“. . . the morality which they had in mind was not the private morality of detached pious souls but the social morality of the nation . . . “ (Walter Rauschenbusch, 1920)

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The Union Pacific Railroad Station, Kearney, NE (Photo: FamilyOldPhotos.com)

The Union Pacific Railway station in Kearney, Nebraska, was familiar to my family in about 1951. We went to the station regularly for a full school semester to take my father to the train and to pick him up. He went (perhaps weekly) to Denver to study at Iliff Theological Seminary. Several years before he had finished most of the work for his degree at Central Baptist Theological School in Kansas City, but he had not completed the final work, writing his thesis.

Why he chose to go to Iliff instead of Central Baptist I do not know. It was theologically a much more progressive school. Kearney is a college town, and my guess is he was influenced by the well-educated members of the Baptist Church of which he was pastor. That is pure speculation.

My father’s thesis was a study of the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5-7) interpreted in light of the writings of Walter Rauschenbusch, a leader of the “Social Gospel” movement. Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) was a theologian from Rochester Theological Seminary and a Baptist pastor. He was the great-grandfather of Paul Raushenbush whom many know from his years as Religion Editor for the Huffington Post.

Much of my father’s preaching on the Sermon on the Mount over the years is clear in my mind. I think his study of Rauschenbusch was an academic pursuit and did not overtly influence his preaching. Its basic tenet that the Christian gospel demands a morally responsible and compassionate approach to social problems, however, was at the heart of my father’s life and teaching. He and I often disagreed on how that was to be achieved, but the goal of a benevolent society and government was never in question. My father was often surprised when my understanding of some issue obviously came directly from what he had taught me but with widely divergent conclusions.

I have been trying to imagine what my father would think of Trump. My father, who worked closely with the Mexican Baptist Church in Scottsbluff, NE, which is still in a joint ministry with the First Baptist Church 60 years later. My father, who supported his friend Emily Wilks, member of the school board in Scottsbluff, as she worked to enhance and improve the public schools of the city. My father, who considered Edwin T. Dahlberg, pacifist and President of the National Council of Churches, a friend and teacher. My father, the Baptist preacher, who never once in my life admonished me or rejected me because I am gay, and who traveled across the country to spend time with my partner and me.

My father was not a saint. I was disappointed, particularly in his later life, with some of his intolerance, with his support of the Iraq War (simply because President Bush was a Republican), with a few of his other attitudes and beliefs. However, at age 90, he read Bishop Spong’s Why Christianity Must Change or Die when I gave him a copy, and we had lively discussions about it. A couple of years before that we had the same interaction with Oliver Sacks’ A Leg to Stand on.

This writing did not begin as a remembrance of my father. I would be foolish to attempt that because my memories are my memories. They bear a strong resemblance to the truth, but they obviously come from my perceptions of events from 50 or 60 or even 70 years ago. They are also, as all childhood memories are, shaped by my relationship with my father – over the years at times good, at times strained.

This writing began as an attempt to explain to myself the ground reasons that I am so repelled by Trump and so appalled that he is President of the United State. One of my professors of rhetoric in graduate school said, “We write to know what we think.” I am trying to ascertain what I think.

This began with my father because I am trying to understand where my ideas about government and politics came from. He was a conservative Republican. But his understanding of that mindset was far different from what I hear today. He was not interested in making anyone wealthy. He was interested in justice and equality, and he thought “big government” gets in the way of those ideals. I would have to have long conversations with my siblings and the few friends I have left who knew him in order to sort out all of those political ideas.

But I am absolutely certain that my father would have been heartbroken if he knew that his President purposefully and with ulterior motives made up and spoke “alternative facts.” He assumed that much of what passed as political discourse was alternate interpretation of facts, and he assumed that those alternatives were used as propaganda to change people’s minds to win elections. However, it would have shocked and angered him to hear the President lie – purposefully and blatantly – about the size of a crowd, for example.

