Sunday, December 31, 2006

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2006

1) A Father's Story . This was a story about my children and my dealing with their autism. Easily the best thing I've ever written. My first published work as well, as it became the genesis of a feature story on autism in our local paper. Landed both of my children on the front page as "teasers" to publicize the story. For further reading see We Interrupt This Broadcast .

2) The Freshman and The Homecoming Queen and The Anchor Bay Experience: Postscript . These stories were my reflections on a turbulent time in my life, my years in Anchor Bay Junior High and High School. I made my encounter with the homecoming queen, Leslie Pesta, the center of the story. What resulted was my becoming friends with Leslie, now Dr. Leslie Kaye, as well as my being able to contact James Gambino, the vice principal that I hated, and make peace with that time. I feel like I finally have some closure to those years.

3) Titus Chu. This would include the following posts:
When Is A Denomination Not A Denomination?
Deluge of Hits
Response From The Church In Cleveland
Response From The Church In Toronto
The Titus Chu writings weren't necessarily my best, but they brought me a lot of hits. I felt that it was important to stand up for the man and show that Living Stream Ministry was becoming everything it says that it isn't.

4) 1987: The Winds of Change . This got me no attention, but I think that it's great writing.

5) Take Me Out To The Ballgame . A good reflection on why baseball is so enjoyable to me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Question of Racism

Let’s take a short quiz. I will give you a series of scenarios and you will tell me if A) the person in question is a racist; B) the person in question is not a racist; or C) insufficient information.

1) A friend of yours tells you that he isn’t attracted to black women.
2) A little girl names her black doll “Niggey”.
3) A person uses the word “Nigger”.
4) A person sells “black memorabilia” on the Internet.
5) A person uses the phrase “some of my best friends are black.”
6) Someone begins a sentence, “I’m not a racist, but….”
7) In reviewing applicants for a job, an employer has a white person and a black person who are equally qualified. He hires the white person.
8) A white guy wears a dashiki.

Give yourself 0 points every time you answered A, 3 points every time you answered B, and 5 points for every time you answered C.

Now for the answers. If you scored less than 40, YOU FLUNKED. If you answered anything but “C” to any of these questions, YOU FAILED. You have been influenced by the current racially hyper-sensitive atmosphere in our country, and are suffering from induced guilt.

Let me explain.

1) A friend of yours tells you that he isn’t attracted to black women. This person could very well be a racist. They could also be telling you that they aren’t attracted to a certain physical type, in the same way that some people aren’t attracted to thin women, fat women, blondes, or brunettes. There isn’t enough information here.

2) A little girl names her black doll “Niggey”. Once again we don’t have enough information to say whether this person is a racist. It could mean that this person was JUST A LITTLE GIRL. Let’s use some common sense here.

3) A person uses the word “Nigger”. This is where the hypersensitivity of our country comes into play. If I use the word in the sentence “So-and-so called someone a nigger,” that usage in and of itself isn’t racist. If someone calls a person a nigger, then you might have a case; but even in that situation we don’t know. They could have just been angry and blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Maybe they are joking around with a person they are friends with, a person they know won’t be offended, a person who might come back with a charged term of their own. Was Chevy Chase a racist when he used the word in a sketch on Saturday Night Live with Richard Pryor? Not enough information.

4) A person sells “black memorabilia” on the Internet. A little more problematic, but we still don’t have enough information. I think this so-called “black memorabilia” should just be destroyed. They are products of racism. The person selling them on Ebay in the 00’s isn’t necessarily a racist. Tasteless- definitely. Racist- we don’t know.

5) A person uses the phrase “some of my best friends are black.” Not enough information. Maybe some of my best friends are black. In our current climate, however, you can’t use this phrase without being forced to wear the scarlet “R”.

6) Someone begins a sentence, “I’m not a racist, but….” Not enough information. For some people this is the classic sign that a person is about to utter a racist statement. I believe that people feel the need to use this phrase when they know that someone out there is bound to misunderstand them. See question #5. In a land where we see racism under every rock, people are going to feel defensive. Do you blame them? Once you are branded a racist, there is no forgiveness.

7) In reviewing applicants for a job, an employer has a white person and a black person who are equally qualified. He hires the white person. Not enough information. Did he flip a coin? Did he throw darts at the applications? We don’t know how the decision was arrived at. You may think that in these situations the black person should get the nod in order to rectify past injustices; I would tend to lean that way, but not doing this does not mean that a person is a racist.

8) A white guy wears a dashiki. This isn’t racism- this is a white guy being stupid. Not enough information.

