My Conversation with a Bumper Sticker

Reproductive Rights are Human Rights

Said the bumper sticker on a lime green, lime-shaped hybrid. Why waste a red light when you can give an ethics lesson to the lucky chap behind you? Bumper stickers are the ultimate one-sided argument.

So rather than slam down on the accelerator, I had a conversation.

Bumper sticker,

I don’t disagree with your assertion, but I do believe you’re being wily when you say Reproductive rights are human rights. To reproduce or not to reproduce, that is the right. The question, however, is what you mean by reproductive. Because I’ve a sneaking suspicion you mean we have the right to kill a certain subset of our reproductions.

Not that you’re in favor of killing. That’d be ludicrous. If I’m scraping cherry pie from my plate into the trash I’m not killing anything. We’re talking about cherries here, you’d say. Void and viscous lumps. Certainly we’re not talking about the heirs of rights: humans.

That’s what’s up for grabs, oh Bumper Sticker: just who is human? Who deserves these rights? Only some. Would it surprise you to learn slaveholders assuaged themselves with similar rhetoric?

I’m all for most forms of birth control, including that fail-safe: a word called no. But if you simply must have sex (I understand), it’s certainly and absolutely your right to erect a blockade for either eggs or sperm, your choice. That’s your choice.

Thanks for listening, Bumper Sticker.

 

 

North Korea Ka-BOOM!

As if there’s not enough excitement in the world with DJT, President You’re-Fired of the United States, enter stage left-his-sanity-behind, Kim Jong-un.

Jong-un’s imminent promotion to world bully lurks just around the corner. Do a Google search and watch in fascinated horror his relentless pursuit of capability to deliver mass extermination to countries far and wide. And the man is clearly not moderate. Have you seen his chins? We all know power corrupts, but what of the hand already corrupted to the point of gangrenous evil? What of that?  Nuclear capability is the coveted mistress of every addled third world leader with ambitions bigger than his britches. And though Jong-un has a rather robust britch, his desire to be prom king outstrips even that.

Today all hundred senators will meet in a top-secret briefing on North Korea. Cue the menacing psycho music because this is some scary… chit. Have you found yourself thankful you don’t live in Hawaii or California? Or worse, South Korea. Most of us have only a hazy clue as to how we got here. The Talking Heads lyrics sum up the confusion rather nicely, whether we’re talking global scale or the 7 lbs of our own hearts:

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

Incremental certainties. In my own life I’ve made many choices that have served to increase the temperature of the pot in which I find myself on a slow boil. The US has simmered for years in lobster soup, and now we face a nuclear North Korea, Our pot is about to boil over.

Remember when the Indians got their hands on those new fangled fire sticks? Didn’t bode well for Daniel Boone and friends. And who wouldn’t travel back in time and stop Egypt and the Soviet Union from providing nerve gas to Syria? (They promised to use it on the Israelis, see.) When madmen or even mad men get weaponry, we know the end of the story. And the more lethal the tool, well, let’s just say mother earth will swallow a monstrous birth control pill when a loon starts shooting off a sidearm full of plutonium.

All this to say, it’s a scary world. And a little insane too. How to navigate a world of looming mushroom clouds?

I’m not sure. I didn’t write this post because I have answers. I’ve always been more of an index-finger-wielding, problem-spotting sort of gal. Iceberg ahead.

My best suggestion and what I try to do: Pretend why-are-we-here is a math problem and we have to, on pain of death, solve it. Plumb where the highway goes. Whether the values and opinions we loosely hold are right or wrong. Listen with an open mind to people we hate. Don’t be like dumb, driven cattle, like open holes drinking in whatever koolaid happens to rain down. Be circumspect. And be willing to throw your opinion out there. It provokes conversation and therefore, learning. I’m no political expert, but I do my best to educate myself with what little discretionary time I have. If I vote that’s my bare bones duty.

Those of you who’d rather spend a buck on NPR than on Black Hawks, consider the money it costs to clean up the chaos after some trigger-happy country decides we’re militarily weak enough to take us on. Say, North Korea… How much does that cost the taxpayer? The ones who remain alive to work and contribute to Uncle Sam’s coffer?

Most of us are so busy grabbing our fistful of the American Dream we rarely, if ever, wake up to American Reality. North Korea’s Ka-BOOM! may just be our wake-up call. If not, there’s always a nuclear Iran around the corner as well.

What do you think of the North Korean threat? More saber-rattling or the real deal? What do you think about military spending?

