Featured

Funny Old Valentines

Whenever I’m reminded of My Funny Valentine I sing it to my dog. Sometimes he sings back. I’ve always had funny dogs, especially when I forget to take them to the dog parlor il_570xN.1179210609_jgjt
and they can’t see through their neglected haircuts.

The truth is, My Funny Valentine is comforting, not just for singing to dogs. The lyrics make me feel lovable. According to the song writers, the more time goes on, the more lovable I might be getting. I’m less photographable, my figure is less and less Greek, my mouth is getting weaker and what comes out of it is less smart. Perhaps Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart actually wrote the song with their grandmothers in mind. After all, haven’t most of us laughed at our quirky old grandmothers? Like the time she put the turkey in the oven upside down? Or bought a dry-clean-only shirt on sale at Bloomingdales for a 10-year-old boy?

Those laughs may be in short supply if Michael Bloomberg becomes president. He says that healthcare will bankrupt us unless we deny care to the elderly.

“If you show up with cancer and you’re ninety-five years old, we should say, ‘there’s no cure, we can’t do anything’. A young person? We should do something. Society’s not willing to do that, yet.” Bloomberg said.

Yet? Society’s not willing to pull the plug on its grandparents? Yet?

Why can’t policy changes allow me more time in the cost-effective doctor’s office, instead of withholding costly medical treatment as I get older? Words from my weakening lips have become slower and less smart. Because office visits are limited to twenty minutes, the doctor may not hear that this grandmother requires nothing more than a prescription drug change. Inattention to my symptoms in the doctor’s office could lead to a later trip to the costly emergency room, admittance to the costly hospital and visitations by costly specialists who in the end announce a diagnosis of nothing more than easy-to-treat high blood pressure.

There’s nothing new about politicians proclaiming the elderly are not worth the medical expense or care we give them. In 1984, Governor Dick Lamm of Colorado said, ”We’ve got a duty to die and…let the other society, our kids, build a reasonable life.” The duty-to-die statement ruined his opportunity to run for president. When Obama officials tried to add simple advance-care consultations to the Affordable Care Act, Sarah Palin denounced it as the creation of “death panels.” How do you think Bloomberg’s statement will be used?

We’ve gotten the same messages from the right-to-die movement for years—as if our right to die must be supported by cost effectiveness rather than a policy of choice. Don’t get me wrong. I have no intention of living past my expiration date. I’ve made my own choice in my end-of-life papers.

Bloomberg’s “yet” is a bothersome dated idea—killing off our funny old valentines to save the country from healthcare bankruptcy. 

Surely we’ve progressed farther than this.

Across the Divide by John Buchanan

 

Guest Blog from John Buchanan, Pastor Emeritus, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

“…Comey, who Trump, employing his most eloquent adolescent vocabulary, called a “sleaze bag.”

Hold to the Good

Our minister, Shannon Kershner, read Matthew 5: 13-16 to us Sunday morning, told us we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world and challenged us to start acting like it. Shannon said that a clergy friend of hers was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week so Shannon tuned in on C-Span and watched the entire event, something she said she had never done before. She said she was deeply disappointed by what transpired at the Breakfast. The congregation applauded at the end of her sermon, something that doesn’t happen much in Presbyterian Churches.

The National Prayer Breakfast has been an annual Washington tradition for nearly 70 years and ordinarily a strictly nonpartisan event. The Keynote speaker at the recent Prayer Breakfast was Arthur Brooks, Harvard University and Kennedy School Professor and former president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank…

View original post 560 more words

LSD Insanity

In “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, Brad Pitt’s character casually smokes an LSD soaked cigarette. Just as the acid-induced hallucinations kick in, three people bust into his house armed with knives and guns. He laughs at them. He doesn’t think they are real.

“Did you ever do acid?” Mark asked me.

Mark and I have been friends for almost thirty-five years. How does he not know this about me?

“Are you kidding? I used to take acid three or four times a week,” I shrugged, “For about six months. Maybe longer. ”

“Why’d you do that?”

“I wanted to see God.”OIP.u5D65V-WwphdhnASj8pIbQAAAA

“Did you?”

“Of course. At the end, I hoped I’d go to heaven overdosing on sleeping pills and booze, but ended up in a coma and went to an insane asylum instead.”

“Wow. What was that like?”

Here’s what that was like: In December 1970, a friend found me unconscious in the beach cottage I’d rented with my long-gone boyfriend that winter. An ambulance drove me (from the hospital where I’d been revived) to New Jersey’s notorious Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital.

