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Where's the Wine? by Janet Farrar Worthington

Where’s the Wine?

by Janet Farrar Worthington

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Bringing Sadie Home

When it comes to dogs, we are stuck on Labs.  It hasn’t always been this way. We have had many mixed breeds over the years, including Jake, a Lab-Shepherd mix; Lucy, a Lab-Dalmatian mix; Betsy, a Lab-Beagle mix; Jenna, mostly black Lab; and Henry, a Golden Retriever-Bassett Hound mix, who looked just like a Golden Retriever except he was short – the coffee-table version. There is our beloved Stanley, a buff-colored Cocker Spaniel who came to live with us at age seven; and years ago, we had Penny, a beautiful Springer Spaniel.

But mostly, and inadvertently, there has been a theme here: the Lab constant.

Then we got Molly, our Chocolate Lab, and our daughter, Blair, rescued Roxy, a Yellow Lab, and we just fell in the tank for Labrador Retrievers. We now have three Labs in our family (I’m getting to that).

Here’s a very brief guide to Labs: All they care about is one thing: being with you.

And food. So okay, two things: Being with you, and food.

And having a job to do, so well, that’s three things.

Also, they love to play.

Okay, basically there are four life goals for the Lab.

Molly loves to have a job, and she has several missions. One is, when we’re walking, and Stanley – who thinks he is a large, ferocious warrior and gets the Viking “red mist” when he sees other dogs – starts barking at the neighbor’s dogs in their fenced-in yards, Molly turns on the speed and pulls us away. I have trained her to do this, and she does it without fail. She knows her job: extraction. Get us out of there.

Molly, like all Labs, is enthusiastic. She threw herself into obedience school, just plunged into it, much as she would a wading pool, horse’s water trough, or any other exciting water scenario.

She was so excited to go to class, in fact, that it was a problem. For the first few weeks as we parked and walked to our lessons at the Whiskers Barkery in downtown Prescott, I would have to slow our progress by holding onto street lights and grabbing the edges of buildings, because she would be pulling so hard to get us there.

Molly also retains the distinction of being the only dog ever to break off one of the obedience studio’s built-in leashes that are anchored to the wall. We were doing “recall,” where you have your dog stay, walk to the far end of the room, and say, “Molly (or whatever your dog’s name is), come!”   This was her best subject. She would just flat-out run across the room to me. So one day, we did our turn, and it was wonderful. Then another dog, whose name sounded very similar, was supposed to go. His owner squatted down, flung out her arms, and yelled, “Wally, come!” Molly was leashed to the wall, and she just busted out of there. Our trainer, Kathy Morris, was so great. All she said was, “Hmm. That should have been anchored to a stud.”

When we started walking at the heel position at various paces, Molly would get so excited that, when I gave her a tiny treat as a reward, she would cough it up, drop her head down, scoop it up and eat it again, and never slow her pace.

This brings me to one of my favorite Lab stories, courtesy of Josh’s orthodontist, a Lab guy. Two families were travelling together, going on vacation. They had two black Labs, littermates, crated in the back of the SUV. The crates were the metal kind, with a little space between the bars.   Immediately beside the dogs was a 40-pound bag of food, which was supposed to last them the whole two weeks. Now, even I can see that this was a tactical error, but hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.

One of the dogs set to work on the bag and, by industrious use of front paw, was able to claw a hole in it. The food spilled right inside the crate. The dog ate, and ate, and ate. When they reached their cabin, three hours later, the dog looked “like he was massively pregnant.” As soon as he got out of the car, he started throwing up – pound after pound of food. The family looked on in horror. Not to worry: the second Lab started eating. And ate all of it. Then that Lab threw up – and, as you may have guessed, the first Lab started eating it.

I laughed so hard when I heard this story. Blair said, “That’s disgusting,” when she heard it later. I said, “Can’t you see Roxy doing it?” She closed her eyes and sighed. “Yes.” Of course she could. Roxy ate an entire bag of flour off a shelf once. Our beloved Jake once ate an entire bag of Oreos, double-stuffed, and also got into a can of Crisco. We know this because there was the unmistakable imprint of his snout in the otherwise untouched Crisco.

