1955

Here’s what we knew:

Howdy Doody was kind of funny but Froggy on top of the Buster Brown clock was tossing seeds of emotional anarchy into the already hardening arteries of six year old minds.

Froggy was magic; Howdy Doody was all strung up. That meant something; we just didn’t know what, though- not quite yet. Here’s what else we didn’t know:

Telstar, Sputnik, John Glenn, space

Woolworth’s, Birmingham, Malcolm X, race

Assassination

Castro, Khrushchev, MauMau, spies

James Bond, Vietnam, Pentagon, lies

Heroin

Satisfaction, Say it Loud, Woodstock, mud

Chicago riots, Watts, Kent State, blood

Agnew

Mr. Hooper, Meathead, Jim Belushi, death

Junk Bonds, food stamps, drug labs, meth

Guyana

“Plunk your magic Twanger, Froggy,” Andy Devine would tell the apparition suddenly standing on the clock. Froggy gave some of us weird dreams while Howdy Doody made us aware of strings being pulled. Most of us, it turns out, ended up on Froggy’s team. We learned that time passing did not automatically cause anything to make more sense. We learned that there are some things even more mysterious at 61 than they were at 6. We learned that it makes more sense (oftentimes) to stop thinking, to stop trying to figure anything out, and to

accept enjoy embrace whatever it is

because..we’re apparitions standing on a clock, too.

David Weber, November 2010

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A Tiny Story about Oral Roberts

This really has little to do with Oral Roberts himself, who died today at the age of 91. The story has much more to do with my Grandpa who was a fan of Oral’s, and of my Grandma who (to my admiration) wasn’t.

My grandparents lived in rural Pennsylvania, on top of an Allegheny mountain. The context of this set of memories is the late 1950s, and the mountaintop is relevant because that meant black and white television signals from Dubois would make it weakly to the tinfoil-enhanced rabbit ear antenna on the brown Philco in my grandparent’s front room.

It was enough of a signal for Grandpa, in his early 70s and slowed down by a stroke, to have become a big fan of two made-for-the-new-television-medium phenomena: professional arena wrestling and televangelists. Dick the Bruiser and Gorgeous George shared grandpa’s imagination with the two earliest TV preachers, Rex Humbard and Oral Roberts.

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I was about 8 or 9 when I became aware of Oral Roberts through grandpa’s receiving of Robert’s monthly magazine, which he received for sending money to the Roberts ministry. It was a magazine which, in my memory, more resembled a comic book. The one I remember specifically chronicled a miracle healing which occurred during one of the Oral Robert’s crusades. One panel depicted a man sitting in the audience while a healing was happening on the platform many rows in front of him. He was healed while someone else was being “HEALed” by Roberts. And you knew this had happened because yellow lightning was shown going into (or coming out of) the man’s knee!

I don’t know why this fascinated me, but it did. In fact, I think I can say this little Oral Robert’s comic book was the beginning of  a life-long fascination with the marketing of Jesus on television in America and my own attempts to follow Jesus in spite of that marketing. I don’t know for sure if that was the starting point or not, but I do know I was spooked/ fascinated/ curious as hell about those lightning bolts.

And so, apparently, was Grandpa in his own way. He would kneel in front of the TV with his hand on the screen when Roberts prayed. Sometimes, several cousins would sneak peeks around the corners of the room with me while this was happening. It was not an occasion for giggling, though- not at all! I really did wonder if we would see lightning bolts on grandpa, because I knew he was praying about his stroke-slowed body.  We didn’t see any lightning. Neither, I guess, did Grandpa.

But Grandpa continued to send Oral Roberts money. It wasn’t much, maybe 50 cents every couple months. I found this out years later from my mom and one of her sisters, though, that Grandma often intercepted this miracle money on the way to the mailbox and slipped it into her apron pocket! She had never had much extra money (in fact, NO extra money much of the time), and she just decided that those quarters would be as appreciated by her at least as much as they were appreciated by Oral. 

I love the example set by Grandpa. And I love the example set by Grandma, too. I appreciate the faith Grandpa lived, but- like Grandma was- I am no fan of those who stand between the faithful and God with promises of super-conductivity.

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Dick the Bruiser

Obama’s Speech to the School Kids- What I learned on the way to the end of my fears

At Booker T. Washington High School in downtown Dallas, they gave President Obama a standing ovation when they saw him enter on the large television screens. Booker T. is my daughter’s alma mater- it’s the performing arts high school. It’s Norah Jone’s alma mater, too. And something she is proud of, also.

So, when I saw the kids there jumping to their feet as the President appeared on-screen, I knew that the people to whom the president was aiming this speech were going to hear it. And as was evident from their comments, they heard it loudly and clearly in a way even most of us adult supporters of the president could not have heard it.

