GASSED BABIES AND BABY-FACED WARRIORS

“All wars are boyish and are fought by boys.”
Herman Melville, Battlepieces and Aspects of War, 1941

In 1985, I went to Nicaragua with several clergy and lay persons during the Sandinista and Contra battles to learn about the superb ecumenical organization that was a crucial help to those caught in the war.

We got relatively close to the combat zones and met a 13-year-old baby-face boy in a military uniform cradling an AKA weapon. After we came to know him we asked how he lost one of his fingers. He said it was shot off but he was happy it wasn’t his trigger finger. He began training when he was 12 years old.

There may not be many 13-year-old baby-faced Muslim militants on the Mid-East battle fields but if so, have our GI’s had to kill youngsters face-to-face, kids who signed on due to religious commitments or loyalty to their country? Do we want to know? We were horrified to learn about the babies who were gassed in Syria but what if a few of those man-child militants were pulverized by drones? How many of them were slain during the strafing of the airfield by a recent assault? Many of those young teenagers are only a few years older than those precious babies.

Have we owned up to the numbers of fatalities of tweens over the 16 years we have invaded Mid-East states? I have never had to engage with face-to-face battles while serving as a naval reservist for a number of years. We sailors hardly knew where our gun mounts were located.

So, why am I questioning how we fight our enemies? I guess it has a lot to do with having five grandkids in their early to mid- teens, and a couple of them are baby-faced.

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RACQUETBALL PARTNERS; GOING TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET

It struck me that I left out in my last post the mean-spirited attitudes Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, learned when he got responses to his readers from both sides of our divided citizens.

He states “When I write about people struggling with addictions or homeless, liberals exude sympathy while conservatives respond with snarling hostility to losers who make ‘bad choices.’

“When I write about voters who supported President Trump, it’s the reverse: Now it’s liberals who respond with venom, hoping that Trump voters suffer for their bad choice.

“’I absolutely despise these people,’ one woman tweeted at me after I interviewed Trump voters. ‘Truly the worst of humanity. To hell with every one of them.” (NY Times 4/6/17).

Getting into the fear and anger among highly polarized political party members may call for one-on-one bonding. Shouting and judging from a distance seldom brings hyper beings together. I have four racquetball partners with whom I’ve played for twenty years. They voted for Trump but I didn’t. We stopped talking politics during our coffee times after our games. The only way I found to continue to stay with them was to run deep with our ire and anxieties, one at a time. We’re tribal peoples, whether we belong to congregations, social clubs, sports teams, co-workers or extended families, we are unlikely to divulge what we truly feel about our politics during this time.

SITTING TOGETHER WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN

SITTING TOGETHER WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN
“The last function of reason is to recognize that there are an infinity of things
which surpass it.”
Pascal, Pensees, 1670
We’re living now within a split society that may need some awesome new institutions to humanize our citizens that will call for empathy on a grand scale. There is anger and hate on both sides with hardly any help to address those feelings.

Nicholas Kristof ends his New York Times column by stating that “The humanities do not immunize a society from cruelty and overreaction; early-20th-century Germany proves that. But in balance, the arts humanize us and promote empathy. We need that now more than ever.”

The google team claims “Humanities are academic disciples that study human culture, using primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, and having a significant historical element and include languages, religion and philosophy.”

That means our humanity courses are mainly based on learning through reasoning, an intellectual process that leaves out a whole lot of what humans experience in their lives. I had graduate and post graduate courses in language, sociology and philosophy, and found little if any deep feelings within those courses. Why not? Would it water down the intellectuals sitting next to us? Did the Greeks, who modeled for us our intellectual prowess, manage to overlook our subterranean sentiments?

There was one earthy occasion in my seminary class when my brilliant philosophy professor asked me to give a brief synopsis of the book “Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History” by Eric Erikson. I said “Well, for starters we learn that young Luther wrote most of his 90 theses he nailed to that door while close to a toilet because he suffered from chronic constipation. So he might have claimed ‘Here I sit I can do no other’ rather than ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’”

Dead silence in class at that point. The professor held back a grin and told me to step out of class for a while. That to me was the real world of human learning. Perhaps it was a smart aleck gesture but it felt good to know in those moments that Martin Luther was one of us when it came to surviving.

What if the humanities courses were to allow for students to reveal deeply with their fear, anger, compassion and sex? We learn about those sentiments but we don’t experience them in classrooms. Why not? Perhaps it can complete the fullness of human beings.

While teaching at a university the Dean of Academics declared that clergy can only teach about religions but not promote them. In the last week of a course a student asked if she could wash the feet of her classmates on the last day. She was not religious but she thought it might be kind of fun and provide some bonding with a send-off, and make it a surprise. I was a little nervous about the gesture but we did it.

