A Whole New World

I have always loved libraries.  In college I relished the feel of being surrounded by the hush and the smell of old tomes.  One of my earliest memories is in elementary school when we were ushered into our library and introduced to the awe-inspiring card catalog.  For those of you too young to know what that is it was back in the days before computers were prevalent in our every day lives.  I can almost hear an audible gasp from somewhere.  Anyway, it was this massive piece of furniture with tons of little square drawers.  Inside the drawers were cards containing bibliographic information, including the title of the book, the author’s name, and approximate location on the library shelf.  I did some research and discovered that around 1789 the French began collecting books from churches and decided to use them to build a system of public libraries, including creating an inventory of all books.  The backs of playing cards were used to write each book’s information.  Leave it to my beloved France!  Around the mid-1800’s Melvil Dewey and other American librarians began to champion the card catalog because of its great expandability.  In some libraries books were based on size or the author’s name.  Dewy devised a decimal system where books were organized by subject and then alphabetized by the author’s name.  Each book had a “call number” which identified the subject and the location.  The decimal points divided different sections of the call number, which matched a number written on the spine of each book.  I can remember the librarian telling us we would need to know this our entire lives.  Since telling my six year old about it she has begun referring to everything in my childhood as “the olden days.”  (I predict her mind will explode when I explain to her about corded phones.)  Of course now libraries have replaced card catalogs with online public access which is digital.  My shock came when the hubs and I attended our little one’s book fair at her school and I could not find a laptop or a desktop anywhere.  Gaping like a slack jawed yokel, I stumbled into my discovery:  iPads were affixed conveniently on pillars around the library.  It is the first time I have actually felt old.  Like a cat staring at a shiny object, I felt compelled to take this picture.  I never could have forseen this day as I stood on that shag carpeting with my bell bottom jeans all those years ago.  I can still remember the feel of back-breaking weight of all those heavy books crammed into my backpack.  Now each child at her school has an iPad which contains them all.  The Norwegian historian Christian Lous Lange once said, “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.”  I hope we never stop using actual books.  It’s more than the rustle of a page or the creak of a spine but I cannot precisely put it into words.  However I also love to read digitally and it is much better for the environment.  It is also very convenient.  At least people are still continuing to read; now it’s just a whole new world.

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Confidence In My Faith

For those of you keeping track, you will have noted I have been behind on my blog since summer.  I dislike not writing in a timely manner and think I have stumbled onto a case of writer’s block.  So I decided to get current and then work my way back.  As I checked the date I paused when I realized today was Friday the Thirteenth.  I do not consider myself to be superstitious.  I have owned black cats, walked under numerous ladders, and have opened too many umbrellas inside to even count.  The thirteenth day falls on a Friday at least once and year and can happen as many as three times annually.  But why the superstition?  One suggested origin occurred on this very day — a Friday the thirteenth in October — only instead of 2017 the year was 1307.  This is the day the Knights Templar essentially fell.  The order was founded in 1119 and remained overtly active until about 1312.  A Catholic military order, its role was for the protection of Christian pilgrims.  At its peak, it consisted of fifteen to twenty thousand members; ten percent of whom were knights.  They also went under the Order of Solomon’s Temple and the Order of Christ.  Their motto:  Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name give glory.  They wore distinctive white mantles with red crosses and were the most skilled fighting units of the Crusades.  In addition, the order became among the wealthiest and most powerful.  Non-combatant members managed a large economic structure throughout Christendom.  The Templars could pass freely through all borders, were not required to pay any taxes, and were exempt from all authority except for that of the Pope.  I was taught in college they developed innovative forms of financial techniques that eventually became the foundation for the world’s banking systems.  The knights also built fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.  King Philip IV was deeply in debt to the order and, it is said, took advantage of the situation to gain control over them.  On this day at dawn in 1307 he had many of the order’s members in France not only arrested, but tortured into making false confessions, and then burned at the stake.  I found this quote quite profound from the Irish journalist Marguerite Gardiner, the Countess of Blessington, who said:  “Superstition is only the fear of belief, while religion is the confidence.”  So why did I hesitate to resume writing in “real-time” today?  Was my fear rooted in the belief that I wasn’t doing things in their perceived order — a superstition of sorts?  Perhaps.  I will say my writer’s block has been resolved and taking this silly picture for today’s post gave me another topic to write about; stay tuned … In the meantime, I would much rather place my confidence in my faith.

