Life and living

Lyrical therapy

The world is a tough place. Everyone has their own way of getting by. There was a song a few years ago about making a choice between “drugs or Jesus.” There are more options than that though. Some people use liquor, some escape into television and movies, some read, others seek solace in music. Combination cures are popular as well. Lyrical therapy has always been one of my favorites though. I’ve written a few songs; novelties mostly. There’s “Cousin Sally” about an awkward love affair, and then my greatest hit was “Lola’s House.” It’s about a brothel frequented by all the self righteous in the community. Kind of like “Harper Valley PTA,” but slightly edgier. You won’t be hearing either on the radio. Despite my interest in many musical genres, my songs always come out country. Probably because they’re simple to write, and simple is a good descriptive of my musical ability.  It’s been years since I’ve written any songs. Now I mostly escape into other people’s lyrical wonderlands. Drive-By Truckers have one of my recent favorites, “If you’re supposed to watch your mouth all the time I doubt your eyes would be above it.” Classic.

Styx has been stuck in my head the last couple of weeks, specifically “The Grand Illusion.” It works on a macro and micro level because it paints a picture of the illusions in the media and our personal lives. Micro: Long time readers will remember a treatise I wrote several years ago against the Facebook. My opinion on the social platform hasn’t really changed, but last year I needed to get the word out on a local political issue. My business page was not the place to do it. I’ve used FB for years to peddle my stock in trade, but hadn’t used it personally until then. So over the last several months I’ve been experimenting with it, and I must say, I hate it even more than I thought. Between the immodest moms posting selfies of their finely toned abs, the lewd jokes, and the misspelled words, it is a tragicomedy of modern vanity and general stupidity. It’s the place people go to cast their illusions and pretend they have a wonderful life, or to garner sympathy for how pathetic their life is. They also announce to the world when they’re leaving town, who their kids are, and what they’re cooking for dinner. And I let it suck me in. Shame. Macro: The political cycle we are currently in has the media in a tailspin, literally. They spin, and spin, and spin. It’s getting to the point where I don’t believe any of it. They cut their sound-bites, and push their agendas, and can make anyone look bad (or good). Technology has reached a place beyond the imagination of Joseph Goebbels. Had he been afforded all our modern tools, the Third Reich would’ve ruled the world (and it may yet). While “The Grand Illusion” is a subtle reference to personal and political delusions, “I’m The Slime” by Frank Zappa is a more direct indictment of the corporate media and our personal weakness for their trickery. It’s not nearly as catchy though. Zappa is an acquired taste.

Wading through the levels of symbolism in another person’s lyrics can be a wonderful adventure. If you really want to get lost, Pink Floyd is a good place to start. If you want to go to the combination therapy I mentioned earlier, pair Pink with the Wizard of Oz and you’ll be lost for the next couple of years trying to figure it all out. I heard an author on a podcast a while back talking about The Wizard of Oz, and found that there are actually several levels of symbology going on there. His name was Robert W. Sullivan IV and he wrote Cinema Symbolism. I haven’t read the book yet, but based on his lecture it is one that I should pick up. It’s important to remember that these songs and movies (not unlike the article you’re reading now) are sometimes written for reasons beyond their face value. Some fiction is quite true, and some fact is highly fictionalized. Wonderful adventure that it may be, setting out on an expedition through pop art can also be dangerous. Thomas Cardinal Wolsey said, “Be very, very careful what you put in your head, because you’ll never, ever get it out.” Once you open your mind beyond the vulgar surface of things, it’s hard to go back on Facebook and see anything but stupidity and a lot of sad, sad people.

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Solemn promises

It’s time for another dirty little secret: I hate The Pledge of Allegiance. For whatever reason, it’s always felt wrong to me. As the country has begun the descent into chaos these last twenty years, it’s felt more and more wrong every time I’ve been at a gathering where it is said. I’ve slowly stopped saying it. I’ll usually stand, but I don’t recite the words any more if I can do so without attracting too much attention. God forbid someone question my patriotism! It’s curious that in a country where so few people under fifty know how many branches of government we have, or what the Constitution even says, that people will question your patriotism for such a small thing. That’s where we are though.

