A Violent Year Ends

On Sunday morning we were worshipping God at the West Douglas Church of Christ over in rough Delano, and that evening we were having dinner with the folks and a brother and sister-in-law at a swank retirement village where some adorable young children from a nearby synagogue were charmingly singing Hanukkah songs. All the local sports teams won in the afternoon, the food was good, and there was a lingering holiday cheer.
We came home to the news the someone had walked into the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, with a shotgun hidden in his overcoat, and killed two people before being gunned down by a couple of gun-toting members of the congregation. Late Saturday night in Monsey, New York, a man walked into a synagogue with a machete and severely wounded five people during a Hanukkah celebration, and although no one was sufficiently armed to prevent his escape an arrest was made a short time later. Such is life in America in the waning days of 2019, where such senseless acts of mass murder and mayhem are commonplace.
It happens all too often at shopping malls and music festivals and gay bars and sporting events and in random workplaces and crowded streets, but it’s all the more unsettling on the all too frequent occasions when it happens at schools and houses of worship and other places that ought to be considered especially sacred. Which is not to say that the lives lost in one place are any less precious than those lost in another, but only to express a natural human yearning for some safe refuge in such a cruel world as this.
As we try to envision 2020 through squinted eyes we see no reason to hope the problem will be solved by year’s end. So far there’s no known motive for the incident at the West Freeway Church of Christ, and might well prove some personal beef between the shooter and on the of the congregants, as the denomination tends to be blessedly apolitical and focused on more eternal matters, but it appears that the incident in Monsey was yet another manifestation of the Jew hatred that has long infected humanity and has lately been on the rise here and abroad, and every single incident of the past several years is probably best explained by the ancient belief shared by all religions that evil exists and persists in the heart of man. It’s been there all along, so far as we can tell, and neither of our political parties of the moment can offer any better solutions than the parties of the past came up with.
Despite our denomination’s placid and apolitical bent we’re not at all surprised that a couple of Church of Christ-goers in a Texas town called White Settlement happened to be armed during Sunday worship services, and we think they’re on firm scriptural ground with the admonition in Luke 22:36 that “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one,” and in this case it seems to have limited the carnage, so you can score one for the Republican argument about good guys with guns. Still, it’s as inadequate a solution as trying to get rid of guns.
So far as we know no one at the West Douglas Church is packing heat on a Sunday morning, and even if we were to bring the fancy handgun our father gave us we’d probably be of little help to our fellow congregants if something evil came our way, so we can’t blame those Jews in Monsey for sharing our faith in the goodness or at least basic decency that also persists in the heart of man, and usually prevails. Between God almighty and the local constabulary of our up-to-date western civilization we should be able to count on that.
The best that the politicians can do about it is to encourage the better angels of our nature, as President Abraham Lincoln once put it during a very divided and violent time in our history, but it’s hard to envision that happening in 2020.

