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, May 22, 2011

Morning Thanks--we're still here

Harold Camping was wrong, again. The world here and it's full of beauty. We're still here. I think God almighty would say that, given the circumstances, that's cause sufficient for for hearty morning thanks.

Friday, May 20, 2011


When he walked in that morning, the place full of people, he noticed immediately that two guards stood at the gate to the pulpit, two policemen to make sure he didn't get in it--the pulpit that is. So the story goes that he simply stepped into an aisle and stood on a front pew to deliver a sermon on Ephesians 2--"For by faith. . ." My guess is you know the text.

That afternoon the doors were nailed shut so no one could get in for the second service. Dominie Hendrik DeCock, undeterred, took to the horse barn, where those dozens who come to hear his sermon followed him over and listened to him hold forth on the first q and a of the Heidelburg Catechism, amid the livestock. The next week, when DeCock was hauled off to jail, Dominie Scholte, from down south, came to fill the same pulpit, which he could do it because the parishoners at Ulrum knew him to be orthodox. That same Dominie Scholte would, just 14 years later lead hundreds of Dutch immigrants to the plains of Iowa, to a place he chose to call Pella.

It was the afscheiding, the separation, a church split, the departure of those who considered themselves the true church in rural Holland, circa 1834. My own ancestors were among them--not there in Ulrum precisely, but among those who were convinced that the State Church had departed from orthodoxy, so convinced, in fact, that they left Holland after the American Civil War, when there was no truly orthodox church, they reasoned, on the island of Terschelling where they'd lived.

Today, we worshipped at the Ulrum church--not officially, but in a fashion that I think God almighty rather liked. We sang psalms--not hymns--and were accompanied on an organ that is itself hundreds of years old, in a church built originally in 14th century. That's no typo.

It's a part of me, what happened there back then, circa 1834; and in some way it's a part of the lives of almost everyone who was with us this afternoon. The afscheiding sent its adherents, like my great-grandfather, off to America, where by 1857, they founded the Christian Reformed Church, the church of which I am a member, the church into which I was born.

This morning, we'd earlier visited the stonehenge-like funeral monuments of the megalith builders, Holland's own very first agriculturalists, where we heard the story of the region's first human inhabitants, or at least what can be known of them.

They were, in portraiture, blonde-ish, which seemed markedly strange, given the fact that they looked for all the world like American Indians. These prehistoric people are also my ancestors, I suppose, but it was absolutely shocking for me to think of myself as aboriginal. I've been to lots of Native American museums, seen replica statues of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, as well as pictures of Cochise, Geronimo, and Quana Parker, tons more. In all those visits and visions, I've always been looking at them, not me. But there I stood, for the very first time in my life, staring at my own blond-haired indiginous ancestors in full Native regalia.

I couldn't help but smile, shoot, laugh--because I'd never, ever really considered that my own people went back that far--father to son, mother to daughter, etc. That I could be indiginous--absolutely shocking. Amazing.

But something in me probably was, once, just as I am the child of what happened in the Ulrum Church 175 years ago.

I suppose I'm something like those frescos in the church at Gronigen, an entire wall of them that were not seen for hundreds of years, then uncovered, almost as if by error, when the church was restored and the coats of paints put up over them by the righteous Calvinists was painstakingly wiped clean--well, sort of.

Look at them, slowly showing themselves again 500 years after the Reformation obliterated them for the sake of spiritual purity. They're still there. They're not gone. They're just defining themselves.

I like that. Somehow I like that. We are, after all, God's workmanship--we are what he does. We are, really, what he is--the product of his hand, created and endowed with some image of what he is.

There's the Ulrum part, the megalith builder part--there's the Puritan and the pagan, I suppose. It's all there somewhere in fragments. That was Day 3 in Holland, the place from which I came.
Just one.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The history of identity

Cornelius Cornelis Schaap, born April 26, 1835, at Formerum, Tershelling, married Neeltje (named “Neeke” in Terschelling) Kuiper, (born, November 30, 1837 near Midsland, Tershelling), on August 9, 1858, on the island. They immigrated to America in 1865, after burying two daughters at home. When they left the Netherlands, they came with one daughter, Mary, who was only a year old. Their reason for leaving?--family history has it that they were part of a new church movement called the afscheiding, the "separation," and no church on the island met their rigorous expectations of what a church should be.

