Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day 2017



I haven't written about my mom in a few years so with Mother's Day today, it's time I re-visit her in this blog. A lot has changed since I first wrote about her six years ago. At that time, her dementia was just starting and was so slight she could actually hide it. In a few years, however, her condition advanced to the point where she was no longer safe at home. My siblings and I had to place her in a facility that caters to people with dementia/Alzheimer's.

But this person her caregivers see -- that isn't really my mother. What would she be like if she still had her mind? Well, she'd probably be on Social Media by now, but might still be using a flip phone. She'd still be reading self-help books. She'd be going out with her girlfriends, laughing and joking. Mom never did like bullies and obnoxious blowhards so, let me tell you, she wouldn't like Trump at all. We'd be on the phone to each other (because in this age of texting and FB messaging Mom would still be a phone talking addict), knocking the Orange Menace. She'd let it all fly when she talked to me because she'd abstain from getting into arguments with Trump lovers. Mom used to tell me what her parents told her and what I now tell my kids: "Never get into an argument with anybody over politics or religion." She'd likely be involved in both, still volunteering at her local precinct on Election Day (where she'd respect that law about keeping her strong-held opinions to herself). And she'd still be helping out at her church -- with Vacation Bible School, Church Council and Sunday School where she would enjoy getting into intellectual discussions about the Bible. She'd tell me about those discussions over the phone or when we saw each other in person. 

Mom was always excited whenever a new grandchild was on the way ("You mean I'm gonna be a grandma again"!), so she'd be thrilled with the recent birth of her first great-grandchild, buying her clothes and offering to watch her. It is what it is, though, and Mom doesn't know she has a great-granddaughter to the north and west in Kansas. She doesn't know she's a mother, doesn't even know what a mother is anymore. She no longer knows my name, but still recognizes my face when I visit her. I'll take that. A few days ago, I asked if she knew her own name, aware that there was a 50/50 chance on whether she'd remember.

Mom and me
"Victoria," she answered.

She was named Victoria Lou, after her two grandmothers. Her paternal grandmother, the one named Victoria, died in the 1930s -- years before Mom was born. The only memory she retained of her maternal grandmother, Lou, was of riding on a train from Colorado to Kansas at the age of 5 to attend her funeral.

Mom's parents had been married for 16 years before they had her. Her dad worked in oil fields, among other things, and her folks moved a lot -- living in Kansas, Colorado and Texas. They finally settled in Jett, Kan., which had a population of only 3,000 in the '50s. She remembered that her family first bought a television in 1954. She and a girlfriend at school used to talk about what they'd seen on The Red Skelton Show the night before.

As a kid, she thought the most beautiful building in the world was her hometown movie theatre, the Bijou. Built in 1935, it was the first building in the world to be entirely illuminated with neon lighting. It had Aztec designs on the double doors and European looking murals on the walls inside the movie room. She recalled her family taking her there to see The Ten Commandments and being dazzled by the special effects, which now look so primitive. She also remembered going with her friends to see a film about juvenile delinquency, Blackboard Jungle. The film, which introduced the revolutionary song, "Rock Around the Clock," would have been somewhat adult for a 10-year-old in the '50s. She raved about seeing the epic film, Giant, starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor -- two sex symbols of their day. It was James Dean's last film.

She had a slew of 45 records so I'm guessing music, TV and the movies must have been an escape from her miserable home life. People thought they were a nice little church going family, but they were what we today call a dysfunctional family. Mom thought she was in love with my dad when they started going out, but years later, she realized marriage had been a way out of her home situation. He was older, had been in the Army, had a cool car (a 1958 Pontiac Chieftain). A man of the world. They divorced when I was just a little boy in the early '70s, and knowing them later in life, it's hard to believe they were ever married to each other. But I guess individuals are different people when they're young.

Her second husband, my step-dad, was really the love of her life. But they were probably doomed from the start. Mom started acting manic and drinking more. I think their marriage could've been saved with counseling, but that wasn't as common then and there was more of a stigma about it than there is today. Today, fortunately, there are a lot more medications for anxiety and depression, but that kind of help wasn't there for Mom back then. There never were any "good old days."


I didn't hear the word "bi-polar" until 1990 when Mom told me she had recently been diagnosed with it. Also, around this time I found out her "secret" -- that she'd been sexually molested when she was a kid. Over and over again by someone her family had trusted. I wouldn't tell anybody about that if Mom wasn't eventually open, herself, about it. She really tried to help people who had been through effed up stuff like she had experienced.

