Category Archives: Recent Years

2016 Milestones So Far

mervsophiecookaugust

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I’m now well into my 95th year and haven’t yet heard the owl call my name. Whispers, hints, suggestions – yes, but marching orders, dated tickets or scheduled events – no. Oh yes, just one scheduled event. I’ve asked the Old Lyme Fire department to transport my remains to the Lily Pond section of the Duck River Cemetery, when my time comes, on the bed of the Ward – La France firetruck.

Actuaries have me in their sights and funeral parlors, nursing homes and retirement retreats all clamor for my attention. On the other hand, I still get asked to offer eulogies for friends far younger than I. How does this come to pass? I don’t know but I do speculate.

First, I never participated in contact sports. Second, I never in the last 60 years or so worked for a living. Yes, I did work but only to satisfy a curiosity or better explain something or tell an interesting story or to help some people in need or to correct an injustice.   These were the challenges.

How I resolved them was, I realize now, the force that motivates me to keep going. I do believe that were I to do nothing I could easily be nothing. That is to state that for me life without a challenge, a goal, is not worth the effort – and at my age the very effort of getting through ‘til tomorrow is a considerable effort.

I’m glad to note that our culture takes note of what others did and saw and contemplated on. I’m glad it gets recorded and I’m sad that we, most of us, don’t have the time or inclination to read, or listen to, what we have inherited.

Mervin at the Rockefeller Garden
Memorial Service for Douglas Chapman
Seal Harbor, Mt. Desert Island, Maine
August, 2016

Words

Some words in a sentence modify nearby words. These include adverbs and adjectives. Other words identify something. These are nouns. Some nouns are universal and others are used infrequently or only in small localities or in highly specialized fields. One example of localized use is a very common fish Brevoortia tyrannus. In the English language this fish is known in various localities by at least thirty-one names, including for instance: menhaden, pogy, wife, bonyfish, bunker, bugfish, greentail and cheboy. Thirty-one English names in use for just one fish. Notice that these examples don’t seem to relate to each other and some don’t even hint that they name a fish.

About twenty years ago I came upon a book titled The Sawba and his Secretary. It was a story set in the border region between Burma (now it calls itself Myanmar) and China. This story is about the experiences of a petty potentate (Sawba) who ruled there. It attracted me largely because my son Neel was working in Southeast Asia as a missionary. I gave the book to him. Now fast forward from about 1990 to 2015. Recently, he gave me another book about that same part of the world. It is titled The Art of Not Being Governed by James C. Scott and on page 114 there is a reference to a Shan petty potentate who was called a Saohpa. That rang a bell in my mind. Two words Sawba and Saohpa both from the same area in Indo-China.

Armed with a miracle of modern electronics, I pressed two buttons on my cell phone and my son promptly explained how the sounds of words are expressed and spelled when they are translated. I then began to realize the tremendous burden borne by missionaries and Bible translators who strive to make sense of words originally writ in Aramaic and Greek in order to be understandable when printed in the language of a Burmese Shan. I barely manage with thirty-one English names for one, just one, fish.

Even more so, I marvel at how one translates a faith-based intangible concept that many of us have been exposed to all of our lives and still don’t fully understand.

Memorial Day 2015

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Good morning, I’m glad to be here and I’m glad that you are here also, for today continues something of a tradition that originated during the Civil War.

I pray to God that the words of my lips and the thoughts from my heart are acceptible to thee O’ Lord. This address of mine is not intended as an Invocation, asking God to do something. It is rather a Homily to suggest to you a God-like thing each of us might do.

