A Decadently Sweet, Exquisite Pleasure

“To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean.” ― Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

I must add, “and one of the exquisite pleasures of the Southern summer.”

Last week I picked my first home grown tomato. I dined on the first tomato sandwich of the season. Both sweet and tart…in the past week I have dined on at least one tomato sandwich daily and have included them in other dishes. One can never get enough of a good thing.

This week I picked my first fig and ate it in the early morning as suggested by Elizabeth David. The fruit was untouched by the morning sun. Covered in dew it was still cool from the nighttime temperatures. It WAS a decadently exquisite pleasure. I picked more than I could eat at one time but for some reason the picked figs I eat later don’t seem to be as decadent as the ones I eat fresh from the tree.

The Brown Turkey Fig I intend to enjoy…now.

My trees, I have two, came from cuttings my grandmother started for me over thirty years ago. She laid a small limb down on the ground and put a rock on it. When roots formed, she snipped it loose from the tree and I brought it home to transplant. Her tree came from a cutting her mother gave her and I am still trying to get a cutting to give my daughter.

I’ve described the fig as decadent, an odd word to describe the fig considering its religious overtones. Adam and Eve covered their nudity with fig leaves after sampling the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In western culture the forbidden fruit has been portrayed as the apple.

Considering that the fig was cultivated well before the apple, it is quite possible the apple has received a bad rap. The fig might have been the forbidden fruit Lucifer No Shoulders successfully tempted Eve with…if so, decadent might be a perfect word. The fig or the fig tree is mentioned some two hundred times in the Bible, the apple less than ten.

Okay, for the biologists in the group. A fig is technically not a fruit. It is an inverted flower…whatever that is. If it looks like fruit…tastes like fruit…

In the Quran, the fig is considered THE sacred fruit. Buddha rested under the Bodhi Tree, a fig tree whose DNA still exists after three thousand years. It was under this tree the Buddha gained enlightenment. Both the Hindus and Jains consider the fig a holy fruit. The Greeks so loved the fig they enacted laws forbidding the export of them.

A painting of the Buddha under the Ficus Religiosa. The “tree of awakening”.

As Christianity began to view nudity differently than say…the Greeks, religious paintings and statues featuring nudity were redone, some even destroyed in the attempt. Many fig leaves were added after the fact to cover he and she parts.

I’m not sure David needed a covering for his man part.

My figs are Brown Turkey figs. I don’t know why they are called Turkey figs but guess it might have to do with country of origin. Figs are associated with Greece and Asia Minor was awash with Greeks for a thousand years before the Turks of the Ottoman Empire descended upon them.

I’m sure the Greeks brought their fig tree cuttings with them, fig trees that came from Egypt or North Africa to Crete to Greece and then on to Turkey. These became known as Brown Turkey figs. Turkey is one of the top four fig producers worldwide.

I could be wrong but I’m glad someone brought them to Spain and from Spain to Mexico. From Mexico it was only a turkey’s hop, skip, and jump to California. Spanish Franciscan missionaries brought the fig to southern California in 1520, leading to the variety known as the Mission fig. California produces ninety-seven percent of commercial figs sold in the United States. If you like Fig Newtons, thank the Franciscans.

Ain’t cultural diffusion wonderful!

Brown Turkeys normally have two crops. The first, the crop I’m feasting on now, features large brown/yellow fruit on the outside, light red, almost pink insides. Oh, those insides, sweet and sugary, but not so sweet they set your teeth on edge. One site I was reading described the taste as “decadently sweet, providing flavors of hazelnuts and confectionaries.” I just ate one and didn’t get the taste of hazelnuts. I just describe it as good, especially covered in dew in the pre-dawn light.

The second crop provides more numerous fruits but smaller in size. Fruit that is perfect to wrap in bacon and roast in balsamic vinegar. I mean, figs and bacon are perfect together. I still go out in the pre-dawn and eat a few raw before I harvest.

My figs are a labor of love and of luck. Luck primarily. Our climate is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and is not conducive for figs. Several times over the past thirty-five years my tree has been killed down to the roots by a late freeze or the first crop decimated by a killing frost.

Despite my worries the tree would not recover, it always has. In some ways it reminds me of my grandmother who somehow recovered for ninety-eight years. I would never describe her as decadently sweet, but she was an exquisite pleasure, and my predawn fig always reminds me of her.

Expulsion of Adam and Eve ~ Aureliano Milani , 1675–1749

For a humorous guide on how not to gather figs, you might like Ha, Ha, Ha! Stupid Man Goes Boom! https://cigarman501.com/2020/08/16/ha-ha-ha-stupid-man-goes-boom/

Don Miller’s Author’s page is found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3Sku_ycekhc9FkHrr-nv6_eKa65eciZwTRigrKR9zYwwmglFkhWSfcJ0k

Intersecting Easter

“In the oddity or maybe the miracle of life, the roots of something new frequently lie in the decaying husks of something old.”
― Craig D. Lounsbrough

As I finished my walk with my best friend the conversation turned toward religion, as it often does. It continued while we drank our morning coffee at a local cafe. For some reason he thinks I’m more versed in this area than I really am. Less versed but our conversation got me thinking. Always an uncertain condition for me.

One of my thoughts was how the conservative, Evangelical Southern Baptist and the liberal, raised Methodist, and Dudeist continue to find common ground. Tis a shame some of our other brothers and sisters in faith can’t find the common ground. All it takes is a little work on both our parts. For clarification I am the liberal, he the conservative.

Later my thinking took me down a pig trail and the mental gymnastics I attempt to avoid. Coming to grips with my own beliefs…or lack thereof. A day of thinking turned into my own form of comedic relief. I realize it may only be funny to me.

April is a month in which the three major monotheistic religions and pagans celebrate important somethings and I found myself doing a bit of research. I am no longer as less versed as I was three mornings ago, but a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.

Today, as I share this, is the Christian Easter, the most important celebration on the Christian calendar that proclaims Christ’s victory over death and the forgiveness of our sins as we are washed in the blood of Christ. As a child, being washed in the blood of Christ was a bit scary as were many of the stories told to me from the Bible. I still find myself more literal than I should be.

Besides celebrating the resurrection of Christ, we have expanded our celebration to include Easter hams, hot cross buns, new clothes, chocolate bunnies, dyed eggs, and rainbow-colored chicks along with Passion Plays, Easter Masses and Communions. There seems to be a tie in with the Christian Easter and ancient pagan spring festivals celebrating fertility and rebirth. (More on that later)

In accordance with Christ’s teachings, this connection to pagan festivals is perfectly fine with me. Resurrection is a form of rebirth and there are fertile fields of pseudo believers, nonbelievers, and those who have slid back waiting to be harvested. I know, for I am one.

Connected to Easter, Biblically and by the calendar, is the Jewish celebration of Passover, the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, which occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the first month of Aviv, or spring. To translate that into English for non-Jews, Passover is celebrated from April 15 through April 23. In Western Christianity, Easter Sunday must always follow the first full moon after the spring equinox which means Easter is celebrated near Passover. In the Eastern Orthodox Christianity, it is a bit more complicated because it involves a different calendar but sometimes, they even coincide.

During the time of The Passover, according to the Book of Exodus, God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to mark their homes with lamb’s or goat’s blood so that the Angel of Death will pass over them. This was the tenth plague placed upon Egypt for keeping the Israelites in bondage. The plague – the deaths of all first-born males except for those protected by the blood.

After the death of all firstborns, the Pharaoh orders the Israelites to leave, taking whatever, they want, and asks Moses to bless him in the name of the Lord. The Passover sacrifice of a lamb or goat recalls the time when the LORD “passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt”.