I believe that my father and the vast majority of his generation expected political discourse to be grounded in truth – with strong disagreements, but with the integrity of the truth. He, for example, told me many times that he hated the atomic bombing of Japan and President Truman’s justification of it, but he understood why Truman had made the decision. I am most likely being Pollyanna about this. Politicians lie. They always have lied. They always will lie.

Lying to win a political conflict, however, is different from making up a wholesale alternative reality in order to get and keep power. Where is the line between the two? I don’t know. I only know that we have crossed it. The problem(s) or situation(s) Trump’s alternative realities are meant to fix or change will pale in significance in comparison to the destruction of the fabric of our society that will be the result of the triumph of “alternative facts.”

(Note: My own attachment to the religious texts Rauschenbusch quotes is so tenuous that I hesitate to copy his writing here. I do not mean to imply that our nation needs to be in a relationship with a particular God or concept of God. I simply mean to offer Rauschenbusch’s words on the moral responsibility of a nation.)

from Christianity and the Social Crisis
By Walter Rauschenbusch
London: Macmillan 1920

The prophets were public men and their interest was in public affairs. . . . Our philosophical and economic individualism has affected our religious thought so deeply that we hardly comprehend the prophetic views of an organic national life . . . We usually conceive of the community as a loose sand-heap of individuals, and this difference in the fundamental point of view distorts the utterances of the prophets . . . [The prophet] ridicules the attempts to appease the national God by redoubled sacrifices; he urges instead the abolition of social oppression and injustice as the only way of regaining God’s favor for the nation. If they would vindicate the cause of the helpless and oppressed . . . then their scarlet and crimson guilt would be washed away. . . Of course the text is nobly true when it is made to express God’s willingness to pardon the repentant individual, but that was not the thought in the mind of the writer. He offered a new start to his nation on condition that it righted social wrongs. We offer free pardon to individuals and rarely mention social wrongs.

We have seen that the prophets demanded right moral conduct as the sole test and fruit of religion, and that the morality which they had in mind was not the private morality of detached pious souls but the social morality of the nation.

Rauschenbusch’s book is available here.

 

. . . seeing daily a geological dirt and stone formation the mystery of which is that it exists at all . . .

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Scotts Bluff from the east, as migrants on the Oregon Trail would first have seen it.

Between August 18 and August 25, 2016, my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law, and I made a small pilgrimage to the cities in Nebraska where we lived from 1950 to 1969 – Kearney, Scottsbluff, and Omaha. Scottsbluff, 21 miles from the Wyoming border, is where we have the most memories in common. Scotts Bluff National Monument dominates the horizon from Scottsbluff the city, as it does all of the small cities in the area, Gering, Mitchell, Bayard, and others. The bluff is to this day a constant in my memory. I wrote the following shortly after our trip to try to explain the significance of Scotts Bluff to me.

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From the southwest, approaching from Gering.

As geological formations go, Scotts Bluff National Monument in far Western Nebraska is not overly impressive. Its elevation above sea level is only 4,659 feet, and it rises only 800 feet above the North Platte River at its base. The Riverside Park in the City of Scottsbluff, is on the other side of the river.

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From the south. A quintessential Nebraska view.

As a kid I discovered in the Encyclopedia Britannica that if the Empire State Building were in Riverside Park in the city of Scottsbluff, it would be almost half again as tall as the Bluff. I used to try to imagine how that would look, but I could never in my mind’s eye get the New York building even as tall as the Bluff.

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The South Butte of the Bluff.

My birthplace is Douglas, WY, at the base of Laramie Peak. I have memories of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming from the first five years of my life. I went to college at the University of Redlands, nestled at the base of Mt. San Gorgonio in Southern California. I lived in Upland, CA, for several years at the base of Mt. San Antonio. I know mountains. I know Scotts Bluff is not a mountain.

