Jackson Mississippi 1963

April 20, 2014

 

In 1954, I was three years old. In that year, my parents moved from Louisiana to Jackson Mississippi. Our family of four, soon to be six souls, stayed in Jackson until I was in the sixth grade, 1962. Then we moved back to Louisiana.

All around us at that time the world was changing big time. I was, of course, clueless, being just a kid. Living in a humble, GI-bill enabled suburb, l and my whitey neighborhood playmates were quite insulated from the maelstrom of civil rights-fueled social change that was gathering momentum in Jackson and in the whole state of Mississippi and the South, and later the North.

I was in a Catholic school; it was nice enough, and I had some good friends there. Although the US Supreme Court decision,  Brown v. Board of Education, had established a legal  path toward school desegregation in 1954, I never saw a black classmate until I was in junior high school in Baton Rouge a few years later.

My first impressions of black folk in Jackson came mostly through our maid, Aleen. She was a very nice lady. Many an afternoon, my sister and I would accompany my mother as she drove Aleen home from her day-job at our home. Aleen’s home was what we would politely call the “other side of town,” although it wasn’t really in town, but seemed to me to be out in the country somewhere nearby. The vivid image in my child’s mind was of a dirt road lined by houses that I later learned are called “shotgun shacks.”

In 2011, Dreamworks released a movie about what was developing in Jackson at that time. You’ve probably seen it: The Help. It is an excellent film, based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett and it absolutely confirms all my juvenile impressions and memories of Jackson in the 1950s. But of course, as I said before, being a kid I had no idea of what was really going on behind all that docile southern comfort status quo.

Recently, I have decided to write a fictional historiography about growing up in the South during that time, and about how being a born-n-bred southerner interfaced with what the rest of our country was becoming. This novel, my fourth, is tentatively named King of Soul. (Preview: I am not “the King.”) The book being written  follows the novel Smoke, which I have just published.

I do a lot of historical research. Learning about history is what propels me as a writer. I turn the research into fiction that, I feel represents a certain time period or zeitgeist. Finally I am doing one now on the actual time and place of my growing up.

My daughter Katie, who nobly attempts to be my editor, tells me that my protagonist’s depth suffers in the midst of all my fictionalized history. She is of course correct in this critique. Certainly I will learn the lesson of satisfactory protagonist development in this next project, instead of obsessing with making the history itself the main character.

To begin research I have picked up several books at the Belk library, Appalachian State University, here in Boone NC where I live, where Pat and I have raised our three grown young’uns. This researching will be my modus operandi. Before King of Soul is finished in a few years, I probably will have consulted with a hundred or more sources from that library, as well as our local Watauga County library.

The Kindle, and Wikipedia, and real historians posting online, and so forth are also major components of my publishing projects.

To get into the King of Soul, I am reading, among other things, Michael Vinson Williams’ opus of history research, Medgar Evers: Mississippi Martyr, and also A Circle of Trust: Remembering SNCC, by Cheryl Lynn Greenberg.

So, by doing, I am finally getting the back-story of what was really going on while I was growing up in Jackson Mississippi in the 1950s and Baton Rouge Louisiana in the 1960s.

I graduated from high school in 1969. What does that tell ya? Should be a fascinating period to reflect upon.

All of this to say: at the present moment I am here to share with you three of the most interesting historical facts I have learned in preparation to writing the fictional historiography.

1. From Williams’ book on Medgar Evers: When Medgar returned to the USA after soldiering to defending our country and Europe in 1946, he had to “go to the back of the bus.”! What kind of a welcome was that for a man who had survived D-Day and World War II in Europe? Mr. Evers went on to do very persistent, determined work in voter registrations in Mississippi in the ’50s and ’60s, and became a great leader in the civil rights movement before he was shot down in the dark of night by a white supremacist in his own front yard in Jackson in 1963. That was just a few months before they got Kennedy.

