Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Confessions of a Straight as an Order of the Arrow Boy Scout

I was a Boy Scout.  Despite what my grandmother seemed to think, that was no merit badge of masculine heterosexuality in the circles in which I moved, despite those magnificent khaki green knee socks held up with red garters that made up the lower half of the summer uniform.  If it were the babe magnet she claimed, the young women that I knew showed great restraint, never letting me see their weak knees or anything else for that matter, a failure that would not have been shared around a campfire.

Adolescent guys talk about sex. A lot. Even Boy Scouts.  Even if we knew very little about it.  Maybe because we knew very little about it.

It seems weird to hear the big controversy about gay scouts.  I don't know which of my fellow scouts were  gay, but I would imagine some were. That fact made absolutely no difference in my scouting experience, which  may have been the best one ever thanks to one of the two best scoutmasters ever, Roy Wheat, of Oneonta's Troop 160. (The other best scoutmaster was my Uncle Ralph, scoutmaster in Talladega.  All those guys called him Uncle Ralph.  But he really was my Uncle Ralph).  But I digress, perhaps because a hard confession is coming up.

.I guess I am making excuses now.  More like confessing.   Calling each other fags and queers was commonplace at meetings and while hiking and camping, but certainly not meant to single anyone out.  I'm pretty sure that description was directed at each of us at some point or another. We couldn't be expected to be clever with our juvenile  repartee all the time.   Yes it was awful. Maybe it isn't a good excuse that we were just adolescents crazed with racing hormones.  But it was certainly not meant to be as hurtful as calling someone a virgin. . We could not be certain of everyone's sexual preference, but we were Boy Scouts, after all, and pretty certain everyone was truly a virgin, despite what was claimed around the campfire.  And the truth hurts.

Anyway, I am sorry I didn't speak out and say the right thing at the time.  But I would have just been called more clever names. I guess I was just scared.  I don't remember of what.   Don't act like you didn't do the same thing. That's another thing about adolescent guys.  We were scared of a lot of things.  But mostly scared that someone would find out we were scared.  So, I never said a word.

 I  seriously regret all that.  Because now I realize that some of my friends, who were just children at the time,  were probably truly hurt and isolated by the words that were tossed around so casually and derisively.  There is nothing I can do about that now, except try to do better.

But back to my point.  Percentages and common sense tell me that my scouting experience included friends who were gay.  And my scouting experience was great.  So what's this fuss all about now?  Does anyone really believe that scouting has not been inclusive of gays since its inception?  Does anyone really believe this is something that has come up all of a sudden?   What's this all about?

Two things it is not about.

It is not about the scouts.

And it is not about Jesus.

The Boy Scouts of America recently announced that the organization would accept openly gay children and youth as scouts.

Consequently, a couple of churches in the Birmingham area have decided it would no longer let the Boy Scouts use its facilities because to continue to provide such assistance would be a repudiation of the churches' belief that being gay is a sin, and gay people are unrepentant sinners.

Jesus, kneeling on the steps of the church, with His arms wide open, saying,

"Let the children come to me, do not keep them away .  .  . unless they may not be certain of their sexuality, or, heaven forbid, they are sure they are gay, in which case, send those little **** and ****** somewhere else, those perverted children have no place in my house, certainly not on my knee."

Sorry. I just couldn't let Jesus say the hateful  words that we used as youthful scouts, even my fictitious Jesus.  Even without those words spelled out, I know the image is rough. Perhaps heretical.  I agree. . The thought of it makes me want to cry.  Seriously.  Because there is no reason that gay scouts, gay children, who used to meet in those churches, would believe anything else about Jesus.  After all, it was His body, the church, who forbids them to come. Because they are evil, lost sinners. Forbid to show up in church in the name of Jesus.  

First, let me say, I do not believe that being gay is a sin.  Comment if you wish.

But the truth is, it doesn't matter what I name as someone else's sin.   And it doesn't matter what you name as someone else's sin..  Not only does it not matter, the act of defining the sin of others was not something you wanted to do around Jesus.  It never ended well for the accuser, who always ended up with a plank in the eye, or a pile of stones untossed.

But these churches are saying that they must preserve their integrity, must stand up for what they believe to be the desires of God in a world that is going to hell.  If you don't stand for something you stand for nothing.  And that is right.  Churches should try to do that.

So, as long as there are hungry, homeless, and poor people in the Birmingham area, and people drive up to the church on Sunday morning in cars that cost tens of thousands of dollars, after being on vacations that cost thousands,  after leaving homes that cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, those churches should be nearly empty.

