And So It Continues

Basic theological differences aside, turns out that the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) have a lot in common.

When the long-awaited investigative report on clergy sexual abuse within the SBC was released in May, 2022, it included a previously secret list of more than 700 immoral, unprincipled and compromised pastors and other church-affiliated personnel. Prepared by the independent investigative group Guidepost Solutions, this document revealed that for more than ten years, SBC leaders had maintained a private list of abusive ministers, while failing to ensure that those same accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches.

A close reading of this explosive-yet-very-sad report makes clear that the SBC has joined the Catholic Church as an indelibly stained enterprise, each with lengthy and well-documented histories of countenancing and protecting sexual predators masquerading as clergy in their midst. In short, both of these groups failed, miserably, with regard to what should have been one of their core responsibilities … the protection of our young and most vulnerable.

The Catholic Church, in particular, has a long and sordid record of working to keep the lid on their clergy abuse scandal by transferring problem priests from parish to parish. In other words, church leaders were more concerned with keeping things quiet than with bringing this outrage to an end, and so it continued for decades.

One particularly outrageous example of failure in the Archdiocese of New York is that of former priest Gennaro “Father Jerry” Gentile. Before being outed in the New York media in 2002, with the headline “Twisted Journey of a Problem Priest,” Gentile had, for years, raised suspicions among fellow clergy about his interactions with young men and boys … but nothing was ever done. He was laicized in 2005. And though he may have been the worst, Gentile was but one of many clerics who, when accused of scandalous behavior, were moved to other unsuspecting communities. And while the Archdiocese ultimately paid $60 million in damages to those victimized, it could never recover the trust of the multitude of families and individuals affected, forever, by the actions of these evil men.

Writing in the blog Patheos, John Beckett observes:

Never forget that values are more important than the institution. This is the most disappointing thing about both the Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist scandals: people in positions of responsibility put protecting the reputation of their church ahead of caring for victims and stopping predators.

And in the end, they did even more damage to the reputation of their church. Now both denominations are known not just as a place where bad things happened, but where supposedly spiritual leaders covered them up.

To that I can only add:

Amen

RIP, Michael Lang

In the satirical Netflix production titled “Death to 2021,” we meet a young and wildly enthusiastic participant in the January 6, assault on the US Capitol.  Some months later (and after her arrest), this now much-subdued woman is interviewed in her home where she must remain while awaiting trial.  Pointing, with some embarrassment, to her ankle monitor, she observes whimsically: “This was my Woodstock.”  She then admits quietly: “Of course, I don’t really know what a ‘Woodstock’ is.”

No argument here… she is clueless about Woodstock.

This snippet of televised dialogue came to mind when I learned that Michael Lang passed away on January 8, 2022.  The most visible face of the team responsible for mounting the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair held August 15-17, 1969, in Bethel, New York, Lang expressed his vision for this remarkable cultural event in an interview with Chronogram, on August 1, 2019:

“I just thought about how nice it was for someone to be sitting out under the stars in the summer, smoking a joint, and listening to music. I thought, ‘I wonder if something like this but bigger could work here.’”  

And the rest, as they say, is history.

This is not to suggest that Woodstock was devoid of controversy.  As a matter of fact, with protests against the Viet Nam war rocking the country, many of the musicians who performed espoused distinctly anti-government points of view … Jimmy Hendrix … Jefferson Airplane … Joan Baez … Richie Havens.  And, of course, Country Joe McDonald’s performance of his classic “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die” rag left no doubt about his position on the war.

But despite the uproar elsewhere, there was something almost magical about Woodstock that distinguished it from similar gatherings during that era and since.  As an aside, could it possibly have had something to do with the whole “smoking a joint” thing mentioned by Michael?  Thinking back to the thick marijuana haze enveloping Yasgur’s Farm over those three days in August, 1969, there may be something to that theory.

Reading Michael’s obituary reminded me of something else: he and I were the same age … we were both 24 years old during the Woodstock event.  And though (as far as I know) we never crossed paths, we both had “boots on the ground” at the same time during that affair.

