The Band Played On

You don’t go to a middle school band concert for the music.  You go because someone you are related to is in the musical ensemble.  So, there we sat the other night, particularly attentive to one seventh grade saxophonist who, I am certain, played his part with the precision of a Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Branford Marsalis, Clarence Clemmons, Kenny G.

The band concert was the penultimate event in a school-year-ending cavalcade that included a fencing tournament, two track meets and a dance recital.  There is still a play coming up next week.  Pat and I consider ourselves fortunate that our two grandchildren live close to us, so we can attend their endeavors.  At this stage in our lives we consider grandparenting the most significant aspect of our vocation, and we never miss an activity if we can help it.

Each of the events had its own glories, but I was particularly moved by the band concert. Our grandson attends a blessedly diverse school, and that diversity was very much in evidence.  As we waited for the music to begin, English wasn’t the only language being spoken in the audience; when the music did begin, white wasn’t the only skin color on the stage.  There were parents in the audience fresh from their white collar, professional jobs, and others from assembly lines, construction projects, building maintenance and the most-humble levels of health care. The flute section of the 8th grade band included a six-foot tall lad with an impressive Afro, a Hispanic-American boy with a fresh fade, and a Caucasian-American girl with long blond hair. The concert even included a rendition of a Native American song.

When the concert was over and the director had asked folks to make the work of the custodians easier by piling their plastic chairs, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and Middle Eastern worked cheerfully side-by-side to get the job done.  A good evening.

Whenever I attend an event at the schools our grandchildren attend, I am reminded that they operate every day in a setting more diverse and more open than I was ever exposed to.  I’m glad.  It’s one of the reasons I believe strongly in public school education and always vote “yes” on school bond issues. Maybe they’ll be able to avoid some of the hang-ups of their elders.  In the school corridor I saw a poster advertising the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.  My grandson considers that no big deal.  For him gay/straight is about as controversial as right handed/left handed.  All part of life.

The kids play music, and they are together.  At least, as together as middle schoolers can manage.  If they—and we—are lucky, they will grow into people who do not go around assuming that people with a different skin color or life style or language are the enemy, that they can do life together as well as they do music together, and maybe even better.  Then we can close the door on the ugly chapter of national dividedness that the current occupant of the White House is promoting today, and we can go back to being one people, playing and singing one song.  Hope I am around to see it.

A Good Friday Walk

The last vestiges of snow,

stubborn and persistent

resist bright sun and spring heat.

Grey and crystalline in old age

they endure, refusing to melt away.

Above the snow

a few daring buds venture out.

The scouts, pioneers leading the way.

Soon leaves and flowers will follow

flaunting their colors when the snow is gone.

The snow and the buds bear witness

during my Good Friday walk

and I see the saga.

Death is strong and resilient

but in the end, life wins the day.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

I figure T.S. Eliot must have lived some of his life in Minnesota, which was what led him to begin “The Waste Land” with the assertion “April is the cruelest month…”.

It was 70 degrees here on Monday, our first 70 of 2019, the warmest day since October 18, 2018.  This unleashed a collective sigh of relief from neighborhood chambers of commerce, insofar as a certain significant basketball game was played here on Monday night, bringing sportswriters from around the country and an unusual number of tourists from Virginia, Texas, and Alabama, along with the more familiar Michiganders.  Most of them left this morning.

Now that they are gone, we are expecting a major snow and ice storm starting on Wednesday and continuing until Friday, with high winds and blizzard conditions.  Like Eliot said, “the cruelest month.”  Bing Crosby dreamed of a “White Christmas.”  Around here we prepare for a “White Easter.”

Anyway.  Patricia is meeting a friend for lunch tomorrow and then things get nasty, so we set out to do the weekly grocery shopping this morning before the next coming of Snowmageddon.

Turns out the market was having a “Customer Appreciation Day,” and as soon as we walked in the door a cheerful and talkative lady accosted us with an offering of coffee and donuts and pressed instant lottery tickets into our hands.