Now, there is an ambivalence about our coming here today. We gather on this designated day and in this place to mourn the dead; and simultaneously we celebrate their lives. Yes, here and now we both mourn and we celebrate. On other designated days. we often gather divided and then we depart still divided as on some town meetings, election days, sports contests and even sometimes after a sermon in church that strikes a discordant note, but today, I believe we can all be of one mind. For those who come here to mourn, there is plenty to mourn about, lives cut short, lovers separated, children orphaned, tragic accidents, diseases, fires, lost at sea, killed in a war. And for those who come here to celebrate, there is plenty to celebrate. We honor genuine public servants, judges, soldiers and sailors who offered and sometimes gave up their very lives. They volunteered their service to defend our liberties. Also we celebrate firefighters, authors, poets, police, ambulance, nurses, doctors, athletic coaches, clergy, artists, and teachers buried here who helped us find beauty and purpose in life. And as an afterthough please don’t forget fire department chaplains!

They are all here, or on their way, with name and date and perhaps some inscription to inspire the passerby.

In the baker’s dozen cemeteries of Old Lyme, over the course of more than 300 years, are the remains of towns-people. People we read about, heard about, knew about, knew personally, loved, honored, admired, revered, esteemed. They are here, ever reminding us that they’ve lived here, and that they contributed something to make our nation, our culture and our Town something special. Something upon which we can build. Something for which we can be proud.

I’m glad to have been part of that something. I’m grateful for those who paved the way. I hope that those of you, younger that I, can find joy and inspiration from memories stirred up by this Memorial Day. So, enjoy this designated day, the parade, the hot dogs, the music, the ceremony. And what might you do? Continue the tradition, keep coming back and do remember that you, each and every one of you here, are actually the most important part of what’s going on. So ends my homily.

Crossing the Equator with King Neptune – A Wartime Blog

There was a saloon in San Francisco, our home port, frequented by sailors.  the ladies there were charming and knowledgeable.  They liked us and we liked them.

On one occasion as we were slated soon to depart, the men in my division reported to me that they had, from their lady friends at the hangout, some requests for Philippine souvenir trinkets.  As if to say the ladies already knew something about our strictly sealed secret orders.

After we got underway, the Captain unsealed his orders and then called me to his cabin .  A Marine guard was stationed at his door, and the Captain shut the door and told me that he wanted a hatch cover converted into a temporary pond, perhaps two feet deep and about 18 feet by 20 feet in dimension.  Did I have enough wood and waterproof canvas liner for such a job?  I assured him that I did and he then said, “Make it so.”

An on-deck shallow pond?  Recreation? Communal bathing? A ceremony?  Were we about to cross the Equator?  For this there is a Naval Traditional Ceremony.  King Neptune would reign.

However we also had that hint from the bar ladies that they hoped for some trinkets from the Philippines. Please take note, all of those islands are north of the Equator and the Captain plans to have us meet King Neptune somewhere south of the Equator.  Should I say something?  I decided to be prudent.  Let it come from someone else.

Now in the course of the war in the Pacific there were two islands, both prominent in the news.  One, in the Philippine Archipelago, is Samar – somewhat north of the Equator.  Another, this one south of the Equator, but equally well-known, is Samoa.

I got a campaign ribbon with combat star on my uniform for service in the Philippines, but I never did cross the Equator during that war, and the barmaids did get their trinkets.

Tables of Organization

Let’s start with Independent Man whose image stands atop the Rhode Island State House.  He stands alone, but in more practical realistic terms, he doesn’t quite stand alone; but he tries.

That statue represents a person who rarely lives even one hundred years.  He, with one or more spouses, produces a number of offspring.  Eventually Independent Man and his spouse are gone.  Maybe some offspring survive and the circle repeats itself.

So then what remains of Independent Man?  Perhaps a soul, perhaps just a concept, kept alive from generation to generation through written records, memories and culture.  This culture is passed down to us with statuary, architecture, pictures, sermons, songs, poetry, literature, Memorial Day oratory, and cemetery gravestone inscriptions.  These are all parts of our patrimony and we revel in it. Daughters are sometimes named after their mothers and sons after their fathers. This cultural material is the basic building block of mankind’s Table of Organization.

