Tuesday, December 19, 2006

there is no fury..........

Nature has no fury, and I tire of people suggesting that it does.
I saw a fellow by the name of Perkins in a PBS film on canoing alone in Alaska, and he said, after seeing a peregrine falcon nest out in the middle of the tundra, with two or three small chicks looking up at him, that the idea of a nest, or a home, is such a confident gesture. His point was that nature (or Nature) is indifferent to our lives, and that when some people are confronted with nature, they may focus on a bear or wolf or some limited threat, but that what people really fear is the land, the vastness of our world relative to our own individual size and capacity.

I am so tired of hearing on the news about how Nature's fury wreaked havoc on the Buffalo, New York area recently (the October, 2006 surprise), or when Hurricane Katrina came through the Gulf Coast or with the Tsunami a while back. Nature has no fury.
The systems that impact one another and produce storms of all sorts have no malice for humanity nor other creatures. They just happen.
Sometimes people get caught in circumstances to which they cannot adapt. Sometimes other creatures do, too. That is all.
Humans are getting so spoiled that they don't know how to adapt anymore. They're more than willing to change their environment to suit themselves, to the extent of global weather disruption -- even though that's an unintended consequence of environmental manipulation -- but native ways are getting lost and Americans are increasingly unwilling to adapt themselves to Nature.
An ability to adapt to their surroundings is why our ancestors evolved and survived to this point. An unwillingness to do so may bring our survival to an end, to say nothing of an evolutionary progress.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Lord's Prayeraphrase

An Adaptation of “The Lord’s Prayer”

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name
Great Spirit of the Universe,
we are amazed at all you have made.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven
May the coming of your reign
Happen every day in our hearts;
In our living may your Good Will come to pass.

We trust your wisdom for us,
although we cannot always see it.

Give us this day our daily bread
We trust you know our needs,
And take up today’s Providence with gratitude.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
Teach us to offer forgiveness to others,
Not deserving, but ever striving to earn
Your forgiveness, daily, freely given.

Lead us not into temptation
Although you send us to dark and
Difficult places for your sake,
Let not our minds and hearts go astray;

And deliver us from evil

Lord, spare us, please,
From evil without, and evil within.

Amen


G. Douglas Clarke
January 31, 2004

Note: I omit the "power and glory" part because it was evidently not included in the earliest versions, and does not seem to fit the "earthly" tone of the prayer.

A "Sermon" I gave on June 1, 2002 at the 1st Seventh Day Baptist Church of Alfred, NY

I want to tell you a story:
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less [than it does now], a 10 year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. "How much is an ice cream sundae?" "Fifty cents," replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied a number of coins in it. "How much is a dish of plain ice cream?" he inquired. Some people were now waiting for a table and the waitress was a bit impatient. "Thirty-five cents," she said brusquely. The little boy again counted the coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table, and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier, and departed. When the waitress came back, she began wiping down the table and then swallowed hard at what she saw. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies - her tip.
This story touched me -- perhaps it touches you, too. I don’t know if this really happened, and I don’t have to believe that it did, in order to extract useful truths from this story -- in order to understand that impatience can be an embarrassment in the face of kindness, that children have large generosity hidden behind more child-like attributes, that I have a need to remember such stories in order to improve my own behaviour, and so on. The story is not explicitly about Jesus, but it expresses values he embraced, and I believe he wishes us to live out.
Jesus used stories -- especially parables that embraced some sort of paradox -- to challenge people’s thinking, to convey truths that were right in front of people but they had not recognized.
I have come to appreciate stories in ways I did not when I was younger. For instance, stories can encapsulate principles in all kinds of ways: Here’s one that . . .“puts things in perspective”:
“If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely
100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following.
There would be:
57 Asians
21 Europeans
14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and south
8 Africans

52 would be female
48 would be male

70 would be non-white
30 would be white

70 would be non-Christian
30 would be Christian

89 would be heterosexual
11 would be homosexual

6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's
wealth and all 6 would be from the United States

80 would live in substandard housing
70 would be unable to read
50 would suffer from malnutrition
1 would be near death; 1 would be near birth
1 (yes, only 1) would have a college education
1 would own a computer
When one considers our world from such a compressed
perspective, the need for both acceptance, understanding
and education becomes glaringly apparent."

