“. . . illumine the world with your image . . .” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

The Transfiguration of Christ, Lorenzo Lotto, 1511

You like to think about synergy and coincidence and “a god thing” and other spookinesses. That is, you like the logical fallacy of Post hoc ergo propter hoc, assuming that if ‘A’ occurred after ‘B’ then ‘B’ must have caused ‘A.’

In 1456, the Ottomans laid siege to Belgrade in Serbia. They were repelled, and the Christian world of Europe rejoiced. News reached Pope Callixtus III on August 6, and he declared the date The Feast of the Transfiguration, the liturgical remembrance of Jesus’ appearing in light to the disciples (Protestant liturgical churches recently moved the Transfiguration to the Last Sunday in Epiphany).

In 1945, the United States and Japan were locked in the last stages of WW II. President Truman ordered the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities to end the war and “save lives.” Hiroshima was bombed on August 6.

Synergy, coincidence, a “god thing.” The Feast of the Transfiguration celebrating the end of the siege of Belgrade and the bombing of Hiroshima come together on the same day. Does this convergence mean anything?

This convergence was pointed out to me by the widow of Admiral Robert A. Theobald, a commander in the Pacific fleet who accused the Roosevelt administration of knowing the attack on Pearl Harbor was immanent and doing nothing about it in order to bring the U.S. into WWII. Betty Theobald, a cellist of some renown and a member of the altar guild of my (Episcopal) church in Salem, MA, gave me a history lesson from personal experience, her understanding of many coincidences and ironies of WWII.

On August 6, 1787, the U.S. constitutional convention began. On August 6, 1806, Francis II renounced the title “Holy Roman Emperor” ending the empire. On August 6, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia and Serbia beginning WWI. On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

Unrelated (or are they?) events on August 6, starting with the defeat of the Ottomans who were besieging Belgrade, giving the Christians of Europe reason to rejoice and proclaim a Feast of the Church to mark the day.

This year on August 6 the world was in turmoil: Putin getting ready to invade Ukrainia. Landslides at Mt. Baldy. Ted Cruz running the House of Representatives. Fugitive children massed on the southern border of the US. A lull in the murderous siege of Gaza by Israel. And so on.

We need a victory as decisive as the end of the Siege of Belgrade or the bombing of Hiroshima to lead us out of this morass of bad news, of gruesome events over which we apparently have no control.

We need to figure out how to change the bizarre and dangerous coincidences of our lives, both personal and national.

We need a victory we can mark with a national or religious holiday and move on in the assurance that God’s in her heaven, and all’s right in the world.

We need to learn to accept all of the “coincidences” of our lives or to change the horrendous situations we can change. We need to begin to understand the difference between accepting and changing.

For several days I have been immobilized by a thought I’ve not been able to write.

It’s a simple thought. In our admirable attempt to be “charitable” and “diplomatic” and “equitable” we (all of us, but especially “educated” and “liberal-minded” folks) work hard at trying to “understand” in order to find “fair” solutions to any and all problems. We know every conflict has two sides. Accept or change?

The brightest man made light

The brightest man made light

However, the simple act of saying “there are two sides” means almost certainly we have accepted one side of the argument. Should LGBTQ folks marry or not? Was “Hobby Lobby” the right Supreme Court ruling? Has Edward Snowden helped or hurt Americans? There are two sides to all of these arguments.

I’ll bet everyone has an opinion about each of them. Does anyone really think there are two equally correct sides to those questions?

Is Israel justified in bombing Gaza to rubble?

Of course you have an opinion. If you think Israel has a “right” to bomb Gaza, you a priori think the Gazans have no “right” to fight back against the blockade that has kept their children hungry and their society imprisoned for seven years.

I can hear the most liberal, the most thoughtful, the most fair-minded folks saying, “Well, yes, it’s horrible, it’s gruesome, it’s disastrous, but Israel has a right.” I wish those people—particularly those who make some claim to having a sense of morality—would play that back in their minds. If it’s horrible, if it’s gruesome, if it’s disastrous, then Israel has no right. Period. Whatever the attempt at justification, it is not “right.” Period.

We love synergy, coincidence, strange concurrences. We love the heavenly light of the Transfiguration of Jesus juxtaposed with the brightest light ever created by mankind in the bombing of Hiroshima.

We—especially we liberals and wanna-be intellectuals—love to think we can be reasonable and hold murder and destruction in our minds along with righteousness and light.

