Charles Finn – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Sun, 16 Sep 2018 15:31:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://likethedew.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/cropped-DewLogoSquare825-32x32.png Charles Finn – LikeTheDew.com http://likethedew.com 32 32 Yet another fiery trial, Father Abraham; weigh in http://likethedew.com/2016/07/05/yet-another-fiery-trial-father-abraham-weigh-in/ http://likethedew.com/2016/07/05/yet-another-fiery-trial-father-abraham-weigh-in/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2016 16:20:05 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=64422 toward greatness. In theory, of course, it was another matter. He famously paid homage to “the last best hope of earth” that the truly radical American experiment in democracy ...]]>

 An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln, taken on November 8, 1863, eleven days before his famed Gettysburg AddressAbraham Lincoln, were he alive today, would quibble with only one word in the trumpeted slogan, “Make America Great Again,” but it would be a vehement, demagoguery-shattering quibble. He would insist that the sentence be ended after Great. America has, he would solemnly remind us, in practice NEVER been great, only struggling slowly and painfully toward greatness.

In theory, of course, it was another matter. He famously paid homage to “the last best hope of earth” that the truly radical American experiment in democracy (“of the people, by the people, for the people”) constituted, but reminded his fellow countrymen that this noble experiment was not foreordained to succeed, was something they could either “nobly save or meanly lose.” Having announced the “new birth of freedom” of millions of enslaved Americans rising from the crucible of civil war, he knew there would need to be continued births of freedom. It would be over a half century, for instance, before fully half the American population would win, necessitating an amendment to the Constitution against entrenched opposition, the right to vote. And what successive fights of various oppressed minorities for civil rights the ensuing century would see, up to our own day.

Americans will truly be on the path to greatness, Lincoln believed, only if we progressively approximate the radically-inclusive equality ideal emblazoned in the Declaration of Independence. Speaking not about a political party but about the nation itself, he had said, with slavery in mind, “Our Republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust. Let us re-purify it … Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence.” He would have cheered the later creation of the Pledge of Allegiance to this Republic, understanding the resounding conclusion (“with liberty and justice for all”) as declaration of aspiration rather than boast of achievement.

So here we are at another occasion “piled high with difficulty” that he would urge us to rise to, another “fiery trial” through which we are passing which “will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”

“In honor or dishonor”—it is up to us how we will be remembered. How might we better proceed than by praying, as Lincoln did, that we again be touched by the better angels of our nature, resisting the ever-present darker ones inclined, under the pressures of the moment, to surrender principle, foster fear, sink to insult, revert to exclusion.

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Either Way Something of Meaning http://likethedew.com/2014/08/06/either-way-something-meaning/ http://likethedew.com/2014/08/06/either-way-something-meaning/#respond Wed, 06 Aug 2014 15:26:07 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=57191 When retrospective gaze spies sense in hitherto presumed nonsense of blind alley Do we not at times, looking back on periods in our life when we felt lost and confused, recognize sense emerging from nonsense, meaning emerging from what had felt meaningless? Think back to the weeks, months, maybe even years when it felt we were wandering, squandering, floundering.]]>

big bang

When retrospective gaze
spies sense in hitherto presumed nonsense
of blind alley

Do we not at times, looking back on periods in our life when we felt lost and confused, recognize sense emerging from nonsense, meaning emerging from what had felt meaningless? Think back to the weeks, months, maybe even years when it felt we were wandering, squandering, floundering. No waste feels greater than time and effort spent forging a path that ends in a blind alley. How could we have been so clueless? Why didn’t we listen to our own misgivings or that cautionary advice from others? What jackasses for not knowing better, and now having nothing to show for it. Or so it has seemed.

But then we look closer, start to see the silver lining. If we understand ourselves better now, are under fewer illusions now, are clearer now about who we are, what we value in relationships, what direction we want our lives to head in, might not, against all reason, all the prior wrong turns, unwise decisions, futile efforts, failed relationships, and bad luck have mysteriously contributed? Can we not see that the sense we now possess, the meaning we now see, likely would not have, possibly could not have, come to us otherwise? Might we have stumbled along the way, for instance, into something amazing and fruitful? Might someone vital, through all the blundering and missed opportunity, have improbably come into our life for whom we now thank our lucky stars? Not all blind alleys may reveal themselves felicitous, but when we look closer some in fact do. What are we then to make of it?

