“God hath cleared our title to this place” (Governor John Winthrop)

". . . taking it from a people who had long usurped upon him. . ."

“. . . taking it from a people who had long usurped upon him. . .”

(In which I’m about as grumpy as an old man can be.)

Thanksgiving Day has an edge of improbable irony. On the one hand, many (I would no longer say “most”) Americans have much to be thankful for. We (those of us who grew up in the economic boom-times following WWII) used to say that we were better off than the citizens of any other country. That is, of course, no longer true for most of us, but we still have it pretty darned good.

On the other hand, the entire enterprise of giving “thanks” as a nation is so tainted with imperialist motives and (yes, shall I say it?) genocide that we (at least the white descendants of Northern Europeans) might better have an annual Repentance Day.

Shall I draw a totally objectionable parallel between the “birth” our nation and a certain development in the world today that has most of the Western world reacting in horror and consternation?

John Winthrop (12 January 1587 – 26 March 1649), who helped found several of the towns in the Massachusetts Bay Colony beginning in 1628 and was the Governor of the Colony presiding over the first Thanksgiving Day was a religious zealot who believed that God was directing the Puritans not only to “purify” the religion of England but also to conquer North America to create a sort of “caliphate” of religious law and purity. Bethany Berger, Professor of Real Property Law at the University of Connecticut Law School, says of Governor Winthrop’s motivations that

Although religious superiority was the earliest and the most fervent of the initial justifications for colonization, the religious mission of the early colonies also made it easy to see God’s will in the acquisition of Indian bodies (through death) as well as souls (Berger).

She presents evidence (she’s one of those “liberal” academics who looks at evidence and then forms opinions rather than depending on Post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning) from John Winthrop’s letters that the Puritans (Winthrop at any rate) believed they were creating a society that had protection from God because their beliefs were pure.

God hath . . . cle[a]red our title to this place [and the Lord was] pleased with our inheriting these parts . . . taking it from a people who had long usurped upon him, and abused his Creatures.

The official declaration of the Day of Thanksgiving for the colony’s success in King Philip’s War (1675-1676) asserts that

God that made bare his own arm for our deliverance [so that of the tribes that rose against us] there now scarce remains a name or family of them in their former habitations but are either slain, captivated, or fled into remote parts of this wilderness.

". . . there now scarce remains a name or family of them in their former habitations . . ."

“. . . there now scarce remains a name or family of them in their former habitations . . .”

We are witnessing—or rather, participating in—the desperate attempt to stop the spread of the so-called Muslim Caliphate in Syria and Iraq (and elsewhere). I’ve spent as much time as I care to unsuccessfully looking for actual pronouncements of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but we believe almost without question that the justification for the wholesale slaughter of citizens of those countries is a religious zealotry based on ISIS’ belief that “God hath . . . cle[a]red our title to this place.”

I am not saying (exactly) that our country was founded on the same kind of religious fanaticism that we fear (or don’t like because it is too strong a motivation for fanatic Muslims to thwart our own belief that God has cleared our title to the place) that ISIS seems to inspire.

But it is interesting to let one’s thoughts be provoked to try think about realities rather than myths and fairy tales. Just saying.

I’m not a historian, so I understand my making pronouncements about historical events and their significance is suspect at best. However, in another manifestation that God has cleared our title, “Whatever the status of these first Africans to arrive at Jamestown, it is clear that by 1640, at least one African had been declared a slave” (PBS).

I’m not certain what the relationship between the Puritan colony in Massachusetts and the (secular?) colony in Virginia was. But it seems fairly clear that as the Puritans were cleansing the earth of “heathens,” the Virginians were importing “heathens” as slaves to make them rich. The first African brought to Virginia who was unequivocally named as a slave in 1640 was ordered by a Virginia court “to serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere” (PBS).

In Ferguson, MO, 374 years after the court decision in Virginia and 338 years after the citizens of Massachusetts were giving thanks that indigenous people had been “slain, captivated, or [had] fled” by the will of God, the imperialist and racist foundational concepts of our country are being played out.

And many Americans of Northern European descent—the political/philosophical/religious progeny of Governor Winthrop and the Virginia court—are standing by and wringing our hands and wondering why—why people of color can’t understand that we don’t want to subjugate them anymore, that we’re genuinely sorry that, for example, we incarcerate their young men at a rate surpassing the imprisonment of any other group of people in “first world” countries or that we still maintain a system of “reservations” to separate them from our society.

It seems to me (but I am a curmudgeon and an old guy who’s mad at the world—or something) . . . well you ought to be able to figure out what seems to me to be the irony of Thanksgiving Day.

You probably better try to figure it out before you rush off to Black Friday sales, the culmination of our unshakeable belief that God is on our side and someone, somewhere must support our lifestyle no matter what cost to them.
Berger, Bethany R. “Red: Racism and the American Indian.” UCLA Law Review 56.3 (2009): 591-656.
PBS. “Arrival of first Africans to Virginia Colony 1619.” Africans in America Resource Bank. WGBH. PBS online. N.D. Web.

". . . serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere . . ."

“. . . serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere . . .”

“. . . structurally positioned outside the human family, and its claims to integrity, honor, and visibility. . .” (Tryon P. Woods)

The Fakahatchee Strand. Want a piece of the swamp?

The Fakahatchee Strand. Want a piece of the swamp?

