Tag Archives: Patriotism

Blood and Soiled

This must be one of the saddest photographs I have ever seen.

Why do we teach our children the wrong things?

Why do we teach them to hate, to fear, to believe that if we give one man respect, or dignity, or just a fair chance in life, that we must be trying to take those same opportunities away from another?  Why do we teach our children that the land is ours, by right of blood or edict from on high, when we are only the latest insects to crawl across its surface?  Why do we teach them that one man is different from another, better than, superior, when the story of our genes tells us that we all come from a singular place and time?

Why are we dressing our littlest ones up in the raiment of hate?

And when did Nazi Cosplay suddenly become cool?

Don’t tell me it was THOSE people who did it!  Please, don’t try to put it on someone else.

It was us.  How could it not be?

There are people walking our streets and living in our neighborhoods, who think it’s okay for one group to round up another, to remove them from their homes and fence them in like animals, to starve them, abuse them and ultimately exterminate them.  And these folks didn’t time-travel here from Germany in the early 40’s. They grew up here right alongside us, went to the same schools, studied the same history books.

So how could they have learned to hate so well?

I wonder.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Politics

Where Nothing is Sacred

I have placed these two pictures together for a reason.

pipeline in sacred ground

Some people might look at these images with a sense of pride, taking from them a message that sacrifice and hard work are what make a nation great.

Others might find this particular juxtaposition somewhat uncomfortable.  There is, after all, a serene perfection in the image of Arlington National Cemetery that we in the West have come to expect in our monuments.  The mirrored layout of the two photos, however, might suggest that someone could tear into that hallowed ground, that the one image could somehow become the other.  And this corruption, this desecration of the sacred, should I hope, put us ill at ease.

And yet, we are even now gouging into the Earth, plowing a petroleum pipeline through sacred land in North Dakota, stripping away the dignity of the honored dead and despoiling the environment, all in the interest of the mighty dollar.  We are beating, gassing, and arresting the people who stand bravely in the path of this desecration.  We threaten them with guns and loose attack dogs on them.

And I wondered, just for a moment, how WE would react if the shoe were on the other foot.  What if it was something WE considered sacred that was being ruined in the interest of corporate greed.

And then I wondered if we, as a people, hold anything sacred at all.

And I am being very liberal with my use of the word “we” here because I don’t think any of us are clean from these particular sins.  If ‘you’ or ‘I’ am offended by these latest outrages against the heritage of our native peoples, we have benefited, willingly or no, from countless others.  It’s something we were born to, I’m afraid.

We are raised in it.

Or do we not still teach our children the old lie, that Christopher Columbus sailed out from Spain in the spirit of adventure and exploration?

Maybe we’ll tell them later that he actually sailed off looking for cash and prestige, and that when he failed in his quest to discover a new and more direct trade route with Asia, he settled instead on exploiting the unfortunate natives he encountered for their gold, and then selling them into sexual servitude and slavery.

The church didn’t like it.

They eventually jailed him for it.

But he still gets the bloody parade, doesn’t he.

We honor him, butcher that he was, and with good reason.  The impressions made by his boots on the shores of the ‘New World’ have never really faded, and for over five hundred years we have followed in his swaggering stride, sweeping across two continents in our hunger for the resources therein.

And the people who were already there?

We did what he did.  We slaughtered them, starved them, displaced them.

And when the folks back home became uncomfortable with the carnage, we displayed our great civility and generosity by writing and signing treaty after treaty, only to break them before the ink had time to dry.

What DO we hold sacred when no bond restrains us, neither word nor contract.

So what is the difference, really, between a rough circle of stones in a weed choked field in North Dakota, and that field of crisp white markers on a perfectly manicured lawn in Virginia?  Is it just that when WE hold something sacred, we throw money at it until it is suitably majestic.  Is that what makes it a holy place?  Or is it the bones of our fallen that lay in the dirt, that give the place its power over us?

Are we really so blind that we cannot, as a people, see the spirit in the land?

Or is it really just the money that we worship after all?

I’ve been following another story.

There is a proposed development project at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a 420-acre resort complex, complete with hotels, restaurants, and upscale shopping on the canyon rim, and a tramway designed to carry tourists by the millions down to the canyon floor.  There at the sacred confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers, if the plans go through, the rugged beauty of the canyon floor will “improved” by the addition of a restaurant, a river walk, and a several thousand seat amphitheater.

