Category Archives: Western civilization

Lent and the Return

This is now fairly deep into Lent and it is also near the time of the time change when we will all spring forward an hour, and most of us will find our waking a bit cruel for a while.. The Wednesday that is the seventh of March I spent  some time working on a gutter system and I have been otherwise preoccupied with a variety of little things but I am also aware that it is Lent — deeply aware that it is Lent although not as deeply as I might like to be. President Donald J. Trump gave his first address to the Joint Session of Congress on Mardi Gras and did not mention that the next day was Ash Wednesday nor that the Louisiana delegation had to neglect a major regional holiday to be present there and absent from Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday commitments at home. It is not that I recommend such recognition as a Federal Duty but then again I do not recommend scheduling such an event on Mardi Gras. So that is how my Lent really began — although I left off watching the speech at my parents house and went to a friend’s house for a last glass of sherry and a last slice of King Cake before midnight. But there was a dissonance between what I wanted and had on my mind and what the national scene was doing.Now the party of carnival season is truly over and my life is Lenten although not in every ideal sense. Perhaps not very holy but very austere in some ways.

Amid the other duties, noise and goings-on of life I am going over one of my unpublished novels. I wrote it online and printed two copies several years ago. So this set of marginalized, copy editors marks and other small and medium size changes are the first writing done on paper. For me writing novels has always been objectively better than self amputation, maintaining street heroin, or robbing convenience stores. But it probably feels much worse and is less rewarding.

However, it keeps my natural effervescent and exuberant qualities in check.  But the point of all this is that if ever one feels unable to control one’s giddy inner child then writing long novels can be excellent therapy…. However, most readers probably are not afflicted with excessive joy.

Nor is is impossible see that Washington faces real and austere challenges. A recent email from the White House says.

It’s been seven years since Obamacare was passed, and now, more than ever, we are seeing the harmful effects of this disastrous law.

Obamacare has led to higher costs and fewer health insurance options for millions of hard-working Americans. Independent analysis found 41 states faced higher average healthcare deductibles last year, with 17 states facing double-digit rate increases. Nearly one in five Americans have only one insurer offering Obamacare exchange plans.

In just the past year, Obamacare premiums have increased by 25 percent on the typical plan and coverage choices have dropped by 28 percent as insurers have left the market.

Things are only getting worse. This past year, nearly 20 million American citizens opted not to get healthcare insurance, with 6.5 million paying the penalty and millions more asking for a hardship exemption from the penalty.

Now, not nearly everyone will agree with Trump’s tone and take on this issue but I am relieved that he is trying to end the individual mandate. We all have sacrifices to make for America to make it and those sacrifices are Lenten enough in nature to deserve some thought in that regard. I think Catholics often have a variety of struggles as regards Lent. But it is a time to try and take our medicine with or without sugar to make it go down. America could use a little Lent just now.

I went to mass the morning of the first day of this Lent and received my ashes for Ash Wednesday. There was quite the crowd at church at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church.  I am very much aware of all that I am not doing for Lent and all that it might be better for me to do.

In the distant times when elves abounded on Middle Earth….
Actually no that is in no sense descriptive or proper — but a long time ago — I did a lot of penance and then at other times I did a lot during Lent . Then in recent years I have more often than not failed to give up anything for Lent. I have lacked the generosity of spirit necessary to add another sacrifice to the wearisome burdens of my daily life and the lacks I feel so keenly. But I have received the Ashes and kept a decent fast. There was another period in my life when I was often in a blur and sometimes forgot what day it was and violated fasts publicly in a huge way in Catholic towns on a few occasions. My sin there was running around in a chaotic state rather than consciously breaking a fast. But this year I did give up something for Lent — nothing huge and not smoking which anyone who hangs out with me lately would be likely to suggest but I did give up something.

Back in the days when I often prayed for hours alone or in a chapel AND wore a knotted cord that bit my flesh in secret AND gave way more in alms than a normal percentage AND volunteered for lots of ministries that few wanted and some everyone did — Back then I found it easy to add on a Lenten Penance. Lately, as I aim at catching the bottom rung of the safety ladder hanging out of purgatory in the knick of time any sacrifice seems heavy. But I have small ministry in the church and it seems fitting. So as I went for Ashes I decided I would do something. I also have noticed that since Mass was early and I had a priest who is not a real brander and stainer in his approach I once again have fading ash syndrome by the time I get out into the world — that is good and bad. The pros and cons go beyond this little post. But I have Fading Ash Syndrom in both Ash Wednesday pictures here, quite a few years apart. I sometimes envy those with Strong Ash Condition late in the day. But I used to wear a cross a whole lot all the time and it sometimes irked me. Now I am an annual fading ash guy.

A Fading Ash Guy scheduling in his liturgical ministry in a busy week. Life brings us places we did not expect to be posting almost undetectable ash crosses and musing about minor penances. I am not the publican or the pharisee in the famous parable of Jesus. Maybe I am the guy not mentioned in the parable who would like longer phylacteries and a more lawful beard, a little more booze and gold and a little more repentance. Beware of being lukewarm we are warned. Those who know me would say there are parts of my psyche that always run very hot and others very cold. But perhaps the lukewarm has found much of the central region.

While I certainly know that my flesh shall turn to dust it is less clear how much I will repent and believe the Gospel this Lent. But Lent does not depend solely on me. God is God however unworthy or indifferent I may be….

 

 

There is a lot going on in my life and yet not so much as to justify spending a blog only on what is going on in my life. Problems with Mexico, Russia, North Korea and Iran are not figments of our national imagination. We must address real challenges each day as a country — we must sober up from the carnival atmosphere of the election and do some good in the world. That can mean doing some good for ourselves as well. For example,  I think it’s time for everyone to realize that North Korea is able to withstand even the very most brutal diplomatic tongue-lashing. I don’t mean to trivialize the problem but maybe they know we dislike their weapons program by now…. Sobriety and a little fasting from delusion is in order. There is a real fact that our secrets are out in the world and the White House leaks like a sieve and the Academy Awards handed the Best Picture award to the wrong movie first.

I would like to thank the academy, my parents and everyone — but I am not receiving an Oscar. On the other hand, that may not have much to do with getting to give those speeches anymore…
Also not important for determining who is crowned in a huge international pageant. Steve Harvey crowned the wrong woman not long ago. these are little things compared to the open prey our secrets and promises to one another have become but they are not extremely small things. We see a continuity to our national political life. We could use a little Lent.

I have a suggestion for major televised award shows, go ahead and use whatever approach prevented these messes in the 20th century. Maybe don’t just fumble along like idiots on your program’s biggest moment. Just saying….

Then maybe we can run our country with some sobriety as well. I have been remembering two serious older Americans now deceased this week. I have been remembering Justin Jesss Spiehler the grandfather of my nieces and nephew. His obituary from years ago is linked here.  But in the spirit of such memories, I spent a few days this Lent looking for and not finding a report of the decease of Judge Marcus Broussard, known as Buddy Broussard, a jurist and attorney in Abbeville. I hesitate to post his name first although I knew him. He and I were for a few years the only two active, dues-paying members of Mensa in Abbeville. I knew his son as well and he was friends with my maternal grandparents. I look forward to seeing the kind of character I knew in those men come to the fore — they weren’t perfect but they were good solid Americans I admired, are we?

