Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

Mary Oliver

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

 Yesterday, November 3 was Election Day. (This is not news to most of you) I was up early to drive my granddaughter to school.  Afterwards, I stopped at the park where I often go to walk.  It was originally called "Garbage Hill" because that area was the depository for debris from major road construction.  Years ago you could go sliding there in winter and we did.  I remember seriously injuring my tailbone and having to face the loss of joy in sledding and the vulnerabilities of getting older.

Now, however, the hill, covered with grass and substantial trees, is incorporated into a park with a lake and walking paths with the lyrical name of Lochness Park--sledding is no longer allowed.  I have mixed feelings about that.  

The sky was cloudless; a blue-sky, apple-pie, crisp and cool autumn day; I couldn't have asked for better.  Where the path split I took the path to the left; it seemed like the better choice.  I passed a grove of aspen, the wind stirring the leaves and allowing me to overhear their gossip.  I climbed the hill and found a bench.  Except for the hum of the traffic in the distance, all was peaceful and quiet.  How long could I stay removed from what was really happening outside of this oasis of peace?  

Today, I wish I had just stayed there, something organic, gradually returning to the earth, my molecules mingling with the soil. Something natural and fundamental. I do not like what I read in the news.  I am grieving.  We do not know the final vote count, but I do know this; Trump received more votes than his performance as President deserves.  Take any issue you like; as a teacher with him in my classroom I would give him all F's.  Character, deportment, doing his homework, respecting the rules. Without a doubt, he fails science in his response to the pandemic.  A large proportion of my fellow Americans are accepting, even lauding his failures which resulted in a quarter million deaths, including 700 that can be traced directly back to him because of his rallies.  We've heard those numbers so often, they are meaningless, unless one of those people were your family member or friend.  So we really don't have to care?  We don't have to care about immigrant children taken from their families and locked in cages.  We really don't have to care about self-serving corruption, alienating our allies or destroying our planet because....because.

I've got to tell you, I don't understand the" because."  

Thursday, October 15, 2020

     I don’t know if award shows have the same effect on you or not, but for years I’ve planned an acceptance speech for an Academy Award. While the actors who actually win them seem utterly unprepared; I am always ready to go, thanking everyone important and saying something poignant yet amusing, all before the “clear the stage” music can begin. 
 Many of us like to imagine we can participate, albeit vicariously, in important events and the current Senate hearings for the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice is certainly one such event that has inspired me to create a line of questioning for the eloquent but evasive Judge Barrett.  
    Just as I do with the Oscars, I temporarily bestow myself with the credentials needed to sit in that hallowed chamber, channeling Amy Klobuchar perhaps, but with my own ideas.  What follows is my prepared questions.  I’m not supplying the Judge’s response, just my musings about what they might be.

Senator Doolittle:  Good morning Judge Barrett. I have to say that I am in awe of you and your accomplishments.  Your academic and professional successes are indeed remarkable and your large and very lovely family are a tribute to your ability to manage multiple responsibilities with grace and aplomb.  
    My own experiences as a mother, a teacher and a Senator seemed full of pitfalls at times and I admit I am just a little envious, an all-too-common human failing.  Can you tell me briefly how you manage so well?

Judge Barrett:  (My admiration is genuine, as is my envy, but I hope I’ve sowed the seed that all humans are subject to human failings, even herself and she might express some humility in her answer)

Senator Doolittle: You were an English major, as I was, at least for my first years of college and I believe we share a love for words and writing, so I’d like to ask you to speak to me about a word that I think resonates with and your commitments to family, profession, and faith.  What does the word fidelity mean to you and how does it figure in your career in the law?

Judge Barrett: (Will she have any idea where I am taking her with this question?  Perhaps I sound rather scattered in my reasoning.  She anticipated where Senator Harris was going with a line of questions about science which culminated in a question about accepting the nature of climate change which she avoided as politically charged instead of acknowledging it as widely accepted and valid science.  What may be politically charged are policy decisions surrounding solutions which could lead to litigation, but the factual nature of climate change should not be to a well-educated and well-informed person in America.  That was a stunning exchange)

Senator Doolittle:  Indeed, fidelity is that quality of faithfulness and loyalty, that your word is your bond and that what you say can be depended upon.  You have told us that you will provide equal justice to all under the law and faithfully execute all the duties incumbent upon you. 
    If you are installed as a Supreme Court Associate Justice you will take an oath confirming that; an oath not very different from the oath taken by me and each and everyone on this Senate Committee. 
    I recall very well, the weight of responsibility and history I felt when I placed my hand upon the Bible.  Judge, Chairman Graham took the same oath to “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which he was about to enter: So help me God.”   Judge Barrett, Senator Graham promised fidelity, promised honesty, promised to be a man of his word, before God and his countrymen.  
You are well aware, no doubt, as are every member of this committee and most Americans that Senator Graham gave his word, gave his solemn promise that and I quote,
"I want you to use my words against me. If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said, 'Let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,' " he said in 2016 shortly after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. "And you could use my words against me and you'd be absolutely right.” 
Again in October, 2018 he reiterated, ”If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump's term, and the primary process has started, we'll wait till the next election. 
You are aware of that promise, Judge Barrett?

Judge Barrett:  Yes (what else could she say?)

