I’m an infrequent blogger, something I hope to correct in the coming year. But when something weighs heavily on me, I tend to write it out. Thus, this entry.

I have struggled of late with the proper response to the Syrian tragedy and the threat of ISIS and the plight of the refugees. Make no mistake, I see ISIS as a threat to all peace-loving people everywhere. Their penchant for bloodshed and carnage leaves no doubt they cannot co-exist with anyone except like-minded Muslim fundamentalists. They are not only fond of waging war in their quest to form a caliphate (they believe they and all other Muslims are living in sin if the caliphate isn’t formed), but they are also fond of beheading those with whom they disagree, including children.

There has been a lot of talk about how the Bush administration’s questionable entry into Iraq precipitated the growth of this group. And there has been a lot of talk about how the Obama administration has failed to intercede and deal decisively with the growing threat. Both, I think, are valid points.

But we are here, and this is now.

I will state this simply. I am a Christian. I have known no other faith, though my articulation of that faith has taken me down some interesting roads at times. I have not only been baptized as a Christian, but I am also a minister, ordained as a Baptist minister, complete with the requisite seminary education. I take that very seriously indeed.

My own faith journey has led me to the Episcopal Church, where I am quite happy, indeed. I have had many conversations with other Christians, many of whom speak glowingly of the treasures of heaven. At the risk of theological unorthodoxy, I’ll say this. I’m not that interested in the heavenly aspect right now. If we go to heaven, fantastic! I look forward to it. But living my life as a ticket to the pearly gates is, to me, to miss the fundamental truth of living as a Christian. I have work to do now. And I don’t do it because I hope for a reward. I do it because I am a changed person, a new creation, in Christ.

I want my life to be focused on following Jesus’ commands, to love my neighbor as myself, to show compassion and mercy, to live justly, to give to those in need. I look at it like this. If salvation were the only aspect of our faith, Jesus could have been handed over to Herod as an infant and killed then, and then the whole salvation question solved right then and there. But that isn’t what happened.

Instead, he lived thirty-three years, the last three spent teaching, preaching and turning the Jewish world upside down with his common-sense approach to God. In a nutshell, instead of pointing to specific scriptures to support this position or that position, he forced his fellow man and woman to think, and ask the question, what does your heart tell you? What is the right thing to do?

It is those teachings and approaches to problems that convince me that Jesus’ way was—and is—the true way of life for believers. Indeed, one doesn’t even need to be a believer to adopt the Christian precepts of charity and good will, though it helps to have a thorough understanding of who Jesus was, and from a spiritual perspective, following Christ is certainly a whole lot more than just good works. But those works are very much part and parcel of the Christian—the true Christian—experience.

Which brings us back to our current problem. I read on Facebook many folks arguing we can’t allow the Syrian refugees in the US. And I read also many others clamoring for us to accept them. Those who want to refuse them point to the fact that ISIS has said they intend to sneak their fighters in with the refugees. That is a valid point.

The other point is that these people are for the most part trying to escape ISIS. Many of them are actually Christians. And regular, everyday Muslims who want nothing to do with ISIS. They simply want to escape the war and bloodshed and build a new life elsewhere.

Is it possible there is a middle ground here?

I’m not sure. But I want to raise a few points. As Salman Rushdie has pointed out, Islam has changed. It used to be, we were free to go visit places like Iran and Iraq, and they were welcoming people. Even William Peter Blatty’s brilliant novel, The Exorcist, opens with Father Lankester Merrin overseeing an archaeological dig in Northern Iraq. Photos from the sixties and early seventies show a population wearing both traditional garb and more western/European clothing. The hijab was either worn or not. But in 1979, the Shah of Iran was deposed and the chilling Ayatollah Khomeini took over. Instantly, the super-fundamentalist Muslims were in charge and thus began a transformation that continues to this day, in the form of severely curtailed rights for women, a mindset that views anything western, especially British, American, French and German, as evil, and the need for jihad against all perceived enemies.

Mind you, not all Muslims follow these tenets. Many have not changed over the years. Their views remain more or less the same. But the fundamentalist, hard-line Islam we have seen again and again on the news is something to be concerned about. This type of Islam truly is incompatible with our western views and ways.

The average, ordinary Muslim, on the other hand, does not possess such radical views.
Take a look at this humorous and true video of normal, everyday Muslims, the ones you are likely to encounter in the US:

There are no easy answers to the Syrian crisis. But this I do know. To turn a blind eye to these people is not the Christian response. My mind is permanently seared with the image of a headless child, just a little girl, who was unfortunate enough to belong to Christian parents and who had the ill fate to run into ISIS members, who beheaded her. The picture, gruesome and horrifying, shows her father holding the girl’s body up while weeping, a tragic, horrifying image.

Turning aside from these people and saying, you’re not welcome here, isn’t a Christian response. It isn’t a humanitarian response. It’s a selfish response. We aren’t letting good people draw water from our well.

But, scream others, didn’t ISIS say they were planning to send jihadists posed as refugees into our midst? How can we possibly trust them, when 9/11 is still way too fresh in our memories and we might be attacked again? How can you justify allowing people to come here?

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I don’t know if I have an answer. But I am recalling a quote from Teddy Roosevelt. Though it is oft attributed to his time in office in 1907, it’s actually from a letter written in 1919. He said,

“We should insist that if the immigrant who comes here does in good faith become an American and assimilates himself to us he shall be treated on an exact equality with every one else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed or birth-place or origin.

But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American and nothing but an American. If he tries to keep segregated with men of his own origin and separated from the rest of America, then he isn’t doing his part as an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. . . We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding-house; and we have room for but one soul loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people.”
These are telling words, though I know some who would dismiss them outright as nationalistic poppycock. To those I would say, read it again, and read it carefully. Roosevelt wasn’t saying one need to drop one’s culture. One need not change one’s religion. But he is saying, unequivocally, that being here entails becoming an American, and one’s devotion must be to this land and it’s people. The immigrant must assimilate, and become part of the fabric of America.

I think this is where we have failed, grievously, in generations past. We must, in some way, form or fashion, rethink how we do immigration. As it stands now, we have many, many people from Central America coming over our border and living illegally, and this is not a good situation. It should be assumed that terrorists will try to slip in this way, and probably already have. But more to the point, many of the ones coming across have no intention of learning the language and being a part of the American culture.

I understand Jeb Bush’s plight; he separated himself from the rest of the GOP early on in advocating a plan to seal the border, and work on a path for citizenship for those already here. Everyone else was screaming, “No, deport them!!” But what he said seemed to me the best all-around solution. I know, they are here illegally. They are breaking the law. But to tear apart families via deportations is going to create a logistical nightmare. And again, it’s not the humanitarian thing to do. A long road to citizenship, being fully vetted in the process, makes the most overall sense to me.

And that is where I see the Syrian problem leading. If we bring in a large number, no, we should not grant automatic citizenship to them en masse. George Bush had an earlier proposal, also shot down, for a gradual, ten-year process for illegals to prove themselves and work toward citizenship. Again, it seemed to make sense. The conservatives would get the southern border wall built, and those already here would have a long road to citizenship with thorough vetting in the meantime. I never thought it was a bad idea. Similarly, I think we should establish a criteria that would allow the Syrian refugees to work towards citizenship, including learning the language, finding work, and so on. And yes, thorough vetting of the refugees. If they have ties to extremist groups, no, they can’t stay.

We should have, from the outset, created an immigration bureaucracy that works to foster developing citizenship in the best sense of the word. Learning about the US, its customs and traditions, its laws, and its language. At best, immigrants are required to pass a citizenship/civics class today. That is not nearly enough. The dangers we face from terrorism demand a more thorough approach and careful evaluation of prospective citizens.

I have met immigrants who immediately set out to become productive citizens of this country, and are doing so today. One was my partner in EMS, who came from Bulgaria. And I have met others who stay in hiding, afraid of a visit by ICE and being deported, never really tasting the freedom of this country.