Since November 21 I have been trying to write a piece that I’d feel comfortable publishing here. The anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, yet another loss in my personal life, the joy of working with unusually eager-to-learn college students (that is, athletes). I’ve approached these subjects with humor, or with seriousness, or even with the desperation I feel much of the time these days).


And then this morning, as everyone knows, the news is full of the violence in Ferguson, MO, resulting from the decision of the grand jury not to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown.

When I was a kid, my parents gave my brother and me a couple of picture books, stories about a “day in the life” of a couple of black kids living in an American city. These were not children’s books with nice drawings and cute poetry. They were photo-essays. Real photographs of real kids doing what kids do.

The books disappeared decades ago, but the memory did not.

I just did a Google image search for, “1950s photos children’s books black kids at home.” Page after page of black and white photos of children—not a single black child among them. Is that indicative of anything? The reality of the ‘50s—or, more probably, the reality of the obliteration of blacks that still exists in the United States such that Google doesn’t know how to find a single photo from a black children’s book.

My father was born in Kansas City, Missouri, my mother in Kansas City, Kansas. When I was a kid, my relatives who still lived in Kansas City, two of my mother’s brothers and their families, and all of my grandparents lived in Kansas. Both of my mother’s brothers and their wives worked in KCMO.

. . . at least one hundred black people walking around . . .

. . . at least one hundred black people walking around . . .

One of my uncles was a ham radio operator. His license plate number was his call letters—how I remember this, I cannot imagine—K Ø THP. I guess that’s still the format for ham radio operators. (On second thought, I do know how I remember it—I made it into a little melody and sang it in my head incessantly.) I remember on one of our visits to KC, my uncle was in a dither because the police had come looking for him thinking he had committed some offense or another. The reason was that “some nigger has the same license as mine except it’s O, not zero.”

I was always shocked when I heard my uncles used the “N” word because it was absolutely forbidden in our home. The last time I remember hearing one of my uncles use the word was in 1995 when I was visiting in Kansas City. By that time my mother’s oldest brother and his wife had moved to a retirement community in Missouri, and the occasion of the use of the word was at dinner at their home with all of the KC relatives.


I was more than shocked. 1995.

It’s not surprising in hindsight that my parents did everything they could way out in Scottsbluff, NE, to help us be comfortable with racial difference. The first black person I ever spoke to was a man who moved to our town from somewhere in the Eastern US and came to our church. I was in 6th grade.

My sister remembers playing dolls with the little black girl who lived next door to our grandmother in KCK—playing with the backyard fence between them because we were not allowed to have any contact with the family. My uncles were visibly relieved when Grandmother’s house (where they had all grown up) was taken by eminent domain for a new freeway, and she was no longer the only white living in a neighborhood that had “turned.”

My guess is that everyone who might be reading this has, somewhere in their family background, stories like these to tell. And, while they may be more obvious in the South, they are by no means exclusive to the South.

Remember Louise Day Hicks and the National Guard protecting black students on their way to newly segregated schools in Boston in 1975? Hicks was elected to the House of Representatives saying in her campaign there were “at least one hundred black people walking around in the black community who have killed white people during the last two years.” There were 223 murders in Boston in 1973-1974, but only two dozen involved blacks killing whites.

Fast-forward to yesterday.

Does anyone really believe that in the short 40 years since Louise Day Hicks created violence in Boston we have moved to a “postracialist” society? In Ferguson, Missouri, or anywhere else?

Give me a break. Or, rather, if anyone believes it, I have a piece of land in Fakahatchee Strand I’ll sell them.

I do not mean to be flip. Or to make a joke about the most serious problem facing our nation. It’s not ISIS, or Afghanistan, or Wall Street banks. Or Chinese imports, Or Iranian nuclear warheads.


Nowhere is the racism more obvious than in reactions to our President. In a posting today about the President’s reticence to speak about Ferguson, Ezra Klein says,

President Obama’s speeches polarize in a way candidate Obama’s didn’t. Obama’s supporters often want to see their president “leading,” but the White House knows that when Obama leads, his critics become even less likely to follow. The evidence political scientists have gathered documenting this dynamic is overwhelming. . .

And this dynamic is powered by racism—read Klein’s article. It’s convincing.

I am not qualified to write about racism except by my observation and my conversations with black university students over the past 15 years. So I’ll end this musing—thinking about what seems to be the imponderable and the intractable—with a couple of quotes from respected academics.

How can we read the present context of increasing black dispossession and criminalization and the historical context of black struggles for self-determination and representation within contemporary cultural production? How is a popular hip hop song that explicitly recalls an infamous police beating, and implicitly brackets the ensuing historic urban uprising, connected to a sonic and visual landscape that consolidates black suffering and its invisibility today, that further eclipses the historical context of (ongoing) black struggles for self-determination, and that endeavors to marshal all manner of black expression into the new discourse of containment, “postracialism”?
Woods Tryon P. “’Beat It like a Cop.’ Erotic Cultural Politics of Punishment in the Era of ‘Postracialism.’” Social Text 114 •Vol. 31, No. 1 •Spring 2013
Dr. Woods is Assistant Prof of Sociology, Anthropology, and Crime & Justice Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where he is affiliated with the African and African American and Women and Gender Studies programs.


