Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The election of Barack Obama will forcefully declare that America is not racist. Obama can prove the self evident truth that all men are created equal in this storied "land of opportunity," where, regardless of race, all persons are free to enjoy liberty and justice and for all.

Obama can be the person in our lifetimes who transcends (even redeems) our tortured past and accelerates a national healing process.

Moreover, I dream that Obama will be the ultimate role model for African Americans who will come to apprehend, finally, that the game is not rigged. For I believe that believing is half the battle. Obama can personify the notion of unlimited possibility, which will encourage children of color to work hard and expect success in an America where we all benefit from one another's successes.

Who said that? I did, actually--back in December of 07.

But in that same post, entitled "My Obama Ambivalence," I worried that those invested in the narrative of oppression would not let us have our great victory of racial transcendence--even in the face of proof that we truly lived in a "nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," continually striving to live up to that creed.

I worried that even Obama himself would be pressured to "sell out" that emphatic statement of American idealism for reasons of political expediency.

Time will tell.

Driving to work yesterday, with my car radio tuned to NPR, I listened in on a conversation between Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, Roger Wilkins, the ancient "race man," journalist, and scholar, and Taylor Branch, the acclaimed chronicler of Martin Luther King and his times.

What has NOT changed?

Wilkins: "virtually everything." The plight of African Americans continues to be one of disproportionate poverty, unemployment, "lousy schools," and incarceration (as a result of those other inequities).

Later, the three essentially agreed that the election of Obama existed as a powerful symbol, but the substance of real progress belonged to the future not the present.

It seems to me that there is a GOP Conundrum: this president's success might mean a watershed political moment of party realignment for Democrats akin to the Reagan Revolution of 1980. On the other hand, for the sake of our collective national interests, we desperately need this president to succeed. Now is the time for all good Americans to come to the aid of their country.

But there is also a Democratic Party Conundrum: the election of this president signifies a great step forward. On the other hand, if Americans get the sense that we are entering the promised land, what happens to the "coalition of the oppressed" that has been so essential to party unity and control over the past five decades?

On Wednesday morning, placards reading "Happy Days are Here Again, Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States" hung from numerous doors in our faculty office building. And, indeed, many of my colleagues, who had worked so assiduously for the election of Barack Obama, seemed truly happy--at least for a few fleeting moments.

However, by lunchtime yesterday, for many of them, their jubilation had turned back to despair and frustration, as they swapped stories of intolerance and racism around the lunch table. Our conversation was replete with incidents of insensitivity and prejudice.

--Republicans were reportedly already trying to impeach Obama and intent on implementing other dirty tricks

--some of my colleagues related stories of hateful emails and other abominations

--another confirmed that nooses were being strung all over the campus of the local private university in town

"This is appalling!" one colleague declared. "How can we be so backward after all this time!?!"

It did not take long for my colleagues to revert back to their default positions: this is a mean country.

Lighten up, my friends. Just because there are stupid people in America, it does not necessarily mean that we live in a stupid country. Just because there are vestiges of racism in America, it does not logically dictate that the promise of equality in America is a lie.

Asked for an immediate reaction to Barack Obama's election as president on Tuesday night, I noted that this is not the finish line on the road to racial reconciliation and equality--but it is a watershed moment, nonetheless. Sixty-three million Americans voted for Barack Obama for president of the United States. This is no symbol. This is substantial change. This is big casino.

My advice to all: claim this historic accomplishment as a victory. Enjoy it. Stop and smell the roses. Be happy.

We are approaching a moment of shared sacrifice in which we will all be called to rally around the flag. We Republicans will need to sacrifice short-term party interests for the collective good. You Democrats will need to let go of some of one of your most comforting and useful assumptions.

Let us go forward together.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The tears finally came. Embarrassingly enough, they came in front of a class.

I was talking about the American Dream as a cherished idea--and I mentioned the fact that both campaigns had used Brooks and Dunn's, "Only in America," as theme music following their stump speeches.

Then some student convinced me to play it via YouTube and project it onto the big screen.

Sun coming up over New York City
School bus driver in a traffic jam
Starin' at the faces in her rearview mirror
Looking at the promise of the Promised Land
One kid dreams of fame and fortune
One kid helps pay the rent
One could end up going to prison
One just might be president

The YouTube video version here. The soulfulness of country music combined with the mystical force of the American creed and promise is a powerful brew--and I have become a marshmallow in my old age.

Cue the weepiness.