Welcome to America, where nothing is sacred, except for the dollar.

Columbus wins.


Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life, Nature, Philosophy, Religion

Idolatry 101

Idolatry Eagle

“Why are you all still sitting there?!”

A friend and I were sitting, with about fifty others, in the audience of the Birds of Prey exhibition at Scarborough Faire, a renaissance festival located just outside of Waxahachie, Texas.

I grew up just a few miles from the Faire and have attended at least one weekend for almost every year since it opened back in 1981.  I know the grounds like the back of my hand, and most of the better acts by heart, but mostly I just enjoy dressing up, and spending some relaxing time outside people-watching over a nice cool tankard of mead.

I’ve probably attended the Birds of Prey show a couple dozen times over the years.

I love watching them fly the hawks, or the occasional falcon.

They usually open with a Turkey Vulture and close the show with an American Bald Eagle, and this year was no different, right up until the end.

For some reason, as the trainer brought the Eagle up onto the stage, the love theme from Braveheart was being piped over the sound system.  She paraded around the stage holding the eagle on one gloved hand, with her other hand pressed over her heart.

When she completed her circle across the front of the stage, the head trainer spoke up from his throne at the back of the stage and said, “Let me ask you a question, why are you all still sitting there?!”

Okay, this was new.

“Why,” he continued, “didn’t you rise to your feet and place your hands over your hearts when you saw this magnificent bird, this symbol of liberty and freedom…,”.

As the scolding lecture continued, and the chastened crowd began to rise like schoolchildren who had been caught short, my irritation grew.

The very obvious answer to the gentleman’s question is that we didn’t rise because a bird, even the national bird, is not a flag!   We don’t rise for birds, we don’t place our hands over our hearts for birds.  It’s just not something that we have ever been asked to do.  Nor should we be.

Should I likewise stop along the side of the road every time I pass a field of Bluebonnets (the state flower of Texas) to show my proper respect?

As I sat there, watching the sheep around me lurching guiltily to their feet, it occurred to me that after a couple thousand years of being told that Idolatry was a horrible thing which should be avoided at all costs, people in the western world are just really REALLY out of practice.

I mean, they all still do it, but by and large they absolutely suck at it.

Maybe, I thought, there should be a class, something like a continuing education course that people could take over the course of a few weeks.  Such a class could be taught by folks from within the pagan/polytheist community, as a kind of community outreach.  Something we could do to help out all those unfortunate folks who just haven’t got a knack for it.

And once I’ve had a thought like that.., well, I know from experience that it is just going to fester in my mind until I find a way to get it out of my system and move on to other things.

And so I present to you, my pretend lesson plan for a continuing education course that will never actually exist.


Idolatry 101: General Course Description

In the classic sense, we think of the idol as a statue usually secreted deep within the bounds of some ominous temple.  Surrounded by cloaked priests and clouds of incense, it is brought forth on special days, whereupon the people may fawn and bow before it, offering up sacrifice to be burned in its presence.  This is a profoundly limited view, influenced by religious propaganda and literary cliché.  This course will seek to expand upon that narrow view, by exposing the student to the many forms and functions of the Idol throughout history and into the modern era.

Week 1: When is a Door not a Door?

Synopsis of Introductory Lecture:  In the holy writings of all three of the great monotheistic religions, there are stern warnings against the practice of Idolatry.  In modern usage the word itself is, in almost all cases, used in a pejorative manner.  But what is Idolatry, really?  While there may be many related definitions, for the purposes of this course, Idolatry will be understood to mean the process by which a tangible, real-world object, is used as a point of focus for the worship or reverence of something otherwise intangible.

History shows that Idolatry is something that is second nature to the human animal, and is present in almost every facet of human activity both ancient and modern.  Furthermore, it is the foundation upon every great religion, including those which so frequently preach against it.

Witness, for example, the sacrament of the Eucharist in which bread and wine are symbolically transformed into the body and blood of Christ, whereupon it is consumed by the faithful as a means of taking the holy spirit of their god into themselves.