Our criminal justice system is in constitutional crisis–a crisis that the courts have yet to recognize. Over the past generation, America has waged an increasingly punitive war on crime, and the casualties of that war have been disproportionately people of color. Even a casual observer of the American system of punishment would be struck by its racial disparities. Yet the Supreme Court has failed to see a problem of constitutional dimension. This judicial blindness is the product of a deficient construction of the Eighth Amendment- a construction that takes its shape from majority norms rather than counter­ majoritarian principles.
Cover, Aliza. “Cruel And Invisible Punishment.” Brooklyn Law Review 79.3 (2014): 1141-1195.
Dr. Cover is Associate Professor of Law at the University Of Idaho College of Law.



Children of Rawdat El-Zuhur

Children of Rawdat El-Zuhur

Dear Friends in the USA:
“As Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem, He wept for it.” (Luke 19:41)

He would most likely cry again seeing what is happening to the soul of the city, with such a brutal military occupation. But despite all the obstacles and the harsh measures, as well as the ongoing onslaught on the city and its Holy Places, RAWDAT EL-ZUHUR SCHOOL (“Garden of Flowers”), remains a haven for Palestinian children. It continues to struggle in order to provide a meaningful life and quality education to the children of Jerusalem so that they will not lose hope in humanity as they continue to feel abandoned during those challenging times.
12937lrgPlease join the special circle of friends who are helping RAWDAT EL-ZUHUR carry on its torch so as to make a difference to the lives of those children under such circumstances. Thanksgiving is just around the corner. And in no time you will all be celebrating Christmas, freely and without any barriers, but with joyful carols, gifts and family gatherings. Would you, in this spirit of joy and giving, consider making a special gift this year to RAWDAT EL-ZUHUR? You can make it in honor of somebody special in your life, or in memory of a dear person.
rawdatfeatured2012The Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have kindly agreed to process your gifts to RAWDAT EL-ZUHUR. You can make your donations tax free to the following address indicating that the gift is for RAWDAT EL-ZUHUR and also requesting that Rawdat El-Zuhur is notified of your gift and its amount:

Dr. Peter E. Makari, Ph.D., Executive, Middle East and Europe
Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
700 Prospect Ave., #718, Cleveland, Ohio 44115 USA

To donate online or by phone: https://donate.globalministries.org/onlinegiving
Click on “Middle East and Europe” in the “designation” pull-down menu. Then in the “project/partner” box enter: RAWDAT EL-ZUHUR School, East Jerusalem.

With best wishes,
Samia Nasir Khoury retired in 2003 after serving for 17 years as president of Rawdat El-Zuhur, a coeducational elementary school for the lower income community in East Jerusalem. She continues to serve as treasurer of the board of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem and on the board of trustees of Birzeit University in Birzeit, Palestine.

“. . . and God . . . passes with the spinal column of the Universe on his back . . .” (César Vallejo)

Ready to ask the most sensational questions

Ready to ask the most sensational questions

Poetry – how it gets itself written and what it means – has always been a mystery to me.

My experience watching artists of all kinds for decades is that people who are true geniuses have the discipline, the drive, the strength of will to create. They don’t have the luxury of wondering when they get up in the morning, “What am I going to do today?” They simply know. Blessed are the pure in heart. “Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing.” Perhaps Kierkegaard was writing at least in part about artists.

“God” language, for the most part, makes me nervous. It’s as if knowing what I believed about God at one time was a large chunk of who I knew myself to be, and when that belief died (I don’t know for sure when), a chunk of myself died.
“God” language makes me nervous, especially when it’s in a poem that gets under my skin in some way I cannot shake.

Born on March 16, 1892, César Abraham Vallejo grew up in Santiago de Chuco, an isolated town in north central Peru. Vallejo’s grandmothers were Chimu Indians and both of his grandfathers, by a strange coincidence, were Spanish Catholic priests. He . . . grew up in a home saturated with religious devotion. (Academy of American Poets. “Poet: César Vallejo.” poets.org. N.D. Web.)

If that’s not enough to make one become an atheist Communist and work for the losing side in the Spanish Civil War and write intense and (somewhat) inscrutable poetry, I don’t know what is. I assume that in 1892 Catholic priests took vows of celibacy, so from the beginning Vallejo could lay claim to legitimate genetic non-conformity. I know that’s neither scientifically nor theologically sound. However, it’s an interesting twist on the Catholic Catechism, “By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man” (Catechism of the Catholic Church. vatican.va. N.D. Web.)

I’m not trying to be flip although it’s difficult not to say Vallejo’s grandfathers sinned. (I know, the “first parents” are Adam and Eve, but if the grandfathers fit. . .)

There are desires to. . .have no desires, Lord;
I point my deicidal finger at you:
there are desires to not have had a heart.

“There are desires not to have had a heart.”

I would very much like to know how Vallejo’s poem fits together. How does the idea of not having a heart (that I take to mean,

Better than a handgun?

Better than a handgun?

not having feelings or the ability to care) fit with the desire “to return, to love, to not disappear?”

The “Africa of a fiery agony,” a suicide? Vallejo was inconsolably depressed over the outcome of the Spanish Civil War—and other unresolved political/legal matters in his life—when he died, but he was not suicidal. I don’t know how to explain any of this. . . .

