Into the dusk of the East,
Gray with the coming of night,
This may we know at least–
After the night comes light!
Over the mariners’ graves,
Grim in the depths below,
Buoyantly breasting the waves,
Into the East we go.
On to a distant strand,
Wonderful, far, unseen,
On to a stranger land,
Skimming the seas between;
On through the days and nights,
Hope in each sailor’s breast,
On till the harbor lights
Flash on the shores of rest!
Not every tenement dweller can become the David Livingstone of his generation, but what if that was put forth as the goal?
In terms of disease, sanitation and real poverty 19th century tenements were far worse than the modern versions in most western nations today. I wonder if the attitude was better then or was David Livingstone just a fluke. Why is it that so many great men of the 19th century rose up from poverty to do great things and to become great men?
A staunch abolitionist, fearless explorer and medical missionary Livingstone spent his childhood in a single room tenement and worked long hours at the mills in Scotland. At the end of the day he hit the books. The other day a teacher told me she didn’t have the heart to give students homework–school was too hard on the little flowers of today. One wonders if Livingstone complained to his parents about hard work.
Here’s where the victim mentality wreaks havoc on children. If a child has the right to be angry forever about the state of his life then when will he ever see that hitting the books in the evening could quite possibly lead him on a life of useful and exciting endeavors? Victimhood nurses cowardice and bitterness–two things David Livingstone seems never to have accepted into his young life of poverty. Somehow he knew that poverty of the mind (and heart) was far worse than living in a tenement for one’s soul. We know that as a missionary he must have believed in callings and God.
Sometimes it’s easy to be quite blase about explorers.
In an age when tourists like to pretend to experience past adventures but are seconds away from medical assistance and police, real explorers almost seem boring–though they shouldn’t. Livingstone on one of his many trips to Africa witnessed a brutal massacre of an entire town by Arabic slave traders and vowed to speak out against slavery. One must always remember that white, Christian men were the only abolitionists in the worldwide slave trade and were the only ones who ended slavery. We must remember this especially now when victimhood is the fashion and searching for someone to take revenge on is the rage.
In the West we die of heart disease, cancer and depression nowadays–victims of bad food, lackluster educations and endless hours watching other people do bad things on TV–yet we live in a “free” society.
We demand our right to complain. We isolate ourselves and wonder why people are so awful (the ones we meet in our office or the ones we see on TV). Totalitarian governments love dependent children. It’s so much easier to lead them by the nose.
Dear David Livingstone,
Thank you for stepping out in faith each day. Thank you for not only witnessing the evils of the slave trade but for doing something about it in your lifetime. You lost your wife to fever in Africa but never stopped exploring. You made the connection between malaria and mosquitoes and malaria and quinine. Good for you! I’m sorry I never knew more about you than the cartoon version of you.
You didn’t see your life as one to be lived demanding your personal rights but worked for the kind treatment of others–in short you gave up your life and in the end received a bigger life than most people ever dare to imagine. I wonder what drove you. I suspect it was your faith in old dead heroes and the one dead hero who rose again on the third day. It’s too bad that most heroes are banned in schools today. We need a a journalist like Henry Stanley to come looking for the likes of you even now!
“Henry Stanley was a remarkable man. Orphaned at an early age he spent his formative years in a workhouse in Wales, crossed the Atlantic at age 15 as a crewman of a merchant ship and jumped ship in New Orleans. Befriended by a local merchant, he took the man’s name – Henry Stanley – as his own and went on to fight in the Civil War before working his way into a career in journalism.”** Eyewitness to History
Stanley was sent to find Livingstone in Africa after he was presumed dead. He uttered the famous, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” and came away from their meeting with this to say: For four months and four days I lived with David Livingstone in the same house, or in the same boat, or in the same tent, and I never found a fault in him. I am a man of quick temper, and often without sufficient cause, I dare say, have broken the ties of friendship; but with Livingstone I never had cause for resentment, but each day’s life with him added to my admiration for him.
David Livingstone in his own words sums up life like this:
“For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”
I’m not God, but I play one in my novels. It’s no secret that my books are about flawed people who eventually get their acts together (as I’m an optimist). I think about Calvin’s idea of God choosing who to save. I’ve always hated this idea, but as a writer I find a weird parallel. Almost as soon as I think up a character I know if I’m going to save him or not. I’m not sure if it’s a decision on my part or just a sense, a knowing, that this character will move in the direction of redemption or in the opposite direction. All of my characters are jerks, wimps and selfish asses–so basically human. I love them. I create them. I fret over how they will get to where they need to go to be redeemed (I never know until I join them on the journey).
I fret over the other guys, too. The characters who seem bent on spiritual blindness, who do good things sometimes but for terrible reasons, who suffer abuse and have great excuses for being bad–but choose to stay bad. I root for these people, I do mental gymnastics to turn them around. I want them to change direction, but I’ve never been able to convince them of anything. Never once have I been surprised. I know from the beginning and it’s a sad thing.
I wonder if God is all powerful then why can’t he just change people. On a tiny scale I experiment with the same notion, but the resistance from the character is so strong and my coddling and begging make for a stilted story, an unreal outcome.
My untrained and insignificant brain knows more intelligent thinkers have better answers and impressive theories.
The past is my playground because fate and freewill matter little when looking back. Novel writing forces one to live in the present with predestination standing there at the finish line.
Of two minds. It’s how we live without crumbling into tears of frustration, terror and despair. We play mental games, don’t we?When I say “we” I mean slave owners and slave traders (past and present), black and white, vegetarians and trophy hunters.
