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Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Most Americans want to be happy. In fact, we are so keen to be happy that we even sacralized it in our Declaration of Independence.We spend most of our waking hours doing things that we believe are "in the pursuit of happiness." But how many of us are actually "happy"? How many of us can honestly say that we have reached the peak of the mountain, where happiness abides, and we are now permanent residents there?

The truth is, not many people are happy these days. There is perennial and perpetual grousing from Americans at every level of our society. Even those you might imagine would be the happiest among us -- the very wealthy individuals who never have to worry about money, cars, or unpaid medical bills -- seem to be unhappy. They are constantly trying to accumulate more and more wealth, as though their pursuit of happiness requires the never-ending acquisition of ever more money. They are persistently trying to use their fortunes to change our culture into their own likeness, indicating that they are unhappy with the way our nation is evolving. It also means that those of us at the lower end of the socio-economic scale are probably equally happy, or equally miserable, as those at the very tippy-top.

Why is that? Could it be because we treat happiness like it is a destination? Like it is a place that we will eventually move to, and live there forever? Or like it is a material reality, and if we can just own enough of that material, we will own happiness?

Paradoxically, thinking of happiness in those terms is to invite unhappiness, because it is an unrealistic idealization of happiness that can never be attained. Like the Buddha taught us, unfulfilled desires lead to suffering. And there is no greater suffering than the unfulfilled desire to live in a place called happiness. Unless, of course, you move to Happy, Texas, population 647. Even there, though, the population is very tiny.

Perhaps what is needed is to reorient our understanding and expectations of happiness. Maybe happiness is not a place where we get to stay forever. It may, instead, be constituted of rare moments in time; when we are in the loving embrace of the woman or man we love, for example, or giving loud and laughing smoochie kisses to our young children and grandchildren. Or during peak moments of performance, like running in a race, or playing music in front of an appreciative audience, or standing on a mountain enjoying wonderful vistas.

Happiness is, indeed, a rare commodity in a long human life, which is why we are more apt to cherish and remember moments like these. At the end of our lives, perhaps those collective minutes of happiness will be added up and presented to us for review, and only then will we realize that most of our lives were passed in happiness, even though they seemed instead to be filled with heartache and sorrow. It could be that by understanding the very fleeting and passing nature of happiness, and not expecting that it will be a permanent psychological or material experience, we will actually find ourselves to be more happy. Perhaps by appreciating the serendipitous moments in our lives when we feel happy, we will actually find ourselves living a more joyful existence.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Encomium to Donald Trump

We must paean President Donald Trump! We must put to bed the infamous lies of his detractors. He deserves high praise for the magnificent and spectacular job he has done in his first nine months in office. Indeed, he has accomplished more in those nine months than any American president in history. Believe me! He has done a fantastic job as president!!

Take, for instance, his ongoing public advocacy for the American flag and national anthem, which those spoiled NFL millionaire players have recently besmirched by their silent kneeling in protest. Who even knows what those betes noires of the gridiron are protesting? We should all be outraged that they won't stand in honor and respect of Old Glory and the Star Spangled Banner. That is what our beloved and estimable president thinks, and so should we all.

Donald Trump loves the American flag so much that he even supports the Confederate Battle Flag, which many of his base followers also respect and adore. Not just the Stars and Stripes for this president. No, he is such an American patriot that he also embraces the Stars and Bars. His love and magnanimity are so grand, so broad and all-encompassing that he can stand in honor and respect of both flags. And why should he not do so? After all, many fine American people also support and wrap themselves in the rebel flag. They are double-flaggers, patriotic and knowledgeable participants in the American history they declaim we must never forget; the very history that gave birth to this nation.

What courage our president models! Using just his mobile phone and his very masculine hands, he has tweeted strength and dominance at Rocket Man over in North Korea. Indeed, it was our dear leader who gave Kim Jong Un the very sobriquet that now defines him for the rest of the world. Using only the power of his eloquence, he has declawed the North Korean tiger, rendering him as harmless as a common pussy cat. Thus has Donald Trump rendered our nation, and our world, free from the menace of nuclear war.

