Real Peace: A Poem

Real Peace (a couple of lines of prose by Evelyn Underhill that I read this morning and made into these lines of poetry)

It does not mean basking
in the divine sunshine like
comfortable pussycats.

It is a peace
that needs
and indeed
a courageous
and yet
humble kind


Man Grammar: A Poem

The following poem is inspired by a blog conversation with Abram K-J, blogger, who makes a grammatical observation. He says,

I know it’s becoming more accepted to speak of “women authors,” “women this,” and “women that,” but what we really want to say is “female scholars.” Just like we wouldn’t say “man scholar” but would say “male scholar.”

Since William Safire is dead, I thought I would let his words speak nonetheless. And they are (from an article he wrote for the New York Times, “Language: Woman vs. female“), now, this Man Grammar poem:

Neck and Neck, and Ear, and Nose:
A Man-Grammar Poem Consisting of A William Safire Head and His Grammatical Words Verbatim / (And Most of A John Dryden Foot-Note)

There’s nothing new
about this: The use


as a modifier

dates to 1300,
with the poet John Dryden,
translating Juvenal in 1697, noticing “a


grammarian who corrects her
husband for speaking
false Latin.”* Today, usage is

neck and neck,


as a modifier appearing

my ear

as pulling ahead


a nose.

(*The rest of the
John Dryden foot-

is not noted

the William Safire man-grammar note
The New
York Times,

which could be instructive
or obstructive
as it is not destructive
or at least not deconstructive,

this Juvenal not false Latin
man woman-poem; man readers
must not imagine the rest of
this note

écriture féminine,

for it reads

follows, “which is called
breaking Priscian’s


Man. of sorrows

Son, You’re crying like a little girl. Wipe those tears off your face.
– my father, to me

This type of masculinity also denies men natural outlets for emotional turmoil like loss, anger, pain, envy and hatred…. this is one of the reasons why the impulsive response to these types of emotions are physical violence. Men hit when they get angry, hurt, confused, frustrated, they lash out. Society has taught men that lashing out is a perfectly acceptable response to emotion. In fact for a man to cry would men he is prey for other men or has lost his RIGHT to manhood. Any expression of emotion that is not sexual or violent (emotionally or physically) is seen as unmanly. This steals the humanity from men and boys.
Nicci, on the patriarchy and its effect on men and boys

I’m going to use the occasion of my father’s birthday to talk about patriarchy and emotions. (He would have turned 78.) There’s some irony in the fact that he could and would sing in his big loud voice the Christian hymn based on Isaiah 53:3 – “Man of sorrows,” What a name, for the Son of God who came!

This whole notion of a feeling man, an expressive and emotional male, runs counter to my father’s experience and his instruction, his discipline, of me and his other sons.

We see this as far back as Homer’s Iliad. In one of my very favorite passages (Book 16, lines 1-11, 20) –

ὣς οἳ μὲν περὶ νηὸς ἐϋσσέλμοιο μάχοντο:

Πάτροκλος δ᾽ Ἀχιλῆϊ παρίστατο ποιμένι λαῶν
δάκρυα θερμὰ χέων ὥς τε κρήνη μελάνυδρος,
ἥ τε κατ᾽ αἰγίλιπος πέτρης δνοφερὸν χέει ὕδωρ.
5τὸν δὲ ἰδὼν ᾤκτιρε ποδάρκης δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς,
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδα:
‘τίπτε δεδάκρυσαι Πατρόκλεες, ἠΰτε κούρη
νηπίη, ἥ θ᾽ ἅμα μητρὶ θέουσ᾽ ἀνελέσθαι ἀνώγει
εἱανοῦ ἁπτομένη, καί τ᾽ ἐσσυμένην κατερύκει,
10δακρυόεσσα δέ μιν ποτιδέρκεται, ὄφρ᾽ ἀνέληται:
τῇ ἴκελος Πάτροκλε τέρεν κατὰ δάκρυον εἴβεις.

