Hit the reset

Top of the morning to ya’! It’s raining and I have small streams in my basement. You’ll have that with an old and somewhat creaky foundation. No big thing though…I keep important stuff up off the floor. And my powder’s dry. 😉

My brother-in-law conducted an odd but interesting social experiment Thanksgiving night, after dropping my sister and nephew off at home. He drove 40 minutes back up the highway to the shopping centers to observe Black Friday. He found friends standing in line. He wandered through Target and other stores. He did nothing but observe (and buy my sis a new waffle iron. We all thank you).

At our family Thanksgiving, on Saturday, he was telling us all about it and it was interesting to listen to us talk to him, to hear him describe it. It was if he had spent six months with the Peace Corps studying aboriginal people. We just sat there slack-jawed as he described a culture that is not ours (none of us like Christmas shopping and our Christmases tend to be pretty simple and are getting more so as our budgets shrink).

Apparently it was a pretty good Black Friday (for everyone who wasn’t pepper sprayed or who had to work). And Cyber Monday broke records as well. I don’t know if you noticed, but gas prices stayed lower until last night, when they jumped 10-20 cents. Feel manipulated? You should. The teevees and pundits told us we were supposed to be happy little shoppers, park our sleeping bags outside the Kohl’s and march in when the bell goes off. It does not matter if you need the new pots and pans did-you-see-the-price-oh-my-god!

Part of me wonders, though, if the reason this shopping season is off with such a bang is because we as Americans are just collectively saying SCREW IT. I know no one (except my sister who finished grad school and got a better job) who has a healthier wallet. I know mine’s not noticeably improved. Retiring debt in one area means I just work harder then in others.

I think we are, in the words of Battlestar, hopelessly frakked. And I think we know it. So buy all, buy merrily, before we die all, die merrily. I have sensed, in a strange way, a bit more community in odd places, a bit more desire to stay put and grow roots and maybe help. There’s been more enthusiasm about our Christmas Bureau families at the office, and we have less money as a staff then we had last year.

I agree with this guy who said the whole global economy is beginning to reset. We know, in our hearts, this can’t continue. Those of us who pay attention to such things are watching Europe self-destruct, for now somewhat peacefully (but Lord, you know they can’t keep that up). We are making peace with $3.50 a gallon gas because we are sure it will be higher at some point. Maybe we’ve reached peak oil before we have anything to replace it.

Some of us, most of us, are still stuffing ourselves with trinkets and Twinkies, but I think I feel something changing. With any luck (please Lord, have mercy) we’ll keep our wits about us and settle in to the new normal, where we figure out how to keep our roofs over heads, our cars running and realize that our money is just money and we owe less than the banks do to us and well, you do what you can. Maybe we’ll figure out how to make life more local. If gas is expensive, it’s going to have to be. If those of us who have more (at least for now) can figure out how to ease the transition for the less-equipped (emotionally, physically and socially), we can keep our families safe as the water seeps through the foundational cracks of our Republic.

Keep the important stuff up off the floor and by all means, kids, keep your powder dry.

Living in constant luxury and merriment, man is indeed as if lulled to sleep by the strong drink of this world. But then, in the midst of luxury and merriment, the thought of death tugs at him and awakens him. Oh, I must die! I must leave this world! I must come before God and before the angels! Where is my soul? Where are my deeds? With what shall I leave this world, and with what shall I enter into the nxt world? Thousands upon thousands of those who have been awakened from sinful sleep by such questions have fled to the wilderness and, day and night, they amend their souls and purify their hearts by repentance, prayer, fasting, vigils, labor and other proven means by which man kills the fear of death, and becomes adopted by God.

– St. Nikolai Velimirović (h/t to Jason Rossiter)



Well, at least it wasn’t my name on the file folder.

Part of my job is to read all the civil lawsuits filed in Allen County (excepting small claims). So each day, alongside the felonious actions we take against each other, I pour through the mortgage foreclosures, the divorces and the wrongful death claims.

There’s a lot of medical stuff in there, too, particularly attempts by hospitals and medical groups to collect on the debts owed by the horrendously ill or injured. Those make me particularly sad.

This week I found one that was this poor guy being sued by the local neuro-spine and pain clinic for about $30,000. The bill was attached to the complaint, so I read the itemized charges. It was horrible. Skull infections, burr holes, hydrocephaly, pain meds. And after each treatment, it showed they ran his Blue Cross insurance card and it was denied. Here ya’ go, Mr. Unidentified Sick Guy, sorry about your brain injury and your horrific months of painful treatment but you owe us this much money. Did you know that down the street is federal court, where you can file for bankruptcy so nobody wins?

Why, Rebecca? Why are you telling us this on this happy day of balloons floating past Central Park, cranberry sauce, football games and family time?

Because I am thankful. I am thankful that nothing like that has befallen me or my family. Yet. I am thankful that I am have a job, that my mortgage has been reset at a lower interest rate so I can better afford the annual jacking-up of my insurance premiums.

I hope, though, that we as a nation, particularly those of us who claim to follow Christ, recognize that what happened to Unnamed Sick Guy is unacceptable in a developed country and that greater attention is needed as to who profits from others’ misfortune. I hope that we recover that inherent socialism that drives Limbaugh so crazy this time of year when we remember the shared table of the first (probably mostly mythical) Thanksgiving.  We’re all in this together, whether we like it or not.

So be thankful, my friends. Have a glass of wine and grab another slice of pie and be grateful that this year you probably weren’t the “least of these.” But remember those that are and remember that there, but for the grace and intervention of God, you could very easily go in the next 12 months.

