I’ve been referring to the GOP as a death cult for years now, but over the last few weeks it truly has completed its metamorphosis.
Back in the early days of the madness that has now taken full control of the party, it only venerated the death of people it considered to be bad or evil, and this manifested itself in strong Republican positions favoring the death penalty and wars that killed people of color. But during Ronald Regan’s second presidential campaign, the conservative political movement decided to marry a conservative religious movement: fundamentalist Christianity.
The GOP promised this bigoted, racist (fundamentalist Christianity was the guiding force of Jim Crow) voting bloc the Moon: to outlaw abortion, to only appoint anti-abortion judges, and to fight against civil rights for people of color, women, and LBGTQ people. And fundamentalist Christianity sowed the seeds of its deep hatred for post-civil rights era America into the fabric of the Republican Party, seeds that would mean the death of the post-60s culture.
This unholy alliance was in turn led by politicians, exclusively white males. who had no interest in or use for fundamentalist Christianity: the Bushes were/are Episcopalians, Bob Dole is a Methodist, John McCain identified as an Episcopalian until it was more convenient for him to identify as a Baptist (i.e., he moved from identifying with a mainline denomination to identifying as a fundamentalist because he was the GOP nominee), and Mitt Romney is a Mormon.
Donald Trump is not religious at all, which is eminently fitting as he is the apotheosis of the Reagan campaign’s cynical embrace of fundamentalist Christianity: he embraced a group of people he has zero actual interest in and in turn they embraced someone who transgressed all of their taboos because they believed he could help them impose their worldview on the rest of us.
This approach is highly problematic, and not just from a moral and ethical stance. When you promise revenge to people who feel disenfranchised and cut off from their society, you also have to justify hurting other people, which is pretty anathema to Christianity. The language of dehumanization and hatred led to a terrible series of race-, faith-, and gender-based mass shootings which the GOP absorbed without an ounce of compassion for the victims or sorrow for so much death wrought by their words.
The GOP gleefully took away abortion access for women, even if that procedure was needed to save women’s lives. It allowed medical professionals to refuse to care for LBTGQ people. Republican governors refused Medicaid expansions–that they would not have to pay for–because the lives that would be improved and/or saved would be poor people who were unlikely to make large financial donations to their never-ending campaign war chests.
When Covid-19 paralyzed the country, the GOP fully embraced its calling and gloried in the pandemic’s sorrow and pain, refusing to take any precautions, spreading lies about the disease, and culminating when the cult’s leader told people to inject bleach into themselves—AND PEOPLE DID. Even after the cult’s leader fell critically ill, the party kept pushing its agenda of death. No one’s life was valuable enough to save from Covid-19.
Not being an organization that sleeps on its laurels, and not content with 600,000+ Americans dead from Covid-19, the GOP broke new ground this week. The state of Tennessee is stopping all vaccine outreach to children and teens. It may even do away entirely with the state health department.
In his official bio on the state government website, the governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, is described this way:
The governor and first lady are people of strong faith.
I don’t know what to say. I am a person of strong faith and I know it’s wrong on every level to neglect and abandon vulnerable people, and especially children. The idea that professing Christians could be so indifferent to the sickness and death of children, or so cynical that they would be willing to sacrifice their health and lives for a Pyrrhic victory, is unthinkable.
I’ll let the psalmist have the last word, writing about the Israelites wandering the desert with Moses and falling in with other religions when times got tough instead of sticking to their own teachings:
Last week the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops took a step toward publicly humiliating President Biden by denying him Holy Communion. This action is short-sighted, mean-spirited, and stupid, which means it’s completely on brand for the USCCB.
It’s no secret that the deeply misogynistic Roman Catholic Church is opposed to abortion. I was raised Catholic and had the full anti-abortion indoctrination of grotesque photos of purportedly aborted fetuses (who knows if any of that stuff was real or fake—propagandists use whatever they have available to push their message).
