“I Go for Joe” (Smith, that is)

terrytown4jres

The home of the richest man in town. He said so.

On Facebook yesterday, I posted the following grouse:

I have an old new theme song from junior high summer camp. “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through. . .” At least this country’s not my home. What happened to the place I used to live where equality and civility were at least seen as goals to work for?

Silly, yes, but several of my friends responded positively, one – who is not quite my age – at some length.

My complaint could have several meanings, of course. The old camp song is about mortality and heaven.   I wonder what a bunch of junior high school kids could possibly have known of mortality. The Baptists were preparing us to believe we will be ushered directly into heaven if or when we die. However, at that age we surely did not think the angels would, in point of fact, beckon us. Ever.

The song raises and, for the faithful, puts to rest the question of mortality whether or not a bunch of 13-year-olds might understand it.

However, these days I take it to mean more, much more. In fact, I find it meaningful even though I have long since given up any belief in heaven.

In 1956, one of the most influential men in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, my home town, was a delegate to the Republican national convention. He was indignant about the inevitability of the nominations. When it came time in the roll call for the Nebraska delegation to pass so Richard Nixon could be nominated for Vice-President by acclamation, the delegate took the floor and nominated Joe Smith, a fictitious person. I wrote about this event awhile back.

Terry Carpenter  was not, at least by the reckoning of the adults I knew, admirable. He was wealthy, egotistical, and politically opportunistic. He famously said he wanted to help the little man because when the revolution came, they’d go for the biggest house in town, “Which is mine.” It was his – a two-story mansion on half a block of property, just down the street from our home. During his career, he was a member of Congress, mayor of Scottsbluff, and a member of the Nebraska legislature, switching back and forth from Democrat to Republican depending on which party was in power.

Something I read recently about the new “populism” reminded me of Carpenter (which incidentally indicated to me how bizarre the use of that term is in our current political milieu). I googled him. He died in 1978 at the age of 78. If we had been septuagenarians in the same place at the same time, I would like to have known him. I know no rich and powerful folks well enough to engage them in conversation about what they think and feel, but I’d like to ask such a person if riches and power preclude a person from thinking

. . . the angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.

Terry Carpenter’s life and career remind me of other folks. For example, do Donald Trump and members of Congress, more than half of whom are millionaires, think “This world is not [their] home; [they’re] just a-passin’ through”?

As a kid at Baptist camp, I memorized the entire Sermon on the Mount from the book Matthew. I know the admonition, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:1-2, RSV).terry-carpenter-lincoln-journal-star-file-photo-1968

Senator Terry Carpenter opposing 1971 course in Homophile studies at the
University of Nebraska.

I’m probably judging (my friends would say there is no doubt about it), but I’m trying to understand how one might (apparently) live in such certainty of one’s place in the world, if not in the universe, to seem to have no awareness that “[their] treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” Is it possible to be unaware? Why does Donald Trump need to own towers all around the world? Why does Betsy DeVos need to be head of a government department? Why does Darrel Issa, with his half-billion dollar fortune need to be in Congress? He’s only 63, so perhaps it makes some sense that he’s not thinking about heaven. Yet.

I’m moderately certain that nowhere beyond the blue a treasure is waiting for me when I die. Or for Terry Carpenter, Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, and Darrell Issa. I am, however, relatively certain that whatever meager treasure I have this side of the blue is not going to keep me from dying. I am more and more certain with each passing day that this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through. And I may be wrong, but I think  those other folks are just passing through, too.

My Facebook post was incorrect. I have never lived in a place “where equality and civility were at least seen as goals to work for.” Terry Carpenter was around when I was a kid, and all those other rich and powerful folks are around now. I was in Scottsbluff then, and I’m in Dallas now, judging and criticizing and being cantankerous (and perhaps jealous) as I apparently always have done.

Oh well. It doesn’t matter in the long run if we are civil or work for equality or do any of those things that seem like nice ideas – because there is no long run.

A CAMPAIGN STATEMENT BY JOE SMITH’S OPPONENT, ADLAI STEVENSON.
I think one of our most important tasks is to convince others that there’s nothing to fear in difference; that difference, in fact, is one of the healthiest and most invigorating human characteristics without which life would become meaningless. Here lies the power of the liberal way. . .  in helping ourselves and others to see some of the possibilities inherent in viewpoints other than one’s own; in encouraging the free interchange of ideas; in welcoming fresh approaches to the problems of life; in urging the fullest, most vigorous use of self-criticism.  (Quoted in John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church. A Chosen Faith. Boston: Beacon Press (1998) 81.)