[In the 1920s and 1930s] the southern state appellate courts and the United States Supreme Court were operating on the basis of different paradigms when they evaluated the fairness of these [involving African American defendants] criminal trials. For the southern courts, the simple fact that these defendants enjoyed the formalities of a criminal trial, rather than being lynched, represented a significant advance over what likely would have transpired in the pre-World War I era. For the United States Supreme Court, on the other hand, criminal trials were supposed to be about adjudicating guilt or innocence, not simply avoiding a lynching. (Klarman, Michael J. “The Racial Origins of Modern Criminal Procedure.” Michigan Law Review 99.1 (2000): 48.)

Much of our country is waiting for the announcement of the Grand Jury investigating whether or not white policeman Darren Wilson broke the law when he shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, on August 9, 2014. The majority of Americans would not, I suspect, have much interest in the outcome except that the media are prepared to sensationalize the reactions of the people for whom the Grand Jury’s decision will matter most. The media will make the reactions into a circus for Americans’ pleasure no matter what the decision is.

The American people have already been primed to expect the worst—demonstrations, violence, other American spectator sports—regardless of reality.

The fall-guys, the bad guys, the reprobates will be African Americans, mostly African American young men. No matter what happens. And the media will be certain to stir up intense interest to sell airtime on TV and a few hard copy newspapers, reporting on a show of decadence that most Americans are already hoping for.

One—I—should not pretend to have deep feelings about all of this. If one—I—we—had ever had a heart about the disparity of justice in this country, it would have been unthinkable for Darren Wilson to have murdered an unarmed young man—black or white—under any circumstances. We have no right to desire not to have had a heart we’ve never had.

We have come nowhere, not a step closer to justice than when “. . . the simple fact that these [black] defendants enjoyed the formalities of a criminal trial, rather than being lynched, represented a significant advance.”

I ask how being shot at close range—no matter the provocation—is different from being lynched.

We—America—can’t “desire to not have had a heart” —not to have cared about this because we never have had. Whatever César Vallejo’s poem “means,” he struggled for justice all his life. And we can only hope for the sake of America’s young black men—and for our sake—that God (or some reality greater than ourselves) is passing “with the spinal column of the Universe on his back.”

“Weary Rings, by César Vallejo (1892 – 1938)
There are desires to return, to love, to not disappear,
and there are desires to die, fought by two
opposing waters that have never isthmused.

There are desires for a great kiss that would shroud Life,
one that ends in the Africa of a fiery agony,
a suicide!

There are desires to. . .have no desires, Lord;
I point my deicidal finger at you:
there are desires to not have had a heart.

Spring returns, returns and will depart. And God,
bent in time, repeats himself, and passes, passes
with the spinal column of the Universe on his back.

When my temples beat their lugubrious drum,
when the dream engraved on a dagger aches me,
there are desires to be left standing in this verse!

From The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition, by César Vallejo, Clayton Eshleman (trans.), 2007

Note: if you think I’m being overly dramatic, I’d suggest you look at this webpage:

How does the poet mean?

How does the poet mean?

A special guest message

(Note: From my friend Samia Khoury in Jerusalem. About Samia: http://samiakhoury.wordpress.com/about/ )

On Wednesday, November 19, 2014 3:57 AM, Samia Khoury <samiaorama@_______> wrote:

Reflecting on today’s events

November 18, 2014

Jerusalem, 2008

Jerusalem, 2008

It did not start with the kidnapping of the three young settlers which Israel claims to be the reason for retaliation on all fronts. It did not start with the occupation of the Palestinian Territories in 1967. It has been an ongoing dispossession ever since 1948 even after the Palestine National Council recognized Israel on 78% of historic Palestine in 1988. The onslaught on  East Jerusalem has been going on with a clear agenda that  Jerusalem is the united eternal capital of Israel, with a plan to build the Temple to replace El-Haram El-Sharif.

Ironically Har Nof where the events of today took place is originally a Palestinian suburb adjacent to Deir Yaseen where the infamous massacre of the Palestinians took place in April 1948. That was the spark that  terrorized the Palestinian residents of West Jerusalem that led to their exodus.

Yes indeed it is brutal and completely unacceptable to attack worshipers in their place of worship, as was the attack of settler doctor, Baruch Goldstein, on Muslim worshipers during the month of Ramadan at the Hebron Mosque in February 1994. Twenty-nine Palestinian were killed and 125 wounded at the time. The epitaph on Goldstein’s tombstone called him a martyr with clean hands and a pure heart.

As much as I believe in non-violent resistance, it is very sad to realize that the futility of the negotiations and the  failure of the peace process, on top of Israeli provocations, are all leading  the Palestinian population of Jerusalem to desperation as they feel  completely abandoned. While the International community continues to claim the annexation of Jerusalem as illegal and so are  the settlements, and the demolishing of homes, no action has been taken  to reverse the realities that Israel continues to create on the ground. The young people of Jerusalem cannot sit still any more, simply watching and resisting peacefully while their holiest site El-Haram El-Sharif is being coveted and taken over while the world is watching. The more desperate those young people become, the more violence will prevail. We continue to hope for some wisdom to prevail and a definite resolve on behalf of the international community to put an end to Israel’s impunity and spare both people further suffering.

Watch this and then you will understand why so much violence  is encompassing Jerusalem.

(See more about Samia at Ann Hafften’s blog.)

