Publications
What I Am Not Yet, I Am Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

st.-augustine-of-hippo-icon-full-of-grace-and-truth-excerpt-from-the-encomium-to-st-nicholas-pic(Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies April 1, 2017)

The first person in Western literature to write his spiritual journey is Augustine (354-430 CE), author of Confessions, (399). In this Christian autobiography, he testifies to what he knows and to what he’s been instructed by God he should know. Writing in Latin, Augustine tells the struggle between his self (bad) and his soul (good), which, he believes, mirrors the physical wounds Christ’s endured. (Christ’s self and soul were both good.) When I read Augustine, I see that his selfish choices have been so immoral and his soul so scarred that he is in danger of losing God’s grace, in danger of forgoing Heaven. These dangers are not abstract, not mere Christian principle. No, they are real, and they take place in each individual’s sinful life. Who among the growing Christian population can confess to such a sinful life? Augustine volunteers, as it were. Speaking and writing wholly for himself, he attests to his failure to live up to the virtues God commands of him, commands that all but Christ fail to uphold. But still one must try to redeem oneself by declaring and overcoming one’s sins. No small task, Augustine knows what he should do: convert, confess, renounce all competing beliefs, and receive the Holy Spirit. He must bear this news for everyone to read. Thus, if he proves himself worthy—in life and in writing—he will be saved, he will gain eternal life. Augustine must ask this not of God but of himself.

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What It Was My Father Came Here to Get Away From Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Dad Pre-War(River Teeth 18.2 Spring, 2017)

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As early as I can remember, my father hated Catholics. Actually, he despised all religious people. He called believers hypocrites; priests and pastors, pimps. He rarely spoke of this enmity or, for that matter, much else personal, including his years aboard a Pacific Ocean supply ship during the Second World War. “Hurry up and wait,” he told my brothers and me. That was the only combat he faced. No story bayoneting Japs ever emerged. Maybe, contrary to my comic-book idea of war then, there wasn’t any. So, when he unloaded on religion, I was piqued by the sibilant sounds of those scandalous words, hypocrites and pimps, and the frosty certainty with which he iced his dismissal.

His disdain for God’s henchmen on earth began and ended with two betrayals—one, his body, the other, his soul, though he would have denied the latter had any substance left. Born in 1914, in Evanston, Illinois, he was given up at birth, probably by immigrants, a Bohemian mother and a Swedish father. That day, he was adopted by the childless Larsons, (another) Swedish father who was irascible and belt-prone and an English mother who cradled the baby to daily mass. They named him John Joseph Milton, the first two referencing Jesus, the third an artistic aspiration. My mother said Dad figured out long before he asked them about his adoption that he wasn’t theirs—what gave it away was his swarthy skin and his inborn suspiciousness.

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Through the Veil One Sees: On Richard Selzer Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

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(AWP Panel on Narrative Medicine, February 9, 2017)

On the surface, the doctor and the surgeon appear to be equals. Both help the body heal based on a patient’s symptoms. Both know that physical pain creates psychic stress. Both seek a cause of an illness, working from clues garnered via observation, medical history, complaints, tests, and the physician’s intuition. At times, a patient’s problem is obvious, skin-deep. Other times, the problem is multilayered, elusive.

Here, doctor and surgeon part company, where doctor defers to surgeon who will, knife in hand, uncover the culpable agent, not on the body or in the mind but inside the body where the mire lies. The doctor sends you for tests and the lab techs, post-diagnosis, send you to the surgeon to slice the Thanksgiving turkey with laser, laprascope, or blade.

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The Purgatorial Trenches of Wilfred Owen Print E-mail
Articles

TS Jan 2017(The Truth Seeker January 15, 2017)

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In The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud describes how humankind made up from the intolerable “helplessness” of our childhood fears and the hellish randomness of nature, fate, and human society the balm of religion—in our jurisdiction, Christianity. His is among the most cogent explanations for a system of divine judgment and afterlife protection that insists people conform to the creator’s (human-authored) mandate. Freud says “the gist” of the Christian presumption is this:

"Life in the world serves a higher purpose; no doubt it is not easy to guess what that purpose is, but it certainly signifies a perfecting of man’s nature. It is probably the spiritual part of man, the soul, which in the course of time has so slowly and unwillingly detached itself from the body, that is the object of this elevation and exaltation. Everything that happens in this world is an expression of the intentions of an intelligence superior to us . . . which in the end . . . orders everything for the best."

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Who Are You Calling An Atheist? Print E-mail
Articles

36711e907274b8e28cf98d12304b9fa5(Church & State UK October 16, 2016)

Are there any good reasons these days to declare yourself an atheist? Won’t the label’s tribal militancy, its prickly company, its easy derision, dishonor your family, alienate your friends, and upend your career? And if you are one—and you don’t fess up—might not that lack of honesty trouble you? After all, it is the truth, isn’t it? What’s more, if you don’t make the call (choose, instead, the less excitable “humanist” or “secularist”), someone else will mark you, a stamp that may stick, inerasable, like a Sharpie on your forehead. Whosoever’s badge you go with, how high on your chest will you wear it?

Take the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, host of Cosmos and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. When Bill Moyers asked him whether he supported “the effort” by well-meaning people “to reconcile faith and reason,” Tyson said flatly, “they’re irreconcilable.” All attempts to describe science with faith “have failed. Anyone who tried to explain the nature of the universe, based on Bible passages, got the wrong answer.” To the charge that dark matter is God, he perked up: “If that’s where you’re going to put your God in this world, then God is an ever-receding pocket of ignorance. Get ready to have that [mystery] undone.”

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Christploitation @ the Movies Print E-mail
Articles

waltcover 2(The Truth Seeker October 1, 2016)

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Why, oh why, oh why do Christians keep killing Jesus? Why, for nearly two millennia, has the nonviolent Lamb of God and politically framed Son of Man been put to death, imaginatively speaking, in gospel, painting, frieze, sculpture, choral mass—and, of late, in HD movies—not to mention sermons that detail his torturous demise to millions of frightened children and unatoned adults? Indeed, the pageantry of his death has been shown in countless artistic scenes and real-life reenactments: from such flat statements as John 19:23—“Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments”—to Matthias Grunewald’s 1516 “Isenheim Altarpiece,” picturing Christ’s agonal, emaciated, plague-scarred and thorn-nettled body, to the Good Friday crucifixion rite in the Philippines where penitents self-flagellate and are nailed to crosses and hoisted aloft, willingly, the bloodletting posted on YouTube.

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San Diego's Oldest . . . Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20160831(San Diego Reader August 31, 2016)

Cemetery

The thing about the dead that haunts us, in addition to having lost them, is that they are here, in the ground, buried or scattered, bones or ash. Their “remains” are marked, heralded, and sensed, and they are never out of our presence. “To be human,” Robert Pogue Harrison writes, “means above all to bury.” Elephants haunt the places where elephants die. Mammologists have found that the animals weep and nervously pace over their kind. As do we. In San Diego, we have a couple of huge tracts where mourners congregate—the city’s graveyard, Mount Hope Cemetery, with 76,000 internments, and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery where more than 90,000, “who served the U.S. honorably in war and peace,” have been laid, beginning in 1846, and overlook the azure crescent of San Diego Bay.

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