Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Prague


A decade and a half ago, I took a few post-baccalaureate courses at our local university, Appalachian State. I had some educational strategies in mind. Those plans didn't really pan out. Nevertheless, what I learned at that time sharpened some research skills that had been dormant in me since I had become a worker bee many years prior, in 1977.

In one education course that I took, we learned about a strategy called Compare and Contrast.

In the  years since that phase of life I have found Compare and Contrast to be a helpful idea when describing any two things.

In this case, I apply the method to two periods of time that are described in a book that I am presently reading. Under A Cruel Star, A life in Prague 1941-1968 was written by Heda Margolius Kovaly, and published in 1986 by Plunkett Lake Press of Cambridge MA.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_a_Cruel_Star


The book is biographical; its focus is on one period in Heda's life in post-war Prague, after we Allies had run the Nazis back into their holes.

Heda Margolius Kovaly was so fortunate to be a survivor--an escapee, no less-- of the Nazi concentration camps;  Her book of which I write, Under a Cruel Star, begins with a harrowing account of her ordeal in sneaking out of the concentration camp at a time when the war was not yet over  then laying low as she slinked through Poland into the Czech lands and at last managed to sneak into  into her home city of Prague.

When she got to the city, Heda found the whole place bound up with Nazi paranoia. Which is to say: the Nazis were paranoid of losing what they thought they had conquered. At the same time, the locals--the Czechs and Slovaks--were still paranoid because that's all they had known for the last six years.

After a while, the the Russians came in and "liberated" the place. Thank God.

But they had big plans for eastern Europe--Communist plans.

In the late 1940's, the Soviets moved all their control-freak gear and Party personnel into the eastern European nations, including Czechoslovakia, Heda's home country. In Soviet-controlled Prague, Czechoslovakia, the bossy Russians and their local Czech lackeys slowly and insidiously came to  dominate every aspect of life, with an intent to show the world how Communism, as prescribed by Marx, Lenin, Stalin et al, could be be accomplished.

Long story short, they made a big frickin' mess of it. 

Heda Margolius Kovaly and her husband were right there in the middle of all of it in the early days of Czech communism. Rudolf, her husband was appointed to an important job, a real plum of a job, as a project chief in the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

In her personal story, Heda gives an account of how Russian hegemony became more and more secretive, abusive, and cruel after the Communist coup in '48. People were desperate for some kind of rebuilding of life, and they paid dearly for their willingness to accept the Soviet prescription for a better life. But it did not work out that way. 

The flaws in Communist ideology drove Czech life into a real dead end. Instead of life getting better for all the good comrades, life in Prague got worse and worse under the enforced Soviet regime. Heda  raises the question of how. How could the Czechs and others in eastern Europe have been so gullible and vulnerable to the force-fed communism?

The main reason these people had been rendered so vulnerable to Russian control and abuse is this: they had been extremely traumatized and debilitated by the incredibly oppressive, cruel Nazi occupation from which they had been liberated. Furthermore, on that side of Europe, the Russians were the liberators; they ran Hitler's armies back into their holes. In that first  year of occupation, 1945, they were heroes.

After the war and all that life-shattering chain of events, the people of eastern Europe were worn out, broke, busted and disgusted. For the Russians, these people were easy pickin's, with their hands stretched out, desperately seeking help and some resources to rebuild their cities and infrastructures.

And looking for somebody to tell them what to do, since they were still in a kind of wartime shell-shock.

But Russians came in with an agenda. It's called communism. And the Ruskies did not have a lot of trouble getting these desperate people cranked up on a little Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist indoctrination. Power pounces on  a void.


Why were the people of eastern Europe so vulnerable to Soviet hegemony?

Part of Heda's postwar explanation goes this way:

"Usually, the reasoning went something like this: if for purposes of building a new society, it is necessary to give up my freedom for a time, to subsume something I cherish to a cause in which I strongly believe, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. In any case, we are a lost generation. We all might have died uselessly in the camps. Since we did survive, we want to dedicate what is left of our lives to the future.

