Congratulations on creating a masterpiece!
I read your book with increasing wonder and appreciation. It is better
than therapy, as it analyzes sexual-spiritual yearning more thoroughly
than any of the therapists with whom I tried to discuss this persistent,
insistent, overwhelming issue in my early adult life (age 16 to 45).
In fact, therapists actually refused to directly discuss the topic.
Instead they would redirect my focus to what they considered to be "reality."
those years I had been writing poetry, but after therapy I ceased to do
so as I felt it was too self-indulgent. In fact the last line of
my last poem was this question: "is poetry sublime or merely masturbation
of the mind?"
Thank you for your inspiration and courage!
Greater Kansas City area
I am really enjoying reading
my friend Vern Barnet's new book Thanks for Noticing. I am
reading and reflecting on one sonnet every day. Reading the sonnet, the
epigraphs, and footnotes is like taking an interdisciplinary course on
world religion, liturgy, spirituality and sexuality. Often the thoughts
stay with me throughout the day and I return to the sonnet at day's end.
I have know Vern for several decades and continue to be amazed with his
wisdom, insights, and ability to invite me to grow in understanding and
appreciation of the human agenda.
I just watched the YouTube
video of Vern reading the Opening Sonnet. It is great. I just
posted a link on Facebook and already have a couple of "likes."
David E Nelson, DMin
president, The Human Agenda
Enjoyed the you tube link.....very
nice and professionally done. Congrats!!
Kansas City, MO
ROMANTIC F***ER MYSTIC
Very interesting web page,
blog, and offer. Impressive. As is your wonderful book. I go through it
slowly, only a couple at a time, savoring this essential Vern, romantic
IS THE KEY
Comment added to YouTube video
Like most ministers I know, I have struggled with being honest about this.
In my a book of poetry I wrote, SEX IS THE KEY TO LIFE ITSELF AND
LOVE IS THE KEY TO LIVING. AND IF YOU WOULD A TRUE LOVE FIND,
SEARCH WITH THE HEART AS WELL AS MIND.
As I know postage to England costs a good bit more, my credit card payment
is more than you asked.
Love, and a prayer for peace in the Middle East.
Horsham, West Sussex,
Perhaps no more than ten or
twelve people might read Thanks for Noticing all the way through
and really understand it all, but if it's the right ten sets of eyes, it
could win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. It really is that good.
editor, writer, and former library
information specialist. His 1997 book, A Backward View: Stories and
Poems, was chosen for the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. His
latest book is The Pebble: Life Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom.
January 7, 2016
Vern’s Sonnets: Thanks for Noticing
I wouldn’t have read Thanks for Noticing: The
Interpretation of Desire by the Reverend Doctor Vern Barnet were
he not my friend from seminary. Vern was a bold visionary, too much for
the staid faculty at our University of Chicago seminary, Meadville/Lombard.
His three-volume D. Min. thesis on The Void may have perplexed and overwhelmed
them. True to his brilliant mind and audacious quirks, he brings his encyclopedic
knowledge of trans-cultural mytho-religious facts into his penchant to
link the sacred and the sexual.
I’m impatient with poetry, especially sonnets. The
odd phrasing and obscure words have to be dwelt upon slowly and repeatedly
to tease out their gifts. Then the “Aha!” comes. Then the bemused smile
fills the inner face via some pun or double-meaning. Then we share in his
passion for passion – sexual and religious. For the reverend doctor, these
two are not opposites; these play in union, each fulfilling the other.
For instance, in “Holy Words” he considers a friend’s
caution to back off from the sexual side in his religious poem:
I want an honest, open world, so I
For Vern, a great sin is the expulsion of sex from
spirituality. He goes round the world and back through time to gather wider,
wilder humane advice. Some he puts in his sonnets (which he recommends
we read aloud to pull out their rime, meter, and meaning) and some in the
interesting facts he provides at the bottom of each page. For instance,
he finds Father Matthew Fox quoting Richard Rohr, “Of all the world’s religions,
Christianity has the biggest bias against the body. This is a disastrous
theology. If I were Satan, and if I wanted to destroy Christianity, I would
work overtime to tempt Christians to hate the flesh.” (Pg. 192)
must keep the holy law to consecrate:
my friends and every form of love I try,
each sacred chance, some fleshy, gay and straight.
From shame and shade these sonnets seek to pluck
such ancient holy words as “love” and “fuck.”
