Monday, April 30, 2018

“Two” Nations

In the waning days of the American Civil War, the Confederate government made overtures for peace. Abraham Lincoln rejected those proposals in spite of his great desire to see the war end. While the peace conference was in session, Lincoln ordered General Grant to hold off on his military plans.  After the conference Lincoln told Grant “nothing transpired…to cause any change hindrance or delay, of your military plans and operations.” General Grant then launched an attack at Hatcher’s Run outside Petersburg as scheduled.  Lincoln would not and could not sign his name to any agreement which referred to “two nations.” If two sovereign nations came into being,  the Emancipation Proclamation would be null and void in the South and the American Dream would perish.  Lincoln counted both as essential—“My primary purpose is to save the Union.” The  American Union, Lincoln believed, was not merely geographical, but a spiritual conception of a really free society, such as the world had never seen.  

In Lincoln’s Message to Congress at that time he said, “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.  We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of the earth” (the American Dream). That hope for Lincoln was the re-establishment of One Nation, not two!  Allan Nevins writing about the Gettysburg Address said Lincoln was successful in communicating “his realization that the war was a desperate test on a world stage of the question whether a democracy of continental dimensions and idealistic commitments could triumphantly survive or must ignobly collapse.” Lincoln said it more eloquently,  I think:  “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…. we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall give a new birth to freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”  Jesus said it even more simply:  “A house (nation) divided against itself cannot stand”—all must share the common dream.

There is much talk these days about America having two sides, of being divided, and in a sense engaged once more in a civil war.  There is one nation, not two. There is only one flag, not two. Two nations cannot be tolerated, nor should the idea be promoted.  Our forefathers fought a terrible, horrible, ignoble war—brother against brother—to give “a new birth of freedom.”  We are living in the “new birth” phase, as those who “highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”  

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Fires of Disappointment

M. Scott Peck’s first words in his book, A Road Less Traveled (A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth) were  “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” We all knew this “great truth,” but we needed someone like Peck to articulate it for us.

Life is difficult.  Life is not an easy trek.  To be more specific, life is made difficult by the fires of disappointment through which we all must pass.  I suppose there are some who have never been disappointed—but I’ve never met nor am I acquainted with any persons who make that claim. Disappointment is defined as “the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.”  (Synonyms include words like regret, dismay, sorrow, heavy-heartedness, chagrin, dispiritedness).

Alexander Pope suggested that those who expect nothing will be blessed, for they shall never be disappointed.  I think he had it right. We feel disappointed when something we’ve hoped for or expected doesn’t happen.  I remember being disappointed at the age of five when I didn’t find what I expected to find under the Christmas tree.   Since then the fires of disappointment have multiplied—because I have always had great expectations—and still do!  If I could settle for “whatever” and expect nothing from myself, others, or the world-at-large, I’d probably not experience the fires of disappointment as much as I do!

Disappointment is sadness, and it is frustration, and it does bring tears, and it does mean suffering.  But that does not make disappointment a bad thing, or something a religious person should not experience. The fact is, the religious person experiences the fires of disappointment more than the irreligious who have no expectations of the “Love at the Heart of All Things.” Disappointment is life and life is difficult and any one who is really alive experiences it.  The fires of disappointment are everywhere and anywhere where expectations exist—and I know this, and I try to understand it, and accept it.  The one thing I must not, and will not do to suppress, ignore, eliminate or smother the fires of disappointment from my life is to lower my expectations.

I expect the bud to break forth in full blossom.
If it doesn't I'll be disappointed.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Keep the Dream Alive

I am visited again this morning by Howard Thurman.  He encourages me to hold on to my dream and the American Dream as I struggle with whether or not a “dream” makes any difference or has any value these days. “As long as a person has a dream in his or her heart, he cannot lose the significance of living.”   I argue with Howard a bit, suggesting  that life calls for hardcore “realism” these days.  To talk about one’s dreams, or the American Dream,  is to be seen as a romantic, as naive, a bleeding heart, and as immature.  Dreams of any kind are viewed as an escape hatch from reality. But, Howard persists, “Persons (and nations) cannot continue long to live if the dream in the heart has perished.  It is then that they stop hoping, stop looking, and the last embers of their anticipations fade away.”

