With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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Will D. Campbell [“Radical Grace,” May 2000] says things in such a way that I would normally turn my back on him without a second thought. Why, then, did I read Jeremy Lloyd’s interview with him so intensely? Perhaps at first so I could hate him and everything he seemed to stand for, judging by the quotes alongside the photographs. As I continued reading, however, I was rewarded by insights so simple they’d been unavailable to my educated mind. I see now that I must stop and listen a little more often.
After twelve years of Catholic education, I understand the slow but continuous growth of corruption that Campbell sees in institutions. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he has opened a place in my heart and reminded me that sometimes we are all too “smart” to remember the simple things.
As a Methodist minister, I have found Will Campbell’s definition of the Christian faith — “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway” — not only plausible but also refreshing and challenging in a religious climate that is often as sterile and antiseptic as an empty bottle of rubbing alcohol.
A friend of mine once suggested a revision of Campbell’s definition: “We all think we’re bastards, but God knows better.” Recently, I came up with a revision of my own.
Though the biblical record attests that humans often behave like bastards, there are also many places in Scripture where humans plead their case before God for the manifestation of justice and equity, and their pleas seemingly go unheard. They then indict God for being “absent.” My revision is: “God is a bastard, but God understands why I need to say that.”
To be able to utter such gut-wrenching statements of faith in times of anguish, pain, and violence can be freeing for anyone.
I loved Al Neipris’s “Little Zooey” [May 2000]. He certainly does not have too many pets. In my opinion, you aren’t outnumbered until you are outweighed.
Reading about Zooey the cat being buried, and Toby the dog sniffing the burial box and jumping back in alarm, I thought of the day my Foster died. He took his last breath in my arms, sounding a bit like an old man wheezing. I swear I saw his little soul leave through his mouth. Later, when we were digging his grave in the woods on our property, Keiffer, our golden retriever, came over for a sniff, and her legs almost gave out on her. She shook and whimpered and crawled away. So if anyone tries to tell me that animals don’t think or feel, I set them straight with stories like these.
I admire Judith Azrael’s humility and candor [“Winning and Losing,” May 2000]. It takes courage to write about the emotions connected with being on top, then being brought down a notch.
I recently applied to two schools in hopes of obtaining an MFA in poetry. I desperately wanted to attend either one. When I received the first rejection, I held out hope for the second. When I was rejected a second time, I experienced a brief burst of anger, followed by an amazing calmness. A few days later, I identified the calmness as relief. Some part of me knew that graduate school was not my path.
I remain a writer, despite the rejection. Azrael, too, is a remarkable writer, despite not winning a major award. I give her a gold star for her humanness.
Although I do not have a point of reference for the gang lifestyle, I did appreciate Luis Rodriguez’s thoughts about community. [“Urban Renewal,” interview by Derrick Jensen, April 2000]. In times past, the community was a type of extended family. Somehow our society has grown away from that. Our neighbors are now strangers who are not to be trusted.
I believe that going back to the extended-family community would help many troubled youths. A community can give a lost or lonely person friends, respect, and a purpose; and, as a parent, I can always use another pair of eyes. That is not the way things are in most neighborhoods today. People pretend not to notice anyone other than their own family members. Sometimes we need to go backward in order to go forward.
Like Luis Rodriguez, I, too, was raised in East LA and moved to San Gabriel. He and I probably cruised right past one another in the early seventies. As a young woman, from junior high school on through high school, I was into gangs and fighting and drugs, and had little hope of any future. I got out, and I’m clean and sober now, too.
I want to thank Rodriguez for describing so articulately what it was like growing up in East LA — the system, the gangs, the drugs, the violence — and for getting out and sharing what he’s learned.
John Taylor Gatto’s “Sitting in the Dark” [April 2000] was a pleasant and thoroughly unexpected surprise: a teacher who pries his students away from the TV and sends them on a walking tour of New York City. I kept waiting for the punch line.
They say the pain of regret is the worst pain of all. As I look back at my first thirty-odd years, my deepest regret is the mindless hours I wasted sitting in the dark with Gilligan, Jethro, and George Jetson. I’d give anything to have that squandered time back.
It took a move deep into the mountains, where even Ted Turner’s SuperStation can’t reach us, to finally break the mind-numbing stranglehold television had on my family. My wife, our two little boys, and I have not regularly watched television for three years now. As my personal mental reception has cleared, I am profoundly saddened to see the grip that this medium has on those around me. I can see very clearly the unrealistic dreams, the aching desire, and the emptiness it breeds.
Sy Safransky’s Notebook in the April 2000 issue was thoughtful and deeply personal, good for my heart and spirit. I disagree, however, with his putting Rush Limbaugh in the same category as the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Limbaugh has never killed anyone, never organized anyone for violent purposes, and, to a fault, he stands up for the American promise of freedom for all — and its concurrent demand for personal responsibility.
My guess is that Safransky is among the many liberal critics of Limbaugh who have never listened to his show. Contrary to the mainstream media’s characterization of them, most of his listeners seem to be good folks with a conservative point of view who enjoy Limbaugh’s intelligence, opinions, and entertaining approach to current events.
I personally have a problem with those moments when Limbaugh lapses into what could only be described as meanness. Given the thousands of hours he is on the air, however, those moments are thankfully rare. And I’ve never heard him be as mean as, for example, James Carville when he savagely attacks Bill Clinton’s critics. I believe Safransky would be surprised and delighted to hear how often Limbaugh challenges his own generally conservative listeners if they call in with poorly reasoned opinions and judgments. He forces them to think.
I read The Sun for the pleasure of the occasionally great writing, for perspectives that inform, inspire and even irritate me, and for a window into lives that differ from my own. I don’t expect to find cheap shots and unfair personal attacks on someone’s character.
In “Practicing Love” [March 2000], Hugh Prather proclaims the virtues of oneness. I am always surprised when sensitive and intelligent writers on the extrahuman — what the religious call “the spiritual” — emphasize the need for oneness. Oneness is not a challenging concept, but rather the comfort of religion. It takes little to see its attraction, as it establishes a home for all, absolute unity.
As a tremulous, intelligent, faithful atheist, I found much to agree with in Prather’s notes on marriage. My husband is both my lover and my best friend. Although our differences are immeasurable, I have faith in difference, faith that because no two people are exactly the same, there will always be room for adjustment, growth, life. I feel no need to make up for our differences with oneness. My faith in multiplicity keeps me from judging my partner against a universal model and allows me to experience him in new and exciting ways.
Prather’s words show him to be someone who has lived through love and allowed it to shape him. He isn’t lying when he says, “Oneness is a deep act of the heart.” I simply believe that what he experiences as oneness isn’t oneness, but the complete affirmation of and tenderness for all living creatures, which is, in my experience, the strongest feeling a person can have.
Your magazine has broadened my horizons. Combined with a couple of years in federal prison, it has given me quite an education. I entered the penal system at forty-five years of age, idealistic, naive, and believing I knew most of the answers. Since then, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect, and I’ve discovered an entirely new set of questions. Damn, I hate being proven wrong!
There is an old saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Your magazine has been a great influence on my perceptions. Previously, I could experience only anger or resignation over the great wrongs done to me by the government. I am still convinced that the criminal activity in this country is largely confined within the halls of government, but after reading The Sun, I now know that many other people are aware of this and, better yet, can make sense of the mess.
This prison camp is loud and crowded, but the day is perfect, the air is clear and warm, and I am leaving in eleven days. It doesn’t get any better than this!