Saturday, January 29, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 12

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 12


In our last exciting episode, we read how around 50 English separatists established the Plymouth plantation in 1620. They were Calvinist and, in the religious sense, non-conformists for whom the Church of England was still too “popish” and for whom Holland was just too, well, Dutch. We know them as “the Pilgrims”. They were soon followed by the Puritans (also Calvinists, but for whom the Church of England wasn’t quite that awful) They founded places like Boston in order to escape that religious popishness and frippery back in England. And they just kept coming.

In 1630, the Puritan John Winthrop received a charter from the King to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony of which he would be governor. He led a fleet of eleven ships carrying 700 English Puritans. That was the beginning of the Great Migration in which 20,000 colonists came to New England between 1630 to 1640. The Puritans found themselves increasingly alienated from the Church of England and soon joined forces with the separatist pilgrims. In 1648, at the request of the Massachusetts General Court, a synod of ministers from Massachusetts and Connecticut, met to draw up an agreement called the Cambridge Platform defining Puritan Congregationalism and in effect, the government of New England. The agreement defines the church as “a company of saints by calling, united into one body by a holy covenant, for the public worship of God, and the mutual edification of one another in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus.” No King, no Pope, no Bishops no Presbyters. The church consisted of the congregation, governing itself without reference to external authority. Thus, the Puritan settlers established a sort of unified theocratic political system which went on to give us the Salem witch trials. The birth of the United States could be as well defined by this document as by the Declaration of Independence.

Back in England, the English were tired of government by Presbyterians and, and wishing once again to be merry, restored the Stuarts as kings in 1660. The Stuarts, in turn, published the “Act of Uniformity” (1662),which said all ministers had to be ordained by the Church of England, and swear an oath to abide by its rules. In other words, conform or get out. More than 2000 Puritans ministers refused to swear and were tossed out of their jobs in an event called the Great Ejection. And so, they just kept coming to New England.

They came to these fair shores for religious freedom and the right to squash anyone they disagreed with. Dissenters likes Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams founded Rhode Island when they were banished from Massachusetts for heresy. In 1636, some Puritans went south and settled Connecticut with its rich soil. For some reason this worried the local Americans(by “Americans” I mean the original indigenous population) who decided that enough was enough. They tried to regain their land and independence in the Pequot War (1634-38) and in King Philip's War (1675-76). (King Philip, being another name for Metacom, chief of the Wampanoags.) The Wampanoags and the Pequots got clobbered and the era of the Native Americans was over. The Pilgrims whom they had sustained in those first hard winters had taken the natives’ land and sold some of them into slavery in Bermuda, some fled to other tribes beyond the reach of the English. Others were confined to small settlements as they would be until our present times, until they figured out how to get back what the palefaces had stolen by inviting us to their gambling casinos and selling us tax-free cigarettes.

The Americans didn’t entirely give up. A little less than a century later they allied themselves with the Catholic French in order to stem the unending flow of English colonists at the Appalachians. This was called the French and Indian war (French and Indians against the English, 1754-1763), which the case can be made, George Washington started by shooting the French ambassador at Fort Dusquesne, now known as Pittsburgh. This of course led to the American Revolution which led in turn to us. It also led to Cajun cuisine and Zydeko, because Massachusetts Governor William Shirley deported the French Catholic Acadians from Nova Scotia to New Orleans as part of the war. The war cost money and the British thought that the New Englanders should help pay for it. After all, the war had been fought to protect New England from its former owners, the Indians. The descendants of the Puritans refused to pay and so Massachusetts became “Cradle of Liberty”. New England had always disliked the Church of England and its head, the king, and so what had been religious separatism increasingly became just separatism. It is to be remembered that people like Sam Adams and his cousin John Adams and their friend John Hancock and that crowd, were the descendants of the Puritans.

You would be amazed at who is descended from the Puritans. Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, Franklin D. Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush are all descended from the 50 Mayflower survivors. That’s just the 50 on the Mayflower. By 1640 there were at least 20,000 more Puritans in New England. Millions of modern day Americans are descended from the Puritans, among them President Barak Obama. Barack Obama, a Pilgrim? I’m not making this up. Barack Obama is a 13th-generation descendant of Thomas Blossom, one of the Plymouth colony’s earliest settlers, and is a cousin of the Bushes. The wonder of it all! These are only some of the physical descendants of the pilgrims. The Puritan founders of New England have innumerably more moral, philosophical theological descendants.

We have to remember that there were two principal English colonies in the Americas. Now you know more about the Plymouth Plantation than you ever wanted to. There is also Jamestown in Virginia named in honor of King James I. It was in effect, the Church of England’s colony. The Puritans of the north were the fathers of the American revolution, of the abolition movement, of the industrial revolution and on and on. The Jamestown settlers were the founders of the planter aristocracy of the south. These two opposing philosophies met head on in the English Civil War, and once again in the American Civil War. For the southern Anglicans, the Book of Common Prayer was normative. It was offensive to northern Puritans. The Book of Common Prayer is filled with vestiges of the Catholic past. In particular it contains prayers for the king, to ask God “to be his defender and keeper, giving him victory over all his enemies.” In the American revolution, this amounted to treason, and so Anglicans in America became Episcopalian, and ultimately the Puritanism of New England triumphed over the Anglicanism of Virginia.

Well, again you may ask, what has this to do with the Hootenanny Mass? When Governor John Winthrop was on his way to America with his flotilla of 11 ships crammed with Puritans among whom were the ancestors of almost everyone important in America today including Thomas Blossom, ancestor of Barak Hussein Obama, while still on board, Governor Winthrop delivered a sermon entitled, “A Model of Christian Charity” to his fellow Puritans. In this address he called their new colony “a city upon a hill” a phrase taken from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:14, he says, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Perhaps this is the heart of the American Puritan ethos. It is the first clear enunciation and perhaps the root of American exceptionalism, the Puritan belief that the United States is more favored by God than other nations. The Spanish colonies did not think of themselves as exceptional. They were part of a universal church and looked back to Spain. The Virginia colonists looked back to England to which they referred lovingly as the mother country. The Puritans called themselves the godly and believed that God had given them this land by destroying its native inhabitants by plague and war, and they compared themselves to the Israelites and their promised land, cleared of its Canaanite inhabitants. They were special. They were the city on a hill, created to teach the rest of the world how to do it right.

On January 9, 1961, another Bostonian, John F. Kennedy spoke to the General Court of Massachusetts, quoting Winthrop’s sermon. “I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier.” John Kennedy, the first Catholic President of the United States who said during his campaign that his Catholicism would not impinge on his presidency. Now do you see how the Puritan forbears are the fathers of the Hootenanny Mass, and of so much modern American “Catholicism"?


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