Celebrate good times!

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25 Years of rebuilding lives

I’ve written about Bud’s Warehouse before.  It’s a Christian ministry that helps people coming out of prison, addiction and homelessness get their feet back under them with entry level employment along with a generous dose of the Gospel.  Largely self-supporting through the resale of gently used, donated construction material, we have a large retail store at Mississippi and I-225.

A couple of weeks ago, in the teeth of that raging blizzard, we celebrated our 25th anniversary.  But despite the weather, we had a huge turnout for three very tasty food truck offerings.  Along with a heaping side of compelling testimonies from people who’ve successfully come through the program and emerged with a radically new perspective on life and its possibilities.

A “coincidence?”

With the weather and the three lines of people patiently waiting for their food just outside the front door, my wife and I were a bit late sitting down with our meals at a table in a large space that had been cleared toward the back of the store.  To my left was a guy that I immediately recognized as someone I knew but, of course, couldn’t immediately recall his name.  However, not long after shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, it came to me:  Bob.

He then introduced me to his son, Stephen, to his left.  Stephen has a face you won’t quickly forget:  it’s heavily tattooed.  But I certainly didn’t recognize it; probably because I’d never seen it before.  But I’d heard plenty about the man behind the ‘tats’.

Years before, when I’d been campaigning door to door for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives, I’d rung Bob’s doorbell.  Bob answered and invited me in for an always welcome glass of water on one of those hot summer days pounding the pavement.  He invited his wife, Dorcas, to join us, which she readily did.  (Dorcas is a biblical name from Acts 9:36-42 meaning “gazelle”; I’ve always loved the name and the even more lovely story.)

As the three of us sat around the kitchen table, Bob and Dorcas told me Stephen’s story.  He’d grown up in suburban Denver and, in part, because Bob was a devoted Boy Scout leader, Stephen had even earned the Eagle badge, the highest rank in Scouting.  After school, he joined the Navy.

Off the rails

But somewhere along the way, Stephen’s life went badly off the rails.   Brandishing a squirt gun, he committed a series of robberies-a pricey drug habit, no doubt, played a part.  The squirt gun, quite rightly in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of his terrified victims, made no difference.   Stephen got caught up in Colorado’s “three strikes and your out” law and was sentenced to life in prison.  But Bob and Dorcas never gave up on him.

While I was in the Legislature, of course, I did a number of things.  One was sending out an email newsletter to interested constituents.  Another was holding periodic town hall meetings for constituents.  Bob and Dorcas got on my email list.  And learned of a town hall where I invited Ari Zavaras, former Governor Ritter’s head of the Department of Corrections, to speak.  Bob and Dorcas saw my email, came to the town hall, met Director Zavaras and spent quite a while talking to him about Stephen.

Back on track

That seemingly insignificant step became a small part in a painful and years long journey that eventually led to Stephen sitting to my left on that snowy evening.  And even standing up in front of that large crowd and telling us all the story of how Bud’s had provided him with his first entry level job when he got out of prison.  And, building on the computer programming skills he had learned as a model prisoner while behind bars, he had used the job at Bud’s as a stepping stone to land a job at company that does sophisticated computer programming.  Where, to boot, Stephen is thriving.  Despite the tattoos.

The sick get well

As the evening wound down, I had the opportunity to speak with Stephen for a few moments.  Among other things, I asked him, “Where are you going to church?”  “I’m not,” he answered, “but I am a spiritual person.”

Now, obviously, this young man has faced and overcome obstacles that I can scarcely imagine.  Just surviving years in prison in one piece is no mean feat.  But surviving outside the “the big house” isn’t without its challenges either.

Saint Macarius, an ancient church father put it this way, “The Church is not a courtroom where your vices and virtues are scrutinized before a judge who decides your fate.  The Church, established by Christ Himself, is a spiritual hospital where the sick come to get well.”

Sure, the church too often looks and acts like its too good for the average guy.  But those folks have it exactly backwards.  Rightly understood, the church is a hospital for hurting people like Stephen.  And we’re all hurting in our separate own ways.