Believe it or not, this was the first time my virginal hands ever touched a lottery ticket.  Being anti-lottery and anti-gambling-in-general in the USA in the 21st century is about as trendy as being a prohibitionist, but I persevere in thinking that both the lottery and casinos are in the business of ripping off people who can’t afford it.  If giving up the state lottery meant raising my taxes, I would still be in favor of it.  I’ve walked through casinos twice in my life, and found them extremely depressing.

But there I stood gripping an instant lottery ticket.  I am ashamed to admit that I did not immediately hand it back to the woman. We walked around the produce section, picking out some lettuce and a cucumber and some bananas and then our circuit brought us back to the same woman, and I still had the ticket in my hand.

“Do you have a winner?” she asked.

I admitted that I didn’t know if I had a winner or not, because I didn’t know how these things worked.  Well, she handed me this nifty little tool and showed me how to scrape off some waxy stuff on the front of the ticket to reveal some numbers below, and I scraped off the numbers, and I had, I really had, a winner.

I had won $2.  She told me to take the ticket to the service desk to collect my winnings. And I did.  “Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” the lady at the desk said to me.

It would be wonderful at this point to be able to tell you that as soon as we left the store, I sought out a beggar by the side of the road and gave the beggar the $2, and maybe $10 or $20 more besides.  Didn’t happen.  I also have not yet donated the $2 to the hunger appeal at our church.  I still have the $2.

But I did not put it in my billfold with my “real” money.  It is laying on my desk next to the billfold.  I have trouble thinking of it as “mine.”  Maybe I will make it a bonus for the young man who will shovel our driveway this week.

And now I wonder: for me it is easy to laugh off $2.  But suppose the ticket had revealed me to be a $1000 winner.  Would I feel as generous with $1000 as I do with $2?  I’d like to think so, and perhaps more generous.  Nevertheless, I don’t kid myself.  It would be a lie to say that no selfishness lives in me, like the lie told by those white people who claim “not to have a racist bone” in them.  They are just blind to that bone.  I don’t want to be blind to my selfishness bone, to the greed that is in me.  $1000.  Now you’re talking money a guy could do something with.

All this stewing, simply because we went to the grocery store on Tuesday morning rather than our usual Wednesday afternoon in order to avoid an absurd April blizzard.  Eliot was right.  April is the cruelest month.

The Death of Kings

Soon after Martin Luther stirred things up 500 years ago, Philip Melanchthon, his Chief Operating Officer, sat down with Johannes Gutenberg, Jr. the Director of Communications, and the two of them decided that what the movement needed was a denominational magazine, and in nothing flat “The Lutheran” was born.  But a while back the current powers that be, determined that we be known as the church-of-what’s-happening-now, decided that it was time for a new name, and now that venerable publication is the “Living Lutheran.”

I want to say upfront that this is all right with me.  I am not one of those people who dreads change, fighting it with every last ounce of energy.  (At least usually. The other night the chatty folks on the 10 o’clock news were talking about married couples switching the side of the bed they sleep on, and that is a change I cannot imagine.  I sleep on the right.  Patricia sleeps on the left.  Engraved in stone. Not subject to change.)  I find change stimulating and would never want to be known as a “conservative.”  Them’s fightin’ words.

But back to the “Living Lutheran.”  As a retired pastor (excuse me, a retired “Rostered Leader”) I get a free subscription. At this stage in life, I am most interested in keeping up with what is happening with my friends and peers.  So, the first place I look is at the obituaries of “Rostered Leaders.”  Pick up the “Living Lutheran,” and immediately read about death.  Go figure.

John’s name was in the obituaries in the latest issue.  John was my confirmation pastor.  He changed my life.  He arrived in our congregation when I was in the 8th grade.  My deal with my parents was that, even though I had only rarely attended Sunday School, I would go through confirmation and then I would never have to worry about church again.  Church was not big on our family agenda.  We considered those people who attended church on both Christmas and Easter religious fanatics. But Confirmation was a rite of passage, something you did to be a respectable citizen.  This was the 1950’s.

