In his Pulitzer Prize winning The Colonial Mind 1620-1800, published in 1928, Vernon Parrington writes an interpretation of the life and career of Massachusetts colonial Governor Samuel Sewall (1652-1730.)
In addition to being governor during the trials, Sewall was one of the three judges. 20 people were put to death as a result of the trials.
In Parrington’s view, Sewall was a figure mostly resistant to change who in many ways was representative of a transition between an English and theocratic Massachusetts Bay Colony to the more open and democratic ways of the New England Yankee. It was this Yankee type that would play such a large role in the Revolution.
A somewhat contrasting view of Sewall is offered in a new book about the governor called Salem Witch Judge: The Life and Repentance of Samuel Sewall. In this book, which I’ve not read, author Eve LaPlante seeks to show Sewall as man who spent much of his life after the Witch Trials trying to atone for his acts.
The information I have on the LaPlante book comes from a review in the New York Times.
Sewall retains some fame today for serving as Governor during the trials and for having kept a detailed diary.
Said Parrington about Sewall, his diary and his times—
The diary of Samuel Sewall not only narrates the homely activities of Boston in the evening of the theocracy…but it unconsciously reveals the transformation of the English Puritan to the New England Yankee. The sober Boston citizens who on the Sabbath…took notes of long sermons, on weekdays plied their gospel of thrift with notable success. They loved their meeting house as their fathers had loved it, but they were the sons and grandsons of tradesman, and true to their English instincts they set about erecting a provincial mercantile society, dominated by the ideas of the little capitalist.
Of this rising world of mercantilism, Samuel Sewall is a worthy representative. A Puritan magistrate and village capitalist, he made full use of his opportunities to worship God, thrive and rise….”
Sewall married a woman who had a rich father, attended to his duties and his business ventures with hard work and diligence and rose to be Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Says Parrington—
“He understood how desirable it is to put money in one’s purse; so he made a great alliance and proved himself a shrewd husbandman as well as a kind husband. From commerce and land speculation and money lending and the perquisites of his many offices, he accumulated steadily until his wealth entitled him to be regarded as one of the first citizens of Massachusetts.”
While noting Sewall’s opposition to slavery and to the death penalty in cases of counterfeiting, Parrington does not see much growth in Sewall’s capacity for open-minded thinking over the long span of his life.
Parrington ends on Sewall by noting the better aspects of nature—
“Happily there is another and pleasanter side to the character of Samuel Sewall….It was his neighborliness that made him so representative of the leveling tendencies of provincial village life, an easy comradeship with man of all conditions. Sewall is the first Yankee who reveals the native kindness of the New England Village… Growing more human with the ripening years, yet instinctively conservative…he reveals the special bent of the New England character…a practical race that was to spread the gospel of economic individualism across the continent.
While Parrington was most interested in Sewall’s overall character, the LaPlante book appears focused more on the Witch Trials and sees Sewall’s life afterwards as an effort to repent having a hand in sentencing the accused witches to death.
The Times’ reviewer, Temple University history professor David Waldstreicher, says Sewall’s more personal story may have been lost over the years “beneath the quest for the Puritan mind.” That might, or might not, be a reference to Parrington specifically. Though in any case, it does seem to get at what LaPlante is trying to accomplish in her book.
Sewall had four young children die before the 1692 trials. Salem Witch Judge begins with Sewall watching over a dying newborn at 4 AM. It’s suggested that these deaths may have made Sewall think more about his own sins.
Maybe that was indeed the case, though some pretty bad people people in history have had family tragedies and have cared about their own families. It’s easy to care about your own family.
Sewall is said by LaPlante to not have doubted the guilt of those accused of being a witch at the time of the trial. His own minister, Samuel Willard, had doubts, in time, and eventually disinvited Sewall from private prayer meetings.
From the review—
In 1697, at a public fast day service, he handed..Willard… a sheet pf paper to read out…He asked “pardon of men” and God for his role in the trials…after the confession he experienced ” spiritual relief” in Laplante’s words, but nevertheless began to wear a makeshift hair shirt. Within a few years he showed a more pacific attitude towards the Indians and published an important early antislavery tract, the first to appear in print in North America. He was thinking big, despite having been humbled.
Professor Waldstreicher comments that LaPlante should have made more out of the political and social climate at the times of Sewall’s initial acceptance of the charges and his later repentance. Sewall was, after all, a politician.
