Thursday, April 28, 2011

Who Needs Dave Ramsey When You Have the Cherokees?

I live in the middle of the historic Cherokee Outlet. This 225 miles long and 60 mile wide rectangular piece of land, sometimes called the Cherokee Strip, has been roamed by “Plainsmen” Indians (Comanche, Kiowa, Wichita, Pawnee and Osage) for four centuries. However, in 1836 the United States government “gave” this stretch of land to the 'civilized' Cherokee Indians as payment for forcibly relocating them from Georgia to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The Cherokee Outlet was to serve the Cherokees as a perpetual “outlet” to the West from their national capitol in Tahlequah in the northeastern portion of Oklahoma. The history of the Cherokee Outlet is rich and one anecdote from the 1880's has a great deal of relevance for today's economic conditions.

After the Civil War (1861-1865) cattlemen in south Texas owned hundreds of thousands of longhorn steers that sold for $1 to $5 in Texas, but $45 to $50 in New York. These cattlemen began great cattle drives bringing millions of longhorns from south Texas, right through the middle of the Cherokee Outlet, to Kansas rail heads. The cattle were then shipped by train back east to be sold. The cattle drives were needed because trains were not yet running in and out of Texas, contruction of the railroads having been stymied by the Civil War. Some wonderful cowtowns in Kansas like Caldwell, Abilene, and Dodge City (think of the television show Gunsmoke)  became the final destinations of these Texas cattlemen during the 1870's. Some of the more entrepreneurial cattlemen noticed their steers were losing weight on the grueling trail drives from south Texas to Kansas. Seeing the glorious pasture lands within the Cherokee Outlet, the cattlemen decided it would much better to “lease” the Cherokee Outlet from the Cherokees and let their steers grow fat over the winter by grazing within the Cherokee Outlet and then drive the cattle on the short trip to Kansas in the spring.

A meeting was called at the historic cow town of Caldwell, Kansas, (60 miles north of Enid) in March of 1883 to discuss this lease proposition. Many different cattle companies were represented at the meeting, and an association was formed called the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association. These Texas and Kansas cowboys, cattlemen and businessmen joined together to convince the Cherokees to allow them to graze their cattle within the Cherokee Outlet. Representatives from the newly formed Cherokee Strip Livestock Association were dispatched from Caldwell, Kansas to the Cherokee National Capitol at Tahlequah to propose the lease agreement. On May 19, 1883, the Cherokee Council granted the lease of the entire “Outlet” to the Livestock Association for a period of five years, requiring payment to the Cherokees of $100,000 per year, payable semi-annually in advance. In short, the lease required two payments of $50,000 a year to the Cherokees, and if the lease payment was late by even one day, the lease would be considered null and void by the Cherokees.

The Cherokees Refused “Greenbacks” for Payment

There arose a problem, however, after the lease was signed. The cattlemen wished to pay the Cherokees in “greenbacks,” but the Cherokees refused to accept them. Since the Civil War, the U.S. government had experienced with printing dollar bills on paper with green ink as a “medium of exchange.” When the United States government needed money to prosecute the war against the south in 1863, but access to additional gold and silver was virtually non-existent for the government, Abraham Lincoln authorized the Union to “print” paper money to pay soldiers, buy war supplies, and fund the war against the south. Surprisingly, the paper money succeeded. Why? Northerners, in the midst of patriotic fever in the war against the south, chose to accept the medium of exchange.

But nobody else accepted the funny money. This non-acceptance of greenbacks included foreign countries, Indian nations, and of course, the Confederate States of America. After the Civil War the U.S. government went back to a gold and silver coinage medium of exchange for America. This lasted for about a decade until the 1870’s when the United States suffered two very severe economic downturns. To “spur the economy” (sound familiar) the government decided to print more paper money—in essence, to give Americans paper “cash” since the average U.S. citizen had little access to silver or gold coinage.

This time, however, the government’s attempt to create money failed. People didn’t trust the money. Notes issued by prosperous railroad companies, called “railroad currency,” were more trusted by Americans than the federal greenbacks. The U.S. government realized that the greenbacks needed the backing of silver for people to trust them so a proclamation was issued in January 1879 that “the Secretary of Treasury shall redeem in silver coinage the United States all legal tender outstanding.” This meant that if you possessed a greenback you could go into any bank and receive a silver dollar, and the banks had the U.S. government promise that the greenbacks could be redeemed by them for silver dollars from the U.S. Treasury.

That government promise of silver backing for the greenback ended quickly however. The Treasury knew that if people were to make a run on the banks, there would not be enough silver dollars on deposit. The government rescinded their “silver” promise by September of 1879.

By 1883, the Cherokees wanted nothing to do with the American dollar. Due to hyperinflation, the greenback was worthless to the Cherokees. They wanted silver bullion coins—Morgan Silver Dollars.

