Monday, May 25, 2020

Pondering Memorial Day 2020

My mother always called this day “Decoration Day”—a day to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.  The term “Memorial Day” replaced “Decoration Day” in the late 19th century—the name change occurred because Decoration Day had evolved into  a day of honoring the dead of all American wars (not just the Civil War, which had prompted the first Decoration Day).  

The word “Memorial” means “something designed to preserve the memory of a person, event, etc. as a monument or a holiday…” Memorial Day is a holiday that seeks to preserve our memory of the “fallen”—a way of remembering our national history and the tremendous human cost of war. For me that means any form of war, including the present war against the Coronavirus, the war against inequality, the war against poverty, the war against drugs, etc.  These wars, too, are efforts to preserve our freedom as a people and as a nation.

The present war against a global pandemic has helped broadened our American perspective of the “Hero”—“a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”  We are now aware that our heroes are not just those who gave their all in military service, but also those who now put their lives at risk to “free” us from the tyranny of Covid-19.  Our list of heroes has expanded.  Suddenly we see the bus driver who drove health professionals and hospital personnel to work each morning over the last several months, as a hero.  Like the soldier, the sailor, the marine, and the airman, these bus drivers put their lives at risk doing their job.  Some of these bus drivers and other public transportation people have paid the ultimate price—becoming the “fallen” in this war.  The grocery store employees, the cleaning staff at hospitals, the truck drivers, and so many other “ordinary” people (in or out of a particular uniform) are all engaged in this present and costly war which has taken 100,000 lives in three months.  

There are those who say that it is not the job of the government to protect our health. Yet all the wars ever fought by this nation were about protecting our health!  There are those who say that the government is only to protect our “rights” and if we trade “liberty” for safety we end up losing both.  How can “liberty” (“rights”—whatever they are and I’m  not sure what these persons mean by these words) be ours, unless we are safe to exercise those rights (liberties)?  

I honor and remember the “fallen” this Memorial Day—whether in military uniform or in any other service to our national community—in a time of war. .  They paid the ultimate sacrifice—they were, they are, the casualties of war—all wars past and present.  They have kept us safe. Without health (“the state of being free from illness or injury”), without being safe—“rights” and “liberty” could not be ours.

"In health (safety) there is freedom,
Health (safety) is the first of all liberties"
(Henri-Frederic Amiel)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Can Wood Dance?

Twenty-some years ago I brought home from my father’s orchard in New Jersey several branches of one of his cherry trees.  The wood has been waiting for me all these years.  Last October I began to carve one of the pieces. My mind saw a “dancing Zorba” just waiting to come out of that piece of wood.  Transferring that mental vision of a “dancing Zorba” to wood, however, became a real challenge. (Arthritic hands do not help).  I started and then stopped, started again and stopped again.  Can wood dance?  Can what I see be?  Is there really a Zorba in this piece of wood just waiting to break forth?

Two weeks ago I became obsessed with the carving again.  I sent a photo of the unfinished carving to a friend.  His response was an honest one.  “I can see Zorba the Greek in the carving.  I will admit though, that I couldn't until you told me.  Maybe after you've finished the sanding?”  I responded, “You are such a kind fellow to say you can see Zorba in the wood carving photo I sent yesterday.  You are honest, too—admitting that Zorba could not be seen until I told you it was Zorba!  I don’t think any additional sanding is going to bring Zorba out!”

My fascination with making a piece of wood “dance” goes back a long way.  My first attempt was some forty years ago when I carved a number of “dancing figures” from walnut and oak. Other attempts to make wood dance have been undertaken through the years and most of them discarded because the wood just would not dance!  

Kazantzakis wrote that when words became too constricting for Zorba, or when he felt himself somewhat suffocated, he would leap to his feet and begin to dance.  Perhaps my attempts to make wood dance occurs when my words can no longer express what I see, feel, and yearn for?  Perhaps my attempts to make wood dance is a way of leaping to my own feet and dancing because I cannot transform the dance into words.  Nor can I transform the dance into wood.  Perhaps Kazantzakis was describing me and my carved figure, when he said, “Zorba reposed inside me like a chrysalis, swaddled in a hard, transparent shell.”  The question, then,  is not whether wood can dance.  The question is will I free-up the Zorba in me and the Zorba I see in a piece of cherry wood, “swaddled in a hard, transparent shell” to dance?  

