Now the Green Blade Rises…

Now the green blade rises
from the buried grain,
wheat that in dark earth
many days has lain;
love lives again,
that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid him,
Love whom hate had slain,
thinking that never
he would wake again,
laid in the earth
like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

Forth he came in quiet,
like the risen grain,
he that for three days
in the grave had lain,
quick from the dead
the risen Christ is seen:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are wintry,
grieving, or in pain,
Christ’s touch can call us
back to life again,
fields of our hearts
that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springs up green.

Words: John Macleod Campbell Crum (20thC)
Music: Noel nouvelet, medieval French carol

Sing along at The Daily Office. Happy Easter, everyone! Enjoy these photos from the Smith College Bulb Show (March 2009):

A Sampler of Spiritual Reflections for Holy Week

Since today is Maundy Thursday, I wanted to start by encouraging you all to read this sermon from MadPriest’s blog. MP is a progressive Anglican clergyman whose deep understanding of the gospel is cleverly concealed beneath a wickedly farcical sense of humor. Reflecting on the story of the woman who anointed Jesus with the costly ointment from the alabaster vessel, he writes:

Jesus is not just the servant. He is also the one that is to be served.

And that, we are not so keen on.

When we think about images such as the vine, too often we see ourselves as the branches sucking the sap out of the trunk, that is Jesus Christ. But the vine image is not about dependence so much as connectedness. That other image of the body with its limbs is a better metaphor. Every part of the body needs every other part of the body. No one part serves all the rest without being served in return. Without this mutual dependency the body dies, the vine produces no fruit and withers.

So, tomorrow night, enjoy the divine foot massage but on Friday, don’t forget to help him carry his cross.

An earlier Lenten sermon by MadPriest, decrying the stigmatization of the mentally ill, is also a treasure:

…So, what does it mean, to take up our cross? Let’s take a look at what it meant for Jesus.

Firstly, the cross of Christ was a physical reality. He was no false martyr bemoaning some exaggerated offence against his character or person. His cross, traditionally those two pieces of crudely assembled wood, would be used to kill him. He had to physically carry his load through the streets of Jerusalem and up to his place of execution and we are shown in the Passion narrative that his cross was a heavy burden. So heavy that he needed help to carry it. Orthodox Christianity has always insisted in the reality of Christ’s torture and execution. It is not just a metaphor for some spiritual truth. In fact, for many of us for whom the incarnation of God in man is of the utmost importance, there would be no salvation without the birth and death of a real, flesh and blood, messiah.

Secondly, as well as the physical reality of the cross there was also an emotional reality. There was the emotion inside of Christ. His despair, his feelings of desolation that were revealed to the world in the Garden of Gethsemane, his anger, his knowledge that he had been betrayed by both one particular friend and the whole world. But there was also the emotion being spat in his face by the crowd who had turned against him. Great hatred, anger, disappointment. This emotional burden that Jesus carried to his execution was, most likely, far heavier than the wood of his physical burden.

Thirdly, the cross was a burden in the sense that it was Christ’s duty to carry it. Once Jesus had accepted his mission there was no honourable option for him other than to carry the cross. His being and his duty were one. If Jesus had turned his back on the cross and walked away he would have been walking away from himself. He would no longer be himself.

Jesus is the example par excellence for the Christian life. Although many who call themselves Christian still cling on to written laws, true followers of Christ follow Saint Paul’s teaching, free themselves from the obsolete human law and base their lives on the teaching, attitude and actions of Jesus Christ. One of Christ’s main teachings is that his followers must take up their own cross. It’s a command. Deny yourself and take up your cross. Jesus never hides stuff in the small print of the contract, he doesn’t work for a bank, he doesn’t hide the bit that says that the interest rates can be increased without warning or explanation whenever they feel like it. No, he is always upfront about the terms and conditions of our Christian employment.

So, if we want to be be followers of Jesus we have to grab a cross of own and because Jesus is our example, our cross will be similar to the cross of Christ. I’m not saying that we should be happy to accept our burden. I’m not saying we should want to carry it. Such attitudes would be perverse. But I am saying that we should be willing to carry it and be proud that it is the cross of Christ.

