Little Pieces of Spirit (TM)

--the art, poetry, musings of M. David Orr. The focus is on spirituality and living. RSS Feed: (c) Copyright 2006 by M. David Orr

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Influence of Location on Art

What happens when an artist moves to a new location? He/she is inevitably influenced by things in the new envirnoment. A couple of years ago my family and I moved from Chicago to Fairview, N.C., near Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the course of checking out the local crafts, I came across some birdhouses made of gourds and decorated with flowers in acrylic paint. I thought these were kind of gaudy, but I bought a raw gourd, and played with decorating it at home. Before long, I had bought dozens of gourds from eBay and was painting, jig-sawing, burning, staining and inking them into all kinds of abstract art. Eventually, I found others who were doing the same, going all the way back to Cherokee Indians, who made beautiful abstract gourds, decorated with leather and feathers. Below are some examples of my work:

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gospel Music

A friend of mine Dell Washington is a Christian musician. He has posted some great gospel songs online at The other "good news" is they are available as free downloads. If you like gospel, check them out.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The End in the Beginning

I got saved in a small Pentecostal church in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1968. As with most new believers in any cause, questions and doubts arose with me as I began to read more of the source text of my belief the Bible. My conversion had been experiential, not intellectual, so there were many loose ends.

For one thing, I still firmly accepted the scientific description of life as being the result of a long process of evolution. I accepted that the universe was billions of years old, not just a few thousand or a few ten-thousands of years. I quickly found out that most of the born-again Christians I knew, denied evolution and the age of the universe. It was clear to them, but not to me, that the authority of the Bible rested on the literal interpretation of the Genesis account of the creation of the universe—earth, and humans in six days.

Jesus referred back to the Adam and Eve story as if it were literal; the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) recounted literal genealogies going back to Adam in the extremely boring “And so-and-so begat so-and so” passages of both the Old and New Testaments. The born-again view was that, if the Bible was wrong about this issue, then it wasn’t reliable about more important matters like Jesus’ miracles and about his claims to being the Messiah.

The fundamentalist interpretation of Genesis is that Adam and Eve were literal people who lived in a literal garden that had a literal tree in it called The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and another tree called The Tree of Life. Eve was tempted by Satan in the form of a serpent to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, even though God had specifically forbidden eating this fruit. Eve did it, and then tempted Adam, who did it; then they knew they were naked. God had them tossed out of paradise, never to return. Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and Evangelicals tend to adopt the fundamentalist, literalistic view.

More liberal mainline Protestant and Catholic Christians tend to view the Genesis account as allegorical, not literal: it is the story of how early man began to struggle with questions like, “How is man different from the animals?” “How did man get separated from the paradise of innocence and ignorance of right and wrong that the animals are in?” The Genesis answer to these questions is approximately, “...because man began to make judgments about good and evil, which caused him to be cast forever out of paradise.” In this view, there are obvious allegorical elements--Adam’s name means “Man” and Eve’s name means “Woman;” the two trees are named allegorically, the serpent was an ancient symbol for wisdom and cunning in many cultures (witness the caduceus symbol for physicians in ancient Greece, which contains a serpent.)

In this view, early man was in a paradise of ignorance of judgments about good and evil. He just lived, like the animals in a pre-moral paradise of freedom from moral judgments and in communion with God. As humans became more wise and cunning, they began to make moral judgments, which took away their peaceful paradise. If the entire myth is seen as an internal map of human consciousness, in the manner of the Freudian interpretations of Greek myth, God is our deepest self, the divine spark within us; our very developing of intelligence tempts us to make moral judgments, and we fall under our own judgments, and lose our daily communion with God, our deepest self, the Ground of our being, the divine spark within.

Born again Christians are deeply suspicious of this view because they fear that it internalizes God inside man, and is a tricky way for liberals and atheists to say that God is just part of human consciousness and has no “real,” independent existence.

It is certainly true that many who take the allegorical view may have atheist or agnostic leanings, but many others truly believe that the place to look for God is within not without in some distant Heaven. Jesus said, “Don’t say “look here” or “look there,” because the kingdom of God is within/among you.” Fundamentalists tend not to want to be so literal about this passage. Another passage in the Bible says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” This passage says that our very being, the Ground of our being as Eastern religion has it, is God. (Of course, this passage was a quote from a pagan philosopher that Paul was using to make points with Greeks.)

