Believing in the Magic

We don’t believe in magic any more. We believe in data, in good solid reporting, in facts. If I can’t see it, if you can’t prove it, it didn’t happen. In a world driven by pictures and video, joy can be a luxury.

There was a guy named Roald Dahl, a British novelist who sold a few (million) books. He said that if you don’t believe in even the possibility of magic, you’ll never find it.

Being the low-brow, banal guy I am, I’m more familiar with the Richard Castle version.


I instantly thought of this quote this morning when I read the daily email from the Catholic mystic Richard Rohr. The email talked extensively of the Wonder–and how the Wonder was “way to focus our attention in these days when life is so uncertain. We have absolutely no idea what the author of Love is asking of us . . . except we are fairly certain the Beloved One is not asking us to lay claim to any certainties at all.” That was written by a woman facing the end phases of a battle with cancer.


Catholic mystic Richard Rohr

She writes that the Beloved, another word for the Wonder (and for God) is not far off waiting for us to catch up. She writes that “The Beloved is Love and there is no other place for Love to be than in the act of holding tightly to you and to me. Deep within the recesses of our very being, we are held . . . known . . . treasured . . .”

I struggle to believe in Magic, Wonder, the Beloved–whatever you want to call it. But I love the idea of it.


In this case, it wasn’t. The 1980 Mets were awful; this was their tagline.

A friend of mine, a woman who is delightfully edgy and cynical sometimes, is getting married this weekend. She’s like a little kid about it. And to be fair, her march to the altar has had its share of magic.

Sometimes the Magic sneaks up and grasps us from behind, not in a scary way, but in an embrace that can make a good day amazing, or make you know that you aren’t alone on the worst days.

I’m not great at this Christian thing, and to be clear, I’d really rather that you don’t judge other people of faith by my example.

But as I said, I’m in love with the idea of Magic, with the concept that we’re never alone, especially in the deepest, darkest moments of life. That the Magic is there, not fixing things, but just silently sitting with us, when that’s the one thing that might take the edge of the wounds.


When your heroes pass

My first baseball glove was a a Rawlings Tom Seaver model. If memory serves, the first book I ever bought was an biography by the same Tom Seaver. In fact, I’m a Mets fan because of Tom Seaver. His name was magic when I was in elementary school–worthy of more than its weight. A little less than a decade ago, when we wound up in Fresno during a trip out west, my first thought was how that was Tom Seaver’s home town.

You get the idea.

Today, Tom Seaver’s family announced that because of his dementia, Tom Seaver was removing himself from public life. It could’ve been a big year, being the 50th anniversary of the Miracle Mets–the team Seaver led to an unlikely World Championship.


The Franchise in happier days

Dementia is one of the things that happens to 74-year-old men, and Seaver’s life has been nothing if not blessed. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, one of the greatest pitchers ever to grace the mound in Major League Baseball. Even though he spent about half his career away from the Mets, he’s still referred to as The Franchise. and his trade in 1977 is still known as the Midnight Massacre.

I knew this was coming–word has gotten out that Seaver’s health was slipping. Former teammate Art Shamsky commented on Seaver’s health a week or so ago.

And yet, it’s still a shock.

My first hero is failing.

He’s not the first. Just earlier this week, Luke Perry, heartthrob to a generation of women died from a stroke this week. He was 52 years old–very young for a stroke victim.

It’s sad when you outlive your heroes.

It’s even sadder when you don’t.

I’m not the storm

If you’ve been on social media for long, you’re probably familiar with this meme:

i am the storm

It’s a pretty bad-ass line. It’s something I’d hope to use if I were ever to face the personification of the storm. It’s brilliant bravado. It’s one of the lies you tell yourself when you’re alone and you have to just get through.

I’m reminded of storms today. The message at church was about storms. Someone posted the storm meme on my Facebook feed. My response was: “I’m not the storm, but I’m the stubborn, stupid SOB who’ll still be here when the storm is over.”

The problem with both responses was the choice of personal pronoun.

Storms dwarf us as individuals. A blizzard can have wind chills cold enough to freeze exposed skin in seconds. A hurricane can blow structures over. Its storm surge can sweep you out to sea. A tornado can drive a blade of grass through a telephone pole.  The strongest of us cannot possible withstand a storm alone for more than a few minutes.

For me, 2015 was a perpetual storm. I’m reminded of it as I’ve been sick for most of January and was just diagnosed with the flu. I don’t think I’m headed into the sequel, but even if I were, I’m smarter now.

We cannot withstand the storm alone. I sure didn’t. My wife was a freaking monolith of strength–at least in dealing with me. I had a friend at work who more or less dragged me along at points (which is okay, because I returned the favor).

And for me, at least, the God I claim to believe in was a little involved. I don’t want to turn this into a sermon, but I would ask that you indulge me a bit. Even non-believers, in some cases, would buy the love your neighbor part of the Christian gospel.

