When Coronavirus Hits Home

Our hometown of Wichita largely locked down at the moment, a response to the increase in coronavirus that followed a brief unlocking, and that’s unsettling enough. Worse yet, we’ve learned that we’re in the most infected part of town.
The 67203 zip code is a nice area, comprised mostly of the picturesque Riverside neighborhood and the adjacent historic Delano district, and the folks here are mostly friendly and don’t deserve this. We attribute the high infection rate to facts that it’s in heart of the city, and that Riverside’s many parks and art museum and botanical garden as well as Delano’s popular nightspots draw many visitors from all around the city. Also, people here tend to socialize with their neighbors more than in other parts of town.
These are usually selling points for the area, but not during a coronavirus epidemic. Suddenly it’s better to be of those boring suburbs no ventures into except to deliver packages and nobody even knows his neighbors.
There’s not much to do about it except to stay at home as much as possible and wear a face mask when forced to venture outside. We’ve already been doing that for what seems an eternity, and try to be even more strict about it until given an all-clear signal by the local health officials. At this point we’re willing toke our chances, but we don’t want to put any of our nice neighbors at risk.

— Bud Norman

Opening Day at Long Last

Today is Opening Day for major league baseball, ordinarily a big day on our calendar, although it doesn’t feel like it.
Opening Day is supposed to be in early spring, when the games in Boston and Detroit and other northern cities are played in the lingering cold, and not in searing heat of July. The stands are supposed to filled with fans hopeful that this will be their championship season, but this time around the stands will be empty and silent. The season is supposed to last for 162 games, leaving plenty of baseball to allow a team to claw back from a slow start in a game were even the best teams have losing streaks and only 20 points or so separate the best teams from the worst, but this time around each team plays 60 games.
Other time-honored traditions of the national pastime have been discarded as well. There will will be an American League and a National Team playing one another in a potential World Series, but over the shortened season they’ve been merged into one league. There’s been some inter-league play for the past several years, which offended our traditionalist sensibilities, and we find this outrageous. Teams will be playing their divisional counterparts, which means they won’t be facing the same quality of competition across the season, making it more likely a more deserving team will miss the playoffs.
The game will be less fair this shortened season, but there’s a lot about this year of the coronavirus that isn’t fair. Perhaps we should just be glad that we’ll have a diversion from all the rest of it, and hope no one gets sick.

— Bud Norman

What’s in a Name?

