PART III – Jazz Goes to School
*The following was written while on vacation (when I write most of my blogs!), and is pretty much a stream-of-consciousness thing. Apologies for any inaccuracies.
Jazz today tends to consist of what I’ll call “Academic Jazz” (high school jazz bands and college music programs), the club circuit, and concert hall jazz.
Thank God for Academic Jazz. Most public high schools (and some middle schools) have a “jazz band.” This is probably the most effective means of exposing mass numbers of kids to music most would probably never hear otherwise.
While most kids leave jazz behind with graduation, a few will fall in love with it and continue to play. Some of those will make it a career, with most who do going into teaching subsequent generations, and a tiny fragment will become working jazz musicians (some would say that term is an oxymoron!).
As great as it is to have widespread jazz education, it is, for the most part, a cyclical institution, keeping enough interest to perpetuate itself, but having little effect on the music world as a whole.
So, is there a way for Academic Jazz to have a broader impact? I don’t know, to be honest. But I have noticed some things of interest.
In the U.S., there’s a wonderful program called “Essentially Ellington,” based out of Jazz at Lincoln Center. This program provides sheet music of (mostly) Duke Ellington music to music programs across the country (and even the world).
The program also hosts an annual contest, attracting the best high school jazz bands from across the country. There are a bunch of videos of these bands on YouTube, and they’re very impressive. The bands perform entirely from memory, and they feature improvised solos that are often fantastic. It’s wonderful to see these kids playing jazz at such a high level.
Another cool Academic Jazz program is the Big Friendly Jazz Orchestra, an all-girl jazz band from Japan. They too have some very impressive videos with precise ensemble playing (though the soloing lacks some originality). I need to note that the most recent videos I’ve seen posted from this group are at least five years old, so I don’t know if they’re still around.
As great as these programs are, however, they pale in comparison to what I’m convinced is THE greatest jazz education program in the world: The Sant Andreu Jazz Band from Barcelona, Spain.
The program was started in 2006 by Joan Chamorro, a professional jazz musician from Barcelona. Since its inception, Mr. Chamorro has deluged YouTube with a dearth of highly professional videos of his jazz kids (often accompanied by adult pros).
While professional-quality videos don’t hurt, it’s these Catalan kids who have made Sant Andreu an international phenomenon. They range in age from kindergarten (seriously) to their early twenties, though most are teenagers.
Many are multi-instrumentalists and several sing incredibly well. The ensemble playing is precise, but swinging and nuanced. And the solos…often times if I’m just listening (not watching), I can’t differentiate between the kids and the pros.
The American kids (Essentially Ellington) play great, but they tend to take a more showy, competitive approach. It’s the “I can play higher, louder, and faster than you” mindset.
In contrast, the Sant Andreu kids don’t play like they’re trying to show off. Yet, their solos are better, conveying the tone, phrasing, style, and overall musicality that better serves the music. This can be achieved only by completely immersing themselves in jazz.
Okay, I’ve really digressed here! Let’s look at the club circuit and concert hall jazz next.
PART II – The Jazz Revolution
*The following was written while on vacation (when I write most of my blogs!), and is pretty much a stream-of-consciousness thing. Apologies for any inaccuracies.
During WWII, some big band musicians grew weary with the ensemble-centric, formalized organization that the big bands were. At one NYC dive, a revolution started. Minton’s Playhouse offered a jam session Monday nights (the union prohibited this, but the club’s owner protected the players), with the added incentive of free food.
It was in these jam sessions that a core of rebellious jazz men found a new way to play jazz that came to be known as bebop. Thelonious Monk on piano, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Kenny Clarke on drums, and the tortured genius of the alto saxophone, Charlie “Bird” Parker, took solo improvisation to a new level.
The music was fast, chaotic, and more aggressive than what had come before. After the war, this new approach rocked the jazz world. And it never recovered. I think this was jazz’s BC/AD moment. Almost overnight, big bands became passé, and a generation of brash hipsters replaced swing era icons as the new vanguard.
