The Moment of Courage and Despair

One of the things that people commonly underestimate is the depth of grief and despair to be found in the works of JRR Tolkien. This is, without a doubt, a big part of the huge impact that his work had on me, starting as an early adolescent to the present day. I could either say that I struggle with depression, or that I perceive the world around me and feel tremendous grief and despair about it, and either one, or both, would be true.

A friend recently @ed me on Twitter, wondering what I had to say about eucatastrophe, as I’ve written and thought about it in the past. Eucatastrophe is, in brief, a “The eagles are coming!” moment, as found at the climax of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is an idea that Tolkien first described with that term, but not an idea original to him by any means (of course). Tolkien learned it from Christianity, and would say that his idea of eucatastrophe is merely patterned after the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In fact, he argued that we find ideas like eucatastrophe compelling precisely because they mirror the great story of God saving the world. It come up in his poem Mythopoeia, if you look for it, and in many of his writings. Dig in – I’m not going to cite everything here.

My friend said the following on Twitter:

“Because Holy Christ, do we need a little eucatastrophe right now. I honestly don’t know how else a deliverance from global social media-fueled capitalist fascism will occur.”

Now, this is a Unitarian Universalist saying “Holy Christ,” so you know it’s serious and they’re at wit’s end.

Since he asked me, I thought about what I might say on the topic of eucatastrophe, because I definitely share his despair about the situation of the world. And rightly so – if you are optimistic about the next 100 years for humanity and the natural world, I’m comfortable saying that you are ignorant of, or willfully ignoring, a lot of things. And to be clear, I don’t blame you. If you can’t escape the burning house, you can try to make sense of the flames. Maybe that’s all we can do.

The eucatastrophe is by definition unexpected – it is something you did not anticipate or even imagine happening. Even if you don’t believe that Jesus came back, you can probably agree that after his crucifixion, no one around him expected him to come back. None of his followers behaved as if he was going to come back – not even the women, who were clearly the smart and courageous ones.

Let’s say my friend and I are right, and only an eucatastophe can save us, and millions of other species as well, at this juncture. That means that our current moment is some moment before this eucatastrophe. But what is the moment before eucatastrophe like? The main eucatastrophe scene in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings occurs while the point of view character is unconscious, but let’s look at the one from The Return of the King, starting with preparation for the last battle at the Black Gate in the chapter “The Black Gate Opens.”

During their preparation for the last battle, Gandalf says this:

‘We must walk open-eyed into that trap, with courage, but small hope for ourselves. For, my lords, it may well prove that we ourselves shall perish utterly in a black battle far from the living lands; so that even if Barad-dur be thrown down, we shall not live to see a new age. But this, I deem, is our duty. And better so than to perish nonetheless – as we surely shall, if we sit here – and know as we die that no new age shall be.’

Bilbo growing in courage is a theme of The Hobbit, and courage without hope is a theme in The Lord of the Rings, becoming a more dominant one as the story progresses. Even the small glimmer of hope that Gandalf clings to here is snuffed out in the same chapter, as we will see. But this is the kind of decision-making that occurs before the eucatastrophe – no reasonable hope of victory or success exists, and yet they resolve to see the fight through to the bitter end.

Here we get the admixture that is found in many places in Tolkien’s writing – a combination of faithfulness and fortitude in the midst of a hard task. Here Tolkien drew upon his understanding of Roman Catholic moral theology and virtue, as well as the grim courage in the face of certain death that typified the Germanic heroic literature which was his professional life. It is, in the best sense I think, martyrdom. It is something we can see reflected in, for example, Daniel chapter 3:

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. 17 If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.[b]18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”

Like many of the heroes we see in The Lord of the Rings, including Gandalf at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum, Theoden in Helm’s Deep, and now the Captains of the West preparing to march on Mordor, here we have the heroes of the story resisting not because they expect victory but because they simply refuse to give up. Being faithful to what they value and believe is more important than winning, and even the hopelessness of their situation cannot turn them aside.

But even the small hope that Gandalf holds out is later extinguished.

When they reach the Black Gate, neither the Captains of the West nor the first-time reader knows what has happened to Frodo and Sam, but the Mouth of Sauron relishes the opportunity to crush everyone’s hope:

The Messenger put these aside, and there to the wonder and dismay of all the Captains he held up first the short sword that Sam had carried, and next a grey cloak with an elven-brooch, and last the coat of mithril-mail that Frodo had worn wrapped in his tattered garments. A blackness came before their eyes, and it seemed to them in a moment of silence that the world stood still, but their hearts were dead and their last hope gone.

