Getting Personal

Burt Kempner


Pinhead Angel

 By Burt Kempner

 Getting Personal

 Burt KempnerGAINESVILLE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—1/21/2013—

“My So-Called Spiritual Path”

“As my sainted Hungarian grandmother used to say, ‘There are two hundred roads to Paradise and each is correct.’”Burt Kempner

The Labyrinth at Burford Priory.

The Labyrinth at Burford Priory.

“We may doubt anything, except that we are struck with amazement . . . . Doubts may be resolved, radical amazement can never be erased.”—Abraham Joshua Heschel

I have to smile when people tell me they’re following their spiritual path. It all sounds so neat and tidy. A quaint country lane. Perhaps some nice shrubbery on either side. Mine has been a very different type of journey. Viewed from above, my so-called spiritual path would resemble the claw prints of a flock of demented chickens—crisscrossing, backtracking, circling and stopping in utter frustration because their owners can’t fly.

I’m joking because I’m nervous about discussing my spirituality with you, wondering if you will find me strange, superficial or overly self-absorbed. My God, I hear some of you saying, most people on Earth spend their days scrambling to find enough to eat and this Baby Boomer lint-head wants to find MEANING?!

I do. Sue me. I was born into a loving, traditional Jewish household. I was expelled from Hebrew school at age 13 for asking uncomfortable questions. I gave up on organized religion (and organized religion, being an honorable institution, returned the favor).

I constructed my own belief system, instead. In the early 1990s, it ran into a brick wall at approximately the speed of light and broke into a million useless pieces. It was a time of plagues: untimely and expected deaths, arguments, war, financial hardship and despair. I gathered up what was left of my spirituality and vowed to start again from scratch. This time, I got serious. I studied the sacred texts of eight religions, not just the classics but the lesser-known works as well. I found inspiration and deep value in each, but none fit me.

I turned to meditation, vision quests and Sufi dance. All wonderful prescriptions, but for the wrong patient.

Then I read Rabbi Heschel’s injunction to live in a state of radical amazement, and I knew I had finally found the starting line for the right path for me. My Creator and I now have an affable, direct relationship. No dogma, shame or middlemen allowed. Especially no middlemen. Your practice might be quite different from mine or you may not believe in a God at all, and this is fine. As my sainted Hungarian grandmother used to say, “There are two hundred roads to Paradise and each is correct.”

So here’s my spiritual path: do what’s right, love harder than you think possible, and locate the holy in the everyday. Everything else is commentary.

I’m a devout Burtist and this I believe.

“Lone-Wolf Revolutionary”


“. . . now that I truly understand exactly how the game is rigged so that the little guy never really has a chance, I can’t find a revolution to join.”—Burt Kempner

Two’s a crowd.

Two’s a crowd.

“Everybody knows that the game is fixed./The poor stay poor and the rich get rich./That’s how it goes,/Everybody knows.”—Leonard Cohen

A well-known comedian from the 1950s—I believe it was Shelley Berman—told of how much he’d loved “playing doctor” as a child. “But now that I finally understand the rules,” he mourned, “I can’t get a game started.”

That pretty much describes my political education. Coming of age in the 1960s, I choked down more than my share of tear gas, and dutifully mouthed the appropriate slogans, having little idea what the hell they meant or even if they meant anything at all.

By affinity, I gravitate to the left, but I find that bloc to be increasingly untrustworthy. Perhaps it’s the disturbing scape-goating I see or the blind worship of hope over experience, but I can’t march under their banner anymore. I know conventional wisdom holds that we’re supposed to become more conservative as we age, but I would no sooner associate myself with the rampant Know-Nothingism of the radical right than I would with cholera.

Nor do I share the beliefs of some of my New Age friends that the Intergalactic Sheriff’s Posse will intervene at the very last minute to save us from ourselves and that, instead of butchering one another, we’ll all hold covered-dish dinner parties for Spaceship Earth.

So I guess I’m a lone-wolf revolutionary by default, a reluctant Army of One.

No, I haven’t surrendered my optimism and, yes, I will definitely make alliances when necessary, but for better or worse I’m on my own. This relieves me of the task of forming quarrelsome committees or commissioning study groups.

Sure, I could issue a Lone Wolf manifesto or two but, for my money, no one’s ever put it better than Henry Fonda in “The Grapes of Wrath”: “I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll be there, too.”

See you around.

“Fool for Love”


“If Lennon and McCartney had meant to say, ‘Love is only a portion of what you need,’ that’s what they would have written.”—Burt Kempner

Tomb effigy at Chichester Cathedral.

Tomb effigy at Chichester Cathedral.

The knight and his lady pictured above have been serenely holding hands for over 700 years. I came across the photo in a essay by Ron Rosenbaum about the poets Philip Larkin and W.H. Auden. Both of them had written lines about love that were very much at odds with their usual downbeat verse.

Said Larkin: “What will survive of us is love.”

