Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Crossing paths


I was driving down a long stretch of Western Kansas highway. It was the kind of drive that grants me visions. To the side of the road, I saw a man walking. He was wearing a backpack and was carrying a wooden cross over his shoulder.

My initial response was cynical. "Another Jesus freak. I wrote a story about one of those guys for a paper in Oklahoma 20 years ago. Same story."

I'm so ashamed now to see how detached I'd become from that life loving youth with the insatiable curiosity. But that's what I am now, though I'm trying to walk back a little, to find that something galvanizing in myself and all the life that surrounds me. I work a job. It's a wagon I'd never hitch my star to, a box where I'll never be a star, a cold place. I accept that I'll never be a company man even though life would probably be easier if I were. I can change some things about myself, but I can't change who I fundamentally am.

Then I heard a voice in my head

Go to him

I'd heard that voice before. I knew to listen to it. So I turned on a dirt road, parked my car in the dry Western grass and walked forward, toward the man. As we inched closer to each other, I could see he was wearing an LA Dodgers baseball cap, faded jeans and a black T-shirt, being in white letters, the words, "We Are One."

"How's it going?" he said, calling across the space between us.

"Well, thank you," I answered. "How 'bout yourself?"

Initially nervous to make his acquaintance, I found this bearded T-shirt wearing man in faded carpenter jeans, light cross beams slung over his shoulder, to be inviting.

"Jared Cassidy," he said, extending his hand. "Jeff Guy," I said, reciprocating.

We made small talk. He told me he was walking from New York City to San Francisco. The end of the continent.

"What's the significance of the cross," I asked.

He told me how he'd gotten off a plane from Los Angeles to New York, walked into a Fifth Street Ace Hardware, asked to borrow a power tool and a man with cross tattoos on his arms and the words, "Jesus Saves" showing on the T-shirt behind his work vest held the beams while my friend drilled the pieces together. He was carrying it on his walk across America.

"The cross is a symbol."

Of what? I asked.

"Peace, unity, harmony, all of us coming together. I'm a Christian, but you know, once you start labeling, it causes divisions. There's just so much political rancor and cops killing people, people killing cops, people fighting over religion and sports."

"I see," I said, inquisitively.

"But the thing is whether you believe in his deity or not, Jesus did a noble thing for mankind."

"Listen," I said, "I have to be somewhat clandestine about my job, but I'll just tell you, I work for an underworld writing society. I give myself assignments, looking for American beauty and that sort of thing. Is it okay if I write your story and take a picture for our files?"

"Sure, my life's an open book."

"Mind if I ask how old you are?" I said as I steadied my camera phone at his standing figure.

"Thirty-three."

After snapping a few pictures and making small talk with the man, I figured I'd better split before I wore out my welcome.

"Well I don't want to take up too much of your time," I said.

"I appreciate that."

"But I wish you peace on your journey."

He walked on and I turned a corner with my car.

Political rancor

It was around 6 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9. I looked on my laptop, saw the words, "President elect Donald Trump" and I was instantly incendiary. I did something someone in my profession isn't supposed to do when I took my fury out on Facebook. I hate that stupid phrase, "the f-bomb," but that's what I said. The words were like blood next to my profile picture.

I wrote a blog, elucidating just what I thought of people who voted for that racist pig. Then it became like Civil War. "Why are you being so hateful?" a dear member of my family asked me.

"So when your dad posts his Hussein Obama shit, it's just an old man engaging in his hobby, but when I tell how I feel, it's hateful?" I said. "You have a double standard."

I posted what I thought was an innocuous message about peace and inclusion, but the people on the right and the left fought over it on my Facebook wall. A guy I'd been friends with since 7th grade -- well, that's all over. "You're a puppet for the left who believe anything the (sic) leberal media puts in front of you," he wrote. "Think for yourself. There's a media conspiracy. The media lies to you, my friend."

"You're outa here, you sonovabitch," I said and blocked him from ever seeing my Facebook again.

He was no big loss, but my family. God, my family -- I love them like nobody else. How do I reconcile it? I don't think I'm wrong for writing my feelings about the whole Trump fiasco, but I don't want my family to think I'm hateful and I don't want my liberal friends arguing with my more conservative family members on Facebook.

Resurrection

I hadn't been to church in weeks. In my travels, I'd attended a church where someone said something that pissed me off. We read a Bible verse in the Sunday school class:

He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me? -- Jeremiah 22:16

"I admit, I'm judgmental," the woman said. "You see the same poor people coming back time after time and I'm like, 'What are you doing to help yourself?'"

I became incandescent.

