Thursday, February 28, 2019

Are Rules Necessary for Common Decency?

In his “Manual of Parliamentary Practice” Vice President Thomas Jefferson set down some rules about how United States senators should behave.  “No one is to disturb another in his speech by hissing, coughing, spitting, speaking or whispering to another; nor to stand up or interrupt him; nor to pass between the Speaker and the speaking member; not to go across the [Senate chamber], or to walk up and down it, or to take books or papers from the [clerk’s’] table or write there.”  From its very beginning the Senate has stressed the importance of decorum.

In spite of Jefferson’s effort for civility among senators, there have been, over the years, some breaking of the rules.  In May, 1856, a member of the House of Representatives, Preston Brooks, a relative of Senator Andrew Butler, entered the Senate Chamber and beat Senator Charles Sumner into unconsciousness.  A few days earlier Senator Sumner of Massachusetts had berated Senator Stephen Douglas (as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal…not a proper model for an American senator”) and announced that Senator Andrew Butler had taken on “a mistress…who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean the harlot, Slavery.”  Andrew’s relative, Congressman Preston Brooks, took offense and beat Sumner with a cane on the floor of the Senate.  

In February, 1902, Senator John McLaurin announced that Senator Ben Tillman was guilty of “a willful, malicious, and deliberate lie.”  Tillman standing close by, turned around and punched McLaurin in the nose.  Other senators tried to pull the two apart and eventually succeeded in doing so.  This prompted Senate Rule XIX:  “No senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”

Like the Senate, the House of Representatives also has a Code of Conduct for its members. The Executive branch is monitored by an Ethics Board.  

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, posted a tweet that seemed to threaten Michael Cohen just as Cohan was to testify before Congress.  When Gaetz was asked if he could provide evidence for his statements about Cohen’s infidelities, he smiled and said, “As the President loves to say: ‘We’ll see.’”  What rules apply now?  The Senate rules?  The House rules? Or the President’s rules?  Have we no decency?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Clear & Present Danger

“The President of the United States manages the operations of the Executive branch of the Government through Executive orders.  After the President signs an Executive order, the White House sends it to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR).”

President Barack Obama issued 216 executive orders between 2009 and 2017; George W. Bush issued 291 executive orders between 2001 and 2009, and William J. Clinton issued 254 executive orders between 1994 and 2001.  Donald Trump has issued 95 executive orders between 2017 and 2019.  These Executive orders (all 856 of them) are available online via the OFR.  Executive orders get things done.  They overcome some of the inertia of the Executive branch’s own bureaucracy. On the other hand, executive orders can, and do, make sweeping changes based on the whim of the executive.  

During Obama’s presidency, the Republican members of House and Senate lambasted his executive orders.  They called Obama an “imperial president,” a “dictator.”  They vigorously attacked Obama as an “emperor” who acted outside “legal authority” for the executive orders he issued.  Suddenly, however, the Republicans have changed their tune and are no longer saying that executive orders are “a dangerous level of executive overreach,” since Trump began issuing them.  Paul Ryan and others have argued that Trump’s executive orders are different—because they happen to agree with them!

A declaration of a national emergency is an executive order.  It was evident yesterday in the 245-182 House vote that Republicans don’t mind “emperor, dictator, imperialist” Trump’s executive orders.  The declaration of a national emergency, by Trump’s own admission, is designed to transfer money by presidential fiat for his vanity border wall.  This declaration is unconstitutional because it seeks to by-pass the power of the purse given by the Constitution to Congress.  In 2014, House member Jim Jordan of Ohio lambasted an Obama executive order on immigration saying, “The American people spoke loudly during the midterms (2014).  They want a legislative fix to our nation’s immigration problems, not a presidential executive order.”  Did Mr. Jordan hear the loud voice of the American people in the 2018 midterm election?  Apparently not.

The moment a president declares a “national emergency” extraordinary powers become available to that president.  Under a national emergency the president can shut down electronic communications, freeze our bank accounts, deploy the military to subdue domestic unrest and a host of other unbelievable powers.   Broad, undefined presidential power is dangerous—whether it be in the hands of Franklin Roosevelt (internment of US citizens) or George W. Bush (warrantless wiretapping and torture after 9/11).

The House and Senate must overturn Trump’s declaration of a national emergency and if vetoed by the president, they must override that veto.  Congress is a co-equal branch of our government.  It cannot be circumvented without dire consequences.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Paul's Day

Today is my eldest son’s birthday.  He was born in “Wild and Wonderful West Virginia.”  I was a junior in college and we were living in a 35-foot trailer on the college campus.  Paul’s first bedroom was a wardrobe closet in that trailer where the “porta-crib” just barely fit.  He didn’t seem to mind and somehow we managed to live together quite happily.