My kids, daughter, Gabby, and son, Max, with Mom.
Between that time and the onset of her dementia, Mom really enjoyed the best years of her life. She seemed to have better peace of mind and she let go of any bitterness she'd had before in life. She was a forgiving person, even forgiving the man who violated her. Church was really big in her life. You really can't underestimate the power of faith. 

For a while after I placed her in the home, I continued to take Mom to church. But when I'd take her back to the facility, she'd get irate. It became more trouble than it was worth so I had to stop. She can't tell you anything about Jesus anymore, but groups do bring church services to her facility and I'm sure she gets something out of that, just as she enjoys the musicians who occasionally perform there.

She wouldn't have wanted to end up with dementia and living in a home, but she knew it was a possibility. Her dad had Alzheimer's. There's never enough time.

On Monday nights at 6:30 p.m. (Central time), for a couple of years in the late '60s, Mom, without fail, would watch The Monkees on NBC-TV. (The show fared well in the ratings, opposite Gilligan's Island on CBS.) That's how I like to think of Mom. Young, full of vitality, liking rock n' roll and all that good stuff. It's a good song, "Daydream Believer." Hopeful sounding.


And aren't we all in need of hope today?

             
                         "Daydream Believer" -- The Monkees

















Monday, April 24, 2017

Meeting a fellow blogger

Rachel Held Evans

I  was at the Crossroads Church of All Saints and Sinners in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s). I laid my books on a plastic table in the adult Sunday School class while I refilled my coffee.

"Oh Rachel Held Evans," Sandy, the children's Sunday School teacher said when she saw Evans's book, Searching for Sunday lying in my spot. I returned to my spot and Sandy said, "Oh, it's Jeff," as if she were suddenly no longer surprised. I think she might've initially thought the book belonged to a more conservative member of the church. There is a mixture, which I think is great.

"I met her," I told Sandy and showed her where Rachel signed my book. "She was in Wichita this weekend."

For those who don't know her, Rachel Held Evans is a blogger and New York Times best selling author who writes about God and Christianity from the perspective of someone who questions and fights doubt. Born in 1981, she comes across from the viewpoint of a millennial, albeit one of the older ones. (I'm a Generation Xer.) She has been featured in the Washington Post, the BBC, NPR and been a guest on The Today Show and The View. Rachel makes appearances across the country. I saw her give a lecture Friday night at College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita.

She's both loved and reviled. I don't go for labels such as "liberal Christian," or "conservative Christian." I'd like to say, simply, Rachel is Christian and Episcopalian. But in today's polarizing climate, I guess we have to make distinctions. There are people who take literally Paul's statement about how women should stay silent in church. To them, she is downright heretical

Rachel was born in the buckle of the Bible Belt in Alabama. Her father taught theology in a Christian college, her family attended an evangelical church and she and her younger sister attended a Christian school. As a child and through her teens, Rachel was "on fire" for Jesus. Every year, her school gave out a Best Christian Attitude award and Rachel contrived a strategy in which she would receive it.

Her family later moved to Dayton, Tenn. where her father was hired to teach at Bryan College, the evangelical school where Rachel would go on to get her degree in English and journalism.

Dayton is known as the town where the "Scopes Monkey Trial" took place in the 1920s. In the first so-called "Trial of the Century," high school science teacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching the "heretical" science of evolution in the classroom. Today in Dayton, there is a statue of William Jennings Bryan, the famous orator who prosecuted Scopes.

Rachel began to have doubts and questions in college after she'd seen on TV, a Muslim woman in Afghanistan who had been persecuted and executed. Was this woman, who had suffered so much on Earth, going to hell for not accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior? Were Ghandi and Anne Frank in hell? Rachel couldn't accept the "God's ways are higher than Ours" idea.

She and her husband, Dan, made a painful separation from the evangelical church she had attended since childhood. The doubts and questions had been simmering in her mind for some time, but for her, the final straw came when a sign was posted in front of her church (as it was at nearly every other church in town) -- VOTE YES ON ONE. Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman."

Recently, Rachel tweeted, "Too many stories of LGBT people & their family/friends/allies getting treated like crap at their churches. Too. Many. Stories."

Meeting Rachel

I walked into the gymnasium of College Hill UMC. There were rows of fold-up chairs on both sides with a walking path down the middle, leading toward the lectern and microphone from which she would be speaking. People were standing in line to shake Rachel's hand.

