Backgrounds and Foregrounds

I just learned this morning that I passed my criminal background check. The flowers and veggies in my soon to be planted garden will be pleased to know that they are in the hands of a non-felon. Their growth will subsequently be a more blissful experience since all they will have to fear is the prospect of drought, blight, invasive species and hail storms. I will not be included in their worst case scenarios unless they have any lingering doubts about my fidelity in keeping them properly bathed in both water and sunlight, which is not an issue when it comes to criminal investigations.

The reason for my being subject to this type of intrusion into my previously veiled and oh-so-exclusive past is that it is a requirement of the Master Gardening Program I am attending. It is a presentation of the University’s extension service and from their perspective the subject is not roses. Rather their whole point in making this investment of knowledge into a gang of amateurs, meaning my fellow classmates and me, is that they want us to volunteer in their community outreach programs as a means to reach a much broader audience by sharing our new knowledge with others in our respective communities. And for some reason they perceive that a criminal mind is not conducive to planting the seeds for a bountiful harvest in community relations.

I am technically free of a criminal record but that does not keep me free me from guilt. Fortunately there is a limit to what they can do when foraging through my background while I study foregrounds in the form of learning about soil composition. Dirt does not seem to care about your filthy conscience. If there is any blood on your hands it might help to improve the soil’s pH balance, making life and growth better for all concerned. And there is some justice in this week’s lesson, which will cover soil testing. So, just as my background was subject to examination, so it will be with the foreground that comprises my property. It will come under some scrutiny before I trust it to nurture my vines, shrubs and bulbs.

One can never be too careful when cultivating soil. You never know what lies beneath until you get your hands dirty. And in this case dirty hands are the gardener’s playground digging in foregrounds while ignoring one’s background.

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The Accidental Master

Horticulture is the art and science of producing, using, and maintaining ornamental plants, fruits, and vegetables.

With those words I am launching on a new adventure. Not as the author of such a statement but rather as the student. I have enrolled in a class offered by the University’s extensive service, which is entitled the “Master Gardener Program.”

I have enjoyed gardening to a very limited extent, the limitation coming primarily from time, energy, space and money. It has also come from a lack of knowledge in the science and art of anything let alone gardening. But now that I am firmly rooted (pun intended) in the category of being a retired professional, I have the time and the inclination to pursue a hobby to the extent of being well informed.

If I wince at any aspect of this program it is its use of the word Master. It is a little intimidating in its application since I really don’t want to get so immersed in this topic – in order to merit the title master –

that it overwhelms my life like a yellow squash plant gone rampant. I am okay with it, though, as I have been assured by the instructor that we will in no way approach the august image implied by this one word. The final exam will be open-book, after all, so who can lay claim to such a vaunted title as master when they do not have to know their topic well enough to avoid copying from a book, a neighbor, a crib sheet or one’s cell phone conveniently linked to a horticultural web site?

Classes start this coming Monday. I am reading ahead in the assigned textbook and know already that I am doomed to be lost in a whole new jargon surrounding plant life, root structure, soils and past management. If I master anything it will likely be the art and science of staying awake as we learn about xylem, phloem, cultivars and meristems.

If nothing else my garden will be better appreciated for its academic pedigree even if I get no further than knowing to press a seed into the soft soil and adding water on an occasional basis. The master in me will be providentially accidental. And that is something I can confidently know for sure at the outset.

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Do Overs

It is spring. The calendar says so. We may not feel like the climate is treating us justly, once again, or we may have the sneaking suspicion that the calendar has lied to us just like our bathroom scale. Feelings are often gullible, however, and just as likely to mislead us as any faulty GPS system purchased from a cagey salesman dealing out of the trunk of a car with no visible license plate.

It is spring. The signs here in Wisconsin are unmistakable. The robins have returned. The geese are doing their flyovers. The daytime temperature gets above freezing and the nighttime temps never go below zero. Snowfall is wet and heavier than the winter storms. It is more likely to stick to the trees, melt a little in the daylight and then create hazardous ice conditions in time for the morning commute. And who can mistake the appearance of road construction signs on the side of the road, indicating that once the ice is gone our travel times will actually increase as we detour down unknown side roads or are forced to wait for the heavy equipment to casually yield the right-of-way rights to those of us who have some place important to go or actual work to do.