I'm telling you this is a
"dancing Zorba"

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Been There, Done That!

Two years ago I wrote:

I find myself using the phrase “Been there, done that” quite often these days.  The expression suggests that I’ve been in the situation or I’ve experienced the kind of happening you are talking about—“I’ve been there, done that!”  I use those words more frequently now with advancing age, but the expression has been around and in use since the early 1970’s.  There is now a party game called “Been There, Done That,” and country music singer-songwriter Luke Bryan has written a song with the title, “Been There, Done That.”  

Like most other phrases, “Been There, Done That!” bundles up a lot of different meanings for different folk.  One of my friends always reminds me these days of something he heard me say many years ago (or thinks he heard me say).  He says, I said, “History teaches us that we’ve been through this trouble, or acted out this foolishness before, and somehow we have always survived.”  My friend says my words have given him hope—that whatever trials and tribulations may come our way, we will be able to overcome them and survive.  “Been there, Done That” and made it through!

Jon Meacham in his book, The Soul of America, reminds us of where we as a nation have been before and what we have done before—and it is not a pretty tale by any means—and yet we as a nation and people rose above our own sordidness and cruelty by “letting the better angels of our nature” come to the fore.  If we rose above bigotry and cruelty of another time, we ought to be able to call on those “better angels” again and rise above our present dilemmas.

During World War I, President Wilson and the Congress restricted freedom of expression (the First Amendment) in the name of national security.  (We always use “national security” as an excuse!)  It was illegal to “utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States.”  Magazines and newspapers were censored and some suppressed.  Sound familiar?  We’ve been there, we’ve done that already—let’s not do it again!  Let’s let our “better angels” sing!

"Been there done that.  Then been there a few more times
because apparently I never learn."  (Unknown)

"I ain't, I ain't coming back,
I've already been there, done that."  (Luke Bryan)

The Yellow Iris breaks forth...

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Truth Comes Limping

What have you read recently about your government, your president, your congress, your justice department?  What cable news station do you watch for information?  What newspapers do you read?  These question are important—and your answer is even more important.  Thomas Jefferson said democracy is “dependent upon an educated and enlightened citizenry.” Jefferson  also stated, "No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”  The media is not “the enemy of the people.” 

Don’t let anyone “shut up” the freedom of the press.  At the same time, don’t take the word of one newspaper, or one cable network or some Facebook story.  Check out everything; examine everything, including your own opinions and prejudices, think for yourself using all the evidence you can find!  Don’t even take the word of the president.  It is a visible, known, evident truth that he does not tell the truth.  This is a statement of fact, not a partisan opinion or comment.  Watch out, too, for the trickery and chicanery of other elected officials.  They often speak with forked tongues.  

I just don’t understand how we can presume that truth does not exist. I don’t understand why one voice becomes truth—while the many voices speaking the very opposite are ignored or seen as speaking falsehood. First of all, it is the beginning of an autocracy, and second, it shows our ignorance.

Aren’t you tired of the prefabricated, fictionalized versions of facts, events and the official lies?  Aren’t you weary of the disinformation?  Do you not sense the harassment of those tweets—full of bullying statements, exaggeration and deception.  Aren’t you weary of  the cursing, the demeaning and condemnation of those who resist?

That is the scary part—that you may not be tired, weary, or concerned.  But I am!

The first peony bloom of the season

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

My Wife's Quilting Passion

When the wind blows
Cherie sews 
While I mow 
She sews

Tired days
Only a momentary delay
The very next day
She is at it again.

I celebrate 
Her passion to create
Quilts of many designs
And many colors...

"Another finished quilt. 
 Sunbonnet Sue quilt
 made for Elodie Hazel
 our number three 
great granddaughter!" 

Much Ado About Nothing?

