Rosie

One Woman Rising, Freedom Park, Atlanta, GA, 18 April 2013; Commissioned by: The Chelko Foundation, Sculptor: Phil Proctor, Geo Brenick/Geo4Design/, Painters: Scott Fray and Madelyn Greco.

 
Rosalind Worthy sits in the waiting room at the Granger Cancer Facility, in Seattle, where she’s been receiving treatment for more than six months. Her mother, Abigail, sits beside her, and her little sister, Rhiannon is across from her, looking through a copy of Highlights magazine. Rosalind is wearing a large, floppy hat to conceal her hair loss, and dark glasses to protect her eyes from the sun, but nothing can disguise the weight loss. Her clothes hang off her like she’s a stick figure. Regan got out easy, she thinks, and immediately regrets thinking it. 

Rosalind was diagnosed with ovarian cancer just a few months after her sister, Regan, twenty-two, and two years Rosalind’s senior, had been laid to rest in the family’s plot, beside their father who had lost his battle with lung cancer several years before. Rosalind’s doctor found the cancer during her yearly checkup, when she complained of stomach cramps and general listlessness, which seemed more than she normally experienced as a driven college sophomore. Regan’s death had hit Rosalind hard, but rather than take time to deal with it, she had returned to MIT and dived right back into her studies relentlessly, hoping this would give her little time to contemplate life without Regan. There was, still, Rhiannon, the surprise child, who came along when Rosalind was fourteen, but Rosalind had little time for a baby in the house. Besides, she’d had enough trouble on her hands trying to keep her older sister out of trouble as Regan’s schizophrenia worsened. Receiving her diagnosis, and the news that the cancer had spread to her uterus, Rosalind wondered if, perhaps, she’d soon be reunited with her sister. 

Rosalind sits up in her chair and fidgets with the gold watch on her left wrist. She isn’t used to wearing jewelry, but this was the only thing Regan left behind for her, and Rosalind hasn’t taken it off since Regan’s funeral. Today, she’s here to learn the results of her latest course of chemotherapy. Early in her treatment, she underwent a hysterectomy and removal of the cancerous ovaries, as well as quite a bit of surrounding tissue. This was followed by several months of chemotherapy, administered twice a month. She’s hoping today she’ll learn that’s no longer necessary.

“Rosie, look,” Rhiannon says, holding up her magazine showing a crossword puzzle. “Let’s do the puzzle together.”

“They’re going to be calling me back, shortly,” Rosalind says. “I’ll help you with it when we get home.”

In the months since Regan’s death, particularly since she’s been receiving treatment, Rosalind has used the time to forge a relationship with her remaining sister. Now the only big sister Rhiannon has left, Rosalind is determined to be as good a sister to Rhiannon as Regan had been to her, before Regan’s schizophrenia put a strain on their relationship.

Naomi, a young black woman in a nurse’s uniform, appears from the direction of the treatment rooms. Rosalind has gotten to know her well over the months she’s been here receiving treatment from Dr. Renshaw, the oncologist. “Miss Worthy?”

Rosalind acknowledges her and struggles to get to her feet. Abigail starts to get up, and Naomi moves to help, but Rosalind waves her off. “I’m fine”. She gets to her feet unaided and slowly follows Naomi back to an exam room. 

“How are you today, Miss Worthy?” the nurse says as they walk.

“Other than probably dying, I’m doing okay,” Rosalind says, then catches herself. “Sorry. That just kind of slipped out.”

“Totally understandable,” Naomi says. “Hopefully, the doctor will have some good news today.”

As Naomi takes Rosalind’s vital signs, Rosalind notes that the name on Naomi’s badge has changed from “Naomi Grant” to “Naomi Caine”. 

“Did you get married, finally?” Rosalind asks. 

“Yes, ma’am,” Naomi says. “Just after your last visit.”

“No honeymoon?”

“No, ma’am,” Naomi says. “Neither of us can afford to be away right now. We’re going to take some time when Gerald finishes his degree in a few months.”

