Whatever Happened to Francis Octavia Smith?

The person we Boomers know and love as Dale Evans was born Francis Octavia Smith on October 31, 1912 in Uvalde, Texas. Her transformation from obscure small town girl to prominent Hollywood celebrity in the 40s and 50s is a little known story publicists did their best to keep hidden, for good reason. It did not fit the profile of a wholesome heroine suitable for the likes of the King of the Cowboys. 

Francis’ education began at home. She credited her parents with teaching her “letters” and “numbers” before she entered school at age 7. As a result young Francis was promoted directly into the third grade. She was advanced again and by age 11 started the 8th grade. Her status as an academic prodigy ended there. The stress of her school work and the lack of a supportive, age appropriate peer group caused a nervous breakdown that year. She spent the following summer in bed recuperating.

Francis loved music. Her precocious nature, however, drove her to play her own improvised melodies instead of the assigned scales. Her rebellion drove her poor teacher to proclaim that young Francis was wasting her (the teacher’s) time and her parent’s money. That ended the lessons.

Francis attended church with her parents. An itinerant evangelist came to town, who presented the message of salvation in such a dramatic and straightforward way that it frightened her. She wrote many years later, “That evangelist opened the gates of hell and I had a good look at it; I was so thoroughly frightened at the prospect of spending eternity in such a miserable and terrifying place that I reached out desperately for the hand of the Savior.”

Francis reached, but it was more a gesture of desperation to avoid the flames than a heartfelt embrace of the faith, hope and charity she would later celebrate in song. The problem with complete submission is that it struck Francis as confining, a loss of personal control. She admitted that “…being gregarious, aggressive and self-assertive, and with a consuming zest for colorful adventure, I still had a notion that God might hold me back from something I wanted to do on my own.”

God did not hold Francis back from being persuaded by an older classmate to elope. Francis was 14 when she made that fateful decision, easily ascribed to a promiscuous nature. At 15 she gave birth to a son, named for his father, Thomas Fox. And at 16 she was divorced. Tom senior said he made a mistake and abandoned his child bride and infant son. Francis would later say of the child, “The marriage turned out to be a dismal failure – but God sent me a son who did not become a failure. My boy Tom was to become the shining light of my life.”

Francis married a second time about a year later. This marriage proved to be worse than her elopement. The divorce records reveal the cause for the separation to be spousal and child abuse. Young Francis went from being abandoned to being battered. The mature Dale Evans was open about her troubled past except for this one tragic episode. She never talked or wrote about this second marriage, which gives us some inclination of just how bad things were for her and her son.

Undeterred, Francis pursued her dream of becoming a Broadway musical star. Her humble beginning took place at radio station WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky as a staff singer. The station manager didn’t care for her real name or her own chosen stage name, Marian Lee. Overnight she became Dale Evans. The Dale was in honor of the station manager’s favorite silent screen heroine, Dale Winter. The Evans, he claimed, gave the name a euphonious sound. “It could roll easily off the lips of radio announcers.”

Dale Evans found a slightly improved fame by moving to Chicago to perform wherever she could land more promising gigs. Poverty ensued. It also brought her husband number three. A Hollywood agent heard her sing, however, and brought her west to audition for the Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire movie Holiday Inn. It wasn’t Broadway but it was a musical.

The agent was appalled when he met Dale. She was too old, 28, and too married. Her fashion sense did not fit the Southern California lifestyle. Worst of all, she had a child. The makeover she underwent before meeting the movie’s casting director required Dale to lie excessively. She dropped seven years off her age, conveniently avoided any reference to being married, had her hair, makeup and clothes done up in an acceptable fashion and passed her son off as her younger brother.

The amusing part of this façade is that Dale finally put her foot down when the agent told the casting director that Dale could dance with the likes of Astaire. Dale outed herself on that one point, but not the rest. It cost her the opportunity to audition for the part that eventually went to Marjorie Reynolds. She did, however, get a contract with a movie studio, while continuing to sing at nightclubs and on radio.

