Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter and that Jesus Fellow for U.U.s—With Poetry

Happy Easter folks!  Easter is a tough morning for a lot of Unitarian Universalists who don’t buy the literal resurrection story or the godhood of the fellow said to have died on the cross nearly two millennia ago.  Also those who came as wounded refugees from Christian churches.
That is a summary of the introduction to probably three quarters of the sermons preached from U.U. pulpits this morning.  It will be followed by a sometimes elaborate apology touching bases with all other possible belief systems held or treasured by congregants.  Depending on the congregation and how secure the minister feel in his job, this lengthy introduction can last up to a third of the whole sermon.
Several UU minister read this blog at least occasionally.  Raise your hand if you have done this.  Raise it again if you will or did do it this morning.   I thought so.
If a minister is really unsure of his congregation, he or she will then do a rift on the historic roots of spring fertility festivals in pre-Christian time, how the church coopted and disguised these traditions for Easter and why we have eggs and Easter Bunnies.  On alternate years there may be a meditation on the annual rebirth of spring, the wonders of nature and what I call the Transcendental tap dance.
Only those ministers secure in their own theology and confident of their congregations will do a full on Easter service with Christian prayers and liturgy.  And neither she or he nor the congregation will regard the central miracle of Christianity as, you should pardon the expression, literal Gospel truth.
My advice to the ministers:  Keep that introduction apology as short as my first paragraph.  Have faith in what you want to say to the congregation.  Have faith in the congregation.  And be willing to stand up, grin, and nod equally to the outraged flinty eyed humanist who cannot stand to share his Sunday morning once or twice a year with self-identifying Christians or the wounded Christian who feels “marginalized” because you did not parrot the sermon he heard in his old church when he was ten years old.
All of that being said, I am up for anything interesting an insightful the minister pulls out of his or her hat.  I am not swearing to any dogmas or afraid that my soul will be wounded by heresy.  Give me something to ponder and chew on.
Myself, I’m a low Christology Jesus was a human rebel type of guy.  Resurrection and salvation don’t interest me as much as the radical message I hear in the teaching attributed to the son of a carpenter and ragged street preacher all those years ago. 
So that’s who I am celebrating this Easter beginning with the old Socialist poster created by Art Young about 100 years ago that you see at the top of this blog entry.
And in that spirit—and to get a jump start on National Poetry Month which begins tomorrowI am going to share two poems in the same spirit
The first is probably my favorite poem by Carl Sandburg, that Socialist and Universalist.

 To A Contemporary Bunkshooter

You come along. . . tearing your shirt. . . yelling about
Where do you get that stuff?
What do you know about Jesus?
Jesus had a way of talking soft and outside of a few
bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem
everybody liked to have this Jesus around because
he never made any fake passes and everything
he said went and he helped the sick and gave the
people hope.

You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist
and calling us all damn fools so fierce the froth slobbers
over your lips. . . always blabbing we're all
going to hell straight off and you know all about it.

I've read Jesus' words. I know what he said. You don't
throw any scare into me. I've got your number. I
know how much you know about Jesus.
He never came near clean people or dirty people but
they felt cleaner because he came along. It was your
crowd of bankers and business men and lawyers
hired the sluggers and murderers who put Jesus out
of the running.

I say the same bunch backing you nailed the nails into
the hands of this Jesus of Nazareth. He had lined
up against him the same crooks and strong-arm men
now lined up with you paying your way.

This Jesus was good to look at, smelled good, listened
good. He threw out something fresh and beautiful
from the skin of his body and the touch of his hands
wherever he passed along.
You slimy bunkshooter, you put a smut on every human
blossom in reach of your rotten breath belching
about hell-fire and hiccupping about this Man who
lived a clean life in Galilee.

When are you going to quit making the carpenters build
emergency hospitals for women and girls driven
crazy with wrecked nerves from your gibberish about
Jesus--I put it to you again: Where do you get that
stuff; what do you know about Jesus?

Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash
a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance.
Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your
nutty head. If it wasn't for the way you scare the
women and kids I'd feel sorry for you and pass the hat.
I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when
he starts people puking and calling for the doctors.
I like a man that's got nerve and can pull off a great
original performance, but you--you're only a bug-
house peddler of second-hand gospel--you're only
shoving out a phony imitation of the goods this
Jesus wanted free as air and sunlight.

