Syrian Refugees

There is a terrible tragedy in Syria: 4.3 million refugees from Syria alone, according to UN sources, and 200,000 killed already in that country. When we heard about it, we knew our country would do the right thing as we always have.

So far, Germany has accepted 38,500 Syrians since 2013 and Canada has accepted 36,300 in the same time period. As the richest nation in the world, the beacon of democracy and compassion, and a nation made up almost entirely of immigrants (except for Native Americans), I knew we would be the world leader in caring.

We have given the most in humanitarian aid, it is true, and in federal fiscal year 2014 (which ended in September 2014), we took in 105 Syrians. In Fiscal Year 2015 that ended this last September, we accepted 1,682. Now President Obama has proposed taking 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US, with strict background checks but no screening for religion.

I knew that our citizens, as people of faith and good will, would react strongly to this tepid response, not worthy of a caring nation. I was right about the strong response, but wrong about the content. A Bloomberg poll just days old found that 53% of Americans want to refuse all Syrian refugees, while an additional 11% would only accept Christian Syrian refugees. Only 28% supported President Obama’s minimal-caring response.

Republican presidential candidates reacted immediately, demanding that we stop all Syrians from being resettled in the U.S. Ben Carson, running second in the Republican race by some polls, says we have compassion for the refugees, but not in our country. I heard an interview in which he called for a “pause” until conditions change, by which he implied no refugees until the terrorism threat is gone.

Donald Trump, the leader in the Republican race, said back in July that most of the Mexican immigrants are criminals, rapists and drug smugglers. Now he would not only bar Syrian refugees, but he would give the government the power to shut down mosques that are deemed extremist and to require Muslim people to carry a special ID card showing their religion.

Our own Montana Representative, Republican Ryan Zinke, echoed the party line in a statement quoted by the Helena Independent Record on November 17: “In the case of the Syrian refugees, most of them are male. Most of them are of military age, and yes, it is a significant security issue.”

The UN claims that half of the refugees are women. The State Department says that half of the Syrian refugees in the US are women, and half are children. About one-quarter are over 60. So Rep. Zinke was a little confused on his one “fact,” when he should have said 2% of the Syrian refugees accepted by the US so far are males of military age. However, he was accurate with his appeal to fear. He is in tune with a large majority of Montana and American citizens.

This is the not first time we have responded to great fear this way. A Washington Post article from three days ago revealed polls taken in the lead-up to World War II. In July of 1938, during Nazi atrocities in Germany and Austria, Fortune Magazine asked:

”What’s your attitude towards allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US?”

The people polled responded:
With conditions as they are, we should try to keep them out: 67%
We should allow them to come, but not raise our immigration quotas: 18%
Don’t know: 10%
We should encourage them to come, even if we have to raise our immigration quotas: 5%

A little later, in January of 1939, the Jews in Germany were being actively persecuted (which started with the Nazis requiring them to wear a special form of ID – the Star of David – to indicate their religion so they could be singled out). A Gallup poll at that time asked:

“It has been proposed to bring to this country 10,000 refugee children from Germany – most of them Jewish – to be taken care of in American homes. Should the government permit these children to come in?”

The people polled responded:
No: 61%
Yes: 30%
No opinion: 9%

No wonder that now 47 House Democrats just joined Republicans to pass an anti-refugee bill, with a veto-proof majority. No wonder that every Republican presidential candidate wants to bar all Syrian refugees. No wonder that so far 29 Republican governors and one Democratic Governor say they want to close their states to these people. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is also a Republican presidential candidate, stated that he would not accept any Syrian refugees, and would refuse even “a three-year-old orphan’s” entry. He is undoubtedly representing the views of a large majority in his state.

I just re-read part of the Christmas story from the gospel of Matthew. “Now after they [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.”

Good thing that Egypt didn’t have a Republican Governor and an American electorate at that time.

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Yogi Berra

If you are an American who knows and cares nothing about baseball, you still know at least two baseball players’ names – Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth was arguably the greatest player of all time, but there is no argument that he is the greatest star. His outsized personality was as important as his towering home runs in that regard. Americans love an overweight, non-athletic looking man who dominates his sport, and then, in response to a question about how he can justify making a bigger salary than the president of the United States, says, “I had a better year than Hoover.” He did, too.

We like our heroes brash and cocky. You have to know baseball to appreciate one saying attributed to the Babe: “If I tried for them dinky singles, I could have hit around six hundred.”

