Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Vietnam, at ground level 1970

July 10, 2018

Herein I recommend a novelized real story from that infamous “War in Vietnam.”

  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/13437

John Podlaski’s novel about a brand-new American soldier in Vietnam strikes at the heart of the matter— just what the hell were our soldiers over there supposed to be doing?

Them brave boys were  putting their asses on the line, stalking communist enemies in strange jungles on the other side of the world, when all the while their survival instinct was demanding them to just hunker down, lay low, and get through their year-long sentence of jungle warfare in one living, still-breathing piece.

And All for what?

Because we sent them to do a job—kill communists, and run the ones we couldn’t kill back to the North.

Now we all know it didn’t work out that way, but we learned some lessons—and the world did too—in the process.

The problem our guys had over there was: how could we know, in a SE Asian village scenario, which villagers were helping the NVA, and which ones were on our side? As if these rice-cultivating peasants knew the difference between Karl Marx and George Washington!

After reading this book, Cherries, it seems to me that, in the midst of the terrible gun battles, every soldier’s internal war must have been a constant conflict between these two missions: to kill enemies and thus keep the brass-mandated “body count” on an upward curve, or to stay alive!

Which would you choose?!

In most cases, it seems it came down to protecting yourself and your squad buddies, while treading fearfully through the booby-trapped minefield of two opposing international ideologies whose political strategies had turned absolutely, militarily lethal.

That project required real men—brave soldiers who could bite the bullet— who could launch out and give it a shot while death and danger stalked them at every turn along the path.

This was a terrible, terrible ordeal that our nation put these guys through! We need to talk about it.We need to acknowledge their incredible bravery.  We need to ask: Just what the hell happened back then and there in Vietnam?—in that war that so many of us managed to evade.  Whether you were for the war of against it— reading John Podlaski’s “Cherries” is a provocative way to begin the assessment— an evaluation that needs to take place, for the sake of our nation’s future security.

Read the book, because this quasi-autobiographical story gives a close-up, day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground account of what our guys were doing over there in Vietnam, while we were trying to figure it all out here, stateside— here, safe in the home of the free, while the brave were answering the terrible call that our government had imposed on them.  They endured that jungular hell-pit so that we, as a nation, could, in spite of defeat,  pass successfully through the 20th-century burden of Cold War paranoia.

John’s fictionalized personal story fleshes out the constant conflict between two soldierly inclinations: fulfilling military responsibility by driving up enemy “body counts,” vs. following  the human instinct to just stay alive, and somehow make it through your one-year tour of duty without getting your ass killed.

Our American purpose there was unclear. No definite battlefield could be found;  the war was waged wherever our boys happened to run into the Viet Cong or the North Vietnam Army, in a perpetual theater-game of deadly hide-and-seek. Our teens and twenties recruits and draftees were dropped into unfamiliar Asian jungles, then immersed immediately in extreme fear—fear like you would feel seeing two of your platoon-mates’ heads staked on bamboo poles.

Not in Kansas any more, Toto!

Khe Sahn. A Shau, Ah shit! What have we gotten ourselves into?!

Read John’s book to find out what perils our boys  were trudging through while we stateside were trying to figure out the whys and the wherefores.

BTW, by the 1990’s it was plain to see that  the free world, led by the USA, had prevailed in our struggle against both fascism and communism. In the big picture, our effort in Vietnam played an instructive role in that victory. The governance of nations has more to do with learning from your mistakes than fighting a lost cause to some idealized bitter end.

VNGame

Thanks to you all you guys—Cherries, LongTimers and Lifers—who answered the call to service at that time. Oh yeah, and here’s another belated message: Welcome Home!

King of Soul  

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The Mysterious Door

June 24, 2018

The great physicist, James Clerk Maxwell, had a problem in 1867. It was a very old problem; many had tried to solve it before he came along. It wasn’t actually his problem to fix, but merely to figure it out; his objective was to try and determine who or what had already solved “the problem”. Because, you see, the matter had already been taken care of long, long ago.

Otherwise none of us would be here; nothing would be here.

The actual problem-solver who had worked it out was not thought to be credible at the time of Maxwell’s work. The problem-solver’s presumptuous  representatives had made such a mess of things.

Consequently, in the 1800’s, the scientific community placed little or no credence in what the so-called Church had to say about anything—especially presumably scientific matters like the origin and unfolding of the Universe.

19th-century scientists and other serious researchers like Darwin, Marx and many others were all in a tizzy about throwing the God idea out with the bath water. It was a leap of faith instead of a rational inference. They did have some legitimate arguments about the Church’s faith-based input, because the so-called Church had made such a mess of things while they were running the show back in the middle ages. Two especially bad screwed-ups the Church had done happened when they had, earlier, rejected the findings of Copernicus and Galileo.

But you betcha the mystery still lay unsolved when the science boys took over, long about 1800 or so. They were working on the mystery intently. And so Mr. Maxwell, diligent Scot that he was, took hold of the mantle in 1867, as many others were doing at the time, and he gave it a shot—solving the riddle.

The question of how all this happened.

This existence, this world we live in—how did it get here?

There was, you see, a piece missing in this great puzzle of existence.

In the chain of events that ostensibly took place when the universe was made, there was a missing link that no one had been able to figure out. So, James Clerk Maxwell tackled the question, striving to solve the riddle of the missing link.