Because Jesus talked a lot about the sins of greed, selfishness, and love of material wealth.  And about giving all to the poor.  And taking care of the homeless, the poor, the widows and the orphans.

And the children.

So, as long as we refuse to give up our wealth, renting larger and larger storehouses to keep it all in,  and fail to take care of the least, last and lost, we are sinning.  We are sinners.

And we shouldn't be allowed in church.

The weird thing, Jesus talked about that a lot.  A whole lot.  You know what he never talked about?

Being gay.

We are all sinners.  And we all belong in church.

 Jesus himself said the Scout motto on at least one occasion.

Be prepared.

Cause no one knows when or where He will show up.

Or as who.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Wrinkles in time . . . (Apologies to Madeleine L'Engle)

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I awoke early this morning and took a walk in the woods up the mountain behind my house. It had been raining heavily for quite awhile.  The sun briefly  broke through the clouds and the rain stopped, but the newly sprouted leaves of the forest canopy drizzled a gentle shower of glistening diamond drops, slowly cleansing me of the stress of the week I was still  carrying like an overloaded backpack.

My memory drew me toward a familiar sound before the rest of my brain understood its source..  But I quickly saw and knew..   Water was rushing down the mountain creating beautiful waterfalls and rapids as it cascaded over and around the limestone boulders and outcroppings, especially on the steeper slope about half-way up the hill.  Childhood memories surfaced, memories of finding a stick that seemed to look like a boat and watching it negotiate the hazards of the raging river, challenging it to make it safely all the way down the mountain to the culvert along Highway 75.  I think the wonder of this play was inspired by one of my favorite Golden Books, "Scuffy, the Tugboat.".   I tossed a twig in this morning and watched it disappear over the first small falls, not taking the time today to see how it fared farther downstream.  An old vine dangled above the torrent  from somewhere near the top of a towering shag bark hickory  leaning over the torrent below, challenging me once again to grab hold and swing across.

And I did.  No one was hurt.  It seemed nothing had changed in all these years.

I followed the stream up the mountain as I did years ago, drawn by curiosity of what I might find farther upstream.  Closer to the top there was something different.

Suddenly I was walking along a deep ditch with sides of red-orange clay punctuated by small stones, looking like one of the strange ice cream flavors at Ben and Jerry's.  Orange sherbet and chocolate chunk.

The ditch is about four feet deep and three feet wide and this morning contains a raging current.  This ditch was not here years ago.  Who in the world dug this ditch?

So I stood up and looked around, trying to get my bearings. Another memory surfaced.

A few decades ago a neighboring property owner cut some timber.  The logging road, really more of a trail, had been cut along our property line, sometimes running through our property as it wound around big rocks and avoided the steepest slopes..  One afternoon my dad and mom, my little sister Em, who was only four or five, and I, were taking a ride in our old Army jeep.  It was a pretty day and dad, as he was sometimes prone to do, decided to do something a little different.   He turned off our driveway and steered the jeep, with us in it, onto the logging road.  We headed up the mountain, being whipped by switches, briars and vines that reached out into the trail, giving high fives as we passed. The logging trail was no more than two ruts, a series of switchbacks requiring sharp turns.  It was a great adventure with just enough hint of danger to keep it interesting.  Occasionally we would reach a point in the road when dad would have to do some serious jeep driving to keep us moving. At one point Em, who had a flare for the dramatic even at her tender age screamed,

"We're never going to get back home."  I think she also referred to the fact the we were all going to die, but maybe that's just an older brother's embellishment.

But we did. Not die.  We made it home.  Just a few minutes later. In the couple of years  that followed, I made that jeep trip quite a few times by myself. . The old logging trail lead to one of my favorite places on the mountain, a wide flat area just before the steepest slope to the mountain top littered with small boulders perfectly set to sit on and be alone.

But, after I got my driver's license I could take the jeep on the real roads, and I abandoned jeep rides up the mountain side, up to the place where I was standing this morning.

The deep ditch with the raging water was one of the ruts of the old logging trail.  Like the wrinkles I see in the mirror every morning, it had grown deeper and deeper and wider and wider as it contained the raging torrents from years of storms that had come along.

It could no longer be used as a means of moving higher up the mountain. Now, it seems, it's only purpose was to contain the chaos of the storms and the waters racing down the hillside.

Our footprints, the shallow ruts we leave on the trail do make a difference. As we leave them behind we may not give them a second thought, but, they don't disappear just because we do.

The ditch and the raging waters present a puzzling question.  One might say that the water is controlled by the ditch, trapped into the one course, unable to escape the steep orange walls, it's freedom of choice being taken away.  Another might say that the ditch is the victim of the raging water, being constantly cut and formed by the relentless power of the rolling cascade, with no say in the matter at all.