If you don’t know anything about baseball, you have still heard of another man who did not look like a great athlete: Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. You may not know that as a catcher he led the New York Yankees to win the World Series ten times. You may not know he was an all-Star for 15 consecutive years who is in the Hall of Fame, or that he led both the Yankees and the New York Mets to the World Series as a manager. But you know his name because of yogi-isms, or witty malapropisms attributed to him.

“You can learn a lot just by watching.”

“Nobody goes there [a popular restaurant] anymore, it’s too crowded.”

“It’s déjà vu all over again.”

“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

“We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Now that he has died, you may hear or see twenty more on TV or in the paper. He was so popular that he had a cartoon (Yogi Bear) named after him.

Some of the yogi-isms seem to imply that he was dim-witted. He is once reported as saying “You better cut the pizza into four pieces rather than eight. I don’t think I can eat eight pieces.”

There are at least two ways to take this. Either the man is quite stupid or else he has a fine sense of humor. My guess is that his deliberate humor gets tossed in the same basket with his occasional malapropisms.

There is a current comedian whom I enjoy, Steven Wright, who spouts Yogi-isms, but there is no question that he does it on purpose because he does it on stage:

“What’s another word for ‘thesaurus’?”

“I was trying to daydream, but my mind kept wandering.”

“What a nice night for an evening.”

“I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and almost went back in time.”

“Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while I was a suspect.”

So what will Yogi Berra’s legacy be? My friend, Craig Wright, is a sabermetrician and baseball historian who can assess his baseball legacy and where he fits among hall of fame players. I can’t wait to hear his verdict.

Others will point to Yogi’s philanthropic endeavors including the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, New Jersey.

If legacy means how long you are remembered, it’s my guess that Yogi will be remembered for some of his yogi-isms for as long as English is spoken in something like its present form. I suspect that the number of yogis-ims will grow over time, because he is a larger-than-life figure. Much like George Washington and the cherry tree, we will hear of things he could have or should have said. I heard Yogi being interviewed on TV when he said, “I didn’t say half the things I said,” and I know he meant it.

How long a person is remembered is like a rock being dropped into a lake. The ripples go on for a long (or short) time until they finally disappear. A person’s influence, though not as measurable as a ripple, is longer lasting, because of the impact for good or for ill on others. For instance, my mother and father had a powerful positive impact on the lives of a great many people, not just family members. Each of us influenced by George and Dorothy Harper changed the way we treat others, who in turn interact with still others. In short, there are some who never met George or Dorothy Harper, but whose lives are better in small part because of the way they lived. I didn’t say that as clever as Yogi, but Yogi would understand it.

I didn’t know Yogi, but it appears he had a tremendous impact on his friends, teammates, and the game. Los Angeles Dodgers manager, Don Mattingly, who wears number 8 to honor Yogi, said, “The reason he was so beloved, it wasn’t really about his career even though he was a great, great player. It was about what a great person he was, the way he treated people, how humble, sincere, kind he was to people. That’s really what defined him and I think it’s why he’s touched so many peoples’ lives.”

That’s the way we should all live, Yogi. Without you, “the future ain’t what it used to be,” but we can do our small part to reclaim the future of humility, sincerity, and kindness.

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50th Anniversary

Our good friends, Gayle and Deanne Sandholm, recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Since Pat and I are still 12 years short of that mark, we are suitably impressed.

Gayle and Deanne retired from pastoring and lawyering, but they never tire of being good folks and doing good for the world. One of the best things they have done to help humanity is the family they have raised. Their children and spouses, grandchildren and now one great grandchild are all spectacular human beings.

Here is the amazing Sandholm immediate family.

Sandholm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sandholms are family oriented, but like all good families, they include us and others in their large extended family.

Sandholms 50th Wedding Anniversary

If you drew a picture and showed it to me,
And said, “This is how the whole world ought to be –
All different but part of the same family.”
I’d say, “That looks like the Sandholms.”

If you said, “Imagine a couple who care,
With children and spouses beyond all compare,
Grandchildren and great grandkids ever so rare.”
I’d say, “You’re talking the Sandholms.”

If you said, “All children should be greatly prized,
And be given the chance to grow up strong and wise
With their own opinions, no matter their size.”
I’d say, “Have you met the Sandholms?”

If you said, “Yes I’ve met Deanne and her Gayle
And as fifty-year role models, I think they fail
Because no mere mortals can follow their trail.”
I’d say, “Well, we can’t all be Sandholms.”