Now compare this modern religious tradition with that of the far more ancient cult of Dionysus, which held that the vine of the grape was the mortal embodiment of their god, and that wine was the blood of their god, fermented by his yearly passage through the underworld.  By the drinking of this specially prepared wine the spirit of the god was believed to first enter and then manifest within the devotee, in the form of holy intoxication.

The idol, as we will see, may take many forms.  It may appear to us as an emblem, a statue, a natural feature of the landscape, and even the blood of the vine.  But in whatever form it takes, the idol is a doorway to something we understand to be bigger than ourselves.  Unable to touch what lie beyond, the door itself becomes a vessel for our reverence, invested with prayer and worship, with ritual and sacrament.

It is not the business of this brief course to render judgement for or against the practice of Idolatry.  Instead, we seek only to recognize it when we see it, to understand how the practice has shaped the human condition, and to gain insight into the beliefs and motivations of those who openly engage in this practice.

Written Activity: Write a quick (1,500 words) explanation of your personal beliefs regarding the practice of Idolatry and what you hope to get out of this course.

Week 2: And Everything in its Place

Lecture and Slide Presentation:  Moving forward from the previous lecture, we will further expand the perception of what may or may not be an idol, by touching briefly upon the subject of Spiritual Geography.  The accompanying slide presentation will show multiple locations where either a man-made or natural feature of the environment has been invested with spiritual significance.  Special attention will be paid to the concept of the Axis Mundi as a point of connection and focus between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Written Activity: Briefly (6,000 words) compare or contrast any two of the following locations:  The Umbilicus Urbis Romae in Italy, The Kaaba in Saudi Arabia, Mount Kailash in Tibet, The Hill of Uisneach in Ireland, Delphi in Greece, or Teotihuacan in Mexico.

Week 3: Desecration and Empowerment

AphroditeSmallLecture and Slide Presentation: We begin with an overview of the rise of Christianity in the waning days of the Roman Empire and the rising tide of attacks upon both temples and statuary dedicated to the gods of the Roman pantheon.  The slide presentation will detail the ways in which images of the various gods were damaged, including beheadings, the gouging of eyes, and the carving of crosses into these objects.  Lecture will end with a brief catalogue of similar desecrations by various groups through history and into the present day, to include the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan by Taliban forces in 2001, and the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra ,Syria, by ISIL in 2015.

Written Activity: Write a brief paper (2,000 words) exploring one of the following questions:

1.  Is your faith empowered by the desecration of someone else’s holy icon?

2.  Is it possible to desecrate an object that is not already sacred?

3.  Does an act of violence against an object reflect the significance of that object in the heart of the believer, or in the mind of the one conducting the act of violence?

Week 4: Stars and Stripes Forever

IdolatryFlagsClass Discussion: The American Flag is often treated as an object of deep reverence.  Citizens salute it, they pledge to it, they treat the display, folding and storage of it with ceremony and ritual, and will retire a worn or damaged flag in cleansing flame.  Desecration of a flag is a crime in many locals, and people have been known to react with violence to public protests that included flag desecration.  Does this same reverence extend to all manifestations of the American flag, including the little disposable plastic ones that people often wave, en masse during parades and patriotic celebrations?  If not, then what makes those flags different?  What about flags printed on t-shirts, bumperstickers, and the like?  What, if anything, makes one flag sacred and another not?  The instructor is encouraged to keep the debate on-topic but to otherwise allow the discussion to guide itself.

Week 5: Ubiquity and the Profane

Lecture:  A brief explanation of the symbols used by various secret societies to identify members to one another, leading us into a discussion of the Christian Cross.  Once a secreted symbol revealed only to those who could be trusted, the Christian Cross has become an everyday fashion accessory for millions of people in the western world.  In recent years, a number of christian groups, in their defense of large crosses displayed on public lands, have suggested that the cross, through its ubiquitous nature, should not always been seen as a religious symbol, but may have any number of secular meanings.

Classroom Activity:  Break into groups and debate one of the following questions?

1.  Does wearing a cross have any significance in a culture where the general expectation is that any individual you may encounter in your day-to-day movements is almost certainly a Christian of some variety?

2.  Can a holy symbol be made profane though repetition and commercialization?

3.  A non-believer wears the symbol of your faith – empowering or sacrilege?

Week 6: Where does the power come from?