Sixty-five years later, the aging founder of a big band I played in commented to the crowd between songs, “I never did like that bebop stuff. Good technicians, I guess.”
While many believed (and some still do) that bebop killed jazz, I argue the opposite. If not for the limitless palette offered by the innovations of bop, jazz likely would’ve become little more than a pleasant bit of nostalgia; a footnote in musical history.
On the negative side, one characteristic of be-bop was drug use (sound familiar?). young musicians idolized Charlie Parker, hoping to play like him, Sadly, they also emulated his drug use, as heroin became the drug of choice. It wasn’t until the clean-living trumpeter Clifford Brown proved that virtuosity was possible without drugs that it started to lose its grip.
Jazz underwent several other innovations in the coming years, including “cool” jazz in the late ‘40s, hard bop, modal, and free jazz in the ‘50s, and finally fusion (of rock and jazz) in the ‘60s.
Today, jazz musicians have over a century of styles to glean from in their approach to “American’s classical music,” as jazz is sometimes called. With so much to offer, one might think jazz would be more popular than it is, but it remains a fairly obscure genre. Why? I have some thoughts on this that I’ll share in my next installment.
PART I – A Little Background
*The following was written while on vacation (when I write most of my blogs!), and is pretty much a stream-of-consciousness thing. Apologies for any inaccuracies.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to start with a quick history lesson. In the early years of the twentieth century, New Orleans was a melting pot, not just for cultures, but for music.
Orchestral music from Europe, and styles originating from Africa including field hollers/blues and gospel, percolated with the current American trends of marching bands and ragtime to form an exciting new concoction we know as jazz.
The first recordings of this new music were made in 1917 by “The Original Dixieland Jazz Band.” The fact that a group of white men made the first recordings of music that was largely the creation of African Americans seems like another slap in the face to black people, until you learn that Freddie Keppard had the opportunity to record first, but declined, worried that other cornetists would steal his licks.
The songs recorded by the ODJB sound downright corny today. Silly musical effects and simplicity reveal what jazz primarily was in the early years; a novelty. Few considered it legitimate music, and its association with saloons and brothels didn’t help its reputation rise above the scandalous.
The musical genius of New Orleans native Louis Armstrong went a long way toward the maturation of jazz during its formative years during the 1920s. Although “Jelly Roll” Morton is often credited being the first to write down jazz in the 1910s, it wasn’t until ensembles started to grow in the late 20s that written arrangements became the norm.
Then, in August, 1935, everything changed. That was when Benny Goodman and his orchestra premiered at the Palamor Ballroom in Los Angeles. The band had just completed a disastrous cross-country tour and were on the verge of hanging it up when everything exploded at the Palamor.
Unbeknownst to Benny, West Coast teenagers had been electrified by his band’s hot sound on the “Let’s Dance” radio broadcasts on NBC radio. The band was on late night in New York, but with the time change, it was prime time out west, and the kids ate it up.
Thus began the Swing Era, when big band jazz was THE popular music in America. Benny opened the door for Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, The Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, and many more to make jazz the music of a generation.
This is known as “The Greatest Generation,” and in my opinion they had the greatest music. Sadly, it all came to a sudden and unceremonious halt at the close of 1946. Most of those returning servicemen had married and got to work having kids and generally being grownups. No more time for dancing and buying big band records.
People like Mitch Miller at Columbia Records helped ensure that the next decade of popular music would be an artistic wasteland, and jazz was left out in the cold. However, something had happened that ensured jazz would live forever.
I grew up loving my country. I enjoyed reading books about the Founding Fathers and other great American heroes. How accurate they were, I don’t know. I’m sure there was a fair share of legend (i.e. George Washington and the cherry tree), but it was the spirit of them that I remember. Stories of brave men and women who faced daunting circumstances with courage and resolve, oblivious to their own safety and security, captured my imagination and made me feel proud to be an American.
In public school (where I checked many of those books out of the library) we sang patriotic songs in music class and recited the Pledge of Allegiance regularly. National holidays, such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, further stirred my patriotism.