Fleeing from Deir Yassin, April 9, 1948

Fleeing from Deir Yaseen, April 9, 1948

“Colour awakes on earth. . . “ (Jan Struther, 1901-1953)

The second coming of Mrs. Miniver?

The second coming of Mrs. Miniver?

I am amused.

I am easily entertained. “Project Runway,” “Love it or List it,” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” are entertaining. “Car Talk”—Click and Clack—Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Regular listeners know about the punny gag names the Magliozzi brothers used for credits at the end of their programs. One of my favorites has always been their Russian chauffeur, “Pikup Andropov.” And then yesterday I saw it—a sign that I had never noticed before.

I’m entertained by any number of things every day that I find interesting or quirky or that remind me of something else, or that I think only I have noticed.

But amusement—real amusement—is another matter. I don’t laugh very much. I laugh at David Sedaris reading his own wonderful nonsense (I heard him a few days ago). I remember his one-liners days later and laugh again—Crucifixes are sexy because “the cross was invented to make a man’s shoulders and abs look good.” I am not amused by amusement parks.

My father was amused by Tom and Ray once. He was visiting me in Boston. We were in my car with the radio on, but I had no idea Dad was listening—he usually couldn’t hear the radio. But Ray said their legal advisors were Dewy, Cheatum, and Howe, and my dad lost it. Sometime later he asked me to write those names down for him. He was writing his will. Remembered entertainment.

I haven’t confirmed this with a dictionary but my use of the two words is to say “entertainment” happens in the moment and is pretty much over when it’s over, but “amusement” hangs around. If something is truly amusing, I think about it later—and am entertained by it over and over. My guess is the word comes from the same root as “muse,” that is, “think.” I don’t know, and I’m not going to look it up. I giggle when I am entertained. I laugh (often to myself) when I am amused.

The Russian Chauffeur

The Russian Chauffeur

I am amused by the concept of the Second Coming of Christ, especially if it’s accompanied by The Rapture or Armageddon or Pre-or-Post-Millennialism. Don’t get all huffy on me. I don’t mean disrespect for anyone’s beliefs. I just find it entertaining over and over again—that is, I am amused—to think about the idea of Jesus suddenly riding down to earth (from where?) in a chariot and gathering everyone up and judging us and then starting this 1,000-year-long war. When he wins he sets himself up to rule the earth in peace and justice for eternity. Why bother with Armageddon or the Rapture or any of that stuff if he knows he’s going to win? Does Jesus need some entertainment? Some amusement? Just think what FOX News will do to sensationalize that war! What entertainment!

I’m sorry to be irreverent. I doubt anyone who might read this believes in the Rapture or Armageddon (a city in Palestine—between Nazareth and Jerusalem—I’ve been there). But I should not be crude and disrespectful anyway.

Now that I have offended and apologized, I’ll get back to the immediate source of my amusement. But, oh no! I don’t remember what I was amused about when I started this writing yesterday. A writing teacher once told me that the way to keep an idea going if you’re interrupted is to stop mid-sentence and the idea will reform itself in your mind when you come back to it. That didn’t work this time.

The reason I don’t know why I began talking about amusement is that the main idea, the purpose, of this writing was not to be anything directly about amusement. I could plead age here. I’m too old to remember such things. The short-term memory, they say, is the first to go. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think the idea was so bizarre that even I, like all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put it together again.

On the other hand, perhaps my inability to remember is a perfect metaphor for what I wanted to write about.

I need to remember without any doubt that November 15, 1986, was the most important day of my life. It was the first day of now 28 years—continuously, day by day—that I have not been drunk.

I don’t know exactly where I was going with the idea of amusement yesterday, but I have a clear idea today. My sobriety has been more or less a trajectory of learning to be amused rather than simply entertained. I’m not sure that before that day 28 years ago I had been truly amused for many years. Entertained, yes. Amused—remembering experiences long enough to develop any long-term pleasure from them—no.

Part of that inability I obviously have little control over. Clinical depression. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Thank goodness—and I mean a depth of gratitude that phrase cannot begin to relate—for medical relief from those conditions. And gratitude for my neurologist who gave me a new way to think about those things: “Remember, it’s your brain that’s depressed, not your mind.”

So I am amused by the idea of the Second Coming. Perhaps because I have been amused by the dozens of (bizarre) hymns I’ve played on the organ in church about it. I was thinking of one a few days ago and being mildly amused. And then I thought, it’s a pretty good metaphor for this 28 year change in my life. I don’t have any idea what the religious language means, but I know about “Night’s left behind at last.” So I guess what I am really amused by is my mind’s ability to make all kinds of kinky connections these days. Amused and grateful. Connections like this: Jan Struther who wrote this hymn also wrote the 1942 Academy Award winning movie, Mrs. Miniver.

High o’er the lonely hills
Black turns to grey,
Birdsong the valley fills,
Mists fold away;
Grey wakes to green again,
Beauty is seen again–
Gold and serene again
Dawneth the day.

So, o’er the hills of life,
Stormy, forlorn,
Out of the cloud and strife
Sunrise is born;
Swift grows the light for us;
Ended is night for us;
Soundless and bright for us
Breaketh God’s morn.

Hear we no beat of drums,
Fanfare nor cry,
When Christ the herald comes
Quietly nigh;
Splendour he makes on earth;
Colour awakes on earth;
Suddenly breaks on earth
Light from the sky.

