Category Archives: Faith

Joy is Part of the Fight

As we are all, rightly, quarreling over the defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar, a reminder that when we politicize people’s faith and make them symbols, we don’t just create misery. We poison ordinary human joy: 

I wrote my second book because I wanted to read a story where a young queer Muslim girl’s story was not about pain or suffering. I wanted the things that got in the way of her love story to be the everyday kinds of things that get in the way of many of our own love stories. The misunderstandings. The fear of vulnerability. The aching longing that first love so often evinces.

To be carefree and Muslim is no easy thing.

But I do write stories in which it is. Because while that world may not exist yet, I get to play by my own rules in fiction. And I want to give the next generation of Muslims stories where they can see themselves, not just as the victims of hate, but as the instigators of love.

After 9/11 and the wave of local Chicago hate crimes that followed it, I spent about a week with a Muslim family, doing my favorite kind of journalism, the kind where I just sort of hang out and write about what’s happening in a life not my own. I wrote about their prayers and their struggles but also about their pet parrot who was loud and rude, about the kids teasing each other around the dinner table. About how even in that dark time, they were happy.

I’ll be forever grateful they let me see them in those moments. They didn’t have to. It was a recklessly generous act of faith.

The times when my own prejudices have been challenged have not only been times when I’ve recognized someone’s misery as my own but when I’ve recognized their joy. We are fully in each other’s lives when we are a part of their celebrations AND their struggles, when we are as at home at each other’s weddings as at each other’s funerals.

We need to remember to be in solidarity with each other not just when times are difficult but when they are transcendent.

A.

Faith as an Endurance Test

Kick asked me what the ashes were for. I had them on my forehead, as did my mother who was visiting. They’re somewhat obvious, if done right.

“It’s something grownups do to prepare for Easter,” I said, and changed the subject.

I’ve always hated this part of the liturgical calendar, the emphasis on death and guilt, the insistence on prioritizing misery, the endurance test that is Passion Sunday, in which we read the entirety of Jesus’s horrific death. LOOK AT IT, with the presumption that if you turn away, you’re not worthy of that sacrifice: 

 After tweeting out a call for anyone who felt they viewed The Passion Of The Christ at too young an age, we spoke to more than a dozen people who saw the film between the ages of 10 and 15. Some weren’t allowed to cover their eyes. Some sobbed. One puked in her seat. For nearly all of them, it was framed as an event by their parents, their pastors, their teachers, none of whom seemed to care that it spilled more gore than a Troma flick. It was mandatory viewing, and, furthermore, it demanded a reaction. At many screenings, enthusiastic youth pastors filed to the front of the theater as the credits still rolled. There, they encouraged those moved by the graphic violence on screen to commit (or recommit) their lives to Christ. Disoriented preteens, overwhelmed, shuffled forward, heads bowed, splayed hands and spoken tongues descending upon them.

Faith as bludgeon, as blunt instrument of force, driving the faithful into the sea: That’s the church so many turn away from. Faith not as persuasion but as power: 

The move was also very on-brand, notes the New York Times, considering Trump’s appeal with evangelicals. A pastor who is a prominent Trump supporter said the signings were “very appropriate,” and that people ask him to sign their Bibles “all the time.” It isn’t just presidents; other stars in the evangelical world are also often asked to signed Bibles, such as Tim Tebow. Beyond the act itself though, many pointed out that what seemed particularly strange wasn’t just that Trump signed the bibles but that he chose to add his massive signature to the covers.

Stars in the evangelical world, and Trump one of them. Prosperity gospels, pastors flying private planes, Cardinal archbishops soliciting sex during confession: It’s an ugly time for Christianity, as our Middle East wars rage. We keep coming around to this idea that we need to beat a particular kind of belief into those who already want to believe, make of those already faithful an army to oppose unbelievers, as if it’s the atheists who threaten religion. As if they’re the ones making movies about murder, making money and calling it morality.

There’s a moment in The Passion of the Christ that I DO think about all the time, and it’s not the lashes or the crown of thorns, it’s not the nails driven through the hands. It’s Jesus and his mother Mary, talking quietly, Mary teasing him gently because the table he built is a little crooked. That’s what was sacrificed. Part the seas and boil the rivers: This is what brings it home.

Faith isn’t a bludgeon. It’s a torch. You don’t have to be Clockwork Orange-ed into swallowing the horror that is lovingly depicted blood spatter in order to understand someone fully human, with people he loved, violently executed for threatening power on Earth. Walk past any prison, on your way to the altar, and listen to what is said as the ashes are smudged onto your forehead.

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. I didn’t want to explain it to Kick as more than that.

“We get ready for Easter by going to church and thinking about ways to help others,” I said.

That’s enough.

A.

It’s ALL About Money

I look forward to this explanation of how church and “civic life” are entirely divorced from economics because everyone knows you don’t need money to buy, say, land to build your sanctuary on, or textbooks: 

Why do so many people believe that the American dream is no longer within reach? Growing inequality, stubborn pockets of immobility, rising rates of deadly addiction, the increasing and troubling fact that where you start determines where you end up, heightening political strife—these are the disturbing realities threatening ordinary American lives today.

The standard accounts pointed to economic problems among the working class, but the root was a cultural collapse: While the educated and wealthy elites still enjoy strong communities, most blue-collar Americans lack strong communities and institutions that bind them to their neighbors. And outside of the elites, the central American institution has been religion.

That is, it’s not the factory closings that have torn us apart; it’s the church closings. The dissolution of our most cherished institutions—nuclear families, places of worship, civic organizations—has not only divided us, but eroded our sense of worth, belief in opportunity, and connection to one another.

Let’s ignore for a moment three generations of people subjected to a national media narrative driven by a 24-hour propaganda network telling them to feel alienated from modern life, and pretend they arrived at this feeling of alienation independently.

Let’s take this nonsense on its face for a moment because there’s a romanticism to this argument that a lot of people passively watching this guy get interviewed on GMA will find persuasive.

It’s entirely CRAP to say “factory closings” are somehow separate from “church closings” or that the loss of civic institutions isn’t economic. You know what closes a church? MONEY. If people can’t afford to send their kids to the local Catholic school, and can’t put anything in the collection plate, the lights won’t stay on. God may take an IOU but the electric company won’t.

That’s not “morality,” that’s reality.

Morality isn’t just mouthing words at a podium, or bowing your head once a week, or joining a bowling league. Morality is your actions toward others, the way you construct your days, the world you decide to build.

If you build a world without libraries, without schools, without roads and water pipes and snowplows and street sweeping, that will erode the feeling of community connection. If you replace every small music venue with a Starbucks, that will erode the feeling of community connection. If you make seeing a dentist a disaster on par with the car breaking down or your house catching fire, that will erode the feeling of community connection.

If you make it impossible for the elderly to stay in their homes and put decent retirement out of reach. If you stop picking up litter in neighborhoods where people aren’t likely to have time to complain. If you pay people sub-minimum wages so that they have to work two or three jobs and don’t have time to take their kids to the park much less join the damn bowling league.

All of that is immoral. All of that will erode the ties that bind us to one another. I understand the appeal of this argument that modern life sucks so hard because young people would rather be on their phones than attend church services. It lets us all off the hook for the world that we have built, and lets us sit back and judge others as silly and shallow without even once talking to them about how they feel and what they need.

I am happy to have a conversation about the morality of the way we build our lives now. I am beyond thrilled for us to start talking about why our sense of responsibility to one another is disappearing. I would LOVE the chance to explain, on national TV or with a Big 5 book deal, just how it is the world of the middle class disappeared and all the churches closed.

But somehow that conversation is never about money, and it needs to be.

Also? Not for nothing, but the bona fides of this whisperer of the great unwashed?