And now? It’s natural for people to grow pessimistic and cynical as they grow older, and despite any desire to not be a grumpy old guy, I find myself increasingly following that pattern.
I’ve watched politicians let me down—nothing new about that! I’ve learned that those heroes of the past were, at best, flawed humans, and at worst, total losers. I’ve learned more sordid facts about our national past than I care to know.
Yet through it all, we’ve been a country that has tried really hard to get it right. We fought our bloodiest war in part to put an end to the scourge of slavery. Those flawed leaders have struggled to right societal wrongs. Our system of government has yet to be improved upon by anyone this side of Heaven. And the American people have remained fundamentally decent. Willing to fight, sacrifice, and suffer for what we believe is right; always willing to lend a hand to those in need.
The result has been a spectacular run of peace and prosperity, where even those in poverty are considered rich by the standards of much of the rest of the planet.
But sadly, human nature makes it hard to maintain those high standards in the midst of comfort. There’s been an undeniable deterioration of our national character about which one could write volumes.
But nothing has dramatized this as much as the early months of the year 2020.
After vague reports of a mysterious illness in China, it’s as if one day the media moguls of America got together and said, “This is our new crisis. Whip the people into a frenzy of fear! Pound it into them around the clock.”
Suddenly, we found ourselves inundated by ominous reports of a coming tsunami of destruction. How did we respond?
We panicked. Running for cover as if a proverbial mass shooter was on the loose, we cowered in our homes, scared to death of The Virus. Without question and without hesitation, we surrendered our God-given rights. Freedom of Assembly? Naw, we don’t need it. Liberty? An unnecessary luxury.
Despite relying on projections of deaths caused by The Virus that were so flawed as to be laughable, we continued to defer to the “experts,” happily surrendering the most prosperous economy in American history to the throes of a Depression in mere days.
If anyone dare question this reaction, we were quick to pounce on them, accusing them of not caring about lives. “People are gonna die!” We screamed, red in the face. “If we save just one life, it’s worth it,” we chanted in monotonous repetition.
Imagine if you will, if our forerunners acted like we are today.
The Pilgrims, desiring a life where they were free to worship and live as they pleased, when confronted with the perils of a transatlantic voyage in the early 1600s, would declare, “It’s just too dangerous. People are gonna die if we do this!” If any suggested doing it anyway, they’d be shamed with, “How many dead pilgrims are you okay with?”
John Adams, standing up before the Continental Congress, would’ve given a speech something like this: “Gentlemen, while the destruction of our liberties by the King are terrible, and we groan under this oppression, yearning to live free, many people will die if we oppose the British. They’ve already sent thousands of troops over here, and they have a whole fleet in New York Harbor! There may well be innocent civilians who lose their lives! And, were we so audacious as to declare independence, those of us in this very chamber would be wanted for treason and executed if caught. It’s just not worth it! In the interest of public safety and security, I must implore you to stay home, follow orders, and stay safe.”
Harriet Tubman, after alighting on the idea of smuggling Southern slaves to freedom in the North, would suffer PTSD as a result of even entertaining the thought of what might happen were she, or those she helped, to be caught. “It’s just not worth it,” she’d cry. “People may suffer and even die if I go through with this!” At least slaves were safe and taken care of on the plantations, provided they mind their manners and do what the master says.
Woodrow Wilson, when confronted with the sinking of the Lusitania and the discovery of the Zimmerman Telegram, would adjust his glasses and speak to the American People: “I know many of you are outraged by these German atrocities; much of France lies in ruins; and an entire generation of young men from our allies have perished; but at this time our troops need to stay on lockdown, because there’s a global pandemic! Were it not for the Spanish Flu, we’d rush to the aid of our friends, but it’s just too risky. We need to slow the spread, or people will die!”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speaking to Congress the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, would grip the podium and declare: “Yesterday--December 7th, 1941--a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan….there’s no doubt that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. So with the input of qualified experts, I’m instituting a national plan to sandbag all our residences. We will be passing out sandbags, sand, and shovels. The military will be dispatched to help make your homes safe from enemy attacks. There are some who say we must fight the Japanese and Germans, but a lotof people would die, and that’s unacceptable. It’s better to run and save just one life, than fight back and have a bunch of our precious people die!”