After I was free of parochial education, I started thinking for myself. As an adult, I saw the issue of abortion—and pregnancy—differently than I did as a teenager. I thought about what decision I would make if I found myself pregnant. And I had empathy for women who had to make that decision.
(I know that the anti-choice people love to yell “ADOPTION!!” when discussing abortion, but the reality is that many women just cannot afford to carry a child to term. In addition to the medical appointments, being pregnant still can get a woman fired, or cost her a promotion. If there are complications, it may require her taking unpaid leave.)
I don’t know what Joe Biden thinks deep in his heart about abortion. But I do know that as a politician he is supposed to represent the people who elected him. The Pew Forum says that 55% of people in Delaware support abortion being legal in all or most cases. And Pew also says that 59% of Americans support abortion being legal in all or most cases. And given the makeup of the electorate who elected him, there is a clear mandate for him to support women’s reproductive rights. That’s his job.
It’s ironic that the big fear about JFK’s Catholicism was that he’d be controlled by Rome. And now we have a bunch of Catholic bishops trying to act as if they were Rome to control Biden. This crazy plan might have worked, except that the Vatican has already weighed in on this issue and told the USCCB to back off.
In the end, the USCCB won’t explicitly say that pro-choice politicians must be denied Holy Communion. That’s not how Pharisees work. They’re cowards who hide behind a wall of words which they then twist to suit their purposes.
Naturally the chance to flaunt misogyny under the guise of morality attracts a lot of fellow travelers, and conservative Catholics are out there making the most of it. And they’re being cowards about any challenges to their obvious hypocrisy:
Great to hear from you, Karen! Let me propose that you and I publicly debate the question. Let's see if I can meet your challenges and if you can meet mine. I'm sure it would be illuminating. @RyanTAnd would EPPC be willing to host a debate between Karen and me in Washington, DC?
Karen Tumulty is right—there is a monomaniacal focus on abortion, but no public shaming for Catholic politicians who gleefully support the death penalty, and the Vatican has been very clear about the stance of the RCC on that issue. (Also on display in that exchange—the typical shift to the demand of a public debate when a conservative “thinker” has been shown to be intellectually naked. Pharisees gonna Pharisee.)
I thought I wanted to write something about the budget reconciliation process, but I’ve been feeling sad these last few days: sad because a dear friend lost her mom on Friday, sad because that dear friend and her youngest son and her husband have COVID-19 and it involved a hospital stay, sad that 500,000 people have died from this disease, and sad that we have no organized communal mourning with its permission to just exist in the ever-present grief.
Every year I drag my feet when it comes to taking down our Christmas decorations. I don’t really do a lot of decorating, but I do fill the house with lights. This year I lit some new areas and turned down the regular lighting. The ambient light was both comfortable and cheering, like having “good talking candles” all around a la Richard Brautigan:
I had a good-talking candle last night in my bedroom.
I was very tired but I wanted somebody to be with me,
so I lit a candle
and listened to its comfortable voice of light until I was asleep.
I dreaded having to put everything away so to motivate myself I began to explore options for adding soft light to the rooms and I found a set of origami boxes attached to string lights and they are now haphazardly on the fireplace mantel. They need to be more artistically arranged, but the soft warm light is providing badly-needed comfort.
The Biden/Harris inaugural COVID-19 remembrance at the Lincoln Memorial was a stunning use of soft-talking candles (albeit ersatz). The darkness invited you to be contemplative, the lights provided comfort, and the Reflecting Pool doubled the light and made it move. It was inviting and beautiful, but most of all it was quiet.
The last 4 years have not been quiet. They were not designed for contemplation or healing. They were meant to assault your ears, your eyes, your mind, and your feelings. They targeted your reserves. They were a grinding torture of constant apprehension and anxiety. They were psychological warfare, and noise is an effective tool in that arsenal.
I happened to turn on the TV yesterday afternoon while President Biden was speaking. He spoke softly, but with great emotion. He invited us to remember what our losses, COVID-19-related or not, felt like. He allowed us to stop for a moment and to just be. And then he was silent, too, and the South Portico, previously a center of noise and anger and hate and bombast, was revealed as a place of silence, of reverence, of love, and of grief.