The final conclusion of the reviewer as he took from the book was that by concern for the rights of Indians and slaves, Sewall had at least been able to take a bad act and transform it into some good for others.
Was that enough? A few years ago in my life I would have said it was not enough. As I get a little older, I’d be less certain of that response today.
The painting is called Judge Samuel Sewall. It was painted by John Smybert in 1729.
This is the 500th Texas Liberal post. While not a big deal for you the blog reader, I’d like to comment.
500 posts is not a lot for some blogs, yet it is still quite a bit of work.
I enjoy blogging and I’m thankful to have the ability and the time to communicate with others.
Three important things we have in life are our relationships, our values and the ability to communicate.
Since the beginning of October I’ve run just under 400 page views a day according to my WordPress stats. That’s good I’d say. I appear to still be moving up in traffic. My goal is 1000 page views a day at some point in 2008 and to take it from there.
If you like Texas Liberal, please forward the link to somebody you think might feel the same way. The internet may seem like mass communication, but you build an audience for a blog one–by one–by one.
There are a few of my entries I’d like to link to that I feel, for various reasons, have some merit. ( At the bottom of this post I’ll mention some other strong blogs. It’s no fun without other blogs.)
Malcolm, Martin & Liberals Like Myself is a brief overview of how I came to my outlook on politics and society. It describes why I’m often not at ease with people who might in some respects appear to be natural allies.
My Excellent Wife Wearing Wedding Dress And Holding Bowling Ball is a great post because it involves my wife. My wife is the best person in the world.
A Very Good Phone Call With Melissa Noriega is my favorite post about Texas politics. I went from skepticism about Houston Council candidate Noriega to an ongoing dialogue with someone who is now a friend and a sitting Councilmember.
Colonial Loyalists As Modern Conservatives With Bonus Tarring-And-Feathering Picture is a good post from the number of entries I’ve made on Colonial America.
As Liberal As I Am, If Hillary Clinton Is The 2008 Democratic Nominee I’ll Give Her My Strong Support lays out some of my views about the 2008 campaign.
I Tipped The Kid Who handed Me A Burrito $5 Because I Felt He Shared My Outlook And Might, With Time, Share My Values is a post that I hope suggests we can always be of help to good people.
People Have A Right To Define Family As They Wish is the post I’m most proud of on the blog. Every day I get search engine traffic from someone googling the term “define family” or “what is family.” I feel maybe this post has helped somebody.
Posts I’ve written have been linked to by Crooks and Liars , Slate, The Agonist, rebecca’s pocket and The Minneapolis Star-Tribune . I’ve been picked up by BlogBurst a number of times and those good folks have landed me at USA Today, The Austin-American Statesman and the Reuters News Agency.
Where’s The Outrage? is the home of the Errington Thompson podcast.
My thanks to Dwight Silverman at the Chronicle and Errington Thompson at WTO? in North Carolina for these opportunities.
South Texas Chisme does a very good job of conveying a lot of information in an efficient way while keeping a sense of humor.
I’d also like to note two blogs, on the opposite side of the aisle from myself in some respects, that were nice enough to recently place me on their blogrolls.
Bloggin’ All Things Brownsville is well-conceived and well-executed. I’ve had to find a voice for my blog. I think BATB knew what she was doing from the start.
And—Thanks to my friend Tito for the link from Custos Fidei. That link is, I think, another example of how people often sense they have something in common despite clear enough differences.
Also, closer to my side of the aisle, The Field Negro out of Philadelphia is well-tuned to my sensibilities. Thanks to that blog for the link.
Thanks George and Bill in Cincinati for all the comments and thanks to Citizen X for reading the blog. Thanks to many long-time friends who read the blog.
Thanks to super-smart Alex Ragsdale at the U. of Houston and thanks to her good friend Will who is studying at Georgetown. Both are bright young folks who will do great things.
Most of all—Thanks to everybody who has read Texas Liberal and thanks for the comments. As I mentioned up top, please consider sending this link to others as I work to grow Texas Liberal.
The illustration is of some type of pygmy Mastodon. The Mastodon is the state fossil of Michigan.
I Tipped The Kid Who Handed Me A Burrito $5 Because I Felt He Shared My Outlook And Might, With Time, Share My Values
A few days ago I ordered a burrito from the drive-up window of a Mexican take-out place here in Houston.
I drove up to the window after I made my order and the person working was a kid of maybe 17.
I assessed him based on my own experiences and outlook.
