Category Archives: Ben Franklin

Thanksgiving for living signposts

“E pluribus unum”- out of many, one (the motto of the US).

“Devise means for removing the Inconsistency from the Character of the American People,” and to “promote mercy and justice toward this distressed Race.” -Ben Franklin (His last public act was to send Congress this petition asking for the abolition of slavery and an end to the slave trade. Feb 3, 1790)

 Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving cartoon

George Washington was the first to call for a national “public thanksgiving and prayer”, but each state celebrated this holiday at various times. In September of 1863, in the midst of our Civil War, Sarah Josepha Hale, a 74-year-old magazine editor, wrote to President Lincoln urging him to declare Thanksgiving a national holiday to unite the country. Lincoln listened and by October, issued a proclamation that set aside the last Thursday of every November as “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

This week, Julia and I drove out to Iowa from New York to celebrate Thanksgiving with her mom and family. On the way, we listened to episodes of a podcast called On Being with Krista Tippet. People have been trying to get us to listen to this podcast for a long time. I bring up the show because as we strive to avoid talking about politics around the family table today, it is important to explore within ourselves the roots of why our communication has broken down.

ON Being

To explore what has divided us in the hopes of uniting us, I will share some quotes and thoughts from two of the On Being Podcasts we listened to. 

Vincent Harding

Vincent Harding was a leading figure in the civil rights movement as well a close friend and occasional speech writer for Martin Luther King Jr. He said that “the phrase “civil rights” never adequately described King’s vision or the human transformation that it stirred.’ The movement, he reminded us, “was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired in biblical words to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society.”  The question for us now, is “how to carry on democratic conversation that in a sense invites us to hear each other’s best arguments and best contributions so that we can then figure out how do we put these things together to create a more perfect union. To develop the best humanity, the best spirit, the best community, there needs to be discipline, practices of exploring. How do you do that? How do we work together? How —to go back to our conversation —how do we talk together in ways that will open up our best capacities and our best gifts?”

Isabel Wilkerson

Author Isabel Wilkerson, reminds us that that there were 246 years of enslavement here in America, that is 12 generations of enslavement. “You think about those cotton fields, and those rice plantations, and those tobacco fields, and on all of those cotton fields, and tobacco plantations, and rice plantations were opera singers, and jazz musicians, and poets, and professors, defense attorneys, doctors — I mean, that’s — this is the manifestation of the desire to be free and what was lost to the country…we’re so very divided, and there’s such a focus on “other.” And “other” can mean all kinds of things. And so people will often say, “Why is it that those people do that thing?” The only answer to that question is, “Why do human beings do what they do when they’re in that situation?” And it calls for radical empathy in order to put ourselves inside the experiences of another and to allow ourselves the pain, allow ourselves the heartbreak…”

People’s concerns go beyond the economy now. When the chief political strategist for the White House is a member of a white supremacy group, and when CNN broadcasts the question posted by a member of the alt-right asking ‘If Jews are people…”, we have to wonder what Benjamin Franklin would think of his beloved America? We short change ourselves when we try to suppress our diversity.  “By the people, for the people,” is the America I hold in my heart.

Vincent Harding suggested that when we find we are “operating in a situation,” that is, “very, very dark all around,” what we need are “some signposts, some lights that would in other peoples’ lives help them …Live human signposts.”

Fortunately there are many  signposts for us.  We can also rise above our differences to shine out for one another as we gather round a table of gratitude for what we have and what we can share. As a beloved community, we can be a light to the world. 

I am Thankful for you!

Treats for the Tricksters

Today is historically known as All Souls Day, so let’s play some Otis Redding, Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye to honor the dead baby!
I hope you had a happy Samhain (pronounced sow-en), or you may call it All Hallows Eve or the young Halloween, (as opposed to the ol’ Halloween).  Stemming from a Gaelic celebration marking the start of Winter, the holiday’s original treats were offerings for relatives who had died and whose ghosts might have enjoyed some wine, bread and other goodies.  Children started dressing up as the ghosts to mess with the adults and thus the pranksters created the tricks.
While Halloween is sometimes frowned upon as too dark, demonic or not wholesome, I personally think it is healthy to treat our inner trickster at least once a year.  The trickster is a vital part of our human psyche.  There has to be something within us that gets us to lighten up and tear down the walls we have built around our beliefs.  “Normalcy is a fallacy!”  is a battle cry my friends and I have often employed in our revels.
There are famous tricksters that we revere as being part of our established reality.  Ben Franklin, for example, used to slip articles under the door of his brother’s newspapers written by a window named Silence Dogood. He would also slip made up verses into his bible and read them to folks he thought were pompous. These folks would often pretend like they recognized the ‘scriptures’ he read.  
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
– Mark Twain
“Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out alive.”Bugs Bunny
One of my favorite tricksters is Hafiz of Shiraz, who was always exasperating the fundamentalists of his day. Ironically, my favorite renditions of Hafiz poetry are written by Daniel Ladinsky, who is a trickster in that he published renditions that capture the essence of the poetry rather than direct translations. This exasperates ‘serious’ scholars.  Here are a few renditions for you:
Retire In The Alps
The great religions are the ships,
poets the lifeboats.
Every sane person I know has
jumped overboard!
Hafiz, it is good for business,
isn’t it? 
 but I would rather retire in the Alps!
I Had a Legitimate Excuse
I had a legitimate excuse for not going to the
mosque and temple to pray.
It was because love is so wild in me I might
break the fragile glass cage that all religions
are made of.
And… since Julia and I have been binging on audio books by Terry Pratchett as we gig along, (the ones narrated by Stephen Briggs are our favorites), let’s have a quote from Granny Weatherwax, a wise trickster and witch:
“…And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.
“It’s a lot more complicated than that . . .”
“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”
– Granny Weatherwax from Carpe Jugulum
*   *   *
 Ben as prankster
Let us trick ourselves into being more humane and savoring the sweetness of life.