After ten plagues I understand why the Pharaoh might have been happy for the Israelites to leave but he backtracked some seven days later sending his chariots after them and setting up another miracle, The Parting of the Red Sea.

April is also the month of Ramadan for those who practice the religion of Islam. The Islamic holiday of Ramadan began on April 2 and lasts through the month of April. It’s centered around fasting, self-reflection, and prayer, and serves as one of the Five Pillars of Islam central to the religion.

During this month, Muslims can eat before sunrise – a meal called suhoor – and after sunset. The evening meal is called iftar. The month ends with a celebratory feasting holiday, Eid al-Fitr.

Unlike Easter and Passover, the origin of Ramadan is not surrounded by “blood”…that will come later. According to Muslim traditions, in a cave on a mountain, Muhammad was visited by the Angel Gabriel and was told he was a “Messenger” or “Prophet of God”. This was confirmed to Muhammad by a Christian relative Muhammad discussed it with.

Shortly after, Muhammad began to receive further revelations from Gabriel, as well as from the realizations of his own heart. According to hadith, the stories about Muhammad’s life, all holy scriptures were sent down during Ramadan, making these thirty days the holiest in the Muslim religion.

Along with the monotheistic religions I must shout out to my pagan friends too. I know I have one. They are involved in this intersection too and seem to be a fun group. Their calendar was based off the lunar cycles and equinoxes and solstices were important, none more so than the Spring Equinox. I know their lives were hard, but they certainly knew how to throw a celebration. Their Spring festival to the Goddess Oestara or Eostre or Biblically “Ishtar” being just one.

Their Spring celebration is the origin of the Easter Bunny and the Easter Egg except for the pagans it was the ‘moon hare’ that laid the ‘Cosmic Egg’ from which emerged all life. It is a short leap to chocolate bunnies and dyed eggs. The ‘hare of Eostre’ became the ‘Easter Bunny’ and the ‘Cosmic Egg’ became the Easter egg. It is thought that the word Easter morphed from Eostre.

A statue of The Cosmic Egg

Further, in pagan time special cakes were baked as sacrificial offerings to the moon goddess and were marked with an equal-armed cross to divide the cake into four quarters. These represented the four lunar quarters. The cake was then broken up into pieces and buried at the nearest crossroads as an offering. Again, we have a short leap to the ‘hot cross buns’…with a slab of Easter ham resting between two halves. That too is of pagan origins.

Biblically, Ishtar, both the mother and wife of Nimrod, a grandson of Noah, became pregnant and bore a son named Tammuz claiming he was the product of a sunray, which caused her to conceive. But Tammuz grew to be a hunter and was later killed by a wild pig. Ishtar, who claimed Nimrod had not died but became the god, Baal. She designated a forty-day period (the source of Lent?) to mark the anniversary of Tammuz’s death.

During this time, no meat was to be eaten. Every year, on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, a celebration was made. Ishtar also proclaimed that because a pig killed Tammuz, that a pig must be eaten on that Sunday, preferably in a hot cross bun. I added the bun part.

Enough research and intersection. I hope however you celebrate Easter it is a wonderful experience. I am going to have a ham biscuit.

Thanks to Laura Dye for suggesting the site: Folklore, Customs, Legends and Mythology. It was helpful and the basis of my research on pagan celebrations. I might have even copied a bit.

Google supplied the Bunny Rabbit image although it looks just like the semi-tame bunny who lives in my back yard.

Don Miller’s latest release is a nonfiction group of stories and essays named “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes, More Musings From a Mad Southerner.” The book may be purchased in paperback or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

My BBQ Hash Ought Not Be Lookin’ At Me

“Like the blind man said as he wandered into a cannibal village . . .“Alright! The country fair must be right up ahead. I smell barbecue!”― John Rachel

This morning I fell into a rabbit hole that involved football and BBQ.  If you have ever been to a football tailgate, you know how they are related. Southern football tailgates for sure. 

Here, in my part of the world, worshipers of the religion that is football filed back into various high school cathedrals erected to their pigskin gods this past week, and college football worshipers will begin their own pigskin revival this weekend. Many worshipers will bring with them their religious trappings in the form of grills and smokers, filled ice chests, and lawn chairs. 

It is time to sacrifice the fatted hog to whichever football deity you worship. Hardwood charcoal smoke and the aroma of Boston butts slow cooking will waft through the stadium parking lots and are the sacred incense of the religion of football.

No photo description available.
Picture from The Tailgate BBQ-Facebook

I have worshipped football for most of my life and spent twenty-nine years coaching it. As a young, first-year football coach I was a clean slate.  I knew not what I was getting into when I accepted the offer to coach junior high football at Gallman Junior High School and scout for the Newberry High School Bulldog varsity squad in the fall of 1974. 

I was the junior high offensive and defensive line coach, positions I had played in high school…positions I found I was sorely lacking the knowledge necessary to coach. As my first varsity head coach, a big, hairy, square bodied man with the moniker, Bear, pointed out to me, “The first thing you need to understand is that you don’t know sh!t from Shinola and learn which one you need to shine your shoes with and which one you better not step in.”  An old phrase that meant I was ignorant.  Yes, I was ignorant, and some might claim, “You remained that way and to this very day, step in the wrong one…every day.”

Not only was I “on the field” ignorant, but I also had no idea what off-field responsibilities coaching entailed. Cutting fields, lining fields, taping ankles, doing laundry…all fell on the heads of the younger coaches.  I was twenty-three and a first-year coach, my duties weighed heavily upon my shoulders. Did I mention I was a fulltime teacher too?

Friday game nights I never saw us play live and in living color until the last game of the season. I was responsible for scouting. It was my duty to drive to the next week’s opponent’s game for reconnoitering duties and film exchange. Sundays, I assisted with film breakdown because I was the only coach who had seen our next opponent live.  All the while facing five classes of seventh graders daily, five days a week, and no real clue how to teach history, either.  I didn’t know sh!t from Shinola and I was learning which was which while on the job.

What does this have to do with BBQ hash? Nothing but I’m getting there.

Another duty I didn’t realize I had was the twice-annual fundraisers we ran to support our programs.  Athletic programs run off gate receipts and only a few sports make money.  Consequently, athletic programs run their “Sell Your Soul to the Devil for Athletic Equipment” fundraisers or allow the Booster Club to bend you over a desk.  “Was it good for you? Here is the chin strap you needed. See you next week and maybe I’ll give you a second one.”

In my part of the world at the time, the midlands of South Carolina, the easiest way to raise a lot of money was selling tickets for BBQ plates with all the fixings…said fixins. A local farmer gave us a deal on hogs, a local grocery a deal on chicken and the fixins, a local game meat processor did his part and viola, fund raiser.

The kids were handed a number of tickets to sell entitling the buyer to a plate of BBQ…with all the fixins. It also gave us an idea of how much to prepare. That’s right, coaches, their wives, their teams, and any fool stupid enough to volunteer were responsible for preparing and serving the food.

Family and friends who allowed their arms to be twisted into purchasing a ticket would show up on the blessed day and pick up their Styrofoam containers and consume them where ever. This was held in conjunction with meet the Bulldogs and picture day. Everyone wins, athletics get their needed equipment and supporters get a meal. A right good meal I might add.

Unfortunately, it also requires a sleepless night of slow cooking porkers and cluckers for the coaches and then filling plates with pulled pork, or roasted chicken, slaw, pickles, fried hushpuppies, baked beans and my duty, BBQ hash smothering white rice…all without the benefit of any sleep for over thirty-six hours and a hangover from drinking too many brown likker drinks brought by one of the other assistants to help while away the hours. I truly didn’t know the difference between “sh!t and Shinola.” Ah, the stupidity of youth.

