Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Flashback: A Poetic Sense of Life

[Continuing in my re-posts from the past, this one was originally posted on February 1, 2010. It is about the unique things we can learn, or be reminded of, when we listen to our children. My daughter is now 26 years old, and I am still learning things from her, but I'll always treasure the glimpses she helped me to see from a child's point-of-view so many years ago.]

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:17 (RSV)

Mircea Eliade was a religious historian who wrote many books about mythology. He made it quite clear that ancient people were not simple-minded. They were every bit as sophisticated in their thinking as we modern people are. The difference is that their mode of thinking was mythopoeic – mythopoetic, if you will – while our modern mindset is scientific and analytical. Reading Mircea Eliade convinced me that myth is not falsehood. Myth is truth, spoken from a poetic mind set.

Robert Coles is another author I would recommend. A child psychiatrist and Harvard professor, he wrote a book called The Spirituality of Children in which he showed us that children have a much greater grasp of the truths of life than we adults often give them credit for. I think that children have that poetic sense that our ancient ancestors had and that all of us once had before it was socialized out of us.

When my daughter Elaine was six years old, I overheard a remarkable conversation between her and her playmate. They were involved in an art project painting rocks at our dining/arts-and-crafts table. Elaine (while painting a rock) said, "There's the right color! I knew God would show me."

Her friend said, "God is in my heart."

Elaine replied, "There's Mother God and Father God. Mother God is the Earth and Father God is up there watching over us." She made a big sweep of her arm as she said this. "Father God can't watch everyone at the same time, but Mother God can."

Her friend responded, "There's two – there’s God and Jesus."

To which my daughter replied, "Well, I know Mother God very well – I'm like her."

Her friend, not exactly following Elaine's statement said, "I like her to."

"Do you sway with the grass?" Elaine asked her. "Mother God sways with the grass," swaying her arms and her body back and forth as she spoke.

At six years of age, my daughter had a remarkable gift. She had latched onto a feminine identification with the divine. "I know Mother God very well – I'm like her... Mother God sways with the grass."

Elaine had talked to me before about her ideas. I once told a theologian friend of mine about a conversation I had with her about Mother God and Father God when she was four years old. She said, "It's hard for me to say something about Father God, but it's easier to talk about Mother God." I asked her why that was. She said, "Well, Father God – I don't really know him, but I know Mother God. I was in Mother God's belly before it was time to be in my mother's belly to be born. You see, I have two mothers: Mommy and Mother God."

I had marveled at her honesty and insight. My thought was that she captured the notion of the imminence of God vs. the transcendence of God. My theologian friend's comment was that Elaine's idea was "classic Meister Ekhart." Not bad company for a young observer of life. My daughter is a sophomore in college now. My hope for her is that she will always remember the God who is like her, and that she never forgets how to sway with the grass.

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[As a postscript, you can see from the essay above that Elaine had an early start in art. She is now working out of an art studio and teaching art to college students after having earned her graduate degree from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. She currently has an exhibit on display at Ground Floor Contemporary art gallery. To view some of her artwork, visit her website at]


Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Music: Caoineadh cu Chulainn

A beautiful Lament played by Davey Spillane on the uilleann pipes

From the Ireland/Éire Facebook page:

There's a story behind this lament, as there is behind any Irish lament (or Scottish one for that matter) but this one, I think deserves telling.

Now you have all heard of Cú Chulainn or Setanta, as he was called as a child. How he got the name Cú Chulainn or the "hound of Chulainn " is a different story, as is his battle to the death with his blood brother Ferdia. Now Ferdia was a very old and the closest friend of Cú Chulainn. The met in the land of Alba (Scotland) where was sent to train in the art of war and all the weapons, but that's again a different story.

This lament is about the time when Cú Chulainn killed his own son in battle you see you see when he was in Alba being trained by Scathach A fierce Scottish Warrior of renown he met Scathachs' sister. Both Scathach and Aoife, her sister were masters at warfare and had never been beaten, which is why the best young warriors were sent to train under her guidance. To cut this part of a long story short, Scathach and Aoife were feuding and after a long complicated story Cú Chulainn beat Aoife in battle and forced her to make peace with her sister, He also won her affection and so the inevitable happened and she had a son to him and she named him Conlaoch

Years later and not knowing he had a son, Cú Chulainn married Emer, his childhood sweetheart. When Aoife heard that Cúchulainn had married Emer, she was totally enraged. So she decided to turn her son into a weapon against Cú Chulainn. She trained her son in all aspects of being a warrior. She then sent him over to Ireland but first she put three geasa on him. A "geasa", for those who don't know is an unbreakable promise, your Word of honour, so to speak. Now for any true Irishman or Scottish man for that matter there is no worse fate than to be without honour. It is the single worst fate that can befall you. First of these geasa was that he was not to turn back, the second that he should never refuse a challenge, and the third that he should never tell anyone his name.

