Tag Archives: philosophy

Invocation

Rock City Chasm

Photo by JSMB, “Rock City” Trail in WV

Congratulations,
You exist

And I don’t care
How much you resist,
I don’t care
How much you doubt it,
How much you deny
Or lie about it,
How you close your eyes
And tighten your fists,
It makes no difference
You still exist

Parallels infinite
Broken sims
Impossible dreams
And forgotten whims
Ebbing and flowing
Aspirations of bliss
Who never got
A chance like this

Young women, young men
An incomparable gift,
Congratulations,
You exist

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Billy and Patty

By Jared St. Martin Brown

Back when I lived in Arizona, I used to go on a lot of solitary hikes and camping trips. It was my way of taking full advantage of my time in the desert. It fit right in to the narrative I had already created for myself years ago. As a young man, I was going to wander in the wilderness, sit in dry river beds and meditate, observe the way of the mule deer, climb mountains, and sing to God while freezing in my own sweat. I did all of that and more. I ran my hands over the petroglyphs on canyon walls, ate prickly pear, and followed every lizard and bark scorpion back to its home. When coyotes yelped at night, I was in the moment, and I wrote haikus about it. It was who I wanted to be then.  My spirit animal was Jack Kerouac.

Just about any weekend that wasn’t booked with work, college, or church was spent in the wilderness. I didn’t need a girlfriend then. I was dating Mother Earth. And if career and family never happened for me, I was going to be a beady-eyed prophet somewhere between John the Baptist and Japhy Ryder from The Dharma Bums. This is why I had no problem making myself scarce for a few days, when my housemates needed to be alone.

Josh and Joyce were husband and wife. Once upon a time, we were all single Air Force people. They met in base chapel Bible study, and were married soon after. At some point, they bought a house and I rented a room from them. This particular week, Josh was on his way home from Saudi Arabia, and he and Joyce were basically still newlyweds. I think in their first year of marriage, the USAF had let them spend a mere three months together, and not all in a row. So although they hadn’t asked me directly, I figured it was only right to give them some time to catch up, free from me, their crazy tenant.

“Tell Josh I said hi,” I told Joyce as I packed up my rusty old sports car full of camp gear and extra water. “I will be back in a couple three days. I don’t have class until Wednesday night.” Then I took off alone, straight into the hills from the backside of Surprise, AZ, speeding all the way. The destination was the forest of Oak Creek Canyon, about 160 miles away. I slowed down briefly for Wickenburg, and then it was back to full speed through Congress and Peeples Valley.

The car was my first ever. I had paid cash for it. It was a 1985 Nissan 300ZX, a fine car in its day, but now it was the year 2000 and I, being penniless, was behind on maintenance. I was doing around 90 miles per hour in the desert heat of June, and guess what happened. That’s right. A radiator hose exploded. There was a devilish cloud of steam and the window was painted with translucent green anti-freeze. A few seconds later, the engine stopped all by itself. That’s not a good feeling. I managed to roll the car up on to the shoulder, after a check under the hood, it was confirmed that I’d be walking.

Screenshot 2016-05-25 08.34.38

Photo: Google Maps, Street View: Click Here

I took a long look up and down the road, and thought, WWJD? What Would Jack Do? I pulled my camping gear out of the hatch back, threw it on and headed north. My plan was to hitchhike or walk to Wilhoit, which was still a ways off. One thing people from the east coast do not understand is just how wide open the spaces really still are in the west. Even here in West Virginia, if you break down, and you don’t have cell phone reception, the nearest town is only about 5 miles away in either direction. Some village is going to have a gas station with a phone you can use. Out west, though, you can still be truly far from civilization, and on some roads, you can go long time without seeing another car.

Several minutes later, one car passed by. It was a woman in a mini-van and she didn’t stop. I don’t blame her. It seemed like a full five minutes before the noise of her vehicle was out of range. It’s a lonely, anxious sound. As hers faded, another became audible. This one had muffler problems.

They stopped. Even Jack Kerouac didn’t have this luck. Picked up by the second car!

A white-bearded man stuck his head out of the passer window. “Holy shit! What happened, man?”

“Car broke down. The radiator hose blew up.”

