Editorial: We’ve Been There with the Talbot Boys Before but Haven’t Done Anything

When the full impact was felt from the violence in Charlottesville that took place in front of a statue of a Confederate general last weekend, it is suspected that more than a few Talbot County citizens felt a certain degree of deja vu as the media once again put the spotlight on similar Civil War memorials commemorating those who served to defend the institution of slavery and state rights.

Two summers ago, Talbot County faced its own moral dilemma in discussing the fate of the Confederate soldier monument entitled “For The Talbot Boys” on the Courthouse lawn in downtown Easton. This came in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, which motivated the local chapter of the NAACP to file an official complaint with the County requesting that the statue be removed.

That NAACP complaint led the Talbot County community into an intensive six-month conversation about racism and the history of the Eastern Shore and slavery. Several town hall meetings were arranged to discuss these issues, dozens of letters to local newspapers were published, and open hearings were hosted by Talbot County Council.

The Talbot Spy also felt the need to provide extensive coverage of this issue. Thinking it was consistent with our educational mission, and also seeing it as what educators called a “teachable moment,” we completed an eight part special series (re-published in today’s Spy) with historians, religious leaders, elected officials, and local citizens to provide context and commentary on what Talbot County needed to do in the face of this difficult moral dilemma. We also didn’t hesitate to offer our own opinion on the statute.

The outcome of this debate, as ratified by the Talbot County Council members, was to keep the Talbot Boys statue where it stands today. Their decision, represented by Council President Corey Pack remarks, talked about the legal and cultural reasons why monuments like the Talbot Boys should not be disturbed. While President Pack made it clear that more could be done to acknowledge the real history behind the statute, as well as the Union boys that also died in the conflict,  the Council did not see these solutions as part of their legislative responsibility but encouraged citizens to take on a leadership role to rectify these profound gaps.

But since that summer of 2015, it is sad to note that not one group or individual has stepped forward to ensure that the full story of Talbot County in the Civil War is honored. The Talbot Boys still sits on the Courthouse lawn without interpretation, without a balanced viewpoint, nor acknowledging the other four hundred young boys from Talbot County that fought for the Union and end slavery.

Perhaps the Charlottesville tragedy will spur our community to take action finally. But this time, let’s please finish the job.

 

 

 

A Defining Moment by Craig Fuller

In life, there are defining moments. At their best, they may be acts of heroism, selflessness or extraordinary kindness. At worst, they are acts or phrases that simply sear the national psyche and are never or not soon forgotten.

For people in public life, defining moments can literally make them or break them. In a campaign, a candidate and his or her team only hope that if a favorable defining moment comes they will be smart enough and fast enough to take full advantage of it. And, countless hours are spent seeking to avoid the moment that negates much of the good one might otherwise have done.

Consider these brief excerpts and you get the picture:

“Ask not what your country can do for you….”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall…”

“I am not a crook.”

“Read my lips….”

This August will long be remembered as a time that provided a defining moment for President Trump. Every armchair quarterback can judge just what the moment meant; however, what is clear is that Mr. Trump sought the opportunity to speak his mind on the tragic events in Charlottesville. He found the moment in the lobby of Trump Tower. He spoke and most were outraged with his message and even his usual defenders were silenced.

It was a defining moment that provided instant reaction followed by some strong moral action.

Within a few days, a group as unlikely as the chief executive of Walmart, an individual leading more than 2 million employees who see 100,000,000 customers a week in their stores along with the members of the nation’s Joint Chiefs of Staff who lead America’s military were separating themselves from the views expressed by President Trump. Presidential advisory committees were shut down ahead of all their distinguished members resigning. These were not hastily made political statements. These were carefully considered expressions that took the moral high ground.

Now, we should ask, just how do we move on?

Will this President ever travel without protests?

Will we ever listen to a Presidential speech read from the teleprompter without wanting to wait a few days for the “real views” to emerge?

Can congressional leaders be persuaded by a presidential call for action on important legislation?

Can the American people be moved by Presidential proclamation?

If political leaders ask the nation to move forward to advance an agenda, will anyone really follow?

