By REV JIM PURCELL
As this upcoming year represents my half-century mark, it is a time to take stock.
Am I where I thought I would be, doing what I thought I would be doing? Are there people in my life whom I thought would still be here? Am I living in that awesome place where I thought I would be at this age so long ago?
Well, as that list goes, I am not looking too badly. Not shabby at all. But, life didn't go the way I expected to get here, and most of my big plans for myself fell apart at one time or another. So, while I may be in that space, that place, where I thought I would be -- I took the strangest route I could have imagined.
Isn't that what life is anyway? Like the old saying goes: Men make plans and God laughs. Well, with me, he must have been rolling on the floor. So, why couldn't I have just taken the wide, easy path to where I am now? Why did it have to be so damn hard?
Well, adversity builds character, real character. When things get hard and times are trying, those are the moments when people learn empathy, forgiveness and real determination. No, it is not the kind of determination that Rocky showed against Draco in the montage scenes of Rocky IV. It is not the kind of determination to climb K2 or Mount Everest. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do for someone is to lose something they loved and treasured and then just wake up the next morning and get out of bed.
You know, as time clicks by, I have had a few friends and loved ones leave this world. Of course, being at about the same age, there are some of these friends and loved ones who died young. I noticed, though, that something my friends who passed early have in common is that they smoked and drank to excess. They lived life badly, being angry or scornful. They refused to change inwardly from their youth, and growing old and living crazy is not a match made in heaven. Not finding peace with yourself and living healthy will send you to heaven, for sure, but dying because of something like smoking too much is just prolonged suicide. Someone is just biding their time, in that case, to leave this world as soon as they case.
For the past three years I have been working hard on my recovery from alcohol and anger, both of which consumed me for many years. I believed I was unfairly cheated, robbed of things that were precious to me. Well, there is something else about life we each learn at some point or other: It isn't fair, not in this world. Not yet. But, the knack to living is being able to go on and still search for whatever makes us happy.
More than money or position, land or jobs I always wanted peace and peace of mind. It has been a successful life in that I have found my piece of peace. I do not wish to to great things anymore, and while I like to work no one could characterize me as ambitious anymore. I learned that it is better to be at peace with one's self and their surroundings than to be fighting for the top spot.
In the end, somehow I have always knew, that we will not judge ourselves on how much money is in the bank, how big the car was, or how grand one's house was. In the end, what we each will judge ourselves is how we lived our lives, what we learned from those lives and how much peace we were each able to find in our hearts. Don't get me wrong -- big houses and cars are great. Yet, they are only things, which rust and breakdown and they do not shine forever. Only the human spirit shines for ever, and making that spirit brighter will shine forever.
Happy 2016 for everyone who visits the Chronicles, enjoy the year and blessings to you and yours.
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Monday, December 28, 2015
These days, I regard the expressions and concepts surrounding patriotism by some people as more of a symptom of a serious underlining mental health problem or a cry for help rather than anything remotely involved with serving or protecting one's country.
You see, in the America I grew up in, which included many years in military academies early on, I was taught and came to believe patriotism was unconditional. It was the kind of love that one may have for a parent or child. It is unshakable. Whether the parent or child was right or wrong, had lost their way for a time, or was having a wonderful success -- everything came back to that unconditional love. Later on, and for many years, I served the United States in the Army, and what patriotism is became an everyday concept for me. Patriotism isn't a few minutes of putting your hand over your heart at ball games, it is a way to live and a system for loving your country come what may.
Well, now the scene has been set.
If patriotism was unconditional love, the kind of which one felt for their mother and father or child before, patriotism today is demonstrated by many as the love one might feel for their new boyfriend or girlfriend. It is the kind of "love" that is new and unpracticed; the kind of love that has not yet weathered hard times and may well not stand up to any significant test. It is the kind of love where a man tells his girlfriend, 'If you don't wear that blue shirt instead of the red shirt then I will not love you anymore.' If the boyfriend wants to go to a Knicks game, it is the love where the woman will tell her man that she does not wish to go to the Knicks game and, if he does, he can sleep on the street.
You see, when someone believes that they must be furious with their country because a black person, or a Conservative person or a Liberal person is elected as president, then there was actually never any love for this country from that person in the first place. Either someone will support and defend their nation all the time, no matter if something is happening they do not like or something they like is happening -- then they are not a patriot.
