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. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Bad Buoys, or Who's Your Daddy?

          Many people are eager to get control over others, and far, far too many are eager to be controlled: to give their allegiance to The Leader, to do what he says and to believe that whatever he does is right. I believe the psychologists call it authoritarianism, and I suppose we all have a touch of it. Most of us get a little starry-eyed over royalty. Admit it. Wasn’t that last wedding in England just gorgeous, and don’t you think those babies are something extra special? How many have run to copy Kate’s dresses, or to find the same bonnet as the one on the new princess?
          All of that’s rather story-book and harmless, but it gets dark in other realms. We’re seeing a grim example in the effects of Bill Gothard’s authoritarian organizations. The young women he accosted during his “ministry” seem to have taken a long time to speak out and expose him as a dirty old man. They must have been intimidated by his being the leader, the teacher, the one to whom they had pledged allegiance. Families in the flock are following the pattern. (See "Power and Perverts.")
          It happens with more admirable leaders too. Francis Schaeffer, for example, was a brilliant theologian who devoted his life to counteracting modernist decay in the interpretation of the Bible. His L’Abri refuge in Switzerland helped many come to a firm faith in the God of the Bible, and many of his disciples have become valuable teachers, authors and leaders. I haven’t heard of any sex scandals. But I did feel the wrath of one of his devotees when I voiced mild disagreement with a point in one of his published studies. I thought his statement about the nature of the church was true, but I didn’t think it followed from the passage under discussion. I got the “look of death” from another member of the group, a person who often sought to settle a question with “Dr. Schaeffer says…” in exactly the way the prophets said “Thus saith the LORD.” This person stayed angry with me for weeks.
          As usual, the Apostle Paul saw it coming and warned about it. In 1 Corinthians 1:11-13, he wrote, “… there are quarrels among you… One of you says ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; … Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” Then in chapter 3, he asks, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants…”
          We have all too many examples in recent history (and the present) of what happens when a man is set up above God, from Bill Gothard to Adolf Hitler. People are caught up in the thrill of adulation and the comforting sense that a superior leader is guiding us though this uncertain world. The results are almost always horrible. In the United States, we run a great risk when we set a man up above the Constitution. I’ve noticed that many who were sure Obama would lead us into all perfection have toned it down, bless their hearts, but the phenomenon is still out here. This one will save us! Or maybe that one!

          Warning: if you’ve hitched your life to a teacher, preacher or politician, a movement or organization, you’re on very shaky ground. Sand, one might say. When what you need is rock. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Power and Perverts

     Have you noticed that people who start cults invariably turn out to be sexual deviants? Warren Jeffs. Charles Manson. Jim Jones. Muhammad. Yep. As much a “prophet” as the rest of them, Muhammad started out “marrying” little girls and inspiring teachings that seem to me to take it for granted that men will rape women whenever they get the chance. In addition to okaying the rape of women who are bought in the slave market (because they’re slaves) or women they capture (because they’re captives), they tell other women “Cover up, or you’re fair game.” Find a woman in a short skirt? Start molesting. American newswoman reports on your mob? Assault away.
     And then there’s Bill Gothard and his authoritarian Institute in Basic Life Principles and Advanced Training Institute. They sent their membership a piece called “Lessons from Moral Failure in a Family,” which dealt with a brother molesting his sisters. Guess what. The little girls didn’t always act as modestly as they should. Molesting them was a “moral failure,” as opposed to a crime, apparently because males are visual, and, you know, if they catch a glimpse, they just can’t help themselves. Girls, cover up, or you’re fair game. Did I mention that Gothard himself has been exposed as a sexual predator? He resigned last year after numbers of girls came forward and told how he had abused and harassed them. Creep.