Only in America
Dreaming in red, white and blue
Only in America
Where we dream as big as we want to
We all get a chance
Everybody gets to dance
Only in America

Sun going down on an LA freeway
Newlyweds in the back of a limousine
A welder's son and a banker's daughter
All they want is everything
She came out here to be an actress
He was the singer in a band
They just might go back to Oklahoma
And talk about the stars they could have been

Yeah only in America
Where we dream in red, white and blue
Yeah we dream as big as we want to
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama, who ran the best campaign of my lifetime--possibly the best campaign ever.

Why did we lose this election?

Number One Reason: because we deserved to. Our only argument was that the other guys were going to be even more disastrous than we had been. True enough, perhaps, but not compelling.

As a tribe, we conservatives believe in consequences for bad decisions and poor performance. We failed miserably in our attempt to right this country. It is time to take our medicine. It is time to rebuild on a solid foundation of fundamental principles.

On the other hand, I wish Barack Obama success, for his success will be my success.

In truth, we know almost nothing about him. Four years ago he was an obscure state senator--and he is not naturally forthcoming about his history or his philosophy. Nevertheless, my sense (i.e. fervent prayer) is that he is an intelligent fellow and a good man. Let's hope for the best.

What are my realistic but optimistic expectations for an Obama presidency?

1. I hope that Obama will be a healer and a pragmatist.

2. I hope Obama completes the mission in Iraq regardless of where the credit for success may fall. If the president-elect decides to retain Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, and David Petraeus as commander of Cent-Com, and allows them to back us out of Iraq in a responsible fashion, he will have my undying gratitude for the duration of his administration.

3. I hope the new president will address the long-term realities of spending and taxes and what is possible and sustainable (as opposed to banal Democratic Party talking points).

4. I hope the new president will address our long-term liabilities regarding education (as opposed to banal Democratic Party talking points).

5. I hope the president will address our long-term energy needs in a pragmatic way (as opposed to banal Democratic Party talking points).

What are my expectations for myself?

1. Realize that much more is at stake over the next few months and years than partisan victory.

2. Realize that the success of the next president is inextricably linked to our success as a nation in a moment in which we cannot afford to fail as a nation.

3. Support my president wholeheartedly on January 21st.

Of course, I will continue to advocate for my core principles, which are the same now as they have been for all of my adult life. However, I will do nothing to tear down this president. I will do all I can to guard against character assassination and Obama Derangement Syndrome.

If he succeeds grandly, we win as a nation. If he falls short, we will be back in time to offer another option--and maybe we will be better equipped to live up to our own ideals then.

May God Bless this President. May God Bless America.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I said, Grandpa what's this picture here?
Its all black and white; it aint real clear; is that you there?
He said, yeah, I was eleven; times were tough back in '35.
That's me and Uncle Joe just tryin to survive a cotton farm in the Great Depression.

If it looks like we were scared to death,
like a couple of kids just trying to save each other,
you should've seen it in color.

On an unofficial den outing this afternoon, I drove my six-year-old Cub Scout (and my nine-year-old civilian) out of town to a cornfield in Central Texas. On another busy weekend in another hectic month in another insanely harried semester, honestly, I was not looking forward to this time-consuming excursion. Leaving Waco in caravan, traveling north on I-35, we exited the interstate at Elm Mott, traveling northeast on FM 308 past Leroy. A few miles short of Birome, we cut-off onto an unpaved gravel county road and proceeded to the Kaska Family Farm for some bucolic diversion.

Like many of us, I have been distracted lately. I spent the first half hour in transit rolling down the highway at 88 feet per second, listening to the final minutes of the Red River Shootout on my car radio, and generally ignoring the children inside and the changing landscape outside my air-conditioned sedan. I spent the first few minutes on the "farm" paying the price of admission, scoping out the "attractions," and surveying the lay of the land--but not really seeing, listening, or feeling.

I was stressed, depressed, and detached. So much so, in fact, that I was blind and deaf to the land. This is somewhat unusual for me. While I have absolutely no inherited skill as a farmer, I tend toward sentimentality when I traverse the byways of Central Texas. In an almost mystical way, I often hear the echoes of generations of share croppers and hard-scrabble forebears when I travel the back roads of my ancestral home.

At some point, thankfully, amazingly, on a warm fall day under a shimmering blue sky, I finally heard the rustling of corn stalks. Awakening from my stupor, I heard the soft but reassuring and immutable pastoral song of life:

This is the real world. This is the natural world. Life began here. Life is renewed here. Life is grown here.

These rolling hills will be here when the titans of Wall Street are long gone.