However, the Bluff dominates the lives and thinking―the consciousness―of the people of Scottsbluff (2013 population, 15,023), Gering (2013 population 8,084), Mitchell (2013 population 1,685), and several other small towns in its shadow.

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From the top of the Bluff looking southeast.

Scotts Bluff still, 56 years after our family moved from Scottsbluff to Omaha, in some way I cannot explain, dominates my consciousness. This past week I was in Scottsbluff for only the fifth time in those 56 years. Driving across the plains of Nebraska and seeing the Bluff come into view brings me to a place of peace and self-knowledge that I have achieved nowhere else I have ever been.

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From the top of the Bluff looking east toward Gering.

The Bluff apparently gave many of the settlers 150 years ago crossing the country on the Oregon Trail a sense of peace and understanding, or at least hope and courage.

Many times in my life I have wondered how I would be different if I had spent the 10 most formative years of my life in the shadow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or the Library of Congress in Washington, or Mount Vesuvius, or the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, or the Great Wall of China, or La Scala Opera House in Milan.

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Looking northeast toward Scottsbluff the city.

If I had read Proust or Heidegger instead of Mari Sandoz and Willa Cather.

It is, of course, pointless to speculate how my life might have been. I know only that my consciousness was shaped in part―a very large part―by seeing daily a geological dirt and stone formation the mystery of which is that it exists at all. The processes of the gathering and demise of the great North American inland sea, and the uplift and erosion of mountains are fairly obvious here. The geological history spans 33 to 22 million years.

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Looking west toward Laramie Peak (128 miles away and visible on a clear day).

The history for me began in 1950. It is the history of knowing day after day the power of the natural world to create itself, to build structures that show us―me, at any rate―how little power or control we have over anything.  The Empire State Building may be taller than the bluff, and we could build another one exactly like it. But we could not―cannot― build another Scotts Bluff. It is not spectacular like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. It simply is. The bluff is the farthest extension of a reality stretched across the horizon of my life, the edges of my mind, reminding me that we, all of us humans together, cannot, did not, and could not create anything remotely like it. It is the embodiment of the mystery of my life.

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Sunset from the base of the Bluff looking toward Laramie Peak.

Let’s have another Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT talks, anyone?)

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There’s bombs in them thar hills. Wildcat Hills, Western Nebraska.

The first seven months of my life were, I think, fairly idyllic. Oh, sure, there was a war going on all around the world, but when I was about 4 months old, Germany surrendered so the only war still being prosecuted was with Japan. We lived in Douglas, Wyoming, where there was no direct threat to my family and neighbors from the war.

And then with one horrendous act, the United States changed the world forever. August 7, 1945, when I was 7 months old, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The United States has not had a moment’s peace since that day.

That is obviously a ridiculous over-simplification of history. A ridiculous over-simplification, but not demonstrably untrue. I know the rhetorical truism that one “cannot prove a negative” (“the United States has not had”), so I will phrase my thesis another way. Since August 7, 1945, the people of the United States have lived in a more-or-less perpetual state of fear and discomfort.

I remember my father speaking of the travesty of Harry Truman’s firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I remember my father’s sadness at the death of Sen. Robert A. Taft in 1953 because Taft did not believe in foreign entanglements as first Truman and then Eisenhower did and, according to my father, Taft should have been President. I remember the Suez Canal Crisis, Sputnik, Gary Powers, the fall of Fulgencio Batista, the Eisenhower Doctrine―all during those ‘50s we so often hear touted as an idyllic time of American stability and economic growth. And I remember the guided missile silos surrounding the area of Western Nebraska where we lived.

Throughout this time (and continuing vestigially to the present day), lurking in the background was the constant awareness of the “nuclear arms race.” Negotiations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (whose “Godless communism,” was pronounced to be the cause of all of the fearsome brinkmanship leading perpetually almost to war) continued over decades, not to “rid” ourselves of the ever-present threat of bombing each other atomically into oblivion, but to “control” the threat.