So in the fall of 1883 the Cherokee Strip Livestock Association sent a wagon with heavily armed escorts from Caldwell, Kansas to Tahlequah, Indian Territory with a treasure chest of $50,000 Morgan Silver Dollars for a six month lease of the Cherokee Outlet. It is said that the Cherokees, upon arrival of the armed caravan, counted out each silver dollar one by one. This practice of delivering chests containing $50,000 silver dollars to the Cherokee Indians continued for several years, until the U.S. government took the land from the Cherokees and the Livestock Association in order to open the Cherokee Outlet for white settlement in the infamous 1893 Cherokee Run, classicly portrayed by Ron Howard’s 1992 movie Far and Away, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The Cherokees may have lost the Cherokee Outlet, but by 1893 their decades long demand for payment in the form of silver bullion set the Cherokees up to be the most successful tribe financially of all the Indian tribes in Oklahoma during the early portions of the 20th Century.

The moral of the story?

(1). When the government is broke, it prints more money.
(2). When more money is printed, smart people begin demanding gold or silver.
(3). When gold or silver is in demand, the value of the greenback continues to fall.
(4). Hyperinflation is the natural consequence of the devaluation of the paper dollar.
(5). The paper dollar will eventually be taken off the market when it is not trusted and a new “medium of exchange” will be introduced.

It’s coming. Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat its failures. Who needs Dave Ramsey when you know the history of the Cherokees?


Wade Burleson

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Suicide Letter that Reveals the Pain of Child Abuse

Bill Zeller
In 2008 I placed a motion before the Southern Baptist Convention that a sexual offender data base be established by the SBC's Executive Office in order to keep track of pedophiles and sex offenders affiliated with SBC churches. Time Magazine called the SBC response to my motion  "the sixth most underreported story of 2008."

Some have asked why this issue of a data base is so important. Rather than articulate the various reasons why we ought to press to eradicate child abuse by identifying and holding accountable abusers, it might help to simply tell you the story of Bill Zeller.

Bill Zeller committed suicide on January 5, 2011.

Bill was 27 years old. His suicide was unusual for two reasons: (1). He was a rising star in the computer technology and internet security world. He helped expose serious security vulnerabilities of websites such as The New York Times, YouTube and ING Direct. Zeller also co-authored an influential paper arguing for increased government transparency online. His death was completely unexpected, even by his closest friends. (2). He left behind a 4,000 word suicide note that illustrates the lifetime damage child abuse brings to its victim.

WARNING: The following letter is not easy to read. It is heart-wrenching and at times vulgar. Yet, Bill Zeller's letter graphically illustrates why child abuse is something that must not be ignored. Bill Zeller asked that his letter be distributed far and wide after his death on the condition it be published in full. Bill's father, George Zeller, is the pastor of the independent, fundamental Middletown Bible Church in Middletown, Connecticut. Bill Zeller's suicide note is printed below in full.

BILL ZELLER (January 5, 2011)

"I have the urge to declare my sanity and justify my actions, but I assume I'll never be able to convince anyone that this was the right decision. Maybe it's true that anyone who does this is insane by definition, but I can at least explain my reasoning. I considered not writing any of this because of how personal it is, but I like tying up loose ends and don't want people to wonder why I did this. Since I've never spoken to anyone about what happened to me, people would likely draw the wrong conclusions.

 My first memories as a child are of being raped, repeatedly. This has affected every aspect of my life. This darkness, which is the only way I can describe it, has followed me like a fog, but at times intensified and overwhelmed me, usually triggered by a distinct situation. In kindergarten I couldn't use the bathroom and would stand petrified whenever I needed to, which started a trend of awkward and unexplained social behavior. The damage that was done to my body still prevents me from using the bathroom normally, but now it's less of a physical impediment than a daily reminder of what was done to me.

This darkness followed me as I grew up. I remember spending hours playing with legos, having my world consist of me and a box of cold, plastic blocks. Just waiting for everything to end. It's the same thing I do now, but instead of legos it's surfing the web or reading or listening to a baseball game. Most of my life has been spent feeling dead inside, waiting for my body to catch up.

At times growing up I would feel inconsolable rage, but I never connected this to what happened until puberty. I was able to keep the darkness at bay for a few hours at a time by doing things that required intense concentration, but it would always come back. Programming appealed to me for this reason. I was never particularly fond of computers or mathematically inclined, but the temporary peace it would provide was like a drug. But the darkness always returned and built up something like a tolerance, because programming has become less and less of a refuge.

The darkness is with me nearly every time I wake up. I feel like a grime is covering me. I feel like I'm trapped in a contimated body that no amount of washing will clean. Whenever I think about what happened I feel manic and itchy and can't concentrate on anything else. It manifests itself in hours of eating or staying up for days at a time or sleeping for sixteen hours straight or week long programming binges or constantly going to the gym. I'm exhausted from feeling like this every hour of every day.

Three to four nights a week I have nightmares about what happened. It makes me avoid sleep and constantly tired, because sleeping with what feels like hours of nightmares is not restful. I wake up sweaty and furious. I'm reminded every morning of what was done to me and the control it has over my life.

I've never been able to stop thinking about what happened to me and this hampered my social interactions. I would be angry and lost in thought and then be interrupted by someone saying "Hi" or making small talk, unable to understand why I seemed cold and distant. I walked around, viewing the outside world from a distant portal behind my eyes, unable to perform normal human niceties. I wondered what it would be like to take to other people without what happened constantly on my mind, and I wondered if other people had similar experiences that they were better able to mask.

