From a modern perspective, it may seem strange that history books in the United States focus only on the Pilgrims. That is, the groups of people who came from England in the 1630s to seek religious freedom. And it's a story that is repeated every Thanksgiving, and focuses on Native Americans and people from England, mostly eating turkey, and corn. But there were Europeans all over the Americas, and many of them were from Spain.
I'm going to ask you to time-travel back to a time when the concept of government by the people, for the people, and of the people, was a brand new idea. It's an era called "the enlightenment" if you want to Google it, and I like to call it the "end of the divine right of kings".
Now stay with me here, because the divine right of kings to do whatever the heck they wanted to do had been tied to religion, either with the Holy Roman Empire, or in England with the Anglican Church. And it was taken for granted that ruling people had a divine edict, handed down through generations of the ruling classes, backed by the Church. And that gave tremendous power to rulers like King Henry V.
In 1776 the United States of America wanted to try something different. And that meant a return to an ancient idea, which was called Democracy. And this meant that there would be no King, no Priests, no divine rights. This would be a country founded on the idea that people could rule themselves. It was an outrageous idea, and one that 87 years later (fourscore and seven years) nearly failed. The United States created a representative democracy, called a Republic. Power to the government would come from the votes of the people, not through any type of divine right, or aristocracy, and certainly would not come through an official state church. This was called "separation of church and state".
Separation of Church and State would have been unthinkable in New Spain. When California was New Spain, anyone who wasn't Catholic was forbidden to own land. That's how it worked. To this day Spain still has a King, although like in England his power is nominal.
Ultimately, even my Puritan ancestors lost out. In fact, every one who wanted the new country of the United States to be tied to a particular religion failed. The United States was established without a state religion, which outraged many people then, and still does to this day. But religious freedom is a cornerstone of freedom in the United States, and has been since its founding. Anything that seeks to undermine that chips away at that foundation.
My family has had a lot of clergymen. The farthest back I can trace is Samuel Stone, who came to America on John Winthrop's ship in 1633, and was the first minister of Hartford, Connecticut. And the family had many men of the cloth, including Hope Atherton, the first minister of Hatfield, Massachusetts. The list goes on and on, and while I'll never know exactly what they taught, based on what I've learned about the overall attitude of Puritans in early America, it was an attempt to share the Word of God, the forgiveness of Jesus, and the principles of Christianity that they felt had been lost over the centuries.
I picture these men as bookish, probably wearing spectacles, and soft-spoken men. The Puritan ministers were servants of their congregation, not of some complex church hierarchy. I don't hear them teaching "fire and brimstone" - when I imagine their voices, I hear a softness, the way that I imagine the voice of Jesus, speaking to children, advising them to turn the other cheek, to love their neighbors.
The reason that these people were called "Puritans" is that they were struggling to purify what they considered the mess that people had made out of the Christian Church. They protested (yes, that's where the word "Protestant" comes from) the way that the church had grown rich and how it abused the people that it was supposed to serve. The church had become a way to threaten people, to keep them in line, another arm of power for Kings. The Puritans disagreed with this use of Christianity.
I don't have any photos of my clergymen ancestors, and even if I did, they would be paintings done in a formal way. But in reality I picture them looking very much like Fred Rogers of the children's TV show "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood", who was a Presbyterian minister. And that's how I hear their voices, comforting, not threatening.
If I've learned anything from my ancestors, it's that being a man of God means being a man of peace. There has only been one perfect person on earth, and He told us what to do, to speak softly.
Image at the top of this post: Statue of Samuel Stone in Hertford, England.
My ancestors, the Puritans, observed Good Friday, which is the day that Jesus Christ was crucified. Their thoughts were with their Lord with every breath they took, they refrained from profane acts, they read the Bible. In other words, it was like every other day in their lives.
If you'd like to observe Good Friday like the Puritans did, you simply need to turn away from ceremony. Their faith was simple. It didn't require Priests, or elaborate ceremonies. That's in the essence of what people called them - Puritans. They wanted to purify the way that people followed the Words of Christ. By the way they didn't call themselves Puritans, they called themselves Christians.
