Follow by Email

Friday, May 31, 2013

And Now for a Little Levity

"After the first time you died, you told me that you had seen God"

Mary Krane Derr, Polish American poet
Kathryn Krane
Mary Krane Derr was my Facebook friend. Mary had a chronic illness, and she was a writer. On Facebook, she was very open about her struggle to publish, and her struggle to live. Her frankness helped me to be frank about my own struggles.

Mary passed away on November 30, 2012.

Today would have been Mary's fiftieth birthday.

Mary's sister, Kathryn Krane, is now my Facebook friend. Kathryn posted this poem on Facebook and kindly granted me permission to post it here.

For my sister, on what would have been her fiftieth birthday

I remember hiding under a table
while you were raging
and hypoglycemic
I played with toy soldiers
and pretended you weren't there.

I crawled out later as you slept
approached your bed in little steps
avoiding the creaking floorboards
trying to breathe so softly
didn't want to wake you
I didn't wake you
I touched your hand
prayed that you would get better
You didn't get better
I stopped praying.

I didn't ask all the questions
I want to ask
about your death
I have enough images
in my head already
and haven't wanted to know
just yet
how awful
was your struggle for breath
at the end
what it was like to sit
by your side
waiting waiting
for the ambulance to come
too late.

I have seen terror in your face
as you flailed
your eyes rolling without aim
or recognition of what they saw
I have seen the look on your face
the helpless fluttering of your hands
that says
I want to live
I might not live.

After the first time you died
you told me
that you had seen God
and that She was like a flower
eternally blossoming
always becoming
never completed or at rest
and that you knew one day
you would return to Her.

I don't know how
to respond to that
Once we could argue about it
But the second time that you died
you stayed dead
and there is nothing else
we can say to each other. — with Mary Krane Derr.

Mary talks a bit about herself here. Here is an excerpt:

I am a poet of Polish-Celtic-Germanic descent from the United States, Chicago to be precise. I am not A Big Literary Celebrity. Nor am I a writer of such hip obscurity that hipsters fawn knowingly over the mere mention of me. I am not even in the know enough to know if hipsters still stride about in all-black clothes and behave all cerebral and ironic and anhedonic any more. I don’t even have any all-black clothes, except maybe some big ass cotton stretch pants from the sale bin.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"How Are You?" Do You Really Want to Know?

Dark Sky White Sands Ernst Haas source
Roads to Nowhere Lucy and Simon
I've lived a challenging life. I talk about that in "Save Send Delete," so there's no need to go into detail here. Part of the message of that book is that God is present during the worst times.

The past year and a half disaster has been on overdrive.

I toy with the idea of a blog post that outlines the particular hell I've been marching through.

Usually writing is very easy for me. It is genuinely harder for me not to write than to write.

This time, though, there is much more hesitation than there is writing. I fear I'd poison the world if I let all the pain out in words. If someone asks you how you are, and your real answer offers a foretaste of hell, should you speak? Nah.

The other day I was close to typing it all up. As I usually do, I first did a Google image search to find photos that would best express what I'd be trying to say. I found the two photos, above.

So, even though I don't have it in me honestly to answer the question, "How are you?" I don't want to waste these two fabulous photos.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Terence Malick's "Tree of Life" 2011: Beauty, Reverence, and Dinosaurs; And My Own Memory of Lilacs

Last night I tried to watch Terence Malick's 2011 film "Tree of Life."

I had heard a lot about it of course. I was especially eager to see the dinosaur sequence. The film was kind of a dare –would I be able to sit through it? Would I be deep and profound enough to be moved by it, or would I be a Philistine, a plebian, a Bohunk and just not get it at all? Or, does the emperor have no clothes and did Malick go off the rails and does the film really suck? And is everyone too intimidated to say so?

I loved Terence Malick's 1998 WW II Pacific theater film, "The Thin Red Line." I have no idea what it was about, but I loved it. Jim Caviezel was especially impressive.

"Tree of Life" was very beautiful. It was one of the two most reverential films I've ever seen, the other being George Stevens' "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

There are scenes in "Tree of Life" that communicate, better than any other film I've ever seen how isolated, "meaningless" moments in a child's life can became so heavily saturated with power that those moments are carried into adulthood like small, individual cathedrals within each one of us.

For example, I have a memory of being very small, and sitting on the ground in the center of a lilac bush with my brother, Greg Goska. He is very small, as well. I guess we were about four or five.

I look up and see gray branches, green, heart shaped leaves, and purple lilacs, and beyond them, blue sky. And – that's it. That's the entire moment. Nothing happened. No one was born or died. No one presented us with a puppy or a violin or a book we'd later quote or a friend for life. We weren't even playing a particularly interesting game.

That's all I've got – sitting on the ground with my brother Greg, looking up through a lilac bush, struck by shapes and color, and feeling overwhelmingly in love with life and as if anything I ever needed to know I already knew, feeling as much pleasure as I could ever feel, knowing why I was here and knowing that being here was a very, very good thing, an incalculable blessing.

I've never forgotten that moment. I have tried to communicate it to people. I can't. There is no plot, no dialogue, no secret, no takeaway.

I've always assumed that everyone carries moments like that. Moments from childhood when life just shouts, that you never forget.

"Tree of Life" communicates those moments. A child in a crib and a gauzy curtain playing over it; boys at play; a loving mother. Moment, moment, moment.

There's no plot, though, as far as I could see, and I lost interest, and stopped watching. So I guess I am a Philistine.

But I loved the twenty-minute long creation sequence, that occurs about twenty minutes into the film. A mother loses her son, and she beings to question God. "What are we to you?" she asks. Malick answers with this twenty minute sequence attempting to depict the creation of the universe, the rise of dinosaurs, and their extinction. I watched that sequence twice.

Monday, May 27, 2013

I Found My Lost Rosary

I wrote recently about shopping for a rosary in this blog post

I needed a new one because I lost the precious blue one that Anna Martinez had given me during Hurricane Sandy. 

I looked all over the apartment and could not find that blue, plastic rosary.

I gave up and ordered a new one from Amazon. 

I was just walking home this afternoon. I had been walking around Paterson feeling sorry for myself. I hate being alone on holidays. I hate being stuck in the city. I wish I had money and family and friends and I wish I could do what normal people do on holidays: barbecues, a trip to the beach. 

I was surrounded, as I always am in Paterson, by other people alone and stuck in the city, by other people with no money and no car and no barbecue. By people laughing and smiling and fighting and playing and being loud and making the best of everything. 

Just outside my apartment, I saw an older African American woman sitting on the sidewalk. She was rubbing her hands together in a worried gesture. A small, white, plastic crucifix dangled from her wrist. It drew my eye. I focused and saw what looked very much like the clear beaded, blue plastic rosary I had lost. 

My guess. I always keep it in my pocket when I walk. Chances are I reached for my hankie or my sunglasses and the rosary fell out. And this blessed woman found it and wrapped it three times round her wrist. 

I hope it is the rosary I lost. I loved "finding" it on her wrist. 


Here is the story of how Anna Martinez had given me that rosary, back during Hurricane Sandy and the long power outage:

Anna Martinez got her power back yesterday. The food in my freezer is largely still frozen. I have my ways! I keep blocks of ice in there. They are keeping the freezer food cold. I'm a survivalist at heart.