About a month ago, we were having dinner with Blair and her husband, Ted. Blair has been looking for a puppy, and she got a text from a breeder: A four-and-a-half-month old yellow Lab had just come back. Did she want her?

Blair is looking for a younger puppy, but she knew an older puppy would be just up my alley. She showed me the picture, and I was done for.

A lost-looking dog is just sitting there, so serious and sweet and uncertain.

I showed the picture to Mark and our sons, Andy and Josh. “We can’t just leave her there,” said Mark.  God bless that man.  This is not the first time he’s done that, either.  Years ago – heck, decades ago – we didn’t even see Jake, but we heard about him from a friend. He had been rescued from the mean streets of East Baltimore, where he had been hanging out at the local Popeye’s and a hot dog stand in front of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Two friends got him off the streets, took him to the vet and got him all fixed up – but he had nowhere to go. I was so moved by Jake’s plight, and I told Mark about it one night.  He was almost asleep, and with his eyes still closed, he said, “Bring him home.”

This time, we brought Sadie home. The breeder brought her over at 9:30 that night. Her van pulled up in the driveway and Sadie got out of the car. So serious, and so sweet and hopeful, too, as if to say: “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m going to do my best.”

Why would anyone let go of this awesome dog? Apparently, the person who had bought her had been overwhelmed with some health issues and was unable to take care of her; in fact, had never even gotten Sadie any of her shots, so she had no immunity to anything. We took her to the vet the next day, have gone back for the boosters, and I’m glad to say that now she’s protected against disease and varmints. She’s even had part one of her rattlesnake vaccine – something I had never heard of before we moved to Arizona.

Like Molly and Stanley, Roxy, Jake, and all the dogs who have been part of our family, Sadie is adored. That’s not to say she’s a perfect angel: despite my fervent wishes and efforts to change this, Sadie gets up at the crack of dawn. She’s a morning person, full of energy and raring to go. When she gets into a dispute with Molly (basically, when Molly has something she wants), she produces this sharp, ear-piercing puppy bark that drives me crazy until I distract her with something else. And yesterday, she ate two of my potted plants. So, like all of us, she can be a pain in the butt. But she’s our pain in the butt. Sadie is home.

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Morning in Prescott

It’s another beautiful morning in Prescott, Arizona, the mile-high town in the mountains that is my home. It’s a school day, so I’m up early. Who am I kidding, I would be up early, anyway, because the dogs have some kind of internal Greenwich Mountain Time atomic clock that causes them to wake me – no one else, just me – up at 6:30 every day. On a weekend, if I’m lucky, I can go back to sleep.

The day starts, as always, with the delightful and incredibly satisfying sound of a lightsaber battle. There are no Jedi here (these aren’t the droids you’re looking for, either)… No, it’s hummingbirds at our feeders.  When hummingbirds zoom past you with their little wings flapping as fast as they can, they make a buzzing sound. It used to scare me to death: I thought it was a giant bee coming to take me away. Now, I’m used to it, and it just makes me happy.   Plus, I think about Obi Wan and Anakin before he went over to the dark side.

Josh and I have been doing a lot better with our time management in the mornings, and we are in the car at 7:40, which gives us a comfortable margin of time to get to Mile High Middle School.

Josh in the car, check.

Backpack, check.

Water bottle, check.

Molly the Chocolate Lab at her post in the back seat, check.

Sunglasses deployed. We’re cleared for takeoff.

I am backing out of the garage and what do I see in my rear view mirror? It’s the unmistakable and surreal image of a mountain lion coming out of the woods on one side of the driveway and crossing into the woods on the other side.   Our house backs up to Willow Creek, which is a real wildlife magnet.

But this is a big freaking zoo animal in my back yard. Several inches taller than Molly, and at least a foot longer. Slightly more golden than Stanley, our mighty, buff-colored Cocker Spaniel. Muscular shoulders and haunches. Long, sinuous tail, not unlike that of Shere Khan in the “Jungle Book” movie (but probably without the cultured English accent of George Sanders). We haven’t seen any coyotes or javelinas lately; this large dude is probably the reason why.

“Oh, my God!” I shout. This part is not actually a regular feature of a morning in Prescott.

