People and grassroots?

750x450 co caucusOr money and tech?

Did you see it?  Probably not.

It wasn’t more than a twitch on Twitter.  But earlier this year, Rob Witwer announced that he’d resigned from the Republican Party and re-registered as an independent.

So what else is new?  After all, unaffiliated registrations have been steadily rising for years and now account for nearly 40% of the Colorado electorate. While registered Democrat and Republican voters have declined to about 30% each.

But Rob’s different.  He use to represent a sizable chunk of Jefferson County in the Colorado House.  I served two years with him in that body.  He was a smart, articulate, straight shooting legislator who served his constituents well.  He’s also the co-author of The Blueprint, an insightful account of how a handful of wealthy Democrats turned our red state blue.

So how does this help?

At least in part, Rob explained his action by saying:

“Becoming an independent is not a protest against the GOP so much as a recognition that the major parties have morphed into a malignant duopoly whose primary function is to amass power by dividing Americans against one another. This is immoral. And unsustainable.”

Now if Rob were speaking of how things are done in Washington, D.C., I could probably go along.  The amount of money and raw power that sloshes around in the “swamp” is enough to corrupt all but the most incorruptible.

But Colorado’s different.  Our Constitution mandates that we balance our state budget every year.  The annual budget bill, and each session’s most important legislation, usually has broad, bipartisan support.  By comparison with D.C., Colorado is a paragon of political virtue.

And even if we do have our share of partisan wrangling, how does registering as an independent help?

The real impact of being an “independent.”

Now, again, Rob’s a sharp guy.  But from what I see on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website, Rob’s just done a couple of things that don’t make much sense.

First, he’s disqualified himself from participating in our caucus system for nominating political candidates.  They’re only open to someone affiliated with one of the major parties.

“So what?” you ask.  “No one goes to them anyway.  And no one understands how they work.”

For you, the caucus skeptic, here’s some things to consider.  A caucus is like a mini-political convention consisting, usually, of a few dozen folks in your immediate neighborhood.  At a nearby school or church, delegates are elected to go on to the higher assemblies where candidates for offices like President, governor, congress and the US Senate are selected.  It’s serious stuff.  And sometimes uncomfortable.

Like when, at my last caucus, I put myself forward, despite the disapproving looks of several of my neighbors, to represent Donald Trump at the state convention.

But the point is that the caucus system is personal.  Face to face.  Grassroots.  Low cost. Generally civil.

And the alternative?

But Rob, along with all other “independent” voters, has now opted into a primary election system that’s just the opposite.

From beginning to end, it’s money, money, money.  From the hired gun signature collectors to the huge sums of money that gets dumped into scurrilous TV and mail campaigns ahead of the June primary.  Since when wasn’t there’s enough money spent on nasty ads during the fall general election that we need to get the TV smear campaigns rolling in April for the June primary?

And talk about impersonal.  With the anonymity of social media playing an increasingly dominant role in mass campaigns, you too can have your inbox endlessly spammed with vicious campaign emails from before the primary until after the general election.  Congratulations!

At least with the caucus system, only the delegates to the various conventions are subjected to this sort of social media abuse.  And, remember, they volunteered for it.

So, Rob, it would be nice to think that your action will heal our “malignant divisions.”  But don’t hold your breath.  In fact, by further weakening the caucus system, there’s a pretty good chance that things might get worse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it all comes together like this . . .

The Huckabey Family

The Huckabey Family

. . . bet on it.  The Lord’s in there somewhere.

I’ve written about Forrest and Lakin Huckabey before.  He’s the shrimpy guy (despite this, his best high school sport was basketball) who did two tours as a sniper in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division.   Before being permanently disabled by his combat injuries.  While Forrest was deployed, Lakin held down the home front at various army bases.  Tall and slender with raven black hair, Lakin has the look in her eyes of a woman who’s trying to keep up with five inexhaustible kids-all while going to night school in her “spare” time.  On Forrest’s “work ineligible” discharge from the Army, they settled near their families in southeast rural Kansas about 10 miles from Independence.

I got to know the couple a bit when I volunteered for Project Sanctuary last spring in Granby, Colorado.  Insistently, their story tugged at me.  Well, actually it was probably more like the Lord: “You know you have more to offer this couple and their kids beyond just handing them a paper plate while they wait in the lunch line for cold cuts and chips at this Project Sanctuary retreat.   Why don’t you do it?”

Out on a limb

Our family has a nice condo in Silverthorne, Colorado-smack dab in the middle of some of the prettiest country of a state that has no shortage of pretty country.  And, on top of that, plenty of fun, family activities that draw hoards of tourists to this part of the Centennial State.

My wife, bless her soul, has spent many hours making that condo “just so” for our family of five and our five grandkids.  There’s lots of room for the ten of us-and more.

So, I had to work up my nerve to even make the ask:  “I met this Huckabey family at the Project Sanctuary retreat.  He’s disabled by his combat wounds in Afghanistan.  He and his wife have 5 young kids.  What,” I concluded, “do you think about letting them use the condo for a week this summer?  I think they’d really appreciate it.”

It wasn’t easy for either of us, but we finally came to a “Yes” in May.  And then the work began-with all deliberate speed.