Oh no, not politics!

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Professor Nuno Themudo Wins 2016 Best Book Award, for his book Nonprofits in Crisis: Economic Development, Risk and the Philanthropic Kuznets Curve (Photo: YouTube)

“. . . if he complies with the habitual expectations of a leader’s role, then he is not a charismatic leader . . .”

This is not really politics, but I apologize for turning from thoughts of eternity and the open prairie to the hyper-mundane. I can’t help myself this morning.

I’m in a dither today. I suppose my writing (and whatever passes as my thinking) has nothing to do with getting old(er). Well, yes it does. It has to do with my perception of the steady erosion of freedom in America over my lifetime ― and the terrifying acceleration it has taken in the last few months.
___I was trying to research something else entirely (that’s how researchers find the best stuff ― going where the train of evidence takes them, not where they meant to go) and I came across a study of corruption in the “developing” world, in nations where the World Bank has identified corruption as a social and political problem.   The article was listed as a footnote in another scholarly article I was reading. (Please note it was written in 2013 and is not directed at Trump per se.)

[Opening paragraph] How does civil society [the organizations and informal networks “located between the family, the state and the market in which people associate voluntarily to advance common interests”] impact corruption?  . . .  According to the World Bank, corruption is “the single greatest obstacle to economic and social development.” Corruption undermines public trust in government and other institutions, wastes public resources, and obstructs the responsive management of vital public goals, such as poverty alleviation, health care, and public safety . . .  corruption “constitutes a challenge to the very foundations of development cooperation. . . .
(Themudo, Nuno S. “Reassessing the Impact of Civil Society: Nonprofit Sector, Press Freedom, and Corruption.” Governance 26.1 (2013): 63-89.)

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook shared this article.

The debts of President-elect Donald Trump and his businesses are scattered across Wall Street banks, mutual funds and other financial institutions, broadening the tangle of interests that pose potential conflicts for the incoming president’s administration.
___Hundreds of millions of dollars of debt attached to Mr. Trump’s properties, some of them backed by Mr. Trump’s personal guarantee, were packaged into securities and sold to investors over the past five years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of legal and property documents.
___Mr. Trump has previously disclosed that his businesses owe at least $315 million to 10 companies. According to the Journal’s analysis, Trump businesses’ debts are held by more than 150 institutions. They bought the debt after it was sliced up and repackaged into bonds—a process known as securitization, which has been used for more than $1 billion of debt connected to Mr. Trump’s companies.
___As a result, a broader array of financial institutions now are in a potentially powerful position over the incoming president. If the Trump businesses were to default on their debts, the giant financial institutions that serve as so-called special servicers of these loan pools would have the power to foreclose on some of Mr. Trump’s marquee properties or seek the tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Trump personally guaranteed on the loans.
[. . . .] Wells Fargo & Co., for example, runs at least five mutual funds that own portions of Trump businesses’ securitized debt, according to an analysis of mutual-fund data conducted by Morningstar Inc. for the Journal.
___The bank also is a trustee or administrator for pools of securitized loans that include $282 million of loans to Mr. Trump. And Wells acts as a special servicer for $950 million of loans to a property that one of Mr. Trump’s companies partly owns, according to securities and property filings.
___Wells Fargo is currently facing scrutiny from federal regulators surrounding its fraudulent sales practices and other issues. Once he takes office, Mr. Trump will appoint the heads of many of the regulators that police the bank.
(Eaglesham, Jean and Lisa Schwartz. “Trump’s Debts Are Widely Held on Wall Street, Creating New Potential Conflicts.” The Wall Street Journal. Wsj.com. Jan. 5, 2017.  Web.)

Shortly after I read that article, I happened upon another article footnoted in something else I was reading. (Please note it was written in 2006 and is not about Trump per se.)

