Politicians: Reprise

Poet's Corner 001


   (To be sung to the tune of “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder)


Various politicians

Rising in the polls,

Gaseous emissions,

Questionable goals,

Men with creepy hair-dos,

Women dressed like guys,

Stumping on the night news,

Wearing suits and ties.


When you believe in people you can’t even trust,

Then you suffer —-

Politicians ain’t the way.


Various politicians

Debating on TV,

Confirming our suspicions,

Exposed for all to see,

Raising lots of money

Images to sell,

Trying to be funny

As guests on SNL.


When you believe in people you can’t even trust,

Then you suffer —-

Politicians ain’t the way.


Various politicians

Want to build a wall

To keep out kids and Syrians

Who want to kill us all.

Talking about ISIS,

Wearing ties and coats,

Hoping war and crisis

Bring them lots of votes.   


When you believe in people you can’t even trust,

Then you suffer —- 

Politicians ain’t the way.


       (Originally posted December 1, 2015)

The Firebird L



I gazed after the three children as they climbed the green ascent above the beach.  As if under a spell, I watched as they gathered at the well’s stony rim.  Who should be there to greet them?  Who but the small gray bird?  I saw him myself, with my own two eyes, perched upon the mossy brink.  At his side lay a silver dipper at the end of a golden chain.  One by one the children took the dipper, lowered it into the well’s still depths, drew up the clear water from the heart of the earth, and drank deeply.  Then they ran – even the stumbling little red-head – ran with greater vigor and exuberance than I could have imagined any of them to possess, higher and farther up the green bank, disappearing at last among the thick green pines at its margin.

After this the auburn-haired lady resumed her roll-call, reading out name after name from the pages of the great gilt-edged volume.  And the children came, one following the other, presenting their gifts and taking it in turn to peek into the cradle as it lay gently rocking in the waves at the edge of the sea.

Long and long I listened and waited.  Ages upon ages seemed to pass, and still my name had not been called.  At another time I would surely have grown sick with paralyzing anxiety as the delay was extended.  But the longer I lay there in the boy’s arms, the clearer it became that fear and anxiety and uncertainty were among those parts of myself – my Old Self – that had not survived the burning of the sun-gate.  So I went on watching and waiting without words or thoughts as the names were read and the sun behind us lifted his head above the circling mists to cast a happy dappled light over the deep blue water and the green shore.

At last I became aware that my friend and I had been left alone.  Every child of that great murmuring crowd had gone on before us.  All of them had looked into the cradle and taken a drink from the well.  Each and every one had disappeared beneath the dark boughs of the wood at the edge of the world, leaving behind a silence that was thick and palpable.

The water lapped the boy’s bare feet.  Looking up into his face, I saw the breeze ruffle his dark hair.  Spots of shadow, cast by the clouds that sailed overhead, slid across the bay and up the wooded slope.  Little ripples glistened on the surface of the water and the trees flashed intermittently brighter and darker greens.  Time slowed to a stop.

We were no more than a few feet from the cradle.  Above it stood the three ladies, their smiles beaming down upon us, the warmth of their love mingling with the fragrance of the air.  She of the auburn hair dropped her eyes and slowly turned the page, the very last page of the great heavy book she held in her delicate white hands.

And then I heard it:  heard what I had waited so long to hear – not only since coming to this indescribable place beyond the sunset, but since looking out my smudged and frosted window into the rider’s open sack; since seeing my face in the tragic mirror; since splashing down into the endless sea beyond the blue mountains of the Valley of the Watchers; yes, even since – or so it seemed to me now – I had felt the first glimmers of the dawning of conscious thought.

In the rich and sonorous voice of the auburn-haired lady I heard my own name read out plainly on the breeze, and it came to me as a revelation – a revelation from beyond the farthest reaches of all that may be known.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *



Pilgrim 2 001

The way of man with God cannot be tranquil.