The defining moment that came days ago has weakened the presidency. About this, I am certain. The critical issues that need to be addressed in Washington in the weeks ahead are the same: health care, national security, the budget, infrastructure, the debt ceiling, tax reform and a serious drug crisis to name a few. Now, only with strong legislative initiative and bipartisanship in our nation’s Capitol will these issues advance. Whether today’s Congress is up to this task is unclear, but even they must know, regardless of party, that in August President Trump managed, at least for a time, to achieve a kind of lame duck status only seven months into his term as president making their obligations all the greater.

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

Letter to Editor: Faith Community of Talbot County Condemns Violence in Charlottesville

We, leaders of Talbot County’s faith communities, condemn, in the strongest terms, the racism, the anti-Semitism, the anti- Muslim and the xenophobic hatred and violence brought to Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend.

The bold actions of neo-Nazi, KKK, and other white supremacist groups were evil as measured by any standards in our diverse religious traditions.

We will not be silent. We are called to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all, to love our neighbor, and to strive for true equity. We denounce the cowards who spew hate and who advocate against these universal values. The actions of these white supremacists, many of whom are young white men in their 20s and 30s, are destructive to the very fabric of our community and nation.

Bigotry cannot go unchecked. We call on the citizens of Talbot County to join us in condemning the actions of these individuals and these organizations. We call on elected officials to publicly and explicitly condemn white supremacy and the organizations that advance sick ideologies and practices. 

Rabbi Donald R. Berlin

Rev. Sue Browning
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton

Molly Burgoyne-Brian
Clerk, Third Haven Monthly Meeting

Rev. Roland C. Brown
Pastor, Union Baptist Church, Easton, MD

Fr. Kevin Cross
The Church of the Holy Trinity, Oxford

Pastor Rusty Curling

Nancy M. Dennis
Pastor, St. Stephen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church

Rev. Duke Dixon
Presbyterian Church of Easton

Michelle Hammond
For The Love 4 Health Outreach 

Rev. Dartanyon L. Hines

Rabbi Peter E. Hyman
Temple B’Nai Israel, Easton

The Right Reverend Joel Marcus Johnson
President, The Oaks of Mamre Graduate Center

Walter Johnson

Walid Kamsheh, M.D.
Islamic Center of Delmarva

Rev. John F. Keydel, Jr., Interim Rector
Christ Church St. Michaels

Vy. Rev. James Nash, V.F.
SS Peter and Paul Parish

Rev. Missy Rekitzke

Rev. Nancy Sajda, Interfaith Minister
President. P.E.A.C.E.

Rev. Dr. Flavia Skilbred
St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Cordova, MD

Rev. Dr. Wm. T. Wallace, Sr.

Out and About (Sort of): Change is Inevitable and Difficult by Howard Freedlander

In the late afternoon on Wednesday, August 9, I went to the Safeway store in Easton to buy lemons and limes for a modest dinner party at our home. It seemed that gloom overhang the store.

I listened to a “management type” whom I had never seen before say to a longtime employee, “Nice to meet you, but I’m sorry it’s under these conditions.” You frequently hear that comment at a funeral home or hospital. Something didn’t seem right.

When I arrived home, I opined to my wife that I thought that this store, a mainstay in central Easton for nearly five decades, was about to close. I predicted we soon would read about the unfortunate demise of this simple, even ordinary Safeway store. And so we did the next day. It is too close in September.

Sometimes you don’t want to be right.

The closing of this store was inevitable, despite its advantageous location. New, progressive grocery stores, filled with far greater selections of food, better marketed with more flair, are now commonplace and pervasive in Talbot County. Safeway could no longer compete.

For reasons unknown to this unsophisticated consumer, the corporate honchos at Safeway had decided not to invest in this store. I suspect it could not do anything but find another location for a larger store similar to the one on Kent Island and throughout the country, something it tried and failed to do some years ago. After all, Safeway is a savvy operation accustomed to competing with the best and most progressive grocery emporiums.

In this case, Safeway was content with operating a mediocre store, watching it wither and die. What a shame for our community.

Situated conveniently at the intersection of Washington and Bay streets, with ample parking, it was within walking distance for both Easton residents and workers. Of course, it wasn’t fancy. Its offerings were limited. The term “gourmet” did not apply to this store. Its employees were loyal and helpful. It had an “old shoe” quality about it. You knew what you were going to get. Your expectations were, well, suitably realistic–low.