Senator Doolittle:  My granddaughter, age 7, knows the value of a promise, particularly a “pinky promise”; a promise you make and confirm when you hook fingers with a friend—
“You can’t break a pinky promise, Grandma,” she said.  She’s right, you know. Something significant is lost when a solemn promise is broken. 
But Lindsey Graham and the rest of the Republicans do not have fidelity to their word.  In your courtroom  I am sure you apply the laws fairly and equally; to use the same standards for each case regardless of the wealth or power of the participants, regardless of their race or gender.  
Mitch McConnell and almost everyone of his Republican colleagues are choosing to deviate from that ethical stance.  They are choosing to apply different standards to the same situation, not for legal reasons but for reasons of gaining power and control and just because they can.
We can say that your nomination is within the letter of the law, but can we say that it is within the spirit of the law?  And something else we seem to have forgotten.  Can we say that it is respectful of the last wishes of the Justice Ginsburg, who is rightly honored and esteemed by all present, honored at least in words, but not necessarily in actions.  She clearly wished for the selection of her replacement to wait until after the election.  The court can function without nine justices for several months and has done so previously.  
    Judge Barrett, when is it appropriate to break a promise you have made publicly and unequivocably?  I have given you specific examples, but I am asking you to answer this in general terms from your own experience and perspective, from the point of view perhaps of a parent speaking to their child, or a teacher addressing their classroom.  When is it appropriate to break a promise? Then be specific; is it appropriate in this circumstance? Those are my questions—when is it appropriate and is it appropriate now?

Justice Barrett ( I hope I’ve stumped her a little, or unsettled her; but no doubt she’ll attempt to parry this deftly—hopefully I’ll have an equally deft follow-up to her answer)

Senator Doolittle: The United States Senate, my beloved institution that I proudly serve, once known as the world’s greatest deliberative body, has fallen in respect and esteem both here and abroad, unable to accomplish legislative goals or act outside of partisan divisions.  
    In the shadow of broken promises and partisan power-grabbing; you have accepted this nomination and the legacy of excellence that have worked so hard to develop will forever be associated with this highly questionable process.  
    If Merritt Garland was not considered for a position in an election year, your appointment should also be set aside until the people have spoken.  They are voting right now—my Republican colleagues have spoken often about the will of the people to replace us at election time if we are not serving them well.  
    After your appointment, the people will have no further say about your significant impact on their lives.  May you be blessed with long life; that said; your impact will stretch for decades into the future.  My granddaugter’s life choices and opportunities are in your hands; the health of our citizens, our environment and our democracy are in your hands.  
    I do trust and respect your integrity; but you were not selected solely because of your integrity; your expressed views and decisions, your personal history and associations tell of your personal leanings and perspectives that shape your judical decisions and fit in with the goals of the current majority but not necessarily the goals of the 335 million citizens of the United States.          The President did not receive the majority of the votes cast; the Senate Majority represents a minority of the public, due to gerrymandering and continuing demographic changes in states that skew representation, minority rule is becoming more entrenched and the will of the people diluted.  
        Senator Whitehouse’s exemplary explanation of dark money and power in 5-4 decisions is chilling for ordinary citizens.  A 6-3 split on the court will likely place more and more power in the hands of corporations and strip citizens of protections.  

Judge Barrett, I have noted before that we have a number of things in common—college coursework, teaching, love for and commitment to family and public service.  As women, we also have other things in common besides motherhood.  We were both academically and professionally successful.  You spoke early on about what a balancing act it is to accomplish that.  Underlying it all, we know that we would not have succeeded without a driving ambition and will to excellence. Ambition in women is too often criticized and is another hurdle in the path to women’s equality and opportunity.  Sometimes we ourselves struggle with our own ambition and its place in our lives. 
While you can be publicly humble, you know that your accomplishments were only achieved with supreme talent, effort and hardwork along with family support and a lot of luck.  Here you are; an opportunity to reach the pinnacle of your profession; to show your excellence on the largest legal stage there is.  How can you say no to this opportunity of a lifetime?  
And yet…hundreds of faculty members of Notre Dame signed letters urging you to reconsider.  In articles and opinion pieces across all types of media, this process under these political circumstances and timing is being called into question.  Your character and your integrity is on the line.  People saw you and your family at the Rose Garden event, all unmasked.  This nomination is incredibly divisive.  It has been called “not normal”, “a raw exercise of power” “a rushed process”, a “sham”.   

It did not have to come to this; we did not have to engage in a process that lowers the confidence in our judical system.  Judge Barrett; you are key to all of this.  I understand that your desire to serve but also your boundless ambition has led you to say yes. 
        But you could have said no.  You could have said that you would accept the nomination after the election and saved the country from one more contentious action to drive us apart.  You could have spoken for prudence and cooperation.  If Biden wins the Presidency, you would be unlikely to be seated.  There is a lot at stake for you personally.  It would be a great sacrifice, but it would be a sacrifice for the good of our country and for that you would be honored and admired.  
        You could still withdraw your nomination; without that your appointment is almost certainly assured.  Your place in history as a judge seated through an unprecedented power grab is also assured; an asterisk after your name and a blot against the will of the people.

Monday, September 28, 2020

 I cried again today.  That used to be a rare occurrence.  Oh,  ASPCA commercials would usually do it to me; those sad puppy eyes and Sarah McLachlan playing some haunting melody,  now however, it's unpredictable but more likely to happen at any point in the day.   