Then John came along, young and crew cut and full of energy.  I didn’t expect to like him, but I did.  His charisma impacted the whole congregation, leading it in time to abandon its old church building and erect what remains one of the most architecturally imaginative churches I have ever known.  He was the pitcher on the church softball team, back in the days when church softball leagues played fast-pitch. He was full of energy and good cheer and for a while he drove an Edsel. John promoted Bible Camp for kids our age, and I persuaded my parents to let me go, and I loved it.  I met several other pastors there who were the kind of men I wanted to be. (In the 1950’s all Lutheran pastors were men.)

Before we were confirmed we were required to have individual interviews with John.  In that interview John asked me if I had ever considered that God might be calling me to be a pastor.  The answer was simple.  No.  No.  A thousand times No.  I wasn’t sure what I would be.  Maybe a lawyer.  Maybe a football coach.  Maybe a politician. But a pastor?  No.

You know how the story ends.  The idea was a brain worm.  By the time I graduated from high school all of the other possibilities had melted away, and I was on my way to the pastorate.

By then John was making me into a revolutionary, though I did not realize it at the time.  I just assumed all pastors quoted from Tillich, Bultmann, Niebuhr, Barth in their sermons. His graduation gift to me was Tillich’s The New Being.   One year while I was in college, I joined him in home communions to shut-ins over the Christmas break, and my “reward” for that was Peter Berger’s The Noise of Solemn Assemblies, which he was quoting from the pulpit regularly.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it turned out that not all Lutheran pastors or professors were enthusiastic about these folks, which lesson I learned the hard way.

Halfway through my college years, with the new building completed, John left that congregation and became an administrator/fund raiser at the church college I attended, and spent the rest of his working life there.  We were in touch very sporadically after I finished college, but I was always trying to live up to whatever it was he saw in me, and to the kind of pastor he was.

I don’t think John ever stopped being revolutionary.  The last time heard from him a few years ago he reported that he and his wife were re-reading Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for The First Time for Lent and enjoying it immensely.  They were both over 90 at the time.

Now he has died.  Although we had been in touch very infrequently over the years, I thought of him often.  He was one of my role models, one of my mentors, one of the people I wanted to be like, along with others, people with old names like Raynold and Alvar. (Alvar’s actual given name was Knute, but he preferred the sound of Alvar.) They are gone now, and I am still here, one of the surviving dinosaurs.

It may sound funny to the young whippersnappers out there, but even at my advanced age (which corresponds to a legendary number of trombones) I feel a little more exposed now without my models, my heroes, my mentors marching along out there in front of me. The best I can do is hope that I have impacted a few lives as much as John impacted mine.

NOTICE: This is not a plea for thank-you notes.  It is simply my statement of appreciation for man who meant a lot to me, and a reminder that we never stop trying to live up to our mentors and models.

Anyway, I’ll keep looking at the obituaries in the “Living Lutheran” and hoping not to see my own name there.

Living the Golden Rule

I had been scheduled to preach tomorrow at All Saints Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN, but a blizzard is in the forecast, prudence has ruled the day, and worship has been cancelled. But I am an old style preacher who writes out a manuscript, so I am left with a perfectly good sermon for tomorrow. I think of sermons as being like bananas: best consumed fresh. So here it is! Feel free to ignore!

***************

Candice Payne is a 34-year-old realtor from south Chicago.  “Just a girl from the south side,” she calls herself. When the polar vortex swept through the Midwest at the end of January, Candice Payne saw a news report on the plight of Chicago’s homeless on a night that would bring 50 below windchills.  Her boyfriend had once been homeless.  She couldn’t sit by and watch.

She found one motel—one—that was willing to accept the homeless if their rooms were pre-paid.  Candice went to that motel and charged thirty rooms on her credit card, then put out an appeal on social media and began rounding up people, and her friends started transporting people to the motel, and the word got out, and other people caught on, and soon the thirty rooms became sixty and then seventy as those other people chipped in, while others brought toiletries and food and vitamins and snacks and restaurants donated food, and then what started out as a one-night stay turned into four nights.