How inspiring to our youth! When he speaks, every word that proceeds from his mouth are as gems of precious worth. How glorious is his countenance, that he makes to shine upon we who are his citizens and subjects! Our children are lucky to be living in the age of Triumphant Trump. They should aspire to emulate his every word and deed. They should be encouraged to speak in the frank tongue of our most potent leader, eschewing and avoiding the pusillanimous preachments of the lying media and liberal literati.

Woe unto those who resist or besmirch our Radiant Reality President. May they find life naught but a series of misfortune and agony. May they be beset by boils on their skin, and blisters on their tongue if they deign to speak ill of our great leader. May their very lives be plagued and haunted by the fact that Donald Trump won the largest electoral victory in our nation's history. May it shrivel their cowardly hearts to consider the fact that President Trump's inaugural crowd was the largest our nation's mall has ever witnessed.

And for you, kind reader, you who love and support your President, may his brilliance of mind and blessing of golden fortune be reflected in your daily lives. May your economic tide flow with the incredible wealth and prosperity that our President has created and enjoyed for his entire career. May the structures you build, in business and in life, be as solid and sturdy as those brought into existence by our wondrous leader. May his eloquence and facility of language fill your mouths like tongues of fire on the day of the Pentecost. May his laudable family relationships and marital bliss fill your houses with similitude. May your hearts be equivalent to his in courage and charity for others.

Hail Trump! Hail Trump! Hail Trump!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Scratching Fleas

Humans are like
parasites on mother earth,
sucking her oil like blood,
polluting her sky with our
greed-befouled collective breath.

It is no wonder she awakens
from slumber to start scratching
at her bothersome fleas.

Hurricanes, flooding rains,
earthquakes, tornadoes,
wildfires and the ever
increasing heat of
her fevered infection.

The earth is a self-healing being,
and her irritation with our infestation
increases by the minute.

The spirit of the earth
stirs itself awake,
and we should be very afraid.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Will There Be A Trump-Inspired Mexican-American Roundup?




Taco bender.

Lawn man.


Light skinned n*gger.

These are all words and phrases that have been applied to me at some point in my life. Starting in high school in the late 1970s, I became aware that being half-Mexican in Oklahoma meant I would be tagged with racial slurs. It also meant that I would endure hearing many "jokes" about Mexicans from white people who were too clueless to realize they were being racist.

White High School Popular Guy: "Hey, Francisco! Are you a wetback? Or a scratch back?"

(They would use my Spanish name when they were about to launch into some off-color joke.)

Me: "What?"

(I was still at the play-along stage then.)

White High School Popular Guy: "Did you swim across the river, or crawl under the fence?"

Never mind that I was born in the United States, as was my father. The fact that I had a Latin sounding name meant the white people who dominated my high school felt free to say shit like that to my face. Not all of them, but a surprising amount. Where I grew up, there were no black people, only a few Hispanics, and quite a lot of Native American people. So, in my hometown of Henryetta, Oklahoma, racist attention was directed at the available minorities.

I spoke with my father about it once. I asked him if I should fight the kids who made fun of my Mexican heritage. He told me to just let it roll off my back. He said fighting wouldn't stop them, and only working harder than them would make a difference. It took me years before I understood what it meant to "work harder," which is about one and a half times more than how hard most white people have to work. When you grow up as part of a minority in America, you start the race behind everybody else, and have to run twice as fast to catch up. Most minority people never do catch up.

My father told me that, one day, there would probably be another Mexican-American "repatriation," like he remembered from the 1930s. A lot of white people don't even know about that sorry chapter of American history, when United States citizens of Mexican descent were forcibly detained and transported to Mexico. This happened between 1929-1936. People who were born in the United States, many of whom were fully legal US citizens, were rounded up and sent to Mexico for the same reasons that we are hearing today: "They are taking our jobs." "They are bringing in crime and drugs!" "They use an unfair amount of public resources!" "Dirty Mexicans are dragging down our neighborhoods!"

It is estimated that during that time period, between 500,000 to 2,000,000 people were rounded up for deportation. Further, as much as 60% of those rounded up were US citizens -- people who were born in the US.