Now we should consider the hypothetical brothers and sisters of that original hypothetical Independent Man and his spouse. They too are hypothetical Independent Men and Women – but they are not all like their parents.  In fact, none are alike.  They are not clones.  Darwin tells us that we mutate in every generation and certainly you know you don’t think exactly like your parents thought.  So now we have not one, but many Independent Men who don’t necessarily think alike on every subject or act alike in every situation.

So, we humans, we cleave to like-minded people, we join into family groups, clubs, tribes, clans, language, cultural, political religious groups that might emphasize our similarities, but sometimes as the numbers of members increase, differences become more and more apparent.  Sometimes these differences become, or seem to become, so great that the groups split up.  They even go to war to convert, or sublimate, or decimate, or exterminate those who differ.  History is full of these conflicts.

To successfully wage these conflicts, cultural groups form into nations to consolidate their resources for such or bigger wars.  Waging war is one reason for forming a nation.  A nation establishes  and defends its borders, raises armies, collects taxes and grows.  So that’s still another level in the Table of Organization.

As we consolidate, however, we need to compromise some of our dogmatic cultures, language, religion or whatever.  This is difficult.  Do you know anyone today who speaks Esperanto?  Who then gives up his independence in order to cooperate with other independent people.  People who, like us, are far from being clones.

So now we experiment with a still higher level of organization like an empire or a league.  One such league (The League of Nations) which was created in 1919 lasted 27 years and was then replaced by a facsimile with a new name.  This is the United Nations and when push comes to shove, it seems to also be less than united.

To maintain membership all must compromise.  If and when they compromise, they grind away on that cornerstone, Independent Man.  So there goes The Table of Organization.  Even the great religions of the world have this problem.  They have become segmented to accommodate differences.  For example, there are Catholic Bishops who answer to the Pope in Rome, but who may, if they wish, marry and raise families.

Among Jews there are Ultra Orthodox, and Orthodox, and Conservative, and Reformed.  Catholics follow several rites, some of whom hardly know or recognize each other.  Muslims of the Shia sect and the Sunni sect have lately been killing each other, sometimes with suicide bombers.  Surely, these people are sincere.  Protestant denominations abound. Some employ poisonous snakes in their rituals – REALLY!

Whole libraries are devoted to the storage of the records of oriental religions.

The same diversity found in religion, also obtains in how we govern ourselves.  Through it all, I retain my guarded optimism for humanity, but I’m still prepared to risk my life to defend my status as an Independent Man.  Boiled down, I would rather be dead than different.

 

 

Mervin Roberts – Basics

This blog entry is in response to The American Baptist Churches of Connecticut Policy Statement on Gun Violence.
Approved in February 2013. 

Altruism governs in my relation to others.  This is a given.

Liberty governs in how I want to treat and be treated by others.  This is also a given.  My guide posts in life are independent man and the Priesthood of the Believer.  Here I take my stand.  There can be no compromise.

I strive to conduct my life to achieve works.  I neither reject or endorse the questions of faith or belief in the hereafter.  I am also not interested in whether or not Mary got to heaven corruptible or incorruptible.

Forces that conflict with my liberty should be met by force.  Any peace achieved by loss and liberty will not last and further, has no value.

War to achieve or preserve liberty is not murder.

When I apply this guide of mine to the American Baptists in 2014, I find that their declaration concerning registration of firearms conflicts with my opinions for several reasons.

I did not ever elect or otherwise vote for the people who wrote that this declaration.   I never authorized them to speak or write on my behalf.  I never intended that anyone should claim to represent me, or to spend money that I contributed to my church, for a purpose that might infringe on my liberty.

Thoughts About God

God is, to me, an intangible concept created by humans to represent the highest levels of love and altruism we might attain.  Christian life has devloped to help people achieve this.

Immortality, heaven and hell are accretions to this concept that, for many, strengthens faith in things unproven.  I believe my life is finite.  I strive to love my fellow humans while I live with no thoughts of a hereafter. I don’t know if there is a hereafter, nor do I care.