We can’t all be Sandholms, the fortunate few;
But they let us in, so we know what to do —
We’ll reach out to others who need family too.
In that sense we all can be Sandholms.

If you drew a picture and showed it to me,
And said, “This is how the whole world ought to be –
All different but part of the same family.”
I’d say, “Yes, we’re part of the Sandholms.”

With love, Rusty and Pat Callbeck Harper
August 28, 2015

As it is said, “A house built on sand will not stand, but a home built on Sandholms will last forever.”

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Literary Archaeology

While cleaning the basement this week, we came across a whole box of my father’s pastoral memorabilia, including some sermons, weddings, funerals, and speeches to sports banquets. His wit and insight stand the test of time.

I’m using my literary archaeology skills to put some of the loose papers into the right file folders by subject topic. Using my form critical skills, this one is on a long thin notepad like Dad often used to write as a cheatsheet for one of his talks. Like other notes, this one has abbreviated versions of stories or thoughts he intended to use, in the right order, but not necessarily with the connecting thought structure on which the stories would hang.

The trouble with this note is that not only can I not imagine the logical outline, I can’t even figure out what type of speech this might be.

Here are his notes as he wrote them. (You need to know that Hal and Nancy are my siblings.)

Declined hearing aid: “At 91, I’ve heard enough.”
____
“Mommy, if we give him the money, will he let us go?” (Rusty’s note: no doubt a child in church)
____
Sins of omission: the ones we should have committed
___
Nancy and neighbor boy (Catholic, Robinsons) splashed each other, decided to take clothes off. Nancy looked “Gosh, I didn’t know there was that much difference between Catholics and Protestants.”
___
Moved to Helena, church named St. Paul’s
Hal: It must be a franchise. We had one of those in Nashville too.
___
“God make me a good boy if you can. If you can’t, don’t worry about it ‘cause I’m having fun the way I am.”
___

What do you believe about God?
“I believe what my church teaches and believes.”
And what does my church ____________
“My church teaches and believes what I believe.”
What do you and your church believe?
“We believe exactly the same thing.”
___
“Deadly” is a good adjective to use with serious. I’ve never heard the phrase “deadly humorous.”
___
Coolidge never smiled. Will Rogers was bet that he couldn’t make the Pres laugh. When introduced, Rogers: “I’m sorry, I didn’t get the name.”
______________________________________________

Since I never heard my father give a poor talk, I’m assuming the worshippers, mourners, wedding celebrants, or athletes hung on every word and were moved, comforted, given hope, or got fired up depending on the setting. If you were there, I hope you got what you wanted, and may I add my own support, condolences, congratulations or fanatical encouragement, although somewhat belatedly.

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Sitting on Top of the World

You don’t get the World Cup Finals without a lifetime of preparation. Mine started with my first soccer (football to the rest of the world) game, an international friendly on Mexican soil. The American squad were all Montana high school students on a church trip to Patzcuaro to help build the first stone silo in the state of Michoacan.

I had never played or seen a soccer game, but I was a three-sport letterman. I was in very good shape, as were my teammates. Early in the game (match to the rest of the world), my friend Gary Curtis made use of his very long legs to prevent a Mexican youth from dribbling around him. We were feeling pretty cocky. The Mexicans changed tactics, instituting a ball-possession, one-touch-pass offense that had us chasing the ball the rest of the match. These were very talented athletes, some possibly as old as the 9th grade and others more like 5th- or 6th- graders.

I did score once when I sprinted past the defenders, ran onto a long pass from Gary (it might have been a shot), and bounced the ball off the side post and into the net when I fired from close range on the wide-open goal. The Mexicans were making what I thought was a congratulatory sign, but have since learned that it is the signal for off-side.

Later I moved from a one-game player to wise coach of my daughters’ tiny-person soccer teams in Helena. Somebody who knew the 7 rules of soccer gave a quick overview to various parents who were coaching the different teams of what we called swarm-ball.

Pat and I can sympathize with the parents of American Hope Solo and Japanese Ayumi Kaihori, because we are also parents of goalies. Robin didn’t last long in the position. We have a picture of her as the goalie doing a cartwheel while the ball was rolling past her into the net. She did become a state champion gymnast, but never hoisted a soccer trophy.

