Saturday, May 28, 2016

Conversational Cruise Control

A two-week cruise across the Mediterranean with the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda -- celebrating their 60th birthdays and their 40th wedding anniversary -- provided the Colonel with a captive audience with whom to share his worldview.  

At dinner each evening, seated at a large table with new friends from across America and the globe, the Colonel, inspired by the day's excursion to a ubiquitous fragmentary remnant of some once-great empire -- Carthaginian, Greek, Roman, Moorish, Ottoman, etc. -- inevitably responded to some political inanity with a lesson in historical geopolitics.

Despite the shin-bruising inflicted on him by his adoring bride, the Colonel launched attack after attack on the weak defenses of knowledge and understanding possessed by his table-mates.

It always started so innocently.

"You sound like you are from the South, Ed.  Where are you from? Atlanta?

"No, there ain't nobody but transplanted yankees livin' in Atlanta anymore.  I'm from Mississippi."

You could see the mental images of bedsheets and burning crosses flash in their eyes.  "Mississippi," they would intone with a mixture of haughty superiority, disdainful disapproval, and patronizing sympathy.

The word "Mississippi" always has the same effect on the speech centers of yankees -- they start using smaller words and shorter sentences.  "So..., Ed from Mississippi, what do you do for a living?" 

"Well, George from the North Pole, in between Klan meetings and chasing girls at family reunions, there just ain't much time for work, now is there?"

At this point the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda volunteered, "He's a retired Marine; he's never been to a Klan meeting, and we are only related by marriage."

Introducing the word "Marine" into any conversation always elicits one of three immediate responses:

         -- "Thank you for your service,"

         -- "I almost joined the Marines," or

         -- "Semper Fi!," followed by a round of monosyllabic grunts and chest thumps as two Marines go through a recognition ritual as old as the Corps itself.

In this case, the combination revelation that the Colonel was a retired Marine, from Mississippi, elicited, "Well, you must be a big Trump fan, huh?  Guess you can't wait for him to start building that wall."

"Actually, I despise Trump only a little less so than the Clintons, Alabama, and LSU.  And..., empires that build walls don't last much longer as empires."

"Huh?  Wait, the United States isn't an empire."

Despite three, count 'em, three kicks from the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, the Colonel bored in for the kill, "You folks up there just short of the arctic circle ever heard of a history book?  The United States of America is the greatest empire the world has ever known.  We don't like to call ourselves an empire, but we got all the hallmarks of one and then some."   

The Colonel's table-mates were now apprising him with looks ranging from that of finding a turd in the punchbowl to that of finding a rattlesnake in the cupboard.

The Colonel was undeterred by neither the looks nor the increasing violence and frequency of kicks to his shins, "Look, the future greatness of our Republic does not lie in the hands of an extra-constitutional executive.  The future greatness of the American Republic lies in the hands of a chief executive who will do two things -- unwaveringly uphold and abide by a strict interpretation of the Constitution; and, unite the nation in a grand mission."

"What kind of grand mission?  Sending a man to Mars?"

"Colonizing Mars would be nice, but the grand mission I have in mind is creation of a pan-hemispheric American republic stretching from the Hudson Bay to Cape Horn."

"That sounds like Manifest Destiny on steroids," one said.  Another snorted, "that's naked imperialism."

The Colonel's shins were absorbing a veritable rain of kicks -- the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda was getting quite a leg workout -- but he was on a roll and nothing short of a mortal wound was going to stop him, "You say that like it's a bad thing.  I thought we had already established that the United States was an empire."

"But, what about a people's right of self-determination?"

"Show me that clause in the Constitution. And, why shouldn't we share the protections of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness with the rest of our neighbors?  And don't tell me they are happy where they are -- under corrupt and ineffective governments unable or unwilling to provide security and freedom to their citizens.  If their nations were so great, they wouldn't be flocking to our shores by the millions as we speak."  

"But..., but, not all cultures are are compatible with our form of democracy."

The Colonel had them right where he wanted them, "First of all, that is a racist statement and false on it's face.  Our Republic is peopled with folks from every corner of the globe who brought their culture with them when they came to our shores.  Isn't it a classical liberal tenet that our nation's strength is in part derived from our diversity?  Secondly, we aren't a democracy -- the word appears nowhere in our Constitution."

By this time dessert was finished and the Colonel and his bride excused themselves to go avail themselves of other ship-board entertainment, "Pleasure to meet y'all.  Have a nice evening."

For two weeks the Colonel was in heaven.     

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Planting and Planning

The Colonel plans on living until he is at least 120.  He has to. 

It's gonna take at least another half century for all the trees he's been planting to reach maturity.  

Look, the Colonel has never been accused of harboring measurable amounts of altruistic motives -- he wants to see the fruits of his efforts.  He doesn't really care about any legacy.  There ain't really gonna be anyone spending all that much time after he's gone talking about all the great things the Colonel accomplished.

Primarily, because there ain't a whole lot of great accomplishments to the Colonel's credit.  At least not measurable by historically great standards.

The Colonel has built a couple of bridges -- but, he's the only one that uses 'em.

The Colonel has a couple of buildings to his credit, designed in his head and built with his hands -- the chickens appreciated them.

The Colonel even has a road on his vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere to his credit -- he had to cut it in order to get his tractor unstuck. 

The Colonel can't really even claim any credit for the fact that his three children have grown into amazing people accomplishing amazing things -- that credit belongs to the Colonel's Lady, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda.

With chainsaw, sawmill, and powered hand tools, he's turned a lot of trees into prodigious heaps of sawdust over the last decade, but the Colonel has planted far more than he has cut down.  