or dark valley

It is hard to discern meaning in blind alleys, it is harder in dark valleys. Tragedy strikes, hits hard, hits home. Losses multiple, some unbearable. Juice and joy fall from sight, night engulfs light. Even those blessed not to know such when young can’t long keep their innocence. The longer we live the more dark valleys come. Virgil in the Aeneid caught it well with lacrimae rerum, “the tears of things,” which we can neither escape nor really ever “get over.” What we can do is be led by our tears, instructed by our fears, towards a wisdom surpassing understanding. We glimpse, in rare moments perhaps but unquestionably, the meaning in Gibran’s The Prophet, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

When we step back from our trees to ponder the forest of us, when we come to see in the mystery of things that not only blind alleys but even dark valleys have opened us to meaning we never otherwise would have known, have stretched us to depths of understanding smooth sailing would otherwise have denied us, we are led to a striking conclusion.

the exhilarating conclusion has it

Not only striking but exhilarating! The materialistic paradigm our age is heir to scoffs at the notion of meaning, implying as it does something of spirit. Random violence, chance, absurdity, billiard ball atoms careening willy-nilly, incessant motion without meaning, sound and fury signifying nothing—such is the universe considered nothing but physical matter. Older readers will remember the “fluke” explanation for meaning when it occurs: a thousand monkeys banging away for a thousand years on a thousand typewriters will come up with a chance Macbeth. Baloney, we know better! Whether we look to the awesome evolving universe without or the incredible unfolding universe within, we absolutely see meaning, which leads to one of two exhilarating conclusions:

that either something of Spirit sends by design
even blind alleys and dark valleys

This first, more conventional view is conveyed in such pronouncements of faith as “It was meant to be…Nothing happens by chance…God doesn’t make mistakes…We may not understand the reason for all the seeming accidents of life, for all the chaos and suffering, but we are to trust there is one, to trust we’re in the good hands of a transcendent, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving Spirit designing everything for our ultimate betterment.

But for others, looking unflinchingly on the evident existence of often destructive randomness in our personal lives as well as in the life of the cosmos, this conclusion succeeds neither to comfort not to convince. Suffering so horrific—whether the agony be disease unto death of a loved one or the collective horror of a tsunami or an Auschwitz—calls for an understanding of Spirit far removed from a designing external deity, particularly if conceived as loving, sending even catastrophes for a good reason.

or something of Spirit resides spiderlike within
weaving flimsy chance strands
into a web of exquisite meaning.

Consider an option between, on the one hand, stoic acceptance of an absence of meaning in a mechanistic, chance-ridden universe and, on the other, blind faith that a designing hand is behind even appalling tragedy. Consider Spirit, after dreaming the Big Bang into being, as dwelling within the very universe, a Spirit whose quintessential nature it is to create order out of chaos. From the heart of darkness it responds with “Let there be light!” And as this same Spirit is at the heart of us, too, literal children of the universe, we find our nobility when we rise to the call to do likewise. How better to participate in the light-birthing, meaning-creating universe than by creating, when we come upon blind alley or dark valley, a way out of no way, light right smack in the middle of the darkness, meaning where there was none. Exhilarating!

When retrospective gaze
spies sense in hitherto presumed nonsense
of blind alley or dark valley,
the exhilarating conclusion has it
that either something of Spirit sends by design
even blind alleys and dark valleys
or something of Spirit resides spiderlike within
weaving flimsy chance strands
into webs of exquisite meaning.

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Sweetness and Steel: Lincoln, Obama and Angelou http://likethedew.com/2014/07/21/sweetness-steel-lincoln-obama-angelou/ http://likethedew.com/2014/07/21/sweetness-steel-lincoln-obama-angelou/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:15:36 +0000 http://likethedew.com/?p=56734

Image: Composite image created for LikeTheDew.com - background from The Comparison by Bryan Eaton from WallpapersInHq.com (free download) and the photo of Maya Angelou by Dwight Carter (dwightcarter.com).

There were superficial reasons—when he thundered on the political scene at the Democratic Convention in 2004 and then rode on the wave of that thunder to his election in 2008—to compare Barack Obama with Abraham Lincoln. There was the Illinois connection, for instance, and the gifted orator connection, and the “new birth of freedom” connection. Add to these the evident high esteem, even reverence, held by Obama for that towering mentor of his spirit, and it is easy to link the two of them. But what about things deeper than the surface?

