Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Rose and The Ladybug

The rose,
past its budding,
past its blush,
starting to wither and such,
yet still luscious of bouquet.

The hand,
wielding power,
wielding shears,
with intent to cleave and clear,
clipped the rose at its stem.

Raised it,
with its fading colors,
the fading bloom,
for a final salutary sniff,
a last draft of heavenly perfume.

A look,
within the drying folds,
within still silken folds,
unexpectedly revealed a nest
for a green ladybug.

For rest,
whilst seeking a cosy place,
seeking a haven safe,
a rose might be a handy spot
to stop for the night.

Sun touched,
awakened, the ladybug rose,
awakened, out she crawled,
this ladybug, lately rose tenant,
to greet the day.

© 2014 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Not Trinitarian, But Devoted to Trinity

In the calendar of the greater Christian Church, this past Sunday was Trinity Sunday.

I am not Trinitarian, and I personally believe the doctrine of the Trinity to be heretical, scripturally unsupported and socially destructive.

I won’t spend a great deal of time on this; for most people, this comes under the heading “churchy, boring, and who cares?” I mention it because I care.

I do not have much in the way of scholarly authority, but I do know that the notion of Trinity hangs on one slim line of scriptural text, Matthew 28:19: Go ye, therefore, and instruct all nations; and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. There has been a great deal of argument, in recent years as to whether this sentence is spurious or genuine. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that baptism as recorded in The Acts of the Apostles isnt described in a way that matches with the description in Matthew. It seems obvious that things happened one or more ways in the beginnings of the early church, after which changes were adopted then for some reason, helped along by the zeal to establish an orthodoxy of practice.

There are triads all over the place in mythology and in many other cultural manifestations. The formula of “thought, word and deed” appears in Christianity by way of Judaism from Zoroastrianism. Three is a magical and a basic number, and I have no argument against the loveliness of three.

However, what I find offensive about the Christian idea of Trinity, as it comes to us today, is how it treats the feminine aspect in the world.

For me, three is the number that defines the basic family formula: Father, Mother, Child. Even in this modern era of wonderful families of two moms with a child or two dads with a child, it is still true that the only way for most kinds of children to arrive is by means of a fertile male component mingling with a fertile female component.

The oldest versions of words for Spirit or Wisdom are feminine. Rua is the Hebrew word for spirit (and Hokmah is the Hebrew word for wisdom; Shekinah is the Aramaic word for presence). Rua was translated into Greek as Pneuma, a neutral gender form, and the Vulgate has translated that into the Latin word Spiritus, which is masculine.

Just the other day, I wrote, in an Introduction to a collection of poems, The more basic truth about words is that their accumulation constitutes the collective memory of our species, for better and for worse.” What I meant by that is that meanings and contexts can be and are lost through the avenues of translation. In terms of scriptural devices, the Trinitarian formula is invoked to make Yeshua into a super divine being, rather than a spiritually aware human. Ill come clean and say I dont think that is what Yeshua was aboutYeshua believed in YHWH, above all. Yeshua also believed that YHWH expected each person to respect, uphold and serve the holiness in every other person.

The Christian Religion has done a lot to ignore the recorded example of what Yeshua did during his ministry, opting to go its own way with generations of dogmatic hogwash and contradictory or even demeaning doctrine and theology, all of which has resulted in so much injustice and bloodshed. Indeed, most people who claim to be followers of Yeshua have no idea how many people were killed so that they can be materialist snobs, follow the ravings of ideologues, and revere commercialism during the Christmas season.

Getting back to that three-in-one idea, I have to say that Ive never heard a single sermon on Trinity that has ever seemed anything but completely lame. But, we have to swear to it, because that is what came out of the Council of Nicea (in the year 325); a loyalty oath that was intended to build consensus throughout the church.

Ill be honest and say that the only scripturally supported Trinity I can get behind is the one that Yeshua spoke as first clause of the Great Commandment: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind. The second clause is equated with the first: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Returning to an earlier thread, you might ask why I quibble over the translation of Rua? It is because I look around me and see that the feminine has been written out of the picture in exchange for a purely patriarchal understanding and mode of operation. I know that it just happened that way one language was more masculine than the other when it came to matters of spirit. But I also know that men try to own spirituality. Men cannot own spirituality, but they try to do so.