Fast-winding the years of tape: Paul and his wife, Helen, now have two sons.  Austin just graduated from college and has started his career.  Nick is a junior in college.  Where have the years gone?  I think of Tevyia in the film “Fiddler on the Roof” singing the song “Sunrise, Sunset” and realize I can sing with him now…
Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older
When did they?
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn’t it yesterday when they, were, small?
Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze
Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears.”

But now, after some sunrises and sunsets, even Paul and Helen can sing with Tevyia and me, “Wasn’t it only yesterday when they were small?…Swiftly fly the years.”

But today isn’t about the years gone by, or us, Paul’s parents,  or me, his father, nor about his family.  It is Paul’s Day. A day of celebrating Paul.   Happy Birthday, Paul.

Paul & Sons

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Disciples' Prayer

We call it the “Lord’s Prayer” but it might better be called the “Disciples’ Prayer.”  Jesus was praying one day when one of His followers asked Him to teach him and the others how to pray.  Jesus answered by suggesting these five basic prayer requests (Luke 11:3-4 and Matthew 6:7-13, KJV):

For Reverence:  “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name” 
For the Kingdom:  “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
For Daily Bread:  “Give us this day, our daily bread.”
For Forgiveness:  “And forgive our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us.”
For Help in Testing Times:  “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

“In your prayers,” Jesus said, “do not go babbling on like the heathen, who imagine that the more they say the more likely they are to be heard. Do not imitate them.  Your Father knows what your needs are before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8).  Jesus urged his followers to escape from praying in meaningless rote and yet the very prayer He taught us sometimes becomes, for many who recite it, a meaningless rote.  We are so familiar with the words of “Our Father” that we can repeat them with no effort at all and often times with no serious recognition of what we are saying.  We turn Jesus’ words into what he called “empty phrases.”  We “go babbling on” without any conscious understanding of what we are saying.

It is “Our Father”—not mine, not yours—but “Our Father.”  It is “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” not my will or yours.  It is “Give us” not me alone, “our daily bread.”  It is “forgive our trespasses” not mine, not yours alone.  It is “lead us” not just me, not just you, but “lead us not into temptation.”  Prayer is nothing but “empty phrases” if we give no thought to what we pray.  Make it simple when you pray.  Pray for reverence, for the kingdom, for daily bread, for forgiveness, and for help in testing times.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Lost (Bacon) and Found (People)

The story of lost bacon and found people is told in all three of the Synoptic Gospels:  Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  It is a story about Jesus restoring sanity to two insane men who had been cast out of normal society.  These men could only find asylum in a cemetery.  They were really sick and believed that they were possessed by thousands of demons.  In order for Jesus to cure them he had to somehow convince them that the demons had departed from them.  He did this by sending those demons or whatever possessed the two men into a nearby herd of pigs.  The hogs went absolutely crazy.  The pigs stampeded headlong over a steep cliff and ended up in the Sea of Galilee.

Now, as you can well imagine, the farmers weren’t very happy about all that floating pork, which translated into dollars for them.  They didn’t begrudge the healing—they were not inhuman—but they could not understand or accept why that healing had to happen at the expense of their bacon.  The story says, “They began to beg Jesus to depart from their neighborhood”—but they probably said, “You care for the crazy people; we like our pigs.  That’s where we differ, so please get out of here.  We can’t afford to have you around.”

The farmers had one set of values; Jesus had another.  They put their pigs first—above the mentally deranged men.  Jesus put people first and put bacon second.  People were his priority whether insane or sane. 

What do you make of the story?  Does it speak to our priorities as individuals, society and nation?  Do we want to save our bacon and ignore the people who wander about in the cemetery?  

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Hymn of Promise

Natalie Sleeth (1930-1992) in February 1985 wrote a choral anthem and later adapted it as the “Hymn of Promise.”  She wrote that she was “…pondering the death of a friend (life and death, death and resurrection), pondering winter and spring (seeming opposites), and a T.S. Eliot poem which had the phrase, ‘In our end is our beginning.’  These seemingly contradictory ‘pairs’ led to the thesis of the song and the hopeful message that out of one will come the other whenever God chooses to bring that about.”