She stepped out after our session and came in with a towel around her waist and a small tub of water. “How would you like to get your feet washed?” She was very attractive so the guys put up their hands immediately. Everyone seemed to be for it. When she got to the last student he said he could not do it. I figured he was a deeply committed faith member.

He asked if he could reveal why he did not want to participate. I said “Of course you can.”

“My new wife and I wash our feet occasionally as a tender gesture in our marriage.” He paused and relented, “OK, please wash my feet here.”

I often think about that event and I learned from a few students in recent years who claimed it was the best part of the class. I was bummed out on that response but got over it.

STRUGGLING FOR SURVIVAL

“As more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must… be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life.” Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 1859.

Recently I watched a Turner Classic movie filmed in Aleppo Syria in the 1940s. It began with a scene of bustling travelers at a train station that looked like any other urban setting but then I flashed on recent images of a devastated Syrian city that has been virtually leveled.

The next day I listened to an NP Radio segment of an interview with a neurosurgeon who fled with his family from Aleppo to Turkey to live temporarily with several hundred thousands of Syrians in a makeshift camp. He was asked what he misses most while living in the encampment. He admitted he misses his home, his neighbors, his colleagues and friends.

My take on his response may seem rather presumptuous but I do believe there is some merit in risking to bond deeply one-on-one with the surgeon’s present ‘neighbors.’ This may also seem too bold, given I have never been confined in such a way, but a few of my close friends live out of state or country. I seldom bond with my neighbors and never run deep with them; rarely meet with extended family members or colleagues; enjoy my church friends but we don’t reveal what’s inside us.

In-depth single encounters with strangers may be the balm the neurosurgeon needs during his provisional stay. He might have assumed the only profound empathy he experienced with his long-time friends and co-workers back home developed over time. But what if two strangers can enter into a full-blown level of affection within an hour or so? There is scientific evidence that mortals are gifted with instant trust with unfamiliar persons but they seldom trust it.

We may be headed for a period of struggling for existence in dealing with the anger and hate we are experiencing in our divided country and realize we may be living in temporary encampments. We have not paid enough attention to our own feelings of ire and hatred. We may tend to conceal our full-blown road rage and domestic wrath. What if we have to live differently and risk more in our contacts with strangers or anyone, to overcome the meanness that seems so pervasive? It will take one-on-one bonding and that is difficult to do, always has been and always will be.

There are other ways, of course, to run deep in our struggle for existence and that has to do with risking being silly. Those moments can break through the harshest times in our lives. When I served as a youth director eons ago I asked the high-schoolers if they would like to go to lunch together. They jumped for it. We went to a restaurant called ‘The Penguin Inn.’

When we stood outside the restaurant I lied and told them we had to walk in like a penguin or they wouldn’t serve us. “Follow me!” I wallowed into the place with my weird brood behind me and we got service. A number of those youth who are in their old age now have sent me notes in recent years stating how meaningful it meant to them that day. They’ve not commented on the great programs we had or sermons I preached in those youth meetings but they made my day.

Several FB messages popped up from those ancient penguin kids soon after Mr. Trump won the election. Ah but, the struggle for existence will still call for risking bonding with perhaps the harshest peoples we know.

A NORWEGIAN NUDGE

“The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is.”
G.B Shaw, Man and Superman, 1905

OSLO – “Skam,” a racy emotionally intense true-to-life Norwegian web and television series, follows a group of Oslo teenagers as they navigate sex, school, drinking, depression, rape, religion, coming out and the pains of status anxiety, in real life and online.” NY Times, Rachel Donadio, 12/13/2016
The creative writer and director travels around her country interviewing countless teenagers. After she writes the script she gets feedback from the actors and viewers.

Whenever I come across a reference to a Norwegian news piece I always tell my Viking spouse about it. If it is a great article I like to find it first. It’s just me I guess.

The series will be picked up by American and Canadian entertainment entrepreneurs and call it “Shame.” Hey, why can’t adults be whipped up to participate in such a gut level form of frankness? Do citizens have enough buried sentiments to warrant an adult TV series?

Here’s for starters: work stress, sex, porn, drinking, rape, depression, domestic violence, family battles, finances, gay life, illnesses, aging, dementia, politics, religion, and death and dying, And let’s not leave out road rage, by guys mostly, which may be the source of a lot of those anxieties that remain suppressed.

How did the sociologists miss detecting the depth of anger and rage within our culture that has to have begun a few decades ago? How much are we aware of needing to have our ethnic race in the majority? We can add those questions to the above behaviors.

How much of our emotional chaos has to do with the way we function? We don’t bond with our neighbors nor do we relate deeply with co-workers or extended families for that matter. I thought when I was a kid my treasured cousins would be in my life forever.

Given our citizens are at odds with each other maybe it would be helpful for both sides to reveal their ‘pains of status anxiety’to a clever writer. We are also at odds with lots of Russian peoples so why not have them disclose their deepest sentiments for a TV series in such groups?