I've tried to be brave and optimistic and busy, oh so busy.  You have too, haven't you?  Be calm and carry on.  After all it's not 1944; I am not my grandmother writing letters to her four sons in uniform; praying constantly for their safe return.  We are not at war; but we are under siege and the stress is doing it's thing to my optimism and my resolve.  

I just read the CNN Coronavirus update that I get every day.  It told the stories of 4 people who had died.  We are becoming numb to the numbers; today, September 28, the global death toll passed 1 million.  It's hard to get your head around the idea of a million; I have a lot of shoes and many more books-my 2500 books take up a dozen bookshelves; but dozens of libraries are needed to hold a million volumes.  For a reader, though, the most important book right now is in the singular, it is the one you are holding in your hands, the one that is holding you enthralled.  

We have to hold the stories of real people in our hands if we have any hope of fathoming the heavy sadness of a world held hostage by a pandemic.  It is not enough to bemoan my annoyance of having to go back to the car for my forgotten mask or not finding a single canning jar or lid on the grocery shelf, of looking at October without trick or treating and November without a houseful for turkey and pumpkin pie; it is in the loss of a humble hardworking trash collector in New Delhi named Vinod Kumar and the struggles of his son to get him help when he fell ill and had to pay the equivalent of a month's wages to get treatment.  That man's eyes haunt me and make me cry.  

Every COVID death is a story that is cut short, a page that is ripped from the book of life.  There are hapless victims, but there are hapless villains too.  The small wedding in Maine that spread the disease to 170 people and resulted in 8 deaths.  Our moments of beginnings and of joy are becoming moments of endings and pain.  We can become actors in a tragedy with an unhappy ending; the parts we never auditioned for but somehow found ourselves cast in that role.

This upheaval of what is normal and expected is permeating every aspect of our lives and it is relentless without an end in sight.  We are tempest tossed without safe harbor.  

So I cry for Vinod Kumar and his son, who I will never meet and then I spread my arms to a hurting world and know that my tears and my hopes and my frustration and my anger will have so little effect.

I made "get out the vote" calls tonight, I've written letters to the editor, I've made fervent pleas and reasoned arguments on Facebook, because there is darkness and corruption and ineptitude in Washington but it's right in our neighborhood too.  We can't look at our families and friends in the same light anymore.  As my friend Nancy said the other night in regard to social media, "I wish I didn't know so much about my friends and neighbors."  We are all scared; we are all uncertain and we are taking sides against each other and justifying the losses.  "We have met the enemy and he is us."

I hope they still have tissues at the grocery store.  I'm running out of tissues, but not of tears.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

  A respected high school friend posted on Facebook an article entitled “Letter to an Anti-Trump Christian Friend”, by Wayne Grudem, published on the website Townhall on August 8, 2020.  He shared the article to give an insight into evangelical support for Trump.

Having never heard of Dr. Grudem before, I had to do some research into his background before I could effectively analyze his arguments.  Where did he come from, how was he educated, what are his areas of expertise and what could I find out about his attitudes, biases and positions from his published works and activities?  He clearly was taking the opportunity in this letter to tout his previously published works: Politics According to the Bible, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution,  Business for the Glory of God, and Christian Ethics. 

I did not read read any of these books, but read synopses of and excerpts from  many of them and various reviews by readers, as well as several other articles on politics that he had written.  The reader reviews came in large part from like-minded readers.  Business for the Glory of God, would not necessarily appeal to the average secular business student or businessman, for example, but his book on politics seemed to draw a more diverse readership and a wider range of comments.  I  emerged with some sense of his content, interest and style. His conservative and specifically Republican political leanings were quite evident to both his fans and his critics and to me within the excerpts that I read.

He was born in 1948 in Wisconsin and was educated at Harvard, Westminster Theological Seminary and has a Ph.D from the University of Cambridge. He has written more books than mentioned previously and has been a professor at a seminary.  He could not have accomplished all that he did without intellectual capacity and a strong work ethic.  Much could and should be expected from a scholar with his credentials. 

He’s a midwesterner of a similar age to myself; we both experienced the powerful currents of history occurring in our lifetimes from approximately the same vantage point of life, but undoubtedly there were different influences that brought us to very different outlooks on politics now. 

One of the first clues into the paths of his thinking and how it diverges from mine and where I could see the shape of his thoughts was when he cited Phyllis Schlafly and her book A Choice, Not an Echo, as an initial and important influence on his political thinking at a young age.  Here I could relate, because she influenced my thinking as well.  Her conservative point of view and specific areas of emphasis resonated with him.  It seems likely that her influence also lead him towards or helped confirm his interest in Complimentarianism and Biblical manhood and womanhood, both topics that he is associated with. 


Following the civil rights movements in the 50’s and 60’s and the growing recognition that equal rights had been denied to or limited for not only Black citizens but also for women and other marginalized groups; the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the Senate and sent to the states for ratification.  Schlafly’s active opposition helped prevent its ratification.  I found her stance to be both baffling and maddening.  

It struck me then and still strikes me as arrogance to attempt to impose personal beliefs of limitations on an entire subset of humanity who do not necessarily share those beliefs or benefit from their application.  If you personally wish to live according to a religious interpretation of the equal worth but complimentary roles of men and women in marriage and ministry, (complimentarianism in a nutshell) that is your right, especially in the US where the First Amendment (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;) protects religious practice.  