2. From Greenburg’s book on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC):  Through volunteering in the civil rights movement in the South, empathetic activists from other areas of the country learned how it’s done. For instance: after working with the blacks down south, Mario Savio took his SNCC experience back to Berkeley, where he lead the Free Speech Movement that soon initiated protest against the Vietnam war. Also, after working with blacks down south, Tom Hayden returned to Michigan and authored, with his SDS comrades, the Port Huron Statement which was the beginning of Students for a Democratic Society.

3.What I am seeing now about the time period is this: As the civil rights movement gathered steam in the mid-’60s, a rift developed between the moderates (such as Medgar Evers, the NAACP, Dr. King, SCLC, John Lewis, Julian Bond, etc.) and the radicals (such as Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, SNCC, Panthers, Malcolm X, etc.) This parting of ways is similar to what happened among the anti-Fascists and also among  the anti-Communists in Europe of the 1930s, a subject of my new novel, Smoke. The peaceful v. violent disagreement is also, I believe, indicative of protest movements generally, such as the two biggies: the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. Probably the next revolution, too, whatever becomes of that.

As for me, the kid growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, well. . . shut my mouth, I’m a child of the South. But I’m a commencin’ to write about it. Thank ye for your time.

Glass half-Full

 

The Economist Illumination

April 13, 2014

I never really understood much about international finance and economics until this morning, when I read a special, long article in this week’s The Economist. In the printed edition, the text begins on page 49; it is entitled The slumps that shaped modern finance.

I’ve been subscribing to, and reading, that “newspaper” (as their editors call it, while we Americans think of it as a magazine) for several years. But I have always labored to figure out what the hell they are writing about. In surveying many past issues, I have contented myself merely to check out the obituary, which is always on the last page. Then I would thumb through in a backwards, right to left, fashion to glean a little from what’s going on in the literary and arts world.

Perhaps my years of reading The Economist with so little comprehension have prepared me, unbeknownst to my cognitive mind, for the light-bulb moment I had this morning while reading their concise, 6-page history of financial crises. Be that as it may, the light of understanding finally shone in my head when I read, on pages 51-52, their explanation of the Panic of 1857.

“I think I understand . . .” Joni Mitchell had sung long ago, “fear is like a wilder land.”

Long story short, when investors think they are going to lose a lot of money they are overtaken with Fear, so they go hog-wild. Maybe that means the bulls retreat while the bears gather, but the hogs go crazy destroying the place.

Or, as the ’60s radicals use to call them, the “pigs.”

But I wouldn’t call anybody a pig. Maybe . . . a walrus.

Anyway, here is what’s interesting about the Panic of 1857: America was at that time an “emerging nation” that had expanded its explorative and technological frontiers beyond its ability to keep all the accounts straight and well-balanced. Consequently, the Brit financiers panicked, and all the money people around the world followed suit, including us.

Today, the shoe is on the other foot. We Americans are like the well-established powerhouse that the Brits were in the 19th century, while today’s “emerging” powers, the so-called BRICs and a few others, are in a position similar position to where we were in 1857, or 1907, or 1937.

Maybe the other shoe is about to drop, maybe not.

If you want to know something about how this plays out historically, I recommend you check it out. If you want to read it online, here it is: http://www.economist.com/

Smoke 

The Work

April 5, 2014

I have worked all my adult life, beginning with that first job, at a Burger Chef, while I was in high school. After flippin’ the burgers for awhile, I did the bag boy thing at an A&P, where I moved into the big time of running a cash register.

One high school summer I did an  internship in an office at the Louisiana State Capitol.

Then moving on to LSU, I did part-time gigs: selling ladies shoes, dippin’ ice cream at a little off-campus storefront from which I got fired for leaving the doors open one night; also, servicing vending machines at the Student Union building in between classes and chairing a committee of the student Union.

As chairman of the student National Speakers committee (a freebie job, but great experience), I introduced Dr. Benjamin Spock and comedian-activist Dick Gregory to our assembled student/faculty audiences. After that, the Young Republicans complained about the lefty speakers with no conservative balance. They wanted somebody to represent their side. I told them that was understandable, but we had, alas, blown the budget on Spock and Gregory. I told them we could go halfsies on paying William Buckley, if they could get him for us, which they did. I always thought that was mighty civil of them; maybe that’s why I’m a Republican today.

