Tuesday, February 14, 2017

18th Century Ambience - Kaskaskia, Ste. Genevieve, and St. Louis

A glimpse into what the Illinois Country may have sounded like in the mid to late 18th century.


Kaskaskia Ambience - French-speaking colonists, the bell of the Mission of the Immaculate Conception, the Miami-Illinois and Sauk languages, and more!


Ste. Genevieve Ambience - A new garden being prepared, market ambience, fiddle session on a gallery, storyteller recounting Cinderella tale.


St. Louis Ambience - Two voyageurs approach the settlement from the south, roll call of Spanish troops.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Why Is It Difficult for Religious Values to Become Political Values?

I will never forget something that I heard many years ago in my first university political science course. I had a professor who was very open about his liberal attitudes. In fact, judging by some of the comments he made, it was clear that he harbored a certain amount of hostility toward conservatives. Nevertheless, he made a statement in lecture one day that really hit home. He said, “Christians make horrible politicians. Why?” he said, “Because devout Christians will not budge when it comes to compromising their beliefs. And politics needs compromise.

For a moment I was taken aback. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that he was absolutely right. Of course, Christians can compromise on some things like most anyone else but they should not compromise on certain things. Rest assured that I don't intend to persuade you to identify with a certain political party or to support a particular politician. This blog entry is concerned with more important issues.

In this country we are blessed with a relatively tolerant and liberal political system. It is relative because we should by no means consider our nation to be the ideal in all questions of government. That way of thinking may fit under the label known as “American exceptionalism” and this mindset has gotten us into trouble over the years. But, the temptation is a great one. And when I write “liberal” I do not mean that in the sense of a liberal versus a conservative political attitude. I am not referring to progressivism. In political philosophy, liberalism usually means something very different. It means inclusive and pluralistic behavior as opposed to exclusive. In other words, we live in a country where majority and minority interest groups, whatever they may be, are given access to government decision-makers and the political process. Winston Churchill has been quoted saying, “Democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Most would probably agree that it is not a perfect system, but it is among the best we have come up with so far in many ways.

Portion of the first page of the Constitution of the United States (Public Domain)

American Christians are especially blessed because for those Christians who are also citizens there is recourse when it comes to voicing their grievances. We have recourse through our political behavior. Moreover, in the United States the Christian has the privilege to translate their personal values into public political values through several means. Our Constitution calls this a right but as a Christian I still consider it something of a privilege. We know that God could have just as easily placed us into a church family living in a different corner of the world where tolerance and freedom are not so cherished.

In this country we have a system based on the “Principal - Agent” relationship. You and I are the principals. We are the source of ideas, grievances and change. Most importantly, you and I have the power to choose our own agent in the government. We usually do this through direct or indirect elections. But this relationship inherently creates its own set of problems. For the sake of this article I’m going to make up an entirely fictitious example, but it is a plausible example because it has taken place throughout the country over the years and over different issues. 

For example, I believe that Missouri public schools should allow any religious group to pray on public school property or else they should ban all prayer. Now, there are two candidates running for the same seat in the U.S. Congress for my district. And in my state only one candidate can win his or her district. One of them holds the same view toward prayer in Missouri public schools as I do. The other candidate believes that only Christians and Jews should be allowed to pray on public school property. They believe that if you are Muslim or pagan you should not be allowed to pray on school property.

In this case, if I wanted to translate my religious values into this very specific political issue it would be an easy choice. I have done my research. I know where this candidate stands on the issue. I am going to vote for her. In fact, I have heard her give an interview on talk radio and she stated that she will never budge on this issue. Well, she has my vote. Some Christians might believe that voting is about all we can do to participate in the great democratic work. Know your personal beliefs which hopefully come from a place of sound doctrine and sincere Bible study, not from your emotions. And do your research. Know who you are voting for. But, you don’t have to stop at voting. There are lots of other things you can do like volunteer for your preferred candidate’s campaign. Canvass your neighborhood with information. Write to your representatives who hire staff to read letters from their constituents. And, of course, you can always donate money to a campaign.

Did you know that, by law, the federal government must provide any serious presidential candidate with free money for their campaigns? But, there is a catch. That candidate is not allowed to accept public donations for their campaign and there is a cap on that free money. But, if the government money is turned down then the candidate has no limit on how much money they can collect from public campaign contributions. So not surprisingly, that government money is no longer used by serious contenders for the presidency. All of them go to the public now in some measure. The last major party candidate to accept government campaign money was John McCain in 2008. So, in a very pragmatic way this might be one of the more direct, if not effective, ways to exercise your political power as a citizen. Do your homework and find out which challenging or incumbent representative most closely adheres to your values and donate money directly to their campaign for a seat in the government. Chance favors that they are really going to need it. And pray that they will fulfill their promises when they get to Capitol Hill as they represent you as an agent.

Wouldn’t it be great if life were that simple? There’s an elephant in the room and I think it would be better to spend our time talking about why it is so difficult to translate religious values into political values. Let’s go back to my example on prayer in Missouri public schools. It seemed as if I had found an excellent candidate for turning my religious values into political values and political action.

I have no plans to run for a political office but I have found a woman who thinks like me. She shares similar values. I intend to choose her as my agent in Washington during the next election cycle. I know that we agree on this issue of prayer in public schools as well as many other issues, but I also find out that she supports Planned Parenthood funding. The other candidate is against Planned Parenthood like me but he goes way too far on the “prayer in schools” issue. Remember, he believes only Christians and Jews should be allowed to pray in public school. And we are not talking about public assembly. We are just talking about prayer at any place and at any time on school property. But both candidates belong to the same political party. Both profess to be devout Christians.

