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Sachem’s Head November 25, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in history.
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Yesterday I watched the Thanksgiving story as told by the animated cast of Peanuts. It was a harrowing tale of miraculous survival against all odds, a story of friendly Native Americans who shared their land in an effort at peaceful coexistence.  A lovely, sanitized story appropriate for children.

Today I learned about Sachem’s Head in a fascinating reading while surfing about the history of our own Thanksgiving feast.  Sachem’s Head is the name of streets, a yacht club, a region in Connecticut and a region of Massachusetts, etc. Connecticut, there’s an ironic state name in view of the history.  I used to re-read and mispronounce it re-read it as “Connect, I Cut.”  Sachem’s Head is not just a location, but a proud admission, a proclamation, a warning.  Sachem’s Head tells a cautionary tale about trusting others.

We are more progressive than we used to be, but not as progressive as we think we are.  In the history books Sachem’s Head was never taught to me.  But Sachem’s Head, depending on which state you find it in, either belonged to Pometacom, or to Canonchet, Native American chiefs.  And the tale confesses that English settlers, or at least their leaders, couldn’t be trusted.

Sachem was the title given to the Native American leaders.  And as for these two, Sachem’s Head wasn’t a territory but a body part.  Their heads were removed and set on pikes by the English settlers.  One of them, on public display, according to the story, stayed out for 20 years.  I’m certain this was a display of power, and a warning to any who might potentially have vengeful souls.  Such as the children, who were sold as slaves, or their children.  So who were the “savages” of the story here?

I also want to know why the name “Sachem’s Head” is still being used by the people of the northeast United States.  It’s a term of barbarism describing those who overpowered the barbarism of the locals who used to live there.  This story is a pretty well written, if one-sided, description of the events of those days.  It depicts men and women fighting for religious freedom, land, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  And I’m not talking about the English.  And the name “Sachem’s Head,” especially when applied to some rich people’s land or club, smacks of an elitism I’m not sure should be so proudly hailed.


I’m not sorry that I live in America.  I’m a patriot who loves this country, and our freedom to be and to do and to say and to believe. I believe our cultural progress is a thing to be proudly hailed, the ignominious “Sachem’s Head,” and other historical errors notwithstanding.  Could that conflict have been resolved peacefully?  I have no idea; I wasn’t there.

Could any of our conflicts be resolved more peacefully?  I have no idea.  It’s just possible that the history books, written by the winners, will skillfully omit those grim and gory details and leave us with names like Sachem’s Head, without the memory or the meaning behind them.  When I first looked for Sachem’s Head, I didn’t find the history.  I had to dig to find the meaning, because the name itself has been sanitized and now just refers to the locations, and the clubs.

I’m embarrassed that socially accepted slavery existed so long in this country.  I’m embarrassed that in American history, peaceful natives were forced to convert by the sword to a foreign religion, to foreign customs, to a foreign language.  I’m embarrassed that  other, some even highly promoted or encouraged, socially accepted aberrances continue to this day.  Cat-calling of women, for instance.  Bullying.  Child abuse.  Spouse abuse.  Greed.  Selfishness.  Simple theft, and a more complicated form of theft, also called “business acumen.”  And by the way, “business acumen” might very well have been used to describe our treatment of the native Americans back in the late 1600s, other slaves, minorities of all stripes, and anyone who is by wealth standards considered “poor,” or powerless.

I’m considered “poor.”  It’s because I don’t want to fight.  Like the peaceful Tisquantum I’ve worked for beans and tried my best to help others.  And here in America, there are people who have come along beside me to help me in my times of need.  I’m very grateful that help is available here because in other areas of the world, that help would not be given for the asking.

I keep seeing on the news, the petty squabbles and unnecessary death and the subsequent social unrest and grief.  I keep seeing the trouble caused by people with over-inflated concepts of their own self-entitlement.  None are as big as my newly discovered Sachem’s Head scandal, but I hope the contexts serve as cautionary tales to people.  I’m not going to mourn things that happened far in the distant past, but I’m going to learn from them.

I don’t want to take home these lessons:
1) you can’t trust anyone (alas, I already believe this in bitterness of heart)
2) lock your doors and consider purchasing a gun while you still can according to our rights under the Second Amendment.  I had a chance to shoot a .22 at a recent Boy Scout camp.  8 of 10 shots were in the bull’s eye, the other two, close enough to kill if I were shooting a live target.

