Tag Archives: truth

Don’t grok shibboleths, do you?

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‘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.

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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.

john

© 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.

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The ride

Whirlygig

When first she put her leg over the motorcycle
and clung to the rat bastard’s back…
when first she felt the thrum of the engine
and felt that surge when he gunned it…
when first she threw herself all in,
giddy with knowing that this was it—that this, just this—
this was what she had wanted all along…
even then, knowing that the crash was sure to come,
knowing that she would break everything she had to break,
knowing that she would lose everything she had to lose and more…
even then, knowing all of this from the start,
the anticipation was awesome,
just awesome.

swril2
A person’s life choices are never anything to comment on or to judge because life and its decisions are so personal and none of us are perfect. But trying to tease apart the process, to understand how it is that we drive ourselves and how we face the world…to do that is universally human, and I trust, forgivable.

Thank you for reading The ride, and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph is entitled Swing! and was taken at my home in Putnam, CT. It is the rotating pendulum going all a whirligig at the bottom of a clock. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 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: © 2014 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.

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Every truth

How much movement is there
in the stillness of a heron?
How much movement in the water below?
Heron and fish—stillness and movement,
how these lovers lead the other
in their perfect little dance
of need and surrender.

Listen, this is true:
I have sat praying,
knowing that anything I desired
could be mine,
if only I would deign not to wish it;
every truth is a paradox,
but no truth is a lie.

I drive an hour each day to and from work, with much of the journey being through rural Connecticut. There is one small lake that I pass that, for an entire season, an egret was using for its nesting and feeding. Every day I would look to catch a glimpse of it fishing and often reflected on its sense of patience and purpose. And while that scene and my meditations are the obvious source for the first part of the poem, the source for the second part is more difficult to explain.

Prayer is transformative, a creative act by and for the person saying the prayer. It is not that it is wrong to say a prayer asking for a specific outcome; it is wrong to say a prayer that is contingent on a specific outcome. God tests mankind, not the other way around. The more of the sense of control over our lives that we give up, the more we are actually in control of what matters in our lives.

And while that is a paradox, it is, I think, no lie.

Thank you so much for reading Every truth. 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.

john

© 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.

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The first of forever

1) The Sacrifice

He, Abraham, the Father of all
stood first upon the Summit of Surrender.
There, with the knife of His heart raised,
the witness stones themselves cried out,
Father, forgive us!
We are nothing to You.
Every act from this Day hence
draws its breath from Yours!
Father, forgive us!

2) The Covenant

Then light was reborn in turmoil’s lament
as the Breath of God blew across His Servant’s brow.
His Will flashed down, His Voice thundered out
and His Patience billowed forth.
Thus did the storm of His Promise well up
to rage unabated, where it rages still,
deep in the hearts of His lovers.

3) The Lament of Ishmael

Father! cried Ishmael,
Why dost Thou stay Thy Hand?
Hast Thou no mercy left for me?
Then, falling upon the dust
he, eldest of all thereafter
proved worthy to the task.
Embracing the ground at his Father’s feet
he calmed himself to account,
stretched forth his neck,
and awaited the blow that would never, he now knew, come.
Father forgive me! he wept, I am nothing!

The story of the Sacrifice has occupied Judaic/Christian/Muslim religious thinkers since the time of the Patriarchs themselves.

Before I go into why I wrote this three poem collective, I should explain a particular point: Jews and Christians believe that the child of the Sacrifice was Isaac. Muslims believe that the child in question was Abraham’s first born, Ishmael, whose mother was Hagar and who was twelve years older than His brother. Isaac’s mother was Sarah, who bore Him when she was quite elderly and, so all believed, past her child bearing days. (In the Qur’án, Abraham is Ibrahim, Ishmael is Isma’il, and Ishaq is Isaac.) In religious history, all Jews believe that they are descended from Isaac, while all Arabic speaking peoples of the Arabian Peninsula—the first Muslims—believe they are descended from Ishmael.

Bahá’u’lláh—the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith—makes the point that the essential element of both versions remains the same: in the end, through the Will of God, an animal is sacrificed, not a son, and that the story is about the nature of the Sacrifice itself, not which child is named. To Jews (and Christians) it should be Isaac and to Muslims (and Bahá’ís) it should be Isma’il/Ishmael; the essential Truth of the Word of God remains unchallenged.

This story pops up everywhere. It is, for example, an essential plot element in the Hyperion series of science fiction books by Dan Simmons (highly recommended, by the way) and I recently listened to an NPR podcast from the RadioLab show that was specific to this story.

The point of the Sacrifice is to examine the nature of obedience to the Will of God and the meaning of sacrifice in His name. For centuries it has been the essential ethical and moral question pertaining to faith that many scholars and religious theorists have debated. The response is usually in the format of questions: “How can God ask this of Abraham?” and “How can Abraham accept that God…” or “How can Abraham even contemplate killing…” and “How can Ishmael not see that he…” My poem was written out of frustration with the interpretations I have studied on the story and to try and establish a different perspective on the nature of its meaning.

The universal failing, I believe, that people bring to the story is to bring it down to the level of their world experience and to cast the roles of the participants into their lives so that they can make the story relative to themselves. They do not try to cast themselves into the roles of the participants, or try to understand those roles, and so fail to grow into the understanding of what true faith is, as is exemplified by the actions and the roles of the participants.