It is spring, the time for our annual do overs. Nature is renewing itself, so we are certainly justified in doing the same. Only our renewal is an attempt at remediation. The management of nature we cultivate in our own yards is never quite the achievement we want it to be. The arrival of warmer temperatures temp us with the pleasures of leisure activities that are so joy much more enjoyable to bask in than the sweat equity of pruning, planting, mulching and mowing that hold the promise of constructing our garden paradise.

It is spring and the pleasure domes designed for us modern day Kubla Khans can already boast of green grass forming in the elysian fields of right, left and center, chalk lines to warn us away from foul territory and surrogates to do the sweating for us as they throw, catch, hit, run and argue with the god of home plate.

Ah, spring. It is the long awaited season for do overs, correcting our landscaping misdeeds of prior years. It is a time to invest in garden tools that may never touch dirt, fertilizer that will never be spread, and plastic flowers that will never die due to replace what we could not grow. Tis the true season to be jolly as we do over the same mistakes we made last year, when we yielded to sumptuous indulgence while working on our tans by the pool, ocean or lake. We only need to make sure that the Sun Protection Factor of our chosen sunscreen has the right numeric value to offer us the best defense against the unremitting, unrelenting performance of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Otherwise we will find ourselves overdone with the promise of wrinkling, sagging, leathering and other light-induced effects gained from enjoying the great outdoors.

Ah, spring.

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Final Exam

I have been writing about my exploits in taking an on-line course for learning how to work within the confines of a child’s picture book, while telling an engaging story. That course is now complete and ended with me mailing my story to a publisher. This was the final, though not required, assignment. The courage to put one’s manuscript in the mail is considered a private matter and left entirely to one’s own discretion and strength of conviction.

I considered it the final exam but perhaps my sense of personal courage came from the encouragement found in the instructor’s comments about my completed manuscript. Of particular note was the magic word she included, affirming my work as marketable.

The joy of writing during the four-week course was always mitigated by the doubt of whether or not I was actually creating something that people would willingly buy. Her use of the M-word was all I needed to motivate me to undertake the half mile walk to the post office to buy the right amount of postage to send my brainchild to its intended destination. I would suspect that for any writer this is the equivalent of the empty nest syndrome.

There is, however, one remaining word I need to hear that is even of greater import than marketable and that is the word accepted. Even a synonym of equal merit would be acceptable to me. But this is something, which can only be voiced, written or e-mailed by the publisher and due to the limitations of their workload may require four or more months before it can be delivered.

I will be here when it arrives. I will even leave a light on in the window for it at night as a sign of my unfailing interest in the prospective, positive outcome of my work. For I have already started on my next bestseller so that I will have a completed manuscript on hand to offer as a follow-up piece, deliverable upon request.

Spring is here, when an old man’s fancy turns to seed catalogues, pruning, yardwork and the budding of a new, childlike career.

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Under Cover

I am down to my last assignment for my on-line class about writing a child’s picture book. The process so far has taken me from drafting a statement about one of my own childhood (think 1950’s) experiences to transforming that brief essay into a modern day story and finally editing a reflective piece into a page-turner imbued with a cliff-hanger type of suspense.

What I found to be surprisingly helpful was the requirement of creating a dummy layout. Not that any publisher would necessarily follow what I inserted as page breaks in the manuscript. The point was to force me to place the sequence of the story within the confines of a picture book’s page limitations to better understand what a child would see or more likely hear as an adult (parent, grandparent, guardian or teacher) read to them this epic tale of baseball lore. This caused me to make some further edits.