These are the verdant pastures that have comforted the soul of man for millennia. This natural cathedral is the antidote to the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

After taking in deep breaths of this reinvigorating and cleansing fresh air, we headed back toward town. This time, though, with our windows down and senses open to the sights and sounds and smells of the land. We did not try to connect with the interstate on the return trip. Instead, we turned left at Leroy, passing a rural cemetery and the Baptist/Methodist Church, where the sign read: "WHAT ROLE ARE YOU PLAYING IN GOD'S UNIVERSE?"

Country music is appropriate on these farm-to-market roads, as it so often celebrates the interconnectedness and fragility of the human experience.

Ohh and this one here was taken over seas,
in the middle of hell in 1943, in the winter time;
you can almost see my breath.
That was my tail gunner, ole Johnny Magee.
He was a high school teacher from New Orleans.
And he had my back, right through the day we left.

If it looks like we were scared to death,
like a couple of kids just trying to save each other,
you should've seen it in color.

A picture's worth a thousand words,
but you can't see what those shades of gray keep covered,
you should've seen it in color.

Unlike other forms of popular music, country and western presupposes a value system based on the cyclical beauty of the agrarian life as well as the innumerable and wholly unpredictable dangers of the natural world. Country music trades on a community memory of a time in which families were at once fragile and dependent but also rugged and self-sufficient.

Passing silos, tractors, and farm houses, we stretched our thirty-minute return trip into forty-five. Awakening from a modern funk, it was good to be reminded visually that there were, of course, still vast expanses of land just outside my city limits. Land where real people grew food and raised livestock and faced the trials of a countryside still untamed in many ways.

And the songs about Jesus, redemption, making it through the hard times, and the hand of God in the lives of good folks kept coming.

This one is my favorite one.
This is me and grandma in the summer sun,
all dressed up the day we said our vows.
You can't tell it here, but it was hot that June,
and that rose was red, and her eyes were blue,
and just look at that smile--I was so proud.
That's the story of my life, right there in black and white.

And if it looks like we were scared to death.
like a couple of kids just trying to save each other,
you should've seen it in color.

A pictures worth a thousand words, but you can't see what those shades of gray keep covered.

You should have seen it in color.

We are a people with a tradition. We are a people of the land. We have faced hard times. We have survived hard times. The Good Lord willing, and the Creek don't rise, we will persevere through this time of difficulty.

These people of the land, "clinging to their God and their guns," are fighters. They have much to tell us. We should listen more.

For your viewing pleasure: Jamey Johnson - In Color: Video.
I recently read a book, recommended to me by okie gardener, called "Goodby to a River", by John Graves. The river in question is the Brazos, on a stretch northwest of Waco where the land's turning from CenTex farms to West Texas scrub (or vice versa, going downriver.) The author takes a canoe trip downstream while he still can, before more dams went up, as a sort of tribute to a site of his youth. The book reads partly as travel narrative, partly as history and lore, and partly as American philosophy, the good kind (Thoreau is "Saint Henry" to the author.)

The history and lore is small-scale, as history goes, but full of interesting characters. Comanches feature prominently, as do the frontiersmen who tangled with them. The author questions his own scholarship, but I'd say it's decent enough to make this required reading for anyone interested in Texas or frontier history. It was written in the late 1950s, only a couple of generations removed from its rougher days.

Graves really knew the land he was on. Its history was living to him, breathing, still fighting and feuding and moonshining and scalping and farming and alive. Its wildlife fed him, inspired him, called out to him, each in its own voice. The river had moods, changing from day to day or bend to bend, but all adding up to the river's own personality, soul. The land, though not rich, had its own character too: tough like the cedar covering the hills, stable like the limestone outcroppings, transient as the autumn grasses.

I like that. The phrase goes "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing well." True enough, and I'd add another: If somewhere's worth living, it's worth living well. I'm currently living in a town in northern Missouri where I didn't grow up (I call myself a Texas boy, and know a different stretch of the Brazos), but I'm just a county away from where my father grew up, and his father, and his. This land is worth knowing. I have an uncle who's constantly telling me of the history of this area (he's from another county or two over). Chief Big Neck had a "war" with the first white settlers. The Bee trace, a wagon route not a mile from where I now sit, would let a wagon travel from the Missouri river to Iowa without crossing a creek. If the Chariton's low, a steamboat's carcass is visible near Yarrow, just about as far north on that river as they would go.