Is it just much ado about nothing?  Is the eruption of toxic rhetoric really all that bad?  Hasn't it always been so?  We've always had comedians making jokes about our politicians.  There is nothing new about that.  What is new is the nasty way in which it is being done.  Will Rogers never met a person he didn't like.  He had great difficulty with the politicians of his time, but never once in all his joking did he maliciously insult, disparage, denigrate, dehumanize, or demonize another human being.

I remember my reaction to South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson shouting out "You Lie!" to President Obama when he spoke to a joint session of Congress in 2009.  I thought that was a really "low blow" and totally unnecessary.  But that was nothing compared to what has developed since.  And if this issue doesn't bother you, concern you, or disturb you, all I can say is that it should.

It doesn't matter whether it comes from a preacher, an actor, a Facebook post, a Tweet, an ignoramus, a scholar, a comedian, a pundit, or a politician--the "putting down" of another person has no place in any public discourse or forum (especially if there is not evidence to warrant such “putting down”).  I don't mean we can't talk about differences of opinion, or facts, or be critical of another, and that kind of thing--I simply mean that we have no business diminishing another person.

Some use the word "civility" to explain how we ought to treat one another.  Some use the word "decency."  Neither word really seems adequate.  What if I said we need to be "constitutional" in our dealings with one another?  That would "fit" everybody--conservative, liberal, progressive, Republican, Democrat, and Independent--would it not?  So let's be constitutional--hold these truths to be self-evident:  "that all men (women, children, all races, religions, all sexual orientations, etc. etc.) are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."  I have no business, nor do you, or those in positions of power and wealth, to tear down, to insult, to embarrass, denigrate, demonize, belittle, or dehumanize anyone.  I don't think I'm making much ado about nothing.  The present rhetoric that divides, destroys and demonizes any human being will eventually divide, destroy and demonize our own humanness.

"When once the forms of civility are violated,
there remains little hope of return to kindness and decency."
(Samual Johnson)
The first yellow iris bloomed yesterday!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

God Still Has A Long Face

God still has a long face.  God had a long face in 1919, in 1943, and in 1963.  God still has a long face in 2020.  “God Has A Long Face” is the title of a novel written in 1940 by Robert Wilder.  I thought it might be better to use “God Has A Sad Face,” but Wilder’s term, “Long Face” (“an unhappy or disappointed expression”) seems the better of the two.

During World War One, hundreds of thousands of southern blacks migrated into the industrial   north.   One afternoon in the summer of 1919, a seventeen year old black boy was swimming in Lake Michigan.  One part of the shore was set aside for whites and another for blacks.  The boy took hold of a railroad tie floating in the water and drifted over that invisible line dividing the two areas.  Stones were thrown at him by the whites.  He let go of the railroad tie and drowned.    The black community blamed the whites of stoning him to death and a fight ensued.  This incident set off a bonfire of racial hatred that mushroomed into a week-long civil war in Chicago that  included beatings, stabbings, gang raids and shootings, along with the destruction of houses and property.  Fifteen whites and twenty-three blacks were killed, five hundred-plus people were injured and a thousand or more were left homeless.  

White supremacists in 1920 thought the dark-skinned races constituted a worse threat to western civilization than the Germans or the Bolsheviks. Jews, Roman Catholics, and similar groups  were considered as having divided loyalties and, therefore, dangerous to America.  The KKK was born in 1915, proclaiming itself the defender of whites against the black, of Gentile against the Jew, and of the Protestant against the Catholic, inflaming the fears of the time. After fighting a war to end all wars and to make the world safe for democracy, the United States became a hotbed of white Anglo-Saxon bigotry and arrogance.  Was "America Great" in 1919?  In 1943?  In 1963?  Is America any greater now than it was back then?  No, I don’t think so.  God still has a long face.

“The face is a picture of the mind
 with the eyes as its interpreter”
 (Marcus Tullius Cicero).