This is the second time I have seen a mountain lion in our driveway. The first one I saw a couple years ago, and it was at about the same time – except then I had just come home from taking Josh to school. I had just gotten out of the car and just let Molly out and thank goodness, Molly was facing me. That mountain lion was even longer than the one I saw today, and it looked right at me as it crossed the driveway – about 50 feet away from us – and went back into the woods. Molly never saw it, thank God.

I am not digging this up-close and personal look at predators.

But we’ve got to get to school, so off we go.

We make it onto Williamson Valley Road and then turn onto Iron Springs, and we’re back in our routine. There she is, the lady who’s always walking down the sidewalk as we’re going to school. She has graying, reddish hair, a light blue jacket – when it’s cold, she upgrades to a thicker black jacket – and she’s always smoking. I worry about that.

This is a small town, so there are some regulars I see fairly often. I’ve talked to a couple of them before.

There’s Mark, who used to sit in his wheelchair, wearing his big cowboy hat, at the corner of Miller Valley and Fair Street and collect money for a house. I stopped a couple times and talked to him. A local group was going to help him move into a house, but he needed to come up with some money first, he told me. A couple weeks later, he said that it was all up in the air now, because there was a judgment against him in Nebraska. I didn’t know what that meant, but he was still out there collecting money, so I gave him a couple bucks. Then I didn’t see him for a while, and when I was at Rehab Fry’s, across the street from where Mark usually sits, the cashier told me that he had a stroke and was down in Phoenix. Mark was not there again today.

There’s another lady, who has a lot of gray hair that may be in dreadlocks, and she wears it up on top of her head in a distinctive dome shape. I haven’t talked to her, but Josh has, when we were with his youth group from Prescott United Methodist Church at the Granite Creek Hunger Potluck, which has served up a big free meal every Saturday morning since 1998.   It’s at Granite Creek Park on Saturday mornings if you ever want to come. I think she’s doing okay.

There’s an older gentleman who walks around downtown very slowly. I usually see him on Gurley Street. I have talked to him before, but I don’t know his name. He wears a Korean War veteran hat, and he pushes a walker. There he is, coming by the Leap of Faith Tattoo shop.

Not seen today – actually, come to think of it, I haven’t seen him for a while – is the Dark Lord. I’m not kidding, that’s his name.   I often see him later in the day, walking along Miller Valley road, wearing wizard’s robes. Sometimes with a skin-tight red dress underneath. He has long, dark hair and often smokes. He is very striking. One day, I thought, what the heck, I’m going to Google him, so I looked up “man, wizard’s robes, Prescott,” and found a news story featuring coverage of a previous arrest; not his finest moment.

We make it school – once again, not late! Yay!

On the way home, I stop at Rehab Fry’s to get gas. Fry’s is our version of Kroger, and this one is in a neighborhood that has more than its share of drug rehab homes; I like this store a lot. It has a great produce section.

There is a white rehab van at the next pump. We have all these drug rehab group homes in Prescott, for some reason, although there are far fewer now than there used to be, because the city has finally started putting some regulations in place. This is good, because some of those homes were not helping anybody.

I’m not sure how much helping was happening with the guys next to me. This one heavily tattooed guy was talking very loudly to another heavily tattooed guy about what a player he was. In fact, he put it right out there: “You know I’m a player.” Then he added, “Nobody at treatment was into gambling until I got here.”

Yes, just another morning in Prescott, my quirky, beautiful home town.  I feel like Mr. Rogers.  I may not have Henrietta Pussycat, King Friday, or Mr. McFeely of Speedy Delivery, but I’ve got mountain lions, Jedi hummingbirds, players, and a bunch of interesting people.

One more thing: When I got home, I bought two locally made calendars, one for 2017 (even though it’s half over) and one for 2018, from The Whimsical Woodsman. The money goes to a good cause, and the pictures are hilarious. Coy pinup “Dudeoir” (rhymes with boudoir) shots of big, burly lumberjacks who clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, all done to raise money for Books to the Rescue, a Prescott charity that gives books and other items to first responders, so they can help kids in crisis situations. Now, I know what you may be thinking: “I don’t have enough pictures of large, scantily dressed woodsmen.” Today’s your lucky day!