While I might sound critical, I also felt comfortable in this ordinary store. It didn’t intimidate me as others did. I didn’t have to call my wife in desperation and seek further guidance about the requested brand. I even knew what I was doing sometimes. My own expectations of myself were low.

Change is difficult, even when you know it’s approaching quickly. The end always arrives with a thump.

So, what will happen with this property? Will a specialized store like Trader Joe’s claim it? Will it become a medical facility? Will a non-profit eager to expand view this location, with its good-sized parking lot, as ideal for acquisition?

I hope it doesn’t sit long without a new use.

On a human level, I hope the Safeway employees find new work homes. They worked hard to keep afloat a sinking ship. Lack of investment by the corporate tier and increased competition spelled the end of a nearly 50-year tradition in Easton.

I will train myself to become accustomed to another local grocery store. Lord knows I will have ample selection.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

From South of Left Field: Shaking the Ground by Jimmie Galbreath

Lets pick up where ‘Definite Problems’ left off last week. From the chart in ‘Definite Problems’ over the last 30 years the bottom 80% of us have experienced continuingly falling income. This decline has occurred under both the Democrats and Republicans; the D-R Axis or DRAxis. Finally re-electing the DRAxis or doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a good definition of insanity.

If you are like me the idea of being in numerous mass protests waving signs or trying to run for office is too overwhelming. Leading a political charge is just not my cup of tea, although I am anxious to vote for it. Right now it seems all the new energy is out protesting after the elections are over. This ‘after the fact’ burst of activity makes a big splash and feels good for those engaged in it, but the real power lies in what befalls down the road at the polls. So how do we take the DRAxis out behind the woodshed?

Let’s discuss what needs to happen around the backside of the woodshed. Our current existing gaggle of miscreants lives for the financial support and the wealth that they get by selling their elected power. The key words here are ‘elected power.’ As long as we can be lured into voting the DRAxis by slick media and PAC ads, then we have no power. If we don’t vote at all, we have no power. The only way to take the DRAxis behind the woodshed would be large numbers of us refusing to vote for DRAxis candidates. This approach would have a dramatic impact. Chaos would ensue even greater than the Tea Party in the Republican henhouse. The more incumbents toppled, and the more people coming in from outside the DRAxis, the harder it would be for money to get what it wants. The DRAxis would fight back of course, and there would be plenty of stalemates and raging in the press. Like any path to real reform, it would take time, stubbornness, and pain. Is anyone salivating at the thought of this fight like I am?

It is true that the fundamental structure of our Government as laid down by the Founding Fathers will always resolve itself into a two party system. There is nothing about the structure that prevents new parties from gaining power and struggling with the two parties we already have.

At least one of the existing parties has to go! The internal structure of the DRAxis has proven itself highly capable of smothering any effort at internal reform. What will not bend must be broken.

Behind the real woodshed, there will be no votes for anyone with an (R) or (D) behind their names. It doesn’t matter if the new candidates are wing-nuts as long as they are not DRAxis. Until we pave the road outside of DRAxis with votes, no quality people or parties are going to be out there for us. Set your jaw, keep casting the votes, and in time better candidates will come. Keep doing this until they do.

The thing to remember is that wing-nut laws and tax codes can be reversed and failed policies overturned. Don’t let the fear of them stop you from paving a new path for new candidates and new parties. Until we are willing to provide a path to office for better candidates, there will be no better candidates. DRAxis will not change, we must. This is especially important for those who have stopped voting. Find your rage, turn your disillusionment into rage if you need too. Don’t wait for others. Pull the lever! Fire the shot! Keep doing it!

If there are only DRAxis candidates then utterly reject the incumbent. DRAxis uses polished spin doctors to sell these people, so reject every effort to paint them as being for you. If they were, we wouldn’t need to do this. Thirty years of data does not lie! Go to the primary of your choice and fire the first shot, it is the only bullet we have in this fight. Go to the general and fire another! As an example for us here in the First District

I currently have my hopes for Ben Jealous for Governor and Michael Pullen for The House of Representatives. I happen to personally know both and trust them. Their choice to run within DRAxis is unfortunate, but like Bernie Sanders, the current landscape drives them into the DRAxis meat grinder where money and tremendous pressure has successfully co-opted so many well-meaning people before. My choice will be very hard if a non-DRAxis candidate pops up, but the road to reform must be paved with votes to defeat the DRAxis. Nothing less will do. Good people like Ben and Mike who want to support us don’t see another path because we have not been paving another path with votes.

