Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

With malice toward none, with charity for all

First published March 5, 2016

Democracy is made for disagreement, but for it to work, everyone must have a seat at the table, and the tone must be respectful. Inclusiveness, civility and individual liberty are its defining characteristics.

It warmed my heart when I went to the Nelson County Republicans’ Lincoln Dinner Thursday night, and the last speaker was a black woman who overcame poverty and rose through the military and industry to become lieutenant governor of Kentucky.

Jenean Hampton is an exemplar of the ideals of equality of opportunity that Abraham Lincoln devoted his career to, and upon which his party was founded.

The lady was gracious in her remarks. She talked about how she persuades people about the truth of conservative principles, because they work. Unlike many others in the tea party movement, she makes this argument without derision or contempt.

During a season in which I’ve often hung my head in embarrassment over the harsh rhetoric on the right about Mexican Americans and Muslims, Governor Hampton, for a shining moment, made me proud again to be a Republican.

In a letter to his friend Joshua Speed in Kentucky, written Aug. 24, 1855, Lincoln expressed his frustration about the growing anger in his country over immigration and ethnic and religious diversity, and how it was being exploited by the American Party, better known as the Know-Nothings.

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be?” he wrote. “How could anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it, ‘all men are created equal except Negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, ‘all men are created equal except Negroes, foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

These were strong words from a man who, in public life, liked the adage that “a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.”

Lincoln, and his heir, Ronald Reagan, were men of humble beginnings who became great because they knew humility is the hallmark of a public servant. They weren’t arrogant and abrasive like most members of their party today who seek the presidency. They deflected criticism with good humor and gentle sarcasm.

I came of age in the era of Reagan, and I can’t once remember him calling anyone a liar or a loser, or questioning an opponent’s manhood, or dissing his mother, or using the F-word in a speech, or ridiculing a reporter because of his physical disability or her menstrual period, or wanting to punch a protestor in the face.

When I remember Reagan’s visage, I see a sunny smile, not the scowl of someone who wants to be Benito Mussolini and who quotes him on social media.

If Lincoln had lived to see the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, he most certainly would have harshly condemned it as un-American and un-Christian. And Reagan, an Irish-American who made a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and invoked William Bradford’s biblical imagery of America as a “city upon a hill,” would not tolerate bigotry.

Both Lincoln and Reagan knew that in a two-party republic, nothing can be accomplished without bipartisan compromise and polite dialogue. They were men of strong moral principles, but they were also tough-minded pragmatists who knew how to treat an adversary with deference.

As an evangelical Christian, if I were to choose someone who best represents Judeo-Christian values in public life, I would use the test of the Apostle Paul, who described the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Lincoln and Reagan represented these traits. But many would-be leaders today represent hatred, anger, rancor, intolerance, meanness, smugness, selfishness, bile and boorish behavior.

There is a debate going on within the Republican Party, and it is one the party needs to have. It is over whether the GOP is to be the party of Lincoln and Reagan or the reincarnation of the Know-Nothings.

Who’s afraid of the big bad mouse?

Published Aug. 30, 2014

I’m not a coward when it comes to close encounters with other creatures. I’ve calmly stepped around snakes, stared down Rottweilers and stood amidst of a herd of bison.

Mice, however, give me the heebie-jeebies.

Shrinks have a word for it — musophobia — and they say it’s one of the most common irrational fears.

It’s irrational because mice are not as big as bisons or as mean as Rottweilers. But they are foul-smelling, hairy creatures with beady eyes and big teeth that gnaw through walls and eat electrical cords. They move at lightning speed, scale walls like Spider-Man and can jump many times their height. They’re like real-life comic book villains or fairy tale trolls that hide under your bed, raid cupboards and poop all over the place.

It isn’t that I’m afraid they’ll bite me; it’s that I’m afraid I’ll get hantavirus, which results in fever and vomiting, shortness of breath and other unpleasant conditions.

When I was 17 and my family moved into a new house in the country, our first stay was the Night of the Rodents. Every mouse from miles around found our open flue, and the traps were going off like gunfire.

I was lying in bed, listening to the battle, when a mouse ran across my neck and shoulders, down my arm and dropped from my fingertips into the wastebasket, so I just took it outside and set if free.

Years later, I was reading on the couch and heard rattling in the newspapers next to the stove. I set a trap behind the papers, and presently, I heard the spring smack against the wood. I sprang up — only to find the mouse and trap were missing.

What the heck happened?

I pulled the stove away from the wall and looked behind it. The mouse had absconded with the cheese, leaving the trap on a little metal bar halfway up the back of the oven.

