On a recent trip to Birmingham I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Across the street from the Institute on the side is the 16ths Street Baptist Church. Directly across the street on the front side is Kelly Ingram Park. This complex is steep in the history of Birmingham and the Civil Rights movement in this country.
The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed by white supremacist terrorists on September 15, 1963. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted 19 sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the steps on the east side of the church.
There were four girls were killed in the attack: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair, and between 14 and 22 other people were injured.
Martin Luther King Jr. described the bombing as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes perpetrated against humanity.”
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point in the United States during the civil rights movement and contributed to support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Congress.
In the years leading up to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, Birmingham had earned a national reputation as a tense, violent, and racially segregated city, in which racial integration was met with violent resistance. Martin Luther King Jr. described Birmingham as “probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.”
The Four Spirits sculpture was unveiled at Kelly Ingram Park on September 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Church bombing. The sculpture was crafted by Birmingham-born sculptor Elizabeth MacQueen and designed as a memorial to the four girls killed in the bombing. It depicts the four girls in preparation for the church sermon at the 16th Street Baptist Church in the moments immediately before the explosion. The youngest girl killed in the explosion (Carol Denise McNair) is depicted releasing six doves into the air as she stands tiptoed and barefooted upon a bench another barefooted girl (Addie Mae Collins) is depicted kneeling upon the bench, affixing a dress sash to McNair; a third girl (Cynthia Wesley) is depicted sitting upon the bench alongside McNair and Collins with a book in her lap. The book depicts a refrain from William Butler Yeats’ poem, The Stolen Child. The fourth girl (Carole Robertson) is depicted standing and smiling as she motions the other three girls to attend their church sermon. At the base of the sculpture is an inscription of the name of the sermon the four girls were to attend prior to the bombing—”A Love that Forgives.”
My visit was quite a history lesson. It is one I believe everyone should be aware of and, in my opinion should be taught in schools all across America and not covered up. Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.
ANNOUNCER: Good evening, ladies, and gentlemen, and welcome to MEET THE REVEREND! A thirty-minute question and answer show where issues of national importance are discussed with prominent individuals from our society and the world at large.
Our guest this evening will be former president, Jimmy Joe Starter from Monkey’s Eyebrows, Kentucky…and to start the questioning will be the host of our show- Reverend Billy Bob Weatherspoon of the Space Chapel of Life.
REV. BILLY: Thank you, Fred. Friends, I want to welcome y’all here to my new weekly show, MEET THE REVEREND! I’m sure y’all are going to enjoy it. I know I am. And be sure to tell all your friends and relatives to tune in too and just keep those contributions rolling in…cause ya know, it cost so much money to appear on TV and it cost so much money to spread the word…and friends you all know how much I like to spread the word.
And now…I’d like to welcome our guest, President Jimmy Joe Starter!
JIMMY JOE: Please…call me Jimmy Joe.
REV. BILLY: Why I’d be happy to Jimmy Joe…and you can call me Rev. Billy.
JIMMY JOE: Okay Reverend Billy. Ya know, I’ve got a brother named Billy. He’s kind of the black sheep of the family. Of course, when we were growing up back in Monkey’s Eyebrows, we always used to call him the goat. You know Billy Goat…that’s because he’d eat anything he’d put his hands on. I’d be going, “Now Billy, don’t be going putting your hand on that. Well, as you can imagine it got pretty embarrassing sometimes. (Big smile)
REV. BILLY: Monkey’s Eyebrows…Now that’s a strange name for a town. I wonder…I wonder if you could shed some light on that for us, Jimy Joe. Just why do they call your town Monkey’s Eyebrows?
JIMMY JOE: (Blank stare) Ya know…I don’t rightly know…but I’ll be glad to look that up for you and get back to you sometime next week.
REV. BILLY: No, that won’t be necessary Jimmy Joe. Now, Jimmy Joe, what would you say was the biggest surprise of your administration? Was it anything as surprising as the Iran/Contra affair or Ollie North and Fawn Hill? Or what about the current fiasco with Donald Trump and the Big Lie? Not to Mention January 6th?
JIMMY JOE: Well, Billy, I’d say the biggest surprise was that the job was going to be as hard as it turned out to be. Ya know, when I first took office back in ’76, 1976, not 1776, (Big Smile) I thought the presidency was going to be a snap, but I soon learned that it was going to be more of a Zbigniew Brezenski. Then things sort of went on the Fritz after I gave America the Lance-thank God for Vance- he was a real credit to the arms race. So, I’d have to say that my biggest surprise was that it was going to be so hard.
