Category Archives: Louisiana

Cops, Women, Movies and What I might blog about more if I were really a celebrity….

When the Aurora  theater shooting was perpetrated there was a whole series of issues in the way the event was handled that I found very upsetting. I wrote some things about police handling of the investigation that were among the angriest and most offensively worded things that I have ever written. It was a desperate attempt to attract more attention to reforming police procedure, reporting on mass shootings, reporting between agencies and public police relations. Of course I got no response from any of the parties I tried to offend — not the police, the mainstream media or the sort of half-breed institutions  that act as part media and part police. No response except some evidence that some isolated elements in both media and police took offense and put me on their enemies list. Fair enough, I have earned lots of enemies but although I hate reading those words I  still think that if I was not so universally ignored it might have prevented some of the horrors of police – public connections and relations that have plagued us ever since. Yes that is egotistical, but if you read this blog regularly you already know that I am fairly egotistical. Insulting the most capable group in society of inflicting harm was not a choice I made lightly even in the heat of anger.

O. J. Simpson’s legal team demonized the police so he could get away with murdering his wife and her associate or lover — his tactic succeeded despite the lack of any relevance to anything. I suggested that the police needed to disprove that a man dressed entirely like a cop, in a place cops were known to work and who shot with skill was not in fact a cop. I suggested that this lack of confronting that issue was inexcusable. I did it in ways that were over the top. But my goal was to start a discussion — I failed to achieve my objective where Simpson’s attorneys did achieve theirs. I never said a cop did it and I laid out the facts that Holmes probably did it and said so clearly to those few who can actually follow an argument they do not like.  But I achieved no discussion whatsoever of how to handle situations when a cop may have run amok. That was around this  time of year in 2012. All of the corrosive events since then may make many people (whose point of view I can’t respect) feel that such criticism contributed to the bad will sense. They are basically fools and self-deluded cowards but many of them hate people like me on sight so this won’t gain me new enemies really — they sense that I dislike the status quo they don’t wan’t criticized  as soon as they see me. Still I would apologize for how angry those words were if I thought it meant anything.
When the Lafayette theater shooting occurred in 2015 and the killer was not dressed like a cop in the view of hundreds of witnesses and the reporting was in my mind sane I said nothing negative about the cops or the cop reportage media industry. I focused on the victims and shared reported links about them such as this and this which emphasized their great human beauty as people. I also shared other links like this. Until this sentence I have never mentioned that Train Wreck is a disturbing movie which many people would find offensive and hard to watch in any of my other treatments of this topic. That is true although as I wrote with empathy in the Charlie Ebdo massacre I never took up the Je Suis Charlie Ebdo tag. I actually think Amy Schumer has some serious things to say in the film and they need to be said. I am not at all sure she says them in a way that deserves major feature film distribution acroos America. But until now I did not mention that and I did focus some attention on the killer and his horrible points of view which led to this crisis. A post or two on that shooting made this blog. So my criticism harsh as it was had a very specific context. Positive posts about police have appeared here , here and here. But that first post which I do not link but which is still here on this blog and elsewhere will haunt me for the rest of my life with a long and more complete line of ghosts than most people have.

So two lovely women who are part of the Acadiana community which I have loved and lived in were killed at a movie about women’s issues that were offensively portrayed by a man whose whole life was devoted to offensive behaviors and thoughts. the cops and media handled it well and that scarcely lessens the tragedy. That is not the kind of writing I would like to do about women, movies are cops but it beats the Aurora piece. I have blogged about the Louisiana Story and the Blob which have been big parts of my life. I have also blogged about other movies such as here  for LA LA Land,  here for a local film and here for the classic Belizaire the Cajun and here for other films. Films are a major interest of mine.

In my brother’s recent foray into feature films I had a chance to shoot the pictures below of an attractive young woman, Dasha Nekrasova a Belarus native who grew up in Las Vegas and lives in Los Angeles and is making a movie in Louisiana. It reminds me of a time when I was able to think of cops, women and movies all in a different and more hopeful way than I can now. It reminds me of a time when my past life was less complex. That being said I was never the kind of person cops look like and say “he is a good citizen and we want to be on his side” with any kind of universality. I have a certain instinct for trouble, am usually unhappy and they usually sense both things pretty quickly.
I have never really known what it is like to move forward in life without feeling that terrible tension between what was going on and what is tolerable in the world but I am trying to understand things better. All the good things in life get more distant to me as I age even when they are present. But I did  feel connected to something better seeing this girl/woman telling an American story.

 

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Counting Down to 62, and thinking back.

If I could collect the money I am vested in for Social Security because of having made the payments necessary to be permanently vested then I would be 62 years old. It would not be a lot and it would be much better if I had a good job and was earning more FICA credits, but there is no reason to hop that anything in my life will improve before 62. If I can survive till 62 then I can perhaps hope for some meager harvest of the crops sown in my still meager but much better days from 1979 to 1995 when I paid the most FICA and the years from 1995 to 2005 when I paid some.  But if I had to guess I think my death benefit will be all I ever collect. Nine years is a long time in a life where things almost always get worse. But this post at 53 is not about looking forward but rather about looking back about nostalgia.

Today I was helping a friend set up a Facebook page for the Table Tennis operation which he feels passionately about. He is quite a bit older than I am and table tennis keeps him in shape and engaged with other people and he finds a way to make a few bucks off the sport as well. Once upon a time I played a bit of the sport but that was a long time ago.  I have little nostalgia about those days but not very much because there are so many other things to be nostalgic about. There are many songs about nostalgia or expressing nostalgia in American popular culture but one of the ones that stands out for me is Glory Days, by Bruce Springsteen. Here are a few lyrics:

I had a friend was a big baseball player
Back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
But all he kept talking about was:
Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days

I suppose that my friend and I have discussed his path through life and his past quite a bit — although we have never shared a beer over it . His journey was accompanied by different music than the Boss’s most of the time. Although I fancy he knows Springsteen a bit. But He is still fortunate to be more involved in many of the pursuits of his  youth than some people — like me for instance  — generally are at an earlier age.

