Monday, January 31, 2011

The One Being: Our Part in the Whole

“The knitting together of God and the world has just taken place
under our eyes in the domain of action.”
            ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (from The Divine Milieu)

Sometimes my mind wanders in church, and sometimes it explores. One Sunday morning there was a visiting priest at our church. He mentioned in his homily that he taught theology to the ninth graders at a college preparatory school. His custom, he told us, is to use Wednesday class time to discuss the scripture passages from the lectionary on the upcoming Sunday. As he delivered the homily, the priest came across as intelligent and genuine. I thought about how fortunate those students were to have such a gifted and knowledgeable teacher. I had the impression that this priest sees the importance of his task in teaching those young students. Surely, he sees his endeavors in light of the big picture, a great attribute for one in the teaching profession.

From there, my mind went from the teaching profession to other professions and jobs that we all go back to on Monday morning. I wondered how many people are able to grasp the vision of being a part of a great unified whole. How many of us in society are able to see our work, as Teilhard elaborates in The Divine Milieu, as contributing to the manifestation of God in the universe? Christianity can offer a picture of this unified whole of which we are all a part, and can help us make sense of it all. Such a view gives meaning to our individual endeavors within the corporate whole. Indeed, Teilhard’s spiritual classic presents such a picture.

Christianity, however, is not the only place to find that larger a view. The other major religions also give people a concept of the whole. Hassidic Judaism gives us the concept of tikkun olam (repair of the world), that we can be instruments to build up and to bring good into the world. Buddhism teaches that we are all part of one great phenomenon. Islam tells us that we all find completion and peace in submission to Allah, the Omnipotent and All Merciful. Indigenous earth-based religions affirm that we are all part of creation. Taoism teaches that everything occurs within the all-encompassing Tao – the essence, source and reason of all that is (Cf. the Greek logos [reason], translated “Word” in the New Testament: “In the beginning was the Word…, In the beginning was the Logos…, In the beginning was the Tao, and the Tao was with God, and the Tao was God”).

My mind continued to explore, that Sunday morning, as the order of service moved from homily to Eucharist. I observed how our worship can celebrate the oneness of all, and can demonstrate our role in building the world. In our church, we say the Nicene Creed affirming Christ’s “one being with the Father,” which is how we happen to express the Greek term homoousias, meaning “one substance.” The deeper truth is that there is, of course, only one substance in the universe. In the Eucharist, we dramatize the truth that the divine logos is spread throughout creation as we receive the “logos” and carry that realization into the world. When the service is ended, we are exhorted to “Go into the world in peace to do the work that God has given us to do.” Indeed, it is in that everyday work that we see “the knitting together of God and the world.”

Whatever your background, whatever traditions you hold, look to the wisdom you have inherited to see the one being, the one substance of the universe, the one world and your part in the whole.


Sunday, January 30, 2011


Until the Apollo missions with NASA in the late 1960s and early 1970s, we had not seen the earth from the vantage point of space. We did not know how blue and beautiful we were from afar. For the first time we saw an image of one earth. It was different from those world maps we had seen in geography textbooks, or the globes that sat in the classrooms. Those were contrived by artists and showed divisions, countries, and boundaries. For the first time, we saw through the astronaut’s lens a single, beautiful, living thing – a lovely oasis of life illuminated in the darkness of space. Though we did not feel it down on the ground, with all our conflicts and divisions, we could see it in that photo taken from the moon.

Even now, all these years later, it is difficult to realize what was seen so clearly from space. We are one planet, one people, one life, one earth. We indeed have a treasure to celebrate and preserve.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Readers Respond to News of Huck Finn

Some left comments (which are always welcome) on my last blog entry about the new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Some of my friends emailed me their responses which I would like to share:

“Excellent points Charlie, political correctness seems to be the only venue which is allowed to de-value art, whether written or sculpted or painted. Art expresses, if nothing else the thinking of the people of the day. To change it 150 years later will cause us not to grasp the thinking of the people in the day in which it was written, painted or sculpted. Silliness... pure silliness.”

"I love Huck Finn too, but I like the idea of the revised edition as an option. It makes the story more accessible to younger audiences. And it is just an option. The original will always be with us.”