I re-set it with another bit of bait, and SNAP! Empty trap.

Before bed, I set the trap again, this time under the oven. During the night, I heard it go off, and instead of switching on the light, I grabbed a flashlight by the door and aimed it under the oven. In a moment, there came the fell beast, weaving like a frat boy on a bender and coming toward the light.

I grabbed a broom and bludgeoned it.

That reminds me of a 1970s song, “All in a Mouse’s Night,” by the English prog rock band, Genesis:

There I was with my back to the wall,

Then comes this monster mouse, he’s 10 feet tall,

With teeth and claws to match.

It only took one blow!

I moved to another apartment nearby, but they found me. One night I was awakened by what sounded like an intruder breaking down the back door, but it was a mouse slamming its trap against the kitchen cabinet as its life ebbed away.

The dull guillotine was just punishment for it leaving droppings between my sheets and causing me to spill blood red wine all over my clothes.

Years passed before I had more encounters with mice. Then this summer, a horde of the critters took up residence in the newsroom. Somebody put out peanut-butter flavored glue traps, and we caught a couple. I came in and found one stuck to the glue, still squirming. Do you think I screamed like a girl? No, I bravely called for Alice, who brought a plastic bag. Then I dropped the trap — live mouse and all, into the bag and took out the garbage.

A few days later, I kept hearing a metallic thud, and thought it was boys throwing a ball against the window. I opened the blinds and was about to yell, “You danged kids! …” when Pete cried out, “It’s there!”

The mouse was trying to jump clear of the top of the trash can, but was falling back against the metal bottom.

Pete tried to catch it, but it got away.

We haven’t seen any more mice for several weeks, but I can’t help wondering: Is one lurking here somewhere, waiting to run up my leg or across my keyboard and cause me to spew my coffee all over the monitor?

The thought makes me shudder.

Memories of an ‘engaged journalist’

At the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort last October, Al Cross, one of the commonwealth’s two best-known political journalists, introduced me to the other one: Al Smith.

I should say reintroduced me, because I had met Smith more than 20 years ago when I had been a guest on his KET program “Comment on Kentucky” as a reporter for The Richmond Register.

Although we hadn’t spoken in ages, he knew who I was, and that I had recently been down-sized from my job as managing editor at The Winchester Sun.

Always the gracious and humorous host, he joked that he should be asking for my autograph as I handed him a copy of his memoir, “Wordsmith: My Life in Journalism,” for him to sign.

He said the Sun was a good daily, and that I’d had something to do with making it better.

Smith, who knows what it feels like to be fired from newspapers, knew what I was going through. He wrote that I was “a talented, honest journalist,” and that he hoped “this story helps.”

It did. It inspired me to pick myself up and try again. Soon after, I was working as a reporter for the Associated Press at the state Capitol, covering the 2012 legislative session.

If I remain in journalism, my current temporary position will be a bridge to my next job. If I decide to do something different, I’ll be able to say I finished my journalism career working for the most important news organization in the world – however briefly.

I didn’t read Smith’s story until after the holidays, but of the books I read this winter – from January to March – it’s the one I enjoyed most and could relate to best.

Al Smith worked for two big-city dailies in New Orleans, covering crooked cops, a mafia boss and an eccentric governor, Earl Long, before his battle with the bottle resulted in his losing both those jobs. He ended up in Kentucky working as editor of a country weekly in Russellville, then becoming a community newspaper owner and publisher himself before his career stretched out to include service to governors and presidents and having his own political reporters’ roundtable program on public television.

I can relate to some of his experience because most of my time in the newspaper trade has been as an editor of country weeklies, covering colorful characters in rural counties. Like Smith, I once even lived in an old hotel while I wrote about everything from murders to mushroom festivals.

One of the stories I liked was about my predecessor at the Frankfort AP bureau, Sy Ramsey. The first time he asked Ramsey to be on “Comment on Kentucky,” the reporter answered in a patronizing tone: “The AP has no opinions about the news.”

Smith explained that he didn’t want Ramsey’s opinons, only his “insight and background.”

“KET is neutral, you know,” he said.

“That satisfied Sy,” Smith wrote. “He went on to become the most opinionated reporter ever on ‘Comment.’”

That was one of the things I was told when I joined the AP: that I no longer had any opinions about anything, and I’ve tried to be careful to follow that rule. But it’s a radical departure from community journalism, as Smith explains in his memoir.

The “favored model for ethical journalism in the second half of the twentieth century was the detached, objective reporter,” Smith wrote, then added: “That was never me. I was an engaged journalist.”

