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

Little Richard, RIP

The weekend was full of sad news, with the coronavirus death toll continuing to rise and the scholarly and loving preacher at our church and our sister-in-law’s mother dying of other causes, and on top of that Little Richard died of bone cancer at the age of 87.
The man born as Richard Penniman last appeared on the pop charts the year before we were born, but his influence on all the weirdness of the popular cultural revolution that has occurred over our lifetimes never waned, and he remained one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most mesmerizing performers well into his 80s. He was one of those rare musicians who changed music and the broader culture.
Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley and Fats Domino and a few others had already scored hits that introduced a a stunned America to the scary sound of rock ‘n’ roll when Little Richard burst upon the scene, but he was the one who fully unleashed the style’s most subversive influence. His music was rhythmic and raw, with a pumping boogie-woogie piano and four fat-sounding saxophones driving a hard beat, and he sang scandalously suggestive lyrics with a guttural growl that swooped to a primal scream. His public persona was as provocative as his real personality, and after he somehow got away with that in the staid ’50s it all the weirdness of the ’60s and ’70s was inevitable.
Little Richard was one of 12 children in a religious family in Macon, Georgia, and grew up in the Great Depression singing the effusive and emotive music of the black Christian tradition, which would always infuse even his most secular music, but he was an unlikely gospel singer. He was a highly libidinous bisexual, and although he didn’t publicly admit to it he adorned himself in silk suits and elaborate pompadours and heavily massacred eyes that left no doubt about his omnivorous sexual appetites. David Bowie and Mick Jagger and Elton John and and Michael Jackson and Prince flaunted the same sort of gender-bending ambiguity in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, and it was considered shocking even by then, and only a Little Richard-sized talent could have gotten away with it in the ’50s.
After Little Richard, all the aspiring rock ‘n ‘rollers in garages across America and the rest of the hepped-up world knew that they could take ¬†their music as far to the hard and weird side as they wanted. He and Jerry Lee Lewis banged the piano so hard it inspired all the hard rock styles, from psychedelic to heavy metal to punk. His singing style led to James Brown, which led to soul and funk and hip-hop. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and all the biggies of ’60s freely acknowledge how they idolized and emulated Little Richard, and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan penned a heartfelt tribute in Rolling Stone magazine about the man who inspired him to play music.
Between his heyday and his much mourned death, Little Richard led an interesting life. In the early ’60s he renounced rock ‘n’ roll and his longtime sex life and enrolled in Bible school to become a preacher, and eventually did start effectively spreading the gospel from the pulpit and singing some very compelling gospel music. After a while he started playing that devil’s own rock ‘n’ roll again, and was still damned good at it, and after that he alternated between the sacred and the secular. Eventually he decided to do both, and proved quite good at it.
Time eventually slows down even such inexorable forces as Little Richard, though, and we’ve read that he spent the last decade or so of his life alone in a tiny apartment, emerging only to walk the sidewalks and hand out religious tracts to passersby who didn’t recognize him. We hope it give him some satisfaction that wealth and fame and adoring audiences never did, and he’s arrived at the unalloyed joy he always sought and tried express in his primal music.
Thanks to the miracle of modern recording technology, even time cannot conquer the inexorable force of Little Richard’s music. You can drop an old 45 rpm record of “Tutti Fruitti” or “Lucille” or “Good Golly, Miss Molly” our many other gems onto your turntable, or ask Alexa to play it for you or look it up on YouTube if you’re the newfangled type, and that wondrously rowdy and raucous and rebellious will still come pouring out. We suggest you do, because in times like these we all need to shake our butts to some real deal rock ‘n’ roll.

— Bud Norman

Mourning in the Age of Coronavirus

The Washington Post and The New York Times and The Drudge Report and all the other media we look to every day were full of bad news on Monday, but by far the saddest thing we read was on Facebook, where we learned of the death of our dear friend Cheryl Capps at the too-young age of 64.
You probably never knew her, but if you had would have loved her, because she was irresistibly lovable. So far as we can tell everybody thought so, except for maybe a couple of incompetent bosses whose butts she refused to kiss during her locally legendary career in media and pubic relations. She was fun and funny and brutally and delightfully frank, sweet and sunny and sassy, always interested in how you’re doing and genuinely delighted by the good news and sincerely saddened by the bad, which you could always feel blissfully free to share in either case.
We’re told she died of pancreatic cancer that spread to her liver, but we can’t help feeling she was also yet another victim of the coronavirus. A couple of very excellent women we know made sure her last days were comfortably spent in a charming small Kansas town outside Wichita, but the protocols of the coronavirus prevented even her family and closest friends from dropping by to give her a loving farewell. She well deserves a funeral or memorial service attended by her many hundreds of adoring friends around here and in Arkansas, who could share in a celebration of her life and the joy it brought to the world and also share the grief they feel, but for now that’s not possible.
She won’t soon be forgotten, and at some point in the near or distant future we’ll all get together and hug one another in memory of Cheryl Capps, but for now it’s another very hard thing about this moment in time. Good people die every day all over the world, and potentially good people are born every day, but for now it’s impossible for the families and friends to properly commemorate these occasions. After losing such an extraordinarily empathetic friend as Cheryl Capps, we somehow feel both a heartening touch of all the love and a painful awareness of the sorrow that people all over the world are experiencing at this awful moment in time.

