Category Archives: Christianity

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Amid the other duties, noise and goings-on of life I am going over one of my unpublished novels.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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.

Racial Violence, Islam, Christianity, America and Me… Part One

There is a lot to say and so I am using a series to look at our challenges described in the title. This is not a long series of posts it has only two parts. There was an assassination of police officers in Baton Rouge this Sunday. Three officers, two white men named Matthew Gerald and Brad Garafola were killed as was one black man named Montrell Jackson. The basic original report of their tragic death is covered here by the Times-Picayune.  Of the dead, two – Jackson and Gerald- were Baton  Rouge city police and the other one was an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputy. All leave behind families that include children. At least three other officers were wounded. All casualties were from the same two departments. One of the wounded, Nick Tullier, is still struggling for life. The others seem certain to survive.  It makes me sad and angry to think about the loss of life, the breach of peace and public order and the cost to all parts of our civil society arising from these tensions and their many manifestations. I especially realized how emotionally involved I am from video on one of the local television stations which showed me in a distant wide shot asking the panel my question during the forum. I was more agitated than I normally am as far as body language can allow one to communicate agitation, and that was without voice or a close up. But nonetheless I am not devoting this entire post to these events.  I do have emotions about these events that I need to express but I feel the need to express more than those emotions… But frankly, this post is only partly about the police ambush. A small part is about this important story in fact. This blog has some themes to pursue and these sad events occasion my pursing them a bit further. However, this has been more intense of an experience for those who represent the State of Louisiana at the capital city, and that has been covered by the Advocate here.

Baton Rouge cops shot art

In what has been described as a rambling series of YouTube presentations by several reporters and analysts, Gavin Eugene Long claimed to be a former Nation of Islam member, there has be no public affirmation or denial of this claim by  any Nation of Islam leadership that I know of so far. Also on what was basically a You Tube show, however unsuccessful, Long in fact referred to Alton Sterling, the armed black man who ran a long term squatter based DVD business in front of a convenience store and was killed by Baton Rouge police officers on July 5,  this was seen in graphic images and there was at least an element of summary execution in the images that a reasonable prosecutor could pursue as grave police misconduct. Gavin Long operated his own YouTube channel under his new legal name, Cosmo Setepenr which he had adopted in May of 2015. He used the Sterling shooting as an example of oppression, making references to oppression against blacks and police protests.Also relevant to these acts Long called the shootings of five Dallas police officers an act of “justice” in one of his videos. His political analysis led him to declare that  “One hundred percent of revolutions… have been successful through fighting back through bloodshed.” Some portion of the reporting on these matters is well handled by the Los Angeles Times here.  In his You Tube presentations Long said  the act of peaceful protesting was a futile method based on emotion and was easily forgettable. So he claimed association with the Nation of Islam and with more exotic small and less Islamic supposedly Muslim groups. But he also belonged to a number of groups most Islamists would never touch. The individual sovereignty movement is very small but also very diverse, with members varying enormously from one another in every way and it appears that Long was part of that movement. I did receive a degree from  LSU and I had intended to be there in a few weeks as of not so long ago. I reported recently that that would not happen.

Monday, July 18,2016 I attended the Acadiana Press Club Forum Panel Discussion on policing in times of civil unrest. Panelists included David Khey, head of the criminal justice department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette;  Reginald Thomas, interim chief with the Lafayette Police Department; Marja Broussard, Lafayette NAACP leader and community organizer; and Maj. Art LeBreton, enforcement commander with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office. Not in attendance as announced was Tracie L. Washington, a New Orleans-based National Lawyers Guild attorney. The discussion also included a number of people from the audience all of whom were concerned about the state of affairs we have been hearing about in Baton Rouge among other things. The mood has been tense in various places across the region since the shooting of the police in our state’s capital on Sunday and remains so to some degree today. But where I am and in many other places it is a subtle tone and feel which is easily missed. The usual  moderator was absent and a young woman from the Advocate organization named Lanie Lee Cook did an excellent job of moderating.She allowed a number of issues to come out including my question about tendencies to unduly nationalize crises and questions about riot gear which later shaped her own article appearing in the Acadiana Advocate.  I met here fro the first time when I helped her bring in the water from her car to go with complimentary snacks. But there was for me a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces as there always is in these events. Several people were there for this topic who would almost never normally come but still that is not so unusual as people come specifically for each topic as well as those who try to come to most events. The violence in Baton Rouge including protest violence and arrests certainly colored all other discussions about this topic. A pastor and a senatorial candidate from the  African American community certainly brought up black on black violence and how this affects all of our perceptions of the current troubles. But admirable as I find these fora to be they are always limited in scope.

There should be enough material for several blog posts in discussing the Baton Rouge police ambush shooting, the protests and arrests as well as the Alton Sterling shooting that went first in this timeline. The video taken from a witness’s phone showed police struggling with Sterling and shooting him to death. It appears that in both the Sterling shooting and the ambush police responded to reports of an armed man who appeared to be a threat. Gavin Long, Sunday’s shooter was dressed all in black, was a military veteran ( like the Dallas cop killer) and seems to have come all the way from Missouri to kill Baton Rouge law enforcement officials. Rich as that story is, I am only going to deal with it briefly. He was clearly involved in the political realities of his time and clearly was not overly successful, not so different than me or a good number of other people I know in that regard. Just days before his deadly rampage Lafayette General Hospital was launching the formal establishment of the Mayci Breaux Memorial Scholarship founded to honor one of the two women killed at The Grand Theater in Lafayette. That story was reported on my blog here and here.  Also this reminded me that like that shooter, only more so, this killer drove a distance to come to Louisiana and kill our people. Two known high profile incidents do a pattern make. They may also indicate a larger pattern. I can think of a lot of reasons why the choice to attack Louisiana might seem a natural one to some people. Hauser was a man as much an open Christian as Long was a Muslim and then had some nearness left to spare. But his Christianity was of the Hitlerite variety and I will mention Hitler and his views just a bit below. Hitler was a larger supporter of a breed of anti-Semitic, violent and disruptive Islam not so different than the Islamist terror movements of our own day. These two groups often find it easier to converse than Muslim  Sufis and Catholic Charismatics for example. But I believe that for America the Catholic Charismatics and the Sufis would have more to offer as citizens and in productive dialog.

This is the season where one can argue endlessly about the success of various programs and wars and not really agree on where the results stand. In his final Prime Minister’s Question David Cameron dealt convincingly with the progress of the war and yet one knows that there is no doubt that the war on ISIS has a darker side than he describes when hne lists the devastation of their militarized territoties and even claims that their foreign recruits have been cut off by as much as 90%.  Even if those things are true, and it is hard to be sure we know that the region is a mess and the world is made more unstable by the many degree and layers of chaos that are ongoing there.  There is much more to say about that dark side of the Syrian and Iraqi political realities and their consequences elsewhere than we can get to here. There is so much to be said about the recent terrorist attack in Nice that deserves more attention in this post than the Baton Rouge attacks and that event as a whole is more than we can get to here. The Nice attacker was of Tunisian descent but his family seems to have arrived in France even before that early wave of the Arab Spring. He was not directly a part of the huge displacement of people, the refugee crisis and the resulting tensions across the region in Europe and even here in North America which has resulted most of all from the Syrian war. But that is not the only bad outcome. However, it is  quite debatable which outcomes are good and bad fairly quickly.  For me few things could more clear than that we need to fight ISIS and that it has not been an entirely successful fight  — I hope this post contributes something  to understanding what has contributed to the faults in our strategy. The fight with ISIS, the Black Lives Matter excesses, the remnants of Al Qaeda, the Arab Spring, the chaos in Turkey and the tensions related to BRexit cannot all be seen as purely disparate phenomena. In addition,  in September of 2012 in this blog I posted a post  titled “The Current Crisis in US- Islamic Relations…”, you can link to it here but it is reproduced significantly in what follows. In that post I was declaring that the angry Muslim crowds protesting outside US embassies, the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his four companions at the consulate in Benghazi were all  deeply troublesome events. I reminded readers that from 1776 to 1950 no United States Ambassadors were killed in office.  I speculated given my lack of research resources that perhaps two or three died in transit from posts or even sickened and died after taking some kind of leave but none died in office. Just as with Lincoln no presidents were killed in office before him nor shot but a good percentage were shot or shot and killed after the Kennedy assassination, however I failed to mention that if Andrew Jackson had not had the skills that he had as a sort of action hero co me to life then he might well have been shot on at least one occasion and if he survived that then perhaps on another. This initial shooting of Lincoln after our greatest national crisis also tied to race forms a pattern for future and repeated violence and if one leaves  aside the Indian curse and natural deaths in office that made up a patter until Reagan survived his shooting then one can say it was a creation of a new bloody political discourse when John Wilkes Booth shot the President he perceived as a tyrant. If that is the Case then Ambassador Steven death for which Secretary Clinton bears little penalty might become a very important and seminal historical event because it had been almost thirty years since our singular period of bloody Ambassador service had ended, that is from 1950 to 1988 seven died violently in office. Two in plane crashes ruled accidental and five in armed attacks. The last one killed in an armed attack was in 1979, that was almost forty years ago. It is true that in the last few years no more Ambassadors have been killed. But since on September  11 2012  the whole consulate in Benghazi was gutted and the Ambassador, an IT specialist and two armed men (one of whom was a former US Navy SEAL and the other a State Department Security professional) were killed we can see an escalating patter of violence and worldwide disorder related to the forces that killed them.  Symbols matter from the prompt reality that the within hours of the Libya events  the US flag was torn down in our embassy in Cairo and desecrated and an Islamist flag was raised in its place to the attack in Nice and the shootings of cops by two people who had some ties to Islam in their final views on what to do in America. Other embassies surrounds are erupting and the potential for more killings is very real. Prior to the attacks on the embassy, in fact one day prior on September 10, 2012 I posted the following  paragraph in a note here in this blog:

