Search This Blog

Thursday, November 28, 2013

More Thanksgiving Thoughts

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

May this be the time when we begin to "rebunk" all those views of the European settlement of the Americas. 


It's the opposite of "debunk".  My lessons in debunking began when I was taught that the Puritans came here and

Fell on their knees,
Then on the Indigenes.

Alright, there was a conquest.  However, it was of a devastated land depopulated by the smallpox that struck the American Mainland in 1520, when an African slave in the entourage of Hernan Cortes fell ill during the siege of Tenochtitlan, and within months, a third of the population in the Valley of Mexico perished.  From there it spread in both directions, until by the time of the Pilgrim Fathers, it had already devastated the land that would become New England. So, do we blame those who speak Spanish and those of African descent for the tragedy that happened to the American Indigenes?

Let's get real.  We are all the descendants of migrants--even if we aren't white Americans (or black, for that matter).  My father's Jewish ancestors carried that memory of migration with a thousand toasts to "next year in Jerusalem".  My wife's Hakka Chinese people, despite settlement in southern China (Fujian, Guangdong, and Taiwan) for over a millennium, continue to call themselves Zhong Yuan Ngin (中原人), or People of the Central Plain (that of northern China, that is). Even the Bantu-speaking African in places like Katanga or Malawi descends from migrants who came out the lands which are now the border regions of Nigeria and Cameroon.  Perhaps the only peoples inhabiting and carrying on cultures founded by ancestors living on the same lands at the time of the Neolithic revolution are the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert, the Bambuti of the Congo forests, perhaps the Tamil, perhaps the Khmer. The rest of us have moved around in our histories, and even the Navajo and Apache down in Arizona refer to those they call the Anasazi--those who were there before them.

When I taught government, and covered founding documents, I had to teach the Mayflower Compact, in which the founders of the Massachusetts Bay began the American heritage of self-government.  They were only transmitting a feature of congregational life in the Calvinist portions of Europe; not learning from the Iroquois (whom they hadn't yet encountered while cooped up on board their ship).

And, who knit the world together, so that persons of different colors and traditions are no longer thought to be ghosts or some strange species?  It was European exploration and settlement.  It may have brought slavery, but it also early brought out the misgivings about that institution expressed by Samuel Sewall, one of the judges at the Salem witch trials.  American High Schoolers are taught to view Jonathan Edwards and his Puritan culture as fire-and-brimstone fanatics, yet not taught that the same divine, despite his slave-holding, believed that the eventual destiny of "Negroes and Indians" was to be the peers of the Christian whites in an American Christian millennium (maybe this and his slave-holding weren't so contradictory: a lot of Christian white people lived under indenture in those days, too).

Back in the Clinton years, Donna Shala complained she couldn't identify with the Pilgrim fathers.  Well, good for her Lebanese and Syrian Christian ancestors that they got along all hunky-dory with their Ottoman Turkish Muslim overlords and found Dhimmi status and the extra taxes imposed by Islamic law as granting them dignity (to say nothing of giving up sons to become Muslim janissaries and accept the abduction of an occasional daughter).  The implication is that those of us who aren't WASP shouldn't care much for the holiday, either. I say that such a sentiment is hokum-bunkum.  We're all migrants, so let's celebrate it.  We all benefit from ideals of limited government and fair play of a Christian European provenance.  Let's celebrate it.  We're all part of an interconnected world, so lat's celebrate it.

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands.  Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.  (PSalm 100:1-2)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chanukah Thoughts

In case I'm too busy tomorrow--

Why should  Christian write about Chanukah?  Simple.  I have Jewish relatives, friends, and lurkers, and wish them a happy celebration.

But there are other reasons as well. 

How many of you out there know that if you pick up the standard, hotel room Gideon Bible, the only mention of Chanukah is in the New Testament--namely John 10, in which Jesus appears at the Jerusalem Temple for the festival?

Of course, in a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Bible, the Books of the Maccabees are present in the Old Testament.  In some editions of the King James Version,Geneva Bible,and other Protestant translations, the Books of the Maccabees, along with other apocryphal works, appear as a separate section between the Old and New Testaments.  So, why should a Protestant take an interest in the Chanukah story?

Chanukah shows the Jews beleaguered by an oppressive ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, who sought to end Jewish distinctiveness. Circumcision was banned, pigs sacrificed at Jerusalem, and offerings to pagan deities made.  However, Judas Maccabaeus led a revolt which ended in Jewish independence and the re-dedication of the Temple.  A threat to the continuing existence of the Jewish people--including the Messiah to come--had been met and overcome.  The Great Serpent had sought to swallow up the woman clothed with the sun (Israel) and her man-child the Messiah, and had failed (Rev. 12:1-6).

This was part and parcel of Jesus' upbringing, and so he observes the holiday and reveals his own mission as the ultimate savior of Israel (and the world) on this holiday (John 10).

I have no plan to repeat Jewish prayers or buy a dreydl, but I remain grateful that God protected the Jewish people in those dark days of the 2d century B.C.  In these days where even in the USA there are judges and others who would force our conformity to the world, perhaps we may dare to hope that the Lord would send a new Judas Maccabaeus in his church's time of need.

First Maccabees records how the Seleucid Graeco-Syrian forces sent war elephants against the Jews.  Perhaps Tolkien, and those who made his Lord of the Rings into a movie, had this episode in mind when they crafted the mammukil!