Being engaged doesn’t mean that you aren’t objective in your method of reporting. You look at the facts and see where they lead, not select facts that support your conclusions, and tweak them a bit to make them fit, as the partisan pundits do. But if you’re a good community journalist, you’ve got a leadership role to play in your community, and you can’t do that as a detached bystander.

“Advocacy was my thing,” Smith wrote. “If I knew the facts, I formed convictions about the truth. Sometimes I stepped into the ring, becoming an active player in the narratives I told. But my practice was first to listen, to be fair, to report the opinions of others, to give them space in my newspapers, and always to be informed.”

That may be a retro way of looking at the role of a newspaper, but it’s one that works in small towns where the subject of your story on Thursday is likely to be the same person you’ll see at the church potluck on Sunday or buying a classified ad in your paper on Monday.

“Wordsmith” was one of those books on my winter reading list that reminded me why there’s still a necessary place for engaged rural journalism in small towns throughout America. Another book with that message was “Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local” by Jock Lauterer, a North Carolina journalism professor and former editor and publisher of community papers in that state.

I had first read Lauterer’s book right after it was published in the late 1990s, when I was editor of The Jessamine Journal, a weekly in Nicholasville. The edition I started reading in January (and am still reading) is from 2006, and has become an important textbook on college campuses around the country, as well as a guidebook for those of us who have been in the business for a while.

Lauterer makes the same point Smith does in explaining that a community paper is not a small version of a big city daily. Community journalists, he says, “are active citizens in the communities they cover. They’re involved. It’s a personal approach, a sacred calling.”

Whatever direction the next half of my own career takes, it’s a calling I’m glad I answered. It has been rewarding in so many ways.

Here’s a list of the books I read this past winter:

“The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch,” by Lindsay Apple (non-fiction)

Wordsmith: My Life in Journalism,” by Al Smith (non-fiction)

“On the Banks of Monks Pond: The Thomas Merton/Jonathan Greene Correspondence” (non-fiction)

“Momentum for Life: Biblical Practices for Sustaining Physical Health, Personal Integrity and Strategic Focus,” by Michael Slaughter (non-fiction)

“How to Find Your Mission in Life,” by Richard Bolles (non-fiction)

“Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local,” by Jock Lauterer (non-fiction)

“George Herbert Walker Bush,” by Tom Wicker (non-fiction)

“Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero,” by Chris Matthews (non-fiction)

“Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters,” by Timothy Keller (non-fiction)

“The Great Divorce: A Dream,” by C.S. Lewis (fiction)

“Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show,” by Frank Delaney (fiction)

“The Spirituality of St. Patrick,” by Lesley Whiteside (non-fiction)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Higher Ground’ – a film for faithful doubters

“I rather believe in doubting. The only people I’ve met in this world who never doubt are materialists and atheists.” – Malcolm Muggeridge

Vera Farmiga plays Corinne Walker and Michael Chernus plays her husband Ned in "Higher Ground."

Malcolm Muggeridge, the English journalist, soldier and spy who came to faith in Christ late in life and introduced the world to Mother Teresa, probably would not have liked “Higher Ground,” Vera Farmiga’s 2011 film about faith and doubt.

Muggeridge was a moralist who railed against the sexual revolution and drug culture of the late 1960s.

And “Higher Ground” is not in the genre of syrupy “Christian” films. It isn’t Rated R for nothing.

I’m not as prudish as Muggeridge, but I found some of the profanity and sexual references a little disconcerting for a about Christian belief — in the same way I find Madonna’s incorporating Christian imagery into her raunchy videos blasphemous.

But “Higher Ground” is a good illustration of Muggeridge’s argument that doubt and faith are not exclusive.

I liked this movie well enough to watch it twice. You won’t find it at LifeWay or even Walmart, but it is available on Netflix.

The story, based on screenwriter Carolyn S. Briggs’s memoir, begins with Corinne as a little girl at a fundamentalist church, where her pastor asks the children at a Bible school class, with every head bowed and all eyes closed, to raise their hands if they said “yes” to Jesus. Corinne raises her hand and is immediately “outed” by the preacher. Moments later she’s shocked by his flirting with her mother.

As a teenager, Corinne gets pregnant by her aspiring rock musician boyfriend, Ned, and marries him. While on their way to a gig, the band’s RV veers off the road into a body of water. Their baby is spared, though, and Corinne and Ethan are convinced it’s a miracle from God. Corinne, a lapsed Christian, finds faith again. Or at least tries hard.

Ethan and Corinne as teen parents.