 As a result, it turns out that neither will budge from their views. Accordingly, what ends up happening to many Christian citizens is this all-too familiar resignation to choosing the “lesser of two evils,” whatever you may believe that to be in this case. Believe it or not, there is a political theory out there that attempts to explain why this problem arises in democracies and how we could fix it. But, most of us are not scientists. We are not policy-makers. We are just ordinary people, so to speak, trying to do what is right.

So, in my case, my conscience tells me that whomever I choose out of these two candidates, they will not be my ideal candidate and will not result in a perfect one-to-one translation of my personal religious values into political values/action. I will go as far to say that a perfect transfer of values is nearly impossible when it comes to your personal beliefs and the public political sphere outside of the church. And it would be dangerous to try to force that onto our American society. In fact, I believe it would be morally wrong. On the one hand, that is not a value our country was founded on. 

Donald S. Lutz (1984) published a well-known study to investigate what types of literature and philosophies most influenced the Founding Fathers between 1760 and 1805. Lutz studied a sample from the thousands of extant letters and diaries of a handful of our Founding Fathers. Then, he literally counted how many times a certain literary work or author was quoted or mentioned. Positive and negative views toward the citations were ignored. Granted, this may be too simplistic of a research design but it is straightforward and patterns are easily observable. Some have misrepresented and misquoted this study. Others see the study as flawed. Others still have used the results to perform more detailed analyses. Nevertheless, Lutz invites readers to take a brief glance into the minds of the Founders. We see how the European Enlightenment had a great influence on the design and birth of our country. In this particular study the most often-cited work was the Bible. And the most often-cited biblical book? The book of Deuteronomy. In fact, in some instances it far outnumbered other books and authors. I was pleased to see that study.

It may be safe to say that the Bible certainly influenced the thinking of our Founding Fathers. No respectable historian would deny that. However, it would not be correct to say that our country was founded as a Christian nation. There is no evidence that this was the case. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, would be classified today as a deist. He “rejected the idea of the divinity of Christ” (monticello.org) and he often butted heads with other politicians, especially the conservative John Adams. But, even John Adams understood that an individual’s beliefs were separate from the moral foundations of a country.

Adams made a famous statement when he wrote the twelve articles of the Treaty of Tripoli, signed in 1796. In Article 11 of this unanimously ratified treaty it becomes very clear where he and the Senate stood on this question. Article 11 states that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”

John Adams believed that only a moral nation could sustain the Constitution but it was not the federal government’s responsibility to direct the beliefs of its citizens. There is no state religion in the United States. That is the institutional and practical reason why it is difficult to translate religious values. We practice the freedom of religion or the freedom to practice no religion in our country. But, this leads to more philosophical explanations. Our government was designed in a way that would not give precedence to one particular set of beliefs or values, Christianity included. This is how a liberal democracy is designed to function. It is inclusive of other viewpoints and other belief systems. I challenged part of this theory in my undergrad capstone because there is always an exception but, on the whole, it is true. And I believe Christians are better off because of it.

The birthplace of the United States of America
Independence Hall in Philadelphia by Ferdinand Richardt, 1858-63 (Public Domain)

I already mentioned the Principal-Agent conundrum. We must trust that someone other than ourselves will do what they promise to do. But what about those politicians who simply disagree with certain aspects of the Christian worldview? You will find them in all sorts of political landscapes but at the end of the day, they will disagree with you. Which one will have more influence when all is said and done? Who gets to decide what direction our country will take? It is a privilege to be able to influence the morality of our country without fear of harsh reprisals. But, whether it is our next-door neighbor or the Congress in the Capitol, God has already appointed a time for His gospel. The days where God was truly the king of an earthly government have been long gone for centuries. As far as I know, the Israelites were the only people to have experienced this. Their moral, civil and criminal laws came directly from God’s revelation through Moses and other prophets. He even consented to dwell among the Israelites in a habitation that He arranged.

The question I am getting to is this: How much effort should Christians be putting in when it comes to installing their beliefs within the halls of Capitol Hill, the White House, and the Supreme Court?

Of course, I cannot answer that for any of you. I have my opinion and I would certainly say that there needs to be some effort if I hope to continue to have the privileges that I enjoy right now as an American Christian. But, like many other things, there should also be a point where I realize that this world is not my home. I’m just passing through.

Why is it difficult to translate religious values into political values for the Christian? Because this world is not their home. In “The Social Contract”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was very critical when it came to devout Christians. He believed that Christians made for poor citizens of a dynamic nation because they are inclined to submit to whatever government is in place. Subsequently, they are ideal citizens for tyrannical governments. I think he misunderstands certain facets of Christianity but sometimes he makes very true statements. Consider this quote from “The Social Contract” in 1762:

“The country of the Christian is not of this world. He does his duty, indeed, but does it with profound indifference to the good or ill success of his cares. Provided he has nothing to reproach himself with, it matters little to him whether things go well or ill here on earth. If the State is prosperous, he hardly dares to share in the public happiness, for fear he may grow proud of his country’s glory; if the State is languishing, he blesses the hand of God that is hard upon His people.” - Book IV, Chapter VIII. Civil Religion, The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762

Later in the same chapter he writes:

“True Christians are made to be slaves; they know it and are hardly moved by it. This short life is worth too little in their eyes.” - Book IV, Chapter VIII. Civil Religion, The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762