Johnny on the Spot

John Greene’s an old friend from church.  A navy vet, he was a globe trotting petroleum geologist before retiring in the Silverthorne area.  Until, that is, his first wife passed away.   At which point he moved to the Denver area, joined our church, Greenwood Community, and met his second wife, Diana.  John and I got to know one another through the Under Construction ministry that does “fix-it” type work for people, in and out of the church, who need a hand.

John’s a “can-do, take-charge” kind of guy.  So, when I finally confirmed that the Huckabeys were coming to the condo, he was the first guy I called.  After telling him the Huckabey’s story, he hesitated-about a second-before diving into the deep end.

“I worked with Rob,” began John, “who was a Green Beret and a Vietnam vet when I went to the Dillon Community Church up there in Silverthorne.  I think Rob would be glad to lend a hand.  And,” John continued, “since Forrest was with the 10th Mountain Division, we could take  them over to Camp Hale and see where the Division trained before World War II.  That would also give us the chance to show them Vail and then swing around to Leadville.  There’s lots of really neat things to do up there.”

And that was just the beginning

At the Country Boy Mine

At the Country Boy Mine

Silverthorne has a nice rec center, swimming pool, climbing wall, skate board park-the works.  But for a family of seven on a tight budget, it all can get to be a bit pricey.  So after some snooping on the internet, I called the Town Manager, Ryan Hyland, and told him the Huckabey’s story.  Again, with no hesitation, he jumped in and the family had a great time at the rec center and skate park, courtesy of the city.

Next, I talked to my church.  Again, with almost no prompting, they came through with a $100 gift certificate for use at a local grocery store.

A few weeks before, I’d sent the family a package of material about touristy things to do in the area.  One of the brochures was for the County Boy Mine in Breckenridge.  It particularly caught the imagination of the older Huckabey kids; during one of our many email exchanges Lakin said the boys were fascinated by gold mining.

Even though Breckenridge, just down the road from Silverthorne, has a proud mining tradition, I was at a loss about what to do until I was in bed the night before I was scheduled to meet the family at the condo.  And then, like a bolt out of the blue, Robin Theobald came to mind.  An elementary school chum of mine, Robin probably knows more about Breckenridge mining history than anyone else alive.  But it’d been decades since we’d talked. Nonetheless, when I called the next day he acted as if he was expecting me.  “No problem,” he said, “I’ll speak to the manager, Mike.  If he’s around, I’m sure we can make it happen.”  And Robin was as good as his word; the Huckabey family had a great time poking around at the old mine site.

War at Home

Sure, it was fun and a privilege to be a bit player in how the Lord made this week come together for this family.

But life’s probably never going to be easy for the Huckabeys.  If you doubt that, consider this “War at Home” post put up by Lakin that she described to me as “real or . . . raw?”  Now, there’s an understatement: not easy to imagine an any more graphic description of the physical, emotional, and mental scars that these wars have inflicted on a young man, a young woman, and their five young children.

And yet, the wars drag on.  And on.  And on.  Lord, have mercy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ve never heard a movie like this one

750x450 a quiet place

Catch it if you can

If you like, you can call me out of it.  In fact, way out of it.

But it wasn’t until just a few months ago that I became aware of the 2018 film, A Quiet Place.    But I must have been about the last one to get on board.  It made a ton of money.  And raked in award nominations and wins like fall leaves after a good blow.

It was probably unconscious.  A Quiet Place is a scary movie.  And scary movies and me go together like oil and water.  Or actually, more like water dripping into boiling oil; it’s not pretty and someone’s gonna get hurt.

In a nutshell, the movie’s a sci-fi horror flick about an earth that’s been conquered by ravenously hungry aliens.  Who, although they’re blind as bats, can hear a pin drop.  And, when they do, it’s game permanently over for the unfortunate man, woman, child or infant who dropped it.  And if that’s not a recipe for suspense, I don’t know what is.

Silence is golden

Ever tried to keep three young kids quiet for even a few minutes?  When they’re not sleeping?  Then imagine doing that for day after day.  Then week after week.  And month after month.  And then imagine that your failure to do so doesn’t just wake the baby napping in the next room.  But almost instantly brings down on your head a monster that makes Jaws look warm and cuddly.  And then imagine that a monster devours your youngest son for playing with a space shuttle toy.

Welcome to the world of Lee and Evelyn Abbot.  And their three-then two-young kids.  Sure, they’re smart.  Lee’s an engineer/tinkerer.  Evelyn’s a physician.  But it hardly matters; their backs are up against the wall.  And it shows.  In the quiet of the basement of their country farm house, they silently join hands around the dinner table.  And silently give thanks for their daily bread.  And silently pray for deliverance.

The family under siege

The great thing about science fiction, I suppose, is that you can let your imagination run wild with it and make it mean almost anything you want.  And Quiet is no exception.

For example, there’s this article, from a Catholic perspective, that lauds the film for the couples’ willingness to risk bringing a noisy infant into this terrifying world.  Rather than aborting it.

But in a larger sense, perhaps a better analogy would be to the family itself.  And the world at large.  About how, simply because they exist, families find themselves under assault from all sides by unseen and scarcely understood-but terrifying forces.  Drugs.  Mindless violence.  Sex.  Hollywood.  Politicians.  A global economy that chews people up.  And then spits them out.

