Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Beauty Through the Cracks

In a recent conversation a friend mentioned that she had difficulty listening to a particular musician (someone whose music she liked and admired) because of the violence and generally destructive behavior that characterized his life. And I thought about that. It's hardly a new phenomenon. And while I understand the reaction to some extent, I don't think I agree with it.

It's a bit of a cliche, but artists are known for being selfish, self-destructive (and other-destructive) assholes. I don't know if I would go quite so far, but I suspect that some would even argue that selfishness and a massive ego are necessary preconditions to producing great art. And although they exist, it's unusual to find great artists who are also models of Christian grace and charity. And so the bottom line for me is that I can appreciate the art made by the asshole geniuses while recognizing that I wouldn't necessarily want to spend a lot of time with the artist.

Not that horrid behavior is ever justified, but I also find that I have great sympathy for artists who were fairly miserable human beings. The jazz pianist Bill Evans was a heroin addict who lied and cheated to keep his habit alive. He used to inject his wife, for God's sake, and not surprisingly she developed her own habit, which led to her suicide at a young age. At one point in the late '50s Evans was strung out, broke, and his wife had left him. The electricity and heat had been turned off in his apartment because he was unable to pay his bills. He was at rock bottom. And he went into the studio with no greater motivation than to earn some cash to keep his habit alive, sat down at the piano, and improvised for seven minutes while the tape rolled and ended up with something called "Peace Piece," one of the most moving, hymnlike, and transparently beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard. And I love him for that.

Who can understand this? Where does that come from? The nice, neat theological explanation is that it's common grace, and that God bestows his gifts on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. But the explanation that I prefer is that it's a miracle, a little shard of God's goodness and beauty that shines forth all the more starkly when surrounded by the muck and the mire.

I don't think I would have liked Bill Evans. I surely wouldn't have liked Miles Davis. Or Mozart. Or Gauguin. I don't excuse their often horrendous behavior. But they created great art. And I've never reached the point where the weight of their personal sins offsets the glory of their art. I might have felt differently if I was married to one of them. But it's all a matter of degrees anyway. Some are more broken than others, but we're all broken. The miracle is that incredible beauty shines forth from the cracks.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Man

Forget Rod the Mod. Let’s talk about Van the Man. I don’t listen to him for months at a time. And then I remember. And I’m always glad I do. I remembered last night.

Here is the sort of magical alchemy that happens when I put on his records (and yes, these are records for me; you can’t beat vinyl). I come home from work, dog tired, brain dead, I mumble incoherently to Kate and Rachel for a few minutes, then I retire to the den. I put on, in quick succession, St. Dominic’s Preview, Hard Nose the Highway, and Tupelo Honey. I don’t play the entire records. I only play the title tracks from these three albums. At some point I start whooping, because this is what Van does for me. The music critic’s gotta scream and holler. It’s all good. And I emerge fifteen minutes later re-energized, invigorated, ready to face the whole suburban tableau, ‘cause I got soul.

I’d say that the first eight solo albums are essential. That would be Astral Weeks, Moondance, His Band and Street Choir, Tupelo Honey, St. Dominic’s Preview, Hard Nose the Highway, It’s Too Late to Stop Now, and Veedon Fleece. It’s an incredible run. Van is at the top of his vocal powers here, which means, in my opinion, that he’s simply the greatest, most soulful singer of the rock ‘n roll era. He makes masterful use of strings and horns. And he generates a few dozen masterpieces along the way. A Greatest Hits album really cannot do justice to the scope of the greatness here. You really do need them all. But if forced to choose, I’d probably go with St. Dominic’s Preview, which contains several straightforward R&B/Irish soul classics, and one very unstraightforward, weird-as-hell song called “Listen to the Lion” in which Van froths at the mouth for upwards of eleven minutes, repeating his lyrics like rosary beads until he enters what surely sounds like a trance-like state and simply starts, well, roaring like a lion. I love it. I know people who hate it. But I think it’s the strangest and greatest singing I’ve ever heard.

After the first eight, it’s spotty. The albums I’d outright avoid are as follows: A Period of Transition (1977), Too Long in Exile (1992), Days Like These (1993), A Night in San Francisco (1994). None of these are terrible, but they do sound like Van is going through the motions at times. The latter is a live album in which Van turns over the vocal duties to various backup singers. It sounds like a Las Vegas Revue. You’ve always wanted to hear some unknown backup singer sing “Moondance,” right?