When Conlaoch arrived at his father's home in Dundalk, he was met by the warrior Conall, who according to custom asked him his name and lineage. Because of the geas his mother had put on him, Conlaoch could not comply with this request and was immediately challenged to a duel with Conall, which he could not refuse. After many such chalanges and battles, Conlaoch then came against Cúchulainn himself and was asked his lineage, but again could not tell it and so was challenged by Cúchulainn. In the terrible battle that followed the hero light came upon Cú Chulainn and Conlaoch realised that he was fighting his father and that his mother had been treacherous, he cast his spear sideways so that it would miss Cúchulainn and shouted that he was his son, but it was too late Cúchulainn had already thrown the gae bulga (which he had won from Aoife) and it was unstoppable once thrown and thus Conlaoch was slain.

Cúchulainn was thrown into a fit of rage and grief in which he lost his senses and started attacking anything in sight, so in order to save him and his friends from further tragedy, the Druid Cathbad cast a spell upon Cúchulainn causing him to see the waves of the sea as armed opponents. He battled with the waves until he collapsed from exhaustion.

So that being said this lament called "Caoineadh Cu Chulainn" (Cú Chulainns' lament) is about that tragedy.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sacred Spaces: Klezmer Shabbat Service at Temple Emanu-el

I have had it in the back of my mind to do a blog series on sacred spaces. The idea is to visit various places of worship around town and write an essay about the experience at each place. I was invited to attend a special Shabbat service at Temple Emanu-El on Birmingham’s Highland Avenue last Friday, so I have taken that opportunity to begin my Sacred Spaces Series.

Temple Emanue-El is a Reform Jewish congregation founded in 1882. Their mission statement  on their website states : “Temple Emanu-El is a welcoming Reform Jewish congregation, engaging members in prayer, study, fellowship, and acts of loving kindness for our congregational family and the community at-large.”

Last Friday, August 26, 2016, was the world premiere of the Klezmer Shabbat Service, a musical production written by Dr. Alan Goldspiel. Dr. Goldspiel is Chair of the Department of Music at the University of Montevallo and is the music director of the Magic Shtetl Klezmer Band which features Goldspiel on the classical guitar, Pei-Ju Wo on violin, Robert Janssen on clarinet, and Michael Glaser, percussionist.

Klezmer, according to the program notes, is “a musical tradition originating in the shtetls and ghettos of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe, where musicians performed at joyful events since the early middle ages.” Klezmer was originally inspired by secular melodies and is often used for weddings and for dancing. Though it can be very soulful, it is not a tradition normally associated with Shabbat, so this was a truly original musical event.

Preparing Ahead

Before going to the Shabbat service, I consulted my trusty volume, How to be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook to familiarize myself with what to expect and how I needed to act. The basic information I got was that since Temple Emanuu-El is a Reform synagogue, I would not be required to wear a yarmulke and that I should stand when everyone stands during the prayers. As for dress, for men, the book said, “a coat and tie are always appropriate.” Since my copy of A Perfect Stranger is 20 years old now, I wondered if this were still the case. I knew that among Protestants and Catholics dress has become considerably more relaxed, and I thought of how an evening at the symphony once always indicated a coat and tie, but now that is usually just business casual.

I decided to forego the tie, since men’s neck ties are becoming rather rare. I wanted to “blend in” but not stand out. I opted for a sport coat, slacks, and dress shirt with open collar. I considered that this event involved prayer and music, both deserving of some respect in my manner of dress. When I arrived, I saw that there was an even mix of business casual and sport jackets/suits among the men, so I felt comfortably “blended in.”

Hearing the Music

As the program began, the instrumental music had a familiar ring. It sounded like music I had heard as background music in movies, and it triggered memories of cinematic scenes in New York City, though I could not think right off hand what specific movies I had heard this genre of music in.  That is to say, the music was lively and accessible. (A quick online search later revealed klezmer influence in the musical scores of such movies as Cabaret, Oliver!Blazing Saddles, Once Upon a Time in America, and, of course, Fiddler on the Roof. 

When it came to movements in which traditional Jewish prayers for the Sabbath were sung by the choir, the music had a full, even oceanic feel at times with other movements given more to gentle reflection. Some of the movements conveyed a sense of proclamation. The music also called for several solo parts by cantor Jessica Roskin, whose voice carried the music with beauty and skill. It was a joy to hear the Magic Shtetl Klezmer Band as well as the cantorial choir of Temple Emanu-El.

Praying the Prayers

Everything was in Hebrew, but page numbers were included in the program, so I was able to follow along in the prayer book. Though the prayers were written Hebrew, there was usually an English translation included which allowed me to get some sense of the prayers being offered. For example, the opening prayer, Hinei Mah Tov can be translated “How good it is, and how pleasant, when we dwell together in unity.”

The next prayer, L’cha Dodi is translated, “Come, my Beloved, to meet the Bride; let us welcome the Shabbat. Observe and Remember, the one and only Gd caused us to hear in a single utterance; the L-rd is One and His Name is One, for renown, for glory and for praise.”

And of course there is the Sh’ma (shema) which begins,  Sh'ma Yis-ra-eil, A-do-nai E-lo-hei-nu, A-do-nai E-chad… “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

As one who has spent much time in Protestant and Catholic Churches, there were some similarities to be seen among our differences. The offering of praise to God was similar. Indeed, there is a certain weightiness about hearing these ancient prayers being offered up -- prayers that have been said by the faithful for thousands of years in hundreds of gatherings throughout the world. Other similarities were the prayers for the sick and the remembrances of those who had died. 