Please, people, let’s be civilized.  We Americans are supposed to be “one nation, under God, indivisible,” but instead all I see is every man for himself.  Be like Tisquantum and bring something helpful to the table this Thanksgiving, to share with society.  And if you’re one of those people with “business acumen,” please realize we only win if we all win.  I realize it depends on your definition of “all,” so let me help you understand if you don’t:  I’m part of your “all.”  And your neighbors are.  And every other American citizen is.  So let’s help each other win.

I suppose I could be rich if I were a fighter, or if I were self-entitled.  I could have a respected position, or title, if I pushed for that as part of my own agenda.  Or, I could be a martyr to my cause and find my own “Sachem’s Head” on a proverbial pike.  But we’re too progressive to actually hang someone’s head on a pole to display our power.  At least I hope we are.


Media and The Fall (and Rise?) of Man September 12, 2014

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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There’s a great writer and singer I used to listen to a lot named Carman Licciardello, who talked about dealing with temptation.  In a hilarious moment he talked about going to the beach and looking “stupid with [his] big old head stuck in the sand,” and admonished the listener to “keep your eyes on the Creator, man, and not on his creations.”  He’s got a bunch of other great songs demonstrating a brilliant sense of humor with solid teaching.  Give a listen if you feel so inclined.  I’m sure you can dig up dirt on Carman if you look hard enough and want that kind of spin.  I’m not in full-time paid ministry or under tight scrutiny from the press, or you might find my dirt, too.  But please don’t.  Suffice it to say that “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) including me, and including you.  I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect.  And that’s why I’m the perfect person to write about temptation and failure.

The press loves this kind of thing.  Drag someone’s name through the mud, throw it up on the TV screens and magazines and newspapers and “news” blogs for all to see.  And they do it so well.  Sex sells, violence sells, and money sells.  The hype feeds itself until the readers and listeners and voyeurs are all whipped into an orgasm frenzy of hating the person they’re told to hate, or disrespecting the person they’re told to disrespect.  Instead of leading to healthy resolution for anyone, including the audience, the press drops the story right after the fall and never shows the grace that leads to restoration.  We drop them while they’re in the mud, and we leave them there to run after the next salacious tidbit, the next story of someone who did something “bad,” the next disaster.

Doctors who study behavior describe some less dangerous, non-addictive drugs as “Gateway drugs.”  The theory was, experimentation with a gateway drug like alcohol or marijuana might lead to more dangerous drugs like cocaine or heroin or LSD.  I think sex and violence have gateways too.  Turn on your TV (or don’t) and you’ll see the gateways.  Makeup commercials.  Underwear commercials.  Hamburger commercials that look like underwear commercials.  TV shows depicting illicit sexual relationships and questionable predilections, downplaying their dangers and proclaiming their “normalcy.”  And then think about the hypocrisy of people who want to proclaim these as normal human social interactions who drag one person’s “normal” life into the spotlight to say how bad they are for doing what the critic would advocate for another person.

If it’s “sin,” then it’s wrong for people who want to avoid sin, they should steer clear.  There are obvious things that everyone who’s not a sociopath would agree are universally wrong.  We have legislation that says stealing is bad, murder is bad, lying is bad, adultery is bad, assault is bad.  The gateways stab at the wrongness of adultery and throw up the possibility that maybe it’s not bad, or maybe you’ll be the special one who’ll get away with it without facing consequences.  And people fall for that, even people who would normally tell everyone that’s bad.  If it’s universally wrong and you want to stay out of jail, you’ll avoid breaking the law.  If it’s situationally bad, even if it’s not against any laws but you know it’ll possibly have natural consequences you want to avoid, you’ll avoid doing that.

People don’t like to think through their actions to their natural logical consequences, to their bad ends, but they should.  Even when I was younger I tried to think through at least some of the stuff I wanted to do, and chose not to do it because it was risky and might not have had all good rewards even if I “succeeded,” or got away with it.  Kids need to think things through, and stuff is being pushed on us at a younger and younger age.  I think of six and eight year old beauty pageant contestants. Is that really something you want little kids fighting over who’s best, or should we just tell them they’re all beautiful and encourage all of their talents to shine?  People need to think about the messages we’re giving to each other, especially what we’re saying to kids.  And people need to be wiser about their choices, including me.  I don’t always want to think about the consequence, just about what I want to do.  And my temptation leads to my failure, just the same as it does for you.  But what are we dwelling on?  What are we thinking about?  What’s put in front of us all the time, even when we’re not making an effort to think through things?  The more we dwell on something, good or bad, the more we’ll want to do that, or the more we’ll think it’s normal even if it’s bad.