"Hello Ms. Evans," I said, shaking her hand. (It was a petite hand.)

"Rachel," she said.

She was quite affable. Later, she got into a conversation with a fifty-ish couple sitting a few chairs from me. I tried to focus on reading her book and not listening in. After she left and made the rounds, talking to other people, I talked to the couple, told them I'd kept Rachel's first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, overdue at the library. Their names were Larry and Jenny. He was a Nazarene pastor. They had driven two-and-a-half hours from Oklahoma City to see Rachel Held Evans.

When she spoke to the audience, Rachel talked about "keeping the church weird" -- about maintaining the traditions of the sacraments -- communion, which Episcopalians call the Eucharist.

This is Christ's body, broken for you

Churches didn't have to market to young people by being hip -- the pastor wearing skinny jeans and T-shirts with Christian messages used ironically, the rock band, the fog machine, the coffee shops.

"I'm not saying, 'don't have a band,'" she said. "I love praise and worship music. I love coffee."

But if having those things isn't compatible with a church's personality, that church would be better off just being itself, she said.

"Millennials have been advertised to our whole lives," she said.

She had kind words for the evangelical church she'd grown up with and broken from.

"These are the people who first told me I'm a beloved child of God," she said.

She read from Searching for Sunday and talked about her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood in which she would separate from people while going through the "manner of womanliness" as commanded in the Old Testament.

Rachel said she has been invited to talk to teenage audiences and was worried about what she would say. "Teenage boys aren't my audience," she said. "I've written about menstruation."

A church cannot have social justice without Jesus and cannot have Jesus without social justice, she said. A church is wrong to quote Jesus's words about caring for "the least of these," then to turn its back on refugees.

Then there are the politics that have given Christianity such a bad name in America.

"The people who taught boys sexual morality supported a man for President who bragged about sexual assault," she said.

With all the problems, all the doubts, Rachel could just hang it up and not believe. I can hear the cynics saying belief in God is like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. But Rachel needed to connect with something divine and bigger than herself. She had to believe there is a just God in the universe. For me, I guess my reasons are selfish. I can't make it through life without a Higher Power. I've accepted that it's all right, not having all the answers. Rather than a severe father who sends people to eternal damnation, I choose to believe God is love.

After her presentation, I was like, the third person in line, to get books signed by Rachel. I had Searching For Sunday, which I'd bought at Wichita's Watermark Books and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I'd peeled the .50 cent sticker off the cover of that one so she couldn't see I'd bought the book at a thrift store.

"We met earlier," she said. "What's your name again?"

"Jeff. And I'll tell you, Rachel, I was a mischief making kid. There was no way I was ever going to win a Best Christian Attitude award."

She laughed. "You've read my books."

She signed Searching For Sunday, then A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

Personalized autograph


"I read about menstruation," I said, almost apologetically. "Of course, I'd first read about it in the Old Testament. I read the book, The Year of Living Biblically. Don't remember the fella's name."

"Oh, A.J. Jacobs," she said. I'm sure she knows him.

"Yeah, A.J. Jacobs. I just thought your book would be a good companion to that."

"Getting the woman's perspective."

I told her I'd been divorced for around a year. "I'm so sorry," she said.

"I could've never made it without my faith and belief in God."

Not one to pass up an opportunity, I told her I was a blogger too and handed her a manila envelope filled with print outs of five blog posts I'd written that somehow touched on faith.

"My blog isn't specifically a faith blog and it's not a political blog, but I'll write about those things if that's what's on my mind," I said. "I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you, would you be willing to write a guest piece on my blog?"

"Oh, you'll have to ask me that after my next book is finished," she said as if she were exhausted.

I wanted to get a selfie taken with her, but there was a long line of people behind me and I felt I should go on. I accepted that she might not have time to ever read my blog or respond to me on social media. Rachel communicates with thousands of people online.

"Keep in touch," she said as I walked out.


                                           Rachel Held Evans











Thursday, April 20, 2017

Out here in Kansas

                          First trailer for Out Here in Kansas

Last night, I finally made it out to see a documentary film that's been making the rounds in Kansas and has been entered in film festivals in this state as well as in Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri. The film is Out Here in Kansas and it marks the directorial debut of a good friend of mine and friend to this blog, Adam Knapp.