Max Weber defines charisma as ‘an extraordinary quality of a person, because of which he is perceived as the leader’. Charisma is therefore based on a social relationship between a person possessing such a quality and those who believe in it. Weber’s perspective is not directed at an analysis of the charismatic leader’s personality, but at the structure of charismatic social relationships. This he defines through a number of properties.
___The first involves ‘very personal devotion’ and ‘duty’: the leader claims ultimate authority; the followers accept obedience as their duty. The leader must have the will to demand ultimate authority, and the follower must submit himself completely to the leader. This is not just a question of subjective will, but of the structural possibilities for charismatic behaviour. Both leader and followers must be in a situation, or create a situation, in which this is possible, for it is not only charisma that is an extraordinary quality: charismatic relationships are also extraordinary.
[. . . .] Charisma is thus not just another word for prestige, esteem, popularity, or personal excellence. A charismatic relationship fundamentally restructures a given social situation. Charisma is, according to Weber, a ‘revolutionary force’, that may result in ‘a radical alteration of the central attitudes and directions of actions with a completely new orientation of all attitudes toward all forms of life and to the world’. A charismatic leader is not only a person who gains trust, and towards whom great expectations are directed, or to whom special qualifications are attributed. Charismatic leaders create new positions of leadership for themselves, a new pattern of social relations, and a new cognitive definition of the situation in general. No matter how prestigious, talented or idolised he is, if he does not change the social system, or if he complies with the habitual expectations of a leader’s role, then he is not a charismatic leader.    
(Lepsius, M. Rainer. “The Model of Charismatic Leadership and Its Applicability to the Rule of Adolf Hitler.” Totalitarian Movements & Political Religions 7.2 (2006): 175-190.)

As I was reading the above, I recalled the few seconds of Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention that I could bear to listen to. I had to find it because it was eerily reminiscent of Weber’s understanding of “charisma.”

In 2016, Donald J. Trump mounted the stage, and told America that the nation is in crisis. That attacks on police and terrorism threaten the American way of life. That the United States suffers from domestic disaster, and international humiliation. That it is full of shuttered factories and crushed communities. That it is beset by “poverty and violence at home” and “war and destruction abroad.”
___And he offered them a solution.
___I am your voice,” said Trump. “I ALONE CAN FIX IT. I will restore law and order.” He did not appeal to prayer, or to God. He did not ask Americans to measure him against their values, or to hold him responsible for living up to them. He did not ask for their help. He asked them to place their faith in him.
(Appelbaum, Yoni. “I Alone Can Fix It.” The Atlantic. Jul 21, 2016. theatlantic.com. Web. 9 Jan. 2017.  Source. 

So here’s my dither. Am I simply a worried old man of 72 years, beginning to be afraid of even his shadow? Or do all of these articles add up to something that I should, by rights, fear? I hope you, good reader, can tell an old man what to think.

weber

Max Weber (1864―1920), German sociologist and political economist (Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica Online)

“. . . While the deepening shadows fall . . .” (W. F. Sherwin ― 1877)

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Man made structures huddling on the earth as seen from the top of Scotts Bluff National Monument. (Photo: Harold Knight, August 21, 2016)

On August 24, 2016, my sister Bonnie Sato and I were in our childhood home, Scottsbluff, NE. We wanted to see a Nebraska sunset from “the bluff,” that is, Scotts Bluff National Monument. We drove to a small observation point we knew at the west base of the bluff. The sunset did not disappoint us. A cloud cover broke just above the horizon, and we were able to see the sun set under the clouds ― a common Nebraska event. I took about a hundred pictures.
___During the sunset I had in mind one of the first hymns I learned to play on the organ (I began lessons 62 years ago when I was 9 ― in Scottsbluff). In our hymnal, the tune was in the key of A-flat. The fifth note of the melody is D-natural, the raised 4th in the key of A-flat, creating a tritone, the “Devil’s interval.” It’s not harmonically important in this tune, simply an embellishment. But I heard it as a harmony tone and would often elongate the rhythm at that beat when I was alone. I did not know the name of that interval, midway between a 4th and a 5th, and, according to the Medieval theorists, difficult to sing and of the devil. I simply thrilled to the sound.
___The next time the Devil’s Interval impressed itself on me was when I was in high school (by this time in Omaha), and I learned to play the entire piano version of the songs from West Side Story. Tony sings the Devil’s Interval as the second note of “Maria.” Make of that what you may. My ultra-conservative Mennonite organ teacher would not countenance the worldly music of Broadway, of course, but he did explain the Devil’s Interval to me.
___Yesterday I was looking through my sunset pictures for a new “cover photo” for my Facebook page. I found one similar to (they are all similar to) the one below. As I was looking through my photos, I was taken back to August 24, even to the point of singing “Day Is Dying in the West” ― aloud here in the my apartment where I am alone.
___I thought of recording it on my Steuart Goodwin pipe organ (yes, if you don’t know, it’s in my living room) to put on my YouTube page, but I wanted the words, so I found the YouTube page of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WA, by googling the hymn. It is here. Listen for the Devil on the word “the.”