“Where there is no dream, life becomes a swamp, a dreary dead place, and deep within, a person’s heart (the nation’s heart) begins to rot.  The dream need not be some great and overwhelming plan; it need not be a dramatic picture of what might or must be someday; it need not be a concrete outpouring of a world-shaking possibility of sure fulfillment.  Such may be important for some; such may be crucial for a particular moment of human history.  But it is not in these grand ways that the dream nourishes life.”

“The dream is the quiet persistence in the heart that enables a person to ride out the storms of life’s churning experiences.  It is the exciting whisper moving through the aisles of one’s spirit answering the monotony of limitless days of dull routine.  It is the ever-recurring melody in the midst of the broken harmony and harsh discords of human conflict.  It is the touch of significance which highlights the ordinary experience, the common event.  The dream is no outward thing.  It does not take its rise from the environment in which one moves or functions.  It lives in the inward parts, it is deep within, where the issues of life and death are ultimately determined.” 

To lose the dream in my heart is to lose the significance of living.  To lose the American Dream is to lose the significance of our national life.  Keep alive the dream!  Lao Tzu wrote, “Be careful what you water your dreams with.”  Water the dream with hate, bigotry, fear, faux patriotism, and meanness of spirit and you will produce weeds that will eventually choke the life out of the dream—and without the dream we shall perish, both as persons and as a nation.

We must nurture our dreams with the water
of love and community.  Water the dream with hate and
bigotry and we will choke the life out of it.
Without that dream we shall perish.

Friday, April 27, 2018

A Sense of Fancy

I’m visited this morning by Howard Thurman (1899-1981) an African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.  Thurman was deeply influenced by my visitor of yesterday morning—Rufus Jones. Just as Thurman was inspired by Rufus Jones—Martin Luther King, Jr was inspired by Howard Thurman (especially through Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited).  Jones, Thurman, and King were all influenced by the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi.  Isn’t it funny how that works?  My life has been influenced and shaped by these men—all of whom, including me, have been deeply influenced by the teachings and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

Howard Thurman, along with Howard Fisk (a white minister) founded the first major interracial, interdenominational church in the United States.  I never met Howard Thurman, but I became acquainted with him through his writing as a seminary student.  Over the years, he has visited me through twenty-some books.  Among these are:  Deep is the Hunger, The Creative Encounter, Footprints of a Dream, The Inward Journey, The Centering Moment, The Mood of Christmas and many others. 

The first thing Howard says to me this morning is simply this— “There must always be remaining in every one’s life some place for the singing of angels…”  What a wonderful way to begin a visit.  As we continued to  chat, I was suddenly and mysteriously hearing “the singing of angels.”  It is hard, Howard told me, to live life fully without a sense of fancy.  A sense of fancy is not the same as a sense of fact, but it is just as significant.  A sense of fancy seems to be a gift given to all little children, who people their world with fairies and lovable dragons.  “The little girl has a real conversation with her doll; Santa Claus does come down the chimney, and he has reindeer and a sleigh, and he does live at the North Pole…”

In adults this sense of fancy can and must continue to influence the attitude and outlook we have toward the world and toward people.  We must, through this sense of fancy (imagination) develop the ability to envision things in terms of their highest meaning and fulfillment, even as we grapple with them as they are (the hard facts).  It is not that we disregard the sordid and mean spirits that do, in fact, exist, but that we deal with these in the light of their highest possibilities.  “A developed sense of fancy illumines the dark reaches of the other person until there is brought to light that which makes for wholeness and beauty in him.  This is what God is doing in human life all the time.”  Hopefully I can hold on to what Howard has shared during our visit.  I will fancy I hear the singing of angels in me and in you.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

We Are Visited

I’m visited this morning by Rufus M. Jones through his little book, New Eyes for Invisibles.  I notice that the flyleaf is stamped “discarded” by the  public library where my mother-in-law once worked.  Aware of my interest in Rufus Jones she didn’t throw the book away.  She passed it on to me.   The book was written in 1943, the year I was born.