He wrote these statements with a mind to be critical of Christians but in doing so he hit the nail on the head. It is a logical conclusion that Christian goals are very different from earthly goals. So, Christians should not be surprised when their values are shut down at some point in the political process by someone or by some group of people who do not share their values. But by all means, they cannot take those values away from them. So, we might be able to say that turning our religious beliefs into political beliefs is quite a simple process. The only problem is that we live in a world where God no longer dwells in a tabernacle in the middle of a great nomadic camp. Nor does He dwell in a temple built of stone on a lofty mount. There is no temple like that in the federal district. Instead, we are told that He dwells inside of us: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” - 1 Corinthians 3:16

We live in a country and during a time where man has devised his own form of government, a government that was founded on principles that only occasionally brought God into the equation. And again, I think Christians are better off because of it. The United States was never mentioned in our Constitution as being a country of God’s people, only a place for them to dwell in freely. But, in the Bible the church is called of God’s people. The Bible says believers desire “a heavenly country” - Hebrews 11:16.

I believe that we are so blessed and privileged in this country that it is easy to forget how often and how violent religious values have opposed political values in other places and at other times. Usually against one’s own will. Simon Peter is the one we usually associate with the sword, but the other Simon, called the Zealot, is also worth considering because this other Simon carried a title that may signify his membership to a political sect of Jews that wanted to incite the province of Judea to rebel against the occupying Romans and kick them out by force. I want to think that his views changed drastically once he began following Jesus and hearing His message of peace and service. Yet, for some reason when he needed to be differentiated from Peter, the politically-charged name of “Zelotes” stuck. He is also called Simon the “Cananite” by some translations in Matthew 10:4, but this is not to be confused with the Canaanites of the Old Testament. This is the Aramaic form of the word “Zealot.”

Historians are not sure whether or not this sect was still around by the time Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. But, some would be willing to concede that the Zealots were one of the political ancestors of the groups that incited insurrection later on and which eventually incited the Romans to destroy Jerusalem.

I am always left wondering how Simon the Zealot managed to reconcile his politics with his apostleship. Or did he ever reconcile the two? Personally, I think it would have been very difficult for him. I can see the possibility of a deep rift forming in this man’s heart as he witnesses the earthly ministry of the Messiah. I can imagine him thinking: here stands before me a Man who truly has the power to do what so many Judeans and Jews have wanted for generations. Now might be a good time to urge fellow Jews to accept Jesus of Nazareth with the promise of political freedom. Might this Jesus ever take up the cause of the Zealots? I think it’s possible that Simon was obliged to put aside his politics for more important work. The work of spreading the gospel. The work of the church.

We have no way of confirming this history, but according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, “Simon the apostle, called Cananeus and Zelotes, preached in Mauritania, and in the country of Africa, and in Britain: he was likewise crucified.” Who knows what might have become of this Simon had he insisted on putting more time and energy into the earthly politics of his time rather than the eternal work of the Gospel? The question of religion in politics is certainly an important question and one worth considering, but an even greater question exists. How can we translate our personal religious beliefs into personal daily actions? Which do you think will have more influence in the end?

Works Cited:

1. Donald S. Lutz, “The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth-Century American Political Thought,” The American Political Science Review, 78/1 (Mar. 1984), 191

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Life Cycle of a Pea

Gardening was way down on the list of hobbies I thought I would have. But it was inevitable given all of the time I've spent reading about how it used to be. There was a time when it would've been a strange thing to not grow your own food in this part of the country. It wasn't that long ago. Yet, in a relatively short period of time Americans went from self-sufficiency to dependency in a big way. Our way of life would not be sustainable without supermarkets and delivery trucks. I can only imagine how deeply our lives have been affected by this estrangement from the land.

I decided to expand our garden this past year and did it using only hand tools. I knew it would be a lot of work and that's one of the reasons why I undertook the project. Living where I do and at the time that I do, there's no need for me to dig a garden and watch it grow. But, then again, that may be exactly why we need to tend gardens. Because we think we don't need them. I got a hold of some heirloom pea seeds last year and planted them this spring. Known as St. Hubert peas, they were introduced to the St. Lawrence Valley by French settlers in the 1700s. 

It wasn't until I began doing a little research on heirlooms that I learned just how diverse the plant kingdom actually is. Most of the known cultivars of plant species never make it onto the kitchen tables of industrialized countries and, as a result, many have disappeared in the past two centuries. However, some heirloom gardeners are attempting to either reverse or stall this trend by preserving these old varieties. Most simply enjoy the pleasures that go along with gardening in general. Those pleasures are hard to convey through writing but as tedious and as dirty as it is, there's something innate in the work. Something therapeutic. I'll just say this. I never used to be a big salad eater but that changed when it came from our own garden.

"Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God." - Ecclesiastes 2:24

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Brother Offended

“A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city,
And contentions are like the bars of a castle.” – Proverbs 18:19*

Young’s Literal Translation reads this way:

“A brother transgressed against is as a strong city, And contentions as the bar of
a palace.”

I believe the majority of biblical translations, including the two above, convey the spirit of the original text faithfully. And I am willing to bet that most reasonable believers would refrain from offending someone if they knew it hindered their access to the gospel in some way. So, whether or not someone has a legitimate reason to feel as if they have been wronged is not the most important purpose of this verse and it is not the purpose of this article. Instead, from this verse I get the impression that sometimes a brother or sister will be (or will feel) sincerely wronged in some way. As a result, a resolution or reconciliation will be difficult to attain. You can call it whatever you like but for our purposes I will simply call it a grudge. And again, we are overlooking the situation of an unjustified grudge (if there is such a thing). What I would like to focus on is the toxicity of such a situation in the body of Christ.

