Friday, August 16, 2019

Retirement Update #58


The plan:

·       - Retire at the end of 2020 (might push it into the first couple weeks of 2021).
·      - Put our house on the market at the beginning of 2021.
·       - Move to Oro Valley, Arizona (just north of Tucson, at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains) as soon as our house sells.
      Rent an apartment or house in Oro Valley.
      -  Live life.

And to fend off the inevitable questions/objections that seem to come up whenever this topic arises in real life:

Q: Why rent?
A: Greater flexibility. Instant infusion of cash from the sale of our home that doesn’t have to be plowed back into another home. Desire to avoid home maintenance and let somebody else deal with it. Kids who have no interest in inheriting a home, any home.

Q: Do you know how hot it gets in southern Arizona in the summer?
A: Yes.

Q: Do you mean to tell me that you prefer 110 degrees to 10 degrees?
A: Yes.

Q: Have you ever really experienced 110 degrees before?
A: Yes. Its’s hot.

Q: Do you know anyone in southern Arizona?
A: Not really. A couple acquaintances.

Q: Why would you leave decades of relationships behind you to start all over again?
A: That will be difficult. But that should also tell you something about how much I dislike 10 degrees. And sleet. And perpetual gray skies for five consecutive months. And ice. And falling down and concussing my head. All of it.

Q: You can’t just move someplace else during the winter?
A: It costs as much to rent a place during the winter months in Arizona (or Florida; replace with the warm-weather location of your choice) as it does to live there year-round. And we can’t afford two homes.

Q: You really hate winter that much?
A: Yes. It’s gotten more difficult every year. I dread it. I get seriously depressed. I don’t trust my balance on ice. I fear for my concussed head. I have enough trouble walking on shag carpeting.

Q: Why Tucson instead of Phoenix? Phoenix is bigger, has more to do, better opportunities, etc.
A: If we were moving for jobs, we would move to Phoenix. There are clearly more opportunities for career advancement in Phoenix than there are in Tucson. But we are not moving for jobs. We are retiring and moving to Arizona. Why Tucson? Less urban sprawl. Five, count ‘em, five mountain ranges surrounding the city. A national park on the east side of the city and on the west side of the city. Cooler than Phoenix in the summer (because of the higher elevation). Lower cost of living. Ability to walk out into your back yard, see stars forever at night, and see a 10,000-foot mountain during the day. A large university, which tends to lend itself to a general “Blue State” culture versus the typical “Red State” culture of the state as a whole. Yes, that’s important to me.

Q: Are you moving for the golf?
A: I have no interest in golf.

Q: Is there anything you actually look forward to in Arizona?
A: All kinds of things. Completing the Great American Novel and working on the Second Great American Novel, which will be my fulltime job in retirement. Hanging out with my wife. Seeing more of my kids. New friendships. Heat. Comfort in the winter. Spectacular scenery right outside my door. Amazing Mexican food. Incredible sunsets. Saguaro cacti. Relatively easy access to dozens of national and state parks. Four hours to the beach (Puerto Penasco in Sonora, Mexico, for the curious). Speaking Spanish. The ability to slip past the border and head into Mexico in about an hour if the fascism continues and/or degenerates even further (think of it as reverse immigration, except where you’re actually welcomed into another country). All kinds of adventures, God and health willing.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Poetry Assignment

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
- Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus"; Words inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty

Poetry is challenging for many people, and interpreting poetry is an endeavor fraught with peril. So many possible meanings! But hang in there, Amerikkkans. It can be done. 

When asked about the Trump administration's immigration policies and how they might compare and contrast with, say, the mythic vision of America communicated by the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, responded, "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

Okay, poetry students, here's your assignment: 


1) Do you think Emma Lazarus, author of "The New Colossus," intended her words to apply only to the tired and poor who could stand on their own two feet? What words in the poem support your view, and why?
2) Do you think Ken Cuccinelli understands the poem? Do you think he should resign as acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and do something, anything that wouldn't directly impact people's lives, such as pizza box folder for Dominos?
3) Consider these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Write your own poem.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Hidden Life


I read a fantastic book over the weekend by Catholic nun Sister Joan Chittister called “The Time is Now.” The theme of the book – the role of the prophet in contemporary society – is one that conjures up visions of heroic, deeply principled men and women such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And while heroism and steadfast pursuit of societal change is indeed part of the package, Chittister rightly points out the price these people have paid in living out their callings. King and Gandhi, of course, were assassinated. Mother Teresa was frequently lonely; misunderstood and reviled even by those in her own religious order, those who were theoretically “on her side.”
I think it’s worth noting that much of the contemporary Christian Church in America is currently focused on shushing the loudmouths. It’s up for debate, of course, whether the loudmouths should be considered prophets. Probably they would like to be considered so. It is, after all, part of a longstanding Jewish and Christian religious tradition, and it’s better to be a prophet than a mere loudmouth. What is not up for debate is that some significant portion of American Christians are offended by the loudmouths/prophets, and invoke a whole arsenal of tried-and-true tactics – calls for unity (as if an insistence on righteous behaviors is somehow disunifying), calls to love (as if an insistence on righteous behaviors is unloving), calls for forbearance (as if an insistence on righteous behaviors is impatient or inappropriate) - in the fervent hope that the loudmouths/prophets will shut up.
One of the things that Chittister points out is that loudmouths/prophets are most frequently opposed by people who are theoretically part of the same team/cause. They have to learn to be proficient in taking friendly fire and persevering anyway.
In any event, the loudmouths/prophets need to reconcile themselves to the notion that their actions – perhaps their very lives themselves – are worthwhile in the face of opposition and rejection. These lives frequently look like failures, and the opponents of the loudmouths/prophets are all too happy to brand them as such. But they are not failures. Perhaps they look like the life of Franz Jägerstätter; virtually unknown, certainly unheralded, the victim of a “senseless” death that accomplished nothing except a remarkable consistency to the principles and values to which he had sworn faithfulness.
I can’t wait to see this film.
-----------------------------------------------------
“Instead of battlefield valor or underground daring, the latest film from Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, Badlands, Days of Heaven) is a tale of something much more difficult to emulate: goodness and courage, without recognition. It’s about doing what’s right, even if it seems the results hurt more than they bring good to the world. It’s set during World War II, but our Austrian protagonist Franz Jägerstätter, based on a real-life conscientious objector, does not save Jews from Nazis or give rousing speeches. In the end, what he’s done counts for what seems like very little.
A Hidden Life is Malick’s most overtly political film and one of his most religious, urgent and sometimes even uncomfortable because of what it says — to everyone, but specifically to Christians in places where they’re the majority — about the warp and weft of courage. It’s a film that seems particularly designed to lodge barbs in a comfortable audience during an era of rising white nationalism. Jägerstätter could have lived a peaceful life if he’d simply ignored what was happening in his homeland and been willing to bow the knee to the fatherland and its fascist leader, whose aim is to establish the supremacy of Franz’s own people. But though it will bring hardship to his family and the harshest of punishments to himself, he simply cannot join the cause. The question A Hidden Life then forces us to contemplate is an uncomfortable one: Does his life, and his death, even matter? …
I was startled to see just how biting A Hidden Life is, particularly toward any Christians, or others, who might prefer their entertainment to be sentimental and comfortable. In one scene I can’t get out of my mind, an artist painting images in the nearby church tells Franz, ‘I paint their comfortable Christ, with a halo on his head … Someday I’ll paint the true Christ.’ The implication is painfully clear — that religious art prefers a Jesus who doesn’t accost one’s sensibilities, the figures who make us feel good about ourselves. We want, as the painter puts it, to look up at the pictures on the church’s ceiling and ‘imagine that if they lived in Christ’s time, they wouldn’t have done what the others did’ — in other words, if we had been around when Jesus was, we’d have known better than to execute him. When, of course, most of us most likely would have just gone along with the crowd …
A Hidden Life is everything Malick’s devotees could want from a movie: beautiful, poetic, hewing closely (particularly at the end) to films like Days of Heaven and Tree of Life. His camera observes his characters from all angles, sometimes straight on, sometimes from below, sometimes distorted in a wide-angle lens shot close to the face, creating the intimate feeling that we’re experiencing their interior lives rather than just watching passively. Its end, in which Franziska anticipates meeting Franz again — in narration that closely recalls the end of Tree of Life in particular — is a note of hope. Malick concludes, by way of a thesis, with lines from George Eliot’s Middlemarch:
'The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.'
Jägerstätter’s refusal to bow the knee looked pointless in his time, but in its own way, it was a kind of heroic act, though not the kind that ordinarily merits the Hollywood treatment. The things that are not so ill with us are because people we’ll never hear about did what they had to do for people they’d never know, and who’d never know them. A hidden life is worth living, and giving up, so that others may live.”
- Alissa Wilkinson at Vox



