Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Now for Something Completely Different—Limericks!



We’ve been doing some heavy lifting the past few days in the annual National Poetry Month series—grim history, heavy current events, serious religion, and a doleful look at the planet’s futue.  Time to lighten things up! and what could be lighter than limericks.
Like Japanese haiku,  limericks are very short form poems with strict form.  Unlike haiku they are not ethereal, spiritual, or calming.  On the contrary they are bawdy—often lewddisrespectful, rude, and sassy.  Even “clean” limericks for children are often rowdy, rebellious, and mischievous.
A limerick must consist of five lines. The first, second, and fifth lines must have seven to ten syllables while rhyming and having the same verbal rhythm. The third and fourth lines only have to have five to seven syllables, and have to rhyme with each other and have the same rhythm.  That’s an a-a-b-b-a rhyme scheme for those of you keeping score at home.
The form appeared in England in the early 18th Century and was  popularized by Edward Lear, an artist, illustrator, musician, author and poet, now known mostly for his literary nonsense  in the 19th Century.  As a form of folk verse its origins may be much older. Gershon Legman compiled the largest and most scholarly anthology, held that the true limerick as a folk form is always obscene to which literary heavy weights Arnold Bennett and George Bernard Shaw concurred. Lear described the clean limerick as a “periodic fad and object of magazine contests, rarely rising above mediocrity”.
The connection between the limerick and the Irish County of the same name are satisfactorily obscure but may derive from an earlier form of a nonsense verse parlor game that traditionally included a refrain that included “Will [or won’t] you come (up) to Limerick?”  But perhaps it was simply because a little Old Sod poteen, loosened the tongue and inhibitions for ribald play.
The most famous limerick of all was considered so obscene that it seldom saw print, although it was recited in many a bar room.

There was a young man from Nantucket
Whose dick was so long he could suck it.
He said with a grin
As he wiped off his chin,
“If my ear was a cunt I would fuck it.


Edward Lear, 1866.
Despite his opinion that limericks were generally obscene, the ones Edward Lear wrote and published in his 1875 Book of Nonsense did not offend Victorian morality.  But these two seem to include a sly double entendres.

There was an Old Man who said, “Hush!
I perceive a young bird in this bush!
When they said, “Is it small?”
He replied, “Not at all!
t is four times as big as the bush!”

—Edward Lear

There was a Young Lady of Dorking,
Who bought a large bonnet for walking;
But its colour and size,
So bedazzled her eyes,
That she very soon went back to Dorking.

—Edward Lear
One from America’s comic poet.

Here is a more modern example of the old fashion filthy absolutely guaranteed to offend.
The lass I brought home was a prize,
With an alluring set of bright eyes,
Her breasts, so well kept,
Were what I’d expect,
But her penis was quite a surprise!
Limericks are frequently used as political satire—usually scurrilous and—you should pardon the expression—below the belt employed by partisans of the Right and the Left with equal zest. 
The President’s loud protestation
On his fall to his intern’s temptation:
“This affair is still moral
As long as it’s oral
Straight screwing I save for the nation.

A president famed for his spite*
Tweeted “I am outstandingly bright.
I’d be perfectly able
To muck out any stable
Because I am a genius at shite!

―Jim McLeod

* Note: The limerick above won the fifth annual Bring your Limericks to Limerick contest, sponsored by the Limerick Writers’ Centre. We found the name of the winning limerick writer ironic, since Trump’s mother was a MacLeod from Scotland’s Outer Hebrides!

Dear Donald, when out on the stump
Please don’t lunge at our flag and then hump.
Such an act’s unbecoming
And vulgar — mind-numbing.
What’s your next flag-act? Taking a dump?


You get the idea.  Your efforts welcome in the [edited] comments.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Melancholy Earth Day

Three years before the first Earth Day underground cartoonist R. Cobb invented the omega symbol for the burgeoning ecology movement in 1967.
Today is Earth Day.  It seemed like a very big deal when it was introduced in 1970.  The Environmental Movement as we know it was still in its relative infancy having grown out the earlier Conservation Movement that emphasized the husbanding of natural resources for human use.  It seems in those early years when hundreds of thousands responded to calls to march or participate in some way that real change was possible.