Apparently God or nature decided the other day that one of the onions in the bag of onions stored  in our pantry should sprout.  I was delighted to see the green sprouts even though that particular onion was revealing itself before its season, or so it seemed to me. The other onions in the bag did not show sprouts—just the one!  I guess God or nature just chose one onion among the many to let me know that “in the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be.”  The onion reminded me of Natalie Sleeth’s Hymn of Promise and the opposites we all ponder often (life and death, good and evil, illness and health, hope and despair, winter and spring, etc.).  

If you are caught in the winter doldrums, or struggling to find meaning in all that is happening in our world, or grieving the loss of a friend, you might want to read or sing the Hymn of Promise.

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From our past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Occasionally through something as common and mundane as a sprouting onion our eyes are opened for a little while and we get a glimpse of hope.  I’m always thankful for a glimpse, aren’t you?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Nagging Question: “What Is Truth?”

The question comes almost every day to antagonize me.  It nags at me.  It is the same question Pontius Pilate put to Jesus:  “What is truth?”  Pilate’s question was in response to Jesus’ saying that He was a “witness to the truth,” but Pilate didn’t really get an answer, and he didn’t even wait for an answer.  He just simply washed his hands of the dilemma he faced and told the crowd to act on what they thought was true.  And they did.  They crucified Jesus.

In Plato’s Protagoras, Protagoras says to Socrates something to this effect:  What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me.  That seems to be where we still are after all the centuries that have passed by since Plato.  It is the notion that truth is always personal and relative.  This notion is pervasive in our political life these days.  

There is a truth in Protagoras’ statement—there is such a thing as relative and subjective truth.  Someone explained it like this:  If you are wearing a coat on a very cold day, and I’m not, I might say to you “It is really cold out here.” You, on the other hand, wearing your warm coat might respond by saying, “No, it’s not cold to me.”  Both statements are true.  It is cold for me without a coat.  It isn’t cold for you because you are wearing a coat. Truth in this situation is both relative and subjective.  

What about objective truth?  Is there no truth other than that which is subjective—my truth and your truth—Mr. Trump’s truth and Andrew McCabe’s truth?  

The idea that all truth is subjective, that there is no objective truth, is a myth.  Science, philosophy and logic confirm this.   But how do I get to it?  I get to it by confirmable evidence and empirical fact, believing that there is truth outside our individual biases, perspectives, interpretations, feelings, imaginings, and/or opinions. 

To live with the nagging question is to continually search for the facts and evidence available to us and then move toward the truth.  To live with only what is true for you and what is true for me, if it hasn’t already, will produce chaos.

The Library of ancient Ephesus

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

By the Waters of Babylon—I Cry and Sing!

“The two great words of Christian history,” wrote Elton Trueblood, are evangelical and catholic.  It is a serious mistake to use them,  he wrote, to refer to parties or denominations.  “The terms must never be permitted to become the monopoly or private possession of a single group, for each word is too big for that!  The reason why every genuine Christian is catholic is that Christ’s call is universal. We are called to be the salt, not merely of a little group, but of the whole earth.  In the same way every genuine Christian is evangelical, because a Christian is one who answers affirmatively the call, ‘Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden’ (Matthew 11:28).”

It is reported that 81% of white evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.  Like Benjamin Netanyahu, these alleged evangelical Christians compared Trump to the ancient Persian leader, Cyrus.  Netanyahu said this when Trump announced that the US embassy in Israel would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  But the evangelical Christians were saying it long before.  They argued then, and argue still, that just as Cyrus, who was not a believer, served as God’s agent, so Mr. Trump can advance the causes of their evangelical community and thus America.  A recent post on my Facebook Timeline lauded Trump for his tweet last month: “Numerous states introducing Bible Literacy classes, giving students the option of studying the Bible.  Starting to make a turn back?  Great!”  The author of the post suggested, as many alleged evangelical Christians do, that “This is the man that God ordained for America. This is the man that’s going to make America Christian again!”

I am a Christian.  I am evangelical and I am catholic and I am white.  But I did not vote for Donald Trump.  Tony Campolo has said, “If I describe myself as evangelical, the red flags go up.  People immediately assume I’m anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-environmentalist, anti-immigrant, pro-gun—all these things I am not.”  Ditto! Neither am I any of these things. For these attitudes and positions are anathema to the what I understand to be the Gospel.  

It is written in Psalm 137 that the captive Hebrew people forced to live in Babylon, far away from their Zion (homeland) cried:  “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.”  Another version reads: “Beside the rivers of Babylon we thought about Jerusalem, and we sat down and cried.” So too, in this new and strange land, this Babylon of Trump and of alleged evangelical Christians, I sit and weep.  But, unlike those captives of old, I refuse to hang my harp upon the branches of the willows.  The Hebrew captives could not sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.  I will continue to sing the evangelical and catholic song of the Gospel.  (See Psalm 137).

