Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Democracy Has More Than One “Base”

I’m tired of hearing about Donald Trump’s “base.”  I hear about it every day on every cable network, and have heard it every day since he first entered the GOP primaries in 2015.  I’ve heard about it during the recent hearing of the Supreme Court nominee.  I’ve heard it has so much power that it can now determine the fate of any politician running for office in any state. I understand “whoever or whatever” this “base” is that they will support him even if he shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue.  Many have tried to define this “base,” without much success. Many polls have been conducted to determine who and what this “base” is,  who they are, where they live, their racial, cultural,  educational, and economic background, etc.  I never heard much about an Obama “base” or Bush “base”—but every day I hear about the Trump “base.”  There is nothing wrong with having a “base,” except when it is touted as the only base that counts!

There are 232 million Americans eligible to vote and there are only 160 million registered voters (a despicable thing in a democracy).  Sixty percent of the Americans eligible to vote are registered to vote. In the 2016 election 139 million people voted.  The 139 million Americans who voted cast 65,844,610 votes for Hillary Clinton (48.2% of the total vote) and 62,979,636 votes for Donald Trump (46.1% of the total vote).  Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.86 million votes.  However, as has happened on four different occasions, the Electoral College installed a president who received fewer popular votes than the opponent.  It happened in the presidential election of 2000.

I don’t care much for statistics. Some people say even “the numbers can be doctored.”  But I think the numbers I’ve stated above are fairly accurate and cannot be disputed.  They are factual (though there are always some who reject fact and will insist that the “system is rigged”).  It is said (but hard to verify) that 65% of white Americans with evangelical beliefs voted for Trump. Does that mean all white Americans with Christian  beliefs voted for Trump?  Of course not!  Our America has more than ONE BASE when it comes to white (evangelical) Americans and more than one color when it comes to Christian Americans.  

Given these numbers it is evident that our democracy, our America, does not have ONE BASE—it has many.  I heard a few days ago that some poll gave Mr. Trump a 38% approval rating, which means there are 62% who do not approve. The Washington Examiner (Trump-supporting) in August 2017 wrote, “Data show that Trump’s real base is 24 percent of the electorate.” How can 24% determine the fate of the 75%?

We are a democracy, not a theocracy.  The difference is huge.  A theocracy has one base.  We are a democracy, not an autocracy.  The difference is huge.  An autocracy consists of one person or one group.  We are a democracy, not a plutocracy.  The difference is huge.  A plutocracy has one base—the wealthy.  We are a democracy, not a meritocracy.  The difference is huge.  A meritocracy is based on one base—those who have ability and talent.  We are a democracy, so let’s drop this stuff about this base, that base, or the Trump base and allow no base to dominate our policies, our thinking, or our religious persuasion.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Restless Wave

I’ve just finished reading John McCain’s (and Mark Salter’s) book, The Restless Wave.  I commend it.  I’ve been reading it, chapter by chapter, for the last four weeks.  It  is that kind of book—a book to be read slowly, leisurely, and thoughtfully.  It is a holy story—a sacred story—as all life stories are.  John McCain and I disagreed politically on many things, but I always admired him.  After reading his book, even though he has graduated to a new place, I still disagree with him on many political points, but admire him even more than I did before reading about  John McCain as “The Restless Wave.”

There were many passages in the book that increased my admiration for John McCain, but since I can’t quote them all, I must choose one.  Perhaps “this one” will suffice.

“Before I leave I’d like to see our politics begin to return to the purposes and practices that distinguish our history from the history of other nations.  I would like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different.  We are citizens of a republic made of shared ideals forged in a new world to replace the tribal enmities that tormented the old one.  Even in times of political turmoil such as these, we share that awesome heritage and the responsibility to embrace it.  Whether we think each other right or wrong in our views on the issues of the day, we owe each other our respect, as long as our character merits respect, and as long as we share, for all our differences, for all the rancorous debates that enliven and sometimes demean our politics, a mutual devotion to the ideals our nation was conceived to uphold, that all are created equal, and liberty and equal justice are the natural rights of all.  Those rights inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be assailed, they can never be wrenched.  I want to urge Americans, for as long as I can, to remember that this shared devotion to human rights is our truest heritage and our most important loyalty.”