                      Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther 


* * * * * * * * * * * *


A typical born-again-believer testimony might begin something like this:  “My life used to be a mess.  I was into _____, ______, and ______, and was about as miserable as a person could possibly be.”  At that point the old Hank Williams standard usually kicks in:


          Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night –

          Praise the Lord!  I saw the light!


          I saw the light, I saw the light,

          No more darkness, no more night;

          Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight –

          Praise the Lord!  I saw the light!


If you think this sounds a bit too much like an advertising jingle, you’re not alone.  Many of the most celebrated followers of the Pilgrim Path would agree with you.  If you asked them, they would probably tell you that seeing the light isn’t always a pleasant experience.  That’s because the light reveals too much.  It shows you who you really are.  When you’ve got warts, pimples, and other less-than-attractive features, the light doesn’t feel like a friend.  Darkness comforts and covers like a big soft blanket, but the light introduces a lot of uncomfortable truths.

The prophet Isaiah knew all about this.  When God’s glory (light) washed over him like a flood in the temple sanctuary, he wasn’t moved to say, “Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight!”  On the contrary, he covered his face and cried, “Woe is me, for I am undone!”

Plenty of others have felt the same way.  Take John Bunyan, for instance.  It was only after he had set out on the Pilgrim Road – not before – that Bunyan fell into the real-life dungeon of Giant Despair.  As he recounts it in his autobiography:


        Now I evidently found that lusts and corruptions put forth themselves within me, in wicked thoughts and desires, which I did not regard before … All my sense and feeling were against me; and I saw I had a heart that would sin, and that lay under a law that would condemn.”


Teresa of Avila, too, though regarded as a saint in her own lifetime, always considered herself a great sinner.  The early period of her life was marked by almost constant inner conflict.  Though she prayed many hours a day, it was nearly twenty years before she was able to find “any joy in God or pleasure in the world.”

Perhaps the best known exemplar of this type of spiritual struggle is Martin Luther.  Oddly enough, as the light began to dawn in his life, Luther’s bouts with depression, self-loathing, anxiety, and despair only got worse.  So frequent did they become, in fact, that he felt compelled to coin a word of his own to describe them:  Anfechtungen.

In standard German, Anfechtung simply means “temptation” or “challenge.”  In Luther, the word takes on a much deeper, richer, and more all-encompassing significance.  For him, Anfechtungen included “all the doubt, turmoil, pang, tremor, panic, despair, desolation, and desperation” that are capable of invading the human spirit, especially within the context of man’s relationship with God.  It was in the midst of a tempest of Anfechtung that he hurled his famous inkpot at the devil.  But it was also during a fit of the same distemper that he was driven to a realization that revolutionized the course of his life:  The just shall live by faith.

Had Luther been born in our era, his Anfechtungen would probably have been medicated away.  In that case he might have lived happily ever after.  As it was, he continued to have such episodes for the remainder of his life.  In his view, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Near the end of his days he wrote, “If I live longer, I would like to write a book about Anfechtungen, for without them no man can understand Scripture, faith, the fear or the love of God.  He does not know the meaning of hope who was never subject to temptation.”

Why would Martin Luther say such a thing?  The answer is simple:  he knew, as did the apostle James, that one cannot step into the light and draw near to God without encountering his fair share of grieving, mourning, and weeping; and he understood, as did John Bunyan, that the Delectable Mountains are reached only by way of the Slough of Despond.                              






The Firebird XLIX



As I watched, one small-limbed, fair-haired boy stepped up to the cradle, knelt before the lady, and laid his small hand in hers.

“What gift do you bring?” she asked him.

In answer, he reached into the folds of his garment and produced a shining sword.  Holding it flat across his two upturned palms, he bowed his head and offered it up to her.  Even from a distance, I could see that the bright blade had been broken and re-forged.  The hilt glittered with gold and ebony and rubies as the lady, her red-gold hair flashing in the morning sun, bent to receive it from his hand.

“Well done,” she said, stooping to kiss his head.  “Well fought, well given, and well received.”

Laying the sword at the foot of the cradle, she leaned over the little bed and drew the curtain back just far enough to let the boy peek inside.