As the moment before eucatastrophe is drawn out, even small hopes are extinguished. The hopes of the strongest, the leaders of this last desperate attempt at buying time for true victory, are crushed. Not long after this, battle is truly joined, and everyone’s hope is lost. Now nothing seems to stand between them and a painful, meaningless death.

The wind blew, and the trumpets sang, and arrows whined; but the sun now climbing towards the South was veiled in the reeks of Mordor, and through a threatening haze it gleamed, remote, a sullen red, as if it were the ending of the day, or the end maybe of all the world of light. And out of the gathering mirk the Nazgul came with their cold voices crying words of death: and then all hope was quenched.

And we, as the reader, are privy to Pippin’s last thoughts, which hint at eucatastrophe for us. But from Pippin’s point of view, this is his death, ending in defeat as he thought would happen all along, crushed and suffocated beneath the weight of a troll-corpse, one more lump of carrion for the crows.

‘So it ends as I guessed it would,’ his thought said, even as it fluttered away; and it laughed a little within him ere it fled, almost gay it seemed to be casting off at last all doubt and care and fear. And then even as it winged away into forgetfulness it heard voices, and they seemed to be crying in some forgotten world far above:

‘The Eagles are coming! The Eagles are coming!’

For one moment more Pippin’s thought hovered. ‘Bilbo!’ it said. ‘But no! That came in his tale, long long ago. This is my tale, and it is ended now. Good-bye!’ And his thought fled far away and his eyes saw no more.

We see that there might be some hope to keep us reading, as we look at see that we have 3/4 of the book left to go through (including Appendices) before we’re done. We know the story continues, but Pippin does not. As far as he knows, all of his friends are dead or will soon be killed, and the Shire will be destroyed, and all the known world will be plunged into darkness.

Wrath, Grief, and Ruin

The moment before eucatastrophe is a time of wrath, grief, and ruin. Wrath, as we see Gandalf seize the tokens from the Mouth of Sauron, in memory of his friends, and then he drives the ‘Messenger’ off in terror. Fine. There is no hope. Gird up your loins, then, because we are coming for you.

Grief, because in learning that Sam and Frodo are apparently captured, sentenced to long, slow torture spanning years until they are utterly broken, Gandalf is losing two beloved friends and companions. Not only the hope of the world was with them, but Gandalf’s love, concern, and friendship. Pippin can’t help but cry out, revealing that they know to whom those things belonged, and the Mouth of Sauron delights in their pain as eagerly as if he was wearing a red MAGA hat.

Ruin because this was the end. At that point, no one in leadership had any expectation of survival. They came to terms with the fact that all they had left to do was to go down fighting.

So then, if we are in a similar moment, what is it that we can look toward that will save us from social media-fueled capitalist fascism?


Fight anyway.

The Means at the End

This is a dangerous place to leave the discussion, because one could easily imagine the MAGA-bomber giving a similar answer – that wrath, grief and ruin drove him to the last desperate act of political assassination. Any number of people, driven to horrific violence, might tell a similar story of perceived loss, and of what they saw as courage in the face of terrible odds.

For this reason, any movement that seeks to resist social media-driven capitalist fascism, or however else you imagine the looming end, must be nonviolent. 

Because a terrible end to this human story seems so inevitable; because the odds are so overwhelmingly stacked against any such resistance; because the forces of evil are so thoroughly ascendant, there is no other option that has any hope of leading to moral ends. In the story of The Lord of the Rings, violence didn’t work. It didn’t bring hope or lasting victory. In our current story, we thought that we defeated the Nazis back in 1945. Little did we know that millions of Americans would support a President who our own Nazis would see as their last, great hope, who would sing the praises of authoritarian dictators and vilify the press, campaign on explicit bigotry and nativism, and basically follow the blueprint of 1930s Germany.

In the face of wrath, grief, and ruin, driven to extremity, human beings who hold up violence as an option will almost invariably turn to violence. This is where the imagery in The Lord of the Rings falls short in applicability to our situation today. We aren’t fighting orcs, we are fighting other human beings who are on the wrong side of history for some human reason. They are not driven by the supernatural will of the emissary of a fallen angel, but driven by recognizable, human motivations like fear, addiction, greed, cowardice and apathy.

