Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom

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A new-fangled cream bottle dressed in environmentally dangerous plastic, nearly impossible to tear into.

There’s a funny thing about getting old(er). Just one for today, at any rate.

For 35 years of teaching college writing, whenever a student began a sentence with “there,” I patiently asked them if they knew about Richard Nixon. An expletive, I would explain, is “an interjectory word or expression, frequently profane; an exclamatory oath.” Anyone old enough to remember 1975 knows why I always used Richard Nixon as my opening example for a lesson about writing expletives. What many people (most people, even college graduates) don’t know is that “There is” and “It is” and their various tenses are “expletives.” They hold the place of a real subject in a sentence. That is, they are profane substitutes for telling your reader what you’re talking about. I told students that they did not need to vent their frustration at the writing process by swearing at me.

What is the subject in my sentence about a funny thing?

My subject is “a funny thing” although it is obscured and delayed so you would hardly know it by my use of the expletive.

Never mind. There’s a funny thing about getting old(er). The subject at hand (pun, I suppose, intended as you will see below) is what happens to your fingers as you senesce. They begin to balk at doing small jobs that they have done all your life. Buttoning the top button on a dress shirt, for example. This morning it was getting hold of the “pull here to open” tab on the half-and-half bottle to cream my coffee. Turning pages while playing the organ is simply impossible. And pages in books present a challenge, too (Nook Books are cheaper, anyway).

And then there’s the iPhone keyboard or whatever you call those little squares with letters on the screen of my phone. But I won’t even begin with that frustration.

There’s a theory that fingerprints wear off as you age, and you don’t get as much traction when you try to do something requiring dexterity. My dermatologist said he didn’t think that was true, and then he looked at the ends of my fingers. He wasn’t convinced, but he wasn’t so certain he was right, either. The ends of my fingers are pretty smooth.
There’s also a theory that your joints get creaky―not necessarily arthritic, but not as flexible as they once were. I don’t believe that. Last Sunday I played the big Bach chorale prelude (really a fugue) on Wir glauben doch all’ an den einen Gott, and my fingers moved just fine; my musical brain may be slowing down, but if I practice, my fingers aren’t.

img_5833

My smooth old fingers.

There must be lots of other theories.

I have my own theory. (Subject, “I,” verb, “have,” direct object, “theory;” no swear words.)

My theory: almost always when I have trouble doing some little task because my fingers won’t cooperate, the trouble is really caused by my mind. Not that my mind is slowing down (it is, of course, but that’s not the problem here). My mind goes immediately to someone’s idiocy. To put it plainly, opening the half-and-half bottle should not be difficult. I mean, it SHOULD NOT BE difficult. What idiot made these things so you have to have either an 18-year-old brain to figure out or 18-year-old fingers to cope with it?

Milk is supposed to come in glass bottles that the milkman picks up when you’re finished with them. And they are supposed to have little paper stoppers in them with cute little tabs that you pull to open it. And the whole affair―for all you young environmentalists―is biodegradable. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

I know I am turning into one of those crotchety old men who just wants to Make America Great Again―great as in uncomplicated, easy, natural.

Natural. It’s not natural to know all about the billionaires in our midst. It’s not natural that there ARE billionaires in our midst. It’s not natural to think you’re better than someone else just because of your skin color. It’s not natural to want to keep out of the country people who have lost everything they own to a war they didn’t start and don’t want. It’s not natural to substitute fake news for real news. It’s not natural to think your religion is better than someone else’s religion. It’s not natural to hate someone who loves someone of the same sex. It’s not natural for you to hate people for any of these reasons (and a lot more) because, actually, who they are and what they need and want is none of your goddam business.

