Monday, September 30, 2013

Pet Shop Boys Song: Twentieth Century -- Going out for the U.S. Congress

Oh, I learned a lesson from the twentieth century
That I don't think we can just dismiss.
After one hundred years of inhumanity
The lesson that I learned was this:

Sometimes the solution
Is worse than the problem.
Let's stay together.
Sometimes the solution
Is worse than the problem.
Let's stay together.

Well, I bought a ticket to the revolution
And I cheered when the statues fell.
Everyone came to destroy what was wicked,
But they killed off what was good as well.

Sometimes the solution
Is worse than the problem.
Let's stay together.
Sometimes the solution
Is worse than the problem.
Let's stay together.

Stay with me
This century.
Together we're better.

Oh, I learned a lesson from the twentieth century.
It may seem somewhat hit or miss.
If you've certainty 'bout the way it's all meant to be,
The lesson that you need is this:

Sometimes the solution
Is worse than the problem.
Let's stay together.
Sometimes the solution
Is worse than the problem.
Let's stay together.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Spring arrival in autumn

Spring Arrival - Sandhill Crane
Artist: Ellen McGaughey
11x14 Watercolor

Our friend, Ellen McGaughey, recently had an exhibit of some of her work -- My Inner/Outer World- A Naturalist's View --at the Drury Gallery in the Portage Art Center. Tom and I had tried to go before and the gallery had been closed, and yesterday we made it in just under the wire. Ellen's work is all good, but when we walked into the small gallery, both of us were struck immediately by the above watercolor of a sandhill crane. We spent some time looking at everything and eventually decided that we wanted the crane. We purchased it but they asked if we would be willing to leave it in the gallery because of a piano concert scheduled at the Art Center today. So we won't have it in hand until sometime next week. Needless to say, this picture does not do justice to the original's color and texture.

Meanwhile, we have to decide where to put it. The house is full of original art, most of it Tom's. This piece is quite different from anything else we have, and it deserves to be in a place where it can be appreciated. It is good we will have a few days to ponder.

If you want to view some more of Ellen's work, click on this link, which will take you to her web page. Where, you will notice, our crane has pride of place.

Stolen from a friend ...

Even the ones ... Part II

After further reflection on the Mennonite women incident, I thought of another possible scenario.

The checkout lady asked if we had been laughing at the Mennonites, and perhaps the Mennonites also had thought we were laughing at them. I suspect that, as a visibly different minority, they must often find themselves being watched curiously and perhaps commented about within their hearing in a language they may not understand perfectly or in whispers they do not hear clearly. So they may have been talking about the way Tom and I were behaving, thinking like the checkout lady that we were making fun of them.

As a member of a minority myself, I know how often I wonder if people who are looking at me are staring at me and thinking ill of me. Can you say paranoid and self-important and ...?

See how complicated it can be?

Sundance and the Evil Rug

Thursday evening the area rugs for the living room and dining room arrived. Friday we got the old rugs up, Tom dragged them out to the pad in front of the garage to shampoo and I cleaned the floors. We got the new rugs in place and they are still flattening themselves out. Here are some photos of rugs and then rugs-with-furniture in place. This time I did not get everything neatly cleaned up before taking photos, but it had been a tiring few days!

Living room rug without cedar chest/coffee table

Living room with cedar chest/coffee table

Dining room without furniture

Dining room furnished

Now for the story about Sundance:

The Buddhists, you know, say everything is constantly changing. This is why cats are never Buddhists, no matter how a particular cat may appear to you. Change is not a nice word in the feline world. After the rugs went down, Cassidy mostly ignored them. Sundance, however, was offended and sniffed around for a while to indicate her suspicions. That was Friday.
Saturday morning when I gave the cats their breakfast treats (five small pieces), Sundance only ate one of hers. A few minutes later I heard her make a horrendous noise, and when I looked over, she was standing on the rug under the dining room table heaving away. Before she got anything out, I swooped in and tossed her onto the wood floor, where she promptly emptied her stomach. I got a paper towel to clean up and she ran over to the living room rug and began heaving again. A second time I managed to get her to the wood floor in time. While I went for another paper towel, she outmaneuvered me and got back onto the living room rug and coughed up what little was left in her belly. Since I was right there, I got it cleaned up and no damage was done.
It was obvious to me that her behavior had little if anything to do with what she had been eating. She was just determined to express her contempt for the new rugs.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Even the ones ...