Final Lecture: In whatever form it takes, the Idol has the power to instill powerful emotions in those who encounter it.  For some, a particular idol may illicit feeling of deep reverence, joy, fear, or disgust, but the question remains, where do these feelings come from.  Is the power that the idol seems to possess over man a function of the object itself.  Is the physical object imbued with a special nature that brings out these feelings in those who come near it?  Does the particular arrangement of stripes and stars on a length of cloth change the nature of the fibers of which it is composed?  Does the wine become the blood of a god, or is it simply a tool which we use to feel closer to the divine?  If entirety of an idols power rests within the hearts and minds of the men and woman who react so strongly (one way or the other) to its presence, does not our reaction to Idolatry say more about ourselves than it does those we might feel compelled to judge?

Final Essay (6,000 words): Expand upon your original paper from the 1st week of class.  Have your feelings regarding Idolatry changed as you have considered the materials presented.  If so, how has your attitude changed and why?  If not, please explain how this course may have reaffirmed or strengthened your previous feelings.


Filed under Culture, Interfaith, Modern Life, Mythology, Religion, The Gods, Traditions

On the Last Monday in May

A perfect face dressed in crisp blue and white.

A flag, folded to a razors edge, held in white gloved hands.

A widow, a child, eyes downcast in sorrow.

A white stone, one among many, in an unblemished field of green.

These images are everywhere at this time of year.

Holy icons, whether framed upon the mantlepiece, or shared on public media.

Because it is the last Monday in the Month of May, and while we may claim that we are memorializing our war dead, and we may dimly remember a time when we decorated their markers with ribbons and flowers and shared meals and stories among their graves, the reality is that a curious thing happens when our young men and woman in uniform are taken from us while in the performance of their duty.

They stop being people in any meaningful way, which is itself a common function of death.  But unlike the rest of us, they ascend, becoming the very archetype of military service.

It is strange, to see a country which many claim is Christian, birthing so many young gods.

But ours is not the first culture to deify its war-dead.

Nor, indeed, shall it be the last.

And lest you mistake my intent, I wish to take nothing away from their sacrifice.

I honor the great service which they have rendered upon us, and I know that each has felt the brush of the raven goddesses wing against his or her cheek.  They walk now in a land far from our own, and yet only a heartbeat away.  Perhaps they will know peace there.  Or it may be that they gather together around some distant campfire, awaiting a battle which is yet to come.

At this time of year, as these idealized images of truth and valor are burnt so brightly into our collective consciousness, I find myself wondering mostly about the company they keep.

Surely, the soldiers of other nations must be there as well, friends and enemies alike, who sacrificed themselves in valiant service to their homelands.

But what about those who didn’t volunteer?  What about the draftees?

And what about the children, kidnapped from villages throughout Africa and Southeast Asia, or transferred from Russian orphanages into military training camps?

This is something that is happening right now, as you read this!  Kids who should be learning math and spelling, who should be teasing their siblings and driving their parents to distraction, are being stolen from their homes and forced to fight and die in conflicts that most of the folks enjoying their Memorial Day Picnics have never heard of.

I know that some, maybe many, will disagree with me here.  Certainly, there are those who believe that he who throws himself upon the grenade has made a greater sacrifice than one who had doom thrust upon them.

Not in my eyes.  One volunteered and the other was a victim, but the raven came for them both and if she does not discriminate, why should I?

Memorial Day

It is the last Monday in May.

You can keep your stars and your stripes.

You can keep your banners and parades and picnics.

I will honor the war dead in my prayers.

All of them.

Both friends and former enemies alike.

And if there is someone that you have lost, and if it is your habit to speak to them on this day, or any day, maybe you could ask them to look after the children, the youngest gods, frightened and forgotten by a world that let them down.

It would be nice if they had someone to look out for them.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Death, Heroes, Holidays, Modern Life, Philosophy

The Blood on My Hands

There are those with whom I may not speak.
Not because I could not find the words.
But knowing they would not hear me if I did.


The Evangelist is deaf to all but his own voice.
He pounds the cover of the book he holds.
And my voice shall never touch him.

