Monday, April 27, 2009

another great poem from Billy Collins

I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey's Version Of "Three Blind Mice"

And I start wondering how they came to be blind.
If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sister,
and I think of the poor mother
brooding over her sightless young triplets.

Or was it a common accident, all three caught
in a searing explosion, a firework perhaps?
If not,
if each came to his or her blindness separately,

how did they ever manage to find one another?
Would it not be difficult for a blind mouse
to locate even one fellow mouse with vision
let alone two other blind ones?

And how, in their tiny darkness,
could they possibly have run after a farmer's wife
or anyone else's wife for that matter?
Not to mention why.

Just so she could cut off their tails
with a carving knife, is the cynic's answer,
but the thought of them without eyes
and now without tails to trail through the moist grass

or slip around the corner of a baseboard
has the cynic who always lounges within me
up off his couch and at the window
trying to hide the rising softness that he feels.

By now I am on to dicing an onion
which might account for the wet stinging
in my own eyes, though Freddie Hubbard's
mournful trumpet on "Blue Moon,"

which happens to be the next cut,
cannot be said to be making matters any better.

Billy Collins

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Joel Stein Contemplates Circumcision (For His Son)

Great piece from Time:

Joel Stein Contemplates Circumcision (For His Son)

I knew having a child would force me to examine my life, but I didn't expect to have to start with my penis. When my wife and I found out we were having a boy, everyone asked if we were going to circumcise him. All I knew was that circumcision is something the U.S. does and Europe doesn't and is therefore awesome. Our penises are clean and sleek and new like Frank Gehry skyscrapers, while theirs are crumbling, ancient edifices inhabited by fat old men in hats.

But when I thought about it, there was something disturbing about the fact that someone had chopped off part of my penis — a part that not only had nerve endings and a protective function but also could have made me look bigger. When I presented these arguments to my lovely wife Cassandra, she told me to shut up. Her argument was largely based on aesthetics and involved a lot of detailed talk about the surprising number of men she had dated. It's hard to win a debate when you're busy covering your ears and singing to yourself.

I argued that our son would not feel embarrassed either way, since compared with American babies in the 1960s, when 90% got snipped, about half of newborns are now deforeskinned — and only about 30% of California infants. I went on Facebook to ask if being made fun of in the locker room was apocryphal. What I learned is that even Facebook users disapprove of making parental decisions on Facebook. And kids probably don't make fun of one another, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 69% of circumcised and 65% of uncircumcised adolescents know which one they are. Also, you don't need to be Don Rickles to respond to someone's mockery of your foreskin with a casual "Dude, why are you staring at my penis?"

All I knew was that this is clearly not a decision I should be making for another human being. What school he attends, what he eats, which bouncy seat he should bounce in — sure. Whether to alter your genitals for aesthetic reasons is a question meant for your mid-20s at Burning Man.

Still, I knew this decision was going to be made now or never, so I started asking every medical professional, woman and gay man what kind of penis they preferred, which, to my shock, got me a lot of dinner invitations. Though there seemed to be a slight aesthetic preference for not wearing a hat and a slight functional preference for keeping one on, no one had a really good argument for giving your baby plastic surgery. A pediatrician told me the sole reason he circumcised his son was so that the kid looked like him. If my son looks at my penis and the biggest difference he notices is foreskin, I have far more serious problems. Plus, if I wanted my son to look like me, I wouldn't have worked so hard to marry someone better-looking than I am.

It turns out, though, that there's an enormous group of people who would argue passionately for my son's foreskin. Francis Crick and Jonas Salk were among the Nobel laureates who signed a petition to the World Court to end circumcision. The last week of March was Genital Integrity Awareness Week, which included a march from the White House to the Capitol, which, while not far in miles, is an eternity when measured in baby foreskins. This cause is so real, it has its own ribbon. There's even a group called Jews Against Circumcision, made up almost exclusively of Jews whose parents no longer talk to them.

The antisnipping crusaders argue that the ancient Greeks rejected this violent tribal custom of the Jews and Muslims; hardly anyone practices it anymore besides those groups and Americans. They argue that the Jews created it as a way either to exclude women from their club or to ritualize the sacrifice of the firstborn male. They say it was brought to the U.S. in Victorian times only as a means of reducing masturbation by limiting sensation, in what has to be the biggest failed medical experiment in history.

Cassandra would not hear any of this. She felt strongly that our son should feel Jewish and that when she bathes him, she shouldn't have to touch his penis too much. And then last month, a study from Africa showed that circumcision greatly reduces the chances of catching a sexually transmitted disease. And I had lost my argument.

So in a few weeks, I'm going to buy some bagels, call a mohel who is also a pediatric surgeon and believes in local anesthetic, and do something that I'm pretty sure is wrong. I have a horrible feeling that all of parenthood is like this.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

borrowing the idea from my friend Julie, here is a wonderful (and frighteningly appropriate) poem from my favorite poet, Billy Collins:


by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


OK, I'm writing again. Although I'm afraid it's been so long that there is no one left to read. Nonetheless, I'm going to try to get back in the game.

I came across this from Andrew Perriman at Open Source Theology:

I’m very conscious of the fact that pretty much all of our divisions and disagreements arise because we find it almost impossible - emotionally - to choose one path through the forest without denigrating all those who choose to follow a different path.

This is something I've been thinking and talking about when it comes to Convergence. This dream that we can be a faith community made up of people with different ideas, different interpretations, different takes on issues, different callings and passions.

I had lunch with a friend and Convergence member last week. We have different perspectives on an issue facing churches these days. I told her my hope was that she and I could tell each other our perspective without feeling the need to convince the other to agree; that we could listen and seek to understand one another; that we could be open to the possibilities of another perspective; and live and fellowship and serve in community, even when we don't agree.

As a pastor, I don't want to build a church where everyone agrees with me (I'm well-aware that I'm often not right!) But I do want a church where people are free to explore, dialog, hold and share different opinions, perspectives and interpretations; and that the common ground is to know and experience and love and reflect Jesus.