Saturday, May 16, 2020

"In The Garden"

You may “come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,” and you may hear a “voice falling on your ear.”  But the Jesus, whose voice we hear, and who “walks with me,” and who “talks to me,: never comes to that garden by Himself alone. He can’t.  And He tells us so.  “I have other sheep…”. Jesus always comes to the garden and to us with his extended family.  He does “walk with me,” and He does “talk with me” personally, but he immediately says, “Now, let me introduce you to my family.”  

We aren’t overly interested in His family.  We just want Him.  Why?  Because His family doesn’t count for much with us.  The tax collector, the poor, the prostitute, the outsider, the lame, the feeble, the stranger, the brown, the black, and the foreigners are not our concern.  We are looking only for some relief for ourselves, and for our own family and friends.  We have enough burdens of our own.  We just want a personal Jesus to make everything comfortable for us, to heal our little infirmities and to take away our little trials and tribulations.

Jesus doesn’t come to us that way.  He never has and never will. He brings with Him, and invites us to join, His family (the whole wide world).  It is a “package deal.”  You are not, nor can you ever be, the sole focus of God’s love.  It is a travesty of the gospel to say and sing “and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”  Of course, others have shared and known that joy, because Jesus has met them and now carries them with Him wherever He goes.  He always brings His family.

Once we have experienced the garden where He talked with us and walked with us—we can never “come to the garden alone” again.  We now come to the garden carrying His family as our own.  

Cameron Bellm wrote the following “Prayer for a Pandemic.”  The prayer recognizes Jesus’ family:

May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.

“I sat in my garden but there was no place in the world where I was not.” (Anker Larson)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Science & Politics

Some think science ought to have the final word.  Others think political leaders ought to have the final word.  Some think Dr. Fauci and the CDC know what’s best.  Others think government officials and economists know what’s best.  Some want to move through the present pandemic based on scientific data and evidence.  Others discount the data and evidence and want to open up the economy again. Some think science, like religion, is somehow uniquely distinct from politics. The truth is that there has always been a strange interplay between society, politics, religion and science.

The Vatican imprisoned Galileo when he made his scientific discovery that the Earth revolves around the sun.  He was given two choices:  recant his scientific claim, or be burned at the stake.  The Soviet Union supported the science of Lysenko (a pseudoscientist who rejected basic principles of biology) because his theories supported the principles of Marxism.  The term Lysenkoism is now used to describe the manipulation of the scientific process to achieve ideological goals.  President Bush placed a ban on government funding for research on embryonic stem cells. His explanation:  “My position on these issues is shaped by deeply held beliefs.” His personal beliefs may have halted the potential development for cures of numerous diseases.  President Trump has continuously disparaged scientific evidence concerning clean air and water, climate change and medical research.  He has also minimized the Coronavirus pandemic and continues to do so.  

Rand Paul in a Senate hearing on Tuesday told Dr. Fauci that he didn’t think he was the “end all” in the present Covid-19 discussions.  Tucker Carlson of Fox News warned his viewers about “deifying” Dr. Fauci, saying, “He is not the one person that should be in charge.” Dr. Fauci responded to Rand Paul’s comment. “I have never made myself out to be the ‘end-all…I’m a scientist, a physician and a public health official.  I give advice, according to the best scientific evidence.”

Lysenkoism is having a comeback.  Just as the Justice Department is manipulating the law for political aims, so science is being politicized for ideological ends.  I’m grateful for Dr. Fauci and the way in which he handled the political football tossed at him on Tuesday.  We desperately need his “advice, according to the best scientific evidence” and most of us know that he is not the “end-all.”  Hopefully, he and other public health officials, unlike Galileo, will not recant from the data and evidence so far gathered on this virus, even if they and science are being threatened with being burned at the stake.

“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’
 then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country.
 This will not only result in needless suffering and death, 
but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.” 
(Dr. Anthony Fauci)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Music & Song

“Music,” Plato wrote long ago, “is a moral law.  It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”  Music is needed now in the midst of our present isolation perhaps more than it has ever been needed.  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Shows Must Go On” streaming on the YouTube channel and Webber’s  piano recitals from his home (YouTube) during this pandemic are attempts to meet our insatiable need for music.  With Teresa Brewer I sing “So, put another nickel in, In the nickelodeon, All I want is lovin’ you, and music, music, music…C’mon everybody, Put some nickels in, And keep that old  nickelodeon playing, Music, music, music.”