A sobering intimation arose in me, in the wake of the euphoria following Obama’s election, that if the similarities between him and Lincoln did, in fact, go deeper, then it would most clearly be revealed if adversity, not smooth sailing, is what he would meet, if failure, not success, is what he would have to deal with. For it was the manner in which Lincoln met adversity and failure which taught us the most.

It is safe to say, six years later, that adversity indeed is what Obama has faced, along with the failure to achieve much that he had hoped to achieve. We now know with dismaying clarity how white-hot is the determination of a sizable minority that this President utterly fail, that his major healthcare achievement be gutted and that his every new proposal be obstructed.

The point here is not to argue politics and policies. The point is to bring the memory of Abraham Lincoln to bear on the present presidency, to see what it might tell us about the character of Barack Obama.

If anyone knew adversity from the beginning of his presidency, it was Abraham Lincoln. Even before he took office, seven Deep South states had seceded because he had been elected. Though he would not, because constitutionally he could not, touch slavery where it already existed, he made it clear, as did the Republican platform he ran on, that he would do everything in his power to prevent its extension. And then on the very day he was sworn in, he received a telegram about the crisis brewing at Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor that could inaugurate civil war. Adversity from the start, and few, if any, pleased.

Listen to Frederick Douglass, himself one of Lincoln’s harshest early critics: “Reproaches came thick and thin upon him from within and from without, and from opposite quarters. He was assailed by abolitionists; he was assailed by slaveholders…Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.” Another of his early critics from the Left, Harriet Beecher Stowe, at first lamented Lincoln’s tardiness, coldness, dullness and indifference, but over time came to see deeper. “Lincoln is a strong man, but his strength is of a peculiar kind…It is the strength not so much of a stone buttress as of a wire cable. It is a strength swaying to every influence, yielding on this side and on that to popular needs, yet tenaciously and inflexibly bound to carry its great end.”

Fast forward to Barack Obama. While his most vituperative critics are on the Right, the Left has hardly been kind to him when he has compromised on so much, delayed acting on so much, seemingly vacillated on so much. Assailed from both sides certainly fits, as does wire cable, swaying and yielding this way and that, yet tenaciously holding to the great end of a more just and compassionate nation.

But we haven’t yet touched what to me is the biggest thing, the thing that reveals character at its deepest. Breadth of vision and strength of will are indeed essential, but so too are capacity for empathy and kindness of heart. We go back to Abraham Lincoln for perhaps the purest expression.

With malice toward none, with charity for all…What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing…As I have not felt, so I have not expressed any harsh sentiment towards our southern brethren. I have constantly declared, as I really believed, the only difference between them and us, is the difference of circumstances. I have meant to assail the motives of no party, or individual; and if I have, in any instance (of which I am not conscious) departed from my purpose, I regret it.” He didn’t just talk it, he lived it. No wonder Abraham Lincoln is loved by so many.

And no wonder many of us still stand back amazed at Barack Obama, yes, partially for his vision that our country must return to being of the people and not of the corporations, and yes, partially for what he has managed to achieve despite entrenched opposition, but equally for how he is responding to his failures, for how he is not responding in malice to the unrelenting disparagement heaped upon him. Will he continue to live according to the values which Lincoln not only espoused but lived? We of course don’t know, as disillusionment has been known to spring like a brigand from the bush. But if six years of testing have not found Obama wanting, if he has neither returned rancor for rancor nor stopped tenaciously fighting for what he believes, we may have here, I submit to your consideration, the real McCoy, meaning a worthy carrier of the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.

Even though Maya Angelou addressed the following to her sisters, may each of us, in her or his heart, hear the exhortation from this phenomenal woman, who has just left us but whose spirit will never leave us, never to disown either our sweetness or our steel. “Women should be tough, tender, laugh as much as possible, and live long lives. The struggle for equality continues unabated, and the woman warrior who is armed with wit and courage will be among the first to celebrate victory…You keep your sweetness always but inside that sweetness is a ball of steel.”

May your brothers as well as sisters be listening, Maya. May Barack Obama be listening. May each citizen not only of America but of Earth be listening for the sake of the only family. In our darker moments may we neither give up nor lash out. May we hold to sweetness without relinquishing the wire cable, the steel ball. May we listen to Abraham Lincoln from the wings urging us to allow ourselves once again to be touched by the better angels of our nature.

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