 

 

Yea, though I walk . . .

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…through The Valley of Elah

Well, I went and did it again.  That is, I put a film on my Netflix queue without any idea of what it was really about.  But I got lucky this time with In The Valley of Elah.  Based on actual events, it stars Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron.

I don’t claim to be anything like an expert on Iraq war movies.  Far from it; I’ve gotten to the point that I steer clear of war movies and TV shows in general.  After pretty much 20 years of non-stop war in the Middle East, I’ve had more than my fill of the stuff.  Not to mention the military jet fly-overs at NFL games and all the other cheap and meaningless “we back our boys (and now girls) in uniform” chest thumping that accompanies those gladiatorial displays.

But you should see this movie.  In fact, you need to see it.  And, above all, the Washington politicians, generals and defense contractors who are responsible for this mess in the Middle East should be forced to watch it.  Again and again.  Just like in the Stanley Kubrick classic, A Clockwork Orangewhere the “ultra-violent” Alex is “reconditioned” by being forced to watch hour after hour of very nasty stuff indeed.  Strap those DC politicians, generals, defense contractors, and “neocon think tank” experts into chairs in front of the screen, clip their eyelids open, and make them watch what these endless wars have done to our largely White, rural American boys who do the dirty work of fighting them.  There’d be at least a chance that a semblance of reason would descend on Washington.

I quit!

Or, if that doesn’t work, let them read this post about Forrest Huckabey, a kid who did a couple of tours in Afghanistan as an Army sniper only to return to rural Kansas badly injured and with a whole world of permanent hurts.  And, on top of that, a wife and five kids barely hanging on by a prayer, chewing gum, and some baling wire.  Or, the Washington war mongers can get this story straight from the horse’s mouth and read about some of it here in this post, I Quit!, by Forrest’s wife, Lakin.  It details some of the “horrid” treatment Forrest received from his VA doctor.

The Dead Pool

They’re plenty of disturbing images in Elah.  But the most haunting is the one of the police interrogation of a soldier who’s accused of murdering, dismembering and then burning Jones’ son who has just returned, along with the rest of his platoon, from a combat tour in Iraq.  The horrific crime was committed over some minor squabble after a night at a strip club.

As the accused soldier looks into the camera answering questions, after a few moments you realize that “there’s nothing there there.”  No remorse.  No shame.  No anger.  Nothing.  His eyes are only windows into a dead pool.

Eventually, it dawned on me.  I was watching a gifted actor portraying a young man with post-traumatic stress disorder.  A young man who, probably time and again, had seen and done the unspeakable in Iraq.

And we wonder why most veterans who’ve served in Afghanistan say the war isn’t worth fighting?  Nor should it be surprising that vets are supporting President Trump’s decision to immediately withdraw from Syria, another Middle East military commitment with no apparent end in sight.

So, my opinion?  Send the DC “chicken hawks” to do the fighting in the Middle East.  Bring the troops home.  Enough of the valley of the shadow of death.

 

What’s “normal” got to do with it?

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A hole in our heads?  Or our hearts?

Why they call it Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus entirely escapes me.  There’s nothing normal about it.  For obvious reasons, however, the condition’s name has been shortened to its initials: NPH.

The cause of the condition also escapes me.  But here I’m joined by the entire medical/scientific complex.  Absent some other trauma to the brain, it just seems “to happen” to a few old folks like me.

But what NPH does to those whom it afflicts is pretty well known: excess spinal fluid accumulates in your skull which then “squeezes” the brain.  The symptoms that often follow are also pretty well known: weird, wet and wobbly.  I’ve written about this dandy little condition before in April of 2017.  The condition is usually progressive.  So, what’s new with me over the last two and a half years?

Weird?

Weird?  Yes.  But far more than mere weirdness; that’s the largely self-inflicted malady of my youth and, these days, millennials.  With NPH, it’s one of the most feared diagnoses of the elderly (aside from the “elderly” itself): Dementia.  Forgetfulness.  Memory loss.  Trouble dealing with routine tasks.