I’m a practicing Episcopalian and we have a wonderful guide for our worship, the Book of Common Prayer. The funeral service includes some of its most beautiful passages. I’ll close with one of them after our night of shared mourning:
Give rest, O Christ, to your servant(s) with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more,neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
When I contacted my friend Shapiro about writing for First Draft, one reason he accepted was to reclaim his surname from the dread wingnut pundit, Ben Shapiro.
That sounded like such a noble cause that I suggested he write about his Shapiro quest. The result is this open letter to Ben who is neither gentle nor a gentile.
To My Nephew Ben by Shapiro
Dear Nephew Ben:
Let me say right off that no, you are not my nephew. We share a last name that’s more common amongst those of our lineage than those outside the tribe suspect. Some of our forebearers came from the old countries with it, some were given it by a harried immigration official at Ellis Island. Whatever. I do have a nephew who is like you in that he is married to a professional woman (a lawyer, I believe your wife is a doctor) and both you and he each have three kids. Like you he trained as a lawyer after attending private schools his entire academic career. Also like you he claims to be conservative bordering on libertarian. Have to wonder if private schooling begats conservative thinking. Nah, don’t have to wonder about it, it’s pretty obvious it does.
I’m writing to ask you to stop using our common name as a way of selling books. It’s a proud name, the name of poets (Karl), scientists (Norman), businessmen (Herman), lawyers (Robert), a few mobsters, singers (Helen who had an opening act called The Beatles in the early 1960’s), and thousands of everyday people who just go about their lives trying to do good and raise their kids to be decent human beings. You are using our name to pridefully insist that you are the smartest kid in the room, that you know better than anyone else. You seem to have forgotten, or perhaps you were never taught, that the smartest people in the room are the ones who know they can still learn from someone else and who can process new information and even change a long-held opinion.
When I use my name it’s in the service of making the world a better place. You use it in a vain attempt to blow up 2000 years of western civilization just so you can buy a bigger house. Even the most ego driven capitalist never went that far; the soon to be booted president being the exception. Then again, he’s a goyim and that’s their gig. We don’t believe in that.
We believe in Tikkun Olem, the concept of repairing the world. Surely at that LA Yeshiva you went to high school at they must have mentioned it, but if they didn’t it basically means live your life in a way to better the lives of others. It is a great way of living; I’ve been practicing it for over 60 years. It’s garnered me absolutely wonderful friends, compelled me to travel to far distant places, to care about my community, and to be able to sleep well at night. I don’t know how well you sleep at night, but if I were calling large swarths of humanity somehow less than human, it would probably be with one eye open.
When you say LGBTQ people should have no rights to marry, let alone no rights at all because they are somehow lesser as human beings for choosing to love a person you wouldn’t choose to that’s not making other people’s lives better. That’s going out of your way to put a vile hateful message out into the world that someone, already filled with rage and hatred, will take as an excuse to assault, and even kill. “Well that smart Jew fella told me I should”.
You call Jews like myself Jews In Name Only (JINO) and deride us because we think that global warming is a greater threat to mankind’s survival than if Exxon gets to hit its stock valuation. You say we don’t care about Israel because we think human rights are a greater imperative than subjugating an entire group of people. You have said that doctors who perform abortions should be prosecuted but prosecuted for what? In case you were absent that day in law school abortion is a legally protected medical procedure. What you call “cancel culture” the rest of us call the consequences of your actions. What you disdain as “political correctness” we simply call good manners. And then of course there is the whole “Big Tech is stifling the voices of conservatives” brouhaha to which I can only say hahahaha. The highest rated cable news network is a conservative mouthpiece plus now there are two competitors that are even more conservative. Big Tech doesn’t seem to have stifled any of those voices. Oh yes, that little KKK koffee klatch called Parler got taken down but that was because the owner didn’t want to abide by the rules that he agreed to when he set up the site. Wow, imagine that, a tech company enforcing their rules. Next thing you know restaurants (when we can go to them again) will enforce “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service”.