Along with other extended family members and fellow separationists, C. C. and Neeltje Schaap came to German Valley, Illinois, before, a few years later, moving west to Sioux County, Iowa, an area then being settled by Dutch Reformed people.

By the late 1880s, they had moved again, farther west, with others, to Harrison, Charles Mix County, South Dakota, where they lived only a few years. Drought made farming difficult, so the family moved back east to Ackley/Parkersburg, Iowa, where they lived until C. C. retired. Three more children were born in America—Emma, Cornelius, and John Clarence.

Perhaps because his son Cornelius made his livelihood back in Sioux County, C. C. and Neeltje moved to Orange City, IA, somewhere around the turn of the century. C.C. died in Orange City on March 13, 1905; Neeltje died in Hull, eleven years later, at the home of her daughter, on June 16, 1916.

They are buried in the Orange City, IA, cemetery.

What part of who they were am I?--their great-grandson? What part of their legacy still holds me, if anything at all? Who of what they were am I?

Just one of a barrel-full of life's great mysteries, I suppose.

No matter. This morning I'm off to Holland, and this morning I'm especially thankful for them, for what they were, for what they did, even though I know so very little of about them, so very little--even though they are, undoubtedly, very much a part of who I am.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Reading Mother Teresa--XIII

Greta Garbo is there, as is Ray Milland, Deanna Durbin, and, of course, the Dutch Royal Family. I've been there twice, and was struck both times by the ordinariness of it all, the room's walls festooned with pix of people who drew her fancy--movie stars, the Dutch Royal family, a couple of England's princesses.

You stand there in that little room in "the annex," and you say to your self that the young lady who stuck these pictures on her bedroom walls, Anne Frank, was no different from any other young lady really--except that she was Jewish, in occupied Holland, in the middle of the war. And because she wrote down what she was feeling and experiencing, left a testimony that has read and treasured by millions.

I thought of Anne Frank when I read this line from Come Be My Light: ". . .there was nothing so much out of the ordinary about her as to attract the attention of the archbishop or anyone else."

Sister Teresa became Mother Teresa on May 24, 1937, after taking her final vows in the convent chapel at Darjeeling. Had you or I been there, there would have been nothing at all to catch our attention because she wouldn't have distinguished herself in the least from those others who took vows with her. We wouldn't have recognized her as someone who would become what she would. She was totally ordinary.

In an odd way, the story isn't all that much different from the famous Matthew 25 passage of the Bible, the only place in the gospels where Jesus talks much about the afterlife, where he talks specifically about sheep and goats and the two starkly different directions people will take at judgment.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’"
What follows is one of the strangest verses in scripture, methinks, because even the righteous--even those who obeyed and paid attention, who gave mercy and clothed the naked, visited the prisoners, brought food to the hungry--even those have no clue:

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’"
The righteous, no different from the unrighteous, had no idea that what they were doing was blessed work. They were totally blind to the very fact that they'd allowed themselves to become the hands of Christ. Whatever they did, they did as instinct, exercising a righteous propensity to lend a hand. They did what they did because, simply enough, they were needed.

In 1944, standing in her room, no one could have guessed that Anne Frank would tell a story which has come to shed light on the Holocaust better than almost any other. No one could have predicted what she scribbled down would become one of the world's great books. But then, eight years earlier, no one could have guessed that a diminuitive Albanian woman, the newly named Mother Teresa, would become the Mother Teresa.

She was no prodigy, nor was she somehow marked for greatness. She was simply someone who let herself be used, someone who saw hungry people and tried with every bit of her heart, soul, and mind to find ways to feed them, to give them His love with hers.

There are mysteries in our lives that go beyond far beyond our ken.

But not His.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

End of the World

The pastor told me, that year, that he hoped things would move along better now, with all that ripping sadness behind them, behind the church he served. They'd finally rid themselves of a problem that had grown spectacularly through the years, disposed of the radio personality who'd drawn tons of folks to the congregation, people who seem to worship him more than the God the pastor felt worship itself was all about. I remember him telling me, that year, that the crisis was finally over.