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Three-Legged Stool

There are three elements in a wholistic Christian faith.  “These three,” wrote Elton Trueblood, “are like three legs of a stool, the smallest number possible if the stool is to stand upright.  The three necessary elements in any genuine Christianity are, first, the experience of inner vitality that comes by the life of prayer (the life of devotion), second, the experience of outer action in which the Christian carries on a healing ministry (the life of service), both to individuals and to social institutions, and third, the experience of careful thinking (the life  of the mind) by which the credibility of the entire operation may be supported.”  Elton was simply spinning off on Jesus’ own four-legged stool:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30-31).  

Many Christians pray and many Christians give their lives in service to others and to society, but the third leg of the stool is sometimes ignored.  The stool won’t stand with only two legs.  The life of devotion is essential.  The life of service is necessary.  But we also have to think!  And, according to Mark’s rendition of the first commandment, we must do all three with all our strength.

To pray without thought or to serve without thought will not suffice. “Service without devotion is rootless; devotion without service is fruitless.”  We have to think.  We have to be rational. We must not only read the Bible; we must study it and apply all our mind to what we find there.  As the Apostle Paul put it, “I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also” (I Corinthians 14:15).  

A mindless Christianity is not an authentic faith.  Faith does not mean a blind acceptance without giving the matter any thought.  A Christian must be a rationalist—a person who has sound reasons for his or her faith. We are called to pray, to serve, and to think, and we are called to do all three together with all our strength.

No stool can stand without at least three legs. Christianity will not stand if any one of its three elements are missing.  Edith Hamilton suggested that “People hate being made to think.”  In this day and age, it seems to me that Christians hate being made to think.  

Monday, February 18, 2019

My Lazy Day

Yesterday was one of those days.  I’m sure you know what I mean.  It was one of those days when I didn’t feel like doing anything.  I didn’t have any ambition. I had no gumption at all. I had a good number of books from the library to read—but I didn’t want to read.  I had some household chores to do, but I didn’t want to do them.  It was as if my “get up and go” had “got up and went!”  It was one of those lazy days.  Do you know what I mean?  Gene Autry, Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard would know and understand.  They all sang the song that kept coming to my mind yesterday, “It’s My Lazy Day.”

Well, I might have gone fishin’, I got to thinkin’ it over
The road to the river is a mighty long way
Well, it must be the reason, no rhyme or no reason
I’m takin’ it easy, it’s my lazy day. 

I did manage to prepare lunch and dinner. I even managed to finish the job, started the day before, of re-arranging the pantry.  But I did it all without much enthusiasm.  I was just plain lazy; just wanted to take it easy.  I sat down to read, but decided to turn on the TV instead.  I watched the 1963 film “Bye, Bye Birdie,” starring Ann-Margaret and Dick Van Dyke.  It was a really silly movie, but Ann-Margaret’s dancing and singing made it worth while. Then I watched “Oliver!” This was a 1968 British film based on Charles Dickens’s novel “Oliver Twist.” I’d never seen the movie before.  I watched the whole thing and learned a new song or two, like “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.”  

This movie was followed by one of my favorite musical films: “South Pacific.”  I like it because of the Roger & Hammerstein music, but also because the film deals with some really deep and serious issues (love, prejudice, age, youth, loneliness, war, bigotry, death, poverty, etc.).  I first saw “South Pacific” in 1959.  I remember the timing because my African-American friend, Tony Tebout was with me in the theater.  We were “Younger Than Springtime” then and filled with teenage hopes and altruisms.  But when we heard Lt. Joe Cable sing “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” that youthful idealism was met with the real world’s fear, hate, and bigotry, which still hangs on and disrupted my lazy day.

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

God And the churches

I’ve spent most of my life within the Church, or perhaps I should say; yes, I must say it differently,  I’ve spent most of my life within the churches.  The churches, like myself, and everybody else,  are on a pilgrimage—a pilgrimage to become what they are meant to be (the Church).  I am on a pilgrimage to become what I am meant to be—a fully functional human being.  The churches haven’t arrived yet, and neither have I or anyone else that I know of. 

