Friday, July 31, 2020
In 1976, Jimmy Carter famously said in a Playboy Magazine interview, "I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times." Carter was referring to a particular Christian theological idea about sin. I was taught two things about sin growing up: 1) all sins are equal in the eyes of God and 2) if you contemplate a sin, it is no different from committing it. I have always had a fundamental problem with both. Carter did not. I think the supposed sin of a “lie of omission,” which is leaving out part of the truth on purpose and is still considered a lie, is not nearly as bad as murder. How can the two sins be equal? Furthermore, we all contemplate sins at various times. Many of us lust after people we shouldn’t but that is not the same as acting on lust nor is it adultery even if the person is married. If contemplating a sin was really a sin, then I am going straight to hell, “do not pass go, do not collect $200.”
I had the opportunity to be very cruel yesterday, but I held my tongue. My mother called upset that her preacher had died of COVID-19. I said I was sorry to hear it, but what I did not remind her of was that he had refused to wear a mask even though he was in a high risk category, and he had continued to hold church services even when he was told he shouldn’t. The man was elderly and had Parkinson’s but did not try to protect himself, his family, or his congregation. Did he get what he deserved? No, no one deserves to die like that. However, I am not going to feel a great deal of sadness over it either. Will those around him that still refuse to wear a mask learn from this? Again, no, they won’t because they would rather listen to the lies of a president who denounces science only because he is against abortion. I will not feel great sorrow for them if they get sick either. I will admit that I have a few prejudices; Republicans and Southern Baptists are at the top of the list. Both groups have done so much harm to the LGBTQ+ community and to me personally, not to mention minorities and whoever else they deem to hold in contempt.
As I mentioned in my post about depression, when I needed my mother the most, when I was at the two lowest point in my life, she was not there for me. She never knew that I attempted suicide when I was a teenager, nor did she really care. She never understood the bullying I faced at school or my struggle with my sexuality and when I have tried to point out the bullying to her, she refuses to listen. She also constantly reminds me how wrong it is to be gay. When my friend died five years ago, and I called her because I wanted to hear her voice and wanted her to comfort me, she dismissed my sadness because my friend was gay. Some of you may be asking why I would have even sought comfort from her, but I used to be very close to my mother, and I so desperately wanted her to try and make it better. She has failed me many times, and yet, I still keep her in my life. I still love her. I know my relationship with my family is far from healthy.
Thursday, July 30, 2020
According to a resolution by the United Nations, today, July 30, 2020 is International Day of Friendship. Since my Thank You post early today surprisingly coincides with this day and this blog is read internationally (see below), I want to again say thank you for being my friends.
From the United Nations:
Our world faces many challenges, crises and forces of division — such as poverty, violence, and human rights abuses — among many others — that undermine peace, security, development and social harmony among the world's peoples.
To confront those crises and challenges, their root causes must be addressed by promoting and defending a shared spirit of human solidarity that takes many forms — the simplest of which is friendship.
Through friendship — by accumulating bonds of camaraderie and developing strong ties of trust — we can contribute to the fundamental shifts that are urgently needed to achieve lasting stability, weave a safety net that will protect us all, and generate passion for a better world where all are united for the greater good.
The International Day of Friendship was proclaimed in 2011 by the UN General Assembly with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.
The resolution places emphasis on involving young people, as future leaders, in community activities that include different cultures and promote international understanding and respect for diversity.
To mark the International Day of Friendship the UN encourages governments, international organizations and civil society groups to hold events, activities and initiatives that contribute to the efforts of the international community towards promoting a dialogue among civilizations, solidarity, mutual understanding and reconciliation.
The International Day of Friendship is an initiative that follows on the proposal made by UNESCO defining the Culture of Peace as a set of values, attitudes and behaviors that reject violence and endeavor to prevent conflicts by addressing their root causes with a view to solving problems. It was then adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1997.
Why does the UN mark International Days?
International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool.
I just wanted to start by saying how much I appreciate your kind comments yesterday. For those of you who don’t comment often or have never commented before, I want to let you know how much it means to me when you do comment. And for those who read, but don’t comment, I appreciate you taking time out of your day to read what I have to say. For those who comment on a regular basis, I always love hearing from you. I appreciate all of you from the bottom of my heart.
