Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Colonel Stone Johnson: Local Civil Rights Legend

Bethel Baptist Church, Birmingham, Ala.
Photo from Wikipedia
Colonel Stone Johnson calls himself a "foot soldier" of the civil rights movement. He took on the job of security detail for Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth during the early days of the civil rights struggle when Birmingham, Alabama was dubbed "Bombingham." It was not until I was an adult that I heard the story of Mr. Johnson picking up a smoking bomb from the steps of Bethel Baptist Church and tossing it into the street before it could do harm. I wrote the following poem in the afternoon of the same day that I heard the story. As a relatively comfortable white person growing up in the South, I cannot presume to know what Mr. Johnson's experience was at the time, but these are the words I came away with.

To Colonel Stone Johnson
(and all who fight for justice, freedom, and peace)
By Charles Kinnaird

I heard he once picked up a smoking bomb
And threw it off the steps of Bethel Baptist Church.
Why did he take the risk?

It was not to save bricks and mortar
That he risked his own safety.
Bricks and mortar are easily replaced.

It was not in defense of faith.
Faith has already survived much harsher assaults.

Was it to save a life?
I don't know that anyone was in the building.

What he did do was to prevent
Yet one more insult
Against a downtrodden people.
He caused there to be one less act of degradation.

It was to say,
"This is one act of hatred
That will end in the street
Rather than on someone's doorstep."

It was an act of faith
That the chain of hatred can be broken;
That the cycle of violence can stop.

It was a sign of hope
That there will be other days
When someone will say,
"Not today.
There will be no violence today."


Note: I met Mr. Johnson a few years ago at a dinner in his honor. Fred Shuttlesworth was the keynote speaker and I had been invited to read my poem. I presented Mr. Johnson with a copy of my poem. The curator for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute requested a copy to be placed in the archives there. 


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Suddenly Robins

A beautiful and balmy sunny day today!
Walking outside
There is no need of coat or hat.
The song sparrow’s warble pierces the air.
Earth beckons us to wake from our winter slumber
As she begins to cast off the grayness of winter.
Buds appear on the spirea
And green begins to peep out in patches
Across the yard.
Suddenly robins have appeared.
Joyfully they forage through the grass and leaves
Proclaiming that newness is at hand.
They herald the shift in the world
That welcomes Persephone’s return.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Suddenly Wisconsin

There is something inspiring about seeing the people gathering together and their voice being heard. As the story unfolded in Egypt this month, there was a sense of thrill and excitement, but also of trepidation. What if chaos reigns and violence explodes? Then we saw jubilation in those crowds when peaceful protests (without guns and bombs) along with that democratic facilitator of the people – electronic communication – brought an end to 30 years of oppression. I had a similar feeling of exultation years ago when the people of The Philippines gathered en masse to protest the sham elections under Ferdinand Marcos. I’m not sure how much difference that peaceful overthrow made in the ensuing years to the Philippine people, but it showed the world what the voice of the people can do. How things play out in Egypt will be another story (and is yet to be seen).

We have seen, however, the effects of letting that genie out of the bottle: other despotic regimes in the Middle East are in danger of teetering (will twittering lead to more teetering?). Just as the printing press gave more power to the people at the time of our own American Revolution, electronic media may be exponentially increasing the influence of the masses. Whether for good or ill (probably some of both) electronic communications will be shaking up the political landscape.

Now we see the people of Wisconsin coming out en masse to protest attempts by the few (funded by large corporate money) to undo the good of the many. Those union workers, teachers, firemen, and servants of the public are letting their voice be heard. And hear it we must, lest we forget that it was the unions who facilitated child labor laws, safe work environments, the 40-hour work week, pensions and benefits for the working people. The only ones who would benefit by breaking the unions are the corporations who live for profit, not for the people. Their goal is market shares rather than justice and equity.

How will it all play out? Usually political events bring a mixed bag. Most often, when there is progress it will be three steps forward, two steps back. The most important thing may be for all people to realize that they do have a voice, and like so many things in history, that new awareness has come out of Egypt.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Slow Train Comin' - Dylan and the Dead

It was an intriguing collaboration when Bob Dylan toured with the Grateful Dead in 1987.

