Monday, November 10, 2008

Just In Time For Thanksgiving- Puritans!

I have just come up for air after finishing another book- Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates. When I say come up for air, I mean it. I gulped it down in two sittings. Her writing is that good.

It is a book about the Puritans, but more importantly it is about the roots of our country. I am reluctant to say that it is a history lesson for that diminishes what she is trying to say. The Puritans were complicated people not simply defined by the more contemporary interpretation of their religion. They were idealists and they were truly willing to put their lives on the line for what they believed in. Ironically what I was alluding to in my previous post is how willing people are to forsake their country for a simple political upset. Where would our country be if people hopped the "train to Montreal" every time their candidate lost? Apparently the Puritans were leading the way- hopping the boat for the New World because they thought England was a goner- what with all the barely disguised popery of the Anglican Church.

Even though the events took place almost 400 years ago it all seems so eerily present and personal. She has fleshed out the players- Governor Winthrop, Reverend Cotton, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson- so they become more than the two dimensional characters we were introduced to in 4th grade. Things are never as black & white as grade school civic lessons are forced to teach in order to fit 400 years of history into 260 45 minute periods. Once you start digging things really get interesting. Winthrop kept everyone placated while trying to establish a new home in the new world. Anne Hutchinson paved the way for our modern day Evangelicals. The most interesting character is Roger Williams- who founded Rhode Island after being banished from Massachusetts. He was a VERY early agitator for separation of church and state. But his chief concern was a state meddling in the affairs of the church. An unusual interpretation that had never occurred to me.

And somehow we think that Lee Atwater was the inventor of campaign mud slinging. He took his cues on digging up Willie Horton for the Dukakis/Bush showdown right from the Deputy Governor of Massachusetts Bay's playbook. Apparently Governor Winthrop wasn't fast enough in chasing a banished member out of the territory so his deputy started spreading word that he was soft on crime. Sounds way too familiar- ay?

As I read what I write I realize I don't do Ms. Vowell justice- her writing is witty, engaging and thoroughly readable. She will make you feel proud and patriotic about this country we have cobbled together.


SMC said...

Sigh... forced to comment on my own post. I think I have just confirmed what a nerd I am.

LYC said...

Can I borrow the book?

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Or else you're just confirming that you're preaching to the choir?

"Where would our country be if people hopped the "train to Montreal" every time their candidate lost?"

Amen. I got very irritated the other day listening to a bunch of people my parents' age talking about how things in Cleveland were so bad that their children had all moved to Arizona, Charlotte, etc. And they were thinking about moving, themselves, too. I wanted to start up a discussion and say, "Oh, good, because that will certainly help things here in Cleveland--why don't you do something productive here instead of just whining and packing your bags?!" But I couldn't. I was on the clock at the garden center at the time.

SMC said...

Do something? That is a novel concept and one I try to keep in mind when I feel myself getting angry. I use to get angry about litter and the teenage mentality that goes with it- someone else will pick it up. So I started picking it up. I was amazed how good it made me feel.

So- I am not just a nerd. I am a Pollyanna too.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Well, I definitely am a Pollyanna in that respect. So at least we have good company. *grin*