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Bart Simpson, the White House, and monsters made of clay

Life is full of endless complications in this cartoon world.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the real life Lisa Simpson should fall for a younger, politically ambitious Bill Clinton at Yale Law School. Why, with his talent for gab and kissing babies they could surely rule the world together.

And, wouldn’t you know it, they did.

His agenda, naturally, would come first, but that was as much a practical matter as anything, and no one was as practical as Lisa.

She’d keep her last name as long as she could, but she’d intuit the politics of taking a husband’s name. She would be the first woman president, surely, if God is just. Look at the sacrifices, the quiet indignities she bore: the law-school boys’ clubs, Arkansas first-lady’s social hours, the scrutiny of sure-fire real estate partnerships, her husband’s thirst for risky extramarital affairs, the right-wing conspiracies — so far beyond fair even when founded in bitter truths. It was all so beneath her.

Didn’t they know? Couldn’t they see? “I was a fucking rock, excuse my language.”

No one could be asked to absorb as much for this bright school-girl’s dream? And it was a good dream: first woman president.

Her whole life she was told to wait, that being tough and ambitious wasn’t ladylike. So her skin became leather. But did she not speak soft truths? Did she not fight for the underprivileged? Did she not raise enough for the party? She was a senator; she was Secretary of State; she waited her turn. Yes, she hid gossipy emails. Yes, she tried to pass the blame, but who didn’t? “They’ve made me a monster,” she thought. And she was right.

Brother Bart Simpson was a different cat altogether.

School was for suckers, he thought. The real key to power was celebrity. Celebrities could be stupid and still be rich.

And so he’d sell himself and whatever he could. Real estate was at hand, so he’d promise the biggest, the best buildings. But he’d take whatever chances he’d get. An interview? He’d do it. Say something that’ll bring the papers back, he thought. Power was about leverage, he’d learn. He didn’t have to be good at business; let the school suckers cover the work. He was a professional celebrity.

Friends are friends and enemies are trash, to Bart. It’s not personal. It’s a matter of status. “If they talk against you, bury them, dude.” Keep lawyers close. They’ll fix all the mistakes. “Just tell people what they want to hear.” And it worked. It always works.

“That’s Crooked Lisa’s problem. She’s lame. She cares too much what people think.”

And, still, he never got the respect he was sure he deserved.

Didn’t they know? Couldn’t they see? He’d built everything out of nothing. No one had hustled harder. He told the same lies as anyone else, but his were bolder. He had penthouses. He slept with the hottest women. “Billy Fucking Bush had been lucky to be in the same room. I am the mother fucking president.”

What could be more respectable than that? All the rich people he’d kissed up to — none of them had been presidents. He was better than all of them. Even smarter than Lisa.

Sure, Bart courted help from Russian mobsters to bury her. And he’d won. She’d never have that nerve. That’s the difference. “It’s called winning. No one cares how you won.”

But as great as he was, “They made me a monster,” he thought. And he was right.

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A House Divided

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” –Mark 12:25

We’ve been here before.

Abraham Lincoln referenced the book of Mark’s house-divided passage in a famous speech at the Illinois State Capital in 1858 — two years before he was elected president.

Seen rightly as an enemy to the future of slavery, Lincoln’s election triggered the secession of the South, the nation’s deadliest conflict via the Civil War, and, with time, a new Union stitched together by war-weary countrymen.

Lincoln stands on the right side of history having fought for unification.

While the future is uncertain, the present is clear: we are divided again. This time it’s more than north v. south, though geographic divisions exist. It’s Red v. Blue; it’s right v. left. And foreign interests and greed are widening the gap with propaganda that vilifies the other side.

I’m not writing to promote or discredit any ideology. Politics are for another day. I’m here with a mirror, and I’ve stepped back. I want to show you the big picture emerging for all to see.

Our divisions threaten our house. And I feel we need to acknowledge the forces that are pulling us apart if we are to hold this thing together. We are in 1858 again. The “South” has not yet gone rogue, but we are ripping at the seams sewn by deep sacrifice.

Consider this:

1. Russians interfered with the 2016 election.

The intelligence community is not in doubt about this. Fact-checkers Politifact have crowned President Trump’s self-centered claims that Russians did not meddle with the election the 2017 Lie of the Year. 

2. The president, under investigation for collusion with the Russians, is publicly undermining our free press, as well as law enforcement tasked with protecting the nation from threats foreign and domestic.

