You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category.
A Facebook message alerted me to see what the March of Dimes is advising parents regarding circumcision. I went to the web site and was troubled to see it took the mindless middle approach that it is a practice parents may choose to follow. There was no advocacy for the rights of the child, no mention that babies, in fact, die from complications of circumcision or that a male’s anatomy is changed forever by such imposed cutting away of a protective, lubricating and sensuous structure. So I wrote them and told them I won’t be helping them out any longer in the ‘hood when they want volunteers to raise some cash for them from up and down the street:
March of Dimes
1275 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605
Dear Director and Staff:
RE: March of Dimes and Circumcision
For a number of years, I have taken care of the March of Dimes neighborhood campaign on my block and have contributed generously myself before passing the funds back to you.
I am here to announce that I shall not do that volunteer task for you any longer. It has come to my attention that your web site gives credence and affirmation to the despicable, medically unethical practice of routine infant circumcision. Moreover, you quote the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding circumcision. The APP has been soundly discredited for its sordid “research” and subsequent statements regarding circumcision. You should not be informing parents that circumcision is a perfectly OK option if young males comes into their families
Any reader of your page on circumcision would come away with the opinion that the March of Dimes, a so-called advocate for the health and welfare of children, sees nothing wrong with the practice of crushing and cutting away of the foreskins of helpless, defenseless baby boys and minors. As father and grandfather of intact males, I can categorically say that circumcision violates a doctor’s Hippocratic Oath: “First Do No Harm.” It violates medical ethics by removing a healthy body structure put there for such purposes as protection, lubrication, immunization and sensual response.
We do not cut off healthy body parts in advance of any so-called health risk. If we did, we would remove teeth so they don’t get cavities, breast buds of girls so they don’t get breast cancer some day and hair so there can be no split ends. It is deplorable that an organization like the March of Dimes has not joined the movement to fight for the human rights and medical justice for young males in this country. It is such hypocrisy and such a double standard that the U.S. Congress outlawed female genital cutting/mutilation in this country in 1996, yet permits genital cutting of males to continue legally in this country. Only because it is culturally entrenched, because it has a billion-dollar circumcision industry driving it and expectant parents have been duped into believing such nonsense that a cut penis looks better, or a boy should look (lack) like his father or that it is easier to keep clean. Call it what it is, “cosmetic surgery,” and the law says cosmetic surgery is not to be performed on minors.
If the March of Dimes wants to truly be an advocate for children, it will change its web site and adopt language that educates parents on the value and purpose of leaving young males the way God and nature made them and underscore that it is a human rights and self-determination issue.
Go to any of many web sites or organizations defending babies from the horrific practice: nocirc.org; intactamerica.org; arclaw.org (Attorneys for the Rights of the Child); mothersagainstcirc.org (Mothers Against Circumcision); circumstitions.com; and doctorsopposingcircumcision.org (Doctors Opposing Circumcision). There are countless books, websites, scientific papers and videos available debunking the de facto sexual assault that is circumcision on the non-consenting.
So don’t call me to distribute your literature and envelopes in my neighborhood. Unless, of course, you change your position. Moreover, any future donations to the March of Dimes from my household will be incumbent on the same changes you would make.
I commonly say I never knew there was such a thing as homosexuality until I got to college. Until then, I just vaguely thought there were tomboys and sissies. Now nearly a half-century since I started college, I struggle to remember when I first had an awareness or knew someone who was gay. If my memory is correct, I first became aware of the general struggle of those who were gay before I actually knew anyone who was gay.
Over the years, I could come to know gays and lesbians. Like most of us, we knew them first as friends, acquaintances, classmates or family members before we knew they were gay. So, with it coming in that order, we were disarmed. Each of us could compile quite a list of people we know who are gay and we would be struck immediately about how normal, likable and acceptable they are. For me, through the broad blessings of experiences, including travel, education, reading, meeting so many people, it was only natural to be fully accepting and to champion their cause. In more than 40 years of very active church work, I have never taken the side of those who would exclude our gay brothers and sisters from the full opportunities we heterosexuals enjoy.