I don't plan to be here long, but I plan to know the place while I am here. Know its people for how they are now, and how they were a generation or two ago. Recognize the songs of the birds I hear and the shape of the trees I see. Eat food raised in this county, swim in its lakes, bike its backroads, smell its air. My grandfather taught me how to pluck chickens last week. I may never need to use that skill again in my life, but I'm glad I've done it, for it's a part of where I am and who I am.

My life goals will lead me far from this place, in all probability far from any place I've known. (I'm still a young man, and haven't yet cemented my path.) I'll likely be in cities more often than not, in this country and others. I'm blessed enough to have a wife who's keen to visit these places with me. I'll be focusing on big-pictures and global issues, because that's where my intellectual and career ambitions lie, but I hope not to ignore the small-picture and local issues in doing so. Place matters.
Perhaps the best I have ever seen.

[The Palin Nomination Acceptance Speech.]

07/07: On Patriotism

Category: From the Heart
Posted by: A Waco Farmer

n. Love of and devotion to one's country.

Samuel Johnson famously pronounced "patriotism...the last refuge of a scoundrel." While one might impute a number of possible meanings to that famous saying (the 1775 context for the assertion is not extant), modern skeptics of American history and government oftentimes interpret this observation as a general caution against extreme patriotism.

The other day I entered into a discussion with a Progressive friend who professed a profound admiration for his country.

Why is America great?

What engendered feelings of national pride in his heart?

1. America FINALLY recognized the equal rights of all its citizens regardless of race.

2. America FINALLY recognized the worth of its female citizens, although, he was quick to add, we could not bring ourselves to put this development in writing (ERA).

3. America FINALLY stood up to defend the rights of African Americans, ninety-odd years after initially according those rights.

4. America FINALLY seemed to be stepping forward to combat poverty, hunger, and AIDS in less fortunate parts of the world.

My reaction: those are all good things, no doubt--but I could not shake the sense that they were also condemnations in the guise of faint praise. They all struck me as a bit grudging and back-handed. The rhythmic "FINALLY" seemed to me gratuitously ubiquitous.

Was he saying America was a pretty crumby country while we allowed slavery? Were we a pretty lousy nation for the ninety-nine years after outlawing slavery in which African Americans faced egregious discrimination?

Granted, slavery, racism, and sexism were (and are) bad things--but do the American blemishes overshadow the triumphs?

If I were going to tell our story, I think I would begin with the great and positive impact the United States of America made on the history of the world--and, then, for some balance, I would talk about some of the ways in which we fell short of our own aspirations. But I might also note that we often judge the American past against present standards, which, ironically, would not be the accepted benchmarks of civility and equality--if not for the United States of America.

My point: to lead with our flaws may be factual, strictly speaking, but it is also misleading. This is not the way we would introduce a friend or a loved one. Generally, in our relationships with people we like, we do not dwell on the very worst aspect of their personalities.

We don't say: "This is my colleague. He is a recovering alcoholic." It may be true and an impoprtant component of who he is--but, if this is a friend whom we admire, that part of his life taken alone does not accurately convey his story.

America, right or wrong.

My Progressive friend also took a moment to inveigh against the notion of "America, right or wrong," which he construed as a simplistic statement of blind and unquestioning allegiance to US policies and actions.

I have long wondered at this interpretation of that particular expression of support. Do people consciously misconstrue this straightforward and heartfelt expression of patriotism? I know my friend to be a person of good will and sincerity, so I will accept his construction as an honest difference of opinion, but what is so offensive about a pledge of unconditional love for the United States of America? Why do some listeners always seem to hear that phrase with such radical ears?

Would he have trouble with this statement?

"My wife, right or wrong."

Would you necessarily assume that I am asserting that my wife is always right? Or wouldn't you more rationally assume that I am saying that my wife is right sometimes and wrong sometimes (and I reserve the right to debate those matters with her privately)--but I support her (especially in public) regardless. Why? Because she is my wife, and I love her unconditionally. I have made a vow before God and man to love her in sickness and in health.

I love America unconditionally. I love America when George Bush is president. I love America when Bill Clinton is president. I will love America when Barack Obama is president. I often disagree with the policies of my government, and I reserve the right to debate those policies within our system of self government--but I continue to love America.

Unconditional love does not mean blind faith and unquestioning allegiance, but an unconditional love is definitely part of "the bonds of affection" and the "mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land," which, spoken of long ago, continues to unify and uplift.

May God Bless America.
Category: From the Heart
Posted by: an okie gardener
In the early 80s I attended seminary in New Jersey and had my only exposure to the Silent Friends, the Quakers who still have the silent meetings until someone feels led to say something. Their spiritual emphasis was on the Inner Light. Getting aquainted with a few Quakers, Friends as they call themselves, I learned that among the Silent Friends were those who were Christian, and those who were not.

