Geranium Farm Home     Who's Who on the Farm     The Almost Daily eMo     Subscriptions     Coming Events     Links
Hodgepodge     More or Less Church     Ways of the World     Father Matthew     A Few Good Writers     Bookstore
Light a Prayer Candle     Message Board     Donations     Gifts For Life     Pennies From Heaven     Live Chat

Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Got a Flock of Chickens for Christmas!

It's one of my favorite presents and certainly the one carrying the most pleasure. How nice it is to know that some family in a faraway place will be able to eat eggs and raise even more chickens, thanks to the programs of Episcopal Relief and Development that distribute these animals and farm tools and other supportive items.

The Geranium Farm has a connection with ER-D -- see the links in the menu above to Gifts for Life and Pennies from Heaven, or their website directly, -- but I would write to advocate for it as an example of a worthwhile charity anyway. In a purely personal opinion, I like the dual nature of its mission: its people and resources are on the scene soon after disaster strikes, using the good offices of Anglican Communion dioceses all over the world to facilitate relief programs. But ER-D doesn't stop there. It pitches in with rebuilding and with general development needs. Moreover, this isn't confined just to foreign or just to domestic sites. ER-D works everywhere. So they pitched in in New Orleans and Mississippi and Joplin, MO, and in Haiti and most currently in the flood-ravaged Philippines.

Ways of the World first talked specifically about Episcopal Relief and Development a couple of years ago when a reader wrote to Geranium Farm colleague Joanna Depue at More or Less Church and complained that the salary of the President of ER-D seemed too high for any sort of charity. As the Farm's economist and numbers person, I volunteered to check this out. We consulted a directory of charities, Charity Navigator, which compares expenses across organizations, and we also looked at ER-D's "Form 990", the massive report they file each year with the IRS to document their tax-exempt status. We found right away that the President's salary is far from too large, especially for a New York-based organization. At the same time, as one might imagine, the recent economic turmoil has caused charity finances to contract and expand more than is typical. A new look at current financial statements for ER-D itself shows that it, in fact, experienced some backtracking in 2009, but that was followed by renewed expansion in 2010. Through it all, at least 85% of donors' contributions have gone to actual program activities, and in 2010, it was 89%. An indicator of fund-raising efficiency highlighted by Forbes Magazine for the mega-charities it studies checks the cost of raising $1.00 in contributions. In 2009, ER-D spent 11 cents, very close to the average of 10 cents for much larger organizations, and this may have been as low as 7 cents in 2010.

So, as you consider your year-end charitable donations, we urge you to think seriously of Episcopal Relief & Development, and we do so for two reasons. First, it has a great mission that seeks to serve many in need throughout the world, and Second, it is a well-managed institution with strong financial backing and a restrained cost structure.

Get yourself a flock of chickens! Or help dig a well in a village needing more water. Or start a monthly plan that sends whatever amount every single month to the area of greatest need. As a certain TV personality has been known to say, "It's a good thing!"

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, the King James Bible and the 10 Commandments

This year is, of course, 2011, and among other distinctions, it is the 400th Anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, the most renowned English translation of the Sacred Text, which also stands as a classic in English literature. We had been intending to write about it for some time, but, as often happens, exigencies of the day got in the way.

At the same time, renowned "atheist" Christopher Hitchens passed away Thursday from throat cancer. Ways of the World often acknowledges the passing of major public figures, so it seems perfectly reasonable to stop and comment about Hitchens. We are, first, sorry that he was so ill and had such a difficult time. Perhaps he has found some peace and rest in the last two days.

We haven't actually read any of Hitchens' work. So we've been surprised as we "googled" yesterday and today to find that some of his recent pieces for Vanity Fair magazine are lengthy essays on the King James Bible, which he celebrates, and the Ten Commandments, which he "edits". While Hitchens is a boisterous critic of religion, it's clearly not out of ignorance or even bald disdain. He has obviously studied a great deal about the topic and has opinions based on reason.