 

 

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t: Fake News

Remember Joseph, the one with the rainbow coat? Joseph had some old-fashioned ideas. Like: don’t sleep with other guys’ wives. Crazy old school, that Joseph. Remember Joseph’s big mistake? Being alone with the boss’s wife. She wanted him. He refused her advances. Hers. Potiphar’s wife was Sexy. Powerful. Arrogant. Not accustomed to being denied. When she made her advances, Joseph ran out of the room. She tore the clothing right off his back.

Whew. Near miss, right? Wrong. Just by being alone with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph put himself at the mercy of a her-story-vs.-his dynamic, and it didn’t play in his favor. A reasonable person might come up with the idea, the policy if you will, not to put himself in such a position. Enter Mike Pence.

Joseph and Mike Pence have this in common: both reap a flogging for their integrity. I’m trying not to throw up in my mouth as I type this, but it’s getting difficult. Do I actually live in a society that shells a man for putting up boundaries of purity in his marriage? To say you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t is the biggest understatement of our culture. I offer the following clip as proof:

Trump: I moved on her, actually. You know, she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it.

Unknown: Whoa.

Trump: I did try and *&%# her. She was married.

Unknown: That’s huge news.

Huge. News. So is a man who won’t. The preceding is an actual tape. It’s not someone’s version of what happened. It’s what actually happened. But even when you’re being given what actually happened, it’s often cut and pasted, censored, sifted. You get the parts someone else thinks are important. Another example: The Diary of Anne Frank. Most of us read it as part of our school curriculum. But the diary I was given was cleaned up by Anne’s father, who decided some parts lacked decorum. I remember my jaw dropping when I read the unabridged version, which is delightful in its own right, but is not the same “truth” one gets from the abridged version. Anne is more complex, no angel. She’s not the Laura Ingalls Wilder dropped into WWII to whom I was introduced.

The idea of fake news is on everyone’s lips these days. I’d like to tell you a story, a story about fake news. Now, should you believe me? I mean, some of you don’t even know me. Of this you can be certain: I have an agenda, and it will find its way into my story. Be certain also that every other source from which you ever, ever get your information– also has an agenda. No one is pure. No one is entirely exempt. Everyone puts their own spin on the tale, and the most talented spinners get their versions published. Even if, like me, you get your fake news from opposite ends of the continuum (Fox News and MSNBC), the “facts” you’re given may not even be facts at all.

To wit. In Bob’s Cooker days he was asked by a local news station if he’d like to cook the tailgate fare for a demonstration. It was spring, and the Cleveland Indians were getting set for another season, and you know what that means? Or did mean.

Before the “C,” it meant the uprising of indignant Native Americans. The news story of disgruntled Native Americans was as cyclical as the leaves budding or the crocuses coming up. There’s a crocus. I wonder when the news story will come out about the angry Indians?

Bob cooked the tailgate food. He had to be downtown early. Like wee morning hours. I’m not sure why, but that’s because I don’t understand how to create fake news. Bob cooked for the single Indian who was summoned downtown, as Bob was, for the angry-Indian-demonstration complete with tailgate food. If you watched that news clip, you’d come away certain Cleveland was about to go up in flames of angst akin to the Irish-Protestant conflagrations of the 1970’s– Indians against white-suburbanites, war whoops be coming down your subdivisions, people, if you don’t depose that inflammatory red face.

It took 15+ years to complete the coup against our baseball mascot. If real Indians feel better about the move, super. If real Indians demonstrated for their cause, great. But that day, the day the cameras were rolling, it was a stage. There were actors. It was fake. It was news. But we got a real change. Our Chief Wahoo for a “C.” Oh… so personal, that “C.” So unique. So innovative.

Mike Pence loves his wife. Very old-fashioned of him, I know. Dinner dates, alone with the opposite sex– that’s a line he’s drawn in the sand. Some voices don’t respect his line. They’re churning out lots and lots of news about his line. What I see is a contest. The winner sways the public to believe their version of the news, to sculpt the world through the medium of public opinion.

The Problem of Otterness: A Fable for the Restless

The lake marsh had become a peaceful, bounteous place; the animals no longer worried for their next meal or for their safety. Wolves barely came by anymore, and the deer only nibbled the tree leaves and tamped lovely paths to the water’s edge. Even the trees had conveniently died and their smooth bones reached like skyscrapers out of the placid waters, homes for the tree swallows.

You know what they say about ease and idleness.

Not surprisingly it was an otter who first became… dissatisfied. Or perhaps the word is disgruntled. Or confused. Or certain. Otter felt in herself a strange disquiet. Like a belly that, even stuffed, wasn’t filled.

Otter realized: I feel uncomfortable in my fur and in this thick, luxurious tail. In the pit of myself is a wrongness I can’t quite put my paw on, but it’s wrong to my core, it’s thwarting my happiness.