Music speaks in and of itself, but when words are added to it—when a song is born—the majesty of the music and the power of the words can become a profound message.  Christian hymns speak a message that have touched the souls of many.  Songs,  religious or secular, speak to us in ways no other form of communication seems able to do. Who is not deeply touched by Whittier’s hymn:  “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways, re-clothe us in our rightful mind…” or in Les Miserables’ “Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry men? It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again, When the beating of your heart, Echoes the beating of the drums, There is a life about to start, When tomorrow comes.”

Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”  What then of music—of song?  “If I were not a physicist,” said Einstein, “I would probably be a musician.  I often think in music. I see my life in terms of music.”  Music and song have shaped our lives more than we know and, with Einstein, we often think in music (a song) and often see our lives in terms of music and song.  Music and song, suggested Beethoven, is “a higher revelation than wisdom and philosophy” (and I would add, a higher revelation than theology and psychology).  

Johnny Cash wrote the lyrics and sang “Singer of Songs.” The lyrics say, better than Plato and Einstein and Beethoven what music and song can do.

I’m not a savior, and I’m not a saint.
The man with the answers I certainly ain’t
I wouldn’t tell you what’s right or what’s wrong.
I’m just a singer of songs.

But I can take you for a walk along a little country stream.
I can make you see through lovers’ eyes and understand their dreams.
I can help you hear a baby’s laugh and feel the joy it brings.
Yes, I can do it with the songs I sing.
I’m not a prophet, and I’m not a priest.
I’m not a wise man who’s come from the East.
I’m just a singer of songs.

Music and song “gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything” even today in this time of  isolation, trouble and woe.

“Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes.
 "A magic beyond all we do here!” 

(J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

To See The Deeper Mysteries of Life

A few days ago I quoted from Kirk Douglas’ reference to Vincent Van Gogh in his autobiography.  Several of those comments still echo in my mind this morning:  “How terrible to paint pictures and feel that no one wants them.  How awful it would be to write music that no one wants to hear.  Books that no one wants to read.”  I wrote the following in 2017.

Artists are “seers” who have the gift of enabling others to see what they see through their art forms and there are many forms of art:  a quilt, a painting, a book, a photograph, a sculpture, a completed construction project, etc..  Vincent van Gogh of the 19th century, was one of these gifted artists.  His work was not appreciated until long after his suicide at age 37.  During his lifetime, he sold only two paintings, but today his work is worth millions and is found in museums around the world.

Vincent wanted to be a minister, tried it, and failed.  Afterward, he broke all ties with organized religion.  He turned to art, seeing in it a better medium for bringing meaning and beauty to people; a way of opening their eyes to the deeper mysteries of life (helping others see what he saw). Vincent saw meaning and beauty in ordinary things:  flower vases, houses, cafes, cypress trees, and sunflowers.  He saw an inner beauty in people:  peasants working and eating, shopkeepers, weavers, postmen, prostitutes and attempted to paint this inner beauty.  In the faces of common people, seasoned by life’s trials and joys, Vincent could see the sacred; he wanted to share what he saw with the world.  “It is looking at things for a long time,” wrote Vincent to his brother Theo, “that ripens you and gives you a deeper understanding.” While Vincent saw the sacredness, the beauty, and the wonder in the ordinary, he seemed unable to see his own beauty and worth.  His story is a story worth reading and the song about him is worth singing, for it is still true:  “They could not listen;  they’re not listening still. Perhaps they never will” be able to see the sacred in ordinary persons and things as  Vincent saw.… 

Starry starry night/Paint your palette blue and gray/Look out on a summer's day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul/Shadows on the hills
Sketch the trees and the daffodils/Catch the breeze and the winter chills
In colors on the snowy linen land/Now I understand
What you tried to say to me/How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free/They would not listen they did not know how
Perhaps they'll listen now