You tell people living in shanties Jesus is going to fix it
up all right with them by giving them mansions in
the skies after they're dead and the worms have
eaten 'em.
You tell $6 a week department store girls all they need
is Jesus; you take a steel trust wop, dead without
having lived, gray and shrunken at forty years of
age, and you tell him to look at Jesus on the cross
and he'll be all right.
You tell poor people they don't need any more money
on pay day and even if it's fierce to be out of a job,
Jesus'll fix that up all right, all right--all they gotta
do is take Jesus the way you say.
I'm telling you Jesus wouldn't stand for the stuff you're
handing out. Jesus played it different. The bankers
and lawyers of Jerusalem got their sluggers and
murderers to go after Jesus just because Jesus
wouldn't play their game. He didn't sit in with
the big thieves.

I don't want a lot of gab from a bunkshooter in my religion.
I won't take my religion from any man who never works
except with his mouth and never cherishes any memory
except the face of the woman on the American
silver dollar.

I ask you to come through and show me where you're
pouring out the blood of your life.

I've been to this suburb of Jerusalem they call Golgotha,
where they nailed Him, and I know if the story is
straight it was real blood ran from His hands and
the nail-holes, and it was real blood spurted in red
drops where the spear of the Roman soldier rammed
in between the ribs of this Jesus of Nazareth.
—Carl Sandburg

The second is from a far more deservedly obscure minor Midwest poet of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Come to Me, Sweet Jesus

“Come to me, Sweet Jesus!”
The TV preacher shouts,
     thumping his chest,
     waving his arms
     with the urgency and passion
     of a man whose toes
     have tapped on brimstone.

Which Jesus, I wonder casually,
     My thumb hovering over the remote
     eager to find the ballgame.

The Jesus on my childhood wall
     Wore long blonde hair
     tumbling shining to his shoulders
     like a Breck ad, gentle blue eyes,
     aquiline nose, a Nordic Jesus
     come to life in Jeffrey Hunter
     waiting the piercing stab
     of John Wayne’s Centurion lance.

I have since seen a Jesus
     of every imaginable sort—
          African Jesus dashikied in splendor,
          beardless Blackfoot Jesus in eagle feathers,
          Jesus with breasts and womb,
          American Guy Jesus,
          neat trimmed beard and curling hair
          like the Little League coach down the block.

What Jesus does this sweating man summon
     with his electronic worship music band
     and cathedral in the parking lot,
     pews filled with rapture
     in sports shirts and sundresses?

And who, when I shut my eyes,
     do I beckon when I murmur,
     “Come to me sweet Jesus?”
           A swarthy man,
                stocky built, barrel chested,
                muscular forearms bulging
                from the swing of the hammer
                matted with a thick curling pelt,
                nose large, lips fleshy,
                burnoose over raven hair,
                wrapped in dingy course cloth,
                callused bare feet
                black with the dust of the road.

I see a man.

Come to me, sweet Jesus,
     Let me wash your feet.

Patrick Murfin

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Seward Buys Alaska for Pocket Change and Lint

A typical anti-purchase cartoon.

