Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Beauty of Our Disintegration

"People who are lonely, people left alone, sit talking nonsense to the air...
imagining beautiful systems dying, old fixed orders spiraling apart"
[from Tony Kushner's Angels in America]

1. Nothing is inherently nonsensical. "Sense" is one of many fictions that we have created in order to maintain order. We believe certain thoughts and actions to be quite contrary to the maintenance of an orderly society. In turn, we must deem these things "nonsensical" and therefore imprudent. Invalid. Negative. Bad. We must make them so unpalatable for the public that individuals will, by reflex, prefer and endorse the mode of thought that we deem conducive to our society.
I say screw it. I wear the supposed nonsensical as a badge. Not too long ago, folks were being dragged off to jails and looney bins for proposing such nonsensical things as a round earth and an American economy without slavery. Nonsense is merely the intelligence that the masses have yet to embrace.
2. Beautiful systems are dying. Fixed orders are spiraling apart. Patriarchy has been unmasked. Capitalism's seems are showing. Increasingly, yesterday's masters are being pushed toward the margins. I see these things and appreciate the uniqueness of our historical moment. I see these things and welcome my own heterodoxy. I see these things and know that another world is possible.

This passage highlights postmodernism's allure, its strength and its utility.
Postmodernity is said to be "a culture of fragmentary sensations, eclectic nostalgia, disposable simulacra, and promiscuous superficiality, in which the traditionally valued qualities of depth, coherence, meaning, originality and authenticity are evacuated or dissolved amid the random swirl of empty signals."

Only in such a fray as this can the verity of master narratives (ideologies that claim to explain the full range of life's phenomena/the stories a culture tells itself about its practices and beliefs)be called into question and suspended. Only here are we empowered to unseat science, religion and Marxism in one fell swoop, acknowledging that no one system of thought can boast primacy over another.

Color me macabre, but I savor every minute as I watch these things die. These decrepit systems, these defunct theologies. I watch them and applaud yesterday's nonsense bourgeoning into today's intelligence.

from Italo Calvino

At the bar there were fishermen, customs agents, day laborers. Over all their voices rang out the voice of one elderly man in the uniform of a prison guard, who was boasting drunkenly through the sea of chatter. "And every Wednesday the perfumed young lady slips me a hundred-crown note to leave her alone with the convict. And by Thursday the hundred crowns are already gone in so much beer. And when the visiting hour is over, the young lady comes out with the stink of jail in her elegant clothes; and the prisoner goes back to his cell with the lady's perfume in his jailbird's suit. And I'm left with the smell of beer. Life is nothing but trading smells."

"Life and also death you might say," interjected another drunk, whose profession, as I learned at once, was a gravedigger. "With the smell of beer I try to get the smell of death off me. And only the smell of death will get the smell of beer off you, like all the drinkers whose grave I have to dig."

I took this dialogue as a warning to be on guard: the world is falling apart and tries to lure me into its disintegration.

Monday, November 22, 2004


"Just as a reservoir is of little use when the whole countryside is flooded, scriptures are of little use to the illumined man or woman who sees the Lord everywhere"
-Bhagavad Gita 2:46

So, my mother is a minister. Although I was raised Baptist, I don't think she'd pin her ministry down to any particular denomination. We agree that any such distinction is divisive and contrary to the goals of her ministry. Her ministry is inclusive.

So, my mother is a minister. I love her a lot. My heart hurts when I think about the pain that my heterodoxy might cause her. I'm sure that she, like every minister mom, would prefer a good Christian son. A good, straight, church-going, Christian son. Try as I might though, I can't bring myself to do it. Immersing myself in the irresponsible theology of any institution would prove too costly for my spiritual evolution. So, not even for the sake of my most beloved could I compromise the wellness of my spirit. Sometimes this feels selfish.

So, my mother is a minister. Sometimes it hurts me that she could believe what she believes. That she could imbibe and embrace a patriarchal system that undermines her personhood and refuses to acknowledge the fact that my family has been a matriarchy for several generations now. It hurts me that she might think that I lead an immoral life. That I have willfully chosen a life of sin. That my union with my partner sullies and mocks the institution of marriage. That she invests time attempting to pray me through the dark phase of my life she perceives me to be in. That she wonders why her prayers are not being answered. It hurts a lot.

So, my mother is a minister, and I am her biggest supporter. There is no paradox here. No irony. Spiritually, she and I speak two different languages. We come from different standpoints and represent two estranged spiritual cultures. Our spirits are nonetheless bound to one another. She listens to me as best she can. She is always right. I interpret her dreams. I proof-read her sermons. I walk with her through the scripture. I encourage her to share her gift of God's compassion and the message of God's unconditional love with the world. This is how I love her. And I love her. I love her.

So, my mother is a minister, and she harbors all kinds of anxiety about her abilities. She wishes she could comprehend everything that she reads, like her son. She wishes she spoke as eloquently as her son. That she had the expansive vocabulary of her son.

So, my mother is a minister. She works the midnight shift as a corrections officer in the county jail. She has come home with scrapes, bruises, bite marks and lawsuits from the prisoners she's had to fight and restrain in order to make the money that sent me to college. She has paid the price for the public speaking classes behind the eloquence. She has paid the price for every word of that vocabulary.

So, my mother is a minister. She fears that she will never be able to quote the Bible like a good minister. She's embarrassed that she can not recite scriptures like a good minister. She feels inadequate at times.

I share with her, "Just as a reservoir is of little use when the whole countryside is flooded, scriptures are of little use to the illumined man or woman who sees the Lord everywhere" and she smiles.

As it strikes a chord and offers a beacon of hope, she asks where the verse comes from.

When her mind fails in three attempts to cognize and pronounce "Bhagavad Gita" the smile fades, and she knows that this alien "wisdom" can bring nothing but folly. It is not from her God.

I tuck away all things Eastern, all things university, all things eloquent and pray to my mother's God that everything she needs to come true, come true.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Why it's all going to be okay

From an email to my friend, Jorge...

Dearest Jorge,

Yes, things do seem bleak, but the perpetual optimist inside me (her name is Marie) assures me that something wonderful will be born of this. Despite their best attempts, the Republican party could not depress us into apathy. People are engaged and begining to think critically. Rather than resigning that our votes do not count, the election has had a sobering effect of sorts, forcing us to come to terms with America as it truly is. For a sizeable portion of the population, fear of the terrorist boogiemen and of the dissolution of Judeo-Chrisitian morals is enough to keep a facist despot in office. Yes, it's a terrible thought indeed, but it's our reality. But if forces us to realize that we can not blame things on hanging chads or grand conspiracy theories. This was not a stolen election.

The American public has spoken. It's said to me, "Larry, if you and the academy and the DNC don't do a better job of actively engaging us in critical dialogue about the domestic and international impacts of the policies of the Bush administration, we will continue to be hoodwinked/frazzled/blinded by/subject to the heavy-handed and morally irresponsible propganda that the Republican party will be pumping into our telephones, televisions and newspapers for the next four years.

So, here's to four years of more expansive and resourceful organizing... Of no longer assuming that the circles in which I run are representative of the voting public at large. Of supporting more Fahrenheit 9-11s, more OutFoxeds, more MoveOn.orgs. I hear you America. You're scared. You want to feel safe. You want to feel moral. And I love you for that. My only hope is that my peeps and I can do a better job of showing you how none of these require an extension of the reign of a self-interested tyrant.

Larry D. Lyons II