Harold Camping was gone. Mr. Camping was no longer teaching adult Sunday School in the small California Christian Reformed Church where he'd done just that for decades, no longer attracting more true believers who'd hear him on the radio--Family Radio--no longer despoiling the theological landscape of the place with his own cockamamie ideas. And gone with him, of course, were those he'd brought to the place, those he'd evangelised locally.

His radio ministry began in 1958, modestly enough, two men simply determining that there was room for some kind of additional Reformed media presence. What happened after that is better determined by a psychiatrist, I suppose, than me, but I'll try. Eventually Harold Camping began believing in himself, believing that his deep and concentrated study of the Bible had led him to conclusions no one on the face of the earth or throughout history had ever uncovered previously. Only he read the Holy Scriptures right. Only Harold Camping knew the whold gospel score.

Like the fact that the world will end on May 21--that's right, May 21, 2011. You don't have much time. You must have seen the stories; they're all over the media, this thin, almost-90 year old ex-engineer, once-upon-a-time construction-company head proclaiming to his devoted followers that he's now got the math right (he made some mistakes in '94, when he previously made the same prediction), but that he's got it all down now--the exact date and time, and that he's convinced, beyond doubt, that it's May 21.

I'll be in the Netherlands. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

He may be right, of course. But then, he may also be utterly and totally daft because the end of the world may come on the 22nd. Or it may not. Or it may not be here for another thousand years. No one knows, not even Harold Camping, who could use more than a couple of tablespoons of bitter doubt.

When Camping departed from the CRC in Alameda, CA, he started to trumpet his belief that God himself had left the church, telling his disciples that the church's glory had departed because the Holy Spirit had left the building; and not just Alameda CRC either, but all the churches in the world. Like Camping himself, I suppose, the Holy Spirit had had enough of deceitful church governments. He and the Holy Spirit got the heck out of Dodge.

Researchers have shown that solitary confinement has disastrous effects on human beings because with no one to talk to, our minds can't bounce ideas around, can't negotiate opinions. We hear only our own thoughts; there are no walls, no barriers, no nay-sayers. And we all deeply need people who disagree. Maybe that's Brother Camping's problem--with no one to question him, his solitary confinement behind the radio mike has led him into believing whatever ideas his mind created. I don't know.

What I do know is Harold Camping's claim for May 21 is no more valid than my saying the end of the world arrive day-after-tomorrow. He doesn't know, even though he's sure he does.

Throughout his half-century of radio Bible study, I don't doubt he's brought some folks to the Christian faith, probably more than I have. I once met a Jewish woman from Toronto who claimed she came to the Lord by way of the mascara tracks left on Tammy Faye Bakker's cheeks by her own prodigious tears. What all of us know is that the Lord doth work in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.

Who knows how He'll move next?

No one.

Not Harold Camping either.

Don't believe anyone who says he or she knows.

Sometimes, paradoxical as it seems, true faith needs big fat doses of pure cynicism.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Today's headache

In terms of sheer reading, I'm more than 2/3rds finished. My freshman class is in, done yesterday. My lit class was in already Monday. I have just one more--another writing class--but I've got some options, and I'm likely to opt for whatever ranks as ridiculously easy because I'm sick to death of grading right now, as I've been for years.

Don't get me wrong. I actually like reading papers--not all of them, I'll grant you, but most of them. When I look forward to retirement, I do so because of the pressure of standing up in front of students and trying to make the goods your delivering palatable. It's the presentation I'm tired of, the preparation, not the foodstuffs themselves--not the lit, not the writing. I may just sign up for some on-line classes when I retire, just because reading papers isn't a horror.

Grading is.

I've hated it for years, in part, I think, because in my line of work it's so undeniably arbitrary. Maybe if I taught math or something in the sciences, it wouldn't be--after all, how many interpretations can you put on the Doppler Effect? But yesterday I read thirty-some differing versions of what a couple of poems and a story mean, and each time it's my dirty job to pull a grade out of my hat, a grade that somehow estimates accomplishment. Maybe I don't trust myself.