This was attributed to Phillip M Harter, MD, FACEP at Stanford University, School of Medicine.

A few moments ago, I read from Genesis chapters 1 and 2, and you heard portions of two different versions of “creation”: one which says God created light, then the sky, separated the waters into earth and sea and made plants, made the sun and moon and stars, made water creatures, then domestic (which is not possible, since domestic means they have been consciously bred from wild stock, to suit human expectations) and wild creatures, then humans, all in six days. This story tells us that God then rested and blessed the seventh day. The writer then begins what seems to be another story, of how God created man and placed him in the garden in Eden where there were plants. Next, God created animals out of the dirt, before making a woman from the man’s rib. This is not the same order of creation as was recounted only a few verses before, thus a conflict if one feels they must believe every word of scripture literally. If you understand that truth can be found in each account without their being reconciled as historical accounts, this is no trouble. Since no man or woman was present at the creation of the universe, it is easy to understand that these accounts of those events are valuable for understanding, but that scientific explanations are also valid. In science, it is understood that older theories are sometimes abandoned for newer ones which employ what is known, more effectively, and this is no trouble, until people attach themselves inflexibly to any given theory.
I don’t have to believe that story as a literal telling of “creation” in order to extract useful truths from it. I don’t have to believe that the universe was created in seven, 24-hour days in order to understand that regular rest and re-evaluation, prayer and fellowship is an important practice that brings positive results for my family and for our church members. I understand that it is important enough to take that understanding to others.
In an article published December 21, 1978, Virginia Bortin told how a story in the Gospel of John (to which you will find reference on the back of the bulletin) helped to illuminate scientific research, and was confirmed by that research. Ms. Bortin said:
“When Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, . . . she pointed to Mt. Gerizim rising above them. Then she remarked sadly, ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain.’ At the mountain’s summit, they were able to see ruins of a Samaritan temple destroyed 150 years before by Jewish High Priest John Hyrcanus I. However, a century after Jesus’ death, these sacred ruins were completely hidden from view by a Roman sanctuary built over them. . .
The ancient Samaritans regarded themselves as the legitimate heirs to the religion of Moses and Abraham. They considered their temple the only true sanctuary of the faith. The Samaritans were powerful rivals of the Jews, who believed their own temple at Jerusalem to be supreme. . .
For a long time after the destruction by Hyrcanus, Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies, neither welcome in the other’s land. Some 150 years had passed when Jesus, traveling through Samaria, encountered this hostility as he, a Jew, asked the Samaritan woman for water. . .
Ironically, the mystical Hyrcanus is said to have become convinced in his last days that the Samaritan religious claims were true. Seeking penance, the Jewish leader sent gifts and sacrifices to the ruined nation. . . .
. . . Jesus and the Samaritan woman could still view the results of Hyrcanus’ brutal destruction. Now, these ruins have again come to light, proven by 20th century technology [anthropological, archaeological, and other methods] to be the very ones Jesus knew. They are a poignant reminder of a long-ago struggle over faith [BELIEF]” (Olean Times Herald, date noted above)

The Bible is full of stories, and by saying so, I do not intend to diminish the importance of scripture, but to improve our understanding of scripture, and of its importance.

Mark Twain told lots of stories -- like the one read earlier -- based roughly on his life, in his classic books, and it does not matter which portions are true, in order for me to find myself laughing or crying at the message he conveys. He was good at telling stories that made fun of himself, and we are all richer for it. Likewise, his “war prayer” is one of the most eloquent at reminding us that losers in war are not always just “the bad guys”, among other things. This is especially poignant, since we just celebrated Memorial Day, and I mean no offense to veterans, by reading Twain’s words regarding “the Philippine-American War. It was submitted for publication, but on March 22, 1905, Harper's Bazaar rejected it as "not quite suited to a woman's magazine”
“The story relates a patriotic church service held to usher the young men of a town off to war. The minister begins with the invocation:
God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,
Thunder, Thy clarion, and lightning, Thy sword!
The service continues with a "long prayer" for the victory of the country's military. As the prayer closes, an "aged stranger" enters the church and walks up the aisle to the front of the church where the minister is standing. Motioning the startled minister aside, he begins to relate the "unmentioned results" that "follow victory -- must follow it, cannot help but follow it."
I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.
"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....
"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.
"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.
"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."
(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