If you say in one breath that certain behaviors are “all right” or “normal for everyone,” you have no right to say that for a certain segment, or worse, a certain individual, of the population, that same behavior is “wrong.”  It’s hypocritical.  Leave the preachers alone.  Leave the celebrities alone.  Stop airing their dirty laundry (or more apparently their lack of it) on the TV and news outlets.  I would rather see the news media burying sins and never reporting on them.  I would rather see stories of people striving to raise themselves to higher standards, and the good that comes of someone making restitution to society, and paying something back, or better still paying something forward.  But the rabid audience demands blood, and if it can’t have blood it wants sex, and if it can’t have sex, it wants scandal, theft or some other kind of mayhem or destruction.  I don’t want to know who’s sleeping with whom, and I wish I didn’t have to change the channel or turn off the TV to avoid hearing about it.  The news wants to tell me that he’s sleeping with her but married to her, or that she’s sleeping with her and they’re getting married.  I don’t want to know.  Some things are personal and should be private.  Stop telling me about other people’s private affairs.  Stop.

I used to like Andy Griffith, and I watched other TV shows as well.  I’m almost embarrassed to say I have enjoyed an adult show at night called “Dexter,” about a serial killer who avenges murders and prevents the killers from killing again.  It’s got a lot of adult themes, but I watch it at night after the wife and kids have gone to bed.  During normal daylight hours, I like to watch cooking shows.  Most of them, at least the ones without the rabid, expletive-shouting chefs who are angry for the sake of anger, are safe for me and my kids to watch.  But anything else on TV, I question.  I like family comedy shows, but frankly they’re gateways because the writers want to put new complications on their characters, which are very different than in the days (before my time) of George and Gracie and Mayberry and Father Knows Best.  We like to push the envelope in every area of life.  Society is being groomed for a world where everything is right and nothing is wrong, which is what Rascal Flatts was singing about- they missed living in a world “where everything is black and white,” meaning we knew what was right to do, and we were encouraged to do the right thing.  Now we’ve got crude animated shows replacing the silliness of Bugs Bunny and Popeye, and crass, highly sexualized TV shows replacing Father Knows Best, and ego-maniacal, profane chefs edging out Julia Childs.

I’d like to see the media outlets stop pushing envelopes that glorify or aggrandize the negative behaviors, with the negative consequences.  I’d like to hear about the farmer whose crops are feeding the hungry.  I’d like to hear about the company that’s hiring people and the politician whose work is genuinely stimulating the economy, not the spun report at re-election time that shows the one good thing they do that’s supposed to atone for all the bad.  I’d like to hear about the ex convict whose ministry helps other ex convicts get good jobs and keeps them on the road toward making a positive contribution to society.  I’d like to hear about the company whose CEO and management helps people get trained to advance toward more responsibility and better wages.  I’d like to hear about the charity that helps feed the hungry and provides a safe, warm place for homeless people.  I’d like to hear about the civic organization’s good work, people who pick up the trash left by others, people who work for a cleaner environment.  I’d like to hear about how people organize to help in recovery efforts after a natural disaster.  We could have a hero of the day, and report nothing but good news.  There’s room for a little sensation in my kind of news report:  Tell the citizens if there’s a rash of burglaries in a given area, so we remember to lock up and set the alarms. Tell us if there’s an assault, and where it happened, just so we know to watch out for ourselves and each other. But please, tell us how to encourage our local heroes- sure, the obvious, the firemen, and policemen, but also other civil servants:  Teachers.  Civic group leaders.  Charitable organizations and leaders.  Even good students who are on a good path.  People who are making the world a better place.

If we raise the standard for what we see on the news and on TV shows in general, maybe we’ll be inspired to avoid temptation and the inevitable fall, and start seeing society making positive progress.  I’m just thinking and hoping out loud.

I’ve had an overflowing earful, far more than enough, of hearing about the evil things that people do.  Let’s tell our kids we love them and we hold out the highest expectations and hopes and dreams for them. Let’s tell our neighbors we really care about them.  And let’s make our society-bettering heroes more well known, and better rewarded, than our criminals.