Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Three Christmases: Barbara G. Walker

Felt Skate, Cowboy Boot, Cowgirl

December's post, Three Christmases,
featured memories from Henry Leslie Smith & Ruth Wolff.
Now for number three:

3. In The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering the Virgin, Mother, and Crone, Barbara G. Walker (b. 1930, Philadelphia) describes the "typical middle - class American Christmases" of her youth:

40 - 42: "I used to be mystified by the slogan, 'Put Christ back in Christmas.' As far as I was concerned, Christ had never been in Christmas very much except as its mispronounced first syllable. At best he was only the infant portion of the formal mother - child symbol, representing the foundation of human -- not divine -- love.

"Had I been aware of the old pagan name of the Yuletide festival, matrum noctem or Night of the Mother, and the meaning of its ancient pre - Christian madonna and child idols, I would have understood more about my own special feeling for Christmas.

"My family treated Christmas as an intrinsically secular holiday celebrating the best in human feelings of kinship, love, joy, kindness, and appreciation of blood bonds without any reference to the Christian myth except for an appearance at church services. Our celebrations had their own rituals, meaningful for us, and a generally Dickensian - English, old - fashioned Christmas atmosphere of indiscriminate goodwill. My mother was the Fezziwig who made it work.

"My mother was the youngest of three sisters, all of whom raised their families within reachable distance of each other in different suburbs of the same city. Consequently aunts, uncles, and cousins were inevitably involved on Christmas Day. Christmas Eve, however, belonged to our household alone.

"Of course the festival began long before that: as soon as we began drawing up lists and keeping secrets, when mysterious packages were hidden away on high closet shelves and when rolls of bright wrapping paper and ribbon appeared. About a week before Christmas my mother and I had a wrapping session. Sitting amid a litter of paper string, tape, tags, cards, and assorted decorations, we happily toiled together for hours over the gifts, remaking prosaic boxes and other objects into things of satisfying, if ephemeral, beauty.

Court Jester and Blue Angels

"The end result was magic: perfectly ordinary things transmuted into shining, dreamlike talismans. . . . There can be no doubt that the gift - giving custom was and is the major source of children's happy memories of Christmas, the custom that fixes it in their minds for life as a benevolent, enjoyable time. Nonetheless, our traditions included much more than gifts.

"The real excitement began on Christmas Eve, the matrum noctem of our pagan ancestors, who revered the mystery of birth above the character of the one born. I would wake on the morning of December 24th with the pleasantly squiggly inner feeling that this would be one of the best days of the year: a day of fun, irradiated by anticipation of the morrow.

"The first project was setting up the tree . . . For a few years when I was very small, I believed that Santa Claus trimmed the tree in the night because it appeared like magic on Christmas morning: a whole fairy - tale world of light and color where an ordinary end table had stood the day before. My parents soon dispensed with Santa Claus, however, and enlisted my aid in building this particular fairy - tale world."

Geisha, Nutcracker, Court Jester
[I would love to simply type up this chapter in its entirety because Walker so beautifully and thoroughly describes the perfect Christmas! I'm sorry to leave out a single detail, though I should probably move along a bit more quickly and gloss over the next few pages, in which Walker describes so many lovely activities and customs, but one in particular that was entirely new for me this year: " . . . lighting the bayberry candles in the bathtub where they could safely burn unwatched all night!]
45- 46: "On the whole ours were typical middle - class American Christmases: not unique, not sacred, not particularly religious. They could easily be criticized as commercial, and overindulgent. My mother used to say, 'Christmas is for the children.' Children were hardly expected to comprehend the improbable doctrine of a woman impregnated by a god without sexual intercourse or to recognize in the resulting infant a future man whose death would be ordered by that same god to induce himself to accept human beings into heaven. Perhaps such doctrines would have strained even the uncritically receptive childish imagination.

