Tag Archives: self control

Don’t grok shibboleths, do you?


‘Course you do.
Shibboleths are the little worms in the heart of your pride,
the delusions of shifty strangers,
the sly winks when sincerity can’t wait.
Think of a black dude yelling at another
in a drive-by mouthing, ‘Yo, niggah!
Now, see, that’s a shibboleth,
the illusion is the sense of control.


A shibboleth is a word, sound, or custom that a person unfamiliar with its significance may not pronounce or perform correctly,” and adds that it may refer also “to any ‘in-crowd’ word or phrase that can be used to distinguish members of a group from outsiders…”

It was a long battle for society to learn how harmful and demeaning racist words are and to turn away from their use. In the USA, the worst of these epitaphs was the “n word.” So it may seem surprising that it is now used by young black males to refer to each other. They do it, I think, because they can and not be stopped by anyone. But even more importantly, they do it because white people can’t, and who are yet forced into an ill-at-ease situation upon hearing it. It is, in its way, an act of self-empowerment and esteem building.

Grok‘ is a term coined by Robert A. Heinlein for his 1961 science-fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, where it is defined as understanding so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed.

Thank you for reading Don’t grok shibboleths, do you?. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken during a trip to New York City. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.


© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.


Filed under Poetry

The Copper Tree Tops

The Radiant Sun bursts forth
Reflecting on the tree tops
Electrifying their pose with a copper glow.

The Fast begins.
I have prepared my body
With an abundance of food and water.
I have prepared my soul
With an abundance of prayer and meditation.

The Sunlight envelops all the trees
From the top to the base… and all
That is in its path. The copper glow
Has transformed into a clear, warm Light.

The fast continues…
The Will of God encircles me.

Clouds rumble across the sky
As midday bells chime.
They act as veils dulling the Light
And the hues of the trees seem less clear.
Yet, the bell tones re-energize the amity.

My body is hungry. I know this will pass.
The corners of my lips feel sticky.
I cherish the opportunity to splash water against my mouth
While saying my ablutions.

It is mid afternoon.
The Light has changed angles.
New and different shadows appear on the ground.
Shadows that are unhindered by leaves
That will soon encompass the branches.

The hunger pains have passed into nothingness.
My head, on some days at this time, feels strangely foggy…
On others, strangely vibrant.

It is a few minutes before sundown.
The trees stand strong and silent
Urging me to cast-off my doubts and join them.

During those last moments,
We are on fire again.


Again this year I am very proud to post this poem by my wife, Lyn. It is during the Fast, the period from March 2 through to the 21st, when Bahá’ís refrain from eating or drinking from sunup until sundown. If you have never participated in an extended period of fasting, it would be natural to fear the process, thinking it to be a physical misery. It is anything but.

The point of fasting is not, in any event, the physical process itself. This is, I believe, true of the fasting tradition for all religions: the 28 day Muslim fast of Ramadan, the 40 days of Lent for Christians, or the 25 hour fast of Yom Kippur for Jews. The physical discipline is meant to act as a lens and allow you to concentrate on the spiritual process that is the heart of true fasting: obedience to the Law and disciplining oneself for control over your actions. But while this is, in itself, meritorious, there is even a sweeter reason to fast: it is an act done out of love for the Founder of your religion. And this love, this transformative force, is the very heart of what the religious experience is all about.

Lyn’s poem dates from 2006 and the story she tells of the early dawn light, copper coloring the tops of the tall trees outside our kitchen window, and then illuminating them from behind at sunset, is absolutely true…and particularly noticeable at this time of the year. Every year the beauty of it grabs us more and more. Alas, the church up the street, which does have a carillon (bells played with a keyboard-like instrument) no longer has anyone to play them and we miss their gentle, clear, clean rhythms. But all things, it seems, change and grow older…

Thank you for reading The Copper Tree Tops by Lynette D. Tolar. It is used with her permission. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


The Copper Tree Tops by Lynette D. Tolar © 2006; all rights reserved. Notes © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address,https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.


Filed under Poetry

More or less, usually less

The skull beneath the eye,
the sinew without the pull,
the ghost left raving in a raging heart—
is there a hope left here to hold?

And while this, of course, is something,
it is nothing and all that I am true to;
and while this, of course, is nothing,
it is something to be ashamed of;
if I had less, I’d embrace it more,
if I embraced it more, I’d have more,
or less, depending on my desires.
You see my dilemma, don’t you?

I love emotional and spiritual puzzles and paradoxes. I love ideas that conflict and oppose but are, by their nature, wedded together so that understanding them is a discovery of truth. It is my belief that at the heart of every paradox there is a great spiritual truth; resolving the paradox is the heart of wisdom.

One of these paradoxical truths is the idea of surrender. Let me illustrate this by a metaphor I first read by the wonderful Rúhíyyih Khanum.

Imagine yourself trying to drive across a busy city at the end of the work day; if there were no street lights it would be utter chaos. Moreover, without them, you’d be risking your life and the lives of others. But if the street lights are working and you obey them, they organize the traffic patterns in an orderly flow and allow you to get home safely in the fastest time possible. So by surrendering your will to the will of the traffic lights, you have gained what your independent freedom could not have got you.

Thank you for reading More or less, usually less. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.


© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Filed under Poetry