P.S.  I took the picture of the Leap of Faith Tattoo shop from my car!  I was driving by and saw the truck parked out front and thought it was too good to miss.

©Janet Farrar Worthington

 

 

Traditional Church?  Hell, Yes!

traditional churchI want to say the Apostle’s Creed regularly in church.

It starts like this:  “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth…”  I know the whole thing, but it’s not that brief and I’m trying to make a point here.  I want to sing the “Gloria Patri,” a little song that goes, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.  As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen, Amen.” 

I want to say the Nicene Creed.  I like saying the Lord’s Prayer.   I want to sing the Doxology, the traditional melody.

In short, I miss the ritual at church, the kind of ritual I grew up with.  I find it really, really comforting to say words that were woven into the fabric of my life as a kid.  My own kids, in contrast, don’t know these creeds, because they aren’t said regularly in our church.  I’m not sure why, but I suspect it is because somebody, somewhere, decided they might scare people away.

A lot of churches are not doing well, and as they try to fix what they perceive to be the problem, they may actually be making it worse.  They try hard to be relevant, to reach out to millennials with “contemporary” worship.

As Gimli said in the Fellowship of the Ring, “If anyone was to ask for my opinion, which I note they’re not, I’d say we were taking the long way round.” 

There’s big money in consulting, and churches have paid many thousands of dollars to experts who told them how to make the service more hip, accessible, and cool.  Coolness hasn’t really brought in millennials, or anyone, in the hoped-for numbers.

You know what’s catchy?  Hymns.  You know where they have a lot of great hymns?  The hymnal.   Already printed up and everything.  You know what’s great?  Beautiful liturgical language, like the Episcopalians have in the Book of Common Prayer, and Methodists have in the hymnal.

I’m not alone.  Do a Google search on “millennials looking for traditional church,” and prepare to be amazed.  I got “about 536,000 results in 0.61 seconds.”  A lot of people have written about this, and some of what they have to say is pretty painful.

Blogger Rachel Held Evans, in a much-cited opinion piece in the Washington Post, said:  “Bass reverberates through the auditorium floor as a heavily bearded worship leader pauses to invite the congregation, bathed in the light of two giant screens, to tweet using #JesusLives. … At the end of the service, someone will win an iPad.  This, in the view of many churches, is what millennials like me want.” She goes on to say, “You’re just as likely to hear the words ‘market share’ and branding’ in church staff meetings these days as you are in any corporate office. … Increasingly, churches offer sermon series on iTunes and concert-style worship services with names like ‘Vine’ or ‘Gather.’ … Still, attendance among young people remains flat.”

A lot of people say they have left the church because they didn’t feel welcome there, and there’s no excuse for that. 

Everybody should feel welcome in a church because although Jesus had some wealthy and high-ranking followers, he had many more followers who were nobodies, outcasts, sinners.  We’re all sinners, but some people don’t know it and make a big show of their piety when really all they are is judgmental.  It didn’t impress Jesus.   Instead, he told some of those people to stop looking at the splinter in someone else’s eye and to worry about the big old plank of wood in their own.   

So, nonnegotiable, a church should be welcoming to everyone.   But we don’t need to throw out the proverbial (or any) baby with the baptismal water just to make a church a friendly place to worship. 

private worshipResearch by the Pew Foundation and other groups has helped shed some light on why people, especially in that coveted 18-35-year-old bracket, have left the church.  One report by the Barna Group determined that more than 40 percent of young people in one study “have a desire for a more traditional faith, rather than a hip version of Christianity.”  They don’t want to be pandered to. 

Evans left the church but came back when she found one that met her needs,  “where every week I find myself, at age 33, kneeling next to a gray-haired lady to my left and a gay couple to my right as I confess my sins and recite the Lord’s Prayer…  No one’s desperately trying to make the Gospel hip or relevant or cool. They’re just joining me in proclaiming the great mystery of the faith — that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again — which, in spite of my persistent doubts and knee-jerk cynicism, I still believe most days.”