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Happy Fourteenth of July

Just ten days after our American Independence Bastille Day falls.  It is the day that France celebrates its national independence.  Formerly called La Fête Nationale, is a massive holiday commemorating the first storming of the Bastille, a turning point in the French Revolution.  I am not a monarchist, but I lament this day in history.  My mother’s family is descended from French nobles and luckily they fled into England.  But Madame Guillotine, slickened by the people’s unquenchable thirst for blood, was, in my opinion, horrific.  To kill someone for the sake of having more than you is wrong.  Period.  However I believe in fighting an injustice with all my heart; I just do not believe the slaughter of so many was the right way to go about it.  Consider this:  for anyone who has practiced Christianity I am willing to bet most have heard it said that Mary Magdalene was a whore.  For centuries this was accepted as truth.  In modern times it has been revealed that it was, erroneously or no, construed by a Catholic Pope.  Mary Magdalene has now been revealed as the “apostle of the apostles” and is a SAINT but for centuries she was falsely labeled a whore.  Despite the fact that legally a woman’s testimony at that time was considered invalid, the authors of the four gospels all show women to be the primary witnesses to the most important event of Christianity — Christ’s resurrection from the tomb.  Mary of Magdala witnessed both Jesus’ crucifixion and His resurrection.  Within the four Gospels she is named at least twelve times — more than most of the apostles.  The Catholic Church acknowledges this was a great untruth and she is finally being vindicated.  Maybe this is too lofty a parallel to draw, but I believe Marie Antoinette has been maligned much in the same way.  It is a fact that that she NEVER said, “Let them eat cake.”  This has been confirmed by historians.  In fact she was an intelligent woman who donated generously to charitable causes and, despite her own lavish lifestyle, displayed sensitivity towards the poor population of France.  In addition, the saying had been floating around for years and was attributed to another noble.  It has been written that Marie Antoinette was traveling in her royal carriage when the horses ran into a young boy.  He was, miraculously, uninjured, but the queen held him in her arms and (it is said) declared, “I must take him.  He is mine.”  The boy’s mother had died and his grandmother willingly agreed to have him go to Versailles.  In fact his entire family came under royal protection.  This would not be the first time Marie Antoinette had adopted “peasants” and taken them into her bosom like family.  Before her 38th birthday she would  be publicly executed.  As she climbed the steps to the scaffold, she apologized for accidentally stepping on her executioner’s foot.  To me, that does not sound like a woman who had no regard for her people.  So, while the American in me prides in the shaking off of tyranny, I cannot help but reflect upon The Reign of Terror that held my beloved France in its ghastly grip.  Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, also said:

“I was a queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother, and you deprived me of my children.  My blood alone remains: take it, but do not make me suffer long.”

The Francophile in me tries to think of this as a day to celebrate French culture.  American Indians have long known when history records a “massacre” it means they won.  If the Anglos won is deemed a “victory.”  Being neither wolf nor dog has taught me there are always two sides.  “Liberté, Egalité, et Fraternité” (liberty, equality, and fraternity) did not apply to the nobles and their families who were trapped by societal standards, their duty to their people, and in many cases birthrights that had been handed down for years.  Am I a sympathizer?  I am sympathetic to any people slaughtered due to a sense of entitlement from others.  In an attempt to remain sanguine (excuse the bad, unintentional pun) I shall say to France Happy Fourteenth of July.

