Category Archives: historical perspective

The Merry Minuet

You can learn a lot about a person from their favorite song.  Here’s mine.

The Merry Minuet                                                                                                                                         (Composed by Sheldon Harnick  in 1958 and Popularized by the Kingston Trio)

They’re rioting in Africa.
They’re starving in Spain.
There’s hurricanes in Florida.
In Texas it’s rain.
The whole world is festering with unhappy souls.
The French hate the Germans; the Germans hate the Poles.
Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch.
And I don’t like anybody very much!
But we can be thankful and tranquil and proud
that Man’s been endowed with the mushroom shaped cloud.
And we know for certain that some lovely day
someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away.
They’re rioting in Africa.
There’s strife in Iran.
What nature doesn’t do to us
will be done by our fellow man!

Deja vue!

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Are We Becoming Emotional Terrorists?

Americans are becoming emotional terrorists. We publish totally false information on social media without checking on it’s validity. That is slander. It’s immoral. We have degenerated from arguing logically on issues to name calling and ridiculous irrelevant criticism of any one remotely related to people we disagree with. We are shrinking to the level of moral gnats. And it not only accomplishes nothing positive, it alienates us from one another more deeply than ever before, since the civil war. We aren’t just targeting the politicians we disagree with, but one another. For me face book has been a wonderful source of information about friends and family, photos of grandchildren, connection to family living in other countries, and virtual travel to places I’ve never been. In the last two years I have been more home bound by both my own health issues and my husband’s than I have ever been in my life. The internet and face book have been a great blessing. But now, trying to wade through all the political posts, advertisements, and memes someone else chooses for me takes more time than I have to spend for finding the things I want to see or read. Perhaps we should set up our own face book pages as ones limited to one or more of the following: politics, or spirituality, or jokes, or cute animals or travel experiences, or mental health, or venting, or personal ones just relevant for family and friends. I really need to cut down on the vitriol I have to wade through on my face book page. At my stage of life, there are many serious personal challenges that I have to face each day. Some people may find an escape from personal struggles and our sense of the helplessness of individuals in our modern world through a vicious verbal war on politicians and the people who support them. I don’t. It just adds to my sense of helplessness and vulnerability. Discussions with accurate and comprehensive information are helpful. Writing our representatives to express and give logical support for our opinions on policy is a vital part of a democracy. Peaceful protests like those of Martin Luther King Jr. have been an effective part of the democratic process. But it’s beginning to look like we lost the patience, self control, and commitment needed for those some time ago.

In Honor of Those Who Gave their Lives at Normandy

Travel Visions
An opulence of travel visions:
Paris, London, Lisbon, Prague,
beauty rampant with history and art.
Yet etched forever in my mind
the beaches and cross-crowned cliffs
above the shores of Normandy.
A cliff face sheering from the ocean,
Pointe du Hoc, where Army Rangers
climbed point blank into German guns.
Now, just empty bunkers on pitted earth
and beaches, wave washed innocent
below silent sentinels left behind.
Row on row of small white crosses
guarding fields of blood-rich ground,
Old Glory whipping, snapping in the wind.

Law and Pleasure: Gifts from and Paths to God, but Not God.