REV. BILLY: Have there been any other surprises?
JIMMY JOE: Well, yes. Another surprise was that there were so many bathrooms in the Whitehouse.
REV. BILLY: Bathrooms?
JIMMY JOE: Yes, Billy. There are some 46 of them, and all of them are inside too! I never did get around to using all of them, but I did commission a white paper…or was that toilet paper… No, it was a white paper, on how one could accomplish this task during one administration. I’ll be glad to get back to you later with the results of that study if you like.
REV. BILLY: No, that won’t be necessary. Tell me, Jimmy Joe, what do you think of the current situation in Ukraine with the Russian invasion and all in light of your own SALT II Treaty which you negotiated with the Ruskies?
JIMMY JOE: Yes…I’m proud of my record on SALT. The most significant part of that agreement was to trade Amarillo, Texas for Leningrad in the event of a first strike situation involving nuclear weapons.
REV BILLY: Would you gentlemen have seriously considered offering a Russian an Amarillo?
JIMMY JOE: Yes…We believed that using this small Texas town as a bargaining chip would be in the best interest of the country.
REV. BILLY: Do you hold out any hopes of stopping or at least curbing nuclear proliferation?
JIMMY JOE: Yes…What I plan to do is…
REV. BILLY (interrupting) Before you answer that question, let me break way for a message of vital importance…
(WINGES SERAPHS COMMERCIAL)
REV: BILLY: Hello friends. Rev. Billy Bob Weatherspoon here for the Space Chapel of Life…
Ya know…just how many times have ya wondered how many angels could dance on the top of a Bic Butane Lighter?
Have ya ever wondered where ya could find a Guardian Angel when ya really needed one?
And what about Charlies Angels?
…The answers to these and many more important questions may be found in my latest book—
WINGED SERAPHS I HAVE KNOWN
This book is available in both the hard and soft editions. Also, available is the leather-bound edition which comes suspended from a chain.
So ya don’t forget, send now to
SPACE CHAPEL OF LIFE
And now, back to the show…
Okay, Jimmy Joe, now we can continue the fascinating conversation about the wonderful world of weapons.
JIMMY JOE: Yes, as I was saying, I support the introduction of legislation by congress that would make it a federal crime to own a nuclear weapon if you are a convicted felon, drug addict, or legally insane. Also, we hope to register all nuclear weapons. In this way, we will know who has them and we will have additional control over who gets them.
In addition, I am proposing an outright ban on the most insidious nuclear device of them all, the Saturday Night Special. These small, concealable radiation-enhanced devices are capable of taking out small targets such as single-family dwellings with little or no blast damage to the surrounding area. These weapons are, however, a very “dirty weapon,” spreading deadly radiation for many square blocks killing all life forms within the size of oh, say, Fort Knox. These devices would make the riots of the 60s look like pep rallies. (Big smile.)
REV. BILLY: Well, Jimmy Joe, you certainly paint a grim picture. What are your feelings about the peaceful use of nuclear energy, say as an alternative energy source?
JIMMY JOE: Well, Billy…I feel that nuclear power will most likely be the energy source of the future, along with solar power and wind. Eventually, we will run out of coal. We are going to run out of oil, but according to leading experts, we won’t run out of matter for several thousand years…and being a nuclear physicist myself, I ain’t just whistling Dixie (Big Smile).
REV. BILLY: As a scientist, I wonder if you could comment on the recent UFO controversy.
Jimmy Joe: Yes, Billy, I have myself, seen a UFO…it was a close encounter of the weird kind.
Rev. Billy: You have??!! Well, Jimmy Joe…that’s truly an amazing statement. Would you care to elaborate?
JIMMY JOE: Sure. You see, I was on my farm back in Kentucky, plowing a field on a tractor when all of a sudden, a shadow fell over me and I looked up and there was this strange craft hovering overhead.
REV. BILLY: Wow! Was it big?
JIMMY JOE? Big? I’ll say!
REV. BILLY: Well, how big was it?
Jimmy Joe: It was big I tell ya! (Starts gesturing with his hands and arms) It was a hunnert foot, by a hunnert foot, by a hunnert foot, you know BIG!
REV. BILLY: (Interrupts for a commercial): Excuse me Jimmy Joe, but we need to fit in a break.
(YOU TOO CAN BECOME AN ORDAINED MINISTER COMMERCIAL)
Friends! You too can become an ordained minister! Through the special powers invested in me…you can become an ordained minister in the Space Chapel of Life – think of it friends – for only $6.95 you can save souls – perform miracles – perform marriages – perform funeral services – and perhaps the best advantage of all – tax-exempt status – That’s right folks, you heard it here tax-exempt status! – so ya don’t forget, send $6.95 today for your credentials to: Space Chapel of Life, Box 666, in care of this Television station – Thank you so much!