The sports pages of the news used to be a temporary refuge from politics, but since early spring there have been not heroic feats to marvel at and no box scores to pore over, and the only sports news has been drearily political. After a big fuss about the NASCAR stock racing league banning the Confederate battle flag, the big story on Monday was about the National Football League’s Washington Redskins agreeing to change the team name.
The team has been called the Redskins since it first entered the then-fledgling NFL back in 1932, and for the first few decades nobody thought much about it. Starting around the late ’60s, though, there some grumbling from the emerging cultural left about a team using a term coined as a racial slur against Indians as its name, and over time the grumbling few louder. For the past couple of decades the controversy has festered, with occasional protests outside the stadium and the federal patent office denying the team trademark protections for all the products they put their name and logo and some newspapers refusing to refer to the Washington, D.C., franchise by its given name.
Team owner Daniel Snyder long resisted the protestors, saying the name and the Indian head logo on the fifty yard line and on all those licensed products were meant to honor America’s original inhabitants. there’s something to be said for time-honored traditions. There’s something to it, as most people have long thought that “Redskins” was just a colloquial term for Indians like “Yankees” is a term for northeastern Americans and “Cannucks” is slang for Canadians, and the University of Oklahoma Sooners and the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Indiana University Hoosiers have all embraced names that were coined as slurs. America’s varied Indians mostly didn’t give it much thought, having more pressing problems to deal with, and Snyder didn’t see any reason to spend millions of dollars on changing the team’s uniforms and signage and stationery and mailing address.
Halfway into a long, hot summer of demonstrations and debates about racial justice, however, Snyder finally relented. The giant FedEx company and other huge corporations threatened to withdraw from deals to help him finance a fancy new stadium, and the District of Columbia’s municipal government threatened to withhold the necessary permits, and Snyder apparently concluded that would be worse for his bottom line than the few measly million dollars he’d spend to make a change of name and logo. Call it a victory for capitalism or for social justice, or just another capitulation to “political correctness,” but when football eventually resumes the Redskins will no longer be the Redskins.
Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves are being similarly pressured to change names, as are our beloved Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL, along with the few remaining collegiate sports programs with Indian-themed monikers. We’d let the Cleveland ball club pass, as Indians is a neutrally descriptive term, much like the Bethany College Swedes in the charming Swedish-Kansas town of Lindsborg, but they might want to reconsider their grinning mascot “Chief Knock-a-Homa.” The Braves arguably honor the bravery of America’s Indians, but it would be a gesture of respect if the stopped the “Tomahawk Chop” gestures and war cries in the stands. The Chiefs were actually named after machine boss mayor who lured the Dallas Texans to Kansas City, as everyone in town called him “Chief,” but then they added an arrowhead logo to the helmets and fifty-yard line to what is called Arrowhead Stadium, so given the current cultural climate they probably should have gone with the Kansas City Mayors.
A few blocks away from us, just across the Minisa Bridge over the Little Arkansas River, is Wichita North High School, a gorgeous work of architecture adorned with terra cotta decorations depicting Indians. which has been known since its long ago opening as the “Home of the Redskins.” The local board of education has scheduled a public hearing about that, and it should prove interesting. There’s no clamor to change the Indian motifs of either the school or the bridge, which everyone agrees are beautiful and quite respectful, so people are already-talking about something Indian-themed but not at all offensive. One possible name that’s already gaining favor is the North High Keepers, an allusion to the locally beloved “Keeper of the Plains” statue by locally revered artist Blackbear Bosin, which is just downstream at the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas rivers, where the plains tribes used to meet for pow-wows and political dealing and commerce.
Whatever they decide, we hope everyone will be agreeable about it. North High hasn’t had a good football team since future Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders was in the backfield, and the basketball teams have been lousy since all-time City League scoring champ Conor Frankamp graduated, but it’s a beautiful school with dedicated teachers and mostly Latino and a mostly well-behaved student body, and it’s in the neighborhood, so we root for them when they’re not playing Wichita Heights.
We’d like to think that the rest of country will sort all this agreeably, but we’re not betting on it. There are still hold-outs for the Lost Cause out there, even as the Marines and NASCAR are banishing its most cherished symbol, and many Americans still resist anything that smacks of “political correctness.” We understand the impulse, as “political correctness” does indeed sometimes stifle free and open debate about the complexities of America’s history and its current events, but too many Americans resent any polite public opprobrium against using racial slurs and espousing explicitly racist beliefs.
By no means are all of President Donald Trump’s supporters those sorts of racists, but all of those sorts of racists are Trump supporters, and he did vow to liberate the country from the chains of political correctness. When he somehow got elected while flouting not only “political correctness” but also the most reasonable rules of politeness, it emboldened the worst of his supporters, but they’ve probably been disappointed by the results.
Trump is opposed to the Redskins changing their name, of course. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president believes most Indians will be “very angry” about it, Trump also “tweeted” that “They name teams out of STRENGTH, not weakness, but now the Washington Redskins & Cleveland Indians, two fabled sports franchises, look like they are going to be changing their names order to be politically correct. Indians, like Elizabeth Warren, must be very angry now.” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has nothing to do with this, of course, but he can never resist insulting her.
No matter how boldly he flouts both “political correctness” and basic politeness, though, Trump is clearly losing the culture wars. The Confederacy is still polling badly after all these years, with both NASCAR and the state of Missssiippi retiring the Stars and Bars, and most people don’t think that “black lives matter” is hate speech. If the NFL ever gets to play football again league policy will allow players to take a knee in protest against police brutality during the national anthem. Many of America’s top athletes and best teams have declined invitations to the White House, and they’re unafraid to express their opinions.
Deep in his wheeling-and-dealing real estate developer’s black ink heart Trump knows the bottom line reason that Snyder at last agreed to change the name of ‘Skins, and can’t hold it against him. Corporate America is currently aligned with social justice and racial equality and sensitivity to minority groups and all the the rest of that “political correctness,” and we’re sure it’s because their marketing departments have their fingers on the pulse of public opinion and are looking to their bottom lines. Trump would do well to keep that in mind, but he also needs to call of his base intact and enthused come Election Day.