God is found in other people, even the ones we don't like very much.
~ Anonymous

Tonight at Walmart we were behind a couple of Mennonite women, perhaps mother and daughter. When we pulled our cart up to the checkout lady, Tom and I were laughing about something he had read in one of the outrageous tabloid newspapers. The checkout woman asked if we were laughing at the Mennonite women's clothes.

Thinking she thought we were being unkind, we hastily assured that her we were not, that we were laughing about something in the paper.

She went on to say she did not like those women, because they had been speaking in "their own little language" and she was sure they were talking about her.

Tom said they probably weren't, but maybe they were saying nice things. I laughed and said perhaps they were commenting about what a lovely young woman she was. Tom said more likely they were complaining about their husbands.

The checkout lady's look indicated that she was totally unconvinced.

Recently when I was tutoring, I spent some time reminding the woman I tutor (English as a second language) that she should always speak English at work if possible, even on breaks with others who speak her language. First of all, she needs to practice English as much as possible. But also because people who do not speak her language will too easily assume she is talking about them.

She laughed and said she had already learned that, because her supervisor had asked her if she was talking about the supervisor with another employee on break. I don't know if Americans are more prone than other people to have this sort of semi-paranoid reaction to people conversing in another tongue, but I suspect it is fairly universal.

You notice that I had assumed something about what the checkout lady was thinking, too, and I was apparently wrong.

Of course, other people mostly don't find me nearly as fascinating as I find myself, and so they aren't paying much attention to me at all.

As a friend in Chicago used to say, "Don't they know who I think I am?"

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Were you sent as a prophet to unite, or were you sent to divide?

I have been reading more of Rumi's poetry and ran across this one. This is a shortened version to highlight the point that struck me so forcefully and which serves as the title to this post. In the full version, Moses is moved to run after the shepherd and to confess his error, but the shepherd reassures the prophet that God used even that rebuke to draw the shepherd closer. To paraphrase something I once heard a rabbi say, when the one who loves stumbles, he still falls into the lap of God.

I thought Christians might be touched by the tenderness of the shepherd's devotion to God expressed in terms of caring for a small child. Although Rumi writes as a Muslim, I cannot help noticing an almost Christmas note in the first lines.

The Shepherd's Prayer
From the book “Rumi, Poet and Mystic, a selection of his writings“,
Translated from the Persian by Reynolds A. Nicholson.
Slightly abridged
Moses saw a shepherd on the way, crying,
“O Lord… Where are You, that I may serve You and sew Your shoes and comb Your hair?
That I may wash Your clothes and kill Your lice and bring milk to You,
O worshipful One: That I may kiss Your little hand
and rub Your little feet
and sweep Your little room at bed-time.”

On hearing these foolish words, Moses said,
“Man, to whom are you speaking?
What babble! What blasphemy and raving!
Stuff some cotton into your mouth!
… the High God is not in want of suchlike service.”

The shepherd rent his garment, heaved a sigh, and took his way to the wilderness.

Then came to Moses a Revelation:
“You have separated My servant from Me.
Were you sent as a prophet to unite, or were you sent to divide?
I have bestowed on every one a particular mode of worship,
I have given every one a peculiar form of expression.
The idiom of Hindustan is excellent for Hindus;
the idiom of Sind is excellent for the people of Sind.
I look not at tongue and speech,
I look at the spirit and the inward feeling.
I look into the heart to see whether it be humble,
though the words uttered be not lowly.

Enough of phrases and conceits and metaphors!
I want burning, burning: become familiar with that burning!
Light up a fire of love in thy soul, burn all thought and expression away!
O Moses, they that know the conventions are of one sort, they whose souls burn are of another.”

The religion of love is apart from all religions.
The lovers of God have no religion but God alone.

Monday, September 23, 2013


My friend, Fr. Steve Payne, emailed me today that none of the Carmelites were injured in the mall tragedy in Nairobi. He assumes, however, that they will soon discover that they know people who were killed or who lost family or friends. The psychological impact, he says, is comparable to what we experienced in the States after 9/11.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Little by slowly ... but faster

A friend of ours always says things happen little by slowly. The basement and ancillary projects seem to fall into this category, but the last week has seen real movement. Our good neighbor Rich came over and helped Tom get the priming and painting done and things are looking mellow.  The first picture below is of where my office space will soon be and the second picture just shows a wider angle, including a bit of where Tom's studio will be, to the right of that half-wall.

The ancillary project is getting new rugs for the dining room, living room and library nook. The rugs that are there now are starting to show their age and we will be moving them downstairs to the basement area. We bought the rug for the library this past week and ordered the rugs for the dining and living rooms. Here are pictures of the library nook with the old rug, with the bare wooden floor (which I cleaned thoroughly with my steam mop), with the new rug and with the new rug and furnishings. We decided to move the stationary bike into my bedroom for now and will move it to the basement when it is ready.