Therefore Dr. Maxwell came up with what he called the “Demon.” My unschooled opinion says he could have chosen a better word. . . something like what Rene Descartes had termed it, the Prime Mover.

As Peter Hoffman gives an explanation of Maxwell’s work, the Scot posed this profound question:

“How can molecular machines extract work from the uniform-temperature environment of cells without violating the second law of thermodynamics?”

In other words, how can atoms and molecules organize themselves to become something more than what they already are—just a bunch of damn molecules kicking around like unemployed vagrants?

Or to put it yet another way: How could life have come out of dead particles?

And so, as Dr. Maxwell pondered the problem of the missing link in 1867, he came up with the idea of (what was later called Maxwell’s. . .) Demon.

Peter M. Hoffman explains it, in his 2012 book, Life’s Ratchet,    https://www.amazon.com/default/e/B00A29OFHS/ref       this way:

“Maxwell’s demon . . . was a a tiny hypothetical creature who controlled a little door separating two gas-filled chambers, which initially have the same average temperature. The job of the demon was to separate gas molecules into fast and slow molecules. . . Starting from a uniform-temperature system, the demon had created a temperature gradient—making one side cold and the other side hot. . . This temperature gradient could now be used to do work if a little turbine could be placed in the demon’s door.”

The analogy of a demon is not, of course, to be taken literally. James Maxwell was a brilliant physicist whose work paralleled Einstein’s. His use of the hypothetical creature is merely a literary device to communicate the function of an unidentified catalyst that makes something constructive happen in an environment in which (theoretically) nothing can happen.

Obviously something did happen, back in the days of universe origin, or we wouldn’t be here. Nothing would be here, if the problem had not been solved. Someone, demon or otherwise, must have worked it out.

Rene Descartes, a mathematician who lived in the 1600’s, had stumbled upon the same dilemma. He had posited the idea of a Prime Mover, which seemed pretty logical at the time.

Still does, if you ask me.

An original cause (as in cause in effect), that caused everything else to happen, big bang blah blah etc. and so forth and so on.

But what diligent mathematicians and scientists neglected to mention was that the problem had long ago been solved by a mysterious entity who had been so erroneously represented by the so-called Church: God.

Not a demon, but God. The demons were the created beings who tried to pull rank on the Creator, YWHeh.

Therefore, in order to now— in the 21st-century— give credit where credit is due . . .

MaxwellDemon

I say it was a notable accomplishment what YWHeh did, when he solved the problem of the missing link, way back in time. And he said so.

He said it was good— in the first chapter of his bestseller, Genesis.

It was good when He separated light from darkness. Genesis 1:4:

“God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”

This “separation” function is no chance development. It needed to happen. It’s no coincidence that Maxwell’s demon and Creator YWHeh both are depicted as having “separated” something from something else. . .  The Separator’s accomplishment was functionally something like Maxwell’s presumed demon’s task of separating molecules into two different energy levels in order to create

“a temperature difference between the chambers without expending work, thus seemingly violating the second law.”

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is the law that YWHeh seems to have broken when he started the ball of the universe rolling. But it didn’t matter if he broke that “Law” because he set up the whole kitnkiboodle anyway, back in the Day. That 2nd Law of Thermodynamics was an idea that we came up to try and explain it all. It wasn’t something that YWHeh declared when he declared Let there be light and so forth and so on.

On Day 1 (whatever that means to you) the Prime Mover separated light from darkness, and the rest is history.

Not bad for a day’s work, YHWeh. Keep up the good work.

Glass Chimera 

Feeding the Birds and the People

June 8, 2018

While staying on Kauai, Hawaii, I have been observing a cardinal every morning. This beautiflul red bird has lighted upon the deckrail, shortly after each sunrise each day. His visits demonstrate a boldness on his part to venture into areas of human domain. But that boldness is tempered with a shyness by which he promptly flys away as soon as I make any movement in his direction.

Comparing these bird encounters with similar episodes at our home in the Carolina Blue Ridge, I surmise a personality trait that seems to be characteristic of the cardinal breed. It’s probably my imagination that the  colorful creature has some comprehension of his special status among the kingdom of the birds. He seems to understand  (or so it seems to me) that this human is fascinated by his flashy appearance; he also knows that his bright profile is, in some settings, a liability, because the bright red makes it easier for nearby predators to catch sight of him and perhaps eat him.

However, Mr. Cardinal’s skittishness did not interfere this morning with my continuing attempts to capture a pic of him. I was pleased this morning to find that the different physical arrangement here in Hawaii have made it possible for me to snap the pic.

FeedCardnl

My Christian perspective on life in this world prompts me to accompany this amazing  (to me) photo with a scriptural reference. Here’s the first one I thought of, in the words of Jesus:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

In this case, I, human, am representing the heavenly Father in dropping those cereal crumbs onto the deckrail for our scarlet friend.

Meanwhile, feeling satisfied that I have managed to capture, here in Hawaii, that flighty image of the bright cardinal which I could never manage to obtain back home, I’ll cast another crumb of interest in here for you to nibble on.

Before Mr. Cardinal visited this morning, I was continuing my read of Edward Joesting’s excellent book on Kauai, Kauai: The Separate Kingdom.   

https://www.amazon.com/Kauai-Separate-Edward-Joesting-III/dp/0824811623/

In chapter 7, Mr. Joesting reports on the beginnings of commercial agriculture on the island of Kauai. The earliest enterprises were initiated by a trio of American business partners who were working with Hawaiian leaders with assistance from Christian missionaries who had arrived in the 1820’s.

