Bag It

Yesterday I was out cutting branches and baby elm trees out of the lilac hedge. It was a pretty good project for a warm February day and a lot easier than doing it in summer. I have a couple of elms in that hedge I need to hire someone to demolish, but the way I see it, the more of that I do the less I have to pay for. I’m cheap labor, not good, but definitely cheap. A lilac branch had extended into the alley, and I could imagine the silent curses (or not so silent) of my neighbors as they drove past. But the fewer irksome frustrations for those around me, the better my life is.

Norris Medina, who delivers stuff to my house in his UPS truck — and who single-handedly, basically, brought all the furniture from wherever to me when I moved here and didn’t have anything (we joked about it a lot back then) — and I were talking about how the world has changed since 2019. We both think that people are meaner. I hated to think of what that meant to HIM because he has to go to all kinds of houses every day. Later I thought about Tim, my sagacious plumber and our conversations about kindness. I put those two conversations together and realized that behind them both are experiences with mean people. And that they both comment? They must — as I do — find the meanness a change. Maybe it’s also a little strange that I have philosophical conversations with my plumber and UPS guy, but there it is.

In my Facebook memories this morning was a description of a day in 2019, just an ordinary day except that there was snow on the golf course, and I was skiing. The kids up the alley had just moved in, and I was just getting to know them. The little boy was in the yard waiting for Bear and me. We talked for a few minutes, Bear jumped up on the fence to get petted and was taller than the little boy. We made a date to say “Hi!” the next day.

That was it. Nothing strange or intense or challenging, just unremitting sweetness and snow. I keep wondering, “Is the change ME???” but when others talk to me about it I see it isn’t JUST me, though certainly I have changed. For me the change happened on January 6 2021 and the continuation of that event hasn’t helped at all. That day broke me.

Norris said it well the other day when he said, “Oh, yeah, politics. I vote and everything, and I know my vote counts, but none of them really represent me.” It’s true. The big issues in my part of the world include the plague of tumbleweeds at the cemetery and the successes of local high school students. There are more serious things, too. Drugs remain a problem (but I saw worse in San Diego) and poverty. The person who is alleged to represent us in Washington, DOESN’T represent us. I have only once heard her mention anything that directly relates to our lives but OH WELL.

We talked about the new law in Colorado that we have to pay for plastic bags at the stores. He was (as many around here are) outraged, and I just said, “Yeah, well, it’s a pain in the ass, but we’ll get used to it.”

“Why should we save the whales? We don’t have whales in Colorado.”

I answered that if he’d seen the trash on the beach as I have had he might feel differently. He made the connection from that to our outrageous landfill and an argument was made. We kept talking about the environment and he told me how incredibly careful and frugal his dad had been with everything. The upshot? We started out disagreeing and ended up agreeing. And to get there? I got to hear amazing stories about life in one of the San Luis Valley’s most remote and beautiful towns back when Norris was a kid (70s). He described a life that sounded like my mom’s in the 30’s. He’s from San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado, a place I’d have chosen to live if I’d seen it before I saw Monte Vista. It’s up against the Sangre de Cristo mountains, a smaller town than Monte Vista, very Hispanic and very beautiful. I loved his stories. My California stories and his San Luis Valley stories gave each of us more context for understanding not just each other, but the world.

“How do big families in California deal with their groceries?”

“Some people put boxes in the back of their car.”

“My daughter has a couple milk crates in her truck now.”

“Yeah. That’s what we did. We got used to it.”

As we talked, I thought about the first plastic grocery bag I ever saw. It was in 1982 in the People’s Republic of China. Our university had connections with a factory unit in a village that was making these bags. I thought they were strange. In China we went everywhere with String — oops, I see here they’re called NET bags — because that’s what we carried stuff in. Everyone did. I saw some pretty strange stuff going to and fro in net bags — even a kitten! And, of course, most markets were “wet markets,” which meant people might take home live animals to kill and eat for dinner. It’s amazing what a small net bag will hold, too. AND they can be stashed in the pocket of your jeans. Oh brave new world. All of Europe — well the two countries I know, anyway, people carry net bags. Some fancy ones, too. I’ve thought for a long time that it’s strange that the US hasn’t dumped plastic grocery bags altogether, but I’m as guilty as anyone of “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.” (title of my favorite Dead Kennedys album).