The deceit about her age, marital status and motherhood continued with other makeover requirements thrown in for good measure. She went to a spa to lose weight, had her teeth capped and took elocution lessons in order to drop her Texas accent. Pinup quality photos were taken to help publicize this promising young starlet. But her acting did not impress anyone and her prospects in Hollywood appeared dormant until that fateful pairing with a popular western hero, Roy Rogers, in the movie The Cowboy and the Senorita.

This was not the beginning of a romance. Roy was faithfully married to his second wife, Arlene, and they had two children. Arlene died as a consequence of giving birth to their third child, Roy Jr., aka Dusty. That was early November 1946. Dale and Roy were married a year later on New Year’s Eve 1947. Wedded bliss did not automatically follow. Louella Parsons publicly revealed the truth about Tom Jr. being Dale’s son instead of her younger brother. And Roy’s older daughter, Cheryl, resented Dale’s intrusion to the extent that she demanded to be sent to a boarding school at age seven. Roy complied.

A different type of transformation was needed in order for Francis Octavia Smith to find the happiness she sought in a supportive, loving family. Spiritual in nature, the makeover was internal and brought about the change she needed to solidify a loving nature in all of her relationships. Little Francis finally came of age as the Dale Evans we all saw and admired on The Roy Rogers Show. This was also the Dale Evans who graciously endured a series of tragic events in her second life, which were too improbable for any of her B-western or television scripts.

Still, it is worth the attempt to tell part of this story and my screenplay, Angel Unaware, focuses on one of those events; the birth of Dale and Roy’s daughter, Robin Elizabeth Rogers, a child with Down syndrome. She is the angel of the title, whose two-year mission on earth inspired a book and now a screenplay.

End Game First

Mom loved Hallmark Christmas movies. During the few years I served as her caregiver, I could count on seeing bits and pieces of these feel good masterpieces as soon as they began to air, which was around the 4th of July, as I recall.

Fast forward to a time not long after mom’s passing, when I was entertaining my wife with an amusing account of mom’s fondness for such holiday romances. I made the fatal mistake, as I am prone to do, of saying that I could write a better screenplay. My wife, true to her character, said “Prove it,” a two-word statement she has said to me countless times since we first started dating. I am not sure even yet if she has ever been satisfied as a consequence of one of my boasts.

I did, however, complete a screenplay of a non-Hallmark Christmas movie written for a Hallmark audience. The substance of that epic is not germane to this message. What is, and the reason I begin with telling these few salient facts, is that the screenplay, which is the subject of this blog series, basically has its origins at the conjunction of mom’s love of Christmas movies, my wife’s challenge to man-up once again, and a comment recorded in last week’s message about the impact of Dale Evans Rogers on our perception of people whose physical and mental development falls short of what we perceive as normal.

Dale wrote a book entitled Angel Unaware. Its publication in 1953 was timely as it nicely coalesced with a national movement of parents seeking to provide more and better opportunities for their children labeled with the once acceptable though pejorative word retarded. Dale’s celebrity as the Queen of the West, the wife of Roy Rogers and the mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, resulted in her book becoming an international bestseller. It changed peoples’ attitudes and the donated royalties from book sales helped establish the National Association for Retarded Children, now simply known as The Arc. 

When I heard Dale’s son-in-law make the comment about Dale’s book changing the willingness of parents to bring their less than perfect children out of the shadows and into Dale and Roy’s rodeo audience to see their western heroes perform, I knew instantly what I wanted to do; first, to research the backstory of Larry Barnett’s comment and second to tell the story in a screenplay format. After all, what better format could there be for telling Dale and Roy’s story than in a script?

All of that was achieved in a scant seven months in time to meet the deadline for a script writing contest, known as the Kairos Prize, offered by MovieGuide. Therein resides another appropriate aspect of this project. Dale and Roy were devout Christians. The primary purpose of the Kairos Prize is to further the influence of moral and spiritual values within the film and television industries. You can define these values as Christian. Dale and Roy lived them, on screen and off.

There is a financial reward for the prize winner. Trust me, please. Submitting my script to this contest was not about the money. The more research I did into the life of Dale Evans and Roy Rogers the more important the story became to me. Hers in particular emerged as the dominant feature and the reason why I started writing her name first instead of using their customary billing. Next week I will share some of what I found out about her by answering the question “Whatever happened to Francis Octavia Smith?”