Long about 1835, some Americans leased a large tract of land from Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) Kaikioewa, the governor of Kauai.

What fascinates me about this development in Hawaiian history is the changes in motivation that Hawaiian working people found themselves adopting in response to the new capitalistic farms.

On page 131 of his book, Edward Joesting wrote:

“In agreement with the philosophy of the missionaries, the lease stipulated that native laborers be encouraged to work on the land. For this right the company would pay to the king and the governor twenty-five cents per month for each man. And it was further stated that each worker would be paid a satisfactory wage and be exempted from all taxation. This taxation had taken the form of labor performed for the chiefs and such other contributions as the chiefs wished to impose.”

As agriculture and business later developed in Kauai during the next twenty years or so, what this arrangement amounted to, economically and sociologically, was this:

Whatever ancient cultural motivations that had traditionally compelled Hawaiian working folk to labor for their tribe and their chiefs—these motivations were being supplanted by new incentives, directly related to 19th-century agricultural scales and practices, and modern, capitalistic business.

On page 132, Edward Joesing wrote:

“The idea of Hawaiians working for an employer who paid them wages, which could be disposed of as the earner saw fit, suddenly introduced a concept of independence that was not easily understood by the commoners and was feared by the chiefs. Adding to the independence of the commoners was the fact that the commoners no longer had to pay taxes to the chiefs. It was more than the average islander could comprehend. There was nothing in their history, no precedent, no legend, that could be used to bridge the gap. . .

On occasion the workers went through the motions of caring for the fields, accomplishing practically nothing. The plantation manager was beside himself (mad). He did not know the Hawaiians still could not comprehend the fact that their wages and the things they bought with them would be their own posessions and coud not appropriated at will by the chiefs.”

My rationale for combining these two different encounters—one with a fresh understanding of historical changes in 1830’s Kauai, and the other with a visiting cardinal this morning—my reasoning may not be entirely clear to you; it’s not even so clear to me, except it has something to do with this quote from a gospel:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

FieldHawaii

King of Soul

Tall Tales of Hawaii

June 1, 2018

The islands of Hawaii are the very tippy-tops of huge volcanoes that erupted from the ocean floor a long, long time ago. So while each one appears to be a small island, they are in fact all very high volcanic mountains surrounded by water that is a couple of miles deep.

How this happened is a funny story.

Several geologic ages ago, ole mother earth began spewing out a gargantuan pile of molten lava through a hot spot in the Pacific ocean floor. Solidifying as it piled upward during eons of  time, the great magma pile finally popped up above sea level and became the island of Kauai.

Over vast periods of time, one pile after another eventually rose above sea level to become a new Hawaiian island.    The molten  lava flows were being extruded from earth’s inner parts because of very high heat way down underground. This extreme hotness is always being generated somewhere down there, by mega-friction between between our planet’s internal moving parts. Every now and then the resultant outward pressure overwhelms all the surrounding crud. Molten rock then bursts through and gets spewed out through whatever weak spot or fissure it can find.

Volcanoes, we call them. This process is how the eight islands of Hawaii were formed.

If you look at a map of the Hawaiian archipelago, you’ll see that the islands are all strung out in a geographical chain. This is because, as each volcanic mass was slowly mounting upwards, the bottom of the ocean was, at the same time, taking its own sweet time sliding along sideways. Consequently, each volcanic tower became an island in a different location.

Although we are not generally aware of it, our earth’s outer layer is divided into several giant mega-slabs. These vast tectonic “plates” (as scientists call them) are always shifting. Only seismologists and geologists can  track these planetary developments; technicians have hyper-sensitive seismologic equipment that detects the changes and documents them.

So that’s how we know about all this stuff. We have people somewhere all the time keeping tabs on the incremental, though massive, shifting of our planetary home.

Way, way down deep beneath Pacific waters, a very gradual but steady long-term northwesterly movement of the vast Pacific “plate”  determined in what geographical arrangement the Hawaiian islands got placed. A  generally southeast-toward-northwest sliding, over time, thus established a southeast-to-northwest configuration of the Hawaiian islands chain.

Each island pile is an extrusion of earth’s internal processes. These planetary developments are actually happening beneath our civilization all the time, although we are rarely aware of them. Every now and then ole mother earth makes her inner workings known by spurting out a fresh load of melted stuff.

LavaFlow

Volcanoes, we call them.

The latest  is happening now on the biggest, newest Hawaiian island, which shares its name with the whole group—Hawaii, the “big island.” You may have heard about this new volcano; it’s called Kilauea. Video reports of its activity have lately been all over the web and other media.

At Kilauea

I’ve been to Kilauea, and seen the bright molten lava as it was sloshing down its deep crater hole in the ground. But that visit was a few years ago.

This morning, I woke up in a breezy dwelling on the absolute other end of these strung-out islands.

Here on Kauai, I spend part of my morning reading a very good book about this island, Edward Joesting’s Kauai: The Separate KIngdom.

  https://www.amazon.com/Kauai-Separate-Edward-Joesting-III/dp/0824811623/

This scholastic work has opened my eyes to some fascinating history of this oldest Hawaiian outcropping.

The ancient storytellers here seem to have had a sense that their beautiful islands share a common origin.

