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America is a family: Elizabeth Dunnells Greulach would have been 100 today


The calendar can’t flip on a new day before I tell you about my grandma. She wasn’t like many grandmas.

She’d get the giggles and couldn’t stop. She’d have us all crying around the dinner table, less that we even understood the original punchline and more that her glee was infectious. I remember many moments of childhood mortification, like when she danced the hula on her return from Hawaii, along with the out-of-tune humming of the appropriate tune. Now the memory makes me proud. My grandma was an imp.

Her family was so much like most American families. We all have our odd birds and crazy uncles. We have our disagreements. We still rush right over if there is a phone call in the middle of the night.

Her father built bridges in Pittsburgh in the industrial revolution. He was conservative. My mother just told me a family story about my grandma’s cousin who played a joke on her dad one day. Her dad hated FDR so much, she thought it would be just the thing to welcome him home one day with a Life Magazine FDR photo gallery splayed around the house. She said he was so mortified that she thought for a moment he’d – literally – have a heart attack.

My grandma was fairly apolitical until she found herself living in Georgetown for a year in 1964 because of my grandpa’s work. By then she had raised her children and I suppose wasn’t your standard housewife (remember she was an imp). She whiled away any spare time sitting on Capital Hill watching Congress in session. She decided then that she was a Democrat (she told her grand kids this story: “I decided the Republicans were just against everything, so I was a Democrat.”) I can’t tell you what she’d think today, I can only tell you that, just as her Republican father would love her no matter what, her granddaughter would love her no matter what. It’s the kind of love you have when you live in a family.

All of our families are a hodgepodge of ideas, crazy uncles and disagreement. But it’s our American family.

We’re in a tough place right now as a family. We’re two days away from the the eighth anniversary of September 11, which shook us to our very core. We don’t seem to agree with each other any more, but maybe it’s because we’re not even talking (except through people who get a lot of money if we keep the TV tuned to them). There is a lot of anger on the right in America’s family, with many expected to march on September 12 to ask that we return to the spirit of that day.

I couldn’t agree more (please look at our founding thesis here). We should return to the American family that we all felt that day, the one where we disagree with each other, the one where we sit around the Thanksgiving table and deal with each others’ quirkiness, the one where we roll eyes, the one where we love each other despite it all. I think that anyone who tells you that the legacy of September 11th is that we should hate each other more is just wrong.

To my grandma. And to yours. Grandmas would tell us to mind our manners. So let’s roll up our sleeves and disagree where we need to. But let’s be partners in the disagreement, because we will sink or swim together. Let’s really listen to each other and speak respectfully. Let’s be an American family again. And when you’re feeling the impulse to hate, remember that on the other side of the aisle is undoubtedly someone who – no matter what – you’d rush to in the middle of the night.

Happy 100 years grandma. (And for goodness sakes, keep them hula dancing up in heaven.)

Senator Dan Gelber: “Today my Dad turns 90”

gelber seymour

Florida State Senator Dan Gelber wrote this morning about his father Judge Seymour Gelber’s 90th birthday. (Judge Gelber was also formerly the Mayor of Miami Beach). Anyone who follows us knows we find a lot of wisdom in the way things used to be and we just love knowing each other as neighbors, so I was a sucker for this story. I’ll let Senator Gelber take it from here:

My Dad has always believed that the mark of a great public servant was accepting that anything truly good you do will come to fruition when you are long gone from public life. In the age of constant media cycles and focus groups, his views might be considered outdated or quaint. But today as Florida faces so many challenges borne out of short-term thinking and shallow policies, I think my Dad and his bowties are still pretty fashionable.

Please take a moment to read a son’s 90th birthday tribute in its entirety. As we trade fire in the partisan wars, we might do well to remember dads like this one.

And Happy Birthday, Judge Gelber.

POSTSCRIPT: I googled Senator Gelber’s dad and found this wonderful YouTube video that speaks volumes both to his character and his ability to wear a bowtie.