BBQ hash is a dish served over white rice, an accompaniment to BBQ served mainly in the Dutch Fork of South Carolina.  Unrecognizable pig parts are cooked until they attain the consistency of mush.  Unrecognizable pig parts means “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Head meat including snouts, tongue, liver, and other organ meat were primary and I guess I just told.

Sautéed onions and potatoes are added and are further cooked to death.  Near the end, mustard BBQ sauce, vinegar, pepper, and hot sauce are added and simmered just long enough to give the flavors a chance to blend. That could be ten minutes or forever plus one day. Finally, you’ll stir in butter.  The dish is much better than it sounds and not a dish you need to eat if counting calories or if you have an arterial blockage.

My duty? Stir the hash in a huge black, cast-iron kettle over an open fire with a wooden boat oar.  Stir, stir, stir, sweat, sweat, sweat, drink, drink, drink.  Repeat until the correct consistency is achieved, or you are too inebriated, tired, or dehydrated to stand.  Couldn’t be dehydrated. Don’t worry, the hash will all come together on its own.

At some point during the early, still dark hours of the morning, I watched as a white object was stirred to the top of the hash. No I wasn’t drunk or dreaming. In the flickering light of the wood fire under the kettle, I watched an eyeball roll over and fix me with its gaze.  This was not an unrecognizable pork part but I decided not to tell. As it sank, it seemed to wink at me as it disappeared into the ooze. 

Suddenly wide eyed, fully awake, and fighting the urge to scream, I dipped the oar where the eyeball had disappeared but never found it.  Later as I ladled hash on top of white rice, I worried which lucky diner would receive the prize he or she didn’t want.  I also admit it was years before I ate BBQ hash again and to this day, when I do eat it, I’m careful to search each forkful before opening my mouth.  Hash ought not to be lookin’ at you while you are eating it. 

In my best Bugs Bunny voice, “Bon Appetit!” For a recipe for genuine SC BBQ hash that doesn’t use “don’t ask, don’t tell” pig parts try https://spicysouthernkitchen.com/south-carolina-barbecue-hash/

In case you are unsure, Shinola is a now defunct type of shoe polish.

The image of the football grilling over coals came from Canva.

Don Miller’s Amazon site can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1Kd0edLWxmy4Zt24SHvYnwe7QBAyx47b-LwntLo5wOhrAjT838vBaFKL0

A BACK PEW BAPODIST

I wish I had never become logical…mostly logical…wishing I were logical.

When I became logical, I began to question.  I miss those days as a child when I took things at face value…especially as I move from my autumn years into the cold reality of winter.  But, I mean, at my age, I should cover all my bases, right?

“Is this what old people do?”  Do old people begin to question their beliefs?  Or do old people discount any questions as an assault on their beliefs?  I don’t know what old people do; I’ve never been old before.  “With age comes wisdom” might be the worst lie ever told.

I am habit driven and as soon as I complete my morning ablutions, I step out into the dawning morning and try to complete my absolutions or metaphorical self-flagellation.  Equal parts prayer and meditation, I try to find the moon or Sirius to focus on.  I can usually tell what kind of day I’m going to have if I can focus at all. 

I give thanks for my many blessings, ask for forgiveness of my many sins, “past and future, real and imagined.” Finally, I discuss those things that bother me so or as Buffett might sing in “He Went to Paris”, “Looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.”  I’m not going to Paris unless it is Paris, Texas and so far, my discussion is quite one sided, my questions unanswered which is quite bothersome.

My issue, problem, concern is the lack of answers forthcoming for old questions which simply create more questions de jour.  The silence is deafening.  Except for night birds, tree frogs, and a raccoon rustling in the periwinkle, I hear quiet, a hush, a stillness.  It is tranquil but tranquility is not my goal.  Maybe I’m asking the wrong questions and now I’m hearing the buzzing of mosquitoes.

I grew up in the church…a conservative, Welch’s Grape Juice and Saltines at Communion, Methodist Church.  Little Donnie in his Sunday best, shoes polished, Bible in hand, sitting in the pew designated as “Oh, don’t sit there, that’s the Miller’s pew.”

I joined the church when I was a pre-teen, I still have the Bible they presented me, a Revised Standard, my name etched in gold leaf. I even thought I might become a man of the cloth…although it was more what my mother wanted.  Sorry Mom, I know I disappointed you more than once. 

Left home the fall of my eighteenth year for a conservative Lutheran school of higher learning in the late Sixties and married a Southern Baptist woman…a couple of Baptist women.    Went through the public dunking to join the Baptist Church before sending off an email to become a Dudeist thirty years later…now a Dudeist priest I might add. “Mom, you got your wish!” Some might say I have retreated from the “light.” I say I’ve become a “recovering” Baptist. Is there a twelve-step program that includes giving up your casserole dish?

There are some Christian sects (cults?) (denominations?) that would not use Methodist or Lutheran and Conservative in the same breath.  I counter, in my little church, there was a gracious plenty of hellfire and brimstone preachin’ and long, long alter calls until someone finally stood up and made their way to the front of the church. Are preachers paid according to the number of people who answer an alter call?

Give me that old time religion” singin’, Bible thumpin’, Amen shoutin’, and summer revivals kind of church.  Pretty much I found myself inside my church’s four walls three or four times a week.  That’s a lot for a Methodist. Singing in the choir, progressing from going to vacation Bible school to teaching vacation Bible school, to teaching Sunday school. Dear God, at what point did I fall off of the straight and narrow and onto the primrose path. Another story for another time.

A side trip. I find it interesting as early as 1873, when “Give Me That Old Time Religion” became a standard in Protestant hymnals, people seemed to be dissatisfied and were singing and wishing for “that old time religion.”  Some modern day Christians still sing it but I am unsure what “old time” they are embracing. Many around my little piece of heaven seem to be combining their old time religion with “Old times they are not forgotten, Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dixie Land.”

Today’s question de jour, is that redundant? I have a problem with the “Wrath of God”.  I’ll take it one step further, the “Genocide of God”.  I’m not a fan of the Old Testament unless it is Proverbs or Psalms.  I don’t understand how a somewhat more “loving” God of the New Testament could be so harsh, angry, and vengeful to completely annihilate entire city-states in the Old. That’s one of those questions “that bothers me so.” It seems “He’s not the same God” is not the answer, but that statement has its own set of questions.

In Deuteronomy 20:16–18, Moses gives these instructions: “As for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded.”  Men, women, children, and animals.  At times, it seems the Old Testament God, Yahweh, didn’t care about proselyting, opting instead for mass carnage of non-believers and I see too many embracing this mind set around the world. “Resistance is futile. Assimilate or die.”

When I was young, I was awed by the triumphant Israelites as they dispatched their enemies. I think I associated them with the triumphant Allies over evil in World War Two. Abraham, Moses, Daniel, David, and Sampson became Eisenhower, MacArthur, Nimitz, Halsey, and Patton. What I didn’t associate was the annihilation of entire city-states.

Trumpeting the fall of Jericho, banners flying.  Glory be to God, all in the name of God. Afterwards, Ai, then the people of Makkedah and Libnah and Lachish and Eglon and Debir—every man, woman, and child slaughtered and dedicated to God. In the end, the entire populations of thirty-one city-states were destroyed…and their animals. Shades of Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki but their destruction more in line with Sodom and Gomorrah as “hellfire rained down from the heavens.” More questions?

I see too much of the Old Testament anger and vengeance in some of today’s so-called religious folks.  Not just Christian folk. I still consider myself a Christian, just a lost one. There are very outspoken groups that spew hatred toward those who believe differently on the one hand and lament the loss of membership on the other.  I wonder if those two outcomes are related.  I guess what I consider hatred, they consider obedience to their God. That is not my cup of communion grape juice.