I felt this young person was someone who might have a creative temperament and nature. Also, he seemed kind.
This view was based on the entirety of his appearance and the way he spoke and carried himself.
I have a sympathy for the creative temperament and I took a liking to this person.
I felt he did not have the libertarian streak often found in younger creative-minded people. I felt he was someone who would pay his taxes.
It takes confidence and quality to have both a distinct personality and to have the willingness to accept that you are one person in a society of many.
I asked the young man where he went to school. He said he was a high school junior.
I asked him what he hoped to study in life. He said he might wish to study art.
I said I ‘d already thought that might be the case. He asked me why I’d reached that conclusion.
I tried to explain in the limited time before the next car drove up to order a burrito or a taco.
I said, in essence, it was the whole of his appearance and the way he spoke.
When I mentioned the part about how he talked, he said, without (much) defensiveness, that he was learning English.
I did not have time to say I was not referring to his accent and that I did not care what language he spoke.
The best short reply on my part would have been that he spoke with gentleness and with the suggestion of intellectual substance.
I gave the kid a $5 tip for handing me the burrito and said maybe it would help him buy an art book.
The young man seemed to go with both the conversation and the tip.
I did not tip him $5 because I’m a great person.
I did it because we must have loyalty not just to our friends and family, but also to those who share our general perspective and outlook and who, in the case of a younger person, might come to share our political and societal values.
This kid seemed to be on the right side of the aisle. It’s often a hostile world and we all need the support of kindred souls.
The painting above is a self-portrait of the 17th-century artist Artemisia Gentileschi.
There has been much marine life in the news in recent weeks.
Japan is undertaking a new whale hunt for “research.” It will be the first so-called legal hunt of Humpback Whales since 1963. Theoretically, the number of Humpbacks is now high enough to sustain a hunt.
It seems a restored population is in fact bad news for these whales. It is indeed hard to get ahead sometimes.
The photo is a Greenpeace file picture of previous Japanese research on whales.
Here is a story about a firm in Tokyo that offers “whale curry” as something for you to eat. Another product of the research no doubt.
A Minke Whale found its way far into the Amazon River. Local people tried to save it by splashing water on its back when it swam into shallow waters, and by attempting to use boats to push it back to the ocean. These efforts were not successful.
This BBC story relates that rivers and lakes that become brown after being clear may in fact be much more clean and natural. What was keeping some European and North American waterways clear was acid rain that was killing off what would otherwise turn the water a more healthy brown.
Here is a story from Practical Fishkeeping about an attack by billions of jellyfish on the only salmon farm in Ireland.
The jellyfish involved were Mauve Stinger Jellyfish.
Close to where I live, the former Texas A & M at Galveston floating classroom ship Texas Clipper has been sunk near South Padre Island so that it might become an artificial reef. This is reported by The Galveston County Daily News.
Here is a link to the great liberal magazine The Nation. I’ve linked it here to articles discussing the merits of the Democrats running for President in 2008.
Please consider becoming involved in politics and becoming a fighting liberal!
Ron Paul To The Left Of Three Texas U.S House Democrats?—Rating Texas U.S. House Delegation From Right To Left
I recently bought a copy of the 2008 The Almanac of American Politics.
It’s a big book. It has information about politics in Texas and across the nation. If you follow politics, this book is well worth the $74.95 cover price.
What better way to spend your time than reading about Ron Paul, Pete Sessions and Sheila Jackson Lee?
The Almanac profiles each member of the U.S House, Senate and all the Governors. For members of Congress, a rating computed by the National Journal magazine is used to rank each member on a liberal to conservative scale relative to other members of Congress.
The ratings in the 2008 Almanac take into consideration votes from the Congressional session of 2005-2006. Each member is rated between 0 and 99 on economic, social and foreign votes for both years. This is a total of six ratings from these three categories over a two year period.
I took the ratings, added them up and divided them by six to come up with an overall liberal rating for each U.S House member from Texas. It is somewhat depressing.
For example, my U.S Representative, John Culberson, voted on the liberal side of economic questions 26% of the time and 2005 and 32% in 2006. That might seem high and I wonder if some of it comes from protectionist votes from this immigrant basher. (Though I see he voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement.)
Mr. Culberson was at 0% on social issues for both ’05 and ’06 and at 11% on foreign issues in ’05 and 0% in ’06.