Timothy P. Carney is the commentary editor at the Washington Examiner and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money and Obamanomics: How Barack Obama is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

I’m sure he’s welcome to move to a small town in Idaho and run their community rec center anytime he likes. Amazing how all these extollers of the virtues of Heartland poverty run zero risk of encountering it in the wild.

A.

It’s Not About the Manger

I read this over the weekend, as we were putting up our Christmas lights and Kick was asking easy-to-answer questions like, “What’s God?” and “WHEN was Jesus born exactly?” and other stuff Mom wasn’t real ready to talk about while shooing the cats off the weird evergreen bush we bought in 4 minutes because the tree lot was really really cold.

I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up—though perhaps it is better to do this now than the week before Christmas, when everything has been carefully prepared. But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case.

I find debates between the religious and the atheist profoundly tiring, much like debates over which version of the afterlife is actually true, because both “sides” of this miss the damn point while they’re yelling at each other about being right. Religion is terrible, people are terrible, blah blah blah are we DONE, can we eat a figgy pudding and watch the Winona Ryder version of Little Women now please? Stop interrogating one of the few nice things we’ve all still got. There’s a way to talk about the harm done in the name of religion that still leaves us room for gingerbread cookies.

There’s no need for a war on Christmas, or over Christmas. In all seriousness, God’s poetry, not prose, and if you try to diagram a sentence on Him you’re gonna wind up pissing both of you off. It’s not about JESUS WAS REALLY BORN IN THE SUMMER, you can yell that at me all you want but it’s not going to stop making me want to lay down and take a nap. It doesn’t let God off the hook to say time doesn’t work for Him the way it does for us, that it’s not so much that He has a plan (He’s absolute shit at planning, worse than the Cylons even) as He doesn’t always think things through. And so we’re left to fill the gaps, with tales we’ve been telling since we were barely not-monkeys, looking up at the unknowable stars.

The story of the Nativity, the story of Christmas, isn’t about a manger. It never was; you’re debunking shadows. Kick has a book about the Nativity that pairs gospel verses with folk art paintings and it’s one of the more effective versions of the story I’ve ever seen: two or three tiny white wooly sheep and their shepherd, against the whole night sky.

I tell her, as we’re hanging lights at 5:30 p.m. and it’s already black as midnight: We do this because it’s dark and we want to let people know we’re awake. If the lights are on, they know we’re up, and they can come to us for help.

I tell her, as we’re putting the Nativity scene out and she’s asking about the Kings, that they brought gifts for the baby Jesus, and that’s why we give gifts at Christmas.

Our religions, our traditions, our holidays, aren’t rooted in fact. They’re rooted in need, the same human need that connects us all the way back to the days of dirt roads and traveling by donkey: A story of grace from unlikely beginnings, the first word of God told to the poor. We told the story about a stable because we needed to know that no matter where we came from, we could be kings.

That story can change without tearing one single bit of it down.

In the Christmas story, Jesus is not sad and lonely, some distance away in the stable, needing our sympathy. He is in the midst of the family, and all the visiting relations, right in the thick of it and demanding our attention. This should fundamentally change our approach to enacting and preaching on the nativity.

That’s the story we need right now: that in a time of violence and fear and otherness, there will be a place for us to rest. A roof over our heads, something soft beneath our bones. That it is humble, doesn’t matter. That it is poor, doesn’t matter. That it doesn’t look like what we think it looks like, that it isn’t the same as the story we’ve been promised, doesn’t matter.

The story is about a baby. About a child. About a king. And about all of us. We forget that, and focus on the inn and the animals, and we lose sight of the star.

A.

Our Ride’s Coming

I was driving through southeastern Wisconsin, past Walker and Steil and Vukmir signs, past “we back the badge” signs in front of subdivided former farmland, when I read the news about yesterday’s shooting. On top of the pipe bombs. On top of “lock her up” and “CNN sucks” and the mindset that anyone who supports the GOP is somehow under siege.

I’ve been saying this for a while, and people keep deliberately not getting it:

Jesus, nobody’s saying leave him in power forever because we’re scared, but we need to be ready for things to get worse if they don’t get better. We need to be ready for things to get worse if they DO get better.

It’ll be really easy for me, middle-class white girl, to pop the champagne if we here in Illinois get rid of our dirtbag MAGA-curious governor and a couple of worthless henchcongressmen. What will be happening, next town over, if they throw out their racist leaders? If the people who’ve been amped up to believe whatever Trump tells them hear that they’re even MORE under attack?

They’ve been wilding out since November of 2016, and that’s when they WON.

And if things don’t go our way? If Trump winds up not checked but fully empowered? What then?

It’s not weakness or cowardice to think about those who are more vulnerable than we are, and pair a thirst for justice with a care for who’s going to be a target of retribution. ESPECIALLY if we’re of the demographic that, let’s say, could blend in at one of these white supremacist rallies being held by THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

Who can we protect? Who must we protect? If we don’t plan for that, we’re delusional.

That’s not fear. That’s responsibility. That’s the very least we owe each other in this.

Shortly after 9/11, when the same people now yelling about DEMONCRAPS were beating up Sikh cab drivers, someone threw a bunch of beer bottles through the windows of a local mosque. It was a small storefront on a busy street, and everyone was scared back then, of praying, or not praying, of wearing hijab in public, of what might happen next.

A group from a nearby church called up a nearby synagogue, and they got a bunch of people together the following Friday. They went to the mosque, Christians and Jews. They joined hands around it, so that those inside could pray safely.

Where will you be, and whose hand will you hold, come tomorrow?

A.

If Jesus had been born in Wisconsin…

On this hallowed Christmas Eve, everyone in my house is pretty much asleep or trying to pretend to be in hopes of getting out of work in preparation for the Wigilla celebration tonight. As my wife and I kind of muttered our way awake, we ended up on a riff about traditions and food and Wisconsin and suddenly, we were into “What if Jesus were born here?” I did my best to document the answers (and augment with a few additional thoughts), so enjoy regardless of your faith, creed or lack thereof:

If Jesus had been born in Wisconsin:

  • He would have been swaddled in a green and gold blanket, cuddled in a Packer onesie and photographed wearing a cheesehead. Like this poor kid.

 

  • The three kings would have shown up last, having been stuck in construction on I-94 and finding out too late that the Illinois toll booths don’t take gold, frankincense and myrrh.

 

  • The little drummer boy would have been replaced by a kid with an accordion playing this little ditty. (“He’s really big in Sheboygan Falls,” my wife added.)

 

  • His middle name would have been “Bart,” “Brett,” “Aaron” or “Vince.”

 

  • Most of the gifts would have come from the Mars Cheese Castle. Curds. Lots and lots of curds.

 

  • Joseph would have been found two hours later at a local tavern, drinking really shitty beer with about a dozen of his new “best friends.” In other news, Blatz would have immediately made a comeback as “The official beer of the birth of our Lord and Savior.”

 

  • He would have been born in June so Christmas didn’t interfere with hunting season or the NFL playoffs.

 

  • He still would be born in a manger, as we have plenty of farmland, but only because the Motel 6 was overbooked.

 

  • Chicagoans would immediately start explaining how the 1985 Bears Superbowl team is somehow better than this.

 

  • Some drunk uncle would have tried to photograph him clutching a Miller Lite can.

 

  • Joseph’s mother would have immediately asked when they plan to have another one. Mary’s mother would have immediately tried to feed everyone who showed up.

 

  • Had he been born on a Friday, two words: Fish Fry. Also, kids would have started bitching, “Do we have to go to church TWICE this week?”

 

 

  • Only about one-fourth of the businesses that use “Packerland” or “Badgerland” to describe their moving companies or HVAC services would have changed to “Saviorland.”

