Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Death Industry

I am an expert in nutritional science in the same way that Donald Trump is an expert in political science. In other words, I'm winging it, and I don't really know a damn thing. But I wonder.

My wife, who would also tell you that she is not an expert in nutritional science, but who has nevertheless read a bunch of books on the topic, has convinced me to read *A* book. Just a single book. You have to start somewhere. And so I have. And while I'm not ready to spend all my hard-earned money on dietary supplements or subsist on kefir or douse myself with lavender before bedtime every night (pro tip: it does help with fart smells), I ... well, I wonder. Also, going into a diabetic coma at work can serve as a motivating factor. I'm just saying.

Growing up, I (and I bet you too) was exposed to the so-called Food Pyramid. Eat a lot of high-in-fiber grains, I was told. And fruits and vegetables. And while I probably received a C+ in the fruits-and-vegetables department, I was on board with the high-in-fiber grains. Bread was and is my friend. Cereal. Pasta. Maybe doughnuts, which had bad sugar, but also grain-like products. Yum. I liked them, and probably ate far too many of them, but I consoled myself with the notion that I was establishing a firm base at the foot of the Food Pyramid. Long live Ramses. Long live Andy.

Now I'm being told that the Food Pyramid had it all wrong, that I need to lay off the high-fiber grains and instead eats lots of fats (the basis of the Keto Diet), along with the aforementioned fruits and vegetables. Formerly, the fats would have been considered bad. But now I'm reading that the old Food Pyramid was the product of the USDA, which was funded and supported by farmers, and which funded many now-suspect studies in places like The New England Journal of Medicine. The argument now goes that the USDA had plenty of incentive (to slightly misapply a metaphor) to cook the books.

I don't know. But the notion of the federal government acting against the best interests of the people it serves in order to bankroll industry doesn't seem particularly farfetched to me. Anybody been paying attention to the news? In any event, the result is indisputable from a cultural standpoint. As a nation, we are out of shape and fat. Look, the old "four fingers pointing back at you" argument applies in this case, so I'm well aware that I'm talking about myself. But it's not just me. It's 32 million Americans - 10% of the population - with diabetes, a disease inextricably linked with diet. And while I would not deny that individual choices play a role here, I do think it's worthwhile to ask what role outside forces - let's just name the Food Pyramid, the choices the average American is faced with at the local grocery store, and the relentless marketing of crap food and drink for starters - have played in this process. We are being fattened up in the same way that the cows and chickens we consume are being fattened up. And yes, there's a slaughterhouse at the end of the process.

So I have some questions. Does the U.S. intentionally set up the people of the United States for failure? The failure, in this case, is the medical disaster that awaits most people if they simply follow what was prescribed for years and buy what is for sale at the grocery store. I think it's worth noting that the slaughterhouse at the end of the road is the U.S. healthcare industry, which rakes in trillions of dollars because Americans are fat and sick. Cha-ching. Follow the Benjamins. It's an old, old story.

I suppose it's also worth noting that we're now dealing with a government that salivates at the prospect of denying insurance coverage to those same old and fat Americans. American politicians and insurance companies call these things "pre-existing conditions." The rest of the world calls them living life and getting old. For many countries, this is a source of compassion and care. In the U.S., it's yet another way to make money.

Cha-ching. Feeling better now? I'm not. And I've only read one book.

Friday, June 28, 2019


I didn’t watch every second. The incessant interruptions and one-upmanship got to me. I’m not really sure what the word “moderator” means in this context. But I did pay attention. I’m ready to write off six or seven of these candidates as completely unelectable, although I do hope that Marianne Williamson, Writer, gets her own strain of weed named after her, and that she continues to view her body as her own unique space station beaming love to the universe. I have my doubts about six or seven more. But that still leaves a good half dozen who seem like presidential material. I will note that when compared to the current occupant of the White House, I would gladly vote for any of the 20, most certainly including Marianne. But that doesn’t mean that I think 14 or 15 of these folks have any chance of winning.

I wish I had more faith in the American populace in terms of its inherent goodness, adherence to and agreement with traditionally understood moral behavior, and ability to engage in rudimentary critical thinking, but I do not. 2016 really did happen. And I have little optimism that 2016 won’t happen again in 2020.

Here’s what I thought of the Top 6:

Uncle Joe – UJ looked slow, old, and befuddled. He badly fumbled the question about his vote in favor of the Iraq War, a question he had to know was coming. And Kamala Harris eviscerated him. He has all the advantages of a front-runner with deep party ties and financial backing. Or are those disadvantages these days? But if UJ is the Democratic nominee, I think he loses to Trump. I would bet on it.

Bernie Sanders – Bernie has the most interesting ideas of the bunch, Marianne notwithstanding, and many of them actually make sense to me. Alas, he will never shake the “wild-eyed radical” and “(Democratic) Socialist” tags with which he has been smeared. Trust Bubba and Wanda to vote against him resoundingly if he is the Democratic nominee, and enough of the moderates to stay home because of those besetting labels to allow Trump to triumph again. I like him, and I hope he’s not the nominee. He will not be elected.