I am a heretic in his eyes, honoring false gods and corrupt traditions.  I have failed the truest tests of righteousness, surrendering my flesh to the Whore of Babylon and my soul to the Flames of Perdition.  My words can only be lies, the frustrated mewling of a sinner, lost in the din of Heaven’s glorious trumpet.  The blood of the martyrs is on my hands, and in that blood I must either find redemption, or be lost!


The Patriot hears only the fife and the drum.
She stands rapt with hand held over heart.
And no pledge of mine will move her.

I am a traitor in her eyes, placing individual truth above the great social contract.  In my contempt for the notion of Manifest Destiny, I ally myself with those who wish only to end the great experiment before the promise of freedom can be fulfilled.  She brands me “hippy” and “un-American” and “tree-hugger”.  If I will not stand with her, then I must be against her, my hands stained with the blood of heroes!


The Vegan has ears only for those without voice.
He campaigns against the ongoing atrocity.
And nary a justification will satisfy.

I am a monster in his eyes, a modern Grendel, ravenous amid my unthinking carnage.  Is this vile consumption rooted in some religious pretext of dominance over the natural world, or do I simply not understand that animals are thinking beings, capable of pain?  No token moderation of these unseemly habits will appease.  No death, however gentle, should be tolerated.  How can I claim to honor nature and respect all living things when my hands are dripping with the blood of defenseless millions!

IV.  The Homophobe…,

V.  The Socialist…,

VI.  The Feminist…,

VII.  The Atheist…,

Did you think your cause was different from the others?  Better?  More noble?

There are those with whom I may not speak.
Not because I could not find the words.
But knowing they would not hear me if I did.

This world is filled with zealots of every stripe.  Their numbers seem to multiply with each passing moment and I am sure you must have noticed them.  But there is a secret that you may not be aware of: If you believe in one singular truth, whatever that truth is, so fervently that you are willing to denigrate or vilify those who think differently, without considering their arguments or perspective, you are probably a zealot too.

Call them fanatics, bigots, or dogmatists, call them by whatever name suits you.  I will call them dangerous, all of them, each one as dangerous as the others, when their cause is bolstered by numbers and hardware and a disregard for their supposed enemies.

They are dangerous because, in someone’s eyes, we all have blood on our hands.

I know I do.

Bloody Hands

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Poetry, Politics, Religion

The Goddess in the Harbor

There are days when I close my eyes, and I see her like this…,

The Struggle of Liberty

She struggles against those who would pull her down and extinguish the light she has held aloft for so long.  The torch has fallen and she reaches for it while the guttering flame casts eerie shadows all about her struggling form.

Her assailants rise above her, but who are they?

Who threatens the Goddess?

They do not hail from any foreign land.  It is no invading army that threatens her reign.  These are her own children, grown up in the light of freedom, which seek to break her will.

They love ‘the cross’ more than they do the Constitution and they are descended from the very same rabble who pulled down the statues of her brothers and sisters, looting the temples of ancient Rome, and murdering their priests.

How long before they rise up and try to pull down her greatest effigy?

Liberty!   Goddess!

They may call themselves “True Americans” and they may speak of our origins as a “Christian Nation”, but their claims are false.  One cannot love Liberty while seeking to chain all men to the worship of a single god through false claims of tradition.  Liberty breaks all chains and will tolerate no masters.

History will not bend to their will.  Here is an image of the goddess, stamped into the coins of the American Revolution nearly a hundred years before anyone ever read the words “In God We Trust”…,

Liberty Ha'Penny

Her enemies, her wayward children, they fume and they howl in their impotent rage.  They seek to twist the laws of the land to reflect their own vision of a world that will never be.  They will not rest until their God rules unquestioned over the whole of the land, but they don’t understand that he can never rule here.  This nation was born in Liberty, and if you thrust her aside, if her divine light is extinguished, the nation dies with her.

They may have the one, or the other, but never both.

This nation, these United States, belong to Liberty.

She stands, the Goddess in the Harbor of our greatest city, shining her light out for all the world to see.  Over four million people a year make pilgrimage to her great statue, her weathered copper shrine.  I have only ever come this close…,

Goddess In The Harbor

I hope one day to return and gaze again upon Liberty Enlightening the World.  And in the meantime, I hope that we, her children, will work to keep that flame burning brightly for all time.  Remember her in your prayers, this Independence Day.

