Complementary Principles

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With an upcoming presidential election there will be much rancor and little agreement. During the process, I declare my unwillingness to sacrifice a single guiding principle in order to achieve absolute simplicity or popularity. I will not wallow in self-righteous indignation, though dismay fuels my mind. I have been much alarmed by the disrespect afforded our current president. Disrespect is a prelude to wanton waste and self-destructive division – and a sign of weakness. It is also wrong – not just morally, ethically, and politically – but the wrong way to achieve practical self-interests.

In October 2015 I revisited the miniseries John Adams. [1] It reminded me of why citing the Founding Fathers as if they spoke with one voice, which was meant to stand supreme against all comers, is ridiculous and untrue. The Founding Fathers gave us independence from Britain and an outline of a process for self-governing in the face of constant disagreement and existential challenges. That is enough. As for their principles, they were and are at war, but always seeking accommodation and concrete results that are workable, if not satisfactory, for the majority, including, and especially, measures to protect the civil rights of minorities.

In the HBO production, Thomas Jefferson is a playful, theatrical provocateur. He certainly does not believe in revolution every 20 years in the sense that his affection for the French suggests. Hamilton is the real revolutionary of his time. We needed all the elements of the periodic table at the formation of our nation – all the principles and psychological types to build a new kind of body politic.

Today a common refrain from the extreme right and left wings of the political spectrum is, “I will not compromise my principles!” The problem is that every thinking and feeling man, woman, and child should embody a wide range of principles that constantly compete internally for a practical balance. Then no one compromises their principles: they compromise their solutions based on a common pool of viable values and shared information.

As the Steve Jobs character in the movie Steve Jobs reportedly says of his role at Apple, as a breathing, adapting nation, we “play the orchestra.” For maximum enjoyment, understanding, and forward-moving results, we play the full breadth of instruments and styles – principles – for maximum effectiveness in the real world.

To combat the movement toward more guns and more violence, toward more political inaction, I propose a stun device – let’s call it “respectful reason” – that will temporarily stop an attacking principle, seeking supremacy, long enough for the civil society of men and women to steady the attacker and return him toward our shared principles and shared problems – all of them – the whole enchilada. The trouble with big-mouth politicians and terrorists is their single-mindedness. The delicate art in liberal society is our tolerance of dimwitted, even dangerous, talk. The media is not guiltless in this obsession with the phantasmagoric squalor of political operators willing to seek the limelight at any price. OFF is a powerful feature of modern electronics; it is much easier to execute and is just as effective at separating lunatic heads from extended necks before a one-note mob arises.


1. John Adams aired on HBO in 2008.

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He So Loves the World

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Concepts describe and augment reality. They become part of reality.

Thinking so, I come to a key proposition: Believing makes it so. This proposition is the vague plasma that connects loose components of a life, a culture, a civilization.

One of the best passages in Catch 22, a dialogue that takes the concept of the Catch-22 to its next level, has Yossarian discussing the God not believed in. In the conversation, it is clear that not believing requires a concept, too. When not believing becomes a integral part of a personal system, it becomes a belief.

Belief (and theories more meticulously built on empirical evidence and rational proof) guides perceptions and behavior. In a constant and consistent expression, they feed virtuous or vicious cycles.

I believe in trust. I believe that trust creates trust, that low trust generates inefficient interactions that impede productivity and growth. But on the other hand, I believe in questioning: trusting relationships concede the requirement to clarify and reconcile ends and means among members.

Recently I heard on NPR (what could be named Radio Trust) that the Huggington Post – formerly and officially called The Huffington Post – plans to focus only on stories about things that work. (There may be many fewer stories about Congress and radical political parties and their partisans.) The theory here is that less news about evil and failure, and more about cooperation, construction and success, will breed more success and diminish evil action and failure.

We can belabor this argument with A is B and B is C and so on to Z. We know that lengthy and time-consuming contests such as that, repeated over and over again, don’t convince or change radical views. With trust, we are able to jump straight from A to Z more efficiently.

Jumping from A to Z, we venture to the story of which this rumination is a prologue – a prologue of which the attached story is a proof. Thus we tie together these fragments of thought in an actual life, a life tied to many lives, a life of cooperation, construction, and delight. This is the small beginning of a story about the contagion of love.