Have you ever had a close relationship with someone that just stopped one day? Maybe you know someone who has gone through this. If we tried, I am sure we could identify some good reasons why this might happen. The first thing that comes to my mind is death. Most of us will lose loved ones during our lifetime and our love for them is no less significant today than the day they left us. There is no doubt that the relationship has been radically altered, at least for a time. And, even then, the Bible leads us to believe that in many cases it will never be fully restored back to its former state because the spiritual world differs from this one in many ways.

Sometimes, we have close friends or family members who move away and this can understandably cause a sharp interruption in the relationship. It is no longer as convenient to call them up on a weekday and go have dinner with them. The point is this; it is unnatural for a close and healthy relationship to end so abruptly barring extreme circumstances. Even death will not cause our feelings toward someone to immediately disappear and usually they never will. But the circumstance we just read about in Proverbs 18:19 can be so extreme that it can, in fact, produce effects more tragic than death insomuch that however close you may have once been to your brother, access to him is effectively cut off like being on the outside of a castle.

Moreover, if there is any hope that the relationship should be restored by some means, it will be more difficult to achieve than besieging a strong city! Brothers and sisters, this is not as much an encouraging thought as it is a sobering one. In Christ, our relationships with one another, when guided by Biblical teachings, are designed to transcend many types of conflicts we see in the world around us, but we know as human beings that conflict is inevitable. Two passages come to mind when I think about our responsibilities toward one another. Proverbs 27:17 is one where it says, “As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” And also James 5:19-20 which says, “19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

From these passages it is clear to me that healthy and helpful relationships in the church are essential not only with Christ but also with each other. And the two passages you just read are impossible to carry out if there is a contention hindering your relationship with a brother or sister. This is why I would compare it to the death of a loved one. One day, everything could be going swimmingly and the next day something happens that causes a deep rift to form in the relationship. Maybe it is just a silly misunderstanding or maybe sin has taken place. But, whether or not the division is legitimate is an entirely separate issue. The problem is that the division is there now! This great divide between you and your brother or sister has not only hindered communication, which is what happens when someone close to you dies, but worse than death it also has placed bad feelings in the heart and who will be able to close that gaping hole?

At this point, it is in the nature of this world to relinquish that former bond and move on. But in order to survive, the church cannot function as the world does. While it might be difficult to restore a broken relationship, like tearing through the walls of castle, it is possible. One way to make all of this less painful for the church is through avoiding such circumstances in the first place. One example that is often cited when talking about division among the saints is the contention between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41:

Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” 37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”

"Pair of Apostles in Dispute", Luca Signorelli (1450-1523)

We are missing some information in this incident that might seem like very important information for us to have. For example, who held the right opinion in this contention? We are never actually told. Now, some could argue that Paul was in the right because John Mark had left them in Pamphylia and “had not gone with them to the work.” Admittedly, I tend to think this gives Paul the upper-hand in the dispute. Not to mention that he and Silas were “commended by the brethren” while Barnabas and John Mark were not. But, we do not know the exact reason why John Mark chose to leave them previously. All we know is that this contention was great enough to cause the men to part ways and it is doubtful that this separation had no effect on the work of spreading the gospel. It is likely that it did in ways we can only guess at because division is rarely an encouragement to the church. Yes, when it is for matters of false teaching, for example, it is necessary to distance yourselves from certain people:

If anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:13-14 

But to do this and say that it does not affect the rest of the body is a bit misguided in my opinion. To the contrary, it is always a painful experience. What I am left wondering is how did Paul and Barnabas feel after they had gone their separate ways? Were they relieved of the burden while saying ‘Good riddance!’ or was there disappointment and discouragement? What would have happened had this division never taken place? Would the evangelists have been better off had they never split up? We will never know for sure, but are the saints not more effective when they are at peace with one another rather than in contention with one another? The verse in 2 Thessalonians 3:15 goes on to say:

“Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

Could this be one way to bring down those walls that are formed after a brother or sister has been wronged? An admonishment is a rebuke, a reprimand, or simple advice and it may be painful, but the potential gain is far better than the potential loss which could last for an eternity. In the world, it very well might be better to move on with life and consider that relationship over. This does not necessarily mean that it will be forever, but it is not our call to make. This is the teaching that Jesus gave his disciples when He told them to “shake off the dust from [their] feet” when they were rejected by the cities they went into (Matthew 10:14; Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5).

When you are dealing with souls that vehemently refuse to know Christ through their words or deeds, how much of a relationship could we hope to have? If Christ is not there why are you? Do you know something He does not? 14Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?” – 2 Corinthians 6:14 But, when we are talking about like-minded souls of godly faith, we are talking about fellow heirs to God’s kingdom (Romans 8:16-17; Ephesians 3:1-7) and they are certainly worth fighting for, even if there is stubbornness on one end. Again, the key is to avoid that place beforehand because we have been told how hard it is to win that brother back.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant teaches readers how to treat those sins that have been committed against them because of how God treats our sins against Him. And in the passage directly before that parable we are taught how to prepare the way for that sinner to ask for forgiveness:

15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17  

Jesus was speaking directly to His closest disciples here but we can safely apply this to the entire church since the church is directly mentioned. Notice in this passage how precedence is given to discretion. Hopefully, if and when any of us find ourselves in this situation there is a good chance that most of our fellow believers will never know about it. This is God’s most desirable method of handling the issue. Let it only be between those involved if at all possible. This is such an important teaching that cannot be overstated because of what often happens instead and which undermines this teaching. Oftentimes, if we have an issue with a brother or sister we do not go and address them in private, we go and tell someone else first because maybe this other person will have advice for us or maybe we need them to agree with us first so we can feel better about ourselves. Jesus says do not do that! At least, not at first. Go and try to settle the matter with the offending party directly before you do anything else. 