She is the promise made, that we must keep.


Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life, Religion, The Gods

Way of the Warrior

I walked, recently, through an exhibit of Samurai armor and artifacts, which is currently on display at the Kimball Art Museum in my home of Fort Worth, Texas.

Passing from display to display, I found myself almost overwhelmed by the detail and artistry put into each piece by the craftsmen of centuries past.  The eye is drawn into the intricate lacing, along the elegantly knotted cord, into the clouds of fine chain links, in and out through serpentine designs of enameled beasts, ultimately arriving upon imposing masks of iron, grinning with an inhuman fury.  It is easy to see how the men inside these suits of armor would inspire terror in their enemies, and how they may have felt themselves as becoming something more than human.

Individually, the works are stunning.  In aggregate, they come together to give us a picture of a society which knew, in no uncertain terms, how it felt about war.

Our society, on the other hand, is nowhere near so certain.

We have come so far in just the last hundred years.  We can measure the distance between atoms and map the human genome, but the more we learn about the universe around us, the less we appear to understand about ourselves.

Kabuto and Menpō (helmet and half-mask) from the late Edo period.

Kabuto and Menpō (helmet and half-mask) from the late Edo period.

The works on display span almost 700-years of Japanese history, but most of them come from the Edo period (1603-1868).  Japan, during this era, was a culture in the midst of a long and fruitful peace, yet still dedicated to the very principle of the warrior ideal.  Bushidō, or “the Way of the Warrior,” was both a personal code of conduct and a philosophy centered around seven essential virtues: Courage, Respect, Benevolence, Honor, Rectitude, Honesty, and Loyalty.  It was this ethical core which compelled the Samurai to become masters of the arts and social graces as well as warriors of unparalleled skill.  Bushidō was, among other things, a celebration of the Heroic Ideal which stands as the foundation of every great society.

The hero is, in many ways, the ultimate manifestation of the culture from which he comes.  Maybe his name is Gilgamesh, Heracles, Cú Chulainn or Arthur.  For that matter, she might be called Boudicca or Candace of Meroë.  In whatever guise, the hero stands as the apotheosis of the people from which he comes; a mythic figure, more than man but less than a god, both savior and sacrifice for his people.

Those who came before us knew that a people without heroes were doomed, and that to treat their heroes poorly, was an affront to those beings that had invested them with power in the first place.

We appear to have forgotten these lessons.

“Ah, but times have changed,” people tell me, “and the Samurai existed within a warrior culture while ours is far more civilized.”

Really?  Ours is NOT a warrior culture?

I think the fact that in the United States, roughly 20% of our federal budget goes toward military spending while 2% goes toward scientific research and less than one-tenth of 1% toward the arts, would suggest otherwise.

No, we are a warrior culture, to be sure.  We’ve simply become woefully bad at it.

Oh, we go through the motions.  We both memorialize our fallen soldiers and honor the living with special days full of picnics and parades.  We praise them for their service, and glory to their fictionalized exploits in the cinema and on television.  If we meet them on the street, we commend them for protecting our freedom, even though that’s not really the job we have them doing.

We do not send them off into the fray, showered with flower petals, to win the day against the iron grip of some great evil.  Instead, we dress them up in the most utilitarian gear possible and ship them into some sorry “war of choice”, like they were prisoners cleaning up litter by the roadside.

When finally, they come home again, we don’t seem overly bothered by how many of them are forced to live under bridges.  We prop them up at political rallies while we slice away at funding for veteran’s hospitals and services.  We fret about the validity of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder while they commit suicide in record numbers.

Yes, we can kill you from across the planet with the touch of a button, but for all our technical prowess we have grown clumsy in the Art of War.  Indeed, in the last hundred years we’ve done everything we can to take the “art” out of it entirely.

We hate the needless killing.

We hate the brutality and we’d like to think that we have risen above it.

“War,” we tell ourselves, “is dirty.”  It is something we are forced into by our more primitive enemies.  “The barbarians are at the gate,” cry our leaders, “and we’ve got to sink briefly to their level, just this one last time, if we hope to protect our shining city on the hill.”

But it’s not so easy as that.