The internet has a lot of pretty interesting stuff, including an open letter to the church from Jonathan Aigner, who describes himself as “one of those millennials you can’t figure out.”  Aigner puts it right out there:  “Don’t expect a ‘worship style’ to do your dirty work,” he says.  “Contemporary worship hasn’t worked.  The longer we extend the life of this failed experiment, the more we see the results. In my experience, contemporary worship brings in three groups. Baby boomers who are still stuck in their rebellion against the establishment, parents who mistakenly think that contemporary worship is the only way for their kids to connect to the church, and a small percentage of young adults who’ve never left and who never knew anything other than contemporary worship… 

“Don’t give us entertainment, give us liturgy.  We don’t want to be entertained in church, and frankly, the church’s attempt at entertainment is pathetic.  Enough with the theatrics. … Follow that simple yet profound formula that’s worked for the entire history of the church.  Entrance, proclamation, thanksgiving, sending out.  Gathering, preaching, breaking bread, going forth in service.  Give us a script to follow, give us songs to sing, give us the tradition of the church, give us Holy Scripture to read.  Give us sacraments, not life groups, to grow and strengthen us.”

And one more thing, Aigner says:  “Don’t target us.  In doing so, you’ve marketed and advertised yourself into oblivion. …  No wonder we’ve left.  Just be the church. Be yourself.  Use your regular old liturgy.  Offer your regular old sacraments. Sing your regular old songs.  Cast a wide net, and let whosoever will come. Trust me, we’re more likely to show up when we don’t feel like fish snapping up the bait.

“…We need to look into the faces of old and young, rich and poor, of different colors, races, and ethnic backgrounds, so we can learn to see Jesus in faces that don’t look like us.  So we can remember that the kingdom is bigger than our safe, suburban bubble.  That’s right, we need community, not bound together by age or economic status or skin color, but wrought with the hammering of nails on a wooden cross.  Our internet connectivity is just fine. The rest of our lives is a different story. We are hopelessly disconnected.  Church, you can be a powerful remedy if you stop posing as a Fortune 500 company scheming to sell a product.”

janet worship

That’s me at worship rehearsal

I wonder what would happen if churches would try both – a contemporary service, and then one that’s more back-to-the-basics traditional? Maybe they’ll both be successful.

I love the people who go to my church.  I really do.  Our church is healthy and vital.  It is growing.  One of the most wonderful things about our church is that the people truly welcome everyone.  They don’t care who you are, they are just happy you’re there.  Still, I’m just saying, a little more ritual would not be unwelcome. 

I really like saying the old creeds every week, not just once or twice a year.  Singing the time-tested responses, saying the same beautiful prayers, like this one from St. Francis (below), which our minister used to say as a benediction at my church when I was a kid.  Having two Scriptural readings, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.  Instead of modern creeds for social justice that seem lawyer-mandated, couldn’t we say something like this often enough that my kids would memorize it, and bank it for when they really need it, the way I did?

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

“O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

Now that’s beautiful.

P.S.  This is just my opinion.  I mean no offense to anyone.

©Janet Farrar Worthington

I am a Scofflaw

I am not in compliance.  Yes, I admit it freely, I am a scofflaw, a reckless disregarder of arbitrary, mandatory, policy.

My crime?  I have not completed mandatory training.

For the PTA.  And, because I’m an officer of the PTA, the secretary, I need to complete not only the “Basic” PTA course, but the Local Secretary course, too.  I have tried; my computer won’t play the course.  I installed Silverlight, whatever that is.  I have disabled my ad blocker.  Still, the mandatory video has only sound and no picture.  There is a test at the end, and I won’t be able to see the questions to answer them.  I spent the better part of an hour trying to get this thing to work, downloading it repeatedly.  What a waste of time.

Let’s just think about this for a minute: Our PTA is lucky to reach double digits when we have our meetings, which are the first Wednesday of the month.  It’s just a few moms.  We’re all busy, but we show up because we care about the school. 

In return, the Arizona PTA has told us that we must complete mandatory training, or we will not be in compliance, and somehow this means they can take our money. 

Lawyers and insurance companies rule the word.

Think of “Jurassic Park,” at the end, when the T-Rex has just kicked serious velociraptor butt, howling or screeching – or whatever it is that genetically engineered Tyrannosaurus Rexes hatched in an incubator with amphibian DNA added to whatever was trapped in the mosquito embedded in the amber do – in triumph, as the tattered banner falls from the ceiling like giant confetti.  The banner reads:  “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.” 