"This streak of martyrdom was stronger that was generally understood. People felt chosen by destiny to sacrifice themselves, a feeling that was reinforced by a strong sense of guilt that characterized many who had survived the camps. Why was I alive and not my father, my mother, my friend? I owed them something. They had died in place of me. For their sake I had to build a world in which this could never happen again.

"This was where the misconception lay: in the idea that communism was the one system under which it could never happen again. Of course we knew about the communism of the thirties in the Soviet Union, but that was an era of cruelty that had ended long ago, the kind of crisis out of which all great change is born. Who today would condemn democracy for the Terror of the Jacobins after the French Revolution?

"The most eagerly embraced belief of the time was that no national or racial oppression could exist under communism . . ."

A couple of pages later, Heda arrives at this assessment: 

"It was an insidious process and as old as the world. Had it not been for the war and the overwhelming need for change, we would have seen through it easily."

Now here is where the Compare and Contrast (that I mentioned earlier) comes in.

That naive willingness to accept the communist game plan was in 1945, immediately after the trauma and desperation of the war.

Let's fast-forward to 1952, after the Communist Party had been been running their postwar recovery show in eastern Europe for about seven years, and after Heda's husband, Rudolf, a dedicated, very intelligent, workaholic apparatchik of the State had suddenly been arrested and imprisoned without explanation, without trial, and without any indication of where he was being held, or how long he would be detained, or when he might be released.

In her darkest days of disillusionment with the dysfunctional state of the State, in the grip of despair over the unsure fate of her imprisoned husband, Heda begins a chapter of the book by providing this description of what Czech life had become:

 
"Life in Prague. . . had acquired a totally negative character. People no longer aspired toward things but away from them. All they wanted was to avoid trouble. They tried not to be seen anywhere, not to talk to anyone, not to attract any attention. Their greatest satisfaction would be that nothing happened, that no one had been fired or arrested or questioned or followed by the secret police. Some fifty thousand people had so far been jailed in our small country. More were disappearing every day."

Compare Heda's postwar description of the the Czechs' willingness to accept Russian hegemony-- when the liberated people were compliant to help bring in the communist agenda for rebuilding the nations-- Compare it to her description of how things actually turned out seven years later.

You'll find a big difference there, a huge contrast, like the difference between day and night.

But here's the good news. In 1989, the peoples of eastern Europe--Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slavs and others, cast off the chains of Soviet domination, and the light of liberty began to shine again.

We need to help them strengthen the good that was gained in 1989.

Smoke

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A deer in Hungarian headlights


Imre Nagy was a politician in post-World War II, Soviet-controlled Hungary. He was a leader in the Communist party, but his interest was not so much in schmoozing within the inner circle of power. Rather, his hope was to provide an impulse for public discussion about the issues that needed to be dealt with in the development of a uniquely Hungarian socialism. Imre advocated a path to collective economic activity that would build upon societal remnants of Hungarian feudal traditions. The retention of certain traditional values and practices could provide an impetus for gradual progress instead of the forced cruelties of the Russian Soviet program. Nagy's socialism "with a human face" could possibly eliminate, or at least minimize, the violence that would be doubtlessly be imposed  to enforce the dictates of Soviet administration.

The story of Nagy is a tragic saga of a man who tried to steer a safe course between Soviet cruelties and a dangerous impulse toward democratic socialism among the people of his own country.


Imre Nagy's sensitivity to the demands of his people endeared him to the people. They paid attention to him, respected him, actively supported him in a way that was not typical in a communist country.

But his story is a tragedy, because there was a moment in time when Imre Nagy suddenly saw, clearly, the impossibility of his moderate socialist gradualism. Suddenly, in one moment of high drama, his strategies were exposed as being in opposition to the people's Revolution, even though he was a good Communist.  The revolutionary impulse in Hungary in 1956 was not, you see, the revolution of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. It was a Revolution to dispose of the revolution of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. It was counter-revolution.

But for the diehard hardline Soviet leadership, counter-revolution was NOT a thing to be tolerated. In fact, it must be stopped, by tanks and guns if necessary.

