Saturday, February 15, 2014

Belated Valentines Day

We give thanks for love,
Agape and Eros,
Chocolates and pillow talk,
And all of cupid’s arrows.
For unrequited yearning
And the grand passion burning,
For quiet appreciation
And platonic contemplation.

For lovers, too, we offer thanks:
Those gay and straight, near and dear,
Lavender and pink and transgressively queer;
For swooning adolescents
And seniors in senescence,
Who are the bloom in life’s bouquet --
The hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day.

For all that makes our pulses run,
Heart rates quicken
And keeps tickers ticken,
We bless you, Lord--
Who made Eve with Adam,
And filled the world with both “sirs” and “madams.” 

For birds and bees,
And variet-ees
Of conjugation
We lift our voice
In celebration.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Most Religious State?

The Gallup polling organization reported this week that Mississippi leads the country in piety as the nation’s “most religious” state.  Vermont trails the pack at dead last.

You’d think Mississippi would be godlier in every way, based on how many people describe themselves as church-goers: more law-abiding, sober, charitable and neighborly.  That would be a false assumption.

Here are some interesting facts about the “most religious” state.  Close behind Louisiana, which is number one, Mississippi boasts the second highest murder rate in the United States.  Vermont, the “least religious” state, is number forty-nine in homicides per 100,000 population.  Only nearby New Hampshire has fewer murders.  If Gallup is right, religion can be dangerous to your health.
I’m sure there are lots of delightful people who live in Mississippi, but there appear to be an inordinate number of creeps, too.  The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.”  Haters include white supremacists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis and similar unsavory types.  There are 36 hate groups active in the “most religious” state, and just 2 in Vermont.

One good measure of faith might be how a community cares for its kids.  (“Let the children come unto me,” as an obscure Jewish carpenter once said, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”)  You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Mississippi has the highest child poverty rates in the country, with 35% of their youngsters impoverished.  Despite being so “irreligious,” Vermont does a good job of protecting the most vulnerable.  It’s in a tie for number four, with just 15% of its kids below the poverty.

Garrison Keillor once said that sitting in a church doesn’t make you Christian, any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.

And apparently, living in Mississippi doesn’t make you more religious, any more than living in Vermont makes you less so. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The People Yes

I’ve been reading a biography of the celebrated American poet Carl Sandburg—winner of two Pulitzers for his verse and another for his biography of Abraham Lincoln.  I hadn’t realized that Sandburg was a committed Socialist, who stumped and campaigned tirelessly for the party in the presidential elections of 1908.

According to his biographer Penelope Niven, there were over 3,000 socialist organizations in the United States at that time.  The Communist Party wouldn’t be founded for another decade.  Instead, socialists comprised an enormous range of working Americans whose labor was undervalued by the system, from tenant farmers in Oklahoma to miners in the coal fields of Pennsylvania to sweatshop seamstresses in New York.
Sandburg was one of them, his father a Swedish immigrant who toiled ceaselessly and saved unsparingly but steadily lost ground—particularly after a home he purchased turned out to have a hidden lien, hitting him heavily with unexpected debt.

Before turning to poetry, his son Carl turned out political tracts hoping to convince readers that wealth and poverty were both social creations—neither the achievement of independent entrepreneurs nor shiftless shirkers but rather results of impersonal economic forces.  A series titled “Letters to Bill” that he wrote were epistles addressed to an imaginary manual laborer:

Do you see, Bill, how your interests and mine and everybody else’s are all tangled up and woven in with each other?  Do you see how society, all of us together, produced Rockefeller, Thaw, and the one-legged man on the corner selling pencils?  A modern locomotive of the latest model is said to represent ideas contributed by more than eleven thousand men …

Yet just a handful profited from owning the railroads, which ought to serve the interests of all.

Sandburg’s own convictions were expressed in the words of another fictional character he created, a white-haired old man in a country village:

I have been reading history and science for forty years and from all that I have studied as to how nations are born and grow and then die, it seems to me that just as soon as a nation gets to the point where a small part of the people are rich and a large part of the people are poor—then that nation is starting to die, the death of it is beginning.

What would Sandburg’s sentiments be today, when the gulf between rich and poor has reached an extreme not seen since the 1920s?  Sandburg never lost his faith in the capacity of the masses of people to eventually arise and organize on their own behalf, as expressed in his famous poem "The People, Yes!"

The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
    They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
    The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback …

Men like Sandburg make me think that socialism is just another word for democracy, which should include not only popular government, but an economy of the people, by the people, and for the people ... not for a monied few.