Seat Guru

Seat Guru

From my blog email thread: You get to plan a dinner party for 4-8 of your favorite writers/artists/musicians/other notable figures, whether dead or alive. Who do you seat next to whom in order to inspire the most fun evening?

Of course this is a common question when trying to provoke a thoughtful discussion. Usually it comes in the form of “If you could grab coffee with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?” or something along those lines. This particular idea just expands upon that notion to create a wider net. Here is my list of dinner party guests.

Thomas Paine

My worn copy of The Thomas Paine Reader. I even wrote notes in this book and it wasn't even for a class.

My worn copy of The Thomas Paine Reader. I even wrote notes in this book and it wasn't even for a class.

As many of you already know I’m a history nerd and my favorite time period to explore is colonial and early US history. In my opinion, Thomas Paine did more to inspire the citizens of the United States to throw off the shackles of tyranny and fight for the independence that so many of us take for granted today. Sure, Thomas Jefferson was the author (along with others on the committee including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) of the Declaration of Independence and James Madison is credited as the Father of the Constitution. None of that would have mattered if General George Washington had not utilized the writings of Thomas Paine to inspire his troops.

These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that give every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

As powerful as this would be to inspire an army of farmers and lawyers it is not the most thought provoking or enlightening of Thomas Paine’s works. In 1794, Paine published part one of The Age of Reason. This pamphlet was the ultimate outline of the deist philosophy. Contrary to the popular belief of the writing, this was not anti-Christian. The pamphlet even states early that Paine believed “in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.” Even so, there are a few sentences below this specific statement that strike me even more and I believe should be the foundation of spiritual exploration:

“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit. I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.”

I would be absolutely enthralled to sit and talk with someone as open minded and enlightened as Thomas Paine. Even in the 1790’s he could declare his beliefs yet respect the beliefs of others. He could expound his belief that organized religion was a way to enslave mankind but at the same time respect those who believe otherwise. We (and I do mean we to include everyone around the world) can learn from this sentiment. If we could take more time to allow others to their beliefs instead of trying to govern their beliefs or threaten their beliefs we would all be happier and safer.

Now, just imagine this 18/19th century deist writer sitting down to a glass of wine and meal with…

George Carlin

It wouldn’t be that big of a stretch to listen to these two gentlemen discuss philosophy and religion. Sure, early in George Carlin’s career he was known for having some pretty silly humor. Just think about some of his most famous bits like the Hippy Dippy Weather Man (Tonight’s forecast: dark. Continued dark until morning when it switches to partly light) or his entire bit about weird stuff that you find on your body.

I personally felt that Carlin’s humor became more intelligent with age. Just give a listen to Carlin’s analysis of the Ten Commandments delivered in a highly analytical and humor manner:

I'd love to hear the discussion between these two men. Two men with distinctly different world views but I believe they would have very similar personalities. I'd love to have them both in the room because Thomas Paine would be nothing but serious but Carlin would be able to stand toe-to-toe with any intellectual debate but still crack a joke when things were getting too heavy.  And if Carlin was making it a bit too light our next guest would bring things back down to the heavy.

Daniel Quinn

Daniel Quinn is an author who is probably most famous for his novel Ishmael. I would invite him to my table not based upon that novel but based upon another that is one of my favorite books of all time and one that I have shared with you in a previous blog, The Story of B. 

I'd have to invite Mr. Quinn to the table to discuss his ideas on modern culture and civilization. I'm fascinated by his ideas that it isn't religion that but civilization that will bring about the downfall of the human race. He writes in such a way that complex ideas are expressed in a way that anyone could comprehend. For example, here is how he concisely summarizes how most cultures around the world, and there related religions, are really all part of the same culture.

It's certainly true that the ends and means of salvation differ between East and West, but then the ends and the means of salvation differ among all salvationist religions of the world--this is precisely how you tell them apart. The essential fact remains that, anywhere in the world, East or West, you can walk up to a stranger and say, "Let me show you how to be saved," and you'll be understood.

I'd love to hear the discussion between Paine and Quinn. Paine espousing his belief in a single God but his denial that a single church is the solution and he can reach salvation in the church of his own mind. Quinn countering with his belief that salvation is a construct of our culture, East or West, and that it isn't even a necessity for us as human beings to seek salvation. It would be fascinating.

After bringing my first three guest together I realize that I'm sitting in a room full of men with no alternative viewpoint. Because of the time in which each person lived I think Paine would believe that men are superior to women but Carlin and Quinn would believe highly in the equality of women but believing in equality and having a woman's voice are two vastly different things. To try and balance the room, our last dinner guest would be...

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Abigail Adams by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

I'm far from knowledgeable on powerful women so forgive me if I don't select a woman that is more relevant or current. However, there is no woman I admire and respect more (with obvious exceptions of my Mom and my wife) than Abigail Adams. Everyone knows Abigail Adams as the wife of the second President of the US under the Constitution, John Adams. What more people should know is that she was far more than just a dutiful wife of a President and Founding Father. She was a senior adviser, a sounding board, and a partner to one of the most distinguished men in US history. I believe that if Abigail Adams was born 1944 instead of 1744 she would have been the first female President of the US.

We get to learn so much about the relationship between John and Abigail Adams because they spent so much of their life apart. The result were hundreds of letters between the two sharing ideas and love. These letters reveal Abigail Adams ideals and genius that is far ahead of her time. For example, when writing to John Adams regarding independence from England:

If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.

And

Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.

What I love about Abigail Adams and her relationship with John Adams is that it was truly a partnership. John never looked at Abigail as a possession but as a partner and a friend. Abigail never looked at John as a master but as a confidant and a comrade. Yes, Abigail expressed her feelings on women and their role in life but she also shared her love for her husband.

Should I draw you the picture of my Heart, it would be what I hope you still would Love; tho it contained nothing new; the early possession you obtained there; and the absolute power you have ever maintained over it; leaves not the smallest space unoccupied. I look back to the early days of our acquaintance; and Friendship, as to the days of Love and Innocence; and with an indescribably pleasure I have seen near a score of years roll over our Heads, with an affection heightened and improved by time -- nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree efaced from my mind the Image of the dear untitled man to whom I gave my Heart.

Power without overpowering. Grace without vanity. Independence without tyranny. These are the qualities that Abigail Adams showed during and after her lifetime. These are the qualities that I see in all the great women in my life (Mom, Rizzo, Carrie, etc) and these are the qualities I know Abigail would bring to a wonderful evening of dining and discussion.

Who would you like to have a meal with? What topics of conversation would you hope to discuss?

P.S. I'd probably serve beef stroganoff with a delicious brown ale and a cheesecake for dessert (this is the meal I would have if I was on death row). I'm sure after that low class meal they would all talk about where to get reservations next time so they can leave me at home.

 

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