Always, when we lose a loved one, or someone admired, we tend to attribute to them more than they were in life.  We make them larger, more heroic, more admirable, more loving, more fully human.  I think this a very natural thing and as long as we are conscious of it, it does no harm and may, in fact, do us and others much good.   But I wonder, if that is true,  why we  don't make those we love and admire larger, more heroic, more loving, and more fully human while it is day?  “For what to closed eyes are kind sayings, what to hushed heart is deep vow?  Naught can avail after parting so give them the flowers now!” 

Friday, September 28, 2018

For Those In Peril on The Sea

John McCain in his book, The Restless Wave, tells how he and Senator Ted Kennedy made two attempts to pass a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill prior to Kennedy’s death in 2009.  The third attempt, after Kennedy’s death, also failed, even though there were big majorities in both houses of Congress in favor of it.  This was a deep disappointment for McCain for two reasons:  “it’s something that most Americans want, and most members of Congress know it is the right thing to do.”  Then he stated his own third reason, saying that our country needs to do this now, because in the present political moment, “old fears and animosities that have blighted our history appear to be on the rise again, exploited by opportunists who won’t trouble their careers or their consciences with scruples about honesty or compassion for their fellow man.”

McCain saw the rise of what he called “true believers in an exclusive America.”  These people fear that America is being contaminated by immigration from Mexico, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.  They are not only opposed to illegal immigration, they are opposed to all immigration from these areas.  These “true believers” must be confronted, not ignored or winked at, wrote McCain.  So when House Republican, Steve King, espouses ethnocentrism as the principle attribute of American exceptionalism and the foundation of Western civilization, or when he says that diversity and assimilation are incompatible, he needs to be called out.  When King says, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” McCain said,  we need to respond by saying, “We built the civilization he wants to restore—the world’s freest, most enlightened, and most prosperous civilization—with the help of babies whose parents came here from every corner of the world.”  We must speak up against this kind of  “Make America Great Again.”  America is already great and it is great precisely because of immigrants who came, assimilated, changed our civilization and were themselves changed by it!  

McCain says, “..All that’s needed to assimilate in America is to embrace our founding convictions…that all have an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to the protections of the law, to be governed by consent, to speak freely, practice their religion openly, go as far as their industry and talent can take them. That’s it, and it’s beautiful in its wise simplicity.” 

I sure hope John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, had it wrong when she said at her father’s memorial: "We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness. The real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who lived lives of comfort and privilege.”  It is my fervent hope and prayer that American greatness lives on, and will continue to grow and thrive—that the “Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave” continues to hold “those in peril on the sea!”

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Internet Addiction

Clint Watts’ closing chapter in his fascinating book, Messing with the Enemy, is titled “Surviving in a Social Media World.”  He tells how “Fake News” social engineers can infiltrate, manipulate, and amplify their message using social media platforms with bots.  He tells how they can choose a receptive social media audience who will “like”  the “rumor,” retweet it, and share it with their particular “tribe” and how even rebuttals to the false story can be blocked.  It is a bit disturbing to think that I might be singled out  in an “audience herding” tactic just because I happen to “like” something you put on Facebook.  Social media provides a form of propaganda the likes of which we have never known before.  Watts quotes Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed News:  “With the emergence of digital social networks, our instant evaluation of a rumor can now be followed by a remarkably powerful act of push-button propagation.  Once we decide that a rumor is worth propagating, we can do so immediately and to great effect.”  Be careful of thoughtless clicks.  Do a little investigating before you push the button.

The power at the tip of our fingers to propagate via social media and the fake news epidemic can do us great harm.  But what may really be our undoing, according to Watts, is our own “internet addiction.” With the advent of mobile devices—a device we can’t leave home without, or drive without—increases the potential for this insidious internet addiction. Checking our phones every few minutes becomes habitual and irresistible.  I know this to be true because it is happening to me!  Fifty-nine percent of people say they are dependent on social media according to one study and their reliance on social media “ultimately makes them unhappy.”  “Why,” Watts asks, “would we continue to use social media so much when it makes us feel so bad?  It is an addiction!

Studies have shown that social media damages our critical thinking skills by shortening our attention spans.  “Social media requires us to evaluate thousands of pieces of information each day, a massive exponential increase from previous analog generations…this is further compounded by attention deficits that severely damage our ability to successfully parse fact from fiction.  