But there is a silver lining to A Quiet Place.  The sequel is scheduled to come out in 2020.  If, that is, I’m not too much of a scaredy-cat to watch it.

 

War at Home

How can we have gotten to the point that all these wars are second nature to us?

HuckabeyHooligans

It’s usually when the whole house is quiet and everyone is home that I cannot sleep.  I sit up thinking about everything around me how we got here..  Not in a figurative way, I know how I made my way up to my bed, under the covers and how my children made it to their beds and my husband found the couch.. I know all that.  I mean, how we got here.  Here in life.  How did we make it through all of that, yet still end up here?   How did we survive that?  How?  None of it makes sense.

It feels like I was just sitting in that auditorium, on Fort Drum, listening to all these people brief us on what could happen, what will happen and when.  It was just yesterday I was surround by all these people, thinking none of this applies to us, he…

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Ho-hum. Just another day at the library

750x450 arapahoe book

This is not your father’s “World Kissing Day”

I spend a lot of time in Koelbel Library, a very nice facility in a suburb south of Denver.  While I could blog at home, I prefer the library because it lacks two very tempting distractions:  the refrigerator and television.  True, there’s usually a lively background hubbub of little voices who don’t have a clue about traditional library courtesies.  But at this point, that’s white noise I easily tune out.

Each day as I walk in, joining swarms of little kids and their moms, we pass displays that highlight books and themes that are featured for the week or the month.  This July’s?  “World Kissing Month”.  Or was it “World Kissing Day”?  No matter; it’s the books on display that count.

And “Soft Place To Fall” was enough to push me over the edge.  Front and center, it was right where hordes of little kids walked by; I think I’m finally pissed off enough to do something.  More, that is, than complain to the low level library functionaries I’ve spoken to before.  Who patronizingly pat me on the head and say, in effect, “How could you be so prudish?  We have to appeal to all audiences.  Move on; nothing to see here.”

OK.  I can buy that.  But let’s quit kidding around and start appealing to all audiences.  Why not Larry Flint’s Hustler up there next to “Soft Place”?  Or, if that’s a bit on the rough side for the little tykes, at least Playboy?

An attractive nuisance

750x450 arap library door

Once the kids have navigated the gauntlet of “World Kissing Month”, most of them veer left to the children’s section of the library.  It’s the kind of place that draws kids to it like a magnet; a full size sculpture of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat beckons them through a child size door that, obviously, is made just for them.  And they love it; whenever I’ve come with my little granddaughters for “Story Time”, they invariably make two or three passes through their “own door”.

And most of what goes on in that special space that’s been reserved for little children is just fine.  But why not keep it that way?

But no.  In one shelf, literally right down at floor level, in reach of even the smallest hands, is Lesléa Newman’s Heather Has Two Mommies.  It’s no wonder that the book, published in 1989, is described as “groundbreaking”; it was the first LBGQT novel aimed at the children’s market. The American Library Association ranked it the 9th most frequently challenged book in the United States in the 1990s.

But by comparison with another “children’s” book, It’s Perfectly Normal, Heather is child’s play.  In the stacks, but at eye level for our four year old grand daughter, Normal‘s only a hop, skip and a jump from Heather.  And, indeed, it is an eye full.  Full frontal “cartoons” of male and female genitalia, many images of people performing intercourse, and an introduction to anal and oral sex and masturbation.  Take it from me, this is one book where words are completely incapable of capturing its “charms”.   Particularly for little kids.

“I READ BANNED BOOKS”

450x450 banned book van

Koelbel is part of the Arapahoe Library District.  Every day as I walk into the building, I pass one of their “Bookmobiles.”  The folks that run the District seem to have a “thing” for bumper stickers.  “I BRAKE FOR LITERACY”  is one.  But the one that grabs me when I’m  in this kind of mood is, “I READ BANNED BOOKS.”

Now, bear in mind that neither Heather Has Two Mommies or It’s Perfectly Normal are banned.  The Library District has, obviously, given them their seal of approval.  In fact, they’re right out where little kids can freely pick them up and page through them.

Which makes me wonder.  Just what kind of books are sufficiently lewd for Library District employees and their bosses to ban them?  And therefore read them?

 

 

 

 

It’s All About Family: Part II

swalm family reunio 800x400

When it finally quit going wrong

Just good folks.  That’s how I’d describe the 150 or so people, overwhelmingly Canadian, who attended our Reist/Archer family reunion near the little farming communities of Didsbury and Olds north of Calgary.

Sure, there was a nuclear physicist and linguist among us.  But they were the odd exceptions.  Many more were things like cement truck driver, bear hunting guide and professional paint baller, electrician, missionary, gold prospector, welder, retired minister.   And, of course, farmers, dairymen, and ranchers.  Hard working, blue collar types.   Many full, grizzled beards were in evidence.  In short, a bunch of good ol’ boys.  And their good ol’ wives.  And a passel of their good ol’ kids.

The Harmattan Community Center where we met was a former one room school house.   To the east was an infrequently traveled gravel road.  Beyond that, fields of golden rape seed and barley stretched to where the sky reached down to touch the prairie.