τὸν δὲ βαρὺ στενάχων προσέφης Πατρόκλεες ἱππεῦ:

Richmond Lattimore’s translation gets that like this –

So they fought on both sides for the sake of the strong-benched vessel.

Meanwhile Patroklos came to the shepherd of the people, Achilleus,
and stood by him and wept warm tears, like a spring dark-running
that down the face of a rock impassable drips its dim water;
and swift-footed brilliant Achilleus looked on him in pity,
and spoke to him aloud and addressed him in winged words: ‘Why then
are you crying like some poor little girl, Patroklos,
who runs after her mother and begs to be picked up and carried,
and clings to her dress, and holds her back when she tries to hurry,
and gazes tearfully into her face, until she is picked up?
You are like such a one, Patroklos, dropping these soft tears.’

Then groaning heavily, Patroklos the rider, you answered:

Scholars who study this text today debate whether Achilles is really showing Patroclos “pity” as in sympathy or is scoffing at and shunning his pathetic behavior. The narrator, regardless, goes on to portray the latter, the mortal man, as full of profound feeling.

The gospel of John has what I call “odd gospel greek” in light of the cliche about real men not showing emotions. (John uses a verb found nowhere else in the gospel and only once also in the gospel of Mark. It’s the verb Homer uses for this man’s tears flowing riverlike, flowing as if from a helpless little run-to-mommy girl.) Very succinctly, as the odd gospel greek has Jesus groaning heavily, the sentence goes like this –

ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς.

Lattimore translates that as follows –

Jesus wept.

Some lessons never get believed, or lived, or taught. Too much is at stake for many men, I’m quite sure. In my father’s last days, especially his two years of battling incurable cancer, he learned and believed for himself the power of tears, laughter, and the sharing of emotions. His last two birthdays on this earth were pretty joyous and emotional happy birthdays. I’m learning to spend my days more fully sharing emotions, whether that’s like a little girl or like a man of sorrows or like a tearful Jesus. I’m grateful that learning does not have to stop. Learning about the Patriarchy and its effects and how to reverse these and to recover from them is so very very very important to me and to mine. I’m happy on this birthday of my father, and I do miss much about him.

Let Trayvon Come Into My Neighborhood, for Such is the Kingdom of God

Only days ago, I heard Christy Coleman Reisner preaching from the gospels that Jesus was indignant. This was not long before I heard that six adults on a jury determined that the adult named George Zimmerman was not guilty of killing the child named Trayvon Martin.

Let me come back to Jesus in this post in a bit.

Last night, I heard Tracy Martin ask, “What is it I can tell my child now?” And Sybrina Fulton, speaking of her other son, added, “I’m very afraid right now, because I have no clue what to tell him. I have no clue if I should tell him to run or walk, if I should tell him to defend himself or just lay there. I have no clue what to tell him.” That was on CNN, an interview with Anderson Cooper. All of this can be (and is being) looked at in terms of law, in terms of rights to stand one’s ground, in terms of race privilege and of racism, in terms of the awful histories and patterns of (young) black men (and women) in America not getting equal justice. It’s important to see Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till and Stephon Watts and Yusef Hawkins and Aiyana Jones. What they all share in common is that they are not here, not in anybody’s neighbor anymore. They are children.

Not many days ago, one of my own children enrolled in a “RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) class” on the college campus where I work. The campus is in our neighborhood. We moved here to be nearer the university, but our next-door-neighbors in our neighborhood we moved from told us, “Your new neighborbood was once zoned against us blacks.” So here we live.

Here we live, in a neighborhood whose people, past and present, have been and are still plagued with questions of law, and of “one’s ground,” and of male sex privilege and of white race privilege. (It’s another story that I’ll have to tell another time about a black guy and a white guy at 2am trying to break in the front door and the backdoor at the same time; when the cops finally showed up, and arrested the two, they told me and these two guys, “Don’t you know this is Texas? Don’t you realize that sometimes the police don’t have to get there soon enough? Don’t you know that happened down the street not long ago here? Don’t yall know the rights of property owners with guns?” It was a word of warning to the two trying to break in our home. It was a word of chiding to me, I felt, for I’d not protected my family and had waited for the police while staying on the phone with the 911 dispatcher.)