"My cousins and I were not burdened by any such incredulities. At Christmas we simply and openly reveled in our childish acquisitiveness and sensual enjoyments, through which, somehow, the festival was transmuted into beautiful memories and tender sentiments, which we carried forward in time to our own children.

Glow - in - the - dark Stoplight ~ A Childhood Favorite

"I suspect that even people who think they put Christ in Christmas treat it, in practice, as a celebration of family feeling, bodily indulgence, and a catering to children's shallow joy. At Christmas most people pity the poor and lonely because they lack material goods and human relationships, not because they lack the salvation supposedly engineered by the Christ child, which was said to belong to all. In this we demonstrate an awareness that Christ is not going to make anyone happy in honor of the season. This responsibility must fall on human shoulders."

47 - 48: "But perhaps the very fact that Christmas has gone secular and commercial is directly related to the practical reality of its more recent implications. . . . Children really are delighted by their gifts. Grown - ups really do enjoy watching their pleasure. The decorations really are pleasant to contemplate. The family feasts really are fun. The warmth of friends and relatives reaching out to one another really exists. Though a Christ child may be taken as mere myth or symbol, children are certainly real and motherhood certainly is, psychologically and physiologically, the fountainhead of love: a fact that stands in need of much wider recognition in a patriarchal and alienated society. . . . Perhaps, after all, Christmas is not about gods or miraculous births or world - saving infants threatening evil kings. Perhaps it is only about people."

Gold Filagree Coffee Pot & Tea Pot

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Three Christmases: Henry Leslie Smith
and Ruth Wolff

A 21st Century Indiana Christmas

Several of the books I read this read this year included lovely, magical, memorable Christmas scenes. Three in particular stood out for me, all from approximately the same time period but celebrated in very different ways, according to economic circumstance.

1. In Harry's Last Stand, Harry Leslie Smith (b. 1923, Barnsley, United Kingdom) recalls a British depression - era Christmas, the last year that his father was physically able to work full - time as a miner:

42 - 43: "Yet despite the cold gloom and half - light of winter, that Christmas (1926) was as close to magical as I can remember from my childhood. We celebrated and defied our poverty, our mourning over Marion and our anxiety for the future with passion and happiness at being in each other's company.

"On Christmas day, my father entertained us by playing carols on the piano while my mother prepared a goose. Our feast had been bought at the expense of my mother's wedding ring that had been put in hawk at the pawnbroker's shop. For a present, I was give a toy train engine that my parents were never able to equal in extravagance during subsequent Christmases. In the years that followed, my sister and I would speak of that Christmas as if we had received the riches of Croesus from our parents, because it was one of the last moments that we remembered our family being truly happy."

112: "And even though times were rough, he [my father] tried to make the most out of family life. I remember the excitement of once seeing a Christmas panto, or going to the seaside with my family. I remember in particular one bank holiday outing to Southport." [Where Gerry and I, along with Gerry's parents, took Ben and Sam several times to see the panto; and Gerry before them; and Gerry's mother before him!]


2. In I, Keturah, Ruth Wolff (b 1932, Massachusetts) writes of a Christmas somewhere in rural America, but not too far from a city, sometime between the WW I & WW II, from the perspective of an orphaned teenaged girl, who has at long last been taken in by a loving, elderly couple:

74: "I shall always remember my first Christmas at the Dennys'. Late in November Mrs. Denny baked her fruitcakes. Candied fruit was snipped into tiny pieces walnuts and hickory nuts we had gathered in the October woods were cracked and shelled; the heavy dough was stirred with big, wooden spoon in an earthenware mixing bowl lined with tiny cracks of age. while the cakes were baking the house was charged with a wonderful spicy odor. Coming in from the cold outdoors and smelling the cakes rising in the oven was to sniff of an exciting time to come.


"Mrs. Wayburn came over to help with the cookies . . . we rolled out the floured dough and cut it in the shapes of stars, wreaths and animals, sprinkling the tops with pink sugar, cinnamon drops and raisins . . . ."