— Bud Norman

A Day in the Life of an Epidemic

The coronavirus crisis has had an extremely discombobulating effect on us. Isolated from society and thus loosed of any social obligations, we’ve gradually become completely nocturnal over the past several weeks.
From birth we’ve been night owls, but now we’re awake from sundown to sunrise, and only enjoy the last and first hours of sunshine. For the past few days we’ve had trouble getting any sleep at all, and yesterday — or was it the day before? — we gave up on tossing and turning and ventured out in the early afternoon to drive around on inexpensive gasoline and enjoy the nearly perfect spring weather. We spotted an old friend drinking coffee and smoking a cigar outside a quaint Riverside coffee shop which was still serving through a walk-up window and stopped to have a socially-distanced chat, which was our first human contact in a while.
We always talk sports or politics with this friend, and with no sports going on we wound up talking mostly about the politics of the coronavirus. Our friend remains a steadfast supporter of President Donald Trump, but he acknowledged that things aren’t going entirely well and we settled for that begrudging admission and happily avoided an argument. Another friend who works for the biggest store of the biggest local grocery chain showed up, and from a social distance he told us about all the extraordinary amount of disinfecting he’s been doing lately, and we wished him well with his heroic efforts.
Despite two large cups of coffee we were needing a nap by the time we arrived home, and it wound up lasting until about 10:30 pm, when we awoke in the middle of another very weird dream and checked in on the news. The death toll had continued to rise, Trump had announced the complete ban on immigration he’d been wanting even before the arrival of the corona virus, and Georgia’s governor announced an end to most of the restrictions that had been in place, the price of oil continued to drop and drag down all the stock markets with it.
Otherwise a very slow news day, so lacking the energy get outraged about any of it we decided to write this dreary slice-of-life tale instead. Here’s hoping you’ll all have a better day.

— Bud Norman

Happy Easter in a Sad Time

Sunday is Easter, the holiest day on the Christian calendar, and it will be very different from any Easter we can remember. We won’t be worshipping with our congregation, or having ham and sweet potatoes with our family, or watching kids hunt for Easter eggs and eat chocolate bunnies.
The coronavirus won’t allow for that, even on the holiest day of the year, and although that saddens us greatly we understand the necessity of foregoing a traditional celebration with family and friends and fellow worshippers.
It will still be Easter, though, the anniversary of that glorious day when Jesus Christ was resurrected from the tomb. Even in our solitude we will be grateful for that, and let it rekindle our faith in the possibility that all who believe can someday be together in a more perfect world. Here’s hoping you have someone to share the day with, but even if you don’t be assured that you are not alone.
Have as happy an Easter as possible in these hard times, and be sure that better times are ahead.

— Bud Norman

Our Depression About Another Great Depression

Our parents were born in Oklahoma during the the “Dust Bowl” days of the Great Depression, and we’ve long been fascinated by that era. While growing up we would constantly pester our parents and grandparents and older aunts and uncles about what it was like, and voraciously read everything we could find about the economic and political and cultural history of the time. Now there’s a good chance well be facing similarly hard times, but we expect it won’t be the same.
Economists at the Federal Reserve are saying that the unemployment rate might hit more than 32 percent because of the coronavirus shutdowns, despite the zero or negative interest rates and trillions of newly-printed money the central bank is now offering, and that the gross domestic product might soon be half of what it was not so long ago. This is even worse than the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate as at worst about one in four. and those who were on the on the job kept at the economy going at slightly more than than half of its former capacity.
As bad as ut was, the Great Depression turned out to be a golden age in American culture. The big bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Benny Goodman were swinging, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family were making great country music, and the bluesmen were naturally at their best. Hollywood had a splendid decade, and in ’39 it made at least 52 movies you really need to see.
We worry, though, that it won’t work as well this time. These days the big stay-at-home Netflix hit is about the wierd Oklahoma “Lion King,” which we have o admit is uncomfortably mesmerizing. Most of the new music doesn’t seem to help except for the great local music we cant go out and hear, what building continues around here is mostly boring glass-and-steel.We also worry that our generation and the younger folks aren’t so haras our ancestors.

