Today is Casimir Pulaski Day; Because of Sufjan and Slavery, I Offer This

It’s mostly an Illinois thing, but there’s also an important Lehigh Valley connection.  I wrote about this a few years ago, but because I love Sufjan Stevens and hate injustice, I’ll tell you about it again:

Pulaski was a Polish noble and general who helped the American colonies win their independence from Great Britain by training and leading American soldiers throughout the Revolution.  Pulaski died from wounds sustained during the Siege of Savannah, and is remembered today as a proto-typical Polish-American hero in many Polish-American communities.  Though his holiday is mostly celebrated in Illinois, two years ago I discovered a connection between the Duke and the Lehigh Valley’s very own Bethlehem, PA.

I was walking around the grounds of the old Moravian settlements in Bethlehem and come upon this grave in the historic Moravian Cemetery:

A few yards away, I found this historical marker, explaining Duke Pulaski’s role in defending the early settlement and the fact that women from the Moravian community created the war banner he carried into Savannah, an even later llionized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Hymn of the Moravian Nuns of Bethlehem at the Consecration of Pulaski’s Banner.

Reconciling the image of pacifist Moravians sewing banners meant for war is one thing.  But Cornelia’s grave made me hot with rage and then it made me weep.

When I got home, I wrote the piece below.  You need to know that Bethlehem, PA, was founded by pacifist Moravians (who were fleeing religious persecution) in 1741 and christened for its namesake on Christmas Eve.

CORNELIA
NEW YORK
1728-1757
MULATTO SLAVE
(THE HORSFIELD’S)
1755 RECEIVED INTO THE CHURCH

What scandal, these Moravians, these Peace Church nuns and friars rending martial banners? Duke Pulaski, their protector, marches to Savannah, is recalled in Illinois among the Polish and in the frontier psalter for his sword. How ancient, their Count’s mission, in its context on the Lehigh, infant, pre-incarnate by their Christmas City’s namesake — Bethlehem, Palestine?

Cornelia, theirs in life, (the Horsfields’), not her own or God’s, sewn in Pennsylvania with the city’s founding mythos. December 24, 17whatever. Theirs in death, the Horsfields, these Peace Church nuns and friars.

The Gospel of Mark as Sudden Fiction

Sudden fiction is another term for flash fiction, but the two aren’t simply synonymous, at least not to my ear.  Don’t read too much into the title of this post.  I’m not making some argument that the Gospel of Mark ought to be thought of as fiction or non-fiction by modern definitions.  I’m talking about effect.   Where does the writer mean to take us, and why?  How do we know?

The Gospel of Mark is short, but it’s also very sudden.  Replete with “immediatelys,” the narrative is constantly moving.  Like a good short story, it feels meant to be read in one sitting.

I’ve just finished a sudden read in this manner.  My sudden thoughts follow.

In Mark, Jesus is concerned with telling anyone who will hear that the kingdom of God is at hand, the kingdom of God is here, and that this news is good.

Often, his message gains traction through healing and exorcisms (these may or may not be the same).   He is clearly opposed to entrenched religious systems and values, but not to the teachings of Israel’s prophets.  His je ne sais quoi  has precisely to do with his vision of God and God’s kingdom in the context of Rome’s empire, Herod’s puppet vassal, the Sanhedrin’s religious hegemony, the temple-merchants’ guild and the common-place fiefdom of first-century mores, beliefs, and expectations often beguiling his disciples or other parts of the general public.  Often, those outside his immediate circle understand him best.  He is arrested, tried, and crucified quickly.  He even dies quickly.  His tomb is found empty, and his followers are instructed by a heavenly presence to meet him, the Risen, in Galilee.  No big deal.  Biggest deal ever.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

’99 Problems: Jimmy Fallon Lost Me at Bitch

A few nights ago, Chris Rock’s “Bigger and Blacker” special was on.  Because I remember it being from 1999 and also hilarious, I watched it for a while.  A few things stuck out this time around.

  • Because it was made in 1999, it looks like it could have been made yesterday (Rock’s update on the Raw-era Eddie Murphy leather suit notwithstanding).
  • A lot of the jokes themselves still stand up.   Most of the ones that don’t have to do with gender roles and outdated (and even then, largely feigned) attitudes toward women.

The next day, I saw the clip of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake bringing their History of Rap bit to The Tonight Show.  Near the end of the medley, we’re treated to “Move, bitch! Get out the way!” and “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” in rapid succession.

