Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The War Prayer by Mark Twain

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Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain: 1835--1910) strongly opposed the Philippine-American War (1899--1902). Adding to his outrage was the fact that American troops remained in the Phillipines long after the mission was declared accomplished (in 1902), until 1913. Twain wrote “The War Prayer”, but could not get it published because it was deemed too radical. It was published at last in Harper’s Monthly, in the November 1916 issue. The full text appears in this post below.

An animated version can be viewed at The War Prayer website, at http://thewarprayer.com/war_film.html

The War Prayer

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory -- must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Race Prejudice, Frickin' Chicken and the Need for Change

crispy chicken

Some months ago I drove south of the border (from New York State into Pennsylvania) to try to understand why some Pennsylvanians claimed that race (as in Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, and African American) would be a significant factor in their choice for U.S. President. Shortly after entering Pennsylvania, I stopped for gas beside a restaurant with this sign, that offered "Crispy Frickin' Chicken." Frick, of course, was a notorious American industrialist, "known for his uncompromising and cruel tactics". The lower-case word "frick", is slang for a four-letter word, unspeakable on daytime TV. Here then, was a not-so-subtle clue about food choices and political choices.

The vegetarian in me passed on the chicken, and then, arriving in the city of muggerly love, I spoke with a number of older residents. Some were for Clinton; others would support whoever won the Democratic nomination; one 84-year-old Republican was so disgusted at the current state of national affairs that he vowed to vote Democratic, for the first time in his life.

Yet the news, during the Pennsylvania primaries, reported that for a number of voters "race is a factor" in their choice of candidates. In blunter words, they would not vote for a non-white. Every day these Pennsylvanians worship and cheer for black athletes such as Jimmy Rollins, Allen Iverson, and Donovan McNabb. They have elected black men as mayors of their largest city. But never in a million years would they want to see a President of color: a non-white in the White House.

This foolish and perilous attitude -- this racial prejudice --

Babylon city from Griffith's film, Intolerance
has been with us since the ancient world of Babylon. Today, there are three requirements to vote for U.S. President: you must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years old, and register to vote. In the year 2000 we learned than anyone can become president; and now we understand that the reason for that is that anyone can vote for president. A "voter's license" is not required: no tests must be passed, no training given, no skills or knowledge must be demonstrated. And perhaps it is better that way, because noone is wise enough to determine what these mental skills should be. Yet there is one thing we might ask: in order to vote, you must promise to your God, or your own deep self, or swear on your holy book (be it a bible or Hamlet or Leaves of Grass) that your vote shall not in any way be influenced by race.

Racial prejudice in America will not evaporate until long after November 2008. What can we do until then? Find someone you know -- your friend, your colleague, your bus driver -- who will not vote for a black candidate. And then talk with them about why they need to change this way of thinking. Explain how prejudice harms other persons, harms society in general, and harms the person who does not believe that all human beings deserve equal rights.

Change, of course, is what this 2008 presidential election is all about. Not only a change in Washington,D.C. -- which is of the utmost significance -- but a change, an expansion of consciousness, a great opening in the American mind.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Sanctuary by Michael Tobias & Jane Morrison

Sanctuary book cover

Global Oases of Innocence
by Michael Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison
a Dancing Star Foundation Book
Council Oak Books
Hardcover, 360 pages, Available June 24, 2008

Reviewed by Michael Pastore

Ralph Waldo Emerson drew his personal and literary power from a deep contact with the natural world. In a journal entry written in April in the year 1840, Emerson wrote:

"As I sat on the back of the Drop or God's pond ... I said to my companion I declare this world is so beautiful that I can hardly believe it exists."

This sense of awe and wonder at Earth's incredible beauty -- the beauty of persons, trees, birds, insects, amphibians, flowers, landscapes, and animals -- is the first thing that struck me as I browsed the pages of Sanctuary. Next, I was reminded of that stunning passage from the film "My Dinner With Andre". Andre notes that a wave of pessimism has captured our era, and that many people believe that we are reverting to a savage, lawless, terrifying time ahead. At the same time, a new and different note is sounding, "pockets of light" will emerge all over the planet:

"... there have to be centers, now, where people can come and reconstruct a new future for the world. And when I was talking to Gustav Björnstrand, he was saying that actually, these centers are growing up everywhere now, and that what they're trying to do, which is what Findhorn was trying to do, and in a way what I was trying to do...I mean, these things can't be given names, but in a way, these are all attempts at creating a new kind of school, or a new kind of monastery. And Björnstrand talks about the concept of reserves, islands of safety, where history can be remembered, and human beings can continue to function in order to maintain the species through a Dark Age.