Rufus Jones, one of the most influential Quakers of the 20th century,  was born in 1863 and died in 1948.  He was a Quaker historian, theologian, philosopher, and a professor at Haverford College.  I never met Rufus in person (I was only 5 years old when he died) but I feel like I know him because of the many visits we have enjoyed together through his books.  I’ve read Vining’s biography of Rufus and I’ve read his three-volume autobiography.  I have read most of his published works.  I feel I know him very well.  We are good friends and our visits together are always memorable. I’m glad my mother-in-law did not discard his little book through which Rufus has come to chat with me this morning.

Rufus assures me that God “knows what is in the dark” (Daniel 2:22).  He reminds me that this moment in time is not the first time that a disturbing darkness has swept over the human spirit and the American Dream. He tells me of other periods of darkness.  He bids me see from the perspective of history, and to be aware of this fact, “these dark epochs have, strangely enough, almost invariably been birth epochs for a new day.”  It is not ease and security which produce Light in the Darkness.  The human spirit comes to fulfillment out of travail and agony and it will do so again and again.  Rufus urges me to see “the treasures of darkness,” and to accept the biblical word (even if I can’t understand it at the moment) that the darkness and the light are both alike to the “Pilot of the ship.”

He tells me the real battle, now as always, is in the soul.  What is happening to human minds right now is more important than the issues of immigration, school shootings,  prolonged wars, and the building of walls (all kinds of walls) to keep people out.  He assures me “as has happened since creation’s primal day, the darkness will be followed by the light—and even now God knows what is in the dark.”  

“O, Rufus, I’m so glad your little book was not discarded, and I’m grateful for your visit with me this morning.  Please come more often and  give me new eyes for invisibles."

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

That Poem Is My Poem

When we read another’s words or look at another’s creative work we bring all our own feelings, thoughts and experiences into what we read or see.  This phenomena no doubt created the humorous quip:  “I know you think that you understand what you thought I said, but I am not all that sure that you understand that I seldom say what I think and even less often do I mean what I say.”  

G. K. Chesterton in his biography of Robert Browning tells of an admirer asking Browning for the meaning of one of his darker poems and receiving this reply, “When that poem was written, two people knew what it meant—God and Robert Browning.  And now God only knows what it means.”

Does writing, poetry, and other art forms communicate the “thought” of the writer, poet or artist?  When you read my written words do you really understand what I am trying to say or do you read into it what you think I am trying to say? Nowhere is this more evident than when someone tries to interpret poetry.  I just read Robert Frost’s poem, “Acquainted With the Night.” Did I understand what Frost was trying to say through it?  I doubt it.  It instead became not Frost’s poem but mine—it spoke to what I am feeling, thinking and experiencing today. If I should read the poem tomorrow it may not speak to me at all.  If it does speak, the message may be totally different from the one of today.

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain - and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye; 
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

A critic, reading this same poem wrote the following:  “The night is death.  Frost embraces death, coping with the truth of his mortality, instead of those in the city who rebel against night’s darkness by replicating the day with artificial city lights.  The luminary clock is the universe that enacts the progression of time and the changes it induces.  The watchman is the spirit watching over Frost’s soul as it passes down the saddest city lane.”  Wow! I wonder if we read the same poem. I’m sure Frost (wherever he may be) is wondering, too.  I don’t know about God.