At the peak of his commercial success, Van chucked it all away to follow his Muse. I respect him for that, but it hasn’t always led to the most approachable music. There are moments of greatness everywhere, but also moments of headstrong rants against the music industry (Van’s favorite target) and moments so mystically strange that they threaten to float away into the ether. For the past 25 years Van has been obsessed with childhood and childhood memory, revisiting the haunts of his youth in Belfast, pursuing communion with God in orthodox and unorthodox ways. Don’t come looking for creedal truths, but I respect his dogged pursuit of God even as I scratch my head at some of the directions he’s turned. Some of the highlights: Common One (1980), in which Van rants about T.S. Eliot and William Blake for fifteen minutes at a time, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (1982), one of his most beautiful and mystical albums, Irish Heartbeat (1987), his wonderful collaboration with The Chieftains, and Avalon Sunset (1989), a collection of fine love songs. His last four albums – Down the Road, What’s Wrong With This Picture?, Magic Time, and Pay the Devil – represent a return to the more straightforward R&B/folk of his early albums, but with slightly diminished vocal powers. It’s not a big deal, because slightly diminished Van is still very, very good indeed.

I do love his music, and, along with Dylan and Al Green and Bruce Cockburn, Van probably comes as close to Musical Hero status as anyone in my life. I’ve never seen him live, and I want to very much. He doesn’t tour much anymore, rarely in the U.S. and never in Ohio, so Kate (another big Van fan) and I have tossed around the idea that for our upcoming 25th anniversary we’ll simply go wherever Van is. Hopefully he’ll sing his own songs and not turn them over to the backup singers. These are the things we do for love, love, love, crazy love.

Monday, October 23, 2006

No Trespassing

My friend Erik, my favorite former college football player and pony-tailed doctoral student, is doggedly (woof) pursuing an esoteric career in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Notre Dame. But when he’s not buried under an avalanche of arcane academic reading or spending time with his wife and daughter, he writes about his life. You should read what he writes. It’s good, and frequently heartbreaking, stuff.

Recently he wrote this:

“What all the nice white churches I’ve been to do (including the one we’re at now) is just get really distant from problems. Pretend they don’t exist. Box them up. If that doesn’t work, talk about that person’s problems with other people, though not with the person who’s in the middle of the problem.”

Ouch. Although Erik’s observation is certainly accurate, I suspect that this is not just an evangelical phenomenon, but a human phenomenon. It’s easier to gloss over (or completely ignore) problems — your own, and those of your neighbors. It’s easier to gossip about (or, in alternative evangelicalspeak, “lift up a prayer request for”) those who are messy, broken, and hard to love, than it is to actively engage them as part of our lives.

But then I remember Jesus, who not only didn’t run from the lepers, and didn’t gossip about them with his cronies, but who sought them out. And still there are many days when I’d rather tune people out, and not engage in messy relationships at all. All I can do is confess it and repent of it and ask God to change me. It’s a slow turning, but I’m heartened by the small changes I see.

I sometimes despair of this happening in the increasingly individualistic, private world in which we live, a world where the garage doors open and close automatically, and where the neighbors are seen only in the ten-second interval between when the door goes up and when the door goes down. If community is still a viable concept, and I’d like to think that it is, it can only happen because people are intentional about it. In that light, I think the church model matters. Community — real, raw, will-you-still-love-me-when-I-show-you-my-big-black-heart community — doesn’t happen accidentally. People have to be purposeful about it, and work at it, hard, and commit themselves to people who are inconvenient and sometimes downright unloveable. It’s the un-American way, and I sometimes think it’s a miracle that it happens at all. But it can, and it does. I’m thankful — really incredibly thankful — to have found it. Not every day, but frequently enough to believe that it’s a vision worth pursuing.

And yet there are days — and yesterday was one of them — when I have to confess that I don’t want to be bothered. Just leave me alone. I’ve got my own problems. Leaving aside the trivial issues of nuclear conflagration and catastrophic terrorist attacks that sometimes keep me up at night, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the litany of dysfunctional parents and dysfunctional children, untimely deaths, addictions, infidelities, twistedness, perversion, and brokenness everywhere I turn. I become numb. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any answers. Hang in there. Be warmed and be filled.