For many thousands of Christians over the last 2000 years their cross of Christ has almost been a literal one and they have met their deaths proclaiming his gospel. Fortunately, for those of us in what are presently still Christian friendly countries, we do not face such danger to any large extent. But, even so, it is usual for our cross to be of a physical nature. Maybe illness or caring for somebody who is old or ill. Maybe poverty or unemployment. Maybe you will be asked to live and work in a unappealing or dangerous situation, at home or abroad. Sometimes we choose such things for ourselves. Sometimes they just happen.

One thing I have noticed about the burden of Christianity is that it often involves being pushed to the margins of society. This can be accidental, as in the case of someone caring for a relative who becomes cut off from friends and activities. It might be chosen as in the person who goes to work in a shanty town in Africa. Or it may be because of hatred and/or fear, as in the case of the foreigner in a strange land or a person who suffers from a mental illness, for example.

And we should not be surprised that the cross we carry will propel us to the margins of society. Jesus spent much of his ministry among the marginalised. The poor of his own country. The foreigner in his land. The hated Samaritans. The sick. The sinners. Women and children. And then, when he was condemned to death,when he himself was as far outside of society as you could possibly get, he is taken to a hill to be crucified and placed between two thieves. Two outsiders of the lowest rank. And Jesus ministers to them even as he is dying.

Read the whole sermon here.

On a related note, the Internet Monk (Michael Spencer) has re-posted one of his sermon-essays about embracing your brokenness. It seems that I, as a naturally pensive/moody/ironic person, have not been alone in worrying that anything short of constant cheerfulness would make me a poor advertisement for the gospel. It was actually exposure to Buddhist thought that allowed me to accept my light and dark moods as temporary waves on the ocean. To use a Buddhist concept, is there still too much “aversion” in a lot of Christian writing–too much telling us how we should feel, rather than how Jesus helps us endure and learn from what we do feel? Quoth the i-Monk:

I hear of those who are depressed. Where do they turn for help? How do they admit their hurt? It seems so “unChristian” to admit depression, yet it is a reality for millions and millions of human beings. Porn addiction. Food addiction. Rage addiction. Obsessive needs for control. Chronic lying and dishonesty. How many pastors and Christian leaders live with these human frailties and flaws, and never seek help because they can’t admit what we all know is true about all of us? They speak of salvation, love and Jesus, but inside they feel like the damned.

Multiply this by the hundreds of millions of broken Christians. They are merely human, but their church says they must be more than human to be good Christians. They cannot speak of or even acknowledge their troubled lives. Their marriages are wounded. Their children are hurting. They are filled with fear and the sins of the flesh. They are depressed and addicted, yet they can only approach the church with the lie that all is well, and if it becomes apparent that all is not well, they avoid the church.

I do not blame the church for this situation. It is always human nature to avoid the mirror and prefer the self-portrait. I blame all of us who know better. We know this is not the message of the Gospels, the Bible or of Jesus. But we- every one of us- is afraid to live otherwise. What if someone knew we were not a good Christian? Ah…what if…what if….

I close with a something I have said many times before. The Prodigal son, there on his knees, his father’s touch upon him, was not a “good” or “victorious” Christian. He was broken. A failure. He wasn’t even good at being honest. He wanted religion more than grace. His father baptized him in mercy, and resurrected him in grace. His brokenness was wrapped up in the robe and the embrace of God.

Why do we want to be better than that boy? Why do we make the older brother the goal of Christian experience? Why do we want to add our own addition to the parable, where the prodigal straightens out and becomes a successful youth speaker, writing books and doing youth revivals?

Now, I’m not completely on board with the i-Monk’s extended metaphor of the Christian life as a war against one’s self (a part of the sermon I didn’t quote above), because grace feels to me like loosening your identification with your sins, as a prerequisite to honestly naming and working on them. Taken to extremes, Luther’s simul justus et peccator can sound like divine hypocrisy, introducing an element of untruth into our most fundamental relationship: God chooses to see me as other than I am, to merely ignore my wickedness instead of teaching me that my true self is larger than my sinful ego. Perhaps feeling like a faker before God reinforces the shame that makes us fakers to one another. But the sermon is still a valuable read.