The perceived conflict between body and spirit precedes Christianity and has alternately been absorbed and rejected by both Christian and non-Christian cultures over thousands of years. Generally, humanity goes from one extreme to the other by simply reacting, rather than responding, to excesses. This is a human evolutionary issue, not limited to Christianity. We just live in a society where reactionary Christians are the loudest right now.
Idols are subtle issues and vary between making an idol of the Law to making an idol of Pleasure by simply making one of them THE priority without taking into account the resulting human suffering this causes.
Both Law and Pleasure are gifts from God and both can be paths to God, but they are NOT God.
When we make Law into a God without any allowance for preventing brutality to other human beings, we defeat the purpose of law. Law is simply the beginning stage of logic and love. To live together humanely, we need laws. The minimum of loving others is to not kill, rob or use them for our own purposes.
As those humans inclined to consider future possibilities have evolved, they have challenged the rest of humanity to value not only pleasure and propagation, but relationships between humans: from mates, to parents and children, to families, to tribes, to nations, to hemispheres, to the world, to the natural world, and now, the universe. Humanity, however, does not mature easily or smoothly, but progresses in extreme zig-zags between ideal goals and present practical realities. Unfortunately, there are seldom any serious attempts to balance or blend the two.
Our concept of love has evolved from don’t kill or rob each other, to love others as you love yourself, and hopefully, we are finally beginning to recognize that when Jesus gave his life for us, he was both illustrating and calling us to whole new level of love. “Love one another as I have loved you.”
This brings us to the challenge to integrate body and spirit. Limiting ourselves to body ends up in hedonism, making pleasure an idol. Limiting ourselves to spirit ends up in an unrealistic asceticism that makes law an idol. Recognizing that we separate body and spirit at our own peril, we can find that when blended they both become paths to God/Love. Being loved by a human being is our appetizer, our small taste of the Spirit of Love that is God. Only when we integrate the two, do we avoid the pitfalls of the idols of hedonism and asceticism and even begin to want to learn to love one another as God loves us.

A Mother’s Plea to Not Reinforce Prejudice and Precipitate Violence

My Letter to our National and State Congressmen and to the Editor of the Tennessean  ( An Edited and Condensed Previous Blog Post )

1. Freedom for and from religion are the same thing. We need to protect that freedom.

2. Homosexuality is not a choice. My great-great aunt became a pediatrician and established a clinic for the poor in the early 1900’s. She lived with the same woman all her life. My brother has been in a twenty-five year monogamous relationship with another man. My son and his partner of seventeen years teach children born HIV positive in South East Asia. Legal recognition of same gender commitment relationships is crucial on many levels, from health insurance to the same degree of acceptance and safety from persecution that heterosexuals have. A return to legal reinforcement of prejudice could very well precipitate violence.
3. I want all people to experience the unconditional love of God expressed in Jesus, so He can become their Lord. History shows that making people pretend Christians by law, violence, judgment, or discrimination does not accomplish that. If we could make and enforce secular laws against making pleasure a God, many heterosexual people would be in legal trouble. The purpose of marriage is a committed relationship, not just pleasure. Let’s support that.
4. Married to the same man for fifty-eight years, I have come to believe marriage is designed not to just populate the world, but to challenge and enable us to really know and love another imperfect (not abusive) person. Let’s not limit anyone by law to deceit in order to experience that.

The Death of Feminine Values?

I am struggling with the turns feminism has taken. I thought it was about freeing women to be themselves, not expecting them all to want and be good at the same things, and that women who needed to work or chose to work outside the home would be rewarded equally with men. And my hopes for it were that it would bring traditional feminine values into the places of power traditionally held by men. I realize that not all women are nurturing, any more than all men are competitive. So when I talk about traditional feminine or masculine values, I am not limiting the yin and yang of them exclusively to either gender. Of course, like any movement or theory, we manage somehow to always take it to illogical extremes. Our economy has adjusted to two salaries and now, unless we marry and both partners work or one partner makes a whole lot of money, women need to work. So, the ones that want to be hands on with raising their children and love to cook and decorate and create and maintain beauty and welcome for others in their home environments are more and more forced into working outside the home, often in very limiting and non-creative jobs. And many women, who are not married, live close to poverty.
I went to an exhibit at the Frist museum recently on the history of the Samurai. Samurai were the greatly respected and highly honored soldiers of Japan. During a long peaceful time in Japan’s history, there were women Samurai. This period led to better treatment for women. Though better is a relative thing. Still, it surprised me, since this was a long time ago and  it was a position of honor traditionally only held by men.
In Sweden, Dads are now being given turns with wives at new parent time off from work. And two American women have qualified as Army Rangers. The whole point these days is to not consider anything as identified appropriate for only one gender.                                       This would work out, if nurturing professions and skills were rewarded the same as combative ones. Though the rank and file of the military don’t get paid extravagant salaries, as long as they are on active duty they live in a completely socialistic society. Retired military used to have pretty much the same benefits, but with constant wars the cost of supporting the military and war has gone up with corresponding cuts in veteran benefits and services. If you aren’t actively killing enemies, you aren’t important any more. Teachers are underpaid.  They are not provided free medical care, reasonable housing, cheap retail prices, inexpensive or free social activities, free churches and religious education, and special schools for their children. And frankly these days a lot of schools in the civilian arena are the equivalent of war zones.                                                           I think what I am trying to say is that while I want women and men to be equal, I also want traditional feminine values such as nurture and inclusiveness, to be considered equally important and rewarded as such.                                                                                                             Sexual mores are obviously now emphasizing the pleasure of sex as more important than its role in creating, deepening, and strengthening relationships. When the immediate gratification through pleasure becomes the accepted goal in life, relationships become disposable. Human relationships are simply not constantly pleasurable. They aren’t even meant to be. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake only, with no balancing maturing in relationships, leads to a population of aging irresponsible children.                                               Okay, I haven’t thought all of this through, so I need to stop and reflect on it. It’s hard to free myself from my generation’s programming enough to discern what is progress and what is throwing the baby out with the bath water. I tend to think traditional feminine values (not roles) are more evolved than masculine ones, so I don’t want to have those values disappear.  Obviously, I am prejudiced. But, before I take a break, I have one funny story that sort of illustrates some of the challenges.

