Monday, June 25, 2018

Love Your Enemies?

The owner of the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia recently asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Saunders to leave her establishment because she found her political views and her association with Donald Trump offensive. Her decision to deny her service has once again divided the country between those who accuse her of intolerance and bigotry and those who applaud her for standing up to a bully who works for a bully. Some commentators have pointed out that Donald Trump’s vulgar tone and demeaning comments towards his political enemies has unleashed a similar backlash. Now, Maxine Waters is on record fanning this new confrontational phase of our political disagreements, encouraging everyone to publically harass all members of the Trump administration, denying them public accommodations whenever the opportunity arises.

This will not end well.

Meanwhile, as if on cue, my pastor preached a sermon for this particular moment and blasted me between the eyes with a particularly stark and uncomfortable passage from the Sermon on the Mount...

“You have heard it said,’Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in Heaven. He causes the sun to rise  on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. If you love  those who love you, what reward will you get? are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

Jesus Christ, Matthew 5: 43-47

With this statement, our Lord and savior introduced the only truly revolutionary idea in the history of the your enemies. He makes no exceptions, offers no categories of enemies which might be exempt. He doesn’t even deny that enemies exist. He just commands us to love them. It’s disturbing to hear because it condemns us...all of us. We are no good at this. We much prefer revenge and hatred. 

Then my pastor made a couple of statements which I will try to accurately paraphrase...

This is a large church with a wide range of political opinions. I know many of us who voted for Hillary Clinton, and many others of us who voted for Donald Trump. And, by saying that I know what thought just popped into many of your minds...’How can you be a Christian and vote for _________?? If that’s you...stop it. Don’t go there. One of the highest goals of discipleship is preventing hatred from growing in the human heart...”

Tribalism is the degeneration of human organization which reduces every encounter down to us vs. them. This leads to the concept that the friend of my enemy must become my enemy. Eventually, when life is lived in this way, we no longer are able to see our enemies as human beings. Once that happens, the door is wide open to every kind of cruelty.

In 2018, we find ourselves in a scary place. For me, it no longer matters who started it. Which side is more responsible for the growing hatred and animosity seems very much beside the point. After all, the audience on that hillside in Galilee all those years ago were people living under the brutal occupation of Roman soldiers. They all knew who the aggressors were, and still...Jesus implored them to abandon their hatred, and choose love. That’s an astounding request and must have seemed impossible to Jesus’ audience, no less impossible to us. But, if we are to survive this place in our’s our only hope.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Pierre and Me

I’ve noticed that over the years people have stopped getting married in churches anymore. It’s not necessarily a religious thing, it’s more the fact that the carpeting clashes with the bridesmaid’s dresses, or that churches don’t have the right aisle structure or some other aesthetic isn’t quite right. Instead, couples have started getting hitched out on somebody’s farm, in a renovated barn. Others choose some converted warehouse which has been relabeled, industrial chic, and marketed as a wedding venue. Still others find an old manor house with a picturesque gazebo overlooking a grand vista somewhere. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of these choices. There’s no law that says you can only get married inside of a church building. However, the rapid inflationary trajectory of the cost of weddings is directly related to the abandonment of the Church wedding. The explosion of the wedding venue industry has turned weddings into a seriously big business. With this in mind, what follows is a fictionalized composite of one father’s experiences through the planning and execution of two such weddings. Events and conversations depicted here may or may not have actually taken place, and are representative of general themes only, not of real people or events...except when they are.

Pierre: Welcome to The Bluff at Xanadu, the premier wedding venue for only the most romantic couples!

Me: Whoa!! Settle down, Pierre. We’re just looking right now.

Pierre: Then you’ve found what you need. There’s no need to  look any further. You have found the perfect venue for your daughter’s big day.

Me: I’ll be the judge of that. This place looks like a giant empty room. What am I missing?

Pierre: The Bluff at Xanadu is a blank canvas onto which your daughter can paint her dreams. Our minimalist approach allows for the greatest level of customization, making each wedding a unique event.

Me: How much does it cost?

Pierre: A mere $10,000.

