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It’s Easter, again. Since I have never had a religion, Christian or otherwise, even as a child, the holiday probably doesn’t hold the same significance for me than it might for many of you. But I do know and enjoy many of the stories and lesson of the religions.

Among them all, the Resurrection is certainly one of the most potent, even if only in symbolic terms. The idea of rebirth and redemption is a powerful concept, one that many of us who have wronged in the past seek in our own lives.

I am hoping for such a resurrection in this country, one that sees us returning to a code of ethics and a rule of law which finds no one above it. One that places what is best for the most of us over what is best for a chosen few and where we seek to help the neediest rather than the most fortunate among us. One that holds those who hide behind lies and falsehoods responsible for their words and actions. One where those who represent us in our government understand their obligation to serve country rather than party or moneyed interests.

Is that too much to ask?

Maybe. But it sures seems that we, as a nation, are at a point where such a restoration of honor and sanity is sorely needed. Hopefully, the findings revealed this past week will set us on the path to such a thing.

Anyway, for this Easter Sunday, I have selected a song that doesn’t really have anything to do with the day. It’s Nobody Knows (The Trouble I’ve Seen) performed by the great Sam Cooke. It’s a different interpretation of the African-American spiritual that came from the slave era and it soars. I am also sharing the magnificent Mahalia Jackson which has a second gear that is truly uplifting. And that fits this day, doesn’t it?

Hope you have a good day.


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These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:–‘Tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to set a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.

…It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, shall suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now, is dead: The blood of his children shall curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. My own line of reasoning is to myself as strait and clear as a ray of light.

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, December 1776

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Today might be a good day to pay attention, both to the events of this day and to the words of Thomas Paine written at a another crucial point in our American history. His words apply to any time.

There have always been and always will be sunshine patriots who will wave flags at parades and enjoy the benefits that this country offers without thought or sacrifice. But now is a time to look hard and think long. To gather strength and speak clearly and loudly. To assert truth.

Paine said it best: The heart that feels not now, is dead: The blood of his children shall curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole and made them happy.

Pay attention, people. Your heart needs to feel NOW.

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The 1969 BBC series, Civilisation, opened with host and art historian Sir Kenneth Clark standing in Paris with Notre Dame cathedral behind him. He stated that the purpose of the series was to give examples in history of man showing himself to be an intelligent, creative, orderly and compassionate animal. He said he couldn’t define civilization in abstract terms but, turning to look across at Notre Dame, felt he would know it when he saw it.

And that might be so true. In the aftermath of yesterday’s fire that destroyed much of that cathedral, it felt not so much like a tragic fire in an old religious space but more like a greater loss of civilization, of history and humanity.

Watching yesterday, it was hard to not see it as being the symbolic burning of down of all things we hold sacred as a civilization. It was a place that for over 800 years had witnessed and survived plagues, wars and revolutions. How could it be so seemingly devastated in these modern times?

It’s burning seemed like the perfect image for the plunge back into the darkness which we often seem ready to take these days.

It was a sad day for us all and a test for our willingness to continue in light as a civilization.

I have never been to Paris, never gawked upon the cathedral. So my connections to that place are limited at best. I did have at least two great-grandmothers going back many generations in my paternal grandmother’s line who were from Paris. They came to North America as Filles du Roi, the King’s Daughters. They were young women with few prospects in France who were recruited in the 1660’s by the French crown to go to New France, which is now Quebec. They were given passage and a dowry in order that they might marry one of many young male settlers and populate that new land.

I can imagine those young women carrying a memory of that cathedral with them as they moved into the new wilderness. They would certainly know of it as it was even then an old cathedral, already 500 years old at that point. They may even have taken communion there. It might well have been the symbol for civilization that they held in their minds. Like Kenneth Clark. And like many of us who just felt a loss of part of our self as humans as we watched it burn.

It will be rebuilt but it will be a long and difficult (and costly) process. It should be a reminder of the fragility of many things that we take for granted and that we should take care of those things that show us to be an intelligent, creative, orderly and compassionate animal, as Mr. Clark put it. Some may rejoice in seeing them in flames but losing them may be a greater loss than any of us can imagine.

 

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Watching the news and I can feel my blood pressure rising as I sense both my dread and rage. I am not going to vent here.

What’s the sense in that? You have eyes and ears. You’re witness to a new dark chapter being written in our history. If you read it as I do, you feel the same dread and anger. If you’re pleased with what is happening, then most likely you’re not reading this nor would my words mean anything to you as your version of what you believe is the truth no doubt diverges from my own.