When exactly did that threat end? Christmas Day, 1991, with the demise of the U.S.S.R?

Now we want to “rid” Iran of all possibility of making one of those atomic weapons that have kept us so frightened since 1945. Never mind that Israel has a bunch of them, or that India and Pakistan rattle the sabers of annihilation toward each other periodically. And China has as many of the dreaded bombs as we do. And does anyone know what happened to the U.S.S.R.’s bombs and missiles when it dissolved. ALL of them?

I am well aware that the possible carpeting of the earth (thank you, Ted Cruz) with nuclear weapons is no longer the greatest source of fear in the U.S. Now we have ISIS and the other “Radical Muslim Terrorists” waiting for the next opportunity to kill us. I am not being flippant, and I do not minimize that danger although I wish anyone who might be reading this would read this article by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart.

We have made mortal enemies of vast numbers of citizens of the “Middle Eastern” as opposed to the “Western” world. For 70 (and in the case of Britain and France, 100) years we have run roughshod over not only its economies, but its very political structures, creating nations where there were none and destroying nations where there were. And all the while pumping billions (trillions?) of barrels of oil out of that part of the earth for the benefit of our part of the earth. All in the name of keeping the world safe for democracy.

None of this is unknown to the general populace. I know my writing about it is unscholarly, disjointed, incomplete (and probably so biased as to be laughable). And, yes, I know about Hitler and Stalin, and Emperor Hirohito and all of the other perpetrators of evil against the world.

But the fact is, we have brought much (most?) of our fear and suffering on ourselves. And the NSA, the police departments with armored vehicles, and the metal detectors and terrorism alerts and warrantless cyber-snooping, and . . . . are all reminiscent of the “air-raid drills” we practiced when I was in fourth grades. And about as effective, I’d guess.

We live in a fear-and-hatred-based society. But if we did not ourselves bring about our felt need to fear and hate, we at least have done and are doing nothing to alleviate the need.

And now, it will seem I’m changing subjects by pointing out one of the  best examples of our Western penchant for xenophobia, of creating an untenable Sitz im Leben (“setting of life”), and then blaming the (perceived or real or conveniently created) enemy, the “godless Communists” or the “Radical Muslim Terrorists,” for the fear and loathing in which we live. That example is the State of Israel.

The U.S., the U.N., and the Zionists of Europe and the Middle East created a country by confiscating most of the land belonging to an indigenous people and made a new nation where it did not exist before. 1948. Since that time, and with increased persistence since 1967 when Israel took over all of the land of the area, the indigenous people have protested, usually legally and peacefully, but, at times, violently.

And just as the U.S. convinced its people―and most of the world―that the “other” was responsible for such realities as the Cold War, the Israeli government has convinced its own people and the U.S. that the indigenous Palestinians are to blame for violence and unrest. (Please see this site for current news of the situation.)

Our nation and nations like ours seem loathe to take responsibility for our mistakes, for our ruthlessness, for our self-centered grandiosity as the first step in fashioning not simply the control of arms and war and violence and hatred but the reality of peace and equality.

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Palestinian Bedouins, live in these hills. The village of Sousia, Palestine Occupied Territories. Photo by Harold Knight, November 7, 2015.

“Time has grown up on its own without me. . .” (Yousef El Qedra)

Their companion piece is missing.

Their companion piece is missing.

The color blue is not apparent in my apartment. The first noticeable color is the red of the fake Persian rug straight ahead from the front door. The two deep blue Palestinian glass pieces I wrote about a couple of weeks ago are now on the shelf of the table straight ahead, but they are below eye level.On the table in front of the living area window are two (I think) lovely pieces of blue glass, each of a different not-real-Waterford that Waterford sells under its name. I like them. I paid more for each of them than I should have, but they are blue.

