Tag Archives: Trump

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The French Underground

french-resistance-monument
Monument to the French Resistance, Chartres

In the 1940s the term “French Underground” was akin to the French Resistance, which operated underground mostly in a figurative sense—je ne dis rien du égout ou catacombes parisennes. The Resistance sought to help the allies drive the Germans out of Paris, out of France altogether. The French had become strangers in their own land, working against an evil government that had wrongfully appropriated their own country, wrongfully appropriated their principal city, and in many cases, their goods, their livelihoods. There were reports of women raped, houses looted, automobiles confiscated. What had been theirs before was theirs no longer. So the ablest and bravest among them went underground to work against the foe.

When I was in Paris this time—I just got back from Europe two days ago, only to discover Donald Trump surprisingly having been elected to become the forty-fifth president of the United States—I experienced a different kind of French underground, though the more I thought about it, the less different it seemed. I had been invited by a dear friend named Maria to join her in visiting a church that she was familiar with but that she had hitherto herself never visited. The reason for that was, oddly enough, because she is a member of a home church group, metaphorically speaking its own kind of underground movement.

The church we attended was no more an edifice than Maria’s home church. Rather, it met in the basement of an office building, which, I am assuming, they either rent or are granted access to because someone in the group works for the company that owns the building. In any case, entering the church was strangely and wonderfully covert. A woman met us in the street. “Are you Maria?” she asked.

Oui,” I answered for both of us, but the woman looked at me in a puzzled fashion, at which point, of course, I directed my gaze and my index finger toward the real Maria.

Satisfied, as if we had given some coded response to a coded answer, she led us inside, through a courtyard, down some stairs where we were met by another Christian, who led us down yet another flight of stairs under the courtyard to thtea-and-cookiee rather ordinary subterranean room that served as a makeshift triplex of narthex, nave and apse, though it itself was but a relatively small square room. A table held a few items associated with Christianity—a party string with the name J-E-S-U-S in gold-colored letters hanging from it, a cross, and some brochures, I think, along with cookies and a coffee pot for the after-service fellowship, which really was more like an after party and went on quite a long time. There I was delighted to meet a charming, young Russian woman studying hotel management in Paris. I would love to tell you more about her but I can’t, as she is member of the Resistance.

Before that, of course, the service itself was held. It began with a prayer, a few minutes for a friend of Maria to share about God’s recent provision of a job and His general sovereign kindness in her life, and lots of singing; several contemporary hymns in both French and English; more of the former, of course. Then, after several such lively hymns, another prayer and a sermon—a good but rather long one—on Martha and Mary. This theme was familiar to me and perhaps to a few others, though probably not as familiar to all, as the congregation there was very young and they had surely not heard as many sermons as I have. At the end, another prayer and that was it. No, I was not expecting any liturgy—quel dommage—but yes, I was expecting another hymn to end the event. But there was none. De gustibus non

Yet now I return to how this French underground church, quite literally underground, is akin to the French Underground of the occupation of France during the Second World War. Hitler’s idea had been to appropriate the beauty of France—indeed he looted many city’s artistic treasures and had them brought to Berlin or held in other secret locations in Germany. He wanted to take what was great about France from the French, make it his own, and force the French, the rightful owners of their own country, their own democratic government, their own staples of wine and cheese, and their own rich artistic cultural heritage, to serve the German government, to serve the German people, and ultimately to serve Adolf himself.

And that is precisely what has happened to Christianity in France. Secularism has taken from it some form of morality, has taken from it ideas whose origins, in purest form, are the property of the church—such as the concepts of true and unadulterated justice, honor, freedom—and degraded them. Then, secular society there (and, by the way, in my own country and many other lands as well) twists the moral code to fit its own purposes. It starts by appropriating the church’s language, the language of love. It redefines love so that it primarily means sex. It reconfigures the term “family” so that it means virtually anything at all, it corrupts fairness, it restricts parental responsibility, and it redefines even (and perhaps especially) the word recreation, which now comes to serve as a way of obviating someone of responsibility (to wit recreational sex, recreational drug usage) cocaineinstead of it meaning what it is supposed to mean: re-creation, refreshing behavior. (The image that occurs to me when I hear the phrase “friends with benefits,” for example, is far from refreshing.) And that is but the tip of a very, very deep iceberg, when it comes to the pillaging of the church by secular society.

