God is Dead, Again

On Sunday, January 9th, 1966, three days after the Feast of Epiphany, a story appeared in the New York Times, in the Religion section of the newspaper, in Section H, on page 146, under the title: “‘God is Dead’ Debate Widens.” The Times did not, as the Elton John song “Levon” suggests, declare the death of God:

“He was born a pauper
To a pawn on a Christmas day
When the New York Times
Said ‘God is dead’ and the war’s begun”

Elton John and Bernie Taupin, 1971, from the album “Madman Across the Water.” The B side of the “Levon” single was titled “Goodbye.”

What the Times did say, in the story’s opening paragraph, was:

“The clearest thing about the small but much-publicized ‘God is Dead’ movement in Protestant theology is its catchy, provocative title. After that, all is subtlety, the specialized technical language of the academy, professional abstruseness and lay bafflement.”

The same might be said of Global Warming, which this week the Times did declare is no longer maybe coming: it’s here. Again, the Times reporting. The story derives from the recent United Nations report published via its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The gist of the report is this:

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred….Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level.”

It was the German philosopher Nietzsche (1844-1900) who most famously suggested “God is Dead.” From his “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”:

“When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: “Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that GOD IS DEAD!”…Woe unto all loving ones who have not an elevation which is above their pity!…Thus spake the devil unto me, once on a time: “Even God hath his hell: it is his love for man.”…And lately, did I hear him say these words: “God is dead: of his pity for man hath God died.”—…So be ye warned against pity: FROM THENCE there yet cometh unto men a heavy cloud! Verily, I understand weather-signs!

Nietzsche, like the Times, was merely reporting, and the following, from his “The Joyful Wisdom,” he attributed to a “madman”:

“The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. “Where is God gone?” he called out. “I mean to tell you! We have killed him,—you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the 168sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction?—for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife,—who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves?”

Yet Nietzsche remained hopeful in “The Joyful Wisdom”:

“We philosophers and ‘free spirits’ feel ourselves irradiated as by a new dawn by the report that the “old God is dead”; our hearts overflow with gratitude, astonishment, presentiment and expectation. At last the horizon seems open once more, granting even that it is not bright; our ships can at last put out to sea in face of every danger; every hazard is again permitted to the discerner; the sea, our sea, again lies open before us; perhaps never before did such an ‘open sea’ exist.”

The UN report also ends with a hopeful note, that future climate change could be limited, that if we cut CO2 emissions, we will see:

“discernible differences in trends of global surface temperature would begin to emerge from natural variability within around 20 years, and over longer time periods for many other climatic impact-drivers (high confidence).

Remet and Regret

Flower Girl again. Metamorphosis. Memory.

Come the following Sunday, I decided to stay on for another week at Hotel Julian, having found my time there restful and enjoyable, and while I was in the lobby at the front desk getting squared away, Flower Girl appeared once again. In any metamorphosis, one must decide whether to bring one’s memory along. If she was a goddess, Flower Girl was certainly not Mnemosyne. I don’t know why she pretended not to know me, to have never met me. Maybe I found our evening talks on the veranda of the hostel more engaging. I had recalled them several times since moving out, going over what was said, where we had sat, how the evening suns dropped into the ocean. I recalled her flowers, her yellow hair, her blue eyes, her smooth, sensitive skin, her happy smile that often broke into a sudden laugh, her frown when she seemed depressed or angry with something, her slightly freckled cheeks, the way she squeezed the arms of her overstuffed chair when she was about to exclaim something important, like she was about to experience an epiphany but held it off until she couldn’t hold it anymore. With each retelling in my mind, I strengthened my memory of our time together. She, on the other hand, may never have recalled those evenings, so they easily disappeared. Or maybe she confused, in her memory, her evenings with me with any number of other persons she had spent time with, all conversations blurring into an indistinct person and incoherent discussion. Perhaps she had other reasons for denying we’d ever met and talked and shared time together, alone, on the veranda of the hostel. I mentioned I’d heard her blues singing on the rooftop the other night. She thanked me for listening and said she lately had been showing up there every Thursday. When I asked her if she was also was staying at Hotel Julian she was again evasive and seemed to prefer not to answer, instead saying something obscure about being uncertain what her plans might be moving forward. Maybe she harbored regrets of our conversations, of sharing something too deeply of herself, and now she wished to reclaim that thing and keep it for herself, or to save it for someone else, and so with that new person the experience would be new and fresh and not a rehash of already spent emotion and epiphany. Or maybe she was the kind of person who only remembered bad experiences, a characteristic of the melancholic or depressed person, who relives moments better forgotten over and over again, and can’t seem to shake loose of them, while their happy memories sink to the bottom of a murky sea, and there I was, Prufrock’s “ragged claws,” or, forgetting the metaphor, quiet literally the lonely man leaning out the window of “twenty-nine three.”

“Rement and Regret”
is episode 22 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Feast of Epiphany

Epiphany

In the straw burrow farm mice.
Get a little closer and you’ll see
Nits in baby Jesus’s hair, lice,
And a house snake in the olive tree.

There’s beer on the breath of the three
Sage men sitting under the olive tree,
Playing games of cribbage,
Ushering in a new age.

The pieces are swaddled in wool.
Mary’s breast-feeding the baby Jesus.
Joseph takes out his tools
To build a bed before the night freezes.