Long before we had sophisticated seismology equipment to track planetary changes, we humans had ancient storytellers, people like Moses, Josephus, Homer, Confucius, Herodotus, and many others.

Today I’m reading about some ancient storytellers of Hawaii. In his book, Mr. Joesting writes of native legends that go way back in Hawaiian time.

  It seems to me that some of the ancient storytellers must have felt a tribal urge to somehow, through tall tales, bring their islands back together as one.

This is Hercules and Paul Bunyan-type tall tales, Hawaiian version.   

Edward cites the legend of the demigod named “Maui”— not the island of Maui, but the mythical deity whose name that island bears. As a sort of early comic-book hero, Maui did some amazing feats.

Edward Joesting provides this mythical account, on page 7 of his book:

“The demigod Maui, among his various escapades, chose to draw all the islands together into one land mass. To do this he had to catch a giant fish called Luehu, but the fish avoided all of Maui’s efforts.”

(Long story short, after Maui had managed to snap the big fish on a line . . .)

“Luehu pulled Maui and his canoe around the Hawaiian islands, wrapping the fishline around the islands and drawing them together with great strength. The only two islands that actually touched were Kauai and Oahu (even they are the two farthest apart).”

(But Maui’s project was complicated. He had eight brothers who were helping him with this unique angling expedition.(Talk about a fish story!) As it happened. . . at one point in their super striving to keep the fish Luehe on the line, the brothers got distracted by—I’m not making this up— the sight of a beautiful woman.  She must have been the first Miss Hawaii, quite an extraordinary femme fatale. Because the sight of her caused Maui’s eight brothers to lose their concentration for the matter at hand . . .)

“At that moment Luehu escaped from Maui’s line and the two islands drifted back to their original positions.

The legendary hero Maui returned to Wailua (on east shore of Kauai). His brothers had disobeyed his orders, and so he turned them into stone and sank them in the mouth of the (Wailua) river. The eight boulders remain there still.”

Now here’s the ancient tall-tale evidence that corroborates the geological, volcanic facts mentioned earlier in this blog: According to the legend abpit fearless leader Maui . . .

“At Kaena Point (on Oahu) there is a rock called Pohaku o Kauai, Rock of Kauai. It was a piece of Kauai that became stuck on Oahu when the two islands touched.”

So there you have it: the two islands of Kauai and Oahu shared a very important rock, which goes to show you . . .

These two islands— Kauai and Oahu— surely were generated from the same volcano! Either that, or they share a very big fish-tale. Take your pick which.

Glass Chimera 

What about that old battlefield?

May 28, 2018

In chapter 27 of my 2014 novel, Smoke, we find a young American, Philip, and an old Frenchman, Mel, conversing as they approach a battlefield in Belgium, a place called Flanders Field. The year is 1937;  in the last week of World War I, Philip’s father had died on that battlefield in 1918. Here’s the scene:

Something about the spring air, the mists at the edges of the fields, the lush, lowland foliage, the shadowy light, lijdt het licht het donk’re licht, something was moving deeply inside of him. “Mel?”

“Yes?”

“How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.”

But today, this Memorial Day, 2018, we honor not only the war dead of that First “Great War” of the 20th century. We honor all those who have given their “last full measure of devotion” to a nation that has always stood, and hopefully always will stand, for freedom and justice.

Here’s another phase of our 242-year national history with brave souls to ponder, Vietnam:

VNMem

King of Soul

The New Opiate

March 10, 2018

You may have read somewhere that Karl Marx, the chief promoter of early communism, said that religion is the opiate of the people.

Marx

During the time that he wrote of such things—mid-1800’s—industry was rapidly progressing in the modern European world. Things were changing so fast that industrialists and capitalists were able to take advantage of poor working folk who did not understand the cataclysm of enslavement they were themselves getting into.

As the Western world industrialized at a whirlwind pace during the 19th-century, millions of people (the masses) got left behind in the rush.

Economically, that us. They got left behind in the money and wealth part, while the the fat cats and movers and shakers ran roughshod over them with a burdensome industrialism that slowly robbed the poor working-stiff proles of their only real precious asset—their labor—and nullified the workers’ ability to prosper and get ahead of the game.

Marx wrote in 1843 that religion was the opiate of the people. He explained that religion allows oppressed workers to be be inappropriately consoled, comforted, while they are being taken advantage of. The fulfillment that religion brings people cultivates a  false comfort among the masses. Such stupor enables an old autocratic system—or a new capitalist one— to justify its uncaring abuse of the masses.

This idea was used in a very big way when the Bolsheviks took control of Russia in the early 1900’s. Those rabid revolutionary communists worked relentlessly among the people to eradicate religion, because, according to developing communist doctrine, clueless Orthodox faith was the opiate that allowed the rich people to take advantage of everybody else.

But things have changed since then.

Now here we are, a hundred years past the forced imposition of communism on this gullible world, and we see that everything has morphed into a quite different scenario. Communism—at least the official version of it— appears to have been tossed into the dust heap of 20th-century Berlin Wall history.

And now Religion is no longer the opiate of the people, because it is way out of fashion. Who the hell believes all that old stuff anyway?

Well, there are still a few of us around, and we are noticing a thing or two about the present state of affairs.

We find ourselves mired in a new opiate: entertainment. It’s all around us. Can’t get away from it. I confess that I, too, have at times succumbed to this counterproductive opioid.

Being overtaken by Entertainment is, as some promoters love to proclaim—addictive. And it has an agenda.