What would these and others who came before us think if they saw us now?
“Fear is poison in combat. Something we all felt but you just didn’t show it. You can’t. It’s destructive, and it’s contagious.”
– Sgt. Carwood Lipton, 506thPIR, 101st Airborne Division, Quoted in Band of Brothers
The times we’re living in now has surpassed the fall of 2001 as the weirdest I’ve ever experienced. There’s so much I could editorialize about what’s happening globally right now, but I feel the need to address the Christians. If you aren’t a Christian, I hope you’ll say yes to Jesus!
Never before have I seen not only rampant fear, but unbridled panic. I can understand people without God freaking out. What hope do they have? Only vague wishes that somehow things will work out. Not much comfort in the face of such dark fear.
Thankfully, many of my fellow believers have been admonishing people to “fear not!”
But why shouldn’t we fear? The circumstances are scary.
Is our only advantage the hope that God will muddle through along with us through the misery, but someday, in the sweet by and by, we’ll get to go to heaven, and then everything will be happy?
I believe we have a lot of good reasons to fear not! I believe that because I’ve seen it in the Bible, and I can’t un-see it. I had a hard time believing some of these things at first, but I’m learning to trust Him more and more.
I’m not scared of any pandemic. Why? Here’s just a few reasons:
Psalm 91, especially verses 5-7, and 9-11. “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…”
How can I cower in fear if I believe that?
“But what if I (or someone I love) gets sick?”
The entire Bible has good news on that front!
In Isaiah 53, verses 11 and 12, we read a prophecy about Jesus which says he’ll bear (carry away) our sins. Moments earlier, in verse 4, the prophet tells us he bore (same word in Hebrew as above) our “infirmities,” which refers to “sickness, illness, suffering, and disease.” (Don’t take my word for it—look it up!) This is followed by the famous verse 5: “By his stripes we are healed.”
These verses are referenced twice in the New Testament in regards to the work of Jesus (Matt 8:17, and I Peter 2:24).
But wait, there’s more!
James 5:15 says the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well. Notice the condition for healing isn’t whether or not it’s God’s will, it’s whether or not the prayer is offered in faith. If you don’t like it, take it up with Him—I didn’t write it!
We follow Jesus Christ, right? He said, “I came to do the will of Him who sent me.” (John 6:38) He also said he does what he sees the Father do (John 5:19).
So, just what did Jesus do? Healed every person who ever came to him for healing! He never said “No” to anyone! In fact, God never said no to anyone who sought him for healing in the whole Bible! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
Furthermore, he never said, “It’s not my timing—maybe later.” Or “Sorry, but you have sin in your life,” or “Sorry, you don’t have enough faith,” etc.
We believe the part in “The Great Commission” where Jesus tells His disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matt. 28:19) I think the Church has done an outstanding job of that. But what about the second half of His sentence? “…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (verse 20) In Matt. 10:8, He commanded His disciples to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Doesn’t that count?
So why isn’t everyone healed? I don’t know, but far be it from me to devise a theology based on my experiences and disappointments, rather than what I’ve seen in the Book.
Ask yourself: If Jesus walked into a room full of sick people, what would He do? Then consider that He’s actually God, and you’ll see where He stands on the issue.
I’m not suggesting we deny reality. Even though we trust God, we’re still IN the world, and can still be affected by the situation (anyone have any toilet paper I can use? Haha). Jesus said in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble.” But He doesn’t stop there! He immediately adds, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
So even though we’re still affected by social distancing, economic realities, etc., we don’t have to be ruled by the global pandemic of fear.
Jesus said you must be like a child to believe. How about instead of stressing over a bunch of hysteria, we go to God and realize He actually gives us promises of protection and healing? Aren’t all His promises Yes and Amen? (2 Cor. 1:20)
Once upon a time, there was a woman who had a young son. She loved him very much, and wanted the best for him. One day, she wanted to spend some time being close—cuddling and talking in their favorite chair. She loved being close with her dear boy. But when she asked if he’d like to cuddle, he replied, “Aw, Mom! I’d rather go outside and play.”