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Rocky Russo remembers the glory days of his life as an outdoorsman and hunter with these photographs.

I was never a Bruce Beast as a few of my friends self described themselves, but I was a the owner of a few albums that I enjoyed listening to. One of Bruce Springsteen’s songs that I liked was Glory Days. For those who want to see a video it should be available here.

Nostalgia takes many forms. Looking back in times takes a different tone because of why one is looking back, what one is looking back at and how one is  looking back at the past.  The

My first cousin once removed, Charles William Massie III died this July.  Among other things he and my Dad cut and suctioned my snake bite and tourniqueted my leg and helped rush me to the hospital. He also helped me wash an eye popping out of my head from an allergic reaction and helped rush me to the hospital again a few years later.  He had a longer obituary in the Abbeville Meridional but here is a link to his obituary at the funeral home where I attended his wake. Big Billy and I shared many experiences outdoors and indoors, hunting, religious and familial over my whole life. Yet we were not that close when he died.

I am entirely sure that life will hold a few surprises in each day that I continue to live and breathe. But this year I have run into a number of women with whom I spent some time many years ago and we have had fairly decent visits,. I am made aware of how much my life is about limits and impossibilities compared to the years in the past when there was more hope and I think some of them are reminded of times when they found social life a bit more exciting than they do today. But perhaps our exchanges are not all that close to the one described in the next part of Glory Days.

Well there’s a girl that lives up the block
Back in school she could turn all the boy’s heads
Sometimes on a Friday I’ll stop by
And have a few drinks after she put her kids to bed
Her and her husband Bobby well they split up
I guess it’s two years gone by now
We just sit around talking about the old times,
She says when she feels like crying
She starts laughing thinking about
Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days

In this year and many years ( twelve to be exact) I have not had any kind of regular girlfriend and the general trend in my life has been towards ever greater isolation of all kinds since I got back from China in 2005. Before China I had been increasingly isolated every year since 1995. So China was just an island of intense social and occupational engagement. But in the years from 1995 to 2004 I wrote for newspapers and taught in public schools as a substitute — recent years have not had those kinds of public engagement for pay. My  Dad has been in the mode of trying to retire more and more and discusses his declining ability to pursue some of his outdoor hobbies. I think of  the next lyrics in Glory Days when I think of talking with him.  Although few of the facts are similar still I empathize with the narrator’s connection of nostalgia across generations. It is something that as it grows in us connects us to older generations.

My old man worked twenty years on the line
And they let him go
Now everywhere he goes out looking for work
They just tell him that he’s too old
I was nine years old and he was working at the
Metuchen Ford plant assembly line
Now he just sits on a stool down at the Legion hall
But I can tell what’s on his mind
Glory days yeah goin back
Glory days aw he ain’t never had
Glory days, glory days

This year and part of the past one have formed a unit as I have been back in Abbeville and living in my grandparents old house and trying to get the grounds back in shape with limited time, energy and resources. Eve the resources to put photographs of the glory days of that house and its occupants seem to be in short supply.  But it is a place of nostalgia. This is the year not of the great parties or the family trip to Sea Island,  Georgia but the  trip to local sites during the greatest flood in memory with an open would wrapped in plastic, a ruined cell phone. The year when one of the highest sites in the parish which did not flood still held a lot of water because I had not yet removed the fallen ceiling and caused me to loose even more equipments and supplies than I would have lost just from the torrential rain damage itself . The glory days of the house were definitely in the past despite it being a high and dry place.  Flood damage came too in the form of cars parking to escape the flood and trying to leave when it was too wet. Flood damage came in opportunities lost when I had just started to find a few after moving in and in time and cost of donated labor treating flood related  injuries and buying cleaning supplies. There were other things too but compared to many others we had nothing worth noticing.

 

The truth is that this year, although I have spent time with family I have spent a good bit of time with two old friends named Philippe and Jude. I don’t give their last names and a great deal of what we talk about is better times in the past. Though we have known each other those were not mostly times spent together so the stories are new  — we are not exactly the same age — but all count Abbeville as our hometown. We rarely drink much together but on occasion Jude and I share a drink. We do smoke together, a much despised habit and one that never held me really in a habituated position until recently.  But we have a few places we occasionally go whether drinking or not. and we are nostalgic together there more often than not.
Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
And I’m going to drink till I get my fill
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
But I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
A little of the glory of, well time slips away
And leaves you with nothing mister but
Boring stories of glory days
Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days
Glory days, well, they’ll pass you by
Glory days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days

 

 

One of the places we have been is Twin Peaks in Lafayette. There the waitresses (Katelyn and Leah in these pictures) have less nostalgia and lives more directed to the future. Of course they are cute too and since I cannot afford to do much or go anywhere very often I don’t worry much about the higher than normal prices (which are not that bad — and the food is good). The young girls smile and chat a little and make you feel the present is a kind of present and I have no qualms of conscience about that, in a society of vast sexual problems and maladjustments in terms of every aspect of identity, relationship and interactions between the sexes there is certainly still room for some to object that the food is served with a side of flirty display. I don’t mind saying I find real girls knowing their cute and making a little conversation as they serve you a hamburger refreshingly innocent. Whether this is up to the date, nostalgic in itself or a trend for the future I DON’T KNOW.  But I do know that   in a life in which the best  is mostly in the past it is fun to go to places like this and hope that the girls have life with a more fun present and future. I know that not all of their experiences are fun. But it is an interesting phenomenon in our society today. Links to the experience can be found here and here.  It is perhaps a bit like getting involved on some of the sets of the hit series Mad Men except in a bar that is a fake lodge. But whatever it is it serves a break from the dismal pervasive feeling I often have about much of everything. I have only been twice so far. The reasons I ended up there are too complicated to put here but if I can I will probably go back. I promised Katelyn and Leah I would post these pictures — so I did.

 

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.

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.

The Olympics, August and Despondency and floods

The flood has grown since this post was named or it might appear in the title. But while it has caused much suffering it was not anticipated like an approaching hurricane. But we do expect problems with rain and floods here.