Slow Train
(as originally recorded)
by Bob Dylan

Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can't help but wonder what's happening to my companions
Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it'll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they're gonna have to abandon ?
There's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

I had a woman down in Alabama
She was a backwoods girl, but she sure was realistic
She said, Boy, without a doubt, have to quit your mess and straighten out
You could die down here, be just another accident statistic
There's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

All that foreign oil controlling American soil
Look around you, it's just bound to make you embarrassed
Sheiks walking around like kings, wearing fancy jewels and nose rings
Deciding America's future from Amsterdam and to Paris
And there's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Man's ego is inflated, his laws are outdated, they don't apply no more
You can't rely no more to be standing around waiting
In the home of the brave, Jefferson turning over in his grave
Fools glorifying themselves, trying to manipulate Satan
And there's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters
Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition
But the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency
All non-believers and men stealers talking in the name of religion
And there's slow, there's slow train coming up around the bend.

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
They say lose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love, show me someone who knows how to live it
There's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Well, my baby went to Illinois with some bad-talking boy she could destroy
A real suicide case, but there was nothing I could do to stop it
I don't care about economy, I don't care about astronomy
But it's sure do bother me to see my loved ones turning into puppets
There's slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Are Men Losing Their Religion?

A friend passed on to me another fascinating article from The Huffington Post, "The Vanishing American Religious Male," by Rabbi Scott Perlo. He speaks from his perspective as a rabbi concerned about the distance men hold from the Torah and Judaism, and their lack of participation. He notes “their great silence on issues of religious significance…"

Toward the end of the article I found these notable statements:

“Our culture is changing, feminism and gender theory have had an impact, and the men of my generation were raised with much greater emotional consciousness than those who came before us. Yet these cultural changes have not changed the pattern of men's disengagement from religion.”

“We Jews often wonder why the most famous of our prayers, the reading of the Shma, teaches, "ve'ahavta" -- and you will love, rather than "ve'he'emanta" -- and you will believe. It is because belief is not Judaism's fulcrum, but rather closeness. The secret to living a life of Torah is holding it close, and letting it give expression to our souls. We men need to ask ourselves why it feels so far away.”

My View

There are many layers to this phenomenon, I’m sure. Without taking the time to do any academic research or analysis, here’s my quick take on it:

1. Patriarchal society, in addition to suppressing women, has damaged men. We men are expected to be the perfect warrior with all the answers who can always do the job. Since few (if any) are that perfect warrior, we instead keep a quiet, low profile so that maybe no one will notice what we’re not.

2. I heard a fellow a couple of years back who was trying to get more men involved in the church. He seemed to be coming from an evangelical Christian background and said the problem was that a lot of church experience is geared toward things men are uncomfortable with, e.g. holding hands and singing kumbaya. He wanted to see room for more masculine expressions in worship. I disagreed with him about worship, but I had to admit that he had a point. Should we try to get men to be more into prayer and worship, or should we try to bring more masculine elements that men can relate to into the worship setting?

3. Years ago I noticed that just about the time we were seeing more women in pastoral roles we were also seeing a de-valuing of religion in society. So while we were celebrating the acceptance of women in leadership roles, society as a whole was assigning less value to church leadership.

The above are just some quick observations. Add to this, just last week I attended a seminar about taking patient's spiritual needs into account in the healthcare setting. The seminar was led by a physician at a large teaching hospital in my state. She made the statement that our society is becoming more religious/spiritual, not less. If that is true, and if men are more alientated from religion, what are the implications? I cannot claim to have any solutions. Does anyone out there have some other clues? What kind of spiritual practice is needed for men, and how do we get there?


Monday, February 14, 2011

Living Beyond Cupid's Arrow

Antonio Canova's
Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss
Today, on St. Valentine's Day, we celebrate romantic love. How many songs, stories, legends, and movies have been sung, told and made that center around the notion of romantic love? When it catches us, all is right with the world. But is it realistic to try to sustain the euphoria? Is it natural to try to repeat that initial phase of romance throughout one’s life?

