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Friday, November 25, 2016

Just the Facts, Bitte

 A woman reported that she took her kids to a park in Brooklyn and found swastikas and "Go Trump" spray-painted on a "jungle gym." I couldn't figure out how anything intelligible could be spray-painted on a framework of bars, so I looked it up and found this. Aha. It's on the side of a play locomotive. 
Anyway, a lot of people, including politicians, Ben Stiller and a member of the Beastie Boys (The park is named for a member of the band who died of cancer.) had a big rally to say they won't stand for hate crimes. I'm with 'em there. Only, having been trained by the last of the crusty old journalists to set aside my own biases and look carefully at what really happened, I had to slow down and take a look at the evidence. That thing on the left looks like a big P with part of a 5 superimposed. If it stood alone, would you think it was a swastika? I don't think I would. The one on the right is a little closer. It sort of has the "broken cross" arms, but it's backwards from the Nazi symbol. Voila. -->
As I wrote to a NY state senator who commented on the "hate crime," it looks like your local Nazis don't know their own symbol very well. Maybe we should assemble a little more information before we freak out altogether. Given the numbers of faked hate messages out there, could this not be, you know, a faked hate message? Furthermore, its incoherence makes me think of a little kid who has just discovered a dirty word that can send the adults into a tizzy. He has no idea what it means, but is it ever fun to hear them gasp. Might the miscreant be a dopey teenager who scarcely knows what he is spray-painting, but likes the idea of causing a kerfuffle? It reminds me too of losers who start forest fires just so they can observe the excitement. They don't hate trees or Bambi; they simply lack any sense of accomplishment, and if destroying things and scaring people is the only thing they can think of to make their mark, that's what they do. 
I don't know for sure what the ignorant artiste's motivation was, and neither does anyone else. May we please find out for sure before we get our Lederhosen in a twist that we can't undo?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Meme Meme Meme Meme

     Memes. Clever little rascals, at least sometimes. And some of them seem to get thousands of likes and shares even when they are irrational, misspelled or just plain dumb. I suppose I am too serious about the whole thing, but I do envy the "going viral" bit. I decided to make a meme. I thought it out carefully. I was pretty sure it could change the whole "whose life matters" conflict in America. Elevate the discourse. Calm the overwrought. Open avenues of communication. Trigger a regular spiritual revival on this continent. I posted it on Facebook. It got seven, no, wait, ten likes. Oh, and one cryptic comment: "That's very aristocratic." I'm still scratching my head over that one. But here's what I did. 
You see, I wanted something like the Black Lives Matter fist. I found a Rubens  painting of the crucifixion of Christ and picked out the hand. That's how Jesus showed His power, see? By sacrificing Himself for us. And He did it to take the punishment we deserved for our sins. Your life matters to Him. Very much. That's the ultimate important truth. And wouldn't it be a good thing if thousands of people were out there in tee shirts with this image on them? Every one of them ready to pass along the good news? Grumpy Cat thinks so. And so does that Japanese dog with the funny grin. And Jesus will know whether you share or have no                                                                                 heart. Can I get an amen?

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Bad with the Good Friday

     Maybe it's a good thing to have a bad experience on your last day in a place you love, so leaving is easier. Though, as "bad" goes...
     I calculated the bus schedule carefully to make it to the Good Friday service at Christ Church PCA, Santa Fe. The bus placed me there half an hour early, so I sat in the sanctuary and listened to the "chorale" practice. A couple of people said good morning to me, but I thought a stranger at Pine Ridge probably would have been engaged in conversation. Maybe it's different at regular services. The pastor came over and addressed me by a name I didn't know. I told him I'd never been there before. I learned later that I resembled an artist who sometimes came to services with a hat over her long hair. I rather liked that. 
     The service was about as different as it could have been from PRPCA, thoroughly liturgical, some of the scripture readings done in a singsong, like I've only heard in Episcopal services before. The pastor broke a large wafer as he introduced Eucharist. (We pass a tray of torn pita bread for the Lord's Supper.) People went forward to take a piece of wafer and dip it in a chalice. 
     I told the pastor afterward how different it was, though the same Spirit, and that Pastor Bill would have choked up at the same points that he did. (He knew Pastor Bill's name from General Assembly.) I also told him I'd learned something. He'd said in the service that Barabbas was probably not a popular figure with the Jews--- more of a Timothy McVeigh than an Ethan Allen. To me, that made it all the more significant that the people chose him over Jesus. Total innocence versus destructive violence? Give us original sin. 
     So far, so good. I walked around the corner to catch the bus back to town, found the bus stop sign readily, and settled in to wait the twenty or so minutes. It turned cloudy and breezy, and it was pretty cold. Finally saw the bus coming, pulled out my day pass... and watched the bus drive by. It was the right route number at the right time, but it did not stop. I raised my hands in disbelief. There wouldn't be another bus for an hour, so rather than wait, I started walking. A good mile. On rough dirt, gravel and uneven sidewalks. In boots. They're good boots, but still. I wore a hole in my silk sock liner. (Thin socks worn under the wool hiking socks to avoid blisters, marketed to serious hikers and campers. And old ladies with difficult feet.) 