The means with which we fight must be humane above all else. 

Here, radical ideologies are often unhelpful, but Christianity might be a powerful resource. Earlier, I described the moment before eucatastrophe as martyrdom from Tolkien’s Roman Catholic point of view, and the martyrs, as far as I know, died resisting nonviolently. (Know a lot about martyrs? Comment below)

To live in this moment before eucatastrophe, we need much more MLK Jr. than we need Aragorn. But to see and understand this moment, I think we can look to the works of Tolkien, to understand our current moment. If it is the moment before eucatastrophe, we will of course not know, but the heroic thing is to fight anyway, with or without hope.


‘Other evils there are that may come; for Sauron is himself but a servant or emissary. Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.’

The above quote from Gandalf is not quite accurate, given climate change, but important nonetheless I think. There is always another evil – we are only responsible for the fields that we know.

Nine Eleven

In honor of another anniversary of that attack that has so defined us since, in every wrong way and in very occasional right ways, I offer this email that I was sent

My Dear Friends,

I apologize for the mass emailing, but I felt moved to do so on this particular day.

I remember 7 years ago, it was a clear and sunny day and not like the cloudy morning we have. It was an ordinary fall day without any ominous signs. It was this day that there was so much loss and destruction and horror. Four of my friends passed away in the two towers that fell that day. There was so much anger and hurt in the people who lost loved ones as well as those who survived and witnessed it. I believe we still suffer from it to this very day. I still smell smoke when I think of that day.

People were blaming and pointing fingers at the Persians and Arabs and imprisoning them for no reason. People saying God bless America and singing it in our churches. Yet my friends and I, who gathered every night to suffer together and make sure we were doing well, searched for Jesus in the midst of all this. Where was the Christ-like answer? Why only God bless America and not the World?? We were still unable to weep. Only until we heard Thick Nhat Hanh at the Riverside Church did we hear Christ. He said to give love in return for the violence and to end the cycle of violence. We all wept that night, and it was the beginning of many nights of weeping for us.

I hope that such tragedy will never happen again anywhere in the world. You have my prayers of love and support on this day. Thank you for allowing me your time to share my thoughts and experiences.

God bless us all, God bless the world, God give us peace.

The Baseline

One of the things I’ve learned through blogging is that there has to be a minimum baseline, a rapport if you will, between myself and another person before we can really talk about anything. Without this baseline, it seems that both of us are pretty much wasting our time. This is probably true of any conversation, any relationship – at a certain point, you’re just too different. When speaking about God, two people who share all of the other markers – ethnicity, language, culture, educational level and so on – can immediately start butting heads.

This has been pointed out by others, but often it is couched in terms like this: “Unless we all agree to Orthodoxy, we cannot have a conversation.” Here, as always, Orthodoxy is defined as what that person believes. If you’ve been reading this blog, or know me at all, you can probably imagine that my baseline won’t be most people’s idea of Orthodoxy.

I see this is a strength, of course.

The baseline seems to include:

1. God is bigger than our ideas. I meet a lot of people, through the blog and otherwise, who seem to think that God is exactly the same size as their ideas (or the ideas they’d claim to have inherited from the past, or whatever). This is alarming on a number of levels, and I find conversation with a person who believes this to be night impossible.

Of course we all have ideas about God, and we can even try to evaluate them (with little hope of success, given the history of such endeavors), but for me, there has to be the sense behind it all that we’re dabbling in things we cannot possibly explain fully.

2. We cannot take ourselves too seriously. Few things are as painful as talking to someone who can’t laugh at themselves. Its really quite sad, because I think it is a sign of brittleness, of a thin veneer stretched over a great deal of doubt and anxiety. Or its like talking to an assistant principal in middle school – often the definition of someone too big for their britches in my limited experience.

I’ve got that same load of anxiety myself, but the way I’ve found to deal with it is to laugh at myself – and to laugh at you too. The other option seems to be panicking whenever I say or try anything that I’m not already completely comfortable with.

Of course some things are serious – there are serious topics and serious times and serious situations – but the chance has to be there that we might get a laugh out of it now and then, or else I’m too uncomfortable to talk for very long.

3. This can’t devolve into a measuring contest. If we start into ‘my education is bigger than yours‘ or ‘who has the longest Orthodoxy in the room‘, the conversation is long dead and its time to move on. I’m not really interested in spending time in a theological locker room whipping out doctrines and Christian resumes.