I have fond memories of that time, which include hearing Dr. Spock talking about two Maoist girls who heckled him on some other campus somewhere, and Dick Gregory requesting a bowl of fruit be delivered to his hotel room and then making people laugh at his speech later but then impressing upon them the urgency of our racial problems. Then there was meeting Bill Buckley at the airport, escorting him to his hotel room and watching him tie his skinny tie as he smiled and talked to me like I was one of his New Yawk buddies. Bill had a very winning smile.

After a couple years of English and Political Science and intermittent cannabis distractions, I managed somehow to graduate, in December ’73, I hit the trail with my “General Studies” sheepskin from LSU University College. Now this southern boy gravitated over to the epitome of southern exotica, a place called “Florida,” where I sold  debit life insurance for awhile in a black neighborhood, then moved on over to selling classified advertising for Mr Poynter at the St. Pete Times. But then I lost my license on points, but continued to drive and got nabbed by a highway patrolmen. When I went to court on  the infraction, a judge named Rasmussen  told me that if people disregarded the law in the way I had done, there would “anarchy in this country, so therefore I sentence you to five days in the county detention center.”

“Detention center? What’s that?” I asked the judge.

“That’s the jail son,” he replied.

“When does it start?” I queried.

“Right now,” he said.

When I got to the jail, it was an alien environment for this university boy with wing tips, and so I decided to take control of my situation by getting involved in a poker game with these hardened criminals, but then I made the mistake of winning. I say “mistake,” because my little stack of quarters or whatnot motivated one of the incarcerated fellows to ask me a for a dollar to get in the game, but I told him No.

So later that night, since he was in the same bunk with me, he punched me out.

I did, however, survive it.

Four days later, I’m out of the Pasco County jail, and I didn’t get run over by a train or get drunk or nothin excitin’ but I did happen to go to a movie filmed in the Blue Ridge Mountains; it was Where the Lilies Bloom.

The setting in that movie seemed so absolutely beautiful to me that I thought I’d like to just get the hell out of Florida and go to that place depicted in the movie, and so I did, and I’ve been liven’ in these mountains ever since. That was about forty year ago.

After settling in Asheville, a place far more mountainous and wintry than this Louisiana boy had ever known, I got a job selling printing for a printshop. That turned into about five years of good work, but it came in two stints that were punctuated by a detour to Waco Texas in 1978. ‘T’was there I got saved.

After meeting Jesus I returned to North Carolina and the print shop for awhile.

Then I drifted into the building trade and spent the lion’s share of my working life as a carpenter building houses and a few other structures, including a bridge at Grandfather Mountain that completed the missing link of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which them WPA boys had left hangin’ back in the ’30s, either cuz they ran out of money, or the War came on, or the jagged mountain was just too craggy for a man to build a bridge on it at that time.

I married Pat; we had three young’uns, now grown. Which brings me now to the main point of this here blog: work. When a man gets a family, he manages somehow to motivated to go out in the wide jungle world and make a livin’, by hook or by crook. And this is, I think, a very important part of what makes work for folks and what makes the world go ’round: Family. A greater motivator than ideology or guv’mint.

Last weekend, this mountain boy and my wife, Pat, were in San Francisco, at the upper end of Silicon valley where our son works amongst the high-flyin’ v.c.-fueled startups of our day. I spent a lot of time walking through that amazing city, and on the last morning there I found this interesting sight in the Mission district where our son resides.

So I snapped it for you:

MissionHeroes1

I found this really interesting. It’s a great work of art, painted lovingly and precisely on the face of a small business, which appears to be a hairstylist’s shop, probably a family business, but not run by Papa because it’s more likely run by Mama, with Papa working over on Mission Street with his grocery or some such enterprise.