Gobble, gobble.


Five Guys and the baby Jesus

Ed. note: As of 9 a.m. 11/15/2011, the murder trial was continued. Thank God for small favors.

Tomorrow starts the Nativity Fast.

This is going to be a long 40 days and I am in absolutely no frame of mind for it. The Penn State thing is driving me to complete distraction, but only because it makes me impatient for similar accountability of a legal variety for ABWE. My workplace has become completely crazy.  And there’s a murder trial this week, so game on.

Somewhere in here, I’m supposed to prepare my heart and my soul for the birth of Christ. I’m supposed to clean out the manger of my soul, right? Sweep out the cobwebs. Dust the furniture. Etc.

The fast is supposed to help with this. I’m supposed to pay attention to the little things, the basic activities like what I eat and how much time I spend in prayer, to tune everything up for the celebration of His birth. Great Lent is so much easier. Everyone in Christian culture is doing something to get ready for Easter. But the Nativity Fast, that’s all us in Orthodoxy. Like Wednesdays and Fridays, but everyday. While all of our culture is participating in an orgy of consumerism and fine dining, I’ll be learning a new way to cook shrimp (You know you’re Orthodox when you don’t think of shrimp as something special.) or rekindling my passion for peanut butter. It’s the anti-everything-about-the Christmas-season season

I prepared a bit, I guess, this evening. After working into darkness, and being continually frustrated by what was going on around me in the newsroom, I left with low blood sugar and high blood pressure. After the grocery store (don’t shop hungry, by the way), I stopped off at home and picked up the dog. She and I went to dinner tonight, driving back across town about 15 minutes just to eat a Five Guys bacon cheeseburger and a bag of fries. (I shared with Sunshine. She likes them.)

I guess that’s a start, right? Saying goodbye to bacon and hamburger for a few weeks, maybe that will help me get the rest of my house in order. I don’t know. If this nonsense keeps up at the office, they’re going to need to take my sharps away, or my stapler, or laptop… All the bad stuff, the Penn States, the ABWEs, the drama in my own communities, these things will be ever-present as well, making my soul tired and longing for the comfort of a pepperoni pizza.

Lord, have mercy on me and help me get through this season. All I want for Christmas, though, aside from salvation, is a really good cut of beef.

Morally mandatory

“The devil he wore such a fine, fine shirt
And it stayed so clean, While he dragged me through the dirt.”

Rocks and Water by Deb Talan.

I am not sure exactly why we’re here again, but we are. Ten years after Cardinal Bernard Law was exiled to Rome and the Boston Archdiocese left in ruins, the reputations of another American institution, this time big time college football and an iconic coach are caught doing the same thing.

Repeat after me, boys and girls: if you see a grown man forcing himself on a young boy in a shower, you do not call your boss. You call the police. I don’t care what the law says. I don’t care what your university policy says. You call the frakking police. Are we clear? OK, moving on…

Somewhere around 1996, my mom and sisters and I returned to Baltimore for a vacation to catch up with old friends. I was in my early 20s and a complete emotional disaster. The thing about abuse is how crazy you feel trying to make sense of it. Your brain can’t make sense of it, of course, because, by definition, it is senseless. But it tries, you try, and in the effort you usually end up tied in an impossible knot, your soul at the center and stuck.

Our oldest friends as a family lived in a beautiful rural area just outside the city. We stayed with them in a house my parents helped them build and one that my sisters and I ran around countless times as little kids. Mr. Jack and Miss Marian. Their names make me smile, just seeing them on the screen. Mr. Jack and I ran an errand one evening during the vacation, buying milk or something at a convenience store up the road. Earlier in the afternoon, the house lost power and BG&E came out to fix it. Because of the single lane going to their house, Mr. Jack and I were trapped in the driveway for awhile while we waited for the trucks to leave. I will never, ever forget that conversation in the darkening car.

He looked me square in my eyes and apologized. We should have done something, he said. We knew there was something wrong with your father, that there was something wrong with how he treated you and the others in that house. And we didn’t do anything. We prayed for you, but we should have done more.

What could you have done, I asked.

Something more, he said, tears in his eyes.

That conversation pushed me a huge step forward on the path to un-knotting my life and how I felt about it. It made all the difference in the world, particularly since I held nothing against them because of their inaction. It hadn’t even occurred to me at that point that what was going on may have been visible to others.

Over the years, a few others along the way have made similar statements to the women in my home. All were welcome, but none so blindingly gracious as that encounter in the driveway. Someone knew. Even when we didn’t know (or more accurately, didn’t know we knew). And yes, they should have done something. But they realized it and did the best they could years later. They owned it and took responsibility for the damage their inaction may have caused.

I am sure that we’ll be here again, as a culture, as communities, as churches, as brothers and sisters in this place gone mad. But by God, it does not have to be this way. My friends on the blog are still looking for a similar, heartfelt encounter with the POTB at ABWE. Maybe the grand jury that took at shot at Penn State just 90 miles up the road will prompt some fearful action on their part. But I ain’t holding my breath.

We, as human beings, should not concern ourselves with the legal minimum responsibility to each other. And we need to understand it’s always going to be hard. It’s always going to be the respected coach, the medical missionary, the beloved parish priest. It’s always going to be a shock, a horrible surprise. And if you fall asleep at the switch, for the love of all that is good and holy, do NOT stand there and say, well, I did the least I could do. It doesn’t matter the LEAST you can do. The LEAST of US trumps that, every time.

Taking action, being accountable, protecting them…it’s morally mandatory.

Not an option.

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:6