“I’m a pretty decent mechanic. I’ll meet you back down at your car and we’ll get this taken care of.”

“Thanks, man!” I said, just as another car zipped between us, missing me by a foot or so.

The man leaned farther out the window. “Fuckin’ asshole! He almost hit you!” The woman in the driver’s seat added, “Some of these people are fuckin’ assholes.”

The two settled back into their car. It was a four door yellow Subaru of some kind with rust patches on the outside, and duct tape repairs on the inside. “My name’s Billy, and this is my wife Patty. See you down at your car.”

The two got out and helped me push my car a little further onto the shoulder, planting two wheels in a shallow ditch. “Billy can fix anything,” Patty said. And soon as Billy opened the hood, I could tell he knew exactly what he was doing.

“This hose right here is pretty common. We can probably get that at a gas station up the road. I need a Philips and a flathead.” Patty handed him all of that, and can of beer. “You want one?”

“No. In the hopes that I will be driving later, I don’t think I should drink.”

Billy laughed. “I understand.”
We got the hose off, and jump into the Subaru. I squeezed in next to giant white dog who was stretched across the back seat. “Get out of the way, Savannah!” Patty shouted, “Let him sit down!” The dog didn’t respond. “Just push her out of the way. She’s nice.”

“What kind of dog is she?”

“Siberian husky. She just had puppies, too. They’re in the trunk.”

I could feel them squirming around through the seat cushion behind my back. A couple of them yelped when reclined, so I leaned forward instead.

Billy had noticed a stack of books in the passenger seat of my car. “What are studying?” I told him I wanted to be an English teacher. “English! That’s MY major, too!” In the course of that discussion, I mentioned the G.I. Bill, which was met with a resounding cry of joy, “And you’re a vet too, huh!” We had hit it off, but I got the feeling that Billy could hit it off with anyone. He was amazingly friendly; abnormal in his readiness to accept others. Patty was the same way.

We pulled in to the gravel lot of a convenience store in Wihoit. There was an old man sitting outside at a picnic table under what may have been the only real tree for miles. He was thin, gnarled old man with a beard even longer than Billy’s. He sat looking beat, staring at the ground. Patty said, “You go in with Jared. I’ll sit and talk to this old dude.”

The store had no hoses, but I picked up a jug of antifreeze just in case. Billy said to the cashier, “Hey Mike, this young veteran broke down out here. Where can we get a hose?”

“Gibbon’s down in Peeples Valley would have it.”

“Would he be open?”

“Yes.”

Back outside we stood around and talked with Patty and the old man for a while. “My name’s Ted,” he said smiling. His mouth had about three teeth, all black. I wondered what a man like that could eat.

Normally, I would have been impatient to have a conversation under a tree with Ted, while my car was stuck in the desert. But today I didn’t care. From the time Billy had picked me up, I had this deep feeling that this was all organized by God. Or maybe, I was in Billy and Patty’s world now. And in their world, people like Ted matter. They had that in common with God.

Billy opened the trunk to put away the antifreeze, and insider were seven puppies, some brown, some white. Some were asleep on a piece of carpet. A couple were snuggled up in the mesh that held the back of the seat together. One was awake and walking around. “That’s Lobo.”

There was a box of pink Franzia wine in there. “How is that?” I asked.

“Great. Hold on.” Billy ran back into the store and came out with a large Styrofoam cup. He opened a cooler, which was also in the trunk, scooped out some crushed ice, then he filled it to the brim with wine. “Here. It’s just wine,” he said, meaning that I shouldn’t worry about driving, like I did before with the beer.

I laugh at myself over this now. The young me had a moral dilemma at that moment. Would it hurt my witness as a Christian to drink this wine now? All of the old folks in my old church growing up would have said “yes.” I came from a community where alcohol was always a sin, even though Jesus has been called “the best wine maker in Galilee.” Should I take the wine? Will it destroy my witness? The question was absurd, because I wasn’t ministering to Billy. He was ministering to me. He was the Good Samaritan. Not me. And he wanted to give me a cup of wine.