Kind of went off topic there, but it’s my blog and I guess I can do that if I want to. Anyway, the original point was that in our strange new world this kind of conversation — which, I think, is is an essential part of human life — seems to be a little more difficult to come by. I know I don’t wander around the neighborhood talking to my neighbors any more. We can’t regain our innocence; it’s gone. I don’t know… But like my plumber says, “If we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living?” I’m going to keep trying…

I Read the News Today, Oh Twit…

The recent upheavals at Twitter — seriously. Seriously. Seriously. Good god. It’s enough to drive a person batty, but I’ve already been to batty, and decided not to stay.The thing is WHO CARES? BUT we live in a world where it really does matter. Sigh.

I was thinking last night about social media (which this is) and how it’s changed everything. I know I’m not the first person to think about this and I’ve probably even written about this before — a long time ago I wrote about “Facecrack.” The post is gone; as I recall it dealt with the addictive aspects of Facebook.

Personally, I feel that Twitter — and Facebook — do/have done a lot of damage, but there’s no going back. I spent a little while (a year?) on Twitter trying to understand how it worked and hoping to sell books. What I found was a bizarre psychological drain along with the good stuff and the good people — it was the main point of contact between me and the mom of the kids up the alley, photos, jokes, invitations. The psychological drain (for me) turned out to be more powerful than the good stuff. I got thrown off Twitter about a year ago, maybe longer, for using “bad words” in the direction of Lauren Boobert. That bitch can dish it out, but she can’t take it.

I considered being thrown off Twitter to be a badge of honor. Twitter offered me the chance to stay if I retracted my comment. Well, that wasn’t happening. How could it mean so much to me that I would NOT stick by my words? How could I want to be there THAT much? But more than that I didn’t want to fill my time and my life with that. Some of my Twit followers had already lectured me on how I should have used euphemisms — but I thought, “OK, hypocrisy good; honest self-expression bad.” Anyway, I didn’t want to be that person — but part of me IS that person. I’m an asshole. When kids beat up on my brother, I didn’t turn the other cheek; I beat them up.

So now Elon Musk — a strange dude, IMO — has bought Twitter, is wreaking havoc and we have news about it as if it were a real place. I know it’s a business. I know it makes money and employs people, I get all of that, I get the material mechanics of it as a business entity, but what I don’t get is its power. I understand that it can be a force for good as well as ill — it’s a neutrality, depending largely on its users and their choices.

Yesterday a loose dog was running around on the highway. I wanted to catch him, but he wasn’t having it. I posted on Facebook, but I only have 50 friends and most don’t live here. One of them suggested I post on SLV Lost and Found Pets, but I left that group because of all the anger. SO…I rejoined to share that post. To rejoin I had to agree not to sell anything on the page and not to post politics, not to flame other users, basically not to be mean. By the time my membership was approved, the dog had gone home or been hit by a car. I don’t know. I hope the former. How do we live in a world where we have to agree not to be mean?

I read an article in my favorite magazine — Colorado Central — by a mom in Salida, CO who is struggling to teach her kids to be what she calls “egalitarian,” basically teaching them not to be mean. Her choices are very clearly defined by the concerns of our time — concerns largely defined by social media. Just a quick poll — how many of you have known a transsexual person? And, if you have, did you think it was any of your business? I’ve had a few in my classes over the years, all of them talked to me about themselves and all I could think, “You are brave and good and I’m on your side, but this isn’t my business except as I’m your professor and you’ll be missing school.” I honestly think most people feel similarly. But social media has made it a kind of issue. I applaud her for wanting to raise kids who are openminded but how was this done in my childhood? I mean, I grew up pretty open-minded. Did my parents teach me? They did. How?

As I wondered about this I remembered a paper my mom bought at a gift shop in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It said, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” It hung where we could see it, over the door going out to the garage in one house, over the stairs to the basement in another. We talked about it at the dinner table. What did it mean? The “moccasins” mattered because of my family’s ties to the Crow Indians. The upshot? We’re not all the same. Be kind. (Back then “man” = human with no particular gender connection) Some of us wear moccasins.

Remembering those days — early 60s — things were very violent in parts of this country and bad guys were running government offices here and there. I remember sitting in the car listening to the radio when MLK was speaking and my parents discussing what was going to happen in Alabama and what it meant. It tied to that paper hanging in our house. It was part of the moccasins. The next year, the Civil Rights Act was passed. Did it fix things? Absolutely not. Did it help? It gave African Americans a position for legal redress which is important in a country ruled by laws.

Yesterday I read a short essay by historian Heather Cox Richardson about women winning the right to vote. There was (as usual?) an optimistic tone to her writing, praising the historical courage of women fighting for the right to vote. She ends her essay with, “And …150 years after [Susan B.] Anthony cast her vote—those of us who have not been cut out of the right to vote by one or another of the measures states are now imposing on their voters can exercise that right, and determine what our nation will look like, once again.”