I imagine the water and the ditch could argue about that forever. It's hard to declare the winner.

But the truth is, the fate of both is dictated by gravity.  And it's hard to argue with gravity.

This post has meandered about much like Scuffy the Tugboat, who longed to sail to exotic places, rather than be stuck in the small confines of the bathtub, the dismal domain of the childhood toy.  Scuffy ended up in deeper and deeper and more chaotic water as he floated downstream after escaping his child master in the waters of a roadside gutter.  But eventually, after being lost and alone in the open sea, he was returned to his home.

And so this post has meandered too long, the sun is shining, and the yard work is calling.  My wish for you this morning comes on behalf of Scuffy the Tugboat, my little dramatic sister Em, and all who have set sail through chaotic waters and deep ditches  .. .. .

May all your voyages help you find your way back home.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

To Tell the Truth . . and other sixties references

Richard Nixon was President during my high school years.  The sixties had just ended, yet the Vietnam War had not.  When I was about fifteen I remember sitting with a bunch of older guys as the results of the first draft lottery were announced over 89  WLS out of Chicago.  For you youngsters, that was the cool rock and roll clear channel 50,000 watt AM radio blowtorch with DJ's like John "Records" Landecker.  WLS  could be heard in far flung places like the Dairy Queen parking lot in Oneonta, Alabama late at night as its far away signal bounced like a perfectly placed billiard ball off the cooling ionosphere.  I still like to listen to Buffalo Springfield with a lot of digitally inserted static just to take me back to those days.  But I digress.  Anyway, for those of you who have forgotten, or maybe never knew, the future of young men in the United States was determined, to a great degree, by the draft board folks drawing the days of the year out of a hat.  Going first in the draft, in this case, was not a good thing for a college age guy..  If your birthday was drawn early, your chances of being drafted was higher. It was a somber gathering.   The draft lottery continued through the early seventies, although the number of draftees dropped significantly after the first two years.

In the preceding couple of years there were protests against the government, and against the war.  The 1968 Democratic Convention erupted in violence.  The Civil Rights movement had reached critical mass.  One of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis in April, 1968.  Then two months later another of my heroes, Robert Kennedy, was assassinated in June.  I avidly read  the writings of Thoreau and Gandhi on civil disobedience, and was inspired by King's use of those ideas coupled with the teachings of Jesus.

In other words, I was one of those sixties teen-agers that you read about.  By every standard I would have been graded a liberal, a child of the sixties.   Except that whole drug culture and  sexual revolution thing.  But that was mostly because I was scared..

President Richard Nixon was my president for all those years.  I should have been adamantly opposed to him, just because of my liberal politics and the fact that I was approaching a draftable age and he insisted on not ending the war..

Watergate started to break.   The hearings began. It became apparent as the days drug on that President Nixon had authorized and ordered a variety of criminal activities against his perceived political enemies.  But I just could not believe it.  I could not believe that the President of the United States had done what was being reported, even though I really opposed his policies.  It was contrary to what I knew, what I had been taught, what I believed. .  I had earned the Boy Scout Citizenship merit badge.  I had been taught by Ruby O'shields, perhaps the best Civics and Government teacher in the history of the world.   I knew what was what.

So I remember defending the President.  Hard to believe now.  But it's true.

 I was naive.

I did not want to believe the truth.

There is a lot of that going on these days.  Not wanting to believe the truth. But I hope that can somehow be changed.  That maybe we can all grow up. That we can be strong enough to handle the truth, regardless of party or position.

I still respect the office of the President.  And I respect President Obama. I worked for his election and re-election and as of today, would do it all again.  I support him and believe this country has been blessed to have his leadership for the last four tough years.  I expect that same leadership will continue for the next four years.

But, I will tell you now, I am not naive anymore.  If the truth is that President Obama is proven to have broken the law or intentionally allowed our nation to be damaged for his political gain, then appropriate action must be taken. I would be sad, of course. But this stuff is too important. It is not a game.

On the other hand, if the truth is that President Obama has done neither, then I would expect for others, even those who oppose his politics and policies, to accept that truth and move on in dealing with the important issues facing us. There is still plenty to have healthy arguments about.

But no amount of argument will change the truth. It may help reveal it. But it will not change it.

So support the policy you believe is best.  Vote for the candidate you think is best to lead us.  Argue passionately for important things. Open a shop in the marketplace of ideas.