To complete the final assignment I spent a good deal of time researching the picture book publishing business in order to find a likely publisher for my book. This was another insightful episode as I had never really looked at what the expectations are in this field of writing and how extensive the competition is for gaining a publisher’s attention let alone acceptance of a manuscript. Depression ensued. Publishers are generally helpful in providing you with their guidelines for how and where to submit your story. But many will also tell you that they are so inundated with submissions that they will only respond to those in which they are interested. This can take anywhere from four, six or nine months during which time a would-be author is left to speculate in solitude and silence about the fate of his or her labor of love.

Rejection, they say, is not a reflection on how poorly your writing skills are. It is just the reality of not fitting into their current publishing interests. This may be true, but I suspect it is a ruse to avoid being honest about the fact that your work is not marketable. Publishing children’s books is a business, after all, and the people making the decisions about the fate of your manuscript are as mindful of making a profit for their company as they are in discovering a new artist of childlike proportions. Depression reigns.

Sunday midnight is the deadline for submitting my final assignment to my digital teacher and the primary piece she wants to see is the cover letter that will accompany my manuscript, which I am to mail to the publisher I selected based on my research. The letter has three parts to it; all briefly stated since the people in the publishing profession are constantly harassed by all of us wannabe writers and therefore have little time to linger over a lengthy letter describing any personal visions of fame and fortune as the next great Dr. Seuss. So here is the breakdown of the cover letter I will submit to my instructor.

Paragraph one is brutally brief, stating title, genre and targeted age level. I wrote: Charlie’s Golden Glove is a picture book manuscript, targeting 4 – 8 year olds, who love sports and most especially baseball. The current word count is 1,132 words. (Note I added the word count as a bonus piece of information to instantly satisfy their curiosity).

Paragraph two is a little more expansive, allowing you to use three sentences to summarize your entire story. The instructions emphatically state that you are never to leave the reader-publisher wondering about how the story ends, suspense not being an inherent part of the cover letter. I wrote:  Charlie loves playing baseball more than anything else in the world, but he has one major problem and that is catching the ball with his old glove. He is reluctant to say anything about it as opening day of the Little League season draws near until his parents surprise him with a special gift, his grandfather’s carefully preserved Mickey Mantle model glove made by the Rawlings Company. Charlie’s dreams come true on opening day, when he makes the game saving catch worthy of a Golden Glove Award.

Paragraph three is about you. Or should I say me? It entails what is supposed to be a brief biographical statement with any possible emphasis on prior writing experience and here I waxed eloquent. I wrote: During my professional career in museum management I had several opportunities to write educational and promotional materials, in addition to the monthly financial and administrative reports. The range of my output included research articles published in our in-house magazines, website and brochure text, scripts for television and radio commercials, and a weekly web log series on museum management, which I used to achieve greater transparency for the organizations I led. What was missing was entertaining and age appropriate materials for young children, one our largest audience segments. Now I wish to make amends by launching a new career in storytelling for young children.

That last little bit truly states why I am in the game. Half of my career involved managing railroad museums and what they uniformly lacked was good material for children despite the fact that young families with small children form a large audience segment. And there is in me the spirit of a teacher, frustrated by early career decisions, which led me away from the profession my educational choices prepared me for. Now I am trying to make amends for all of that by writing stories that children will likely hear read to them, ideally in the comfort of their own homes and the nurture of a loving parent, grandparent or guardian.

I am not sure my instructor will be attuned to all that or grade me on my good intentions. But I will say the journey so far has been enlightening for me. The greater challenge will be in not being discouraged if my submitted manuscript is rejected by my chosen publishing house after a protracted silence, while they sort through their workload. The approved therapy during that time will be to keep writing. For me this includes these weekly messages and my next great picture book epic.

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My Childhood Graded

This week’s message is part of a mini-series I stumbled into two weeks ago when I lazily and shamelessly posted as my web log message a writing assignment I had already completed for an on-line course I am taking. The subject was baseball as played by my childhood friends on the street where we lived.

Last week’s message described the refinement that reminiscence underwent as I was required to take my past and make it relative to today’s children. This was a challenge as what we did some sixty years ago in many ways is no longer acceptable and in some ways no longer legal for today’s families. We played in the same street where cars routinely drove, interrupting our games without anyone ever being bowled over, knocked down, drug or even clipped by a motorized intruder on our fun.