Angel Unaware

It’s been several weeks since I posted a message to what is supposed to be a weekly blog. The reason for my absence from this website is my obsession with a writing project of a far different kind; a screenplay of all things, for which my administrative professional career did not prepare me in the least.

My interest in writing this particular screenplay stems from a serendipitous moment this past February. I came across a brief interview via You Tube in which Cheryl Rogers Barnett, the oldest daughter of Dale and Roy Rogers, assured the interviewer that there was no difference between the characters we saw portrayed in each episode of The Roy Rogers Show and the real life couple she called mom and dad.

My purpose for writing the screenplay is the result of a comment made by Cheryl’s husband Larry near the end of the interview. He spoke of a time when Roy showed him a video taken at one of their rodeo shows. It was Dale and Roy’s custom to conclude each show by making a circuit of the arena and shaking hands with every child along the railing.

At a point in the rodeo video Roy pointed to a section in the audience where children with physical disabilities were gathered. Roy’s comment to his son-in-law was that they never saw children like this in the audience before Dale wrote her book Angel Unaware. His comment resonated with me immediately. It brought back a host of childhood memories, complete with all the joys and sorrows of life and their perpetual ramifications, which cannot be avoided.

Dale’s book, published in 1953, recounts the brief life – a scant two years – of Robin Elizabeth Rogers, Dale and Roy’s only natural born child. We had this book in our home. My mother purchased a copy, I believe, as a consequence of hearing Dale speak at The Church of the Open Door in downtown Los Angeles. She took me with her most likely because she knew I was an avid fan of Dale and Roy’s television show.

My mother passed away in 2017 so I cannot verify the accuracy of what follows. Rather ihis is me trying to piece together events, which occurred more than sixty years ago. But even if my memory is faulty, how I remember things is key to why I committed these past few months to a writing project well outside of my prior experiences.

What possessed my mother to venture into Los Angeles from the relative safety of our suburban home to hear Dale speak and to purchase her book was that she shared the same blood distinction that Dale had, a negative Rh factor. Little was known of this condition in the early fifties other than it did pose a threat to an unborn child if precautions were not taken at birth. How it affected the unborn’s prenatal development, if at all, was still subject to speculation.

I believe my mother feared that the child she was carrying would suffer the same fate as Robin Rogers, a child born with Down syndrome, a potentially fatal heart condition and a short life expectancy.

We know now that Down syndrome is the result of a chromosomal anomaly, but not then. My brother was born without any outward sign of a problem. My mother, however, was never free of the fear that there was something wrong with him as a consequence of her blood type. She carried this secret with her until the final days of her life, when I was her caregiver and she unburdened herself by sharing some intimate stories about her life and ours as a family.

Larry Barnett’s comment brought all of this to the forefront of my thinking, touching sensitive and unresolved issues, which must remain forever buried with the bodies of those I loved.  So this message, which shares the title of Dale’s book and my screenplay, is intended to introduce a new blog series, allowing me to share a personal journey of remembrance and discovery with the potential of a happy ending.

Do Your Soul A Favor

My goal of posting weekly messages has been on hiatus for about a month, but that does not mean that I have not been writing. There are just a few other projects demanding my attention at this time.

Like most people I am aware and quite concerned about the invasion of the Ukraine by the Russian army in deference to that nation’s political leadership. I have followed some of the news stories posted on-line; a compelling drama which has displaced Covid’s news dominance of the past two years.

Unlike other bloggers, however, I have no insights to share about the outcome of the war or the prospects of a political coup in Russia. What the heartache of this event has inspired in me is the opportunity to suggest to anyone reading this message is to do your soul a favor and access any on-line version of the song This Is My Song performed to the tune of Finlandia or, more specifically, the Finlandia Hymn.

The original musical composition has an interesting an appropriate history of its own. The musical piece written by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1899 was part of a cultural protect performed at an event known as the Press Celebrations of 1899. The protest was against Russian oppression and its resulting censorship of the Finnish press. It would appear, then, that whether ruled by Czars or Bolsheviks, Russian methodology does not change. Freedom is not in their vocabulary.