There. You were waiting for my expletive, weren’t you? Well there it is. It’s none of your goddam business. Hardly anything that someone believes or thinks is any of your business unless they’re family. Oh, and if you happen to be a Christian (or some other religion―Christian is the only one I know about), and they need something like food or a decent place to live, then it’s your business. Then the king will say unto you if you take care of them, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom. Because you took care of those refugees, and those homeless folk, and those kids without enough food. That’s the only way you inherit the kingdom” (whatever that is, but it sounds like something I might like).

Choose your battles. Stop fuming because you can’t open the milk bottle. Be thankful you have one. And stop getting mad because someone wants to move in here after their home is bombed. Be thankful you have a home. And share. “Inasmuch as you do it for one of the least of these”― one of these whom you despise the most ― “you do it for me,” says the King.

milk-bottles-001

Milk bottles the way milk bottles are supposed to be.

Note: I would be pleased and honored if you would check out one of my other blogs. Thank you.

“. . . but perfect love casts out fear . . .” (1 John 4:18)

the good samaritan

Antonio Zanchi, The Good Samaritan, 1680

I assume I understand some important concepts of the Bible―at least in a general sense―even if I don’t believe them. I grew up as the son of a Baptist minister and attended Baptist Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and even a “nominally” Baptist University. For a semester I attended a Methodist seminary. They asked me to withdraw because I’m gay (that was 1968, and I don’t know why I was in seminary anyway).

About 30 or 40 years ago, I began seriously thinking about what I hear when others, Christians, speak of Bible basis for their faith/belief. Some theological constructs have such a tenuous relationship to anything I know about the Bible that it’s easy to dismiss them out of hand. The Rapture. Dispensationalism. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. A prohibition on abortion.

I don’t have any trouble with literal beliefs in ideas from the Bible that are obviously meant as mythology. If someone has to believe God created the universe in six days in order to navigate their life on this earth, that’s fine.

All of those nit-picky little “beliefs” are immaterial to me. My relationship with the Bible is only a little more personal than my relationship to Beowulf, Siegfried, and Odysseus. If anyone wants to believe in “The Clear-Eyed Athena,” that’s fine with me, just don’t expect me to join in any sacrifices in an old stone building in Athens.

The ideas I wonder about even in my apparent apostasy are less based in “factual” details that someone might or might not believe, than in what seem to me to be the “big ideas” in the Bible. Some of those “big ideas” I do believe in.

For example, the concept “love” in the Bible. Here are some Bible verses about “love” I remember. I had to look up exact citations, but I remembered all of these verbatim (not exactly―I found the NRSV translation to replace the King James language I memorized as a Baptist kid).

• Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
• So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16)
• There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18)
• By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22)
• If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)
• He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

From the news:

[On FOX News Cruz] listened as Crowder outlined “four winning issues for Republicans. . . . Islam, now, is a winning issue: calling it out for what it is.” Cruz nodded vigorously and responded, “Yep.”
___That’s what’s really going on. Cruz isn’t agonizing over the mechanics of vetting refugees. He’s exploiting anti-Muslim anger and sucking up to the Christian right. And he’s doing it while wearing his own disguise: principled leader. (Saletan, William. “Ted Cruz’s Sophisticated Bigotry: This is how you bash Muslims while pretending to be principled.” Slate. Nov. 24, 2015.)

And again:

[Cruz appeared] On Fox News, the day after the attacks on Paris. If there are Syrian Muslims who are really being persecuted, he said, they should be sent to “majority-Muslim countries.” Then he reset his eyebrows, which had been angled in a peak of concern, as if he had something pious to say. And he did: “On the other hand,” he added, “Christians who are being targeted for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them.”
(Davidson, Amy. “Ted Cruz’s Religious Test for Syrian Refugees.” The New Yorker. November 16, 2015).

Finally:

Cruz is ramping up his South Carolina efforts. . . . On Monday, he visited one of his two campaign headquarters in the state . . . He quoted Scripture and prayed with a woman on the phone as Vonnie Gleason, a volunteer in her 50s, looked on with tears in her eyes.
___“His words are so much from the heart,” Gleason said. “He was praying with her like she was his best friend.”
___That ability to connect with Christians gives Cruz “a real good chance, because of all the conservative Christians here,” said Linda McCarthy of Greenville. (Glueck, Katie. Politico. 12/09/15.)