There is no easy answer, but any pathway to citizenship must be exactly that, not merely a stamped piece of paper but a thorough grounding on what it means to be a citizen, and what it doesn’t. It is a long path, and it must be taken step by step.

I mentioned I was a Baptist early on. I also would have been described as a fundamentalist at one point. It is interesting, the rise of Christian fundamentalism also coincided with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. I found the Christian fundamentalism to be fraught with anti-intellectualism and frequent disdain for truth in its zeal for emotional spiritualism. It came to power in the Baptist churches in 1979, when the Southern Baptist Convention elected a fundamentalist as president. That was the same year the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran, as I recall. I understand one thing, emotional religion has mass appeal. That kind of emotional excess is what turned me off in the end, and I sought my faith expression in a tradition that wasn’t grounded in emotion, but in service to others.

I say that to bring up this final point. Not everyone can be welcomed here. If there are people who have ridden the jihadist roller coaster and screamed “Death to the USA” and have been involved in terrorism at any level, no, we should not grant them safe harbor here. We have freedom of religion. But that also means freedom from religion—you may not deny me any rights because of your religious beliefs, as I may not deny you yours. Again, that key word, assimilation. To some that sounds ominous, like saying you must be a WASP clone before we accept you.

No, that isn’t what it is. It does mean that I’m not going to have much patience if you start demanding my favorite restaurants no longer have bacon to satisfy your religious beliefs. That is crossing a line and I’m not going to have it. To assimilate means you must let go of certain expectations and focus your efforts on becoming a citizen of this country, in the best sense of the word. If you don’t want bacon, fine. But in America, that means you don’t eat it. But I retain my right to.

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Being a Christian and doing the right thing by the refugees does not mean at all simply saying, “Welcome all, come on in.” Nope. If anything, I learned as a pastor that there are many who will try to get money from the church, not because they are hungry but because they want to buy drugs or get drunk. Charity doesn’t mean “fool.” It does mean we do what we are called to do, regardless of our feelings. But we do so with a watchful eye, careful to keep a look out for things that seem amiss.

We can be ready to act if we sense something wrong. We can defend ourselves if our worst fears are realized and some turn out to be terrorists. (But chances are, if they are ISIS terrorists, they are already here.) Even a major metropolitan police chief (was it Washington, DC?) stated the obvious, if citizens see a terrorist event unfolding before their eyes, they are the best option for stopping it, if the police aren’t already there. Unlike many Christians, I am not a pacifist. I believe in the right to defend myself and my neighbor. I just want to be sure that’s my last option before doing so. That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to defend myself or another if I was certain we were about to be victims of terrorism.

So no, we should not be turning a blind eye to the refugees. It isn’t humanitarian or the right thing to do. I might not like it, but I’m not called to like it. I’m called to do right by my fellow man. And yes, I reserve the right to be cautious and defensive as I learn more about them. Some may settle here, or not. But you can bet, I’ll be as cordial and polite as I know how. And as cautious.

It’s inevitable, I suppose, but Facebook is a major factor in our lives. So much so, that it has become our de facto news source, entertainment center and water cooler. And much more. 

That being the case, we’re wont to notice trends as they appear in our news feeds, given enough attention. And really, certain trends require little attention at all. They are simply plastered all over our news feed, often in flashing neon and Day-Glo orange. 









Nice, isn’t it, when you open your news feed to see the rainbow on fire? That’s pretty much it, as I have folks from every persuasion on my friends list, every color of the rainbow, so to speak, represented. And instead of that rainbow being a thing of beauty, it has become a menace. A glowing, radioactive, angry menace. They have erupted into verbal wars on my page before, once when I was on a trip without a computer and my earlier smart phone was incapable of deleting the offending parties until I got back thirty hours later. My page was smoldering when I did so. 

The above examples are the kinds of things I see daily on my feed. If you have any divergence in your friends list, you probably do, too. Or perhaps you cater to only one viewpoint among friends, and you only have one type of diatribe that shows up regularly. 

But here’s my question. Doesn’t it feel, well, wrong, somehow? 

Whatever happened to jovial, good-natured conversation, where points of view could be debated with politeness and civility? Is this what it has come to? Imaginary lines drawn in imaginary sand over the issues? I’m no idealist. But honestly, this trend of bashing the hell out of those who disagree with us is alarming and confusing to me. We don’t have a history of decimating those who disagree with us outside of war. We just disagreed and didn’t worry too much about it. I don’t get it. 

One thing I do get, with crystal clarity: We are becoming a nation of extremists. 

All it takes is a few folks who rant and rave on FB, and the rest tend to nod along like so many bobblehead dolls, without really thinking about what the ranters are saying. And it seems to me the rants and raves have become increasingly polarized of late. Louder, more hate-filled, more passionate, more suggestive. And I suppose the point is not that this is so much accepted communication, but in a world where everything is a status update away from being changed, only the loudest and most obnoxious and most vile posts will be noticed. 

I can’t really blame them, though. Attention hounds will always be loud and obnoxious. 

Shame on us, instead, for giving them an audience. We should know better. 




“What did you just say?”

I was talking to myself, but I almost wished I wasn’t. It was two years ago. One of my friends had posted something extremely derogatory about Christian faith in general and Christians in particular on Facebook. I don’t remember the post but I do recall my reaction. After I said “What did you just say?” to his imaginary face (appropriate, after all Facebook is an imaginary world, you know) I frowned and shook my head and went about my day.

But I couldn’t really shake it. This was more than just a “Sorry, but I don’t believe that” kind of post. This was close to downright vilifying those who believe in God. It was as close to hate speech as I’ve ever experienced, unless I count the number of times blacks have called me “honky” or “cracker.”  (Relax, I’m joking.) But the post really was quite hateful.

It bothered me–a lot–but I really didn’t have an answer or a comeback at the time. So I pushed it away, filed away for later action, set on the back burner. The problem is that similar posts, hostile to Christianity, keep showing up in my feed. These well-meaning liberals, intent on freeing minds from the burden of religion, have resorted to attacking religion, specifically Christian religion, in their quest to ridicule those who profess a set of beliefs.

I came to a conclusion: It’s also known as bullying.

And it occurred to me, yes, I am a Christian. But those posts were not about me, and never were. Those posts were actually directed toward a very small minority which unfortunately has become the unwitting poster people of Christian excess. I’ll identify them in just a moment.

Let’s go back, first. It’s important to realize, no matter what your background, that you don’t have a monopoly on virtue, on rightness, or correctness, or orthodoxy, intellect or achievement, I don’t care where you come from. You aren’t the best, you aren’t the greatest, you’re not the smartest, and you sure aren’t the only path to salvation, either spiritual or scientific. People are people, and there are a whole hell of a lot of us, no pun intended. The chance of you being the equivalent of a Jesus, a Mohammad, a Gandhi, an Einstein, a Russell, a Whitehead, or a Bach or Beethoven just isn’t very likely. So, understand this, if you aren’t all that, then neither am I. So take what I say with a grain of salt. I’m surely going to do the same for you.

Going back, faiths have splintered and broken and splintered again for as long as there have been faiths. Christianity includes Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Catholics, Church of Christ, Free Will churches and many, many, unconnected and unorthodox believers. And Christianity itself is a splinter of Judaism, don’t ever forget that. That is why the Old Testament is part of our Scriptures. Personally, I think we would do well to include a healthy dose of Hebrew studies and Talmud studies alongside the studies of Paul and Jesus.

The point is, there are many, many, many interpretations of the Christian faith. And that’s the rub. There are many of us. Some of us are liberal, and believe strongly in equal rights for all people, caring for the planet, helping those who are less fortunate, and so on. Some of us are of a more conservative stripe, with more emphasis on worship and piety. Others find themselves in-between, a solid mix of doing good, and spiritual communion.