Some years ago I had an army staff sergeant friend who had fought in Korea and Vietnam. Close to the end of his twenty years, he was given a cushy staff assignment in Boston near his wife’s hometown. After several staff meetings with his female officers all crying at times in each meeting, he volunteered to go to Korea, which was not a cushy assignment. I could understand a reasonably kind, but combat seasoned soldier, being uncomfortable with weeping officers, but I also wondered if the officers on all sides of conflicts cried instead of becoming aggressive, maybe it would cut down on the wars. After all, Jesus wept, why shouldn’t we.

 

Perspective : Poverty and Affluence

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’re a walking history book of sorts. I’ve known six generations of my own family, been through five wars involving America, personally experienced both affluent times and scary times of scarcity, lived in big cities and in back woods’ ‘hollers,’ and traveled to fifteen foreign countries, some of them several times. My father’s family were very wealthy until the depression. Then they lost everything. There were nine children. The older ones experienced all the trimmings of affluence, summer homes and homes abroad. The older boys became Vice Presidents of their father’s company and the girls were debutantes. But, the younger ones had to make it on their own. Though as one of the younger ones, my father didn’t get to finish college, he eventually became an editor of a big city newspaper. This didn’t make us rich. I grew up living in apartments. And in my younger years I was frighteningly aware at times that we lived close to the precipice of poverty. But a newspaper editor has a certain amount of status and connections. One senator, who eventually ended up President, in his early political years asked my father to be his press secretary. Speaking and writing English properly were important in my family. My husband’s father on the other hand grew up seriously poor in a large family. His English was not always perfect. He worked from a very young age, put himself through college, and became a very successful lawyer.  He knew several American Presidents, even had Jack and Jackie Kennedy to brunch at his home. My husband, as the youngest of five, grew up affluent in a house with twelve fire places, that later became a private school. We ourselves have experienced being reasonably affluent. But through a combination of circumstances and timing, we went through some financially challenging times.  Those included an unforgettable night with our whole family out in the snow.  My husband was cutting down a tree,  while the rest of us passed logs in an assembly line for the wood burning stove, both to keep us warm and keep the pipes from freezing.

There are some things I have learned from the rich variety of my life experiences.

Ancestors do not define us.
Money doesn’t make us virtuous, but poverty doesn’t either.
Neither does knowledge make us wise.
Adversity can, but does not necessarily, strengthen us.
What we mean is more important than how we say it.
Ultimately, what’s inside us will matter much more than our circumstances.
There’s a difference between smart people and intelligent ones, but I need to learn from both.                                                                                                                                                                       I delight in talented people and am actually most comfortable around people who march to a different drummer than the majority.                                                                                                     I  have grown to particularly appreciate people who have persevered and become compassionate through seriously hard times.
I am enriched by any kind of beauty whether in nature, art, music, people, or things, but don’t need to own them to experience joy from them.
I have enjoyed having money for extras in life.
However, I am most grateful for the enlightenment that comes from experiencing a taste of the limits and fears that go with poverty, but also discovering the possibilities in the wider world that come with affluence.
And now at this age, there are two characteristics that I value more than anything else: simple kindness and the humility to laugh at ourselves.