What’s changed in my mental acuity during these years?  Hard to say for sure.  Is that a good sign, an indication that the changes, if any, are so subtle that I can’t even put a finger on them?  Or a bad sign, that my memory is failing about how I used to be?  I can’t really say for sure.

I do take some comfort, however, in this blog.  If nothing else, it’s a strenuous mental workout.  It forces me to stay informed and, I hope, to communicate clearly.  Now, if I can just get enough people to confirm that opinion by following this blog, I’ll be in like Flynn.  So, come on folks, get with it!  I need your help.

Wet?

Urinary incontinence.  Now, there’s a fun one.  And I could tell you stories about my days campaigning door to door, far from any public bathroom, that you probably don’t want to hear.  Or what it’s like to get home and do my best to change my clothes and take a shower before anyone sees me.  Or my pants.  But I’ll spare you those as well.  

But here I definitely have good news.  Several years ago, after I finally got an accurate diagnosis, they put another hole in my head, installed a brain shunt, and began draining excess fluid from my head to my abdominal cavity where my body cleanses it before returning it to my skull.  So, with the shunt at work, the progression of the “wet” third of the condition has slowed markedly-if not completely.  But not, as I hoped-and as sometimes happens- reversed.

Wobbly?

The third one?  The good news is that it isn’t embarrassing.  The bad news?  It’s scary too, but in a physical, rather than mental, sort of way.

In the literature it’s called “gait disturbances.” But I liken it to being on the deck of a ship in a storm.  I tell myself that most people probably don’t notice me wobbling down the sidewalk as if I’d have trouble passing a roadside sobriety test.  And no-one has ever said anything about it.  But nevertheless, the formerly simple act of stepping off the curb is an adventure. Moreover, if I can possibly avoid it, I never go down stairs without a firm grip on the handrail.

I do my best to stay active.  I almost invariably park my car at the far end of the parking lot and walk to the front door of the store.  Twice a week I work out with a trainer who focuses on agility and strength.  For an additional three to four more days a week I work out on an elliptical and lift weights.  So, for my age, I’m in pretty good shape.  But mind over matter isn’t a breeze when the mind that controls the matter refuses to fire on all cylinders.

This getting old stuff isn’t for sissies

When I was a kid, there was a song that made a brief appearance on the charts of Denver’s ultra-cool “top 40” AM radio station, KIMN.  It was “Those Were The Days.”  Not sure why what started life as a Lithuanian folk song reached the top of the charts for teenagers, but it made an impression on me.

And now, pushing 70, with my share of the medical slings and arrows that come with advanced age, it’s more than just a catchy lyric:

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way.

There are probably about as many ways to interpret this tune as there are people who hear it.  But it reminds me, as Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French inventor, mathematician and theologian once wrote, that “there is a “God-shaped hole in the heart of each man that can only be satisfied by God, made known by Jesus Christ.”  

“Those Were The Days” and Pascal were talking about the same thing.  The nagging fear, even if we can often suppress it with mindless diversions, that this life won’t be all that we hoped for. That, in the end, we might not get our way.  And that, instead, the relentless march of time will.  Unless, that is, we can bring ourselves to allow The Great Physician to mend our broken hearts-and heads-as only he can.

 

 

 

 

 

Plucked out of the flood

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Only to be cast on the funeral pyre

As often is the case, I’m not quite sure how I came to have Netflix send me the 1927 German film, Metropolis.  But it finally moved to the top of my queue the other day and showed up in the mail box.

Directed by Fritz Lang, it’s considered by some to be one of the finest silent films ever made.  A grim sci-fi flick, it’s a tale of a futuristic society ruled by a pampered elite who oppress a working class that dwells and toils in subterranean squalor.

The movie ticks all the usual horror show boxes.  The mad scientist.  A Frankenstein like monster. Also interesting in these days of acting understatement are the histrionic techniques typical of silent movies.   The special effects were ground breaking for their era.  Also featured is a cast of thousands that, at times, rush around the screen like ants whose nest has been kicked over.

