Saturday, December 29, 2012


I'm glad that I live in a diverse society.  I really am.  Who would want to live in a world where people only think one way, all go to the same church, all vote the same, all eat the same and wear the same clothes?  That would be incredibly boring and probably become a nightmare - a society locked into one way of thinking, acting, or being is a society destined for problems.  Think Hitler and the Nazis.  

But we are a culture of paradoxes.  While Heidi and I were in Baltimore a few weeks ago, we went into a local Walgreens and I snapped this picture. 

Just behind the counter, where you would ordinarily have to ask for cigarettes, was another large section of smoking cessation products.  Nicotine patches, lozenges, chewing gum, etc. on the left - Salems, Winstons, Camels and Virginia Slims on the right.  Butted right up next to each other - cheek by jowl,  (as close as the thickness of a cigarette paper, so to speak) are Marlboros and Walgreens/generic nicotine lozenges.  Let’s see, would I like a pack of cowboy killers or would I like to suck on my nicotine like candy this afternoon?  Am I weak or am I strong today?  Am I a rugged individual who doesn’t care what others think of me or am I going to quit this nasty habit and live longer?  Will I live for today, or try to lengthen my life?  Menthol cigs or menthol-flavored-nicotine-candy?

I was reading our local paper the other day.  On page two of the Life And Style section (under HEALTH NOTES), was a small cautionary article titled HEALTH EXPERTS WARN OF UNHEALTHY COOKBOOK RECIPES.  There were several paragraphs warning of the 5 most unhealthy cookbooks according to the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.  In one of the offending cookbooks, there is a recipe for sausage-hash brown breakfast casserole that has more cholesterol than 8 Cinnabon Classics. 

Another questionable cookbook was by Rachael Ray (who happened to testify in  front of Congress about the need for healthy school lunches - a paradox all to itself).  My Year In Meals includes a recipe for Hearty Mac And Cheese With Squash and Sausage.  This dish contains as much saturated fat as an entire package of bacon.

Just across the fold in the paper, about 6 inches away on page 3, is a recipe to help you entertain for the holidays.  It’s called Buttermilk Ricotta Cheese Dip.  The ingredients are – in this order – 3 cups whole milk, 1 ½ cups buttermilk, 1 cup heavy cream, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, 1/8 teaspoon seasalt, 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, herbs, lemon zest.  Fat or fit?

Drinking is another paradox in our society.  Beer commercials make it seem like all you need is beer and the party begins!  Good looking, slim, young models pop up all over the place – practically guaranteeing you an awesome time.  But don’t drink and drive, don’t drink until you’re 21, remember the dangers of alcohol addiction, accidents are the most common cause of death in people under 26 and alcohol causes terrible accidents.  Do as I say, not as I do.

The biggest paradox to me is our treatment of violence.  We have no real gun laws with teeth.  For example, it is FAR easier to buy a gun than to adopt a pet, or get a driver’s license.  It’s easier to purchase thousands of rounds of ammunition than it is to buy some over-the-counter cold medicines.  I had to show a picture ID to buy Heidi’s Mucinex-D.  Nothing like that when you buy bullets.  Mucinex-D vs. Bullets.  Hmmm.  Which seems more dangerous to you?

We take our kids to violent movies, sit side-by-side watching family violent TV, buy our kids realistic toy weapons, let them play the most heinous video games, etc.  But then, when we are assaulted by local violence such as the senseless killings in Aurora or Newtown, we ask how this could happen.  

Violence is wrong.



  [par-uh-doks]  Show IPA
a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses apossible truth.
a self-contradictory and false proposition.
any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.
an opinion or statement contrary to commonly accepted opinion.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Smart People and Guns

I have written about guns a lot.  In the four of five years that I have been recording my thoughts on this blog -  at least 9 times.  And really, it could be a lot more.  I read in the paper this morning that two volunteer firefighters were killed and two critically wounded as they rushed to a pre-dawn fire in upstate NY by some nut with a gun.  Don't know the specifics yet.  But it is always people who kill - not guns, right?  Let me just say, if the guy didn't have a gun, those men would not be dead.  You can't do that with a sword or even a bow.

As I was reading through my current blog scroll, I dove into the views of some of the smartest people around (Because I agree with them?  Maybe).  Here are some bits of their thoughts.  Check out their writings.  Add them to your blog scroll.