Monday, August 12, 2019

Pop Star, Round 2


Cat Stevens wrote some hit songs as a precocious teenager, almost died of tuberculosis, spent a year in a sanatorium, and emerged as the most reluctant of pop stars. "Don't want to be a pop star," he sang on his comeback album "Mona Bone Jakon." It was okay. It was a morose albeit nearly flawless meditation on mortality and hardly anybody bought it anyway. The next time out, though, he found the perfect formula again; meticulously crafted folk songs that were eminently singable and hummable, and that were perfectly pitched to a generation of weary hippies who were tired of Vietnam and Nixon and more of the same old shit, and who were turning inward. Here he writes and sings an ideal three-minute encapsulation of the age-old inter-generational conundrum. He was a pop star all over again, whether he wanted to be or not. It's what sometimes happens when you write a perfect album, which happened to be called "Tea for the Tillerman."

He stuck around for another seven years, then dropped out for almost four decades to raise a family away from the bright lights. He wasn't kidding. But he was a pop star. He couldn't help himself.



Friday, August 09, 2019

50 Years of Peace and Love


I was 13, almost 14 years old when Woodstock happened. I was fresh out of eighth grade and a month away from starting high school, and no more of a peace-lovin’, dope-smokin’ hippie than Richard Nixon was.

But I paid attention. Walter Cronkite and CBS News showed scenes of the blissed-out hippies, abandoning their flower-bedecked VW Beetles ten miles away from the festival site and hiking in because there was no other way to get there. They originally thought about 20,000 people might show up, and instead 400,000 crashed the party.

At the time Walter didn’t quite know what to make of it. Neither did anyone else. Until those three days in mid-August, 1969, Peace and Love and Dope had seemed like the exotic purview of some strange hippies who were more or less contained and quarantined on the San Francisco peninsula. After Woodstock, the virus was unleashed. The counter-culture simply became the culture. If it wasn’t immediately obvious in the Summer of ’69 (Thank you, Bryan Adams), it was readily apparent a year later, after the Woodstock soundtrack and the Woodstock film had come out and the mass marketing of Instant Hippiedom had begun. It was an assault in every sense; a consumer bonanza for marketers in which fashions changed willy-nilly, but also a deeply introspective time in which attitudes changed and prevailing worldviews changed and the very nature of consciousness changed. It was a time in which millions of young, impressionable kids watched the original hippies waving their hands in the air and asked themselves, “I wonder what that’s about?” And they figured it out.

To give you some idea of how such a massive cultural change happened in a very short time, I will note that my undergraduate college years in Athens, Ohio, and beginning only a scant half-decade after Woodstock, were spent amidst a sea of suburban hippies. And what I mean by that is that almost EVERYONE was a suburban hippie. The usual accoutrements and attitudes – long hair, opposition to the Vietnam War, distrust of Nixon, the requisite hippie fashions/uniform, rolling papers, short pipes and bongs, and/or the furtive acid tabs for Friday night – were so ubiquitous that when I became a Christian midway through the four-year party, and figured out that maybe I should try to abstain just a bit from the usual scene, I instantly became a member of the counter-culture in reverse.

But look, like almost everyone else I fell hard and more or less unconsciously. It was just in the air. It was all around, and it would have required a far deeper thinker and more disciplined individual than I was to not fall hard. And it’s taken me, lo, the better part of half a century to sort it all out, to figure out what was wheat and what was chaff. As it turns out, and because it was nothing if not an excessive time, there was quite a bit of both.

The negatives were more or less obvious, at least in my life. I wouldn’t want to insist that my story was shared by everyone. But I spent significant parts of several decades in a benumbed fog; too stoned to be fully present, or often to be present at all, to my wife and kids, to my neighbors, to the larger world around me. My drug of choice was the one featured prominently in the Woodstock film, specifically in the sequence filmed to accompany Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming Into Los Angeles,” which featured an assortment of hippies toking prodigiously. I can play back that scene in my sleep, although I’d rather not. That’s on me, and I take full responsibility and blame. And if it hadn’t been weed, it would have been – and sometimes has been – something else.

I get it. The problem is me. But I’d be lying if I said that the marketing of the so-called “counter-culture” didn’t have an impact on my life. I liked what I saw. I wanted to try what I saw. And I did. It’s taken a loving and patient spouse, a lot of prayer and repentance and apologies, some therapy, and my own private assortment of 12-Step groups to help unravel the repercussions. But that’s part of the Woodstock Generation as well. I could tell you personally about a few casualties. I am thankful to not be one of them.