In fact, the Colonel's bent toward arboreal replacement is not a recent retirement reality -- he's been planting trees for as long as he can remember, and while his short-term memory has begun to atrophy alarmingly he can remember trees he planted many decades ago.

He just never got to stick around to see them grow.  Thanks, Uncle Sam.

But, the Colonel is, himself, finally planted and rooted deeply in the soil of his ancestors.  It took him fifty years of wandering the world to get to where he is now, and as soon as his feet stopped shuffling the roots drove down quickly, tapping into a stability and sustenance that only this particular place on this big blue marble ever provided him.

Yep, the Colonel needs to live a long life just so he can point to a large shady oak and proclaim, "the Colonel planted that!"

But, then again, with carbon dioxide levels skyrocketing, trees are growing a lot faster -- maybe the Colonel will only have to live to be 100.

The Colonel loves him some Global Warming.         



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ferocious Erudition

The Colonel has been called a lot of things over the years, and "angel" ain't one of 'em.  But, he hopes to be remembered as one.

Something in a scripture passage during his Sunday morning Bible study struck the Colonel differently than in numerous previous readings.

The passage in question is Luke's account of Stephen in the sixth chapter of the book of Acts. 

Stephen, as you will remember from your own countless perusing of the passage, was one of the seven men of good reputation, wisdom, and spiritual maturity chosen to administer to the equitable distribution of church resources among the widows of differing nationalities.  Because the Greek word, diakonos, was used to describe their duties, these seven men chosen to assist the apostles (allowing the apostles to devote their efforts to preaching and teaching) are considered to be the Christian Church's first deacons; although Luke does not indicate that they were so named.

Interesting word, diakonos.  As it passed from Greek to Latin to Old English to modern English, (with other linguistic detours the Colonel ain't schooled in) the word was long thought to be a conjunction of two Greek root words meaning "to hurry" and to "kick up dust."  

The Colonel likes that translation -- connotes a servant so devoted to his duties that his alacrity is physically manifest in the exhaust of his passage.

Alas, as much as the Colonel likes it, that translation of diakonos has fallen into disfavor amongst erudite folks whose grasp of Greek far outstrips his.  Modern Biblical scholars hold to a different set of root words whose conjunction connotes a servant trusted with protection and allocation of resources.  Given the responsibilities charged to Stephen, and the other six chosen with him; namely, the aforementioned "equitable distribution of church resources among the widows of differing nationalities;" it seems most probable, even to this knuckle-dragger, that this latter definition is more accurate.

But, despite the Colonel's verbose attempt to make it so, this post isn't about the origin of the word, and duties of one assigned as a, deacon.

No, weary reader, this post is about Stephen's ferocious erudition in the defense of his faith.  

As you will remember, from your numerous reading of the passage in question, Luke tells us that Stephen was ministering to a group of Christians who belonged to a synagogue composed primarily of freed slaves from regions outside of Israel.  As Stephen ministered to physical needs, he also ministered to spiritual needs -- preaching the Gospel of Jesus as the Messiah.  Said preaching rankled the synagogue leadership.

What rankled them most was the fact that, as Luke points out in verse 10 of Acts 6, they couldn't match the wisdom and erudition with which Stephen made his case for the messiahship of Jesus.  

Mind you, there is no indication that Stephen was a particularly well-educated man.  In fact, Luke indicates that the source of Stephen's wisdom and erudition was the Holy Spirit.  

Well, them high muckity-mucks in the Freedmen Synagogue couldn't best Stephen in the contest of ideas, so they dredged up some blasphemous mud and threw it at him.  Hauled before the Sanhedrin (Jerusalem's version of the county board of supervisors) and charged with blasphemy, Stephen sat facing the same sort of crowd that Jesus had just prior to His crucifixion.

Luke tells us that as the Sanhedrin was giving ole Stephen the stink eye, them sanctimonious Sadducees and Pharisees noticed something unusual about the look on Stephen's face.

Here's how Luke describes the scene in Acts 6:15:  "All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel."

Now, if y'all are anything like the Colonel -- and he is seriously sorry if you are -- you have probably read that verse before and thought that Stephen was sitting there with this placid, sweet smile on his face.  

That's how the Colonel has always read the verse.

Until this morning.

This morning when he read the verse the Colonel was suddenly reminded of the times in Scripture when men and women were face to face with angels.  He was also reminded of descriptions of angels in Scripture and those descriptions explain why men and women face to face with angels were, at least, deeply impressed, and at most, scared plumb to death.

Angels -- real angels -- aren't cloud-sittin' cuddly chubby-cheeked cherubs.

Angels -- real angels -- are impressive beings capable of a ferocity unmatched by mere mortal men.

The Colonel is thinking that when the Sanhedrin looked at Stephen what they saw was ferocious faith.    

Look, just as there is no scriptural indication that Stephen was particularly well-educated, there is no indication that Stephen was a battle-tested warrior either.  Stephen's erudition and ferocious defense of his faith -- see the remainder of the chapter -- was not, in the Colonel's not-so humble opinion, a result of his experience.  Stephen's ferocious faith was God's Holy Spirit working through him.

Today, men and women of faith face Sanhedrins of sanctimonious legalists who have twisted the concepts of love and acceptance into hideous forms unrecognizable by the God who created those concepts.  

Stephen defended his faith with the wisdom of spiritual maturity available only through the power of God's Holy Spirit.  And, he faced death with the ferocity of an angel.  

The Colonel prays for angelic ferocity.