She and Ethan immerse themselves in an intensive evangelical house church congregation. Corinne’s best friend from the church, Annika, is a funny and fun-loving charismatic Christian who prays in a “private prayer language” – something Corinne wants, but Ned dismisses as “voodoo.”

Corinne starts to lose her faith when Annika has surgery for a brain tumor and becomes a vegetable. Then her marriage falls apart. She goes to see a creepy Christian counselor who instead of offering the balm of Gilead for her emotional wounds, gives only judgment, telling her she’s going to be tortured in hell.

“And you get to watch?” she asks impudently.

Corinne is tempted by her mail carrier, Liam, a handsome, poetry-reciting Dubliner who is also married with children – something he doesn’t tell her.

One of the most heartbreaking scenes occurs when Corinne is sitting alone in her car, looking up at the sky and pleading with God to draw near.

“Lord, help me. I can’t feel you. I feel nothing,” she said.

How many of us, if we’re honest, have prayed that same prayer?

Corinne’s pastor is embarrassed by her doubts and questions, and tries to shut her up. But once, she stands before the congregation, reunited if only for a moment with her husband and children, and is completely honest.

She tells about when she was a little girl and invited Jesus into her heart, but “I’m standing here today, and I’m still waiting for him to make himself at home,” she says. “You know, I call and call. And there have been times, I know, when he answers me. Times when I’m sure of it. But other times, I’ve got the porch light on, and he doesn’t come. And I feel like I live in an empty place.”

Corinne is wrestling with God, like Jacob did in the Bible, and she tells her fellow parishioners, “I’m not going to let go until he blesses me.”

Like Corinne, I admire those who have that “blessed assurance” that evangelical Christians sing about. But for others — and I’m among them — faith is a journey.

At Gethsemane, Jesus asked his Father to let the bitter cup he was about to drink from pass from him, but that the Father's will, not his own, be done.

If this has also been your experience, we’re both in good company. Peter told Jesus he would never reject him, but Jesus said that before the rooster crowed the next morning, Peter would deny him three times. Peter didn’t believe Jesus when he told him he could walk on water, and started to sink. Thomas, like Peter, also encountered the risen Lord, but wouldn’t believe it was really him until he had placed his fingers in the Savior’s wounds.

Even Jesus prayed to Abba (the Aramaic word for Dad), to “let this cup pass,” but then said, “not my will, but yours be done.”

That prayer was answered, and because it was, we were ransomed.

Even as he hung on the cross, Jesus pleaded, echoing the words of the Psalmist: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Just because we feel forsaken by God doesn’t mean that we are.

C.S. Lewis

During this Lenten season, I have been reading a devotional booklet from my church with excerpts from the writings of C.S. Lewis, a former atheist who became a Christian as an adult and became one of the best-known defenders and explainers of the faith.

In the passage I read on Maundy Thursday, Lewis wrote that having anxieties isn’t a defect of faith. “They are afflictions, not sins.” Even Jesus, at Gethsemane, had his hour of “sweating blood” as he was filled with dread and loneliness. He was, after all, fully human. The Word became flesh so that he could feel what we feel. So we shouldn’t feel guilty about having Gethsemane moments.

In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus questions the faith of the father of a boy who is possessed by an evil spirit. The father answers: “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.”

Flannery O' Connor

Flannery O’Connor, the southern novelist, and a Catholic, said that “Help my unbelief” is the “foundation prayer of faith.”

“Let me tell you this,” O’Connor wrote.”Faith comes and goes. It rises like the tides of an invisible ocean. If it is presumptuous to think that faith will stay with you forever, it is presumptuous to think that unbelief will.”

“Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you,” she says. “It is trust, not certainty.”

Trust.

Trust and act on your faith as if you believe, and belief may return.

Like Corinne, if we wrestle with God and don’t let go, the morning will come, and perhaps with it, a blessing.

To view a trailer of “Higher Ground,” click here on link of copy and paste it into your browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRpFKwJHQ7g

 

 

 

Smart phones for iDiots

I never thought I'd have a phone that's smarter than I am.

While millions of Apple addicts were honoring Steve Jobs’s legacy last week by buying the new iPhone G4, I was looking for the “old” iPhone G3S.

I was told by the Apple Store in Winchester that they would have some in Friday, and that they were free (with an $18 upgrade fee and a $25 a month Internet package). But the phones arrived a day early, so I had to go to the Walmart on Richmond Road in Lexington and pay 97 cents for the last one in the store.

Now if I can just figure out how to use it.

I can’t seem to find the instruction book.

