On The One Hand… And On The Other… And In Between


What Gilgamesh and Gonzaga Have In Common: the Ravages of Time!

bulldogCan we picture the major monuments of our lives as the forgotten fragments of a culture that has ostensibly disappeared?   For example, imagine the famed Mount Rushmore with the faces so eroded with time that Abraham Lincoln’s nose looks as if it were smashed into cauliflower in a wrestling match.   Imagine the names on the Vietnam memorial faded and buried in centuries of silt and debris.  Imagine the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as it may appear to future generations:  a massive melted- down umlaut or an accent circonflex over a desolate terrain…

And, just for the sake of localism (my own localism), try to picture the Bulldog statue outside of McCarthy stadium on the campus of Gonzaga University, home of Zags B-ball–not to mention a great Jesuit school of higher learning, etcetera…   I mention this collegiate icon, not because of the team’s NCAA ranking, and not because its shape or substance compares to the aforementioned marvels of historical architecture, but because, if there happened to be a huge catastrophe and if Spokane, Washington became a distant memory, that Bulldog, known now as “Spike” to the alumnae, would not even be known.   In fact, a society that has devolved may regard the statue as some sort of deity…  or maybe a petrified species of canine that we hunted to extinction like the sabertooth tiger.   And isn’t that terribly sad?

And if you think that Gonzaga and other prominent universities are exempt from such lapses in cultural memory… that surely some narrative will be passed down from admissions office to admissions office through the brute, indifferent centuries, well, I think you’re fooling yourself.   You may even be guilty of Gonzaga-centrism!

But, learn the lesson of Gilgamesh…

According to the Norton Anthology of Western Literature, the epic tale of Gilgamesh gilgamesh-1had once thoroughly saturated the Akkadian/Assyrian world view.   Nearly every corner and every curb of every street had an allusion to the tale of Enkidu, the wild man, and Utanapishtim, the demigod, and of course the G-man, who bounced in between them…   The story, of course, is a story of human nature, a narrative of a human being who aspires to greatness and ends up dealing with loss and mortality.   Gilgamesh, like the narrative of nearly every basketball program, had been told and re-told orally for years…  And then the Mesopotamian PR department got involved and started carving the legend on clay tablets.    It related the events of Great Flood, long before Noah and his family moved into the neighborhood.   It observed the construction of the great city of Uruk and the slaying of a giant.   It rehearsed, as we often do, the mystery of creation and worried about the on-going chaos that keeps erupting through the surface of suburban Ninevah.

“Only in 1844 were the ruins of the palaces and library uncovered through chance excavation, and thousands of tablets in cuneiform–a language that would not be deciphered until 1857–shipped to the British Museum…”   (p. 15).

And so, Gonzaga…  You got a taste of that same thing last week.   Last week, we learned from renovations on campus about a wall-sized mural that had been commissioned and crafted in the 1960’s.   Richard Ingalls, a former art instructor at the institution, was responsible for the work, which detailed imagistically the rich history of the Jesuits’ early connections with the indigenous people along the river.   It’s a dubious tale for sure.   But the mosaic, made from small pieces of ceramic glass, had been covered over in the 1990’s to make way for a Taco Bell…   That’s right.   And you can see how easily the cultural amnesia creeps in.   A humble librarian had apparently been among the parsimonious people who recalled the existence of this picture-story; and for now it will be preserved.  For now it will be reverenced.

For now… but the semesters of time are upon us, and bright minds still grow dim, and dimmer still.   (Many of them have tenure!)



Of Boils and Burrs…

Be Still, the Affliction Said

Be still, the affliction said.

It spread in oozing boils.

It spread by leafy oil

until I died.  And in the afterlife

I took a butcher knife

to skinless ecstasy.

I peeled back leprosy

and soaked in my gout

solution.  Without

an itch that’s spiking

has anyone been hiking,

truly, through oblivion?

I envy the Epicurean

with a lush view.

Contagions come to you

with their California rides,

and with vines that elide

the centipedes on the crotch.

Shall we slough off that blotch

of little landscaped red?

Be still, the affliction said.



The Burr in theCamouflage


A burr penetrates

the perimeter, having latched onto Virgil’s hunting jacket.

Last Friday while

he traipsed through a Palouse hedgerow the bristle first clung

amid camouflage fibers,

followed flag pins and broaches through double doors and joined desert_burrs_857

the seminar in progress.