I’m not that clever. I think bombing innocent civilians of Hiroshima was an act of violence that haunts our nation 69 years later. And bombing innocent civilians of Gaza will haunt not only Israel but also the United States—which provides the munitions of destruction—for at least 69 years.

gaza bombThe prayer Lutherans read on the Feast of the Transfiguration says,

Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Whether one is a Lutheran or not, or a Christian or not, or an atheist or not, “The resplendent light of truth” is not the light from bombs exploding. Some synergies simply aren’t.

“. . . memories are not retrieved but are formed; narratives are actively reconstructed. . . “ (Siân E. Lindley)

My first organ memories - Baldwin Model 5

. My first organ memories – Baldwin Model 5

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If Siân E. Lindley has done her research correctly, and if scientific inquiry (in the United States this is always a matter of debate) can be trusted,

. . . we can surmise that memories are not retrieved but are formed; narratives are actively reconstructed (and co-constructed with others); a life story is interpreted and retrospectively reinterpreted; and narrative truth and belief, rather than objective truth, is bound up with identity. (Lindley, Siân E. “Before I Forget: From Personal Memory To Family History.” Human-Computer Interaction 27.1/2 (2012): 13-36.)

Lindley is a professional researcher; therefore, her conclusions are suspect to Americans. She is

a social scientist with an interest in how technology can be designed to fit, and how it is shaped by, the social context in which it is used (Lindley, “Before”).

Nevertheless (in spite of, not because of, her scientific methods) I find what she says fascinating. We don’t retrieve our memories, we form them so we can retrospectively interpret them to ourselves and to others. Wow! My memory of playing the piano for a wedding for the first time is what I form it to be, not the details of what happened. (If I remembered every detail, it would take as long as the wedding did—I don’t have time.)

I remember distinctly, hauntingly so, a meeting of a graduate seminar studying the writings of Hemingway and Fitzgerald (about 20 years ago). The half-dozen or so of us were seated at a table in a small classroom in the Jonsson Building at the University of Texas at Dallas. The professor (whose name I do not remember) was tall—6’ 3” or something—muscular, swarthy, black-haired, handsome (it’s part of my narrative that I remember what he looked like but not his name). The students in the seminar were mostly graduate assistants teaching in the freshman rhetoric program.

One of my friends said something about the “epistemological” something or the other of the story we were studying, and I knew—precisely at that moment—what I had been thinking for quite a while, that I did not belong in that graduate program. I had been trying to figure out what they meant by “epistemological” for some time—it’s a favorite word among scholars—with no success. “Epistemology” means, according to dictionary.com, a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.” I don’t have a clue what that means. I wouldn’t use “epistemology” in a sentence for any reason.

I would, however, show you the short stories of Hemingway that seem to have gay themes. My paper on the subject earned a B from the handsome professor, not because it was poorly written, but because he didn’t like the subject or agree with me.

For quite a while, my reconstruction, my re-interpretation of that memory was that I’m just not very smart. That is true, of course. But not knowing what “epistemology” means is not what proves that. Not being able to explain why people who irrationally hate President Obama ought to be ashamed of themselves—that’s evidence that I’m not very smart.

Or not being able to sort the flatware in my silverware drawer.

Or not being able to figure out how to get my “smart TV” hooked up to my router so I can watch Netflix movies on the big screen instead of on this computer, which I hate.

The first First Baptist Church

The first First Baptist Church

So what do I remember about playing the piano for a wedding for the first time?

In the far southeastern area our town in Western Nebraska in the 1950s was a small church known as La Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana (I think that’s right—my memory may not be reconstructing that correctly). It was a small but not tiny frame church structure, and Pastor Raymundo was the pastor. He had a wife and one son, Sammy. Our family shared dinner with the Raymundos quite regularly, and—more fun—we went to events at the church, most of which were followed by dinners of Mexican food made by the women of the church.

Sorry, all of you Texans. You don’t know what real Mexican cooking is.

During the summer, La Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana had overflow crowds on Sundays. This was at the height (I think, although I should look it up) of the brasero program, and Mexican workers came to work the sugar beet fields and create the economy of our county.

The Mexican Baptist Church has now—I believe (you’d think I’d do some research and know these things for sure)—joined with the First Baptist Church. The membership is constant because all of the Mexican-Americans are permanent residents, probably citizens.

They created the economy of Western Nebraska

They created the economy of Western Nebraska

My organ teacher gave me a book of organ pieces to learn that included both the Mendelssohn “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Wedding March and the Wagner “Here comes the bride.” I learned to play them (I was in about 6th or 7th grade) just in case someone would want me to play for their wedding.

