Saturday, December 31, 2005

To a god dying young

I started this poem way back in college days in the mid-1980s. I fine-tuned it and added the “Calvary” stanza in 2001.


From afar we spied your sovereignty;
Demons submissive, driven out
By might of godly majesty.
We awaited you without doubt.

At Nazareth, your native land,
We thirsted for bread and miracles,
Scraping for aid, greedy for proof,
Skeptical of a rebel son.

But you said 'No' to hardened hearts –
You knew our secret thoughts within;
Our bare, bland hypocrisy
Rejected in indignation.

Calvary beckoned from the mist
Of fact and mythology.
The glories, the pains, the fame –
”This do in remembrance of me.”

Ears the heavens have muffled shut,
Eyes ensconced beneath starlit sea;
Slain Messianic martyr, but
Dead, you live for all eternity.

Smart God, to slip betimes away,
Escaping human frailty.
Hallowed your name, worshiped today.
And thus you won, O Christ of Galilee.

- July 10, 2001

The church was silent

This is an autobiographical poem. My father was a Lutheran pastor, from the main conservative Lutheran denomination, and when I was 9 or 10 years old, a man came into our church during Ash Wednesday services. After church, he told dad he was demon-possessed and wanted an exorcism.

Well, we had a psychiatrist who was a member, and at church that night. He picked up the phone and called the main local hospital and made the necessary arrangements for the man (I’m guessing a schizophrenic) to be admitted.

Meanwhile, though, rather than do a mock exorcism or try a real one, my dad said, “I can’t do that,” or similar. I understood him to be saying, “I don’t have the power to do that.”

I knew the “longer ending” of Mark had Jesus explicitly giving his disciples power to cast out demons in his name. Earlier in Mark, chapter 6, he sounds out the 12 disciples, in a passage accepted as authentic from all early manuscripts, and “gave them authority over evil spirits.”

Now, my dad was working on a graduate degree involving comparative religion of different American Indian tribes and groups. We lived at the edge of the Navajo Reservation. And he took seriously things such as witchcraft.

So, to hear him say, “I can’t do that,” well, read on.


The church was silent
The darkness as thick as death
The fear oppressive.

The demoniac
Came seeking deliverance
From reverend dad.

“I don’t have power
To accomplish that,” said he.
Wilting at the call.

For the first time, then,
Reverend dad did stumble
And loose all his masks.

The clinging velvet
Of fear-born suffocation
Was, was that darkness.

My liberation
Began that night in Gallup
The night dad fell short.

My fear of the dark
Was already within me
From other sources.

This was little more
Trinity’s darkness little more
Than the other fears.

A bit more of fear
Was a small price to pay, then
For liberation.

Liberation from
Old ideas began that night.
In Trinity dark.

- Written July 1, 2001

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

While enjoying late-night skies


Nighttime city clouds
Puffy altocumulus
Reflect city lights.

I stand in wonder
At man-made surreal color
But without portent.

While staring upward
I wonder within myself
Am I the only one?

Am I the only one
To stare with childlike wonder
And well past midnight?

Camera is tempting
But I resist the siren
For it is useless.

No film or sensor
Has such sensitivity
As my poignant eye.

— Dec. 13, 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

Written while pondering online ...


The people on camera move, and stop, and move again
Or, when in close-in range on their lenses,
And in sudden excitatory states,
Blur out over the entire screen,
Smearing like electrons,
And the more so, the closer we look.

What a metaphor for a 21st-century online world.
A world of blur and indeterminacy,
Actors of indeterminate time, energy and position
Of quasi-stochastic appearance.
Where and when they will slow to Newtonian pace
We never know.

— Dec. 12, 2005

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The problem of evil bites monotheism with a vengeance

It’s far worse than the basic omnipotence vs. omnibenevolence dichotomy would have it seem.

The bare-bones, cut-to-the-chase definition of the problem of evil is that a Western monotheistic God, as normally defined, is impossible, because you can’t square a god who is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent with the existence of evil. That, of course, goes in spades for the existence of natural evil. (No time is being taken here to refute the arguments of theists who claim otherwise; there’s plenty of books and compendiums by professional philosophers who have already shot down the Alvin Plantingas of theistic apologetics.)

I, though, charge that this fissure the problem of evil exposes in classical monotheism is only the opening view of a far deeper crevasse, which I will quickly show by means of an informal sorites. (No need to write it out, it’s that simple.) In short, omnipotence and omnibenevolence are even more at war than it appears.

Knowledge is mental power, therefore a god who is less than omnipotent must be less than omniscient. Truly being able to care for another person, as empathy vs. sympathy exemplies, means knowing their needs. A god less than omniscient therefore cannot be omnibenevolent.

Ergo, a god less than omnipotent cannot be omnibenevolent. Throwing out the bathwater, a la Rabbi Kushner, won’t save any sort of recognizable baby.

(Kushner is the author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” which [reading between the lines] faces the problem of evil by admitting that the God of Rabbi Kushner is not omnipotent but really is omnibenevolent.)