In this way, he contributes to our own understanding of our own beliefs. If we note his arguments and ponder them, we might actually strengthen our own faith. By analogy, we can describe similar contributions to the Presidential campaign by at least two of the Republican contenders. Ron Paul has strong, but well thought-out notions of foreign policy and monetary policy. We don't like the implications of those notions, if they were to be carried out, but the fact that he raises them makes us and the other candidates develop better arguments for our own positions. In the same way, Herman Cain's "9-9-9" plan may not be favored by many. But it was the first concrete proposal for fiscal reform from among these candidates, and its concrete catchiness forced the others to begin to specify their own schemes. So these two, by offering their interpretations and proposals, have contributed positively to the overall discussion.

Now, why might Ways of the World be the place on the Geranium Farm where you read about the King James Bible? For two broad reasons, one of which we might even call the Hitchens Argument. Ahead of that, our interest as an economist was piqued by the fact that a leading theologian, Alastair McGrath, in his commemorative In the Beginning, starts that book with a detailed explication of the history of printing.[1] English translations of the Bible were both dependent upon and important to the development of printing technology. Having the Bible available in the language of the people was a key ingredient in the Reformation. The William Tyndale translation, which began to appear around 1526, was printed in Germany and unbound pages were smuggled into England. Tyndale was burned at the stake in 1536 for his work, but its popularity in England was hardly diminished. It was only through the tool of mass production through printing that circulation could be made to ordinary as well as very rich readers.

Hitchens, as well as McGrath, explained in his May 2011 Vanity Fair column[2] the import of the 1611 King James version to the development of the English language and also to the solidification of the nation of England as separate from the rest of Europe.

Four hundred years ago, just as William Shakespeare was reaching the height of his powers and showing the new scope and variety of the English language, and just as “England” itself was becoming more of a nation-state and less an offshore dependency of Europe, an extraordinary committee of clergymen and scholars completed the task of rendering the Old and New Testaments into English, and claimed that the result was the “Authorized” or “King James” version. This was a fairly conservative attempt to stabilize the Crown and the kingdom, heal the breach between competing English and Scottish Christian sects, and bind the majesty of the King to his devout people. “The powers that be,” it had Saint Paul saying in his Epistle to the Romans, “are ordained of God.” This and other phrasings, not all of them so authoritarian and conformist, continue to echo in our language: “When I was a child, I spake as a child”; “Eat, drink, and be merry”; “From strength to strength”; “Grind the faces of the poor”; “salt of the earth”; “Our Father, which art in heaven.” It’s near impossible to imagine our idiom and vernacular, let alone our liturgy, without them. Not many committees in history have come up with such crystalline prose.

Though I am sometimes reluctant to admit it, there really is something “timeless” in the Tyndale/King James synthesis. For generations, it provided a common stock of references and allusions, rivaled only by Shakespeare in this respect. It resounded in the minds and memories of literate people, as well as of those who acquired it only by listening. From the stricken beach of Dunkirk in 1940, faced with a devil’s choice between annihilation and surrender, a British officer sent a cable back home. It contained the three words “but if not … ” All of those who received it were at once aware of what it signified. In the Book of Daniel, the Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar tells the three Jewish heretics Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that if they refuse to bow to his sacred idol they will be flung into a “burning fiery furnace.” They made him an answer: “If it be so, our god whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, o King. / But if not, be it known unto thee, o king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it “relevant” is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare. “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,” says the Book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter?
We commend this entire piece to your consideration. And back in April 2010, Hitchens wrote a critique of the Ten Commandments[3] containing both praise and disagreement with God's and Moses' intentions. For example, there are repeated references to the treatment of one's slaves and servants and not coveting your neighbors' slaves and chattel. Are these rules then directed only at people wealthy enough to "have staff"? Hitchens asks. And he grapples with the age-old questions of what is meant by "neighbor" and by "killing". Try these yourself. They are indeed good questions.

We have wondered over the last couple of days where Hitchens might be now. Did he have an "exit interview" with St. Peter and/or God? Wonder what they might have said to each other? Despite Hitchens' repeated protestations to the contrary, might he actually have believed in God and was just fed up with human attempts to create worship organizations? Seems to me the man protesteth too much! God rest his soul!

