Month: December 2017

When the celebrant dies, you what?

During holidays, you could call the labor “just cooking” or “just cleaning” or even “just fretting.” But if the family gathers, laughs, argues, reconnects, and remembers what it often forgets, maybe you should call the work something else.

Whoever engineers, or designs, the event is a celebrant, a ritual-maker. Describe the job this way, to remind yourself of its importance.

But then, what if the ritual-maker dies?

You do what?

Listen to the whole story:

For even more of the story and pictures, click here.

You want it darker?

It’s easy, I suppose, to get romantic or religious as you age. It’s harder to get honest about yourself, your failures, and your aspirations. Leonard Cohen is about as straight-forward as you can get.

I beg Leonard’s pardon for putting him to work in the service of democracy:

Galisteo Cemetery

A slide show of the Old Galisteo Cemetery, Santa Fe County, New Mexico


What’s the glue?

Big questions aren’t anyone’s area of specialization. Some might claim they are experts in the Big, but they aren’t. Religious leaders sometimes make such claims, but ask a question or two, and you’ll soon hit a qualifier, something like “according to my tradition.”

A few weeks ago night I was lost on the UCLA campus and asked a group of guys how to find the faculty guest house. The students live and work here, but they didn’t know. But the guys were quick. Two whipped out their cell phones. “What’s the name again?” Soon they had the answer, “Down that street, then on the left.” They didn’t know, and didn’t need to know, but they knew how to know.

The next morning I had a discussion with a broadminded acoustical engineer who studies sonic resonances and collaborates with an art historian trying to understand how sacred sounds bounce around the insides of some church buildings, creating something participants are likely to interpret as the voices of angels. (It helps if you are contemplating holy images on the walls or altar screens). I asked the engineer whether his university (not UCLA) had a program in visual anthropology. He didn’t know. Then he joked, “You know how engineers are, we just hole up in Engineering and ignore the rest.” In response to another ignoramus question from me, he said, “That’s not really my area specialization.” He was being modest. Another time he gave the same answer, and I thought, ah, this time he’s dodging.

I had to ask myself: When am I being humble, and when am I dodging?

Logarithmic illustration of observable universe by Pablo Carlos Budassi

Doctors, lawyers, scholars, not to mention cab drivers, cleaning staff, and cooks specialize: I’m a urologist, I’m a dessert chef. We all specialize. Sometimes our job descriptions say so. Parts of the brain and body also specialize. Humans need specialization for survival. We can’t attend to everything, so the brain selects sensory data on the basis of its physiology and what it’s learned before.

But what about the glue—the stuff that connects brain parts or cities or departments of medicine? Big questions are about the connective tissue, the whatever that holds the whole kit and caboodle together. Maybe there is no “whatever,” no “kit,” no “caboodle.” Fine, how do the parts cohere? Gravity? Electronic attraction? God? What’s the glue? If “glue” makes the universe sound stuck, but we know that the universe is moving, fine, what’s the “dynamic force?”

You’re asking me? I don’t know. That’s not my area of specialization.

Three places I never went to when I was alive

“Three Places I Never Went” by Paul Antick, who is a founding member of the Terror and the Tour research group and co-editor of Liminalities’ Terror and the Tour special issue. His recent contributions include, “Bhopal to Bridgehampton: schema for a disaster tourism event,” in the Journal of Visual Culture. Antick is Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Roehampton, London.You can find some notes about the video here.

Think of Antick’s videography as slow food. It’s the work of a photographer. You will need to practice meditation to watch this remarkable video.

Mining words

Robert Fullerton, an ex-shipyard welder in Glasgow, says, “Imagine going down into the dirt to find a word that you’re going to elevate up into poetry. That’s mining for me.” Drawing inspiration from the sparks, he imagines them as “wee possibilities or wee ideas,” Fullerton began crafting poems while working at the shipyard. He discovered that his dark, solitary days provided the “perfect thinking laboratory” for mining words.

Directed by Callum Rice for the Scottish Documentary Institute.

Why build your house on sand?

In the parable of the wise and foolish builders, Jesus says, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27, New International Version of the Bible).

The rock is an important biblical metaphor. St. Peter’s name means “the rock,” and Jesus plays off the name by saying, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.” Regarded as the successor of Peter, the Pope continues this rocklike tradition.” As result, neither doctrine nor liturgy is supposed to change. They are rocks.

The Dutch, however, are learning to build on sand using a Sand Motor, (the NPR story).

Unlike rock and its descendant, concrete, water passes through sand. You have to ask, What would Jesus do? Well, he’d want you to treat his planet well, and he was a creative storyteller, so what else, adapt the story: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise person who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because the rain passed through the sand. Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like those foolish persons who build their houses on concrete foundations. The rain came down, the cracks widened, the streams rose, the winds blew and beat against that house. It fell with a great crash, its basement full of water.”

On spiritual yearning in the west


Vine Deloria Jr. (March 26, 1933 – November 13, 2005) was a Hunkpapa Lakota scholar, author, historian, and activist. For samples of his writings see Spirit and Reason: The Vine Delolria, Jr. ReaderThese two interviews are some of his most thoughtful and critical reflections on spirituality and native people.

Follow this link for an article I wrote while discussing Native American religions with Vine at the University of Colorado, Boulder.