Not a-mused

Seven-and-a-half years ago I began writing this blog called “Salvageable.” It was a chance to share my thoughts with the larger world and to try out some ideas on a smaller audience before moving on to publishing them in book form. Over time, I published several books through the Kindle/Amazon connection, and much of what I put into print had first been read in this venue. Also, over that time, I met many interesting people, some of whom I now consider close friends.

But this year writing is more difficult. I don’t know why. I can only assume that my muse has taken a break. Maybe I have said all the thoughts in my mind that are worth saying. Maybe I want to dedicate more energy to creating books without the discipline of the blog format. Maybe age is catching up with me. Maybe I’m just tired after all the turmoil of world events and national politics over the last several years.

Whatever the reason, I am admitting to myself what has no doubt become evident to others: my place in the blogoverse is no longer comfortable and secure. For the time being, I am setting WordPress aside, hoping that removing one energy drain might focus my thinking and writing in another place. Meanwhile, I leave you with two final thoughts that were meant to be individual blog essays but that failed to develop and form into full bloggable material.

  1. Last month two of us were in another city at lunchtime, and we trusted an out-of-date GPS device to lead us to a place to eat. The GPS device sent us to a shopping mall that should have had several affordable eateries in a food court. To our amazement, the place was nearly deserted. We sensed the problem when we arrived, since the large parking lot was nearly empty. Indoors, the place was equally deserted. Most of the stores were shuttered and empty. A couple still had merchandise—one displayed outfits for weddings, while another appeared to be conducting brisk business in used DVDs and game cassettes. The food court had no restaurants; the seating space had been converted into Pickleball courts, and some people were engaged in the games, their clunks of ball upon racket echoing through the open space. Signs advertised upcoming events—a craft show one weekend, and something else a few weeks later. The grand shopping malls from the second half of the twentieth century are shells of their former selves. Our useless search for a place to buy and eat lunch became a visit to a ghost town. Some of these malls might be repurposed; many will fall to pieces and eventually be razed. No doubt this experience can be made a metaphor for something. For me, though, it persists only as an emotional experience of change, of loss, of decay.
  2. The holiday season is upon us, and I am prepared once again to play the curmudgeon. It began at work with the effort of other staff to arrange a holiday gathering which they chose to call “Friendsgiving.” I excluded myself from the event, reminding the staff that my status (not fully vaccinated and boosted) kept me from joining gatherings at work, even as I must be fully masked while at work. But my real reason—if they had bothered to dig for it, which they didn’t—is my growing conviction that Thanksgiving and Christmas belong in the church and in the home, not in the workplace. I will celebrate the holidays with people who share my understanding of the meaning of these holidays. I will try to avoid bland celebrations, those that try to include everyone by offending no one. The very effort to conduct a Christ-less Christmas celebration offends me. I cannot stop others from celebrating in whatever manner they prefer, but I will remain apart from their gatherings, even as I do not expect them to be attending church with me on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Holidays are holy days. I appreciate my employer for giving me paid vacation days to observe them with my family and with fellow believers. I neither want or need to take time off at work to observe the seasonal traditions of other people who are not of my kin.

That is all. Good night. J.


Grass roots urban renewal

Grass roots urban renewal

I did not win the big lottery prize this month. I have been able to fantasize, though, about the things I might do with that much money. Among the several dreams I would fund would be an effort towards grass roots urban renewal. Progress in this area would be good for the United States and its citizens, and its success would also help the Republican Party and its supporters.

The problem with grass roots movements is that they frequently wilt and dry up before they become established. Often such movements are linked to a single popular personality, and for that reason their success lasts only as long as the fame and good reputation of that person last. Our two major political parties focus most of their attention on the next election. They write party platforms that see far into the future (and, perhaps, are well-anchored in the past), but most of the energy and most of the money raised and used by political parties has short-term achievements in mind.