And Auden: “We must love one another or die.”

After issuing such tender sentiments, both men quickly distanced themselves from them. Only a fool would rush in where Larkin and Auden feared to tread, but I’m here to pick up the frayed banner of Love anyway, hoping for a little simpatico company along the way.

I’m a fool for love—always have been and always will be. A seeker, a sucker and an idiot savant. Not for the jealous, possessive variety, but the inexhaustible spring at the center of our being, the only thing that can fill the empty hole there. We sometimes come to that realization only after we’ve tried food, sex, alcohol, money or drugs to plug the void, but they’re just not up to the job.

If Lennon and McCartney had meant to say, “Love is only a portion of what you need,” that’s what they would have written. So is love the supreme necessity? Some mourn that it’s not; others fear that it is. I cast my vote, and my lot, with lovers.

When we die, does anything live after us? Recycled molecules? Our reputations? Immortal bliss? Are we reclaimed by Consciousness for future use, or do we wink out like spent light bulbs?

Call me softheaded or hopelessly unhip, but I believe with all my heart that the love we generate continues without us.

I’ve read the closing lines of Thornton Wilder’s now-neglected “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” over 50 times, and they never fail to move me deeply: “We ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living, and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”


Burt Kempner

About Burt Kempner

Burt Kempner has worked as a scriptwriter in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Florida. His work has won numerous major awards, and has been seen by groups ranging in size from a national television audience in the United States to a half-dozen Maori chieftains in New Zealand. His documentaries have appeared on PBS, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, CNBC, and European and Asian TV networks. He has two dogs, a cat, a wife and a son and is randomly kind to them all. More recently, Kempner has written three rather subversive books for children: Larry the Lazy Blue Whale, Monty the Movie Star Moose and The Five Fierce Tigers of Rosa Martinez. Visit his Amazon author page:
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9 Responses to Getting Personal

  1. Lisa E says:

    Love these posts, Burt–all great for different reasons! I especially related to “My So-Called Spiritual Path.” I was raised Catholic and it didn’t work out for me. I then tried a few other religions that weren’t quite right. I eventually became “spiritual” and tried yoga, meditation, etc.

    Now, I simply find and feel something special when I’m chilling out in nature, making music, traveling or connecting with people. And perhaps there’s no need for a label for it. Maybe some of us just do it our own way and if so, that’s cool.

    I think I really get it–why you’re a ‘devout Burtist.’ Makes sense.

    Thanks for the great read. It got me thinking and made me smile. Perfect way to end my day.

  2. peggy starr says:

    Absolutely beautiful, & I do resonate… with all of it…. I’ve probably seen you at a few Sufi Dances :) or a vision quest. Big Hugs!

  3. sylvie m. says:

    burt….thank you for so beautifully writing the same philosophy and thoughts which i have not yet expressed in words ..regarding religion, politics, love, following one’s own path…

  4. Penny Turner says:

    Thankyou.-“singing my life with his words”

  5. Pete Bridgeman says:

    Burt – your spiritual presence, through Cowbird, is felt very strongly and very clearly, by me. I think that’s sort of how it works – as we beat our crazy path, while we’re flailing about, seemingly lost and confused, we’re covering ground, and clearing a path, that others might tread just a tad more easily. Our efforts cast a light, a way forward, that help others find their way through the darkness. I spoke to a fellow the other night, who I sent some of my stories about my crazy N.A. days to. Back when I saw, see, myself then as hopelessly lost and confused, I apparently said something to this guy, in a way that changed him profoundly, and helped him find his way. I never even remembered the conversation. It meant the world to him. It was 3 1/2 years before I reached that point where I finally landed on the path that had my name on it, and the hard part of the whole struggle ceased, and became a daily progression of, I don’t think of it as spiritual “growth”, so much as a “shedding” of those things that seperate me from who I really am. From the connection that we all seek, with that deeper self, that universal part of us that knows. Yet, in my lost and confused state, flailing through the dense forest of confusion, someone else found a piece of truth from my efforts that I was missing completely. Crazy shit, this spiritual stuff. But I like it. Thanks for being a voice in the wilderness, my friend. I hear yer howl in the night. Whenever I stumble onto a story that really roars, I think of you, and your call to be lions.

  6. eboleman-herring eboleman-herring says:

    The Church of Burt, Reformed, has many devout if variously observant members. and there’s no collection plate (unless you count the one passed around FROM which one may take a laugh, a smile, a hug, a smart kick in the drawers, or a pearl). It is my privilege here to publish Burt Kempner, and bring him to a new audience. Keep writing, Oh Burtist Monk. Keep writing! Love, Elizabeth

  7. Papa Jon says:

    Nice, Burt. You reveal deeper facets than I realized existed. Papa Jon

  8. Davie Axiom Williams says:

    :) Hello Burt. Even wolves have pals. *wag wag wag*

  9. Mark Wallace says:

    Great Post ! I believe Love is the main ingredient !

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