Cory Booker – a) He’s black. Yeah, I know. Sadly, we’re still deep into a cultural backlash that wants to punish America for eight years of Barack Obama. He’s charismatic, and he’s a fantastic communicator. He’s campaigning on a message of love, unity, and a revival of civic grace. You would think that might be fairly non-controversial. I also love some of his proposed policies, including his ambitious affordable housing plan and his Baby Bonds plan, which would target the yawning abyss of the wealth gap in America by seeding accounts for children from low-income families. I’d vote for him in a heartbeat. But see a) above.

Kamala Harris – She’s also a) black. And she’s also b) a she. Look, I get it if you roll your eyes at those comments. But consider Bubba and Wanda, sitting out there in Resentland, convinced that political correctness and the damn minorities have ruined their lives. Kamala is tough, articulate, experienced, and ready to govern, and she absolutely nuked Joe Biden last night. I’d vote for her in a heartbeat. But consider a) and b) above.

Elizabeth Warren – Warren is a policy wonk, and she’s the smartest and most experienced Dem in the field. I’d vote for her in a heartbeat. But she’s lacking in the charisma department, a ridiculous quality that nevertheless frequently settles elections. I would worry about her electability if she is the Dem nominee.

Mayor Pete – I would vote for Mayor Pete for President. I would vote for Mayor Pete for damn well anything. I’d like him to be my neighbor. I want him to be the head of the PTA. I want him to host his own children’s TV program. I’d love him whatever he does. Mayor Pete reminds me of Jimmy Carter. For me, that’s a positive comparison, but that also shows how weird I am, I suppose. He’s smart. He’s articulate. Like Jimmy, Mayor Pete admits to making mistakes. He did that last night. Like Jimmy, Mayor Pete seems to have a historical understanding of Christianity before 1980. Like Jimmy, Mayor Pete seems to profoundly understand the notion of “compassion” and that, historically, compassion has been viewed as a positive attribute. He’s a truth teller and a non-spinner of facts and a non-liar in a universe of serial liars. I really, really hope Mayor Pete is the next President of the United States. He is, of course, gay, which takes Bubba and Wanda and 30% of the rest of America right out of the possibility of voting for him. He checks all the traditional morality boxes but that one. And frankly, I’d love for the 2020 presidential election to come down to such a stark choice: a truly good, truly moral gay man vs. the abomination of Donald Trump; heterosexual serial adulterer and pussy grabber, and Christian hero.

I like most of these candidates. All of them are flawed from an electability standpoint. A lot can happen in the next year and four months. But my prediction right now: The Little Fuhrer. Sieg Heil, y'all. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019


About ten years ago I spoke to a crowd of journalism students at one of my alma maters, Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. This particular batch of journalism students wanted to be music writers/critics, and at the time I made a small part of my living as a music writer/critic. I wrote for several publications, and the best-known publication won awards from The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune. It sold, in its best months, about 400,000 – 500,000 copies per issue. You could find it in places like Barnes & Noble and Borders Bookstores, in most national and international airports, and countless other places. The TV show “Portlandia” mentioned it. It was something of a cultural (if not a hipster) phenomenon. And I wrote as much, if not more, as any other writer for the publication. I was the back-page columnist, every issue, and I wrote hundreds of other album reviews and feature articles. And yes, I got paid for doing so.

It was a good gig, and I will be forever thankful for it. So please don’t take any of this as a criticism of the fine folks at Paste Magazine or what they created. And my alma mater had invited me back to share my success story. I was nothing but grateful.

But here’s what I told the assembled journalism students: “Follow your passions during your free time, whether that’s in the evenings or on the weekends or whenever that might work out for you. I know you don’t want to hear that. And I understand why you don’t want to hear it. But unless you’re independently wealthy, you need to figure out a way to earn a living, and music writing is very unlikely to be it. At some point in the not-too-distant future, you will need to make rent or mortgage payments, and buy insurance, and see your family doctor and dentist occasionally. And you will need to pay for those things. Your Plan B, whatever that is, needs to be your Plan A. Let me encourage you to think about this in ways that you probably haven’t considered before.”

If it was appropriate to tar and feather journalists from award-winning publications, I believe I would have been tarred and feathered that day. The hue and cry, the howls of outraged sensibilities, could have been heard as far away as Columbus. And I got it then, and I get it now. Such seemingly dour, pragmatic advice undercuts half the “If you dream it, you can do it” Disney movies ever made, and these young men and women were nothing if not the children of Disney. That message, and a thousand minor variations echoed on after-school TV specials and in classrooms and in churches (yes, there is a special Christian version of this) is as much a part of the American experience, the quintessentially American sensibility, as “anyone can grow up to be President” and “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It was inscribed on the hearts and souls of those young, earnest journalism students. It is, sadly, not true.

I like the young woman quoted below. I like what she’s made of her life. She doesn’t deny the validity or the power of hopes and dreams, passions, the stuff that drives you and makes you glad to be alive. Nor would I. Without those things, life is little more than grey, monochromatic existence. But maybe it’s because I’ve encountered too much of what I like to think of as the “Baristas at 40” phenomenon; earnest songwriters and poets and painters looking for that one big break, either naively idealistic or cynically beaten down, slinging Venti macchiatos and fantasizing about their first interview with Oprah. Either no one told them, or more likely they simply didn’t want to believe, that it’s actually a good idea to feed your family, that work, in itself, can be ennobling, and can teach you lessons about perseverance, and looking for and finding joy in the mundane, and simply connecting with and caring for those around you, wherever you are.