Just like today, the repatriation of the 1930s was supported and egged on by a sitting Republican president, Herbert Hoover. Like Trump, Hoover played on racial and populist sentiments to justify his decisions. And like Hoover, it is highly likely that Trump will go down in history as one of the worst -- if not THE worst -- American president ever to hold office.

With his decision to rescind DACA, Trump and his ever-kneeling suppliant (or suck-pliant) AG Jeff Sessions are sending overt signals to the racists in our nation that say it is okay to harass and even harm those they "suspect" of being illegal immigrants. Like the fat, white dumb ass Oklahoman captured on video telling a woman and her daughter they were "speaking immigrant," and should go back to Mexico, racist people are being emboldened by the "wink and a nod" racists who dominate our executive branch of government right now. I suspect it won't be long before we are reading about calls to "round up" Mexicans and "send them back to where they came from." I won't be surprised if it actually happens. My dark-skinned father saw it coming a long time ago. It is sad to see it all coming true.

Just last night, Trump met with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. After a chummy dinner in the White House, Schumer and Pelosi came out to announce that a deal had been reached to save DACA. Trump followed shortly thereafter to say a deal had not been agreed upon. For Trump, apparently the only way he will agree to a deal is if the Democrats agree to funding his penis-compensating border wall. While Dreamers wait and wonder, politicians haggle over who has the bigger hands and tiniest heart.

Saturday, August 05, 2017


You were good for me.
Good to me.
Because we ended
I didn't get the chance
to say a simple thank you.

You changed me.
Mostly for the good;
some brokenness too.
And for both
I give you gratitude.

The beauty of your body
lingers in my mind.
The taste of your love
is still bittersweet
on my tongue.

I harbor great sadness
that we went our
separate ways.
I deeply regret that
I could not make it work.

I look forward
to the time
when it is pleasant
to remember you.
But right now
it still hurts.

For all of it
I am grateful
and would not
have it any
other way.

Even though
I lost you
you were
the answer
to prayers
that I prayed.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

Last First Date (Tolkein's Dragon)

I wanted to be
your last first date

Unfortunately that
was not our fate

I am disappointed
that I could not
give you what
you needed

I am jealous that
my love with you
was so rapidly

Still I wish
for you all
the love you
can imagine

May your
new love soar
as high as
Tolkein's dragon

May you
ever have
all the love that
you deserve

And may your
love be always
a glad and
happy verse

Forever shall
I carry a
deeply selfish

That I could not
build with you
a more promising

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Poet's Soul

The poet's soul
is a curious thing,
sometimes cries,
sometimes sings.

At times a quivering
emotional jello,
others a loud
rage-filled bellow.

As soft as the down
of a new-hatched bird,
as sharp as the blade
of a samurai sword.

Innocent and child-like
in matters of the world,
crafty and cunning
in love's torrid whorl.

The poet's soul
is both gift and curse,
for we who paint life
in rhyme and verse.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mi Casa No Casa

Biracial at birth
Image copyright Positive.News.
back in the day,
back when it hurt,
a half-Mexican stray.

Not quite white,
not quite brown,
quasi-colored skin
with no proper noun.

Mi casa no casa,
I stood in between,
no hablo espanol,
no tengo a quien.

Never sure where I fit,
which culture to embrace,
getting by on my wits,
no race, no face, no space.

Mi casa no casa,
I had no place to go,
I blazed the trail I made,
and made my way alone.

Today it is different,
mixed is the new norm,
part this, part that,
new boxes on forms.

We of mixed colors
are taking the world,
for love has no borders,
and hair has more curls.

Mi casa no casa.
May that die with me.
Todos una raza,
el mundo nuevo esta aqui.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


She asked to meet my family,
so I took her to the cemetery.

I introduced her to the tombstones
of my mother and father,
brother, sister, sister-in-law.

I explained that half of my family is there,
so this is where half of my heart lies,
languishing in full blown eternity,
family memories moldering in the grave.

The graveyard was cold and snowy,
a fitting scene for a January day,
the nearby road buzzed with traffic,
overhead the sky was ashen gray.

We lingered not long.
It takes but little time
to commune with loved ones
who died and left you behind.