With gratitude, I took it and nothing had ever tasted so good. The Arizona sun has a way of making cold liquid especially delicious. Sometimes it’s so hot that cool water tastes sweeter than a chocolate milkshake. It was just what I needed. Finally, I loosened up and began to converse freely. They had treated me like an old friend from the very beginning, but it was only now that I meeting them with same warmth. I was moving past my fear of strangers, my pride, and my long list of social hang ups. Certainly, the wine helped, but I was just caught up in noticing how open and accepting these people were. I got a little choked up even then to think that Jesus was this friendly and helpful.

I wouldn’t have figured Billy for a Christian- he cursed, he dipped Skoal, he smoked, and he was drinking beer non-stop- but he was more of a Christian than most Christians. I would imagine Christ having more in common with Billy than with me at the time. If I’d seen Billy and Patty broken down somewhere, would I have stopped?

We headed to Peeples Valley, about 15 miles south, talking about dogs and military life. I told him about my housemates’ basset hounds who’d just had nine puppies, and they were the same age as Savannah’s. Billy said, he was going to keep all the puppies and turn them into a dog sled team up in Alaska. That was the first time I had ever heard the word “Iditarod.”

Billy also said he was an airborne infantryman during Vietnam, but he never saw combat because he came in right at the end of the war. I explained that I had a National Service medal from the Persian Gulf War for the same reason. I was still in basic when the war ended. He said I should join the American Legion, and that it was a very helpful organization to him, mostly because they’ll give you $20 cash, no questions asked, if you’re in a jam.

Patty, Billy, and the dogs were from Washington State, but they travel around now from place to place. They sort of lived in their car or at campsites. They were staying at one right now on a road Indian Run. “Is it hard to live like that?”

“Sometimes,” said Billy, “But not harder than living in Phoenix and commuting to the office everyday.” If it had been anyone else, I would have guessed that he was telling me what I wanted to hear. But not this guy. He wasn’t the type.

We came to Peeples Valley, but we didn’t see Gibbon’s Gas Station. There was only the MountainAire Mini-Mart where I had bought many a bottle of root beer in the past. No hoses. “Well, let’s go to the next place,” Billy said.

We drove 5 more miles to Yarnell to find that everything had already closed. We knocked on the door of a house next to a mechanic’s garage hoping he was home, but he wasn’t. We were about to just head back to my car empty handed when Patty saw a sign for the American Legion Post 79. She yelled, “Score!”

Screenshot 2016-05-25 08.32.57

Photo: Google Maps, Street View: Click Here

I had no idea why that was good, but I soon found out. There were cars parked all around the place, so it was full. Something was going on. Billy and Patty marched right in. The inside was like a bar, and there were a couple dozen people in their fifties and sixties playing cars, and smoking. Billy boldly circulated through the room telling everyone that, “This young veteran needs a radiator hose.”

One woman went out to her truck and came back with two radiator hoses. One was just like mine but a couple inches longer. “God bless you! That’ll work,” said Billy. I thanked the woman and her husband, and offered to pay, but they wouldn’t have it. They told me come to an American Legion dinner one day.

My friends were just as excited as I was. We piled in the car and headed back. As we passed the MountainAire, I asked Billy if I could fill up his tank. Shyly, he said he’d rather have the money.

Back at my car, Billy got another beer and went to work. At some point, a State Trooper or a County Sherriff’s Deputy (I don’t remember which) pulled up next to us, rolled down the widow and said, “What’s going on here? Is everything okay?” I could see that Billy was nervous, so I answered, “Yeh, we got it, sir. These guys are helping me fix my car.” The officer, no kidding, scowled, forced a half-grin and slowly drove on.

After a half hour of struggling in the evening heat, we got the new hose on and filled the radiator. “If this don’t work,” he said, ”we’ll try something else. That’s how you have to do things.”

The car started. Patty and Billy followed me to the general store in Wilhoit, just to make sure it was all okay. They parked under that shade tree, and I parked by the store. There was an outdoor faucet, and as we washed the grease and dirt off our hands, I noticed the scrapes and abrasions on Billy’s. Some were fresh from working on my car. Others were older scabs. I gave him some Neosporin and my last $20 bill. I would have given him all my money, but I only had $20 cash. I had a bank card, though. “Do you need anything?”