Walked over to Anna's, my backpack full of my freezer food to store with Anna. She lives only a couple of miles from me, but it's a very bad part of Paterson: boarded up factories as far as you can see, men camped in rubble.

We met and embraced. I immediately saw something on the shelf in Anna's tiny apartment. It was really beautiful. I wanted it. I wanted it right then and there. I could already feel this object in my pocket. I was shocked at myself. How could I feel so covetous about something that belongs to my friend? And, worse than covetous. I wanted to steal this object! Just slip it into my pocket! I was shocked at my reaction!

Anna and I sat and chatted. We laughed, we cried, we hugged, we even drew a couple of tarot cards. If nothing else, this power outage got me to kick back and spend time with a friend, which I haven't done in months.

When it was time to go, Anna said, "Wait, there is something I want to give you." And she reached – yes – for the very object I lusted after the minute I entered her apartment! It was a sky blue rosary. Sky blue is my favorite color.

There was a story behind it. Anna is a storyteller, as well as a visual artist.

Anna was at a bus stop. A fellow traveler was speaking judgmentally about a woman who had urinated in public. Anna listened to this woman but grew impatient. At first Anna was harsh in judging this judgmental woman, but they talked more. Anna came to understand her better. As their conversation drew to a close, the woman handed Anna one sky blue rosary. Then, after some moments, she handed Anna another, saying, "This is for someone else. You can give it to them."

Rape in the Military on Memorial Day? How about Rape in Peace Corps? Do Sensitive New Age Guys and Third World People Rape? You Betcha

I'm listening to NPR, as I do most mornings, and I'm hearing headline after headline about how the Obama administration is focusing on rape in the United States military.

Rape is a bad thing and it should be stopped wherever it occurs. Victims should be restored to feeling safe and perpetrators should be punished. Programs should work against new rapes.

But … why is rape in the military the big NPR headline on Memorial Day, of all days? This is the day we honor our military heroes.

I question the timing of the Obama administration.

Here's a thought – let's focus on rape in Peace Corps.

I served in Peace Corps twice – once in Africa, once in Asia. Rape was part of everyday life for women in Peace Corps.

One of my fellow volunteers was raped in Africa – one that I knew about. Peace Corps treated her horribly. The Peace Corps' treatment of this rape victim was as bad, from my perspective, as the rape itself.

Attempted sexual assault was constant. I was never raped, but I faced constant threats and inappropriate behavior, both in Africa and Asia. I could tell you stories.

Further, Peace Corps officials constantly hit on Peace Corps volunteers. I was hit on by American Peace Corps trainers and bosses. The country director grabbed me at a party while his wife was just a few feet away. I talked to friends about it and they said that he had hit on them, too. This was the man we'd go to for letters of recommendation after our service ended.

It's funny how the constant threat of rape for Peace Corps women, Peace Corps' officials hitting on volunteers, and Peace Corps' hideous handling of these issues almost never gets talked about in mainstream media.

Peace Corps is very much a left-wing project. I have to wonder if the media has just decided that it wouldn't pay to talk about Third World, Muslim, Hindu, and Animist men raping American women. It wouldn't pay to talk about Peace Corps' higher ups hitting on much younger, and less powerful Peace Corps women, usually girls in their early twenties, just out of college, overseas for the first time and highly vulnerable.

Here's a snip from a rare news account of rape in Peace Corps:

"One said the Peace Corps had ignored warnings that she was in danger, eventually resulting in her gang rape. Others told stories of being blamed for their assaults because they had had a drink or gone walking in the evening, and some said that after they were assaulted, the Peace Corps made it difficult or impossible to seek adequate counseling. Volunteer Karestan Koenen (pictured), who will testify before Congress today, says she was raped in Niger in 1991. When she tried to report it to a Peace Corps official in Washington, this was the response: 'I walk into her office and the first thing she says to me is, 'I am so sick of you girls going out with men, drinking and dancing and then when something happens, you call it rape.' I felt like someone had just kicked me in the stomach.'" Source

Ryan Gosling in "Drive" 2011: Anonymous, Nihilistic, Sadism

I was watching the beginning of "Drive" on DVD and I was bored. "Drive" is very slow moving. I wondered what I was missing; the film had gotten rave reviews. I paused the DVD and read a few internet comments. One reviewer wrote, "Skip the first fifty minutes. It's boring. Fast forward to the end with all the interesting killings."

"Drive" is a nihilistic, sadistic, nasty little film. There are graphic scenes of one man stomping another man to death. The victim's skull is depicted as having the fragility of an eggshell; his brains have the squishy consistency of chocolate pudding. A man places a nail into the forehead of an intended victim and threatens to hammer the nail. A man makes to shake another man's hand and pulls the man forward and slashes his arm open. There are also more conventional stabbings and shootings. I'm used to images of gore; my facebook friends tend to post the latest stoning, decapitation, or bombing videos. What sickened me about "Drive" was realizing that Hollywood executives cooked up all this nihilistic sadism as a moneymaking form of entertainment.

Ryan Gosling plays The Man with No Name. He drives getaway cars for violent criminals. He develops a crush on Irene (Carey Mulligan) his neighbor. Her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) has just gotten out of prison. Gosling offers to drive Standard in a heist. There are some Jewish gangsters, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks.

None of this is particularly believable or involving. I never forgot that most characters are actors. Oh, there's Albert Brooks, who usually plays a narcissistic whiner, who is now playing an atypical bad guy role. Oh, there's Ron Perlman, who was in Beauty and the Beast. Oh, there's Carey Mulligan, who just played Daisy in "The Great Gatsby." Oh, there's Bryan Cranston, from "Breaking Bad."

It's impossible to believe that Mulligan and Isaac are married, or that Mulligan belongs in this movie at all. She looks like a dewy buttercup; Isaac looks like he could play Satan with no makeup. Mulligan totally lacks that Gloria Grahame feel of a true film noir heroine – beautiful, shopworn, tragic.

The film moves very slowly. There is virtually no dialogue between Gosling and Carey Mulligan. The viewer has no idea why this woman breaks into Gosling's heart. You have no idea who Gosling is. He comes across as being too stupid or too smart; too amoral or too ethical; he's just not believable. None of the characters are likeable. This film could have had any number of endings, with everybody dead or everybody alive or the lovers united or the lovers apart, the money in the bank or the money in the backseat of the car. I just did not care. The film seems to exist only to satisfy that sad, creepy demographic of fans who pay to see "interesting killings."

"Drive" gets more than one star for Gosling's performance. He is a brilliant actor who can do anything. I just wish he would not waste his gifts on drek like this.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

When Christians Do Good Things. When Christians Do Bad Things. When Muslims Follow the Koran's Call to Jihad. CNN and a Touch of Christophobia

Unarmed and alone, Ingrid Loyau Kennett trying to talk down the Jihadi murderers of Lee Rigby in London source
CNN published an article asking "What Made London Samaritans So Brave?"

CNN writer Jason Marsh asked about women like Ingrid Loyau-Kennett and Gemini Donnelly-Martin, who, alone and unarmed, defied the two jihadi murderers who killed Lee Rigby on the streets of London on May 22, 2013.