There are also issues of original sin and redemption that are profoundly affected by the differences in literal versus allegorical interpretations of the creation story. In the literal view, Adam and Eve’s disobedience of God’s command not to eat the fruit of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the critical issue. For this sin, man was cast out of Paradise. This sin made Atonement necessary.

In the Old Testament, the sins of the people were put in a scapegoat; later the blood of a lamb was put on the doors of the Hebrews in Egypt so that the angel of death would pass over the first born in the last plague visited on the Egyptians because they wouldn’t release the Hebrews from bondage. The New Testament positions Jesus as the Lamb of God, whose blood protects his followers from the eternal death, mirroring the Passover story. Fundamentalists think that if the creation story wasn’t literal, then there was no original sin that condemned mankind, therefore no reason for a redeemer in Jesus.

St. Augustine was one of the relatively early, learned Christians who pointed out the obvious allegorical elements of the creation story. It’s hard to have an education and not see the mythical and allegorical nature of the story. (I think the damage to religious credibility comes when people insist the story is literal.)

As for the damage to Jesus’ credibility, he never made the elaborate intellectual arguments that some of his followers have made about his lineage. He simply came into situations as himself, spoke from his heart, and brought his immediate wisdom, compassion, and, sometimes, anger to the situation as he saw it in the moment. He wouldn’t tolerate people copping a plea using some sort of biblical justification. He demanded compassion in the moment. If a man was very pious, prayed regularly, attended the temple services, gave money to the church, and neglected his own family, he had no standing in Jesus’ eyes. When He was betrayed and died on the cross, He accepted his fate and forgave his enemies. If we believe the testimony of his followers, he lived again. I do believe it.

At the time of my adult re-conversion, I never could accept a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. I believed in Jesus, but I wasn’t willing to commit intellectual suicide to do it. I mostly kept my mouth shut about my views in the same way I kept my mouth shut about my liberal racial views as a teenager in the South. I believed then that the actual literal content of one’s beliefs matter less than one’s actions from the heart. Many fundamentalists from Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, Muslim, and Pentecostal traditions believe it is critical what a person believes. Historically, many of them have been willing to kill over the content of beliefs. I believe now that someone could believe that God is a chicken, and so long as his actions toward himself and his fellow persons are clean and compassionate, God has no problem with that person. If God does, I don’t.

So, I believe, with Joseph Campbell, that “God has many faces,” or humans see Him/Her that way. For me, I believe Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh. If I’m wrong, which I could be, I also don’t think God will hold it against me, it being an honestly held belief. I believe God is only interested in my heart, and what actions come out of it. I trust God to be merciful. If He isn’t, we are all in trouble, and the universe is a madhouse. If God doesn’t exist, nothing we believe or do matters in the long run anyway--we are just lively stardust.

What is the truth? It’s a bet that everyone has to make-- to hold that life is without meaning and we are dust in the wind, or to believe that life has meaning and what we do matters. In 1968 in Norfolk, Virginia, I chose the latter.

Friday, October 27, 2006


I walked with shards
Of a broken pot
Clutched tightly in my hand.
The shards were sharp
And cut me.
Blood, that started
Where the heart beats,
Colored the shards,
A gaudy glaze.

I went into a gathering of men.
Each had his own broken pot
With bloodied shards,
In open hands.
Each man thought
He was alone with pain
And his own broken pot.

First one, and then another,
Screwed up his courage
In the sacred space we made,
Told the story of his pot,
How it had been broken,
How he had felt the pain,
Alone these many years,
How he had been afraid
Of all the other men
With broken pots
That all the other men
Had hidden.

We have fashioned a container
Out of shards of broken pots
And blood.
It stands among us wide and deep
And full of brother love.
This love pours out
To heal our wounds,
And we are all afraid
No more.

Copyright 2006 by M. David Orr

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Poem: If I Forget You

--to M.