All in all, it was a significant evening. I was able to witness something quite new while hearing prayers that are quite ancient, weighty, and sacred. Temple Emanu-El has their services webcast, so you may see the Klezmer Shabbat Service online at .


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Yesterday's Path

when the waves roll in
yesterday’s path is a dream
new footsteps bring hope


Photo by Malcolm Marler


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Flashback: Form and Substance: How a Sonnet Saved My Life

[While I am working on another project, I am re-posting some of my favorite essays. This post originally appeared on August 22, 2011.]

The Sonnet

The sonnet is the most restrictive of
Poetic forms. A scheme is strictly set
Dictating poet's rhyme and rhythm, yet
He chooses it for lofty thoughts of love,
Admiring noble deeds, or saintly stuff.
Indeed, the sonnet always seems to let
Transcendence have its way so as to get
A sense of freedom. Thus we see it prove
To be the highest, freest form to whet
A true Poetic. Often when I see
The bounds within which I must find my way,
(The cold collective spreads its mindless net
And freedom seems to fade) I wish to be
A living sonnet soaring through the day.

CLK                                       2/82

The sonnet, like so many aspects of society, provides rules, structure and boundaries. We can find comfort in those boundaries we see in society. Boundaries give definition to what is expected and provide security in our roles. On the other hand, boundaries can be restricting and oppressive. We have common metaphors that speak to this paradox: “keep your hand on the plow,” “stay on track” are just as familiar as “he was chomping at the bit,” or “pulling at the traces.” Boundaries indeed offer guidance, but sometimes one must slip the traces or jump the tracks. I recently read some words from Spanish poet Antonio Machado which speak poignantly and profoundly about how we make our own way to find our true path in life:

Why should we call
these accidental furrows roads?
Everyone who moves on
walks like Jesus, on the sea. [1]

The sonnet above is one that I wrote when I was 28 years old. I offer it as an example of how one can be awakened by one’s own poem. At the time, I was teaching English at Hong Kong Baptist College on a two-year assignment with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. I had graduated from seminary and had plans to go into ministry upon return to the States. During my first year back in the U.S., I was in the middle of a chaplaincy training program at Montclair Baptist Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. One evening I was re-reading the sonnet that I had written two years before. For some reason, I imagined myself as a 68-year-old man and a young man was reading the sonnet. The young man asked me if I ever learned how to be a living sonnet. The only honest answer I could give in that imaginary situation was, “No. I never did.”

It was at that moment that I realized I needed to get out from where I was at the time. Toward the end of my chaplaincy training, I was offered the opportunity to apply for an opening in the chaplain residency program at the hospital. To the director’s surprise, I never applied for the position.

Finding New Directions

“Where will you go from here?” the Pastoral Care director asked. I had no clear answer, except that I knew I had to go away from where I was at that moment. The next year proved to be a formative year. I left the Baptists and found St. Andrew's Episcopal Church where there was a commitment to high liturgy and social service. While there, I found employment at St. Andrew’s Foundation working with adults with developmental disabilities in group home settings. The overarching ideal at St. Andrew’s Foundation was “normalization,” meaning that we would allow each person to live as normal a life as possible, with normal routines rather than being defined by their disability.

St. Andrew's Church
The home where I worked was a couple of blocks away from St. Andrew’s Church.  In those days, the bell in the church steeple would sound out the hours. The liturgical hours (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline) were designated times of prayer throughout the day. This was a form that I was unaccustomed to, having grown up Baptist. While I worked with clients at the group home, even though those liturgical hours were unfamiliar, it was meaningful to hear the bells sound during the day. It reminded me to stop, if only briefly, to acknowledge that I was working within a larger context of meaning.

Even more than the liturgical hours in the background, the group home residents themselves gave my life a centering. More than teaching and certainly more than professional ministry, my work now seemed like real life. Teaching and ministry are both wonderful and needed professions, but my own strengths and abilities did not fully align with the tasks in either milieu. I was therefore not finding life within those structures.  At St. Andrew’s Foundation I sat on front porches and in living rooms of those group homes visiting and talking with residents who were limited in many ways, but they helped me to see more clearly what real life is about. All manner of assumptions were dispelled during those days. We were all learning each day how to better find our way in the world. They needed help with shopping, banking, household management, job training, and managing the conflict that arises just by living with other people. They were learning to have a home of their own, and I felt like I was finally home.

I would later recount, "It was at St. Andrew's that I came to realize that people who live with disabilities have something very important to say about what it means to be human. How we respond to people with disabilities says something very important about who we are as human beings." [2]
Nothing is constant, however. After several years of rewarding work at St. Andrew’s Foundation, I was also starting a family and needing to broaden my possibilities. To that end, I went back to my old alma mater for a degree in Nursing. My first job in the Nursing field was as a psychiatric nurse at the same hospital where I had once been a chaplain. I remember walking across the hospital grounds one evening, recalling how I had made that same walk years before as a chaplain. Back then I was thinking, “I don’t belong here.” That night, however, as I walked the grounds as a nurse, I said to myself, “This is exactly where I belong!”