"I've read the Gospels. Jesus was helping people all the time and he never asked, 'What are you doing to help yourself?' Hell, Jesus was itinerant, probably homeless. He relied on the kindness of strangers. He said at Matthew 25:35 'I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.' He said what you've done for the least of these, you did for me.You ever had to live hand to mouth? Have your suburban Jesus, I'm outa here," I said and stormed out the door, ignoring their pleas for me to stay.

Now here I was weeks later. After all that happened, I needed spiritual rejuvenation. Weeks of travel had went by. And I was finally back where I felt safe and real in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s). I went to the one church where I felt free to by myself, Community Crossroads Church off State Street. The pastor, Kyle Whitman, and I seemed to have some rapport and I liked the way he shared a name with Dick Whitman from Mad Men and the poet Walt Whitman. Kyle digs Nadia Bolz-Weber, the author and tattooed pastor of the House For All Saints and Sinners in Denver so I decided he was all right.

Sandy, the liberal children's Sunday school teacher hugged me when she saw me in church. "I feel like I have someone on my team."

We sat at round tables with our cups of coffee in the lounge area of the church with the sanctuary before us. "Any prayer requests?" Kyle asked.

Blake, a 60ish man in the class, said, "How 'bout a prayer for Donald Trump who won the majority vote for President?"

Sandy and I looked uneasily at each other.

"He didn't win by a majority," Kyle said. "He was declared winner by the Electoral College."

"Well you can say he won by a majority through the Electoral College," Blake said.

"I wouldn't though," Kyle said.

After taking all the prayer requests -- for people in the hospital, for people to find jobs, for the president-elect, Kyle bowed his head.

"Lord, we know there are differences on this election even among people in this room, but let us remember that we're all here as one for your kingdom. We pray for our leaders to have wisdom because that's what you ask us to do."

We read from the sixth chapter of Second Kings about a small miracle in which a man retrieved the ax he had dropped in the Jordan River. I thought about small miracles. Jared, the man carrying the cross, told me after he'd given money to poor people with signs, other people had come along and given money to him for his journey.

"The Lord provides," he said.

In our area of Western Kansas, the pastor of a small town Methodist Church had given him a place in his church to shower and sleep for the night. Funny, it was a Methodist Church where I'd gotten mad and walked off, but this pastor -- I think Jesus and John Wesley would be proud of him.

I'm happy I talked to that guy, glad our paths crossed. I feel precarious and unsure of my future, but I guess we'll get through life and I'll hope for peace --

as i walk

on my journey


                         "One Toke Over the Line" -- Brewer and Shipley







Thursday, November 10, 2016

Taking hatred back



I went to bed early on election night. I was certain that when I woke up the next morning, Hillary Clinton would be the President-elect. There wasn't a doubt in my mind. It was close, but at the end of the day, Americans would do the right thing.

Arch-conservatives in my family would be mad and say the country was lost, but I was eager to say the country was moving on, that people weren't going to tolerate small-minded bigotry and bullying anymore, that we could accept that people other than white males had rights.

I remember lying in my bed before getting out, anticipating that Clinton won the election. At around 6 a.m. I woke up, turned on my laptop, googled the name Hillary and the words "Clinton defeated" followed. News stories popped up, saying Donald Trump won the election. I was flabbergasted. I felt like I'd woken up in an alternate universe, you know like some place where the South won the Civil War and Germany won World War II. This kind of thing happened in sci-fi novels and dystopian novels like "1984" and "Brave New World," not in real life. Never in my worst nightmare, did I see this coming.

"Way to fuck yourselves, America," I said. I was irate that people voted for him. We all know what he's done, that he said racist things against blacks, Hispanics and Muslims, that he encouraged violence at his rallies, that he wants to build a wall, that he paid no taxes, that he's having a bromance with Vladimir Putin, that he insulted the parents of a fallen soldier, that he mocked a disabled reporter, that he threatened to put his opponent in jail, that he joked about sexually assaulting women and may have actually done it. They knew all this and still voted for him.

Maybe that's why they voted for him. You don't have to go further than Facebook to catch all the cruel, racist things people say. They reveal who they are on social media.

The people of my country let me down. Let the world down. The world looks upon the United States to be a leader, but how can we ever be taken seriously again? We're telling the world, "This is who we are."

Yes, Clinton won the popular vote. By a razor thin margin, 45.7 to 45.5 percent. (The Electoral College put Trump through.) But it should never have been close. I agree with the progressive Christian blogger and author Rachel Held Evans: "That the election is this close is an indictment on our country."

I have to identify Evans as a "progressive Christian" to differentiate her from the evangelicals who have given Christianity a bad name. By voting for Trump, they have proven it was never about Christian love with them. It was about power. They love authoritarian figures. Marginalized, oppressed group, my ass. They're about control. Their power is contingent upon their oppression of others -- people of the wrong religion, wrong sexual orientation, wrong country, wrong language, race or political party. The lie has been exposed. What you have done in darkness has come to light.