Otter wasn’t sure what the solution was, but the problem was clear: otterness. Otterness was the problem.

Otter lay down on a mossy rock and cried in the warm sunlight, free of predators. Into her haze a busy sound began to prod… slapping tails, gnawing teeth, and the papery crashing of a young tree, then the scraping of weight against old leaves as a trunk was dragged: the constant carpentry of beavers. Otter sat up with a start.

Inspiration struck.

A furry paw smacked a furry head. Otter ran around in circles of triumphant joy and nearly fell into the water. It was exquisite revelation. It was like pulling heaven down by a white wispy beard and grumbling a complaint in His face: You got me wrong. I’m so… beaverish. Otter looked at her fine grey fur and thick tail, despising the cuteness. Otter ran a tongue along the petite teeth, the useless teeth.

Surely there had been a mistake. Otter should know. Otter felt beaverish through and through, and Otter came up with a plan to make things right.

Some beavers were chewing on a particularly thick tree when Otter came by.

“I wouldn’t stand there if I were you,” warned a grey-haired beaver. But he’d been chomping and had a mouthful, so it sounded more like Ah woodna stan air wiff ahh eryoof and was punctuated by bits of wood spit from his mouth. How beautiful they looked to Otter, those huge, yellow, useful teeth. That should be me, thought Otter. But the beaver, being old, probably wouldn’t understand, so Otter did not share her thoughts.

The old beaver shook his head at Otter’s insistence on standing in the very path of a Buckeye tree that was mere bites away from plummeting.

The sharp crack of wood prompted the beavers to take cover. Otter stood with her eyes tightly closed, paws clasped, resolute. The tree came right at her, was going to fall directly on her, crush her.

Suddenly, from behind, a young beaver plowed into Otter, shoving her out of the way just as the trunk slammed into the ground like a gavel, throwing up a cloud of dirt and leaves and skittish ducks. Beaver and Otter tumbled end over end and were tangled in the smaller branches of the fallen colossal.

Beaver smiled his huge toothy smile. “Whew! That was close.”

Otter blinked.

Beaver asked, “You hit your head or something?”

Otter came to herself. “Gar! Now I have to start all over, thanks to you.”

“Huh?” asked Beaver.

“I want to be a beaver.”

“Beavers get out of the way when trees fall.”

“Duh, I wanted it to crush my tail flat like yours. Then I was going to pluck the hairs out.”

“Sounds painful.”

“Not as painful as being an otter.”

“Huh,” Beaver said. Huh was the perfect noncommittal when he didn’t know what to say. Then he added, “There’ll be other trees to fall on you, no worries.”

But Otter did have worries. Big trees were rarely felled, which meant waiting. Not like she was waiting for a pleasantry. This tree business was seriously frightening. And her other problem: what to do about her tine-like, ugly teeth that were only good for eating fish, not felling trees? Unjust and unfair were her dealt cards, and the more Otter thought about it, the madder she got.

Being mad is a potent motivator.

Otter convinced her beaver friend to chew on a mature tree. He had to enlist help, and it still took them almost three weeks to get through it. This time Beaver didn’t push Otter out of the way, and the tree crashed right on her tail. Otter screamed and flailed her arms. Her eyes bulged and her paws pushed ineffectually at the huge tree.

“Get it off!” she managed, though hyperventilating fiercely. In their haste to free Otter, the beavers dragged the trunk instead of rolling it, and ripped the tail clean off.

***

“You were lucky not to bleed out,” said her new friend the beaver.

Otter rolled her eyes. “Where’s my tail?”

Beaver looked uncomfortable.

“I know it fell off. I want it anyway.”

For a pregnant moment the only sound was Beaver’s nervous tail, thumping against the forest floor. Huh could not help him now, though he desperately wanted to try it.

“Huh?” Beaver asked.

“Where’s. My. TAIL?”

Beaver licked his huge teeth and took a deep breath. “I hung it on a tree… Hawk took it.”

Otter’s response to this piece of news could be heard well into the forest depths, stopping animals short, drawing ears to instant attention, tightening haunches like ready bows for flight. Such a fit no animal had ever before thrown.

But when no threat manifested, all went back to their business. Otter’s tirade so took the life out of her she fainted back into the leaf bed, comatose. Beaver kept vigil, certain Otter would die of despair. But inside Otter was counting the cost, deciding whether or not to give up. Otters don’t, you know.

Set within Otter was an unrecognizable creature who did not match the reflection in the water and who was now officially disfigured. Could it get any worse?

***

By and by Otter became a beaver. Otter insisted on being referred to as “Beaver,” which was very confusing, especially to the younger animals and transients.

