Category Archives: Current events

Thoughts on Kirkwood

As a newspaper editor, I supervise a terrific staff of bright, talented reporters who cover City Council meetings all the time, and their safety was the first thing that came to thought when I heard about Thursday’s shooting in Kirkwood, Mo., in which a man walked into a council meeting and shot seven people, including a newspaper reporter.

As my imagination conjured up visions of some angry, misguided person standing up in a meeting somewhere and shooting one of my beloved staffers, I began searching my thought for a practical response to this possible threat.

What came to me was the memory of a healing I witnessed a few years ago.

I was attending a rather acrimonious City Council meeting in a small town where there was some talk of demolishing historic properties that had fallen into disrepair. Although all the people in the room seemed to have the same goal — to preserve the properties in a safe, attractive way — they also seemed too busy rehashing old disagreements to set aside their differences and work toward that goal.

Idiots, I thought. They’re going to throw away these gorgeous old buildings over a bunch of stupid infighting.

A split-second later, I corrected myself: There were no idiots in that room. There were only reflections of divine Mind, and it was my responsibility to refuse to see them as anything less.

Instantly, the whole tone of the meeting changed from one of acrimony to one of camaraderie, and that meeting became the catalyst for a communitywide grassroots effort to make the area more attractive to tourists.

Thinking of that healing — which began to reveal itself the moment I changed my thought about the people involved — I realized that the best thing any of us can do to prevent a tragedy like the Kirkwood shootings from happening again is to change the way we think about the people in our own communities. Rather than seeing them as enemies, fools, or lunatics, we need to acknowledge their true identities as God’s children — perfect reflections of divine Love — and refuse to see them as anything less.

It’s been my experience that a little bit of Love will dissolve a whole lot of anger … and it certainly can’t hurt.


200 lashes

If you’ve ever worked for a newspaper, you know that holidays — especially those that fall in the middle of the week — typically bring with them a series of jacked-up deadlines, vanishing sources, staffing issues, and other problems that make life in the newsroom so inconvenient that you start to question whether holidays are even worth the trouble.

Today being Thanksgiving, yesterday was such a circus that I didn’t even have time to read the paper until this morning, when I was clearing the kitchen table and my eye fell on this article about “Qatif girl,” a young gang-rape victim from Saudi Arabia who now faces a six-month jail sentence and 200 lashes because at the time of her kidnapping, she was sitting in a car with an unrelated man, which Saudi law forbids.

The article left me feeling like a bit of a heel for grumbling about the Thanksgiving-related hassles at work — especially considering that the Constitutional amendment that guarantees me the right to do that work also guarantees me the right to hang out with anybody I want, anywhere I want, without government interference.

The article also left me with visions of VW Rabbits and biodiesel conversion kits dancing in my head, and I began mentally composing a sharply worded “don’t make me boycott you” letter to King Abdullah to try to pressure him to override the court and rescue this girl from a lashing.

After crunching some numbers, however, I realized that the threat of one driver taking one fuel-efficient Scion off the road wasn’t exactly going to leave the wealthy Saudi king quaking in his boots.

Humanly, there didn’t seem to be much I could do about the situation. But I remembered a quote from abolitionist Wendell Phillips that Mary Baker Eddy mentions in some of her writings: “One on God’s side is a majority.” And I thought of the verse from James that promises, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

As I considered the Qatif case, I realized I’d seen variations on this scenario before.

Remember the group of Jewish leaders who caught a woman in the act of adultery and asked a popular preacher what they ought to do with her?

Two thousand years later, we’re still talking about the preacher’s response: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

In thinking about that story, I realized that I didn’t need to be afraid for this girl. While Jesus might not be standing in the courtroom, telling the judges that he who is without sin should take the first swing, the ever-present Christ is right there with all of them, speaking to human consciousness, just as it has been doing since the beginning of time.

I also found it very helpful that our Thanksgiving Lesson this morning at church included the following bits of wisdom from Mrs. Eddy:

Divine Love corrects and governs man.

Let us rejoice that we are subject to the divine “powers that be.”

I am praying to understand that better in the coming weeks as the Saudi courts consider this young woman’s appeal.

Have a good Thanksgiving, wherever you are.





To my texture-obsessed eye — honed by too many years behind a 35mm camera loaded with black-and-white film — Miss Belvedere is quite possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

More importantly, like any public art installation worth displaying, she nudged me to think.


I thought about all that had happened in the world since that old Plymouth went into the ground 50 years ago: the JFK assassination, Vietnam, the moon landing, the first Earth Day, Watergate, my own birth, the decommissioning of Route 66, the space shuttle explosions, the first Gulf War, the rise of the Internet, the Sept. 11 attacks, the second Gulf War, and a thousand changes that haven’t crossed my mind.

I thought about lonely old men and women, forgotten by their families and neglected by society, wasting away in dark places unseen by the world.

I thought about prisoners of conscience, trapped in dank cells and subjected to inhumane conditions for years on end.