A wonderful example of patriotism that has stood the test of time for me dates back to ancient Macedonia and the rule of Alexander of Macedonia (b. 365 BCE) (commonly called "Alexander the Great"). Well, Alexander was making his case to the people of Athens about why they must, collectively, fight the Persians for there to be any real safety in the world for the Hellenes. He said he intended to launch a great invasion of Persia, and he wanted Athenian support. Well, there was a politician and orator in Athens, by the name of Demosthenes, who disagreed vehemently with Alexander, so much so Alexander and Demosthenes were considered political opponents of the highest order.
While Demosthenes' isolationist argument did find friends in government and in the people, ultimately Athens sided with Alexander and the invasion was planned. Now comes the part of the story that is hard to find today. Rather than march off and grumble under his breath about the injustice of his failure, Demosthenes did not denounce his country, its leaders or the state. He did not wish to usurp the state because the greatest number of people did not find virtue with his point of view. Instead, Demosthenes the Athenian did what Athenians did during times of war: He joined the Army as a private soldier. He fought in the first rank of Greeks against the Persians, and he died in the war he fought so hard to attempt to avert. You see, Athens was the home of Demosthenes, whether the state was right or wrong. Demosthenes was a citizen of the Athenian state, without any doubt, and his love for his homeland was not counted in how many times he got his way, but instead by how many times he served his community, in war or peace. This is not the love of country that occurs in the United States today by reactionary people.
God will not love America first, before all countries, if America makes torture its policy, intolerance its calling card, ignorance its first response to the unknown. If America is still an empire, as some still argue, then any empire whereby torture, intolerance and ignorance, matched to wars of convenience and commerce, cannot stand nor will it be considered an empire for the better. Rather, such an empire is an 'Evil Empire,' right out of Star Wars. I believe I know a thing about being an America. She is the great love of my life and I have served her in uniform and out and appreciate my homeland very much. God blessed me by allowing me to be born here, and I am thankful.
I will not bark at my Creator, the God of my understanding, as a yappy dog or a petulant child trying to hold my breath and have my way about who is president, or who is elected to the Congress. I would say my piece, do what I could and love my country throughout.
Where it involves the policies of war crimes and torture, race hatred and ignorance of some, I could not, as a Christian, sanction these; nor would I countenance protecting anyone at any level of office in my land, or in anyone's land, being protected from prosecution nor exempted from punishment where found guilty. And, if candidates in political forums run on these things to get to office, are elected and do these things as part of their positions, I say the same only louder.
Patriotism is unconditional love of the land someone comes from, and such love is focused through the right decisions of actual Christianity -- not hysterical Christianity, pro-Christian cults or fringe Christian groups who deny the written word of their faith, nor the fanatical preachings of their own conscience. Patriotism must be viewed through the lamp of conscience and God, and when it is not it becomes dangerous fanaticism and a harmful thing -- a wildfire through a forest.
In the good old days, people feared the Lord and lived their personal lives as an example, or they tried. They did not try and force the word or wisdom of the Lord on others, as the greatest sin is to pretend to know the mind of the Lord God. They did not bark at God. They did not seek war for its own sake and they did not seek to commit crimes in war, outlawed by world agreement. No, this nation does not look or sound or act like the nation I knew growing up: it is radicalized, indignant, diminished, mad at times and drunk with greed. Still, it is my nation. Like a wind, people and causes come and go. However, I will celebrate when these terrible times have gone, and look to that day.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
I am distressed about the past. Not my past. The past of our United States, and how some people attempt to turn events that took place into a comic book, worse yet they sometimes try and turn it into a coloring book. American history can be 'dumbed down' to the point where it can be depicted in a few blocks of cartoons with some quotes placed in white bubbles over the heads of drawn characters.
When I was at Georgian Court University, as a young man, I studied history. In time, I would go to seminary in New York and, certainly, there are great examinations of the past there as well. But, always, there was this fire to know what happened yesterday, and many yesterdays ago.
History is political, though. It serves as the motivation of actions for people today. Nations and people fight wars over the past. If everyone were to get collective amnesia tomorrow, Jews and Arabs would have nothing left to fight over. Blacks and whites would get along throughout this and every other country. The Chinese might actually work in friendship with India, and maybe India and Pakistan would operate together for a change. But, it is the past that binds people to it, like prisoners on a chain-gang. So, the mightiest person in that situation is the one who owns the chains, meaning the one who owns the history of what happened, when, with whom, for what reason, what purpose.