 

  • Christmas Carols would all be polkas.

 

  • The shepherds would have missed the birth because nobody had plowed Highway 41 yet.

 

  • The manger would have been buried under three feet of snow, taking the family about three days to dig out at which point, some old codger would have shown up and said, “Snow? You call this snow? You should have been here for the blizzard of ’47…”

 

Have a great holiday season.

Doc

“our job is to save what we love,” or EVERYBODY TALK TO ME ABOUT STAR WARS AGAIN

I have many thoughts which are not organized into any sort of coherent thing. Deal with it.

Continue reading

My Hill

The plane touched down at O’Hare early Sunday morning, jolting me awake. I looked around to see other passengers in varying states of awareness.

I flipped my phone off airplane mode and noticed I had no messages.

I checked my email quickly. Same thing.

Everything was quiet.

What a difference two years makes.

The last time I touched down on the first leg of a trip back from a college media convention in this metropolis, my life had gone from bad to worse. I had just traded some labor for airfare and a room so I could head to Austin, Texas in hopes of finding salvation for the newspaper I advised. We had been told a week earlier that we were too far in debt for our student government to tolerate, never mind they had no say over our finances or budget. As a result of the SGA’s prodding, an administrator told us that if we didn’t have $5,000 paid off of that debt in less than four months, we might be forced to close.

I found myself at this convention, begging funds from former students and offering services to fellow advisers for donations to the cause.

In one such circumstance, I had been given a tin can with a slot on the top with a simple message: Go beg for life.

So I did. And at that point, I thought it could never get worse.

When I flipped that phone on two years ago, alone and cold on a red-eye flight into the Windy City, the text messages came pouring in like a dam had broken free.

“Check your email.”

“Check in when you get this.”

“OH MY GOD! DID YOU SEE YOUR EMAIL?”

“Can they DO THIS?”

“Where ARE you? Call when you get this…”

On and on it went. I had no idea what was going on, but I checked my email. There it was in black and white: The student government was putting forth a resolution asking me to resign and if I failed to do so, a request that the chancellor fire me.

I called a couple of the kids and talked them off of their various ledges.

It’ll be fine, I told them. Everything is just fine.

Did I believe that? Not for a fucking second, but what could I do? I’m on a plane in Chicago on a Sunday, taxiing to the gate for a two-hour layover before heading to Milwaukee. It really did seem like the beginning of the end for me.

I detailed most of the tumult that followed in this post, aptly titled, “Heroes Often Fail.”

What followed that post was a set of truly dark days, the kind that lead you to question what exactly it is that you’re doing here or why you’re bothering at all.

The one thing that kept me going was what A and I used to say to each other quite often when sussing out some level of student-media bullshit:

“Is this the hill you are willing to die on?”

The odd thing was that we often used that phrase as a deterrent to action. It was a way of saying, “Look, we got bigger fish to fry here, so don’t go all great guns after this stupid thing.”

The answer was always, “No, it’s not. Now, where are we on this other thing…”

As I watched my own staff have to write what should have been my career’s obituary, I could hear her asking me that question. Not “Is this the hill you WANT to die on?” but rather “Is this the hill you’re WILLING to die on?” The distinction being simple but profound: I wanted to live but I would give everything I had if it meant we could win this one and keep this paper alive.

So I stuck with it. I hung in there. I pushed back.

We got through a meeting with what seemed like every administrator in the entire university and we gained ground.

A day later, I got a call from my contact in the area of fundraising. I figured she wanted to see what our next move would be to raise money to help defray the debt. It turned out, an anonymous donor had turned up with a matching-funds challenge grant.

If we were successful in pulling in the entire match, the debt would be gone and we’d have cash to spare.

It was the first miracle in a string of miracle, each one slightly more outlandish than the previous one. We chipped away at the debt a buck at a time, with me pulling in every favor I ever earned, calling in every marker I ever collected and begging every alumnus I ever met.

We rebuilt the staff, refocused our efforts and restructured our funding, in large part thanks to a chancellor who understood that you don’t kill off something valuable just because some little dipshits have a need to feel important.

Two years later, I could afford to take eight kids with me for the trip of a lifetime: A media convention where they earned national awards and learned from incredible pros and advisers. A trip they will never forget as long as they live.

The reason?

One alumnus made a donation to our cause, but asked that if we had money left over after the debt was repaid that we use “his” portion of it to give the students an educational opportunity that linked travel and passion. If the looks on their faces throughout the convention were any indication, we did exactly that.

We have money in the bank and fund-raised cash to boot, all as we expand the paper and improve education. The kids this year, even the most senior among them, only vaguely recall what happened back then. It’s like a bad memory mixed with a foggy dream.

Still, those who went through it remember. I posted a photo of myself to Facebook from the convention and one of those kids who went through hell with me responded:

“No tin can for donations this time?”

No, but I still have that can. It sits on a shelf in my office and I look at it every day.

It’s a reminder of what can happen when you finally find your hill.

I Swear to God We Need You Here

Okay, I’m done with it, Internet.

I’m done yelling at people for promoting their books or celebrating their anniversaries while the world burns.

I’m done telling people to speak up against the regime, against supremacy, against powerlessness, and then shitting on how they do it.

I’m done auditing the marches and critiquing the protests and I’m done judging us for taking a break.

I am done. There is a pool of water in my basement and Kick’s on a sleep strike and writer’s block, turns out, is just what happens when you look at your deadlines and your calendar and cannot FATHOM why you said yes so much. The entire world is on fucking fire and I can’t get angry at how you’re surviving anymore. I don’t have the energy.

Should we all be wearing suits and ties to the marches instead of pussy hats? Should we go to a different protest every night or all make one big protest or are protests over or I don’t give a fuck anymore. Should you post “me too” to identify sexual harassment or assault, or refuse to post “me too” because nobody deserves your story? I turned off Twitter on Friday because it seemed like something I could do and I’m not sorry. You shouldn’t be sorry, either, if you stuck around. Is there a right way to do this? I don’t care anymore. I only care that you are doing this.

None of us, none of us who are in this fight, should be sorry for how we’re fighting. 

It’s redundant, anyway, to be constantly proclaiming this or that action is insufficient. All actions are insufficient. HAVE YOU SEEN THIS SHIT TODAY? (You don’t even have to know what shit I’m referring to; it’s a day ending in Y so there is some truly outrageous bullshit going down for somebody.) Nothing any of us can do is enough, nor will it ever be enough.

I heard all this bellyaching and bitching in Wisconsin after Act 10, that the protests backfired, that truckers should have gone on strike, that a recall was a bad idea, that fighting for public unions was dumb, that people should have done this that or the other thing and all any of that Wednesday Morning Campaign Managing did was piss off people who put their goddamn bodies on the line. We can argue strategy just like we do after every single loss but can we please stop the carping and the throwing ourselves on the ground all THIS IS BETTER THAN A PROTEST? There’s never gonna be a perfect way to do this.

I went out Saturday night in the torrential rain to listen to music in a tiny dark bar with about 50 other people, every last one yelling along with the last line of this song:

Most of the time I am just breathless with admiration at anyone who can be that alive, right now especially.

You should dance if that’s how you fight back. You should sing if that’s how you fight back. You should march if that’s how you fight back. You should write if that’s how you fight back. You should get up every day and go to work and try to be a decent human being if that’s how you fight back, and you should be angry and joyous and celebratory and mournful. You should check out occasionally. You should never check out. You should feel yourself a part of the life in this godforsaken place whether you’re shouting from the rooftops or whispering in the dark. You should sing to your gods with whatever voice you have. You should use your silences to speak. You should never be silent.

The only thing that’s enough is if everybody is enough. I’m done being angry with people for being alive in this, however they have to be alive. Know that nothing is wasted. Know you’re enough.