And then…and then Ellen DeGeneres heard about Candice, and the next thing you know Candice was sitting on Ellen’s stage receiving a $50,000 check from Walmart for her newly-formed Action for a Cause Foundation, created to relieve some of the burdens of Chicago’s homeless.  The problem of homelessness in Chicago was not instantly solved by Candice’s actions, but on the coldest nights of the year, over 100 people had a warm bed and warm food and a roof over their heads.

I thought of Candice Payne in relationship to the Golden Rule, part of today’s gospel text. “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Jesus says. I’ll tell you this.  If I were homeless, facing bone chilling cold out on the street, I would certainly “have’ someone rent me a hotel room.  That’s what Candice did.

There’s more to Jesus’ sermon. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

I don’t think Candice expected anything in return for renting those hotel rooms.  After all, the people she was doing good for didn’t have anything.  She had no way of anticipating what Walmart eventually did.  She saw cold people who needed a place to sleep, and, to the extent that she was able, she met their need.  Period.

And look what happened.  One woman decided that she couldn’t stand by any longer, that she needed to do something. When she did, her actions inspired other people to step up and act.  Other people who paid for rooms, who drove the homeless to their warm beds, who brought food and toiletries and warm clothes.  Restaurants that donated meals. The generosity of this one woman sparked corresponding generosity in many others, and even in the corporate heart of Walmart.

Friends, I think that represents what we as Christians are supposed to be in this world.  People who make a difference.  People who are always changing the world. If you look seriously at what Jesus is saying in the gospel lesson, it is pretty radical stuff.  “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” That doesn’t make one bit of human sense.  That isn’t the way the world works.  But Jesus says it is what his followers will do. “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes your coat do not withhold even your shirt.” Like—if somebody steals your cash, make sure to give them your credit cards as well.  “Give to everyone who begs from you.” That dude on the off-ramp with his tattered sign might spend whatever you give him on Thunderbird, but, Jesus says, give it to him anyway.

Reasonable, sensible, moderate people don’t act that way. It’s not a formula for how to get ahead in the world.  But Jesus calls his followers to be that kind of holy crackpot, the kind who loves enemies and hands everything over to the thief and never drives past the guy on the off-ramp without emptying her purse.

The idea, I think, is that this blessed insanity will be a catalyst to spark the same kind of insanity, the same brand of kindness, the same love-acted-out-in-the-world in others.  Once again, Candice Payne could have watched the news and heard about the homeless people on that sub-zero night and turned off the TV pledging them her thoughts and prayers—that’s what lots of people pledge in hard times, thoughts and prayers—but she didn’t do that.  She put her own credit card to work.  And her insane behavior sparked the same kind of insane behavior in other people, leading them to pull out their own credit cards, not quitting with the glib, low-demand offering of thoughts and prayers but taking tangible action to meet the needs of other human beings. Kindness turned out to be contagious.  Pretty cool, if you ask me.  Pretty cool, and very much in the spirit of Jesus.  As a matter of fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that God was working through Candice, for, after all, God’s hands are our hands.

God followers have always had a thing for doing the ridiculous.  Look at today’s first lesson.  It’s easy for us to romanticize Joseph, the little boy with his coat of many colors whose older brothers sold him into slavery.  It’s easy for us to forget that he was the very poster child for obnoxious little brothers.  When his older brothers were out in the fields, sweating and stinking and working long hours, little Joe was strutting around immaculate in that ridiculous coat reminding his older brothers that Dad loved him more than Dad loved them. You can hardly blame them for disposing of the little twerp.

But fair is fair, and you also wouldn’t be inclined to blame Joseph if he took it out on them years later when his brothers came to him looking for a handout during the famine.  Well, Joseph didn’t seek revenge the way you or I might.  In the course of his stay in Egypt, Joseph had become a new man, a better man. He told his brothers that there was plenty of food, that they should gather up the whole clan and move in with him.  Unreasonable behavior embodied.  What Jesus talks about theoretically, Joseph practices.

Friends, as Christians we are not called to be “ordinary people.”  We are called to be “extraordinary people,” people who do unusual and unexpected things on the basis of grace, on the basis of already being people God loves. Christians aren’t real good at fitting in, at being average, at being like everybody else.  Christians stand out in the crowd, and that is all right. It’s what we are supposed to do.

