Monthly Archives: October 2009

“Graceland, Here I Come” by Jim Bennett

           Graceland                                                                                          

 I don’t know about you, but it’s a rare occasion indeed when I get to fulfill a lifelong dream.  There was that time in 1994 when I accidentally got free cable TV for two whole days, but other than that, most of the other monumental aspirations of my youth have gone unrealized.  Please don’t pity me.  I accepted long ago, for example, that I’ll probably never develop super powers, open my own jazz dance studio, or read an entire book, and you know what?  I’m okay with that, and never more so than now, because I’m about to check off the only item on my bucket list that matters:  I’m going to Graceland, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee, I’m going to Graceland.
       The Mrs. and I always try to celebrate the anniversary of our first date with a just-the-two-of-us getaway.  Now, I realize a lot of you fellows take a nostalgic approach, rekindling those old fires by taking your wife back to that same quaint bistro and romantic ballroom where you first charmed her, but I can’t do that anymore.  There’s not a Mr. Quick’s within miles of here, and good luck finding any cockfights in this day and age.  (Way to ruin it for everybody, PETA!)  Besides, if I genuinely want to relive the most memorable part of our first date, we don’t have to go out – she can slap my face right here in the comfort of our home.
            But I digress.  This year my bride, who has endured 16 years of my Graceland hard sell, finally caved.  This has long been a sticking-point in our otherwise loving and healthy relationship.  You see, the Mrs. has actually toured Graceland (that’s the main reason I married her) and – get this – she “didn’t find it all that impressive; in fact, it’s awfully tacky.”  She actually said that!  I ask you, would the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll hold court in some gaudy dump appointed in a cheesy 1970’s Home Interiors motif with avocado-colored deep-plush shag carpeting?  This is Elvis Presley we’re talking about.  Be serious.

graceland-4

Tastefully understated.

            As a kid, I couldn’t even hold one end of a jump rope for the neighbor girls without singing “In the Ghetto” into the handle.  During my teens and twenties, I seldom left my makeshift basement laboratory where I spent every waking hour working on a number of Elvis-related inventions:  The ill-fated “Rogaine for Sideburns” and a pair of plus-size motorized chinos which would have allowed the wearer to perfectly simulate the King’s trademark gyrations.  And my thirties were devoted to recreating the diet and exercise regimen of Elvis’ later years with results that are nothing short of startling.

Elvischunky

Like me, the King was just big-boned.

            Yet here she is:  She has walked through the Hall of Gold in person!  She has stood next to his rhinestone-covered jumpsuits and capes.  (CAPES, I say!)  She has seen the Lisa Marie, the flying Graceland, and acts as if it’s no big deal!  But that’s alright, mama.  When you handed me those Memphis-bound train tickets, I was overwhelmed with delight.                 

        So now I’ve got less than a month to prepare.  I’ve begun writing my souvenir shopping list (I hear there’s a gift shop or two in the Graceland area).   The ’68 Comeback snow globe with a small, black leather-clad Elvis immersed in a sphere of clear fluid is a must:  A few good shakes and you’ve got yourself one tiny, chilly King of Rock ‘n’ Roll; The Colonel Tom Parker action figure with Kung-Fu grip (useful for yoinking 50 to 80 percent of Elvis Presley’s gross earnings. Ethics not included); and there’s no way I’m coming home without the Gladys Love Presley low-cal, low-fat, whole food cookbook.  I am so going to learn how to make a proper peanut butter and banana sandwich.
            I know what you’re thinking:  “Jim, why on earth is a middle-aged country preacher so enthusiastic about all this Elvis nonsense?  50 years ago, wouldn’t you have been one of those fire-and-brimstone types who staged a big bonfire of all of his records?” 
            First of all, it’s not Elvis himself I’m concerned about.  I don’t even own any of his music or movies.  It’s the enduring spectacle that surrounds him that fascinates me.  But secondly, yes, I probably would have been among those preachers 50 years ago who were calling for all those records to be incinerated.  I’m just that cranky and ornery.  But it’s irrelevant, really:  This is 2009, not 1959.  Today, there’s no need to burn up copies of Elvis Presley’s records. 
            That’s what the collected works of Michael Bublé are for.