Watching two wealthy, talented, powerful men grunt bitch the way they did was, quite frankly, shocking.  In both cases, bitch is meant as a pronoun, a somehow acceptable substitute for woman.  “Demeaning” doesn’t begin to capture it, and, while they should be embarrassed by it, embarrassing isn’t a strong enough word.  It was lyrical misogyny and it was shameful.  Because we all love you, Jimmy Fallon, we may be inclined to give you a pass.  Poor judgement happens.  But this felt like watching little boys learning how to marginalize and mistreat other people.   It looked like grown men who should know better legitimizing their part of a culture that treats women like objects worthy of derision, possession, and shame.   Aren’t we past all of this?

IronPigs-Liberty-Bell-2014

Not Just Bacon: The IronPigs, the Liberty Bell, and Allentown’s Revolution Legacy

The new bacon hats are getting all of the attention (and a lot of it) in the regional and even national press.  But for me, the most interesting new look in the ‘Pigs’ line up this year is the powder-blue/burgundy combo complete with a new alternate logo wedding the Liberty Bell to the local steel industry.   From the IronPigs:

“The IronPigs will don a new powder blue and burgundy two-tone Sunday cap this season that connects the rich histories of the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia regions with a fresh-take on the world-famous Liberty Bell. In this new design, the Bell is suspended by an I-beam, a symbol of the Lehigh Valley’s steelmaking prowess, and features metal rivets to indicate the Bell’s iconic crack. Lehigh Valley residents may also be familiar with the fact that in 1777, the Liberty Bell was hidden in Allentown so that the British army wouldn’t melt it down for munitions. The cap will be worn with the retro mesh IronPigs jersey which was introduced in 2013 to pay homage to the Phillies’ tradition-rich teams of the 1970s and 1980s in which the Phillies went to the postseason in six of eight seasons and won their first World Championship in 1980. “

Frankly, you had me (and always will) at powder blue and burgundy.  But there’s something even more interesting and historically important here, which the front office mentions but I’d like to expand on.   As many locals know, Allentown, then known as Northampton Town, did indeed hide the Liberty Bell (then known as the State House Bell) from the British during the American Revolution.  Specifically, the bell and ten other Philadelphia bells were hidden under the floor boards of Zion’s German Reformed Church (now known as Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ).   Also rendered Zion’s Liberty Bell Church, the site at Church and Hamilton (between 7th and 6th) has housed Allentown’s Liberty Bell Shrine and Museum since 1962.

From Zion’s website (libertybellchurch.org):

“Zion is known as the Liberty Bell Church because in 1777, eleven bells were brought here from Philadelphia for safe‑keeping during the Revolutionary War. Those bells included the State House bell B, now better known as the Liberty Bell. They were hidden under the floor boards on this very site so that the British would not find and melt them to make cannons.

Our Liberty Bell Museum on the lower level of the building commemorates this and other historic events at the church, and houses the Harry S. Trexler Portraits of Freedom collection as well as changing exhibits. Because of its historical importance, Zion is on the National Register of Historic Places.”

As the tour guides at Zion’s will tell you, the Liberty Bell did not become “The Liberty Bell” for another 80 years after the colonies were liberated from Great Britain.  Seizing upon the message emblazoned across the bell (Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof),  abolitionists in the 19th century made it a symbol in the fight to end slavery and a reminder of the degree to which we’d failed as a body politic to proclaim the ideals of the revolution in their fullest, truest sense.

It’s not often that the cities respectively hosting a big league club and their top affiliate have this kind of connection in terms of history, iconography, and branding.  I’ll be sporting the new hat (reserved by the ‘Pigs, of course, for Sundays) in proud support of my city and the role it played in preserving one of liberty’s greatest symbols.

Bullets With Butterfly Wings: A Writing Prompt About Nerves, Dread, and Fear

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

The prompt (not the awesome title reference) came today from WordPress.  Butterflies like bullets.  You know what that’s about.  That song came out in 1995, which is probably exactly when my own strongest moment of heart-pounding, belly-twiting nervousness happened.  To make another reference, it was almost certainly about a girl.

And now I need to watch this, and so do you:

A few years ago I was on an obsessive workout regimen and dropped a million pounds.  Nirvana Unplugged was my cardio jam.  I wonder what that was about.

How Letterman Keeps Winning

Jay Leno may have delivered more viewers in the long run, but Letterman’s move to CBS 21 years ago created the late night ethos dominating NBC and cable even now.

Notes David Bauder:

“Like most comics of his generation, Meyers worships at the altar of David Letterman, but a more enduring influence is Conan O’Brien.” There’s no Meyers (or Conan, Fallon, Colebert, Stewart, or Ferguson) without David Letterman.