Too much of the world’s violence is created by religious beliefs, I think, doing more harm than good. Look no further than the Middle East. Too many wars fought with a religious component of my God is better than your god.  Too many songs like “Onward Christian Soldiers”. I’m not attacking Christianity. Well, I am but I’m sure other religions have similar tunes to rally them to their religion’s ideology and I am attacking them too.  I worry most for those who attach their religious leanings to their political and military leanings. At least in Christianity you can walk away without losing your head.

Worse, I have a tough time dealing with a New Testament God that would allow The Holocaust, mass shootings, the rape of Nanking, abortion, plagues, poverty, and hunger galore. I see no Divine hand at work, just the evil in the heart of man.

I’m not a theologian and not likely to be but I can’t buy it as a just God’s plan. I can’t relate to “that” God. Maybe the old Deist were correct. God set the Universe in motion like a clock and walked away. I’m sure he is shaking his head, wondering what went wrong…or the joke is on us.

My next question, “Did I just sign my lease for a flat in hell for questioning God?”

Note: Dudeism is a religion/philosophy based on Taoism that preaches non-preachiness and practices as little as possible. It is the result of the movie, The Big Lebowski. It is not related to Deism which believes in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. Maybe they are related.

Mellow out, man

Don Miller writes on many subjects, good, bad, fiction, non-fiction. Rants, raves, etc. https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR31n_M2GoO3Us0peAwKvRMb001kyhZbwgGbY5MnU5wTKq_hy19h6qdbtiY

Yelling God image from Canva.

A Funeral Without a Casserole is Just a Funeral

Southern funerals have always been equal parts family reunion and social gathering. I think it dates to the days when Southern families were so spread out and isolated.  It was a chance to reconnect and be social even if it was a sad event. It was time to serve those who needed it the most.

You can’t have a social gathering without food whether it was a cotillion or a funeral. Funerals were where the “church ladies” came in and ran the show.  They may not be allowed to be preachers or deacons but in times of need, they are the backbone of the church.  All the while, wearing their pearls and white gloves, their little pillbox hats on their blue-white heads.  They all seemed to smell of lilac or gardenia and had names like Miss Agnes or Miss Minnie. 

I know every section of the US has its own set of traditions, but the South knows…or knew how to do “grief” food.  With the gathering of friends and out-of-town family, the grieving family didn’t need to worry about preparing food.  This was a time to tell stories and relate memories associated with the deceased. Maybe even tell a joke or two if the dearly departed is the butt of it.  “You remember when ole Earl blew up his still?  Told him he ought not to hide it in the chicken coop.  Chicken feathers was flyin’ everywhere.” 

It’s not a time for the grieving family members to be planning menus.  Enter close friends and the “church ladies.”  Bless their little blue-haired heads.

Platters of food begin to arrive before the body is cold.  A half dozen versions of fried chicken, everyone’s Grandma “So and So’s” deviled eggs, mac and cheese, and “forty-leven” different deserts ranging from red velvet cake to banana puddin’.  It is as if they had prepared ahead of time just in case someone died. Do good Baptists have a casserole frozen and stashed away just in case?

“You know, old Earl looked kinda peeked at church Sundee.  I’m gonna make this caramel cake usin’ Grandma Earlean’s recipe just in case he kicks the bucket.”

Comfort food in a person’s time of need.  There is a reason comfort food is called comfort food.  It makes you feel better in the worst situations until you step on the scales or feel that sudden “There’s an elephant sittin’ on my chest” feeling.  This is of no concern to the church ladies and when the body has made its final six foot trip, there is room for one more meal. 

Doesn’t matter that the grieving family can’t close the refrigerator door for the casserole dishes or that both the microwave and convection oven are filled with six different versions of the same protein.   The post burial meal must be observed.

More mainstays are laid out. Fried chicken, again, or maybe, baked ham, more deviled eggs, more mac and cheese, a dozen congealed salads, what we called Jell-O salad, and several different potato salads.  Depending upon the time of year, fried okra or fresh creamed corn might find a place at the long tables covered in white linen tablecloths. 

A church lady directs us down both sides of the table as soon as the grieving family is served and settled…and  in a stringy, sharp voice and pointing a white-gloved finger, “Y’all the desert table and sweet tea are over yonder.”  She nudges me, “You better hurry if you want some of my chicken pot pie. I knows how much you like it! And get you some of Miss Sally’s banana puddin’ before it gets gone.”  Can’t fault her, Miss Mamie was correct.

How many casseroles can there be?” Several dozen casseroles of different types it would seem.  I’m sure the church ladies formed a telephone chain,  in fact, in distant times, they may have been on the same party line. “I’m gonna do a green bean casserole if I can find that can of Campbell’s Mushroom Soup and a can of those fried onions.  Why don’t you do broccoli?”  Or squash, or funeral potatoes, or chicken pot pie, or if someone is creative or from the low country, chicken bog.

This is the way it should be, comfort food for the grieving, but something has gone amiss. 

I found myself at a recent funeral.  I could not believe it…I refuse to believe it! 

Chicken provided by KFC and Bojangles.  What?  They didn’t even take it out of the box. Hard ole biscuits and that watery potato salad. Slaw so sweet it set your teeth on edge. I didn’t even try the tea. I know we live in different times but this…this…this is sacrilege. “Blasphemy I say!!!!” And this was in a Southern Baptist institution. 

Not even one, three-quart casserole dish with a name taped to the bottom.  What have we come to?  What have we become? Where is the banana pudding?

I can’t believe the lack of respect shown for the dearly departed family. I didn’t know the family. I just stopped in for the food.

More of Don Miller’s ramblings may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3gtYqKmk1eSIHBoTiQc5rg12E6_7eZY6AHLuMDN323mC4bdmKMRfn-fKY

The image is of a traditional “funeral” potato casserole.

Oh Lawd, I’m Out of Crisco

Just had my yearly physical.  So far so good.  Blood pressure was great as was my pulse rate.  Weighed less than I did last year.  I still have some work to do.  Gotta go to the orthopedist next week about my nasty shoulder.  If you don’t remember, go to my post “Ha, Ha, Ha! Stupid Man Goes Boom!”  The post will explain if the shoulder if the title doesn’t.  I’ll leave the link at the end. 

I’m anxiously awaiting my blood work results…you know lipids, cholesterol, triglycerides, PSAs and such.  There’s a lot in the report I have no clue about.  Hopefully my doctor does.

Sugar…don’t forget the sugar…don’t want to come down with the sugar.  That’s Southern for sugar “diabetus” said in a ghostly Wilford Brimley’s voice.

I’m also several quarts of cooking oil low. Fourteen years ago, I made a lifestyle change.  I didn’t want to make the change exactly.  If you are more intellectually gifted than a rock, a heart attack and the resulting aftermath will cause you make lifestyle changes.  My Father’s voice joins Wilford’s, “Son, it is for your own good.”  Maybe, but I don’t have to like it.

While I might lean farther left politically than many of my Southern brethren, make no ham hock bones about it.  I am a son of the South when it comes to food and drink.  Southern fried anything, Southern iced tea so sweet it makes your teeth hurt, banana puddin’, bourbon glazed…anything.  Just don’t use the drinkin’ bourbon for the glaze.  I like to marinate myself while the ribs are smokin’.  The cheap stuff is on top of the fridge, the good hidden in the pantry. 

Make that once was a son of the South when it came to food and drink.  I gave up much to have good blood work.  No Southern fried grits nuggets…um, um, good.  If Paula Deen can deep fry mac and cheese, I can deep fry grits. 