 

“Late Harvest” by Jim Bennett

           I lean back in my chair after Sunday dinner and stare at the field outside my window.  I am looking at corn.  In the latter half of October, I should be looking at the dark, fecund Rozetta soil at rest, stubbly with the residue of another completed harvest.  But instead, I am looking at corn. 

            Cato the Elder, the Roman statesman, defined himself as a farmer first.  Perhaps he was gritting his teeth through a late harvest of his own when he wrote, “It is thus with farming, if you do one thing late, you will be late in all your work.”  Indeed.  Life in farm country has its own cadence, and like any other rhythm, when it is marred by unsteadiness, the song starts to sound off-kilter.

            Those who farm that Rozetta soil have grown quieter now, but their preoccupation over the unpicked fields is evident enough.  It’s in their shrugs of resignation and in their strained smiles; most of all, though, it’s in their eyes.  Those eyes show disappointment as they gaze at the weather radar to find another looming green and yellow mass of pixilated bad news undulating toward their fields.  Those eyes show fatigue as they scan the heavens for a frustratingly fickle sun; withholding her warmth and light like a cheating wife, she’s providing little more than a shadowy chill lately. 

            I take prayer requests in church; the calloused hands of several farmers go up.  “Weather for harvest,” is the plea.  We pray together as a body of believers, asking Almighty God to dry the fields so the combines can roll through. 

            Many of us in the congregation who do not farm also pray in sheer thankfulness for those who do, though our gratitude is hardly selfless.  We recognize our dependence on these men and women who compose the economic backbone of our community.  They work in a vocation that is always haunted by the specter of constant, grave risk.  Get a group of them together and you are sure to see some prosthetic devices and hands with missing digits.  In fact, my own ministry in farm country began five years ago with a dash to a hospital;  a neighbor lay in a coma with a broken back, another casualty of the frenzied and exhausting pace of harvest.  By God’s grace he survived and has recovered, but not without painful, permanent reminders.  I’ve known too many others who were not as blessed.        

            This nation is fed and nourished through their labors, so it goes without saying that the farmers’ work is a sustaining enterprise.  But it occurs to me that the sustenance they provide extends far beyond pantries, dinner tables, and supermarket shelves.  In my estimation, no one group does as much to sustain and preserve our most precious – and endangered – American traditions, those qualities and customs upon which this nation’s greatness was built.

            Consider again that injured neighbor I mentioned.  Shortly after the accident, his community rallied around him and his family, and it was my privilege to watch as they marshaled their combines and grain trucks, bringing in his crop for him.  Where else in society, aside from our military, is that kind of Christ-like self-sacrifice commonly practiced?  When was the last time you heard about a team of C.P.A.s donating their skills and resources to do the work of a competitor who was suddenly hospitalized at the height of tax season?  This isn’t an indictment of accountants; I’m only underscoring how the tones and textures of farm life sustain critical values that are fading – or are altogether absent – from other dimensions of our cultural landscape. 

            Too often institutions like academia and the media hold this nation in contempt, mocking patriotism as the passé practice of rednecks and rubes; in rural areas, however, love of country is still a virtue.  Watch television or a movie today and you’re likely to see home life portrayed as a nightmare of dysfunction governed by clueless or cruel parents; but family is still cherished among the people of the soil.  This nation, which was founded on Christian principles, is growing increasingly indifferent and hostile toward the people and the object of the Christian faith, yet many is the farm family that remains a bastion of reverence for Christ and His Word.

            A cynic could read this and dismiss it as a sentimental sop aimed at my constituency, I suppose.  It isn’t.  My neighbors have lovingly accepted me and my family; they have cared for us and supported us.  We take their trials personally now.  How could we do any less? 

            And our friends, these dear people, are struggling in discouragement.  Please join me in praying them through this late harvest.  Make no mistake:  They sustain us in more ways than we realize.

Coalition of American Politicians and Media Figures Declares: IOC’s decision “racist”

    Copenhagen (BH) — Moments after the International Olympic Committee announced that Chicago had been eliminated as a host site for the 2016 Olympic games, a group of US politicians, celebrities, and media figures held a press conference to protest the decision as “based on racism.”   The group, which includes two former US Presidents, distributed a release with the headline:  “I.O.C. and K.K.K. are not O.K. with the U.S.A.”