[1] Alastair McGrath. In the Beginning. New York: Anchor Books. 2002.

[2] Christopher Hitchens. "When the King Saved God". Vanity Fair. May 2011., accessed December 17, 2011.

[3] Christopher Hitchens. "The New Commandments". Vanity Fair. April 2010., accessed December 17, 2011.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

"Killing Lincoln" -- With an Elaboration

[December 17, 2011] We add to the bottom of this article a narrative by another historian about this time in American History. Our original article attracted the attention of people at Richmond Hill, an ecumenical Christian community in Richmond, Virginia. They recommended to us the volume Richmond's Unhealed History by Benjamin Campbell. We added that information as a "Comment" below our article. Then a couple of days later, Mr. Campbell himself wrote to us and shared his version of the aftermath of the fall of Richmond the week before Palm Sunday in 1865. His narrative reads very much like O'Reilly and Dugard's, and it leaves us with the same unsettled, mixed feeling that we got from Killing Lincoln. Mr. Campbell was nice enough to put his material in a Word document for our use, and we simply add it to the bottom of this commentary. We hope you will read it, and we are pleased that we can contribute an outlet for further discussion of these crucial days in our country's history. Just scroll down the page here to find Mr. Campbell's text.

We have just finished blowing through the recent Bill O'Reilly volume Killing Lincoln, and we want to commend it to your attention. We heard about it when it first came out in September and we thought it sounded interesting, but it was hardly high on the priority list. Then I wound up in the hospital last week, having my gallbladder removed. A woman in the next bed had the book and she was raving about it as a really riveting read. So on the way home, my roommate and I stopped at a nearby bookstore and picked up a copy; it sounded like just the thing for the first few days of recuperation.

Some of you may have misgivings about material authored by the well-known Fox News host. Be assured that this is a piece of straight history. O'Reilly and his co-author, history writer Martin Dugard, tell the story of those dramatic days in April of 1865. There is no ideology or political overtone; there is none of O'Reilly himself in the book.

What there is, is electrifying narrative told as much as possible in the present tense, immersing us in the events, actions and feelings: a real "you are there" sensation. We experience the famished hunger of the Confederate soldiers in the final few days before Lee's surrender, but we also grasp their fierce motivation that enables them to keep fighting on with spirit. We understand the strength of the rivalry between infantry and cavalry in the Union Army that more than once allows the Southerners to escape, undermining a clear-cut victory yet again.

We meet Lincoln, traveling all too near the battle front in Virginia and entering the tragically destroyed Richmond after its fall. We can feel his mixed emotions of joy over the imminent victory but weighty concern over the labor that will be required to put the country back together. He has a light-heartedness too, so that the night following Lee's surrender, when the crowd celebrating on the White House lawn calls out for a speech, he instead spies a Navy band standing nearby and asks them to play "Dixie". "I always thought that 'Dixie' was one of the best tunes I ever heard. Our adversaries over the way … have attempted to appropriate it. But I insist that yesterday we fairly captured it."

We get acquainted with John Wilkes Booth and his associates. We sense Booth's hatred of Lincoln and his deep-seated belief that the only proper role for African-Americans in society is serving their white masters. We hear the intricate plot to take out not just Lincoln, but Johnson, Secretary of State Seward and General Grant, presumably leaving the national leadership in vacuous chaos. Booth thinks Lincoln is so unpopular after the drudgery and loss in the protracted War that Booth will be seen as a national hero.

We learn that Lincoln was shot on the evening of Good Friday, that the young doctor in the audience that night at Ford's Theater, who so ably administers first aid, is all of 23 years old. He stays with Lincoln all night long, ministering to him by relieving the pressure on Lincoln's brain from the blood clotting around the bullet entry point. He had also directed a pair of older doctors at the Theater in an early version of CPR to get Lincoln breathing again. Far more senior physicians, including those on the White House staff, approve this work as exactly the right approaches.

We learn, too, that a sometime smuggler who harbored and abetted the escape of Booth and a co-conspirator over the Potomac from Maryland into safer Virginia went unpunished. At his trial, the damning testimony describing Thomas Jones' role was given by a "non-white resident of southern Maryland" and was thus ignored by the court. These days, we might forget how awful it was for "non-whites" in those and later years.