The Center was surrounded by a couple of acres of closely mown grass.  When Linda and I checked in Friday evening, the field around the building was largely empty.  When we’d returned the following morning, husky pickups and big trailers with pop-out sides had sprung up like mushrooms after a spring shower.

A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet

Untitled design (12)

Much of my time at the reunion was given over to trying to figure out just how I’m related to all these people.  And trust me, after a day and a half, I barely scratched the surface.

Why?  Our ancestors had big families.  It wasn’t so much the challenge of deciphering the family tree-as the forest.  

One example, in particular, stands out.  A man, I believe he was an Archer, married a woman who, I believe, was a Reist.  They had four or five kids before she died.  

He then married her sister-and they proceeded to have at least four or five more.  Most of these kids were girls.  (I’m confident that the man marrying two sisters part of the story is accurate.)

My grandmother, Mabel, was one of these Reist girls.  She, in turn, married my grandfather, Wesley Swalm.  (That my middle name is Wesley is pretty good evidence that he’s the right guy.)

Wesley answered the Lord’s call to be a Nazarene minister.  So, the young couple moved to Pasadena, California where he studied at a Nazarene Bible school.  From there, they went to Berkley where he earned an advanced degree.  Wesley then got a job as the librarian at the fledgling Nampa Nazarene Bible College just west of Boise.

By now, it was about 1918 and Wesley and Mabel had two children of their own: Paul, my father, and his big sister, Alice.

Wesley, however, also had something a good deal less cuddly:  TB.  His health failing, the family resorted to a desperate expedient to try to cure the deadly lung disease for which no real cure was known:  cold.  And there was no better place for cold than the Alberta prairies in winter.  So they returned to Didsbury where, during the day, Wesley did his best to pastor a church.  And where, at night, he was put in a frigid tent in the hope that exposure to “fresh air” would cure the “consumption” that was destroying his lungs.

The “cure” didn’t work; Wesley died in 1922 at the age of 32.  But Linda and I were able to find his gravestone in the little Didsbury cemetery.

Reunion.  Repeat.

After dinner on Saturday night, there was an auction of a table full of white elephant type items to provide “seed money” for the next “Reist/Archer Reunion” three years hence.

The auctioneer (don’t even ask me which grove of the forest he hails from), owns a nearby spread numbering in the hundreds of acres.  He wore a smudged baseball cap with a seed company logo perched above his deeply tanned face.  Despite the small potatoes at stake, he did an admirable job calling out the “Who’ll give me eight?  Eight?  Eight?  Eight!  Nine? Who’ll give me nine?  Nine . .?  Nine?  Last time . . .  No?  Eight!  Sold,” he cried, gesturing with an outstretched palm,  “to the young lady there on the side!”

Auctions are fun, but they make me nervous.  It’d be just like me to not pay attention, absent-mindedly raise my hand when chit-chatting in the back of the room, and find myself the owner of something that would be very difficult to explain when I got home.

But I managed to avoid that pitfall this time and actually bring home something that both fit in my suitcase.  And makes me proud to own.  It’s the

Archer & Reist Family Cookbook

So, for only $15 Canadian, I’m now the owner of what the sticky note on the plastic bound book describes as “Good item for auction as is the last one left!”  It’s no surprise that it’s the last of the Mohicans; it was produced for the 2010 Archer Reist Reunion.

As the auction continued, I sat to the side and and enjoyed skimming recipes like “Pickled Pineapple,” and “BBQ Stuffed Peppers,” both by Marybelle Archer.  But it wasn’t until I got to this one, that the book really spoke to me:

DAVE ARCHER’S SECOND-BEST COMPANY DINNER

Go to a nice grocery store, and find the frozen food section.
Look for the package with the best-looking meal pictured on it.
Buy it and take it home.
Put in microwave.
Serve.

By the time I finished, I was in tears.  I immediately searched out Dave-and got his autograph.  (He’s the guy who organized the paint ball war outing.)  When I got home, I proudly showed my family my acquisition and asked our daughter Jocelyn, who’s a chef extraordinaire, to read the recipe around the kitchen island.  Halfway through, she was laughing uncontrollably.  As were the rest of us.

So, am I going to the Archer/Reist reunion three years from now?  Johnny Cash puts it best for me:  If the Good Lord’s Willing and the Creek Don’t Riseyou can count on it.

 

 

 

 

 

If it could go wrong, it did . . .

Welcoming committee in Banff - Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Our welcoming committee in Banff.

…except when it mattered.

With a tip’o the hat to that rode-hard-put-away-wet cowboy crooner cum hippie, Willie Nelson, I’m:

“On the road again,
I just can’t wait to get on the road again . . .
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again”

But this time to Canada for a family reunion with the Reist’s, a branch from my dad’s side of the clan.  We’re going to spend a weekend together near Didsbury, a farming town of about 5,000 north of Calgary.

I’m traveling with my chronically peripatetic sister, Linda.  In a rental car, we’ve front loaded the reunion by several days to first go down the east side of the Continent’s spine from the Calgary to Glacier National Park.  Then turning west over the Divide and heading north through Banff and continuing to the iconic Fairmont Hotel on Lake Louise.  Then crossing the Divide again for the reunion before taking in the last day of the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Calgary Stampede.

A comedy of errors.  That wasn’t so funny.