Marilynne Robinson told me that, at the Iowa Writers Workshop, there are no grades--things are just pass/fail. Can you imagine? That sounds like teaching somewhere out in Nirvana. I could do that for the rest of my life. I can't imagine how great teaching would be if I didn't have to grade.

But I'm not crazy. I also understand that in a school where only a few dozen of a couple thousand applicants ever get in, who really gives a crap about grades? All you've got is whiz kids. On the other hand, here, with open enrollment, I know dang well that if I don't give grades, what I get in trade--their papers, their tests--will, fall off the end of the table in quality. Grades are the grim reaper.

Sloth. That's likely my problem. Teaching is hard work. Grading is the pits. I'd rather clean up the lawn or the garage, rather take a hike along the river, rather do most anything, really. Here's how Kim Brooks says it in yesterday's Salon: "[I'm at the point where] I'd rather be spending time with my family, or watching cable television, or doing absolutely anything but teaching composition, the point at which I would rather remove my own molars with a pair of garden shears than grade another paper."

Me too.

But grading came with the territory, or so says a man who homesteaded in education 40years ago--me. Still, it ain't any fun.

Here's Ms. Barnes: "True, but then, teaching (and for that matter, learning) isn't always fun. Changing my kid's dirty diapers isn't fun. Dragging my fat a__ onto a treadmill isn't fun. Helping my grandmother "fix" her computer isn't fun. Sometimes we do things not because they're fun but because they're important."

She's right. Tally ho.

One more class. One more day.

And then one more year.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unbroken circle

The pastor, my new daughter-in-law's father, said I should start the whole show. He said I should step up to the front of the church with the groom and his groomsmen, then watch him--her father--walk his daughter down the aisle and put his daughter's hand into my son's. Then, he said, I could say my piece.

Okay. That's fine.

So the whole show is just starting, and I'm out front with the groom when he feels through his empty pockets--the rest of the bridal party is already coming down the aisle--then sends the Best Man back into the dressing room for the mike he'd forgotten to take along.

Best man goes out, comes back, slips him the mike.

Then--the ladies already coming up the aisle--the best man (my son-in-law) has this horrifically befrazzled look on his face, and somehow I realize that the problem is the ring--or lack of it. Not just any ring either, but the ring. As in hers. I swear he never said a word, but somehow that panic told me the ring was AWL. It was gone. It was supposed to be in the hands of one of the munchkin ring bearers, but someone--it will forever remain a mystery--somehow misplaced it at the most inopportune time, the gorgeous bride now coming demurely down the aisle.

Just so happens I've got an extra on my pinkie. My father's own wedding band has been there since ten minutes after the funeral director closed the casket and handed me an odd little zipped bag containing his watch and rings. I reached in, pulled out the gold wedding band, put it on my pinkie, and haven't taken it off since.

Until Saturday night, when I pulled it off and handed it to my son-in-law.

So, when the ceremony was breezing along and the bride's father, doing his preacherly thing, enjoined my son to slip Kristina's wedding band onto her finger, symbol of unending love and all of that sweetness, my son whispered to her, "Don't freak out" when he pulled my father's skinny old gold ring from his pocket. What he said wasn't audible, but you didn't have to have a degree in lip-reading to pick up the drama.

It was simply one of those moments that will be, to them at least, unforgettable--how they got married with a ring that wasn't really hers.

Me? I'll never forget the other side, the one I'm not sure they even know today. That ring was my father's.

I believe in an after-life. I believe in the soul. I believe in life after death.

I really don't know what that life is like, so I'm not sure where that spirit that is my father lingers or hovers or sleeps or sings. I don't know what he's up to, but I'd like to think that if our after-life allows for a certain quota of spectator-ship, he was smiling Saturday night, thrilled to be part of his grandson's wedding joy--and ours.

And even if he wasn't, even if he was off playing a harp somewhere or singing in some eternal choir, I'm sure he'd be pleased by the way he played a role with that thin gold band that's back on my finger this morning. Somehow, I was happy he was there.