The choice I face will be faced by a lot of us. DRAxis will not reverse our falling standard of living because they are supported, elected, and ultimately paid by the wealth. It is our own fault that this has happened. We let them buy our votes with empty promises and slick advertising.

The DRAxis committees, DNC and RNC, are funded by the wealthy. They will continue to support the wealthy gathering ever greater income at our expense. Don’t let poverty and want swallow us slowly. Don’t turn away from those already swallowed, because if this decline is not reversed, it will swallow us all.

Let’s keep taking the trip to the woodshed, year after year until….

Jimmie Galbreath is a retired Engineer originally from a small family owned dairy farm in Jefferson County, MS. He earned a B.S in Petroleum Engineering from MS State University, accumulating 20 years Nuclear experience at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station. Along the way he worked as a roustabout on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, served 3 years active service as a Quartermaster Officer in the US Army, Supervised brick kilns first in MS than in Atlanta GA and whatever else it took to skin the cat. He now lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Saddle Shoes and The Kingdom of Heaven by George Merrill

Getting to the right place for the wrong reasons is more the rule than an exception.

For a long time my parents were uncertain which church to affiliate with. My father had been raised Methodist, and my mother Dutch Reformed. Neither was an active churchgoer but – as many middle class people – they thought their children could use the respectability of some religious affiliation. Proximity I think finally clinched their decision: the Church of the Ascension was much closer to our house than either the Methodist or the Dutch Reformed Church. The parish was an easy walk from home so there was no need for transportation. My religious journey began not with aspirations to greater piety but for proximity and convenience. I was baptized there. I was ten at the time, considerably older than the typical baptismal candidate.

I had little sense of what baptism was about. The rite assured that I would become an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. At my age, these theological formulations went over my head and I remember my baptism now only because of the relief I felt that my suit and especially my saddle shoes remained dry during the ritual. Prior to the baptism, my parents bought me a glen plaid suit and the shoes for the occasion. I was a clotheshorse and eager to wear my new clothes. The solemnity of the occasion was of secondary importance to me if I was aware of it at all.  Dressing up was first priority– a shallow motivation to be sure – but I was nevertheless respectfully clothed to claim whatever my new status was as a child of God and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Even during the baptism my worldly desires dominated.

During the baptism, my head was slightly inclined over the baptismal font in preparation for the priest to pour water on top of my head. This was done three times in the name of the “Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”  I could think only of how to protect my saddle shoes from any cascading water. Fr. Rogers was skilled at this maneuver so the shoes remained dry while I received my new inheritance. For all the wrong reasons I was initiated into a spiritual community, which grew in importance as I became older and more aware.  I would say, the choice of that parish also turned out to be a good call, even as my parents, or me for that matter, had little if any sense of the implications that belonging to this community carried.

How many decisions do we make or in which we enthusiastically participate during our lives without having any idea of what’s really going on?  It’s probably most of them. Those decisions cause no great harm. A fortuitous outcome of many of mine has led me to believe there is an overarching reality that redeems us even as we muddle through life. To see such grace at work during our lives requires a hard look at the erratic course a life follows.

Voting, marriage, and buying a first home are three decisions I imagine most of us make while poorly informed. Studying up on your candidate, engaging in pre-marital counseling or contracting for a house inspection can offer some assurances that we’re acting with our eyes open. However wide our eyes may be opened, there are always surprises. Many blindside us but some are welcomed.

Scientists deal with this reality regularly. In investigating one phenomenon, they invariably discover something radically new and altogether different.

One day, scientist Perry Spencer of Raytheon was fiddling around with a microwave emitting magnetron used in radar when he felt an odd sensation in his pocket. He felt something sizzling. A chocolate bar in his pocket had begun melting. By a fluke he discovered what we know as today’s microwave ovens.

Navy engineer Richard James was experimenting to find ways to stabilize delicate instruments on ships that were always rolling and pitching at sea. What he inadvertently stumbled upon is what delights the heart of every child; the ubiquitous “Slinky.” Three hundred million sold worldwide.

