The Olympics- Dark Thursday

This was sent to me by an old friend, Doug Turnbull, podcaster and writer of science fiction. He writes of his observations as an American watching the games in Rio, but also as a critical thinker, able to stand apart from patriotic or even nationalistic inclinations.

I like his thoughts here, I hope others do, too. I’ll add a place Doug can be contacted, in the Comment section.


Dark Thursday

On Wednesday during one of the women’s foot races, the runners from New Zeeland and USA, inadvertently collided. The American girl was first up and was about to continue the race when she noticed the other runner was still down. She stopped and helped her to her feet and they both were about to continue with the race when the American girl came up lame, with a bad knee injury. The runner from New Zeeland then stopped and helped her to continue to finish the race. To me, and I think to most who saw the events unfold, their actions were emblematic of humanity at its very best. I was truly proud of both of them.
If the event Wednesday was a proud moment, what happened in the women’s 400 meter relay Thursday was not so much. A less dramatic and almost undetectable, “collision” occurred when (according to the contemporaneous video), the elbow of the Brazilian runner crossed the line (not against the rules) into the adjacent lane where the USA runner was approaching her hand-off to the next runner. The Brazilian runner appeared (again according to the video) not to be aware of the collision as she was busy running her own piece of the race, executing reception of the relay, the harder of the two jobs, flawlessly. However, the American runner, apparently as a result of the contact (as she said shortly after the event), momentarily lost her composure, slowed down, and fumbled the hand-off, thus ending the team’s race. However, after several seconds, that same runner, retrieved the baton and handed it to her relay partner, who by all appearances had rightly given up the race as fairly lost, telling her to finish. She and the remaining runner did indeed finish, but a distant last. At this point, the American team immediately filed a challenge to the judges citing interference by the Brazilian runner as grounds. Both Tom Hammond and Ato Bolden, the NBC commentators, agreed with my assessment at the time: the protest was spurious, without merit, and would therefore fail. How wrong we were.
Until Thursday morning, I was enjoying an almost flawless Olympics. My only concern was the jingoistic “faux patriotic” chant that our huge contingent of USA fans insisted on howling every-time an American was doing well: “USA-USA.” Their actions were embarrassing, as was the suitcase full of medals we were racking up. Our team was far too large and well-funded, reminding me of the Cold War Days when the Olympics were hopelessly politicized. I was annoyed, but still enjoying things until our Women’s Relay team succeeded in getting a do-over in the 400 M relay. They dropped their baton and were rightfully out of the competition. The judges had made a political (Olympic politics) decision to give this to them. In the end, it was far easier to give it to us, and bump Brazil, who had done nothing wrong, but were already out of the running based on time. They took a chance that the super-fast USA team would blow their cakewalk do-over. It was the path of least resistance for them (the judges). Never mind that the right thing to do was to disqualify the USA team. They (USA) didn’t foul up the do-over and bumped the Chinese team, who had won their place in the finals, fair and square. I nearly got physically sick. The judges were simply afraid of the shit-storm that would follow the denial of the protest. Being perennial sore losers (see last several elections), the USA would have been bitching in the ear of anyone who would listen that we were “cheated”– for the next 4 years. The whole affair made us (Team USA) look like a pretty sorry bunch.
To add insult to injury, NBC, who had covered the event and correctly judged it to be a simple relay error, after several hours, and very likely some angry calls from the producers in New York, reminding them who was paying the bills, they had changed their tune and fallen into lockstep with judgement, stating during their evening broadcast that “it was a fair and right decision.” That was a lie and they knew it. NBC produced a transparently doctored video, which evening viewers saw, that made it appear that the Brazilian runner was at fault. Having seen the actual event that morning, I knew it to be a fake. I do radio and know how easy it is to edit a narrative to sound like something it is not. Listen to NBC’s doctored 911 call of the Travon Martin killing, if you don’t believe me. Despite the Network’s claims, the bad decision was unfair to all the other competitors and was further compounded when the USA Relay team won the Gold medal, in a race they were not entitled to run.
Then the Lochte affair also broke on Thursday afternoon, and I realized our whole team was effectively being disgraced and dishonored by our stupid fans, unsportsmanlike behavior on and off the field, and odious public behavior in our host’s beautiful city. Everyone on the planet (outside the USA), whether for right or wrong, has generalized (I do talk to my own international followers) that Americans are boorish, over rich bullies, and louts. Consider this: The people of Rio invited us to visit their home, and our swim team quite literally, not figuratively, peed all over the furniture. Nice going guys! Needless to say, you won’t be hearing the “USA” chant coming out of me anytime soon. It was a Dark Thursday for me.
Lest the reader think I am merely badmouthing our entire team, I am not. Many other American athletes have conducted themselves with honor and humility in victory, and dignity in defeat. Our Decathlon champion, Ashton Eaton, the great young swimmer, Katie Ledecki, our Gymnastics team, and many more than I can name here, have deported themselves honorably. To me, the fruits of their efforts far outweigh that of the rotten apples.
I am reminded by these events, of the great Jesse Owens, who despite the terrible handicaps of poverty, bigotry, and prejudice, was able to do what many considered impossible: to earn a place on the Olympic team and then win several medals. Ignoring derisive public comments about the inferiority of his race, he had the character and courage to do the impossible, exhibiting grace, humility, and style in victory: no chanting, no fists in the air, no bragging on himself; and deported himself with equal poise and grace when defeated. He was emblematic of the country he lived in, one that dreamed great dreams and did great deeds. Most Americans still try to believe this, despite a growing mountain of countervailing evidence. There is a price on this “winning is everything” attitude that dominates US sports and other endeavors these days, and it is a high price to pay: We surrender our honor and decency.
Since this seems to be the week for public apologies, let me make this one: and it is not a fake one filled with phony alibis and prevarications, but heartfelt. As an American, I sincerely apologize to all my many friends across this world for the reprehensible behavior of the individuals who purport to represent the best of America. They do not. We have come out of these Games, looking like the stereotypical “Ugly Americans”, that so many already judge us to be. Some of us truly are, but many more of us are not. Please believe that my friends.
So there it is, one man’s opinion. To my many international friends, please share this commentary with YOUR friends. Indeed, whether you agree with mine or not, and please feel free to include your own opinions. Thank you.