Molly, though shorter, was an outstanding goalie. At the state meet for the U-12 traveling teams, the head Helena coach told us she was the best goalie at the meet. That didn’t make us feel any better when we were rushing her to the hospital after she bent over to collect the ball near her goal and her defender made a mighty kick to clear the ball, but caught Molly in the head instead.

Being a player and coach isn’t enough. We began our World Cup preparations in February when the FIFA web site laid out the rules for buying tickets online. We made the expensive decision to attend the final game, not knowing who would be in it. I got online 2 hours after it opened, and got two tickets in the top of the stadium, two of only about 3000 left in the 53,000+ seat arena.

We knew all the hotels in Vancouver would be booked (they were), so we scheduled a room with a dear friend in Bellingham, Washington, only 53 miles away (farther in kilometers). We got to spend the 4th of July with her and her sons, their remarkable wives, and the terrific grandkids — Kevin, Kate, Jacob, and Ellis. We got to see fireworks, but the real ones would come the next day in Vancouver.

In Vancouver, our pre-game preparation consisted of trying to find a place to eat that didn’t have lines more than a block long, and sharing the excitement of the thousands of Japanese fans and and tens of thousands of American fans in face paint and Alex Morgan or Megan Rapinoe jerseys. I had on my Abby Wambach shirt, while Pat looked ready to play striker in her Sydney Leroux gear. Every now and then on the streets outside the stadium, someone would start shouting “USA” or “I believe that we will win!” or “Marry me, Alex” and others would join in the cheer.

We sat near the top of the stadium, but marveled at how well we could see the whole action on the field, so much better than on TV. A couple of rows behind us was a woman who carried a yellow card in her pocket and waved it whenever the ref didn’t call a yellow card penalty when a Japanese player fouled an American one. On my side was an Australian who married a Canadian woman. He said he was leaning toward the US side, but wouldn’t mind seeing a Japanese victory.

We sang the US anthem lustily. Everyone rooting for the US, which was the vast majority, seemed to be singing. We were respectful as the Japanese players and coaches sang along with the solemn and beautiful Japanese anthem.

We had hardly sat down when Megan Rapinoe slotted a ball into the box and Carli Lloyd smashed it home. We we looking right down the goal line, so we could see it perfectly. Then it was replayed on the jumbotron screen which was about at eye level for us. We were high-fiving everybody around us, although the couple behind us weren’t very good at it (we all were to get more practice at it). The Australian-Canadian man was high-fiving in all directions, and had clearly made his choice.

A couple of minutes later, Carli Lloyd’s second goal looked like an instant replay. The noise was deafening. Pat and I hugged. She exclaimed, “This might be as exciting as the birth of our children!” The third goal by Lauren Holiday almost caused the roof to blow off the stadium. Good thing the center of the roof was open. The fourth goal was another Carli Lloyd one, this time from the midfield line 60 yards away when she saw the Japanese goalie Kaihori was too far off her line. We were getting hoarse already.

Pat began to worry. She says you can’t trust sheer joy — it tempts the fates. She was right. The Japanese women did not give up, but started connecting on their ball-possession, one-touch-pass offense that made me think of those sneaky Mexican children who kicked our butts in that “international friendly.” They did score twice, but Tobin Heath added an insurance goal for the US and we all held our breath through the final few minutes until the closing whistle prompted a collective sigh of relief followed by a prolonged ear-damaging-as-much-as-any-rock-concert cheer.

Virtually all 53,324 of our closest new friends stayed in their seats until the awarding of the trophies to Hope Solo for goalie of the tournament, Carli Lloyd for player of the match and player of the World Cup, to Japan for second place, and the US for first. The US fans were very respectful of the Japanese, never booing, and always applauding. The only booing occurred when the FIFA officials marched out to award the trophies.

The only thing that could have made the day better would have been if Sepp Blatter, the president of the corrupt FIFA organization, had handed the trophy to Carli Lloyd and then had been grabbed by two Canadian Mounties, hoisted overhead and carried off, with the the Canadians in the crowd chanting,”We have an extradition treaty with the US.”

As it was, we had to settle for a bucket-list thrill, right up there with having children — just as noisy but less painful for Pat.

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All Good Things…

All good things must come to an end. Some bad things – death, taxes, Congress, reality shows – go on forever, but not so with good things.

True, some good things end but come back again. The baseball season ends with the World Series, which is both the high point of the season and the start of the long, dark winter without baseball games. Granted, it comes back in the spring, but that is a long time to wait.