“I’m out of beer,” he said.

“Well come on.” In the store, Billy tried to pick out the cheapest six-pack of crap beer, but I talked him into the twelve-pack of what he liked most. So he got Budwiezer. He cracked one open, and leaned against his car in the shade outside. He was so appreciative of the little things I’d just given him, but I kept reminding him that I’d be stuck in the middle of the desert if it wasn’t for him and Patty. A tow truck on a Sunday evening would have been crazy expensive, and I don’t know if there is a hotel in Wilhoit. Billy gave all the credit to his wife for finding the American Legion and the woman who had given me the hose. It was as if he didn’t expect anything back for helping me. He considered the beer a bonus.

“Well if we didn’t get your car fixed, we were just going to invite you to stay at our camp site,” said Patty.

“We have fun. I like to howl at the moon once in a while,” said Billy.

“You can still camp with us anyway,” added Patty.

“I think he wants to be alone. He wants to read and camp alone. That’s why he left the city.” I was amazed that Billy understood that with no explanation from me.

We stood talking a while longer. They said I reminded them of their son David- same age, same build, same beard, same disposition. He liked the orange shirt I was wearing, and said he would trade me a piece of petrified wood for it. I was happy to make the trade, even though it was one of my Burrito Brothers Flying Youth Camp shirts, which have sentimental value. I would have given him anything at that point.

An old Mexican man, a cowboy from Wilhoit, came over and offered to buy a puppy. Billy declined even though he could easily get $100 or $200 for a dog. “They’re a team. My dogsled team for Alaska.” They spoke in Spanish for while, with Billy explaining all of the places he’d been to in Mexico. “Shit!” said the old man, switching to English. “But you no want to sell dog?”

“You can’t sell a dog,” Billy replied politely.

I don’t remember how much longer I stayed around. Enough to notice that Billy and Patty looked angelic in that Kerouacian way. Gray, wrinkled and weathered, they were earthy in appearance but ethereal in manner.

We parted on the best of terms. Billy said, “Me and Patty say that something good always happens on our last beer. And when I was helping you fix your car, that was my last beer. Something good did happen.”

Ted was still there in the parking lot, and when I was about to drive away, he asked me for a ride. “Just to the top of the hill,” he said, “The cops are always giving me trouble.” As we were leaving, the policeman from before pulled in to the General Store, and looked over to see me shirtless, in my beat up 300ZX, with Ted in the passenger seat. I wondered what he thought.

Well, I made it to Oak Creek Canyon that evening. I’d gone up there to pray, to meditate, to listen to God. After all of this happened my ears were wide open. When I looked at a Bible, the words seem to glow, as if the Spirit was reading them to my heart. I learned a lot those couple nights in the woods. Some things you might expect: God’s sovereignty, Christ’s favor toward the poor… But I learned something unexpected too: I am meant to be with people. I need Billy. I need Patty. I need Ted. I need my housemates, Josh and Joyce. I need my Bible study leader, Zetty. I need my sisters. I need my friend, Jim. I am not meant to be Jack Kerouac or John the Baptist. I am not meant to be a monk or a Desert Father. My place is with people.

And when I’m with them, may the Spirit of the Lord work in me and bless them, the way it did to me through old Billy.

When I got home days later, I told this story to my housemates. Josh asked, “Do you think Billy and Patty were angels?”

I said, “Well, if they were, they were the cussing, snuff rubbing, drinking and driving kind.” But now that I think about it, though, the answer is “Yes.”

Scan 15

Oak Creek Canyon, AZ- Photo JSMB

 

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Declining

We want to live to be one hundred
Because we do not think that the last 20 years
Will be so lonely and so painful
That they will mar the joys of our youth
And when we watch our children go into their
Own declining years
And hear of our grandchildren giving birth
To descendants we will never know
We realize it is a mercy to forget them
Name by name
As they forget us
Year by year
“Do you know who this is Grandpa?”
Said one middle aged fellow pointing to another
They were both familiar
“Yes,” I replied but it was a lie
“This is Tim, Elizabeth’s son.
He got married last week.
He’s got two step kids now.”
“I know!” I said but that was a lie too
The two men stayed a while then left
And after some strangely brief amount of time
It all happened again
And like a magnetic tape stripped
Of its particles by the very machine that plays it
I forgot them
Name by name
Year by year
We want to live
“Do you know who I am?”
Name
“Sure I do”
Declining machine
“I ‘m Susan”
Familiar particles
“I know”
Name
Year
Stripped
“Dad?”
Me?
Forget
Name
“I’m Susan, Dad.”
Name
Year
“I…”
“Dad?”
Name
Year
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Pandemonium