To summarize it succinctly, and as Adam might put it, the 30-minute documentary explores the often conflicting worlds of Christianity and homosexuality. But it's more than that. Adam captures the good, bad and ugly of the Kansas ethos as only a born and bred Kansas boy could do. The hard working-worship God-meat and potatoes ethic and red state stubbornness. But our world is changing.

People of LGBTQ persuasion are asserting their rights to be who they are and to enjoy the freedoms and legal protections others take for granted. As much as old school Kansans might want to live in denial and bring back the early ages, LGBTQ individuals are not going back to the closet. Adam doesn't steer away from the elephant in the room. He confronts it and does so using the clever story telling skills he honed in more than 20 years as a working journalist.

Adam is a long-time newspaper and online reporter. For around 20 years, he covered sports for The Wichita Eagle. His idea for the film sprang from two stories he had written about Burt Humburg, an All American football tackle who distinguished himself on the gridiron, first for Andover High School in the early '90s, then for Southwestern College, a small Methodist liberal arts school in Winfield, Kan. As a student athlete, Burt came to the realization that he was gay and came out to his coach, his fellow players and his mother.

Growing up, Burt and his family attended Central Christian Church in Wichita, then led by Pastor Joe Wright. The pastor was a calming presence on the Humburg family. He was there for them after their home was destroyed in the 1991 Andover tornado and he officiated over the funeral of Burt's father. He was strong influence and respected figure to Burt.

Pastor Joe would also lead the fight against same sex marriage when it came to a ballot referendum in Kansas in 2005, well before the federal Supreme Court would have the final word on the matter.

In the film's climax, Burt, now a physician in Iowa, and his former pastor have a debate. They cover such matters as scripture, religious legalism and most predominantly whether homosexuality is a lifestyle choice or a trait one is born with. The exchange, filmed in the studio of Wichita public TV station KPTS, took place for 90 minutes, but was whittled down to five minutes for Out Here in Kansas. In today's shouting, name-calling culture, it's a huge credit to these two men that they aired their differences in a civil, rational manner.

This guy is serious

It was around four or five years ago. Maria and I had bought a new sofa and were giving the old couch to Adam who was moving into a new place in Andover. It was a Friday night, and Adam, who was editor of the now defunct Andover American told me about the story he was working on for the next week. The woman working in his office as an ad rep would come up with the crackerjack headline, "The Doctor is Out."

"He came from this Christian fundamentalist family and he discovered he was gay," Adam said, while we sat, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon after moving the furniture in. I wound up staying all night at his house that night.

"The poor bastard," I responded.

It was both an inappropriate and appropriate response.

Inappropriate because when you meet Burt you'll find that he's no poor, pitiful character. This is a man who is secure in his own skin. He possesses admirable self-confidence.

Appropriate because Burt went through personal hell, coming to terms with his sexuality. He tried to pray the gay away as it's called, but there was no changing who he was.

Adam told me about Burt's connection with Pastor Joe.

"I thought how I'd love to be a fly on the wall in a debate between those two," Adam said. "Then I thought, 'I don't have to be a fly. I can get them together and make a film."

I'm ashamed to admit it now, but I thought it was just a momentary thing and he'd soon forget about it. A few weeks later, Adam, myself and former Eagle reporter Bud Norman (man, I loved his writing) were having a few beers at Kirby's Beer Store, a little dive bar behind Wichita State University. Adam's interest in making a film hadn't abated.

"I just ran into Pastor Joe yesterday and that's another sign that I have to make this film," he said.

This time I knew he was going to do it. This guy is serious, I thought.

Although he'd written a couple of screen plays, Adam plunged into this project, not knowing anything about film making. He was smart enough to surround himself with people who could help bring his vision into reality.

Burt Humburg, Pastor Joe Wright & Adam Knapp


Stellar directorial debut

There was a lot of hard work with fundraisers, driving across the country and tracking people down to get film footage, but Adam and his crew made it happen. Out Here in Kansas had its debut last Oct. 11, National Coming Out Day at Wichita night club, Roxy's Downtown. Local TV personality Sierra Scott was emcee for the event. I intended to make it -- after all, a film only has a world premiere once -- but, due to my work schedule, I couldn't be there. There have been several other showings in Wichita and other Kansas communities, but for one reason or another I always had to take a rain check.

Until last Wednesday night. At long last, I finally saw the film at WSU's Campus Activities Center Theatre. It was playing at our alma mater where we'd learned journalism at the Elliott School of Communication under Les Anderson.

