On my own in Sedalia

Rediscovering Sedalia.

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Looking South on Ohio from Amtrak

Amtrak comes into Sedalia on the north side of town. The area around the terminal looks surprisingly empty. I’d expected a more urban ambiance. I knew I had to move my back pack clad body several blocks down Ohio Street to get near my various destinations. Even though this was about 1:00 p.m., no taxis were waiting, no obvious bus stops were present. My feet were the first to realize what the rest of me was resisting.

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Drawing of 1894 Pettis County Court House which burned in 1920

One thing for which I was grateful was the weather: it was just a beautiful, mild, late spring day. Back in Scott Joplin’s day, this end of Ohio Street was alive. There was the train station up north on Pacific Street, where I had just come from, and Main Street is just one block south of Pacific. Down south a few blocks, there was the Pettis County Court House, built the very year that Scott Joplin moved to Sedalia. The Courthouse was on Ohio Street between Fourth Street and Fifth Street.

From Wikipedia: the railway reached Sedalia in January 1861.[15] Sedalia’s early prosperity was directly related to the railroad industry. Many jobs were associated with men maintaining tracks and operating large and varied machine shops run by both the Missouri Pacific and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad lines. The Missouri-Kansas & Texas Railroad was widely known as the “KATY,” from its “K-T” stock exchange code.

You wouldn’t know it today, but the area around the train stop was bustling during the Gay Nineties. And part of that bustle was a cradle to ragtime.

From Eric Brightwell’s blog: East Main Street was the location of Sedalia’s sporting district, where townies and railroad workers alike went after the sun went down in search of sport at bars and clubs like the Williams Brothers‘ The Maple Leaf Club, Tony Williams‘s The 400 Dance Club, and Hustlers’ Hall and guest houses run by Nellie Hall and Mrs. L. Wright. At these venues, the aforementioned respectable and talented ragtime pianists (and others, like Otis Saunders) found employment, earning up to $1.50 a night (plus tips).

I hadn’t walked very far until—in the middle of the fairly bare landscape around Second Street—I encountered an imposing mural of Scott Joplin playing the piano, which was located on the north side of the building at 205 S. Ohio Street.

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1994 Herd Mural of Scott Joplin at 205 S. Ohio in Sedalia

I didn’t know it at the time, but the mural is by Stanley James Herd, and it has been there since 1994. Further cogitating and, heh heh, web surfing led to a deeper appreciation of this mural. Apparently, the mural was commissioned as part of the Centennial of the start of Joplin’s six year tenure in Sedalia in 1894.

From Waymarking.com: Joplin arrived in Sedalia, Missouri, in 1894 and played in the Williams Brothers Maple Leaf Club; his famous “Maple Leaf Rag” (1899) took on the name of that club. His moniker, “The Entertainer,” printed on the club business card, also became the name of one of his famous works. He took a music theory course at George R. Smith College in Sedalia around 1896 to learn how to notate the complicated rhythms of piano ragtime. This skill enabled his music to reach a wider audience through publication.

Across Ohio Street from this fine mural is a vacant lot which contains one of the outdoor venues for the Festival called Gazebo Park. As I walked by, some performer was playing, but as I had a schedule to keep, I just listened and then walked on, thankful that I had such a nice day for toting this back pack.

One block on down at Third Street, Ohio Street takes a slight dog leg to the left. Local legend has it that the original street followed a cow path, but more informed sources report that the streets to the north of Third were platted to be parallel to the railroad tracks, while Third Street and streets to the south were platted true east-west. I was now approaching my destination. My plan had been to go to the 2:00 p.m. Cradle of Ragtime concert at the Liberty Center, but if I had time, to first have lunch.

Right at the northeast corner of Ohio Street and Fourth Street is the famed Bothwell Hotel and Spa. I had dined in the hotel restaurant in 2008 with friends, and since here I was walking past it, I decided that I did have time for lunch. You saw the exterior of the Bothwell in my previous post on this blog. The interior is also loaded with elegant but simple turn-of-the-20th Century charm.