Native America isn't wrong. It's something akin to what the bride's dad, the preacher, told our kids about the rings: there's something sacred, something really divine about a circle.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Morning Thanks--newlyweds

I've already said it, but, trust me, it bears repeating. We've got a new daughter now, an Oky, an English teacher no less, a sweet, gorgeous young lady who, even when she's not wearing her spiked heels, could stop a commuter train with those legs. She's his now, and he's hers, and they're in Hawaii, doing what newlyweds do. We're back in Iowa, his mother and I, and we couldn't be happier.

Our son isn't a kid, but neither is she. They've got broad shoulders, both of them, because they've both borne some trials, trust me. But the last two days have been heaven-sent. The proof was in the cow eyes, the obsessive touching. We've learned long ago already to take our joy in spoonfuls, one day at a time; but this weekend there were bushels to be had and we--his mom and dad--devoured every last savory bit.

I've got weak knees from dancing--first time in forty years. My wife limps. But if you see us on the street, you'll recognize us immediately not by our gimpy-ness but by smiles as wide as the Plains where we live.

This morning's thanks trumps almost every last thing I've written here in more than four years.

This morning's thanks is for the indescribable blessing of their delicious joy in each other.

Here's our thanks and our joy: they're happy.

Trump that.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Morning Thanks--Mother of the Groom

It wasn't exactly like Johnny and June Cash, thank goodness, but that old lyric from one of Johnny's hits fits us rather well, I'll admit: "We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout." 'Twas just about six months from our first date to our nuptuals, and, if memory serves me correctly, that wasn't fast enough, at least for me. Warn't no shotgun around either, just a fever. I'll admit it now, even though at my age, the "eeeuuuwww" factor rises every few weeks or so with such utterances. We weren't young, but we wanted each other. Yup. Think passion.

That was 39 years ago, but I'm still finding things out about her that I hadn't seen before. Like last night. She'd patiently and tediously made sure--even stopping at the restaurant yesterday in the morning--that all was in readiness for the rehearsal supper, the only real role the groom's family have in a wedding weekend. "Yes, yes," the man said. I was there. I saw him. I heard him.

When the wedding rehearsal was over, a couple dozen people were eating chips and salsa in the very space we'd reserved, some of them just having ordered. There was no reserved place. Nothing. We'd arrived with 30 people, but through some catastrophic mistake there was no place in the Inn. We'd have taken a stable, believe me.

The mother of the groom went almost ballistic, but the jackass who'd told us our space was reserved wasn't moving his customers out, so we were, woefully, on the street. He got an earful, as did his boss, a woman who seemed at a loss to understand what had happened. In the last forty years, the mother of the groom may have had occasional reasons to be as mad at me as she was at them, but I don't remember her steely wrath showing its sharpened blades quite as fearfully. She was more than royally pissed, and there we stood with 30 people, downtown Tulsa, with nowhere to go.

In frustration, she marched off, afraid of herself maybe, unsure what kind of terrorist tactics she might just employ if she stayed around that eighth-rate taco den.

I tried to rewrite the night's activities, and all we could come up with inviting everyone back to Holiday Inn Express, where maybe we could occupy the breakfast room and order in from Pizza Hut. It felt, to say the least, like sheer disaster.

The mother of the groom stormed off, farther into the heart of the city. Soon enough, I went after her, hoping to get her back with the promise of pizza in boxes and dinner to remember in the breakfast bar. Now, you've got to catch the picture here--we're downtown Tulsa, highly up-scale, yuppie-types and young professionals all over the streets, and my wife is marching along like Gen. McArthur trying to find a beachhead.

At the end of the block there's a bistro with an outside room just then being vacated. She's so mad she's fearless, this Iowa farmer's daughter. She simply explains to the wonderful maitre' d (see above), that we had just then got the frickin' royal shaft from a tacoroo down the street, that we had thirty customers, that she didn't really give a poop what it would cost--and would they take us?

The women was an angel. She said she'd check with the chefs because she didn't know how much food they had--after all, the night was no more a puppy. Five minutes later, she nodded, this angel of mercy, and we fetched those 30 homeless from the sidewalks of the Mexican chop shop and led them all, Moses-like, to the Wolfgang Puck Bistro, which is, in case you're ever in Tulsa, heavenly.