Starry starry night/Flaming flowers that brightly blaze/Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue/Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain/Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand/For they could not love you
But still your love was true/And when no hope was left inside
On that starry starry night/You took your life as lovers often do
But I could have told you Vincent/This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you
They did not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will

Monday, May 11, 2020

“For The Living of These Days”

Harry Emerson Fosdick visits me this morning through his writings and particularly through  his famous hymn:  “God of Grace, and God of Glory,” composed for the dedication of Riverside Church in New York City (1930).  Are you familiar with it?  I find the hymn helpful in the “Living of These Days” in the midst of a pandemic.  When Fosdick wrote his autobiography in 1954 he wrestled with finding a title for it.  He sought advice from others, including my spiritual mentor, Elton Trueblood, who suggested the autobiography be titled “The Living of These Days” using Fosdick’s own words from “God of Grace, and God of Glory.” (Fosdick tells in the Preface to his book how the title was selected).

“Grant us wisdom, Grant us courage, for the facing of this hour. 
 Grant us wisdom, Grant us courage, for the living of these days.”

We need wisdom and we need courage, for the facing of this present hour.  We need wisdom and we need courage, for the living of these days.  These are tough days and will probably get tougher still, given the economic impact, the unemployment and all the rest.  We are living these days in the midst of a horrific virus that has already taken 80,000 lives here in the United States alone (about 285,000 deaths worldwide).  Health professionals anticipate that another 50,000 deaths could occur here in the U.S. in the days to come (and that estimate is dependent upon our following the guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus).

Wisdom (sagacity) is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding and common sense and insight for the living of these days.  Wisdom is the ability to think and act according to what little we know (at this point in time) about the coronavirus.  We do know, and we have experienced the fact that the virus can be curbed if we follow the guidelines of social distancing, staying-at-home, wearing a mask, etc.  “God of Grace, and God of Glory, on thy people pour thy power…Grant us wisdom for the facing of this hour.”

Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, and uncertainty.  We know this virus has brought agony into many families and communities, we know that it has caused great pain (physically, economically, emotionally, both individually and collectively) and we know that Covid-19 poses a clear and present danger to thousands upon thousands of lives today and tomorrow, and in the tomorrows to come.  We are filled with uncertainty because we do not know how long this will go on or if a vaccine will come along.  We are uncertain about our financial situations, our jobs, our families, our grandchildren, and we do not know what the future holds.  We need to choose courage over our uncertainty and our fear.  We must be willing to confront, as best we can, whatever is to come.  “God of Grace, and God of Glory, on thy people pour thy power…Grant us courage for the living of these days.” 

“Fears and doubts too long have bound us…
Save us from weak resignation…
Grant us wisdom, Grant us courage…
for the facing of this hour…for the living of these days.”

Sunday, May 10, 2020

A “ZOOM” Graduation Party

“Distance is just a test of how far love can travel.”  (Unknown)

The ZOOM Graduation Party for our grandson Nick was absolutely amazing!  I couldn’t help but think of that song Bette Midler sang a few years back, “From A Distance.”  I liked the song, but disagreed completely with the theology in the refrain:  
“God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance.”

I reject completely the notion that God is watching us from a distance.  God is with us (Emmanuel) wherever we are and not off somewhere in some distant place keeping an eye on us.  But, theology aside, I thought of the song because the party we attended last night was a virtual one—“From a Distance”—following the guidelines for social distancing, etc. in the present global pandemic.  There will not be a Commencement until perhaps October (though the University did create a virtual Commencement program, naming those, including Nick, who had “finished the course”).

Nick’s extended family, from The Netherlands, Idaho, Arizona, Florida and Maryland, gathered via Zoom, to surprise Nick and to celebrate his achievement.  It was one of those “bring your own beverage and food” parties.  Nick’s parents, Helen and Paul hosted the event and as usual did a tremendous job—helping us link up with ZOOM the day before, and bringing us all together on our various computer screens.  

From a distance we connected, celebrated, talked, laughed, and saw each other face to face, howbeit on the computer screen.  Oh, it wasn’t the same as being physically together, but it was the best we could do under the present circumstances. And it was, for all of us, I think—a unique and very special way of being together again and celebrating Nick—From A Distance.