Does the peony speak?  When we read it petals, can
we know its thoughts?  No, the peony becomes our
peony--our feelings, thoughts and experiences.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Give Whatever Ails You—Words

O, how lustily we sang together.  We were young airmen far from home.   We were immature, but we were expected to be mature.  We were supposed to be “macho” but we were anything but macho—we were really just little boys.  We were lonely, but we were not supposed to let it show. That’s why some thirty of us gathered in the Chapel once a week (as the Airmen’s Fellowship) to encourage and strengthen one another, to find purpose and meaning for what was happening to us and in us, and to sing songs of faith to bolster our spirits.  Our theme song was “It Is Well with My Soul.”  We sang it with gusto. We sang it with faith.  We sang it with conviction. We sang it with hope. We sang it as if all were really well with our souls—even though aware that things were not so well with our souls. We knew it, but we sang the song anyway.  “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; 
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”  

Looking back now, I think perhaps we were doing ourselves a favor.  Our being together once a week and singing that song was a form of therapy.  We were following Shakespeare’s admonition in Macbeth:  “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”  We gave our loneliness, our sadness, our frustrations, our inability to change things, WORDS!  Those words probably saved us from many a heart break.  We gave all that messy, confusing, bewildering  stuff that goes on inside young men—WORDS

Do yourself a favor, give words to express what goes on within you, give words to your confusion, grief, hurt, bewilderment—give words for what goes on with you and in you!  It is a form of therapy.  Feelings, thoughts, hurts, and trials, the “grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.

“And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; 
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, even so, it is well with my soul.”

One view from the deck.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Song and Dance of Spring

Spring is singing and dancing in my back yard.  The buds are green on the trees and the azalea bush, the iris is shooting up along with the peonies and all the daffodils are in full bloom.  The hosta grows bigger and greener with each passing day. Now, if only the weather would join the song and dance of spring and give us a warm day.  Then I could sit on the deck (my favorite place this time of year) and enjoy the song and dance, and perhaps even participate in the frolic around me with a tune of my own or some fancy footwork.

Kazantzakis wrote that youth “turns on the faucet, permitting time to drain away uselessly and be lost, as though time were water.”  We do that as we grow older, too, doing precisely what William Penn warned us about: “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”  The faucet of time is turned on, running its course, and we must use what time gives.  We cannot turn it off now.  We have never been able to turn it off.  We can only use it and live it to the fullest.  We do that by being alive to all the life that is in us, experiencing each moment as a sacred moment, each thought as meaningful, each song our own, every dance our dance.  

What do I mean?  Must I explain?  I think you already know.  Sitting on the deck may be a much better use of time than pulling the weeds that also grow along with and among the iris, peonies, hosta and the daffodils.  (Even if you pull the weeds, they’ll come back again).  Sitting on the deck may produce something more productive than accomplishing some chore that calls out to be done.  (All chores usually have to be repeated and most can wait until tomorrow). Sitting on the deck and singing the song and dancing the dance of spring may be more significant than cleaning the house or washing the car. (Both will need cleaning again).  But that moment on the deck, that moment in time, that moment of thought or without thought, may make you more alive to the life that is in you now than all those other things combined.   This is not an excuse for being either old or lazy, it is a  plain and simple truth that has taken me nearly all my 75 years to discover and experience.  

The bride speaks to her beloved, “For now the winter is past, the rains are over and gone; the flowers appear in the countryside; the time is coming when the birds will sing, and the turtle-dove’s cooing will be heard in our land; when the green figs will ripen on the fig-trees and the vines give forth their fragrance.”  I hear the bride speak to me:  “Rise up, come away to the deck with me” (Song of Songs 2:11-13).

Rain is needed, but still the peony grows.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Unknown Paths

Someone once wrote that if you want to annoy a poet, start by attempting to explain his poetry.  I suppose the same is true of any form of art or creative endeavor. Poetry is a personal expression. “Poetry is,” as Robert Penn Warren wrote, “a haphazard attempt at self-understanding: it is the deepest part of autobiography.”  

Some years ago I came across the poem/hymn, “He Leads Us On” by Hiram Ozias Wiley (1831-1873).  The words spoke to me and seemed to describe my own spiritual experience and faith journey through the years.  You see, I’ve felt more led by God than I have felt protected, sheltered or saved by God.  I’ve experienced more fainting, faltering, doubt, fear, storm, darkness, losses, sorrows and “o’er-clouded days” than I have any kind of heavenly bliss along the way—and every path on which I’ve walked has been one I did not know beforehand—“And still he leads on” even though we “are wounded by truth.”