Thank you for playing. As a parting gift, Vanna will be handing out healthy doses of liberal guilt at the door.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Joys of Ebay

Ya gotta love Ebay, don't you? I mean, where else can you find just scads of worthless crap. I mean, besides my closet.

I was doing a little Ebay surfing tonight and decided that I wanted to find just the worst stuff imaginable. Didn't take long before I found what is known in collector's circles as "black memorabilia." No, I don't mean an Oprah Winfrey autograph. I don't mean a suit coat owned by Barack Obama. I mean... well, let me show you what I mean.

(The captions and descriptions in bold are real. The comments in between are my own. Anyone easily offended can back out now.)

Watch for hours as the elegant snowflakes glisten and float gently around this lovely victim of oppression. The 'OFFICIAL' NEGRO BLACK MAMMY snowglobe stands 4" tall with a 3" base. This snowglobe will make the perfect gift for collectors of 'Black Memorabilia'"

Well holy crap.

But wait... There's more.

WATERMELON NEGRO girl huge advertising SEEDS pin

"Here's an unusual 3.5" beautiful pin; ..excellent condition.. the pin uses vintage artwork from advertising archives that employed racial stereotypes for product recognition.... this pin was made as original collectible c. late 1970s utilizing earlier product tin advertising artwork."

good God.


"Unusual Cast Iron 4 eyed Lady Bottle Opener. Approximately 4" x 4". Holes in ears for easy mounting. This is a stock photo. Very nice item for a collector of bottle openers or to give as a gift for someone who has everything."

yeah, if the person who has everything is missing that special something racist from their collection.

mayo's tobacco co. rolly polly brownie tin Negro Mammy

"Here she is . The one you've been looking for. As described in one of the books, "Negro Mammy" 7" x 19" cir at widest part. Pull off lid. She is in beautiful condition for a tin made around 1909/1912 She does have 3 or 4 little indents 1/2 dia. or less on her head.You can see them in the pics.Also there are 3 pin head size spots on head where paint is missing.This certainly does not detract from her overall beauty.The bottom has normal wear.I'm not sure but I believe collectors call this fine condition. Very close to pristine. Good luck on your bidding!!"

and I saved the worst for last....

Circa 1950 " Ten Little Nigger Boys" by Pyramid books

"Published by "Pyramid Publications - Sydney" probably in early 50's late 40's. Drawings by Mollie Quick. Cover is damaged to top and bottom of spine and staples that hold pages have come away from cover. Inner pages are in excellent condition, though 1st page has owners name in ink " Garry Torres." Excellent collectors book."

And this went for $157 American.

Oh... my... God.

As Beavis and Butthead would say, "What the hell is this crap?"

Sunday, December 17, 2006

What we desire

We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all. Nothing strange about this. It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth…. But actually, what we desire is not “the truth” so much as to “be in the right.” To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature. What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not “the truth.” It is only an argument strong enough to prove us “right.” And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.

Why do we want to prove them wrong? Because we need them to be wrong. For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth; our selfishness becomes justice and virtue; our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned. We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as “truth.” What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved “right,” and our iniquity be vindicated as “just.” This is what we have done to pervert our natural, instinctive appetite for truth.

No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent. No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war. And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us. Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.

--Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p.78.

Great quote from a great writer. I found this in a pile of old notebooks this morning; this particular notebook had nothing but Merton quotes in it. I think my New Year's resolution, at least one of them, will be to dive back into Merton.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What is missing from this picture?

You know, you spend your whole life knowing that people are eventually going to die, and yet when those people you love do die, it’s never at the right time.

In 1996 my grandfather woke up and was unable to walk. If they found out why, no one ever told me. He was taken to the nursing home that was connected with their assisted living complex. In a letter that my grandmother sent that week, she described going to visit him and seeing him sitting at a table in a wheelchair. That is one scene that I still can’t handle, and I never saw it, just envisioned it.

Piedmont Gardens is where he spent his final days. He stopped eating, and regardless of the pleas of the staff, he still refused food. It wasn’t long after that point that he died.

My grandfather was 82 when he died, yet his death came too soon. I met my wife the following year, and he never got to meet her. He would have loved her like a long lost daughter. In the year 2000 my son Matthew Stanley was born, named after my grandfather. He never got to meet his first great-grandson. We never got to take a picture of four generations.

You know, you spend your whole life knowing that people are eventually going to die, and yet when those people you love do die, it’s never at the right time.