I just thought of the women who don’t seem to mind that TFG said it was OK for him — because he was famous — to “grab [a woman’s] pussy”, women like the representative from my Congressional district and others — Nikki Haley, MTG, Kristi Noem, etc. Then I thought, “Yeah, that women voting thing worked out great.” It’s not about gender or skin color; it’s about values.

So…yay mom in Salida trying to teach her sons to be kind. Keep at it and good luck.

Meditation on a Long Walk With Bear

Silence. No truck on the mile-away-road.
Me, Sandhill cranes above, my quiet dog
Some geese. Surprising new shoes lift time’s load
from my feet. Pure blue above autumn’s bog.
The noise in my head recedes when I hear
the timeless chortling of the sandhill cranes.
I watch them fly and wonder what they fear.
Shotgun, fox, coyote? Fields bare of grain?
I’ve seen them scatter when the eagle flies
Above them, hoping for a meal, to be
Disappointed when the cranes scatter high
Out of reach. Cranes fear enemies they see.
Humans? Destroy the world from pure caprice,
I doubt we can replenish wasted peace.


The World Is Too Much With Us

BY WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.


My sonnet is a casually constructed Shakespearean sonnet. You can learn more about the form here. Wordsworth’s — which I woke up thinking about this morning — is a Petrarchan sonnet. You can read about that form here. Reading Wordsworth’s poem this morning I was struck by the changing conventions over the centuries — allusions to Proteus and Triton might not mean much to us and I realized I’m unlikely to personify anything in nature. No ocean I write will have a bosom, and I don’t think I’d ever describe clouds as flowers, but maybe. One amazing thing Wordsworth did with his poetry is change forever the way we see daffodils. My favorite might be this:

The Child is Father of the Man

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

The Intricate Polemics of Our Times…

Seems like we — anyway, I — get to learn the same lessons over and over. My post yesterday (here it is) — which was really about keeping religion out of politics — garnered all kinds of reactions, some here, more on Facebook. Probably I could have written better, and religion is a hot topic (never mind I was not telling anyone what to believe and would not presume to) but I think we’re also living in a time of knee-jerk reactions and high emotions, voter intimidation and evil people using (not for the first time in the history of humanity) a religion for (IMO) evil purposes. Maybe people are not in a place right now (elections, ad nauseam) for what I wrote. I don’t know.

BUT — people (this is a news flash) are not all the same and an individual’s experiences are not universal and even two people experiencing the same thing are not going to take away the same understanding of it. We don’t all have the same background, education, drives, nothing about us is the same as anyone else. At best we have things in common or the willingness to adjust. Some people have a strong drive to conform and belong; others don’t (I don’t). We all want friends.

I believe we all want something to believe in — and I think that’s as varied as humanity. Some people like religious fellowship; others don’t. Some people feel secure with labels, others don’t get that. It’s crazy how we are. Two kids raised in the same house by the same parents don’t come away with the same understanding of their childhoods. We are — I believe — all but inscrutable to each other. One of the few tools we have to penetrate this is language and THAT can be a force for good or evil. Book groups exist because two people who read the same book don’t read the same book. I learned a LOT about that pursuing literature degrees. Outright arguments broke out in seminars over the meaning of a line in a Yeats poem. Seriously. Sides were taken. Alliances formed. And who cared??? In the grand scheme? Whatever that is…

We are a disputative, polemical, downright nasty species terrified of being wrong, frightened of saying, “No one knows.” So frightened of that that when someone does say it, as with Covid, we don’t hear it. I sure didn’t hear it. It’s amazing to me that we do as well as we do.

One positive aspect of most religions is they offer an ethical system — surprisingly universal across the world. In our country right NOW that’s the battle. The abortion question is an ethical question. I, personally, am pissed off that it’s in my life again. It was crappy enough arguing it in the 70s, but here we are. We’re outraged at Russia because what Putin did was wrong. We’re outraged at Christian Nationalists because what Hitler did was wrong and they are (apparently) taking a similar road and brandishing a book that is easily misquoted and manipulated — I think all religious texts are. Any major Taliban dude will tell you.

Does that mean the Bible and the Koran are “bad” or that religious education is “bad”? the Bible and the Koran are two related books sitting on my book shelf. They’re inert. Not doing much, just sitting there. On some other shelves are some other books. There’s the Tao Te Ching. Beside it, a profound, clever and pretty book of Zhuangzi’s teachings, there are several books of Hindu scripture. Ganesh sits on my table here beside a Zuni carving of an alabaster Heart Bear with turquoise eyes and a turquoise arrow head on her back for protection. Oddly, no Buddhist texts in this house, I have no idea why, but a Thangka of Palden Lamo hangs in my studio near a photo of the Dalai Lama I was given in Milan by a woman who had worked for the Dalai Lama in Brazil. Long story. None of these things are “bad.” In my opinion they’re all good, very very very good. The people who are TEACHING might be bad, might be stupid, brainwashed, have a dark agenda. That was the case in my church.