© Hände der Freundschaft im Duisburger Rathausbogen by User: Alice Chodura / Wikimedia Commons /  CC-BY-SA-3.0

If you do this and the matter is still not resolved then take one or two more believers. These numbers are also very important. Just one or two is enough. Your job is to not make someone feel as if they are outnumbered and cornered. Be patient like the Father is with us. And if, after these two attempts, no gains have been made then (and only then) does Jesus say you are obliged to bring it before the entire church. I would imagine that by the time it reached the attention of the church this would be enough to turn most people away from their sin or, at the very least, give them a cause for serious self-reflection. But, Jesus said that even that may not be enough for some. If so, treat them like “a heathen and a tax-collector.” In other words like a pagan and a brother who was in the pay of pagan occupiers. A traitor. It is a strong sentence but God would not have commanded this unless a sinning brother refused to resolve a contention against another who was offended and was already willing to resolve it. This is how we are to prepare the ground for a brother or sister who may or may not know they have wronged us and it demonstrates harmlessly that forgiveness and resolution are possible.

This notion of maintaining peace in the body is so important, in fact, that all of the epistles address peace either in their opening or in their closing with the exception of only two epistles, James and 1 John. Paul opens all of his epistles with this kind of phrase: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Let us continue to strive for that peace!

*All Bible passages are taken from the New King James Version.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Battle of the Vercors

On June 6, 1944, the Allied Expeditionary Force landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. Hitler's Atlantic Wall would soon be broken, but in the southeast of France, civilians and Free French soldiers were preparing for another battle. They called themselves "maquisards" and many amassed on the Vercors plateau, awaiting the execution of the southern coast landings and a secret Allied airborne drop. A drop that was to never come. Common citizens answered the call to arms and they came to the plateau in the thousands. While they waited, they trained and built an airstrip meant to receive their liberators. American and British special forces were even parachuted into the region to help them prepare for the second landings.

 On July 3, 1944, Eugène Chavant proclaims the restoration of the French Republic in the Vercors.

Cannisters dropped by Allied aircraft, and which once carried provisions and weapons, sit in Vassieux-en-Vercors as a reminder of the activity that took place here during World War II.

On July 21, 1944 "15,000 men of General Karl Pflaum's 157th Alpine Division launch an assault on the Vercors, and in less than a week, the Vercors falls into the hands of the enemy." Many of those who died during the battle are buried in La Nécropole de St Nizier-du-Moucherotte.
On July 21, 1944, just southeast of the village of Vassieux-en-Vercors, German glider troops used the airstrip built by the maquisards to land their own troops. So brutal were the enemy forces that civilians and history alike remember the troops as being SS. In fact, they were Ostlegionen (Eastern Legions). 73 civilians of Vassieux-en-Vercors were murdered and all of its buildings were completely or partially destroyed. The Battle of the Vercors raged on for several more days, but the pillage and destruction would last until the end of the month. In all, about 840 French victims were counted, among them children. For its sacrifice, Vassieux-en-Vercors was named a Companion of the Liberation. Only four other French cities carry that honor.

A glider frame sits in the village of Vassieux-en-Vercors.

The field in which the maquisards built an airstrip code-named "Taille-Crayon" by the Allies. The Germans used the airstrip to land their own troops and provisions using gliders.

A street in Vassieux-en-Vercors.
Approaching the entrance to the Mémorial de la Résistance en Vercors.
A memorial to the victims of Vassieux-en-Vercors.

"It wasn't part of folkore... but almost. We all had our flag. All the camps had their flag, their mast then their flag." - Paul Borel, enlisted in the maquis at the age of twenty.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The 250th Anniversary of the Surrender of Fort de Chartres

I had the opportunity to participate in my first reenactment and it was a blast. October 10, 2015 marked the 250th anniversary of the surrender of Fort de Chartres to the British. This was the last fort to be surrendered by the French following the Treaty of Paris in 1763 thus concluding France's colonial ambitions in North America. The French flag was formally surrendered on October 10, 1765 by Captain Louis Groston de Saint-Ange de Bellerive to Captain Thomas Stirling and the 42nd Regiment of Foot, Royal Highland Regiment (the Black Watch).

J'ai eu l'occasion de participer à ma première reconstitution et je me suis bien amusé. Le 10 octobre 2015 marquait le 250e anniversaire de la reddition du Fort de Chartres aux Britanniques. C'était le dernier fort à être capitulé par les Français à la suite du Traité de Paris de 1763. Ainsi, les ambitions du colonialisme français en Amérique du Nord étaient conclues. Le drapeau français était descendu officiellement le 10 octobre 1765 par le capitaine Louis Groston de Saint-Ange de Bellerive pour le capitaine Thomas Stirling et le 42e régiment de pied, Royal Highland Regiment (le Black Watch).