"Indeed, I find that distance lends perspective and I often write better
of a place when I am some distance from it.  One can be overwhelmed
by the forest as to miss seeing the trees."  (Louis L'Amour)

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Musings on a Frosty May Morning

Snow fell in New York City early this morning tying the city’s record for the latest snowfall in spring.  So, it has happened before?—yes, back in May 1977.  We may have had a snowflake or two here in Maryland last night as well.  When I awoke this morning and saw the frost, I thought, maybe, like Rip Van Winkle, I had slept through spring and summer and it was now autumn.  That called forth James Whitcomb Riley’s poem:  When the Frost is on the Punkin.

“There’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and the buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.”

I came fully awake to spring, however, when I looked out the kitchen window and saw the second iris bloom of the season.  Though plummeted by the rain of yesterday and chilled by frost this morning it still stood tall radiating what an iris is supposed to radiate—a rainbow of hope.  Seeing the blue iris caused me to think of something Kirk Douglas had written in his book, Climbing the Mountain:  My Search for Meaning. I had a hard time finding his words in my Notes of Note books, but finally….here it is:

“The biggest spur in my interest in art came when I played van Gogh in the film, “Lust for Life.”  The role affected me deeply. I was haunted by this talented genius who took his own life, thinking he was a failure.  How terrible to paint pictures and feel that no one wants them.  How awful it would be to write music that no one wants to hear.  Books that no one wants to read.  And how would you like to be an actor with no part to play, and no audience to watch you.  Poor Vincent—he wrestled with his soul in the wheat field of Auvrs-sur-Oise, stacks of his unsold paintings collecting dust in his brother’s house.  It was all too much for him, and he pulled the trigger and ended it all….As I write this, I look up at a poster of his “Irises”—a poster from the Getty Museum.  It’s a beautiful piece of art with one white iris sticking up among a field of blue ones.  They paid a fortune for it, reportedly $53 million.  And poor Vincent, in his lifetime, sold only one painting (400 francs or $80 dollars today)….”

Two irises are blooming today—just two—but more are about to break forth in a variety of shapes and colors.  All the irises in our back yard came originally from my Mother’s Iris Gardens in New Jersey…and tomorrow is Mother’s Day. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Beware of The Doublespeak

“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too.  Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action:  you liberate a city by destroying it.  Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.”  (Gore Vidal) 

“I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace.” (George W. Bush)

The word Doublespeak refers to language “that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.”  Doublespeak often takes the form of euphemisms, such as using the word “downsizing” for layoffs.  “Social distancing” may be considered a euphemism. This form of doublespeak attempts to make the truth more palatable.  Doublespeak is usually an attempt to disguise the nature of the truth.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that there was “enormous evidence” that the coronavirus originated from a Chinese lab in Wuhan.  The US intelligence community is looking into it, but leans toward the likelihood that the virus outbreak came into human contact at a “wet market.”  Intelligence allies from around the world have reported that it is “highly unlikely” the virus originated in a lab.  Dr. Fauci has cast doubts on the theory that the virus originated in a lab.  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley, says the evidence that the virus began in a lab is “inconclusive.”  The US intelligence community “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”

However, Pompeo insisted yesterday, that “there is significant evidence that this came from the laboratory”…but…he says, “We don’t have certainty.”  Pompeo says both of these statements (“We don’t have certainty”—“there is significant evidence that this came from the laboratory”) can be true. Pompeo went on to say,  “I’ve made them both…They’re all true,” he said.  What’s true?  Lack of certainty?  “Enormous evidence” or “significant evidence” that the virus came from a lab? This is doublespeak and it is misinformation (false and inaccurate information), and disinformation (deception).

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) named Donald Trump winner of The Doublespeak Award in 2019…”For perpetuating language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, and self-centered.”  The deadline for this year’s nominations for the Doublespeak Award is September 2020.  I think I’ll nominate Mr. Pompeo.

The azalea blooms...