Wichita radio personality and local legend Greg "the hitman" Williams introduced the film.

"My daughter was gay," Williams said. "And it's the hardest thing to say that word, 'was.' She committed suicide at the age of 29. I'll be grieving for the rest of my life."

It was the first time Williams had spoken publicly about his daughter's suicide.

Then it was time for the movie. It was riveting, you could almost feel the Kansas wind throughout. I liked how Adam put himself in the film as narrator. It reminded me of Michael Moore, who does the same thing. I also liked how he put his kids -- daughter Stellar and son Dallas -- in the film.

A lesser talent might've vilified Pastor Joe, but Adam and his crew humanized him. Adam merely presented both sides and let the story tell itself. If anything, Pastor Joe comes across as a good human being with a lot of love to give, but who is held back by Biblical legalism.

And Burt -- well he seemed to me like  a knock-you-on-your-ass guy who will be analytical about doing it.

I'd been told that my name was listed in the credits. I merely helped as a grip one day, but to be fair, it was during the filming of some key scenes. Anyway, I went in, waiting to catch my name, but I forgot to look. As the credits were rolling, my head was down as I contemplated the film's last scene. It was a surprise twist that brought the story full-circle. I didn't catch my name on the screen, but that just gives me an excuse to see the film again.

Jon Pic, Greg "the hitman" Williams, Adam Knapp, Danielle Johnson and Alicia Sanchez
After the film showing, Adam and Jon Pic, who produced the film, held a Q & A session with the audience. At one point, Adam talked about getting ready to film a scene in our hometown of Augusta, Kan. and getting into a conversation with this old lady about the film and how she said she didn't like "the gays." It was funny because I was with him during that conversation. It was the day I met Burt.

"She went to the church I went to as a kid," Adam said. Also, my childhood church.

When it was over, I turned around & talked to Adam's 16-year-old daughter, Stellar, who was sitting by a friend in the row behind me.

"I guess you've been to a lot of these things," I said and she nodded her head in a yes motion. "I'm chagrined to say this is my first time to see it. I'm late for the party."

There are plans to eventually put Out Here in Kansas online. I told Jon how cool it would be to see a DVD or Blue Ray of the film in our hometown library. That's something that will have to wait for after the film festivals and contests. Oh, and I've told Adam how cool it would be if the film were shown at the Augusta Theatre. The greatest movie house in the world!

As the film becomes more accessible, the out-of-state readers of this blog will get a chance to see it and know what I'm talking about.

I'm all for every artistic endeavor Adam takes on. He's supported this blog right smack from the beginning when I didn't have any other readers and didn't know what I would do with it. For that, I'll forever be in his debt.

I want you to know that Out Here in Kansas has its own blog where you can keep abreast of the film as well as people and events related to it. There's also a Facebook page, a Twitter site and you can find them on Instagram. I encourage you to follow these sites if you're not already. And if you haven't already, when you get a chance, you've gotta see this movie.

I'm sure you'll come away with something good.


                        Second trailer for Out Here in Kansas





Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter


It was Good Friday. Afternoon. The 1970s. My cousin, Jed, and I were sitting at the table, painting Easter eggs in Grandma Mac's kitchen. We occasionally looked back through the living room passage way where her Admiral box TV, a black and white early '60s model with a big fat gold-colored round knob, was tuned to The Flintsones. Grandma was drinking coffee, made from a metal percolator on her gas stove, white as the kitchen walls. Jed and I were drinking Kool-aid from wooden cups with ice cubes inside that came from metal trays.

Earlier that afternoon, I'd cried like a baby when I dropped the Easter egg I'd painted on to the sidewalk, shattering it into a million little pieces. I had painted it in Mrs. Alley's kindergarten class at Hattie O' Mattfield Elementary in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s) My mom, sitting at the wheel of her fire brick colored Ford Pinto, tried to console me. "It wasn't a real egg. It was just an egg shell," she said. But that was all forgotten and I was happy again as I sat in my grandma's kitchen, applying colored dye to eggs. Somehow, the table conversation turned to my cousin explaining the Easter holiday to me. Jed was a month older than me, hence bigger, tougher and smarter. I deferred to him.

"You see, Jeff, Easter is when Jesus died," Jed said.

"No, Easter is when he arose," Grandma corrected.