I do not mean to accuse Ted Cruz of anything. I don’t know the man. I’ve never heard him say, “I hate Muslims” or “I hate gays.” However, these positions he has taken are clearly not congruent with

  • There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (1 John 4:18)
  • By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (Galatians 5:22).

Ted Cruz is rising in the polls for the Republican nomination for President, seemingly poised to give Donald Trump, who has said blatantly hateful things about women, Hispanics, and Muslims, a run for his money. I do not mean to denounce Cruz or Trump (although it probably seems that I am). I’m pretty sure I could have found such items for every candidate.

I merely want to ask a question.

In order to feel secure in a society presumably based on Christian and/or liberal democratic principles, must we forego treating non-Christians and/or those who are not already steeped in liberal democratic principles with the “love” that seems to be at the core of the Christian tradition?

samaritan

Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), The Good Samaritan

“. . . Yet the absence of the imagination had Itself to be imagined. . . (Wallace Stevens)

turban walkingFor some time I’ve been meaning to research all of the possible meanings of the word turban. For a specific reason. Wallace Stevens uses it in the last line of the second stanza of his poem, “The Plain Sense of Things.”

No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The rest of the poem gives me no trouble. I have a meaning that it means to me—if a poem “means” anything. But how on earth can a “turban [walk] across the lessened floors?” Bizarre. I’ve had this poem in the back of my mind for a while but have avoided thinking about it directly because I can’t figure out what that image is.

I Googled “turban walking” and found a plethora of pictures of people in turbans walking. Most of them pretty silly. Many, of course, worthy of Charlie Hebdo—tasteless, mean, unnecessary, pushing the bounds of “rights” into the arena of “irresponsibility” (akin to the constant idiocy of the NRA). What I hoped to find was the image like one of a couple of handsome men in their white robes and turbans walking on the streets of Amman, Jordan, that I took in 2013.

I found one I liked of a distinguished man said to be in Amman, quod vide above.

Yet the absence of the imagination itself had to be imagined.

Not too long ago I wrote about the statement attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that “It is quite impossible for a thinking being to imagine nonbeing, a cessation of thought and life.” I do not know which to prefer, imagining the absence of the imagination or the impossibility of imagining non-being. (See stanza V.)

Mr. Goethe

Mr. Goethe

I’m pretty sure Goethe is more right than Stevens on this point. The absence of (anything) cannot be imagined (the old joke, “don’t think about the elephant”) because as thinking beings it is impossible for us to imagine not being.

When I write about these things, a few people who keep track of me worry that I’m suicidal or something. I’m not thinking about death. I’m thinking about not thinking. I suppose that means I’m thinking about being dead, but that’s not the same as thinking about death (which for some of us leads naturally and easily to thinking about suicide, hence causing friends to worry).

Simply put, I’m wondering if, when I am dead, the world, the universe, my family, this Internet posting will continue. Or, when I die, does the whole charade, the entire imagining of someone’s mind ends. Is the jig up? Long ago some comic strip or another (I used to think it was Bloom County with Opus) as its daily installment started with one character whispering to another, “The jig is up, pass it on.” The last frame showed a faraway character whispering to another, “The wig is wag.”

Isn’t that the way we get our information? especially about our own mortality. So many people in the “pass it on” line have misheard the original truth that we actually think what was said originally was,

“Whosever believeth in Him shall have eternal life.”

Or,

“Theirs are gardens, with rivers flowing beneath – their eternal Home. Allah is well-pleased with them.”

Or,

“Make me immortal in . . . the third region, the third heaven of heavens, where the worlds are resplendent. For Indra, flow you on, Indu!”