This afternoon school is cancelled in many parts of the regionwhere I am due to storms and flooding.  I’m not in school as a student nor an employee but I am very aware of its closure. The rain also changes many other things around here. For direct and indirect reasons it has affected my sleep. Texts and calls have been coming in over most of the last twenty odd hours from automated systems warning me of the flood. Such is life. The many problems that I already have are made worse when the little acts that make up my life and struggle are interrupted.  This story continues to evolve around me across editions of this post. Hopefully with no tragedies among the near and dear in my life. But a cousin has needed rescue and nearer kin have needed sandbags. My current haunts in an old family home shared with my aunt are dry.

 

Many people, including one family very close to me, are more adversely affected than I am so far. But things have a way of letting you know when they are going from bad to worse. They often do. So why do I take time to watch the great successes on the Olympics? Even in the later edition of this post when,  among many other troubles, I have a flood damaged phone and  wound to worry about — I still took time to watch the Olympics. It’s a set of rituals, events and stories compelling to me even in a flood.

I still believe in struggle, effort, training and discipline even when the results are very far from world records and gold medals. There are a lot of other Olympic values that I share. In 2004 I found out during the Olympics that I might well get my papers in time to teach in China and I did. That’s after knowing that I had finally gotten the basic papers. But often the summer Olympics comes at a depressing and disappointing time of year for me as it does again this year. But I still watch and still care. My own less glorious struggle to survive the ordeals of another natural disaster remains connected to the stellar performance of Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin, Alyson Felix, Van Niecken and many others on the track sprinting today. I watch them in part the way that I will celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s the National Feast of the Acadian People and it is a Church solemnity. There are layers of meaning.  I connect to the occasion in both Catholic and in Cajun ways.

 

“The future is not ours to see”, so the song popular in my childhood says.  But it is all too often fairly predictable for many of us. The great success of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was happily predictable. They looked rightly confident to me. For most of us life doesn’t usually and daily resemble the kinds of unequalled success we have seen this year in the performance of Olympic athletes like Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecki, Simone Niles and a handful of other superstars. Certainly, my life doesn’t much resemble the epic Olympic performance of Michael Phelps whom I have very much enjoyed watching in these Rio games. But in the process of living we all deal with the same sense of being faced with tremendous challenges. I know what it means to push on and so do many other people who will never find a gold medal at the end of their journey. I have been reviewing old correspondence and am aware that I have long lived a life founded in faith. Sometimes, I am very grateful for all the support my faith has received. Other days find me less grateful for the same set of shared experiences.

09-08-2016-Swimming-16I have enjoyed the Olympics and hope to keep enjoying them. But on a personal level I relate more to the road racer in women’s cycling who had to cut her own air all the way to the finish line while three competitors drafted and posted their way along to pass her in the last seconds and leave her in a medal void at fourth place. I relate to another part of Team USA which is the water polo team eliminated by a loss to Montenegro in a game they had to win to have a chance to make it out of their pool or group to the single elimination tournament. I relate to the 800 meters American record setter locked behind the dominant African pack of lead runners and kept out of the medals.  America is dominating these games but many American athletes are doing brave deeds and coming up short.
Truly I enjoy the glory of the great stars but I watch more to admire than to identify. I don’t diminish their glory and success but I am not so much made glorious by these events.  However, I am very aware of my own lack of glory and success these days… I am aware of diminishing resources to bring to the fights in which I am engaged.

But like many of you reading this, I hope to keep going on the track I run and the lane I swim in daily life until my strength finally gives out….

 

The American Destiny and the Dudley Leblanc Exhibit at the Acadian Museum

THE CURRET POSITION IS THAT THIS EVENT SCHEDULED FOR AUGUST 20 WILL BE POSTPONED UNTIL AUGUST 27 DUE TO FLOODS.

July 28 is the day set aside in the Queen’s Apology as a memorial day for the expulsion of the Acadians from their ancestral homeland in Acadie/Nova Scotia.  The person who on the Acadian side of these negotiations was most responsible for bringing about this date is Warren Perrin. He has recently set out his thoughts about this holiday in a letter to the editors at the Daily Iberian. You can see that letter here. But in part it says the following:

In 1990, I filed a petition seeking an apology for the Acadian Deportation. On Dec. 9, 2003, Queen Elizabeth II signed the Royal Proclamation acknowledging the wrongs committed against the Acadian people in the name of the Crown and establishing a Day of Commemoration on July 28 of each year.

Without in any way wanting to trivialize the weightier aspects of recognizing this annual commemoration for some of us I cannot help but think that the one of the most difficult things to admit in all of this is that it has already been more than a quarter of a century since Warren Perrin filed that lawsuit or petition. It has already been more than a decade since the Queen’s Apology was issued. Perrin is still involved in preserving and working to enhance the Acadian people, culture and legacy throughout the world. He concludes his letter to the editor as follows after the gallery of Acadian related images below:

The queen established July 28 as an annual Day of Commemoration of the “deaths and suffering of the Acadians” as a result of the Crown’s actions. On July 28, let us pause to remember our Acadian ancestors. Vivre l’Acadie!

 

In fact Vivre l’Acadie is a sentiment which still commands quite a bit of attention and in the Museum Warren Perrin is much involved in operating and has been much involved in founding that  legacy goes on with the  celebration, commemoration and examination of the life of Dudley Leblanc. This exhibit has also been part of my own daily activity for quite some time. This post is partly repetitive and partly contextual in that it seeks to take a closer look at an event which has been discussed on this blog before. On August 20, the Acadian Museum of Erath will celebrate its 25th anniversary by hosting its annual fundraiser and several special events, according to Andy Perrin chairman of the museum’s executive committee. This has been posted in this blog before.  At 5:00 PM at the museum, 203 South Broadway Street, Michèle Le Blanc, Sen. Dudley J. LeBlanc’s granddaughter, will sponsor the re-release of LeBlanc’s historic books The Acadian Miracle (1966) on its 50th anniversary of publication and The True Story of the Acadians (1926) on its 90th anniversary. Both of these books will be available for purchase, with part of the sales being donated to the museum. Both the museum and Dudley Leblanc have long been among my significant interests. But those interests have only recent led to a greater degree of  actual involvement directly with the institution. Trent Angers, whom I know fairly well and who has written on subjects related to the Acadians for many years is only one of the knowledgeable people who has been consulted in producing this project.