It is tempting to sit back and wait for the big moment, the chance to do something really big and great, so big and great that Ellen will have us on and everybody will know we did something big and great and someday some preacher somewhere will tell a good story about us in a sermon.  But our lives as Christ followers, Christ imitators, don’t need to wait for the big moment.  We can follow Christ, be the kind of people Christ calls us to be, in the humble little every day moments we stumble onto, or that stumble onto us.

  • The kid nobody talks to in the lunch room.
  • That new Somali family down the street.
  • The Matrix program, providing temporary housing for the homeless.
  • The Sunday School’s community involvement program as it gathers gifts.

Look around.  Look around.  Look around you this week, and I’ll bet you’ll see a place where you can do something loving and generous for some other person who would have no reason to expect that from you.

The congregation we belong to states up-front that its intention is to be “unreasonably generous.”  This means that the congregation intends to go the second mile to support worthy causes in the community and the world-wide church.  Certainly some of the money could be used for projects within the congregation, but the congregation chooses not to do that, preferring to give money away whenever possible.

I think that is a wonderful model for us as individuals to follow as we attempt to be faithful followers of Christ.  “Unreasonable Generosity.”  Charge those motel rooms for the homeless.  Give that extra gift.  Or, as Jesus put it,

“Do to others as you would have them do to you,”

Not as they have done, paying off old gifts or old slights; but as you would have them do to you.  Paying it forward. Not bad.

Amen

Wherein a Traveler from an Antique Land considers fashion.

My mind, usually busy pondering such topics as who the Minnesota Twins will use as a closer this year and what we will eat for supper, went wandering off the other day until, deep in the closets of memory, it stumbled across Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias”.  Shelley’s work is relevant in 2019, considering as it does the arrogance of a ruler who believed that the glory of his works would stand forever, which works are now reduced to sand.  There is a poignance to Shelley’s words about the visage of the ruler with its “…frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command.” But I have pledged not to become Trump obsessed, so I will leave that for you to consider.

Rather, I want to focus on the first line of the poem:

                “I met a traveler from an antique land…”

I can identify with that.  Many days I feel like a “…traveler from an antique land,” one who remembers old things and an old way of life and old attitudes from black telephones attached to the wall and milk bottles with the cream on top to magazine advertisements in which doctors endorsed the health benefits of cigarette smoking.  Let’s be clear.  I do not yearn for that antique land or those old ways.  Given a choice between the world I grew up in and the world of 2019, the 21st century has my vote.  Nostalgia is a bore.

But I am a native of the antique land, and I remember renouncing blue jeans when I finished high school. I was going off to college, and in those days “college men”, questing after maturity and sophistication, did not wear blue jeans.  Indeed, I would spend some of my educational years in a place where blue jeans were essentially forbidden.  I’m sure that sounds unbelievable to folks born after the JFK presidency, but it was the truth.

So, I stopped wearing blue jeans.  Didn’t own a pair. For 48 years.

Then, on the eve of a vacation in February 2008 (I remember it well), the lovely Mrs. McKinley suggested that blue jeans might be good for traveling.  I grudgingly went along with her suggestion and sprung for a $12 pair of Walmart blue jeans. And, yes, they were good for traveling.  Also for walking.  And sitting around. And most things I spent my time doing. And, all of a sudden, I was, in the words of Neil Diamond “…forever in blue jeans.”  Between September and May, I wear blue jeans 80% of the time, and that might be a low estimate. I gave up blue jeans all those years ago to go after “maturity and sophistication.”  Well, I’ve got the maturity thing pretty well knocked, and sophistication is still out of reach.

This week I’ve been wearing what we might call a “mature” pair of blue jeans, meaning that they are about five years old and attractively bleached out.  They were more expensive jeans to start with.  $18, as I recall.  Two days ago I noticed, just above the left knee, a seriously worn spot.  Why it is so worn I know not.  But it is.  The threads are starting to separate.  With a couple more washings and a little poking around, this worn spot could become a hole.