So Nagy's unexpected reality-check came at a very dangerous point in time. The realization came at a moment when thousands of his fellow Hungarians were gathered at Kossuth Square in Budapest to hear him speak. He had just been appointed Prime Minister by the leaders of the Communist party. The big wheels of the Party were giving him a chance to do the "right thing"--take this populist bull by the horns and wrestle it down into Communist Party compliance.

On that Tuesday night in 1956, the Soviet head honchos, supported by the local Hungarian Party apparatchiks, were hastily putting together a plan to put down the gathering of the people outside of Parliament. They were planning to send in the heavy guns, the tanks, the Soviet soldiers. This huge populist crowd was gathering steam in Budapest; that very same uprising had been inspired, partly, by Imre Nagy's leadership style and his tolerant message  of democratic socialism. At that moment, thousands of Hungarians were suddenly expecting to receive Nagy's signal for a New Course from their new, reform-minded Prime Minister.

Janos M. Rainer describes the scene in his 2009 biography of Imre Nagy. With the thronging crowds gathered in from of him, Nagy stood in an open window ready to deliver a message to the people. It was about 9 p.m. The crowd was so large that some people could not hear him, even with the loudspeakers. Rainer writes:

"As Nagy approached the open window, he saw himself confronted with a completely unfamiliar force. (Nagy later said): 'Only when I perceived the mood in the square did it become clear to me that what was called for was quite different from what I had prepared.' "

"Comrades!" he began.

Some answered, "We are not comrades!" and "No more comrades!"

Someone said "All of Budapest is here!" "The nation is here."

The people had gathered there to receive the leadership of a new, fearless Prime Minister to guide their movement into its destiny. They were seriously ready for a change. They were fed up with those guys from Moscow and their lackeys. As far as they could see, Imre Nagy, who stood ready to address them, could be their man of destiny. He had the courage and the independent spirit to rise to the challenge.

But Imre was unable to accept the mantle. He was too good a Communist Party man. According to Soviet doctrine, the Revolution could not happen here and now because the Revolution had already happened.

In 1917, In Russia. According to Communist doctrine, that Bolshevik event would be the model and the inspiration for all revolutions heretofore.

So the next morning the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and put an end to those Hungarian upstarts thinking they could do something without the Communist Party's approval. Nagy did nothing to stop it because he knew he couldn't stop it. He was a realist.

But he was an inspired realist.

And certainly it would not be the people of Hungary (or so the Party leaders thought) who would change the course of the working-out of the worldwide Communist revolution.


But ultimately, in the long run, in the big picture, it was the Hungarian people who did  release the spark that would change communist  history.  As subsequent decades rolled by, the Hungarians' initiation of resistance did get the job done, with a little help from the Poles and the Czechs, and the Germans.

In 1989, it happened. The people of the European Communist lands overthrew the Soviets, and they did it without a violent revolution.

So maybe Imre Nagy was onto to something all along.

He was, when push came to shove, no revolutionary. He passed the baton on that opportunity. But he did have his place in history.

What a moment that must have been in October 1956 when the people demanded a revolutionary leader, but he was like a deer in their headlights. So he just did what he felt he had to do. He stepped into the background. He took the middle path of moderation. Ultimately, though, the people of Eastern Europe did get the freedom that the Hungarians had been demanding on that fateful night in October of 1956. It just took awhile.

Nagy, their brand new Prime Minister, passed up his chance to become a revolutionary leader like Lenin or Mao.

I probably would have done the same thing.

 

King of Soul 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Spider and Worm



Delicately delicate, she suspends it in space,

and spins from her scuttle this air-strewn lace.

Over and over and over again she splices

spidery substance with spot-on slashes

wider and wider through space/time she dashes.

So silvery it shines in morning light

inspiring this human with her shimmering site.

 

Meanwhile down way down in earthen ground

wiggly worm weaves his way around,

dirty and grubby and stubby and slow

crawling and hauling his humus so low.

He don't see no nothin'; he just go and go

through sludgy mud and slimy cruds

in soils he toils, 'til shovel turns over his boring drudge.