As a Presbyterian, I have been ashamed at our denomination’s alarmingly slow willingness to come around to allowing gays to be ordained as pastors, elders and deacons. We are not there yet, but headway has been made in recent years — and all too many have bolted the denomination with our moving to inclusion of our gay brothers and sisters.
Needless to say, the Presbyterian Church (USA), like other denominations, has lost many members because of its stubborn restrictions and cautious steps toward opening leadership to all regardless of sexual orientation. I just finished reading an eye-opening, 62-page booklet published in 2004 titled “Far From Home: Tales of Presbyterian Exiles,” written by Alice V. Anderson and published by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a leading movement to end sexuality bias in the denomination.
The booklet contains 37 accounts by 40 people who had been nurtured early on in the Presbyterian Church and who had found it to be their spiritual home until they could no longer endure the doors shut in their faces as they revealed they were gay. Most sought authenticity instead of lives in the closet. Their prayers of longing to be straight or psychological therapy or toughening it out didn’t transform them to what they were “supposed to be.” Many were heartily supported by sympathetic church members and leaders, but rules against ordination of practicing gays and discrimination of those intentionally celibate were too much.
As a result there has been a massive drain of supremely educated, justice-minded, competent Presbyterian pastors or candidates mostly to the United Church of Christ or to the Metropolitan Community Churches, both of which are long past the discrimination and marginalization of gay people. The Episcopal Church has been another magnet. I was very moved by the one- or two-page personal accounts of their journeys. All were eminently faithful to the call of God to serve his Church. Some got well into their careers as closeted pastors or ones who had not fully come to terms with their gay leanings until midlife in some cases.
Here are some statements pulled from the booklet:
–Emily Hassler: “The PC(USA) is wounded by sinful judgementalism. It makes it lose creative, lovely people.”
– John Gage spoke before 350 gathered presbyters “and told them, ‘Thanks. You’ve taught me so much. I now have to say goodbye because you will not challenge me to grow in this gift of ministry in the same way as you do my heterosexual colleagues.”
–Kurt Wieser: “The Presbyterian Church had the audacity to say ‘no’ to the call given me by God and to the nature given me by God. I was complicit in saying ‘no’ to God by remaining in an institutional church that opposed me and denied the authenticity of my sense of call.”
–Dean Plusquellec: “I feel the denomination as a whole is not welcoming to progressive thinkers. It has become very narrow.”
My Tempe church undertook a discernment process across several years, with the congregation invited to classes, to hear special speakers, read materials and hold hearty conversation about homosexuality. (That exercise earned University Presbyterian of Tempe a city MLK Day Diversity Award in 2000.) I suspect we lost a few members as a result of our growing openness and acceptance. I believe we are a healthier church because inclusion is so fundamental to who we are. Some of our sister churches, however, resist acceptance, citing selected scripture and drawing strength from like-minded congregations and their pastors. So we take up sides while still trying to be congenial. But one by one, we lose churches from the denomination over the homosexual issue. Better to lose those churches from our alliance than to betray our gay brothers and sisters.
How often I think that people in their heart of hearts really do believe two humans have every right to entrust their lives fully to one another. Reasoning and fairness are stopped by the constraints of group think and the tyranny of having to share a common position or become an outcast. Many, no doubt, harbor feelings and opinions that would be heresy to their group if voiced. Honesty is the casualty.
We are certainly heartened with younger generations being fully accepting of gays and to be accepting of gay marriage, etc. There’s no stopping the movement. Conservatives won’t be able to turn the tide. With 10 states now allowing marriage equality, it is clear momentum grows to make it nationwide. We have to believe the U.S. Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Roberts are watching. Will they be on the side of justice, history and social reform or just end up offering a wrenching Dred Scott-sort of ruling that only delays the inevitable? Justice delayed is justice denied, but we have confidence that eventually we’ll join an ever-increasing world (France, Canada, Norway, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand and others) in allowing all people to live out who they are and who they want to love.
