11 and told him what happened.  Lord, said Gandalf the Grey, I thought I was saving Middle Earth but it was actually a simulation of performing brain surgery. This sort of thing is happening more and more.  Tell me about it, said Lloyd Alexander, I thought I was writing fantasy books but I was actually getting two parts of the brain of alien god to talk to each other.  Lord, said the alien god, I thought I was having a psychotic episode but I was actually playing a video game.  This is happening more and more the other people in the store said, they are always making us think the thing is important is unimportant and vice versa.  Somebody else said, Important and Unimportant are two wings of an immense bird, blowing us like a hurricane.  Let’s go talk to him said Everybody.


An Appreciation of Desmond Devlin

Desmond’s mind is insightful but also gentle.  He is able to give voice to sweet speech.   His body is of a pleasing color and his eyes are clear.  His garden contains health-giving tasteful vegetables in abundance, root vegetables like carrots and parsnips pierce his earth, ripe tomatoes hang heavy on his vines.  Desmond cultivates firmness without authoritarianism, he is able to offer a friend reproof in the guise of a joke which removes its sting.  He is engaged in the politics of his community, and although he does not shrink from honest debate, no faction calls him a member.  He is a stranger to the house of strife, but is a welcome participant to every family’s celebrations.  His face is ruddy, his hair of a carroty-orange, his limbs although not overly muscled are capable of excelling at basketball, softball, and hopscotch.  He has persuasive metaphors at his disposal when rhetoric is called for, and a soothing lullaby when that is what the occasion demands.  He eschews theological debates but maintains a natural piety, revering his creator, respecting his fellow man, offering a natural reverence to the sun and moon and the cycles of seasons and day and night: nature is his temple.  He lives on a diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish.  His wife Wendy is a complement to all his virtues and one can scarcely decide between the two of them, which is the gem and which is the setting.  He laughs at death and treats each moment as a rainbow of droplets, made iridescent by the light of truth.  He is handy with the tools of the carpenter, and is well-versed in wood-craft.  His yodel brings cheer.


At First the Mountains Were Mountains and the Rivers Were Rivers

At first we said “at first the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers then the mountains weren’t mountains and the rivers weren’t rivers but finally the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers” but then we stopped saying it.

Richie said: At first the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers, then the mountains weren’t mountains and the rivers weren’t rivers, then the mountains were great places to put hotels and the rivers were great places to put the trash from the hotels.

Joey T. said: The mountains are mountains and the rivers are rivers.  Why should I bother saying the mountains aren’t mountains and the rivers aren’t rivers if I’m going to end up saying the mountains are mountains and the rivers are rivers?

Frank Pasterczyk said: I have trouble telling mountains from river already why give me problems?

Neil Garoogian says: I’m pretty sure I did this one already.

Gzong the Unmentionable says: To me the mountains are but pebbles the rivers rivulets of sweat from my opponent Gazaru-Jix!

Now we say that thing about mountains and not mountains again sometimes but sometimes we don’t!


Judges and Poets

Judge Roberts said to attorney Bonauto in the marriage equality case before the US Supreme Court: You say you want to join the institution of marriage, but it seems to me actually what you want to do is change the institution.    But ultimately he and his fellow judges will make a decision that allows our society to move on, and one would hope,  in a direction of greater justice. As they do so they will have to embody their intuitions about what is justice in language that will have force for a community.

Every time a poet writes a line of poetry he or she is going through the same process:

  • how much am I changing this institution of English by joining this line to it, this word to it, this metaphor to it, this poem to it?
  • What is my intuition about what needs to be expressed and how can I express it?
  • What about the sacrifice of everything that I fail to say?  When I choose to compare my lover’s eyes to the moon I condemn everything else I could compare them to to death: the sun, the stars, a dog, a cat, a dream, a stork, a whisper, a confusion, a meteor, a net, a trap, a judge, a poet, a death sentence, a wheel, a throne, a forgetting, a remembering, an amnesia, creation, the last judgment, the three billy goats gruff.  How can I stand before these condemned similes to death?  How do I look them in the face bearing the judge’s guilt?  How can I be fair?

Both judge and poet are cramming the infinite in a finite body so we can move on in a direction of greater flourishing.  Both need to be humble and judgmental by turns to get the job done.


Marvellous World of Insects

Did you know so many interesting insects that there are?

  • An aphid worth over a hundred dollars?
  • A katydid that is morally pure?
  • A lacewing that has no legs is made of metal and you can drive around it — it is not an insect it is a car?
  • And many more?

But of all of these the most amazing is the Lovehead Wasp.

The lovehead wasp is in love with love.

It loves the oak tree.

It plants its larva in the oak tree and develops an Oak Gall.

But lovehead wasp learned that its galls were hurting the oak tree.  It decided to devote itself to a life of fasting and renunciation.

But then the Acorn said to that old wasp “Don’t do that mister wasp there is plenty of tree for both of us.”

And they drank jam and honey till the sugar ran out their ears!

This is a true story.  If you want to learn more about the fascinating field of entomology pursue it like a dog pursuing a scrap of meat — “LET NOTHING PREVENT YOU FROM YOUR GOAL.”