Or,

“But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”

Because my intellectual acumen is not as great as Pat Robertson’s, or Bill Maher’s, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s, or Mullah Mohammed Omar’s, Or Amar Zutshi’s, I can’t agree or disagree with any of them.

My observation is limited to this. Anyone who is 70 years old and is not giving at least a passing thought to these things is not doing their homework.

. . . The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

“THE PLAIN SENSE OF THINGS,” by Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

Michelangelo's heaven

Michelangelo’s heaven

“. . . and everyone else falls on top.” (Humberto Ak’Abal)

Indigenous Guatemalan poet, Humberto Ak’Abal

Indigenous Guatemalan poet, Humberto Ak’Abal

I detest ideas showing up in my mind that seem improbably judgmental either of myself or of others. Especially of others. I grew up in a household and a community where lip-service at the very least was given to John 8:8, ““Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

This is a story from the Bible in which Jesus was hanging out in Jerusalem preaching and teaching when some people brought him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They wanted to stone her to death (did that practice in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other places Americans like to judge so harshly come directly from the Bible?). Jesus said it would be OK, provided that the first stone was thrown by someone who had never sinned. The would-be executioners sneaked away with their tails egos between their legs.

I most often reserve my judgmentalism for people who are doing bad things or thinking evil thoughts as the result of being stupid (at a given moment, not inherently). Like anyone who voted for Ted Cruz, or anyone who thinks the 2nd Amendment is license to kill. Or anyone who thinks school vouchers and charter schools are anything other than means to destroy equal-opportunity education.

I would never judge anyone for a simple little human foible like committing adultery. I’ve done it myself. I think Jesus had it about right when he said, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, NRSV). He probably would have said “looking at a man with lust,” too, if any of the gay men in his audience had been “out.” Obviously, from the story I began with, he would have meant it for women looking at men, too.

My stuff, waiting to go to the Goodwill.

My stuff, waiting to go to the Goodwill.

I’m having a terrible time getting my ass in gear (as we said in the 60s) to clean out the stuff in my apartment. Hardly anyone I know would be able to live in this mess. It’s not that I’m one of those troubled “hoarders” on TV. I don’t have litter on my floors. I have clean sheets on my bed, a clean kitchen, and a living room area that is neat and tidy. It’s just all these books and DVDs and CDs and pictures and clothes and . . . like most people’s I suppose.

The problem is, I don’t know how to sort. I don’t know how to put things away. I don’t know how to tidy up. There’s always something more important to do than fold the clean sheets and put them away (if I can remember where I decided at some point they should live).

My lawyer friend tells me that more files are always better than fewer files. Little does he know.

So I wonder how much time in a week the normal, middle-class, neat, organized American spends sorting and folding laundry, washing dishes and putting them away, emptying waste baskets, vacuuming, washing the bathroom mirror, shopping for groceries and putting them away. . .

It’s the putting way that is the problem, as I said. I wonder if anyone has ever kept track of the time they spend in a week putting stuff away. A place for everything and everything in its place.

There are other ways of thinking about stuff.

“The bread that is in your box belongs to the hungry; the coat in your closet belongs to the naked; the shoes you do not wear belong to the barefoot; the money in your vault belongs to the destitute” (St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, c. A.D. 370).

The coat in my closet belongs to the naked. I have three sport coats in a clothes hamper waiting to go to the dry cleaners. They’ve been there for about three months. Do I need them? Obviously not. I know, I know, normal people don’t live quite this way. You there, yes you, dear reader, you would take your sport coat to the cleaner the morning after you realized it needed it. You certainly would not have three of them that needed cleaning at once.

Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? . . . the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear moldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. (From St. Basil the Great, Homily on the saying of the Gospel According to Luke, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” and on greed, §7 (PG 31, 276B – 277A).

I don’t know where I’m going with this, but it seems to me the Church Fathers—at least on this point—have it about right. If I’ve got so many clothes that I can leave three sport coats in the clothes hamper for three months, isn’t that too many clothes? I’m not rich and I see this dilemma. I don’t have much of anything compared to lots of people I know—and especially to a few people I don’t know.

