Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunday Morning Meds--Satisfaction

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, 
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”
Psalm 90:14

Received an e-mail from old friends a while back, who told me the news of their son, their oldest child, who, at 53, started feeling a bit weak, they say, a few weeks ago, and therefore went in for tests. The tests turned up something significant, and he was sent to a specialist, who identified the problem as ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

You can imagine their shock.

But all is not hopeless. Some who suffer ALS keep going for a very long time. Others, of course, don’t. “Won't get into numbers,” his mother wrote. Right now, their son “has to be pulled up out of his big comfortable chair if he wants to get up. Has to use a walker. Totally weak arms and legs so far. Can hardly pick up his arm or hold spoons when he eats. We go see him......often.”

He has three little grandchildren who live almost next door. “They perk him up,” the note says. His wife is wonderful and caring.  She pushes the wheelchair when they go anywhere. And then this: “So........... it is finally sinking in to me that this is happening to our oldest ‘child.’ I seem to call him ‘Danny Boy’ now.”

And what about him? What about Danny Boy? “He will enjoy each day as they go along.”

Ironically, most of us wish we could say that.

That Moses would write this line, that makes sense: Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” His people rarely were.

It’s hard to read the story of the Exodus and not be anti-Semitic. After all that God had done for them--taking down Pharaoh and his minions in the Red Sea, then establishing his own tent right there among them thereby granting him the glory of his presence—miraculous, really! But those Israelites, never satisfied, still found things to bitch about.

Yahweh splashes manna around every morning, and they want duck in wine sauce. He gives them duck and they want sirloin. Is it any wonder they annoyed him. Should we be shocked that he told them an entire generation had to die before he’d bring them home? Seriously, the Israelites give Jews a bad name.

Once, at a burning bush, God instructed Moses to speak for him—and, in a way speak for his people before Pharaoh. In Psalm 90, that’s what he’s doing, speaking for them in Psalm 90:14, maybe especially here, as well as all of us. He’s asking for something few of us ever feel—true, rich satisfaction. Maybe lions get it; after all, they sleep away ninety percent of their lives. But do any of us? I don’t.
I don’t know Danny-boy, his kids, his darling grandkids or his loving, caring wife. But I know his parents, and I know at least something of their sadness and their great and totally understandable fears. I wish they weren’t suffering as they are and will. I wish Danny Boy wasn’t dying. I wish those grandkids weren’t losing a grandfather. Things just aren’t right in the world. There are always things to get angry about.

Moses’s prayer resonates with anyone in human skin; we all know the impulse very well of the unquenchable thirst for love, for nothing less than satisfaction. “Satisfy us,” he begs of God. It’s a song we all sing, every day and every night of our lives.

Except, oddly, Danny Boy, who will, as he says, “enjoy each day as they go along.”          Except maybe him and some few like him.

Maybe better than the rest of us, they understand this great old psalm.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Two stories of the Black Snake

Last night, late, I crossed "the black snake" three times on my way home from Rock Valley. Things have changed in the last few weeks. For months, the wide scar through neighborhood farmland looked raw and painful, especially after rain. But last night I couldn't help notice that the precious topsoil had been spread back over the wound. 

Roads run square in Siouxland, and that meant that I came up on triangular signs that mark the pipeline three times. Energy Transfer, the Fortune 500 company that's doing the heavy lifting, has encountered no problems in our neighborhood. Just down the gravel, less than a quarter mile from home, a dozen trailers fill the lot, all of them belonging to Energy Transfer employees. In Alton, right downtown, barely a mile away, there's a dozen more, another camp of pipeline workers. They've been here a couple of months. 

If Energy Transfer could grow corn and soybeans overnight, you wouldn't know the pipeline is there. It's buried. Bare ground will be there until planting next spring, but when the corn is knee-high you'll never know all the pipes are down there and whirring with North Dakota oil.

We're all capitalists here, and few, if any in the area considered what Energy Transfer was doing to be any kind of invasion. Real card-carring environmentalists--the kind who paint protest signs--don't live here. Land-owners loved the money, I'm sure. Had to be plentiful.

Wasn't that way in North Dakota, where this summer as many as 5000 protesters, most of them Native, banded together to keep "the black snake" away. Two of my friends described what a joy it was to come together out there on the broad empty land along the Missouri, what spiritual nourishment they got from the company of all kinds of Native people, biggest get-together since the Battle of Little Big Horn, someone said. 

I'm sure there are angry North Dakotans. I'm sure they see protesters (not all of whom are Native) as agitators and thugs, people determined to hold back progress. I'm sure they'd love to unleash the dogs as they did one day a couple of weeks ago. They'd love to arrest the city people who've come to North Dakota only for headlines, the do-gooders who don't know what's good for them. And how is it they can just show up out there? Lazy bums don't even jobs. 