Both Sides of Prejudice

When my Mom was growing up in Jackson, Mississippi in the nineteen twenties, her public high school was next to the one Catholic Church and school. She believed that the nuns wore headdresses to cover their horns. Most of the Catholics in Jackson were immigrants from countries in Eastern Europe that she had never heard of.  And their languages seemed strange and scary to her, as were any Blacks that she didn’t know. She ended up with a job in New Orleans and married to a Catholic newspaperman, who also happened to be a strong advocate for integration. She was a naturally kind person who cared about people, so she gradually adopted my Dad’s way of thinking. Though she remained Methodist, she was one of the most active mothers in my Catholic school and became great friends with the nun that taught me in first grade. But when my Dad went away in the army in the nineteen forties, Mom and I went to live with her parents back in Jackson. I went to a public grade school near by. As a new and very scared second grader, I experienced everyone in the school gathering in the gym and being separated into groups by religion. I have no idea why. But out of several hundred children, I was the only Catholic. Not a comfortable experience for an eight year old child.

In the mid-nineteen-fifties, my Dad, now a newspaper editor in Houston, Texas, endorsed the first black to run for a position on the school board. The schools were still separate, but the black schools had never had any representation. Late on the night of the election, the entry hall to our apartment was bombed. The bomb was primitive, but strong enough to make sharp pieces of slate and even the confetti packing all stick in the door and walls. Fortunately, I stopped on the way downstairs to answer the door when the bell rang. It was long after midnight and my dad wasn’t home from covering the election yet, so I stopped half way down just as the bomb went off.

In the sixties, now living in my husband’s home town of Nashville, Tennessee, one of my social friends proclaimed furiously and proudly that as a hospital volunteer, she had refused to carry a black baby out to the car that day. She had done this right in front of the parents. I was horrified that a Christian mother with a college degree would be so cruel. So, I decided to volunteer at a black grade school as a tutor for children having trouble reading . As I grew fond of these delightful small children, I began to consider how limited their future would be, even if they learned to read. So, I joined the NAACP and worked in their offices trying to find employment for blacks in the white community. I happened to be working there on the day the Poor People’s March on Washington came through Nashville. Young blacks, who were in the more extreme Black Protest movements, came through the office where I was working that day. They obviously hated whites and made sure I was very aware of that. I went home stricken by my experiences of the extremes of hatred between the races. How could we avoid a bloody race war? But God sent Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message of non-violent protest. Thanks to him and many other brave Christian Blacks, we live in a different world now and my grandchildren have friends of all colors.

In the early seventies, my husband and I and our five children moved to a very rural area of middle Tennessee. One day, as I came into the little neighborhood grocery that had chairs around a potbellied stove, I overheard one of the men sitting there say, “Yep, If someone hadn’t of killed those Kennedys, we’d have a Pope running our country now and those Catholics you think are your friends would be killin’ us in our beds.” No one argued the point.

Don’t assume that because you are a law abiding white middle class American, you will never experience prejudice.

In the eighties, I had to use a wheelchair because there was no medicine yet for a condition that made walking excruciatingly painful for my feet. About that time, one of our sons went to work for an airline that allowed him to take us abroad for only the tax on tickets. So, we began years of traveling with the challenge of me in a wheel chair. America had already become mostly handicapped accessible, so we were not really prepared for the differences in Europe. In many countries the only accessible bathrooms were in a McDonalds’.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       In the German speaking part of Switzerland, in Vienna, Austria, and in the Czech Republic we met with open hostility. And the hostility was not just from skin heads. In Prague, when trying to get across a road in the rain and onto an awning covered side walk, wide enough for a wheelchair and other people to walk, several middle-aged, middle class looking women standing together chatting, not only wouldn’t move even slightly to let us get out of the rain, but one scowling, turned and literally hissed at me. I cried that night. I considered myself a kind middle class woman of reasonably pleasant appearance. Why would someone hate me without even knowing me. We learned it wasn’t because we were Americans. Now that the communists were gone, the Czechs were welcoming westerners with open arms. But until that year those with any kind of handicap had been kept inside, sometimes in attics.The new President’s wife was just starting a campaign to help them become an accepted part of the society. Shortly after we returned to America, we read that a German family had sued a restaurant in Germany for allowing a handicapped person to be seated where they were visible to others. They claimed that having to see this person while they ate ruined their vacation. The saddest part is that the court agreed and they were awarded $20,000.