From a broader cultural perspective, Peace ‘n Love turned into Reagan Yuppiedom turned into Trump’s Hate World Shitshow. Those are broad-brush statements. They’re certainly not true of all the Baby Boomers I know, and many of them would loudly and rightly protest that I’m engaging in the worst kind of stereotyping. Still, the overall trajectory of the Boomers has not been a positive one. It is often hard to recognize even a dim flicker of the original vision.

But I recently re-watched the film “Woodstock.” I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, now five decades down the line. I skipped over the toking and tripping scenes, simply because I don’t need them, at all. As I said, I can play those scenes in my head whenever I want, anyway. I skipped over a lot of the music, too. That’s the soundtrack of my life. It’s on a permanent loop, somewhere embedded deep within my brain. It doesn’t take much to pull it out again, and I didn’t need the movie to do it.

I just watched the scenes of people; walking, conversing with one another, eating, camping, being one big 400,000-member functional family. They were beautiful. They were all young, of course, which probably helped perceptions, but they also did beautiful things. They hugged one another. They shared their food with strangers. They proclaimed peace and love, and for three days, at least, they more or less lived it. You can say that it was an artificial environment, no doubt chemically enhanced. But they lived it for a bit. They just couldn’t sustain it.

I recognize that I often say the same things about Christianity – following Jesus – which became the primary focus of my life, the overarching vision, not too long after I fully embraced the Woodstock Generation. The theory is great, the practical application has somehow, inexplicably led to the Trump Hate World Shitshow. There is a cavernous abyss between Point A and Point B, and it is often hard to recognize even a dim flicker of the original vision.

For what it’s worth, I still like the original vision. I agree with that vision. Peace ‘n Love. What strange and strangely powerful concepts. We are all weak, double-minded, easily led astray, subject to a thousand derailments, hippies and Christians and hippies/Christians. It has largely turned into a dumpster fire for many of the involved parties. But the vision is not wrong. It’s right and true. It was true in 1969, and it’s true today. Strangely enough, I watched a film about hippies from 1969 and remembered Jesus. It was a little slice of heaven. I’d like it back. I’d like a do-over for all concerned.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Intractable Now


I believe that Americans, as a completely fractured society, are rapidly reaching the intractable point of no return. For example, two Democratic presidential candidates (Beto O’Rorke and Elizabeth Warren, for the curious) have this week labeled the President of the United States as a white supremacist. On Monday, August 5, 2019, the New York Times, either the Most Revered Newspaper in America or America’s Biggest Purveyor of Fake News, depending on your perspective, labeled Trump as “a white nationalist who inspires terrorism.” During Trump’s Big Hospital Tour/Campaign Rally yesterday, the vast majority of the surviving victims of the recent mass slaughters in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio declined to meet with him. They would rather not hang out with the President of the United States than hang out with him. The Trump publicity machine said, “Hey, it’s not every day you get a chance to meet the President!” And they had trouble drumming up any interest. These are big, bold statements and actions, and they allow for little or no nuanced interpretation. Someone who is sorta, kinda a white supremacist makes no more sense than someone who is sorta, kinda a Nazi. The very terms themselves are extreme and repulsive, unless you happen to be a white supremacist and/or a Nazi, in which case, I suppose, you would be a fan.

For the record, and to the surprise of no one, I believe that Trump is a white supremacist and white nationalist who inspires terrorism. I absolutely believe that. There’s not a doubt in my mind. He’s shown the reality behind those concepts again and again, day after day, rally after rally, tweet after tweet. He is remarkably consistent in his hatred, racism, xenophobia, and divisiveness. Well done on the consistency, Don.

But I wonder what happens next.

Wars – civil wars, at that – have been started for less sacrosanct reasons. Opposition to slavery has nothing on opposition to racism and xenophobia. They are, in fact, remarkably similar and interrelated causes. Currently, the nation is not only deeply, perhaps intractably divided, but it is deeply, intractably divided over fundamental core values about the worth of human beings. What is at stake is the kind of country America wants to be. As a tangential or core issue, depending on your point of view, what is also at stake is what Christianity means and how it is lived out among its followers. This is truly the kind of deep division that sets brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. If your neighbor is a white supremacist or a Nazi, it matters little that he once shoveled your driveway one winter when you were sick. Principles top pragmatism, and some people still maintain that some principles are worth dying for. Americans believed this as recently as World War II.

If a second American Civil War happens – and I’m not convinced that it won’t – I won’t be shooting the guns I don’t own and don’t want. I’ll probably be one of the first casualties. I’m not going to fight. Oh well. But I’ll pick a side, and it will be the side that opposes white supremacists and white nationalists. I’ll pick the side that insists that all men, and women, are created equal. I’ll pick the side that insists that God so loved the world, not God’s own U.S. of A., that he sent his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. I’m willing to die for those things, even if it’s Christians who are opposing me. And the way things are going, it probably will be. This remains the greatest disappointment of my life, here in these latter intractable days.

Tyler Childers


Tyler Childers is the best and brightest thing about country-ish music these days, in my opinion, at least until the next Jason Isbell album comes along. But he’s the real deal, with an untamed, soulful twang and a journalist’s/poet’s sensibilities. He’s also absolutely correct that you don’t want to be downwind from the paper mill in Chillicothe.



Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Diet


I am trying to modify the way I eat. My doctor thinks I should do this. My wife thinks I should do this. I myself think I should do this. It’s a good idea.

So I’ve been at it a month, and I’m seeing some tangible results in the weight department. Let me note that three of the days during that month were spent in the hospital, and whatever “food” I was taking in was courtesy of an IV drip. So that probably helped the weight, too. Nevertheless, I don’t recommend it as a dietary strategy.

Here’s what I’m not eating. At all.

·       Flour/Wheat/Gluten – No bread, no pasta, no cereal, no chips.
·       Red meat – No burgers. No filet mignon, medium-rare.
·       Sugar – No cakes. No pies. No doughnuts. No candy. Not even food that is sweetened by its own natural sugars, like beets. No great loss on the latter item.
·       Dairy – No (real) milk. No ice cream. No cheese. No Dairy Queen Reese’s Pieces Blizzards.

Here’s what I’ve been eating/drinking instead:

·       Fish - A lot of fish. Mainly cod and flounder. No tuna, which is full of mercury. Wild-caught (but only wild-caught) salmon.
·       Chicken – Grilled, not fried/breaded or smothered in sauces. Thank God for chicken. Chicken is currently keeping me sane.
·       Almond milk/Coconut milk. – My wife tells me that it’s not all that different from cow’s milk. She lies. This stuff is execrable.
·       Vegetables – Half of every plate. Some salads with minimal vinaigrette dressing. Lots of green beans, peas, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Vegetables are okay as side dishes. My new life tells me that they’re going to be main dishes. This is hard, I tell you.