For a year or so I had another piece of decorative blue glass, a small many-faceted blue bowl made by Jim Bowman of Bowman Glass in Dallas. His wife Mary Lynn, who is also an artist in glass, is an acquaintance of mine. The bowl sat on the table by the window with my two pieces of marginally Waterford blue glass.

However, I have lost Jim Bowman’s bowl.

How does one lose a blue art-glass bowl? I don’t know. It’s simply gone. Non-existent. Probably not non-existent, simply not in its assigned location, and not where I can find it.

I could blame its disappearance on old age. I’ve put it somewhere and don’t remember where. I doubt that. Besides, I couldn’t blame that sort of forgetting on my old age. It would not have been out of character for me 40 years ago to have misplaced a decorative piece I like very much. Forgetting, misplacing, losing have been my constant companions my entire life.

That’s probably because I don’t pay attention. It’s no mystery. I go through life floating just a tad above reality, never quite putting my feet down, never quite sure I know where I am. That’s hyperbole. But it’s closer to the truth than I wish it were.

It’s not because I am so otherworldly or preoccupied with important ideas or have too much on my mind. No, I simply don’t pay attention. I will give myself the benefit of the doubt and say I don’t because I can’t.

If one of the symptoms of aging is forgetfulness, I am destined, I fear, to be (or already am) that confused little old man everyone finds either pitiable or comical. But how will anyone be able to tell? Anyone who knows me well knows this is not a problem of aging for me. It was a problem when I was 12.

From time to time I have blamed my spaciness on TLE. I don’t know if that’s medically accurate or not. I fear it’s probably a simple matter of my not paying attention.

That the husband of my friend made the blue glass bowl is not only reason my losing it is weird.

Blue is my favorite color.

I remember the exact moment I realized blue is my favorite color.

I was at Anna Bleyle’s home in Scottsbluff, NE, playing with marbles she gave me to keep me occupied while she was looking after my siblings and me. I was in third or fourth grade. She was our favorite adult, a few but not many years older than my parents. Her husband and his brother owned a jewelry store. Her niece became a Methodist Bishop. Her nephew was the only boy we ever knew who was high school cheer leader (in the dark ages of the `50s).

The blue ones are best.

The blue ones are best.

I remember thinking, “Wow! Those blue marbles are the best ones. I love that color!”

My question: how can I remember those details (and many more) about those wonderful people from 60 years ago but not remember where my beautiful blue art glass bowl made by Jim Bowman is that was on the table by front window for about two years until sometime in the last few weeks when I did something with it I can’t remember?

I know. I know. “The short-term memory is the first to go.” Well, perhaps.

Now a jump from one topic to a totally unrelated one.

I’ve become fascinated by Palestinian poetry, both old and current. I may, after 30 years of teaching college English, have found my “specialty.”

The Gazan poet Yousef El Qedra and I have so little in common it’s almost absurd for me to say that I find my own experience in his work.

But listen. Listen to these lines.

Then I found myself suspended in nothingness,
Stretched like a string that doesn’t belong to an instrument.
The wind played me.

Can a 70-year-old Caucasian American man who has never wanted for anything, whose most difficult moments have been tiny seizures and a bit of discrimination because I’m gay possibly relate to a young Arab Palestinian trapped in the hell-hole that his home has been turned into through dehumanizing Israeli onslaught after onslaught?

The total of what I know about Mr. El Qedra is that he

is a poet and playwright who lives in Gaza. He has a BA degree in Arabic Literature from al-Azhar University in Gaza. He teaches drama, literature, and writing. He has written, directed, and acted in several plays. He has published four collections of poetry and some of his poems have been translated into French and Spanish.

(Banipal, Magazine of Modern Arab Literature 45 – Writers from Palestine.) Banipal has published several of his poems.
He knows from experience what I begin to know from age.

I was a run of lost notes that have a sad, strong desire to live.

What does that have to do with the color blue? Or a small piece of blue art glass. Only this. Loss does not necessarily mean despair or even depression. Viewed with hope (and perhaps humor) it can impart a sad, strong desire to live.