The events at the Capitol on January 6 were not directly at your command, but you gave the mob an intellectual underpinning that allowed what we have been seeing in all the days that followed from Republicans and their allies:
“STACEY ABRAMS never accepted her election loss (she still claims she was the victim of voter suppression).”
Stacey Abrams’ followers never marched on the Georgia statehouse calling for the beheading of the governor, nor did she incite them to.
“The real impeachment charge against Trump is extraordinarily reckless and inflammatory rhetoric and behavior. But that sort of rhetoric is, unfortunately, commonplace in today’s day and age, and sometimes even ends with violence (see, e.g., a Bernie Sanders supporter shooting up a congressional softball game).
First of all you are in large part responsible for the commonality of inflammatory rhetoric and behavior today. And if you don’t want to admit credit for that you must at least admit that you yourself do nothing to tamp down that vitriol. As for the guy who shot up the congressional softball game, he was a nutcase acting alone with (and I can’t help myself on this point) LEGALLY purchased guns not under the direction of anyone other than the voices inside his head. The President of the United States didn’t tell him to do it.
Where do I start with that one? I tell you, let’s just leave it at no one has ever used a Hefty bag zip tie to secure, well, even a Hefty bag let alone a government official.
You could do so much to make the world a better place. You have the intelligence and charisma to command attention and thoughtfully delineate a point of view. Instead you choose to take those gifts and throw firebombs. In fact, you’re not just yelling FIRE in a crowded theater, you are locking the doors from the outside, calling the fire department telling them to disregard the alarms, and forcing ambulances down the wrong street. You incite instead of inspire, tear down instead of buildup, negate instead of collaborate. You hate with a ferocity generals would want in their shock troops. Those are characteristics I find abhorrent in anyone, but in someone with the same last name as mine I take an even greater offense.
One last thing, you are not a conservative. By definition classical conservatism does not reject change, but insists that changes be organic, rather than revolutionary, arguing that any attempt to modify the complex web of human interactions that form human society purely for the sake of some doctrine or theory runs the risk of running afoul of the law of unintended consequences and/or of moral hazards. No you are as revolutionary as they come. The reason you write and speak and broadcast what you do has nothing to do with a desire to make the world better, but to enrich yourself and those who have placed the MAGAphone in your hands. You could say you believe in oligarchy. I would say you believe in fascism.
My editor, Adrastos, suggested I call this piece Give Me Back My Name after the Talking Heads song. After reading so much of what you have spilled out into the world, I thought a more appropriate song reference would be from Bob Dylan, Idiot Wind:
Two people I know, both health care workers, got the vaccine this week. They’re both fine, no side effects, and others are in line for it.
I’ve been keeping a list, since this started, in my head, of people the world simply cannot exist without, and I am trying to keep everyone on it alive until this is over.
You’re on that list, so if you need something, you ask. Don’t even think about it. Someone can help.
Yesterday Kick and I packed up the car with presents and went around dropping them on friends’ porches to say Merry Christmas, through masks, to wave to people and jump up and down with excitement at the mere sight of one another. We have more to deliver today and more tomorrow. I’m grateful for every single mile we’re traveling because it means somebody at the end is still okay.
We’ve lost so much, this year. So many. And it’s going to be months before the cases drop to zero. Maybe years.
I’ve said all I can say about this: That it didn’t have to happen this way, that we could have controlled and managed and worked harder, that we could have paid everyone to stay home so they weren’t choosing between their present and their future, that we should have and could have done more if we weren’t paralyzed with meanness and selfishness and fear. That we don’t have to sacrifice concretes — the children, alive, here today right now — for abstracts — the idea of some future child burdened by debts that only seem to exist when it’s politically convenient.
We have a winter to get through, and God help us the only way we’re gonna get through is the same way we always have. With one another, hand in hand, second by second.