The Pledge always felt a touch un-American to me. I never could quite put my finger on it, but it always sounded a bit more communist than republican (as in republicanism, not the Republican Party) to me. With a little research, I found out why (hat-tip USHistory.org). It was written by a socialist minister named Francis Bellamy in August of 1892 with the thought that it could be used by citizens in any country. So it’s not really even an American thing. According to Wikipedia, Bellamy “championed the rights of working people and the equal distribution of economic resources, which he believed was inherent in the teachings of Jesus.” It’s the whole “Jesus was a communist” theory that you can hear preached in so many churches these days. Of course they don’t use the “c” word. Communist is one of those words that we aren’t supposed to bandy about anymore. Communism was defeated in 1989. It’s all over folks; nothing to see here. Move along. It would take more space than we have here to debate whether or not Christ was a communist, so I’ll save that one for another day. It’s pretty safe to say that any compassionate person cannot be a communist however. Since Christ is closely associated with compassion, let’s assume for a moment that he was not a communist. Most people have little idea that the first European system of economics attempted in North America was indeed communism. Many of the settlers at Jamestown in the 17th century starved to death trying the whole “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs” thing. They found when there was no incentive for someone to strive for success that everyone suffers. That’s yet another history lesson we don’t have space for. Look it up. Starvation and cannibalism are the end results of communism whether you’re in Jamestown, VA or Kangwon, North Korea.

Back to the pledge… A pledge is a solemn promise. I take my solemn promises pretty seriously. In fact, I don’t make many. I definitely don’t make solemn promises that are poorly worded, or given to inanimate objects that can be hijacked by lesser men (and women, Hillary fans) than I. The cool thing about the Constitution is that it’s simple, it’s written down, and you know exactly what it says. It’s also difficult to change. I can pledge allegiance to something like that. It’s an idea with which one can agree or disagree. It is not a symbol. Symbols are tricky. They can change with the times. They can be used by one group for one thing, and another for another thing. What means hatred to one group can mean love and acceptance to another. A star to a Satanist is something nefarious. To my children, it’s just something pretty in the sky. We live in epic times. All the tumult can lead you to think about a lot of things: pledges, solemn promises, what really matters, and what does not. This study on The Pledge of Allegiance led me to think about the epic movie, Braveheart. During his interrogation and right before his torture and death, William Wallace is asked about his king. “Never in my life did I swear allegiance to him,” he replies. His interrogator answers back, “It matters not, he is your king.” Stories like that are popular because they speak to fundamental truths. Every red blooded American watching that scene was moved with compassion for the brave heart about to be sent to death. He was acting with treason towards a corrupt and unjust crown to which he’d never sworn allegiance. He never made a solemn promise to his evil king. That’s one of the reasons we live in a republic and not a monarchy. Men are corruptible. Truth is not. People that swear allegiance to a man or a flag can easily be led astray. People that swear allegiance to an idea can walk to the gallows with a clear conscience. Flags can be hijacked. Truth cannot. For that reason, you should think carefully about the solemn promises you make, and go with your gut. People who are not socialists ought not say socialistic prayers.

In the heart or in the head

“A man who is not a Liberal at sixteen has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at sixty has no head.”—Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

That quote is attributed here to Disraeli, from whom I often borrow. It did not originate with him however. According to Quoteinvestigator.com it has been credited to a number of individuals over the years. It’s anyone’s guess where it started. It’s funny how the truth is winnowed and claimed by so many as their own creation when it clearly belongs only to itself. Human wordsmiths change the packaging from time to time, but truth belongs only to God.

I first discovered that quote years ago, and it had Churchill’s name attached to it at that time; right country, wrong statesman. In my twenties it was an appealing theory. It said twenty instead of sixteen when I first found it, and I took that as evidence of my being “the world’s only living heart donor” (a distinction I also borrowed, but from a movie). Being clever seemed more attractive than being caring, and there’s nothing cleverer than logic. A young conservative, so convicted was I that I rarely even pondered liberalism. Older and grayer, conservatism still seems like a logical method of political order, but also an ideology where the ideal is never achieved. It’s a lot like liberalism that way. The older, grayer version of me finds political theater less enthralling than it once was. Politics is just show business for ugly people they say, and lately they look especially ugly. My former desire to be clever reminds me of another favorite quote of mine from the movie “Harvey.” Elwood P. Dowd states that, “In this world… you must be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” After years of attempting smart, I find myself desiring pleasant. Some would be surprised by that, but it’s true. Desiring and attaining are two different things. It may belabor the quotes to keep going, but here’s a couple more: “Where are all good men dead; in the heart or in the head?” That’s supposedly Shakespeare, but I think it’s a misquote. They used it in “Grosse Pointe Blank” (excellent flick by the way). Liberal politics, however flawed, are sometimes driven by wholesome desires in the heart. Liberal policies fail because they presuppose human nature to be a controllable force. Conservative policies usually succeed because they don’t involve controlling human nature. Heart or head, it matters not when individuals are free. When we’re all tied into a socialist Ponzi scheme, as we are in modern America, it matters very much who is brain dead. The answer is most people. Begging your pardon for one more from the movie “Hoosiers,” “There’s two kinds of dumb: a guy that gets naked, runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and a guy that does the same thing in my living room. The first one don’t matter; the second one you’re kind of forced to deal with.” It seems lately that a lot of people are in my living room, and no matter how much I want to be compassionate… they’re naked and barking. Woof, woof, woof.