My aunt Evelyn was the person who relayed current information on my grandfather’s health to us via this new thing called e-mail. Our relationship changed; whereas at one time I was the kid and she was the aunt, now we were friends. I even got to dispense with the formality of calling her “Aunt Evelyn”; she was now just Evelyn, my aunt, my advisor, my friend.

In April of 2001 I had just got home from work, and my mother called. Evelyn had suffered two heart attacks- did I get the e-mail? I hadn’t had time to check my e-mail yet, so I hung up the phone and went to the computer, only to have a revelation- how would I have gotten an e-mail about this? Evelyn was the one who always sent these kinds of e-mails. Within the hour my mother called me back. Evelyn had been taken off life support. She was dead.

That really sucked.

I hadn’t been able to make it to my grandfather’s memorial service, but there was no way that I was going to miss this one. I flew out to California where my grandmother met me and my sister at the gate. My grandmother had always been a lively woman, a woman who rode in a hot-air balloon when she was eighty, a woman who worked as a church secretary for 60 years; but at that moment she looked every bit of her 84 years. For the first time, she looked old.

We did the traditional MacNair things while we were out there- we looked at pictures, we ate Chinese food, we laughed as well as cried. Throughout it all something didn’t seem right. In my words at the memorial service I gave voice to that feeling- we may have been sitting around the Chinese food table, we may have filled 12 seats, but there were two spots empty. Without my grandfather and Evelyn there it wasn’t the same. It never would be.

I still think about Evelyn at least a couple of times a week. I still have her e-mail address in my contact list- I can’t bring myself to delete it. I still have e-mails from her. She was a special ed teacher, and she would have been a great help in sorting out issues regarding my children’s autism. But worst of all, I’ve lost a best friend, and I don’t have many of those to spare. Her death hit me hard.

You know, you spend your whole life knowing that people are eventually going to die, and yet when those people you love do die, it’s never at the right time.

Three years went by. In 2002 my daughter was born, and we named her Rebecca Evelyn, after my aunt. My grandmother continued as a secretary, continued being the matriarch of the family, but she also displayed her age more and more. She would forget birthdays. She would forget that I had just sent her pictures of the kids. These may seem like small things, but my Grandma Mac just didn’t forget things. In 2004 she had a stroke. In typical Grandma Mac fashion, she worked hard at physical therapy, and after a few weeks she was able to move back into her apartment. Soon after that, she had a second stroke, and she lost the fight. She died in May of 2004.

I flew out to speak at her memorial service. She had the whole plan laid out a long time beforehand, including the music and speakers, and I doubt that I was on her list, but I insisted. A service designed to celebrate her life had to have a member of her family on the bill. Her family was the most important thing in the world to her. There were times that she could be a little overbearing in letting us know that we hadn’t written her in a while, but that wasn’t because she was trying to control us, it was because she wanted to hear from us. Well, she heard from us- my sisters read Scripture, my brother sang, and I was the first speaker.

That week we had the sorrowful task of cleaning out her apartment. I felt like a vulture. We were encouraged to take things of hers, but I didn’t want to. It felt wrong. I ended up taking some pictures, my grandfather’s masters and doctoral theses, and his cap and stole from his doctoral ceremony. I only took one of the two dozen grape sodas she had in the refrigerator, for what reason we will never know. Nor did I take any of the buttons she had carefully sorted in old Band-Aid containers. I did take the birthday card she had set aside for me- for my 50th birthday, which would have taken place long after she had died. We spent the time wrapping plates, looking at pictures, and laughing, telling stories about how she is probably sorting angel feathers now and drawing up a weekly itinerary for Jesus Christ. That was my grandmother- always the organizer, always the writer of letters, always the leader of the family.

You know, you spend your whole life knowing that people are eventually going to die, and yet when those people you love do die, it’s never at the right time.

Things are different now, and Christmas time always serves to remind me of that. There is no big box coming from California now, no advent calendar, no book of meditations from my Uncle Mark (Evelyn’s husband). I don’t make shoo-fly pie every year anymore, and even though we still hand out presents one at a time and open them one at a time before we hand out another round and repeat the process, I wish we would just get on with it.

Death really sucks.

But the memories linger.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The twelve people I would invite to dinner

A popular party game is having people list the twelve people from history, famous or not, whom they would invite to dinner. I've done this many a time, and here is the list of people I usually come up with.

1) Jesus Christ
2) Adolf Hitler
3) my grandfather, Arthur Stanley MacNair, Jr.
4) Pope John Paul II
5) Witness Lee
6) Watchman Nee
7) Charles Manson
8) Kurt Cobain
9) John Lennon
10) Ty Cobb
11) my friend Cathy
12) Howard Dean

Go ahead, discuss.