 

 

I had intended to be, or at least hoped to be enrolling at Louisiana State University Graduate School in a few weeks, I cannot say that the financial crises, legislature crises, police crises and civic crises which have wracked the State Capital this year have affected my plans or not. I tend to think they have not been a major factor compared to other things, I simply did not get off the waiting list to the active list.  Whatever the case may be as regards why I am not enrolling there it seems quite clear that my efforts to enroll there caused me to more or less bring my academic book Emerging Views to the near completion which is reasonable in a book not under publisher or agent contract. I have quite a few nearly complete books and have yet to publish one and probably never will.The last true  chapter after then end of  the numbered chapters and before the appendices opens with a picture of an oiled pelican from the current century but it could start with a picture of Zachary Richard. Perhaps that would be a more positive tone than I really wanted  to set in the draft or will ever set should the book come to press.  Trent Angers wrote a book about Dudley Lebalnc in which he sets the tone of his biography by describing the pattern of highs and lows which defined the man’s life and career. That is certainly accurate as far as it goes. But it is not how I define Dudley Leblanc. I think of his legacy in the Evangeline State Park and the State Park system itself in the pilgrimages that in many ways laid the foundation for the reunions that endure in the form of the Congres Mondial des Acadiens. I see his legacy in the cleaning up and modernization of the rice milling industry in Louisiana, in the tombstones marked with his emblem of TBA for his burial insurance firm. Film and photography are a particularly important part of the struggle for preserving the culture, language and identity of the Cajun people and Dudley Leblanc’s pictures of the Evangeline girls with various US presidents over various pilgrimages clearly set  a tone along with his participation in the design of the Evangeline State Park, his HADACOL images of such variety, they set a tone for this use of images in the cause of a culture. That has never stopped, in 2016, as I was on the waiting list for admission to  Louisiana State University’s Doctoral Program in History, Zachary Richard was named Humanist of the Year by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. And his work as a musician, poet and songwriter have been enormously impressive. However, he has always been connected with and aware of the camera and its role in communication, in communicating environmental concerns and  making people aware of any aspect of cultural development and structure. He has said that reading Dudley Leblanc’s book The Acadian Miracle had a real impact on his early coming to be the Zachary Richard we all know. That is true for quite a few people, less successful and acclaimed –like myself for example. The spirit of Dudley Leblanc is both humorous and very much a combative or fighting spirit. Yet he is also a man typified by steady hard work all his life. Work within a context of being misunderstoodby the larger society.

 

Film and photography form a set of focal points in many of our lives. Zachary Richard, Warren Perrin, Barry Ancelet, Trent Angers and Carl Brasseaux to name a few all know that the images tell much of our story and they are not without some debt to Dudley Leblanc in making that connection. One of the things that has come about in this exhibit being put together at the Acadian museum is the donation of the Corinne Broussard collection of memorabilia.  She was the Evangeline Girl who represented Baton Rouge Acadians on Dudley Leblanc’s first pilgrimage. She was part of his striking campaign of visual imagery and she has preserved a great deal of information from the journey donated to the museum by her heirs and enriching all aspects of the exhibit as well as achieving other goods. She connects us to what the memorial we celebrate or observe today meant to people of her time.  She frames for me the breadth of this exhibit and highlights this day ina unique way and that is recent and makes this year special.

The book  I was working on for my enrollment this fall seeks to set out to say something about the Acadian and Cajun experience which is particularly American.  It is neither boosterism nor anti-American but by contrast and comparison illuminates  number of communities which are not equal or similar in their treatment in the book in every way and in fact are dissimilar in many ways. Those communites interacted during the life and work of Dudley Leblanc and he is part of the story in the book and at the center of at least one chapter. The groups or communities highlighted are: the Acadians of Louisiana also known as Cajuns are  the most important to the text; The Documentarians also known as documentarists are a second community; The crew  and cast of the great Robert Flaherty and his exceptional wife Frances who made so much of a difference to the development of documentary film ( these people also overlap into all other communities and are a more intense community within this community of documentarians); another key group is the Standard-Humble Oil people form another community and that exists with the nebulous but very real oil and gas industry or Oilpatch or Oilfield as sometimes referred to when those words are capitalized and the last distinct group in my story is the McIlhenny family under various names and guises and with various annexes is another community in the text.

My own work on this project began in 1991 and I was not the only person in the area thinking about these topics at that time. Here is an excerpt of other work being done more or less at the same time. Almost no real coordination or communication occurred regarding these things. But the notice following this paragraph appeared in the Abbeville paper when I was researching and writing early drafts of this topic at LSU while earning my Masters degree. In Abbeville the memory of Louisiana Story has endured. It also is featured prominently inAngels of the Basin which is a film which deals with such current  crises and coastal erosion and such a recent event as Hurricane Katrina. So there are many reasons why not only film and photography but this film and these photographs have remained highly relevant to current discussions of film and photography.  The struggle for a full understanding of Cajun life and identity today must address these images. There is no way to ignore the role in shaping the image and identity of a people and a place without greatly limiting the understanding of how that place and people moved into the world of mass communications through film and photography. This seems to be an easier association than the connection with Dudley Leblanc for some people for Leblanc was flashy and a showman and took risks and his distant Kinsman Lionel Leblanc who plays the trapper La Tour in the Louisiana Story was a quiet man who had been a fur trapper all his life although he had become a kind of manger for the McIlhenny family fur operations. Dudley is somehow easy for people to want to minimize but I do not. He had his connections to the marshes and in fact was involved in a lawsuit with Aristide Broussard for the rights to trap lands which both the sate and Broussard —  a Cajun cattle baron claimed. Aristide Broussard is Warren Perrin’s ancestor.