However, to me, whenever you are establishing relationships where one member is given leadership and the other member is required to be submissive; the potential for abuse exists.  We have seen examples throughout history in many cultures, writ both large and small—inculcated in law and tradition, generally along lines of race, gender and class.  

The separation of genders as seen by Dr. Grudem and Mrs. Schlafly may work well for them and others that share their beliefs and in that I find no cause for concern with their choices.  If Dr. Grudem and his wife both willingly followed traditional gender roles in their marriage, it has apparently worked for them; 51 years together sounds like a success story.  

My concern comes when confidence in your own personal beliefs, even when derived from Biblical sources translates into confidence that they are unerringly right and required for everyone else, or the questioning of those beliefs is beyond scrutiny by others and that a re-examination of those beliefs is ever warranted, despite new facts, evidence or widespread concerns from others.  

The Bible was used to justify slavery in the US and the arguments of the southern churches to uphold the enslavement of our fellow human beings led to a break between southern and northern congregations that predated the Civil War by several decades.  

The Confederacy was clearly founded on the false, but fondly and firmly held principle of the inferiority of the Negro, as outlined in the famous Cornerstone Speech given by the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens in March of 1861.  

“…Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Thus subjugation of one group by another can also be justified by law, economic forces, tradition and social pressure and thousands and thousands of people were willing to give their lives to support that shared but erroneous belief in white supremacy. That concept has strength and staying power and remains with us today; after some dormancy or suppression it has been emboldened to rise again.

I may seem to be painting beliefs on a very dark and dangerous canvas, but it is not an indictment of the concept of beliefs.

In a vast and complex world full of uncertainty and unanswered questions I regard our belief systems as necessary elements to conducting the business of life as individuals and as societies, but I also know that truth is not a necessary element for a belief to hold a powerful sway, as clearly revealed by Stephens’ statement. There is no scientific basis for the superiority of any race, because the concept of race is an artificial concept and we are all members of the same species and the same human race.

We should be able to examine the beliefs of the past and the beliefs of our institutions as potentially fallible and even potentially destructive— such as the beliefs that formed the Confederacy and sustained slavery for hundreds of years and continued the subjugation of Blacks through Jim Crow laws, housing discrimination and social stigmatization. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the beliefs of too many influenced the uneven enforcement of laws, provisions of education and employment and maintained the social structures that have kept the Black community from full participation in our democracy and our free enterprise system. Our beliefs allow us to blame the victims and excuse those who try to maintain the unfair status quo.

The Church (as a power institution, regardless of the denomination) has also used beliefs to coerce followers for good or ill. Many Christians lead lives of virtue and kindness shaped by their beliefs and the fellowship of their congregations, but that is not the only result.  The mass deaths in Jonestown would not have occurred without the power of belief and the force of a charismatic leader.

The child abuse scandals in the Catholic Church happened because the institution was valued more than the individuals who were harmed. They were collateral damage and not even considered. Eventually this failure to deal with the “insignificant” and occasional cultural and moral shortcomings of an institution with many strengths otherwise came to profoundly damage the very institution they were trying to protect.

A similar scenario has occurred with sports teams on college campuses. Who was more revered than Penn State’s head football coach, Joe Paterno? Revered, but only until the sex scandals of many years were revealed. The coaching staff defended the reputation of the University in ways that superseded the need to defend their athletes from abuse. It ended with Jerry Sandusky’s imprisonment, loss of jobs and prestige and Joe Paterno’s record as the winningest coach stripped from him. (It was later restored, but not until 3 years after his death.)

The protectors of the institutions (the bishops, the coaches, the administrators, etc.) were acting in ways that they thought were righteous and appropriate when viewed through their frame of reference. When a light was shone on the abuses and the doors were opened, the structures fell apart and some of the participants were able to recognize the wrongness of their actions, but some who participated were still unable to acknowledge that, still clinging to their firm beliefs in the ascendency of their institutions and the rightness of their actions, still able to minimize in their minds the damage they had done.

After all this background thoughts on beliefs and institutions, where am I now in my understanding of Dr. Grudem’s beliefs and principles? I do not share them in total and I have not shared them for a long time. Phyllis Schlafly broke us up! But can I accept that his support for Donald Trump is based on valid principles and sound reasoning? Can I willingly accept the fact that he views the world through a different frame of reference than I do, but that his frame is just different and not wrong or built on a faulty basis? 

No, I’m sorry, I cannot. This troubles me more than you can imagine. I’ve always favored harmony over discord and never felt threatened by different religious or political beliefs; they were just several of the ways that human diversity manifested itself from different life experiences and individual personalities.

With that in mind, I still can’t simply dismiss this as a mere difference of equally valid opinions. He gave a political opinion and entered  it into the public arena and he used his religious views and scholastic status to support a particular stance that I feel is dangerous to our health, safety and democratic future.

Policy preferences and leadership preferences will arise from our different understandings; but policy decisions can be guided by facts and previous results. The important things are the results that will occur and the cost effectiveness of those actions. They should not be solely dependent only upon our partisan preferences but upon the greatest good for the greatest number without disenfranchising or placing an unfair burdens on individuals. Long term benefits should be assessed, not only short term gains. The wishes of the powerful and the majority should not be heard any louder than the needs of the powerless and minority. Policymakers should enter into policymaking with a willingness to listen, to understand and to compromise; to seek the best and most complete information and be prepared to own the outcome and make changes if they are warranted by the results.

