Wednesday, July 30, 2003

rip, bob hope

Trivia note: Bob Hope is the only civilian ever to be declared a veteran, under a special Act of Congress in recognition of his service to the troops.

I heard that one time during a war (WW2?), a heckler from the audience tried to get the better of Hope by demanding to know why he wasn't wearing a uniform and fighting alongside them? Hope's response: "Are you crazy? There's a war going on. Don't you know a guy could get hurt that way?"

But the truth is, Hope was anything but cowardly. From what I've read, he performed literally in sight of the front lines, and there was at least one occasion where a small group of soldiers missed the show, Hope learned about it, and took off after them -- toward the front lines -- in order for his troupe to give them a personal show.

angels and sin

y understanding -- and I'm afraid I don't recall the biblical justification for this, if there is one -- is that angels relate to God in an entirely different manner from us. A hybrid of spirit and flesh, we get only faint glimpses into the heavenlies, and so we live and are justified by faith.

Angels, on the other hand, don't have faith. As creatures of pure spirit, they see things as they are. They are witness to the awesome glory, majesty and power of God; they see the church invisible, sprawled out across spacetime; and so on. What we accept by faith, they see in entirety as plainly as you see the words on your monitor.

Because we act on faith and doubt, our sin can be forgiven, and even when we don't seek forgiveness, the punishment of our sin often is delayed. When an angel sins, as Lucifer did, it's in full knowledge of what he is doing. There is no room for repentance, and therefore no room for forgiveness.

philip yancey

I have heard Yancey described variously as someone who truly understands the human condition and how God relates to us, and as someone with a horrendously flawed view of God and how he relates to us, but I have not read anything he has written personally.

Friday, July 18, 2003

provide equality

A community pool might seem like an odd place to strike a blow for equal rights and fighting discrimination, but it's as good a place as many, and it's an area where bad policy recently has come to light.

We're talking about the case of Patti Jaworski and her partner, a same-sex couple told they don't qualify for family membership at Clark's pool because -- despite being together for eight years, and despite having held a private commitment ceremony together four years ago -- they're not considered a family under the state's definition. With the state definition providing the underpinnings for the pool policies, it's that simple: If you're not a legally married heterosexual couple, then you're not a family.

That's a defensible argument, legally speaking, but it leaves a bad taste. Is the intent here to serve the community, or to find legal justification to avoid taking a potentially risky stand? It seems like the latter. The hot potato of whether a same-sex couple should qualify for family rates has been passed up the chain of command from the word go. Assistant Pool Manager Rose Tomchak told Jaworski to ask the Pool Advisory Board, which passed the responsibility on to the Township Council, which let the township attorney dismiss the request with an embarrassing swiftness.

That's not just irresponsible, it's cowardly. At any point, somebody could have stepped forward and displayed some much-needed leadership on this issue, but no one did. As a consequence, an essentially discriminatory practice has gone unchallenged, and that's a shame. Does anyone seriously believe that the pool membership policy is intended to favor one living arrangement or sexual orientation over another? That's absurd. Such policies exist out of a recognition that families are an essential building block of any community, and that communities possess an obligation to accommodate those families. That accommodation should exist for nontraditional households as well as traditional ones.

To that end, the pool utility should alter its membership structure to include one for households. A wider catch-all than "family," which is more narrowly defined, household memberships could be available to domestic partnerships such as Jaworksi's, but also could encompass other arrangements such as unmarried boyfriends and girlfriends, with or without children; adult siblings living together; and so on. Such a setup recognizes the township's civil obligation to treat different lifestyles and situations equally, but does not tamper with the traditional definition of family used elsewhere in the township and in the state.

Given the glacial speed that municipal government moves, there clearly is no chance the Township Council fully can rectify its error before the end of the pool season is in sight. What it can do is offer Jaworski and her partner a formal apology for its decision, and take steps to remedy the situation for next year.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

gay marriage

I remember a book by Tony Campolo called "Twenty Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Touch." One of those was the question of gay unions. Campolo took the position, and I think I agree with him, that a gay union -- I think he callde it a "covenant relationship" probably is the best route for gay couples to take who are unable to leave the lifestyle completely as many claim to have done through various counseling agencies.

