Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Swear

The American right, no doubt disappointed that Obama didn't take the Oath of Office on the Quran the way the right-wingers had been claiming he would, now have a problem with the fact that the retake of the oath wasn't done on the Bible. Justice Roberts and Obama engaged in a moment of tension during the inauguration ceremony by stumbling through the Oath of Office so they got together for a retake this week. Pictures of the event show Obama with his right hand raised, his left hand down at his side.
Think Progress covers Glen Beck's misleading coverage of the event complete with the YouTube video of Beck on his new Fox News gig.
I can't help but wonder how this can even be an issue. Has anybody actually read that Bible that Obama was supposed to have his left hand on? If so, how do you deal with this from Matthew 5:33-37, from the Sermon on the Mount:
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33"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
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Mind you this is Jesus saying this. But what is He saying and why?
I've heard the tired old explanation that Jesus was just telling the people not to casually cuss by aimlessly swearing. I don't buy that, of course. Verse 37 is the key to understanding what Jesus is saying.
Jesus is saying whatever you say, let it be the truth. Don't live in such a way that the only time anybody can trust that you are telling the truth is after you have taken an oath to tell the truth.
I've been trying for a very long time now to express this idea. I rant on and on about how Christianity has no concept of truth other than that the Bible alone is truth. Calvinism even goes so far as to suggest that whatever you choose to say, God already knew what your choice would be and you saying it is God's Will. That's completely absurd, but it seems to serve a lot of people very well.
Here's the thing, and I think our own culture is just like the culture that Jesus was addressing here. In our culture there is a difference between making a promise and swearing an oath. A promise is a commitment to do something. An oath is a promise made in the spirit of truth. It's not that you can't speak a promise truthfully. It's that in our culture we understand that it is acceptable to make a promise that we don't intend to keep. It's not acceptable to make an oath that we don't intend to keep. So we make our oaths to God or to Heaven or to the Bible or to wherever, to a place that our culture recognizes we would have to desecrate if we were to violate our promise.
We have in our culture, and Jesus must have observed the same thing in the culture of his own time, a duality of truth. One truth has no connection to God, to the divine. It's just the truth of the world. One man's truth is another man's lie and the only judge is our own understanding. The other truth is God's truth, divine truth, truth as it is seen by God. When we need to differentiate between those two, we take an oath.
What Jesus is teaching here on the mountain is that this is a fallacy. There are not two truths. There is not a divine truth and a truth of the world. There is only one truth and that is truth as God sees it. To accept the idea that we can use an oath to certify that we are speaking truth in God's eyes is to accept that we are capable of speaking truth that isn't truth in God's eyes. It is to make legitimate the idea that truth has this duality. Oaths make legitimate the lie that there is a duality of truth.
Reflecting back on Matthew 5:37, anything more than for you to simply speak the truth whenever you speak - any need for an oath - is from the evil one. Recognizing the need for oaths legitimizes the lie.
Perhaps Obama understands this. Perhaps his promise is spoken in the spirit of truth. Perhaps this is one of the changes that Obama brings to Washington.

Friday, January 23, 2009

See No Evil

Don't even ask what I'm doing up at this hour of the night, but to be awake at this hour of the night and discover a new word that begins to bring recent history into clearer focus...
Agnotology
Even my spell-checker doesn't recognize this one.
Wikipedia has quite a lot to say about this word.
I ran across it in a post in the blog The Big Picture.
The definition given there:
"Culturally constructed ignorance, purposefully created by special interest groups working hard to create confusion and suppress the truth."
What better word is there to describe the Bush era... or for that matter, Sarah Palin!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One Day After