Sibelius’ composition is, for the most part, rather turbulent in keeping with the since of oppression under which Finlanders then lived. But there is a section near the end of the piece which has been excised for the purpose of making use of its pleasantly melodic qualities for choral purposes. One version is the Finlandia Hymn, which proclaims a new birth of freedom when Finland gained its independence. Another use is the Christian hymn, Be Still, My Soul.

For my purposes, the lyrics I would like to promote as a song of hope in light of the developments in the Ukraine is the 1934 version by Lloyd Stone. His is a song of universal peace, acknowledging that the love he has for his own country is a sentiment shared by others around the world for the land they live in and love equally well. His lyrics are neither red nor blue, east nor west, occidental nor Asiatic.  

So do your soul a favor. Access this song on-line. Perhaps learn the words and sing them in response to the evil that men do.

This is my song, O God of all the nations;
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh, hear my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

PS – Thank you YouTuber Tarja M for the history lesson on Sibelius’ composition.

In the Shadow of Success

Just before launching on my extensive road trip mid-January, I received via e-mail a public announcement concerning a major gift pledged to the Kelch Aviation Museum in Brodhead, WI. This was more than good news for the museum It was an encouraging message for me as well. Not that I am involved in the management of the museum, but I did provide my fund raising counsel on their capital campaign and this public statement was an affirmation of the campaign’s success.

The museum is managed by a friend from my days at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, WI. Pat Weeden, the executive director at Kelch, was a MC member, who helped me with creating content for our website as well as – and more importantly for me – the know-how for posting weekly web log messages. My routine of writing under the nom de plume of Management in Exile originated with my commitment to write about the operations at Mid-Continent as a means of providing our members and donors with the ability to monitor a transparent and accountable operation.

Fast forward to my first tour of the Kelch Aviation Museum with Pat as a newly minted and only employee. It was little more than a collection of vintage but unseen artifacts hidden behind the doors of various small hangers. It was Pat’s dream to construct a larger building where he could gather the entire collection in one viewable and properly interpreted space. He further envisioned a separate building with adequate meeting space for educational programs and archival storage.

Big dreams come with big price tags, which can be daunting to the uninitiated in fund raising for a small non-profit organization. My friend Pat asked for my advice, which I gladly gave in return for all the years of free advice he gave me on web site construction and for the sake of friendship. We sat together over lunch and devised a three phase capital campaign, which contained my staples for success.

First: devise a plan. Maybe I should say plans, plural, when discussing a capital campaign. One plan is for the physical layout, which then lends itself to creating visuals for the fund raising effort itself, which is plan two. This is where the dreaming stops. The plan must be reasonable and attainable, which does not mean that it must be small. Capital campaigns typically entail vast amounts of money and to raise big bucks requires a strategy so that there is no wasted effort on unlikely prospects. I say this as one who has often been advised to simply call up Warren Buffet to supply all the money we need. Unless you are Warren’s bridge partner, ala Bill Gates, this technique does not work.

Second: work the plan. When the time comes to start construction, the general contractor will follow the blueprints and specifications for the physical plant. The same must be done with the fund raising plan. It is easy to give up part way through the campaign since there is a usual burst of early gifts followed by the doldrums of diminished cash flow. But never give up. Work the plan. This requires a large dose of foolish optimism, but you will find in life that the optimists hold the key to success. With them there is less likelihood of quitting midstream.

Third: expect the unexpected. Unplanned gifts find their way to a proven entity. In the non-profit world one must gain a donor’s confidence by proving one’s competence in order to prompt a pragmatic donor’s gift. There is no way to plan for this. The timing, source and amount are simply not knowable to include in the fund raising plan at the outset. But I have seen it happen, where some donors wait to see if you have any reasonable chance at success and then they step in to help you achieve your goal. This happened to Pat. The directors of a solicited foundation waited to see if the Kelch Aviation Museum could complete the initial campaign for phases one and two. They have now unexpectedly stepped in to fund phase three on condition that the design be enhanced and named for the foundation’s own founders. Surprise! Their financial gift will create a more attractive physical plant and meet Pat’s original purpose of his museum.

Fourth: celebrate your success. This is typically done with a grand opening. The design for what takes place is variable, but you do want to honor your major donors publicly, unless they have specified anonymity as a condition of their gifts. Personally I like to stage these events with food, drink and live entertainment. It is a celebration, after all, and in this country that usually means providing the means for becoming satiated with all manner of delectable delights.