The relationship he described is one where the couple provide emotional, financial and other forms of support for one another, much as a husband and wife do. This pretty much follows the commitment ceremony model now popular among gays and lesbians, and I really don't see any problem with it. Campolo went as far as specifying that the relationships ideally were celibate, though probably not void of expressions of affection, even physical affection. I know other prominent Christians have agreed with this idea to varying degrees; his wife, perhaps not exactly "prominent" agrees with him, although she feels there is nothing wrong with gay marriages that are not celibate.

So, in a round about way, I suppose I'm saying that what I would say is that two of them probably should remain together in whatever relationship their consciences dictate. That might mean continued cohabitation or it might not. A vow, once sworn, is sacred and should not be broken lightly.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Municipal pool denies family membership to same-sex couple

The temperatures will be in the 80s for much of the next week, but don't expect to see Patti Jaworski at the pool, no matter how hot it gets.

It's not that she didn't try to get a pool membership before they expired. She tried. It's just that Jaworski and her same-sex partner were denied a family membership because they don't fit the township's definition of "family."

Township Attorney Joseph Triarsi, who wrote Jaworski and her partner a letter informing them of the township's decision, could not be reached for comment.

At the Township Council meeting when the question arose of whether to grant the requested family membership, his immediate advice was to reject it based on the legal definition of "family" of a married man and woman.

"They're not a recognized family unit," he said at the time.

Calls to the state Attorney General's Office on whether that distinction could be considered discriminatory were not returned.

The decision does not ban either Jaworski or her partner — an untenured elementary school teacher in another county, she asked not to be identified for fear of anti-gay discrimination — from joining the pool at the more expensive rate for singles.

They are not joining anyway.

"I want no part of it," Jaworski said Monday afternoon. "I'll just go to the beach. I'll just spend my money there."

The experience differs sharply from the experiences Jaworski claims to have had elsewhere in Clark.

It becomes all the more difficult to digest because she grew up in Clark and knows some of her elected officials from their days at Arthur L. Johnson Regional High School, including Mayor Sal Bonaccorso and 4th Ward Councilman Brian Toal.

"It was very disheartening to get this response," said Jaworski. "It was kind of like a slap in the face."

Discussion at the council meeting was virtually nonexistent, but Tuesday night Toal said he personally would have no problem with the family membership if the council's legal counsel had not recommended otherwise.

"The pool committee should have given us a directive, 'We have no problem with it,'" he said. "They threw it at the council, and our attorney said the state doesn't recognize it. That's where it stops."

Jaworski and her partner have no children. They been together for eight years, and held a private commitment ceremony four years ago.

"I really think the township is missing the boat," Jaworski, a Middlesex County high school health and physical education teacher, said Monday afternoon. "I'm really disappointed in their answer."

The two of them live on Lefferts Lane, in the house Jaworski grew up in.

Jaworski's quest for a family membership began toward the end of June when she visited the Clark pool office at the Charles H. Brewer Municipal Building.

There, she said, Assistant Pool Director Rose Tomchak told her to make the request in a letter to the Township Council, which denied it during its July 8 meeting.

"It's a sleepy little town and I think it just needs a few more years before it wakes up and realizes we're not the only couple in this situation," said Jaworski.

Despite her severe disappointment in the township's decision, Jaworski said she has no desire to make her case in court.

"As an educator, I always tell my students, 'Ask any questions, but when you ask any question, there's a 50-50 chance the answer will be no,'" she said. "What kind of educator would I be if I don't do what I'm telling my students?"

With the stipulation that the family couple be married, the policy at the pool also would preclude unmarried couples with children from family membership. No information was available at presstime to say whether this actually was the case.

 At the moment, no states in the union confer same-sex unions the same status as marriages, although Vermont recently recognized them as civil unions, a classification one step short of marriage.

"It's the 21st century," said Toal simply. "It's something that should be looked in with a legal standpoint in the near future."

Thursday, July 10, 2003

geese and holocaust

I've got to hand it to the animal-rights fringe -- they sure know how to hurt their own cause.