Besides that? I was a student and a teacher. I know about the questionable power of the lectern.

I was thrown out of my church youth group. I was the president and did something the deacons didn’t approve. They had an emergency meeting, and came down to the room where we were meeting and told me I had to leave. It was harsh and unfair and unenlightened and the pastor of my church wasn’t behind that 100%, but there I was. Did I leave God? Did I toss the Bible? No. Why? They had had nothing to do what those narrow-minded old men (in their 40s! Gasp!) had done. That was on the men.

Do I think the Bible is 100% factual history of the world? No. Who could? Those stories are so incredibly old. Some people will argue with me, but I see them — the Old Testament in particular — as myths to define a culture (a tribal culture) and hold it together. We humans are responsive to stories. This is one lovely thing about us — but also a little dangerous. I wouldn’t change it, but it carries some risks. It is why there are varied religious holidays and people fight for the right to celebrate them when they are surrounded by a culture with overall different beliefs. Religious holidays are tribal. That said, during my year in China, when Christianity — religion in general — was still strongly frowned upon, I came home from school on the 23rd of December to find a potted pine tree in my living room. A month or so earlier I shared supper in the “Religious Student’s Dining Room” with the two Muslim students and three Buddhist students to celebrate a Muslim holiday. Five students out of all the students at my university claimed to have religious beliefs, and because of this, they had their own place to eat where their dietary restrictions could be catered to, and cooks who shared their faiths. I would never call China enlightened in this area, but that was enlightened.

One of my Muslim students said, as we ate our lamb and the Buddhist girls ate their vegetables in a dark, smoke-stained, old little building (most cooking at that time was over charcoal) said, “Teacher, what do you think, don’t you think people who believe in religion are kind?”

I sure as hell couldn’t speak for all the people in the world who believe in religion, and I thought for a minute of all the people throughout history who’d died in religious wars, but all of the people in that room were definitely kind. They weren’t engaged in dialectics about their beliefs and gods. They were celebrating a harvest festival together.

My personal religious belief is that everyone’s personal religious belief — or non-belief — is just that, personal. As Goethe said of himself, “I’m not Christian. I’m not un-Christian, or anti-Christian, just not Christian.” I say the same of me.

Anyway, most of the reaction to what I wrote yesterday seemed to come from people who didn’t get the point, and I feel that, as a writer, that’s on me. I wasn’t writing about the Bible. I was writing about politicians using a snippet from a longer (and very different) religious story to influence people’s thoughts and create enmity. There’s no ethics there.

Out of Context, More Inflammatory Bible Quotes

I like the Bible. I grew up with it and was taught from it. I remember liking the pictures of the people in the Middle East, and I don’t remember any blond Jesus from those days. He always had dark hair. The only picture I remember of Jesus with any blond people was the one where he was suffering the little children to come unto him. One of the kids had blond hair. Of course, I didn’t understand what suffer the little children meant, I mean suffer? And the flight to Egypt? They rode donkeys, there were no planes back then. Lots of the Bible made no sense to me as a little kid. But I just passed on most of it. At six, I didn’t expect everything to make sense and that hasn’t really changed…

Then someone told me that in Sunday school they only teach us the happy stuff so we’ll be brainwashed into believing in Christianity. Maybe, but if that’s the case, it’s no sure thing.

I never ever imagined living in a time when Christianity (or so-called) would become a political position. Shows how relentlessly naive I was/am. I suspect it’s ALWAYS been a political position, but this Christian Nationalism? Scary.

As for me and any Christian church? I pretty much left in high school when it became clear that I really DIDN’T understand Christianity as it related to church. That said, I like the Bible. If you’ve read any of those old, old books across the world you’ll recognize a lot of the stories and the moral lessons. As for me, I got the idea from doing that that people are pretty much the same everywhere. In books like that, you don’t expect realism. I’m sure that originally the Bible stories were lore and legend, part of an ancient oral tradition. My favorite entire book of the Bible is Job.

