On Current Events

Three years ago, a friend and I went to Florida for a funeral in Jackson County, Florida. We talked about race, the south, and lynching. There is a website that maps lynching in America for almost 100 years. We were there, at the courthouse where Claude Neal was killed, where my friend’s parents were married. We are close to Claude Neal, just a generation away. Sin is like a virus; it spreads with contact, proximity. We have not quarantined the past, and so it spreads. There are three songs that I find instructive about this sin worth listening to now.

Patriot Game

And now as I lie here…

Racism is another word for fear. And Patriot Game, the story of a young boy swept into war, is a lesson about how violence and war cures fear,  “for the love of one’s country is a terrible thing, it banishes fear with the speed of a flame.” That word love bonded with youth, ideals, and principles, leads down one inevitable path. O’Hanlon gives up what he knows for hope of heroism and dies alone, bullet riddeld, cursing those who sold out, that compromised complete victory, forsaking his “half free” island home.

“I’ve learned my whole life cruel England to blame, and so I’m a part of the patriot game,” says O’Hanlon. How long had England and Ireland been at odds? In the intro to God Bless England, Tommy Makem says, ironically, “For about 800 years, Ireland was under the loving and tender care of the British Empire, and for this, needless to say, we’re very, very grateful.”

Patriot Game is a warning to “all you young rebels,” anyone who thinks they can banish the sin of past wrongs with violence. Revolution and civil war ends tragically, with young lives wasted. And the more lives harmed, the more killing, the more violence, the more need to “play my own part in the patriot game.” The all-consuming need to make things perfect means turning one’s rifle toward “those traitors who bargained and sold” away the perfect solution.

Dying for country or race or religion promises monuments but not resolution. My faith teaches the cure for the virus of sin is forgiveness. That does not mean compromise and it can still mean death. I regret the death of O’Hanlon and the traitors. But revolution and unrest leads to spreading the disease; for every monument to war dead is an inspiration for more.

Vicar of Bray

Resist with your ice cream.

Power craves stability, and stability requires adaptation. Adaptation takes many forms, but creatures that can adapt to changes in the environment survive and perpetuate themselves. With competition, dominant forces will use their power, and when that power fails, power adapts. This is the Vicar of Bray.

A Vicar is a parish priest, and in England of the 17th century, the parish was a kind of currency of the realm like a zip code or census tract or legislative district. Vicars had highly localized power, especially the power of approbation and disapprobation. They weren’t warlords but they held sway over marriages, baptisms, and social access. The Vicar had tremendous “soft power” that was unrivaled and thus was used by national and regional authorities bent on bigger ends.

The Vicar of Bray is a song sung by a survivor of the apparent vagaries of national trends in power; this is the song of the average white person in America. It is the song of the “swing voter.” When people choose a black screen for their social media profile and preen about how “woke” they are, you should hear the Vicar of Bray.

In England, from the 1630s to the ascension of George I in 1714, there was a civil war, an execution of a king, a dictatorship, a restoration of the monarchy, a glorious revolution, an invasion from a Dutchman, a childless queen, and an arrival of German speaking heir to the throne.

If white people in this country truly wanted an end to inequality, they’d pay for it and accept disruption to their lives and way of being. Instead, they seek to appropriate the disruption of the latest lynching by branding a new ice cream flavor. When an oppressor easily capitulates in the face of disruption, be wary.

Waltzing Matilda

What will you do?
And as our ship pulled into circular quay
I looked at the place where me legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity

The only thing I can think of when I think of this song is legs; lost legs, and now the dangling legs of Claude Neal.

Gallipoli was the product political calculation, stupidity, and ambition. It was a human meat grinder. What I see today is more and more conflicts like Gallipoli, in the streets, in the congress, in legislatures, in council chambers, and in courtrooms. So far, those battles haven’t left a bruise and haven’t spilt any blood. But that is changing.

Marching is not the answer. Attacking civilization isn’t the answer. Remember who is in control here. Remember who is moving the pieces on the game board. It isn’t a conspiracy theory or some kind of unique moment. It is you. You are the problem. If you’re reading this, I know what you want is a steady increase in what’s good in your life by 3 percent year over year until you die.

When conflict comes, you are willing to consign others to harm on your behalf whether it is intellectually or physically. But you’re there, that night watching Claude Neal swinging from that tree.

What’s the solution? Clear the park? Disband the police? Buy more toilet paper? Would you save Claude? Would you speak out? I doubt it.

Black out your profile picture, buy Ben and Jerry, and use your legs, and march until it’s gone.

And the old men march slowly all bent stiff and sore
The tired old men from a forgotten war
And the young people ask me, "what are they Marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question