More non-food/supplement additions:

·       MCT Oil- I have no idea. It has the viscosity of motor oil. It floats on top of my cups of coffee, my very own private oil slick. Kate tells me it’s good for me.
·       Collagen – It’s a powder that gets stirred into various liquids. It is odorless, tasteless, fine, I suppose. I really have no clue. Again, I’m told it’s good for me.
·       Magnesium Citrate – In pill form. I’m told it will help keep my bowels regular. Yes, I have reached that stage of life.
·       Vitamin C and Vitamin D – No fruit juices. They’re high in sugar. So I get the Vitamin C in pill form. Same for Vitamin D, which is supposed to be like sunshine. I recall other pills I’ve swallowed that were supposed to be like sunshine. I am dubious. I wave my hands around and they look normal.

It’s all challenging, but I’m doing okay. The cheery diet books I’ve read (two) have assured me that this only works if it’s a lifestyle, not a diet. It’s not supposed to be a temporary fix. And I get that. One day at a time. I’ve heard that phrase in other contexts, too, but it works here as well.

I’m thankful to be up and moving and above ground. If I see you, I’ll treat you to a collagen-laced cup of herbal tea.

How Could We Know?


A good summary of the great ideological/theological divide. And yes, it’s a yawning abyss, although no one is yawning, and quite a few folks are howling.

“Another Dallas-area pastor and Trump advisor, Jack Graham, agreed. “I’m not going to blame rhetoric on the evil heart of some terrorist. Who knows what was going on in the mind of this shooter,” he told me. “To me, this is not the time … to go running out there and condemning political leaders, whether it’s the president or anyone else, or blaming rhetoric, or blaming guns.”

I submit that we can know what was going on in the mind of this shooter because he told us precisely what was going on in his mind. He wrote it all down, in excruciating, misspelled, grammatically tortured syntax. His multi-page screed appeared online 19 minutes before the first 911 call alerted authorities to a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso.

It is amazing to me the lengths to which people, many of them Christians, will go to deny the obvious. Trump calls it “an immigrant invasion.” Our boy El Paso Patrick (EPP) calls it “an immigrant invasion.” EPP uses the same language and talking points that Trump uses at the Nuremberg, er, Tallahassee Rallies.

"Late in his disorderly presentation, as he discussed the work of Border Patrol officers, he raised, and then dismissed, the idea of allowing them to use violence against migrants.

"And don't forget - we don't let them and we can't let them use weapons," he said. "We can't. Other countries do. We can't. I would never do that. But how do you stop these people? You can't. There's -"

It was then that he was interrupted by a woman in the crowd. "Shoot them!" she yelled.

The president found this funny, as did his audience. "That's only in the Panhandle you can get away with that stuff." He stopped for a moment to take in the crowd's roaring approval. "Only in the Panhandle!" he repeated."

Well, El Paso, too.

I mean, really, how could we possibly know?

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/08/mass-shooting-christian-response/595522/

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Cancel

I've seen various arguments today that essentially come down to this: see, the deranged El Paso dude was a right-wing racist, and the deranged Dayton dude was a left-wing racist, so they basically cancel one another out.

No.

The right-wing dude wrote a multi-page screed in which he quoted the President's "immigrant invasion" language and stated that his intention was to stop the invasion. Half of his language was lifted right out of the Trump Rally playbook.

The Dayton dude shot and killed his sister and her boyfriend. We don't know his motives. He left no multi-page screed. But it seems at least reasonable to conclude that he wanted to kill his sister and her boyfriend, for whatever reasons, and that it's likely that seven other dead people and 26 wounded people just happened to get in the way of the 100 or so bullets that he spattered over a twenty-second interval.

In other words, not every mass-shooting is or has to be politically motivated. But we shouldn't excuse or ignore the ones that are. One of them clearly was.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

The Sin Problem

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For what it's worth, I am all about thoughts and prayers; prayers, especially. Thoughts are fine, although they're shared among people of goodwill from all kinds of spiritual and non-spiritual traditions. So I really like prayers because they're a uniquely spiritual contribution in which Christians (among others) can and should fully participate. The problem, of course, is that people of goodwill rightly like to see actions in addition to the thoughts and prayers ("faith without works is dead," the New Testament famously proclaims), and the actions have been sadly missing. Again and again and again, times 251 in the U.S. during 2019, times 2,191 in the U.S. since Newtown in December 2012. In comparison, Mexico, the closest "competitor" to the U.S., has seen three mass shootings in 2019.

What else can possibly be said that hasn't already been said, again and again and again, times 2,191 and counting? When people are face-to-face with hard truths that are right in front of their faces but which they would rather not acknowledge, they trot out all kinds of rationalizations. Christians are particularly adept at blaming the crowds of people being mowed down by automatic weapons on "the sin problem." That is, it is the wickedness in the hearts of humans that causes these tragedies. The secular version of this dodge blames some combination of mental illness, video games, and cultural isolation and loneliness, particularly among young white men, who invariably seem to be the ones pulling the triggers. Add in a soupcon of racial animus whipped up by a bigoted administration, and there you have it.

While I wouldn't completely discount any of these factors, I do have some issues with "the sin problem" explanation, since the U.S., a devoutly Christian nation (just listen to our politicians if you don't believe me) seems to sin at a rate roughly 84 times as much as the nearest sinful nation, and I would submit that this is not good PR for the brand. It is even more puzzling when the U.S. mass shooting statistics are compared against those of, say, Denmark and Sweden, notoriously democratic socialist nations that have experienced zero mass shootings in 2019.

I am not callous about any of this. This day, like many before it, has been one where I've felt like weeping and gnashing my teeth, to put it in biblical terms. I've done one of the two; my teeth are still in decent shape. But I am at the end of my endurance; sickened, and expecting precisely nothing to happen. It's a sin problem, after all. What can you do? It's baked in. Oh well. Thoughts and prayers.

Life Coaches

I know several people whose main breadwinning gig or sideline gig involves something called "life coaching." As far as I can tell, this is a relatively recent phenomenon that has emerged over the past 20 years or so. At least I don't recall hearing or reading about life coaches during my youth or young adulthood.

A quick Google search yields the following definition: A life coach is someone that looks to empower others by helping them make, meet and exceed goals in both their personal and professional lives.

And I have, oh, about fifty questions, but I'll try to be succinct.