Out he went, leaving his disappointed mom behind.
She promptly called the next door neighbor, who owned a vicious attack dog. “Would you please untie your dog so he’ll attack my son?” she asked.
“Certainly,” said the dog’s owner.
No more than a minute later, a blood-curdling scream issued from the back yard, and her son tore through the door into his mother’s arms. The dog had indeed attacked and bitten him.
The mom scooped him up and proceeded to comfort him in their special chair. They cuddled and had a time of true mother/son closeness.
Meanwhile, across town, there was a man who cherished his daughter—she was truly “Daddy’s little girl.” However, she had a bad habit of running into the street without looking.
Concerned for his daughter’s safety, the dad decided it was time to take drastic action. He had been doing some work on the family car in the driveway, when he suggested she play with her sidewalk chalk near where he was working. She was delighted, and soon lost herself in her colorful designs.
She was so distracted that she didn’t notice her dad start the car and slam it into reverse. Before she could react, the car ran over one of her legs, mangling it badly.
Her dad rushed her to the hospital and made sure she received the best care possible.
Though she recovered, she was hampered by a limp for the rest of her life.
From that day forward, she had a healthy respect (or maybe an unhealthy fear) of cars, and never again dashed into the street without looking. Her limp was a constant reminder to be careful around vehicles, and her dad was relieved that she had learned her lesson.
So…what do you think of these parents?
Before you judge them too harshly, consider that this is exactly what many well-meaning Christians believe God is like.
Any time someone proclaims that God (they usually add something like, “In His sovereignty”) does something like, oh let’s just say, sends a pandemic, they’re accusing him of being just like these parents.
While it’s true that those parents loved their kids and wanted the best for them, their methods were downright awful!
Yet, why is it okay to accuse God of the same things?
Maybe it’s because He’s so good at using lousy situations for good (see Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:20 for starters) that we think He wants to strike His children with calamity so He can work in our lives.
But it’s our enemy who comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10) and give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), and so on.
Yes, God disciplines us (Hebrews 12:6), but He’s not sadistic. I believe He’s fully capable of leading and instructing us without acting like the devil himself.
The next time you’re tempted to say that God sent something bad to teach us, stop and consider the life of Jesus (who came to do His father’s will—John 6:38), and the fact that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
I’m hardly the first person to ask this question, but it has been something I’ve been considering lately.
I started thinking about this when my son told me about some studies that had been conducted regarding music’s effects on living things. I also did some research of my own on the general topic of modern popular music.
There have been a number of experiments where music was played to plants. Perhaps bigger than the question of how plants respond to music is the question, “Who came up with that idea?!” At any rate, it turns out that plants exposed to classical music tend to thrive. On the other end of the spectrum, plants exposed to rock music did poorly. Apparently, jazz causes plants to grow faster and taller, but with weaker roots. There’s a joke in there somewhere.
Then there’s the study where researchers had mice negotiate a maze to find food. There was a control group with no music, a group exposed to classical music, and one exposed to heavy metal. The group of mice that had Mozart piped in completed the maze significantly faster than the control group. The third group listened to the metal band Anthrax. Not only was this group far slower in finding their way through the maze, several of the “headbanger mice” never even finished it!
Researchers concluded that loud, repetitive rhythms tended to decrease cognitive ability in the mice. Granted, that’s rodents, but scientists test all kinds of other things we consume on mice as well, so why would music be any different?
There are a couple more studies where scientists analyzed modern popular music itself. Some findings: the timbre of music (variety of sounds and textures) has greatly decreased since the 1960s; the overall volume has increased, and lyrics are far simpler than in decades past. That’s scary when you consider old lyrics such as “Yummy, yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy” or “Land of 1,000 Dances" (“Na, na, na, na, na,” ad infintium.)
Okay, but is music actually making us more stupid?