Clearly, our roles were different: he was one of the impresarios running the whole enterprise, while I was a mere Dutchess County Deputy Sheriff sent to assist with managing the crowd and all that went along with that.  And while I cannot speak to Michael’s views after everything was over, I know that the time I spent at Woodstock – and the lessons I learned there – served me well over the course of what became a forty year career in law enforcement.

The fact that I was assigned to work at Woodstock as a police officer was pure serendipity, but it was an experience that I cherish. And, yes, nostalgia has a way of smoothing off the rough edges, so I am not surprised that those incredibly long hours, sodden fields, gridlocked roads and throngs of people seem less overwhelming today than they did in 1969.  Instead, my mind is drawn to more pleasant memories and, most especially, of the youngsters in attendance … smiling faces …  acts of kindness … expressions of appreciation … and the sense that we were involved in something bigger than all of us. 

You left us with vivid and important memories, Michael, for as Irving Berlin wrote: 

 The song is ended but the melody lingers on.

Hypocrisy Personified

When you have a moment,  look up the definition of the word hypocrite.  When you find it, do not be surprised to see, next to it, a picture of James Jackson.  For those unfamiliar with the goings-on in the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, Jackson is the now-suspended pastor of St. Mary’s Church who was arrested recently for a range of criminal offenses related to the possession and distribution of child pornography.

While despicable beyond words, what makes Jackson’s case even more breathtaking is his penchant for writing columns decrying sex abuse scandals perpetrated by “psychosexually dysfunctional” priests, and then publishing those works in the weekly bulletin at his church.  He even wrote about former Cardinal Timothy McCarrick, describing him as a “creep” who, while engaging in public good works, simultaneously led a sinful private life.

As it turns out, Jackson knows more than a little about that sort of thing.

Needless to say, every person facing criminal charges deserves the presumption of innocence.  Jackson’s defense attorney, though, has his work cut out for him.  First, a police task force Identified the IP address of a computer at St. Mary’s rectory as being actively engaged in viewing and sharing videos consistent with the sexual abuse of children.  Second, a search warrant at that rectory found a two-terabyte external storage device containing multiple videos of young children engaged in various sexual acts.  That device belonged to Jackson.

To assist with his legal bills, a group of parishioners set up a web site to collect funds and share their views about Jackson’s situation.  Many posts on that site are disheartening, as they suggest some sort of plot to discredit Jackson,  going on to describe him as a someone they trust unreservedly.  One hopes these assessments are accurate, for that is what countless other Catholic families said about their own parish priests only to learn, far too late, that they were sexual predators.  In case after case, those awful men ingratiated themselves into families while, at the same time, sexually abusing the children of those who trusted them.  Who, after all, would ever think that a Catholic Priest would commit such evil acts.

For our purposes, hypocrisy is defined as the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another, or the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.  By extension, then, a hypocrite is someone who practices hypocrisy.

In addition to being a disgraced Catholic Priest criminally charged with moral turpitude, James Jackson is, by definition, a hypocrite.

Willie and Me

About half way through our recent cross-country drive to New York, I began channeling Willie Nelson.   It was somewhere along an Interstate highway in Indiana that I first realized I was, unconsciously, humming “On The Road Again,” his classic ballad celebrating  travel, friends and family … factors which, coincidentally, are identical to those that launched us on this excursion.  Unfortunately, that is where the similarity ends.

By all accounts, Willie’s travel experience is decidedly different from my own.  When the mood strikes, for example, he can retire to a personal compartment on his tour bus for a nap or even an occasional toke to keep things mellow.  I, on the other hand, caught in the motorized equivalent of a forced march, must grip the steering wheel ever tighter while combatting highway hypnosis with that day’s fourth cup of Love’s Truck Stop coffee.

