Shadows

An author friend, Evie Yoder Miller, has a new book out that may interest readers here. What follows is my review for Good Reads.


From five Mennonite, Amish, or German Baptist settings during the American Civil War, Miller’s book, Shadows, raises questions of how to live one’s scruples in yet another time of challenge. There are foreshadowings of today’s American Cold Civil War while staying true to its time.

The current context was on the author’s mind from the dedication, “to all who seek freedom for self and others, refusing the power trappings of weapons and words that kill, of labels that divide and discriminate” to the closing sentence of this trilogy’s Book 1, “A letter that left us straining for certainty.” We will see if more certainly is available as the war grows closer and more deadly. Yet the story stands on its own without a reader making such connections.

Whether from a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where the Union and Confederate soldiers ebb and flow around and through, a booming business in Chicago, Illinois, or an Iowa frontier, each of the well-drawn figures wrestles with conscience, received tradition, and current national conflict.

I found myself most drawn to J. Fretz Funk and expect others would find more in common with one of the other four narrators. The voices and situations of the characters ring clear. The questions they face are persistent, their responses, all too familiar.

Sometimes immediate choices need to be made, while some have the luxury of letting life slowly percolate. In either case, meaning is continually sought within whatever options are open at the moment.

I look forward to Books 2 and 3 and further journeys with Esther, Jacob, Fretz, David, and Betsey. I fully expect their lives will continue to be helpful in the uncertainties of this day.


Shadows, Book 1 of a trilogy, “Scruples on the Line,” a fictional series set during the Civil War, is available from your independent bookstore (choice 1), the publisher (choice 2), or peddlers like Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Evie’s website will give more clues about this book and others she has written.

Stained Entitlement

I like to write with a fountain pen. Today’s mail brought a bottle of Monteverde Black Documental ink. My usual writing is done with a Conway Stewart Nelson II with a custom ground nib to a Japanese Fine, filled with a waterproof ink. The current ink is De Atramentis Archive ink.

In checking the pen’s ink supply, I found that the cartridge converter had leaked. I am now sitting with thoroughly ink-stained fingers. The backup pen in my pocket is a gold-nibbed Platinum PTL-5000A, filled with Sailor Yama-Dori ink.

These are two very different pens in girth, weight, and material. I like and can recommend both. The Conway-Stewart is a loan/gift I would never have approached because of its price. The Platinum is the least expensive gold-nibbed pen available.

There has been enough productive time today (reading the latest issue of the Fourth R magazine published by Westar, mowing the lawn, finishing Chapter 4 of an editing/publishing task for a friend, and taking my DIY conversion of a CPAP mask to an anti-virus mask for its first outing) that this latest shift in what I felt I was entitled to (clean fingers) was manageable.

Some days my generalized sense of entitlement (what I have dubbed the universal expression of each and all of the seven deadly sins) is not so well-bolstered and leaps into whatever false fray that presents itself.

When I consider the pull of personal entitlement (always present, just like my EA [Entitled Anonymous] sponsor said it would be), I begin to take a longer view of cultural, political, and economic change. These seemingly intractable entitlements are exponentially larger than my personal entitlement. Change is slow since there is no civic education or support to clarify what is needed for a public even to take a first step. Without being able to admit a lack of control over an idolatry of freedom and independence, they imprison others until, finally, they imprison themselves.

In a bit, I’ll go in and wash a tiny bit of ink off and have a noticeable reminder for these next days that happenings do occur. In such days it is good to have a reservoir of apophatic mysticism that can see me through to a next time when all shall be well. Until then, I’ll enjoy the chocolate-infused cranberry wine I brought out to encourage today’s musings and was forgotten during the Episode of the Leaking Pen.


PS — For those following this blog, yesterday’s posting was spell-check-bombed when “past stuckness” came out “past stickiness.”

Momentum

so swift
a flow of sweetness
fills a heart
overflows
to mind

surprised enough
to never ask
why or wherefore
we ride
its current

slaloming
around markers
of past stuckness
more surely
than gravity

a community-long
bunny-hopping line
speeding toward
a jump
quantum

sophisticated lemmings
fully justified
joyfully
place eggs
in baskets

Ears

“How many ears does it take before one man knows that too many people have died?” ~ Diminished Dylan

“If there were one, it would be cause to wonder and weep, but they are numbered into many thousands, and for each one, I cannot sleep!” Mutated Malvina

Gentle songs of protest from earlier in life, rise to shake themselves off in the present. Such individual musings found lodgment in receptive hearts open enough to be organized into effective (non)violent acts for change. That was back in a non-quarantined populace and non-surveilled state.