Earth Day

Good is the earth, it suits us! Like the global grape

it hangs, dear God, in the blue air and sways in the gale,

nibbled by all the birds and spirits of the four winds.

Come, let’s start nibbling too and so refresh our minds!

from the Prologue to ‘The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel’ by Nikos Kazantzakis


Kazantzakis’s description of the planet was a prescient one, written fourteen years before the first full-view of Earth was taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 in 1972 during a mission to the moon:


Good it is and, upon seeing it, our human response to the word “home” was to be forever altered. Home did resemble a grape, hanging in gravitational sway, fragile but moving in perfect and perpetual harmony with gravitational “winds” through wide arcs around the Sun, within a galaxy of a million suns, and all of it within a billion-galaxied universe.

In a glance, we were able to see- even when we could not yet say how we knew or why- that there was more, much more, to our definition of the ground we walked upon or the place within which that patch of familiar ground was contained. There was more,  much more, with which we would need to come to a collective language of respect and regard for this home we shared with birds, fish, elm trees, mountain streams, polar bears, cacti, wasps, bacteria, volcanoes, clouds,  and each other.

What Kazantzakis imagined in metaphor, we could now barely begin to perceive in reality. Even as we have come to terms of increased understanding of what we did not could not yet know in 1972, the exponential revelation of more questions becomes the only true and beckoning destination toward which we can journey. We will never arrive at a place where we can say, with finality, “Now, we know.”

Kazantzakis, in the prologue to his ‘Modern Odyssey,’ was inviting the reader on a 33,333 line poetic journey- a new look at the ancient and epic story of Ulysses.  It is an historical, mythological, and spiritual story, as all classical stories are. History is no more a collection of mere facts, than mythology is only a series of imagined fantasies.