Writing New Avenues and Looking Inward

I continue to make a living in healthcare, and I also continue to write. The point of sharing my sonnet is to show how the process of writing can help us to know who we really are, at least that has been true for me. My writing has taken the form of daily journals, personal letters, dream journals, essays, and poetry. The poetry that I have written over the years often has served as a kind of spiritual diary, recording where I was, what I was thinking, and how I was feeling at the time. Sometimes the writing surprises me by opening up new windows and new avenues. Sometimes the writing, as with this sonnet, helps me to see a bit more clearly how to live more congruently with my inner self and ideals.

For all who have an interest in writing, I say, by all means write! Don’t worry about whether it is “good enough.” That sonnet that I wrote all those years ago is certainly no Shakespeare or Dante, but it contained a true observation that allowed me to take a probing look within myself. Make sure that what you write is your true voice. You will probably learn more about yourself, and the writing might even save your life.

                                                                                                               Charles Kinnaird


1.  From I Never Wanted Fame, by Antonio Machado (translated by Robert Bly), Ally Press (limited edition) 1979.
2. From "An Ordinary Life" at

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You may be interested in reading these related posts:


Monday, August 22, 2016

Louisiana 1927 (Randy Newman)

Louisiana has had its share of floods. There is the 1927 flood commemorated by Randy Newman in his song recorded in 1974.  That flood came when the river flooded and levees broke. There has been flooding from hurricanes hitting the coast, and today there is flooding from heavy rains in what is being called "the 500 year flood."

There is yet another "washing away" of Louisiana due to a system of dams that prevent the Mississippi River from depositing silt to build up the delta and exacerbated by other man-made activity, as in the oil and gas industry, that is literally putting the land under water.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Waterfall

with flowing water
a bridge to cross the chasm
is incidental


Pboto by John Fowler
Multnomah Falls, Oregon's tallest waterfall


Friday, August 19, 2016

Seven Magic Words

Brian Hawkins, aka Voice Porter, is a spoken word poet, activist, and entrepreneur in Birmingham, Alabama. He wrote and narrates this short video produced by The Stewart Perry Company. Listen to his words about our city and see some of the good things happening here.

Seven Magic Words from The Stewart/Perry Company on Vimeo.

From the Vemeo site:

Seven Magic Words is a short film that Back Down South created for us over the last year. We asked them to capture the ever expanding arts community in our city, and hope you agree they have done just this. We have many things to be thankful for, from museums to live music, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and so many in between. This piece highlights a few of those art forms, and the people who are making a difference.

- M. Stewart / Stewart Perry Construction


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Flashback: Moving Toward the Common Good, or Slouching Toward Dystopia?

[While I am working on another project, I am re-posting some of my favorite essays. This post originally appeared on March 25, 2011]

And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

                         ~William Blake (from "Jerusalem")

[This is my second essay inspired by reading Wayne Flynt's book. The first essay can be found here.]

In Wayne Flynt’s Dixie’s Forgotten People: the South’s Poor Whites, he offers a clear picture while providing some understanding of the poor white culture that has been marginalized from mainstream society in the South. Describing something like a caste system in the South, Flynt portrays the historical and sociological developments that contributed to their plight. While agriculture was dominant in the earliest days of the English and Scots-Irish settlers, beginning in the latter half of the 19th century, the textile industry did much to shape southern life. At one point Flynt quotes from The Wasted Land, by Gerald Johnson to show that the textile industry in the South was as much a social endeavor as it was a commercial enterprise. The South offered cheap labor for the textile industry as it moved from the Northeastern factory establishments. There were some textile entrepreneurs who hoped to revitalize the decaying and gloomy prospects of the lower class whites of the South.

Southern Mill Towns

Textiles, poverty, and the South all strike a deep chord with me. I grew up in Alabama’s Tallapoosa County. My home was in Jackson’s Gap before the family moved into the metropolis of Dadeville (population 3,000). Many of my school classmates came from mill working families. Russell Mills, later to become the Russell Corporation, was perhaps the largest employer of the area. They were located in the neighboring town of Alexander City, along with another large textile manufacturer, Avondale Mills. Down the road in the other direction was another large employer of unskilled labor, Pepperell Mills in Opelika. In addition to these large industrial giants there were many smaller textile mills in the area. Indeed, from one county to the next, small villages and valleys were scattered with numerous small textile plants, each specializing in a particular product.

There were no unions in our area. Mill owners were known to make benevolent contributions to the community in the building of a school or a hospital or other community improvements. They provided employment for countless citizens, but never any guarantees. Alabama was (and still is) an “at will” state, which means that employees are hired at the will of the employer and can at any time be terminated if the employer has no further need of the employee’s services. If you saw the movie, Norma Rae, you saw something of the milieu of my childhood and the people I knew growing up. [That movie was filmed in Opelika, used many locals as extras, and the producers were very happy to find a mill in place that so perfectly fit with the story they wanted to tell – I’m not sure the mill operators realized what story the film was telling.]

Beginning in the 1860’s, the textile industry brought scores of people off the farm and into the towns and cities. Millwork was hard and tedious, but it offered a steady income that was more reliable than farming for the landless poor. When I was coming of age, I had classmates who were looking ahead to a life in the mills. Some quit school at age 16 to work in the mill, some began working after graduation from high school, glad to have a job that required no further education. There were others of us who had no desire for the routine grind of unskilled labor and we set our sights on life beyond the textile valleys of home. Some of us opted for college as a stepping stone, others gravitated to the military, but none of us ever imagined that the huge textile industry that surrounded us would not always be there for generation after generation.