These two together are wild working partisans:

the annelid laborer and this arachnid artisan.

Master worm slung low, Madame spider spinning high,

dug in dirty and low and strung up in airy high,

until both annelid and arachnid do wear out and expire.

The earth and the sky turn lower and higher.

 

Glass Chimera

Monday, June 12, 2017

A simple act of kindness goes a long way


"Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence."

These words were spoken by a man who had spent eleven years imprisoned in a Stalin-era Russian gulag. The act of kindness of which he speaks was something very small, but very important. In 1953, a young woman doctor who was working in the prison smuggled in a blank postcard, then passed it secretly to a prisoner, Roland Gottlieb, so that he could send a message beyond the prison walls to his wife and three daughters.

By that time in 1953, Roland's wife, Ruth, had already spent more than eight years waiting for her husband to be released from the political prison. During those years she didn't even know if he was alive or dead. It was a very long period of terrible anguish for her and for their  three daughters, as they lived from day to day wondering where the hell  Poppa was, or if they'd ever see him again.

Hell on earth it must have been for them, and for him.

For Poppa, who endured not only cruelties, near starvation, physical abuse and the frigid Siberian weather, the worst part was not knowing anything about his family, not knowing where they had ended up after he was taken prisoner by the Russian army in Bulgaria, not knowing if the girls even knew what had become of him, not knowing if he would live to ever see them again, not knowing anything except the day-to-day hell-on-earth of captivity in Stalin's gulag.

Then one day a brave doctor's willingness to risk her own career and safety made it possible for Roland to at least send a few words--a long-overdue update-- about his location and condition (alive) to his loved ones. 

Here's a cover pic of Ruth, to whom the secret postcard was addressed, and to whom the card was delivered, four months after it was mailed.

  https://www.amazon.com/Lives-Divided-family-apart-Russian/dp/1490404236

You can read more about this long ordeal of separation in Birgitta Gottlieb McGalliard's autobiographical memoir, Lives Damaged. It's a good book about the first eleven years of her life, which happened to be the same eleven years that her father was in prison, simply because he was (doing his duty as a German diplomat protecting war refugees)  in the wrong place (Sofia, Hungary) at the wrong time (when the Russian army took over the place) in 1944.

Birgitta was born a few months after her father was hauled to a Soviet prison in Siberia. She never even saw her father, never even touched him, until she was eleven years old. And when she did finally see him, and hug him, and at last get to talk to him and get to know him, she asked him some questions about the bad people he had encountered  in prison. And he spoke to her and to the family about the bad people there, some of them prisoners and some who were staffers. But then he said:

"Just as these blatnois were bad, I found equally many if not more 'good' Russians, like the young female doctor who took pity on me when I was in the punishment camp after the Vorkuta Revolt in 1953, where writing was strictly prohibited. She smuggled a postcard to me so that I could write home. She could have been severely punished if she hand been caught. If it hadn't been for her kindness, you never would have received that first postcard from me."

That "first postcard," when it finally was delivered, was a major milestone, a turning point in the life of their family.

That major milestone was made possible by a very small, seemingly insignificant act of smuggling a postcard in and out of the prison, and yet . . .

Later, after his release in 1954, looking back on it and trying to capture an explanation of it all for his daughters, Roland Gottlieb said:

"Encountering human kindness such as that became the highlights of my otherwise dreary existence."

Kindness stands out. Its effects go far beyond the pale.

The milk of human kindness--it goes a long way toward the healing of the nations, and the healing of people whose suffering is a consequence of the injustice and evil that men do to each other throughout history. A brave doctor's small act of postcard benevolence, along with a few other small deeds like it, is what  enabled the prisoner to hang on to a thin thread of hope. It's what he remembered more vividly than anything else about what happened in his eleven-year gulag nightmare: Kindness from a brave soul whose courage to act enabled him to cross a bridge from perpetual discouragement to newfound hope.

It's no wonder that Paul, the 1st-century itinerant Christian messenger, included kindness in his lists of he "fruits" of our Creator's Holy Spirit.