     President Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, and talk show host Oprah Winfrey – all Chicagoans – had traveled to Denmark in the hope that their popularity would lend some star appeal to the Windy City’s bid to serve as the locale for the games.  Conservatives have criticized Obama’s decision to appeal directly to the I.O.C. as “unpresidential,” and even many of Obama’s supporters considered it politically risky.

     Former US Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were joined on the dais by US Representative Barney Frank (D-MA),  comedians Bill Maher and Janeane Garafalo, and Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker.     

     Jacques Rogge, president of the I.O.C., announced the selection of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil today, using what the group’s press release called “the thinly-veiled rhetoric of bigotry.”

    “I would like to congratulate the city of Rio de Janeiro on its election as the host of the 2016 Games,” Rogge said.   “Rio de Janeiro presented the IOC with a very strong technical bid.”

     At the hastily-assembled press conference, President Clinton decried Rogge’s words as “obviously dripping with racial hatred.”  Garafalo, star of the film The Truth About Cats and Dogs, agreed.  She characterized Rogge, the IOC’s 15-member executive board, and it’s 108 voting members as “just another mongoloid tea party redneck mob,” and compared their decision to “a cross burning on the lawn of the White House and the set of Oprah.” 

    Former President Carter weighed in, inexplicably railing against the USSR, which was officially dissolved in 1991 when the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the Belavezha Accords.  Members of the group shifted uncomfortably in their seats as Carter leveled a series of harsh accusations against the late Premier of the former Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev, who died in 1982; the single-term democrat called the committee’s decision “a deliberate effort by a powerful atheistic government to subjugate an independent Islamic people” that he called “a stepping stone to Soviet control over Afghanistan’s oil supplies.”  He ended his remarks by solemnly declaring, “It is for this and other reasons that I have made the difficult diplomatic decision to keep our athletes home from the games in Moscow.”   

     One of Carter’s aids gently led him away by the hand at this point.  “It’s the jet lag,” the unidentified nurse explained as she slipped a pill into the former president’s mouth. 

    Comedian Bill Maher, host of HBO’s “Real Time,” stated,  “To turn down this President, to vote against Chicago after that majestic speech he gave, would the I.O.C.  have done that if it was a white President? I don’t think so.  I think this is an international committee who thinks, ‘We can choose whatever city we want when it’s a black guy asking.’”

     Congressman Barney Frank cited what he perceives as an economic edge to the committee’s racism, saying, “The I.O.C. gets to take things out on poor people,” He said. “Let’s be honest: The fact that some of the athletes are black doesn’t hurt them either, from their standpoint. This is an effort, I believe, to appeal to a kind of anger in people.”

    Columnist Kathleen Parker was the last to speak for the group.  She underscored what, in her view, is a geographical dimension to “the racial prejudice” against President Obama.  “I’m just saying that there’s this subliminal level of communication that goes on,” she explained.  “The Southern strategy has always been — well, since they stopped using the N-word and being explicit about what they’re trying to do with race and, you know, creating this “us versus them” dynamic, it became increasingly vague through the years.  And you can’t get much more Southern than South America, am I right?”

     Not everyone attributes the failure of Chicago’s Olympic bid to racism, however.  One member of the executive board who asked not to be named said she and others objected to the President’s opening joke.  “As I begin, let me say this to the distinguished members of the International Olympic Committee,” Obama said, smiling broadly.  “Please vote for Chicago.  If you choose Madrid, Tokyo, or Rio de Janeiro, you’ll be lucky if you can pull off the Special Olympics.”

     When several in the audience gasped, the President looked around incredulously and asked, “What?  What?  What did I say?  Tough room!” 

     California First Lady Maria Shriver, daughter of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, issued a statement expressing disappointment in the president’s remark.  “President Obama made a similar joke in March while on The Tonight Show.  My mother died five months later.  While I am confident that President Obama never intended to offend or kill anyone, both of his comments about this important event demonstrate the need to continue to educate the non-disabled community on the issues that confront those with a developmental disability.” 

     Presidents Clinton and Carter, Bill Maher, Janeane Garafalo, and Kathleen Parker have since released a second statement to the media, accusing Maria Shriver of serving as the “bigoted mouthpiece for the Neo-Nazis and Klansmen who populate middle America and hate this president simply because he is an African-American.”

     London, England will host the next Olympic Games in 2012.

    © 2009 The Bloviating Hammerhead Blog.  All rights reserved.

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