Saturday, February 21, 2015

Duty Calls

I will be busy most of the weekend listening to high school age tenors and sopranos audition over the Internets for the vocal music program at the Arkansas Governor's School.  So no blogging this weekend.  If history is any guide my hands will be shaking too badly to type anyway.

Talk amongst yourselves.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My Sunday Feeling

I got a letter the other day from an unexpected source.  The return address indicated that it was from a gentleman that I know from church.  K is a retired real estate man as I recall.  In my experience, unsolicited correspondence of this sort tends to generally be limited to fundraising.  So imagine my surprise when I read the first paragraph.

"For the past several years, rather than giving up something for Lent, I have instead given special time to thoughts and prayers for special people."

My day is Friday the 20th.

"[I] will pause to thank God for you.  I will ask that he make his presence known to you in all you do and to bless your life and, through you, the lives of others. I'll be praying about your family and all those you love, about all the things that keep you busy, and about your health.  I'll be expressing particular thanks for your talent as a writer and the education you received at Hendrix and for your long membership in the church I love.  Finally, I'll thank him for you friendship and the privilege I have to know you."

To say that I was stunned is to to understate the case considerably.  In the first place, I don't think that I've had a conversation of any substance with this gentleman in 2-3 years.  Secondly, while God knows I could use it, I don't exactly consider myself a fit subject for such intervention.

My initial thought is that K had obviously reached the bottom of the barrel of available candidates for intercessory prayer after all of these years.  After all, as I said, I haven't had many dealings with K in some time.  

But I was mainly struck by what a profound kindness out of the blue the letter represented.  To know that someone thought about me and was thankful of it is profoundly humbling.  And while I am not superstitious in the slightest I confess that it is comforting to know that someone will be praying on my behalf next Friday.  

We live in a brutal world filled seemingly to the brim with fear and hatred.  And that's just the Arkansas legislature.  It is all to easy to forget that people are capable of "random acts of kindness" as the saying goes.  

Ash Wednesday is at hand.  It is the first day of the penitential season of Lent. It is the day that we remember that we were formed from dust. And that unto dust we will return. 

I will also remember that people can be capable of indescribable grace and kindness even to those that are completely undeserving of same.  Such as myself. 

And I will try to pay it forward if I can.  


Sunday, February 08, 2015

My Sunday Feeling

I never cease to be amazed by the persecution complex present among certain majorities.  Some straights claim to be persecuted by gays.  Rich folks by lazy welfare cheats. Whites by African-Americans.  And some Christians by everything.  Scientists, historians, "secularists" and people that say "Happy Holidays" during the Winter Solstice.  

A recent example of this paranoia may be seen in its full flower over to the Commonwealth of Kentucky where a ministry called "Answers in Genesis" has sued over Kentucky tourism officials denying AiG (not to be confused with the financial and insurance conglomerate that damn near took down the world's economy when it defaulted on all the credit-swaps it "insured" during the real estate bust in 2008) 18 million bucks in tax incentives to build a theme park called the Ark Encounter which would feature a 500 foot long replica of the vessel used by Noah to save all of the animal kingdom (except the dinosaurs) during either one or both of the Great Floods as recounted in the Book of Genesis.   AiG is no stranger to this type of real estate development.  The ministry opened the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky which promotes a strict interpretation of the Genesis account of creation.  

According to an AP story in the Lexington Herald Leader, AiG is suing because Kentucky's actions allegedly violate the organization's right to free expression of religion which is guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.  

Which, of course, is complete hooey.  Here's what happened.  

Kentucky was on board with this project until it found out that AiG would require applicants for jobs at the park to sign a statement that they believed in the Genesis account of Creation including the belief-considered non-sensical even by many fundamentalists(even that known rationalist Pat Robertson)-that the Earth is a relatively juvenile 6000 years old. The tourism board considered this to be discrimination based on religion which the state could not support through taxpayer financed tax incentives.  

As I say at times like these, this is an opportunity to teach.  

Religious institutions, to a certain extent. are free to discriminate in their hiring practices.  A Catholic school may limit the pool of applicants considered for a position teaching theology to Catholics.  A Jewish school may likewise hire only Jews to teach Torah.  A Baptist church in the Southern Baptist communion may hire only graduates from a Southern Baptist seminary for its clergy.  And so on.