There are groups of people, with various political, industrial, business and religious viewpoints, that stand to profit if history suits their needs. It is for this reason that so many people attempt to, and sometimes successfully, re-write history. It is a fool who says, 'I don't care about history. It has nothing to do with me.' Well, I disagree. From the style and fabric of the clothes you wear on your back, to every morsel of food you put in your mouth, from where you work, to where and how you live and down to whomever you might go to bed with at night, history invades every fabric of our being. There is a lot of power at stake for the man, woman or group of people who control the edit function of history, people.
For example, there are neo-Conservative political faction in the United States who would attempt to re-write the American revolution so as to have precedent for turning our once-loved republic into a theocracy, which is unlike any theological likeness the Founders would have known or understood. But, when a political party is able to point to the Founders and say, 'Look -- we're just like them! So, don't enact laws because of what we say. No, change your laws because we -- we Conservatives -- are only following what the Founders would have wanted.'
First, who are the Founders? Well, they are the Class of 1775. They are the leaders, followers and people who founded this better-than-all-other United States of America behind their blood, sweat and tears -- and intractable optimism. "The Founders" are not just Gen. George Washington or his aides, not John Hancock nor just the 2nd Continental Congress, not just Patrick Henry or John Jay, or Thomas Paine or Benjamin Franklin. If you were to walk up to one of the leaders in that fine company and ask them who founded the country, they would not have forgotten to point to those muddied, bloodied, oil- and sweat-stained men pushing artillery through the middle of the night, fighting battles as half-trained volunteers, nor forgotten so many women who overnight became single-parents and sole-breadwinners for families while their men were busy moving artillery, fighting battles -- being all 'Revolutionary.'
You see, the Revolutionary Era, according to Elise Wilson, was a movement during a century or so, which involved generations of people, who primed the Revolutionary Generation, then there were the contributions of the Revolutionary Generation, and then finally there was interpreting the lofty ideals of the Revolutionary Generation within a governmental entity, which was the not insubstantial mission of the Post-Revolutionary Generation (which, it could be argued, in my opinion, actually ended with the Civil War and not in 1800, as is commonly discussed).
The real "American Revolution" was the central theme of generations. Understanding what that meant, in all of its complexity and simplicity, cannot be easily done -- let alone in comic book form for Fox News viewers.It is neo-Conservatives today in Texas who do not wish the specific contributions of Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, former consul to France and author of the Declaration of Independence to be taught to school children. How does one do that? The Declaration wrote itself, the French just gave us stuff because they were intuitive, the Louisiana Purchase was a fluke? However, in my opinion, by not involving the contradiction of who the public and private Jefferson was, slave-owner and revolutionary for the freedom of "all men" what is achieved? Well, for one, as a society, it makes it easier by having less pointed conversations about slavery. Yes, the hard questions about how Founders allowed slavery become easier to talk about if we do not examine, in any detail, the life of Thomas Jefferson.
Like African-Americans, by not being reminded in school about slavery, will forget about it? Like anyone cold or should forget about slavery, its causations and impact upon American history and in our news today.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, that intellectual heavyweight from South Carolina, will tell you, as his has publicly that "Moses wrote the Constitution." Well, Mr. Graham knows a lot better than that. It took the Founders between 1776 and 1786 to come up with a workable, compromised document that enough people could live with unhappily to vote for. Neither the Whigs nor the Democratic Republicans were all that happy with the result. However, it would do. It would be close enough for two very different political mindsets to be able to do business with. Moses was long to the earth when that document was forged. However, the 'short-hand' that Mr. Graham is attempted to overlay upon that entire convention that produced the Constitution was that it was somehow: A. Jewish, B. divinely inspired and C. part of Divine Providence, as it is accepted in many circles religiously. He is attempting to turn a secular political convention of ideas and thought by humans and place a religiosity upon it, and translate the decade-long effort of people who did not agree with each other's politics very much as the authors of a religious document.
Well, I am a Baptist. I have a hard enough time with the real Bible, without Sen. Graham and his cohorts over in Fox News trying to create an annex to the Bible. Perhaps the only thing the Constitution and the Holy Bible have in common is that neither Sen. Graham, nor any of the cast of young, blond female commentators over at Fox, have ever read either of those documents. And, if they did, they couldn't understand a word of either. Mr. Graham was, as a matter of fact, a lawyer for the National Guard in South Carolina, who no doubt dealt with Constitutional issues somewhere along his tenure. However, as a professional, for Mr. Graham to try and pass along compromise political agreements as bona fide God-given law informs not only about his quality as a lawyer, but also his worth as a scholar, an American and an alleged leader of the people.
History should be a tool to learn from, not re-packaged to become a bumper sticker for the Grand Old Party.