Like any other addiction, internet addiction or social media addiction, leads to greater consumption and creates new and strange behavior outside traditional norms. Habitual use of social media leads to several new “diseases” like “Facebook envy” (envious of the lives your friends present via social media) and “Facebook depression” (when a person feels unable to live up to the idealized portraits of life posted by others).  And there is more!  I recommend Watts’ book, but if you can’t read the whole thing, I recommend reading at least the last chapter.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Laughing Stock To The Entire World

The United Nations is an intergovernmental organization.  It was established in 1945 when I was two years old. Its purpose then and now is to promote international cooperation.  It was founded after World War II for the express purpose of preventing another such conflict.  It began with 51 member countries  and now has 193.    The goals of the UN are:  “to keep world peace, to help countries get along, to improve living conditions for people all over the world and to make the world a better place.”  Mr. Trump spoke at the UN yesterday.

Globalism is the planning of economic and foreign policy on a global basis. The Paris Climate Accord, the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement is a product of globalism.  The Iran Nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations is the work of globalism.   We are a global village as Marshall McLuhan suggested some fifty years ago.   We  (all the nations of the world) should be concerned about the 4,000 garment factories in impoverished Bangladesh, which a few decades ago, had none,  and for the workers there who are paid less than $40 a month.  Mr. Trump spoke about globalism yesterday at the UN.

A “doctrine” is a stated principle of government policy, such as “the Monroe Doctrine.”  “Patriotism” is a “devotion to and vigorous support of one’s country,” and when taken to the extreme becomes xenophobic. Mr. Trump spoke about the doctrine of patriotism yesterday at the UN. 

Donald Trump urged the UN member States to reject globalism!  He urged the UN member States to embrace patriotism!  “We reject,” he told the assembly, “the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”  He highlighted the achievements of his presidency—lashing out at his perceived enemies (Iran).  He railed against multilateralism.   He claimed, as he so often does that, “in less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”  And the General Assembly of the United Nations laughed!  What else could they do?  He had just slam-dunked the very purpose, goals, and work of the United Nations.  He has pulled the U.S. out of the Iran deal, the Paris Climate Agreement, the UN Human Rights Council and rejected the UN’s global compact on migration.  What else could they do but laugh!  

Mr. Trump tweeted four years ago: “We need a President who isn’t a laughing stock to the entire World. We need a truly great leader, a genius at strategy and winning. Respect!”  Yes, Mr. Trump,  we do!  

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

How Do You Read The Bible?

Reverend Cornel West says Right-wing Evangelical Fundamentalism  “wants to be fundamental about everything, except ‘love thy neighbor.’” Is that fair?  Dale Robbins writes for the fundamentalists saying,  liberal society classifies a Christian “as a radical fundamentalist if they merely believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, if they hold views against sexual permissiveness, homosexuality, abortion on demand or any other views which are politically incorrect.”  Is that a fair assessment of fundamentalism by “liberal society?”  There you have it:  the liberal/conservative divide, the orthodox/unorthodox dilemma, the fundamentalist/modernist controversy.  

In 1895 Conservative Protestants issued what have become known as the five points of fundamentalism:  “The verbal inerrancy of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, a substitutionary theory of atonement, and the physical resurrection and bodily return of Christ.”  The Christian fundamentalists back then were resisting Christian modernists who were attempting to revise  traditional Christian beliefs to accommodate the new developments in the natural and social sciences.  

The fundamentalist/modernist controversy continues—and some call it simply a religious thing.   Is it simply religious?  William Stringfellow  makes the point that the basic topic of the Bible is politics. “The Bible is about the politics of fallen creation and the politics of redemption; the politics of the nations, institutions, ideologies, and causes of this world and the politics of the Kingdom of God; the politics of Babylon and the politics of Jerusalem; the politics of the Antichrist and the politics of Jesus Christ; the politics of the demonic powers and principalities and the politics of the timely judgement of God as sovereign; the politics of death and the politics of life; apocalyptic politics and eschatological politics.”

Politics is defined as “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.”  Every political issue whether it be immigration, the economy, health care, the environment, war, or the role of women is a religious issue.  Not only is it a religious issue, it is a Christian issue. You can bet your life on it!  What you believe or don’t believe makes a huge difference. What you believe about the Bible and how you read it makes a huge difference.