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Colors Burst

It was the Fourth of July, the day the United States celebrates its independence.  This night brought me back to a brief time in my life when I did not have a care in the world.  Summers were giddy affairs riding my Big Wheel, climbing trees, smelling freshly mown grass, and listening to the sound of cicadas.  Anything was possible.  I want to extend that as long as I can for my child.  When I was young my father had a bad accident after being forced to work in dangerous conditions.  Things became more and more difficult after that.  My parents tried to shield me but I knew.  I was so sheltered and yet very aware of harsh reality.  I learned first hand how people treat others who are rich and how the poor are treated.  I have met people without a lick of common sense who are wealthy and I have met some truly brilliant people who are poor.  Why does society equate money with success?  I grew up strong and secure in a loving family and we were truly happy.  No one was drinking or popping pills despite terrible hardship.  Another adjustment in my life came when I learned my grandmother was Choctaw.  I became angry.  Angry with a white society that had for centuries devalued that particular race of people more than any other.  It is a duality I have yet to fully accept — neither wolf nor dog.  Once I asked my daddy how he could celebrate the Fourth.  He turned his vivid, dark blue eyes on me and said his grandfather escaped from Germany hidden in a pig boat during the war.  My father fought in Korea for eight years and was awarded with distinction without once bragging about it.  But he was proud to be American and especially proud to be an American Indian veteran.  Not many realize the original “Code Talkers” were actually Choctaw, beginning their service in World War I.  The Navajo Code Talkers’ invaluable contributions helped us win World War II.  For years I have watched in awe at pow wows’ Grand Entries, heard the Flag Songs of many different (Indian) nations, and have seen the pride on the Native American faces who have served in the United States military.  My child may be more Caucasian than American Indian but she will still know her history, and the history of her people.  On this carefree night I thought deeply about our nation’s past and how I will begin to gently start presenting it to my child.  As I watched her happily playing with these lit necklaces I decided there are some things that can wait.  I am teaching her Indian ways most whites know nothing about, but right now I think that is all she needs to know.  The American singer Katy Perry’s hit “Firework” was playing as the fireworks began.  My daughter loves this song.  Among the song’s lyrics it says, “‘Cause baby you’re a firework; Come on show them what you’re worth.”  I thought it was so fitting.  My baby is a firework — and she will let her colors burst.

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The Rose

When I was nine I heard a song that still remains one of my favorites.  It is Bette Midler’s “The Rose.”  That song has stayed with me from the very first time I ever heard it.  Not only does she have one of the best voices of our time, in my opinion, it is a song that has longevity in terms of both lyrics and musicality.  I have sung this song as a lullaby to my little girl and wished her sweet dreams.  Recently she got some glitter roses and I was surprised and pleased that she wanted to give one to me for Mother’s Day.  She also took this picture.  I am not sure how well you can see it but I believe you get the sentiment.  I found myself once again going to church sporting tattoos on the backs of my hands just as I did as a child, much to my mother’s eternal chagrin, and thanks to Cracker Jacks.  Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the Father of English literature, once wrote, “And she was fair as is the rose in May.”  I hope I will always be that fair rose for my daughter — just as my mother was always that fair rose for me.  Roses have been symbols of love, beauty, war, and politics.  According to fossil evidence, the rose is over 35 million years old.  In nature, the genus Rosa has some 150 species spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from Alaska to Mexico and including North Africa.  The classic red rose began its illustrious symbolic history in Greek and Roman iconography, where it was tied to Aphrodite and Venus, the goddess of love.  Later, in early Christian times, it became associated with the virtue of the Virgin Mary.  All I know is that I have always loved the rose.

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A Lantern For Another

I have noticed a resurgence in the popularity of lanterns over the past couple of years.  Lanterns have been used as the earliest source of light by nearly every culture in the world.  Originating as a protective enclosure for a light source, it was portable and could be placed more practically outdoors or in drafty interiors where they were more likely to be blown out by gusts of air.  When ancient men dwelled in caves they used handfuls of moss soaked with animal fat in hollowed out rocks.  Ancient Africans burned oily nuts in clay saucers for light.  During the Iron Age and days of King David, the Canaanite Oil Lamp was used.  There is documentation of terra-cotta Herodian oil lamps from 50 BC to AD 50 which show it was used during the ministry of Jesus.  Even the many types of wicks show the age of early lanterns, from papyrus, to rush, to linen, and flax.  Ancient Romans filled their lanterns with olive oil.  The Chinese still use paper lanterns which are prevalent during the Lunar New Year.  Lantern festivals are now rising in popularity all over the world.  Until the 1700’s oil lamps, oil lanterns, and candles were the only source of light.  Then petroleum was developed and after that came the kerosene lamp.  It could light up an area better and also lasted longer.  The lantern was developed as an alternative to candles and is considered a historical forerunner to modern day electricity.  Though primarily used to prevent light from being extinguished, lanterns served an equally important function of reducing the risk of fire if a spark should leap or if the light was ever dropped.  This was especially crucial below deck on ships, as gunpowder was a common presence stored in large amounts.  Unguarded lights were taken so seriously that the obligatory use of lanterns below decks were even written into one of the few known remaining examples of pirate code.  Nichiren, a 13th century Japanese Buddhist priest said, “If you light a lantern for another, it will also brighten your own way.”  I have looked for quite some time to find just the right lanterns for our home.  They have been either too big, too small, or too expensive.  Then I found the one pictured here and there were two!  I also found these battery operated “candles” that fit perfectly in them and I do not have to worry about fire.  Plus they’re on timers so they do not stay on all night.  I love them and I think they make the front of our house more inviting.  I want to be like the Buddhist priest said so long ago.  I hope in some way, to someone, somewhere, this blog will serve as a lantern for another.