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Scottsbluff National Monument in shadow seen from the Wildcat Hills, 20 miles to the south. (Photo: Harold Knight, August 25, 2016)

___The hymn is musically too sentimental to be in sophisticated hymnals like those of the Episcopal and Lutheran churches (that’s not an elitist or sarcastic statement; they are the most musically sophisticated hymnals in common use). That begs the question, however, why the Episcopalians have not found a more sophisticated tune for those words. The hymn does not mention Jesus or “salvation.” Many fundamentalist Christians would think the almost “deistic” words would appeal to the Episcopalians, who, they suppose, are only marginally Christian. And yet I learned the hymn from a Baptist hymnal. Go figure.
___Perhaps because I learned the hymn when I was so young, even in my educated (presumably sophisticated) musical taste I still love both the tune and the words (mea culpa).
___Or perhaps my love of the hymn and tune is situated in my present age and understanding.

And when fading from our sight
Pass the stars, the day, the night. . .

This week I celebrated my 72nd birthday. Last night from the National Geographic TV channel, I watched an installment of the series Earth: The Making of a Planet (2015). Through the entire program showing the gathering together of space “debris” through millions of years to form the earth, I sat thinking (and several times saying aloud here in my apartment where I am alone), “How do they know that?” Is our science so advanced that we can state with (apparent) certainty what rocks, what elements, what minerals formed the earth, and how water managed to “cover the face of the deep?”
___Of course, the implicit question for me was, “If we know how it came together, do we know how it will end?” It will end. Our sun, a mature star, will become a red giant, and a red dwarf, and a supernova, and a black hole eventually (10 billion years? who knows?) and will take our solar system with it. More than “day” is dying in the west.

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Sunset over Wyoming as seen from the western base of Scottsbluff National Monument. (Photo: August 24, 2016, Harold Knight)

___I no longer use the language of that hymn, “Lord God of hosts.” I find it difficult to understand any more the concept of God ― at least of a god who controls what our eyes will see (the sub-text of the hymn, of course, is that the dying day is really the image of our dying selves) when we die or any time later or sooner.
___On the other hand, watching from Nebraska as the sun sets over Wyoming I cannot help but find in the core of my self the hope, perhaps even the belief, that

“While the deepening shadows fall,
[a] heart of love [enfolds us] all,
And through the glory and the grace
Of the stars that veil [its] face,
Our hearts ascend.”

I don’t believe that in any religious sense ― or even in the ever-popular “spiritual not religious” sense. Here’s what I think: some force that we, homo sapiens, cannot control, did not put in motion, and cannot stop ― whether by building walls around ourselves, or by allowing the overwhelming forces of the material world to dictate our social structures, or by refusing to care at the basic physical level for all the people in our sphere of influence, or by deeming ourselves to have the only correct understanding of “God” ― is responsible for all of this, from my heart to the two black holes astronomers recently saw merge in space.
___It is as convenient to call that force a “heart of love” as anything else. Or express it as the Devil’s Interval. But I’ll bet anyone standing where they can see the openness of our “prairie,” even with its plethora of man made structures huddled on the ground, for long enough will know that in the

“pass[ing of] the stars, the day, the night . . .
eternal morning [will] rise
And shadows end.”

Neither National Geographic, nor Donald Trump, nor the National Council of Churches, nor I can have any concept of how that process began or how it will end. We can’t even know our place in it.

Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA
Ron Bechtel, Organist
Words: Mary A Lathbury, 1877
Tune: W F Sherwin – Chautaugua, 1877

Day is dying in the west;
Heaven is touching earth with rest;
Wait and worship while the night
Sets the evening lamps alight
Through all the sky.
REFRAIN
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of Thee!
Heaven and earth are praising Thee,
O Lord most high!

While the deepening shadows fall,
Heart of love enfolding all
Through the glory and the grace
Of the stars that veil Thy face,
Our hearts ascend.
REFRAIN

And when fading from our sight
Pass the stars, the day, the night,
Lord of angels, on our eyes
Let eternal morning rise
And shadows end.
REFRAIN

“. . . 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