I have not always had the easiest life. It has been quite a struggle at times. I always wished that I was more outgoing, but it’s just not in my nature. However, this blog allows me to express myself when I am rarely able to do so in person. I can write about my past and my feelings, but it is harder for me to verbalize them. So, writing my blog is therapeutic for me. I occasionally have people who comment on my blog that I complain too much or that I am just a sad and pathetic human being. It always hurts to read that, but truthfully and deep down, I don’t care what they think of me. If they don’t like what they read, there is a simple solution: don’t read my blog. But knowing there are readers out there who generally care about me and read my blog because they care and hopefully find entertainment occasionally means the world to me.
When I started this blog ten years ago, it was originally a way for me to spread knowledge about gay people in history. Since then it has evolved into much more than that. It has become a way for me to write about what I am thinking and feeling, whether the topic is politics, health, relationships, religion, etc. I talk about my health issues, which I know could be worse, and while I write to work through my own issues, I also write so that if there are people going through the same issues, they have a place where they know they are not alone. Maybe reading what I go through can help someone else go through the same thing. Furthermore, I am always here for anyone who wants to reach out to me and needs an understanding ear. I haven’t always had the luxury of an understanding ear, and I used to go through the difficulties of life alone. Now, I have my blog and my readers who help me through difficult situations.
I guess even in the beginning when I was writing historical posts, I was writing to show other gay people that we have always existed in history and some of those people did truly great things. In fact, some of the greatest geniuses in history were gay. Many historians believe that Alexander the Great was one of history’s greatest military tacticians, and he was gay or, at the very least, bisexual. Leonardo da Vinci was a polymath with such a great breadth of knowledge, and he too was gay as were many of the great artists of the Renaissance. I could talk about great men and women who were gay at great length, but my point is that we are all truly exceptional human beings.
So, thank you for continuing to read this blog and for offering comfort and encouragement. Life is not always easy. Sometimes, it’s really fucking difficult, but together we can get through it. Thank you, my friends and virtual hugs to all of you.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Jeremy Ryan is a fellow blogger and new reader to this blog. His blog is called, New Homo Blogo. There is a link to his blog in the sidebar. This past Monday, he posted about his depression. It got me thinking about my own journey of depression. I’ve talked about depression a few times here, but I’ve never said a lot about when it started or how it progressed over the years.
By now, all of you know I’ve suffered from migraines my entire life. When I was a teenager, I was prescribed Ativan to help control them. Most doctors will only prescribe Ativan for a week or two. Taking this drug for more than two weeks can lead to dependence, tolerance, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms. It can also worsen depression if take for long periods. I was on the medication for over two years. At the time, I didn’t realize I was also suffering from depression and anxiety due to either not understanding my attraction to guys and/or not being able to come to terms with being gay. I knew I was different and not the most masculine kid; all the bullies at school reminded me of this daily. Then there was my father who hated having a “sissy” son. I remember one time I accidentally grabbed the electric fence around our property, and I screamed. I got into trouble not for touching the fence or being where I shouldn’t have been; I got into trouble because I screamed “like a girl.” Touching an electric fence hurts like hell, and it’s very difficult to let go once you do. While you might think my dad would have been concerned whether I was all right or not, the truth is, he only cared about how I reacted. I know I was yelled at and probably got a spanking because of it. There were numerous instances like this of him wanting me to be more “manly” and not embarrass him.
As someone who was already struggling with anxiety and depression, Ativan worsened my symptoms. I had been taking this potent drug for too long. Eventually, another doctor realized how long I’d been on the drug, and slowly weaned me off of it. This new doctor understood the harm the drug could do. But I still had a small handful of the pills. One night, when I felt I couldn’t take it anymore, I took all the pills hoping to end my misery. Thankfully, it did not work, but it did make me terribly sick; I vomited all night long. After that, the depression got worse. I still didn’t know how to deal with my sexuality or fully understand I was gay. So, I poured myself into studying to get a scholarship and to go away to college which I did.