My Pink & Red Sugar Cats from Christmas 2011
Photo ~ January 4, 2012

75: "Reading was put aside as we pored over mail - order catalogues. Mrs. Denny would slyly let Mr. Denny know what she wanted by lingering over a certain page. In the same way he made his desires known to her. . . . The Dennys had bought clothes for me . . . warm dresses, a coat, shoes, three pairs of lisle stockings, underwear, and a green felt hat. The morning the boxes arrived, I tried everything on for Mrs. Denny, who saw that it fit and approved. . . ."

76: "Two days before Christmas, Mr. Denny and I went out to the woods to cut a tree for the bay window in the parlor. There was a light snow on the ground. Mr. Denny whistled as we walked through the snowy woods, his cheeks rosy, an ax over his shoulder. He knew the tree he wanted. He had not taken it the year before, wanting it to grow a bit more.

"Surrounded by the snow, the fir tree stood strong and beautiful in the winter afternoon. Mr. Denny gently touched the feathery branches. I could see he hated to cut it down.

" 'But think of the pleasure it will give us,' he said, having to have a reasonable excuse to take it from its native woods. . . .

" 'I'm sure this tree never dreamed it would grow up to be a Christmas
tree . . . . ' "



78: "After the tree was set up in the bay window, we popped corn, strung it, and wound it around the branches. Mrs. Denny brought out a box of ornaments she kept from year to year, carefully unwrapping them from tissue paper, and Mr. Denny and I hung them on the tree. Last of all, the little candle holders were clamped on the tips of the branches and a red candle placed inside each one. Just at dark on Christmas Eve Mr. Denny touched a match to each candle. When they were all lit the little green tree was more beautiful than it had been in the snowy woods. Its candles burned twice, once on the branches and again in the windows. I thought how proud the little tree must feel standing there with it strings of popcorn, its glistening ornaments, its reflected candles It had come out of the lonely woods where it had been showered by rain, warmed by sun, decked with winter's snow where it had shivered in the sharp cold holding up its branches under the darkest sky. And I felt a kinship toward the tree, its origin shrouded in mystery as my own."

Lights shining twice, on the branches, in the windows!
Photo ~ December 12, 2011

80: "The basement of the church was hung with red and green crepe paper. In the center of the room stood a great tree lighted with white candles. Around it the folk of the countryside gathered and sang carols, while the candles brightly burned and reflected on their upturned faces. The voices rose until it seemed as if the ceiling would be lifted by their joyful praise. around the tree stood men who wrestled with the earth from dawn to dusk, women who spent their lives in hot kitchens, in cleaning big, old - fashioned farmhouses, in rearing children; old folks with lined faces hand relieved of the reins of work; young people who would follow in their parents' footsteps, others who would go beyond the limits of their birthplace to seek their fortunes, who would never spend another Christmas Eve around the big tree at the church; wide - eyed children clinging to grown - up hands, trying to catch the words of the songs; babies soundly sleeping in strong arms."


3. In The Skeptical Feminist: Discovering the Virgin, Mother, and Crone, Barbara G. Walker (b. 1930, Philadelphia) describes the "typical middle - class American Christmases" of her youth:

45: " . . . not unique, not sacred, not particularly religious. They could easily be criticized as commercial, and overindulgent. My mother used to say, 'Christmas is for the children.' "

This post, with further excerpts from Walker,
to be continued in January . . .