The thing about storms is they’re inevitable. You can avoid a lot of them by good design. But inevitably, you will experience one. You can’t do it alone. You weren’t designed to do it alone. From our earliest times, we were built as social beings. We were built to recognize that you need someone else.

When you can run you walk. When you can’t walk, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you. That sequence contains an implied social contract. Sometimes you have to do the carrying.

The God I try to believe in is loving. But he’s a sarcastic pain in the neck sometimes. When the storm comes, the people who’ll weather it with you aren’t always going to be your choice. They’ll be Democrats or Republicans (which every irritates you more). They’ll be Christians or atheists or people who are spiritual but not religious. They’ll be vegans or be the ones who still laugh at People Eating Tasty Animals (PETA). They may even be (shudder) Patriots fans.

Any port in a storm.

Our strength isn’t our ability to be the storm. It’s our ability to withstand storms. Together.


The really real message of Christmas

As I write this, I sit in the living room of the house where I spent most of my youth. My kids–adult as they are now–will be here in an hour. My parents are here. My extended family. It’s cold outside as it clearly should be at Christmas. There’s a fire in the fireplace. Very idyllic.

And this isn’t what Christmas is about. Christmas is actually about the birth of Jesus. It’s about God reaching out to be with us and to try to make it easier for us to be with him. And this is a wonderful message–whether you’re a Christian or atheist or neither.

We live in a world very short on grace. And I don’t mean the grace of dealing with adverticity with class.

I mean we live in a world where 140 characters is all you need to know about people. Where meaning is applied by the masses and context is immaterial. Where stupidity and hypocrisy are the sins from which there is no redemption.

But that’s exactly the message that we get today. It’s about love, to be sure, but a love so blind that it overlooks all, if we accept it. That’s the magic of Christmas.

It’s a love that’s hard, for some, to accept. And hard for all of us to extend, because the hurt is real when we’re disappointed. Because we’re finite. Because in order to love others, you have to take care of yourself.

This isn’t a call for us to love those who abuse us. But it is a suggestion, starting with me first, to step back before dropping the heavy hand of modern 140-character judgement on people.

They probably don’t deserve that break. I know I don’t. But that’s what today’s about.

It’s not about striving to be perfect, but doing your best. Rolling the dice every day and then showing grace to people who don’t deserve it, starting with the person in the mirror every morning.

Merry Christmas.

Intent matters

Because it’s Christma…holid…December, it’s time for the year-end tradition of getting your nose out of joint about things that shouldn’t be things. Merry Christmas v. Happy Holidays. Can we have a manger scene? Should that teacher have told those first graders the truth about Santa? Can we watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Can we sing Baby It’s Cold Outside?

The last question is a good one to frame the overall discussion. The song was written by in 1944 a man named Frank Loesser to sing at dinner parties with his wife. In 1944, the world was a different place. Women didn’t spend the night–and you can make the argument that this woman wanted to.

But she clearly says no, and has to ask what’s in the drink?

Both of those things are true, and through 2018 eyes, specifically after the #metoo movement, they’re kind of creepy lines.

But in 1944, what’s in this drink? was it’s own kind of in joke. Often there was nothing in the drink. Or just a normal amount of alcohol. But again, this was a time when a woman couldn’t say I want to jump your friggin bones right here on the living room floor as a warm-up exercise for what comes next? And although she says no, the last line of the song is sung in unison, between the woman and the man, indicating ultimate consent.

And yet, it’s 2018. It’s a time when women have to watch their drinks, when a good father tells his daughter (I told my son, too) that if you set down your drink, consider it gone and get another one.

In other words, does intent matter?

Frank Loesser and his wife didn’t intend to sing about date rape. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t think it was about rape when it was given an Academy Award in 1949. (Ricardo Montalban was one of the people who sang it. I’ll let Star Trek fans dwell on that for a moment.)

But let’s say you got roofied and someone raped you? It wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to feel accutely uncomfortable at the lyrics, in spite of intent.

It’s been 74 years since this song was written. Times change. Norms change. But intent doesn’t change. Frank Loesser’s song is playful and flirtatious. He wasn’t writing about male predatory behavior. To make the song about date rape makes him an apologist for date rape.

Intent matters.

Consider that, please, when someone says either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” to you. Consider it when thinking about how awful Rudolph’s story is (it’s just a Christmassy version of X-Men, if you think about it).

It’s a lesson we have to keep in mind during each succeeding round of the culture wars.

About the entire Kavanaugh mess (and related issues)

I never sexual assaulted anyone during the 80s. Like any guy my age, though, I was interested in exploring the other sex and, yes, I saw them as an end to a sexual means. I was hardly alone in that regard. I knew a guy who had one pair of women’s underwear hanging on the living room wall of his apartment for each woman who made it to his bed. I found that distasteful.

There was a woman in her 30s who told me, as I worked one day, that if she weren’t with a guy, she’d show me what was what. (I was of the age of consent.) Being of that age, I stocked the milk one day musing over ways to figure out how to arrange a horrible accident for a certain guy…

Before I go further, I want to be clear. No means no. Women are not sex objects or male property. Rape and attempted rape are wrong, both criminally and morally. And when a person (for it happens to guys, as well) is sexually violated, it leaves deep and lasting scars.