“Hey, uh… You. Your… thing fell off,” buzzed a dragonfly, a recent migrant to the marsh who didn’t know the story and thought he was being helpful.

Otter glared and stomped away.  It fell to Beaver-who-saved-her to duct-tape the piece of tire to her stump whenever it fell off, which was often. Beaver also whittled her a new set of teeth when her old ones broke off or got soggy. All very inconvenient, this.

Even with all the beaver accoutrements, Otter’s insides still felt empty. But being a beaver took so much work, and there were the marsh meetings Otter called where she made passionate speeches about the problem of otterness, or gooseness, or duckness, or any number of other problems. Like hawks: they had to go. In all the work to be done, all the self-manicuring and re-training into beaverness, Otter was so distracted she didn’t have time to think.

But the movement caught on. At first the animals came to gawk at the cobbled creature who waved her paws around and defiantly cursed whatever powers be, who challenged the status quo. “Should we not all ask ourselves if we are what we want to be? Are you satisfied?” asked Otter-beaver. Most shook their heads, no.

“Well then do something about it,” thundered Otter-beaver, and she was quite the orator. Before long, animals were mutilating themselves left and right. Everyone had a problem. The sounds of the marsh evolved. Gone were the primitive whacks and slaps of work. No. Mostly there was talk, complaints, advice, how-to’s. Entrepreneurs and savvy thinkers took to collecting tire pieces and making wooden teeth, antlers, fake rabbit tails from milkweed strings. The marsh was a busy, busy place.

…a harried, frenzied place where not a lot of thinking went on, not a pollen-sized piece of true joy could be found. Just a trade: one dissatisfaction for another. Otterness for psuedo-beaverness and all the complications thereof. No doubt a real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter and in the other changeling animals– a yearning for wholeness or satisfaction, for more, for less, for peace. A real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter. And still does.

The end.

I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1:14, 15

Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.  For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 1 Timothy 6:6,7

 

A Jungle Fable, Microcosms Entry

 

On a dismal November day an election was held to determine who would rule the jungle. This jungle was, in fact, a great laboratory in which a grand experiment was taking place. Only two animals ever got traction as rulers: the donkeys or the elephants. This went on and on in a sort of power tug-of-war.

The elephants were colossal, fat beings that could and would crush small creatures. Laws annoyed them, for they got in the way. The donkeys, preferring not to be called asses, were burdened creatures. They carried around other people’s treasure, redistributing it and enacting lots and lots of laws to legalize their ends. As often happens in contests, winning and holding power became more important than governing the jungle. So many promises the elephants and donkeys made… so many broken.

Ticked off and exasperated beyond belief, the animals panted for something heretofore… insane. An animal unlike the donkey or elephant, wily, vicious, depraved but powerful: a businessman. He swept into the jungle on storms of discontent provided by the donkey-elephant wars and made a great, great victory, a huge victory. He said he was an elephant but no one believed him or gave a rip. Only a donkey or an elephant could wear the crown. Some rules must be followed. Others broken. A businessman knows this.

Into the jungle he came roaring. And tweeting. Donkeys and elephants alike underestimated him, and this gave him an edge. The businessman wouldn’t read their scripts, wouldn’t play by the jungle rules. He invented new rules and resonated with scores of jungle animals.

A businessman presides over the jungle now.

The moral of the story: Rules are for chumps, not Trumps.

The end.

*Every Friday Microcosms offers a unique writing challenge. They supply genre, setting, and character, and you supply the flash fiction, up to 300 words. The judge is usually the previous week’s winner. They offer voting options– you can vote for your favorite piece, and every week, the judge chooses a favorite line out of every entry. That’s author love, I tell you.

This week I couldn’t resist. I’m really too busy, but the prompt got me thinking…

Prompt: laboratory/fable/inventor

We’re Almost There, America

Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill

Election Day 2016: Half the country will be going from failure to failure today. May we be enthusiastic about it– you know– good sports. If nothing else, it will be over soon. Remember The Passion of the Christ? Jesus trudging and falling under the excruciating weight of the beams he dragged while his life’s blood flowed out hundreds of whip slices, thorn stabs, and even his facial hair, ripped out like so many weeds. Simon of Cyrene told* him, “You’re almost there.” The there being the hill of crucifixion. Not the same as you’re almost there about the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Still, it was meant to encourage. This particular hell is almost over. Focus on that.

Same with today: we’re almost there. But there isn’t going to be pretty either, like as not.

I cast my vote. Life marches on. I fill my tank with gas, get groceries, get my hair cut. The deus ex machina I hope will turn our nation’s story around, but that I also fear will turn our nation’s story on its head– may or may not come today.