A.

Memento Mori

I was sitting in my basement early this week, sorting through the dozens of things I had to do when my wife came down to add one more:

“Do you have anything you’re doing this weekend?” she asked.

I tried not to flinch as I tried to answer in a vague way that would allow me somehow get out of whatever she was about to ask me to build, fix, move or buy while still not admitting I wanted a free weekend.

“I’m not sure right now. Why?”

“There’s that benefit at the park for Jacob…”

Jacob is a 9-year-old boy I’ve written about here before, who has lived through two bouts of brain cancer . We bought his family’s home a few years back and had such trouble doing it, I honestly thought I was going to lose my mind. (Turns out, it was a shitty real estate agent on both ends and we ended up becoming more than friendly with the whole family.) The family moved into a home up the block and he would often stop by to play with The Midget. We still run the occasional stray letter or package for them that lands on our doorstep over to their house.

Now, he has leukemia and some friends are putting on a benefit this weekend for him. It includes a golf outing, food in the town park and a series of raffles. There are silent auctions, T-shirt sales and other similar things happening to raise money to help his family pay what have to be astronomical medical bills.

Fucking cancer…

I learned a long time ago while publishing a study in a journal of thanatology that I was an “instrumental griever.” The term came from the attempt to de-gender the idea of what had previously been deemed “masculine” and “feminine” grieving behaviors. Intuitive (formerly feminine) grievers deal with death, sadness and loss through things like crying, wailing and emotional expression. Instrumental (formerly masculine) grievers feel the need to “do something” even if that “something” has no hope of actually fixing the problem. People talk about instrumental grievers starting a MADD or SADD chapter after losing a child in a drunken-driving accident or carving a tombstone/memorial to commemorate the departed. The idea is that we act, even in the face of overwhelming odds that what we do won’t matter worth a pinch of shit of a difference. We’re not going to stand there with thumbs in our asses just waiting to “take it” from whatever is fucking with us.

Twenty minutes after I learned of all this, I was tearing through my basement, looking for things I could donate. I found the Facebook page for this event and discovered they were taking “silent auction baskets” to help raise money. What I saw was really nice stuff but most of it had a similar vibe: Cooking stuff, food stuff, grilling stuff, some lottery stuff… I figured some sports stuff might make for a nice complement to this, so messaged the folks in charge and asked if they were still taking donations.

They were, so there I went… The instrumental griever on a mission.

I started with the idea of one thing and ended up putting together four baskets of stuff: A collection of Packer items, one of Brewer items, one of “man cave” items and one a labor of love. The Mitchell and Ness Bart Starr jersey I always wanted but never wore? Fuck it. It’s in there. The autographs I gathered at the Lombardi open from Packer hall of famers? In the fucking box. The autographed football I had from somewhere? In there. The Max McGee autographed card I scored somehow? Tossed in without a second thought.

A Bob Uecker autograph that forced me to run across a golf course and wait for him to give enough of a shit to let his bouncer let me ask? Yep. Brewer Box. Autographed Gorman Thomas ball? Somebody’s gotta want that. The Robin Yount Rookie Card in about a two-inch-thick bulletproof plastic case? In there. Cards, posters, pennants, game-worn jersey card… I just kept adding to it. I yanked one of my newest neon signs off the wall and carefully walked it up to the truck. I tucked it next to the giant NFL Coors light mirror.

Then, I built a binder full of all my favorite refinishing projects and topped it off with a “gift certificate” for me to fully refinish ANY item somebody wanted me to rework. I don’t care if it’s a chair or great grandma’s fully dining room set. You win the bid, you make me your bitch. I once told my buddy Matt about wanting to do this for some sort of charity thing and he asked, “Don’t you worry that someone is going to make you redo something ridiculously large and it’ll cost you a ton?” Nope. Don’t give a shit. You got the cash, you win the bid, you get the job you want done. I did put in a caveat about pianos and wooden floors, as I’m not moving either of those, but for the most part, you get what you want.

Just help this kid…

I spent last weekend at a card show where I added yet another half-dozen bobbleheads to my already ridiculously huge bobblehead collection. Until I heard about Jacob, I had planned to spend the weekend trying to build some scaffolding to hold more of those damned things in my office. Now, it feels borderline pointless. What sits in my mind is not flipping furniture or going rummaging, but this image in my mind of his round, little face. The thick glasses, the almost impish smile. The superhero T-shirts he wears and how he’d march up the driveway while I was working on something or other and ask if my kid could come out and play.

I still see him and his folks last Halloween. He came dressed as Harry Potter. His tiny sibling, still in a stroller, was dressed as Hedwig. He had been feeling better that year. I threw as much candy as I could into their buckets until his folks basically made me stop.

I’m torn daily between between two wildly swinging emotional states:

  1. Persistent workaholic urgency. I have this almost guttural urge to do something, anything more to help these people and make this kid’s life somehow a little better. My baskets of shit aren’t going to cure cancer or make him better. I know that. And yet, here I am trying to figure out something else I can do that will. My wife gets it: She’s thinking about how she can make “freezer dinners” for their family so they don’t have to cook and can still have nice meals. We have to do SOMETHING.
  2. Blind visceral rage. I hate politics so much because it always feels like emotionally detached deities playing chess. The pawn doesn’t bleed or cry when you sacrifice it for something else. The rook doesn’t know it will die in three moves because you chose for that to happen.
    But guess what, assholes? The people you serve AREN’T FUCKING CHESS PIECES. We’re in the middle of yet one more attempt to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” this one even worse than the last one. Why? Because we said we would, that’s why? What’s in the bill? We don’t know, but what we have is “like Thelma and Louise” going off a cliff, so this has to be better. How do you know that? Have you read this thing? No.
    This kid is 9 years old and is basically one giant pre-existing condition. I’m sure he’s not the only one out there like this. I have no idea how Jacob’s insurance works, but if any single kid like Jacob gets fucked over just so you, Mr or Ms. Congress-critter, can say you “won” and defeated the evil Obama-Kenyan-Socialist, you need to be on the back end of Ezekiel 25:17.

This uncertain brevity of life has always scared me. Funerals make me twitch. Terminal illness horrifies me. Even though I’m a Catholic and I have that “whole better place” waiting on me (I hope), I hate change and the unknown. I’m basically Jack Burton in a a fucking elevator: In the midst of magic, afterlife and the unknown descending upon me, I’d rather climb up a three-story elevator cable because it’s real and I can touch it.

If you feel the same way, please give this page a look . Jacob deserves all the help he can get right now, whether it fixes the problems of the world or not.

One more wedge play for Jerry Kramer

He had been screamed at by a relentless tyrant in front of his peers. All it did was make his mistakes multiply in hot August sun that burned brightly above the training camp field.

The NFL was not a place for the weak back then, and coaches were gods among men, the deities who controlled the future of these mortals. This man in particular, Vince Lombardi, had gained near mythic status as he used a domineering style to reshape the failing Green Bay Packers into a winning machine.

The player had jumped off sides during one drill and missed a block in another. Lombardi screamed the “Concentration Lecture” at him:

“The concentration period of a college student is five minutes, in high school it’s three minutes, in kindergarten it’s 30 seconds. And you don’t even have that, mister. So where does that put you?”

After practice, the player sat dejected in front of his locker, his future uncertain, his talent unsure. Lombardi entered the room and went right to him. The man braced for another set of insults and attacks. Instead, Lombardi gently slapped him on the back of the neck and said, “Son, one of these days, you are going to be the best guard in all of football.”

From that moment on, Jerry Kramer often said, his motor was always running, his body filled with energy and his goal set before him in the words of his immortal coach: Be the best guard in all of football.