Speaks for itself…

blog it all: an evangelical, a sikh, and a jewish preschool

child for Lea's post

i mean it’s no rabbi, priest, pastor, and imam. but it is a cute story…

in december right after 9/11 we had new neighbors moving in down the
street. i took the prerequisite plate o’ cookies down to them and
found some people unloading boxes. i introduced myself and told them i
was a neighbor and had cookies.

i was greeted with cold stares and a warning to take my cookies back.
they weren’t the neighbors. they were the movers and i was told that i
wouldn’t really want to bring cookies to “these” neighbors.

well, nothing like a little warning to make me TOTALLY interested in
meeting someone. so i came down later once “those” movers had finished.

and met this lovely family with two children the ages of my two
younger children. and a sweet mom and dad. and it took me a little
while to figure out what made them “these” neighbors. it think it
might have been the turbans on the dad’s and the son’s heads. but
turbans notwithstanding, they liked cookies.

i invited them to go christmas caroling with us that evening. there
was a neighborhood group going and it was before the time when one
would have thought to call it “holiday caroling”. they politely
refused. they didn’t “christmas carol”. i said that we would sing some
secular songs too. but they didn’t celebrate christmas at all.


i am not sure what should have been my first clue.

but they did come up to visit the next day to ask about schools and
could i recommend a good preschool for their daughter. at the time my
youngest daughter was attending and i was teaching part time at temple
israel preschool. so i told them all about that preschool and how
great it was for children.

the mom said that she didn’t think they could attend a jewish preschool.


again, i am not quick on these things…

but i told her that i wasn’t jewish (maybe the christmas caroling
thing had tipped her off). that i was a christian and that it was a
really great place. very warm. loving. accepting of ALL faiths. and i
told her i would take her and show her around.

and i did. and it was perfect for her daughter.

i took her and her oldest child, the turbaned boy, to our elementary
school and introduced them around too.

and then we started carpooling. the greatest form of civility known to
parents and neighbors.

we split up the elementary school trip and some days her daughter would
come to my house at 7:30 and stay with me until i took the girls to
preschool. it worked out wonderfully (and all you parents out there
know that a perfect carpool is to dream the impossible dream…)

she was upfront and honest with me and asked me not to proselytize. so
i looked it up in the dictionary and realized what it meant.

i was upfront and honest with her. i told her that i did listen the
christian music cds in the car. but not loud and i would doubt that
her kids would be singing along to “amazing grace” anytime soon. and i
told her that sometimes we prayed before hitting the car drop off
area. especially if someone wasn’t feeling well or had a big test. but
that i wouldn’t force her kids to pray but i would take requests if
they had them. and she said both of those things (the music and the
prayer requests) would be fine.

she had some bad experiences with evangelicals in the past. “haven’t
we all?”, i asked…

and i wanted to use the big new word that i had learned so i asked her
not to proselytize too. and she told me that sikh’s didn’t actively


why wouldn’t they want me????????? oh well. let the carpooling begin…

one day my oldest daughter (who was in 2nd grade) came home and told
me that she had asked our neighbor on her carpool run that morning why
her son and husband wore the turbans. she said that it was because of
their religion and she explained it all and all my daughter could
remember is that it was all very confusing and wasn’t our religion so
much easier.

i told her that things that seem so simple to a person who has heard
them their WHOLE life (in her case a very long 8 years) might seem
complicated to someone who hadn’t heard them yet. and we talked about
how there were different religions and what that meant.

then my daughter asked the BIG question that evangelicals don’t really
want to have to explain to their kids because we don’t want to ask it
ourselves…”does that mean they won’t be in heaven with us”. and i
said what i felt in my heart. i don’t know. but they are friends and
our neighbors and that is the way it is supposed to be now and maybe
forever and ever. and i hope and pray and i wonder and i wander and i
question and sometimes i can’t answer because the lump in my throat
and in my heart is too big. and that is why we all need a God. because
the questions are too big for us to answer on our own.

and then we sang “amazing grace” and took prayer requests. just kidding.

eventually the neighbors built a house in another neighborhood and
they moved away from the “perfect carpool situation”. sigh. they
regret it. i know they do. i tell them that they should every time i
see them. i miss them being down the street.

i miss carpooling with someone that wasn’t in my usual circle of
friends. someone different, someone to learn from, someone to listen
to that isn’t saying the same thing that all my other friends say.
someone who challenged my faith by having a different world view.
someone who made my children ask questions and me have to search out
answers. i have had other carpools, but that one was different.

i miss her kids singing amazing grace at the top of their lungs and
all their prayer requests (just kidding. they never sang along and i
think i took one prayer request in that whole year which was from one
of MY kids about a lost homework sheet).

what i miss the most is that every time i walked my evangelical
daughter and her sikh daughter through the front door of the jewish
preschool together i could feel that somewhere george washington,
thomas jefferson and john adams all gave each other a fist pump with a
whispered “nice”…

–lea marshall

(Photo credit.)

Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin and us.

sarah palin

As the buzz of media has circled (and circled and circled) the sad news of Michael Jackson’s untimely death, we’ve given some thought to what Village Square message there is in all of the hoopla.

Cue up today’s Sarah Palin announcement that she will resign the Alaska governorship to bring the Village Square message sliding into home plate. Bear with me for a moment, I’ll explain…

Did you know that Michael Jackson was sued over 1,000 times? Can you even begin to imagine that sort of circus as a part of your life? One lawsuit would do most of us in. Clearly his fortune played a roll in that fate as did his rumored misdeeds, but possibly more of a contributing factor was his fame – a la 24 hour cable and internet rumor reverberation. Not taking a side on Jackson’s alleged sexual deviancy, when we started our love/hate affair with Jackson he was an adorable boy singing “ABC”. Clearly his abusive dad had a hand in it, but don’t we also have a role in who that little boy has become?

News, cable, media… ultimately they give us want we want, and they know what we want (via polls out the wazoo) whether we admit it to ourselves or not. Jackson’s 1,000+ lawsuits were sort of sponsored by us. We have a mass media environment – brought to us by technology we won’t be putting back in Pandora’s box no matter how we might wish it so – that just warps things. I think they warped that beautiful and fantastically talented little boy.

Now, Sarah Palin. A little more than half of America thought she wasn’t ready to become our Vice President. Fair enough. But there is something once again warping about the experience she’s clearly had as she’s danced this dance with our mass culture. Her words: “I’ve been accused of all sorts of frivolous ethics violations such as holding a fish in a photograph or wearing a jacket with a logo on it.”

It used to be that the common sense connections we made in America kept this boat of ours floating high. But our connections are different today. They don’t feature plain common sense prominently, rather they highlight market share. They’re not playing to the best in us which we used to bring front and center to our rotary club, our PTA, our bowling league. Instead, they’ve found the worst in us, the TV we watch and the websites we visit when there’s no one there we have to fess up to.

Market share brings us boys who grow into men who get sued 1,000 times. It brings us decent strong women who say yes when someone asks them to run for office, but find their life is turned all upside down and inside out as a result. As so on and so on until we reconnect with each other enough to strongly tell them in unison that it’s not what we want anymore.

The media is like a laser that exponentially strengthens what WE are asking for. We need to understand and focus its power. Ultimately it is US who will tell them it’s time to stop. Two weeks of Michael Jackson death rubber-necking needs to be received by us with a big yawn in the Nielsen’s.

For now, like Sarah Palin or not, hit your knees tonight and thank her for knocking Michael Jackson’s death out of the media cycle.

Let him rest in peace.

And again – like Palin or not – you’re going to have to appreciate some of what she just said to us today: “We’re fishermen, we know that only dead fish go with the flow.”

Here’s hoping most Americans aren’t dead fish.

Photo credit.

blog it all: the fracas in the organic produce section

jon and kate plus eight

i have a list of “when i get around to it” blogs to read. a majority of them are people that i highly respect their work, their words, their vision, and their lives. a lot of them are incredibly rational and real Christians. then i can count it as Bible study time when i read their blogs (just kidding-ish).

as you may have noticed i keep finding little quotes and blurbs to send in about being civil and looking beyond the differences that separate, several prominent Christians are trying to find those lost pieces of the puzzle in discourse: civility and grace.

they wrestle with that at times (and i sometimes check in on a time when they are wrestling which i don’t think is a coincidence. i don’t think anything is a coincidence). i know that i wrestle with it often and i am always relieved when someone i respect has a bit of wrestling going on as well.

of course NO one wrestles with civility on the scrapsmack blog that i read sometimes as well. it is a blog that smacks (criticizes) famous scrapbookers. yes, there really is such a thing as a “famous scrapbooker” and there really are people that smack them. and there are people that read that sometimes. sigh, and i am really one of those readers. or the other blog that i sometimes read that bashes the jon & kate + eight television show on the learning channel (one wonders what i am learning from it).

one must have her vices to make her virtues shine brighter… or is it that my vices start to dim my virtues when they outnumber them…. yeah, i think it might be the second of the two choices.

and so i thought that this was a point to note for myself and my civility issues:

that c.s. lewis quote is spot on to the whole jon and kate nastiness. i am referring to the nastiness coming from the general public/myself. it might be the problem of their own marriage nastiness, but i am no marriage therapist but i did live next door to a christian sex therapist for 10 years and that make me qualified to throw that little neighbor fact out at dinner parties where everyone is shocked to hear the words “christian” and “sex therapist” linked together but it does not make me qualified to judge someone’s marriage lest i be judged on mine.