And then there is Fundamentalism. Those who know me well, know I have little taste for nor patience with Fundamentalism. If you aren’t sure of the definition, I’ll provide a brief one: it is a belief system which depends upon extremely rigid doctrinal beliefs, with a central document such as the Bible as it’s authoritative source, The theology is often simplistic, and often uses verses of the Bible (or whatever book is central to it’s beliefs) out of context as opposed to in context in support of certain tenets of belief. Fundamentalists prefer to avoid the more difficult aspects of faith and stick to the basic fundamentals (the source of the name). There is an absolute belief in heaven and hell, and in God and Satan. The Fundamentalist belief system is in fact a duality belief system. For every positive, there is a negative. For God, there is Satan, for angels, demons, for Christians, heathen, for believers, non-believers. Its adherents often stress isolation from the material world, and listen to Christian music as opposed to popular music. They associate with other believers as opposed to non-believers. They stress devotion to the world above and disdain the world in front of them. This duality is almost mathematical in it’s purity, though I doubt this mathematical quality to faith is recognized by the believers. Another facet of the fundamentalist faith is that is an emotive faith as opposed to an active faith.

Let’s look at that. Emotion is the part of us that allows to experience fully what we are feeling. It lowers the guard to allow us access to feelings and emotions. In this, the Fundamentalists can shout, exhort, cry, and feel great excitement. Other faiths disdain this emotional excess. They don’t bother with the feeling aspect. They are much more concerned with doing. Thus they will spend a lot of time and energy raising money, sending folks on mission trips, and in general acting out their faith–action–to follow Jesus’ commands to help the least of these our brethren.

Jesus never struck me as a particular emotional fellow. Except when he got pissed off. He didn’t mind knocking tables over and kicking butts when the moneychangers were at the Temple. That aside, he seemed pretty level-headed for the most part. But intent on his mission, oh yes.

The point is, these Fundamentalists have cornered the market on emotive religion, and that is much to the chagrin of the rest of us. An emotional approach to faith allows one to speak his mind, and boy, do they. Over the years, the Fundamentalists, from Jerry Falwell, to Jim Bakker, to Oral Roberts and many, many others, have made so many pronouncements from their pulpits that make the rest of us cringe. Just a few days ago that Pat Robertson made another such gaffe, telling folks it was okay to marry your cousins as long as you don’t have “Mongoloid children.”

I was stunned when I read that, and then I suddenly had my answer.

No, all those posts on Facebook weren’t directed at me, a guy who quietly worships at a Lutheran church and feels no need to shout and stomp my feet when I do so. No, they aren’t talking about me. I don’t beat people up and demand they believe like I do or they will go to hell. I don’t point out there is only one possible way to interpret the Bible. And so on.

Those posts were directed at the Fundamentalist Christians, folks who are known for an emotionally rich but intellectually poor theology. Folks who are prone to select leaders who make outrageous pronouncements time and time again. Folks who insist theirs is the ONLY way to salvation, the ONLY truth, and if anyone tells you differently, they are from Satan!!!

You see the problem? This type of polemic is best reserved for schoolyard gang brawls, but somehow we’ve allowed it infect our most sacred institutions and as a result this loud, obnoxious and utterly spiteful brand of faith is allowed to flourish, giving rise to such intellectual giants as Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church ilk.

And I don’t need to point out something. Surely most of you are aware:  Fundamentalism isn’t limited to the Christian faith. Islamic Fundamentalists are the ones that brought down the World Trade Center. It amounts to an almost fanatical, unreasonable approach to faith, full of emotion, but no logic and no reason alongside it. One can holler and wave arms and Bibles and shout “Praise Jesus!”, or one can holler and wave AK-47’s and shout “Praise Allah!!” It’s all the same. It has nothing to do with the majority of Christians or Muslims.

The problem is those of you who insist on belittling Christian faith do so on the flimsiest of pretexts, claiming moral and intellectual superiority when in fact you are simply practicing what you accuse so many others of doing: bigotry. Intellectual superiority? Puh-lease. See above: you aren’t intellectually superior. Nor morally.

The fact is, if you’ve been belittling Christianity, most likely you are belittling the Fundamentalists, not the serious rank and file Christians who make up the majority of the denominations. If you have a serious enough question about faith, then you owe it to yourself and those you question to at least put your objection into a serious form.  Posting a pseudo-intellectual meme or bumper sticker on Facebook tells me you are quite serious about being the class clown, and not serious at all about an honest conversation of faith.

Look, I don’t care if you are an atheist, a Holy Roller, a devout mainstream Christian or whatever. You happy? Then good. I’m happy. But if you start posting things which show up on my news feed about how Christians have no intellect at all and are a bunch of idiots, I’m going to call you out for being the bully you are.

If you are pointing out something Westboro Baptist does, then great, say that. Or if you want to point out something Pat Robertson says or does, great, point it out. But don’t do so and say, “See, Christians are a bunch of idiots.”

We’re not. Trust me. We range from high school graduates to post-doctoral graduates. We have myriad approaches to faith, and your lumping all of us into one pot isn’t doing your argument any favors. If in fact, you are responding to comments made by Robertson or any others like him, just say instead, “See, Fundamentalists are a bunch of idiots.”  I’m not going to argue that point, I agree. Just don’t ever cast me or include me in the same grouping as them.

Rant over.

Snakes Alive!

September 4, 2013

I posted a picture on my Facebook page the other day of a dead copperhead I ran over on my riding mower. I never saw it but it was in a field behind my house that had not been mowed all summer. One section is still unmowed: a pile of dead limbs someone put there. And I suspect there may be more snakes hiding out. I will approach with caution when I clean it out.

Still, I was curious about the snake, and looked it up to be sure of the identification. Definitely a young copperhead. I also got curious and read a bit more on the snakes found in North Carolina. Too many to list here, but I thought I’d give a rundown on our venomous species.

The most commonly encountered venomous snake in the state is the copperhead. Found virtually everywhere, it is a pit viper with a pretty good dose of venom. However, as I read, the copperhead’s poison is too weak to kill a person, but it will seriously injure, producing necrotic (dead) tissue and severe pain, and often infection. The poison contains no neurotoxins like other pit vipers.


Though it is not a lethal snake, more snakebites occur from copperheads than other snake, for two reasons. One is they are more common, but the second reason has to do with their method of defense. Rattlesnakes will rattle their rattles, of course, as a warning. The Cottonmouth will stay very still but open its mouth and display its fangs. The copperhead will sometimes vibrate its tail and make noise in leaves or brush. I nearly stepped on one as a child and it behaved exactly so; coiled, ready to strike, and vibrating its tail like crazy. But often, there is no warning; the snake will simply bite. Interestingly, the bite is sometimes a “dry bite.” Little or no venom is released. In other words, for the Copperhead, the bite is the warning. This makes sense; the venom is used to kill prey, and the snake would not likely waste it on defense once a threat is howling and jumping in pain. It can then escape. Other times, they inject a good bit of venom. In any case, a Copperhead bite can result serious injury and will require medical attention.

Less common, and much more dangerous, is the Cottonmouth, also known as a Water Moccasin.


The way to distinguish this snake is the stripe along the side of the head, as well as the white mouth. Very rare in the Piedmont region but more common in the eastern part of the state. It is fairly docile and more likely to flee rather than engage someone who disturbs it. This snake is highly dangerous, though, and its venom can be fatal. They prefer swamps, streams, lakes and creek areas.

Next we have the Pigmy Rattlesnake. This is a small, fat snake found in Southeastern NC as far west as the Charlotte area but not generally found too far north of Charlotte. Not very aggressive, and not commonly seen. Generally found near water, such as creeks, marshy areas and pine forests.


The snake’s rattle is tiny and emits a buzzing sound which is hard to hear unless you are within 2-3 feet. Not known to be particularly aggressive, and will flee rather than attack a larger human, unless cornered. Can be seen crossing roads from time to time, but many have never seen one. Maximum size for these is two feet, so it is not a big snake. Its venom is more like a copperhead’s: devoid of neurotoxins and this snake is unable to produce much of it. Its bite will be quite painful, however, and requires medical attention.

