Monday, September 28, 2015

Love Never Ends

     I've had reason to think about relationships of late, with both family and friends, and it reminded me of a dream I had shortly after my father died. It was a strange but hopeful dream. 
     When he was in the hospital with his final illness, I worried about his destination. We had talked a bit about Christian faith, and I was not sure he accepted the gospel truth that we're saved through faith in Christ. I wrote to the chaplain at the hospital and told him. The chaplain talked to him and wrote back, saying that he "would have no problem admitting him to Communion." Relief. 
     The chaplain was Lutheran. I met him at the hospital later, and he asked what church I went to. PCA, I said, Presbyterian Church in America. He laughed. "I know the PCA," he said. "I thought from the way your father talked that it was one of the way-out Pentecostal groups." Well, the straight-up plan of salvation does sound pretty wild when you're not used to it. 
     Anyway, after my father died, I dreamed of his funeral. He was in his coffin, dressed in ranch clothes-- jeans and new flannel shirt that he never got to wear around his Montana property. (That part is real.) He was dead. Everyone knew he was dead. But he looked up at me and gave me a conspiratorial wink. I knew he was telling me that death is not for real or forever when you trust Christ. 
     This week, I thought about friendship, how it can be precarious because of anger or misunderstanding or argument. Sometimes it can be smoothed or retrieved, sometimes not. But for Christians, this bit of earthly life is not all we get. We look forward to eternity, first in Heaven, then on the new earth that God promises to clean up and restore. Unbroken friendships will continue even better. Broken friendships will pick up where they left off, rifts forgotten. Even the beautiful, beloved son who won't speak to me, who may never in this life, will greet me with a smile, and I will run to embrace him. May it be soon, Lord Jesus, may it be soon. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Urge to Kill

     Back in the days of newspapers-- you know, those big foldy things-- I read faithfully Jimmy Hatlo's "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoon, a commentary on human foibles, which sometimes included an "Urge to Kill" bit. One I remember had a matron demanding that the butcher thoroughly trim a roast for her and remove the bones. Then she says that, of course, she will need some of the fat to cook it with, and surely he will give her some bones for her "little doggie." Hatlo may have exaggerated a bit just how bad the offense was. 
     Today, God help me, I have that urge, and I can't say I'm not serious when I propose a plan based on it. Here's why. We are learning that, for some time now, US soldiers have been aware of  Afghan officers' practice of keeping boys like pets, dressing them up, putting makeup on them. sometimes chaining them to their beds, and raping them in the night. Officers. Openly. Like you might keep a goldfish. And when this Green Beret responded to the laughter of one of the rapists by knocking him down, he was dishonorably discharged. Other Americans report they have heard the children scream, but have been told to leave it alone. It's their culture, don't you know. 
     Well, we have a culture too, don't we? Show me an American jury that would convict a man of assault for knocking down someone who laughed in his face when confronted with the crime of raping a boy and beating up the child's mother when she begged for help. Something is very, very rotten in US military command. How high does the rot go? How can anyone have been told to ignore this practice? How can a decent American bear to stand by and let it go on?
     Here's what I would draw if I were Jimmy Hatlo: a figure in a black mask slips into an Afghan pervert's room, quickly strangles him, unchains the boy and scoots him out of the room. In my imagination, this happens every night until none of those filthy creeps dares to touch a little boy. 
     "Me, sir? In my bunk all night, sir."
     "See anyone moving, sir? No, sir."
     Because when the people in power stop believing in justice, it gives the rest of us the urge to kill.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Homegrown Slander

     I just watched yet another video talking about how screwy the modern church is. This time it was "dress code," that the church has made what you wear the most important thing, as if Jesus cares about that most of all. Another was about a drunk who came to church smelling of alcohol and was scorned, saying he felt more welcome at the bar. And then there's the tale of the homeless guy who sits in the back unspoken-to and turns out to be the new pastor. (There is no "Jeremiah Steepek." The story is a distortion of a 1970 experiment recording reactions of seminary students to a homeless-looking guy. Snopes found one real pastor who lay down on the church lawn. A good 20 people offered to help him. Check it out. )
     I don't believe these stories, and I hope you won't believe them either, unless there is documentation-- names, dates, location. Otherwise it's just slander. Well-meaning slander, I suppose, but slander nevertheless, on the same side as "...the hatred painstakingly indulged in and lovingly cultivated by the movie Kingsman in a way that I have never seen before from Hollywood."  
     As far as I can tell, these lousy, hateful churches exist mainly in the imaginations of the prejudiced and in the quiverings of church people who fear the scorn of the prejudiced. Maybe they invent and share such stories so as to say, "I'm not like that." Throw it in with all the "I'm a Christian, but I'm not _____." (Fill in the blank: racist, sexist, homophobic, uncool.) 
     A contractor who attended our church picked up a day-laborer, a Hispanic guy from Texas who was in Orlando to make some money in landscaping. The boss invited him to church, and he came in the same clothes he worked in because that was all he had. We gave him an outfit or two. He came to many services and events and finally asked to be baptized. The pastor did the usual interview and baptized him without hesitation. Pretty sure he felt welcome. 
     A transient was living in woods nearby and started walking early to make it to church. He quickly became a fixture in adult Sunday school, Bible study and Sunday services. People shook his hand and joked around with him as we do with just about everyone. We helped him with shelter and food. Pretty sure he felt welcome. 
     Scruffy beards and salon do's, Hawaiian shirts and custom suits, bikes and Beemers, all sit side-by-side at church. My experience for years has been that all sinners are welcome to come to Christ for redemption and to become part of the company. If your church sneers, talk to the pastor and the elders. Ask why. (You know, handle it the way Christians are supposed to.) But if they don't sneer, don't make up stories to post on Facebook. Truth fits much better with the gospel.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Saintly St. Labre