We bullied one another with taunts about athletic ineptitude, which often migrated into comments about one’s appearance and ancestry. And apart from the times when I played catch, alone, with Marj, girls were not allowed to play in our games. Exclusion was not a crime when we were kids, although I was guilty of innocent’s pleasure. All of the guys wore cutoffs during the warm weather days, but Marj wore shorts. And when she did, her legs held a certain fascination for me that those of my male friends’ could not even suggest.

I submitted my attempt at revisionist history, sans any reference to Marj and her legs, with all the self-confidence I could have of being in complete compliance with the rules of the writing game, just as I had once been with the rules for playing our makeshift baseball games. I was pleased, but not surprised, to read the instructor’s opening comment about my work since it confirmed by own perspective on my achievement. The evisceration which followed was not so pleasant.

I was guilty of committing three errors in paying homage to the game I loved as a child, which are as intolerable in writing children’s stories today as allowing one’s children to play in the street, bully, or exclude young women (formerly known as girls) from participating in activities which hold the promise of revealing their full potential (which is not to be construed as referring to their bodily form).

When writing for children, one must show not tell. My story had too much narrative and not enough dialogue. So I have axed the witty narrative and put the wit into the mouths of my youthful characters. One must avoid repetition, which I mistook as a clever way to build suspense. Apparently it does not, so that got axed as well. And finally there must only be one point of view in the story and that must be from the perspective of the main character. I transgressed in this one time by saying what the main character’ friends were thinking. That sin has now been expunged for the betterment of my story and my final grade.

One other error of mine was not enumerated in the instructor’s comments. But it did show in the edits she made to the content. And that error is that I start sentences with the word and. This usually happens at the end of a paragraph, where there is one more thing I want my readers to know. And so I start the sentence with the offending conjunction, apparently with the mistaken impression that it is effectively connecting all of the independent points of my narrative previously stated, showing the various points of view, which are germane to the point I am trying to make. And so I won’t do that anymore.

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Making One’s Life Marketable

Last week’s message about how I came to be the proud owner of a Rawlings baseball glove with Mickey Mantle’s signature in the pocket was actually a cheap way for me to meet my own web log writing deadline by simply posting a writing assignment I had already completed for an on-line course I am taking. The course is about how to write picture books for children and the first assignment was to write about a personal experience from our past. This was easy to do as I wrote about the thing, which dominated my childhood experience, playing baseball with my friends from my neighborhood. Assignment two proved to be more of a challenge; that of translating the content of assignment number one into a marketable story of 1200 words or less.

My first draft came in at slightly more than 1400 words. Editing the story in order to meet the criteria of the established word limit proved to be a valuable process as it forced me to focus on what was essential to attain a realistic and satisfying conclusion. What proved to be hard was meeting my instructor’s secondary requirement, which entailed taking a 1950’s boyhood and making it applicable to today. The changes in our cultural norms and behaviors six decades later make an old man’s childhood unacceptable in today’s litigated and zero tolerance laced environment. For instance, I wrote:

A regular ball diamond was useless to us since there were too few of us to field two full teams. Besides our favorite playground was our own street.

I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in Southern California. One of the delights, as mentioned in last week’s message, is that we could play outside year round. And we played in the street in front of our homes. It was both a baseball field and a football field, where we played abbreviated games that could only simulate the real thing given the literally narrow confines between two curbs. Parents today would likely get arrested for child abandonment or abuse if they let their children play in the street. So that aspect of my experience was out (an appropriate baseball pun).

I mentioned three games that we played to accommodate the limitations of our avenue playground and the rotating number of kids wanting to play on any given day. These were Five Hundred, Hit the Bat, and Over the Line. In the twenty plus years that I have lived in a small community in Wisconsin I have rarely seen kids playing outside at any time of the year other than those engaged in an organized sport taking place at a public park or school. For most kids play today is digitized. Even baseball can be played on the small screen of your TV or computer. But why do that when you can murder and maim your way through any of a number of combat-themed computerized games that give you the vicarious thrill of annihilation graphically portrayed?