Ingrid Loyau-Kennett addressed that question herself:

"Around her neck, she wears a small gold cross, encrusted with rubies and diamonds. She is a practising Catholic and partly credits her faith for how she acted. 'I live my life as a Christian,' she explains. 'I believe in thinking about others and loving thy neighbour. We all have a duty to look after each other. A whole group of people walking towards those guys would have found it easy to take those weapons out of their hands. But me, on my own, I couldn't.'" Source

CNN and Jason Marsh kept any mention of Loyau-Kennett's own attribution of her own motivation to her Christian beliefs out of the article. This looks a lot like Christophobia.


I commented on the CNN's whitewashing of Loyau-Kennett's Christianity out of the article.

A CNN reader named Lisa Miller responded to me. Her response is below:

Lisa Miller "And what about all the other practicing Christians who loot, kill and otherwise cause others harm. Give me a freaking break. The woman in question is a good person and THAT's why she did it. Half of the people I know go to church, and church is not the mediating factor in whether they behave righteously or not....their hearts and souls do. Look at the evangelicals, amny of whom spew venom against anything they don't believe in....are they less Christian."

My response to Lisa Miller:

Lisa Miller, I am a teacher. I care a lot about scholarship and writing. Every semester, I give students a seven-page handout entitled, "How to write a research paper." I go through the process step by step: how to choose a topic; how to find peer-reviewed research; how to conduct your own research; how to construct a thesis statement … etc.

At the end of every semester, the same mini-dramas are repeated. The students who write excellent papers tell me the same thing. "I did what you told me to do. I followed instructions."

Other students write failing papers. Those students tell me the same thing, too. "I was too busy to do what you said … I was too focused on my job or my home life or my relationship to pay attention to instructions… I just don't care about school right now … I didn't do what you said."

The same can be said for any number of endeavors. Many people try to lose weight. Some do what doctors tell them to do: they cut calories and increase exercise. Others want to lose weight but don't cut calories, and don't increase activity. People who want to lose weight, ignore the advice to cut calories and increase activity, do not prove wrong that advice. It is still good advice, although some do not follow it and remain overweight.

I'm sure you get my point. Jesus gave us instructions. Some follow. Some don't. Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, herself, attributed her actions to her faith, to her following, as she said, Biblical precepts, eg: "I live my life as a Christian. I believe in loving thy neighbor."

CNN's Jason Marsh ignored Loyau-Kennett's own words in writing his article. Shame on Jason Marsh and shame on CNN for a lack of journalistic integrity.

Lisa Miller, you wrote, "The woman in question is a good person and THAT's why she did it."

Lisa, the key question becomes, what defines good?

What defines good is the value system, the instruction manual, that people follow. We saw two sets of people on the streets of London last Monday following two different instruction manuals.

Both sets of people wanted to do good. The jihadis believe that they are doing good. You can see it in the on-site videos made. "Mujahid" – jihadi – as he wanted to be called, Michael Adebolajo, the verbal killer with the bloody cleaver, struggled to justify, to the camera, his murder of Lee Rigby. He was trying to convince his fellow humans that what he did was right, in line with HIS scripture, the Koran.

In the same way that CNN chose to ignore Loyau-Kennett's own attribution of her own behavior to her Christianity, there are also press organs that are choosing to ignore that the jihadi murderers quoted their scripture in justifying their actions. Most Muslims have never killed, and never will kill, anyone. But these two Muslims cited their own scripture, chapter and verse, on-camera, in justifying their actions.

The instruction manual we follow in life, how we interpret that instruction manual, and how closely we follow it, matters.

The CNN article can be found here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

No Man Should Die Alone; Gemini Donnelly Martin, Heroine of Woolwich Jihad Attack

Gemini Donnelly-Martin
As Jihadis attempted to decapitate Lee Rigby on the streets of London the other day, Gemini Donnelly Martin stayed near him. She risked her life by doing so. She did not know Rigby; she was just a passerby. When asked why she did it, she said, no man should die alone. Source

Lee Rigby, the young man killed in the Woowich jihad attack. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Woolwich Jihad Attack Heroine, Ingrid Loyau Kennett, a Devout Catholic

Around her neck, she wears a small gold cross, encrusted with rubies and diamonds. She is a practising Catholic and partly credits her faith for how she acted. “I live my life as a Christian,” she explains. “I believe in thinking about others and loving thy neighbour. We all have a duty to look after each other. A whole group of people walking towards those guys would have found it easy to take those weapons out of their hands. But me, on my own, I couldn’t.” Source

Thursday, May 23, 2013

America: An Evil Empire. Christians: Frightening. White People: Oppressive and Unqualified to Speak. Literary Quality: Specious. Any questioning of Left Wing Ideology: "Hateful, Irrational, Dishonest." The Consensus of … Christian English Professors???


I recently was beaten up by a gang of Christian English professors.

Okay, I was beaten up verbally. And they beat me up online, not in person.

I slumped away with a tear-streaked face and skinned knees.

Even in its weirdness and smallness, this dustup says much about some big issues in education, current culture, and Christianity.

Will try to make sense of this nasty farce in this blog post.


Why Can't Johnny Read?

It's a frequent comment. A crisis in literacy looms in America. Students in advanced grades have trouble with basic reading and writing. There are tragic real life consequences for this failure in education.

According to various websites,

"Across the country, 65 percent of eighth graders do not meet grade level expectations in reading. And according to a report out in March, the average reading level of teens in grades 9-12 is 5.3 -- barely above the fifth grade."

"Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70 percent of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level."

"1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read."

"As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous."

"Nearly 85 percent of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60 percent of all inmates are functionally illiterate."

Sources: here and here.

I am a teacher.

I want to give my students the intoxication of staying up all night to read a book under the blankets with a flashlight. I want to give them feeling several feet taller when they've used the right word in a tense stand-off. I want to give them that moment when life has hit them hard and they remember a stupid poem they were forced to memorize in school years before and they suddenly realize that that stupid poem is the one medicine they require to survive that otherwise un-survivable tragedy.

I want to give my students escape on a beach with a big, fat paperback. I want to give them a resume that verbally encapsulates and communicates the very best about themselves. I want them to feel the utter self-assurance of a James Bond, of an Olympic champion, no matter what big words or ideas or lies or insults or promises are thrown at them by what professors or politicians or seducers or websites or door-to-door salesmen. I want to give them words their grandchildren will remember after they are gone.

That's why, on the first day of the semester, I tell my students, I don't care what church you attend, I don't care for whom you vote, I don't care what you buy or what you sell. I care about how you perform.


Another commonplace observation: university faculty are disproportionately liberal. English faculty are the most liberal of all.

"72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative…at the most elite schools 87 percent of faculty are liberal and 13 percent are conservative. Academia is 'a very homogenous environment.' … liberals, men and non-regular churchgoers are more likely to be teaching at top schools, while conservatives, women and more religious faculty are more likely to be relegated to lower-tier colleges and universities.