— Bud Norman

Full Facial Nudity is Banned in Kansas

Starting Friday, full facial nudity will no longer be allowed in Kansas, at least for the duration of the coronavirus problem. Gov. Laura Kelly has ordered that as of Friday all Kansans must wear face masks when in public, and it will be interesting to see how that turns out.
The measure is in response to a worrisome increase in the state’s coronavirus infections, especially here in mostly urban Sedgwick County and the suburban Kansas City counties to the northeast, but it’s also happening in the rural counties, which are sparsely populated and as always socially-distanced but have an average age over 65 and scant medical care, so any outbreak would be disastrous. Despite such compelling public health arguments, however, we expect that Kelly will face some harsh criticism.
Kansans tend to have an instinctive sense of civic duty, and come together in a crisis and fill sandbags in times of flooding and refrain from tossing cigarettes out of a car window during times of drought and tak\e up arms in time of war, but otherwise they tend to follow Walt Whitman’s advice to “resist much, obey little,” and don’t care for being told what to do. Which Kansas instinct prevails remains to be seen, but it surely won’t be a unanimous decision around here.
Here, as everywhere else in America, people tend to disregard the arguments and choose sides based on their previous political affiliations. Our liberal Democratic friends all agree that wearing a face mask is the least you can do for your fellow citizens, and far less onerous than what previous generations of civic-minded Kansans have one, but when our President Donald Trump-loving conservative Republican friends complain that wearing a mask in public very much sucks they also make an undeniably damned good point.
To fully confess to any revolutionary cadres out there, we’ve rarely worn a mask when buying beer and other essential groceries over the past many interminable months. We wore one to a small town Church of Christ funeral, where about a third of the mourners wore masks, but only on a couple of other occasions. In our beer and grocery shopping and other occasional appearances in public at an outdoor coffee shop and a beer joint with a small client tell and spacious patio seating, we’ve noticed that only about a third of our fellow citizens have been wearing face masks. We expect that percentage will go up when it becomes mandatory, but don’t anticipate full compliance. It might turn out to be the most widely broken law around here since Prohibition or the 55 mile per hour speed limit.
There’s also a chance it will redound to those liberals’ benefit. This coronavirus problem is undeniably serious, even so serious that the Trump-loving Republican governors of Florida and Texas are bringing back economic restrictions in response to recent worrisome spikes, and the Vice President and Republican Senate majority are urging Americans to wear face masks in public. Even in this traditionally Republican state our Democratic governor won handily against and a very-very-Trump-loving Republican just two years ago and won’t have to run again for another two years, by which time she might look both courageous and smart, and Trump might be long gone. Trump moved the Republican convention from Asheville, N.C, because to Jacksonville, Fla., because of Asheville’s coronavirus regulations, Jacksonville is adopting stricter coronavirus restrictions, and that’s embarrassing.
At this point there’s really no telling how Kelly’s executive order will be enforced, and what legal authority counties have the rights to countermand it, and what the cops can do about it, although she promises explanations about that by Thursday. If the inevitable court battles result in the counties getting their way, the Sedgwick County Commission, mostly comprised of the Wichita metropolitan area, which is currently seeing a worrisome rise in coronavirus cases, would probably vote to damn the face masks and full go speed ahead. The lone hold-out against and pro-business consensus for ignoring the coronavirus is a tattooed folk-singing single mom who represents our inordinately homosexual and lesbian and atypically liberal district of the county.
Once again we’re sitting on the political sidelines with no rooting interest in any of the players. We recognize the dangers of the coronavirus, but damn how we hate wearing those damn masks, and instinctively hate bossy government, and miss enjoying full facial nudity. We don’t regret that we voted for that Democratic governor or that hippy-dippy County Commissioner, and starting Friday we’ll comply with the face mask rule, and hating every moment of it and wondering whom to blame, and keep hoping that curve i flattened and eventually the center will hold and something like normalcy will eventually be restored.