The incident that prompts this observation is a letter to the editor a member of that fringe recently sent to the newspaper chain where I work. The woman, a Springfield, Iowa, resident, wrote to express her gratitude that county officials there had stopped killing Canada geese as they were allowed to under a federal permit, and then had the gall to compare the culling to the Holocaust.

It's hard to imagine a more audacious comparison. The Holocaust, for those who have forgotten, involved the deliberate, cold-blooded murder of 6 million people because of their ethnicity. Another 6 million were killed because of their political views, their sexual orientation, trade affiliations and their religious practices.

Please note that the victims were people, and not animals. There is a difference, and it's a very real one.

For starters, the intelligence of the average human is much higher than that of animals, particularly animals like geese, whose brains aren't even the size of a walnut.

That intelligence in turn gives rise to a number of other differences: We can sift through experiences and things we have learned from other people, and imagine possible outcomes.

Because we also feel, we can invest powerful emotions like fear and love into our past, our present and what we imagine the future will bring.

That imagination also allows us to anthropomorphize animals. Because dogs live in a pack hierarchy similar to our own family structure, we imagine that our dogs love us when they recognize us as top dog and fit into their adopted pack. Because cats are solitary animals, we complain that they're aloof, capricious and unfeeling.

And because geese look cute and feathery, we imagine they must feel terror as they are silently and painlessly put down.

With all due respect to this woman and others who oppose killing Canada geese and other suburban wildlife, it's hard to imagine a more inappropriate or offensive way to describe the culling than comparing them to Holocaust as she did.

I highly recommend that she and others who think the Holocaust is an excellent metaphor for killing geese actually do some reading about the Holocaust and learn about the experiences of people who survived it.

The first book I would recommend is Elie Wiesel's "Night." It's blunt and forceful, and it explains quite clearly what it meant to be pushed into a crowded rail car and rushed off to Auschwitz as part of Hitler's final solution of genocide.

I'd also recommend checking Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer-winning graphic novel "Maus." Spiegelman uses visual metaphors for his father's experiences - Jews as mice, Nazis as cats and civilians as pigs -- but the visuals and anguish are unforgettable.

If books aren't your thing and you prefer a nice visual, check out a film like the documentary "Night and Holocaust," available with English subtitles; or one of the more recent Hollywood accounts of the Holocaust, like "The Pianist" or "Schindler's List."

Your priorities need some serious readjustment if you honestly think for one minute that the destruction of 700 geese -- that's how many Union County officials had killed before they stopped -- deserves even a fleeting comparison with an ethnic massacre like the one Hitler perpetrated during World War II.

Fans of the geese also might want to think a little more about the situation and reasons for reducing the goose population. The program wasn't inaugurated by cold-blooded sadists. It was driven by the necessity of overpopulation.

Canada geese are one of the biggest wildlife nuisances in Iowa. They're not as dangerous as deer can be in the sense of auto damage or fatalities, but they're overpopulated and the mess they leave all over lawns, public parks and wherever else they go, poses a health risk to other creatures, particularly children, who are not only cuter but a lot more important than geese any day.

In any event, the county's program wasn't about extermination, it was about control. With precious little in the way of natural predators around to control the geese, and with a federal ban on goose hunting in place for decades, the goose population has swelled beyond the point of reason.

In a strictly ecological sense, humans serve a function as predators. We do ourselves and other participants in the environment a disservice when we keep ourselves from fulfilling that function.

At the moment, laws prevent hunters from killing geese for food, with the result that the population has reached a level the county had to take the more drastic action of gassing hundreds of them.

I have no idea what makes animal-rights advocates like Faszczewski so passionate about their cause that they become willfully ignorant of the fallout of a no-kill policy.

Maybe she and others opposed to the goose killing know of an alternative to the killing that I'm still unaware of. If that's the case, they owe it to everybody to trumpet that solution loud and clear.