I also wrote:

Taunting one another about a person’s inability to catch, throw, or hit a baseball was standard fare and was an integral part of our bonding experience.

Today this is called bullying. It can get you in trouble quicker that the police can cite your parents for letting you play in the street even when supervised. We called this cutting or chopping. It was simply another part of our competitive natures to say something clever followed by the phrase “Chopped you low” with a note of triumph in one’s voice just as if we had hit a home run. And what does it say about me in that I look back at those times with affection? What it meant for the story I wrote was that I allowed a minor politically incorrect infraction to occur by including the nickname of the smallest player among us, who was a good friend and seemed to relish his subsequent status.

Then there’s the Mick. One of my greatest thrills as a child was the time my dad brought home a fielder’s mitt for me with Mickey Mantle’s signature in the palm of a Rawlings manufactured glove. Mantle was my favorite player, even though he played for the Yankees and I was a diehard Dodger fan. And as much as I cheered for Duke Snyder to homer every time he was at bat, and later did the same for Willie Davis, the Mick was just someone set apart. But how many kids today know who he was or could feel about him the way I did when I believed that he walked on pro baseball’s version of the Sea of Galilee?

To complete my assignment, I was willing to drop any reference to the short-handed games that we played, since there was not enough space to explain their respective rules. And that decision made it easier to eliminate any reference to the fact that they took place on a daily basis in the inferno regions of our neighborhood street. But I could not abandon Mantle’s significance to my reverence for the game. So here is how I resolved my emotional conflicts about making a story based on my personal experiences palatable and marketable.

The youthful hero of my story inherits his grandfather’s Rawlings manufactured model MM5 Mickey Mantle glove. Since I don’t have any grandchildren, I gave my son’s name to the boy in the story as a means for retaining a strong emotional bond with the main character. But even more important in my strategy for making it credible, I made his passion for the game my own. There are just some things you cannot fake and a love for the game is one of them.

I’ll know if I was successful by the grade I receive from my instructor. If she is attuned to my way of thinking, she won’t bother assigning a letter grade (if teachers even do that anymore).  She’ll simple say homerun instead of strike one. And for me, that will be sufficient.

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Me and the Mick

As a child my passion was baseball. And I was fortunate enough to be a Southern California native, which means that the mild weather allowed us to play outside the whole year round. And whether it was baseball season or not, the game we played most often was baseball, or at least some form of it.

A regular ball diamond was useless to us since there were too few of us to field two full teams. Besides our favorite playground was our own street. This made it hard on the ball since the asphalt surface tore at the leather and stitching every time the ball bounced, which was often. And when the “hide” of the ball finally ripped completely off, we simply replaced it by wrapping electricians tape around the ball and continued playing.

When you only have four or five kids who are able to play you improvise. Single-batter games like Five Hundred and Hit the Bat could still be fun and competitive. But our favorite game, which came closest to simulating a real baseball game, was called Over the Line. And that required at least four players, two to a side.

Our one great compromise in choosing teams occurred when there was an odd number of players. It was agreed that the best player (typically the oldest) took the two youngest players to be on his team. In our young minds that made things even. Otherwise the games were hotly contested and vociferously debated for the duration. Taunting one another about a person’s inability to catch, throw, or hit a baseball was standard fare and was an integral part of our bonding experience.

The standout memory for me was the day my father brought home a baseball glove I could claim as my own. Up until then I used my older brother’s glove, which was actually designed as a softball glove. But we played the real deal, hard ball, so it was a little embarrassing to be the only kid using a softball glove. I let mom know my heart’s desire to have my own glove, trusting that she would be my advocate with dad to spend a little of his hard-earned money to make his second born happy.

The key to my appeal was that I was old enough now to play on a Little League team. We wore full uniforms and rubber cleats and there was a bona fide umpire standing behind the plate calling balls and strikes. But I was terrified at the thought of taking the field wearing my brother’s worn out softball glove.