Though mill work was not what I envisioned for myself, I looked around at the community and saw that the mills gave many people meaningful, productive work. They were able to have a roof over their heads, provide for their families, go to the ball game on Friday nights, and take time off to go fishing on the lake. Indeed, the mill was an integral part of southern life in three productive shifts. There were churches and schools that for all practical purposes served as adjuncts to life in the mills. I knew from talking to my classmates that at Russell Mills, you got a paid day off on your birthday, and after 25 years, you got a watch at the annual company picnic. Then when the Russell Corporation gained national prominence as the manufacturer of uniforms for the major sports teams, it became a source of pride for everyone in the community. But with no unions, there were no guarantees, other than the seemingly endless grind of the textile machinery that would always be in need of workers.

Capitalism Without Conscience

Then the unforeseen happened - the mighty spindles came to a stop. Mills that had been run by local families who had some connection and investment in the local community began to see stiffer competition in the global market. Warren Buffet’s conglomerate bought out The Russell Corporation and moved much of the production to Central America where unskilled labor was much cheaper than in Alabama. Avondale Mills went belly up trying to compete – they were bought out by another company which managed to keep 200 jobs in the community. Employment opportunities quickly drained, not only from Tallapoosa County, but from the surrounding counties as well. The Pepperell Manufacturing Company which had flourished in Opelika closed its doors in 2006. People with no specialized training or education were left with little opportunity. Mill work may have been bleak and mindless, but joblessness takes a much greater toll on the soul.

In my mind, what my hometown and the surrounding area witnessed was capitalism without conscience. In the past, wealthy mill owners at least felt some obligation to the community. Now the large conglomerates had no human face and no interest in the local community. They could pull up stakes and move to wherever they needed in order to increase profits, with no apparent remorse over the wounds left in the local community.

Perhaps what we experienced was what happened in the Northeast when the industry came South in search of cheap labor. At any rate, I can see a few lessons to be learned in the aftermath. One, it is shortsighted to attract industry with promises of cheap labor while doing precious little to educate and equip the citizens who will be the workforce. Two, companies will only heed the needs of the workers out of necessity – hence the need for workers to have a voice and some ability to broker terms with company management. A third lesson might be that perhaps we need more diversity in employment options - more small enterprises rather than one huge industry.These are lessons that my state seems still unwilling to consider. Alabama cheered when it attracted Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota to build in the state, but is this not yet another example our state being at the mercy of large industries ever migrating from one labor source in search of cheaper wages?

Not Just a Regional Phenomenon

We are making and producing less and less, not just in the South, but throughout the United States. Remember when Walmart boasted “Made in America?” When was the last time you saw that slogan painted across a Walmart delivery truck? When my hometown saw The Russell Corporation shifting its workforce to the sweatshops of Honduras, the same thing was happening throughout the country. Manufacturing was leaving, moving to third world countries where goods could be manufactured for less money to bring companies and shareholders higher profits. Most of the U.S. population, while they may have wanted industries to stay, seemed perfectly willing to accept lower prices at the checkout line as a fair outcome. We heard no great unified protest from the public as individuals and communities throughout the South as well as across the heartland of America struggled with job losses and "vocational retraining" in the absence of real jobs.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I see many questions at hand. How are we doing? What are our prospects for the future? Do we have a citizenry equipped to contribute to the well being and the common good of the community? Are we training the next generation to be vocationally adept so that they can provide for themselves and contribute to the community? Will we start making things again? Will business and industry have any investment in the local community? Will what happens in my community (and in your community) ever be as important as profits for the huge corporations that our polititians remind us we need in order to have jobs? Will company bosses ever again feel any compunction to give back to the community? Will the U.S. worker be once again marginalized as has been the lot of so many working poor in the South throughout its history?

Unfortunately, for too long it has benefited society to have a readily available workforce that is poor and needy, and therefore willing to accept whatever menial labor we need done, at the lowest wage possible. We will placate the low wage earner from time to time with some token benefit: a gift watch here, a day off there, a Christmas bonus and a pat on the back. As long as society at large benefits from a permanent underclass we will always have the poor with us. Once they were in tenant farm shacks, then in mill villages and mining camps. Now we find them in urban housing projects, rural trailer parks, and rental housing with many falling prey to cheap whiskey, meth, and cable TV to pass the time in the absence of meaningful work.

I have hope for humanity because we carry with us the aspirations for justice, freedom and peace. We also carry with us a penchant for war, greed and oppression. Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi says that "There is more good than evil in the world—but not by much." It is that little bit more that can lead us to a better world. Will we find a way to move toward the common good, or will we continue to slouch toward the dystopia which George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and others have warned us of?

                                                                                                                                                    ~ Charles Kinnaird

An added note: I would be remiss not to include a comment from a reader when this essay was first posted. She shares from her own experience and corrects some of my account of Russell Mills recent history:

Thank you for writing this. I, too, have a history that is heavily tied to textile mills in Alabama. My great-great grandfather, great-grandmother, great-grandfather, grandmother and grandfather all worked at the West Point mills in Langdale and West Point. I was also one of the first employees hired in Atlanta, when Russell moved most of their corporate offices.