Kindness. You can beat it, but you can't defeat it.

 

Smoke

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Overcoming Mediocrity and Alienation with Freedom


Trying to fix this world is no easy task. Many people have pondered about what is wrong with it, and some have offered remedies about how to correct the perpetual problem of human activity and its destructive effects on our collective life on this planet.

For instance, about a century and a half ago, a very smart German fellow named Karl Marx theorized that the prosperous owners of the world's production facilities should be replaced by the working folks who keep all the nuts and bolts turning. If this transition of ownership could be accomplished, the world would eventually be a better place, or so Karl thought.

Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades got a hold of that idea, and they enforced the Russian Revolution of 1917. After they deposed the Czar and his Romanov dynasty family, and after the revolutionaries had manhandled power unto the people for purposes of taking control of the "means of production," the newfound Communists of Russia took a stab at running the country, with their sights sent on the entire world.

There was some confusion in their ranks about exactly what needed to be done; Lenin and his diehards had to push Trotsky and his people out of the picture, but that wasn't really enough purging to settle all the issues. So later, in the 1930's, Joe Stalin took it upon himself to purge the revolutionary and bureaucratic ranks of all questionable persons who couldn't get with the (Stalin's) program.

Well, that was a sinister and bloody affair. Meanwhile, further down the map in Europe, Hitler and his Nazi goons were making a big bloody mess of Germany and the surrounding countries, and that whole conflagration turned into one hell of a humongous World War, in which we Americans had to go over there and help the Brits and the French, et al, put an end to it.

After the Big War, the Communists were still in control of Russia, and Stalin was still running the show and the gulag, and the working out of the Marx-theorized dictatorship of the proletariat and so forth. Part of the strategy of the International Communist plan to save the world from Capitalist abuse was to spread the revolution into other parts of the world.

After World War II finally skidded to a long-overdue frigging halt, when the dust settled in Europe, the continent was pretty much divided down the middle between the freedom-cultivating Capitalist Allies and the pushy Russian Communists. There was a kind of imaginary dividing between these two entities, which Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain.

Over here in the West, we were flat-out tired of making war. The Nazi war machine had worn us out, even though we won. And the Russians, although they were certainly tired of fighting the war, were also tired of the whole damned war thing.  Nevertheless, the Ruskies were still quite stubborn in their resolve to save the world from Capitalism.

So they began a new, very big project to impose their Russian version of Communism on the rest of the world-- Starting, mainly, in eastern Europe where they were already occupying those post-war-torn Nazi-disaster zone nations, most notably Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.


Recently I picked up a book, from my precious local library, about people and events in Communist-occupied postwar eastern Europe.

   https://www.amazon.com/Prague-Sprung-Notes-Voices-World/dp/0275945367

David Leviatin's Prague Sprung  presents a penetrating view into the Communist world of power mongering as it existed from the 1948 takeover until the overthrow of Russian hegemony in 1989.

In his book project, David interviews many Czechs who, as members of the Communist party, performed roles in the development and administration of Czechoslovakia.

During one interview, David Leviatin speaks to Miroslav Jindra about his career as an educator. Jindra's training as a teacher of English and Czech language began in 1948 when he entered Charles University in Prague. After graduating he taught languages at both elementary and college levels.

During that time Mr. Jindra encountered there, however, a double-minded mindset that tended to complicate everything. It seemed that academic excellence and enquiry were not the first priorities. Rather, he found that behind the surface of the institution was a certain Marxist mindset which was being promulgated by the Communist regime. The politicos in charge of Czech education had an agenda, and it was more about political control than academic enquiry. Consequently, to function in such an academic environment was no simple matter.

"I belonged to the group of people who developed some sort of maneuver, some sort of defending mechanism, because otherwise it was impossible to survive. I learned at the same time to be as inconspicuous as possible. If you were very good, you were conspicuous. Something would happen to you. If you were too lazy, you were also conspicuous. This is what we now call the tendency to mediocrity."