In situations like that, you’re just stuck with someone who has something to prove to themselves. Let them prove it if they have to, and then maybe they’ll move on, but don’t get involved. This is their problem that they’re overcompensating for. There’s a wound somewhere in there, not a genuine cause for pride.

4. We’re in this together. I am not interested in winning. In fact, I think if your goal is winning, you are failing at Christianity. We are the losers who God bails out. That’s it. If you think you can benefit at my expense, you fail at Christianity. If you think we are all supposed to keep score, you fail at Christianity. If you want to tear someone else down to build yourself up, you fail at Christianity.

The only ethical option is for all of us to be in this together and to sink or swim together. We can’t chop off parts of the Body of Christ that we don’t like and let them sink. We can’t turn into some kind of sick theological autoimmune disease, attacking ourselves because we can’t recognize parts of our own Body. If we do this, we fail at Christianity.

So for me, this needs to be part of our conversation if we’re going to have one that is even remotely meaningful.

I think that is probably a good lesson to have learned, and I need to remember to hold myself to my own baseline. I could do a lot worse.

The Apostolic Council and the General Assembly

Presented without Scriptural proof-texts for our reading enjoyment.

Back in the day, as I understand it, there was a lot of arguing about whether non-Jews could be followers of Christ.  There was the establishment position – definitely not, no way, no how.  This was the position of the Apostles who knew Christ in life as far as we know, and it was the position of the Christian leaders in Jerusalem when Paul was alive and preaching.

On the other side, you had Paul, and a few others who agreed with him.  They thought there was room for Gentiles to be followers of Christ.  They did not know Jesus when he was alive, as far as we know (Paul was the “apostle” who broke from the normative definition, since he was someone who never met Christ as a living person and yet considered himself a “witness”) but they felt that Jesus was calling Gentiles to come and follow.
Now, as the Peter and Cornelius story points out, the anti-Gentile folks had Scripture on their side.  The chosen people were the chosen people.  That’s about it.  The rules were pretty darn clear, and they were very, very old.  What God has made clean, do not make unclean.  There is no room in God’s realm for the unclean.
But then a little problem – God comes to Peter and says “You know that unclean stuff?  Its clean now.  Get over it.”  Peter, of course, tests this new teaching out in his relationship with Cornelius, a Gentile, just the kind of person that the leadership of the early movement felt was so undesirable.  Peter hears from God, goes to meet Cornelius, and changes his mind (or his heart if you prefer, or his theology, or his doctrine, or his orthodoxy, or his orthopraxis, or all of the above).
There are a lot of angry people who could quote a lot of Scripture which would contradict what Peter did.  But he was called by God, and after testing it himself, it made sense and seemed to be the right thing to do.  And you know what?  Peter had some Scripture on his side too.  Imagine that.
The result of this was that there were a bunch of big fights (or really, little fights that were a big deal).  So everybody got together in Jerusalem to work things out.  They decided that there would be two gospels – the gospel of the circumcision and the gospel of the uncircumcision.   (I don’t think Blogger takes greek fonts, so you’ll have to look those up yourself).  Two gospels!  Can you believe it?  One was the traditional gospel and one of them was, basically, Paul’s, and now Peter’s after he had his own vision and made his own decision.
Of course, now we take it for granted that Gentiles can be Christians.  In fact, things have changed so much that Christian = Gentile, from a Jewish point of view.  How things have changed!  Who would’ve thought?  What the great majority of the very first Christians, who knew Jesus personally, thought was absolutely correct we now take to be obviously wrong.  Incredible stuff, here.  Incredible.
I bring this up because I think there is something in there, perhaps, for our own fight over whether homosexuals can be followers of Christ, whether we can accept them as equals and recognize God’s call in their lives.   One side, the side currently in authority in most Churches, has strong cleanliness issues with homosexuality, and they have some Scripture they can quote (homosexuals are as bad as shellfish, after all).  This sounds familiar to me, does it seem familiar to anyone else?  And yeah, I get that unclean is also a moral judgement – it was for shellfish too.
On the other side are people who say they are hearing from God, that they are seeing God calling people to service in the Church beyond being tolerated on the fringes.  They are testing this out themselves and finding – holy of holies! – these people are so much more than just their sexual orientation, and they are so clearly called by God it is like being slapped in the forehead when you see it.
So, maybe, we all gather, and somehow, we find a way to make room for both positions.  We work things out at least as well as the early Church tried to work them out.
Because here’s the thing.  Two thousand years later, we are all Gentiles.  Paul’s position, Peter’s position, won out.  It took time, but the truth was made clear in time.  And now, of course, we can’t imagine things differently.
Maybe we can let that happen this time.  Maybe we can take the time to really see what is true, what is right, rather than screaming at each other about it, rather than making absurd declarations of war, of disaster, or schism, or the falling sky.
And in the meantime, we find a way to mutually respect, to allow room.  In disagreeing, we are participating in the great salvation history of great disagreements, in Scripture and after we closed the canon, to this very day.  It happened in ancient Israel, in the early Church, and it happens now.  It is who we are, in part at least.
If I can figure this stuff out, so you can anyone, so the only excuse is that we’re too invested in our position being right, at the expense of our brothers and sisters, to contemplate some third way that actually makes room for God to be glorified.
Have we, in two thousand years, learned anything?