I watched the inauguration live yesterday on Public Television. I could feel the teeth chattering cold out there on the Washington Mall! But I didn't find the occasion as emotionally stirring as I had imagined it might be. Obama himself seemed reserved, although perfectly in character to what he ran for president as, a man of principle disgusted by the direction America had taken under George W. Bush's presidency.
I was stirred by the musical interlude at noon just prior to Obama's swearing in. It nearly brought me to tears although I can't say why. I don't normally get emotional listening to classical music.
Obama's inaugural speech seemed dry to me, as though the wind has been taken from his sails since election day. He was polite to his predecessor, but he did get in a few good jabs. I wouldn't have wanted to be Bush sitting there taking it from Obama, although as an Obama supporter, it certainly felt good to know that someone bigger than George W. Bush was delivering punches with the truth about how devastating the Bush presidency was for America.
Now it is one day into the new America. Obama is already beginning to live up to his campaign promises. Republicans are stalling the confirmation of Obama's choice for Secretary of State, but the pow-wows that Obama promised us all while on the campaign trail have already begun. Obama is meeting with Defense Department heads to discuss the withdrawal from Iraq. He has requested a suspension in the war crimes trials of Guantanamo detainees. And he has suspended all changes in federal regulations until his staff has reviewed them. He has finally put the brakes on the Bush machine.
I think the one thing that struck me the most about inauguration day was that the departure of Bush and Cheney was a cause for great celebration. There was no regret at all in seeing them go. No, I can't say that is true. That is what I wanted it to feel like. That is what I celebrated. But a layer down from there in my thinking was this feeling of uncertainty. It was exactly the feeling that the codependents of an abusive husband feel when the husband is dragged away in hand cuffs. Once we resign ourselves to the abuse, we become dependent on the power of the abuser to protect us. That is what George W. Bush was to us. He was the man in control of the abuse. I tend to think Obama doesn't have that same effect on us and we are going to have to adapt to not living under an abuser.
Yesterday was liberating for a large portion of the world's population. But none of us know what today will bring. That's how I feel one day after.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Future Arrived Yesterday

Well "yesterday" metaphorically speaking...
Actually it was 1973 when this article concerning the arrival of the future appeared in the Maine Times, republished in Mother Earth News.
I was in my twenties back then. I was aware of the Maine Times and Mother Earth News and Country Journal. I never took the time nor challenged my intellect to comprehend this talk of a post industrial age having arrived in Maine. It was a new concept and seemed based on selected and somewhat editorialized facts (see the list of "items" in this article). But Maine has since developed somewhat of a split personality relating to this post industrial notion.
Clearly the largest industries of Maine have all gone the way of Detroit automobile manufacturing. The textile industries have struggled and died for many decades now. Shoe manufacturing was a large component in Maine's economy, now almost completely gone. And Maine's paper industry has been on the decline for a decade or more, although it was still going strong in 1973 when this article was published in the Maine Times.
But industry didn't follow the dire warnings of this article. A new kind of industrialization found strength in Maine and the state is now dotted with hundreds, even thousands of small industrial producers. Maine's economic future rests in part on the success of these new small industries. Not only that, but a remnant of traditional large industry remains strong in Maine. And as if to thumb its nose at this article, Maine has continued to develop recreation and tourism based on high energy consumption and inexpensive gasoline. It is a bit difficult to embrace the idea of post industrial enterprise while industry remains this strong. Until very recently, it looked as though the post industrial age would never arrive.
But starting about the time of this Maine Times article there developed a counterculture in Maine, a new side of Maine's personality that is clearly described presciently in this 1973 article. Maine has developed and is continuing to grow a strong sustainable living culture based on organic farming and gardening, renewable energy and energy conservation, healthy living, and progressive politics. Nowhere is this trend more apparent than in the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, MOFGA, and its annual autumn country fair, the Common Ground Fair.
This whole progressive movement was in its infancy here in Maine in 1973. Thank God someone had the foresight to welcome these new people and their new ideas to Maine back then. Much of the pioneering work for the nation's post industrial transition is already being done here in Maine. Perhaps now with the collapse of America's industrial strength and the realization that we are fighting wars now to secure our future oil demands, our whole nation will begin to see the sense in post industrial living.