Lately, I keep coming back to a passage from a 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, from scientist Carl Sagan.  The book was a defense of science and rationality and an indictment of pseudo-science and religious extremism. He had a premonition for the future and it appears that the pattern he was seeing at that time is coming to bear now.

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

A celebration of ignorance.

That may be the defining term for this age.

I’m going to let you chew on that while I try to calm myself with a little music from a long time ago. It’s Itchycoo Park from the Small Faces in 1967. The frontman for the band at that time (pre-Rod Stewart) was Steve Marriott. Probably not a name many of you know but he was highly influential in the history of modern rock and roll. For example, Robert Plant was an ardent Marriott fan sometimes errand boy for the band. He and Led Zeppelin owe a lot to the stylings of Marriott, who died at the age of 44 in 1991.

Anyway, it’s a favorite song and one that eases my mind a bit on days like this. Give it a try for yourself.

 

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“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.

“So it is.”

“And freezing.”

“Is it?”

“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

― A.A. Milne

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The reactionary part of me has me feeling a bit like Eeyore this morning.

It’s a morning filled with way too much reactionary behavior from both sides for something of which almost everybody still has little, if any, knowledge. The facts are still unclear and there are many,many questions to be answered and loose ends still to be tied up before any of us should be too optimistic or pessimistic. For now, refrain from gleefully high-fiving or angrily punching holes in the wall.

So, while I am feeling a bit gloomy like my friend Eeyore this morning and feel that it can only get worse, I also know this is only a short summary by a biased reader at the end of one chapter in a long story still waiting to be told.  We can’t close the book now thinking we know how it will all end when there are so many pages and chapters ahead.

We must be patient and wait, hard as that is, for the story to unfold.

 

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“Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.” 

Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451

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I have completed a number of paintings in my Multitudes (or Masks or Faces or whatever the hell I am going to call them) series in the past couple of months and I still can’t quite put my finger on what they truly are or what purpose they serve for myself. As I’ve said, many of these faces have lived with me for most of my life.

They are absolutely familiar. Maybe even going to the base of the word, they seem like family.

The overall effect from these pieces for myself is not a stirring of one single emotion. They are a compendium of feelings. Some are benign and some are very kind faces. Some are worried and fearful. Some seem lost in thought and some just seem lost. Some are angry and some even contain a bit of menace and hatred.

The massing of them tends to balance the emotions for me.

This seems less so in the piece shown above, an 18″ by 18″ canvas that I originally called The March. It’s a piece that I find very appealing in so many ways, especially in the glow its colors produce in any kind of light. The colors, especially the orange/red of the flags, seem to pop off the surface and at a glimpse it seems almost festive. Maybe a celebratory parade?

But the more I look, the more it frightens me, seemingly capturing some innate dread of mine. I see in it a reflection of some of the craziness that is in great abundance around the world at this juncture in time. Waking this morning to hear of the 49 people slain by a white supremacist as they worshipped in their mosques in New Zealand only reinforces this sense of dread and looking at this piece, I see in it the willingness of people to join in, to sacrifice self and sense to become part of a mass movement to march under a banner that divides more than it unites.

The joy and snap of the banners that I first saw in this painting have become something else. They now represent a emboldened expression of feelings and beliefs that is sanctioned by the crowd. Most had been rightfully restrained in shame for decades and centuries but have now been unleashed. They now seem to me like banners of ignorance and stupidity, of racial hatred and blind allegiance to dead ideals.

It was never intended to be so. I just painted it as it came to me, delighting in the colors and forms as they came together. It came easily and freely, giving me great pleasure and joy as I painted it.

But now when I look at the faces and bodies with their uniform shade of color, I see a parade of old white men marching to protect that which they see as their god given sense of entitlement. Even the poorest among this crowd believes that the earth is their’s alone, that they reign supreme over all races and species. In it I see this crowd as believing this is their last ditch effort to maintain this imagined supremacy. That now is the time to take this world back.

And in the world outside this painting, I sense the same. It is a worrisome and dangerous time. We must be vigilant against this parade of fools. And after writing this this morning, maybe that is what the title should be.

Parade of Fools– that will be its title, after all.

Funny how the perception of a piece can change with time and circumstance.

 

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President’s Day

A few presidential quotes to celebrate Presidents Day:

However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion. 

– George Washington

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If national pride is ever justifiable or excusable it is when it springs, not from power or riches, grandeur or glory, but from conviction of national innocence, information, and benevolence. 

John Adams

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To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed. 

– Theodore Roosevelt

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The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

-John F. Kennedy

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I don’t care. I believe Putin.

-The 45th President* of the United States

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The last one here is significant because it is one of the very few times on record that the current placeholder has actually spoken the truth.

Happy Presidents Day?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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