     The funny thing is, I couldn't work up a good "mad" over being jilted by Santa Fe Trails. I'd just listened to a service based on the stations of the cross. This was hardly a Via Dolorosa. Just a Via Inconvenienta. A certain Spirit was helping me keep perspective. I did take another nifty door photo. And the socks were old ones anyway.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Lexi and the One Drop Rule

     The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture is featuring Lloyd Kiva New, son of a Cherokee mother and Scots-Irish father, who led the way for young Indian artists to build on their ancestral culture, but not to be bound by it. New designed leather handbags with metalwork bearing traditional images that became all the rage in the fashion world-at-large in the 1950s. His screen-printed fabric designs reflected the Southwest, and he made sought-after dresses, shirts, even tuxedos from them. Some artists, buyers and curators at the time wanted Indian artists to stick with tradition and produce only what they deemed "Indian" art. New and his friends saw that as an offense against the spirit of the artist. 
     I suppose the Indian Child Welfare Act of the 1970s was a reaction against too-casual removal of Indian children to Anglo homes, but today it violates the human spirit, especially the spirit of a little girl who has been taken from her Anglo foster family after four years of belonging as daughter, sister, niece and grandchild because she is "1.5% Choctaw," and to some, "tribal identity" comes first even though her drug-addicted criminal parents relinquished custody. (Why did they not entrust her to the relatives in Utah who now claim her?) 
     What on earth does "1.5% Choctaw" mean anyway? Of her 100 immediate ancestors, was one full Choctaw and another one half? Or maybe three out of the 100 are half Choctaw? I'm old enough and Southern enough to remember the "one drop rule." That meant, if you had "one drop" of black (they used to say Negro) blood you were considered black. Segregated schools and back of the bus for you. And certainly no marriage to a "white" person. Related: Melanin Mysteries 
And for Lexi, whose last name ought to be Page, it means no more of the people who cared for you, taught you, gave you a community and loved you. Those are the necessities of the human spirit. She had them. Cram her back into an ethnic category, and you offend that spirit. And, come to think of it, the Great Spirit Who created her as a human being. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Christmas in Santa Fe

     All the cognoscenti have breakfast at Tia Sophia's in Santa Fe. It's where the movers and shakers and locals eat. This morning, I had the requisite breakfast burrito, filled with scrambled egg, bacon and potatoes, smothered with melted cheddar and both red and green chiles ("Christmas" to those who know.) Actually, it wasn't as hot (temperature-wise) as it should have been, but the chiles made my nose run, so that's all right. 
     I also read both the Santa Fe and Albuquerque newspapers they had in the wooden rack up front. Local papers seem to me a symbol of American freedom and uniqueness. As they used to tell us in journalism school, anybody with a million dollars to lose can start a newspaper. An added fillip out here is that in the 1800s, people brought printing presses in by mule and set up shop in whichever little town struck their fancy and started a local paper, usually including humorous commentary and fanciful art. When they got bored with each other, the publisher would pack up and move to another town. 
     Anyway, my waitress was kind and tolerant when I couldn't understand her accent. She spoke slowly and laughed. At another table, an apparently local mother, grown daughter and grandchild sat. The daughter knocked over a large glass of orange juice. The mother leapt to her feet and began to berate one of the staff for failing to move quickly enough to get a towel. Several people were mopping the mess and bringing a new glass while she continued her rant. "She's an employee. She didn't even move. She should have brought a towel right away." Good grief. A minute later, the woman was speaking to everyone in the sweetest of tones, to make up, I suppose. Too late, though, lady. No one in Tia Sophia's will ever be glad to see you come in. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Crow’s Song