Now, picture some room full of pasty lawyers. They have just decided that a bunch of mom volunteers need to complete video training courses and take a test.

Why? 

It doesn’t matter, we said so. 

What if they don’t do it? 

lawyers and moneyWe’ll punish them.  We’ll say they’re not in compliance, and then we’ll seize their treasury. 

Won’t that hurt the schools – aren’t they just trying to raise money for the school to buy things for the students, like that locking skateboard rack?  (This is true; we the PTA at Prescott Mile High Middle School just purchased a locking skateboard rack so kids who skateboard to school will have a safe place to stow their boards.)

They’re the ones who are hurting the school!  By not being in compliance!

Guess what?  These mandatory videos are the new big thing.  All the insurance companies must have gotten together and decided that this is the key to not getting sued.  My husband is a doctor.  He had to watch a series of mandatory videos about safety rules and regulations.  Again, there was the threat:  The hospital would hound doctors until they did it, and punish them if they didn’t. 

My mother-in-law is a hospital chaplain.  She is nearly 80.  She is very part-time, makes hardly any money doing the job, but does it because she wants to help people and serve the Lord.  Guess what she had to do?  Watch mandatory safety videos.  Otherwise, she wouldn’t be in compliance.

These videos are a joke.  They are timed, so you can’t speed through them.  All you do is stare at them and then click the “Next” button – when you’re allowed to.

I am tired of bullying. 

I’m tired of my phone and computer forcing me to install things and update things, or else.  My son, Andy, is in college.  He paid his tuition, then signed up for a meal plan.  The meal plan appeared in his shopping cart.  He came home to get a check and found that he had been bumped from all his classes because the computer decided he had not paid his tuition.  This is not new; years ago, I received a notice from Vanderbilt University that I would not be allowed to graduate if I did not pay my library fine, which I didn’t realize I had.  I raced down to the library and paid it.  How much was it, you may be wondering?  Hundreds?  Thousands?  It was forty cents.  Pay up or else.

I’m tired of “or else.”

Somewhere out there, some lawyers are standing on a table and howling in victory.  The complacency and arrogance – that by forcing other people to do what they decide needs to happen, and punishing them if they don’t, they are actually doing something virtuous – is so thick, you could cut it with a knife. 

lawyers and t-rexI sigh and think instead of what the T-Rex did to the weaselly lawyer in Jurassic Park.

It’s not mandatory videos.  It’s this feeling that we are supposed to be sheep, herded along for our own good by those who know better.

Blair, my daughter, just got married, and then had to go to the courthouse to register the marriage license and the Social Security office to change her last name.  I think you may see where this is going.  She is her mother’s daughter.

I received this text from the courthouse:

“I don’t understand why the government needs to track me like cattle.  We are like one step away from an ear tag with a number on it.”

And this one:

“Why does the government need to give me approval and take my money in order for me to get married?  Why do I have to report a change of address within 10 days?  Why do their long, creepy fingers have to be involved in every step I take?”

She was not in the best frame of mind, then, to move on to the Social Security office.

This one is my personal favorite:  “Why do government offices always smell like cat pee and disappointment?”

And then: 

jurassic-world-14-xlarge“I had to enter my SSN when I came in here, and yet they are calling people by numbers and not their names.  What kind of bland, Orwellian BS is that???”

“I’m A52.”

I texted back: “No, you are not.  You are Blair.”

“Am I?!?!?!”

“Yes, and you are an artist and wonderful, funny person who will not be defined by a number.”

“Thank you, Mom.”

“Off with their heads!” I texted back.  “Vive la revolution!”

There was no revolution, but we felt better.

And I can think fondly of the T-Rex. 

That is, if that kind of thinking is still allowed.

©Janet Farrar Worthington

Pulling Back

Topic of a recent sermon at our church:  Who’s welcome here?  Answer:  Everyone.  There should be no litmus test – skin color, sexual preference, etc. – because we all belong to God.

I wish it were that easy out in the rest of the world. 

