A True Story. Mostly.
A knock on the door last week, too damned early in the morning…an older middle-aged woman with pamphlets and a bible in a floral dress and sensible shoes bearing close resemblance to Mrs. C, my tenth-grade typing teacher.
“Hello, I’m spreading the good word about a 3-day conference in–”
“Is this a god thing?” That momentum needed to be checked.
“Why yes, it is a 3-day conference in–”
“We’ve already got a grail!” Dodge. Parry. Non sequitur!
“What? I’d like to invite you to a three–”
“Not interested. Do you have encyclopedias?”
“Vacuum cleaners? Brushes? Steak?”
“Can you get students to paint my house real cheap?”
“I don’t think you understand.”
(Leaning into her space a little bit.) “Are you saying I’m stupid? I think I do pretty well with what I’ve been given. You don’t need to be mean about it.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to–”
“Maybe you should just try the neighbors; they’re real zealots. I hear they drowned a witch, last place they lived.” I lower my voice and whisper, conspiratorially, “It’s Texas. That’s where they’re from, and they definitely burn books–religiously, you might say.”
“Did you see what I did there? It’s a pun. They religiously burn books. Get it? I told you I was smart. Not that I’m an angel myself. I’ve done awful things. I’ve danced a bunch, and listened to Led Zeppelin records backwards, and between you and me, I’ve eaten more than my fair share of owls.”
“Yup. Lots of them. The small ones, particularly.”
“They’re fuzzy and sweet. A lot like peaches, really. They’re great on waffles, with some cinnamon and maple syrup.” She looks over her shoulder at the street–no backup there–and turns back to me, squints a little, then opts to scurry away, looking worriedly over her shoulder, and skitters up the street, ignoring my “Have a nice day!” Knock on my door, will you?
Not every selection for the Dumb Ass Hall Of Fame is an idiot, dotard, or buffoon. Some, like this week’s honoree, are just brain-numbed by hate and ignorance.
The morality of the nation crumbles around us, hurtling toward a precipice of as-yet-unimaginable depth, spurred by the pubescent leadership of our President, the jibbering sycophants who surround him, and the spineless cowards of the Senate and Congress, most of whom are more than intelligent enough to see what this man is, but refuse to act for reasons both partisan and personal. I awake each morning, take my pills, and empty my bladder beneath a cloud of dread: what terrible things have transpired since the day before. What has the skulking boy king said, what has he done or, most often, what excremental feats of churlish impertinence have the lunks and sneering bounders emboldened by his example been up to?
Another cop killing an unarmed black man? Running him down with a patrol car? Shooting him seven or eight times in the back? Gunning him down for closing a door–a fragile blue ego more important than a warrant and the Fourth Amendment? Or maybe another ally insulted? Another adversary provoked? Another treaty broken? Another bold faced lie maintained in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Another denial of that lie, despite video?
Given all of this and so much more, I am barely surprised to hear that South Dakota state Representative Michael Clark tried to press the argument, that businesses should be allowed to turn down people based on the color of their skin. As my dad used to say, “I shit you not.”
In a heady stupor of exclusionist victory dancing following the Supreme Court ruling in favor of a homophobic Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs, Clark boasted on Facebook that the decision was a “win for freedom of speech and freedom of religion.” Other FB users called him on his gleeful embrace of bigotry, and the intrepid lawmaker doubled down.
“It is his business,” Clark wrote in a comment. “He should have the opportunity to run his business the way he wants. If he wants to turn away people of color, then [that’s] his choice.”
We’ve seen this mindset before. On buses in Tennessee. In schools in Arkansas. At lunch counters in Alabama.
It is modestly affirming that a furor quickly built, on Facebook and among the general public and first regional, then national news organizations began covering the incident. At first he tried to frame his bigotry as standard anti-government rhetoric, asserting that business owners only need serve certain segments of society and that the market would ultimately determine if the business succeeded or failed. The negative comments and press coverage built up, as some of reminded this attorney and elected lawmaker of a not-so-irrelevant document called The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Predictably, the heat was too much for tough cowboy Clark, who ultimately deleted the post on Tuesday. He said he had “jumped in on it a little bit too fast,” the Argus-Leader reported.
Not long after, he apologized via email to a reporter for the Leader, followed by a glib, insincere retraction on Facebook. “I am apologizing for some of my Facebook comments. “I would never advocate discriminating against people based on their color or race.”
But in an interview with the Argus-Leader, Clark said he believed that business owners should be able to turn away certain customers if they would otherwise violate their religious beliefs. “If it’s truly his strongly based belief, he should be able to turn them away,” Clark told the Leader. “People shouldn’t be able to use their minority status to bully a business. The vote of the dollar is very strong,” he said.