Having been a partial participant in someone else’s campaign, it occurs to me that I must add a point five to my overall strategy as an advisor. Standing in the shadow of another’s success is the appropriate place for a consultant to be. It cheapens the effort for an advisor to claim glory and by so doing upstaging one’s client, even a pro bono one. Humility is a virtue best suited for the advocates of success. Let others bask in the glory of a completed campaign. You know what you’ve done to help them get there and should find all the solace you need for your efforts waiting for you somewhere in the shadows.

Journey’s End

My prior two messages included subtle hints about my travels with a friend, while trying to finish off a series about outcomes. The outcome of the series is that it has ended and so has our journey driving the least traveled roads to an array of appealing destinations.

Reflecting on our miles traversed and the places seen, as well as the hidden gems of culinary delight, I can only say that the journey was refreshing for me as well as my traveling companion, who I originally viewed as the one who needed the healing that comes with discovery.

Culture, history, the beauty of our natural wonders all contributed their share to the soul’s illumination. Outward bound I was doubtful of the value of the occasion for me personally. Arrived, I am likely the better of the two of us for having made the trip.

No matter the destination, a significant part of the discovery was internal, apprising the self we too easily neglect for its familiarity. Crossing the Smoky Mountains on a two-lane highway in winter, walking the paths at Bellingrath and seeing the first vestiges of flowers in bloom amid the cold deep seated briskness of the air coming in from the Gulf leaves one enlivened despite the chill or perhaps because of it.

The virtue of our daily passages was reflected in our conversations. Without the certitude of solving problems, the blessing was in the nature of contentment as a guide for experiencing life without the need for control.

I am open to the possibility of a new career as a tour therapist. The open road simply provides the means to enthuse on any topic of interest, no matter how personal. Windshield time offers a parallel universe, where the id of all matters seems to be invincible.

So the highway beckons. Have car, will travel. There are many more destinations, which remain new and inviting to the therapeutic tourist. It just takes someone to share the joy of going there and back again as another contented traveler once upon a time enthused about his own discoveries.

Self-Control

We have arrived at the last topic of the virtues I have labeled as outcomes. The manager in me regards outcomes as the changes in thinking and beliefs, which alter our future actions. The spiritual; zealot in me has absconded with a New Testament passage written by the Apostle Paul to a small group of fledgling believers to help them understand what changes should be evident in light of their choice to abandon what we now call their pagan beliefs. There are nine: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Greek word the great apostle absconded with to enliven his readers’ imaginations was used in a purely secular manner by the Greeks to indicate the discipline of an athlete. While Paul certainly meant his concept of self-control to be about something other than the rigors of physical training, the commonality we should consider is the necessity of self-denial. Athletes in training, as we see them today, alter their entire lifestyle as they submit to a routine of vigorous training to develop greater strength and dexterity to perform at their best. This leaves me at a loss to boast of any accolades for my own spiritual prowess.

As I wrote last week, I am on a lengthy road trip with a friend, who needs a trained guide dog to navigate the day-to-day challenges of a life less lived. We have meandered our way through six states and nearly the full breadth of American history as we have made stops to sample the lives and times of our various predecessors still on display thanks to the efforts of those who maintain our priceless heritage. Of course anyone who is familiar with my own career path as a museum administrator will safely assume that I am orchestrating the stops we make as part of my therapy program for my traveling companion.

The downside of this adventure is that it has left me little time for writing. This accounts for the brevity of this message and the tardiness of getting it posted. Sadly I am not providing a favorable example of self-control. Instead I would like to defer back to last week’s message about gentleness and say that I have had more success with that outcome than I have with number nine in the sequence.

I am also going to make a deft maneuver and rely on a message written last year about temperance since some versions of Paul’s list of outcomes use this word instead of self-control. Then I was relying on the Latin word temperantia used by Cicero to translate Plato’s use of the Greek word sophrosyne to indicate the virtue ofmoderation. Admittedly this is not the same as Paul’s admonition towards the beyond normal demands to which an athlete submits. But I am desperate to add some content of value before I close and head off to our next destination and this is the best I can do.