My 11-year-old niece offered to show me how it works, but when I handed it to her, she started to down the Warriors app (based on a series of books about belligerent cats).

Little Miss Smarty Pants.

A few months ago, when the digital media director of the company I worked for gave a presentation on smart phone technology and what it would mean for newspapers, I swore I would never buy a smart phone.

I didn’t want anyone to be able to find my global position, nor did I even want to consider having a telephone that could do everything under the sun except block calls from annoying automated calling systems.

“I don’t want a smart phone,” I said. “I want a dumb phone.”

I wanted a phone that I could call and receive calls on, and reply to texts from young women so that they wouldn’t think was a hopeless geezer.

I’d have been happy with a Jitterbug, but it wasn’t an option on the AT&T family plan.

Steve Jobs with the first Apple computer I ever used for work, the original Macintosh.

Finally, however, my sister and others convinced me that if I didn’t want to be left behind in this brave new world of digital technology, I had to get with it and get a smart phone. The little flip phone I had been carrying was, you know, just so early 21st century.

And since everything I own or have ever used is an Apple product (starting with the boxy little beige Macintosh in 1994), I figured my phone might as well be an Apple as well.

Now, though, I have this beautiful, sleek piece of plastic and silicon, and I might as well use it as a paper weight.

I should use it to call someone who is familiar with the iPhone and can talk me through it. Can’t call Steve Jobs, he’s gone on to nirvana (wherever or whatever that is). Maybe I could find Steve Wozniak in the Yellow and White Pages.

If only I could figure out how to download that free app.

Huntsman: the thinking conservative’s candidate

Jon Huntsman Jr. has been a leading business executive, one of the most successful governors in the nation, has worked in the administrations of every Republican president in the past three decades, and has more foreign policy experience than all the other Republican candidates combined. He is clearly the most qualified Republican candidate for president.

Jon Huntsman, at 51, has served every president since Reagan except for Clinton, has been ambassador to the second-most important nation in the world, China, and was the most popular government in the history of Utah, where he sharply cut taxes, had a better record of creating real jobs than Rick Perry did in Texas, and put in place a successful health insurance reform program that doesn’t involve individual mandates or government over-reaching.

He is an accomplished millionaire business executive, has more foreign policy expertise than all the other Republican presidential candidates combined, and has enacted more strong pro-life legislation than any other governor. He is a strong conservative, but not an ideologue. Like George W. Bush and Barack Obama in 2008, he favors same-sex civil unions, but not marriage, and unlike Perry, he is not anti-science. When more than 90 percent of climate scientists say that global warming is real and caused by man-made carbon emissions, Huntsman says we should trust the scientists.

So why isn’t the only serious candidate and the only candidate of presidential stature, being taken more seriously by Republican primary voters?

For more about Huntsman, read this article in the latest issue of The American Conservative. http://www.amconmag.com/blog/jon-huntsman-the-no-drama-conservative/

Life after black ink: the post-newspaper blog

A newspaper cartoon from about the time I left my job as managing editor of my hometown daily made me smile, but also made me a little sad because I saw myself reflected in it. It showed an overwweight, balding, middle-aged man sitting on a sofa in his underwear and socks, pecking away at his iPad and surrounded by computers. On the wall behind him was a framed sign that said, “I blog, therefore I am.”

"The Post-Journalism Existentialist" by Wiley Miller for "Non-Sequitur"

The cartoon was labeled “The Post-Journalism Existentialist.”

What was ironic was that I had spent part of that  day with my former employer’s digital media manager, Johnny, who was trying to help me move my blog from the newspaper’s website to my own domain, which I had bought for about $125. Also, that day, my mother called to read  me the story in the newspaper about the executive editor taking over my duties. It read about the way I thought it would, and brought a sense of closure.

For six years I had managed the newsroom, written editorials, columns and features, planned projects and enjoyed the work. I was proud to be part of a tradition in my hometown that stretched back more than 130 years, and was one of only three editors in more than half a century. I thought I would retire from the company, leaving a legacy of  steady improvement. Yet I kept taped to the wall inside my office closet a clipping left behind by my predecessor, Bill, that reminded me there is no “indispensible man.”

I miss the newspaper, but there is life after black ink and newsprint.

Which brings me back to the blog. When the push came a few years ago for editors to blog, I resisted. I thought it was one more thing to add to a heavy workload. But the more I did it, the more I liked it. Many of the posts were columns or stories I had written for the paper, but I liked being able to add videos, photos and links to other websites that would give readers more information. 

It also provided an electronic archive of my work. So the day I left my job, one of my concerns was saving that archive. I appreciate the publisher for letting me keep it, and Johnny for helping me move it to a new site.

