Muslims around the world began celebrating Ramadan at sunset last evening. The celebration lasting thirty days is a time for reflection, fasting, prayer, and community. It commemorates Muhammad’s first revelation and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Ramadan is on different dates each year coinciding with the lunar calendar’s crescent moons.
Greetings To our Muslim friends during this holy time.
“Ramadan is, in its essence, a month of humanist spirituality.” Tariq Ramadan
Easter is a Christian observance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you celebrate this as a Christian or non-Christian it is a time of renewal and awakening. Kids anticipate the Easter Bunny, dye eggs and have fun with many traditions. Easter holds promise and heralds springtime for many.
“Easter is very important to me, it’s a second chance.” Reba McEntire
In 1997 after much thought and anguish I officially left the church I was raised in, the church I had served for my entire adult life. At times I have struggled to explain my reasons to those who didn’t understand. I should have let President Carter explain for me. He does so perfectly. I am a recovering Southern Baptist and here’s why.
Losing My Religion for Equality
by Jimmy Carter, July 15, 2009
Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.
I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.
This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.
At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.
The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.
In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.
The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.
It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.
I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.
The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.
The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.
I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.
The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.
Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.
“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.” Kofi Annan
Sunday, May 5, 2019, marked the beginning Ramadan. In Islam, this is a month-long sacred time when we commemorate Allah, the Arabic name for God, giving the first verses of the Quran, the Muslim scripture, to the Prophet Muhammad in the year 610 A.D. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam and lasts 29 to 30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.
Much like the holy occasions of Lent for Christians or Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is a time of year when Muslims the world over reflect on their relationship with the divine. This reflection comes in the form of fasting, refraining from sinful behavior, engaging in service to the community, and, of course, prayer. It is a time of inward reflection and spiritual renewal intended to acknowledge our appreciation for God’s many blessings. It is also a time of celebration of our shared humanity on this earth.
Fasting, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, during Ramadan is required for observant Muslims. (The other pillars of worship are: the shahadah, which is the declaration of faith; salat, the five daily prayers; zakat, or almsgiving; and the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.) At sundown the daily Ramadan fast ends with the evening meal Iftar.
As we, a community of many faith traditions and cultures, commit ourselves to peace and compassion in this often confusing and hostile world, Muslim Americans for Compassion prays that all of us talk respectfully, treat others kindly, walk modestly, and pray sincerely. May these simple acts of compassion toward one another and toward ourselves infuse us all with the courage to overcome life’s adversities.
Doug Weaver is my longtime friend who is a professor of Baptist studies in the department of religion at Baylor University. He is the current president of the Baptist History and Heritage Society and past-president of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion.
In spite of the fact that I am a recovering Southern Baptist, I highly respect Doug’s opinion. Also, please note that “Southern” is nowhere listed in his credentials even though he is a Virginian.
It is Well
By Doug Weaver
It is well with my soul. Is that an elusive ideal, a hauntingly compelling confession of hope, or both?
In 1983, my father died of colon cancer. In 1984, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer but thankfully survived it and was later declared cured. My older brother’s doctor once told him, “It is not if you and your younger brother get colon cancer, but when.” After more purifying colonoscopies than I can count, the cancer never came. But, I never really fasted from the fear of the possibility.
Fast forward. In 2006, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I was told that it was a good cancer to get – the cancer was just in the lining and was not invasive. My hearing is pretty bad and I see with trifocals, but trust me, I can feel with the best of them. The cancer and the side effects of my treatments constantly bent me over with knife-like pain. Depends were not dependable; no wonder I started wearing black pants to work. The doctor in Waco where I live thought the medications which turned my flow into Texas burnt orange would lessen the pain, but I told him I was burning horrifically and unless he had magical Baylor green and gold, it was not going to help. And it didn’t. The treatments, however, worked.
In 2009, the bladder cancer came back – same situation – in the lining, not invasive, burning like a Gehenna fire. I was again on the extreme end of the spectrum with bodily reactions to the condition and the medication. However, what scared me was the doctor’s suggestion that cancer cells might be in a kidney too. I visited a specialist in Dallas who said it was so rare for bladder cancer to go into the kidney that it must be a tainted test. So do not fear.
The treatments worked again, but one more time, in 2013, the C word returned. This time cancer cells were in the lining of the bladder and both kidneys. So much for fasting from fear. Even though I had been his patient for seven years, I left the Waco doctor for good since he had said if the cancer ever got to the kidneys he’d have to try voodoo medicine to treat it. To confront the fear, I headed to MD Anderson Hospital in Houston. They put two nephrostomy tubes in my back (an amazing procedure), administered the medicine, and the treatments worked. The tubes dangled, hidden under my shirt for months, but at least voodoo stayed in Waco.
I made the 185-mile trip to MD Anderson in Houston every three months from spring 2013 to fall 2016 with good checkups, but once again I received word that the cancer cells had returned to the lining of both kidneys, now my fourth time. I did the standard treatments and kept the tubes in for a few months as we awaited results. I threatened a few colleagues with a “lift-the-shirt” presentation on a couple of occasions but other than being a Baptist who couldn’t be immersed in water, I did fine. But, I wasn’t fasting from an increasing fear.