Secretary of State William H. Seward, a hold-over from the Lincoln Administration in the cabinet of weak and unpopular President Andrew Jackson, concluded secret negotiations with envoys from Tsar Alexander II of Russia on March 30, 1867.  With a flourish of a pen he acquired Russian America, a huge territory encompassing 586,412 square miles occupying the northwest of North America.
Of course the interests and claims of the indigenous  peoples who had already been enslaved and abused by the Russians and who didn't recognize the land as the Tsar's to sell, were not considered at all.
Approved by Congress, not without controversy but in good time, the Treasury Department dutifully paid for the deal in full with a single check for $7 million, the equivalent of just a little over two cents an acre, virtual pocket change
From a narrow strip of land along the Pacific Coast it opened up into trackless lands of forest, rugged mountains, tundra, nearly perpetually snow and ice covered lands on the Arctic Sea.  Except along the coast and a string of fur trading posts the new land was vastly under populated with only about 2,500 Russians and creoles, and 8,000 native peoples under the direct government of the Russian fur company, and an estimated possibly 50,000 Inuits, Aleuts, and other native tribes in the vast ungoverned areas.  A once lucrative trade in sea otter, harbor seals, and other furs was petering out due to excessive harvesting.  The territory had no other known resources except for timber too remote to get to markets.
The Russians had staked a claim to the whole Pacific Coast as far south as Spanish held Yerba Buena—later San Francisco—based on the explorations of Vitus Bering and his successors beginning in 1741.  A lucrative fur trade was established and in 1799 the Russian-America Company was given exclusive rights and charged with governing. 
By the early 19th Century much of the area along the coast was being contested by claims by the British and Americans.  The British relied on activity by their Hudson’s Bay Company around Vancouver Island and the Americans on the explorations of Lewis and Clark and activity by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company.  The rivalry first centered on what became called Oregon.  The Russian agreed to a treaty with the Americans in the 1840’s that ceded their costal claims south of Vancouver.
The British, however, were a more troubling rival.  Not only had the Russia been at war with them in the Crimea from 1853-56, they were emerging as a global threat the Tsarist empire.  After gold was discovered along the Thompson River in 1858, the British established the Crown Colony of British Columbia to reinforce their claims on the mainland north of the recently settled border with American held Oregon abutting the already established Crown Colony of Vancouver (1849) on the island.  These territories began to fill with gold seekers and settlers, were soon fairly strongly garrisoned with troops and the natural harbors made a perfect base for the mighty Royal Navy.
In St, Petersburg, the Russian government determined that its North American possessions were indefensible in the event of new hostilities with Britain.  Feelers went out to both the British and Americans about a possible sale.  The British turned the offer down, probably believing that they would sooner or later come into possession anyway. Serious negotiations with the United States never got underway after the Civil War broke out.
The end of the war in the in U.S, coincided with a huge loan from the Rothschilds to the Tsar to pay off the debts of the Crimean War came due.  Short on cash and fearing default, the Tsar dispatched a high level team to Washington to negotiate a deal that would pay off the loan, or most of it, and checkmate British ambitions in the Northern Pacific.
The shrewd Steward recognized that he had the Russians over the barrel.  He needed to buy for a sum of money that would not require any borrowing on the US’s part and which could easily be paid in a lump sum out of Treasury reserves.  The Russians were forced to settle for $7 million, far less than they had hoped.
The history books would have us believe that the whole nation mocked Seward’s Folly as a wasteful, bad investment.  But it was actually mostly a noisy minority in the press who made the biggest stink.  Most Americans, if they paid attention at all, where more than happy to grab more land and pinch British Columbia on both sides.  Many believe that the purchase would lead to the eventual acquisition of the British colonies on the coast.  The sales treaty sailed through a Senate dominated by a Republican super majority, many of them Senators loyal to Seward, if not his erstwhile Democratic boss.
But the protesting press was loud and creative.  Alaska was denounced as a frozen wilderness not worth accepting even as a gift.  One unknowingly prescient editorialist said that the government would never recoup its investment unless gold was unexpectedly discovered at some distant time.
Of course gold was discovered, but not until 1898 when the Alaskan Gold Rush erupted.  By that time other Alaskan resources, particularly its fisheries, were also beginning to pay off.
But all of that was far in the future when Russian America became the U. S. Department of Alaska under the military governance of General Jefferson C. Davis—no, not the former Confederate President.  A ceremony in the muddy streets of Sitka on October 16, 1867 outside of the log Government House hauled down the Russian Double Eagle flag—after three soldiers had to be sent shinnying up the flag pole to cut it loose from a snag—and raised the Stars and Stripes .  A handful of American troops and ships in the harbor rattled off a ragged salute.
The Russian residents and Creoles were supposed to be given three years to take American citizenship or return to their homeland.  But General Davis ordered most Sitka residents evicted from their homes to make way for Americans and general lawlessness soon overtook the district.  Most Russians packed up their belongings and headed home on the first overcrowded ships available. 
In the end the massive natural resources of Alaska including not only gold, but copper and other metals, fisheries, timber, and at last oil and natural gas, made Steward’s investment one of the shrewdest in history.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Quixotic Eugene McCarthy