You will notice, on the painting, some great people–true heroes of working people. The heavy hitters among them include: Gandhi, Dr. King, Cesar Chavez. Also identifiable are a few whose legacy and life’s work was questionable, tainted with revolutionary violence: Che, Sandino. Sitting Bull is in the very middle. I wrote this song, Sitting Bull’s Eyes, about him a long time ago.

The other persons in this mural are worthy of historical consideration. I checked out all those names, which are written beside each face. I cannot remember them all, but perhaps you will visit the Mission in San Francisco someday and see this great work of art for yourself. Or you may recognize them from the photo.

Worth noting in the artwork is an omission: amongst this collection of lefty heavyweights, the two theoreticians Marx and Lenin are not included; nor are the bloody tyrants, Mao and Stalin.

Some of those leaders pictured are not totally honorable in my Christian world-view, but they are obviously heroic in the eyes of the artist, and that says something significant about the perpetual struggle between, in this world, them that have, and them that have not. As for me, I respect them that are willing to work hard for what they do get, such as I, by God’s grace, have done.

Smoke

Pax Statismo, and Anarcho

March 28, 2014

In the modern industrial era that began about 200 years ago, a zeitgeist god named Kapital rose up to dethrone the god of the former age, Monarchy. Very early on during the Kapital dynasty, the Marx demigod happened along and he figured out that Kapital god had some real vulnerabilities that would ultimately lead to Kapital’s downfall.

So the Marx whipped up a revolution that ultimately would dethrone Kapital and replace him with a new god for the new age, Communo. As it turned out, from about 1905 until long about 1989 the Kapital and the Communo were at each other’s throats constantly everywhere you look.

But early on during the struggle between the Kapital and the Communo, the Keyneo demigod happened along and detected some serious vulnerabilities within Kapital’s corpus that, if infiltrated, would ultimately enable the Communo to sucker punch  Kapital into mayhem and oblivion.

Meanwhile, changes within the demographic of Communo’s domain morphed him/her into a new multigodural entity. The demigod MediaMad dubbed the new chimera god Statismo. The thing about Statismo is that nothing really matters to him/her. No noblesse oblige, no limits, no antiquated outdated obsolete faith or sentimentalities and for sure no sacred damn cows.

One result of Statismo’s evolving infiltrating insidious insurgent machinations was that institutions of the former Kapital and Communo realms began to topple slowly, one by one, two by two and whats-it-to-you, etc. For instance, one sacred cow of the faltering Kapital was that feral relic, the balanced budget, which had formerly enabled Kapital power throughout the the West and sometimes the East by preserving and extending and colonializing the value of Kaptial’s four currencies: gold, oil, paper and electrons.

Statismo had determined that the balanced budget had to come down, along with several other sacred damn cows like marriage and family and so forth and so on etcerata etcetera etcerata . This devolution would make the way clear for the New Order. Thus the Kapital Void and also the Communo Cloud could be flooded with Statismo Stato.

Here’s the The thing about Statismo revolutionaries:  they don’t give a damn about budgets, fiscal responsibilities, deficits, profits or prophets. When the gods of Kapital and Communo have completed phases I, II, and possibly III of their deathly video-game brouhaha, all hell can break loose and the way will be clear for Pax Statismo and ultimately his doppelgänger twin Anarcho.

Vive la revolution! But this time with no liberte, egalite, nor fraternite.  That was yesterday’s news, even in 1789 when this whole scenario was hatched in the minds of neo-platonist-confucianist-ex-post-facto-nihilist philosophers.

But hey, have a nice day! This will take a while. Put your seat belt on. As for me and my house, I’m waitin’ on Pax Christi.

Smoke

Fear and Posing in Crimea

March 23, 2014

Talking heads and journalistic birds,

bobbing in Black Sea swells on Crimean words,

launch up their blustery speculations now

on Putinistic confrontations, and how

the old bear’s been backed into a corner, no wiggle room, no loans,

as the world squeals sanctionistic noise  and diplomatic moans;

so the West draws its red line in the sands,

no more Ukraine for you Mister Putin; here it stands.