When I was at LSU earning my masters and starting Emerging Views it was 1991, the year when  Abbeville added a new feature to its local architecture as the Abbey Players acquired their current theater building and set it up for business. It was also the year that I began graduate study in history. It was not long after that  Louisiana Story found its way into my research and their theater in different ways.

 

The cohesion of the community goes back to the way the film was dealt with by the paper and others at the time and does not seem to have diminished.  The names in this list are left in place partly so that the reader can remember seeing some family names earlier in the text and also be fairly sure of not having seen others. The original production in 1992 was about as big a dramatic and musical experience as Abbeville has ever seen. Few can equal or surpass it in a town that does have a good bit of music and drama. The ties of LeBlanc to the Louisiana Story are somewhat tenuous although I try to bring them out a bit I also point out how limited they were. That lack of connection is in a sense at the heart of my book. And the movie remains a great source of  inspiration for the

Eight years later after the rather extensive support that the original production of the Wade Russo work had received Abbeville celebrated the sesquicentennial of its founding ( that’s right 1850 after saying it is rooted in the 1840’s but the founding was based on act act late in the total process of founding — its incorporation — most of the work was done in the 1840s). Mayor Brady Broussard chose Russo’s musical revue as the centerpiece of the celebration and it was largely billed as a celebration of life in Abbeville in the 1940s. That may be fair enough but I think we have seen that the premiere was by no means a typical day and the issues and interests it brought to the fore were by no mens limited to Abbeville.  Louisiana Story has remained however part of the consciousness of this city and a mayor named broussard could appreciate that reality.

But however important the Standard Oil projects may have been they were not coming primarily out of this place. One of the most important image makers for receiving broad recognition from this area was George Rodrigue who with his Blue Dog phase crreated an international sensation for the latter part of his life. But there are those of us who remember his earlier Saga of the Acadians series as the work which really defined him. The Rodrigue family realizes that in cultural terms these images are important  the last link goes to his wife’s communication on the subject and they have lent the museum a digital image transfer on canvas of the piece Rodrigue did depicting Leblanc and companions in association with their return to Acadie in the historic pilgrimage. Rodriguehas left a great Acadian legacy and it deserves to be linked to both today’s date and the Leblanc exhibit. The legacy of both men and both families will be enhanced.

The years go on piling on new images and new perspectives that come into the world because of or merely at the same time as other images. The films being shown to the audiences that either do or do not go to theaters and movie houses to see these feature films  change. Many of them hardly have any life as true film and some none at all. Mostly they are streams and patterns of digital information created in processes which imitate the film-making processes and ventures of previous decades. The result is also intentionally filmic. But whatever their function they owe little to cellulose many may still come to be printed on this medium in the end but they are not crafted in the old rituals of silver, sweat, light and cellulose which defined this art and expression so intensely for a   few generations. Each artist and filmmaker and documentarian telling a story works in a new set of circumstances. The exhibit at the museum has real resource and space limits and the holiday today sets out a contrast with the historic Feast of the Assumption.  There are for those like me who see so much to preserve a very pressing set of limits on every effort to preserve what is being remembered. One of my goals in Emerging Views was to capture the moment of the technology as it was then and to show how it did and did not offer a bridge of communication to various parties in the process. How it allows us to see what was happening. The time invloved was in the time of Dudley Leblanc and the chapters of that book were the occasion of me becoming more involved with Warren Perrin, I sent him copies of each chapter and he was kind enough to associate me with this Leblanc exhibit. Like F. Wade Russo moving beyond his roots, the film industry has left film and the demands it made on men like Flaherty and Leacock and Webb somewhere in the past. It may be a past that is respected and valued but it is not the present. For me the use of film was a large part of my daily life for many years and now has been entirely replaced by the manipulation of the digital component of images. Dudley Leblanc was a historian and preservationist who lived and worked in the very most modern communications technology and systems he could possibly achieve. Things changed a lot all around him and to a remarkable degree he kept abreast of the changes — but he did suffer terrible challenges and many setbacks as well.

When I went to China I had a film camera which my sister Mary had given me and it saw a lot of use there. Some of the pictures I took and others I composed but had executed by third persons appeared in the second most popular periodical reporting mostly on Vermilion Parish. Bonnes Nouvelles, where I had written quite a bit, carried this article about my experience there and photographs connected readers and neighbors back home to those days spent in a far away land. It was not the first time I had appeared in the local newspaper.

I took a lot of pictures and yet not as many as I probably should have. The camera required a special film to allow it to take pictures in three various formats including a broad panoramic view. One can compare that to the increasing universality of the digital experience. I relied mostly on my chief contact and handler in the Board of Foreign Experts, Special Exchanges Office at the Shandong Institute of Business and Technology to procure the rare film. So even in the recent past film made it mark on lives such as mine and the experience of Flaherty and the documentarians in Acadiana was also shaped by any number of experiences based directly on real and tangible facts about film. Some film was ruined, some was delivered late, some was defective. These instances were kept at a minimum. Film management was the reason why. Daily rushes are one thing but today one can see the image on replay right away. There is less need for the kind of structure in community and functional team which existed in the lives of those photographers and filmmakers.

Today the kind of work they did could be done with less obtrusive organization because of the  ability to avoid the problems associated with film itself. This may allow all sort of records to be kept edited and erased which would be nice to have on a research project such as this has been. But it also lessens the chance of organizations which can be kept accountable in the same way. These people expected to be judged by history and while I applaud much of the work they did I also criticize it and find fault. That sense of doing work that endures in a group that is committed and documented is likely changing. Media companies abound in entertainment but the cohesion of the old studios is largely gone. That trend is likely to be more pronounced in work such as this.  Nothing stays the same and what lessons may be gained here are not lessons for those doing exactly this work because this exact work will never be done again. That perspective of struggling within the rigors of a set of resources and opportunities is so much at the heart of Leblanc’s life, at the heart of the Acadian Museum and at the heart of my own work.

