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The Peace of Wild Things

 

When despair grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

–Wendell Berry

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You can’t go too far wrong on those rough days when you look to the words of Wendell Berry. It generally will provide the needed stillness to overcome the anxiety of these times.

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“ATTENTION, WALMART SHOPPERS…”

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Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken.

― Albert Camus

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We’re wrapping up Gratitude Week on Black Friday. So instead of fist-fighting over a cheap TV in front of Walmart with some creepy toothless guy who looks like he just came from cooking his last batch of meth, why not avoid it altogether and focus on those things you already have.

There’s a pretty good chance you already have everything you really need in your life. And if not, you’re not going to find it in a Black Friday swarm.

So take this time to step back and be grateful for the blessings you possess.

Like the song says: Be thankful for what you’ve got…

Here’s that song, one of my all-time faves from Billy DeVaughn. Be of good heart and have a good and peaceful Friday.

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“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” 

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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I thought for this installment of Gratitude Week, I would start with the quote above from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The name might be familiar. I featured him a post last year, On Stupidity, that has been pretty popular, consistently getting quite a few views each week. He was the German pastor who spoke out against the Nazi regime throughout the 1930’s, later being sent to a concentration camp before being sent to his death on the gallows in the last days of the war. On Stupidity described the sort of blatant ignorance that led to the rise of the Nazis and seems to exist here today in forms. Bonhoeffer also coined the term Cheap Grace which also seems abundant these days. It’s a post that is worth another look.

But the words above from Bonhoeffer offer a different and positive thought, that we receive much more from this life than we ever give in return. Understanding this concept and living with a sense of gratitude gives our lives a richness beyond material wealth.

In that vein, I want to point out that there is a political/economic philosophy that has been out there for some time now, one that has led to the increasing disparity of wealth between those at the top and those in the middle and at the bottom.

It basically labels people as Makers and Takers. In the eyes of those at the top, the Makers are those who control the wealth and means of production and the Takers are everyone else. They believe that no matter how integral a person might be in assisting the Makers amass their wealth, they are only there to take from them.

They see the world as a zero sum scenario where there are only winners and losers. Those at the top are winners and anyone below them are losers. The loser Takers are tools at best to be used in their view. When their usefulness has went away, they are nothing more than dead weight.

It’s a distressing idea, one that I would love to say couldn’t exist, but there is ample evidence to support that this belief is flourishing.

I would like to offer a counter-thought.

In my eyes I see the Makers described above as the real Takers. By doing all they can to gain and gain at the expense of others, they extract joy and compassion from this world, along with dignity,respect, and honor. They take away from the humanity of all people with an extreme selfishness that creates a world of solely winners and losers.

But in my worldview anyone can be a Maker because wealth is not the only factor that makes for a better world. Anyone who acts to better people’s lives is a Maker. Those who inspire, those who teach, those who heal, those who put their own lives on the line to rescue those in harm’s way, those who come to the aid of others in need, those who give what little they have until it strains their budgets, those who volunteer, those who work to least the least among us a voice, those who stand up to power so that our air is clean and our food safe, along with so many others—these are the people who make this world a better place, who bring a sense of dignity to all people.

These are the true Makers. These are the people who create the richness of this world.

Please understand that what you have in this world is the result of being assisted by others. You may be the most fabulous, self-sufficient being in the universe but you have done nothing absolutely on your own.

We are the beneficiaries of the work and care of others.

Let us acknowledge that and be grateful. Be a Maker.

 

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Looking out the studio window this morning with the snow softly falling. It’s a cold wet out there in a setting of shades of gray and forest green. Looking at it now, all I can think is that I wish I could send all of it out to California so that it might extinguish the fires that have devastated so much of the state.

My home and studio are nestled in the forest and, while we generally have wetter weather, in dryer periods I often find myself worrying about what might happen if the woods caught fire. It’s a scary thought so I can only imagine the mindset of those who have lost everything or those who are still looking for friends or family possibly lost in the fire’s fury. The horror and hopeless desperation they must be experiencing is far beyond the bounds of my limited imagination.