Add up these percentages, 26, 32, 0, 0, 11, and 0, and you get 69. Divide that by the six categories and you get a dismal 11.5%.
Here are the ratings for each member of the House from Texas along with their district, party affiliation and hometown as listed in The Almanac. The last number is the percentage of voters in 2004 who voted for John Kerry.
I have a few thoughts on Rep. Paul and a few others at the bottom of this post.
The list goes from right to left. (The left being such as it is in Texas.)
( Nick Lampson and Ciro Rodriquez, both Democrats, were not part of the last session and are not rated.)
30. Pete Sessions 3.5%—32, R, Dallas, Kerry 40%
30. Randy Neugebauer 3.5%—19, R, Lubbock, Kerry 23%
28. Sam Johnson 4.6%—3, R, Dallas, Kerry 33%
27. Kenny Marchant 8.3%—24, R, Cappell, Kerry 35%
26. John Carter 11.0%—11, R, Round Rock, Kerry 33%
25. John Culberson 11.5%—7, R, Houston, Kerry 36%
24. Lamar Smith 13.3%—21, R, San Antonio, Kerry 34%
23. Kevin Brady 14.3%—8, R, The Woodlands, Kerry 28%
22. Jeb Hensarling 14.7%—5, R, Dallas, Kerry 33%
22. Michael Burgess 14.7%—26, R, Highland Village, Kerry 35%
20. Joe Barton 15.6%—6, R, Ennis, Kerry 34%
19. Mike Conaway 17.0%—11, R, Midland, Kerry 22%
18. Mac Thornberry 17.5%—13, R, Clarendon, Kerry 22%
17. Louie Gohmert 19.3%—1, R, Tyler, Kerry 31%
16. Mike McCaul 19.7%—10, R, Austin, Kerry 38%
15. Kay Granger 21.8%–12, R, Fort Worth, Kerry 33%
14. Ralph Hall 22.0%—3, R, Rockwell, Kerry 30%
13. Ted Poe 25.0%—2, R, Humble, Kerry 37%
12. Henry Cuellar 53.3%—28, D, Laredo, Kerry 46%
11. Chet Edwards 56.0%—17, D, Waco, Kerry 30%
10. Solomon Ortiz 58.7%—27, D, Corpus Christi, Kerry 45%
9. Ron Paul 60.3%—14, R, Surfside, Kerry 33%
8. Silvestre Reyes 63.2%—16, D, El Paso, Kerry 56%
7. Gene Green 63.3%—29, D, Houston, Kerry 56%
6. Ruben Hinjosa 63.8%—15, D, Mercedes, Kerry 49%
5. Charles Gonzalez 68.7%—20, D, San Antonio, Kerry 55%
4. Al Green 76.3%—9, D, Houston, Kerry 70%
3. Sheila Jackson Lee 77.3%—18, D, Houston, Kerry 72%
2. Eddie Bernice Johnson 80.3%—30, D, Dallas, Kerry 75%
1. Lloyd Doggett 85.2%—25, D, Austin, Kerry 54%
Just a few observations—-
These ratings, a rough but accurate enough measure, do not really capture what Ron Paul is about. The economic Darwinism of libertarianism is right out of the jungle. Yet you see how Mr. Paul’s views on social issues and opposition to the Iraq War are fooling some on the left.
In a 30% Kerry district, I’d say Chet Edwards is doing his best.
It seems to me Gene Green, Al Green and Shelia Jackson Lee could move just a bit more to the left.
Pete Sessions seems somewhat out of step for even a 60% Bush district.
I know better days are ahead for Texas and for our U.S. House delegation.
Last week I visited the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens.
Admission to the Cincinnati Zoo is higher than at my local Houston Zoo. The Cincinnati Zoo is $13.50 for adults and $8 for kids 2-12. In Houston it is $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 2-11. In addition, it runs $6.50 to park on the grounds on the Cincinnati Zoo while all parking is free in Houston.
When I arrived in Houston in 1998, the zoo did not charge admission. That sent up a warning flag. The Cincinnati Zoo has long been recognized as one of the leading zoos in the country. I don’t know much about running a zoo—I know zero about running a zoo—but I’m sure it costs a lot of money.
My father said to me last week that zoos are ” A Guantanamo for animals.” That was a good line and has factual merit. But zoos are not going away and should have as a first concern good treatment of the animals.
Earlier this year, I visited the very large and well-known San Diego Zoo. Admission there was $33 for adults and $22 for children. If you want something decent, you have to pay.