If I was a 20-year-old journalism major (and I was), I wouldn’t want to hear that. So no offense taken, you Bobcats. But sometimes humans of New York are on to big truths. The person interviewing her probably didn’t want to hear it, either.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


I provided the lunchtime entertainment at the large corporate headquarters today. I "awoke" (not really the correct word, since I wasn't asleep, and wasn't passed out) to find myself in the atrium, surrounded by EMTs, nurses, a couple security guards, and a few dozen gawkers and onlookers. I have no memory of how I got there or what might have happened. And THAT's an interesting phenomenon, too. I don't particularly recommend it.

Apparently, I was with it enough to communicate that I was a diabetic. They checked my blood sugar, found that it was 31 (translation: next to dead), put in an IV and pumped me full of glucose. Within a few minutes, my blood sugar had spiked in the other direction, but at least I wasn't going to die of hypoglycemia.

Now I'm home, and grateful to be home. This is fairly scary stuff, especially since I have no memory of the half hour before I woke up with a big needle in my arm. Ironically, I DO sort of know why it happened. I'm trying to lose weight. So I ate a very light breakfast, didn't eat a morning snack, and was headed back to my office to eat a regular lunch when all this happened. Moral: you can't take a normal dose of insulin and then semi-starve yourself. I need to make some lifestyle changes, but it's quite obvious that I need to make those changes under the careful supervision of my doctor.

Lesson learned, and thankful to be typing.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Prayers for People of Good Will

My wife routinely has to talk me down from the ledge.

"Pray for people of good will," she tells me. "Pray for people who believe in the image of God as manifested in human beings, who remember kindness and generosity, who will uphold the fundamental value of others who are not like you and me. They're out there. Pray that they act. And pray that they keep acting."

So I try to do that. In the face of despair, in the face of fear, in the face of cynical revulsion, I try to pray. My prayers are halting. My prayers are filled with unbelief. So I pray using a strange but nevertheless long-standing and biblical model: "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."

The latest ICE roundup, where agents of the U.S. government lasso brown-skinned mothers and toddlers and separate them from one another and ship them off to brutal, inhumane concentration camps, has been postponed. For two weeks. Miraculously, and perhaps in some inscrutable ways connected to prayer, it has been postponed.

Here is what is not inscrutable. It's clear as can be. The roundup was postponed because people of good will refused to cooperate with the request. Those people, including the mayors of San Francisco, New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, Baltimore, Denver, Houston and Los Angeles, instructed their police and city officials to actively hinder the work of the deportation agents. Big Brother with the orange hair said "Jump." And they said "No."

I am grateful for this. From a Christian theological standpoint, people will tell me that this contradicts Romans 13, where Christians are instructed to obey the governing authorities. From a Christian theological standpoint, I will tell those same people that it is never inappropriate to love and care for the least of these, and sometimes that means doing the right thing instead of the legal thing. There are countless examples throughout history.

The two-week reprieve doesn't really change the (im)moral landscape. Those brutal, inhumane concentration camps still exist. Parents and children are still separated from one another, living in the most squalid conditions, unable to bathe or brush their teeth. And Big Brother says this is just a temporary reprieve, and that in two weeks we'll do it all over again.

So I try to remember my wife's words. "Pray that they act. And pray that they keep acting."

That's what my prayer life looks like these days. Yours?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Everything We Can't Get Back

This. All of this.

I encounter puzzled Christians with some degree of regularity. They are puzzled because of my reaction to contemporary Christianity in America. Some, I'm sure, believe that I've lost certain necessary Christian distinctive beliefs and teachings. One of the most common reactions to Christians like me (and yes, I'm still a Christian; in the words of a biblical figure that people used to read about in the Bible, where else would I go?) is to affirm that an "anything goes" attitude characterizes my own beliefs. I, on the other hand, tend to believe that many people who call themselves Christians don't take the distinctive beliefs and teachings that ought to come with the territory nearly seriously enough. Things that used to matter don't matter. En masse. To the tune of 81% of white evangelicals and a whole bunch of other people from other American Christian traditions.

That means, of course, that there's a minority of Christians out there who have NOT lost those distinctive beliefs and teachings. What are they? We could start with Jesus and what he taught. We could start with the Ten Commandments, which used to be considered a sort of baseline standard of common morality. And yes, there are Christians, and Christian Churches, that still believe those things. But there are fewer of them than I was led to believe. Far fewer.

John Pavolivitz gets to the heart of the heartsickness here. I don't think it's going to get better for a long, long time. Certainly not in my lifetime. I think most of the Christian Church in America is hopelessly lost, and yes, that includes both Protestant and Catholic branches. And that saddens me and disorients me. It's like falling into a deep abyss instead of standing firm on what you thought was a solid foundation for how to live a life.