So it is with stories, and even historians are learning that historical objectivity is not possible. No one historian can tell a story which contains all the truth, to satisfy those who lived through an event or were affected by it.
But stories can convey truth in all sorts of ways, and of many natures, be they symbolic, or emotional, or empathic, or simply intended to convey a principle for living.
But, when someone is telling a story about someone else, it matters a great deal, how much truth is contained in the story. It is a wise admonition that states “Thou shalt not bear false witness........” It mattered a great deal when people in this Association BELIEVED stories they heard about what we were doing, and why!!!!!
I have heard it said: “If someone says something unkind about you, live in such a way that no one will believe it.” and early Quakers said “What thee does speaks so loud that we cannot hear what thee says."

For some, it is extremely important that they believe exactly the “right” things, and in some cases their behaviour is inconsequential to their beliefs. It is more important that anyone with whom they affiliate, believe exactly as they do. They think that improper belief is sinful, and heretical, and abominable.
Others have discovered that their beliefs are central to how they live their lives, and much of their behaviour and practice, whether religious or not, arises from those beliefs and the resultant values they place on material things, the use of their time, and the ways in which they relate to other humans, plants, animals, and objects.
Many wise people have found themselves in situations in which time is not available to rationalize what is the best course of action, but make decisions which, when the results are seen, greatly affect their future behaviours. Think of someone who has made a great mistake that harmed others, who spent the remainder of their life in thoroughly altruistic endeavours, or the ordinary person who happened to be in a place and circumstance to preserve another’s life in some heroic fashion, and spent their later days in ordinary fashion, but being admired by many for their extraordinary willingness to be of assistance.
Here’s a story of such a person. It was sent to me by e-mail and I don’t know from where it originated, so I don’t know if it is urban folklore or a true account. What matters is that people DO do such things, every day:

“Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at Stanford Hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease, and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a
moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes, I'll do it if it will save Liz." As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away?" Being young, the boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his
sister ALL of his blood. Attitude, after all, is everything.”
Rev. Darwin Maxson, a prominent member of this church and of the Alfred University faculty, when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, said he “won’t obey it.” (Fiat Lux, p. 46), because he believed so strongly in the need to put an end to slavery.
Rosa Parks did not give up her seat on the bus on that fateful day not so many years ago, not because she suddenly decided it wasn’t right. She had probably never believed it was right for whites to take seats from black people, but it had taken her time to come to the point of taking action to try to make the outside world match what she believed in her own heart. She, along with many others, had evidently been in the PROCESS of coming to believe that BELIEVING something was not enough. So she started something. The action arising from her belief prompted many others to action.

Psychologists now say that the largest portion of human behaviours are done without prior rationale, but are explained by rational means, after the fact. I’ve been pretty certain this was so, for many years. Maybe you have, too. How many times have you said, “why the heck did he/she do that?” Sometimes that’s because we don’t know what the other is dealing with, and sometimes we just don’t think. Not that our behaviour is entirely IRrational, but we apparently act mostly on some level that is not fully rational, but might be described as intuitive.

Nevertheless, what we believe is very important, because although we may rationalize ex post facto, our beliefs are at work in our psyche, in ways yet to be understood. But our beliefs are organic, and should grow with our understandings and wisdom that is granted to us. Our beliefs are affected by events in our lives and by processes in the world around us, and when these are profound, they produce uncommon courage, honesty, perseverance, and all sorts of gifts in our lives and in those with whom we live. Galatians 5:22 says “the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these.” If we are open to the Spirit’s leading, we do not become perfect, but our lives have an abundance of these things, without our having to believe a complete and proper set of precepts, and this is the marvelous part of following Christ.