Where it gets less clear is if a Catholic school would only consider Catholics for positions to discharge strictly non-ministerial duties such as teaching math or coaching football.  Or being a janitor or food services worker. The case law, as I remember it, is that our hypothetical Catholic school could not discriminate in this fashion for every position that it offered to the public.

But we don't need to go there.

What is clear in the present case(at least to the Kentucky tourism folks) is that if the park is primarily an extension of AiG's ministry, it is not eligible for state tax incentives.  Further, if the purpose is primarily a business, such as a football stadium or water park, it is not eligible for assistance from the state if it discriminates in its hiring practices.  AiG cannot have it both ways.

This is not discrimination against religion by Kentucky.  This is not suppression of free expression of religion.  If AiG can gin up the money for this silly park through private donations as it did for the equally silly Creation Museum ( where I read that there are exhibits depicting humans cavorting Flintstone-like with dinosaurs), then God bless. But every application for state funding for private business ( loans and loan guarantees, bids on building projects, government contracts, you name it) I have ever seen in my illustrious career requires the applicant to sign a statement that it will not discriminate in its hiring practices. Which is where I am guessing the trouble started here.

Answers in Genesis, as a ministry, may limit its pool of job applicants to "young Earth" types if it so desires.  It just can't ask the government to help finance such an endeavor.

It can't have it both ways.  And I like the Commonwealth's chances in Federal Court. 











Sunday, February 01, 2015

My Super Bowl Feeling


It is somehow fitting, at least to the sort of person that thinks along these lines, that the NFL's liturgical year should end with today's Super Bowl being played at something called the University of Phoenix Stadium.  

Unlike, neighboring schools like, for instance, the University of Arizona or Arizona State, the University of Phoenix does not participate in intercollegiate athletics.  Indeed, some might say that it doesn't participate in academics.  

It primarily exists as an online alternative to traditional colleges and caters what the education industry refers to as "non-traditional" students.  The cynics among us might also refer to UP as a mercenary diploma mill which, along with its other equally aggressively marketed "for profit" competitors, issues phony credentials to those few students that actually finish a prescribed course of study in whatever "degree" path they elect to follow.  

Go ahead.  Google "University of Phoenix." You will read tales of woe on various consumer sites from former students.  No respect for a diploma earned there. Credits earned there that are not transferable to the average community college.  Accumulation of student loan debt that would choke a mule enforced by predatory collection practices.  

But what do they expect?  Everybody is accepted.  Student loans are pretty much the way that every student's tuition is paid.  

Now are some of these posters merely disgruntled hacks?  Sure.  Are some of these stories anecdotal?  No doubt.  Are some of them planted by competitors? Wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.  

By the same token you are unlikely to find someone complain about their experience at Columbia University in "The Ripoff Report."

But today's post is ostensibly about the Super Bowl which will bring down the curtain on Roger Goodell and the NFL's annus horribilis in which you had a player cold-cock his wife, a botched and insensitive investigation of same, and a star running back spank his 4 year old with a tree limb along with the usual garden variety failed drugs tests and car wrecks.  

There has been some speculation as to whether this clown car of unusual travesty will cost Goodell his job.  Nah.  Not likely.  The Commissioner's job is to make the owners money and to bust the NFL Players Association.  On the former he is succeeding wildly.  On the latter, well, he is not doing them any favors.  

The NFL is all about product.  The game is almost irrelevant, dwarfed as it is by the endless commercials and a halftime show that Baz Luhrmann would find lurid. 

But of course I am going to watch.  Not that I particularly care about the outcome.  Actually, I don't care at all.  The Super Bowl provides me with an excuse to eat chili and to spend the day with somebody I like. Overly high-minded about these things I am not.  I walk as closely with hypocrisy as the next man. 

And so I find that it is right and proper that a phony baloney academic institution like the University of Phoenix should play a prominent role in today's extravaganza. It's all about money, honey.

Speaking of which, the line in this morning's paper calls the game even.  From what I can tell, most of the sports books in Vegas have the Patriots by one or two over the Seahawks.  