The Leblanc family is releasing Leblanc’s works on this occasion and I salute that effort. Like the Rodrigue’s lending the painting it is an act of faith. Faith we must all affirm. Faith that members of the human species remain literate, curious, prosperous and sympathetic enough to give a damn about a narrative that does not immediately determine their own survival. Of course one may hope that either social pressure from the popularity of the book among a reader’s friends or real pressures on students assigned to read the text may help its popularity and boost its readership. Nonetheless most writers realize that the odds are long against their  book achieving either of those two particularly desirable benefits.  Sometimes that faith seems misplaced,  when one examines the circumstances in which one is writing and all the urgencies of any year including 2016 it may seem unlikely that one’s words will find their way to the last (or at least the current) descendants of Thucydides, the latter votives of Clio who will really find in themselves the energy to address a vision of the past and find in it some direction and insight as regards the present and the future.  Anyone who has read this up to now can see that in part it is a family history in any number of  ways, it is thereby equally prone to deeper insight and also more likely to be subject to  accumulating misinformation.   For me this exhibit, this memorial day and the book I was writing are all connected in a tying together of the past and the present and a hope for the future. For me the book was an effort to set forth a history one would hope would endure. Acadian history as I have known it, petroleum history and film history as subjects similar enough to my topic to matter may one or the other or all three  well be over within a generation or two. That is not mere baseless conjecture but in all three cases one can readily enough see signs that could portend the end of Cajuns and Acadians, the end of the oil and gas industry and the end of anything that could be called the film industry. I personally hope that none of these cessations will transpire and most of all that Acadians and Cajuns will be around for a long time to come. But perhaps history is most itself when it is written to preserve a story with as much depth, reality and fullness as possible  in every way that the historian can  preserve it. What is true of readers of a history text is also true of those who thoughtfully view and exhibit.

If this  relationship with readers is one in which a great deal is invested in an uncertain outcome then that is perhaps as it should be. The winners and losers of actual wars often will both read the histories of those wars but in all the small cultural struggles which occur across a society and across lifetime’s and generations there is involved in these times a struggle for relevance and readership.  In the minds of many writers there is a sense that simply in being read at all there is a dimension of victory, just knowing that people are aware of the exhibit and even more when they view it  — that does mean something. For those in an intense and broad struggle of ideas that are not very compatible being read seems to indicate that the writers side has won through, because the writer feels, his or her opponents are by and large through with  reading the sort of things the writer is producing.

 

Cajuns and other people in Acadiana were not extremely and broadly concerned about the SONJ documentary projects. Many people are not going to observe today or the Feast of the Assumption even with a mental note.  The thing about my book is that it remebers a moment when resources for preserving images of what was a cultural moment were abundant. They are not usually that abundant. But even in that moment most Cajuns were not interacting with those viewing and documenting there culture. That is one of the most definitive  realities that cannot be escaped as one researches the response to the documentarians and to Flaherty’s somewhat autonomous film crew within the Stryker SONJ organization. These creative and observant outsiders were the objects of gossip and newsgathering but they were not major objects of either. Largely, this is a story of a people caught up in a period defined by the end of a war they did not believe was going to lead to any certain and enduring peace.  As a whole the regional press was very concerned with rebuilding Germany and Japan, with the threat of Communism and with what would happen to the economy, The press also reported on the progress of the oil and gas industry in the region and the country, Movies also commanded some attention. But reporting on the SONJ projects as such was limited. Dudley Leblanc however, was very Cajun and very committed to preservation and he did get a lot of media attention at every level over his lifetime. I am proud of what he achieved.  He made a mark for himself and his people and never at the expense of his state or the United States. He was a great man and deserves to be remembered and studied as such.   He  lived through two Wold Wars and a Great Depression but then Dudley Leblanc kept on living. His time in the Cold War is no less significant to the arc of his life.    Historians and other scholars as well as journalists and just well informed people have commented on the anxieties of the Cold War. The fear of nuclear annihilation was certainly a feature of daily life for Americans and people across the world. However other anxieties were clearly abundant. In America, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, China and many other places lives were affected by the new and emerging world order after World War II through the lens of the nation states in which these people lived. The major powers in the world and certainly the United States were under significant pressure to change and conform to a new set of demands. The Cajuns in many ways had fully entered into an identity as an American community for the first time since the Civil War in the huge changes, trials and opportunities of the Second  World War and now there were to be many questions about what kind of America was emerging from that same experience. Clearly it was not to be an instance of joining the same society that had existed in 1940. In many ways the changes that had occurred had more risk and more opportunity for the Cajuns than for almost any other of their anxious Cold War fellow American citizens. One of the voices that assured the Cajuns in the journey into American identity was that of the French radio programs by Dudley Leblanc.  He was an optimistic voice in theses times. I once worked as a DJ at KASC which was the sister station to KROF where Dudley Leblanc finished his broadcast career. He could not solve all the problems the community he loved faced — but did he make a difference?

I think he was a big part of what made a difference. He saw a people moving into a period of anxiety but he did not exacerbate it nor did he flee into escapist nonsense. Yes, it remained for the Cajuns as for many Americans a period of anxiety. But it is nonetheless wrong to see this as a period primarily of anxiety and resentment. Cajuns were in general optimistic about the future of America. There was an increasing transition between calling those outside the community Americans and calling themselves Americans. This was a hugely significant transition and can be traced to more or less this very time in the history of the community for many rural families. So this was a complex time.

