Monday, March 27, 2017


A long time ago, I worked for a couple of carpenters. One of my jobs was to construct frames for pouring concrete. Every time we needed a slab, I had to first build a sturdy frame, complete with strong wire to keep the sides from bulging and then lay in reinforcing rebar. When the concrete truck came, I held my breath until I was assured that the frame would hold. It always did. As soon as the concrete set, I tore down my handiwork and snipped the snag-ends of wire.

Such a frame works as a metaphor for integrity. If our “frame” or worldview is sound (well-constructed, reinforced and wired up snugly) what is poured in will adhere and set satisfactorily. In other words, integrity means having a strong framework to hold true to who we are. Without such a framework, we would be scooping up splattered and meandering ideas, never satisfied with the results. For me, the Christian worldview—that God made us and has an eternal purpose for our existence—is the only satisfactory one. Without it, I would be scooping up splattered and meandering ideas. We see a lot of scooping in contemporary thought. Many newspaper editorials come to mind as well as the pontification of other media gasbags.

Like Daniel of old, we live in an alien kingdom where people are put off by our worldview. If we can have discussions on a level above twitter and texting, we often find that even the scoopers have a Christian worldview imbedded so deeply as to be invisible—to them at least. It takes a lot of faith to be an atheist—faith in your own reasoning power.

Daniel did not want to eat the food of Babylon because he suspected it had been sacrificed to idols, so he worked it out that he and his friends ate only vegetables. His three friends did not want to bow down to the huge idol Nebuchadnezzar had erected because their worldview told them to bow only to the Hebrew God. They were thrown into a furnace for not bowing but came out smelling sweet. The Chaldeans worked it out with Darius to issue an irrevocable law that people could only pray to him, knowing full well that Daniel prayed openly every day facing Jerusalem. For this, he was thrown to the lions but came out unscathed. His accusers were then thrown in and they were not so fortunate.

Similarly, our Christian worldview means that we stick to our guns. But it means more than that. We should love God, love our neighbor, teach others about our faith, obey the commands of Jesus based on love, take care of the poor, widows and orphans. Micah 6:8 tells what God requires: Be merciful, love justice, walk humbly with your God. Do no harm by any word or deed; do good wherever there is need; remain attentive to the Bible; stay in love with God. This later is not easy—for me it requires fellowshipping with likeminded believers in the context of church.

Monday, March 20, 2017


Folks exhibit a primordial need to gather together occasionally. This fact was confirmed in my study of primitive peoples at Berkeley. I watched a lot of ethnographic documentaries about such gatherings, the most interesting of which concerned the Yanomami of South America. Even after groups of Yanomami fission into multiple tribes, headmen feel the need to reconnect and arrangements are made for reunions. Many of these get-togethers are highly ceremonial: warriors don fierce costumes; women display foods; children find fresh playmates; machetes and blowguns are exchanged.

I mused on this facet of human existence during the recent Jonquil Festival at Old Washington. Food vendors and trinket peddlers were joyous in their profitable work as strangers, potential customers, moiled about. I, even I, your humble columnist, moiled awhile and purchased a bamboo flute and a burger and fries. The burger reminded me of the county fair food of my youth. The mournful tone of the flute takes my imagination to some remote place, full of the throb of recollection.

Thousands of people attended the famous Old Washington event and Saturday the park was virtually clogged with all sorts and conditions of people and dogs. The poor animals had that “let-me-out-of-here” look on their sad faces. I admired their benign acceptance of bizarre human behavior.

But, what about the jonquils? It is, after all, a festival celebrating this wonderful flower. Well, there were still some left, maybe 30 percent. As you know, we have had a most unusual phase of weather in the late winter. The little yellow flowers started showing up in early February. I saw one vendor selling bulbs, but people were not flocking to buy them. I guess they know that there are old home places around with grown-over yards full of them.

Our yard still has a few, though they are browning a bit. Our house, built by the writer Claud Garner in 1918, is smack in the middle of everything and, as we sat on our screened-in porch for respite, watching the great variety of bipeds and quadrupeds stroll by, an elderly man (my age) saw us, came up our walk and said, “I’ll sit and talk to you all for a while.” He did so. We enjoyed getting acquainted, even hearing his heart about the recent passing of his wife.

Shortly, I saw a couple of professors, former colleagues, and I beckoned to them to come to the porch for a visit. It was great to see these folks again. We reconnected and solved all the problems of contemporary higher education in less than 15 minutes. Too bad no one took notes.

As the scholarly couple left, an octogenarian lady came up the walk. She had gotten separated from her convalescent group bussed in for the event and wanted to see our house. I gave her a tour.

After the festival, we went to a multiple-church supper and both my appetite and the human need to connect were cloyed. I want to be alone for a while now.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Wall

In commenting on humanity’s leanings towards exclusivity, the poet John Ciardi wrote, “Everyone in my tribe hates everyone in your tribe.” He apparently wanted to convey the idea that we group ourselves into clans of various sorts and try to keep outsiders out. Love lives in the clan, but will not go beyond it. In fact, often clans deny the humanity of those outside them.

I saw that tendency in primitive people groups while spending time with ethnographic documentaries at Berkeley. In one film, an anthropologist asked the chief of a remote tribe if he could himself participate in a tribal ceremony. The response was, “No, you are not a human being.” You see, the name of the tribe translated as “human being.” There was no way at all for an outsider to become an insider. Of course, we have seen this mindset play out in more “civilized” societies as well. It is as if we build walls to keep those who belong in IN and those who don’t OUT.

Robert Frost’s famous poem, “Mending Wall,” is about the phenomenon. I have heard people use a quotation from the poem, “Good fences make good neighbors,” as if Frost was arguing for good fences or walls. However, the poem argues just the opposite—good fences do not make good neighbors and before one builds a wall, the poet points out that he or she must consider what is being walled in or out.

“Mending Wall” is a dialogue between an apple orchardist (the narrator) and a neighbor who owns a pine forest. Every spring Mr. Pine insists that the two property owners walk the line to repair the rock wall that separates their acreage. Mr. Orchard does not see why they need a wall, seeing that neither has animals to keep in or out, and he says so. Mr. Pine, though, repeats what his father always said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Frost says with a wink of irony that Mr. Pine likes having thought of it so well. Actually he has not thought deeply about it at all. The poet contends that Mr. Pine will not go behind his father’s saying. That is, he will not evaluate the old saying in the light of contemporary circumstances.

Accepting old adages or aphorisms too readily without thinking through them is a problem in our day. For example, I have heard people say of a vacuous-minded acquaintance that still water runs deep. Really though, he is quiet because there is nothing going on in his head to draw from. Besides, even the saying is inaccurate, because still water does not run at all—it is still.

So, we must go behind our fathers’ sayings. We should not accept slogans or sayings too easily, no matter how longstanding. The kind of help mankind needs right now is the kind that acknowledges the commonality of our hearts. Fully aware that there is hate in our world that threatens us on every level, we cannot forget the power of love, the kind that casts out fear.