Wisdom is supposed to come with old age, but sometimes you discover you’re not as “smart” as you were in youth. And who would want to be? The truly wise recognize how much they don’t know. Perhaps that’s why scripture says Heaven must be accepted like a child. Maybe good men are dead in neither heart nor head, but alive in both. Children are not liberal or conservative; they’re just kids. They have big hearts and a mind that’s ever expanding. That’s something to which one should aspire. Kids question everything, and use their brains in extraordinary ways. We kill their big hearts little by little with our cynical view of the world, and we shackle their minds with everything we “know.” Eventually they end up like us, and the world devolves a little farther into chaos. Sixteen or sixty, the truly wise among us are those who know less, question more, and use not only their heart, but their brain as well.

We’re all city folks now

The Newsweek cover was touted as one of the most controversial ever a few years back when it proclaimed, “WE ARE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW.” It’s not exactly a statement of fact. The minority that has seized power might be made up of socialists, but a majority of my countrymen still cling to their antiquated ideas of capitalism and a free market. They cling to it in their personal lives and transactions even if they don’t always assert these personal beliefs at the ballot box or when their government subsidy checks arrive in the mail (or by direct deposit). I will not take the moniker of socialist, but we are all changing. As one generation dies off, it’s important to study what is being lost.City folks

That particular Newsweek cover came to mind the other night when I was reading a history of the War Between the States. The book contained an excerpt from a soldier’s journal where he spoke of life in Old Dominion (Virginia) prior to the war. The soldier remembered the slow lifestyle and antiquated ways of Virginians before the war. George Cary wrote:

“They loved the old because it was old, and disliked the new because it was new; for newness and rawness were well-neigh the same in their eyes.”

Well stated from a country gentleman, the likes of which no longer draws breath. The advances of the twentieth century would bring the south out of its agrarian past and into the technocracy we live under today. The old is no longer revered, but is instead replaced at a rate that is exponentially increasing.

Last week, I looked at a country property being sold to settle an estate. The acreage is replete with outbuildings of one kind and another. They’re not the cookie cutter pole barns of my generation. They are hand crafted country buildings built by hand and customized by the country gentleman that constructed them: a tool shed, a meat house, a barn. Most importantly, there is a picnic shelter where the family would gather on a hot summer day. Each building has a homemade fixture of some sort. Nothing was wasted. Every piece of scrap was utilized in some way. A radiator fan serves as a windmill atop of one building below a hand crafted weather vane. In the basement there are shelves everywhere for the canned goods that came from the garden each year. Clotheslines hang from the ceiling. There is an electric dryer hookup, but I doubt it was used much. The house is simple, but adequate. I often ponder the fact that as our families have gotten smaller, the houses have gotten bigger. A family of five once would happily occupy one thousand square feet. The parents would live there for their entire life, cooking, cleaning, canning, and growing old.

There was a time when country people spent our lives at home; not at soccer tournaments and 5k’s. We spent them together with family around the barbeque pit. Hot summer days were spent hoeing and sweating. Now, the countryside is dotted with brick ranch homes with two car garages. Most of their inhabitants don’t can, or use clotheslines. Glyphosate does most of our hoeing for us. People scurry back and forth to city jobs of one kind or another. Oh, there are outliers, but most of the country dwellers are just city folks that live a little farther out. The houses are all equipped with Wi-Fi and satellite dishes. The yards are neatly kept with giant lawnmowers. There are no meat houses, or chicken houses, or out houses. We’ve grown past all that. Our lifestyle is little different from our city brethren. But as I surveyed the property that first time the other day, I found myself envious of the life my predecessors lived. In my busy day, I pondered what it would be like to sit there, under the shade of the pecan tree and break a bushel of green beans in the heat of the afternoon. My days are consumed with worries, much as theirs were. They worried about feeding the family, and not freezing to death in the winter. Somehow, those seem like nobler worries than the ones that preoccupy me most days. Time marches on though. We’re all city folks now.