The 42nd Regiment of Foot
Le 42e régiment de pied
The French garrison prepares to surrender its flag.
La garnison française se prépare à abdiquer son drapeau.
Photo Courtesy of Joe Carpenter
The officers converse.
Les officiers s'entretiennent.
Photo Courtesy of Jill Mulholland
The French evacuate Fort de Chartres.
Les français évacuent le Fort de Chartres.
Photo Courtesy of Jill Mulholland
Photo Courtesy of Jill Mulholland
Photo Courtesy of Ericha Johanning
The French flag leaves the fort.
Le drapeau français quitte le fort.
Photo Courtesy of Jill Mulholland

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

L’Immobilité dans les classes sociales françaises chez Marivaux

Il n’est pas difficile de repérer un portrait fiable des classes sociales dans Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard. À l’examiner de près, on voit bien des critiques au centre de l’intrigue. Là, il se trouve les quatre personnages principaux dans un désordre qui rompt les convenances de l’époque. Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, né à Paris en 1688, a commencé sa carrière littéraire vers la fin de la vie de Louis XIV, dit le Roi Soleil. À cette époque-là, la splendeur de la monarchie française est déjà en déclin. En plus, le statu quo d’une société française traditionnelle est en train de se bouleverser. Apparue en 1730, Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard rencontrait un grand succès, solidifiant la renommée de ce Français qui est bien connu pour avoir créé le style du Marivaudage et qui a défié l’établissement contemporain. Dans cette analyse de la pièce, on essaiera de préciser les apparitions subtiles de la classe sociale française à travers la scène, en tirant quelques extraits significatifs qui marquent un changement graduel de l’esprit français social du temps. Finalement, afin de formuler une thèse cohérente, on comparera la scène de cette œuvre à la réalité de l’époque par faisant référence à l’histoire de l’époque elle-même.

Pierre de Marivaux par Louis-Michel van Loo (1707-1771)

De la pièce
Elle commence avec Silvia et sa servante, Lisette, qui sont en pleine discussion. Le sujet porte sur le mariage. Monsieur Orgon, le père de Silvia, a décidé en avance d’arranger une rencontre pour sa fille et son prétendant qui s’appelle Dorante. Les deux célibataires viennent d’un milieu confortable, ce qui leur accorde quelques avantages. Mais, au vu d’un manque de titre de noblesse chez Monsieur Orgon, il lui convient de marier sa fille. Silvia possède, de son côté, une image désabusée de l’institution du mariage. Elle révèle la rumeur qu’une connaissance souffre mal sous le joug d’un mari méchant et cette rumeur lui suffit pour soupçonner la chimère de l’amour. Elle ne veut point avoir part à ce mode de vie. Aussi, façonne-t-elle un projet secret pour se déguiser à la rencontre de Dorante. Elle veut sonder le vrai caractère de cet homme sans qu’il sache qu’une future épouse l’observe. Comment se comportera-t-il dans son élément ? Le rebondissement vient quand Dorante, lui, a la même idée.

Image by Bertall from Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, Théâtre complet. Paris: Laplace, Sanchez et cie, 1878. PD-1923. 

            Les deux échangent leurs rôles bourgeois pour ceux de leurs serviteurs et le public se rend complice de la ruse avec Monsieur Orgon et son fils Mario. Lisette et Arlequin, tous les deux de naissance roturière et dévoués à leur maîtres, consentent au jeu sans hésitation. Cependant, après un certain temps, Lisette s’inquiète que ses charmes vaincra le cœur d’Arlequin qu’elle pense être Dorante. Pendant ce temps, Silvia daigne d’admirer la bonne volonté de Dorante qui se déguise en tant que valet. Il courtise bien cette nouvelle femme de chambre qui déteste les manières d’Arlequin. Monsieur Orgon se tait pendant toute la pièce comme un Cupidon magnanime. Il rassure Lisette en lui disant de se saisir bien du cœur d’Arlequin. Il sait que son astuce ne nuira pas à l’amour courtois de deux domestiques. Il va de même pour Silvia et Dorante.
            Il est amusant de voir ces personnages qui entreprennent des combines pour arriver à un bon dénouement. La fin heureuse donne l’impression que le monde demeurera toujours en règle. Les quatre principaux personnages finissent par trouver un époux, mais la pièce dévoile subtilement des sentiments contestataires, de petits germes d’agitation. Elle sert d’un contexte parfait pour examiner l’incertitude d’une fixité structurale des classes sociales d’une France au dix-huitième siècle.

L’immobilité des classes en 1730
Jusqu’en 1789, il éxistait en France trois « états », c’est-à-dire trois classes sociales qui divisaient la population française. Le premier état était composé du clergé. Le deuxième état, c’était la noblesse (sauf le roi). Le tiers état comprenait ceux qui n’appartenaient pas aux deux autres groupes, à savoir la bourgeoisie et les paysans. « Le modèle tripartite formulé au dixième siècle par Adalbéron de Laon reste en vigueur sous l'Ancien Régime. Les trois ordres correspondent à trois fonctions : il y a ceux qui prient, ceux qui font la guerre et ceux qui travaillent. […] L'appartenance au clergé ou à la noblesse est assortie de privilèges » (philisto.fr 2012). 
On ne veut pas laisser penser que la mobilité entre les classes n’existait point. Par exemple, « la société d'ordres de la France d'Ancien Régime laisse des possibilités d'ascension sociale puisque par la vénalité (vente) des offices, tout roturier fortuné peut devenir un membre du second ordre du royaume » (philisto.fr 2012). On ne fait usage de mot « l’immobilité » que pour mieux démontrer la difficulté qui est associée au mouvement sur l’échelle sociale. Quoique son métier ne soit pas mentionné dans le texte, on imagine que Monsieur Orgon fait partie de la bourgeoisie. À titre d’exemple, il possède les moyens d’embaucher une domestique. À cette époque aussi, la dot d’un mariage reste toujours banale. Chez la bourgeoisie :

« Les dots des filles dépassent rarement 6.000 livres. […] C’est seulement dans la haute bourgeoisie (négociants, gens de finance, hommes de loi fortunés) que le mode d’existence se transforme dans la seconde moitié du dix-huitième siècle. […] À Paris même, — Besnard le remarque aussi —, la moyenne et la petite bourgeoisie vivent fort simplement ; le luxe est réservé à la noblesse, aux financiers, aux gros négociants » (Sée 1946, 141-142). 