Can you figure out what the agenda is?

Some media pushers promote product  this way: “It’s addictive!” as if that that’s. . . something good!

Habit-forming, bingeful, cringeful, winkin’ blinkin’ and nodding as we in our tickee-tackee nests drift off to sleep in front of the screen only to drag ourselves to bed and then to work the next day. Talk about your opiate of the masses.

But hey, sleepers Awake! The infamous opiating old-time religion’s got to be more productive than this.

Picture it: bunch of seekers gathered in a room reading out-of-style scriptures, singing songs and praying, maybe even proseletyzing other wandering souls.

Seems pretty to active to me, maybe even subversive—downright vitalizing and invigorating compared to the passivity of comfortably numb binge-watching video and obsessively tapping our tickee-tackee deviant devices as we scrunch down the manufactured munchies.

Something needs to change. We need to take back the means of fulfillment.

Believers of the World Unite! because

He is risen! and I ain’t talking about Marx.

ChristCruc

King of Soul

Stickin’ to it.

February 18, 2018

In the late ’70’s many of us wandered up to a cool mountain town; we were trying to figure out what the hell had happened. Some had survived the excesses of countercultural lifestyle; others were just there to do the college thing.

  By that time, the ’60’s flower-power revolution that had failed to actuate had been appropriated into the Establishment. Now you could buy faux hippie threads from the JCPenney catalog; that reality was really a bummer, but people were buying the stuff anyway.. The free love thing had been commandeered by Hollywood. It seemed like everybody was “doing it.”

Our little group of wanderers and students found ourselves congregated in the mother-earth lap of an Appalachian river valley. We had gravitated here to, as John Denver had phrased it, “find Jesus on our own.”

“On our own” turned out to mean: apart from the institutional Church, because it was out of touch with what was happening in the real world and everybody knew it was full of foolishness and hypocrites. Haha.

As the gathering developed, however, our little charismatic experiment turned out to be a little more infected with the ways of the world than we had anticipated. Even though we were a bunch of young bucks and does banded together, raising our kids as a sheltered new testament tribe, showing all the local old-school religious folks what the kingdom of God was all about, eventually after about 20 years it flew apart and we all went our separate ways.

But the failure of men to do God’s will is not the conclusive evidence about the credibility of Him whose crucifixion was inflicted by that same failure, our human failure. Ultimately his resurrection overcomes the crucifixion. The message of Jesus is not about what men do or fail to do; It’s about what he did for us.

By the late ’90’s when our little congregation fell apart, our three offspring had gone off to University, where they got a different view of things, different from the churchified bubble they had been raised in. Long story short: it was good for them to be educated, and all three retained their faith.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, some of us maturing saints—shell-shocked survivors of the great postmodern charismatic reactionary push—began gathering in our homes to “on our own” collectively continue our covenantal search to discern the Lord’s will for us. So we were then, and still now, gathering in our living rooms to read the Bible, pray, and seek God.

As for me and my wife, we have walked a middle road between that house-church body of Christ and another church, which is  a more conventional arrangement for presenting and living out the gospel in society.

This has worked well for us.

By ’n by, all three of our offspring became world travelers for one reason or another. Over the years we have done a lot of globetrotting, following them to various fascinating destinations around the world.

Like for instance, Europe. When we went to that Old World, I began to understand that America is the new kid on the block. Over there, they’ve been doing this Christianity thing for a very long time, about 2000 years.

While it is plain to see that there is a huge institutional legacy of the “Church” in the Americas, the cathedrals of Europe can be seen as indicators of a very different religious experience in days gone by.  Every major city presents evidence of some stupendous religious megalith that dominated European society in a big way for a very long time, until the purveyors of human rationalism came along to challenge their authority.

This Church as a human institution, whatever it shoulda woulda coulda been spiritually, was for a very long time the big kid on the block, the elephant in the room, the megalith institution that dominated  Old World society and cultural In a BIG way.

Those 1st-millennium continental Catholics erected a bunch of huge, monumental edifices. You can find them in every major city and small town.  Europe displays an infrastructure of past religious hegemony on a massive scale. The Reformers later did more of the same.

Case in point. Last year, when we were in Prague, Czech Republic, I snapped this pic inside a cathedral:

PChrch

So I’m thinking. It’s plain to see, this Christianity thing is much, much larger than what is represented by, say, the quaint quasi-classical structure down on our Main Street USA. Beholding this magnificent structure presents a challenge in many ways: it’s a theological, cultural, architectural wonder!

Who built this thing? Was it erected through the blood and toil and sweat of impoverished medieval slave-serfs? Was it founded upon the heretical  manipulations of indulgence-selling ecclesiastical con-men? What kind of empire were they building here? A corrupted hierarchy of covetous clergy? Does it give glory to God, or to the works of Man?

Now I could speculate vainly about the motivations and corrupt practices of those who went before me as  constructors of what is purported to be the Kingdom of God. I could judge them as users and abusers who took advantage of clueless poor people who probably could barely afford to pay the light bill and keep gas in the cart and the kids in shoes while they were fretting about their deceased relatives in purgatory or limbo. I could conclude presumptuously that this humongous structure is nothing more than a work of vanity and hubris and systemic abuse that was erected by men who were surely just as guilty, just as culpable, just as sinful and suspect as myself. I could condemn them as robber-baron ecclesiastic manipulators who were no doubt serving  Babylon or Rome or the  Pride of Man.