And that is why the opportunity to worship with the new French Underground was so exciting, even if the lack of liturgy (and likely deficiency of appreciation of church history that is incumbent upon such a dearth) and the absence of traditional hymnody are not to my taste. Still, the entire event was pure excitement for me, for I felt as if, at least just for one day, I was participating in that movement against the secular regime and its ultimate power structure, for which, unlike John Milton and Mick Jagger, I have little sympathy.

And all this happened just a few days before Mr. Trump was elected. In regard to him, let me share in closing a small warning that I was asked to bring back from France. The French have jestingly told me that, if he misbehaves as president of the United States, they plan to change the spelling of the word tromperie, which ironically means “deception,” to trumperie. Or maybe, though it is difficult for them to pronounce the ‘h’ sound, they will call Airforce One “Hairforce One.” Yet the church I visited is not wofrench-resistance-radio-largerried about the guile or rabid, grasping secularism of humankind, for in the midst of this new conflict with the society around them, they have a means of communication with their own true Leader, as if by a wireless telegraph machine that allows the new French Resistance to communicate with the allies or at least their principal Ally.  That communication begins  two flights underground but can be heard in the Highest of Realms, whence that Leader replies in His own coded messages. It was indeed a delight to join the French Resistance for one day and to hear those wireless messages going back and forth. Vive la Resistance, et vive le Roi vrai!hair-force-one

 

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Pocahontas, Turtles, and Justice

Pocahontas statue
Statue of Pocahontas

It has been an interesting week in America. So I thought I would write a blog that reflected my perception of the past few days. I begin with Pocahontas, who has been in the news because one candidate has decided to call another politician—Elizabeth Warren, not a candidate per se, but perhaps surreptitiously campaigning for a vice presidential nod—by that noble name. Now I am not advocating the insouciant use of the names of historical figures to describe just anyone at any time; but I did find it rather droll that the leading republican candidate underscored Ms. Warren’s apparently tenuous claim to Native American ancestry by using a historical reference that is politically incorrect yet somehow amusing. What to my mind makes that so? I am not sure, and I am still pondering my love–hate relationship with both of the leading candidates for president in the upcoming American election. Or maybe I just have a love–hate relationship with the democratic society we live in, and it has been distilled into my views of both the leading candidates. I don’t know. But I like Pocahontas, at least what I know of her, which is in part legend (or is it history, since it largely comes from John Smith’s own account), of her having intervened with her own tribe when that captain was taken prisoner by the Tsenacommacah in 1607. At about the tender age of 11, she allegedly offered her own head for Smith’s when her father, the chief of the tribe, was about to execute him.[1]

Now I rehearse this tale because the Pocahontas remark would work much better were Elizabeth Warren to understand and empathize with the views of her political opponents, as Pocahontas empathized with John Smith; or if Elizabeth Warren did something really heroic (like offer her head for Donald Trump’s). But maybe in attacking the republican nominee on twitter (how divinely Hicthcockian) she could be viewed as taking the blame for the attacks of the Clinton camp—yet they seem to do their own attacking well enough. But enough politics, enough history, and on to something else: turtles.

turtles
Assembly of Turtles

I turn to turtles next because I like them, even though they have been blamed recently for spreading salmonella. It is the title of the article that reported this contagion that grabbed me: “Salmonella Outbreaks are Being Caused by Turtles.” I suppose, given that it is in the passive voice, I should have been more alarmed by that, as many expository writing professors and tips-for-writing websites these days, have blacklisted the passive voice. Now the title of the article sounds delightfully diabolical, doesn’t it? I can just imagine the Synod of Turtles gathering somewhere to discuss their sinister plans for the coming year—ways to get back at inattentive human beings for outrages such as turtle soup or “shell games,” which they misperceive as always referring to turtle shells, or the like. “Let’s spread salmonella,” one of the more aggressive turtles says! The stenographic turtle asks for clarification, “How is salmonella spelled?”

“Will you stop with that accursed passive voice?” the turtle leader retorts (not realizing that “accursed” is itself a passive participle). “We must retaliate for that new flavor of ice cream made out of the bodies and shells of our brothers and sisters around the world. Let us smite them with germ warfare!” (Elaine Jake’s favorite flavor [or really confection] of ice cream was turtle crunch. I will ever hold the memory of taking her to Katie’s Custard in Beverley Hills, Texas, for a turtle sundae as dear and cherished.)