 

 

I

Hugh Hefner bought a place in the cemetery

Next to the grave of Marilyn Monroe

Just as Faustus asked to kiss Helen of Troy

As he stood on the canyon rim of the Abyss

“Ah Mephistophilis!”

It wouldn’t really be a man’s world

Unless every Beauty could be juxtaposed

Next to her pornographer

Now would it?

Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty

And someone can get rich selling one without the other

And, Dear Beauty, that is a sad Truth

 

II

All of the street art

On the walls of Pandemonium

Points toward heaven-

It’s very rebellious in that way

 

Beelzebub scoffed when he saw

The immaculate spiral of painted hosts

Tumbling from ethereal light

Tattooed in wild graphics

Branching into infinite fractals

Down the columns of city hall

As if Gustave Dore was a punk

With a can of paint, a million stencils

And the speed of an archangel

 

“Keep Hell Tidy!”

He shouted and peered

Through the sulfurous haze

Grumbling something

About church and state

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Spring

The Truth of Spring

It is the truth of the mist of thawing mud

Heavy grass clumped and crawling

Waking

Writhing in its saturated bed

Exhaling winter

And every cell in my legs is reborn

Each singing operatic into my joints,

“Run!

Atrophy will not win this year,

You are resurrected,

You and your woods,”

And I remember old infatuations-

Enamored with the trees-

I go and scream unmitigated life

To those blood covered roods

And my spirit elated

Leaps from me to sail mythic

Into those red splattered branches

And feel them right upon my naked heart-

And my lover born again

In the flowering fields

Trillium, violets, and laurels of eternal wisdom

And my children in the water bathing new skin

Not for filth, but for the sake of sensation

For the cold,

For joy

It is the truth of the emerging canopy

Which will soon be heavy with its own fruit

And will bend low to touch the rising grass

Clover and wild onion

And clasp hands in the shadowy cathedrals of spring

 

-JSMB 3/1/09

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Civil Rights For The Mind

 

20161229_121405

Washington D.C., Dec. 2016

I enjoy the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day because I enjoy the freedom that he and others with him have brought to my mind.  Many of us forget to appreciate the courageous acts of those who struggled for equality, because we often assume that, had we lived then, we would have been on the “right side” too.  I, on the other hand, recognize that I believe what I believe much because I was born when I was.  Would I have marched along with King in the name of civil rights, or would I, like many southern whites at the time, have favored the status quo of segregation?  Or going back a century prior, would I have been an Abolitionist, or one of those who would have rather just let slavery continue?  Would I have considered it my problem?  In both cases, I’d like think the former, but I really don’t know do I?  I would have been a different person, raised by different people, and influenced by society to believe different things.  Because of Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and several others, I don’t have to know.  I have the benefit of growing up in a world, reshaped by their ideas.  Their work not only helped to improve things for American Blacks and others, but it helped many American Whites to be freed from bigotry and racism before we were even born.  Because of them, I have a better chance at knowing equality and unhindered love for my fellow man.

King said in his famous speech at the March on Washington, “…for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”  I am starting to get that.  Because if I live in a country where I have rights, and others do not, then I don’t really live in a land of freedom.  I am just one who benefits from a system of inequality.  (And if people want to the same rights as I have, and all I can do is think of excuses as to why they shouldn’t have it or should wait for it, then that is a system of oppression.)  If everyone is not free then freedom isn’t real.  This must be why King says the opposite of the “quicksand of racial injustice” is “the solid rock of brotherhood.”  (This all seems to echo the idea that Frederick Douglass expressed a century earlier that slavery oppressed both the slave and the slaveholder.  Do you get it?)

“Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Updated 1/16/17

 

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America: Another Documentary

America: Another Documentary

I wanted to be the next documentary film maker to hit the road in search of America, but my shut-in neighbor suggested I stay home and just let America come to me.  “It’d be a waste of time and gas money to go driving off looking for someone who can’t be found ‘till she’s good and ready,” she said. “Just wait.  She’ll come around.”  That sounded like good advice, so I postponed my trip and spent the travel budget on bills instead.

                A few months later, America knocked at my door.  “It’s you,” I said meekly, half unsure.  My eyes were straining to comprehend the white afternoon light that poured in from behind her.

                “I heard you were looking for me,” she said wryly.  It was the same tone a television star uses on a surprise visit to a fan.

                “Everybody’s looking for you!  Everybody since Jack Kerouac.”

                “Everybody since Walt Whitman.  Should I come in?”

                “Sure,” I said, flipping on the lamp and kicking a path through the dirty laundry on the floor.  “Do you mind if I get my camera.  It will only take me a few minutes to set it up.”

                “Go ahead.  That’s why I dressed up.”

                America sat on the edge of the couch with her legs crossed and hands folded, while I scampered around setting up microphones, and running extension cords all around her.  I still had a tooth brush in my mouth when we began filming.  “Today is July 3rd, 2012.  Uh… Please say your name and spell it.”

                “America.  A-M-E-R-I-C-A.”

                “Thanks… Uh… I don’t know where to begin.”

                “Don’t you have some questions written down somewhere?”

                “Yeh, I guess so.”  I grabbed a notebook and flipped to the first page with writing on it.  It was a scattered list of notes from a cinematography class, but I pretended they were notes for the interview.   “You were born in ’76?”

                “Well that’s when I changed my name to America.”

“Okay… uh… how would you describe yourself?”

                She giggled.  “I like what Stephen Fry said.  That America is a land of contradictions.  That anything you can say about it is true…”

                “Isn’t he British?”

                “Yes, but sometimes it takes an outsider to make a credible observation.”

                “Well, what would be an example of this contradiction thing?  Are you provincial and cosmopolitan?  Organic and synthetic?”

                “You got it…  Rich and poor.  Extraordinary and mundane.”

                “Rural and urbane?”

                She nodded.

                “Religious and secular?”

                “Yes, and all points in between.  I’m very superstitious as well.”

                “Are you cynical and gullible?”

                “Why do you think those two things are opposite?”  She unfolded her hands, and stretched one thin arm across the back of the couch, appearing suddenly nonchalant, as if to remind me that she could take control of this interview whenever she wanted.  “Sometimes cynical and gullible are the same thing.”

                “I see…  Are you emaciated and obese?”

                “No.  I’ve never really been either of those things.”  Her dark eyes intensified.  “Now come on.  I’m sure you have some tougher questions for me.”

“Okay,” I said, taking the cue. “Contradictions… Are you a welcoming isolationist?  What about that Statue of Liberty stuff?  Do you still welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses?”

                “Well, anyone who has ever come to me has had to struggle for it.  I mean everyone.  But some have struggled much more than others.  I’m not fair in that way.  Consider how I came to you of my own volition, but I’ve been subtly rejecting you the whole time.”

                “Yeh, I’ve noticed that,” I mumbled.

                “I knew you’d be unprepared, sitting here in your boxers, watching television after a morning of sleeping in… on a Tuesday.  Look at how put together I look right now, compared to you.”  She looked extremely well put together, like a woman out for an evening in the artsy part of a city.  Her short bronze skirt, bare legs, and high heels would seem out of place in this suburb at any time, but especially on a midweek afternoon.  Her slender figure seemed as if it couldn’t exist here in my dingy room, perched on my second-hand sofa.  She was a firework at a funeral.

                “Yeh, you look great,” I said, quickly gaining my composure.  “So you did that to keep me on the defensive?  To keep me hiding the fact that I might be a phony?”

                “I came to you precisely because you’re a phony.  You’ve got something to hide, something you want to change before you feel like it’s safe to just BE.”  She smiled warmly.  “That’s the only way I accept people.  Do you think I’m really going to make a personal visit to any of those cocky film school guys who think they know everything about me already?”