Friday, November 11, 2016

Narratives of Resistance

Wounded Angel (1903) ~ Hugo Simberg (1873 - 1917)
Museum of Finnish Art, Helsinki



1. Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
(first published 1947; English translation 2009)

"But she will keep her self - respect.
Then that will have been her attainment in life,
keeping her self - respect."
(44)

In this narrative of heroic resistance to Hitler, Fallada deftly weaves the true story of law - abiding model German citizens Otto and Elise Hampel into a compelling, distressing novel about Otto and Anna Quangel and their small circle of relatives, acquaintances, and co-workers. After the loss of their brother / son, the compliant, unassuming Hampels / Quangels become convinced that loved ones are dying in vain. And so begins their understated project of resistance, scattering postcards throughout Berlin: "German people wake up!" "Hitler's regime will bring no peace." "Hitler's war is the worker's death!" "Free Press! Why suffer war and death for the Hitler plutocracy?"

Their undertaking mystifies the Gestapo for two years (1940 - 42) before they are apprehended and sentenced to hanging. The following passages occur near the end of the novel, when Otto is imprisoned along with the musician Dr. Reichhardt, and they ponder the course their lives have taken and the impact of their resistance effort:

429 - 30: " 'I sometimes think now, Doctor, about the gifts I had no ideas I had. It's only since meeting you, since coming to this death row, that I understand how much I've missed out on in my life.'

'It's like that for everyone. Everyone facing death, especially premature death, like us, will be kicking themselves about each wasted hour.'

'But it's different for me, Doctor, I always thought it was enough if I didn't mess anything up. And now I learn that there are loads of other things I could have done: play chess, be kind to people, listen to music, go to the theater. You know, Doctor, if I were granted one wish before my death, it would be to see you with your baton conducting a big symphony orchestra. I'm so curious to see it, and find out my reaction to it.'

'No one can develop every side of themselves, Quangel. Life is so rich. You would only have spread yourself too thin. You did your job and were a man of integrity. When your were at liberty, Quangel, you had everything. You wrote your postcards.'

'Yes, but they didn't do any good, Doctor! I wished the earth would swallow me up when Inspector Escherich told me that of the 285 postcards I wrote, 267 went straight to him! Only eighteen not handed in! And those eighteen didn't do any good, either!'

'Who can say? At least you opposed evil. You weren't corrupted. You and I and the many locked up here, and many more in other places of detention, and tens of thousands in concentration camps -- they're all resisting, today, tomorrow.'

'Yes, and then they kill us, and what good did our resistance do?'

'Well, it will have helped us to feel that we behaved decently till the end. And much more, it will have helped people everywhere, who will be saved for the righteous few among them, as it says in the Bible. . . . As it was, we all acted alone, we were caught alone, and every one of us will have to die alone. But that doesn't mean the we are alone, Quangel, or that our deaths will be in vain. Nothing in this world is done in vain, and since we are fighting for justice against brutality, we are bound to prevail in the end.'

'. . . You want to remain brave and strong; everything that keeps you brave and strong is good, just as everything that makes you weak and doubtful, such as brooding, is bad.' "

*************

2. Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen
(first published 1947; English translation 1970, 1979, 2000)

“Really, this people, only yesterday so
intelligent and discerning, seems to have
been overcome by a disease of the mind.
They now believe everything they are told,
provided it is done with sufficient aplomb.”
(174)

In connection with Every Man Dies Alone I can't help thinking of the wartime narrative of wealthy landowner Fritz Reck, who -- like the Quangels / Hampels -- found a way, in the midst of despair to maintain his self - respect. Reck's very privileged and well-connected life is somewhat different than most of the WW II accounts I've read over the years. Still, the Nazis got him in the end because he bad - mouthed the government and wouldn't kowtow to the most powerful.

He was a backward looking man with a pastoral vision of cows in the meadow and virgins dancing at the crossroads (Gerry's phrase to describe a similarly misguided perception of Ireland). Of course, he could afford an anti-progressive stance because the old ways had been good to the landed gentry. In that way, I couldn't share his politics, since I usually have to align myself with the working class when it comes to the benefits of revolution. However, I agreed with him and found him wisely gazing into the future when he observed that petroleum and the advent of the automobile (big government, big auto) would ultimately do way more damage to civilization than the abuse of alcohol. If he could see the world today he really would despair. [See "A Horse Is At Least Human" & The Front Porch of My Life]

**************

Gerry shared this book with his father,
who passed it on to his friend and neighbor
James White, who wrote the following response:

"I have always been interested in Germany -- their stamps, language and history. I had never heard of Friedrich Reck -- odd as the diary is a rare interesting account of life and conditions in Germany. It was dangerous to keep such a frank account and took a lot of courage.

