Dear Jay and Gina: An Open Letter

The five “increasingly savage paragraphs” of this obituary were published in the Redwood Falls [MN] Gazette on June 4. That same day, Stu @RandBallsStu posted it on Twitter. By the time I heard about it three days later on All Things Considered, it had been read by hundreds of thousands of people and written about in respected news media across the globe. Responses have ranged from humor to outrage, from “honor thy father and mother” to “hell YESSS!” and “love it!” Devotees of social media have dredged up the entire family tree, and Jay Dehmalo (he changed his name–ever so slightly!–to avoid association with his past) has subsequently shared more sordid family secrets. This post is my open letter to these two self-absorbed siblings who decided that the record of their mother’s youthful indiscretions and their longing for her death belonged in the tabloids–including the Daily Mail.

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Ennui; or, The Cat Who Read Mallarmé

La chair est triste, hélas! et j’ai lu tous les livres.
[The flesh is sad, alas! and I have read all the books.]

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Graduation on My Mind

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Yellow Fleas

© Jason O’Meara, “Pet Informed”

The end of Reconstruction in 1877 gave birth to the Solid South. In both Presidential and state politics, the South retained its essentially single-party identity until the passage of the Civil Right Act in 1964. During that time, Southerners would reportedly vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket.

My own voting history has followed a a similar pattern. As one of the first beneficiaries of the Twenty-sixth Amendment, at the age of 19 I donned my Republican cloth coat and voted for Richard Nixon in 1972. My self-imposed penance for that youthful indiscretion has been long and ardent. I have embraced the soul of the liberal Democratic vision of America–the belief that the government has the responsibility to take care of the marginalized, to stand for racial justice, and to protect the rights of the weak against the tyranny of the majority. However, in recent years I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the excesses of my left-leaning bedfellows and have come to understand that those who lie down with yellow dogs get up with yellow fleas.  Continue reading

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Reconsidering the American Consensus–and Rehabilitating the 1950s

The Mering thesis and the roots of consensus history
At the University of Arizona in the mid-1970s, John V. Mering inculcated his disciples with a devotion to the consensus historiography whose bedrock was The American Political Tradition: And the Men Who Made It by Richard Hofstadter (1948). As a reaction against the economic interpretation of progressives Charles and Mary Beard, the consensus school minimized class conflict as a motive force in American history and found in its place a startling lack of any sort of conflict:

The fierceness of the political struggles has often been misleading: for the range of vision embraced by the primary contestants in the major parties has always been bounded by the horizons of property and enterprise. However much at odds on specific issues, the major political traditions have shared a belief in the rights of property, the philosophy of economic individualism, the value of competition; they have accepted the economic virtues of capitalist culture as necessary qualities of man (Hofstadter op. cit., pp. xxxvi-xxxvii). 

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The Mother of Beauty: War in Words and Music

Photo courtesy of Denzil Walton, “Discovering Belgium”

For the past two years, I have immersed myself in a personal and professional commemoration of the centenary of World War I. For a freshman composition class I designed in writing across the curriculum, I have read extensively in the scholarly and popular literature about shell shock and chemical weapons. I have purchased contemporary magazines and first-edition novels and a French postcard illustrating a scene from one of those novels. I have visited museum exhibits featuring helmets and weapons and love letters. I have watched films and a play and grainy documentaries about the war to end all wars. And I have read the novels and the poetry that bloomed from that barren landscape like the poppies in Flanders Fields. Continue reading

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My Journey to Easter

Last year on Palm Sunday, the rector of our large, young, and vibrant Episcopal parish, St. Michael’s in Raleigh, announced–only half in jest–that we might want to consider attending the Easter Vigil on Saturday night rather than trying to find a parking space and a seat for any of the three Easter services. I actually followed his advice and so saw the first lighting of the paschal candle and heard the first alleluias of Easter. However, the experience wasn’t so thrilling as the festival Easter service with brass and harp and choir and hundreds of pastel-clad worshippers proclaiming in unison, “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

This year, I decided on something entirely different. I went to the “find a church” page for the diocese of North Carolina, and I clicked on parish after parish until I found one that seemed small and intimate, reminiscent of my first Episcopal family at St. Christopher’s in Garner. Combining those criteria with a manageable drive for Easter morning, I selected St. John’s in Battleboro. Continue reading

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Good Friday: Meditation without Words

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona, Arizona

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Love One Another–but Not on the Streets of Fayetteville NC

I am writing this post during Holy Week, when Christians worldwide pray and fast and join together in humble worship as they prepare for the annual observation of the Passion, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. Today is Maundy Thursday, commemorated as the day when Jesus, after having his last supper with his disciples, washed their feet as a symbol of servanthood and enjoined them to follow his example, saying, “A new commandment (mandatum novum) I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34 RSV). Continue reading

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Miracles Do Happen–If We Listen

Kevin Vortmann as the Celebrant in Leonard Bernstein’s MASS (photo courtesy of the University of South Carolina School of Music)

Saturday, March 4, in Columbia, South Carolina, I witnessed what I can describe only as a miracle, the University of South Carolina’s performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS. By Monday, when I could not stop pondering–seeing, hearing, singing–those 110 minutes of capital-T Truth, I understood what made that miracle and learned, I hope, to be alert for the next one. In short, as I reflected on the path that led me to this rare opportunity, I realized that sometimes, the confluence of a series of disparate events can lead to a moment of clarity and understanding so momentous that James Joyce likened it to the Epiphany, the manifestation of the Son of God to the Gentiles. Yes, that’s what happened to me in South Carolina on March 4–and, I suspect, to many others. But it happened only because we had our ears and our hearts open to the experience. Continue reading

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