Monday, September 24, 2018

“Enough, Enough, Enough!"

When Mr. Trump touts his wares at a news conference or at one of his political rallies,  I am reminded of Mark Twain’s comments about Michael Angelo while visiting Italy in 1867. He wrote in The Innocents Abroad:

“In this connection I wish to say one word about Michael Angelo Buonarotti. I used to worship the mighty genius of Michael Angelo—that man who was great in poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture—great in every thing he undertook.  But I do not want Michael Angelo for breakfast—for luncheon—for dinner—for tea—for supper—for between meals.  I like a change, occasionally.  In Genoa, he designed every thing; in Milan he or his pupils designed every thing; he designed the Lake of Como; in Padua, Verona, Venice, Bologna, who did we ever hear of, from guides, but Michael Angelo?  In Florence, he painted every thing, designed every thing, nearly, and what he did not design he used to sit on a favorite stone and look at, and they showed us the stone.  In Pisa he designed every thing but the old shot-tower, and they would have attributed that to him if it had not been so awfully out of the perpendicular.  He designed the piers of Leghorn and the custom house regulations of Civita Vecchia (Rome).  But, here—here it is frightful.  He designed St. Peter’s; he designed the Pope; he designed the Pantheon, the uniform of the Pope’s soldiers, the Tiber, the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Capitol, the Tarpeian Rock, the Barberini Palace, St. John Lateran, the Campagna, the Appian Way, the Seven Hills, the Baths of Caracalla, the Claudian Aqueduct, the Cloaca Maxima—the eternal bore designed the Eternal City, and unless all men and books do lie, he painted every thing in it!  Dan (one of Twain’s fellow tourist) said the other day to the guide, ‘Enough, enough, enough!  Say no more! Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made Italy from designs by Michael Angelo!’”

When Mr. Trump suggests that he inherited a mess and now, after just two years, he has made  “every thing” better than it has ever been in all of history, I begin to think Will Roger’s quip has come true:  “Everything is changing.  People are taking their comedians seriously, and the politicians as a joke, when it use to be vice versa.”  Or I paraphrase Twain’s fellow traveler, Dan, and say:  Enough, enough, enough!  Say no more!  Lump the whole thing! say that the Creator made America today from designs by Donald Trump—or say, as some seem to think,  that Donald Trump made the Creator!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Fall Equinox

Yesterday we had our second equinox of 2018.  Because of that equinox, today is the first day of fall (autumn) for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere.  For those who live south of the equator our fall equinox is their spring equinox.  The word “equinox” comes from the Latin word, “equinoxium, which means “equality between day and night.”  That means that yesterday we supposedly experienced 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night.  It all has to do with the rotation of the earth and the movement of the sun.  I’ll leave the full details of this magnificent, like-clockwork movement  of our planet and the far distant wonder known as the Sun, for Neil deGrasse Tyson and other scientists to describe and explain. 

Our ancestors knew something about all of this stuff long before science came along.  They knew enough to build massive monuments and temples that marked the seasons of the year.  These monuments and temples were their calendars.  

Stonehenge in England is one such monument.  Giant slabs of stone are the only remaining remnants of this mysterious temple, but we know that these great stones are aligned to mark the yearly passage of the sun, which allowed predictions of eclipses, solstices, equinoxes and other celestial events.  The main pyramid at Chichen Izta in Mexico is an Aztec temple with four staircases carefully angled so that when equinoxes come, a “snake of sunlight” appears to slither down the stairs.  There are temples on the Mediterranean island of Malta and in New Delhi, India, the stones of which are perfectly aligned so that the rising sun of an equinox is framed between them.  When visiting Stonehenge I could not decide what was more wondrous and amazing—the massive stones set in order to catch the equinoxes,  or the human minds that figured out where each massive stone should be placed in order to do that!

This morning I am struck by the fact that while we may know (or we think we know more) about equinoxes and other stuff than those who built these temples of the sun so long ago, we know little about the people themselves.  Some have even suggested that the expertise to build such monuments came from outer space!  Why is it, that knowing so much (or thinking we know) we do not know much about the Druids, or where the massive rocks came from to build Stonehenge and the pyramids of Chicken Izta?  It is a humbling experience to realize that I “do not know” and others “do not know.”  It is a religious experience, too, for it inspires a sense of wonder.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

“…In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work…For on that day he shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord”  (Leviticus 16:29-30).