Adding to the aggravation was one more item … our GPS.  In years past, Rand McNally guided us on our journeys but, today, we have a disembodied female voice (whom we have affectionately named “Nagatha”) chiming in from time to time to keep us on course.  As it turns out, she becomes irritated when I deviate a bit to, say, gas up the car or grab a coffee.  In those cases … and usually as I am navigating a packed parking lot … she orders me, sternly and repeatedly to: “proceed to the route … proceed to the route … proceed to the route.”

Looking back, the trip was not as bad as I make it seem.  For example, along the way we enjoyed some excellent meals in some unexpected places.  The trick, for us, was avoiding the fast-food joints and national chains that populate every highway intersection.  Instead, we sought out local fare (usually with the help of hotel staff) and were genuinely pleased.  For example, the next time you are in Rolla, MO, check out Alex’s Pizza; in Blue Ash, OH, try Sammy’s Gourmet Burgers and Beer; and for Mexican food in Washington, PA,  don’t miss the Old Mexico.

All in all, our 3,600 mile excursion was well worth the effort.  We visited family, attended a reunion of work colleagues, and drove through some familiar places one more time.  Our car ran flawlessly and the weather was good throughout, but there is little doubt that my days of long-distance marathon-style driving are over.  And much as I abhor the prospect of getting on an airplane, it looks like any future cross-country journeys will be with someone else at the controls.

In his classic “It Was a Very Good Year,” Frank Sinatra sang of the different stages of life.  And while suggesting that days in the “autumn” of one’s years are short, he said they are like vintage wine from fine old kegs.  Clearly, Frank’s taste in vino was different from the sort I prefer, but his observations were true to the mark … and excellent advice for the next time I begin thinking about an odyssey to some distant land.

In the future, instead of mapping out routes of travel, I will make the short trip to Trader Joe’s where, instead of Sinatra’s “vintage wine,” I will pick out a couple of bottles of my preferred varietal … Two Buck Chuck.  And for friends and family who want to get together, Tom Bodett said it best:

We’ll leave the light on for ‘ya!

Eques In Sempiternum

While sitting with his children and grandchildren at a family event, a grandfather was asked the following question: “Using just two words, Grandpa, what advice can you give on living life to the fullest?”  After a moment’s thought, he answered simply: “Don’t blink.”

The reasoning behind that response was not complicated, of course, for we know that life – from the standpoint of a youngster – seems to move at a snail’s pace.  From the perspective of the “senior citizen,” though, life passes by in an instant. 

For me, those “sands through the hourglass” thoughts have taken on special meaning of late, as the members of my graduating class from the New York State Police Academy met recently for a 50th Anniversary reunion.  And while an event such as this is, naturally, laden with nostalgic memories, my overwhelming feeling has been more along the lines of … fifty years?  Fifty years??  How, on earth, did that happen so quickly?

As one might imagine, the sixteen-week basic Academy course my colleagues and I underwent some half century ago could be characterized as a “formative” event in our lives.  With a curriculum consisting of academics, running, pushups, physical training, pursuit driving and firearms … among other things … the days were full and (intentionally) stressful.  And did I mention the running and pushups?

Naturally, the hoped-for outcome of a rigorous program of this sort is that those who graduate will be prepared to perform their duties in superior fashion, and I would like to think our class did exactly that.  Over the course of our careers, we worked in various areas and assignments around the state of New York, and though some classmates may have crossed paths over the years, our reunion marks the first time we will have gathered and celebrated together.

Our group numbered 100 on the day we entered the Academy, and we graduated 89.  Of that number, 15 (that we know of) have passed away with one, tragically, having been lost in the line of duty.  When we gathered we, of course, remembered those colleagues who are no longer with us.  In addition, we presented a commemorative plaque to the Academy; that gift, incidentally, marks an important distinction … ours was the first class to have begun and finished our training at the “new” Academy which, like us, is now fifty years older.

The United States Marines’ mantra of “Every marine is a rifleman” is a historic and symbolic acknowledgement that every member of that very special branch of the military has been trained in the rigors of front line combat, and steeped in the traditions of the Corps.  In like fashion, every member of the New York State Police, regardless of rank or position, shares a similar bond forged through the training and tradition of that proud organization.