I knew that day
she and I would not last
for she had no experience
of family who have passed.

She could not fathom
the finality of family death,
had no sympathy or patience
for the graveyard's final rest.

She can never understand
until it is her turn to know
how half your heart can lie buried
under bitter cold wet snow.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Innocent Love

Photo copyright Jill Atkinson, 2017
I remember innocent love,
the kind that had no questions.

Love that shone in our faces,
put the light of life in our eyes.

I remember being happy
over ice cream and a new toy.

When friendship came easy,
and trust was freely given.

I remember summer nights,
warm breezes, firefly chases.

Hot days of roaming the woods
looking for poor kid adventures.

I remember when smiles were genuine,
and lies were a terrible sin to commit.

And many days of holding hands
giving big hugs and doing small favors.

I remember innocent love
when I see my granddaughter smile.

When I hear her laughter
and watch her play.

I remember hope when
she says she loves me, too.

The unmitigated truth in her face
lightens my heavy old soul.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

Love Poems

Nobody loves
love poems

Who has the
time to care?

The demands of
work, children
family and friends
make romance seem
perhaps even a
waste of time

We can't even be
bothered much to
meet anymore
preferring our dates
to be mobile
express and if
possible online

But I gave you
my time
my poetry
my attention
and my care
whatever else my foibles
if you needed me I was there

Yes, words are cheap
and love is hard to define
in poetry that most often
can't be coaxed to even rhyme

Still, I gave you my words
my heart and very soul
to say in worn out language
the things that can't be told

It wasn't enough
You found another
less poetic sort

Because nobody loves
love poems

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Love I've Thrown Away

You will always be
my worst regret
and best memory

The hole in my heart
where you once lived
may tear me apart

The words that I write
cannot redress
the loss of your light

You gave me so much
the best of love
your soft healing touch

Allow me to say
you were the best
love I've thrown away

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Tuesday, June 27, 2017


The word now is a powerful and mysterious word.
It can be used as either a noun, or a verb.
The instant I tell you that now has arrived,
It will have flashed quickly past both of our eyes.
Every new moment renews now anew.
No way to stop it, rewind or review.
Now has us all in its metaphysical spell.
The ever flowing present never has failed.
Time goes on forever, as does the now.
As life ever endeavors to slow it all down.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Broke Down Beat Up Heart

My beat up heart
is a rusty old car
worn out brakes
needs new tires
doors won't open
except from outside
windows rolled down
handles broken inside

My beat up heart
had too many drivers
grinding down gears
crash cart survivors
drove me into a ditch
left me without a hitch

Broken down old beater
the kind you can't trust very far
Only thing good is the heater
and the engine still purrs

Crappy rusted out old wreck
still going and stubborn as heck
Perhaps I should consider
installing a taxi cab meter
onto my old broken down
beat up heart

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Walmart Parking Lot Life and Death Drama

I stopped at Walmart after work yesterday to pick up a few things. For whatever reason, most Walmart parking lots in Oklahoma seem to be a popular gathering spot for Grackles, those shiny black birds with long tails and little red eyes that aggressively stare you down as you walk past. "What'chew lookin' at?" it seems like they are saying.

As I was loading my items into the back of my vehicle, I noticed a movement zipping from underneath my truck to the one right next to it. Then a grackle went hopping along the same path. I turned to see what was going on, and just then a tiny, brown, desperate little mouse came running right toward me, with the grackle in hot pursuit. The bird would grab the mouse by its tail and yank upward, like it was trying to flip the mouse into the air. I could tell the mouse was tired and wounded. It paused between my shoes, looking up at me for an instant, like it was asking for help. I raised my shoe and kicked at the bird. It flitted backward, and looked at me with an indignant glare. The mouse ran back under my truck. The bird gave me a wide circle before going back to the chase.

In that moment, my sympathy was with the mouse. There have been days lately when I swear I feel just like that hapless little rodent. I wanted to help, but couldn't imagine myself running around in dress clothes, chasing a bird and a mouse through a Walmart parking lot. Logically, I knew that I was only watching nature play itself out; there is nothing inherently evil or wrong in the drama between predator and prey. Still, I wondered if God ever feels the way I did in that moment, watching we humans go about the business of shooting, stabbing and otherwise killing each other, often saying we are acting on His behalf?