Yeshua was for people, male and female; conversely, the church seems all about sacerdotal hierarchy, which is dominated by males. Not only true of Christian denominations, this seems to be a global enterprise. Even in this modern era, women pushed out of the picture, as much and as far as possible. Daily, I read about women being assaulted, cheated, kidnapped, denigrated, trafficked, enslaved and murdered. Hundreds of girls are kidnapped from their school! Who is doing these things? Some men are doing them. Societies, the world over, have allowed women to be treated as inferiors and as objects by some men. With the exception of a token few, women are not allowed to be identified as holy. And this priestly business has turned out so well, hasnt it? The terms episcopoi, presbuteroi, diakonoi mean (respectively) overseer, elder and servant; these titles do not automatically imply priesthood at all, but a role in community rule.

But again I digress. Perhaps my meandering thoughts are no better than any sermon you have heard on the doctrine of Trinity, if you have heard any.

In the creation story that I read for our congregation, it says very plainly male and female, He created them God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” For me, this is the essence of what it is to follow the example of Yeshua: we must acknowledge that every being in this world is good, and we must respect, uphold and serve this truth with our actions

If there is a Trinity that must be respected, served and upheld, there is no mystery about what it is and what it means—it is the family unit: parent, parent, child. Everyone is both a parent and a child, worthy and beautiful: male and female, however they identify.

Peace be to you.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Meditations in Fast Times: Introduction

“Meditations in Fast Times” was a devotional writing experiment I took up for the Season of Lent in the year 2014. Each day during the season, I wrote a poem as a meditation, using as my inspiration and intertextual basis, T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”, as well as incorporating the daily office, current events, and other readings—some the same as those Eliot used while composing this seminal work and other writing.

The truth about words is that they accumulate through time, first in the mind, then as markings on clay tablets, then on papyrus, palm leaves, amalgamations of plant fibers, parchment, vellum, then wood pulp. Words fill scrolls, palimpsests, books, and electronic storage units. The more basic truth about words is that their accumulation constitutes the collective memory of our species, for better and for worse. To the extent that we collect and care for our accumulations of words, they are our children. Words are also ancestors, parents and teachers to us; we interact with words in our nightly dreams and in our daily lives, we share words with one another. Words do not live by themselves; they live because someone remembers them, references them, ponders them, speaks them, exchanges them, agrees with them and lives by them, or disagrees and rearranges them to something that could be lived by in a proper context.

This last notion is vitally important, particularly in this “digital media era”, in which ownership of words (and everything else), is constantly at issue. Perhaps the most difficult aspect toward an understanding about accumulations of words is that they can constitute unique thoughts, in certain situations, while in others what they express is universal. Day by day, there are people who want to challenge the notion that one’s innermost thoughts are private. There are people who want to own the publically expressed thoughts of people long dead, and to have control over them. This is a deadly impulse. “My thoughts are not your thoughts; my ways are not your ways”, yet we should be able to freely exchange ideas and to have these influence our range of ideas and thinking in a communal way. There is a real threat that ideas will disappear from the landscape of information available to the average person, and this goes against everything for which the Encyclopédistes and founders of public libraries stand, when it comes to literacy, politics and social integrity.

Although the ownership and control of ideas is a philosophical position that has economic and social implications too deep to explore in this introduction, I will venture to posit that words and their accumulation are so fluid that it is impossible to own and control them the way some people would like. The accumulations of all expressed, notated and stored thoughts have, to some extent, made us into the people we are, now or at any given moment. The way in which a person thinks is a direct result of the words that have been passed on to the individual, throughout a lifetime of parental and societal nurture, combined with personal and highly individual exploration.

All words lead to all other words. One book is never enough—to read one is to be led to read another, if not ten or a thousand. It is very possible that I have, between what is inside my home and garage, a few thousand books. I may not have read them all (indeed, quite a lot are dry instructional manuals), but I have certainly consulted most of them, and the presence of each volume is an indication that I intended to read it, or it was given to me as a gift. Actually, all the books have been a gift; each is a gift of time and effort and thought someone else put into a printed accumulation of words. Literature is the fluid legacy of all thought throughout time.

T.S. Eliot understood this about the legacy of literature, and in his various writings sought to interact with the legacy, as well as put his own imprint on it, even to the extent of exerting a deliberate social influence on the intelligentsia of his time, through his writing, teaching and publishing activities. In particular, his poetry is an intertextual exploration and internal thought exercise. His writing is clearly infused with the ideas that came from a lifetime of reading, and his work references, mostly consciously—although perhaps also unconsciously—other writing and ideas that he experienced and admired.

