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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pass the Gherkins

     Turned up on Twitter: photo of a newspaper article reporting a Muslim imam's declaration that women should not be allowed to touch any elongated fruits or vegetables, like cucumbers or bananas, because it might set them a-tingle and give them naughty thoughts. Almost sounds like a satire from The Onion, but then these are the guys who have an etiquette for raping slaves: mother or daughter, but not both. That would be so gauche. Some of these charmers even maim women to make sure there's no chance of their enjoying sex. So Imam Produce Chastity could be for real. And seriously delusional. I mean, if the bearers of courgette-like appendages in your neighborhood were pretty much all goat-diddlers and child rapists, would a zucchini turn you on? Rather, the imagination produces a burqa'd brigade of Lorena Bobbits slicing, dicing and julienning. "All I want for Eid is a Vege-Matic." Shoot, far from a way of cooling down the supposed hair-trigger babes, what they need in the suq is more likely a car-load of Omar Sharif masks. I mean, really, el-Dude, do you think what you got is that enticing? Melt some sand, man, and make a mirror. 

     I read a book by an American woman who was kidnapped in Somalia along with a (wimpy twit, my editorial opinion) male companion and held for ransom by a Muslim gang. For two years. Every one of the gang raped her, and one began to visit daily. He actually talked about how some day they'd be married and have many sons. Right, Omar. Any girl would be thrilled. Nevertheless, she and companion plotted to escape by working bars out of a window and running to a mosque. The religious people would help them, right? They ran in and begged for help in the name of Allah. Their captors were close behind. One woman came into the prayer room. The author showed by gestures that the kidnappers were raping her. The woman took her in her arms and tried to hold her there as the captors pulled her away. The male locals just stroked their beards. Such gray areas, kidnap and rape. But one woman understood. 
    In Kenya recently, Muslim dandies stopped a bus and demanded that all Christians disembark to be shot. Muslim women on board quickly shared their head coverings with Christian neighbors to disguise them. They stayed seated and told the killers that if they wanted to shoot the Christians, they would have to shoot everybody. They backed down. 
     Somehow, some Muslim women have retained their human hearts in the depths of Islamic hellholes. May the Gospel reach them. May they come to know the kind Savior Who loves them as His children, made in His image. "Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this," wrote Dorothy L. Sayers in Are Women Human? Women in these hateful cultures know how bad the men are. Now, if only the Light will show it to the men. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Where the Light Comes From

     This is the sign of a good sermon. It makes me write things down-- not notes exactly, but thoughts triggered by the content. Good books do this to me too. In this sermon about the Magnificat, Pastor Bill started out talking about the fluff that surrounds Christmas, like the feel-good songs about chestnuts and sleigh bells and home for Christmas that never mention Jesus. He plays them for his granddaughters, and they dance. Sweet.
     Did you know the Japanese decorate for Christmas as extravagantly as Americans, even though they have one of the smallest percentages of Christian believers in the world? So what do they have? Sparkly stuff, warm feelings, lights, fun. Scraps. Like crumbs under the table. Nice, as far as they go, but still scraps. 
     Mary's soul "glorifies the Lord." His glory is more than light. It's the essence of His being, which is real and dense and inexhaustible. (Cue Handel: "And the glory,the glory of the Lord, shall be revealed.") What surrounds that glory, what emanates from it, is beautiful and pleasant. In God's economy, even the scraps can be beautiful. Ice floes in Alaska have a stunning heart of ethereal blue that transfixes the eye. They are scraps that fall from the glaciers. Seashells riot with color and shape. I can't resist picking them up and taking a few home. They are scraps left over when their inhabitants die. 
     The ice floe melts. The shells I can keep, but what if I'd never seen the sea? And what if I'd seen all the Christmas lights, but never knew the one from Whom all good things emanate? Ultimately the sights and sounds are only disturbances in the air, and if that is all I know, then I have nothing. I can grab at more and more and more, but it has no more substance than the air. There is one who is the prince of its power. He wants us to focus only on the images and never on the real. "Don't look for the source. This is all there is," he insists. 
     No. Follow the light, the music, the joy, the love, the dancing children. Here is the source, the one true Lord, born a baby in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. Very God of very God. The light of the world. Jesus. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Blood and Rhetoric

