The Quaker artist Edward Hicks is well known among the Religious Society of Friends, but less so among others. Though an adept and respected minister in his own faith, it is for his series of paintings that he is now largely remembered. The reverse was true in his own lifetime. One often considers folk artists like Hicks either charmingly unskilled or unforgivably untrained. Detractors see him as the Grandfather of C.M. Coolidge’s Dogs Playing Poker series. Supporters see a self-taught painter who eventually developed a sophisticated technique. That debate aside, his best known work, The Peaceable Kingdom, has 61 different versions, each modifications from paintings prior.
Dec 13 2010
Nov 15 2010
A year or so ago I wrote a post that referenced the Sleater-Kinney song “Sympathy”. I return to it here for a slightly different reason. Its poignant, profound lyrics are written from the perspective of a mother whose newborn son’s survival hangs in the balance. In her desperation and fear, she calls out to God.
Oct 26 2010
At meeting this past Sunday a Friend’s message asked for help. Specifically she described a particular situation that was troubling her, namely the latest development of our militaristic society, the way that technology-based warfare can create atrocities just as easily as human hands. In so doing, she asked for specific prayers from those gathered for worship. I believe she was lamenting, in part, how human achievement can be so useful and so destructive at the same time. Many Friends rose to fulfill her request. They were so numerous, honestly, that I now have trouble now recalling all of them. One woman recited aloud the Lord’s Prayer, which I memorized at a young age, as many do. Others provided words of comfort that were utterly foreign to me, but no less intriguing.
Oct 18 2010
Some have postulated before if there is, in fact, a strictly biological component to faith. For example, many scientists, mathematicians, and left-brain dominant individuals are Atheists. They see no role for a higher power, since the scientific process and deductive reasoning can reduce the unexplainable to mere coincidence or chance. To them, the universe is as neat and orderly as an algebraic equation. Taking delight and contentment in perfection, the same formula or theorem always works the same way and always produces the same result. I never doubt the constant need for people whose ways of looking at the world are so different than my own, but they also present significant challenges. Getting on the same page without confusion is not the least of these.
Sep 09 2010
One of the most famous passages in the entire biblical canon begins this way.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
And yet, wanting more, desiring more, being fearful that what we have will soon leave us, these anxieties are responsible for so much evil in the world. The myth of scarcity influences our decisions in so many ways. The reality is that we live in a world packed full of abundance, both for good and for bad. And yet, when we believe otherwise, then we respond in ways that are frequently irrational and rarely beneficial. Leaders have a knack for making the nonsensical seem plausible and justified, appealing to the worst parts of ourselves. When we are obsessed with our own demise rather than delighting in the gifts laid before us, we neglect an opportunity to build community with others. This conflict is so integral to the human condition that one can see examples of it everywhere, especially where power and acquisition are of paramount importance.
May 28 2010
Date: circa 1891
1 soldiers regarded or treated as expendable in every battle
2 an expendable or exploitable person, group, or thing
So today, late in the work day my boss says ‘Hey Brunemeyer, lets go. We’re off to Monmouth County to push up a 30’. This translated into driving to one of the wealthiest towns in the country to push ups a $2,000 flagpole, on a guys front lawn, in front of his brand new anitque looking 4000 sq ft summer home, a block from the ocean.
On the way back south to our humble base camp we got to discussing the state of affairs we face today. Things like the, largest environmental disaster ever seen, the riots in Greece and Ice Land, Wall St. bailouts and ‘to big to fail’.
I mentioned that I’d been listening to the Lord Ramage novels and the Richard Sharpe series on my blinky book reader and how the idea of Cannon Fodder hadn’t changed since the beginning of time. We, and I’ll be liberal in thinking of anyone not of the ‘mover and shaker’ cast are nothing but cannon fodder. 1% give or take of humanity is and has always controlled the game. The 99% remaining are nothing but Cannon Fodder. We the ‘enlisted, drafted, enslaved, pressed’ are of no concern beyond our use as prostitutes consumers, borrowers, laborers, clarks willing of necessity to sell our minds bodies and souls to survive swindled and defrauded with the scam we call the American Dream. “yep, you too can live the life of luxury and hedonistic over indulgence if ya work hard and do as we say”
Now you may say ‘not me, I have a degree, a good job, great future and who knows what all else but think about it. Loose your job, get sick or have any sort of setback and see how fast all that secure future is real and how much is so much hype.
It’s the same old tune, cyclical and unending, I’d hoped we’d evolved to something better than our brutish past proved. I’d thought maybe just maybe we’d learned at least in some small way that we’re all in it together but no I was delusional, drunk or stoned. We are still a brutish species. The revolutionary war in the U.S., the French Revolution, Russia, India, Iran, Cuba et al are but blips in the great theater of history. The little men behind the curtain still play Svengali and we still march, bayonets at the ready, stocks on, hopes and patriotism swirling in our minds into the breach to die. To play our parts, no more valuable than chits, or playing cards in the great game of life.