 

Gone is former glory of the Russian realm,

now no czar, no Lenin, nor Stalin at the helm.

We dismembered their Soviet empire back in ’89;

then thinking it some victorious Kapitalistic sign,

we assumed they’d just get it in the blinking of an eye:

the Kapitalist manifesto and the democratic pie–

how to slice it how to dice it– how, in all this Western fiat money

we’d sweeten Ukrainian bread with IMF honey.

 

Now we wonder if it be some ghostly rerun, this acquisition,

a la Sudetan land grab or nineteen thirties Rhineland nazi occupation.

But Putin says t’was nazis who yanked those Maidan’s strings,

‘though we think ’tis from the fount of democracy  hope Ukrainel springs.

Now History repeateth not itself; this is no warmed-over fascist rerun;

rather, its the old desperate Russian bear, brandishing his post-glasnost gun,

because his big Soviet one was unloaded, by Ronnie Reagan.

 

CR, with new novel soon, Smoke

Nikita Khrushchev!

March 16, 2014

On February 25, 1956, in the U.S.S.R, Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a speech that later rocked the world. As he addressed  the 20th annual congress of the Communist International party, a frigid straitjacket of ruthless Stalinist tyranny that had ruled the Soviet Union since the early 1930′s began to thaw. Khrushchev’s admission of Stalin’s paranoid crimes while terrorizing the Soviet world initiated a loosening of Russian rulership that wasn’t fully realized until 1989.

This turnaround had been a long time coming. Khrushchev’s revelation of Stalinist-era abuses exposed terrible events and purges that had happened over the last twenty years.  Rumors and unconfirmed reports of torturous cruelties had, from time to time, glinted through the iron curtains of Soviet secrecy. Confirmed communists across the world had fallen into the habit of  awkwardly denying the Party’s murderous mistreatment of its subjects.

In spite of the enormity of his exposé, the dutiful Premier was striving to keep this volatile information under wraps. The comrades to whom Khrushchev was admitting these extreme violations of Marxist-Leninist doctrine were delegates who were ruling the communist world. This speech was supposed to be an internal secret!

Thanks to the Israeli Mossad, (according to David Horowitz in his autobiography Radical Son) the explosive contents of the Khrushchev report got leaked to the world at large. A few months later, on June 4, 1956 the U.S. Dep’t of State released it. The New York Times published it. This revelation rocked the world, especially the world of those diehard communists who had been striving since 1917, in countries all across the globe, to liberate us clueless freedommongers from bourgeois degeneracy and capitalist oppressions.

As the Premier of the USSR had let his comrades in on the dirty little secrets of Stalin, he skillfully wove his presentation of the facts into an ex post facto defense of classical Marxist-Leninist doctrine. The Communist Party line was supposed to have been all about the “People,” and what the “People” could do together to deliver the world from capitalism into (in the sweet by-n-by of proletarian dictatorship) socialist utopia.

Dictatorship of the Proletariat is what Marx and Lenin had called it. Not one-man dictatorship!

But according to Comrade Nikita, Joseph Stalin had managed to wrangle the at-first disorganized, emerging Communist state machinery into–not what the great theorists had designed for it–but a murderous police state, patterned after Stalin’s own paranoia and ruthless control tactics.

Maybe the communist theoreticians should reevaluate their philosophical presuppositions about human behavior. (But that’s another can of worms.)

Nikita Khrushchev, a loyal Party man if there ever was one, had somehow managed to morph into a bold whistleblower, although he wanted to keep his little Molotov cocktail of party revisionism in-house. He wisely discerned that this historical elephant could no longer be concealed in the smoke-filled back room of the Soviet household. And so his argument against reprehensible  Stalinist legacy was presented as an exposé of “the cult of the individual.” 