The most left-leaning departments are English literature, philosophy, political science and religious studies, where at least 80 percent of the faculty say they are liberal and no more than 5 percent call themselves conservative." source

And yet another commonplace: all too often university students get the impression from their professors that their advancement to the next grade, and to a degree, and to a positive letter of recommendation from their professors once they begin that job search, depends on their adoption of left-wing ideology, rather than their mastery of subject matter or new skills. As one student puts it, "The class did teach me the most important skill in life: just say what people want to hear at all times, contain all actual feelings and you will be fine. Know your audience." source

Is there a connection? Are Americans having so much trouble with verbal skills because American English faculty are determined, not to improve student reading or writing, but to coerce students into adopting leftwing ideology?

I think there may very well be.

Tatjana Menaker, a former resident of the Soviet Union, describes the shock she experienced when she received grades in English classes, on an American university campus, based, not on performance, but on adoption of leftist ideology.

"After arriving in the United States with a diploma from Leningrad University…I couldn’t believe what I found. Imagine the utter amazement of a refugee from a Communist country, where Marxism was forced on all students, now having to sink in a puddle of socialist propaganda again – but this time in the middle of an American university! Imagine the astonishment of a person who, after fighting the KGB and being a refusenik, finally comes so close to her dream of receiving a real education instead of indoctrination, only to find herself, once again, in the middle of a socialist brainwashing machine." source.


About a year ago I joined an online discussion group dedicated to professors discussing Christianity and Literature.

Christianity. Literature. Teaching. Three of my great loves!

I was a member for about a year. It was an eventful year in my life, as posts here show, and I did not give the group my full attention. My impression was, though, that the posts were often more reflective of leftwing ideology than Christianity, literature, or teaching.

One series of posts focused on defining the US as an evil empire.

I questioned this. What about China, I ventured? China is committing a cultural and biological genocide in Tibet. China is exploiting Burmese natural resources, impoverishing the Burmese people, and contributing to the Burmese dictatorship, one of the most oppressive, murderous regimes on earth. Burma refused foreign aid from the US even as tens of thousands of innocents died in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. In order to better understand leftist labeling of America as an evil empire, can we provide context of other contemporary empires, like China?

My post was not responded to with enthusiasm.

Christians were labeled as oppressive.

I mentioned that Christians have been called the most subjected to persecution for their beliefs. The Pew Forum reports that "Over the three-year period studied, incidents of either government or social harassment were reported against Christians in 130 countries" source. Christians are actively persecuted in Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea.

No, I was told by list members. Christians are "everywhere, militant, frightening."

This same professor pooh-poohed the idea that Christians are persecuted for their beliefs. He wrote, "I don't buy the marginalized Christian minority point of view."

After that exchange I realized I was a stranger in a strange land. I tried to remain silent. I thought I'd just lurk and soak up what I could of the group's wisdom on Christianity, literature, and teaching.

I was not successful in that attempt.

Someone mentioned Barbara Kingsolver's writing about life in the Republic of Congo. Barbara Kingsolver is a successful American writer who lived in the Republic of Congo.

A group member, Professor Rovira, wrote "Kingsolver cannot understand those issues the way one of the colonized could."

I had to respond to this.

This denigration of the work of Barbara Kingsolver on the basis of her identity, and accompanying elevation of the worth of others based on their identity – in a word, Kingsolver's work is less valuable because she is white and American, and others' work is better because they are black and not American, is representational of an identity politics worldview that is pervasive among liberals in academia.

This is the leftist mirror image of the ancient association of identity with worth that keeps serfs serfs, no matter how talented they may be, and that keeps those in the palace in the palace, no matter how demented, inbred or corrupt they may be.

The dream of America was to smash all that. To smash the insistence that what you were born was more important than the true measures of worth that determined who you really are: how much you learned. How well you performed.

Marian Anderson, who could sing. 
Think of Marion Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial.

Marian Anderson was a celebrated contralto. A great singer. The DAR, a prestigious organization, refused her permission to sing at Constitution Hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson did – she sang to 75,000 people. She was valued because she could sing. The DAR de-valued her because of the color of her skin, the circumstances of her birth.

Left-wing college professors' denigration of Barbra Kingsolver's work because she is white and American is the mirror image of the racist DAR's devaluation of Marian Anderson's singing because she was black.

Marian Anderson could sing.

Barbara Kingsolver can write. 

Talent is a good and real thing. 

I responded to the denigration of Kingsolver, not on the basis of her talent as a writer, but on the basis of her identity.

I posted about my own experience, and the experience of my own people.

I am Polish and Slovak, I said. We are a people who know oppression, I said. We have been colonized. We have been massacred. We have been enslaved.

We have not produced a lot of great literature in America. There is no great Polish American novel. That is because oppressed people often don't have time, resources, or a tradition to produce great, elite literature. We were too busy mining coal, smelting iron, producing steel, farming small plots, manufacturing cars, cleaning others' houses, and refining petroleum.

My grandmother never learned to read or write. She was not going to write the great Polish American novel. After my grandfather was killed, she made and sold bootleg liquor. My father rode the rails seeking work. He joined the army under false papers when he was just sixteen. My mother raised three different families of children as a domestic servant after her coal miner father got emphysema. These lifestyles did not leave us a lot of time to write the Great American Novel.

Others wrote about us, and they were not us. The big authors on Poles in Poland are Norman Davies and Timothy Garton Ash, both English, not Polish.

The big author about the Bohunk immigrant experience was Upton Sinclair, an American-born, Protestant WASP. He wrote "The Jungle," the one indispensable volume on the Bohunk experience.

If I were to teach a class on Poland, I would include Davies, Ash, Sinclair, Thomas Sowell and Booker T. Washington, two African Americans I cite in my dissertation. I would include Amy Chua, Chinese. I would include Edna Bonacich, Jewish.

They would be on the syllabus before any Polish names. I would insist on this because their writing has value. The quality of their writing and their scholarship is what matters, not their ethnic identity.


Prof. Rovira immediately denounced what I wrote as "hateful," "dishonest" and "irrational."

A Prof. Pearson directed a lengthy lecture at me. Prof. Pearson addressed nothing that I had said.

Rather, once again, as so often in this group of professors, Prof. Pearson wrote as if there were only two kinds of people in the world: rich, privileged, oppressive, hateful, evil white Americans and oppressed "people of color." Again, and again – the black and white division of the world. No poor whites. None. No "people of color" who ever oppress anyone. No Chinese occupation of Tibet. No rich, black dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko or Haitian Duvalier family or House of Saud. No. Just, the entire universe, divided up into rich, evil, oppressive whites and poor, virtuous, people of color. No room for Polaks or Slovaks in this reality. No room for Okies or Appalachian Hillbillies or those French Canadians who were sterilized by American eugenicists. Nope. Because no whites are poor. No whites have ever suffered oppression.

Prof. Pearson wrote about "who can best represent the experiences of an oppressed people without falling into orientalist traps" and "who has the right to speak for a people." "The problem with focusing on literary worth/talent is that it fails to acknowledge the unevenness of the playing field." He said. "On the specious grounds of 'literary quality', the white folks will almost always win." "Reading literature simply on grounds of 'literary worth and talent' always works at a disadvantage to people of color" "Meanwhile, and let's be honest, white people have often done a terrible, TERRIBLE job of representing people of color, much less of representing non-Western cultures"

Prof Pearson ended his little lecture with the patronizing sign off, "I hope this explanation helps."

No discussion ensued.