I have now reached the one-year anniversary of surgery to remove a cancerous kidney. (The good news was that one kidney and the bladder didn’t reveal cancer cells anymore.) After the surgery, my wife and I heard the line many people living with cancer hear: “You had some microscopic cancer in lymph nodes, so we need to do some chemotherapy.” So, we did.
Today, I am fine – good, actually. My hair returned, curly (and unruly) like it was when I was a teenager. Subsequent scans (yes, cancer survivors often date the calendar by their regular three-month checkups) have been good. I am feeling hopeful.
Yet, during this journey, I haven’t been one of those patients who has “conquered” fear. On rare occasions, I was able to confront the repeated news of cancer returning with a bit of confidence. Most of the time, I was forced to my knees by the demon of cancer and begged God for a miracle my dad never received. Sometimes I have been near despair.
I knew my situation wasn’t as bad as patients I saw walking alongside me in the halls of MD Anderson; yet to compare cancer cases is not fair to anybody. Along the way, I have told friends too many details. My wife has had to hear me ask questions that I either already know the answer to or know that there are no answers. I love the church, but it isn’t always the best place to fast from fear (although, in my case at our church in Waco I am gifted with the wonderful pastoral presence of Mary Alice Birdwhistell). Baptists have a few saints.
One of my favorite Holy Week phrases is from Tony Campolo’s powerful old sermon: “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” I need to repeat that. “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” When you are sick, sometimes it is Friday. In fact, it can be months or years of mostly Fridays. It is hard and physically, emotionally and spiritually taxing. The Easter we just celebrated tells us that Sunday is now here, and that means hope amid fear. I think that is what the earliest disciples experienced.
Ah, that word “experience.” The longer I study Baptist history, the more I am confronted by that compelling word. We interpret our faith through our experience. Heretical? Ha, call me Harry Emerson Fosdick who once said that if dispensationalism is orthodoxy, then call me a heretic. The role of experience is at the core of Baptist DNA: voluntary faith, dissenting conscience as an act of faith, believer’s church and so on.
I’ve been researching in recent years the role of the Holy Spirit in Baptist identity (shameless plug: stay tuned for the book this fall). The desire for an ever increasing awareness of the Spirit – an experience of the power of the Spirit – is not absent in Baptist life. As we approach the observance of Pentecost in a few weeks, I understand standing on that promise of presence.
Fear needs the experience of hope.
I am a cancer survivor. This is the first time I have used those words in a public forum. I am still hesitant to call myself that because of others whose lives have been hit so much harder. Friday’s coming, Sunday’s here, and Pentecost promises glory. I am healthy(!), but I still can’t say hope without fear, and I refuse to say fear without hope.
It is well with my soul. I love the hymn that bears that title. It is an elusive ideal and a hauntingly compelling confession of hope.
Yesterday these eleven people left their homes to attend a religious ceremony at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, PA. Today they lie in a Medical Examiner’s office on a slab.
Joyce Fineberg, 75, of Oakland, City of Pittsburgh
Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township
Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood Borough
Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh
David Rosenthal, 54, (brother of Cecil), of Squirrel Hill
Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg
Sylvan Simon, 86, (husband of Bernice), of Wilkinsburg
Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh
Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill, City of Pittsburgh
Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington, City of Pittsburgh
On Wednesday, four days ago, three miles from my home two African-Americans were shot and killed while grocery shopping. One in the store, the other in the parking lot by a white man who allegedly stated, “Whites don’t kill whites.”
Vickie Lee Jones, 67, Louisville, KY
Maurice E. Stallard, 69, Louisville, KY
I just came from a vigil in their honor at the sight of their deaths. While it was good to see people of all colors together showing love and respect, I couldn’t help wondering why we don’t act more like this in our daily lives.
Thoughts, prayers, vigils . . . too little, too late.
Cause of deaths: Hate
“Researchers have proven, scientifically, that humans are all one people. The color of our ancestors’ skin and ultimately my skin and your skin is a consequence of ultraviolet light, of latitude and climate. Despite our recent sad conflicts here in the U.S., there really is no such thing as race. We are one species — each of us much, much more alike than different. We all come from Africa. We all are of the same stardust. We are all going to live and die on the same planet, a Pale Blue Dot in the vastness of space. We have to work together.” Bill Nye
The NDP began in 1952 when it was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. It was amended unanimously by Congress in 1988 and signed by President Ronald Reagan. That Amendment designated the first Thursday of May as the official day of observance. It has been approved by every President since.
Based upon the language used to announce the day as well as a designated Scripture reference from the Gospels of the New Testament it appears to be a Christian day of prayer even though there are many other religious beliefs in the US. It is my personal opinion that if we truly want “peace and unity” for America the NDP should include all faith traditions.