The most common rattlesnake in North Carolina is the Timber Rattlesnake, or Canebrake Rattler. Found almost everywhere in the state, it is a medium-sized rattlesnake of fairly docile disposition. Will rattle its tail when approached but is more likely to flee than attack. But one caveat: individual snakes can be wildly aggressive when encountered, while others will not even attempt to rattle a warning. They will simply move away.


Given its unpredictable nature, it is best to steer clear of these. Unlike the Pigmy Rattlesnake and the Copperhead, the venom in the Timber Rattler is very strong and contains potent neurotoxins. Deaths have occurred from these snakes’ venom.

This snake prefers unpopulated areas and is often more active at night than day in the summer months. Can grow from three feet to five feet in length, though most will be in the two-four foot range.

Next up is the Coral Snake, which is only rarely seen. I may have seen one as a child on my grandparents’ farm, though I cannot remember the markings well enough to state with certainty it was a Coral Snake. This is a highly dangerous snake, the only venomous snake in North Carolina that is not a pit viper. It is instead related to a cobra, so that alone should give anyone pause when encountering one. Another reason is this: there is no longer any antivenom being produced in the United States, simply because drug companies have determined it is unprofitable. In other words, you get bitten by one of these babies, you’ve got real problems.


There are other snakes which closely resemble the Coral Snake, but it’s easy to remember the distinction: “Red touches black, it won’t hurt Jack, Red touches yellow, it kills a fellow.”

Fortunately, this snake is quite docile and not very likely to strike. And it is so adept at keeping away from humans most people never see one. They grow up to three feet on average.

The final venomous snake found in North Carolina is, of course, the granddaddy of all venomous snakes in America, the Eastern Diamondback Rattler. This is by far the most dangerous snake in the United States. I have not seen one, but my father did on his farm growing up. He killed two that I know of. Their habitat has been so encroached upon that they are now considered endangered. Note: It is against the law to kill this snake in North Carolina.


This is a very large and very dangerous snake. Its venom is exceptionally potent, containing powerful neurotoxins, and hemotoxins. The hemotoxins will literally destroy red blood cells, while the neurotoxins can result in paralysis (including breathing) and heart stoppage. A bite from the Diamondback is a true medical emergency, and up to 30% of its victims die, though I suspect that number is more like 10-20% given the better and rapid care available today. The venom is also hemorrhagic and causes local tissue necrosis.

That said, the magnificent Diamondback is a very rare snake, hunted and killed to near extinction. Some authorities are not sure there are any left in the state, but I find that unlikely. Still, they have only been seen in the Southeast portion of the state, though, as I mentioned, my father killed two on the farm in Montgomery County, which is part of the Piedmont region of the the state.

This is the heaviest venomous snake, according to one source, but it is unclear if that means in the world or in the US. It is definitely the largest venomous snake the US. It also grows to an impressive size, up to a whopping eight feet long, and fifteen pounds. It also has a long strike distance, up to half his body length, though some say a third. But that means that three feet away is not a safe distance! Best thing to do if one is encountered is to back away slowly, snap a picture if you can, and walk away.

There really isn’t a need to kill venomous snakes. They do not bother humans (running in fright because you have a snake phobia does not qualify as bothering humans) and prefer to live away from most humans, the copperhead being a notable exception. It’s like this: if you happen upon a hornet’s nest in the woods, you steer clear of it, right? Same with a poisonous snake. Steer clear and keep your eyes open.

My last blog post, on the passing of Rev. Will D. Campbell, brought a flood of memories to me. Mainly of my time in seminary and the work I did to answer God’s call, all in the context of a looming shadow slowly drifting over the Baptist landscape of the time.

A bit of history. In the 1970’s, two prominent Baptists viewed with alarm at what they considered “liberal” teachings at our Southern Baptist seminaries. They, Judge Paul Pressler and the Rev. Dr. Paige Patterson, helped engineer a conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, beginning in 1979. The church I went to was very conservative and my pastor warned me about the evils of liberals in those institutions. Especially at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. I chose to go to Southeastern, calmly assured my faith was strong and unshakable.  Naturally, I believed in the inerrant and infallible Word of God.

It didn’t take long for my professors to start making an impression on me. I began realizing when you start adding doctrines and theories such as the writers of the Bible merely being “human pens” so that God could write his Word, it didn’t make a lot of sense. I can’t find a theory or explanation of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible in the Bible. Thus, it is merely a human idea, and thus, not one worthy of my time or energy to defend or promote.  I considered it a lesser theory because it leads, in my opinion, to faith being built on shaky ground. My faith is built on the Bible, not theories about the Bible. It is, I think, crucial to understand the difference.

So, I tossed inerrancy and those related theories out the window. But the conservative movement had continued to grow, fueled by Reagan’s presence in the White House and the near-hysteria of the proponents of the movement in insisting on the removal of the “liberals” from our churches and seminaries. And believe me, these conservatives most certainly did believe those theories. In their entirety.

The stage was set then for a major clash.

When the conservatives finally gained a majority on Southeastern’s Board of Trustees, students and faculty alike staged massive protests. We painted signs, wore ribbons to signify “courage” and vowed to sit in the trustee meeting and not move if they made a move to go into executive session. The conservatives lashed out at us, deriding us for creating “an orchestrated climate of intimidation.”

You betcha! I was in the thick of it, being on an ad-hoc steering committee that worked to get the signs painted, prepare responses and spread the word to those around us. We wanted the conservative trustees to understand how we felt, that this intrusion into academic freedom was not a welcome thing. As baptists, we don’t believe in creeds. Our guiding principle is the preisthood of the believer, the belief that God will work miracles in his own way in his own time with each individual, and that does not depend on following a rigid belief system for it’s efficacy. Faith is not a pick-and-choose menu.  Our little movement spread to all the seminary campuses, but not for long.

Of course, they did what they came to do. Within five years, all but one professor had left. The seminary and its marvelous faculty was gone, dispersed like seeds in the wind. Some have passed away now, and a few are still teaching. I count it a great tragedy that the conservatives sought the ouster of these talented and compassionate men and women.  Oh, and by the way, I only met one professor at the seminary I could call a “liberal,” and even that is debatable.

And we all moved on. Graduated, moved out to begin ministry in all kinds of settings. I am proud of my involvement in those days. I don’t relive it much, though.

And here’s why. With the fighting of a certain movement, labels became necessary. Conservative, Fundamentalist, Liberal, Moderate. Thus I was a moderate Baptist or moderate Christian, not holding extreme views, but not subscribing to the fundamentalist doctrine of biblical inerrancy. That doesn’t mean I think the Bible is false, for crying out loud. It just means I don’t agree with their theory of inerrancy, at least the way they present it.

So we became a carefully labeled Baptist society, conservative Baptist, modern Baptist, and so on. In due time, I’ve come to realize something. That’s not workable.

“What am I?” is the question that occurs as I wonder what appellation to ascribe to myself. More and more over the years, such designations make me increasingly uncomfortable. Am I, or is anyone, less or more of a Christian, a follower, by qualifying such appellations with words such as liberal, conservative, moderate, fundamentalist?

I think not.

And I suspect the question itself might be part of the problem. What am I? or Who am I? Maybe it is better without the qualifier.

Am I?

Or am I not?

I am a follower of Christ. I am living my life in accordance with his teachings, revealed in the Bible. As a person of faith, I am cogent of the workings of the Holy Spirit to guide my thinking and help me better understand my place in this world.  I am ready to act on my faith when presented with a situation that calls for it.

Or, I am not. I think it is that simple, when we get right down to it.

I AM, of course, is the answer God gave Moses at the burning bush, when Moses asked who he was.  And that problematic answer seems to make a lot more sense when I quit trying to qualify it with modifiers.  In other words, God is saying to Moses, “Moses, quit beating around this here bush and get your ass in gear! Because I AM.”


I am either a follower of Christ or I am not. Anything beyond that is to invite something besides faith to live within us. And that troubles me mightily.



