Do You Find That Men Are Intimidated By You?

A few years ago, an old-man preacher asked me, “Do you find that men are intimidated by you?” The words slammed against me cold and hard. I started to stammer out an answer. “I mean,” he interrupted, “because you’ve written a book.” I was floored, and that wasn’t a good thing because I was driving at the time.

He’d bought my book after a loss of his own, we’d talked by phone a few times, and he asked me to have dinner with him as he was traveling through my town. So I’d picked him up at his hotel, and we were driving down Murfreesboro Road at the time, the blue lights from my Subaru’s dash filling the front seat.

How do you answer a question like that?

I was just living my life and my calling and passion to put words down on paper, to write things as I see them and feel them, hopefully helping someone sometimes, living in all my own doubts and flaws and imperfections and questions and trying to do it all right for myself. Not for anyone else. I’d had a husband who respected that, supported me, got into deep conversations with me about books, words, and writing before he died. At the time of this incident, I was dating someone, a professor and lover of English, who also respected me for what I did, supported me, read and picked apart essays with me, and shared a critique group with me.

And then, that question. “Do you find that men are intimidated by you?”

It’s not something I would have ever considered. I didn’t even know it was a possibility. I wish I had lived my whole life without hearing that question.

I’ve always thought of myself as . . . an equal.

The implications of that question still haunt me, and it’s unsettling. If I intimidate men because I write, then . . . what am I supposed to be doing? Sitting in my leather recliner all day with a Bible in my lap? Praying for other people, like men, to be achieving things? Cooking a meat and three? Lord help me, if I’m supposed to be cleaning the house.

At my age and in this time, should I even be wrestling with the issue of gender equality?

I don’t know how to answer the question or what to think about one who would ask it.

I guess . . . that’s a Baptist for you.

Advertisements

Name-Calling

By the time I was six years old and in the first grade, I’d learned to not call people names. If I did it, I got in trouble. I learned to do unto others as I’d have them do unto me. I learned it was important and right to love other people and to treat them kindly.

In elementary school, I learned the name put to bad behavior toward others—bullying. I learned that bullies put others down to lift themselves up. I learned that bullies have problems within.

I learned rules from the Bible—at home, at Sunday School, and at school. I learned not to bear false witness against people. That means lying, speaking falsely and unjustly, or deceiving.

I read the commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” What does that even mean? I used to think it meant saying God’s name with a cuss word.

But looking more deeply, does it mean to use God’s name in a wrong and empty way, to assign authority to beliefs and behavior in his name, when said beliefs and behavior are not of him and are contradictory to the Bible? Does it include our claiming to be of him, when we believe things or do things or support things that are obviously not of him, thus bringing shame to his name and damage to his character?

In our new world 2017 AC, name-calling is apparently accepted. Putting people down, saying false things, saying any adjective that will stick with that person for all time . . . it’s the new thing to do. I don’t like it. I’ve done it, and I don’t feel good about myself when I do. But even in the world of good people, of Christian Evangelicals and conservative Christians, it is given a go-ahead. Somehow, some way, Christians are willing to close their Bibles, put them on dusty shelves, and open their hearts in support of the one leader in our country who is so adept at name-calling. And not only that, they assign the name “Christian” to that one.

I just don’t understand. I really, really don’t.

But to help everybody out, The Failing New York Times has provided a list of examples. We can consult this list to learn how to effectively name-call—how to break the bones of our enemies, or even the ones who’ve legitimately called out something wrong we’ve done or said. After all, in our new world, we must get them back!