As I write this, I’m considering what snacks I might eat while watching this evening’s viewing choices.  Some people might think popcorn…pretzels may be.  I’m thinking about breaded okra deep fried golden brown in Crisco with a side of pulled pork barbeque on white bread dripping with a yellow mustard barbeque sauce.  Maybe mayonnaise slaw for a veggie…wait okra is a veggie.  I’ve not gone off the rails. Just wishing…my snacks will probably involve air popped Orville’s.

Crisco…the “healthy” replacement for hog lard back in the day.  Growing up, it was a major cooking condiment. How quickly things change.  All those nasty trans fats. Crisco has removed them but still can’t outrun its reputation.

A solid at room temperature it melted in a hot frying pan and had a high smoking point.  Perfect to pan fried battered chicken or catfish.  Cheap, it was more easily accessible more than it was healthy. Crisco allowed us to save the butter for more important delicacies like buttering biscuits or making crust for pies.

I don’t know when my Nannie made the conversion from lard to Crisco.  She was a young girl when Smucker introduced the first one-hundred percent vegetable shortening made from cottonseed oil in 1911.  Cottonseed oil?  Cotton is a vegetable? There was a lot of cotton around, but if memory serves, we never ate it.  Now it is made with soybean oil.

The name Crisco is a modification of “crystallized cottonseed oil.”  Yum. Originally the name Chryst was suggested, with religious implications galore.  “Fry with Crisco! It’ll bring Grandma back from the grave!” Here in the South I don’t know if that would have been a selling point or blasphemy…I’m guessing the Southern Baptist would have eaten it up.

“You might be Southern Baptist if you woke up one morning craving fried chicken and interpreted that as a call to preach or you believe you’re supposed to take a covered dish to heaven when you die.” (www.kaydacus.com)

I remember the large blue tin with the red letters framed in an oval white.  It sat on a shelf within easy reach of the gas stove.  Seemed every meal featured something fried in Crisco.  Fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, catfish and hushpuppies, livermush. 

Tall and fluffy cathead biscuits made by cutting the Crisco into the flour with buttermilk.  The sound of cornbread batter being poured into a hot cast iron frying pan.  That explosive sizzle as cold batter met screaming hot Crisco oil.  I am salivating. 

If we weren’t frying with Crisco, we were frying something like fatback or bacon.  “Don’t you dare throw than bacon grease away!  Put it in this old Crisco tin, I’ll use it later.”  Flavoring gold it was.  Crisco is flavor neutral, bacon grease is not. Fried eggs, vegetables, hash browns (fried taters for my Southern friends) are simply better in bacon grease…as I remember.  “It’s been so long…Oh heavy sigh!”

In my transformed kitchen it is oven baked chicken in lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper, a crisp green salad with a vinaigrette, and sweet potato fries…the menu sounds pretty good. It just ain’t crispy fried chicken, potato salad, and turnip greens cooked with fatback, bacon grease, hog jowls or all three.

Well.  I just got my blood work back.  I’m as healthy as a ox…how do we know the ox is healthy? Anyway, cholesterol great, lipids great…and my sugar…my sugar is wonderful.  I think I’m going to celebrate.  Fried okra is in my near future.  It’s a year before I have to have blood work done again so I may add that pulled pork BBQ side dish.  Yeah, cornbread battered okra deep fried in Crisco.  No air popped popcorn for me.  “What do you mean we’re out of Crisco?…haven’t had it in years?”

***

Link to Ha, Ha, Ha! Stupid Man Goes Boom! https://cigarman501.wordpress.com/2020/08/16/ha-ha-ha-stupid-man-goes-boom/

Link to Don Miller’s author’s page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2gV2t9D5mJMRXox9JEm7959hs95fSapi1K30KIYtQuAax8JRWvyZtuc70

Images of Crisco cans from https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/vintage-advertising-tins-crisco-paper-1727753671

When Football Comes Back Again…

 

…and it will…someday.

It is the middle of the second week in August and there should be sounds, sights, and smells associated with the religion that is football.

There should be the scent of freshly cut grass, the visions of early morning mists rising off the practice fields and sharp white lines gridded on dark green.  There should be the “thump” heard ‘round the world when leather shoe meets the leather ball.

There should be aromas of Cramergesic ointment or Atomic Bomb…and ammonia from sweat-drenched athletic wear left to dry overnight and smelly athletic socks.  There should be grunts and pops, and a groan or two as large bodies running fast make contact with each other.

From a parking lot or distant practice field, the shouts of band directors, trumpet blasts, and drumbeats should be piercing the heavy, humid air.  They should be the clarions of the upcoming season.  There should be a rattle of equipment as they rush to their spots before the silence of parade rest.

Somewhere a chunky kid with a sousaphone wrapped around his chubby body should trip and fall on his way to his spot.  Laughter should reign before the silence of concern.

Spinning flags should be cutting through the air as flag lines practice their half-time routines.  Twisting school colors flying toward the morning sun.  Instead, there is the silence of the Covid-19 Twilight Zone.

Cheerleaders would be joining the band’s spinning flags with flips, cartwheels, and tumbles of their own as they practice their cheers and their routines.  “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar, all for ‘so and so’ stand up and holler!”  Unfortunately, like London Bridge, their human pyramids have all fallen, the little girl at the top has crashed and burned.

There are no sounds, sights, or scents…at least near my little piece of heaven.  Football season is on hold for a bit longer, maybe the beginning of next month…maybe not.  “All activities shut down until further notice,” due to corona concerns.  The powers that be may make another decision this week.

At Hardee’s, the weekly meeting of old men wearing high crowned baseball caps should be discussing the chances of the local high school having a winning season in between bites of sausage biscuits and sips of coffee.  If it weren’t banned, Marlboros and Salems would send smoke from their fine Virginia tobacco skyward.

Instead, they are discussing the chances of having a season at all along with pontifications of, “They just ain’t as tough as we’s used to be.  We’d uh played through the Bubonic Plague if in we had to.  You remember when ole Roger played an entire season with two broke lags and his helmet knocked bass-ackwards.  Yeah, these coaches and players ain’t nothing but a bunch of wussies”.  Says the equipment manager from 1968.

The local universities have begun “teeing” it up, giving us hope, as smaller colleges await word as to whether their seasons will even take place.  Entire conferences have canceled seasons or pushed them back to the spring.  Telling a player to check his facemask takes on a new meaning in the anything but normal environment of Covid-19.

I miss football.  Not just the “I played it and coached it for so long, there seems to be something missing” missing football.  This year is different.  Every year since my retirement I’ve battled myself, attempting to silence the little football voice in my head that whispers this time of year.

“Go on up to the local high school.  I’m sure they could use your expertise and experience.”  As I’ve gotten older and creakier, the voice has been easier to silence but the little worm is still there.  There still seems to be something missing.

The voice I hear today is a different voice.  This is the low bass rattle of James Earle Jones telling me football will be canceled for this year.  It is as bad as the Beatles telling me “God is dead”.

Bordering upon sacrilege, Southern football is akin to a religion with its sacraments and cathedrals.  We have our revered gods, Bear, Pat, Vince, Bobby, and Danny.  Yes, I know Danny is still among the living and Bobby is Bobby Dodd, never Bobby Bowden.

One hundred thousand seat sanctuaries sitting empty.  The choirs of bands and cheerleaders silent.  Tailgating prayer meetings canceled, stadium parking lots noiseless and unoccupied.  Sacramental beer and pulled pork barbeque abandoned for another year…maybe.  “My Dabo, my Nick! Why have thou forsaken me?”  Will “Go Tigers” or “Roll Tide” be heard at all this year?