War has been around for as long as people have been walking upon the globe (and possibly longer).  War is a part of us and always will be.  The only “everlasting peace” you are likely to find is in the grave.  And even then, it would be wise to remember that the gods themselves are all warriors of one sort or another, and the graves of the ancients were often arrayed with the weapons of war.

Perhaps, if as a society, we could embrace the ‘Way of the Warrior’, we would actually see less warfare and fewer sombre memorials.  Certainly, I’d like to think that the wars we still did have, would be better ones, worthy of the sacrifice we ask of the young men and women we send into harms way.

Maybe, we are fighting the wrong kinds of wars because we stopped breeding heroes of great virtue.  I think we owe it to the world we are leaving for our children to try.  Certainly, we owe it to those who have gone to their graves to see to it that no more will follow them into the ground without just cause.

The Exhibit at the Kimball runs through August 31, 2014.  If you are a resident of North Texas, or just passing through and looking for something to do, I suggest that you stop by and take a look.  It is well worth the visit.

The Exhibit at the Kimball runs through August 31, 2014. If you are a resident of North Texas, or just passing through and looking for something to do, I suggest that you stop by and take a look.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Culture, Death, Heroes, Holidays, Modern Life, Philosophy, Traditions

Will you visit their graves?

In the years following the American Civil War, a tradition began to grow among those left behind by a family member or loved one, lost to war. During the fading days of May, the graves of fallen soldiers would be decorated during gatherings at graveside, in remembrance of their ultimate sacrifice.

There is some quibbling among historians as to precisely when and where the first “Decoration Day” was held. I rather suspect that there was no first occasion which spawned the others. It seems more likely to me that the tradition sprang up naturally among people in many places, a natural yearning, in the springtime of the year, for a little hands-on ritual and ceremony, among a people still struggling with loss and confusion in the wake of our most dreadful conflict.

And so, the people of the past century would gather their families to share a meal, sometimes spread picnic style among graves newly tended and festooned with flowers and ribbons. They would dine among the dead, sharing tales of their valor and heroism with children who would otherwise remember them only as names etched in stone or a yellowed photo, framed upon the mantle.

Soldier's Home National Cemetery - 1864

Soldier’s Home National Cemetery – 1864

The parades and political speeches, the concerts and retail sales — that stuff came later, along with the name change to ‘Memorial Day’.

I’ve read a lot of articles, in these last few days leading up to the holiday, from people deeply concerned that you should know, “Memorial Day is not just about firing-up the barbecue!”

Well no, it’s not, but let us not downplay the power of a neighborhood cookout.

We, as a culture, sometimes seem so eager to distance ourselves from the more visceral aspects of our lives (and deaths). We don’t like to get our hands dirty and so we civilize and formalize and memorialize our societal rituals, often beyond recognition. We lose touch with the emotional need, the spiritual impetus which instills within us the call to celebrate and to mourn.

We transform a local tradition of ribbons and flowers into a national procession of perfect little flags in perfect little rows set before perfect little stones. Oh, by all means, let us have our color guards and marching bands all draped in a jingoistic wash of red, white and blue; give us our twenty-one rounds fired into a blue sky while a bugler plays Taps in somber tones. Let us dull our senses with scripted testimonials and stale protocols…,


We could have a cookout.

We could put the “Decoration” back into Memorial Day and adorn the graves of our honored dead with flowers and tokens of love and appreciation. Maybe we could just wander among the graves, reading the names and dates, listening to the sound of children playing hide and seek among the stones.

I can think of no better way to praise the dead, than to bring to their resting places the sounds of life and love and laughter. These are the very same gifts which they have rendered unto us through their service and their sacrifice.

When you have spent some time among the graves, when you have awakened their spirits with the breath of life, go home and (weather permitting) fire up that grill under an open sky.

Will it be grilled burgers on toasted buns, or maybe some juicy brats with spicy mustard and onion on a hard roll? Open a beer, pass the chips, and share your memories of the fallen. Do not memorialize them by making them larger than life. Simply remember them as they were, without the platitudes and the flag-waving. We honor them best through the simple act of living our lives, dearly won, in peace and fellowship.