So string the lights, and build an outdoor fire. Sing carols from the sidewalk instead of the porch, see your loved ones however you ever safely can. I don’t want to hear anyone saying we don’t deserve a moment of grace if we can possibly claw one out of the stones this year. If we have enough, we will find a way to share it, and be as extravagant in that joy as if this was a time of peace and plenty.
Merry Christmas to all of you. I want you here next year, too, okay? So let us know what we can do.
The Assembly GOP plan would also enact several restrictions on state and local governments when it comes to limiting crowds. It would:
Restrict the power of local health officers from ordering the closure of a business unless it applies to all types of businesses. Similarly, a local health officer would be barred from restricting capacity at businesses unless those restrictions apply to all businesses.
Prohibit state and local health departments from prohibiting gatherings in churches.
Okay. Let’s ignore the obvious, which is that this entire bill is BUGBONKERS INSANE, punishing schools for offering online education and forcing people who can work remote to not to, just because. Let’s take some of this nonsense on its face, and while we’re at it, work into this the also bonkers ruling by Neil Gorsuch, who knows exactly what he’s doing here:
At the same time, the Governor has chosen to impose no capacity restrictions on certain businesses he considers “essential.” And it turns out the businesses the Governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists, and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signage companies, accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents are
all essential too. So, at least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?
Forget Gorsuch’s snippy little asides and his idea that somehow one becomes governor of NEW YORK by shutting down churches and synagogues. Let’s keep it simple. Framing opposition to temporary, targeted public health measures as an assault on religious freedom is bananas.
So now, in a global pandemic that is killing thousands of people every single day, to be told that services cannot be limited because to do so is an infringement on the freedom of religion is an affront to the intelligence with which God endowed His creations.
To, in fact, rile up religious congregations in opposition to public health measures in the name of belief, to characterize care for one’s fellow citizens’ LIVES as some kind of liberal communist plot, to silence the voices of the doctors and scientists God gave us who are BEGGING for a reprieve from large indoor gatherings, who are not asking us not to pray but to temporarily change just one small aspect of our behavior for one finite period of time, is the kind of naked avarice and political cynicism that once had a nice Jewish carpenter flipping tables.
So why is this happening? Why are we being told that God doesn’t want us to listen to doctors? Who has an interest in making this point and why are they making it?
All of this is predicated on the same persecution complex, the same paranoia, that has suffused American Christianity for the past 40 years and has filtered down from the obvious mouth-foaming snake-handling backwoods tentpole preachers to the nice ladies at your aunt’s book club.
They are all convinced Christ is under attack and must be defended.
Why? Well, God has been “banned” from “the schools,” you see.
People aren’t “allowed” to say Merry Christmas “anymore.”
(That one’s from a site called Texas Values, by the way.)
Now, George says, “society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered ‘sinful.’ Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The ‘ruling class,’ those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone.”
There are rude words that your maiden aunts now have to see on Facebook, also. I don’t know anymore. It’s become a morass, a generally accepted narrative that the most victimized people on earth are the ones with “Blessed” stickers on their cars. And the best way to defend against that kind of assault is to throw a massive public hissyfit.
Somehow any evidence of a secular society, or the simple fact that not everyone is bound to respect what you respect, has become fuel for the least justified persecution complex in history. Yes, including the Cubs. And it enrages me more than almost anything else, because: How dare you make God so small, as to be bothered in the slightest by things like this.
As a practicing Catholic (I’m not very good at it, clearly) I’ve found my religion hemmed in on very few sides despite the secular circles I run in. I wear a saint’s medal around my neck and have done for 20 years and literally no one has ever said boo about it. I’ve worn it in mosques and synagogues and at liberal political gatherings where absolutely the most vocal atheists on the planet were in attendance (and drank me under the table).
This year I bought a large, overly expensive Christmas tree and lit it up in my front window. My daughter is learning the Nativity story in our home and there is a Bible, albeit more of a family heirloom than a working copy, in public view. We own, at last count, six books about the Christian holidays, including one with the full-on Beatitudes.