Leadership preferences, while often guided more by instinct and emotion, should never ignore the actual qualifications of that leader and the implications of his actions. We have four years of extensive information to inform us; along with previous public actions. We have a vast amount of primary and secondary resources to draw upon and it is incumbent upon us to not overlook or ignore the information that would legitimately question and reject another four years with Trump in the White House.

In Dr. Grudem’s response to his anti-Trump friend he writes:

“Thank you for your thoughtful, honest email explaining why you felt frustration and anger about my public support of Donald Trump. I'm glad that you wrote as you did rather than leaving the matter unspoken.

Thank you also for writing, as a long-time friend, to express your concerns that my support of Trump might jeopardize the reputation that I have built as a trusted professor of theology and ethics for the last 43 years, and that my pro-Trump stance undermines the credibility of the label “evangelical,” and even of the Christian gospel itself.”

Dr. Grudem is polite and says that he had given his friend’s concerns several days consideration, but as I read through his response, that consideration seems more cursory than in depth. Zachary’s letter must have been inspired by a deep concern that Dr. Grudem’s support was outside of what he had previously expected from a scholar of his reputation and experience and caused him enough dissonance to take the chance of alienating a respected friend. I am experiencing the same kind of dissonance myself at this moment.

Dr. Grudem contends that his major concerns are policies and Trump’s character flaws and personal failures do not prevent him from delivering policies that he supports. If that is the case, we will go there first.

I am researching each of his important policy bullet points and that research and my commentary is taking more pages that I’ll post in my blog later. All this writing, research and fact verification seems to be the only way that I can truly wrap my mind around the Evangelical mindset and world view and it’s impact on our democracy. I am frightened by this world view and it is not because I see them as evil, but as minimizing and accepting evil to accomplish what they see as good.  Such unexamined righteousness is almost impervious to rational arguments.

But for now, I’m going summarize my feeling and my conclusions. Religious, social and cultural beliefs arise from our experiences, training and family and community influences. They guide our lives in generally positive ways but no set of beliefs is infallible or applicable to every individual. There is usually room in a free society for differences of beliefs and their expressions; there are also tensions and accommodations—a dance of differences that Americans have negotiated quite well for over 200 years. Sometimes we have to confront those belief systems—our own and others.

When Dr. Grudem minimizes the concerns of his friend and when he minimizes the harm that Trump has done and continues to do he has chosen to do what scholars should never do; only look at the evidence that supports his view and reject with prejudice the preponderance of evidence against.

This is not like any other time in history; this is not like any Presidency we have ever experienced. If we had had a President McCain, a President Romney, a President Jeb Bush, or John Kasich; I would have no doubt disagreed with some of their policies but I would have respected them as leaders that would have exercised their powers within the law and with dignity. President Trump is not a leader that respects the law, the Constitution or anyone that disagrees with him. His lawlessness is damaging now and into the future. He is a profound embarrassment on the world stage.

A metaphor to express this unprecedented time in history: A man is sitting on the couch watching a football game. His wife enters the room and says, “You have to turn off the TV now.” Let’s look at 3 different scenarios.

Scenario 1. He says, “No, why would I do that?”
She says, “You know I hate football, so turn it off.”

Scenario 2. He says, “No, why would I do that?”
She says, “Because football is a sport that endangers its players with the likelihood of getting CTE, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and I don’t think it is ethical to view and support the game that can cause such damage.

Scenario 3. He says, “No, why would I do that?”
She says, “Because, I’m in labor and the baby is almost here!”
He says, “It’s the playoff; call your sister or take a taxi. If it’s too close, please go to another room and try not to make too much noise.”

We are not at scenario 1. It would be wrong to reject Dr. Grudem’s argument just because I think differently. The wife’s opinion about not liking football has no more validity than her husband’s. Blue as a favorite color is no more virtuous than liking green or purple.

But having a reason for not watching football takes us to scenario 2.  In scenario 2, her reason for wanting to turn off the TV has a basis in facts.  Her opinion is worthy of a discussion and her husband could present opinions to the contrary.  It is an ethical question without a single answer, but some answers are better than others and conclusions or new paths forward can be reached.  That is how I have usually regarded political disagreements; there is more than one point of view and respectful discussion allows us to see aspects we hadn’t noticed before and can bring us to a solution that could include all, some or none of either opinion.  I’m used to that world, where disagreements and conflicts exist, but so do facts and so do reasonable people willing to solve problems and work together.

Something is wrong with scenario 3, but that’s where I think we are living today. Just as the birth of a baby, living in Trump world is a singular event, not business as usual.  You cannot make an argument that all politicians behave equally badly or that both parties are equally to blame if you can look at facts objectively. Of course you can find anecdotes to support your point of view; but there are many stories and I could find anecdotes to refute yours.  “The plural of anecdote is not data.”  

In this example the husband has really, really not been paying attention and has no empathy and takes no personal responsibility.  Trump supporters have missed the expanding belly of our distress and fear; they have missed the ranks of prominent Republicans voting for Biden and the reasons for that support; they have missed the actual finding of the Mueller report and the 1000 page Senate Intelligence report on Russian involvement;  and they have glossed over the strong case for Trump’s removal from office and the actual impeachment.  

