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Entries in Opinion (3)

Monday
Dec072009

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Imagine you are in the Aegean Sea on the small Greek island of Samothrace. You are at the Sanctuary of The Great Gods, a temple complex dedicated to various gods.

The faithful took these places seriously and with great devotion, but I also can imagine a theme park-like atmosphere at this site and the many others that dotted the Mediterranean at the time.  There was reverence, yes. But the gods were alive, the stories we now call myths were real in their daily experience. There was a great suspension of disbelief among the faithful, such as there is today. The rites and initiations to the gods performed here brought you closer to them and in so being you shared in their mysteries.

You're walking south, past the great temple dedicated to the Great Mother, through the amphitheater and up to the reflecting pool. There, jutting out from the far end is a dramatic figure. It is the Winged Goddess of Victory, Nike, poised lightly on the stone prow. She is a stunning figure, life-like with almost fluid motion, as if she has just descending for the sky proclaiming triumph.  The statue commemorates a sea battle, you forget which one. It is more interesting watching Nike's reflection in the mirror-smooth pool in the fading light of day.

Winged Victory at the Lourve

Winged Victory is in the Louvre. It has aged now, and is incomplete, missing her arms and that exquisite face. But it is no less splendid. The graceful curves and clinging folds of her dress bare witness to the strong headwind she plunged into to lead her devotees to victory. It is still stunning.


The Greeks lived with idea of arête—the concept that people could live good, decent lives and strive toward excellence. As one would expect, they personified this ideal in a goddess. But theology aside, the idea that life should be lived not in an ordinary way, but as an inspired action, is sublime and timely. I am reminded often that the word inspiration means the very act of breathing in, literally taking in the world, to be alive in it.  What is it in our stories, beliefs, our hopes and fears for this time and place that can be beautiful, good, excellent? What will we make of our situation? 

Thanks for reading.

Sunday
Jun282009

The Passing Of A Trickster

Thursday evening’s news of the death of Michael Jackson has brought an outpouring of grief and remembrance of his music, his talent and his impact on pop music and the world. Others have seen his death as a chance to lampoon and deride Jackson because of his oddness, his lifestyle and the acts he allegedly committed.

The airwaves and video screens of 1980s America were owned by Michael Jackson. He leapfrogged everyone by producing video that were innovative, creative and entertaining. They were events. He was the total package: passion, intensity, sex appeal and a magical aura. But the magic was deluded by the celebrity, and the rumors and legal battles pushed Jackson deeper into isolation, but not obscurity. Love him or hate him, Michael Jackson was a cultural force, defying and redefining the music, dance and social mores of his day. He looked and acted different from anyone else. His songs were both intimate and universal in their outlook and appeal. The Les Trois Freres Shaman

Of all the archetypes in mythology, none is more important than the Trickster. Before the hero, there was the Trickster. Creative, deceptive and disruptive, yet comical, the Trickster is the clever and evil infant Hermes, who stole the cattle of Apollo. He is Eshu of Yorba mythology walk down the road with a hat on, one side black, the other red. He is the shapeshifting, contemptuous Loki of Norse legends. In India, he is Krishna, the blue-skinned flute-playing boy sent to set the world aright by his disruptive, deceptive acts. And Trickster was not only “he.” Trickster godesses, such as Apate and Eris, populate ancient mythology. In the Paleolithic cultures of Europe, the Trickster is the shaman, transformed into an amalgam of animal spirits, a chimeric bridge, envisioning and negotiating between this world and the one unseen.

Michael Jackson was one of the Tricksters of our age. Loved as well as hated, misunderstood and idolized for his actions, Jackson epitomizes the spirit of the Trickster. In his shape-shifting, he became the other--neither black nor white, neither man nor woman, neither gay nor straight. He was defined by his indefinite being, his disruptive appearance, his odd behavior. Appealing to all types of people all the world over, he was known to everyone, but was mystery to all, constantly open to interpretation.