There’s a spiritual message in this. It’s a dead-end to insist we have to get it right.  There’s a piece of scripture that has suggested this but only because it has been misinterpreted. “Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect.” Know anyone who is up to that? If you do they will probably bore you to death. The English word ‘perfect’ is an inadequate rendition of a word that at its root means ‘compassionate.’ As human beings we are not challenged to “get it right” but to be compassionate, a far more challenging ideal. Aspirations to perfection lay an enormous burden on you and me. Perfectionists can drive themselves and everyone around them nuts.

The election of Ascension to be my spiritual home and the baptism that followed it was hardly the result of high-minded piety or idealism. It’s nevertheless where the full story began. I became a part of a nurturing community through my turbulent adolescence, aware of the healing power words and music while I discovered some of the timeless tools by which I could attempt to plumb the mysteries of God and of my own soul.

And all I knew when all this began was that my parents were delighted not to have to drive us to church and the saddle shoes remained dry during my initiation into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

 

Road Trips in America by Al Sikes

“I’m 32, Mr. Dunn, and I’m here celebrating the fact that I spent another year scraping dishes and waitressing which is what I have been doing since 13……..other truth is, my brother’s in prison, my sister cheats on welfare by pretending one of her babies is still alive, my daddy’s dead, and my momma weighs 312 lbs. If I was thinking straight, I’d go back home, find a used trailer, buy a deep fryer and some Oreos. Problem is, this is the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I’m too old for this, then I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?” Maggie Fitzgerald, Million Dollar Baby

Few movie scenes remain vivid in my mind. But when Maggie Fitzgerald, in a stunning portrayal by Hillary Swank, faced off with Frankie Dunn the boxing manager, played by Clint Eastwood, the imprint endured. So when I read that the founder of Facebook and multiple billionaire Mark Zuckerberg had taken a road trip to better understand America, the scene flashed back.

As Maggie’s plaintive dialogue reveals, she is a waitress who had grown up in a hard-scrabble family. She was also a pretty good boxer who had come to Frankie Dunn’s gymnasium to ask him to manage her career.

Eastwood’s Frankie Dunn was an edgy traditionalist who didn’t see the boxing ring as a fit place for a woman.

Frankie Dunn didn’t understand Maggie Fitzgerald and Mark Zuckerberg will need more than a road trip to understand America.

Zuckerberg finished high school at Phillips Exeter Academy and college at Harvard. He is said to be the fifth richest man in the world. He is, of course, the founder of Facebook and a road trip will not provide a real connection to a world he has never occupied.

My road trip began in 1986 when I came to Washington and continued in 1993 when my wife and I moved to Manhattan. Decreasingly, I found, did I work or play with people who shared my background. In some ways when I left my home state, Missouri, I left a public world and entered a private one.

Most of my new peers and associates attended private elementary and secondary schools and colleges. I was a public school guy in a private school world.

Age invites reflection. Having spent the backend of my career in the digital industry, my reflections are in part informed by that fact. And the fact is that the digital age rewards, and often in outsized ways, those who were shaped from an early age to complete algorithmically.

David Brooks wrote a column recently in which he talked about the pediacrats: “It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.”

Commenting on a book in the same column, “The Sum of Small Things,” by Elizabeth Currid- Halkett, Brooks notes, “To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food, truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.”

My East Coast field trip, or to be more honest, residency, brought me fully into this world. I am from time to time still disoriented, but never more so than when I puzzle about what might be done to bring America together again.

I believe it is safe to say that most coastal, upper-middle-class residents were shocked by the election of Donald Trump. I was surprised, but not shocked, having had the good fortune of experiencing much of America’s diversity.

When we chose to end national service, we unwittingly chose to end meaningful assimilation. Most, unfortunately, we turned characterization over to character actors directed by often condescending film directors. Empathy was not possible.

Zuckerberg is a poster boy for disruption and the enormous economic leverage enjoyed by the tech elite. He was private school all the way. He enjoys an elite intellect and voracious ambition. Most Americans are not on the road to high technology riches or even the rewards that come to those in the upper echelons of value-added work.

The Hillary Swank character was willing to do what was necessary regardless of where her work landed her on the social ladder. Likewise, many who voted for President Trump were willing to do what they thought necessary to shake up the political world.