“I found your article on your blog pertaining to political correctness, etc. thought provoking. Not sure I agree with you or Bro Will and his friend but the friend is surely better than the enemy and liberals who are so seldom realists in any sense of the word can surely work themselves into positions worse or as bad as the enemy. For sure.”

“I am appalled at the thought of someone changing already published historical literature! There are PLENTY of words that I find offensive in current literature, poetry, song, and rap, but that is what freedom of speech is! I also have the freedom not to not listen to and to not read what I find offensive. I have the freedom to overlook or bypass a few offensive words in consideration of the broader literary contribution of the work while taking into account the historical perspective under which the work was written. However, if there have been some people prevented from reading the works of Mark Twain because of some of the language found in his works and if those people will now be exposed to his work in revised form, then perhaps I can find some solace.”

"I love Will Campbell - even called him once. I look forward to reading the revised Huck Finn - The American classic against racism!"

One friend sent me to a link to a cartoon, Tom the Dancing Bug: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Corrected to reflect modern sensibilities). He calls it "a great send up of those who would alter the sacred text of Huck.” It is quite hilarious. You can see the cartoon here.

Thanks to all who weighed in on the controversy.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Inoffensive Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Cartoon by John Sherffius, 01/06/2011

The news came out the first week in January of a revised edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. The work is apparently spearheaded by a professor from Auburn University, which is just down the road from my Alabama hometown. As one who loves literature, especially the works of Samuel Clemens, I found this to be most disheartening news. There have been stories in the past of schools banning Twain’s masterpiece from libraries and curriculum due to the offensive use of the “N” word. There is frequent use of the word as the author writes in the colloquial speech of his day, and of course, prominent to the story is Nigger Jim, the runaway slave who travels down the Mississippi River with young Huck. The reality is that Mark Twain does more than anyone of his generation to illustrate the humanity of Americans of African descent, and to show the inhumanity of a culture that enslaved black people while using Bible verses to justify such enslavement.

Sometimes we educated folk can get so caught up in political correctness that we end up missing the point entirely, living in a dull, flat landscape, so to speak. It reminds me of something Will Campbell relates in his acclaimed memoir, Brother to a Dragonfly. Campbell tells of a salty Baptist preacher, Brother Thad Garner, he knew in the Deep South. One of his stories is about how Brother Garner used his influence in the local Lion’s Club to make them aware that it was wrong to support a bond issue for a swimming pool in their town when earlier a bond had been defeated that would have provided running water for those living in the Black community (who were having to draw water from a single well). This was a decade prior to the civil rights movement. Brother Thad had first warmed up the crowd with some jokes, including one about an “ole colored preacher.” After the meeting, Will chided his friend for telling “ole colored preacher" jokes. To which his friend Thad replied:

“That’s the trouble with you shithook liberals, Willie. You had rather see a hundred children die of dehydration than to have the sound of ‘nigger’ heard from your lips. Whether I say ‘nigger’ don’t matter a damn. If one of those young’uns die of thirst he ain’t nothing. Just one more dead nigger, whether I say the word or not, or whether I go to Hell for saying it or not. But if he lives to get grown, maybe he can lead his people out of this godawful Egypt and there won’t be no more niggers."

If this new version will get Huckleberry Finn back on the reading list in schools, maybe it has some merit. Better yet – perhaps it will call attention to the work to spur readers to go and find the original version. Mark Twain does have another book, his autobiography, which is currently making the best seller list. A Mark Twain renaissance might not be so bad.

What? Try to make Mark Twain inoffensive? What good is that? Mark Twain had a uncanny ability to make people lighten up and get serious at the same time. He was a writer of great humor and wit and he had a way of exposing human behavior for what it is. He didn't mind offending, especially the social elite, the religiously proper, the haughty and the proud.

I could go on, but I don’t think anyone could do better than columnist Leonard Pitts, of the Miami Herald. In his column on January 9 he writes, "Huck Finn is a funny, subversive story about a runaway white boy who comes to locate the humanity in a runaway black man and, in the process, vindicates his own. It has always, until now, been regarded as a timeless tale." You can read the entire column here (which I highly recommend).

Update and correction: A friend has corrected me that Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who has published the new Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (NewSouth Books), is professor at Auburn University at Montgomery. My friend is librarian at AUM and tells me that the book is a huge buzz over there and is having tremendous sales.