Storm clouds

It’s not possible to watch the film without thinking of the cataclysm that’s just over the horizon for Germany.  And, indeed, the rest of Europe, Western Civilization and the world at large.  Metropolis was produced during the brief, overripe cultural flowering of Germany’s post WW I Weimar Republic.  It was only a few years before Hitler came to power and night descended.

The film’s an odd mixture of Christianity and Teutonic mysticism.  The leading character, Freder, descends from the from his privileged existence in the exalted, upper reaches of Metropolis in pursuit of the beautiful, chaste Maria who becomes the hope of liberation for the machine like Untermenge who populate the underworld.  There, amid sets littered with images of crucifixes on Golgotha, Freder and Maria quickly develop a romantic attachment.

Inevitably, complications and confusions arise, leading to an uprising of the near subhuman workers against the ruling class.  The violence destroys the pumps that prevent the underworld from flooding.   Further misled by an evil double of Maria created by Rotwang, the mad scientist, the workers rush to the surface intent on overthrowing their overlords.  In the chaos, the workers’ wives and children are left behind in the rising waters.  But for the heroic efforts of Freder and Maria, all would perish in the flood.

A brand plucked from the fire

Lang went to great lengths to achieve realism in the film.  For the flooding scenes, he recruited 500 children from Berlin’s poorest neighborhoods.  By the time shooting was finished after 14 grueling days in water that Lang intentionally kept at low temperatures, the look of terror and exhaustion that appears on the children’s faces required no great acting skill.

In 1709 five year old John Wesley miraculously escaped from the upper floor of his family’s home when a late night fire burned the structure to the ground.   Years later, Wesley went on to lead a powerful Christian religious revival that swept over first England, then America, and eventually the world in the form of Methodism.  Wesley considered his escape from the blaze that destroyed his family’s home to be providential and later quoted from Zechariah 3:2 to describe it:  “a brand plucked out of the fire.”

Only to be cast back on the funeral pyre

As I watched Lang’s nightmare vision of children of eight or ten years slogging through frigid water, it became obvious that Lang’s child actors weren’t as fortunate as the young John Wesley.

My mind drifted away to scenes far more dreadful than silver screen cataclysms.  How many of Lang’s child actors, in real life, would be somehow crippled and declared by the Nazis to have a “life unworthy of life”-and then euthanized?  And, for those “lucky” enough to be fit for military service, then to be killed or maimed serving Hitler’s war machine in WWII, the bloodiest conflict in human history?  Or, if the child was a Jew, perish in one of the Nazi’s death camps?  Or serve as a guard in one of the concentration camps infamous Death’s Heads units?

Of those 500 children cast as extras in Lang’s movie, whose faces flicker across the gray screen from so long ago, it’s certain that many of them were characters in one of history’s most horrific, real life horror shows.

So, by all means watch Metropolis.  But prepare to be haunted by something far more disturbing than cheap cinematic thrills.

 

 

 

 

There are unquiet minds

Bipolar Disorder

And slightly less unquiet minds

Steve Kinsky’s an old friend.  We first met when we were both in a professional organization for health insurance agents.  We’ve stayed in touch since we retired. We’re both widely read, although our tastes sometimes differ since Steve has a scientific and mathematical bent that I don’t share; before becoming an agent he was an actuary.

Steve’s known for some time that I have bipolar disorder; I’m not quite sure how he learned about it.  He may have read about it in this prior post of mine.  But however he came to know, we’ve discussed it more than once.

Last time we met, he suggested that I take a look at a book he’d recently read about bipolar called An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison.   Published in 1997, the book is beautifully written and makes compelling reading.

“Racing down the hallway naked”

Like most illnesses, bipolar comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.  Or, to state it more precisely, it comes with varying levels of intensity.  In my case, it was relatively mild.  But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital as a young adult.  Or that I didn’t have wild mood swings between manic, sleepless highs.  And lows that left me carefully planning my own destruction.  Rather, it means that I never, as my psychiatrist once told me of other cases he knew of, “ran naked down the hallway of a psychiatric hospital screaming at the top of my voice.”