“He was speaking to me,” one small 9th grade boy said.

“He makes me want to get all As this year,” said another.

Many adults, especially- it appears- those of the Caucasian persuasion, were fearful of what the president would inculcate their children with today. I heard them breathing hard and sweating into the cameras pointed toward them as they screamed that the president had no right to tell their children what to think. Maybe they were afraid he would reveal the secret message of the fist-bump to curious fifth graders, or describe the joys of his parent’s interracial sex to shy high schoolers. Given the level of anger and suspicion many of these parents displayed, it is hard to even guess at what kind of jive they were afraid the president would brainwash their un-brainwashed children with.

And, despite the fact that even Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich endorsed the content of Obama’s speech, we know that in today’s America the facts don’t matter nearly as much as what a person wants to believe. If you want to believe Obama is a Muslim, there’s nothing anyone can say, show, or demonstrate that will dissuade you from that belief. In America today, among a certain crowd of fellow believers, you will even be applauded for hanging on to a belief despite the Truth that lies dying in the ditch nearby.

And there are still people waiting for the release of Michelle’s “Whitey” tape and for the Belgian Congo birth certificate of the president. And they’ll wait and they’ll wait because they KNOW they’re right and it doesn’t matter that that astronomy reveals the sun to be the center of the solar system, you silly fools, you can see that the sun rises and sets around the Earth, can’t you?

So here’s what I’ve learned today: All of that noise was preceding the speech was irrelevant. A whole lot of parents kept a whole lot of children out of school and away from the Internet and television today because they were afraid of something that bore no fearful meaning whatsover- liminally, subliminally, or otherwise. They were people being afraid, and that’s all. They would probably call it being protective, but they could have been protective at home, with some intelligent conversation around the dinner table tonight. They could have introduced their children to genuine critical thinking. I assume most of them are capable of that.

Since the noise was irrelevant, I should consider it so as well. AND SO SHOULD THE PRESIDENT! My argument with the president so far, indeed, my disappointment with the president so far is that he is spending too much time trying to be friends with people who don’t like him, did not and will never support him, and whose candidate in the last election was convincingly defeated.

President Obama: those of us who voted for you voted for change, significant change to happen. We wanted our country out of the twin sinkholes of Iraq and Afghanistan that we were lied into. We want war criminals tried, if that is what a grand jury deems them to be. We want sexual preference among adults to not be a factor at all in a person’s enjoyment of their full civil rights. Those are the changes we voted for above and beyond the need this country had for a president who was smart and who didn’t look like every president before and who was running with a vice-presidential candidate who didn’t scare the living socks off of us as we imagined him possibly becoming president. That’s what we voted for, Obama, not how many friends you could make among the people who had gotten us into the military and economic quagmire we are in now.

So, while many many, many of my friends are Republican, most of whom I would take a bullet for (and they know it), I must tell them that I will not listen to their political views with any more fear. Theirr politics are coming to an end. The world can’t be the way it was in the 50’s; they’ve spent us into a hell hole of unimaginable depth, and while they can try to blame the other party for that, the statistics of Reagan, Bush, and Bush tell another story. Unfortunately, I voted right there beside them until 2006, when I saw the light. It’s not a bright light- Pelosi and Reid are both standing in it after all- but it is a whole lot brighter than the dim fluorescents pirated out of Enron’s headquarters.

And I know this: that the loudest among you old-timers- those who fussed the most about Obama’s Svengali grip on the minds of school kids, some you made asses of yourselves. And your kids saw you doing it. And while they no doubt still love you, they have seen you be wrong, over-reactive, maybe even goofy. Statistics show that that has happened a lot recently. During the 80s and 90s you preached and preached and preached about the takeover of schools and government by those with a gay agenda. You made bogeymen out of young men dying of AIDS so that you wouldn’t have to confront the sympathetic response you deeply felt toward them. (We all know it is easier to fear and hate than it is to give in to love, especially if that love- holy cow!- might be misconstrued as fag love!).

The point is, you painted the homosexual community into something it wasn’t. At all. Your kids went to college, got jobs, and moved into apartments near and with these men and women. They even became friends with them! They found out that you had been wrong about them, and that some of you and some of your preachers had been lying about them to you. They even found out that there seems to be a direct relationship between the loud rantings of an anti-gay protester and his desire to passionately kiss the object of his fury!

So you lost more young people in your loud and silly protests over this speech today.

Good.

And knowing those things, I won’t be so upset the next time. Your numbers are decreasing even as the spittle from your radio and television leaders is increasing. Even as the crazed rantings of Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity grow louder, more and more young people are hearing them, and the demographic slice of their advertising pie grows older by the day.