Thanksgiving Thoughts

In 1604, King James VI and I of Scotland and England heard from representatives of both the Puritans and the Elizabethan Settlement re possible further reform in the Church of England. The Puritans, hopeful that a Scottish king raised in the Kirk and educated by Dr. George Buchanan, like themselves an advocate of the church's independence in its own sphere and constitutional limits on power, were shocked and disappointed to hear their dread sovereign declare that "a Scots presbytery as well agreeth with monarchy as God with the devil," and "I will harry you out of the land".  Hence, this meeting was a precursor to the migration that would bring about the settlement of New England (the Northern Partes of Virginia) some sixteen years later.

Monday, November 18, 2013

When JFK Died

At the risk of putting forth a hackneyed cliche, I remember clearly where I was when JFK died.

It was an unseasonably warm November day in the comfortable Washington suburbs.  I was in Mr. Blankenship's 5th grade class when the PA crackled, and Mrs. Jones, the principal, called all teachers to the office.  Mr. Blankenship gave us some busy work, told us to behave, and without further ado, left 20-odd ten- and eleven-year-olds on their own.  A few minutes later, he returned.  Ashen-faced, he announced that the president had been shot.  We all put our pencils on our desks, stupefied by the news.  A few of the girls murmured, wondering how it could happen; most of us sat in stunned silence.  A few minutes passed, and Mrs. Jones came back on the PA to announce that the president had died, and we were going to be sent home early.

Never before had such silence reigned when school was dismissed early.  The only voices on the school bus home were hushed.  I said nothing to my friends who got off the bus with me, and they said nothing to me.  Perhaps the other kids were introspective.  I, however, was simply stunned, for a world I had pretty much taken for granted had somehow been pierced. All that afternoon, the only quick human motion I noticed was the much younger brother of a friend racing down a driveway with an armload of toys he had collected to put away. In my own household, a somber mood prevailed.  My mother and older brothers sat glued to the television.  It did not hold my attention, but I remained bothered and unhappy, feeling that the world had changed forever.

Indeed, it had.  As I look over the high school classes I teach, I am aware that if I leave them unattended, either I or they are likely to get in trouble.  Yet back in those primitive, simpler times, Mr. Blankenship did not have to think twice about leaving a roomful of pre-teens alone to confer with his principal for a few minutes. My second brother, who had just finished high school, had been a member of a marksmen's club.  Every so often, he carried a .22 rifle (action open, of course) and a box of cartridges to school, parked them in his locker, took them out at the end of the school day, and joined a group of his peers to practice shooting paper targets set up before a large bank behind his school under the supervision of a willing teacher.  The number of students and school staff dead from gun-related violence or accidents in those days: zero.  Yet today, my students may not bring a coat or bookbag to class, lest they smuggle in drugs or a weapon to be used on a human being rather than an inanimate target. My parents could leave my third brother and me to our own devices for a few hours and expect the house to be in reasonable order when they returned.  Today, they'd be charged with child neglect.

In retrospect, it was not the Kennedy assassination that unleashed the devils.  That event was only a symptom of welling social and intellectual magma churning just below the facade of of our then-civilized society.  In rapid order, the civil rights movement, the Viet Nam quagmire, the counter culture,the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King all burst forth on our society.  People of my brothers' generation, raised to see their country as a shining city on a hill saw America's problems exposed before the world's gaze, and concluded that far from being an especially good and noble society, theirs was an especially evil and tainted one. 

But perhaps it was not so much Kennedy's death as the political movement in which he positioned himself that changed everything.  Crisis became something to be exploited as a catalyst for larger government intervention to "solve" the problems; personal responsibility retreated. As the omniprovident state grew in our own society, the omnipresent "Big Brother" state of our totalitarian adversaries could be viewed in a more benevolent light. As American legal structures came to be exposed as instruments of oppression, the lawlessness of the oppressed came to be legitimated. Out with the Mayflower Compact and the Founding Fathers, in with Marx, Mao, and Fanon!

Kennedy's death saved his legacy as a liberal martyr. Had Lee Harvey Oswald been a worse shot, Kennedy, not Johnson, would be remembered as the president of the blighted legacy.  His erstwhile acolytes on the Left would have savaged him for his anti-Communism and tax-cutting.  The frustrations of unmet rising expectations on the part of minorities and the poor whose problems Kennedy's social agenda was supposed to have met would have found their target in Kennedy, rather than in the Johnson who would be left holding Kennedy's bag.  A Kennedy who had lived could well have gone off into an embittered, isolated ex-presidency, his tarnished stewardship of his office barring his extended clan from the quasi-royal status they later enjoyed. Possibly, a conservative revolution might have begun earlier. Perhaps a failed Kennedy presidency would have forced a tempering of heady expectation, and a greater appreciation for normalcy.

Of course, we can only conjecture; we cannot know for sure.

But, this I know:  America changed forever when I was in the 5th grade.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Random Thoughts on History

Uncle Cephas cannot hold back his love of low doggerel.  Here are a few shared with my history students.  Enjoy.

The Neanderthal lived in a cave,
And used cold glacial melt for a lave.
He wore both hide and hair
Of the Ice Age cave bear,
And never did bother to shave.

Julius Caesar said, "Gaul,
Inhabited by warriors tall,
Can be broke into three
By a fellow like me,
If my legions and chariots I call!"

Niccolo said it is right
For princes to lie, scheme, and fight.
But this sneaky slob
Couldn't hold down his job,
Which is why he was forced to go write.

Said old Thomas Hobbes with a snort,
"All human lives of the sort
Quite unfettered by kings
Are miserable things,
Being nasty, brutish, and short."

In France, Baron de Montesquieu
Had a wonderful politic view.
In the space of two days,
He split power three ways.
I think it's amazing, don't you?

Rousseau, the great libertarian,
Celebrated the noble barbarian.
Based on science abysmal,
He thought society dismal,
And made politics contractarian.