Movie-goers know how Million Dollar Baby ended.

It is impossible to know how this wrenching chapter in America’s political life will end. But, let me hazard a guess.

Trump will ultimately fail. He does not know either America or political leadership. It is not enough to exploit anger; successful Presidents must also understand America’s generous nature and how to tap its energy. And, I am not talking about larger budgets, but the respect we want and extend to others.

I also do not believe the next President will come from the corporate world. Those who know America best have served in its armed forces, the only popular institution. I believe Americans will once again turn for leadership to those who know America best.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Out and About (Sort of): Chautauqua…continued by Howard Freedlander

If you recall yesterday from the outset of this serious and somber column, bereft of notable humor, I noted the prevalence of culture. One night we attended a ballet performance and the next a symphony presentation by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. A very unsophisticated performing arts lover, as I believe I’ve stated in a previous column, I understand ballet as well as I understand nuclear physics. Yet, “An Evening of Pas de Deux (dancing by two) was magnificent. I just can’t explain why.

Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra

The seamless blending and melding of different instruments under the leadership of a gifted conductor simply confounds my senses–and confirms my lack of musical ability. My reference point, farfetched though it might be, is a professional football team playing at its best when all the parts seem to come together as one powerful masterpiece.

As I think about vacations past, I confess that seven days in Chautauqua compare to no others spent escaping the daily drumbeat of life. I laughed more in seven days than during the past seven years. I attended six consecutive religious services, inspired by a Baptist minister who talked about deep spiritual subjects with a sense of humor that demanded attention and laughter.

Rev. Susan Sparks

Again, I harken back to the delightful musings and message of the Rev. Susan Sparks.

Elvis is not dead. Just ask his followers in more than 500 fan clubs, she alerted us. Sightings abound.

Jesus is not dead if his followers believe in his teachings, Sparks said. And according to this former trial lawyer and stand- up comic turned a Baptist minister on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, Jesus liked to laugh. Hard to believe; he just seemed so serious and driven, blessedly so. Susan Sparks’ source is the Gnostic Gospels of Thomas, which cites several times ‘and the Savior laughed.’

Understanding that most people seek and value proof, Sparks called for faith and belief. She also suggested that Christ may appear in unexpected places, such as in a homeless person or “seeing the face of Christ in a person before seeing the color of the skin.”

Last Thursday afternoon I listened to nearly 45 minutes of 50 Jewish jokes told rapidly and expertly by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Jewish humor, according to Telushkin, focuses on mothers, food, money, argumentativeness, and anti-Semitism, among other easy marks. I thought about the tradition of Jewish humor as embodied in Jackie Mason, Rodney Dangerfield, and Jack Benny.

I thought about my own upbringing. I laugh now about my Jewish mother. Life with her wasn’t always funny, except in retrospect. Her no-nonsense resoluteness could drive her sons crazy.

Chautauqua

Rabbi Telushkin told a story about three elderly Jewish women conversing on a bench in Miami bragging about their sons’ utter devotion to them. For the sake of space, I will go immediately to the punchline. After hearing her two friends boast about their beloved sons, the third woman exclaimed that her son visits a therapist three times a week, at $300 an hour–and talks almost primarily about his mother. Rather easy to appreciate that punchline.

I suspect that Jewish humor strikes universal chords. Mothers are convenient targets of humor.

This week’s theme at Chautauqua is “Fear.” I’m glad that I fell upon “comedy and the human condition. I wouldn’t travel more than seven hours, past Pittsburgh and Erie, PA. to become immersed in fear. That’s going too far.

The first part of this column can be found here.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia. 

 

Out and About (Sort of): Chautauqua by Howard Freedlander

The humor was dark, spiritual, political, ethnic, race-related and provocative–all aimed at tickling the funny bone and cheering the soul with laughter for a week in the unusual community of Chautauqua, NY.

“Comedy and the Human Condition” was the theme of week 6 in a summer venue known for 143 years as a religious, cultural and academic community filled primarily with mostly small Victorian houses oriented to the lovely and peaceful Lake Chautauqua. Though I’ve heard for years about this quirky place in western New York State, not far from Erie, PA, I didn’t really understand the overriding need for total immersion in lectures focused entirely on the subject at hand.