Most people understand that romantic love serves to bond us into a relationship. Much has been written about how romantic love lasts about 18 months – long enough for a couple to commit and have their first offspring. Science might say that romantic love serves a biological and evolutionary purpose - but when you are caught up in it, it is so much more fun than science makes it sound! The problem for many is that life sets in: “the honeymoon is over,” “the magic is gone,” “the passion subsides.” Some may wonder how they can re-kindle the flame; others may leave one partner to pursue another in order to repeat that initial sensation of being in love.

Love and Limerence

In the 1979, Dr. Dorothy Tennov, in her book, Love and Limerence – the Experience of Being in Love, coined the term limerence to refer to that aspect of intense romantic love. Characteristics of limerence include intrusive, involuntary thoughts about the “limerent object” (the object of one’s affection); feelings of elation, buoyancy and freedom; a longing for reciprocation; a fear of rejection; and overwhelming shyness in the presence of the “limerent object.”  Limerence can lead to euphoria or despair.  It all sounds like situations we have heard about in story and song about love potions, love-sickness, the arc of Cupid's arrow, and the tragedy of unrequited love. (1)

According to Tennov, there are three possible bonds in a pairing relationship:

1. Affectional bond in which neither partner is limerent.
2. Limerent-Nonlimerent bond in which one partner is limerent.
3. Limerent-Limerent bond in which both partners are limerent. (2)

It seems that limerence can be magic, wonderful, volatile, or tragic - which brings me back to our celebration of romantic love. What does it all mean? I think most people like to see young people in love – it somehow reaffirms our hope and belief in the upward and loving process of Life. We can take joy in the fact that there continues to be loving, caring, pairing and bonding. The true test of love, however, is not in keeping the euphoria and elation alive. The true test is in the commitment to continue to make a life together.

A Shared Life

One of my favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof. In that musical drama, Tevye’s solid traditional world is sent spinning as he witnesses one daughter after the other marrying for love rather than opting for the security of arranged marriages. Then there comes that brief, quiet song where Tevye asks his wife, Golde, “Do you love me?” She first takes it as a foolish question, but Tevye persists in asking, “Do you love me?” One senses that Tevye wonders if he has missed something along the way. Golde reflects upon how they have spent their lives together for 25 years, making a family and a home amidst all the drudgery of housework, chores and daily living. She concludes, “If that’s not love, what is?” “Then you love me?” Tevye asks again. “I suppose I do,” she says. “And I suppose I love you, too,” Tevye sings with relief and reassurance. At the end of the song Tevye and Golde sing together, “It doesn't change a thing, but even so; After twenty-five years, it's nice to know.”

Cupid’s arrow was beyond the scope of Tevye's and Golde’s experience, but they found that bonding of love that sustained them in a changing world where they struggled to maintain a minimal standard of living. Nowadays, though statistics show marriage to be on the decline, most of us seem to think we should marry for love. Sometimes that “love” is really a blind limerence not based in reality. Often it is a true romantic bonding that gives an emotional foundation to build upon. Couples who live beyond Cupid’s arrow understand that love is more than a feeling and more solid than an emotion. Love engenders a caring and a respect and a commitment to go through the storms of life together.

Celebrating Love

I took heart the other day when I was out buying Valentine’s Day cards for my wife and my daughter. I was encouraged that the card industry was appealing to so many aspects of familial love and romantic love. There were cards for daughters, sons, wives, husbands, nieces, nephews, new lovers, and long time lovers. I was also encouraged by taking note of who was selecting the cards for purchase. They were young, old, fat, thin, plain and ordinary people. They were ordinary people caught up in the midst of life’s struggles who wanted to stop and recognize the importance of love in their lives. I did not see anyone who appeared to be in the throes of limerence or struck by Cupid’s arrow, but they were regular folk stopping to celebrate the ways that love has touched their lives.