I have hope but my hope is tempered with concern.  If football is played someone will come down with the disease…maybe entire teams.  Even with a fatality rate of less than one percent, are we willing to sacrifice less than one percent of our athletes for a football season?  Are we willing to sacrifice our children to football gods?  Was that blasphemous?

Football is a dangerous sport.  It is something that I lived with when I played and when I coached.  You are one wrong step from a career-ending knee injury or an illegal hit away from permanent brain damage.  Some would say you are brain damaged just playing the game.

My greatest fear as a coach was losing someone to a bad hit or heat issues.  We have done much to reduce the possibility of injury or death, but it is still there.  Football is a sport that requires contact in close quarters.  I don’t know how you reduce the contact and contact is what transmits the disease.

1968 equipment managers and ‘wannabes’ are chastising those who opt-out of this season.  I don’t chastise.  I understand the fear.  If I had a son, I don’t know if I would push him toward football even in the best-case scenario.

Football teaches lessons I don’t believe can be taught in other sports.  I just don’t know if those lessons are worth ‘acceptable losses’ and I don’t believe my desires have to be those of my son or daughter.  Except for the desire for them to be safe.

Despite what I once thought, football is not life or even a reasonable facsimile. It is a distraction for most of us, a diversion, and I don’t believe our distractions should cost even one person his life.

***

Don Miller was primarily a high school teacher for forty-one years and a coach for forty-five years.  Twenty-nine of those seasons were spent coaching football in what is a football Mecca…the Deep South.  His author’s page is at  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3H6APy6s1iIg6N1Cz5-RgcsnXmdrL3L47f2X_zzO1dKChLRG-NShnjbsk

The image is from Pinterest.  Clemson QB Jimmy Addison handing the ball off in the late Sixties.

 

Historia Arcana

“The deeper you penetrated into the true South, a Protestant land of moral absolutes, Baptist blue laws, tent revivals, fire and brimstone, heaven and hell, good and evil, black and white, and damn little room between.”  Greg Iles, The Bone Tree

And bitter hypocrisy thrown in for good measure.

According to a “too large” number of my Southern brethren, racism hasn’t existed in a while…and if it does it is reverse racism.  All groups supporting social justice and the removal of monuments and flags are Marxist and radical, and the worst danger facing our country has nothing to do with the reactionary right.  Our President has even given us a new group to hate, the “radical fascist” which sets my teeth on edge just thinking about it.

Histories are written by the victors…or are they?

In the middle of the Sixth Century, the last great ancient Western historian, Procopius of Caesarea, wrote Historia Arcana which translates to The Secret History.  He hoped it would never be published, and it was not until well after his death.  It was to be his if needed, ‘get out of jail’ card.

The history chronicled the seedier sides of Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and his wife, Empress Theodora.  It is not a glowing history and shows the author’s disillusionment with the Byzantine Empire.  Justinian is portrayed as cruel and incompetent, Theodora, vulgar, and lustfully insatiable.  I feel some of Procopius’ disillusionment today.

No, it is not the history Theodora and Justinian would want to be published and it was not published until nearly a thousand years later.  The sixth-century power couple would go on to be sainted by the Greek Orthodox Church.  Their hidden history remained hidden until it no longer mattered.

I have seen the same with some of our own “sainted” folk.  The heroes of Southern culture and heritage.  In the South, we guard our “historia arcana” with a tenacity unmatched by the rest of our nation.  Families of now-departed men and women hope their histories remain secret.

I’m reading Greg Iles’ Natchez Is Burning trilogy and stumbled upon the above quote on the first page of the second novel, The Bone Tree.  The original book, Natchez is Burning, while fictional, is based on a period in our history that anyone south of the Ohio River would like to forget.

The novel is fictional but based upon historical facts…the treatment of African-Americans during the Fifties and Sixties and how white men got away with the murder of black men and women simply because they could.  A period we are being asked to move on from without recognizing how evil it was or how events from forty or fifty years ago…or one hundred and sixty years ago…or four hundred years ago could actually affect the time we live in now.  Just move on…there is nothing here.

Any Southern town, large or small, has its share of “secret” histories…histories that display our dirty unmentionables, the soiled petticoats displayed as we try to navigate the deep mud puddles of Southern history before quickly dropping our antebellum gown to cover our ankles and muddy shoes.  Like Justinian and Theodora, it is a history we would prefer not to read in print and only speak to in whispered tones if we speak of them at all.

The mud stains are still on our shoes but we do our best to make sure they are out of sight.  Historical accounts we have purged from our memories it seems…or at least the “dark” part of our histories.  Histories so well hidden, a Southern, seventy-year-old retired history teacher didn’t know they existed.

Accounts we claim never existed at worse or were not as bad as were made out at best.  “Why can’t we just move on?” is a question reserved for the propagator, not the victims.  Maybe I should again pick up Faulkner, O’Conner, Williams, Yerby, or Gaines again.  Even in their fiction are large kernels of truth.

Men and women are human, with human failings.  Men and women can be both good and bad at the same time.  Bad…good old Baptist guilt or Calvinist repression, not necessarily the point.  This is more collective guilt…a collective guilt we refuse to accept or acknowledge.  The guilt we have turned into a “Lost Cause” and “Forget Hell” is only reserved for one side of the argument.

As we debate the removal of statues and memorials, the elimination of one hundred and sixty-year-old eulogies made of cloth, disclaimers added to eighty-one-year-old motion pictures, and the changing of aging athletic nicknames and mascots, we pontificate about what seems to be different histories from the same place and from the same time.  Some pray to the gods of the status quo, the good old days, while others are breaking under the burdens we refuse to remove.

Good men doing bad things or is it bad men doing good things…or is it just human nature to cover or change what is unpalatable for us?  Is it human nature to resist change or just a Southern cultural trait?

There is the fear factor too.  Fear that somehow we will lose control of what we have controlled for so long.  Similar to the old question asked by good Protestant ministers so long ago, “What will we do when they run off with our wives and daughters?”  We still look for boogie men under our beds and label them as Marxist or radically “fascist” whatever that is.

I do not know where to stand on statues and memorials.  I know, despite my deep Southern roots, I will not stand next to them in defense.  My great, great and great, great, great grandfathers may be rolling in their graves.

Our statues and memorials are tributes to men and to histories most unsavory but they themselves are not history.  They should not be celebratory, should they? They are reminders of not only heritage but the hate some of that heritage rests upon.

Having taught history, I never used a statue or memorial as a teaching tool but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used as teaching implements…provided those monuments are teaching the “real” histories which are found not on lists of gallant Confederate dead etched in stone or on mountains, but in the pages of primary documents and historical works.

We must focus less on gallant propaganda and more on the facts.  We need to recognize that our history didn’t end with the beginning of the Civil War.  We need to question why some men died to “make men free” and why others resisted…no matter how bitter the taste of the fruit of that resistance might be.

All countries have shame.  We are not unique.  Many countries have tread on the weak for national and economic gain.  We are no different.  We are not even the only country that has not come to grips with the travesties we have committed.  We are not the only country to ignore our travesties and attempt to squash the message of those tread upon.  Unfortunately, as a child in the Fifties, I bought the propaganda of American Exceptionalism.  I really believed we were supposed to be better than other nations.

I  admit to ignoring problems in hopes they might go away.  They do not.  They only grow worse and ours has festered for over one hundred and fifty years.  I have also learned when faced with an issue, the most unappealing and unappetizing option is probably the correct one.

Here in the Bible Belt, we are filled with religious indignation and justification toward anyone who questions authority…unless it is a fellow Christian of a certain race.  It is as if by conforming to a God’s will we give up the right to think on our own.

