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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, July 22, 2014

"The Courage to Grow Old"

Last year in this country, there were 19.5 million people over age 75.  This group made up 6.2% of the total population.  By 2026, just 12 years from now, Census Bureau projections indicate there will be about 10 million more of these elderly residents and they will be more than 8% of the population, growing another 10 million through the subsequent nine years to almost 11%.

So Barbara Crafton has written a book on growing old.  We know we don't need to justify any particular choice of topic for her writings, and her own reason for writing on this seems to be that she herself feels she is beginning "to grow old", as is evident in the Preface and Chapter 1 of the book.  Still, and perhaps too obvious to deserve mention, this is a topic of broad general interest, and her comments on several issues and her impressions of this time in our lives are significant for many people and their publication significantly timed, as illustrated by our data above.

Some of the topics are practical: among others, how do you convince your father that he shouldn't drive a car anymore?  How do you handle really elderly parents who want to live at home or in your home?  How do you conduct yourself on a date?[!]  Also, quite logically but with great feeling, how do you imagine approaching death and dying yourself?

So we have taken a step right here in what Barbara wants us to do.  We're talking about this.  We've already taken a courageous step.  See what she says on page 8:

In order to help those who love me deal with my death, I must come to terms with it myself.  It will help to think about death in advance.  Trust me [she says], this gets easier to do with practice – those things of which we refuse to think don't disappear meekly in response to our refusal:  they go underground.  There they grow in apparent size and virulence, becoming larger and more unthinkable than they really are.  What will happen to me in my death is that I will join the billions of human beings who have died; everyone who has ever lived has managed to do this.

We have already had experiences in our lives like this: major losses, traumatic events.  We realize that in order to function more fully as time passes, the best way to handle those experiences is to face them head on.  Our own death is no different, apparently.

One chapter talks about pain, and Barbara is quick to distinguish between acute pain and chronic pain.  Acute pain sends a signal:  oops, your finger is too close to the candle flame.  Ouch!  Then you take action to stop it.  Chronic pain is different.  You have to learn to live with chronic pain and counteract its source or compensate for it.  For instance, maybe your knees won't let you genuflect in church?  Then bow instead [that's what we ourselves have to do!].  She says these strategies take courage too; from page 35:

I think chronic pain teaches courage.  Real courage, I mean, not bravado – it teaches the kind of courage that looks unwaveringly at the way things really are, rather than the strutting, noisy kind that asserts power it doesn't possess and control over events that human beings don't really run.  No, the courage chronic pain can teach us is the slow kind, the patient kind – maybe "maturity" is a better term for it than "courage."

One more notion, an impressionist metaphor: "The Two Baskets".  We are in a basket that is nested in a bigger basket.  Page 80:

Baskets are woven, of course: strips of grass or straw or wood thread intricately over and under one another again and again . . . . But there is space between the strips, however tightly they might be woven.  You could peer out one of those spaces, if you wanted to. . . . Yup, there's something out there all right.  But you can't see it very clearly through that tiny opening.  Besides, who cares?  This basket is beautiful.  It contains everything you need.

One day, though, the smaller basket begins to fall apart . . . .

So you get the idea of where that image is going.  Barbara helps us understand that we have been inside the bigger basket all along.

In addition to Barbara's two baskets, we realize that we've actually seen a third basket.  A friend who lately became a grandmother showed us a picture of her grandson smiling at us – from the womb.  The wonders of ultrasound let us see inside and there was little Luke, inside the basket inside the basket inside the basket . . . .

Barbara Crafton's book The Courage to Grow Old is published by Morehouse, an imprint of Church Publishing, Incorporated.  It is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, in both paperback and Kindle or Nook editions.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Praying for Peace: It's All We Can Do

The Rev. F. M. Buddy Stallings, Rector of St. Bart's on Park Avenue in Manhattan, is an Associate of the Geranium Farm; his pieces run on the Farm's website page "A Few Good Writers".  This morning, what he emailed sounds exactly like what we feel about the two simultaneous awful-nesses that are impacting the world right now, the shooting down of the plane in eastern Ukraine and the fighting in Gaza.

We mourn the loss of some AIDS scientists who were traveling on the plane, as well as a member of the Dutch Senate, a nun returning to a teaching job in Sydney after a study sabbatical in Europe, and the numerous others traveling to Asia.  We learned that Ukraine was, until yesterday, on a major flying route from Europe to Asia; planes are apparently now being rerouted over Turkey.  How will the conflict over that region be reconciled?

We also wish over and over that the terrorism and the Arab/Israeli distresses could be eased.  We were in the World Trade Center on 9/11, so this is a very personal notion.