When Kramer’s career was over, Lombardi’s prediction had become fact. Five times he was an NFL champion, two times he was a Super Bowl champion. He earned five first-team All-Pro honors and had been placed on the all-decade team for the 1960s. He was named one of the two guards for the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team.

He also threw the most famous block in NFL history: The 31 Wedge play that sealed Jethro Pugh and allowed Bart Starr to sneak the Packers to an Ice Bowl victory.

If one blemish remains on his resume, it is one that lies at the feet of lesser men who somehow never got around to seeing what Lombardi saw. For years, Kramer watched his teammates on those legendary Packer teams get called to Canton, enshrined as Hall of Famers for all time. Eleven players from that era are in the hall, including two of Kramer’s line mates, Jim Ringo and Forrest Gregg.

Each year, Kramer figured he’d be next. Each year, he was denied.

Conspiracy theories abounded from the idea of having too many Lombardi Packers in the hall to the idea that Kramer was not that good himself, but rather the beneficiary of greatness around him. Some said the gods of the hall don’t like to admit when they are wrong, so it has become a waiting game to see who gives first.

For some reason, organizations like this seem to “undo” their mistakes only after the players have died. It seems more “legendary,” I guess, to deify those who aren’t here anymore. The NFL did it to Ken Stabler. MLB did it to Ron Santo. It’s a sad statement of what happens when politics trumps common sense.

Kramer is 81 years old and has made the finalists list once again, this time as a “senior finalist.” I’ve gotten to meet him several times over the years and he has always been kind, patient and generous. People have introduced him as a “Hall of Famer” before, something he politely corrects or works around by noting something like, “Yep, I’m in the Packer Hall of Fame.” He has also slowed down considerably, the ache of age and multiple surgeries shrinking a man who stood as a giant during the game’s golden era.

How we measure a person comes down to what they do when everything is on the line and they have nothing left to give. With no time outs and only 16 seconds left in the Ice Bowl, Bart Starr turned to him in that frigid huddle and asked, “Can you get your footing for one more wedge play?” Kramer, frozen and battered, said he could and made sure his quarterback and coach were not made a fool.

This year will be the 50th anniversary of that Ice Bowl block. Somebody needs to gird up and throw a block for Jerry Kramer.

He shouldn’t have to sneak into the Hall. He should be able to walk right in.

A Golden Anniversary Explained

Fifty years ago tomorrow, two scared 20-somethings gathered with family and friends in a cathedral-esque church on the south side of Milwaukee to pledge their lives to one another. Her father thought the man wasn’t good enough for his daughter. His father thought the woman was far too strident and interested in a career to be a good wife.

Nobody, least of all these two kids, knew if they’d make it, if they’d be OK.

Still, there they were in front of a three story slab of pink and white marble with a giant crucifix, saying they would live together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death shall they part. When they emerged onto a set of concrete stairs that led to East Plankinton Avenue and slipped into a borrowed 1965 Plymouth Roadrunner, they were on the way to the rest of their lives.

Husband and wife.

Mr. and Mrs.

A married couple.

The fact that my mom and dad remain married and relatively happy often amazes me, given that almost everyone I knew as a kid had divorced or miserable parental units. When they fought or yelled, I never once thought, “Wow, this is the end.” Things would calm down, peace with honor would emerge and life would move on.

When I considered marriage, I asked them how they made it work. “What keeps you together, even when things are bad or when you are really pissed?” I would ask. Neither of them could really put a finger on it, so I kind of “observed a lot by watching,” to quote the late Yogi Berra.

Here’s what I figure makes them tick:

See the problem, fix the problem: My parents had a very “work the problem” approach to life when it came to the day-in, day-out stuff that confronts married people. When they realized they were often broke early in their marriage, the looked at where the money went. Granted, there wasn’t a lot to go around, but they were able to find a couple things that ate into their budget. On Sundays, they’d get the newspaper, look through the circulars and go to the store to buy “a bargain.” Turned out, they tended to not need the stuff they bought and it cut into other things they did need, so they stopped going to the store. The same thing was true for groceries, linens and other things. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it just because you think you should.

 

Commit to it: Promises and commitments ran deep in our household. Dad loves to tell the story about how he and Mom would make envelopes for all the monthly expenses and put their pay into those envelopes. Whatever was left over was for fun, and usually that wasn’t much. Still, they found a process that worked for keeping the lights on and the rent paid, so they committed to it.

They also stuck to the commitments regardless of if they were positive or negative. When they said, “We’re doing X,” I knew we were doing it. That’s how I ended up getting to see my first Brewers game, even though it was on a Friday night, in the heat of a pennant race and on bat day. It was the worst game to attend for traffic, crowds and generally everything else my dad hated. Still, he committed to it. Same was true with punishments. When I got caught for speeding, he and Mom agreed I lost car privileges for a month. That meant he had to drive me to and from after-school commitments and I had to take the bus to school, which cut into other plans. It sucked as much for them as it did for me (or at least sort of), but they stuck with it because they said so.

 

Have a united front: Agreement wasn’t always the first word that came to mind when it came to my parents. They argue about half of everything, from what we should do for dinner to who was the lady who ran the corner store on Packard Avenue in the 1950s. However, when they had to make a decision about something important, they never threw one another under the bus. This made life difficult for me as a child, since you couldn’t play Mom off of Dad. Whenever I screwed up badly enough that life and limb became a potential punishment, they would send me to my room and talk things over. When they figured out what they were going to do to me, they both came and told me. Together. At the same time. No bullshit.

 

No grudges: Even with the arguments, I never saw them hold a grudge. Whatever arguments happened before bed were settled before the kiss goodnight. In the morning, life moved on. I imagine that over 50 years of marriage, there could be plenty of the “Y’know in 1978, that thing you did REALLY pissed me off” conversations that could emerge on any given day. They never did. It was, “OK, what’s next?”

 

Laugh: Humor, even some truly crude stuff, always flowed through the house. If Dad wasn’t telling a bad joke, he was telling a weird story. Mom always found humor in the dumb things her students did that day and loved to share with the family. I spent my allowance on joke books, trying to find the one joke that neither of them had heard before but would still make them laugh.

In some of our darkest hours, humor became the thing that kept us going. I remember when Dad’s mom died, something that hit us out of the blue. We never saw it coming. It was the first time I ever saw my father really cry. I wondered if he would ever snap back from this or if his whole sense of being would merely crumble away. The funeral home was a hatchet-job of a place that charged him in advance for everything, going so far as to interrupt the visitation to tell my dad his credit card wasn’t going through. They charged him time and a half for everything done on Saturday as well. We drove in silence from the funeral home to the cemetery, passing by the very spot along the road where my grandmother would be interred. Dad looked over past me, out my window and took a deep breath. I was waiting for him to come up with some deep, dark sense of mortality and love. Instead, he muttered, “They better’ve dug that fucking hole already if they’re charging me time and a half for it.”

After that, I knew he’d be OK.

Saturday marks 50 years of marriage for two of the most incredible people I know. They always knew to talk and to listen to one another, even if they didn’t fully understand or agree. However, when it came to a vow renewal, they both saw this as something to behold.

Thus, they will once again be in that church, standing in front of that giant slab of marble, pledging their love to one another. They will be surrounded by the family and friends who remain, telling each other and anyone who will listen that they will stay together, through good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do they part.

One thing that is different now, however, is they already know they’re going to be just fine.

Even For Politico This Is So Gross: Happy Easter!

This isn’t how God works: 

President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court Justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids.

That … isn’t finding religion. It’s finding a sales pitch.

For, let us be clear, war, war and more war.

“I’ve always felt the need to pray,” Trump said in that late-January interview. “The office is so powerful that you need God even more because your decisions are no longer, ‘Gee I’m going to build a building in New York.’ … These are questions of massive, life-and-death.”