But I’m looking for help to sort and divest myself of the stuff I don’t need. The question is, where is the line? How much stuff is enough? How much is too much? I am, by any measurement, pretty low on the totem pole as far as wealth and owning stuff is concerned.

But there are those three sport coats I don’t need.

Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone.

“The Dance,” by Humberto Ak’Abal
All of us dance
on a cent’s edge.

The poor—because they are poor—
lose their step,
and fall

and everyone else
falls on top.

I think we’re a people of too much stuff. And we’re falling on top of the poor.

Titian, The Woman Taken in Adultery

Titian, The Woman Taken in Adultery

sum link for other blog

“Live in the layers, not on the litter. . .” (Stanley Kunitz, 1905 – 2006)

My Big Horn Mountains - tectonic uplift

My Big Horn Mountains – tectonic uplift

Stanley Kunitz was 73 (three or four years older than I am now) in 1978 when he wrote his poem “The Layers.” He lived another 28 years and died in 2006 at 101. Remarkable by almost any family’s stats.

My mother lived to be 92, my father lived to be 97 and His father lived to be 92. I could continue the list of my close relatives who lived to be nonagenarians.

By the laws of averages and statistics, it seems to me that I may be hanging around here for some time (I’m only 69). Given simple genetics, I have some time left to enjoy myself—or do something, at any rate.

I want to spend more years in the mountains. The real, majestic, overwhelming mountains. Mountains like the Big Horns in Wyoming, at the western slope of which I lived my first five years. Or the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, in whose shadow I lived for 11 years.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

I am not who I was though some principle of being myself remains.

Of his poem Kunitz said,

“I wrote ‘The Layers’ in my late seventies to conclude a collection of sixty years of my poetry. Through the years I had endured the loss of several of my dearest friends. . . I felt I was near the end of a phase in my life and in my work.”

He went on to say that the lines “Live in the layers, not on the litter” came to him in a dream. I suppose if one is a poet, lines appear in dreams.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!

If I think about the tribe of friends and family I’ve had in my life so far, I understand the notion of the tribe scattered. I’ve been watching a TV program about the geological history of Australia. I’m fascinated that the geologists and zoologists and anthropologists can look at layers of rock and decipher the ages of fossils they find there (I’m fascinated that they can pick up what appear to be scattered rocks and put them together to form a dinosaur fossil).

My beach at Winter Island

My beach at Winter Island

The earth has—apparently world-wide—a layer of what used to be soot (it’s black, at any rate) that has been compressed into rock. Geologists find it almost anywhere on the earth they look. The residue of earth’s crash with an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Anyone who knows even the little I know science/evolution/geology knows about the great Yucatan Asteroid Smash, a cataclysmic event. And one which is revealed through the constant movement, the uplift, of the earth’s outer shell (made up of the “layers”), the tectonic plates.

Stanley Kunitz (as poets do) gave me a new way to think about the layers of the earth—the layers of my life. Childhood. Teen years. College. Floundering. Graduate school. Failed marriage. First partnership with him. Second partnership. College teaching career. Third partnership. More graduate school. University teaching. Topsoil. Retirement/whatever.

My favorite geological wonder is the uplift of mountains. How do the tectonic plates move? Is the uplift sudden and earth-shattering, or slow and deliberate (apparently it’s slow—the Andes, I’ve read somewhere, are getting taller by a milli-inch every year)? I want to know the mountains.

The uplift, the earth-shattering experiences of my life (yes, I am a drama queen). Moving from Nebraska to California for college. Getting married. Moving to Iowa for graduate school. Getting divorced. Moving to Massachusetts to be with him. Then the next him. College teaching. The real him and moving to Dallas.

The uplifts, the layer-shattering experiences of my life seem to have involved moving from one place to another.

Or simply visiting one place or another.