The mouse ran along the curb, looking for a place to make its escape. The bird kept pestering and pecking, and I knew soon the chase would end. Not knowing what else to do, I got into my truck and started the engine. I swear I saw the bird raise a feather at me as I turned out of the parking lot. I found myself hoping the bird would choke on a mouse bone.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Wondrous Spaces

Grand Canyon from Navajo Overlook -- © 2015 Richard R. Barron

Our world is filled
with wondrous spaces,
magical places
that demonstrate
just how small we are
in the scheme of things.

Without hands or eyes
nature paints a beautiful sky,
a breathtaking landscape,
and humanity stands in awe,
feeling at once grand,
yet incredibly small.

Mountain ranges bounded
by oceans endless,
space full rounded
by bright stars limitless,
this world but a speck
floating in infinite time,
a pool of deep dark forever.

The poet teaches
W.B. preaches we can 
hold infinity in our hands;
that our vision is limited 
only by the blinders on our brains.

Open vistas, massive geologic structures,
perspectives from a mountainside,
all expand our presence in the world,
make us yearn for wilder days of yore,
when we lived a harder life,
and loved the land
like a husband loves a bride.

Wondrous spaces are sacred places,
deserving of our devotion and love.
They enrapture and bind us,
beckon and remind us
of a grander presence
that can only be described
as coming from above.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Illiterati

They revel in their bliss;
happy, they, who hiss
at the educated masses,
eager to burn books into ashes.

The strong arms of stronger men,
they threaten violence just to win,
unwitting tools of the upper classes,
misinformed fools showing their asses.

The illiterati take pride in not knowing
how much they do not know;
noisily amplify the lies flowing
from crazy like a fox TV news shows.

Have never known the American dream,
they invest their truth in alt-right Internet memes,
and while claiming to know the founder's intentions,
vote to reduce their own hard-earned pensions.

They are terrified of the terror they think will unfold,
having swallowed most of the racist lies they were told,
and so rally to drive foreigners out of this land,
believing themselves to be God's helping hand.

There is no reaching the illiterati,
there is no cure for this cancerous rotting
that blinds the minds of those such as these,
who willfully lock themselves into cells with no keys.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Campbell's Monomyth

Joseph Campbell taught us to look beyond the particulars of any given mythology or religious tradition, and to instead consider the universality they might contain. He demonstrated that there is a basic skeletal structure of most mythologies, particularly those that that he designated as "hero myths." In his book The Hero with A Thousand Faces, first published in 1949 (!) and still available in print today, he examines the hero's journey, and establishes his theory of the monomyth. The monomyth is the skeleton upon which hangs the flesh of any given hero myth.

Campbell differentiated two types of heroes: the physical hero (e.g., Hercules), and the spiritual hero (e.g., Jesus, Buddha, Abraham, Mohammed). His monomyth model applies more evidently in tales of physical heros, like Odysseus, Gilgamesh, and Luke Skywalker. Campbell asserts that regardless of the hero and the details of his or her tale, the basic elements of the story have a universality that stretches across time and culture. There is a sameness to the story line, regardless of the specifics of that story line.

1.) There is often an auspicious birth. The child is born of a virgin (Jesus), for example; or immediately takes three steps and proclaims that this is his last incarnation (Buddha); or his mother is impregnated by seeing a falling star (Laozi); or often, a god impregnates a human female (Hercules). The auspicious birth presages that this person is different, and that their life story has weight and meaning.

2.) At some point in their lives, the hero is called out of normal society, and makes a decision to follow a calling, or is otherwise lured into an adventure. Jesus, went into the desert; Bilbo Baggins went on an adventure. 3.) At this point of the journey, the hero often encounters a helper of some kind, a sage or sprite who initiates them into a higher understanding, a broader vision of reality (e.g., Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi; or the little goat guy, Philoctetes, and Hercules). 4.) The hero is then faced with some kind of ordeal that marks their passage into the adventure, a discovery, or a turn from normal reality into an epic purpose. Campbell calls this "crossing the threshold." The important thing is that the hero makes a choice to pursue the adventure.