The Internet is awash with new generations of folks who won’t rest until pediatricians and hospitals shut down their circumcision operations and recognize human rights and medical ethics. Here is my letter to the man who leads the American Academy of Pediatrics. He could help end the screams and the torture of sexual cutting of the innocent.
April 8, 2013
Thomas K McInerny, M.D.
American Academy of Pediatrics
141 Northwest Point Blvd
Elk Grove Village IL 60007-1008
Dear Dr. McInerny:
I am compelled to call on you and the Academy to disregard your woeful and scattered stance on the issue of routine infant circumcision and come to your senses, out of a sense of humanity and ethics. Unless you are deaf and don’t read the literature, the world has largely rejected the medical unethical practice. Only in America are the serial circumcisers, unencumbered, still cutting foreskins from defenseless, helpless newborn males and minors. Shame on you and the Academy for perpetuating this cruel, barbaric, medically unnecessary practice.
Is it because you can? Where are you on the Hippocratic Oath, “First Do No Harm!” Don’t you recognize the many reasons why nature/God has affixed a foreskin to humans — males and females — as well as mammals in general. Why don’t the medical schools know that? Why aren’t the functions and roles of the foreskin recognized and taught? The foreskin is not extraneous flesh. Moreover, it is outrageous that pediatricians, clinics and hospitals commercially traffic in foreskins — purloined human parts — to industry for uses from creams to skin-starting material. Is that not perverse?
I was in graduate school at Northwestern University in 1971 when I first came across literature that opened my eyes to the madness of a medical industry in America committing wholesale genital mutilation of young males. Needless to say, when our son was born in 1975 and grandsons later, all were spared from the indecency and the knives. Circumcision turns my stomach and it should yours.
How absurd when the AAP assembled a task force on circumcision a few years back and offered a statement that, while not recommending circumcision, recognized some advantages for it. Not one word about ethics or a child’s inherent rights to body integrity or self-determination. No report on the casualities. The pathetic argument about UTIs is laughable — the silly notion that you cut the foreskins of 100 boys so 2 or 3 don’t get UTIs, when it is easily treatable. Then there’s the cancer pretext, something the American Cancer Society has rejected outright. Now in your cure-in-search-of-a-disease approach to things, your task force has clung to flawed African studies to make the far-fetched notion that a foreskin is an environment for AIDS. Never mind that AIDS has flourished far more in the U.S. (with high circumcision rates) while it is far more rare in Europe where circumcision is virtually rejected and men are permitted to stay whole.
Almost a dozen years ago, Arizona became the seventh state (now there are 18) where state health services ended paying for circumcisions under Medicaid because it was seen as medically unnecessary and that such cosmetic surgery on infants was a waste of taxpayers’ money. Fortunately, some insurance companies have the same realizations and don’t pay for it.
But we want some heart. We want some caring. We want the AAP to care enough about the human rights of a new human being, that it realizes we don’t cut off living structures and flesh from the innocent to meet some “maybe situation” in life — a situation with many alternative treatments available short of excision.
Of course, we realize doctors tend to do what their families dictate lest the families opt to take their business elsewhere. Yet we find it appalling that circumcision is the only surgery that pediatricians/doctors can be instructed to perform. How pathetic when doctors don’t look parents in the eye and say, “Circumcision is wrong. It is not only unnecessary, it is harmful to a child’s whole sexuality, and the foreskin belongs there for a multiplicity of functions. I refuse to perform it.”
Yes, we know circumcision is big business in America. It is relatively easy money, and, yes, you physicians brag that botched circumcisions are relatively rare. But there are more than 100 deaths of year in America as a result of circumcision, not to mention surgeries that take too much skin or result in other problems not widely reported. We applaud those hospital and clinical staff who have had the courage to stand up to the circumcisers and state they will no longer be part of the ghoulish practice. We need more doctors to get out of the business, more hospitals to be foreskin-friendly zones and, of course, more parents’ whose instincts alone should be protective enough to never allow their new sons to fall into the grasp of staffers in the circ room with its macabre torture equipment, starting with a circumstraint.