There was nothing to discuss. A working class Polak woman, me, had dared to say that there is such a thing as literary worth and talent and that identity does not dictate value. I had dared to say that dividing up the world into rich, evil, oppressive whites and virtuous and oppressed "people of color" was a limited paradigm. I was put in my place by the powers that be. After Prof. Pearson put me in my place, one of the professors suggested changing the topic to Shakespeare, and that occurred immediately.


Professors Rovira and Pearson were arguing that identity as someone who has experienced oppression makes one's words worth listening to. Professors Rovira and Pearson were arguing that elites don't have the right to speak for those who have suffered.

I have suffered. I spoke.

They, the elites, the English professors, immediately slapped me down.


Do I have to present my resume here? What do I know about oppression? One of my family members was lynched. When my father was born his country did not exist as a political entity – it was a colony of Russia, who kept Polish peasants so oppressed that Booker T Washington, an ex-American slave seeking "the man furthest down" went to Poland to study us.

My family came to America where mine bosses solicited us for labor by calling out, "Get me a Hunky; I need a donkey." My parents were of ethnicities deemed racially inferior by the US congress. My mother, a brilliant writer, one of the most brilliant women I will ever hope to know, spent her life cleaning rich women's houses. My father mined coal as a child, worked blue collar as an adult, after leading American troops as a sergeant liberating the Pacific.

I grew up in poverty. This kind of poverty – where if you can't stomach the foul surplus macaroni and margarine that is for dinner, you do not eat. Barefoot. Because the special shoes you need are too expensive. I started working before I was legally qualified to do so. I forged papers to make this happen. I worked full time as a nurse's aide while getting my BA. I was homeless for a while in college, still got straight As.

I joined Peace Corps and lived and worked in tiny villages in Africa and Asia. I watched children starve to death because of vicious local customs like the caste system. I saw human beings enslaved, in literal, not metaphorical, chains. I fed starving children and taught a slave girl to read.

I lived in Poland during the overthrow of communism. I participated in anti-Soviet riots. I come back to the US and entered grad school and was attacked by a professor. I was told she was allowed to abuse her employees because she was black and female and everyone was afraid of being called racist or sexist so they did not challenge her. Result – unbeknownst to me, my inner ear burst and I spent the next several years vomiting and paralyzed. I wrote my dissertation anyway, about stereotyping of Poles as the world's worst haters. My book is so controversial, for eight years, it traveled from publisher to publisher, who at first said "Love it!" and then said, "Too scared!" Academia is publish perish. I find only part time work.

When I am told I have cancer, I am also told I cannot get surgery because I have no health insurance. I live in Section eight housing in a slum. My students are largely, like me, minority and poor.

And I need Prof. Pearson, an English Professor, to lecture me on oppression?

Uh … no.

How Professors Rovira and Pearson responded to me is how all too many professors respond to their students. Elitist contempt disguised in liberalism.


Prof. Pearson wrote that African American writing is less mature, less advanced; their works "aren't as polished from a literary style."

If I were black, I would be insulted by Prof. Pearson's post. African Americans do not need a liberal English professor to rescue them or their writing. There is excellent African American writing. It can be judged by the same standards used to judge white-as-typewriter paper American writing.

If an English professor said to me, "Hey, we are going to include some Polak writing on our syllabus, and we know y'all are not as mature, not as advanced, not as polished as our writing is, but we're gonna include your stuff in order to be multiculti and diverse," I would punch that son of a gun in the face. One shot. Right in the jaw. BAM!

Shelby Steele, in his excellent book "White Guilt," talks about the subtle racism and condescension inherent in the approach described above. He calls ethnic literature courses "humiliating stuff. A shuffle and a bow for a tossed coin" "easy dissociation for whites and crumbs for blacks" "a deal made of what is low and cowardly in both races"

"My belief was that minority writers should be included in our mainstream classes by merit." "They would be respected for their talent rather than endured for their color. They would be read by all our students on a regular basis. An ethnic literature class would only create a literary ghetto of mediocre writers, an Affirmative Action class where even great writers would be diminished…Universities could no longer afford to devote themselves singularly to excellence. Excellence and merit became 'oppressive' terms within the academy."

There's another problem with the kind of "inclusion" practiced by English professors.

Only some "people of color" need apply.

Marxist "people of color" are welcome.

Non-whites who are not ideologically pure are not welcome.

I know liberal, inclusive English professors who would not teach work by Jamaica Kincaid, V.S. Naipaul, or Salman Rushdie, because these authors' work is deemed not ideologically pure enough. Shelby Steele and John McWhorter would never appear on their syllabi. African American Thomas Sowell, a scholar I cite in my work on Poles, is anathema to them. There is no chance, zero, none, that they would ever include a Deneen Borelli.


None of this is news. What shocked me about this group was that they identify as Christian.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Moore, Oklahoma Tornadoes: Why Did So Many Die?

Moore Oklahoma before and after photos are here at

I'm having a hard time understanding why so many people died in the May 20, 2013 tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma. The death toll has been revised downward but still it is too high.

This part of the US is called Tornado Alley. The 2013 tornadoes followed the path of 1999 tornadoes. The 2013 tornadoes were large and there was advance warning. I wonder why more people did not seek underground shelter.

A Facebook friend from Oklahoma pooh-poohed the idea of storm shelters as unfeasible because too difficult to build. I question that. I grew up in a house with a sturdy cellar that was dug out largely by my father and my brothers. My father was a Polish peasant. Peasants build and use cellars for vegetable storage and smoking meat. In other words, cellars are not high tech, not recent innovations, not prohibitively expensive. The school I went to, in a low income area, had a sturdy cellar.

The UK Telegraph reports:

"Moore has no designated public storm shelters, nor does Oklahoma City itself. Edmond also has no public shelters, but Norman has two and Midwest City has three. Residents in Oklahoma are offered the opportunity to receive a federal grant as part of a safe room rebate program, which gives them $2,500 upon installation of a shelter. In Moore, the city was expecting to apply for around $2 million to assist 800 home owners to build shelters. However, the programme was placed 'on hold' as they waited for 'wrinkles' to be ironed out of the grant application process."


Just Another Pack Animal that Collapses under a Weight: "The Silent Tragedy of Child Marriage"

An eight year old Afghan girl bled to death after an mullah, over fifty, attempted to have sexual relations with her. 

Robert Spencer remembers this girl and the countless other victims of gender apartheid in his article, "The Silent Tragedy of Child Marriage"at PJ media here

I have "liberal" friends who support gender apartheid. I wonder when they will have an ethical awakening. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Shopping for a Rosary; Scandalized by Prices, Kitsch, and Fashion

Oh, Lord, no.
Oh, come on! Is it THAT hard being married to a Spice girl?
That does it. I'm converting. 
Back when I was a grad student at IU, really poor and owned almost nothing, I used to pray the rosary on my hands.

I don't like doing that because, with no beads to guide me, I have to focus on which prayer I'm saying. With the beads to guide me, I can lose myself in the prayer.

I found someone's lost rosary and began to pray with beads, again, and never looked back to the old days of praying on my hands.

I pray when I walk. I've got rosary, handkerchief, sunglasses, and walkman in my pockets. All of these get lost eventually.

I inevitably lost the rosary I had found. I discovered a website that gives away free rosaries. I lost that one, too. Finally I stepped up and bought a rosary at St. Patrick's cathedral gift shop.