They have given short shrift to the generals that have condemned his actions, demeanor and his words (military leaders have always preferred to be non-partisan); former officials who have called him an idiot, incompetent, dangerous or worse.  Trump supported have failed to reckon with almost 60,000 psychologists who signed a petition to remove him from office and the 27 of them who authored a book called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.  

They have mitigated the endless lies about everything large and small and the trail of sexual abuse, (25 women) fraud,(Trump University) corruption (Trump Foundation and all the Emoluments accepted unlawfully) and criminal involvement (unindicted co-conspirator in the crime that gave Michael Cohen a 3 year prison term and the crimes that the SDNY’s office are currently investigating).  

This is not close to an inclusive list.  McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house has compiled an ongoing list with the hyperbolic but appropriate title of:  LEST WE FORGET THE HORRORS: A CATALOG OF TRUMP’S WORST CRUELTIES, COLLUSIONS, CORRUPTIONS, AND CRIMES: THE COMPLETE LISTING SO FAR): ATROCITIES 1-842.    Folks; that's 842 and counting!!  Obama wore a tan suit and Fox News went crazy!

Dr. Grudem admits to some character flaws in Trump and congratulates himself on mentioning them, but concludes they are just not that bad.  I don’t think Dr. Grudem would ever willingly look at this list.  He would apparently let any misbehavior by a public official be excused; or would he?  

Here is the statement that he signed, along with other academics and scholars about presidential misconduct, unfortunately, as appropriate as it might be, the object of this ethical indictment is not Donald Trump, but Bill Clinton.  Almost point by point this would apply to Donald Trump and with a much wider scope of actions to be examined. Please look closely.

“We are aware that certain moral qualities are central to the survival of our political system, among which are truthfulness, integrity, respect for the law, respect for the dignity of others, adherence to the constitutional process, and a willingness to avoid the abuse of power. We reject the premise that violations of these ethical standards should be excused so long as a leader remains loyal to a particular political agenda and the nation is blessed by a strong economy. Elected leaders are accountable to the Constitution and to the people who elected them. By his own admission the President has departed from ethical standards by abusing his presidential office, by his ill use of women, and by his knowing manipulation of truth for indefensible ends. We are particularly troubled about the debasing of the language of public discourse with the aim of avoiding responsibility for one’s actions.

    We are concerned about the impact of this crisis on our children and on our students. Some of them feel betrayed by a President in whom they set their hopes while others are troubled by his misuse of others, by which many in the administration, the political system, and the media were implicated in patterns of deceit and abuse. Neither our students nor we demand perfection. Many of us believe that extreme dangers sometimes require a political leader to engage in morally problematic actions….Political and religious history indicate that violations and misunderstandings of such moral issues may have grave consequences. The widespread desire to “get this behind us” does not take seriously enough the nature of transgressions and their social effects.

I don’t think I have to say more about Dr. Grudem's supposed high-minded support of Donald Trump…I will let the words he attested to 22 years ago conclude my argument:

“But we maintain that in general there is a reasonable threshold of behavior beneath which our public leaders should not fall, because the moral character of a people is more important than the tenure of a particular politician or the protection of a particular political agenda.”

Sunday, May 24, 2020

In Memory of Judith Carol Tauber, Dec 3, 1937-May 24, 2009

Judy, Judy, Judy…
Did you know that Cary Grant never uttered those words in a movie?
But then, he never met our Judy, that special woman that we honor and remember today?
Our sister, mother, grandmother, partner, aunt, cousin, our friend?

Judith Carol Tauber was born on December 3, 1937 in Alexandria, MN just as the nation was limping out a depression and into a world war.  There may have been plenty of tough times for people, but on that little farm near Evansville, life was pretty good.  There was grandpa and grandma Tauber, father Francis (with an i) known as Frank, and mother Frances (with an e) known as Fran or Frannie and big sister Marian. 

If “the deepest definition of youth,” as Alfred North Whitehead has said, “is life as yet untouched by tragedy,” then Judy’s youth was short, for when she was only two, her father died tragically and her mother (my mother, too) was deeply depressed by the loss.  

When Judy was 10 Mom married my father, Hjalmer Soderholm, and the family moved to a farm near Millerville.  The accommodations were far from luxurious, no indoor plumbing, only a space heater in the living room to warm the house, and a sometimes icy attic room to sleep in.  Judy loved Dad, but, rest his soul, he was seldom outwardly loving to his stepchildren and was a tough and rigid taskmaster.  She learned to work hard on that farm, and hard work became one of the cornerstones of her life.  I’m not sure when she took on the nickname, “The Workhorse”, but it was long established and well earned.

In 1955 she was valedictorian of her class at Brandon High and she moved to the big city to make her own way.  A year later, she married Lee Freske in Urbank.  I was 6 years old and dressed in white too like my big sister.  It was the longest, but most glorious day of my life to that point.  The ceremony was at 10:00 am, followed by a wedding lunch and later, a wedding supper and then a night filled with waltzes, polkas and schottisches. 
Lots of food and lots of fun…two more cornerstones of her life.

The suburbs were growing in these postwar years and Lee and Judy joined the exodus from the city to a clean and tidy rambler with a detached garage on Violet Avenue in Brooklyn Center.  They contributed to the baby boom with three little girls; Sheila in 1960, Sandy in 1962, and Susie in 1964.