I used to be a news junkie: I read newspapers, watched pundits arguing on TV, really got into it.  I don’t now; it’s too stressful.  I liked it a lot better when all the newspapers I read were actually on paper, and anyone who wanted to make a comment to a story had to write a letter and own up to it by putting his or her name and address.  For most people, this had something of a civilizing effect; it also offered that moment of restraint, of reflection – was that too much? Should I have said that?  Will this hurt anyone? – that has been sucked down the black hole of our think-and-click lives today. 

You think it, you click it.  And then it’s out there and you usually can’t get it back.  You don’t have to use your real name, and unfortunately, a lot of people don’t handle this anonymity very well.  It lets their bad selves out, the id-troll selves they probably make at least some effort to hold in check out in the real world. 

I have seen some very good discussions in the comments sections on the health pages of the New York Times.  I pretty much can’t read the comments after any political story in the Washington Post, because within a very few posts, they turn to personal insults, as people take offense at what somebody else said and decide to just vilify that person. 

It’s nasty, people.  Very unpleasant.  Even in my sweet little town, the comments on stories in our local newspaper tend to be equally polarizing.  Whatever happened to moderation?  Where did all this hate come from?  These probably know each other, but they don’t recognize the fake names.  I like the policy of one news website – it leans conservative, so go ahead and hate me for it if that’s all it takes to set you off – which is,  “It’s a salon, not a saloon.” If someone makes a comment that’s vulgar, demeaning, or otherwise inappropriate, that person can be banned from the site.   

Closer to home, it’s happening with some of my friends on Facebook.  Recently, I was very disturbed to find that I apparently can’t even “like” anything if it is too controversial. 

FB hand likeA friend I’ve known for a long time has taken offense at two things I have “liked.”  (If by some lucky happenstance you’re not familiar with Facebook, you can “post” things that you write, or stories or pictures that you find interesting, and you can “like” things that other people put up that show up in your News Feed.)

My friend sent me a FB message that just flabbergasted me. It said, “I know your politics, but please don’t just repost blindly.”  He mentioned a story that he thought I had posted – I actually had not, but I had liked it – and sent along a Snopes link to discredit it.  I wrote back: “I try never to post political things. I saw it in the News Feed of a guy from my former church,” and apparently clicked “like.”  I added:  “It seems to me I ought to be able to like something if I want to. I just can’t imagine telling someone else what to like.” 

He then went on to insult the guy, a good man I’ll call X, who had posted the offending thing – a meme, I think it was; I honestly don’t even remember now.  I wrote back: “You’re right, X is probably the operational definition of curmudgeon.  But he also spends many hours a week doing volunteer work with his wife,” and I talked briefly about that.  “So he’s a mixture of opinions you probably don’t like and acts of kindness that you most likely do like.  Honestly, though, I try not to post anything political.  You may know my politics, you may not.”

I went on:  “I remember back in the 70s and 80s, especially around the journalism schools where my dad taught, seeing bumper stickers that said something like, ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.’  I don’t see those anymore. 

“I don’t agree with all the stuff you put up, but you are my friend and I love you for many reasons, including your compassion, your wit, because you are a genuinely nice guy and so darn smart, much smarter than I am.  That’s good enough for me, and I’d rather have the things we share in common than worry about the things we don’t.” 

He agreed, and I thought everything was okay.  Then a couple of weeks ago, it happened again; he wrote a whole post about how one of his friends had posted something and it “made his blood boil.”  Again, it was not a post, but something a family member had put up and I had just liked it. 

pulling backI have begun to censor myself.  I went back and unliked it.  Then I did something I hardly ever do; put my friend on the “restricted” list, so he can’t see most of what I do on Facebook.  Which is not much these days.  Personally, I think it is kind of odd to see and get worked up over what other people like; I can barely keep up with what they post.  A lot of my friends like stuff that I don’t particularly care for; so what?      

So I have pulled back.  I’m barely on FB anymore, and when I do post something I try to be innocuous.  Fortunately, I have an endless stockpile of puns and I like to put up a daily joke.  Here’s one of them:  What would happen if Satan lost his hair? There would be hell toupée.  Here’s another:  I went to a restaurant and had the Wookie steak.  It was pretty Chewy.