A few days ago, Tuesday, September 18, Judaism celebrated Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement” in English).  One of the most important religious (holy) days in Judaism, Yom Kippur involves a 25-hour time of fasting.  Yom Kippur follows Rosh Hashanah—and both are considered “high holy days.”  Rosh Hashanah began September 9 and marks the beginning of the Hebrew calendar year 5779.  Like the secular new year, Rosh Hashanah is a time of joy and celebration.  Yom Kippur (which follows a week or more later) is a time of repentance and for the healing of one’s soul.  

Several years ago I heard someone use the phrase “irks my soul.”  I fell in love with the phrase and  I’ve been using it ever since with ever increasing frequency and liberality, for there is much in life and in the world as it is that irks my soul.  Yom Kippur is a day set aside, according to Leviticus 16:20-30, to “afflict the soul.”  To “afflict” is a very strong word as the following synonyms indicate:  “agonize, anguish, bedevil, besiege, excruciate, persecute, plague, torment and torture.”  Whew!  Yom Kippur is a really tough day if it is taken seriously as a day to “afflict the soul.”   It is a day set aside to atone (afflict the soul), to make amends and restitution for the sins of the past year.  It is as though this is your last chance to get and make things right.  The judgment of God will be written in the book, so to speak, and the book will be sealed.  

(“Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God, not for sins against another person.  To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.  That must all be done before Yom Kippur”).

An Opinion piece in the New York Times this week made a case for Yom Kippur being “A Dress Rehearsal for Our Death,” suggesting that to really “afflict one’s soul” (atone) is to view one’s life as it has been and as it is now, and to make amends and to be forgiven as though this Yom Kippur were really the final Judgment Day.  Some things “irk” our souls—but we  also need to "afflict” our  souls.  Yom Kippur is a holy day for all people. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

What’s The Big Fuss?

What’s all the fuss about confirming a Supreme Court Justice?  Yes, if confirmed, Judge Kavanaugh could be on the Court for the next forty years or more.  But longevity isn’t the issue.  The real issue is very similar to the one religious people have regarding the Bible.  There are the “originalists”—they say everything in holy writ is the literal word of God and must not be tampered with or changed one iota. What it says is what it means.  The originalists would also argue that the King James Version of 1611 is the most valid translation, all others being suspect. Opposite the originalists are the modernists who argue that the Bible is not the literal word of God and that the Book is a living document that must be re-interpreted in each new generation. This divide was called the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy back in the early 20th century and it continues to this day.  Today we call the originalists, conservatives,  and the modernists, liberals.  

This is why the fuss just now and the big fuss that goes on every time there is a Supreme Court seat to be filled.  It is about the meaning of the Constitution.  Is it a living document?  Or is it only to be viewed from the founding fathers’ “original intent” (whatever that was)? The Democrats favor a “living Constitution,” one that must be re-interpreted with the changing times and new circumstances.  The Republicans, or the “originalists,” believe the document speaks for itself  and is to be taken quite literally, “and should be taken as something only slightly less compelling than holy writ.”

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) served on the Supreme Court from 1967 to 1991 as the first African-American justice. Marshall saw the Constitution as defective and needing amendments to fit new times and circumstances.  He was critical of the founding fathers who wrote the Constitution because their original intent (as he saw it) favored a government  that advanced slavery and prevented blacks and women from exercising the right to vote.  The Constitution, he said, was “defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.”  In a 1987 speech, Marshall said that the 14th Amendment was a form of justice that the Founding Fathers had never envisioned, never intended, and never wanted.  The framers of the Constitution, he said, “could not have imagined, nor would they have accepted, that the document they were drafting would one day be construed by a Supreme Court to which had been appointed a woman and the descendant of an African slave.”

In a nutshell, the big fuss going on right now is about whether or not we make the Founding Fathers  gods and their Constitution a God.  It is precisely the same situation among Christians with the Bible—do we make the Book god (Biblio-idolatry) or see it as a document that leads us to the Living God?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Those Abiding Experiences

Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) has come to visit me this morning.  He was founding pastor of Riverside Church in New York City and was considered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as the greatest preacher of the 20th century.  In 1958, King inscribed a copy of his book Stride Toward Freedom for Fosdick:  “If I were called upon to select the foremost prophet of our generation, I would choose you to head the list.”