Mar 21 2010
There are always times when things won’t be what we wish, and the Fine Structure Constant is no exception to this rule. We humans usually see what we believe rather than what is, and to that end, it comes straight from nature’s gag reel.
There is a most profound and beautiful question associated with the observed coupling constant, e the amplitude for a real electron to emit or absorb a real photon…(…It has been a mystery ever since it was discovered more than fifty years ago, and all good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it.) Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling comes from: is it related to pi or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It’s one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the “hand of God” wrote that number, and “we don’t know how He pushed his pencil…”
-Richard P. Feynman (1985), QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Princeton University Press, p. 129
Please join me for a highly abridged and cherry-picked tale in the story of modern physics…
Dec 27 2009
A few years back my depression flared up again, and it became necessary for me to make the long-practiced, but always demoralizing trip to the hospital to regulate my medications and in so doing stabilize my illness. The hospital close to my apartment had no beds available, but the law indicates that those who require hospitalization for any reason must be taken somewhere, no matter how far away that may be. After waiting for several hours, an ambulance arrived for me and I ended at a psychiatric hospital that I eventually came to discover was very badly managed and severely understaffed. Daily existence was trying enough, particularly when in such an emotionally vulnerable state, but I reached my breaking point when it came down to separate into groups for discussion. Substance abusers headed in one direction, and psychiatric patients went in another.
Before that instant, I had no idea I was about to have a spiritual awakening. This setting would seem the least likely of all regarding spiritual insight. To be taught a lesson with application well beyond the immediate was something I recognize now I needed desperately. The most potent image that stuck with me most was that of sitting in a room with ailing people, many of whom were clothed in the barest of scrubs, some of whom did not have their own clothes to wear. The nominal leader began a rambling devotional which then moved unskillfully to a denunciation of the sins of humankind. It was not until well after it concluded that I realized the leader was not a staff member, but was a fellow patient. As this delusional prophet spread a message of hellfire and brimstone, I saw heads droop lower and lower to the ground, believing that God must be punishing them for having mental illness. There was a time, and not that long ago that those with psychiatric disorders were seen as being either possessed by demons or being cursed by the Devil.
It took an experience that viscerally jarring for me to get the point. At that precise moment I vowed that I would never stand for such a thing ever again. The God I believed in then and believe in now was a God of love and a cool healing touch. I regret to mention how uncomfortable I had been in the presence of so many souls whose poverty and crippling condition rendered them a truly pathetic sight. Now, my heart was filled with pity and concern, as well as anger at the man who had encouraged them to curse themselves for a condition which they did nothing to create themselves. The world is full of much ignorance and much misguided advice, but since that day I have vowed that those who attack the most vulnerable among us for whatever reason must be challenged and ultimately defeated. That I had allowed my own prejudice to judge unfairly and harshly these people who had taken me outside of my comfort zone I regret to this very day. They lacked the intellect and the privilege I took for granted regarding how to advocate for themselves and how to even form the words needed to aid the doctors assigned to treat their case.
The story also highlights the shortcomings of our supposedly world-class health care system. The hospital upon which I was a patient had clearly seen better days and much of its dysfunction was due to the fact that it had close to twice as many beds as it did staff to manage the load. I saw a psychiatrist for no more than five minutes per day, at which point I had barely enough time to describe my symptoms and have my medication regimen modified. Those who could afford to leave did so, and those whose insurance or lack thereof would not pay for something better were stuck there. As for me, I claimed a miraculous recovery to escape after having been there a mere three days. For many, however, three days was but a drop in the bucket. Psychiatric hospitals are often merely a way station for the severely ill to remain until the court rules whether they should be committed to a state-run institution. Once there, a patient lingers for several months, upon which he or she is turned back out into society. Yet, few only manage one tour of duty in this whole sordid process. The homeless or the desperately poor spend years in and out of hospitals with such a variance in quality of care that it is no wonder this revolving door is the rule, not the exception.
I recognize how lucky I have been, but I know also that my role is to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Though whatever means I can manage, the indelible impression left on me by this story and others I have experienced in the course of several hospitalizations have allowed me to recognize that I have an obligation to serve those with limitations that would otherwise leave them worse for wear.
Some are fond of stating that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, but what often gets obscured is the original context in which this quotation is found. It is in Genesis, shortly after the the world’s first homicide. Cain intends the phrase as a childish retort full of scorn, but the phrase has often been taken literally.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.
It would be just as easy then as now to refuse to look out for the vulnerable ones among us. Christmas, promising goodwill to humankind just passed us, a New Year yet to come, it is easy to forget high-minded ideals once the halls are un-decked and the time comes to roll up sleeves again and dive into work. If we are really to do the season justice, it would be for us to recommit ourselves to the process of reaching beyond our own selfish preoccupations. That it took my own direct observation to take into account the completely needless shame and fear felt by fellow patients only renders me exactly like the throngs of Doubting Thomases with whom I associate regularly. It is this gift I wish I could impart to those who have opposed reforming our broken health care system. It is this experience, horrible though it is, that opened my eyes and I feel certain it would do the same for many others.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.