As an American who was four years old at the time of Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956, I have, just recently, come to appreciate his innovative willingness to talk about the Stalinist elephant in the salon room of world politics. My present idea of who this Nikita Khrushchev was, and what he was up to, is markedly different from my earliest youthful impression of the man, which was a fuzzy TV news image of a pudgy fellow banging his shoe on a podium at the United Nations while provocating  us yankees with the words, “We will bury you!”

Maybe Nikita was just thinking about starting a funeral home business or something. I don’t know.

This was the same Russian leader who, just two years before his world-rocking secret speech, reportedly “gave” the Crimean peninsula to the Ukrainians, whatever that means. And what’s up with that, I don’t know either but we shall soon find out, after today’s so-called “illegal” election in Crimea, eastern Ukraine.

It seems a little odd to me that any popular referendum anywhere in the world could be condemned as illegitimate by an American President and his Secretary of State. I would think that we Americans, the vanguard of the free world, would be all about elections and referenda. Where’s Jimmy Carter when you need him?

CR, with new novel, Smoke, soon to be published

Kasparov: Freeze Russian assets

March 12, 2014

Listen to this: http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/03/12/kasparaov-putin-russia-oligarchs-ukraine

Garry Kasparov, Russian grandmaster of chess, says freezing the assets of Russian oligarchs will work against the dictator-wannabe, Vladimir Putin.  The result of such sanctions would be: those men who wield power in Russia’s economy will, with their own wealth at stake, depose or dissuade Putin. They will effectively press the dictator-wannabe into backing off from his  belligerent military occupation of Crimea, Ukraine.

In one of the most informative radio discussions I have ever heard, Kasparov presented his case today to On Point host Tom Ashbrook.

His proposal raises the questionn: do those wealth-wielding Russian oligarchs have the power to compel Putin to do anything, or is it the other way around? Does Vladimir control the captains of Russian business, or do they control him? According to Professor Stephen Walt, this radio program’s other panelist, it is the other way around: Putin calls the shots, not the titans of Russian business.

Host Tom Ashbrook said they were talking about the U.S. using “banks, not tanks” to compel Vlad the Crimealer to back off. This scenario makes sense to me, a curious American citizen who is hoping this confrontations does not escalate to a world war.

Kasparov compared this present situation to what happened between Hitler and the Allies in the 1930s. He contends that German leaders might have been able to stop Hitler from his catastrophic kamph that ultimately ended in World War II, if the Allies had shown strong support for German resistance early on in 1935-1939. The West’s failure to oppose Hitler’s bellicose military occupation of Rhineland, Austria and Sudetanland Czechslovakia is what enabled the furious fuhrer’s diabolical plunge into full-scale war.

Stephen Walt said the comparison to 1930s Hitlerian sabre-rattling was inappropriate. He may be right, but this disagreement got my attention, because I have been researching the pre-war 1930s for my soon-to-be-published novel, Smoke.

Kasparov says that the West’s failure to oppose Hitler early on caused the madman to lose his “sense of danger.” The sense of danger is what what would have (will prevent) prevented the tyrant from becoming a full-blown blitzkrieging maniac. If the present Allies, by some weak tolerance of this Crimean power-move, motivate Putin to cast aside his “sense of danger” in favor of military bluster, there could be, in this listener’s opinion,  hell to pay, as eventually happened in the Europe of 1940. I hope this dispute does not degenerate to such extremes.

Glass Chimera

Don’t go ballistic like Cain did

March 10, 2014

I’m a meat-eater, but that’s neither here nor there. Some people are not, and that’s just fine. You do your thing and I’ll do mine. People are different; each person has his/her own preferences. This diversity makes human life much more interesting and dramatic than it would be if we were all the same.

In that  ancient great Book–the one  that is holy and cherished by millions while it is disdained by others–a story is told about two brothers of long ago, Cain and Abel. Cain was growing crops in the ground; Abel was raising flocks of sheep.

Back in those days, men had not yet figured out how cool they were, so they looked to the supernatural realm for inspiration and faith. Many men and women of antiquity  believed in offering a portion of their increase to God. It wasn’t like today, when folks don’t pay attention to such things because they are, you know, on their own.