His cries on Twitter of “fake news” and threats to deny licensing to unfavorable broadcasters, challenge our shared and beloved first amendment rights.

His often quizzical social media outbursts have questioned the legitimacy of our judicial branch, the FBI, the Department of Justice and our national intelligence. It’s “a witch hunt,” he says openly.

Not only is our president standing against the American system of checks and balances, he is securing Republican support in Congress and beyond to do the same.

A major American news organization, Fox News, a clear promoter and defender of right/red-state ideology (yes, perfectly within their first amendment rights) has recently questioned whether the investigation into the president’s campaign amounts to a “coup.”

3. In taking a defensive posture to clear Russian election interference, our president almost certainly ensures that future elections won’t be adequately protected from foreign interests.

Last year, Russians worked against the Democratic candidate for president, but nothing prevents them or other countries or groups from working against Republicans in the future.

This is not a partisan issue.

Surely, to all Republicans — ironically, the party of Lincoln — the threat would be crystal clear if Trump was a Democrat.

True patriots, whatever their party, know the president is not above our laws.

A Republican Congress agreed to allow special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia to work against his political rival. That on-going investigation has already produced guilty pleas among high-level campaign staff.

We need to lean on the judicial branch now, not cut it off. Supporting fair elections and due process is the most American thing we can do.

I implore those good forces on the right to see our collective situation with eyes wide open. We must not follow the president and his blind defenders down this course. Like the secessionists before him, he is shaking the foundations of our house.

Like the South, rising again for our age, he is on the wrong side of history.

2 Dinosaurs: a bedtime story

2 dinosaurs died long ago.

1 was humble, and meek with a stretchy neck he’d show off to nervous birds while eating leafy roofs.

1 was bold, and stealth. A hunter. He’d never show his strength to anyone unless it was too late for them.

The leafeater saw the world as a great mother. Trees of every size and shape filled endless dreams. Without thorns of bark and buzzy bugs in his eyes, the leafeater had only friends, and sun, and creeks, and a lust for leaves in his face, and naked gratitude. The leafeater knew only how to be a boy. He felt everything he lived. He didn’t believe in dying.

The lion saw the same world as a buffet. Nothing fancy or special. Just enough to live. Everything is bought with blood. The strong of his type are the coldest. They hide in plain sight. They strike alone and finish! There are liabilities and threats. He had stinging teeth and claws like rocks.

They both died long ago

When a fireball exploded

And sent a shockwave across the forest.

And set fire to the skies.

The leaves bit back, giving birth to smoke and ash, determined to rest on the ground or blow free in the red, gray wind.

The victims, like the leafeater, went hungry.  They cried, and cringed and got old fast with fists in their stomachs.

First, it was a windfall for the lion. New meat. Then, the meals dried up. He felt nothing. The dinosaur died hunting in search of prey he’d never find.

The lion outlived the leafeater. But they both died in the end. And Life is not a contest to the dead.

They both only served the future. And their dreams lie in mud. All hearts are meant to be broken; their secrets food to the soil, who raised us all here alive now, children.

The Bar Formerly Known As…

“Things change, and that’s how they become our own.” This was my first thought coming out of a dream, and I wanted to write it down before I forgot. 

I was standing, in the dream, in a pizza place where I’d worked. And the full kitchen had been remodeled. It was laid out in a square before, and now it was L-shaped and more closed in. It was a whole different vibe. I think I was sad about that, but I hadn’t said anything to anyone. Then, the above mentioned thought came to me clear and whole. A group of younger kids was there, early 20s I’d guess, and it was a bar. I hadn’t really been interacting with my environment, but at one point a song played and everyone knew it, so everyone sang it. I got caught up myself and was singing too. This was their bar. It was no longer my workplace. 

And that’s how life goes. We get Mr. Gatti’s on Battlefield or LaMar’s on Campbell or Parkview laid out like a pitchfork until we don’t anymore. Only so many people in the world know those places like I do, and some of them are already gone. 

I’ve often wondered how people from 200 years ago or 1,000 or 5,000 years ago would see our world. The answer is they wouldn’t recognize it. They’d say: “there used to be a barn here, or a creek bed, or a path with trees and a hill,” as they stood next to a Bed, Bath & Beyond. Change may be the hardest thing to accept, but it’s what makes our world unique. And the world can’t be about us for long. For we are fleeting. 

In the parking lot of a Bed, Bath & Beyond in Sunset Hills, Mo.