Today we are on the cusp of the most organized being armed militia groups arranged as powder kegs ready to be set off in a twittered moment. They are prepared to make whole communities dead for the sake of individual liberty. Gone is all tension but immediate desire.

We used to sing, “It only takes a spark to get G*D’s love growing all around” (well, almost). Such optimistic language in a dire situation misses the needed analysis and commitment required for change. Such cloying sweetness does more to clog ears than open them.

Cloistering, whether for personal health or cultural unity, divides us from a long, slow slog through deeper conversation and massed action that clarifies what needs leaving behind and the facing of imperative risks to move further along.

Wondering about ears and weeping over the disconnect between hearing and heart are signs of a transitional disjuncture that is generations long. They begin within a specific context but take time to be nurtured into a generalized presence within every setting.

At best, some other side of this or a next pandemic that breaks the power of acculturated powerlessness will catalyze enough weeping, sufficient tears, to wash away hyper-individualized uncaring.

Biography

What details of a person’s life are helpful for a biographer? How much of a biographer appears in their presentation of another person? On what basis might there be no difference between an autobiography and a biography, and how might they be discrete categories?

If responses to such questions are helpful in terms of reporting on a life, there will be additional questions of whose life is worth the time and energy to detail. It’s not long before we come up against cultural biases.

The same questions and issues can be raised about theological constructs or biographies of G*D. What details about G*D are available, and can they be separated from cultural norms projecting themselves universally?

One way to come at this is through the lens of memorializing a person upon the occasion of their death. Does that take place at the level of The New York Times, a local news organ, a funeral service, or never, in the case of a drifter.

Another way might be through a particular time-frame, which gives opportunity for a completely different presentation of their life because their next responses cannot be predicted based on who they have been or a value next assigned by their context.

If creation is G*D’s autobiography, is there more that can be added by any biographer? Does this image assist us in partnering with an aspect of G*D not recognized before it just appeared (like the mutations of DNA in Corona-19 that currently has at least three known variants)?

Writing about anything living (bio-) presence is both cautioned and necessary.

Invitation

If this blog brings someone to mind who might appreciate trying it, please pass this free subscription link on to them — http://eepurl.com/cqvRmT.

You can let them know that they can unsubscribe at any time through a link at the bottom of every message. I trust you will know when to use that for yourself.

Thanks,
Wesley

Fragility

As stock markets bump themselves ever lower, illusions of stability dance in our heads. All manner of fantasies of what might have been, what might have put down roots there and flowered further on, dance in our heads. Regrets of why didn’t I (invest sooner, sell sooner, do something sooner, …), surface, and circle about.

Isn’t this America? This isn’t supposed to happen to the greatest empire ever seen! It should have been some distant relative of Attila that did us in, not something smaller than a grain of sand caught under a toenail.

With the economy revealing it has been built on a shifting sandbar, the fragility of every aspect of life stands in starker relief. Food? Shortages looming. Farmer’s increase a choice of suicide before losing their farm. Famine in the midst of plenty—there is plenty of irony to chew on, though. Health? Physicians going down, the toughest nurses weeping, PPE compromised—time to relearn a healing hum. Shelter? Rent relief for a season followed by eviction and squatting—O for a tarp and staff from Boy Scout years. Relationships? A glint in the eye and cough in the face, who can be trusted—rosy-fingered dawn … and you.

Presumably, a different economy is creeping in as this one fades. Like it or not, transitions like this are never linear. In corporate America, a rose is not a rose is not a rose—it is multi-leveled profit.

While working our way through quarantine-time you might want to review an old poem, Sacred Emily, by Gertrude Stein (see if you can spot the famous rose line). While there, there is time to wonder if a person is a flower, whether it’s the same flower every year, might it be roses all the way down?