Mary wipes Joseph’s brow,
The wise men questioning how,
Talking to Joseph about what he did,
And what in the end might be in the crib.

From an East Side Bus

The lurching bus crowds forward,
dogs away from the curb broken under
the plum tree overarching the shelter.

The bus thrashes on, wobbling
in a fit of leaf blowing, phlegmatic coughing.
The young, motley couple

(we see them every day lately),
their rusted stroller full
of plastic blankets,

empty bottles, and crushed cans,
sleeps on the bench in the bus shelter
covered with plums and damp purple leaves.

“Epiphany” appeared in Rocinante, Spring 2009, Vol. 8

The two poems for Epiphany were previously posted at the Toads on December 25, 2011.

2018 Christmas card by my sister Barbara.

A Pith Zany

Nook EveningAnd what he did last just
before his personal power
rose and surged
then tweeted out
was check his e-mail.

“Heaven will be full of spam,”
he decried, “because
everyone wants to be there,
while hell will be whiteout,
an empty inbox.”

“Or the other way around,”
I replied.
“Oh, that’s pithy,” he said.
“And there’s nothing I dislike
more than an epiphany poem.”

Two Poems for Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany

Epiphany

In the straw burrow farm mice.
Get a little closer and you’ll see
Nits in baby Jesus’s hair, lice,
And a house snake in the olive tree.

There’s beer on the breath of the three
Sage men sitting under the olive tree,
Playing games of cribbage,
Ushering in a new age.

The pieces are swaddled in wool.
Mary’s breast-feeding the baby Jesus.
Joseph takes out his tools
To build a bed before the night freezes.

Mary wipes Joseph’s brow,
The wise men questioning how,
Talking to Joseph about what he did,
And what in the end might be in the crib.

From an East Side Bus

The lurching bus crowds forward,
dogs away from the curb broken under
the plum tree overarching the shelter.

The bus thrashes on, wobbling
in a fit of leaf blowing, phlegmatic coughing.
The young, motley couple

(we see them every day lately),
their rusted stroller full
of plastic blankets,

empty bottles, and crushed cans,
sleeps on the bench in the bus shelter
covered with plums and damp purple leaves.

“Epiphany” appeared in Rocinante, Spring 2009, Vol. 8

The Sick Roses of Suburbia and the Epiphany of a Picture

I knew the Oregonian “Metro” columnist Steve Duin lives not in Portland but Lake Oswego, but was unaware the writer from this banana belt suburb, protected from Portland’s East Winds, would feel protected from precinct prowling. I enjoy his columns, something I’ll miss when newspapers disappear, for the daily columnist is today’s “…voice of the Bard!” as Blake said, “Who Present, Past, & Future, sees.” Alas, “The invisible worm That flies in the night…Has found out thy bed Of crimson joy….” Duin’s Epiphany-day article is about his epiphany-like experience being pulled over without probable cause in LO on Christmas night after getting a late call from his Christmas-cheery, twenty-something daughter, who needed a ride home. 

I lived for a time years ago in LO, and it didn’t take me long to achieve a speeding ticket (30 in a 25; my VDub bug so proud), for which I was sentenced by the infamous LO Cookie Judge, dispensing justice from behind a folding table in the LO fire station lunch room, to play guitar for several hours at the Oregon Rehabilitation Institute, a sentence I cheerfully complied with, brushing up on a few Bob Dylan songs, and enjoying a successful gig, even if the patients, my audience, did sportingly encourage me not to quit my day job.

I was reminded too, reading Duin, of the summer, student job I once had as an employee of the City of El Segundo, washing police cars. I arrived at the police station on Saturday mornings, grabbed the keys to a squad car, and drove it to the city yard (less than a mile), where there was a wash rack in the motor pool. The motor pool was managed by a few mechanics who sat around smoking and listening to country oldies on the radio while I washed the police cars. At the time, I wore long, curly-wild hair, and dressed without much prepense in beat clothes suggesting a mashed hippie-surfer profile. The double takes from the good ES citizens who happened to see me driving one of their city’s squad cars – he’s either under-cover or the revolution is afoot. Then one of the lieutenants grew uncomfortable with the arrangement that gave me such liberal access to station, keys, and street and issued a directive that henceforth if any cop wanted his car washed he had to drive it himself to the rack where I would be waiting with hose, soap, and rags.

We all have a particular picture of ourselves, seldom the same picture others have of us. We often dress our pictures up, while others dress them down. The Cookie Judge was costing LO money, sentencing the citizens of the poverty-sheltered suburb to bake cookies for old folks or otherwise share their talents with their less fortunate neighbors. The annoyance was the sentence, and the judge must have irked a few of the wrong LO pictures, who would have preferred simply paying a fine. Our pictures provoke a wide variety of responses, from the childish and churlish, to the paranoid and pathological. In the end, they are merely pictures, and pictures tell no stories: pictures are wordless and require interpretation, and interpretation requires imagination, and imagination needs experience to avoid becoming purely childish and churlish, and experience wants wisdom to avoid becoming paranoid and psychotic. Then the picture becomes epiphany.

(Quotes in para. 1 from “Introduction” and “The Sick Rose,” from William Blake’s Songs of Experience, 1789-1794)