Alcohol was also something that let me escape the darkness. It would always find me later, though, and it was always angry that I managed to escape and it made me pay. Many of the irresponsible things I did were the result of the darkness. Obviously I'm responsible for every decision and action, including this one, but there are reasons why things happen the way they do.

Alcohol and other drugs provided a way to ignore the realities of my situation. It was easy to spend the night drinking and forget that I had no future to look forward to. I never liked what alcohol did to me, but it was better than facing my existence honestly. I haven't touched alcohol or any other drug in over seven months (and no drugs or alcohol will be involved when I do this) and this has forced me to evaluate my life in an honest and clear way. There's no future here. The darkness will always be with me.

I used to think if I solved some problem or achieved some goal, maybe he would leave. It was comforting to identify tangible issues as the source of my problems instead of something that I'll never be able to change. I thought that if I got into to a good college, or a good grad school, or lost weight, or went to the gym nearly every day for a year, or created programs that millions of people used, or spent a summer or California or New York or published papers that I was proud of, then maybe I would feel some peace and not be constantly haunted and unhappy. But nothing I did made a dent in how depressed I was on a daily basis and nothing was in any way fulfilling. I'm not sure why I ever thought that would change anything.

I didn't realize how deep a hold he had on me and my life until my first relationship. I stupidly assumed that no matter how the darkness affected me personally, my romantic relationships would somehow be separated and protected. Growing up I viewed my future relationships as a possible escape from this thing that haunts me every day, but I began to realize how entangled it was with every aspect of my life and how it is never going to release me. Instead of being an escape, relationships and romantic contact with other people only intensified everything about him that I couldn't stand. I will never be able to have a relationship in which he is not the focus, affecting every aspect of my romantic interactions.

Relationships always started out fine and I'd be able to ignore him for a few weeks. But as we got closer emotionally the darkness would return and every night it'd be me, her and the darkness in a black and gruesome threesome. He would surround me and penetrate me and the more we did the more intense it became. It made me hate being touched, because as long as we were separated I could view her like an outsider viewing something good and kind and untainted. Once we touched, the darkness would envelope her too and take her over and the evil inside me would surround her. I always felt like I was infecting anyone I was with.

Relationships didn't work. No one I dated was the right match, and I thought that maybe if I found the right person it would overwhelm him. Part of me knew that finding the right person wouldn't help, so I became interested in girls who obviously had no interest in me. For a while I thought I was gay. I convinced myself that it wasn't the darkness at all, but rather my orientation, because this would give me control over why things didn't feel "right". The fact that the darkness affected sexual matters most intensely made this idea make some sense and I convinced myself of this for a number of years, starting in college after my first relationship ended. I told people I was gay (at Trinity, not at Princeton), even though I wasn't attracted to men and kept finding myself interested in girls. Because if being gay wasn't the answer, then what was? People thought I was avoiding my orientation, but I was actually avoiding the truth, which is that while I'm straight, I will never be content with anyone. I know now that the darkness will never leave.

Last spring I met someone who was unlike anyone else I'd ever met. Someone who showed me just how well two people could get along and how much I could care about another human being. Someone I know I could be with and love for the rest of my life, if I weren't so fucked up. Amazingly, she liked me. She liked the shell of the man the darkness had left behind. But it didn't matter because I couldn't be alone with her. It was never just the two of us, it was always the three of us: her, me and the darkness. The closer we got, the more intensely I'd feel the darkness, like some evil mirror of my emotions. All the closeness we had and I loved was complemented by agony that I couldn't stand, from him. I realized that I would never be able to give her, or anyone, all of me or only me. She could never have me without the darkness and evil inside me. I could never have just her, without the darkness being a part of all of our interactions. I will never be able to be at peace or content or in a healthy relationship. I realized the futility of the romantic part of my life. If I had never met her, I would have realized this as soon as I met someone else who I meshed similarly well with. It's likely that things wouldn't have worked out with her and we would have broken up (with our relationship ending, like the majority of relationships do) even if I didn't have this problem, since we only dated for a short time. But I will face exactly the same problems with the darkness with anyone else. Despite my hopes, love and compatability is not enough. Nothing is enough. There's no way I can fix this or even push the darkness down far enough to make a relationship or any type of intimacy feasible.

So I watched as things fell apart between us. I had put an explicit time limit on our relationship, since I knew it couldn't last because of the darkness and didn't want to hold her back, and this caused a variety of problems. She was put in an unnatural situation that she never should have been a part of. It must have been very hard for her, not knowing what was actually going on with me, but this is not something I've ever been able to talk about with anyone. Losing her was very hard for me as well. Not because of her (I got over our relationship relatively quickly), but because of the realization that I would never have another relationship and because it signified the last true, exclusive personal connection I could ever have. This wasn't apparent to other people, because I could never talk about the real reasons for my sadness. I was very sad in the summer and fall, but it was not because of her, it was because I will never escape the darkness with anyone. She was so loving and kind to me and gave me everything I could have asked for under the circumstances. I'll never forget how much happiness she brought me in those briefs moments when I could ignore the darkness. I had originally planned to kill myself last winter but never got around to it. (Parts of this letter were written over a year ago, other parts days before doing this.) It was wrong of me to involve myself in her life if this were a possibility and I should have just left her alone, even though we only dated for a few months and things ended a long time ago. She's just one more person in a long list of people I've hurt.