Filed under Culture, Death, Heroes, Holidays, Modern Life, Traditions

Of Love and Liberty

Independence Day is upon us here in the ol’ U.S. of A.  It’s that time of year when we Americans dress our yards up in red, white and blue streamers, host holiday cookouts, and (if you live in town) travel outside the city limits to purchase boxes of illegal fireworks to be set off in our backyards.  Here in Texas we’ll be doing all these things despite the oppressive heat, drought warnings and swarming mosquitos the size of low-flying aircraft.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing to me about the July 4th holiday is that while we may call it our nations birthday, it is actually nothing of the sort.  Rather, it’s the anniversary of the beginning of a bad breakup.  It marks the moment when we figuratively looked into Great Britain’s eyes and said, “Yeah, we need to talk”.

We are, after all, talking about the signing of the Declaration of Independence here: arguably the single most famous “Dear John” letter ever put to paper.  Our attention, I would say, was on getting out of a bad relationship and not on getting into another.

Admittedly, the phrase “United States of America” did appear in the Declaration; it could be argued that we already had our eye on someone else (and isn’t that why most relationships end).  However, we didn’t officially become the United States of America until the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in November
of 1777.

Even then, it wasn’t until 1781 that the British finally took the hint and stopped hounding us with Redcoats and badly edited mix-tapes.  There we were after years of war, single at last and free to pursue happiness with an exciting new Republic.

Is it strange that we do not celebrate those anniversaries?

Frankly, I think it says a lot about our current “relationship” that we are so focused on remembering our falling out with the English.  By reminding ourselves every year that we are free of the one who abused us, we are able to ignore certain inadequacies in our present situation.

Perhaps it’s because the U.S. was the rebound relationship.  We never really got out there and enjoyed our single life and liberty.  No sooner had the last of King George’s boxes been taped up and set out on the curb than we were picking out china patterns with someone else.

Maybe we moved too fast?

I dare say, we certainly had our problems right from the start.  There was the deplorable manner in which we treated the people who were living in the apartment when we moved in.  “Hi, folks, we’re the new roommates, hope you don’t mind moving into the cabinet under the stairs.”

Hell, we almost tore the whole thing apart in the 1860’s trying to decide if that whole “all men created equal” thing was heartfelt or just another cheesy pick-up line.

That was a pretty rough patch and we really wondered if we’d get through it together.  With some hard work and not a little pain and sacrifice we did make it.  And on the whole, things seemed to be getting better.  Or maybe that’s just what we told ourselves so we could sleep at night.

The truth is, we were pretty badly burned by our relationship with the British.  When we started things off with the U.S. we were feeling used and vulnerable.  It’s understandable that we would want to avoid making the same mistakes again.

Promises were made.  Assurances given.  A Bill of Rights passed.  Yet still over 200 years after the fact we are fighting tooth and nail just to get what we asked for.

Amendment I

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.

How hard is this?  Really!

We’ve agreed to keep church out of the business of government and government out of the business of church.  We are guaranteed the right to peaceably gather in protest and to express ourselves publicly and in full view of an unhindered press.  It’s not really that difficult a concept to grasp.

And what do we get instead?  How about “In God We Trust” stamped on our money and “One Nation Under God” wedged into the pledge that we ask our children to recite every morning.  Our tax dollars are funneled into Faith Based Initiatives and legislating the Defense of Marriage Act while our leaders gather at the National Prayer Breakfast complaining about a “war on religion”.  Soon enough I expect we will be paying for School Vouchers that will be used to send kids to private religious schools where they can learn about “Intelligent Design” without the ACLU bothering them.  All the while, our Public School system crumbles from lack of funding.

I’m an American and a Polytheist.  I’ve got the taxation.  Where is MY representation?

I love my country.  I really do.  We have made some wonderful memories together.  There are days however, when I wonder if we are truly made for each other.  I grow weary of the constant bickering and broken promises.  Is this what they call “Democracy in Action” or is it a sign that we are growing apart?

I guess we will just have to grill our hamburgers, set off our fireworks and put the big questions off for the moment.  Maybe things will look better in the morning after the smoke has cleared and all the plastic cups and plates have been cleared away.  Maybe we can put “the talk” off for a while yet.

Until then it would be wise to remember that…,

To him in whom love dwells, the whole world is but one family.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Politics, Religion