The greatest tectonic uplift of my life was my first trip to Palestine in 2003. Nothing about my life was unaffected by that experience. All of the layers were dislodged.

OK. I’ll stop with the (by this time over-done and corny) metaphor.

I understood there for the first time how costly, how inestimable human life is. I realized for the first time the meaning of one sentence I learned from the foundational “layer” of my life. The way I learned it first was something about losing your life to find it. I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of Matthew 16:24-26. I met people in Palestine who

Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. . . Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way. . . to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?

I met people in Palestine—Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, Rafa, Gaza City, Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron—who know about keeping themselves but losing everything. I’ve purposefully left out the phrases in the quotation that make it explicitly “Christian.” I know some of my friends would have visceral negative reactions to that. They’re missing the point.

I’m not saying people who know about losing everything (the shattering crush of the “tectonic plates” of their lives) and saving themselves don’t live elsewhere. But most of the people I met in those places, especially the Salsa family in Beit Sahour, showed me (I still have not learned the lesson well) what little is worth “. . . trad[ing] your soul for.”

Of course, the Palestinians have been forced to learn. But they have learned. Those whom I met in 2003 and again in 2009 know about the value of life in a way almost no one else I know does. They know how to live in the layers of their lives, not in the litter around them—even the cataclysmic earth-shattering events of their lives.

“The Layers,” by Stanley Kunitz, 1905 – 2006

Know how to live in the layers, not the litter

Know how to live in the layers, not the litter

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

“When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter. . .” (W. H. Auden)

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

Defense against a peaceful demonstration, Bethlehem

With even a modest ability to consider objectively the barrage of “information” overwhelming us hour by hour by hour by minute, one can see that any media—any format—presenting information about the current attempt of Israel to obliterate Palestinian Gaza assumes a priori that Israel’s actions are justified.

The common—no the absolute overwhelming majority—wisdom is that “Israel has the right to protect itself.”

This is a “truth” so often repeated that it sounds as if it came from, Oh, I don’t know, perhaps the Holy Bible. Or the United States Constitution. Or the United Nations Charter. Or the Bhagavad Gita. Or the Qur’an. Or Shakespeare. Or SNL. It is simple truth, not to be questioned. It is as universal belief as the made-up science of economics.

Belief in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” is no less pervasive than that “Israel has a right to protect itself.”

Hardly anyone (at least hardly anyone in public) thinks about whether or not the proposition is true. And almost no one wants to hear any information that might contradict the received wisdom.

The wisdom began to be received, I would guess, during and immediately after the 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I have, in fact, read about the process whereby the Israeli Cabinet decided to use Madison Avenue tactics, if not a Madison Avenue firm, to begin to persuade the American people that the belief, “Israel has a right to defend itself,” is simply true, is simply to be accepted without thought. I will plow through the stuff I have and find that article (or reread the book, whatever it takes).

Until then, trust me. OK, don’t trust me. There’s no reason for you to do so until I have located the evidence that I am correct.

So in lieu of trusting me, trust yourself.

Ask yourself why the massive destruction of cities, the horrifying murder of civilians Israel is perpetrating right now is in any way an expression of the “right to self-defense.”

Do you think Russia’s annexation of Crimea was an act of self-defense?
Do you think Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait in 1990 was an act of self-defense?
Do you think the genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutus of Rwanda in 1994 was an act of self-defense?
Which side in the Bosnian war of the 1990s, the Serbs or the Croats was exercising its “right of self-defense?”

Think. Simply think about it.

Defense against a child

Defense against a child

My guess is that anyone who might be reading this can quote the last sentence of

Perhaps someone might say, “Socrates, can you not go away from us and live quietly, without talking?” Now this is the hardest thing to make some of you believe. For if I say that such conduct would be disobedience to the god and that therefore I cannot keep quiet, you will think I am jesting and will not believe me; and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. Socrates speaking Plato’s Apology [37 (e) to 38 (a)].