Jindra goes on to  explain that the Russian takeover of his country in 1948 was followed by a period of radical leftist change, which was imposed methodically by Communist taskmasters. But later, during the 1950's their doctrinaire extremism began to run out of steam. The demands of economic and political reality required more practical applications of human motivation and activity. By the 1960's narrow-minded apparatchiks who had imposed Stalinist cruelties had to tone down their rhetoric and their programs as it became apparent that something was wrong.

By 1956, Khrushchev's admission of Stalinist abuses and crimes initiated a shockwave of reassessment that rumbled across the whole communist world.

As Jindra states it: "They found out something was wrong." So the Stalinist phase of world communism began to morph into something else.

But Khrushchev's admission wasn't the only crack that was then appearing in the Soviet wall of oppression.

Also at that time, in 1956, the partisans of Hungary, next door  to Czechoslovakia, rose up in undisguised anger against their Russian overlords. As a Czech speaking about their 1956 news of the Hungarian uprising, Miroslav Jindra says:

"We were told that the Revolution in Hungary was endangered by some reactionaries, but everybody knew what happened there."

Which is to say, everybody knew what (really) happened there.

As citizens of eastern Europe found themselves, over the years, mired deeper and deeper in sloughs of Communist Party control,  they were cornered into a new, schizo way of thinking and speaking. Euphemism-- saying what is generally known to be true but saying it in a way that would not be objectionable, or even understood by, Communist party officials-- became a necessity. Saying what you meant without really saying it become a finely honed, stealthy strategy--even a mindset-- of mounting resistance.

Eastern Europe came to be something like a kettle put on low heat; it took a long time to boil. It didn't actually boil over until 1989.

There were many Soviet oppressions that provoked discontent and bitterness among the people of eastern Europe. 

Here's one bitter bi-product of Soviet oppression in  particular, that Miroslav Jindra's narrative brings to this reader's attention. But it was not an obvious one. Rather, it is subtle thing, and it slithers into the fearful comrade's mind like a serpent: alienation.

Think about it this way. Have you ever been in a job where you wanted to do good work, but could not, because your micro-managing boss or co-workers were obsessed with unimportant details instead of actually accomplishing good work?

That's what was going on in the world of Soviet political correction.

From page 66 of David Leviatan's Prague Sprung, educator Miroslav Jindra speaks of the doublethink that was required to function as faculty member at Charles University, in Prague:

"In 1976, I was invited to come back to the faculty since two people had retired and they needed some help. There were some very good people in the faculty. If you had some contacts with them, you were quite safe. On the other hand, there were some very nasty people in the Party, people who were not qualified as experts, as specialists, who were just political figures. Their task was to watch over what we said. If you were careful enough you could evade them. We didn't have any intellectual freedom at all. We had very limited area to maneuver. If you were clever, you could. I think that quite often I managed to tell the students what I wanted to tell them, but maybe I didn't tell them directly. I tried to make them find out for themselves.

But it's a big relief now (circa 1991). I don't need to think over anything, my next word. This was crazy. It was double-thinking."

 

The mindset that requires fearful, constant double-minded euphemism is destructive. When truth cannot be plainly spoken, a kind of collective schizophrenia takes hold of a society. This is what the history of communism has revealed about human nature. In State-controlled regimes, Party-appointed--or even self-appointed-- micro-managers who are obsessed with political correctness and petty rules dominate everything that is allowed to happen. The end results bring mediocrity, which is the opposite of excellence. For serious teachers, students or workers who want to discover truth and strive for productivity, alienation plagues them and drags them into sloughs of discouragement and despair.

By the late 1980's, the peoples of eastern Europe--and even the Russians-- were sick of the double-minded burdens that the communist State had been demanding of them, so they overthrew it. The revolution began with bold people like Vaclav Havel in the Czech lands, Imre Nagy in Hungary, Lech Walesa in Poland.

Eventually leaders such as Yeltsin and Gorbachev got a hold of it. The rest is history. Gorbachev took Reagan's advice; he tore down a wall. That certainly to helped to get the ball of liberty rolling.