Summer in Montana is a great thing which ends anywhere from mid-August to early September, but it always comes back. Well, not every single year, but most years. I’m sure there are other good things that end and come back, but none are coming to mind right now.

Most good things end and then are gone for good. That sounds wrong, doesn’t it? If something good is gone, we should say it is gone for bad. The Eureka TV series (the best sci-fi sitcom ever) eventually went through a time warp and disappeared. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 1907 and 1908. They haven’t won it since and won’t. That is just as well, because Cubs fans wouldn’t know what to do if the loveable Cubbies became everybody’s favorite.

One great thing is heading toward an end. Our church choir director, Dave Buness, indicates that by the end of June he will step back from directing us to simply being one of the basses in the back row of our choir.

Of course, he’s not just any bass. Christmas can’t really come if he doesn’t sing “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.” His deep, mellow voice makes you happy, like a child carried in your daddy’s arms, like all is right with the world. I want to sing like Dave when I grow up.

When Dave and his wife Fay (our spectacular pianist/organist) were moving from Missoula to Helena, the pastor of the Missoula First United Methodist Church called my father who was then pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist here in Helena. As I recall the story, the pastor said something like “Meet them in the driveway and sign them up before they go into their new place in Helena, because there will be phone calls waiting for them to play/conduct for other churches.” He was right, and apparently Dad did, because Fay and Dave have been the backbone of our church for 41 years.

Yes preaching is important, and we have been graced with exceptional preaching/preachers since the early 1960s, but music may be even more essential to the pilgrim’s progress of the soul.

Some say our choir is the best church choir in the state. I know Dave has sent tapes of us that won us the opportunity to travel to Seattle and Spokane to sing for regional choral music conferences. Of course, if somebody didn’t like us, we wouldn’t be likely to hear about it. There is surprisingly little trash talking between choirs.

Even more important than having a lot of people making good music together is the bond we have developed. Every vibrant church is built on small groups where people can make a connection with each other and care for each other. This is much more important than the theology that is preached. Our church choir is our primary “small group” of friends we see most Sundays and about whom we care deeply.

Part of the reason for that is Dave’s relaxed style of conducting. He is a funny man himself, and tolerates us making jokes too. The altos are always making jokes about the tenors, for example. (Maybe they are being serious rather than joking, so that’s not a good example.) We laugh a lot. Most conductors wouldn’t tolerate it, but there is more than music going one here — there is friendship.

Dave teaches us the mechanics of singing and more. He may say, “When you are singing ‘The Lord loves a happy face,’ it is OK for your face to look happy.” Or he might say, “I missed that entrance, so I’m glad nobody followed me.” We all knew what he meant when he said he wanted a full choir on Christmas choir Sunday “so we can honk it.” He sometimes forgets and says “Men come in here. Tenors too.” We tenors are mostly baritones pretending to be tenors, so we don’t take offense. Oh yes, and one of us is female, so I presume she isn’t easily offended by the men and tenors talk.

Dave had the wisdom and patience to let us struggle through language issues, which can be terribly divisive. Some of us in the choir were insistent on making the language inclusive of all people, not just men. Changing words from “men” to “all” and the like is hard enough, but changing male pronouns for God is even harder for some. If we learned it as a child, then it feels right, even though we know as mature adults that God does not have male gender, nor are the attributes of God “male.” (Jesus’ core belief that God is love is closer to traditional stereotypes of females than males, but it is frightfully difficult to alter things we “knew” as children.)

Dave allowed us time and space to work through those issues, and our theology is both more mature and our group stronger because of it. We are also closer because of the choir potlucks at Dave and Fay’s beautiful house on the side of the Elkhorn mountains.

It won’t be the same without Dave as our director and we are starting to mope already, but Fay is staying on as our wizard. She can play the different parts and emphasize one depending on which section needs more help. She can hear everything we sing while she is playing. She is very gentle in suggesting to Dave how certain things should be sung, when her views are at variance with his. This leads to the choir aphorism, “Fay is always right.” She is not only always right, she is also very funny, which makes her being always right a lot more enjoyable.

Fay will still be playing, so at least this good thing will never end. Never. We won’t allow it. Now that’s good news for this otherwise sad Friday. Thanks Dave from the bottom of our hearts.

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Signs of the Times

Do you know your sign? I’m a Sagittarius. Almost everybody knows theirs, a relic from the ancient past.