Evidently things have not changed that much since. Christianity Today has this article on the growing numbers of pagans who are Quaker, or Quakers who are pagan, among the Friends holding traditional practices.

The article does not really address the why, but I think I know. It grows from the concept of the Inner Light, the presence of God guiding the believer found in Friends doctrine. In early Quakerism, this experience was tied to Christianity, and Quakers were biblically literate. But, once the subjective experience of an inner guiding principle is elevated into an authority, the possibility arises that it may become separated from Scripture. In that case, there is no external check on the subjective perception. One can be a Christian Quaker or a non-Christian.

One of the reasons I am not comfortable with some aspects of the charismatic movement is the reliance some people place on subjectively hearing the voice of God: "God told me . . ." There can be insufficient check on this subjectivity if Scripture is not determinative. And, combined with modern individualism, the group cannot act as much of a check on the subjective imagination. Weird things can grow.

I believe the Spirit speaks, but what a person thinks he or she hears must always must be checked by the Word. And the Word is the Word taught by the historic Church.
A while back I accomplished one of my New Year's Resolutions: reading a Cormac McCarthy novel. Post here.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is one of the bleakest novels I've read. The book pulls you into an ashy-grey dead world with crumbling dead vegetation and only the memory of animals. But somehow part of the human race has survived the abominable desolating horror that killed all other life on earth. A horror apparently visited by humanity itself.

The reader journeys with a man and a boy, his son. They are heading for the coast where perhaps things may be better, though the man has no real hope. They scavange for food in abandoned houses, occasionally finding items overlooked by previous travelers. And they hide from other humans, since many have turned to canniblism, even forming gangs that hunt down others on the road. A few people they meet are harmless, mostly through weakness, but no one can be trusted.

The man sometimes wonders about God, not really believing. He tells the boy there may be good people somewhere--they'll be known by the fact that they do not eat their children. But mostly the man just chooses every day to keep the boy alive and move forward, without real hope.

He had had a wife, the boy's mother. But sometime after delivering the baby into the dead world she had killed herself, telling her husband she could not face a certain future of rape, death, and being eaten.

The boy feels pity for others, at least for those others who are not hunting a living meal. He even has qualms about stealing from empty houses. He hopes to meet some of the good people.

How do you live in a God-forsaken world? That seems to be McCarthy's question. Would you turn cannibal, hunting your own kind? Would you become prey? Would you kill yourself, unable to face a future without hope? Would you devote yourself to protecting your own, even without real hope? Would you maintain a kind of innocence, worrying that an old man along the road might starve if you did not share some of your meagre supplies?
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I held my first live rattlesnake this past Friday afternoon. And also my second. I was not demonstrating my faith, just working the "Get Your Picture Taken with a Live Rattlesnake" table at the annual town Rattlesnake Festival.

We have lots and lots of rattlesnakes in the hills west of town (known locally as the Slick Hills). Lacking much else to build an annual festival around, we go with the snakes. You can watch the presentations from the snake pit, where "Fangmaster" Ronnie Orf stands amid a writhing mass of rattlesnakes wearing tall snake boots, picks up the occasional snake to show it better to the crowd, and explains how these creatures are an important part of God's creation here in Oklahoma. He has only been bitten three times in as many decades. You can watch snakes being butchered, then buy the meat and skin, or purchase fried snake meat (very bland and bony). If you are brave enough, you can join in a guided snake hunt in the hills. Thousands of people fill the town for three days for snakes, yard sales, vendors, and carnival rides.

The Rattlesnake Association is the largest philanthropic organization in town, giving away lots of money to good local causes, money raised from vendor fees, snake meat, and the picture table.

Late Friday afternoon, as I sat in my chair trying to calm down the snake by holding him in my lap (one hand behind his head, the other gently near his middle), and not having a lot of luck (he would have bitten me if he could have but his mouth was held shut) I watched the people amble up and down the main street: All shapes and sizes, very few models, a broad cross section of "Okie Redneck", Indian, and soldiers and their families from nearby Ft. Sill. Eating funnel cake, buying geegaws, coming closer to touch the snake, or retreating to a safer distance.

This is America. This is small town America. We like our guns. We believe in God, though many are very informal about it. We are not really bitter--except toward those elites who just do not get us. Then, when we feel looked down on, we rattle our tails. Just show us some respect.
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