Pray for America
On May 3, I attended a National Day of Prayer in Louisville, KY. My experience was one of peace and unity. Those who spoke represented the Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Native American and Bahai faiths.
Mark Your Calendar
The NDP for 2019 is May 2. In Kentucky keep in touch with the Interfaith Paths to Peacehttps://paths2peace.org for information about where there will be a celebration of America’s diverse faiths as we pray together for our nation. I am sure there are similar plans in most American cities.
“If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.” John F. Kennedy
I believe my Mother’s essence is in many objects that I have in my home. Not so much in the antique dishes or her personal jewelry, but in the things she infused with her love. I believe that her soul speaks to me through the stitches she loving put into place over the years of her life. I feel her love in the baby quilt she embroidered for her children, the ring pillow she made for my wedding, in the yarn she transformed into beautiful pieces of art and the scraps of material from the clothes she made for her granddaughters and their dolls, later quilted together.
I believe that my Aunt Thelma’s essence is strong in items she left behind and that she must be happy we find both uses and joy in them today. They are things that were dear to her and I have the privilege now of calling them mine. I love them not for themselves but because I loved her so much and I feel her presence when I see them.
She was taught by her church that it was a duty to bear children and it was probably her greatest disappointment in life that she did not conceive. She loved me and other nieces and nephews, she loved my daughters, too. How sweet her smile must be as she watches my granddaughter, who Aunt Thelma never met, sew pieces of lace from her 91 year old wedding dress into the wedding dress that Kate will wear next month. I know her soul is happy today.
I believe my husband’s essence is the flowers that grow in our courtyard where he planted them. In caring for them, I continue to learn from him about the effort it takes to give beauty its fullest potential. His soul lives on nourishing the plants, keeping me company and giving me purpose.
I believe that my maternal Grandparents’ essences are present when I pick up one of their Bibles. I know how important these books were to them and not just as a place to record family records of births, marriages, and deaths. They also recorded other important information such as their Social Security Numbers and the date of their last tetanus shots!
Seriously, the Bible was holy to them. They each read from it daily and they carried it with them to their little country church, Mt. Vernon Baptist, twice each Sunday and usually at least once in the middle of the week. Their souls are close by those worn and precious books.
Nature is not only all that is visible to the eye… it also includes the inner pictures of the soul.” Evard Munch
Those referenced in Soul 2 who were interviewed by Oprah https://crookedcreek.live/2018/04/07/soul-2/ are often called upon for their opinions in spiritual matters. Her guests include many who are well prepared via their education and experience and perhaps some who are self-proclaimed experts on the topic of the soul. Let’s look at some of the characteristics they used to describe the human soul to see how they agree or differ.
The one distinction the following group has in common is that they are all published.
SOME WORDS USED
birthless, deathless, changeless
Spiritual Success Coach
where the Holy Spirit resides, connection with God
Founder of The Temple of the Universe
indwelling consciousness, center of being
Spiritual Life Coach
fingerprint of God that becomes the body
our divine nature, belongs to God
truth of who we are
These interviewees have been grouped together because they each indicate that the soul has no beginning nor end. It surprises me that of the thirteen interviewed only three indicated that the soul is eternal and two of them did not use that word but did indicate that was their belief.
WORK / BACKGROUND
Medical Professor, New Age Movement, Alternative Medicine
Eternal, core, internal reference point
Self Help Coach
Core, never dies, contains all lessons learned
Seat of the Soul Institute
Present before and after birth
This last group is made up of those who used the word I repeatedly come back to when trying to describe the soul. That word is “essence” and in our next post of this series, I will try to explain why.
WORK / BACKGROUND
Breathnach, Sarah Ban
Human Potential Movement
Essence, innermost being, beyond form or consciousness
Wrote “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”
Essence, transcends our leaving this mortal coil
How do these all of these professional descriptions agree with what you have always thought or now think about the soul?
“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” George Bernard Shaw
Not surprisingly this subject struck a chord with readers. We will not answer the questions posed in the last post. That is not the purpose of this series, but regardless it would be impossible. There is no way that we can know what the soul is or where it resides if it does exist. We can believe, but like the experience of death, there is no proof. We will surely die and if there is a soul, then we will know. This fact does not dissuade us from our beliefs or our interest in the opinion of others. https://crookedcreek.live/2017/03/27/what-i-know-for-sure/
The group Oprah assembled is made up of individuals from interesting and varied backgrounds. A few were religious but more perhaps were spiritual. Some work as life coaches, do public speaking and/or found institutions offering self-improvement programs. One, a medical professor with extensive name recognition in the US is Deepak Chopra who is known for his New Age and alternative medicine beliefs. Of the baker’s dozen personalities, at least twelve are authors.
We’ll look at their comments and opinions in the next posts, but Chopra’s soul description is a good start for today. He calls the soul an “internal reference point” and I wonder how that differs from having a conscious. He also refers to the “core” of an individual that is “eternal”. Two others in the group also intimated that the soul is eternal without using that word.