For my own intertextual experiment, I used T.S. Eliot’s “The Four Quartets” as my primary source, secondarily considering current events from the newspaper and other literature that came to mind as I meditated on passages from Eliot’s seminal work.

The technique I used may be similar to the technique Eliot used, although he never described it. The first step for me was to take a copy of “Four Quartets” and annotate it with what I guessed to be source materials for bits of his text. (Of course, I had read all the texts that I associated with Eliot’s passages, which is why they would come to mind!) I also consulted the “Annotations to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets” by Servotte and Grene (iUniverse, 2010), Eliot’s “The Sacred Wood; essays on poetry and criticism” (Barnes and Noble University Paperbacks, 1966), “T.S. Eliot and the Ideology of Four Quartets” by John Xiros Cooper (Cambridge University Press, 1995) and Helen Gardner’s excellent study, “The Composition of Four Quartets” (Faber and Faber, 1978), a work that is rather difficult to find, but a copy of which now rests on one of my shelves at home.

Reading the scriptural texts from the daily office, I would hit upon one that resonated with a passage from “Four Quartets”, and the meditations on those passages, often with reference also to an item from the daily newspaper, resulted in the forty poems that follow. I also annotated my own work, so that anyone reading it might know what ideas I had included in my thinking. Taken together, this collected work constitutes a species of dialectical journal, as well as a spiritual exercise.

Elisabeth T. Eliassen
14 June 2014
Alameda, CA 

To see the first of the 40 poems see this link, and work your way forward through all 40, if you are interested!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Failures of Technology and Communication in our Schools

My children have taken part in “tolerance” classes at school; every youth must participate. It is about tolerating differences and looking out for others, standing up against bullying. A website was created at the school, where students can upload art, video and blog entries that bring greater awareness to the issues surrounding bullying, in order to build lines of communication and strengthen the community, so that there will be less bullying. Several schools are supposed to be participating in this website project, and it is hoped that students and the greater community will interact with the postings.

This is supposed to be a win-win. It all sounds so good. Technology in the schools! Kids get to use all sorts of electronic devices and be 21st Century Journalists of school culture! Students can use unlimited creativity to promote a positive cultural atmosphere at school!

When my son was taking the class last year, it was a simple matter of uploading his information via the computer in the classroom, the host computer for the site. He was also able to upload blog entries from home. There was no login page, but if he typed a forward slash, followed by “login” after the site URL, a login page would appear.

This year, even though he was no longer in the class, my son wanted to continue his participation in the project. I was pleased that he wanted to engage in something beyond a classroom requirement. He loves to write and has a lot of good ideas. He wants to be a good mentor to younger students.

For some reason, however, he was no longer able to access the login page. Every attempt resulted in a “Forbidden” message. My son approached the teacher of the class on numerous occasions to report his inability to login and upload blog entries, he was seeking help.

The teacher, on a few of these occasions said that the website was working just fine; students in his current class were having no problem putting work up on the site.

My son would return home and attempt to access the login page again, only to receive the “Forbidden” message again.

One time, the teacher’s aide suggested that there was a problem having to do with cookies and history. Maybe if we cleared those, my son would be able to login. Clearing cookies and history did nothing to help the situation. My son emailed the teacher through the school access system, detailing the error message and a continuing inability to access a login page. He met with the teacher the next day; told my son that we must be having problems with our computer.

Discouraged, my son came home and spoke to us about it. He had tried to deal with this himself, to no avail. He had been trying to upload blog entries all year, only to be told that it was a problem with our computer.

I told my son,  all of our equipment is working just fine. If there were anything wrong, you would not have been able to email the teacher.

I opened my laptop, opened my web browser, accessed the website and could see the problem right away: there is no login field on the home page. I typed “login” in the search field, and hit the enter/return key. Search results: Sorry, nothing found.

I sent my son to the library and to a neighbor’s house. Would their display of the home page for this site display a login field? No. Surprise, surprise, NOT!

I then looked more closely at the website. A more thorough investigation revealed that there were very few entries for this year, all entered on the same date in April, and again last February.

What is going on? My guess is that the kids in the class must post at least once, to fulfill a class requirement. They make that posting from inside the classroom. Once the requirement had been fulfilled, that was it; the kids didn’t bother with the website again.