     With a truly astounding lack of self-awareness, one Jessica Valenti says in support of Planned Parenthood, "Words matter. When we dehumanize people, we make it easier for others to do them harm." Oh, like "fetus," "blob of cells," "product of conception"? Well, no, she seems to mean the way pro-life people point out what actually happens in an abortion and call it murder. They also warn about psychological damage to women who must then live with the memory of having a baby killed, as well as the possibility of physical injury. Is it vicious hate-speech to point out that a suction machine strong enough to rip the arms and legs off a "fetal" body is also strong enough to tear a hole in a woman's uterus, and sometimes does? Is it anti-woman to mention the possibility of infection or infertility? Abortion fans seem to think so. After all, I've never heard a pro-life person say, "Let's go shoot up an abortion clinic."  We don't promote murder because we're, you know, pro-life. 
     Listen, if I'm responsible for an anti-social flake like Robert Lewis Dear shooting people in the vicinity of a Planned Parenthood abortuary (note that he did a lousy job of attacking the abortionists. He started shooting cops outside and was then too pinned down to do much mischief inside the building. If you were going to shoot the place up, wouldn't you keep your weapon concealed under that alleged long coat until you got in the door?), then abortion boosters are sure as hell (and I mean that pretty literally) responsible for Kermit Gosnell. This is a man who had enough on the ball to make it through medical school, but then devoted himself to killing big babies. Oops, "fetal tissue masses." That's the vocabulary he was given, although if he had studied obstetrics in the 1950s, he might have read that the obstetrician has two patients, mother and baby. But when Roe v. Wade came along (and did you know that "Jane Roe" is now prolife? Look up Norma McCorvey. Norma ) the language began to change. Suddenly the baby was a "fetus." Look that up too. It simply means an unborn creature in the womb, particularly a human being. But it sounds kind of medical and sterile, and the feminist champions of womanhood insisted it wasn't really human. It was just potential, no more valuable than a chicken's egg. A product. A blob. Medical waste. "When we dehumanize people, we make it easier for others to do them harm." Sure enough, Jessica Valenti. 
     The procedure itself quickly morphed from a sad but necessary thing into an unfettered right. Abortion on demand, without apology! And those who performed abortions were heroes, champions for women, bravest of the brave. Every abortion was a salute to women-- never mind the reality that abortionists' halls are more likely to see tears, fear and coercion than women proud and free celebrating their "choice." 
     So is it any wonder that Kermit Gosnell might feel free to keep a filthy facility, to cut the necks of living babies with scissors, to keep a jar of their feet as souvenirs? Or that he would be protected by the abortionist "community"? More on Gosnell
     In the decades since Roe v. Wade, about eight abortion workers have been murdered. Eight. And the number of babies killed is pushing 50,000,000. That doesn't include women who bled to death, died of sepsis or were maimed. Pro-life people are pikers when it comes to blood on the hands. Abortion promoters are soaked in it from head to foot and licking it off their lips. Ms. Valenti has held up a mirror, but ought to turn it around. All of you will have to look in it sooner or later. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


     I happened to be wearing my spiffy red Teva sneakers when the self-checkout at the wholesale club failed in its duty, and I had to summon aid. The young man who righted its wrongs said, "I like your shoes." I glanced at his feet: bright blue low-top canvas lace-ups. "Thanks," I said. "Yours too!" 

     Soon thereafter, my daughter told how one of her high school students told her she was too old-- too old!-- to appear in her pink Converse high-tops. Somehow that boy survived to faux pas another day, but when I heard the story, I resolved that I would have Converse sneakers, and I would have them in blue. It took some searching. My feet are narrow, and the "unisex" sneakers are way too wide for me. Finally, there they were online, a style cut for women, blue as a grade-school Crayola. I ordered one of the last two pairs in captivity. 
     I love them, and it's been fun to see how many other women love them too (along with the red ones and the green ones and the coral ones.) As I loitered in a medical office hallway, waiting for the hubs, three women in office garb hustled past. The leader looked at my blue-clad feet and exclaimed, "Cute!" Doctors and nurses often admire my sneaker wardrobe, and I tell them the student story. They all make the same face over the punk kid. 
     I gave up heels long ago, not because I'm tall, but because the darn things are agony on stilts. When young friends totter in on spikes (heels, not soccer shoes), I cringe. They feel terribly chic, I suppose, but to me, they are sprained ankles looking for a place to happen. Still, I'm not quite ready for Enna Jetticks, sensible shoes in sensible colors. My relatively sensible flats are sparkly gold, or red and orange with silvery spikes on the back (Really. Would I lie to you?) I shall fight this old age thing and its concomitant prejudices with my gold elephant ornaments, my purple laces, my Celtic-knot embroidered cowboy boots, and, yes, my Converse sneakers. You can bury me in them, and I'll sprint happily into Heaven. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Somebody's Got to Do It