Much to the doctrinaire Communists' surprise the people of Germany turned out to be more than willing to help in tearing down that Berline wall--piece by piece. Freedom is irresistible when you get a whiff of it.

But freedom is not easy to attain. In America, we are fortunate to have prospered in the liberty that was attained, at great sacrifice, for us long ago. That liberty has since been assured and secured by men and women who are willing to defend it. We defend it, not only militarily, but also politically, academically, and economically.

Let's keep it that way. Freedom is a way of life that we don't want to lose. Let us not squander it.

 

King of Soul

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Teacher


Over there in the middle of the world there seems to be a controversy about who is in charge of the place.

There are some people who will not accept the fact that the Jewish people have a very long history there; their ancient saga originated in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. So now that the Jewish people have crowbarred their way back into that land strip, which they call Israel while many Arabs and Muslims call it Palestine, we do have a problem.

It is a very old problem, and yet it is new every morning.


On this morning, I contemplate the words of a Teacher who claims to have been king over Jerusalem several millennia ago. This king/teacher is known by the name Solomon; he is reported to have been a very wise man.

Solomon's notes reveal that he wrote down such thoughts as this:

"That which has been is that which will be,

and that which has been done is that which will be done.

So there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one might say,

'See this, it is new'?

Already it has existed for ages

Which were before us."

Now this wisdom is somewhat of riddle, because as I tap this musing, and my own musing along with it, out on this keyboard, I realize that there is some contradiction here between what Solomon intended to say way back in the mists of time, and what I experience here and now in the world as it exists in 2017 c.e.

Because this laptop could not have existed during the reign of King Solomon. So, there is something--this laptop--which I can say is, in fact, new.

Electronic devices did not exist in Solomon's time.

So, does this discrepancy call into question the validity of Solomon's message to me? Is the Wise king contradicting the obvious truth of technological development? Is he flat-out wrong about my silly little MacAir being "nothing new" under the sun?

Did his successors go online to discover his wise sayings?

Did Jeroboam use Windows? Was Rehoboam a Mac guy?

Is that what they were fighting about after Solomon died?

No, no, no and no.

Nevertheless, I am reading the wisdom of Solomon as it has been passed down through the ages in the Bible. His wisdom-seeking questions and pronouncecments, as found in the book of Ecclesiastes, arrive at my historical doorstep as a book of the Bible.

Now we all know the Bible is controversial. Many people consider it to be the Word of God, while many other people think it's just an old history book with a lot of errors and contradictions.

I say it is a valid history of our Creator's plan to bust into human consciousness during a certain period of time, with ecclesiastical wisdom that is applicable for all time.

Modern folks who disdain the Bible often think that we believers are just naive, gullible, and subject to the manipulations of religious leaders who want to use us sheepish believers for their own financial gain or power.

Bible-believers generally accept the Bible in faith. What they don't understand about it, they just chalk up to the possibility that we cannot figure everything out, so at some point, for the sake of getting on with life, we just need to believe the revelation that we accept as a basis for navigating the challenges of this life.

Smart people, cerebral people, on the other hand have to get everything figured out. They generally analyze our ancient fuddy-duddy faith proclamations to death, and relegate them to the realm of mythology, tall tales and wishful thinking.

But here's the real deal: What smart people call cognitive dissonance, people of faith call "faith."

Believers understand that they can't figure out this whole thing called "life" so they are willing to submit themselves to the legacy of faith that has been presented to them since childhood, or since crashing at the bottom of their own sinful limitations and cognitive confusion.

We'll never get the cosmos all figured out: at some point out there in this never-never land, we have to believe in something, something "out there" that can carry us through the mountains and valley's of this life.

Now maybe smart folks don't need faith because they think they've got it all figured out.

Whatever.

I think that, somehow, this is what Solomon is getting at. Consider this observation that Solomon wrote:

"Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;

And hastening to its place it rises there again."

Okay, so Solomon obviously had jotted this ditty down before Copernicus and Galileo came along and proved that the sun does not move, but rather it is the earth moving around the sun that produces our daily sunrises and sunsets.

Does Solomon's ignorance about the actual machinations between sun and earth negate the quality of his wisdom?