College was not too bad. I began to deal with my sexuality. I discovered the internet and did a ton of research on being gay and what it all meant. The local Barnes and Noble also had gay books, fiction and non-fiction, that helped. I was finally able to admit it to myself, but it wasn’t until graduate school when I told anyone else. Graduate school was tough and did not help my anxiety and depression. Plus, I did not know how to ask for help. I was poor and in debt. When money issues came up, when I didn’t know how I was going to afford my next meal, when bill collectors called, I would become paralyzed with fear. These money issues would continue to plague me for years especially once I had to start paying off my massive student loans.
After getting my master’s degree and completing my PhD. coursework, I desperately needed a job. The problem was Mississippi used to, and may still, have a law that says if you are a graduate student on assistantship, you can only work within your academic department, and only for 20 hours a week. Since the stipend was less than minimum wage, I continued to depend on student loans to live while also getting an additional job outside of the university. When my assistantship ended, I either needed a permanent job or I needed to move back home. But there was one major problem: this was in the middle of the financial crisis of 2007–2008. I applied for dozens of teaching jobs; all but two cancelled their searches because of budget cuts. I did get interviews for those two, but I wasn’t hired. I had one option left: move back home. So, that’s what I did.
I continued applying for jobs while trying to finish my dissertation. I had a regular routine. I got up each morning, had coffee and breakfast then sat at my computer to research and write. I took a break for lunch then back to work. Around 4pm or so, I cooked dinner for my parents so it would be ready when they got home. While my parents knew I was gay, that had come out a few years before, I was essentially back in the closet living at home. This would not be good for anyone’s mental state. They’ve never accepted my sexuality. I was also struggling with my dissertation committee chair assigned to me when my original chair left for another university. We did not get along. He questioned everything about my dissertation and made my life a living hell. I kept my deadlines, but he wouldn’t keep his. When I would get feedback, it was always unnecessarily harsh and disheartening. At times, I couldn’t continue writing because I was waiting and waiting for his feedback. I got so depressed I would just burst into tears at the slightest thing. I had never gotten along with my dad, and we fought constantly which didn’t help. One day, when my mom came home from work (she was a nurse), I broke down crying, and told her how depressed I was. The next day, she talked to the nurse practitioner she worked with; the NP prescribed Prozac to help with the depression. And it did help.
Things, however, continued not to go well with either my dissertation or my job search. I was stuck at my parents very rural home, and rarely went anywhere. It drove me crazy. At some point, I started blogging in my free time; I was bored, and it relieved some of my stress. I was mailing off application packets once or twice a week. The postmaster at the small-town post office knew I was applying for jobs. One day, he told me a local private school was looking for a history teacher. His wife was a teacher there, and as the postmaster, he knew everything that went on in that town. Since the other job applications were going nowhere, I applied at the private school, got an interview, and got the job. I found a place to live and moved out of my parents’ house. Thus, began a five-year nightmare. I was working so hard and was so tired, my cat and I took a nap every day after I got home from work. The kids, the parents, the headmaster were all awful. Each day was horrible. Also, during these five years, I lost my beloved Grandmama and my sweet cat who was so special to me. Fortunately, though, it wasn’t all bad. I did make friends with some of the teachers. But, if the school had found out I was gay, I would have been fired immediately so I constantly lived in fear. As for my dissertation, I tried to finish it, but due to the problems with my dissertation advisor and having two jobs (teaching full time at the private school and part time at a local university), I was unable to complete it in the maximum number of years allowed.
After about two years in the house I was renting, my landlady decided she no longer wanted to rent it out. I had to move. After my Grandmama’s death, my aunt, who had cared for her, was now living alone and not taking it well. I had been going to see her every Wednesday to make dinner and give her some company. When I needed a place to live, I ended up moving in with her. My aunt didn’t try to micromanage me like my parents had so I was able to discreetly date a few guys. That’s when I discovered the downside to Prozac: sexual disfunction. Most of the time, I could get erect, but I was not able to have an orgasm without difficulty if I could achieve one at all. A friend suggested I talk to my doctor about switching to Wellbutrin; it did not have the same side effect. That helped. The Prozac had not been working as well for my depression anyway, so the change was doubly beneficial.