What is a soul? It’s like electricity – we don’t really know what it is, but it’s a force that can light a room. Ray Charles
Since we often reference souls we must know what a soul is, correct? Is it a soul or the soul? Do we have one? Does every person have one? Can you sell it? Can you bare it? Can you bless it, as in “Well, bless my soul!”?
I used to believe I had the full answer to these and more profound questions from my faith tradition. As I have lived longer, had more experiences and opportunities for learning, I have less confidence in what I used to believe with little question.
That being said it is worth mentioning that the word soul appears in most holy books. For example “soul” can be counted 55 times in the Christian *New Testament, 224 times in the Quo’ran and a whopping 443 times in the Hebrew *Old Testament.
*King James Version
What is Soul?
I feel that each of us has a theory and of course, we can easily check the dictionary for a formal definition but I am more interested in your personal beliefs. At the least, I hope to stimulate thought on this subject. I will be sharing my thoughts and those of some of our contemporaries in the next several posts.
“The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.” Harriet Ann Jacobs
Many, if not most, readers feel they could write a book. I bet that you have considered it or attempted it. One of my daughters has encouraged me to write for so many years that I am surprised that she hasn’t given up. She has provided many texts for guidance and even a little sign that hangs in my office which says “Award Winning Author at Work.” In spite of all the encouragement, I haven’t made an attempt as an adult.
Do you journal?
If not, you should probably consider it now. I have never been very faithful in writing daily in a journal, but when I traveled for work, I often wrote down thoughts along the way and they have been one source of material for this blog. Many of the scribblings I still run across are valuable to jog my memory and prompt smiles or sometimes tears.
We discussed poetry and some of you took the challenge to write a poem a long time ago. I also happen to know that more than one of the readers of Crooked Creek are very talented poets with years of work to their credit. You know who you are and you should definitely publish! I am not a poet by any stretch as my lines below will demonstrate. Had it not been for my attempt at journaling, however, I would not have these lines from 1993.
Waves of Time
Time, like waves upon the sea, though predictable, may catch one unaware.
The same, be it waves of time or tide, possess the power to generate joy or pain.
A rare and special friendship, though far away, burns steadily through time like a lighthouse glowing through the tide.
Although I admit that I have not kept my Good Reads account up to date I still believe that it is a useful website for readers. Even if you do not want to catalog your books in one of the many ways provided it is an excellent source of book reviews. If you have not already check it out and see if it would be worthwhile. If any of you readers are active in Good Reads and would like to share the advantages that would be great!
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” Marcus Tullius Cicero
When in the eight grade I naively started a book, entitled “Tennessee Ten” and completed about 10 handwritten pages! It was awful of course.
I have a few books by authors who I greatly respected until some current event, such as the #MeToo movement, changed my mind.
One of my blog readers has told me privately that I should concentrate on writing humor, but honestly, sometimes things just aren’t that funny, at least not on a regular basis.
Another reader weighed in with their earliest book memories: “Clifford the Big Red Dog”, “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Ferdinand the Bull.”
The beautiful autumn leaves are gone and the deciduous trees look a bit like skeletons against the sky.
For many of us, our thoughts turn to indoor evergreens burdened with red and green or multi-colored lights and ornaments.
Decorations in your home may be blue, white and silver for Hanukkah or they may reflect a different tradition such as the celebration of first fruits which is Kwanzaa. Many European countries celebrate Boxing Day and each in a slightly different way. Ōmisoka is celebrated on the last day of December by the Japanese as the prelude or bridge to the New Year. Ramadan, which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, may occur in December but will not again until 2030.
Celebrations are very personal depending on one’s country of origin, religious tradition or cultural preferences. We usually call such days “Holidays” whether or not they are official holidays in a particular country. The best way we can demonstrate love, show respect for others and be open to enlightenment is to not only share our values and beliefs but to try to understand those of others.
Greetings and Best Wishes
I feel good whether I’m wished Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings. The fact that someone is wishing me well is what is important. To me, the only appropriate response it to wish them well with any words that they have used. It isn’t the word that matters most, it is the thought, the wish, the greeting. When unsure what tradition another person celebrates it does not seem to me that an all-inclusive greeting (Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings) diminishes my personal tradition, which is Christmas.
So to the ninety-two followers of “Crooked Creek” and readers from thirty-five countries other than the United States, please allow me to wish you Happy Holidays filled with love and hope for a kind and peaceful world.
It is now two days post total eclipse of the sun across the entire United States. It had been ninety-nine years (June 28, 1918) since the last such event, so it is no wonder this was a very big deal! Everyone, citizen or visitor, who experienced this event has their own story to tell. Each location, group composition, and degree of totality was different, but the one aspect of the narrative that has been consistent is positivity. I have talked with friends and strangers and have seen or read many interviews with the media and I have not heard the first complaint. Even those of us who averaged less than 17 miles per hour getting home after the eclipse have stated we would do it all over again. There was something extraordinary about this occurrence that seemed to bring people together and to make us comprehend our finiteness in the universe. I’ll leave the astrology to the scientists, the solar/lunar photos to the real photographers and the spiritual interpretation to the theologians and just tell you about our experience and my thoughts and recollections.