So, Dr. McInerny, you lead the AAP. Study up on this nasty thing called circumcision — a practice that, if conceived today as a new idea, would be quickly recognized as perverse, sexual assault and land the cutters in jail. Your pediatricians can get by perpetuating this cruel quackery only because it was nicely entrenched in the medicalization of America where generations of doctors naively thought they were on to something. This isn’t like de-beaking baby chicks or dehorning cattle or docking the tails of puppies. Circumcision forever changes the structure of the penis — transforms it to an unprotected, exposed, dried structure minus 20,000 nerve endings, ridged bands, and more.
We applaud the AAP for reversing itself last year on the ill-conceived notion to allow girls in the U.S. to get a symbolic genital nick in hopes their parents wouldn’t put them through female genital mutilation underground or overseas. But we are appalled that, in America, such a glaring double standard can prevail — that young males can be genitally cut and permanently altered sexually, yet we’ve criminalize any sort of cutting on females in the U.S. Where is the 14th Amendment ensuring equal protection of ALL under the laws of the United States? It is blatant hypocrisy.
Dr. McInerny, the tide has turned. The seamy, sordid, repulsive practice that your profession calls a medical procedure, is officially rejected by a caring world. But it goes on each day in defiance of human justice and medical ethics. And the circumcision industry gets richer because you lamely say, “Well, it’s the choice of parents.” Baloney. The AAP needs to take responsibility or continue to be dogged at conventions and reviled for allowing this to go on.
For crying out loud, for the newborns crying out loud, shut down your cutting rooms. Live up to your mission of working for the “well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.”
It’s a time for leadership that ends the great shame your profession allows. Some of us know how to protect our children from doctors who do bad things. We want to protect the rest of those baby boys who are to follow so that they can grow up whole and complete as their maker intended.
It has been said that “civilization is just a slow process of learning to be kind.” Dr. McInerny, you can help speed that up.
Having just reached the age of 67, I am now two-thirds of the way to being a centenarian. I have my “bucket list” for the rest of my days. Yet, sheer reality makes me realize I need to strike some items from the list. (Will I ever get to Greece, take a cruise or see the pyramids?)
But let’s look back for a moment. Each of us should make an inventory of the things we have done, seen or experienced in the years heretofore. It can be heartening and a reminder that life is a journey of large and small moments. Accomplishments, serendity joys, satisfaction moments, setbacks.
I’ve been in the White House three times, stood inside the Statue of Libery three times, beheld Paris from the Eiffel Tower, walked the grand streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and attended some competition at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968. I’ve seen Big Ben, Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace, the door to No. 10 Downing Street, Michaelangelo’s original statue of David in Florence, and the tombs of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, beheld the art treasure of the Louvre in Paris and witness Niagara Falls and Brazil’s majestic Iguazu Falls. I’ve ridden on a gondola in the canals of Venice, enjoyed Zoolights at the Phoenix Zoo. I have walked in Time Square, beheld Central Park from the rooftop of the Empire State Building and sauntered through Greenwich Village at night. I owned a red ’65 Ford Mustang convertible for 17 years. I went 31 working years without a sick day. I’ve gotten to meet and talk to Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Shirley Temple Black, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, TV preacher Joel Osteen, actor Steven Baldwin, President George W. Bush, Watergate bad-boy Charles Colson, and the Peace Corps’ first director and one-time U.S. vice presidential candidate Sargent Shriver, not to mention its 10th director, Loret Ruppe.