What Cicero and Plato were after was moderation in our basic appetite for food, drink, and sex. Self-denial is the discipline they have in common with Paul. And while the good apostle expressed other thoughts on reining in our dependence on delicacies of various types to satisfy these three appetites, his admonition was meant to direct us towards something more. There are few in my estimation who can honestly do this concept justice as evidenced by the behaviors we see that make the demanding scrutiny of the social media. This means I am in large company when considering my spiritual deficiencies.

Gentleness

I am on a road trip to help nurse a friend back to some semblance of mental health. He can’t seem to see beyond the demons of the past and I can’t seem to see beyond the demons of the road. Maybe I should say, then, that we are on an adventure for mutual recovery.

Rule one in this process is that we will stay off the interstate as we travel. Rule two is that there are no other rules. Rule one is sufficient. In my mind that means avoiding the I-system of hectic highways in preference for those two-lane blacktops roaming through rural scenes and undisturbed landscapes. In my traveling companion’s mind it means the avoidance of threadbare memories and the people who haunt them.

Studying maps and repeatedly asking Siri for guidance doesn’t leave me with much time to write. The meaning behind this dilemma is that this week’s message will be brief; a disappointment to me since the subject is gentleness and I could use a refresher course right now in light of my mission.

The definition for this particular virtue, at least the one I am most partial to, is softness of action or effect.

Softness to me is not synonymous with weakness. A physically strong person can have a soft touch. He or she can be one as well. An emotionally strong person, though, is guaranteed of possessing a soft touch for the benefit of others. Therefore it would behoove me to submit to some kind of emotional workout during this road trip in order to fulfill my responsibilities as leader and reluctant saint.

In truth the sainthood belongs to my muse for this series on what I have termed outcomes. My inspiration is a claim made by the Apostle Paul of New Testament fame, who said that the outcomes from being spiritually and emotionally mature are love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Nine in all and we are now at the penultimate of these proposed outcomes.

The image I carry with me about being gentle is taken from the beautifully insightful words of an ancient sage, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. He wrote of God’s servant as one possessing a soft touch in combination with a strong arm. His statement, written in awe of such a person, proclaimed:

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

This statement comes from a lengthier passage about the deliverance of an entire nation. Our own could use such stealthy support right now. As I travel down a little used bypath in conversation with my friend, my words, tone and intent have to suffice as the strong arms of a makeshift shepherd carrying his wandering charge in a compassionate manner.

Turns in the road can be ominous. Being disoriented, as when the sunset seems to be happening in the east, is a given. Asking Siri for help is not to be construed as a prayer, but her guidance is sought and appreciated as she occupies her other-worldly status as oracle. If only she could answer the existential questions of my friend’s most arcane delusions, then this journey just might have a happy ending. Unfortunately she tells me, in her own gentle manner, that she can only discern right front left, not right from wrong or good from evil. Selah.  We venture on in belief that all who wander are not lost. Thank you for the gentle assurance, Mr. Tolkien.

Faithfulness

Faithfulness is a dog. The animal’s innate devotion to humans has earned it the sobriquet of being our best friend. Faithfulness is also this week’s topic in a series based on a more than two thousand year old list of attributes one can only describe as being transcendent. Who knew dogs could be ecclesiastical as well as housebroken?

The list in question was compiled by the Apostle Paul in an attempt to identify what should be innate to anyone who self-identifies as a follower of a former carpenter. Paul used fruit as his metaphor in place of my canine allusion, perhaps since it would be all the more readily applicable to the concept of a nourishing harvest to enrich the lives of others.

What the apostle sought in the performance of those he counseled was a bounty consisting of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can easily call these things virtues, but in this series I’ve repurposed them to be outcomes, the changes in thought and behavior resulting from experiences others have invested in us by the example of their own lives.

We can be more humane in our exposition about faithfulness than looking solely at our canine devotees. By this I mean that we can find human examples of faithfulness, or at least attempts at this virtue, within our own two-legged species. People we might call team players are faithful, whether to their fellow team members or the cause for which the team has been assembled. Think marriage.

