Epitaph

Cover of In The Court Of The Crimson King. Art by Barry Godber

Confusion will be my epitaph. These words, written by Peter Sinfield, and found on King Crimson’s first album, perfectly sums up 21st Century life. All we had believed in the past is now wiped away as society changes around us.

Women being able to govern their own bodies? Sorry, that is now obsolete. It is necessary for the State to coerce women to have children with no options for surgical solutions. See, it is all about saving the life of the unborn. Of course, coming up with solutions to enable         women to combine a working life with a family life is beyond the capacity of any politician, so undoubtedly the result of restrictive abortion laws will be more child abuse, more child poverty, and an increase in those who violate the law coming down the pike in about 16 years.

Confusion will be my epitaph. I believed it impossible for politicians to repudiate their own words caught on tape. That was before the current generation of politicians found it possible to disown their own statements of the recent past. Same holds for commentators on cable news shows who preen to the camera with unparalleled ability to regurgitate positions completely in opposition to what they said a few days or weeks ago. All in order to chase elusive voters or viewers, depending on which profession they practice. In all of these cases, their disdain for the public is palpable, since they believe only their current utterances represent their beliefs. Anything they said in the past is no longer germane, or even rational, and they definitely should not be held responsible for any past comments. And if anyone took their words seriously, and acted on them? Well, the politicians and commentators didn’t actually pull the trigger, so linking their words, and the actions of others is not fair.

I had a faith that the increased ties of commerce would assist in consigning international war to the trash heap of history. That faith was shattered with the invasion of Ukraine. So we are now to believe only in the force of arms which enables those with power to impose their will through the miracle of explosives. We may marvel in the ability of the people of a country to resist overwhelming odds, in order to retain their freedom. Maybe too many of us who marvel, no longer have beliefs we would die for. And no, wearing a surgical mask is not tyranny. An invading army consisting of soldiers who have no compunction against killing civilians is true tyranny.

 Confusion will be my epitaph. I did not hear the words spoken that deemed hatred of others as a Christian virtue. I was not prepared for a society where racism was considered a virtue, fully consistent with Christian principles. I was not prepared for a society where celebrity is worshiped as the only value worth celebrating, and those who have obtained celebrity are incapable of doing bad things, since, after all, they are celebrities. I was not prepared for a society where all values are deemed relative, and only the end matters, especially when it benefits me. I was not prepared for leaders who embodied the worst human attributes, and were proud of those pitiful attributes.

I believed advances in science would always be valued. I had forgotten how bitter the struggles were in the past for new scientific truths to be accepted if they challenged the status quo. I see echoes of Copernicus and Galileo in current issues around global warming, and humanity’s role in altering our planet. I realize now how difficult it is to convince others of facts they cannot verify through their own experience.

Confusion will be my epitaph. When the original Soviet Union fell, I believed mankind had dodged an enormous threat by removing the danger of nuclear conflict. I was not ready for the rise of an autocrat, who could threaten the use of what was considered unthinkable. I now realize that even if we escape this round of conflict without nuclear detonation, it is inconceivable we will emerge from the scourge of nationalism without some exchange of nuclear weaponry. Certainly the political discourse heard in many countries leads me to believe this exchange will happen sooner, not later.

I can go on, raising other issues where the promises of a brighter future now seem dimmed by the intransigence of the human race. But I want to leave the last words to Peter Sinfield, who penned them back in 1969:

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl, a cracked and broken path
If we make it, we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying
Yes, I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying

No Easy Answers

My church is home to Manna Meal. This is a ministry in Charleston WV which has provided 2 meals a day (breakfast and lunch) for nearly 50 years to anyone who comes by. As you may expect, this service has always been controversial, since many respectable people feel uncomfortable when confronted with those who inhabit the underside of society.

Lately, though, it has become an acute problem. With the pandemic, human need has increased. At the same time, the city of Charleston cleared out the encampments of the homeless, responding to complaints from landowners about property damage. As a result, the church grounds have become an alternate site for camping out for homeless people. A dispute between individuals led to a fire which destroyed a small building used as a clothing distribution site. Now we have a metal fence surrounding the space where the building used to stand, and the homeless have set up their tents along the periphery of the fence.

One other issue with the pandemic has been the elimination of serving meals in a common room. Instead, Styrofoam containers enclose the take-out meals, and litter outside of the church has become a more significant problem. That’s one reason why the existence of this service has come to the forefront of the concerns of the parish. People are scared of encountering the larger crowd of homeless people around the rear entrance to the church, and are tired of the seemingly intractable litter problem.

Is there an easy solution to these problems? No, as with all social problems, the causes are many. The Manna Meal service is trying to decentralize its meals by the purchase of a food truck in order to reduce the stress at the church. Funding for this food truck is being provided as part of the fund dispersal from the pandemic relief funding from the Federal Government. But another potential preventive measure, building a tiny home development for the unhoused, is currently in civic limbo, falling victim to NIMBY concerns. If it is ever approved and built, it will surely become obvious that the supply of housing will be insufficient to take care of the demand. When you draw your supply of the underclass from those who are unable to sustain themselves in the market economy world, you will always find more need than society can provide for.

The social programs of our church are one main reason we became members (that, and the magnificent organ sustaining our music program). Yet even I, a long-time liberal, can see the current situation is unsustainable. I can see why there are NIMBY concerns, but we are currently the epicenter of the problem. All we can do is pray that we do find a solution, one that reduces the demand we see daily while improving the lot of those who currently camp out on the grounds of St. John’s Episcopal church, Charleston WV.