One day,  these two brothers were offering their sacrifices to God, but, as it turned out, with differing results.The book of Genesis reports that God had regard for Abel’s sacrifice, but not for Cain’s, whatever that means. The common interpretation of this is that God rejected Cain’s offering, but received Abel’s. If God did indeed reject Cain’s sacrifice, the Bible provides no explanation of God’s preference in this incident.

In Christian tradition, writ large and writ small, this event has been for a long time a matter of some study and speculation.  Some have inferred that God was indicating a preference for meat instead of veggie or grain produce, or simply an acknowledgement that meat has more protein value as food for us humans. Or maybe God’s apparent distinction was based not on the foods being offered, but on some difference between the two brothers themselves. Perhaps Cain had offered low quality goods, while Abel had reserved his best for God. Or it could be that Cain just had a bad attitude. We don’t know.

What we can see in this story is that God’s acknowledgement of one brother’s offering was not the same as his regard for  the other. That’s about it.

Those of us who believe in God, and in the Mosaic revelation about God’s attributes, can derive with surety only one lesson from this demonstrative story about God’s preference: whatever God does, he does. Or, to put it the other way, whatever he doesn’t do, he doesn’t do. There is no need for him to justify his acceptances to us. Who are we to question the One who created all things?

And we have to live with that.

Christians and others who value the Genesis revelation have this awareness of the Almighty’s sovereignty, which is absolute because God is the Creator who set all things in motion. Our conception if God is fundamentally different from our view of humans, whom we know to be fickle, inconsistent, generally unpredictable, contentious, and sometimes murderous.

The reality of God’s sovereign will was not a lesson that Cain was ready to accept. He got upset about God’s apparent rejection of his offering. So Cain killed his brother.

Is God guilty of some injustice here? Is God unjust because he did not receive both sacrifices as equal?

No.

Equality, as venerable as it is, is a human notion.  According to our Declaration of American Independence, the God who created Nature also created men and women, and created them all equal. This means that we, as men and women who need to govern ourselves, must form institutions that regard all persons as equal if we want to work together toward societal justice.

Let’s accept the human idea that all persons should be equal in the eyes of human law.

But we are individuals; that is important. Furthermore, equality of individual persons is a valuable truth for prioritizing our behaviors and institutions.

Once a baby is born, the wonderful dynamic of that person’s unique circumstances–nature and nurture and all that–determines what that person is, who they become, and how the work of their hands and mind is received by others, or for that matter,  by God.

But this does not mean everyone’s input and output will be equal. In that sense, we are not equals. This inequality affords us a thoroughly fascinating human race, with a beneficial diversity of inputs and outputs, and hence a vast range of incomes and outcomes.

Let us make judicial provisions for equality of opportunity for each person. But equality of income and outcome is ultimately a matter that is determined by each person’s use of the resources available to him/her.

If you have something to offer to God, or to the world, do not go ballistic if it is ignored or overlooked. Just find the lesson in that rejection; then go back and try again. You will have better results than if you, like Cain, get mad and kill someone.

As for Cain’s fate after his crime, God spared him the death sentence, and allowed him to wander away to the land of Nod, east of Eden, where he took a wife. Perhaps her feminine influence, coupled with the Lord’s chastisement, mellowed him out a bit.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, soon to be published

Balancing Contentment and Discontent

March 2, 2014

Paul of Tarsus, a founder of what has come to be called Christianity, spent most of his life promoting–not  himself–but  the work of another person, Jesus Christ. In so doing, Paul built a foundation of faith upon the redemptive cornerstone that Jesus had laid at Calvary. That foundation has been expanded and strengthened over the last two thousand years, and is now known as Christianity.