Here was my son, who wanted to be involved in an ongoing project, being stonewalled by the teacher and his aide. This must mean: (1) neither the teacher nor the aide built the website, and don’t know enough to “fix” the problem or offer a solution; (2) the teacher doesn’t care if the website is relevant to the school or wider community; (3) the teacher and the school are unaware that the website is inaccessible from outside the confines of the school; (4) if aware, they don’t want to put any effort into doing anything about it.

For whatever reason, the final result is a sham.

And this, my friends, is the problem I see with the forced entry of technology in the classroom. We tax-paying parents are told that if our children are going to be ready for the latest jobs, they cannot learn in the traditional way—those ways are outmoded. We need fancy new equipment and the kids need to interact with technology to do their schoolwork. The results will be better, test scores will go up, graduation rates will be higher, and our kids will be better prepared for the workplace of tomorrow! The politicians and tech titans have their photo ops, and the vendors make a pile of cash. 

This is, to a great degree, both a sham and a shame. It is all about forcing school districts to make monstrous expenditures on equipment that will be outmoded from one year to the next, forcing some teachers into the role of webmasters who are really incapable of handling such a role, forcing most teachers to spend hours above their paper grading to duplicate grading information in awkwardly developed computer systems. There are no time savers, here; expensive systems push overworked teachers into electronic servitude at a great cost to the local communities. And guess what? The results of all this outpouring of money for tech is showing little in the way of measurable upward trends, at least, according to the many articles appearing in the newspapers on this subject.

2 x 2 = 4, whether the sum is written with pencil on a piece of paper or typed up in a computer document. Solving the problem is faster using a pencil and paper, using far less energy, making a smaller carbon footprint, than turning on a computer. Word processing is a fabulous innovation, but writing by hand also stretches the brain in ways that are now being reported.

The teacher of this class, an otherwise affable person, spent the entire year stonewalling my son, telling him he must be doing something wrong, rather than admit he doesn’t know how to solve the problem.  Or, worse yet, he doesn’t care to help my son be involved in building something on-going and relevant. Whatever the situation or intention, the teacher has actively misled my son.

I sat my boy down and told him what I suspected, and asked him to stop trying to make entries on the site. It is almost the end of the school year, now; don’t waste any more of your time on this. I am sorry the teacher couldn’t have been more forthright with you.

He said, I know. I’m disappointed; I really did want to continue to be involved in the project. I think I’ll start my own blog over the summer.

Good for you, I said (thinking to myself, whew! We didn't lose his interest in making a difference for someone else!)

I sent the following message to the teacher, by way of the awkward, expensive, over-burdensome system the school district purchased:

Dear Mr. H-----,

My son enjoyed making blog entries on the W------- Project site last year, while attending your class. He has tried at various times to post things from home this year (which he had done last year), but has been unable to do so because THERE IS NO LOGIN FEATURE on the web page. Adding "/login" to the URL does not bring up a login page, but instead displays a "Forbidden" message. I know he has asked for assistance, and I know he has been told that the problem is with our equipment or our connection. 

I can tell you this is NOT a problem having to do with any of our 5 different computing devices or our internet connection or cookies or history or anything of the kind. We went to the public library and had no luck on the library computers. We went across the street to a neighbor's house and found that they could not access a login page from their computer. There is NO LOGIN FEATURE or PAGE. Perhaps my son did not explain that clearly enough. I hope it is clear to you, now that I have explained it, what the problem is.

If people are required to login to the website to post, then there must be a LOGIN PAGE or LOGIN FIELD. I put "LOGIN" into the site's search field, and nothing came up.

From the home page, I was going to "contact us" using the provided email address, but when I clicked on the link, I received a message that this address could be a phisher, so I decided to contact you through the school access system instead. 

I would be really surprised if postings of any kind can be made to this website anywhere other than the host machine at L----- Middle School. However, if this is possible, my son would really like to know, so that he can add some blog entries. For example, is there a way to post from WordPress? If so, how would my child do that? 

Meanwhile, I think the webmaster for this site needs to work on it, unless it is only meant to be FORBIDDEN. It is certainly forbidding, at the moment.

I am sure the intent is for the site to be accessible and relevant to a wider audience.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.

School ends next week, and my kids are moving on to High School next August.

Meanwhile, we hear about Mr. Facebook’s fabulous gift to local schools. I am sure that means the money will be shuffled momentarily into school district office, only to be spent immediately on the latest computers for the classroom. Great for the vendors' bottom lines. Headlines read: Tech Giant Invests In Kids. Smiling faces peer from photographs.