— Bud Norman

A Church Burns Down, and Perhaps Rebuilds

The fire that did “colossal damage” to Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral dominated the news on Monday, and although we were disheartened by the tragedy we took some hope in that fact that at least respectful attention was being paid. The Notre Dame Cathedral was one of those glorious relics of western civilization and the Christian faith that for so long sustained it, and it’s good to see people still care about that.
The fire destroyed all the wood in the guts of the more-than-700-year-old building, including the iconic spire that topped its masterpiece architecture, but its stone base is reportedly still intact, and French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “I tell you solemnly tonight: We will rebuild this cathedral.” He added that “Notre Dame of Paris is our history. The epicenter of our lives. It’s the many books, the paintings, those that belong to all French men and French women, and even those who’ve never come.” We found his words encouraging, but they couldn’t quite convince us that the modern world can ever fully restore anything to the glory of the old world.
The Notre Dame Cathedral was built by the fervently Christian France of the 14th Century to the glory of God, and the secularized French people of the 21st Century will rebuild it as a tourist attraction and a monument to the glory of France. The modern world has some very amazing gizmos, and can perform astounding acts of engineering, but it can’t make up for that soulful difference.
There are many aesthetic theories to explain the ironic and rigorously logical and up-to-date appeal of modern architecture, but they cannot persuade us to abandon our preference for the older buildings. That’s true here in Wichita, where they’ve lately been building very fashionable structures, but the best of it is still the old County Courthouse and the Carnegie Library and the fabulous old City Hall and Scottish Rite Temple by the great Proudfoot and Bird and the rest of the stone structures that might survive a fire, and it’s true pretty much everywhere we go. Our only brief European travels have been in Ireland and Great Britain, but the old stuff was better there, too, and everyone we know who’s more widely travelled abroad went in search of the old rather than new.
There are also cases to be made for the modern books and paintings and the rest of the culture that Macron is rightly concerned with, and the modern world has also wrought such new art forms as cinema and “internet memes,” but even the most enthusiastic critics acknowledge a certain soullessness. Modernity has largely abandoned the very concept of the soul, and is too enlightened to imbue its art with that sense of awe at what mankind could hope to derive from God’s truth and beauty that those primitive Christians once had.
Most of the coverage focused on the loss of a historic Gothic architecture masterpiece in the heart of Paris, but it was also occasionally mentioned that it was a house of worship that burned down Holy Week. Any old place where people have gathered to worship is God is sanctified as far as we’re concerned, and we reckon its loss is a loss to humanity.
In Mark Twain’s brilliantly scathing travelogue “Innocents Abroad” he describes a group of American tourists marveling at the beautiful cathedrals of Europe, and posits a strong argument that the congregants would have done better to upgrade all the dilapidated homes that surrounded their church. We’re member of a protestant denomination at the opposite side of the low-church-high-church side of Christianity from Catholicism, a group which actually prides itself on its very plain buildings that never cost of any its members needed home repairs, so we’re sympathetic to Twain’s atheistic argument, but we wish he could have appreciated the beauty of a church.
Our dwindling congregation over in the rough Delano district has a very attractive Depression-era brick-and-stone castle-looking building, but lately has been meeting in the newly-built annex where we’re seated closer together, and there’s another Church of Christ down south in Peck next door to a hippie friend of ours that’s a gorgeously humble Norman Rockwell white clapboard and looks like a imminent tinderbox given the aging electrical system it probably has. There’s a brown clapboard Foursquare Apostolic Church down the street that might or might not still holding services, so far as we can tell as we pass by, and there’s something quite beautiful about it despite the fading paint.
Despite our low church Protestant upbringing, we’ve always felt a sense of awe at the truth and beauty inside some of those Catholic and Episcopal and Greek Orthodox churches that mere humans built to glorify God. The Cathedral of the Plains up in Victoria, Kansas, and war and church hero Father Kapaun’s old St. John Nupemucene in Pilsen Kansas, and the St. Joseph Catholic Church just around the corner from the West Douglas Church of Christ all inspire the awe of our primitive Christian souls. We’re told that the Notre Dame Cathedral was even more beautiful, so it’s hard to comprehend the loss.
We feel the same respectful feelings for synagogues, mosques, temples, and anywhere else people meet to find God, rather than what’s merely modern, and we mourn anytime they are destroyed. The blaze at Notre Dame was reportedly just one of those things that sometimes happen to 700-year-old buildings, unlike the arson of madmen who routinely burn down synagogues and mosques and temples and the churches where black Christians worship, or even the most just wars that have destroyed countless houses of worship, so we’ll take some comfort in that.
The stone structure of the Cathedral of Notre Dame has reportedly survived, so with the help of the government and its dwindling congregation the church might yet be rebuilt. The hellfire of modernity has pretty much gutted the wooden frame of the church universal, but it also has a rock-solid foundation, so during this Holy Week we hold out hope for a renaissance.

— Bud Norman

Gary Shreck, RIP

The news today is full of consequential stories, as always, but for now none of it seems nearly so important to us as the death of a guy you’ve probably never heard of named Gary Shreck. He was a scholar with a first-rate intellect and an excellent sense of humor, much beloved by his family and the people of Edmond, Oklahoma, but we’re sure he’d want us to emphasize that he was first and foremost an adherent of the Christian faith.
Gary Shreck was one of those straitlaced and monogamous and teetotaling sorts of Christians, but in case you’re put off by that sort of thing you should know that he had an excellent sense of humor about it. He liked to tell the story about the time one of his young children was having teething pains, and a doctor prescribed rubbing whisky on the gums, so he drove to the next town and awkwardly and embarrassingly made his first and only visit to to a liquor store to purchase the elixir. He shared other stories about his piety, including his awkward and embarrassing honeymoon with the only woman he ever loved, but they were always more self-effacing than self-aggrandizing.
Such stories were always humbling for us, as we have to admit that we’ve too often entered a local liquor store to purchase a six-pack of Coors, and have been known to lean on the bar of a disreputable dive or two. As aspiring Christians we console ourselves with the knowledge that Jesus would also hang out with the tax collectors and Roman soldiers and outright whores and other characters considered disreputable by the pious Jews, and that He once changed water into wine to accommodate a proper wedding party. Even in the lowest joints people tend to aspire to higher ground, however, and whenever the subject of religion comes up we always try to put in a pitch for the Christian faith.
In most cases our secular friends are put off by that sort of thing, as they associate Christianity with the stern and anti-intellectual and humorless and judgmental sorts of Christians they’ve endured, It’s hard to argue with that, as we know exactly what they’re talking about, and can well understand why they wouldn’t want to be like those people. We could never offer ourselves as a compelling counter-example, but we could always cite our Mom and Dad and our cousin Claudette Dills and her husband “Cotton’-Pickin'” Dills, and the sweet and always smiling constantly reveling in God’s blessings and never casting-the-first-stone Gary Shreck as better exemplars of the Christian faith.
God blessed Gary Shreck to marry our excellent cousin Paulette Patten and start a family of wonderful children and grandchildren, and we were blessed to serve as the nine-years-old ring-bearers at their wedding. He became a professor at the under-rated Oklahoma Christian University, where one of his students at our under-rated West Douglas Church of Christ still well remembers him as an excellent man, and we’ll always remember him as one of the very best people that God ever blessed us to know, and he always reveled in God’s ¬†blessings and dutifully endured whatever tribulations He chose to ¬†bring to even His most faithful servants . In his final years on earth Gary Shreck suffered severely from Alzheimer’s disease, but he had his good days and bad days, and we happily recall that on his golden wedding anniversary God granted him one of those good days, when he laughed at our joke that we’d done such a good job as his ring-bearers that his marriage had lasted a full fifty years.
We wish you all best the best in coping with the rest of the day’s news, and hope that God has blessed you with someone like Gary Shreck to help lead you through it.

