Thursday, April 14, 2016


aloof magisterials
or merely stilted listlessness?

fear and pain, etched on theses faces

a woman, congenitally defective
hands and feet
gnarled, open toed shoes
asks for help, painfully

a chirping child
in a long line over my left shoulder

tapping feet
hushed conversations
crisp shirts
dirty blue jeans

and I was wonder
what has brought me to this place of suffering?

a smile or a nod
gratefully received

what if this same awareness
and stillness were carried into the day

what might happen?
and then

"all rise" 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

spring, actors, and eugenics

It's been a wonderful space of time in Pensacola.  New beginnings, spring is approaching, and its just warm enough to drop the boat in the water with a sweater or jacket.  A couple of thoughts on this cool March morning, as has become customary.

1.  I spent several days in Sarasota with friends a couple of weeks ago.  Among the things we did, I was able to observe an acting class at the Venice Theatre. I was expecting a largely technical experience, i.e., inflect your voice this way, and stand that way.  Move your body in such and such a way.  It was just about anything but this.  Some of the most well known trial advocacy experts, Gerry Spence among them, pound into the heads of lawyers the need to connect emotionally with juries.  I was intrigued by the similarities in the manner in which the acting students were told they had to connect with audiences.  I never expected to hear the class being instructed on trust.  The most fascinating exercise involved having students face each other and repeat the following phrase, "I could be hurt by you."  I was overwhelmed with the recognition that this is so often what we are too guarded to really say to one another.  How often is it that lovers, family members, social factions, find it nearly impossible to articulate what they'd say if they could; "I am afraid," or "I could be hurt by you."  We are perhaps most authentic when we can let our guard down and say what is below the surface of polite conversation. 

All of this has been in the backdrop of working through Along the Way, by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.  Among a variety of discussions, the book masterfully depicts the role of emotional intelligence in interpersonal relations and the curious and unique vocation of acting.  It's been a well timed exploration for me.

2.  I listened to an eyeopening podcast this morning on the American eugenics experience, which largely focused on the incredible U.S. Supreme Court case of Buck vs. Bell.  Though I was familiar with the case, I was stunned to learn that it had been cited by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals as binding authority on sterilization due process as recently as 2001.

Accomplished jurists bear no immunity to the fear of the "other."  It seems evident that the present battle cry of certain conservative pockets ("us vs. them") is reminiscent of the same forces behind the American eugenics movement.  Most shameful perhaps being our recent collective knee jerk reflex in this country to Syrian refugees, which certainly seems to resemble our dismal response to Jews seeking to flee Europe around the time of the Second World War.

3.    I'll leave you with some fitting words from Robert Frost.

An ant on the tablecloth
Ran into a dormant moth
Of many times his size.
He showed not the least surprise.
His business wasn't with such.
He gave it scarcely a touch,
And was off on his duty run.
Yet if he encountered one
Of the hive's enquiry squad
Whose work is to find out God
And the nature of time and space,
He would put him onto the case.
Ants are a curious race;
One crossing with hurried tread
The body of one of their dead
Isn't given a moment's arrest-
Seems not even impressed.
But he no doubt reports to any
With whom he crosses antennae,
And they no doubt report
To the higher-up at court.
Then word goes forth in Formic:
"Death's come to Jerry McCormic,
Our selfless forager Jerry.
Will the special Janizary
Whose office it is to bury
The dead of the commissary
Go bring him home to his people.
Lay him in state on a sepal.
Wrap him for shroud in a petal.
Embalm him with ichor of nettle.
This is the word of your Queen."
And presently on the scene
Appears a solemn mortician;
And taking formal position,
With feelers calmly atwiddle,
Seizes the dead by the middle,
And heaving him high in air,
Carries him out of there.
No one stands round to stare.
It is nobody else's affair
It couldn't be called ungentle
But how thoroughly departmental

Friday, January 22, 2016

skis, scale, and mountains

I returned earlier this week from a wonderful trip to Colorado with the guys from work and a few friends.  It was my first time on skis, and I was instantly taken back to the feeling I had trying to get a bicycle to stay upright for the first time.  It was incredible to see young children blowing by me as I fumbled around like a drunken sailor.  A good friend gave me the only advice that was helpful before we departed, "Don't give up."  And my wise law partner and good friend Donovan Whibbs gave me the only advice that was helpful after we arrived, "Take another lesson."  I'll go back and do it again, partly because being untrained and on the side of a mountain scared me to death.  And I believe very much in the idea of doing things that scare me.  Three thoughts on this cloudy Friday afternoon, as has become customary:

1. Taking some time to unwind, even before I felt like I desperately needed it, reminded me of the importance of intentional rest and time with friends.  Bold living all too often falls victim to incessant productivity.  All this in addition to teaching me another valuable lesson in trying new things.  I am increasingly aware of the interplay between creativity and rest. 

2.  On the morning of our departure, I got up early and made my way down to the coffee shop.  I spent a little time with Pascal's Pensees, and I was drawn to his thoughts on the grand scale of nature.  I took a solo gondola ride later that morning, which viscerally drove home what Pascal conveyed on paper.  But I've also been thinking about the scale of interiority.   That we can usually and easily, with attention, appreciate the scale of exteriority.  But the appreciation of the equally immense scale of interiority requires, possibly, an even keener attention. 