I am concerned about tomorrow’s anniversary. There have been a lot more shootings in Afghanistan lately of our troops, there have been a lot of ammo dumps opened up to terrorist groups through the so-called Arab Spring. There are new governments with ties to these terror groups. There have been a lot of mass shootings in the USA lately. Our border is very porous with Mexico in which violence is breaking out in new ways daily. In addition the Arab element in Mexico has multiplied many times over in recent decades. Very little has been done to honor the woman who shot the Fort Hood shooter or to punish the Fort Hood shooter. I do not mean to predict that there will be ground based terrorist attacks on our soil this month. Probably there will not be. But if there are they will not be unpredictable.

We find that I was well aware of the general kinds of risks that we would face on the very day that disaster occurred because I was aware. Montrell Jackson was a big armed black man,  sexually vital and successful enough to be a father and financially successful enough to make it in middle class America. he was not less assertive than his killer or less black. But what did he care about: He discusses being tired sending out prayers and hugs working for peace and unity. He has a desire for the civic good to come about as inspired by and separate from the religious good but connected to it. I do not know where this man whose wife had just given birth to a son a few months before worshipped but it is a deeply Christian vision with roots in Augustine and the book of Acts of the Apostles. Labels are not the most important thing and all Islam is not the enemy of all peace in America. But it is true that here the killer found solace in the Nation of Islam and the defending martyr in sentiments with a deeply Christian provenance. Adolph Hitler in his early years of organizing decried the efforts of German missionaries to  make Christians converts among the negroes in Africa. More subtly but clearly enough Macaualay the great British historian indicated a few truths that string together for him into a doctrine. First that Catholic Christianity leads to race mixing more than Protestantism and  secondly that Protestantism produces a superior civilization.  He also believed Catholic Christianity had created the English as a racial entity by mixing the Norse, Celts and Germans but that having happened then it was important that it not happen again. Christians in America do not subscribe generally to such explicit ideas, but they are not irrelevant to us. Christians here do not really understand that Egypt, Turkey and Syria form a real part of the Christian Holy Land and the churches devastated under the years of American influence are deep and sacred parts of our heritage. Almost every comment Christians in the west would make about the racial and ethnic identity of those old Christians is offensive ot most of them even though all the statements are profoundly at odds with other offensive statements from the West.

Montrell Jackson Post

This is not the easiest post to write and not all of them are easy to write anyway. What we have to recognize in my opinion is the real history of the United States as regards Islam. The role of religion in the life of the United States and in geopolitics was probably less open and more minimized during my early childhood than ever at any other time among American children. The Soviet Union was the great Marxist atheist adversary which had reinvented itself and had nothing to do with the thousand year formation of Russia as it struggled to be a Christian nation. The struggle for nationhood and the struggle for Christianity can be separated for discussion but they are deeply linked and in the most complicated ways. We also have to remember that the Slavic peoples we criticize for abusing Muslim territories have an ethnic name of Slav that resembles  slavery in English largely because they were enslaved by Turks and Arabs on a broad scale for centuries.  The numbers are staggering and althoughmany died horribly their genes as much or more than Hellenic and Minoan communities absorbed before account for many of the Europena genetic features in parts of the Arab world which would other wise be far more negroes because of other people enslaved by Arabs and other Muslims then freed over previous centuries.    In this period of history of which Putin is likely more aware than Trump or Clinton most white slaves did not have definably negro masters but certainly thousands of whites did have negro masters and the overall tone that informs the racial dialog in America is in blissful ignorance of these matters.  Almost exactly year before Long shot up Baton Rouge a Muslim shot up a recruiting station in Chatanooga, Tennessee.  Did the internet savvy Long find those memories online when making a decision? The endless bloody chain of events has no end and we must at least understand it — that includes the slavery in America and the COnfederacy but those events have a context as well.  Monuments and flags are coming down across America but what is taking their place?

Today we all know religion has a profound influence on the world, its politics and its power arrangements at least as compared to the secular tone of my childhood as it was portrayed in the news and politics more often than not. I am myself a very openly Christian person and it is not hard for me to connect my  faith to anything else that I might be interested in doing, talking about or writing about in this blog. Sometimes the connection is that what I am doing is not very Christian but there is always a connection. The future of Christianity in America is not assured and not easy to define. It can take many forms and it will face many challenges.  But however much I may disagree with many Americans about what that faith is  meant to be and what its role is — but I think we can not ignore its significance. In the next part of this series, which may or may not be the next post , I will look at how Christianity and Islam offer competing visions of America which affect the violence in our streets.   But for now I will simply conclude by saying that we will not get anywhere I want to go without a lot more painful and uncomfortable discussion of the inter changes between race, religion and violence than we have known so far.

Faith Camp, Bukidnon Youth Conference and the Future

Faith Camp is a one week long camp held for middle school aged students based somewhere in Vermilion Parish. There are currently two such camps held each year. While the kids are the focus it is an event that involves people of all ages. For many who participate in its various aspects it is both an optimistic and fun experience and a deeply spiritual one. The Catholic faith is celebrated in a context which is fairly complete and brings the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the experience of church into the lives of these young people in a complete way.

The last two weeks  before this posting there has been ongoing the 20th year of continuous Faith Camps. This ministry was founded by my sister Susanna whom I saw at Faith Camp last night. At the time she founded she and were regular prayer partners and she was in the area and living at Big Woods during the summer after having started her studies at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was a fairly small camp that year but I was deeply impressed with it and shared with her my own memories of a live-in conference  in Bukidnon when she was a child as one of my better memories and so the two things were linked in my mind at the inception although there was not much of a causal link.  Susanna wasalso a small child when the Bukidnon Youth Conference was going on around and near her in various manifestations in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on the southern island of Mindanao in the Republic of the Philippines. I haven’t been back since the 1980s but it was a time which I have always felt had a big influence on the rest of my life and other lives in the family. Many members of my family have played key roles in the success of the camp over the decades. This year a middle school aged child of one of the campers at the second camp was a camper at Faith Camp.

 

 This year my sister Sarah’s eldest daughter Alyse is the coordinator of Faith Camp as she was last year. This is one of the blog posts that I write that is not primarily driven by the news. It is more driven by  a series of important experiences, recollections  and feelings which resonate in my life. This is one of those posts which combines both some vivid recollection and some fading memories: But the hope one felt at key times continues. The possibility of really putting together a history of those years is a daunting and not a very promising prospect. But the prospect of trying to recapture some of the spirit of those times seems a worthy aspiration as it will help me to convey some thoughts about the current times and some of the times in between now and then. I went from New Zealand to the Philippines with my birth family when I was seventeen and arrived there around Christmas. The bottom right hand picture below is of the Maranatha Youth Group in St. Pius X Church Parish in Titahi Bay which I left behind there on those cool windswept coasts. We passed through Australia on the way there.The top set of damaged images are from my time in the Philippines as is my better picture of myself leading my sisters on the carabao. The bottom right hand corner isa picture of the wall of my Household at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

 