Initially I was housed in a locked ward. For about forty-eight hours I suffered the shivering sweats and hallucinations of delirium tremens (DTs) due to the sudden withdrawal from alcohol. Swaddled in a straight jacket, I watched Donald Duck, Goofy and Mickey Mouse playing on my floor. When they danced up the wall and out the window, I screamed for them to come back. After three or four days on heavy tranquilizers and anti-psychotic drugs, I was moved to a three-story dormitory, one of many Tudor-style hospital buildings surrounded by old oaks and acres of farmland in pastoral Monmouth County. Patients were supposed to be grouped by similar diagnoses. I have no idea what my diagnosis was but I do know I wasn’t as crazy as most of my eighty housemates.

Every morning I woke to someone running around ranting and raving nonsensically. We all had lockers but a patient warned me if I put anything in mine, she’d take it. I had no clothes of my own. I wore left-behind shoes and calico cotton dresses made by long-term patients. The huge day room in the center of the building had overstuffed chairs and couches organized in small conversation clusters. After breakfast most patients ran into the day room to their favorite chair and pushed it up against the wall. On my first day, I sat in a chair with my back to the open room. A patient ran up behind me and squeezed Unknown-1both hands around my neck until an orderly pulled her off. All the other patients laughed. That’s why they kept their backs to the wall.

At my first session with the psychiatrist, I thought he was mad at me. He showed me photos of babies without heads born to mothers who had taken LSD. I knew nothing about drug and alcohol addiction. Neither did he. He thought I had a choice.

I was in Marlboro for the month of December. Church groups sent buses to take us involuntarily to their Christmas parties. Time spent at church socials in my nut house clothes was equally as tortuous as recovering from my demons.

I never swallowed a hallucinogenic after that—not because headless babies scared me. I tried to reach heaven and didn’t make it so I figured God had other plans. It took four more years for me to recover from alcohol. My last drink was forty-four years ago today. 

 

O Vanished Bethlehem

O Vanished Bethlehem

In the 1950s nuns and priests filled the air with Jesus stories. As soon as we stepped on the threshold of our first grade classroom, we were required to memorize lessons from the Baltimore Catechism, the defunct and now-discredited school text of the Catholic religion.

Baltimore Catechism Lesson 75: Q. On what day was Jesus born?  A. Jesus was born on Christmas day in a stable at Bethlehem.

The first town I’d ever heard about other than where I lived and where my relatives lived was Bethlehem. As a child, I dreamed of living in the inn next to that stable where Jesus was born. I longed to be with the donkeys and the sheep and the three kings on their camels. I really wanted to ride those camels. When we sang O Little Town of Bethlehem I pictured a serene knob of a place full of kind and loving people ready to temper my fears and fortify my hopes.

A classmate once showed us a tiny glass vial of soil her grandmother had brought back from Bethlehem. She said it was blessed by the Pope, adding gold-plated authenticity to its importance. This was my first inkling that Jesus’ birthplace still existed and that I might be able to go there myself someday. 

Nearby Jerusalem?  It was never on my wish list. Memorization of passages about Jesus’ suffering there left me repulsed by any thoughts of visiting Jerusalem.

Baltimore Catechism Lesson 371:  Q. When did Our Lord suffer the “bloody sweat”?  A. Our Lord suffered the “bloody sweat” while drops of blood came forth from every pore of His body, during His agony in the Garden of Olives, near Jerusalem.

Bethlehem was the object of my affection. The Church of the Nativity in Manger Square sits on top of a grotto, the Holy Crypt, where Jesus lay swaddled. This birthplace is disputed from time to time, but as a child my enthusiasm never waned. I wanted to see Bethlehem.

Two Palestinian refugee camps arose in Bethlehem in 1949 after the Palestine PartitionDheisheh-a-Palestinian-refugee-camp-685x1024 drove Arab families from their homes. Six generations later they’ve not been allowed to return. Armed Israeli forces frequently raid the camps on the pretext of searching for “wanted” Palestinians. Young Palestinians exact revenge and risk their lives with the most ancient of weapons—rocks. 

When Israel took Bethlehem from the Arabs after the Six-Day War in 1967, I thought Bethlehem would be destroyed forever. But all the wars, terrorist bombings, intifadas and violent protests didn’t stop grandmothers from visiting the Little Lord Jesus’ birthplace and bringing home souvenir vials of sacred dirt. I had high hopes I’d visit someday.

Israel relinquished Bethlehem to the Palestinians in 1995, promptly erecting a wall cutting Bethlehem off from Jerusalem. Palestinians are restricted from entering Jerusalem. Israelis are barred from entering Bethlehem.