But this little story comes with a sub-plot that, infuriatingly, just keeps on giving.

It began early in the morning when Linda flew in from her home in Albuquerque to DIA where we were scheduled, we thought, to catch a Frontier flight together to Calgary.  But when she got to the gate she was told that the plane had already left.  And that Frontier wouldn’t have another flight to Calgary for three days.  Information that she immediately communicated to me while I was in my Uber to the airport.  Talk about that sinking feeling.

“But,” she continued, “I might be able to get us on another airline that leaves this afternoon.  But it’ll probably cost more.”

“Well, what choice do we have?” I replied.  “We’ve got all the other arrangements made.  I think we have to take it if you can get it.  But I wonder what happened?  I have it right here on my calendar that we should have had plenty of time to catch this flight.”

“Well, I’m not sure, but I think the travel agent messed up and didn’t send us the notice of the change.”

“Great.  And, of course, it’s my travel agent.   Well,” I sighed, “you better get the tickets.  I’ll deal with the travel agent later.”  And you can bet your bottom dollar that I will.  ‘Cause those tickets, purchased at the last possible moment, cost so much that you couldn’t get me to confess how much even if you put thumb screws on each of my fingers.  And toes.

But wait.  There’s more!

When we got to the rental car desk in Calgary, the hits just kept coming.  I’d forgotten my driving glasses-didn’t really need ’em to sit in the Uber on the way to the airport.  And it didn’t seem quite fair to have my sister do all the driving.

Seriously abashed, I had to call my understandably resentful wife to have her ship them to the Lake Louise where I could take up the slack for the last few days of driving duty.  And, at the time, it seemed like a good plan.

Until, that is, I got this text from my wife:  “Took the glasses to the UPS store.  $165.09 to have them shipped to Canada!”

“Oh, my Lord!” I exclaimed as I stared at the little letters on my phone.  But my sister didn’t seem much surprised:  “Lake Louise is remote.  There aren’t any airports around there.  I just hope they get there in time.”

But wait!  There’s still more!

From Calgary, Linda drove us back across the U.S. border to Glacier National Park.  There, we planned to spend a night and then take a ride in one of the famous open top “Red Bus Tours” that navigate the Going-to-the-Sun-Road to see the spectacular peaks, glaciers and wildlife.  To make sure we were on track to be at the proper bus stop to answer the early morning “‘Board!” we scouted out the area after dinner at the rustic Lake McDonald Lodge where our table overlooked the lake and the rugged peaks beyond.

While on the road the next morning, we got engrossed in one of the several nourishing conversations that occurred during the trip.  Since Linda moved away from home for college when I was a kid-and she never lived in Denver again-this was the most time we’ve spent together for decades.  As she drove us down the winding two lane highway that followed a powerfully sinuous river coursing beneath pine clad slopes, we talked about war, peace, Christianity and my relatively recent conversion to near pacifism.  So, rather than going just a few miles to the turnoff to catch our bus, we, completely absorbed, drove miles by it before she realized where we were.  And so we missed the tour altogether!

Oh, well!  All’s well that ends well.

Turned out, however, that it wasn’t altogether a bad thing.  The drive back up across the Canadian border to our next layover in the tiny tourist burg of Radium Hot Springs on the west side of the Divide pretty much burned up the day even without our “going to the sun.”  And even though the summer days that far north are anything but short.

True, the glasses fiasco continued to plague us for a few days; something, said the email from DHL, about getting a tiny pair of glasses across an international border.  So Linda was at the helm for the rest of the drive.  And I gave up and just told DHL to “return to sender.”  Which they did.  Has to be about the most expensive round trips that a pair of glasses has ever made.

But at least they were there to greet me when I finally made it home.

 

 

There’re no atheists on the back of a . . .

BRAHMAN BULL!

Jim Lovell is one of three men that, for years, has led the Bible study that I attend on Wednesday mornings.

Jim’s an interesting guy.  He grew up on the Baptist buckle of the Bible belt of western Oklahoma.  Somehow got to Denver where he joined the Evangelical Presbyterian church I attend.  Before moving on to, of all things, the Wellspring Anglican Church.  Which, never fear, is affiliated with the charismatic Rwandan Anglican Church.   And isn’t even within sniffing distance of the “all smells and bells” churches of its English brethren.   I’ve been to Wellspring-and I like it, too.  So do my daughter and her family-they’re members.

Jim runs a successful, high-end residential construction company.   During the 2008 financial collapse in the building market, Jim defiantly said this about the mortgage meltdown’s impact on his business:  “I refuse to participate!”  And, as far as I know, he didn’t.

Size doesn’t matter.  But heart does.

Jim has a grandson, Nathan Hatchell, who’s a little wisp of a guy.  But all muscle and sinew.  And a winsome smile that he tends to hold back for company.

One of the first things I noticed about Nathan was his clothes.  Stove pipe blue jeans-of course.  White western shirt with the tricked out yoke and pearl snap buttons.  But it was the belt that really caught my eye: a shiny buckle about the size of a tea cup saucer.  Big enough to cut the kid in half if he wasn’t careful when he stooped over to pull up his cowboy boots.

Sooner or later, it came out that Nathan attended a university in Oklahoma that offered rodeo as an intercollegiate sport.  And that Nathan rode Brahman bulls for the program.