Brother to a Dragonfly, by Will D. Campbell, 1977. Continuum: New York, pp. 175-176.

John Sherrifus Editorial Cartoons,

March 25 addendum:

The following was aired on CBS's 60 Minutes program on March 18. You can hear some interesting comments about the new version of Hickleberry Finn. The editor at NewSouth Books is among those interviewed :


Friday, January 14, 2011

A Time to Stop and Reflect: Looking at the Tragedy in Tucson

The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, and the senseless murder of six others, initially left me shocked and angry. I was angry with certain right wing politicians and commentators who have been ratcheting up the rhetoric and using gun metaphors. I said to myself that THEY need to stop and re-think. These are no longer “cutesy catch phrases.” THEY need to take responsibility for the images THEY are promoting. I was also angry with the gun lobbyists and legislators who think that private citizens need to own semi-automatic rifles and assault weapons.That was my initial reaction. Many times at work, I have told people, “there is no need to assign blame, we just need to assess the problem and do our best to correct it.” But here I was, outraged and ready to assign blame.

My friend, Ralph Starling, posted a much more healing response on his blog. He brings some insight as one who has travelled abroad and who works in a multicultural environment. Ralph speaks of the need to look within one's self during crucial times. He also quotes Franciscan priest Richard Rohr who has advocated time spent in quiet contemplation to get a wider view by tapping into what he calls the “Christ consciousness.” You can read Ralph’s excellent advice here.

Then our President offered wise counsel to the nation at the memorial service in Tucson. He cautioned against falling into the blame game, saying that we need to offer words that heal rather than divide, that there is more that unites us than divides us. ‎"In the fleeting time we have on this earth,” President Obama said, “ what matters is not wealth or status or power or fame, but rather how much we have loved and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better."

The President also made reference to the youngest victim of that tragic shooting, the nine year old student council president, and offered these challenging words: “I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us -- we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.”

It is truly a time of grief - not the first time we have known it and surely not the last. May we use this time to step back, rethink and reevaluate. May we use this time to assess what truly matters to our lives as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Mapping America

The New York Times has taken Census Bureau data from from 2005 to 2009 and created a nice series of maps. You can zoom in to browse by state, county, and even Census district. I looked up my own neighborhood district and viewed different maps showing average income level and education, then did the same thing for the town where I grew up. I must say I was a bit surprised.

You can type in your zip code or address and find out the general trend of the population where you live. Different maps plot our different topics which include Race and Ethnicity, Income, Housing and Families, and Education. You can find an amazing amount of demographic information right at your fingertips. To view the map for yourself, just go to .

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bob Dylan and the Midrash

Some time back, I happened upon a blog site, Bright Terrible Spirit, that shed some light on how Jewish wisdom was a source for a line in the Bob Dylan song from which this blog takes its name. Here is how the blog entry begins:

Not Dark Yet: Midrash on Midrash
by Chris Floyd

In an interview with the Jewish Ledger, Seth Rogovoy, author of a new book on Jewish themes in the work of Bob Dylan, makes this interesting connection:

More recently, in his song “Not Dark Yet,” Dylan sings, “I was born here and I’ll die here/Against my will.” That’s a direct lift from the Pirkei Avot 4:29: “Against your will you were born. Against your will you will die.”

Rogovoy’s identification of the Midrash as the source for one of the most powerful lines in one of Dylan’s most powerful songs is indeed an astute work of scholarship, giving us a genuinely new insight into the song. What is equally interesting is to go back to the original text, and see how Dylan does not just appropriate it, he also ‘turns’ it in a new direction…

You can find the complete essay here. It is well worth reading. You might want to read about Not Dark Yet and the Midrash, then go back to my blog post on January 1 to hear the song, if you haven't already heard it.

The book is that is referred to is Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet by Seth Rogovoy. You can read a review of the book here.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Not Dark Yet 2011

Not Dark Yet
by Bob Dylan

Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day

It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away

Feel like my soul has turned into steel

I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal

There’s not even room enough to be anywhere

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain

Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain

She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind

She put down in writing what was in her mind

I just don’t see why I should even care

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree

I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea

I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies

I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes

Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will

I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still

Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb

I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from

Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Copyright © 1997 by Special Rider Music

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