I am sure much of the material has been incorporated into the documentaries, such as those frequently shown on aspects of Hilter on Freeview TV, but I have never noticed an acknowledgement of Friedrich Reck.

The heartfelt invective regularly featured against the regime is quite difficult to appreciate -- a bit of flaunting of his classical education and superiority socially and otherwise, so I do not think he exactly qualifies as a saint, although his death was no doubt heroic and honourable.

He was exactly the opposite of what I would support in many ways -- a conservative, a monarchist, an aristocrat, an elitist. It was quite amusing to me that the worst he could say of Hitler was that he had once lived in rented room at an unfashionable address! That is how people not born to privilege have to live while on the way up!

Although he prides himself on the accuracy of his facts, he is quite frequently wrong, as Paul Rubens points out in the notes illustrating the danger of gossip -- even from people who claim to be eye - witnesses. I was surprised at how people in his elevated circles knew of Eva Braun at an earlier date than I thought -- most Germans did not know (or care) of her existence -- and Reck seems to have been in the right place to report at the right time: Munich at the birth of the 'movement'; Berlin and Vienna later; and to have had embassy connections in Russia.

I was pleased to read a little of Sophie Scholl ( mentioned p 178), a young girl (18 or 19, I think) who had converted from Lutheranism to Catholicism and showed the highest moral objections to Nazism -- quite fearless and coherent -- a heroine, a patriot, and a saint which any country would be proud to own as a daughter. Traudl Junge, who was one of Hitler's private secretaries and in the Berlin bunker when he died, said that she had excused herself as too young to see the evil that Hitler was doing to Germany until after the war when she read Sophie Scholl, who was younger than she was -- and knew fully."


*************

3. All the Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr

Thanks to my friend Katy Bunder for loaning me this book
(and for initially inspiring me -- eight years ago! --
to start a book blog and keep it going).

A novel of and for the senses -- a young French girl named Marie - Laure who cannot see, a young German radio communications expert named Werner, a priceless gleaming jewel that can curse or bless -- called the Sea of Flames, miniature models of complex cities, so many hiding spots, voices from the past. In this dual odyssey of compliance and resistance, of connection and coincidence, of place and time, Doerr brings Marie - Laure and Werner at last to the same Here and Now.

Of the numerous acts of resistance described by Doerr, the most ennobling occurs at Werner's military school when his classmate Frederick declines to participate in the enforced torture of a prisoner who has been tied to a stake on a cold night and doused repeatedly with water until he freezes.

228 - 29: "The water keeps coming. The prisoner's face empties. He slumps over the ropes . . .

The buckets make a muted, frozen clanking as they are refilled. The sixteen - year - olds finish. The fifteen - year - olds finish. The cheers lose their gusto and a pure longing to flee floods Werner. Run. Run. . . .

When his turn arrives, Werner throws the water like all the others and the splash hits the prisoner in the chest and a perfunctory cheer rises. He joins the cadets waiting to be released. Wet boots, wet cuffs; his hands have become so numb, they do not seem his own.

Five boys later, it is Frederick’s turn. Frederick, who clearly cannot see well without his glasses. Who has not been cheering when each bucketful of water finds its mark. Who is frowning at the prisoner as though he recognizes something there.

And Werner knows what Frederick is going to do.

Frederick has to be nudged forward by the boy behind him. The upperclassman hands him a bucket and Frederick pours it out on the ground. . . .