In “The Cosmic Christ” Vern puts it in the positive:
The world entire is Christ, distressed,
a note at the bottom of a poem he writes: “God’s playful delight is to
behold us, to know us as we are, beyond human moral criteria. Similarly,
when we love without need, intention, agenda, compulsion, claim, judgment,
or dependency, but simply love by noticing, by witnessing, by beholding,
loving freely as God does, we become like God. (Pg. 101)
a way of painting all we see and know,
the damned, the saved enjoined with laugh and
a metaphor chamfering loved and foe.
So I’ll be hurt to heal, be bound to free,
change ache to kiss and wrench eternity.
This reminds me of a poem he used to use in his
liturgies: “We are God, and eternally we rejoice and moan; the freedom
scares us, the responsibility is immense.” Vern has lived into his freedom
and up to his responsibility, and I’ve noticed.
Do you like words and word-craft, far-flung theology,
unusual facts and bold sex-positive affirmations? Do you like sonnets and
Shakespeare? Can you read his gay stance into your preferred attraction?
Then notice how opening his sonnets opens you. He’d like that.
11 "Kitchen Cockroach"
I've just begun reading Vern's
sonnets and I have to say that, among the many laudable aspects of his
poetic style, what I find most intriguing is his ability to imbue mundane,
oft overlooked moments in daily life -- a cockroach loafing in the kitchen
unaware of its impending immolation -- with a sense of cosmic importance,
philosophical profundity, even. This effect is as charming as it is existentially
troubling for the unsuspecting reader who, upon reading "Kitchen Cockroach,"
for example, finds himself rooting for the death of the cockroach right
up until the moment he realizes that by merely adjusting the magnitude,
he too is a cockroach in the eyes of the universe.
This poem is a meditation
on something so simple, yet so remarkable: a higher life form destroys
a lower one, or, after billions of years of violent expansion, the universe
coalesces into two distinct beings, man and cockroach, in order to comprehend
what it means to sacrifice and to be sacrificed in the same instant. One
action does not cause the other, they are dependent on one another for
the continuity of the universe. We are left wondering, as Vern puts it,
"Is this fire hate / or love . . ." or is it something distinct altogether?
If this poem is any indication
of what's to come in the rest of the volume, then I have no doubt that
Thanks for Noticing will prove to be a worthy read!
The footnotes are themselves
worth the price of the book! And they are on the same page as the sonnet
so you don't have to fumble in the back of the book looking for them.
Kansas City, MO
84 "Postmodern Faith -- What is Truth?"
Is the earth 6,000 years old?
Or is it 10,000? Who cares facts? A talking snake in the Garden of Eden?
Who cares facts? My friends tell me that the Bible is the truth, the actual
truth. But who cares facts? Evolution true? Global warming real?
Irrelevant. Who cares facts? Thinking of stepping on ice that is a quarter
of an inch thick? You might care facts. The Incans, Aztecs, Mayans and
others engaged in sacred, ritual sacrifice of human beings, including children,
as part of their faith that such acts would insure the fertility of the
crops, ward off evil, and nourish and propitiate the gods, among other
things. (You have stated in your commentary that worship is the enactment
of myth, and ritual is a form of sacred play. Some kind of sacred play
here!) But such worship cannot fail. And the Inquisition? Thousands of
heretics burned at the stake to rid the world of evil. (Worship cannot
fail.) For the sake of one Truth? One Truth with a capital T is not postmodern,
but fundamentalist. I have a friend and I have relatives who believe that
I am going to hell. They worship a God that is going to send me there.
Their worship cannot fail? Really? It would be hard to find a question
more absurd or dangerous than the last line of this sonnet.
St Joseph, MO
I appreciate the beauty and
sensuality of the piece. Descriptions are specific and clear. I find them
exciting. I am there.
As a person who identifies
as atheist, I reject what feels to me a need/desire for some diety's approval.
I believe I understand the author's intent to blend the sexual with the
divine, and in that sense, the objective is met. I, personally, stand with
the men in the joy of their sexuality aside from a diety. Celebrate it!
--M K Mustard
Lake Lotawana, MO
101 "Jesus Would Have Loved This Man"
Vern, I was touched by #101.
Yes, we are all against sex trafficking and the ugly side of the exploitation
of women. But I know that for many men, perhaps women, too, for whom
there is great loneliness in not being able to have a partner or connect
intimately with another human being.
More important than just sex
is to be able to have a conversation with another person, even if you pay
for it. I see one of our important ministries the will to engage those
who have no one to love or care for them. Particularly elderly men with
no close family or little in the way of friends.