Will CampbellI was greatly saddened to learn this week of the passing of Rev. Will D. Campbell, the renegade preacher whose life and ministry were shaped by the tumultuous changes that occurred in the landscape of 1950’s and 1960’s America. Perhaps no other writer or theologian helped shaped my views more than he did.

Campbell, often dismissed as a flaming liberal, a rabble-rouser or agitator, was in fact not so easily pinned down. He worked in the area of civil rights, yes. He denounced institutions that denied civil rights to poor, non-white Americans. He denounced churches that by wink and nod, allowed the perpetuation of the disenfranchising of the less fortunate and those of different skin color.

But he also was right at home with Klansmen, redneck society (he gladly admitted to being a redneck himself) and staunch conservatives who either shared or rejected his views, but loved him just the same. His easy movement between both worlds, liberal academia and redneck conservatism, earned him many detractors. I can think of One who also had similar criticisms.

There are many whose words are similar. They too, have, spoken forcefully for change and a better life for those affected by racism, economic disadvantage, and other societal pressures that break the backs of those Jesus called “the least of these my brethren.”

But Campbell didn’t preach his words from an office in an ivory tower. He found it impossible to work in any conventional churches. The steeples, as he called them, too often existed as repositories for exclusiveness and institutional demagoguery, in spite of the creeds which commanded them to love all people, and do unto others as they would want done to them.

As such, his congregation consisted of his farm, his animals, and the many who called upon him for advice and counsel. He was at times a profane man, quite able to to let loose a string that would make a sailor proud. He appreciated a fine sipping whisky, and was known to make a batch of moonshine from time to time. He chewed and spit tobacco.

He was also a brilliant writer and theologian. His star rose following his ouster as chaplain at the University of Mississippi, and during his appointment as race relations specialist with the National Council of Churches. He met with leaders in the civil rights movement far and wide, and even met with Robert Kennedy and other leaders in the White House to help the young attorney general form a picture of what needed to be done. Kennedy mentioned to the men present that the government was beginning to use the new wiretapping technologies to gather information on those committing the crimes. Campbell writes, “Most of us in the room were thinking the same thing. But none of us said it: Doesn’t this man know that our telephones are already being tapped–and for the precise reason he was suggesting–national defense, subversion?”  Following his tenure with the National Council of Churches, he began a long career as a writer, writing a veritable armload of delightful fiction and non-fiction alike.

My acquaintance with Rev. Campbell began in 1984, I believe. I went on a mission trip to Comer, GA, with our Wingate College campus minister, Dr. Jim McCoy. We had some great discussions on faith and practice during the week. At one point, our speaker was discussing the death penalty (with a definite left-leaning approach). I thought about it and ventured a view that the punishment really isn’t the issue. At heart, to me, is the issue of forgiveness according to Jesus’ words. Whether death or life in prison, a criminal is nonetheless removed from society. The question to me was, are we capable of being forgiving to those who do us wrong, even an ultimate wrong? I recall Jim looked at me and raised an eyebrow, and smiled.  I knew he had something up his sleeve for me.

After the group broke up from discussion, he went over to a library on site and pulled Campbell’s incredible memoir Brother to a Dragonfly. (Proceed directly to Amazon and order a copy for yourself. It is that good, and that worthy, the kind of book you want to grab people by the lapels over to let them know it’s there).

Jim found a passage related to what we were discussing and asked me to read it. I immediately grasped that this was no ordinary book. It was astonishing. I proceeded to read the entire book over the next three days, returning it only with great reluctance when we left. As soon as we returned, I purchased my own copy.

In short, Campbell upended my own naive, thou-shalt-not, Sunday School lessons-based faith and forced me to realize how pitiful were my own shallow attempts to follow Christ. He never saw the need to use Church Talk, constantly sprinkling conversation with “Praise the Lord!” or “Amen!”  to let people know he was a Christian. His life was his faith. Acted out, performed, lived, and Will Campbell couldn’t care less what you or anyone else thought of him, especially when he went contrary to social norms and mores of the day.

Oh yeah, leftist and liberal on some issues. But I know many conservatives who would be nodding and grinning at his recounting the days of the New Deal in the 1930s when his father got fired from a WPA job, and the brutally painful opening of one’s private life to government agents so they could receive assistance. The assistance was mostly food, but they lived on a farm. They had plenty of food. At the height of the Great Depression, they needed money to pay the bills with. As he pointed out, government programs were inefficient, wasteful and begun at the wrong end of need.

Gradually, as the narrative unfolds, we see Campbell’s own understandings of the world around him take shape. Unlike so many who complacently accept it without question, Brother Will would begin to wonder why things were they way they were. Would they, could they, not be different?

A quick glance at the book, if that’s all right.

Brother to a Dragonfly is a memoir of Will’s relationship with his troubled brother, Joe, who died of a drug overdose. And a memoir of his work in the civil rights era.

P.D. East was a like-minded liberal who didn’t believe much in the way of God. Not surprisingly, Campbell was his friend. The two of them and Joe were drinking one evening, and P. D. had pushed Campbell for a definition of Christianity in ten words or less. Because he, P. D. East, didn’t understand it. Ten words.

Campbell mulled it over and came up with, “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.”

Earlier in the day a preacher and civil rights worker Jonathon Daniel and his friend were shot to death by a rural deputy, Thomas Coleman, for no apparent reason than the fact they were civil rights workers. Campbell knew Jon Daniel, and called connections in the Justice Department and other government offices, using words like “cracker, backwoods, wool hat, Kluxer,” and many others. He as angry and distraught. But P. D. saw something else.

So P. D. pursued him. “Come on, Brother, let’s talk about your definition…Was Jonathon a bastard?”

(Campbell) I said I was sure that everyone is a sinner in one way or another but that he was one of the sweetest and most gentle guys I had ever known.

(P. D.) “But was he a bastard?” His tone was almost a scream. “Now that’s your word, not mine. You told me…that everybody is a bastard. That’s a pretty tough word. I know. Because I am a bastard. A born bastard. A real bastard. My Mamma wasn’t married to my Daddy. Now, by god, you tell me, right now, yes or no, and not maybe, was Jonathon Daniel a bastard?”

(Campbell) I knew that if I said no he would leave me alone and if I said yes, he wouldn’t. And I knew my definition would be blown if I said no.

So I said “Yes.”

(P. D.) “All right. Is Thomas Coleman a bastard?”

(Campbell) That one was a lot easier. “Yes, Thomas Coleman is a bastard.”

(P. D.) “Okay, let me get this straight now. I don’t want to misquote you. Jonathon Daniel was a bastard. Thomas Coleman is a bastard. Right?”

Joe the Protector was on his feet.

(Joe) “Goddammit, P. D., that’s a sacrilege. Knock it off, get off the kid’s back!”

P. D. ignored him, pulling his chair closer to mine, placing his huge, bony hand on my knee. “Which one of these two bastards do you think God loves the most?” His voice now was almost a whisper as he leaned forward, staring me directly in the eyes…

…Suddenly everything became clear. Everything. It was a revelation. The glow of the malt which we were well into by then seemed to illuminate and intensify it. I walked across the room and opened the blind, staring directly into the glare of the street light. And I began to whimper. But the crying was interspersed with laughter.

…”P. D.?

“Yea, Brother?

“I’ve got to amend the definition…We’re all bastards but you’ve got to be the biggest bastard of us all.”

“How’s that, Brother?”

Because, damned if you ain’t made a Christian out of me. And I’m not sure I can stand it.”

Campbell writes that that moment was a true conversion for him. The point where he finally understood the full nature of grace and forgiveness. For if Jon Daniel, a servant and minister of Christ, was loved, then grace means that the evil Thomas Coleman, who murdered him and his friend–two innocent men–was also loved. And if loved, forgiven. His ministry took a radical turn then, no longer focusing on “liberal” causes such as race relations. He became a minister to all people, focusing his time and attention to bringing the Good News to liberals, conservatives, fundamentalists, rednecks, Ku Klux Klansmen, and so on.

