Sunday, December 30, 2007

The End

Some of you know I began my loyalty to the HBO series The Sopranos last summer. When the semester started in the Fall of 07 I took a break because I couldn't watch and study with equal focus. I had only the discs of season 6 part 2 (which came to about 8 episodes) to watch during this winter recess. I finally got to "Made in America" last night. I don't even know what to say. Many of my friends built up "the end" so much that I anticipated several things: Tony's death, drama with Melfi, an arrest of the entire crew by the CIA. But no. No no no. Perhaps my friends hyped the end with such energy b/c the end itself lacks any consistency with the show itself. That is what's so jarring about it. I can't say I'm totally disappointed because at bottom I appreciate ambiguity in 'ends' (and beginnings too for that matter). If nothing else, The Sopranos reflects real life: endings, in real life, are full of ambiguity. But damn, the woven crescendo of events in the last two episodes, and the building of tension in that last scene, left me on the edge of my seat, grabbing for the remote to rewind, asking "wait, did I miss something?" That wasn't authentic, real-life, ambiguity; that was a script writer handing millions of fans a case of viewer blue balls. I vacillate between feeling sad and curious: like maybe if I keep thinking about it hard enough, or recall enough subliminal messaging from episodes past, I might "get it." Truth is: I love The Sopranos like I have never loved anything on television prior to. The series made me think, hard. I didn't want it to end that way. But as I sit here dissatisfied with "Made in America," I'm forced to think about how my investment in anything impacts the way I think it "should" and "shouldn't" die--all the more when I have a developed, strong love of that thing. So the thinking, hard, continues. Perhaps the sign of a brilliant screenplay? Or maybe just another (Buddhist) lesson about the nature of attachment...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Family Holiday

The Tamburrano/McGaughy Christmas Experience 2007
Merry Christmas from Martha, Gina, Mia, Jessica, Emily, Angelo Jr., & Angelo Sr.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Years have passed since she sat at that bench, tapping those keys--
moving, swaying, syncopating.
Years and years and years.
A magic melody. No music sheets. Just memory.
"How do you remember?" I ask.
"I just kinda hear it." She says.
My mother, the music-maker.
All things beautiful surrender to her song.

Friday, December 21, 2007

I will be what I will be.

Ten feet away sits the newly installed fireplace.
My mom comes here at 3am when she cannot sleep.
I would burn a million times for her to rest the whole night.
Now, I am here, witnessing the heights and flux of the flames
while remembering, sensing and giving thanks for a lover who
recently said "burning, but not consumed: i like that image of God best."
Me too. Kinda how I feel about you.

Two hours ago I sat around the table with thirty women,
listening to one in particular share about the loss
of her alcoholic sister to an alcoholic death.
She wept in that upper-middle-class-white-woman kind of way:
tears reluctant to come, but when they finally surface
(after one hundred compulsive blinking attempts to avoid them)
a kleenex swipes to the rescue.
Too much make-up could smear; too much moisture could fall on the table-top;
too many tears behind these tears--gotta stop them quick.
I get it. Kinda how I feel about dad, church, that baby...

Striking how grief and passion threaten to consume with such similarity;
Fascinating how the burning feels like an eclipse of the erected boundaries we (foolishly) believe in and depend on, both in loss and desire.
Staying awake in such moments is worship,
a witness and testament to the power of our "corporeal vulnerability"
where God en/unfolds us in a blaze of glory.

***Ckeller and Jbutler live in the last 2 lines.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

86 Censorship

My throat closed months ago.
I tried to keep breathing with all I was not saying,
but breath--like expression--needs room.
There was no room,
just a corpse with bones clacking through the motions,
making a mockery of some birth between us long ago when
mountain air moved us, speech freed us, and the possibilities
for every condition felt passionate and promising.
Negotiations dissipated, died slowly with a few screams and heavy sighs.
The rituals lost their potency without asking permission.
There is an obituary somewhere waiting to be written. Maybe this is it.