This two-person team pledges faithfulness to one another no matter the circumstances; wealth or poverty, health or sickness, joy or sorrow, happiness or despair. We old dogs even pledged our sexual fidelity to our partner by making the commitment to forsake all others, a declaration often missing from today’s wedding vows – a hedge indicating faithfulness may have its limits.

We are a situational people. Ethics, morals (if you allow for them), and commitments hinge on specific situations. We boast of these things when they are convenient, but eschew them when not. Often this means when are in the presence of those whose politics are more confrontational than our own.

Faithfulness, though, is not conditional or situational. Dogs do not care about our politics. One cannot imagine Lassie refusing to rescue someone because they are an anti-vaxxer. Dogs and other household pets benefit from the protection from rabies and distemper vaccinations bring and would likely follow the recommendations of the CDC, even though they cannot comprehend the efficacy of the science behind the painful jab that delivers the promise of good health.

Faithfulness prompts truth conveyed with compassion. And it still invokes friendship when the recipient of an inconvenient truth lashes out at the message bearer. The faithful bring comfort. We know this to be true. How else could a person with the temperament of a Lucy Van Pelt convey the insight that happiness is a warm puppy? Perhaps it would be best for us if our society did go to the dogs. We just might find happiness (and faithfulness) there.

Goodness

I’ve been working my way through a list of nine attributes as part of a series on what I am calling outcomes. This stems from my manager’s mentality in which inputs become outputs in the hope of generating outcomes, a change in the recipient’s attitude and behavior.

But I am no longer a manager, so this series draws on something much more personal as we look at what many people would consider virtues conveniently merged by me into this input-output-outcome process. My rationale in doing so is simple: whatever virtues motivate us during the adult phase of our lives exist because of the inputs others invested in us during our formative years.

We must have behaved ourselves back then, more or less, exhibiting the outputs of this training by our parents, extended family members, teachers, coaches and various other mentors. The evidence on display in our pursuit of being model citizens comprise the outputs of this intensely personal and rather subjective process. What we’ve retained in our adult status, when we are most able to exercise our independence, are the virtues which motivate our unbridled behavior, when the adults are no longer present to prompt an acceptable response.

If you buy into that line of reasoning then we can commence with today’s message, the topic of which is goodness. It follows closely on the heels of a sequence devised by the Apostle Paul in trying to guide – as a spiritual parent – the behavior of his spiritually immature charges.  Goodness is topic number six; the five previous being love, joy, peace, patience and kindness.

The Greek word the astute apostle employed in his list of appropriate behaviors was agathosyne. There’s nothing profound about this word, but anyone named Agatha might be pleased to learn that the source of her name is rooted in the classical sense of goodness or wellbeing. On the other hand there might be some grave disappointment in learning that the popularity of Agatha as a girl’s name has severely declined over the past hundred years or so. It seems to reflect the prevailing though increasingly condescending attitude towards the concept of being good as – dare we say it – deplorable.

Goodness has, in fact, fallen on hard times. Good guys, like bad guys, finish last. To be good is to be mocked with the pejorative term “goody two-shoes.” Good people are weak, bland, repressed and easily confused with a doormat. That is why I choose to switch the basis of my essay on goodness from the classical to the ancestral, exchanging the Greek for the Hebrew in order to understand what Paul had in mind, when he admonished his followers to be good (among other things).

One ancient Hebrew word, towb, had many applications, which served to inform a young Saul of Tarsus (aka the Apostle Paul) as an input in his adolescent development. The ethical treatment of others was good. So was the moral choice to hate evil. Good food was pleasing. A good harvest was plentiful. A good time was joyful. A good year brought prosperity. Precious things were rare as well as good. And anything beneficial for others was good. When we consider the multidimensional aspects of being good, we just might realize that it is not a bad place in which to find one’s self. 

Sadly, this is not the case. No less a Christian celebrity than the Puritan poet John Milton likely sealed goodness’ fate with his portrayal of Satan as the more colorful and thereby more appealing character in his epic masterpiece Paradise Lost. The Evil One’s defiant claim that it is “Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven” is the defining truism for every hedonist and malevolent manipulator. The bloodless persona of goodness by comparison lacks the sinister virility of a date with Purgatory.

So would someone help me, please, in making a case for hardcore goodness?