I had to seriously study the Bible as I was writing my four novels, not just the Bible but a lot of the religious material surrounding the various eras. It was absolutely fascinating. I met some obscure Reformation theologians that I wish had been the guys to put those 95 theses up on that door instead of the guy who did. I spent some time in Lebanon (not in real life or real time) learning about the reasons behind, the challenges in, being a hermit. It sounded like a good life to me — tending goats, tending olive trees — if not for the stuff inside that a hermit might have been trying to deal with. I saw the descendants of the Reformation guys struggling to survive and raise families, so desperate, ultimately, that they left their home countries. I like all those people. I understand what they were hoping for and how impossible it is.

Last night my “representative” came on some TV show and let loose on the roles of men and women. I was very familiar with the fragment of the Bible verse she “quoted,” then attempted to explain. She had done what many fundamentalist Christians have done in my experience; she used a small passage of a longer statement to argue that women are less than men and need men to protect and guide them.

I remember back in the 1970s — during the eruption of both Feminism and what might be its counter-movement, Born Againism — looking at that. It was an argument against Feminism, against women doing the same jobs as men and getting the same pay. It was one of those, “Look here, the Bible says…” followed by “…so if you’re a Christian, you can’t support Feminism.” It’s 1 Peter 3:7 where the woman is referred to as “the weaker vessel.” In real life, the passage is a gentle plea to husbands to treat their wives well.

The REAL kicker in this part of the Bible is the preceding verse where Peter tells women to “submit to your own husbands.” Even that isn’t as awful as it sounds, though. Peter’s entire point in the WHOLE passage is to offer couple’s counselling — to a new Christian community back in the OLDEN DAYS — to couples about maintaining a peaceful family life. It has nothing to do with the work place or who’s smarter than whom, or who’s better than whom. Marriage is a thing apart. I’ve been married. I found it extremely difficult. Obviously I see long married couples all around me, and while I’ll never know the deep secrets of the lives of those people, I do see that they’ve achieved a kind of division of labor. The really happy ones are two people who are friends.

The entire passage is instruction to a new Christian community, a community discoverable now by archeology, about how to live peacefully with other people who did not like or understand the new religion, and in that time the would have been almost everyone. Even living with like-minded people? Godnose that isn’t easy. Peter’s instruction is, ultimately, beautiful. Bobo wasn’t quoting that, but I will. I love it. “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” I Peter 8 

I thought about that this morning. What if a politician came on TV (or whatever) and said THAT??? Would we listen?

Politics in the Bark of Beyond

Things are heating up out here in the Bark of Beyond heading into the election. The Democrat challenger to Lauren Boebert (🤢), a man named Adam Frisch, has been endorsed by Republicans. Slanderous stories about his (possible? supposed? alleged?) extramarital affair have hit Bobo’s anti-Adam website, rumors perpetrated by Breitbart but seriously? After our pussy-grabbing former guy who cares? I never DID care, but pussy-grabbing is MORE than just extra-marital sex, anyway. “Family Values” is another blog post, one that I won’t write. 😀 The evidence of this affair is just a blurry video with no faces.

On the other side, apparently Bobo shot her neighbor’s dog for attacking her goats, shot it dead rather than talking to her neighbors (who lived next door) and took its body out to the hinterlands. It’s one thing to shoot a dog who’s after your livestock out here in the wild-and wooly where there’s no chance of talking to a neighbor. I don’t like it, but I get it. It’s another thing to shoot the dog belonging to someone you COULD talk to. But Bobo isn’t really about that kind of thing. She’s about guns, anger, entitlement and, you know, to make it even more Bobo, the family whose dog she shot is Hispanic.

As for Adam Frisch? He’s OK. He’s straddling the middle of the road as hard as he can. His main objective is to get Bobo out of there which is a good objective. He’s done some good things — for one, he has traveled all over this immense district, a district larger than many states, to meet people and see what this world actually IS. I don’t know if he’s reaching anyone here in this very Bobo place — the countryside isn’t quite wallpapered with Bobo signs, but close to.

Anyway, in power-to-the-people news, my ballot has been mailed to me so any day now I can drive it to Del Norte and put it in the box by the county clerk’s office into which bills are also paid. It’s a pretty cool box, too. Cast bronze from the olden days.

In other news, Teddy and I took a late ramble in October’s golden world and met a crane tourist who’s been coming out to watch the cranes for 18 years. I think crane tourists are — by and large — a very special, wonderful, slice of humanity.

An Epiphany in Escaping from Freedom

It’s true; Escape from Freedom is heavy going for me. I don’t want to jinx it since I’m also enjoying it, and it’s been good for me recovering my brain from Covid, but I’m glad I wasn’t assigned the book to read over the weekend! Forgive me for all these boring posts.