Me: Are you kidding? That’s great! Every other place we’ve looked at is twice that! What’s the deal?

Pierre: At The Bluff, we pride ourselves on our competitive pricing.

Me: Where do I sign??

Pam: Wait a minute dear...I have a few questions.

It’s at this point in the process that I’m reminded of just how overmatched I am by my wife when it comes shall I, thinking things through. That is to say, I’m clueless about the details of anything, and Pam’s brain is the place where the details of life live.

Pam: I don’t see any tables or chairs anywhere.

Pierre: Tables and chairs can be rented from our sister company, Xanadu Fulfilled.

Pam: Is there another room for the reception. I only see this one big room.

Pierre: No, after the ceremony, your guests will be escorted out into the veranda for cocktails while our expert and efficient staff transform this space into a reception room. It’s actually breathtaking to watch. We call it...the great room flip.

Pam: I see. What about the lighting? It seems rather stark.

Pierre: No worries, we offer a wide range of lighting options, everything from subtle amber to the great white way, and of course our neon night’s package..all for a slight upcharge.

Me: Wait...we have to pay extra for lights?

Pierre: A nominal charge...and well worth it, I must say, to set just the right ambient tone. There’s nothing worse than having the wrong lighting.

Me: I can think of something worse...having to pay for lighting.

Pam: I notice that there are two giant video screens in the room. I assume these are for slideshows of the bride and groom?

Pierre: Yes! And for a technology hookup fee your photographs will be displayed on only the highest HD resolution screen in the industry, absolutely cutting edge!

Me: Wait...a technology hookup fee? What the....

Pam: I notice that the veranda has no ceiling fans. Since our event will be in the middle of the summer, it might be quite hot, and with over a hundred people milling about our here for perhaps an hour, I’m concerned about the heat. Will you provide some oscillating fans to provide some cross ventilation?

Pierre: You know...I don’t think we’ve ever been asked that question before. I mean the veranda has a roof, so it’s not like your guests would be standing out in the sun. But, if you insist, I’m sure that Xanadu Fulfilled can rent you a fan or two.

Me: We have to rent fans???!!!

Pam: Honey, calm down.

Me: What about the bathrooms? Will there be toilet paper, or will we have to rent that too??  

Pierre: Only the finest four-ply, imported toilet paper from Singapore is included at no extra charge.

Me: As Ronald Reagan once said...Trust, but I want to see these bathrooms.

Pierre: Certainly...second door on the right.

Me: Wait a minute...these are pay toilets!!

Pierre: The Bluff at Xanadu is an environmentally-sensitive site. We try to limit, where possible, the overuse of water and have found that adding a charge for bathroom services helps people to make more rational decisions on how often they use the facility.

Me: But, there’s an ATM machine in here? How much are these toilets??

Pierre: $10 per flush.

Me: Are you freaking kidding me???

Pierre: We do offer senior citizen discounts, as well as quantity discounts, for the heavy drinkers in your party.

Pam: Pierre, according to my calculations, the cost of your venue has now doubled from your original price of $10,000.

Pierre: And aren’t the memories you will make here worth any price??

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Wedding Memories

In just over a week I will attend my son’s wedding. It’s been almost four years since my daughter’s wedding, so just to remind myself of what that day was like, I went back into the archives and found what Dad’s memory of everything about the day that his only daughter got married. As history, it is limited, since it’s only what I remember. But, I’m glad I have it, because it reminds me of what an incredible day it was. It’s kind of long, so I apologize. 

It has been 48 hours since Katlin’s wedding. Already my memory is starting to waver, so I suppose I better get it all down before I forget anything:

6:30AM - I am awakened by the sound of harps and a gentle breeze on my cheeks from the wings of tiny bluebirds. I look out of my window and see a rare morning rainbow, God’s promise of a day like no other.

6:31AM – I startle myself awake from a horrible Disney nightmare, convinced that I am late for my Physics exam at the University of Richmond. It then dawns on me that this is July 12, 2014 and my little girl is getting married in exactly 11 hours….which is fine since I was going to flunk Physics anyway.

