Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Unconstitutional Religious Tests for Political Office by Brian Kaylor

One of the few references about religion in the U.S. Constitution is the declaration that that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Yet, not far from where the primary author of the Constitution lived, such a simple statement is now being ignored.

Augusta County Supervisor Tracy Pyles has attacked the religiosity of fellow Democrat Erik Curren, who is running for the 20th district delegate seat. According to Pyles, Curren is not an acceptable candidate because he follows some Buddhist practices in addition to worshipping in a Christian church. Yet, such issues should be irrelevant when deciding between candidates. What voters should instead consider is who has the better policy proposals and vision to bring about what citizens of the Valley and other parts of Virginia need.

Applying such religious tests for office creates a new class of civic lepers that—as in biblical times—must be avoided at all costs. This exclusionary rhetoric therefore undermines basic American democratic values of equality and freedom. To politically excommunicate a candidate just because we disagree with their religious beliefs is to ignore the wisdom of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

Sadly, this current controversy is not the first attempt to find political salvation by urging voters to treat elections as catechism tests. A few years ago, Virginia U.S. Representative Virgil Goode attacked a Minnesota congressman because the man is a practicing Muslim, and Barack Obama faced questions and attacks about his religion throughout the 2008 presidential election. Hopefully, voters in Virginia’s 20th district will stand up against the misuse of religion as a political weapon. After all, such politicization of religion not only undermines democratic principles but also cheapens faith. As a committed Christian and former pastor, I am appalled that someone would treat what I find holy as if it was just another dirty political trick.

Half a century ago, John F. Kennedy faced religious bigotry on the campaign trail. He argued that the questions about his religion took attention away from more important issues. He said he really wanted to focus on “the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctors bills, the families forced to give up their farms—an America with too many slums, with too few schools.” Virginia voters should focus on similar critical concerns facing us today, rather than the religious practices of candidates. My prayer is that voters would adopt the wisdom of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, who suggested he would even support a Muslim leader when he said, “I would rather be governed by a competent Turk than by an incompetent Christian.”

Thursday, July 9, 2009

One Summer's Soul-mate by Martha Woodroof

I spent a summer cooking supper at an artist colony in the Virginia countryside. Robert Johnson was assigned to “train me.” Five minutes after we met, Robert sent me into the pantry after a pot. As I crossed the floor, I heard his voice sing out behind me, “Whoo-wee! She’s got that Chicago walk!”

Robert was the colony factotum. He did anything as long as there was money in it. He cooked, cleaned, transported, mowed grass, posed for visual artists, barbecued. He fleeced the fellows at poker. Then he’d gamble away both his winnings and his earnings down at the local convenience store. “Ooo, do I feel lucky to-night!” he’d say as he left to put in his numbers and lose more money. The colony’s fellows were in awe of him. Robert was the real deal – a wild man, a free spirit, an outlaw – something most of the artists aspired to be, someday, when they could afford it.

A lot of the fellows came from big cities. To Robert, these artists were alien beings, creatures who dressed funny and were disturbed by normal, everyday things like cows and black snakes and tall grass and silence. He found them skittish; euphoric one moment, gloomy the next. “When these peoples gets in a bad mood, I just leave ‘em alone,” he said to me, “or pretty soon we’d have two peoples in a bad mood.”

Since he was a fellow cook, I asked Robert once what he liked to eat. “Tuna fish,” he said. “And corn flakes.”

“What about your vitamins?”

“What’s vitamins?”

For years, I’ve been getting up every morning and writing for a couple of hours – working away on novels no one wants to publish . . . yet. The combination of intense creativity and unforgiving intellectual discipline involved in getting an imagined world exactly right satisfies me as much or more as anything in the real one.

Once that summer, I printed out a draft of a novel and laid the formidable stack of pages on a table in the dining room. Robert stood looking down at them.

“You type all these pages?”


“What you do with them now?”

“I’ll send them to my agent in New York.”

“And that agent, he send you money, right?”

“No. He’ll try to sell the book to someone else.”

Robert shook his head. “Whoo-wee! If I typed all those pages, and I sent them to some man in New York and he kept them but didn’t send me no money, I believe I’d be on the bus!”

This, from a man who regularly lost serious amounts of money on the numbers.

An un-air-conditioned kitchen during the southern summer is a pretty live-and-let-live place. I wrote; Robert gambled. I took my rejections; he took his losses. We both managed to pay the rent and have a pretty good time.

God bless the children that’ve got their own . . .

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Reflections on Omaha Beach…a Pilgrimage by Sam Heatwole

Date of trip to Omaha Beach 6/13/09...65 years and one week after the Allied forces landed there, 6/6/44

When I was a kid, Mom and Dad used to talk about my twin uncles Cloyd and Lloyd. They admired them and said they’d been in WWII. They’d landed at Omaha Beach. As a kid all that meant very little to me except for the fact that they had been REAL soldiers. Kids, boy kids anyway, like to play war, at least they did when I was a kid. I was inquisitive about what it was like to really be a soldier, and who better to ask what it was like than my uncles. So I would ask them about it from time to time, but as I recall it, they said little if anything about it. They would change the subject or give a short answer like… “It was a bad time” or “It was rough…” or something like that.

I remember coming back from a fishing trip with Uncle Cloyd, Cloyd Jr. and Dad, all of us packed in the front of one of the old aqua-colored Harrisonburg Refrigeration Service trucks. I guess I must have been 8 or 9. Dad was driving, I sat next to him, then Cloyd Jr. and Uncle Cloyd at the other window. I said, “Uncle Cloyd, how many Germans did you kill in the war?” My dad put an elbow right through my rib cage!!! I thought I’d never get my breath back. You see, killing and dying in a war for me was sneaking around in my front yard, pretending to see an enemy, shouting “Pow, Pow, kapow, kapow!!!” then jumping up, pretending to get hit, rolling dramatically down the big hill our house sat on and holding my breath, pretending to be dead. I had no idea then…and I still don’t, of the horror, the awful reality of war. Uncle Cloyd didn’t respond to my question. He just looked out of the window and pretended that he didn’t hear me. I never asked him or Uncle Lloyd any thing about the war again…and I think that something of the horror of war was passed along to me that day. I understood that the war experiences of my uncles was a heavy burden…a burden they carried inside…not something to be shared lightly or irreverently. It was not for all to hear. It was theirs to know and to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Since my childhood, I have only gained more respect for my uncles and the entire generation they represent. There was a moral fiber and grit in them that makes one want to put them under a microscope and analyze how they came to be the kind of people they were, and how they functioned so bravely through a debilitating economic depression and a mechanized war of fearful proportions.

When I found out a few months ago that my wife Deborah and I would be traveling to France again, I knew where I had to go...Omaha Beach. This would be a pilgrimage for me. I prepared for it: I read, I researched, and I bought a new camera. The purpose of a pilgrimage is to pay reverent respect, and that is what I tried to do.


About Me

I write for lots of different venues, so this blog provides links to those places. Plus, occasionally, stuff that appears no where else . . .