When I became a Christian in college, I was drawn to communal living. For an example of what that looked like, I refer you to the second and the fourth chapters of the biblical book of Acts. Here are a couple of wild statements: "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything that they had." Damn socialism. It's everywhere, and sometimes where you least expect it. When I graduated, I promptly moved into a Christian community in the hood. Our naive mission was to care for and love the poor. That's what I signed up for. That's what I thought the Christian Church in America might be, just might be, about. I read books called "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger," which argued that Christians should live with less so that the hungry might have more. I read "Let Justice Roll Down" by an old, wise black dude named John Perkins, who argued that true racial reconciliation was possible only in the radical construct of the Christian Church, with Christians living like Jesus.

I loved that vision. I still love that vision. I signed up for it. Compare and contrast to 2019. Please have pity on me. I've never quite figured out that American Christianity is apparently supposed to mean exactly the opposite of those values.

I know and love Christians. But I do not love them en masse, because en masse they have lost the plot. I don't trust the Christian Church in America. I don't believe the Christian Church in America. You probably have no idea how that grieves me, but it does. John Pavlovitz does a good job of explaining the grief. If you'd actually like to understand, I recommend that you read his essay.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Good Samaritans and Jail Cells

The headline is "Is it Christian or Illegal to Aid Migrants?" The reality, which is becoming increasingly clear, is that it is both Christian AND illegal.

On one hand, there is nothing new here. Christianity has a long and noble history of people of faith defying the ruling authorities (perhaps they never read Romans 13) in order to uphold a higher law and a higher authority. There have been times throughout history when the notions of higher law and higher authority were, in fact, the backbone, the uncontested truth, of the Christian faith. You might want to examine the lives and testimony of the apostle Peter, Thomas More, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, for example.

That was, of course, before 2016; sometimes many years before that, but perhaps we can realistically point to 2016 as the watershed year in which many American people who called themselves Christians, and certainly the vast majority of white evangelical Christians, managed to convince themselves that following Jesus meant doing precisely the opposite of what Jesus taught them to do.

There aren't many places in the New Testament where Jesus unequivocally contrasts the behaviors and attitudes of those who follow him and enter the Kingdom of God vs. those who do not follow him ("I never knew you," he tells them) and who do not enter the Kingdom of God. When he does - and he does in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew - he puts it in terms of feeding people who are hungry, giving drink to those who are thirsty, welcoming strangers (ironically, the same Greek word that can also be translated as "immigrants" and "aliens"), clothing the naked.

You know what happens when you try that these days? They arrest you.

81% of white evangelicals who call themselves Christians voted for these policies. Rorschach Jesus. You can see whatever you want to see and hear whatever you want to hear. Except, apparently, what he clearly taught.

Sunday, June 16, 2019


I had a father. I am a father. Everybody I know can claim one of those, and most of the men I know can claim both. And if you live for a while, those statements get complicated.

If you're like me, one of the reasons they get complicated is you. I don't think I've been a bad father. But there are times - days, weeks, months, years - when I've been a selfish father, too caught up in the Kingdom of Me to be of much worth to anyone. There are a thousand reasons and a thousand excuses. The burdens you bear simply by being born to the one you call "father" are not insignificant, either. We all carry the weight of inherited sorrow, incompetence, inadequacy, general fuckedupedness. And we are all carriers. We tend to pass it on.

Here is what is not complicated to me: I am so fortunate to be a father. To be married to the same woman for 37 years, the woman who helped me to become a father, is the best thing that ever happened to me. To see my daughters, now grown women, grow and blossom into the people they are intended to be is a source of incredible joy, two words that dour depressive types like me don't toss around lightly. In Christian terms, I am incredibly blessed.

Yesterday, roughly 500,000 people participated in the Pride parade in Columbus, Ohio. Not all of them were members of the LGBTQ community. I know people, some of them fathers, who have disowned their children because of their sexual orientation. It's not true of all or even most Christians I know who are living those realities. But it's true of some of them. My heart breaks for those children. My heart breaks for those fathers.

The best gift my wife and daughters and now my sons-in-law have ever given me is ongoing. They help me break out of the Kingdom of Me, to see the world through their eyes, to care with their hearts. I am so thankful for that. Everybody has a father. Not everyone is a father. But if you are a father, let me encourage you to be a father. Live who you are. Don't deny that part of your reality. You are complicated. Your children are complicated. They are also precious gifts. Please don't mess this up.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Yard Sale

We are having a yard sale today. It does not look like the one pictured, which looks like something out of Yard Sale Central Casting. Ours looks both more gritty and urban, with homeless guys dropping by and asking, "Can I have that can opener?" (Answer: "Yes") and more suburban, with bros driving by in a Lexus and asking, "Will you take $20 for that bed?" (Thought process: That's solid oak, cost about a grand when new, and you're driving a Lexus; actual words used: "No").

You hear people's life stories during yard sales, which is always a surprising thing to me. Complete strangers tell you about their health and job woes, the nice lawns that were attached to the homes they used to own, but which they no longer own, which explains why they're not interested in buying your weed whacker or leaf shredder, and where their grown-up kids are living now. I like that part of yard sales. Really, I do. I hate haggling over prices, which are ridiculously low to begin with, asshole, so don't ask me to knock off 50% from what is already a steal. I find it all an incredibly stressful way to make a hundred bucks or so.