A young couple from La Primera Iglesia Bautista Mexicana were getting married, and they wanted the American traditional music instead of the music their church generally used. My father suggested I could play the two wedding marches. My first wedding gig.

I don’t know if the couple or their families were Braseros or American citizens or illegal immigrants. We didn’t ask questions like that—at least we middle schoolers didn’t. The adults may have been concerned with such things, but they did not include us in their conversations if they did.

We just went to their church, and they came to ours, and we got to share in glorious (real) Mexican dinners, and Sammy Raymundo and I were buddies, and things were just fine.

I don’t know what happened.

The epistemology about the nature of the immigration crisis in this country may have to do simply with our collective memory. Somehow we’ve come to the point where our narrative, our reconstruction of the meaning of immigration has gotten really fucked up.

I wonder where Sammy Raymundo is.

“. . . the States were NOT strangers to each other; there was a bond of union already. . . ” (Daniel Webster)

We hold these truths to be self evident. . .

We hold these truths to be self evident. . .

Many semesters in teaching “discourse” at SMU, the opening subject matter of my classes was the Gettysburg Address. Everyone reading this knows, and nearly every student to whom I assigned it over the years knew who wrote it and vaguely (some more vaguely than others) why it was written.

The first lecture/discussion I led in those classes began with the question, “Can you finish this sentence in a way that most Americans would know? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that. . .’” Always there were 1 or 2 students in a class of 15 who could not, but everyone else chimed in, “all men are created equal.”

Then I would ask where the sentence came from, and we usually had a difference of opinion about equally divided in the class. Half would say the Constitution, and half would timidly say the Declaration of Independence. Often one lonely student would insist that the words came from the Bible.

The Constitution, of course, in its original form says something quite different. All men are not created equal. For starters, a black man who happened to be a slave, by the calculation of the Constitution, was only 3/5ths of a person (Article 1, section 2). And women were not part of the political process. The equality of the Constitution is for free white males.

So where did this “all men are created equal” nonsense come from—and, more importantly, why do about half of the students (not a scientific sampling, to be sure) at a major exclusive/expensive university think the words are in the Constitution?

That so many Americans assume the phrase about equality is in the Constitution derives from the thinking of men like Daniel Webster and others before him.

At least as far back as the meeting of the first Congress, in 1774, [the states] had been in some measure, and for some national purposes, united together. Before the Confederation of 1781, they had declared independence jointly, and had carried on the war jointly, both by sea and land; and this not as separate States, but as one people. When, therefore, they formed that Confederation . . . the States were not strangers to each other; there was a bond of union already subsisting between them; they were associated, united States; and the object of the Confederation was to make a stronger and better bond of union.
(Webster, Daniel. “The Constitution Not a Compact between Sovereign States.” U.S. Senate, February 16, 1833. Web. Gutenberg.org).

The purpose of the Continental Congress in 1787 was to make a “more perfect union,” not to create one. We simply assume—or we would not celebrate this holiday—that the Declaration of Independence is the founding document of the nation.

A nation so conceived and so dedicated

A nation so conceived and so dedicated

[The Declaration of Independence] was “a declaration by the representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled”—“by the delegates of the good people of the colonies. . .” It was not an act done by the State governments . . . It was emphatically the act of the whole people of the united colonies. . . From the moment of the Declaration of Independence . . . the united colonies must be considered as being a nation de facto, having a general government over it, created and acting by the general consent of the people of all the colonies. (Story, Joseph. Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Bk. II, Ch. 1, “The History of the Revolution,” pp 157-158).

Abraham Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, secured the concept of one nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” and interpreted it for all time.

Abraham Lincoln, despite what some current “conservative” and “original intent” authors and film makers (Willmoore Kendall, Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia, and Dinesh D’Sousa, for example) want us to believe, did not redefine the Constitution. He simply restated so that all Americans understood the founding principle of the nation—the nation that already existed on July 4, 1776—that “all men are created equal.”

The Gettysburg Address has become an authoritative expression of the American spirit—as authoritative as the Declaration itself, and perhaps even more influential, since it determines how we read the Declaration. For most people now, the Declaration means what Lincoln told us it means, as a way of correcting the Constitution without overthrowing it. It is this correction of the spirit, this intellectual revolution, that makes attempts to go back beyond Lincoln to some earlier time so feckless . . . By accepting the Gettysburg Address, its concept of a single people dedicated to a [single] proposition, we have been changed. Because of it, we live in a different America.
(Wills, Garry. Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words that Remade America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992. Page 147.)

All children are not created equal.

All children are not created equal.