"Oh yeah," Jed said. "Easter is when Jesus rose." from the grave

Years later, I would learn how Easter eggs, like the Easter bunny, originated in pagan fertility religions and were incorporated by the Christians. The eggs came to symbolize an empty tomb.

A couple of days after we painted the eggs, on Easter, Grandma would hide them outside and us kids would go looking all over her big yard for them. Later that Sunday, my siblings and I would do the same thing at my grandma and grandpa Guy's house in Marshallville, Kan. (pop. 700)

I guess it's significant to add that in those years of what the psychological experts call "middle childhood," I became a Christian. In Sunday school at the Bible Baptist Church when we sang "come into my heart, Lord Jesus," boy, I meant it. I was never any model kid and after a week of mischief at school and home, it seemed like I was always playing catch-up on Sunday mornings, but there was no doubt I was Baptist, I was Christian, I'd accepted Jesus into my heart and that was that.

Backslider

Last Friday night I went for a couple of beers at Maggie O' Malley's Pub. Like such other city watering holes as the Monarch, the Anchor, Hopping Gnome and that little dive bar, Leroy's, across the street from my beloved WSU, Maggie's is a premiere Wichita alehouse. You should see the place on St. Patrick's Day. It gets wild, and Maggie takes to her iPhone 5S, calling cabs and uber drivers for patrons to impaired to drive, much like spitfire waitress Carla used to for Dr. Frasier Crane and the gang on TV's Cheers. And if a person is too impaired, she won't serve them anymore. I never drink too much when I'm out, at least not if I haven't secured a ride first. I lost my friend Dusty to a drunk driver.

"Okay, I shouldn't speak so profane and hateful especially on Good Friday," I said, while drinking a Guinness Stout.

(But hey, that's what I come to the bar for, right?)

"There's a guy out there in the ether. I've heard it said that in another world we might be friends and have a few beers together. Maybe go fishing. But this is the real world and I hate the motherf___ with every last fiber of my being."

Then after telling my friend, Janie, how I was mad as piss, I said I had an idea for a blog post.
"But I'll have to wait a few days after Easter to publish it 'cuz what I got on my mind ain't nothin' holy," I told her. I was almost bragging. Like I was going to spew out some lurid tale of sex and drugs.

"You know I'll read it," she said.

Janie has a special place in my heart because she's a big fan of this blog. In hindsight, her praise of me just makes me feel more guilty. Writing -- not even the praise you get from people, but the technical act, itself -- is ego food, a mood accelerator. A writer has to be careful not to live off that, to know there's more to life and to be straight in his, or her, mental health.

The next morning, I went on Maggie's Facebook page, said I felt better and that I didn't want to be a hater. I'm glad there's non-judgmental people at Maggie's. I made jokes that night to Maggie about how I'd have to do penance like saying Hail Marys, drinking Shirley Temples or something.

Maggie is fourth or fifth-generation Irish-American and a devout Catholic. Her ancestors settled in the East Coast, but through migration, as people are apt to do, she came to be born in the San Joaquin Valley of Northern California. She got an associate's degree in business from Bakersfield College and after living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she wound up owning a bar in Wichita, Kan. When she started brewing her own beer in the back of the bar, Maggie invited Father Kelly from the Wichita Catholic Diocese to say a blessing over the stainless steel vessel with the decorative copper. I wrote a 12-inch piece about the event freelance for the entertainment/lifestyle section of The Wichita Eagle.

The father sprinkled holy water over the vessel and bowed his head in prayer. "Our Father, we thank you for the blessings of this beer for the refreshment of our souls."

Help me in my weakness

My ex-wife, Maria, private messaged  me Saturday. It was in the 3 p.m. hour. She told me I needed to download the app to NewSpring, a non-traditional, megachurch on the east side of Wichita and listen to Senior Pastor Mark Hoover's Easter sermon. He gives about five sermons in a row to different crowds on Saturday afternoon/evenings and Sunday mornings.

Pastor Hoover talked about the Disciple Thomas, also known, probably unfairly, as Doubting Thomas because after Christ rose from the dead, the disciple said he wouldn't believe it until he touched the holes in his hands and on his side.

I'd stopped going to church by the time I was in junior high. My friend at school, Conner, used to try to get me to go back, but I didn't care for it at the time. If anyone led me back to God and the church, it was Maria.