Good Friday is the day that the mortal life of Jesus Christ on earth ended. And it's a reminder that the worst can happen, and there are dark days that seem unbearable. But it's also a time to remember that He rose again, and that's what Easter celebrations are all about.
If you're wondering what you should do on Good Friday, what ceremony to perform, where to go, what to wear, I invite you to observe it as the Puritans did. The only place that Jesus needs to be is in your heart, and He knows where that is. He needs no special ceremony, nor did he ever ask for one. He only asked to be remembered. Come as you are.
The United States was founded on rebellion. The colonials (my family called themselves Continentals) were fed up with how they were being treated by England. And they protested. They protested with words and actions. They took to the streets, and fought a Revolutionary War. And when it was time to establish a government, they took care to allow for the word of the people to be heard.
There were a lot of protests when I was growing up. There was a sense that the government was out of control, and out of touch, with the people. There were protests against the War in Vietnam, there were protests against the unequal treatment of people of color, of women. People stood up, and raised their voices. And looking back, I see that things did change, but I remember how much people had to fight to be heard, as if the United States Government was sitting in a sound-proof box, or something.
Protesting everything has become so common for Americans that it's often ignored by the people in power. And that makes people want to give up. I know, it's just seems so complicated, and no one I know says that they paid any attention in their Government, or Civics, class. I've never met anyone who has much interest in how the United States Government works, how the Electoral College works, what their local Councilperson does.
But protesting was written into the Bill of Rights for the United States. It's called Freedom of Speech. And no, it doesn't mean starting riots and burning things. It means that people can speak up, and protest. And their voices can be heard. It's happened before. I saw the War in Vietnam end, I saw laws change for men and women, of any color, to be treated equally under the law for housing, and employment.
If you've been tempted to speak up, I encourage you. And it starts with a basic understanding of how all of this works. It may seem a mystery to you, but believe me, your teachers tried to explain it to you. And it is complicated, and it is a system. The United States does not have a King, the rules are not completely arbitrary. That's why we broke away from England. We created a county that would allow protest.
Speak up. Let your voice be heard. The power of the United States Government does not come from "the Divine Right of Kings", it's given by the people. And people have fought and died so that Government by the people, of the people, and for the people, can survive.
Power to the People!
Although on this blog I usually write about my paternal side of the family, sometimes I ponder my maternal side. And on that side, we were Italians.
Well, not full-blooded Italians, of course. I'm not Dean Martin. And in fact most people who look at me would just see a "white guy". One of my brothers describes himself like that, in a deprecating way. You know, we're average white guys from Minnesota.
But most of the people I grew up with in Minnesota were Scandinavian. They were the Satterbergs and the Andersons, etc. My last name is Hall, which is English, and it makes me, on the paternal side of my family, exactly what people think of when they say "white guy" - A White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP). And the culture that my dad grew up with was Germanic, so he liked Sauerkraut, that sort of thing. But my mom made spaghetti. Her father (my grandfather) was born in Italy.
I now know that if you've never lived anywhere except where you grew up, culture is invisible to you. I've talked to a lot of people who are puzzled by what I say and just tell me stuff like "that's just the way it's done" - as if the whole world acted that way. It's impossible to see your culture if that's all you know, and you've never looked at it from the outside.
And I probably wouldn't have realized how Italian I was, and how much I had been influenced by Scandinavian culture I that am, until I moved to California, and Arizona.
I can still sing the songs "Valkin' in my Vinter Undervear", "Yust a little Lefsa", and "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas". I've never seen Lefsa, but I've seen Ludafisk (no, I've never eaten it). My family ate meat and potatoes. My friends all ate "Hot Dish", but my mom never made it. She made the most wonderful spaghetti, with handmade noodles and homemade sauce. I've since learned that it was "Chicken Cacciatore", but we just called it spaghetti, and it seemed perfectly natural. I have the recipe, and I've made it here every once in a while, because sometimes I get a craving for it.
My mom loved the voice of the Italian crooners from the 1950s, like Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, and Frank Sinatra. She loved the soulful voice of Nat King Cole, and those are the voices that I recall singing Christmas songs when I was a kid.