I've not heard that rhetoric, but I'm guessing it gets played. 

I just happened to come across this passage last week.
The Indians knew as well as anyone that if peace was accepted it would mean extinction, it would mean peace at a terrible cost, it would mean death and destruction and the end of the race. Their land was coveted and would sooner or later be taken. The wild game over a thousand hills that meant life to an Indian would be all a thing of the past. The wild life of roaming in fresh fields free from diseases, camping on the perfume of new-grown flowers, the pure air of the prairie, the breath of the pines and sparkling streams--what God had given the children of the prairies--would have  to be exchanged for goods that they were not used to, foods that did not satisfy, foods robbed of the natural vitamins, minerals, and proteins. 
Susan Bordeaux Bettelyoun wrote that paragraph almost eighty years ago when she was almost 90 years old. She'd seen first hand much that had happened west of the Missouri River since the Civil War.* 

If you want to understand at least some of the differences between my people's acceptance of "the black snake" and Native defiant rejection, walk through that paragraph again.

I don't slap righteousness sticky notes on movements. I'm not saying 5000 Native people are acting in their own best interest or that my neighbors and I should be out there down the road lying in a non-violent protest of locked arms. I'm not even much of a tree-hugger.

But if you want to understand why a raucous encampment of people from the Standing Rock reservation doesn't want the pipeline, listen to the words of old woman writing eighty years ago about a lifetime she spent not all that far from the neighborhood where Energy Transfer wants madly to bury that black snake. 

If you don't hear her voice in the North Dakota protest, you're not listening. 
Susan Bordeaux Bettelyoun, With My Own Eyes: A Lakota Woman Tells Her People's History, p. 85-86.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Morning Thanks--Hammerin' Hank remembered

He was just 23 years old when, in 1957, he won the MVP award. I was in third grade, and hard as it might be to believe, I don't think I thought of him as black. He'd come up from the Negro league, in fact, the very last player from there to arrive in the Bigs, at a time when African-Americans were just beginning to get a place in MLB dugouts. 

Seems to me that Billy Bruton played next to him in centerfield, so he wasn't alone on the roster. But he was early. Those old pics of that 1957 team--World Champ Milwaukee Braves!--have four or five others. There were others.

No matter. All I know was that when I was a kid, on many a night I fell asleep with the Braves game still playing on that little radio up above my bed, it's soft yellow light over the dial. I loved going to bed with the Braves on, loved it so much that there were nights when I didn't even nod off.  

Coming into the ninth, the Braves may have trailed, but if the heart of the lineup was on its way to the plate, there was always a chance. Hank Aaron was there, batting in the third position, followed by Matthews, the third basement, at cleanup. Those two guys could hit. And did. That's what I remember thinking about Hammerin' Henry Aaron--the guy could hit. 

Really, he was a little guy. Eddie Matthews was beefy; he looked like he could jack the long ball out of County Park Stadium. But Henry was a wiry six-footer who weighed in at a good deal less than 200 pounds. Muscle-y? --sure. But Aaron had great wrists, my father used to say, great wrists that snapped that bat with so much torque the stadium walls came tumbling down. 

The biggest story of his professional life was how he finally outdid the Babe and ended his career with 755 round trippers. That was two decades later, in 1976, the year of the American Bicentennial, the year our daughter came into the world. By that time I was well aware of his being African-American, as was the nation, because hate mail and death threats arrived in his mail daily as he climbed ever closer to Babe Ruth's otherwise untouchable record. All that hate on its 200th birthday made the country look menacing.

"You are not going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it," some guy told him in a letter. "Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. My gun is watching your every black move."

Generations of kids today can't imagine someone capable of such wicked hate, but it was in the air in 1976. The man who wrote those lines wasn't alone. An African-American was threatening a great man's home-run record, a great hitter who was white. Things like weren't supposed to happen.

The Postal Service gave him an award that year for getting mail, nearly a million letters (long before email), thousands and thousands in that massive bag full greatly supportive and loving. But America's finest racists couldn't go down without threatening a noose from the old days. 

But they couldn't stop him. He was just too good. Hammerin' Hank still owns a shoebox full of major league records: most career runs batted in at 2,297, total bases at 6,856, and extra base hits at 1477. 

There's more--lots more, but I thought of him on Saturday, couldn't help it really when I saw his name on a stone beneath my feet. Here it is.

There's his footprints on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King National Monument in Atlanta. He's in good company--Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Ralph Abernathy, Senator Edward Brooke, Rosa Parks, President Jimmy Carter, and more than a dozen others. Some things tells me Hammerin' Hank is fully as proud of being here as he is in Cooperstown.

Breaking that record wasn't easy, not at his age. He played in 3300 ball games, third place all-time. But it wasn't easy either to live as long as he did in the eye of a racial storm that will likely never fully pass somehow off the cost and out to sea.  