Dad exceeded my wildest dreams, proof of mom’s persuasive powers. What he brought home in its own box was a Rawlings fielder’s mitt with the autograph of my favorite player, Mickey Mantle, burned into the pocket of the glove as if it were his personal seal of approval. And on that day I was the happiest kid in our neighborhood.

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Mourning Becomes Us

We all have occasion to mourn. Whether we do or not reveals more about us than we may possibly care for others to know.

Mourning naturally follows some type of emotional trauma, such as another school shooting or the death by any means of a loved one or much admired personality. We have recently had both with the tragedy that took place at a Florida high school and the passing of the world renowned evangelist, Billy Graham.  We also mourn concepts. We mourn the loss of a friendship, the loss of our home, the loss of our job and what we euphemistically call the loss of innocence. Regardless of the cause, there is an absence that has no adequate replacement to fill the emptiness suddenly thrust upon us. And so we mourn, or at least we have occasion to and hopefully allow this natural expression of our sorrows to take form.

Sometimes we grieve. It is important, therefore, to know that mourning and grieving are not synonymous terms. One is of the moment. The other is perpetual. The first is deeply troubling, the second inescapably haunting. Mourning can be soothed by comfort, while grief finds its consolation in despair. It leads us into thinking that it is better not to feel anything at all, which makes the mindset of a sociopath enviable. Devoid of the capacity to make the kind of emotional attachments that leave us susceptible to the sense of loss when a bond is severed, this unlikely emotional idol lacks the ability to empathize with others and thereby survives by being impervious to the pain of permanent separation.

Mourning becomes us, every culture developing its own rites and observations about how to think of the dead and treat the survivors. Respect seems to be at the heart of them all, at least in a healthy and caring society. But reading the headlines of this past week’s news stories one would think that we have arrived at the type of emotionally anesthetized state characteristic of our sociopathic hero. Our obsession with rights obscures the presence of unyielding heartache. A listing of a person’s political failings, no matter their vocation or beneficial achievements in life, has come to displace the art of eulogizing those that a fraction of us still admire. When it comes to the ideal of mourning, those who can, do; those who can’t, politicize.

The prophet Jeremiah deftly portrayed for us a compelling image of mourning with words he ascribed to Israel’s God, who said A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.

To understand the significance of this statement, one must know that in Jeremiah’s day Ramah served as an assembly point for the deportation of Jews to new settlements in Babylonian controlled territory. It was located in the region assigned to the tribe of Benjamin, named for the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons, whose mother was the beautiful and much adored Rachel. She died giving birth to Benjamin, who she named before her passing Ben-Oni, meaning son of mourning. But Jacob renamed him Benjamin so that the young man could bear the more positive legacy of being the “son of my right hand.”

If Jeremiah is to be believed then God chose Rachel to be the national symbol of mourning for a forsaken people. Hers was a singular voice, whose depth of compassion – as revealed in her personal history – overshadowed the disaster of the Israelite’s exile from their Promised Land. For Rachel had another son, Joseph, who grew to be a deliverer for his people despite his own forced exile in Egypt. So it should not be surprising that God’s tender response to Rachel’s tears contained a stunning promise. He bid her to end her weeping for “… there is hope for your future.” Declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.” Rachel’s life is truly emblematic of the emotional extremes we can experience in a lifetime; complete loss, complete hope. The challenge seems to be in accepting another aspect of ancient Hebrew logic, which tells us that there is a time and a season for every activity under heaven. … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance….

All of our national heroes are men. They have attained such a status for either their military or political prowess and retain our admiration as long as they remain politically correct for our generation. What we lack is a national mother figure, one who can model for us the appropriate ways to acknowledge our triumphs and our tragedies; to demonstrate laughter at no one’s expense, weeping with an absence of vengeance. We need a Rachel; beautiful and therefore desirable, articulate and therefore understandable, celebrated and therefore recognizable, deceased and therefore acceptable.