But  seek and speak the truth. In today's world, that may take a little more work, because there are a lot of lies out there, and it is not okay to repeat a lie of another due to ignorance or laziness or self-interest.

Because as another of my heroes once said, the truth will set us free.

And isn't that what we all want?


Monday, May 13, 2013

With liberty and justice for all . . .

I have some libertarian leanings.  The IRS already knows me pretty well so I think it is safe for me to use the word "libertarian."   An IRS official, Lois Lerner (not a Superman character) said Friday that the IRS had used search methods that would have been directed at politically conservative 501(c)(4) groups.

When it comes to constitutional freedoms, I am somewhat libertarian. I am glad the rest of the country is waking up. Finally.  It is reprehensible and indefensible for an individual or group to be investigated simply because of their political or religious beliefs, or perhaps because they dress or look different than the rest of us. (Let's face it, the tea party has spiced things up a little with their public antics).

It is a horrible un-American thing for a person or group to be picked out and suffer the intrusion of the government for no articulated reason other than who they are or what they believe or who they associate with or the fact that some wing nut crazy who believes the same thing or looks or talks the same way does something crazy.  It is not right.  Not in this country.

So now maybe we can get some unity on this issue.

Being a black man must no longer be sufficient reason to stop and frisk..

Being Hispanic must not be sufficient grounds for reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

Being a Muslim must not be a reason to be investigated or suspected of terrorism.

And certainly, being of a particular political persuasion should not make you more likely to be scrutinized by the IRS.

Whoever is responsible for any and all these un-American activities should be fired and such actions should never be tolerated.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thurvey 5/9/2013: Spring cleaning

News outlets of all kinds are exploding like the weeds in my yard with opinions on the important and less important issues of the day.  Spring is the time when the sap rises, when it it difficult to contain what has been held inside, dormant, bubbling beneath the surface during the long winter months. Fortunately it is Thursday.  So to offer a civil outlet for expression of blooming opinion and spreading of needed fertilizer, here is the Thursday survey . . . the Thurvey.  Send the world a bouquet of wisdom by entering your responses as a comment to this post.

1.  Continuing the spring motif,  dandelions, wild onion, poison oak and a variety of other pesky weeds, vines and bushes are thriving after the rains of the past few days.  Which is your nemesis and what is your most satisfying remedy?   For the more advanced Thurveyer I offer this challenge:   Compare the political  or press public figure of your choice to the pesky weed of your choice and explain the correlation.

2.  Alabama PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh says environmental activists "have never done a hard day's work or hit a lick at a snake in their lives."   She said this in response to environmental groups insistence on transparency in the Alabama Public Service Commission's oversight of Alabama Power's rates and practices.  While it is true that an environmental activist would probably be less likely to literally  hit a lick at a snake, I don't think that is what she was trying to infer.  What is your opinion on Twinkle, how she is doing as PSC chair? How about environmentalists industriousness? or snakes?

3.  There is nothing more spring like than kicking back at a baseball game, eating a hot dog, and cheering for the home team.  Apparently folks in Birmingham agree as attendance at the Baron's new home at Region field has one of the best attendance records in the minor leagues so far this season.  What do you like about going to a baseball game, or to Regions field?  Tell your favorite baseball game story if you wish.

4.  There was a bill before the Alabama legislature to set up an Alabama Space Port Authority to insure Alabama's already substantial position in the aerospace industry.  Unfortunately I have not read the bill, but I like the sound of it.  What would you envision to be included and featured at the Alabama Space Port?  Use your imagination.

5.  Congress recently approved increasing the budget to assure that there would be no delays in airline flights due to airport staff shortages.  If you could choose one or two more specific things to exempt from the effects of sequestration, what would they be?

6.  Like it or not, it is time for spring cleaning.  What will be the priority at your house?  How about in D. C. or Montgomery?  What would you say is the priority for spring cleaning there?  Would you use the broom, a fresh coat of paint, simply reorganize, or some other instrument or method?  

7.  What question of your own do you want answered this week?


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lighter side of the news . . .

There are a lot of important news stories to keep up with.  The following are not those stories.  But, I like them nonetheless.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has become a role model for other governors around the country.  In such hard economic times as these governors have had to find ways to cut the fat, tighten the belt, cut out the pork.

Governor Christie opted for lap band surgery, he announced today, in an effort to lose weight. The procedure reduces the capacity of the stomach by restricting it with a silicone band.  

The expanding size of the big governor will be arrested and ultimately shrunk by reducing the amount he takes in. A personal commitment to governor downsizing. Personification of conservatism.

Looks like he wants to run in the 2k16 race for the White House.  Fat chance?  Chances are thin?  Heavy favorite?  Political Lightweight?  We'll see.