According to review comments on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Killing Lincoln has been criticized for inaccuracies, which O'Reilly maintains have been corrected in later printings [it's been out about 12 weeks, and my copy is part of the eighth printing!]; it's been criticized for the "thriller" style and it's been criticized for not offering up "new insights" into this major event for historians. Well, first of all, the book is not aimed at professional historians, it's aimed at the general public, whose comments on those bookseller websites indicate are quite taken with it, as we were. We ourselves would wish for more than the cursory bibliography, and we could imagine a "scholars edition" distributed online with footnote-type references to show the sources of specific events and descriptions. But the main consideration is that O'Reilly and Dugard have heightened the interest of ordinary people in a very important period in the United States of America and encouraged them to read. May they do this again.

Finally, we guess that perhaps a review of Killing Lincoln might not be what you'd expect from Ways of the World at the present time; you want to know what's going on with the never-ending crisis in Europe and perhaps something about recent jobs developments. With a very recent hospital stay – I'm indeed recovering just fine, as you can see – I might even have something to say about health-care. We'll get to those things. But, as you can also see, I learned a lot and suggest that you too – or especially a high-schooler you know – might well get something out of it. Have a good read!

+ + + + +

From Benjamin Campbell, author of Richmond's Unhealed History:

When Petersburg, under siege for the entire winter of 1864-65 and 30 miles south of Richmond just off the James, fell on the morning of Passion Sunday, two weeks before Easter of 1865, word was sent to Richmond that the Confederate army was in flight to the west, along the Appomattox River. A soldier came into St. Paul's Church at the 11:00 service, where Jefferson Davis was seated in his usual pew on the center aisle, and told him. The Rev. Mr. Minnegerode was preaching. The President left the service. The order was given to evacuate the entire city.

By evening all the Confederate government and treasury was gone across the river, on the Southside railroad toward Danville. The last Confederate troops to march south across the river were given orders to set fire to the warehouse that held tobacco. They did so. The next-door warehouse held munitions, and a third neighboring warehouse held kegs of whiskey. As the troops withdrew across the footbridge, the winds fanned the flames and the munitions warehouse blew up. Then the whiskey warehouse was engulfed. Perhaps 30 blocks of the city, the entire industrial center between the Capitol on the hill and the river, were destroyed. Whiskey was running in the gutters and the populace was said to be on its hands and knees during the night, lapping it up. Two warships at the dock were scuttled and exploded with terrifying concussions.

The next morning, Monday, Mayor Mayo rode his carriage to the east through the burning city to the Yankee lines four miles away and asked the troops to come in and put out the fire. They did so, "colored" and white troops racing each other to get to the city.

Tuesday morning, President Lincoln, who had been staying on a ship at Grant's headquarters downriver at City Point near Petersburg, came upriver to the city. The sidewheeler Malvern couldn't get through obstructions in the James seven miles south of Richmond, so Admiral Porter, Lincoln, and his son Tad continued upriver on a launch that was rowed by twelve sailors. They landed at the city docks, and Lincoln was met by African American dock workers. He and Tad walked with the sailors, armed only with carbines, 15 blocks up Main Street, amid silent crowds and still smoldering ruins, then turned and went up the hill to the White House of the Confederacy. There he met General Weitzel, the Yankee commander who had lately learned of his arrival, and sat in President Davis' chair. Then, followed by a cheering crowd of freed slaves, he rode in a carriage to the Capitol. Then he visited the still smoldering Burned District and the notorious prisons where Yankee soldiers had been kept. Finally he returned to the docks and boarded the Malvern, which had made it up the James, to spend the night. Wednesday morning he went back to City Point, then continued on down the James to the [Chesapeake] Bay and back up to the Potomac and Washington, arriving in time to celebrate the surrender at Appomattox on Palm Sunday.

Labels: ,

Copyright © 2003-Present Geranium Farm - All rights reserved.
Reproduction of any materials on this web site for any purpose
other than personal use without written consent is prohibited.