(Thank you again, young people of Booker T. Washington High School, Dallas, Texas. I’m giving you my own private standing ovation right now!)

It was 45 years ago today: the Beatles on Ed Sullivan; “behold! old things are passed away; all things become new!”

It was February 9, 1964- a Sunday. 8 o’clock EST. And most of America- one of the largest viewing audiences ever- turned to The Ed Sullivan Show. (for my family, that was the CBS affiliate Channel 27- WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio. I include that information only to warn you of the abundance of minor minutiae with which my mind bulges and may threaten at times to overwhelm unaware readers. )

We had been hearing a lot about the Beatles (“Haha! Are they buggy?”  “What’s next, the Spiders?”). We knew, from the 6:30 Huntley-Brinkley Report (Channel 21, WFMJ, NBC) that these four had long hair.  It’s hard to believe that those two words, when used in connection with a male, were once considered oxymoronic. Long Hair..my goodness, what was wrong with us? Had World War II, followed by fifteen years of full employment, constantly pregnant mothers, and Senator McCarthy-shaped grey flannel suits lulled us into utterly unimaginative stupidity? Were these moments of making fun of long-haired boys and (horror of horrors!) long-haired men, the true birthdays of the really screwy right-wing in America? (not to be confused with the concurrent but not screwy right-wing Barry Goldwater, who, I’m almost positive, was also watching Ed Sullivan this night, without making lame long hair comments). Was it making fun of long hairs which evolved into the hating of gays,  lamenting liberated women, shooting gooks with glee, and being afraid of all darker-than-Caucasian humans?

“C’mon, now..here they are- they’re on now. Hurry!” we hollered from the TV room to the adults who were pretending indifference in the living room but proved by their crowding into the doorway that they really were curious-as-hell, too.  “Shhhhhh…here’s Ed Sullivan ‘blah, blah, blah…and now youngsters from Liverpool that call themselves the Beatles..blah, blah..Ladies and Gentlemen, the Beatles!'”

“All my lovin’, I will send to you..” Those are the first Beatle words we heard- live- in America. Later in the song, names were superimposed over the screen: Paul, George, Ringo, and (ohmy) John-sorry girls, he’s married. Really!

“She loves you, yeah yeah yeah..” would become the signature we knew the Beatles by that first year. “Yeah, yeah, yeah” sang kids wearing mop-wigs on high school stages. “Yeah,yeah,yeah” drew editorial cartoonists trying (usually in vain) to understand wtf was happening.  “Yeah, yeah, yeah” we 14 to 19 year olds sang with our 49 cent singles and 3.99 LPs, by the millions.

The Beatles sang happy; we wanted to be happy like that. We wanted to forget the drums of Pennsylvania Avenue from just three months before. We wanted something- anything, please God- besides another night of Mitch Miller or Lawrence Welk.

 “..and when I touch you I feel happy, inside; it’s such a feeling that my love, I can’t hide,

I can’t hide..

I can’t hide..!”

It’s odd now, very odd but  amazingly fun, to think about the impact the Beatles were to have on us after this night as we listened to each one of many (thank God for all of them!) new songs. Ever gotten tired of hearing Baby Boomers tell anyone who will listen where they were when they heard President Kennedy had been shot? Ask one of us instead where we were the first time we heard “Hey Jude.” Listen instead to us try to explain our first encounter with clean and sober consciousness-expanding as we listened to the White Album. Go ahead and giggle at our efforts to properly explain; we can’t. But most of us wouldn’t change a moment of those times, either. (Just for a moment, you 48-65 year olds, remember the absolute thrill- the thrill you have never experienced to that degree since then when opening a package of anything- the thrill of running your thumbnail down the cellophane of new and pristine Sgt.Pepper’s or Abbey Road or Magical Mystery Tour. Sweet, huh?) 

Wow! Forty-five years ago, right about now.

“C’mon, now..here they are- they’re on now. Hurry!”

Close your eyes, listen..hear them? Of course you can. I can, too.

Yeah, yeah, yeah..

Fundamentalism: The Perversion of Jesus

“If I speak in tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, then I am nothing more than a clanging gong or a resounding cymbal.” (1Corinthians 13:1)

And if I continue to speak in terms of tolerance and acceptance of the fundamentalist poison being pumped into the body of Christ, then I am actively participating in the death of the Word made flesh. I will no longer do that. I may not wield a weapon much more effective than a fly swatter in battling this many-headed parasite within our midst; nonetheless, I will swat and swat and swat at it. I am tired- sick and tired- of the loveless clanging I hear constantly coming from the back of the Church.

For me, the Gong Show is over.