The churches are frail things these days and I suppose have always been so. Jacques Ellul said   some fifty years ago, that the churches in France were so “debilitated and apostate that a Christian can hardly bear to remain in a church.”  I think a similar thing has occurred within American churches.  Throughout my life and ministry in the churches I have been an outspoken critic. I have never been shy in my protests and complaints against the churches.  I’ve had little tolerance for the superstitions and heresies of the churches and have attempted to exorcise them.  At the same time, I’ve tried always to be conscious of my own responsibility (as a member of the churches) for the shape the churches are in.  

Looking back now with hindsight (which isn’t always 20/20 vision) at my feeble attempts within the churches, I realize I assumed something about the churches that probably most people assume.  I assumed that God needed the churches!  Without the churches, how in the world would people find God?  Even in the midst of all my vehement protests and complaints, I thought the churches were needed to give witness to the existence of God.  And that is true, the churches are to give witness—but God doesn’t need that witness.  God makes His own witness in the world and does so even in the very weakness of the churches which are quite often an affront to His name.

Nor is God especially or exclusively present in the churches.  God's presence is in the world.  As William Stringfellow wrote, “The Church (churches) exists only as that community in the world which cares about, observes, and testifies about God's presence in the world in all things, at every time and place. But it is not first of all the Church (churches) which has introduced God to the world.”  God needs no introduction.  God knows the world; it is His own—without the churches.  

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Bad Apples

In his book, The Way We Talk Now, Geoff Nunberg writes, “Proverbs are like other traditions—they owe their longevity to how easy it is to reinterpret what they mean.”  He goes on to explain.  The proverb, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” suggests a traditional wisdom about travel, but the Scots say it means “moving around keeps you fresh and free.” The English, on the other hand, use it to mean “moving around keeps you poor and rootless.” Americans use the proverb both ways. “If it is a proverb, it can’t help being wise,” says Nunberg.

We use the proverb about “a few bad apples,” whenever misconduct occurs in the midst of some organization.  It’s an ancient wisdom, “whether it’s said of bad apples or rotten ones, or of bushels, barrels, baskets, or bins.”  Benjamin Franklin said  “the rotten apple soils his companion,” which comes directly from Shakespeare’s time.  “A bad apple spoils the bin,” one journalist wrote in 1898 of the Dreyfus Affair; if one officer is capable of forgery then why wouldn’t others be as well?”

In 1970, the Osmond Brothers reversed the meaning of this proverb about the “bad apple” in their first number one hit, “One Bad Apple (Don’t Spoil the Whole Bunch, Girl).”  And it seems that a lot of people think that is how the proverb goes nowadays, even if it doesn’t make agronomical sense.  Those who know their apples know better—but few of us know about apples these days since we don’t have to worry about long-term storage and the only bins of apples we see are in the grocery, and the rotten ones usually never make it that far.

The statement “Like and Share” if you Support our Military or our Police, etc., often appears on my Facebook Timeline.  The whole basket is put out there without any sorting out of the bad actors (apples) who as Franklin said, “soil…companions.”  The fact that bad actors are in the military and among the police is well-known, from the U.S. atrocities (hardly ever recognized) of WWII, Vietnam, and  Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Police across the nation have bad apples too.  

One of the spoils of any kind of war (cultural, political, or otherwise) is that of writing its history. Not only do those who win get to set the terms of the surrender and peace, but they also get to recast the past so as to reshape the future.  Our history books say little about our own war crimes—our own bad apples—but always describes the crimes of the enemy.  So, too, in this day of alternate realities, we are attempting to recast the image of our military and our police.  Not all military, not all police, are good apples (heroes).  Not all the generation Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest” were great.  That’s reality—and while I, like so many others, would like for the story to be different, would like an alternative reality—the facts do not support it.  It is said that “A proverb can’t lie.”  The Osmond Brothers song is a statement of an alternative reality.   “A bad apple,” does indeed, “spoil the bin.”  We’d like to say that there are “just a few bad apples” or “only a few rotten apples” and not enough to taint the group.  Or we’d like to say “There are always going to be a few bad apples,” which is like saying there is evil in the world; just get over it!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Mom's Chocolate Pie

As I grow older I find myself indulging more and more in nostalgia about the days of yore.  I ponder my childhood exploits and recall my treks along the babbling brook near my childhood home. Sometimes I get a great urge to walk that trek again. Just a week or so ago, I developed a deep craving for my mother’s chocolate pie.  That craving just would not go away.  Finally I baked a chocolate pie of my own.  The pie turned out well, but it didn’t quite measure up to my mother’s.  I used a prepared pie crust.  My mother made her own pie crust from scratch.  I used the only pudding I could find at the grocery store—an “instant” chocolate pie filling.  My mother labored over the stove top to make her pudding.  She didn’t have access to the “instant” stuff. No wonder my chocolate pie didn’t quite measure up!

