Monthly Archives May 2014

The Best Anti-War Song Ever

The best anti-war song ever written actually began its life as a poem. But like most fine poems, it contained an abundance of musical elements and concrete, vivid imagery. So much so that folk singer John Gorka readily saw the opportunity to turn it into a haunting, masterful song, so plaintive and quietly anguished that it throws off the power of its anti-war outrage under the cloak of a mother’s muffled sobs.

“Let them in, Peter,” implores the first line, and we immediately know which “Peter” the poet Elma Dean was referring to in the dark days of 1942, when the war was going very badly in post-Pearl Harbor America. This is the Peter who does not need a last name. The sentence finishes: “…they  are very tired.”

And the next lines:

      Give them couches where the angels sleep, and light those fires
      Let them wake whole again, to brand new dawns
      Fired by the sun, not w...

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A Sermon on “Fiction and the Religious Imagination”

Once a year or so, I’ll fill the pulpit for a lay-led service at my home church, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Santa Rosa. Today was one those days, with the sermon title as noted above.

Oh, what a long, strange and compelling story humanity has written for itself over the eons! Some of this story is reflected in our history books—especially those weighty tomes that tend to sit on our shelves for decades collecting heavy carpets of dust. Under the dust, we can barely make out grandiose titles like The Story of Man…or Civilization. Or, if you want to get more micro about it:  Copper Crucible: How the Arizona Miners’ Strike of 1983 Recast Labor-Management Relations in America.

But there is another class of stories within the narrative of history. Another way of telling humanity’s tale. Rather than focusing on external events—who, what, when, where, why?—this way focuses on internal eve...

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Answering Albert Camus and “The Myth of Sisyphus”

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”


With that unambiguous, declarative broadside right between the eyes and ears of his readers, Albert Camus opens his brief, haunting and still relevant The Myth of Sisyphus, a 1955 essay that explored the implications of his opening line for modern humanity.

It’s a bracing statement, as if from Moses on the mountain, a bold proclamation designed to grab readers’ attention with its sense of no-B.S. certitude.

I remember how deep I sounded to myself when I parroted the line to anyone who would listen when I first came across it some 40 years ago.

“Whoa, so that’s it? If I want to be serious about my life, I have to consider whether the best and most logical and philosophically consistent thing to do is just go ahead and kill myself? Well, I was thinking of going to graduate school or the Peace Corps or trying to get a se...

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Familiarity, Contempt, and the Donald Sterling Saga

Familiarity breeds contempt, goes the old saying. What a colossal falsehood.

Familiarity is the only thing that will save the planet and its people from terrorism, ethnic cleansing, racial wars, religious wars, land disputes, gender hostility, gay phobias, nationalist fevers, and the thousand and one other prejudices and wedges that have for so long served to divide humans as if they were different species doomed to devour each other as part of the natural way of things.

Crossing borders of all kinds—whether geographic, cultural, racial, religious or whathaveyou—is always and everywhere the precursor to understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of others, not merely in their otherness, but in the far more vast expanse of commonality we share as humans.

Familiarity also corrodes ignorance, breaks it down, renders it stupid and passé...

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