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A Humane Being

They say ignorance is bliss, and I suppose it really is.  I remember being about my little one’s age out with my folks somewhere and wanting to ride a pony.  Not only did we not have the money, but when I saw them I became really upset.  It was way too hot and they did not look happy trotting around in a circle tethered to each other and with flies swarming around them.  I have always had a sensitivity to and awareness of animals … When I was seven my mother tried to teach me to cook turkey for Thanksgiving.  I will NEVER forget the horror of seeing the bag of parts and the dark crevice.  *shudder*  (Hence, why I have not eaten turkey since I was six.)  Eventually a documentary would lead to me becoming a vegetarian and now I am almost vegan.  It’s not a rice cake kind of thing (I like whiskey and cigars;) rather it is how the animals are treated and then slaughtered.  I have been ignorant on some things such as carriage rides.  Of course I now no longer consider them romantic and will not take one again.  Interestingly enough, I discovered some time ago that the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was organized in England as far back as 1824.  It was primarily established to prevent the abuse of carriage horses who were driven through freezing cold winters and stifling hot summers; often with little food, water, or rest.  The horses were beaten if they refused or became unable to pull the carriages.  But on this day I saw two healthy ponies who were not only out in the early morning for a couple of hours; they were being given shade, water, and hay.  I did not want to deny my little one the joy seen here so evident on her face.  I try not impose all of my feelings on my child; she is already showing sensitivity toward animals just as I did.  So I let the handler hitch her up and, clearly my progeny, she started peppering the man with questions.  “Is she a girl?” she asked hopefully.  “What’s her name?” she wanted to know next.  Obviously not used to inquisitive little girls, the man just shrugged.  Deciding to turn directly to the animal (something I would have done) she said, “Well, you HAVE to have a name!” and the little pony raised her head as if in agreement.  “I’m going to name you Chewy!” she exclaimed!  “I think ‘Chewy’ is a great name!” I said as we paused in our ride while the pony obliviously chewed a hole in the fancy country club’s green lawn.  Both of us stroked her mane and offered her praise.  When my little one’s ride was over I told her to be sure and thank the man but also Chewy as well.  “Thank you, Sir,” she dutifully chimed, followed by a much more enthusiastic “THANK YOU CHEWY!”  The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, once said:

“I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights.  That is the way of a whole human being.”

I hope I am teaching my daughter not just to be a human being but also a humane being.

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Mothering Sunday

There were a precious few years when I was both able to have my mother still living and also be a mother myself.  Such a scant space of time, but what an incredible joy.  On the fourth Sunday in Lent, Anglican, Episcopal, Catholic, and some Protestant churches in Europe celebrate this as the special day designated to honor mothers.  Originally it was once observed as a day on which people returned to visit their “mother” church.  During the 16th century people went to the church where they were baptized or to the nearest cathedral for the service held on Laetare Sunday.  It is the one break and day of celebration during the sobering time of Lent.  Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given the day off to visit their mother church and often their mothers as well.  It was often the only time that whole families could get together, as servants were not given free days on other occasions.  Children who were “in service” as household servants would pick wildflowers along the way to give to their mothers.  Eventually, this practice made its way into the church.  So in our church on this day if you have a mother they ask that you come to the front and choose a colored nosegay to present to her and pin on her clothing.  Today my little one went down and chose this one for me.  I nearly cried, as yellow was my mother’s favorite color, and my little one ALWAYS chooses pink.  It was such a special way of remembering my own mother, given to me by my precious daughter.  I knew it would wilt so I wanted to take a picture while it was still fresh.  For those who may never have known their mother I love that the clergy always says to please come take one to honor your mother or to honor someone who is like a mother to you.  The American author of “The Language of Flowers,” Vanessa Diffenbaugh, said:

“There’s still something so pure and heartfelt and emotional and genuine about a bouquet of flowers that, even with all the advances of technology and the millions of ways we have to communicate with each other, flowers are still relevant in my opinion.”