— Bud Norman

Freddy Cole, RIP

For reasons we cannot explain we’ve long been fascinated by the famous people who were overshadowed by an even more famous people. Our two brothers have certain talents we do not possess, but not to the extent we ever felt overshadowed, so that can’t explain our affinity for all those less-famous siblings.
Bob Crosby’s Bobcats was a popular and top-notch if slightly outdated dixieland jazz band during the swing era, but he was never as famous as his brother Bing. Dom DiMaggio was an outstanding pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, but his brother Joe won championships with the New York Yankees and was by far the bigger star. Warren “Baby” Dodds is regarded as the first great jazz drummer, but he was always called “Baby” because his older brother Johnny is regarded as the first great jazz clarinetist. Here in Kansas you’ll see roads and buildings named for Milton Eisenhower, well regarded as president of Kansas State University and two other institutions of higher learning, but his brother Dwight was President of the United States. Liza Minelli and Betty Hutton and June Carter all had sisters who were so talented it’s a shame they’re largely overlooked.
We were reminded of this by an obituary in the Washington Post for Freddy Cole, who died Saturday at the age of 88. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he was a terrific jazz and soul and standards singer and pianist, and he was very popular in some unlikely foreign markets and managed to live comfortably off his talents over many decades, even though he never achieved the fame of older brother Nat “King” Cole.
Nat “King” Cole was one of the all the time greats, especially with his jazz trio but also with all the heavily-arranged pop stuff that made him rich, but his younger brother was pretty damn good. At first the younger brother was satisfied that his all-state status playing high school basketball surpassed what his brother had done on the athletic fields, but after an injury he decided to go with his musical talent. Freddy Cole was 12 years younger than Nat Cole, and by the time he started his musical career the older brother was the first black man to host a national television show and one of the most popular singers in the world, which didn’t do the younger brother much good.
Freddy Cole had a gorgeous voice and smooth piano patter similar to his older brother, but he mostly resisted the club owners and record producers who wanted him to cover the songs and imitate the style of Nat’s records. He had a bluesier sound than his brother, informed by a dozen years of musical trends trending toward to soul music, and it kept him steadily employed at fancy nightclubs and dives and honky-tonks. Along the way he had some regional hits, and was briefly a big deal in Brazil. When he turned 60, decades after his brother’s premature death, he started to get some recognition, racking up major label deals and several grammy nominations.
Freddy Cole left us on Saturday with an impressive body of work, even if you’ve never heard of him, and we think Nat “King” Cole would have been proud of his kid brother.

— Bud Norman

America Persists

Despite the coronavirus pandemic and the second Great Depression and all the protests and occasional rioting for social justice that’s been going on lately, Thursday was a pretty good day for us. The weather here in Wichita was sunny and hot, as we like it, and we got insurance for the brand new used car we boought the other day, which isn’t a convertible but is an immaculate six-year-9ld car with only 60,000 or miles at a very good price from trusted friends, and we took care of a trash payment that kept getting rejected, and we had a nice chat at Kirby’s Beer Store with some old and valued friends,
All in all it was a pretty good day, until we got home and started reading and hearing the news. The coronavirus is as bad as ever, the economy is not the best anybody ever’s seen an economic revival seems months away, and the racism causing the protests and riots seems likely to linger for a while.Try as we might, can’t find any good news in the news.
Which is no reason, we’ve found, why you shouldn’t have a nice day despite everything. That’s what we wish for all of you on this dismal Friday.