During my recent Cincinnati Zoo visit, I could not help but notice the absence of a single black zoo patron. I’m sure some black folks did visit the zoo that day—it was a nice 70 degree day—But I did not see any.
While the Cincinnati Zoo is a regional attraction, Cincinnati is 50% black and the neighborhoods near the zoo are very black.
I see on the webpage of the Houston Zoo that students under the age of 19 who live in Houston city limits can go to the zoo for free on a school field trip. Cincinnati charges $5 for students.
The Cincinnati Zoo might have some progress to make on being more accessible to the local community.
As for Houston, I believe it should further raise admission and consider a schedule of discounted days for local residents. That is the only way it will become an institution worthy of such a large city.
As a kid, I was sometimes brought to the terrible Slater Park Zoo in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Here is an article about the mistreated Fanny the Elephant from that zoo. I recall that the Slater Park Zoo, now closed, was once featured on 60 Minutes in a segment about awful zoos.
The animal in the picture is an Okapi. These beasts are the only living relatives of the giraffe and live in central Africa. Please click here to learn more about this creature.
Here is a photo of the Chisholm Trail room at the Driskill Hotel in Austin.
You walk in to this meeting room and a big painting of the Chisholm Trail is on all four walls.
The Chisholm Trail was used between 1867 and 1884 to get cattle out of Texas and up to access to transport and markets in Kansas.
It can also be known as the Chisum Trail.
Here is information about Jesse Chisholm who, at the least, played a large part in establishing the trail.
Here is a biography of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm of New York. Ms. Chisholm was the first black woman to serve in Congress.
Here is a link to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, Oklahoma.
Here is a link to a story about the harm done to Native Americans in Oklahoma by white settlement.
Here is a brief biography of former House Speaker Jim Wright of Fort Worth.
And, since you are at a liberal blog, here is the link to the good liberal magazine The American Prospect.
Since I Like Everybody After A Few Drinks, I Tipped Bartender Well In Exchange For Miserly Whiskey Shot
Though a shot of whiskey I ordered last night here in Cincinnati was very miserly—scrooge-like really—, I tipped the bartender well. I felt doing so would be most consistent with the spirit of Thanksgiving.
Also, I pretty much like everybody after I’ve had a few drinks. I can’t sustain a negative thought for very long if I’m drinking. That is one of a number of reasons I drink only so often.
At the least, a more open personality would cut into my reading time.
I called my sister-in-law around 11:30 last night. Or was it midnight? I guess I could be accused of drunk dialing at that point. No problem though—for me at least— because that’s behavior I’ve been on the receiving end of and I approve of it fully.
If somebody wants to be friendly, I’ll take it and be glad somebody thought of me. It’s always the right time to be friendly.
I told the sister-in-law not to tell the wife I was calling at that hour. I’ll see if she kept her mouth shut when I call the wife and the wife’s family in Chicago after I finish writing this post.
I hope everybody reading this has had a nice Thanksgiving.
Here is a photo of the wife and myself in Austin last month. It’s the first photo of myself I’ve run in the blog. It might be the last one as well.
Still, it is always good to be seen with the wife. She is the best wife in the world.
I hope folks have a nice Thanksgiving.
Here is a link to a USA Today story about a woman who says the first Thanksgiving took place in St. Augustine, Florida.
The following is from American Colonies: The Settling of North America by Alan Taylor. It tells about the global economy in the 18th century as it impacted American colonists.
The effects of war, the easy movement of goods across the seas and immigrant labor have long made a difference in how people live. It also seems veterans have always been easy to discard when their service is completed.
“……the growing number….. of urban poor alarmed contemporaries. The poverty seemed especially glaring because it was such a contrast with the increasingly conspicuous wealth of the lawyers, merchants, and government officials in the seaports. According to tax records, in 1771 the wealthiest tenth of Bostonians owned more than 60% of the urban wealth, while the bottom three-tenths owned practically virtually nothing.
The growth in urban poverty reflected the greater transatlantic integration of the British Empire in the three ways. First, the imperial wars swelled the numbers killed, incapacitated or rendered alcoholic by military service. War widows, orphans, and cripples strained poor relief, especially in the cities, which attracted the most desperate people. Second, after 1763, emigration surged from Europe….flooding the seaports with poor newcomers, depressing wages ans swelling unemployment for all. Third the freer flow of credit, goods, and information across the Atlantic linked the colonies with the mother country in a shared market.