My inconsequential hope―to find that blue bowl. Silly? Yes. But a manifestation of my need to catch up with the time that has grown old without me.

“I HAVE NO HOME,” BY YOUSEF EL QEDRA
I saw clouds running away from the hurt.
I have no language.
Its weight is lighter than a feather.
The quill does not write.
The ink of the spirit burns on the shore of meaning.
The clouds are tears, filled with escape and lacking definition.
A cloud realizes the beauty she forms—
beauty which contains all good things,
for whom trees, gardens, and tired young women wait.

I have no home.
I have a night overripe with sweats caused by numbness all over.
Time has grown up on its own without me.
In my dream, I asked him what he looks like.
My small defeats answered me.
So I asked him again, What did he mean?
Then I found myself suspended in nothingness,
Stretched like a string that doesn’t belong to an instrument.
The wind played me. So did irresistible gravity.
I was a run of lost notes that have a sad, strong desire to live.

Translated by Yasmin Snounu and Edward Morin
From BEFORE THERE IS NOWHERE TO STAND: PALESTINE ISREL POETS RESPOND TO THE STRUGGLE. Ed. By Joan Dobbie and Grace Beeler. Sandpoint ID: Lost Horse Press, 2012.

Our house in Scottsbluff (2005), six blocks fro Anna's. A fortuitous blue car in front.

Our house in Scottsbluff (2005), six blocks from Anna’s. A fortuitous blue car in front.

“. . . I could be a man who cares about cars. . . ” (Aaron Smith)

The first time I ever drove a car, I was in my dad’s fire-engine-red 1957 Chevrolet Impala. Pretty spiffy transport for a 15 and a half year old novice. Dad and I had gone over the river from Scottsbluff to Gering to the county court house to get my learner’s permit, and when I emerged a legal but totally inexperienced driver, he handed me the keys and said, “Well, do it.” Or some such no-nonsense direction in his style.

With no driver’s ed or instruction from him–we had gone to a parking lot a few times so I could drive around and get used to the feel of it–I drove home. I think back on that and can scarcely believe it. So unlike my dad. Nothing ever left to chance or done without proper preparation. But with his careful guidance, I drove home. No problem until I got to our street, Dineen Avenue, driving west on one of the major streets in town, 27th Street.

I began turning and Dad said, calmly but firmly, “Turn faster.”

I took him to mean “go faster,” so I accelerated. What he meant was, “turn the steering wheel faster.” Up I drove, over the far curb and into the stop sign for traffic coming onto 27th Street from Dineen Avenue. I plowed it over.

I have no idea how much all of that cost–the car was only slightly damaged, and this was back in the day when it was not necessary to replace an entire plastic bumper, but dents in real steel bumpers could be easily mended. I do know that stop sign lay in the weeds for much longer than I wanted it to in my embarrassment every time I passed by the corner–whether I was driving, riding, or walking.

Dad ordered me to get back in the driver’s seat after the policeman left–he had also insisted I walk the two blocks home to call the police in these days when only Dick Tracy had a cell phone–and drive the rest of the way home.

I won’t say it’s because of that first slightly disastrous experience, but my driving needs to be investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (is there still such an entity?). That is to say, my attitude toward driving is un-American. I hate it. Always have, always will.

A few months ago, November 14, 2014, I wrote here about my desire to get an apartment in downtown Dallas and get rid of my car. I don’t need to rehash what I said then, but I need to say that I was not strong enough in my explanation why I want to do that.

It’s only peripherally because of the expense, or my age, or any of those things. I do resent the amount we pay for “insurance” (that insures nothing–why do we use that word? it assumes disaster, it does not “ensure” anything–from which the word was bastardized). I resent the mental, physical, and financial energy it takes to care for a car.