Is it really all about consumerism? It makes me wonder…

Monday, June 2, 2014

The $1.98 Opera Circuit Revisited: 21st Century Communications and Trending

Those of you who have known me for a lllllooooonnnnnnnggggg time may remember the series of articles I wrote in the late 1980s and early 1990s, called “Singing on the $1.98 Opera Circuit.” These articles were all about young opera singers starving for our art, as we built up our resumés. Wacky things seemed to happen in every production (opera company sued by blind bass player, citing discrimination against the visually impaired; three conductors in a row come down with pneumonia before opening night of the show; rehearsal space burns down after volunteers throw linseed rags in a container on the hottest day of the year… stuff like that), and it seemed only right to document these happenings.

I may have those original articles somewhere, but here is a new one. And I mean NEW.

This is a story from a friend of a friend.

This friend of a friend sang for an event, and one of the other singers came up to her afterward. “I love your voice,” this lady enthused, “I would love to talk to you about this classical music group I am trying to put together.” The friend thanked the woman and said she would enjoy speaking to her about it, at some point; she didn’t have a business card handy. The woman said, “oh, that’s okay; I can get your email address from the conductor.”

My friend thought nothing more about it. Weeks passed, busy and full of adventure, heartache or whatever.

Suddenly, from out of the blue, a Doodle poll message appeared in this friend’s email inbox. The poll was requesting that people fill in dates to meet about a new Opera Company. My friend gazed at the many people who had been sent the email in utter bewilderment: reviewers, composers, directors, and singers were among the people whose names and email addresses she could identify. My friend, being rather busy at the time, decided not to respond; she and the woman organizing this new “classical music group” hadn’t actually had a conversation. If my friend had known the venture was an opera company, she would have declined immediately because of the huge amount of travel that would be involved, and the number of other projects she was involved with. She figured that if she did not respond to this unsolicited poll, the non-response would be understood as meaning “I’m not interested.”

Well, reminder messages started coming in. As well as messages from a messaging service that requested the information of the recipient in order to read the incoming message. My friend didn’t really want to be receiving ever more communications from yet another message service, and with the recent hacking incidents occurring across the entire spectrum of retail and other computer network services, she didn’t want to give her information out to one she had never heard of that had “terms of service” small print. So, she was never able to read the additional messages.

Finally, another email, addressed to slightly different huge group of people, arrived in her inbox. This message contained a rebuke to everyone because they had not answered the request for Doodle poll responses.

“‘If you do not fill out the doodle pool, I may have to start calling monthly mandatory meetings,’ was the officious threat.”

“You’re kidding! But,” I said, as we were talking about this over coffee, “you hadn’t agreed to do anything, had you?”

“No!” she said, “I never spoke to the woman prior to getting spammed.”


“I am not the only one irritated. One of the reviewers who had been among the group emailed replied to everyone, asking how could they get off this list, as requests to be deleted from it had gone unanswered.”

The three of us had our heads together, but fell silent. There was quiet coffee sipping. The whole thing was just too ridiculous.

“So, finally, I did respond to one of the emails, saying I could not commit to anything, at this time. I figured it would all stop, after that.”

“I gather it didn’t?” I asked.

“Well, she wrote me back, telling me she would keep my name, and to let her know when I was available.”

“So, what are you going to do, now?” asked my friend.

“I was hoping you could give me some ideas… See, I just got another email with the ‘company roster’ attached. I am listed as a ‘comprimario.’”

“No way!”


“But, you never, like, auditioned or signed a contract or anything…”

“Nothing. And now I don’t want to get near this thing with a ten-foot poll. If the gal running it is so pushy with all these unwanted communications, I cannot even imagine actually working with her.”

“I don’t get it…”

“Well, I think she is trying to validate her start-up by including the names of people who have a presence in the music community. I mean, I think I am being used…”

“Sort of a weird compliment. Geez…”

“I don’t think I can get off the list! And I am worried that being on it will come back to haunt me, at some point. I mean, what if this group is bad or a scam or something?”

“Crazy! Most of the time, we are trying to get on a list, somewhere… I don’t know what to tell you. This is really the most bizarre thing I have ever heard of.”

“Maybe I should fill out the Doodle poll, make myself unavailable for all the proposed dates?”

“That might just mean you’d be required to come to mandatory meetings.”

We laughed.

But really, although this is a joke, it isn’t funny.