I gave that one to my niece the other day, and now I need a new rosary. I'm shopping online.

I was hoping to find a sturdy, durable rosary. I pray the rosary every day. The beads, and the material that strings them together, has got to be tough to take that daily handling.

I want a rosary with a good drop. The beads have to be heavy enough, and the stringing material has to be flexible enough, that the beads easily drop down. Otherwise, the stringing material becomes entangled in itself.

I would like a rosary that isn't an eyesore. Blue is my favorite color. Was hoping for blue beads.

Thought I could have all this for about twenty dollars.

Oh, oh, oh. I was so naïve!

There are millions of rosaries for sale on the web. A cursory glance reveals that 99% of them are merely decorative. They exist to be pretty. They don't exist to be prayed on. If you prayed on most of these rosaries daily, they would begin to disintegrate in about a week.

There are sturdy looking rosaries.

These cost an arm and a leg.

Think, four, five hundred dollars.


Some rosaries are identified as "men's rosaries." Others are identified as "women's rosaries." This bugs me. Men's prayers and women's prayers?

And then there are the kitsch rosaries: Basketball rosaries, Skull rosaries, Panda bear rosaries, Jewish rosaries.

I'm fighting with the urge to be judgmental.

I'm judgmental of everybody. Justin Bieber and David Beckham wearing rosaries as fashion statements? Arrest them!

But I'm also judgmental of the folks buying these very pretty, very expensive rosaries that are obviously never meant to be prayed with.

And then I argue with my judgmental side. If owning a pretty rosary that costs five hundred dollars makes someone feel good, who am I to judge?

The plethora of novelty rosaries tells me this: Commentators constantly predict the end of the Catholic Church. But our many imitators want us to keep on keeping on, so they can have something to imitate.

Basketball rosary.

Skull rosary

Panda bear rosary

Jewish rosaries

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Praying for a Miracle for My Sister and New Atheist Falsehoods about Prayer

Please say a prayer for my sister Antoinette, the one with the glasses. 

I am praying for a miracle for my sister.

You can read part one of this story here and part two here.

I invite you to offer up a prayer for my sister Antoinette if you care to. Thank you.


New Atheists refer to prayer as "Talking to your imaginary sky friend." Here's one random New Atheist comment about prayer from the web, "Talking to your imaginary sky fairy is the next best thing to doing nothing at all."

That's the second clueless thing New Atheists say, that prayer is tantamount to "doing nothing at all."

When I ask people to pray for me or for my sister, I know I am asking them to do something. I am asking them for something precious. I feel grateful to those who have prayed for me.


When I was a grad student at Indiana University, I was attacked by a crazy professor. I didn't know it at the time, but my inner ear burst. I was horribly ill for years afterward, at least partly because medicine doesn't offer any ironclad treatments for those with vestibular – inner ear – disorders. Unable to stop vomiting and often paralyzed, I trekked through three states, from one experimental surgery to another, till a compassionate surgeon broke his Hippocratic oath and "did harm" – he killed my ear, making me deaf that in that ear, but ending the vomiting and paralysis.

Those years were a forced march through hell. My thoughts became as dark as thoughts get. I know what it is to feel so frustrated, hopeless, and betrayed that killing someone else seems to make sense. Believe me, I know.

People I have never met prayed for me. They let me know through the internet.

I *felt* their prayers. I was sure that it was their prayers that kept me going.

And of course the New Atheists would say that I imagined those feelings.

I know the inside of my own head better than the New Atheists do.

So, yes, I am grateful when others pray for me, and I tend to believe in prayer.


On the other hand.

Years ago I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal.

Back in the US, my brother Mike had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I prayed long distance.

I was living in the Himalaya, far from roads, electricity, running water, even outhouses. My dwelling was made of boards and clay; I was being eaten alive by fleas. And I would hunker down at night, trying to conserve warmth (I was always cold in Nepal) and I would pray for a miracle for my brother Mike. And I was confident that a miracle would occur.

Mike died within months. Me, too, a little bit. Mike died just a few short years after my brother Phil was killed on my birthday.

I spent a long time estranged from God. I have never been able to be an atheist. Believing that God loved other people, and not my family, was easier.


I am praying now for a miracle for my sister.

New Atheists really don't get what prayer is.

Prayer has nothing to do with the New Atheists' "imaginary sky friend." Prayer has nothing to do with "doing nothing while pretending you are doing something."

Prayer is work. Prayer transforms the body. Prayer is palpable. Prayer is investment.

Praying for a miracle for my sister is one of the hardest things I can do.

After what happened with Mike. And Phil. After feeling so crushed, betrayed, and lost.

Why bother?

Because I do believe in miracles.

And I want one for my sister.

I ask myself, am I guilty of arrogance? Is it wrong to ask that God do this? Wouldn't it be more Christian to accept whatever fate God decrees?

But, I see Jesus performing miracles, and instructing his disciples to do so.

So, then, why not just pray for a miracle and accept whatever turns out to be God's will?

You try it. You try losing your siblings repeatedly to early death and then exercising hope and prayer and then assuming peace in the face of whatever happens.

I dread crashing that hard again.

"Exercising hope": it really is an exercise.

I change physically when I pray. I don't attempt to make these changes happen; they just do, and they surprise me. I can feel changes in my breathing, in how my organs bump up against each other. I can feel changes in my relationship to surrounding reality. I can feel changes in what part of my brain is working, and how it's working.

I just did a google search of "physical effects of prayer" and found an article about research by Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard:

"Benson has documented on MRI brain scans the physical changes that take place in the body when someone meditates. When combined with recent research from the University of Pennsylvania, what emerges is a picture of complex brain activity:

As an individual goes deeper and deeper into concentration, intense activity begins taking place in the brain's parietal lobe circuits -- those that control a person's orientation in space and establish distinctions between self and the world. Benson has documented a 'quietude' that then envelops the entire brain.

At the same time, frontal and temporal lobe circuits -- which track time and create self-awareness -- become disengaged. The mind-body connection dissolves, Benson says. And the limbic system, which is responsible for putting 'emotional tags' on that which we consider special, also becomes activated. The limbic system also regulates relaxation, ultimately controlling the autonomic nervous system, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, etc., says Benson.

The result: Everything registers as emotionally significant, perhaps responsible for the sense of awe and quiet that many feel. The body becomes more relaxed and physiological activity becomes more evenly regulated."


I have to wrestle with myself before I pray for a miracle for my sister. I have to give ear to my despair and my sense of catastrophe. And then I have to allow for hope. And then I confront Jesus, and remind him of his promises. And then I ask to be made worthy even to pray. Then I surrender to prayer, and everything changes. I do experience that peace that surpasses understanding.

Friday, May 17, 2013

"The Odd Couple" 1968. How America, and American Manhood, Has Changed

I was at a small local library looking over DVDs. 1968's "The Odd Couple" looked like the best bet in a batch of slim pickings. It's about middle-aged, divorced men. I'm not a man; I'm not divorced. The film's famous running gag about one clean roommate and one dirty roommate struck me as shopworn. Bleh. I took it out anyway and thought I'd give it a try.

Within minutes, I was floored by how excellent "The Odd Couple" is.