— Bud Norman

The Saga of Ivanka and Wichita

The coronavirus and recession and anti-racism protests and recent high winds notwithstanding, the big story here in Wichita is about Ivanka Trump.
The First Daughter and White House senior advisor was invited to give a “virtual commencement address’ at Wichita State University Tech’s “virtual graduation ceremony,” then was disinvited after hundreds of students and faculty and alumni objected, and since then other alumni and some major donors have raised such a fuss about the dis-invitation that the WSU president found himself facing the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday with his job on the line. For now Jay Golden remains president of the university, but the city remains divided about that.
We’ve not heard any explanation for why Trump was invited to virtually speak at the virtual ceremony in the first place, but guess it had something to do with her attention-grabbing appearance at the school last year with Secretary of State and hometown boy Mike Pompeo, which was in her tole as a member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which has something to do with WSU Tech. The outcry that led to Trump’s dis-invitation was more easily understood, given how Trump’s and her father’s policies offend liberal sensibilities.
The offense felt by the city’s many Trump-loving Republicans was also understandable, and some of them have considerable sway with the university, as well as the Board of Regents. There are no doubt many students and more than a few faculty at WSU who like both Trump and her Dad, but at this point they’re less likely than the anti-Trump types to sign petitions and make angry phone calls and send angry e-mails, and what put the university’s president in front of the Board of Regents were threats that many well-heeled donors might stop donating to the suddenly cash-strapped university. Early reports in the local media warned that might include Koch Industries, owned by local multi-multi-billionaire and philanthropist and free-market activist Charles Koch, who annually donates more than $10 million to his hometown university.
A Koch spokesman quickly clarified that the company intended to honor all of its commitments to the university, politely added that Koch’s very libertarian beliefs call for free expression of all points of view, but further explained that Koch did not involve himself in the university’s personnel matters. We were not surprised, given that Koch’s classical conservatism never cared much for President Donald Trump’s trade wars and immigration extremism and deficit spending and other governmental intrusions into a free market economy, and that given his far greater wealth he wasn’t much impressed by Trump’s business acumen. He didn’t give a dime to Trump’s campaign, and said that choosing between Trump and Hillary Clinton was like choosing either a heart attack or cancer. So long as the university’s Wheatshockers basketball team keeps winning at Charles Koch Arena, we figure he’s not likely to abandon WSU nor its president because Ivanka Trump’s feelings were hurt.
The dis-invitation of Ivanka Trump got a lot of play in the national print and electronic media, which is always exciting for us usually ignored Wichitans, and her complaint that it was a result of a “culture of cancel” set off some interesting debates. The rest of the country won’t concern itself with what becomes of our local university’s president in the aftermath, and it’s probably for the best we work that out here in Kansas.
Being from around here and having a rooting interest in the ‘Shockers we’re forced to take sides, although we prefer our usual seat on the sidelines. Even here in conservative Wichita modern academia does tend limit debate to the leftward side, which offends our homegrown conservative sensibilities, but we’re no more inclined than Koch to involve ourselves in WSU’s personnel matters. We also have our principled free-market objections to many Trump policies, and although we’re not nearly so rich as Trump we’re not nearly so indebted and therefore also doubt his business acumen, and we too care little about the feelings of the rich and pampered daughter and her nepotistic position in life.
This Golden guy hasn’t been president of WSU for very long, so it’s too early to assess how goo he is, but until this controversy he’d not been controversial. All in all, we think he’s handled it pretty well. WSU Tech is a technical school that trains workers for the local high-tech aerospace industry, and although it’s on the WSU campus it’s technically a separate entity from the university, so Golden could have plausibly passed the buck on both the invitation and the dis-invitation, but instead he said “I own it,” which we thought impressive in this day and age. He removed Ivanka Trump from the official “virtual graduation ceremony” but didn’t censor her, adding a link to her videotaped “virtual commencement address” for anyone who wanted to hear it, which struck us as a reasonable compromise.
WSU is a crucial component of our humble prairie hometown, which is reeling along with the rest of the country from coronavirus and recession and racial tensions and all the rest of it, and we wish it the best. It’s right across the street from Kirby’s Beer Store, and we know many of its students and faculty, and have watched all construction and activity going on there with great interest. Our liberal friends grouse that Koch and the local aviation industry are driving everything to have a capable workforce, but so long as the fuzzier disciplines are funded we don’t share their concerns about that, and despite a slew of transfers a strong recruiting class should make the ‘Shocks competitive if there’s another basketball season next fall.
Free speech will persist, and Ivanka Trump’s feelings don’t matter, so go Shocks! If This Golden guy is the right guy to make that happen, we hope he lasts.

