A Moral Failure

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There are many damaging actions Donald Trump has taken since becoming president: rolling back environmental protections, attacking LGBTQ rights, saber rattling against Iran, to name a few. But nothing comes close to the heinousness of housing migrant children in deplorable warehouses without even their own families for comfort.

Reports coming out of these holding facilities are horrendous: children having to take care of children, inadequate food and water, illness and lice infestation, children sleeping on the floor – even children dying while in custody. As Americans, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for being associated with such a heartless and inhumane policy.

Many of the children being held in these prisons have family members in the United States who could care for them. But that is not being allowed. Instead, they are being subjected to horrific conditions with inadequate supplies or oversight by adults. While I don’t share Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s opinion that they are concentration camps, these facilities fall far short of the conditions under which we should be willing to place any child.

The irony was not lost on protesters when the Trump Administration announced plans to reopen Ft. Sill in Oklahoma to house thousands of unaccompanied migrant children. Ft. Sill has been used for, among other things, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. To be fair, the Obama Administration also used Ft. Sill for detaining immigrants. But it should give us pause to think of forcing children to live in a place haunted by the inhumanity of our past.

I’m also disappointed by the silence in the Christian community to what is happening near our border. While evangelicals are busy championing the rights of the unborn, they are turning a blind eye to infants without diapers, children suffering and sometimes dying of contagious diseases, and countless little ones who will be forever scarred by their memories of being caged in these horrible places without a loved one for comfort.

Jesus told his followers, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 40) Let us not be condemned by his corollary saying: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:45)

 

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What a Hassle!

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3_730x410In my advanced middle age (read: “old”), I have come to realize that most of my time consists of avoiding hassles. I’m forever commenting about potential activities, “That seems like a hassle.”

I love that word: “hassle.” My dictionary app says that the word comes from a Southeastern United States expression meaning, “to pant, as from exertion.” Or it could derive from the British meaning: “to hack at, saw away at with a blunt blade.”

Yep. That’s how it feels when something is a hassle. Not long ago, our friends were telling us about the day spent getting their boat ready for sailing on Lake Michigan. They described a long, dirty ordeal that just seems like too much work.

Many people’s avocations seem to involve too much hassle: gardening, wood-working, restoring furniture, and most DIY household projects. And many sports are equipment-heavy and time-consuming just to prepare for: football, hockey, golf, waterskiing, snow skiing, among others.

I remember when my son started playing tackle football the summer before fifth grade. He came home with a huge bag full of equipment that I had to somehow help him assemble onto himself. A friend whose son was also starting football that year hosted a get together whose main purpose was helping each other figure out how to suit up our boys like gladiators for battle. What a hassle!

I’ve also seen fit over the years to complain about school projects with many moving parts and expeditions involving long drives, packed coolers, and other hassles. Even getting the kids ready to go to the local pool – finding their suits, packing towels and goggles, slathering sunscreen on wriggling bodies – sometimes made me weary.

On the other hand, tell me you need two dozen baked goods for the school bake sale, and I’m all over it. There will be nary a complaint about buying, assembling, and prepping ingredients for cookies, cupcakes, or other sweet treats. No exasperation at counters covered in flour and colored sprinkles. No whining about hassles.

I guess when you truly enjoy something, you have the patience and sustained interest to plough through without feeling hassled. For me, cleaning up the house and the kids after a beach expedition: hassle. But three hours on the couch reading book after book to my little ones? Pure joy.

I guess a hassle is in the eye of the beholder.

Bad News on Bingeing

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2016-11-28-1480351093-5664005-themarysue_gilmoregirls-656x353For some reason, I find summertime to be a great season for binge-watching my favorite shows. During the school year while my kids are busy with their full schedules, lounging around and watching TV seems too decadent. I try to be as productive on the home front as they are at school. But in the summer, while they oil themselves up and head to the pool, I’m happy to revisit my favorite series Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time.

But today I read some distressing news. Studies are revealing the adverse health effects of bingeing on video content. Spending hours in front of screens can lead to vision and sleep problems, deep vein thrombosis, and obesity from all the sitting and eating. Nothing in the report was all that shocking, yet seeing it in black and white brought home to me how damaging my habit can actually be.