Maureen Dowd -

WE’RE a little overwrought now.
The N.R.A. understands that. It’s as patient with us as a husband with a tremulous pregnant wife prone to crying jags.
This is just a passing meltdown. We’ll get ourselves back under control soon and things will return to normal.
For decades, when the public has grown more sympathetic to gun control after an attempted assassination or a spike in gun murders or a harrowing school shooting, Wayne LaPierre and his fellow N.R.A. officials have hunkered down to wait for the “emotional period” or “hysteria,” as they call it, to pass.
They rule in the back rooms on Capitol Hill and rein in panicked senators and congressmen who fret that they should support some measly legislation to pretend they are not pawns of the gun lobby.
They defend anyone owning anything with a trigger, reiterating that military-style semiautomatics are just uglier hunting guns.
While there were more heartbreaking funerals in Newtown, Conn., with long hearses carrying small bodies, LaPierre stepped to the microphone in Washington on Friday to present the latest variation of his Orwellian creed: Guns don’t kill people. Media kill people.
“Rather than face their own moral failings,” he said in high dudgeon, “the media demonize gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws, and fill the national media with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action, and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.”
So it’s our fault.
LaPierre, who literally trembles when the omnipotent gun lobby is under siege, went ballistic painting a threatening picture of the dystopia that awaits if we don’t protect our schools from guns by putting guns in schools.
“The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters,” he said. “People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”
How many more copycat killers, he asked ominously, are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame?
On the day that 6-year-old Olivia Engel, who was going to play an angel in her church’s Nativity play, was buried, LaPierre heinously cloaked his refusal to consider any remedies to gun violence — not even better background checks — as tender concern for the 20 “little kids” shot in cold blood...
I am so proud of Dick’s Sporting Goods and Cabella’s for stopping sale of the Bushmaster assault rifle. It’s kinda like Webster eliminating exclamation points. We don't need them either.
Well, I just learned something from Wikipedia I didn’t know before, but should have known — given all that time I spent studying that period in college.
I’ve always found the punctuation (and capitalization, but hey, it was the 18th century) of the Second Amendment problematic to the point that it was little better than gibberish. That’s because I was looking at the version that Congress passed:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
That comma after “Militia” just destroyed any clear meaning that may have been intended.
But now I’ve seen the version that was ratified by the states and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson in his capacity as secretary of state:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Much better. It actually seems to have been composed by someone whose first language is English. And it certainly makes the role of the militia in the rationale of amendment much clearer.

At one point Jesus even weeps over the violent world he lived in, lamenting that “they did not know the things that would lead to peace.” The fact that Jesus carried a cross rather than a sword has something relevant and redemptive to offer our violent-possessed world. After all, the Bible has a lot to say about loving enemies, and “Thou shalt not kill,” but doesn’t even mention the right to bear arms.
So let’s imagine.  What would Jesus say to our nation, where these are things are true:
  • 10,000 people die from gun-related homicides each year, that’s one Sandy Hook massacre a day, every day
  • There are nearly 90 guns for every 100 people
  • There are over 51,000 licensed gunshops (and 30,000 supermarkets)
  • Guns that can shoot 100 rounds a minute, and are only designed to kill, are still legal
  • Other than auto accidents, gun violence is the leading cause of death of young people (under 20)
  • 20,000 dollars a second is spent on war
There is a reason we talk about “Peace on Earth” so much around Christmas.  There is a reason why we talk about Jesus as the “Prince of Peace”.  He consistently taught that we can disarm violence without mirroring it, and that we can rid the world of evil without becoming the evil we abhor.  So let us recommit ourselves to Peace this Christmas season and New Year — in honor of Jesus, and in honor of the holy innocents.
Then one hears Sen. Joe Lieberman suggest that video games may have played a role in the shooting. And Mike Huckabee says maybe it happened because the government no longer mandates prayer in schools. And Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s Republican governor, suggests the teachers should have been armed (as if the problem is that there were too few guns in that school). And hope chokes.
We have paid and continue to pay an obscene price for this lesson some of us obstinately refuse to learn. We paid it in Tucson and we paid it on the campus of Virginia Tech. We paid it at Columbine High and at a midnight showing of a Batman movie in Aurora, Colo. We’ve paid it in Compton, Calif., and Chicago, Ill., Washington, DC., and Norcross, Ga., We’ve paid it in Gilbert, Ariz., Bechtelsville, Penn., Prince George’s County, Md., Bay City, Tex., Copley, Ohio, Lauderdale Lakes and North Miami, Fla.
Now we pay it in Newtown, Conn., in the blood of teachers and young children. We have paid more than enough.
And our choice could be not be more clear. We can continue with acts of moral masturbation. We can harrumph and pontificate about how the problem is video games or the problem is a lack of prayer or the problem is too few guns.
Or we can finally agree that the problem is obvious: too many people who should not have guns, do.
Unless we achieve the simple courage to reach that consensus, nothing else we do will change anything. Let us weep, let us mourn. Let us whisper sorrow and shed tears. Meanwhile, frightened children return to school in Newtown.
And bullets keep raining down.