And, of course, much was accomplished—the EPA and increased regulation of pollution, the hands-on movement to re-cycle and re-use, the on-going involvement of children which critics charge has now become a virtual secular religion.  But despite it all, the Planet is in more desperate shape today than it was then.  The Cassandra warnings about climate change have come true in spades, faster than anyone really expected.  
Yet resistance to real change to address the root causes has never been fiercer—or more successful—as it is fueled by billionaire exploiters and exploited by rabid right wing movements.  If liberals love the Planet, conservatives MUST attack it wrapping themselves in an ideology of unfettered capitalism  and apocalyptic Evangelical claims that the End of Days is at hand so humans can and should squeeze every ounce of value from the Earth that will be thrown away anyway. on the other.
All of that enabled by the Wrecker-in-Chief who has thrown hand grenades at international environmental cooperation, dismantled every Federal environmental regulation he can find including those that successfully cleaned American water and largely scrubbed the skies of pollution.  And in the face of incontrovertible evidence of looming irreversible disaster actively promotes increase carbon emissions from dirty coal and petroleum while attacking renewable energy like those cancer causing windmills.
R. Cobb always had a macabre side.  He always envisioned the destruction of the Earth by human greed and stupidity whether from nuclear war or environmental catastrophe.  That dark side captures the concerns of many today better than the sunny we-can-fix-it optimism of 1970.
Most of the early optimism of Earth Day has faded.  The environmental collapse predicted by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 is coming true faster than the most alarmed Cassandras of science predicted.  Most think the tipping point has come and gone.  Mass extinctions loom, violent weather disaster not only become routine but intensify year by year. Ocean temperatures and sea levels rise drowning polar bears and threatening low lying land across the globe.  Scorching heat and deforestation create deserts at a galloping pace.  Famine  stalks the world as changing climate destroys agriculture.  Some say a total collapse is inevitable now within 100 years—or less.
The Apocalypse may indeed be at hand—but not the one that will rapture believers and leave behind a ruined earth.  It may be the one that dooms the doubters and the increasingly frantic alarmists as well.
So today’s Earth Day poetry collections are not the rapturous odes to nature of nearly 50 years ago. 
The alarm is shared with a last desperate appeal in the perhaps naïve appeal by an obscure poet to an on-line poetry page.
Save Environment 
Earth comes to an end,
Save it my friends!

Pollution is going on,
In every city, village and town.

Stop this ghost of pollution,
There are many solutions.

Do not pollute; water and air,
Don’t throw garbage, here and there.

You can do something now, or never,
Let’s save Our Earth forever!

—Shiangi Gupta
The Environmental Movement rose in tandem with neo-paganism or Earth centered spirituality.  The goddess GaiaMother Nature embodied as the Earth—is now herself threatened.
Gaia, a sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn.

Gaia’s Demise
Mother Gaia, what have we done?
You birthed us from your benevolent womb.
You feed and clothe us, protect us;

gave us life but, we are left wanting when it,

comes to gratitude.

We have shredded and poisoned your land and seas;
over fished, over hunted; slaughtering even
the forests and for...greed.
Human ego is the genuine...Devil.

Existing to gain; loving money more than family;
a species of doom is the human being;

lacking...humanity.
When it comes to our siblings, animal and plant;

to our mother, we exhibit indifference.

We have lowered our species to a level beneath the cockroach;

all we’ve touched has been destroyed.
We blame the cows for Global Warming

but, we humans are the guilty,

the depraved and mangled minds, who are to blame.

Forgive us, Mother, we do know what we’ve done to you.
What we don’t collectively realize is that,

what we’ve done to you, we do to ourselves, in the end.

William was right when he penned, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

The fools of the universe;

our great shame is that, we don’t work together enough to save you.

—M.L. Kiser
This poet grieves, but offers faint hope.
Once the World Was Perfect
Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

—Joy Harjo
But perhaps Shelly had the clearest vision of all more than 200 years ago.
Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

—Percy Bysshe Shelley


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Poems for Easter and the Rites of Spring

The Resurrection--the central miracle of Christian faith.