Judging from Jamison’s book, my guess is that her disorder is of the more severe variety.  While she’s a brilliant author and clinical psychologist who specializes in this illness, she’s gone beyond the planning stage and actually attempted suicide.  She’s also gone on the wild spending sprees that are typical of the disorder.  I, on the other hand, only suggested to my business partner the completely inappropriate purchase of luxury cars to “prove” how successful we were.  He immediately, and fortunately, scotched the idea.

In short, while I’ve had more than enough “near misses” to make the lives of my family and myself plenty miserable at times, Jamison was on an emotional roller coaster that continued unremittingly for years at a time.

The agony and the ecstasy

Jamison describes her experience with bipolar as a love/hate relationship.  That’s fitting.  As is typical for this condition, I resisted taking medication for literally decades after I was first diagnosed.  Pride. Denial. And, in my case, a belief that my conversion to Christianity would make medication unnecessary.  All played a part.  As they did to one degree or another in Jamison’s life.

But at least as important was that bipolar’s the sort of illness that one can become attached to.  Jamison writes about it.  I’ve felt it.  The seemingly inexhaustible energy.  The perceived brilliance of mind.  Even now, years after the condition has been well controlled by medication, I occasionally feel a wistful fondness for those exhilarating times of mental acuity.  Until, that is, I recall the inevitable and crushing lows that follow the euphoria.

It’s estimated that 2.3 million Americans, or nearly 1% of the population, are bipolar.  Suicide is the number one cause of premature death among people with the disorder, with 15 to 17% taking their own lives.  Those aren’t good odds.  If you suspect that a loved one, or you, are wrestling with an unquiet mind, figure out a way to get help.

You can start by clicking here.

 

 

 

The Cast Iron Man

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Statesman or Politician?  The Long View or A Suitcase of Cash?

My family, all 12 of us, just dodged a bullet.  A few days ago we got back from a nifty vacation in Charleston, South Carolina.  Long walks on the beach.  History.  Southern comfort food.  The mayhem of five grandkids under the age of five.  A day for those kids to collect a pile of sea shells and dodge fire ants on an island in the shadow of Fort Sumter.

But while we were there a little storm called Dorian was brewing up in the Caribbean.  It wrought deadly havoc in the Bahamas before slowly moving onto the US coast.  Where, as shown in this TV newscast it trashed the beach, after we left town, no more than 200 hundred yards from The Isle of Palms house where we were staying. 

Nothing to see here

My wife and I got to Charleston a few days before the rest of the family.  One of the things we did on our own was go to the downtown farmers market to stock up on the wonderful local produce in anticipation of the rest of the clan’s arrival.

But I didn’t go all the way to Charleston to go grocery shopping.  So, while my wife poked around the market, I looked for a shady place under a tree in Marion Square.  The park is named for the Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion, i.e., The Swamp Fox.  (See?  You just can’t escape the history.)  From my chair, I had an unobstructed view of a tall, spindly column with a statue on top at the far side of the park.  

I knew enough to be able to guess who the figure atop the column might be, but it wasn’t I reached the base through the muggy heat ’til I knew for sure: John C. Calhoun.  South Carolina’s one time favorite son.  Vice President under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.  US Senator for South Carolina.   Slave owner, yes.  But more:  apologist and defender of slavery as a “positive good.”  The bête noire of the Left, he’s been largely disowned by the Right.  Is it any wonder that Calhoun’s lofty column is nearly obscured from the view of the hoards of passing motorists by large trees that crowd around the monument’s base?  Whether it remains standing or is torn down is the even now the subject of lively debate.

Dead wrong

One thing is clear: Calhoun was wrong about slavery.  It’s degrading both to the masters and those held in bondage.  But that hasn’t prevented slavery from being practiced in many cultures and civilizations right up to, and including, the present day.  Of course, its slow, grudging extirpation has come about, in part, because of its moral failings.

But compelling arguments have also been made that slavery, in the end, failed not just because of its immorality.   It’s also a wildly inefficient system for organizing an economy.  Why?  Sure labor costs might be low.  But are workers more likely to be productive and innovative when they are whipped?  Or when they are, as is generally the case in a market economy, rewarded for hard work?  In the end, slavery probably failed for pretty much the same reason that communism wound up in the dust bin of history:  “They pretend to pay us. We pretend to work.”