“Now go!” she said when he had looked his fill.  “Go to the well for a drink, then up the beach and into the forest.”

With that she turned again to the book and read out another name.

A berry-brown girl with raven hair, so black and glossy that it reflected the sun’s highlights in flashes of blue, waded up through the shallows to the side of the crib, lifting the hem of her robe out of the water as she came.

“What gift do you bring?” the lady said as the girl bowed and curtsied before her

In reply, the child reached into the folds of her gown, her dark eyes sparkling, her black brows arched upward, her mouth a perfect little circle.  When she withdrew her hand again, it held a tiny mustard flower — the kind that rise from the fields in a yellow mist after the early spring rains.

“See!” laughed the girl.  “It has come with me all this way – through fire and water and storms of the sea, all the way from the other side of the sun!”

The lady smiled.  “Something proud-masted ships and engines of steel have been unable to do,” she observed, taking the fragile blossom into her hand.  Drawing back the curtain, she stooped and laid the flower beneath the canopy while the brown girl stood on tiptoe, attempting to steal a glimpse inside the cradle.

“Now go!” whispered the auburn-haired lady.  “Follow your brother to the wood!”  And without a word the child stepped back, gaily tossing her black tresses, and went splashing up the white beach toward the well.

When the next name was read, I saw a freckle-faced, red-headed boy – hardly more than an infant – come staggering toward the cradle, sucking at the fingers of his left hand.  With the right hand he towed a golden harp which floated upon the surface of the water behind him at the end of a silver string.  Upon reaching the lady, he stumbled and splashed to his knees, from which position he looked up at her with doubtful eyes and a trembling lip.  But she, with one gracious movement of her arm, swept him up and held his ruddy head against her cheek.

“What gift do you bring, my child?” she softly said.  He responded by giving a tug at the silver cord.  With a nod, the lady set him down again and he took up the harp, playing upon it so skillfully and wonderfully that a deep sigh went up from the crowd of children.  When he had finished, she reached out and touched a finger to his tongue, at which he began to sing in clear childish tones, so pure and sweet that none has ever heard their like this side of the setting sun.

No sooner had the song ended than the harp strings snapped with a tinkling sound like the noise of shattering glass.  Then the harp itself burst in two, the pillar falling this way and the bow that.  Taking up the pieces, the lady laid them at the foot of the cradle before drawing the curtain aside and inviting the red-haired boy to look inside.  He gazed and laughed with joy at what he saw; and then, at the lady’s command, he clapped his hands and went toddling up the beach in the direction of the stone well.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *


Books 001

My Dear Friends:

Having set off something of a small firestorm with my quote from Jacques Ellul, I feel responsible to make one last attempt to rein things in and get back to the main point.  Ellul was not talking about “Trump vs. Hillary” or “this November’s election.”  How could he have been when he was writing in France in the 1950s?  His point — and mine — is something at once far simpler and more universal in scope:  namely, that politics is not the be-all and end-all of human existence; that there are other and better ways to do good to our neighbors; and that, when all is said and done, we are supposed to be following a Master who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, then my followers would fight to __________ (you fill in the blank).  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

P.S.  For more on my views regarding the pragmatic approach of practical politics, see my last entry under the The Pilgrim Path, “Impracticality,” September 30, 2016.




Books 001

“In our society anyone who keeps himself in reserve, fails to participate in elections, regards political debates and constitutional changes as superficial and without real impact on the true problems of man … will be judged very severely by everybody.  He is the true heretic of our day.  And society excommunicates him as the medieval church excommunicated the sorcerer.”

“… This shows that man in his entirety is being judged today in relation to political affairs, which are invested with ultimate value.  In our judgment everything has become political, and political affairs are the ultimate guidepost.  Beyond them there is nothing …”

    — Jacques Ellul, The Political Illusion.  

The Firebird XLVIII



Again the solemn stillness; and then with one voice the children cried out in response to the auburn-haired lady’s question:

“We have come to bring gifts to the Child in the cradle!”

“Come, then,” she replied.