Because I know a few of these folks, I can safely state that some of them are fairly accomplished individuals, particularly in a given professional realm. They've succeeded in the ways that typically define the American Dream. They've won accolades within their career fields. They've been promoted. They've earned a fair bit of money. And now they want to help others, which, in itself, is a noble goal. I assume that their motives are more or less altruistic, although a nice check following each life coaching session no doubt helps to grease the capitalistic life coaching rails. But I can't help but remember when these folks used to be known as "mentors," and when companies used to routinely assign these successful people to work with new, young, and up-and-coming "talent." And I get it. Corporate America ain't got time for that no more. You're on your own, Junior Bub, unless you hook up with a "life coach" who can help you.

From a narrowly-defined career perspective, this makes sense to me. If you're, say, a network engineer, you might want to look for a life coach who is also a network engineer so you can actually talk shop, but beyond that, have at it.

So it's only in the broader "personal lives" category that I have my qualms, mainly because I start worrying about qualifications. Who, on the basis of their personal life, is qualified to be a life coach? Someone who is fit, trim, and looks like a GQ model? Someone who works 80 hours per week and earns millions of dollars per year so he/she doesn't have to think about the wreckage they left behind at home? Someone who has mastered a couple dozen platitudes loosely organized around the "If you dream it, you can do it" Disney mantra, and can pass those along to gullible, needy people? Someone who is "happy" in a lobotomized way, and has never had to face inexplicable loss and tragedy? So what makes you such a great life coach, coach? And whose life is it, anyway?

I don't know. I'm cynical, I realize, but maybe living for a while has made me that way. I will tell you this, though: if your life coach has never dealt with tragedy and loss, you should sprint (or the closest approximation, given your age and girth) the other way. It will be better for your soul.

For what it's worth, here's what I recommend instead, and let me note that the price is right: friendships. Find some people who know you, quirks and irritations and all, and who still really like you and want to spend time with you. And talk with them.

Your bill: $0.00. You're welcome.


Saturday, August 03, 2019

Survey Says ...

The scenario: Christian pastor writes an anguished if well-intentioned Facebook post along the lines of: "Hey, I encounter lots of people, particularly young people, leaving the Christian Church. This grieves me. I wish they'd come to our church, where we're not like those fundamentalist churches, but where we genuinely welcome questions and doubts, and where we represent the best of Evangelicalism, contemplative Christianity, the role of the Holy Spirit, scholarship and critical thinking, and social action."

Once you get past the expected 80% "Aww, you're the best pastor ever/I love our church" responses, the comments get interesting. Here are a few:

"You have a huge blind spot. You claim to be welcoming, but there are major segments of the population that are missing from your church because they know they would not be welcome. They're not showing up at your church. Why would they?"

"Your church model is a problem. It's heavily pastor-centric. You have all the trappings of a denomination, but because you refuse to call yourself a denomination, you have no structure for accountability or widely-recognized central tenets. You have no accountability within individual churches and no consistency from church to church. And you see the racism and xenophobia rampant in our culture and you say nothing about it. Is now really the time to turn a blind eye to justice and mercy?"

"Your use of the words "traditional Christian morality" is a loaded term. It sounds nice and objective and safe. It's not."

"Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump, and the church's unholy alliance with and support of him. This is why people are leaving the church. Figure it out."

And on and on it goes.

My take: this is a good church, and the pastor is a good pastor. There are many positive things to recommend about this church. And every one of those comments is accurate.

I've said it before; the next 20 years will determine whether "traditional Christian morality" (and boy, is that ever a loaded term) survives as a viable cultural viewpoint. The old cheerleaders will be dying off. The young people will have never been there.




Friday, August 02, 2019

The Delines

Some feel-good head-bobbin' here.

Okay, maybe not.

But if you're looking for the perfect film-noir accompaniment after the film is long over, and the TV is showing a test pattern at 4:00 a.m., you could hardly do better than "The Imperial" by The Delines. The entire album is incredible, with muted trumpet and lonesome pedal steel as the primary musical accompaniment, but I'm particularly partial to the closing track, heard here, and which pares back the sound to its elemental basics. What makes it work are Willie Vlautin's cinematic lyrics, which start with the hoary "I'm so blue I can't sleep" formula and imbues it with the specificity of an urban dirge; alarm clocks ringing through the thin walls of the apartment next door, the banging of garbage cans as the harbinger of a new day. Vlautin is a novelist in his other night job, and it shows. Amy Boone delivers these devastating words in a resigned, world-weary hush. That's the problem with waiting on the blue. It's still blue.



Thursday, August 01, 2019

Wired

I spent Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights in a hospital bed. One of the great ironies of hanging out in such a place is that well-intentioned people routinely tell you to get rested up, and wish you a good night's sleep. I can tell you with some degree of certainty that one thing that you will NOT be doing in such a setting is getting rested up or sleeping. This is because you are wired; not from caffeine or some other stimulant, but because you are literally wired from head to foot. You have wires that are connected to beeping, well-lit machines, and they are dangling from virtually every part of your body, and any movement would entail a near-balletic coordination of medical personnel who would be required to assist in turning you from, say, your left side to your right side.

Resting and sleeping were right out. Not gonna happen. It was just as well because every hour or so someone would cheerfully wander in, ask me how my rest was going, and poke me with a needle or attach another wire or two to my body. So sleeping was not really a part of my agenda. Instead, I watched, thought, listened and prayed. I listened to the loudspeaker, which routinely squawked out things like "Code Blue, Room 417." I listened to a woman down the hall from me crying. I prayed for the people involved. I thought about my stomach, which hurt like hell, even after the pain medications, and I thought about my overall health, which has not been good of late. I thought about my mortality, which is something I've been doing on pretty much an hourly basis since I was about four years old, but which has occupied even more of my thinking recently. Visits from EMTs at work and hanging out in emergency rooms will do that to you. And I prayed about that as well.

I didn't really think I was going to die. I have a morbid streak that can find the gloomy and the depressing in the sunniest, most placid day at the beach, but in this case, I didn't honestly think I was going to die. So although I was worried and uneasy, I mostly prayed for other people. And while that was going on early Tuesday morning at 3:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m., whatever it was, God showed up. How do I know it was God? I just know. This is a maddening thing to atheists and doubters, I'm sure, but I just know. One way I know is that I experience a profound sense of peace and the sure knowledge that I am deeply loved in the midst of excruciating stomach pain, worry, uncertainty and fear. I don't know why this happens. I can't program it or schedule it or turn it into a formula (I've tried), and I have no idea when it's going to happen, but I've experienced it enough times to know that it's very real. That, more than any doctrine or belief, is why I'm a Christian. I should also note that there have been plenty of times when I've desperately wanted it to happen, when I've essentially communicated to God, "You know, now would be a great time," and it hasn't happened. So I have nothing to tell you other than sometimes it happens, and it's a wondrous life- and faith-sustaining time when it does. I'll also tell you that it's a great mystery. And Tuesday early morning it happened. It filled me with hope.