I would like to see a movement with long-term goals and plans. This movement should not be closely tied to the Republican Party, but its goals are more like Republican goals than like Democratic goals. This movement is based in capitalist economics. It trusts a free-market economy and distrusts government regulations. It seeks freedom for people rather than coercion. It gathers and unites people in a spirit of confident hope, community pride, and genuine love of the United States of America.

This movement would begin in a small way, in just one city. I would choose a location already evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans—perhaps the state of Wisconsin. The first meeting of the movement might meet in Milwaukee, and it would form a presence in several neighborhoods in Milwaukee before expanding to operations in Madison and Green Bay. Perhaps it would also have small chapters in Kenosha, Racine, Appleton, and Waukesha before it crossed out of Wisconsin, beginning to work in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Chicago, and Detroit. Eventually this grassroots group would be found across the country, but that stage would be many years away.

Initial spending would place a person or two in Milwaukee (or whichever city might be chosen) to become familiar with the urban neighborhoods of the city, the needs of those neighborhoods, and the strengths of those neighborhoods. Small neighborhood meetings could then be held, asking people about the needs of their neighborhoods, and inviting solutions for those needs. The organizational directors could also propose actions that might help meet those needs. Money could be raised through monthly and yearly membership fees, kept small to encourage greater participation. Money would be spent on communication of various kinds—web sites and emails, mass mailings, possibly involvement in community radio. The overall goal would be improving the quality of life in urban neighborhoods, but doing so in a way consistent with capitalism, with American tradition, and with respect for all citizens. Efforts would be made to overcome barriers of race and other divisions, to encourage people to work together for the common good. In the beginning, political involvement would be minimal; over time, political movements could be generated and candidates found for positions ranging from school board membership to state and federal offices.

The group would try to meet in locations already open to the community. This would include churches, libraries, local organizations such as the American Legion and the VFW, and possibly schools, city parks, and community centers. Careful financial records and reports would be maintained to ensure that no director or volunteer in the movement was misusing its resources. Donors would underwrite expenses of the organization from the beginning—living expenses for the initial workers, printing costs, rent for meeting places and office work—but over time the branches would seek to become self-supporting through membership fees and local donors.

Here are some of the issues this grass roots movement would address in urban areas:

  • CRIME: Efforts would be made to support neighborhood watch groups, and cooperation between residents and police officers would be strongly encouraged. Residents would meet the police officers serving in their neighborhoods, share their concerns, and develop friendly connections with the police. Over time, neighborhood problems such as criminal street gangs could be reduced through the combined forces of neighbors and police.
  • EDUCATION: Neighborhood schools and school grounds would be watched and maintained by the people living in the neighborhood. Parents unwilling to meet with teachers on school property would be given a chance to encounter them in less formal settings. Children would be encouraged to continue their education and to take it seriously. High schools and two-year colleges would develop and improve vocational training with the cooperation and support of local businesses, with apprenticeships made available where appropriate. Each neighborhood and community would develop a team of professional carpenters, electricians, plumbers, auto repair specialists, and other useful workers. Meanwhile, children with special talents in the arts—musicians, poets, dancers, and the like—would be encouraged to develop and use their talents. Those with aptitudes for more specialized jobs, such as attorneys and ministers and medical professionals, would also be encouraged, and scholarship opportunities would be found for such students.
  • JOBS: While developing trades through the education system, the movement would also encourage local ownership of small businesses, would work with neighborhood watches and the police to protect these businesses, and would come to know and trust the owners and managers in neighborhood stores and shops. Small businesses in each community would try to hire workers from within that community whenever possible. Larger employers in the cities would also be linked to their nearest neighborhoods with opportunities for them to meet the people of the community and to interact with them in job fairs and other community events.
  • HOUSING: Residents of substandard housing would report their complaints to the leaders of the movement and would be advised how to direct those complaints or would be given support of people able to address their problems. Abandoned buildings would be identified, assessed for the potential of purchase and renovation or the need for demolition. Groups of neighbors would help each other maintain and improve the property in the neighborhood. Where new housing is needed and would be beneficial, investors would be found who would build housing with the needs and desires of the community in mind.
  • ENVIRONMENT: Residents of each neighborhood and community would help each other clear away litter and keep their homes and streets clean. Movement leaders would help residents call attention to large-scale polluters in the area and would direct complaints to appropriate authorities. Over time, residents could be educated in ways to improve the environment of their neighborhoods through microgardening and other appropriate opportunities. At the same time, residents would establish local control of parks and street boundaries. Movement organizers would work with city officials to maintain communication between those officials and residents, creating a cooperative relationship and avoiding city-funded improvements that fail to please the residents affected by those changes.
  • PRESERVATION: Whenever possible and practical, historic properties would be preserved rather than demolished or remade. Movement organizers would work with local and state preservationist groups, facilitating communication with neighborhood residents and building a common interest between the two groups. Preservationists would help neighborhood residents obtain funding, expert advice, and even labor for the continuing management and use of historic properties. Some would continue to be private residences or businesses; others might become community property as museums, galleries, or meeting places.