One of his favorite characters from literature was Peter Pan, a child trickster who refused to grow up. Thrust into the spotlight at the age of five, Jackson was deprived of a normal childhood. The rehearsals, concerts and recording studios must have been surreal to a young boy. In a Rolling Stone cover story from the 1990s, one Motown producer remembers that as the other Jackson brothers would go shoot hoops between takes, Michael would stay in the studio and pepper the recorder, engineer and producer with questions. In the recording studio, Michael saw that a new world could be created--a world of song. On stage, his hard work and talent gave birth to delight and magic as audiences adored the young boy, then young man. Jackson felt no need to surrender to adulthood, with its tendency toward banality and stiffness. He became the real-life Peter Pan.

With the appearance of the music video, Jackson found a willing manipulative canvas on which to interpret and expand his songs. Jackson could be whatever he wanted to be: the werewolf/zombie (Thriller); the good kid who was the real tough (Bad); the beguiling magician (Remember the Time). He could poke fun of himself (Leave Me Alone) all on the endlessly changing green-screen of CGI and backlots.

Trickster changes the world, but that change is not always welcome or beneficially apparent. We equally love and vilify the Trickster, as enthralled as we are made uncomfortable by them. Michael Jackson pushed the boundaries in his music and how it was presented. A consummate artist, he had a hand in shaping every aspect of his work. However, that control ended at the studio and stage door. The world of people proved to be a harder place for Jackson to live. For every one person who found inspiration in Jackson’s music, there was another equally ready to highlight any wrinkle, real or perceived. A series of less than successful albums, cancelled tours, botched appearances, and mounting legal problems forced Jackson to seek a space away from the glare of the spotlight. But, the lure of those lights seemed too great. Jackson died while preparing for an incredible 50 shows at the O2 Center in London.

Jackson’s death brings to mind the fragility of life, the fact of impermanence that runs through this world. What will his true legacy be? His music? His videos? His eccentric behavior? Ultimately, the legacy Michael Jackson leaves is the same one you and I will leave--our lives and the people we touched during our short sojourn here. Aside from his children and family, who I suspect will miss him greatly, those of us who were touched by the music and magic of this most unique of human beings have to find what he left for us. What do we do with this man’s contribution?

If you loved the music, the magic of this trickster’s dance, there is only one thing to do. Listen, and then live your life with the passion you heard in the music. Do everything with the intensity and focus you saw Jackson put into his craft. Then do what Jackson himself physically could not because of his fame and notoriety: reach out and do what you can to create a world of beauty, fairness, justice, compassion and vision.

The Trickster showed the way. We ignore him at our peril, and we dishonor the man and the words he sang, the way he lived and the joy he gave.

 

 

Wednesday
Apr222009

Welcome to My Blog

Hello World.  This is my new blog, and the start of what I hope will be an exciting and informative place.

I'll be writing about the things and people that interest me, the ideas that energize my thoughts, and the places I've been (or dream of going to).

I must do a special shout out to a bright young lady, who is a thoughtful and caring pastor and a beautiful niece. Thank you Tiffany for encouraging me to share my thoughts and give them a place to live and be read.That's me and Pepper

It is so great to live in this world at this moment.  In no other time could we look at pictures of other worlds, explore them and search for the signs of life.  We have decoded the tiny labyrinth of life in the search to understand and appreciate all life on our world.  Here in the West we live with a personal freedom that is expressed in myriad forms and modes of being and belief.

We also live in a perilous time, where age-old traditions and beliefs are challenged. Our time has seen those who wish to drag whole societies backwards into a previous darkness, weighted by terror and the burden of history.

But into these spaces of dark and light we are placed, to act as no others have before us to affect our world. How to do this? Well, through our passion for ideas, our love for adventure and discovery. It is our commitment to be creative, soulful and honest beings with compassion and intellect that will guide us through the night.  We are the true lights of the world, but only if we wish to be.

Thanks for reading.