Later that morning, after the sun had come up but before my surgery, a woman and a man in red vests and wearing Volunteer badges stopped by my hospital room and asked to pray for me. I told them that I'd welcome their prayers. So they prayed, and they were kind of loud and showy and demonstrative, flailing their arms around and petitioning for my health, as if God would hear them better if they did a little song and dance. When they finished, they asked if I felt better after they prayed. I told them that I had felt okay before they prayed and that I felt okay after they prayed. Which was true. I thanked them anyway. I'll take whatever prayers I can get. Then the nurses prepped me for surgery, and off I went.

My Christian faith has changed a lot over the years. A lot of the cultural stuff has dropped away, and I don't miss it. Every week I read about some new book that bemoans the current antagonistic cultural climate, and which makes the Rodney King "Why can't we all just get along?" argument, but in more explicitly Christian terms, as if some superficial show of unity would excuse the blatantly anti-Christian beliefs and behaviors that animate large swaths of the American Christian landscape. On a more personal level, anger and disbelief are being supplanted by a deep sadness. I believe in the Christian Church. I believe in Christians as individuals. But in 2019, in this particular cultural setting, I do not believe in Christians en masse, and I simply can't and won't accept that it has to be this way. If I didn't love the Christian Church, I simply wouldn't care.

For the red-vested theatrical tag team, for the crying woman down the hall from me, for me, for everybody alone in a hospital bed, wired by technology or wired because of fear and panic, I pray that God will show up. Life is hard; tragedy is the real hard currency of the realm. But I live in hope. I hold on to the certainty that Code Blue is not the end, that love wins, and I look forward in anticipation, the fever-dream that is more real than life itself, to the time when nobody's crying.

I still have this secret hope
Sometimes all I do is cope
Somewhere on the steepest slope
There'll be an endless rope
And nobody's crying



Sunday, July 28, 2019

Evangelicals

In my addled mind, that's what they look like. And that's basically what I signed up for, way back in the spring of 1975, when me 'n Jesus had a Born Again time.

The guy on the left is, of course, Jimmy Carter, the Evangelical President. The guy on the right is one Larry Norman, former singer/songwriter of the Top 40 hitmakers People (link below), and the self-proclaimed Father of Contemporary Christian Music, which is what happened when Larry 'n Jesus had a Born Again time and he started making rock 'n roll for the Lord, much of it still pretty good.

My addled mind is completely befuddled by what happened in the middle, particularly the years 1980 - 2019. When I graduated from Ohio University in 1977, I moved to the inner-city of Columbus to be a part of a Genuine Jesus Freak Community(TM), a bunch of broken hippies and former hippies who all lived together under the same roofs, married folks and single folks and homeless people and dogs and cats and goats (some good eatin' there) who were united in the modest goal of changing the world for Jesus. Because they were young and idealistic and well-intentioned, they did some good things, including setting up some tutoring programs for the kids in the hood, and cleaning up the alleys and generally loving the neighbors around them, most of whom didn't look like them. Because they were young and somewhat prideful and naive, it didn't really work out, either. A bunch of people, including me, met their spouses and started having kids and moving away to places where they were safer. They moved away for the most logical of reasons. They also moved away because they could.

I look back on those young Evangelicals with great fondness and yes, some bewilderment. Some of them eventually morphed into what is now a 10,000-member megachurch in the suburbs of Columbus, complete with a gigantic church complex and bookstore and coffeehouse and restaurant, and a nifty Community Center that provides childcare to the neighborhood, and legal consultations, and medical and dental care at free or greatly discounted rates, and fixes beat-up cars, and runs athletic leagues for kids who otherwise might have too little to do and too much time on their hands. All of this is praiseworthy. I commend them. That suburban church is home to people from more than 100 nations, and that is not a typo. They strive to be inclusive and welcoming in all the normal Evangelical ways, which, of course, doesn't include significant segments of our society. It is what it is; some good, some bad. Mostly good, with some gaping holes.

Some of them moved on to more established denominational churches. Some of them started churches of their own, which is an Evangelical hallmark. Some of them bagged it and walked away from it all, and now have nothing to do with Christianity or religion in general. All of them grew up, experienced the joy and the messiness and the hurt of life in the Christian Church in America. Some are still there. Some are not.

The pastor of that 10,000-member megachurch, who I used to hang out with during his relative Jesus Freak youth, is retiring soon. I know he remembers Jimmy Carter and Larry Norman. There are vestigial memories of his youth that still make him an anomaly in today's Evangelical world. He sometimes preaches sermons that rile up the congregation because he insists that a core part of the Christian message involves loving and serving the least of these. People don't like that. It doesn't fit in with the Gospel According to Fox News, and more and more that's where people in his congregation are taking their religious cues from. There is a storm a-brewing, one that may hold off until his retirement, but which will surely burst forth once he's gone. There is a struggle underway for the soul of Christian America. I'm not necessarily betting on orthodox or historical Christianity.

Mostly, I miss 1975; the certainty, the assurance that the team was all working toward the same goal. That's all gone now. I'm not even sure what the team is anymore. I miss Larry Norman, too.




Saturday, July 27, 2019

Infestations

I've lost count of the number of times Donald Trump's words, either spoken or tweeted, would have resulted in immediate dismissal from every workplace in America but one; the White House. You're fired. Do not stop to pack up your desk. Do not bid a fond farewell to others in the cubicle farm. Get out of here. You're a cancer, and we don't want you around.

Day after day, hour after hour, tweet after tweet, he demonstrates his overarching goal; to divide Americans, the people he theoretically serves. He is the President of the United States, and he is incapable of thinking or behaving as anything other than a petulant toddler. I am so saddened for America. We have fallen very, very far.





Friday, July 26, 2019

Tyrant Watch


I’m sure you get tired of the Tyrant Watch posts. I assure you that I get tired of having to write them. But stuff keeps happening that makes it look like a tyrant is in charge. I wish that wasn’t the case.

You can complain about Wednesday’s Mueller hearing all you want. He appeared befuddled. He couldn’t hear questions. His tie clashed with his suit. Whatever. But two messages from the Mueller hearing came through loud and clear. First, the Russians compromised our democracy by directly interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Second, they are interfering again, right now, in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

How did an alarmed Amerikkka respond? On Thursday, the GOP killed two bills designed to make our elections more secure. Nope. Not gonna do anything. 