"In other words we're talking about an underground, which did exist in a different way during the Dark Ages among the mystical orders of the Church. And the purpose of this underground is to find out how to preserve the light, life, the culture. How to keep things living. You see, I keep thinking that what we need is a new language, a language of the heart, a language as in the Polish forest where language wasn't needed -- some kind of language between people that is a new kind of poetry, that's the poetry of the dancing bee that tells us where the honey is. And I think that in order to create that language, you're going to have to learn how you can go through a looking-glass into another kind of perception, where you have that sense of being united to all things. And suddenly, you understand everything."

In the film, the waiter understood nothing, because he interrupts these sage reflections to ask Wally and Andre what they would like for dessert.

As for the centers of renewal for human beings, those Utopias I have not yet found. (We are seeing, however, a revival in Utopian literature, in new novels such as those by Tobias and O. Thoreau, which is a significant first step.)

Bougoereau L'Innocene
For human beings, utopias reside in our best imaginations and in our inevitable sustainable future. Yet, thanks to a wonderful combination of vision, compassion, ecological knowledge, courage and cash, there are numerous sanctuaries for non-human living species. The new book by Tobias and Morrison documents many of these sanctuaries -- twenty four of them worldwide -- with vivid (and oftentimes, sublime) photographs, and with a prose style so radiant and so powerful that the words capture the whole spirit of this noble endeavor.

Sanctuary begins with a lovely Foreword by the Queen of Bhutan. (Bhutan -- a nation of about 700,000 persons in the Himalayan mountains, bordered by India, Tibet, China, and Nepal -- is arguably the most environmentally-conscious nation in the world.) Here we learn the encouraging fact that there are now 114,000 protected areas in the world. Bhutan is exemplary for many reasons, including their commitment to land protection: 60% of that nation is "inviolable primeval forest" where no development is allowed.

The book's 24 chapters feature photos and descriptions of the sanctuaries, located in 21 different nations. These sanctuaries span the earth, some located in icy places, others in warm ones, and wherever they are they are devoted to protecting all creatures great and small. In their essay about the Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, the authors remind us that all creatures are sacred and indispensable to the ecosystem: the survival of the small ant matters just as much as the great elephant. In Canada, America (including Central Park, New York City), Europe and Asia -- the best of the human spirit manifests itself in these oases of loving kindness.

Browsing the book's pages, continuing the vicarious journey through these heartwarming sanctuaries, you realize that each of these is made possible by the dedication of a few inspired persons, thoroughly committed to saving their piece of the planet. Sanctuary is mainly about the preserving of the natural world, and at the same time it gives us a glimpse at the lives of persons who act compassionately. Between these covers are so many inspiring lives and stories, and surprises, too. The media recently has well covered the notorious Brigitte Bardot, but here we find a chapter about the glorious woman whose foundation (FBB: Foundation Brigitte Bardot) works worldwide for the cause of animal rights.

Now I must return to the moving introduction to this book, where the authors reveal the heart of the project and its larger context:
"Sanctuary: Global Oases of Innocence is a modest record of some two dozen places on Earth where humans have recognized ecological importance and devoted huge energy to ensure their survival and integrity. The combination of science, legislation, community and individual activism, non-violence, animal rights, conservation biology and spiritual ecology is a convergence of forces that the authors have sought to observe and enshrine. The emergent paradigm we call the sanctuary movement." There follows a concise overview of the movement, filled with humane responses, but not blindly optimistic, for the authors gently advise: "There's much work to be done, and little time left."

When I came to the end of this stunning book, I realized that I had been mistaken. Utopias -- and the utopian imagination -- are not extinct. These sanctuaries for living creatures, are, as well, sanctuaries for human spiritual renewal. What is good for our planet is good for the persons on our planet. For as the Buddha once said: "When we have learned to love not our separate life, but all living things, then at last we shall find peace."

The environmental tide is turning. We are moving toward the sustainable society that is necessary for our survival, happiness, and optimal fulfillment. Sanctuary is an essential book for this new world -- a book of vision, heart and hope -- that deserves a place in every library, school, and home.

SANCTUARY — Global Oases of Innocence is being officially unveiled at the Smithsonian Institution 2008 Folklife Festival in Washington D.C., beginning late June, 2008. For more information, visit the Smithsonian website at: http://www.folklife.si.edu/festival/2008/Bhutan/index.html

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