Now, I went to the rodeo when I was a kid here in Denver.  And the bull riding was always a highlight of the evening.  Especially when the clowns scampered out to lure the bulls away from the cowboys who’d been twisted like pretzels before being thrown in a heap to the dirt on the coliseum floor.  I was always astonished when those skinny guys stood up, dusted off their chaps with their cowboy hats, and swaggered over to join their buddies ringside.

The rest of the story

But it wasn’t until the time, years later, that I happened to get a seat right above the shoot where they loaded the cowboys onto the back of the animals that I really understood what bull riding is all about.

Peering over the railing, I was there with my own now young son.  Each cowboy went through a similar ritual as they climbed into the shoot.  Watching them get on the back of the bull made the biggest impression on me.  It was like trying to get your legs around a heaving, infuriated Volkswagon bug that was blowing snot out its nose.  The rider then tightly wraps a thong around his hand that, in turn, gripped a handle that was strapped around the bull just behind its shoulders.  To more securely anchor his leather clad “riding” hand, the rider alternately tugs on the thong and pounds on his riding hand with his free hand.

Now ready, he lays back on the bull’s haunches, gives his hat a final tug and then raises his free hand over his head.  With that, he gives the guy handling shoot a curt nod.  The gate swings open.  And the now even angrier bull explodes into the ring.

A good comparison?  Think of the condemned man nodding to the hangman to drop the trap door.

This isn’t your father’s bull rider

But to actually meet a bull rider?  Not ’til I met Nathan.  And what’s more, he isn’t your average bull rider.  He’s in the running to be the national intercollegiate champion.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve only met Nathan once or twice in passing on a Wednesday morning; he wouldn’t know me if he saw me.

But there’s a nice article here about him in the Rodeo News magazine.   He comes from a bull riding family but it wasn’t all smooth sailing; his dad rode bulls before going to work as a roughneck in the Oklahoma oil fields.  But there’s no mention of a mom; Nathan was bounced from home to home as a kid.  The article also discusses the sport’s occupational hazards: broken jaws and death as if they were all in a day’s work.  Which they are in this “profession.”

For obvious reasons, it’s the kind of sport where you grow up in a hurry.  Just out of college, Nathan’s engaged to be married this fall.  He’s also looking to join his grandfather’s construction business and, perhaps someday, take it over.

For a kid, he’s wise beyond his years:  “Follow the Lord and your dreams will follow you. Everybody is chasing their dreams, but I’m chasing the Lord and my dreams have come to me. Don’t let anything set you back from that.”

Nathan, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Now, if I could only do it as well as you have.

 

 

 

 

It’s just one damn thing after another.

And then you die?

Did you see the recent stories and pictures of climbers stuck in a human traffic jam trying to get to the top of Mount Everest?  I saw them while on my recent trip to Scotland and England.

At least 11 people died attempting to scale Earth’s highest peak this year.  Some of the “mountaineers” clambered over dead bodies in their desperate attempt the “bag” summit.   I hesitate to describe all of these folks as mountaineers because I’m convinced that at least some of them pay tens of thousands of dollars to be largely dragged to the summit by their Nepalese guides.

One of the casualties, an Austrian, was survived by his wife and children.  Another, a 62 year old Coloradan, died on the way down from the top.  He thus became a short lived member of the “7 Summit Club”-a group who’s members have scaled the highest peak on each continent.  Surviving family members were uniformly quoted as saying that the deceased “died doing what they loved.”

Adventure?  Or mere dilettantism?

There can’t be much question that climbing Everest is an “adventure” in the dictionary sense:  “a bold, risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome.”  But is that really enough?  Is it really enough just to be frightened half to death?  Or even fully to death?  Doesn’t  real adventure require that there be a higher purpose?  A reason other than cheap (or very expensive) thrills?

It’s not, after all, that Everest hasn’t been climbed before.  What’s going on there now isn’t remotely connected with “boldly going where no man (or woman) has gone before”.  Since the first serious efforts to scale the peak were made in the early 1920’s, over 300 people have died on its slopes.  Which means who knows how many thousands of others have successfully or unsuccessfully made the attempt-but lived to tell the tale.

Real adventure

By contrast, think, for example, of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Yes, Huck had his share of heart thumping, life threatening adventures rafting down the Mississippi.  But it became more than that; it was a quest for nigger Jim’s freedom (don’t blame me, blame Mark Twain).  Think of Harry Potter.  Or the Biblical accounts of Abraham or Moses.  Or Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey.  Jesus.  The list goes on and on.  Sure, plenty of narrow escapes.  And sometimes lethal failures to escape.

But success or failure really isn’t the point.  To put your life at risk, shouldn’t there be something really important at stake, a quest?  Adventure for it’s own sake is just amusement.  Go to Disney World for tittilation; it’s a lot cheaper and you’re not going to leave behind a widow.

“But,” you might ask, “how can someone like me get involved in real adventure?”

Well, try this.  Join the Army or Marines and volunteer to go to Afghanistan. I’ll bet you’ll get to see and do some things that get your adrenaline going.  And, depending on your point of view, you’ll be involved in a something that has a higher calling.