5.) Afterward, the hero is faced with a variety of tests or trials, against which she must prove her worthiness. Again, the hero is often assisted by other figures or things. They may find, or be given, magical items that help them successfully overcome the tests. For example, Perseus is given winged sandals and a helmet that renders him invisible. So, too, Bilbo Baggins finds a ring that makes him invisible, and gets him out of several scrapes. 6.) As in any good story or movie, there is ultimately a climax, a final battle, struggle or revelation, a moment when the hero's life -- and often the fate of their people or the world -- is at stake. Of course, the hero will prevail.

7.) After killing the dragon, defeating the monster, or tricking the lesser god(s), the hero's adventure comes to a close. It is at this point that he has a crucial decision to make. He can persist in the place of adventure, and find more adventure, or he can decide to return home, bringing with him the magic, knowledge, or insight that he has gathered on his journey. Campbell uses the tale of Jonah in the belly of the whale. After being vomited back onto shore, Jonah immediately returns to human society with his incredible tale of events and understandings. 8.) It is at this point that the knowledge acquired by the hero becomes the province of normal human beings; the magic, the knowledge; the expanded perspective is shared with the rest of human kind.

What fascinated Campbell, and what I too find intriguing, is the manner in which these same elements, this same kind of journey, occurrs repeatedly in human mythologies, regardless of the culture or time from which it arose. Campbell's thought was influenced by a German scholar named Adolf Bastian, who is credited for helping develop the discipline of anthropology. He was also the first proponent of the "psychic unity of mankind," the idea that all humans share the same basic mental structure and framework.

Bastian's own study of mythologies led him to theorize that they contained what he called "elementary" and "folk" components. The "folk" components are comprised of the local, culturally-relevant elements of the story. They are the parts of the myth that its hearers can recognize and understand, and relate to their own social and cultural environment. The "elementary" part of the myth represents the basic underlying structure of mythology, the "monomyth" that Campbell theorizes in his famous work The Hero of the Thousand Faces.

Campbell was also influenced by German scholar Otto Rank, and in particular his book The Myth of the Birth of the Hero. In this book Rank compares the birth and early life story of Moses with the birth mythologies of other well-known heroes from different cultures, like Sargon and Oedipus. In this work, Rank equates the hero myths with human dreams, arguing that they represent repressed human desires, and are therefore informative of the human mind and psyche. Rank was an early disciple of Sigmund Freud, although he later split with Freud's method of psychoanalysis. As an early psychologist, Rank was interested in the way mythologies represent, or provide evidence for, larger, basic human psychological needs and desires. It is probably Rank's work that inspired Campbell to famously say, "... a dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society's dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of the society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn't, you've got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you."

Throughout his life and studies, Campbell remained fascinated by what mythology and literature can teach us about human psychic nature. His work established that, in mythologies, there are common (elementary) traits that cross cultural and time boundaries. He believed that fact was significant, that it indicated areas where further scholarship and exploration was needed. Why, for instance, do the same elemental mythological structures crop up again and again? What does that tell us about human nature? Is there something larger, something deeper, something more universal in this fact that we should be paying attention to in our own considerations and studies?

I think the answer to all of those questions is yes. The basis of many forms of communication is a repeating pattern.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Monday, June 05, 2017

Empty Boxes of Certitude

In the marketplace of ideas, the easy way to success is to feed your audience information that reaffirms their prior biases and beliefs. In essence, this is how Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly achieved their fame. All they do is wrap traditionalism, racism, nationalism and revolutionary populism in shiny and entertaining gift paper. They are not advancing any new (or real) information, with the possible exception of trending conspiracy theories and political scandal. They tell their listeners, in subtle and not so subtle ways, that 1.) they are "smart," and they are "winners" for listening or watching, and 2.) their preconceived notions and prejudices are good, healthy, normal, even virtuous. In the end, their listeners and viewers usually gain nothing more than headlines, and an empty box of certitude.