I've always believed that,
when you walk into an elevator, a kind greeting to the other person standing
there may be the only time that day someone spoke to them. You just
Kansas City, MO
for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire
"Vern Barnet is to sonnets
what Robert Mapplethorpe is to photography."
musician and composer
"I read a sonnet every night as a devotional practice."
photo of Vern and Phil taken at a rehearsal of the
Heartland Men's Chorus
OPENED UP DISCUSSIONS
ABOUT LOVE, SEXUALITY . . .
I've been in ecstasies of
delight while reading your sonnets! I can't express how much enjoyment
I'm getting from them. Thank you!
One experience that I wanted to say thank you for came from a sonnet of
yours was with my [relative]. [Name] is in [his/her] early twenties and
has experienced some sexual abuse and has some anger and confusion, partly
from the experience, and partly from being simply young - and therefore,
quite predictably angry and confused!
Name has not experienced the empathy [he/she] needs from [his/her] parents
and other adults, and has sadly drawn the conclusion that all religious
people would view [his/her] heart-wrenching pain and honest questions negatively.
I asked [name] if I could read some of your sonnets aloud in the presence
of [him/her] and [other young people]. They opened up great discussions
about love, sexuality, spirituality and interfaith dialogue over several
days. My [relative] was in a state of marvel! Your poetry and the following
discussions opened many new possibilities with [him/her], and gave [the
other young people] and me an avenue to squeeze a little more empathy into
[his/her] life, which [he/she] desperately needs. Thank you! —WITH
View from This Seat
Reflections about Life, Love, Light, and Liberty
(the 4-Ls) by Leroy Seat.
Barnet's Brilliant Book
Barnet has long been one of the outstanding religious leaders of Kansas
City. The accompanying picture was taken of him at the 2016 Annual Interfaith
Community Thanksgiving Dinner, held for the first time on the campus of
William Jewell College.
The Barnet Award
At that most enjoyable gathering on Nov. 13, the
Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award was given to Lama Chuck Stanford,
a retired Tibetan Buddhist leader who has long been active in Kansas City.
Barnet founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council
in 1989, and after his retirement as head of that organization, the Vern
Barnet Award was created in 2010—with him as its first recipient.
(Last year’s recipient of the award was my good
friend Ed Chasteen, former professor of sociology at William Jewell College.
June and I enjoyed sitting at the same table with Ed and his wife Bobbie
at last week’s Thanksgiving dinner.)
For many years Vern (b. 1942) served as a Universalist
Unitarian minister, and he is minister emeritus of the Center for Religious
Experience and Study (CRES), which he founded in 1982. In 2011, however,
he was baptized in an Episcopalian church, and is now said to be an active
His main love, though, still seems to be interfaith
The Barnet Book
Vern is also an editor and author. He co-edited
the 740-page Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality
for Health Care Providers (2013). The most recent book he authored,
however, is not directly about religion.
Vern’s book Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation
of Desire was published in 2015. He describes the book as a “prosimetrum
of 154 sonnets, glosses, and other commentary, in which the sacred beauty
of sex and love is explored.” (A prosimetrum is “a text composed in alternating
segments of prose and verse.”)
Vern’s sonnets are consciously linked to Shakespeare’s
154 sonnets. But, to be honest, I am over my head in trying to expound
upon the meaning and significance of either Shakespeare’s or Barnet’s sonnets.
But I have been moved by many of Vern’s sonnets I have read.
For full disclosure, I must admit that I have not
read nearly all of Vern’s book, although I do intend to keep reading it
little by little--which is the way it needs to be read. Thanks for Noticing
is quite obviously a brilliant book as well as a very erudite one.
Barnet’s Sonnets 78 to 86
The 154 sonnets in Vern’s book are grouped into
eight sections with titles taken from the parts of a Catholic mass. The
most theological part is the one titled “Credo,” and those sonnets, numbers
78 to 86, are the ones to which I have paid the most attention.
(Many of the 154 sonnets are about sex and sexuality,
and I will leave it to others to write about the meaning and importance
Sonnet 78 is titled “Advent,” and as next Sunday,
Nov. 27, is the first Sunday of Advent I have read and re-read that insightful
sonnet—although the Eucharist does not have the same meaning to me as it
does to Episcopalians or Catholics.
“Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?” is the title
of Sonnet 84, and it ends with this couplet:
I know the Gospel
is a pious tale,
But who cares facts when
worship cannot fail?
By these words Vern seems to urge us to a pre-modern/post-modern
“mysticism” that is not fettered by facticity. Direct experience of God
(Ultimate Reality) is more than, and far greater than, having (or seeking)
only factual knowledge.
That is one important lesson bundled in Barnet’s
Leroy Seat, Ph.D
1307 Canterbury Ln
Liberty, MO 64068-3209