Kate wants to do it again in the fall. She's on her own, but I may step out if people are sharing their life stories.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Going for the Juggler, and Other Worrying American Trends

I’m paid to write words. I’m thankful for that, and I don’t take it for granted. I’m also aware that I can use words incorrectly at times, and that my (more or less) correct use of words doesn’t preclude wrong thinking stated reasonably well.

But for the love of God, I’m worried. As arrogant as it might sound, I’m worried that people who can’t express themselves very well, which in my mind still means that their thinking might be unformed, illogical, and/or muddled, are in positions of power, making decisions that affect you and me. Every. Damn. Day. Pardon the swearing and the incomplete sentences.

Our president, for example, who is the best at everything, tweeted today about the Prince of Whales. He was referring to a man named Charles, but my mind conjured visions of Shamu. It really bothers me that he doesn’t know the difference between Wales and Whales. And yes, anybody can make a mistake. But these things happen … are you ready? Every. Damn. Day. There I go again.

One Mat Staver, who is founder and chairman of an organization called The Liberty Council, an evangelical non-profit that opposes gay rights, stated last week that he was adamantly opposed to a U.S. Senate bill that explicitly made lynching a federal crime. He was opposed because the anti-lynching bill specifically called out sexual orientation in addition to race, religion, national origin, gender, and disability. 

"This is a way to slip it in under a so-called anti-lynching bill," Staver noted, "and to then to sort of circle the wagon and then go for the juggler at some time in the future."

Words, words, words. Hamlet said that. You recall Hamlet? You can get that wonderful egg and pork dish down at Waffle House. And I will tell you that I’m a little concerned when people who want to exercise power, particularly over people who are not like them, start throwing terms around like “go for the juggler.” It’s just how my mind works, but it makes me think that they might not be the best people to make these kinds of decisions, or to even have any say about making such a decision. Words like “Liberty” (as in The Liberty Council) concern me in this context as well, because the last time I checked “liberty” doesn’t typically include the notion of taking away rights from other people, including the right not to be strung up with a noose and hung from a tree. It’s all very confusing.

It’s probably just prideful, wrong thinking on my part. Pardon me. You’ll have to do your own interpretationing on weather that’s rite.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Big Easy

There's an amazing, funky old amusement park outside of Pittsburgh called Kennywood. It's probably a tenth of the size of the various mouse-affiliated parks. The rides are rusting and rickety. They are not particularly big or tall or fast. But there's a ride there that makes me smile just thinking about it. It's a rollercoaster, and an old wooden one at that, but there's no big hill. It creeps along out of the chute, and you wonder if the old contraption is going to hold together one last time. Then it drops over the side of a cliff. It plunges down toward the Monongahela River, and the first time I encountered that I was scared out of my wits. The second time I smiled. And I haven't stopped smiling since.

Las Vegas is Disneyland; big, shiny, ostentatious. New Orleans is Kennywood; dark, old, ridiculously rickety and funky. I went to the former in January to see Van Morrison, and although I was quite happy to see Van, I was done with the Strip in about four minutes. I couldn't wait to get out of town and hike in the desert. I just booked a trip to New Orleans today. And I bought tickets to see a concert in the place shown above. It's in Treme, Back o' Town, the kind of place where you don't want to hang out after the sun goes down. I will, of course, be there after the sun goes down. The place wouldn't cut it on the Vegas Strip. But I'm willing to bet on which one will provide the more satisfying musical experience. I love New Orleans, in all of its dirtiness and messiness and earthy, soulful reality.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Labels and How to Use Them

Here’s a curious one: “Christian.”

It’s always been notoriously slippery; prone to dispute and contention. Within a few decades of the death and resurrection of Jesus, one bunch was insisting on a close doctrinal and lifestyle relationship with Judaism, while another bunch was insisting on a radical reinvention. The first few centuries of the history of the Christian Church were characterized by doctrinal disagreement, and some seven Church Councils attempted to nail down definitive statements about the nature and substance of God the Father, God the Son (AKA Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit, and their relationship together, complete with mutual anathemas and excommunications, depending on which side one happened to land. Before the official Reformation, courtesy of Martin Luther, the eastern and western Christian Churches headed in very different directions, with very different emphases. Luther’s revolution in the Western Church, in turn, led to several Protestant splits, with at one time Lutherans pitched against Catholics and Reformed (as the Swiss defined it) Presbyterians, with all of them opposed to the poor, peace-loving Anabaptists, of whom Menno Simons (founder of the Mennonites) was a representative scapegoat. We haven’t even made it to the Russian communists or the (Im)Moral Majority/Minority or the televangelists at this point.

So it’s a mess. It’s always been a mess. The word “Christian,” since roughly Day 1, has always been in great dispute.

