Poem: Delayed Gratification

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She had never known the pleasure
Of delayed gratification. She always
Said, “Life offers no promises,
So eat dessert first.”

And who could blame her?
She had lost it all in a flash.
Her faith, her hope, her love,
Her trust, and
Her innocence.

Still, he continued to promise
The congregants a better life
As soon as this miserable one
Is over.

No One Will Be There But Jesus (#poem)

statue of jesus
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As friends solemnly told him to call
On them if ever he needed anything,
Only his pastor was candid enough
To tell him Jesus alone would stay.

And so it was as it had always been,
Walking alone on the beach, in town,
Along the highway, and in the upstairs
Hallway with no memory of being carried.

He supposed Jesus was a faithful companion,
But a bit quiet, and not much help when
A flat needs fixing. He’s someone you can
Always talk to, but feedback is lacking.

And why should Jesus be different from the
Others? Why would the Son of God care
That he was lonely? Why would he look
For Divinity in the deep pools of loss?

Randall Horton

First Impressions That Last (#fiction)

bible blur christ christianity
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X

People overstate the importance of first impressions. It’s possible to change your impressions of someone, for better or worse, on second or third impressions. It is even possible to change your mind about someone after 25 years. I’m sure of all that, but some people sure do make memorable first impressions.

Sharon pretty much introduced herself to me by saying, “Well, I’m a Black bisexual woman who just wants to make trouble and maybe help make a better world.” Some people would say that for shock effect, but I don’t think she really cared about that. She just liked to vet new friends. It’s sort of like those signs that say, “You must be this tall to get on this ride.” If you were bothered by her introduction, then she didn’t need to waste any more time on you.

As far as I could tell, she loved life. She loved men and women. She loved humanity. Somehow, the world can’t accommodate people like that, though. Some of us just never find a safe place. One day she would talk about all the drama women cause. The next day she would lament all the baggage Black men bring on dates with them. What’s the difference between anger, fear, grief, or love?

Blame the structure of the world. Blame biology. Blame the devil. Do what you want, but it is hard for some of us to feel connected to anything. It’s like that Jimmy Cliff line about how loneliness would never leave him alone. You know, we’re all in this together—it’s just that we seem unable to share the burden of that, so we’re all seekers.

So, anyway, at her funeral, her aunt gets up and tells all the family and other busy bodies that no one knows where Sharon is now but Sharon and God, and no one else even needs to worry about it, so just shut your mouth and show a little respect. I guess some people think Heaven is a hotel that rejects people who couldn’t find safe shelter on Earth. Some people believe in a God that locks the door for his most sensitive children.

I guess that’s just our nature. We all want to feel we’re blessed. We want to feel protected in the end. We’re not like the others, somehow. Flannery O’Connor’s Mrs. Turpin had this vision of good Christian folks like herself having their virtue “being burned away” as they descended into Hell while her inferiors sang and praised their way into Heaven. Some of us find out we are like the others before it is too late. Some of us don’t.

Randall Horton

The Lustful Ignominy of Death (#prose #fiction)

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III

The funeral was a real shit show. The deceased considered himself Christian, make no mistake about that, but his religious practice was quiet at best. He was sort of a non-practicing Methodist—just enough faith to count when he got to the other side, in case anyone was keeping score, but nothing more. Loud displays of devotion or, well, almost anything, made him uncomfortable. Maintaining decorum was paramount to him.

Can we just say he came from humble roots and wanted to keep his unrefined past buried? That’s why he’d been careful to lead a life of quiet dignity for the most part. When you’re a retired military officer, people give you a bit of respect, anyway, and he maintained a stable marriage and a reasonable display of material comforts for a few decades.

But sometimes aging men want to grab onto what they think they’ve been denied, and he saw the death of his first wife as an opportunity to indulge his long-denied carnal nature. When she died, he announced rather solemnly that he would take a year to grieve and then look for a young companion with “big tits.” And I guess he pretty much proved that you can achieve some of your goals with just a little patience and perseverance.

And so there she was—part trophy, part embarrassment. She was overtly sexual but also overtly evangelical. You might think of Tammy Faye Baker or something. Lots of makeup and tight clothes. You get the picture. And she went to one of those churches where people dance around and emote profusely. And of course no one would deny it was her right to choose the preacher for the funeral.

So you end up with all these retired professors, engineers, lawyers and so on sitting in amazed silence as this preacher says of the deceased, “I tried to think what he would want, and I realized he would want me to preach.” An hour of shouted invocations and praises followed with discomfort settling over the audience like a heavy fog.

So the man who spent a lifetime seeking quiet decorum was sent to the other side with all the subdued dignity of a summer tent revival. Due to separate circumstances, he was also sent to the afterlife with a cigarette between his lips and missing the ring he was wearing when the body was prepared for burial. Apparently his son thought he deserved the ring and that the cigarette was somehow appropriate to the occasion, and maybe he was right. Who am I to say?

 

I Wish I Could Believe (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

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The prompt for day 15 is to write a dramatic dialogue. I think I failed, but here it is, anyway.

I wish I could believe in God.

It’s a free country. Believe what you want.