Harry Emerson Fosdick was an ecumenist and a pacifist.  His book, The Modern Use of the Bible, was and still is essential for understanding the Biblical message.  I have recommended it to friends, parishioners, and others for over fifty years and continue to do so.  My paperback copy of the book is tattered and worn from much use with crudely drawn asterisks, stars and lines in the margins of many of its pages.  Almost every page has a sentence or two underlined.  It is very much MY book now.  

My friend, Harry, tells me again:  “Here, then, is the first essential of intelligent Biblical preaching (study) in our day:  a man [woman] must be able to recognize the abiding messages of the Book, and sometimes he must recognize them in a transient setting.  No man will ever do this well if he does not divest himself of vanity and pride and clothe himself with humility as a garment.  He must see that many of our ways of thinking are very new; that they, too, are transient, and that many of them will soon be as outmoded as our forefathers’ categories are.  He must see that just because our ways of thinking are new, the garnered riches of the world’s thought have been stored up for us in  other forms of thought than ours and in other ways of speaking.  If he sees this clearly he will see also what a pitiably provincial life a man must live whose appreciations are shut up to that truth only which is expressed in modern terms.  Such a man is a prisoner in the thought-forms of the present age.  He cannot get out of that narrow world.  He is robbed of all the treasures of spiritual life which were amassed before our modern age came in and therefore were of necessity stored in other mental receptacles than ours.

A man of catholic culture should know how to be at home in all ages, to appreciate wisdom and spiritual quality in all forms of thought; he should drink the water of life from Greek vases and Jewish water-jars as well as from modern faucets, and whoever lacks such culture robs himself of his racial inheritance of experience and truth….Many of us who call ourselves liberal are not liberal; we are narrow rather, with that most fatal bigotry of all; we can understand nothing except contemporary thought.” 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Unlike Crickets--Human Females Sing!

Yesterday I wrote about crickets.  The crickets invade my garage every year when autumn comes.  Every morning I hear them singing—BUT ONLY MALE CRICKETS SING!  This is true of the Cicada as well—ONLY THE MALE CICADA SINGS! Female crickets and female cicadas do not sing—female crickets and cicadas cannot sing!  Why this is so, I do not know.  

I wonder, however,  if crickets and cicadas and the Senate Judiciary Committee have experienced some kind of arrested evolutionary process or if  perhaps they have just been left behind, still living in some kind of dark age.  You see, I remember another Senate Judiciary Committee of many years ago (1991), when a female began to sing and the all-male committee members refused to listen, sang louder, and squelched her voice.  It wasn’t that she couldn’t sing.  She could.  But the male vocalists were unwilling to listen to her song. You would think in this year of 2018 that things would be a little different this time around.  You would think it would be different with four women now on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  You would think in this day and age that everyone would be willing to let a female sing her song without a premature deafness.  Not only is a woman’s song silenced these days, but her paycheck is still less than that of the loud male chorus.

Some of the senior members of the Senate Judiciary were members of the same committee in 1991.  Apparently they have grown but little over the years for they are still singing the same refrain they sang back then.  

Human females can sing.  They are not crickets or cicadas!  We no longer live—I really doubt that we ever lived—in a patriarchal society where male voices were the only voices permitted to sing.

It was reported last night that Christine Blasey Ford, scheduled to sing before the Judiciary Committee next Monday, has received so much harassment and even death threats that she and her family have gone into hiding for their own safety and sanity.  Female human beings, unlike crickets and the cicadas, can sing and ought to be free to sing their song without being silenced or drowned out by an all-male chorus.

Everybody should be free to sing their own unique song and everybody should have the courtesy to listen to the songs that others sing.  We are not crickets or cicadas.  Sing your song!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Crickets Sing

On the Grasshopper and Cricket (by John Keats)

The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead                                  
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost      
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

Every autumn the crickets take up residence in our garage. I suspect they gather there for warmth on these cool autumn nights.  They are out and about all summer long, but I seldom see them, or hear them, until this time of the year.  There are over 900 species of crickets in the world and there are probably 900 crickets in my garage.  They are kept as pets in countries from China to Europe, and used as food in Southeast Asia, where they are sold deep-fried in markets as snacks. 