Jonathan Allen (prominent in this church and in Alfred University’s history) espoused “spontaneity, freshness, freedom, originality, and independent thought and investigation. . . comprehensive views, a respect for ideas, a scholarly enthusiasm, an ethical worthiness, spiritual dignity, and a reverent theistic tendency” for students at the University. It was said of Allen, “While loyal to his denomination, he was too ‘catholic [ecumenical, cosmopolitan] to be bound by any mere creed of any particular church. . . ‘” (Fiat Lux, p. 92)
He said “the universe is a living temple of God, everywhere and perpetually filled . . . {religion is] “a vital relationship and communion of the soul with the Divine. Religious certainty is not the inferences of logic, or the credence of historic testimony but immediate and living, an experiential assurance by a personal relation.”
Allen, who attended Oberlin College which claims to be the earliest co-ed institution........was “ahead of his time” in embracing women’s suffrage and abolition of slavery. He allowed himself to be influenced by his wife’s views (Dan Rase said he was a “wise man”)
I am astonished that, almost 200 years after “The origin of species” was published, and A.U. students discussed its merits with Allen and Maxson, who integrated such “new thinking” into their faith, there are people who persist in rejecting such things without any thought or investigation. I won’t deny them the right to believe as they wish, but I submit that beliefs are worthless and can be evil, unless they result in moral behaviour.
I do not deny to such people the right to believe that the human species was created in a 24-hour period, and that woman was made from man’s rib, but when such a belief denies God’s continuing creative power, denies to their children the understanding of the nascent potential of all creation, and denies others the opportunity to learn, then their belief is inadequate, perhaps immoral.
I remember my parents being more concerned about my association with youth groups which had less liberal approaches to religious belief, even though they were interdenominational, than they seemed to be about my experimenting with adult behaviours. I have always admired that about them -- that my parents continued to learn from others, to allow freedom to others while still expecting the best of and for them, throughout their lives. They were more worried about the closing of my mind, than about it opening to -- perhaps -- even dangerous things.
In 1963, this church had over 100 members, but with the Theological School closed, fewer SDBs came to A.U., and more and more members’ children moved away. In that vacuum, the denomination’s leaders like Allen, Maxson, Boothe C. Davis, A.J.C. Bond, Melvin Nida, Clifford Hansen, Wayne Rood, Herb Saunders, and J. Paul Green, are not replaced. There is not a group of young, energetic persons assembled here or anywhere else, to whom they can impart their wisdom, as was once true. Not that there have not been leaders here, but there was a lacking of strength in numbers of such people, and in that partial vacuum, our churches have suffered from the lack of progressive leadership, leading to the narrowing of our traditional ecumenism.
In that vacuum, this church was victimized by persons who presumed authority to dictate what was right belief, over others in the church -- a practice uncharacteristic of this congregation. This, and other events, resulted in the loss of members to other churches, even if just the next SDB church down the road. Now, here we sit wondering what we can do.
If this church is to be revived, we must either revisit what has made us successful in the past, or find new ways to successfully engage people in fulfilling activities. We must be more than just busy.
If this Association of Seventh Day Baptist churches is to have a promising future, it must make a place for those who do not hold that belief is the end of religion, but the beginning. There must be space made for those who differ on points of belief, but not on learning from the stories in the Bible. There must be space for those who can remain centered upon the Biblical foundation, but also learn from other sources that have integral rather than arbitrary authority, and integrate those learnings into their faith.
If this denomination is to have a future, Seventh Day Baptists must find ways to make such strong familial alliances work for the benefit of humanity, or we will be decimated by such struggles as this church has so far survived.
If we are to have a future as Seventh Day Baptists, we must find the means to engage creative persons who can integrate new knowledge and new conceptual understandings into the faith we have inherited -- the faith that gives meaning to our living, and to our common efforts. If we do not, our children and grandchildren will fall prey to “formula faiths” that offer simple answers and demand conformity with other person’s understandings, instead of building and using beliefs that are their own, with the guidance of God’s spirit and those with whom they covenant. Let us continue to believe that the future holds many good things, and that we can be a part of bringing them to pass.
Amen.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bergren Forum Presentation at Alfred University February 27, 2003

