Monday, February 25, 2013

Custer and Sitting Bull

The Last Stand by Nathaniel Philbrick:

  I have always been a voracious reader. So, here is a book review from an ebook I read on my Kindle Fire. Ebooks don't have the same satisfying heft and smell to them. But, they seem easier for my 50 plus year old eyes to adjust to these days.

 This historical account is written in a similar style to "Killing Lincoln" by Rill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard. Both books are excellent by the way. The Last Stand uses letters and accounts and memories on the people who were present at that time to re-create a narrative that is both historical and reads like a semi-biography/novel. "Hey, did I just make up a new term?"

 Anyway, I have recently started reading a lot of Rock biographies from the "guitar hero's" of my youth. But, I have always loved history and in particular American History. So, this book was of real interest to me. When I think of the Little Bighorn I think of a single cavalry troop running into a large group of Indians and getting slaughtered. Anyway, let me hit some highlights that I feel really make this book interesting. First the author writes from the perspective of the 1800's and not from a modern politically correct place. So, the term "Native American" isn't ever used. To be honest I don't think most Indians of that time would have appreciated being called "American" anything. Sorry, it's just true. Also, let me say that my Granddaddy was part Cherokee and I don't mean a blued eyed "Hey, I have Indian Blood in me." I mean a high cheekboned, dark skinned person. Not, full blooded but you could see the influence. I say that so if anybody reads this they will understand that I am using the term Indian the way the author did and not out of disrespect.

 Custer: I knew very little of Custer outside of the pop culture and some mention in history books of my youth. He does appear breifly in the "Killing Lincoln" book but not as a main character. This book talks about his relationship with his wife which seemed to be strong and she was indeed a proctector of his legacy. It also shows his ambition and disrespect for some of his fellow officers. He rubbed some the wrong way because of his flamboyance. Some of them rubbed him the wrong way because of his ambition and apparent lack of concern for anything other than his "career." But, the main thing that I was taken with was his disrespect for the Indian tribes.

He (if the book is correct) had no problem at all in taking women and children hostage and using them as pawns to lure the warriors into his web. He also had no qualms about taking an Indian woman for himself. It was also evident that the government of that day with Grant as president had little reguard for the treaties and welfare of the Indian. They kept coming west and kept taking land and moving the Indian to the reservation especially if that land had minerals and water that would bring more booty into the coffers. Sorry, it's just true. Some of Custers fellow officers were ambitious and jealous but also felt he wasted lives with his wild and overreaching tactics. I was amazed to read accounts of officers drinking hard both before and during a battle.

There is an account of one of Custer's officers going to sleep in the midst of gunfire around him. Not, so much because of drink but because he was emotionally worn down. He did wake up and faught bravely once he rested up. Matter of fact it was kind of brave to be able to sleep in the midst of that. Having worked as a civillan for the army and had a spouse in the army. I was amazed at how "loose" the U.S. army of that day was. I was also amazed at how close to the 20th century the U.S. west remained a wilderness and unmapped uncharted territory. Now, this more than likely not the most accurate historical account. At least it's not a text book account. Too many accounts taken from years after the battle from people with their own agendas. But, it is a fascinating look into a time gone by.

Sitting Bull: There is a place in the book late in the book where the head of a government agency says to Sitting Bull "You scared us to death" According to the book the chief replied. "Had you not come onto our land you would have no reason to be afraid."

The Indian tribes in this book are not on the offensive (depending on your definition of offense) but mainly trying to hold on to a way of life that was being yanked out from under them. They were not a "united" people and not used to working together outside of their own tribe or people. So, the core was not going to hold long enough or strong enough to stop the inevitable. But, I got the feeling that if they had of been united the westward expansion of the U.S. would have taken much longer and been much harder. It was hard anyway.

 Sitting Bull also had a vision which seemed to show him what was about to happen before the battle. To the authors credit he doens't try to downplay or over play it. He just reccounts it. Sitting Bull seems to come off here as more of an older uncle or even father to the people.

 He does get them together one last time. He does indeed unite a large (largest camp the U.S. Army had ever witnessed up to that time.) But, reading between the lines the hold was tenacious at best and the center was holding mainly because of the young warriors agression and anger which would have eventually broken the "alliance" anyway. The Indian also had their inner drama and ambitions. It was also amazing to me to see how the Indian Scouts for the army had no qualms about killing their own "kind" off. It was also amazing at how the same indian warriors that were fighting at Little Bighorn would go back and forth from the reservation back to the camp. Sitting Bull was eventually killed by "Indian" police and not white men. This also touched on the Battle at Wounded Knee as a pay back for the Little Bighorn by the army. The accounts both from the indian and the soilder and even some of the wives of both sides read like a good novel.

I highly recomend this book to anybody who is interested in American History and in particular "Cowboys and Indians" I don't mean to be flippant because this isn't a flippant subject. But, many folks my age who grew up with accounts of the civil war and of the later cowboys and Indians and Roy Rogers and Jesse James and Wyatt Earp and of course General Amrstrong Custer will find this riviting and interesting.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Past lives?

Warning: This particular post will absolutely offend some of my oldest friends and family because of very real and intense religious convictions that they hold. It will also make some of my friends who are not into any kind of religious or spiritual talk uneasy. Of course they don't read it any way so I'm more than likely good there. :-) It is a very self serving and mainly venting post. Oh, and it will also make some folks think (if they think about it all) that I am full of uhhh, crap. :-) That said if anybody is still here then here we go.

 Why as a Christian born and raised in the south and in the church do I have such an affinity for the concept of reincarnation? I'm not sure. I still identify as a Christian. I heard the famous or infamous (depends on your point of view I guess) atheist Richard Dawkins say that if there is a God and he meets him in the afterlife that he will ask him "Sir, why did you hide yourself so well?) Now, I don't agree with Mr. Dawkins. Every breath I take, every scientific advance I read about, Every birth and every death says God to me. The very reason for living says God to me. Still, I thought about the way he said it and I have my own simple (and his reasoning for all his intelligence is simple in this regard) statement. When I die and if God comes to me and says "Ya know Jesus wasn't exclusively the savior and all religions are equal" I have a similar statement that I might say. I might say "Well, if they are all equal (and I did respect each one as far as I was able to understand them) But, if Jesus isn't who he said he was then why did you make me the way you did and birth me in the place and time that you did? I'm a Christian the same way I'm southern or American or a man. It's in my blood and my DNA spiritually to be Christian. My dogma got ran over a long time ago. I have real doubts about the theology of the "Church." I don't think the bible is a science book or a history book or a way to judge gay people and Muslims and Jews and atheist. I don't think it's a silly collection of fairy tales either. Ah, but I digress. My thoughts today are on a different "heretical" subject. The truth is that I am 75% convinced (well I had to use some number) that we reincarnate. I have felt this since I was a youth on some level. I wasn't raised to believe this. But, I had some memories that I would drive my mother nuts with. She was not and is not a believer in the concept of past lives. :-) I had really intense dreams about people that I had just "met" in grade school. I would lie in bed and faces would pass before my eyes of people I seemed to "know" but they were not part of this lifetime. Now, all this faded over the years and I can't say I am remembering everything the exact way that it happened. But, I'm older now and past the point of trying to be "accepted" by a church or a cute girl in church or making my adult relatives happy and be accepted. I don't spout this stuff at work or talk to my oldest friends about it much. I discuss it on internet message board and facebook pages that are devoted to it but never with most of my day to day relationships in the "real world." My wife doesn't share my interest and even my little boy (did I tell ya he's gifted and I'm awed by his intellect) :-) Anyway, even my 9 year old son rolls his eyes whenever he hears me mention it. So, why am I doing a blog about it? Purely for selfish reasons? Well, yes and no. I need an outlet and a blog is a great way to just put it out there. Nobody has to listen or read it or be bothered by it and I get a release. On the other hand I'm honored anytime someone does take the time to read it. But, the real reason I'm writing it is I had one of "those" dreams last night. It was filled with symbolism from my day yesterday so no big deal there. But, in the midst of it there was a thread and a "relationship" or experience from the days of my childhood running through it. I'm not gonna go into it but I just needed to write this blog today.

For anybody still reading I do want to say something about life after death and life before life and my way of looking at life. I have gone through many stages in my 50 plus years on the planet. I have been born again and baptised and I will never forget the sanctity and the feeling of my first baptism. I have a pretty good liberal arts education and have wondered how and what could possibly survive the death of the body. I'm meditated and have tremendous respect for Buddhism. But, I'm not Buddhist. I have looked into psychics and think most of em are full of crap and many are self deceived. Still, there are times when I know or have known something and I can't say there is absolutely nothing to it. I have thought of atheism and have to admit it has it's place in the pantheon of thought in my life. But, I remember writing a paper back when I was getting into the school of social work. I had to tell my instructor why I thought I should be a social worker and why I was drawn to this discipline. Well, I couldn't say "I suck in math and I'm not real good at the hard sciences so this is a good way to get a degree and go to work" :-) So, I had to think about things that I really feel are true. One of those things is that humans need hope. You can take a dog and feed him/her. Pat them on the head and let them run in the yard and give them water. That dog is really happy and will always be loyal to you. But, a human is unique in some ways. We are restless. We can get our dream job and have sex with beautiful people. We can build houses and kiss our child. Our team can win the National Championship (Roll Tide.) :-) But, there is always an empty space and boredom will nudge it's way in. Also, we are always aware of death both ours and the ones we love. The one thing that a human has to have is hope. I saw an old video on youtube with Carl Jung. Jung said when he talked to his elderly patients who were dying they still had hope. The still had something they were looking forward to. It was as if they were still getting ready to go somewhere. Hope. So, no I'm not an atheist. That is the ultimate absence of hope.