The school finally got a new headmaster, and I thought things were improving. There was no indication the new headmaster didn’t like me, but apparently, he secretly did. After five years of teaching there and becoming more popular with many of the students and parents, not to mention creating a highly successful drama club, the school hired a football coach who could “teach” my classes. So, the headmaster gave this new coach my classes and didn’t renew my contract. I was devastated, and on the job search again. This time, I chose not to focus on teaching, but to do something else with my history degrees.
It has turned out mostly for the better. I found a new job in faraway Vermont. I would be living 1,100 miles from my family, my boyfriend, and all my friends. Getting far away from my family has allowed me to be more open about my sexuality, but a long-distance relationship was not going to work with my boyfriend. We broke up. Little did I know just six weeks after moving to Vermont, my world would come crashing down. I had a friend I talked to everyday. He was one of the few gay friends I had; we talked about anything and everything. We texted all the time. He was the last person I talked to every night and often the first person I heard from in the morning. He was there for me when my Grandmama died and when my cat died. He had become a major part of my life; I loved him like the brother I never had. At Thanksgiving that year, he had met his boyfriend in Dallas. As he was driving back home, he had a fatal car crash. I learned about it from another friend of his. I had been frantic all day because I had not been able to get in touch with him. I knew he would text if he was ok because it was my birthday. No text ever came. I got an email from a friend of his saying he had died in a car crash on his way home from Dallas. As I read the email, I began to cry uncontrollably. My friend Susan had known I was worried about not hearing from him. I emailed her with the sad news. She immediately called. I just sobbed on the phone.
Because I was still in the evaluation period of my new job, I could not take time off to grieve. I remember sitting at my desk the next day and crying all day long. I cried for weeks. When I went home to Alabama at Christmas, I made an appointment to see my doctor. I explained what was going on and was prescribed the drug Abilify in addition to Wellbutrin. It helped enough that I could at least stop crying all the time. One problem with Abilify though, was after being on it for a while, I realized I would become very emotional, very easily. I would tear up over the slightest thing. I didn’t feel depressed so much as I felt emotional.
Susan got me through a lot of that too. I would regularly talk to her on the phone; she became my lifeline. No one else understood the relationship I had with my friend. She did, and she was a great comfort. When I tried to tell my mother why I was so sad, she just told me sometimes friends die. She offered absolutely no comfort. My best friend in Texas had a new child so she was too preoccupied for me to lean on. Susan became a best friend, and now we talk almost every day. I will never be able to fully thank her for all she has done. She truly saved my life. I had lost the will to live, and she offered me hope and comfort.
Eventually, I got a new cat, Isabella. This was another saving grace. Cats can do so much to alleviate sadness. She doesn’t really cuddle, and she comes to me only on her terms, but she will lay on my hip if I’m lying on my side; that’s as close to cuddling as she gets. Most of the time, though, she is within a few feet of me. That, however, has changed a bit since I’ve been working from home. I think she’s getting a little tired of me. She also hates the air conditioner. So, she’s been spending time in other rooms. With Susan’s help and Isabella’s companionship, I was able to get off the Abilify. The hyper-emotionalism I had felt with it has gotten much better.
I still feel sadness when I think of the losses I’ve suffered in the past few years. When I think of my Grandmama, the friend I lost, or even my cat, I miss them all greatly and do sometimes feel overwhelming sadness. Now, though, I can think of them and remember the good things, and not just feel the loss. For a long time, I couldn’t talk about any of them without tearing up. I doubt I will ever be completely “cured” of my depression. Presumably, I will continue to take medication for it. It’s always close to the surface, but the overwhelming sadness only happens occasionally now.