I looked on the web site of the American Association of Astrologers. They had this take on history: “While earliest astrology was used to bring order out of apparent chaos, it was soon used to predict weather patterns, primarily for agricultural purposes. It was eventually broadened to include forecasts of natural disasters and war and other events in the course of human affairs. Amassing successes in these fields, it was a natural progression for astrology to be used as counsel for kings and emperors, and, in time, for all of us.”

There you have it. Astrology persists because it works. If you read your horoscope religiously, there will be some times every year when the prediction exactly fits what happens. The trouble is that most of the time, it doesn’t. Real believers remember the hits but not the misses.

From an early age, I couldn’t figure why a person would have certain personality traits because they were born on a particular day, say at one minute before midnight on November 22 and thus a Scorpio, but their identical twin, born at one minute after midnight on November 23 would be completely different because they were born under the sign of Sagittarius. The second identical twin’s character would more closely resemble every single baby born in that hospital and in fact around the world on November 23 than it would resemble its twin.

I have always had trouble understanding how adults could fall for this sort of thing, but then we Sagittarians are a skeptical lot.

Don’t even get me into how the stars know to influence children differently with the different time zones. Do the stars know about daylight savings time? If so, would they explain to me how cutting off one hour on one end of the day and sticking it on the other end makes the day longer? I also want to know why we don’t use daylight savings in the winter when we could use the extra hour.

That brings me to the joys of retirement. I don’t have to work, but I could take on a project if I wanted. I’m thinking I would like to write astrological horoscopes, but only for one day each year.

Here are your horoscopes for Friday, April 10. After consulting a Google map of the stars (since it was cloudy last night), I predict:

Aries: Today you will be aware of your nose at inopportune moments.

Taurus: DON’T GO OUT OF THE HOUSE!

Gemini: Today is a good day to quit your job. Be sure to tell your boss what you think of him/her.

Cancer: You will be perfectly healthy today, but let’s face it, with your sign….

Leo: If your name is Leo, you might as well confess, because they are going to find out what you did. If your name isn’t Leo, you should look for your wallet.

Virgo: You really have to stop telling people you are a virgin. Even your children don’t believe you.

Libra: Read a book at the library on women’s lib and liberation in Liberia. Drink a libation to liberty.

Scorpio: Sell! Sell! Call your broker immediately. It may be too late.

Sagittarius: You will be accused of something you didn’t do. It was your evil twin who is a Scorpio. They do that sort of thing.

Capricorn: Do you have a sense of foreboding? You should. Something really bad is going to happen. I could tell you what, but I won’t. You will know when it happens, because it will happen to 1/12 of the people on earth today.

Aquarius: Your spouse will engage in aberrant behavior today. It might include writing the Friday Good News.

Pisces: Keep looking over your shoulder. They are following you.

Avis: You never win, do you? You always come in second. Always a runner-up. Get used to it. Today will be just like every other day.

Halitosis: You have so little self-awareness that you have trouble keeping a lover or even a close friend. Consider becoming a hermit.

Well, that’s it. Print this horoscope and save it for next year so I can save the effort of sending it out again.

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What Do You Say?

What do you say when someone’s father dies? I’m sorry? I feel for your loss? I don’t know, and I probably never will know.

What did people say to me and my mother and our extended family when our father died? I’m not sure. There is a numbness so that we don’t pay attention to the words. Maybe that’s good.

My brother-in-law, Randy Fuhrmann, lost his father recently. The end was inevitable and probably welcome, but I expect that, like my father’s death, it comes as a shock, even when you know it is coming and it is the end of a long and excellent life.

I knew Bob Fuhrmann not as father of my brother-in-law but as a bureau chief in the Montana Job Service. He was in charge of half the Job Service offices in the state. I had the privilege of subbing for him for a brief time. I forget why he was out, but I was appointed as the temporary bureau chief until his return.

In talking with the different offices across the state, I discovered that Bob was loved by the people he supervised. I say “loved”, far beyond respect, because he always treated people kindly and fairly, while still insisting on excellent public service.

His mantra was “Plan your work and work your plan.” That is what his offices and employees did. It wasn’t just the planning and the working that succeeded; it was his pervading sense that what we were doing to help people find jobs and all the other services provided by the Job Service were very important and the people we served were very important. It was a simple belief that was contagious.

What do I say to Randy? I just don’t know. Maybe just that I love him and I respected his dad?

AJ Kanthack is a tall, handsome, mop-headed young man who is a Helena High basketball star. Known as a great defensive player, he was leading the AA Montana High Schools in steals when the last stats were published.