Preparations started months ago when my daughter, Dianne, and her husband, Floyd, traveled to Hopkinsville to scope out a place to witness the coming eclipse. They made reservations at Tie Breaker Park which provided a parking permit and a 15-foot square place to camp for the day, or as they like to call it “tailgating.” We expected the space to be crowded, but upon arrival Monday at around 4:30 a.m. the place was pretty quiet. Over the next few hours, folks arrived from many different locations, some as far away as California, Texas, New York and even Quebec, Canada. At daybreak, we selected a nearby site with a shade tree and set up our camp with Dianne and Floyd’s canopy and table that were quickly assembled.
My daughter, Allison, had borrowed Stan’s (her husband) extended cab diesel truck to haul us and all our gear. She and her daughter, Kate, had packed it with everything we could possibly need and then loaded up Dianne and Floyd’s cargo and mine. The two and one half hour trip down was uneventful except perhaps for the number of donuts that can be consumed by five travelers. It was a good thing at the time that Allison did not know she would be holding down that clutch and shifting those 6 gears for about ten straight hours to get us back home.
The pre-eclipse hours were spent discussing an upcoming wedding,
playing games, listening to a special playlist, meeting our “neighbors,” and eating.
There was a lot of eating. Dianne, whose enthusiasm was contagious from the early planning stages, brought creative food and snacks which included Planets, Meteorites, Space Junk, Moon Pies and Eclipse cookies. In fact we had two kinds of eclipse cookies since the Matriarch (guess who) had also baked them as a surprise.
We had plenty of room to spread out, go for walks, visit nearby vendors and enjoy watching children play. A large group of dancers was spotted a little distance away in an open field. Their colorful costumes and dancing style made me think they might be Native Americans. When we joined others to watch the dancing we saw they were a group of men and women who appeared to be of Polynesian descent dancing and singing Christian songs and celebrating the day. When asked about their activity they replied: “The angels in heaven are dancing and so are we.” This communal spirit permeated the crowd that included a diverse group of fellow eclipse enthusiasts.
The actual eclipse, the event we had come to witness is the most difficult to describe. You have seen the photos and videos. Many of you, using special glasses, watched the phenomenon transpire. We understand the mechanics of this rare occurrence, but the emotions are more complex and really need to be experienced first hand*. As the moon’s shadow gradually overtook the light of the sun, dusk arrived in the middle of the day. Shadows took on different shapes.
The horizon gave an appearance of the setting (or rising?) sun in every direction, encircling us. Cicadas, which I had not been aware of before, were now droning shrilly and loudly as in the middle of the night.
Suddenly, with totality, a brief hush came over the crowd who up to now had been laughing and loudly exclaiming with excitement. As I looked around it was nighttime, but not as dark as midnight.
It was a unique kind of darkness that was slightly opaque, grayish and almost otherworldly. It was simultaneously familiar and peculiar. For two minutes and 40 seconds, we were able to look at the total eclipse of the sun without protective eyewear. That brief time was adequate for considering important questions about beliefs, hopes, memories, about this life and the possibility of an afterlife. No, I did not come to groundbreaking conclusions about any of these things, but I did feel a deep sense of peace and hope for humankind.
As I observed people over the next several hours, I believe most had similar feelings. On the way home there was much laughter and love among loved ones and strangers. While waiting in line for about 30 minutes to use the restroom on the way home at a McDonald’s in Central City I heard not one complaint. Those in line were sharing about the great eclipse experience. The workers in the restaurant were ceaselessly filling orders with a smile and were receiving from customers gratitude for their work.
Back on the interstate we saw a group of people standing on an overpass and wondered what might be happening. As we approached bumper to bumper with other vehicles the young folks standing along the bridge railing were smiling, waving and making signs of peace and love to us as we slowly passed underneath them. Travelers were responding with horns blowing as we received what was an obvious “Welcome” demonstration above. As our family slowly progressed toward home we laughed, compared feelings and thoughts and of course texted Stan who was working in Jeffersonville and Elizabeth, my other granddaughter, who was attending the first day of classes at IUPUI, in Indianapolis. While we missed them all day, each had experienced a partial eclipse in their respective locations and can begin to make plans for the next total eclipse to hit the US when Indiana will be the spot for prime viewing.
For now, my goal is to maintain the positive attitude I experienced on August 21, 2017, near Hopkinsville, KY. Recalling the hours of laughter, family interaction and unfathomable solar system display was a good diversion from current world crises. Somehow though I must meld that sense of peace with continued action. It is not enough to silently hope for the greater good of all of humankind. Promoting love and mutual respect, helping those who need it and resisting hate require movement, not simply “thoughts and prayers.”
*Start planning! You can experience this (or repeat it) on April 8, 2024. There is no excuse for not arranging to take the day off, obtaining needed reservations, composing your group and getting protective eyewear. You have seven years so start the groundwork now.