If you’ve never suffered from long-term depression and anxiety, you are a very fortunate person. It’s hard to describe what a person goes through. Different people have different symptoms. Some of the common depression symptoms are:
· Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
· Feeling anxious, restless, or “on the edge”
· Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities
· Problems with sexual desire and performance
· Feeling sad, "empty," flat, or hopeless
· Not being able to concentrate or remember details
· Feeling very tired, not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
· Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
· Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
· Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
· Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family, or other important activities
· Engaging in high-risk activities
· A need for alcohol or drugs
· Withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated
Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some may experience only a few while others may experience many. Over time, I have suffered from most of these symptoms. The most important thing to know is that depression and anxiety are real. And aside from getting and taking the proper medication, the best help you can have is love and support from those around you.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Sonnet 18)
By William Shakespeare - 1564-1616
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Monday, July 27, 2020
After my friend called, my mother called. She wanted to tell me that a neighbor I grew up next to had died of pancreatic cancer. It's sad because she left behind three young children. However, I barely knew the girl. Honestly, I don't even remember her name. She lived next door but there was a pasture between us. I grew up in a very rural area. My mother didn't really want us associating with the neighbors, so I never knew any of them very well. After she got through telling me this whole story about this woman who died, I mentioned that Olivia de Havilland died. Mama is a huge Gone with the Wind fan as is my sister. Apparently, my mother and sister had already had a conversation about Olivia de Havilland’s death, so it wasn’t news to her. Anyway, Mama was confused about who de Havilland had a long love affair with. I tried to tell her it was Errol Flynn, but she wasn’t listening to me and kept talking about the man she’d been in love with was the one who played all the pirates in movies. Again, I told her it was Errol Flynn, and she said, “Oh yeah, that’s right.” Then as I continued to try and talk to her, when she interrupts me and said, " I have another phone call. Bye," and hung up.
Then I get another call. This time it was my niece, who apparently was at my parents’ house. (I won't even get started on what's wrong with that, since it is not safe for them to be around the grandchildren right now with the pandemic.) My niece basically said, “Hi, Uncle Joe," and then it was like pulling teeth to get her to talk to me. She was obviously distracted by something. What it was, I don’t know. I tried asking her about school starting back, and eventually she answered me. Finally, she said, "Grandma wants to talk to you." I was thinking I just talked to her, it had only been 2 or 3 minutes, but I didn't say that. Mama proceeded to ask me if I will be able to come home at Christmas because apparently, she has heard that AOC is trying to shut down all travel. I started to write that I don't know where she gets this stuff, but I do know. All her craziness comes from Fox News. I don't even have to ask. Why can’t the FCC just shut that shitshow down for all the misinformation they spread. Anyway, I said that I would probably not be able to come home but it had nothing to do with AOC but with the fact that the university has asked us not to travel outside of Vermont, especially to high risk areas, of which Alabama is one such place. Then she tells me how sad it will make her if I can't come home at Christmas. I said that it would make me sad too. I was in the middle of explaining about why the university doesn't want us to travel and when I would start going back into the office, when she breaks into the middle of what I was saying to tell me that she needs to get off the phone. All she called for was to make a nasty remark about a Democrat and when I tried to tell her something, she didn't want to hear it. My family drives me crazy.
So, I basically had four phone conversations about nothing yesterday afternoon. Finally, my friend Susan called. She always has plenty so say, whether I do or not. Last night, I was actually in the mood to talk, we ended up being on the phone for nearly two hours. When we both have a lot to say, we end up on the phone for a long time. I always feel better though after talking to Susan. If she hadn’t called, I would have probably remained in a pissed off mood about the useless phone calls I’d received that afternoon.
Sunday, July 26, 2020
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
— Matthew 5:13-16
Every Christian is called by God to be an influence on the world around them. Jesus began teaching this concept early in his ministry when he told his disciples he would make them fishers of men. (Matthew 4:19) Then, in the Sermon on the Mount, He used the illustrations of salt and light. (Matthew 5:13-16) They both have properties which affect things around them. Salt enhances flavor and is used as a preservative. To 'be salt' means to deliberately seek to influence the people in one's life by showing them the unconditional love of Christ through good deeds. Light is a symbol meaning awareness, knowledge, and understanding. To 'be light' is to be a witness to others concerning the truth of God's Word especially about who Christ is and how He died and rose again for our salvation.