            Autrement dit, la conduite de Monsieur Orgon se conforme aux règles du jour. Il veut que sa fille soit mariée avec un homme qui convienne à son rang à elle. Dans le premier acte, Mario donne un aperçu de ces règles de l’Ancien Régime en parlant au soi-disant Bourgignon, serviteur de Dorante. Mario : Votre serviteur, ce n’est point encore là votre jargon, c’est ton serviteur qu’il faut dire. Cette façon de parler en utilisant le vouvoiement, qui existe toujours de nos jours, a été critiquée durement pendant la Première République. Les sans-culottes ont voulu qu’une égalité soit établie entre le serviteur et son maître.
            Peut-être que le défi le plus choquant de la pièce survient de la bouche de Monsieur Orgon. Malgré le mariage arrêté de Silvia, ce qui semble être hors de question d’annuler, il y a un air de libéralité dans les propos de Monsieur Orgon. Il explique ses sentiments ainsi : Dans le dernier voyage que je fis en province, j’arrêtai ce mariage-là avec son père, qui est mon intime et mon ancien ami, mais ce fut à condition que vous vous plairiez à tous deux, et que vous auriez entière liberté de vous expliquer là-dessus ; je te défends toute complaisance à mon égard. La remise en question d’une institution ancienne se voit par cette réplique. Sans ambiguïté et sans malentendu, la coutume du mariage arrangé est raillée. Il continue en disant : Si Dorante ne te convient pas, tu n’as qu’à le dire, et il repart.
            Considérée comme acquise aujourd’hui dans un monde après la deuxième vague du féminisme, la liberté du choix conjugal n’était pas toujours à la mode. On se demande si Marivaux a eu l’intention d’introduire une progressivité sociale dans la scène ou voit-on simplement un fantasme bénin ? Le premier semble plus vraisemblable. La bonté de Monsieur Orgon envers Lisette, aussi, laisse croire que de nouveaux genres de penser étaient en train de s’insinuer dans la pièce, d’où la conscience sociale. Monsieur Orgon voudrait qu’elle éprouve un bonheur conjugal à son tour. Dans ce geste, devine-t-on une occasion de la mettre sur un pied d’égalité avec Silvia ? Un tel paysage, opprimé déjà pendant quelques siècles par les autorités, devient mûr. L’éclairage des Lumières ne deviendra que plus brillant dans les années qui viennent.
Pour riposter à cet idéalisme révolutionnaire, on considéra un écrit très pragmatique d’un certain La Beaumelle, écrivain protestant, publié pour la première fois en 1751 :

« Un prince peuplera son Royaume en facilitant le mariage au paysan, à l’ouvrier, et au soldat, et en faisant respecter la foi conjugale aux Courtisans, aux Gentilshommes et aux riches Négociants. Il facilitera les mariages en encourageant l’industrie ; il fera respecter cette union en étendant l’empire des mœurs et en affaiblissant celui du libertinage. En Allemagne, l’esclavage des paysans éteint l’industrie et les familles. En France, le ridicule jeté sur l’amour légitime, […] l’asservissement à la mode qui fait de la fidélité une vertu du vieux temps, ont banni les mœurs » (La Beaumelle 1752, 201).

Évidemment, l’Europe subissait une pénurie de population au milieu du dix-huitième siècle, ce qui donne une raison tangible de faciliter un mariage entre les classes inférieures (Lisette et Arlequin). Est-elle une coïncidence entre l’œuvre de Marivaux et la réalité de l’époque ? Elle est étrange de voir le parallélisme, quoi qu’il en soit.

Le zèle pour l’ascension
            Un incident curieux se déroule dans la dernière scène de la pièce. Quand les travestissements s’enlèvent, juste avant une conclusion achevée, Arlequin se réjouit d’avoir trouvé une admiratrice. Arlequin, à Lisette : De la joie, Madame ! Vous avez perdu votre rang, mais vous n’êtes point à plaindre, puisque Arlequin vous reste. À laquelle elle répond avec : Belle consolation ! il n’y a que toi qui gagnes à cela. Sans aucun doute, Lisette parle avec l’air déçu. Elle, qui a été naguère maîtresse de la maison, est redevenue domestique de peu importance. Il va sans dire qu’elle a goûté les plaisirs de la naissance privilégiée. Mais, voilà la mise en règle de cet univers historique. Les rangs élevés, bien qu’à la portée a priori, se tiennent au loin. La pièce se termine sur la déception, de n’avoir pas réalisé un nouveau mode de vie.
            Environ 1730, la société française a été bien consciente de la façade d’un ascenseur social rapide. Dix ans plus tôt, la France a éprouvé une crise économique déclenchée par la bulle spéculative de la Compagnie des Indes sous la gestion de John Law, d’où est venu le Système de Law:

« Pour bien se rendre compte du caractère de cette vaste et complexe entreprise, il ne faut pas perdre de vue que Law est avant tout un financier. II a présenté son Système au Régent comme un moyen d'éteindre la dette et de remplir les caisses de l'Etat; il ne considère la régénération économique de la France que dans la mesure où elle peut augmenter le rendement des impôts. […] Ainsi donc, par son but, par le caractère et les procédés de Law, le Système est une entreprise surtout financière, et c'est la Banque, le crédit, la monnaie, l'exploitation des impôts, les émissions nouvelles d'actions et de billets qui en constituent les plus importants objets » (Girard 1908/1909, 24-25).