 Unlike a certain person who serves as the titular leader of this country, I have a soft spot in my heart for the people of California, having met so many warm and caring people who call that place home. I have always been impressed by the friendly openness I have experienced there. The lack of empathy shown and the sheer buffoonery of this person’s comments about the cause of the fires or how they might be avoided with a little raking –as though the forests were no more than a patch of trees between the fairways on a golf course– is a distraction from the real world tragedy happening before our eyes, one that deserves our full attention and support.

For this Sunday morning, I thought I would share a couple of California themed paintings and play a couple of versions of California Dreaming, the classic song from The Mamas and the Papas. It’s a great song and has been covered, as most great songs are, by a huge variety of artists from all sorts of genres. Sia does a fine version. The first is my favorite from Jose Feliciano and the second gets the deep soul treatment from the late and little known Lee Moses who only recorded for a short time in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Give a listen and think a bit about our fellow citizens in California. With Thanksgiving coming this week, be thankful for what you have and consider what you can do to help others who might be experiencing darker days.


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The suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,

The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,

For Willie McBride, it all happened again,

And again, and again, and again, and again!

Eric Bogle,

 No Man’s Land (Green Fields of France)

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Another Armistice Day. We observe the day now as Veteran’s Day  or Remembrance Day in some other countries, recognizing with it the service of all veterans, living and dead. But originally it was observed to commemorate the end of combat in World War I, 100 years ago on this date in 1918.

The Great War.

The War to End All Wars.

If only.

Unfortunately, we humans have short memories and a poor grasp of history. The Great War was but a prelude to a another World War and in the years since, there have been a multitude of other wars, invasions,genocides and ethnic cleansings.

They seem to always begin with an act of aggression based on greed, ego, or some kind of racial, religious, or ethnic hatred. One nation envies what another nation possesses. One leader desires more power and self enrichment. People, spurred on by manipulative leaders, feel threatened by the existence of others, those who don’t share their race or religion or social beliefs.

It seems so long as we live in a world ruled by the greed, envy and fear of those who lead the nations of this world, war will always be near at hand.

It will remain a necessary evil until men stop exploiting other men.

And as such, the continued service and sacrifice of young men and women will be required.

Today is a day to honor those who serve and or have served their duty to this and other countries.

It is a day to remember how much has been given to us the living and how much has been taken from those who sacrificed their futures for the living.

A day to remind us all how fragile this world is and how each new war dishonors the veterans of the past and makes their sacrifice seem to have been made in vain.

Take a moment from your day and give it some thought. It is the least we can do.

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Before playing this week’s Sunday music, I have to note that our current president* cancelled his attendance at a ceremony yesterday because of rainy weather. It was an observance to honor  the US Marines of WWI who died at Belleau Wood in France. Yesterday was also was the 243rd anniversary of the formation of the Marines by the Continental Congress in 1775.

I am not a veteran so maybe you might think I have no standing to criticize. But looking back at the many relatives who served and sacrificed through the past near 400 years in this land, I am ashamed as an American and consider his absence in honoring these fallen soldiers a great dishonor to this country and those who have served it.

Thank god a little rain didn’t dissuade those soldiers from the duty they felt to this nation. I am sure that the weather will not prevent him from his cordial meeting with Putin today in Paris, on the 100th observance of Armistice Day.

The song today is from 1976 and was written by the Scottish Australian singer Eric Bogle. It is titled No Man’s Land and is also known as Green Fields of France. It tells the story of young soldier named Willie McBride who died in World War I. It was inspired by Bogle’s visits to the battlefield graveyards in Flanders and Northern France. It is a song that has been recorded by numerous artists but I chose this version from the Dropkick Murphys. It’s a well done version and the video is a moving document and tribute to those who died in that war.

A word of warning: This video contains graphic images from that war.

Have a good day…

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Yesterday, I watched a man painfully talk about his son being shot down in the massacre at the Borderline dance club in Thousand Oaks, California. It was painful to witness the form of pure and primal grief he was expressing with his cries and his heaven-sent moans.

It was a moment that most of us hope with all our souls we would never have to share on a national platform.

He wasn’t alone. 12 died, mostly young people along with a 29-year police veteran who quickly responded to the shooting. All of their families were forced to go through that same gut wrenching agony and sense of loss.