Or how about this?  Some old friends of ours, Roger and EvaJean Dockum, have been missionaries with tribal people in Bolivia for many years.  Some of their predecessors, a group of five men, pioneered the work in Bolivia with what they knew to be a dangerous and virtual stone age tribe in the 1940’s and ’50’s.  During one of their first encounters, there was a misunderstanding and the five men were murdered.  Like the Everest climbers, they left behind wives and children.  But their calling was much higher than a mere mountain top.  

Education?  Or amusement?

Of course, this was all brought to mind by my recent trip to England.  “What,” I asked myself, “is the point of a trip like this?”

First, let’s be honest, this is nothing more than amusement.  Sure, we went to museums and saw ruins beyond counting.  We dutifully read many of the countless explanations of the displays we saw on exhibit.  Hadrian’s Wall.  What’s left of the Roman Baths in Bath.  Bewildered and overcome by the sheer volume of information, I listened to the audio guide of Windsor Castle.  (Where I was dismayed that I saw exactly none of the Royals!)

But educational?  Sorry.  I ain’t buyin’ it.  You might as well claim that the best way to build a strong body is to do nothing but eat.  And never work out.  Sure, you’re going to build flab.  But muscles?  Not unless you somehow make the information your own.

Adventure.  Without leaving home.

One of the ways I tried to make things my own was by attending church services.  See how people in England worshiped.  Or, even better, meet some of the locals.

We attended an Evensong service at the ancient York cathedral.  But my sense was that most of the other attendees considered it yet one more stop on the de rigueur tourist circuit.  I got a similar feeling when I attended mass beneath the dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London.  Both structures spectacular.  Both services solemnly beautiful.  But with tourists wandering around, chattering, and snapping pictures on their cells, something, including anything like a true “local,” was missing.

But that wasn’t the case in the lovely little town of Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds where, one Sunday morning I attended a service at the Campden Baptist Church.  They meet in a school gymnasium.  No, the building wasn’t ancient and beautiful.  In fact, it was nondescript.  But neither were there tourists wandering around yakking and taking pictures.  Instead, I met locals whose hearts were in the service-and who seemed to be pleased that I was there.  The sermon was something I needed to hear:  “Pray as you can, not as you aught.”  I met a guy who’s a shepherd and his young family.  And a CPA on the side.  Don’t ask me exactly how that works.  But that’s my story-and I’m stickin’ to it.

Campden Baptist has a great history.  In the ’70’s, the “congregation” had shrunk to three elderly folks sitting in a chilly back room praying for new members.  But, as James puts it, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Now, the church has grown to three different locations.  And for my money, that’s a real quest.

On the road again?

So, would I do a trip like this again?  Probably not-and certainly not for three weeks.  Too many museums.  Too many ruins.  Too many sheep.  Too many miles.  Too much living out of a suitcase.  Too many undigested experiences piled on too many undigested experiences.

But don’t get me wrong.  It’s’ not as if there weren’t positives.  It gave me the opportunity to see the world from a very different perspective.  And, on a few occasions, to write about them.  But, for this dreadfully slow writer, it was like drinking at a fire hydrant; heck, here we are two weeks out from jet lag and I’m still pecking away!

But, I promise, you’ve heard your last about “This Scepter’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars . . . This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The more things change: Scotland

The more they stay the same:  Palestine

Our intrepid Gang of Seven tourists is now down in Bath, England.  But I’m still catching up on our trip through the narrow byways of Scotland.

There, forbidding, windswept peaks rise out of gorse covered moors that plunge into a restless North Sea.  On the Isle of Sky, more sheep than humans.  And, of course, we sample the wares at the island’s only distillery, the Talisker.

Bonnie Prince Charlie versus the “Butcher” Cumberland

But if it’s Tuesday, this must be when we visited the site of the 1746 Battle of Culloden.  Although not much to see now, this lonely Highlands plain is the site of a brutal battle that also marks the beginning of the nearly as ruthless suppression of Scottish national aspirations that followed.

Like most European conflicts of this era, it’s complicated and, in the end, is a squabble between the French and English monarchs.  For our purposes however, it’s enough to know that Bonnie Prince Charles was a surrogate for the French crown.  He managed to persuade some Scottish clan leaders to support his claim to the British throne.  Naturally, the British king, George II, objected.  And it was game on.

With his Scottish clansmen allies of 7,000, Prince Charles enjoyed some initial success, at one point even threatening London.  But faced with unrest among his own troops, Charles retreated north toward the Scottish highlands.  Pursued by English forces under the Duke of Cumberland, the opposing armies clashed at Culloden.  The clansmens’ primitive ardor and arms proved no match for English discipline and superior weapons; in the space of an hour the Scots suffered a crushing and bloody defeat.

After the battle, Cumberland ordered that no quarter be given to survivors.  The killing of wounded continued for two days after the battle, for which action Cumberland earned the sobriquet “The Butcher”.

Ethnic cleansing

But the war on Scot nationalism didn’t end there.  Fearful that rebellion would again rear its head, the English initiated the policies of clearances and transportation to, as Scrooge notoriously put it, “decrease the surplus population.”

Clearances resulted in the eviction of many Highland farmer tenants to make way for landlords to more profitably graze sheep and cattle.  While it’s true that the marginal soil and harsh climate of the Highlands made farming a chancy proposition, pushing people off the land caused widespread misery, famine, and the forced emigration of Highlanders over the entire globe.