Our Earth is not merely a random collection of soil, water, air, and fire; nor must it be regarded only as the material manifestation of a god’s or goddess’s human-focused dreams. It is neither. It is both.

It is a place upon which birds nibble and volcanoes become continents. It is a place where the spirits of the winds are the voice of God and where creation is born of destruction. It is the place where plagues decimate whole species and where shepherds lie refreshed in green pastures beside still waters. So,

let’s start nibbling too and so refresh our minds!


A photograph of this morning from the shore of Tulum on the Yucatan peninsula, on the Caribbean Sea. (captured by Kathryn Bagwell)

Bagwell Tulum MX

Stillpoint..that point in a dance where the dancer pauses. In that stillness, all that has come before in the dance is beheld by those privileged to see. Yet- simultaneously- the moment bursts with the promise of what will be. It is a point which cannot be contained in time; it is past, present, and future in a single breath of the dancer.

The moment passes immediately but it is enough. The clouds roll in tandem with the movement of the tide as both are guided by the Moon’s sweeping caress, toward landfall and the dissipation of their various and many forms. Yet nothing is lost. The water is still water, even as it raised upward, molecule by molecule by the rising and warming Sun into the clouds which are gestating the births of raindrops.

The Mayans, who first looked out on this great sea with the wonder of sentient beings, knew the cosmic dance before them as sexual, life-giving. The intimacy of the Sky with the Sea is what brought forth life. It was life that teemed within the Mother herself, and life which was poured onto the land by the Father. All that dwelled on the Earth- the people, the animals, the mangroves and trees, the grasses- all of life was a part of the continuing story of a creation that was at times both terrifying and beautiful.

But here, now, the transparent greens and turquoise blues are lifted in a crescendo against the gray promise of morning’s Light and a pink/magenta Sunrise. Silent thunder rolls across the eternal stage and pelicans begin their flights just above the waves, the clouds open in rippled separation, the Earth exhales in a warm western wind, and..Stillpoint.

And the Dance begins again.



The true shape of your face..

TILICHO LAKE by David Whyte

In this high place
it is as simple as this,
leave everything you know behind.

Step toward the cold surface,
say the old prayer of rough love
and open both arms.

Those who come with empty hands
will stare into the lake astonished,
there, in the cold light
reflecting pure snow

the true shape of your own face

tilicho lake

Tilicho Lake is located in the mountains of Nepal. Over three miles above sea level, it is one of the highest lakes on Earth; thus, one of the most difficult to access. The poet David Whyte uses it here as a metaphor for that place of transformation of which we all are aware, but may not be consciously able to either express or explain the necessity of our finding it.

That shared longing is for the place where we are able to begin to move from the adolescence of our lives to becoming an adult. Without that transformative place of passage, it is possible to be an adolescent trapped in an adult’s body, endlessly seeking to find a role to play, a way to sate the the hormonal beast within, and unable to discover the exact questions which will further the journey that the body and mind are capable of travelling.

We all need to find Tillicho Lake for ourselves. It need not be high in the Himalayas, or in what others may call a sacred place. It does not have to be a far away, difficult to physically access place, and it almost certainly will not be a place one can buy a ticket for with the promise that the maturation of the soul will occur.

It will almost always be “happened upon” as it was with David Whyte. He travelled there, wanting to see a place of great beauty about which he had heard and read. But, upon seeing it, he became a part of the lake. He opened his arms to everything new that he was experiencing, and in turn was astonished as the lake opened its arms to him as well. It became his new face, part of the permanent shape of his soul.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in his Journal in 1857 of a dream in which he revisited a mountain he’d climbed years before: “What distinguishes that summit above the earthy line, is that it is unhandled, awful, grand. It can never become familiar; you are lost the moment you set foot there. You know no path, but wander, thrilled, over the bare and pathless rock, as if it were solidified air and cloud.” He is remembering the mountain, probably Mount Katahdin, described  in his book The Maine Woods, as a metaphysical place- a place where his mental and spiritual selves meet in transforming ways.

For Jesus, that sacred place happened during forty days among the rocks and crevices of the Jericho hills hard against the Jordan River. He left behind who he had been, and who he could have been, then opened his arms in astonishment  to his experience of the purest of Light.