— Bud Norman

Opening Day in a Closed Country

Yesterday was supposed to be Opening Day for major league baseball, one of those harbingers of spring we always look forward to, but because of the coronavirus that didn’t happen. Instead of poring over box scores, we were reading some grim statistics.
More than 1,200 Americans are dead, new infections are overwhelming the hospitals in several large cities and doubling every three days, a record-setting 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past month, and most of the country seems to be stuck at home with nowhere to go. The stock markets are up on news of a bill to spend $2 trillion of freshly printed cash to prop up the economy, but it looks to be months before people can safely leave the house and start earning and spending money.
We saw another story that the crime rate is down in much beset New York City, but that’s probably because there are fewer people on the streets to mug. There is other good news out there, but for now every silver lining seems to have a cloud.
Somehow it reminds us of that scene in Ken Kesey’s “Once Upon a Cuckoo’s Nest” where mean Nurse Ratched wouldn’t let the patients at her mental hospital watch the World Series, so they sat in front of a blank television and pretended to watch the game and cheer every play they saw in their imaginations. We’re already going a bit stir crazy ourselves, and spent part of our day envisioning how our beloved New York Yankees would have gone 1-and-O to start another championship season, and later tonight we’ll probably continue imagining that scenario to lull us to sleep.
Here’s hoping that sooner or later things will get back to something like normal, and that most of us will be around for it. Until then, we urge everyone to do the right thing and use your imagination.

— Bud Norman

In Search of Good News

The weather was quite nice in Wichita on Wednesday, with sunny skies and highs in the 70s, and on a brief walk around our picturesque Riverside neighborhood we noticed that flowers are blooming and the trees are coming back to life. Somehow the beauty of nature seemed slightly eerie, given that all the news is about nature trying to wipe out humankind, but we found it heartening nonetheless.
We returned home to read that the Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion spending bill in response to the economic effects of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, which is expected to be quickly passed by the House of Representatives and signed into law by President Donald Trump, and we hope that turns out to be good news. The smart money on Wall Street seems to think so, as all the stock markets went up for a day, but no one expects it will stave off a severe recession and markets will likely go down with the next employment numbers. Despite the hopefully bipartisan agreement the bargaining it took get it seems to have exacerbated the the country’s political polarization, with everyone accusing the other side of exploiting a crisis for ideological reasons, which will make it harder for our democracy to make the hard decisions that are sure to come.
Sorry to sound so gloomy and doomy, but the news lately has little to offer but gloom and doom. A few days ago 100 Americans died of COVID-19 and now it’s more than 200 a day dying, and although the rate of increase in infections might be slowing — there’s no way of knowing given the limited testing that’s been done — there’s no sign of a decrease. Hospitals in such densely populated cities as New York and San Francisco and New Orleans and Detroit are running out of beds and
essential medical equipment, even the sparsely populated and mostly rural states have lost lives, and no one but Trump seems hopeful that it will take weeks rather than months before things will start getting better.
There’s still good news in the world that’s not in the news, though, and we urge you to look around and find it. The West Douglas Church of Christ is closed for the duration, but one of our fellow congregants called us today to say they’ll have carry-out communion bread and sealed communion cups, and to inquire if we needed anything the church might provide. We were happy to say that we’re getting, and volunteered for any errands that need to be run, and we much appreciated the call.
Some people have been selling stocks on inside information and hoarding toilet paper and otherwise acting with no regard for others, but we happily note that most people are being more considerate. We have to venture out of the house occasionally to obtain necessary supplies, and when we do the people we encounter maintain a polite distance but are friendly. Our Facebook friends keep posting hopeful messages and gallows humor, and people seem to be keeping in touch one way or another.
The flowers and the trees and greening grass and blue skies are good news, too, and if you’ve got that going on in your neighborhood we think it safe to advise you go out for a walk and take a look. We don’t expect to be able to celebrate Easter with our church and family and friends, but even in the spring of a plague year we believe in the miracle of resurrection.