God forgive me.

I also remember this: I spent several nights at the same Harley Motel that Erik describes in his blog posting, under remarkably similar circumstances. The parental roles were reversed – my mom, and not my dad, was the crazy, violent alcoholic – but otherwise it’s like he was reading my most intimate mail. Those were nights when I needed somebody, anybody, to take even a remote interest in my life. And nobody did. It was the loneliest, darkest time of my life, and nobody shared it with me. I was new to Columbus, and I went to see a pastor I didn’t know at a church I’d never attended, and he prayed a perfunctory thirty-second prayer for me and sent me on my way. Be warmed and be filled. So I understand that disappointment as well, and I understand my own culpability. This is not who I want to be.

It’s a phenomenon that singer/songwriter Carolyn Arends understands well, too, and she’s written a wonderful song about it on her latest album Polyanna’s Attic:

They heard his cries in the night from across the lawn
They found him dead at the bottom of the lake at dawn
Nobody’d come running to the rescue and when they were asked
The passersby said that the signs that they read said “Keep Off the Grass”

‘Cause you can’t go near

Anybody else’s private ground
See folks ‘round here
Have got a democratic right to drown
And you’re just a fool
If you care about the faces in the crowd
We’ve got a new edition of the Golden Rule:
No trespassing allowed

Nobody asked her ‘bout the bruises on her face

I guess she was glad that they gave her her personal space
When the bones wouldn’t mend and it came to an end in the dead of the night
The neighbours were sad but at least they had respected her rights

‘Cause you can’t go near

Anybody else’s private ground
See folks ‘round here
Have got a democratic right to drown
And you’re just a fool
If you care about the faces in the crowd
We’ve got a new edition of the Golden Rule:
No trespassing allowed

Can’t you read the signs?

These are enlightened times
Got to be careful not to think too much
You can watch ‘em going under but you just can’t touch

‘Cause you can’t go near

Anybody else’s private ground
See folks ‘round here
Have got a democratic right to drown
And you’re just a fool
If you care about the faces in the crowd
We’ve got a new edition of the Golden Rule
Got a new edition of the Golden Rule:
No trespassing allowed
– Carolyn Arends, “No Trespassing”

Everybody’s hands were clean. No muss, no fuss. And how those clean hands stink to high heaven.

To quote Erik again:

“One of the things I’ve seen in Reformed theology is the notion that dirtiness is in everyone and that, ultimately, we can’t get rid of the dirt. It’s just part of who we are. So the line separating the clean and the dirty is never that distinct. When that’s thought through, it might mean that we can all get in there and bear one another’s burdens without fear of getting twisted up (”slimed” I’ve heard some charis-vangelicals say) with another’s mess. In Reformed theology, there aren’t many eternal reprecussions for trying to help and failing.

Idealistic, you say. Counter to the Gospel, you say. Which Gospel, I wonder? The charis-evang-amental gospel of politeness? I’m not sure I believe in that gospel anymore.”

In spite of my reluctance and numbness, I don’t believe in that gospel either. So I’m praying for Erik, for me, for all of us, and I’m asking God for the grace and the strength to enter fully into the messiness, and that we’ll blithely ignore the signs that our culture (and sadly, the Church) puts up that say “No Trespassing.” Let’s enter the private stomping grounds, where hearts and souls are trampled underfoot, even when we’ve been warned not to trespass.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Score One for the Neocons

David Kuo, the former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, has written a book entitled Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. In the book, Kuo argues that the current Bush administration cynically used religion for political ends, and that White House aides ridiculed the very Christian leaders who helped bring Mr. Bush to office.

It sounds like a damning indictment, and as a Christian I ought to be outraged. And certainly there is much cause for chagrin, if not outrage, including the alarming statistic that only $60 million of the $8 billion earmarked for programs for the poor -- or less than one percent -- actually ended up in the programs for which the money had been destined. But then there is this:

"National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as 'ridiculous', 'out of control,' and just plain 'goofy,' " Kuo writes.
"You name the important Christian leader, and I have heard them mocked by serious people in serious places," Kuo told "60 Minutes" Sunday night.
That mockery, he added, included the Rev. Pat Robertson being called "insane," the Rev. Jerry Falwell being called "ridiculous" and comments that Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family "had to be controlled."
(from ABC News)

How 'bout that? For once the neocon cabal got it right, and they may not be as out of touch with reality as I had feared. It's time for people like Robertson, Falwell, and Dobson to step aside. Just go away. They don't represent me. They don't represent any kind of Christianity with which I am familiar, or with which I want to be associated. They give Christianity a bad name because they crawl into bed with politicians and claim to represent Christ. Here's a clue: they're wrong, and they're deluded. They may or may not be insane. But they're most certainly ridiculous.