When Barry Bonds broke Hammerin' Hank's record in 2007, Aaron didn't make a big deal out of it because, he told a reporter, baseball isn't about records. It's about playing to one's own greatest potential. 

That day in Atlanta, he hit number 715, one more than the Babe, that day when some people were actually scared of what could happen, the image I like best is that when Henry Aaron came around third, there at the plate stood his parents. Isn't that just the greatest? 

It was nice seeing him again last Saturday. This morning, I'm thankful for that sidewalk, those footprints, and the tracks he left in my own life.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Really, it's not at all funny

For years, I've rolled my eyes at the madness that sent thousands to gun stores to buy whatever firearms they could find on the racks. Somewhere in the area of 52,000 sales were registered EVERY DAY just last June when, once again, word got out that evil Obama, who's been Santa Claus to gun manufacturers, was going to somehow, all by himself, enact those draconian gun laws the NRA swore he would hammer in place eight years ago already. And didn't. 

As if he could. 

By this time, those Donald Trump calls "second-amendment people" have to be well-armed, gussied up for war as if Guadalcanal was just outside their garage, even though Obama the Muslim never did confiscate anyone's assault rifle and gun laws haven't changed since '08. No matter. Right-wingers went perfectly apocalyptic even before he won the election, had nightmares of Vader-like government thugs, late at night, going house to house for every last .410 shotgun, one's own children somewhere back there bawling and screaming.

"Our sales have doubled across the board," Justin Anderson, marketing director for Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C., a mammoth gun store, told the Washington Examiner after the massacre in the Florida nightclub. "More and more are coming to realize that their personal safety is at risk and their government cannot protect them." Then he stuck in this additional come on, "This is likely the beginning of a long rise in gun sales leading up to the election." Guess why. "Should Hillary Clinton take a significant lead," he said, "it will only boost sales."


All right, I'm in. Can I get buy what I need to on Amazon? Where can I pick up an assault rifle cheap?

If Trump loses--and he's taking his own campaign down the stool--then it's time for me to get armed big-time. I'm considering a bazooka because Trump's "second amendment people" love America so dearly. You've seen 'em at rallies. They bleed patriotism. They're pledging themselves to the streets. They'll make America great again if they've got to beat on liberals to get it there. 

Why? Because he's telling 'em to, their man The Donald. The whole thing is rigged, you know. If he gets in, he's going to lock up Hillary, going easy because his people want her to hang in the street. That's if he wins. No political candidate in the history of America has used language like that. 

But if he loses there'll be hell to pay. He's telling his SS to monitor polling places because should he lose, a worldwide conspiracy of some really, really evil people--he's not saying who--will take over everything and that'll be the end of American democracy. It's rigged, he says. The whole thing is rigged. And no political candidate in American history has said that either. Welcome to The Donald Show.

Look. It's hard to be cute about this because it isn't.  Listen to Steve Schmidt, a long-time Republican operative.

And I can't help thinking that they're coming. His people are coming. Maybe we all better gun-up because they certainly have and they're mad and they're crazy. It's getting hard not to think that if Hillary decks the Savior, second-amendment storm troopers will soon be spilling from black helicopters in a backyard near you. Hyatt Guns, Charlotte, NC.--they got a website.

Honestly, nothing about Donald Trump is funny.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Dragon slayers

On stage with a dozen other Republican candidates, he was a hot knife through butter. He surgically destroyed what had become a financial conglomerate created for Jeb Bush simply by referring to him, to his face, as a low-wattage light bulb. He destroyed "little Marco," "lyin' Ted," and a woman whose face, he claimed, virtually eliminated her as a candidate, for after all who would ever vote for someone that uncomely? He took on a stage full and slayed 'em all.

He started rolling his bandwagon through America by talk of building a Great Wall of China along our southern border, because Mexican rapists were pouring into the U.S. of A.--and maybe a few good ones. He claimed he'd send 11 million back, every one of them would go. He didn't say how big of a immigration force the government would have to hire, but there'd be money for sure because under his watch the rich would get more return on their investments so they could see to it that the poor get jobs, just as they have for the last two or three decades. 

Some said the man's career was going up in smoke when he told America that he didn't care much for John McCain, because McCain was a prisoner of war. Personally, he said, he liked heroes who didn't spend time in the enemy's prisons because he liked winners not losers. He liked strong, like Putin, not weak like Obama.

But the McCain thing didn't hurt him a bit, and it was only the beginning.

When finally someone discovered that, in fact, he'd likely paid no taxes in the last umpteen years, he told America that kind of tax dodging proved him to be the smart man he'd always claimed he was. He made billions, he claimed, and paid no income tax, a real hero to the working class. 

Some thought he'd go down when he talked about how much women love him. And how many--when he said only he knew how to treat them, when he bragged about where he liked to grab them and how he always got away with it because he had money and power and celebrity. 