Currently, the Evangelicals are splitting from the other Evangelicals, and that’s a mess, too. But this is what happens when two groups are using the same label but they mean diametrically different and opposed things. Something has to give. I’m seeing this from a skewed perspective, one made up of people who at one time would have identified themselves as Evangelicals, but who never, ever meant that in the way that the term is now defined in the halls and the (k)naves of power. The people I know have given up the offending and offensive label. “You can have it,” they’ve basically told their MAGA-loving brethren. “But we get to keep Jesus.” This is either arrogance or spiritual clarity and discernment, your pick. Sometimes they don’t call themselves anything at all. Many of them have stopped going to church, but still claim to pray and desire to follow Jesus. Others, continuing more or less as before, continue to hang out and pray and worship together, but call themselves “Jesus Followers.” The concept of “church” is a little iffy for these folks, too, mainly because of how that label has been hijacked as well, but for all intents and purposes these folks still function as a church.

I don’t know how this is going to work out. Some days I find some hope in the notion that Boomers like me, of whom I hope I am a non-representative sample, will be dead in 20 years, and that the kid Jesus Followers, who have overwhelmingly rejected the halls and the (k)naves of power, will be left to carry on for, one hopes, Jesus. The Church – the real one, whether people want to identify with it or not – has faced all manner of shit before and carried on. I suspect it will do so again. If or when that happens, the kid Jesus Followers will need to come up with a label for themselves. Here’s one I like: “Christian.” Take it back and use it well.

Saturday, June 08, 2019


It's not what you think.

Michael Gerson writes, "In their day of prayer, Graham and other Trump evangelicals have used a sacred spiritual practice for profane purposes. They have subordinated religion to politics. They have elevated Trump as a symbol of divine purposes. And they are using Christian theology as a cover for their partisanship.

So: This is blasphemy, in service to ideology, leading to idolatry, justified by heresy. All in a Sunday's work."

Gerson is not some wild-eyed radical. He is an evangelical Christian, at least as that term was understood before, oh, 2015 or so. He was the head speechwriter during the George W. Bush administration. He is a staunch Republican; again, as that term was understood prior to 2015. And he is a graduate of Wheaton College, whose most famous alumnus is, wait for it, Billy Graham.

And he points out the hard choices that evangelicals - the real ones, not the ones who subscribe to fake theology - have to make. In this case, I am pro-choice. In the past two weeks I've had lunch with three friends, all of them former evangelicals, and all of them currently adrift. "I can't do it," one of them told me yesterday. "Maybe some day, when my son is a little older, I'll tentatively dip my toe back into the church waters. But that's a big Maybe. And I certainly can't do it right now. I can't stand the blatant hypocrisy. It's too much."

These are the fruits of the theological capitulation that has taken place in the Evangelical Christian Church in Amerikkka. Be very assured that people are already making choices. They are walking away in vast numbers. And it's because of the unholy alliance that Gerson articulates in this article. People aren't stupid, at least most of them, and they can detect the whiff of blatant hypocrisy in the air, and in the naves and on the altars of the evangelical churches they've left.

Second Line

Chills. Second line for Dr. John, New Orleans, June 7, 2019

Friday, June 07, 2019

Dive Bars and Rock 'n Roll

My favorite musical moments happen in dive bars. That's a strange statement coming from a veteran of 12-step groups, but it's true. I've seen concerts in cavernous hockey arenas. I've been to multi-day outdoor festivals, where bands like the Rolling Stones were up on stage somewhere, the size of ants, and I could watch the antics on a jumbotron screen if I chose to do so. I've been penned in the old Cleveland Stadium with 100,000 people, too crushed to move as stoned/drunk/tripping people staggered around and peed on me (true story). You know what? Give me an unknown band just hitting its stride in a little dive bar.

This video sets the scene perfectly. First, it's set in a dive bar in Columbus, Ohio. I know. I've been there. Second, these are dive bar people. They probably catch bands at dive bars 3 or 4 times per month. They love the music, and actually, they're crazy about this band, but they don't want to be too demonstrative about it. A head bob here and there is as effusive as it gets. Third, this band is terrific. They, and a thousand unknown others, are the reason you go to dive bars. Because sometimes stuff like this happens, and you're ten feet away, and you don't need a jumbotron screen, and it's magical every time.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

The Curse

I believe I've sat in the bleacher seats for some 10 - 12 Columbus Clippers baseball games. As far as I can remember, the Clippers have never won. Tuesday evening they were behind 11 - 1 in the 7th inning when we all decided it was time to bail early. It was one of the most pathetic displays of baseball I've ever witnessed. The Toledo Mud Hens, the Clippers' opponent, were bombing home runs off the scoreboard.

And it's gone this way for every Clippers game I've ever attended. It's puzzling because, in general, they're not a bad team. Only when I show up.

We did stick around long enough to witness the Mustard/Ketchup/Onion race. Mustard won, although (s)he cheated, bopping the other racers over the head with what appeared to be a sledgehammer. So that was gratifying. Still, you probably don't want to take me to cheer on your favorite team. 

Monday, June 03, 2019

Retirement Planning

Retirement planning proceeds apace, hopefully still in advance of the pacemaker. We’ll see.