I discuss God with as many people as can possibly handle it. That someone may not like my tone doesn’t mean I don’t believe, and I find it offensive in the extreme to have my faith questioned because I don’t share the misconception that God and His Son and their representatives here on earth need us, of all creatures. That Jesus and His Dad can probably handle Themselves is not a point They need me to make.
Time was, my mainstream American brothers and sisters and nonbinary buds in Christ, we made vigorous mockery of the kinds of idiots who’d let their own kids die rather than entrust them to doctors, in the name of the Lord. Now we’re throwing in with them, in the name of political power and sticking it to the libs. Now we’re no better than the man on a rooftop who, watching the floodwaters rise, let a boat and a helicopter pass him by because God would save him. Great job, everybody. Well done.
I miss church, too. Advent is my JAM, my spiritual booty call, the time when I LOVE being in church. But Illinois is not, thank God, governed by the kind of people running Wisconsin, so unlimited indoor services are out of the question. Anyway, my parish priest is in quarantine.
Visiting the sick and dying, the elderly and alone, placed him at risk so he’s locked down while his test results are processed and for 14 days thereafter. He’s not screaming about government tyranny. He’s not in front of the church nailing himself to the door because no law of men applies to him.
He’s staying in the rectory and sending out emails asking people to please stop bringing him food because he has plenty, and in fact if anyone needs some they should come by when this is all over.
That’s who this kind of thing puts at risk. That’s who will truly suffer because some right-wing politicians want to make people think they’re being martyred. That’s who will sicken, through no fault of their own, because it was in the interests of a few people to feel important by acting like they’re persecuted.
That’s who will die alone in an ICU while their families say goodbye on an iPad.
These are iPad stations being prepared for virtual ICU end of life visits by a palliative care doc I know. Jesus. pic.twitter.com/lIgbg0FhaL
Look at that and imagine it’s your mother, your son, your spouse, on the other end, miles away, because you didn’t think God could handle waiting six months for you to get a vaccine and sit in a pew again.
I am so tired of explaining this to people who should know better. Who pride themselves on their belief in an awesome God, in a God who is everywhere, always with us, and can do anything including make it not rain on circus day. Who seem to think God wouldn’t cut them a break if they thought they could save their neighbors.
Who seek out — and you have to seek it out, you have to sign up on Facebook to get memes from these pages and make the kinds of friends who’ll send them to you in e-mail forwards — stories that activate this disgust response in order to have something to get riled up about. When, in truth, they can practice their faith all they want without HAVING to deal with anything more than the occasional bit of evidence that there are other people out there who aren’t them.
No one is coming for your Nativity scene, DUGAN.
While we’re on the subject of faith, the only people who’ve ever questioned my Christian bona fides have been my devout fellow believers. It’s not the atheists lifing me all day long about how I’m doing it wrong, but there sure are a lot of Catholics up in this piece implying I am no real member of their Body. Mostly because I don’t believe in limiting medical procedures of the type that helped me have my daughter, or in putting lawmakers in charge of women’s health.
Maybe it would help convince them if I simply told them I was worried about government overreach.
Of course it’s just regular old white bigotry, and nothing to do with Christianity at all, but what interests me immensely is this woman’s all-too-common misconception that having “faith” in something means you’re above reproach, you don’t have to back your shit up, you you get to say or do whatever you want and nobody can criticize you.
“I don’t want to argue my faith,” she says, when asked how her faith dictates this stance that mixed-race marriages can’t be performed in her banquet hall.
Oh, honey, does Yahweh have some bad news for you. Nowhere in the Bible, even at its cruelest, does God proffer Himself as some kind of Ultimate Win, a card you can pull out to avoid having to do what everybody in a society has to do which is to live together. In fact, the Old Testament God to which these people often ascribe their beliefs does pretty much nothing but argue, constantly, with everybody He wants to do His stuff.
Literally half the damn Bible is God just screwing with everybody, I honestly don’t understand how people come to this conclusion that He doesn’t like conflict.