These two images used by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, are one of His main teachings on morality and discipleship. They immediately follow the Beatitudes and are often interpreted as referring to Jesus' expectations of his disciples. The general theme of Matthew 5:13–16 is promises and expectations.
The first verse of this passage introduces the phrase "salt of the earth":
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
— Matthew 5:13
The value of salt, especially in the ancient world cannot be underestimated. Roman soldiers received their wages in salt. The Greeks considered salt to be divine. Mosaic Law required all offerings presented by the Israelites to contain salt. (Lev. 2:13) When Jesus told his disciples they were "the salt of the earth", they understood the metaphor. While the universal importance of salt is not as readily apparent in our modern world, the mandate Jesus gave to his first disciples is still relevant and applicable to His followers today.
What are the characteristics of salt which caused the Lord to use it in this context? I believe it is about preservation and keeping faith fresh. Those first disciples would have been intimately familiar with this function of salt. Without refrigeration, the fish they caught would quickly spoil and rot unless packed in salt. Once salted, the fish could be safely stored and used when needed.
We have been given a wonderful privilege to be the salt of the earth, but Jesus gave us a warning. The second half of Matthew 5:13 states: "But if salt loses its taste, how would its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men." Jesus did not say we can lose our salvation; He said we can lose our saltiness. When salt is contaminated it becomes corrosive and poisonous. Salt cannot even be used in the field, so it has to be thrown on the road. The Roman general Scipio Aemilianus Africanus plowed over and sowed the city of Carthage with salt after defeating it in the Third Punic War (146 BC) to prevent the city from ever flourishing again. Whether that happened or not is up for debate, but the idea of sowing the land with salt as a punishment for its inhabitants was widely known. Therefore, if we allow disobedience, carelessness, and indifference to rule our lives, we have become contaminated salt and have lost our worth.
The second verse introduces the "City upon a Hill":
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
— Matthew 5:14
As "salt", the Christian is to counteract the power of sin. As "light", we are to illuminate or make visible. Our lives are to be an ongoing witness to the reality of Christ's presence in our lives. When we worship God with pure hearts, when we love others as ourselves, when we do good without growing weary, we are shining lights. It is important, however, to know it is not our light, but the reflection of the Light of the world, Jesus Himself, people will see in u
The later verses refer to not hiding a lamp under a bushel which also occurs in Luke 8:16–18.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
— Matthew 5:15–16
The key idea of the parable is that "Light is to be revealed, not concealed." The light here has been interpreted as referring to Jesus or to His message or to the believer's response to that message. Jesus quotes a pessimistic proverb on how the rich get richer and the poor keep losing even the little they have. He later denounces the saying in the next parable in Mark, which alludes to Joel 3:13 in assuring that God's judgment on the ruling powers will come and holds out revolutionary hope to those resigned to thinking nothing will ever change.
Out of these four verses one of the most famous phrases is the introduction to the “City upon a Hill.” Since colonial times, this phrase has been linked to the colonies which would become the United States. In modern context, it is used in United States politics to refer to America acting as a "beacon of hope" for the world. This scripture was cited at the end of Puritan John Winthrop's lecture or treatise, "A Model of Christian Charity" delivered on March 21, 1630 at Holyrood Church in Southampton before his first group of Massachusetts Bay colonists embarked on the ship Arbella to settle Boston. Winthrop warned his fellow Puritans their new community would be "as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us" meaning, if the Puritans failed to uphold their covenant with God, then their sins and errors would be exposed for all the world to see: "So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world". Winthrop's lecture was forgotten for nearly 200 years until the Massachusetts Historical Society published it in 1838. It remained an obscure reference for more than another century until Cold War era historians and political leaders made it relevant to their time crediting Winthrop's text as the foundational document of the idea of American exceptionalism.
On 9 January 1961, President-Elect John F. Kennedy quoted the phrase during an address delivered to the General Court of Massachusetts. On November 3, 1980, Ronald Reagan referred to the same event and image in his Election Eve Address "A Vision for America". Reagan was reported to have been inspired by author Manly P. Hall and his book, The Secret Destiny of America, which alleged a secret order of philosophers had created the idea of America as a country for religious freedom and self-governance. Reagan would reference this concept through multiple speeches notably again in his January 11, 1989, farewell speech to the nation. U.S. Senator Barack Obama also referred to the topic in his commencement address on June 2, 2006 at the University of Massachusetts Boston. In 2016, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney incorporated the idiom into a condemnation of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign:
His domestic policies would lead to recession; his foreign policies would make America and the world less safe. He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president, and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.