A bit later in the day, the Little Fuhrer responded on State TV to questions about the Mueller hearing by accusing several people who were critical of him, including Mueller and James Comey, of engaging in "treason," and openly speculated that it might be appropriate to execute them. As in, you know, kill them. Criticize the Little Fuhrer and it's Off With Their Heads. 

This is really happening. In Amerikkka. Believe it.

So I’m sorry to bring this up, really, but it bothers me. It causes me to lose sleep at night. I truly miss my country. I’d like to have it back. And I’m just taking notes. Yes, there will be a quiz at the end.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

IFCCTOJ Hats


The words of my friend Jeffrey Overstreet:

This morning, I heard from a close friend whose heart is breaking because she finds it too painful, too disillusioning, to attend her church anymore. It’s gotten to the point where the language she has shared with them feels meaningless. When those whom you thought of as “the church” embrace a man who has inspired a huge and powerful movement of men and women to rally around slogans that flagrantly contradict the central teachings of Jesus, what does it mean anymore to be part of “the body”? How does one worship in the midst of obvious hypocrisy, or sing praises to a God of love in a chorus with those who will turn around and throw stones at their neighbors minutes later, or who think that God’s love only extends to them?

I think about this every day. And I think about it when I’m at church as well. Sometimes I wonder if it is better not to know. Because no one wears an “I Flagrantly Contradict the Central Teachings of Jesus” (IFCCTOJ) hat in the sanctuary, it is difficult to know who these folks might be. Polls suggest that about 44% of them in my church (down from 70% in evangelical churches) would, in fact, fit the general description. Because they’re not wearing the telltale hats, I pray for them indiscriminately. And I find myself, sometimes in the midst of a particularly long homily, wondering if I would pray for them indiscriminately if they were wearing the hats.

I’m pretty sure I would. I would pray for unity, as Jesus instructed us to do. But that unity would be focused on Jesus, who did, in fact, have some central teachings, and I would pray that the IFCCTOJ bunch would repent and follow Jesus. Take off your hat, take up a cross, love your neighbors; some of whom don’t look like you. That kind of thing. Is there a value judgment implicit in what I’m thinking during those moments during the long homilies? Oh, you bet. There is also a recognition that I’m a sinner, and that I don’t have it together. But yes, you bet, there is also a value judgment. Because, as a Christian, I am also supposed to think, and in the midst of loving my neighbor I am also supposed to be concerned with truth and justice.

This isn’t a case of “Well, it’s always this way: we’re all sinners, and any church is going to be imperfect, so grin and bear it.” This is a severe turn. I feel speechless when my students go out of their way to inform me that, for all my references to Christian faith in the classroom, they want nothing to do with it because they’ve seen just how useless and contradictory Christianity has been in the communities where they grew up. This is happening more and more frequently. “My parents are Christian, but I’m not. I cannot support what the church in this country endorses.” One woman told me that she has never read the Bible, and, in fact, she’s made a promise to herself *not* to read it because she’s horrified at what it turns people into. And I get it. Why would they want to join a church that is embracing, more and more every day, a Nazi playbook?

The IFCCTOJ bunch is destroying the Christian Church in America. That grieves me. I wish that they would follow Jesus instead, and I pray that they do.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Jesus the Music Critic


One in seven, eh? I think Jesus is being generous. But He tends to be that way, which is good.

Lisa reminds me of the time I participated in the reverse purge, throwing away most of my "Christian" music and buying back a bunch of "worldly" music that, to this day, I insist is absolutely great.

This cartoon also raises other issues for me. Why, for instance, is Jesus wearing a suit and tie? Why does he look like Dan Fogelberg? Can He turn water into coffee? What kind of coffee does he drink? Whatever it is, it’s probably Sanka-tified.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The God of Love Had a Really Bad Week

A nice summary of what I've been saying for years.

There are 8,654,219 flavors of Christianity in America,  but there are really only two Christian worldviews in America, and they compete with one another, and they are almost diametrically opposed to one another. The first worldview (which the author calls the God of Love) is about inclusion, common ground, caring for the least of these. It's about bridges, not walls. Critics of the God of Love tend to view the disciples as a bunch of namby-pamby, wishy-washy communist libtards, praise God. The second Master God worldview is focused on rule-keeping, and tends to be punitive and exclusionary. It's about walls, not bridges. Critics of the Master God tend to view the disciples as a bunch of "Send her back" bigots, praise God. Both worldviews share the same Bible, but they are focused on different Gods. You can find echoes of both Gods throughout the Christian scriptures. And here's how it works: figure out how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament, then take a look at Rorschach Jesus and see who you want to see. Can you guess which one is now ascendant in the white American Christian world?

And yes, the God of Love had a really bad week last week. It's not been going well for the past few years, either.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/20/opinions/god-of-love-had-a-really-bad-week-bass/index.html?no-st=1563711046

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ways to Move Forward


With apologies and thanks to my friend Josh Hurst, whose words I am appropriating here. Everything below the line is his. Everything above the line is mine, and the views expressed should be attributed to me, not Josh.

To their credit, I HAVE seen a few instances of evangelical pastors and friends repudiating Trump’s hateful, divisive words over the past couple days. And I’m thankful for that. But Josh’s perspective – disbelief, sorrow, betrayal – is very real, and it is very common among the Evangelicals and ex-Evangelicals I encounter. If you’re living in your own little conservative political/theological bubble, you really cannot comprehend the carnage taking place among people who would like to be Christians, who used to consider themselves Christians, but who cannot possibly agree with what they are being asked to support, and who know without a doubt that what they are being asked to support is profoundly out of alignment with God’s will and purpose in the world.

To the rest of the American Christian world that sits back in silence, there IS a way forward, but it involves, as it always does from a Christian perspective, acknowledgement of wrong, and repentance; commitment to doing right. In the face of continued tacit or overt support of blatant racism from some portions of the American Christian church, now might be a good time to move forward. Please do it, I beg of you.