In other news, libertarian radio talk show host Adam Kokesh has organized a march on Washington, D. C. for July 4th.  The only requirement for marching is carrying a loaded firearm.  What could possibly go wrong?  Kokesh says he has already received commitments from over a thousand people to participate in the Independence Day event. Giving assurances that the march will be absolutely non-violent, even in the face of arrests by local authorities, Kokesh said it would be safe, but on the other hand, he couldn't guarantee the behavior of that many people. Something could happen.  That's just life in America, according to Kokesh.   He did promise, however, that the event will be "well choreographed."

So dance, cowboy, dance. (not a reference to a form of a popular form of line dancing, but rather a reference to old cowboy movies in which the bad guy would shoot at the feet of some meek bit actor's feet and demand "dance, cowboy, dance." as Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny demonstrate here)

And finally, we all should hope, the infamous Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing hatefully at the funerals of American soldiers and pronouncing God's judgment on the evil-doers of the world, has announced a visit to the University of Alabama campus on May 18, claiming that the campus is an evil place, evidenced by the tragic tornadoes sent by God two years ago.   I'm not sure they understand how hard it can be to stand out on the strip.  Or how empty that place gets after finals. It will look like the rapture has come. Okay, it is up for debate whether the rapture will make that much difference on the UA campus population.  But whatever the case,  I am sure the Bama Nation will welcome Westboro appropriately.  Tuscaloosa's white picket fences as a backdrop for Westboro's insane picket lines.  They just think their picket line is offensive.  It would be nice for them to meet a real offensive line.  .  . 

  I doubt that this is an appointment they should keep. 

  I suggest that they schedule their next protest in Washington D. C. on July 4th.

What a great country to live in.  



Saturday, May 4, 2013

Of dogs and gopher barks, and reading the signs

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I am pondering this morning whether I could substitute privet for gopher wood.  I have plenty of it piled up around the yard unless it has been swept down the hill in the raging waters coming off the mountain.  Probably a little too late to do the cubit measurements for an ark, so I guess I'll just stay on the sofa, drink coffee, write, and listen to the rain.

Actually I was up early this morning to restrain some dogs before the Hometown Heroes Run through downtown Oneonta got started. While I doubt that these particular dogs would have felt strongly enough about the runners to brave the rains (they are no longer young pups) you never know.  If there is anything worse than a barking dog chasing you, it is a rain-soaked, smelly barking dog. So while I didn't actually run in the race, I got up early to make the path easier for those who did.  So I had to come home and rest.

Yesterday I made my way up Shuff's mountain, along what was to be today's Hometown Heroes Run  route,  to feed these same dogs.  I was driving, not running.   It had been a long, rather stressful week, and my mind had yet geared down.  About half way up the mountain something on the side of the road caught my eye.  It was a white sign staked into the ground, as if it had just been placed for me to see.  It said,

"Give Up"

Well that was a fine how do you do.  What kind of sign was that to put on the side of a road on a Friday afternoon of a long, stressful week?    I was perplexed for a moment.  What was I supposed to give up?  Or what was I supposed to give up on?  How does the sign know I should give up?  But then I arrived at the dogs' house (and their overseer, the cat), and I didn't think much more about the sign. 

So this morning was dark, grey, raining, cold and dark when I got up to go corral the dogs (the cat never chases runners).  I was not yet de-stressed from the week, and, in fact, was already pre-stressing a little about next week.   I had just punched the accelerator of the Prius to power up Shuff's Mountain again when something on the side of the road caught my eye.  It was a white sign, staked into the ground, as if it had just been placed there for me to see.  It said,


Dang.  It was like there was a negative sign troll living in the vines below the road, attacking the emotional health and ego of all who might pass.

What a pathetic message to start a miserable morning.

Then very quickly, something else caught my eye.  Another sign.  Oh great.  It said,


A real double negative.  But before I could begin to be more dismayed, something else caught my eye. Another sign.

"Give up."

A second passed while my processor was buffering the download.



"Give up."

"Never."   "Never."   "Give up."

"Never, never give up."

Well now, that's completely different.

Of course, the signs had been placed in order along the right of way a hundred or so feet apart, to encourage the runners as they attacked the steep, lengthy slope of Shuff Mountain.  "Never, never give up."  They were at perfect places and spaces to be seen by those who were truly running the journey, not cheaters like me  driving swiftly by, in Priuses, or Priae, whatever . . .

The complete message was revealed only to those who continued the difficult journey to the mountaintop. 

That's all from the sofa this morning.

Gotta run .  .  .

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