Ironically, summer is also when the weather is often fine and suitable for more active pursuits. I have increased the frequency and duration of my daily walks lately. And the summer sun brings cheer that makes me more energetic about household tasks.

Medical experts suggest that if you want to binge watch a show, you should get up often to take breaks, stretch, throw in a load of laundry, walk the dog. You should also prepare healthy snacks to eat while bingeing, such as cut up vegetables and air-popped popcorn. Luckily for me, I still have one child at home, so I’m regularly getting up to help her find missing items, trudge upstairs to wake her up, or do her mountains of sweaty soccer-related laundry.

My husband is fond of saying, “Sitting is the new smoking.” It’s a good reminder that as much as I’d like to hang out with Lorelai and Rory Gilmore all day, I need to be active and productive. That way, at the end of the day, I can feel tired and accomplished and feel justified in enjoying a couple of episodes of my favorite show. Those Gilmore girls aren’t going anywhere, after all.

 

Does Dad Need Some Daditude?

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Does your father or husband like to chuckle and/or laugh out loud occasionally? Do you need a last minute Father’s Day gift?

I’ve been listening to a wry, humorous, and heartwarming book of essays titled Daditude by Chris Erskine. Erskine is a Los Angeles Times writer whose columns are syndicated in my hometown Chicago Tribune under the title “The Middle Ages.” I’ve followed Erskine’s musings for a number of years now, and the man is great with a turn of phrase.

Erskine writes about the trials, tribulations, and joys of family, friends, and growing older. His tales about his brood of four kids and his long-suffering wife alternate with stories about a group of incorrigible drinking buddies. In Daditude, though, he has culled a selection of former columns about his family: rites of passage, holidays, childhood memories.

The tone of these essays is always one of tender bemusement. As much as he mocks some of his kids’ excesses (In one story, he claims his younger daughter renamed herself VISA, with a dollar sign for the “S.”), its clear how much he adores his kids and worships his wife, whom he affectionately calls “Posh” in his writing.

In descriptions of Christmases past and summers in LA, of dropping his oldest daughter off at college, and of shopping for the perfect valentine, Erskine notes the details – the little nuances of nature and human nature that many of us miss. For instance, he describes dressing his newborn son: “I can’t seem to thread this kid’s tiny hand through a shirt hole the size of a nostril.” Or the first cool day of fall: “The cool feels good. Like brushing your teeth. Like a snowy kiss.”

Some of the stories are even more poignant in retrospect, as the twin losses of his son and wife in the past two years had not yet happened. The book was published as Erskine’s wife was going through cancer treatment. Even in those columns that described Posh’s illness, Erskine retains some of the gentle humor and wry sense of the world that no doubt has helped him through such tragedy.

I highly recommend Daditude for fathers and mothers and anyone with a heart, really. As Erskine himself says in the foreword of the book, “I hope you devour this book shamelessly, like no one’s watching, like a big gooey pizza at midnight.”

 

Good News

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These days the simple act of picking up and reading the daily newspaper can be distressing. The headlines blare with all the dysfunction, disorder, and violence that has occurred since only yesterday. Some days I just avoid it altogether.

But today I bravely unfolded my Chicago Tribune and found, to my delight, two wonderful stories on pages two and three of the paper.

The first was told by Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens, about a young boy on the autism spectrum who was having difficulty facing the last day of school. When the boy’s teacher found out his parents couldn’t get him to budge to make the short walk to school, she got involved by FaceTiming him to persuade him. Ultimately, the school principal himself agreed to walk down to the boy’s house and escort him for his last day. The boy was so excited by his VIP escort, and the two chatted amiably all the way.

In other news, the city of Chicago was saved from evil by a new superhero, Galacto, who is really a young boy battling a rare immune system disorder. The real superheroes at Make-a-Wish Foundation – along with Chicago police and firefighters, the mayor, and the costume designers at Columbia College – had made this dream come true for a young boy with an uncertain future.