Bergren Forum Presentation at Alfred University February 27, 2003 G. Douglas Clarke

I hope you’ll permit me to tell a story or two:

When, at age 41, I returned to Alfred University to study, after a leave of absence (only twenty-three years after transferring out, at the end of my freshman year), it was only a continuation of my personal wrestling match with the “what are you going to do when you grow up?” question. Even way back then, although I would have had a hard time verbalizing it, I felt that my upbringing lacked a sense of cultural security -- that I had little sense of who I was and from what context I had emerged. This plagued me, and I felt envious of Native Americans and the tradition of learning the stories of one‘s people.

In 1975 I took courses in World Religions, Psychology, Biology, Expository Writing, Cultural Anthropology, and so on, and began to plan a Track II program for myself, thinking that any single curriculum was too narrow for my inquiring mind. After learning about Friends World College’s program, in which students wrote journals and conducted studies in which they took an active part in planning, I transferred to the Friends World College North American Center at Lloyd Harbor, Long Island. I spent one semester in seminars on world problems and in field trips to possible independent study locations from Long Island to Georgia.

My fourth collegiate semester was spent in Boulder, Colorado, where I took a Geology course that included a flight up the Front Range of the Rockies and back down along the Continental Divide, began learning the Lakota (Sioux Indian) language from a “white“ linguist while my friend Nadine Hoover lived among the Sioux and learned plenty of other things, did volunteer work for the Native American Rights Fund, hiked and camped in the foothills, and rode skateboards in empty pools and down city streets. I even ended up living in the same house to which my parents had brought me from the hospital, when I was born. I kept a journal of my experiences, and actually got college credits for all that.

In the fall of 1977, I had planned to travel to Japan, where I would have lived in Kyoto and studied how an island nation deals with environmental problems, and how its culture affected those issues. I planned to spend my senior year in Iceland. I had obtained my passport and visa, been inoculated for smallpox (since I would be travelling through Korea) and even had my ticket for a chartered flight, when I learned that some of the funding on which I would rely, would not be available, after all.

So I spent a little more than a year on leave of absence, in Alfred, trying to find work that would pay well enough for me to save some money for tuition (yeah, right, fat chance of that, without a degree!). I ended up accepting an invitation from a friend who was an engineer at an electronics plant in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to come and work for him there. I worked there nine years, having enrolled in a degree program through my place of employment, but was not able to finish my degree before persuading my (then) brand-new wife that we should return to Alfred to help look after my aging parents. I don’t know if I told her, then, that I had come to feel that who I was had a lot to do with Alfred.

In all those years, I acknowledged that I cared deeply about humans being humble in their use of natural resources, had a very strong sense of justice (meaning I am quick to spot an INjustice), sympathized strongly with indigenous cultures and wild creatures, and felt that there was a spiritual, moral basis for these concerns.

Coming back to college here provided the opportunity to respond to that emptiness which I recognized so many years ago. I was able to assemble, among other things, a number of my great-great grandmother’s writings, and wrote a thesis on the environmental history of some pioneer Seventh Day Baptists to Allegany County, NY, which earned me my degree and departmental honors, after so many years of yearning.

Now, let me tell you l little of what I learned in that process:

What is Environmental History?

A brochure from the American Society for Environmental History states that it is the interdisciplinary study of human interactions with the natural world, over time; that Environmental historians seek to enlarge our understanding of how nature enables and sets limits for human actions, how people modify the ecosystems they inhabit, how different conceptions of the non-human world shape beliefs, values, economies, politics, and cultures.

I submit, further, that humanity is inseparable from the rest of the natural world. We can no more separate ourselves organically from the rest of the world than we can view an event or issue objectively. We can try to be open to multiple viewpoints and take them into account, but must consciously give each one fair consideration. Certainly our surroundings place limitations on us, but we also limit what is possible in our surroundings. There is a mutuality between ourselves and our surroundings which may or may not be recognized by humans, even though the influences are constantly working, and the relationship is constantly changing. We separate ourselves from our surroundings, only in our minds.