                “I get it.”  The crawling sunshine finally made its way to her, and when it hit her sequined blouse, an array of lights appeared on the smooth brown skin of her neck and jaw line.  America the beautiful, I thought.  “Do you want some coffee?”

                “No.  I’m running short on time.  I think we have just enough for another question or two.”

                “Okay, what about slavery?” I blurted.

                “What about it?”

                “Well it seems like one of the worst things about our history.  What can you say about it?”

                “Your question presupposes that slavery is something I did to other people, but you should remember first that I am the slave and the slave owner.”

                “Are you a racist, still?”

                “Yes, but I’m trying to quit.”   She glanced solemnly toward the brightening window.  “I know I was wrong before but old habits die hard.”

                I quickly relented, and my frustration faded back to admiration.  “That’s all I’ve got I guess.”

                She stood.  With her heels she was about six feet tall, and I had to adjust my camera to an awkward angle to catch her.  “Okay, I’ve got a question for you.  If you love America so much, why won’t don’t you ever go anywhere?”

                “What do you, mean?  What’s wrong with this place?”

                “Nothing, but it’s only one perspective.  You’ll never see it for what it is until you see something else.”

                “Well what else is there to see?” I said rising from my seat.  I tried to meet her eyes, but she was at least three inches taller than me.  Her face seemed infinitely out of reach.

                “That’s just it.  You don’t even know!  Look, you dropped out of film school so what’s keeping you here?”

                “I have a job.”

                “A part time job at Starbucks.  Don’t they have Starbucks in other towns?  In every town?  You could work at one of those instead.  And there will be plenty to see en route.”

                “But I thought the traveling around thing has been overdone.  You know there was Kerouac, and Kesey, and William Least Heat Moon…”

                “…And Louis and Clark,” she said.  “Look, they did it for themselves, for their time.  You have to do it for you in your time.  I will change my name a hundred times before I am dead, but for you this is the only incarnation.  If you don’t document it now, it will be lost… and then people will have to rely on those other guys who didn’t live in your century.”

                Her tone was harsh, but I remembered the words of my shut-in neighbor, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

                Gracefully, America stepped toward the door, and I moved my camera again to catch her final words.  “I will see you again, sometime,” she said.  She extended a long arm as if to offer the feminine good-bye hug, and I stepped into the shot.

                “Yeh, soon I hope.”  She had to stoop to embrace me, and as she slowly broke away I planted a swift impulsive kiss onto her lips.  I still don’t know why I did it, exactly, because up to the second it happened I had tried desperately to conceal all evidence of my boyish attraction.

                She grinned.  Apparently the sudden boldness was welcome.  “When most people want to do that, they leave the house.”

                “I’ve heard Utah is nice.”

                “Good-bye.”

                The next morning, my shut-in neighbor watched quietly through her window as I loaded the camera and all of my equipment into the car.  When I turned to wave good-bye she signaled for me to meet her at the door.  “Take this for gas money,” she said, handing me a huge plastic crayon full of quarters.

                “I can’t take your money,” I said politely.

                “I got plenty.  Now take this and put me in the credits as a producer.  I’ll be dead before your film comes out.”

                “Thanks.”

                “Don’t just come back when you miss it,” she said.  “Come back when you appreciate it.” 

I threw the crayon in the passenger seat, and headed for the interstate.

                                                                                                                            -Jared St. Martin Brown 2012

 

 

Land of Contradictions

 

 

 

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Heaven and Earth

Heaven

 I

Dark Matter, or Energy- one and the same

Flinging or holding- It’s Gravity’s shame,

Holy Ghost, Space Ghost- ubiquitous, rude

There’s no dream of order you cannot intrude

 

II

Super-massive terrifying ominous Black Hole

You can crush Time, but can you compact the soul?