…and now, please continue on with this alleged story about beings from outer space.
JIMMY JOE: Well like I was saying, there I was out there on God’s little acre, plowing my fields and minding my own business when there appeared up in the sky a giant alien spacecraft. It was just hovering overhead, and it let out a slight humming noise, and all of a sudden it emitted a beam of light and the light fell over me and bathed my entire body and the next thing I knew I was being pulled off my tractor up into that beam of light and heading towards the spacecraft… that’s the last thing I remember until the next day when I was returned to earth and there I was, as naked a Jaybird in my ‘backer field, singin’ my fool head off!
REV. BILLY: Yes, well isn’t that special. Well, Jimmy Joe, we are just about out of time, here, and as you know, time is money. I would however like to ask you just one more two-part question. Number one, are you really a born-again Christian? And part two, have you ever really had lust in your heart?
JIMMY JOE: Well Billy, I don’t really feel that these two are mutually exclusive – In answer to your first question. Yes, I am a Born-again Christian; and in answer to your second question, yes, I have had lust in my heart…but it was lust for another Christian.
REV. BILLY: Well, there you have it, friends! Right from the former president’s own mouth. I’d like to thank President Starter for taking time out of his busy schedule to be with us tonight, and I’d like to invite all of you to tune in next week to another exciting episode of, MEET THE REVEREND! My next week’s guest will be that silly old buffoon and darling of the media, Attorney Michael Cohen! Watch him drop a dime on his former boss, Donald J. Trump! Until then, I wish all of you a pleasant good night, and may Glod bless.
There is so much going on these days that one feels whipsawed by the turn of events. While I don’t comment on everything, even though it is tempting, I feel that I would be remiss not to comment on the recent savage stabbing of author Salman Rushdie. In 1989 Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the famed author for alleged apostasy in his newly released book, “The Satanic Verses.” A fatwa is a sentence of death and a bounty of several million dollars was placed on Rushdie’s head. I protested then and I protest now, 33 years later. Also involved in the fatwa was anyone associated with the book including editors and publishers. At the time bookstores were afraid to display Rushdie’s books in their store windows. I called them out on their cowardice. I have my copy proudly displayed on my main bookcase in the living room of my home alongside my other “good” books.
To say this was a barbarous act of cowardice on the part of the would-be assassin would be an understatement. It deals a powerful blow to the right of free expression and free speech. It is anathema to our way of life in the free world and puts a chill in the air of artistic freedom. It demonstrates the complete absurdity and insanity of religious fanaticism. I hasten to add that it is a perversion of Islam and does not represent the mainstream which is by far more tolerant.
I believe in freedom of religion, and I respect everyone’s right to believe what they choose. But you don’t have the right to impose your belief on me or anyone else. You certainly don’t have the right to kill me if I don’t agree with you.
It looks like Mr. Rushie is going to pull through despite his many injuries. For that, I am very grateful and wish him the best and a speedy recovery, although there will be lasting effects from his injuries including the probable loss of an eye.
I condemn this senseless act of violence in the strongest possible way, and I trust his assailant will be held fully accountable. Meanwhile, “The Satanic Verses” is soaring on the charts.
I am doing a deep dive into Samuel Beckett, and I feel that I must come up for air. I can’t go on, but I must go on.
I just finished reading The Unnamable, the third novel in the trilogy after Molloy, and Malone Dies. There have been about 20 years intervening between each reading and I have read a lot of other books since including other works by Beckett.
The Unnamable is the story of the self that strives for silence but is obliged to go on. It is about three things: The inability to speak, the inability to be silent, and solitude. It is full of internal contradictions, doubt, and paradoxes.
I keep coming back to Beckett because something about his work resonates. Not only that but I came across an interesting tome by Paul Foster that analyzes Beckett’s work in terms of the “dilemma” presented in his work through the lens of Zen Buddhism. Wow! That is what I said. So, I read The Unnamable in preparation for Beckett and Zen, by Paul Foster.
One of the dilemmas alluded to in Beckett and Zen is the doctrine of grace: grace given, and grace withheld. St. Augustine tells the story of the two thieves that are crucified with Christ, one is saved, and the other is damned. How can we make sense of this division Beckett wants to know? There is a scene in Waiting for Godot where this theme is played out by the characters Vladimir and Estragon.