The night steams, the stars burn, the prisoner sways, the boys watch, the commandant tilts his head. Frederick pours the water onto the ground. 'I will not.' "
*************

When Gerry and I visited the Algonquin Restaurant
in New York City last Christmas (2015), Doerr's novel
was one of the featured reading selections in the window:


Monday, October 31, 2016

Coordinates

I like it when I order two new books and the covers kind of go together!
~ Thanks to Ben McCartney for the recommendations. ~
Among other things, this book "tries to unravel the essential paradox of the entire episode: that under - regulated markets ran badly off the tracks and the government rushed in to save the day, yet the government emerged as a villain" (xvii).

I'm surprised that Blinder would find this surprising.

"Can we prevent asset - price bubbles in the future? Here, unfortunately, the answer is mostly no. . . . No, while we may be lucky enough to nip a few bubbles in the bud, we will never stamp them out. The herding behavior that produces them may well be programmed into our DNA" (47).
What? This is supposed to be a book about using your thinking cap! "Herding behavior? Maybe. But, lets be honest, we're also talking about "greed." Instead of blaming "our DNA," how about offering some reality - based suggestions for behavior modification.
from After the Music Stopped:
The Financial Crisis, The Response, and the Work Ahead

Alan S. Blinder, American economist, Princeton Univ. (b 1945)

******************

"Custom was the keystone of life. . . . the underlying deep continuity that represents the nature of England itself. . . .

"The ancient roads, the witnesses of prehistoric life and travel, still persisted in the medieval landscape. But they were joined by other highways in the historical period. Many winding lanes between farmstead and farmstead, many sunken hollow - ways leading to the village, deep - set and drowsy on a summer afternoon, were constructed in the twelfth century
" (7, 119).

from Foundation: The History of England
From Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors
*
by Peter Ackroyd, British cultural historian (b 1949)
******************

I had seen the photos . . .
always with autumn colors in the background,
as if the school were based not in a town
but in a month, October
(81).

from Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn, American author and screenwriter (b 1971)

I love it when my reading material matches my outfit!
~ Panama Bag, Tucson, AZ ~ October 2014 ~

P.S.
*Ben also recommends the sequel(L)!
And, should you need any help with your reading (R):


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Religion and Politics

Cover photo by Corbis

Continuing last month's focus on politics and religion, here are two more titles, both recommended over the summer by my brother, The Rev. Bruce L. Carriker.

Beginning with Religion:

The Preaching Life
by
Barbara Brown Taylor
~ (b. September 21, 1951)

53: "Ours is an historic faith. We believe in a God who acts in time, who began acting long before we came upon the scene and who will continue acting long after we are gone from it, which means that our present trust is sustained by memory on the one hand and hope on the other."

56: "The disparity between the vision and the reality was wrenching, like looking at a wasteland through a window painted with flowers . . . the reality had not yet caught up with God's vision, but it would." [As in "Science does have all the answers . . . we [just] don't have all the science."]

57 - 58: "I did not have to settle for memorizing . . . or reciting . . . I could take the text apart and put it back together again without harming it, ask questions and challenge the answers without being struck by lightning. The word of God turned out to be plenty strong enough to withstand my curiosity. Every time I poked it, it poked me back. Every time I wrenched it around so I could see inside, it sprang back into shape the moment I was through. In short, the Bible turned out not to be a fossil under glass but a thousand different things — a mirror, a scythe, a hammock, a lantern, a pair of binoculars, a high diving board, a bridge, a goad — all of them offering themselves to me to be touched and handled and used."

62: "Like a lifeline strung from the beginning of time to the end, [the Bible shows] us a way through all the storms of culture, nature, and history . . . the way to the Word beyond all our words, in whose presence we shall be made eloquent at last."

67 - 68: "There are no solo sacraments. We need one another. . . . If, in touching or being touched by these ordinary things, we believe that we are being touched by God, then we can no longer draw a clear line between the secular and the sacred in our lives. Every created thing is a potential messenger, sent to teach us more about our relationship with God. . . . Sacraments are our road maps home. God may not need them, but we do."