The truest words I think I’ve heard in my life came from an artist who has now passed: “Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.” Someday, I’ll tell my grandkids about him and it’ll get confusing fast. “He had one stage name, and then he was a symbol before he took the old one back.” And they’ll tell their parents, “grandpa’s stories are crazy.” And their parents will smile and nod. 🙂

United We Fall

God’s provisions to mankind surely include unending opportunities to appreciate irony.

I’m thinking about America today, what it means to be an American, and I keep coming back to a single sing-songy phrase: “United we stand; divided we fall.” I’m 42 years old, and I’ve never seen my country so divided. If the phrase is true, the future seems bleak.

Standing in this reflective space, I can’t help but return to when I was 26. In September of that year, a group of determined terrorist changed the course of America – and the world – irrevocably.

Following 9/11, I saw America at its finest. I remember the pride I felt. I was proud of our president; proud of New York; proud of first responders; proud that I could be counted by some invisible hand among the Americans. I remember flags were everywhere – on bumper stickers, on shop-house doors, in front of big houses and small.

I remember thinking, the enemy has underestimated us. Their horrific act of terror – which had to be more effective than they could have imagined with the fall of towers South and North – resulted in a nation resolved to be free. (And to wipe the terrorists from the face of the earth.)

We set aside political parties. We were unified. Briefly.

Fifteen years later, a flip of the Uncle-Sam-feeling-good coin was complete with the presidential election of 2016.

Ironically, a billionaire living in a Manhattan penthouse decorated in 24k gold and marble was the voice of the small-town “forgotten” man; the former first lady of Arkansas was the darling of New York elites.

We know how it turned out. Let me be clear on one point, however: we wouldn’t be any less divided had Mrs. Clinton won. FoxNews could see to that; Rush Limbaugh still would have a show to do. As it is, the people who would like to see single-payer health care are leading the #resist movement.

Yes, in today’s world, socialists defend a free press while Christians fight for gun rights.

And the ironies run much deeper. In the age of the Internet, with information and perspectives at every turn, people get stuck in echo chambers where they’re own positions are never challenged; we may well know strangers better than old friends; and common human interactions require a web of electronic networks.

On this 4th of July, I’m worried about where we are headed as country. Oddly enough, I think this is a sentiment we can all share.

 

Believer B(ee)

 Christianity IS crazy. It’s full of cracks and crackpots. It’s enthusiastic and absurd. It’s preoccupied and impractical. All of this and more is true, from certain objective points of view. This should be acknowledged up front by Christians debating those outside the faith. The core tenants of the Christian faith are, on their own, ridiculous. For example:

1. God created a son, which is actually Him and the Holy Spirit, who has to die and be born again to absolve all men (and women) of their sin (i.e. selfishness, greed, pride). Why should He have to die at all?

2. People have to believe Jesus was resurrected – a perfectly difficult thing to believe for anyone who has never seen anyone come back to life – to gain their own lives after death. Can’t God just be nice and give them heaven without the fuss?

3. God calls on Christians to, above all else, love other flawed people and Himself – a jealous God who seems, at times, far from righteous or all-powerful. Is God selfish and egotistical?

How did Noah get all those animals on the ark? Am I supposed to believe the world is only 6,000 years old? Is God a bigot? And on and on it goes; the facts on which the faith rests appear most suspicious and flimsy to the non-believer.

YouTube’s “Theoretical Bullshit” does the best job I’ve seen of pointing out objective dilemmas that too many Christians are blind to in “God’s Checklist.” 

But facts in isolation can be deceiving. If someone is reading the Bible to find fault, to judge its moral authority and proscriptions, they’ll have a mountain of evidence to back them. It’s a collection of stories from different authors; demonstrating incongruity is not hard. That doesn’t mean believers are wrong to pray, to take shelter from life’s storms in the church. Context is key. And so is perspective.  

The Bible is one moral narrative after another. It’s Aesop’s Fables, but centered on God. And Israel. Written by a lot of Aesops. A long time ago.  

Over the course of the Bible, a larger narrative takes shape. A story of redemption. Of forgiveness. Of sacrifice. Time and time again, God calls on His free-willed children to be selfless, to care more for others, to value their gifts, to rein in their darker natures and be more like Him. And He is Love. I know, it’s crazy.

And, of course, imperfect people wrote the books of the Bible. Even if you are a Christian who believes the Bible is the inerrant word of God, surely you can acknowledge that the vessels of the Word themselves were flawed.

So, it’s only natural that caring, thoughtful, fair-minded people might dismiss it as a relic. There really are plenty of reasons to do so. And Christians would be wise to acknowledge as much.