What has the settlement of Allegany County got to do with environmental history?

Susan Strong -- in her doctoral dissertation -- spent quite a bit of time and effort writing a history of Alfred University’s founding and its very early coeducational structure, and found that what happened here was quite unique. A certain ancestor of mine, to whom I will refer later, aspired to partake of the educational opportunity that resulted. Dr. Strong used several hundred pages to describe what she learned about the people who first settled here, and posited what influences had converged to result in that unique set of events. She spent a lot of time learning about the people who called themselves Seventh Day Baptists, and discovered some things I don’t think they knew themselves. I was raised a Seventh Day Baptist and knew little about her subject, although I’m one of a line going back at least eleven generations of people who have chosen to be part of a group that has always been a bit peculiar.

Peculiar because, in evolutionary and economic terms, they have consciously chosen to be mal-adapted. They have chosen to observe a day of rest, and to come together for fellowship and religious worship, on Saturdays, when most of the rest of the Christian denominations had long ago adopted Sunday for that religious observance. This has set them apart, causing social and economic difficulties because "blue laws" prohibited their working on Sunday and conscience prohibited their working on Saturday, thus leaving them at a clear disadvantage to people who kept Sunday for church-going. Don Sanford says that S.D.B.s often chose farming, since even blue laws didn't keep them from milking cows and such farm chores, every day of the week. This clearly visible difference also probably resulted in their being fewer adherents to their churches in some cases. It has also been something many have called a blessing, and I daresay some have even been guilty of harboring pride for their peculiarity.

What Dr. Strong describes in her dissertation is that Seventh Day Baptists were numerous enough in Alfred’s early days, that they were able to model the community to their preferences, including that many businesses USED to be open on Sundays rather than Saturdays, and the Alfred Post Office was the only one in the nation that was open on Sunday, as well. That ratio of S.D.B.s to others, has reversed so that they are no longer a majority, but continue to be a part of the unique character of this community.

When I finally returned to Alfred University to resume my studies, I was glad that my ancestors were not the sort to throw everything out, and glad that my father had returned to his mother’s home (to look after her and her sister) when I was a teenager, a fact of which I was not so pleased at the time. But those two venerable women grew on me, and I wish they were still here to tell stories. They planted a number of those stories in my mind, and left lots more in closets in that house on South Main Street.

Tucked away there, were many of the objects that our ancestors used, along with diaries, letters, photographs on tin, glass and paper (and many of them identified), speeches to be given at civic organization gatherings, legal documents, and autobiographical writings. I saved the best for last, in that list, for one of our great-great grandmothers wrote much of her life story. Also among her writings was this caveat and advisement:
“To my Beloved Children and Grandchildren, . . . I could wish that I might do a thousand times more for each one of you, than I have ever been able to do. . . .Wherein my life has been a failure, overlook and profit thereby . . .”

May it always be so...........

Dr. Strong, at a Bergren Forum a few years ago, said that “Jonathan and Abigail Allen were Seventh Day Baptists, but their views went far beyond their faith” or words to that effect. At first, I bristled at this, but realized that what she was saying was that the Allens, though loyal to the congregation to which they belonged, were not bound strictly by whatever doctrine held sway in their time. They were willing to take all sorts of information in, process it, and draw some new conclusions, such as that women ought to be regarded as (at least MORE) equal to men, and that black men and women should not be regarded as less human than those of lighter complexion. I'd say some in our time could learn to be so wise.



Notes for questions from audience:

Environmental Historians may use techniques from other fields, but with different focus.

How did I apply it in my research?

Used historical sources to compare national trends to those of Seventh Day Baptists and also to primary documents of own family narrative.

Addressed questions of how and why settlers came to Allegany County, New York:
1) Why did they leave their previous residences?
2) Why did they come to Allegany County?
3) How did they come?
4) How did they cope with survival and other threats they encountered?
5) How did they develop social and economic well-being?