Please share your recent eclipse experience with us in the comments. If you are planning for the next one tell us your strategy. Let’s keep the sharing going! Thank you.
Dianne’s email on behalf of our family yesterday to Eclipseville, a.k.a. Hopkinsville:
“My family and I wanted to thank you for a wonderful time in Hopkinsville. Your town was wonderfully represented by everyone we met. They were all helpful and polite. We rented an area in the Tiebreaker Park. The event was well planned in that everyone was helpful and courteous and we knew what to do and where to go. The park was clean and the restroom facilities were clean and adequate. I’m not sure how you pulled this off with so many people arriving at once! Your emails before the event were helpful and fun. The eclipse itself was awesome and we’ll never forget it! We wanted you to know that we appreciate your efforts to make this event so memorable.”
Dianne prepared a Time Capsule for us to forward to our younger family members. We were so busy and involved that we hardly got it started, but will continue to add our momentoes, written thoughts, memories and pictures to the eclipse glasses and armbands and other items waiting for a total eclipse sometime in the future when the time capsule will be opened. It will hold memories and no doubt some comparisons of how things were in 2017 versus whatever year the star spangled box is opened.
Note: unless otherwise stated photos by my iPhone.
Some time ago a Facebook friend*, who is also a follower of this blog, challenged us to write about where we are from. She suggested that we use as a template a poem written by Kentucky’s 2015-2016 poet laureate, George Ella Lyon.
Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon
I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.
I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.
I took the challenge and in a few short moments had no difficulty writing about where I’m from. I’m not a poet, but it was a wonderful exercise in turning memories over in one’s mind. It can also make us contemplate the impact our beginnings had on where we are today.
Where I’m From by Sue Mattingly
I am from creek bottoms,
crawfish, and chiggers.
I am from an old apple tree,
Under which my rope swing hung.
I am from the hollyhocks
in my Grandmother’s yard
from which she helped me to
fashion fancy dolls.
I’m from biscuits and jam,
and from a galvanized tub for Saturday baths.
I’m from water bucket and dipper
and from the milking parlor down the road,
from spunk and playing April Fool’s
Jokes on my Grandfather!
I’m from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
sung with Pat on the front porch swing
and Vacation Bible School every summer.
I’m from Crooked Creek and Anderson County
From the front yard so carefully mown by my Dad
using a push mower without a motor
and the four room house Mother kept spic and span.
Against the front fence leaned my brother’s bike
which I sat on and pretended I could ride
when I heard a car coming down the gravel road.
I am from those times —
and yet feel like a foreigner —
when I try to return.
I challenge you to write your own and I would love it if you shared your poem with us in the comments section here. I look forward to reading and to learning more about your beginnings. Thank you and a special thank you to *Cindi Carmen.
To Bury, Cremate, Donate, Plant – Disposal of Human Remains
Another decision that must be made concerns disposal of bodily remains. For many years burial in a family or church cemetery was the norm, however that is changing for both environmental and economic reasons. In 2015 cremation rate in the US was 48.6% and expected to rise each year into the future. Rates vary across the country with over 60% in the West and as low as 25% in southern states. There are other options, of course which actually increase the cost, such as cryogenics, ashes blasted into space or adding ashes to an artificial reef in an ocean.
Interment in a cemetery has fallen into disfavor due to cost, but also because of what many see as misdirected use of land. While I personally prefer cremation and scattering of ashes (also called cremains) back into nature, I must admit that I have always found cemeteries interesting to visit. In old cemeteries I would go further and say that reading tombstones can be fascinating. I know that I am not alone, because many books have been written on the subject including: “Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography” by Douglas Keister and “Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks 1850-1950” by Abby Burnett which was reviewed in The Courier Journal in November 2015. Some of my favorite epitaphs from this book are these: “Killed by a live wire” (1905), “Revenge is my motto” (1869) and “This can’t be death. I feel too good” (1906).
When I was in Russia a couple of years after the fall of the Soviet Union, I toured a large old cemetery that was, according to custom there, divided into sections by profession or status. There were sections for the arts with subsections containing poets, musicians and actors. There were others for military, government officials, Communist Party members, working class (the proletariat) and even the Mafia.
I noticed many tombstones that bore the skull and cross bones symbol and inquired of the interpreter what that meant. Her response? “They’re dead”.
The skull and cross bones, while perhaps peculiar to Russia, are part of the monument period of Terror which represented symbols of fear of the afterlife. This was followed by the Romantic and then Personalization Periods. The Contemporary period in which we now live, leads to what are often attempts at humor. A word of warning about being too creative however, as what is funny today may be confusing or fall flat when it has become outdated. A couple of examples come to mind: A monument depicting a rotary and corded telephone simply said, “Jesus Called”. I’ve seen photos of others that show a calculator, an expired parking meter and even a brownie recipe.
One of my favorite tombstones is from Clay County, TN which explains that the deceased was “killed by bushwhackers” in 1862 in neighboring Fentress County. Unfortunately the photos taken and provided for this post by Steve Baugh have been lost due to my error.
