History Tidbits

Community

My wife counsels me that people would rather read short, concise sound bites. I realize the truthfulness of her observation, yet there are some things I want to say that don’t lend themselves to the sound bite. I hope to induce my friends to read these longer posts.

All life demands struggle. Physical life demands struggle. The natural world we live in presents us with a constant array of obstacles to be encountered and overcome. Whether it be loss of access to food because of insects such as locusts, or from atmospheric events such as floods or droughts, or losses from disease, we humans live in a world where catastrophe is always potentially only a moment away.

One of the first lessons humanity learned is that we are better served when we work together in the face of threats to physical life. The impulse to collaborate seems to be designed right into our basic structure. It seems natural for us to share food. We resent the person who hoards food while others go without. And yet, for all of what seems to me to be the innate drive to collaborate in the face of trauma and tragedy, some of us seem inclined to reject the natural impulse to work together.

I think that such tendencies arise from deficiencies in the process of social learning. Show me a person who has been denied the care of others and I will show you a person who would prefer isolation to caring and sharing. Show me a person who has been denied food and I will show you a person who would hoard food while others go without. Show me a person who has been abused and I will show you a person with a propensity to abuse. In other words, we reap what we sow.

Social life, then, demands struggle. In order to collaborate in the struggle against the trials of physical life, we must struggle against the trials of social life. What then are the trials of social life and how may we overcome them. Let me list the ways that I think we can make “baby steps” toward a more satisfying social life.

We might first recreate the sense of community that humanity enjoyed for many centuries before it was replaced with mass society. It strikes me that a sense of community grounds individuals in the security collaboration affords.  Community holds individuals accountable to the maintenance of social life. Caring and sharing with and for each other is the major foundation on which life satisfaction is built.

I know, as a sociologist, that retreat into isolation is a warning sign of everything from child abuse within a family setting to suicide on an individual basis. There is no positive outcome of isolation.  In the years of my youth, I was always surrounded by family and by those members of my church who were close enough to me to be considered family. It was a great blessing to me. During my career in the Air Force, I was privileged to be a member of a small unique group who were much like family.

How can we renew the feeling of community when all of the pressures of modern society seem designed to separate and isolate us?  I believe that we can recreate a sense of community within the neighborhoods we live in. The impetus for a communal collaboration could begin with the opportunity to reason together in choosing representatives from among our neighbors to act as our emissaries to government.

Protests

When the people have to protest against their government, and the government arrests the protesters, it is not a government “Of the People, By the People, and For the People.”

Economic Balance

When it comes to being a conservative or a liberal, let’s talk about money. I think, whether we are talking about a family or the nation, or any level of social grouping in between, it is good to be liberal when spending for essentials (food, clothing, shelter, etc)and conservative when spending for non-essential (luxury) items. I would be willing to give examples if I get responses.

Progressive or Conservative

Some thought occurred to me today. I want to share them with my friends

.The 8th chapter of the Gospel according to John includes an interaction between Jesus and “those Jews which believed on him.” In the 32nd verse Jesus states, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The response from that group of followers who had gathered around him is found in the 33rd verse. “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus responds in the 34th verse “Jesus replied, very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

Every society, community or social grouping shares a culture. Culture can rest on principles or on tradition. In most (if not all) instances, tradition results from the metastasizing of principles from a previous time.

In my opinion, Jesus was saying that the “law” represented such a metastasizing of principles. The principles Jesus taught were the “new wine.” The law represented “old bottles.”

Principles turn our attention to current issues and give us a window into the future. Tradition focuses our attention on the past and the metastasized principles which may no longer be sufficient to guide a society, community or other social grouping.

In contemporary society, the progressive movement builds culture on a new understanding of time honored principles whereas the conservative movement holds tradition to be of prime importance.

Several questions come to my mind.

  • What were the principles included in the truth Jesus was referring to?
  • What principles from Jesus’ teaching apply to the issues we face today?
  • From the evidence contained in his teaching, was Jesus more of a progressive or a conservative?