     Nobody liked the crow.
     “You have no beautiful colors,” said the toucan.
     “People set nectar in their gardens, just so I will visit,” said the hummingbird.
     “I glide on the wind, not like your foolish flapping,” said the hawk.
     “You can’t even sing,” sniffed the lark.
     “Caw,” said the crow.
     But humans were the worst, he thought. Fly overhead, and they say, “Bad luck!” Die by the road, and they say, “That’s good!” Land on a house, and they say, “Death is coming!” To someone they hate, they say, “Go to the crows.”
     One day, when he was tired of eating worms, the crow tried to snatch some corn from a field, but the farmer shouted and threw a rock at him.
     The crow flew until his wings were tired and took refuge in a tree next to a very tall gray wall. As he glared at a dim window in the wall, a light suddenly shone from behind it. Blue, red, green and gold glowed in the glass, and the crow made out a figure in it. A man in a white robe. He was holding a lamb.
     Then voices flowed out too, human voices, not angry like the farmer, but full of happiness and love. The crow had never heard such a thing before, and his thick beak dropped open. From his throat came another sound he had never heard before, a racketing, clacketing, chirruping mix of clicks and clacks and rumbles.
     He didn’t even know how long it went on before he heard a chuckling from below. He jumped a little when he saw a man standing under the tree. “You sing like me,” said the man. He was dressed all in black, but had a white band around his neck. Like a thrush, thought the crow. Or a kingfisher.
     “Here, share something else with me,” said the man. He held up his hand and reached as high as he could toward the crow. The hand didn’t hold the rock that the crow expected. It held a piece of bread.
     The crow hopped to a lower branch and cautiously stretched his neck toward the bread. As he plucked it from the man’s hand, the man cried, “Oh! Look at your new colors.”
     The crow wobbled on the thin branch as he swallowed the bread and turned his head from side to side, trying to see what the man meant. Finally, he spread his wings and saw. Every glowing color from the window had spread across his wings, blue, red, green and gold.

     The man began to sing, very badly for a human. And the crow began to sing, very well for a crow. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Dean'sWatch

It's been a while since a book caused me to shed tears, but it happened-- on an airplane-- as I finished The Dean's Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge. I'd started out annoyed with the paperback version I bought because the cover illustration makes it look like a trashy romance. Reading it in public, I tried to keep my hand over it and control the urge to tell adjacent passengers, "Not what it looks like. Really." And the blurb inside quotes the one hot kissing scene as though it were the heart of the story. It's fitting that the label on the front covers the title, because the publishers definitely covered up the actual story with their heavy breathing. 
It's about a dean, Adam Ayscough, the head man of a cathedral in an unnamed English city, The City, and his watch, a marvelous bit of craftsmanship and art which he regularly drops or over-winds so that it comes into the hands of Isaac, a talented watchmaker, who is annoyed with the dean for mistreating the watch, but also grateful, because he loves to work on it. 
The dean is a big, ugly man who considers himself a failure. He had been a pastor, but a poor preacher. No one understood his sermons full of of theological terms. He became a schoolmaster, and was much admired and respected, but faulted himself for failing to connect with the boys as human beings. Now, as dean, he is held in awe by residents of the city, and a little feared. He has one true friend, an elderly lady who never married and made the decision that her contribution to the city would be to love its people and pray for them. She tells him not to be afraid of joy.
An "accident" causes him to talk to the watchmaker and thank him for his work. By fits and starts, they become friends. The dean forces himself to drop in at Isaac's house. Unheard of! People call on the dean; he does not call on them. But he has tea in the kitchen with Isaac and Polly, the maid, (I think that's supposed to be her on the cover.) and finds that it's... fun. At least until Isaac's uptight and extremely proper sister arrives home and is scandalized that they've entertained The Dean, The Dean of the Cathedral, in the kitchen. Now he must find a way to mollify her and to overcome his dislike. That's one of the most interesting themes in the book-- how to love the thoroughly unlovable. 
The dean also tries to help the often-beaten apprentice who loves Polly. He soon finds how complicated it can be to insert oneself into other people's lives. And he struggles to find a way to heal his own cold marriage to a much younger beauty, who seems to think of nothing but her beautiful image. It involves a clock, probably the most beautiful and perfect in the world, made by Isaac. None of it works out the way one might guess, at least not the way I would guess, but it works out beautifully, because Goudge is a master at portraying God's mysterious ways. Faith, lack of, and growth of, is always a part of her work, like the most well-known, Green Dolphin Country (also published as Green Dolphin Street, and made into a lousy movie you need not bother with.) And part of that working-out is what made me dab at my eyes. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Guerrilla Docent