I like to imagine that at some point in the future, a young member of a recruit class walking through the halls at the Academy will take a moment to stop and look at the plaque donated by our class.  When she does, she will notice a Latin phrase engraved upon it: Eques In Sempiternum.  In tracking down the English translation of those words, she will find that they capture the very essence of what it means to be a member of the New York State Police:

Forever a Trooper

Step Away From The Donut!

For the youngster heading off to college for the first time, one of the perils of on-campus life is something called the “Freshman Fifteen.”  This, of course, refers to the extra weight the student can expect to pack on during that first year away from home.

That said, it seems being housebound these past twelve months has affected me in similar fashion … I am referring, unfortunately, to my newly acquired “Pandemic Poundage.”

Looking back, I know some clues were missed.  For example, with limited social interactions over the past year, my wardrobe has consisted of rotating the same four t-shirts; I now know their increasing snugness had nothing to do with our brand of laundry soap.

In my defense, I have tried to remain disciplined about my diet.  But then the doorbell rings with a kind neighbor dropping off freshly baked banana bread or an extra piece of chocolate cake.  And even a trip to the market poses a dilemma as I am forced to walk (unsuccessfully) past Girl Scouts selling cookies.  Sadly, in the face of these temptations my resolve falls by the wayside. 

Recently, the extent to which I have lost control of my diet was made clear.  Stepping on the new talking scale I received as a Christmas gift, I heard a mechanical voice warn: “Stop … One Person at a Time, Please!

Ski Texas!

When discussing March weather, we often use lighthearted wildlife references … “it came in like a lion, and went out like a lamb” (or vice versa).  This is, of course, a popular old maxim but, given that I live in Texas, a different meteorological animal has been on my mind of late … Punxsutawney Phil who, on February 2, predicted “six more weeks of winter.”

For most of the United States, that venerable groundhog’s forecast likely provoked little more than a smile.  The state of Texas, though, seems to have heard Phil’s prognostication less as a prediction and more as a challenge declaring: “Six weeks is for sissies!  Here in Texas we are going to compact those six weeks of winter into a mere six days!  Just watch us!”

And, as we all know, the stretch of Arctic-like weather that descended upon the Lone Star State was one for the record books!  

Power outages … frozen water pipes … impassable roads … food shortages … temperatures below zero!  And while some may have flashed back to the 1968 movie “Ice Station Zebra,” it wasn’t long (thankfully) before the snow melted and the shorts and sandals reappeared.

While those frigid days were daunting, they served to remind me why my family moved here from the Northeast more than thirty years ago.  Simply put, anybody who has lived in upstate New York knows something about cold weather … the four seasons in those parts are: …  Almost Winter …. Winter … Still Winter … and Road Construction.

Making the Family Proud

Anyone with children has undergone the rite of passage of a youngster who, with a roll of the eyes and a barely suppressed sigh, stalks away from the parent in utter embarrassment.  Usually this teen-aged behavior is brought on by the parent having said or done something the child is certain will cause lasting shame for him or her (not to mention the family).  And it doesn’t take much to bring about this sort of crisis  … a mistaken observation about a current teen idol … wearing clothes deemed too old fashioned … or even emphasizing that: “be home by 10:00” means “be home by 10:00.”

Luckily, these sorts of teen-aged behaviors are transitory in nature.  Most often, the youngster comes to understand that Dad and Mom are okay after all, and that they do not present as much of a threat to one’s dignity as originally thought.

This all changes, of course, when pictures of Dad appear in the national media showing him strutting through the United States Capitol carrying a lectern purloined from the office of the Speaker of the House.  And, let’s face it, dinner table conversation can be difficult when Dad tries to explain why he lost his job as CEO of a digital marketing firm after being charged with a Federal crime.