i think i was doing that same thing c.s. lewis wrote about “thinking your enemies as bad as possible” to jon & kate.

and how did they get the auspicious job of being MY enemies? it was jealousy as much as anything (and isn’t it usually jealousy?). i mean what does “jon & kate + eight ” have over “adam & lea + three”?

our names rhyme with the # of children that we have! why isn’t tlc filming ME?!?!? where is my new HUGE house?!?!??! where is my ski trip?!?!? trip to hawaii to renew my vows?!??! where is my nanny?!?!? my public relations person?!?!? my book signing?!?!? hey, i was in CELEBRITY high school musical shouldn’t i have all of those perks?!?!??!?!?!

and as i watched the show with that attitude i began to see their gray areas as black. and blacker and blacker… i saw EVERYTHING jon did as wrong and everything kate did as wronger and those kids were in NO way as cute as MY kids and not nearly as well behaved as mine were at that age. not that i really remember exactly how they were and there weren’t 8 of them, but in the photos in my scrapbook my kids look MUCH better behaved.

and then i went further into that dark night. i started reading online gossip about the show. i was picking up people magazine and reading the articles quickly in the check out lane while waiting for the cashier to ring up my groceries (speed reading is a wonderful skill). and i had the attitude of “they made their bed of fame, let them LIE/LAY in it”. (wish i knew whether it was “lie” or lay”). anyway i was the one laying or lying in a whole heaping stinkin’ pile o’ judgement and painting them with a darker and darker brush until EVERYTHING kate or jon said was a point for me to criticize. and everything their kids did was evidence of all their wrong choices (yet, please NEVER judge me by what my kids may say or do)…

yes, i can be civil to liz, a democrat, and count her among my dearest adoring fans and friends. i can pick up atheist AND liberal, john marks, at the airport and drive him around town all day and love doing it and see the good and right in him…

but had i seen kate grocery shopping in publix… well, it would have made the news with and this line would have been in there, “also injured in the fracas was the organic produce section”.

oh, civility is a slippery thing to hold on to when it comes to politics and pop culture and pretty much everything else in our lives. and when we see the world as BLACK/WHITE, US/THEM, LOOK WHAT THEY DID/I WOULD NEVER, THEY DON’T DESERVE/I SHOULD HAVE we end up losing sight of who we are (imperfect and sometimes wrong), who they are (imperfect and sometimes right), and who God is (perfect and always Righteous)….

amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. i once was lost but now am found. was blind but now i see (dimly through a glass darkened mostly by my own painting of black).

kate… call me. i can now be civil and gracious. and i know the phone number to a GREAT christian sex therapist.

–Lea Marshall

C.S. Lewis: Wishing that black was a little blacker


For this quote, hat tip to Lea*, who somehow seems to know when anyone discusses civility on any blog across America at the same time as she drives her kids around town in endless loops, takes beautiful pictures of everyone she knows and pursues her career as a thespian in Young Actors Theatre’s Celebrity Edition of High School Musical (tired just writing all this)…

From C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

“Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.”

The liberal Washington Monthly blogger who brings us this quote continues:

If you give in to “the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible”, it’s easy to see how you could end up thinking things about them that it is implausible to think about any group of human beings.. Your opponents become cartoons in your mind, and the normal duty to be charitable and generous, or even realistic, in your views about other people seem not to apply to them. You stop thinking of them as fellow human beings, and start thinking of them as enemies…

No one — not liberals, not conservatives — should forget that their opponents are human beings. And no one can afford to start down the road Lewis describes, in which you allow yourself to be disappointed when your opponents aren’t as bad as you first thought, or want them to be as bad as possible. And no one should get so wrapped up in political fights that in focussing on the mote in someone else’s eye, they lose sight of the beam in their own.

Worth noting is that Lea originally saw this post echoed on a Christian blog Cranach: The Blog of Veith. An iconic Christian author quoted on the blog of a cornerstone left-leaning publication (that I should add my sister used to work for); the left-leaning blog subsequently quoted on a Christian blog.

If you really think about it, all of this makes black a lot less black, eh?

*In the vernacular of this ugly political war we’ve found ourselves in, Lea is my “enemy” and I hers. If you find it impossible to believe that we’re dear friends, you really need to get out more.