Is tradition that is outdated and so blocks our adherence to time honored principles

Community

When I was young, I was a member of a church that believed that God had prepared a special place where only members of that church would be allowed. I must admit that the teaching of that church colored my thinking and that became part of my belief system.

While I am still a member of that same church, my perception of God, heaven, and the role of the church have all changed. I think the general beliefs of the church have evolved at the same time and in the same direction.

The church I claim membership in and commitment to from my youth is still precious to me. I love the text in my Bible whose teachings have been evolving as more research on ancient texts reveals more truth. The Book of Mormon is also precious to me for the insights it provides into my understanding of God’s nature, of the love of Jesus and of the potential for human understanding. I am deeply impressed by the notion that God speaks to the church through modern day revelation of eternal purpose and God’s will for us in the situations we encounter.

As much as I am committed to the scriptural, institutional and relational resources the church provides to me, I can also respect those same resources others rely on from their church, their synagogue, their mosque or wherever they turn to as a source of strength and comfort.

The prompting of God revealed in my life through the Holy Spirit is that my most meaningful response to God’s love for me is found in the Gospel message from Mark 12: 29-31

29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And from Matthew 25: 34-45.

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

My best response to the love of God is not in the form of theological debate. It is, instead, in being a resource for the wellbeing of those within my sphere of influence.

Those within my sphere of influence include members of the local congregation of my church, my facebook friends and the people living around me. These are the communities I am a part of. I have been involved in other communities in the past, most of which I have fond memories of, but I cannot have relationships with memories even though they do serve as a source of comfort to me at times.

I live in close proximity to the neighbors who occupy the houses on the block we share, both sides of the street. I know my neighbors, at least most of them. We look out for each other. When the ambulance or the police come into my neighborhood, I get as close as I can to the activity without interfering. I do that so I can be available to my neighbors for whatever assistance I can offer.

I hear often that we need to make changes in our society and I agree. The most important change we could make to our society would be to increase the degree of community (neighborhood) interaction. Even the simple change of forming “Constituent Assemblies” of 100 neighbors to choose representatives to our government would increase feelings of community cohesion.

Representation

I am wondering if you have had an opportunity to share your concerns with your representative (federal, state, county or city). Have any of them reached out to you for input? Did you vote for them? Do you know who they are. What if you lived, in a society where you could choose your representative from among 100 of your neighbors?

I last identified three issues residents of the thirteen colonies were concerned with while formulating the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.” Those issues were:

  • Citizens allegiance to an autonomous colony with a separate history and culture
  • The fear that representatives to a central government would be so far removed from their constituents that they would become part of a tyranny
  • The colonies without a border to “unsettled territory” would not be able to grow and expand westward and so would be of lesser importance than the colonies that could expand.

The issue of citizens’ allegiance to a colony (now state) was addressed obliquely by reserving states’ rights and limiting the authority of the national government to international relations, national defense and relations between the individual states. The national government could mint currency (along with the states) and had the right to establish the value of all currency both federal and state.

Legal tender (both paper and coinage) has an interesting history. Samuel Higley, half-brother to my 5th Great Grandfather Josiah Higley, minted the Higley Coppers between 1737 and 1739. The Higley Coppers were the best known of the colonial coins.

In researching my ancestry from another branch of my family tree, I found court records from the 1780s in which tort judgments and witness compensation was awarded in pounds. The national currency we take for granted took some time to establish.

Looking back, it seems obvious that the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Unity” were not sufficient to guide the nation.

The constitutions of some states provided for their expansion to the west and the south while the constitutions of other states did not. This caused consternation that some states would expand their territory thus dwarfing the other states.

Thomas Jefferson presented a solution. Any new territory admitted to the union would come in the form of a new state. Existing states boundaries would be fixed.