Brother, you’re more than a mind can bear

For we only see you by what isn’t there

 

Earth

 I

There was a little river

With aspirations grand

To be the first to circle the earth

And cut through every land

 

He, through the narrow canyons, passed

Through woods of thirsty trees

But found all his ambitions lost

When he fell into the sea

 

II

There was a mighty glacier

Crawling in the sun

It towered o’er the valley trees,

Yet envied every one

 

Generations sprouted and fell

And the glacier melted and then

It became the water in their roots

And slowly rose again

 

                           -JSMB 2012

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Miracle

 

An Infrared Image of a Miracle

 

The Miracle of Birth

Pastors have to talk about miracles, and this is tougher than it sounds because the word “miracle” has been brutally sentimentalized by greeting cards and refrigerator magnets for a long time town.  Flip through one of those “Precious Moments” wall calendars and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  A word that once stood for the parting of the Red Sea, or walking on water, is now used to describe anything that looks good embroidered on a lacey, pastel pink keepsake. In an attempt to restore some of the word’s power, pastor Erwin McManus found himself explaining to his congregation why referring to birth as a “miracle” is a bit of a misuse.  To paraphrase McManus, birth is not necessarily a miracle because it happens countless times a day all over the world, and, in fact, has already happened billions and billions of times in history.  If a miracle is a highly improbable or unexplainable event that seems to have come as a result of supernatural intervention, then a pregnant woman delivering a baby after 40 weeks of gestation is no miracle.

I quite like Erwin McManus’s sermons but I have to disagree with him on this point about the “miracle” of birth.  It’s a reasonable point, and it’s one I would have made myself a few years ago.  If we look at the planet in isolation where babies are born half a million times each day, then it’s true, birth is no miracle; however, if we look at the universe as a whole, then every birth, even if it happens trillions more times, is certainly a miracle.  As far as we know the universe is anywhere from 150 billion light-years to infinity in diameter.  So far astronomers have observed the existence of thousands of galaxies and suspect that there may be hundreds of billions out there.  In some recent super-computer generated models of the universe, the whole of existing things appears to be spread out in strands, collectively resembling the fibers of a sponge, and the light from each strand is emitted by clusters of galaxies, each of which contains billions of galaxies of varying sizes (some much larger than our own which itself contain 200-400 billion stars).  Now, although scientists and laymen alike suppose that, with numbers like that, it’s possible that life exists somewhere else, we haven’t yet discovered any trace of it.  In fact, Earth-like planets and life-supporting environments are proving to be extremely rare indeed.  Maybe our planet is only a one-in-a-hundred-trillion kind of a planet, and maybe in all of those we are the only one that contains anything like human beings at this point in the history of the universe.  If that’s the case, then each of the billions of human births on earth IS a miracle.  It’s a miracle it happened the first time (because even now, no scientist is completely sure why or how), and it’s a miracle that it continued to happen against all odds to give us the population we have today.  And even if you want to take a theistic approach and say, “Well all of this had to be, because God made it that way,” then the miracle is that a self-sufficient, omnipotent God is good, and that he saw fit to create anything at all.  Let’s not forget that if God had never created anything ever, he would still go on being God, no less powerful or awesome than he would have been had he created an infinite number of universes.

I suppose by this rationale we have to consider the Earth itself, and everything that happens on it, a bit of a miracle.  If that’s the case, then I’m sorry to say that the word “miracle” has achieved the paradox of being endlessly useful when describing the happy events of life, and hopelessly useless at the same time.  Either way, the next time an old woman looks down at a non-descript collection of newborns in the nursery of the hospital maternity ward and says, “Aren’t they all just precious!  Each one is a miracle!” all you can do is grin and say, “Yes they are.”

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Death

Rich Mullins 1955-1997

Dear Rich Mullins,

You wanted to go out like Elijah

With the whirlwind to fuel your chariot of fire

 

Well, I hope that when you were flying through the window

Of that car, as it rolled over on the highway in Illinois,

Your spirit never hit the ground

 

And when your body rolled beneath the tractor-trailer,

I bet your feet found themselves planted upon incendiary gold

As if a solar wave from Heaven, sent the day of your rebirth,

Met you in that Holy second to carry you to your resurrection

 

I hope the prairie dropped out from beneath you

Like a trap door on a rickety stage

And, in an eternal second, the Earth became

Just one in a scattering of a trillion specs

In the strands of the universe,

And for just about length of time it took God

To breathe life into Adam’s nostrils,

I hope your chariot was the brightest thing in creation

 

-JSMB 11/20/11

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