I want to also be clear that I believe Dr. Christine Ford about what happened in 1982. I believe that she told her therapist about it. I believe that she wanted two doors in her master bedroom because of her scars. I believe the FBI should investigate. I believe that Brett Kavanaugh, at the very least, owes us an explanation about his views on women in 1982 and how they’ve changed. And I believe if it ever comes out that Dr. Ford was less than truthful, there should be a heavy price to pay.

I also believe Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broderick. I believe that Rep. Keith Ellison has been accused of domestic abuse twice–once in 2006 and once this year. His ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan has brought forward medical evidence that should at least compel further investigation.

I also believe that when you take political donations from Harvey Weinstein while his abuse of women was considered an open secret in Hollywood makes your claims of a “War on Women” a little questionable.

I also believe that people who oppose Roe v. Wade are no more likely than those who support it to rape or sexually abuse women. Harvey Weinstein and Leslie Moonves are both very likely to heavily support Roe v. Wade. (Several people in my Facebook feed have said it’s more likely that Kavanaugh abused Dr. Ford because he opposes Roe v. Wade.)

I believe that Brock Turner made his own bed and that his own actions should dictate his future. His case was a horrible miscarriage of justice.

I believe that in general, if men don’t sexually abuse women, they won’t be accused of it.

I also believe that even if 999 of every 1000 women who accuse men of rape or sexual assault were actually victims, it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to treat the 1001st case as an individual event with its own circumstances and evidence. The Duke Lacrosse team was everything the stereotypical rapist is supposed to be: young, male, powerful, privileged, and pampered. And they were assumed to be guilty. The Lacrosse team was disbanded for the season. Its coach was fired. And guys like Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans were public enemy numbers 1, 2, and 3. And the accuser, Krystal Mangum, made it up. District Attorney Mike Nifong saw it as his path to power.

And the accused weren’t guilty.

Whenever possible, we shouldn’t adjudicate sexual assault charges in the public. We like to think we know enough about the cases, but we really don’t. The accuser and accused deserve that much. When the results are known, justice will be served and people will know. In this case, both Dr. Ford and Brett Kavanaugh have became political bludgeon’s. Both parties and their families are receiving death threats.

In such an environment, justice is severely unlikely to be served.


The McCains, Donald Trump, and us

John McCain went through fighter jets like Donald Trump goes through wives. He was one of the Keating Five (along with John Glenn), during the Savings and Loan crisis. And no matter what your political leaning, he probably angered you at some point.

He also spent five years as a prisoner of war, where he was tortured to the point where he couldn’t raise his hands above his shoulders. He went through things that we can only imagine. And he did so in spite of the fact that he had a free pass to go home. He stayed because it was wrong for him to leave while others didn’t have that option.


That, regardless of the other stuff, is enough to deserve respect. From the leader of our country, he deserves a hell of a lot more than “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Yes, there were several allusions to President Trump during the service at the National Cathedral yesterday. They weren’t crass or profane, but they weren’t difficult to decode. McCain’s daughter Meghan was most direct in one her comments.

“We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness, the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, nor the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served.”

That’s one sentence of a lengthy eulogy that spoke about toughness and love–love for a family and for a country. It was barely material in her complete eulogy. It was a daughter defending her father.

Meghan McCain, like her father, isn’t a slave to political ideology. She leans conservative, but supports gay marriage and sex education beyond abstinence. She appears on The View and has mixed it up with Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. For this and other apostasies–and for her visible view in light of her father’s death, she was greeted with this post on Twitter.


Sure, Mcghan McCain is a public figure. Sure, she’s political. And sure, she’s probably bent some feelings. But she’s also a woman mourning her father’s death. And a citizen in a free country. Threats, or implied threats, for exercising that freedom aren’t appropriate.

The America I believe in is a land of liberty and a land in which Christian ideals–you know, that love one another bullcrap–is something we strive for, knowing we’ll always fall short. And knowing that others aren’t required to view God the same way we do.

At its best, this is not a land of bullying and brute force. It’s not a land in which you encourage your followers to threaten someone’s life because they see the world differently than you do. It’s not a land where people should have to wonder if someone’s going to try to kill them during their eulogy for their father.

Whatever comments were directed at President Trump during the past week are taps on the cheek. They’re the kind of criticism a man of power and class should brush aside as if he didn’t feel them.

Threats to those who think differently have nothing to do with freedom. They’re the farthest thing from the ideals on which this country was created. They’re antithetical to the uneven, difficult experiment we’ve been for almost 250 years.

Unfortunately, the man who currently claims to be our leader doesn’t believe in the best of this country. He believes that they only way to maintain power is to invent enemies and create a siege mentality. Us against them. And anyone who ain’t completely us is absolutely them.

As a Republican, as a guy who sort of digs this country and the freedoms we are granted as citizens, I couldn’t disagree with him more.