FAITH IS NOT FIRE INSURANCE. You do not get to torch the place and be like, “Well, I prayed about it.” This is why I find so much born-again rhetoric bankrupt. There’s no such thing as a clean slate.

“I believe the weight of the office that he now holds and the burden of responsibility that it carries is humbling him somewhat and causing him to acknowledge and admit his reliance on God,” said Darrell Scott, an Ohio pastor who has known Trump for six years and supported Trump’s campaign and served on his transition team.

FAITH IS ALSO NOT A BOOTY CALL. (Says the girl who frequently Sees Other Deities yet winds up outside church with a boombox over her head every December blaring O Come O Come Emanuel, but I’m me, and not the president, and I’ve never claimed to be anything but a sinner who does not expect forgiveness.)

The White House did not respond to questions about whether Trump has been attending church as president, and if he has, it has been without the knowledge of White House pool reporters.

Still, Trump’s frequent invocations of God in his remarks as of late are a change from both his past life as a businessman and his time on the campaign trail.

So he hasn’t been going to church (which, let’s be fair, no more makes you a Christian than pulling into the garage makes you a car), he’s pursued policies of war and suffering and exclusion (which actually SHOULD disqualify you from from the Flock), but he’s USING MOAR JESUS WORDS HERE ARE A THOUSAND POLITICO ANALYSIS THINGS.

I hate our political journalism right now.

A.

Sitting Political Shiva

I started following the Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s Twitter feed during their last general election. As you may recall, the polls were wrong about that one too. An interesting link popped up on their feed:

I posted the tweet because Haaretz recently went behind a paywall with no free stories and Chrome’s incognito feature did not work. Oy, just oy.

I’m an agnostic who was raised Greek-Orthodox but most of my mother’s bridge playing and real estate cronies were Jewish, so I learned about sitting shiva as a child.  I remember going with her to Mrs. Rosenberg’s house when her husband died.  Mrs. Rosenberg was the Holocaust survivor I’ve written about before.  I didn’t even complain about going because Mrs. R and I had a mutual admiration society. She remains one of my heroes. She was also as funny as hell. I’m convinced that I learned the essence of black comedy from her. It’s the Shoah survivor’s ethos: nothing will ever be as bad as what they went through, in her case at Treblinka.

Just in case some of you don’t know what I’m talking about here’s a definition of shiva:

Shiva is the week long period of mourning following a loved one’s death. During this time, family members traditionally gather in one home to receive visitors. The word “shiva” means seven, signifying the seven day mourning period in which mourners are supposed to sit low to the ground.

When I saw the headline, I realized that I had metaphorically sat shiva all day Wednesday. For many of us, Hillary Clinton’s loss felt like a death in the family. If it doesn’t to you, please have some respect for those of us who are mourning. We’re sitting political shiva.

I spent the day trading messages with friends on social media and via text. One close friend works at an oil company and had to deal with triumphant Trumpers. He described the people of color at his firm as looking like they expected deportation or worse at any moment. I cannot blame them. Some of Dr. A’s med students came to her in tears yesterday. That gives me hope for the future of the medical profession.

I checked in with two dear friends in the afternoon. One of whom’s four-year old daughter was upset because the mean man beat the nice lady. It’s a pity that so many so-called grown ups couldn’t see what a child can and elected a goniff. That’s Yiddish for a thief, dishonest person, or scoundrel. That fits the Insult Comedian to a T.

After undergoing First Draft therapy by writing The Fearful Country and sitting virtual political shiva, Dr. A and I attended a Krewe meeting. Most of my Krewe mates looked as if they had slept precious little. I certainly did. Some of us had planned to suggest alternative election related themes but the Krewe wanted to develop a previously discussed theme. And that’s okay. The desire to move on from a trauma is understandable. The non-Krewe business conversation was about the election and how upset everyone was. The d word came up in the conversation: Devastated. The evening was a combination of sitting shiva and an Irish wake.

I sat next to my Spank protege who prefers to call me her Spank daddy. She converted to Judaism when she married. We talked about our mutual horror at how many forms of bigotry had been normalized by the Insult Comedian and his deplorable followers. The previously unspoken has been spoken. Loudly. Anti-Semitism has never left us but it’s back in its most virulent form since the 1940’s. An example of that is this:

That’s right, Kristallnacht took place on November 9-10 in 1938. America just elected a candidate who ran an anti-Semitic campaign. David Duke is celebrating with an exuberant, Heil, Trump. Yet another reason we’re sitting political shiva.

The mood on social media yesterday ranged from solemn to vengeful. The Trumpers were attacking perfect strangers for their supposed imperfections. One friend received hate messages from people who objected to a white chick being married to a black guy. This was deeply upsetting to me as they’re one of the sweetest couples I know. We’re also sitting shiva for the death of civility.

I had to deal with some vestigial Dudebros who wanted to say I told you so. I invited them to a “block party” but have no idea why they decided to crawl out of the woodwork. Actually, I do: everything has been normalized by the electoral college victory of the Insult Comedian. Btw, he’s attacked the electoral college in the past, now he loves it. Typical.

I think that the time for what ifs is down the road. I am skeptical that Sanders would have done better but I’m not certain about that. I do know that the stench of anti-Semitism was all over this election and a septuagenarian Jewish socialist would have felt it as well as incessant red baiting. Shorter Adrastos, I don’t know for sure and neither does anybody else. I am, however, not attacking individuals I disagree with on the internet. It’s called keyboard courage. Instead, I’m sitting political shiva.

My theory of what happened is a simple one. After a bruising primary campaign, Hillary Clinton had a great convention, won the debates, took a solid, steady lead and then came the first Comey letter. It depressed Democratic turnout and she lost the electoral vote but won the popular vote. The election was decided by James Comey, Rudy Giuliani, and the MSM’s sporadic attention to Trump’s scandals with an assist from Wikileaks, Russian intelligence, and the alt-right. Trump’s electoral vote victory has mainstreamed the latter. That’s another reason we’re sitting political shiva.

The Trumpers are already acting vengeful towards their enemies. The cartoon villain’s cartoon lackey, Omarosa, is openly discussing an enemies list. That’s right, a person who’s best known as a hiss-provoking reality show villain will have influence in the next administration. I wonder who will be Propaganda Minister: Bannon or Conway?

The awfulness of this election will endure for the next four years. Tolerance, mutual respect, and common decency were dealt a terrible, but not fatal, blow in 2016. Many of us are still reeling and that’s why we’re sitting political shiva. We need to grieve before we can move on.

The aftermath of this horrendous year and dreadful election result reminds me of what some New Orleanians did on Inauguration Day in 2005. We held a Jazz Funeral for Democracy to mourn Bush’s second term complete with brass bands and a horse-drawn bier. We did not know that disaster would come our way in a mere seven months. Here are two of Dr. A’s pictures of that march through downtown New Orleans:

17542083463_89731019e2

17539881704_f0a0986a64

I hadn’t seen that Flickr photo album for years. The second picture made me smile. The gent in the top hat and tails is-not Fred Astaire-my old friend Bob Smith. He’s more likely to be seen in a kilt now but I know he’s grieving over what happened this week. We all mourn the passing of someone/something special in our own way: from jazz funerals to demonstrations to wakes to sitting shiva. Me, I’m sitting political shiva this week.

Back to the Jazz Funeral for Democracy. 2016 is one of the worst years in our nation’s history but so was 2005. Remember, we elected Barack Obama four years after Bush narrowly defeated John Kerry. We as a people should not have to go through this but we do. And that is why this gentile is sitting political shiva.