Read more here:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Time For Everything

There is a time for everything, And a season for every activity under heaven: A time to be born and a time to die, A time to plant and a time to uproot, A time to kill and a time to heal, A time to tear down and a time to build, A time to weep and a time to laugh, A time to mourn and a time to dance.

It was just a year ago that my mom died.  My sister Ruthie and I were there holding her hand, stroking her hair.  Until jut a few hours before, she was lucid enough to make her feelings known.  Just the night before, she said her last words to Heidi on the phone – “I love you.”  The most powerful words of all.  

During that last week I read to her – The Little Prince.  But I didn’t finish it.  I sang songs to her from a list that she had made for me.  But I didn’t get to all of them.  I still have that list.  It is among my most prized possessions.  We watched a couple movies during those last few days – “The Help” and “Water for Elephants”.  Both of these were books she insisted that I read.  We spoke of the old days; she shared stories I had not heard before. 

Just exactly a year later.  And I miss her. 

I’m not sure what it is about anniversaries.  But they bring back such joy, right?  Birthdays, weddings, graduation dates.  Something about the human psyche takes us there.  Not sure why, but I never thought I would be one of those who would think back on the sad stuff just because of a date.  Just because we are in approximately the same spot in our orbit around the sun.  Turns out, I am one of those people. 

But it is not sadness precisely.  I remember that last week with my mom with joy as well.  We used every moment to connect, to reminisce.  And it’s probably strange but we laughed a lot.  And we held on to each other.  She was clear right up to the end.  My mom ranted about politics, and the silly public trials she so loved following.  She still wanted to know about what was happening in the world and what was going on in the lives of her children and grandchildren. 

That final week was such a condensed time of every emotion.  And it was a gift.  While I sit here in front of the computer crying because I miss her, there are still so many times when I think – Ruck would have loved this book or this song, or Ruck would have enjoyed that story about my classroom, or Ruck would have been such a comfort through Heidi’s medical procedure, or Ruck would have been so proud of our boys for their straight A’s in college.  Ruck would have loved getting together with her children when we make each other laugh, one upping each other’s knuckle-headed jokes. 

There are many times when I feel like I am looking at the world partly through her eyes.  And what a blessing. 

One year later, one revolution around the sun, and Old Ruck still has a powerful effect on me.  And it is good.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Surely We Can Change

I’ve written about gun violence too often.  Because too many times our society has made critical allowances, made it too easy to get guns that were never meant for hunting or home protection.  In the name of the 2nd amendment, in the name of freedom - we have allowed guns into the hands of the wrong people.  Their freedom to buy guns and ammunition and bulletproof vests has superseded the freedom of innocents.

What about the freedom of the kids in Connecticut?  Of those in Aurora, Colorado?  Of those in the tent with Gabby Giffords?  

It isn’t really about freedom though, is it?  It is about a society obsessed with guns.  There are 310,000,000 non-military firearms in the US .  There are 311,591,917 people.  You do the math.  Any way you figure it, that is a lot of guns.

There is no reason to have an assault rifle.  There is no reason to be able to buy thousands of rounds of ammunition at once without sounding an alarm, or for handgun manufacturers to make and sell extended clips that hold 31 bullets.  There is no rational reason for not having a waiting period before buying a gun or not having an extremely thorough background check.