I remembered something that Roger Ebert said in an interview with Martin Scorcese. Ebert said that "Raging Bull" was a great movie. People would protest that they didn't want to see it because they didn't want to see a film about boxers. No, Ebert insisted. The subject matter of a film is not the heart of the film. Rather, it's how well a film is made that matters. An expertly made film about boxers is better than a badly made film about a topic you may be interested in. So, no, I'm not a man; I'm not divorced. But "The Odd Couple" was so well made that I fell in love with it. I surprised myself by laughing out loud throughout the film.

"The Odd Couple," of course, is the story of news writer Felix Unger leaving his wife and children and moving in with his friend, sports writer Oscar Madison, who is himself a divorcee. Oscar lives in an eight-room Manhattan apartment, which he used to share with his wife and their kids. Felix is neat; Oscar is messy. Sounds pretty trite.

But the movie is a revelation. The script reveals surprising depth about love, hate, and human relationships. The Walter-Matthau-Jack-Lemmon team is like a well-oiled machine – they seem to have perfected their shtick together through several lifetimes.

Jack Lemmon plays the entire movie completely straight. He gives the exact same kind of performance as he did when he was acting in "The Days of Wine and Roses," a hyper serious film about alcoholism. When Lemmon, as Felix, is upset about his meatloaf burning, he shows as much agony as he showed in the previous film about a drunk ruining his own life. It's hysterically funny to watch this poor schmuck wrestle with his petty obsessions and compulsions, oblivious to how he affects others. Even as you laugh at him, you realize he can't help himself. Felix Unger has Asperger's.

What has changed in America, and American film, that this film from 1968 feels like a time capsule from a lost moment in America? Oscar lives in a spacious, eight-room Manhattan apartment. Manhattan real estate has become more expensive, of course. But it's more than that.

The words that kept going through my head as I was watching the movie were "grown-up" and "intelligent."

Oscar, Felix, and their poker buddies are six white guys. They meet and play poker. There are no scenes where these adult, white men are revealed to be inept in comparison to women, blacks, or homosexuals. There are no scenes where the sassy gay man instructs the straight men on how to dress or create romance. There are no scenes where the "magical negro" shows the men that they can't dance. There are no scenes where a woman puts the men down for not knowing how to take care of children or shows the men up as being blinded by lust. There are no scenes where these straight, white men are made to apologize for being straight, white men.

The men are grownups. They have jobs. They wear adult clothing. They wear white shirts and ties, slacks, belts, and shiny shoes. Oscar does wear a backwards baseball cap, but he is the clown of the group. And he does not wear it throughout the film. When he goes out, he dresses properly.

They speak of their marriages as if marriage were something important. They speak of their children as if they love them.

They go on dates. They ask women out, dress up for the occasion, and make witty banter with subtle double entendres.

While watching "The Odd Couple," I thought of recent Judd Apatow comedies starring men like Jason Segel, Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill. These current male stars all play children; they all play losers. They play failed men. The humor in these films is built around what pathetic creatures they are. In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Jason Segel, who is fat and prematurely saggy, is shown fully naked. The nakedness highlights his humiliation when his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall, dumps him. These films all use the F word over and over in a manner that feels desperate and limited.

There is one very sly, very funny reference to the f word in "The Odd Couple." Oscar complains to Felix Unger that he is tired of getting little notes from Felix like "We are all out of cornflakes. Signed, FU." Oscar says it took him hours to figure out what "FU" meant. A funny joke. Delivered deliciously. The only time "The Odd Couple" has to refer to the F word to get a laugh.

I've never felt, while watching a Judd Apatow comedy, that I was gaining any insight into the human condition. There are so many payoff moments of absurd comedy in "The Odd Couple," as when Oscar steps on a vacuum cleaner cord and then takes his foot off the cord at just the right moment to send Felix reeling. But there were so many moments that made me say, "Gosh, yes, that's what human relationships are like. That's what it's like to love/hate another human being."

I can't imagine a film like "The Odd Couple" being made today. A genuinely funny, intelligent, rich, grownup comedy about men that shines light on the human condition and that need never speak the F word to get a laugh. And I can't imagine anyone other than a Trump being able to afford that eight-room apartment in Manhattan.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Heaven Is for Real" by Todd Burpo. Book Review.

"Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back" is a deeply moving book with a page-turner plot that addresses big, big issues in a reader-friendly way. It is surprisingly well-written. Before I was even finished reading this book I ordered a copy for loved ones. It's *that* good.

"Heaven Is for Real" is a four-year-old boy's account of his near death experience during emergency surgery for peritonitis from untreated appendicitis. Colton Burpo left his body, encountered Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God, Mary, and his own deceased family members. Atheists and Christophobes desperately want his account to be proven false. Their hopes – or their anti-hopes – are in vein. "Heaven Is for Real" is a credible near death account.

In 2003, Todd Burpo was a thirty-something, small-town Nebraska pastor and agricultural combine garage door salesman. His wife, Sonja, was a schoolteacher. They had two children: Cassie and Colton.

One day, then three-year-old Colton had a fever, stomach pain, and he vomited. His parents wrote it off as a stomach virus. Colton's fever went away, he appeared to get better, and the family left for a trip.

Colton worsened during the trip. Todd decided to drive home rather than visit a hospital on their trip route. This was a mistake. Colton worsened. Todd realized his son was losing his grip on life. The first doctor they saw was so unhelpful I wonder if he was not eventually sued for malpractice. Todd and Sonja eventually drove their son to another hospital. As Todd would learn later, the physicians there decided that there was little chance that Colton would survive, and they instructed the nurses to prepare the family for the worst.

To everyone's surprise, Colton did survive his lengthy hospital stay, during which his open abdominal wound had to be regularly drained of pus.

Some months later, this and other crises behind them, the family departed for a fun-filled vacation. As they passed the hospital that treated Colton, Colton casually mentioned having met Jesus and angels during his surgery. Todd and Sonja froze. They didn't know what to make of their son's announcement. We don't talk much about angels, he realized. Where did Colton get this idea of angels?

Todd did exactly the right thing. He monitored his own speech, making sure that he was not feeding Colton information. He also behaved as casually and as neutrally as he could, in order to get the whole story from Colton without changing it with any kind of feedback reward or feedback punishment that would alter what Colton said. Colton contradicted Todd when Todd attempted to test him by feeding him false information. Todd, as a pastor, was very familiar with the Christian curriculum Colton had been exposed to. He recognized that Colton was reporting data that he had not been exposed to. Of the course of several years, Todd got the story down.

Colton Burpo's near death experience is similar to hundreds of other such stories. He left his body. He could see his father praying in one room and his mother talking on the telephone in another. He entered a heavenly realm and encountered deceased relatives. He also encountered Jesus, God, Mary, and the Holy Spirit. This all occurred during a brief amount of time as it is measured on earth: three minutes.

Todd Burpo was especially impressed by Colton's reporting things that he had no way of knowing. Colton mentioned that his mother had had a previous miscarriage. His parents had not mentioned it. He said that he had met this sibling in heaven. Colton said that he met his great grandfather. Todd showed him a photo of this man later in his life. Colton said, no, that's not what the man I met looked like. Todd asked his mother to send a photo of the great grandfather when he was younger. She did so. Without being told who the man was, Colton identified this photo as one of his great grandfather. Colton told Todd about things that Todd and his grandfather had done together. Todd had never told Colton any of this.