“Well, congratulations,” Rosalind says. “I never thought I’d be around to see you married.”

“You promised, Miss Worthy,” Naomi says. “When I told you I was getting married, you said you’d stick around long enough to congratulate me, and here you are.”

“I guess miracles happen after all,” Rosalind says. 

“You’re a fighter,” Naomi says. “I’m always rooting for you.”

“That’s very kind of you to say, Naomi,” Rosalind says. 

Naomi leaves and Rosalind leans on her hands on the exam table. She looks at herself in the mirror over the sink. Her hair has grown back to the consistency of a crew cut, and she’s pleased to see it’s still her usual dark brown. She also notes she’s gained a bit of weight and hopes the doctor won’t tell her she needs any more chemo, which makes her sick for days.

Dr. Renshaw enters with Rosalind’s chart in his hand, closes the door behind him, and looks her over. 

“Vitals look good, Rosalind,” he says, “and I’m pleased to report, your cancer appears to be in remission.”

These are the words she’s wanted to hear since her initial diagnosis. “Really? Does this mean I’m cancer-free?”

“I’m not ready to make that call just yet,” he says. “For now, I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m not scheduling another round of chemo just now.”

“That’s almost as good to hear,” Rosalind says.

“I want to see you back here in two weeks,” he says, “then we’ll monitor you for a few more months, just to be sure. If you keep doing this well, I don’t think we’ll be seeing each other much longer.”

“We’ll always have Granger,” she says. 

Shadow Selves


Can you see the real me?
–The Who, Quadrophenia

We all have secret sides to our personalities that we keep hidden from those around us — thoughts we never share, opinions we never state, fantasies we never reveal. Each individual carries around multiple perspectives inside his or her mind, a unique vision that no one else can imagine or share. Artists tap into this reservoir to bring their views of reality to light, and often, in creating fiction, shine a spotlight on the truth. 

Jack Henry Abbot gained fame in the early 80s when his writing was published with the assistance of Norman Mailer as the bestselling work, In the Belly of the Beast. Critics praised his writing for its raw and powerful depiction of prison life. The recognition led to his being released from prison, and not long afterward, he murdered a man in an altercation outside a restaurant, returning him to prison. One might wonder how such a violent individual could craft words with such intensity. The reality is that Abbot was both a brilliant writer and a hardened criminal. The aspects of his character which made him a violent felon also fueled his more poetic side. The tragedy was that he was never able to find a way to reconcile both sides within himself. He eventually took his own life behind bars.

We’ve all heard stories about people who hid aspects of their characters, the church deacon who was secretly molesting children; the homeless person who was a covert multimillionaire; the shy store clerk who no one knew could sing like an angel. Writers who publish under assumed names are often nothing like the characters they create. For every story of someone whose hidden side was revealed, there are hundreds of others who never reveal who else may be lurking inside their heads. 

The question is, which one is real? Are we the faces we present to the world or the compendium of voices which issue forth from our subconscious minds? We’ve all had moments when our actions astound even us. Confronted with a situation, we can imagine the absolute worst way we could respond, then proceed to do just that without being able to explain why. The question of nature versus nurture also looms large in our experience. Are we the people we imagine we are or those we’ve been conditioned by circumstance to be?

The Internet has given rise to a similar phenomenon, quiet, unassuming people becoming trolls and cyber bullies online. I once knew an individual who inhabited a news group I frequented. In the group, he posted under his actual name with a superior and insulting tone toward those who disagreed with his opinions. Whenever I’d bring up his online endeavors in person, however, he’d become defensive and wouldn’t talk about it. He probably viewed his online persona as detached from his “real life” without recognizing how much a part of his character it was. 

The truth is, we are whoever we define ourselves to be. It’s common to see artists behaving in a manner that seems outside society’s norms, but really, we all have people we’d like to be if certain constraints were removed. How much time and effort do we invest in being who we think others want us to be instead of concentrating on who we’d rather be?