This means that the pros in the sports investment industry are predicting a close game.  Which also means that the first half might be a great warm up act for Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz. 

Enjoy.  




Sunday, January 25, 2015

My Sunday Feeling



I was still pretty young when Ernie Banks was at the height of his powers. But I have a vivid recollection of watching baseball with my grandfather over in Quitman one day.  The Cubs were on the Game of the Week that particular Saturday for some reason as they were their typically lousy selves.  

Anyway, I remember the broadcast starting with a smiling Ernie Banks facing the camera and saying, "It's a beautiful day for baseball.  Let's play two." I was probably all of 10 at the time.  I loved baseball.  I thought Ernie Banks was pretty cool. 

My father grew up in what is now called "Chicagoland."  Back then they were content to refer to it as Valporaiso, Indiana which is right across Lake Michigan.  When he was a kid he and a buddy used to hop the train when it would stop in Valpo and ride into Chicago to watch the Cubs and the Blackhawks.  Even then you couldn't get a ticket to see the Bears.  

And so my father was a Cub fan.  And like most Cub fans, and other veterans of combat, he had a sort of PTSD that prevented him from talking about it very much.  Being a Cub fan will do that to you.  Unlike my youngest brother, who named his son after the intersection upon which Wrigley Field sits, I have remained mostly agnostic about the Cubbies.  I refuse to permit hope to dwell in my heart given their record, writ large as it is upon history's immortal scroll and available for examination by the public.

Because the Cubs-and let's not put too fine a point on it- have stunk on ice for most of their existence.  They somehow even stunk with a lineup in those days that, off and on, featured Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams and, yes, Ernie Banks, the universally beloved "Mr. Cub,"who died yesterday at 83.  

Yes child, Mr. Banks could certainly play.  He batted .274, had 2,583 hits and 512 home runs.  He twice led the league in homers.  He is rightfully in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  His number 14 is retired.  

But those are just numbers.  To me, and to legions of Cubs fans, he was the embodiment of "Cubdom"or, "Cubismo" if you will, in that he always projected an aura of sunny optimism in the face of almost certain merciless clockwork doom.  He was ready to "play two" while other Cub teammates were looking for ways to get traded if not outright looking for small handguns with which to end their misery. The true Cub fan understands this.  After all, the Cubs play in a Catholic town.  The true Cub fan is not one of the arriviste types that bought up the brownstones in the neighborhood so they could watch the games from the roof.  The true Cub fan is not a narcissist unlike these insufferable types.  He is also unlike Red Sox and Giants fans in this regard as I ponder this further.  

No. The true Cub fan is a guy who took the "El" in to Wrigley from some place. A guy who sits by his lonesome in the bleachers on a September day nursing an Old Style("Authentically Kraeusened")as the first hint of autumn wind rolls in from the lake, foreshadowing as it always does misery and futility. The Cubbies are apt to be comfortably 15 games out of contention in the effing division at this point in time. The true Cub fan, who prosecutes a close walk with grief, guilt and shame, is there.   And yet, and also in order to push the Catholic metaphor to the vanishing point, what passes for faith, a faith so far yet cruelly unrequited, compels him to yet believe in those things visible and invisible.   Well, mostly invisible. These are the Cubs after all. 

What passes for faith sustains him even when he witnesses legendary ineptitude -and I'm just picking one out of the air here-such as the night portly right hander Rick Reuschel injured himself FALLING OFF THE MOUND DURING WARMUPS. Which I actually saw on TV.  And Reuschel was pretty good.  

The true Cub fan believed in Ernie Banks and Mr. Banks understood him.  

Ernie Banks never had a bad day.  And you would think somebody who carried the grim mantle of "Mr. Cub" would have had plenty.  

Rest In Peace, Sir.  Boy, have you earned it.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Sunday Feeling



It is a remarkable thing that Alex Malarkey survived the car crash that occurred when he was 6 years old.  Indeed, the crash was so horrific that the responders called for the coroner to come to the scene. You note that I didn't use the word "lucky" to describe young Alex as the accident rendered him a quadriplegic.  I know other kids left in a similar state after accidents.  I wouldn't describe them as "lucky" either. Beloved, brave and inspirational maybe.  But "lucky" never.