I can’t believe something just because I want it to be true.

I do it all the time. I believe my wife loves me.

You mean you pretend she loves you.

Fake it till you make it, baby.

But that isn’t belief.

Who are you to say what I believe?

But you implied you don’t believe it.

Yeah, well? It’s a free country.

What does that have to do with it? I can’t believe something unless I’m convinced it’s true.

Who’s stopping you?

Reality.

You know what reality is?

Not for certain, but I try to believe in it.

So you choose what you believe.

Based on evidence.

Choose different evidence.

Like when you ignore the affectionate texts your wife gets from Purchasing Control Centre?

Exactly.

I believe in God because I see good stuff?

That’s what real believers say.

And the bad stuff?

That’s the Devil in it.

And the Devil is more powerful than God.

Seems so today.

Life, Love, and Leaving in Livingston, Texas (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

Screenshot 2019-04-11 at 08.07.26In a previous century my grandfather died
Only weeks after my great uncle.
A few weeks later, my grandmother
Made a quick trip to the grocery store
And returned to find her house in flames.

Having lost her brother, husband, and home
In a matter of weeks, my uncle Skeet
(so known because as a child he was
No bigger than a mosquito or “skeeter”)
Tried to comfort his sister.

He was a country preacher with a small congregation
In the Piney Woods of East Texas, and he
Always turned to Jesus, of course, in times like these.
Attempting reassurance, he said, “Ain’t it wonderful, Sis?
This just shows that the Lord always watches over us.
No matter what, Jesus is always by your side.”

He meant, of course, that she was lucky not
To have been burned alive, but I sort of thought
The loss of everything she loved might have
Compensated for the joy of continued existence,
But people say I am just too negative.

In the current century, my grandmother
Eventually died just a few years short of
Becoming a centenarian, so I returned
To Livingston, Texas one last time.

As we gathered at my grandmother’s house
To mourn, one of my aunts complained bitterly,
“Well, we’re gonna have to fire our preacher,
‘Cause he keeps saying the BI-ble says to
Give our money to the poor. They can work for
Their own money like we did!”

Upon learning that one of her new in-laws
Was Mexican, she demanded, “Well, are ya
Legal? If you’re legal, it’s all right, but we
Don’t need any wetbacks in the family!”

I haven’t returned to Livingston, Texas.

Texas Tornadoes and the Power of Prayer (#NaPoWriMo)

Screenshot 2019-04-10 at 05.58.12Oh, Good Lord, y’all, I thank we better git in the house. That sky is darker than Brother Jimmy’s sermon last Sunday, and it’s flashing like a God-damned disco. It’s gonna be a gully washer, all right, but Ronnie’s got the big truck if we git in any trouble, and we can surely trust Jesus will be with us. The last time we had a toad strangler like this, a big ol’ twister turned Alma’s roof inta toothpicks.

They say on the news that Greens Bayou is outta its banks, so y’all come on and let’s pray that God will watch over us. Come on in here away from those windows, and if you hear sumpin’ that sounds like a train, let’s hide in this closet and trust Jesus to know what’s right.

Some time later:

It’s over, so y’all come on give us a hug. It just goes to show Jesus is always by our side, watchin’ over us and protectin’ us. Uncle Raymond just called and said a tornado blew a tree on Bobby’s house and kilt him.

God bless his sweet soul.

God is in the Details (#NaPoWriMo #poem)

Some see God where
Others see only
Pain and suffering.Screenshot 2019-04-02 at 06.41.56

I read in the news
About a lady whose home
Was destroyed by a tornado,
Except for a closet
She happened to be hiding in.
She called it her prayer closet
And praised the Lord
For sparing it.
She said, “My God is
Awesome! Shout somebody!”

I guess if I believed
My God just destroyed
Everything I owned except
For a prayer closet, I might
Wonder why God had forsaken me,
But we don’t all see things
The same way, do we?

Exit Strategy (#poem)

“… come out of the wardrobe, cross the line of the rainbow and be who you want to be!” Dona Onete

After encouraging him to explore his “other side,”

She said, “If you leave me, I will tell about this,

And you will never see your children again.”keeping promises.jpg

And so it began—a desperate life locked

In a wardrobe guarded by a severe overseer.

Each tentative act of self-expression

Quashed in a confused melee of frustration.

He lived an inauthentic life of duplicity under duress,

With progeny held for ransom in

An unending act of passive aggression.

He lives behind a mask—

A promise keeper and provider—

As a pillar of the community,

A propagator of traditional value.

A leader is born in shame,

As he passes judgment on

His fellow sinners and wanderers,

He builds influence and takes on followers

Until his identity cracks,

And the anti-depressants fail

Along with his attempted suicide.

From hospital, he reads the headlines.

Everyone knows his name.

His warden and manipulator is now moot,

So he lifts himself off the pillow

And squares his shoulders

Before facing the inevitable question:

“If you were so miserable,

Why didn’t you leave?”

What scientism means to me

I’ve been reading many posts on scientism lately. Some have been from well-known academics and some have been from less known equally astute members of my social-networking circle. Some seem to equate scientism with atheism, some equate it with a reasoned approach to the world, and some equate it with pure evil, apparently.