Having a blog is a good way to keep my writing skills sharp and share my thoughts with those who want to read them, whether they be many or few.

I don’t have to have a blog to be somebody, but being a writer is a part of who I am, and blogging is part of being a writer in this digital age.

Whether I remain a newspaperman or move into some other career remains to be seen, but in my heart, I will always be a journalist, and having a blog is one way – but  not the only way – I will continue that part of my life.

The names have been changed to protect the inane

One of my pet peeves as an editor is having to remember the plethora of name changes for programs that are part of the bureaucratic morass known as the federal government.

During the New Deal, government programs had names that meant something and that didn't spell out silly acronyms. And the names didn't change every few years. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Tennessee Valley Authority are two that are still around.

It may be a misperception, but it seems to me that in the past 20 years, there have been more new names invented for programs than in all the decades before, going back to the New Deal, when the welfare state was born and many of the programs were created.

What really gripes me, though, isn’t just that the names change, but that names that are simple, easy to remember and known by almost everyone have changed to long, ridiculously complex names that no one except government workers (and, I hope, some political reporters and copy editors) will remember.

Consider, for example, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It used to be the Food Stamp Program, and it was so common that it was usually written lower case, as in, “The family is on food stamps.” Of course, they use debit cards now, but no matter what the government calls it, everyone else will still call it food stamps.

For more than 60 years, the federal program that provides cash assistance to low-income families was called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC. This is what most officials meant when they spoke of “welfare.” But during the end-welfare-as-we-know-it era of the 1990s, the government changed the name to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to emphasize the fact that no free ride lasts forever.

Sometimes, a name change is shortened and makes more sense, like changing the Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) to Rural Development, which is a more accurate description and kept it from being confused with the Federal Housing Administration, because the rural program was most often incorrectly referred to in conversation by the abbreviation of the public housing program, “FHA.”

States also like to change the names of things and make the names longer. Public Aid in Kentucky is now the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program. And the Commonwealth Accountability Testing System, which was known by its goofy acronym, CATS, now has a new name. I don’t remember what it is. I’ll bet you don’t know what it is either. Who does?

KFC used to stand for Kentucky Fried Chicken, and most of the world's billions knew that. So who do they think they're fooling by saying it now stands for nothing? And how dumb is that — to have an abbreviation that doesn't stand for anything?

Even in the private sector, name changes are happening rapidly. America’s Second Harvest, a well-known Christian charity that distributes food from groceries that is a day or so past its expiration date to food pantry programs and soup kitchens, is now Feeding America, but I get it confused with Feed the Children. My guess is that with the popularity of premillennial mania created by the “Left Behind” book series, Second Harvest didn’t want to be confused with apocalyptic theology.

Sometimes public embarrassment results in a company or institution changing its name. Such was the case with Blackwater, the soldiers of fortune organization that came under criticism during the Iraq War, and the School of the Americas, where our military trained paramilitary forces for Central American terrorists like Roberto “Blowtorch Bob” D’Aubisson of El Salvador. I don’t remember what the new names of those institutions are either. I think that’s the point. They don’t want us to know. We aren’t clients.

The most asinine private name changes, though, come about when businesses or organizations drop their names but keep the abbreviations, although the abbreviations no longer stand for anything. Future Farmers of America is now just FFA. I suppose there was some stigma associated with the word “farmers.” And the American Association of Retired Persons is now just AARP, because you can now be a member about 20 years before you’re old enough to retire, and no 50-year-old wants to be thought of as past his prime. (I know, I’m 50 this year, and I keep throwing away the applications.)

And of course, the one everyone is familiar with is KFC. The reason that it’s no longer Kentucky Fried Chicken is that the word “fried” has such a bad connotation now. However, they still sell fried chicken as well as their new Kentucky Grilled Chicken. But as a lifelong Kentuckian who was proud of the fact that this company is known from Tokyo to Instanbul, I’m disappointed that the name no longer has the word “Kentucky” in it.
In fact, it doesn’t have any words in it at all.

And that’s simply inane.

McConnell deserves credit for debt deal

With members of the Republicans’ tea party faction wanting the government to default so they could make a point, and liberals among the Democrats describing discretionary spending cuts as satanic, it’s a small wonder that the two parties were able to come to any agreement on raising the debt ceiling.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was one of the key players in the debt ceiling negotiatons that resulted in an agreement to cut the debt by $3 trillion. Photo by Politico.com.

Fortunately, after all the revolutionary rhetoric on the right and reactionary stridency on the left, the wiser gray heads in Washington showed they’re the ones who are still in charge.