I could spend pages talking about the other relationships I've had that were ruined because of my problems and my confusion related to the darkness. I've hurt so many great people because of who I am and my inability to experience what needs to be experienced. All I can say is that I tried to be honest with people about what I thought was true.

I've spent my life hurting people. Today will be the last tim

I've told different people a lot of things, but I've never told anyone about what happened to me, ever, for obvious reasons. It took me a while to realize that no matter how close you are to someone or how much they claim to love you, people simply cannot keep secrets. I learned this a few years ago when I thought I was gay and told people. The more harmful the secret, the juicier the gossip and the more likely you are to be betrayed. People don't care about their word or what they've promised, they just do whatever the fuck they want and justify it later. It feels incredibly lonely to realize you can never share something with someone and have it be between just the two of you. I don't blame anyone in particular, I guess it's just how people are. Even if I felt like this is something I could have shared, I have no interest in being part of a friendship or relationship where the other person views me as the damaged and contaminated person that I am. So even if I were able to trust someone, I probably would not have told them about what happened to me. At this point I simply don't care who knows.

I feel an evil inside me. An evil that makes me want to end life. I need to stop this. I need to make sure I don't kill someone, which is not something that can be easily undone. I don't know if this is related to what happened to me or something different. I recognize the irony of killing myself to prevent myself from killing someone else, but this decision should indicate what I'm capable of.

So I've realized I will never escape the darkness or misery associated with it and I have a responsibility to stop myself from physically harming others.

I'm just a broken, miserable shell of a human being. Being molested has defined me as a person and shaped me as a human being and it has made me the monster I am and there's nothing I can do to escape it. I don't know any other existence. I don't know what life feels like where I'm apart from any of this. I actively despise the person I am. I just feel fundamentally broken, almost non-human. I feel like an animal that woke up one day in a human body, trying to make sense of a foreign world, living among creatures it doesn't understand and can't connect with.

I have accepted that the darkness will never allow me to be in a relationship. I will never go to sleep with someone in my arms, feeling the comfort of their hands around me. I will never know what uncontimated intimacy is like. I will never have an exclusive bond with someone, someone who can be the recipient of all the love I have to give. I will never have children, and I wanted to be a father so badly. I think I would have made a good dad. And even if I had fought through the darkness and married and had children all while being unable to feel intimacy, I could have never done that if suicide were a possibility. I did try to minimize pain, although I know that this decision will hurt many of you. If this hurts you, I hope that you can at least forget about me quickly.

There's no point in identifying who molested me, so I'm just going to leave it at that. I doubt the word of a dead guy with no evidence about something that happened over twenty years ago would have much sway.

You may wonder why I didn't just talk to a professional about this. I've seen a number of doctors since I was a teenager to talk about other issues and I'm positive that another doctor would not have helped. I was never given one piece of actionable advice, ever. More than a few spent a large part of the session reading their notes to remember who I was. And I have no interest in talking about being raped as a child, both because I know it wouldn't help and because I have no confidence it would remain secret. I know the legal and practical limits of doctor/patient confidentiality, growing up in a house where we'd hear stories about the various mental illnesses of famous people, stories that were passed down through generations. All it takes is one doctor who thinks my story is interesting enough to share or a doctor who thinks it's her right or responsibility to contact the authorities and have me identify the molestor (justifying her decision by telling herself that someone else might be in danger). All it takes is a single doctor who violates my trust, just like the "friends" who I told I was gay did, and everything would be made public and I'd be forced to live in a world where people would know how fucked up I am. And yes, I realize this indicates that I have severe trust issues, but they're based on a large number of experiences with people who have shown a profound disrepect for their word and the privacy of others.

People say suicide is selfish. I think it's selfish to ask people to continue living painful and miserable lives, just so you possibly won't feel sad for a week or two. Suicide may be a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but it's also a permanent solution to a ~23 year-old problem that grows more intense and overwhelming every day.

Some people are just dealt bad hands in this life. I know many people have it worse than I do, and maybe I'm just not a strong person, but I really did try to deal with this. I've tried to deal with this every day for the last 23 years and I just can't f___ take it anymore.

I often wonder what life must be like for other people. People who can feel the love from others and give it back unadulterated, people who can experience sex as an intimate and joyous experience, people who can experience the colors and happenings of this world without constant misery. I wonder who I'd be if things had been different or if I were a stronger person. It sounds pretty great.

I'm prepared for death. I'm prepared for the pain and I am ready to no longer exist. Thanks to the strictness of New Jersey gun laws this will probably be much more painful than it needs to be, but what can you do. My only fear at this point is messing something up and surviving.