9:00AM – Arrive at Carmax for the third time in two days to pick up my daughter’s car. Carmax mechanics and technicians apparently graduated from the Helen Keller school of automobile repair since none of them could manage to hear the loud whining sound coming from the rear of the car the minute it reached 30 mph on the road. Suggested that next time they may want to consider taking cars for a test drive on the actual highway instead of their parking lot. 

10:00AM – Arrive at Parkside Barbershop for the much celebrated and anticipated straight razor shave with all of the groomsmen. Was served a cold Yeungling draft upon arrival, which I consumed under the reasoning that it was 5 o’clock somewhere. Charm of the place began to wear off nearly 2 hours later when my name was called, the last on the list. Charm of the place totally vanishes when it dawns upon me mid-shave that I am alone at Parkside Barbershop with no ride home, since Jon had taken Kaitlin’s car, and Patrick had headed for home ten minutes ago with my car.

12:16PM – Get text from Pam directing me to drop by Martin’s and pick up “K-cups and a large case of bottled water. When I replied that I didn’t really feel comfortable buying women’s underwear especially bra’s, she informed me that “K-cups” were not in fact a bra size, but rather a brand of coffee used in our Keurig. Made mental note to help with grocery shopping more in the future to eliminate further such embarrassments.

2:09 PM – Caravan of cars leave house headed for Celebrations. Cadillac making frightening click-click-click noise. For a minute a vision of a blown engine on 288 flies into my head. To my eternal relief, all cars arrive on time and in good order. Women of the wedding party all disappear to the upstairs of the Manor House, while the men get comfortable downstairs in air-conditioned comfort, a good thing since it is hotter than homemade hell outside. It occurs to me as I ease back on a very comfortable sofa that I am at least off the hook for all of those things I promised God I would do if he gave us a beautifully cool day.

2:48PM – Fall sound asleep on ridiculously comfortable sofa and am abruptly awakened by a sharp poke on the knee by Toby, our intrepid “event coordinator,” who implores me to get dressed into my tuxedo and meet the photographer outside immediately. While I was asleep a flurry of pressurized activity is going on upstairs, with Kaitlin and Pam trying to get her wedding dress put on correctly amidst the buzz, clicks and blur of not one but TWO photographers capturing it all for posterity. Later, when Pam discovers that I was sleeping while she was going through Dante’s ninth level of hell, she is understandably perturbed.

3:00 thru 4:00PM – Spend most of this hour walking around in circles, barking out confusing orders to anyone who looked like an employee of Celebrations. Also, begin trying desperately to get guitar in tune. 40 year old classical is temperamental in this regards in the best of environments, but in tropical heat and humidity that would induce projectile vomiting in Lucifer himself, it is a hopeless endeavor.

4:30 PM – Am summoned to the upstairs of the Manor house, and told to wait at the door to the dressing room. Inside I hear the rapid fire of camera shutters. This is one of the “money shots” of the day…Dad seeing daughter in wedding dress for first time. No pressure. No pressure at all.

4:31 PM – Open door slowly and behold as radiant and stunning a vision as I have ever seen. My only daughter looks like some kind of princess, enchanting and sublime, happier than I have ever seen her. It’s hard to be sad, impossible to cry. Why would I? This is what every father worth his salt wants for his little girl. 

5:30PM – Toby hustles the two of us down the stairs and into our designated spot for the grand entrance. I notice that the oppressive heat and choking humidity have subsided a bit. I hear music drifting through the tops of the grand oak trees, a piano and orchestra arranged by my son. I look at Kaitlin by my side, she is positively glowing. The last thing she says to me before we turn the corner and escape the seclusion of the lush green hedges is, “I love you daddy!”

5:32PM – As we make our way down the sweeping turns of the brick walkway, I look up and recognize the faces of some of my best friends on this planet. I see men and women who all had a hand in raising her, in shaping her character. Some of them have come from far away to be here. I remember warnings from many of my buddies that I would cry at this moment, but all I feel is deep gratitude. Just about the time we got to our stopping spot a soft, cooling breeze swept over the assembly. I managed to get through my four word speech, “Her mother and I,” without incident. I take my seat on the front row beside my wife.