A fart in church

One of the best parts about writing for this blog is the diversity of thought and experience of the readership. That’s not me blowing smoke. It’s true. I have found that I learned a lot about my own position on this big blue rock from hearing of the positions of others here than I learned anywhere else. Agreement, disagreement, whatever. It comes down to people coming at an idea I have from a variety of angles.

Never more is this true than in the field of religion, where not only do people come from various faiths, but various positions on faith, spirituality, organized religion and other “not for me, but do what you dig” ideologies. So this piece isn’t as much about me offering thought as me asking for the sounding board to bounce thoughts to me.

I spent a dozen years in Catholic school and remain a semi-regular participant in the ritual that is Saturday/Sunday mass. My kid is in Year Six of the schooling and gets more of that at home from my mother-in-law, who spent her whole life as an educator of the faith and a pretty “hardline Catholic” (if such a thing exists). My parents are active in the church back home: Dad’s an usher, Mom does the readings. They still attend the same church they got married in almost 50 years ago.

So that’s the set up for what happened two weeks ago as I took Mom to church on a Saturday afternoon when I was in town for our other religious ritual: The monthly baseball card show.

The new priest we got (we seem to be going through them at a fairly brisk pace) isn’t the world’s most likeable man. He met me for the first time about a month ago and noticed that I had lost a lot of hair as he had at some point in his life. “I like your haircut,” he said as he laughed.

Thanks, Father.

The bigger “problem” is that the man is hearing impaired, which makes him difficult to understand. To that end, he has his own personal deacon who does a lot of the talking for him, including the homily.

For those uninitiated in the faith, a deacon is a layman (all men still. My faith needs to grow up.) who serves as kind of a “caddy” for the priest. I’m sure some of them are decent people, but I’ve yet to meet one. My experience with deacons is that they are power-hungry, self-important assholes who believe that God has chosen them to fill the role. This man is like an Alpha Deacon in that regard. He has created rules that prohibit church members from approaching the altar during certain parts of the mass. He forbids readers to sit up front, which means they have to walk up to do the reading, walk back after the reading and then walk back to do the second reading. All of this makes no sense, as most readers are in their 70s and are lucky to be walking at all.

Above all else, however, this guy has that “presence” about him: Holier-than-thou. Smug. A Chosen One. He also looks like Ben from the Dilbert cartoons.

silverhair

So all of this conspired to let the priest give Deacon Dickhead the mic for the homily at mass two weeks ago.

My mother kind of captured my thoughts on what the homily should be for me: “I go there to feel better,” she said. “I want something that makes me feel inspired or at least like I shouldn’t feel bad about something that is happening in my life.”

I agree. Even if it’s a little more toward the fire-and-brimstone side, it can be helpful and inspiration.

The readings were good ones: Moses holding up his arms with the staff of God helps his people win a battle, but as he grew tired, his arms fell. When his arms fell, the opposition had the better of the battle. Thus, two guys gave him a place to sit and held up his arms for him. The Gospel was similarly about getting by with a little help from your friends. (I don’t complicate my faith, I guess…) Thus, I’m looking forward to a good bit of preaching, even given this guy’s limited capabilities.

Instead, I got a political lesson.

The guy got up there and started talking about the election and how neither candidate was good, but one of them was going to make it easier for people to get abortions and we can’t have that. He told some story about Hillary Clinton not clapping for Mother Theresa. He then told this “real story” about a guy who died:

A guy feels sick and goes to the doctor. He finds out he has a virulent strain of cancer that despite every effort, he can’t overcome.

He dies and meets God. “God,” he says. “Why do we have something horrible like cancer? Why can’t you send us a cure for cancer?”

“My child,” God replies. “I did send you a cure for cancer. But she was aborted because her mother wanted a boy.”

At the end of this horseshit, people broke out in applause.

In church.

During mass.

Did I mention we’re Catholic, where we don’t pretty much get jacked up about anything during church?

I could feel my field of vision narrowing and my head pounding as I saw a woman two pews up clapping like it was a Trump rally. I looked over at my mother who was just silent, so I had a hard time getting a feel from her about this.

When communion came (or as my kid once noted, “That time where you go up and get a cookie from the priest), Deacon Dickhead was running my line. I was torn between three actions:

  1. Stay put, take the thing, don’t embarrass mom
  2. Cut across the aisle to the other line, likely create a small scene, but feel better
  3. Stay put and when he says, “Body of Christ” respond with “Fuck you you fucking fuck” and then take a swing at the guy. Larger scene, but probably worth it once in a lifetime.

I went with the first one because it was my parents’ church and I didn’t want to bring shame on the family. I did the perfectly Catholic thing: I sucked it up and took it. At the end of mass, the priest made a point of complimenting the deacon and people applauded again. I wanted to tell them both to fuck off and die. I remained politely Catholic.

On the way to the car, I began with the “So…” line, only to have my mother start railing against this like she was Regan in “The Exorcist.” Certain words don’t sound natural coming out of the mouth of a 70-year-old woman on her way out of church.

Mom found them all.

It got so bad, she forced my father to avoid that topic of discussion at dinner, a meal that was accompanied by a big jolt of wine.

I spent the rest of that week bitching up a storm in my head. Separation of Church and State. Self-righteous prick. Use open records and FOIA the shit out of everything he ever did and hope he had a sexual rap battle with Ken Bone.

I still don’t know why this is eating at me so much. It’s not like the church ever would be in the “Do what you do, just don’t get any on me” kind of thing when it came to anything sex-based. I never imagined my faith to be OK with life not beginning when a man unhooked the woman’s bra. What is it about this one speech that really pissed me off?

Part of it was the messenger, I’m sure. I dislike people who enjoy talking the talk but have never been forced to walk the walk. I also dislike people who cling to false stereotypes of people that serve as strawmen for their bullshit. I REALLY don’t like bullies and this guy is one of those as well. He’s basically an asshole fondue of everything I hate, so I get that.

Part of it was the venue. When I’m watching a baseball game and I get a commercial for Trump or Ron Johnson or Viagra (all equally helpful in getting old angry white guys hard), I’m not thrilled, but it comes with the territory. I also know that my faith tells me God is supposed to be everywhere, and if you watched the ALCS, you know he’s with me when the Indians are playing. Still, when I’m in His house, I’m not watching commercials on my phone, so I’m thinking I’m safe from this shit.

Maybe there’s another part of me that has allowed me to kind of compartmentalize my faith into areas of agreement and areas I ignore. When I’m forced to confront those things I like to keep in the trunk of the car, it really irritates me. I don’t know.

What I do know is that for all the trouble this faith is having in keeping people engaged, pissing off one of the few people in that joint under the age of 70 isn’t a great idea.

Thus, I leave you with the questions that have bothered me: Is this a big deal? Am I overreacting? What should I do?

A Place to Rest in Their Own Damn Country

We are unkind, right now: 

There are relatively few dedicated Muslim cemeteries around the country, so many Muslim communities use sections of other cemeteries to bury their dead.

In Dudley, the proposal from the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester has been met with angry comments at local meetings.

“You want a Muslim cemetery? Fine. Put it in your backyard, not mine,” Daniel Grazulis said during a zoning meeting in February, drawing a round of applause.

Jason Talerman, a lawyer for the Islamic Society, said he believes the opposition is rooted in Islamophobia.

“They like to say it under the guise of, ‘Oh, we’re just trying to protect our water supply,’ but it’s thinly veiled,” he said.

Desiree Moninski, who lives across the street from the site, once farmed by her grandparents, said she and other opponents have legitimate concerns that have nothing to do with Islam.

“I grew up here. It’s farmland, and I’d like to see it stay that way,” she said.

How do you get so broken that y0u would deny the dead a resting place because … seriously, what do you think, that when the vampires all rise up the Muslim ones will be more dangerous than WASP Nosferatu? Like they’ll be terrorist dead bodies? FFS. What do you get out of yelling at a town meeting about something like this?