As my friends and my neighbors and my co-workers and my family members talk, I think about the theology my family has had and has held on to.

I think more about Christy’s sermon. About the words of the gospels.

About the indignance of Jesus Christ.

My father was a preacher, an evangelical Christian who found himself all-too-often full of indignance. And, in due course, because of how he’d fly off the handle with flashes of anger, abusive rage, I became – when a child – an atheist. I stayed in the closet as an atheist, because of the dangers I knew. (Daddy once spanked me in our neighborhood, in front of all of the neighbors, who had gathered round to see how this white American man would deal with his child who had broken a rule. This was in South Viet Nam, during the war, in a little fishing village, where we lived, where he was bringing, and now ostensibly demonstrating, the gospels.) “I don’t want gods like my daddy’s God in my world,” I said to myself. And I don’t want ever to be a man of indignance. For years, to spite my father (and his God), I tried to be as meek as I as could be. Passivity and pacifism in the extreme seemed much better qualities than my father’s expressed fury, agitation, irritation, displeasure, vexations, and indignance.

Christy’s preaching got me rethinking everything.

There are two words in the the gospels that are key as I mind my language. Two words as I find I’m also “angry tired” with certain theologies. Both words happen to be in the account of the gospel of Mark.

The Greek verb for indignance in the gospel of Mark is ἠγανάκτησεν. Classicist Richmond Lattimore translates this as “vexed” in his English rendering of the New Testament, and other groups of translators turn the phrase into English as, “angry with” and “furious” and “irritated” and “much displeased” and “moved to/ moved with indignation.” That’s one word I’m minding.

The other is a Greek noun: παιδία. This phrase does refer to pre-adults through the teen-age years. Lattimore in his translation of Homer’s works, for example, has “son” or “daughter” for each παιδὶ, when these individuals in the Greek epics are not always “little children.” And even to this very day, Modern Greek speakers use Παιδιά for teens, as for this “Teenagers Club” at a resort.

So here’s how the good news seems to go:

So they brought the kids in this neighborhood to him so he could give them a touch of himself. But his apprentices stood their ground, defending him from them.

When Jesus saw that, he was indignant.

“Let the kids in,” he said. “Don’t keep them out.”

“God’s kingdom belongs to them, and they belong in the Kingdom of God.”

Now that kind of “angry tired” feels more familiar. The categories and words of law and race and sex and class and violence and “stand your ground” are not out of the neighborhood of this gospel.

Christy’s points about children were, she said, the point of Jesus’s indignance.

When children are not allowed in the neighborhood, then neither are the following (which are characteristics of children), she said:

Unpretentious (not self promoting)
Abandon in obedience, worship

Trayvon was a παιδὶ, only 17 years old, when he was found and followed in a neighborhood in Florida and was killed.

The Kingdom of God was lost that day.

This calls for human indignance (especially when our humanity is clothed in real flesh, whether female or male or black or white or straight or gay or poor or privileged). I think I must allow myself this. Something, someone else, other than who I am calls for it.

When you remember: Psalm 8

I am wanting to commit to memory Psalm 8. The Hebrew is too ambiguous, and it’s, well, ancient and not well remembered Hebrew. The Hellene translation, likewise, is slippery if for other reasons. (I wrote about that some here.)

The English translation I like the most is the old New English Bible.  It looks like this:


Robert Alter, when rendering this Psalm on his own, seems to have used the NEB as a reference.  And I really like how he chose, instead, to make plural “the gods.”

Ann Nyland’s translation considers the Greek more, and yet she transliterates the Hebrew, “the elohim.”

So I decided just to translate the Greek, to forget how Homeric it sounds, and just to flaunt the sounds, in English anyway.  I did retain, as much as possible, the Greek notions of the separations of ground and sky, of horizon, of the earth as below and the heavens as the place above where the gods and goddesses live and send down their angel messengers from time to time in all their glory.