She worked in the Jett Public Library when I met her. I used to hang out there all the time in those days. One day while there, I picked up a Bible -- I'm sure it was more for educational than spiritual reasons. Next, Maria walked by to stack books when she caught me sobbing in the back of the library. I told her how I'd read that verse, Mark 14:65.

Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" And the officers received Him with slaps in the face.

"How could anyone be so cruel?" I said.

"Come to church with me, Jeff," she said intently, looking deep in my eyes.

Maria has long forgotten about that exchange, but I remember it as vividly as if it happened 10 seconds ago.

Years later, I would feel like Judas Iscariot. Fighting these horrific, hellish temptations to cheat on my wife. I was driving in the 500 block of North Woodlawn in Wichita just before the Central intersection, telling it on my phone to my sportswriter friend, Seth. As always, he was calming.

"Well, you're a Christian, Jeff," he said.

Flash forward again to this weekend. I didn't feel like a Christian after I'd shown anger and hatred at Maggie's pub. It's not the way I want people to see me. I'd say I'm mostly a mild spirited person, but when I do lose my temper, it's pretty bad. It's one of my biggest downfalls. There's those verses in the Gospels about how a good tree bears good fruit, a bad tree bears bad fruit and how the world will know you're a Christ follower if you have love for people. I do love people, I really do. I'm really sorry I have these problems with anger and jealousy. I'll never stop striving to do better.

I received a text message from Maggie, Easter Sunday.

"You know you're forgiven," she said.






                                            Jesus -- Glen Campbell




















Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Black and white

Hi. I often dream about TV. This started when I was a little kid and had a dream about the Little Rascals. The dream was in black and white. There was a fire & Stimy was right behind it with a lighter.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Please don't challenge authority


Someone has removed videos, most of them being music videos, from the majority of blog posts from this, "Bane of My Existence." After a lot of careful thought, I've decided I concur with that action. My rationale for posting music videos was that they reflected the mood or theme of what I had written. I got that idea from watching such modern television classics as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Mad Men in which songs were used for that purpose.

But! There is one important difference between my blog and those shows. They paid for the use of that music. What? You think they dole out that shit for free? Take the episode of Mad Men in which Megan shared the Beatles' Revolver album with Don and told him to play "Tomorrow Never Knows." Matt Weiner and the team paid, like a gazillion dollars to use that. I mean, it was The Beatles for shit sake. This wasn't incense and peppermint crap, it was the foremost quartet of The Ages. So what kind of upstart do I think I am, inserting the Beatles, Stones or Sinatra? Sure I don't have the budget of a TV show produced on HBO, AMC or Showtime. I'm just a poor, struggling bastard with about five diehard fans.

But it doesn't matter.

Right is right and wrong is always wrong. If I was in violation of some copyright law, then it's only right that my (oh sorry, it was so arrogant of me to use that word, "my") videos be taken down. Removed. Prohibited. It's only the karma police, man. It's like my friend Kim who used to run a cafe where she occasionally featured live performances by musicians. But what if one of those musicians, in tuning their instruments, played a lick from Led Zeppelin? Uh-oh. That's when the copyright police come calling. "Well I guess I can't even sing Happy fuck'n birthday?" she said. That's right.

I rationalized my use of videos by saying, "Well, they're already on YouTube. And there's the capability to share videos on Blogger just as there is on Facebook and Twitter." But my silly, self-serving rationalizations don't matter. We should all respect authority and if some authoritarian force bars me from posting music on my site, it must serve a good purpose and like the 16th century philosopher Hobbes believed, authoritarian power is a good thing.

After all we need order in society. So far be it for me to ever challenge authority. I mean, that would be immoral and shit. Take marijuana, for example. Maybe they can get high all they want in Colorado, California or Washington state. But for what can only be good, sound reasons, the power structure in Kansas, in their wisdom, has deemed pot unfit to be legalized. So if you live in Kansas, please don't get your recreation from a joint, bong or illicit pipe. It's so unChristian. No, I don't smoke, I don't chew. I don't hang with those who do. And look at those whacked out states that legalized the evil weed. Washington, for example. You can also be a nudist there. Who wants to see your bare ass, anyway? Heck, I know a guy in Missouri who went to Facebook jail for posting a picture on the social media site of a naked guy running, his balls and schlong flopping in the breeze as he was chased by a pack of naked women.