References cited from Wikipedia:

For further reading:

I can recommend three books by Robert A. Johnson. Very readable on the layperson's level, Johnson's writings provide an understanding into the the psychology of relationships by using imagery from Greek mythology:

  • He: Understanding Masculine Psychology
  • She: Understanding Feminine Psychology
  • We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love


Friday, February 11, 2011

A Nation’s Happiness

A friend sent me this article from The Huffington Post, “Buddhist Bhutan Wrestles With 'Shocking' Abuse Study.” It seems that the tiny Buddhist nation of Bhutan has a government commissioner charged with promoting "Gross National Happiness." They did a survey and were dismayed that most Bhutanese women think it is okay for their husbands to beat them. The most enlightened and encouraging statement I found in the article was, “Bhutan's Gross National Happiness index ... is based on nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance.”

This enlightened view stands in juxtaposition to some big challenges. In addition to finding that people think it is okay for husbands to beat their wives, “...the Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey also found that more than one in four women believe HIV/AIDS is transmitted supernaturally; one in four children do not attend school and one in five children are involved in child labor.”

There is always that gap between the envisioned ideal and the reality of where society actually is. In spite of that gap, we can be thankful for those ideals to work toward. Here in the USA, issues like family violence and child labor have not always been on the radar in terms of national efforts. Many may not realize that that oft used phrase, “rule of thumb” harks back to the limitation of how big a stick can be used to beat one’s wife (no bigger around than a man’s thumb).

Wherever the gap lies between the ideal and reality, I think we would all do well to pay attention to the nine components of happiness as Bhutan has outlined them. How would you rate the happiness index of your community?


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Boy and His Dog

“I love my dog. I love all my dogs. Every dog I ever had, I still love ‘em. And in my life, believe me, I have had me a bunch of damn dogs. Because you keep getting’ a new one, don’t ya? It’s true. As life goes on, you keep getting’ one new dog after another. That’s the whole secret of life. Life is a series of dogs.”
                                                                           ~ George Carlin

Maybe I should have titled this, "A Dog and Her Boy." For most of my life there has been a dog in my life. Right now there are four. There is Martha, my daughter’s dog whom we adopted from the pound when my daughter was six years old. Martha is a cute wire-hair terrier mix whom we soon discovered was hearing impaired. Daisy is a yellow lab mix who showed up at our doorstep 11 years ago. We could never find her owner, so she stayed. Then there is Mike, a cute little black and tan “Heinz 57” variety, whom my wife rescued about five years ago, and Felix, a little Chihuahua/rat terrier mix who was wandering the streets before hopping into my wife’s car one day. We could never find her owner either, so… we now have a pack.

A Litany of Dogs
Growing up, we always had a family dog. As a toddler, I pleaded with my parents to let me keep a little black and white hound puppy that had been dropped off at the city dump. Back in those days, everyone in our small town had to carry their own garbage to the dump. One Saturday, while accompanying my Dad on his weekly garbage run, we found the pup sitting quietly near a refuse heap. My Dad dubbed her, “Pooch.” My mother admitted that she was the cutest little pup she had ever seen. Then there was Brownie. After that was Smokey, a quiet noble shepherd mix who died too young of distemper. Later there was Trixie, an almost pure bred collie who was companion, playmate, and protector for me and my siblings for a good part of my childhood. She is the one you see pictured here with me as a lad. (More about Trixie in a moment) When I was in high school, there was Prince, son of Trixie. Then there was Chanet, part french bulldog, part boxer (she also died too young). Later came Missy, a collie mix rescued by my little brother. Missy went jogging with him every day until he joined the Marines then she welcomed him home on every furlough. There was even dog folklore in our house. My older brother and my parents told stories of Snooks, who was before my time but who accompanied my brother from infancy to school age.

When my wife and I met 27 years ago, Pete and Dolly were her canine companions. Pete was a shepherd mix who had been my wife's pet for many years, through thick and thin. She had to be put down the day before our daughter was born. Dolly was a chow/wolf mix who hated strangers, but was a jolly dancer at home with us. She reminded me of an Ewok from Star Wars.