When it came down to brass tacks, Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Barack Obama and certainly not least, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, were the ones who got it done.

The senior Kentucky senator, who talked at length about the debt deal when he spoke at the first Winchester-Clark County Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Luncheon Monday, played a major role in the negotations that resulted in a reasonable deal.

At the end of the day, this was a win for pragmatic conservatism.

What the debt limit agreement will do is cut government spending by about $3 trillion over the next decade in return for raising the debt limit. That’s a significant amount. But the debt doubled from about $5 trillion to $10 trillion under President George W. Bush and has increased by an additional 35 percent under President Obama. Forty cents of every dollar now goes to pay the debt. Only a few years ago, it was 20 cents.

“I think that even the most liberal members of House and Senate realize that we’re on an unsustainable path,” McConnell said Monday.

Let’s hope they understand it.

Serious debt reduction is going to require cuts in discretionary spending, entitlement reform, and — here’s where I part company with Republicans — tax increases, or at least eliminating some deductions, credits and exclusions.

The debt deal, however, was a good first step. McConnell deserves credit for drawing a line in the sand and saying to the radical element in his own party: “We are not going to default; that is an irresponsible position” — as well as negotiating in good faith with the White House, the House and the Senate Democrats to reduce the debt without derailing the recovery.

It’s a comfort to know there remain leaders on Capitol Hill  who realize that legislating is the art of compromise.

In his speech to the Chamber of Commerce, McConnell said that Americans have voted for divided government more often than not in recent history, and maybe that’s a good thing. Divided government was, after all, the intent of our Founding Fathers when they opted for the American system of checks and balances rather than modeling our government on the British parliamentary system in which the same party that controls the legislature controls the executive branch of government.

It is one way, if not the most effective one, of forcing Congress to hew to the middle, where the silent majority of the American people are. While our country may have been born out of revolution, the American constitutional system is deliberately structured to discourage extremism. This is especially true of the Senate, which, legend has it, George Washington called the “saucer” into which legislation is poured “to cool it.”

While most Americans are fed up with the partisan bickering and gridlock in Washington — and I’m as sick of it as anyone — McConnell is right when he says the rancor in Washington today is nothing compared to that of the early 19th century.

Nevertheless, he said, “At every critical moment in American history, we’ve done the right thing after arguing like crazy …”

Let’s hope this is one of those moments.

Walking the narrow road in a dark country

Grad student from Winchester returning to Haiti as missionary

“Enter through the narrow gate. For … small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
— Matthew 7:13-14

By Randy Patrick/The Winchester Sun

Ashley Wingate thought her internship in Haiti would be about working with children. Prisoners and prostitutes hadn’t entered into her plans. But God had other plans.

The 23-year-old graduate student from Winchester returned home in June from working with Northwest Haiti Christian Mission after she earned her teaching degree.

Ashley Wingate, 23, spoke at Forest Grove Christian Church July 31 about her experiences in Haiti and her decision to return there as a missionary.

She was to have gone back to Eastern Kentucky University to finish her post-graduate work, but instead she’s going back to the place where she feels the Spirit is calling her to serve.

“I thought I was going to Haiti to be a light” to the people, she said, but it has been just the opposite. “They probably changed me more than I ever changed them.”

The change began in 2009, when Ashley went to Haiti for the first time with others from Calvary Christian Church on a short-term mission trip.

That was the year before the earthquake killed tens of thousands of people and devastated the island nation that was already the poorest in the Americas.

After she graduated from EKU, she applied for a five-month internship with the mission at St. Louis du Nord, Haiti.

She had wanted to do some charity work before beginning her teaching career and considered other options, but “my heart was already in Haiti,” she said.

Ashley told her story and showed a video last Sunday to the congregation of Forest Grove Christian Church, where her grandparents, Duane and Ruth Ann Wills, are members.

St. Louis du Nord is about six hours north of the capital, Port au Prince, where the earthquake occurred. It is a remote, rural area where the mission began its work more than 30 years ago.

Ashley left Kentucky after Christmas for Northwest Haiti Christian Mission. She guided doctors and other short-term missionaries around its several campuses, being their “go-to girl,” and helping them with whatever they needed. She and another intern worked in a grocery ministry, buying food to distribute to needy people, and doing door-to-door evangelism.

When they would show up with food, she said, they would explain that it was “a free blessing,” that “God calls us to love our neighbors, and this is how we showed Christ’s love to them.”

The missionaries would talk with the people, getting acquainted with them, then ask “if they knew Jesus as their Lord and Savior.”