Bid then farewell to sleep:
Rise up and run!
What though the hill be steep?
Strength’s in the sun.
Now shall you find at last
Night’s left behind at last,
And for mankind at last
Day has begun!

A small town in Palestine?

A small town in Palestine?

“. . . Becoming an imaginary Everyman . . .” (John Koethe)

A Studebaker with back-up camera?

A Studebaker with back-up camera?

Yesterday driving home I understood why I want to get rid of my car. That will necessitate moving to the Lone Star Gas Lofts on St. Paul Street between Wood and Jackson in downtown Dallas. Or some such place. Downtown is the operative word.

Getting rid of my car is top priority. I could do it today and survive, but it would be more complicated than I want it to be. I’m a four-acre parking lot away from the DART train station, but the bus service around here is arcane at best. Maple Avenue, Inwood Avenue, Cedar Springs—which buses go where, and when?

My desire to be rid of my car is simple. Yesterday when I pulled out of my parking space after tutoring, a little blue light came on under the speedometer. I had no idea what it meant, and thought perhaps I was in trouble. It went off shortly, and I decided it meant that 35 degrees was as unpleasant for the car as it was for me.

Cars—even my simple little not-quite-two-year-old Honda—are too complicated these days. What are these electronic gadgets? Like the back-up camera on the car a friend just leased. I know it’s painful to twist this old spine around and look out the rear window, but really. Sheesh! If you can’t do that, should you be driving?

I can’t figure out how to get my “smart TV” hooked up to my Wi-Fi, and it’s stationary. How can I possibly cope with electronic gizmos attached to a 2597-pound body-in-motion?

Home, Sweet Home, in downtown Dallas

Home, Sweet Home, in downtown Dallas

Don’t give me the Newspeak Party Line. I know these things make life easier. If my car had a back-up camera, it would also have a “blind-spot” detector, and would stop on a dime if it sensed a bumbling pedestrian stepping out in front of it. I know these things are doubleplusgood, and that I’m engaging in oldthink verging on crimethink, but I can’t cope.

Really. If you can’t drive the car, what are you doing driving a car?

Over 50% of the cars on Dallas streets are SUVs of some variety—or even larger—and it is not safe, even with danger sensors, to drive a real car on Dallas streets.

So you youngsters go right ahead driving your electronic toys, but count me out. The sooner I figure out how to live without a car, the better. And, by the way, I’d rather spend the insurance money on travel to Brazil than on a car. To say nothing of gasoline.

When we look at the image of our own future provided by the old we do not believe it; an absurd inner voice whispers that will never happen to us . . . When that happens, it will no longer be ourselves that it happens to. We must stop cheating. The whole of our life is in question in the future that is waiting for us. If we do not know what we are going to be, we cannot know what we are. Let us recognize ourselves in this old man or this old woman. It must be done if we are to take upon ourselves the entirety of our human state. (Simone de Beauvoir)

If we do not know what we are going to be, we cannot know who we are.

Try to explain that to a 20-year-old basketball star.

The fact is, I have tried. Just yesterday. And he understood. He understood better than most people ten years younger than I am understand. Many of them are pretending to be his age. Of course he has plenty of good examples of people who do understand. For one, his coach who is 74 years old.

I can hear it now, all of your protests that a person in his 70th year is not “old.” You are wrong. A person in his 70th year IS old.

The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10, NRSV)

What’s wrong with admitting you’re “old?” I never knew my grandfather, Archie James Knight, when he wasn’t old. My dad was 30 and he was 60 when I was born (1945). Granddad was 92 and I was 32 when he died (1977). Longevity runs in our family (Dad lived to 97). But neither Granddad nor Dad ever pretended to be younger than they were. And I never saw either of them living in any way other than fully.

Age is not “only in your mind.” Age is in your body. When I was 30, I had a fairly good example of what I might be when I was 60 and what I might be if I reach 90. I remember my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party when Granddad was 78 and Grandmother was 68. It was a celebration of longevity. Not a party for kids.

My grandfather drove a Studebaker pickup (he was a contractor, built and remodeled homes). It had no radio or turn signals or back-up camera. I don’t know what Granddad thought of cars with radios and turn signals. But I do know he had no problem being the patriarch of our family. He had no problem with acting his age. He had no problem caring for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, without meddling in our lives. He had dignity and integrity. And wisdom and generosity.

My purpose in writing today was not to praise my grandfather. It was simply to remind myself that I know what I am today partly because I have some sense of what I will be. And that includes the example of an old man who always knew who he was and didn’t need Comcast or Facebook or Blogspot or any other foolishness to explain it to him.

By the way, I don’t think John Koethe’s poem is sad or depressing. It simply says what is.

“Fear of the Future,” by John Koethe (b.1945)
In the end one simply withdraws
From others and time, one’s own time,
Becoming an imaginary Everyman
Inhabiting a few rooms, personifying
The urge to tend one’s garden,
A character of no strong attachments
Who made nothing happen, and to whom
Nothing ever actually happened—a fictitious
Man whose life was over from the start,
Like a diary or a daybook whose poems
And stories told the same story over
And over again, or no story. The pictures
And paintings hang crooked on the walls,
The limbs beneath the sheets are frail and cold
And morning is an exercise in memory
Of a long failure, and of the years
Mirrored in the face of the immaculate
Child who can’t believe he’s old.

back up
If you can’t drive, why are you driving?