I'd also like to address my family, if you can call them that. I despise everything they stand for and I truly hate them, in a non-emotional, dispassionate and what I believe is a healthy way. The world will be a better place when they're dead—one with less hatred and intolerance.

If you're unfamiliar with the situation, my parents are fundamentalist Christians who kicked me out of their house and cut me off financially when I was 19 because I refused to attend seven hours of church a week.

They live in a black and white reality they've constructed for themselves. They partition the world into good and evil and survive by hating everything they fear or misunderstand and calling it love. They don't understand that good and decent people exist all around us, "saved" or not, and that evil and cruel people occupy a large percentage of their church. They take advantage of people looking for hope by teaching them to practice the same hatred they practice.

A random example:

"I am personally convinced that if a Muslim truly believes and obeys the Koran, he will be a terrorist." - George Zeller, August 24, 2010.

If you choose to follow a religion where, for example, devout Catholics who are trying to be good people are all going to Hell but child molestors go to Heaven (as long as they were "saved" at some point), that's your choice, but it's f____ up. Maybe a God who operates by those rules does exist. If so, f____ Him.

Their church was always more important than the members of their family and they happily sacrificed whatever necessary in order to satisfy their contrived beliefs about who they should be.

I grew up in a house where love was proxied through a God I could never believe in. A house where the love of music with any sort of a beat was literally beaten out of me. A house full of hatred and intolerance, run by two people who were experts at appearing kind and warm when others were around. Parents who tell an eight year old that his grandmother is going to Hell because she's Catholic. Parents who claim not to be racist but then talk about the horrors of miscegenation. I could list hundreds of other examples, but it's tiring.

Since being kicked out, I've interacted with them in relatively normal ways. I talk to them on the phone like nothing happened. I'm not sure why. Maybe because I like pretending I have a family. Maybe I like having people I can talk to about what's been going on in my life. Whatever the reason, it's not real and it feels like a sham. I should have never allowed this reconnection to happen.

I wrote the above a while ago, and I do feel like that much of the time. At other times, though, I feel less hateful. I know my parents honestly believe the crap they believe in. I know that my mom, at least, loved me very much and tried her best. One reason I put this off for so long is because I know how much pain it will cause her. She has been sad since she found out I wasn't "saved", since she believes I'm going to Hell, which is not a sadness for which I am responsible. That was never going to change, and presumably she believes the state of my physical body is much less important than the state of my soul. Still, I cannot intellectually justify this decision, knowing how much it will hurt her. Maybe my ability to take my own life, knowing how much pain it will cause, shows that I am a monster who doesn't deserve to live. All I know is that I can't deal with this pain any longer and I'm am truly sorry I couldn't wait until my family and everyone I knew died so this could be done without hurting anyone. For years I've wished that I'd be hit by a bus or die while saving a baby from drowning so my death might be more acceptable, but I was never so lucky.

To those of you who have shown me love, thank you for putting up with all my shittiness and moodiness and arbitrariness. I was never the person I wanted to be. Maybe without the darkness I would have been a better person, maybe not. I did try to be a good person, but I realize I never got very far.

I'm sorry for the pain this causes. I really do wish I had another option. I hope this letter explains why I needed to do this. If you can't understand this decision, I hope you can at least forgive me."

Bill Zeller


"Please save this letter and repost it if gets deleted. I don't want people to wonder why I did this. I disseminated it more widely than I might have otherwise because I'm worried that my family might try to restrict access to it. I don't mind if this letter is made public. In fact, I'd prefer it be made public to people being unable to read it and drawing their own conclusions.

Feel free to republish this letter, but only if it is reproduced in its entirety."

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Cheyenne "Sand Man" of 1971: Supernatural Forces and the History of the American West

A friend of mine recently told me that through his exploration of northwest Oklahoma on an off-road dirt bike, he believes he stumbled upon the exact location of the infamous June 1838 Battle of Wolf Creek. This battle, fought between various Plainsmen Indian tribes (Cheyenne and Arapahoe vs. Comanche, Kiowa and Apache), is considered by historians to be the largest intertribal Indian battle ever fought on the southern plains. Shortly after, the Plainsmen Indian tribes joined forces together to fight the intruding white man, laying aside any tribal animosity in pursuit of a common cause.

My friend invited me to join him in exploring the area with him, which led me to do a little research on the 1838 battle which occurred northwest of Enid, Oklahoma. During my investigation I came across an interesting and little known discovery in 1971 that ties directly to The Battle of Wolf Creek and the role of the supernatural in the American West. Forty years ago the skeletal remains of a Cheyenne warrior was accidentally uncovered on some farm land near the location of the Wolf Creek battle. The Cheyenne warrior had been buried in full battle regalia with his face painted red, his elaborate hair pipe and concho (shell) earrings still in place, a  heavily beaded blanket wrapping the remains, and the warrior's parasol and weapons carefully placed by his side. Mary Jane Warde, retired history professor and former director of Indian cultural artifacts for the Oklahoma Historical Society, believed the warrior was a participant in The Battle of Wolf Creek due to the location of the burial spot and the dating of the artifacts buried with the warrior, materials certified through historical documents as being purchased by the Cheyenne Tribe at Bent's Fort (Colorado) in the late spring of 1838.