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

America’s Gullibility

A gullible person or society is one “easily persuaded to believe something; easily deceived.” Synonyms for “gullible” include “naive, exploitable, and dupable.”  If you are gullible, you are easily fooled.  The word gullible is derived from the verb gull, which means “to swallow.”  A  gullible person is an overly trusting person (or group) who tends to swallow whole the stories he or she hears.  Gull can be used as a noun, “don’t be such a gull!” or as a verb, “you can’t gull me into believing that!” Wikipedia defines gullibility as a “failure of social intelligence in which a person is easily tricked or manipulated into an ill-advised course of action.  It is closely related to credulity, which is the tendency to believe unlikely propositions that are unsupported by evidence.”

A charlatan is a person “who practices quackery or some similar confidence trick or deception in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception.”  Synonyms for the word charlatan, include:  “quack, shyster, faker, fraud, imposter, hoaxer, deceiver, mountebank,  and con man.

If you are convinced the Coronavirus is a hoax, or that it is contained, or that the virus can be minimized with hydroxychloroquine, or that Bill Gates is responsible for it, or that it is just the flu—you have been “gulled” and become a victim of charlatans.  “Don’t  allow yourself to be such a gull!”  

“Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind.  With such persons, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck” (Thomas Jefferson). 

“Gullibility is a knife at the throat of civilization” (David Wong).

“Faith never means gullibility.  The man who believes everything is as far from God as the man who refuses to believe anything” (Aiden Wilson Tozer).

“Extreme skepticism and extreme gullibility are two equal ways of not having to think at all.  And I don’t think I’m the first to say that” (Neil deGrasse Tyson).

“On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish useful ideas from the worthless ones” (Carl Sagan).

“Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Silence Still Disturbs Me

I wrote in 2016:

“What a tragedy it is, in this multimedia world, to hear only noisy presumptions, the perversion of facts, and the demagoguery of the presumptive nominee for the presidency of The United States.  I know I’m a real “sleaze” for rebelling against it, a protester that some may want to “punch in the face.”  I’m sorry.  I do not want to offend.  I only want to be “free” to speak—and no matter how hard I have tried not to speak about this present situation, I find myself compelled to do so.”

The great tragedy of this present moment is not the noisy presumptions, the public degradation of persons, the racial innuendos, or even the disdain toward our justice system and the international community by a very rich, narcissistic, reality show host, but the appalling silence of the media to correct, investigate and challenge, the silence of the church, synagogue and mosque, and the public.  Someday we may have to repent not only for the diabolical and vitriolic rhetoric of the presumptive nominee, but also for our own crippling apathy and the silence that attends it…..”

That was what I wrote three and a half years ago.  The presumptive nominee became the forty-fifth President of the United States, not by an overwhelming majority of the popular vote, but via the electoral college.  He has since been impeached by the House of Representatives and  acquitted by the Republican majority in the Senate.  The presumptions, the perversion of facts, the degradation of persons, the racial innuendos, the disdain for the judicial system and the international community has not abated, not even in this time of a global pandemic.  Nor has the silence been broken!

The “lies” are now “fact.”  The degradation of persons has been accepted as okay and normal.  The racial innuendoes have become acceptable without retaliation or argument.  Certain media outlets are now actually seen as “fake news,” not on the basis of fact, but by the public demeaning of those media representatives. The justice system has become the trumpeter and defender of aberration rather than justice.  In a time when the world needs to unite to do battle with a pandemic, when the grief-stricken of a nation and world need a comforter, when fact and truth are essential, we have "a whining victim” in the White House.  A person who cannot focus on anything or anyone other than himself.  

And still—after three and a half years, after a partisan impeachment and a partisan acquittal, (and the vindictiveness that followed), after years of reading, listening and hearing (and being told that whatever it is you are reading, listening and hearing—isn’t true),  and after weeks of bizarre briefings (now designated as “enemy” media briefings) aired worldwide—the silence continues. It really does disturb me.  

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me — 
and I’ll build them very inexpensively.  I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, 
and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.  Mark my words” (DJT).