You don’t get to be an idiot and call it faith. You don’t get to take a position contrary to the law of the land and call it faith. You don’t get to be unable to cite chapter, much less verse, to justify your attitude and call it faith. It’s insulting to those who don’t believe, of course: We are not a theocracy, not yet, and your faith cannot stand above anyone else’s.
But it’s also insulting to those WITH that Christian faith, faith they work for, study, practice, struggle with, try to understand. It’s insulting to them to say that their faith is something this cheap, this easy. It’s insulting to say to people who work every day to model Christ in an unkind violent bullshit world that you don’t have to ARGUE.
I can’t speak for this tight-permed Trump voter up there, but my faith? My faith is very, very deeply about argument. My faith is at times looking upward and saying Heavenly Father, You are being such a Jackass right now, what on Your earth are you thinking. My faith is cantankerous and oppositional and mostly about work, about what can I do to help, how can I fix this, how can we change this together. The idea of faith being something you don’t have to fight for is anathema.
You don’t want to argue your faith? What on earth is your life, then, if not an argument? What are you doing here? Besides racism, I mean.
The hour is running late, that is true, but it is also just as true that it is still early.
It is true that this is a frustrating, infuriating fight – but it is the fight that we have always had. It was the fight for the recognition of every working man’s humanity, of every woman’s suffrage and every POC’s equality. And those we fight are never defeated, they simply retreat, regroup and try again – just like we do. Just like we have to. Just like we have always done.
Will they first take, then corrupt our 4th Estate? Will they deny us the vote? Will they say our gigging economy is because of freedom and irresponsibly tasty avocado on toast brunches? Will they stack the Supreme Court, and start 4 month old children in kennels? Will they kill every single living thing on the planet – from microscopic plankton to Africa’s megafauna – for sport and a selfie?
Of course they will, or they will try.
And blast that crater we are all in – just a little bit bigger, deeper – even as we work to fill it in, and at the same time prevent them from making it worse.
Please, keep at it.
Go read the whole thing.
I was so tired before I read that, dude. And now I feel like I could run through a brick wall. THANK YOU.
Singer: Would you pick up a new novel and read it now?
Milch: It’s not likely.
Singer: Is that because the hours in the day you’re able to focus are diminished?
Milch: To some extent. But more so I feel the constriction of possibility, what I’m able to undertake responsibly. I have only a certain amount of energy.
Singer: Do you feel like you’re in a race?
Singer: You’re racing to finish this memoir?
Milch: More so a larger enterprise, of which this is just a part.
Singer: Can you be more specific?
Milch: I’m trying to make work, the undertaking in general, coherent. To restore a dignity to the way that I proceed, and it’s a demanding process. You’re tempted to . . . toss it in. Just to quit.
Singer: Before this, were you someone who had preoccupying fears?
Singer: And now what is it you’re afraid of, if you could identify it?
Milch: I intuit the presence of a coherence in my life which I haven’t given expression to in an honorable fashion.
Singer: So this is an opportunity. Is that what you’re saying?
Singer: The rush to get to work, that inner necessity to make something. You still have that? Do you wake up every day with that?
Good God. And if there’s a parallel in Deadwood, which has always cast an unflinching gaze on both human suffering (the filth and the language) and human grace (the filth and the language as well), other than the above video, it’s this:
Sol Star: I’m guessing you’ve done things today you wish you could amend.
Seth Bullock: What kind of man have I become, Sol?
Sol Star: I don’t know. The day ain’t fucking over.
Al Swearengen: Every fuckin’ beatin’ I’m grateful for. Every fuckin’ one of them. Get all the trust beat outta you. And you know what the fuckin’ world is.
There’s a moment in the movie (which if you’ve been putting off watching it because you loved the show and don’t want it “ruined” get thee to a TV, not only will it not ruin it, it will redeem the parts you didn’t like) that absolutely took me to church, baptized me in the waters and wrote my name in the holy book.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Wrong. I won’t be deterred by Trump-inspired terrorism. We will do what’s right for our country. If Donald Trump wants to foment violence in response, that’s his choice. And he’ll face the consequences.
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?
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…”
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.