Here in the Bible Belt, we have tied our Christianity to our politics, and any afront to our politics is perceived as an affront to our religion.  I am seeing this more and more concerning “peaceful” protesters and reactions to “other” religions.  Too many “good” Christians wrapping their Bible in a flag and calling their racism and bigotry patriotism.

As I read Iles’ quote I thought back to my youth and own privilege.  I grew up a Methodist Protestant, graduated from a Lutheran institution of higher learning, and committed the mortal sin of marrying three Baptist women.  If at first, you fail….  I once considered taking up the mantle of religion…God does work in mysterious ways.  It is my historia arcana.

Moral absolutes were something I obviously had a problem with as did others.  I have just now learned others did a better job of covering theirs up and have throughout history.  In towns large and small, men and women have been willing to hide their moral absolutes away when it suited.  Good men and women doing bad things and praying for absolution on Sunday morning? Justinian and Theodora?  Or was I just cursed with the ability to see grays in among the blacks and whites?

I remember the revivals and the Blue Laws, the hellfire and brimstone sermons conjuring the smell of sulfur.  Hot and sticky Southern Sunday morning humidity with funeral fans working against the oppressive heat.  The preacher pounding his Bible before issuing his alter call, a closing hymn…benediction, please.

There was no gray, only heaven or hell, no in-between.  I remember the Wednesday night and Sunday morning Christians, the amen corners, the tv evangelist, and faith healers.  Billy Graham’s piety on display in black and white while George Beverly Shea sang “How Great Thou Art.”

I remember being taught from the pulpit, white was good and black was bad.  When white was virtuous and black was evil.  I remember when we used the same arguments a lifetime ago that we recycle now.  I remember our historia arcana and feel the shame that we can’t seem to overcome it or even admit it.

***

Iles, Greg The Bone Tree: A Novel (Penn Cage Book 5) (p. 1). William Morrow. Kindle Edition

The image is from The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s online portal.  https://nmaahc.si.edu/

Don Miller writes on various subjects that bother him so and in various genres.  His author’s page is https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2syCHGI2Eb96lK63frT528V_cBY995j2m_hd_LOLFPdV4KqqoZQn1J7Fs

Unredeemed it Would Seem

As I read the book, The Redeemers by Ace Atkins, a quote caught my eye and stung like an accidental splash of toothpaste to the same eye.  Am I the only idiot figuring out a way to get toothpaste in his eye and actually doing it more than once?

Is comparing a quote to a stinging eyeball a horrible analogy?  “His quote stung like toothpaste rubbed in my eye.”  It explains why I’m using an Ace Atkins quote instead of one of my own and why I try to avoid using analogies.  “Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.”

The quote from the book, “There is nothing that Southerners hate more than self-examination,” resonated and sparked my own self-examination of the paradoxes which surround me.  The quote was thoroughly accurate as far as my own moral failings are concerned and honestly it is more about my own self-examination.

Before I’m accused of broad stroking an entire group of people, I’m not.  If this shoe doesn’t fit, don’t try to force your foot into it.  That is on you, and you may find your foot, along with your shoe, stuck in your mouth and my foot stuck somewhere else…metaphorically of course.  I’m not talking to or about you if the shoe is not yours.  If the shoe fits…well that is between you and your lord and I just want you to ponder as I do.

The South has been accused of having many paradoxes, like pointing out someone’s moral failings while ignoring one’s own or railing against someone else’s corruption, moral or monetary, while disregarding the corruption or moral failings of your favorite politician if it advances your political agenda.  All one must do is look at the histories of our state governments to find notable examples.  Wilbur Mill’s reelection after running afoul of Fannie Foxe, the “Tidal Basin Bombshell” comes to mind.  Southerners haven’t cornered the market on moral failings or paradoxes, we just get caught with great style and dash.

Some paradoxes are quaint or cute, others not so much.  As you might imagine, my essay will eventually turn from cute or quaint.  It will turn toward paradoxes that revolve around religion and politics.   I’m sure other parts of the country have their own paradoxes…and issues with religion as it relates to politics but again, we Southerners do it with such elegance.  

“Religion, Religion! Oh, there is a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.”  The words shouted in Jimmy Buffett’s ditty, Fruitcakes came to mind when country-western icon Vince Gill and his wife, the “Queen of Christian Pop” music Amy Grant were discussing the paradoxes of their relationship during an interview.  Vince pointed out that they weren’t that different.  They were singing to the same clientele.  He was singing to the drunks and hell raisers on Saturday night, and she was singing to the same drunks and hell raisers, now recovering, and praying for redemption, on Sunday morning.

Not a direct quote but the crux of one paradox.  It’s also one of the cute or quaint paradoxes.  There are a lot of “Sunday morning and Wednesday night Christians” who will enjoy ‘several’ too many shots of brown liquor on a Saturday night and pray for forgiveness through a blinding hangover on Sunday morning.  Bless our pea-pickin’ hearts and please help me remember exactly what sins I committed last Saturday night…or I really don’t want to know.

Saturday night might be relative.  I know Fannie Foxe’s foray into the Washington Tidal Basin took place on a late Monday night and while not stopping Wilbur’s reelection to the House of Representatives, might have derailed his dream of a much higher office.

I live in the Bible Belt and like a stereotypical big-bellied sheriff’s Sam Brown Belt, we wrap our religious mantle tightly around us…except when we don’t.  Sometimes we even make jokes about it.

“What’s the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist? The Methodist will say hello to you in the liquor store.”

“How does a Baptist get into Heaven?  They bring a casserole.”

Only recently were we less conservative, Jesus loving, Agnostic, Deist, Buddhaptists allowed to enjoy a store-bought adult beverage during a Sunday lunch out on the town as Blue Laws were relaxed.  While I struggle with my religious beliefs, I do believe in something, “I believe I’ll have another drink.”

Like the good Methodist turned Baptist turned Dudeist that I am, anytime I publicly order a beer I look around first to see if any of my former students or my church peers are in attendance.  I’m still gonna order, I’ll just make sure I avoid eye contact.

Religion even gets intertwined with our eating habits.  We had an advertising war that took on religious overtones.   An anti-LGBTQ, we ain’t gonna open on a Sunday, chicken sandwich chain was purported to have divine support over the spicy, straight from Satan’s “sin city of the South”, fried chicken chain.  Chanting and making the sign of the cross with crossed fingers, “My God loves X’s chicken sandwiches better than those of the Devil’s Minion!”  See, we can be insanely funny.  Accent on insane.  Yep, I like the spicy chicken place better…”Get thee behind me Satan!”

Insanity could explain some of our choices during election cycles.  I lean left in a deeply Southern red state and sometimes I believe we’ve lost our ever-loving minds…just not as badly as some other deep red Southern states. In the most recent cycle, a deep South state almost elected an accused pedophile rather than electing a… gasp…Democrat.  Politics over family values just as Jesus intended.

We tend to wrap our religion tightly with the flag along with our patriotism and tie them all together…I’m just not sure which flag, the national flag, or the Confederate Battle Flag.  If we were on the side of the angels why did God allow us the South to lose?   Did someone sin?

Some Southerners will ridicule and threaten to tar and feather you if you don’t stand for the National Anthem at a football game while wearing a “Forget Hell” belt buckle and flying the battle flag from their pickup trucks displaying several Sons of Confederate Veteran bumper stickers.  Confusing ain’t it.

I have “bigly” concerns over our touting of the “sacred” Second Amendment while ignoring the parts of the First Amendment that include “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Certain more conservative than me religious groups would like to put iconic stone tablets into every government building or school but would get a might squirrelly if a coven of witches wanted to honor the goddess of fertility, Ostara…by dancing ‘nekid’ on the town square next to the Confederate War monument.  Beware of what you wish for, it may have unwanted repercussions.  One should be just as unconstitutional as the other and I don’t wish to live in your theocracy.