My demure, farmer's daughter wife of nearly 40 years single-handedly created a night to remember, propelled along a downtown Tulsa street as she was by sheer spit and vinegar. We had a great, great time. It was wonderful.

And the greatest blessing the mother of the groom wrought by her take-no-prisoners anger was that our son and his bride-to-be were thrilled. They had a great time, a spectacular time. Needless to say the cuisine was to die for.

But there's this. Nothing--not the salad, the salmon, or the incredible light and sweet dessert pleased this woman I love dearly more than seeing her kids thrilled, saved from disaster, and everyone--all 30 or us--having a great time.

If I had the opportunity, what I'd tell my son is that he should be so blessed as I have been with a spouse whose corners stay a little dark at times, a woman so richly blessed with human edginess and mystery that every morning's joy is waking up beside her.

He should be so blessed.

I don't think I'm getting too old to read such things. I can still sense love when I see it. And I see it with them too, my son and his soon-to-be bride.
Today's their day. Yesterday was theirs too, but their joy was engineered, in large part, by his mother's righteous indignation, the woman I married in a fever 39 years ago.

This morning's thanks is a no-brainer. It's for this woman my son fell for, this woman he's marrying today. It's her day, and his.

But let me just sneak in another too. Good Lord, I'm thankful for the mother of the groom.

Friday, May 06, 2011


This morning I'm in "Native America," in Oklahoma, where tomorrow my son will be married. You can read it on their license plates--"Native America" it says at the bottom, because once upon a time in American history, a burgeoning white nation based somewhere out East decided that the best thing we could do with these troublesome indigenous savages was give them all a big chunk of land in the broad Great Plains, a place to call their own, a place where there was no gold or anything else worth coveting (that was before oil, of course).

So the solution was something called "Indian Territory," where tribes native to almost anywhere out east would be driven (almost every tribe in the nation has its own "trail of tears") out west to a spot on the southern plains where they could all live together and smoke their sacred red peace pipes.

It was the mid-19th century, of course. No matter that some of the Native folks came from the Rockies, some from the Great Lakes, some from the Eastern seaboard, some from the Everglades. No matter that they spoke as many languages as there were tribes. No matter that many of them had come from cultures where hunting buffalo and battling neighbors was the only known way of life.

No matter anything. White America slammed thousands of Native people into an Indian Territory for two obvious reasons--we wanted their land and we wanted them gone. It's an undeniable fact of American history, much as we'd rather not admit it.

This morning's Tulsa World says Native people all over the nation were stunned, even horrified at the Navy Seal's use of "Geronimo" as a code word for Osama bin Laden, as in "we got Geronimo," and they said as much at a hearing in the nation's capital yesterday.

As a white man, I know how easy it is to marginalize that snarling reaction, to roll one's eyes, to smirk and scoff. After all, shouldn't red folks, as Americans, be thrilled with the death of the monster? What's wrong with them anyway?

What's wrong is that someone they respect--Geronimo, the Apache chief, who fought against exploitation and slavery and banishment to a reservation, Geronimo who is to many a hero--was code for the bloody terrorist who killed 3000 people on a clear September day in NYC.

What angers them is this equation: Geronimo=bin Laden.

I know a man whose love of the Marines is exceeded only by his love of God. In 1962 he sat in the belly of a Navy ship along with hundreds of his Marine buddies, waiting to see what a Russian ship full of missiles was going to do just off the coast of Cuba. If that ship would come into port, he and his buddies would come out of that hold and invade the island. Today, all these years later, his favorite caps are all inscribed with "U.S. Marines."

He's Navajo. I can tell you unequivocally what he thinks of bin Laden as Geronimo--it probably feels to him like a bayonet somewhere near the heart.

At that hearing in Washington yesterday, a series of Native Americans testified to how much it hurt Native people to hear how the Seals, heroes, great heroes, dishonored Geronimo, the Apaches, and all of Native America by naming Osama bin Laden by the name of the revered Apache chief.