— Bud Norman

A Day Without Women, and Another With Trump

Wednesday was a “Day Without Women,” and if not for all the news stories about it we wouldn’t have noticed. It was already the annual “International Women’s Day” on the calendar, so women got together and declared a general strike to protest President Donald Trump and other affronts to womankind, and a “Day Without Women” was the catchy name they came up for it.
The protest reportedly drew large crowds to rallies in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and other large cities, with smaller ones scattered around the country, and enough public school district teachers joined in to force several districts to shut down for the day. Meanwhile Trump remained president, the Republicans in congress went right ahead with consideration of a budget that would cut funding for Planned Parenthood, and someone on the Howard Stern was telling a sexist joke, along with all the usual domestic abuse and unwanted cat-calls and the slightly indignities that accumulate every, and all the coordinated outrage about it went largely unnoticed around here.
Being the contentedly solitary sorts we’ve survived many a day without women, or even men, and usually found it blessedly hassle-free. Even to the extent that we count on women for fast-food service and other commercial transactions, or just for some friendly conversation, the “Day Without Women” was pretty much as usual. The same group of delightful women in the local amateur theatrical we do every year were there at rehearsal, afterwards a lovely and charming young lady at the Thai fried rice place on West Street got us out take-out order of the very spicy chicken fried rice with admirable efficiency, and the woman with the mellifluous voice on the old folks AM radio station was playing some sultry Peggy Lee on the way home. There was nothing in the station’s news break about the local schools being closed, which was too bad for the local kids because the weather was unseasonably perfect for a day off, and although we didn’t check our Facebook we don’t think the general strike had much an effect on Wichita, Kansas.
Even here in the middle of the big red splotch on the electoral map, and despite our blissful bachelorhood, we’re quite sympathetic to at least some of the striking women’s complaints. Especially the more striking ones, if you’ll forgive the joke, which we couldn’t resist. Although we’ve never hesitated to argue with a woman that de-funding Planned Parenthood doesn’t constitute a “war on women,” and neither did any of that silly stuff they used against Republican nominee Mitt Romney back in ’12, we aren’t so willing to start a potential shouting match in defense of Trump. Especially if we were at a party and she were attractive and drunk and flirty, which is also a joke we apologize for but couldn’t resist.
The relative dearth of female cabinet picks and that transgender bathroom rule and the rest of what Trump has thus far done as president doesn’t bother us all that much, and most of the women we know seem similarly unbothered by any of it, but we can well understand the objections to the whole Trump persona. Even the most die-hard Republican women we know, and being here in the middle of that big red splotch of the electoral map that includes some pretty damned die-hard Republican women, would have preferred that their party had beaten Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton with someone, for that matter anyone, who wasn’t a thrice-married and proudly adulterous strip club owner who habitually makes public comments on women’s looks and tells sexist jokes on the Howard Stern show and goes around grabbing women by their wherevers. That’s what our Republican women friends say, so you can easily understand that what our Democratic women friends have to say about Trump does not bear repeating in such a genteel and family-friendly publication as this.
Perhaps it’s some vestigial sense of chivalry, or maybe we’ve just been wussified the feminization of America, but we find it hard to argue with any of the women we meet who don’t like Donald Trump. Our God-fearing Church of Christ mother taught us an old-fashioned and even Old Testament respect for women, the old movies on the late show taught the same manly code, a series of ferocious girlfriends and fiancees and fleeting encounters have successfully demanded our full respect, and although feminism far too often makes a fool of itself we can’t deny it still has some valid complaints.
Trump doesn’t treat women well, either by the standards of early 21st century feminism or the manly code you’ll see in all those old movies that still pop up on the late show, and that is a conspicuous flaw in a President of the United States. If it hasn’t inarguably affected any of his policy decisions, it has given license to the up-and-coming comic who’s taken Trump’s place on the Howard Stern show to keep up the sexist jokes, and for the construction worker to feel unbound by political correctness and shout out his appreciation of female passerby’s breasts, and to confirm that the most vulgar aspects of our popular culture trump all.
This is bad news for both the old-fashioned fuddy-duddies on the right who thought they controlled at least the Republican party, and for those hippy-dippy do-in-the-road lefties who thought their domination of the popular culture would bring about a utopia of sexual equality, but that’s where find ourselves on another generally fine day without women.

— Bud Norman