God is not finite in my theology.  God does nothing tangible.  What God does for people is to insprie them to do something.  Prayer then helps people to do what we pray for God to do.

A Letter to Fisheries Magazine

18 April 2012

Fisheries Magazine
American Fisheries Society
5410 Grosvenor Lane, Suite 110
Bethesda, MD 20814-2199

Dear Editors,

I am a member of AFS. I’ve fished commercially, I’ve worked with tilapia in Kerala, India, and Atlantic salmon in Maine and New Brunswick, I’ve written books and booklets about fishes. I’ve been around the world a dozen or so times, on projects involving aquaculture. I’m in my ninetieth year. I tell you all this because I think I now have a perspective that I could not have achieved fifty years previous.

Simply put, the feature article in Fisheries, April, 2012, by some very articulate people regarding anti-angling are, I opine, opening a floodgate leading down a very slippery slope. Some of the authors quoted in the article offer a warped agenda that would eventually have all the world eat nothing but tofu, tree bark and perhaps some creatures that die of old age. Then we humans will be politically correct and morally beyond reproach. We will also be dead from a thousand cuts.

Where does one draw the line?

Have any readers of Fisheries ever seen a mimosa plant? Surely it is very sensitive, the dictionary tells us so. This same dictionary tells us that tofu (mentioned above) is the product of the soy bean, a legume related to the mimosa – that very sensitive plant. Of course everyone is entitled to free speech but somehow I wonder whether the rest of us members of AFS should foot the bill for all that paper and all that postage and all that ink; ink that was perhaps made with inhumanely harvested fish oil or soy bean oil, made from the living seeds of a plant that may be very, very sensitive.

Sincerely,

Mervin F. Roberts

 

Evolving Faith

December, 2009

This is my evolving view of God and faith.

When I read the Bible, I see an accumulation of sacred writings, ideas, wisdom, revelations, history, dreams, direct orders from God to inspired people who then wrote them down or told others. There are poems, songs, palms, and instructions.

Now, I know from the historical record that the various parts of the Bible were committed to paper or parchment or clay or stone over the course of perhaps 2000 years. Some parts are repeated. Some repeated parts don’t agree – fully. Some parts were deleted from some versions. Some parts contradict other parts and some parts, like astronomy, are just plain wrong.

Many people have lost their lives because others took their views as heresies. Many who read the Bible pick and choose. They emphasize one theme or just one passage or just one law. Mormons study ancestors and canonize latter-day saints. Others take special note of the seventh day; these include the Adventists, the Jews and even some Baptists. Some rely on ordained clergy to interpret and others do it themselves. Some feminists would make God female.

Opinions abound. My opinion is that God is a man-made concept. God is not male or female; God is not even tangible. I find no credible evidence that God existed before mankind recorded anything. People long ago saw or heard or felt things that they could not explain. Some people seemed to have explanations so they were appointed or elected or hired to handle these mysteries. That I think is how shamans and priests got into our culture. These people would explain forces or they would modify them to protect us.

As time went on Copernicus and Galileo explained some of these fearful things and Pasteur cured some diseases. As knowledge evolved and accumulated many of our mysteries evaporated. We can now anticipate an eclipse and we can now cure many diseases.

The one concept we have of God that grew and remains through all this is simply that God is Love. This altruism is why I subscribe to a belief in God without miracles. Further I believe that love for our fellow human beings is completely indifferent to questions about creation. Love does not depend on whether we are created in God’s image or God is created in our image.

I see the Bible as a valuable record of our evolution in thinking from a strict severe rule maker God into one me might emulate, as we love one another.

Of course this view does nothing for people who are seeking redemption, salvation, absolution, resurrection or eternal life. Put another way, I see some species of life changing and others not changing and still others becoming extinct – constantly. So, also, I see our concepts and the forces that drive us all subject to change. Today, most people don’t subscribe to the old idea of an eye for an eye or that there are certain things we should or should not do with our slaves. Few of us care about whether fish have scales even though there is a Biblical injunction about that. Nor do we care about cuts of beef that are to the rear of the diaphragm. There is an injunction about that, too. Jesus told us that now we have a new covenant. Religion evolved.

