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If Society Were Child’s Play

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William Paley (see entry on “My Current Obsession”) and William Blake were contemporaries who never met.  They represent opposite views of society, religion and much else.  Picture them as two six inch pieces of wood, a square pillar (Paley, Anglican clergyman) and a round column (Blake, nonconformist and visionary).  I see them lying on a green wall to wall carpet near a wooden box with holes.  The child who plays there has wandered off.

The pillar has been in and out of the box several times.  The column is too wide to fit.

“Square up, man,” the pillar says to the column.  “Then you can join the party.”

The column protests, “I cannot be four-faced, confined to opposites.”

“But see, the holes are square.  This is our proper shape.”

“If all are square, society is too boxed in for me.”

“You’ll end up all alone.”

“I can live with that.  My dreams are different, my desire’s to roll.”

“Don’t be stubborn,” the pillar pleads.  “You’ll find it’s not so bad.”

“The same as not so good,” the column counters.  “I’ve wider visions.”

“It’s just a slice or two . .”

“Or four, I gather.”

“You’re fat!”

“I’m a well-proportioned cylinder, you fence post!  Why blame me if I don’t fit in?  I say the holes are wrong.”

“Your core remains.  You’ll be the same inside.”

“I’d lose my voice, my round cadences.  Better to sing out here than narrow to a sigh.”

“It’s what we’re made for.  You’ll be a part . . .”

“With a splintered heart!  For wholeness, I must keep apart.”

 

 

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Robert Ingersoll asks “Which Way”

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Robert Ingersoll, the most popular lecturer of the nineteenth century, presented a new freethought lecture called “Which Way” in the 1880s.  It brings up some interesting points for our day.

His primary question is threefold “How shall we civilize the world?  How shall we protect, life, liberty, property and reputations?  How shall we do away with crime and poverty?”  There was hope in the late nineteenth century that these questions might find answers.  The events of the last one hundred and thirty years suggest otherwise.

Ingersoll points out the lack of success of “the churches” in answering these questions.  He spends a lot of time on the God portrayed in Genesis.  Did this God advise or instruct his new human beings?  No, he just said “You shall not eat of this tree.”  Did he forgive and comfort when they sinned?  No, he punished them. 

He asks, “Are we to be governed by a Supernatural Being, or are we to govern ourselves?”  The answer is obvious to him. “I take the democratic side,” he says.  That “Supernatural Being” is a figure called on by tyrants and despots, princes and popes, to support the status quo.  

Ingersoll doesn’t go as far as we might today to show how the God those rulers called on to maintain their power was made after their own image.  He doesn’t need to because not just some, but most of his audience had been raised to believe that Genesis is history; that the punishing God is the only option.  In Ingersoll’s day good people still believed that the fear of hell helped to preserve social order.  Ingersoll disagrees: 

There is no reforming power in fear.  You can scare a man, maybe, so bad that he won’t do a thing, but you can’t scare him so bad he won’t want to do it.  There is no reforming power in punishment or brute force.

That’s one lesson we as a community have not learned to this day.  We also have made no progress, perhaps have even gone backward, in this:

You may ask me what I want.  Well, in the first place I want to get theology out of government.  It has no business there.  Man gets his authority from man, and is responsible only to man.  I want to get theology out of politics.  Our ancestors in 1776 retired God from politics, because of the jealousies among the churches, and the result has been splendid for mankind.  I want to get theology out of education.  Teach the children what somebody knows, not what somebody guesses. 

Robert Ingersoll was intensely patriotic.  I believe he would be quite discouraged to see how little progress our nation has made in these matters since his time.  Which way should we turn to find a solution to our present situation?

 

Juxtaposition and more of Levi Romero

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I have a long-enduring fondness for the word “Juxtaposition.”  In an early poem using that title, now justifiably forgotten, I wrote “things touch at their edges.”  Where things touch, they affect each other; that’s juxtaposition, whether in nature or in art.  In this entry I juxtapose a piece of my work with a little more of Levi Romero’s work

Levi Romero’s book, Poetry of Remembrance, focuses, as I discussed previously, on stories and the past, but he includes other more current facets of his life: as teacher and leader of workshops and as an architect – an architect who cannot expect to be welcomed into a home he has designed.  In a poem he titles “Juxtaposition” he describes a visit to one such building as it was being built:

may I help you?
I am asked by the realtor
standing at the door,
thinking that I may be the guy
who mixed the mud and pushed the wheelbarrow . . .

I once was asked by a home magazine journalist
if I felt insulted by such incidents
well, no, I said, my mind mixing for an answer
a good batch of cement is never accidental

Romero has learned to live with  kindness but close attention on the edge of a culture where others assert that he does not belong.

This “outtake” from my own recent writing uses the term to describe juxtaposition in nature:

Chance
juxtaposing gypsum
deposits, playa, crystals, wind,
forms rolling dunes of white
sand in a brown desert.

in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico, gypsum washed down from bands in the mountain collects in Lucero Lake, then crystallizes as the lake goes dry, is worn away by wind, and blows into the dunes of White Sands National Monument. 

When I think anthropomorphically about God (and sometimes I do, knowing that all language about God is metaphoric) I picture an artist putting different elements of nature together to see what will happen.  The result may be wild or wonderful―and totally impractical.

What a powerful word!  “Juxtaposition” has taken me from society through poetry to nature and theology.  This may explain why I can’t seem to categorize my posts.