In the most wondrous, astounding news, my wife Kate has agreed to move with me to Arizona. You may recall that previously Kate was adamantly opposed to living in Arizona, although she did promise to visit me occasionally. This was less than ideal, and in turn led me to consider retirement options in Sarasota, Florida (nice and warm, but I’m not really a beach kind of guy) and Asheville, North Carolina (pretty mountains, cool cultural scene but, alas, WAAAAAY too much ice and snow). Now, miraculously, thanks to a late January trip to Las Vegas, which featured hikes through the mountains on a sunny 70-degree late January day, she has reconsidered, relented, and agreed to live with me. In Arizona!

It’s never too early to remind you that my top three retirement destination priorities remain 1) No ice or snow, 2) No ice or snow, and 3) No ice or snow. Ever. To be fair, my preferred retirement destination DID experience a couple inches of snow this winter, but I’m told that it’s a once-in-five-year occurrence, and that it all melted by the afternoon. You can’t have everything. You have to compromise.

My top retirement destination was, is, and always will be Oro Valley, Arizona, just north of Tucson. It really does look like the photo. It’s gorgeous. Warm, nay hot for four or five months per year. That’s a feature, not a bug. Equivalent cost of living to Columbus, Ohio. Surrounded by five mountain ranges. Two national parks (okay, one is called Saguaro National Park West and the other is called Saguaro National Park East) on either side of town. Far away, but that’s why God invented airplanes.

Speaking of bugs, basically everything in Oro Valley, Arizona wants to kill you. Black widow spiders. Scorpions. Tarantulas. Gila monsters. Rattlesnakes. These nasty wild-boar-like creatures called javelinas that like to hang out in back yards and poolside and charge you with their bristly tusks. It’s all true. Nevertheless, about a million or so people live in the Tucson area, and the great majority of them appear to survive from year to year. I’m willing to take my chances.

This could happen as early as the end of 2020 or as late as the end of 2022. God willing, of course, and these days I take nothing for granted. Y’all come.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Star Trek: The Original Series - Abe Lincoln vs. Genghis Khan

I have been slowly, slowly (we're now up to a year and a half) working my way through Star Trek: The Original Series in its chronological, episodic order. I'm now, mercifully, almost through Season 3.

I have fond memories of this series, not from my youth, where I missed it entirely (it was on past my bedtime), but from my undergraduate years and countless syndicated re-runs, which my dorm mates and I watched faithfully from 5 - 6 p.m Monday through Friday, right before dinner at Nelson Commons at Ohio University. At the time, and due to my impressionable adolescence and post-adolescence, I was mostly smitten. Plus, there were some beautiful alien and alternative Earth women, most notably Joan Collins and Jill Ireland.

But I have to say, many of these episodes have not aged well. Season 3, in particular, cannot end soon enough. That season, which was plagued by budget cuts and eventual series cancellation, leading to dispirited acting, writing, and non-existent special effects, has more than its share of howlers, including the Space Hippies episode ("Do you play, brother?" asks the alien hippie of the suddenly musical, jamming Mr. Spock), and, my own nomination for ST: TOS nadir, the episode entitled "The Savage Curtain," which finds Abraham Lincoln wrestling with Genghis Khan. I am not making this up.

It certainly went where no man had gone before.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Norm

Something I wrote seven years ago:

"Look, I realize that there will never be viral videos of normal people going to work, hanging out with their families, maybe serving in food pantries, supporting orphanages, teaching ESL classes to recent U.S. immigrants, taking care of the homeless. But this is my experience of the Christian life. This is what people I know do. In other words, gay-bashing, hateful pastors in North Carolina are not the norm. Are you listening, mainstream media? No, of course you're not."

It turns out, and oh, how it has turned out, that I was wrong. Gay-bashing, hateful pastors in North Carolina are, in fact, the norm. Trump can and obviously will
 engage in cynical propaganda. But there is nothing in this hopeful and almost grammatically correct tweet (let's ignore the strange capitalization of the word "Nation" and the bizarre use of ellipses at the end, shall we?) that will change the record of his first two-and-a-half years in office. To quote someone named Charlotte Clymer, who I do not know:

"➡️ "Before we even get to the worst stuff, Trump and Pence have gone out of their way to avoid acknowledging Pride Month. For the past two years, the White House has not formally recognized it. This year, for the first time, neither will the State Department.

➡️ Within hours of Trump's swearing-in, pages on LGBTQ rights and recognition were removed from government websites, including the White House.

➡️ Trump and Pence have sought to remove questions on sexual orientation from the 2020 census in order to erase LGBTQ people from official counts.

➡️ Despite being included since 2010, Trump and Pence attempted to have the Commerce Department remove sexual orientation and gender identity from their equal employment policy.

➡️ Against the expert advice of military leadership, medical authorities, budget analysts, the U.S. House, 70% of Americans, and the armed forces of allied countries, Trump and Pence banned transgender people from the military.

➡️ Trump and Pence ordered Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education to rescind non-discrimination protections for transgender students, against all expert advice of medical, legal, and policy professionals.

➡️ Under guidance of Trump and Pence, DeVos and the Department of Education then said it would reject civil rights complaints of transgender students.

➡️ DeVos has also refused to rule out federal funding for schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students and decline to state she would otherwise intervene should discriminate occur.