How did this one man, Paul, make, by his life’s work, such a lasting impact on the whole world? For starters, he traveled all over the eastern Mediterranean teaching and expounding one very important message, which eventually became known as  the Gospel. While he was doing all that, he endured, and survived, a myriad of dangerous situations. Paul was an adventurer who got into trouble just about everywhere he went, went through life constantly misunderstood and misinterperted, came perilously close to death on several occasions, suffered through shipwrecks, snakebites and being the object of riotous mobs.

He was a nonviolent revolutionary, whose life mission was to enable  the world to be delivered  from doing bad shit.

And yet, in the midst of all that Paul said and did to establish the work of Christ in this world, do you think he was a happy man? Did he go into eternity with a satisfaction that he had done the best he could to live what he believed?

In a letter to his friends in Philipi, Paul wrote:

. . . I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

I heard a pastor speak about this morning. His sermon, using Paul as the example, was all about contentment and discontent. There is a tension, you know, between these two–being content or being discontent. It was a very good teaching about learning to be content in this life. Of course, we all want to learn this principle, don’t we? as Paul did, or we will spend our life being miserable.

And who the hell wants to be miserable? Not me. So yes, I want to learn that lesson that Paul learned, and wrote about–that lesson that was passed down through a couple of centuries and was renewed in my hearing this morning when Mickey expounded on it.

I want to be content in this life. I mean, who doesn’t?

So there I was sitting in church this morning hearing encouragement through the mouth of a contemporary preacher about the wisdom that Paul had recorded in a letter two centuries ago. It was encouragement to learn more about finding contentment. That’s good advice.

On the other hand, Karl Marx taught that religion was the opiate of the people. If I am accepting, through my faith in Christ, contentment,  I am copping out? Should I, instead of cultivating contentment, allow my periodic discontent about the injustice and cruelty of this world propel  me to burn zealously in this life as an activist to stop injustice and end violence and prevent the cruel exploitation of helpless people and eliminate the income inequality gap? So I’m thinking about this tension between desiring contentment, and allowing discontent to become a productive motivator to make life somehow better. Paul said he had learned to be content, and yet he was not content to sit on his duff and watch tv or surf the net (just kidding), but rather he allowed a little personal discontent about the sorry state of this world to motivate himself to go into the world and try to change it for the better.

Meanwhile, while I was listening to Mickey’s lesson about Paul’s contentment, I remembered the subject of the last article that I had been reading this morning before I closed the laptop and drove to church. It’s called  “The Winter of our Discontent.” You may want to check it out if your are interested in economics–real economics, not this hyped-up QE stuff that the Fed has been dishing out since 1987.

Of course, the article by Eric Parnell that I just linked above for you doesn’t really have much to do with Paul of Tarsus or learning to be content. But what’s curious to me is that the spiritual lesson and the economics article, both of which I encountered this Sunday morning, were both dealing with the tension between contentment and “discontent.”

And that got my attention. This is the kind of incidental interlude that contributes greatly to my cognitively dissonant celebration of life!  I want you to know that I can be content about what the Lord has given me to do in this life, while still appreciating the motivational value of a little discontent and disruption every now and then.

Now go; be well and prosper, but don’t get too comfortable with our success.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, to publish soon

shifting on the sands of rhyme

March 1, 2014

Here’s a line in the sand:

surf breaking there,  here shifting strand.

Out there swells planetary ocean;

it rolls in with universal motion.

This continent  begins here, between my toes

with little grains that stretch to grandiose shows:

mountains untamed beyond cultivated grass,

miniscule creatures in habitats vast.

 

Who formed this strand I think I know;

It wasn’t Michelangelo. No,

it wasn’t Newton or Sagan or Copernicus.

‘Though they played their part to show us

the dynamics of this present shifting locus,

it’s no result of human focus.

Nor do our carbon-laden spewings

amount to any significant doings.

 

Our refuse is but momentary trash

sliding up on  shores of civilizations past;

it comes, it goes, but no one knows

what bosons do beneath atomic shows.

If we think it’s in our power

to determine planet emissions of any given hour,

then I’ve got some beachfront land to sell you

in Arizona; here, let me tell you.

 

CR, with new novel, Smoke, soon


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