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Born Again

With some frequency, I have mentioned that I once returned to college many years after leaving it. I never deliberately dropped out: eventually, after more than four years of hard study there, I was excreted.

The first time I left, though, I was propelled from college. Something was happening to me which I did not understand. Friendships were dissolving, personalities were shape-shifting, my body was bloating, the world was gnawing. And it was spring. But more significantly, I had hit a wall. I enrolled in a course on Renaissance Europe at Memphis State University. I had taken four very good required survey history courses prior to this particular course but had mainly taken courses in business and psychology. More inclined toward the latter – and seeing the former, based in no small part on the other people pursuing it, as a misfit for my temperament, principles, and evolving interests – I sought out new study paths late in my junior year.

The readings for the Renaissance course were complex and overwhelming on many levels. Though my professor was a spellbinding storyteller, I felt lost in material that I could neither digest nor piece together. I was captivated by images and tales of men and women who made my own life seem under-lived and completely uninteresting; I encountered ideas that made those surrounding me and my time appear clearly insufficient. Yet, I felt the time speak to me – call to me. Having read and attended with all my ability, I went to my professor and told him of my decision to withdraw from school. I told him that I would risk all, even risk being drafted for duty in Vietnam, to see the world and find my place in it. This man, who seemed to hold the world in his large hands, his imposing stature, and his deep, authoritative voice – a true believer in the power and fundamental necessity of education – did not attempt to dissuade me. He was genuinely supportive of the reasoning upon which I based my move outward.

I will be honest. I left school in pursuit of craft. The very word loomed noble and superior to bland consumption. Emphatically, I did not leave for humanism. I never would have dreamed that humanism could, through the twisted witchcraft of modern-day religion, be cast in popular American culture as the most wicked scourge ever to plague mankind. I was humanism through and through. I did not need to pursue it. And there was nothing that could drive it from me. It was the grand gift that had seeped into my pores from the moment that I was born. It was the alpha and omega of my education. It was the beginning and sustenance of my values. And nothing solidified humanism’s hold on me like the benevolent Protestant upbringing in my household that surrounded me since birth. To me, Jesus was humanism writ large. He would not stand so pervasively and personally approachable without the ideals, contributions, and sacrifices of humanism, and humanism would not thrive without the model and teachings of Jesus.

Consistent with my practice of posting manuscripts related to the Middle Ages, I have attached essays pertaining to my exploration of the Renaissance.

The mighty figures and events of the Renaissance would mock our petty conceits. And we justly deride many of theirs. But we easily see ourselves among them. We find their assumptions familiar. Their excesses are recognizably human in our eyes.

The Renaissance in History
Lawyers and Statecraft
Letter About Machiavelli’s The Prince
Review of Renaissance Letters

(Refer to the key offered in the previous post on dooms to view these learning journals. Read them or ignore them at will.)

A Fractured Brotherhood

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Who wasn’t dumb when young? Blessed are they who survive to laugh about it.

The 1960s were not for the faint of heart or overly idealistic. The same caution applies to the story for which these few words feign preface. Thinking of that time brings to mind the term wasted. But the times were wasted in intriguing ways.

Those who find modern society perplexing and unruly surely did not attend a large public university in American in the 1960s. The chaos was both diffuse and acute – and unremitting. Nonetheless, there were core standards that set a pace – even under long, unkempt hair and amid bizarre street-theater antics. We were wackos then as we are now in aging. Still there were, and are, steady limits that continue to yield results and reassurance.

* * *

The recollections associated with this introduction started with a dream about a hunt for a missing person. I began getting visits and phone calls from a disparate group of individuals with little more in common than prolonged proximity to one another long ago in youth. The individuals were roughly equivalent in experience, intelligence, class, wealth, ethnic and social background, and aspirations – but different enough to make interactions among them interesting and unsettling, offering a context for the personal evolution of all involved.