     I am now the proud owner of a genuine buffalo bone letter opener, and, given how sharp that tip is, it could be an opener of other things in case of need. Strapped with sinews onto a long pole, it would make a formidable weapon. I don't think the people who sent it to me expect me to wreak havoc, though, because they are the good folk of St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana. 
     When I send them a donation these days, I check the "no premium" box, so I guess this was just a present. There's a charming Christmas ornament every year, and I have a nifty ceramic candle holder and a couple of beaded crosses. Once they sent a small original oil painting of a tepee at sunset. I gave it to my daughter for her classroom, since she was teaching Last of the Mohicans. (Different region, I know, but the image was pretty generic.) None of these is the reason I donate to St. Labre, though. 
     One of their shopping bags caught the eye of a fellow shopper in Publix here in Orlando, and he asked whether we supported the school. Then he asked whether we were Catholic. We aren't, and neither was he, but we agreed that this Catholic boarding and day school for Crow and Cheyenne children was worth supporting.
     Many of their students come from poorest-of-the-poor families on reservations. Many would not have a warm coat or a decent meal if it were not for the school. They care for the kids and send many of them on to college. That would be enough to keep me donating, but this PCA Presbyterian is also impressed with their expressions of faith. Unlike Indian schools of old, they don't try to stamp out Indian culture. They teach the native languages and crafts. In one newsletter, I learned that they taught students to express thanks for the life of cattle slaughtered for their meat. Their chapel is shaped like a tepee. 
     Best of all, they produce students like the girl who won their contest to name the new library. She explained that, as Indians, they have great respect for the office of chief, and that, as Christians, they revere Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of faith. Students now read and study in the Chief Cornerstone Library. I sent that child a fan letter. Check them out if you like: 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

No Liberty for You

In a case that ought to have been laughed out of court, two lesbians claimed they suffered all sorts of harm because meanie bakers declined to make them a “wedding” cake. The Christian bakers said that their faith would not allow them to participate in the nuptials in that way. And because of that refusal, say the lesbians, they were afflicted with “acute loss of confidence,” “doubt,” “excessive sleep,” “felt mentally raped, dirty and shameful,” “high blood pressure,” “impaired digestion,” “loss of appetite,” “migraine headaches,” “pale and sick at home after work,” “resumption of smoking habit,” “shock,” “stunned,” “surprise,” “uncertainty,” “weight gain” and “worry.”

They might well have added, “She turned me into a newt.” Because there’s not much difference between this list and “Dame Tabitha looked at me askance, and I felt unwell from that moment. When the wagon wheel broke and the beer went sour, I knew she had hexed me. Burn the witch!” Really, girls, the prospect of going somewhere else for a cake left you with “acute loss of confidence?” Your convictions about your sexual proclivities must be mighty shallow if the lack of a cake so crushes them. “Mentally raped”? I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Try comparing cake denial to being thrown off a tall building and smashed on the pavement. Or being buried up to your neck and hit in the head with stones until you die. In certain circles, that’s the response to your “lifestyle.” But somehow this crushing denial conjured up “impaired digestion,” “loss of appetite,” and “weight gain.” That’s quite a trick. “We’ve been denied a cake? I don’t feel like eating, but I must cram in a third helping of fettucine Alfredo because of the migraines and uncertainty.”

Listen. The bakers did not drag the lesbians into court, accusing them of offending their sensibilities. In fact, they had been serving this pair in the same way as other customers. Ordinary interactions were not a problem. It was only the wedding cake they balked at. The Bible tells Christians to “…abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well.“ These are all ceremonial actions, things done to honor other gods than the LORD. (Acts 15: 20 and 29) They violate God’s “prime directive,” to “have no other gods before me.” Not wanting to participate in a ritual that ignores God's law is a very good reason not to make a wedding cake for two women. I understand the judge has told the bakers they may not speak in public about their reasons for refusing the cake order. What a disgraceful act of judicial fascism. Consider this my little slice of resistance.