And the loss of personal freedom! Under what other circumstance would anyone I know willingly strap themselves onto a seat in restraints fit for the kinkiest sexual encounter? Under what other circumstances would anyone I know willingly put themselves in the position of being totally at the mercy of people in a line–each of whom is in charge of a ton of moving steel and plastic with the potential of killing or maiming anyone in its path?

No thanks.

The boy who drove the car.

The boy who drove the car.

Then there is this matter of climate change. Except in Florida where it apparently is not happening, we are all suffering from the results of each of us spewing into the air tons and tons and tons of chemicals over our driving lifetimes, chemicals that are killing the planet and life as we know it.

Please do not tell me you are concerned about the environment if you own a car.

I have my own very personal reasons for not wanting to drive. The tendency toward spaciness caused by my seizure-prone brain (my neurologist wishes I would not drive at all–that ought to be enough reason in itself). My sporadic lack of emotional equilibrium caused by other irregularities of brain function [sic]. You probably don’t want to be around if I miss a turn and can’t immediately figure out how to get back on track. For me, nothing about an error like that is ever amusing, silly, or inconsequential.

And don’t tell me to use the GPS on my phone. If I could figure that out. . .

I was not intended by my maker to drive. It’s as simple as that. I don’t like it, I am frustrated by it, I don’t want to do it, I resent living in a society where such an unnatural, dangerous, and self-serving activity is not only the “norm,” but perceived to be “necessary.”

This is not septuagenarian thinking. I’ve had this opinion of driving for decades. It is, however, a septuagenarian way of talking/writing. I’ve finally arrived at the place where I don’t care what anyone thinks of my thinking.

Stay tuned for more idiosyncrasies to be revealed.

This poem by Aaron Smith reflects his gay-boy relationship with his father. My relationship with my father was not like his, but there is similarity to the way I felt about nearly everyone else as a kid (and in some unshakable ways still do).

“LIKE HIM,” BY AARON SMITH

I’m almost forty and just understanding my father
doesn’t like me. At thirteen I quit basketball, the next year
refused to hunt, I knew he was disappointed, but never

thought he didn’t have to like me
to love me. No girls. Never learned
to drive a stick. Chose the kitchen and mom

while he went to the woods with friends who had sons
like he wanted. He tried fishing—a rod and reel
under the tree one Christmas. Years I tried
talking deeper, acting tougher
when we were together. Last summer
I went with him to buy a tractor.
In case he needs help, Mom said. He didn’t look at me
as he and the sales guy tied the wheels to the trailer,
perfect
boy-scout knots. Why do I sometimes wish I could be a
man
who cares about cars and football, who carries a
pocketknife
and needs it? It was January when he screamed: I’m not

a student, don’t talk down to me! I yelled: You’re not
smart enough
to be one! I learned to fight like his father, like him, like
men:
the meanest guy wins, don’t ever apologize.

The city of the cars, 1963.

The city of the cars, 1963.

“. . . 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.

“. . . religion . . . a matter . . . in which no other, & far less the public, [has] a right to intermeddle.”

A scary place?

A scary place?

Marlise Muñoz is the latest victim of an insane and deadly religious war in the United States.

“Conservatives” (that is, apparently, those terrified of science) are waging a war in this country that is every bit as sectarian and brutal, and—where they win the war—results in a despotism every bit as un-Democratic and cruel as any these same “conservatives” claim to hate in countries where “Islamists” are in control.

When I was in junior high school (1957-1960), we lived in the house at the corner of the northwest city limits of Scottsbluff, NE, the corner of Avenue I and 30th Street. All of the land between our house and that corner was vacant. The First Baptist Church was eventually built there. I don’t know where the city limit is now. There’s a shopping center to the west across Avenue I from there, and houses cover the hillside to the north, so I assume the city limit has succumbed to the Nebraska small city version of urban sprawl.

From our yard, we could see St. Mary’s Hospital (Roman Catholic) on the hillside north and east perhaps half a mile away (at an extension of Avenue B). We lived there for 5 years, and I never once was closer to St. Mary’s than our yard.