This month I am on schedule for ministry at early morning mass. I hope to keep a holy Lent there in Church but I hope to return from church with a little Lent to bring to my country as well.

Advertisements

LA LA Land and Why I blog about it

The story of Hollywood is a great story and fusion of stories. There are many versions of at least parts of that story.  Most people don’t have huge amount of time to devote to the telling or hearing of the tales of that great American industry. LA LA Land is a  Damien Chazelle film which attempts to give us a look behind the veil that covers the lives lived in the capital of American entertainment. Damien Chazelle’s Hollywood does somehow have tonalities of the painterly French Vision of the Artist and I am French and American enough to feel that he has some elements in his visual language that come from the confluence of those cultures. his sense of music, muse, absorption in art and  the nature of genius as displayed in Whiplash have brightened somewhat here. But, while knowing Damien Chazelle  a bit helps us to see the vision on the bigger screen than usual — there are other things the film requires us to know better and more urgently. In this post I focus on Hollywood, love, movies, Los Angeles and the real cost of making choices as the major thing to understand while watching this film.

My parents and I were out celebrating on January 30,2017 and saw the film. It moved me to see what the story attempted and its ambitious ending was a part of the scope of the film exhibited in the greater vision of Cinemascope. From the acting to the choreography and the writing,  I thought this movie was an exciting example of both great innovation and great preservation of important traditions in movie-making.  The Washington Post review of what’s up with this year’s Oscars had to focus on this film because of its many nominations. But there was a follow-up  story  about the backlash to so much love coming to this new musical from the Academy. I think that the thing that distinguishes the film most is a sequence which comes near the end and reminds me of two other films. It reminds me of the opening sequence of the fine animated film UP! which makes that movie and it reminds me of the early montage sequence cut from The Big Chill in which Kevin Costner plays the deceased character Alex. The sequence changes all else there is and I relate to it profoundly — it adds the blues to the Jazz that defines much of the film and it pushes American audiences to understand the tensions that really exist in love, responsibility, happiness, communication and the needs of kids as well as the urgency of earning a living. In the scene around the sequence the central characters are in a real sense mysterious strangers where an observer would be challenged to detect the mystery but would readily know that they were strangers.

Movie-Made America is a book which attempts to tell part of that story which is the story of all Hollywood as it relates to all America. I had the book assigned to me back in the 1990s in a class on the history of popular culture at Louisiana State University and I read it again later on.   This film is also really quite a thoughtful story about the relationship between Hollywood and Los Angeles as the dream capital and the rest of the country.  The intrinsic challenge which is part of this film is that of telling that historical and social tale which defines the film industry while telling this very specific love story. That larger social challenge  is certainly not fully met in the film but the full story of Hollywood is quite a story to tell.

 

There is not much one can say about the stuff dreams are made of that falls into the realm of journalism and perhaps less that falls into the realm of hard sciences. But movies are dreams and Jazz music is a language of dreams as well and actresses and pianists long to interpret the substance of other people’s dreams. The distance between Emma Stone and Mia is not an easy distance to determine. They both come from other states in the West to seek the fulfillment of screen dreams in Hollywood. Presumably Ryan Gosling is less like Sebastian. But the movie speaks to far more than that. It speaks to  All American dreaming of greatness and the struggles they face and personal costs that can never be calculated. Like a friend of mine who is a black rocket scientist dreamer in a largely white world it speaks through the white  Jazz man in L.A. about greatness that is off the racial and regional beat. This movie allows anyone, especially Americans, to seriously remember and evaluate where their own dreams have taken them.

 

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3783958/mediaviewer/rm3967749632

In La La Land,  a film that is the most movie oriented film I can remember in quite a while, one of the major characters is not directly tied to the movies. We can remember seeing Julianne Hough, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Katherine Zeta Jones remind us of the massive meaning of the music scene in L.A. in Rock of Ages not too long ago.  But many of us forget that Los Angeles is a real town where music and movies have a complicated industrial relationship but real human being in both worlds have very human relationships. Jazz pianist Sebastian as played by Ryan Gosling reminds us of the  way that entertainment lives in L.A. and that many of the performing arts are located as largely there at any industrial level and worldwide magnitude as they are in any other city. The purist with a small club is part of the total picture of L.A. life — there two we remember Rock of Ages. Albums from small producers and independent labels may still very likely hail from L.A.  in one sense or another. The people who are in that world are people as complicated and authentically human Mia  Dolan and Sebastian. My father left the film saying it reminded him of West Side Story, a very New York musical. But perhaps that is what they each had in common — they each spoke of a great American coastal city in a very specific time. The recent election reminds us of what the Oceanic  coasts have in common. The Gulf Coast and the Great Lakes are not inland either but they are a separate vibe altogether.

Some reviews of the movie have been kinder than others but most can see the appeal of the couple  Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)  who are young nice to look at and are drawn together by their common location and a respect each has for the others desire to do what they love as they try to do that as well. Success is hard to define but the path to mounting successes presents them with choices and with each set of decisions the fragile fabric of their love affair is strained and then tattered, and the dreams they worked so hard to maintain in each other threaten to rip them apart. The Wall Street Journal review is I think more on point than most. But, although I deeply respect the film, I am not ready to give up on the super happy endings. I would love to have one myself. But this is a very human film about what people can believe might happen who are in the habit of looking both at greatness and personal cost in their lives. Our political class could learn something from it too –but it might be a bit to subtle for many of them. That is an uncharitable remark, the film is not uncharitable.

 

 

What I say is see the movie and play it over in your own head ….

Marching For Life and the Life on the March

At this 42d  March for Life Mike Pence became the first Vice President to speak at the annual March For Life. Links to that speech as it is variously covered are available here, here and here. The March for Life and the Pro life movement has many components and many of them are groups of people motivated by the highest and noblest of motivations. They represent student groups, crisis pregnancy groups and traditional adoption agencies representing both religious and secular  facilities along with many other people working together. The expression of the values that drive hundreds of thousands of people there every year is in many ways a beautiful thing. This year, with the speech by Pence and the address by  Trump’s former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway there is among parts of the movement a celebratory and hopeful tone.

This March for Life takes place  during the weekend that follows the January 22, 1973 decision Roe v. Wade  which established in the law of the United States a constitutional right to an abortion. fifty-five to sixty million abortions have been performed legally in the United States since that time. The implications of that number have to have a place in any real discussion of the abortion related issues in the United States of America. Over the years I have attended my share of pro-life events, brought supplies I paid for myself to protesters and sidewalk counselors near abortion clinics, helped people find  adoption and support services and challenged those who asserted some parts of the Pro-Choice agenda. That is one side of my personal story. There are more than two sides to it.  I have never been to the March for Life. I participated in Catholic memorial services for girls who died in abortions, legal and illegal in other countries in areas where the official diocesan position was not to have such services. I knew a  good number of girls who had abortions when I was a teen in youth ministry and sometimes my keeping their secrets could be argued to have  encouraged or at least supported their decision to end the life of their unborn — I do not think that was ever my intent.   This mostly happened outside the United States but it happened here as well.