Baltimore Catechism Lesson 259:  Q. What other effects followed from the sin of our first parents? A. Our nature was corrupted by the sin of our first parents, which darkened our understanding, weakened our will, and left in us a strong inclination to evil.

A few weeks ago, on January 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. Abbas informed Putin the U.S. can no longer play a role in the Middle East peace process. Seven days later Donald Trump announced his anti-Palestinian “Deal of the Century” for the Middle East. Bethlehem erupted in a “day of rage”.

Baltimore Catechism Lesson 1155:  Q. What are dreams and why is it forbidden to believe in them? A. Dreams are the thoughts we have in sleep, when our will is unable to guide them. It is forbidden to believe in them, because they are often ridiculous, unreasonable, or wicked, and are not governed by either reason or faith.

They say tourists get into and out of Bethlehem safely. But fear invades my deep and dreamless sleep. Thoughts of seeing Bethlehem have matured into my childhood imaginings.

And my dreams have gone the way of the Baltimore Catechism. 

Vanished. 

Discriminating Housing

Discriminating Housing

Adele, the feminist, challenged our church elders to explain exactly what the Bible passages stating “wives, submit to your husbands,” had to do with 1973 modern America. She steadfastly refused to “wear a head covering” as proscribed in verses familiar to anyone who’s been ensnared by a church that adheres to literal interpretations of the Bible. Adele, my role model for a time, taught me how to live in a conservative Christian extremist community as a sincere provocateur who loved God. It wasn’t easy.

“You should get a real estate license and work with me in that new subdivision,” Adele suggested, knowing wives were discouraged by church elders from working outside the home. I trusted her counsel because she was on her third marriage and knew that financial independence was the first step to freedom from my second bad marriage.

I sat in the makeshift office of the model home in a planned development of half-built single family homes on ⅓-acre parcels in Ocean County, New Jersey, answering phones, staffing open houses, tidying up the office, running errands. Month after month with no salary and no prospects, I persevered, buoyed by Adele’s words,“You only need one sale.”

A couple appeared one day when I was alone in the office. I leapt to my feet, obtained some qualifying information and showed them around. The Princeton University professors picked out their dream house-to-be-built, and I called the Owner of the development to bring a contract. Not only was I going to make a few thousand dollars, but I would be playing a bit part in helping to integrate our all-white community.

I had been a political activist since high school, and at age twenty-seven, I had no evidence to suggest that all of America wasn’t heeding the call of social change and racial integration espoused by John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. It just never occurred to me that people thought any other way.

The pro forma Owner arrived in short order with a contract but when faced with the couple doubted that he could provide their choices of tile, or carpet, or kitchen cabinets. I always found him to be too encumbered by his own cunning so nothing about his interaction with this couple seemed unusual. They signed a contract contingent on negotiating for the decor at a later date. The whole project slowed, then halted. Adele claimed the money ran out, thanked me for my sweat equity, then found me a part-time job making stained glass lamps.

A few months later, I stood at my mailbox reading a legal notice charging me and the Owner with discriminating against the black couple from Princeton. All they wanted was a house near the ocean where they could raise their boys in a good school and send them to Little League. Guilt squeezed my chest with thoughts that I was complicit in killing their dream. “This is Adele’s fault,” I irrationally concluded.Unknown

I sat for a deposition and feared a discrimination law suit would follow me around for the rest of my life. It dragged on for months but never went to court.

I was scoring glass in the workshop when Adele brought me a news article. The NAACP was testing the efficacy of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by sending couples to white neighborhoods to purchase property.

“See?” she said, “they were shills.”

 Good for them.

Dangers, Toils and Snares

Dangers, Toils and Snares

Since 9/11, the popular vertical shopping center, Water Tower Place and its neighbor, the ninety-one story John Hancock Tower have been considered prime targets for potential terrorist attacks. The Quiet Room in the back of the food court at Water Tower Place, is a good self-service meeting place to carry on business. My group wasn’t thinking much about terrorists last week when we met over chocolate covered pretzels to discuss how to prevent cars from crashing into pedestrians on North Michigan Avenue. Indeed, the locals have allowed its terrorist fears to slip into a collective sub-awareness. We’re alert but we go out to lunch.  

One of the food workers nervously approached our table.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but you’ll have to leave. They’re evacuating the building.”

It was the week the President of the United States ordered an Air Force pilot in Nevada to launch a Hellfire missile from a Reaper drone hovering over a car in the Baghdad airport. The target: a high-ranking Iranian general. 

We bagged our notebooks, brochures and cell phones and hustled out of the already deserted building. Out on the sidewalk I fast-walked away from the building and was almost knocked over by men and women running toward the building. Plainclothes. The neighborhood is loaded with plainclothes cops. I spot them once in a while tearing after shoplifters, drug dealers and car jackers. I’m sensitive to the look of them, having been a protester all my life. They infiltrate protest marches.