— Bud Norman

The Good, the Bad, and the Coronavirus

The coronavirus has reduced to us keeping in touch with family and friends as best we can through the modern miracle of Facebook, which is not satisfying but at least better than nothing. Several of our musician friends have been streaming live concerts from their living rooms or basements or the otherwise empty Kirby’s Beer Store, a very fetching woman of our acquaintance has posted videos of herself reading aloud from a favorite novel, other friends are offering to deliver food and toilet paper and other essential items to the porches of those in need, and many more are posting much-appreciated messages of hope and encouragement.
Some of the people we encounter on Facebook are still in denial about the threat, and acrimoniously respond to anyone who dares criticize anything about President Donald Trump’s undeniably slow and inadequate and oftentimes irresponsibly dishonest response. Our guess is that a few of them are among those stripping the local grocery stores’s shelves bare by hoarding more than they’ll need with no regard for the pressing needs of others. Elsewhere in the news, we read of people trying to profit from this catastrophe at the great expense of others.
At the top of this list we’ll point an accusing finger at Republican North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Republican George Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who sold large amounts of stock markets after getting early intelligence briefings that warned of the dire economic effects of the coronavirus even as they assured their constituents there was nothing to worry about. Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe and California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein also sold a lot of stock around the same time, but both claim it was done by the people managing their portfolios in a blind trust, both have invited ethics committee investigations to verify that, and neither were peddling happy talk to the public.
Burr was caught on tape telling a gathering of big-bucks donors early on that hard times were coming around again, Loeffler’s financial disclosures reveal that after a big sell-off in soon-to-be-hard-hit industries she put a lot of money in a telecommuting company that’s one of the few likely to benefit from an at-home economy, and even at Fox News some very conservatives voices are calling for both Republicans to resign and faces charges on insider trading.
Partisanship and petty political squabbling has thus far been immune to the coronavirus. When asked about the four accused senators at a daily press briefing where he’s supposed to be reassuring the public about the government’s response, Trump chided the reporter for not mentioning Feinstein, the only Democrat among them, and vouched for the character of all four, but especially the Republicans. Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney is a frequent critic and the only Republican senator to vote for Trump’s conviction on an impeachment article, and when he was informed by a reporter that Romney was in self-quarantine Trump’s voice dripped with sarcasm as he said “Oh, that’s too bad.” Trump also uses the briefings to disparage the reporters who are providing the public with more accurate information than he presents, which is so often quickly contradicted by the federal government’s best health care experts, but the hard-core fans among our Facebook friends seem to love it.
We have Democratic friends who are as bad, and hope to use the virus to resurrect self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ quixotic presidential campaign, and blame everything on the capitalist system that was chugging along well enough until recently, and largely created all the science and commerce and the governmental and social institutions that we still hope will help get us all through this. History will likely record that Trump did some things right and a lot of things wrong during this pandemic, assuming there will be history, and for now we’d prefer that everyone be more objective and civic-minded.
Despite everything all of the federal government is still meeting and telecommuting to come up with some multi-trillion dollar bailout and stimulus deficit-spending bill to slow the economy’s rapid slide into the abyss, and although almost everyone agrees that desperate measures are required there’s the usual partisan disagreement and petty political squabbling about what it should be. The Democrats instinctively want to subsidize the workers, while as is their wont the Republicans want to sustain the businesses that employ those workers, and as usual everyone is looking out for the constituents in their districts and states.
There must be some reasonably sufficient compromise that might do some good, we’d like to think, but it won’t be easy in a time when a pandemic panic has exacerbated all the partisanship and petty political squabbling. Even so, we’re heeding the encouraging messages we find from our friends on Facebook and holding out hope in America and the rest of humanity.
Sooner or later you’ll have to leave the house and drive on inexpensive gasoline to the store for beer and other essential items, where some brave clerk will dare come face-to-face with you to make the sale. If not you might have some brave nurse in a days old face mask provide you care for whatever ails you, or have some other brave soul deliver what’s needed to your door, and in most cases you’ll have no idea if they’re a damned Democrat or a damned Republican, or how they’ll vote in the next election, if that happens.
In any case, we urge you to be kind and grateful and friendly to anyone you encounter in virtual reality or actual reality these dark days, as we’re all going to need one another. At an earlier dark time in our nation’s history a wiser and more eloquent Republican President Abraham Lincoln urged that “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

— Bud Norman

Life in Pandemic Times

Today is the first day of spring, and the local weather forecast here in Wichita is for temperatures in the 70s, and the trees in our picturesque Riverside neighborhood are starting to come alive, which is all good news. The forecasts have the temperatures falling below freezing and nipping all those buds over the weekend, though, and everything else seems to be bad news.
The coronavirus pandemic and its resulting panic have the stock markets and every other measure of the ¬†economy in a free fall, all of the schools in Kansas are closed, and worse yet the notorious dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store, where we watch “Jeopardy!” and discuss the issues of the day with our friends is now shut down indefinitely. Our beloved Dad, the best man we’ve ever known, is currently in the health care ward of his retirement home due to non-coronavirus reasons and we can’t visit him because of a lockdown, and although we had a face-to-face encounter the other day with our beloved Mom, the best woman we’ve ever known, we had to give her an “elbow bump” rather than a much-needed hug.
Things are bad all over lately, and there’s no telling when it will get better, but we’re hanging on, and holding out hope. We have no expertise in epidemiology or anything like that, but we’re advising the friends we mostly meet on Facebook to be careful but not panic. There’s no holding back spring, even if it brings tornados and no baseball, and sunny summer days are sure to follow. Here’s hoping we’ll all be around to enjoy it.

— Bud Norman