Judy had begun building a career as a legal secretary, making herself invaluable to her bosses through her work ethic, lively personality and flying fingers on a keyboard or a steno pad.  I’m amazed at how she could pack so much into her days, for the demands on this young mother were more than I would ever face with my own three children.  You see, her precious first-born, Sheila, was handicapped from birth and a bout of encephalitis in her first few months made her handicaps profound.  She was blind, and would never be able to dance or sing.  Sandy and Susie were bright and creative and pure joy to their mother, but caring for Sheila truly brought out Judy’s huge capacity for love and compassion.  Sheila was cared for at home for as long as possible, but eventually went to live in a hospital.  She went to join the angels in 1971 at the age of 11.

I’m not sure if Judy ever fully confided to anyone the extent of the impact of Sheila’s death—the sorrow, and the sadness of a mother who could not save her child.  I think from then on, she sought out and recognized Sheila in all those she met and she did whatever she could to help us when we could not see clearly, all she could to help us walk tall, sing our own songs and dance lightly in this world.  Despite our admiration and appreciation I think she never felt like she could do enough, but darn it, she was going to keep trying, to the last breath in her body. 

I don’t know as much as I should about those days and years after Sheila died.  I was in college and I soon married, moved to Australia, saw the world and moved back home to begin my own family.  I was busy with my own life.

Judy and Lee moved to Brooklyn Park in 1978 to a larger, more comfortable home, but not a more comfortable life together and they divorced a few years later, after 23 years of marriage.  But look, 23 years later, they were back together again for mutual aid when ill health affected first Lee, then Judy.  They remained supportive companions to this day. Lee’s loss is as deep as anyone’s could be.

That’s unconventional, but not unexpected from Judy.  Expansiveness was another cornerstone. Her openness, warmth and affection were abundant and could encompass the world.  Ah, the world…she saw a lot of the world with her traveling companion, David Fjoslien, whom she’d known back at Brandon High.  Together they visited Russia, jumped out of planes over China, walked through the townships of South Africa and even saw the penguins of Antarctica.  They were always off on a cruise, or an adventure to Kodiak Island in Alaska.  Together they got to 6 continents, but not Australia. 

Her favorite traveling companions though were of a different sort, her grandson, Mike, Mikey who she loved so much and was so proud of, and Merry, the high-flying schnauzer.  Mike and grandma had an adventurous trip together to Padre Island, Texas—ask him about it, if you dare and Merry was a constant companion and a faithful friend where ever Judy went.  

Perhaps the travel she enjoyed the most were the recent annual trips to Mexico with her girls, Susie, Sandy and Katie.  Many of pictures in the slideshow last night displayed their raucous fun together in the sun.  The last trip was a hard one, but a treasure to hold on to.

Judy worked as hard as ever as the girls grew up and moved away.  She contributed to her profession, serving as president of a legal secretary’s association and was named as “Legal Secretary of the Year.”  It was one of many recognitions she received, but that we seldom heard about.   She went on to other jobs that used her business, legal and personal skills.  As a mortgage lender at President Homes, she found the satisfaction and challenge of putting people into new homes.  She found a calling in real estate and pursued that until it became too difficult this year to pound that “Sold” sign into the front yard.   Chances are, many here today came to know Judy first as clients and left with the perfect home and a new friend.

Judy, too, went in search of the perfect home and found it here in Mora, at the Hersey House.  She’d had a hankering over that house for a long time, and it finally became hers in 2001.  It wasn’t the showplace it is today, but it had good bones and Judy set about making it a reflection of herself.  It wasn’t long after she came to town that cancer came too.  Mean, nasty, aggressive lung cancer.  Surgery and chemo were rough.  Somehow, she still found a career in real estate and a niche in your community.  There was healing therapy in refurbishing the rooms of her future bed and breakfast.  It had to look good for the celebrations to come…first, a wellness party in November 2002, when the scans were clean.  That was a memorable day.

Later, Hersey House visitors from all over would see the Vasaloppet from her door, the Historical Society that she was deeply involved in would have tours there…hundreds of trick or treaters would get their bags filled with candy, and family; always family. 

Her table was gathering spot for the Schoenack girl cousins for a weekend of stories and laughter and…of course, lots of food and drink.  The weekend would include a trip to Mora Unclaimed Freight.  We could spend $2 and try to bring back the best treasure…the story was the thing.  Last year, 10 of the 11 girls were there…amazing, only Nadine from Germany was missing.  Perhaps you saw the dignified group portrait last night.  Oops, was that Judy flashing us?

There are great stories to tell, and perhaps the best stories are the one that only you know.  Hold them in your heart but share them with her family.  You, the people of Mora, she loved you and she loved your community; you, her family and friends she listened to you and encouraged you and held you up in times of trouble.  She’s not here anymore to love and guide and work till the job was done.  Now it’s up to us…let’s make her proud, lets make the way we live our lives a real memorial to her.

Today you saw Judy dressed in red and black and looking fine.  She has a bottle of champagne and a fishing hat and other treasures to take with her and today she also has her red cowboy boots.  Last night, I was talking to Rose, a coworker at Northern Lights, someone that Judy had mentored and encouraged, and Rose asked whether Judy was wearing those boots.  No, I didn’t think so.  “Well,” Rose said, “she told me she was going to be buried in those boots.  Don’t you want to pass them on to some aspiring young woman?”  “Hell, no,” Judy said, “let them get their own!” 