Those thoughts prompt us to respond here on Ways of the World, and we take the liberty of copying Buddy's comments so our own readers may see them.  
Nothing I had planned to write today seems weighty enough in light of the events of yesterday: the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner and Israel's ground operation into Gaza. . . .
And yet, each of us is required to have some sort of public reaction -- not a position piece for sure, but some orientation or perhaps world-view through which we process such events. Over the years I have in some ways hidden from many of the hard conversations about conflict and turmoil in the world by claiming that my positions are theological not political: peace over war, non-violence over violence, negotiation over action. Though lofty and pious, they also are not, as I have been told with some regularity, particularly practical or easily reduced to logistics about how we actually are to live together on an ever- shrinking globe. I almost envy the bellicose, who at every turn say in a million ways "there is going to be hell to pay for this; let's go blow somebody up," and the equally certain, who seem to know in every case the absolute moral decision to make.
I pray for peace; and though that seems pretty weak and small, it is all I have. Though God may clearly expect more, I am not sure what it is and at this point can only wait until I have further light.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Links for Helping with the Immigration Crisis in South Texas

Not your usual Ways of the World essay.

We are as many of you are, too, probably very concerned about the throngs of Central American children coming across the Texas border.  Yesterday, July 10, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, called our attention to the work on this crisis issue by various bodies of the Church.  Her specific emphasis was on advocacy and policy.  She also certainly feels compassion for the kids themselves, and she urges us to pray and give as well.

As we read her published statement in a daily email from Episcopal News Service, we were moved to check on the website of Episcopal Relief & Development for possible news of actual relief efforts.  As many of you know, the Geranium Farm are long-time supporters of ER-D's work.  Sure enough, they are helping get resources to the relief center being run in McAllen, Texas, right on the border across the Rio Grande from Reynosa, Mexico, and between Brownsville and Laredo.  St. John's Episcopal Church is pitching in at the center, which is located at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and being managed by Catholic Charities.  At least one of the local Baptist churches is also participating and possibly other churches.

Here is a link to Episcopal Relief & Development, where you can make a monetary donation to that work:

If you want to send supplies directly to the center, here is information from Sacred Heart Church: .  This includes the address of the drop-off center and an itemized list of what they need; it's pretty basic daily-living stuff for adults and little kids.

Here is a link to the Diocese of West Texas, which has posted pictures of the work and in-kind donations that are being provided.

Finally, today's New York Times ran a strongly worded op-ed by an unlikely group of immigration reform advocates: Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and Bill Gates, Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a founder of Microsoft.  These three, who begin with the disclaimer that they don't have common political perspectives, strongly urge the Congress to get its act together on immigration reform legislation.  This presently appears unlikely to happen before the November election as everyone wants to run away from the hot-button issue before constituents vote.  But those little kids down there in Texas and the adults who sent them need some clarity.  So too, as Adelson, Buffett and Gates argue, do the graduate students from abroad working hard at our universities, and others anxious to come here legally or to regularize their current status as residents of our country.  Contact your Representatives.  While the Church's advocacy work helps, constituent contact will count too.

Please respond somehow.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The First Generation of Americans

Each year at the anniversary of American Independence, Ways of the World visits that historical era with an eye to the key role of ordinary people.  The American Revolution was more than battles and big documents; it marked dramatic changes in the structure of society, in people’s relationships and in their day-to-day interactions with one another.

We sought this year to see how this reordering played out as the new country and its culture developed.  Recognizing that we had not read a classic statement of this, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, we thought that might be the way to go.  Our seeking brought us instead to a prelude of the years right before Tocqueville’s trip, which began in 1831.  So we focus on Inheriting the Revolution: the First Generation of Americans by Joyce Appleby.  She is professor emerita at UCLA and a former president of the American Historical Association.  The book is based largely on her study of people born from 1776 to 1800, sourced from autobiographies, contemporary press reports and other primary sources.

Originality and newness and flexibility are the main themes.  There had been a big war and the older people were conditioned by the necessary defenses they had had to put together.  The new, younger generation faced no such constraints; they were looking forward.  Their new orientation became manifest in some surprisingly basic aspects of living, as Appleby explains.

In these annual July-4th exercises, we never cease to be amazed at the historic reach of the American Revolution.  Here follow six significant kinds of changes that emerged early after it.  They concern a fundamental shift of power, influence and benefits from a limited predetermined elite to a vast populace exercising initiative.  At the same time, we will have to conclude with some comments about some people who were largely left out of all this.