It is Easter, the holiest day of the year for traditional Christians, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, the conformation of him as the Christ, and the promise of eternal life for those who believe.  It’s powerful stuff that brings comfort and hope to millions.
It also gives some folks the willies, the hives, or both.  And a lot of those folks end up in Unitarian Universalist congregations.  That’s gotta make it tough for our preachers—ahem ministers since we tend to cringe at the sound of that old fashion word and all it connotes.  We are non-creedal and pride ourselves on being open and accepting to a wide variety of spiritual beliefs and practices united by covenant in communities that pledge mutual respect and support in the quest for meaning.  But on Easter, the stresses sometimes show.
There a congregations where half the members stay home lest they endure the obligatory “annual Christian” sermon or even in some congregations communion.  In the heyday of humanists in the 50’s and 60’s when they dominated many congregations, Easter was even the occasion of more of a debunking lecture than a sermon.  You don’t see that so much anymore both because the humanists, who still make up the largest philosophic segment of UU membership, have lost a little of that particular chip on the shoulder, and because of general rise in spirituality in our communities including various stripes of theism and pantheism.
That includes self-identified Christians and many others who identify themselves as “followers of the religion of Jesus not about Jesus,” meaning the rabbi  of the Sermon on the Mount, and not necessarily who may have rolled the stone away to unseal his own tomb.
Since the World Parliament of Religions during the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 Unitarians and Universalists have become ever more aware of non-Abrahamic and traditional world religions.  Seeking and finding the underlying, uniting universal principles among them has become our hobbyhorse.  Among the probably not terribly surprising discoveries is the idea that spiritual practice as expressed in ritual is closely linked to the repeating cycles of the seasons.
Many of our Easter services make this a central theme.  It is in our wheelhouse.  It is sometimes done with embarrassing shallowness as a pared down metaphor that the minister can’t quite get his or her heart into.  But in the right hands powerful truths are explored and unexpected depths plumbed.
Stripped down some sermons may follow these lines—
Easter’s date is tied to a Jewish calendar based on the cycles of the moon.  Thus Easter’s date slowly changes relative to our current solar-based Gregorian calendar and slowly creeps forward such that it would ultimately slip out of spring entirely—except  that the “reset” from the Julian to Gregorian solar calendars in the 18th Century keeps the holiday in the spring.
Easter is tied to the Jewish calendar because Jesus and his disciples chose to travel to Jerusalem to observe Passover.  Jesus and his disciples were religious Jews and the Last Supper was a Seder
Passover celebrates the Moses-led miracle that saved the tribes of Abraham from bondage in Egypt—a virtual rebirth as a people and nation.  For centuries the Yahweh-worshiping tribes who came to be known as Jews commemorated that miracle in lambing season, perhaps because it was blood of sacrificial lambs that was smeared on Jewish lintels that signaled to the killing Angel to “pass-over” Jewish homes—when the eldest sons from all other Egyptian homes were killed—the  final catastrophe that convinced Pharaoh at last to free his slaves.
Whether or not Passover as a historic event actually fell in the spring, the commemoration is firmly placed in that season of Rebirth.
Unitarian Universalists often cast Easter as just one of many festivals celebrating Spring and the rebirth of nature.

This annual explosion of new life just getting under way.  And in a way that is good.  The crocuses and daffodils remind us that in some ways the central Christian story—the death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven of Jesus—commemorates also the resurrection of nature we see around us every spring.  
Celebrating the annual rebirth of nature cuts across and unites huge sectors of all cultures and religions. 
While the Jews were celebrating Passover, their cousin tribes who worshiped Baal and the ancient fertility goddess Astarte (who some paleontologists find represented in the tiny pregnant female torsos found in Paleolithic sites) also held rituals that celebrated the season.  The Seleucid Greeks who had once conquered Judea, as well as those Romans who occupied the country in the time of Jesus, both had spring festivals associated with fertility goddesses.
Paleolithic mother goddess figurines found across much of Europe and the Near East representing fertility and often associated with the later Semitic goddess Astarte.
In Northern Europe long before Christianity was born, tribes celebrated the return of spring with a grand festival to commemorate their goddess of fertility and springtime.  Among some of the Germanic tribes that goddess was named Ēostre or Ostara
Like many traditional gods and goddesses associated with nature, Ēostre was often represented by the rabbit, that most fertile and prolific of all warm-blooded creatures. 
Oestra was often associated with hares--the most fertile of all animals.
During the second century of the Christian era, when missionaries found that the rebirth holiday of those Ēostre-celebrating Germanic tribes coincided with the Christian observance of the resurrection of Christ, what could be more fitting than to join these two together into one holy day.
Today our spring ceremony mostly still celebrates an Easter with chocolate bunnies and eggs side by side with a Risen Christ religious observance—joining together several traditions, like many other Christian customs do—the Yule log, hanging of greens, and erection of an evergreen tree alongside the Crèche at Christmas time.  
One way or another, Passover, Ēostre, and Easter, all celebrate rebirth and renewal.
Here are some poems that touch on all of these themes.
The Morning of the Resurrection by Sir Edward Coley Burner-Jones, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle.
Christina Rossetti was a leading 19th Century British poet who was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite artistic movement led by her brothers.  Identified as a romantic poet, she was also a proto-feminist and a High Church Anglo-Catholic mystic.  This poem is one of the finest explorations of the personal meaning Christians find in the Resurrection that I have ever read. 