Then there is the dilemma of human reason confronted by an outrageous relentless irrationality, a universe giving birth to the spectacle of life, of which the main feature is suffering and death.
There is the problem of time which leads to decay and into the abyss. Personal identity and isolation and need I say, alienation?
Distress is at the heart of Beckett’s work which arises from a mental and spiritual confusion resulting from the recognition of the dilemma of existence.
The problem of God. Does God exist? If He does is He an all-loving God or a monster? And what about the Silence of God? Why don’t we hear from Him?
Beckett refers to a fundamental sound resounding in the universe that can only be described as a howl of pain.
That is enough for now. I think I have caught my breath and can now emerge from this rabbit hole that I seem to have fallen into and get about my day.
Spoiler alert! Plot point giveaways straight ahead!
She was discontent. She was married to a country doctor and lived in a small town in France not far from Rouen. Her husband would do anything for her and loved her dearly but he was just a country bumpkin and he bored her. Emma Bovary had two love affairs that did not end well and she ran her household into debt trying to buy gifts for her lovers and trying to keep up appearances. Then, when everything was about to come crashing down on her head and the creditors were at the door ready to repossess all her belongings, she ate a handful of poison and died a painful death. Her heartbroken husband followed soon thereafter and her little daughter wound up working in a cotton factory. A story that one might say had tragic dimensions.
Now, this all might seem rather straightforward, hackneyed, and mundane, but it is not so. One, it is a prototype for many stories just like it that were to be repeated again and again into the future. But, two, it is the writing style Flaubert engages in that holds our attention and keeps us turning the pages. The book has been called a masterpiece and for good reason.
I came upon this novel the same way I come upon so many things in life, by way of another novel: MyLife as a Man, by Philip Roth. In it, Roth refers to Flaubert again and again, quoting him liberally. For example, in a letter to his mistress, Colet, in 1853, which Roth cites as an example to his writing students, Flaubert writes the following: “What seemed to me to be the highest and most difficult achievement of art is not to make us laugh or cry, but to do as nature does – that is, fill us with wonder.” And that is exactly what Flaubert has achieved in this magnificent work, he has filled us with wonder. I was hooked and vowed to read Madame Bovary as my very next novel.
In his description of country life in the small town of Yonville, Flaubert has created some unforgettable characters and has given us a taste of what it must have been like to live among them at that time and place. We have presented to us two funerals and a wedding, and a country fair. They spring to life for us before our very eyes.
We meet such characters as, Homais, the town pharmacist who was a know-it-all and loved to hear himself talk. Leon, a young law clerk who falls in love with Emma. Rodolphe, is a wealthy landowner, and a ladies’ man. Lheureux, is a local merchant, and a moneylender. Binet, the tax collector who retreats to his attic and spins out countless wooden napkin holders on his wood lathe. Abbe Bournisien, the town priest. And an assorted number of other colorful characters.
It is alleged that Flaubert once said, “I am Emma Bovary.” I haven’t been able to substantiate that claim anywhere, but I wouldn’t doubt that he identified with his heroine. Quite frankly, I identified with her as well. She must appeal to the anima that resides in my soul. But more than that she is a romantic figure much influenced by her reading of romantic novels and being in love with love. At one point she muses, “Love, she believed, must come suddenly, with great thunderclaps and bolts of lightning, – a hurricane from heaven that drops down on your life, overturns it tears away your will like a leaf, and carries your whole heart off with it into the abyss.”
Emma also rails against the French Bourgeois society of 19 th century France, which Flaubert also hated. She is trapped in a society where women have no agency and only a limited amount of freedom. Her only power comes from her sexuality.
Flaubert also explores the theme of fate (chance) vs free will illustrated by the following passages:
“You and I, for instance, why did we meet? What chance decreed it? It must be that, like two rivers flowing across the intervening distance and converging, our own particular inclinations impelled us toward one another.” Rodolphe to Emma
“One can’t fight against providence; one can’t resist the smiles of an angel!”
“Our destinies are bound together now, aren’t they?”
“Fate is to blame, only fate!”
And boredom. Anna was bored: “…boredom, that silent spider, was spinning its web in the darkness in every corner of her heart.”
A note about the translation. There is nothing more important to me in the enjoyment of a book written in a language other than my own than a good translation. The version I read was translated by Lydia Davis and it is excellent.
This is what Flaubert had to say about the importance of a good translation: “A good sentence should be like a good line in poetry, unchangeable, as rhythmic, as sonorous.” And Davis has achieved this as the novel reads like poetry and it goes down like drinking a glass of cool refreshing water.