Reading his words was a revelation, and an affirmation, for me as well. I had already begun to be disheartened at what I viewed as lip service to those in need by the institutions purporting to help them. When injustices occurred, where was the outrage? Isn’t following Christ supposed to be a radical experience? Putting us at odds with society when society is engaged in hurting or oppressing those who aren’t exactly like us? All too often, I saw the church as not only complacent in these matters, but actually partners in the kind of evil Campbell resisted. These days my ire has been directed more at corporate America, those bastions of unimaginable wealth who work in harmony to insure the poor and middle class stay appropriately poor and strained.

Unexpectedly, my own path became one quite similar to Campbell’s. Yeah, I preached sermons that some folks disagreed with, and one fellow actually walked out on. Yeah, I was shown the door a few months later. I can chuckle over that now. I figure, if I can preach a sermon that makes folks uncomfortable, I’m probably doing something right. I exited the ministry in the early 1990’s, at least full-time, church-sponsored ministry. But I have continued to do counseling, have performed marriages, funerals and other sundry duties of the office. That is what my calling is, not dressing up in a fancy robe and occupying a plush office in a nice, affluent church. The trappings of the job are never the job, and I’m grateful to Campbell for making sure I understood the difference early on.

It’s funny, I actually communicated with him in the late 1980’s. As my education was nearing completion I was contemplating the ordination process, and wondered who might help conduct the ordination service. I immediately thought of Will Campbell. And I noted with no small amount of glee he was in North Carolina at the time, as a writer-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. I wrote to him, care of the University, and inquired if he might be available.

Two weeks later he wrote back, the letter banged out on his typewriter with a heavy hand, complete with smudge marks and correction fluid. After some preamble, he said, “Morris, I thank you for your kind words, but you must understand. I’m not trying to gather disciples, I’m trying to BE a disciple! For your ordination, the steeples do a fine job preparing you for that, and I would encourage you to look closer to home.” I folded his letter and smiled. Once again, he had managed to teach me a lesson.

Grace is something that compels us to look twice and think again, that moment where you suddenly say, “Oh!” That evening with P. D. East and his brother Joe, Will Campbell was given pause to think again over his previously held assumptions on what it means to be a Christian, and to be the forgiver, a true forgiver. He experienced grace, with a capital G.

And in reading his works, he has elevated me to understand that compassion is not a matter of sympathy. I often had little sympathy in treating patients on my ambulance, knowing full well they often brought their misfortune upon themselves. But in practicing compassion, I made sure they received the best care I could give, regardless of my feelings. And I’ve been moved to fill a tank of gas for someone a long ways from home, or hand over a few dollars to a beggar, unsure if they were really needy or if their money had been spent on drugs or whatnot. It doesn’t matter. I want to give, if someone really needs it.

Compassion is what I do, not what I feel. And somehow, I think grace is understanding the difference between the two.

So, I thank you, Brother Will. I thank you for your writings, your lessons, and your kind words to me. I grieve your passing, but I have no choice but to celebrate your life. So, my little glass of Jack Daniels is raised in a toast to you.

Godspeed, good brother.

I am saddened beyond belief at today’s news. Yet another school shooting, at last count 20 dead children, 6 dead adults, plus one dead shooter. Appalling and heartbreaking. I spent a solid hour glued to my television earlier. 

I know what follows. The grim commentaries on mental illnesses, and lack of care for those afflicted, which might have made a difference. The somber interviews, news anchors apoplectic in their disbelief, B-roll shots of candlelight vigils, and most of all, the face of the shooter plastered all over every channel, and just about every media outlet in the world. 

Then of course you’ll find yet another round of 2nd Amendment arguments that we don’t need access to guns. Etc., ad infinitum

Here’s what I’m doing, and I encourage everyone to do the same. Turn your television OFF. Stop reading every online account of the tragedy. Stop listening to the radio reports that keep you glued to your chair. Why?

Because ultimately, that is exactly what the killer wanted. 

Think about it, every killing (and Columbine certainly wasn’t the first, nor will Sandy Hook be the last) like this is followed by hours and hours of news programming designed to capture us and keep us in shock, and even anger us. 

Let’s face it, few of us can forego an uneasy peek at a car wreck as we finally go by it, and we relish details of massacres and killings and such. We’re morbidly curious, because death is frightening and shocking, especially in public. Yes, yes, we all get that. But we still keep looking, right? 

There’s another, more sinister reason we look, I think. We want to know what kind of sick mind would do this sort of thing. Already, publishers are trying to get a angle to print the first book on the shootings and we’re already preparing to see yet another plastering of the killer’s face on the nightly news, for at least a week, with many follow-up stories after that. 

And that’s the rub: the killers know this, and in fact often study this. Yes, they are sick, but as long as they know there will be media coverage of their acts of horror, they will continue to commit them. Over and over and over…. They desire to go out in a blaze of glory. 

I might as well tell a dog to quit eating as tell the news media to quit covering these stories. They won’t as long as they have an audience. But just because they broadcast it, doesn’t mean I need to watch it. 

And tonight, I won’t. Nor will I in the coming days. I know all I need to know already. Lots of kids dead, and some adults, and it’s a damn tragedy. And I’m pretty sad about it. 

What I’m not going to do is give this lunatic what he so desperately wanted: seeing his face on the news. I’ll see it, I’m sure. But I’m not going to be glued to it. Nor will I continue to watch coverage of the details over and over. 

It’s insane to give lunatics an audience. Just because they committed acts of horror, doesn’t mean I’m going to get sucked into their melodrama. 

Let’s remember these precious victims without giving an ounce of fame or glory to the shooter, shall we? Perhaps in time, it will make a difference. 


The Lethargy of Winter

March 8, 2012

I’m not feeling my best at the moment. Dull, lethargic, uninterested, unchallenged, and unmotivated. Kind of an un-person right now, maybe.

I got to thinking, maybe I’m depressed, or maybe I should see a doctor. But somewhere, deep inside, I knew that wasn’t it.  Yesterday evening, though, I stepped outside and noticed the warmer temperatures. My senses perked up, and I felt… better. Like the first stirrings of a long winter sleep being shaken off.

Is that what it is? Simply wintertime? The more I think, the more sense it makes. Funny, I’ve never really noticed it before, but the truth is we all go into a bit of hibernation in winter. We don’t do as much physical activity, we stay cooped up inside and tend to veg out in front of the TV or computer. It’s cold and we would rather stay in where it’s warm.

And that lack of activity slows the blood, makes muscles weaker, and quiets the thinking. And while a good rest following an active summer and fall is a good thing, by the time February and March roll around, we’re ready to get back outside, put on the shorts and tees, and get out in the fresh air.

No, I’m not depressed. I’m just plain tired of winter, even though this winter hasn’t been much of one with the mild temperatures and agreeable weather. I’m ready to fire up my mower, trim the bushes and hedges and start building on my house again.

So, today, I’m thinking on the things I want to accomplish and do this year. And it feels pretty darn good to just be doing that.

Have a great day!

Going Back in Time

February 13, 2012

I picked up an old book a couple of weeks ago. The Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean Auel.  Though I don’t think it’s the best written book I’ve ever read, her story really held my attention.  And made me think on some things.

For those who don’t know, the book and its sequels, The Valley of the Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage, The Shelters of Stone, and The Land of Painted Caves, tells of the story of Ayla, a young girl in Ice Age times who loses her family to an earthquake. She is obviously Cro-Magnon (modern) human, and is adopted by a Neanderthal clan.  And as the series progresses, we follow her growth from Clan girl to outcast in search of her own people, and her adventures with her animal companions Whinney, Racer and Wolf, and later her relationship with the young man, Jondalar.

I have now read all but the last one, and it’s left me thinking.