This morning I heard the crickets singing.  Some species of crickets have a whole repertoire of songs according to researchers.   This morning I seemed to hear several of those songs. The calling song attracts females.  The courting song is sung when a female is near, encouraging her to come nearer.  A triumphal song is sung after mating.  They also have an aggressive song that is sung when another male cricket is present.  Alas, the female of the species does not sing (like the Cicada) which is a shame.  Perhaps as the species evolves, the female will be set free to sing her own song too.

We have a whole repertoire of songs within us too!  A website called Songfacts lists 173 different song types!  In our species, even the female sings!  The question in my mind this morning is:  “What of the many songs we have within us are we singing?  We can choose our song.  Some are singing dirges about how bad things are in our world.  I prefer to sing this song, “For the Healing of the Nations:”  

For the healing of the nations, Lord, we pray with one accord; for a just and equal sharing of the things that earth affords; to a life of love in action help us rise and pledge our word…

Lead us forward into freedom; from despair your world release, that, redeemed from war and hatred, all may come and go in peace.  Show us how through care and goodness fear will die and hope increase…

All that kills abundant living, let it from the earth be banned; pride of status, race, or schooling, dogmas that obscure your plan.  In our common quest for justice may we hallow life’s brief span…

Monday, September 17, 2018

Words Hurt

Everybody remembers the childhood chant:  “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  The idiom implies that since words cannot cause us any physical pain or damage, they can be ignored or disregarded.  But it just isn’t so.  Words hurt!  Words may not break our bones, but they can do a lot of emotional and psychological damage.  That is why bullies use “names” to beat up on another person.

Apparently, I’ve been blind to the partisan name-calling that occurs on social media, or perhaps I’ve just simply ignored it, trying to remind myself of that old childhood chant.   In my vocabulary, a liberal is “adult, benevolent, broad-minded, friendly, generous, kindly, lenient, sympathetic, tolerant, latitudinarian, well-informed.”  Other synonyms for liberal are: flexible, humanistic, reformist, rational, indulgent, reasonable, receptive, unbiased, unbigoted, and unorthodox.”   Likewise, in my vocabulary, a conservative is “middle-of-the-road, traditional, constant, fearful, conventional, old line, and right-wing.” Other synonyms for conservative are:  steady, controlled, guarded, orthodox, firm, and bourgeois.  None of these synonyms are vulgar, insulting, or denigrating of a liberal or a conservative person.  Synonyms are words that “mean exactly or nearly the same as another word,” as the word “shut” is a synonym of the word “close.”

Reading “comments” on Facebook and various other social media outpourings, I have gained many new so-called synonyms for “liberal, Democrat, and left-wing” and “conservative, Republican, and right-wing.”  The difference between these new synonyms and the old (traditional synonyms above) is that they show that derogation (“the perception or treatment of someone or something as being of little worth”) has become part of our division as Americans.

New words for “liberal, Democrat, and left-wing” include:  “hippie, commie, elitist, fanatic, pinko, extremist, snowflake, libertard, bleeding-heart, and tree-hugging.” New words for “conservative, Republican, and right-wing” include: “Teabagger,  moron, idiot, racist, ideologue, deplorable, bigot, and misogynist.” These words are insulting, denigrating, and hurtful to all!  They are “sticks and stones” that do, in very fact, “break the bones” of our democracy.  Conversation, much less compromise, is almost impossible among those who see one another as being of little worth!  Words hurt and destroy. 

"And when he left there, [Jehu] met Jehonadab the son of Rechab coming to meet him, and he greeted him, and said to him, "Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?"* And Jehonadab answered: "It is." [Jehu said], "If it is, give me your hand." 2 Kings 10:15. (John Wesley's text for "A Catholic Spirit")

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Blame Game

The Blame Game started a long, long time ago, when in the Book of Genesis, Eve (Mother of all Living) blamed the Serpent as the reason for her eating the forbidden fruit.  Adam (Father of all Mankind)  blamed Eve.  Since then, we have all been playing the game.  Neither Eve or Adam could change the fact that they had eaten the forbidden fruit.  It is what it is—so they tried to explain, which led to the question:  Whose fault is it?  Whose to blame for my actions?  Because Adam and Eve were very much like us (occasionally irrational)—they refused to take responsibility and blamed it all on somebody else.  