In Memory

I’ve just learned that a classmate of mine from one of my courses this last semester passed away suddenly. I don’t want to use this person’s name, but the professor, as a way of remembering our colleague, sent out a quote from our colleague’s final paper in our class, which was on Death, Dying and Grieving. Here is the exerpt. I didn’t know this person well, but I got to know this person’s spouse during one of our small-group discussions, and my heart goes out to the spouse, and to their family.

Jesus Christ himself is the total master of death in all its forms. “I am the resurrection and the life” He said. Death, in the presence of Jesus, is no longer death. As Paul would later say, it loses it’s sting; the grave loses its victory. Death, in the hands of Jesus, is robbed of all its terror. And though it may take an outward form, it is no longer death as we think of it. For in the presence of life, death can no longer be death. Jesus, you remember, most often called it merely “sleep”. When Jairus’ daughter lay dead, and Jesus came, he look at her and said “She’s asleep.” (Mark 5:39, Luke 8:52) They laughed at him, but he called her back to life. And when word reached him that Lazarus was dead, he said to his disciples “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.” (John 11:11) They said that was good, for he would recover, but then Jesus said plainly, “No, Lazarus is dead.” (John 11:14b) But just as we do not fear sleep, those who trust him do not need to fear death. Jesus, the master of death, says “I am the resurrection.” What he points out is that the answer to death is not the resurrection, but Jesus. Jesus himself is the answer. It is not merely the fact or the hope of a resurrection. “I am the resurrection and the life.” What He means is that no one can hope to escape death unless he is related to the conqueror of death, Jesus of Nazareth. It is this hope in the hour of death which the resurrection brings before us.

A Different Kind of War/Habeas Corpus

Here is an episode of This American Life you should listen to. People in Gitmo for 3 years for printing a joke. Held indefinitely even when classified documents say that they are no threat to the United States.

These are not people ‘plucked from the battlefield’. They are plucked fromtheir homes. Only 5% were taken by American troops on the battlefield – or fighting anywhere. And only 8% are classified as Al-Qaeda members.

Tell me again why we need to do this. I must be dense, but I’m still not getting why this is anything but evil. Evil, and possibly, like almost everything Bush or his administration has done, stupid. But the stupid part doesn’t excuse the evil part. Not by a long shot.

Here is a quote that made me stop what I was doing and listen again. This is how a detainee described his treatment. His crime? At some point in history, he was “present at Tora Bora.”

“…Americans forced him to the ground and urinated on him. We put out our cigarettes on him. We shocked him with an electric device. We spat on him. We poured a hot cup of tea on his head. We told him that “We brought you here to kill you”. We beat him until he vomited blood. We threatened to have him raped. We dressed him in shorts and left him in a frigid, air-conditioned room. We abandoned him in another room with no water. We invited him to drink from his toilet bowl, which he did. We wrapped him in an Israeli flag. We told him that we would hold him forever. We told him that we would send him to Egypt to be tortured. On a different day, we chained him to the floor and cut off his clothes while a female MP entered the room. We dripped what we said was menstrual blood on his body. When he spat at us, we smeared this blood on his face. We kissed the crosses around our necks and said “This is a gift from Christ for you Muslims.” We videotaped the entire episode.”