David Duke is celebrating. Best night of his pathetic life. Hispanic and Muslim children are afraid. Some are being bullied in school. But a bully is what America wanted. You got your president with balls.

Trump voters, you have taken America back 50 years. Indeed, 50 years ago, you would have been against Martin Luther King and for segregation. Many of you would have joined the lynch mobs. Had you lived in Germany 80 years ago, you would have supported Hitler. Yeah, you took America back.

We're a sick nation in need of a healing. We may have to pay and pay for our sin of giving a stamp of approval to an oppressor, which is in the family of sins upon which this nation was founded -- slavery and genocide.

Remember, if Trump takes us to war or hurts people in any way, blood will be on your hands.


                                       Making America Great Again





Sunday, November 6, 2016

You people make me sick



5:30 a.m. this morning. I was out walking through a nice, tree lined neighborhood in Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s.) I have white male privilege, I can do that. It would have normally been 6:30, but the clocks got turned back, meaning we have another hour of this election. (I voted last week.) Good family-looking houses align the dim sidewalk and leaf-scattered lawns. Signs in the yards read "Trump/Pence, Make America Great Again." It's all I can do not to cross out some words and write "white again." After all, that's what they really mean. But that would be wrong. They have a Constitutional right to express their stupid, racist opinions. I'm obligated as an American to respect that even though I hate everything they're about.

At around 6 a.m. I stop in Schnierheizen's Donut Shop for a glazed donut and a cup of their delicious coffee. The coffee drinkers are sitting at their table. One of the old guys is wearing a Hilary for Prison T-shirt. He'll probably wear it to church this morning.

I sit alone at my own table and observe them.

"I don't care what Trump said 10 years ago," one of the old farts says. "What man hasn't talked about pussy. He would've never said that if he knew a tape was rollin.'"

"You hear Hilary's involved in some devil worshiping scandal, some orgy with menstrual blood, semen and urine?" one of the men says. He's wearing one of those Make America Great Again ball caps. "I read that on Alex Jones's website."

Alex Jones, the whack job who called the Newtown shooting massacre of first graders a hoax instigated by the liberals who want to take your guns. You know, like climate change is a Chinese hoax.

"I heard there's some sex trafficking or pedophilia thing goin' on with the Clintons and that goddaman foundation where they steal money from people."

"If Kilary wins, we'll all have to learn to speak Arabic."

"I'd rather shoot first."

Second Amendment remedies, Sarah Palin called assassinations.

"Had eight years of that Muslim jungle bunny in the White House. Hell, he's the racist,dividin' this country every chance he gets between the whites and blacks. And his wife looks like an ape. Only reason the damn liberals voted for him was 'cuz he's black. Now they're only gonna be votin' for that bitch 'cuz she has a pussy."

I see vulgar terms becoming more mainstream. The election of the first African-American brought the word "nigger" out of the closet. If Clinton is elected, I'm sure we'll hear the words, "bitch," "cunt" and "pussy" more in the mainstream than we do already. Eight years of racism eclipsed by four to eight years of misogyny.

The good Christian Trump supporters

Mr. Chapps, a deacon at the Methodist Church, comes in and buys a few dozen donuts for the church members to have with their morning coffee before Sunday school classes starts. Good Mr. Chapps buying the donuts. On good Mr. Chapps's Facebook page, you'll find he likes, not only Trump, but Ben Carson, Rush Limbaugh and Todd Starnes, a lesser known alt-right conservative commentator who likened the taking down of Confederate flags to what ISIS is doing in Iraq. Mr. Chapps also likes a cute little page with a crude African American caricature and the mocking words, "Does this offend you?" Yeah, I checked out the old man's page. A guy's gotta know these things. My family went to Mr. Chapp's church for awhile and now we know we never want to darken their door again.

Well, the good moral Family Values Christians have decided they want an obnoxious, loudmouth blow hard who brags about sexual assault and is alleged to be a sexual predator ("those women are on Hilary's payroll," the stupid old men say). The charade is over. They never really cared about Christian values like "love thy neighbor." It's all about power with them. Political power. Trump's racism? Hey, the Religious Right was founded on racism. Don't be fooled for a minute into thinking it was about abortion.

(oh, but Hilary has email-gate.)

I'm pissed off at close to half the American population, just as I was pissed off at the people of my home state of Kansas for re-electing Brownback. How can nearly half the country's population back this mad man? Maybe it's because in his racism, misogyny, virulence, love of violence & torture, disregard for democracy and hatred --

they see themselves

here in the disunited States of America.



 "Ballad of the Thin Man" by Malkmus, Stephen and the Million Dollar Bashers (written by Bob Dylan)