“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it” Mark Twain.
Funerals are not high on anyone’s list of favorite social events. Well, there may be a few exceptions. One of my sweet aunts, who will not be named here, lived a block or two from the funeral home in her small town. When she saw activity indicating visitation or a pending funeral service at the establishment, she would dress in her Sunday clothes and walk to join the mourners. She was not being nosy, there was every reason to expect she would know the deceased. She had lived in this rural Kentucky County her whole life and knew just about everyone. She especially liked the young funeral director who always welcomed her with a hug.
The funeral home industry and its traditions have changed greatly over the years. There was a time when the deceased was embalmed at home and “laid out” in the parlor for the wake which usually lasted three days and nights. Just as the wake was transferred to a formal “funeral parlor” the venue of the funeral itself has moved, in most cases, from houses of worship. Today an abbreviated period of “visitation and viewing” has become the norm and funerals are “celebrations of life”. When visiting a funeral home today one likely encounters videos of the deceased on flat screens strategically placed throughout the parlor. Often there are photos and collages and posters honoring the life that has passed. So called “theme” funerals may focus on the deceased’s favorite sports team, hobby or profession. The coffin is often closed or not present at all or there may be an urn containing ashes. The memorial service can be planned for a time in the future that is more suitable to the family’s circumstances as it is no longer necessary to have all this occur immediately after the death. This delay allows the family to be passed the initial shock of the loss and to more fully receive offerings of support and sympathy.
So, there are traditions, there are religious cannons, local laws and there are one’s personal preferences. Your preference, what would you like your final event on this earth to be like? While you are reading this, still capable of making important decisions is the time to communicate your wishes. This can be part of the discussion when you have “the talk” https://crookedcreek.live/2017/01/25/death-decisions/ with your family. It is also helpful to have a few things written down, such as favorite poems, music, speakers. If there are things you feel strongly about clearly document those and if you have reason to doubt your wishes will be honored, they should be included in your Will, which is binding.
Many people complete their plans formally and even pay for their funerals in advance of need. Whether planning your own funeral or a loved one’s it is critical that you ask questions of the funeral home staff and have concrete information. One common misconception is embalming is required by law. It is not and electing to not have embalming can save a significant amount of money. Embalming is a mysterious process to most of us and because of our reluctance to think about death, we often do not want to know what actually takes place in order to preserve the appearance of a corpse for just a little extra time. Further, the impact upon the environment by use of toxic chemicals can be significant. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) embalming provides no public health benefit. It also has no roots in most religions, including Christianity. For more information on the actual process you may reference http://www.fcasocal.org/embalming-facts.html
The funeral or memorial service, besides reflecting the life that has ended, should be a comfort for survivors. Those who are part of a religious community are comforted by common beliefs and the expectation of an afterlife. Music can be heartbreaking or inspiring. November 18, 2016, The New York Times asked readers what their deathbed playlist preferences would be. The range, not surprisingly varied from hard rock to classics. Probably the same music we would enjoy hearing in our last days or hours of life, would be appropriate for our service, too, as long as it would not be offensive or hurtful in some way to others. Most of us recall fondly at least one song from each of our loved ones’ funerals. Poems are frequently read that reflect the deceased’s philosophy or special interests. A eulogy may be provided by a close friend or family member. Such a tribute should be written out so if the person delivering the words becomes too emotional to proceed, the minister or other person officiating can be prepared to read it.
This is the eulogy I delivered at my stepfather’s funeral. I was pleased to be able to honor his memory and after all these many years I still feel his life can be a lesson for those of us living today.
We are here to honor Leroy’s memory. Each of us knew him on a different plane. He may have been your neighbor, your customer or friend, a relative, by birth or by choice.
Whether you knew him for eighty years or eight, you no doubt, knew him to be a good person, an honest man to be trusted and one who loved the land and took pride in his profession of dairy farmer.
He was many other things too. SECURE IN WHO HE WAS, holding no old fashioned gender roles – the same hands that worked the farm washed dishes and cooked a mean casserole.
GENTLE – he watched birds, fed kittens, loved to see magnolias bloom. Small children were given his full attention, whether playing a silly game or observing an earthworm on the sidewalk after a rain.
TOLERANT – he had convictions, but allowed us ours.
A ROMANTIC – taking his bride to Niagara Falls and each anniversary giving her one red rose for each year of their marriage.
FAITHFUL – to his church and more importantly to his Lord.
And he was, of course, many other things, but there is one last attribute I want to share with you. I learned this about Leroy after the death of his only son, Bobby.
He was a very PRACTICAL person. Even though he grieved his losses, he did not allow those losses to steal the happiness he was offered by each new day of life. He did not deplete his energies agonizing about things he could not change. I think he would remind us of that today.
Next time we will look at one more remaining decision, disposal of remains. This will not conclude the list of things that must be decided upon at the time of one’s death, but will have covered the most crucial ones.