I thought about the transient nature of beauty as society sees it, and the fact that the most beautiful people I know are all older than Miss Belvedere, whose graceful lines are unbroken by the rust and debris that coat her body.

I thought about the people who came back to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina to find their homes looking exactly like that car, their interiors rotted by stagnant water and their exteriors corroded by rust, debris, and the strange organisms that grow in soggy, dismal places where most life won’t.

I thought about John’s Modern Cabins and Larry Baggett’s Trail of Tears monument, quietly decaying along the shoulders of the Mother Road in rural Missouri.

I thought.

I thought….


P.S.: Click here to view the slideshow I put together with images I shot today at Tulsarama, and see what comes to your thought when you look at what 50 years in a vault will do to a classy lady … and what time and water can’t touch.

Bean check

Anybody in Tulsa who hasn’t been under a rock for the past week is aware that Friday was the day the city unearthed the 1957 Plymouth Belvedere that was buried under the courthouse lawn 50 years ago.

We found out a couple of days ago that water had infiltrated the concrete vault that contained the car. That should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the plight of historic gas stations, many of which have been orphaned by the insurmountable costs associated with removing leaking underground gas tanks from the property. Many of the tanks in question are — you guessed it — about 50 years old.

Several people have made comments online, suggesting that the water in the vault was somehow a reflection on the people who buried the car or on Tulsa itself — as if it is the organizers’ fault that 1957 technology wasn’t quite sufficient to protect a car from the ravages of 50 years’ worth of weather, jarring from traffic on the nearby street, and the innate permeability of concrete.

The upshot of the naysayers’ comments is that the organizers of the first Tulsarama! were stupid to bury the car and that the layer of rust covering the Belvedere when it was finally unveiled makes the entire idea an abject failure.

The organizers were stupid, all right: stupid like a fox. All 7,000 seats for the unveiling sold out weeks ago, and I’m told that the line of people waiting to see the car come out of the ground Friday afternoon stretched for blocks. I personally talked to people from as far away as Norway who had come to town for the express purpose of seeing the Belvedere. It seems like everybody I talked to Friday night was from out of town, out of state, or even out of the country. I have no idea how much money is flowing into Tulsa’s economy this weekend, but I suspect the number is going to end up in the millions.

Bury a golden car, dig up a gold mine. If that’s failure, I don’t want to succeed.

Besides all that, I get the impression that the whole buried-car idea was done largely on a lark, and I don’t think anybody who was around back then had any real belief that the car was going to come out of that vault looking like it just rolled off the showroom floor. I’ve always suspected the whole thing was done more along the lines of the infamous Herrin High School 1992-93 Art IV Bean Check.

When I was a senior in high school, four guys in my art class decided — for no apparent reason — to wrap a clump of cold baked beans in a paper napkin and hide them in a seldom-used drawer.

Every few weeks thereafter, when the teacher was out of the room, one of the guys would yell, “BEAN CHECK!” and the four of them would scramble to extract the beans from the drawer, examine their condition, wrap them back up, and put them away before the teacher had time to come back and see what they were up to. If you can imagine a cross between a science-fair project and a Chinese fire drill, that’s basically what it was.

I have a pretty strong hunch that the decision to bury the car and dig it up again 50 years later was motivated by something close to whatever insane whim got hold of my classmates 15 years ago. I really think that what we have here is, in essence, a Bean Check on a grand scale.

For my classmates, the joy in the Bean Check was not some ridiculous belief that the beans would survive in pristine condition. The joy was in doing something utterly silly — and in satisfying their curiosity about what would happen to the beans if they were stored in a wildly inappropriate location for an extended period of time. Same thing goes for the Belvedere: Tulsa got to do something utterly silly, and then 50 years later, it got to satisfy its collective curiosity about what would happen to a car if it were stored in a wildly inappropriate location for an extended period of time.

I think the Belvedere is great. It’s a history lesson that gives you a little insight into the sort of crazy things that captured the public’s imagination in 1957. It gives a bit of insight into the technology of the day — which is exactly what a good time capsule ought to do. It’s a bit of a science lesson — if we didn’t know it before, we are all now well aware that concrete is permeable. It even strikes me as being a sort of public art display, vaguely reminiscent of Prada Marfa.

And on a more practical note: While there are a few shortsighted individuals who think the winner of the car is getting a raw deal, I think the vehicle’s fame makes it a prime candidate for eBay; if the winner is unhappy with his prize, he should be able to get enough for it at auction to buy his own ’57 Belvedere in showroom condition, if that’s what floats his boat.

Personally, though, I would do no such thing. If that car were mine, I wouldn’t sell her, I wouldn’t put her in a museum, and I wouldn’t try to restore her to mint condition. If she were mine, I’d call up the best bunch of gearheads I could find and set them to work replacing her guts, installing hydraulics, and turning her into the sweetest rat rod you ever saw.

And then I would spend the next 50 years kicking butt and taking names at every car show in the United States. 🙂


UPDATE: The Tulsa World has video of the unveiling here. Something I consider even more precious and beautiful than the Belvedere was unveiled this weekend, too — and is in immaculate condition — but I’d rather show you what it is than tell you. Stay tuned; I hope to return with photos in a few hours.