In the meantime, though, I think we can all do without hearing animal control compared to ethnic cleansing or genocide. The two have nothing in common, and to insist otherwise is an insult of the worst degree.

church life

I was raised in the Presbyertian Church and joined it when I was old enough, primarily because that was what was expected. It was a pretty dull church to attend, and it was pretty dead spiritually. I honestly can't think of one thing I learned there, except that church is boring and you have to do stupid things you don't want to, that what we do there has no bearing on our lives during the rest of the week and that when you press grown-ups for answers you'll find that they don't have them. (No joke -- my high school Sunday school teacher didn't know that Abraham appeared in the Bible before Moses, and argued the point with me until I showed him.)

I made a commitment to follow Christ when I was nearly 18, and so I started looking for something that was radically different from what I had grown up in, and found that in the Assembly of God church in Ashton, Pa., not too far from where I was attending college.

There were other things that made me stay away from PC(USA) churches: Among the church's official doctrines are teachings like the Bible is not the inerrant Word of God, Christ is not the only way to heaven, there is no such place as hell, the Devil does not exist and so on. I even saw some literature about a presentation at some supercongregational level (I don't recall if it was the synod, the Generl Assembly or something else) that worshiping a male savior is detrimental to a woman's spiritual growth.

We visit my parents' church when we're in Saunders Station, out of respect for them, but it's generally not a denomination I have much interest in rejoining, even though I recognize there are plenty of good churches still in it.

ETA: I've been told that I am mistaken on almost all these points. I'll have to take his word for it; I haven't been a member of the PCUSA for something like 16 years and as a lay minister he is going to be more knowledgeable than I about such things. It may be either my understanding or my memory is faulty, although I've met other former PCUSA'ers with the same or similar concerns.


A good friend of mine in Georgia was just decloseted to her parents by a sibling who discovered her secret accidentally.

It's at times like this that I really hate the fact that being part of an Internet community, because there is no way we can reach out to other members of that community when they need our support -- not really, not in a tangible way. I wish I could be there for my friend right now.

I think I speak for all of us at CHRefugee when I say that there is no condemnation here for our friend over issues pertaining to her sexuality. She is our friend, and she is our sister, and nothing is going to change that. I really wish I could be there to help; my heart is breaking right now that I can't.

I'm sorry her family found out this way, as I'm sure she is as well. I'm praying right now for everyone concerned. This is one of those long, dark times of the soul, and it's going to be rough getting through it.

Monday, July 07, 2003

dolores umbridge

Interesting thoughts as I ponder one of the new characters to arrive in "Order of the Phoenix."

"Dolores" is plural of "dolor," which means "woe" or "trouble." Umbridge clearly is a homophone of umbrage. Check out the definition of umbrage. My own thought process was along the lines of the secondary or tertiary definition of "umbrage" that has to deal with jealousy over somebody else's abilities.

Look at the character: She's a lousy teacher, a horrible disciplinarian and apparently a useless witch (except perhaps at espionage). Rowling makes a point of how small Umbridge's wand is; the books indicate that bigger wands indicate greater puissance at magic. The implication is that Umbridge is attacking everyone bigger than she is: Dumbledore, Harry, McGonagall, you name it.

My guess is she was a Slytherin back in school.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

the third parent

If you have an older sibling, chances are pretty good you understand what I mean when I use the phrase "the third parent."
In our family, the third parent was my oldest brother, Brian. Brian traditionally has thought nothing of issuing directives to us, or of translating a parental request into a command.

I believe when we were kids he tried to be the heavy and make us do our chores (in all fairness they were ours to do, not his) when our parents were out. About six years ago, for example, we were both visiting our parents, and our mother asked him to get me up. Brian comes up the stairs, opens the door to my bedroom, and with the light of divine revelation setting his face aglow, commanded me: "Dave, up!"

I never did like that.

So tonight, Rachel was trying to play with something that Evangeline also was trying to play with. After a while, I guess it started to get on Evangeline's nerves and she said, "Rachel, you're in time out."

I thought I contained myself pretty well. I didn't spank Evangeline. I didn't growl at her or give her a lecture at the top of my lungs. I scooped her up, told her never to presume to punish Rachel again, and said it was time for bed.

Natasha pointed out to me that Evangeline isn't Brian and just because I had problems with him doing that doesn't mean I have to take them out on Evangeline.