Writing about it as I read helps me process and understand, which makes sense as my academic training at those liberal indoctrination camps was to do just that. I’ve been wading through what I have found to be Fromm’s somewhat questionable and slanted perspective on the Middle Ages and the transition to so-called “modern times.” But I am a medievalist. I like those people. I like their way of thinking. I like their institutions and their religious philosophy. I like their literature and their artwork. I don’t think I romanticize the period, but everything I’ve studied has shown me that we just don’t know much about them, and we assume a lot — for example that they never bathed and had no toilets. Studying them opened my eyes to the fact that we all share a future bias, which is that humanity is better now than it was in the past (whatever that means).

Anyway, one important thing Fromm seems not to have considered, or forgotten, or intentionally ignored, is the impact of the Black Death on the change between Medieval times and the, uh, uh, I’m just going to call it the 16th century. I mean, when 60% of the population of Europe DIES in roughly a decade during the 14th century from the Great Mortality, the world WILL change. One of the biggest changes was that it gave bargaining power to the peasants, tradesmen and craftsmen who survived the disease. (“men” = humans) “You want my labor? You pay for it!” “You want the food I grow? You pay for it!” “You want my skills? You pay for them!” People even moved to places where they had a better opportunity.

But, Fromm seems to be ignoring that and that’s OK. It’s not my book. The Reformation is his destination; it’s what he wants to write about. He is interested in what we might call the “cult of personality.” So am I.

By the beginning of the 16th century, the Church was losing its power over the people. It was a centuries long process. There are 12th and 13th century poems/minnesangs that complain about the pope’s treatment of people particularly those who live far away from Rome. The pope and the emperor(s) had been at war for generations over territory and power, wars that depended on mercenaries from Switzerland and, later, areas in what would become Germany. That ONE thing right there was a big factor in the success of the Swiss reformation in the early 16th century which ultimately led to the growth of several different protestant faiths. There was the period of the papal schism at the end of the 14th century when there were two popes — one in Italy, one in France. There were also what look to us from the long lens of time as “small” attempts to reform the church — Saint Francis — and pretty much every religious order — started out with that aim in mind. My point is that the church wasn’t a static, universally loved power over the people, not at all.

It never occurred to me before that the BIG change of the Reformation was that it put a charismatic (religious or other) leader in front of vulnerable people in contrast to the times when the church was God, God was the church and Bob’s your uncle. The plague (about which Fromm doesn’t write) would have scared the living shit out of people; it was Covid times a million. On top of that, death from the plague was gruesomely ugly, horrifying, and involved the color BLACK which we all know represents evil. People were more concerned about demonic possession than disease since disease WAS demonic possession. Fromm doesn’t write that along with the years of the Renaissance and Reformation came such leading lights as Savonarola or such noble institutions as the Spanish Inquisition, witch-hunts and heavy persecution of Jews who, during the Middle Ages were, for the most part, just other people in the village.

By the 15th century, I imagine people were lost — they’d gone through a period with two popes during the Great Papal Schism; people had died all over the place and the plague didn’t completely go away; clearly God had abandoned them. As Europe picked itself up after that, many great and good things happened, no question, but there was also a spiritual and leadership gap. Religious skepticism — disillusionment — had to have been enormous. Certainly they looked for someone to blame, something to blame and they looked for something to believe in.

In beginning his discussion of the Reformation, Fromm makes sure we (meaning I) understand that he’s talking about the psychology of the leaders and the followers. I’m cool with that, and as I read I got the feeling I was about to understand the very thing I’ve been struggling with for 6 or 7 years now. And voila…

Fromm writes that psychology of the leaders of the Reformation (early 16th century) meshed with qualities in the psychology of their followers that enabled a religious revolution. He emphasizes that it wasn’t logical, but psychological, meaning that contradictions were an intrinsic part of it. Fromm writes, “The influence of any doctrine of idea depends on the extent to which it appeals to psychic needs in the character structure of those to whom it is addressed. Only if the idea answers powerful psychological needs of certain social groups will it become a potent force in history.”

Nailed it.

I give you Exhibit A. Shooting an assault rifle from a helicopter, the esteemed representative from an impoverished district in Georgia, has just (allegedly) killed a wild pig in Texas. Making America Great (Again)

Who DOES Get to Say???

I haven’t had a chance to return to Escape from Freedom which is too bad because I left it very curious about where Erich Fromm was going next with his evaluation of the psychology that leads people to choose fascism. I’m also curious to see if his theory and mine are similar or widely divergent. My theory has always been that many people get frustrated with a system that’s necessarily slow and messy, and (sometimes out of desperation) they jump on a band wagon that offers quick fixes, like making something great again. The question I think Fromm is going after might be related to that, but I think it’s deeper; it’s WHY.