If I forget you,
May the leaves that swirl
On streets in fall
Lie still.

If I forget you,
May the opalescent sky
Turn green
And black tornadoes
Shred the buildings
On the ground.

If I forget you,
May time
Run fast and draw me swiftly
Toward the blackness
At its end.

If I forget you,
May hornets
Swarming in their quilted nest
Burst forth and sting
My faithless heart to death,
If I forget you.

Copyright 2006 by M. David Orr

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monster Boy

"What happened to my monster boy?" my mother asked.
"He died," I said.
"It was no easy death.
This death had no romantic tone."

Baptism Of Fear

Hard knobs of wood upon an oaken chest
Were not so hard
As knobs of hatred nestled in his breast.
Steel pins in voodoo dolls were not so sharp
To pierce a human's skin,
Nor balsa hatchets dull
And impotent to crush a skull
As this his pet, his friend, his hatred dear.
Hosanna to his brain!
It was his precious
Measure of himself and every man--
"Is this gray matter graver than myself, or that?
Will this one take me, or I him?"
The world was cunning witch or brutal warlock hunting him.
And Heaven? Heaven help him, what he thought--
That God was creeping in the wings
To catch him in a broken line
Or faltering part, with premature review,
To crush the life from him.

Baptism of Faith

I have been in darkness for so long
To see the all-redeeming face--
That glorious dream of Eastern mystic mind--
The one, they say, who dusted up his feet
And bruised with Palestinian stone,
Who bled, they say, and died, they say, and rose.
And that's the catch--you see, I bleed;
The worms will eat my meat.
I die, but will a golden trumpet from the sky
Revive my riddled frame?
Will hell or Heaven caress my quickening bones?
(And isn't it strange that I should even ask
Or think about the Ancient One?
Because they do not teach of Him
In the Twenty-first Century curriculum.)
I find God's dying flesh so true because I bleed
And cry, "Oh, please deliver me!"
When not a friend or wife or god will comfort me
Of my mortality, in my Gethsemane;
For no one bears my load--
Golgotha creeps on every man alone.
And I have been in darkness for so long.

Baptism of Love

Sometimes the love of God--so great
That temple stones have trembled with its tread--
Steals like a slinking thief upon my care
And gently, gently lulls my soul to sleep,
With sweet solicitation of my will
To do His secret bidding well--
At break of day when shadows fly,
And spirits seldom speak,
At noontime in the marketplace
With patient, persevering pace,
In evening with my friends and wife
Who know my weakness well,
And even in my tangled mind
Where peace and passion alternate.
Sometimes the love of God takes wing
And lifts me up above all earthbound sense,
Where passion's fruit and fruits of diligence,
Of love, of peace, of care,
Alike seem thrifty in the widening air,
And wafts me to a better place
Where looking, simply looking, on His face
Is all the poetry on Earth
And all the work of Heaven.
Sometimes he dips me in His love,
(As first I felt His Spirit as a fire)
Suspends me in a perfect grace,
Where, walking in the world,
I see in every face
The dignity that God created there
And marvel at the work of Him,
Who hurled the galaxies through space
Yet made the souls of men.
"Forget the ancient, evil one," He says.
"Put by your fond, habitual, inward stare.
Embrace the universe and mortal men
With all the loving, self-forgetting care
I gave to you and yours
While wandering in your earthen air
And walking slowly, slowly to my cross.

"What happened to my monster boy?" my mother asks.
"He dies," I say."It is no easy death."

Copyright 2006 by M. David Orr

Monday, September 18, 2006

First Love

--to Martha A.

Off the water shimmering, the image of the moon
Bathed my soul with light, my love was there.
Her skin was white with moon-flake snow,
All honeysuckle breath, chocolate eyes, wisteria hair,
The green grass and brown earth--our bed.
I could hardly breathe the perfumed air.
The stars bedazzled blackened sky,
She dazzled me.
Nothing on earth or heaven, at that moment, was more there.
I touched her moon-flake snow,
Breathed her honeysuckle breath,
Drank her chocolate eyes, and held
As if the years would pull her far away, her fine wisteria hair.

Copyright 2006 by M. David Orr