Increasingly tied to the metropolitan economy of Britain, the colonial seaports became more vulnerable to a boom-and-bust economic cycle. Market-driven unemployment compounded the more traditional cycle of cold-weather job loss. More entwined in a far-flung capitalist economy, the urban colonists could lose work at any time–whenever British creditors felt obliged to curtail credit and call for their debts, imperiling colonial merchants and artisans, and their laborers.”
Give Instant Lottery Ticket To White Castle Worker While Bronski Beat Is Playing And Everybody Is Happy
This evening I ordered a cup of coffee at the White Castle at the intersection of Central Parkway and Martin Luther King in Cincinnati. I did this at the drive-up window.
The young woman who served the coffee was very nice. She was so nice, I gave her one of the Turkey Tripler $1 instant lottery tickets I had in my coat pocket. Maybe, though not likely I admit, she will win enough money to cover her Thanksgiving dinner.
She seemed to appreciate my actions.
My rental car has satellite radio and I was listening to the 80’s new wave channel while ordering my coffee. I had my excellent interaction with the White Castle employee while Bronski Beat was playing.
They are not my favorite, but it was good enough.
It’s good when everybody is happy.
Service workers merit our respect.
Yesterday, walking on Fourth Street in Downtown Cincinnati, I ran into to someone I had not seen in at least ten years. I once knew this person well.
( The photo is of the 16 story Ingalls Building at the corner of Fourth Street and East Vine. It was built in 1903 and is the first reinforced concrete skyscraper in the world)
Visiting Cincinnati once or twice a year, I see many of the people I know best at intervals of months or years.
These people see me in the same way.
The person I saw yesterday, as you might suspect, was somewhat older than when I saw him last.
He was on his way to work and we talked for just a few minutes. For those few minutes, I could see him assessing me and how I have changed in the same way I was assessing him.
Seeing someone at 40 you had not seen since he was 30, if not younger, is a window into aging and mortality.
Fourth Street is one of Cincinnati’s oldest streets. How many chance meetings and conversations-in-passing have taken place on Fourth Street?
There is nothing special or unique about me and the relationships I have in life. The value of individuals does not come from being special or different in some way. It comes from the fact of existence itself— Nothing more or less than existence.
(Please click here for the 2012 Texas Liberal Martin Luther King Reading & Reference List. It is the best list of this kind you find on the web.)
Of all Martin Luther King’s sermons, the one I’ve found the most instructive is “Unfulfilled Dreams.” It offers solid perspective on the disappointments we face in life.
Unfulfilled Dreams is the title given to the sermon in the excellent audio collection of King’s speeches called “A Knock At Midnight.” I’d suggest purchase of this collection to anybody. Play these sermons in your car as you commute and go about your affairs, and they might change your life.
In a print collection of King’s sermons titled ” Strength To Love“, this sermon is called “Shattered Dreams.” While the text between the audio and print versions has some differences, the message is the same. ( Here is a link to the full “A Knock At Midnight” text of Unfulfilled Dreams.)
Strength To Love is the best book compilation of King’s sermons.
Here are excerpts and observations from Unfulfilled Dreams—
King begins by discussing how King David wanted to build a temple to honor God. He talks about how important it was for David to finish this temple and how David would not be successful in this undertaking.
King quotes the eight chapter of First Kings—“ And it was in the heart of David …to build a house in the name of the Lord God…And the Lord said unto David…”whereas it was in thine heart to build a house unto my name, thou didst well that it was in thine heart.”
This is the point of the sermon—“It was within thine heart.” David’s heart was right.
King says—“So many of us in life start out by building temples: temples of character, temples of justice, temples of peace. And so often we don’t finish them…and so we, like David find ourselves…having to face the fact that our dreams are unfulfilled”
What I like here is how King talks about our goals in life as missions larger than our personal lives. Character, of course, but also justice and peace. Our lives are not fully our own.
King points out that even great figures in history fail—
“Now first let us notice that life is a continual story of shattered dreams. Mahatma Gandhi labored for years…for the independence of his people. And through a great and nonviolent revolution he was able to win that independence…he struggled to unite his people and…to have India as one great united country…
But Gandhi had to face the fact that he was assassinated and died with a broken heart, because that nation…ended up being divided between India and Pakistan as a result of the conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims. Life is a long, continual story of setting out to build a great temple and not being able to finish it.