Also, I’m the secretary of the middle school PTA and I put up stuff about that.  Pretty tame.  Who says we all have to agree on everything? That’s what makes the world an interesting place.

Back to the idea of a litmus test:  I truly don’t care about your sexual orientation.  I just don’t.  I’ve got enough problems without having to worry about judging you.  And I wish I had as much money as I don’t care about your politics.  I do not want to know what they are.

My only litmus test is, are you unable to lighten up?  That’s it.  Because anyone else, I’m pretty sure I can work with you.

“The Dunking Must End”

I went to bed happy last night and woke up to more senseless killing.  This one was a little different.  It was Orlando; I don’t think they’ve had a mass killing there for a while, so that was new.  Then, of course, the large scale – 50 people dead so far as I write this.  And, it was not just a terrorist attack; it was a hate crime. 

So, yeah.

In “Sky High,” one of my kids’ favorite movies, these high school bullies keep giving this poor guy swirlies in the toilet.  Finally, someone says, “The dunking must end.”  Things had to change. 

hands heart loveWell, it seems pretty clear to me that the hatred must end.  It’s like an infection, and it seems like our whole country’s got it – the hatred part, not the mass murder part, thank God.  Don’t believe me?  Just get on Facebook.  Or read the comments after just about any news story online.  Extra points: start counting up the personal insults from people who disagree with previous posters.  I disagree with you, so it’s okay to impugn your character and call you all kinds of names.  When did this kind of nastiness become okay?

Look at your friends who are Democrats; most of their posts can be summed up, “Republicans are stupid, evil, and we hate them.”   Now, look at your friends who are Republicans.  Most of their posts can be summed up, “Democrats are stupid, evil, and we hate them.”

No, they’re not, and no, we don’t.  Not really.  At least, I hope we don’t.

When I was a kid, I remember seeing lots of bumper stickers that said something like, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it to my death.”  That’s about freedom of speech, and in this context, it means, “We don’t agree, but that’s okay.” 

Not:  “We don’t agree, thus you are stupid, and you must be controlled and mocked and maybe even put on an island and exterminated.”

Or, “I am offended by what you say, so I will conduct a hate campaign on social media and make your life a living hell.”  Does that really need to happen to prove a point?

Or, “You offend me and undoubtedly my God, therefore, I will kill you and get a cosmic reward.”

megaphoneTwo things have happened to us as a nation:  One, we get offended at the drop of a hat.  Then, we demand apologies, groveling, restitution, suffering, etc.  And two, instead of disagreeing with what people say or do, we decide we don’t like them, or worse, that we hate them.

What offends you?  What makes you look at someone and decide that person is unworthy of your time, attention, goodwill, or even basic common courtesy?  Is it tattoos?  Piercings?  Politics?  Sexual orientation?  Religion?  Weight?  Skin color?  Mom jeans? 

Okay, here’s a confession: I don’t much like tattoos.  So you know what I do?  I don’t get one.  But that doesn’t mean I have the right to make other people not get tattoos.  If tats make them happy, and it’s not hurting me, what right would I possibly have to tell people they shouldn’t have them?  It’s their skin.  And besides, that’s not who they are, it’s just what’s on the outside. 

You might look at me and say, “Good Lord, look at those mom jeans.”  (I hope not; I try to be hip, and usually have my kids help me with my fashion choices, but sometimes mom jeans happen.)  But I hope you wouldn’t hate me for wearing them.

I made some terrible hair decisions in my youth – shag cut in the 70s, perm in the 80s.  But that wasn’t who I was, it was just what was happening to my head.  I hope people didn’t judge me for them – or even if they did, I hope nobody hated me for having bad hair days.  Months.  Years.

It seems that our default now is not to give people the benefit of the doubt. 

hands togetherEven if we see someone who appears to be completely different from us, maybe who does things we don’t like, there must be – at least, I really hope there is – at least one thing we have in common.  Maybe we both go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, I don’t know. 

It really troubles me to think that someone could see me as the enemy without even knowing anything about me.   It troubles me to think that I might see some people as the enemy without knowing anything about them.

The hatred that has infected this country has got to stop. 

The dunking must end.