I can find no successful resolution of the issue of accountability of representatives. Bear in mind that representatives to the National Congress were not elected by the people, but were chosen by state legislatures.

Under the Articles, there were no executive or judicial branches at the national level. Those branches of government were established with the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. I intend to present my thought on that shift next.

Articles of Confederation (cont’d)

Too often we citizens of the United States of America are somewhat deluded into the assumption that our Constitution dropped fully formed from the heavens.

The beginning of constitutional government was formed in the upheaval of war. There had been no army of the nation. There was, in fact, no nation, just thirteen colonies with a common enemy. None of the colonies had a standing army. There was a tradition of county militias. One of my ancestors, John Higley, was described as the leader of a “trained band.” There was, at the same time, the need for a military force capable of fighting the army of the British Empire. There was no mechanism for recruiting or funding such an army.

The minutemen of Lexington and Concord were made up of these ragtag militiamen. I can’t imagine the charisma General Washington must have possessed to form an army under those conditions without an adequate source of funds. Not only was there an inadequate source of funds to raise and maintain an army, here was not sufficient funds to perform any other governmental functions. The individual colonies did have some accessibility to taxation. Additionally, the founders of the nation were wealthy men who were not averse to using some of their own wealth to support their individual activities.

When it came to formulating a written document that laid out the structure of the new nation, some problems arose. Three major sources of dissention were:

  • Citizens allegiance to an autonomous colony with a separate history and culture
  • The fear that representatives to a central government would be so far removed from their constituents that they would become part of a tyranny
  • The colonies without a border to “unsettled territory” would not be able to grow and expand westward and so would be of lesser importance than the colonies that could expand.

Coming next are the solutions to these problems which allowed for the passage of the adoption of the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Unity.”

Articles of Confederation

From the 1st Chapter of the book of Isaiah, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

The scripture cited above is one of my favorites. It reflects (for me) the basis for human unity; that is to say, reason rather than emotion. I think that the Lord I worship recognizes that emotion exacerbates the differences that divide us whereas reason allows us to focus on our commonalities.

That said, reason has its limits. First and foremost, reason may disappear in an instant where emotion arises to stoke the fires of fear and anger. Secondly, deeply entrenched beliefs about the “other” may disallow the use of reason.

When our nation’s founders set about to establish the first government of these United States, they were hampered by the deep divisions which existed between the thirteen former colonies. For a detailed examination of the issues that divided them, I refer you to https://www.history.com/topics/early-us/articles-of-confederation.

Although the document’s title referred to the “United States,” the body of the document indicated several evidences of division. I will leave it to the reader to ascertain what those divisions were. My next post will be to determine and present the differences between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States.

Purpose

One of my teachers (history, shop class and football coach) asked me one day “Walter, are you ever going to be baptized?” I was baptized Into the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) in 1951 at the age of fourteen.

My family had roots in the Latter Day Saints movement. My grandmother’s ancestors (mine too) joined the movement in New York the year it was founded (1830). My grandfather was baptized, ordained and elected to preside over the congregation all the same day in mid-July of 1906.

One might say that I was well immersed in the church. My response to my teacher, Elder Elvin Dennis, was “Nobody ever asked me.” I was baptized the following Sunday. I was subsequently ordained into the priesthood in 1953 and have served since that time.

The following year, I received a spiritual blessing from an Evangelist, William Patterson. I frequently refer back to my copy of that blessing even now for strength and encouragement.

One of the challenges that blessing contained was the admonition to “go on in your studies.” It has been a challenge that has guided my life. Most of my adult life has been dedicated to learning and teaching. For the most part, my focus has been on the two disciplines of psychology and sociology. My formal education ended when I was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy in sociology in 1992 at the age of 55.

My main interests (all of which I see as related) are community, family and childhood development. Most of the current problems within our society have their roots in the weaknesses of these three areas of social life.

I made community the major focus of my doctoral research and the subject of my dissertation. The question for me now is “Can we create community for our contemporary society?”