Consider this: Pretty much every public space (in America, at least) has background music, and it’s usually not Mozart. I really noticed this last spring when my family and I went on a Caribbean cruise. Everywhere on the ship there was music playing. Classic rock in the hallways, country on the stern, pop on the lido deck (that’s the main gathering area with pools and restaurants). It was impossible to get a snack on the lido deck without being subjected to “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.” Seriously, the only beat I heard in that area was quarter notes. No syncopation, no actual melody. Just loud, constant quarter notes.
Oh wait--they did play soft jazz in the formal dining room, though they only had a few songs on rotation. It became a joke every meal: “Hey guys, it’s ‘So What?’ by Miles Davis!” But that was still way better than the “pop” area.
People listen to music in their cars, at work, at school, in every store and restaurant. It’s a common sight to see teenagers with ear buds in (or better yet, huge headphones) everywhere they go. Do they take them off when they sleep?!
And what kind of music is heard in all these places? At best, a repetitive rock or country beat; at worst, “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP!!!” That’s right, the very loud repetitive rhythms that have been proven to make mice dumb.
And what about classical music? 7-11s in California actually play it to drive away homeless people! You can’t make this stuff up.
You’ve no doubt seen “man on the street” interviews where they talk to people who think Lincoln was the first president, or that Ireland is in Africa. If you wonder “How did people get so stupid?”, well, now maybe you know…
I’ve been thinking about a couple words lately: Liberty and Tolerance. My kids were completing a book to become “Junior Rangers” at a National Park, and there was a question they were supposed to ask someone: What does liberty mean to you?
My daughter asked me. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of: “The freedom to do what I think is best without the government running my life.” I would add that it’s the freedom to think however I want, and to express those thoughts as long as I’m not calling for violence toward others.
Webster’s Dictionary defines liberty as “the quality or state of being free…freedom from arbitrary or despotic control; the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges,” etc.
Thinking about this has brought to mind the word tolerance. Over two decades ago, “tolerance” emerged as a buzzword in our society. I recall numerous admonitions to tolerance when I was a public school teacher, including lesson plan suggestions, etc.
So, what does tolerance mean? Returning to my dictionary, I read, “the capacity to endure what is difficult or disagreeable without complaining.” If I’m willing to tolerate you, it connotes merely putting up with you. However, once segments of our culture started pushing “tolerance,” the meaning soon changed to not only tolerating someone/something, but approving of it/them. Once that took hold, it wasn’t long before “tolerance” morphed into celebrating and promoting the person/idea.
That’s quite a shift.
As disturbing as that is, in just the past few years, there’s been a genuinely terrifying development: Not only is everyone expected to approve of and promote certain people/ideas that the powers that be have decided need to be approved and promoted, but if they DON’T, then theyare not to be tolerated. If your viewpoint differs from what some people have decided is right, you cannot be allowed to express those ideas.
Universities, once places that thrived on debate and the open exchange of ideas, now routinely ban speakers with whom they disagree from appearing on their campuses and expressing their viewpoints. Some government officials have even called for the harassment of people who don’t fall in line. One governor recently banned official travel of state officials to another state whose policies were deemed intolerant. That isn’t just ironic—it’s scary.
Government officials are harassed in restaurants; their homes are the site of threatening protests; in Europe it’s become fashionable to throw milkshakes at public figures with whom they disagree (is it me, or does that sound like something a kid would do?).
In justifying this behavior, another word is twisted: hate. Apparently, if you disagree with the wrong viewpoint, you’re expressing hate. The official definition of hate? “Intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury; extreme dislike or antipathy.”
In the 1990s, we saw something new: “Hate crimes.” I’m sorry, but isn’t pretty much any crime a hate crime? If someone beats you up, what’s the difference between whether it’s a “hate crime” or just a garden-variety crime? The answer, of course, is what group the attacker belongs to, and what group the victim belongs to. If the groups can’t promote an agenda, it’s just a crime, but if some sort of societal change can possibly be fomented, then it’s time unfurl the “hate crime” banner.