Fundamentalism, within whatever culture or religion it begins to coalesce, does so in reaction to perceived Modernism. It is, by its very nature, a reactionary movement based on fear of that which is new, unknown, and uncomfortable. Just as the Church in Europe dug its Inquisitive heels into the backs of powerless peasants as the onslaught of Science and Art began to encroach on its once exclusive domain of cultural influence (read: power), so is modern day fundamentalism motivated by fear. And fear, fundamentalist leaders have found, is always a more powerful crowd-pleaser than love.

Fundamentalist Characteristic #1- Fear

Fundamentalists are afraid. They’ll deny that, but listen in on any television evangelist’s resounding message or- better yet- venture into a local, so-called, revival meeting. You’ll hear, for a little while, about God, about the sacrifice of his son, Jesus, and about the joy and peace that comes from knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord. But it will amount to not much more than mere lip service to the language being used to present the evening’s real Star of the Show- Satan!

People who choose to live in fear need an enemy to be afraid of, and Satan fits that bill. He is not omniscient nor omnipresent, but somehow seems to know (according to the fear-mongering preacher) exactly where you are and exactly what your weaknesses are! He is always ready to attack, always prepared to tempt you, always whispering sweet seductive siren songs into your ready-to-hear ears. Most importantly, he is there to be blamed every time you fall from, or wiggle out of, God’s grace.

He wants your soul in hell,to burn eternally with the millions, billions of others he has already claimed. And to do that job, Satan needs helpers: the demonic hordes which do his bidding. There are, according to any number of deliverance ministries which fill tents and television studios across the land, a legion of demons out there, some of which are probably in you already. Which is why you smoke, drink, lust, fail to tithe, wear lipstick, have wet dreams, think goddam when you hit your thumb with a hammer, get bored in church, miss church, watch anything but “Christian” television, have debts, vote Democratic, despise the military-industrial complex, or drive a better car than the preacher.

Demons are everywhere. They are to be feared. If you’re having fun, feeling free, laughing, healthy, or making a good living- watch out! Because they’re getting ready to pounce- down your gullet, into your eyeballs, through your fingertips, or absorbed by your imagination. You must- you MUST- claim  the blood of Jesus as it is being hustled by the speaker of the moment. Only tithes and offerings, and a walk to the front of that preacher’s altar will afford you protection from them! Do it tonight! Because you might be dead tomorrow! (And, if the fear-mongering preacher has learned how “properly” to do it, he/she will, at this point, begin to list the many ways you might be dead tomorrow!)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Who said that? Who’s that rabble-rouser trying to interrupt the meeting? Who dares to speak serenity; who is it that dares to bring talk of peace to this arena of fear we’ve been building tonight?

Oh, it’s Jesus..*

(More will follow. Everything about fundamentalism derives from fear, but the means by which fear is invoked are many and subtle. Unfortunately, the ramifications of lives lived in this inflicted fear are not so subtle. And so there is more to write. Much more.

But right now, I need to go wash my hands. They’re filthy.)

* John 14:27

 

 

The Virgin Mary Comes To Town!

Oh, happy day! The BVM has landed here, right here on the West Texas prairie, and here she is!

She left her mark this time in the scar of an old native pecan tree. You can see in the picture that the south fork of that tree split away from the trunk, and it was there that the BVM either immediately inscribed herself or was revealed to the world after being embedded within the tree for at least the past five or six decades.

I personally had a hard time seeing her at first, so I’m really just going on the word of those who have the God-given (?) power to see the Virgin in those many odd places she chooses to appear. Me? In my quest to see anything anthropomorphic in the tree, I could only vaguely see Bishop Sheen, as he would sweep from the doorway to the blackboard in his priestly cassock on his Sunday afternoon television show in the 1950s. But then, I kept looking and (what do I know?) I thought I could see Sister Kenny raising money to fight polio like she was also doing in the 1950s.

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Then I made the mistake of continuing to look, wanting desperately to join the throngs (see them?) who’ve made a sacred grotto of the tree. I was able to see a virtual parade of personages, including but not limited to: Joan Baez, Soupy Sales, my Aunt Emma, Jimi Hendrix, and a substitute teacher in the fifth grade whose name I forget.

So there went another potential Epiphany, right out the always open window of my imagination!

Channel 5 out of Fort Worth and Telemundo out of Dallas have already given the tree their pandering-to-the-masses Seal of Approval by televising live reports on the perceived phenomena. Sorry I can’t lend much credibility to their fine reporting, but I’m kind of a stick-in-mud when it comes to sightings of the Divine. I get stuck on little stuff like wildflowers and ants, and dogs licking my face even when I’m feeling like crap. Those things tell me much more about God than the scar of a tree.

*****

And, for the record,here’s Sister Kenny and Bishop Sheen:

sister kenny  Bishop Sheen