Here are a few examples of slams and slurs to draw from as we go about our days:

Low-energy Jeb Bush. Lyin’ Ted. Little Marco. Liddle Bob Corker—incompetent, couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee. Leakin’ James Comey—a leaker! Sloppy Steve Bannon. Cryin’ Chuck Schumer. Dummy John McCain—has done nothing! Total Dud John Kasich. Sleazy Adam Schiff. Al Frankenstein. Failed Presidential Candidate Lindsey Graham—I ran him out of the race like a little boy. Kooky Roberts. Pocahontas. So Totally Biased Shep Smith. Dope Brit Hume. FoxNews Flunky Charles Krauthammer. Unelectable Jeff Flake—toxic, weak, sad. Little Rocket Man. Hillary-flunky Meryl Streep—one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood. Ruth Bader Ginsburg—her mind is shot. Really Sad Mitt Romney—a total joke. Low-Life Lisa Belkin. Dumb as a Rock Mika Brzezinski. Very Weak Paul Ryan.

Here’s a link to 421 people, places, and things our president has insulted on Twitter—a complete and ongoing list. Thousands of slams and slurs! This is our brave new world and our newly molded Christian mindset.

Nobody’s perfect. We’re all guilty of something. We’ve all sinned. We’ve all done this maybe a little. I did in my teen days and lived to regret it. But this list . . . this seems like an awful lot of name-calling.


River Like Life

A walk to the river became a New Year’s Day tradition when I had my golden retriever and lived in Fieldstone Farms in the late 1990s. I continued the tradition with my first cocker spaniel. A branch of the Harpeth River snaked across the northern edge of the street next to mine, and there are walking trails in Fieldstone, so I’d walk the dog first on the trails and then through an open field of dead, brown grass and dried stalks of weeds to the tree-lined rocky river. We’d stand on the hard-mud bank and watch the trickling flow.

Why a walk to the river? I suppose because a river is a good symbol for life—for the journey we take over the years from one point to a far point in the future, from beginning to destination. A river is good inspiration and shows us how to journey on.

The river has movement. Water keeps flowing onward. No matter what, it keeps going. It doesn’t stop—doesn’t get distracted, doesn’t get down and quit, doesn’t lose its focus and purpose. I wish people were made like that. I’d stand on the path at the edge of Lynnwood Branch and watch the water rush westward, and I’d get caught up in the thought that I should keep moving forward, too, and hopefully, with the same momentum, the same compulsion to “get there,” wherever “there” is.

The river finds a way. Slabs of rock sit beneath the flow, and big rocks and boulders stand in the way of the water, but the river peels off around or over the obstacles, driven to move on. The river keeps going around fallen trees and strainers. The river doesn’t stop at the obstacles and give up. I wish people could do that. People tend to look outside themselves, at others, at a higher being for rescue from obstacles, and not to the power within, like the river does. The river has its own energy and draws from it to get around. We have our own power source, too, without and within at the same time. At the river’s edge, I’d stare at frothy-white riffles pouring around rocks and look for meaning for me.

The river has highs and lows. Just like people do, like I do. Sometimes the river is full, deep, and faster moving, and other times it is low and trickling. Either way, it still has a push to get to its destination, to complete its purpose, to be and do. I need the river’s inspiration.

I live in a section of my new neighborhood that is in a U-shape, bordered by Aenon Creek. So today, January 1, I will continue the tradition of going to the river seeking an example for the new year.  Even though upon awakening it was one degree outside, with a chill factor of a negative five, I will dare to get out of my Cuddl Duds pajamas, wrap up, and walk to the river with my new cocker spaniel. I need to see the creek moving on and finding its way, even though today it might be at a low.

Happy new year to all, and may you find hope and example at the river.


Twenty Seventeen. I Beat You!

Twenty Seventeen. You brutal taker. You evil manipulator. You kicked, pushed, and machete-hacked at me. You tried to knock me down and shut me up.

I stood up for Christian values, and you sent a Christian bully attack. I lost maybe a hundred friends because of it. I can’t go home, I couldn’t go to my class reunion, I lost my past. But I am strong, and I know when I am right, and so I keep standing. It’s the way I’m made. Nevertheless, it hurt.

You took Neil. And one by one you gave my friends challenges to deal with.

You broke me, Twenty Seventeen. You broke me.

Instead of sliding away, though, I chose to push back. I made decisions that have changed my life. Good things began to happen. Appropriately, my essay “Pushing Up the Sun” was published in A Second Blooming, and I did a book signing at Barnes and Noble in May with editor Susan Cushman and author River Jordan.