During the 2016 presidential race, Texas Senator Ted Cruz used the phrase during his speech announcing the suspension of his campaign. President Barack Obama also alluded to President Ronald Reagan's use of the phrase during his speech at the Democratic National Convention the same year, as he proposed a vision of America in contrast to that of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Sadly, the United States under Trump and the Republican Party (or the Hypocrite Party as I’ve begun calling them, as it seems much more descriptive of their beliefs) has moved away from being the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and the city upon a hill as they destroy the foundations of the United States.
While reading about “Salt and Light” for this post, I was struck by the belief that to 'be salt' means to deliberately seek to influence the people in one's life by showing them the unconditional love of Christ through good deeds. And yet, as I was researching further, I read numerous articles about how this did not pertain to the LGBTQ+ community. Those so-called religious scholars claimed these verses should be used to condemn homosexuality. For them, “the unconditional love of Christ” only pertains to those who believe in their own hateful views. They can’t have it both ways.
Jesus warns against hypocrisy in what are known as the “Woes of the Pharisees,” a list of criticisms by Jesus against scribes and Pharisees recorded in the Gospels of Luke 11:37–54 and Matthew 23:1–39. The Woes illustrate the differences between inner and outer moral states. In the New Testament, the Pharisees are people who place the letter of the law above the spirit of the law (Mark 2:3–28, 3:1–6). In the Gospels, Jesus is often shown as being critical of Pharisees. The Pharisees, like Jesus, believed in the resurrection of the dead, and in divine judgment. They advocated prayer, almsgiving, and fasting as spiritual practices. The argument over the "Spirit of the Law" vs. the "Letter of the Law" was part of early Jewish dialogue as well.
If we want to follow the spirit and the letter of the law, then we must believe what Jesus tells us. Christians must “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus doesn’t allow us to exclude anyone. We are all God’s children, and we all receive God’s love. So, I will end with this verse:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
— 1 John 4:7-8
Saturday, July 25, 2020
Back when I was teaching college in Alabama, I used to go by Starbucks every Tuesday and Thursday before class and get a venti vanilla latte. I always went to this one particular Starbucks that was not exactly on my way to the university; however, the hottest guy worked in this particular Starbucks. I always went there to flirt with him. I’m pretty sure he was gay. No straight man back then wore designer clothes to work at a Starbucks in Alabama. He has that southern gay boy sense of fashion. He wore designer accessories with his uniform (Gucci belt, designer shoes, etc.) He was really cute—dark hair and eyes, tall and skinny, with a cute little butt that I knew would look fabulous out of his tight-fitting pants. He always seemed so happy to see me when I would go in, more so than many people that come into the café. I’d seen him interact with other customers, and I never saw him wave hello to anyone else or smile when they walked in. He always gave me a big wave, smile big, and say, "Hey man, how's it going?" I was probably imagining that he seemed nicer to me, but I can have my little fantasies occasionally. It probably meant nothing; he just saw me every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon on my way to teach. He was always friendly nonetheless, and if he was able to do so, he always struck up a conversation, though it was mostly about how beautiful the weather was that day. I always just wanted to say, "So, what time do you get off work? I think you are really hot and would love to get to know you better." However, just like now, I was a shy person and would never do that.
He always made the very best vanilla lattes. I know it is a Starbucks after all, and their drinks should usually taste the same no matter which location you bought it, but there was definitely something different about the way he made mine. I miss those vanilla lattes. I never did ask him out or do anything beyond being just mildly flirtatious. Eventually, a new chair took over the history department at the university, and he hired a whole new group of adjuncts to teach the lower level history classes. Since I wasn’t going to teach anymore, I quit going by Starbucks twice a week, and I don’t’ remember ever seeing that guy again. I wonder where he is now.