He leads us on by paths we did not know.  
Upward He leads us, tho’ our steps be slow;
Tho’ oft we faint and falter on the way,
Tho’ storms and darkness oft obscure the day,
Yet, when the clouds are gone,
We know He leads us on.

He leads us on thro’ all the’ un-quiet years;
Past all our dream-land hopes, and doubts and fears
He guides our steps; thro’ all the tangled maze
Of losses, sorrow, and o’er-clouded days
We know His will is done,
And still He leads us on.

This morning I read the poem again and again found it an expression of my journey.  What of the author, what of Hiram Ozias Wiley?  Sidney Perley said of him in The Poets of Essex County, Massachusetts: Hiram Ozias Wiley “sought to drown his sorrows and cares in the exhilarating cup, and became a wreck in his prime. In very destitute circumstances, he died of the small pox, in Peabody, January 28, 1873, at the age of forty-one." Faith is not a kind of “Armor All” protectant.  Yet “still,” I believe with Hiram, “He leads us on!”

“I will lead blind men on their way and guide them by paths they do not know; 
I will turn darkness into light before them and straighten their twisting roads.
  All this I will do and leave nothing undone”  (Isaiah 42:16).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

What Is or What Ought to Be?

Do we know what is right and what is wrong? Can something be “right” in my eyes and “wrong” in yours? Is right and wrong always “black and white?” Do we know what is good and what is evil?  Are we always right?  Do we always do the good?  Of course not.  We all fall short of perfection (is there a “perfect”?).  We are not always as kind as we ought to be, which means we have some idea of what kindness ought to be.   We are not always as loving as we ought to be, which means we have some idea of what loving ought to be.  We do not demonstrate the life we know we ought to demonstrate, which means we have some idea of what life is meant to be. Our frailty in terms of living up to the “standards” (what ought to be) make it extremely hazardous for us who live in glass houses to throw stones.  “You, sir, why do you pass judgment on your brother?  And you, sir, why do you hold your brother in contempt?….Let us therefore cease judging one another, but rather make this simple judgment:  that no obstacle or stumbling-block be placed in a brother’s way” (Romans 14:10ff).

Does Paul mean that we should forget about right and wrong? Does he imply that we should not hold our brother or sister to account? Does Paul mean to suggest that we ignore the standards (what ought to be) of decency,  courage, and caring and never say a word in judgment or in protest?  Of course not. We know that both we and our brothers and sisters do not demonstrate the life we know we ought to demonstrate.  But we must never lose sight of the standard (what life ought to be).  We must never cease to raise that standard up, and ever seek to live it out ourselves and encourage others to do the same.  Similarly, the American Dream is not something we have demonstrated as a nation throughout our history, but it is the standard (what ought to be) by which we seek to live and if we lose the standard, we lose everything.

Do we hold different “standards” (you can use “values” if that suits you better) of what is right and what is wrong?  Is that our present dilemma?  Or have we lost the standards (values) that once seemed to bind us together as a society?  Does “kindness” mean something different for you than it does for me?  Does “loving” have a different meaning for you than it does for me?  Have we lost the “what ought to be” and settled for whatever is at the moment?

Is there a Lighthouse to rescue us from the restless
waves?  Is there a "Standard"--a "What Ought to Be" or
is it simply my way or your way?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fratricide Will Do Us In

We know from the pyramids of Egypt, the ruins of the Palace of Knossos in Crete, the ancient Parthenon of Athens, and the tumbling Colosseum of Rome that great and wondrous human societies have arisen and flourished for a season and then have disappeared.  Abraham Lincoln wondered,  as many others have and still do,  if the American experiment, the American Dream,  would eventually go the way of the Egyptian, Minoan, Athenian and Roman civilizations.  Would these United States succumb to the same outcomes and if so, how would it happen?  Lincoln decided that the fall of America, if it were to come, would not come by military aggression from the outside, but from inner decay.  “At what point then,” he wrote, “is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, ‘If it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us.  It cannot come from abroad.  If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.  As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.’”