All these things can be done. People familiar with American political history know that things like this have been done. Imagine them being done with support from people in the Republican Party. Imagine this sort of grass roots urban renewal taking place with the values of traditional Republicans at work in the movement. Imagine voter registration drives in Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia sponsored and supported by Republicans. Imagine dedicated Republicans working in these cities to encourage voters, to run the polls, and to supervise counting the ballots in each election. Imagine black Republicans and Spanish-speaking Republicans and other urban Republicans taking their seats in the school boards, the city governments, and the county governments of our nation’s largest cities. We cannot turn that corner in two years or in four years. It might take ten or twenty years to make this change happen. But investment in a journey like this could provide a profound and meaningful benefit to our grandchildren as they take their place in the life of these United States of America. J.

Sugar and spice and puppy dog tails: part three

Children can be cruel to one another and even to themselves. Boys with feminine traits might be called “sissies,” while girls with masculine traits might be called “tomboys.” Sometimes these are temporary phases, part of childhood development. Sometimes they reveal characteristics that will remain part of an individual’s personality into adulthood. Most of the time, they are not related to an individual’s gender identity and sense of self. They might be teased or bullied at school because they are different from their peers, but even that experience is not as harmful as having adults overreact to those childhood tendencies, having those adults try to respond in a permanent way to behavior that is only a temporary part of being children.

This leads to discussion of a distinction made in my daughter’s nursing school materials, which is the distinction between gender identity and gender presentation. Some men enjoy dressing as women and acting as women, even though they still consider themselves men and are comfortable with their masculinity. Some women like to dress as men and act as men, even though they still consider themselves women and are comfortable with their femininity. For men, cross-dressing might have comic effect, as in Flip Wilson’s Geraldine character or the female characters portrayed by the male Monty Python cast. For women, dressing and acting like men might seem necessary in their professional lives, things they must do to be accepted among male coworkers. The Bible contains one brief prohibition of crossdressing (Deuteronomy 22:5), but Bible scholars are not in agreement about how that commandment applies to situations like those listed above.

The world is confused about gender and the various issues associated with gender. Since some expressions of gender vary from place to place and from time to time, even sincere Christians who are striving to live according to God’s commandments might be unsure about what is acceptable to God and what is prohibited by God. Several considerations should be kept in mind as Christians struggle to steer through the foggy paths of gender-related issues in the contemporary world.