Some Stand Out

All of our dogs have brought rich rewards into our lives, and some stand out more than others (you may have read my tribute to the remarkable Mr. Higgins, who departed this life about ten years ago). When I was a child, Trixie was the one who stood out above all the others. We lived out in the country at that time. Trixie had the run of the yard, the woods, and the neighbor’s pasture. She was very bright and she knew how to play and interact with us kids. She was as much a family member as a dog can get. We played in the yard and ran with her through the woods on many a futile rabbit or squirrel chase. That dog accompanied us on all of our usual haunts: hiking in the woods, walking down to the road to the fish pond near the old train depot, or going up the road to the country store. Once or twice, she followed us to school, which was against the rule, as the nursery rhyme says.

One summer morning, my younger brother and sister and I decided to go down through the woods to the creek bank to play, as we often did. Trixie trotted along with us as usual. She took the lead as we jaunted merrily along the path through the woods. Suddenly Trixie stopped right in the path. We couldn’t understand what had come over her, but we were anxious to get to the creek. When we tried to pass her, she turned sideways in the path and gave a low growl. She would not let us pass. This was bizarre behavior, we thought, until we looked ahead. Right there stretched along the path in the woods lay a huge snake - a water moccasin! YIKES! We all turned on our heels and fled back up the hill, out of the woods, and safely to our back door step. Of course there were rounds of cheers and hugs for Trixie, our faithful guardian. And of course, we had to go and tell our parents all about our harrowing adventure.

Trixie was not my dog, per se. She was the family dog, and she gave her attention to all of us. I was always proud of Trixie. I found joy and comfort by having her around whenever I went outside. What is remarkable to me, as I look back on these old photos, is that I have always been camera shy - I do not like having my picture taken. I well remember, however, the day these shots were taken. I had a box camera that my uncle had given me for Christmas one year. I remember asking my brother to take a picture of me with Trixie. Looking back, I find it amazing that I would have requested to have my own picture taken. It must say something about the importance I placed upon the remarkable dog who was part of my childhood. Here's to all the dogs who have enriched the lives of people everywhere! If you have a dog story, feel free to leave a comment.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Eyes of the Universe

Here is another poem about the cosmos. This one is from ten years ago:

The Universe was Never about Me
By Charles Kinnaird

Dealing with losses and misfortune
Sometimes brings one to ask,
“Why has this happened top me?”
There may be losses or tragedies
That cause one to lose faith,
To become despondent.

Stepping back
To try to get a wider view,
A more objective view,
I understand that the Universe was never about me.
I have been extremely privileged
To be able to participate in Life.
The world is fascinating,
The presence of life incredible,
And the universe is a wonder beyond comprehension.
It would all be happening without me,
Yet I have been able to see it
          to interact with it
          to be involved in it.
I am indeed privileged.
I understand that tragedy and loss are a part of it.
Stuff happens.
But the Universe was never about me.
My own losses are painful
     but they do not change my faith in what is happening.

It is understandable that we often
     see things on a grand scale.
That is because we see
     with the eyes of the universe.

In fact, we are the eyes of the universe.
Life evolved on this sacred planet
Until consciousness arose
    allowing Life to reflect upon itself
And we became the eyes of the universe.

If I am not mindful and circumspect,
I can easily get confused
    about my own self importance in life.
I can easily have mistaken ideas
    about my privilege in life.
Unless I realize that
The Universe was never about me.


Friday, February 4, 2011


You may have noticed that this week I've been thinking about unity, the earth and the cosmos. It took my me back to a poem I wrote back in 1982:

by Charles Kinnaird

Holding forth and shining bright;
Full of glory, full of might.
Ever-present, never-ending;
Always sifting, always mending.

Ultimate of all progression,
Patient with pedantic session.
Unity of all diverse,
Hidden light of all perverse.

Dragons praise Thee, demons tremble
At one so mighty and so nimble;
Who sees all in half a glance
And fills all in cosmic dance.

Yet many seldom stop to wonder.
They just blindly plod and plunder,
Trampling burning bush to pave
A road that leads them to their grave.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One World, One Love: Playing for Change

Bob Marley's inspirational words were presented beautifully by singers from around the world in the documentary, Playing for Change: Peace Through Music. This is just one selection from an uplifting film.

For more information about the Playing for Change Foundation, visit their website at

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