No one spotted it but Willamina who sat nearest in the pew and who

told him a thousand

times to watch wearing to church the clothing he’d always torn shooting

those starlings, which

never harmed a soul and tasted too gamey for stew.  Virgil never felt shame

when it came to burrs,

rapt as he was with being raptured away.  And here he’d just bought those new

soft-mouthed bitches and

none of ‘em trained to suit post-tribulation pagans, who wouldn’t know the second

of Christ coming if it’d swoop

down vulture-like upon road kill… and who wouldn’t know they wouldn’t know, even

that there is a thing to know…

And that’s the point!  He’s seen this timeline before.  It’s the banner he hung himself from the loft

where the soloist sits on Sundays.

Plus, Willa will never let up about the burr, which is now lost amid the earth tones of her frock.

What happens to things so

ignored?  Are they found in the Lord… or simply flicked away as by the Father’s tensive

sop-bannerfinger, as if

he’s not counting after all

the birds, hairs and lilies that fall.  And with regard to that burr, will the prophesy


Sarcasm in the Future, and in Heaven… and in Elysium

funeralI officiated at my first funeral service in a while last week (about four years), and the experience with the grieving family seemed utterly devoid of sarcasm.   The deceased had been a geneticist and a good one…  He and his spouse had three girls and one boy, and their progeny now amounts to thirty or more…

Anyway, I saw no one smirk regarding the declaration of eternal life and the promise that Dad was in heaven.  I heard no shrill comments from the balcony of the stuffy sanctuary when I described the event as more than a memorial and more than a celebration of life, but as a Witness to the Resurrection!

There!  I said it (or wrote it) again for you to parse and dissect…  Does the author of these frail diphthongs mean to suggest that physical bodies will be raised in some pristine state of existence, and that, after having died and decayed and/or been scattered to the four winds of the earth, some semblance of a human creature will enjoy the perfected fruits of a new creation?

resurrection11Ahhh…  I guess.

I mean… I have no way of knowing, being strapped into this nine-fingered and ever-sagging contraption of flesh, bone and sinew.   (And by that I don’t want to be understood as saying that I have a body and that my true self or soul resembles a passenger on-board a vehicle.  But…)

I am bound.  Even with the advantages of cyberspace and a memory, I am bound.  Tethered to a fixed series of moments in history.   I can no more get perspective on the resurrection of the dead or the coming a kingdom of God than I can see the hair now growing between my shoulder-blades.   And that (I don’t know how) leads me back to sarcasm!


Check out the sarcasm, via the acting chops of Matt Damon, in the soon-to-be-released motion picture, Elysium:

My question?

Will sarcasm be the tell-tale sign of our tenacious humanity in a world of mechanized mannequins with no sense of humor?

Probably.   Okay, next question?

Will sarcasm help us believe in “heaven,” given that for many people heaven is simply the ultra-country-club version of the opulent life… rather than the multi-lingual and extremely diverse community that is depicted in the Revelation to John the Seer, Chapter Seven?

Yes, most definitely.   There will be sarcasm bolstered by IRONY, the likes of which Soren Kierkegaard never imagined.


And so, on August 9, the premise of the debuting film is that “Elysium” is this space-age sphere of idyllic life, where the elite can live without the hassle of coping with the trash (anyone making less than $250,000 per year) on the surface of the old earth.   Cancer cells are routinely removed with a procedural zap.   Jodie Foster, with a nicely coiffed set of blonde bangs, fends off those who try to breach the utopian boundaries…  Do YOU have any questions?

ocean death sand waves grim reaper scythe dogs funny creative 1280x927 wallpaper_www.wallpaperhi.com_41What’s going on, culturally and politically, that themes like this are being explored and brought to the big screen?   It seems as if American Cinema has simply rewired and revamped the ancient modus operandi of belief.   Belief, believe it or not, has always had a sarcastic edge to it.  Christians, who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and then imagine heaven to be a fortified oasis, are missing the point.   And the point is not avoidance of the messy relationships down here (as if heaven were always up, in the stratosphere somewhere).   The point is the utter engagement of a Divine Presence who is determined to reconcile all things  and all peoples.

You see, I understand why it is that belief gets a bad rap.   It’s because the in-vogue, new standards of authenticity are doubt and skepticism, and we assume that believing refers to that unthinking conformity, or to a set of propositional statements.

Not so!   The things that you’re liable to read in the Bible… It ain’t necessarily so, and all of the biblical writers (human to the bone) understood what Porgy and Bess were singing about.   Belief is hairy.  Belief says, F-You to Death, and you don’t get any more sarcastic than cursing out the skeletal dude, clutching a scythe and wearing a dark hoodie.