I am still no fan of the neocon cabal. And I don't doubt that there is much in Kuo's book that is sobering and alarming. But give them credit. They recognize a nutcase when they see one.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

Let’s dispense with the preliminaries: The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America is quite possibly the best album of 2006. It’s an impossibly outsized combination of beat poetry and power chords, raging, literate rock ‘n roll from yet another New Dylan (as if we really needed a new one) in a leather jacket. It is epic in every sense, loud and brash, celebratory and angry, and it contains a fully realized world of idiosyncratic characters thrown together willy-nilly and trying to make sense of their desperate couplings. It is the sound of loneliness in a crowd. And it is Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run thirty years down the two-lane highway, and not only because lead singer/songwriter Craig Finn’s voice bears an uncanny resemblance to the Springsteen of the mid-1970s. It’s about time somebody grabbed for the brass ring – great lyrics combined with white-hot rock ‘n roll – and Finn latches on with both hands.

So why can’t I love this album? I don’t know, but I can’t. For all their musical and lyrical similarities, Springsteen’s dead-end characters longed to bust out, get the hell out of Dodge, make a better (or at least different) life for themselves. Finn’s characters are content to sit stoned in front of the television set, or aimlessly wander the suburban shopping mall until the next party starts. And maybe that’s the difference.

But give credit where it’s due. It’s one hell of a shrug of resignation:

There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right
Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together
Sucking off each other at the demonstrations
Making sure their makeup’s straight
Crushing one another with colossal expectations
Dependent, undisciplined, sleeping late

That’s from a song called “Stuck Between Stations,” and it’s the best opening verse of an opening track I’ve heard since “Thunder Road.” It obliquely references Kerouac’s On the Road even as it sets the stage for songs about kids who can’t even bother to get out of their home towns. The irony is delicious. The guitars kick in at Line 3 and pin your ears back, more Pete Townshend or Angus Young than Broooooce, but if the power chords don’t immediately call to mind this album’s historical predecessors, then the perfect Roy Bittan piano interlude will. This is Born to Run but louder, more intense, more desperate. Except nobody’s running.

But they’re surely having a great time standing still. “Chips Ahoy” is the story of a young woman who bets $900 on a horse race, wins her bet, and spends her winnings getting high and engaging in round after round of compulsive sex:

She’s hard on the heart
She’s soft to the touch
She gets migraine headaches
When she does it too much
She always does it too much

Then there’s “First Night,” “Party Pit,” “Massive Nights,” “Citrus,” and “Chillout Tent,” two ballads and three raging rockers that are about, respectively, drugs, drugs, drugs, drinking, and drugs.

You may be picking up on a theme here.

So let me cut to the chase. Tipper Gore wouldn’t understand, but this is the kind of album you should buy for your teenaged kids. It makes a great Christmas present, moms and dads. The fun and games turn into something else entirely very quickly, and if you’re looking for proof, look no further than “Hot Soft Light,” certainly one of the best, most startling, and most rocking songs about addiction ever committed to recorded media. It is a first-rate cautionary tale of doing drugs until they start doing you:

It started recreational
It ended kinda medical
It came on hot and soft
And then it tightened up its tentacles

And therein lies the unresolvable conundrum of Boys and Girls in America, the tragedy of understanding the hollowness at the heart of the bright and shimmering dream, but not understanding that there is an alternative. This is a fantastic album with a huge sound. It’s brilliantly written. It rocks like crazy. But it skirts the big themes, and it settles for a kingdom the size of a pill, which turns out to be no answer at all. The town’s still full of losers, and it will still rip the bones from your back, but nobody’s pulling out of there to win. All the boys and girls in America are too wasted to drive.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Steve Almaas, Gomez, Catfish Haven, William Bell, British Sea Power

The problem with reviewing albums is that you actually have to listen to them. Or at least you should, and the guilt kicks in when you attempt to slide by with, oh, one listen, or listening to selected snippets of songs you know you didn’t really like very well in the first place. The discerning public demands more! And so you dutifully pay attention, again and again, instead of listening to the new Hold Steady, Beck, and Decemberists albums you’d really like to hear. A pox upon you, Barzin, Rod Stewart, and The Lemonheads!