The same week, a spate of robberies a block away from Water Tower Place put the neighbors on edge. Teenagers were accosting pedestrians, stealing their belongings and fleeing in an awaiting white SUV that sped off down Lake Shore Drive. Life in the big city has always included an awareness that criminals are lurking about but this was different. One women was robbed of her bundles while walking her dog at ten o’clock in the morning. (Do you suppose one of those bundles was a plastic bag full of dog poop?)

Then a man walked into the nearby Emergency Room reporting a coyote had bitten him on the butt on the sidewalk in front of the hospital. Photos and videos of a limping coyote Image
popped up all over neighborhood blogs. The idea of an attacking coyote hiding in the shadows drove us all crazy. Lincoln Park High School even locked the students inside because a coyote was spotted in adjacent Oz Park. 

Sunday morning at the end of the hair-raising week, I danced down the aisle to my church pew as all 8,000 pipes in the Aeolian Skinner organ blew out a rendition of Shall We Gather by the River. The sound stopped abruptly as if someone had pulled the plug. Was the organ broken? What could possibly happen next?

Street robberies have been foiled in the neighborhood by the increased presence of the Chicago Police. The bomb scare in the Water Tower was a hoax. Chicago Animal Control announced they caught, tagged and released the limping coyote into the Cook County Forest Preserve (I suspect he’ll be back) and the church organ was plugged back in.

I’m discomforted by the powerlessness over my environs, but I’ve moved beyond waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

__________________________________________________

Through many dangers, toils, and snares

We have already come.

‘Tis Grace hath brought us safe thus far

And Grace will lead us home.

Have a listen-Judy Collins Amazing Grace

Believe in the Devil

Believe in the Devil

In my twenties I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior in order to belong to the bible fellowship I had been attending with my friends. I “became” (as if that were possible) a born-again Christian just before Jimmy Carter, also a born-again Christian, announced his candidacy for President. 

I volunteered every spare moment for Carter’s campaign, a Democrat who proclaimed himself a sinner, saved by Jesus, just like me. After he was elected, some men and women in my small community bible fellowship preached that Carter was a tool of the devil, because he promoted sex education and family planning in public schools (today’s purity tests are abortion and gay rights). I had naively become part of a Christian sub-culture that wanted no government interference in family matters. These Christians yoked Carter’s actions to his character and denounced the whole man as the anti-christ. That’s what evangelical Christians did then.

What Evangelical Christians do now is the exact opposite. Those who support Donald Trump have an ends-justify-the-means theology. As long as abortion is outlawed and gay rights are quashed, the means to get there (coercing Ukraine to dig up dirt on his potential political opponent) are not only ok, but justified, even applauded. Donald Trump’s interior life is not considered important or relevant, nor is the outward display of his character. They worship the end product.

In his book, Prayers of the Cosmos, Neil Douglas-Klotz notes that Aramaic, the language of Jesus “…does not draw sharp lines between means and ends, or between inner quality and outer action.”  There are no words in this ancient language for an ends-justify-the means psychology: a person with unrepentant character defects is so unlikely to perform noble deeds that it cannot even be talked about. Logic follows that a person who provides immoral leadership is likely to be of ignoble character.

A guy named Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer established an ultra-conservative, ultra-secret Catholic lay organization in 1928, Opus Dei. Followers learn to abandon their principles, that the ends always justify the means. They believe Trump was chosen by God to protect the unborn fetus and restore Judeo-Christian moral order. Trump’s Attorney General, Bill Barr is Opus Dei (as are other Trump appointees). Doesn’t this explain a lot?

I left that Christian cult years ago. However, I understand, even admire, their members’ rejection of Jimmy Carter because they considered his views on sex education immoral. I disagreed with their opinions but I too measured his character by words and deeds and came to a different conclusion. Perhaps this ancient Aramaic Jesus language trickles into a collective consciousness enabling some to see inner qualities and outer actions as one big squishy blob and accept or reject that whole person.Untitled 2.png

I keep asking myself what’s wrong with those Evangelical Christian (and conservative Catholic) Trump supporters. Don’t they care that his morally corrupt outsides match his morally incontinent insides? Their religious fervor veils their eyes to the hypocrisy Jesus condemned. They justify the deeds of their beloved lawbreaking reprobate. Have their souls separated from their minds? Or as Rev. William Barber has said, “After this year (with Trump) if you don’t believe in the devil there’s somethin wrong with your fuckin mind.”