Not weariness, not the fear of what your friends will think of you, not shame.



Two Swordsmen

The kingdom of South Amphradoniawexland had been at peace for fourteen years under the leadership of Good King Dox when the Duke of the Vale rebelled.  The Duke was brought to heel and brought blindfolded to the executioner’s block.  A swordsman stepped forward holding a scimitar sharp enough to cut granite.  He lifted it to above his right shoulder and brought it down.  It reached the Duke’s neck but did not shed a drop of blood.  A single tear dropped from the Duke’s eye.  The crowd applauded.  Good King Dox had shown clemency.

I was the swordsman.  King Dox had whispered in my ear about his show of clemency and picked me from the other veterans.  And I was employed in this service many times during these years of peace.  Because there is no peace that fractious nobles do not test, and when fractious nobles test they vie amongst themselves for who will test the furthest, like naughty children egging each other on to see who will step out furthest upon the lake when it is frozen over, until finally CRACK and the child falls through.  Or the noble enters open rebellion.  And then he is brought to heel, and brought to the executioner’s block, and I bring down my sword, sharp enough to cut steel, but it stops just at his throat and doesn’t shed a drop of blood, although more often than not the naughty noble will shed more than a few tears.

Lately the nobles have been in open rebellion and there are too many mock executions for my services.  There are many of us and it seems the church bell never stops ringing for the executions that never come.  I see the same faces underneath my sword.  And now children too and women.  Everyone comes to be decapitated, but no one is.

My colleague Amphradonia Tea Kettle is frustrated.  “How I long to actally take off a head.  I could, you know.”

“I’m sure you could.” I respond.

“Or at least shed a drop of blood.  Just a drop of blood.  To let these fractious dukes and duchesses know I could.”

“That’s not the job.” I respond.  “The job is to have so much force and control that there is no doubt we could take a life, but we refrain.”

“But what about Sampradampalus Whiz-wang?”  He was a colleague of ours who it was discovered was performing the mock executions with a blade made of tissue paper and wax.  Amphradonia and I often agreed that he was beneath contempt.  “Surely he is beneath contempt.”

“No doubt.” I said.  “He is beneath contempt.”

During that period of peace I often wondered what would betide when the Evil Devil Beast Men burst out of the Earth and massacred the citizens of our kingdom and we were forced to hack them in earnest.  Would we have been weakened by our years of play acting?   Would we be better?  Would Amphradonia’s anger have served to keep his honor brighter or would my control?

It’s a question that we often discuss, Amphradonia and I.  But we both agree on one thing.  Sampradampalus with his tissue and wax sword?   Beneath contempt!


Devil Walks into a Psychiatrist’s Office

The devil walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says “Doc I am troubled by a recurrent dream where I have an elephant body and a fly head and I want to know what it means.” “We can figure that out” says the psychiatrist and takes him on as a patient. The devil goes to the psychiatrist every Wednesday at 5 pm for a year and talks about his early childhood experiences.

On the first anniversary of their meeting the devil says “Okay. What does my dream mean.” “Be patient.” says the psychiatrist “Let’s continue our treatment.” “I’m not a patient person” quoth the devil. “I propose an alternative treatment plan” and he magically transforms the psychiatrist into an elephant with a fly head. “I think the problem before was lack of motivation. Now my dream is your life, so you are motivated.” says the Devil. “Tell me what your life means.” “It means that I am being tormented by the Devil!” says the psychiatrist.

The Devil considers this for a moment. “Nah.” he says “That’s just the countertransference.”


I Talk with Two Christian Theologians About Joy


I think the religious red state/blue state divide is a shame.

A difference in emphasis on how to inherit our culture’s twin heritage of the bible and Greek thought has hardened into an ideological divide. Across the divide each half of America regards the other half with some mixture of derision, fear, suspicion, and contempt.

One sad thing about the divide (as if it weren’t sad enough that it paralyzes our nation’s politics and that we regard our fellow citizens with contempt) is that it causes our own views to become less profound and less nuanced. In the effort to convince our fellow citizens that they are jackasses, we end up becoming more like that foolish animal ourselves.

In this podcast I am trying to deepen my own understanding of faith by talking with two theologians who come from the tradition of evangelical Christianity, and who were kind enough to have me as their guess. Each of them is, in a different way, is in a critical dialogue with his tradition and faith community and with “secular” culture as a whole. In many ways although I come from a different background I share their existential situation.

I went into trying to find a common topic of interest that would lie deeper than any of the obvious philosophical dichotomies that separate me from orthodox Christianity. It struck me that whatever else Christianity is it must be a “tiding of comfort and joy”. Whatever doctrine Christians may espouse (and they have espoused quite a few conflicting ones over the millennia) they must share the idea that they have a message of joy. Christians to be worthy of the name must know something about joy. And who, secular, Jewish, or Cthulhu worshiper wouldn’t want to know about that?

So with that end I pursue the issue by investigating two questions with my two partners in dialogue:

1)What is joy; and

2)How can it be communicated.