Which has me in a quandary. I am tuned in enough to the world to recognize that the Cool Kids, the fashionistas, male and female, wear jeans with holes in them.  To momentarily lapse into sexism, sometimes the females seem to be wearing jeans that have denim and hole in equal proportion.  Everyone knows that I have always striven to be one of the Cool Kids, a pace setter in trendy fashion.

So is it time for me to encourage the development of this hole?  For that matter, is one hole enough to earn the Cool Kid merit badge?  Do I need to poke a few more holes in my jeans?  How many? With holes in my jeans, will I be a fashion pacesetter?

Or am I just going to end up looking like a traveler from an antique land who has holes in his pants?

I will meditate on this during my afternoon nap.

Let’s Go Rams

A

The Los Angeles Rams may have lost the Super Bowl, but they won me as a fan, which is no doubt small comfort in the post-season.

It feels like heresy to turn my back on the Patriots.  In all the years we lived in New England, they were our team, just like the Red Sox.  We lived through some bad years with both teams, but now the Patriots and the Red Sox are kings of their respective hills.  But the Patriots have turned into a dynasty, Belichick’s grumpy act is getting old, Brady seems like he’ll play into his sixties and the Super Bowl MVP was a guy who began the season on suspension for Performing Enhancing Drugs.

So let’s hear it for the Rams.  Three reasons:

  1. They are back home in Los Angeles. For those of us who have been following football since the days of Amos Alonzo Stagg and Red Grange, the Rams belong in LA.  “St. Louis Rams” never did sound right.  Bob Waterfield.  Norm VanBrocklin. Tom Fears. Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. Deacon Jones. The Los Angeles Rams.
  2. This year they became the first Super Bowl team to have male members of their cheerleading squad. So there.
  3. Coach Sean McVay.  This is the most important one.

McVay is a mere child at 33.  I have hats older than that. But the man is already a mature leader, the kind of leader I respect.  This is what he said after the game:

“I definitely got outcoached today.  I didn’t do nearly enough.  I was not pleased at all with my feel for the game.  We couldn’t get anything going.  And that’s on me.”

Look at that!  He doesn’t blame the officials.  He doesn’t castigate his own players.  He doesn’t whine about the hyper-long half-time mandated by TV. (Word is many people didn’t like the half-time show.  Unless Lady Gaga is performing, I consider the half-time show a good time to go to the bathroom, put on my pajamas, and get another beer. But I am interrupting myself.) He doesn’t talk about the Atlanta weather or the noisy crowd or anything like that.  He blames himself.  “I definitely got outcoached today.”

I’m sure his players heard that and read it, and remembered the times they had messed up during the game, the blocks they had missed, the tackles that failed, the throws that went long, the catches they should have made.  But McVay didn’t throw them under the bus.  He shouldered the blame himself.  He painted the target on his own back. You better believe that the players will remember that when next season comes around.

I am not egotistical enough to declare myself a leadership guru, but I’ve been around the block enough times as a pastor to know a little something about leadership.  One of the rules I always tried to live by was that a good leader “gives credit and takes blame.”  Sean McVay took the blame. He has shown himself to be a good leader, and I’ll be pulling for him and the Rams in the 2019 season.

(Having said this, I will no doubt be branded a traitor by the faithful Minnesota Viking fans around me.  Well, I will still cheer mildly for the Vikes, whose new headquarters is only a stone’s throw from our house if you are a good thrower of stones.  But only mildly.  After all, the Vikings last Super Bowl appearance was eight years before Sean McVay was born! And they have never won one. Though the losses were never their fault, as true purple Viking fans will tell you.)

Pass the Brown Sauce & Clotted Cream

It’s been a mild winter in Minnesota so far, and I have stopped wearing sweaters.  I now wear jumpers.  And, by the way, my car does not have a trunk.  It has a boot.  I no longer eat cookies.  I eat biscuits.  No more French Fries for me.  I’ll have chips instead.

It is all part of my transition to being British.  I mean, I’ve always loved the United States and a big part of me still does, but the buffoon who seems intent on tearing down everything I have loved makes it harder to love, and the lackeys of his party who don’t have the backbone to stand up to him but instead enable him aren’t helping.