I’m still parsing which is more disgusting, the unapologetic awfulness of the President and his Trumpkins, or these slimy, cynical clones who imitate his success playing to the lowest common denominators, shouting whatever vile and hateful bile they happen to be regurgitating at any particular moment? It is a tough contest indeed. Trump is culpable for setting the tone, but they’re all playing the same game: vomit out sinful rhetoric to the bleating masses and keep pressing–then either deny it completely and blame the press for making it up, or mutter a dishonest, heartless apology rife with crocodile tears and move on. “I didn’t say that. But if you have tape that shows I did, then I certainly didn’t mean it.”
Well, Mr. Clark, we’re not buying what you’re selling. You don’t get to worm and squirm out of it with a cynical “I’m sorry,” so take ownership for the man you’ve become. Burn a cross, beat a gay man–be your honest self. Your soul is already exposed before your neighbors, your friends, and especially your God.
It is easy to say, “I would never advocate discriminating against people based on their color or race” but the simple fact is that yes, you would, because yes, you did. It’s not like we haven’t seen your kind before.
So, Antonin Scalia died in his sleep yesterday–otherwise engaged, I remained blissfully unaware of this admittedly monumental development until this morning, when the news hit my ears (my eyes, to be precise) with a monumental “plop” not unlike a turd splashing into the hygienic blue-tinged water in the lavender scented bathroom of Aunt Mathilde’s scrupulously maintained cottage. I am a terrible person, because my very first thought was: “Good.”
But I’m not irredeemable. I stepped back. Scalia was a human being, I’m relatively certain, however inhumane he often seemed to me, as the angry, stubborn voice of pretty much everything I despise about the modern, contemptuous, obstructionist, and highly partisan incarnation of conservatism. Odds are, if Scalia had an opinion, I opposed it. Right now, writers are falling all over themselves in efforts to grab page hits, struggling to reinvent the justice as, as one called it, “a tireless defender of the constitution.” Well, I’m here to say that no Justice in recent history has gone further in interpreting said constitution through the warped, narrow, insidious filter fashioned by melding hyper-conservatism with Catholic extremism. A hypocrite in every sense of the word.
I backed away from the initial, positive response to his death out of respect for his friends and family who probably, for the most part, loved him and now mourn his passing. But rest easy–his particular brand of one-sided objectivity will be remembered: already, his surviving Republican allies are already gathering to obstruct any attempts to fill the open seat on the Supreme Court, until a new President takes office nearly a year from now. Yes, Justice Scalia, you will not be forgotten.
In a shocking (to civilized human beings) development, Indiana Governor Mike Pence flourished his burning cross ballpoint pen and signed Senate Bill 101, the ” Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” a so-called “religious freedom” law which forbids state or local governments from “substantially burdening a person’s ability to exercise their religion–unless the government can show it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least-restrictive means of achieving it.”
Just what the hell does that mean? In short, it means that as of July 1, any business in the state of Indiana can deny services, employment, or acknowledgement of anyone based on their religious beliefs. Practically speaking, it is a license to practice bigotry.
Governor Pence, denying that the law does any such thing, said “This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination I would have vetoed it.” Leaders of the Republican-controlled senate called concerns nothing more than a “misunderstanding.”
But Eric Miller, the Founder and Executive Director of Advance America stated, a leading supporter of the legislation, said “It is vitally important to protect religious freedom in Indiana. It’s the right thing to do. It was therefore important to pass Senate Bill 101 in 2015 in order to help protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs!”
Because the 85% of people in the state of Indiana who identify as Christian suffer daily at the hands of the overbearing, rights-denying, freed0m-hating, gods-damning unwashed 15 who haven’t been bathed in the blood of the lamb, so to speak.
A press release from the ironically titled Advance America continued “Churches, Christian businesses and individuals deserve protection from those who support homosexual marriages and those who support government recognition and approval of gender identity (men who dress as women). SB 101 will help provide the protection…Christian bakers, florists and photographers should not be punished for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage!”
The bill passed despite loud public outcry from citizen groups, celebrities (including Indianapolis Colts Punter Pat McAfee, who grew up about half an hour down the road from my home–good for you, Pat!), businesses, the NCAA and the sponsors of several major conventions that bring millions of dollars to the state have expressed serious concerns, not only for the economic impact of this bill but for the safety and welfare of conventioneers, business persons, employees, and others who might suffer the soon-to-be legal wrath of Christian extremists looking for payback after losing their struggle against equal marriage rights last year.
It is telling that Pence signed the bill during a private ceremony, which was barred to both public and press, in his Statehouse office just before 10 a.m. Thursday. He was joined by supportive lawmakers, Franciscan monks and nuns, orthodox Jews, and some of the state’s most powerful lobbyists on conservative social issues.