 

The complexity is hidden in the lack of significant events that marked the lives of most Cajuns who did not serve in the Korean War. Acadian history is not uneventful and this period contrasts with many others as not being so starkly distinguished by conflict and upheaval as many other periods in history.  There is no Grand Derangement, no War of American Independence, no War of  1812, no Civil War, no Reconstruction and the great turmoil of the Civil Rights Era  in the Deep South had not yet begun. It is pardonable and perhaps even  reasonable that many people would look at this era and see it as a peaceful, prosperous and optimistic time. Many people both within and outside the Cajun community more or less take that view of the 1950s as a happy, prosperous and optimistic time.Just after our period of 1953, in 1957 came the turmoil of hurricane Audrey, a terror to great to describe here. J.C. Boudreaux lost his first house to a hurricane in that storm and would lose another in hurricane Rita which came the same season as the more famous Katrina which was featured in Angels of the Basin. Robert Leblanc the Brigadier General whose life is a part of the framework of this story was at the forefront in fighting the horrors and devastation of the storm with the largely Cajun units he commanded in the National Guard.  But aside from hurricane Audrey in 1857 which comes after the close of my nearly finished book there were choices optimists led by Leblanc really helped to create. It is not simply delusion that many Cajuns take a positive view of the fifties and among those who take that view there is usually a fairly positive view of the oil and gas industry. It is not the intention of this text to see the region as merely an oil producing region. Many other forms of economic activity and employment survived. But for many Cajuns oil and gas related activity provided the main chance for a good future and survival in the present era.
I was not born until 1964. Therefore for me all of this period is in fact history outside of my personal set of recollections. But anyone my age cannot help but feel that this is a world much closer after Dudley Leblanc’s career was much  to the one we all know today than the one he came of age in was — he helped a people make the transition.   This story of Dudley Leblanc, like the story of my book or the story of the exhibit  ends not with some great conflict or transformation. It simply stops as the world is going on for a people still caught up in change, still living between the past and the future. In recent months, realted to the book as I said and now to the exhibit I have become much more involved in the Acadian Museum.  I am by no means as engaged as some and yet am quite involved in this worthy project and ongoing institution of the Acadian and Cajun people and culture. The museum and its work are by no means entirely new to me.

That's me with docent Casa Vice at the Acadian Museum several years ago

That’s me with docent Casa Vice at the Acadian Museum several years ago

However in recent months that latent involvement has increased. This means that instead of simply having some vague influence and being an avid observer there is now something that I can really say that  I am officially attached to going on there.

On the date  mentioned –August 20th — the museum will also induct Morgan LeBlanc, as representative of the LeBlanc family, into the Order of Living Legends and he will officially open the new Sen. Dudley J. LeBlanc Sr. permanent exhibit at the museum. The exhibition will contain over 100 historical photographs, articles, and objects—many displayed publicly for the first time—including the diary and scrapbook of Corinne Broussard, who in 1930 traveled by train to Grand Pré in Nova Scotia, Canada, with 22 other “Evangeline Girls,” to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Acadian Deportation. Some mention of this book and some images of it have appeared in this blog already but the quality of this material will be greatly superior in the exhibit.

This exhibit is supposed to then introduce the wonderful Corinne Broussard scrapbook which records in impressive detail what was the first of three trips by Cajuns to visit their ancestral homeland—all organized by LeBlanc in his life-long efforts to re-unite Acadians of Louisiana, Canada and France. LeBlanc, who lived in Erath until age 14, and much of his life in Abbeville was born on August 16, 1894.The primary contributors to the exhibit, which is  jointly curated by museum director Warren Perrin and a local historian known as Frank W.  Summers III, Sponsors and parner early on  were Robert Vincent, Winn Murphy and members of the LeBlanc family but donors and lenders of items and money have continued to emerge. That includes the largess of B.I. Moody – a prominent business leader in the region. These events will not be the end of the festivities but the start of them. there will be another ceremony in the great tradition of living legends. The total event will be one that will have meaning in memory for years to come.

At 6:30 PM in the Erath Community Center in City Park, the newly-appointed La. Commissioner of Conservation—and former La. Attorney General—Richard Ieyoub will be inducted into the Order of Living Legends. “I am really pleased to be honored by the Acadian Museum and look forward to again visiting my friends in Vermilion Parish,” Ieyoub said. Marilyn Melancon Trahan will have her student chorus sing French songs and several authors will be present to sell their books–Tom Angers, Josh Caffery, Michèle Le Blanc, Mary Perrin, Sheila Hebert Collins, and Nelwyn Hebert.

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

Remembering Dallas Cops and Asking:What Constitutes A Crisis?

This is  the day after July 7, 2016 it is not clear how famous that day or the July 8, 2016  when the most deadly law enforcement  incident since 9-11  began and ended in Dallas. Much remains unclear and much is likely to remain unclear for some time. These are surely troubling days… and it remains to be seen how famous or infamous these days will be in the history of the United States or even in more narrow histories of the period of the struggles of various parts of American society or in the histories of the Obama administration. The shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling both armed black men one in front of a convenience store in Baton Rouge and one in a traffic stop in Minnesota have been the occasion for a vast amount of upheaval, protest, and perhaps have led to the violence enacted in Dallas.
The Washington Post has tried to react to these three events and to round up reactions to them in a way not so different than what I do tin this blog. Their story draws out the connections for consideration.

 I am reminded in a way that might seem trivial and inappropriate to some of a John Denver song from his later and less glorious years but before he had ceased to really be an important star in his own part of the musical firmament.  I have put these lyrics up on my Facebook timeline before. In fact, they’ve appeared probably three times or so. But every once in a while I have to let John Denver say something about my own life. Except that I am now  writing about my country as well  and writing much more bluntly than the speaker is in the lyrics. But I still relate to the way the song sounded when I first heard it. It is time for Americans to realize that many very serious problems must be addressed in our society. Wr would all like to say that thinngs will work out bu they may not, we would like to say that the crises on our streets and eslewhere almost every day do not define our country but in part they do. the song expresses that well in the personal sphere.

