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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 them and their worldview from the face of the earth.)

We set aside political parties. For a time. 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? 

Death to Dinosaurs 

This poem was the inspiration for the Death2Dinosaurs blog. After months of neglect — I took a job as an adviser with three local cemeteries and thought the name seemed disrespectful — I’m jumping back into blog action. Enjoy! 

———-  ———  ———  ———  ———-  ———- 

Death to dinosaurs is what I see

in my dreams, and it seems 

fair to care why they die.

Large and leathery, wheezing,

stumbling, falling, and then

melting away. Vanishing.

They chased me, and I hid one of

the dogs they wanted to eat.

It felt like the right thing to do.
I don’t know how to make sense

of these places, these dinosaur

faces, fading away over 

entertainment centers. 

They’re random, they say. 

They’re the future, they say.

It’s gray to me, and still it seems

to be something I somehow knew. 

A place no less real than you.
In a land where dinosaurs die, or 

tornadoes fly, or a land where

I’m still in school, how do I know

where my home is? What a home is? 

What is true?

And if that passes as a home there, then

how do I remember to care?

 In those places, with those faces. 

Fading. Dying now.

Reagan’s lost Republicans 

For reasons I don’t understand, the Republican Party seems to have no interest in my vote. 

I was raised a Republican. Reagan was the president of my childhood, and my younger self identified with his speeches centered on self-reliance, the American dream, and reducing the scope and influence of government. Those themes fit like a glove in my mother’s household. Her very biggest rule for me was “be honest.” Nothing could make her more upset than a liar, but certainly I knew she also valued self-reliance. Growing up, I knew I shouldn’t expect others to do for me anything I could do for myself. Although my mother was socially more progressive, “liberal” was a dirty word in our home. I’d be well into my teens before a guy named Bill Clinton made me consider the possibility that not all Democrats were freeloaders or misinformed; I began to consider some people might actually want to use the government to lift up society’s most vulnerable. 

Still, in ’96, my first chance to participate in a presidential election, I cast my vote for Ross Perot. I was going through a libertarian phase, worried about the size of our federal government and believing that people could do a better job of pursuing their own ideas of happiness if government would just get out of the way. Twenty years later, I still largely feel the same. 

In the late 90s, right-leaning radio grump Don Imus became a hero of mine. I found him on US97 and enjoyed his disdain for elitism while working the dough room at a pizza restaurant where I made $5.75 an hour. This was the hardest job I have ever had. My young family was very poor at the time despite the fact my wife and I both worked. For a while, we utilized food stamps, which freed up money for rent, and my kids were born on Medicaid. I remember just how grateful I felt that there was a safety net for people like us. I don’t know how we could’ve made it otherwise. Despite my admiration for the I-Man, I’d vote for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. I felt government health care, in particular, lifted a huge burden off working poor people like myself, allowing them to better care for their families and pursue their American dream. By 2004, we were off Medicaid, off food stamps, and I had returned to college, determined to carve out a middle-class life for my family.

In 2008, I would graduate with a degree in journalism. My first job was with a biweekly newspaper run here in the conservative Ozarks by a staunchly Republican family. This was not a problem for me. The editor and publisher trusted me to guide our ’08 election coverage fairly, and I did my best to cover local, state and national elections with an even hand. I’m still proud of the work I did. Though I supported government investments in infrastructure and education, I considered myself an independent. 

A fan of John McCain – based on my familiarity with the senator and POW as a regular guest on Imus – it was the 2008 election where I began to feel the charismatic Democratic senator from Illinois was not getting a fair shake. The market was tanking at the time and all of my research indicated keeping interest rates low and stimulating the economy through FDR-like spending was the best course of action for our nose-diving market. I quietly voted for Obama, and I’ve never regretted it. 

When the Tea Party sprung up in ’09 and ’10, I was exposed through my job to much of their rhetoric. While they would rail on about out-of-control government spending, the economists and contractors I’d talk to were much more supportive of the needed stimulus. Reining in such spending could actually cause a Depression and debt levels were still quite manageable compared to the size of the GDP. In WWII, for example, the ratio of debt to GDP was much higher. Here in southwest Missouri, I didn’t understand the anger I was exposed to. Couldn’t conservatives see what I was seeing? Bush, who I loved in early aftermath of 9-11, had cut taxes and started two wars. Now the economy was free-falling and debt spending was keeping it afloat. This was not the time to dig in heels. Obama’s course was not only not radical, it was the right course. 

And then there was health care. I supported Obama’s public option, which I thought would be the best way to drive rising health care costs down. But my Republican friends and colleagues freaked! This was subsidized care v. the free market — a completely unfair fight, they said. But Obama had what I thought was a strong backup plan: the Affordable Care Act, modeled after Republican “Romneycare” in Massachusetts and the proposed alternative to universal health care in the 90s. Surely, that would be agreeable. 