Auel’s research for these novels was meticulous. She certainly doesn’t claim factual authenticity for much of it, but she kept the story within reach of what would be considered realistic, nonetheless. Based on archaeological findings scholars have indeed learned much about the Neanderthal way of life, as well as the Cro-Magnon people who followed them. Auel merely used their research as a backdrop for her own story.

I’m certainly not going to summarize several thousand pages of great stories here, suffice to say they make good reading. No, my purpose is a bit of reflection on those simpler times, more along the lines of how much we’ve gained, and how much we’ve lost.

People then lived in small communities. A couple dozen was a good sized clan or cave, in some cases groups of one hundred or more could be found. They lived together, worked together, ate together, and hunted together. There was a strong sense of community, and in many cases, several groups or clans comprised a larger body of one people with a common language.

Life was short and hard, and while there was play and relaxation, they had to work hard to gather food, hunt, forage for herbs and plants for food and medicinal purposes. They had definite beliefs and firm, though most likely flexible, rules for conduct and belief. They were certainly superstitious but understood their place as a part of the great Mother’s plan for them all. They settled disagreements amicably. Who would think of killing another human? The only deaths that were normal were the animals they hunted for food.

A simpler time, indeed. Would I want to go back to that lifestyle? No, not really. I rather like having a computer, and electricity. But there certainly are benefits to a society like that. The foremost being the very real dependency on each other to survive.

And I think the point of this post is just that: a lament for our newly-felt beliefs that we don’t really need others to survive. The fact is, we really do.

The issue that I see is that we can order our goods through Amazon, our entertainment through Netflix, and we get our food, already prepared for the most part, at grocery stores that charge exorbitant prices for the stuff we are perfectly capable of growing ourselves. In other words, dependence on others is marginalized. We like to envision ourselves as bold, go-it-alone types, perhaps. Most likely, though, the rise of the great cities and urban decay, with the crime, nastiness and trauma that came with that, made people afraid. Afraid of other people, other cultures, other ways and means.

The U.S. government has long tried to integrate society, failing miserably. I like people of all races, and have friends of all races. I do not want, however, to associate with gangsta crackheads. And if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… See where I’m going with that? I’m not going to befriend a wannabe Crip or a Yakuza member. I have enough problems without worrying about someone shooting me ’cause someone else said I dissed his momma.

People prefer to associate with like people. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But the forced integration of society has had the negative effect of destroying society. The days when Ethel could walk into Lucy’s apartment are long gone. We are afraid of the dark, of the shadowy figures that lurk on the sidewalks in hooded sweatshirts, and only feel safe behind the locked doors of our homes.  And prefer to shop via computer, or a well-lit grocery or department store.

In times past, and really, not even the distant past, this wasn’t the case. The Ice Age society of Auel’s imagination had to have existed in relative peace and harmony to have survived. And of course there was likely very little crime or misbehavior. Why? Because they were too busy gathering food to survive. They needed each other; they had little desire to kill those they depended on for survival!

That is not to say there were not disagreements. Of course there were. And the leaders’ job was to work through the disagreements and find a solution. That aside, that dependence made life bearable. There had to have been friendships, and competition, and celebrations, and feasts. There were weddings and funerals, births and deaths, prayers and laments, just as we have now. But in those times, everyone participated, and there was likely no thought of not going to the wedding or funeral, unless one was sick.  And that’s it, everyone participated, in everything. The evidence suggests they even lived together in the same cave, or structure, with only a border of stones outlining a family’s “space” within a cave. Everything, even sex, occurred in view of others, in some of the cultures. In others, there was much more privacy.

But the bottom line is that the cohesive societies that our forebears belonged to were quite homogenized, very blended. Everyone had a role, everyone contributed. We certainly don’t know how they kept everyone in line, but I don’t believe it was anything coerced. Most likely, as Auel suggests, it was taught from a very early age. They were educated by their parents as to the ways of the clan, and it was a very big deal for a young man to go on his first hunt, or for a young woman to experience her First Rites, the milestones that marked the transition to adulthood for these ancient people.  For at that time they ceased to be dependent on others, and could begin making their own contributions.

And that’s the point: everyone working in harmony to benefit the society. We like to believe we don’t need to do that now. But that’s just not true.

We cannot return to the past. We can’t go back to the simple days of those early times, hunting mammoth or bison in the great plains. We can’t even go back to the small family farms. The large industrial farms are unfortunately needed to sustain the incredible number of people living on the planet. We could all do a bit better and learn to grow what we can on our own land if we do own it, even if it’s just a few tomato plants or corn stalks. We could take the time to learn our neighbor’s names and help them when a project comes up. We could plan neighborhood get-togethers and cook-outs more often. No, we don’t want to return to those days when glaciers covered much of the land and people lived to the ripe old age of 30.

But we should make an effort to be a part of the community and the culture of our towns. Someday, our survival may depend on it.


The US Army, and me

October 27, 2011

Me and the Army.  I suppose more than a few of my friends might snicker at the mere thought, but it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years.  Mainly because I was never able to join.

And something has always bugged me about that.  A few thoughts on my views about eligibility, then, and how I would change it.

The fact is, I’m 4-F.  I honestly don’t even know how they classify folks these days, but when I was growing up during the Vietnam War, 4-F is what I was told I rated, even though I never applied. I simply asked around, and everyone concurred: with a seizure disorder and a hearing problem, I’m not fit to be a soldier.

I get that, I truly do. And I don’t complain about that one bit. Our fighting forces must have a high degree of fitness and a minimum standard for combat troops is truly necessary to ensure that level. The MEP docs who drafted the standards know what they are talking about, and it’s dumb to consider challenging that.

I do believe, however, that there’s room for me, and folks like me, in the Army.

In uniform.

People will scratch their heads, sigh, roll their eyes, and mumble about “diluting the standards.”  And certainly, countless folks who might be disqualified on medical issues nonetheless manage to forge rewarding and excellent careers in non-military roles, very often in uniform as police, fire or EMS personnel, or outside of any uniform, in careers such as education, medicine, business or government.

That said, however, there are many, many jobs in the Army which are not considered combatant roles, but rather support roles. Sure, everyone who goes through Basic learns to fire an M4 rifle and M9 pistol, and goes through grueling hikes and tons of exercise, training, and education.  But a large number of those folks never even leave the country, and spend their entire Army careers stateside on a base. And they never even carry a gun. Think of Corporal Upham in Saving Private Ryan. He never fired a gun except in basic training. He translated maps. Of course, Captain Miller had no problem putting him in, but then again, if he knew how inept the guy was going to be, he might have picked someone else.

What do they, the non-combatants, do? They work on vehicles, prepare and ship uniforms, weapons, supplies, they run computer systems and repair them, they are involved in preparing food, going over paperwork, and so on, and so on, and so on…

It is also true the military hires civilian workers to assist in work on the bases and offices all over the country, and even frequently overseas. And I know a few who would never qualify for the US Army due to medical conditions, but still manage just fine in a civie role. Sure, I could apply for one of those jobs, but to me, that’s not quite the same thing.

So, I got to thinking.

What if there was a way to wear the uniform while still being considered disabled? I’m not talking about someone who was formerly a soldier, injured in the line of duty, and assigned jobs that were accommodating. I mean being inducted as a disabled person from the start.

It would take an Act of Congress, no doubt. Still, I think it could be done.  Here is how:

1. Consider creating a separate division within the Army consisting of those not meeting the current standards of physical fitness, though a few limitations would be necessary. These persons would be assigned base duty or other duties not involving dangerous exercises, tasks or combat roles.

2. Those who hold civilian jobs would be given the option of joining this new Corps (the best name I can think of is Adjunct Military Service Corps, just one idea). The Corps would be composed of a central command which sets the standards for job performance, assignation, criteria, etc. And it is a fully functional US Army division, with its own uniform and insignia, and meets all the functions–and demands–which is expected of US Army personnel, with the exception of combat duty.