69 - 70: ". . . the word of God calls for a response with some human daring in it."

71: "When I say "We believe . . . " I count on that to cover what I cannot believe on my own right now. When my faith limps, I lean on the faith of the church, letting "our" faith suffice until "mine" returns. Later, when I am able to say, "We believe . . . " with renewed confidence, I know that I am filling in for others who are indisposed for the time being, as they filled in for me. My decision to say the creed at all is a decision to trust those who have gone before me, embracing the faith they have commended to me."

74: "At first it looks like the door out of the church, but as we walk through it we discover that it is the door into the world, where Christ may yet be found and followed."

53: "That is the God who walks toward me in the Bible -- not only the God of the past but also the God of the present and the future."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Moving on to Politics (and Religion):

Not forgetting that in fact, way back in 2012,
my brother suggested that we all read this one!

Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction
by
David Kuo ~ (June 26, 1968 – April 5, 2013)

David Kuo started working with George Bush (the Second) in 1998, as deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. But not until 2003 does Kuo draw the conclusion that "The president had made great promises but they hadn't been delivered on. Worse than that, the White House hadn't tried. Worse than that, we had used people of faith to further our political agenda and hadn't given them anything in return" (243). Kuo is dismayed by the various so called "compassionate measures" that had hardly any effect, positive or negative, on anyone but somehow made it seem to the religious right that the George W. Bush Administration had just done something generous for his followers.
As for Bush himself, Kuo writes, "I was surprised by the brazen deception and I was crushed by it, too. That same passion for the poor I first heard in Austin was in his voice and in his eyes. But the passion was a passion for talking about compassion, not fighting for compassion" (249).

Kuo's narrative is revealing, but why does it take him so long to realize these truths? How could he remain deluded for so long? If only I could reach back over the years, and share with David Kuo this excellent advice from Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey: "When people show you who they are, believe them." He could have saved himself a lot time.

Last Month's Post:
Harry Leslie Smith (Politics) & Barbara Walker (Religion)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Politics and Religion

We all know that Miss Manners, Linus, and nearly everyone else advises us to avoid discussions of politics and religion, but -- throwing caution to the wind -- here are a couple of eye - opening titles from my more serious summer reading.

First, politics:

Book at amazon
Photo at thinkupstream.com


I have been a fan of Harry since reading his remarkable 2013 essay "This year I will wear the poppy for the last time." Last month, I took some time to read his Last Stand (you can read it in a day) and felt that I had discovered a latter day Orwell. I like Harry's politics, courage, and honesty in speaking from the heart of a lifetime of experience. I agree when he writes that "It is both anti - democratic and immoral when life doesn't get materially and socially better for the majority. . . . For over a generation, British society worked together for one common aim: measured prosperity for everyone. To achieve it, free health care and education were provided to every citizen to even out the playing field of life" (105, 124).

Any time that "social democracy is placed jeopardy," Harry speaks up on behalf of the populace (155). He is living proof that aging does not lead inevitably to regressive politics. He observes that "Many people who are younger than me presume that because of my age I have a default setting which makes me, among other things, a lover of dogs, suspicious of immigrants, wary of welfare benefit recipients and distrusting of those who possess piercings and / or multiple tattoos" (66). But no! They'd be wrong!

When one of Harry's younger relatives points out that "The world has changed a lot since you were a boy, "Harry draws the opposite conclusion: "Though I didn't want to disagree with him, it seems to me that the problem is that it hasn't changed enough" (72).

Of the elderly, Harry writes, " . . . we are not so different to you. I still have many of your familiar worries, from how to pass the time of day to how to pay my rent. Like everyone else, I grumble about money. I think I have too little; that my pension is shrinking while the cost of living is rising. Like you, I have some regrets. Why didn't I ever learn to swim or speak French? Why didn't I buy that computer stock? Like all of us, I worry about my children, despite the fact that they are halfway along in their own lives" (8).

