The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Letter To Uncle Secor

16 November 2008
Dear Uncle Martin,

I know it's been nearly a century since you last walked this earth, and much has happened over the ensuing years, but you left this world with a question – one that many have pondered, but not many have dared try to answer.

Now, I know your story, and I know your background. It took me a very long time to find out about you, though my grandfather hinted about you when I asked him. I do wish I could have known you, talked to you, sat down and listened to you and your stories about the old country.
I can only imagine the struggles and hardships that you went through in your life. Born in a country where subservience was the norm, and not seeing any opportunity to speak your mind or having a choice in your future was hard for you – and it was that hardship that led you to make the choice to move to this land all those many years ago, in the 1850's.

Choice was a major part of your life, looking back through the dusty pages of history. It was your choice to come to Racine, to break away from your initial profession and start your own company from the ground up.

It was your choice to get involved with community life; especially those of your nationality – the Bohemians, what we now call the Czech people. You chose to care for your workers by opening a bank, providing them with shelter and food to eat – and you chose to enter the political arena, fighting for their choice to partake of their whiskey or beer.

It might surprise you how "choice" is considered such a bad word nowadays. Or, perhaps it wouldn't. After all, you were on the forefront in the battle against the Temperance movement – those who sought to prohibit the sale of alcohol in society. You were for a choice in the matter of whether or not to drink alcoholic beverages.

Choice isn't seen that way nowadays. "Choice" has come to mean a decision between life and death – though those who are proponents of it don't see it in those terms. Oh, I can only imagine what your thoughts would have been on the debate regarding abortion. It's one thing to be for something that – in moderation – can be enjoyable and have marginal benefit; it's another thing to be for something that is so black and white in its nature – life or death.

You didn't have a choice when you finally passed away in 1911. By that time, Uncle Martin, my grandfather had already lost his mother to illness – your niece, the lovely "Nettie", had died after making your brother a grandfather for the third time. You made your own choice before you died, one that no one discovered until afterwards, when the monument erected at your gravesite was revealed – and your question was posed to all who saw:


You probably knew that the people of Racine wouldn't care much for this little commentary on their beliefs. What you didn't know was that, despite much protest, your statement would be left intact for ensuing generations to read, ponder and debate. Yet few have attempted to answer your question.

Uncle Martin, I think I know the answer to your question.

It took me quite a while to discover your question in the first place, of course. For the longest time, I didn't even know you, nor did I know about your monument in Mound Cemetery. My family history was foreign to me, and I was wrapped up in my own life, my own time, and my own concerns.

It wasn't until recently, in studying my family history that I came upon your name and your famous posthumous query. And it also wasn't until recently that I discovered the very answer to your question.

I guess I should explain what I know about my family history, and how I discovered the answer. My research into my family history led me to your family's story and the concept of the Freethinkers – the Bohemians who sought freedom from the shackles of organized religion, and challenged the concepts taught in the church. I know from my study of the history of the city of Racine that you were greatly involved in movements that went against that of organized religion – noble causes that we'd call "activism" nowadays. You provided for the poor and unemployed; you fought for better streets and public facilities, and against intolerance and temperance.

You sought to do good, but had disdain for those who claimed to be doing good in God's name. It is ironic, then, that it is a teaching of the church – one that's had a good century of learning from the mistakes pointed out by persons of the likes of you – that helped me see the answer.

Your question is a difficult one, but one that makes an assumption that your statement prior to it seems to contradict. You assume that God is good, and that goodness is what you strove for in your life. Your question is then why he created a bad devil.

Uncle Martin, did you ever pause to consider the first part of your question? You asked about a creation of a "good God". Now, I would assume that at some point you read the Bible, and you knew the creation story. By stating on your tombstone that you a good God created something, in essence you are acknowledging that there is, indeed, a God. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Philippi that "every knee shall bow... every tongue shall confess" that there is a God. You do yourself a good service in acknowledging this and His act of creation.

It is that last part, however, that many take umbrage with your tombstone's query. Many, however, don't know how to answer the question, because it doesn't make sense, rhetorically. How can good create bad? How can good and bad come from the same being?

The simple answer is that it can't. That doesn't answer the true question, though: If God is good, why is there bad?

If you look back at the creation story, you notice that there's no mention of "bad" or "evil" until well into the story. God, after each day that He created something, said that it was "good" – including, if I might add, when He created man and woman in His own image. It wasn't until the whole story of the forbidden fruit that "bad" came along. Satan – your "bad devil" – tempted Eve by questioning what God had told them. Eve made a choice to disobey God and eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge – and Adam made the same choice. Satan already made the choice of going against God by tempting the two with the statement about becoming "like Him." It was at this point that things changed in God's creation.

What was the difference between the pre-sin Eden and the world of sin and suffering that we live in now? It was a choice that was made by both Adam and Eve – a choice to disobey God and go against His will. God created Adam and Eve – and, presumably, Satan himself – with the ability to choose their destiny. That choice was part of who God was, since He created them in His own image. The choice they made to turn against God was what caused sin and evil to enter God's creation.

Choice, then, is the very answer to your question. For the Creator God that you accuse of making a "bad Devil" did not create him, but instead created choice – the choice to follow God or disobey Him. The good God made creation in His image, but His creation rejected Him, which resulted in sin and suffering and evil.

Uncle Martin, both you and I made a choice in our lifetimes. I suspect that, despite your assertion that you chose to do good as your religion, your choice was to go against God and His will. Yes, you may have done good – but that doesn't outweigh the times you were dishonest, or you looked at someone or something with jealousy or rage or lust or murder in your heart.

"There is none righteous, not one," wrote Paul in another of his letters. No amount of good you or I do can overcome the basic problem of that original sin. There is a choice, though, that can. Over two thousand years ago, God gave us a choice in Jesus. We can choose that He is the Son of God who shed His blood as a sacrifice for our sin – or we can choose to reject it.

Both you and I have already made our choices. I can only pray that others who come upon your query in stone can make their choice before they are six feet under like you – and my grandparents.

Your great-great-grand nephew

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Voting Experience, 2008

I had a elatively easy time voting this morning; our polling place is the new Village hall, and even though they had a long queue through the main lobby, there were only about a dozen or so people ahead of me.

The hall where they had the balloting was actually (IIRC) the chapel of an old church that had been renovated a couple of times (first to be the library, then to be the village council chambers).

In and out, pretty simple; the longer queue in the main lobby was for new voters. Setup usually is they have a table outside the main voting area, where you register if you have not done so previously; if you're already registered, you go inside to the main table. Give your street address, then your name.

Unfortunately, the state of Wisconsin has not yet made it mandatory to provide ID before voting, but that's a minor thing (and it could very well be fixed by 2012, especially if we have more electioneering crap like we had in '04 - ciggies for votes among the homeless!).

Ballot is a scantron-style that you use a marker to cross off your vote, kinda like this:

>>-- -->> indicates unselected
>>------>> indicates selected

Had at least one lady ahead of me who put an X in the line, but realized her mistake right away.

You go to a semi-private alcove to make your marks in the various races, from the congressional to the various other ones (I saved the presidential choice for last). Afterwards, you take your completed ballot over to the scantron machine, slide it in, and beep, you're done. (That's why I said I was voter 132, but ballot number 129.)

My little "I voted" sticker, by the way, was good for a free cup of coffee at Starbucks. Wasn't the best cup in the world, but free is free.

Number 132

Had to try to figure out where to go, and got sent through a long queue to get to the polling area, but I got there and voted.

Something I would strongly suggest all of you who are US Citizens and have not yet cast your ballot to do by the time the polls close tonight.