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Panorama of the Main Lounge at the Bothwell Hotel and Spa

This 360˚ panorama, taken from the lounge, doesn’t show the elegant crystal chandelier above. Just past the desk to the left is the restaurant. My turkey club sandwich and pork soup was good and inexpensive. I though my polite and attentive server—Mary was perhaps 40—deserved a 40% tip, and so I added $4.00 to the bill.

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Looking South on Ohio towards the Main Festival Site

I step out of the Bothwell Hotel and find myself on the southwest corner of Ohio Street and Fourth Street looking south past the Pettis County Court House.

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Stark Pavillion

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Liberty Center and Concert Hall

On Fifth Street off Ohio are the two main music venues of the Festival: the Stark Pavillion to the left, and the Liberty Center Association for the Arts to the right. I’m headed to the Liberty Center for some fabulous ragtime music.

To first time visitors, the Liberty Center presents a bewildering catacomb-like maze of ramps, ticket booths, rooms, hallways, display rooms, a snack bar, galleries, sales of ragtime periphernalia, and eventually, a large concert room with the lowest seats known to humankind. Though I had bought tickets to four concerts in advance, I only received an email receipt. So at 1:57 p.m. I retrieved my ticket for the Cradle of Ragtime Concert from the lady who had volunteered to work at the window. I followed the loosely packed crowd past stacks of programs and brochures, past the room full of tee shirts, CDs, books, past the galleries and displays of artwork by such ragtime artists as Scott Kirby, and on to the concert venue itself. Of course, my seat is clear across the room, so I make my way across a tangle of wires on the floor in front of the front row to the other side, climb the stairs to row G, and settle into my comfortable but very low seat. The show is about to begin.

But next, a digression: why do I love ragtime? …

 

Jim’s Jolly Junkets

One way an almost octogenarian caregiver created a space to be himself.

It had been 9 years since I had a true respite from Stephen’s caregiving. Months of preparation went in to my get-away. It has been tough for Stephen: operation after operation, stroke after stroke, leaving him only able to walk with a walker. To be clear, Stephen is no pathetic creature; his indomitable spirit continues to bless those lucky enough to interact with him. Likewise, I am no pathetic creature: I rise to the caregiving, and I continue to create my life.

It has been tempting just to continue this Siamese twin existence. Even given infirmities and confinements, we aren’t just existing, we’re thriving, with full participation in various communities. But I’ve gradually come to a significant conclusion. I must occasionally disconnect the flesh and sinew binding us together, and solitary Jym must fly on their own—for a day, for a weekend, for … whatever. Any primary caregiver for the severely disabled knows this fact. When you take up the slack in another person’s capabilities, you eventually loose capabilities of your own. Or at least, you’re just not sure any more what it is like to just be you.

Stephen is on board with this. Maybe I had to make a few loud noises about it; maybe I had to explain more than once what I just put into certain inadequate words. But he gets it. I need time away. So we moved to an independent living community, we set up a modest program of support for his daily living activities, and we employed a man to come stay overnight with him in my absence. Stephen jokingly named these amorphous absences “Jim’s Jolly Journeys,” and my 19th Century double immediately redubbed them, “Jim’s Jolly Junkets.” Thomas Hardy would approve. But what junket, indeed, would start fixing whatever was shaking my solitary bones?

Gradually a plan emerged. I would go once again to the International Scott Joplin Festival held annually in Sedalia, Missouri at the end of May. It had been exactly ten years since my last visit. I would take Amtrak to Sedalia. The last exciting adventure for me on a train happened when I was fifteen. My friend, Will Lutz, and I took the train from Marietta, Ohio to New York City, accompanied by Will’s eighteen year old brother, Richard. My parents wisely set me free for that escapade. That was in 1955. So I knew that under the right conditions there were romance and adventure on the rails.

I guess I’m not the only almost eighty year old who has a yen to recapture his younger, footloose and fancy free self. I thought, well, there’s this Amtrak station here in Kirkwood less than half a mile away. I walk that distance all the time. I’ll just go for a couple of days, and I’ll take everything I need in a backpack. I’ll go to Sedalia, and when I need to get around, I’ll just take the city buses. Or a taxi, if necessary. I’ll be fine.

Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories

So I made the preparations, the hotel reservations, the tickets to concerts and seminars, studing the maps, the history, the restaurants. It did not go as planned. Sedalia, you know, has a lot of charm if you know where to look for it. It’s the county seat of Pettis County, so it had a magnificent two-story Greek Revial style courthouse with towering dome built in 1884. Unfortunately, that architectural phenomenon was consumed by a fire in 1920 that was started by some roof repairman with a nervous blowtorch. A more modern version of a Greek Revival courthouse was put up in 1923. The picture I snapped of it will never make it into an art book, but it does show nicely the more modern courthouse, the small town festival atmosphere of the ragtime gathering and the revered Bothwell Hotel in the background, with its turn-of-the-century ambiance.

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I didn’t make it into the Bothwell Hotel. Again. Even in January, the hotel was filled for the duration of the festival. Same thing happened in 2008. Instead, I was able to book two nights at the State Fair Best Western on the southern edge of town. That was ok, I thought, because festival participants often party out there until the wee hours, including excellent music in abundance. How was I to know the rules were changed this year?

The days and weeks and months went by, the preparations, completed, and I found myself standing at the Amtrak station in Kirkwood, Missouri, with only my $26 coach ticket in my hand and a back pack on my back, and a heart seething with anticipation for my adventure. This Amtrak station in Kirkwood is also a local treasure. Itself an example of Richardson Romanesque architecture, it is set on the south edge of Kirkwood’s downtown area near city hall, a popular plaza with many restaurants, a small park by the tracks, and several blocks of shops, restaurants and a local garden shop called the OK Hatchery.

Got my bag, got my reservation
Spent each dime I could afford
Like a child in wild anticipation
Long to hear that “All aboard”

The line I am taking is the Missouri River Runner, and it runs both west and east in the morning and the evening. One end of the line is in Kansas City, the other is in St. Louis. On any given day, maybe 20 people get on here in Kirkwood, young adults with their bicycles in tow, grandparents and their grandkids, middle aged couples, business people and the occasional bizarrely clad youth with piercings. On this particular day, I politely lined up behind the modest crowd and proceeded to begin Jim’s Jolly Junket #1.

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Finally, after the exciting eternity of planning, I am on the train. Alone. It’s even better on the train than I anticipated. Even though I bought the cheapest fare, coach, the seats are roomy and comfortable on this River Runner, the car is neither empty nor full, the travellers are chatty but respectful, and when the train begins to move, the ride is smooth.  I’m good to go. And then, I have a moment of hesitation/regret.

Seven, that’s the time we leave, at seven
I’ll be waitin’ up for heaven
Countin’ every mile of railroad track
That takes me back

Yep, I am actually leaving Stephen alone—well, without me. More to the point, I’m leaving myself alone, with only a backpack, a scannible ticket clutched in my hand, and fading memories of the last International Ragtime Festival. I consider at a new level of reality that someday, one of us two will be taking the last journey, and the other one will be watching the train leave the station for a final time, never to return.

Never thought my heart could be so ‘yearny’
Why did I decide to roam?
Gotta take that sentimental journey
Sentimental journey home.

I jerk myself out of the maudlin fantasy that had popped up unbidden. This is respite, not a funeral. A uniformed guy comes through with a scanner in his hand, registering the passengers. Being ever the planner, I had asked in the Kirkwood terminal what was the best side of the train to be on for the sake of good views, and was told that going west, the right side of the train had the best views of the Missouri River and generally followed it. This train stopped at Washington, Hermann, and Jefferson City before I got off at Sedalia. There were no spectacular views, but I did see the river about half the time, a path through the trees about half the time, and, of course, the three stops.

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I had decided that I would not read on this trip, it being the first train ride for me in over 50 years. There was, indeed, the kid behind me and the occasional kick of the back seat, but it never reached the annoying level. The woman across the aisle from me was going to Kansas City to visit her grandchildren. An occasional younger passenger, both male and female, made it forward to the club car and returned with sandwiches, snacks or beverages. I survived a visit to the restroom. Only one odd thing happened. About three rows in front of me, a woman spent nearly the entire three hour train ride facing backwards, knees on her seat, arms over the back. Sometimes she talked with the woman behind her, but most of the time, she just looked. It felt like a mild invasion of privacy.