But, as Brad Warthen  points out, the horse is already out of the barn with guns.  We are hopelessly past the tipping point.  But shouldn't we at least have the conversation about reasonable gun control?  Shouldn't we be thinking about those children in Connecticut?

There is another thing that is worth talking about.  That is the “religious” right and how they have tried to further their hold on dictating beliefs and pretending to speak for God.  Some know that God allowed this to happen in Connecticut because of religious neutrality in public schools.  Does this sound like your God?

Bryan Ficher (The American Family Association) said that God chose not to protect those children because “God is not going to go where he is not wanted.”  If you don’t believe me, watch the video yourself. 

Mike Huckabee said something similar on Fox News. “Well, you know, it's an interesting thing. We ask why there is violence in our schools but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”  That is a direct quote.  

Do Mike Huckabee and Bryan Ficher think we should believe that God is pouting because He didn’t get His way; that He would accept this carnage to pay back the Supreme Court for not sponsoring Christianity in public schools?  Really? 

I am a Christian.  They don’t speak for my God. And they sure don’t speak for me.  They assume people can’t think for themselves and that will buy into their simple, self-serving views.  By saying that those innocent children’s deaths were God’s way of having a tantrum…  they diminish God and turn intelligent people away from belief in a higher being who cares for us.

We must think for ourselves.   God is love.  It is not so complicated.  God has given us the capacity to make choices, to help each other, to lift each other up.  God is peace and forgiveness.  God is about the changes we can bring about to make this crazy world a better place for our children.  What we do with our hands and or hearts is our choice.

Surely we can change.

Surely We Can Change

And the problem is this
We were bought with a kiss
But the cheek still turned
Even when it wasn’t hit

And I don’t know
What to do with a love like that
And I don’t know
How to be a love like that

When all the love in the world
Is right here among us
And hatred too
And so we must choose
What our hands will do

Where there is pain
Let there be grace
Where there is suffering
Bring serenity
For those afraid
Help them be brave
Where there is misery
Bring expectancy
And surely we can change
Surely we can change

And the problem it seems
Is with you and me
Not the Love who came
To repair everything

And I don’t know
What to do with a love like that
And I don’t know
How to be a love like that

When all the love in the world
Is right here among us
And hatred too
And so we must choose
What our hands will do

Where there is pain
Let us bring grace
Where there is suffering
Bring serenity
For those afraid
Let us be brave
Where there is misery
Let us bring them relief
And surely we can change
Surely we can change
Oh surely we can change

Oh, the world’s about to change
The whole world’s about to change

Friday, December 14, 2012

Two Poems From An Old Friend

I wrote about my old family friend John Sheehan a few weeks ago.  While looking through some "Keepers" from my mom, I found some of John's Christmas poems.  He was a Christian in the truest sense of the word.  The Red Letter variety.  He lived his life to serve others.  He was a priest, then an ex-priest, a teacher, a poet, a good, good man.  I didn't realize until recently that John had published books of poetry.  It's good thoughtful stuff.  

Give Us This Day by John Sheehan
If I have a loaf of bread
Leaving Gary, by John Sheehan (Tia Chucha Press)
and my brother and sister have none
then I owe them half
even if they do have a gun
I just might not realize
how much guns had to do
with my having the bread
in the first place
from Elsewhere Indiana

Here is one dated 1966.  The note on the bottom says it was from a mass he said at Christmas time.  Put yourself into that time period.  The Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, sit-ins, anti-war actions.  The paper I found in my mom's old things is yellowed.  It was printed using an old ditto machine; the hand cranked variety.  Some of you youngsters may not know what that means.  It's purple ink is fading but the crazy halfcursive can still be read.  
But would you really want
that wandering Jewish family
moving in
next to you?
Well, maybe them,
just one family,
but then the whole tribe 
might try to follow?
And first thing you know
we'd have the JEWS
taking over,
(they're worse you know),
and those strange foreign
egghead MAGI,
and dumb SHEPHERD types.
It wouldn't be long before
the bog-trottong IRISH even
with their pigs in the parlor
would push in.
And what would happen then
to our nice
Klean Khristian Kommunity?...
YESHU, baby, 
crying in the straw
be a stumbling - 

May Yeshu's star lead us where we know not and may we dare to follow all the way.   - John Sheehan - 1966