The gentleman scholar of American politics Eugene McCarthy was born March 29, 1916 in Watkins, Minnesota.  His father was an Irish cattle buyer and local Postmaster—a political appointment—known for his humor and storytelling.  His mother was from German stock and intensely religious.  He was raised in a devoutly Catholic home and educated in the local parochial school before going to St. John’s College Prep in Collegeville, Minnesota
The school was operated by the Benedictine Monks of St. Johns Abby, who deeply influenced the young man.  They encouraged his natural scholarly bent.  He entered the Abby as a novice following graduation in 1931.  After nine months he reluctantly concluded that he did not have the vocation and left.  But he so impressed his fellow novices that one observed sadly that his departure was “like losing a twenty game winner.”
McCarthy didn’t go far.  He enrolled in St. John’s University in Collegeville under the same leadership. 
After graduating with distinction in 1935, he became a public school teacher serving rural schools in South Dakota and Minnesota.  He also pursued advanced education at the University of Minnesota where he earned a master’s degree in 1939.  He took his new degree back to his beloved St. John’s where he was professor of economics and education from 1940 to ’43.
McCarthy left academia to participate in the war effort as a civilian technical assistant in the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department.
In June 1945 he married Abigail Quigley, another academic.  Together they briefly returned to Watkins were they lived on a farming commune for Catholic couples before each resumed their careers.  Together they would have four children.
McCarthy resumed teaching as a professor of sociology at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul.  He also became active in the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.  In 1948 the Party tapped him for its nomination to Congress from the 4th District.  That was the same year fellow Minnesotan Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey rose to national prominence with a speech at the Democratic National Convention demanding a Platform Plank condemning segregation—the speech which caused the Dixiecrat Party split that year.  The two leading liberal’s careers would be intertwined ever after.
He entered the House of Representatives in 1949 just in time to see another McCarthy, Wisconsin Senator “Tail Gunner Joe” to rise to national prominence and launch the McCarthy Era hysterics. 
He was a hard working and respected Congressman noted for his liberalism, his professorial demeanor, and his interest in foreign policy.  Popular at home, he easily won re-election five times but was little known outside of his home state.
In 1958 he moved up to the Senate where he earned a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee.  McCarthy attracted national attention at the Democratic National Convention of 1960 when at the urging of Eleanor Roosevelt he gave an impassioned speech in defense of  Adlai Stevenson and rallied liberals to his standard.  Both he and Mrs. Roosevelt fully understood the powerful symbolism of a leading Catholic politician standing against the nomination of John F. Kennedy.  It was the beginning of a long and contentious relationship with the Kennedy family and their supporters.
By 1960 McCarthy began to be noticed for a series of serious political and policy books including Frontiers in American Democracy, Dictionary of American Politics, and A Liberal Answer to the Conservative Challenge.  He became an acknowledged egg head liberal leader of the Democratic Party.
In 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson, in need of a northern liberal running mate not tied to the Kennedys considered him for the nod, but opted for his fellow Minnesota senator Hubert Humphrey whose ebullient personality was considered better for the campaign than the sometimes dry McCarthy.
It was probably just as well for Johnson, because McCarthy was becoming increasingly disenchanted not only with the escalating War in Vietnam, but with the foreign policy assumptions that made such military interventions possible.   He laid those objections out in speeches on the Senate floor, in appearances on the Sunday morning news panel shows, and in a widely read book published in 1967 The Limits of Power: America's Role in the World.  Suddenly McCarthy was the leading and most coherent anti-war voice in Congress.
He was recruited by supporters of Oregon Senator Wayne Morse, one of only two Senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, to enter the 1968 Presidential Primaries against Johnson.  McCarthy somewhat reluctantly agreed expecting only to be able to bring the issue of the war to the fore and perhaps influence Johnson to change course.
McCarthy was as surprised as anyone when an army of college students and young people descended on the first primary state, New Hampshire to canvas the state door to door on his behalf.  Many came Clean for Gene, cutting long hair, shaving beards and adopting sport coats and ties and prim dresses.  McCarthy shocked the nation—and the White House—by placing second in the contest with 42% of the vote against Johnson 49%.  Perhaps more importantly, because the President had not bothered to slate delegates to the state convention which would in turn select delegates to the Democratic National Convention, McCarthy supporters won 20 of 24 spots and thus controlled the delegation.
The win spurred other actors to action.  Four days after the primary Senator Robert Kennedy, who despite despising Johnson had not believed he was vulnerable, announced his entry into the race, perhaps hoping that McCarthy would drop out in his favor.  On March 31 Johnson announced that he “would not seek and will not serve” a second term.
In the following primaries some of McCarthy’s early supporter did jump ship to Kennedy, who quickly put together a well oiled campaign.  But McCarthy and many of his loyal, idealistic followers steadfastly remained in the race. 
Vice President Humphrey, with impeccable liberal credentials but tied to Johnson’s war policy, entered the race too late to get in the primaries but with the support of almost the entire party establishment.  He began reaping delegates in the many states which still relied exclusively on state conventions and on elected officials at all levels who were automatic delegates.
Kennedy and McCarthy slugged it out an increasingly bitter race.  Kennedy won the crucial, delegate rich California primary but was assassinated following his acceptance speech.  Most of Kennedy’s supporters, instead of throwing their grieving support to McCarthy, backed South Dakota Senator George McGovern instead.  
McCarthy arrived at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago with more delegates from primary elections than any candidate, but that was only 20 % of the total.  The fight for the nomination on the convention floor was overshadowed by the demonstrations and massive police violence on the streets.  Many McCarthy supporters and delegates were swept up in the melees and in the early morning hours after the famous Battle of Michigan Avenue, police actually stormed McCarthy Conrad Hilton headquarters and beat staffers and demonstrators who were being sheltered there.