I also was never that moved by the fire and brimstone fear of my youth. I always (and it has been my experience in life) felt that as long as I have "being" that I have hope. Even though I rise to the heavens you are with me. If I descend to the lowest are there.

Oblivion however, now that was and is scary. In the teeth of that Jung's patients still had hope. So do I. To me reincarnation answers some questions.  (cue my wife here with this statement: "That's convenient.") She didn't say it nasty because she's not a nasty person. She just said it matter of factly and I agree. Still, down deep I honestly think it is a legitimate possibility If we are spiritual beings then we have to exist in some way outside of space and time. I don't think the brain produces consciousness or that the sperm and egg produces spirit or soul. So, that's kind of where I am right now and tomorrow I might be somewhere else.

As always, thank you if you have read this far. If I'm the only one who ever reads it then that's OK because that meant that God is aware of it.


Monday, February 4, 2013

To Infinity and Beyond.

Doing some reflection and talking to God this morning and just kind of opened up on my drive to work. I had my coffee cup and left the radio off and just started a conversation. I was a little self conscious since people driving up beside me might have thought I was talking to myself. In a way prayer and meditation can be like going into yourself but on the other hand I've done this for over 50 years now. I can honestly say that there are moments when the "personage" at the other end of the conversation lets me know that it really is a two way thing and not just my own ego. Anyway, I won't relate everything here. A wise woman once told me "Steve, there are some things you don't tell anybody but God." But, what I can relate are some thoughts I had. I once worked for Etowah County in Gadsden, Alabama as a tax appraiser. I traveled down every little road and major highway in the city/county of my birth. The thing about roads is they look infinite. I loved finding a shade dappled road in rural Etowah County, Alabama and heading down it and wondering where it would lead. After a while I found that all of em led somewhere and although the scenery could be wonderful it could also get kind of mundane after a little while. All roads here in this world have an end. I love to think that somewhere in the place where my spirit was born. Somehow that the roads here are just pale reflections of the eternal. I love to think there are roads to be walked that will lead on and on and never end and yet never get boring or mundane. I have often thought that this world is a reflection of the real world. I think that we will continue to discover and find God for eternity. That's the neat thing. Whoever God is he/she/it I hate to call God an it but sometime words fail. Anyway, I like to think that we will spend forever discovering aspects of God. I don't want to get into religion and I don't mean to offend anybody who has a strict biblical worldview. I'm just wondering and wandering here and that is what I was doing this morning. I was born in Gadsden, Alabama way back in 1957. I grew up in the best little community "Walnut Park" there was to be a kid. I had family in Attalla and Altoona and spent much of my childhood in Altoona. Matter of fact I moved to West End High School my sophomore year and graduated from there in the Altoona/Walnut Grove area. Anyway, once my senior class (I think we were seniors then) went to Gadsden State for some kind of field trip. That day a classmate was sitting in the sun on the grass. I didn't really know her since we often go to school with folks and don't really take the time or even get the opportunity to really know each other. We run in groups and might not be in the same groups and that's a shame. Anyway, for just that moment as the sun was shining through the tree's and hitting her hair and framing her I thought of eternity. I thought (even way back then) that this is a pale reflection of a greater reality and that we will one day be able to sit and enjoy a day that doesn't darken and a time that doesn't end.
 I love to go into my own thoughts at times. There is a difference in privacy and loneliness. I am comfortable with my own thoughts and often like to pull away to think. Still for much of my life I was lonely. I have been blessed with a wife and child and I'm not lonely these days. I don't want to go back to being lonely. But, I do crave and desire time to myself and conversation with my maker. Anyway, I started this blog to put down some thoughts and beliefs and see how they look when I objectively see them or even have others read them and say "wow, that's good." or "have you ever thought of seeing a mental health professional?" Either way it gives me something to think about. :-) I also love u.f.o's and ghost stories and I thought I might like to post something on that once in a while. I might even post on classic rock and Stephen King novels. I enjoy reading blogs and listening to podcast while I walk about ufo's and conspiracy theories. I am not a believer and not a hard headed debunker. I just have fun. :-) But, in line with the start of this blog I do get bored with the mundane. I don't think we are being visited from outer space. But, if we are I truly hope it's not a sterile Star Trek nuts and bolts bunch. I hope it's something exciting and even spiritually advanced beyond our Newtonian 18 century Physics. Anyway, I was thinking and thought I would put it down in a blog post. I think a lot about eternity these days. Being 50 plus will do that to you if you have any belief or thought at all beyond this world. I think of my friends that I fell out of touch with over the years. I think of my grandparents and other family who have gone before me. I had a nice dream about a friend right after she passed last year. She was young and even a little "sassy" for want of a better word. She seemed happy and it was great to see her that way. Only a dream? I don't know. Maybe this is the dream. Anyway, I thank you if you have stayed with this all the way through. I will leave with these words by Helen Keller that just seem to fit here.

Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I'll be able to see....Helen Keller.
To Grandmaw and Grandaddy. To Deborah, I'll see you and raise you a smile and to Melvin and the others that are in that other room.