While this bill is aimed at punishing and denying civil rights to homosexuals, I’m curious what happens the first time, say, a Muslim store owner denies service to a Jewish patron, or perhaps a Hindi restaurant owner refuses to seat a Muslim–or, for that matter, a southern Baptist hotelier denies lodging to Catholic? It is a slippery slope, once we step away from the ideal of equality–I mean, what are the Scientologists going to do with this law? I shudder to think.
It’s going to suck to live in some corners of Indiana for a while, but supporters of equal rights should take comfort in the absolute surety that bigoted business owners in all but the most insular communities will quickly feel the financial effects of their discriminatory practices. Indeed, the main reason that shameful laws like this pass is because it requires the average person to sit quietly by and let the professional hate-mongers who make careers of sewing discord do the dirty work.
I very much hope that a network is quickly formed to call out the hidden bullies who will pick and choose when to use religion as a cudgel to wield against their neighbors. In fact, I’d love to see someone call out businesses in the State of Indiana who intend to adopt discriminatory policies because–you know what?–most of them are going to be too cowardly to actually see it through, let alone admit it publicly.
And, once again, I offer this old rhetorical chestnut: WWJD do, brothers and sisters?
And by the way, fellow Pennsylvanians–get off your high horses, we’ve got one of these laws too.
I began this essay last season, ultimately publishing the initial portions as a somewhat unrefined draft, but never finishing–so the six or seven of you who read it last year might find the first portions somewhat familiar. For most of you, however, we’re treading on new ground.
My ardent followers and weary friends will certainly attest to my love of most things Christmas, not to mention my enthusiasm for Christmas-themed posts. I wasn’t born this way; it was bred into me by a perversely nostalgic mother and an extended family whose expressions of sentiment were largely reserved for the final episodes of long-running television series (“it’s like they were our friends) and major holidays–Christmas chief among them.
To cut to the quick, I wasn’t the happiest kid. It takes an effort to find a picture of me smiling but each year, when I was young, as the days turned dark and cold, my family’s humble holidays brought moments of magical respite from the rest of the year. It wasn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was better and in endeavoring to make it similarly special for my children I’ve found even greater joy and satisfaction as an adult–so right up front there’s a lesson for you: focus on making some other people happy and it’s likely you’ll get a little good back for yourelf….
Now, to be clear, when I say “Christmas” we are talking about an extended period which began before Thanksgiving and persisted through New Years to Epiphany–the last of those happy “Twelve Days of Christmas”–the very sort of Holiday over-reach that drives Christian extremists nutso. Not that I care what they think.
For many of my generation, “Christmas” began with the arrival of the Sears, Roebuck & Company “Wish Book” and it’s myriad, fantastical possibilities–toys I had never imagined, let alone seen, and mostly likely never would, but of which I could marvel and dream. (all this and a ladies lingerie section, too–the Wishbook was the original internet). Within moments of it’s arrival, I had a ballpoint pen in my hand, circling anything interesting with reckless disregard for reality, or anyone else who might want to read those pages. I never seemed to notice that I would get none of it–the magic was in the dream, not the reality, which was never half as entrancing as the catalog imagery. I mean, all that crap broke by New Years Day, in any case.
The next great holiday milepost was our church’s annual “Hanging of The Greens” night–a massive covered-dish dinner, at which hundreds of people–mostly the older folks and families with young children–gathered and sat at long tables, partaking in the seemingly endless bounty of casseroles, gelatin-based salads, and chewy white rolls. After dinner, the men went to the huge sanctuary to decorate the half dozen or more trees, and arrange the hundreds of poinsettias, wreaths, swags, and bows that turned the church into a festive wonderland–it was truly spell-binding, and it’s disappointing that I have been unable to locate a picture.
While the men scaled ladders and hefted trees, the women cleaned up dinner (ha!) then adjourned, as did the children, to their various Sunday School classrooms to decorate each of the many rooms with craft decorations we had made ourselves. At the end of the evening, everyone gathered in the sanctuary for a small lesson, a few Christmas hymns, and a benediction. I invariably went home exhausted, but excited. Christmas was really on the way.
It’s odd to me now, three decades after my 0scandalous, sin-tainted family–with the adulterous father, the cloying mother, and their no-good, unruly little boy– was quietly marginalized and driven from that church, to recall how warm and inviting those halls were, as familiar as–and far more comfortable and safe–than my own home. I haven’t practiced religion for decades and have no plan to resume any time in the future, but I must admit that my experiences as part of a church community added a richness to the season that I’d never dream of renouncing.
Coming Soon…Part 2: On The First Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Thanksgiving Dinner