Good Guys and Bad Guys, Nixon and Deep Throat


Upon yesterday’s news of the passing of Mark Felt, Watergate’s famous informant dubbed “Deep Throat,” it seems a fitting time to consider the Nixon legacy vis-a-vis The Village Square and the partisan divide:

Hardball’s Chris Matthews: “What’s the impact of “Nixonland” on the world we live in?

Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of the President and the Fracturing of America: “One of the big political strategies that Nixon had going was to create as much division as possible in the political process. Make the cacophany, raise it up to a fever pitch so then he could present himself up as the political savoir who was going to make it better. So he had a vested interest in political conflict.”

It’s interesting how easy it is to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys” through the prism of history, hindsight and the loss of the detail through time. We conveniently shave off the details that violate the categorization we’ve chosen for someone, whether it’s the good off a “bad guy” or the bad off a “good guy.” The recent release of new Nixon tapes makes it infinitely clear which camp history has assigned Nixon to.

But our wonderful discussion with Bud Krogh, former Nixon administration official who went to jail for his role in Watergate, made it abundantly clear that such labels defy reality and are very hard to assign in real time.

Bud told stories of Nixon that revealed humanity and decency, and he told stories of himself that confirmed human flaw, even as they revealed profound character.

As Bud has wrestled with these truths over the years, he’s given those of us struggling with life choices in real time the gift of The Integrity Zone, a model for moral decision making.

Mark Felt apparently kept quiet about his identity as Deep Throat for so many years in part because he wasn’t at all sure whether he was a hero or a villain in the story – and probably for good cause in a situation with a complex stew of events and loyalties. It was only after he told his children of his identity and they convinced him that the prism of history had clearly determined him to be a “good guy” that he stepped forward.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Felt.

And rest in Peace, Mr. Nixon.

More than what they see: George Soros

“I am aware that I am less than some people prefer me to be. But most people are unaware that I am so much more than what they see.” – Douglas Pagels.

One error we make that propels our incivility is the tendency to paint other human beings, notably those with whom we disagree, with too broad a brush.

In a discussion on the recent dive in the stock market, Bill Moyers had an interesting conversation with George Soros, the man the hard right in American politics loves to hate. Soros has written “The New Paradigm for the Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means”. Soros, having lived through the rise of fascism in Germany has been sounding an alarm for a number of years now. Contrary to portraits of him that paint him as an extremist, Soros encapsulated his philosophy this way:

Both Marxism and market fundamentalism are false ideologies. I think the only [ideology that isn’t false] is… the recognition that all our ideas, all our human constructs have a flaw in them and perfection is not attainable. And we must engage in critical thinking and correct our mistakes.

If you’ve got quotes from Soros that sound less moderate, send them on…

Sunday at The Square: The Burqa and the Nikab

On my recent trip to Europe, the prevalence of Burqa-clad women was impossible to miss. Apparently across Europe, Islam is the fastest growing religion, tripling in the last 30 years. In London in particular, many women also wore a nikab, the garment that covers a woman’s face, exposing only her eyes.

To be honest, initially the nikab – in particular – was a bit off-putting to my Western sensibilities. (I suppose I can only imagine how uncomfortable my daughter’s shorts and heels made them?) The longer we were there though, the more unremarkable women in nikabs became. And it fascinated me to watch the young daughters with these women, looking every bit the part of my middle-schooler’s best friends. Their girls functioned as sort of a cultural bridge, serving the higher purpose of suggesting that behind the burqa was someone else I could probably relate to.

So I was intrigued when (in prepping for this year’s topic “Faith, Politics & Neighbors”) I re-watched an interview on CNN’s excellent series “God’s Warriors” – this particular episode on “God’s Muslim Warriors” (worth noting is that all three Abrahamic faiths had their turn on the “chopping block.”)

“If you read about Islam, many of the things we do are actually to protect the woman” said the American Muslim woman named Rehan, who was profiled.

Amanpour: “Rehan insists that covering up isn’t a sign of inferiority as many westerners believe but a sign that Muslim women refuse to be degraded as she feels they can be in American culture…a feeling echoed by religious historian Karen Armstrong who herself used to wear a habit as a Roman Catholic nun.”

Armstrong: “In some ways it was very liberating. For seven whole years I never had once to think about my hairstyle, my make-up, my clothes. I never had to wear man-pleasing garments. I never once had to fill my head with the junk that society tells women to trivialize beliefs.”

Says Rehan: “I think Western belief is that the more you have the more prestigious you are and you compete with other people – who has the better car, who has the better house, who has the nicer purse. In Islam, it’s actually the total opposite.”