5:37PM – The minister, Gordon Fort began the proceedings by reminding all that this date, July 12, 2014 would have been my parent’s 67th wedding anniversary, then proceeded to read from some of my Dad’s notes we had found just a couple of weeks ago when cleaning out his house after his death. They were in a small dog-eared three ring binder of wedding services he had done over the years. When I heard Gordon reading his words, I looked up at the top of the trees now swaying in the unexpected breeze. I wondered if he was watching, if he knew how much I miss him.

5:42PM – It was time to play my guitar. Kaitlin wanted Paula to sing and me to play the Steven Curtis Chapman song, I Will Be Here, so although it had been at least a year since I had played and longer than that since Paula had sung at a wedding, there we were beginning the song. That’s when the oddest thing happened. For the first time all day, I became overcome with emotion. I felt my palms sweating, my heart began beating loudly in my ears, my fingers began to tremble. Luckily, I never look at my hands while playing, so I buried my chin in my right shoulder and stared at the ground throughout the entire song. By the time it was over I had recovered my composure.

5:50PM – I hear Gordon introduce the happy couple as “Mr. and Mrs. Jon Manchester.” I look at Jon and he has a smile splashed across his face as big as Texas. Actually he’s had it all day. It’s as if he has a clothes hanger turned upside down stuck in his mouth. The poor guy is hopelessly in love and just can’t help himself. They disappear past me as they make their way up the walkway amidst raucous applause. It’s over. The deed has been done.

6:00PM thru 7:30PM – This is the part of weddings which I hate, everybody standing around eating cheese and crackers and fruit waiting for the photographers to do their work. Between the several summons I received to appear for pictures, I began bargaining with the Almighty over the promises I had made when praying for cool weather. While the weirdly timed cool breezes that blew during the actual ceremony were a nice touch, I’m not sure that it would qualify as “cool.” I mean, I made my request pretty clear and despite the aforementioned cool breezes, it was hot and sticky both before the service and now after the service. Any impartial observer would side with me on this one, but with God, you never know.

7:30PM thru 9:15 Dinner is served after interminable picture taking session, the only bright spot being when Toby showed up with a plate of crudités for all and two iced coffee drinks for the bride and groom. Never have little squares of cheddar cheese with carrot sticks and ranch dressing tasted so good. Actually sat down at my table and ate for at least 12 minutes. Rest of time spent making the rounds talking with the guests like a shameless politician.

9:20PM – Bride and groom begin introduction of each of their bridesmaids and groomsmen. Kaitlin as poised and graceful in front of a crowd as her mother always is, and equally beautiful. After the introductions it was time for the father/daughter dance. Kaitlin chose that great song from “The Jerk,” You Belong To Me. Halfway through dance I was kicking myself that I didn’t arrange to have a trumpet handy to whip out for the solo. Truly wonderful moment. Later there was a dance for all married couples. At various times during the song, the DJ would ask those couples who had been married less than a certain number of years to be seated. The last couple standing were my in-laws. Cool.
10:00PM – After several wonderful and moving toasts from various members of the wedding party, it was my turn to give the final toast before the cake cutting. Again, my palms began to sweat, again with the loud beating heart, I began. Except for a final perfunctory paragraph acknowledging that there was, in fact, a groom on the premises, my words were mostly about Kaitlin and what a gift she has been to my life.

10:20PM – Kaitlin throws her bouquet and Jon throws the garter. Jon’s throw was particularly impressive, since he wrapped it around a 2002 Ohio State National Championship commemorative football before sending a spiral into the amassed gaggle of single men. In true Ohio State form, Jon’s brother, the intended target, dropped the ball. Yet another incomplete pass by the Buckeyes.

10:35PM – Couple finally pass through the gauntlet of sparklers on the way to their getaway car. Taillights disappear and they’re gone.

