Time and Place

I recently watched the new film, Dances With Wolves. Wonderful what we do to our fellow human beings. At the end (you can read this if you haven't seen the movie, I'm not spoiling anything), the frontier soldier returned to the American East Coast, presumably to plead for peace with his newfound Indian friends. Historically, we know that he fails. I wondered why he failed, and what I might have done in his place to succeed.

All the Great Battles, the ones we win, seem to have behind them a powerful pen, a writer or three who stirs the hearts of the people with some magical manuscript. The Colonies had Thomas Paine and his Common Sense. The slaves had Frederick Douglas and his Abolitionist. In these and those cases, it could be argued that the resulting events would have fallen out identically without the papers, that tidal forces in society and history had determined that a critical point had been reached regardless of individual contributions.

But I note that the Indians did fall under the onslaught of Manifest Destiny, and I can't recall ever hearing of a published effort to defend their rights and borders. And I wonder. Leaving the theater, I wanted for nothing so much as a chance to travel back in time, back to the ballooning chaos of 18th century America, and write that pamphlet, that bulletin of social awareness, that would turn the tide of popular disregard for Native American welfare. Might it have worked? I don't know. I was not given the chance to try it, and I was mightily irked.

Weeks passed, and new thoughts came to replace the old. Finally one thought came that permeated the scarred membrane that passes for my skull, and took permanent residence there. Typically, it came from a song. "This is my world, and I am World Leader Pretend. This is my life, and this is my time. I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit." (R.E.M.: Green, "World Leader Pretend") The message is simple: no, I cannot go back and write the American Tale I dreamt of. That happened to another world, another time, and events as they fell were the responsibility of those living in that time. "This is my life, and this is my time." If I truly want to write a story, this world has enough problems that I should have no problem picking one or ten to write about, without drifting off into dreamworlds of what might have been.

People so often say, "it's not my place." Not my place: to act, to respond, to speak out and shout in anger. Not my place: my house, my world, my race and my children. "I'm not responsible." Another song. About child abuse, this time. "He's your kid, do as you see fit." (10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe, "What's the Matter Here?") Well, I have a problem with that. "This is my world." If no one else is willing to assume leadership, I suppose I shall have to. This is my place, and I'll say what I damn well please.

That was the genesis of this newsletter [The Underground Theologian, Vol I, No 1]. Sure, it's got its scholastic angle -- that all-important Piece of Paper still hovers on the Event Horizon, and there are still many who won't listen to any message not backed by the proper credentials. Unfortunately, there are even more who won't listen regardless of the source. But it's time to take a stand. "Stand in the place where you live, now think about direction." (R.E.M.: Green, "Stand") But don't think too long -- sooner or later, one must take the first step. "Folks have got to make choices, and choices got to have voices." (Rush: Hold Your Fire, "Second Nature") It is time that we each take our proper place. It is time. It is here. Now, go. Do. Be.