Want a sweet and innocuous way of saying it? That naming was "culturally insensitive." That phrase and a toy balpeen hammer will give you a black fingernail.

The fact is--and I say this as a proud white man--it hurt. It hurt Native people badly. Don't roll your eyes.

Think of it this way, what if those great patriot Seals, those highly-trained special ops heroes had climbed back into their chopper and told the President, "Abe Lincoln is dead."

It's so easy simply not to remember--not even to forget, but simply not to remember.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

National publications have made Sioux County, IA, a busy place as of late. One of my colleagues claimed while she was in a local coffee shop, reporters from The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Washington Post were there, as have been folks lugging New York Times and the Wall Street Journal notepads.

Pork is not what they're after, pork as in meat. Iowa is numero uno in Presidential primary sweepstakes, and not an inch of the state is more solidly awash in social conservative Republicanism than our little faraway corner. One of our own was determined a Republican king-maker recently in an article in the Atlantic. Away out here in northwest Ioway, we are the reddest of the red--and right now, red is hot. Now if there were only some GOP candidates around, even our confinements would be flush with reporters. Perhaps that'll come.

A particularly warm rendition of life in Sioux County, Iowa, appeared a week ago or so in the Washington Post. Check it out if you haven't seen it. It's makes us sound pretty idyllic, pretty, well, Iowa actually, the kind of good people Sarah Palin would want to believe are the real heart and soul of true Americans. Where there is us and them. We're us, trust me.

Now I try to stay away from reading those awful comments beneath articles. If I want to glory in the depravity of man, I'll read Calvin, after all. But the first comment beneath this sweet Washington Post Siouxland saga is from someone who grew up here and left quickly, full of bitterness, someone called "nathaniel12::

I grew up gay in Sioux County and consider myself lucky to have escaped alive. It is a hideous place for anyone perceived as the least bit different. The stiff-necked Dutch Reformed people in Sioux Center are the worst. They're the biggest hypocrites this side of Tim Pawlenty. These people may be polite, but they are as mean as sin. I wouldn't recommend visiting this county if you have ever had a compassionate thought about somebody who wasn't a "christian."
Which reminds me of flurry of articles from Chicago newspapers and elsewhere concerning gay alumns from Wheaton College forming a support group, hundreds strong, for students on the Wheaton campus who are still closeted. The group apparently doesn't seem to want to diss Wheaton as much as acknowledge how incredibly hard it was and still is, by their own testimony, to live in a world where so many of the faithful vehemently deny their reality.

The group they've founded, OneWheaton, isn't seeking some kind of sexual revolution on America's most religious campus. Reportedly, they simply want to attest to their own experience, and they'd like to "be there" for students who are, as they were, deeply troubled by the impulses of their sexual orientation on one hand and what must have seemed a highly intolerant culture on the other.

Living in a fortress has its great benefits, but also its corners of horrors. Nobody can get in, but then nobody can get out either--and I don't care of the fortress is red Siouxland, Wheaton, or some deeply blue neighborhoods in New York or San Francisco. True righteousness--no matter what truth is borne aloft--can be, like the perfect, the undeniable enemy of the good.

I read somewhere that Calvin once said that before a people go to war they should examine their motives clearly and humbly. Then, he said, examine the foe's. Know it, inside and out. Then, after deep and trying exams, determine the right course.

As my own students will tell you right now, exams aren't fun. They require hard work. As does humility, true humility. As does love.

If it weren't so, the gospel wouldn't be the gospel truth.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Badlands/Good lands

I shouldn't have, but I just couldn't resist. I took a speaking gig in Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota when I should have stayed here and corrected papers and got myself ready for the weekend's wedding. But more than anything it was the opportunity to drive, twice, across South Dakota that buckled my better sense. I know most people find South Dakota no more stimulating than western Nebraska, but I love its open spaces. Besides, I took the time to spin through the Badlands twice (free with my new senior citizen National Park deal), once in the middle of a storm (check out the thin rainbow).

Everywhere you looked--everywhere you listened, and even if you didn't want to--meadowlarks sang their hearts out, their incredible piping, so intense, it seeped in right through closed car windows.

I shouldn't have gone, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world.