“When you asked, how I’ve been here without you
I’d like to say, I’ve been fine and I do
But we both know the truth is hard to come by
And if I told the truth, that’s not quite true

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones

Now the face that I see in my mirror
More and more is a stranger to me
More and more, I can see there’s a danger
In becoming what I never thought I’d be

Some days are diamonds, some days are stones
Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones
Some days are diamonds, some days are stones”

The song then repeats these refrain lyrics

It is important that we try to see the value of our civic exercises, it is important that we care about the lives of all Americans, it is important that wc recognize the price paid by those who form the thin blue line in times of trouble. It is important that we try to support out President as he negotiates difficult situations near Russia. But there comes a point when one has to admit that there are serious problems in the country and that things are not going along just fine. There comes a point when  the existence of national instability has to be admitted and a national crisis has to be addressed. This is a day when it would be good to be able to write about one tragic situation at a time. This is a day when it would be good to be able to focus on positive things going on in my  personal life. This is a time when it would be good to be able to focus  on th issues without writing anything that might seem paranoid or lend credence to the fears that many Americans have — but that is not the day that I am actually writing about or in which I am actually writing. But there is a great deal on my mind which is not going to be resolved in any kind of post that meets any of those standards. In fact my own personal situation for dealing with anything at all is very poor as well. Let us remember that this killer in Dallas was killed by a bomb he had made, 9-11 involved box cutters taking planes, Timothy McVeigh took down a building with fertilizer and a van,   the current serial killer in San Diego seems to be content to murder homeless people by burning them alive and beating them to death.  But guns do make it possible for the law abiding citizenry to face a country filled with protesters flirting with violent extremists (not only Black Lives Matter but many other groups) and make a realistic plan to continues living their lives.

Originally many highly credible reports were filed that spoke of multiple shooters in a coordinated attack on police.  But the new orthodoxy after Obama and his feds made contact is the traditional lone nut idea. The focus is increasingly only on a suspect who died after  a robot destroyed  a bomb he had made or placed and after he had spoken with negotiators in a  standoff with Dallas police. That man said that  he wanted to kill white people — especially white police officers — and that he was angry about “the recent police shootings”. Conveniently for the great American narrative that all is well this man may have been recorded saying  that he acted alone and that is the narrative put forth by Dallas Police Chief David Brown after the  told reporters Friday that there would be no questions answered about suspects. Early reports can be seen here and here. The original posting of the first article online was,

Four gunmen shoot 11 police officers – killing at least five – and … Daily Mail

While these texts are fluid and are changed to fit the evolving narrative it is clear that there was enormous evidence that this was not a lone nut situation. In addition there is a great deal of interlocking tension in the country. There is a very limited amount of real and effective political discussion about these tensions. Political discussion is not a cure-all by any means  and the country might move into greater crisis with such discussions. But the lack of effective discussion of the forces straining our national consensus and the framework which  allow for our differences — that lack of effective discussion is an important part of our daily reality.

Two civilians it appears were also were injured in the shootings, the office of Dallas’ mayor has said. Most of the injured Dallas police officers have by midday of the Friday on which this post appears  been released from a hospital, Chief Brown told reporters. The officers’ conditions are improving, Brown said. He seemed to be clearly aware of a set of underlying tensions to be dealt with. “All I know is that this must stop — this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” African American Police Chief and Dallas area native Brown said. “We don’t feel much support most days. Let’s not make today most days. Please, we need your support to be able to protect you from men like these, who carried out this tragic, tragic event.”
Twelve officers were shot it appears and the chaos affected the entire city in one way or another but especially the area around the protests.
I think about what Chief Brown said and am aware of a post that appeared on Facebook which I quote liberally hear from a Facebook friend that I only know slightly in real life:
— Officers killed include one officer with DART, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit agency, which operates buses and commuter rail in the city and surrounding suburbs.
— DART identified the officer killed as Brent Thompson, 43. He joined the transit agency in 2009, and was its first officer killed in the line of duty, DART tweeted.
— Thompson got married two weeks ago to a fellow transit officer, DART police Chief James Spiller told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday.
Witness Ismael Dejesus said he filmed a shooter from his hotel balcony about 50 yards away. He described the gunman as carrying a weapon with a “pretty big magazine.”

 

 

In between we had a bad cop that the city fathers eventually fired. It happens. Cops are humans just like the rest of us. But the vast majority are good people, just the like vast majority of people in other occupations. And like other first responders and people in the military, they routinely take risks that the rest of us rarely face in order to keep us safe, and I am grateful for that. When there are episodes like those in Baton Rouge and Minnesota this week, I hold the bad cops responsible as individuals, not as a representative of all cops.

A lot of cops have helped my family and me, not least those men and women who stood out in the wind and rain for hours and hours during Katrina and Gustav. A lot of them have been my friends and neighbors. John and Danny Cummings—the sons of my dear friend Big John, who taught them to call me Uncle Bill (which I like)—have both been cops, and I am proud of them.

A lot of cops have been my colleagues on the faculty at Southeastern Louisiana University, for example, Ronnie Jones, the one-time spokesman of the Louisiana State Police, who was a great teacher and a great cop. In the latter guise, he was on hand a few years ago when a truck started leaking explosive chemicals less than a mile from my house, and emergency workers had to set off a controlled explosion to destroy it.

A lot of our campus cops have been my friends, including Paul Marek, who served as chief of the University Police and whose previous job was as a U.S. Army Colonel and head of Southeastern’s ROTC. And O’Neill DeNoux, who writes brilliant crime novels when he is off duty. And all the others who have defused dangerous situations on campus, been the first responders when faculty, staff, and students have been injured, and in one instance bailed out a shamefaced department head who accidentally locked his keys in his office.

One of my former graduate students is a state cop named Clay Schutz, who has been the driver for every Louisiana governor since Roemer and who still calls me from time to time. In fact, a lot of cops have been my students, including several who retired at the end of their hitch and went into teaching in an effort to get kids into good jobs and keep them off the street. I learned as much from them as they did from me.

That is why I pray for the cops who lost their lives in Louisiana over the last week-and-a-half and those who died in Dallas yesterday. That is why I do not hold all cops to blame when one does the wrong thing. That is why I do not identify cops by race, gender, or anything else except the badge. That is why I, diehard civil libertarian that I am, regard cops as my friends. God bless all those who serve, who uphold the law, who take risks on our behalf, and who in some cases make the ultimate sacrifice. I know who you are, and I thank you.