Then, as I watched, great books were opened and the lady began to read the names that were written in them.  In her strong, sweet, musical voice she tolled them out one by one, calling the roll of all the children who were present in that impossibly beautiful place at the edge of the sea.  One by one the children came forward as their names were called and knelt at the foot of the cradle.  And as each knelt, the lady would smile and say, “What gift do you bring?”

For a long, long while I lay in the boy’s arms watching them approach the cradle one after the other, each at the sound of his or her name.  Name after name was called, and still I did not hear my own on the lady’s lips.  Time passed and I waited, ears cocked and eyes fixed upon the reader’s face, every little muscle in my tiny body tense with anticipation.  I was as taut as a bow-string, yet strangely free from even the slightest of anxious doubts.

More time passed, and I seemed to see myself in a dream.  As if out of another world or another age, a time only dimly recalled, a memory came to me:  a girl tensed upon the edge of her seat, leaning across her desk into the aisle, listening to the teacher calling out scores at the head of the class, fully confident of a good result, yet nearly sick with the strain of waiting, endlessly waiting.  I felt as if my entire existence, from the day I sat at that desk in that other world up to this very moment, had been nothing but one long spun-out strand of expectant longing, of wishing and hoping for something shortly to be revealed.

It was the voice of the auburn lady that roused me from my reverie.  “What gift do you bring?” I heard her say again.  Blinking, I opened my eyes and watched as the little pilgrims streamed forward, each in turn bowing and kneeling before the cradle.  Amazed, I saw what wondrous things they brought forth from the folds of their white robes in answer to the lady’s question.  Though I would be hard pressed to name a single one of those gifts now, I well recall that each and every one of them bespoke skills, possessions, wisdom, and experience out of all proportion with the size and appearance of the bearers.  I marveled that this should be so.  And I wondered what gift I would offer when my time came.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

The Firebird XLVII



As we neared the beach I perceived that the rest of the children were moving shoreward as well.  By scores, by hundreds, by thousands, perhaps, they converged upon a spot where the softly rippling water lapped the sparkling sands.  There at the water’s edge I saw a simple wooden cradle, rocked by the wind and the waves, draped in white silk and shaded by a canopy of the same delicate fabric.

An inviolable hush fell over the scene as, ankle-deep in the water, the children gathered in groups around the cradle.  Those nearest to it stood on tiptoe, leaning forward in great excitement, their faces filled with anticipation and an almost painful longing to draw back the veil and look inside.  But none dared.

Nearby, on a grassy slope between the sand and the edge of the forest, grazed the eight-legged horse.  Upon seeing him I started so violently that the boy almost dropped me.  But though I looked intently on every side, the horse’s rider was nowhere to be seen.

The boy wrapped the edge of his cloak around me, for the morning air was chill and damp.  As he did so, I glanced up to where the heaven-blue garment was fastened at his shoulder.  There, just above the silver brooch, sat the small gray bird with the burning blue eyes.

The bird bent down and held me in his gaze, and in that moment I understood – oh, so many things I understood!  Beyond all belief, I had passed through the sunset and washed up on this bright shore beyond the world’s edge.  From this place I could look back over my journey and see it in an entirely new light; and as I pondered each step and each stage, I realized that, for all my sad mistakes and bungled choices and unfounded fears, it could not have been otherwise – not in a million years.  All this I saw and grasped in a single moment.  And yet there was one thing that I did not understand.

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out but a musical cooing.  The bird, however, read the question in my eyes.

“He is here,” he answered, cocking his head toward the cradle.  “He has come to you in the appointed place, as promised, but He has done something more besides.  He also meets you here by becoming like you.”

From over the treetops above the beach three birds came flying:  the raven, the dove, and the sparrow.  The children clapped their hands with joy to see them descend and perch upon the canopy of the cradle.  There they sat for a few minutes, each of them eyeing the crowd first out of one eye and then out of the other.  At last the dove, who held a sprig of holly in her beak, took off towards the edge of the forest.