Here is where the story gets very interesting.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was called to the site. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990) would be approved by Congress nearly twenty years after the body's discovery, but the OSBI handled the Indian gravesite with respect, mostly because of the one man charged with the facial recreation of the skeleton. Harvey Pratt, a young law enforcement agent in 1971 who would later become associate director of the OSBI, was himself a Cheyenne Indian and a direct descendent of a Cheyenne Arrow Keeper named White Thunder. Harvey Pratt began his scientific examination and facial recreation of the Cheyenne skeleton back at OSBI's headquarters in Oklahoma City but was immediately thwarted in his efforts by what he called "supernatural occurances." Pratt reported to his superiors that the warrior "died with spiritual powers in full force."

Lest one scoff at such a statement by criminologist Harvey Pratt, the expertise of Mr. Pratt should be examined. Mr. Pratt is considered one of the leading forensic criminologists in the nation. He has assisted national and state crime agencies, including the FBI, in solving several cases, such as the Green River Killer (Gary Ridgeway), the BTK Killer (Dennis Rader), the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders (Gene Leroy Hart), the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing and many other crimes of national significance. He lectures at universities and law enforcement conferences and is now in his late 60's. Mr. Pratt's opinion of what happened to him in 1971 during the investigation and examination the Cheyenne warrior has not changed. In April 2000, during the Annual Meeting of the Oklahoma Historical Society, Mr. Pratt presented a lecture entitled "The Reconstruction of the Sand Man."

Mr. Pratt named the uncovered Cheyenne warrior "The SAND MAN."

The "supernatural occurances" which affected invesigator Harvey Pratt included dreams, visions and apparations that affected his ability to reconstruct the face of the Sandman. Mr. Pratt found himself mentally and phyically unable to even begin the exacting process of reconstruction. Mr. Pratt informed his superiors that the Sand Man had prepared his "medicine" before battle just as he had readied his bow, lance, and shield. This "medicine" was supernatural. This warrior had died with his medicine in full force.
Before going into battle, Cheyenne warriors would prepare themselves spiritually through rituals performed within the Cheyenne camp, waiting to move into battle until the medicine men, through the authority of the Arrow Keeper of the southern Cheyenne gave their approval. For a detailed explanation of how the Cheyenne prepared for battle see the free on-line 1905 book entitled The Cheyenne, Volume 1. The elaborate "medicine" invoked the spirit realm to enable the Cheyenne warriors to defeat their enemy. There is no question among the Cheyenne today that spiritual forces were at work in battles of the American west.

 Whether or not those forces were good or evil, forces of light or darkness, real or imagined may be debated by modern whites, but the experiences of 21st century criminologist Harvey Pratt should cause every skeptic of the supernatural to at least pause. Steven Spielburg's new movie about the American west cowboy and aliens,  Aliens and Cowboys, is sure to be a 2011 blockbuster, but the unfortunate side effect of this movie is to dull the senses of the modern American to the reality of the supernatural. While the concept of aliens intermingling with cowboys may make for good movies, it leads some to scoff at all things supernatural or to simply explain away all such phenomenon through natural science. In short, many intellectuals may be dulled by fantasy movie regarding the real facts of the supernatural in the American west and/or modern day. Criminologist Harvey Pratt may not be interested in making a movie about the supernatural, but frankly, a movie based upon events surrounding the Sand Man rather than a story line produced through the imagination of a Hollywood producer may reap benefits for American culture.

The supernatural exists. What it is may not be fully understood or seen by many in American, but the fact that it does exist can be confirmed experiences like those of Harvey Pratt in investigating the Sand Man. Whether or not a person is religious, it would serve all people well this Easter weekend to stop and consider the fact that the natural world is not all there is. The Cheyennes and other Plainsmen Indians understood this clearly.

The Sand Man was re-interred at Fort Supply, Oklahoma in 2000. The Sand Man remains an intriguing glimpse into supernatural forces and their role in the American West. For years I worked with the Tulsa Police Department and a specialized task force that examined crimes involving the occult. Those occultists who dabbled with what are called "the dark arts," ritual "drugs" and other occultic practicse will quickly proclaim their belief in the supernatural realm. Modern science might quickly explain away such things as hallucinations, "delusional thinking" or "chemically imbalanced" brain waves. Point taken. However, for those who wish to naturally explain away all such supernatural occurances through natural means, I point to criminologist Harvey Pratt and his work with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in 1971 and ask the question:

"Can science also naturally explain away Mr. Pratt's 'supernatural occurances' while working on the Sand Man?" Those who say, "Yes, science can explain it away" are also those who most likely attempt to explain away all concepts of the supernatural, life after death, and the role of the supernatural in the history of the world. I accept that there is a hidden realm, governed by a good God who "puts all things in subjection to Himself."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Oh! Why Should the Spirit of Mortal Be Proud?