I’d rather cast my lot with Elizabeth II, who has been on the throne since God was an infant.  I cannot honestly say that I remember her father, but I do remember listening to her coronation on the radio in my 4th grade classroom, which was the high point of 4th grade. At 90+ she still nobly charges around the United Kingdom shaking hands and conferring honors and bucking up the people.  This is a good woman, an admirable woman.  Her mate, Phillip, has now retreated into the background in the way a gentleman of his years deserves to, but in his time, he was a stalwart. Their children are a rather odd lot, but there is nothing perverse about them.  The son who has been waiting for so many years to be king is kind of a doofus, but there is a difference between a doofus and a buffoon, a buffoon being much more malign.

And the doofus has produced two wonderful sons who have two wonderful wives and there are three adorable grandchildren and the whole clan of them, the “Royal Family”, pursue doing good as a full-time vocation.  Who would you rather have represent you, William and Kate and their kids and Harry and Meghan and the little one to come, or Ivanka and Jared and Don Jr. and Eric and Tiffany? (I’m leaving Barron out of this, because he is too young to deserve being picked on.)  I vote for the Brits.

Anyway, as I transition to Brit-ness, I considered it my duty on Sunday night last to tune in to the first installment in the new season of “Victoria” on PBS.  We found Victoria at a difficult time.  Pregnant again (this seemed to be a perennial condition for her), she also had to deal with an unhappy populace, propelled along by revolution taking place across Europe.  Prince Albert, who looks nothing like the guy on the tobacco can, makes the case with her that the royals are out of touch with the way ordinary people live.  Duh! The guy makes a good point, although I wish he would get a decent haircut.

And then this morning, driving to breakfast with a friend, I heard successive stories about:

  1. An administration official saying that the employees impacted by the government shut-down should just appreciate the fact that they are getting extra vacation without having to use vacation time.
  2. A report on a group of congress persons of the buffoon’s party who are suggesting that the employees impacted by the government shut-down should not get back pay when they return to work.
  3. Pop-up food pantries for government employees impacted by the shut-down.

Strike up the old tune from “Camelot” titled “What Do the Simple Folk Do?”

Maybe Queen Victoria and her cohort of British royalty of the mid-19th century were out of touch with the way ordinary people lived, but we’ve got some folks in power these days who make them look like they lived in solidarity with the poor.

So, until we can oust those bozos, I’ll use brown sauce instead of ketchup, and feast on scones with clotted cream and jam, and when we go to Mexico in six weeks, if anybody asks me where I’m from, I’ll cross my fingers and claim York or Bath or Exeter.  Much less embarrassing.  Although if they ask me to explain Brexit, I’ll have to do a lot of muttering.

We Need A Little Christmas

It is said that confession is good for the soul, so in the interests of the health of my soul, I have a confession to make: I’ve been listening to Christmas music on the radio for a week.

I know, I know, all you straight-laced theologians out there.  It isn’t even Advent yet.  We need to slog our way through that penitential season before we start the Christmas music.  The late service on Christmas Eve, and not a moment before.

My response: Put a sock in it.

Now I will make this even worse. While I am about 75% good with singing traditional hymns in church, I am a cultural slob and do not like classical music.  I can take it in small doses, and took it in larger doses when I had offspring playing in orchestras and singing in choirs, but at this point in my life I feel relieved of the duty to listen to the classics at length. Given the choice of having a root canal or sitting through “The Messiah” one more time, put me in the dentist’s chair.

My idea of the old classics at Christmas time goes down the line of Gene Autry singing about “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Jimmy Durante crooning “Frosty the Snowman,” Mel Torme giving us “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” Eartha Kitt and “Santa Baby.”  I listen to those some, but in this season of the year I am also into Fitz and the Tantrum, Death Cab for Cutie, Train, and, yes, God forgive me, Mariah Carey.

In my own defense, there’s good stuff in some of the pop Christmas songs.  Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” one of my absolute favorites, is big on the eschatological (a word I seldom use anymore) themes of Advent.  When the radio gives me the Band Aid classic “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” I want to get out of the car and put the entire contents of my billfold into a Salvation Army bucket.