My brother and I had our tonsils removed at the Methodist Hospital downtown on Broadway. I remember that overnight stay well. And I remember being taken there many times to visit friends and acquaintances.

. . . in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle. . .

. . . in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle. . .

But St. Mary’s was a mystery—because it was Catholic, and we Baptists had no reason to associate with it. I remember a few times my father, the Baptist preacher, had to go there to visit a parishioner. When he came home, it almost felt as if Mom wanted to fumigate him.

Besides the obvious historic animosity of Baptists toward Catholics, Mom had a (fairly sound?) reason for not wanting anything to do with St. Mary’s Hospital. After all, she explained, if a woman was delivering a baby and there were compilations, the Catholics would let the mother die in order to save the baby if it came to that.

This was well before Rove v. Wade and before the Catholics and Baptists joined in their un-Holy Alliance to declare religious war on the rest of us.

The late Marlise Muñoz and her husband Erick Muñoz of Ft. Worth became casualties in that religious war. Her brain died from an apparent embolism last November, but—because she was pregnant—her body was kept alive on machines until two days ago, kept alive against her prior stated wishes and the wishes of her family. Kept alive by the religious laws of the State of Texas.

The political struggle over abortion is a religious war. The Catholics, most Baptists, and other “conservatives” are hell-bent on forcing their religious belief on the rest of us. A “conservative” victory in the religious war carried out in the Texas legislature made it illegal to discontinue life support on a pregnant woman—even if the woman was brain-dead. Saving an unviable fetus in a situation that could be described only as cruel and inhumane for the family of the mother is a victory in the religious war.

That a human being, Homo sapiens, has a soul is 100% a religious belief. One hundred percent. It does not matter whether or not I personally think I have a soul, but if I did, it would be 100% a religious belief.

100% religious.

The belief that the soul is somehow “created” the moment a human sperm enters a human ovum is also a religious belief. “Conservatives” can show us all the ultra-sound pictures of all the fetuses they want, and they have proven nothing. Nothing.

Except their 100% religious belief.

100% religious.

I do not mean in any way to say that reproductive rights are not a struggle for women’s rights (which “conservative” women seem to be willing to give up for the sake of the religious war). Reproductive rights are absolutely about women’s rights. But the basis of those rights is as much in the Constitutional declaration that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” as it is in the right to privacy or any other right.

It is 100% a religious right.

Every time the Congress or some state legislature passes another restriction on abortion, they are passing a law respecting an establishment of religion. They are using the power of the majority to force their religious belief on all of us.

As a matter of public policy—that is, an establishment of religion—those who believe in the human “soul” cannot constitutionally force their beliefs on the rest of us.

That they have done so is sectarian violence not unlike the sectarian violence that is tearing Syria apart, or the victory of one sect over all others in Iran, or the official and legal banning of religion in China. It is the same. It is forcing the view of one religion onto everyone else.

It is mindless, violent, and un-American.

Jacquielynn Floyd of the Dallas Morning News summed it up pretty well.

But the freakish, dystopian hell superimposed on [Marlise Muñoz’s family’s] loss was an inhumane synthesis of factors outside their control: obscure and misinterpreted law, cover-your-butt bureaucratic paranoia and hysteria surrounding reproductive politics (Floyd, Jacquielynn. “Marlise Muñoz case was about bureaucracy, politics — and cruelty.” dallasnews.com. 27 January 2014. Web.)

“Hysteria surrounding reproductive politics.” The Christianist majority’s war on the religious beliefs of the rest of us.

Which, for the time being, they have won. They have imposed their religious will on the nation as surely as His Eminence Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei imposes his religious will on Iran.

1813 May 31.  (Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush).  “…the subject of religion, a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his maker, in which no other, & far less the public, had a right to intermeddle.”

George Mason, "father" of the Bill of Rights

George Mason, “father” of the Bill of Rights