As I look at my own country right now, I remember some of the black and white movies about WW II and the rise of the Nazis we were shown weekly when I was in high school. One sought to explain the rise of Nazism and for me, it kind of did. I see the ultra right pushing some of the same things — notably inflation, from which we’re all suffering to some extent. It was interesting that in the not-very-good restaurant where the ladies and I ate the other day there was an “inflation cost” added to our bills. Why? So they didn’t have to change the prices on their menus. In a way that turns the menus into false advertising…

Yesterday I happened to see MTG talk to a reporter on the steps of some building. The reporter asked why MTG used the term, “Christian Nationalism,” and supported it. She pushed MTG into a defense of the term which MTG did not, at first, attempt. MTG (who lives in a dream world in which TFG is still president, likes putting others on the defensive and deflecting ideas) asked, “Who gets to say what words mean?” The reporter — who was (besides being Black) intelligent, informed and articulate, armed with excellent questions — had brought up the term in the context of its origins in Nazism. MTG argued in circles and never seemed to see she undermined herself with her own words and revealed her abysmal ignorance of history. Not surprising. But I was disturbed by “Who gets to say what words mean?”

History “gets” to say some of that, history, the context of language and human institutions. That took me back to Georges Santayana’s much quoted statement, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905. But, for me, more resonant are the words carved over the library entrance (old library entrance) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, “Who knows only his own generation remains always a child.” It wasn’t meant in a good way…

Beginning an Interesting Book…

A while ago I mentioned a book I’d read about in another book (ah, the great chain of reading) by Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom. Yesterday I remembered I had it (ha ha) and began reading. It’s captivating. His perspective is that of a psychologist. While I’ve benefited from other’s study of psychology, I have never studied it beyond what I had to in college. The book begins (and I’m in the beginning) with a discussion of psychological explanations for human behavior and the role of the individual in society as defined by different psychological systems. From this discussion, I’ve learned that Fromm has great respect — love? — for the individual and regards individuals as dynamic forces in human culture and history.

There’s so much here. It’s truly the richest writing I’ve read in a long, long time. It was originally published in 1941 and Fromm sets freedom against Fascism which he defines as the systems that had gained ascendancy in Germany and Italy. He writes that when he wants to discuss events in Germany only, he’ll call it Nazism.

For Fromm, freedom is the property of individuals; freedom is individual, and the threat to freedom is that people don’t want it. It seems — so far — that the tension is between individual freedom and an equal desire on the part of many for submission. That’s so whack. He writes, “Can freedom become a burden, too heavy for man to bear, something he tries to escape from? Why then is it that freedom is for many a cherished goal and for others a threat?” As I read, I thought about the Supremes overturning Roe v. Wade, eliminating an important individual freedom from the law of the land. How do I feel about abortion? Nobody likes it. I don’t like it. I’m sorry for any woman who finds herself contemplating it. Should women have dominion over their individual bodies? Yes. Can I live with that? Yes. Apparently others can’t.

Fromm quotes John Dewey (go west young man) “The serious threat to our democracy is not the existence of foreign totalitarian states. It is the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader in foreign countries. The battlefield is also accordingly here — within ourselves our institutions.”

In 1997 I attended an Alice Cooper concert in Zürich. It was held in the Tonhalle. Earlier that day I’d seen photos of the very auditorium taken during the Nazi era. One of the photos was a meeting of sympathetic Swiss in the Tonhalle. I don’t know how to describe my feelings that night, with that photo still living in my mind. When Alice started singing “School’s Out,” most of the audience stood, raised their fists in the air, and sang along. I remember asking myself, “Who are we?” Same hall. The same image as in the photo. Same people a generation or two later. Same idea of uniting with others of like mind or music taste, anyway. “What makes us do this?” I saw the whole thing — Nazi rally, Alice Cooper concert — as bonding rites.

Fromm writes about this, too, about the different kinds of isolation. I think that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother blog post, but the bottom line is that people cannot live without others. Fromm explains all the kinds of possible connections and as I read, I thought of this blog. Some time back, I happened to look at my stats and saw that 2020 had the most connections. I understood that; in our enforced isolation our WordPress “neighborhood” became more important, maybe necessary.

I am not sure where Fromm is going next, but it seems at this point it might be the eternal tension between self and belonging. Not sure… I could be putting the cart before the horse. Anyway, so far I like this very much. I like his attitude toward Freud (You gave us a lot, but, dude, your ideas are flawed), I like his focus on the individual. We’ll see what happens as I continue reading — one thing for sure, this is vastly different from the contest books I read every winter.