— Bud Norman

The Ever-Present Eyes of the Cell Phone

Several of the non-coronavirus stories that have somehow penetrated the news are a result of those ubiquitous cell phone cameras. They’ve captured the shooting on an unarmed black man in Georgia, a Minnesota policeman with his knee pressed against another unarmed black man who died during his arrest, along with a couple of widely disseminated nonviolent but seemingly racist encounters between white and black people.
One might conclude that there’s been a recent viral outbreak out of racism, but our guess is that these incidents aren’t any more common but are more likely to be videotaped and posted on the internet. All sorts of obnoxious behavior is winding up on the internet these days, often resulting in public shaming and even more severe consequences for the miscreants, ranging from losing jobs to being charged with crimes.
One might hope that this phenomenon will have some deterrent effect against people behaving obnoxiously, but so far we haven’t noticed that happening. Most of our interactions with other people, which have been somewhat limited the past few months, are quite pleasant, bolstering our hope that people of all ages and sexes and races and class are basically OK, but there still seems to be the usual number of them who just don’t get how awful they’d look on a viral video. By now most of them have cell phone cameras of their own, and will pull them out to make you look bad, but if you keep your calm and act reasonably they’ll still wind up looking awful.
We have a still camera and a video camera on our old-fashioned and relatively dumb “flip phone,” but being defiant Luddites we’re proud to say we have no idea how to use them, much less upload anything visual on the internet, and we mostly regard these newfangled machines as another annoyance of modernity. People use them to show their friends the fancy meal they’re eating and share “selfies,” that quintessential neologism of the moment, and to our admittedly Gutenberg-era conservative way of thinking it has a aggravating effect on an already self-obsessed culture. We’d also hate to have our worst moments be videotaped and go “viral” on the internet, although we do our best not to do anything virulent, and wonder about a brave new world where our every venture into the public space is watched by both public and private cameras.
Some good might come of it, we grudgingly admit. There are now a couple of cases of white men allegedly killing black men for no apparent reason that might have been swept under the racial rug if not for some seemingly damning cell phone footage. In the Minnesota case the videographers were bystanders who caught it from different angle, and in the Georgia case it was captured by a man now accused of being an accomplice.
When President John Kennedy was assassinated in broad daylight in the public square there happened to one guy in the crowd who caught it on a hand-held film camera, and the footage has been argued about ever since. We truly hope nothing like that ever happens again, but if it does we expect the investigations and commissions and historians will have thousands of videotapes from every possible angle. All these videos might well result in the guilty being punished and the innocent exonerated, and we hope that comes to pass.
We don’t hold out much hope that human nature will be much improved by it, though.

— Bud Norman

The Day After Memorial Day

The weather around here was awful on Memorial Day, which for some damn meteorological reason is an annual tradition, and although it was only a cold steady rain rather than twohe usual severe thunderstorm it was enough to keep most people inside. Around most of the country the weather was more welcoming, and so far as we can tell from the news many thousands of people went into the world as it if were it just another Memorial Day.
One can well understand why, as a house is awfully confining after a couple of months or so and people have a natural need to interact with other people, and Memorial Day is traditionally a time for drinking beer and charcoaling beef and enjoying friends and warm summer weather, while giving a passing moment’s thought to the fallen heroes who made it possible. Had the weather been better around here, we’d have been tempted to do the same.
Except for the predictably awful weather this Memorial Day seemed different, though, in the same way that last Easter seemed different, and that the next Independence Day might seem as desultorily different. There’s a virus going around the entire world that has already killed nearly 100,000 Americans, which is more than died in every American war since Vietnam, and although the rate of deaths has been steadily declining over the past few weeks it’s still out there and finding new hot spots in rural America. There’s also a case to be made, which all the credentialed experts are currently making, that the decline in deaths is due to people having kept their distance from one another these past grueling months, and that if everyone resumes getting together at the beaches and lakes and bars and churches to commingle their germs there will be another spike in deaths in a few weeks..
All the recent lack of human interaction has taken a terrible toll on the world’s and America’s economy, with our unemployment rate and gross domestic product rates currently at Great Depression levels, and late spring and early summer is often so very enticing, so there’s a predictable and persuasive push for getting back to business as usual. There’s also a predictable pushback from people more concerned about another spike in deaths, and of course that’s the political debate du jour.
These days we’re mostly stuck at home and find ourselves relegated to the political sidelines, with no rooting interest in President Donald Trump’s full-steam-ahead and damn-the-coronavirus strategy, nor the Democrats’ most alarmist voices. and for now we’re making our decisions about about how to buy beer and other essential groceries according to our best inexpert judgement. our guess is that things won’t be nearly back to normal even by autumn’s Election Day, if that comes to pass, and it will probably come down to a referendum on who deserves the blame.
Until then, we hope you and all of your loved ones have a happy summer and a healthy fall. and that the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman

Charles Bishop, RIP

We awoke earlier than usual on Tuesday and donned a tie and coat for the the first time in ages, then drove 25 miles or so south of Wichita on Highway 81 to attend a funeral at the Belle Plaine Cemetery. Charles Bishop was being laid to rest, and it was important we be there.
Bishop was an elder and the preacher at the West Douglas Church of Christ, a small but staunch congregation in the rough Delano neighborhood where we weekly worshipped until the coronavirus shut everything down, and we liked and admired him, and he taught us much about Christianity and bolstered our faith in it. He had a formidable intellect and scholarly understanding of scripture, and in his sermons he would sometimes get bogged down talking about which New Testament translation of a certain scripture was truest to the original Greek, and although he’d always apologize for the digression we found it fascinating. We’d often tell him after services that we found him very rabbinical, and being a philo-Semitic student of the Old Testament he took it as the compliment we intended.
He was a most interesting fellow in a lot of ways. Born in Wellington in the Great Depression year of 1939 he grew up in nearby Belle Plaine, part of a fervently religious farming family that hewed to the Church of Christ’s strict rules against dancing and watching movies on Sunday. As a rebellious youth he argued that he couldn’t find anything about that in the scriptures he carefully read, and even as an aging preacher he didn’t back down from that, but from his youth to his death he was proud to preach about the love and forgiveness and giving spirit he had discerned from the scriptures. As he aged and faced his mortality, God’s grace and the sacrificial suffering of His son Jesus Christ became the usual theme of his carefully-researched and well-spoken sermons.
He preached it in Malaysia and behind the Iron Curtain of the Cold War, and didn’t quit until he was kicked out by the alarmed authorities. When back in Kansas in the big, bad city of Wichita he made a good living for his family as a pharmacist, having graduated with honors in pharmacology from the University of Kansas, and although he was a man of science he’d often preach against scientism, which he defined as a hubristic belief that science is the sole source of understanding the human condition. There was something slightly prideful about his arguments, but he’d freely admit that, and then give reasons why he was right that were hard to argue with.
On one rare occasion Bishop boasted he’d been a standout basketball player for Belle Plaine, with his six-foot-one-inch height and healthy youth allowing him to dominate the paint in small town high school games at the time, and if you coaxed him he had good stories about traveling by bus in Malaysia and behind the Iron Curtain, and the interesting people he’d met at various Churches of Christ. He was a good father and a loving husband, and after his first wife’s death he was a good to husband to an absolutely delightful woman we’re lucky to know, and unless you’re an anti-religious bigot we’re sure you would have liked him, too.
Belle Plaine is one of those very pleasant Kansas small towns that you might want to escape to in case of apocalypse, and it has a fabulous and famous arboretum you really should visit if you find yourself in south-central Kansas after the coronavirus, and the drive from Wichita is always scenic, and on Tuesday all the wheat was gorgeous green. A cold and wet and gray spring day at the Belle Plaine Cemetery is very bleak, though, especially when a congregation of Christians is socially distanced from one another and the specter of death suddenly seems omnipresent.
When we came home and fired up the internet we found that more 81,000 Americans had died of coronavirus, and that the government’s top public health expert was warning congress via video feed that thousands more will die if the government continues easing public health measures. The Supreme Court of the United States had a “virtual” hearing about whether President Donald Trump’s tax returns should be made public, Trump was “tweeting” more accusations that his critics are guilty of felonies and should be jailed, and another federal judge was making it hard for Trump’s Department of Justice to drop charges Trump ally Michael Flynn had already pleaded guilty to.
All the more reason we feel blessed to have known Charles Bishop, and to hear his compelling preaching that God is good and in the end His plan for all of us is perfect.

— Bud Norman