When I wasn’t people watching, I was looking out the window. The woods this time of year are full of honeysuckle and a shrub covered with a creamy white flower I had never had seen before. The brief stops at Washington and Hermann presented intriguing possibilities of a day visit. And then we were pulling into Sedalia. I hopped off the train, backpack affixed, and made it over one block to Ohio Street, which leads in a few blocks south to the town square and principle site of the festival. I took one last somewhat uncertain look back at the terminal. And then I began my adventure in earnest.

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It’s the Patriarchy, Part I: Fundamentalism

In times like these, where there is a revolutionary change in the political order, we need an overview of change that will help us to keep our balance while we struggle to keep from falling. For me, that anchor, structure, overview, whatever you want to call it, is the patriarchy. We might quibble at the meaning of that term, so here is the first sentence of the Wikipedia article on it: “Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.” And while some might also argue about the degree of power males have in the USA, there really can be no reasonable argument about the dominance of patriarchy here. What we are now seeing with the political sweep of the Republican Party in this country is the re-establishing of patriarchy as the dominant means of social control.

So let’s talk about political leadership in a male-dominated society. Remember the  “New World” was created by emissaries of European kings and queens. They took the land from the Native Americans, calling them “savage” and used the dominant military technology of the time to slaughter, subdue, or otherwise corral the indigenous people. That is because the Native Americans fought back, seeing that their way of life was being forcibly replaced by this cruel and conquering flood.

Let us speak also of moral authority. Since patriarchy is all about the acquisition, maintenance and control of property (land and its resources and real estate) and wealth, many times relentless and cruel, people are frequenty subjected to this domination against their will. There is always pushback from the dominated elements of a patriarchal society. One such example is the formation of the United States of America. The colonies were, by and large, but not entirely, populated by religious and political exiles, groups of people whose religious and political practice was at variance with the patriarchal nations from which they emigrated. They banded together, and somehow a miracle emerged, American Democracy. No doubt about it, the founding fathers were themselves patriarchs, by and large. But what they did see was many versions of an essentially patriarchal religion and differing political views vying for safety in numbers in this “New World.”

While they certainly didn’t have eyes to see the immorality of slavery or the proprietization of women, and they didn’t even see alternatives to the gender binary of male and female, they did see that men (then by necessity, heterosexual) should stand as equals when it came to religious and political views. And so this Constitution was written with its system of checks and balances and its First Amendment guarantees. It is important to remember this: the morality enshrined in the Constitution of the USA went beyond the morality implicit in the various religious and political views emergent in the states. It was basically a morality of toleration of many religious and political views for the sake of freedom for each of them. The religious denominations themselves, with exceptions like the Quakers, were intolerant.

And let us tarry with those groups of the original USA founding which were viewed by men as morally inferior: women and slaves. It would be too simple to try to reduce this phenomenon to patriarchal religion, but it would also be too simple to ignore the role of patriarchal religion in creating and maintaining a policy of inferiority of women and non-white races. Roman Catholicism is inherently sexist, so much so, that its theology cannot permit female priests. This is why, Pope Francis, while he gets the essential mercy that the Church must show all of its communicants, he cannot undo the doctrine of the essential subordination of women to men. Jesus Christ, male, is to the feminine church as the husband, male, in a marriage is to his wife. It is an essential, traditional metaphor of the Roman Church. The doctrine of the Virgin Mary, miraculously impregnated by Jahova God, male, even assumed into Heaven directly is part and parcel of Roman Catholic Doctrine. It is the role of the women in the Roman Catholic Church to bear Christian sons just as Mother Mary bore the Son of God. Now I point these things out not to denigrate Catholic belief, only to indicate that the Roman Catholic Church did, does and will continue resist any theology or philosophy that sees women and men as intellectual equals, capable of governing a family, state or country. Also will they continue to resist any concept of same-sex marriage, which tears down the lop-sided Roman Catholic theory of the ideal family. This will not change, and Roman Catholicism would become something different if it were to relinquish this basic, traditional theology.