McCarthy declined to endorse Humphrey, but in October said he would personally vote for him over Richard Nixon and George Wallace.  Many of his idealistic supporters were radicalized by the experience.  McCarthy was embittered.
The senator declined to run for re-election in 1970 and even seemed to retreat from a high profile role in the chamber in his remaining two years.
But the presidential bug, once caught, is not easy to shake.  McCarthy tried once more to win the Democratic Party nomination in 1972. He fell far short and had to drop out well before the convention. 
While remaining a committed social liberal, he had also become increasingly distressed by the growing power of the Federal government over individual lives and had assumed libertarian positions on many issues. 
Despite this apparent turn to the right, his anti-imperialist foreign policy still had support from many on the left.  He abandoned the Democrats to run as an independent or under various state party titles in 1976.  He gained ballot access in 30 states and was a recognized write-in in two more.  In the end he garnered 740,460 popular votes—just under 1% of the total—finishing third in the election.
In his remaining years McCarthy was an increasingly isolated figure given to quixotic crusades that sometimes baffled former supporters.  He considered Jimmie Carter the worst President in history.  After flirting with the Libertarian Party, he endorsed Ronald Reagan in November 1980.  He was also a party to a Federal law suit with William F. Buckley, the Libertarians, and the American Civil Liberties Union, that struck down most existing limits on Federal campaign contributions as an abridgement of free speech.
McCarthy’s personal life was also disrupted in the ‘70’s.  He separated from his wife in 1970 but because of their strong mutual Catholic faith neither sought a divorce.  Now living in the Virginia countryside, he was rumored to be having a long term secret affair with a high level woman journalist.  Many suspected that it was columnist Shana Alexander.  But a recent biography revealed that his lover was CBS News correspondent Marya McLaughlin.  The affair continued until her death in 1998.
In 1992 McCarthy returned to the Democratic Party and campaigned once again in New Hampshire.  But NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw acting as moderator of a televised debate refused to allow him to participate because “he wasn’t a serious candidate,” conferring him to the margins with such figures at Billy Jack star Tom Laughlin.  It was a humiliating rejection and McCarthy subsequently withdrew from the race.
McCarthy died at the age of 89 of Parkinson’s disease in a Georgetown retirement home on December 10, 2005.
In one final, ironic insult, he was supposed to be memorialized with other prominent Democrats at the 1996 Democratic Convention.  But his photo in the montage displayed to delegates and TV viewers was identified as “Senator Joseph McCarthy.”—the name of the infamous Republican anti-communist.  In the end the Democrats could hardly remember who he was.