➡️ Trump and Pence have announced a proposal that would gut anti-discrimination protections for transgender patients in health care spaces, essentially permitting harm against trans patients, for no apparent reason.

➡️ If that somehow weren't enough, Trump and Pence have proposed a regulation that would directly enable medical professionals to deny ALL forms of care to LGBTQ patients solely based on the provider's personal beliefs. No joke.

➡️ On top of that, Trump and Pence have established a new office within HHS whose sole purpose would be to defend physicians and other medical professionals who refuse care to LGBTQ patients. This is all real. It's happening.

➡️ Trump and Pence have granted a federally-funded foster program to discriminate against families who are LGBTQ or whom do not identify as Christian. That includes Jews, Muslims, any other family not identifying as Christian.

➡️ In the fall, it was revealed that Trump and Pence are literally attempting to circulate a federal government-wide regulation that would essentially erase trans people from all existing protections and acknowledgment. Entirely.

➡️ Going into a dystopian space of parody, Trump and Pence ordered the Centers for Disease Control to stop using the word "transgender" in official reports in an effort to erase data dissemination on trans people:

➡️ Trump and Pence have proposed a rule that would eliminate data collection on LGBTQ foster youth and parents, erasing all official knowledge of the needs of LGBTQ children in these spaces.

➡️ Trump and Pence have specifically ordered questions on sexual orientation to be removed from surveys of programs that cater to the elderly and disabled, directly striking at older LGBTQ Americans and persons with disabilities.

➡️ Trump and Pence have ordered HUD and Ben Carson to remove the words "inclusive" and "free from discrimination" in HUD's official mission statement while scaling back enforcement of non-discrimination regulations. Again, this is happening:

➡️ Trump and Pence have also ordered HUD and Ben Carson to permit emergency shelters to deny access to transgender persons who are homeless. There is no need for this, but they've specifically made the order:

➡️ This comes two years after Trump and Pence ordered HUD to cancel a survey on LGBTQ homelessness:

➡️ Trump and Pence's Justice Department has literally filed a brief In the U.S. Court Of Appeals that argued federal civil rights laws do not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination -- I am not making this up:

➡️ Many of the policy proposals of the past two years have been built on this announcement from the Trump and Pence Justice Department specifically permitting individuals to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on personal beliefs:

➡️ And Trump and Pence's Justice Department, in the midst of all this, still found time to specifically announce that the law does not bar discrimination against transgender people.

➡️ Trump and Pence have intentionally inserted themselves into defending businesses who openly discriminate against LGBTQ people.

➡️ Rejecting the evolving policy under Obama *and* Bush that sought to provide safe accommodations for transgender inmates, Trump and Pence are aggressively rolling back all protections for trans people in our prison system:

➡️ Within nine weeks of taking office, Trump and Pence, by executive order, rolled back non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ federal contractors.

➡️ Trump and Pence have ordered the State Department to deny visas to same-sex partners of foreign diplomats.

➡️ Just two weeks ago, Trump and Pence changed the rules specifically so the child of a same-sex couple born abroad via surrogate would be considered "born out of wedlock" and would not be granted U.S. citizenship.

➡️ Trump and Pence, over LGBTQ and other issues, removed the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

➡️ Trump and Pence then used this as an excuse to not sign a statement condemning attacks on LGBTQ people in Chechnya, where atrocities against queer people are horrific and ongoing:

➡️ Bizarrely, Trump and Pence ordered the USDA to remove a department policy specifically welcoming LGBTQ children in the 4-H program, which led to the firing of an official who protested:

➡️ If all this weren't horrific enough, Trump and Pence, with the assistance of McConnell, have worked overtime to pack the federal courts with judicial nominees who are brazenly anti-LGBTQ.

➡️ Last year, Trump and Pence's second SCOTUS nominee Kavanaugh refused to answer straightforward questions during his confirmation process about LGBTQ case law, including the ruling legalizing same-sex marriage:

➡️ Under Trump and Pence, ICE has specifically mistreated LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers, including Roxsana Hernandez, a trans woman of color who died in their custody and whose death has not been given clarity:

➡️ Amid all of this, there is an epidemic of anti-trans violence, specifically against Black trans women, at least six of whom have been murdered this year, four of them in the past two weeks. Trump and Pence have said nothing:

Folks, what's ridiculous here is that I'm sure there are things I'm missing. There's too much this White House has specifically done against LGBTQ people. They are aggressively going after our community with everything they've got.

So, now you have a decent overview of the myriad ways in which Trump and Pence have systematically attempted to harm and erase LGBTQ people. Everything else is noise and propaganda.

These two hate us. And his bullshit tweet is a poor attempt at sleight-of-hand."

The Evangelical Christian Church has responded to this laundry list of despair with silence. Nada. They got nothin'. And silence and non-responsiveness in the face of grave existential threats IS the norm. I wish it was not, but it is. Pro-life? Not if the already living are anything other than white males. Certainly not if the already living are part of the LGBTQ community.

To my LGBTQ friends and relatives, I am sorry. I stand with you. And I am not going to be silent.