The unexamined life is not worth living.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people,” [President] Obama said.

What on earth does that phrase mean—and what are its implications? Its implications are that Israel has a right to continue the ethnic cleansing of all “Arabs” (read “Palestinians”) from the territory Israel claims as its own—the ethnic cleansing that began during the war that led up to the declaration of the founding of Israel in 1948.

The constant repetition of an idea for decades does not make it true.

Ad populum: This is an emotional appeal that speaks to positive (such as patriotism, religion, democracy) or negative (such as terrorism or fascism) concepts rather than the real issue at hand.

Much writing is available to anyone who wants to think about the “received wisdom” that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” One might—after reading any or all of such writing—decide that the proposition is correct.

The question remains, however, where did the idea originate, and why was it first stated? Is it, in fact, the “truth,” or is it an Ad populum logical fallacy used to justify aggression and the subjugation of one people by another?
I said above there is much writing available. My project over the next few weeks is to gather a bibliography of such material and publish it on my other blog as a resource for anyone who believes that

talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man,

and that the unexamined life is not worth living includes questioning our received beliefs about atrocity. The link to the first installment of the bibliography is below Auden’s explanation of tyrannical speech.

“Epitaph on a Tyrant,” by W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

http://sumnonrabidus.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/when-he-laughed-respectable-senators-burst-with-laughter-w-h-auden/

Defense against a worker returning home

Defense against a worker returning home

 

 

“. . . even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees. . . (Nazim Hikmet)

The only tree I've ever planted.

The only tree I’ve ever planted.

Martin Luther (the first Martin Luther, not MLK), according to legend was out in his yard planting a tree (presumably apple, which he loved) and proclaimed, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree today.”

According to legend. No record of Luther’s remark exists—according to the website Luther 2017, the official state-operated site of the “Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt” preparing for the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, October 31, 1517.

Perhaps Minnesota or Iowa has a state-operated website for the anniversary—or Fredericksburg, TX, has a city-operated site. The German Lutherans who founded Fredericksburg came there in the early 19th century to escape using the new “Service Book” being forced on all Protestants in Prussia, whether Lutheran or Reformed.

In his poem “On Living” Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), “the first modern Turkish poet” proclaims

I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees–
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

Who would have guessed that the great 16th-century German church reformer and the 20th-century Marxist Turkish/Russian poet would come to the same conclusion about how to live one’s life?

I don’t plant trees. The only one I ever planted, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Farmer Branch, TX, in memory of my late partner Jerry Hill, was uprooted when the church closed and the city bought the property to build a new fire station.

Since I retired (I won’t be, in fact, retired until August 1), I have had a hankering to play an organ recital. I have the program in mind. (Except for one work. I want to play an organ piece by a Palestinian or Palestinian-American composer, but I haven’t yet found one.)

It’s going to be a fairly simple program: one Bach work, a Mendelssohn Sonata, a couple of Brahms chorale preludes, and either two of the “Fantasies for Organ” by Ross Lee Finney, or the mystery work by a Palestinian composer.

This “retirement” business is, so far, unsettling. How does one keep oneself in some sort of trajectory toward—well, toward what? What do I need to do? What do I want to do? What does anyone else need or want me to do?

These are, in reality, questions I’ve been asking myself for 68 of my 69 years.

I’ve never been quite sure the way I’m living—what I’m doing or what I’m not doing—is “right.” I don’t need any philosophical or theological or self-help or 12-step recovery answers to the question, “Am I living right?” I’ve read Nietzsche, I’ve read Heidegger, I’ve read Baudrillard, I’ve practically memorized the Bible, I’ve listened to Dr. Oz, I’ve learned about the Third Wave of Behavioral Therapy, I’ve read Waking the Tiger, I read Bill Wilson and company all the time. I draw the line at The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People—that requires remembering to carry a planner everywhere you go.