We need to recognize the wisdom behind the simple phrase Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted, proving once again that loss need not be the harbinger of hopelessness. For those of us less affected by these recent tragedies we have a mission to fulfill for the benefit of those whose time it is to mourn … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

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The Lie of Thoughts and Prayers

I am one of those who suffer from the condition recently identified as mental illness, which means that I believe someone other than my mother has always heard my prayers. I will refrain from naming the recipient of my meager offerings of blessings, praises and requests in order to protect the one who has already been identified as being innocent of all sin. But for the sake of full disclosure I must also confess that I am not a gun owner. Not that possession of a lethal weapon other than prayer is the point of what I have to say. It is just that these two aspects of my mortal existence can be viewed as colluding in order to form a bias embedded into this week’s message. For what I want to write about is the lie embedded in the use of a specific platitude, when commenting on a tragedy such as the shooting of other innocents at a school, a concert or any other public gathering. Whether the comment is made when standing before the news cameras or fingered when taking refuge in a text message, the offending statement is expressed in the words about our thoughts and prayers being with the victim(s).

I can be sympathetic to those who feel that they must respond in the moment if only to prove that they are not callous to or unaware of the tragedy. But the T&P response now falters under the weight of repeated use given the absence of any action to even mitigate the onslaught of terror in our neighborhoods. As we all know, talk is cheap and clichés oft times represent the bargain basement version of our verbal wares. A sad countenance, the perquisite sagging of the shoulders as a sign of humility and the dilatory wringing of the hands have become an unintended array of mocking gestures, especially when aped by people who are in a position of authority – and therefore responsibility – when it comes to protecting the society they supposedly represent.

Given the nature of my faith I am especially sensitive to criticism of Christian politicians. But I also share in a non-believer’s skepticism towards those of us, who proclaim a charitable faith on the one hand yet seemingly bow at the NRA altar on the other. I would prefer that they acknowledge the true benefactor of their loyalty rather than mouth the T&P balm for inaction, for idleness in the midst of need is the antithesis of the Christian mission.

I base my perspective on a simple but compelling principal written at a time when we, as a prayerful community of believers, were once the intended target of madmen and stood in the direct line of their fire. Then the bullets came in the form of lions, gladiators and wooden crosses and our people made every sacrifice to end the violence, benefitting every sector of their society and creating a legacy of care and compassion, which should be at the symbolic heart of our spiritual family crest.

This principal I espouse is housed in the words Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well: keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

James, the brother of Jesus, asked this question in a letter written to those who endeavored to establish a new way of living in keeping with the teachings of the one who chose to represent himself as a good shepherd and not a religious, military or political didact. If James were writing such a letter today he could easily substitute the phrase about our thoughts and prayers being with you for the equally obtuse I wish you well. Of course this is the same fellow who has made generations of callow Christians sweat by stating that our faith, without action, is dead.

This sentiment makes it seem like we have too many dead walking the halls of Congress. But I would be remiss if I failed to include the dead zone we call the newsroom. As long as the mainstream media, hiding behind its own platitude of the public’s right to know, continues to lionize the shooters as if they were sports heroes or rock stars, then the devious dreams of those who seek a separate kind of immortality will be played out for us in a never ending enticement for a repeat performance.

I started this year by making a commitment to accentuate the positive in these weekly writing exercises known as blogging. But there is just some news of which you cannot make light. Darkness prevails. And in this case it is a darkness of human spirit preventing the will from doing good. We should, as a caring people, be able to at least curb accessibility and the proliferation of firepower without doing any harm to anyone’s right to own a gun. And we should be able to show discretion in our reporting so that terror loses its appeal, while keeping people informed with regards to their own safety.

The lie of the T&P bromide is that we do indeed care, for caring is only displayed when seeing a brother or sister or school child in need and then doing something constructive to address that need. Otherwise, as the man said, what good is it?

So allow me to end on a somewhat positive note by quoting the words of one of James’ contemporaries; another disciple of the one, who modeled the power of caring for us through the ultimate display of personal sacrifice. This dreamer, by the name of John, wrote to his community of new borns in the Christian faith, Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth.

Please defy the mental illness label imposed on us and pray for the leaders of our nation that they will live this admonition to act instead of talk regardless of their own mental, emotional or spiritual intelligence. As James also wrote, The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

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