But, sinner that I know myself to be, I shall not so judge them. Rather, I shall admire the building for being, in an imperfect world, what  it should have been, and is generally in retrospect considered to be: overpowering evidence of the human impulse that strives to glorify God.

Furthermore, I understand that my assessment is considered to be an obsolete way of thinking. I realize, from both my common observations and study of history, that the religious  hegemony of this huge institutionalized Church has been supplanted, governmentally and socially, by the humanistic, democratic and socialistic movements of  the 19th and 20th centuries.

And that’s okay. Shit happens and nobody’s perfect, not even the humanists, who havre proven through their own systemic abuses that human government and politics falls far short of true justice.

We Christians do need reminders that there are other people in this world who have different fixes than we do for rectifying human injustice and misery. We don’t have to agree with everybody, but we do have to, as Christ and his apostles commanded, live peacefully with everybody insofar as it its possible.

What I am seeing now, in the present predicament of our world is this:

That big guilty-as-charged Churchified juggernaut that sought to order human activity and governance in the last sixteen hundred years—it is being challenged and threatened by a newer Religious juggernaut from the east.

And if I must choose between the two, I’ll go with the one that I know to be true, even though it has not always been righteous. In the end, I think it is better to build upon the testimony of the one who died on a cross and was, three days later, resurrected. It is better to stand with Him than with another religious empire whose plan would be to get us kaffirs all on our knees five times a day.

In his final revelation to those he loves, Jesus counseled his friend John to “strengthen the things that remain.”

So therefore and henceforth, I say unto thee: I’m with Jesus.

The failure of men to do God’s will is not the conclusive evidence about the credibility of Him whose crucifixion was inflicted by that same failure, our human failure. Ultimately his resurrection overcomes the crucifixion. The message of Jesus is not about what men do or fail to do; It’s about what he did for us.

That’s my faith and I’m sticking to it.

King of Soul

DeepState DeepThroat DeepSh*t

February 3, 2018

I suppose the concept of Deep State started with George Orwell. In his fictional explorations of early 20th-century dystopia, 1984 and Animal House, Uncle George presented the scenario of a so-called Big Brother government that wanted to control just about everything, including not only what people do, but also what they think.

Orwell’s real world of the 1930’s certainly presented a dramatic scenario of escalating DeepState dysfunction. Two gargantuan opposing dictatorships were challenging each other over the question of which one would control the world.

The Nazis, who had wrested control of the German gov. machine, had effectively set up a dictatorship of one man, Hitler. He turned out to be a personification of DeepMad. In other words, he was so mad at the world that he desperately wanted to find someone to blame for all the DeepSh*t. He blamed it all on the Jews and the Communists.

The truth is, however, this. We have found the enemy, and he is us.

All of us. But as I was sayin’. . .

Meanwhile, back at the northern climes, the Soviets were setting up a dictatorship of the proletariat, even though their founding dictator was dead; Karl Marx had dictated the idea that working folks could manhandle the world away from all the rich fuddyduddy lords and ladies who had been running it for so long, and everybody knew that certainly the proletariat could do a better job of running the show.

Now that’s an idea whose time has come, the arc of history and all that. Or so they thought . . .

In the ’30’s the whole damned world was torn apart when the Dictatorship of Hitler tangled with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Oh, and there was a third one—the Dictatorship of an Emperor—Hirohito in Japan, not to mention Mussolini and his goons. Between these four, they pretty much dragged the whole damned world down into a fricking apocalypse preview. Unlike wars of old, such as was conducted by the ancient Greeks v Persians, or David v Goliath, or old dusty militarized monarchs of Europe sending their clueless vassals out to perish, the 20th-century version of warfare was exponentially more destructive than the carnage inflicted by men of old, wielding their legendary sabres and muskets and cannons and those old-school versions of techno-destruction.

Well, by ‘n by, we Allies managed, through much blood and toil and sweat, to put an end to all that dictatorial bullsh*t.

IwoJima

It was no easy job, but we collectively mopped it up in the late ‘40s, ’50s and thereafter.

StalnDown2

But that was just one small historical step, as it turned out, in all the blood, sweat and tears that was yet to come.

CastrNixn

Now understand this: there’s always a lot more deep stuff going on than we, in our pea-brains, can fathom. That said . . .

By ’n by, a new generation comes along and now all these kids still wet behind the ears are growing up with a TV in the living room, and they’re watching the world through the lens of Edward R. Murrow and Eisenhower and Kennedy and Cronkite et al, and by the time the baby boomers get out and about where they don’t have the restraints of mom and dad tellin’ them what to do all the time—in other words, college—by that time, they had figured out that they knew enough about the world to change it—the world, that is—(haha!). And so they got out in the streets and made a big mess of things until finally Nixon got the message and brought the boys home.

Well, by the time the boys came marchin’ home again hoorah hoorah—this was early ’70’s—the DeepState had gotten the idea that Nixon was a brick or two shy of a load, and so they set out to show him a thing or two by pressing the delete button on his power trip.

And this is how it happened:

That whole protest wave that so confounded Johnson and Nixon—it wasn’t just about the war. No, it was about much more than that. It was supposedly about free love and maybe some free pot and maybe even free food, as the diggers had been trying to do out in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there was a lot going on in America behind the scenes.