If the people said yes, then they would pray with them and tell them that they were “a light for Christ in a country that’s so dark.” If they didn’t know Christ in a personal way, the missionaries would ask if they wanted to accept him. Some did and others didn’t, but they were always respectful, she said.

“They always welcomed us into their homes with loving arms, and sat there and listened to us whether they believed in what we were saying or not,” she said.

Her real challenge came when she and the other intern would go on Thursdays with another woman, an experienced missionary, to do prison ministry and visit young women who worked as prostitutes.

“The criminal justice system there is terrible,” Ashley said. “You could be put in jail for owing someone money … and you could go to court the next day, or you might never see a judge.”
Fifty or 60 men might be crowded into a single prison cell, and the missionaries would go there and “do devotions with them.”

Some were were baptized, but didn’t really change, while others were devout Christians, and it showed.

“You could look at these men and think there’s no way they could have any hope … but I can’t explain to you the hope I saw in their eyes,” she said. “Even though they  are locked in their prison cells … they have their freedom in Christ. He means everything to them.”

It was especially the prisoners who changed her, she said — them and the “brothel girls.”

The girls would come from Port au Prince. They were ashamed to be selling their bodies to survive and so they would travel far from home.

“You could see that they had so much built up inside of them — so much hurt,”she said. “They didn’t know anything different than what they were living.”

The missionaries, though, would show their love for them and tell them that God intended something better for their lives.

Once she witnessed to eight girls, and when she went back,  there was only one to meet her. But they held each other and cried.

“I don’t know their hearts. I don’t know if they ever accepted the Lord,” she said, but she knew she had to keep telling them about his love for them.

Being a witness in that way doesn’t come naturally to her, Ashley said.

“I don’t like talking in front of people. … But that’s where God shows up. … He would just speak through me.”

She believes the mission’s work is making a difference in Haiti.

“It’’s a very dark country. There is brokenness. But (God) is working … especially through this mission.”

When Ashley came home June 30, she planned to return to school and begin her career. She thought she might go back one day.

“I thought mission was something I would do later on in life, but God had different plans,” she said.

Ashley and her parents, Dallas and Cheryl Wingate, are members of Calvary Christian. One night, while she was worshipping, the song she was singing affected her in a profound way.

“The words were, ‘I give myself away. I give myself away. My life is not my own. To you I belong. I give myself away.’” (Listen to the song by William McDowell here.)

“I can’t describe the feeling in my heart,” she said. “I felt God was telling me to do something.”

“I tried to ignore him, and he knows how stubborn I am,” she said, but throughout the week, “he just continued to knock on the door of my heart.”

She also kept remembering a Bible verse, Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has  been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

She couldn’t help but think of all the ways God had blessed her life, and she knew he wanted to use her to bless others.

“I thought, ‘Why would I not listen to him and bring glory to his name after he’s done so much for me?’”

“I knew I was going to go forward and take the next step,” she said.

She applied to Northwest Haiti Christian Mission to be a missionary and was accepted. She will be leaving in September for two years — unless she feels that God is calling her home. And if he wants her to stay longer, she said, she will.

She will be using her teaching degree to teach preschool there, and will also be teaching a Bible curriculum.

She’s excited, not only about educating the children, but also helping to bring them into a relationship with God through Christ.

Voodoo is very prevalent in this country, and if there’s anything that breaks my heart, it’s that these kids are being raised to believe these lies,” she said.

“The future”  of Haiti, she said, “is with these kids,” and she wants to teach them about “the one true God” so that they can change their country.

“God can use me in a great way,” she said. But she added that he can use any believer who is willing to “surrender” to him.

“You can be a light” wherever you are, “according to his power that is at work within us,” she said, quoting Ephesians 3:20, one of her favorite verses.

“I couldn’t get up here and talk, I couldn’t go to Haiti, I couldn’t do anything if God didn’t do it through me.”

Ashley said, “I’m scared out of my mind every time I walk out my door in Haiti,” but, added, “when I give it to God,” he gives her back the strength she needs.

“I think the world tries to make us think the things of this world are what matter,” but it’s important to remember, she said, that they are temporary and the things of God are eternal.

“I’ve learned that all we can do is trust God,” she said. “This is not the life I had planned for myself at 23 years old. But I keep reminding myself, this life is not my own.”

Contact Randy Patrick at rpatrick@winchestersun.com, follow him on Twitter @Suneditor or read his blog and comment at http://kyvoice.com/winchestersun/newerworld/ and become a fan of Randy Patrick’s Newer World on Facebook.

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