  • Just because something can be done, we should not conclude that it should be done. This applies to gender-changing therapy, including hormone treatment and surgery, as well as counseling that might direct a person towards those changes. Except in those rare cases in which human gender is ambiguous in an individual’s chromosomes, the better path is encouraging children and adults to adjust their gender identity to match their biological gender.
  • Children especially need role models that help them understand and define masculinity and femininity. Boys need to be steered away from “toxic masculinity,” inasmuch as that label describes inconsiderate and abusive attitudes and behavior towards other people. Boys also need to be guided away from portrayals of weak masculinity, including the bumbling fathers that appear in much family-oriented entertainment from the past seventy years. Girls likewise need to be shown examples of femininity that are confident, competent, and compassionate, neither defenseless victims of abuse nor militant opponents of men.
  • Children need to be taught to accept differences rather than teasing, bullying, and abusing peers who are different. This includes acceptance of different appearances, languages, and cultures; it also includes respect for varying temperaments among their peers. Children do not need to be informed about adult sexuality or about divergences in adult behavior while they are young. Rather, they should be taught that all people are to be treated with kindness and consideration, even when those people are different in any way.
  • Sexuality ought to remain a private and personal matter. Christians will not be able to demand a Biblical model of relationships and family life be imposed on their nonChristian neighbors. At the same time, it should be possible to live as neighbors, to cooperate at the workplace, and to share public spaces without discussing gender-related issues, especially gender preferences. Public facilities may find it helpful to create more single-use restrooms in order to avoid controversies about inappropriate sharing of such facilities. In general, though, it should be possible for most people to live a normal day without being confronted by controversies about gender confusion that exist in the contemporary world. J.

Sugar and spice and puppy dog tails: part two of three

The world around us—the scientific world, the world of medical professionals—has become confused about gender and about gender-related issues. At one time, attraction of one man to another or of one woman to another was condemned as sinful and as shameful. Then such attractions were classified as a form of medical illness. Then they were classified as inborn tendencies, not subject to choice and not blamable as sin. People were told to accept one another without judgment, even to think that God created people with those tendencies. Meanwhile, professionals debated the extent to which same-sex attraction is genetic and the extent to which it is formed by childhood influences. Regardless of the conclusion, professionals generally asserted that such preferences are part of a person’s identity. They say that it is harmful and wrong to try in any way to change a person’s preferences or to show any disapproval of those preferences.

Meanwhile, the same professionals have found ways to change a person’s biological gender through a combination of surgeries and hormone therapies. This permits those professionals to claim that a person’s gender identity might be different from that of his or her biological sex. At the same time that they warn us not to challenge a person’s preferences, they demand that we respect their gender identity to the point that we acknowledge their right to undergo expensive medical treatment to change the gender of their bodies. (And in some cases they would have the cost of that treatment shared by all of us in this culture through insurance plans and even through government subsidies taken from taxes that we all pay.)

The irony, in case you missed it, is that scientists are now saying that each human contains elements not detectable by science, elements pertaining to gender identity, that are more important than the information science gathers about a person’s gender and identity through scientific methods—that is, by examining the shape of the body or studying the chromosomes found in each cell of the body. After centuries of denying the existence of a human soul, science has rediscovered the soul and insists that physical reality must sometimes be altered to match the identity of the soul and to preserve the health of the soul. Science insists upon the importance of this new discovery without asking any questions of those organizations in the world that have always said that there is a soul and that always have insisted that physical reality, as detected by science, was of secondary importance when compared to that of the soul.

The scientists and medical professionals may want to consult experts with greater training and understanding regarding matters of the soul. As one of those experts, I would tell them that the Creator who fashions both body and soul would not accidently place a male soul into a female body or place a female soul into a male body. Granted, in certain rare birth defects (once called “hermaphrodite” but now called “intersex”) biological distinctions are unclear and medical intervention is helpful to provide a gender identity. In the vast majority of cases, though, the biological sex is clearly indicated at birth. If, in the years after birth, an individual expresses confusion about his or her gender identity, helping that individual explore and understand the meaning of masculinity and femininity is healthier, more productive, and less expensive than inviting the individual to choose a gender and then providing medical intervention to make that person’s body conform to that identity.