There is one piece of history that you have a little off, though. It wasn't Berkshire Hathaway that offshored the mills. It was Jack Ward, the ex-CEO of Russell. I helped launch the Zt and assisted with the retail brand marketing to Wal-mart and others. Many of our team flew to Honduras and Mexico to view the textile processes there. Those years were between 1999-2002. Ironically, Mr. Ward is an "Executive-in-Residence" for The Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility for the J. Mack Robinson School of Business, Georgia State University.

Here's a piece of an article:

"Within months of Ward's arrival, Russell announced a major restructuring. Over a three-year period, the company planned to eliminate about 4,000 jobs, or 23 percent of its workforce; close about 25 of its 90 plants, distribution centers, and other facilities; and move most of the final assembly of garments abroad, to Mexico, Honduras, and elsewhere in the Caribbean basin. The company expected to take charges of $100 to $125 million during the restructuring period. Russell hoped these efforts would result in annual savings of $50--$70 million. Part of these funds would then be used to bolster the marketing and advertising of Russell's brands, including tripling the advertising budget to $25 million per year. Russell also established a second headquarters in Atlanta in February 1999, a move designed to make travel more convenient and to aid in recruiting efforts, particularly of marketing aces who did not relish the idea of living in the small town of Alexander City."  
                                                                                                  ~ Kim Martin Bannerman August 8, 2011


This photograph, taken by a photographer from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, shows a female employee tending the machines spinning cotton thread at the Pepperell Manufacturing Company textile mill in Lee County, Ala.

-- From Howard Washington Odum Papers (#3167), Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Photo from the
Alabama Department of Archives and History

  Avondale Mills in Alexander City

Avondale Mills, a textile plant, was a longtime employer in Alexander City until the company folded in 2006. Parkdale Mills purchased the plant, averting the loss of about 200 jobs.

Overseer and two doffer boys in front of machinery at Avondale Mills in Alabama. 

Photo by Lewis Hine
Children who worked at a textile mill in Pell City, Alabama, in 1910

This photo is from an insightful article, "The Legacy of a Cotton Culture," by Larry Lee, director of the Center for Rural Alabama


Recommended Reading:

“The Legacy of a Cotton Culture,” by Larry Lee. The Daily Yonder, March 26, 2010. Online at

“There Is Such A Thing As Rural Development,” by Larry Lee. The Daily Yonder, April 9, 2010. Online at

“17 Rules for a Sustainable Local Community,” by Wendell Berry, online at

Dixie’s Forgotten People: The South’s Poor Whites, by Wayne Flynt, Indiana University Press; New Edition (October 19, 2004)

Poor but Proud: Alabama's Poor Whites, by Wayne Flynt, University Alabama Press (November 8, 2001).

All Over But the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg, Vintage (September 8, 1998).


Monday, August 15, 2016

Foot Soldiers (Eric Essix)

Homegrown jazz guitarist Eric Essix performed at local jazz hall Perfect Note in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover over the weekend (August 12-13) Born in Birmingham in 1959, Essix's grandfather began teaching him guitar at age ten and parlayed those lessons into developing his own chops to the point that he was performing in high school talent shows. In 2010 he was offered a position at the groundbreaking, state of the art Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Alabama Birmingham, eventually being named Director of Programming, and in 2013 he was named the school’s “Artist in Residence”. (Taken from Magic City Radar Blog Magazine)


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Foggy Morning

in the morning fog
lake waters are cool and still
frogs become silent

Photo: Foggy morning face off at Isle Royale National Park by Carl TerHaar


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Gun Violence Is In Our Everyday Language

No one seemed to notice the irony in the news headline: "Donald Trump Under Fire for suggesting Second Amendment people could stop Hillary Clinton." That was the headline in the Washington Times. I saw a similar tag on MSNBC cable news programming. The outrage, of course was that Trump's language was hinting at gun violence toward his political opponent. The further tragedy is that the very phrase "under fire" itself calls forth an image of gun violence, yet it is so commonplace that we do not even notice its use.

We see it in our every day language: we've got someone "in our crosshairs," somebody is on someone's "hit list," "I presented my plan to the committee and they shot it down," or "I could just shoot him!" Our ordinary verbiage belies an underlying acceptance of gun violence metaphors. It is no wonder we as a nation and as a people see far too much gun violence on a daily basis.

This is a theme I may develop more at a later date, but for now, just let that everyday language thing sink in. Why was no one taken aback by the "Trump Under Fire" headline? Why is "gun violent language" second nature to us? You could probably finish writing this essay yourself drawing from your own experiences.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Flashback: When Your Gods Are Taken Away

When I was a student at Samford University, one of my professors,  Dr. Karen Joines, gave us this passage from the book of Judges about Micah and challenged us ministerial students to preach about it. I have to say I was intrigued. A few years later when I was at Golden Gate Baptist Seminary I decided to take him up on the challenge and used the text in the first sermon I preached as a seminary student. I preached one Sunday night at Novato First Baptist Church and invited some of my classmates. When I went back to class the following week I had people coming up and saying, “Hey, I heard you preached from a passage that no one even knew was in the Bible!”

I no longer have a copy of that sermon, but decided to re-visit the passage in this essay which I first posted in October of 2010.