King talks about American slaves who never knew freedom—
So many of our forebearers used to sing about freedom..they would say “I’m so glad that trouble don’t last always“…but so many died without having the dream fulfilled.
Those were people who lived at the wrong time in history. That’s something that can happen at any time no matter how safe you may feel in your situation in life.
King says we are all moving towards a dream or goal—
“And each of you …in some way way is working towards some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. Its gets discouraging some times…well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time , saying: It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart…Thank God that we have hearts to put something meaningful into.”
I think of that last line all the time. “Thank God that we have hearts…” I’m glad we can care about others. I’m glad that no matter how rough things appear, we always have this ability.
King moves on now to reasons our dreams sometimes fail. He talks about the contrasting forces integral to the structure of existence. This makes sense. How could we as individuals not be subject to the basic elements of existence?
“Whenever you set out to build a creative temple, you must face the fact that there is a tension in the universe between good and evil. (Notice the word “creative.” This word can correctly be applied to so much in life. Imagination is even part of goals we might in normal course view as practical. At the very least, we must envision objectives before they can be accomplished.)….Hinduism refers to it as a struggle between illusion and reality. Platonic philosophy used to refer to it as a tension between body and soul.”
“But you know, some of us feel that it’s a tension between God and man.”
I’m not religious. But people who admire King should not forget that he viewed himself first as a preacher. We’ve made him a great secular figure of history. And he is that in many ways. Yet to see him only in that light is to miss the real person behind the image.
” …in every one of us..there’s a civil war going on….every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you…every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things…something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and spread evil gossip…..we end up crying out with St. Augustine “Lord make me pure but not yet.”
Again, this dilemma is universal. Though it happened to Ghandi, it is also a matter a daily concern in our normal lives. We want to be a certain type of person, but it’s an ongoing struggle. Who does not feel that way upon honest reflection?
“And this brings me to the basic point of the text. In the final analysis God does not judge us by the seperate incidents or the seperate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis, God knows that his children are weak and they are frail. In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right. Salvation isn’t reaching the destination of absolute morality, but it’s about being in the process and on the right road.
I think this is right on. Recognizing the fragility of the individual is at the core of political liberalism and at the core of treating others decently. Life is hard as hell and we are all going to make many mistakes. The question to ask when a mistake is made is what was in the heart of the person who made the error. Isn’t that the way you and I would want to be judged?
King’s talking about the bent of ones life is kindred to the observation he often made that the moral arc of the universe is long, but that it bends towards justice.
We can’t say that all of existence is bad because terrible things happen in history We have to retain a final belief that life has meaningful purpose and that justice and concern for others is part of that purpose.
Here is a poem I wrote called Rap Sheet—
The Crime: Competence
“I know this is someone else’s work
But you’ll do it right.”
The Crime: Context
“If I do this
Won’t it lead to the negative consequence of that?”
The Crime: Memory
“I understand what you’re saying
But that’s not what you said before.”
The Punishment: Life Sentence.
These are the times and places in life I’ve felt I was fitting in.
You’ll have your own list of where you fit in.
1. When I’m alone.
2. When I’m with my wife.
3. When I’m alone in a crowd. Such as sitting by myself at a restaurant reading a book or taking a walk along the ocean in Galveston.
4. When I’m reading. A good book to read is Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.
5. When I used to go to the racetrack. A racetrack is a place of such apathy that it would be hard not to fit in. I would go to River Downs in Cincinnati. I don’t go to Sam Houston in Houston.
6. When I’m riding some form of mass transportation. A bus or an airplane. I’m just one of the people leaving one place and headed to some other place. I like airports.
When I was in college, I took a number of long Greyhound Bus trips to see friends. Cincinnati to Reno was my longest trip. That was a long ride, but it was fun. I remember I was reading a history of Hawaii on that ride. I can’t recall the specific book.
The bus in the picture says it is going to Atlantic City. I got off a Greyhound bus once in Atlantic City and some people were having a fist fight in the bus station.
I’m too old for that bus now at 40. I wish I get the people my age and older off that bus and on a plane.
7. At the punk rock club. Those days are past as well.
8. When I’m talking to a waitress or a clerk at a store and no more is expected from me than courtesy. I’m good at courtesy.
9. When I’m with the few people in life I’ve come to know well enough and like enough to feel at ease with. It happens with different people for different reasons.
That covers it.
Where ever you fit in, it’s okay. The person you are is okay.