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On The Road: Hot Springs, AR

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park sign

Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas has a network of trails up its small mountains, but in other ways it is unlike most national parks.  There is no entrance gate and no fee.  There is and has always been a public/private partnership.

hot spring

We stopped here because it is a park we’ve never visited, and because it was on the way from our home base to where we needed to be two days later.  The park began as a federal preserve to protect the source of the spring water from developers before there was a park system.  A row of bath houses right downtown are fed by these springs, grand buildings, two of which are working bath houses; others are in disrepair, one is the national park office/store.  The buildings and the preserve were established as pleasure places for the elite in the late nineteenth century.  These days the clientele is more varied; the woman who served breakfast at our hotel said she gets “the works” (soak, massage, etc.) once a year.

The water is also available at several open spigots.  People come to fill jugs with the water, which has been extensively analyzed and tastes very good.

mountain road

I was hoping for more wildflowers on the drive up the mountain.  We saw mostly straggly buttercups along the road.  And we came upon one resting place which must have been there a long time.  They don’t build them like this anymore.

rest stop

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Whose Bible?

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I have several large Bibles with commentaries but only two, one King James Version and one Revised Standard Version, which are small enough to carry around.  Both were gifts and both are wearing out at the bindings.  I decided to shop for a portable New Revised Standard Bible (NRSV).  It turned out this translation is out of favor.  The rows of Bibles at Barnes and Noble feature, along with KJV, NIT, NLT, ESV and a few other versions.  I scanned the shelves, closing in on those which were smaller, but none were NRSV.

One such smaller volume in the row turned out to be labeled “The American Patriot’s Bible.”  The WHAT?

This is a puzzling confusion of categories.  I wasn’t willing to pay the $12 to find out what gives this edition the claim to patriotism.  I pictured a focus on the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah, in which the Israelites are trying to make themselves right with God by cleaning up their laws and purifying their blood lines.  Does anyone still give those stories much weight?

I’m proud to be an American, but I can’t figure out what in the Bible connects to that.  There are passages about welcoming the stranger and about caring for widows and orphans that suggest to me some good principles for responsible citizenship.  Is this what the editors have in mind?  When I say I suspect that it is not I reveal my own bias: those who wave the flag of patriotism often have another agenda.

Perhaps this “Patriot’s Bible” makes the claim that America is, or was, or should be a “Christian nation.”  Christian reformers have been a force for good in our history, but they are not the whole story.

I’ll stop at that and let the reader ponder what an “American Patriot’s Bible” might be, while I continue my search for a portable NRSV Bible for use when I travel.

Two Williams, Two World Views

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I wouldn’t have discovered William Blake’s longer works if I hadn’t noticed that he was a contemporary of William Paley, the Anglican clergyman whose pre-Darwinian book, Natural Theology influenced education for decades afterwards.  As I’ve noted before (see “If Society Were Child’s Play” posted on May 19, 2012) these contemporaries never met and represented totally different worlds and world views. Blake was in London.  Paley was up in the north.  After being educated and teaching in Cambridge, he moved to a town near the mouth of the Wear River.  Blake was horrified by the mills which were expanding in his time; he wanted to return England to “a green and pleasant land.” Paley delighted in all forms of mechanical and scientific development.

They were also on opposite sides in religious matters.  Blake was a dissenter, raised and steeped in a tradition that did not trust the authorized religion.  Paley was an organization man, a parson in the Anglican church system.  Blake took Milton, a fellow dissenter, though a more conventional one, as one of his guides.

Blake’s visions are highly evocative and multi-layered, often difficult to interpret without clues from commentaries.  He combined words and picture in his most powerful pieces, as if to say that words are not enough, but are needed to complement the meaning of his pictures.  The pictures expand what the words say; the words both expand and limit what the pictures may “mean.”  In reading Blake I’m not always sure where meaning ends and sheer emotive force takes over.

Paley is the opposite.  His world is unified, and compared to Blake’s it is uncomplicated.  Everything has its form and its function.  Everything is ordained and by and large it is as it should be.

I say by-and-large because there are certain features of the world which Paley realizes require some justification.  His explanations are less than satisfying to a person of the current century.  He sees the inequalities of birth and opportunity as given.  God has set things up this way in the human condition and there is no expectation that they can be changed.  So Paley finds reasons why they should not be changed.  While there are discomforts in the world, this is still, he seems to say, though he doesn’t use the phrase, “the best of all possible worlds.”  Of course he has the idea that “suffering produces character” (a quotation from one of St. Paul’s letters) to fall back on.  Anything that is difficult in this world is mere testing and cleansing to make one better fit for the next world.

William Paley and William Blake read the same Bible and found different truths in it.  A great deal more scholarship and a broader understanding of the importance of the cultural context of any traditional text has widened the range of possible readings in our time.  Contradictory understandings of the world from the same sacred text, however, is nothing new.

An Early Poem

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I’ve let the blog rest while I worked on an article for the past week or so.  There’s more to say about William Blake, and, as always, about John Emerson Roberts, but for today, I’m sharing a poem I still like, many years after I wrote it.

Earlier this spring, in thinning out a box of past efforts, I pulled out a long series of poems I had written in response to excavation reports from a location in southern Greece which is believed to be the Palace of Nestor, the wise old man in Homer’s tale of the Trojan War.  I found plenty of poems that I would not submit to public scrutiny any more.  I found others that seemed like a good idea worth revisiting.  I found a few, of which this is one, which I’m keeping as an example of my “early period.”

Beneath the Throne

The excavators call it treasure:
an agate pendant, a bit of paste,
some beads and twisted wire
tucked away under the dais.
I think of the mix in cornerstones,
builders’ gifts to the future.

I think of a brass-toned chain,
my grandmother’s ring, the earring
I didn’t lose, in a cardboard box
at the back of my dresser drawer,
of caches not intended
to be opened any time soon.

May Day Reflection

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Another cross-quarter day.  Are we really only half way through Spring?  Here is Southern New Mexico it doesn’t feel like it.  The extreme drought doesn’t help.

When we moved into our house it had orange stone in the front yard, apparently a recent decision to give up on grass.  Evidence suggests that when the houses on our street were built, in the 1980s, front yard grass was the norm.  One by one the yards have been converted to stone and xeriscaping.

We didn’t want to invest in replacing the sprinklers with a new watering system for native plants, so we invested in sculpture instead.

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We now have a resident roadrunner, a small yucca, and an ocotillo.

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We are saving water, even over nature’s version of the same plants.  But there are a few weeks each year when the real ocotillos make our metal one want to hide its head in shame.

My Neighbor's Ocotillo

My Neighbor’s Ocotillo