“God uses broken things. Clouds break to give rain, and seeds break to produce new plants that make fruit or flowers. The seed comes from a plant that thrived in a season now gone. It lies dormant, tender parts packed inside a hard shell, all folded up. It needs water to soften it, needs warmth and sunshine, needs time. For the seed to achieve its ultimate purpose and become what it was destined to be, it has to come undone. The shell breaks, and the insides come out, and unfoldment occurs.” . . .

“By nature and need, I pushed the walls until they cracked and broke and fell into destruction, and parts of me began to come out into the new. Unfoldment was what I experienced. Growth didn’t happen in a fast burst of activity. It was a process, and it was ongoing as I walked further into the light to see the person I was becoming.” . . .

“Like the seed parts, I was standing up, reaching out, and growing stronger. And like the plant, I was establishing a leaf system to absorb power and nutrients from the sun and strong roots to draw water from the source and hold me firmly through the winds.” . . .

“I’m not going to sit around in the darkness after sunset, not going to linger in what was. I am going to follow the beam of light home over the smashing water. I am standing under the sun and pushing it up.”

Because of that, I still have me. I have me!

Many people can’t legitimately say that now. But as far as growing-up principles, ground-in values, and a Christian worldview, I think I am still the person I was before Twenty Seventeen. I didn’t let a political representation or party skew my views, alter my right and wrong, and change my spiritual perspective. My beliefs now and all through 2017 are the same as what they were in 2007 and 1997 and 1987 and so on. If anything, I am more open and more accepting and more in search of enlightenment, which is the way it should be. I should still be growing and seeing with more light and love the people and issues of my world. I should be calling out the hard things as right or wrong, good or bad, I should be seeking truth, I should be reflecting my inner light and the person I am instead of falling in line with the masses and excusing the wrongs in the world. It is what I was called to do.

Immanuel Kant said, “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity,” and that immaturity comes from the lack of courage to use his own reason, intellect, and wisdom without the guidance of another, such as church and government leaders. I so much desire to use my own mind and voice and not be one in the “great unthinking masses.”

I am more perplexed, impatient, and angered than ever at those who have acquiesced, condoned, and normalized wrong beliefs and behaviors—in other words, given up their spiritual values. I don’t understand those who follow blindly; those who pick up any extreme statement or belief because it falls in with what they want to believe, even if that belief is not consistent with what they proclaim; those who try to make a visibly and obviously bad political representation into something good. I still need to work hard at understanding and loving those who do this, those who are unable to discern right from wrong and who readily reach out and reel in the bad words, actions, and behaviors, those who can’t speak in their own voices and are part of the unthinking masses. I admit I have not been good at understanding and accepting those people. I am a failure at it. I don’t cut people much slack. You either are or aren’t a Christian. And if you are, you should act like it. You can believe the Bible all day long, you can be a “prayer warrior,” you can sit on a pew every Sunday, and that’s all good, but if you proclaim it, then your beliefs and behavior should reflect it. Twenty Seventeen took that away from many and rendered them incapable of seeing it.

On Christmas Eve at my son’s in Asheville, I took my dog for a walk and saw an image of light that stays with me:

At the top of Maney and Fenner I

Stand at eye level with mountain peaks off in the distance,

Pisgah, Cold Mountain.

Above blue tops the sun

An aberrant glow ball behind a film of clouds,

It’s not a star that shines this eve

But a sun, with filtered light, giving

Hope that the world will clear and the

Sun will shine true and new on all.

Now, on this last day of the year, I’m ready to step into the next the happiest I think I’ve ever been in my life. So thank you, Twenty Seventeen, for not only were you a brutal taker, but a blessed giver. You gave me some goodness and some light, and you gave me me. And I want more of it all in the next to come.

I want enlightenment. I want to keep standing up for good, truth, and the right values. I am committed to keep calling wrongs out. Maybe I can be softer about it. I don’t know how to be hard and soft at the same time in a hard world.