Looking back, it seems very strange that the Italians came to Minnesota as early as the 1800s. They're not as numerous as the Scandinavian people are, and most people would never associate Minnesota with Italians. But it was my family, and my culture, and it became part of me.
Photo at the top of this post: With my mom and brothers in Minneapolis (I'm the one on the left). Average white guys, but if you said "spaghetti!" we were thrilled, and we would actually help make it.
My family, the Puritans, would not have celebrated Christmas. Certainly not in the way that most people in the United States celebrate it now. Theirs was a world that was immersed in their faith, they had no reason for holidays, or special occasions. They worshipped God, and Jesus, with every breath they took, in every waking moment. Whether they shouted "Praise the Lord" with every fork-full of hay, I have no idea, but I imagined they did, if not out loud, then with every beat of their heart.
And they were very disappointed by the establishment of the United States of America. Theirs was world based on the Bible, the Word of God, the Judeo-Christian principles. But the country that was established had no official religion, it was not based on God. It was based on the rights of man, on Humanist principles. The Puritans would have resented such Godlessness, rejected other religions, other ways of thought. And ultimately even the world "Puritanical" came to mean someone who was unforgiving, and inflexible, in their beliefs.
The Puritans deeply believed that theirs was the only way for all people to live. They believed in the Word of God as the only way to guide them. For them it was unthinkable to just go to Church on Sunday, or to celebrate the life of Jesus only on December 25th.
And there are still a lot of people who believe that to this day. And they will always be in conflict with the established government of the United States, which has no official religion. Establishing a country with no foundation in Divinity was a radical idea for the 18th Century, and many times this experiment has nearly failed. 87 years into the life of the country it nearly failed in a Civil War. But the country held together. And while the Puritans failed, the government by the people, for the people, and of the people did not perished from the earth.
In the United States of America, each according to the dictates of his own conscience. The Puritans would have never allowed that.
|Freedom of Religion by Norman Rockwell.|
My family, the Puritans, came to the New World to be free of being told what to do by the Church of England. And really, that meant the King of England. And being disloyal to a King can get you killed! So they left.
Of course, they became colonialists of England, but it just never set right with them. They wanted to break away. And in 1776, they did. And to this day, the people of the United States deeply resent Kings, Tyrants, and Dictators.
Of course, in the stories that I grew up with, and Disney movies, castles, Princesses, and all of that are the things of fantasy. I still refer to my dog as a "little Princess" and I'm flattered if someone calls me "Princely" or a "King among men". But the reality is something that my family fought against, beginning with the Revolutionary War.
At the risk of spoiling every Disney Princess for you, that type of wealth was based on a bunch of "fat cats" being rich while the rest of the people in the country lived in poverty to support their lavish lifestyle. Of course, your average Princess didn't spend much time outside of her little wealthy word of the castle, but if she did, she would have seen where all of the money came to pay for it. This was a world of feudalism, serfdom, and slavery. This was wealth based on colonialism, and conquest.
The United States rejected all of that. They rejected the Divine Right of Kings, they rejected an official State religion. There was to be no aristocracy, no worth based on class. No Kings, no Queens, no Princes, no Princesses.
After World War I and II, the attitudes towards Kings underwent a major change in the world. Tyrants, Dictators, and anyone who claimed to have a direct connect to God which allowed them to rule a country were disposed of, many times with horrific violence. And different types of governments were put in place, some Republic, some Democratic, some Communist, some Socialist. Russia took it to the extreme, pretty much outlawing religion, and going so far as to rename St. Petersburg to Leningrad.
But many people like the idea of Kings, and are willing to pay for them. In the UK, there are people who live in royal splendor, and the people there are happy to pay for their support. In fact, UK stands for "United Kingdom". No, they're not really ruled by a King, but they like to have one, just to look at. And many Americans get a big kick out of following the Royal Families, kind of like following celebrities, because they're rich and famous.
But not in the United States. The people of the United States aren't ruled by a Divine Ruler, they're ruled by laws. Those laws are interpreted by people. And those people can reference anything they like, any religion they like, any ideology, in order to interpret the law. But there are no Kings, Queens, Princes or Princesses.