Ceramic amulets depicting ancient Near Eastern deities

 You took the gods I made… What else do I have?
                                                                                                  ~ Judges 18:24

There is an obscure passage in the Old Testament in the book of Judges about a man named Micah who made a religious shrine. The story is found in Judges 17 and 18, right after the story of Samson and Delilah. Micah made himself some gods out of silver, “a graven image and a molten image,” set up a shrine and even found a Levite priest to serve at the shrine. He thought he was all set, but then an army of 600 men from the tribe of Dan came passing through. They had their sights set on some nice farmland which they intended to conquer and settle. Upon seeing the shrine with the gods, and the Levite priests, the Danites thought that all of that would be a plus if they had such a shrine in the new land they were to settle. So the Danites took the gods and convinced the priest to come with them to carry on with his religious duties in their new land.

When Micah saw what had happened, he gathered what force he could muster and followed after the Danites. Upon catching up with them, the Danites said, “What is the matter with you, that you called out your men to fight?” Micah replied, "You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have? How can you ask, 'What's the matter with you?' "

Not Your Basic Sunday School Material

It is a fascinating story that doesn’t exactly fit into the typical Sunday School lesson formula for Bible passages. Micah makes himself some silver idols and installs a Levite priest as if this is all kosher, when any reader of sacred scripture knows the strict injunction against idols and images. The only commentary that the biblical writers offer is that “There was no king in those days, and everyone did as he saw fit.”

There are other things that some of us may find unsettling: the Danites found some nice land, “lacking in nothing” where “a peaceful and unsuspecting people” lived. With gods in tow, they attacked with the sword, burned down the city, rebuilt their own city and settled in the land.

“There was no king in those days, and everyone did as he saw fit.” I have the feeling that this bit of commentary is more to explain the use of idols and not so much a discrediting of pillaging, burning, and conquest of a peaceful, unsuspecting people. Nevertheless, I am fascinated with Micah’s declaration, "You took the gods I made… What else do I have?”

On the Cusp of a Larger Vision

Micah found himself at a desperate limit with the realization that what he had thought was his God was suddenly taken away. What was he to do? We read that his first response was to fight – to use force to try to take his gods back. We do not know what Micah did after that, but it is quite possible that he was at the most important pivotal point in his life. He had the chance to re-vision God since his old vision was no longer adequate.

Others throughout history have had similar notions that their god was being taken away. Copernicus and Gallileo made statements that the Church did not think it could tolerate. Such ideas would destroy the fabric of faith – until it became clear that those men were right, and we would just have to adjust our concept of God accordingly. Charles Darwin caused the bottom to fall out with his theory of evolution. People thought his ideas were contrary to the Almighty, but they were only contrary to a certain world view. Then along comes Albert Einstein and later the NASA space program to discredit any remaining notion of a three-tiered universe presided over by a God in Heaven.

There are still people today accusing others of taking the gods that they made, and what in the world will they do now? They still cannot abide evolution, science, philosophy, or any other modern notion that would deny the very power if not the existence of God. For all who fear that their God is being taken from them  whether they are college freshmen confronting a world of learning or church officials confronting new social structures and scientific discoveries – those people are now at the most important pivotal point in their lives. Surely it is not dark yet. Something grand lies ahead for all who will open their eyes and let go of the gods they have made. A much greater vision of the Almighty is now within reach.

Spiral galaxy in the constellation Andromeda


Monday, August 8, 2016

Monday Music: We Can Work it Out

"We Can Work It Out" was one of the Beatles hits 50 years ago in 1966 (hitting the charts in January). In August of that year a controversy erupted in the U.S. over a comment by John Lennon about how popular The Beatles were. You can read about that here. In the meantime, "Life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend."


Burning The Beatles

    Birmingham disc jockeys Tommy Charles and Doug Layton 
started a "Ban The Beatles" campaign
(AP photo)

In late July, five months after its original publication, a U.S. teen mag called Datebook republished the interview with Lennon. Turning to the tried and true method of generating scandal to gin up sales, Datebook put the "We're more popular than Jesus" part of the quote on the cover. Woo-boy. Two Birmingham DJs picked up on the quote, vowing to never play the Beatles and on August 8th, started a "Ban the Beatles" campaign. (From "Burn your Beatles Records!" Mother Jones magazine)


Tim Lennox reminded us this week that August 8th marks the 50th Anniversary of a controversy about The Beatles in Birmingham, Alabama. “Radio DJ's Tommy Charles and Doug Layton banned the group's records,” Lennox wrote, “and urged teens to burn theirs. They scheduled a mass record burning for August 8, 1966. It all started because of Lennon's comment to a reporter that The Beatles were ‘more popular than Jesus.’ “

Although the “mass burning” did not actually occur in Birmingham, a clip from Tommy Charles’ radio broadcast calling for the record burning made its way into the documentary  film about John Lennon’s life, Imagine: John Lennon.  

Turbulent Times

I well remember the controversial statement and the uproar it caused. I was eleven years old and about to enter the sixth grade. Looking back, it was almost like an inaugural moment into the tumultuous times that marked the coming of age of many of us boomers.