3. Moved by John O'Donohue, I have made arrangements for a solo pilgrimage to Ireland in April.  I am looking forward to seeing the wild countryside that O'Donohue speaks so compellingly of.  Somehow, I feel like I am going home.

I'll leave you with a new piece.


Pascal and these mountains
bring scale to me this morning
fear and trembling

and I know as I look about
despite all doubt
that whatever God is, She is grand

a lone soul below
makes a way up the mountain
slowly and deliberate

and I hope that I
can move that way too

eyes forward
toward the peak
ever in awe

great expanses
all about us
awake climber!

the mountain, splendid
holds us in its crowned dignity

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

books, ordinary time, and snow

It is a brisk morning here on the Gulf Coast.  This cool weather won't last for long, so I am enjoying it.  My entire crew was slow moving as we tried to get our day started, my son's planner was missing in action, and Gracie started to walk off to school with her backpack still in the truck.  Perhaps the need for coffee starts earlier than I thought.  Three ramblings on this lovely morning, as has become customary.

The crew on their way this past weekend to see the Pensacola Symphony rehearsal
1.  I committed to a 25 book reading list this year, and was fortunate enough to have a few friends agree to read several of the selections along with me.  The first book to come in was Thomas Merton's, The Way of Chuang Tzu.  Which is proving to be an interesting, but far from fast read.  I am perhaps most looking forward to starting John O'Donahue's book on the aesthetic.  I am fascinated more and more with the idea of the aesthetic as a necessary life force, and the ability to appreciate it without the necessity of possessing it.  His interview with Krista Tippett has inspired me to make my way to Ireland this spring.

2.  It is the first week of ordinary time.  The end of the year was wonderful, we feasted.  But I heard someone tell the story of a theologian once having quipped that the Almighty must love ordinary time, as there is so much of it.

3.  Although it's cold with no snow here, Robert Frost seems fitting today:

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Monday, December 14, 2015

ethics, rejoicing, and fire alarms

Is is a rainy morning here in Pensacola and it makes me grateful that I don't live in Seattle.  I couldn't deal with rain all the time.  I've been on something of a posting hiatus the past couple of months.  I generally just haven't felt terribly inspired.  So, I've leaned in and alas, the muse emerges through the fog.  Three thoughts on this Monday morning, as has become customary.

1.  I had a discussion with friends last week about the role of ethics in theology.  And thereafter stumbled onto an entry by Thomas Merton in Conjectures which further piqued my interest in this question.  Merton's suggestion being, that essentially, a strictly ethical bent to theology reduces faith to little more than utility.  And that the inevitable result is the tendency to spend all of our energy measuring (and arguably attempting to control) the behavior of ourselves and others.  Admittedly, there exists a tension between ethics and the infinite.  There must be the immersion in mystery and grace.  Perhaps this is why the Eucharist moves me in an inexplicably profound way.  In any event, I have been prompted to pick up the copy of Bonhoeffer's Ethics which has sat waiting on my shelf for several years.  Yet another divine appointment.  I am fascinated by Bonhoeffer's opening suggestion that at our origin, all we know is God.

2.  I made my way through Kelsey Grammer's memoir, So Far, last week. I'd read it maybe ten years ago.  It is a great, easy read.  More than anything else, I was drawn to his varied adventures and dogged determination to seek the good.  He wrote of having penned words from W.H. Auden's, Atlantis, before he'd ever read them, "Stagger onward rejoicing."  All the more reinforcing my suspicion that often times, beauty, poetry and otherwise, drops out of the ether and perhaps strikes more than one inspired soul at a time.

3.  Several years ago, I read a wonderful little essay wherein the author wrote of his refusal to wake up to loud noise and bright light.  He and his wife made the decision to wake peacefully, usually to a fire and music.  It was like someone flipped a switch for me.  I realized for the first time in no uncertain terms that I needed to start my day similarly.  It's too hot to have a fireplace here most of the time, so candles do the trick along with a carefully selected playlist of music and some reading.  And so I rose this morning intending to start my day this way.  Until I set off the fire alarm, which apparently zapped what was left of the nine-volt battery in the smoke detector.  So a chirping accompanied the few minutes of reading I could manage before I gave up.  But a lesson is here.  That even in our attempts to center and be still, we will sometimes find that things go differently than planned.  I'll leave you with Auden, and a photo I took last night of some great Christmas lights and the setting sun.  

Assuming you beach at last
Near Atlantis, and begin
That terrible trek inland
Through squalid woods and frozen
Thundras where all are soon lost;
If, forsaken then, you stand,
Dismissal everywhere,
Stone and now, silence and air,
O remember the great dead
And honour the fate you are,
Travelling and tormented,
Dialectic and bizarre.

Stagger onward rejoicing;
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse
With all Atlantis shining
Below you yet you cannot
Descend, you should still be proud
Even to have been allowed
Just to peep at Atlantis
In a poetic vision:
Give thanks and lie down in peace,
Having seen your salvation.

Atlantis, excerpt