Most children and adolescents are confused about many aspects of their identity, including gender. They receive mixed messages from society, from their peers, from their family, and from their own feelings. They may be curious about how the other sex feels. A boy with nurturing feelings toward others or a girl with ambitions to lead may conclude that they were born in the wrong body. Such children would be helped if the adults in their lives, instead of allowing them to doubt and question their identity, would assure them that all people have some qualities generally called masculine and other qualities generally called feminine. Some men lead successful masculine lives while maintaining nurturing attitudes that might be considered feminine. Some women become inspiring leaders without surgery that turns them into men. Moreover, gender stereotypes change from place to place and from time to time. Decisions about personal appearance that seem traditionally feminine—in matters of hair, makeup, jewelry, and clothing—were all very masculine in Europe a few centuries ago. Even the Bible does not reinforce all gender stereotypes that are considered “normal” today. Godly men cry, while the ideal wife of Proverbs 31 is involved in business and financial dealings. J.

Sugar and spice and puppy dog tails: part one of three

Last month I got to spend a few days with family. One evening at the dinner table, my grandniece (who is eight years old) began reciting the famous saying about what little girls are made of and what little boys are made of. I don’t know where she learned that old-fashioned rhyme—I’m sure it wasn’t in public school or at the public library. I bit my tongue to avoid saying, in the presence of children, that the poem must have a lot of additional verses now that we are living in the twenty-first century.

More than ten years ago, my very liberal friend said in an off-handed way that “we now know” there are more than two genders. At the time I made no response, figuring that this was just one of the very liberal things he liked to say, trying to shock the rest of us. But one of my daughters, who is in nursing school, has been required to learn and remember all the categories of gender that medical professionals now recognize. While I did not want to know this information and deliberately chose not to research such matters, it helps those of us who live in the twenty-first century to know what some of the confused people near and around us are saying about gender.

So, according to my daughter’s classes, gender can be divided into four categories: the biological category seen at birth in the body’s organs (and also present in the chromosomes that exist in every cell in the body), the category of identity, the category of presentation, and the category of preference.

The Bible indicates that God created people male and female, both in his likeness and image. It also suggests that God’s intention was a partnership of marriage consisting of one man and one woman. The only exception specifically endorsed by the Bible is that of the solitary life (Matthew 19:10-12). In fact, in several places the Bible addresses the attraction of men to men and that of women to women, always equating that attraction to sin and rebellion. The teaching is slightly muddled by reports of godly men (Jacob, David, and Solomon, among others) having more than one wife; but the overall pattern of one man plus one woman making a marriage persists through the Bible. This arrangement is chosen by God to depict his love for his people, making an attack upon marriage equivalent to an attack upon God’s love as well.

While Jesus insisted that God’s perfect plan is that a man and a woman are united as “one flesh” and that no one should divide them, he also acknowledged that (in a sinful world) divorce sometimes happens and must be permitted even under God’s Law. Different Christian communities have applied that teaching in different ways, but most teach that abuse or abandonment by one partner permits the other partner to seek a legal divorce without sin, asking worldly authorities to certify that the marriage has already been broken by the sin of the partner. In recent times, application of this teaching has been lax, allowing some partners to obtain a “no-fault divorce” and to marry new partners without any discussion of the reality of sin, the need for repentance, and the importance of forgiveness. So-called “serial monogamy” is as much against God’s will as any other violation of God’s definition of marriage. The standards of Jesus are remarkably high in this regard, as he identifies even fantasies about unfaithfulness as adultery (Matthew 5:28). We cannot blame the world around us for being confused about marriage—and about gender issues as a whole—when the Church cannot be consistent about when God permits sin and when God condemns sin, when God forgives sin and when God hardens the hearts of sinners, when God loves and accepts sinners and when God turns his back on sinners.

One famous episode in the Bible is recorded in John chapter eight. Jesus was in Jerusalem, and the local authorities brought to him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They wanted to know if Jesus would condemn and punish her sin or if he would accept her and forgive her in spite of her sin. Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” One by one, her accusers left, until only Jesus and the sinful woman remained. Jesus asked if no one was left to condemn her. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said to the woman. “Go, and sin no more.” The Bible says nothing about the woman’s partner in her sinful act of adultery. In my opinion, had that woman’s partner been another woman, Jesus would have said the same words. He would have shared his forgiveness; he would also have told her not to repeat her sin. J.