Why did they leave Rhode Island?
Many families had many children, resources limited P. 14, 18,19
S.D.B.s not prevalent in communities, received discrimination via Blue Laws p. 15
Economic mal-adaptation of Sabbattarianism
Regional Economic depression p. 15
Political dissension regarding military service in 1812 p. 15
Removal of Native Americans after 1812
Eric Canal completed 1825 p. 24

Why did they come to Allegany County?
Cheap land? Not really. P. 17, 32
Wells bought 1000 acres, encouraged friends to come from Hopkinton, but not exclusively S.D.B. p. 17
Did not wish to travel further away from friends and family p. 19
Trips home p. 19
Isolated, rural (to compensate for peculiarity) p. 18, 25
Moved further west once ties back east had weakened p. 20
Bitterness over financial, family difficulties p. 21, 22

How did they come?
In groups (national vs. S.D.B. vs. family) p.23
By canal and horse teams p. 24

How did they cope with survival threats?
Tomahawk, panther, toil, loneliness, etc. p. 26
Hunger in 1816 p. 26
Disease p. 26
Animals p. 27, 28, 29
Human p. 29, 30
How did they develop social and economic well-being?
Measured by private gain, not cohesion, justice, or cultural enrichment - Davis p. 34
Measured by social value, among S.D.B.s - Sanford p. 35
Cooperation, altruism p. 31
Bees, raisings p. 32,33

Conclusions:
David and Mary Maxson chose community benefit over cash, suffered losses when exploited p.36
David and Mary’s daughter may have rued not getting more cash, but participated much in former p. 38

Nagging Questions:
Why did a Port Master leave the sea and come to the headwaters of the Allegany?
Why did David and Mary move further west?
Where are the surveyors notes, describing this territory before it was invaded by New Englanders?
Did Uncle Stephen ever pay back what he owed?
Did Martin convey freed slaves northward?
What happened to Mary’s siblings?

A Lament of Aging

When I was small,
even minutes seemed to last,
but now I walk the hall
of years that passed:
Days now are like moments then.

It used to be that memories
were clear and thoughts familiar,
but today even a friendly breeze
brings remembrance tainted with fear:
In future days what will I still remember?

In youth it's easy to learn;
in later years simpler to forget,
and so in early years we yearn,
but what we worked so hard to get,
becomes the hardest to retain.

Thus it is that the young do not
appreciate the reminiscences of the old.

Wisdom can’t at stores be bought,
so only in ignorance can youth be bold.


G. Douglas Clarke
August 22, 2004

Monday, November 13, 2006

What's wrong with Green?

I had sent to some of my cousins the comment from the previous posting about being a registered Green because I felt the Religious Right had pulled the G.O.P. so far to the right that the Democrats were now in the middle. This cousin said that they felt "Greens" were just progressive Democrats, that ours is a two-party system, and that we are weakening the Democratic position by carving out a third party.

I have thought and thought about how to respond to this, and this is it:

The point about weakening the Democratic position is well taken, as far as stealing votes from a candidate who might otherwise beat the Republican. As for me, I've guarded against that in every election, including participating in the vote trade when Nader was running, such that my vote for Nader didn't cost Kerry or Gore any votes because they were so far ahead in our state, whereas Green votes in some other areas may have prevented the Democrat from winning. I was angry at Ralph Nader for not pulling out of the election when it would have made a Democratic win almost inevitable and would have kept Bush from prolonging the agony.

Otherwise, I really feel that the Religious Right really has dragged political issues so far to the right that some things need to be done to pull them back to the left. I feel that the Democrats won't go far enough in terms of global warming and other environmental concerns, especially since the Bush administration has forced our nation to take big steps backwards in this regard.

When I closed the curtain to vote, there was a Democratic line and a Republican line, but there was also Conservative, Working Families, Libertarian, Green, and a couple others. These are the parties that push issues where Democratic and Republicans don't dare, for fear of alienating the "middle" voters and losing a "winning position". A friend says this is where political "research and development" are done. These are the parties that reflect societal changes and sometimes replace the previously dominant parties. There are third parties in lots of other countries, and there have been third parties here since at least the time of the war between the sections.