I've said before that one of these days I'm going to get into a fist-fight with a museum docent. It could even happen in Santa Fe, and it will start with eye-rolling. In the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum today, I heard only the wrap-up from a docent and thought it pretty much contentless. Granted, the previous pronouncements may have been brilliant, so I didn't actually do her any violence, but I got to thinking about what might happen if I lived in Santa Fe and volunteered as a docent. How much trouble would I get into? I reject a lot of popular interpretation of her work, especially the Freudian frenzy engendered by her flowers. No, Virginia, she was not sex-crazed. She simply painted what she saw. She said so. It's on tape. Why not take her at her word and realize she applied that same direct vision to bones and mountains and mesas and mission architecture. Since I believe the same Creator made the reproductive organs of plants and those of animals and humans, it isn't a shock to see that the reproductive parts may resemble each other. So stop with the smirking and tittering. 
It struck me especially today how O'Keeffe focused on edges, borderlines, where things meet. A charcoal sketch from 1916 shows the meeting of a fabric drape with what may be a plaid dishtowel, itself folded into many little canyons. That was the year she leapt into modernism. The theme turns up again and again decades later in her landscapes and things like "The Black Place."
It's a real spot in New Mexico where the edges of mountains fold together, and she painted many versions of it, this place where things meet. I think it's important that there is no sky in this image. For a long time, she emphasized close-up objects with seldom a glimpse of sky, except as background, but as she aged, that began to change. And as I age, I think I understand it better.
And here's where I became the Guerrilla Docent. I heard a young teen girl ask her father why O'Keeffe would have re-painted "City Lights," a view of New York City originally done in 1926, fifty years later, and made it twice the size. Dad had no opinion. I swooshed over to her-- OK, crept with some trepidation-- and asked "Would you like to hear an old person's answer to your question?" She and father said yes, so I opined. 

The first version looks through the canyon formed by the skyscrapers, with a tiny streetlight at the bottom. The 70s version looks upward to a prominent sky and its bright stars. She's looking at another sort of border, the one between this world and the next, something old people tend to do. It shows in the more abstract paintings she did at the end of her life when she had to have assistants hold her hands up. The sky is now the beyond, mysterious, a place of its own, which borders on this world. 
The dear girl studied the two NYC images and said, "You're right!" I could have kissed her. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Wrong God

A vision: Jesus has just told His disciples to stop hindering the mothers who are bringing their children to Him for blessing. “Let the little children come to Me,” He says, “for to such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Along comes the Reverend Anne Fowler in her clerical collar and places at His feet the dismembered body of a tiny infant. “I had this one killed to so I could serve You,” she says. “Wrong god,” says the Lord.