It is there. If a person can remember that place, that time, even in a dream, then they have almost certainly experienced it a number of times since. It became a part of them, a mark on their being that has almost certainly been emotionally and spiritually enabling in the movement into their adult selves.

If neither the memory nor the dream seem to be there, I believe they will be, and soon, if one acknowledges the need for them.  Expectation and willingness are the insurance that the place will be discovered. There will be no need of its affirmation from an outside source. Tilicho Lake, Mount Katahdin, the banks of the Jordan: those places have been attracted toward the seeker even as the seeker has been attracted toward them.

It might also be the southeast corner of the neighborhood park, or the sight of a ginkgo tree in autumn as it becomes fluttering gold. Or the remembered blue wall of a childhood home where you first lost yourself in fixation and wonder.

Empty your hands, raise your arms in a rough prayer, and behold..




“There is another way to conceive of our life in God, but it requires a different worldview— not a clockwork universe in which individuals function as discrete springs and gears, but one that looks more like a luminous web, in which the whole is far more than the parts. In this universe, there is no such thing as an individual apart from his or her relationships. Every interaction— between people and people, between people and things, between things and things— changes the face of history. Life on earth cannot be reduced to four sure-fire rules. It is an ever-unfolding mystery that defies precise prediction. Meanwhile, in this universe, there is no such thing as ‘parts.’ The whole is the fundamental unity of reality.”1.

Our connections, each with the Other, each with all things here and there, past and present, are easily ignored or overlooked. The connections are too big to see, too small, too normal to examine objectively  or too extraordinary to regard as having anything at all to do with us. That we (me and you: our bodies, our hair and tongues and the rest of our physical beings) are somehow in the same ballpark as the planet Pluto, and both we and Pluto are players in the expansion of the universe and the gravitational warps of time, was not much more for most of us than a paragraph in a 12th grade science textbook.

Now, since last July, we’ve got photographs from Pluto. Not OF Pluto, but FROM Pluto.

Look closely enough through a microscope at the neurological connections in our brains and beyond to our toes and the patterns of ebb and flow look like nothing so much as satellite views of the Euphrates River Valley or the Mississippi Delta. And now we know those similarities of appearance are the antithesis of coincidence but a direct result of gravity’s dance with oceans and planetary orbits.

That we are all composed of starstuff was awesome news to most of us forty years ago, but now (thank you, Carl Sagan) it is the kind of truth that we must intentionally stifle lest we begin to destroy carefully crafted and “valuable” political/economic/cultural barriers between ourselves and ________ (fill in the name of another group of humans of your choice here).

We chew sunshine when we eat lettuce (or any green leaf), drink of the Arctic Ocean when eat at Whataburgers (or the Neiman-Marcus Tea Room), and breathe in (at an alarmingly high rate) the SAME atoms of oxygen breathed by pteradactyls, Alexander the Great, Jack the Ripper, and that jerk down the street with the always-barking dog. We humans and toadstools share 42% of a DNA template!

And on and on and on, ad infinitum..(literally).

The Connections are real. Between you and me and everything and everyone else pastpresentfuture, world without end, amen.

The gospel writer John described Jesus as the Word made Flesh. We know stuff that John didn’t know, though, and therefore couldn’t describe. It expands, widens, and deepens my , understanding and fascination with the Christ to know him as the Word made Flesh but also as the Word made starstuff in ALL of its forms: mountains, meteorites, quasars, synaptic receptors, lava, ice flows, bacteria, soil and..

Everything else: and it is all luminous. It is all filled with Light..

(amen, again)

1.Barbara Brown Taylor, “Physics and Faith: The Luminous Web,” Christian Century, June 2 1999, 612.

A New Year: Do This Now

Nobody has asked for it today; nonetheless, I offer this advice. It is spiritual advice, because that is the place from which it rises within me. You may receive it as a practical recommendation, but it is more. However, I am willing to say we are both correct. And you are free to disregard it. But I hope you won’t.