The Civil War was one such suicidal attempt.  It was fratricide.  And that fratricide continued after the war in many and varied forms in the treatment of people of color, women, children, immigrants, etc.  The threat to the United States did not come from without (and it still does not come from without).  It “springs up amongst us.”  We are “its author and finisher.”  

Suicide is the act of taking one’s own life.  Fratricide is the act of taking the life of one’s brother or sister (or a fellow countryman).  We do ourselves in and commit a kind of suicide when we ignore the Dream.  We make ourselves small when we are meant to be great. We do our brothers and sisters an injustice and commit a form of fratricide when we bully, threaten, label, and put the other down.  It is this  basic lack of “morality” that will bring about our decline as human beings and as a human society called America. 

The American Dream will fade and no doubt die if we abandon the moral responsibility to be our brother and sister’s keeper and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We can destroy ourselves (suicide) by our mean-spirited behavior toward our brothers and sisters (fratricide).

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Who Am I? Where Do I Fit?

We are all familiar with Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation,” and the generation called the “Baby Boomers” (1946-1964).  Most are familiar with the  Generations X, Y, and Z.  But, and suddenly those words from “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” pop into my head and I want to sing out, “But…do you recall…” with a slight variation of words and with tongue in cheek:  “But… do you recall the most famous generation of all!”  I mean my generation.  The generation labeled by Time Magazine back in 1951 as The Silent Generation. It consists of the 50 million people born between the years 1925 and 1945.  I came into the world at the tail-end of that cycle—which explains my schizophrenic nature and my uncomfortable straddling between Brokaw’s “Greatest” (“those get-it-done G.I.s”) and those vocal “hippie world-changing” Boomers.  Most of the Silent Generation lived through the Great Depression and all of World War II.  I did not.  Who am I, then?  Should we sneak in another generational name or grouping—one that labels those of us who cannot remember either the Great Depression or the War? Or do we just have the dates mixed up for each generation?  Every researcher seems to classify the generations with a new set of dates.

That 1951 Time article, for example, defined the Silent Generation as those born from 1923 to 1933.  Those parameters do not include me!  I’m kind of pleased about that because the article suggested that those of the Silent Generation were grave and fatalistic, conventional, with confused morals and always expecting disappointment.  “Youth today,” the article said of those of us now in our 70’s, “is waiting for the hand of fate to fall on its shoulders, meanwhile working fairly hard and saying almost nothing.  The most startling fact about the younger generation is its silence.  With some rare exceptions, youth is nowhere near the rostrum.  By comparison with the Flaming Youth (the Roarin’ 20’s) of their fathers and mothers, today’s younger generation is a still, small flame.  It does not issue manifestoes, make speeches or carry posters.  It has been called the ‘Silent Generation.’”  William Manchester commented that this Silent Generation was “withdrawn, cautious, unimaginative, indifferent, unadventurous and silent.”  That doesn’t sound like me.  Other researchers have called this generation the “Seekers,” and in England it has been named the “Air Raid” Generation.  I just don’t seem to fit these descriptions or maybe I just don’t want to fit into them.  

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a member of the Silent Generation—he was born in 1929.  Who am I? Where do I, born in 1943,  fit in? Maybe I’m just one of those “War Babies,” born between 1939 and 1945, which include Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Simon and Garfunkel, Al Pacino, Muhammad Ali, Bob Woodward, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi.  Yes, that seems to fit me well.  At last, I know where I fit!  I still don’t know quite who I am!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Geography And Generations X, Y, & Z

Yesterday I drove across the northern tier of Maryland to visit my grandson.  He is currently a student at Western Maryland University.  I enjoyed being on the road again even if only for a day and even  though I wasn’t driving  Odysseus (our miniature RV).  It is a  three and a half  hour drive to Austin’s campus from our home on the Eastern Shore.  The state of Maryland has three geographical areas:  the Coastal Plain (both sides of the Chesapeake Bay, including the Eastern Shore), the Piedmont Plateau (the area separating the Appalachian Mountains and the coastal area), and Western Maryland (the Appalachian Mountains with elevations ranging from 1000 to 3000 feet).  Each geographical area is unique.  Each area has its own charm and beauty.  