Deciding to rush from work to join Minnie tonight and not wanting to make her late, I had actually arrived early. I knew how much it meant to her to attend the meetings just as she had attended church regularly for her eighty-plus years of life. Too late I learn she is disappointed, because when I am not here the Preacher stops by and brings her to the service. She feels special, I supposed, arriving with the Preacher. As I look around for familiar faces arriving in all manner of garb, I made a mental note to be late next time so she could be escorted the way she preferred.
There is Dr. Lee, as reticent as ever. It is my opinion she is not stuck up, but rather, she has difficulty in social situations. Her athletic shoes look strangely out of place, not for the venue, but for her. Charles enters looking troubled and carrying the dogeared spiral notebook in which he writes throughout each service. I used to think he was a serious Bible scholar critiquing the message, but today I overheard him saying something about bills as he flipped madly through the pages. Strangely, he seemed concerned about NOT receiving bills as he queried others about the status of their bills. Mr. and Mrs. Harvey arrive together and she looks more frail than in the past. Minnie had told me “Mrs. Harvey is on the verge of dialysis, but she is resisting.” I didn’t know dialysis was an optional treatment.
There’s Lena walking straight to a seat which will accommodate her should she care to lie down during the service. Some people are extremely bothered by her habit of reclining at any time and in any setting, but others hardly seem to notice. There’s a lady coming this way who I do not know. Carefully groomed, she has small delicate hands with perfectly polished nails. She doesn’t look left or right as she gets settled in the seat next to Minnie who pointedly doesn’t look at her either. Instead, she is looking enviously at the woman being escorted into the service by the Preacher.
The room is almost full now. Some faces are less familiar, but just as interesting. The piano player is getting out song books for the worshipers to share. Finally, when all are quiet and poised for the singing to begin, my favorite makes her entrance. Esther truly is an aristocratic sight as she makes her way first to greet the musician. She is wearing a navy blue blazer, oxford shirt, neatly creased trousers and low heeled pumps. Her navy purse is perfectly balanced hanging from one stately squared shoulder. She stops by each person, graciously offering her hand as she bends down ever so slightly, so she can look them directly in the eyes. As she comes closer I can hear each greeting, “So glad you came,” “Thank you for coming,” “It is so good to see you!” As she completes the circle, addressing the last person, she regally exits the room to be seen no more this evening.
Hymn books are passed, the song leader takes her place and the piano begins a cadence not unlike a funeral dirge. The hymns are old and familiar Protestant fare, including Rock of Ages, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks and The Old Rugged Cross. Charles scribbles in his book, Lena starts to ease toward a recumbent position, Dr. Lee’s face is immobile as she holds her head and song book erect. Minnie and the two Harveys are each on a different note and none are the same as the one the song leader is singing. The Preacher grins goofily at his congregation while singing loudly in the note the leader was determined to maintain.
Prayer request and praise time is next in the order of service and the Preacher begins this portion by sharing how thankful he is that he is “healthy and able to do the Lord’s work,” while looking around the room at blank faces and ailing bodies. Next, he invites the congregation to share prayer needs and praises. A small black lady in the front row said she would like prayer that she could “walk good again.” The Preacher responds, “Yes, Mrs. Long.” Another woman tearfully asks prayer for her great nephew who was paralyzed in a recent football accident. The Preacher was visibly moved and replied, “We will certainly pray for him. How hard it must be on the whole family. You know, it is so tragic for this to happen to a young man. Girls can just take this sort of thing better, but a boy knows he needs to get out into the world and work, provide for a family.” The worshippers nod in agreement. The prayer requests continue ranging from paltry to profound amid sounds of hymnals hitting the floor and people coughing and muttering. Finally, the Preacher closes prayer time with a long prayer imploring God to hear, to have mercy and “If it was in His will” to grant the requests just made. He didn’t mention the gentleman who had just shared that his “ass hurt.”
The Preacher resumed his goofy grin and began the meat of the service. He started by telling some personal anecdotes, his eyes sweeping the room for reaction. The lady with the nephew didn’t disappoint. She kept her smiling eyes glued to his face and her hearing aid tuned to his every word. Charles kept reviewing his notebook. Lena was quietly supine. Dr. Lee stared straight ahead. Just as the Preacher began to read from his text for his main event, Minnie turned to the woman beside her with the nice manicure and suddenly shook her roughly by the shoulder shouting, “Wake up! Don’t you know you are not supposed to sleep in church!” The pretty woman’s head bobbed back and forth with the shaking making me wonder whether she was asleep or deceased. Either way, I was embarrassed. The Preacher didn’t miss a beat. Dr. Lee’s expression didn’t change. Charles didn’t take his eyes off the notebook. Mr. Harvey smiled broadly. As the Preacher’s words piled higher and deeper, I let my mind wonder like many in the room had done from the beginning.
Finally the service was over and I took Minnie by the hand, leading my Mother back to her room as the attendants, one by one, escorted the other nursing home residents to their rooms.