That free love thing, you see,  wasn’t really so simple as just shackin’ up; it was also about getting kinky. So when  the reporters who broke the DeepState Watergate dam—Woodward and Bernstein— devised a pseudonym for their DeepState informant, they came up with the nomen DeepThroat.

This development, which attempted to document the infernal workings of unbridled unjustified politics in the white house, was thereby associated in the public mind with the kinky side of the sexual revolution, as represented by the porno movie of the same name which was inspired by a nymph who had turned kinky because she used her mouth for sexual purposes and they called it DeepThroat.

Hence, DeepState, DeepThroat. There’s always a lot more deep stuff going on than we, in our pea-brains, can fathom.

What the Americans did not understand was that the whole DeepState, DeepThroat thing was slowly devolving us into a pit of moral, political and economic depth beyond our ability to rectify all the deep troubles associated with same.

Now since that time, our preoccupation with all this dysfunctional politics and sex has sunk us deeper into political and sexual irresponsibility. This dystrophy has, along the way, blinded us to authentic responsibility, and ultimately imprisoned us in a yet another very deep quagmire. Yeah, I say unto thee, ’tis yet another pothole of even deeper dysfunctional distress:

DeepDebt, trillions and trillions of it.

Nevertheless, in spite of all that, ya gotta find a ray of hope somewhere. I don’t know about you, but my prescription for our dystopian dillemma is quite simple, maybe even simpleminded:

God bless America.

And if you believe that, I’ve got some deep canyon real estate in Arizona I’ll tell you.

What’s better is: In God we Trust. But with all the deep sh*t that’s going on, such blessing and trusting could require a higher power for the fulfillment part of it, and maybe even some DeepFaith.

  King of Soul

What the Jews did

January 30, 2018

What the Jews did was establish about half of the narrative foundation of the Western World.

Their Old Testament, combined with the New, were received as Holy Scriptures  by the Church, which, after Constantine, dominated European cultural development for over a thousand years.

Long about 1500 or so, the Protestant Reformation began the process of unshackling the chains of dogmatic error that the Catholic hierarchy had, over 1400 years, lapsed into. Then Reformation disruption of Papist hegemony broke ground for another new emphasis—the Renaissance. This humanist  arts movement unearthed the  quasi-dormant other half of the Western cultural narrative, the ancient Greeks, most notably Homer, Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle. On the coattails of the Greek philosophers, the Roman writers, most notably Cicero, Cato and Virgil later appended their contribution to the philosophical and governmental legacy of ancient Greece. It later became a bedrock of Western culture and government.

That ancient Greek heritage had initiated an idea called democracy, which was later amended to Republic by the Romans in their Empire.

Judeo-Christian Religion, Greek Democracy and Roman Republic became the religious, philosophical and governmental foundations upon which the Western World was established in Europe and beyond.

In the early stages of Western history, during the period of the Roman Empire, along came a Roman general named Titus. In 70 a.c.e., he ran most of the Jews out of Israel, their homeland, and he sent his soldiers to Jerusalem to destroy the Jewish Temple, even though it had had been constructed by one of the Romans’ own puppet kings, Herod.

Titus apparently thought it was a notable accomplishment that he had expelled most of the Jews out of their own ancient capital;  the Hebrews had previously managed to reclaim Jerusalem after the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar had expelled them about 670 years earlier.

Titus’ Roman victory over the Jews was thought to be quite impressive by his successors. A few years after he died, his brother Domitian commissioned the Arch of Titus to be constructed in the main area of Rome. Among the conquests of Titus depicted in stone on the Arch, the plundering of Jerusalem is plain to see.

ArcTitusMenr

In this picture that I snapped, the Jewish Menorah can be plainly seen. To the victor goes the spoils, eh? The Roman big shots must have thought themselves something special after they ran those upstart Jews out of Jerusalem back in the day. The Jews were infamous among several historical empire-builders for being ungovernable.

One reason that Titus and Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus and their ilk had so much trouble governing the Jews was because the people of Israel always insisted on being free.

This whole idea of freedom, around which Western culture revolves, originated largely with the Jews.

Long about 1400 or so years b.c.e., Moses rounded up the Jews and lead them out of the slavery that Egyptian pharoahs had inflicted on them.

This turned out to be a major event in world history.

Why? Because Moses and some of his people wrote a book about it. We know it as the book of Exodus. Along with the other books of the Torah/Pentateuch/Old Testament, it later became an international best-seller for many and many a year, many and many a century and several millenia of time.

What later became the Bible was passed down through the ages to many and many a person and group of persons to read and spark inspiration.

That spark of freedom that enabled the Jews to throw off the bondage of Pharoahic slavery—it has been an inspiration to many freedom-seeking people throughout history.

Case in point, within our lifetime. (All ye Boomers out there, hear ye, hear ye. . .)

Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr., on the night before he was assassinated, declared this message to his people in Memphis, and ultimately via audiotape to America, and to the world:

“I’ve been to the Mountaintop. . . I’ve seen the Promised Land . . .”

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

We can see that Dr. King was inspired by Moses. A long time ago, I wrote a song about it. Mountaintop

And we know from the Hebrew scriptures that Moses was inspired by God.

Now this may seem a little old-fashioned to you, a little bit religious. But this religious thing is much more than belief in God. It’s not just out-of-style old hat. Faith also includes the idea of freedom. It also includes the idea of freedom of religion , freedom to believe what you need to believe, and freedom to act on what you believe to be true. It goes way back, way back . . .