Don’t assume if you are a liberal Democrat, that you aren’t prejudiced.

My assumptions about my lack of prejudice were knocked silly when I was substitute teaching a seventh grade English class in my small rural town. I called on a young black man and just stood there speechless with my mouth hanging open when he answered in an upper class British accent using  four and five syllable words, that I had actually never spoken, only read. I had been totally unaware of my preconceptions, because of my limited experience.

I realized that I had some prejudice against Germans from WWII and years of movies and books about the Holocaust.  Though I knew not all Germans agreed or participated in persecuting the Jews, I had not read of many Germans that risked their own their lives for them, except the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of the book The Cost of Discipleship.  At first, my experiences in Europe reinforced my prejudice.  But, when reflecting back on the many experiences of kindness and generosity by Germans, Austrians, and Czech’s while in their countries, I realized I was focusing on a minority because of my long unchallenged prejudice.

We can and will survive our current fears and prejudices, if we commit to working toward a better America for all people, including both whites and blacks, who cannot afford college or have different gifts more suited to vocational education and also  for immigrants seeking sanctuary for their children from wars not of their choosing.

Different Gifts Make for Different Politics

One of the problems with education, besides economic ghettos, is not recognizing differences in personalities. Any one with several children knows they were different at birth. Most teachers of primary grades catch on eventually that no one system of teaching basics will work for all  children.
Personality differences include learning style differences, value differences,  actually even what we see, so also how we react to it. It’s complex. I only wish I had known more about these differences when I taught first and second grade. (See blog post: Important Things I Learned from First Graders When I Was Forty.)
Most intuitive thinkers question the status quo, see connections between differing things, explore new possibilities, are idealistic, and though some travel or do something else for a while, most will go to college. They also tend to end up living in the large cities. Concrete thinkers are more hands on, learn from their parents and practical experience, accept what is and tend to prefer small communities. We actually need to challenge all types fairly early to value skills opposite to their natural way of being in the world. The intuitive idealists often don’t recognize the practical costs of their dreams enough to develop either their own practical problem solving skills or preferably learn to appreciate and work with those whose minds work differently. And of course, vice versa. We need to affirm and enable problem solvers, but also early on involve them in problem solving ways to work toward ideals. Change is not always better, but many things can be changed for the better slowly while taking into account the immediate practical side effects for all. As long as many are looking only at the ideal possibilities and the others not only feel more secure with the familiar, but see only the problems involved in any great change, we will continue to be pretty much totally divided. Another difference is some of the population tends to live in the past, some in the present moment without much awareness of long term consequences, and others focus on the long view of the future.  Do you see why we have such different views?

The biggest problem is the solution isn’t either/or. It requires valuing each others’ gifts and working together. Unfortunately, that takes letting go of some of our most cherished prejudices and admitting that no one has answers that will work for all, unless we work together.

Fellow Democrats, Please Lend Me Your Ears.

Fellow democrats, we are sounding like our opponents did before the election. Now, maybe we will understand what feeling unheard and powerless does to people’s sense of decency. Please, let’s don’t go there. It will not help anything. The time to protest is when actual laws that we cannot in good conscience support are proposed. And then protest only in the non-violent tradition of Martin Luther King .
Admit it, we ourselves have been disgusted by attacks on President’s wives in the past. Don’t do it. Complain to face book or at least hide vicious vulgarity on your pages. It simply lowers us to the level of everything that we have been against. Wake up Democrats. Fear creates monsters. We know that. Stop now or we will wake up one morning and have to face that we have become the enemy.