Justice statue
Statue Representing Justice

Finally, and much more seriously, I come to justice. I close with this because I wanted to suggest that while it is perhaps not the most important value in life—charity, mercy and forgiveness have to rank up there with it—it is close. In fact, the three just mentioned can only make sense if there is such a thing as justice. Now sometimes, we forget about these three when we seek justice. Sometimes we are so fixated on obtaining justice that nothing but justice, even retribution—“making someone pay,” clouds our perception and obfuscates mercy. That may have happened this week when a major university president was relieved of his post because of the evil behavior of some students on his campus. These students did the unspeakable, they committed rape. Nothing good came or could ever come of their actions, nothing good was intended by it. They felt empowered because they were athletes. Should their coach have known about their attitudes toward women? Yes, I suppose in a sense he should have, and he should have shown them a better way. Or he should never have allowed them on his team in the first place. But the college president is not down in the trenches the way a coach is. I only ask whether mercy could have been shown. There is perhaps no obvious answer to those of us who only saw this story from afar. But there is the perception, specifically one of overcorrection, for it is hard to see how a college president can be held responsible for the actions of all of his

Mercy statue
Statue Representing Mercy

students. Could he have done more to prevent it? Well, the people around him probably could have; but unless he micromanaged, he could not have prevented it. And in any case, assuming that there is an easy fix for sins as egregious as rape is, to my mind, naïve.

 

But I should perhaps stick with sweet themes such as turtle ice cream or politically incorrect themes such as Pocahontas, to whom I return now, in closing. The point I think that Mr. Trump was trying to make is that, as another vice presidential candidate (Lloyd Bensten) once said, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Change the words Jack Kennedy to Pocahontas and you get the gist, though it would date Mr. Trump a few years.

PC 94 not dated, ca. 1942 Ensign John F. Kennedy, USN, in South Carolina, circa 1942. Photograph in the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.
Ensign John F. Kennedy, USN, in South Carolina, circa 1942.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day, my readers. Please remember those who, like John F. Kennedy, served our country nobly in the military, risking all, suffering harm, and in many cases fearlessly forfeiting their lives so we could enjoy this noble day.

Memorial day graves

[1] https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/pocahontas-her-life-and-legend.htm. Some six years later the Indian princess was herself captured by Captain Samuel Argall and used as a bargaining chip to secure prisoners and weapons that her father had taken in raids on the English. During her incarceration she encountered some who brought her to an understanding of Christianity and she eventually converted and the next year she married tobacco planter John Rolfe, though she would die by the age of twenty-two. The precise cause of her early demise is not known.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Opossum Logic & Safe Spaces

opossum

The phrase “o possum” in Latin means “Oh, can I!” possumYet this has nothing to do with the animal opossum, whose name among the scientific community is the far less catchy and harder to say didelphimorphia. The common name opossum is actually derived from a Native American dialect (Algonquian) meaning “white dog.”

Opossums, as you probably know, are marsupial omnivores. They walk with flat feet and are oddly resistant to snake bites. Even rattlesnakes cannot rattle them—they simply answer with an “Oh, I can resist you!” Even cottonmouths, said by some to be the most deadly of North American snakes, cannot kill them. Their chorus is always the same, “Oh, I can take it!”cottonmouth

I am thinking of these fine marsupials because I saw a family of them pass through my yard this week. They are cute as can be. I have heard that some types are actually domesticated, though I have never met anyone with a pet opossum. And, by the way, they do not sleep hanging by their tails. That is just a rumor presumably started by those who fear bats. But, they do “play possum.” While their first reaction to danger is to hiss like a cat, when deeply frightened, they can actually fall asleep for up to four hours and their body instinctively takes over, pretending that it is that of a dead animal. Their instincts make them secrete a terrible smelling liquid from their anal glands, and their lips curl back like those of a lifeless animal, leaving their teeth bared and showing some foaming saliva. Yet do not worry, for opossums are also quite resistant to rabies and rarely contract the disease.