When two people spend enough time together
a language develops that can become
a portal to freedom
or cage of restriction.
Possibilities come to life or die by way of ritual idioms.
Whoever determines what can and cannot be said
in love and in war and in the space between,
determines the conditions for life itself.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Religious Rhetoric in the Advent & Election Season

It's a rare occassion when I feel proud to be a theologian/religious scholar, mostly because our topics have the tendency to get lofty and off the ground (so to speak). But recently, when flipping through magazines like Harpers and The New Yorker and reading newspaper articles in the NY Times, I am struck with the relevance of smart religious rhetoric in public discourse. As we see with growing frequency, headlines pairing political candidates and faith-based belief systems abound during the election season. When it comes down to it, the average citizen wants to know what the person representing them believes about ultimate reality, salvation, moral decision-making and public vs private ways of 'doing' faith. And thank God! Richard Niebuhr once said "religion is a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people." A telling of difference between the former and the latter happens when we have the courage to interrogate belief systems, a move that is often taboo and uncomfortable in public. Though many candidates pay lip service to God, their conclusions about God and application of that belief in real-life, are not qualitatively equal in content. Curtis White in a recent article entitled "Hot Air Gods" says:

Religious freedom has come to this: where everyone is free to believe whatever she likes, there is no real shared conviction at all, and hence no church and certainly no community. Strangely, our freedom to believe has achieved the condition that Nietzsche called nihilism, but by a route he never imagined. (...) Our (American) nihilism is our capacity to believe in everything and anything all at once. It's all good! Ultimately, our beliefs become just another form of what the media call "content." (...) In short, belief becomes a culture-commodity. We shop among competing options for belief.
(Harpers Vol 315, No 1891 pp 13)

Again, I stress that not all belief systems are equal, and certainly the application of those beliefs in the shaping of our lives--individually and communally--differ drastically. Being able to see through paper-thin religious rhetoric masking corporate/capitalist ideology is important these days. This country, with its reliance on foreign aid, addiction to war-making, and isolation from the international community cannot afford to place its security in profit and aggression any longer. I agree with Judith Butler who writes "both our political and ethical responsibilities are rooted in the recognition that radical forms of self-sufficiency and unbridled sovereignty are, by definition, disrupted by the larger global processes of which they are a part, that no final control can be secured, and that final control is not, cannot be, an ultimate value." So if final control is not our ultimate value, what is?

Fact: we lack control. We are at the mercy of free-acting agents and naturally self-imposing entities every minute of the day. Whether or not we admit it, this fact of life scares the shit out of us--sometimes in an all-consuming way, and other times in a low-grade, just-below-the-surface anxiety. This is the oceanic existential condition that religion deals with for better and worse. My friend Wade has a hypothesis: "our religious task is not to provide certainty but to help people cope with uncertainty in an undetermined world." When we are faced with fear and uncertainty, a belief system that encourages us to grasp and seize betrays the potential and possiblities inherent in life for resourceful collaboration, graceful improvisation, and new-birth in relationships.

As our country decides on who will lead us into the next phase of this experimental democracy, I hope religious scholars and theologians will continue to collaboratively write, read and speak out to the heart of the people. The last 8 years have cast a deep shadow over the land: now is the time when the light can break through with greater strength and potency than ever before...and I'm not talking about a political party or particular candidate. Let us prepare it room...together.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Prayer # 121,007

A gradual suspension of known language
takes over this morning
for an allowance of primordial sounds
so that sighs and hums
like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
leap from the depths
and rise as holy smoke.

I hope they reach your dwelling space
no matter how transcendent
or here you are.

You do this:
take words away,
make me yours by making me desperate
and dumbfounded all in the Name beyond
every name.

I groan with creation,
pray from my belly
cry with delightfully haunting knowledge
and sit in awed silence because
I am in love with you still.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

With all the Talk about Iran...

...let us not forget:

Op-Ed Contributor
Now and Forever

Published: December 4, 2007
The United States is flushing whole generations worth of cash into the bottomless pit of a failed and endless war.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Check out this article
Food Banks, in a Squeeze, Tighten Belts
Published: November 30, 2007
Food banks around the country are reporting critical shortages that have forced them to ration supplies.

Okay, so the good news is that plenty of us go out to eat, or have stuff hidden in the pantry that we can donate. It takes little effort to hand your left-overs to someone on the street, or to pack a bag of groceries that you carry around with you until you meet someone who is hungry/in need. Consider it the Christmas task of 2007 in light of the food bank shortages.