Just today I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Reject Hate.” I couldn’t agree more. But are our worldviews and political opinions blinding us to just who the haters are?
If words like “tolerance” and “hate” can be twisted so much, what about “liberty”? Do we admit that liberty is a casualty of this disturbing trend, or do we change the meaning of that word as well?
Today I’d like to discuss what is perhaps the most common form of traveling in my culture: road trips.
I know some people who LOVE road trips. But being cramped in a vehicle all day for days on end just doesn’t appeal to me. The endless array of junk food snacks gives some pleasure, but ultimately even they end up making things worse.
Perhaps some of you don’t have much experience with road trips…perhaps you’re considering undertaking one…I’ll give you an idea of what to expect.
For starters, your trip will be best if some member of your party is really organized and plans it all out in detail. Hopefully they’ll figure out routes and distances, make camping and/or hotel reservations, and plan meals. If your wife has done this, you’re a blessed man. If she’s actually made a binder with all this information, that’s a bonus.
The locations you can choose for your trip are virtually unlimited, but for the sake of this example, let’s say you’re starting in rural Minnesota and travelling to the East Coast to tour a number of historical sites. Let’s suppose you choose two weeks as the length of your trip, and that you leave home on Labor Day weekend, hoping to avoid crowds (since most kids are in school the first two weeks after Labor Day).
In general, this is a good idea. However, I don’t recommend going to Niagara Falls that weekend, because it’s super busy. Even more so, I don’t recommend crossing the border back to the U.S. on Labor Day, unless you enjoy spending two hours on a bridge waiting to go through customs.
Next, you might notice that the roads of certain states—let’s say New York for example—are awful. Don’t they have high taxes in New York? I wonder what they spend all that money on…apparently not roads.
Now if you cross into Pennsylvania, you might notice that the quality of the roads improves immediately (I guess we know where their tax dollars go!). It will also become apparent (if you’re from the Midwest) that in states like Pennsylvania roads that are flat and/or straight are more rare than a Republican in New York City.
This only intensifies as one works their way farther Northeast. In a state like Massachusetts, for example, the roads appear to have been designed by a drunk British guy who threw a bunch of freshly cooked noodles on a table and then used them as a guide for laying out the roads.
There’s also a chance that there will be lots of intersections that are unlike anything you’ve seen back home (and I’m not talking about roundabouts). I don’t even know how to describe such intersections other than to say not to feel too bad if you navigate them improperly and get honked at by a local.
Adding to the stress that weird intersections can give is the fact that many street signs are obscured by foliage. I understand wanting to preserve nature, but this seems a little excessive. Will the climate be adversely affected if they trim the branches away from in front of their signs?
Speaking of environmental consciousness, you may also see some of those huge windmills that are becoming so popular these days. Chances are that any you see will be sitting motionless. Also, if you find yourself in the midst of eight straight days with no sun, you might wonder why they bother will all those solar panels as well. Maybe they should spend that money on the roads…
One important concern when planning any road trip is determining where you’re going to sleep. If you’re crazy, you might just sleep in your car, but that wouldn’t be very fun. If you’re rich, you could just stay in hotels. Or you could camp.
Maybe you’ve been camping in a tent for years and are ready for an upgrade. Let’s say you invest in a pop-up camper. Perhaps a very small pop-up camper. You might even buy one that doesn’t comfortably sleep everyone in your group, meaning someone (let’s just say your wife for the sake of this example) still sleeps in a small tent. This could elicit feelings of pity for her until you realize that she’s slyly avoiding one of your children (maybe a son?) who is a notoriously restless sleeper. That tiny camper may just sway from side to side with every shift of that kid. A pleasant night in the camper now feels like a ride in a small rowboat on the open ocean.
Adding to the aquatic feel, any rain could leak in, making your pillow and sleeping bag damp (and pretty much defeating the idea of using a camper). At this point, your wife—er, I mean the person in the tent—might have their plan backfire when the tent leaks even worse and ends up with a prodigious amount of water sloshing about.