It’s not that they’re bad (well, okay, Rod Stewart is bad). It’s just that they take up my time. But on the bright side, Rod Stewart is truly horrid, and I will admit that I take a perverse pleasure in slamming him in print. Do ya think he’s sexy? No. Do ya think he’s recorded a single note in the past thirty years in which he’s emotionally invested? No. Etc.

So in addition to Rod the Fraud, I’ve been listening to the following albums, some of which I’ll review, and some of which I won’t. But I’m really looking forward to that new batch of albums from The Hold Steady, The Decemberists, and Beck.

Steve Almaas and Ali Smith – You Showed Me

Almaas was the head wrangler for Beat Rodeo, an ‘80s cowpoke band (back when alt-country was still just country rock). I liked him then, and I like him now. He hooked up with girlfriend Ali Smith on a great duets album in 2002, and he reprises the formula here. And it’s a great formula, too – sweet Gram and Emmylou harmonies, chiming, Byrds-like guitars, and subject matter ranging from original protest anthems to settings of James Joyce poems. Smith’s quivering Girl Group vocals on “The Lonely Sea,” an early Brian Wilson song, and Almaas’ approximation of an entire Beach Boys chorale, is worth the price of admission itself, but there are many more highlights.

Gomez – How We Operate

Like Teenage Fanclub and Travis, Gomez arrived with plenty of buzz via the hype machine, rapidly faded into near obscurity, and are quietly putting out one wonderful album after another. There are three legitimate songwriters here, each with distinctive styles, but they all have an affinity for crafting three-minute guitar-driven pop gems. It’s nothing you haven’t heard a thousand times before. But the quality matters, and these guys deliver consistently high quality.

Catfish Haven – Tell Me

Three white boys from Chicago who want to be Otis Redding. It’s a noble goal, and on the uptempo numbers they nail it. Much R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the attempt. The slower songs are a mess, though. George Hunter, the lead singer, is a poor substitute for Otis as a pleading balladeer, and the hyperventilating act gets old very quickly. It would also help to tune the guitars.

William Bell – New Lease on Life

William Bell was one of the great Stax/Volt soul singers, and his song “You Don’t Miss Your Water” is justly regarded as one of the pinnacles of Memphis soul. He’s still plugging away, forty years down the line, and he’s still in fine voice. Sadly, the production here is dismal, and the songwriting itself is lame to the point of embarrassment. Titles like “Playaz Only Love You When They’re Playing” (hello, Stevie Nicks!) tell the story. It’s too bad, because the voice is intact. Where’s Joe Henry when you need him?

British Sea Power – The Decline of British Sea Power, Open Season

I’ve had these two albums for a while now, and haven’t paid that much attention. But I pulled them off the shelf recently, and I’ve enjoyed them immensely. Fans of the cracked eccentricity of The Arcade Fire or The Decemberists will appreciate these literate, quirky tales of Antarctic ice floes, Charles Lindbergh’s plane, and the martyrdom of 16th century nuns. Best recommendation I can offer: Lead singer Yan sings “The occultation of a summer sun/Was burning holes in everyone” and makes it rock. The music sounds familiar in a vague New Wave sense, but never oppressively so. I hear echoes of Interpol, The Cure, Talking Heads, even early, very psychedelic Pink Floyd on the pastoral, lovely “North Hanging Rock.” It’s different. It’s frequently pretty. And it rocks.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Metal of Honor: Mastodon and Saosin

It's the last frontier. I can find many things to love about punk, rockabilly, psychobilly, indie rock, emo, screamo, hardcore, shoegazer, blues-based boogie, lo-fi, power pop, and just plain rock 'n roll. Electric guitars and I are old buddies, and we go way back. But I've never been a fan of metal. I would rather undergo a root canal than listen to Metallica. I think Ozzie Osbourne is a totally engaging reality TV star, but that's about it.