The significance of fewer people being born in the United States is one that can be argued. It has many causes and abortion is only one. I think abortion has served to help sever men from the real sense of procreation as a social responsibility. Abortion is one thing, laws related to marriage, types of legal filiation and   child support are other contributing factors. The war on men is real enough and has a thousand faces but abortion is widely supported by many men and the one who did not want to support the kids produced by bad behavior have been a  major factor in the pro-choice movement .The cultural aspects of birth have certainly changed over the years since Roe v Wade, that change may very well have been accelerating in recent years. Here are a few quotes from a study by Pew Research Foundation not tied to that  Supreme Court decision but illustrative nonetheless:

Another notable change during this period was the rise in births to unmarried women. In 2008, a record 41% of births in the United States were to unmarried women, up from 28% in 1990. The share of births that are non-marital is highest for black women (72%), followed by Hispanics (53%), whites (29%) and Asians (17%), but the increase over the past two decades has been greatest for whites — the share rose 69%.

There have been changes in the other direction but they hardly count as seen in this report by Fact Tank:

In 2014, 40% of births were to unmarried mothers, a slight decline from the 41% share that had held steady since 2008. The share of births to unmarried mothers had been climbing more or less steadily for many decades; the last dip happened in 1995.

Although the single percentage point drop in 2014 was small, it was only the third one-year dip in this measure since the end of World War II. The decline also is notable because it occurred among all racial and Hispanic origin groups.

Still, the share of children born to unmarried mothers has more than doubled since 1980, when it stood at just 18% of births.

The odd thing is that while abortion is more common among unmarried women it makes the choice of bringing a baby into the world a woman’s decision and not a couple decision. It has also led to conservatives being less judgmental of women who have babies out of wedlock because they choose to give them life. A further factor in all this is that the rising divorce rate makes births to unmarried women less readily distinguished from birth to married women.  As a childless divorced man the fact of childlessness is not irksome when I consider how horribly my life personally has turned out. But it is possible for me to wonder if it might have been less horrible in a less abortive society. In other words I would not want a kid in the life I live but, yes I really think I deserve a better life and yes I really do blame a society in which abortion has played a key and formative role in our social and cultural development over my lifetime.  The stresses on fatherless kids and their mothers, on fathers abused by an irresponsible and idiotic system, on men unable to find wives or keep them — these are all real stresses beyond our usual debate. Population crises really can occur in both directions by population going up or down. But economies need people and they come from somewhere even when they are born here they are not replacing the old populations exactly.  Quoting the same Pew Research Foundation study as before.

Another influence on births is the nation’s growing number of immigrants, who tend to have higher birth rates than the native born (although those rates have declined in recent years). The share of births to foreign-born mothers, 15% of U.S. births in 1990, has grown at least 60% through 2004. Births to foreign-born women in 2004 accounted for the majority of Hispanic (61%) and Asian (83%) births.

The March for Life reasonably has focused on protecting the Right to Life which is a separate issue than what I have been discussing. I quote from the student prolife link given above:

Today, those who receive a poor prenatal diagnosis are more-likely-than-not to be legally aborted. This country allows the abortion of any child with a “fetal abnormality.” Although the law protects people with abnormalities after they are born, it fails to do so prior to birth. Law Students for Life is honored to lead the March for Life this January in support of the principle that the law must protect all people – including those who have not yet been born.

The totality of the right to life among Catholics has been called the seamless garment and embraces a movement to a culture of life and away from a culture of death. It gets into lots of arguable specifics right away. Other strongly pro-life groups such as Evangelicals and Mormons have often taken at least a nonjudgmental passive view of this larger teaching . It is a real body of work and it matters in terms of social justice the death penalty and other matters. But abortion is the big issue and there is an emotional appeal in the site just quoted that rings true to much of the feeling expressed at Pro-life events.

The decisions that steered this nation away from the culture of life were rendered long before we were born. Yet, the consequences of abortion continue to impact every generation. There are empty places in our hearts for siblings, friends, cousins, nephews, and nieces who were never born. We see the pain on a woman’s face – the remorse in her eyes – when she remembers the child she never met because she chose to end an innocent life. We cry with men whose girlfriends abort their child while they stand powerless to prevent it. That is the state of our laws.

 

Not everyone agrees with how much this concern for the lives of the unborn connects with respect for other lives. The truth is that respect for the sancity of human life is by no means assured to any society. We can think of many examples of the callous  disregard for taking life but a few stand out.  This year the March for Life coincided to a large and principal degree with the January 27 observance of Holocaust Memorial Day.. The largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated on January 27, 1945 by Allied (principally Soviet) troops. About 1.1 million people were executed at Auschwitz. Almost all of whom were murdered under  established standards of international law and virtually none of whom were legally put to death for capital crimes legitimately prosecuted. In addition, the evidence of how vast the killing operations were in the Nazi Third Reich continues to mount.

This year the March for Life also coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year or Spring Festival in that it is a festival that spills around and the official day this year –January 28,2017 is also a day when many March for Life activities are going on. The coincidence can be seen as significant if one wishes to see it that way. In many ways this holiday is a vast celebration of life and family in China. yet China has in recent centuries known huge amounts of killing and forced abortions continue. Starvation has killed millions in the past and the issues of how to create and define a right to life have challenged the regimes there in many ways.

Where is the discussion of human life and its value going to take us in years to come? I don’t know. I do have many friends who are concerned about the repeal of Roe v. Wade. I really do believe that we have to face all of the realities of life but I also can empathize with the joy of those who hope for a different and better statement of our values as Americans than the ones currently enshrined in law.

 

“Keeping the Faith” and Keeping the Faith

There is a good bit of questioning about antisemitism in America and about the Jewish identity and experience in America if one is attuned to such discussions. The totality of the discussion would include a variety of relatively disinterested observers, Jews and also thoroughgoing antisemites.   However, this post is not primarily a post on antisemitism. Like a lot of posts on this blog it sort of meanders along –but it meanders more into being a discussion of Jews in America than being a discussion of antisemitism. However, for those interested in a more thorough discussion of antisemitism in America in recent years this article on the Huffington Post is a place to start.  But while there are no simple answers to the question, it is possible in a meandering way to ask “who are American Jews?” With all respect to Wrangler and Lee, it has always seemed to me that the most American garment is a great pair of blue jeans and the most American of the great blue jeans is also Jewish. The Levi Strauss company founded by a German Jewish family before Germany became known for the Holocaust and when Mendelssohn’s wedding  march filled both synagogues and Christian churches and was likely to be what one thought of in terms of the relationship of Jewishness and German identity. But this article is not mostly about Mendelssohn but mostly about another music maker — Billy Joel. (Still alive and more than welcome to comment on my little blog).