Similarly, let us recall the evolution of the Baptist Church in the USA. Prior to the Civil War, there was dissention in the American Baptist Church over whether missionaries could be slave-holders. What became the Northern Baptists saw the existence of slavery as an immoral state of affairs. However, the Southern economy, based on the cultivation of cotton and tobacco, which were essential to industry in the USA, could not operate without essentially free labor. Southern (male) plantation owners capitalized the inhabitants of the “Dark Continent,” and justified their actions by seeing Africans as equivalent to beasts, therefore not deserving of considerations of human rights. To be sure, a dignified plantation owner owed his animals and his slaves “good treatment,” but they clearly were his property, to do with as he chose. And let us not forget: there were many cruel plantation owners. This state of affairs led to the split between Northern and Southern Baptists, and additionally to a group of male land owners who simply refused to acknowledge the immorality of slavery. The conflict in these opposing religious viewpoints led to the Civil War, and I am virtually certain that the current white supremicist groups are cultural evolutions of these old divisions embedded in our history. My essential point here is that patriarchal sects from time to time emerge which let the engines of production, wealth and status blind them to basic human rights concerns.

This is not the place to rehearse the sexist and racist moorings of each of the religious denominations that constitute the USA. However, this Wikipedia diagram from the article Religion in the United States shows the relevance of such an analysis for understanding the results of presidential elections.

It seems clear from examining this map that Christian religious denominations constitute at least 50% to 70% of the populations of each of the 50 states. While morality as a human phenomenon is not the exclusive province of any particular Christian denomination—or for that matter, does not require any particular religious belief—many if not most Christians have moral convictions which are founded to some extend on these essentially patriarchal perspectives. Where denominations have patriarchal biases, as in the Southern Baptist and Roman Catholic Churches, these are going to exert both subtle and not so subtle influences on the beliefs of the devout and the not so devout.

The influence of the various Christian denominations, most of them laced with a good dose of patriarchy in their theology, is not by any means the whole story in attempting to understand an impending change in the political order. Notorious pollsters have reported through the media that up to 80% of the evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump. Clearly there is a voter block here, but calling it the “evangelical” Christian vote is not the most helpful and clarifying means of identification. In fact, evangelical Christians as a group can be broken up into subcategories. There are progressive evangelical Christians who advocate for women’s equality, pacifism and social justice (in the 20% that didn’t vote for Donald Trump). A far more telling cut of professed Christians is the degree to which they embrace fundamentalism. Marcus Borg has given a good analysis of religious fundamentalism in Chapter 1 of his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. Paraphrased, here are the six characteristics of a fundamentalist approach to understanding the Bible. Fundamentalism is

  1. literalistic—contemporary fundamentalist Christians are consciously literalistic, in that they believe that the Bible is literally true despite apparent contradictions that such belief implies, e.g. that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old
  2. doctrinal—being a Christian meant believing doctrinal Christianity, e.g. saying and believing the Nicene Creed, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
  3. moralistic—being a Christian means trying to live according to the codes of ethics found in the Bible
  4. patriarchal—using not only “predominantly masculine language for God and people, but also legitimated male-dominated hierarchies in church, society, family.” (p. 12)
  5. exclusivistic—”Christian exclusivism is the insistence that Jesus is the only way of salvation and Christianity is the only true religion.”
  6. afterlife oriented—being a Christian now for the sake of salvation later.

As can be seen, fundamentalism cuts across denominationalism in a telling way, and also for many denominations, represents a right wing.

There are several observations to be made about fundamentalist Christian religion. First and foremost, these are the religious that the Founding Fathers warned us about. In a democracy this kind of inflexible and basically intolerant morality has a right to exist and express itself, but so do other religious viewpoints, intolerant or otherwise. Wise as this separation of church and state may have seemed to our insightful forebearers, it has constantly been under attack by many of the religious groups that it was designed to protect. Many fundamentalist denominations and groups are steadfastly opposed to democracy, understood as liberty and justice for all citizens, and want instead to bring the “Reign of Christ” here on the earth, replacing any secular form of government with “Christian” government, of course, defined exactly as the traditions and leadership of each particular sect or group chooses. I think it will be helpful to explore in depth just why this is so.