These heartwarming stories made my day. And it’s only 8 am! It’s great to be reminded that there are so many courageous, generous, and kind people in the world whose only goal is to help others. The school principal, Jonathan Ellwanger, who is one year shy of retirement, said, “For all of us, little things are big things. This is a little thing, but it’s what we do and, hopefully, describes what we are trying to be about as a school.” (Heidi Stevens, “Principal helps 1st-grader with autism face last day of school,” Chicago Tribune, Monday, June 10, 2019) I want to work for that guy!

Here’s to those who are trying to make the world a better place, in large ways and small. They are my superheroes.

Leaning Toward the Center

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Hell has officially frozen over. I agree with Tucker Carlson on something! On a recent show, Carlson read a quote detailing the idea that government action can and should make capitalism work for the American people. The source of the quote was not a fellow conservative, but presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. Carlson went on to suggest that the current polarization in politics has made a sensible platform such as Warren’s untenable to either side.

I’ve written before about the virtues of moderation, and I truly believe the way out of our existing political stalemate is to elect officials from the center of the spectrum. A look at some contentious issues currently roiling the American electorate reveals just how centrism could help us find balance and promote real progress in American society.

The first of these is gun reform. Polls consistently show that the majority of Americans support background checks and closing loopholes to make sure guns are not in the hands of criminals and unstable individuals. Yet when running for office, politicians look to their rating with the NRA rather than consider what the people in their own districts actually want.

Another extremely divisive issue is abortion. While many object to legalizing any abortions on religious grounds, the majority of Americans support women’s right to choose while also insisting on some limits to that right, such as parental notification and curbs on late term abortions. Recent legislation in both red and blue states, however, has taken the issue to its ultimate extremes.

Immigration has become another hot button issue, mostly thanks to our current president and his ability to tap into people’s worst fears. That doesn’t mean our legislators can’t find common ground on humane and sensible ways to reform our immigration system, protecting our border while also helping our neighbors to the south who are grappling with poverty and extreme violence.

Compromise is not sexy. And it’s not always possible. There are issues of fundamental human rights that cannot really be compromised. But for most political issues, we can come together by leaning in toward the center and finding common ground. Let’s elect more centrist Democrats and Republicans to our local and nationwide offices and see how much can be accomplished in America.

Christian Wrong

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billboardThe other day driving in Michigan, I saw a billboard I’d seen many times before. Its message normally was, “Real Christians Obey Jesus’ Teachings.” But someone had covered up part of the sign with a white cloth and penned their own new message: “Real Christians Obey President Trump.”

First of all, let’s agree that our role as Americans is not to “obey” the President of the United States. In fact, he’s our employee. We’ve chosen him (God help us) to do the will of the people. But some Christians on the far right are trying to convince the rest of us that Donald Trump was chosen by God to do His will. That’s more than a little frightening.

There was a recent controversy about another billboard that appeared outside St. Louis. It showed Trump gesturing with his arms outstretched and featured the Biblical reference, “The Word Made Flesh,” along with the tagline “Make the Gospel Great Again.” The implication of the message was nothing short of blasphemy if you are a Christian. It implied that Trump was akin to Jesus, the Son of God.  After something of an uproar, the sign was removed. Good to know that in some instances cooler, more sane heads do prevail.

All of this is but part of a disturbing trend among Christian believers who are willing to suspend all rational thought, not to mention their own deeply cherished beliefs, to follow a man who has no history of devout Christianity and whose many actions could be viewed as the reverse of Christian values. I could just as easily cite Scripture to suggest Trump is the Anti-Christ, who, according to the Bible, is a false leader who will sway many to his side at the end times.

Christians everywhere, whether they support President Trump or not, should decry these attempts to portray the man as a God-ordained leader of the people. Interestingly, I have been studying the figure of King David in my local Bible study group. When the Israelites tell the high priest Samuel that they want to be like all the other nations and have a king, Samuel warns them what that will mean:

He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses … He will make them do his plowing and harvesting and produce his weapons of war … He will use your daughters as perfumers, cooks, and bakers …He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves … you will become his slaves. ((1 Samuel 8:11-18)

Samuel’s message is, be careful what you wish for.

America is a great democracy. We do not need a king to rule over us, and we should absolutely feel free to question anything and everything our political leaders do. Real Christians don’t sell their souls to further an agenda.