The rugs for the dining and living rooms are the same design as the library one, but the center and outside trim are ebony.

And yes, Tom did paint that triptych on the library wall. 

Happy Equinox!

Our road doesn't look like this yet, but it will before too long. There is already color in some trees. And last night it got down to 38 (3.33 C) around here. In an average year, the Dells gets its first freezing nighttime temperature about October 26.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bridging cultures

Next Thursday, Dr. Ibrahim Saeed of the Islamic Center of Madison will speak at our library on the "ABCs of Islam" as part of our Bridging Cultures: Muslim Journeys series. This is the first part of a collaborative cultural event sponsored by the Kilbourn Public Library, the Baraboo Public Library and the UW-Baraboo/ Sauk County Library.

I don't know if I will make it to the lecture, but a bit of synchronicity is that I just ran across a quote from the thirteenth-century Persian Muslim/Sufi mystic poet, Rumi. He wrote, "Silence is the language of God. All else is poor translation."

It reminded me forcefully of something St. John of the Cross, the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic poet and Discalced Carmelite, said: "The Father spoke one Word, which was his son, and this Word he speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence it must be heard by the soul."

People write doctoral dissertations about the possible influence of Muslim poetry and mysticism on John of the Cross. After all, he was born less than half a century after the Christian monarchs took over the last remaining section of Spain which had been under Muslim control for centuries. He was prior of a monastery that was literally in the shadow of the awesome Alhambra in Granada, and he grew up in a town -- Medina del Campo -- that was named for the Medina where Muhammad is buried.

At any rate, I love both sayings, whether they are historically directly connected or not.

The story of Elijah on Mt. Horeb, where he hears God speaking "in a still small voice", also comes to mind. My understanding is that the literal meaning of the Hebrew is that Elijah hears "the sound of a fine silence."

Sounds like God to me.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Like me

One of the life-changing books I read as a teenager was John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me. I am grateful that years later I met the author when he was staying at our monastery for a conference and was able to thank him for helping open up my world, not only in terms of the race issue but in terms of any [perceived] difference between myself and other people.

Recently I was reading an article about accepting other people, and one line jumped out at me in a disturbing way. It went something like this: When someone offends me, I should say to myself, "This is a sick person. How can I help him/her?"

What bothered me about my reading of that -- by putting it that way, I want to emphasize that I am not saying the original author meant it the way I took it -- was that it sounded so self-righteous. If I said that to myself, I would be thinking I am better than the other person and be looking for ways to "fix" them from my superior and enlightened place.

A wiser person told me that what I need to do is say something like: "This is a sick person ... just like me. How can I help?"

Then I do not place myself above but alongside the other, and I seek to help from a position of equality which does not exalt me or insult the other.

Just like me. Haters ... just like me. Intolerant ... just like me. Suffering ... just like me. In need of help ... just like me. Ignorant ... just like me. Fearful ... just like me. Hoping for a better life ... just like me.

John Howard Griffin came across to me during the days I was with him as a gentle, generous and kind person, very low-key. I would be grateful to become at least a little bit more ... just like him.

More birthdays

Today would have been my father's 92nd birthday. And today is Jason Kirk's 31st birthday.

Today the Carmelites celebrate the feast of St. Albert of Jerusalem, who gave them their Rule of Life back around 1210, making it the birthday of the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I guess. (The exact year is disputed.)

So to everyone who is celebrating anything, congratulations.

Monday, September 16, 2013


Happy birthday to Mexico, which celebrates Independence Day today. [Not on May 5, Cinco de Mayo, as many people erroneously believe. That is a different holiday and commemorates something else.] Mexico declared its independence from Spain on this date in 1810, making the country 203 years old.

Some 137 years late, Tom Scharbach was born. Unlike Mexico, which celebrates with much hoopla, Tom prefers to remain quiet on this day. But I will wish him a happy day nonetheless, though quietly.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

September 14 is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross for most Christian groups who have a liturgical calendar of such feasts. It has always been an important day for the Carmelites (my former community) because it marked the beginning of the six-month period of fasting prior to the following Easter. (This did not mean they did not eat. It was a modified fast: one full meal a day with no snacking, but with a small meal for breakfast and supper. No meat, of course.) That fast is no longer strictly kept by most Carmelite communities, but the feast itself remains as a reminder to repent and be converted in heart, mind, speech and action, something that I need year-round.

