Thursday, November 26, 2015


I’ve got more than enough grist for my writing mill these days. We’ve got our hometown university squelching freedom of the press. A few weeks ago, Representative Don Hill lost his heath committee assignment when House Speaker Ray Merrick, in a fit of pique, pulled the rug out from under him. Our city commissioners are inching ever closer to giving the Emporia Pavilions developers what they covet, at taxpayer expense.

That’s a lot of grist, to be sure, but, it’s all been overshadowed by Paris… ISIS…and the Syrian refugee crisis! Good Lord. The more I think about it, the more I feel like my head is going to explode!

In the wake of the Paris attacks, columnist Peggy Noonan spoke for many of us when she said she didn’t feel surprised as she watched it unfold. Then she admitted she couldn’t conjure up much of a response. She didn’t feel anger. Her feeling was one of gravity, as if she was seeing that “something huge and terrible had shifted and come closer.” Asked what those of us who aren’t “blinkered by status” thought about the attacks and the state of the world, she concluded, rightly, that we now believe “this isn’t going to stop.”

The barbarians are inching their way toward the gates. It’s not our collective imaginations. Like Peggy Noonan, many of us feel the shifting. And, worse yet, our leaders don’t seem to have a clue. It’s no wonder we feel so helpless, like thirsty wildebeest at a watering hole full of hungry crocodiles.

Things are so bad that even some of what we once viewed as cherished and safe is under attack. In a National Review op-ed, Kathryn Jean Lopez wrote about a recent episode of ABC’s “Scandal.” The heroine of the piece was getting an abortion. As the “procedure” begins, the strains of the hymn “Silent Night” play in the background. What was ABC trying to tell us? “Happy holidays, everyone?”

But, the producers weren’t done. As the “procedure” began in earnest, the heroine’s father droned on in the background and we got the real point of what ABC was forcing down our throats - “Family is a burden . . . a pressure point, soft tissue, an illness, an antidote to greatness. You think you’re better off with people who rely on you, depend on you, but you’re wrong, because you will inevitably end up needing them, which makes you weak, pliable. Family doesn’t complete you. It destroys you.”

Salon and Huffington Post called it “daring” and “brave.” Planned Parenthood applauded it.

So, while we have barbarians pressing the gates from the outside, we have some who are already inside.

Saturday morning as I was walking around the track at the Rec Center my frustration boiled over. I decided to take it all out on God. “Is all this evil escaping your eye, Lord?” “I can see it…why can’t you?” I wanted to scream, like Habakkuk of old – “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? – Or cry out to you, “Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?”

I spent most of Sunday fighting off the despair. I tried my best to hide it from Nancy and Karen, our young guest from Colombia. Nancy left early in the afternoon to prepare for her part in the “Harvest Home” choral concert at Sacred Heart. Karen and I got there about a half hour before the concert began. I waited in silence, hoping something would calm my anxious soul.

The concert began with the words, “Praise His name. Sing with the tambourine and harp.” Then, as one song of praise followed another, I felt something else shift within me. The despair gradually gave way to an overwhelming sense of gratitude and anticipation. My eyes began to glisten with tears, tokens of my thanks to God. My catharsis was completed as I breathed in the words of Steven Paulus’s “Pilgrim’s Hymn” –

“Even with the darkness sealing us in
 We breathed Thy name,
 And through all the days to follow so fast,
 We trust in Thee;
 Endless Thy grace, O endless Thy grace,
 Beyond all mortal dream.”

As I listened I would occasionally look around at my neighbors, many of whom I don’t know. Yet, I sensed we all had something in common. We were seeking hope and solace during this dark time. We found it, thanks to the various choirs, accompanists, and Jake Narverud, the conductor.

I’ve now come full circle. The darkness may be descending, but, in the end, I still know that the light will prevail. There was a first advent in the midst of darkness two thousand years ago. There will be a second at a time of God’s own choosing. The crooked places will be made straight and the valleys will be exalted. For that, I am truly thankful.