The Vietnam War was escalating and would soon lead to demonstrations across the country. Racial unrest would continue to arise as the country resisted civil rights reforms. We would see the Watts riots with neighborhoods burning in Los Angeles, protests on college campuses over the war with draft cards being burned. In 1968 we would see the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Ironically, in the years following the hyped record burning, The Beatles would morph from a boy band singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and Love Me Do” into musicians who would be experimenting musically. They would chronicle the times along with other musicians of the day. Johnny Cash would become known as the Man in Black, wearing black in mourning for the young soldiers dying in war. In 1970, he would sing, “And the lonely voice of youth cries, What is truth?” That same year, Crosby, Stills & Nash would record Ohio in protest of the Kent State shooting; Simon & Garfunkel would bring us the anthem, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” while The Beatles would add their voice with “Let It Be.”

Fifty years ago, some adults told some teenagers to burn Beatles records. As it turned out, we would see a lot of burning and that burning would define an era. When we saw the draft end, the war sputter to a halt, and Richard Nixon resign in disgrace, we took a deep breath and were finally able to exhale. We hoped for some solid ground to walk upon. 

Some of us thought that the war was behind us, but unfortunately war has become far too commonplace. We no longer have the draft, but we instead have a warrior class of citizens and a leaner, professional volunteer fighting force. Instead of peace, we are a nation too quick to go to war, but that is another story.

New Uncertainties

Now our children are facing their own uncertainties. I could try to quote our songs for the youth of today, but the truth is, they will tell it for their own day better than we boomers can. I will say to the young folks though, don’t burn your records oh, that's right you don't have records, do you? In that case, do not diss your music! Listen to the poets and artists of your day. Just keep singing your songs and holding our leaders' feet to the fire.

In the meantime, sit back and listen to one of The Beatles' hits from 50 years ago: We Can Work It Out.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Flashback: Living with Virtue

While I'm involved in another project, I am re-posting some of my favorite essays. This essay was originally posted on February 6, 2010 and in it I share a few lessons learned from my dog.

Living with Virtue: A Tribute to Mr. Higgins

For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.”
                                                              ~ William Blake

We named him Mr. Higgins, but we just called him Higgins. He was half English shepherd, half Border collie and half Belgian shepherd, which, if you add all that up you will see that he was a dog and a half. More than anyone else, he taught me to "be here now," although I do not think he originated that phrase.

Grand is the best single word to describe him. In his prime, he was 90 pounds, looking like a longhaired black and tan German shepherd. He had the confident and precise gait of a Tennessee walker as he patrolled the perimeter of our back yard anytime he suspected something unusual or amiss. He was something of a changeling. Higgins could become very small in the presence of a toddler at play as he delighted at getting down at the child's level. He could become extremely large whenever an unknown meter reader approached the house, with hair rising above his haunches, a booming voice, and a mouthful of teeth that looked as though they could engulf a Halloween pumpkin.

I heard Buddhist scholar, Robert Thurman, say that to be born a human being meant that one had been extremely virtuous in a former life. I like what that concept says about human existence: that humanity begins in virtue. I also like what it says about reverence for all of life. Mr. Higgins showed me by example the virtue of being. He was loyal, grateful, inquisitive, loving and defending. He enjoyed work, loved to play, and he was happy to be wherever he happened to be.

Guiding the Young

On one occasion, I saw Higgins do something I have never seen in a dog before or since. We had acquired a little terrier puppy for my daughter. Higgins, of course, was delighted with the company and took very seriously the task of showing the little tyke all the ways of life as a dog. One thing Higgins particularly enjoyed, aside from his squeaky toys, was a good bone to chew. We always had two or three of those beef bones from the pet store scattered about the yard. 

On this one particular day, Higgins was lying in the yard gnawing his bone while the little terrier was in his face yapping, making it known that she would love to chew on a bone. Instead of snarling or snapping, Higgins stopped his chewing, raised his head and looked about. He got up from his spot, walked over to another part of the yard and retrieved one of his other bones. He then took the bone back to his spot, dropped it in front of the puppy, and lay back down as they both proceeded to enjoy a bone chewing session together.

A Greater Awareness

We are influenced by whomever we live with, whether that one be human, canine, equine, feline, fish, fowl, or rodent. Mr. Higgins certainly affected my own existence for the better. Any life that we let into our circle of being expands our awareness and broadens our experience. Mr. Higgins helped me to live in the present moment. He taught me something about delight and devotion. He exemplified trust and companionship. He also taught me something about aging and dying.

By the time he was 12 years old, he was slowing down, but still exuberant. Cataracts dimmed his sight, and he also became hard of hearing. He had always been an inside/outside dog, but we began keeping him in more, letting him sleep in the kitchen every night, and always bringing him in during very hot or cold weather. During his last year, he struggled with arthritis and frequent incontinence. One day a friend, who was obviously not an animal person, asked me how long I was going to keep a dog that pooped in the house. My reply to her was that Higgins continued to be a valued companion. I told her that I intended to treat him with the same regard that I hoped someone would give to me when I am old and incontinent.

For 14 years, Mr. Higgins lived his dog nature with virtue. My life was made richer and more down-to-earth by his presence. If the Buddhists are right, I might meet him again in his human nature one day. If not, it was certainly enough that our life forms made contact and learned from one another for 14 years.

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