A digression on the nature of science is necessary. Nearly every culture had a scientific wing. The Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, and the Arabs, each in turn excelled at learning to use measurement, objectivity and, in a word, rationality, to free their culture to some extent from subjective religious traditions. That is, these cultures, while they still maintained a dominant religious outlook, permitted those within the culture with a “scientific bent” to develop knowledge. By knowledge here, I mean a description of aspects of our world that is produced based on observation and reason. The Romans especially, became expert at developing technology: human applications of science that had practical merit for the lives of the people: roads, dwellings, cities, engines of war. In Western culture, six hundred years of Darker Age and Less Dark Age was replaced by the renaissance. Then Galileo made his telescope, Bacon observed his chickens, and a phenomenal parade of scientifically minded inquirers strode clear into the Twentieth Century, because others came along and stood on the shoulders of these giants. The body of scientific knowledge emerged, saving literally billions of lives, putting us on our nearest neighbor, the moon, and helping us to wage more and more effective war.

However, science, no matter how glorious or dangerous some of us think it is, is not of equal value to everyone. In particular, current fundamentalist thinking in the USA is increasingly hostile to certain particular fruits of scientific inquiry: those that seem to conflict with beliefs fashioned long ago and far away, but that are a matter of deeply held faith. Christian fundamentalism believes that every word in the Christian Bible, even though it appears to be filtered through the minds and pens of thousands of sages, prophets and disciples of Christ, is somehow the Word of God. Well, not just somehow, each particular sect, no matter how divergent are their beliefs from one another, believe that is their unique traditions and practices that truly distill the Word of God into this world. In the Western World, and particularly in the USA, the contest between fundamentalist Christian religion and science grew to enormous proportions with its opposition to the theory of evolution. We need not rehearse those long-standing arguments here. Later, the entire field of cosmology, sketching out a Creation that has taken 13.8 billion years, seems to Christian fundamentalists to be patently in conflict with their particular theologically constructed view of the world. Humans rode on the backs of dinosaurs, they think. It all happened in less than 10,000 years.

It is certainly understandable how such doctrine developed. There is an actual history to the development of Christian fundamentalism in the USA, arriving fairly late in the 19th Century. But on a more general level, patriarchy has long been associated with authoritarianism and “might makes right” philosophy. Science actually requires a certain amount of humility and willingness to suspend certitude in order to conduct experiment and observation in order to have a more firm basis for one’s belief. Humanism requires tolerance of divergent thinking and a commitment to peaceful co-existence. Fundamentalism as defined above by Borg is incompatible with the values of both scientific thinking and humanistic thinking. Each of the six characteristics;  literalistic, doctrinal, moralistic, patriarchal, exclusivistic, and after-life orientation, each of these mitigate against scientific and humanistic thinking. Literalism mitigates against scientific method, which requires that each time we find an observation that does not conform to current scientific theory, we must reconsider the validity of the theory itself. The fundamentalist cannot possibly reconsider that any part “God’s word” recorded so long ago, could possibly have been invalid. Likewise, doctrinality prohibits the introduction or assimilation of differing points of view. And a life lived moralistally, according to moral principles, is actually a desirable feature of human existence, but when the moral principles being followed are both questionable and not subject to change, this mitigates against moral maturity and growth. Patriarchal thought and life, being dedicated to maintaining social control by men, underplays the fact that such a lifestyle is actually culturally constructed and undervalues much of the potential of each individual. It is the exclusivistic characteristic of fundamentalist thought that is the most destructive and harmful of all, the assumption that only the true believer of such a literal and specific doctrine is in contact with the truth. Humanism may tolerate fundamentalism, but fundamentalism cannot by nature tolerate humanism. Thus even democracy is a threat to fundamentalism, which seeks to overthrow democracy and set up an intolerant theocracy. And finally, the after-life focus of fundamentalism is antithetical to valuing the Earth as it currently exists, and results in either denigrations of alleged dangers to the planet, or even worse, “good, bring on the rapture.”