I quickly learned the rules of the Chautauqua Way.

Rev. Susan Sparks

The tone was set early on, on the first Sunday, July 30 at the week’s opening religious service when the chaplain-in-residence for week 6, the Rev. Susan Sparks, senior pastor at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in Manhattan, NY, introduced at least a thousand of us to her special mix of spirituality and humor. Her sermons were pitch-perfect. What we all learned, I think, was that the message of hope and faith and joy and love and compassion resonates more effectively when leavened by humor.

Prior to becoming an ordained minister, this Charlotte, NC native was a trial lawyer and stand-up comic. One of her sermons drew a parallel between the King as in Jesus Christ and the other king, Elvis Presley.

Are you kidding me, coupling Christ and Elvis, the king of rock? Yes, according to Pastor Sparks.

Just as his fervent followers, unwilling to give up the ghost, believe Elvis is still alive and set to return any time now, Christians should too consider that Christ is alive and ever-present in our hearts when we act with grace and decency. While I sound preachy and sophomoric, Susan did not. After all, she knew how to blend the serious and comic. She liked Elvis too, appealing to her southern roots and fondness for a legend that keeps growing.

W. Kamau Bell

A self-described “motorcycle chick,” the cowboy-boot wearing pastor captivated her audience every morning. It seemed that her Chautauqua congregation smiled and listened whenever she spoke. She was truly an effective messenger of God.

My mind rarely wandered. That was unusual. Laughter fuels attention. So I discovered sitting continuously on a hard bench, without the requisite seat cushions borne by the wise Chautauquans. We happily sacrificed comfort for nourishment of our souls–sounds like a rookie’s rationalization. New-found friends brought us seat cushions. An act deserving of “Alleluia!”

As I listened and laughed at the political humor of the Capitol Steps, the angry, cynical humor of Lewis Black, the ethnic, Jewish humor of

The Capitol Steps

Rabbis Bob Alper and Joseph Telushkin, the sly, boundary-breaking humor of David Steinberg and the poignant and powerful humor of W. Kamau Bell, I learned that humor can compel you to think differently, ignore your worries, appreciate life’s absurdities, laugh at yourself and provide a wider lens into our nation’s flaws, follies and frailties, as well as our own personal idiosyncrasies.

One caution to political satire, long a staple in our raucous country, came in the voice of Kelly Carlin, a radio comic and moderator and daughter of at the late comedian George Carlin, who pushed the limits of humor by disparaging nearly everything and everybody. She wondered aloud whether political satire weakens our national institutions by shooting holes into and shredding our elected leaders and government agencies. The mistrust sowed and the cynicism generated can be injurious and harmful to the institutions that depend on public support–and trust.

Lake Chautauqua

Maybe it’s too late to resurrect respect for our government leaders. A gruesome prospect. Hope sustains me. Kelly Carlin subtlety betrayed her paternal legacy by questioning but not chastising the impact of mean-spirited humor.

At the risk of seeming self-righteous, I too laugh at satire, particularly if aimed at both ends of the political spectrum. The Capitol Steps are particularly adept. One of their funniest musical routines last week targeted “The Supremes” as a riff on the aging members of the Supreme Court, underscored by a musical rendition of “Staying Alive.”

It was hilarious and apt. And inoffensive to this senior citizen.

Back to Chautauqua, a place that encourages introspection and civil discourse. It’s not a resort, though located on a centerpiece lake. There are too few restaurants. There is not a bar on the premises, maybe due to its religious origin. I say this as a non-drinker. The major hotel, the Athenaeum, is worn, with no pizzazz; our ceiling leaked after some but not significant rain. Few cars are allowed on the property.

And, besides the omnipresent porches on the small, charming houses are the equally pervasive hydrangea plants. They are attractive, but not stunningly so. They remind me of enlarged, colorful mushrooms. They exude colorful freshness. They seem perfect for tradition-laden Chautauqua.

Did I say quirky?

Part Two continued here

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

From South of Left Field: Definite Problems by Jimmie Galbreath

“People with definite plans and definite expectations have definite problems.” My Dad drove me crazy with this little gem in my early years. I still have no idea where he got it. Somehow today it seems appropriate to our fractured nation.