Thinking about those three geographical areas of Maryland somehow caused me to focus on the three most recent Generations, called X, Y, and Z.  I am part of the “Silent Generation” (1925-1945).  Those born after WWII (1946 to 1964) are labeled the Baby Boomers. My three children are Generation X (1964-c.1978).  Two  of my grandchildren belong to Generation Y or the Millennials (1980 to 1995), and four are considered Generation Z (1996 to the present).   Like Maryland’s geography these generations are connected, but are at the same time quite distinct from one another, each having unique characteristics.

Austin and his brother Nick are members of the latest generation to be born—Generation Z. (I don’t know what on earth we’ll call the next generation since we seem to have used up the alphabet).  Generation Z-ers  (post-Millennials) were born into a society “where information, education and everything else, is just a click away.”  They have used the Internet since a young age and are generally comfortable with technology and with social media. At their fingertips there is a technology that just a few years ago was unthinkable (and for their grandparents a technology that remains unthinkable). What will they do with it?  Generation Z-ers presently make up 26% of the US population—by 2020 they will account for one-third of the US population.  They can process information faster than any previous generation.  They can “create a document on their school computer, do research on their phone or tablet, while taking notes on a notepad, then finish in front of the TV with a laptop, while face-timing a friend.”  They are more global-minded, have higher expectations and accept diversity more readily than any previous generation. 

This is why I drove through three geographical areas of Maryland yesterday (three and a half hours each way) to have lunch with my grandson—four generations removed!  Austin and his generation give me hope and I’ll travel a long way to bask in that hope these days.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Rule of Law

The presumption of innocence is the principle that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty.  In most states the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial. This principle is also an international human right under the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.  The principle, presumption of innocence,  is a  part of the basic rule of law by which our nation and society operate under the Constitution.  A person is determined guilty only when sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt is provided (by the accuser or prosecution) to convince judge or jury that the person is guilty. Just as all are innocent until proven guilty (the presumption of innocence) so too, no one is exempt from this rule of law.  No one from the very top all the way down to the lowest rung of the government or societal ladder, is "above the law" and all persons no matter their social status are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The rule of law is the legal principle which says that law governs our nation and society rather than any arbitrary decision, proclamation or announcement of an individual government official or the opinions, accusations, or pronouncements by an ad hoc crowd. (Such crowds are called lynch mobs).

The rule of law was abrogated during the 2016 political campaign when crowds were encouraged to proclaim "Lock her up" and "Crooked Hillary.” This mantra violated the principle of presumption of innocence and the rule of law. No government official, political party, or crowd can pronounce guilt upon anyone without sufficient evidence according to the rule of law.  Sufficient evidence was not provided to warrant this mantra, nor had judge or jury (the rule of law) determined guilt.  Thus the arbitrary pronouncement by Mr. Trump and the echoing of the same by supporters (not only in this case but innumerable others since) abridged the principles of presumption of innocence and the rule of law.

Mr. Trump seems to see himself above the law. He sometimes disparages the rule of law and the presumption of innocence that proclaims everyone and anyone is innocent until proven guilty (by virtue of sufficient evidence and determined by judge or jury in a court of law).  His claims and announcements about the guilt, innocence, or patriotism of others are unacceptable under the Constitution without the submission of sufficient evidence to prove such guilt through the normal legal system.  Those opposed to Mr. Trump must also beware of abrogating this legal principle of the Constitution.  Mr. Trump must be presumed innocent until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt under the rule of law.  Let’s not violate this human right for anyone.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Love: A Costly Thing

Over and over again the Alfa Romeo "commercial" appears on the TV screen and I hear the wonderful music that accompanies it.  I am carried away into a state of ecstatic enchantment--not by the magnificent Alfa Romeo automobiles sliding around on ice--but by the beauty of the music that seems to reach into the very depths of my being. I don't know why this particular music moves me so.  I don't know why it almost brings me to tears.  All I know is that it has a powerful effect on my spirit, my soul, or whatever.  You have probably seen this commercial and I wonder if the music affects you the same way it affects me.