Of course, in firmly believing in what they take their theology to imply, these fundamentalist are doing nothing but excercising their Constitutional right to believe as they wish. Would that this situation be so innocuous and free of difficulty. Unfortunately, this denial of science and humanism has had  what I take to be not only dangerous, but probably fatal consequences for the history of the human race. In this country, we used to have science as an arbiter of disputes, at least moreso than we do now. This is no longer the case. No matter what the consensus of experts, who do tend to dispute some of the established fact and theory, fundamentalism always is able to produce an “expert” which supports the facts their literalistic interpretation of the truth seems to support. And so here we are at the beginning of the 21st Century with the scientific knowledge and emerging cyberspace culture to begin to construct a true Garden of Eden, the Earth itself, and instead, because of political control by science-denying political leaders, we are seeing the grassy carpet of the planet being pulled right out from under us. We have literally shit in our own nest to the point of making it uninhabitable, eventually by anything other than the simplest forms of bacterial life.

Is there anything we can do to reverse this self-destruction fueled in part by self-deluding blind faith? Possibly not. That is the first place I have arrived. It may indeed be too late. But then again, we cannot even predict a few months into the future many of the events that emerge, and no one can say for sure that the end of human life on this planet has been determined and fixed. The question for me becomes, how do I spend the brief rest of my life between possible annihilation and possible salvation?

There are different levels of existence, and all of us interface to some extent with all of these levels. I speak of events global, national, regional, state, city, neighborhood, and personal. Throughout the history of this country and the world, many wars have been fought in the name of protecting democracy. People felt called to support those wars. Such a decision is so personal, I cannot find it in my heart to question those who chose to support war. Many would claim that I owe my freedom to those people who chose to participate in battle. However, my admiration goes to the tireless and relatively rare peace workers. There can never be Peace on Earth until most people refuse to do battle. And so—especially since we human beings may have a 1000 years or less of existence according to noted scientist, Stephen Hawking—I choose to stand for peace.

A corollary of this conclusion has to do with how I choose to live in a world where politically significant chunks of the population ascribe to various versions of fundamentalist thought. I choose to speak my truth, but in a non-violent manner. Democracy, the original democracy which was tolerant of differing versions of faith and political life, is our best and only hope for a world free from war and environmental polution. Likewise, humanistic science can be a foundation for that life, the only foundation that actually respects the objectives of democracy. While I respect the rights of each citizen to hold and act on the political and religious views of their conscience, I also implore them: find a way to bring your morality in line with humanism and science. Do not fear tolerance and scientific knowledge; embrace it. Let science continue to save lives, and let humanism continue to form a platform for world peace. As a matter of fact, I am a person of faith, and this is what I have done.

Sometimes things seem to be upside down

Jym copes with political phone calls and door calls.

Sometimes, things can just really be complicated. I had returned from shopping the other day, and was parking in the handicapped spot in front of our yellow brick 1895 townhouse in Fox Park. I noticed a guy distributing political doorknob hangers on my block, just starting on the other side of the street. I was listening to one of the hourly news briefs on public radio, and so I just kept watching him. Nice looking black man dressed well, but casually in slacks and a sweatshirt, modest colors. Maybe he’s in his fifties. Now he’s crossing the street and going straight past me and up the steps to my place. Stephen is home. He rings the doorbell, which is a video system. Stephen is not answering. He comes back down the steps after a while, just as I am exiting the car and gathering the groceries.

Continue reading “Sometimes things seem to be upside down”

On Wisdom in Old Religious Traditions

The other day I came up with what I think is a new idea for the interpretation of the Creation Myth as presented in Genesis. Caveat: my reason for doing this is not to try to establish grounds for any faith, i.e. I am not evangelizing here. As someone who is a practicing Episcopalian, however, I frequently have cause to ask myself, “Ok, what were these old geezers onto, if anything? What ancient insight is buried in here, no matter the  inconsistency with what contemporary science understands about the basis for these old scriptures?”

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On Computer Maintenance

Warning: this blog post is long, it may sound to some like a rant or self-advertising, but I assure you that there are a few morsels of “wisdom” to chew on herein.

I love my computer. I see my computer as a part of myself, indeed, a part of me that extends and enables me in nearly countless ways. And <<blush>> I actually feel more at ease with my computer than I do with people, generally speaking. People who know me, though, know that I am no introvert or anti-social misfit. So here is the story.

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