Friday, September 13, 2013

May you be sealed for a good year in the Book of Life.

Have an easy fast. Peace, peace to the far and to the near for all people.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ponder of the day

What if I were caring...
                 instead of judgmental?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Part of the cure ...

As we find ourselves once again pondering military interventions, I happened to run across this today in a context totally unrelated (?) to the political questions before the nation and its citizens. It struck me as worth pondering. There was no attribution, so I do not know to whom the creidt goes.
Spiritual progress is the law of your being. Try to see around you more and more of beauty and truth, knowledge and power. Today try to be stronger, braver, more loving as a result of what you did yesterday. This law of spiritual progress gives meaning and purpose to your life. Always expect better things ahead. You can accomplish much good through the strength of God's spirit in you. Never be too discouraged. The world is sure to get better, in spite of setbacks of war, hate, and greed. Be part of the cure of the world's ills, rather than part of the disease.

What am I looking for? What am I listening for?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Tin foil hats and other things

Friday we went to Dickeyville, WI to show Michelangelo the Grotto. According to Wikipedia:
The Dickeyville Grotto is a series of grottos and shrines in Dickeyville, Grant County, Wisconsin. Most of the site's concrete structures are covered in shells, stones, tiles, wood, glass, gems and geodes donated by area parishioners. The site is visited by 40,000 to 60,000 visitors per year. The Dickeyville Grotto was built by Father Mathius Wernerus, the pastor of Dickeyville's Holy Ghost Parish, from 1920 to 1930. It was renovated between 1995 and 1997. The site includes the Grotto of the Blessed Virgin, Christ the King Shrine, Grotto of the Sacred Heart, the Eucharistic Altar, the Holy Ghost Tree, the Patriotism Shrine and the Crucifixion Group.
Although most of the site's components are religious in nature, the Patriotism Shrine includes depictions of Columbus, Washington and Lincoln. According to Anne Pryor, a cultural anthropologist, this shrine was erected to demonstrate the patriotism of Catholics; Protestant Americans of the time believed that Catholics' allegiance to the Pope conflicted with their allegiance to the United States.
I don't know what more I can add. You have to see it to grasp the reality.

Yesterday Tom and Michelangelo did more of a nature day, climbing the bluffs overlooking Devils Lake. I stayed home, did some housework and prepared a Mexican meal. Peg and Rich joined us for dinner and we had a good time.

Today (Sunday) I stayed home while Tom, Michelangelo and Rich went to House on the Rock. On our way to Dickeyville on Friday, we had passed the entrance to the House on the Rock and shown Michael the house itself from a scenic overlook. He had heard of it, of course, but had never been there.

So today he had his chance. Again, appealing to Wikipedia to describe something that is a bit beyond human description:
The "house" itself is atop Deer Shelter Rock, a column of rock approximately 60 feet (18 m), 70 feet (21 m) by 200 feet (61 m) on the top, which stands in a forest nearby. Additions were made to the original structure and other buildings added over the course of several decades. The complex now features "The Streets of Yesterday", a re-creation of an early twentieth century American town; "The Heritage of the Sea", featuring nautical exhibits and a 200-foot model (61 m) of a fanciful whale-like sea creature; "The Music of Yesterday", a huge collection of automatic music machines; and what the management bills as "the world's largest indoor carousel", among other attractions. During the winter, the attraction features a Christmas theme, with decorations and a large collection of Santa Claus figures. Many of the bathrooms are decorated with strange objects, including mannequins, flowers, and preserved animals. The earlier structures, namely the House on the Rock itself, the Gate House, and the Mill House, are reminiscent of the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, though much less coherently designed than is characteristic of Wright, given its patchwork of external structures and interior spaces. The building actually began partly to spite the master architect, who ran his Taliesin communal school near Spring Green. These early structures feature exposed stone, low ceilings, dark woodwork, and antiques on display. Jordan sold the house in 1988 to a friend who continued building on the site, adding to the collections of knick-knacks and exhibits featuring authentic pieces, reproductions, and specially-made examples of everything. The most recent addition is the "Spirit of Aviation", a collection of large model airplanes in a themed room. Another exhibit, the "Transportation Building", is under construction, but visitors can walk through and view the work in progress.
Tom thought the trip to such a crazy place called for wearing tin foil hats, but Peg convinced them not to go so far. Tom, however, had already made his and Michael had a hat he thought simply called out for being lined with tin foil. So here they are in the tin-foil-alien-mind-protective chapeaux:

 Stylish, eh wot?