Abraham Lincoln was just like the rest of us until he was sainted by assassination. Of two minds, he wrestled with slavery. Ambition isn’t always a bad thing for it gets a person out of their easy chair. It forces a person to declare something, to speak up–maybe the words and the ideas aren’t perfectly crystallized yet. Maybe a consensus hasn’t formed in the popular mind, but an ambitious person with moral qualms takes up the challenge knowing that even if he stumbles it’s better than sitting on the couch eating popcorn.
Better. Now there’s a word. It hardly means anything anymore. I’m surprised it’s not a banned word in public schools for it hints at meritocracy and superiority. And here is the mental game again: let’s pretend somethings aren’t painful. Let’s pretend that if we don’t like something it doesn’t exist.
Except for some outspoken and at times incredibly naive and hypocritical abolitionists most people in the North just preferred not knowing too much about the ins and outs of slavery. While most opposed it, it wasn’t their problem. Some may have read a few horror stories and congratulated themselves for being open enough and courageous enough to read the stories in their entirety.
I imagine if there was Facebook back in the day animal stories would go viral, celebrities would organize campaigns to save the Cecils in faraway lands. But would they allow themselves to watch an entire Planned Parenthood video?Would they watch a slave being whipped or beaten or raped? Would they pretend that slavery was like a clinical doctor’s office–clean and pain-free?
Or would they wrestle as Lincoln did with their own prejudices, fears and ignorance? Today in our tolerant and polite society how many of us are willing to be called vicious and mocking names for our beliefs? Let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us would be willing to die for our beliefs or even be shunned for our beliefs? How many of us take the time to study what we think we already know because a talking head on TV or a blog told us it was so?
When I felt the child I was told I had to abort or I’d die move inside me and when I saw the ultrasound they had to take before the operation I was of one mind: SAVE ME. I understand the fear, despair and embarrassment of believing the lie of exploding populations and a life made easier without another baby to feed. I was poor and of an environmental mindset.
That baby haunts me still because I didn’t want her even before the health crisis. I want her now. (And yes it was most definitely a baby. I saw it and felt it).
I may lose my limited readership taking a stand here, but It’s impossible after watching bureaucrats chowing down lunch while callously discussing harvesting baby organs for thoughts not to crystallize.My heart had been wavering this summer about the foster care/adoption classes I took this spring. My life is peaceful and good here on the farm, but how can I not open my life up to the many families in crisis? How can I stay of two minds?
Some of you may wonder what this has to do with one of the best books ever written about antebellum America. This book requires an expansion of the mind. This book is an exercise. Yes, it’s thoroughly readable and full of anecdotes, but it’s more. It’s a study of the American mind and soul in all its wonderful and horrible complexity. David M. Potter spares no one, but he’s the rare soul who captures the difficulty of coming to one mind about things. He understands (and loves?) people.
Lincoln was an American man. Not a perfect man, but he took a stand and a chance. Here’s what Potter says about him:
My father once ran out of a restaurant because people at his table talked religion. He hated offending people and nursed a strong distaste for “holy rollers.” I like talking religion. I’m curious about the meaning of life. If you study American history you can’t help but bump up against Christianity.
Christ has always been controversial and in the 19th century it was no different. Don’t be scared of Ellen White. Yes, her nose is disfigured. A mean boy threw a rock in her face as a child landing her in a coma. When she awoke with a screwed up nose she was devastated.
A few years later she had a conversion experience. Eventually she had controversial visions of the great spiritual war going on behind the veil of what we call normal life. Fallen angels and followers of God fought for the souls of mere mortals.
The school was open to all races, but quickly attracted ex-slaves only a few years after emancipation. Always teetering on bankruptcy the school decided to let the spiritual songs of God determine its fate.
After a rough start the singers rose to stardom bringing US Grant, Mark Twain and Queen Victoria to tears. The school survived, but more importantly their faith and music remains a testament to the power of music to win hearts and minds and to the selfless generosity of the founders of Fisk University.
Ota Benga lived in a cage at the Bronx Zoo with the monkeys in 1906 and became a hugely popular exhibit as proof of evolution. Ota was a Pygmy from the Congo when the Congo was the playground and money making property of King Leopold of Belgium.
The pygmies were competitors in the ivory trade and were systematically killed off; the rationale being that the pygmies, so small and stupid, were obviously just one evolutionary tick away from the little monkeys. Darwin once wrote: “The civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace, the savage races throughout the world.” No biggie. Science was the new religion–minus the love and compassion.
Ota came to America after he was purchased by a noted American explorer from South Carolina, Phillips Verner, who planned to exhibit him at the 1904 World’s Fair. Falling on hard times, Verner searched for someone to take Ota off his hands. In New York Herman Bumpus the director of the Natural History Museum gave him a home with the stipulation that he’d have to entertain the richie riches when they came for lunch. When Ota threw a chair at Florence Guggenheim Bumpus was like, ” I’m so done with you.”
Off Ota was sent to the Bronx Zoo. When Christians (especially southern black ones) protested that evolution was at best an unproven theory and at worst an invitation for race extermination The New York Times retorted: “It is most amusing to note that one colored brother objects to the curious exhibition on the grounds that it is an impious effort to lend credibility to Darwin’s dreadful theories . . . The reverend colored brother should be told that evolution, in one form or another, is now taught in the textbooks of all the schools, and that it is no more debatable than the multiplication table.” And: “As for Benga himself, he is probably enjoying himself as well as he could anywhere in his country, and it is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation he is suffering.”
Eventually Ota was freed. He went to see how much it would cost him to sail back home and shot himself in the chest.