Inconvenient facts

But Calhoun didn’t just tout the benefits of slavery.  Some of his other beliefs, though today little known, demonstrate that he was a profound political philosopher who was thoroughly acquainted with many of the subtle currents of Constitutional thought that were abroad in the decades leading up to the Civil War.  And which continue to echo into the 21st century.  And, if their origins were better known, would likely be a source of embarassment to his many detractors.

What if, in fact, the origins of such “odious” doctrines as nullification, states rights and interposition, with which Calhoun has been tarred, can be traced back to Founding Fathers whose credentials are impeccable?  Founding Fathers of no less stature than Thomas Jefferson and James Madison?  

“Not possible!” you say.  Well, believe it.  Because it was, in fact, the fertile minds of Jefferson and Madison that laid the foundations for these very doctrines that Calhoun built upon to attempt to limit what he perceived as unconstitutional infringements by the Federal government on the rights of states to reasonably order their own affairs.

States’ rights? Nullification?  Secession? Gasp!

Let’s go back to ancient history.  Ancient, at least, for a young nation like America.

In 1798, only 9 years after the Constitution was ratified, Congress, at the urging of President John Adams, passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.  Enacted in response to an undeclared war with France, the acts made it a crime to falsely criticize the federal government, more difficult for aliens to become citizens, and easier to deport non-citizens deemed dangerous.

Two Founding Fathers, then Vice President Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, took particular umbrage to the Sedition Act because it impinged on the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.  In response, they secretly drafted the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.  The resolutions argued that the states had the right and duty to declare unconstitutional those acts of Congress that were not authorized by the Constitution-such as the Sedition Act.  They, in short, took a resolute stand for states’ rights and strict construction of the Constitution.  The Kentucky Resolution, drafted by no less than that demigod of American patriots, Thomas Jefferson, even went the next step and argued in favor of the much despised doctrine of nullification.  

It’s true, no doubt, that the Resolutions were controversial and considered by some to be dangerous harbingers of disunion even in their own time.  But the fact remains that the doctrines advanced by the Resolutions were first floated by Founding Fathers whose reputations are beyond reproach.

The Conservative Mind

In 1953 Russell Kirk published The Conservative Minda book that has ever since been considered a Rosetta Stone for understanding modern conservatism.  Beginning with Edmond Burke, the British Parliamentarian who wrote Reflections on the Revolution in France in opposition to the murderous chaos of the French Revolution, Kirk goes on to describe the lives and works of such disparate conservative thinkers as Alexander Hamilton, Walter Scott, Alexis de Tocqueville, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot and many others.

Among those is John C. Calhoun.  Russell describes him as “the cast iron man . . . [whose] passion glowed out only through his eyes.”  With that vision, Calhoun could write that “the naked question is, whether ours is a federal or a consolidated government; a constitutional or absolute one; a government resting ultimately on the solid basis of the sovereignty of the States or on the unrestrained will of a majority; a form of government, as in all other unlimited ones, in which injustice, and violence, and force must finally prevail.”  Calhoun, following in the steps of Jefferson and Madison, was an unapologetic proponent of those “odious” doctrines of nullification, states rights and interposition.

A refuge for dissenters in an age of political division

In these last days, whether opprobrium is attached to the states’ rights doctrines advanced by Jefferson, Madison and, yes, Calhoun, seems largely dependent on whose ox is being gored.

For example, consider the California liberals who, in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, are gathering petition signatures to secede from the Union.  Are these “rebels” your typical California fruits and nuts?  Or are they on to something?  Depends on who you ask.

Ask the Founding Fathers, the leaders of the 13 colonies’ war to secede from the British Empire, and they might be ambivalent.  Ask Abraham Lincoln, the President whose resounding “No way!” got our nation embroiled in a war that cost the lives of more Americans than all the rest of our wars combined and he’d probably double down and say “No way!” again.