So, religious leaders tell us we can ignore those old rules but they resist saying from the pulpit that our religion has evolved but it has and that’s a fact.

Today, what is paramount to me in our Christian religion is that God is Love.  Any change is up to us.

 

93

I’m now in my ninety-third year and having survived a war and a dozen trips to distant places, I pause to review some of what I’ve learned about solving other peoples problems.  Here are a couple of examples.

In Manaus, Brazil I was tasked with aiding 4,200 Lepers who, I was told, were so poor that they were reduced to eating garbage.  A charitable organization in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota had been raising money for them for years, and a benevolent group in Bar Harbor, Maine enlisted me to perhaps establish an aquaculture program to alleviate their grinding poverty.  So I went to Florida to board a once weekly airplane flight to Manaus, Brasil.  There I would actually visit the Leper Colony on the Rio Negro, 800 miles up the mighty Amazon from the Atlantic Ocean.  I found it to be as it was described, precisely located exactly where I had been told it was.  The only snag was that in the seven days that I was allocated, even with the help of officials and academia and taxi drivers, I could find only two Lepers. The other 4,198 Lepers were completely and absolutely missing.  They had been gone from the “colony” for forty or so years I was told.  It seems that Leprosy is not contagious when treated with a modern drug, and so these people were no longer a vector for the disease.  As a result, they were no longer isolated, but were accepted back into society.

Make no mistake, in Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota that charitable organization was still collecting money for a non-functioning Leper Colony in Manaus, Brazil.   The buildings were still there, but the Lepers were all gone.  Oh yes, those two Lepers that I did find;  one was driving a school bus and the other was at his home tending his garden.  I spoke cordially with both.  It was difficult because I spoke only Spanish and they both spoke only Portuguese – but I did verify – they both had been patients there long ago.

For another example, a Roman Catholic Bishop half a world away in Kerala, India, was visiting the United States to raise funds to help his people in a small city on the shore of the Arabian Sea.  The rice, fish and coconuts that these people had relied on for centuries had all failed and the community was really and truly destitute.  As in Brazil, I was enlisted to try to alleviate poverty.  The Bishop had been advised by some laymen in his council that the solution would be found by getting funding from Americans for the purchase of a mangrove swamp that could be made into a shrimp grow-out farm.  The trouble with the plan is that very poor people can’t afford to buy shrimp.  So the farmed shrimp would be marketed.  Sadly, in that part of the world, the market was the domain of the men, and the value of the product would be greatly diluted by alcohol, drugs and electronic novelties.  Not much benefit would trickle down to feed hungry children.  This is not something spelled out in aquaculture texts, but it is a fact.  It took about a week there for me to also realize that the shrimp scheme was really a scam to use American money to buy mangrove swamps to the profit of some Indian businessmen.  Also there would be the environmental loss to all the people who lived near the shore.  The mangroves protected the shore from storms and flooding.  Later, I learned that the only continuous source for the baby shrimp – the only available hatchery – was not operating and might not ever operate.  Without a constant supply of baby shrimp, no intensive grow-out aquaculture of shrimp is possible.  Even the Bishop didn’t know any of that.  It took someone with the knowledge and without bias or financial stake to see the whole picture, before proposing a solution.  In this case, I chose tilapia to be raised by the women in backyard ponds, and fed to the children without the overhead costs inherent in an Indian small town market economy.

Again, the problem could not possibly be solved by a think tank thousands of miles away from the tangled details and ramifications of an ancient culture that was set in its ways.  It needed someone knowledgable with mud between their toes.  I’ve come to conclude that money alone will alleviate a problem like a train wreck or a fire, or a sudden epidemic, but chronic disease, poverty, long term cultural strictures or oppression needs a long term commitment with human relationships.  Money alone won’t do the job.