A Better Resurrection

I have no wit, no words, no tears; 
      My heart within me like a stone 
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears; 
      Look right, look left, I dwell alone; 
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief 
      No everlasting hills I see; 
My life is in the falling leaf: 
      O Jesus, quicken me. 

My life is like a faded leaf, 
      My harvest dwindled to a husk: 
Truly my life is void and brief 
      And tedious in the barren dusk; 
My life is like a frozen thing, 
      No bud nor greenness can I see: 
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring; 
      O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl, 
      A broken bowl that cannot hold 
One drop of water for my soul 
      Or cordial in the searching cold; 
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing; 
      Melt and remould it, till it be
            A royal cup for Him, my King: 
                  O Jesus, drink of me.

—Christina Rossetti



Easter Lillies, the traditional symbol of spring rebirth.

Teresinka Pereira is a contemporary Brazilian-American poet who saw the connection in this poem posted on the web site of the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace (IFLAC).

Spring/Passover/Easter

The bridge between death
and return to life
is full of spring sights.
From the unexpected lightning
to the wind that comes back
with swallows and colorful sky
giving flowers to the gardens
there is a dream flowing
waiting for a chance
to stay forever.
Hope roars and echoes
in joy and happiness.
The lily of Easter and Passover
becomes Spring incarnation
in the eyes of the one who
dares to love.
—Teresinka Pereira

Oestre rises at dawn.


 is the identity of a Solitary Eclectic Wiccan Priestess who blogs at The Wicca Life .   Wicca is a modern religion—sometimes claimed to be the fastest growing faith in the U.S—which draws mainly from Celtic traditions but is also respectful of other so-called pagan traditions including the Germanic and Norse.  Its pantheistic, earth-centered spirituality is shared by many UUs and indeed many practice both faiths. 

Oestre

The snow has all melted
And winter has gone,
Now Nature is singing
Springs’ most beautiful song;
As we honor the Goddess -
The Devine Eostre,
While she breathes her life
Into the birds and the bees;
She's fertile and loving
Ancient Mother is she
From the youngest child
To the oldest tree

Lady Caer Morganna

Rev. Theresa Novak.



Finally, let’s hear from a UU minister who forthrightly connects with the powerful resurrection story of the Bible.  The Rev. Theresa Novak is now retired and blogs at Sermons, Poetry, and Other Musings .

Easter

What an effort it must have been
To climb down from that cross
So many centuries ago
They thought you were dead forever
It certainly looked like that
You’d prayed you last prayer
Healed your last leper
Driven out your last demon.
They even buried you.
t must have felt so good
To lay your head down
The funeral cloths were soft.
The darkness was comforting
So weary you were
Tired, hurt, bleeding.
You’d seen so much
Suffered so much
Done so much
What harm could it do
To give into rest
For a few days
It must have been hard
To hear the weeping
Of those who had loved you
Of those who had betrayed you
The stone was heavy
But you had to push it aside
Rolling away defeat
Banishing hopelessness
Overcoming fear.
What an effort it must have taken
To come back not knowing
What people would think
How they would respond
Would they think the miracle
Was only about you?
Thank you for letting us know
That we each have the chance
The opportunity, the responsibility 
To be reborn
Resurrected.

—Theresa Novak

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Murfin Verse on the Hope and Heartbreak of Passover

Lambs blood on the lintel--a sign to God's avenging angels to pass over the homes of Jews as the first born sons of Egypt are slain.