The internet abounds with funny, comforting little memes suggesting simplistic solutions to issues that are interconnected and complex. Build a wall, ban gays, kill someone with bombs or drones, $15 minimum wage, the simple solutions go on and on. Like a child’s mobile no one part can actually be touched without every part moving as a result. Not that leaving it alone means nothing changes, everything changes as time passes.

We live in a complex ‘system’ that changes over time. No company, no government, no economy and certainly no society is ever unchanging. Even religion changes over time. Otherwise, the Crusades, witch trials and the Inquisition would still be with us. When an imbalance in our ‘system’ rises to the point of becoming a definite problem such as police violence, mass shootings, income inequality, lack of medical care and so on the social discourse settles onto some simple solution or particular plan. These definite plans come with a definite expectation of quick resolution that is seldom met.

Let me paint a picture and see if it makes sense to you. A stable ‘system’ would have the wealthy (corporate) and general population both exerting a fairly balanced influence on the government. The government should function to regulate the opposing desires of wealth concentration on the corporate/wealthy side and a reasonable standard of living on the population side. A good measure of whether this balance exists is the degree of income inequality. After all, more income for a few equals less income for the many. If in fact jobs are being created for the betterment of the many then we should see balanced income growth with all income levels increasing about the same.

Houston, we have a definite problem. Looking at these charts, it is apparent that since about 1980 increases in income have been largely confined to the upper 20% and the rest of us have been losing income. Now comes the definite expectation, the belief that the answer to this starts with an increase in the minimum wage. Folks I hate to point this out but the minimum wage is not why the increases in income are going to the top 20%. Government guides income increase through the tax codes, not the minimum wage! This doesn’t mean the higher minimum wage is a bad idea; it means it doesn’t do anything to address the actual problem.

Here’s another definite expectation, the belief that this can or will be addressed by one of the two existing political parties. The truth is that the tax codes and laws that have tilted the ‘system’ to favor those already wealthy were enacted by these two parties. Like everyone in a capitalist economy, the Parties work for money. That is why the Democrats push for the $15 minimum wage and the Republicans push for tax breaks for business. These things don’t change the cause of the ever increasing inequality; it is just a pretense at change that has no real impact.

The existing political parties are graveyards of popular political movements from both the right and left. Don’t believe it? Ask the Tea Party where the ACA repeal is. Watch as the Democratic Party slowly tries to absorb the Bernie folks and smother them in useless quibbling and ineffective goals like the minimum wage. All the while the wealthy grow ever richer, and we grow ever poorer. The function of the Republican and Democratic Parties is to smother popular will and continue to empower the upper class. The ONLY tool left to us other than open violent revolt is our vote.

So long as we continue to vote for the same old people and same old Parties we will get the same old results. It is insanity to expect anything different. Until the angry and disaffected finally begin to vote and refuse to vote for anyone with an (R) or (D) behind their name nothing is going to change. Think the Green, Independent or Libertarian is a nut? Look at the graph again. Look at our current President. A new Party is needed, one that does not have an existing bureaucracy which is paid by the wealthy and serves to smother the popular will.

The race is on, conditions are not and will not improve so long as the Republican and Democratic Parties have the power. Wealth demands ever more wealth and will rely on the police and military to control us. Over 1,000 citizens a year are already dying under the guns of the Police. That is more than any other country on earth! We have more citizens in prison than any other country in the world and the second highest incarceration rate in the world. These things are not accidents; they are the result of desperation and oppression in a population whose standard of living is falling.

The only way to shake the foundations and hopefully usher in real change is to reject the Republican and Democratic parties completely, shatter them and throw open the doors to new blood. Take risks, seek the people who will enact law and tax code to suppress excessive wealth and rebalance the life of all Americans. If we want America to be Great again, we must create an environment that allows Americans to become Great again. Let’s level the playing field.

Jimmie Galbreath is a retired Engineer originally from a small family owned a dairy farm in Jefferson County, MS. He earned a B.S in Petroleum Engineering from MS State University, accumulating 20 years Nuclear experience at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station. Along the way, he worked as a roustabout on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, served three years active service as a Quartermaster Officer in the US Army, Supervised brick kilns first in MS than in Atlanta GA and whatever else it took to skin the cat. He now lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.