OH, in my continued pursuit to figure out WHAT is attractive to anyone about TFG I learned yesterday about a book that’s passed out at his rallies. President Donald J. Trump, The Son of Man – The Christ. It’s very scary to me that there are people who actually believe this. From the opening:

I had long appreciated that his followers constitute a cult, but I had no idea…

The Separation of Church and State

The little bitch who “represents” my district in Colorado in the US House of Representatives came out saying that there’s nothing in the Constitution about the separation of Church and State. In fact, it is the very first Amendment to the US Constitution in very clear English. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This should matter to all Americans maybe even more than the absurd and egregious overthrowing of Roe v. Wade. Why? Because this nation (the colonies that formed this nation) were largely formed for that purpose; so people could worship God in any way they chose. For me, personally, this comes down to ONE group of people in my family, my Swiss Anabaptist ancestors who, after 200+ years of active persecution in Switzerland came to the Colonies. They were such a valuable group of immigrants to the Crown that England didn’t even require they swear an oath to the King but only that they affirm they had no allegiance to any foreign power. Why? Because their religion forbade the swearing of oaths, something that had led to their persecution in Switzerland.

I love those people. They are part of who I am. I’ve seen the old world from which they came, and that alone makes me appreciate their determination and courage — and faith. I’m not sure I’d have left such a beautiful and well-developed place to come to this wild and woolly frontier world. I’m not sure my faith would have meant more to me than that.

Today, as I drove to the Refuge, I gave my lane to a group of Amish girls on bicycles who’d just been to town buying groceries. They all rode barefoot and wore leggings under their long dresses. The road on which they rode has a 65 mph speed limit, hay trucks, cattle trucks and the whole army of rural traffic. I drove around them in the other lane. To my mind they had ALL the rights of the road. The Amish are an offshoot of the Anabaptists/Mennonites. I don’t want to give their history here, but yeah; religious freedom.

Boebert and her pals (Trump, Greene, others) are all part of the 7 Mountains Mandate, a very scary faux-Christian organization that is determined to change our system into a theocracy. If you want to learn about it, here is an excellent article. “…the movement remains a 21st century version of hardcore Christian Dominionism — that is the belief that God has called conservative Christians to exercise authority over all of us by taking control of cultural and political institutions.”

These 7 Mountain Mandate people also believe that we are in the End Times. They are determined to bring those days about and to make sure they are among the chosen. Their way of determining that is not new. It hearkens back to many earlier beliefs and movements, including the Calvinist belief in the Doctrine of the Elect which I wrote about a couple days ago, “This doctrine asserts that God determines who is saved and who is not, a determination made at the beginning of the universe, and that people will KNOW who the chosen people are by the outward evidence of success in their lives. God is not going to let his chosen people suffer. It’s an equation that boils down to if wealthy then good, virtuous, wise and…saved.”  The Prosperity Gospel is pretty well explained here in Wikipedia. They base their beliefs on some guy’s “revelation” and randomly selected bits of scripture.

I know the Bible well enough to realize you can make it say whatever you want it to. I, personally, want it to say “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him? Ecclesiastes 3:22” and “The greatest of these is charity (αγάπη, caritas)” “Judge not lest thee be judged also” and some other stuff like the mote vs. beam passage. I like the part where God is pleased with man and I like the Christmas story of the shepherds which is why that is always my Christmas card. What religious/social movement would come out of those little shards of gospel? I do know that that poor book can be argued across translations, across gospels, across all kinds of little roads and freeways but it would not be the 7 Mountains Mandate. No no no no no…

I am personally dismayed that Adam Frisch, the guy running against Boebert, has let her set the tone and the argument for his campaign. There is so much he could be bringing up, but isn’t, including this which is vitally important to me, yeah, but not only to me. I think it is important to most people in the district.

I do not want to live in a country that abridges anyone’s freedom of faith. It’s bad enough that we people judge each other. Denying the importance of freedom of religion — and its existence as one of our first laws — sets the stage for the possibility of pogroms against Moslems, Jews, Catholics and people like me whose religion is very real but not easily defined. I know the Bible well — and like it — and I see clearly that there is very little of Jesus in what these people do, think, believe or want.

I was out at “church” today in a very heavy wind thinking about this. It matters a lot.

The featured photo is of a monument very recently built by the Zürich government memorializing the first Protestant Christian martyr, Felix Manz, who was drowned by Ulrich Zwingli. It’s a long and interesting story that is the subject of my novel, The Brothers Path the sequel to that The Price continues the story of this family, bringing the Swiss Mennonite family to America. Here is a post that explains pretty well what happened in Zürich in the early days of the Swiss Reformation.