It was the deadliest shooting in–wait for it– 12 days. 

It had been only 12 days since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11.

I am hoping the death total from this latest shooting stands as the most for the rest of our lives. But this America so I am not confident in saying that it will even last another 12 days. I may not be exact in this figure but I believe it is reported that there have been 307 mass shootings here in the 314 days of this calendar year.

American exceptionalism, my ass.

Then I wake up this morning to see the tweet from the NRA where they tell doctors to “stay in their lane” and stop talking about gun control.

Yeah, the doctors who are often wrist deep in the blood and gore of gunshot wounds should shut their yaps and do their jobs

Patch’em up or sign the death certificates.

Perhaps they should thank the NRA for job security they provide in the form of the multitude of victims coming their way?

American exceptionalism, my ass.

I can’t offer any answers. I am just angry and tired of the carnage. And especially tired of those who say more guns are the answer and that grade school teachers and rabbis and bartenders and dishwashers and cabbies and every other person in this goddamn country should be packing sidearms.

I just know we can do better. When I think of American exceptionalism I am saying that we have that ability to rise up and do better.

That is, if we want to. And maybe we won’t have the desire and will to do something truly tangible until this scourge touches every family, every school, every church, and every public place.

Until we all experience the sheer and awful agony of that father yesterday.

Maybe then we will be better, will do what is right and necessary. Then we might be able to see ourselves as exceptional.

Until then, I say American exceptionalism, my ass.

Here’s the title song from the 1993 album Across the Borderline from Willie Nelson. I chose it because it’s a beautiful song but mainly because it contains Borderline to honor those folks who died in that club. The song was written by Ry Cooder and has a message and tone that is so pertinent for these times. The phrase broken promised land just jumps out at me.

Give a listen. Maybe tomorrow we can get back to art…

 

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Some Plus and Minus

Well, the election is somewhat over. A few races are still undecided with votes still being tabulated and some with perhaps recounts ahead.

All in all, I am satisfied. If you watched only the races that were in the headlines nationally, a Dem might be crestfallen that their rock star candidates — Beto in Texas, Stacy in Georgia and Andrew in Florida, for example– couldn’t break through. They were the emotional magnets for a lot of voters and to see them go down, even in an extremely close battle, hurts a bit.

But when I step back and look at the results and the repercussions of these elections, I am pleased.

First, the House of Reps moved blue with a Democratic majority now in place, providing a clear check on the president*. Committee leaderships move to the Dems now and they can set the agenda for how the president*’s actions are handled. They now have investigative and subpoena power as well as a check on the Senate.

This Blue move includes over 100 women being elected to the House last night. The class picture for the House Dems is a very diverse one that now includes more women, Native Americans, Muslims and people of color. That is fantastic and provides us with a voice that better reflects this nation’s multitudes.

Secondly, a large number of states’ governors switched to the Democratic side. This is a huge gain, especially in the fight against the gerrymandering of districts which is pertinent as the 2020 census looms with the redistricting that comes with it.

I am also pleased that overall, Dems outvoted the GOP by between 7 and 8% nationally. The voters came out. I hope those young voters who invested so much in races that may not have gone their way, such as the Parkland students in Florida, are not disheartened and turn their backs on future political involvement. They made a difference in our political discourse and are close to changing the face of our political class forever, if only they continue their fight.

In the Senate races, the Dems won by more than 12%– but still lost at least 3 seats. We are still strongly divided but the fact that the gaps in races in historically red states are closing gives me optimism.

On the downside, voter suppression remains a problem in many areas and is something that needs to be addressed on a national level. There are obviously systems available that would allow all eligible voters to easily register and cast their vote. Voting should not be set up as a series of hurdles to be overcome. Each citizen deserves to have their vote counted.

While I would loved to have seen a blue tsunami across the board, I believe overall it was a pretty good day for America. It moves us in a more positive direction, towards a government that represents all of our interests.

But to get that point, we have to stay aware and involved. Political change is sometimes slow and incremental. It is not always easy to keep up the energy needed to create change.

Do not be distracted. Keep your eyes and ears open. Stay involved and hold those in power accountable.

Our work is not over with one election.

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