11:55PM – Arrive home after lengthy clean up made infinitely easier by my helpful family who stayed until the bitter end helping us pack everything up. Potential mother of the bride meltdown avoided when all the leftover food from the reception was trying to be loaded into Pam’s car. There just wasn’t any room yet Pam was determined to squeeze it all in. When I noticed the wild expression of exhaustion and panic in her eyes I knew that she was unable to make one more decision, so I did. I carried an entire large pan of mashed potatoes and several other gargantuan containers of meat and vegetables back into the manor house with the simple declaration, “There is no way in the world anyone will eat any of this food!!”

12:30AM – After unloading the cars, we all collapsed on the sofas in the den, too exhausted to even speak. It was all over. After 18 months of planning, 6 months of deciding, 3 months of organizing, and three weeks of 20 hour days, it was all over. 

Someone on Facebook made a comment about this picture, “The Perfect Family.” Nothing could be further from the truth. We are like every other family on Earth, full of flaws and flawed people. But this I know, the people in this photograph love each other, without qualification or reservation. Each of them have been a blessing to us and instrumental in helping Pam and I shape and form Kaitlin’s character. Without these people, and without Emmett and Betty Dunnevant, none of this day would have been possible.

The Naming of Things

Yesterday’s blog about the name change controversy has gotten me to small feat...about the fact that we Americans have always been fond of naming stuff after famous people. Just yesterday I took the John Rolfe parkway over to the Willey bridge on my way to John Tyler Community College. Everywhere you look in this city, there’s some school, building or street named after some dead guy. It just stands to reason that at some point, after several generations have come and gone, somebody is going to ask the question...Hey, who the heck was Ed Willey?? Then maybe some group of civic-minded people will suggest changing the name to honor a more recent hero or heroine. This, I believe, is right and proper.

As far as the naming of schools is concerned, I got curious and decided to do some research. I wondered which American President had the most schools named after him. I guessed correctly:

94 John Kennedy 
73 Thomas Jefferson
53 George Washington
52 Woodrow Wilson
45 Abraham Lincoln
24 Theodore Roosevelt
20 John Adams 

Of the more recent Presidents...

15 Ronald Reagan
10 Barack Obama
3  Bill Clinton
2 George W. Bush
1 George H.W. Bush 

Modern sensitivities are such that each one of these men carries with him politically incorrect baggage. Depending on how easily offended you are, it might scandalize you to discover that there are 52 schools in this country named after Woodrow Wilson, that well-documented and virulent racist. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were both slave holders, Washington reluctantly so, Jefferson with great passion (figuratively and literally). Abe Lincoln is an all timer, and John Adams was one of the few Founders who never owned a slave and thought the institution a blight on the country.

But...what about John Kennedy? 

In the wake of his shocking assassination, the entire country mourned that such a young, virile man could be struck down. As a result of this grief, Americans went on a street, building and school-naming frenzy to honor the man. To this day, our 35th President remains an icon of the Democratic Party. This is a very curious and unexplainable phenomenon. In today’s Democratic Party John Kennedy would be to the right of...well, practically everyone. In fact, he might be kicked out of the party altogether. Dude was a staunch anti-communist, a tax cutter, quite reluctant on civil rights and suspicious of Martin Luther King. In the modern Democratic Party, the #MeToo crowd would crucify the guy. Still, there he sits, at or near the top of the food chain of the party’s heros. Go figure.

Anyway, my point is, with regards to the naming of things, I believe that each generation should have a say. New heros always come along, and at some point the Estes Kefauver Bridge will no longer make any sense. But, something tells me that until we can all get passed this phase of hyper-polarization in which we find ourselves, I suggest that we stick to naming things after flowers and trees, and inanimate objects.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Changing Names

What’s wrong with this picture? Where to begin?

This is the photograph which accompanied the story yesterday about the name change of this school from J.E.B. Stuart to Barack Obama Elementary school. While the comments section was blowing up with outrage about the name change, I couldn’t stop looking at the broken glass, the stuck window and the grass that hadn’t been mowed in weeks. Then I researched the school and learned about the abysmal test scores, the plague of underachievement by whatever metric you chose to measure the actual educating going on inside his building...and I thought, Changing the name of this school from J.E.B. Stuart to Barack Obama is the educational equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But, by all means, let’s spend six months studying and $26,000 changing the name of this school.