I like Billy Joel music and songs — in fact Piano Man is probably my favorite Billy Joel song, although this post is much more about Keeping the Faith. But in this post I want to discuss a particular aspect of my appreciation of his music. That aspect is how his music added, and still adds a certain something to American life and culture. Something which is Jewish, which is American and which is more profound than it seems.

alg-billy-joel-alexa-christie-brinkley-jpg

The story of American life and the story of American Judaism is a complicated pair of stories that relate very definitely to one another. Some names that come to mind when thinking of the Jewish qualities and tones that are part of American life and the American qualities and tones that are part of some Jewish life are Billy Joel, Eli Wiesel, Albert Einstein,  J. Robert Oppenheimer, Gloria Steinem,  Adam Sandler, Gilda Radner, Billy Chrystal and Yasmine Bleeth among others. But in the matrilineal tradition of many parts of modern Judaism and Hebraica neither Bleeth nor Steinem or necessarily Jewish –only their fathers really are for sure. Some people like Jean Chatzky are not so open about it in all aspects of their life but they are still willing to reveal their Jewish identity in the right format. The connection of all Jewish life to the events of the Holocaust is a real and vital set of connections. That doesn’t mean that the terms “Hitler” and “Nazi” have not often enough been bastardized to mean whatever anyone might want them to mean. Nonetheless, the Third Reich was real enough. The nation of Israel has shown Jews fighting for their own people and doing so effectively. There were few such successes in direct Jewish resistance to the Third Reich. But a Jew from Germany ‘s First Reich (named J. Robert Oppenheimer) with the support of a Jew who refused to return to the Germany during the Third Reich (named Albert Einstein) designed and developed the atomic weapons that would have defeated the Third Reich if we had not already beaten them a bit earlier. These same Jewish based technologies secured America’s place in the post-war world. As much as these varied people have contributed to American life and greatness I still am drawn to think about Billy Joel.

west_point_jewish_chapel_sign

I am where I am in my own journey through life. There is not much I have to write that does not matter in some significant way to me but I am aware of the limits of its import to the larger world. But as I begin this post I have a particular song on my mind — Keeping the Faith, by Billy Joel. The video features his real life wife playing a character in the song. Christie Brinkley is the only woman to bear him a child that I or the general public know about for sure — Alexa Ray. Although he would be married several other time and Christie Brinkley would have other children not with him and most romantic of all, she and Joel didn’t make it all the way to the grave together they were a couple who made an impression. I have spent a good bit of time in the last few months talking about my own past, in some ways I find something to relate to in Billy Joel’s song. But it is hard to know how well America relates to this nostalgia for an American youth.

Billy Joel is a man who in real life has known something about the love affairs and American living that he heard about first and later wrote intelligently about in  the songs of American popular music. The story is that of a man with his fair share of woes to say the least but also the story of a great American pop artist. The lyrics of “Keeping the Faith” tell some of his story.

 

“Keeping The Faith”

If it seems like I’ve been lost
In let’s remember
If you think I’m feeling older
And missing my younger days
Oh, then you should have known me much better
‘Cause my past is something that never
Got in my way
Oh no
The truth is that when one looks back on the past and sees only the glory days or only the sorrows one does not really look back on the past.  But we have a hard time not looking back on the past with all the many colors of nostalgia at one time or another. Billy Joel has allegedly attempted suicide a number of times and had struggles with alcohol abuse. What I am sure of is that he wrote and performed songs which people have related to fairly intensely over the years. Judaism contributed to the founding of Islam and Christianity each more than any other single source in objective historical terms — and therefore it is older. Nostalgia has a particular place in Jewish identity in the West.

Still I would not be here now
If I never had the hunger
And I’m not ashamed to say
The wild boys were my friends
Oh
‘Cause I never felt the desire
‘Til their music set me on fire
And then I was saved, yeah
That’s why I’m keeping the faith
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Keeping the faith

There was a  whole lot more going on in the  urban neighborhood of Joel’s song besides just music and faith. One thing he seems to believe in as he tells the story in song is the junction of youth, community and the  commerce based on  local  shared consumption. One can imagine a largely or susbstantially Jewish neighborhood in a great American city in the song. the song is sometimes shocking but a Catholic who is honest about Mardi Gras or Carnival as a Catholic liturgical season that is not a liturgical season should have no trouble making room for some kind of insight.

We wore old matador boots
Only Flagg Brothers had them with a Cuban heel
Iridescent socks with the same color shirt
And a tight pair of chinos
Oh
I put on my shark skin jacket
You know the kind with the velvet collar
And ditty-bop shades
Oh yeah
I took a fresh pack of Luckies
And a mint called Sen-Sen
My old man’s Trojans
And his Old Spice after shave
Oh
Combed my hair in a pompadour
Like the rest of the Romeos wore
A permanent wave, Yeah
We were keeping the faith

The boys with the condoms and  and the knowledge of which local merchants had the right clothes who smoked and got their hair done were making the boundaries of their community real enough. One wonders about the connections between the Catholic situation in America and the Jewish one at various times and in various places. the Jewish belief in the rituals that consecrate sex, life, the seasons of the year and the sense of being a people are modified in different ways as they come into Christianity. The secular Jewish experience is another modified view of those ancient streams.

Catholics have different reactions to the Trump administration singling out Mexico for his principal target of isolation. Isolation can be targeted. So the reactions over time will be interesting…. the targeting of Sanctuary cities may well be a cause of conflict with Catholics in many cases.  But the Catholic identity is that of Mike Pence, VP as well as of the undocumented worker. In addition Mexico and Central America are much less Roman Catholic than they used to be — much less. One wonders about the kind of Catholicism that Donald John Trump expects to confront. In the paper below from the American bishops, the right of the country to protect itself is balanced with the rights of those who might suffer. But there is a cultural sympathy that is not to be missed. One sees in trump a man who is very much an American secular Protestant who surrounds himself in close relationships with Catholics and Jews as well as others. I still have not pegged Trump at the personal level, his real policy goals I feel I understand well enough to discuss them but the man — not so much. Pence seems a likeable Catholic and his job is important and official. Mnuchin seems an unusually unlikeable American Jew and may not get confirmed. While Ivanka and Jared seem to be trotted around a great deal neither seems to have an official position. If not all Catholics will trust Trump is devoid of Anti-Catholic bias one wonders what varied Jews might be thinking.

16195966_10154294522377285_8543268698604309940_n

I am told that the President of Mexico has cancelled a meeting with President Trump. I like Trump being strong and energetic and I favor a vigorous and strong America. I also favor a healthy Mexico. I am a Catholic and an American. I look at the people who are trying to see where Trump plays out with Jews and there seems to be a hint that some people are wondering if only Israel is the Jewish place to be. Some see this perhaps in Trump’s chief strategist. I myself am on the far right (in my own opinion). I am able to oppose too much driving of Christianity from the Public square. But I also see a value in secular space and zones of governance. I also appreciate the Jewish American experience I even think there are things all of us can learn from their journey — even my WASP friends.

Getting back to Billy Joel, I too can remember that my own ethnic and specific heritage as a particular kind of American was not perfect either. You  (or one) can see a criticism of both a blind progressivism and a cultural conservatism that is unquestioning for any American in his  next few lines. Take them as autobiography, politics, romantic memoir or any  number of other forms and one can find some truth in them.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Keeping the faith
You can get just so much
From a good thing
You can linger too long
In your dreams
Say goodbye to the
Oldies but goodies
‘Cause the good ole days weren’t
Always good
And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems

But Billy Joel and I do indeed have different pasts and he is quite a bit older than me. Getting a bit off text again we witnessed different parts of the fire he sang about. We had different parts of the song going through our heads. But only the differences of versions and arrangements of the greater metaphorical song — I relate to his song We Didn’t Start the Fire , just fine. But like a lot his songs it is not of a single simple meaning. For now, let’s get through the song for which this post is named.