This happens on the left, too. Liberals and conservatives have competing media megaphones. For people like Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Joy Reid, their aim is also to reaffirm and praise the worldview of their liberal viewers. The path to success is exactly the same. The wrapping paper may be different, but the underlying empty box is surprisingly similar.

It happens in academia, too, I think. Healthy scholarship is supposed to add to the overall extent of human knowledge -- it is expressly charged with creating new knowledge. What often happens instead is that people get tunnel vision within their own discipline, and do not bother to question the guiding knowledge paradigm wherein they exist. They speak only to other scholars in their field, and often in lengthy, dense, pedantic and impenetrable academic jargon. Regular people, like those who listen to Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, often can't access the new knowledge, if indeed it is there. It makes one wonder if the various academic disciplines, not unlike various religious traditions, are just brightly colored empty boxes?

In the world of ideas, creating new and accessible knowledge and information that can help a person rethink their prior biases and prejudices, and escape their empty boxes of certitude, is the harder thing to do. As I look around, I see most of us trapped inside respective two-dimensional squares of self-imposed limitation, where we can choose to hear only what we want to hear. But that is becoming harder, as voices on all sides seem to be increasing in volume, intensity, anger and fear. Samuel Huntington, historian and political scientist, wrote about the clash of civilizations. Today, we see a clash of realities, a clash of completely differing explanations for how the world is, and why it is that way. There is no longer an authoritative neutral arbiter of reality and fact. Both science and religion aspire to that position, but so far neither is winning.

This lack of agreed upon truth, combined with the cacophony of clashing realities, is creating a sense of unease and insecurity. Our nation now has a Homeland Security division, ostensibly to protect us from terrorist attack. It also serves as a very real manifestation of our sense of insecurity. We are collectively floundering. We have lost any cohesive identity. We are afraid of what might happen next, at any moment, to our nation, our homes, and our families. These symptoms can all be attributed to the fact that we seem to be missing a central authoritative and secure truth.

Bill Clinton once said, "When people are insecure, they'd rather have somebody who is strong and wrong than someone who's weak and right." This seems to be a common theme in human societies throughout history. The cultural norms which seemed to stand for so long suddenly start to falter. The central truths that everyone previously agreed to follow are questioned, and so too are the gods. The Greek tragedy Oedipus the King informs us about a similar time in Athenian history, when the gods were questioned, and there were strange things afoot in the kingdom. It is in these moments when the strong man arises, and a portion of the people may seem suddenly ready to accede to almost anything in an effort to secure a little more security. They are all too ready to crawl into an empty box of certitude that has been garrulously gift wrapped for them. They may then listen only to the strong leader who is wrong, and become all too happy to completely ignore, or even crucify, the weak leader who is right.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Modern Day Lepers

What fascinates me about the comparative study of religion and religious history are the similarities across time and cultures. Although the content of beliefs may change, again and again we see the same WAYS of believing and thinking. It is the WAY people believe, and how those beliefs work inside an individual's world view, that I find intriguing -- the true universal element of religion. I am less interested, now, in WHAT people believe, and more interested in the WAY they believe. Somehow, I think this way of examining human belief sets is important to defusing the religious and political conflict we are witnessing in our modern world.

As an example, from the days of Jesus all the way to St. Francis of Assisi, people with leprosy were shunned and avoided. The frightening physical manifestations of the disease were horrifying to see -- stumps of arms and fingers, horribly disfigured people, lesions and sores. It is easy to understand why people would be scared to be around, or in close contact, with lepers. As we know, lepers were often ostracized, forced to live outside the community, reviled and avoided by the "good" people of society.

In those days, leprosy was thought to be caused by sin. If a person had leprosy, it was because they deserved it. They were thought of as morally corrupt individuals, and their sins brought the disease upon them as punishment from God.

Neither Jesus nor St. Francis seemed to believe this, as both are known for healing or working among lepers. Of course, we know today that leprosy is a disease caused by a type of bacteria. So in retrospect, we know that people who believed lepers were sinners, and therefore deserving of the disease, were factually and historically wrong.

