Sunday, November 05, 2006

My Sunday Feeling

As we all know, appearances are important. But they can be deceptive. A couple of things that happened last week prove the point.

Last Saturday afternoon, I set out to procure a couple of tickets to the Razorback game that was going to be played later that evening. I live about a half mile from War Memorial Stadium. My house is next to Van Buren Avenue which is a major artery on game days. What I usually do is stand out on the corner of F and Van Buren around 3 p.m. as the cars start to back up. I hold up two fingers in the air. Eventually, somebody always comes by with tickets they need to get rid of. It never fails.

Last Saturday's plan was no different. I got out there at the usual time. I was wearing a golf sweater, shorts and a cap. A bottle of water was sitting at my feet. After about 15 minutes, an SUV pulls over. The window comes down. I put my hand on my wallet and walk over.

" Sir, do you need money?" the lady in the passenger side said. " Do you need 2 dollars?"

I was taken aback.

"No ma'am. I have plenty of money. What I need are 2 tickets." I said.

"Oh." she replied. "I can't help you with that." Window went up and away the went the SUV.

I should have taken the 2 bucks.

I called over to my neighbor Jimmy who was painting his porch.

"Did you see that?" I said. "A lady offered to give me money. Do I look that bad?"

"We've been meaning to talk with about your look." Jimmy said, looking over the top of his glasses.

"I guess I need it." I replied.

Later on the following week, we had our first cold snap of the season. I decided I would celebrate by wearing a jacket and tie to work, something I don't usually do unless I have to either go to court or to a funeral. Around ten o' clock, I walked down Capitol Avenue to go hit the ATM at my bank. As I approached Broadway, I noticed a street person coming toward me.

"Great." I thought. "I'm gonna be panhandled."

Instead, the man bowed slightly and said, " Man, you sure look good today, Sir. You're a man that looks good in a suit."

Andrea from the U.S. Attorney's office was going by as this was going on. She was greatly amused when I told her about my encounter with the Razorback fan a few days earlier.

" So let me get this straight." she said. " You looked like a bum to the lady going to the game and you looked like a fashion plate to the homeless man. I think somewhere in the middle is probably the reality of the situation."

I guess.

But that's the thing about appearances. They can mean different things to different people. That is why it is important to keep an eye on yourself if for no other reason than to try to see yourself as others see you. It is also important to go out of your way to avoid certain appearances. For example, in my line of work we are under an affirmative obligation to avoid the very appearance of impropriety. Similarly speaking, if I were a gay-bashing politically active moralistic evangelist who makes a living espousing such things, I might want to avoid being outed by a gay prostitute. It makes you look like a hypocrite and it is bad for bidness.

As we all know by know, the Rev. Ted Haggard, the Senior Pastor of a megachurch in the Colorado Springs area, is the subject of an intense media barrage after a local gay hooker claimed in an interview that he serviced the good Reverend for a period of three years and that he hooked him up with guys who sold him meth which the hooker claims Haggard took to "enhance" the experience.

Haggard, whom we may safely assume is not related to Merle, denies that he had sex with the man, but admits that he received massages from him. He also admits that he bought the dope but that he "never used it." Maybe he was trying it out as a supplement to that " Jerusalem Diet" book that he wrote.

Haggard was, up until all of this amusement, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. He and his organization had a great deal of influence in Washington and vociferously condemned both homosexuality and gay marriage. And Haggard was one of the leading opponents of a proposal to legalize gay marriage in Colorado.

As far as appearances go, you have to say this looks like unshirted hell. While most of us are reasonable people about such matters and don't regard our clergy as plastic saints or expect perfection from them, we generally don't approve of them buying illegal drugs. And while we certainly would not begrudge a man of the cloth a backrub, we expect him to get it from a chiropractor and not a prostitute. At the very least, it don't look good and is bad for bidness.

I predict this story will get worse before it gets better. Haggard says he was referred to the prostitute by a hotel concierge. The prostitute says that's baloney, that the only way he could be found in those days-he has since "retired"-was on the Internet. Which means that, much as Congressman Foley and the Republican Party have found out to their everlasting chagrin, every communication Haggard may have made to his masseur/amateur pharmacist, be it by phone or by Internet, may be retrieved.

But right now he's sticking to his story, ludicrous as it is. And right now, I can't disprove it, even though I don't believe it for 5 minutes. But I know this. His story is what we call a "but, but, but" defense. And the "but, but, but" defense rarely works.

I am reminded of when the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin was accused by a Chicago area man of having molested him when he was an altar boy. When he was asked at a press conference if he had sex with the accuser, Cardinal Bernadin's response was swift and direct.

"No. I've never had sex with anybody before." he said. No "but,but,but" with him.

I don't know just how this will play out politically. Surely, the last damned thing the Republicans need after the Abramoff and Foley scandals is the news that a guy that the President talks to once a week has bought street drugs and occasionally rented him some from a gentleman of the pavement. And just as assuredly, this mess brings joy to the hearts of Democrats, columnists and comedians everywhere. How this translates to how the upcoming election shakes out is unknown.

But the Senior Pastor at my church-who insofar as it can be determined has not bought dope or procured a hooker during his ministry-cautions us to be more circumspect and to look at the big picture.

"Unfortunately, we professional religious types are not immune to this sort of thing being human and all." he said to me in an e-mail on the subject. "The result is that the church and the faith will suffer. Celebration is not appropriate. Maybe Haggard will publicly confess, receive forgiveness from the Church and the community and start all over again. That's what Jesus would probably tell him to do."

Boy, ain't it just like a preacher to throw cold water and perspective on all of the schadenfruede that is going around out there right now. The good ones can't help it.

But Haggard's 14,000 member New Life Church might ought to launch an immediate investigation into this sordid situation if only to ascertain just what kind of conflicted loon has been fronting for the organization for all these years. And they would do well to ask themselves why they didn't catch on.

Because appearances are everything. And this looks like unshirted hell.

And as for me, I'm going to take an extra look at the mirror before I head out in the morning.

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