I have to leave religion out of trying to answer the question. At least for now. I know that puts some of my friends off, but I can’t please everyone. And I’m not going to be as jihadist about that as Bill Maher is.

“Am I living right?”

Nazim Hikmet’s answer is

Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example–
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.

“Living must be your whole occupation.”

I know all together too well that living is no laughing matter. My goodness, if I read my post from yesterday—meltdown number 1001 (or more)—I have no doubt I understand “living with great seriousness.”

". . .living must be your whole occupation. . ."

“. . .living must be your whole occupation. . .”

I’ve been living with great seriousness all my life. Oh, I know how to have a good time—a genuine good time for the last 27 years since I started reading Bill Wilson and company (their writings are not, by the way, philosophy, theology, or “self-help”). But basically life seems to have been no laughing matter for me.

Or perhaps not. “Living must be your whole occupation.”

Much (most?) of the time I don’t remember that. But there are times that I do. When I sit at the organ and play, for example, the Brahms Chorale Prelude Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (“Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness”), I realize there are (have been) a few times when living has been my whole occupation, when I have not been “looking for something beyond and above living.

I’ve thought through what I’m going to say next, and I know it sounds contradictory. But it is not.

Much of the time when I play the organ, my experience is like the rest of my experience—not quite meltdown 101, but not exactly living as my whole occupation. I don’t have the physical acumen to play complicated works easily, but I keep trying. But once in a while I discover a work that fits my fingers, my mind, and my spirit so that playing it can be my “whole occupation.” A listener might not think that’s true, but for me it is.

Thank goodness for Brother Martin.

Thank goodness for Brother Martin.

I can extrapolate from that experience to my daily struggle to figure out if “I am living right.” If I can give myself to whatever it is I am doing, not looking “for something beyond and above” any given action at any given moment, perhaps I can “live as if we will never die.”

Yikes! That’s about as spooky as anything I’ve ever written. Thank goodness for Brother Martin, whether he said it or not. I’ll keep planting that tree—or whatever I’m doing—even if the end is near.

(Note: I have copied Nazim Hikmet’s entire poem here. It is not short, but I think you will find it rewarding to read.)

“On Living,” by Nazim Hikmet, 1902 – 1963
(Translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, 1994)
I
Living is no laughing matter:
you must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example–
I mean without looking for something beyond and above living,
I mean living must be your whole occupation.
Living is no laughing matter:
you must take it seriously,
so much so and to such a degree
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back,
your back to the wall,
or else in a laboratory
in your white coat and safety glasses,
you can die for people–
even for people whose faces you’ve never seen,
even though you know living
is the most real, the most beautiful thing.
I mean, you must take living so seriously
that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees–
and not for your children, either,
but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,
because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
II
Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery–
which is to say we might not get up
from the white table.
Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad
about going a little too soon,
we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,
we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,
or still wait anxiously
for the latest newscast. . .
Let’s say we’re at the front–
for something worth fighting for, say.
There, in the first offensive, on that very day,
we might fall on our face, dead.
We’ll know this with a curious anger,
but we’ll still worry ourselves to death
about the outcome of the war, which could last years.
Let’s say we’re in prison
and close to fifty,
and we have eighteen more years, say,
before the iron doors will open.
We’ll still live with the outside,
with its people and animals, struggle and wind–
I mean with the outside beyond the walls.
I mean, however and wherever we are,
we must live as if we will never die.
III
This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet–
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space . . .
You must grieve for this right now
–you have to feel this sorrow now–
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .

Nazim Hikmet was born on January 15, 1902 in Salonika, Ottoman Empire (now Thessaloniki, Greece). . . Raised in Istanbul, Hikmet left Allied-occupied Turkey after the First World War and ended up in Moscow, where he attended the university and met writers and artists from all over the world. Hikmet died of a heart attack in Moscow in 1963. The first modern Turkish poet, he is recognized around the world as one of the great international poets of the twentieth century.