Maybe I can find a velvet hammer to use in my efforts.


The Know Nothings

Are you a Know Nothing? I’ve been called a Know-It-All, but this is different. It was a political party a hundred sixty years ago. Ever heard of it? Read on.

“Its origins lay in a succession of anti-foreigner and anti-Catholic secret societies, culminating in the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner, and finally in the Know-Nothing, or  American, Party.” (John D. Hicks, A Short History of American Democracy, 1946)

The effects of that party are still felt today.

The “Know Nothing” movement was a nativist political party that operated nationally in the mid-1850s. Nativism is a policy that favors native inhabitants as opposed to immigrants. It was a secret society, and there were rules about joining—initiation rites, hand signs, and passwords. Members had a pureblooded pedigree of Protestant Anglo-Saxon stock, and they vowed to reject all Catholics. They weren’t supposed to talk to outsiders about the secret society. If asked, they responded with, “I know nothing.”

This secret society rose to prominence in 1853 and included more than one hundred elected congressmen, eight governors, a controlling share of half a dozen state legislatures, and thousands of local politicians. Party members supported:

  • Deportation of foreign beggars and criminals
  • A 21-year naturalization period for immigrants
  • Elimination of all Catholics from public office
  • Mandatory Bible reading in schools

Their aim was to restore their vision of what America should look like with Protestantism, temperance, self-reliance, and American nationality and work ethic enshrined as the nation’s highest values.

In the early 1800s, immigrants trickled into the country, but in the decade following 1845, 2.9 million immigrants poured into the United States, and many of them were of the Catholic faith. All of a sudden, more than half the residents of New York City were foreign-born, and Irish immigrants made up 70 percent of charity recipients.

The cultures clashed, fear spread like fallout riding a wind current, and conspiracies abounded. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “All Catholics and all persons who favor the Catholic Church are . . . vile imposters, liars, villains, and cowardly cutthroats.” One author claimed to have gone undercover in a convent and published a book spewing conspiracies, such as priests were raping nuns and strangling any resulting babies. She was proved to be a fraud, yet her book sold hundreds of thousands of copies. People want to believe conspiracies. As a result, churches were burned, and Know Nothing gangs spread to cities around the country, from New York to Cincinnati to Louisville to New Orleans to San Francisco.

“The Know Nothings came out of what seemed to be a vacuum,” according to Christopher Phillips, professor of history at the University of Cincinnati. “It’s the failing Whig party and the faltering Democratic party and their inability to articulate . . . answers to the problems that were associated with everyday life.” (Does this sound like today, or what?)

The Know Nothings, according to Phillips, displayed three patterns common to nativist movements:

  • The embrace of nationalism (exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture: PUT AMERICA FIRST)
  • Religious discrimination (Protestants against Catholics, instead of current-day Christians against Muslims or Jews)
  • Working class identity exerting itself in conjunction with the rhetoric of upper-class political leaders (LOCK HER UP, PUNCH HIM IN THE FACE, BUILD THAT WALL, BOMB THE SHIT OUT OF THEM, GET THAT SON OF A BITCH OFF THE FIELD, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN)

I’m not going to apologize for the use of bad language because these are words used by the President of the United States, and they should be good enough for all and appropriate for use at political rallies, in the media, and in our schools and churches.

“One can’t possibly make sense of [current events] unless you know something about nativism,” Christopher Phillips concludes. “That requires you to go back in time to the Know Nothings. You have to realize the context is different, but the themes are consistent.”

It’s interesting what you can find in your mama’s college history book from 1946 if you go looking.

 


Neil’s Rock

I don’t, but I did: write poems. I was inspired over the Labor Day weekend, with a few images from Cedar Ridge and words from his family. So here it is, in memory of.

Neil’s Rock

by Kathy Rhodes

 

In the Farm Kitchen you stood pouring

Coffee into a Montana blue pottery Pollard Hotel mug

You got the summer we went to Red Lodge, then

You turned and took a step to the dark-wood window

That framed a view of the back pasture

Covered in morning mist and fog from Fountain Creek

Shimmering under new sun.