Last night at sundown Passover or Pesach began when Jews around the world gathered around ritual tables to remember and give thanks for the events that lead to the ultimate freedom of the Hebrew people and a Promise Land of their own.  That came at a terrible price for their oppressors—a pain that they thank God for inflicting.  It is an uplifting night, a hopeful night, but also a terrible one.
The story of Passover and the Exodus from Egypt is a saga of freedom that not only gave comfort and hope to Jews through centuries of persecution but inspired others who were enslaved and oppressed.  Blacks held in bondage in America in particular used images from the tale in their coded worship and song in which the Promise Land was freedom itself.  In his the speech on the eve of his assassination Martin Luther King evoked Moses when he declared:
I’ve been to the mountaintop…Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
The traditions of the Passover feast are outlined in the Hebrew scripture making them among the most ancient of continually observed religious celebrations in the world.  On the first night families gather for a Seder meal, the ingredients of which are prescribed and highly symbolic in re-telling the story.  A service is read from the Haggadah and is in the form of questions asked by the eldest son of the father.  
The form of the Seder meal shared today, however, dates to the early years of the Diaspora after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, not in the early years of the First Century BCE when Jewish religious life still centered on the Temple and the priests attending it.  But some sort of family meal before or after Temple rites was shared.
Christians believe that the Last Super was a Seder meal, linking the two observances.  In recent years some Christians have taken to celebrating Seder meals to connect to the Jewish roots of their faith.  This is a development that is embraced as a bridge to cultural understanding by some, and as an abomination by traditional Jews.  Many Reform and Conservative congregations in the U.S. invite non-Jews to attend special Seder meals.  I once got to open the door for Elijah. 
This year the first night of Passover falls between Good Friday, when Christians mark the death of Jesus on the Cross and Easter celebrating the Resurrection.  
Back in 2012 the Passover and Easter coincided. It was also a Blue Moon, the second full moon of the month, symbolic of how relatively rare that coincidence is.
On that same night I hosted a benefit evening of song and poetry with bluesman Andy Cohen at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry (now Tree of Life UU Congregation,  Naturally, I committed poetry for the occasion.   I have edited the poem and replaced a verse from the original. Tonight at sundown Passover or Pesach began when Jews around the world gather around  ritual tables to remember and give thanks for the events that lead to the ultimate freedom of the Hebrew people and a Promise Land of their own.  That came at a terrible price for their oppressors—a pain that they thank God for inflicting.  It is an uplifting night, a hopeful night, but also a terrible one

The story of Passover and the Exodus from Egypt is a saga of freedom that not only gave comfort and hope to Jews through centuries of persecution but inspired others who were enslaved and oppressed.  Blacks held in bondage in America in particular used images from the tale in their coded worship and song in which the Promise Land was freedom itself.  In his the speech on the eve of his assassination Martin Luther King evoked Moses when he declared:
I’ve been to the mountaintop…Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
The traditions of the Passover feast are outlined in the Hebrew scripture making them among the most ancient of continually observed religious celebrations in the world.  On the first night families gather for a Seder meal, the ingredients of which are prescribed and highly symbolic in re-telling the story.  A service is read from the Haggadah and is in the form of questions asked by the eldest son of the father. 
The form of the Seder meal shared today, however, dates to the early years of the Diaspora after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, not in the early years of the First Century BCE when Jewish religious life still centered on the Temple and the priests attending it.  But some sort of family meal before or after Temple rites was shared.
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus was the Lamb of God, literally like the sheep whose blood marked the Jewish doorways, a sacrifice to save the people. 
Christians believe that the Last Super was a Seder meal, linking the two observances.  In recent years some Christians have taken to celebrating Seder meals to connect to the Jewish roots of their faith.  This is a development that is embraced as a bridge to cultural understanding by some, and as an abomination by traditional Jews.  Many Reform and Conservative congregations in the U.S. invite non-Jews to attend special Seder meals.  I once got to open the door for Elijah.
This year the first night of Passover falls between Good Friday, when Christians mark the death of Jesus on the Cross and Easter celebrating the Resurrection.  
Back in 2012 the Passover and Easter coincided. It was also a Blue Moon, the second full moon of the month, symbolic of how relatively rare that coincidence is.
On that same night I hosted a benefit evening of song and poetry with bluesman Andy Cohen at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry (now Tree of Life UU Congregation,  Naturally, I committed poetry for the occasion.   I have edited the poem and replaced a verse from the original.
Passover Seder by Adelle John.
Brief Haggadah for Passover/Good Friday
For Social Gospel in Words and Music
April 6, 2012
The child always asks…
     What makes this night different 
     from all other nights? 
You have to think hard.
Somewhere children are always 
     being massacred for some 
     accident of birth
          or for mere convenience sake.
Somewhere slaves are plotting their escape
     and Pharaohs hitch their war chariots
     to pursue them.  
Somewhere the fearful faithful
     kneel at the feet of a dying master,
          a maybe Messiah 
          who frightened an Empire.
What makes this night different?
      Nothing, son, except that 
      you asked the right question.
      Now, what are we going
      to do about it?
—Patrick Murfin
Three years ago the first night of Passover fell on Earth Day. At a time when the realities and projections for global ecological catastrophe have never been greater moved me to wonder—What if?
The Plague of Locusts was just one of the punishing catastrophes visited on the Egyptians in Exodus.  The disasters we face are even more chilling.