1.  Politics and the popular press
By the 1790s, many more people were learning to read, and newspapers were expanding rapidly.  As marks affairs today, inquisitive reporters and commentators got into the workings of government and of leaders.  The process of governing was now out in the open, no longer conducted in closed rooms, hidden from the population at large; information was now available to almost everyone.  Appleby highlights the election of Jefferson in 1800 as a demarcation of the social ramifications of what was happening.  Social and political power were now uncoupled.  "[T]he colonial belief that authority should be exercised through the uncontested leadership of a recognized cadre of families” was "drowned in a tidal wave". [Appleby, page 6]

2.  Enterprise and expansion
The Industrial Revolution along with the end of the American Revolutionary War meant people could focus on going new places and making new things.  They were no longer preoccupied with military issues and could explore the vastness of the North American continent.  Agriculture and the family farm remained the primary way to make a living, but commercial interests developed to a substantial extent.  Steam engines and machine tools led to the growth of industry; as the variety of goods available increased, retailing expanded and all this needed financing, so banking spread as well.  Many new kinds of jobs opened up.  Extending the theme of spreading leadership, business ventures could be undertaken by anyone, not just members of certain favored families or those with government connections.

3.  Careers
Indeed, individuals could now make many basic choices about the course of their own lives.  “Where once sons had achieved manhood by emulating their fathers, more and more they were esteemed by carrying a torch into uncharted territory.” [page 21]  Notably, the very word “career” took on a new definition.  The Oxford English Dictionary shows that in 1580, it meant “a race course”.  But by 1802, it had come to describe “a person’s progress through life”.  [Cited by Appleby, page 270]

4.  Societal distinctions
“Mobility” now meant several things: movement away from the family home, geographic mobility even to another region, changing one’s profession, participating in and gaining influence in governing.  The product of these processes came to be known as the “middle class”, encompassing people with origins in both ends of the economic spectrum and generating a new emphasis on peer groups.  “Status”, “merit” and “virtue” were still important, but they took on whole new contexts.

5.  Intimate relationships
“The collapse of venerable hierarchies and the scattering of families” [page 22] meant people no longer had a pre-existing emotional support system; they had to be conscious of their emotional needs and seek out relatives and friends with some deliberateness.  In another sphere of intimacy, religious revivals imparted to church and worship an emotional character not generally experienced before in more formal worship settings.

6.  Voluntary associations
Society, of course, continued to be plagued with various problems.  Individuals who cared about specific issues of the day began to form volunteer groups to address them.  Appleby emphasizes temperance and urban charity among more secular issues, while the evangelical revivalist movements sent people on mission work.  These missions were sometimes foreign, perhaps to India, and some more local, such as to the Cherokees and the Chickasaws.  Anti-slavery organizations were formed.

So the young country grew and prospered with broad-based participation in leadership roles unknown in history before.

“Participation” was, of course, still not universal:  women and blacks were still restrained.  Women's roles evolved somewhat, though.  Many became literate, with some making writing careers.  Others became active in church-work or other voluntary groups; they became aware that they wanted and should have choices, not necessarily tied automatically to the men in their lives. 

Appleby is careful in many places to specify that the main beneficiaries of the constructive societal changes were "white men".  Blacks (many from the West Indies as well as Africa) were largely emancipated in the North, could own property and even vote in some locales.  But the Southern culture was different, remaining staunchly pro-slavery and retaining other hierarchical characteristics.  Part of this is tied to dependence on labor-intensive cotton-growing as European demand for the fabric expanded.  Without more study, we don't want to go on about this at length, but Appleby makes clear that the seeds of conflict over these racial differences were sown very early in our history as a nation.

We want to leave you with two thoughts in this July 4th Season of 2014.  First, much of the news of our day highlights failures and misgivings people feel about our government and society.  But we urge you to stop and put this in perspective.  The US has fostered a flexible, open lifestyle focused on mobility.  It's distinctive in millennia of history, that we have come, 238 years after Independence, to want to assure opportunities for everyone, whatever their background.  People who were prospering in 1800 were already starting to figure out how they could spread this prosperity.

Secondly, this spirit of widespread initiative and prosperity is readily evident to other people all around the world.  Some of them seem to hate us for it and plot our destruction.  But many others want to come and join in it.  We see the massive border problems of this moment and we struggle mightily over how to handle the hordes of illegal immigrants.  Surely this whole situation is being badly mishandled and the President perhaps did not anticipate the volume of people who would respond to his unilateral move in 2012 to let young people stay who arrived in the U.S. as dependent children.

But look at the statement those young people and their families are making.  What you and I have as lives here in the United States, flawed though our situations may seem to us, looks so great compared to what those families have now that they are willing to risk everything to come and be a part of it or send their children in the hope they can have a better future.

* * * * *
Joyce Appleby.  Inheriting the Revolution: the First Generation of Americans.  Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.  2000.

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