Here then is my rendering of another’s rendering, and it’s how I’m going to try to remember, to recite, Psalm 8.


Troubles with Jesi

If I’d said Jesi, my father would have said, Mind your language son.

Let me explain. Jesi is an ostensible plural for Jesus. Saying Jesus unless praying to him or praying about him to God the Father or talking about him with a potential convert amounted to saying the Lord’s name in vain. Doing this repeatedly (in pluralis) would be tantamount to the Unpardonable. I would have been in trouble, trouble that I don’t even like to talk about today.

Today I have other troubles with Jesi. It’s not at all that I have trouble with the troublesome fact that Jesus is white to some many while some other color to some other Othered few. Way back in March 2013, a blogger named Joel was asking this parenthetically,

Although I have to agree, that maybe we are done with white Jesuses (or is it Jesi?)

This one Joel was confessing that he was having to agree with a blogger named Rod, and I am reading along as if I’m the only me reading this and this is the only Rod and that is the only Joel in the world asking the question, or is it Jesi?, as if there is more than one to talk about.

Today I have other troubles with Jesi. It’s not at all that I have trouble with the troublesome historical Jesus quest. A little later, in later April 2013, there was this blogpost:

Jesus’ Remains: Teaching Multiple Jesi
Posted on April 19, 2013 by mattsheedy by Kate Daley-Bailey

And then there was this trouble in the bible blogosphere:

Within that religion of authenticity, there certainly exists a wide diversity of Jesuses. Having just posted on the futility of traditional historical Jesus research, I find this point well worth underlining. Thanks, Kate!

and this one:

The diverse conclusions drawn by researchers investigating the historical figure of Jesus is, at worst, an indication that historical methods do not successfully counter our penchant for making Jesus as we desire him to be. Diverse Jesuses (or Jesi, as Kate Dailey-Bailey prefers) are to be found as far back as we have literature about Jesus. And we could say the same about Socrates.

and that one:

Then McCullough mentions in “Jesus: All Things to All People” a recent blog post by Kate Daley-Bailey titled “Jesus’ Remains: Teaching Multiple Jesi” where it is observed that “…our job…is not to magically distill the ‘real’ Jesus from the swill of theology and political packaging, but rather to highlight the nuanced processes of constructing ‘Jesi’ and query the discursive strategies deployed to flesh out the impoverished Jesus.” In other words, most historical Jesus scholars do not find the “real Jesus” they seek, but rather create another Jesus for all to consider, so a more fruitful approach is the embrace the reality we won’t find the ‘real’ Jesus by becomign aquainted with the multiple depictions of Jesus (she calls them “Jesi”) available to us.

James McGrath challenges this pessimism in “Is Historical Jesus Studies Futile?”

Do I get that? One mattsheedy and one Kate Daley-Bailey and one [Pat] McCullough and one James McGrath and one Brian LePort talking about the same thing. Or is it the same things? Is it one Jesuses or two? Is it one plural? Two too? Is it Jesi?

Once elsewhere at an Other blog I posted this one post. I entitled it The Prostitute. And I talked about Rahab in it. And I talked in it about the one name Joshua. And I talked about it in Hebrew (יְהוֹשׁוּעַ).

But I don’t think I talked about it in Greek (Ἰησοῦς). There are many of them, I might have said. The plural of course is Ιησουοι? But is this Joshuas or Joshi? Jesuses? Jesi? Greek or Latin? You see my troubles? (Not a white man sang, once upon a time in some historical moment, Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen Nobody knows but Jesus.)

in my day / nightmare

in a hurry
i got up got break / fast, got milk
i kicked the cat / nap habit to near noon
i fell off the wagon / hard and fast / asleep / on a cushion
in a hold
in a boat
in a storm
in a panic, a hurry / a flurry, not snow, some / thing furring, purring and / furry, not sleep, some / conscious- and wake- / less ness monster / some body else /
in conscious ness / asking / Why / are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? / and
i am / still /
i am still hearing / lions and tigers and bears, Oh my!

in my day / nightmare
i kicked the cat
in a hurry