Following the outrage in Washington on January 6, a number of individuals have been arrested, while many others, no doubt, wonder if they will be the next taken into custody.   As things continue to unfold, though,there has been a shift in tone of social media posts by some who took part.  One real estate agent, who initially described the rally as a “prelude to war” while vowing to “break windows,” has more recently said she thought she was going to be taking part in a peaceful political march, while condemning the violence that occurred.

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, the prospect of federal agents knocking on the door can focus the mind wonderfully.

When facing difficult choices, it is always useful to ask oneself a simple question: “How will I feel if my actions are exposed to the light of day?”  In other words, will I be able to defend my actions if others learn what I have done?  Can I explain my decision to my family?

For those already arrested, the process of having to explain one’s choices before a judge has begun.  There are many others, though, whose actions were recorded on January 6, but who have not yet been identified or taken into custody.  For them, one can only imagine the difficulty of explaining to a child why he just saw his parent’s face among a crowd of individuals committing criminal acts at the United States Capitol.

As one business executive said following his dismissal for taking part in the outrage in Washington: “This was the single worst decision of my life.”

Indeed.

(Baseball) Diamonds Are Not Forever

When it comes to showing off new baseball stadiums, the Texas Rangers can’t catch a break.

In 1994, Globe Life Park (cost $191 Million) opened for business in Arlington, Texas.  Sadly, after only 113 games, the players went on strike, and the remainder of the season (including the World Series) was cancelled.  

As luck would have it, the Texas Rangers were preparing to open their brand-spanking-new Globe Life Field (cost $1.1 Billion) to kick off the 2020 season when the Coronavirus brought everything to a halt.  

Talk about bad luck!

The abrupt ending of the 1994 season was accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth from team owners, television broadcasters and advertisers.  But there was one other less-well-known bit of fallout … I stopped going to Major League Baseball (MLB) games once and for all.  The way I look at it is simple … when MLB gave up on me by cancelling the World Series, I gave up on them.

I know my decision did not cause panic in board rooms across the MLB community, but it is a position that I have held to … pretty much.  Yes, I have fallen off the wagon a time or two over the years …for example, I simply could not resist a first-time visit to historic Wrigley Field on a trip to Chicago.  But if pressed about other MLB games I might have attended during my boycott, my defense would be simple … I was there only for the purposes of research and, as a former President once argued, I didn’t inhale.

Full disclosure, I have not entirely forsworn professional baseball … far from it.  Every winter, my wife and I count the days until we can begin our annual ritual of travel to minor league games across the United States.  The quality of play by the aspiring major leaguers we watch is always high, and the memories we collect are vivid.  For example, we won’t soon forget attending a game called in the fifth inning because of snow while watching the Casper (WY) Ghosts.  And we learned that if you arrive early enough at a Roswell (NM) Invaders game, you can watch the home team raking the infield and chalking the baselines.

For us, minor league parks always provide a delightful experience at a reasonable price.  In Pensacola, Florida, for example, the ridiculously low cost of a seat directly behind home plate provides an up-close look at the game as well as a lovely view of the Gulf of Mexico just over the center field wall.  An added bonus, of course, is the opportunity to pose for a picture with Kazoo, the team mascot.  And for a genuine “bucket list” experience, I had the good fortune in 2019, to throw out the first pitch at a Hyannis Harbor Hawks game in the fabled Cape Cod League.

Kokernot Field in Alpine, Texas

If you are a true baseball enthusiast, though, few experiences can compare with a ball game at Kokernot Field in Alpine, Texas.  Constructed in 1947 by Big Bend rancher Herb Kokernot, this beautiful park was built from native stone quarried on the Kokernot Ranch, with red clay for the infield brought in by boxcar from Georgia.  With a seating capacity of 1,400, fans in this idyllic setting are often treated to the sight of a homerun ball disappearing over the outfield wall in the general direction of the majestic Chisos Mountains just beyond.  Called the “Yankee Stadium of Texas,” Kokernot field is home to the Sul Ross University Lobos, and the Alpine Cowboys of the Pecos League.  