“. . . push aside the needy in the gate. . .”

Boy, do I have a Ponzi scheme for you!

Boy, do I have a Ponzi scheme for you!

My dad was 78 years old when Bill Clinton was elected President.

Dad had an interesting take on that election. He was glad the unprincipled socialist Democrats had won. That meant when the Republicans ousted them, the GOP would have a mandate to get the country back on track because people would be tired of the insanity.

He was not surprised Bill Clinton was caught in a sex scandal and all the side-circuses that went along with it. He was, however, dumbfounded at the invasion of Iraq by the Republicans a short six years later. Barack Obama was the only Democrat he voted for in 19 elections. He cast his last vote for President in 2008.

I’m less than two months from my 70th birthday, as anyone who knows me or reads my stuff knows. I’m quite vocal about it. I’m going to have the party to sum up all parties. January 3, 2015. Mark your calendar. I’ve voted for president 11 times. I’ve never (and, if I continue to vote, can’t imagine that I ever will) voted for a Republican. That means I’ve voted for the winner only 5 times. Yes, but for the loser only 6—a much better ratio than my father.

Just as my father was glad the unprincipled socialist Democrats took over the government in 1992, I’m glad the Republicans won both houses of Congress this week. I hope they keep that majority and win the Presidency in 2016.

That will hasten the day when the poor and the lower middle classes and the hand-wringing ineffectual “liberals” or “progressives” or whatever we call them these days actually band together to throw the Kochs and the Waltons and Karl Rove and such people out of power.

“Let them eat cake.”

When the American people (at least those who know that the whole system has been taken over by the snobs—the Lexus-driving, sushi-eating, materialistic rich and wannabees) come to their senses and realize that the myth of the American Dream applies only to those whose parents already dreamed the American Dream, they will rise up. This is not sour grapes or incitement to riot. The rising up probably won’t take place in my lifetime, but David Koch’s disingenuous (well, no, it’s worse than that—it’s hypocritical lying) insistence that we throw out our social contract and let everyone get rich will eventually be seen for what it is: using his enormous INHERITED wealth to move the political system to protect his enormous INHERITED wealth. If I had INHERITED a billion dollars, I’d want you all to keep your grubby hands off of it, too.

Me, for President

Me, for President

I know a brilliant, handsome, talented member of a college football team who—as you have already guessed because it has become a cliché of American life—is an African American who was recruited by the Division I college football programs when he was in high school. The high school from which he graduated was not the same one he had attended his first years in public secondary school.

It was, as he told me, “A white school.” In fact, it was the crème de la crème of the white schools—a private school that gave him a $50,000 scholarship to attend and play on its undefeated football team. He also had to work a total of 420 hours for the school during his senior year mowing lawns, washing windows, and cleaning up after his classmates in the cafeteria. He was one of a half dozen black students in the same situation.

His purpose in submitting to that humiliation was to insure that he received at least one year of education of high enough quality to enable him to enroll in college. The “black high school” he would have attended would not have provided enough background learning no matter how hard he worked.

Washing windows and cleaning up after his peers, he said, he learned that, without a college football scholarship to get him to college, he’d work that way the rest of his life. His forced labor taught him both humility and anger.

“Let them eat cake,” Alice Walton says.

Give them an hourly wage that doesn’t quite pay their bills, and then let those who are a little better off pay taxes to provide the millions working for her with food stamps to buy their cake. But for God’s sake, don’t give them health insurance. Let the middle class folks pay for their health care in expensive emergency rooms, or just let them die.

All in the name of the capitalist American Dream. It’s working for Alice Walton and David Koch, so why shouldn’t it work for those of us who didn’t inherit a billion dollars?

Our elected leaders have bought into the scam, the Ponzi scheme that is our government. Or, rather, Alice and David have spent so much money convincing so many of the people who are eating cake that they, too, can be rich that they have elected men (almost all straight—presumably—white men) who are willing to sell their public trust in order to cash in on a few of the crumbs Alice and David are willing to throw.

My football-playing acquaintance is working harder than you or I or Alice or David ever have or ever will work to succeed both athletically and academically because he knows if his dream of playing in the NFL doesn’t work out, he will need some other way to survive. And he doesn’t want to clean up after you in restaurants all his life. (He is, by the way, one of the tiny, tiny percentage of young men trapped in his situation who probably has the skill for his dream to come to fruition.)

So in 2016, if I vote, I will probably vote for Ted Cruz for President. Because I think that may be the only way to hasten the day when justice will roll down.

I hate it when someone quotes the Bible to tell me I’m filthy and going to hell because I have sex with men instead of women. So I really do wish there were another way to say this. But since most people in this country believe that the God of Israel inspired the life that Alice and David want us to provide them with, I will remind you that one of the prophets who most closely (apparently) predicted what would happen to the people of ancient Judea said some pretty scary things about the American
Dream. From the fifth chapter of Amos:

Therefore, because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gate. . .
Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:
In all the squares there shall be wailing;
and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! alas!’
They shall call the farmers to mourning,
and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing;
in all the vineyards there shall be wailing,
for I will pass through the midst of you,

says the Lord.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Let them earn a real living. Forget the cake (or the wonderful art museum in Arkansas, or the Cancer research center at MIT).

In the white high school

In the white high school

“. . . No longer needed there, love is folded away in a drawer. . .” (Chase Twichell)

Every gay boy's dream?