What Nature Intended 

Butterfly sculpture, Hapeville Train Depot Plaza, Hapeville, GA, artist unknown. Photographed 17 April 2016.

To someone trying to reason out why people behave the way they do, homosexuality may seem like an anomaly. Two men together or two women together cannot produce a child, and since the biological imperative for all creatures on earth seems to be to survive and procreate, homosexuality doesn’t appear to play a role in that. For someone who adheres to a philosophy which states that all life was fashioned in the image of a divine creator, people frequently come to the conclusion that homosexuality is against the design of this creator, and yet, humans are not the only species to exhibit homosexual behavior, we’re just the only ones who constantly obsess over it. Remove divine intent from the equation, and we’re still left with the quandary of figuring out what, if any, evolutionary function homosexuality serves. The problem is we’re most likely still overthinking it.

When discussing human behavior, particularly with regard to sexuality, one often speaks of “what nature intended”, and yet, we rarely speak of this when talking about other natural phenomena. If a region is hit by an earthquake or flood, the people there usually don’t interpret that as nature telling them they don’t belong there, though insurance companies might disagree. It’s only in the realm of human behavior that we assume some divine purpose underlies what we do. Trying to figure out why something happens is usually the first step in figuring out how to prevent something from happening, and more than a few people throughout the world would be happy if homosexuality could be eliminated. The question is why?

One cannot simply look at a person and know that person’s sexuality. Men and women who don’t meet society’s standards for masculinity and femininity still choose mates of the opposite sex, while people who conform to the behaviors assigned by society for that gender sometimes don’t. We have already had instances of very masculine male athletes coming out as gay, and feminine models and actresses announcing they’re lesbians. As homosexuality becomes less stigmatized in society, we’ll undoubtedly have more instances of this. We don’t even need high profile illustrations, since pretty much everyone knows someone they thought was or wasn’t gay up until the time that person started dating someone of the same or opposite sex. As with many things in nature, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it. It’s society and culture that typically complicates things and we’re responsible for developing and maintaining those.

In patriarchal societies, fathers or other male relatives choose how women will be joined with their mates, and often the strongest and most influential men get first choice, surprise, surprise. In much of nature, however, it’s the female of the species which makes that choice, and the males must put on elaborate displays to attract the attention of willing partners. If one sees a pair of red birds, for instance, the one most brilliantly arrayed is the male, and among songbirds, it’s often the males who sing elaborate songs in order to attract mates. In cultures which tend to be matriarchal, we also see this behavior in humans, males prancing and preening in makeup and brightly colored costumes to attract the attention of their intended brides. Given the vastly different roles played by males and females in reproduction, particularly with mammals, it makes more sense for the female to choose, since she’s taking the greater risk in getting pregnant. Even in patriarchal societies we see vestiges of this, fathers choosing their daughters’ husbands based on who will best provide for them, or which tribal alliances will best insure their survival.

So, what did nature intend in creating homosexuality? Most likely nothing. With regard to biology, nature is a usually a passive force which sometimes gives a species mutations that have no effect on survival unless conditions exist that make that mutation an advantage. The way a given species reproduces is the result of billions of years of evolution and the fact that different species have vastly different methods of reproduction suggests no specific plan was in place from the start. One might argue that homosexuality is one of the curbs nature puts in place to control population growth, but this ignores two important facts. First, the percentage of homosexuals in society appears to remain constant while the population gets larger. Second, and more importantly, people who are homosexual are still capable of having children. Neither the ability nor the desire to have children is affected by one’s sexual preference. True, there are many homosexuals who don’t want children, but there is probably an equal percentage of heterosexuals who also don’t want children. If there is a curb, it’s probably more the lack of desire to reproduce rather than the type of relationship one is in.

Societal prohibitions against homosexuals focus almost exclusively on male homosexuality. Leviticus 18 forbids men from having sex with other men and says nothing about women. It’s not until much later that admonitions for women were added to Jewish law. It’s likely the restriction was put in place because this was behavior observed in cultures with whom the ancient Israelites interacted. It’s known that the ancient Greeks practiced homosexuality, though the specific cultural context is probably lost to us today. It would seem then, that the prohibition has less to do with protecting families or society than with controlling a specific type of male behavior.

Throughout human populations, rape is often a powerful weapon employed in asserting control over other individuals or groups of people. Despite its sexual nature, rape is not about sex, but about demonstrating one’s dominance over another person. In Western society, males who are raped by other males carry a higher stigma than females who’ve been raped, and boys who’ve been sexually abused often receive more attention than girls. Aside from totally ignoring or flippantly dismissing rape allegations by women, authorities take male rape very seriously, believing it diminishes the man’s masculinity. One rarely hears someone dismiss allegations of rape by one man against another with the phrase, “Boys will be boys” though statistics from prisons and other male-dominated endeavors tell a different story. Despite the fear mongering by anti-gay activists, men who rape other men often do not identify as homosexuals, since, again, rape is not about sexuality, but control.

So, it seems the real culprit is not human sexuality, but the need by humans to exert control over others, and that is a perversion of the survival instinct, since those who control the resources have a better chance to survive than those who don’t. We see, in parts of Africa where water and other natural resources are scarce, the highest level of strife, as populations are constantly at odds to try to claim those resources. In the Balkans, while the Soviet Union was still in place, people of different ethnicities lived side by side with relatively little conflict, but once the stabilizing influence of an authoritarian regime was removed, ethnic cleansing soon followed. The challenge for us is not to eliminate homosexuality from existence, since its presence in and of itself has not proven detrimental to the health and welfare of a given society. Rather it’s to overcome the need for humans to exert dominance over their environment and fellow individuals, which has been shown to hinder growth and development, bringing about such atrocities as wartime sexual violence and genocide, and leading to such repressive regimes as Apartheid-era South Africa. Our focus, then, should not be on those who wish to lead contented lives with partners they desire, but rather those who’ll stop at nothing to prevent them.

Secrets, Lies, and Home Invasions 

 Non-descript row of houses

Travis Maudlin is a man of many quirks and peculiarities, much of which he keeps to himself, though some of his oddities can’t be so easily contained. On more than one occasion, his coworkers have noted his habit of muttering to himself under his breath; his almost pathological refusal to use anyone’s name in conversation; his notable discomfort whenever anyone gets closer than three or four feet from him, and his curious tendency to wear the same clothes over and over throughout the month, usually without washing them in between wearings. His colleagues in the technical support unit of the enterprise software division of Bickering Plummet Incorporated in Atlanta universally regard him as the quintessential loner, a “quiet man” who may one day snap and arrive at work in fatigues with something concealed under his jacket. They often express amazement at the fact that he is, in fact, married to a lovely, vivacious woman named Heidi, who, in all respects, is the total antithesis of her husband.

Those who refuse to scratch the surface of Travis’ demeanor have no idea of the dark and troubled man underneath. He, too, is surprised at his good fortune at winning a woman like Heidi, though he often regards their marriage as the proverbial double edged sword. Though she has always acted toward him with nothing but the utmost grace and charm, almost every aspect of her character seems designed to play upon his natural insecurities and paranoia. Again, he’s mostly able to keep the more undesirable of his tendencies to himself, but he cannot help but be totally unnerved by her superficial cheerfulness, her unflagging optimism, and her obsessive extroversion. There are no strangers around Heidi.

Perhaps his greatest fear is that he’ll return home one weekend and find that Heidi has invited one of those home improvement shows in to redesign a room for him. Nothing could be more galling to him than the thought of having a camera crew tramping around in his private life, cajoling Heidi to recount some lovable quirk or colorful tendency of his to win lovely prizes, while they systematically destroy some favorite refuge inside his castle, transforming it with a lousy paint job and cheap furnishings. He’ll hate the results but have to pretend he loves it because the cameras are rolling thus denying him expression of his true feelings about the indignity. This is not an irrational fear on his part, because Heidi is obsessed with the home improvement shows she sees on her favorite cable network, and spends far too much of her time watching them while Travis is at work.

This, my friends, is the painful reality of Travis Maudlin, and his life in the midst of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Careful readers will have already deduced that he is, in fact, who they believe him to be; he did do exactly what everyone remembers him as doing in much the manner that it has been recounted. What most don’t know is the sad tale underneath and that is the subject of this discourse, the forces that drove him to that tragic afternoon of September, 2005, to the pleasant neighborhood in Dunwoody where he shared a modest, but exceptionally comfortable home with Heidi, a dwelling which would forever after be inextricably linked with the While You Were Away Massacre.

 

Dunkirk Estates 

  
Howard stares out his upstairs window at his neighbor, Zack, washing his car. Zack is at least sixty-five or seventy, Howard guesses, since all he knows about Zack is that he’s retired, and is wearing no shirt as he applies wax to the car’s exterior and buffs it. Howard shakes his head as he dials a number on his phone. 

“That is not a good look for you,” he says aloud as he waits for the line to connect.

Judy’s voice comes from the other end of the line, and she sounds like she’s eating. “What’s up, Howie?”

“He’s at it again.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, it’s like the fourth time this week.”

“How clean can a car be?” Judy says through bites of food.

“What are you eating?”

“Leftover lasagna from the other night.”

Howard peers through the blinds again.

“I’ve got a theory about this guy,” he says. 

“Okay, shoot.”

“I think he’s a serial killer.”

“Oh get real. I met the guy. He’s a pleasant older gentleman. A little too talkative but nice.”

“The nice ones are the ones to watch out for. Gacy was in the Jaycees, you know.”

“All right, state your case.”

“Think about it. He’s always asking questions. Always poking around in other people’s business.”

“Yeah, so.”

“Byron, that guy on the residents council, says they refer to Zack as da news.”

“Hmm, he did seem a little obsessed with that woman in Unit 42 when I talked to him. But that could mean anything.”

Howard has been living in Dunkirk Estates ever since he and his wife divorced nearly four years ago. The split had been amicable, with no children to fight over, and they agreed to evenly divide the community property, including their home in Roswell. Dunkirk Estates is just along the outer edge of Interstate 285, which most Atlantans refer to as the Perimeter, as it surrounds the city, connecting every major highway through town, and Howard often noticed the complex as he was driving to work and inquired about it when he needed a new home. He purchased his unit from the original owner, one Betty McClosky, who had owned it since the 70s, making Howard only the second person to live there.

“This whole place is crawling with weirdos,” he said. “I told you about the crazy woman who steals people’s lawn ornaments, right?”

“Yeah, you mentioned it. Is she still on the loose?”

“Of course, what can they do? She’s a nuisance but relatively harmless. I kind of feel sorry for her with the way everyone acts toward her.”

“What did they do now?”

“Margo sent out one of her priority alerts, telling everyone to be on the lookout and call the local authorities if anyone sees her acting oddly,” he says. “Like the cops care that some stupid garden gnome went missing.” He moves from the window and sits at his computer desk. “Yesterday, Fred was out screaming at her like some lunatic. If the police had shown up they’d have carted him off for being nuts.”

“What prompted you to move in there anyway?”

“Price, for one,” Howard says. “I got it for a song from Ms. McClosky. Plus I can be on the road in any direction in a couple of minutes.”

“The joys of living at Spaghetti Junction,” Judy says, referring to the interchange from I-285 to I-85 which is less than a mile from Dunkirk.

Dunkirk Estates is a collection of townhouses built in the seventies with the original intent of being apartments. For some reason, the developers decided it was better to sell each unit once rather than have the continuous monthly income that comes with rentals, which is how the complex became condos instead. Each building consists of five units that share water and gas connections, making them shared expenses covered by the monthly residents’ fees. 

Howard’s is one of four two-bedroom units in his building, with the fifth being a three bedroom at one end of the building, that has a fireplace and slightly larger patio, and which gives each building an L-shape. Margo, his next door neighbor, owns the three bedroom, although she lives alone, and on the other side is Fred, who also owns the connecting townhouse to his, which he occasionally rents out. Because of this, there are usually only four or five people in the building, without any families. The end unit is owned by an East European couple who pretty much keep to themselves.

When Howard moved in, Fred was president of the residents’ council but at the next quarterly meeting, Margo staged a coup and had Fred booted from the board for alleged financial mismanagement and ever since, there’s been quite a bit of hostility between them. Living in the middle unit, Howard often finds himself caught up in their disputes as one or the other tries to recruit Howard to his or her side. Whenever the annual meeting rolls around, both are sure to knock on his door to solicit his vote. After attending his first and only annual meeting after he moved in, which devolved into a shouting match before the meeting had even been called to order, Howard opted out of going to anymore, and to avoid rankling either of his neighbors, he usually gives his proxy to Zack.

Judy is Howard’s former sister-in-law, who he barely knew while he was married, but ended up as his co-worker about nine months after his divorce was final. This mutual connection allowed them to strike up an acquaintance which blossomed into a cordial friendship and later an on again off again dating relationship. Judy is the polar opposite of Howard’s ex, who has given her blessing for the relationship. Judy is also divorced, and neither she nor Howard is in any hurry to take things to the next level.

Strange Bedfellows: Politics in Post-Rational America 

Part of the trouble with our current system of governance is that it takes so long and costs so much to gain and retain office, that only someone comfortably wealthy or in the pocket of wealthy business interests can afford to run. Factored into the equation is the tremendous amount of scrutiny most public figures, in particular candidates are subjected to and the enormous number of hoops one must jump through to prove oneself worthy of high office. Oftentimes the election isn’t won by the best candidate but by the candidate who’s most determined to get elected. In addition, the corrupting influence of power and money can turn even the most altruistic of individuals totally against the ideals that caused him or her to run for office in the first place.

The situation in the US is compounded by what I call two-party tyranny, or the belief fostered by the major political parties that only the democrats or the republicans are qualified to govern and that independent candidates have no chance of winning. This is due, in part to the actions of politicians of both stripes crafting the laws that keep them in office to the exclusion of all others. It is nearly impossible for a candidate to be elected above the local level without belonging to one party or the other. The news media is very much in active collusion by choosing to ignore or belittle candidates not of the major parties, thereby undermining the credibility of independent or viable third party candidates. Since most debates are arranged by the media in conjunction with the major parties, it becomes even more difficult for candidates outside the mainstream to even participate in the process.

Changing the system takes time and patience, but most of all, relentless determination, and most people simply give up after repeated setbacks. The religious right, on the other hand, rode a single issue, abortion, into control of one of the two major political parties in this country. Now, if we don’t like what the democrats are doing, our only option is to turn the government over to a group of religious extremists, whose only solutions to all social problems are to lower taxes and re-institute prayer in schools, all the while vilifying homosexuals and interfering with the reproductive freedom of women. For those who don’t like that, we’re left with a party run by a bunch of weak-willed corporate shills who don’t make any moves without consulting the latest opinion poll. Given these options the question isn’t why so few people vote, but why anyone bothers to vote at all.

This is not to say that there aren’t good people on both sides who sincerely want to make a difference and who view politics as a means toward that end, but their voices are increasingly drowned out by the endless drone of useless political theater which substitutes for intelligent discourse in the media. The best way to be noticed is to be totally outrageous, regardless of how abhorrent ones’ ideas are when presented. The rise of Donald Trump in the presidential polls shows how cynical and self-serving the process has become. When one isn’t certain if he or she is watching Jerry Springer or the latest partisan debate for high office, the problem becomes all too clear.

The situation has gotten so bad that our elected representatives at the national level are completely at a loss as to how to carry out the jobs they were elected to perform. They spend so much time and effort trying to gain and retain power that they’ve lost sight of the fact that campaigning for office is not the job they were sent to Washington to do. At best, they spend three months at work and the rest of the time raising money and bashing their political opponents. The only thing worse is when they do show up for work and pass legislation that curtails another of our freedoms, or waste time and taxpayer funds conducting hearings aimed at hurting the opposition solely for political gain.

Ultimately, the solution rests with the electorate. When we point the finger of blame, we need to begin with ourselves, because we’ve allowed the situation to get so far out of hand by not taking the process seriously. Democracy starts with local action. Find good people, encourage them to run for office, support them, and, above all, insist on transparency and accountability from them. The electorate in this country has abdicated its responsibility to hold our “leaders” accountable for their decisions, and the professional politicians in charge of the system know this. Is there any wonder they feel no need whatsoever to account for their activities? If one’s representative to Congress only moved to the region shortly before the election and spends most of his or her time outside the district, how can that person be expected to know what’s best for the constituency he or she is supposed to serve? Scenarios like this happen again and again in US elections and apathetic citizens, who refuse to take a few minutes out of their time to register and vote simply let it happen, then spend the duration between elections complaining about how bad things are.

Most people in the US behave as though politics is just something that happens to someone else. They believe the political system is rigged and there is nothing anyone can do to fix it. While I agree the system is rigged, I do believe there’s something we can do about it, though it won’t be easy or quick. The system we’re dealing with in the US didn’t spring up overnight, and outside of complete overthrow, which usually causes more problems than it solves, it won’t be fixed in one fell swoop. Still, I believe we should try, otherwise we’ll become increasingly disconnected to a system which, despite all its problems, still makes vital decisions which have a huge impact on the quality of the lives we lead.

The first step is to be informed. We live in an age where a massive amount of information is at our fingertips. The White House, Congress and Supreme Court not to mention most state legislatures and local governments have all their votes, rulings and dispatches online. Most members of Congress have sites where they publish news and official information about their activities in Washington, their voting record, and contact information both locally and in the capitol. If an important vote is held and one’s representative in Congress isn’t there due to a political fundraiser or other less important speaking engagement, the constituents deserve to know why that was deemed more important than serving the needs of those being represented. Equally, if a representative votes for legislation that has a damaging impact on his or her home region or against a bill that would have benefited the folks back home, the citizens have a right to ask why and change representation at the first opportunity if not satisfied with the answer. We voted them in, and we can vote them out.

Of course, building a new system would take decades, starting from scratch, and reforming the current system might take just as long. From FDR’s New Deal to LBJ’s Great Society was a span of thirty to forty years and the conservative movement now controlling the republican party started to take hold while I was in college thirty years ago. Most political movements begin in reaction to what’s happening in the country at a given time and take hold gradually. Often, by the time its leaders finally attain power, society has begun to swing back in the other direction. Politics can change in a revolution, but it’s more likely to do so by evolution with gradual steps.

While it may at times seem futile to participate, it’s only through such participation that things begin to improve. History has shown that when the electorate does bother to show up changes take place. It’s in the politicians’ best interest to keep voter turnout low. If we want real change, it’s in our hands to make it happen and we should be responsible enough to accept the challenge.

Real Bible Studies: Genesis, Abraham and Abimelek 

After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the bible is pretty much done with Lot and his nameless daughters, until their descendants, the Moabites and Ammonites start hassling the tribes of Israel many generations later. One wonders why Lot didn’t just drop in on his uncle, given the special relationship Abraham seems to have with YHWH, or why Abraham didn’t bother checking on Lot, since he knew in advance the cities would most likely be destroyed. Maybe Lot went back to live with his grandfather, since Genesis implied Terah might still be alive at the time. In any event, Lot’s family disappears without a trace and the action shifts back to Abraham, where we find him up to his old tricks.

Genesis 20 tells us Abraham has moved to the Negev, where he’s once again telling everyone that Sarah is his sister. Abimelek, king of Gerar sends for her, intending to take her as a wife or concubine. YHWH communicates with Abimelek in a dream, letting him know he’s in big trouble because he took Abraham’s wife, and Abimelek pleads ignorance, since Abraham told everyone she was his sister. This situation raises a couple of questions.

First, hasn’t Genesis made a point of letting us know Sarah is well beyond the age when women can have children? Since offspring were the desired outcome of marriages in this era, why would Abimelek consider Sarah a viable mate? The last report we had on Abraham’s age was ninety-nine at the time of the covenant of circumcision. Granted, Genesis has stated that Sarah was very attractive, but, if we assume she’s close in age to Abraham, that would put her in her eighties or nineties, at least. Since a king could have his choice of any woman, it makes no sense he’d choose someone so advanced in age who’s unable to give him heirs.

Second, what is up with Abraham always telling people his wife is his sister? He did this in Egypt, causing all sorts of problems for the Pharaoh, who “punished” Abraham by giving him livestock and letting him graze them wherever he wanted. This tendency apparently runs in the family because in Genesis 26, Isaac pulls the exact same stunt with the exact same king, Abimelek, now identified as king of the Philistines. Abimelek had apparently wised up by then and didn’t try to take Rebekah as a wife. It’s like the person who wrote Genesis just kept using the same story over and over, or used multiple versions of the same legend without bothering to vary the details significantly. The only device used more often is that of a woman being unable to conceive until some mysterious stranger visits, even after YHWH has declared that the woman will become pregnant, which is pretty much the story of every woman in the Old Testament, with the exception of Ruth, Tamar, and a few others.

After getting the 4-1-1 from YHWH, Abimelek goes to Abraham demanding to know why he misrepresented his relationship with Sarah. Abraham clarifies, and tells Abimelek that, in fact, Sarah is his father’s daughter by another mother. This sort of relationship will be forbidden in Leviticus 18 but since it hasn’t yet been written in Abraham’s time and, since Abraham has a special relationship with YHWH, this appears to make everything okay. I guess since the world was only a few hundred years old at this point and still recovering from being wiped out in the flood, YHWH decided not to be too stringent on the rules, though there seems to be lots more people around who are far more diverse than one might expect after such a calamity, especially with just a handful of people left to repopulate the world. Maybe living for eight or nine hundred years had its advantages.

It’s never explained why everyone but Abraham gets in trouble for him misrepresenting his relationship with Sarah, since he’s the one being deceitful. Sarah gets carted off to some king’s harem; the king’s household suffers, and Abraham makes out like a bandit with herds of sheep and cattle along with sweet deals on grazing rights. Being a patriarch apparently comes with loads of perks, not least of which is having a direct hotline to the supreme being.

Not only does Abraham always get away with telling people Sarah is his sister, he always greatly benefits from it. Genesis tells us that, just like Pharaoh, Abimelek gives Abraham herds of livestock, and lets Abraham graze his flocks wherever he wants, as well as giving him a thousand shekels just for his troubles. YHWH also instructs Abimelek to have Abraham pray for him, since Abraham is a prophet, which he does, thus allowing all the women in Abimelek’s household to once again conceive children. Exactly how any of this is relevant to the story of the children of Israel is anyone’s guess. It’s likely that Genesis, like Judges, also started out as a hodgepodge of oral myths and legends about Abraham which an early writer cobbled together to form a coherent narrative, before a later editor embellished it considerably to add to the Hebrew bible. Since there’s hardly any mention of Abraham and his covenant in Judges, the source material may have originated with different tribes which was combined by a later editor who added material to connect them. 

Scholars have theorized that the Torah, that is, the first five books of the bible, was formed from combining several different texts, the so-called “documentary hypothesis”. Richard Elliott Friedman in his work, The Hidden Book of the Bible, takes this a step further by attempting to recreate the Jahwist or Yahwist text, which he says includes material from Joshua and Judges, too. Friedman’s recreation begins with the story of creation in Genesis 2, and includes the stories of Abraham, Isaac and their descendants.