In 2020, Covid-19 has affected broad swaths of life and, no surprise, discussions about any possible start to the MLB season remain deadlocked.  What this means, of course, is that this year, instead of heading to the ballpark for an evening of Crackerjack, cold beer and yelling at umpires, we are left to contemplate the sorry spectacle of billionaires feuding with millionaires over the fate of an enterprise we used to know as “The American Pastime.”  

While disappointing, there is one distinct “up” side to this debacle … my 1994 decision to avoid MLB games has been renewed and strengthened.  The unbridled avarice of owners and players alike has reminded me, once again, of how completely out of touch these folks are with the world of the ordinary citizen and baseball fan.

During his tenure as manager of the New York Yankees, Casey Stengel became known for his sage witticisms.  One of his observations about baseball seems especially appropriate today: “There are three things you can do in a baseball game. You can win, or you can lose, or it can rain.”

There is not much doubt … the 2020 season has been postponed because of rain.

Say It Ain’t So, Willie!

When White Sox outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson admitted to cheating in the 1919 World Series, a broken-hearted Chicago Daily News reporter begged him: “Say it ain’t so, Joe …”

Recently, a multitude of country music (and marijuana) fans experienced a similar “say it ain’t so” moment when Willie Nelson announced that he would no longer be smoking weed.  The shocking news quickly spread across the pot-smoking community, leaving many, well, needing a toke.  

The news was especially disheartening to Snoop Dogg who, in a recent interview, said Willie should be on the “Mount Rushmore” of pot smokers, pointing out that Willie was the only person to ever have out smoked him.

Willie’s unexpected announcement caused concern in several other areas as well:

The Stock Market  Knowing how Wall Street trembled when China stopped buying US soy beans, investors worried that the value of their cannabis stock would tumble when news of Willie’s abstinence went public.  As it turns out, the value of marijuana shares had already gone “up in smoke” over a year ago, so Willie’s newfound temperance had little impact.

Property Values in Sierra Blanca, Texas   With not much else to offer, this small west Texas Town is widely known as the “Border Patrol Checkpoint to the Stars.” Located on I-10 about 20 miles from the Mexican border and 85 miles east of El Paso, officers here have arrested a number of celebrities for drug possession … Fiona Apple … Armie Hammer … Nelly … Snoop … and, of course, Willie.  So what will happen to this little town if these famous people stop carrying drugs?  Will this place continue to exist?

Not to worry … Border Patrol agents in Sierra Blanca scan approximately 17,000 vehicles each day, with about 2,500 per year resulting in arrests.  In addition, some 10,000 pounds of drugs are seized each month at this very efficient checkpoint.  In one case, the search of a tour bus yielded more than 10 pounds of marijuana, 36 baggies of heroin and a loaded .45 handgun … all of which beg the question … what, exactly, was the owner of these items thinking?  We know marijuana causes one to be forgetful … was that what happened?  Did he forget that he had those items with him?  And those drug-sniffing dogs … did he think they would be off duty when he got to the checkpoint?

Fun fact: When Willie Nelson was arrested for possession of marijuana in Sierra Blanca, the county prosecutor gave him a choice: pay a fine of $3,000.00 or sing his famous song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”  Willie chose to pay the fine.

Though some found it difficult to believe that a devout marijuana advocate like Willie had stopped smoking, he pointed out that he had simply decided to give his 86-year-old lungs a break.  And, with cannabis now available in so many forms, he insists he has not lost his affection for the wonders of THC.  For example, a quick review of the choices within his own “Willie’s Reserve” brand show a range of choices to include infused chocolate and fruit chews, along with an assortment of flowers and bud.

At a certain age, people often sit down with family to discuss and make arrangements for the inevitable end of one’s life.  What kind of service shall we have?  Do we want a funeral and burial?  Is cremation the way we want to go?

Willie Nelson, it seems, has things all mapped out.  Given his many years of inhaling marijuana smoke … and with a generous nod to his fans … he used the title of one of his many hits to announce what he wants done with his remains:

Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die