A youthful initiation into the world of intoxicants figures in this account. No serious offenses or accidents derived from said experimentation worse than what I had already accomplished as a very sober, yet equally dull-witted, 16-year-old driver. My first accident occurred two weeks after getting my license. Driving with four or five friends on the way to school, I was hit from my left at an unmarked neighborhood intersection. One friend broke his collar bone. Though the other driver was charged, it was as much my fault as not. The second was about eight months later after being caught downtown at night in a fresh snow storm with a car full of church friends. Of course, no one wore a seat belt; one girl in the lap of another friend hit her tooth on the dashboard. I was not charged, due to the ice, slow speed and minor damage to the other automobile, but I knew it was my fault ultimately. The third time, maybe a year later, while double dating, my engine (in the same car) caught fire in a quiet out-of-the-way suburban neighborhood. To my father’s dismay, the car did not burn up. Still it was damaged enough in my three accidents that my father traded it (rather than me) for a green Volkswagen Karmann Ghia convertible. Finally, I had learned my lesson: there was no way I was going to scratch that beauty.

An excursion in fraternity introduced me to new ways of self-defeat – and maturity.

Memphis is sustained by social and emotional tendrils. Long after I left my college fraternity, a former brother occupied a house near campus with his best friend, who was not our fraternity brother but a party beast beyond any in that organization. When they gave up the house, my uncle and aunt and cousin moved in, and my grandparents moved next door. Within no time, my other two first cousins moved, each with a wife and child, into separate houses within a block of my aunt, uncle, and paternal grandparents. This area of Memphis became a frequent and much-appreciated resting place, especially after I moved into a duplex on the other side of the tracks, closer to the university, about six short blocks away. We all surrounded the location of my old fraternity house. In effect, it was as if over the years of significant events, I had not moved out of the realm of fraternity but rather stretched my links from it to the university and broader world beyond.

This story explores youth and fraternity as a potent, hazardous coupling. Though the subject and the telling may seem small, the personal consequences were enormous. And they live on in countless ways.

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Wheels Up, Trujillo

Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 7

Closing the Bargain

There is more to a tale of travels than one should publish. There always is more than a prudent man dare tell. Recognition of youthful follies – and, one would hope, age-acquired better taste and respect for others – as much as admitted inadequacy as a tale-teller – guide decisions to parse stories.

When I started writing this series of seven chapters, collectively entitled Patterns from a Rooftop, I knew the storyline well enough. Nonetheless, despite many notes and many years of experience telling parts of the story to friends and family, I did not know how the written story would unfold. In the process of assembling and stitching together isolated incidents, I came to see themes and connections that I had not previously recognized. Emphasis and interpretation of events altered with every paragraph, with every chapter.

Sorting through and doctoring old photographs from the journey helped tremendously in this process of discovery. For years most of my photographs seemed hopelessly lost: dear objects wanting refurbishment that might never be shared with others. The evolution of technology, and my easy access to it, brought the lost lambs of my past home to shelter and intimacy – and to a fireproof repository of some stability. A closer look at the photographs from the perspective of my older years made me see what I had not fully seen or appreciated before.

I embarked on this journey for friendship more than adventure. I revisited it for myself and the closest companions left in life and those young family members I barely know. Marking the close is not the same as reaching the end.

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Start the full journey here for the series Patterns from a Rooftop.

Party Crashing a Mission Town
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 1
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Preface & Reader Response

Resurrecting Small
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 2
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Drawn to Scale
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 3
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

On the Lip of Languor
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 4
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Raising Ruins
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 5
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Epiphany at Atitlan
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 6
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Wheels Up, Trujillo
Patterns from a Rooftop: Chapter 7
Read it here.
Preface & Reader Response

Blurry Pictures

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Somewhat like the ground around my house covered by fallen leaves, I am blanketed by flawed pages from times past. Each leaf is a beautiful object and lively memory that others confuse with debris.

Pity the soul who cannot recall and re-examine, laugh at and draw lessons from, experiences of his prime. The young cannot fathom how much the twenty-three-year-old inhabits the body of the sixty-three-year-old. The near-elderly in their sixties can hardly conceive of the young girl yet dancing in the head of the octogenarian.

Blurry pictures are true pictures of life in midair.

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Uncommon Companions

With my joy theme in a previous essay, I sought to stake ground on religion from a reasoned position before life events dispose me not to. One might ask – if one is unplugged – “Why all the uncomfortable religious stuff in the middle of a festive holiday season?”