3. Those wishing to join would be required to attend boot camp, with one distinction: it would not be boot camp in the same vein as combatants, but perhaps a six-month evening program that fully immerses those who want to join into the military life, code of conduct, rules, and so forth. In other words, Boot Camp Lite. On the other hand, this “camp” may not be heavy on learning weapons and hand-to-hand combat, but very much so on all other matters regarding his or her general specialty as well as the military in general. Completion would not be easy for anyone.

4. Yes, standards would still exist. Mental dysfunction that inhibits one from completion of basic tasks would still be a disqualifier. Profound physical impairments that require extraordinary lengths of accommodation would also. But a hearing aid, or even total deafness, would not fall under that category, neither would a wheelchair, blindness, loss of limbs, cardiac limitations, diabetes, etc., so long as the person can perform the assigned tasks without help. And honestly, a 400 lb. man or woman isn’t going to be able to fit in, literally. No ugliness intended towards those overweight, but I just cannot imagine someone morbidly obese wearing the uniform.

5. I also believe as physical fitness is an important component of military life, those in the Corps would be required to complete physical training just like everyone else. A member who is blind, for example, can run alongside someone who isn’t, and one who is deaf, like me, can partner with someone who can hear the DI’s commands. Those in a wheelchair can do PT in the ways they are able. (In college, I once dated a girl who was blind. She knew I ran on the cross country team and wanted a workout partner, so every afternoon we jogged around several blocks, with me calling out when we turned. She didn’t fall once.) In a word, it’s doable. The workouts need not be as strenuous as that for combat troops, but keeping in shape is a good way keep workplace production at a high level.

6. At present, one must be between the ages of 17 years, nine months and 42 years of age to join the Army, though waivers exist for certain positions for which there is a pressing need. This Corps could have a more relaxed age requirement, I believe, allowing enlistment or commissions up to say five years before mandatory retirement at 62. This, too, allows a way for folks who may be considering a second job to be able to consider a position with the U.S. Armed Forces. I for one, think this is a far better alternative than having to go on disability or welfare because of the inability to get a job; discrimination hits disabled and older folks much harder than the average citizen.

I have had rewarding careers outside the military. I was a minister, then I worked in business, and finally, an EMT. I actually got to wear a uniform as an EMT, and held the rank of Lieutenant at one point. Yes, I served the citizens of northern and eastern Wake County, until I was no longer able to do so due to my deafness. So yes, I’ve worn a uniform, stood at attention, and saluted. But I never got to do something that really would have given me a more profound sense of accomplishment and joy: serving my country.

I’m no idealist, I know the regular Army guys would laughingly call it “The Crip Corps” or “The Wheelchair Brigade.”  Hahaha, hey guys, go suck on a bottle of gun oil, why don’tcha?  All joking aside, I can think of several benefits to having a Corps or Division such as this.

1. Improved accountability and professionalism.  Let’s face it, a regimented lifestyle breeds discipline and professionalism. Those in uniform are always more likely to bring a greater sense of professionalism and dedication to the job. I know; I wore a uniform once. We weren’t as highly trained, nor even drilled in the fundamentals of how to give a proper salute, but just wearing a uniform in public immediately created a sense of pride, honor and integrity in our squad. It’s simply contagious. I do not imply there is any laxness on the part of our many civilian workers in the military at all. But wearing a uniform can do wonders for overall morale and productivity, I believe.

2. A Service Corps could provide a place for direct lateral transfer for wounded soldiers wounded who would otherwise face separation from the service due to injuries received either in combat or training. This Corps would not be held to as high a standard physically and these soldiers can continue their military careers in uniform, if they have the ability to perform assigned tasks. I believe this could save millions of taxpayer dollars in after-service psychiatric care, as many soldiers feel disenfranchised by forced medical separation from the service, and that separation is often the source of profound anger and alienation. This would provide a place for them to continue serving in spite of their injuries.

3. A Corps such as this might provide an alternative to those desiring uniformed service but not wishing to be involved in combat, i.e., conscientious objectors. I honestly am not sure about this, because objectors in many ways are not very popular folks within the military. Still, it might be one option, especially if the draft is ever reinstated. And of course, there are many roles in the standard military where those who don’t want combat roles can choose to go, anyway.

4. Having a central Corps command could possibly streamline non-combatant jobs by centralizing training and eliminating redundant positions. I would envision a transitional period where civilians currently working would have the option to join the new Corps or remain as they are, with no loss of pay or promotional opportunity. But in time, all new hires not designated as regular Army would then fall under the new Corps command, and become uniformed. In other words, once the transitional period is over, there won’t be “civilian” jobs except where permitted or designated, and all support positions will fall under the new Corps or Division.

5. I suspect any initial costs (studies, new uniforms, command structure, etc.) would be offset in the long run by a Corps bent on saving the greatest possible amount of tax dollars. Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency, in other words.  Many Army units are famous for specific actions or roles. I would envision this Corps to be a very tightly-ordered group that does its job with a high regard for efficiency, professionalism and dedication. Done, right, I believe this could very well be an example of how the government can do something right, instead of the usual wasteful approach. One good thing: the new Corps won’t have need of $1400.00 wrenches or $700.00 toilet seats. And there are plenty of old Army bases gathering dust all over the United States. One or two of them could be reopened as command and training center(s) for the new Corps, or an existing base could be expanded for such accommodation.

Honestly, workplace accommodation isn’t that difficult or expensive. I might require a phone with greater than normal amplification. The guy in a wheelchair needs wheelchair ramps and access. The blind need a workplace that isn’t constantly changing, and free of tripping hazards.

Another consideration: the disabled such as myself can often function much better than “normal” people in one regard. We have developed much higher-than-normal acuity in certain aspects of our mental function. As a deaf person, I am far more attuned to what I see, and I can often spot things the average person misses, the by-product of a lifetime of depending on my eyes to evaluate a situation. I can read lips in some ways too well; I watched my favorite basketball coach let loose a string of profanities in a timeout when he was berating his team not too long ago. I couldn’t hear him, but I sure know what he said! In similar guise, the blind person is highly attuned to sounds and can often make distinctions in tone, pitch and voice that is not always apparent to the average listener. Such persons might be invaluable in intelligence functions, among others.

Of course, I am not envisioning such a Corps to be primarily for those who are disabled in some way, not at all. “Normal” people would certainly make up the majority, just as they do in real life. But as we know, “disability” is often a fine line. What is disabling in one career is just fine in another. And that’s the gist. I am only proposing at least one segment of the uniformed military be open to those not of combat standards, but who could at least perform necessary and important tasks. So, while I can’t carry a gun, I could at least support those who do, while proudly wearing the uniform of my comrades.

We all know the military has a long history of protected discrimination. Part of that was and is justifiable, and held so by the courts. In other ways, such discrimination was found to be wrong, and they always stepped up, slowly perhaps, but stepped up nonetheless, to do the right thing.  Blacks, for example, were relegated often to be mess cooks and orderlies in the Navy, and we all know the story of Navy Mess Attendant First Class Doris “Dorie” Miller, a black man, who instead of cooking breakfast on the morning of December 7th, 1941, found himself manning a .50 caliber machine gun, possibly shooting down several Japanese war planes at Pearl Harbor. He was awarded the Navy Cross, and subsequently died in combat later in the war. Still, I have no doubt his heroic efforts that day probably did as much for improving race relations as any individual action before or since. And by Vietnam, blacks and whites were serving together with no real problems. Now the new trial is gays and lesbians in the military. Of course, there’s nothing new about that, except they don’t have to hide who they are. Most all of the past discriminations that occurred (race, sex and orientation) were found to be unsupportable in the long run. I am just of the opinion that while those destined for combat need to be in top physical form, those who perform those support roles perhaps don’t need to be so perfect. Just very good at their j0bs.

Yes, I believe this could be a very good idea. Think of it: leaner and more tightly-ordered support personnel now consisting of uniformed men and women, tightly regimented and focused on efficiency and professionalism, with a lower threshold for physical limitations but a very high one for doing things in a strongly professional and efficient manner.

So, is the Army ready for me?

Sure they are. Just shout if you need me, though