Finally, a friend directed me to this reflection on atonement from the inward/outward blog, a project of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. I liked how the author, Ched Myers, offers an alternative to crude understandings of “wrathful Father/innocent Son” that have obscured God’s self-giving in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus:

Reconciliation is not something accomplished by Christ for God, nor inflicted on Christ by God, but forged by God through Christ. This wreaks havoc on the medieval (but still widespread) doctrine that Christ’s death functions to placate an angry or offended deity. Rather, the “crucified God” represents a fundamentally restorative initiative by the Divine victim towards the human offender.

Equal Marriage Rights Win in Vermont

The Vermont legislature today voted to override the governor’s veto of a marriage equality bill that had passed last week. The law permits same-sex couples to marry, and recognizes such marriages performed in other states. Vermont now becomes the fourth state to recognize same-sex marriage, and the first to have done so by direct legislative initiative rather than a court decision. Thanks are due to Vermont Freedom to Marry, MassEquality, and all the other activists and volunteers who contacted their elected officials to speak up for equality. From the Vermont Freedom to Marry e-newsletter:

This is a proud day for Vermont and Vermonters. Throughout this three and a half week process, we have engaged with one another with as much civility and respect as possible given the intensity of the heartfelt views many of us — across the spectrum — brought into this debate. And in the end, we did the right thing. The forces of justice, fairness and love proved far stronger than one man’s veto pen.

And along the way, we built new bridges. The debate galvanized the majority of Vermonters in the quest for fairness and inclusion, uniting the business community, clergy and ordinary folks from the four corners of our state. In our editorial pages we’ve seen compelling calls for justice, personal stories, and thoughtful analysis. And in communities around the state, thousands of Vermonters stepped up to the plate — writing your legislators, coming to the Statehouse, knocking on doors, and making phone calls. Some of you have never engaged in the political process before, and some hadn’t thought much about the freedom to marry until it hit the front page. But you opened your hearts, heard a better future calling, and dedicated yourself to making our world a more loving place.

And the courage of every single legislator, and the commitment of every single volunteer and donor, has made a difference. We made it over the top without a cushion. Every single one of us has truly mattered.

Your actions matter to Sandi and Bobbi, who can finally get married right here in their own home state after 42 years of committed life together — through life-threatening sickness, job loss, and the challenges of parenting, as well as the joys of raising a child, being grandmothers, and sharing each other’s company.

Your actions matter to Nina and Stacy who have spent a dozen years advocating for children of gay and lesbian parents — including their own. It matters to their son, Seth, who deserves to grow up in a world that recognizes, respects, and protects his family as much as any other.

Your actions matter to Scott, who as an adolescent struggling with his sexuality regularly contemplated suicide because he felt less worthy than his heterosexual siblings. And to the next generation of Scotts whose load will be lighter in a world where our laws don’t reinforce outdated social stigmas.
Your actions matter to kids that haven’t yet been born, youngsters who don’t yet realize how we made a better world for them, and soulmates yet-to-be-joined by fate or good fortune.

Vermont can serve as a beacon of hope to the kid on the playground in Indiana, bullied by his peers because he’s not macho enough. To the lesbian mother in Georgia in fear of losing custody of her child because she’s gay. And to the worker in Montana who is afraid to come out to his boss for fear of losing his job.

To all of you — thank you for making this difference!

Meanwhile, a gay-marriage bill has passed the New Hampshire House and is awaiting action in the Senate, and similar bills are pending in Maine and New Jersey. Also today, the Washington, D.C. city council voted to recognize same-sex marriages that were performed legally in other states. Washington, D.C. already has a civil-unions law and is considering a move to full marriage equality, which will need approval from Congress.

To volunteer for phone-banks targeting these states, contact MassEquality.

Gay Marriage Victory in Iowa, Veto Threat in Vermont

Gay marriage became a little more mainstream Friday when the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court’s ruling that the state’s ban on same-sex unions was unconstitutional. The high court agreed that a law restricting marriage to one man and one woman violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause. The legislature “excluded a historically disfavored class of persons from a supremely important civil institution without a constitutionally sufficient justification,” the justices concluded. Read the court’s decision here.

According to news reports, state lawmakers have little interest in pushing for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling. California, watch out: the mantle of progressive leadership may be passing from you.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, both chambers of the state legislature voted by a large majority to pass a law that would grant equal marriage rights to same-sex couples. Vermont’s civil unions law offered many of the same legal benefits as marriage but GLBT advocates had argued that the two-tier system created the appearance of second-class citizenship.

Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas has vowed to veto the law. The override vote could occur as early as this Tuesday. Call the governor’s office at 802-828-3333 and ask Gov. Douglas to respect the will of the people and not stand in the way of civil rights for all families. MassEquality is also organizing a phonebank to call Vermont voters this weekend. You can make calls at their Boston office or use their nifty new telecommuting software to call from home. 

“Blogging for Truth” Counteracts Hate with Stories of GLBT Lives

A new collaborative website for GLBT folks and their allies, Blogging for Truth, is collecting examples of virulent anti-gay propaganda from the radical right, and urging pro-gay bloggers to counteract those lies with the stories of their own loving, wholesome, spirit-filled lives.

Want to help? Sign up to be added to their blogroll; then, during the week of May 25-31, 2009, “LGBTQ bloggers and all allies are invited to write articles about the truth of our existence and lives. To blog facts and/or the results of real scientific studies carried out by real scientists. To blog your personal experiences, and how the hate affects you personally.”

Poetry Roundup: Koeneke, Minnis

How much is too much? I recently read two poetry books, Chelsey Minnis’ Bad Bad (Fence Books) and Rodney Koeneke’s Rouge State (Pavement Saw Press), that were enjoyable and frustrating for similar reasons. Both started with a clever and unique style, and both had that essential ingredient of self-mockery that keeps experimental poetry from becoming a new pretentious orthodoxy. Both books also luxuriated in excesses of language and imagery: Koeneke marrying the Orientalist fantasies of sheiks and odalisques to the trappings of suburban consumerism, Minnis describing poetry as “lickable mink” and a “doorknob covered with honey”. Yet there were places in both books where I felt fatigued, because every poem seemed to be in the same tone of voice and be funny/experimental/surreal in exactly the same way.

The cover of Bad Bad is striped Barbie-pink and white with red gothic-type letters, as if to code it “girly product, not to be taken seriously”. Of course, placing these graphics on the august cover of A Poetry Book invites us to rethink the seriousness of both girls and poetry.

Adopting the persona of a naughty little girl, the speaker of this book deflects criticism by flaunting her frivolity, yet at the same time secretly hopes to impress everyone with her cleverness. This is especially evident in Bad Bad‘s 68 “Prefaces”, my favorite section. Here’s a taste:

Preface 13

When I write a poem it’s like looking through a knothole into a velvet fuckpad…

And it is like buttery sweetbreads spilled down the front of your dress…

It is like a gun held to the head of a poodle…

If I want to write any poems I will write them!

A poem that doesn’t have any intellectual filler in it…

Like two blondes fighting on a roof…


Preface 20

I am a poet so I can say things…

And not so that I can have any notion of a literary lifestyle…

I don’t like to be a poet but how else can I be so fitful?

When I say “I am a poet” I expect I am saying something that is neutral of all self-congratulations…

I am saying, “I have a special quality that is like swan shit on marble…”


Preface 36

“Poetry writing” is a hardship

Like crying because you don’t like the wallpaper…

It is like bleeding from your anus in the snow…

But I don’t like it…

In the “Prefaces”, Minnis
tries having it both ways: she flaunts her vain and sensual motives for writing poetry, but equally flaunts her self-knowledge, as if to convince us that ironic frivolousness is not really frivolous. That coy refusal to resolve the paradox provides a great part of the pleasure of reading Bad Bad. Minnis’ surprising use of language is the other thing I most enjoyed about the book. Even when I became impatient with its limited range of themes and emotions, I kept laughing at passages that deftly spun from melodrama to true remorse to ridiculousness and back again, such as these lines from “Double Black Tulip”:

………….I write this poem like a girl in a black wig……
…………but my heart is the heart of a true skunk…………
…………..this is bad fluffy thoughts.
.     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .
…………………………… the hurtfulness of chartreuse
……………………….I must try not to feel a fake kindness….

Though I am a fashion junkie, I got bogged down in the 16-page poem “Foxina”, which is basically a list of sensual, outrageous, fetishistic clothing that “the women in the viewing boxes” are wearing. In my opinion, this poem shows up the limitations of a book that is composed of clever fragments. Not every poetry collection needs a traditional narrative arc, but if I’m reading from cover to cover, I like to feel some movement, some development of consciousness, such that the poems at the end of the book could only belong at the end and are informed by the journey that preceded it.