All techniques described by other prisoners, by officials at Guantanamo. While the above description of treatment cannot be proven, since the one it was supposedly inflicted upon is in an unprecedented legal black hole we have created, still…it is quite plausible. None of it is worse than what we know is already going on there.

The person described above later tried to hang himself in his cell. It wasn’t his first suicide attempt. His concern was that, if he died and only our military knew about it, then people would never learn what was happening to him and to others held in our illegal, immoral and unconscionable prison at Guantanamo.

And this is what John McCain wants to last for a thousand years. This is what Bush wants his legacy to be. The destruction of habeas corpus, which has been at the core of Western law for 800 years, which is in Article 1 of our Constitution, which is a reason that we fought the Revolutionary War in the first place.

This is Bush’s legacy. This is the legacy of the Republican party that supports his policies. This is the legacy of the Democratic party which lacks the conviction or backbone to fight back. This is our legacy as we pay our taxes, taxes that pay for people to be killed and tortured. Is it because they are Al-Qaeda? Nope. Because they were engaged in combat? No. Because we have proof they are terrorists? No. Because it is just? No. Because it is legal? No. Because it will make us safer? No.


R.I.P. Utah Philips

Utah Philips died on May 23, 2008.

I went on a road trip, sort of a pilgrimage, thinking I would find him where I he was living in Nevada City, CA. I didn’t make it that far – my wife and I found a bookstore to peruse instead in one of the little towns on the way, and had to turn back once we realized what time it was. I really regret that now, but you never know. You just never know. I have no idea what I would have said if I found him. I guess I just wanted more of a connection than just hearing his recorded voice.

I have at least four friends whose lives were changed, to a significant degree, by Utah Philips. Not by his music – as a musician, music wasn’t his great strength – but by his stories. He was a towering, tremendous, wondrous repository of stories. He described himself as a sort of story-collector, gathering up reflections of the lives he encountered as he traveled across the country. He was motivated by a moving love of this country, especially moving from my cynical and pessimistic point of view. He was a natural and relentless lover of people.

The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere is still one of my favorite albums of all time, any genre. The album is a collection of Utah’s stories (and one poem) embellished by an evocative soundtrack produced by Ani Difranco. It is incredible. I cry half the time when I listen to it. I try to do three things at least once a year – listen to that album all the way through, read the collected writings of Martin Luther King Jr., and watch the film Gandhi. It is…well, like I said, its changed the lives of at least four of my friends, and a cursory look at what people are saying about his death tells me that this happened to a lot of people when they heard him speak.

Maybe what is most amazing about him is that what he says has such an effortless weight. It just strikes you to the bone as obviously true, clearly true, undeniably true. His life, the lives he has collected stories about, just resonate with my life, even though there’s almost nothing on the surface in common between us. But when he talks about what it means to be alive – its so moving because I’m there with him, somehow.

When I talk about anarchism, Utah’s stories are quietly in the background, sharing the company of theologians and philosophers and revolutionaries. When I talk about pacifism, I am sometimes hearing his voice among all the other voices, which now reaches out to me even from beyond death, to remind me of what is true and beautiful in this world.

Its been a bad year so far for me in terms of people dying who I didn’t expect to die, and whose deaths are impacting me more than I’d expected.

A friend of mine blogged about Utah, and talked about a song that he heard him sing when he saw him in Chicago not long before he died. Here is a direct quote, because he says it better than I can:

The song was a perfectly simple call and response. He sang a line – “Dorothy said, swords into plowshares” and the audience responded “Ship’s gonna sail, gonna sail someday.” The chorus was equally simple:

We’re working on a ship, may never sail on it,
Ship gonna sail, gonna sail someday
Working on a ship, may never sail on it,
Gonna build it anyway.

Utah Phillips never got to sail on the ship. But he lived a life committed to building it, and to teaching others how and why to build it, and to telling the story of how it got to be built thus far. And now, even though we need that guidance as much as we ever have, he’s gone.

Ship’s still gonna sail someday.

Still gonna build it anyway.

But damn if it didn’t just get harder.

I honestly believe that the time for those in this world who worship violence and death and power at the expense of others – their days are numbered. I have to believe that, or else there is no point in believing anything at all. But the waiting until those numbered days run out…its a long, sad wait.


Anarchism is defined by The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics as “the view that society can and should be organized without a coercive state.”

“An anarchist is anybody who doesn’t need a cop to tell him what to do.” -Ammon Hennessey, as quoted by Utah Philips