Friday, November 06, 2015


A few weeks ago, I read an interesting column about the millennial generation penned by Ann Friedman. The upshot of the piece was that, like the generations of young people who came before them, it’s now time for millennials to take the blame for what Friedman termed “the downfall of society.”

As Friedman also observed, each generation of young people seems to have an uncanny knack for becoming the targets of the generations that came before them. There are exceptions, of course. Americans from my mother’s generation clawed their way out of the Great Depression, defeated two totalitarian regimes in World War II, and then followed up by rebuilding the defeated powers. They’ve been rightly labelled “The Greatest Generation.”

Having been born in 1942, I don’t fit neatly into that niche, nor do I fit like a glove with the post-war “baby boomers.” For lack of a better term, I guess people like me would be betwixt and betweeners. If I were to pigeon-hole myself, though, I’d most closely identify with the rebellious nature of the “baby boomers.”

Neither I nor the “baby boom’ generation wanted to be rebellious. We began our formative years, the 60’s, dreaming of Camelot and building a world animated by love.  We were innocent and optimistic.  By the time the decade was over, the innocence and optimism were gone. We were cynical and openly rebellious. There were good reasons for this. John Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King were dead. We’d been ground up by the thousands in LBJ’s foreign policy sausage machine. America’s cities were on fire. Rather than respond to our grievances, our political leaders, especially Richard Nixon, lied so often that we coined the mantra, “Never trust anyone over thirty.”

The generation that followed, Gen Xers, were seen as slackers. They were a well-educated generation, but they were best known for their love of bad music and a “what’s in it for me” attitude. They shunned politics. In fact, they have the distinction of having the lowest voter participation rate of any American generation. They were so tuned out that Newsweek once described them as “the generation that dropped out without ever turning on the news or tuning in to the social issues around them.”

This brings me to millennials. A lot of people seem to believe that they’re taking America down the road to perdition. I don’t.

Nancy and I interact with lots of millennials when we go to Kansas City for our weekend getaways. While there’s no doubt that they view the world through a far different prism than us, we find them quite engaging to be around. They’re almost always far more liberal, politically and philosophically, than we are, but we’ve never had unpleasant conversations with them when we talk about politics, faith, economics, or social issues. Unlike Hillary Clinton and the D.N.C., for example, they don’t think being conservative makes their neighbor an enemy.

Most of the millennials I’ve interacted with have some very refreshing views. When I’m around people my own age, the conversations almost always revolve around colonoscopies, cataracts, or cholesterol, Millennials want to talk about living, life, and their place in this universe. I like that!

They’re less likely than the rest of us to get themselves weighed down by a mortgage, a fancy car, a boat, or some other expensive trinket. They’re also deeply concerned with social justice. In terms of faith, they’ve been labelled “nones” for what their detractors perceive as a deficit of belief. Their detractors are wrong. I’ve found that they don’t have problems with God. It’s the institutional trappings of religion that drive them crazy. You don’t suppose they may be on to something, do you?

The millennials I’ve been around seem to be putting out feelers. They’re not sure they can trust us to love them unconditionally. In his recent book, “The Road to Character,” New York Times columnist David Brooks described the way many millennials feel about their relationships with their parents (and by extension the rest of us) this way:
“Parental love becomes merit-based. It is not simply “I love you.” It is “I love you when you stay on my balance beam. I shower you with praise and care when you’re on my beam… Lurking in the shadows of merit-based love is the possibility that it may be withdrawn if the child disappoints. Parents would deny this, but the wolf of conditional love is lurking here. This shadowy presence of conditional love produces fear, the fear that there is no utterly safe love; there is no completely secure place where young people can be utterly honest and themselves.”

When all is said and done, I think millennials are just fine. The rest of us may not agree with their approach to life and that’s alright. They don’t need our approval; they just need our respect and unconditional love.