He provides a voice of reason amidst all the nonsense: "When I watch the news of television -- and it doesn't matter which broadcaster: BBC, Sky, CNN, Fox or CBC -- it all sounds tired, deflated, as if it had been written by a lobbyist or government policy maker. It seems contrived and fake, like the newsreaders are in on a joke that eludes their public. I can be in Yorkshire, Albufeira, New York or Toronto, but the message is always the same: health care is too costly, education must be about job training, immigration is too high [and so forth]. It can't ever be about making a more informed citizen because culture is too costly in a world content with scripted reality television shows and blockbuster zombie movies. . . . I will never understand why the daily rags castigate the poor and label them scroungers with a vigour that should be reserved for corporations . . . Yet these voices that ring so loudly are media creations, and only exist to create discord, mayhem and hatred . . . " (18, 9, 127).

Harry Leslie Smith
follow on facebook ~ listen to interview

Now for some religion:

“The Bible is a human product:
it tells us how our religious ancestors saw things,
not how God sees things. "
Marcus J. Borg

"It is not Christianity, but priestcraft
that has subjected woman as we find her.
The Church and State have been united,
and it is well for us to see it so."
Lucretia Mott

"Whatever the Bible may be made to do in Hebrew or Greek,
in plain English it does not exalt and dignify woman. . . .
we say that these degrading ideas of woman
emanated from the brain of man,
while the church says that they came from God."
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

"In practice the Mother of God or Queen of Heaven continued to occupy the same position in the Christian pantheon as in the earlier pagan one, even when churchmen officially declared her nondivine (though somewhat mysteriously miraculous). Medieval Mariolatry provided some degree of comfort for downtrodden women, although it could not assuage their pain more than just a little, since churchmen declared Mary exempt from the supposed crimes and disadvantages of mortal women. Mary was sexless, sinless, and absorbed in her relational role of mother to the exclusion of all other roles. The God who had impregnated her without pleasure had usurped all her earlier functions, such as creatress, lawgiver, judge, protectress, nurturer, spirit of nature, inventor of the civilized arts. The church insisted that the multitudes who worshipped her as divine were not really doing any such thing, simply because the church had forbidden them to view her as a true goddess."
from The Skeptical Feminist:
Discovering the Virgin, Mother, and Crone

by Barbara Walker

~ also an influential knitting expert ~

Next Month's Post:
Barbara Brown Taylor (Religion) & David Kuo (Politics)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

443 Robinson

"Our moments have blotted out theirs.
Maybe this is a necessary element of domestic living --
maybe it's the only way we can co - exist comfortably
with each other's past lives, each other's ghosts. . . .
it's not really our house at all is it . . .
It's like we're just the top layer.
And one day there'll be another layer right on top of us, squashing us down. . . . There are whole pieces of the past that lie just around the last corner,
closer perhaps then we'd like to think.
We may choose to forget this, but the house doesn't.
The house has seen it, done it, felt it all before."


from
Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House
by Julie Myerson (23, 16, 46)
~ see previous posts: The Top Layer & Our Island Home ~

******************

Indeed, some talented people
have preceded my family in this house!


Novel by Charlotte S. Scarcelli
Illustration by her friend Marcia Smith - Wood


Seascape by Ralph Scarcelli

Landscape by Ralph Scarcelli

History of Purdue

Purdue interveiw with Robert W. Topping:
"West Lafayette. I lived on Robinson Street. As an aside, I think my dad bought that house in 1911 for three thousand dollars. They recently remodeled it and it recently sold for four hundred thousand. It was a big, big yard.

"Had to walk to school. We walked home for lunch. That’s a long way from up on Grant Street, clear down to Robinson and back."
~ see previous posts: House Sisters & House With A Past ~