As much as I would like to have a piece of my mother’s chocolate pie, or my grandmother’s blueberry pancakes or her homemade bread (made on her wood-burning stove and its oven), I cannot.  The ingredients are just no longer available.  And, even if they were, I still would not have access to a wood-burning stove and oven.  Besides the “lard” used back then is deemed unhealthy for us these days.

This nostalgia for what once was affects us all.  We’d like to taste again Mom’s chocolate pie or grandmother’s blueberry pancakes. We’d like to have things the way they once were and as we remember them.  “Make America Great Again” implies that such is possible.  But the ingredients and the wood-burning stove aren’t there for us anymore.  We can’t replicate the pies, the pancakes, or the bread.  We live in a new and different world now.

When I indulge in nostalgia about my early days I find myself creating a “fictional past.”  I ignore the uncomfortable things or fail to remember them at all.  I remember the chocolate pie, the blueberry pancakes and the oven-baked bread, but ignore the fact that back then our society was a segregated one, that LBGT people were ostracized, and life wasn’t all that easy.  The ingredients and the wood-burning stoves of yesterday are no longer available.  It is a new day of prepared pie crusts and instant pudding!  

Martin Luther King said, “…social systems have a great last-minute breathing power, and the guardians of a status quo are always on hand with their oxygen tents to keep the old order alive.”  But that old order is already gone—a new order, a new age has come and we must face it rather than an indulgence in nostalgia of a fictional past.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine's Day

I might have been in the 3rd or 4th grade when I first read a story in my Spelling Workbook about how Valentine’s Day came to be.  I recall being quite caught up in it and even today I remember the highlights.

My Spelling Workbook story told me that St. Valentine was a priest in third century Rome.  The Pope at the time decided that single men made better soldiers than those who had wives and children.  He issued a decree that forbade young men from getting married.  Valentine thought this was unjust and defied the Pope’s decree by performing marriages for young lovers in secret.  He was sentenced to death and sent to prison.  While there he was often visited by his jailor’s daughter.  He fell in love with her and before his death he wrote her a poignant love letter, signed “From your Valentine.”  And, my friends, that’s how it all started—believe it or not!

In those early school days all the students brought Valentine cards on February 14th.  The cards were deposited in a decorative box and later in the day distributed.  I gave Valentine cards to Bill, Dale, Fred, Annabelle, Alice and all my friends.  All the other students did the same.  But after reading the story of Valentine’s Day in my Spelling Book, I didn’t feel right giving cards to Bill, Dale and Fred anymore.  My whole focus changed and from then on I gave Valentine cards to only Arlene’s and Marie’s and Patricia’s—to “All the girls I’ve Loved Before,” as Willie Nelson would have it.  I’m sure I signed those cards “From your Valentine.”  

I was always taken aback in those early years when I received a Valentine card from my Grandad.  It just didn’t seem appropriate.  After all, I’d given up giving Valentine cards to Bill, Dale and Fred.  It has taken me a long, long time to realize that “Love” is not simply a romantic notion—and that it reaches out to include and embrace all people.

“From your Valentine” 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Throwing Stones

Representative Omar (D-Minn) apologized on Monday for her anti-Semitic comments on Sunday.  Ms Omar and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich) are the first Muslim women to be elected to the House of Representatives.  Omar’s comments were deemed offensive by both sides of the House.  Republicans called on Democrats to remove Omar from the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  But, after her apology, the Democrats have decided to permit her to retain her seat.

Yesterday, Mr. Trump weighed in on the issue.  He called for Omar to resign or be barred from serving on any congressional committees as punishment for her remarks.  “Anti-Semitism,” he said, “ has no place in the United States Congress.  And I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”  This statement comes from a person who says, “Never apologize.”  It comes from a person who has consistently made inflammatory statements of his own.

Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) was removed from his committee assignments a few weeks ago because of his comments about the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist.”  Mr. Trump campaigned for King’s re-election and suggested that he and King were of the same mind about many things.

The State of Virginia is now undergoing deep turmoil over the past behavior of their Governor, Lt. Governor and the State Attorney General.  Should they resign?  

It is easy to throw stones at others because in doing so we avoid dealing with our own mistakes and misdeeds.  Our hypocrisy is so evident, especially my own.  We feed on others mistakes and misdeeds so we can ignore our own.  Is there a perfect person anywhere?  I do not know of any, do you?