But ask a contemporary man or woman on the street and you’ll likely get a “Let ’em go.”  And, at the very least, we can hope there would be virtually no appetite for renewing a bloody civil war if a state wants to part company on such “third rail” issues as abortion, marijuana, health care, immigration, and the like.

In fact, in a nation increasingly and bitterly divided along partisan lines, why not give the “states rights” doctrines of Jefferson, Madison and Calhoun a try?  And then let people who feel strongly about those issues leave the states that don’t suit them.  And move to the ones where they feel more at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diabolical

DIABOLICAL

A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma

Unless, like me, you’ve been under a rock for the last four years or so, you’ve probably heard of Milo Yiannopoulos.  I only learned of him about two years ago; it’s dark under those rocks.

Incendiary provocateur.  Conservative bomb thrower.  Flaming homosexual.  Ultra-orthodox Catholic.  Jewish neo-Nazi.  Bankrupt millionaire.  Pederast.  Or a victim.  Depending on who’s telling the story, they all fit to one degree or another.  Milo gives his legions of fans-and enemies-plenty of ammo. He’s written several best selling books. His speaking engagements are usually mobbed.   Before they turn into riots.  Tech-meister of the universe, he’s been banned by Facebook and Twitter.

Admission Against Interest

On one thing, everyone agrees:  Milo “married” his African-American boyfriend in 2017.  But then he writes a book, Diabolical, about how Pope Francis betrayed the Catholic Church by turning over the Vatican to its gay, Lavender Mafia.  How do you figure this guy out?  Not, certainly, by reading the book’s dedication:  “This book, like all my books, is for my husband, John, who has promised not to read Chapter 2.”

And, to be honest, probably not by reading it the way I have.  I’ve taken to listening to audio books while I drive around-radio has completely lost its charm for me.  Somehow, Diabolical recently came up on my library provided Hoopla app as a suggested book.  And, having heard of Milo, but knowing almost nothing about him other than what an occasional link on Drudge says about a college riot that one of his appearances triggered, I downloaded and listened to the book.

So, should you listen to what turns out to be a complex and closely argued book while driving?  Maybe.  Probably works for an impressionistic, 40,000 foot overview.  But down in the weeds?  Not so much.  So, you might want to take this post with a grain of salt.

But despite that, and to my own astonishment, Milo turned out to be nothing like the merry, but superficial conservative prankster who’d taken up residence in my consciousness.  The book’s profoundly substantive.  It delves deeply into the lore and doctrine of the Catholic Church.  Especially, Pope Francis.  And the institution’s and the Pope’s tortuous, and tortured, interaction with homosexuality.

Go Figure

But the most puzzling aspect of the book?  And there’s really no room for doubt on this score.  Milo writes from the perspective of a devout, Catholic traditionalist.  Moreover, he makes no effort to reconcile his personal conduct with his Catholic beliefs-he runs silent, runs deep on that one.

Milo launches the book with an extended quotation from that bête noire of liberal Catholics, Joseph Ratzinger, the now retired Pope Benedict XVI:

“Is not the Church simply the continuation of God’s deliberate plunge into human wretchedness; is she not simply the continuation of Jesus’ habit of sitting at the table with sinners, of his mingling with the misery of sin to the point where he actually seems to sink under its weight?  Is there not revealed in the unholy holiness of the Church, as opposed to man’s expectation of purity, God’s true holiness, which is love, love that does not keep its distance in a sort of aristocratic, untouchable purity but mixes with the dirt of the world, in order thus to overcome it?”

A Good Milo Introduction?

Diabolical is only one of several best sellers that Milo has authored.  And it might not be your cup of tea.

But perhaps these chapter titles might spark your interest.  Or make you sufficiently pissed off to take a peek.  Is The Pope Catholic?  Feminism Is Spiritual Cancer.  No?  Well, how about this one?  Make The Vatican Straight Again.  

In any event, love him or hate him, Milo’s not a lightweight that can be easily dismissed out of hand.  And, before you show up at the next Milo inspired college riot, it might make sense to find out what all the ruckus is about.

 

 

 

 

 

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.