Light the darkness

Like so many others, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the shootings at Virginia Tech.

After reading about the shooter’s background, I’ve come to the conclusion that he was a sad, desperately lonely individual who was operating under the erroneous belief that he was unloved and perhaps unlovable.

Humans have an innate need to be loved. And why wouldn’t we? After all, the Bible teaches us that God is Love, and that man is made in His image and likeness. As images of divine Love itself, we can’t help wanting to give and receive love. It’s part of our identity, and it’s as essential to our survival as air or water or food.

Can you imagine going through life feeling absolutely convinced that no one loved you? What a horrible existence! No one is truly unloved. But it’s easy to believe otherwise if every person you meet avoids you or rejects you. It’s hard to feel the presence of divine Love when it never seems to be reflected in your direction.

All of us need to remember who we are. We need to express our identity as reflections of divine Love, and we need to go out of our way to be sensitive to each other’s pain and to reach out with love and kindness to those who are struggling.

If a person seems to be having a hard day, we need to say something to him, even if it’s something as simple as, “Hey, man — you look kind of down. Can I do anything for you?”

If a person seems strange, we need to pray to correct our thoughts about him. We need to stop thinking of him as the weird guy from American lit class or the creepy guy down the street and start thinking of him as a child of God who has the ability to love and be loved just like the rest of us. (I think this may be the most valuable thing any of us can do to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.)

And finally, if Love tells us to do something, we need to do it — whether it’s picking up the check for the lonely-looking guy having lunch by himself at the diner, feeding a stranger’s parking meter, or simply offering a smile and a kind word to someone who looks unhappy. You know the line in the Bible about entertaining “angels unawares”? Sometimes you don’t just entertain angels. Sometimes you are called to be the angel. Pay attention, and don’t miss those opportunities. They may be more important than you realize.

Remember my riff about sparks in the dark? Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light, and hatred cannot exist in the presence of Love. It may seem small, but every little spark helps light the darkness and affirm the presence of Love.

Go make some sparks today.


Justice and affection

Anybody who hasn’t been under a rock for the past couple of days is undoubtedly familiar with the story about the North Carolina attorney general dropping all the charges against the three Duke lacrosse team members who were falsely accused of raping and beating an exotic dancer who was hired to perform at a team party.

This case holds some valuable lessons, both for those involved and for those watching it unfold in the news.

Richard Bach once said something that kind of sums up the first lesson:

Live never to be ashamed if anything you say or do is published around the world, even if what is said is not true.

In other words, live your life in such a way that a lie can’t stick to you. A lie with a hollow center is a fragile thing, easily crushed. But one of error’s favorite tricks is to construct a lie around a single grain of truth, much as an oyster creates a pearl, because the presence of a small amount of truth lends credibility to a lie and cloaks the whole mess in ambiguity, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

In the case of the Duke lacrosse players, it appears that the district attorney heard “stripper,” “party,” and “underage drinking” and conjured up images of a malevolent Animal House.

I’m not judging these young men, and I’m not for one instant suggesting that they deserved what happened to them. They didn’t. But I think it’s safe to assume that had their social lives involved cappuccino and poetry slams instead of booze and strippers, they wouldn’t have had to deal with any of this nonsense.

Their experience should serve as a warning to the rest of us: The best protection against false accusations is to conduct ourselves in a manner that leaves absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind about what kind of people we are. If we’re known for being decent, honorable, classy, and tasteful, it will be virtually impossible for anyone to pin outrageous lies on us.

The second lesson from all this is harder to grasp. It has to do with the delicate but extremely important balance between justice and affection.

We’re not talking about huggy, cuddly, emotional affection. We’re talking about separating a person’s actions from her real identity as a child of God and making sure our own decisions are motivated by a genuine desire to be just — that is, fair — rather than allowing emotion to drive our actions. (This type of affection is synonymous with terms like “compassion” and “mercy.”)

The North Carolina attorney general demonstrated the union of justice and affection when he declined to file criminal charges against the woman who falsely accused the Duke students. Recent reports suggest that neither her mental health nor her grasp on reality is very solid, and it appears that her accusations were a symptom of mental illness rather than a malicious attempt to ruin these men’s lives. The AG recognized that illness is probably best handled with treatment, not punishment, and he had compassion for this woman and her apparent problems.

Will the men hurt by her false claims be as quick to forgive and let her doctors deal with her? I don’t know. I’ve been in the position of having to decide how to respond to someone who lied about me and stabbed me in the back, and my heart goes out to these guys as they grapple with the question of whether to sue this woman for her lies.

Regardless of what they decide to do next, I hope that they will let Principle — Love — guide their decisions. When we listen patiently and follow our highest sense of right, we get better results than when we allow emotion to cloud our judgment. The prosecutor in the case is learning that the hard way. Hopefully the men hurt by his mistake will learn from it as they begin to pick up the pieces and go on with their lives.

In the meantime, I remain deeply grateful that the innocent parties were exonerated.