Passover/Earth Day
April 23, 2016 
What if there were no Passover?
     What if no sacrificial blood
      smeared on the lintel 
      offered any protection?
What if there were no Us and Them?
      What if the Pharaoh’s son
      and our sons fell alike
      from the same dark curse?
What if the Dark Angels were not Yahweh’s?
      What if they were our creation,
       evoked by our carelessness
       and fed by our greed? 
What if there were nowhere to flee?
      What if no haven or Promise Land
       lay waiting even after wandering
       because we have laid waste to it too?
What if there were no Milk and Honey?
      What if our goats all starved,
       we killed the bees 
       and parched the earth bare? 
What if there were no Seder tables to lay?
      What if there were no progeny 
       to ask what makes this night different,
       no generations ever again?

What if this is no mere nightmare?
—Patrick Murfin            
But Passover has always had a dark side, almost forgotten, glossed over, or muttered under the breath—the fate of all of those Egyptian children.  It is easy to do, especially if you envision only the sons of Pharaoh and his court—a just punishment for a king who had ordered the slaughter of Jewish babes when he got wind of a rumor that a liberator would be born among them.  But death was visited not just on the elite, but upon all Egypt and families of every class and caste.  And that sounds, to modern ears, a bit harsh.
At Seder meals Jews acknowledge this in singing Dayenu:
Verse 3:
            If He had destroyed their idols,
            and had not smitten their first-born
            — Dayenu, it would have sufficed!              
Verse 4:
            If He had smitten their first-born,
            and had not given us their wealth
            — Dayenu, it would have sufficed!
All of this got me wondering…do the lives of one set of innocents have to be the price for the freedom and safety of another people?  Are the babes and children of Dresden, Hiroshima, or some dusty village on the Afghan frontier God’s just collateral damage for our noble freedom?  Do Palestinian dead buy a just safety for a people nearly exterminated by others?
Uncomfortable questions, and undoubtedly ones some would wish un-asked.
Five years ago Passover coincided  not with a Blue Moon, but with a Blood Moon, a rare total eclipse under just the right atmospheric conditions that make the Moon darkened by the Earth’s umbra seem to turn red.
The death of the Egyptian first born.
Blood Moon/Egyptian Passover
April 15, 2014

Was there a Blood Moon 
that terrible night
long, long ago?
Khonsu, Disk of the Moon
      was eaten, 
      turning the color
      of old blood.
The wails of the women
      leapt from house to house,
      hovel to tent,
      it is said even to 
      the palaces themselves.
The curses of the men
      bearing the limp bodies
      of their sons
      into the dark air
            damning the Moon,
                  the Jews,
                         Pharaoh himself.
What quarrel between bondsmen,
      the mighty and their Priests
belongs to them, not us.
We are the farmers,
      fishers of the River
            and the seas,
      the shepherds, the weavers,
      the folk who cast pots,
      the brewers of beer,
      the molders of simple brick
            from mud and dung,
      the house slaves
            and wet nurses,
      the prostitutes…
What care we for those palaces,
      those temples,
      those monuments,
      those damnable tombs,
            or the slaves who build them!
No Jews dug our wells,
      laid course of simple brick
      for our homes,
      piled a single stone on stone
      on our graves
      to save our dead
            from the jackals. 
Yet they called down on us
      the frogs,
      spoiled our grain
      with locust,
      stoned our kids and lambs
      to death by hail,
      our flesh erupted
     in festering boils.
And now our very sons!
What harm did they do you,
      you Jews?
If your damn God 
      is so powerful
      why did you not call him
      to just wipe out Pharaoh,
            the Priests,
                  the Generals in their chariots,
                        and all their minions
      who have had their sandals 
      on our necks
      since time began?
Such a God would be
     worth worshiping!
Your freedom—and ours—
            would be one!
—Patrick Murfin