     Thump, bump, skitter, it was for sure a squirrel cage match in the attic above the master bedroom. A day or so later, a nasty odor pervaded the bedroom and foyer. Next day, still there. Look on Angie's List for critter wrangler. Find Gregg Granger, Wildlife Ranger. Is that an irresistible name, or what? It must be intoned in your best radio-announcer voice. It took a bit of phone tag to bring him to the house, but there he was on the doorstep in his serious boots and serious beard. He had quoted a tidy sum for a service call, but we thought about what it would take for one of us to crawl through the attic looking for dead things. Short of impending death by plague for the grandchildren, just about nothing would get me up there, so we took a deep breath-- not too deep-- and gave him the OK.
     "Where did you smell it?" he asked. And "Do you smell it now?" We were into about the fourth day since the first whiff, and now... just as when you take the car to the mechanic and the noise stops... we couldn't smell a thing. 
     He climbed into the attic anyway, through that little portal in the garage. He donned and turned on a headlamp, and as his boots disappeared into the darkness, I thought, "Well, his website does say he's a former Army Ranger. He's probably crawled into worse places than this." Eventually he tapped on the front door with "good news, better news and best news." A. There was no corpse in the attic. Not a single body anywhere, and no smell. B. There were no openings through which rodents might invade. And C. He had found an air conduit separated from its vent and reattached it. Looks like we've been air-conditioning the attic all summer. 
     His theory: the noise had been squirrels on the roof, where there's little space between roof and ceiling, and the smell had come from something small, like a lizard or a snake, which dried up fairly quickly. Thank goodness. And thanks, Ranger Granger. I asked what I owed him for crawling the attic. "Nothing," he said, and handed me his card. "Just speak of me kindly, if you speak of me at all." I thanked him fervently, and here I am, speaking of him kindly and enthusiastically. If you are invaded by squirrels, raccoons, opossums, rats or other vermin short of bears and gators, give him a call. 
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Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Awful Truth

     I used to subscribe to Mother Jones magazine, way long time ago. While they are pretty much a leftist propaganda rag today, they used to do the occasional piece of good investigative journalism, such as an expose' of the supposedly victimless sex trade in NYC. They showed it to be tawdry, exploitative and destructive of humanity. Had to give them points for that one. Later, they did a profile of a Christian couple who were performing some ministry that MJ seemed to approve of (I wish I could remember what). But their headline and teaser lead-ins proclaimed that they had uncovered a terrible secret about the couple's beliefs. After the report on their activities, the writer revealed the astonishing secret: these people believed that human beings were born corrupt. Not innocent, not a blank slate, but actually primed and ready to sin! Gasp!
     At the time, I was a neophyte Christian, but even I knew that this was a basic tenet of Biblical faith which had been accepted for centuries. It goes back to Adam eating the fruit that he was supposed to leave alone. The Westminster Confession of Faith has spelled it out since 1646. See chapter VI: Adam's sin made him corrupt to the bone. His now sinful nature was passed along to his offspring. We're all born with it, and from it springs all the nasty things we do to offend God and harm each other. That's "Original Sin." But to that writer it was an astonishing and terrifying revelation. "How could anyone think such a thing?"
     I see the same sort of freak-out happening as leftist reporters make what they think are damning discoveries about Ben Carson. He has a painting that shows him with Jesus! Jesus has his hand on Ben's shoulder! OMG! He's an egomaniac! He's nuts! He thinks he's God! Well, I'm no longer a neophyte. I'm a well-aged Christian with a fair amount of observation of Christian culture under my sash. I have to admit-- if not lament-- that there's a whole lot of Christian kitsch out there. Anyone for a TestaMint? Nevertheless, even though Dr. Carson's painting is not exactly Rembrandt (You know that Rembrandt drew many scenes from the Bible, don't you?), it has a coherent message. I've seen in a medical office a somewhat similar theme, in which a white-coated doctor pores over a medical text. Jesus stands behind him, pointing at a particular passage. Pretty clear. Jesus guides the physician in figuring out the difficult diagnosis and what to do about it. Same idea in the Carson painting: the surgeon is a servant of God, guided by and approved of by Him. (I've read the assertion that this painting was a gift from a grateful parent. Don't know, but seems likely.) 
     It seems to me that people who know nothing of the Bible or of contemporary Christian culture are encountering isolated bits of information and going gaga over their own misinterpretations. My turn to be appalled that so many are so totally unaware of the Bible and the Christian faith. One fellow tweeted a "question that everyone's afraid to ask: Does Jesus have a picture of Ben Carson in (H)is house?" To which I answer, yes, He probably does. He has Ben Carson's name written on His hand, along with mine and millions of others who received the gift of faith in Him. I hope that clever guy can some day come to know that, however crazy it seems, his name is there too. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It All Works Out

     Upper body workout for the day included an hour and a half in the back yard raking and picking one utterly overgrown and one merely spent and weedy raised bed with the able assistance of one granddaughter. She needed some reminding to place the weeds in the bag and the dirt in the bed. So at the second bed, she picked up handfuls of sand from the yard and dropped them into the bed. I accepted this as the lesser of two messes, but when she pressed a shred of weed-stop material and an aluminum foil "snake" to her lips, I discouraged it. "Yucky," we agreed. Aluminum snakes
     We dragged the bag out front, came back for a stint on the garden swing seat, some kicking of soccer balls and some lifting of said toddler onto the bars of the climbing dome. We pulled a few more weeds out of a small growing box and discovered a fell-fledged peanut in the soil. It was immediately harvested and carried in triumph into the kitchen to be shown to PaPa, washed and placed on the window sill to dry. Then we washed dirt off hands. And face. And hair. And scraped it out of fingernails. 
     We earned a relaxed viewing of Thomas the Tank Engine. Next: lunch. Peanut butter and jelly, I imagine. Bon appetit. 

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. 

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."