He had every reason to look forward to the game last night – a playoff game at home against Missoula Sentinel to determine who would go to the state tournament. The Helena lads lost in double overtime, but the sadness pervading the gym was not for the near-win, but for AJ and his family, whose father died unexpectedly the night before.

Like my father’s death, Chris Kanthack’s passing was a public affair, no matter how private the family might have wished it. Of course AJ played in the game, and played very well. His father would have wanted it. His mother, whom I greatly respect from the time I worked briefly with her, and his older sisters had to endure a long line of friends and strangers hugging them and struggling to find words. I’m sorry for your dad/husband. Is there anything we can do? It can’t have been easy to endure all that attention the day after.

Women and girls tend to do more hugging, so comfort comes a little easier in hard times. What do men and boys do? The Helena High team all wore black t-shirts during the warmup with the logo “CK4U”. I assume it meant, “Chris Kanthack, this game is for you.” They played great and came up just short.

The Missoula team was also aware of the tragedy, but what do young men say to each other? After the game, the teams always line up and shake hands. This time, every single Missoula player and coach hugged AJ.

It said more than words can say.

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The Root of All Evil?

There was a sad article in the Helena Independent Record on Wednesday. Jon Stewart is leaving the Daily Show later this year.

In Montana, we love the Daily Show because two or three times each legislative session Stewart would highlight something incredibly dumb done by some Montana legislator or by some candidate for statewide office. The whole nation would assume that if a majority of us elect these people to represent us, then, in terms of mental acuity, surely we must rank below swamp people who like to wrestle alligators. That is just fine with us, because it prevents a swarm of people from moving here.

Also in Wednesday’s paper was an article about a Republican from Missoula. If you don’t live in Montana, I must explain that Missoula is our Berkeley, our New York City, our farthest-out-place-you-can-imagine. A Republican in Missoula is as rare as a Democrat in Eastern Montana. David Moore is a Republican state representative from there.

So what issue would galvanize Democratic voters in Missoula to vote Republican? He wasn’t proposing a solution for the abnormally high incidents of wacko behavior by heavily armed persons in Montana from the Unibomber to militias to white supremacy groups. He wasn’t speaking out against outside billionaires like the Koch brothers who are holding town meetings in Montana to pressure Republicans into rejecting Medicaid expansion that not only helps the poor but is supported the majority of business interests in the state as an economic stimulus.

No, Rep. Moore introduced a bill in the House Judiciary because, in his words, (OK, in his words as reported by the IR, which might not be exactly the same thing), “I want Montana to be known as a decent state where people can live within the security of laws and protect their children and associates from degrading and indecent practices.” This is something we can all support.

Rep. Moore was responding to a nude bike ride in Missoula last August. Now, I must explain that those of us outside of Missoula figure that if such a thing is to take place, Missoula would be the logical choice, but clearly the people of Missoula don’t think so.

Rep. Moore’s bill, according the IR, will expand the indecency laws to include not just nudity, but also “any nipple exposure, including men’s.” Furthermore, using the IR’s words: “The Republican from Missoula said tight-fitting beige clothing could be considered indecent exposure under his proposal.” After the hearing, Moore told a reporter, “Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway.”

Jon Stewart, are your people paying attention? Will you air a segment warning that men in swimming trunks will be arrested at Canyon Ferry beaches this summer? Will male boaters have to wear long-sleeved shirts? Will yoga be banned in Montana except for people in long underwear and overalls? Is the root of all evil really yoga pants?

No, the Daily Show is more likely to focus on the racism of banning only tight-fitting beige clothing. Shouldn’t dark brown or black or yellow or even pale white be banned depending on the color of a person’s skin? Should red be banned on anyone sporting a sunburn? Surely every person, regardless of skin color, should have the right to be arrested for indecency while fully clothed but in the wrong color.

While this may make national audiences again laugh at and make a mental note to avoid Montana (wasn’t Deliverance filmed there? they will ask), for once the Daily Show will be missing the point.

A large part of the heterosexual male brain is wired to want to look at persons of the female persuasion who fit a not-completely-defined but nearly-universal stereotype of beautiful. If the female person is wearing few or no clothes, part of the male person’s brain is stimulated beyond reason. Well beyond reason.

We heterosexual male persons also have another part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, which tries to override the part of the brain that is beyond reason in most circumstances. When that override fails, we exhibit irrational behavior. Sometimes this includes violence in some form, because we are fighting against ourselves internally. Is it an accident that virtually all the harm done in the world by humans is perpetrated by heterosexual adult males?