Which brings me to another question: Is a structured poetry book “better” than an unstructured one? Should I be blaming a box of chocolates for not being a three-course meal? I’ve enjoyed a number of collections where the individual poems were not dazzling, but the overall effect was powerful, because the pieces informed one another; like chapters of a novel, they might not all stand alone, but they belonged together. If Bad Bad is a box of chocolates, to be dipped into rather than consumed in one sitting, it’s like the chili-powder-and-Pop-Rocks truffles that my husband bought me for Valentine’s Day. Pacing is everything once the novelty wears off, but what a novelty it is.

The above comments would also apply to Koeneke’s Rouge State, another book whose abundance of surface variation was not always enough to compensate for the poems’ underlying sameness. Rouge State won the 2002 Transcontinental Poetry Award, and the post-9/11 date gives us a key to the poems’ political context, providing a backdrop of passion and fear that is rarely invoked directly by Koeneke’s pleasantly aimless language. The raw material of Koeneke’s poems is Western colonialist fantasies and how they might be processed by people with no cultural literacy–people whose minds are full of catchy phrases and bits of information, but without the attention span or historical awareness to put them together properly. Rouge State is like “The Waste Land” written by a likeable, confused, somewhat ADD-afflicted American teenager deployed to Iraq.

           from #38

…Tonight’s ceremony will require your bride’s
virginity. Spread nard over the bedclothes
and charge it up to the hotel. The poppies mean
we’re leaving. It was a once-in-a-lifetime
sort of thing–the seeds were used for visions
and the husks served as clothes.
On the airport concourse you’ll notice a series
of fluorescent yellow cannisters: please put them down
at once. The people were so sorry when
we told them you were leaving–
that’s why I think they’re doing
that funny little dance.

Such naivete should be dangerous, but a sense of menace is mostly lacking from Rouge State, which relies perhaps too much on its readers’ knowledge of extra-textual facts to give the book its urgency. As with Bad Bad, Koeneke’s poems can be enjoyed for the reckless abundance of their vocabulary and imagery. Some of the poems could be said to have a meaning or a narrative thread, while others are more cryptic. Untitled, they are numbered from 1-50, and I couldn’t say that I discerned a reason behind the order of poems: the speaker doesn’t seem to have reached any insight by #50 that he didn’t have halfway through. In fact, quite the opposite:


Summer acrostic hotshot,
Urgent as a somnambulist.
Create in me a clean heart, Zardoz–
Krazy-glue gentile moils upon me.

Orangutans, start your gonads:
Not one of you gets out of Zaire alive.

The thing I learned at scribe camp:
Hermes is vowels. Graminivores
In igloos eat more teeth.
So much for that Hummer the

Orotund senator sent round–
She got spotted on the parkway, imploring
Apaches to land.
“My, what cheesy palms you have, Sir Swithin.”
All I ever wanted was free beer.

I have come late to the appreciation of this nonlinear type of poetry, so other readers might be more patient about pushing through its difficulties. For me, an author needs a good reason to depart from recognizable modes of communication. I’m less interested in technique for its own sake. For example, in The Cow, Ariana Reines uses fragmentary and bizarre language because the passion of a speaker fighting her way back from madness to sanity bursts the bonds of ordinary rational thought.

The rationale for enigmatic speech in Rouge State might be to show that Americans have lost the ability to think clearly about the political power we wield. However, this seems like more of a conceptual point than an emotional necessity, and once made, perhaps does not need to be repeated so often. Does nonsense-humor trivialize this type of subject, whereas satire might have provided some reparative insight?

I did enjoy Rouge State, on the whole, because I read it over several weeks and could slow down to appreciate the experience of each poem, notwithstanding how familiar that experience sometimes was, underneath the inspired nuttiness of the vocabulary. And there were some brilliant passages, my favorite being this one from #39:

Ego is an autopsy
at which you’re a guest but also its theater,
a space in which no detail is too small to be applauded, but only once
the scalpels go to town.

With more such moments of profound analysis thrown in among the non sequiturs, Rouge State could have been an even more satisfying book. I have confidence in Koeneke’s imaginative powers and will be interested to see the direction of his subsequent work.