A younger me would likely be disappointed that I count myself as a Christian today. For the reasons I mention above and more, I thought Christianity was a crutch. Followers, often well intentioned, are taught the faith in a ritual setting. People like rituals. They also like believing the end of life isn’t really the end. Christianity soothes the problems of an evolving and emotional mind; it provides a measure of control; it brings meaning to an otherwise random existence.  

Logical atheists might say we evolved slowly from simpler forms of life to more complex after the Big Bang. They might say religions are a product of evolution to mitigate fear or incentivize working for the collective good. And I’m not here to tell them they’re wrong. Honestly, that all makes sense. 

Life certainly evolves. Morality itself evolves across the Bible. And fighting evolution is not only a losing proposition, it’s rude. If you would argue against logic in favor of Christianity, you’re only serving to stunt it. This, I think, is pushing people in need of love, and answers, away.

The real question I feel many atheists and agnostics want to ask is, “Why do you believe?” It seems so illogical. So they point out the inconsistencies, hoping to get an answer they learn to expect isn’t coming because defensive posturing kicks in. Ironically, I think it’s a question most Christians would love to answer.

Why do I believe?

I was saved around the age of 12. A pair of college students from a nearby evangelical school approached me and a friend at the mall. They talked to us about Jesus, and I was horrified. My friend made fun of them. What I didn’t realize at the time was they had planted a seed of fear in me. ‘If I don’t believe, I’m going to hell…’ So, after a few days of thinking about it, I asked Jesus into my heart one night before bed. I woke up the next day and felt great. I went through something of a honeymoon period as a new believer.

During this period, I remember a specific, heartfelt prayer request. Hell wasn’t my only fear. I also have always been terrified of bees and wasps. With my newfound faith muscles, I asked God to please protect me from stings until I was 40. I imagined by 40, I would be hardened by life enough to handle a bee sting. Such is a child’s way of thinking. 

While the “honeymoon” didn’t last and I questioned everything well into adulthood, my silly little covenant with God did. At the age of 41, last summer, and with my wife battling with her health, I got stung by a bee for the first time cleaning out our car. 

I can feel the pullback. Those two things don’t necessarily correlate, right? Objectively, yes. But in the context of my full life, they do. I thanked God right away and welled up with tears. … And there’s more to this I can’t unpack quickly. The big picture is: God is working with me. He’s personally involved. I can’t fully explain it, so I don’t expect you to understand. I follow Jesus because of the story of the Good Samaritan; I follow Him because of Mark Chapter 6; I follow because women found the cave-stone removed and people saw him risen and Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome; I believe because if God sent the world a lamb of peace, it figures threatened people in power would kill him; I believe because my grandmas went to heaven; and I’m a Christian because I was stung by a bee last year.  

Hello, my name is Brian. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t need them. I’m crazy. It’s nice to meet you.


 

Keep Calm and Cry Softly

Just as soon as I began to give Trump some credit for his drive and power (check my last post), more unfolding details about the firing of FBI Director James Comey rear their ugly head. 

I haven’t been this scared since “The Day After” came out it in grade school. And I know shit has officially hit the fan because even FoxNews anchors are expressing concern (check out Chris Wallace on Shephard Smith from today’s show if/when it posts). 

I’d like to say with a bubbly English accent: ‘Keep Calm: Trump is just a nincompoop.’ But I don’t believe that. 

It feels like some of my deepest fears about Trump – he only cares about power; he’s deeply corrupt – might be true. I lean left, and I don’t want to believe it. 

What we know: Trump says now it was his decision to fire Comey; Comey led the department investigating Trump associates for their ties to Russia; Trump officials originally said recommendations from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein provided the impetus for termination. 

This is enough to be troubling to any thoughtful American. There’s more, of course. It has been reported Trump had asked the FBI director for his loyalty before the pink slip; Trump has implied a private conversation with Comey may have been taped; and he threatened to release dirt on Joe Scarborough and other perceived threats. 

It’s all unnerving. And so unnecessary. Trump has all the power Obama had in 2008 with congress on his side. Why is this his focus? 

When you watch FoxNews tonight – and many of you will – do me a favor: replace the name Trump with Clinton. Would you be freaked out if Hillary had just fired the director investigating her ties to Russia?

But I don’t want to add to the fear. I’m sure this Wonka boat will land at the testing lab soon. 

‘Keep calm and cry softly.’ It’s not great, but who wants the current state of things to carry on?