Not far inside the gate a gray rock rises up like a monument

Sculpted sharp at the top in a point to the skies far

Above the evergreens on Cedar Ridge.

Grass grows high around its base where horses grazed

And nearby, our writers group met at a fire pit on fall nights

For roasting hot dogs with coat hangers and reading our stories by flashlight.

At the window, you’d often flip open your cell and call:

“If you got a minute, I got somethin’ to tell you.”

You—part rube, part scholar—loved that place, that pasture, that rock,

And you’d speak of

Three brave deer that came up to the salt lick right by the horses or a

Rafter of turkeys strutting by as the farm cat paid heed or a

Cooper’s hawk glaring, or a red-headed pileated woodpecker, or a

Hound named for a Shakespeare priest’s daughter watching deer eat grass, or a

Doe and her fawn that stood in the mist by the rock and looked at you in the window.

Now you are scattered out there about that rock,

Looking in the window like the deer,

One with your land on the ridge,

In the dew-sparkle on blades of grass,

Under late summer sun turning leaves to gold to fall and blanket you,

Looking up at blackness of sky and twinkle of stars like fireflies, and

All day every day for all time, you remain at the rock,

Looking in, keeping watch on that log cabin built strong and sturdy to stand up

Down the generations after you,

Protecting all within.

 


In the Shadow of the Steeple

AUGUST 1944 – 73 YEARS AGO – ANNE FRANK WAS FOUND BY NAZIS IN SECRET HIDING PLACE IN AMSTERDAM, SENT TO A DEATH CAMP

“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” ~ Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank. I read it every year as a teen. I was a post-war child, born of a father who fought against the atrocities of Adolph Hitler in Europe, ended up at the base of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, and spent a year in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, two hours from Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in the Bavarian Alps.

From my scrapbook

I was fascinated by the genre, by the first-person voice of a girl my age recording real-life experiences. As a college student, I went to Amsterdam and took a tour of Anne Frank’s house with its secret annex and hidden staircase. I remember the swinging bookcase and the stairs up to the secret room—narrow, steep, and dark. I remember walking around in the large room that hid Anne and her family. It was filled with windows letting in sunlight when I was there. It was hard to picture that once, the windows were blacked out for secrecy and protection. I stood at one window and looked out at the city teeming with people and life. The most meaningful image was that of a church steeple.

If Anne could’ve looked out that window, she would’ve seen hope and help.

The steeple image has stuck in my mind for almost five decades. I’m now trying to make meaning of it.

It’s the Westerkerk, the West Church. Rembrandt was buried there in 1669. It’s old. It’s a church with a steeple that towers above the city, marking its location so people can find it, pointing upward, and portraying its purpose as a place of God, of believers, of love, of hope and help.

The steeple serves as a visual testimony to all who walk in its shadow.

What happened in the shadow of the steeple seven decades ago when Anne Frank was a twelve-year-old?

There were surely good and God-loving people in the church. As they sat under their steeple, surely, they sang, prayed, took of the Body and the Blood. And then what? When they walked out the front doors, on the sidewalks by the canals, to their homes in the shadow of the steeple, did they live out the church’s mission, their mission?

When I read Anne’s diary as a young girl, my underlying thought was of the people, the good people, who let this happen to her. I mean, how could they? Why didn’t they do something? I realize some did help—provided protection and a path to fleeing the insanity that was. But many did nothing.

Were they unaware? Were they afraid? Of taking a stand? Of carrying out the church’s mission? Did they hide in the shadows?

Ultimately, young strong men—soldiers, like my dad—from other countries were called in to save them from the madness they’d allowed.

Life experience has taught me that good people are mostly silent. It’s easy, better that way, more acceptable to stay quiet in the darkness, to align with similar others, to hold inward vigils, and to excise those who stand out of the shadows.

Anne’s is a tragic story, because hope and help never came.