This game is one of the most destructive of human pastimes. It consists of blaming another person for an undesirable event or circumstance.  The game is driven by four irrational beliefs:  (1) If something isn’t as it should be, then someone other than myself must be identified and blamed for causing the situation. (2) The person blamed does not deserve respect as a person.  (3) Therefore, it is permissible to treat the person in the way he or she deserves to be treated (name-calling, physical assault, shunning, etc.) (4) I cannot accept any degree of responsibility for to do so would be to admit that I am myself diminished as a person and therefore deserving of the same negative treatment.  [Elliot D. Cohen, Psychology Today]

The game is particularly familiar in politics.  As I observe the game played out by both conservative and liberal camps I try to laugh it off, but I can’t do so.  The game is far too destructive to be in any way humorous.  Why?  Because the blame game is usually irrational! 

Many previous presidents have criticized their predecessors, especially during their run for office.  President Obama criticized (blamed) George W. Bush for what he saw as a misguided invasion of Iraq and his failure to avert the financial meltdown that greeted Obama when he took office.  Others have done the same in a rational way without denigrating one another.  Mr. Trump has blamed Obama for almost every problem that crosses his desk in the Oval Office: civil war in Syria, nuclear showdown with N. Korea, health care, manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt, etc.  Trump says he “inherited a mess” and President Obama is to blame for all of it.  He has accused Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower, breaking the law in the Russia investigation and on and on. 

Conservatives, on the other hand, since Day One of the Trump presidency, have continually whined about their man “Trump” being more “picked on” and “attacked” and “blamed” than any other previous president.  Sean Hannity calls it the media’s out of control “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”  He pointed to a Washington Post editorial this week:  “Another hurricane is about to batter our coast. Trump is complicit.”  Hannity went bonkers with the proof text (headline).  Irrationality on the part of Democrats, Republicans, the Media, Religious personalities, or anyone else exercising power is no laughing matter!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Four Vagabonds

Unfortunately, our planned trip (August-September) westward had to be postponed some weeks ago and then eventually cancelled due to various circumstances.  Unwilling to let such circumstances rule or control our lives, we’ve decided to do a few small “On the Road Again” trips just to show our obstinacy.  We didn’t go far on this first trip and we didn’t go for long (two days), but we were able to visit and enjoy a lunch with each of our two grandsons at their respective college campuses and visit our friends (from college days) Mark and Norva.

While visiting Mark and Norva near Horseshoe Run, West Virginia,  I learned about the “Four Vagabonds” who visited the area one hundred years ago (August 1918):  Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs (a local logger).  They traveled in six cars—two Packards for riding, two Model Ts, and two Ford trucks—plus seven drivers and helpers.  They drove from Pennsylvania down through West Virginia to Tennessee, and then swung over to North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, camping along the way.  The Four Vagabonds did a number of these trips in the years that followed. (More information can be found by visiting and

Last month (August 2018) 25 Model Ts and one Packard visited the Horseshoe Run area to commemorate the Four Vagabonds camping trip of 1918.  Back in 1918 a photo was taken of Ford, Firestone, Edison,  and Burroughs posing at an ancient waterwheel at Evan’s Mill.  Over the years the huge waterwheel and the mill itself faded into time, but my friend, Mark, re-created the waterwheel (2016)  and constructed the Leadmine Museum (2017) to pay homage to the old Evans Mill.  The museum is located on the site of the old mill and houses a collection of interesting artifacts and other “Mark-built” pieces.  Millstones, their housings and gears found in the Horseshoe Run area are on display, along with a miniature steam engine and a replica of an 1830’s hand pumped fire engine, both built by Mark.

There are many fascinating stories told by old-timers along Horseshoe Run about the famous inventors (and companion Burroughs) who called themselves the Four Vagabonds.  They  made their “camp on the banks of a large, clear creek in West Virginia called Horseshoe Run,” back in August 1918.  We camped in our comfortable Odyssey (mini RV) in Mark and Norva’s driveway just a day ago, and listened to the rippling waters of that same Horseshoe Run the whole night long.  It was a pleasant thought to know that the Four Vagabonds had camped along this creek just as we were doing. More pleasant still was our visit with our friends of over 50 years—Mark and Norva—who live along “the banks of a large, clear creek in West Virginia called Horseshoe Run.”