Ok, I suppose I should make something clear...I don’t object to schools changing their names. I completely understand and have great sympathy for the idea that maybe a school which is 90% African-American might not want to any longer be named for a Civil War General, who although perhaps the finest cavalry officer of the entire war (despite his lapse at Gettysburg), fought for the losing side, a side which was fighting, among other things, to preserve the legality of human bondage. So, if a school in 2018 wants to fly under a new banner, one that might inspire more pride in the community they serve, I have no problem with it.

But, that picture...

Richmond City schools have a boatload of big problems. Their buildings are crumbling. Their students consistently underperform in English, science and math scores. Half the time they can’t even get the furnaces to work in the winter and the air conditioning to work in the summer. But they can commission a study on changing the name of one their schools, come up with a list of ten candidates, even let the kids and teachers vote on the thing, then pick the guy who came in tenth in the voting as the winner. What could possibly go wrong?

But, at least it’s done now. The kids no longer will have to be called Stuart’s Stars. 

That should fix everything.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Meticulous Planning

For the last six months my wife has been immersed in every imaginable detail of planning a wedding. This feverish planning has produced more spreadsheets and Google Docs than the Mueller Investigation. Meanwhile, I have largely been on the sidelines, a helpless observer, only roused to action when there’s a bill to be paid. As a result, I have felt somewhat useless, like I’m not carrying my weight. So, I have decided do a little planning myself. There won’t be any Google Docs involved, but that’s not to say that I haven’t given this a lot of thought.

In less than five weeks, our first three-week Maine vacation will begin. 24 hours after we arrive at The Chill House on Pemiquid Lake on the 21st of July, Jon, Kaitlin, Patrick and Sarah will fly into Portland, which will give Pam and me one day to buy groceries. Accordingly, I have decided to take it upon myself to plan the menu for the entire three weeks. Here’s what I have so far...


- blueberry pancakes
- scrambled eggs
- bacon/sausage
- fried bread


- lobster rolls 
- fluffernutters


- steak
- chicken
- shrimp
- lobster
- ice cream


How’d I do??

The handy part of this menu is how easily it can be replicated on our second three-week Maine vacation coming up in September/October!!

What’s so difficult about planning? I mean, seriously??

Friday, June 15, 2018

S.C.C.S...Killer of Good Days

There’s probably nothing in this world more vital, more intrinsically satisfying and reassuring than that morning cup of coffee. For me, it comes around 6 o’clock. It brews while I absentmindedly empty the dishwasher, thinking of nothing. Then I pour it into one of my oversized mugs.  I add a tablespoon of carcinogenic powdered creamer, or Coffeemate, then an eighth of a teaspoon of Truvia, another soon to be discovered carcinogen.        

Then, I sit down on the sofa, open my iPad and take that first delicious sip. Temporarily, all is right with the world.

But every so often something bad happens. I get distracted. Maybe it’s some moronic item in the news, or maybe I get an inspiration for a blogpost. Suddenly, I am in another place, far away from my living room. By the time I snap out of it, a significant amount of time has passed. It’s then that I instinctively reach for my forgotten cup of coffee to finish off what’s left in the mug only to discover that something positively dreadful has happened. It’s ICE COLD. It’s also too late. My mouth is now full of cold coffee and I must make a lightening-quick I swallow, or expel it back into the mug? Ok, this isn’t exactly the type of lightening-quick decision on which civilization hangs, but it’s no small thing either! The worst part about the surprising cold coffee swig, (or S.C.C.S for short), is that you feel like the victim of a cruel trick, like you’ve been betrayed by your best friend or something. My coffee is cold?? What, in the name of all that is holy, is going on here??!! After this inauspicious beginning, there’s no telling what horrors await you on this day. I mean, if you can be betrayed by your own coffee, anything is possible. So, for the rest of the day, you’re giving everyone the side eye, every interaction shrouded in paranoia. Trust no one. Double check everything. Today, there is treachery in the air. Enough of this sort of thing happens and you wake up one morning to discover that Donald Trump is President!

And... it’s all because of the dreaded S.C.C.S.