To enumerate a few reasons, I start with three selfish ones: First, on the off chance that others sometimes feel like life is formless or in disarray, I elect to explain my way out of the primordial soup to discover adaptive insights. Second, I need to stake more cheerful ground now before age dispossesses me of the ability to get my spirits up; I try to lock myself into an upbeat posture. Third, I need to state my sense of being in the cosmos quickly before my mind turns to mush: that point where one might remember sometime but have difficulty distinguishing whether it happened or not, and when. And if one does momentarily straighten it out mentally, one can’t retain it in memory for over an hour before other thoughts wash it off the field of attention. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, just wait, you aren’t old enough yet to sense your mind go soft – where images are vividly recalled but not well placed in context or historical fact.)

The whole endeavor of religious exposition, from my point of view, is a metaphysical exploration of the universe using a tiny brain. In the case of my own mind, you cannot grasp – assuming you are inclined to try – its world unless you take on the dimly lit philosophical factory that keeps churning around the clock. A dialogue is just that: more than one side talking. But if I am the only body participating in the exercise, I have got to fully reveal my divided thinking on subjects. But answers are elusive and never as one-sided as one word, one phrase, one complete sentence – or one brain.

There is another reason, too, for continuing a pattern of pursuing unusual discussion in an unconventional way. Published eccentricity has its advantages. Chief among them is privacy in plain view. When one broaches taboo subjects in responsible speech, barriers dissolve and expression expands.

In the past twenty years or so, religion has insinuated itself again, sometimes negatively and belligerently, into the politics of public policy. The disappointment of the past election – to some – should inform the religious and the non-religious alike that this is a time for changed dialogue about religion and its place in a modern Western society. The religious need to see more clearly how good non-church-going people view religion as it is now expressed. And non-religious participants in society need to stretch beyond their comfort zones, and intellectual self-satisfaction, to see how religious views and customs enrich individual lives and civil society.

There is a significant role for religion in public life. For instance, during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, it was not an intimate knowledge of history or a close reading of the Constitution that moved many toward expanded rights for minorities. But rather it was the impulses of religious upbringing – perhaps fortified by adolescent hormones – that shaped and nourished passions and fortified certainty in the rightness of a cause aimed at more personal freedom of action, fuller political participation, and heightened standards of social responsibility.

A fresh discussion reaches down into basic understanding of where religious and non-religious views touch philosophy and fundamental properties of human existence. That’s why now! There is vast meeting ground but low attendance in the revival of such dialogue. I am convinced that these great questions still pull at modern people who think. They will gnaw at us until we perish – all the while supplying inspiration and guidance.

But wait! There is much, much more to the story. I neglected to mention our invisible friends – other interlocutors whom we can enlist in our personal deliberations.

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Star Shadows

Life with a Star

More than a chuckle, less than a belly laugh. See what humor has wrought.

For all who aren’t family members or frequent responders: As disappointing as it may be, I don’t seem to be running out of steam. In fact, the longer I do TennesseeSoul, the more I see, remember and want to say in a way that I never have before. I want to give you an opportunity to bailout of alerts about new stories. I will remove you from the notice list unless I hear otherwise from you. Thanks for taking the ride. I can’t fully convey what this has meant to me over the past two and a half years.

For you family members: No such luck! You stay on the list unless you explicitly ask to be removed – and even then I might not do it. As a family member, you are meant to suffer equally.

For non-family members who sometimes comment on stories: I am going to assume that you want to give me a few more attempts to get it right. Therefore, just like family members, you get the good and the bad ladled out until you squeal like a pig.

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Must Be Dreaming

Just when it seemed safe to walk out onto the front porch again – to turn the computer on again – here comes a doozy. It literally makes my head swim. Maybe a glass of Chianti will help, but this one is beyond the pale even for me. Take your chances and you might win a carnival prize. At least sneak a peek at the freak show.

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Meditations on Awareness

You may be aware that my new-lead-story announcements come about every two weeks, either late Saturday or early Sunday. This particular one is being sent to a much smaller, select group of potential readers. You have not been chosen at random or because I think that you will enjoy this essay. Rather you have been chosen because you are already likely to be well aware that I at times border on being certifiable. I am half expecting the little green wagon to pull up my driveway at any moment. Joyce assures me, wink-wink, that this piece is just fine. But I have had my doubts. To paraphrase a few songs that come to mind, sometimes you’ve got to dance your own dance no matter who is looking.

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