No.

That is my statement of faith about Solomon's wisdom. We know what he's saying; it's not rocket science. The Hubble had not been invented yet, but wisdom is as old as the hills of Judea.

So I'm not going to analyze a thousands-of-years-old nugget of wisdom to death, simply because Copernicus and Galileo figured out our solar system and subsequent scientific data has confirmed their observations.

Solomon was a wise king, even if he did have the sun/planets physical relationship turned around backwards.

We all have our blind spots; not a one of us sees the whole picture.

So, as I explore further in Solomon's Ecclesiastes, I see that, a few sentences later in the first chapter of Solomon's Ecclesiates, he writes this:

"All things are wearisome;

Man is not able to tell it."

I mean, I'm tired of thinking about it, y'all.

Which is to say, we'll never get it all figured out. At some point, we just need to stop trying to decipher the DNA and the Cosmos and the Pangeatic records etcetera etcetera, and just go with life itself.

Here's an example from the conclusion of the 2nd chapter of Ecclesiastes:

"There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good (even if it contributes to climate change -ed.). This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.

For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without God?

For to a person who is good in God's sight, God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner God has given the task of gathering and collecting so that (s)he may give to one who is good in God's sight. This too is vanity and striving after the wind."

And if you're still wondering what it is I'm trying to say here, I will release you from my wandering thoughts with this ecclesiastical proverb from cousin Bob, who is, with his 20th-century wisdom, not unlike Solomon:

"The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind."

My conclusion: Just Believe, and get on with the business of life, making use of what you find helpful and productive, because we'll never figure it all out.



King of Soul

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Their Last Full Measure of Devotion

In the novel King of Soul, which I have recently published, college students Donnie and Kevin take an impulsive road trip to Kevin's home in Ohio. This happens in early May of 1970. While on the road in Tennessee, they pick up Ed, a hitchhiker. Ed has been honorably discharged from military service in Vietnam only three weeks ago. In chapter 23, we find Donnie and Kevin accompanying Ed to a bar in Nashville:

At the China Beach bar and grill in downtown Nashville, Donnie and Kevin tagged along while Ed linked up with a buddy of his from the war.

Sled was a sort of hillbilly with a twist. His West Virginia upbringing had been traumatized in a snow-sledding accident that happened when he was ten years old. In a head-on collision with a pine tree, a low branch had penetrated his left cheek. A scar that resulted from the surgery gave the appearance of a question mark on the left side of his face. From his teen years onward, all John’s people called him “Sled” because of what had happened to him in a sledding accident when he was a kid.

Ed and Sled had become friends at Fort Hood, Texas, before they both went to Vietnam. They were assigned to the same Company, but different platoons. On this particular evening , Sled and Ed were having beer and burgers as they celebrated the fact that they both had survived Vietnam. This was the first time they had seen each other since both were honorably discharged. Donnie and Kevin listened intently as Sled reported to Ed the account of how their CO, Lt. Gary, had fallen in battle only 11 months ago.

Sled explained that, in a strategy to avoid group casualties, Lt. Gary had his men spread out as they were advancing down a jungle hillside. Three dozen soldiers had distanced themselves from each other, and each man was walking alone. The radio man reported that an NVA encampment was below them, but the exact location had not yet been determined.

Delta company was thus strung out for a mile or more. When their point guys reached the bottom, they caught sight of evidence of the enemy bunkers above them, up on the north side. Sergeant Charles halted his men at a covered spot. He knew they were near the enemy because, he said, he could smell their rice cooking; but as he took a few steps to obtain a better view of the area in question, suddenly he was struck with a bullet. It hit him in the abdomen;. Within seconds, an assault by automatic weapons erupted somewhere northward and above them, with what sounded like AK-47 fire.

Sgt. Charles did not make it home alive from Vietnam.

On this Memorial Day, 2017, we remember Charles and the other 54,000 American soldiers who never got back here to taste the good life of the dear ole US of A. We appreciate that these men and women sacrificed their last full measure of devotion so that we we can live free.


King of Soul