As you might think, boy's condition was grave after extraction from the vehicle.  Indeed, he lapsed into a coma that lasted two months.  And when he woke up, he allegedly claimed that he had gone to Heaven and that he had communed with angels and met Jesus.  He and his father Kevin, who holds himself out as a "christian therapist," wrote a book about Alex's claimed experiences called "The boy who came back from heaven" which was touted by Tyndale Publishing company as "a true story." It became a #1 best seller in the category of inspirational books.  It got a 4.2 rating on Amazon.

Except it wasn't true.

Earlier last week Alex-now 16 or 17 by my math-recanted the testimony about his cameo appearance in the Hereafter.  In a letter to Christian bookstores posted to the "Pulpit and Pen" website, he plainly stated "I did not die.  I did not go to Heaven." Tyndale issued a statement in which it said it was "saddened" by this turn of events (I'll just bet) and that they were taking the book out of print.

Alex's parents are divorced.  Last April Gwen Malarkey posted on her blog that Alex's objections to the continued sale of the book had been "ignored and repressed." She also stated that Alex had not received any money from and that his medical needs-which must be staggering- had not been funded by it.

According to the Huffington Post, Kevin Malarkey, with whom Tyndal contracted to reduce Alex's story, or at least Kevin's version of it, to writing,  has not commented on his son's recantation and neither his blog nor his Facebook page have recent posts.

I am painfully aware that my profession is widely reviled in polite society.  But we are useful at times.  And Tyndale would have been well-served if it had run the manuscript past a lawyer before publishing it.

If Tyndale had brought it to me my first red flag would have been their idea to pedal Alex's testimony as a "true story."  Because, not to put too fine a point on it, in the first place,Alex didn't die. He may have been near death while in a coma.  But he didn't die.  Indeed, Alex has recently made the self-evident, if lugubrious claim, that he neither checked out nor visited the Far Shore after doing so.

"I did not die," he stated.  Of course he didn't.  And this would be, and I can't believe my sudden compulsion to type these words-the generally accepted condition precedent to joining the Choir Invisible.

Look, I'm not busting the kid out.  He was 6 at the time he was in the coma.  Who knows what a child under such dreadful circumstances and full of all kinds of medication is going to believe he thought he saw in such a state? I used to see ghosts when I was that age.  My claims of contact with the restless departed were met with skepticism and outright occasional annoyance by my father who usually would patiently explain that "there are no such things as ghosts."  Other times the explanation consisted of "Get back in bed."

But the literature of "near death experiences" or "NDEs" is a popular genre with all kinds of otherwise unreliable informants leaving us here on this vale of tears only to return to relate their unprovable tales in exchange for a fat paycheck..  Even Mitch Albom, who occasionally writes about sports when he is not cranking out "inspirational" and exceedingly lucrative potboilers, has written a recent book about "phone calls from Heaven" or some such foolishness.  Nobody is going to tell the paying customers to get back in bed.

I wonder how a phone call from Heaven would show up on Caller ID?  "Burning Bush?" "Fear Not?" But I ramble.

It sounds like to me-cynic that I may be- that fantasies related by a badly injured little boy-if they were related at all-got turned into a cash cow by somebody betting on the sustained gullibility of an reliable audience for this kind of hooey . I bet Tyndal Publishing gets lawyered up for real now in an attempt to get back the money they paid the Dad.  After all, it is only here in the temporal world that people part with hard earned money for-pardon me-complete and utter malarkey.  It is here that Tyndal will have to regain what passes for credibility in a genre that relies on that which is completely unverifiable.  And the I also bet the next time poor Alex tells this story it will be under oath.

I don't much know what I believe anymore.  But I don't believe in ghosts.  I don't believe that you go to Heaven while still a life-in-being as they say in probate law.  And I while I don't know for sure what happened here, I do believe that it is all going to come out in the wash both in the fullness of time and before the statute of limitations runs in any event.

And I also believe that there is a special place in Hell for somebody that tries to mine the commercial potential of a disabled child.

Just sayin'.










Sunday, January 11, 2015

AWOL

No Sunday blog today.  Too much stuff going on.

Talk amongst yourselves.