Paradoxes aside, a quote by Flannery O’Conner, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted” sparked more self-examination.

I am haunted by the days when I sat attentively beside my brother, in between our parents on the short pew no other church member would dare sit on because “That’s where the Miller’s sit.”  Haunted days before I began to think for myself and question motivations.  Days when I didn’t wonder if Jesus’s message was being bastardized and the Bible weaponized.  Days when religions had not moved so far right…or is that the paradox.  Have I just moved left?

Don Miller writes on a variety of subjects, non-fiction, and fiction.  You may access his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffett

The featured image is from https://imgur.com/gallery/D0FKLsK/comment/1073493907.  I actually had this done.  A cyst on my wrist was thumped with the family Bible and for a time disappeared.  It came back, much like my self-examination and self-ridicule.

Distant Origins

“It’s Earth Day. I wonder if we can plant more trees than people for a change?”
― 
Stanley Victor Paskavich

And a pig trail beckoned to me, and I followed it right down Alice’s rabbit hole.  Hello Mad Hatter.

I just watched a rerun of Star Trek Voyager and found myself sitting quietly…pondering.  I like that word…pondering.  Sounds as if I might be intelligent…many times I’ve proven differently.

The episode triggering my pondering was” Distant Origin” about a lizard resembling alien race, the Voth, and a scientist who believes his species originated from a distant planet.  Long story short, he involves a crew member of Voyager in his attempt to prove his origins theory and ends up standing trial for heresy, accused by his religious elders…led by the menacing, Minister Odala.  Shades of Fred Phelps, Sr. (See Below)

This most respected scientist is forced to recant his findings to save Voyager from being destroyed and the crew and himself put into prison.  A choice between truth or evil masquerading as truth.  That is where my pig trail became a rabbit hole.  The scientist chooses evil masquerading as the truth to save his new friend, loses his position and is forced into a job equivalent of counting paper clips.

As the program closes, his partner in crime, the Voyager character Chakotay, gives the scientist, Gegen, an Earth globe as a gift before he transports up and Voyager leaves. All is well in the Delta Quadrant except for the Voth who don’t know, save the scientist, they are really descendants of dinosaurs from Planet Earth.  Nice yarn…sounded familiar.

The episode is an allegory and drew heavily from the relationship between Galileo Galilee of telescope fame, the Catholic Church in general and Pope Urban VIII specifically.  The story leading to Galileo’s trial for heresy before The Inquisition is much more involved than the Star Trek episode or for me to write about.  Is that applause I hear?

In the condensed version, Galileo made the mistake of agreeing with Copernicus that the Earth orbited the Sun rather than the Church’s belief of an Earth-centered universe…everything in the universe orbiting the earth.

Galileo further complicated his life by publishing his studies in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, a work which poked fun at the Pope as it laid out Galileo’s findings using a protagonist named “Simplicio”, which connotes simpleton in Italian.  Unjustly, some folks drew the conclusion Simplicio might be a metaphor for Pope Urban VIII.  Unintended consequences? One person drawing the conclusion was Pope Urban himself.

Again, long story short, Galileo was put on trial before The Inquisition for voicing opinions contrary to the Holy Scriptures and forced to recant under threat of excommunication although he was never formally charged. According to popular legend, after recanting his theory that the Earth moved around the Sun, Galileo allegedly muttered the rebellious phrase “And yet it moves.”

He spent the rest of his life under virtual house arrest which was better than being slowly roasted at a stake like a Boston butt.  He was still quite prolific with his writings and despite being banned, published many scientific works. Galileo is considered the father of classical physics.

I’m a bit of a “quare” duck for myriads of reasons but a couple of the more benign ones are that I hold degrees in both history and science education and at one time considered the ministry as a calling.  Boy, I fell off that wagon.  Between having to learn Greek and an overzealous youth minister who told me my mother would survive ALS if she believed hard enough, I turned to a life of cussin’, women and drink…well up to a point.  I still cuss too much and honestly; it was more drink than women.

When I said I had two degrees I wasn’t bragging…well, a little but was giving an example of why I get confused sometimes about the religious acceptance of science and historical perspective.  Modern folk might not understand why the Catholic Church held so much power and desired to keep scientific discoveries secret.  It was about maintained power, some of which the Church had lost having battled with Martin Luther’s protestants during the previous century.  Excommunication was and is a powerful deterrent for a Catholic.  Without the sacraments, one can’t get to heaven.  Power over the masses.

Some folks still discount science when it disagrees with the Holy Scriptures.  Considering ninety-seven percent of climatologist believing climate change is real and man fueled, I don’t understand why SOME, I said some, not all, not even most…maybe.  I don’t understand why some Bible believers have a problem with science as it relates to climate change.  I have heard said it doesn’t matter, God won’t allow climate, or anything else, to destroy the Earth.  I have a particularly good friend and a true man of God tell me that.  Maybe he is correct, but I wager we can destroy all humanity and the Earth will continue its annual trip around the Sun until the sun expands into a red giant before collapsing into itself as a white dwarf…if you believe Galileo and Copernicus and other astronomers.

I attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus and for some reason don’t have a problem believing that climate change is real, and that man is the primary culprit.  What I have trouble with is believing a pair of Platypus Duckbills trekked from Mt. Ararat in Turkey to Australia, multiplying as they went but we find no Platypus Duckbills anywhere else…alive or fossil remains.  I know.  God works in mysterious ways…so does science but the mysteries of science usually can be explained.

There are many Bible verses commanding good stewardship of our earth, in fact, a moral obligation to preserve and sustain our earth.  One comes quite early in the Bible, Genesis 1:26-31.  I’ll let you look it up.  The KJV version uses the words “dominion over”.  Other translations use the word stewardship.  Dominion does not mean free to use as we wish, dominion means stewardship…to maintain…to control…not to destroy if we so desire.

Many of our leaders, many who profess their religious beliefs quite loudly, or have their minions profess them, seem to be worried that trying to solve the problem of, or even uttering the words, climate change, might slow our economy.  We certainly don’t want to hurt our GDP for something as unimportant as sustaining our planet…or worse having it interfere with their potential candidacy for higher office.  I honestly believe their distant origin might be somewhere south of heaven.

Others believe until the “entire world” gets involved, for instance, the Indians and Chinese, we are pissing up a rope.  Folks…someone’s got to lead and there was a time when the United States led in categories other than bombs dropped, civilians killed and mass murders.  Realizing this is not Biblical, but it should be, “God helps those who help themselves.”

We are not helping ourselves and before I “throw stones”, I admit I am not without the sin of not doing enough…but I am trying…if I could just get rid of that gas-guzzling, carbon dioxide spewing truck.  I can trade it for a horse and wagon.

Well, it is time to bid the Mad Hatter adieu and crawl back out of Alice’s rabbit hole.  It is the day I walk with my best friend.  We usually cure all the world’s ills while we walk or if not, over the cup of coffee we consume at the local coffee shop and art café afterward.  Hmm, that’s the distant origins of my leftist ideas…nope, Hawk still has rightist ideas and that helps balance me.

From above: Fred Waldron Phelps Sr. (November 13, 1929 – March 19, 2014) was an American minister and disbarred attorney who served as pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church and became known for his homophobic views and protests near the funerals of gay people, military veterans, and disaster victims who he believed were killed as a result of God punishing the U.S. for having “bankrupt values” and tolerating homosexuality. From Wikipedia

Don Miller has released a new book under the pen, Lena Christenson.  Dark Tempest and others may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM or at Lena’s site https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19