Le problème avec cette Compagnie, qui s’est rapprochée de la ruine complète, c’est qu’elle a été une compagnie de commerce et de traite avant l’arrivée de Law. Des actionnaires, encouragés par le succès de la Louisiane, par exemple, et avides de gain, ont trop spéculé.
Il existe deux gravures bien connues de l’époque qui relatent le zèle précédent et la colère suivante d’une baisse à pic. L’une déclare : Cette FOLIE a pour devise deux têtes, dont l’une jeune et riante marque le beau côté des actions (parts d’une société). L’autre vieille et accablée de chagrins en marque la suite, par la sentence latine qui signifie – Le chagrin suit souvent une belle apparence. Dans la gravure, on s’aperçoit un ange qui livre des actions de compagnie à la cohue en bas. À l’arrière-plan, le diable se cache derrière un nuage en faisant des « bulles ». Au premier plan, deux spéculateurs se battent violemment sur la Rue Quincampoix. En ce temps-là, cette rue serait l’équivalent d’une Wall Street américaine en plein air, mais avec une atmosphère plus sordide. Au lieu d’acquérir une astuce pour s’enrichir facilement, après la faillite et la démission de Law, on a subi une grande perte d’argent. Pire encore, l’État français a installé une augmentation des impôts pour sauver la Compagnie (britannica.com).

Rue Quincampoix en l'année 1720 : [estampe] par Antoine Humblot (16..-1758)

            En 1730, l’Europe a été au milieu d’un virage philosophique, on peut même dire une scission philosophique. Il est peu probable que Marivaux ne l’a pas ressenti. D’un côté, la progressivité exigeait une remise en question de l’ordre social et ce sont les intellectuels qui menaient le combat. De l’autre côté, la prise de la monarchie et ses partisans s’affermit. « Leurs déclarations de plus en plus véhémentes d’absolutisme royal les a fait apparaître insensibles, peu compatissants, dictatoriaux – en un mot ‘despotique’. Un abîme a commencé à s’ouvrir entre l’intérêt du roi et ce qu’a été perçu comme l’intérêt de la nation » (Blanning 1995, traduction de l'auteur).
            Il n’est pas facile de nier que Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard met de l’huile sur le feu idéologique. À la surface, elle est une continuation de la tradition théâtrale. Mais, cette œuvre ajoute un brin d’instigation, une nuance d’altération. Ce sont les vents du changement qui soufflent. Il se peut que ce dramaturge particulier ait remarqué l’occasion pour changer les avis. Sous le couvert d’un divertissement, quand le loisir détend les esprits, l’artiste a eu la possibilité d’introduire une nouveauté. Ce qui n’a pas été vu auparavant ou ce qui n’a pas été considéré peut maintenant devenir plus qu’un moment de rire. Autrement dit, la pensée frivole a l’occasion de devenir une considération sérieuse. Après la séance, il se peut qu’on y réfléchisse. Et après cela, qui sait ? Si le système ne veut pas se modifier, on devra le modifier de force.
            Néanmoins, une révolution sociale à grande échelle ne viendra pas avant plusieurs décennies. Pour le moment, la structure du système est resté immuable. La préciosité de Marivaux affirme que les règles établies jouissent encore d’un statut important dans la société. Son affectation du langage, qui respecte les convenances  contemporaines, se retient d’un caractère flagrant. On ne doit pas considérer cette pièce comme l’égal de Candide, cet écrit étant une critique dure de la philosophie de l’optimisme. Malgré la complexité du jeu, les célibataires trouvent l’amour, même s’il n’était pas tellement souhaité. Cet amour triomphe de la dot et des rangs. De plus, le hasard du jeu reste intact au travers du complot de Monsieur Orgon. Son optimisme est indéfectible parce qu’il croit que la fin sera heureuse. Un tremblement de terre n’est pas encore arrivé, ni sur la scène, ni en France. Mais, les présages sont clairs.

Œuvres citées

Belisaire. “La société française d'Ancien Régime.” Philisto. 27 Oct. 2012. Web. 8
May 2014. http://www.philisto.fr/cours-118-la-societe-francaise-d-ancienregime.html

Blanning, T.C.W. “Louis XV and the Decline of the French Monarchy.” History Today. n.d. Web. 9 May 2014.  http://www.historytoday.com/tcwblanning/louis-xv-and-decline-french-monarchy

Girard, Albert. “La réorganisation de la Compagnie des Indes (1719-1723).”  Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine (1899-1914) No. 1 (1908/1909) : 5-34. Print.

La Beaumelle, Laurent Angliviel de. Mes pensées. Berlin, 1752. Print.

Marivaux, Pierre de. Le Jeu du l’amour et du hasard. Éditions Larousse, 2006. Print.

“Mississippi Bubble.” Encycloædia Britannica. n.d. Web. 9 May 2014. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/385600/Mississippi-Bubble

Sée, Henri. La France économique et sociale au XVIIIe siècle. Paris : Librairie Armand Colin, 1946. Print