The last few months have been painful ones for Judy.  Those who loved her were grateful that her last day was comfortable and that she was surrounded by loved ones, her precious and devoted Katie nearest to her when her last breath came.  The ten who had sat vigil were distracted for the first time all day when she exited gracefully and with class as always.  

Katie had spent all her weekends and when college was done for the year, all her nights as well caring for grandma.  She asked Judy that when the time came to come to her in her dreams.  On Sunday night she felt a weight and a pressure on her chest…a last hug from Grandma.  Judy believed in angels, and now she is one.
I think she visited me as well. On Saturday I had told Judy that I was planting sweet corn in the morning…she loved corn on the cob…  When I came home tired and grieving on Sunday and went to have some toast I found a little pile of dirt on the counter.  Strange, I thought as I brushed it off.  There was another little pile on my desk. On Monday I returned to the garden, a place of comfort for me, but cleaned up to get ready to drive to Mora to help with arranged.  I had sat down at my computer to gather music and when I got up there was a 3rd little pile under my elbow.  Judy, I said, are you playing a “dirty trick” on me?  That just the kind of mischief she would do.

We can believe that all is well with our Judy and now she is hostess at an eternal table with mother, father and our aunts and uncles and all our dearly departed in the nicest little piece of real estate in heaven.  God love you Judy, You know I do.

Poem 73 (Pandemic Day 75)

We Have a Beautiful Mother

We have a beautiful
Her hills
are buffaloes
Her buffaloes 

We have a beautiful
He oceans 
are wombs
her wombs

We have a beautiful
Her teeth
the white stones
at the edge
of the water
the summer
her plentiful

We have a beautiful
Her green lap immense 
Her brown embrace
Her blue body
everything we know.
Her Blue Body
Everything We Know

Mother Earth: Through the Eyes of Women Photographers and Writers, Edited by Judith Boice, Random House, 1992.

Most of us recognize the name Alice Walker, (1943-) the writer who was the eighth child of Georgia sharecroppers. While growing up she was accidentally blinded in one eye, and her mother gave her a typewriter, allowing her to write instead of doing chores. She received a scholarship to attend Spelman College, where she studied for two years before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College. After graduating in 1965, Walker moved to Mississippi and became involved in the civil rights movement. She also began teaching and publishing short stories and essays.  Probably her most famous work is The Color Purple.  If you click on her name above you are connected to her blog, a rather eclectic gathering of current events, ideas and original work.  I love this piece that she wrote recently--I'll post the beginning here, the rest is available at her blog:

Anybody who despises elephants except for their tusks
is not from here.
Anybody who decapitates mountains
is not from here.

Anybody who assassinates
rivers, oceans,
and the air,
is not from here.

Anybody who “disappears” continents
of buffalo
and foxes, turtles and rain forests
oil, gold, diamonds
and sandalwood
is not from here.

You can sleep on
if you like.

But this is the easiest way
to tell
who is not Earthling....

You can see the woman essence she embodies in her words...the deep connections of feminine creativity and nurture, the circle of life that invites everyone in, who unselfishly gives.  Our beautiful Mother can forgive us, if only we can recognize the harm that we are doing and return her embrace.
I dedicate today's poem to my forever friend, Mary O'Neil Hemmesch, the epitome of loving mother on her birthday.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Poem 72 (Pandemic Day 74)

What the Ancient Ones Knew

Petroglyphs in the rock:
a woman balancing a world

in each outstretched hand.

The worlds spin in place.

She stares across
the valley at winter peaks

floating in clouds. A small 
smile lightens her face.

Her feet ground the earth.
Her head grazes the sky,

To her right side coyote tosses
the moon off the end of his nose

and barks at the close of night.
As the hot sun dries her face

the woman moves her left hand 
forward and offers me a world.

"Here," she says, "let it spin.
It will weave its own fabric."

Mother Earth: Through the Eyes of Women Photographers and WritersEdited by Judith Boice, Random House, 1992.

I'm going to let this beautiful poem written by New Mexico poet, Gayle Lauradunn stand on its own.  You can click on the poet's name for a link to an interview with her that gives you insight into her process and her amazing personal story.

I am blown away by this bewitching book of photography and poetry in which her poem appears; still available and worth the $8.99 sticker price.  It is so special that tomorrow I will share two more poems from the book.

I seldom want to admit it or even consider the thought, but it is just possible that I own too many books.  Last week I packed up 75 books in three large boxes and mailed them off to a company that buys books.  Some of the bookshelves may have given a small sigh of relief for more breathing room, but I have to face it--there is not a noticeable decline in the number of books available to read.

Current calculations are that I need to read 100 books a year for the next 30 years without acquiring one additional new book or visiting a library to come even close to empty shelves.
It is sad to think that there are undoubtedly books on my shelves that I will not ever get to and some, such as Mother Earth  that deserve to be lingered over and loved that may not be touched.  I am grateful that this sheltering time has allowed me to linger with some books longer and also make decisions to send some books on their way to be treasured and enjoyed by others.  I can reduce my wardrobe, part with dishes and linens more easily than I can with my books--that's just the way it is--simplicity in all its forms is something I may never achieve--so I'll just love the chaos.  And, as much as possible, heed the words of Winston Churchill:

"If you cannot read all your books...fondle them---peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances."