July 15, 2017

You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It Too: Homosexuality and Jesus' Command To Love

Recently Eugene Peterson, a renowned theologian, made the FB rounds because he said he'd marry a gay couple if asked. He drew a lot of flack. He backed down. I'm sorry he did.

Jesus asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I have to ask: By denying homosexuals their civil rights, do we REALLY think ourselves worthy of discriminatory law? Unworthy of intimate love? The condescending judgement from the squabbling couple next door that go to First Baptist? The guy who may, or may not, be beating his wife?

Jesus' favorite people were those the religious held as "unworthy." I believe he did so because the religious have a nasty habit of scapegoating someone other than themselves and then use out-of-context and misunderstood Scripture to justify their own ignorance and lack of love. Why do they do it? I have my theories, but the point I wish to make is that Jesus loves the vulnerable. Surely he pitied them, and thus befriended them, saving his divisive scorn for those who "loved the person, hated the sin."

This nasty habit of judgment and subjugation goes way back.

Let's take a look at history.

1. The Pope used his religious authority to manage the affairs of Medieval Europe. All were subject to him--per the Bible.
2. Kings ruled their own countries with all kinds of cruelty and despotism--per the Bible.
3. Depending on who was in power, Catholics burned Protestants at the stake and visa versa--per the Bible.
4. Men burned women at the stake--per the Bible. Good heavens, King James the VI and II, who had the Bible translated into English, yes, the King James Bible, was responsible for over 3,000 burnings. Think about that.
5. In our own country, immigrants slaughtered and subjected the Natives. We still do--per the Bible.
6. In New England, the Puritans tortured and murdered the Quakers--per the Bible.
7. Protestants condemned the Catholics--per the Bible. When JFK was elected, it was considered a milestone in cultural tolerance.
8. The entire South enslaved an entire race--per the Bible.
9. Historically and on into today men subdue, and deny equality to, women--per the Bible.
10. Christian Germany aided and abetted in the murder of 11,000,000 people: Jews, gays, Gypsies, the disabled, and resistors--per the Bible.
10. The pro-choice fringe murders abortionists--per the Bible.
12. Radical Muslims terrorize the world--per their Bible.
13. Churches toss out people who file for divorce--per the Bible.

The list is long, you get the idea.

And now we're going after same-sex couples. Throwing Scripture in their faces and congratulating ourselves for sticking up for Jesus. Meriting our gay neighbors second-class status and refusing to bake them a wedding cake--and then crying "My religious rights are being violated! Oh, we are so persecuted!"

But we also say, "Oh, I love them, I just hate their sin." Do you know how condescending this is?

I suggest we take care of our own "sin."

So where should we start? More people in this country are obese than not. If anyone really wants to take the "moral" high ground, fair is fair; let's get out the stones and have a first go at anyone overweight. If we pull Scripture off the "let's go ahead and ignore this" shelf and blow the dust off, we can throw "gluttony" into the face of every fat person in this country--and congratulate ourselves for standing up for Jesus. Heartless?

Of course it is. Because obesity is a complicated disease.

We can also stone anyone who wears different fabrics together--rayon with cotton, for example; women who cut their hair, all who eat pork without repentance, dishonor their parents, work on the Sabbath... Heartless? Of course it is, these are antiquated laws for a nomadic people.

You just don't get to pick and choose your Scripture. Yet many Christians, since the first pope came into power, have been at it--selectively--to support their position and self-worth; their financial holdings; their prestige; their "in" with God; their Christian book sales; their "Christian" job; their unconscious sense of superiority (and I truly believe it's unconscious) that translates to everyone outside their world as condescending at best, destructive at worst.

Many people run when they see these kinds of Christians coming, breaking out in hives and screaming "Help me, Jesus!"

Some of these Christians actually think this is a good thing. They've made their stand for Christ. They're on the same page as Jesus. Really? He mission was to lay down the law and condemn those who can't conform?  I sometimes wonder if this brand of Christian is even in the same library.

What if we simply stick to what Jesus said? And love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves...and want the best for ourselves? What if we just do that?

Perhaps then the world would not run from us.

I am sorry Eugene Peterson backed down. He says he did so out of respect for his congregation. I ask, what about respect for gay couples who want to get married? If we truly love, we support civil rights. This is not Orwell's "All pigs are created equal, but some pigs are more equal than others." This is not what Jesus preached. This is not how he lived. It's not what he asked us to do.

The only moral answer, I believe, is to refrain from acting on what we don't understand and instead with Jesus doodle in the sand. Then look everyone in the eye who has a stone in their hand, and say:

"Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone."

And tend to our demons. I personally have enough on my own plate.

October 09, 2016

Let Me Speak: A protest to Donald Trump's "boys will be boys" defense

in response to: http://m.paysonroundup.com/news/2016/oct/04/phs-assembly-warns-girls-not-provoke-uncontrollabl/?templates=mobile

I am a survivor of sexual assault. LET ME SPEAK.

The rape culture in which we live is out of control--so clearly evidenced by this article and today's Facebook commentaries that defend Trump by soooo many men, even women. LET ME SPEAK.

I remember being taught in Grade 8 by a "hot" student teacher in our science class at Slauson Jr. High in Ann Arbor, MI, that us girls in the classroom were responsible for exciting the boys in the class to the point they wouldn't be able to hold back and would have to follow through with their arousal. Here's me: skinny, shy, unseated by danger. I cast a quick glance around. I was at their mercy? I thought of all the boys brushing up against me in the hallways. Their arousal somehow my fault? How was to know what would set them off? How was I to accept as my fate any boy's violence against me?
I did something I NEVER did in class. I raised my hand and I asked a question. Fear overcame my shyness.

An inarticulate question, to be sure. I had no words. My teacher did not give me words. I had only this helpless angst. I tried:
"Boys HAVE to hurt girls because a girl wears a pretty blouse? They can't just go squirt their stuff into a toilet? It HAS to be IN a girl?"

Silence. Then this: "Yes, but you can't expect them to do that. It's not fair.

Not. Fair????

LET ME SPEAK.

She didn't tell me that such action is illegal. She didn't put the law on my side. She just said I'd be "unfair" to the poor, suffering boy, overwhelmed by his uncontrollable urges--and only God could know what THOSE urges might be. Yes, the poor boy, overwhelmed by his own desires.

WAS DONALD TRUMP IN MY CLASS?

Was Billy Bush one of the sniggering boys?

LET ME SPEAK.

So is it any wonder, then, that at 17, when a doctor tells me to take off all my clothes (against the previous instruction of the nurse ) and then spends an HOUR--one HOUR--doing everything short of penile penetration?

My mother in the waiting room was frantic. I could hardly walk to the car. I was nauseous, faint, trembling, sore. I had no reason to believe that my vicious violation was illegal. Only that somehow I was too pretty (it had to have been my face because I had no clothes on, let alone a pretty blouse) for Dr. Don Mattson to resist. That what I suffered was society's concept of what was "fair" for boys. That my responsibility was to accept in silence my fate. My mother? She wanted to know what was wrong with me. What was I to tell her? My teacher's voice of four years before that fateful day of November 11, 1969, clanged in my ears.
LET ME SPEAK.

A year and a half ago I had a double mastectomy. I have massive scarring in my chest. And every morning when I wake up, and I move, and I stretch, and I pull back the covers, the tearing and tugging I experience puts me right back in that doctor's office 47 years ago next month. Can you understand the terrible pain that any mastectomy brings? And add to that the pain of molestation so severe I had to bite my lips and go somewhere deep inside my head in order to endure? In order to survive? And now I have feel that doctor's hands on my body every day--for the rest of my life? And this is only half of it. Above the belly button. It will be another 47 years before I speak of what else happened...
LET ME SPEAK.

Donald Trump is NOT a man for presidency of even the local Elks Club. He is of the rape culture that continues to blame women and exonerate the boys who can't help themselves.

I have spent some of my day weeping for that girl forever lost. I emerged, though, to find myself enraged, ENRAGED, that THIS is STILL going on!

At the high school level in Payson.

In the US presidential election.
LISTEN TO ME! And LET ME SPEAK!

Stop the madness.


July 10, 2016

On Racism and Police Brutality

I came to the US at the height of civil rights and found a voice within me that decried all forms of prejudice and racial scapegoating. This is when I began to write.
Ann Arbor, MI -- 1964
Tresa, Tim, Me, Dad, Linda, Mum

Coming from a county where policemen did not apply fire hoses to anyone, I discovered my twelve-year-old self outraged that so many white people had so many excuses for police brutality--especially in the name of God. I see we've come full circle.

For decades we've lived in slow but sure progress, at least on the surface, but with the election of Obama that surface shattered, giving way to the entrenched and systematic hatred that seems to define America.

When St. Louis Police Office, Ronald L. Fowlkes, can email 23 other city cops the day after elections with "I can’t believe I live in a country full of NIGGER LOVERS!” (followed by 31 exclamation points) it's indicative that blacks DO live in a scary shadow no white person ever has to know.

Rather than deflect and scapegoat by bringing up past behaviors and even rude and inappropriate responses of those killed by corrupt cops with their own history of aggressive overreach (in the same way we blame women for their rape, beating, etc. for what they're wearing or drinking), we can only escape the escalating violent chaos by naming that we have a problem. This should not be interpreted as anything but what it is. To say corrupt cops shouldn't shoot blacks is NOT saying all cops are corrupt, nor is it saying we don't appreciate good cops. The two statements are not mutually exclusive. And no problem is ever resolved if it remains unsaid. And by resolving the issue? We rid ourselves of racism with the added benefit that we make the lives of good cops--hard at work to keep us safe--so much safer!

I was twelve when Sandy, a black girl, and I became friends. I was twelve when I had sleepovers at her house, with too many children crammed into close quarters, Sandy and I curled up on broken bed, my back to the thin wall that allowed me to hear the black dialect of Michigan's impoverished working class. I was twelve when I understood that her family faced discrimination daily, that violence met her every day at school. I was twelve when I understood that I loved this family.

Love forever freed me from the sin of racism--or prejudice of any kind--so prevalent in this country I adopted as my own.

The following blog http://maryalicebirdwhistell.blogspot.com/2016/07/we-can-not-not-know-any-more.html was written by my son and daughter-in-law's minister. Her thesis is that we have to know what it's like to be black. I did this when I was twelve. I invite everyone to do the same.

February 27, 2016

John of Gaunt and Lady Katherine Swynford: A Royal Lineage

John of Guant Planatagenet
Katherine De Roet Swynford Plantagenet
The story of my 18th great-grandparents—Katherine de Roët Swynford and John of Gaunt—is the most endearing and enduring love affair in all of English history. My grandfather was the “greatest English nobleman of his time”—tall, lean, handsome, a mighty warrior, chivalrous, politically astute. He was the richest and the most powerful man as well; second only to his father, my grandfather King Edward III, and so great a prince that he was called the Greatest King England Never Had. My grandmother was renowned for her beauty, her kind and gentle nature, her financial acumen, her creative independence, most of all her piety. As his mistress, she was not his wife until late in the game. Still, she was (and is) “Mistress of the Monarchy,” for it’s through her children by John that Katherine became grandmother to both English and Scottish royalty, down to the present age. Several books have been written about their illicit and enduring love; their devotion to each other knew no bounds and withstood the test of time and the censure of church and state and public opinion. Lovers for twenty-five years before finally being able to marry, I’m not sure why there’s never been a blockbuster movie made, for their story is the very stuff of Hollywood: adultery, betrayal, chivalry, passion, sacrifice, separations, and murder. Ultimately, their devotion to each other changed the course of the royal bloodline and altered English history. The very least that can be said about their relationship is that without it I would not exist.

King Edgar of England
I actually plug into royalty long before John and Katherine. The very first kings of both England and Scotland were my great-grandfathers thirty-eight generations ago. Grandfather King Egbert reclaimed his English Wessex crown in 802 and by his death in 839 he’d been acknowledged as the first Sovereign over all of England. My Scottish grandfather, King Alpin MacEchdoch, was king of two kingdoms in what is now present-day Scotland, but because his son, my grandfather Kenneth I, increased the territory, founding Scotia, ancient Scotland, he is more often regarded as Scotland’s very first king. Still, the Scottish timeline begins with Alpin and from both Kings Egbert and Alpin I hopscotch down through the centuries: In England for about 600 years via the royal Houses of Wessex, Norman, Angevin, and Plantaganet; in Scotland some 500 years via Clans Dunkeld, Canmore, Balliol, and Bruce.

Alfred the Great
Some of my more illustrious grandfathers are Alfred the Great, William the Conqueror, John Lackland (who’s cruelty and bad behavior prompted the Magna Carta), and Richard the Lionheart. A notorious grandmother was Isabella of France, married to my grandfather King Edward II. She did not like him much. Under guise of diplomatic mission she returned to France, took a lover (exiled for bad behavior), and together they crossed the channel with an army so large it scared off all the King’s men. She immediately deposed her husband and later had him barbarically and brutally murdered in the Tower so that she and Roger Mortimer could act as regents for her fourteen-year-old son, King Edward III. And this is where I tumble out of British royalty. 

King Edward III
King Edward III is my last English king grandfather. On the Scottish side I’d already fallen into obscurity by at least 100 years. King Robert the Bruce is my last Scottish king grandfather. Both kings were regarded as heroes and both were dearly loved. Probably my most adored kings in their time.

Still, I’d not fallen far from either tree. On both sides I remained (and remain) cousins, and my dual ancestry was reinforced because they intermittently intermarried—English royalty with Scottish, Scottish with English. The two crowns finally merged in 1603 when my British cousins ran out of heirs. We’re all fairly familiar with the basic precepts of this particular story. My cousin, King Henry VIII, went through six wives—divorced, beheaded, survived; divorced, beheaded, and died—and a break from the Catholic Church in order to begat a promising male heir. This never happened. Upon his death, his young and sickly son Edward VI, then Mary, and finally the “Virgin” Queen Elizabeth succeeded him. All three of these children died without issue, leaving England without a royal heir. 

King James VI and I
The crown was forced, then, in 1603 to slide sideways to Queen Elizabeth I’s Scottish cousin—my cousin King James VI. The crown slid his direction for two reasons: he descended from two of John of Gaunt and Katherine’s grandchildren—on the English side through their grandson John III and subsequent Tudor kings and queens—Kings Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VI, VII, VIII, Edward VI, Queens Mary and Elizabeth. On the Scottish side, he descended from John and Katherine’s granddaughter Joan. She’d married Scotland’s King James I way back in 1424 and begat Kings James II, III, IV, V, Mary Queen of Scots—who was mother to James VI. And so, as much as England and Scotland hated each other their thrones were united in 1603 under this man, renamed King James VI of Scotland, I of England—and from him come every king and queen since.

So what actually happened to me? How and where did I lose my direct lineage to the first kings of England and Scotland? I fell out of the Scottish family tree after Robert the Bruce, descending from his daughter rather than his son. I dropped out of English royalty with King Edward III, descending from John of Gaunt, third son rather than first. I was, however, grafted back in three times to keep my cousin thing going. 

King James I of Scotland
One: The first grafting was when John of Gaunt and Katherine’s granddaughter Joan married King James Stewart I of Scotland in 1424. He was brutally assassinated. She was injured trying to protect him but survived and married Scotland’s Black Knight, Sir James Stewart. I descend from the Black Knight.

 Two: The second grafting came about when John of Gaunt and Katherine’s great-great grandson ended the War of Roses and crowned himself King Henry IV. The throne until then had been held by John of Gaunt’s first wife’s children, but was now held by John’s offspring with Katherine, my kin. 

Joan, the Fair Maiden of Kent
Three: The third grafting happened when my 19th great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Holland, died. His beautiful wife, my grandmother Joan of Kent—known as the Fair Maiden of Kent—remarried, this time to John of Gaunt’s oldest brother and heir to the English throne, the Black Prince. Joan of Kent therefore went from being my grandmother to being my aunt. Unfortunately, her new husband died when their royal son was but nine years old. A year later the king himself was dead. This left Joan of Kent’s ten-year-old son Richard king—my step cousin. These three graftings, then, keep me still very much tangled in the royal family tree. Queen Elizabeth, although many times removed, is nonetheless my cousin.


I have always been frustrated by the lack of story in my forebears. For instance, what of my 4th great-grandfather George Wilbee, born in 1763 ?He was grocery store owner. What else? The sketchy storyline of Isabella Pettigrew Goodfellow has always driven me crazy. She weeded turnips at the Denholm Estate in her bare feet when she was sixteen years old, this I know. Her stepbrother raped her. Or was it consensual

See? So little detail to the drama! But then I bumped into royalty and out rolled the stories in all their brutality and treachery, their inspiration and innovative. The greatest story, of course, is the love affair of my 18th great-grandparents. John of Gaunt and Katherine de Roët survived the test of time and open censure from church and state and public opinion. Their illicit love changed the very course of English and Scottish history. And teaches us all that love can be triumphant.

Always a good story.










September 22, 2013

Banff and my Great-Grandfather

Frederick Augustus Bagley
Fort Battleford, circa 1880
My connection to Banff goes back to 1886 when a detachment of Mounties was sent to police Canada's very first national park. My great-grandfather, Major Frederick Augustus Bagley, was amongst that group. He fell in love with this town and retired here. That love has been passed down to me.

The family mythology surrounding my great-grandfather was limited and unpleasant when I was growing up. His daughter was a missing grandmother in my life—a woman who had, it was said, abandoned my mother when she was just six weeks old, leaving Mum to be rescued by the Goodfellows, Mum’s paternal grandparents. Where Leona Bagley might have gone no one knew and none cared. And while judgment against her wasn’t particularly harsh (her actions explained away as depression), her father (my great-grandfather), came under a much harsher light. The story goes that when Leona asked her dad if she could leave her husband and come home, Frederick Augustus Bagley had said, “Yes, but leave the brat behind.”

And so while I loved and missed my missing grandmother, and grew up yearning to find her, I secretly resented my great-grandfather. If he’d been more understanding of whatever the plight may have been in 1928, my mother would have never been an orphan of sorts and my missing grandmother would not have gotten lost. Who was this man who thought my mother a brat? I didn’t care. I just wanted my grandmother.
I was fourteen when my family drove into Banff for the first time. I was sitting in the back seat between my two sisters. I had a straight-on view as we came in—the Rockies climbing up the sky all around me, just ahead the stone bridge and stately old hospital. I scooted forward with an exuberance new to me. In my fourteen years we’d moved a lot; any sense of home had dissipated, leaving me with a feeling of transience. But driving into Banff I recognized home. Here, I belonged. Here was an energy source I’d never experienced. Why?

At that time I didn’t know my great-grandfather had been a Mountie, that he’d been stationed here, that Banff, in fact, was where he’d chosen to retire, and that he was buried here in the little cemetery left of the bridge. I didn’t know that he’d started the Banff Springs Hotel band, or that he’d started the little band in Bankhead, the CPR ghost town just north of Banff—another magical place I wouldn’t discover until I was in my thirties. Nor did I know that my missing grandmother had at some point taught school here. I didn’t know any of these things. But surely my DNA did. For the part of me that is my great-grandfather, and to a lesser extent my grandmother, was joyous to be home again.

I’ve written about finding my great-grandfather (and hence my grandmother) elsewhere*; and this blog isn’t necessarily about Fred. I begin with him, yes, but it wasn’t just my great-grandfather who loved Banff. The Goodfellows did, too—my mother’s paternal grandparents and "kidnappers." (The story was not so simple and while my mother's mother, whom I found her six months before she died at 93, was reluctant to "speak ill of the dead," I did learn that my mother had not been abandoned and that Fred had done everything he could to get her back.)

The Goodfellows had a summer cottage in Banff and when Mum was a little girl in the ‘30s she remembers coming into the train station from Calgary and being entranced by the handsome old man conducting Souza marches out of the Banff Springs Hotel band. And being disappointed, too, because Granny and Granddad Goodfellow never let her dilly dally on the platform but hurried her along, away from her other grandfather—a man she’d never met or known about.

Did Fred ever happen to see her? A pretty little girl with red hair and freckles, merry green eyes, jumping off the train and dragging her heels, turning her head to better see him as she was hustled off? I find it interesting (and sad) that these two families co-existed in a silence that echoed down through time until finally I heard it.
So my roots go back to Banff from its inception and on up through the years, on both sides of my mother’s family. I’ve never lived here, though, until the summer of 2012 when I applied to drive summer tour buses for Brewster Transport, the same company my great-grandfather once worked for. After greeting guests at the train station with his band, he’d drive the Hotel guests up to the hotel in a Brewster Brothers tourist car. I now drive for Brewster, escorting Banff guests around town and beyond. There is something quite satisfying in this for me. I’m a gal who’s moved innumerable times, crisscrossing the continent, bee bopping back and forth across the 49th parallel between the US and Canada. It’s the satisfaction of roots. And sharing an eternal love for Banff with my ancestors—and with tourists seeing Banff for the very first time!



February 11, 2012

White Face Woman: Introduction


Jarvis is seated in the center.
a story by John O’kute-sica, White Face Woman's nephew, 1957, found in the Saskatchewan Archives

I was doing research in Regina a few years ago when I came across this interesting story of a romance between Major William Jarvis of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a Sioux refugee in 1880. More than 3,000 Sioux had found sanctuary in Canada after Custer's "Last Stand" in 1876 and the resultant, unmerciful manhunt. It was a tense few years. The Americans were growing more and more insistent on the return of the Sioux, the buffalo were rapidly disappearing from the plains, and the Canadian Cree--pushing south from their customary hunting grounds in search of the buffalo--were growing resentful of Sioux presence competing for diminishing food resources. This short romance between Jarvis and White Face Woman is an interesting bit of personal drama in the bigger, unfolding drama of two races--one dominant, one all but conquered--caught in international conflict. Their story brings history to life in a way textbooks can never hope to achieve.

Here is the story in eight parts, as told by John O'kute-sica.

White Face Woman: 1 of 8

The trail began at the Grease Grass River, otherwise known as The Little Big Horn. General George A. Custer started the trail for White Face Woman (Iteskawin) when he attempted, once and for all, to capture the Sitting Bull Sioux on June 25th, 1876.
     The general forgot the Indian is hard to capture on his own grounds. He and his officers planned well. With 900 men armed with gattling guns and carbine rifles, what chance had the hostile Sioux with their few muskets, bows and arrows? It was all as simple as that. In fact, he thought it so easy that he, with Major Reno, attacked the Sioux camp with between 3- and 400 cavalry—cream of the US army, so they say.
     In less than two hours Custer’s Seventh Cavalry was killed to the last man, while Major Reno came near being the same. After the battle dust cleared, the Sioux picked up their killed—ten in number, nine Sioux and one friendly Cheyenne—and about twenty wounded. Those killed were White Bull and Fast Bear, brothers, Buffalo Standing Up, Elk Standing Up, Hawk, Dice, White Eagle, Counted Coupe Upon, and Ice, the Cheyenne Indian. A Catholic priest cried when I told him the above number (Sioux tradition).
     “No, no, John, it cannot be true. It’s against the law of averages.”
     I thought of Samson, in the Holy Book, who slew 1,000 Philistines with the jaw bone of an ass. Anyway, I was only telling him the number of casualties handed down to me by my people. No miracles among the heathen? That is something God alone can answer.
     General Custer, although he met defeat, accomplished a task the United States had on its hands from 1776 to 1876—a hundred years. And to conquer the Sioux Indians he also started the trail of romance for White Face Woman, a trail that led her to Major Jarvis of the NWMP at Wood Mountain, near the US boundary in Western Canada.
     Immediately following the battle of the Little Big Horse, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, also the other four bands, including the Cheyenne, slowly began to scatter. Crazy Horse, whose band is credited with destroying Custer, worked his way southeast, intending to surrender, while the friendly Cheyenne band moved south. A third of Sitting Bull’s band headed north and entered the Wood Mountain country in the late fall of that year. In May, the next year, Sitting Bull joined his band in Canada, the rest followed in June.
For five years Sitting Bull remained in the Wood Mountain country and elsewhere in the vicinity of the NWMP, who welcomed him as a refugee. The Metis, too, received him and his people as friends. Each year the buffalo were rapidly thinning and by 1882 they were seldom seen, so the Sioux were starving, living on smaller game.