Every gay boy’s dream?

Today is the big day.

When I was in 9th grade, my parents’ friend Emily Wilks and I were having a conversation in the basement of the parsonage where she taught our junior high Sunday School class. (Our Baptist Church’s new building next door was not quite finished.) She asked me for whom I would vote if I could, John F. Kennedy or Richard Nixon. I told her that, of course, I’d vote for Nixon because Kennedy was a Catholic.

Emily’s husband Lowell was a sheep feeder who made lots of money buying thousands of lambs in the spring and selling them in the fall. He was the first “capitalist” whose business I ever understood. Both of them were graduates of the University of Missouri and about the smartest people I knew. She was on the city School Board, and she drove a new Lincoln Continental every fall. The one she was driving that year was the first car any of us knew about that cost more than $5,000. Her son told my brother that, and every other senior at the high school.

Mrs. Wilks asked me if that was a good reason to choose our President. I knew she was a Democrat—the only one on the School Board—so I figured she was just trying to proselytize me. What neither she nor all the Republicans in my life knew was that I was secretly in love with Kennedy (what gay boy in Nebraska wasn’t?), and that I probably would have voted for him.

Is it odd that I remember that conversation from 54 years ago? No. It was, in point of fact, one of the most significant conversations of my life. Mrs. Wilks gave me permission to think about rational reasons for choosing whom to vote for rather than gut-level emotional responses based on irrelevant criteria.

Every Tea Partier's nightmare

Every Tea Partier’s nightmare

Yesterday on the ever-liberal and intellectual NPR, John Hockenberry, host of “The Takeaway,” made a joke that, even though President Obama has not been invited to campaign much for Democrats, he has managed to play 200 rounds of golf during his Presidency. John Hockenberry! I guess NPR is knuckling under to David H. Koch, who is now their singe highest donor.

That is now the level of thought that goes into one’s choice for candidates in this country. It makes voting or not voting for someone because he is a Catholic look like highly erudite and rational thinking.

(Just for kicks, you can find out how many vacation days Presidents are wont to take. President Obama is by far NOT the most self-indulgent President. In point of fact, Ronald Reagan, the [I assume] favorite President of voters who will vote against Democrats today because President Obama plays too much golf, is hands-down the winner of the “day off” contest for Presidents.)

I will be extremely lucky (or unlucky) if I live another 10 years. In the most unthinkable of terms, according to genetics, I could live 27 more years if I reach my father’s age when he died.

I’m not going to get into details about the idiotic reasons people are choosing whom to vote for all across the nation today. I can’t say that my parents’ and most of their friends’ reasons for voting for Richard Nixon in 1960 were much more thoughtful than voting for Joni Ernst because she’s castrated a few pigs. Or voting for Sam Brownback because Paul Davis went to a strip club 20 years ago. Or voting for Greg Abbott because he’s part of the good-ole-boy network that’s been running Texas since 1994.

Or voting against any number of candidates because President Obama plays golf (code for “that uppity N****r”—how dare he play the white man’s game?).

Well, even if I live 27 more years, I can probably count on a small remainder of some semblance of freedom and order in this county. Probably not much, however. More likely, I will die before George Orwell’s society of 1984 has taken over. We’ve always had our fair share of Newspeak (Weapons of Mass Destruction, anyone?). And Big Brother is watching us—watching you reading this (and it doesn’t even take the NSA).

My direction in this writing is not clear. I don’t have a clue what my conclusion is.

I’m not contemplating my death. I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to die. But I do want to live, not to be pursued by capitalists, not to be watched by anti-terrorists, not to be deprived of my rights as a human being by self-absorbed Tea Partiers.

I don’t want to live in some silent future where love is no longer needed.

And I’m afraid our body politic is caroming out of control to a place where the choices are armed, vicious, bloody revolution or where the Ministries of Peace, Plenty, Love, and Truth are devoted to War, Famine, Hatred, and Lies.

Oh, my. How did this end up so dark?

“Inland,” by Chase Twichell (b. 1950)
Above the blond prairies,
the sky is all color and water.
The future moves
from one part to another.

This is a note
in a tender sequence
that I call love,
trying to include you,
but it is not love.
It is music, or time.

To explain the pleasure I take
in loneliness, I speak of privacy,
but privacy is the house around it.
You could look inside,
as through a neighbor’s window
at night, not as a spy
but curious and friendly.
You might think
it was a still life you saw.

Somewhere, the ocean
crashes back and forth
like so much broken glass,
but nothing breaks.
Against itself,
it is quite powerless.

Irises have rooted
all along the fence,
and the barbed berry-vines
gone haywire.

Unpruned and broken,
the abandoned orchard
reverts to the smaller,
harder fruits, wormy and tart.
In the stippled shade,
the fallen pears move
with the soft bodies of wasps,
and cows breathe in
the licorice silage.

It is silent
where the future is.
No longer needed there,
love is folded away in a drawer
like something newly washed.
In the window,
the color of the pears intensifies,
and the fern’s sporadic dust
darkens the keys of the piano.

Clouds containing light
spill out my sadness.
They have no sadness of their own.

The timeless trash of the sea
means nothing to me—
its roaring descant,
its multiple concussions.
I love painting more than poetry.

Mrs. Wilks' new car

Mrs. Wilks’ new car