Thirty thousand years ago, in what is today France and Spain, people squeezed through openings in the earth, descended into dark (beyond dark) passageways with fire, paint, fuel, and the carcesses of small animals, in order to paint pictures on cavern limestone walls.

We don’t know precisely why they went to such dangerous, certainly uncomfortable lengths to do this, but they did.  There are caves throughout Europe filled with these paintings, drawings, and stencils of human hands.

The human urge to make a mark on something is (thus) at least thirty thousand years old. It is as new as the itching you and I feel to do the same. We feel that itch right now- for some it is a prodding, perhaps a scraping or worse. It is a feeling that ping-pongs between the hypocampus and our frontal lobes, back and forth between our ears and the sensory extensions of our consciousness into our surroundings.

We all want to leave a mark. We must pick up a brush, even when it is not the right brush. We must speak words, or write them to another though we know they are inadequate. We must plant a stone, a tree, a flag despite there being no exactly-right place to do so. We must crawl through the dark passageway, with fire.

Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo on October 2, 1884, this:

“If one wants to be active, one mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes, not afraid to lapse into some mistakes. To be good — many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm— and that’s a lie… That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

“You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerizes some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

“Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of ‘you can’t.’”

Don’t be afraid. There is a musical chord, a shade of magenta, a combination of words, a caress, a lathed piece of walnut, a stiched tapestry, a blown goblet, a braid of rope, an office-barn, a carved stick, a paving of stones, a cake of never-before imagined splendor and savor, waiting..

for your imagination, touch, and intent

no matter how unready you are or how untrained you may be. You can learn what more you need to know- and it may take years. But it will not happen years from now unless you begin right now.

Crawl now. Be Active, Alive, and make the blank canvas Afraid.















Spiritual Mentors: Mary Oliver

aamary-oliverDon’t bother me.

I’ve just

been born. (1.)

When I discovered the poems of Mary Oliver, I realized I had known her all my life. Her poems- and she is, thank God, a prolific writer- are wrapped in a kind of awe and wonder which I thought were a kind-of handicap I bore. Through her, more than any other writer, I stopped feeling childish about wanting to see the moist underside of an embedded-for-eons rock, or wanting to linger over ant hills and tangles of vines.

when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular.. (2.)

Mary Oliver sees- feels winding around her soul- the connectedness of all things. To know the wolf, one must know something about the clouds. To be able to truly write about the love of a dog, it is vital to know the trepidation we feel when entering a darkened room. To know even a little bit about God, it is necessary to know much about how and why and when a flower reaches for the sun. Her poem “Praying:”

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.(3.)

Ms. Oliver will 80 years old next year, lives in Massachusetts,  and is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection ‘American Primitive’ in 1984. She is America’s best selling poet, and it is for a reason: her work is accessible to all, but multi-layered and deeply satisfying at no matter what depth a reader chooses to plunge into it. Her writing is direct and clear, owing much to19th century writers like Thoreau and Whitman.

Poetry is a river; many voices travel in it; poem after poem moves along in the exciting crests and falls of the river waves. None is timeless; each arrives in an historical context; almost everything, in the end, passes. But the desire to make a poem, and the world’s willingness to receive it- indeed the world’s need of it- these never pass. (4.)

In speaking, writing, thinking about God, words will (because they are only words) fail. Images, feelings, smells and tastes must be carried on the backs of metaphors and images before they can be pushed and prodded into that particular formation of information which can then be handed from one person to another. Communicating about God is both a marvelous task and an impossible task, a repulsive task and a seductive one.

Mary Oliver, more than any other writer, gave me the courage to write that last sentence. And to now leave it alone.

aa Mary Oliver

(Her many collections are all still in print and will be for decades to come. There are many on- line as well. In fact, right now, Google “Mary Oliver Wild Geese” and read for yourself her most beloved poem!)

1.from “One or Two Things,” ‘New and Selected Poems,’ Beacon, 1992

2.  from “When Death Comes,” ibid.

3. “Praying,” ‘Thirst,’ Beacon, 2006

4.from Oliver’s ‘A Poetry Handbook- A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry,’ Harcourt, 1994.