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As a lifetime reader of thousands of books and a collector of thousands, I have had good reads and terrible reads. My Morrison County (District 54) of 25 students in grades 1-8 had a 300-book library. I read them all, regardless of topic. I majored in English, Journalism, and Creative Writing in college, and my Master’s Degree is in English literature. I just finished a great read I couldn’t put down—except I did once in awhile because it was 546 small-print pages. The book is “Blind Ponies” by Stanley Gordon West, a Minnesota self-published author who died in 2015 of Parkinson’s. It’s a novel about Sam Pickett, an English teacher and basketball coach at the real town of Willow Creek, Montana, which West fell in love with while in the state. Willow Creek High School had about 20 students with six boys of varying athletic ability on a basketball team that has lost 93 straight games, when suddenly a 6-11 Norwegian exchange student named Olaf is placed in their town who has never played basketball. That’s where the fun and story begins.
West has filled the book with small-town characters such as one-handed Grandma Chapman who has a 60-year old parrot that swears beautifully and a well-traveled three-legged tomcat she loves. Hazel is the huge school cook who has eaten a lot of her food but volunteers to take to the court to help Sam teach his players the pick and roll. There are dozens of other fascinating characters who rendezvous at the Blue Willow Café, the only restaurant in town.
West named his book after a Crow tribe legend. While camped along the Yellowstone River the Crow warriors went on a long hunting party to prepare for the winter. When the hunters returned to the campsite, they discovered that the women and children had been decimated by smallpox. Overcome with grief and sure they would join their loved ones in another world, they blinded their ponies and rode them off a 60-foot cliff. A character in the book summarizes life (and the book) in a quote: “Sometimes it seems to us that’s all life is…just arranging the furniture and keeping house on the deck of the Titanic.” It’s the best read I’ve had in a long time.
Why Are Churches “Depopulating?”
We have reached a point in Minnesota where church attendance is in the tank and only one in five Minnesotans claims a church “affiliation,” an absolute all-time low since only the Sioux and the Chippewa worshipped here. And, about a couple of weeks ago, Ron Way tossed a grenade into the sacristy with his column “What Churches Get Wrong (And How To Repopulate Them).” Way claims churches have been “hijacked by TV scammers, narrow-interest evangelicals, and unending sex scandals.” (I see the bankrupt Roman Catholic Diocese of Minneapolis has dumped $210 million into the hands of accusers of priests.)
After being a Roman Catholic for 27 years and a Lutheran for 59 years, I think Way has summed up my feelings in two dramatic sentences: “Frankly, the institutional church has itself to blame. In a period of social divide and gathering doubt, it’s a bit puzzling why so many mainline churches seemed mired in orthodoxy and creedal dogma that take us on Sunday morning jaunts through antiquity before sending us out and into today.” We have many people who say they believe every word in the Bible—but then exhaustively cherry-pick to find something to believe in. We have residents in the so-called “Bible Belt” who supported slavery and killed people to enjoy the financial proceeds. After all, the Bible approved slavery—for minorities. How did the Ku Klux Klan ever gain so much power—and worship—in the Bible Belt? By enforcing Jim Crow laws with lynchings and assaults.
John Crea of St. Paul and I are basically on the same page when it comes to the Bible. In his letter to the Tribune, he outlines a good reason why so many people are rejecting religious affiliations: “The stories in the bible are myths, and like fairy tales for children, they hold lessons for the reader. Unfortunately a lot of those lessons, we now know, are very negative and inhumane. That’s why we need to cherry-pick. I believe that pastors could do a lot of good at their Sunday sermons if they came out and said that some of the biblical stories are rubbish, pure and simple, instead of trying to twist those stories around to make them palatable. Like the story about Abraham being ready to sacrifice his own son to God—that’s downright scary!”
Do You Think All Of Your Dogs Will Join You In Heaven?
A few years ago a few Protestant ministers were pushing the idea that all the dogs you had in your lifetime would end up in heaven with you. As our family has had a dozen dogs to this point in our lives, that premise gave us a start. All dogs have idiosyncrasies, some more than others. Our first dog was a black and white named Sergeant given to us on New Topsail Island, North Carolina by one of my redneck Marine sergeants from Kentucky. Sergeant had been taught well before ending up with us. He hated blacks. Sergeant loved our two-year-old daughter. Any white person could approach the playpen without one bark. If a black person came within a hundred yards, he would go into paroxysms of racial rage. He was finally run over by a black truck driver when he tried to attack a garbage truck.