Not so much. 

The whole premise of Obamacare was that everyone needed to get insurance to help reduce costs for all because too many people weren’t covered, which puts the burden of costs on too few. My libertarian leanings didn’t like penalties for not securing coverage, but Medicaid expansion would at least protect the poor. Expansion also was made attractive to states with the federal government shouldering startup costs. I’m sure Obama thought opponents would fall in line. But he misread the room. 

The Supreme Court would rightly find states weren’t obligated to expand Medicaid, and so red states like my Missouri turned down billions of dollars to undermine the president’s efforts, ignoring or neglecting their often rural base, which could have benefited hugely from expansion. 

Now, over 60 times congressional Republicans have tried to overturn the ACA, the very system many prominent members of their party have championed in the past. Not surprisingly, rates continue to climb and it’s hard to imagine this system surviving as-is long into the next administration. 

And now we have Donald Trump, whom I once enjoyed on “The Apprentice.” The billionaire adept at avoiding taxes and securing bankruptcy protection, who has used in his campaign a fear of minorities and Muslims to solidify a base of support, has privately joked about sexual aggression against women, openly questioned the president’s citizenship, allegedly bilked small-business owners with the threat and promise of frivolous lawsuits and called war hero McCain a loser for getting caught behind enemy lines — a man who has built his business empire through media promotion — says he’s not getting a fair shake from the free press. 

Last night, in furtherance of his ongoing campaign nonsense, former Speaker and current Trump-waterboy Newt Gingrich, implored FoxNews show host Megyn Kelly to call adulterer and former president Bill Clinton a sexual predator, unsuccessfully, to make good I suppose for covering current sexual allegations against Trump. Kelly, rightfully, stood her ground. Has there been any acknowledgement on Gingrich’s or Trump’s behalf that Republicans in the 90s were wrong somehow to railroad Clinton for his unsettling indiscretion with a White House intern, which now looks positively tame compared to the allegations against Trump? Nah. I guess they’re too busy looking hawkishly toward the Middle East, planning to build a wall to keep out Mexicans all while cutting tax revenue for peers in their tax bracket. How can we pay for that?! Where is the outcry from debt-focused Tea Party conservatives now? 

The Republican Party of my youth promoted personal responsibility, eliminating government red tape and dependence, free markets and free people regardless of race, creed or nationality. Remember: Reagan called for tearing down walls, not building them. Just how is it that his party today easily demonizes those among us who fight for the upward mobility or the poor, good infrastructure and an educated workforce — things that actually open up the American dream to more people and create an environment for ripe for entrepreneurship and innovation. 

I never wanted to be a Democrat, but I guess that’s what I am. 

If the Republican Party ever begins to resemble Reagan’s type of thinking again, please let me and mom know (even she can’t stand all of Trump’s lies and posturing). We are just waiting for that ticket to earn our votes. 

All it might hold hidden

Somewhere I’m already dead,

Among the ferns in Costa Rica, 

An anteater,

Hunting for sweet earthy blood,

Selfless, thoughtless, bumbling

Under the green canopy,

Or held safe by pressure on a deep sea 

Floor, where the light can’t waken 

Or convict a whisper once boy

Who sat quiet to see

The top of this mother ocean,

And imagined for a full moment,

All it might hold hidden.

I may decide to ride the tide

As a single grain of black sand

Broken and born, my lava soul,

Shattered in the Bali sea,

Forever mournfully swaying 

In rhythm with the swells,

In the shadow of Mount Agong.

 Through the trick of time,

I see us meeting

In the space between

The ocean and the stars,

Where the debt of debtors is paid,

And no one is who we were,

Inseparable, indistinguishable

From the breath that is, 

was and will be.

There, only there,

We can lay down our shields and mirrors 

To rest. 

Lazy Jake runs for office

My old buddy Jake Wilburn beat me to the punch. I have no interest in holding a public office, but I’ve often thought it would be a lot of fun to run a campaign. Who doesn’t want to wear a dictator’s cap and pound their fists on a podium as throngs of supporters gobble up the the crap you make up on the spot, working themselves into frothing messes? Ah, politics. 

Jake is running for Lt. Governor of Missouri as a write-in candidate. Recently, using what appears to be a paper coozie as bait, my former late night donut-shop co-worker and friend asked followers to manufacture the scandal his campaign deserves. 

This was too good to pass up. 