     One factor in all these cases is Biblical illiteracy, not knowing what the Bible is really about, even among people who know a lot of verses. Something to watch out for: if anyone says the church has had it wrong all these centuries, and he finally has the right way, be very suspicious. The Apostle Paul knew this stuff was out there. In Galatians 1:8, he wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.” Law won’t save you. Authority won’t save you. Revolutionary suicide won’t save you. Submission won’t save you. Only Jesus can do that. If someone says “Jesus plus ___” or “Instead of Jesus,” run. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Melanin Mysteries

Not content with keeping us coloring within the lines, one of my 1950s Orlando grade-school teachers started a class discussion on which colors we should use on various bits of the illustrations in our workbooks. Grass? Green. Sky? Blue. Skin? I looked down at my arms and raised my tan little hand. "Light brown," said I. This was not the answer the teacher wanted from the blue-eyed blonde. 
"No, no," she said. "Our skin is not brown. The closest color we have in our crayons is orange. We will use orange to color the skin in our pictures." So Dick, Jane and Sally became orange, a color I never saw on my own skin until an ill-fated experiment with self-tanning lotion. 
Some time later, my mother entertained a visitor from New York in our living room. "Oh, yes, " I heard her say. "They (my brothers and I) get that brown just from walking to school and playing outside." So we were brown after all. Just not at school. 
My brothers and I stood one day in front of the water fountains at the Qwik-Chek. One was labeled "white," and the other "colored." I tried to figure out what the difference was. Was the water different? We pushed the levers on both. Nope. Looks the same. Is there something contagious about color? I didn't think so, but even if there were, how could you spread it with a water fountain? Your mouth doesn't even touch the spout. The mystery remained as we dared each other to take a drink from the "wrong" fountain. After a bit of nudging, feeling not quite bold enough, we left the forbidden zone. 
We weren't quite intimidated enough to avoid causing a scene on a city bus, though. On a ride downtown, the two boys and I ran to the back seat. It stretched all the way across under the back window, and you could get on your knees and look out. We clambered about on it as other passengers gave us half-smiling looks. Our mother reached out a hand to shoo us off the seat. "That's for the colored people," she said. "Aw, why?" we whined. "That's not fair. We like this seat." 
My mother worked as a secretary for a very southern white man. He told her that there would be people of intensified melanin coming into the office. If these browner clients were "from the islands," he said, she should address them as Mr., Mrs. or Miss. If they were local people, she was to use their first names only. She decided not to quiz them and fell back on the professional manners she learned in secretarial school, addressing all with honorifics. 
Sometimes racism is downright silly. 
These days, my arms are dappled pinkish-brown and ivory, spattered with dark brown and occasional bright red spots. Sun damage, says the dermatologist. I suppose the racist atmosphere in which I grew up was as dangerous as the untrammeled sun on the melanin-impaired. Somehow I had enough hate-screen to minimize the soul damage. I've had heavy doses of the antidote, too, and it comes from the Bible. In a nutshell, it's that we all descend from the original parents, Adam and Eve, who must have been a lovely medium brown. You may be brown or ivory or orange, but you are my cousin. Shall we share the crayons? 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


     I stumbled upon a children's book by Neil Gaiman. Chu's Day. If you know Neil Gaiman-- and me-- you know why I grabbed it immediately, perused it and took it home. Reading through it a bit more carefully, I found an illustration of a circus with Chu the panda in attendance. Prancing about the ring were a donkey with a dog on its back, a cat on the dog's back and a rooster on the cat's back. "The musicians of Bremen," I blurted. "Someone put the musicians of Bremen in this picture for me to recognize!" (Illustrator Adam Rex, to be precise.) 
     "Who are the musicians of Bremen?" asked way-educated Hillsdale grad son. A trifle deflated, I related the tale of the outcast farm animals who teamed up and frightened away the gang of thieves who had been terrorizing the good citizens of Bremen and became heroes. "Oh, I think I remember that," said son, allowing me to creep back from the precipice of total failure as parental transmitter of culture
     I always feel that way when I mention some classic story or bit of folklore, and the offspring say, "What?" I tried, I really did. I gave them books about Paul Bunyan and Greek myths. I read them Stone Soup and The Little Engine That Could and Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. Did I forget Johnny Appleseed? Myles Standish? John Henry? I remember Captain Kangaroo reading wonderful books on his TV program and the crew laughing (Live TV, don't you know) at some ridiculousness of Bunny Rabbit. I wish the Captain were still around. What I wouldn't give to hear the grandchildren humming "The Syncopated Clock."