What if family, faith communities and other social clusters have not generated enough empathy to sustain us on this planet? OK, here’s the audacious perspective I have come to imagine. We will have to risk one-on-one bonding with strangers across our country and the globe. My hunch is aliens may already know how to produce personalized intimacy in the galaxy. We’re just behind times. So, let’s risk joining the “Shame” project when it comes around.

WHEN LISTENING RUNS DEEP

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”

– Ernest Hemingway

Three writers caught my attention this week about how we can rely on one-to-one bonding that will soften the hard edges we are experiencing in our nation these days, and perhaps our life.

We can start with Derick Black, who wrote an Opinion piece for the New York Times about his racial home life. His Godfather was David Duke, the KKK lover and his dad was a prominent racist in the south. Derick started out in politics in his young years with a white nationalist agenda and became a fairly noticeable leader in the south. He later wound up at a liberal college far away from his hometown. He eventually drew close to his roommates on political issues and turned a corner on his views. When asked how he will change the minds of rabid nationalists he claims “That kind of persuasion happens in person-to-person interactions and it requires a lot of honest listening on both sides.”

Derick Black doesn’t have to rely only upon long-time classmates to change his outlook, he can engage with total strangers in a brief time.

Secondly, Kerry Egan has published a book titled “On Living.” She got her degree at Harvard Divinity School and became a hospice chaplain. She reminds us that most chaplains and pastors often keep deathbed confessions secret. She found a goldmine of clandestine stories by those at the end of life that have kept their secrets to themselves. Many have urged her to tell those tales to others. A patient implored “Maybe someone else can get wise from them.”

The chaplain contends “There’s nothing stopping you from acting with the same urgency the dying feel.” That’s true, what if those waiting to their last breath were to have revealed those hidden desires throughout their life to a stranger on a park bench or seat partner on a plane? They deserve to bare their souls and those who listen to those stories may find them stimulating and hopeful for their own lives.

And thirdly, Ralph Keyes author of a book titled “The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear.” states that “A need for attention drives us. Recognition. Immortality. And why not? One of the most fundamental of human fears is that our existence will go unnoticed. We’d all like to have it recorded somewhere. What better way to achieve this goal than writing?” And what better way to attain our goals than listening carefully to total strangers who wish to have their sacred stories told?

FROM DOGS TO ITCHES

“America shudders at anything alien, and when it wants to shut its mind against any man’s ideas it calls him a foreigner.” Max Lerner, Actions and Passions, 1949

Given the state of our country these days I thought I might send out a draft I wrote a few years ago that might be appropriate for the times.

Is it possible we may be hard-wired to bond profoundly with strangers of another species? While listening to a favorite Bluegrass song and feeling good driving home through my neighborhood I spotted a young dog sitting by the curb checking out every passing vehicle. I wasn’t sure what he was looking for but I smiled and waved vigorously at him. He wagged his tail, and I swear he seemed to have grinned. Can hounds do that? Then he jumped off the curb and began chasing my car. True story! When I turned into my driveway after a mile or so and stopped he jumped up on my car door panting but jubilant and licked my face. Now that has to be an innate trait don’t you think? We were complete strangers; he was young and probably didn’t know any better or possibly his guardians hadn’t warned him against bonding with unfamiliar motorists.

I took him home and turned him over to his owner. The mutt actually appeared sad. Maybe I just wanted him to feel sorrowful. I doubt if he will try to catch me driving by again because he would likely be too embarrassed after having exposed his true feelings with total abandon. But I’ll bet after a time he couldn’t wait after experiencing our personal moments to pursue another single encounter unless of course his owners decided to keep him safe by locking him up in the back yard.

What would happen if we unleashed our kids and pets to bond indiscriminately? Would that be just plain nuts? If we are built to love that way and it’s mostly instinctual then we shouldn’t be preventing our offspring and pooches from connecting deeply with outsiders. We will have to find a way to set free their unconditional compassion for the good of the order and we’ve obviously not done a good job in doing so. We have to be cautious but perhaps we have overplayed the stranger/danger warnings.

What about running deep with a unique species that hangs around Washington D.C? After coming across an article on how polarized and angry our congressional members have become I began to imagine a bunch of them suddenly making fools of themselves by chasing their adversaries out the Capitol doors after a heated session while smiling, wagging their tails and managing to lick their counterparts faces. They might button-hole a political foe on the front steps, invite her or him to lunch where both parties risk running deep by divulging their private and personal fears, anger, pains, compassion, dreams and sexual…well, maybe they should stop there, and finally promise to never meet again. It remains a two-hour bond, one-and-only private personal encapsulated treat! The following week they may be itching to sniff out another colleague and make it a point to continue to escape from their own backyards whenever possible.