Our story is a generational one, isn't it?

I'm sure there are times when an older sibling really does valid input or advice that younger siblings can benefit from. I've had some for my youngest brother, Herb, that he's taken, and I've received from Brian and from Herb, brother number two. (I'm number three if anyone's trying to keep count.)

There's a difference between giving advice and trying to run another person's life, and between passing on instructions from mom and dad and just being a bossy jerk. In the latter choice of each of those pairs, the older sibling generally would do everybody a favor by sitting down and shutting up.

harry potter

I don't consider the Harry Potter books to be a doorway to occultism and witchcraft any more than I see James Bond as a portal to a career in international espionage.

That said, I do concur that the series has ceased to be "children's literature." The first two books -- maybe even the first three -- are suitable for young readers, but from everything I've read of Book 5 so far, I think the book more apprioately should be marketed towrd teens or young adults.

We're going to take it look-and-see with Evangeline, I expect. If she wants to read Harry Potter when she's at the right vocabulary and maturity level, we'll consider it. But I'm not going to encourage her to read them for a while.

Book Five han't been that bad for me yet, although we're only to the point that we've learned how Hagrid spent his summer vacation. The worst part for me has been some of what Harry has had to endure at during detention and various other punishments that have been inflicted. Not sure why it's affecting me in this particular way -- perhaps because it's not as obvious and extreme as Cedric's death in "Goblet of Fire," it becomes worse to read about. Plus, Umbridge reminds me of the principal at the first school I taught at, because of that favorite facial expression of hers.

I think "umbridge" should become a new epithet.

Natasha and I have to take the book slowly because the children and my job place other demands on our time. It's giving us time to figure out what Rowling is doing, and now that we've read about Harry's second essay for Snape, I want to re-read the first four books and see if there were other hidden messages that Harry missed.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

red riding hood

Want to hear a gruesome children's story? Try a fairy tale.

"Little Red Riding Hood" is a great example. In one of the older versions of the story, the wolf goes to the grandmother's house, kills her, pours her blood into a bottle and lays her cut-up flesh out on a platter. And it's just getting started.

Along comes Red Riding Hood. The wolf -- dressed as Grandma, and waiting in the bed -- tells her, "I've laid out some meat and some wine for you."

Red Riding Hood drinks the wine, and a voice cries, "Slut! to drink your own grandmother's blood!" She eats the meat, and a voice cries, ""Whore! to eat your own grandmother's flesh!"

From there, Red Riding Hood is instructed to undress and throw her clothes into the fire and then join her grandmother in the bed to warm her up. The story follows the traditional big nose, big eyes, big teeth routine -- and then wolf eats her.


It's a positively gruesome story. No woodsman comes to save them with an ax. There is no miraculous rescue from the wolf. It's essentially a metaphor for the girl's rape and a warning about the dangers of traveling alone and not listening to your parents.

And if you think the Brothers Grimm had gruesome and disturbing fairy tales, consider that they actually cleaned them up from the stories they had heard as children.

Copyright © 2003 by David Learn. Used with permission.


I guess I'm the odd man out, but I absolutely *loved* "Crime and Punishment." After I finished it, I went out and got a copy of "The Brothers Karamazov."

The trick, I suppose -- if trick it is -- is not to read the books as crime novels. Raskolnikov's double homicide is the vehicle for larger themes Dostoevsky addresses in the book, not the purpose itself of the book. I believe the Russian Orthodox Church considers Dostoevsky one of its finest theologians or apologists. That's actually not a bad description of the man. His writing addresses a lot of issues the church and society have struggled with for millenia: human suffering, crushing poverty, the failure of religion, religious zealotry, sensuality, ethics and -- of course -- Nietzche's notion of the ├╝bermensch (Raskolnikov in "Crime and Punishment" and Ivan and Gregory in "The Brothers Karamazov").

Flannery O'Conner is also another good author. I read "The Violent Bear it Away" back in college for a religion and literature course I took. Not sure how I would characterize that book. Certainly disturbing, such as the way Bishop's father portrays himself as the epitome of compassion, and then turns off his hearing aid so he can't hear Bishop being drowned.