Below is the nonsense I wrote in response to his query (still waiting to find out if I won) followed by an actual Q&A. For context, you should know he ran for state house seat in 2012 as a Libertarian, garnering roughly 18 percent of the vote in his southwest Missouri district. Now, he’s just having fun, promising to play Tetris if elected to what he sees as an unnecessary public post.


The contest

My buddy and would-be bureaucrat Lazy Jake Wilburn is seeking eternal glory and life on easy street as the next Lt. Governor of Missouri. A tireless advocate for toddler gun rights, this write-in candidate supports consensual corruption, regulating nonviolent video games, subsidies for dictators, Triple H (attitude era) and cushy government gigs.

With the story lines coming out of this year’s presidential campaign, Crooked Jake fits right in the mix. His resume skills include surprise groping of the inferior gender, losing work emails from home, and denying he said what you just heard him say. I know Jake says his run for office is all about the money (and drugs from ISIS) but I can see through his little game. I can smell a hidden snarky budget lesson. And we don’t need no education! What’s next booklover? Mandatory lesbian abortion awareness?

Lying Jake, a suspected North Korea national who won’t rule out burning political enemies alive when he loses, is distinguishing himself from the other candidates. In fact, I believe he is guilty of the greatest-possible sin in modern politics: he won’t pretend he can change anything. Ever since the founding fathers launched their guerrila campaign against the imperialists who rightly stole this land first, politicians of every stripe have promised, and largely failed, to deliver to constituents more freedom, prosperity, safety or services. Not Naked Jake Wilburn. This emperor wears no clothes and has the audacity to tell you he just likes being naked. No naive altruism free-riding on a working man’s dime; no hardened self-serving guardian of privilege. Just Bedwetter Jake and his ties to the Irish mafia. And the very worst part: this puppy mill owner wants working patriots to WRITE IN his name on the coming rigged ballot. No R or D to pencil in. How evil is that?


Pick stolen from candidate Jake Wilburn’s Facebook page

An actual Q&A

Here’s Jake answering a few real questions by email about his campaign. 

Q: Why this position?

A: In 2012 I ran a serious campaign for state representative. I was really jaded after those experiences realizing that 90% of people don’t vote based on substance and are very uniformed. The race for this useless position of Lieutenant Governor perfectly encompasses the game of pandering to willful ignorance that is politics. I could almost describe this campaign as a reaction of light hearted disgust.   
Q: What are some of the media outlets you have talked to?
A: When I launched the campaign I sent snail mail letters and materials to every major print and radio news organization in the state. I made sure they knew I was an actual candidate and requested to be given the same consideration for interviews or voter guide surveys as any other person running for office. I also reached out to some political podcasts and other outlets that interview interesting local people. Most of them told me that since I was running for office, even as a joke, they didn’t want to interview a candidate. I even tried to make sure sites like Ballotpedia and BallotAccess news knew about me. In the end I was interviewed by the Columbia Missourian newspaper, the Springfield News-leader, and a morning news talk station out of Columbia. I believe that if my name was printed on the ballot I would have done slightly better with the media…or maybe they are just biased and this whole thing is rigged…
Q: What kind of feeback have you been getting? Has anyone challenged the notion of the do-nothing job?
A: There have been some people that really “get it.” They seem into what I am doing and reward me with high fives. Facebook marketing tells me it’s the same type of people who like South Park and/or marijuana. Regardless, it’s a small group. I think the humor I use doesn’t have mass appeal to people who are deeply involved in Missouri politics like religiously conservative old white people and millennial communists. Most people I have talked to in person don’t really understand what I am doing or don’t care (see previous answer on being uniformed and willfully ignorant). A few people have been offended by the campaign because they are strongly backing another candidate. Others have been put off by my “unprofessionalism” so they obviously don’t get the joke.
Q: Worth it? How many votes do you expect?
A: Political satire is right up my alley and having an interesting and nonconventional avenue to express my opinions has given me personal satisfaction if nothing else. I’m also pretty much guaranteed to win “two truths and a lie” every time I play from now on. The only thing that worries me slightly is that this may hamper future opportunities in life since it might imply that I should not be taken seriously in other ventures. I don’t let fear decide my fate so I went with it anyway.     
It remains to be seen how many of those high fives turn into votes. A highway patrolman named Charles R. Jackson ran for Lt. Governor as a write in during the 2012 election and received 346 votes. I don’t even have that many likes on facebook. There was a write in candidate for a legislative seat in 2012 that had zero votes. He didn’t even vote for himself. With only a few exceptions in US history, write in candidates get abysmal numbers in elections so I am keeping my expectations low. If I buy a dozen donuts on Election Day and give one away to everyone who promises to write me in, I might come away with about nine votes and one with sprinkles left over for me to enjoy.