Within the grassy strip where the eight-legged horse was grazing stood a well of hewn stone.  To this well the dove flew swiftly, alighting briefly upon its gray brink before plunging into its depths.  A moment later she burst forth into the clear air, the holly branch bright and dripping, and soared in wide circles above the crowd of children, sprinkling them liberally with the water from the well.  The boy and I turned our faces upward and felt the cool drops upon our cheeks and foreheads.  We opened our mouths and caught them on our tongues, shouting and laughing for pure joy.

Her task completed, the dove returned to her companions.  An instant later all three birds were gone and in their place, at the margin of the land and sea, stood the three ladies I had known as the givers of the gifts.

A gentle breeze passed over the heads of the children, ruffling their tousled hair and bringing with it a hush.  A smile like the sunrise broke across the face of the lady with the auburn hair.  Stepping forward from between her two friends, she lifted her head, shook her ruddy locks, and called out in a loud voice:

“Children!  Why have you come?”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

I Sit Content

Books 001

I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.


One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,

And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million                   years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait …


Have you outstript the rest?  Are you the President?

It is a trifle …  they will more than arrive there every one, and still pass on.

                 — Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass 

Poet's Corner 001

The Firebird XLVI


I opened my eyes.

At first I could see nothing distinctly, but the general impression I had was one of coolness.  Deep blues and greens and aquas and ultramarines filled the space before me and penetrated deep into my consciousness.  I lay back and let the freshness of the colors wash over me.

At length my vision grew clearer.  I sat up and studied my surroundings intently.

It was morning:  a morning as fresh and fair as the first morning of the world.  Between bands of radiant white clouds the sky shone a clean and vivid blue.  Looking around, I realized that I had been lying on my back in clear, shallow water with little rippling waves lapping gently over me, not far from a beach of sparkling white sand.  Just beyond the narrow strand rose a forest of deep green pines.  Rank upon rank the trees marched down nearly to the water’s edge, their dark boughs stirring faintly in the breeze and flashing in the morning sun.

Turning my head at the sound of a happy cry, I noticed yet another curious thing about this lovely place.  It was filled with little children.  Some lay or sat in the shallow water, as I did, while others laughed and splashed and played along the shore.  Some floated on their backs out in the deeper water, while others walked or crawled in small groups up the sandy beach.  All wore robes of purest white, and the very hair of their heads seemed to glow with a rosy light.

Now there came a tug at my robe – for I, too, was clothed in the same bright raiment – and, looking up, I found myself staring into an oddly familiar face.

“I am glad to see you,” said the small voice that came from the little mouth.  Had it not been for the lamp, the basket of apples, and the sky-blue cloak that partly covered his white gown, I might not have recognized him at all.  The boy was even smaller and younger than he had been on the other side of the sun-gate, and he had changed in other ways as well.  His face and hair and hands were all faintly radiant.  Behind him in the distance a gentle red sunrise was just peering over the horizon.

I stared down at my own hands – the hands that, when last I saw them, had been bathed in ribbons and streamers of flame.  They were now the hands of a newborn infant.  Raising them up before my face, I thrust the fingers into my mouth and sucked at them contentedly, marveling at their delicate softness.

“Do you see?” cried the boy, lifting me in his arms.  “We’ve arrived at last!  Christmas morning has come in – or rather, we’ve come into Christmas morning!”

Cradling me gently in the crook of one arm, he waded with me through the shallow water and up onto the glittering shore.


Books 001

“You are a liar! …

“How can we have confidence in the white people?  When Jesus Christ came on earth, you killed and nailed him on a cross.  You thought he was dead, but you were mistaken …  Everything I have said to you is the truth. The Great Spirit has inspired me and I speak nothing but the truth to you.”

Tecumseh, Shawnee warrior and leader; spoken in council, August                  15, 1810, to William Henry Harrison, then Governor of the                              Indiana Territory, later to become the ninth President of the                              United States.


Cited in Allan W. Eckert, A Sorrow In Our Heart:  The Life of Tecumseh, p. 630.