A.

Laborare est Orare

CVRCFgaUwAEk03l

Yes. Yes a thousand times.

Every time something like this happens, I dread the platitudes, the “prayers up!” messages, the ways in which we’ve made faith into some kind of dodge that makes us good people. Like if we think and pray, that gets us out of something. Like that’s what we have to do.

It’s insulting, and not just to people for whom prayer is talking to an imaginary, ridiculous friend.

It’s insulting to people for whom prayer is a real act of faith. It’s insulting to people for whom prayer is critical, is active and purposeful and rooted in moving the world forward.

Prayer is not mouthing of memorized words with hands folded before bedtime. Prayer is not “thank you for Grandma and my pony and my plastic rocket.” Prayer is not “please God let it not rain on circus day.” Prayer is not even “please God, let me live.” Prayer is not a never-ending, whiny wish list directed upward at an unknowable, unanswering deity.

Prayer is directed at other people.

Prayer is getting up every day before dawn, and baking bread.

Prayer is delivering letters in the pre-dawn light of early winter.

Prayer is lending a neighbor a shovel when there’s a blizzard. Prayer is bringing a snowed-in neighbor some food.

Prayer is digging a well where there is no water. Prayer is planting a crop where there is no food. Prayer is doing the dishes. Prayer is holding the baby. Prayer is laundry. Prayer is standing on a factory line and repeating the same task over and over and over and over for 20 years, until your hands and your knees and your hearing are gone, and all you have left to pray for is the drive home, the lunchbox your spouse packed sitting full on the seat next to you because you didn’t have time for a break.

Prayer is sweeping the front porch.

Prayer is poetry, too, but poetry meant to spur action: Singing to a god of the glory of its creation, calling others to that glory, using the only voice a poet has to bring people together for a common purpose. Prayer does something.

Prayer is love, and love is work, or it is nothing. Anyone can sing a song.

And prayer like that has moved mountains and it has built cities and it has brought the walls of Jericho down. Prayer like that would take the events of today and shake the foundations of this country until our fear-mad politics and our angry, resentful culture came tumbling down, too. Prayer like that would pass laws. Prayer like that would make this one the last one.

So when we say our prayers are with the victims of a crime, we’d better mean our backs are bent to work to help them, or we’re not talking about our prayers.

A.

Today On Bad Idea Theatre: Pope Frank & Yelp For People

We begin with the first major gaffe of  Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s papacy. Here’s Charlie Pierce’s hot take on it:

The big news today seems to be that Kim Davis, the goldbricking county clerk from Kentucky, met secretly with Papa Francesco in Washington and that he endorsed her current status as a faith-based layabout. Given this pope’s deft gift for strategic ambiguity and shrewd public relations, it’s hard for me to understand how he could commit such a hamhanded blunder as picking a side in this fight. And it’s odd that he (or someone) sought to publicize it through an American media entity that is not wholly sympathetic to his papacy. Inside The Vatican, the e-newsletter that broke the story, is edited by Robert Moynihan, a 79-year old whose patron was Benedict XVI.

 God, the crowing from the Right is going to be deafening. Everything he said about capitalism and about the environment is going to be drowned out because he wandered into a noisy American culture-war scuffle in which one side, apparently the one he picked, has a seemingly ceaseless megaphone for its views. What a fcking blunder. What a sin against charity, as the nuns used to say.

I think it was a bad idea but it’s not breaking news that Pope Frank isn’t a fan of marriage equality. He opposed it while Cardinal of Bueno Aires. I don’t think it’s cause for an emotional meltdown by liberals. That’s what the Right wants. I’m not playing their game.

I was also one of the people who thought people were getting carried away by the papal visit. Kindly Doc Maddow was convinced that the “radical” pope would change American politics. Why? I have no idea. Pope John Paul’s early trips to America were the cause of just as much acclaim and hype. I’m not aware that his visits changed American politics for good or ill.

If you’ve collapsed on to your fainting couch just remember: Pope Frank hasn’t changed his positions on poor people, capital punishment, and the environment. He just met with a Protestant non-entity from Podunk. That’s it.

I’ll give Billy Wilder and Izzy Diamond the last word of this segment:

 The other bad idea of the day is this one:

You can already rate restaurants, hotels, movies, college classes, government agencies and bowel movements online.

So the most surprising thing about Peeple — basically Yelp, but for humans — may be the fact that no one has yet had the gall to launch something like it.

When the app does launch, probably in late November, you will be able to assign reviews and one- to five-star ratings to everyone you know: your exes, your co-workers, the old guy who lives next door. You can’t opt out — once someone puts your name in the Peeple system, it’s there unless you violate the site’s terms of service. And you can’t delete bad or biased reviews — that would defeat the whole purpose.

I’d prefer to be unlisted on Peeple but if you must rate me, lie and give me 5 stars. I wonder if Jude is going to petition Peeple and demand recognition of his awesomeness. Stranger things have happened…

That concludes today’s edition of Bad Idea Theatre. I should, however. mention something that’s a helluva good idea: supporting our anthology Kickstarter. There are worse ways to spend your money like this papal pizza box:

Papal Pizza Box

Talk about a bad idea. Time to make like a Philadelphian: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Everyone In Their Own Box: Pope Francis and U.S. Politics

We should listen to our spiritual leaders, always, unless they’re advocating something that would take us out of power, in which case they should just talk nonsense like angels and blessings and “prayers up” and shit:

Still, some of those who were listening took issue with his reference to issues Congress considers in its purview, such as climate change. Inhofe, a leading voice denying climate change exists, says that programs to control carbon emissions would hurt the poor with rising energy costs more than they would save the planet.

And Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., warns that the pope might have overstepped the rhetorical wall between church and state.

“The further religious leaders get into the details of public policy, the less authoritative they tend to be,” Sessions says. “I don’t think the pope went too far. But he was pushing the line. And if you get too close to the political flame, you get burned.”

One of the things that perpetually pisses me off about American Christianity is how easy it’s supposed to be.

I’m a practicing Catholic, in that I’m not very good at it, and the one thing that was drilled into me from day one was how hard life was, on the road to Calvary. The early church had it rough, right? Best bud crucified, hiding in the back room, getting fed to lions, and your only comfort your own vulnerability.

Love your neighbor as yourself? Easy for you to say, asshole. You’re not the one in the Coliseum with Fluffy.

So come to me now, with all I have to do is believe and mouth some words during press conferences, mostly in election years? Bugger off. I’m sorry your God makes you uncomfortable sometimes, but that’s sort of the point. If you were already good at this He wouldn’t bother sending messages across the firing line (or in this case, a pope to tell you all to wake the fuck up).

Our politicians and the pundits who get invited on TV tell us we’re supposed to feel our connection with our deities deeply, to adhere to the dictates of our religious leaders, to revere those who have dedicated their lives to worship regardless of what form that worship takes. They talk about faith and connection all the damn day long, and the minute it makes them itchy, it’s, “Well, that’s just something we do on Sundays, really, and true belief is for rubes. We live in the real world, which by the way is not any warmer, go home.”

You can’t do it like that. Your life is not a series of compartments. I know we like to think it is, because it helps us be mean without thinking we are bad people, and it helps us justify our entire existence, but it’s not a bunch of boxes. You don’t keep God in one box and politics in the other, and then speak of the transformative power of belief and salvation and eternal life. It’s all one thing. Your every action reflects what you believe, and you don’t get to deny and deny and deny. Peter notwithstanding. He wasn’t elected to anything at the time.

A.

‘God is Not Angry Daddy’

Go read all of these right now. 

They just keep drawing the circle smaller and smaller, like the point is who you keep out.

A.