When the election looms too large, I’ll remember my walk in the woods. I’ll go there in my memory the way one returns to vacation or a kiss or a victory, and I’ll visit it again and again. I’ll recall the crunch of leaves under my feet, how they fell twisting to the ground like confetti, orange spades the size of hands spiraling through the branches and down past ancient trunks. It only took a slight breeze to touch off the kamikazes, a million deaths fluttering to the ground in a moment, gorgeous. Their smells enter my nose like jazz music, barely realized hypnotism. I am one such leaf, not aware I’m mid-fall, not special, one of a million. Our vast numbers make us marvelous, but not special. Except to God. How masterful is God to orchestrate such beauty in death? The most beautiful image God ever created was a death, was it not?

As the sun sets today and the polls close, it will be the death of this election. We’re almost there. God’s will will be done in America today as it is every day.  That is a great mystery– our free will doesn’t trump God’s will, and death is not the end of a matter. History has proven that over and over again. If our next president means we go from failure to failure, let us do so enthusiastically. This is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith. – 1 John 5:4

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*Mel Gibson’s The Passion (2004) rendered that speech. The Bible records no words between them, only that Simon was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross.

I’ll Vote for Jesus When He Runs for President

Whether you trust in Hillary or trust in Trump, most voters feel we’ve got a bitter pill to swallow on November 8th. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what your leanings, you are trusting in one of those two outcomes. But what about third parties? This year more than ever, the idea of a third party seems a palatable medicine.

11-year-old Gabe: “What are you reading?”

Me: “Election stuff.”

Gabe: “I could tell. By the look on your face.”

My face: disgusted

Political discussions “produce the most delightful clashes, the deepest schisms in friends and family, the most hell-like states possible on earth.” Indeed. Four years ago I donned the voice of Screwtape, the sophisticated demon-creation of C.S. Lewis, and wrote that sentiment in a post condemning third-party votes. Back then the mavericks cast their consciences against the dreaded Mitt Romney on the basis of his mormon faith. Mitt Romney, a veritable Mother Teresa in today’s political climate.  Miracle and/or apocalypse aside, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected. Polls say Hillary. 

What does it look like, a vote of faith? Every vote is a vote of faith in something. The difference is the something. Of course ultimately our trust is in God to take care of our nation. In God we trust. I’m not excising God out of the equation when I say we have but two options. When you have a headache, do you trust God to fix it or do you take a Tylenol? I submit: we have a political migraine, and although I’m ready for God to sweep into the American narrative in a divine coup de grâce and make America sane again/ kind again/ great again/ mine again– God’s plan may be for me to trudge to the polls and check a box.

Some boxes require more faith than others.

Exhibit: Vermin Supreme.verminHe promises free ponies and harsher tooth brushing laws. And he’ll fund research into time travel, ostensibly to go back in time and “kill baby Hitler with my bare hands.” Who can argue with that platform? If you find it insane Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, consider this: Mr. Supreme finished fourth in the New Hampshire primaries.

Hard as I’ve tried to wrap my conscience around a perfect, third-party candidate like Darrell Castle, I can’t move my (let’s face it, inconsequential little) vote into the realm of the theoretical. I can’t get comfortable putting my faith into that box. Here’s why: We’re all passengers on the bus about to be taken over by one of these two drivers. My moral obligation is to give my vote to the one with the least likelihood of crashing the bus. I could throw up my hands and ask Jesus to take the wheel. How many people who will do that with their vote would do that with their car? On I-71.

Because for me, that’s what it comes down to. My actions at the macro and the micro level must match up. I do take Tylenol when I have a headache, and I don’t think it demonstrates moral depravity or lack of faith. I will vote my conscience, within the unfortunate bounds of our electoral system, choosing the lesser evil, having faith that God is ultimately in control of my life and my country. Every day I drive I-71 downtown, twice. It’s harrowing. Sometimes I’ve prayed that God would keep us safe as we make our way through rush hour. But never have I taken my hands off the wheel and asked Jesus to drive.invisibleman2

Again this election cycle, after many an internal and external debate and prayer, I find myself begging my third-party and stay-at-home friends to cast a vote for your favorite bus driver. Or your least-hated bus driver. And if third-party is where your heart is, then by all means, get involved in the process sooner, when they have a chance of making the primetime debates, of getting their plans and values out to the masses. Make third parties a force with which to be reckoned– next election cycle.

Show me your faith without works and I’ll show you my faith by my works. – James 2:18. 

Voting for the lesser evil is not a lesser action than a vote for a pure candidate who will not win.

After I check that box, I’m pretty sure life will go on.