Learned stickball as a formal education
Lost a lot of fights
But it taught me how to lose O.K.
Oh, I heard about sex
But not enough
I found you could dance
And still look tough anyway
Oh yes I did
I found out a man ain’t just being macho
Ate an awful lot of late night drive-in food
Drank a lot of take home pay
I thought I was the Duke of Earl
When I made it with a red-haired girl
In the Chevrolet. Oh yeah
We were keeping the faith
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Keeping the faith

A while back on Facebook I received a compliment from a red-haired beauty from my own ethnic community in Acadiana and reminded her of a long ago date in Chevy Impala and was gratified by a smoochy emoji in response. While Billy Joel’s lyrical boasts do not apply to the date she and I were commemorating online much is similar, thus remembered by me or in song  it is a deeply American experience.  So I look at the role of Jews as a religious minority and I contrast them to the Jihadi Muslim communities. The other Muslims may or may not listen to Billy Joel but the smartest among them realize that American Jews have worked hard to create a workable secular American culture because it is one that they can participate in. It is sometimes good and sometimes bad but I respect the effort. Muslims, Christians and Jews can all wear Levis, listen at least to Piano Man if not this post’s theme song  and enjoy some discrimination-free public space. I have a  Jewish friend, a woman whose initials are JY and like some of the great American Jews she has done humanitarian and secular and patriotic things. She is spiritually adventurous and like so many she is vastly more liberal and more leftist than I am (two separate measures) but I think she has come to respect me and my views a little. I have mentioned her here but will not go further than this in this particular post. The relationships between Acadians and Jews are very complex and very enduring. there is plenty that is of Hebrew origin in the mix of French, Greek, Latin, Spanish and MiqMaq ingredients an Anglo scholar can find in the Cajun culture. I have reminded miss JY of her heritage more often than not — although I do not know really how closely she relates to it. But whatever her struggle is with majority culture it does not involved blowing up people in their homes and at markets. Europe’s murdered millions of Jews filled a niche that others from the same region of the world now fill- a good number of those people are committed to destroying the Europe both Goethe and Mendelssohn built together.   Where Hitler complained of the occasional Jewish Caftan there is now the burka.

You know the good ole days weren’t always good
And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems

I told you my reasons
For the whole revival
Now I’m going outside to have
An ice cold beer in the shade
Oh, I’m going to listen to my 45’s
Ain’t it wonderful to be alive
When the rock ‘n’ roll plays, yeah
When the memory stays, yeah
I’m keeping the faith
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Keeping the faith
I’m keeping the faith,
Yes I am

So what about America and Billy Joel? What about the world of Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel? I am not sure that America will be great again or OK or anything else. But I will be here fighting my corner until I can’t anymore.  I am glad there are friends of Israel in the new administration. But along with some York, some Cornwall, some Languedoc, some Extremadura and some Shetlands — besides some Sicily and some Chihuahua — I like a little Galilee, Judea and Israel in my America as well.

 

 

President Trump Sounds the Dawn Reveille

Donald John Trump has been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The Ceremony and the preliminary ceremonies as of this posting were it seemed to me decorous and worthwhile. His speech set a clear tone and although almost seventy Congressional Democrats were not in attendance the crowd seemed sizable enough given the gloomy weather and other factors.  We have a forty-fifth President. If somehow I were a slightly different version of myself living in a slightly different version of America, his speech would promise a time of opportunity for me personally as America sought to deal with China, Mexico and outer space in challenging new ways. Those are three places that have long been very important to me. But I will leave that as my personal note for now. I do not see President Trump as asking for my help or any real chance to be effective emerging here for me. This is a brief post centered on his speech. I think his speech is neither without merit nor without promise. But parts of it do concern me as well.

The new President Trump spoke succinctly enough greeting those present with propriety:

Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world: Thank you.
We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.
Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.
We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done.
Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.

 

His acknowledgement of all that is involved in legitimacy and continuity was in contrast to the way that many have received his own ascent to power. I thought that was to his credit. He did strike a populist tone and make clear that the American Forgotten Man, already credited with his electoral victory was at the center of his launching of the new product line that is the Trump administration.   He addressed the people in a kind of idictment of the dignitaries he had just greeted moments before, saying:

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.
The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

Whether Trump can continue to connect with important millions across this vast land remains to be seen but he seemed sincere enough in the attempt.

 

 

As President Trump reminded us all our woes and sense of alienation he seemed confident he could make a difference in our experience of life in this country. He laid that out as well:

That all changes — starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.
It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
Everyone is listening to you now.
You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.

Americans do want someone to listen and Trump surely is chief among those they hope will hear them. The reaction over recent weeks has included the Congressional Boycott, The Arly Protests and the protests outside the electoral college voting. But it has included a wide variety of responses across the political spectrum. Those include, The Hill and many other outlets in the media who have reported that President Donald Trump came into today’s ceremonies with very low approval ratings for a new President of the United States. I will be looking to see how his ratings fare after today’s ceremonies. But merely saying there is discord has not been the totality of the conversation so far.

A lot of clever people from across the country have been weighing in on the Inauguration Day festivities for quite some time and most of all on the man and the office that together make up 45th POTUS, Donald John Trump. One article from South Carolina  reminded readers in advance that there was indeed a good bit at stake in this election.  As the nation prepares to mark a new course and follow it on immigration some have pointed to Melania Trump’s own journey to citizenship. While Trump did secure a sizable minority of votes among American Jews by his staunch support for Israel there have been actions in the Liberal majority of American Jewry that have been reported in the press and online of those lamenting his election. Trump did not emphasize abortion, Israel, or Obamacare in his speech. He focused on certain key parts of his platform. Note the issues mentioned:

 

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.
The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.
The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.

Trump was concerned about secure borders, trade, crime and economic development.  Those were the first themes he hit upon. While he did not malign China or Mexico they were clearly the most threatened by him as in all past speeches about the overall geopolitcal situation. He promised a new era, of Trumpist protectionism and fine infrastructure:

But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
I will fight for you with every breath in my body — and I will never, ever let you down.
America will start winning again, winning like never before.
We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.
We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.

Beyond that he was hawkish only toward radical Islamic terrorism. He was able to use the term and able to promise to unite the world against these foes. See the next phrases:

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.
We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.
We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
There should be no fear — we are protected, and we will always be protected.
We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God.

Next,He laid out the vision of a technologically progressive and economically powerful America that would lead the world to the future. See the rest:

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger.
In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.
We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.
The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action.
Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.
We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.
A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions.
It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.
And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.
So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words:
You will never be ignored again.
Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
Together, We will make America strong again.
We will make wealthy again.
We will make America proud again.
We will make America safe again.
And yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.

 

 

So Obama is gone and our civilization appears to be going on. The worst of the fears projected in this space have not been realized. The future is of course uncertain. The truth of the transition and all that will come of it is about to emerge more clearly.