On Monday, March 7, after making a couple of stops in Oklahoma City, I ventured twenty miles south to the campus of the University of Oklahoma. My destination was Monett Hall, formerly the University's Law Library, but now the building that houses the Western Heritage Museum. The Museum is free, but my desire was to be able to see something that I knew the staff at the Western Heritage Museum kept in the vault. A poem, handwritten on both sides of a legal size piece of paper by Abraham Lincoln, was my objective. The poem, authored by William Knox (1789-1825), is a dark narrative on man’s mortality. Lincoln considered Knox's poem, entitled "Oh! Why Should the Spirit of Mortal Be Proud?" to be the finest poem ever penned.

President Lincoln quoted portions of Knox's poem from memory so often that many thought he was the original author. While campaigning in Illinois in 1849, Lincoln and his associates were entertained by a trio of ladies who sang for them. Lincoln, pressed by the trio to sing something himself, politely declined but offered to quote a poem. When Lincoln finished reciting the verses of Knox’s poem, those who heard him had been moved to tears. One of the young ladies in the trio requested a written copy of the poem. During the night Lincoln wrote out the verses on a piece of parchment and gave it to the woman at breakfast the next morning. Henry Benjamin “Heine” Bass (1897-1975) from Enid, Oklahoma purchased this piece of Lincoln memorabilia in the 1930’s and he considered it the most valuable artifact in his vast Lincoln collection. It is part of the Bass Collection at the Western Heritage Museum, but is not displayed for the public. I would estimate the artifact's worth to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I was pleasantly surprised that the Museum staff pulled the poem out of its vault for me to see. There is something deeply moving when sitting at a table and reading a poem you know to be Lincoln's favorite, written with his own hand. This particular piece of Lincoln memorabilia has never been photographed, at least in terms of published photography. I was surprised by a couple of curious things regarding Lincoln's handwriting and the piece of parchment itself. But it was the somber tone of Knox's words, read slowly by me at the table out loud (on behalf of the archivist who wished to hear the poem read) that moved me the most. Below is the poem in its entirety. The book I am writing on John Wilkes Booth and Boston Corbett takes its title from one of the lines in the poem - "A Transient Abode."

by: William Knox (1789-1825)

Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
Man passeth from life to his rest in the grave.

The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
Be scattered around, and together be laid;
And the young and the old, and the low and the high
Shall molder to dust and together shall lie.

The infant a mother attended and loved;
The mother that infant's affection who proved;
The husband that mother and infant who blessed,--
Each, all, are away to their dwellings of rest.

The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure,--her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those who loved her and praised
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

The hand of the king that the sceptre hath borne;
The brow of the priest that the mitre hath worn;
The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
Are hidden and lost in the depth of the grave.

The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap;
The herdsman who climbed with his goats up the steep;
The beggar who wandered in search of his bread,
Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

The saint who enjoyed the communion of heaven;
The sinner who dared to remain unforgiven;
The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

So the multitude goes, like the flowers or the weed
That withers away to let others succeed;
So the multitude comes, even those we behold,
To repeat every tale that has often been told.

For we are the same our fathers have been;
We see the same sights our fathers have seen;
We drink the same stream, and view the same sun,
And run the same course our fathers have run.

The thoughts we are thinking our fathers would think;
From the death we are shrinking our fathers would shrink;
To the life we are clinging they also would cling;
But it speeds for us all, like a bird on the wing.

They loved, but the story we cannot unfold;
The scorned, but the heart of the haughty is cold;
They grieved, but no wail from their slumbers will come;
They joyed, but the tongue of their gladness is dumb.

They died, aye! they died; and we things that are now,
Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
Who make in their dwelling a transient abode,
Meet the things that they met on their pilgrimage road.

Yea! hope and despondency, pleasure and pain,
We mingle together in sunshine and rain;
And the smiles and the tears, the song and the dirge,
Still follow each other, like surge upon surge.

'Tis the wink of an eye, 'tis the draught of a breath,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,--
Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Social Experiment that Proves Many of Us May Be Missing the Beauty of Life Around Us


At a Metro Station in Washington, D.C. on a cold January morning two years ago, a violinist played six Bach pieces as approximately two thousand people went through the station (see above video), most of whom were on their way to work. Three minutes into performance, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule. Four minutes later a woman threw a dollar in a hat next to the violinist, not even stopping to listen to the music, and continued her brisk walk.

At six minutes a young man leaned against the wall to listen to the violinist, then looked at his watch and started to walk again. At ten minutes a three-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception - forced their children to move on quickly.

During the entire forty-five minute presentation only six people stopped and listened to the music for a short while. About twenty people put a dollar or two into the hat, but all continued to walk at their normal pace. The violinist collected a total of thirty two dollars. He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

The Rest of the Story

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate violin pieces ever written on a Stradivarious violin worth three and a half million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theatre in Boston where the people payed well over one hundred dollars each to sit and listen to Joshua play the same music he played for free in the Metro.

The Washington Post organized Joshua Bell's performance at the Metro Station as a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The experiment raises several thought-provoking questions:

In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? If so, do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

The Joshua Bell experiment also causes me also to ask a very personal question:

If we all are capable of being oblivious to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, on one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . .

How many other moments of spectacular beauty am I missing because I rush through the day and fail to see the unexpected brilliance of the people, places and events immediately around me?


Monday, April 11, 2011

A Beginner's Primer on Universalism: The Thought Processes that Lead to Belief In It

The Internet has been abuzz with defenses of, reviews for, and comments about Rob Bell's new book Love Wins. Some have seen the book as evidence of an evangelical shift away from an orthodox view of hell into an unorthodox view of heaven. Others have championed the book as a refreshing reinterpretration of the Bible's teaching of redemption. Both sides, those against the book and those for the book, agree that Rob Bell's teaching looks much like "universalism" - the belief that, in the end, every person in the universe will be saved from the just penalty of sin by the love of God through Jesus Christ.

Yesterday in one of our small groups a testimony was given about a family member who took the time to read Love Wins. This person, after years of professed atheism, said to our church member that the book led him to reconsider God's existence. The family member was ecstatic and the story sparked a discussion regarding "universalism" in a couple of different small groups. A few did not know what universalism meant, so I thought I would give the readers of this blog a brief primer on the subject of universalism. I will close with a powerful Scripture text (one of many that could have been chosen) to show why universal salvation cannot be possible.

The Universalists' Universal Presuppositions

Every universalist you meet will always begin with two assumptions that, at least in the universalist's mind, cannot be denied by anyone. These are called a "presuppositions." A presuppostion, by definition, is "a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action." Here is what every universalist assumes:

"It is God's redemptive purpose for the world, and therefore His will, to reconcile every single sinner to Himself."
The thought or notion that God might actually choose not to deliver sinners from the just retribution or penalty due their sins is something not even considered possible to the universalist. Whether the Bible teaches that God "has mercy on whom He will have mercy" and that He has not chosen to excercise saving mercy on every sinner is debated by many, but the universalist has closed his own mind to any such debate. The second of the Christian universalist's presuppositions is as follows:

"It is within God's power to achieve his redemptive purpose for every single sinner. "

The Christian universalist has come to the conclusion that the cross actually saves. In other words, redemption is effectual--the cross accomplishes its purpose. "You shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people" (Matthew 1:21). Jesus doesn't hope to save, nor does He wish to save, He shall save. God's power secures the salvation of every sinner through the effectual work of Jesus Christ on behalf of every person who has ever lived. The universalist assumes this to be true.

Interestingly, throughout Christian history evangelicals have disagreed over the universalists' two presuppositions stated above. Those called "Calvinists" disagree with the first presupposition. Those called "Arminians" disagree with the second presupposition. The Christian universalist assumes both presuppositions to be true, and so he or she arrives at the ultimate conclusion that God's love will ultimately win. Hell will not be populated for eternity, according to the universalist, because God redeems every sinner through Christ. How each sinner comes to see his own personal redemption in Christ is part of the "mystery" of God's grace. However, to the universalist, when the Bible says "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord," it is simply stating what every universalist deeply believes to be true--every single sinner in the history of man will one day be redeemed by God's love.

A Definitive Objection to Universalism

I have no problem stating that if I ever came to believe that the Bible teaches the first presupposition above, that God's intention is to exercise saving mercy for every sinner in human history, then I would be a universalist. I have much too high a view of the power of God, the effectual work of Christ at the cross for His people, and the eternal separation of God's just punishment from those He redeems to ever believe that someone for whom Christ died will ever be in hell. My problem with the universalist is that I believe the Bible explicitly teaches "His people" includes sinners from every tribe, kindred, tongue and nation but not every single sinner from every tribe, kindred, tongue and nation.

Who misses out on Christ's redemption?

I believe the Bible tells us. For a detailed explanation of who misses redemption, I would encourage you to listen to the podcast message The Danger of Drifting from the Gospel. The message will give you the background, the logic, and the powerful argumment of the writer of Hebrews who had the un-universalistic audicity to write:

"How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1-4).

In closing, let me hasten to add that I am not one of those who would call Rob Bell a heretic. Though I strongly disagree with him on the intention of God to save every sinner, I admire his very biblical view of the deep love of God, the unconditional grace of God, and the eternal kindness of God. I just disagree with him over the extent to which, or maybe it is better said "the sinners to whom,"  God has chosen to show His love, grace and kindness. Compared to the legalistic, horn-blowing, man-oriented "free-will" redemptionist who views God as weak and impotent to effectually redeem anyone, and then calls upon everyone to "nail down your decision," or "re-commit your life," or any countless number of tactics to keep the sinners' eyes pointed to himself and not God's love in Christ, Rob Bell's teaching of the unconditional love of God is refreshing.

Keep showing 'em the deep love of God, Rob! Just be careful to also show that there no escape for those who continue to ridicule and mock the work of Christ. If every single transgression and violation of the Old Covenant law received a just penalty, how shall anyone escape who neglects so great a deliverance given to us in Christ. If God truly loves a sinner and has the power to save, then He can open the eyes of that sinner to the beauty of Christ before the sinner dies.

To leave a sinner to believe that God will open the sinners' eyes after death is at best a false hope, and at worst, a deadly hope.