I agree; nothing can replace the silky touch, heady scent, and rich color of real flowers, particularly when given on Mothering Sunday.

 

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Shrove Tuesday

Growing up I had heard about Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in French) but I always associated it with wild parades in New Orleans.  Until I became Episcopalian, I had never heard of Shrove Tuesday.  I could not figure out why our church served a pancake dinner.  I have since learned it commemorates the final day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent.  Traditionally, Christians abstain from rich foods and/or alcohol for the next 40 days leading up to the celebration of Easter.  Since pancakes are comprised of sugar and eggs, these were meant to be used up before Lent began.  Even the ingredients are said to represent important tenets.  Flour represents the staff of life, eggs represent creation, salt symbolizes wholesomeness, and milk represents purity.  The name “shrove” is derived from the word “shriven,” a term used by Anglo-Saxon Christians to describe the event of being absolved of one’s sins.  Lent is a penitential time, as Christians are called to reflect upon Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of having suffered death on the cross for the sins of the world.  I know often people use this as a sort of diet plan to get ready for summer.  But, while the idea of self-sacrifice may not necessarily be helping others, in my opinion it does serve to make us aware of how EVERYTHING we have is thanks to God.  I do believe adding a discipline is a great thing … such as more prayer or helping those in need.  But I do not believe the importance of self-denial should be underplayed.  Self-sacrifice is not as exercised, in my opinion, as it should be.  Heaven knows I have not bothered to curb my eating or my drinking.  So this is an excellent time to make my humble sacrifices to God and truly repent.  The American football coach Lou Holtz said:

“Sacrifice, discipline and prayer are essential.  We gain strength through God’s word.  We receive grace from the sacrament.  And when we fumble due to sin – and it’s gonna happen – confession puts us back on the field.”

The next time I eat pancakes I am going to remember to strive not to fumble and to be a better person.  I pray next year I will not have forgotten this Shrove Tuesday.

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Groundhog Day

February 2nd is Groundhog Day.  The groundhog is an American rodent also known as a woodchuck.  They are found from Alaska to Georgia, mostly north and east of the Missouri River.  Tradition holds if he comes out of his hole and sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of “winter” weather.  I, for one, am all for it.  In Texas (and thanks to climate change) it is pizza oven hot almost all year round now.  While the rodent is unique to North America, celebrating February 2nd as a holiday is not.  Its origins are rooted in Christian tradition dating back to at least the 11th century.  This day was formerly known as Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  On this day all the candles to be used in church for the next year were brought to be blessed.  Not only did churches require a lot of candles, many viewed them as religiously significant in that Christ is the light of the world.  This day was not chosen at random; it is the midway point between the winter and spring equinox.  Over time, regions and nations developed traditions about weather predictions for the remainder of winter.  Often these were tied to hibernating animals such as hedgehogs, bears, and badgers.  Although the most famous North American groundhog is Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, other groundhog forecasters include Alabama’s Birmingham Bill, Georgia’s General Beauregard Lee, Ohio’s Buckeye Chuck, Michigan’s Murray, Virginia’s French Creek Freddie, and, my personal favorite, Louisiana’s Pierre C. Shaddeaux.  There is an old rhyme that says:

“If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight;
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain, Winter is gone, and will not come again.”

We have friends who started the best tradition years ago of having a Groundhog Day party.  Kids are safe to roam about, corny dogs are served, and adults relax and visit with each other over wine or beer.  I really look forward to it every year.  I was so happy to see this groundhog on their mantle for the occasion, as we gave it to them the first time we were invited.  We are blessed to have fellowship with church friends and I wish to thank them for their gracious hospitality.  I also want to thank Ernest Blevins, an historical columnist, for the interesting information.  Happy Groundhog Day!

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