Penal transportation to British colonies, such as Australia, was also widespread as a way of subduing the Scots.  It was liberally used against any who had the remotest connection with “the ‘Forty Five,” as the uprising of Prince Charles became known. While more humane than the former practice of capital punishment for even petty criminal offenses and unpaid debts, it nonetheless had the same net effect: breaking the Highlanders’ spirit.

Palestine: Repetition with variation

As I walked over the battlefield, it was difficult for me to figure out exactly what happened where in what is largely a featureless sea of thatch and gorse.  And the recently constructed visitors center, with its “360-degree battle immersion theater” didn’t help much; true, there was plenty of sound and fury, but the flickering images signified little for me.

But taken together, the day reminded me that history, like art, often repeats itself-but with variation.

And so it was that I thought of Palestine on the field of Culloden.  Again, it’s complicated.  And the details remain controversial.  But for our purposes, from 1947 to 1949 Palestinians and Jews fought a bloody war that led to the “clearance,” or, more conventionally, “The Exodus” of more than 700,000 Arabs from their towns and homes.  Four hundred Arab towns and villages were “depopulated” and the homes of many displaced Arabs were taken by Jews.  About 10,000 Jews also fled their homes as a result of the war.

While they agree on little else, historians on both sides reckon that more than 20,000 died, Arab and Jewish, military and civilian.

Known by Arabs as the “Cataclysm,” Jews refer to the conflict as the “War of Independence.”

As at Culloden, there were no shortage of atrocities in Palestine.  Again, while the facts are disputed, the weight of historical evidence indicates that the majority of massacres were perpetuated by Jews.  Arabs contend that the atrocities were part of a Jewish plan to force them to leave their homeland.   The Israeli government, of course, denies this.

The victors write the history books

Again, I’m no expert. But here’s what I find persuasive.  In the 1980’s both Israel and Great Britain (who had unsuccessfully tried to maintain peace in Palestine after WWII under a United Nations mandate), opened their archives to historians on the whole vexed topic.  A group of Jewish researchers, who became know as the “New Historians“, examined these materials and then recast the traditional, heroic vision of Israel’s founding and the Palestinian Exodus in a light significantly less favorable to Israel.

Which, still, can be dismissed as a case of “he said, she said.”

But not this.  While the New Historians were initially dismissed in Israel as cranks, their views were widely considered legitimate by the 1990’s.  At which point the government reclassified as Top Secret” accounts of Israeli “expulsion[s] of Palestinians, massacres or rapes perpetrated by Israeli soldiers, along with other events considered embarrassing by the establishment.”

What could be more convincing proof of putting inconvenient facts down the Orwellian Memory Hole?  And then trying to keep them there.

The similarities only go so far

While I was on my Scotch odyssey, I re-read Arthur Herman’s informative history, How the Scots Invented Modern World.  For a small, impoverished land, the Scots punched far above their weight intellectually and in trade.  Their contributions in science, medicine and business began in the Scotch cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but were rapidly spread world wide by the Scottish diaspora that grew out of the clearances and penal transportation.

Which raises the question:  what have Palestinian Arabs done since the 1948 exodus, their Cataclysm?  Unfortunately, and in comparison with the Scots, not much.

Much of their energy has been devoted to largely futile efforts to undo the Cataclysm.  Despite repeated wars with Israel and diplomatic initiatives in the United Nations and other forums, there are over 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in squalid Middle East camps.  There, they ceaselessly lobby for the Right of Return to the homes and property that they lost in their various conflicts with Israel.  While it’s true that Palestinians also have a significant world wide diaspora-and notable figures have emerged from it-one wonders what Palestinians could achieved had they been less focused on “what could have been.”

Is demography destiny?

By population and land mass, Israel is a tiny nation.  Swimming in a vast ocean of Arab Muslims.

Of Israel’s 9 million inhabitants, about 75%, or 6.7 million, are Jews.  Most of the rest are Arabs.

But that, perhaps, is not the real issue.  The greater Arab world extends all the way across North Africa and through the Middle East.  It has a combined population of over 422 million inhabitants, most of whom are under 25 years of age.

It’s true that Muslim nations in the Middle East are notoriously fractious.  Conflicts between them are rife.

But what are the odds that, eventually, they will effectively unite with their co-religionists and successfully take on Israel?  Maybe not this year.  Maybe not in the next ten years.  But in the next 100 years?  That’s a long time.  And Israel has sewn the wind in the Arab world.  How long can the whirlwind be delayed?

Maybe Israel is counting on it’s obedient lap dog, the United States, to continue to meddle in the Mideast and provide it with the latest and greatest weapon systems.  And most of the money to buy them.

But how long is that going to continue?  Judging by my admittedly unscientific polling, not forever.  The great majority of Americans that I’ve talked to have had a bellyful-and more-of bloody, endless, costly and futile war in the Mideast.

And now our Washington war mongers are beating the drums for taking on Iran?  In my humble opinion that’s the perfect illustration of insanity: doing the same thing over and over.  And expecting a different result.

Do they really think that Americans are going to get on board for yet another Mideast war?  I’m betting no.