So, for reasons unknown, two new metal albums have shown up in my mailbox recently -- the eponymous big-label debut from Californians Saosin, and something called Blood Mountain from the atrociously named Athens, Georgia-based Mastodon.

I know what you're thinking. I was thinking it, too. Good God, Mastodon. Blood Mountain. The image wasn't helped when I saw song titles like "Crystal Skull" and "Circle of Cysquatch." I conjured visions of the Stonehenge scene from Spinal Tap, gap-toothed guys whipping their greasy hair around in some sort of heavy metal ecstasy, paeans of praise to drinking goblets of fresh Type O Negative.

But you know what? Blood Mountain is really great. It's loud, it's angry, it thrashes like crazy. No big surprise there. But it's also articulate and witty and wise. That's a bit of a surprise. And every couple of minutes it evolves into something that can only be described as prog rock thrash. And that's a big surprise. The Mars Volta aims for this territory, too, but I'm always derailed about six minutes into their fifteen-minute opuses, put off by the seemingly endless wankery and nonsensical lyrics. Not this time. These songs are tight and concise, but endlessly surprising. Just when you expect them to descend into the usual metal cliches, they veer off into completely unexpected and delightful directions. And these guys are seriously great musicians. I'm very impressed.

Saosin take the same hardcore elements and weld them to populist early Def Leppard anthems. They're far more of a serious metal band than Def Leppard ever was, but the same multi-tracked harmonies and soaring, anthemic choruses should win them a big and devoted fanbase. This band will probably be huge if they get the right promotion from EMI, and I suspect they will. And for once they will improve the neighborhood.

I'm still not a big fan of metal as a genre. But these two albums are going a long way to change my mind.

Perchance to Dream

I can't sleep. This has been a chronic problem in my life, but it's getting worse. For those of you who are praying types, I'd appreciate your prayers.

I sleep, on average, 3 - 4 hours per night. It's not uncommon to fall asleep at 4:00 a.m. and for the alarm clock to go off at 6:30 a.m. A "good" night of sleep for me is 5 hours.

Here's what I do. I go to bed at a reasonable hour. I exercise like a madman (yes, it's hard to tell, but I hit the treadmill for 4 miles per day at what may look like a leisurely stroll, but which is a pretty brisk clip for someone with 16-inch legs). And I've cut way, way back on caffeine, limiting myself to 2 cups of coffee per day, and nothing after noon. And I still can't sleep. I simply can't turn off my brain.

So I'm chronically exhausted. There are times when I'm trying to have a conversation with someone and I'm literally so tired that I can't form words. And I'm a words kind of guy. In other words, this is interfering with life. I'm able to focus at work, except during the several passing phases every day where I just want to lay my head down on my keyboard. But this is frowned upon, so I don't. I do my best to have normal social interactions with my family and friends, but there are many times when I know I'm on autopilot, not able to fully engage with people I'd honestly like to engage with fully.

Life is stressful, but it's always stressful. This is what comes of working a fulltime gig and a couple of part-time writing gigs. And I'm not willing to give up the part-time gigs. But I'd surely like to sleep. Anybody have any suggestions? Prayers are welcome.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Milkman Cometh

It doesn't sound like the name of a horror movie. But it is. Drop off the daily delivery, then line up some sweet little Amish girls in front of the blackboard and shoot them in the head. It's Nightmare on Bonnet Street.

It's nothing new, of course. Ever since some Goth outsider kids in Colorado decided to massacre their classmates and teachers seven years ago, violence in schools has become fairly routine news. We've become desensitized to it. There have been three such occurrences in the past week. But the thought of those bloodsoaked bonnets has awakened me again. And I feel sick.

Why the Amish, of all people? Why terrorize people who simply want to be left alone, who preach nonviolence and non-resistance, who want to live peaceably with their crops and their livestock and their community of faith? And who will, God bless them, find some way in their hearts not to harbor bitterness and unforgiveness? Why them?

Strolling into a school building should not be a life-threatening event. But it is. It is, and I hover between wanting to pull my daughter out of school and providing her with a bullet-proof vest. I understand the Second Amendment. I understand how fervently some people cherish their right to own firearms. But look at us. Look at what we have become. To put it mildly, it doesn't seem like it's working.