We had a purebred Cairn Terrier for 17 years named Peter O’toole (he looked English). At 10 pounds bred to take on badgers, he was a tough little nut always in trouble with 80-pound dogs. He died of old age and dog dementia. Flicka was a beautiful Norwegian Elkhound that got so attached to the family she bit an uncle and had to be transferred to a farm. If she’s in heaven, she probably bit St. Peter after she got through the gate. I could go on about others…. To have them in one heavenly home would be an absolute disaster unless they became born-again Christian dogs.
The reason I bring this up rests with a book called “The Book Of Revelation” that will be published soon. It was reviewed in Harper’s Magazine and contains St. Augustine’s answers to questions about how humans will look in heaven. The 5th Century bishop and Roman Catholic scholar has all the answers. In what form will the dead be resurrected? He says those who died as babies will be resurrected to their fully matured “perfect stature” which was theirs “potentially.” People who died past their prime will not be restored to a younger age. St. Augustine says if a person who lost hair or fingernails (and I suppose, toenails!) the original number of hairs or nails will be restored. Bald people will get all their hair back but not all its length. Likewise, people who were obese or emaciated will be “restored” in heaven to their ideal proportions. All blemishes and scars will be removed--except for wounds on religious martyrs. These will be considered marks of honor and “spiritual beauty.”
In his most challenging section, Augustine says a body that decayed, turned to dust, got eaten by animals, consumed by fire, or turned into liquid will be restored to its original body. What happens if a person has been eaten by another person? Simple. Those parts will also be returned to the original body! If a cannibal is too short of flesh, God will restore his flesh from the atmosphere. Will biblical wonders ever cease?
If The Meek Inherit The Earth-Will They Have To Be Rich?
I remember when Christians around the earth fought to have copies of The Ten Commandments carried down the mountain on stone tablets by Charlton Moses Heston posted in every public building. We had a copy posted near the front door on District 54, Morrison County. I remember some of the many lawsuits demanding that they either stay on the walls or be removed. I haven’t heard much from Christians lately about those “rules” for chaste, obedient, faithful, and loyal living. Have the stone tablets turned into wet pasta? We now have a large sect of right-wing Christians who believe in the prosperity gospel. Evidently they got this nutty idea from some obscure proverb cherry-picked in the Bible. They preach that this gospel from outer space teaches that the rich are rich because God has bestowed His blessings upon them—and that the poor are poor because He is punishing them because of their immorality! That’s a real winner for many. Most white Pentecostal fundamentalists don’t bother mentioning the Ten Commandments anymore. Why should they? They got what they wanted when they elected the prodigal Donald Trump! He was suddenly pro-life, rich, blessed by God—and a white racist. These positions involve the major goals of Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists.
Religious scholar Kate Bowler published her book “Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel” in 2013. After the 2016 elections she said: “Trump is the first American president whose only religious impulses arise from the American prosperity gospel.” Remember when Trump said he never had to forgive anybody? We all know how religious he is. His only religion is himself and his precious bank account. No matter. Trump is rich because God approves of him as president. In fact, Franklin Graham of Billy fame proclaims that God put Trump in the White House. Perhaps Franklin has not read the Ten Commandments lately. He excuses all of the sexual dalliances of Trump. He says Trump’s sex life is “nobody’s business.” Trump’s paying off Stormy Daniels and other prostitutes with hush money is “nobody’s business (?).” Although fact checkers have said Trump has lied over 5,000 times since taking office, Graham insists he believes Trump when he said he didn’t do it: “He said he didn’t do it. So okay, let’s say he didn’t do it. But we just have to think of our country.” That’s a good idea.
Evidently Graham doesn’t believe that Democratic governor Kate Brown of Oregon was chosen by God to run the state because he told a Christian rally of 12,000 near Portland she should convert to Christianity. He is against her re-election. Brown, who has spent some time in India, is a yogi who practices yoga and meditation. She says: “I believe very much that each of us is a spiritual being, and that’s how I see the world.” Graham said this prayer at the rally: “Let’s pray for your governor…Wouldn’t it be wonderful if she got saved? Amen. And Lord, I pray that she would come to know your son Jesus Christ as her lord and savior one day.” I suppose a Bible cherry-picker can find some support for the idea that only Christians will get to heaven. Christ seemed more interested in the poor than the rich and what was in the Ten Commandments, not the mysterious prosperity gospel. But what do I know?