A vision: on Judgment Day, it is the turn of the Reverend Anne Fowler, M. Div., Episcopal priest. “Lord, Lord,” she says, “look at all I’ve done for you. I got a theology degree, and the Episcopal church ordained me. See the collar? Not many women get one, you know. Didn’t I serve as chaplain for Planned Parenthood? Wasn’t I part of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice? Didn’t I counsel young women that abortion is a moral choice?”
Jesus asks, “Where is the baby?”
“The what? Oh, the pregnancy, the product of conception. Well, you know I just had to abort it. I’d broken up with my husband, and I was sleeping with a guy during my seminary studies, and he just wouldn’t be a suitable father at all, and I already had one kid, and I really, really wanted to be a priest. In the church. You know. For You.”
Jesus holds out His hand. In it are the torn and bloody bits of a small baby. “His blood has been crying out to me since that day,” He says. “You might have loved him. You might have cared for him. Did you not know that whatever you do for one of the little ones, you do for Me? Or to Me?” Then He covers the little body with His other hand and lowers it gently to the ground. In its place appears a beautiful and glorious young man who looks at her with pity and says, “Mother.”
Then two things happen at once. The Lord says, “Away from Me. I never knew you,” and the Reverend Anne Fowler begins a long, long fall.

An amicus brief presented to the Supreme Court, which is reviewing whether abortion clinics in Texas can be required by law to be sanitary and to employ doctors who would be allowed to admit patients to a hospital if they should, say, rip a hole in the uterus while suctioning a baby out, said that Anne Fowler “accidentally” became pregnant during her second year at Episcopal Divinity School. No, not running with turkey baster, but sleeping with a guy she figured would not be a “suitable parent.” I wonder who was babysitting the child from her broken marriage while she was having her fornication break. Was it between Theology I and New Testament Interp.?
“Already solely responsible for her daughter, Anne knew she could not complete Divinity School and pursue a career as a priest if she did not have an abortion.” There may be a certain three on the Court who, when they meet again, will find this compelling. “Well, sure, who wouldn’t kill any number of kids for a career as a priest?” To others of us, it is the most stunning perversion of humanity, religion, responsibility and, God help us, “divinity” that any sinful human mind could possibly concoct. Yet she presents it to the Supreme Court of the United States as a good argument not to place any restrictions, not even those of sanitation, on abortion mills. It strikes me that, like Gloria Steinem, she has built a career as a life-long excuse for that bloody, selfish decision.
It’s hard to pick a “worst of all” from this reeking pile, but this may come close. One of the achievements she touts as made possible by her baby’s death is that “she meets many pregnant women who are very young or struggling economically or emotionally” and reassures them that it’s necessary and right to abort their children. “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come,” said Jesus, “but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”
I’m pretty sure you cannot bring others along to make sacrifice to Moloch and expect the approval of the Prince of Peace.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Whence Cometh My Help

    Sick most of the week, helpful son out of town, I did my usual babysitting of two-year-old granddaughter, approached weekend with duty of proofreading and assembling PowerPoint presentation for church, editing pastor's sermon outline, studying and assembling materials to teach children's church and preparing for group of 15 or so coming for lunch after church, I wasn't quite sure how this was all going to work out. We dashed home after church to get ready for the lunch. Not long after, another couple arrived. They came early. To help. I was mighty happy to give them some of the last-minute tasks of rounding up plates and cups, hoisting down a pitcher from the back of the highest shelf and helping to concoct a batch of lemonade. Having other hands take some of the hassle made it disappear. I calmed down and turned happy. God does this sort of thing with His people, even when we forget to ask. 
     He uses amphibians too. In Florida, February is time to plant, but I dreaded opening my composter today to replenish the raised bed that was calling out for radishes and tomatoes. It's a big drum with a latching lid, and the last several times I'd opened it, it teemed with sleek, well-fed cockroaches. Shudder. So with the two-year-old's help (loosely defined), I dragged a shovel and rake out of the shed and steeled myself. I popped the latches, flung open the lid and stood back. Not a single insect skittered out of the compost. Not even when I poked it with the shovel. As I started merrily and half-disbelieving to shovel compost into the wheelbarrow, I saw, perched high on the wall of the bin, a big, ugly, beautiful toad. That was where the roaches went: into his warty, gray, bulbous belly.
I have never felt such love for an amphibian in my life. As I shoveled, it crept down into the compost and hid behind an egg shell. "Don't you worry, sweetheart. I wouldn't hurt you for the world," said I. I pointed it out to little Chloe in the same tone I use for hawks and woodpeckers and new blossoms on the lemon tree. I couldn't help thinking it was sent to give me a break, just like the beautiful humans on Sunday. Psalm 121. It's true.