MLK Day, Inauguration Anticipation and Me…

C

There has been a good bit of discussion of Congressman John Lewis’s interview with Chuck Todd of NBC News in which he said that he didn’t believe that Donald Trump is legitimately the President of the United States. Lewis stated that this is because the Russians and other parties conspired to damage the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and to elect Mr. Trump.  There has also been a great deal of comment about President-Elect Trump and his Tweets regarding Congressman Lewis. There is plenty of room for discussion about the ways in which each of these men do and do not understand each other and the people who support them and with whom each of them most identify.

p012113sh-0576_0

My farewell address On Tuesday, January 10, I’ll go home to Chicago to say my grateful farewell to you. In 1796, as George Washington set the precedent …….poP

However, two events on the calendar make this exchange more poignant and different than it would otherwise be. One reality of the calendar is that Monday, January 16 is Martin Luther King Day. African American groups and associations can readily rally around the ideas expressed by Congressman Lewis, as can others — such as the Democrats already using his words in their fundraising programs.  MLK Day is when I am typing this post. Race is highly relevant to all these discussions, but it is not entirely clear how it is relevant. President Obama of course is of different racial connections than President-Elect Trump. Most Americans have noticed this. But how all this relates to Civil Rights history is less clear. Trump wants to make a new case to racial minorities– especially Blacks in the inner cities. Lewis does not represent a poor inner city district, but Trump may have believed that he did. That’s suggested by a Trump Tweet.

The other big day is on the twentieth of this month. That is the day on which Donald J. Trump is supposed to be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Lewis and at least twelve other members of Congress have said that they will not attend. I have hopes of watching most of the Day’s events on television as usual. Lewis does not seem aware of how messy many elections in our history have been. But more likely he simply believes he must rally certain forces in the country. The Russian hacking is mostly an excuse, I think. A better excuse than many its our history.

The new administration comes in at a time when I find myself uniquely alienated, despite an alienated life. My life is largely spent in ways that I own to which have left me deeply and broadly aware of how entirely devoid of success a life can be and yet remain the life one chose. Both Lewis and Trump are largely successful. Both are committed to the lives and paths which they have lived and blazed. Less alienated Americans will feel the divide between them more intensely. The empathy of millions will, for a while, center around one or the other.

Today is also the birthday of Ernest Gaines the prominent African American writer associated with my alma mater. I have read a good number of his novels and short stories and attended his lectures in the distant past. He also plays some role in shaping how I see this time.

But I am mostly preoccupied with concerns not much discussed nationally. I am going to be watching the next state in our affairs for any shadow of relevant hope. I will not expect much more.

 

 

B

Obamacare, the long Christmas and Inauguration Day

With its embedded links this post is a kind of ambitious round up. It comes on the twelfth day of Christmas and a time for  dealing with cold weather in Louisiana. January 6, 2017 the votes of the Electoral College have been certified on the Feast of the Epiphany. I have written about the Epiphany before and about the bridge between Christmas Season and Carnival Season. I have discussed much of the meaning of Christmas as I see it in an unpublished novel, several chapters of which I have included in this blog as well. I am not celebrating in great style this year, I covered some plants against the cold. i smoked a cigar and shared some hot cocoa in two different occasions with two different friends  –and the day is not over just yet.

 

I started typing this post  today on the Feast of the Epiphany — January 6. My thoughts included the following Epiphany related thoughts, “I love to go to Mass on that day but it did not seem to be likely this year. I love a lot of things I do not do. I love to buy a King Cake but probably won’t make that happen either. ” This was also the same January sixth when there was cold weather that needed to be dealt with and when I had to help a friend at the library delete a Facebook account. Then while I had already been thinking about the certified votes I had a chance to hear and see some of them during the break between typing and editing here.

Donald Trump ran in part on the promise that people would start saying “Merry Christmas” again. (I have blogged a good bit about Christmas and love it plenty well.) My sister’s recent blog post about a Christmas tree.  But about much more than a Christmas tree. But like many things Christmas is a complicated matter if you look at it hard enough. The holiday season is not the only thing in contention (having ended for most Americans but not all). The new assault on an airport in Florida has many Americans facing this day with familiar and not festive feelings.

 

There has been a bit more fuss than usual in this certification day in Congress. I also noted a greater awareness in the morning news shows that this was the day assigned for the Congress to certify the Electoral Votes of each State.  However, the protests appear to have been ineffectual,the process moving the President -Elect one step closer to being President. The heritage of representative government and electoral governance and Western Civilization are linked in complex ways. But when we think of Greek roots of Democracy we must remember Greek roots of organized Royalist Monarchy and Aristocracy as well. The Greek ideas of the role of the One, the Many and the Few are beyond what I can discuss today but Greece continues to yield up new wonders from its storied past .I remain convinced that our Constitutional tradition needs to be both relatively conservative and dynamic. I have spelled that out here and here — at least in brief. I have said much more in other places in the blog. But this is the star of a new year and the start of a new Presidential administration is on the way and I am in no position to exert influence of any kind. One of the issues in this transition relates to the nature and state of race relations in the United States of America. Two stories frame this debated and reported struggle. One story is the sentencing phase of the trial of Dylan Roof, convicted of the Hate Crime killing of the people known as the Charleston Nine:

  • Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54)
  • Susie Jackson (87)
  • Ethel Lee Lance (70)
  • Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49)
  • Clementa C. Pinckney (41)
  • Tywanza Sanders (26)
  • Daniel Simmons (74)
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45)
  • Myra Thompson (59)

While only one of these was a politician several were leaders in the Black Church communities int he region. Dylan Roof gives every evidence of being a militant and selective terrorist. The other story is that of the hate crimes committed by four African Americans against a white guy of limited capacities which was broadcast on Facebook Live. these things remind us all of the racial tensions and animosities that exist in this country.

Those extreme situations only underline and bookend the much large tensions that involve race and other factors in more complicated ways. The Obamacare issues and the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act are only part of the overall struggle. people who do lots of work for which they are not paid at all or are paid far less than one can survive on are taxed and fined to pay for the most irresponsible, expensive and uncontrolled medical economy in the world  on behalf of those privileged to have had good jobs are willing to admit that they have no work at all. Our society is deeply corrupt in countless ways that rest heaviest on those most victimized by Obamacare. the repeal will likely benefit not those people as much as the richer people who will pay less for the healthcare insurance premiums under a new regime and the more successful small business people who may see their deductibles go down. For some people it may always seem like Santa Claus is coming on Christmas to those watching, for others like the winter in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia — very cold and brutal with no Christmas in sight. The middle fifty percent are the ones who can really afford to get excited about arguing the merits of the plans put forth.

For me this portends to be a very bleak year. But the actual Christmas that is ending has been better than average. I would like to hope for a happy New Year as well. But I am not there yet….

 

Giant Omelette Celebration and My Thoughts

The Giant Omelette Celebration in Abbeville has passed. The website can be linked here. It is a memorable event every year.  I enjoyed it — despite the fact that I was not in a position to  be enjoying much of anything just now — I decided to let myself go and rejoice in the event.

I saw a lot of people that I knew and spoke to some of them. Tomorrow The Hillary-Kane ticket and the Trump-Pence ticket will go at one another and other will be on the final ballots as well. The country will face many other electoral decisions. But yesterday and the day before was a celebration of other structures in America which are not directly tied to this election. The town,culture and celebration are not perfect.  But they are worth experiencing and are worthy.

 

I participated as much as I could, more time than I could afford and although I spent very little I may not have been able to afford that either. But this was a glimpse of life that transcends and underlies all the political tensions in America.

 

So I hope to be in a position to comment on the outcome of the election. I hope to be able to have some success to be able in turn to solve my myriad problems. But I am also a person who enjoyed the Omelette Celebration, watched the Saints win in San Francisco and spent some time at church and with family. That’s life too…

Halloween and Elections, a Few Thoughts

Happy Halloween. Halloween as it exists in America is a time for celebrating the scarier parts of our unconscious and also other parts of the imagination with children.  This election season is for many Americans time of frightening realities and a scary walk and wait for adults. America is well populated with people who are afraid of Hillary as President and people who are afraid of Trump as President.  There are some who are not happy with either and this long post will discuss both Halloween and the elections as scary ritualistic events.

I have posted about Halloween here.  I also dealt with this day in the context of other days around this time just here. I have remembered that for me it was near my maternal grandfather’s birthday. I have also remembered the occasions of All Saints Day and All Souls Day which follow hard upon us.  The New Orleans Saints Football team was also founded on November first, the Feast of All Saints and of course the two things are related although how they are related is not so clear.    Family Missions Company and many of my family members usually have a Holy Ween Party with many traditional aspect of Halloween where the kids however costume as Saints while they bob for apples, get candy and play games . It is a rather beautiful and fun custom. All these events other costuming and the national celebration of Halloween make up the meaning of these days for me. The memories of those days are largely good ones as are the memories of many of the earlier days I spent Trick or Treating.  There have been plenty of bad memories as well.  But nothing really terrible is closely associated in my mind with these days.

This particular Halloween 2016 is one of those days which is not all together one thing for me and not all together another. It is a day when the weight of many problems ways down upon me but the weights, worries and regrets are offset by other aspects of my life. Nonetheless what is most notable about it is that it is Halloween. It is also the day after my deceased maternal grandfather’s birthday and the day before all Saints Day. But today, while trying to find out if the party is happening and perhaps drop in on it I will also be helping my aunt  with whom I share my grandparents house where she has been living for a long time recently and I have lived many times in the past. She will be giving  out candy during Abbeville’s official Trick or Treating hours between 6 and 8.    The town also has a  public access Scare on the Square in the late afternoon. That is my contact with the mainstream Halloween. The first picture posted below is not one of those pictures but I may add some pictures of the Square to the mix over time. There are quite a few decorated houses which have gotten elaborate. I might get a picture of one or two but probably not as to do them justice on really needs to go out at Trick or Treat time and I am not doing that.

14695490_1358407560870843_9072138967214929784_n

Among Cajuns  in the past the customs of these days varied from place to place. But generally some of the adolescent boys, in some cases united into societies that passed on their customs across generations and in other cases not in such an organized way raised a little hell on day we call Halloween. They went to houses and put skinnier and lighter cows on roofs and in barn lofts, made ghostly shapes and figures on window panes, howled like wolves and brought their dogs around to scare the farm animals but not enough to do serious harm.  Inside around the fire and stove there would be a few traditional treats and some scary stories. The loup garou  or Cajun werewolf tradition is not deeply tied to Halloween but it is tied to all things scary in this culture. I have posted about that tradition a little bit here and here in the glossary. The connection is available in music today, there are many things to be written or said about the  Halloween, All Saints and All Souls Day  customs in the region without mentioning the werewolf tradition but one song of some significance  by a musician named Daigle is viewable here. . On the morning of Toute Saints or All Saints people would walk ride or drive through the village, town or region to see the mischief done. Then people would go to church for the feast of All Saints. After Mass in some communities there would be a feast and music in the cemetery so that people could wake up early and clean, repair and decorate their ancestors tombs on the feast of All Souls on November first. In most communities however people ate at home and got ready to go to the cemeteries on All Souls. Caring for the tombs and visiting with others doing so was the  main focus of Acadian and Cajun practices around this time of year. In some places it was customary for widows to remove their black shawl on the first All Souls Day after they finished one year of  mourning.  In other places the calendar year alone was the key for the end of all mourning dress. Courtships sometimes began between widows and those men repairing other tombs who would pay respect to the dead husband’s tomb before courting the widow. Only taces of all of those custms remain today. But all of these things are in my mind on these days.

I also grew up a good bit of my life in Mexico and remember the various customs of the Dia de Los Muertos — the Day of the Dead. I have spent significant time in cemeteries and changing out flowers and such around the tombs of family members but that has not been as associated with this time of year as I would ideally have liked it to be.  So that is a summary of what these four days in a row bring to mind most for me.

In Celtic tradition this was a time when the year passed from the light half to the dark half of the year and the dead  were free to move between realms through a sort of portal opened up by these occasions. the very early Christians (such as the Galatians to whom St. Paul wrote)   included many Celts. There were people of living  flesh and blood who took advantage of the time of spiritual and demonic activity to do some bad things. Jack O’ Lanterns and scary costumes have some connection to scaring off bad spirits and bad people in ancient Celtic society.  The Christians gave some Christian meaning to those cultural acts but the darkest and worst parts of paganism such as human sacrifice were woven together in the same symbolic language and the controversies have been ongoing from the earliest days.

To lump all of this together in a single post when more clever writers are discussing the elections is probably only another means of whittling away the tiny readership that I still have.  Perhaps the scaries Halloween reality for me is embodied in that reality related to this post and to the fact that I used to write a great deal for many thousands of folks and get paid. Now I am trying to embrace the career path I am on which will end with paying one person a great deal to read my work. It never hurts to know where you are heading. Like many writers over history I might do well to dress as an unpaid bill or perhaps a a literary agent. those are scary realities for sure.

But is there anything that can be said coherently about all of these varied faces of this time of the mysterious, the mortal and the unusual. For me the unusual and the little known ar not unique cetainlu to Halloween.  I have had an unusual life thus far. In it I have sailed small vessels, ridden horses, hiked, climbed, spent time and energy in  pretty exotic and secret places. Form Boucheries, to Hula dances, to cava and Haka ceremonies in Polynesia to teahouses in China — I have sought the insights of the treasured common ceremony. My own life as a Christian every day  has been wrapped about with a number of secrets. Now I am in the process of revealing a few of them. Of course the Catholic Sacraments are described by the Latin word “Sacramentum” but also by the Greek word “Mysterion”, the same word translates as mistery. Catholics pass into the sacred mysteries at different phases of Christian life and the human lifecycle. They gain spiritual insight, renewal and energy.

I never pledged a college Greek Fraternity. I got a bid from the TKE chapter at Steubenville but declined it, I was honored but unable to take on the commitment and I was committed to a household that had few secret aspects to its initiation.  But there have been rituals that have been part of my life beyond church. I have posted a good bit about Mardi Gras, here and here for example. Besides the  Carnival and the  Official Christian Catholic mysteries, I remember being bloodied after a significant kill and bloodying young boys after a first kill — this is an important hunting ritual that I have seen in many forms. I remember fathering my hunting cap for the first kill of significant desirable duck or geese species like mallards, pintails, specks and snows. Then somehow I remember my first time at a bar after a rugby game, my first byline in print, my first time in a deep pool cave where sun never shines, my first time in a bat filled cave and a weta cave. Drinking and caves also remind me of other drinking rituals and not all involving alcohol or drinking cava in ceremonies on the Pacific isles. I remember getting a driver’s license and learning how to use computers — in both processes there were real initiation rituals and the car is extremely dangerous in many ways. Like a lot of people there were many milestones on the way. Somehow I got involved with some rarer and more exotic ones. When I was a teacher at St. Thomas More High School one of the classes that I taught was the Junior year “Sacraments and Morality” year. Both the editors of the textbook and I chose to show how rituals like birthday parties and Friday night football games were formative for young people learning the language and practice of rituals that they would use in Confirmation, the celebration of their weddings and the celebration of Mass.

For some people the politics of this election cycle are a bit of a mystery.  The cycle does not fit with their view of the way things should be and their ideas of what is normal in America. For some people much of life is a mystery, but many still hope for candidates from both parties that feel transparent and normal. Spies, detectives, lawyers and clerics keep lots of their life’s work hidden form many people who know them. I have known prophets, witches, mystics, shamaans, monks of various faiths, nuns, vampires and members of secret orders of knights. Some people would argue that virtually none of these people can exist. But nobody can argue that Anthony Weiner’s laptop full of Hillary’s email and his own problems exists. Nobody doubts Trump has said and done tings on record which many Americans consider abnormal or scary. these are our major choices this year. Neither Hillary nor trump were my choice this year.  I believe in the duty of citizens and I did my duty.

I voted. I voted yes on all but one of the Constitutional Ammendments — although I had less conviction than is ideal. I voted for Marilyn Castle for Supreme Court. Both seem qualified but she is very well qualified and I found her husband a decent boss back in 1989. I voted for Charles Boustany in the packed Senate Race. I selected Scott Angelle for Congress. Mike Francis for Public Service Commissioner and for the big finale….

I have voted for a third party or independent candidate once in a while but never for the Presidency. I voted for Keniston. I do not apologize for it and give him a limited endorsement:

Who is Chris KenistonChris Keniston is a family man, a patriot, a veteran but more importantly he is an American that will work for the people. Get to know Chris and…
CHRISKENISTON2016.COM

I believe in the basic claims of Christianity and in differences between good and evil outside of the question of whether something is Christian or not Christian. By no means would I put contemplative Carmelites and human sacrificing demon worshippers on the same moral plane. However, both groups like their privacy, both like to use symbolic language and both can be communities with long traditions that are well known to insiders and little known to outsiders. Discussion of what Halloween, All Saints Day  and All Souls Day mean are tied to the problems that exist across any tradition f rituals and secrets tied also to public celebrations.  I would urge that, if you have never thought about it, you realize that metaphors can be made real on film and effects are used to sell tickets. Halloween does not answer all our questions about the scary beings portrayed in some costumes  just as Real nuns don’t fly or seem like characters in “Sister Act” but you would recognize real nuns from either “The Flying Nun” series with Sally Fields or from Sister Act. I have had the time, desire and guts to get into a whole lot of varied mysteries. Sex and love are of course among the greatest mysteries and none of us exhaust them.

I have taken up too much time and space to discuss the other things I wanted to discuss. But we have concerns at the holiday and on election day. I will do my best to cope with each.

Floods and Fortitude

Randy Newman a poet and songwriter, as well as gifted singer, wrote a song about an earlier flood. The song still works and its lyrics still resonate. The place names of the remembered waters are not exactly the right ones but they are not so far away. We are accustomed to being tried here and this is certainly a trial.  But there is a lot of complexity to the issues that relate to this flood and to other disasters. Previous trials have been mentioned in this blog here, here and here for example.  But man made disasters are more often the subject of this blog than storms and there has never been a shortage of manmade disasters. Sometimes the line is blurry. There is a town suing the State of Louisiana for road planning that interfered with effective drainage and that kind of thing is tricky. It takes skill and technology and hard work to live here.  In Randy Newman’s song the Flood has the feel of a an assault or siege.

 What has happened down here is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day
The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

I took the pictures above in the days of the flooding along with many others. Some of them were lost in a phone which was also lost in the flood. Actually it was damaged beyond repair. But as bad as things were there was not so much sense of moral assault this time as their sometimes is. Not quite as much as in the Randy Newman tune.
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us awayPresident Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, “Little fat man isn’t it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land.”
The politicians still have a great deal of politicking to do. Meanwhile, we are all (actually most of us — we have our deadweight folks, also the truly needy and the shattered– but most of us are ) trying to do the best to get through this and get others through this. I have invested some time because as bleak as my situation is I am not substantially victimized by the flood itself. There is always a question of how the culture around here relates to the cultural framework of our society as a whole and how it ought to relate to that society. The Cajun Navy has become one of the points of controversy in this communication between ways of doing and being, a link to that controversy is here.  My judgement of being isolated and abused is not yet as intense as in the Newman lyrics:
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away
They’re tryin’ to wash us away

What can I do? Well, I have done quite a few things. So have others around me. At the bottom of this post is a collection of pictures I took during the time I spent at the distribution center in the United Way facility in Lafayette, Louisiana. I was busy receiving and helping to distribute goods.  In the set of pictures just below these words I was working with St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Abbeville which was involved in a variety of flood relief activity. It so happens that the house chosen for me to work on was that of an old and dear friend and his family. John Dale Lege and Charlene were very close friends years ago and part of what John Dale and I did together was volunteer work on the houses of the needy. But John Dale was in those days a very hardworking young father and a black belt in Karate. Today he is long now fully disabled. In testimony to how close we were back then I am the godfather of his daughter Anne Frances whose middle name is in honor partly of me. She is a mother now and long has been a productive citizen. I stay in touch but we are not that close any more. There home was ravaged by the flood and they were one real and tangible set of actual people injured by this catastrophe. However, before either of these outraeches I had already been busy doing flood related things…

 

 

The truth is hard to come by… goes the John Denver song I like.  to quote but the truth is United Way, St. Mary Magdalene Church and others with whom I have worked are making a difference. We are doing what we can.  For me getting back to normal doesn’t seem so great but still it has to be a primary goal. The disaster must be addressed whatever our normal problems may be. The local chapter of the American Red Cross, the local United Way organization, Lafayette High School Student Government, St. Thomas More High School and Americorps were only some of the organizations that I saw involved in the receiving and distribution day that I participated in. Among for proffit organizations I saw Rope, Soap and Dope, Hub City Diner and the gentleman I am in the picture with is a Spolinno (sp?) from Crowley originally who owns and operates A. Bryan’s Jewelry in Lafayette. The community was coming together in many ways.

A Bryan's United Way Flood The Love - 3 United Way Flood The Love - 2 United Way Flood The Love - 1

Best wishes to all who are helping. the crisis is not over yet. But the recovery is well underway.