Look, it’s a tough old world out there. A person reads the newspaper out of a sense of responsibility, not because the reading will cheer a person up.  My own family has been reminded this week that now and then tragedy comes along and taps you on the shoulder.  I vote for looking bad news and tragedy in the eye and singing out the good news of Jesus born in our midst, even if it is being sung in a way that simply lifts up the joy of Christmas in a non-theological way.

So, if you get in my car, be ready for Lady Antebellum and Dean Martin and the Chipmunks and Burl Ives and the Carpenters.  They are all on my playlist.

As far as I’m concerned, “We need a little Christmas, right this very minute.”  That would make a good song.

In Which Twitter Becomes Cheerful

Hobbes

 

In my unending quest to be a Thoroughly Modern Guy I signed up for Twitter back in 2009 (can it really be that long ago?) and by now have accumulated the staggering total of 41 followers. I find it mysterious that 25 of the 41 are people totally unknown to me.  I have looked them up, and I find that two of the 25 do all their Tweeting in French. I have never Tweeted in French. Maybe they are trying to learn English. Of the remaining 16, one of them is, to put it bluntly, dead.

I, on the other hand, am following 104.  This number does not include the 25, but it does include the dead guy, who seldom Tweets.

Masochist that I can be, in addition to personal friends, many of the Tweeters I follow are news outlets ranging from the local paper to NPR to the BBC.  I even follow a number of political commentators. I follow the Minnesota Twins, Golden Gophers and Lynx. (But not the Vikings,  Wild, or Timberwolves.) I follow some individual athletes, most of them Twins or former Twins.

All this being the case, forays into the Twitterverse can be bitter slogs down a gloomy road. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot of bad news out there.  The folks I follow are predictably in high dudgeon about the Current Inhabitant of the White House. (No, I do not follow him.  I hear enough about his Tweets without getting them mainstreamed into my veins.)  The UK cannot figure out Brexit, Joe Mauer has retired, the good people of Florida don’t know how to count votes, disastrous fires decimate California, and 21st century leaders like Trudeau, Macron, Merkel and May effortlessly make the Current Inhabitant look like the doofus he is.  Bad news, there, Current Inhabitant.  They aren’t laughing with you, they are laughing at you.

Then there are the Tweets that seem to be selling something that pop up unbidden on my feed.  Movies I have no interest in. Some firm wants me to buy their program for retaining customers.  A city on the west coast invites me to apply for a position as a fire fighter.  I clicked on the little arrow in the corner and asked the Twitter geniuses why I was seeing that Tweet.  It reported that I was in the “target audience” for that Tweeter, the “target audience” being “adults who live in the United States.”  Guilty as charged.  But I do not aspire to  fire fighting.  I block a lot of Tweeters.

I used to rely on a shepherd in the British Lakes Region to brighten up my day with pictures of sheep and dogs and countryside, but now he has migrated to Instagram and given up the whole Twitter gig.

Now I get my Twitter jollies from Jackson in his Halloween costume, Nala walking in the mountains, Pinto and Frank celebrating their 10th birthdays, Remy with birthday balloons, Kirby rolling in the autumn leaves, and Diego, whose specialty is looking cute.

Jackson, Nala, Pinto, Frank, Remy, Kirby and Diego are dogs.  I meet them in the Twitter feed of a source specializing in, you guessed it, dog pictures.  I find there is nothing like a picture of a dog to brighten my day.  In the midst of the Current Inhabitant’s offensive idiocies and bad news out of Florida and California and Yemen and Afghanistan, there’s Remy the birthday boy with a batch of blue balloons and a silly hat, and my day gets better. Original sin seems to have invaded even the canine world.  When I dig a little deeper, I infer conflict between the good people who administer the site.  But as long as they keep showing me dogs, I will let them worry about that.

So, Twitter.  I’m in it for the dogs, but I stick around for the news.

PS: Don’t tell our dog Hobbes.  He is the jealous type, and would be angry if he knew I was looking at other dogs.