I don’t know what definition is correct, but I view scientism as the belief that science is not only the best way to gain information about the world but also the best way to make meaning in the world. As a humanist, I reject scientism because I believe we can and should turn to philosophy, literature, religion, art, music and other forms of human introspection and expression to make meaning in our lives. This does not mean I reject the idea that science is the best way to learn facts (disputable as they may be) about the world.

In other words, I think climate scientists are the best qualified individuals to give information about whether the climate is changing and what is causing it. I don’t think I should challenge scientists because I don’t “feel” like they are correct. Opinions are not all equal. Informed opinions are of greater value than uninformed opinions any day.

Similarly, believing that religions can help us find our make meaning in our lives does not mean that scientific information regarding evolution is invalid. Science as an endeavor does not encroach upon religion. It is only when religious dogma makes scientific claims that conflict arises between the two discrete domains of knowledge. Some people in science may occasionally make a religious claim, citing their authority as a scientist, that runs in to conflict with religion and creates controversy as well, but I really think that most scientists simply do their best to report the best information they can glean from available evidence with the hope of improving life for all of humanity.

I’m not sure, but I suspect this has all come to head because of recent controversies over evolution and climate change. Folks on the left have accused those on the right of being “anti-science” because they reject the findings of scientists in these two areas. Many on the right took this as an attack on religion for some reason that I don’t understand, but there you have it. What would we call the view that religion is the only way to find information about the world? Religionism?

Anyway, in response to the left’s accusations of an anti-science bias on the right, some on the right have accused the left of being anti-science because they don’t like genetically-modified foods or vaccinations or something. Never mind that many who oppose GMOs and vaccinations are either conservatives or libertarians, it is true that some people on the left do not approach the world with scientific rigor.

And somehow this has all resulted in people tossing the word “scientism” around like a new hacky-sack. If someone says you are anti-science, you can just say that they are guilty of “scientism.” And, once someone throws that label at you, it is hard to shake it off. So, you either accept the label, ignore the situation completely, or fire back a volley of counter-attacks.

In Steven Pinker‘s response to such an attack, he embraced scientism in a positive sense by simply recounting all the successes of scientific reasoning. Of course, in response to an accusation of scientism, he basically says humanists should embrace scientism and accept that only scientists can save the humanities from extinction. He said, “A consilience with science offers the humanities countless possibilities for innovation in understanding.” He then inadvertently points out the risk of doing so, saying, “In some disciplines, this consilience is a fait accompli. Archeology has grown from a branch of art history to a high-tech science.” In other words, we should all accept how the infusion of science can improve our disciplines by destroying them.

Pinker mentions that philosophy has benefited from collaborations with cognitive scientists, and interesting and productive work has certainly been done in philosophy around cognitive science, but western philosophers have been involved in scientific theory and method from the beginning. Early on, philosophers and scientists were essentially the same people, but even later philosophers sought both to influence scientific method and apply apply scientific method to philosophy. In the twentieth century, the drive to conduct philosophy with the rigor of science led it to a level of obscurity that almost destroyed any hope of philosophers reaching any kind of popular audience.

In the twenty-first century, this movement continues but without a somewhat different focus under the banner of “experimental philosophy.” In this scientific approach to philosophy, philosophers actually gather data to analyze and test their philosophical assumptions. Kwame Anthony Appiah summarizes the problem with this approach quite succinctly: “You can conduct more research to try to clarify matters, but you’re left having to interpret the findings; they don’t interpret themselves. There always comes a point where the clipboards and questionnaires and M.R.I. scans have to be put aside.” When all is said and done, data must be interpreted, and interpretation has always been the forte of philosophers, so, as Appiah suggests, we must return to the armchair for the hard work of hard thinking.

But how do philosophers reach beyond their small circle of professional philosophers to a more popular audience? Philosophers achieve this when they write on matters that intersect with the daily lives of non-philosophers. Appiah is an excellent example of someone who is able to engage the public on matters of moral concern to anyone who happens to be alive on this planet. As a public intellectual, he comments on how we think, how we converse, and how we interact with one another. This ability has taken him out of obscurity and into the public domain.

But the least obscure living philosopher in the world must be Peter Singer. Singer writes on issues that affect our daily lives (what we eat, what we do with our money, how we preserve life), and he creates great controversy in the process. Whether you think he is skilled as a philosopher or not, you cannot deny the scope of his reach. He is helping, as is Appiah, us to interpret and determine exactly what value we place on life and exactly what we consider a good life to be.

Neither Appiah nor Singer is anti-science, but both know that a philosopher’s skill lies in helping us examine what is meaningful and valuable to our personal lives. They seem also to realize that science is unable to interpret and analyze human values. No, it is the humanities that enable us to envision a meaningful and rewarding existence. Scientific advances make a constant re-examination and re-evaluation necessary, and the humanities help guide us down that path. The idea that the humanities have nothing to add to this journey toward meaning and value is what I call “scientism.” Scientists and humanists can both be guilty of scientism.

And scientists and humanists can both engage in a search for meaning that reaches beyond data.