Colton said that Jesus had "markers." I am Catholic, and I immediately knew what Colton was referring to. Todd, a Protestant, did not. Through further conversation, Todd realized that Colton was referring to Jesus' stigmata. Todd explains that, as Protestants, his household and his church do not emphasize images of Jesus' crucifixion wounds. He felt that this was something that Colton, a four-year-old Protestant in a tiny Nebraska town, would not have invented.

"Heaven Is for Real" is surprisingly well-written. Burpo wrote with Lynn Vincent, and Vincent, an author of several books, really knows how to put a story together. Many body-mind-spirit books are execrably written. Not so with "Heaven Is for Real." It has a real plot, real suspense, and real characters.

The inevitable question is, is Colton Burpo's account reliable? I found it convincing. Colton Burpo is very much not the first person to have a near death experience. There are hundreds of them recorded online. Todd's protestations that Colton was reporting things he almost certainly did not pick up at home in his short life as a Midwestern Protestant are convincing. Colton reported stigmata, very much not a Protestant thing, and he reported Mary, also not a Protestant thing. Colton insisted on the many vivid colors in Heaven, colors not found on Earth. This meshes with many other near death accounts. Colton reported that Jesus has a rainbow colored horse. He didn't get that from Sunday school.

Todd and Sonja Burpo are employed, stable, law abiding people. They have no history of farfetched schemes. They are modest people who have done nothing to be in the limelight. Their few appearances on Christian TV are understated and cautious. It strains credulity that they would make up this outlandish tale.

If Todd and Sonja had manufactured this story for fame and fortune, they would not have included ugly, self-incriminating material in the book. Todd and Sonja did not respond adequately to their son's onset of appendicitis. It was their hesitance that almost killed their son. They include this self-incriminating material in detail.

Some are willing to accept that Colton Burpo had a near death experience, but they are troubled by his meeting Jesus. Many want to believe in an afterlife, just not a Christian afterlife. They say that Colton met Jesus, and not, say, Vishnu, Buddha, or Allah, not because Jesus really is divine, but because Colton had been raised a Christian, and Heaven takes on the form of the tradition the person who experiences it has been raised in. That's a whole 'nother debate.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

"I was 17 and Worried about My Hair ... I Had an Inoperable Brain Tumor." Guest Blog Post by Anonymous

MRI image of a brain tumor. Source

At seventeen the greatest of my worries should have been finding a prom date, choosing the right car, going to concerts and meeting new people and living life to the fullest. I worried about my hair instead. At seventeen, my doctor discovered an inoperable tumor in my brainstem, but I didn't care. My only concern was, "Is my hair going to fall out?" I could handle being ill because it was something I was very familiar with. However, the thought of my hair leaving my scalp was terrifying.

The nightmares began soon after I received this horrible news. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my oversized Lady Gaga t-shirt clinging to my body and reach frantically for my dark strands and pray that they were still connected to my head. They always were, but I always had trouble falling back sleep with two fistfuls of thick black curls. Eventually, the tumor took its course and I still couldn't shake away the fears. Several therapists and a few bottles of Xanax couldn't stop the panic-attack-filled dreams.

So, I cut it off.

The stylist was in disbelief. "Are you crazy?" she asked. "You want me to just cut it off?" I closed my eyes as she tied it all behind my neck in a thick elastic and began sawing off the precious locks. When it was all over and my hair was in a giant plastic bag labeled "Locks of Love," my nightmares left. I confronted that fear by severing it off and donating it to a girl who wasn't as lucky as I was. 

On the first day of the semester, I ask students to provide me with a writing sample.

These writing samples are written by hand, with pen and paper, not computers, and without any preparation. Students usually spend about fifteen minutes on these writing samples.

Reading these writing samples is one of the most moving things I do all semester. Students always surprise me. When I read these writing samples, so full of hope, vulnerability, self-examination and good intentions, I always think, if everyone knew what was going on in the invisible mind and heart of their neighbor, we would all be less cynical, and more gentle.

I've been asking for prayer here for my sister Antoinette. You can read those posts here and here.

I mentioned to the former student who wrote the above first-day writing sample that my sister has received a scary medical diagnosis.

My former student immediately wrote back to remind me of her first day writing sample, in which she had talked about a brain tumor. I save these writing samples and I went back and found it and reread it.

It's an amazing piece of writing. She wrote this spontaneously, on the first day of class, with a black ballpoint pen on a piece of theme paper.

There's so much in this brief essay. The love of beauty that sometimes surpasses the love of biological existence. The confrontation with fear. The defiant, generous sacrifice of her prized hair as a gift to kids who lost their hair to health problems like cancer.

My student wrote to me, "I know I'm a stranger to your sister, but if she wants someone to talk to about the situation that can relate to it, then I'd love to help in any way I can."

I am more touched by my former student's courage and generosity than I can say.

The charity to which my student donated her hair is "Locks of Love." Locks of Love provides hairpieces to children who have lost their hair to health problems.

The Locks of Love website is here.

"42" Jackie Robinson's Story: Beautiful, Inspirational, Must-See

"42" about Jackie Robinson, the first African American major league baseball player, is a beautiful, inspirational, must-see movie. "42" has been accused of being corny. For heaven's sake, it IS corny. Jackie Robinson was a true hero, as was Branch Rickey, the white man who decided to break the color line in baseball. This is an old-fashioned, all-American, even Christian story that makes you tear up and get goosebumps. "42" is about good v evil. The bad guys in this movie are repellant scum. The good guys are true heroes of historic proportions. I wish more people would see this film.

It's the late 1940s. America has defeated Nazism. It's time for the Civil Rights movement to defeat white supremacy in the US. Baseball executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) selects Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to be the first African American player on a major league team. This choice puts Robinson's life at risk.

Pitchers attempt to hit Robinson in the head with their balls. Base-runners drive their spiked heels into his legs. Philadelphia Phillies' Ben Chapman hectors Robinson when he is at bat. Chapman repeats ugly, disgusting insults. Robinson is powerless to silence Chapman. Hotel owners won't allow any members of the same team as Robinson to rent rooms. Robinson's own teammates shun him and sign a petition protesting his inclusion. Robinson must wait until his teammates are done in the shower room before he can shower. While his teammates are given lockers, he is given only a peg with a hanger. Toughs arrive at his house and threaten him so badly he must be driven out of town. Letter writers threaten to harm his wife and child.

Robinson's heroism in facing all this is the inspiration. Branch Rickey is also a hero. He was a devout Christian. He chides an interlocutor, "Love they neighbor as thyself. That is repeated eight times in the Bible, more than any other commandment."

"42" isn't an especially deep film. It does not probe deeply into any of its characters. It presents the history of baseball's integration in a fairly straightforward, easy to follow way. Production values are high. The 1940s era is captured in vintage clothes, cars, ballpark ads and architecture.

Chadwick Boseman is handsome, heroic, and stoic as Jackie Robinson. Nicole Beharie is incredibly beautiful as his wife Rachel. Harrison Ford is a bit hammy as Branch Rickey, but he's Harrison Ford, so he can get away with it.

I loved this movie and I wish everyone would see it. We need more such "corny" films.