The music accompanying the two, red,  skating, sliding,  gliding  Alfa Romeo autos on an ice rink is  "Wicked Game" by Ursine Vulpine and features Annaca (whatever that means).  It can be downloaded from iTunes (which I have done).  For the last week or so I have listened to it almost every morning trying to figure out what it is about this music that moves me so. Is it just the music itself? Is it the lyrics? Is it both?

 "I never dreamed I'd meet somebody like you
And I never dreamed that I'd lose somebody like you
No I don't want to fall in love
No I don't want to fall in love with you."

The song was written by Chris Isaak back in 1989.  I don’t recall ever hearing it back then.   Somewhere I read that it was used in a Jaguar automobile commercial in the U.K. and Australia a few years ago, and that it was also featured in a David Lynch film "Wild at Heart" in 1990.  But I do not recall ever hearing either the music or the lyrics until the Alfa Romero commercial began in December last year.

I think both the music and the lyrics (primarily the refrain) speak of the burden and the joy of loving.  I am not referring necessarily to romantic love, but to love in general.  We have all loved somebody. We never dreamed we would meet somebody like that particular person, never dreamed we could ever love anyone so much.  Then, we lose that person (in whatever way)—never dreaming that we would or could ever lose somebody we loved so much.  But it happens, and when it happens there is that within us that says, “No I don’t want to fall in love” anymore.  I don’t want to bear the struggle, hurt, the loss, or the pain that love brings—and sometimes having once loved—prevents us from loving again.  Maybe that is what the music and the lyrics say to me—Love is not a cheap throw-away.  Love is a costly thing that we often do not want to buy into because it has been so expensive for us in the past.

Love is not cheap.  It takes everything that is within you.
Listening to one another is the first step.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tax Day and A Dictionary

Today is April 15—Tax Day or T-Day!  April 15 has always been Tax Day as far back I can remember.  In fact, April 15 became Tax Day back in 1955 when I was 12-years-old!  I can understand a one-day delay since today is Sunday—but why two days?  Why is Tax Day April 17 instead of April 16?   Is it because of the new changes in the tax law?  Founding Father Benjamin Franklin famously said that the only things certain in this world were death and taxes and I just assumed April 15 was just as certain as the taxes.  April 17 is Tax Day because today is Sunday and tomorrow, Monday, April 16, is Emancipation Day in Washington DC.  The Compensated Emancipation Act freed thousands of slaves in the District of Columbia when Abraham Lincoln signed it on April 16, 1862.  Tax Day this year is April 17!

On April 15, 1755, A Dictionary of the English Language, written by Samuel Johnson, was published.  It is considered the most influential dictionary in the history of the English language and remained so for nearly 173 years until the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary.  Johnson’s dictionary contained 42,773 words.  The Second Edition the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 contemporary words, and 47,156 obsolete words.   

Johnson’s Dictionary was somewhat unique.  To illustrate the meaning of each word, Johnson used literary quotations (nearly 114,000 of them).  His choice of authors for these quotations included the great ones like Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, and Swift.  Johnson’s use of quotations to define words, prompted me many years ago to use quotations to undergird and to define my own thoughts and writing.  One example of Johnson’s use of quotation is seen in his definition of the word “Opulence:  Wealth; riches; affluence.” Then this quote from Jonathan Swift: 
“There in full opulence a banker dwelt,
Who all the joys and pangs of riches felt;
His sideboard glitter’d with imagined plate,
And his proud fancy held a vast estate.”

Johnson also used humor and his own prejudices in many of his word definitions as in “Oats:  a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”  Or as in “Lexicographer:  a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.”  

It would be deeply frustrating to live in a world without words.