I do not think we will ever have a full accounting of everything we've lost through the marriage of white American evangelicalism and the desperately wicked movement of explicit racism and white nationalism personified by the 45th President.
Last night I watched in horror as he incited violence against a sitting U.S. Congresswoman, inviting real bodily peril on her and her children, and for a moment thought of all the Christian moralists, evangelists, pastor-teachers, and quasi-celebrities who I was raised to admire; men who taught me that character matters and integrity is paramount. I believed it, and still do; it's a shame they didn't. One whiff of real political power was all it took for them to goose-step along with a political agenda that is demonstrably evil; that wishes injury and death upon divine image-bearers; that rejects the teachings of Jesus Christ at every turn.
I am not alone. I hear from others every day who were raised in conservative, white evangelicalism, and who now see all the absolute truths of our childhood going up in smoke. The trauma is real. The betrayal is real. The tears are real. So it was bullshit all along, you say? But I trusted you, and now feel like a fool.
There are not enough Supreme Court seats, not enough chances to embarrass the libtards, not enough courthouses in which to erect the Ten Commandments; there is nothing to justify the erosion of Christian witness and the complete collapse of evangelical moral authority in our country, now left with a paucity of gospel values, all the goodness we espouse smothered under the weight of white nationalism.
It is Antichrist. It is accommodation for sin. It is killing us, just like the Bible said it would.
I think of my own denomination, reformed Presbyterian. We have documented evidence that white nationalists are bred and catechized in our pews, yet still so many of us are fools enough to hem and haw about whether racism and white supremacy are truly "gospel issues"-- as if there's anything that isn't! Still so many of our churches lift up prayers against abortion, as rightly we should, but will never utter a word to protect Congresswoman Omar, nor to call POTUS 45 to repentance.
This is not seriousness about sin. We're letting it devour us. We leave our children with ruins and waste -- a hollow space where authoritative Christian witness used to be. And we leave our Savior still darting from tree to tree, somewhere far from the halls of power-- his invitation the same as ever; but so many of us, I fear, choosing far lesser.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Uncle Mickey

Most of us have one, although his name may or may not be Mickey. But you've seen the guy. He drinks too much beer at the Thanksgiving dinner, or he holds forth, glass in hand, at some niece's or nephew's wedding reception, pontificating about blacks or Jews or Mexicans or Eyetalians, whoever happens to be the minority group du jour, who look nothing like Uncle Mickey. When he starts carrying on about sending them back to where they came from you roll your eyes, and in your finer moments you tell him to be quiet.

You know, and everybody else knows, that Uncle Mickey is an idiot, an embarrassment, someone who cannot and should not be taken seriously. If you weren't related to him you'd build up a fair amount of animosity toward him. But because you are related to him, you lead him off to bed, pat him on the head, and tell him to go to sleep.

Uncle Mickey is now the President of the United States.

It's an incredibly depressing time in America.


Johnny Clegg

RIP to the great Johnny Clegg. To take nothing away from Paul Simon's "Graceland," a great album, Johnny Clegg was the true father of South African rock, hanging out with the Zulu migrant workers of Johannesburg as a teen, loving the music, loving the people he encountered, and putting it all together in ways that Simon later borrowed in the mid-1980s. He was a wondrous musician and a good man, standing against apartheid at a time when such a stance was costly from both a personal and economic standpoint.

It was a cruel, crazy beautiful world when Johnny recorded this song. Sadly, it still is.



Monday, July 15, 2019

Who Is My Neighbor?

It's not exactly shocking that the guy who was fined for refusing to rent to black people and called for a ban on Muslims and called Mexicans rapists and called Puerto Ricans lazy and called for the execution of innocent black teens and equivocated with his "good people on both sides" statement about neo-Nazis might say something racist, as he clearly did yesterday. If only there had been some clear signs to warn us, you know? Still, the bluntness of Trump's "let the brown-skinned uppity women crawl back to the shitholes they came from" Twitter taunt might have been the most brazenly racist statement yet. It's not shocking, nor does his doubling down on the racist rhetoric today strike me as at all out of character. It's who he is, who he has always been. It's just the timing that gets to me.

The timing, in this case, had to do with yesterday's Gospel reading, which was the parable of the Good Samaritan. I heard it again, listened, tried to take it to heart. Who is my neighbor? How do I pass by those in need, excusing my non-action on good, pious, religious grounds? That's what the good, pious priest in the parable did. That's what the good, pious Levite in the parable did. That's precisely what the Samaritan - the hated, despised Samaritan who could check none of the proper religious boxes - did not do. "Which one, do you think, acted like a neighbor?" Jesus asked. Which one indeed.

So I listened to that Gospel reading, thought long and hard about it, and came home to read about Drumpf, the scion of German immigrants, doing his racist thing, which he does incredibly well, better than anybody.

There was plenty of outrage over the blatant racism, as there should have been. Non-religious people were outraged. Mainline Christians were outraged. This is the proper response. You know why? Because racism is a great evil, the antithesis of what Jesus taught. You know who was not outraged? Can you guess?

Maybe they were. I don't know for certain. But they didn't say anything. The most visible public spokespersons didn't say anything. My many Evangelical Christian friends didn't say anything, at least publicly.

Trump's whole schtick is exclusion, division, walls, keeping people out. It's what he bases his life on. If it is proper to speak of Trump's core beliefs, that is what they are.

Who is my neighbor? Who is my neighbor? Who is my neighbor? That's a trinitarian repetition.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Racist Twats and Racist Tweets

Add caption
I know someone who is a racist twat. I haven't seen him in years, but I follow him from a wary distance as he routinely posts photos of Confederate flags, approvingly displays photos of George Soros in a Nazi uniform (note: Soros is Jewish, he was seven years old at the beginning of World War II and 13 when it ended, and his family fled Nazi-occupied Hungary in 1944), and casts derogatory aspersions on women in politics, particularly women who have ethnic names and non-white skin.

I don't want to hang out with the guy, and I have zero desire to spend time with him, but I follow him to stay in touch with a certain virulent strain of American. One could debate endlessly about what it means to be a member of the Trump Cult. I will say that this guy is a self-professed Trump fan. For him, Trump's racism isn't a bug, it's a feature. Trump tells it like it is. He says what everybody thinks, but has been afraid to say up until the past few years. He's a hero, nay, a Savior. And yes, this guy goes to church. A Christian church, or so he claims.

I do NOT believe that everyone who voted for Trump fits this profile. I do believe that some percentage of the Cult thinks in ways similar to the racist twat, and that the rest simply find it acceptable. Maybe not great, but not that big of a deal. Oh well.

Here is a screenshot of Trump's tweets from earlier this morning, which suggest that some brown-skinned American women politicians, American citizens and legally-elected members of Congress, should go back to where they came from, and should leave as soon as possible.

Earlier today, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio described these tweets as part of "a political strategy to keep people divided to the maximum extent possible."

For what it's worth, I absolutely believe that the strategy is working. I, for one, will not excuse these tweets, and I will not give Trump a pass on his racism. This is not the kind of country I want to live in. Consider me divided; divided from Trump, from those who admire him, from those who merely accept him, from those who shrug at blatant bigotry. I could not be more opposed to what you value, and what you blithely accept.