Let me explain this by using an example from the author, Rúhíyyih Khanum, when she writes about understanding the nature of great spiritual effort. She noted that when an airplane is on the ground it obeys all the laws of physics that pertain to objects rolling around on the earth. However, when, with a great surge of power, that airplane leaps into the air, it comes under the influence of a completely different set of physical laws, ones that cannot truly be understood, but only imagined, by those who are earth bound.

The same goes for great spiritual heroes; how else can we, of lesser spiritual insight, understand the degree of sacrifice they are willing to make, and the degree of obedience they are willing to commit to? Because it is by these very acts that they enter a spiritual realm that we can only see and dimly be aware of. Their realm of action, while visible to ours, is not controlled by the same spiritual laws we follow.

And yet, paradoxically, their is on their large scale, a truth that also works on our small scale: that sacrifice, willingly and lovingly given, is the spiritual energy that empowers every other powerful act for good in this world. And if this is so for every human being and up to and including religious martyrs, then how much more so is it true for the Messengers of God Themselves?

We should not try and recast the story of the Sacrifice into something we can understand from our small world perspective. We must try and imagine the spiritual heights to which Abraham and Ishmael, in obedience to God, soar and from our limited ability to view and understand such holy, detached and obedient certitude, strive to bring those same qualities into our lives.

First of all, Abraham is the Forefather of four world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá’í Faith. As a Messenger of God, His sense of conviction, faith, certitude and obedience is the very definition of what these words mean. He is not to be questioned, not to be pulled down, not to be examined by our standards, but is the One Who creates and sets those standards; as such He is to be obeyed, instantly, completely and exactly. Such is the difference between a normal human being and a Messenger of God—One who is a perfect mirror to God.

This sense of obedience and humility that even the rocks of this planet do a better job at then we humans do, is the heart of man’s role in the eternal Covenant of God, the essential relationship that binds man to God. This is the theme dealt with in The Storm, the second poem of the trilogy.

The Lament of Ishmael is the essential point in the poetic trilogy. Most commentators raise the issue of how the Sacrifice deals with the sense of loss or betrayal that the story must have engendered in Ishmael. But this misses the point. Surely the history of religious discourse has shown that spiritual heroes are ready to lay down their lives for their faith. And not just to do it, but to do it unhesitatingly, with joy and love; this is the very essence of faith. I am certain that Ishmael would have been eager to shed his blood for his faith, and that not having the opportunity to do so would have been a great loss to Him.

Let me end with this: consider the story of Khálid ibn al-Walíd, the fearless, first great general of Islam, he who was designated by Muhammad as ‘The Drawn Sword of His Faith,’ On his death bed as an old man he lamented, “I’ve fought in so many battles seeking martyrdom that there is no spot on my body left without a scar or a wound made by a spear or sword. And yet here I am, dying on my bed like an old camel.”

What will each of us, I wonder, lament on our death beds?

Thank you for reading The first of forever. 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.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. These poems 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: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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In truth we lie

I told a lie
and this is the truth,
I really wasn’t there.

I told the truth
and this is no lie,
I know I wasn’t there.

But here where we are
I want you to know
I am—it’s true—still trying.

So now do you believe me
when I earnestly tell you
that I am actually lying?

Knots is a book of poetry by R. D. Laing. A psychiatrist, although an unconventional one, Laing was fascinated by the complexities of emotional entanglement, the emotional knots we find ourselves in. In retrospect, the poetry is sad and disheartening, but it is well written and scathingly honest.

This poem was not written to be a Laing-like copy. But I confess to being drawn to poetry that explores the specific intensely. Having got to the age I am, I am more comforted by the hope and support of emotional honesty and the belief that despite our misfortune to be human, we can build divinely inspired relationships if we are humble enough and try hard enough.

Thank you for reading In truth we lie. 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.

john

© 2013 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: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Shouting

Say not a word, none is needed.
With a nod, a kneel, a stand, a seat,
a look, a touch, a smile—
with a step to the side and a seat to the rear,
this is you, say it loud.

Here is the real of it: these are the magics
we use to cast ourselves forward
in a world that does not want us.
The rest is the story we live with:
said yesterday, quoted today, repeated tomorrow,
they are the on-our-back claw marks
of what none of us can now recall.
If there is a meaning in it at all, it is this:
who we are, for all we are, is what we are—
and that can never be said, let alone known, only done.
And yesI knowjust how ironic this is.

The passage below is from The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-age Warriors from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, by David W. Anthony. It is a book on the Proto-Indo-European language, the language that is the most distant mother tongue of the mother tongues now spoken by more than 50% of the peoples on Earth, including English. I was reading it over the 2012 Holiday week:

In the 1780s, Herder proposed a theory…that language creates the categories and distinctions through which humans give meaning to their world. Each particular language, therefore, generates and is enmeshed in a closed social community or “folk” that is at its core meaningless to an outsider. Language was seen…as a vessel that molded community and national identities.

It was the line “that language creates the categories and distinctions through which humans give meaning to their world” that caught my attention, as too the part about language “molding a community.” In my Faith it is said, “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.”

It struck me then that our body language is as much a language that builds our community and our world as do words, and perhaps even more so, and how important this aspect of society is, as we build our personal, “spiritual folk.”

Thank you for reading Shouting magic. 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.

john

PS: I usually write my poetry on a computer but this poem was started in longhand on a flight. I thought you’d appreciate seeing the insanity that is my thought process when I start a poem…

the first draft of this poem

the first draft of this poem

© 2013 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: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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