Nowadays, Barry Goldwater is considered to have been liberal. But most "Liberals" in Congress were afraid to vote against authorization for the Iraq debacle, and have been afraid to speak out for abortion rights and other issues, for fear of alienating voters whom they have presumed to be in the majority. People of faith who don't follow the fundamentalist crowd have kept silent for fear of being called heretical or non-Christian, allowing those who speak most loudly to monopolize the public media, instead of demonstrating who are the true followers of Christ. It seems to me that those who profess most loudly that they are the true apostles are the ones whose actions least resemble the founder of their faith. Truly patriotic citizens have kept quiet because it has been in vogue to simply wave a flag (which is the very least one can do to "support the troops"), instead of demonstrating real patriotism by standing up for the ideals, such as a balance of powers and the separation of church and state, which are the ones that truly set this nation apart from others.

So I hold to my position that things have shifted too far to the right, that we needn't be limited to two parties, and that Greens (aka progressive Democrats) can fill that role as needed. I am a Green because my ideals match the platform pretty well, but I know I'll often have to settle for a Democratic reality, which will do. As long as we don't have to put up with any more of Little Schickelgruber's draconian tyranny.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

State of the Union?

To elect is to choose. Many Americans elected representatives recently. Now the challenge is for those elected to discern what message Americans really sent them. The resident of the White House (whom I like to call Little Shickelgruber) tried to downplay the results by saying that there were many very close elections that went the Democrat's way, but that the cumulative effect was big, but certainly no mandate. Ironic, since I've heard that there are now more Democratic governors than any other time in history, there is the largest Democratic majority in history, and so on. Sounds like a mandate to me.

A friend who happens to be Republican was telling me before the election that he was disgusted with both parties' corruption, and that the G.O.P. was right and the Democrats left and neither one represented most people. I told him I had a different perspective: that the Religious Right and Neo-Conservatives had pulled the G.O.P. so far to the right that the Democrats were in the middle. I told him I didn't want our nation to go any further to the right, and that's why I'm a registered Green. I think radical change is needed, but I expect I'll have to settle for less. I hope for more, and will do what I can to make it happen.

A friend of mine who helped found the Environmental Studies program at Alfred University more than thirty years ago, is involved with an organization that is trying to move things so that corporations don't have more rights than people. They -- the Program on Corporate Law and Democracy -- found that, over the last century and a half, corporations -- by various means -- have gained greater legal status than plain ordinary people -- the general public. In our earliest days as a nation, states granted charters to businesses, and those charters could be revoked if a corporation did something to displease the people of the state. Nowadays, municipal governments have gained the power to seize land for corporate development. That just ain't right, if you ask me.

I recently was introduced to the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and one of the items in their agenda is a social responsibility amendment to our constitution which would provide for citizen panels to judge whether corporations were being sufficiently socially responsible, with the power to revoke charters of deficient corporations.

It was perhaps good to hear Little Shickelgruber say that he would work with the Democrats, but I don't trust it. Not from a man who said years ago that he was a "uniter, not a divider" and promptly took actions that caused divisions not only in our nation but in others. Not from a man who only used the worst terrorist attack on American soil as an excuse to do something that he had planned to do all along. Not from the man who spent a record surplus fuelling a war machine in a nation that didn't want our interference so now we have record deficits, yet he accuses Democrats of wanting to raise taxes. Not from the man who stopped funding for "No Child Left Behind" so he could give the money to his good-buddy contractors in Iraq.

A cousin of ours is an accomplished writer and teacher who has submitted her musings to the local weekly paper for some time, but she wrote a "final column" recently in which she said she thought her musings about birds and pleasantries was not so important. She said we all needed to get busy with changing things for the better. I will miss her column because although she dealt with everyday things, she often added a profundity that made them matter. Anyway, I hope this sort of writing will contribute to what she was talking about.

About Me

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I've been a number of things over the years: husband, father, environmental technical specialist, college instructor, carpenter, volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver, student of Lakota and Japanese languages, technical writer, process engineer, research technician, IT technician, emergency dispatcher, etc.