My point is the same principle applies to the unauthorized use of music videos. And when you get right down to it, does music matter that much anyway? It's not everything. You can have culture without it. Do I really need it to bolster my writing? You didn't see Charles Dickens sticking music with his voluminous 19th century collection of novels. Is music all that great anyway? I once dated a girl who didn't like music. Except country-pop princess Patsy Cline. She liked her. But that was where it started and stopped. She didn't need a bunch of ear candy for her sustenance. So as you can see, it's a good thing I've turned over a new leaf and committed to no longer sharing music. It ain't that great anyway.

Okay, you got me. April Fool. I may get five days in the stockade for this, but here they are -- Radiohead. And by the way, let's not everyone get stoned.


                        "Nobody Does it Better" -- Radiohead

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Coming down


When I have writer's block, I can't do anything else. Read a book. Watch TV. I feel like such a blank person. But if anything brings me to my typewriter right now, it's you. You've supported this blog & I love you all & I never wanna let you down.

It's just so fucking hard, being a cog in this system. This secret society I write for. Only it's not me writing. It's like I'm out of my body & somebody else is writing. writing writing for my money paycheck I wish I was solving an unsolved murder. I wanna see my boy. my girl. my princess, I call her, but I'm stuck in this backwater. Oh it's a funky town especially here in a section called "the village" where i live with all the artists & dopers, people of all races.

I have the record player going. Sam Cooke. "Bring your sweet lovin', bring it on home to me." The turntable will spin and spin & the antenna on the fucking TV isn't right. And it's scrambled like so much of life. Oh, did I mention Sam Cooke? I liked him best when he sang gospel.

I remember the kitchen and the dining room table where we played Scattergories with the family. Her family. There was a den that I called my "man cave.' There was a red chair in that room & it was the most uncomfortable chair in the world, but I loved to sit in it because I called it my "thinking chair" just like the red chair on Blues Clues. When Max was learning to talk, he used to point to the TV when the dog came on the TV (my TV worked then) or when Elmo would come on. We used to play in the backyard. I remember when he started riding his bike with training wheels. The neighbor kid was a teenager who played loud rock n' roll in his garage. At first, he sucked. Then he started getting better & his friends joined him on drums & bass. There was a man in the neighborhood so serene he had a TV in every room. I was so afraid the other shoe would drop. It did, of course. Life humbles you that way.

When I see her with another man, it kills me. I've died inside a million times & then I die again. Noises I never knew I could make have come out of me.

If I could feel her body next to mine in bed, it would be so reassuring. To be with somebody, to be on top of her, inside her, then I exclaim "I love you, I love you" like I'm trying to prove it to her & I want to hold tight for life.

My lifeline now? God? He ain't gonna strike me with a disease like I asked him to. Sometime in the course of recent history, He invented what my son calls "Dad's happy pills" and I'm out now & the pharmacy hasn't refilled & the fucking pharmacy is closed.

So
     i'm
           jonesin'

When i'm blank, it's like i slipped off the world. I was always afraid of that when I was a kid. Those were apocalyptic times, particularly on Sunday nights when I dreaded school the next day. Now it's work. When I'd rock back & forth, my ex-wife called it "stimming."

Sometimes you're so alone, you don't want to check the "Donald Trump is Not My President" page on Facebook. Me, I'd just get more down.

Somebody mentioned Branson, Missouri today. I came to dislike that corny steal-your-money town with its tie dyed shirts and rebel flags sold in the same damn shops. But a picture came in my mind of how young she looked in a picture & she was so beautiful as she pushed our baby boy in a stroller & Mom was in the background (she went with us) and Mom still had her mind and it was such a lovely moment in my mind.

Imagine such a moment when none of that apocalyptic shit bothers me. And the sun is out & I feel -- not blank, but whole -- & the words, like Solomon Burke on my turntable right now, flow and flow with the peace of a still river. And it's just me and rock n' roll and love from the sun and no trees are dying. In fact, there's a garden all around. I remember a garden around an old farmhouse built in 1886. I think of volunteers right now. Volunteering for the house and making your world --- a little better. And as Teenage Fan Club sang on their 1991 Bandwagonesque album -- Jesus Christ is knocking at my door. It would have the feel like that, of words and connections and synapses and the Beach Boys and Big Star. But the picture would sadden me right now so I don't look. Like I don't read all the letters.

I don't know if I can go on some times & I feel like saying to somebody, "Tell my kids I love them." But haven't I loved so many, some who don't love me back anymore, all of it like i write here

& give to you now


                           "I'd Rather Go Blind" -- Etta James