If you still have time—punctuationally, what is the purpose of a period? Does this poem have anything to say about finality or transition? Did you note the lines that did not end in a period? How do they play together? If those questions don’t have any traction, what small part of your life would you honor with a triple repetition? Begging? Happy? Pale?

In the end, frail Rose/rose fades. Happiness is bounded by necessity.

Reflecting

Here we are, reflecting whatever holds the time/space of a G*D right on back to said posited G*D. This reflective process of “Here’s how you’re looking to me” is an important part of a relationship or partnership.

Were someone to have tracked my various reflections over time, they might picture a lovely patchwork quilt or a grand confusion. And you?

We might talk about this grounding spot in terms of a person or a place or a path or a chosenness of one sort or another or …. No matter what general category of religion or none we might claim or reference, we are responding to the difference between an unarticulated or limited hope and its perceived distance from our current/anticipated circumstance.


7 x 7
available responses
promise a 50th
open space
unexpectedly sown
on its own
already present
awaiting
an absence
of forced meaning
shaping dominion
in our image
so far a handful
of options repeat
and yet again
only 44 more
names of G*D
to promised rest

Facture

This note began with wondering about “alternative facts”. Before this phrase came to define a political movement, there was a movement called anti-vaccine. Those holding such a position were informally named anti-vaxers. With “fact” and “vax” being a near rhyme, I began thinking about alternative facts as anti-facts and those who hold them as anti-factsers.

Facts and anti-facts claim polar opposite universes. Without a starting point in “fact”, there is no anti-fact. Dictionary definitions begin with “something that has actual existence.” “Fact” appears to come from the Latin and references an act, a performance, a bringing forth of something tangible, a deed….

An “anti-fact” is based on an idealized reality disconnected from the one our bodies are in. It is not a movement toward such an ideal, simply a statement that that which is not, is actually present. It is a protective screen from difficult decisions. By extension, it is not planned obsolescence (which is an actual thing) but a hodge-podge of incompetence. To modify an aphorism, those who can’t handle the messiness of reality, lie about easy fixes.

I expect there is a correlation between fact and future (a “facture”?), even though one is past and present while the other is, well, future. Alternative facts only have an ever-changing present where anti-facts cycle into their opposite at a moment’s notice because coherence only gets in their way.

Wouldn’t you know it, there is an actual word “facture”. It is a word from the arts that identifies how something is made (such as the fashioning of metal). This making or doing has the same nature as a fact. Rather than speak of a completed deed or form, it focuses on the process leading to a form that has a life of its own, not a mirage of an anti-(anything).

What we do during this quarantine (how we facture) will lead to the facts we will have to deal with afterward and for generations to come. May you facture well.

Translation

I do not know Portuguese. I can’t even distinguish it from Spanish (which I also do not know). At the same time, I am on a workgroup looking for a new model for Methodism with people whose first tongue is other than English.

How is this going to work? Well, I translated a message from one person through Google Translate (from Portuguese to English). Their note made a great deal of sense to me as it talked about the danger of trying to institute a new church with some basic binaries baked into it because of the cultural context of Empire. The big one they mentioned is turning things into a bifurcated G*D v. Creation with an implied hierarchy.

I responded with additional binaries to the ones they mentioned, and my appreciation of the Eastern Church emphasis upon theosis. My response was entered into Google Translate (from English into Portuguese), copied, and sent on to the group.

I’ll be interested to hear if anything comes of this process. Suffice it to say, I’m impressed with this level of communication. I’m not sure how far it will go because of the importance of personal nuance that will be needed.

I am figuring this is not likely to be worse than two hard-of-hearing individuals trying to work out what was said and meant. It will take a goodly amount of feedback loops and forgiveness for unintended slights that can all too easily shut down a conversation.

Douglas Adams’ Babelfish does have an appeal here. Though, its actual result, rather than the intended one, was worse wars. It seems we not only have difficulty with incomplete communication but with that which is all too accurate.

Too bad there is not a Google Translate for the political talking-past-one-another that is so in vogue these days. Without something to assist communication, we are just as likely to end up in another Civil War over economics and wage-slaves. The current pandemic seems to be making communication more difficult with a diminution of non-verbal communication cues.

How’s translating going with you? Internally? Between friends? Enemies?

Beyond the personal, how is translating going with your engagement with the culture and structures that so influence civic and personal health?