I see a similar kind of thinking among the so-called conservative and pseudo-religious wing of the modern Republican party. People of this ilk state plainly that poor people are poor because they deserve to be poor. They argue that gay people should not receive civil rights protection because their lifestyle is an "abomination against God." They argue that social support programs like Food Stamps and Welfare should be eliminated or reduced because, in their estimation, the recipients are not really deserving, or worse, are defrauding the government. Although the content of these beliefs is different, the structure of the beliefs are strikingly similar to thinking that lepers were being punished for their sins. It is a way of thinking based upon an assumption of moral superiority and self-righteousness. It is a way of thinking that "God loves me despite my flaws, sins and shortcomings, but God punishes you because you deserve it." This kind of thinking led some people to proclaim AIDS as a punishment for homosexuality. It is thinking on the same spectrum as that which led the Nazis to segregate, persecute and exterminate millions of Jews during World War II.

This way of thinking is making modern day lepers out of economically disadvantaged people in our nation, and around the world. It is creating life threatening circumstances and dangerous social environments for gay people here and across the globe. It underpins a very selfish effort by certain sectors of our populace to blame the victims of economic disparity. It is, perhaps, a psychological projection of their own evil natures and intentions onto people of differing socioeconomic status, or differing sexual and gender orientations. It is very much the kettle calling the pot black.

It demonstrates that what people believe changes with history and social context, but how they believe remains surprisingly consistent. If we hope to disrupt this kind of behavior, this hypocritical self-righteousness and self-piety, we need to examine it more closely; we need to understand why this kind of believing is a persistent feature of human thought.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017


Lean into the silence
let loneliness fill the soul
Only when it is empty
can the heart be made whole

Wisdom is never shouted
it is whispered from within
Love is never doubted
nor lost in a madding din

Find quiet places
within and without
where listening is easy
and whispers resound

Be silent and be still
the universe will provide
be emptied and be filled
peace will enter and abide

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Marrow of Sadness

I have sucked the marrow of sadness
from the bones of broken relationships.
I have been thirsty for love that vanishes
like a water mirage in the distant heat.

This is the desert of advancing age,
where the slippery sands of past decisions
shift and glide beneath my feet,
and regret, like a scorpion, skitters and stings.

The horizon is open, boundless and humbling.
The sun is shining, merciless and bright.
The skeletons of past love and conquest
lay bleached by the burning white orb.

The days stretch into distant forever,
and nights are bitter, cold, and silent.
Still, I am alive, so I press onward;
lost, perhaps, but determined to survive.

So I suck the marrow of sadness
from the bones of broken relationships,
and take from that meager nourishment
the strength I need to finally make it home.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Little Arms

How can such little arms
give such mighty hugs?

How have you captured
my heart with your
little smile?

My granddaughter.
The light of my eyes,
the breadth of my soul.

You are a blessing
like your mother before.

A tiny angel of joy,
with headstrong will
and an open heart.

You will be a titan,
an amazement of strength
and intelligent resolve.

Be kind to your mother,
she will always need your love.

Let God's beneficence
shine down on you
all the days of your life.

Promise to join me someday
far from now
in a place where pain and death
are but distant tales of yore.

And know that here in this life
I cherish the bounty of love I feel
every time you wrap me
in your powerful little arms.

© Francisco G. Rodriquez, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Expected Death

As I age, the death of close loved ones
begins to bear more weight.
When I witness the final days of someone
I have known for most of my life,
I feel eternity's presence
in a profound and very real way.

Time slows down just before,
and right after, someone passes.
Life takes on a surreal quality
as we move from death bed
to funeral home to grave side,
with barely a pause for breath

Expected deaths are horrible to experience,
staying the last few days with the dying,
seeing their body struggle instinctively to survive
long after the will to live has passed away

And afterward life
most cruelly
goes on.

After each death
I start playing the
death lottery.
Who will be next?
Will it be me?
Another brother or sister?
A friend, or someone else
I hold most dear?

As I watch my family and friends
being whittled down by time and death,
I can no longer escape the reality
that my own death is getting closer.

That is just the way things are.
Life is incomplete without death.
Time is meaningless unless it passes.
Love is forever only after it
ventures bravely into death's eternity.