Didn't stop him. He just got angrier, and so did his disciples. 

People wondered whether he really said what he did about end times, about the end of democracy should lyin' Hillary be elected. Once he said some of those "Second Amendment people" really ought to do something about her--and probably would, should the horror of her winning actually, God forbid, come to pass. 

The apocalypse is upon us, he said last night. Darkness is descending. The end of the American dream is 24 days away unless true believers, the only patriots, unite. Otherwise, that woman will come into office and choose four pinko baby-killers as Supreme Court nominees at the same time she's admitting millions of undocumented rapists to swarm our borders and bloody our streets. Not to mention terrorists. Only he, he said a million times, can "make America great again." 

The press is evil. They're despicable people, bad people, vermin, except Hannity and Fox and Friends--they're okay because they know too that "this is not simply another four-year election," as he told a crowd last night. "This is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people reclaim control over our government." 

He's St. George, and to his loyalists the whole rest of the world is the dragon. 
This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system, and our system is rigged. This is reality, you know it, they know it, I know it, and pretty much the whole world knows it. The establishment and their media enablers will control over this nation through means that are very well known. Anyone who challenges their control is deemed a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, and morally deformed. 
Last night, he signed up to be their sacrifice. He wants to be their martyr. All of this he said to the clamor of his beloved, whose anger feeds on his every word and is chorused as obscenely as anything he's ever said. 

It's madness. It really is. 

You want reason to hope? You want something to cheer? 

Listen to this. 

We're belly-deep in the kind of mud it may take a whole generation to get off our boots. But here's an irony greatly worth celebrating: yesterday Donald Trump got himself put away in a drawer by an African-American woman who spoke truth with passion that came directly from the center of a mother's gracious heart. Michelle did something no one else could. With the poetry of her own injured soul, she took down Goliath.

There's cause to rejoice and always reason to hope.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Men, women, and locker rooms

As I remember it, it was one of those nights when long talks somehow emerge from the miasma, not for any particular reason, at least none that I can recall. We were lying in bed and just started talking. I don't remember any rumpus or argument. It was, years ago, one of those married-people talks that couldn't find the on/off switch.

I'm guessing the subject came up because I'd been thinking about a female colleague who'd told me once upon a time, mid-80s, that the only difference between men and women was hardware. I liked her, but I couldn't buy the argument. She was an early feminist for our tribe of conservative Christians, but her characterization seemed to me to be on the other side of unreasonable--and just plain hard to believe.

So the two of  us, my wife and I were talking that night, and it was late, and, as I said, there really wasn't any provocation. It was all about gender and what a puzzle that really is. Sometimes. No, often. 

That night she told me something I'd never considered and therefore never forgot. I'll put it in quotes, but exactly how it went is long gone: "Here I am, in bed, with someone twice my size," she said. "Men don't understand that a woman has to live with the fact that she's always smaller, always at risk." 

Let's be clear. I'd never abused her. She was simply telling me that physical size played a significant role in human perception. "Think of it this way," she said in the darkness, "--I know very well that any time you wanted to beat on me, there's not much I could do." Something like that. "Men never think that way. Women always do."

She was explaining a radical difference in perception I'd never thought about, that women perceive physicality via givens men don't begin to know or therefore can even imagine. That's what the woman I married taught me years ago, in bed, in the wee hours of the night. Even now, decades later, I can tell you I know what she meant, but I can't--nor will I ever--know exactly what she feels.

I'm not interested in laying more curses on Donald Trump. He has sufficient burdens to carry with probably more to come. 

But I couldn't help but remember that late night discussion when Beth Moore, for the first time in her immense bible-study ministry, started talking politics this week, something she'd never done before.

"I’m one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn’t. We’re tired of it,” Moore said when she determined she could no longer be silent. Then she turned her attention to evangelical men: “Try to absorb how acceptable the disesteem and objectifying of women has been when some Christian leaders don’t think it’s that big a deal.”

Moore speaks from experience, uniquely female experience.

I've heard some of Donald's female supporters claim, as does he, that his cock-and-bull with Billy Bush was basically "locker room talk," something--chortle, chortle--every man does when he's with the boys. Really? Maybe the good Dr. Ben Carson is right when he told some female journalist it was her problem she hadn't heard men talk about grabbing women's privates. 

But I can't help but wonder whether men who don't see what Trump said as anything more than regrettable locker room banter don't hear--and feel--what Donald Trump said in a wholly different way than most women do. 

Beth Moore knows very well that she hears and feels Trump's words with pain far greater than anything felt by Gary Bauer, Dr. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr., or any other male (so-called) evangelical. 

Or me. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"October 10" by Wendell Berry

Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of a crow sounds
Loud — landmark — now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.


Poem from Writers Almanac, photos from northern Minnesota, ten years ago.