 We were in the Philippines for a couple of years (or so I remember without checking) and Simon was born with difficulties associated with Prader-Willi Syndrome. That was also at Christmas and was at the time of my Bukidnon Youth Conference which is the real subject of part at least of this post. Due to Simon’s condition we came back to the United States. While there I completed my Freshman Year at USL — now the University of Louisiana  — in one semester and in the preceding summer worked in some college and youth ministries in the church. Then we all returned to the Philippines and I renewed my ministry for a while and in the summer just after my brother Joseph was born and having overstayed my visa in a tense time in a country on edge and with a gift of a large and dangerous looking tribal sword I flew back alone to the United States.The picctures I took there for various reasons have not much been digitzed and the ones that were have not al made it into part of the cloud I can access. But the memories that I have of the Philippines are indeed plentiful and meaningful. Many of them were pleasant enough. Although the images in the pair below do not show the day to day life there as I justified that life they do show some of the rewards of the experience. Visiting the sick westerners in trouble, prison ministry, speaking to dozens of groups and working with college ministries all filled most of my days. But the Bukidnon Youth Conference was perhaps the  peak of my ministry there.  Being a 52 year old, divorced, childless near indigent was not the future among many possible futures which I saw as most likely in those days. But the journey since has certainly been a complicated on and rich too in color and texture and that sense of richness makes me feel like an expert on almost everything on some days. While that is not fair to much of anything neither or the days entirely fair when I feel that my onIy efforts to communicate come from having little else to do that is fulfilling and that I only ever feel that I  am well qualified to be a sage because I appear not to be qualified for anything else. My life has not been laser focused in a single direction and my time in the Philippines was not either. I like Faith Camp and I liked the Bukidnon Youth Conference in part because they touched many aspects of life from the arts to sport to socializing over dinner. This reminds me of one of my first Facebook notes when I wrote about  some of the extracurricular activities and hobbies that have enriched my life  and divided them into the big three categories of Faith, Science and Sports which I  chose to denominate as easy issues for that early Facebook note. These Easy Issues are not to be confused with the Easy Essays written by Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement. His essays were easy,  because he easily guided the reader through the complexities of political philosophy to a simple and cohesive approach which would provide the framework fo the movement he and Dorthy Day were founding. In my Facebook the subjects are easy because of my tremendous insights into the very narrow experience I had in each of those fields — I did not concern myself with the larger picture. There was some tongue in cheek in the use of there terms and words but Faith Camp and the Bukidnon Youth Conference were also founded to give young people a real body of experience that they could claim as their own. A small window of controlled positive experience from ehich to see the world.

During those years when ministry was part of my life I did a lot of work preparing to work . One thing  or another or many things must be left out including almost all my regular Catholic  school time but I now note  the religious education I received. Some I received within the context of the schools mentioned. However, I also took a set of remote preparation confirmation classes in the Diocese of Lafayette within the Come Lord Jesus Program and the brief imediate preparation course at a Parish in the Archdiocese of Wellington, New Zealand. I was confirmed by a cardinal. In the Diocese of Lafayette I also completed instruction in and was commissioned for Evangelism as a Lay Evangelist of my native dicoese. This was also where after college I was certified as a catechist. Beyond those things, I completed the Life in the Spirit Seminar, the Cursillo de Cristiandad (en Ingles), a basic Lector’s training, Prayer Group Leaders Training Course, a salvation history micro course and stdied as a journalist the English translation of the Prelature of Bukidnon’s Alagad course which was a successful lay leadership course. I also read and discussed the Documents of the Second Vatican Council many times and in many contexts. Susanna who founded Faith Camp completed here degree in theology while continuing to build up this ministry. The two things have in common that they communicate to the kids from a depp and well laid foundation.

Like a lot of activity among Christians it is designed to provide an opportunity for a personal spiritual experience. The importance of personal spiritual experience in America is more evident than in some countries. One of the reasons for that comes from a man who was not a Christian but had a profound influence on the Christian and other populations of these United States at a critical time — the Revolution. Thomas Paine, one of the great thinkers of the American revolution basically stated that one of the profound problems with revelation as a basis for any law or covenant is that as soon as it is written down or described rather than existing as a perceived miracle or apparition or Messianic epiphany it becomes mere tradition. Three things can be said about that idea that miracles and revelation become traditions:

1. It is somewhat true and worth keeping in mind.
2. If God, the universe, the gods and Divine Wisdom were communicating with humanity they might not excuse people who said “Well, I needed that direct Apparition your Highness — didn’t get it so it’s your fault not mine.”
3.In places and times such as existed in the Charismatic renewal there was a renewal within the person which was seen to confirm the written Word and the received tradition. It is out of that third connection with the renewal of the background music and lifestyle of our family that the Bukidnon Youth Conference (BYC) and twenty years of Faith Camps have come. The Bukidnon Conference was less part of the Charismatic Renewal than was some of my work in those days and the current Faith Camps only remind one of the renewal. But the tradition is there.

St. Augustine is credited with two sayings that mean a lot to me as far as faith goes. One is “Seek not to understand that you may believe. Seek rather to believe that you may understand.” That saying is not perfect and is easily misconstrued but it remains profoundly true and truly profound.The second saying I will allow to explain itself and to be interpreted without me. St Augustine wrote “The best and the worst men in the world live in monasteries.” The idea that these young people come together to find understanding and to explore a fully lay spirituality does not mean that none will later become monks, priests, scientists or theologians some do and those around usually rejoice.  But the experience is of a different focus of informing a growing faith and living for Christ in the world.

That Filipino journey  in which the Bukidnon YouthBconference was born was one  which only temporarily ended just after the conference itself. But after returning with them from my time at USL and in this region I did not stay but went to enroll at the school where Susanna was studying when Faith Camp was founded.  I returned a bit early and went to live that summer with my paternal grandparents in a larger than most two storey house beside a park. That  is where I lived in that intervening summer have lived at other times and is also where I am living  now as I type this but I have only been here for a few months this go round. Then I enrolled as a sophomore at the Franciscan University. The summer after my sophomore year I returned to the Philippines to visit and overstayed my visa yet again by only a few days and flew home alone. I left school in mid semester for complicated reasons including some to do with problems in the Philippines related to those whom I had invited into the region to help me with the Youth Conference and  shortly after leaving school I met my parents returning to Abbeville where I currently reside. All of that was along time ago and I took a break to do some more ministry and other things before enrolling again at USL and finishing my degree there. Thousands of picture taken during those and subsequent years are unavailable to me here and now on this blog. But the family on the bottom left hand of the set below are the son of Abbeville friends and his wife who have been FMC missionaries where we once served for more than a few years now. The picture on the bottom right hand corner shows my brother Simon and my parents at an FMC Donors Dinner. He clearly survived the ordeals surrounding his birth as did we all.

 

Of the  actual BYC as an event I have no photos to share and never had many photos. Indeed of the conference itself very little documentation was made and far less survives. But there are a few things and here are a pair of snippets of that time. The newsletter Resounding Praise which defined so much of our communication with the rest of the world had a feature on the conference. This gathering so distant in time and space is still near to my memory and sensibility. The sense and vision behind the conference was one of bringing young Catholics and some not sure they were Catholics together to celebrate the gospel and to deal with the real challenges not only of their personal lives but of Islamist and Communist pressures from groups which in several cases were profoundly hostile to their Catholic Christian commitments.  There was also a real openness to finding what could be improved in the generally pro-American, Catholic, free market synthesis that informed the conference. There was not a tone of xenophobia or paranoia but of relatively optimistic participation in the world as it was  for young Catholic Christians. There is something in Faith Camp’s tradition that has always reminded me of that event.

 

 

There are bigger events in the world than Faith Camp or the Bukidnon Youth Conference but bigness is not everything. Nonetheless as America approaches it participation with other countries in the Rio Olympic Games I am reminded that the New testament is full of references to Olympic events. Paul wrote of racing, boxing, archery and of the disciplines of training as well as the glories of victory in those ancient games. For those going to the Olympics who are Christians while they should respect the games and the diversity there it can be both a mission and a spiritual experience in Christ.

A few years ago London prepared to see the wedding take place in Westminster Abbey there was a lot of suffering and pain in the world. Truthfully, there is almost always a lot of suffering and pain in the world.  Whatever their role may be in adding to the sum of distress in the world, the British royals do quite a bit to lessen the sum of woe and that was not the less true in a year when they were planning a royal wedding . That  set of outreaches to those in need is an effort that  is well documented. Prince Charles, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William (the bridegroom this weekend) all have long supported a variety of charities benefiting humans, animals, ecosystems and cultural groups in distress.Prince Charles has a substantial income as Duke of Cornwall and donates a great deal of the income to charities in such a way that it leverages and is leveraged by other charitable donations. While it may well be that not a direct penny of that family’s efforts and gifts will go to help those hurt by the tornadoes whch ripped through the South last night it is also true that they are part of a philanthropic community around the world in which helping is informally circulated almost everywhere. Two babies (at least) ago the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth celebrated on the 29th of April 2011 The wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. This expensive and extravagant occasion was also a Christian ritual and gathering and an expression of faith. The scene was truly extraordinary and the elegant venue and the well prepared  liturgy and preaching were all rather impressive even for those who are not so easily impressed.  The sermon of the Anglican Bishop of London is one which I have found to be a worthy sermon to address our times:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day!

It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

uture.

 

The future does flow through families and gathering and weddings and the like. Churches and other communities have an obligation, it seems to me to prepare young people to be conduits of the grace of God and the hope of the future into new generations. They need to be prepared for the task. All married couples, all celibates and many other classes of not mutually exclusive kinds of people have to be educated in that complete humanity. For Faith Camp that is a Catholic Christian experience An I like that best but it also speaks to those not with us in that community. I am not a young optimist and my own view of life can be pretty bleak often enough. But while  I am sorry that when caught up in nearly apocalyptic events I often already have declared myself to have been involved in a number of calamities — sorry but not very repentant. these conferences and other things have not made me boldly cheerful in that sense. But each Faith Camp and its predecessor to my view  have in fact reminded me that how one engages with life may change over the years  but faith filled engagement  and courage remain necessary.  I know that I  was at one time more fully engaged in meeting the world and the changes going on around me with gusto and energy than I am now. I beilieve that some of those now enthused will persevere in doing good but will not have the same zest when they are my age as they do now.  The world is no stranger to my dire assessments and prognostications regarding my own life and future but the truth is I am still in the fight for the same causes and so are some of those who fought with me under that old distant BYC banner. So also is Susanna and her early team.

Faith Camp prayer - 8   But there is a time and a place for looking back on all that has happened in ones life and that place is this blog. The time is spread out over many posts and pages. The truth is that I was not always quite so late middle aged, directionless and chronically despondent as I am now.  There were times when I aspired to other and more things in daily life than a differing serving of a perpetual mix of the routine, the impossible and the trivial. I was working hard at BYC but perhaps nobody got more out of it than I. I rejoice in the legacy I see although nobody else may see it the same way exactly.

The outgrowth of my various involvements and labors over the years are not all that easy to track, however there has been an institution which has grown out of all that activity in one sense or another and which is also dear to my heart for various reasons…  My brother John Paul was the head coordinator longer than anyone else so far I believe. It is also interesting that this year’s head coordinator Alyse Spiehler has a brother who although he only went to the first camp and was abroad on his birthday during the second camp has celebrated his birthday at Faith Camp several years and probably will again. In fact all of my sibling except Simon and my deceased half brother have served ads head coordinators or coordinators although I never have. I did of course at BYC which I consider to be an ancestor of Faith Camp. The family tie is a real one with my family but there are many other family ties as well. This does not make the focus more narrow and our family does not embody any analogous local set of privileges to those that shaped the hosting of the large wedding in London mentioned before. But the family story is part of the Faith Camp story.

 

That is, with everything else already mentioned and many other things not mentioned here  — the ongoing work of Faith Camp. That is the distant legacy of the BYC. And in some way it is the universal call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to be the Body of Christ as Church and to celebrate the mystery of the fullness of life Christ came to offer and assure. All of that is part of the Faith Camp Story.

faith camp week 2, 2016 - 4 faith camp week 2, 2016 - 2 faith camp week 2, 2016 - 1

Clinton’s Campaign: Does She Have Credibility, a Creed and a Contest ?

Will Secretary and Senator and Former First Lady  Hillary Rodham Clinton be the first female President of the United States? It certainly seems likely. Here you can read my first post when she became the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party.  Since the very first version of this post came out the Washington Post has run an article saying that her credibility is damaged, that article is here and it may or may not represent political reality. But the contention made here in all versions of this post so far is that there appears to be a small chance that she will be indicted, arrested and charged in the email scandal or in any matter to do with Benghazi. By small of course I mean that there is not a large chance. There appears to be a miniscule chance that Bernie Sanders will mount a successful revolt or set up a powerful third party challenge which would derail her path to the presidency. There is more or less no realistic chance that she will be stopped from being elected except by the victory of Donald Trump as the Republican Nominee over her as the Democratic Nominee in the general election. Almost no chance is not the same as no chance. Any number of things could happen including death of physical impairment. But the odds seem to be better than fifty percents that she will be the next POTUS. Few people have ever had more relevant work or official experience when approaching the highest office in the land. To be a Senator is a lot, to be Secretary of State is a lot, to be First Lady is a lot — to be all three is a staggering degree of experience. Of course I physically stagger more easily than some more physically gifted readers and so I go to that adjective and the related adverb more readily than they might. But if one does not stagger one at least must take notice of the degree to which she embodies tremendous experience. Compared to her:

  1. Donald Trump has never held elected office,
  2. he has never lived in the White House,
  3. he has never lived in the executive mansion of a State,
  4. he has never held an office appointed by a President,
  5. he has never led a sustained policy discussion as Clinton did with healthcare,
  6. he has never been officially invited to sit at the table to negotiate  a formal treaty on behalf of the United States.
To safeguard liberty we must be able to adapt to the changing times.

To safeguard liberty we must be able to adapt to the changing times.

On the other hand they do have some lack of experience in common:

  1. Neither on has held a major post in a religious institution,
  2. neither has served in the military,
  3. neither has served in the workaday world of the intelligence community,
  4. neither has lived on our borders or in border towns for any length of time,
  5. neither speaks Spanish of French well, official languages of our neighbors,
  6.  neither has lived and worked as a citizen in the way business people, missionaries, journalists and  volunteers do every day across this world as they forge an American identity abroad.

Ambassador Stevens was an unusually high ranking victim of violence abroad. In the last few days other Americans have lost their lives around the world but a glimpse into the kinds of decisions he faced is also a glimpse into kinds of decisions that Americans who believe in what they are doing abroad face every day.  The following excerpt is from the recent report on the Benghazi incident:

While the end of the fiscal year funding deadline was looming, the Diplomatic Security Agent in charge at the Embassy in Tripoli was, nonetheless,
concerned about Stevens’ trip to Benghazi. Although his first planned trip to Benghazi in the beginning of August 2012 had to be canceled because of security,14 Stevens was adamant, however, about going in September.15 The Diplomatic Security Agent testified:
Previous to this—to his decisions to going up there, there was— we would meet weekly to discuss the security situation in Libya.…[
T]here was a specific meeting regarding what was happening in Benghazi. In that meeting, we reviewed incidents and  probable causes, what’s initiating it. And a lot of discussion was that it was the conflict or the incidents up there were, you know, local population against local population and that that they weren’t specifically targeting Americans … up there. I expressed my concerns about the incidents that did involve us. And the basic response was that they … were anomalies.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

We all have images of what leadership should look like which are not simple portrayals of reality.

Romney was a missionary in France during anti-American times, Bill Clinton visited Russia as a student in the Cold War years and there are other connections to tat least the same world Chris Stevens lived in that can be found in other political lives outside the military but not in the lives of Hillary Clinton or Donald trump so far as I know. Both have traveled a great deal. both have been at some risk but the proportion of risk to resources has never been equal in my opinion to the baseline many Americans abroad have experienced every day all of my life.

The other thing that they have in common is access to fame, fortune, privilege and the people in power. This is not an even contest between the two of them but neither does it really matter who has had more of such opportunity. These opportunities have defined both of their lives for a long time. One big difference of course is that Trump like all previous American Presidents is a man and Clinton is a woman. I visited that in the post where her candidacy was all but assured but I am not going to deal with it much in this post.

There are issues related to Clinton that have very little to do with the fact that she is a woman. Trump recently said he just knew very little about her religion and she responded by declaring her self emphatically enough to be a Methodist. My own take on some of the discussion of Clinton’s religion has been posted in this blog before and can be seen here. Of course there may be more to say as time goes on.  One fact about the election of the first Clinton to the Presidency is that the result was likely determined by the most credible third party candidate in presidential politics in my lifetime — Ross Perot. He made it more than possible for Bill Clinton to defeat George Bush Senior. Thus Clinton did not face the kind of intense contest he would have otherwise.  This kind of splitting is well established in British politics and may have been fostered in some way or another by the Rhodes Scholar, Bill Clinton as the biggest take home lesson from his time in Oxford. Some may see Trump as Ross Perot on steroids. He is the third party candidate who became the  candidate of a major party and the main obstacle to Clinton’s election. that would still be true even if Romney or someone becomes a real third party candidate somehow. So how does trump match Clinton on matters of faith?

To see Clinton’s faith in political terms this season means to examine Donald Trump’s faith as well. He seems to be a person, like Clinton, about whom one could say a great many contradictory things based on pretty good evidence. That is not necessarily because he is deceptive or a hypocrite but may be because of the place he comes from in his life context. Interestingly enough he has made it clear that he supports Christmas as a national holiday and seeks to preserve it. That was the narrow subject of my original blog post about Clinton’s faith and the faith of other candidates.    Christmas was of course never my only interest in the religious identity of candidates. I love Christmas very much and the Christian observance of it by this country is a tradition I think worth striving for and worth some sacrifice. However, it is interesting that the ugliest rumors and suspicions about Donald Trump involve the ways in which he reminds people of the NSDAP or Nazis and the Third Reich. While many Christians nothing like the Hitlerites have rallied around Christmas, there is also no doubt that the Nazis made Christmas and especially the control of Christmas tree sales and early focus of political activity.  In further clarification, it is interesting to note that the list of candidates in the Democrats poll I posted in that article did include Biden but did not include Sanders. Even more interesting is that Trump does not appear among the six Republican candidates who appear in the poll I posted and reviewed in terms of the religion of the candidates. Huckabee was the leader in the poll and he was of course a Baptist minister who claimed the same hometown as President William Jefferson Clinton — Hope, Arkansas. So where does that leave the discussion of religion as I saw it back in 2014? It is not a perfectly relevant post in every way  then.  But here is the principal quotation from that blog post as it pertains to understanding Clinton’s faith in very general political terms. The first paragraph below deals with how Americans likely to vote Republican were thinking about Republican candidates in 2014 and how that related to Christmas and it observance by the Christians of this nation . However the remaining paragraphs  relate to what Clinton’s religious identity is likely to be. It is perhaps best to look at the text:

There is a lot of shaking out to do if these numbers mean any thing before any Republican can claim the nomination.  But it does indicate perhaps the streams of thought that are shaping the country as regards finding a religious root for values expressed by America’s  “right” in politics.

What then about the left? Where does the other side of American  political energy come down on our connecting with the roots of Christianity.  Unlike the possible GOP nominees, Hillary Clinton has tended to tower over her challengers for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Some people are saying that candidates like Elizabeth Warren are poised to show explosive growth but it would take a lot of growth to challenge  Clinton in the primary.

Joe Lieberman who ran with Al Gore was not a Christian but a Jew who seemed to tolerate a good deal of public Christmas. Mitt Romney belonged to what most scholars consider to be a post-Christian religion but it is one that celebrates Christmas as an American holiday and the birth festival of Jesus Christ. Many presidents have been devout Christians: Washington, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy and half a dozen others are clearly men who in my opinion must be seen as Christians entirely. Whatever they did not achieve of the Christian ideal is not because they did not adhere to that faith and religion. Richard Nixon was reared as a Quaker and (though many American Quakers seem pretty much to be Christians) Quakers as a whole are not a Christian faith but one which grew up among Christians.  It is hard to say what Nixon was when he was President. With men like Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and  a few others it hard to say where they stood in terms of religious classification and identity.

So that brings me to Clinton. She is a favorite enemy of the Christian Right and other religious people in American politics and she may well deserve it. She has a background which is mostly verifiable: Clinton was reared a Methodist Protestant Christian, belonged to a Senate Prayer Group and has spoken at Prayer Breakfasts.  Her profile may seem different to American atheists than to most other people. Here is an atheist site evaluating Clinton’s background and religious values.  It is hard to know how  she would deal with Christmas.

I have just finished observing the Independence Day  holiday in a minimal sort of way. It is always a time that I like to think about what it means to be an American and posts about those thoughts can be seen here. But although those ideas have been posted here they have more often been shared in other places and my thoughts about America have been posted here on other holidays. Those holiday thoughts on Memorial Day have been  here and on Veterans day have been here. While I have in common with Clinton and Trump that I have not a day of service in the military in my past it seems to be the military holidays that most inspire my patriotism. My observation of the Independence Day holiday was not entirely minimal by every standard and I did post quite a few notes and the lyrics of the National Anthem on my Facebook profile but minimal my observance  certainly was  in some measures. Neither Trump nor Clinton were very visible in my own perusal of our nation’s birthday. But one of them will likely be the American Head of State by next Independence Day. Unlike Christmas these holidays are not specifically Christian. I am a Christian and for me Christian prayer is part of these national holidays. I am not sure how the faith of either major candidate informs  their celebration of these days.  But faith and the most gung ho kinds of patriotism are linked by many as can be seen at links here and here. What else does  America expect from a leader and does Clinton have it?

Clinton has a lot of government experience, but the range is not infinite. One of the big achievements of this week has been the placement of the Juno observatory in position as a satellite of Jupiter. Some of the reason many people around the world are interested in this project can be gleaned here.  Neither Clinton nor Trump seems to be the kind to play an extraordinary role in blazing a pioneering trail into space.  These kinds of brave explorations may shape the future or not but they do not seem to define the vision of either Clinton or Trump.

One question many people have about religion is whether or not someone who prays for help should be President. Perhaps prayer means one cannot do the job. But some contend Clinton had private emails because she did not want to disclose the degree to which she could not do her job. That story can be seen here. It is to be noted that this not entirely clear story comes from a publication as biased in favor of Clinton and against Trump as one can get. But the point is here only that Buzz Aldrin, a rocket scientist, astronaut and space planner is a noted public prayer promoter in his own life and not being known for religious acts makes nobody a scientist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fathers Day, Poverty, Harsh Reality & Sports

Last night I watched LeBron James lead the determined Cavaliers against the super professional Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. The beloved King James who had seen his jersey burnt in Cleveland when he signed to play in Miami was not quite in the land of ordinary men. He was  crossing over a bit into legend on that moment.  It was Fathers Day and a lot of American Fathers (and other fathers too) are sports fans. It seems likely that for many families in Cleveland this was Fathers Day they are not likely to forget.  Of course for the Curry family and the fans of the Golden State Warriors it was a bitter disappointment. The moment one team and one man and one city flirted with legend was the moment that another story fell short the best regular season in NBA history ended with a hard fought  seven game finals but it did not end with the championship.

Competition is not the only value worth having and really is not the central value of my own life. But it is part of life for all of us and it is part of male identity. This Sunday Americans celebrated Fathers Day. I had an enjoyable time with my father.  I brought him gifts and we enjoyed drinks at the Riverfront restaurant in Abbeville and a beautiful meal that my mother had prepared. During this occasion most of the attention goes to the stories of fathers bringing up children in pretty good situations.  But fathering is done in many parts of the world that are far from ideal. The sense of struggle is almost endless for many people and many of them are fathers too. The Syrian refugees, the destitute in camps, homeless shelters,  and squatting in sites around the world — many of these are fathers as well.  This is one very compelling study about what is happening in the world.  It does not focus on the whole world but on one part of it very specifically, the world of a large group or class of Syrian refugees.  My Dad has spent a lot of time with those who were in trouble. We have lived and he has lived and visited regions where people were involved in the kinds of lingering and sporadic civil wars that were common in the twentieth century, places where mass migrations had strained local resources,  places recently devastated by hurricanes and places under various kinds of social change.

Being with him in some of those times  and places where the trouble and need which attracted us there were prevalent was not always easy. The path of a life in the missions was certainly not one without real challenges. The story of those challenges and the joys that go with them has been a story that has long been a part of my life itself — not just the events of the story but the telling and retelling of that story. Even the journalism I have made a little bit of a living doing from time to time and the fiction that has not yet paid any bills –even that is informed by the really extremely varied story of that life and those years especially spent together often dealing with crises.

Crises shape the community, hardship shapes a community and depression shapes a community.  So does the fear of violence. Americans are subject to a considerable amount of fear of violence and there is not that much agreement about how to deal with it. The cultural hostility to a person achieving any kind of self reliance whatever can be very much manifest in groups of people that inhabit many people and intimidate the family oriented, hardworking and insightful people trying to prevent those neighborhoods from turning to living hells or remaining such. A country like ours that is so dotted with riots and violence and punctuates it life with so many bombings and mass shootings is not necessarily a place that will not be crippled by more emphasis on disarming the citizenry . The Obama administration has often been criticized  here and so have  those around him who want an unarmed lawful citizenry. They are criticized in large part because I believe that they do not know how profound the savagery, disorder and decay is in its effects in destroying the quality of life in this country.  Limiting the arms of besieged American beset with violence, chaos and resistance to public advancement on many sides will certainly increase this sense of a society where it is not safe to try to survive and thrive. Here is a story about these matter in terms of what American guns mean to maintaining a balance of terror. The bad guys will not be disarming much any time soon.

My Dad is a gun owner. He is not a big preacher of the value of an armed citizenry and in many rough places where we lived we could not keep weapons at home. In addition the radical nature of our involvement with those in need  required us to risk a level of vulnerability  — but my dad is, as I have always been, a man who knew and used guns and respected and enjoyed them.

 

But the arts of shooting and killing like many other things have not been the only part of his life that we have shared. Family, ministry and other values and themes of life have really been much more important without undervaluing those things.  There have also been times visiting tourist sites, wealthy friends and relatives, living in neighborhoods near stable work and hanging out on the beach.

 

But I think back on my life as life in which the moments victory in dark places and hard times mattered a lot. Compared to opening a new harbor facility, a new factory or a new large piece of permanent public infrastructure a lot of the victories our family shared were kind of fleeting and heard to define. Life the elated Cleveland fans who must go back to the problems that their city faces tomorrow. But Cleveland is building back in many ways over the last twenty years. Form the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to the improving Browns, to American Splendor and  the story of King James and his knights of the round ball — Cleveland is a gritty place in a gritty state looking for and finding some real meaning and hope.

I never forget the connection between the Saints winning the Super Bowl and the devastation of Katrina and Rita. Things are far from perfect now but the Super Bowl did help to keep people who stayed in the struggle in the struggle. In America a lot of fathers watch sports and find a little hope in their own struggles from the struggles of sports. That happened to us when the Saints won it all.

Whatever come in the coming year that is difficult and challenging I am sure tha watching the game last nigh after getting back from Dad’s will not be my favorite memory. I am not a huge NBA fan really. But I am also sure that it is a Father’s day even that has some meaning. It is a moment in time that many will treasure  as dads and with their dads.

Emerging Views: Chapter Fourteen; A relatively Humble Standard

Standard Oil paid for the projects discussed in this book. This last numbered chapter in this book is about them and Humble Oil who worked closely with Louisiana Story. Hopefully it sets in context other references from across the text.  It is not long enough to do much more.   This chapter is out of sequence on my blog. The thirteenth numbered chapter will have to follow in time. But this is a chapter about the oil industry as well as about funding these pictures.   It is a chapter which is only a hint at the breadth of a topic that goes far beyond the book as a whole in many ways.

The Gulf of Mexico's oil reserves remain vital to our country's future.

The Gulf of Mexico’s oil reserves remain vital to our country’s future.

But despite controversy and complexity the relationships described in this chapter were never all good or all bad. Here a few topics are discussed  within the context of what might have meaning for this text and its readers.  Much more work could be done in a different book.

Here is the pdf form:EmergingViewsChapterFourteenARelativelyHumbleStandard

Here is the text itself such as it currently is:

Chapter Fourteen: A relatively Humble Standard

 

The title of this chapter plays with the meaning of the two capitalized names when one is used as an adjective and the other as a noun. Thus this chapter is about Standard Oil and Humble Oil and how in the years between 1943 and 1953 they created a norm for these projects which was tied into their overall management style and philosophy.  In contrast to their philosophical approach as it has appeared to other writers and to this writer at other times, this was humble standard of operating procedure. To a great degree oil was trying to fit into America’s energy coast (and yes was hoping to transform it — but–) they saw and others saw the operation of the energy sector in the region as one important set of activities among many. They aspired to lead as has been stated before,  but the leadership had a different flavor and texture than other times and places have sometimes been asked to consume. It was easier on the palate.

 

There is evidence of this in their dealings with Flaherty himself. Flaherty had known great triumphs and Nanook is still at least the equal of Louisiana Story by almost every measure. But he had known a variety of pressured manipulated projects where his work was compromised. Murnau had squeezed him out of directing their supposed collaboration, Tabu. The story one sees on screen was largely written by him and some of the locations and casting may be due to him as well as many other aspects of the fim. But great as the film is in its own right it was Murnau’s as a director and it is more accurate to give Flaherty half a dozen other credits on the film and not to list him as director. That was only his greatest and not his only disappointment in terms of feeling taken advantage of by those with whom he worked. Compared to much of his life’s work this was a his widow Frances later asserted — a princely commission. Princes are not often equated with humility but in fact the royalist ideal is of a gentler and more deft touch in rule than is typical of the tyrant or the dictator. Not to overstate the case this is a story about oil companies which behaved themselves. During the time and in the place which this text describes….

 

In Chapter Twelve it was remarked that Dudley Leblanc’s thirty-fourth birthday party was an occasion for him to receive a kind of tribute from people from a variety of industries but not the petroleum industry.  It is also true that we have discussed how the Broussard Brothers became a very successful firm and remains so today but its growth as a major named focus in the oil industry on the Attakapas Prairie has been a fairly slow process. The firm was located mostly in Chalmette at first and then has gradually assumed more prominence in the region. Only in recent years has it bought the prominent and fairly stately office building in a leafy neighborhood where it now holds sway.Chris Crusta Flying Services was operated by Danny Babin of the Gueydan area and by Chris Crusta of Abbeville. Both were pilots with distinguished military careers however, the firm which provided crop dusting services across the Parish  for many years also helped to launch the business career of one of the leading figures in the oilfield in Vermilion Parish and the Prairies.  Revis Sirmon was a French speaking native of the region whose family farmed rice and who married a Cajun girl, name Lorraine Breaux,  many of his closest friends were Cajuns. Yet Revis Sirmon was a distinctly non Cajun person with his own set of folklore and religious experiences shaping his life.  His close relationship with the wealthy rice-milling  Godchaux family was a relationship with a white Creole family. Possibly there both not being Cajun entirely formed a common part of their identity in the intensely Cajun region. Revis Sirmon flew fifty combat missions in Europe in World War II and loved to fly. However, after a few years of of the risks of agricultural aviation and with two small children to worry about leaving orphaned he was ready to spend more time on the ground. He went into the oilfield fluids business called the mud business with the backing of Frank Godchaux III. Revis Sirmon’s memoirs, Eternal Pilot, a book co-written with Joseph Chaillot  do a good job of charting his life in Acadiana and the tensions between Cajun identity and residence in Acadiana. They also provide a useful glimpse of his rise in the local oilfield world and its ties to world commerce and it also is true that the book like so much else describes many people whom I knew well although it also leaves out a great deal and a great number of people whom I know were involved in the events described.    But whatever angle on takes in viewing these things it is different than the take of a book like this one, the scholar has to bring something to the research as it is not the book’s purpose to address any or all of these questions directly.  Revis Sirmon was encouraged by the ethnically prominent Charles Broussard of the Flying J. Ranch to ask Edwin Edwards (who has always identified as Cajun) to appoint him to the Mineral Board, while in that position he raised the royalty payments made to the State for mineral leases. However, as an active commercial oilman he was disqualified from future service after seven fairly distinguished years on the board when new ethics rules defined his operations as a conflict of interest. He resigned rather than before the newly propounded rules would have formally disqualified him. My maternal grandfather was in business with Revis Sirmon in a company called Riptide Investors and in developing a port known as Freshwater City. However, almost all of this oilfield story is outside the scope of this book. Almost all but not quite all. It was in 1953, the very end of this period that the pilot known as the Scatterbrain Kid founded his mud company. This was just one more sign of the growing importance of the oilfield and related industries in the immediate region where Louisiana Story had been filmed.  

 

Humble Oil and Standard Oil lend their names to the chapter and especially the capitalization of the words Humble and Standard in its title. They have since merged but at the time of the focus of this study from 1943 to 1953 they were both relatively autonomous and certainly legally independent corporations and each had a distinct and significant role that they played in the production of these photographic projects and the film Louisiana Story. The two companies had national and global connections and so forth but both came from distinct regions in the United States outside of louisiana where they retained significant rootedness.  It is not easy to minimize the importance of the oil industry and of Standard Oil of New Jersey and Humble Oil in the production of these projects more than has been done here without leaving aside  a very significant part of the story indeed. The truth is that cramming what is left of the essential parts of that story into one chapter is not an entirely satisfying solution either.  But it is the solution which is achievable in this case.

 

GAS RECYCLING PLANT IS ASKED IN ERATH FIELD

Preliminary plans for the erection of a gas recycling plant estimated to cost $2,000,000 in the Erath oil field in Vermilion Parish though the unitization of approximately 3300 acres included in the productive area were discussed at a public hearing held here Monday by Conservation Commissioner Jos. L. McHugh and other members of the committee.

 

The notice which appears here set in perspective the money spent on Louisiana Story and on the larger photography project. Here there are two points and set of line from which to measure. One is to compare the cost of the film to what Flaherty had spent on other films and also to what Hollywood spent on a feature film. The other set of measures is that established by what the oil and gas industry were spending on other expenditures in the region.  That will come back into this chapter and has already appeared in the comments made in Abbeville and Vermilion Parish which appeared in Chapter Eleven of this text. The same little article lends us more insight.


The public hearing was adjourned Tuesday afternoon and will open until the presentation of additional information, it was announced by E. L. Gladney, Jr., attorney for the commission. Other members of the commission attending the hearing were H. N. Bell, director of the minerals division; John J. Huner, state geologist; and Percy Irwin Chief Petroleum Engineer.

 

We see the importance the newspaper attributes to this commission in giving details of various kinds including names. We see that there is an attorney, a director, a geologist and a petroleum engineer. We also  see that the Conservation Commission is a very well established and multifaceted bureaucracy.  Additionally the lack of even one distinctly Cajun name or any of the phrases that might be used if the people involved had close ties to large numbers of readers. Such a thing is not entirely determinative of their identity and connections to the place but it does indicate such a level of connections or the lack thereof. This reminds us that the local readership were informed participants but did not necessarily have a shared identity with the oil industry.

 


The operators owning about 85 percent of the leases located within the productive limits of the Erath field and who are seeking the orders from the commission to unitize the field include the Phillips Petroleum Company, the Texas Company, The Humble Oil and Refining Company and the Tidewater Associated Oil Company.

“We believe that the Erath field constitutes one of the greatest and most valuable reserves of gas-distillate and gas-condensates now known to exist in the entire mid-continent area,” declared Dan DeBaillon, Lafayette, attorney who represented the operators. “We can state frankly, with the firmest of convictions, that waste of a large percentage of these valuable resources is eminent, and inescapable, if this field be either unoperated. Wisely planned development and intelligent operation of this field as a unit, as distinguished from development and operation on a wasteful basis, will result in the recoveries of millions of barrels of distillate and condensate not otherwise recoverable and at the same time, billions of “cubic feet “of gas can be saved by returning the gas to the productive formations. This returned gas, by, helping to maintain the reservoir pressure, will itself greatly increase the ultimate recoveries of distillate and condensate and also will itself, as gas, have a value in dollars and cents estimated in terms of millions of dollars.

 

Here we see that Humble Oil which would interact closely with Standard Oil in pursuing the making of Louisiana Story was accustomed to interaction with other oil companies in unitization hearings, in other interactions with the Conservation Committee and in a variety of other circumstances. While they had a special relationship with Standard Oil the industry itself was to some degree a cohesive community which could pursue its community interests in ways not so disimilar from the way that the Cajuns and the documentarians also formed communitiescapable of pursuing community interests.

 

The article goes on at some length and its detail in some places is at least some real and fairly compelling evidence that the readers of the Meridional had a fairly sophisticated understanding of the oil industry at the start of the SONJ projects. It also shows the Vermilion Parish definitively had relationships with Humble Oil.

 

 

The oil industry was remaking the realities of the life in Acadiana during the years between 1943 and 1953. One of the purposes of this chapter will be to understand through the lense of the work done on Louisiana Story and the rest of the SONJ projects how the oil industry operates and what its culture was  as regard interacting with the people, local culture and the environment of Acadiana. Without going into great detail we will seek to understand as well to what degree the portrayal of the oil interests is a valid one — mostly in the film but also briefly revisiting their portrayal in the photographic projects. There are various levels of distrust for that portrayal which are possible and in this study we will at least be honest about what level of mistrust is at the foundation of our study. This is a book largely about perception and understanding. Here we take a further step back and ask ourselves how we ought to perceive  both the role of the oil company and industry that funded these projects and the wa way that historians, scholars in general and others have perceived those involvements up to now.

 

 

One real factor to remember in the midst of documenting and analyzing these projects and the people and places that they chose to document is that  Standard Oil was footing the bill. The relationship between Humble Oil and Standard oil was a complicated one and a complete understanding of that relationship is beyond the scope of this text. However one of the objectives of this chapter will be to create a basic framework of understanding for that relationship in its most basic configuration without much appreciation for  the nuances and  complexities of the full reality even where those different and varied complexities may have shaped and impacted the experiences of the production and organization of the SONJ photography project and the Flaherty unit that created Louisiana Story.

 

I was honored to sit with Mr. Sirmon for a year (2008) and gather his stories, organize them, and ghost write this book for him (as acknowledged in the Introduction). I will be glad to answer any questions I can about it … Joseph Chaillot ( josephchaillot@gmail.com

 

At this writing there are over 125 years of  ExxonMobil history and one can fairly trace the evolution of the company to many stories including that of Humble Oil as well as that of Mobil. But the main story is surely still that of Standard Oil which has evolved and developed  from a New Jersey based and largely regional distributor and  marketer of kerosene in the U.S. to the iconic symbol of an industry which is only overshadowed by state firms in a few countries and is the  largest publicly traded petroleum and petrochemical joint stock corporation in the world. The company in 1943 and in 1953 was closer to today’s firm than to its origins. The biggest difference is perhaps hidden behind a similarity is that while ESSO and EssoMarine were prominent brands that had the kind of currency still true of the company’s dealings with the larger world today as today they operate in most of the world’s countries and are readily identified familiar brand names: Exxon, Esso and Mobil. There was another name that really mattered in those days and was essential to the life of the firm and which is not so important today.

 

That name was Rockefeller.

 

Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, located in eastern Cameron and western Vermilion Parishes, is owned and maintained by the State of Louisiana. When deeded to the state the refuge encompassed approximately 86,000 acres, but beach erosion has taken a heavy toll, and the most recent surveys indicate only 76,042 acres remaining. This area borders the Gulf of Mexico for 26.5 miles and extends inland toward the Grand Chenier ridge, a stranded beach ridge, six miles from the Gulf.

When the Rockefeller Foundation officially granted the property to the state, they spelled out in the Deed of Donation exactly how the property was to be used. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes periodic inspections of refuge activities and has reversionary rights over the refuge if the state fails to meet its obligations pertaining to the Deed of Donation, as amended.

The major terms of the original agreement stipulated 1) the property must be maintained as a wildlife refuge, 2) boundaries must be posted, 3) enforcement agents must protect the area from trespassers and poachers, 4) no public taking of fish or animals is allowed, 5) refuge staff must study and manage the property for wildlife, and 6) mineral revenues must be used on the refuge first (surplus may go toward education or public health). In 1983 the Deed of Donation was amended with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Department of the Interior and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The MOA allows for regulated sport fishing and commercial trapping when compatible with the primary purpose of the refuge as a wildlife sanctuary. The MOA also allows surplus revenues to be used for land acquisition for wildlife management purposes. A 1987 MOA between the same two agencies ceased yielding surplus revenues for education or public health.

Planners had the foresight to realize that mineral revenues would cease at some point in time, and steps were taken to ensure that the refuge would be financially capable of operation and maintenance indefinitely. Act 321 of the 1972 legislature created the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge Trust and Protection Fund (Trust Fund). One fourth of funds derived from royalties, rentals, or otherwise from Rockefeller mineral leases were to be deposited in the Trust Fund until a principal of $5 million was reached. Act 342 in 1978 raised the Trust Fund goal to $10 million. Act 807 in 1980 increased the Trust Fund goal to $20 million, and also established the Rockefeller Scholarship Fund for Louisiana wildlife students from 5% of interest from the Trust Fund. Act 63 of 1982 raised the Trust Fund goal to $30 million, and Act 707 of 1989 reduced additions to the Trust Fund from 25% to 5% of mineral revenues. Senate Bill 662 of 1989 established an annual donation of $150,000 to the Fur and Alligator Advisory Council, and Act 832 of 1995 raised the Trust Fund cap to $50 million.

Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge is one of the most biologically diverse wildlife areas in the nation. Located at the terminus of the vast Mississippi Flyway, south Louisiana winters about 4 million waterfowl annually. Historically, Rockefeller wintered as many as 400,000-plus waterfowl annually, but severe declines in the continental duck population due to drought and poor habitat quality on the breeding grounds have altered Louisiana’s wintering population. More recent surveys indicate a wintering waterfowl population on Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge reaching 160,000. In addition to ducks, geese, and coots, numerous shorebirds and wading birds either migrate through or overwinter in Louisiana’s coastal marshes. Neotropical migrant passerines also use the shrubs and trees on levees and other “upland” areas of the refuge as a rest stop on their trans-Gulf journeys to and from Central and South America. Although Canada geese no longer migrate to the refuge from breeding areas in the north as they once did, a resident flock of giant Canada geese was established in the early 1960s.

Common resident animals include mottled ducks, nutria, muskrat, rails, raccoon, mink, otter, opossum, white-tailed deer, and alligators. An abundant fisheries population provides recreational opportunities to fishermen seeking shrimp, redfish, speckled trout, black drum, and largemouth bass, among others. No hunting is allowed on the refuge, but some regulated trapping is allowed for furbearers that could potentially damage the marsh if their populations are not controlled.

The refuge is a flat, treeless area with highly organic soils which are capable of producing immense quantities of waterfowl foods in the form of annual emergents and submerged aquatics. Since 1954 Rockefeller Refuge has been a test site for various marsh management strategies, including levees, weirs, and several types of water control structures utilized to enhance marsh health and waterfowl food production.

The style of this text has been a bit less orthodox and strict in adhering to the manner in which some other standards of text have been put together by competent people seeking to establish a norm. Standard Oil was becoming a leading company in offshore exploration and was involved with others in that field and in deep drilling. But there world’s largest refinery in Baton Rouge was leading the way to providing the   petrochemical building blocks that would lead to thousands of consumer goods. An would usher in many of the most unique qualities of the emerging era an era of the very start of a process which would distinguish previous worldwide international commerce from what is called globalization. Standard Oil itself was a mature and venerable institution. In the 2007 film There Will Be Blood American and international viewers were reminded, if they had not already known, that  the oil industry has been around for a while.  This film was loosely based on the 1926 novel OIL! By Upton Sinclair. That novel dealt with many of the issues explored by people involved in these events — and yet it is a profoundly different story. But regional texture, capitalism, a rough and dangerous industry, powerful personalities and socialism are all themes common both to this book and its subjects as well as to Sinclair’s novel and its subjects.  

Standard Oil may not have been the name of the concern but in the Rockefeller dominated era and even today the company that became Exxon was well aware of its heritage going back to the same year the Abbeville  based history of the Vigilante Committees of the Attakapas was written by a French historian living among these people that year was 1859 when the remembered exploring entrepreneurs  

Colonel Edwin Drake and Uncle Billy Smith drilled the first successful oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The colonel’s discovery triggered an oil boom that in many ways resembled the gold rush of a decade earlier. The internal combustion engine was a long way into the future.as the icon of  oil consumption. However it was also in 1859 that Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir created the first commercially successful internal combustion engine.  As the oil industry prepared to lead its way in creating this region’s future few felt it was in any way a fledgling enterprise.

Lionel Leblanc and Robert Flaherty’s  parent’s generation were in some cases unborn, were in diapers or in the case of a few late to procreate were when in 1870 Rockefeller and his associates formed the Standard Oil Company (Ohio), with combined facilities constituting the largest refining capacity of any single firm in the world at that time and seemingly exceeding any comparable entity consisting of consortia or government entities. In America 79 years is a fairly long time compared to most other continents. The idea that they were leading America to a new future does not mean that they were themselves perceived as new. The  name Standard is chosen to signify high, uniform quality and the name Rockefeller .was iconic as a symbol of wealth and prestige. It would be foolish and would distort the story to pretend that Flaherty, Stryker or the Cajuns did not have a healthy respect for all things Standard Oil.

In 1882 the SONJ entity which has its name or initials stamped on so many documents in this project came to be.  It was in that year that it touched another great American icon when

Standard Oil lubricated the invention of the man who also revolutionized the film industry by revolutionizing a system related to film itself. Standard Oil  contributed to Thomas Edison’s first central generating system by providing lubricants from its new chemical divisions.. Besides SONJ  in this year, Standard Oil Trust formed to include the Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony) and in those years SONJ was referred to usually as the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and shortened to two words rather than four letters –Jersey Standard. .

In 1885 the company became associated with New York City, where documentary film and photography had its main American nest from 1920 to 1953 at the very shortest duration. That year the Standard Oil Trust relocated its corporate headquarters to 26 Broadway, New York City. The nine-story office building became a landmark which would have been known to the majority of the scene and history conscious film and camera people involved in this set of projects long before they worked for Standard Oil.

In 1911, following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, that reshaped a lot of the United States in its view of itself in economic terms Standard Oil was broken up into 34 unrelated companies, including Jersey Standard, the SONJ which funded this photographic venture.  The year also marks the first time Jersey Standard’s sales of kerosene are surpassed by gasoline, conjectures about a photographic bias against horses which seems evident if in fact it exists would be related to the fact that by the 1940s the company depended largely on a  product that in the early days had often been discarded as a waste product.  In 1911 many buggies could carry a kerosene lantern and be good customers. Auto racing became part of the Standard Oil legacy through Mobil products in the decades between 1911 and 1943.

In 1919 the company that actually furnished the drillers for Louisiana Story became a real part of the Standard Oil family and tradition when SONJ or

Jersey Standard acquired a 50 percent interest in Humble Oil & Refining Company of Texas. In that same year Humble Oil , led by its pioneering Chief Geologist Wallace Pratt, developed the full commercial employment of  micropaleontology in oil exploration.This study of microscopic fossils contained in cuttings and core samples from drilling was an aid in finding oil which tied the Oil industry more to local universities in various region and made the science and technology of the industry a bit more compelling. It laid the foundation for the kind of postwar industrial leadership sought in this set of projects.

Just about the time these projects were getting cranked up and closer to the subject of this text in 1942, the world’s first fluid catalytic cracker went into onstream operation at Louisiana Standard’s Baton Rouge refinery. The process, was developed by four SONJ scientists known as the “four horsemen,” and became the worldwide industry standard for producing gasoline. Fortune magazine when it covered the story described it as “the most revolutionary chemical-engineering achievement of the last 50 years.” In the fifties SONJ would found more cultural and educational programs and more automobile related products as centerpieces of its overall vision. Those fascination with shaping culture through the Esso Education Foundation after 1955 and the increased interest in playing a dominant role in serving the needs of automobiles after the development of Uniflo in 1952 doubtless affected these projects, though this text does not provide a close analysis of how that played out.

 

This chapter simply provides a bit of history to serve as a background to other observations made throughout the text. It is very far from exhaustive and does not disclose a great deal of highly compelling close analysis of Standard’s role here. But it is the place to make a few assertions if there is indeed any such place.

 

  1. Standard Oil and its competitors and friends funded education, built things and employed people. But Cajun technology in building, dredging, design and drainage was seldom incorporated except by a few who struggled hard to do so. Lack of respect for the accumulated knowledge of regional conditions had a powerful negative set of impacts on the region from the Cajun point of view.
  2. Standard Oil and the Rockefellers with deeply Baptist Protestant heritage may well be responsible for the lack of Catholicism in Louisiana Story simply because of their enormous general reputation. Likewise, the other desires and needs of that family and coporation likely transmitted themselves across the project with little direct efforts from those at the top of the power structures involved. All evidence for this is general in nature at this point and may exist in specific form or may not.
  3. Cajun inventions continued to proliferate in navigation, crawfish farming seafood processing and elsewhere across the region, horseracing and breeding of the Cajun quarter horse continued to produce ethnic excellence. There is a sense among many that Cajun leadership in this industry and the cultural accommodations that could have produced better relationships never fully materialized.
  4. Both Huey Long and Dudley Leblanc were at different times Public Service Commissioners and as such dealt with the oil and gas industry. The importance of this industry to all sides of the political spectrum over a much larger period than is central to this text can scarcely be disputed. Longism was of course more influential and successful than whatever Leblancism may be said to be. On the other hand, Huey was killed by the husband of one of Dudley Leblanc’s Evangeline girls Yvonne Pavy for suggesting that she had Negro blood. Weis’s family disputes that claim  and he was in many respects one of the finest and most gifted citizens of Louisiana in his time. But it is highly credible that the dictator was killed for insulting the genealogy in question by a man who considered himself and his family superior specimens to Long himself. Dudley Leblanc, diminished over time but died in peace and as a fairly old man. The oil industry although soaked by Huey in many ways was more associated with Huey and the Long Machine than with Dudley Leblanc.
  5. These projects coincided with the last great push of Dudley Leblanc in politics. Had he been closer to the oil industry and less close to four or five other industries it is quite possible that his fortunes would have continued to rise and the period would have been a different one than it was.

In conclusion to this chapter, Standard oil is not at the heart of this text about a project it made possible. But in many ways it chose to take a back seat, to hide behind the scenery and many other metaphors. They influenced many things but determined very few. There chapter is the last numbered chapter before the conclusion and their role is the least thoroughly studied of the communities whose interactions define this text.