Here’s another example from American history. A hundred and fifty years ago when black folks in this country were still enslaved . . . in a situation not unlike what the Jews had found themselves in ancient Egypt, one of those black former slaves, Harriet Tubman, started a secret society for the purpose of providing an escape for self-freed slaves who wanted to come up to the free states.

The name that was given to Harriet’s clandestine network was the Underground Railroad. Have you heard of it?

I’m here to tell you that the Underground Railroad has been transporting people from bondage to liberty for a very long time.

Last century,  freedom-seeking people did another version of it to smuggle the children of Israel  out of the Nazi Third Reich. Have you heard of it?

But know this: it’s still going on.

Underground Railroad Rides Again.

 And we can thank the Jews for that, because way, way back in the day . . . they started it; they started the freedom track that runs through human civilization.  The first one ran from Egypt to the Promised Land, and its been going, whenever needed, under the radar ever since.

It will never be shut down.

Glass half-Full 

On the Rails of Old Memory

January 14, 2018

Memories linger mysteriously in our minds, sometimes like precious old photographs, sometimes like skeletons in the closet; they can hang around being stubbornly unpleasant and fearful, or they can shine happy and hopeful like a walk in the park in springtime.

I suppose most memories are intimately personal, but not all of them.

I feel we have collective memories, especially in this modern atmosphere of media saturation, where public events pry deeply into our private imaginations.

My g-generation, the baby boomers—we were the first to grow up with this thing called TV. Now our kids are the first to grow up with this thing called the worldwide web. These media—TV, Internet, radio, cellphones etc. fortify and intensify our memories, especially the collective ones.

Most of us American boomers remember, for instance, where we were and what we were doing on the day that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

And we and our children remember, most of us, where we were and what we were doing on that fateful day in 2001—9/11 when the twin towers came down.

These collective memories are potent; they latch on to us; and while they do recede into dark tunnels they can be easily brought to the surface at the mention of those circumstances.

And we have, of course, powerful  personal memories from our own youth. Most vivid perhaps, are those that surround a first love or romance. These vague vestiges of the past are capitalized upon by our songwriters and movie-makers. Here’s an excellent example of a very special song about the mysterious aspect of memories.  It was popular when I was a teenager, Dusty Springfield’s Windmills of Your Mind.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKV9bK-CBXo

But there is another kind of collective memory that goes back even further than modern pop-music or movies. It is tucked away in the crevices of history itself. And I find that certain settings or objects can serve as talismans through which human memories are passed from generation to generation and possibly from age to age, even from century to century.

You’ve heard of deja vu, haven’t you? That’s the feeling you can suddenly experience sometimes in a situation that you could not have been in because it took place before you were born.

This deja vu, which is French for “already seen”  is a feeling I get whenever I’m near or in an old train.

So yesterday I was uncovering some serious deja vu when I toured the North Carolina Transportation Museum which is located at an old, obsolete railroad service yard in Spencer, NC, near Salisbury.

   http://www.nctrans.org/

RailEngn

There is, for me, something very special about these old trains . . . something that stirs intensely in my soul pertaining to days long ago, in past centuries, when these steaming iron beasts roared across the vast landscapes of that hastily-industrializing age. The feeling that I get has something to do with retrieving past memories that I myself could never have experienced, almost as if the locomotives themselves were mnemonic repositories of 19th-century passengers who embarked to ride in those ancient passenger cars.

In the 2014 novel I wrote, Smoke, I attempted to capture this feeling in the story I was composing at that time. The collective memory, mentioned at the end of the scene described below, is implanted in Philip’s mind when he grabs a brass handrail on a French train passenger car. The scene takes place in 1937, in Paris.  It depicts the beginning of a journey being taken by a young American and an old Frenchman who are about to travel from Paris to Lille, in northern France:

       Half a morning later they were boarding the northbound train. By that time, whatever it was that had brought together this aged Frenchman and  his young, attentive American charge had been uncorked to its full expression.  The old fellow was intermittently pouring out his life’s vintage in a slow trickle of memory;  its balmy flow had begun to endow their embarkation with a kind of therapeutic anointing, the beneficiary of which was neither the young man nor the old, but that Man of the ages whose fermented wisdom percolated through deepened souls of both men.

       Now they were walking beside the train, small luggage in hand. Pausing in mid-stride, Mel managed to recap, in the midst of crowd and bustle, a simple advisement that he had begun last night and had already landed upon this morning. “Half the battle in this life, I think, is deciding what to keep and what to let go. You have got to know when to hold them.”      

       They arrived at the railcar to which they had been billeted. Philip appropriated Mel’s briefcase, collecting it with his own, both in his left hand. Placing his right gently hand on Mel’s lower back for support, he waited patiently as the old fellow carefully climbed  onto the steps to ascend into their coach. As Mel’s bony, spotted hand grasped a vertical brass handrail inside the little stair, it seemed to Philip that the ghosts of ten thousand French souls were lingering there. The rail’s brass patina had been worn to a dullish sheen as ten thousand reaching hands had, in the beginnings of their ten thousand journeys on this train, taken hold of it.

RailBrass2

I felt like I, or somebody, had grabbed this rail before. The worn brass summons up a kind of  old, collective memory from days gone by.

I guess you’d have to be there . . . Maybe I was, in a sense, there, yesterday when I visited the Railroad museum.

Smoke