Water is unquestionably necessary for life, but it can sure be a drag on a road trip. In addition to the aforementioned sleeping issues, it can make any lengthy walking tours less than fun, especially if you leave one of your umbrellas in your vehicle.
On the other end of the weather spectrum is heat and humidity. Most people take vacations in the summer when most of the country is ridiculously hot and humid. This can be a problem if you’re from Minnesota and have little tolerance for what you consider hot weather (anything over about 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
One of the most important things you can bring on your road trip is a map. And by map, I mean paper with ink on it indicating where stuff is. A phone is not a map. While you can’t pick up a map and say, “Siri, how do I get on I-90 West of Boston?”, you also don’t need to deal with the frustration of your map answering your request with “Searching for Azerbaijanirestaurants in your area.”
Okay, so those navigation apps on your phone are very helpful, though they’re no replacement for a good human navigator riding shotgun. This is essential for any road trip. I have to caution against switching roles, because you might get lost. Even in your home state.
I could go on and on (I guess I have…) but let me finish by saying not everyone’s cut our for road trips. However, any relationship requires compromise, and there are plenty of things that are worse than enduring lengthy road trips for the sake of relational harmony.
Have you ever seen the play and/or movie 12 Angry Men?
I’ve watched the movie several times—I used to show it to my classes back when I was a public school teacher. It’s a fascinating look at a jury deliberating the verdict in a murder trial.
It’s been a few years since I’ve watched it, so forgive any inaccuracies in my recollection of the plot, but here’s the gist of it. I highly recommend the film, but I also warn you there are major spoilers ahead!
It begins right after closing arguments in a trial deciding whether a young Hispanic man committed a murder. As the jurors leave the courtroom, it quickly becomes obvious that several of them have no doubt the young man is guilty, and they’re anxious to get their business over with and get on with their lives.
After quickly going over the facts, all the jurors vote, with eleven guilty votes and one not guilty. The lone juror who dissented, played by Henry Fonda, argues that “reasonable doubt” exists.
He proceeds to play devil’s advocate throughout the movie, questioning everything and challenging every assumption of the jurors. He continually reminds them that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Throughout the course of the deliberations, the prejudices of the jurors are laid bare. The accused is one of them, those minorities from the slums, and you know how they are, goes the reasoning. We must protect society from them.
As you might imagine, Fonda’s character slowly wins over the other jurors. By the end of the film, even the most hardcore holdout gives in, admitting that there isn’t enough evidence to find the accused killer guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt.
One of the other jurors asks Fonda’s character how he knew the accused might not be guilty from the beginning. He replies that he didn’t, but he just thought, “the kid deserved a chance,” so he led his fellow jurors to more carefully analyze the facts. As they did, he (and they) grew increasingly convinced that, though the accused sure seemed guilty at first look, there was indeed more than a mere “shadow of a doubt” that he actually didn’t do it.
The film dramatically illustrates the bedrock of the American legal system: The rights of the accused. I have to admit that this has frustrated me at times, when it appears that someone is guilty of something, but nailing down a conviction often proves difficult. But if I was the one being accused, I know I’d sure want a system that protects my rights!
Even so, sometimes innocent people areconvicted, and they end up serving time for crimes they didn’t commit. This is especially tragic when the death penalty claims what turned out to be an innocent life.
In recent days I've watched in horror as many of my fellow Americans have declared someone guilty in a very high profile case without a fraction of the care given to facts that Mr. Fonda’s character employed in 12 Angry Men. An accusation by itself, no matter how serious, is never enough to automatically make someone guilty.
I find it interesting, in light of current events at this writing, that Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayer decided to pursue a career in law after seeing the movie.
I challenge those of you who have decided someone is guilty based on something other than an exhaustive review of the facts to watch 12 Angry Menwith the current case in mind. Be willing to set aside your biases and look dispassionately at the evidence alone.
I pray our society isn’t coming to a place when a mere accusation is enough to find someone guilty.
I've included some old blogs along with the new. Should you ever find yourself suffering from insomnia, this is the place for you! That's as poetic as I get...