In order to lessen our negative impact, it has been a universal tendency to negate the internal male battle between overstimulation and the failure of reason by externalizing the threat. “She made me do it,” is our defense, so we must control their behavior in order to control ourselves. Do you think it is an accident that the most violent places in the world right now in the Middle East also have the most restrictive rules about female behavior and dress? If making love isn’t an option, making war is almost mandatory.

Rep. Moore is actually on the right track to protect us males against ourselves by banning any type of clothing that would cause a prudent legislator to have imprudent thoughts. When my beautiful daughters were teenagers, I would have voted for a legislator who wanted to make burkas mandatory. But, like ISIS, Rep. Moore has gone too far.

These laws should not apply to everyone, but only to those who by their genetic predisposition and deliberate diet and exercise regimen cause themselves to be attractive. Yes, their clothing should be strictly controlled, for males or females. However, the rest of us should be able to wear whatever we darn well please, because we can’t cause indecent thoughts in somebody else no matter how hard we try. I guess if you want this proposed law to apply only in Rep. Moore’s district, that would be OK with me. When we elect people, we deserve what we get. Jon Stewart has made a living reporting on that. But when Missoula elects a Republican, the rest of us don’t deserve the result.

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Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Choir

I have learned just about everything I need to know in life by singing in the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church choir. Some who travel say it is the best church choir in Montana. Dave and Fay Buness are our director and pianist/organist, and they are both spectacular musicians as well as wise and funny human beings. We learn music and more:

1. Music is a central part of life, not just the background to my life’s movie.

2. We aren’t afraid to change the words, to make them more inclusive. We respect our tradition, but always try to go beyond its limitations. Tradition and progress are both essential to a full life.

3. Musicians develop their own vocabulary. I don’t just mean the Italian words. Dave may say, “I hope you all be here next Sunday so we can honk the Mark Hayes piece.” We all know what he means. In tenor-speak, a “horse” is a person with a voice strong and good enough to carry a whole section, if necessary. In our language, this is the ultimate musical compliment. We have at least one horse in all four sections. Some, like Kathy Bramer, can carry either the altos or sopranos, upon request. My sister Nancy is a horse. My brother Steve and I are not. We join the others in adding bulk to the sound. “Bulk” doesn’t sound as good as the sound sounds, but it’s crucial for a good choir, (though grammatically dubious in this sentence.)

3. When an alto asks Fay to play the correct rhythm on bar 52, it’s almost always to provide correction for the tenors, not the altos.

4. Based on a very small sample size, sopranos marry basses and altos marry tenors. If you know this, you can skip match.com.

5. As my brother Steve said, “There are three kinds of musicians – those who can count, and those who can’t.” This has no relevance for women; but for a man, not being able to count usually makes him a tenor.

6. For real success in life, you have to do your best in concert with others doing their best while striving to obtain a worthwhile goal. Individual success is no substitute for this.

7. You have to listen to each other, or it all falls apart.

8. There is no substitute for volume. When Bob FitzGerald does “Great Gettin’ Up Morning,” he doesn’t need a microphone to be heard. Even by the radio audience. We often get a standing ovation. Though Fitz has a pleasant voice, there is no substitute for volume. Not quality, not rhythm, not emotion, not lyrics. (Learn this and you understand the basics of all politics.)

9. Laughing is as essential to life as music. We laugh a lot in our rehearsals, because we have a number of very funny people in addition to Fay and Dave. We laugh a lot in our lives because life is good.

10. “Making a joyful noise to God” is a philosophy that leads to joy and wisdom. If you have had bad experiences with shallow church people who have made religion sound like a life-strangling straitjacket, you may need to substitute “the universe” or “love” or “the mystery” or whatever you are tentatively calling that which goes beyond the evidence of the five senses. Make a joyful noise to it.

11. Fay is always right. That is the specific application of the general rule. Dave is the conductor, but when he tried to get us to ritard (choir-speak for the Italian ritardando or slowing down) during the end of one phrase, Fay told him it needed to stay up to tempo. One of the basses foolishly said, “Do it the way you want, Dave.” Dave replied, “I am going to go home with Fay. We’ll discuss it then. There are still things I have to learn.” I said, “You’ve already learned everything you need to know, Dave.” That conversation summed up every happy marriage that I have ever observed (or been a part of.)

What else does a person need to know?

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