Now why, you might wonder, am I taking so much time to delineate the particular features of an animal whose name has as much to do with the Latin “Oh I can!” as the Titanic’s has to do with Santa Claus, men’s formal dress and sunbathing. I am doing so because, of course, I find these animals fascinating. Their innate and unconscious capacity to play dead is intriguing to me: If only more nations would exercise such restraint when provoked by an aggressor. And the fact that they do not sleep by hanging from their tails—well that’s interesting, too, simply because of the misinformation that I received in fourth grade. Where did my teacher, Mrs. Hendrickson, get that inaccurate description of these creatures? How did it go viral back in the days when nothing could do so because there was no Internet? Further, opossums are migratory. They don’t tend to stay in one place, unless they happen to have a good supply of food and water there. It stands to reason, but who knew?

gravity movie imageBut the title of this blog mentions the notion of safe spaces, as well. Though these have been in the news quite a bit lately, few of my readers are likely to be deeply concerned with the concept or practice, so removed as it may seem from our everyday life. On the light side, there are some obvious problems with the term, right off the bat: one need only rent the movie Gravity to ascertain immediately that space is certainly not a safe place. Yet, of course, this is not what is meant by this term. Its deeper meaning has been a topic very much in the news and is no laughing matter.

Recently the Washington Post reported that students at Emory felt unsafe because someone had written pro-Trump slogans in chalk on some of the pavements of the university.[1] trump sloganThese were merely slogans that, as far as I could tell from the photograph, said, “TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP” or ” TRUMP 2016.” Also recently, students at Oberlin demanded increased and more diverse—though someone might cogently argue less so—safe-space havens on campus.[2] Last fall a number of students at Yale surrounded and berated a faculty master, whose very title has been deemed racist,[3] to tell him what a poor job he was doing because he had suggested in an email that they not be too put out by the possibility that some Halloween costumes can be deemed offensive, should they happen to see one.

batman costume with captionIndeed, Halloween costumes are often offensive, and are meant to be so. This possibility, of course, offended some at Yale. But more offensive to them, apparently, was the suggestion that someone should ignore or write off as “in poor taste” Halloween costumes that were, in fact, in poor taste. The idea that merely ignoring, rolling one’s eyes at, or even snarkily retorting in passing to those wearing such costumes might in and of itself be an adequate way to deal with such offense set off a firestorm. To suggest as much was, it seemed, a violation of the notion of the safe space, the “home,” as one student called it, that Yale is expected by those students (or at least one student) to create for its constituents. Students are, it seemed to be argued, entitled to feel safe and secure at college. The very notion that something or someone could challenge that was not deemed tolerable to a number of the students.

According to the New York Times, the faculty master/lecturer has since left Yale,[4] an outcome no doubt seen as a great victory for those students. Yet, I wonder, had any of them ever considered the opossum? The opossum resists the bites even of venomous snakes. The opossum hisses when mildly threatened, but when greatly threatened simply plays dead and is left alone. opossum hissingThe opossum moves on, if necessary, the opossum is not known for being an attack animal. No one has ever heard of a “ferocious opossum.”[5] An opossum would not cost a young lecturer and his wife a job at Yale. An opossum would not demand a safe space; he would simply persist; he would hiss if necessary; under duress, he would simply play dead. And, whether hanging from his tail or not, he would be able to go to sleep at night with a good conscience, because he did all that he needed to do to keep himself safe, and he had done so decorously by animal standards, instead of acting out on feelings of entitlement and a false sense of temporary power. Opossums rarely have such feelings, I imagine. That’s why we like them.

I truly feel sorry for those young folks who feel so empowered now, especially after gaining their victory over their faculty —if the term still exists at Yale—master. There’s just a chance that when they leave the safe confines of the safe spaces of their safe university they won’t feel so empowered or so enabled, or even so safe. Will they be able, like the opossum to say, “Oh, can I!” when they try to tackle their first big assignment on their first job? And even if they do say something like that, will they in fact be so able as to get the job done without accusing their boss or co-workers of upsetting their safe space, puncturing the fragile casing of their feelings? However it may go for them, I hope for their sake, they eventually realize that they were not so smart as they thought. That ruining someone’s career over a Halloween costume is, well, not opossum-like, but asinine. Perhaps it’s something worse. Perhaps it’s downright bestial.opossum with babies

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/03/24/someone-wrote-trump-2016-on-emorys-campus-in-chalk-some-students-said-they-no-longer-feel-safe/

[2] http://twitchy.com/2016/01/22/amazing-oberlin-president-says-no-to-students-list-of-demands-including-black-only-safe-spaces/

[3] http://dailycaller.com/2015/08/17/yale-professor-seeks-to-abolish-the-word-master/

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/08/us/yale-lecturer-resigns-after-email-on-halloween-costumes.html?_r=0

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ffqi99qZyXA