They tell us you can’t be a racist if you don’t have the power to oppress. Let’s apply that principle here. Can the bakers tell the lesbians they ought to repent of their sins and be baptized, and, if they refuse, drag them into court to have their livelihood destroyed by a judge who may be aware that there is such a thing as the US Constitution, but has no further acquaintance with it? Yet the bakers are to be ruined because their consciences did not allow them to participate in a ritual they believe is wrong. Someone is being oppressed here, all right, but it is not the overwrought lesbians. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

I Live Here, Y'All

    I am a transplant to the South. Some might even say an invasive species, as my late father-in-law used to imply. Somehow his son brought home this girl born in Montana to parents from New York City. I was irrevocably a Yankee, until he discovered I could cook up a respectable pot of grits. “Aright, you can stay,” he said. A southern woman must cook, and he made occasional requests. Shortcake to serve with peaches and whipped cream. And coconut custard pie. I hacked a fresh coconut for that one, and it rated an approving nod of the head. One day, I offered him some corn bread, and he said, “There were times when that corn bread would have been mighty welcome, but now… I just don’t want it.” That was one of my first clues that his childhood was something straight out of The Yearling. Remember the scene where a tangle of brothers tumbles out of their ramshackle house, fighting for fun? That.
    My Orlando childhood, starting at age 4, was pretty suburban. Lower-middle class. All the houses had three bedrooms, one bathroom and a screened porch. Carport, no garage. Chain link fences. No air-conditioning either. We got window units when I was about 13. Until then, the coolest we got was sitting around a hassock fan. Or going to the cheap summer movies downtown. T. G. Lee dairy gave movie-goers coupons for a free cone at their dairy bar. I always got raspberry sherbet.
   Everyone walked to school. The school had no air conditioning either. The teacher, or the biggest boys, would use a long pole to open awning windows up at the ceiling. Combined with open windows at the lowest level, this was supposed to provide air circulation. Ha. Most of the teachers brought in big fans from home, and one taught us to run cold water over our wrists. To cool the blood, she said.
    I never thought I had a Southern accent until I went to college in Boston. When I opened my mouth, people asked, “What part of the South are you from?” The first time, I asked, “How do you know I’m from the South?” The questioner, obviously thinking me dim, said, “Well, your accent.”    
    Am I from the South? Of the South? I’m still in the South, anyway, and most likely will spend the rest of my life here. Native-born husband, who thinks temperatures under 70 are life-threatening, is not likely to move to Montana with me. Or even my sort-of-spiritual home, Santa Fe, New Mexico. So I’ll gaze out the window at my newly-planted mango tree, and maybe go pick a few Meyer lemons for lemonade. It does have a few benefits, this South place. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Grandma Rampant

          How very unsettling to feel ready to bash in the head of a living creature. I felt that way this afternoon. Home from shopping, I looked out to the fenced back yard and saw two dogs lounging in the grass. Not our dogs. Dogs belonging to the rear neighbors.
          Years ago, they installed a pool. The fence, theirs, was in poor repair then, and we asked whether they’d be replacing it. The owner put on a pitiful face and said, “I just can’t afford it.” He asked whether we would go halves on it. We said no, the fence was his, and his legal responsibility. We think he’s been waiting us out ever since.
          They couldn’t afford the fence, but they could afford some silly fake rock formations with fountains in them. And beer. And a radio that plays very loud and very bad “woman stole my truck so I drink a lot” country music. And dogs. An assortment of small dogs. I think I’ve seen three different ones, a couple of Chihuahuas and something like a Shih-tzu. “What, you’re upset about such little doggies?” Yes, because the neighbors’ version of training is to scream threats at the dogs, and the dogs have absorbed that level of responsibility.
          They bark hysterically and growl at us whenever we enter our own yard. When the crumbling slats of the fence shift, they come through to poop in our yard and to bark and snarl at us on our own property. They’re little, but they have teeth, and we have grandchildren. The youngest is not quite two. The next is five. Their family dog is big, well-trained and gentle. They may not understand a threat from a small dog. Even a little dog can do damage to a child.
          This time, when I saw the two dogs, I stomped into the foyer, where I keep a collapsible metal baton with the baby stroller, in case of strays that might menace us on walks. I’ve never had to use it. I yanked it out of its case and charged out to the yard, yelling “Get out!”  The little blighters actually stood their ground briefly before backing out through the fence. I heard one of the adults in their yard feebly calling a dog’s name. She’d apparently been out there and had done nothing when they went through the fence. I found a loose slat where the varmints went through and tried to wedge it into the opening—not easy when all the wood is in shreds. I returned to the house breathing fire and calmed down a bit before calling animal control. “It sounds silly to complain about Chihuahuas,” I told the young woman on the phone, “but they are aggressive.” She said she understood and would enter the report.

          Now I wait to see what will happen. Will the bad neighbors be cursing us? Throwing garbage over—or through—the fence? Shooting out our windows? Or maybe they’ll suck it up and act responsible. I’ll hope for that. Even mild-mannered grandmas can be pushed too far.