I saw the preserved body of Pope John XXIII in a knave of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. I’ve seen the fabled White Cliffs of Dover, beheld the warm blue sea of the Mediteranean, marveled at Rodin’s statue of The Thinker in Paris, walked under the Arch de Triumph and marveled at the street flower markets of Amsterdam. I’ve been chosen for the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame and the Living Legends Hall of Fame of the Tempe Historical Museum and have been four-time Kiwanian of the Year, man-of-the-year at my church, and man of the year in the men’s residence hall of Iowa State University. Three years, I was the milker for my teams in championship wins in the Celebrity Goat-Milking contests at the Maricopa County Fair. I’ve changed countless diapers and lost many hours of sleep holding fussy babies. I interviewed Nobel Peace Prize winner abd the Green Revolution genius Dr. Norman Boulaug. I donated 18 gallons of blood until my veins got stingy and balked. I led a student group trip to Washington, D.C., and New York City in 1967 where we woefully sang the “Iowa Corn Song” for Mayor John Lindsay at Long Island University and I successfully arranged a 40-minute conversation with Associate Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark.
I’ve been an inspector, judge and clerk for Maricopa County elections, watched the Chicago Cubs play in Wrigley Field, enjoyed shows on Broadway, visited both Disneyland and Disney World, explored the streetscape of Dealey Plaza in Dallas where John Kennedy died and seen the purported remains of Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro in a glass case in Lima, Peru. I mark my 50th anniversary of writing for publication this year. I’ve seen the Hope Diamond and the Northern Lights. I’ve been to the top of Seattle’s Space Needle, San Antonio’s Hemisphere tower and the Washington Monument. I’ve seen how Big Oil can build wondrous things in Tulsa and honeymooned on Florida beaches.
I met presidential loser George McGovern twice and Bob Dole once. I’ve met Arizona Governors Rose Mofford, Evan Mecham, Jane Dee Hull, Fife Symington, Janet Napolatono and Jan Brewer. Throw in Sen. Ted Kennedy and singer Alice Cooper. I have read most of John Steinbook’s novels and was profoundly impacted by “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. I have interviewed Catholic Cardinals Roger Mahony, John O’Connor, Joseph Bernadin and Theodore McCarrick. I carried out news coverage of two papal visits of Pope John Paul II to the U.S. in 1979 and 1987. I covered talks by Louis Farrakhan and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I once procured a Red Cross donation from Barry Goldwater. I’ve stood at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, canoed lakes of Minnesota, been humbled by the sequoia and redwood trees of California, stayed with poor rural families of central Mexico. I’ve driven through the Smokey Mountains, visited Cape Cod, wandered through the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame, Smithsonian museums in Washington and the Mall of America.
I served as chairman of the Tempe Salvation Army Advisory Board at the same time I was board president of Tempe Community Action Agency. I have delivered sermons to at least three churches. I’ve walked the streets of Munich, Lisbon, Brussels, Miami and Asuncion. I’ve visited Tafts Well, outside of Cardiff, Wales, where my Grandfather Griffiths was born in 1874.
I began driving farm tractors at age 8 and went on to plow fields, bale hay, seed and combine oats, drive a corn picker, fill silos with chopped corn and maneuver hay racks and rotary hoes. I’ve shingled roofs, dehorn calves, found four-leaf clovers, hunted for morel mushrooms and wild asparagus and have a massive collection of promotional buttons and pins. I have perfect attendance all through high school. I won the Clara Barton Award, am a George F. Hixson Fellow in Kiwanis, was an Exchange Club’s Exchangite of the Year and have never had a broken bone. I’ve never smoked a cigarette. My Iowa vanity license plate said EDITOR. My Arizona plate says NOCIRCM, a call for an end to circumcision so mindlessly forced on the helpless and defenseless.
I’ve experienced foul-mouthed Army drill sergeants in basic training, written unit morning reports and served as a mail clerk for a company of trainees. I’ve finished first in my military promotion group and taken full advantage of the G.I. bill to buy two homes and earn a master’s degree from Northwestern University. I’ve rambled across the campus of Yale, received Iowa State University’s coveted Cardinal Key award for campus leadership and won the American Soybean Association’s highest award for print media.
I interviewed the late controversial atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair a number of times. I interviewed theologian William Sloane Coffin, the crazy Topeka, Kan., hatemonger and pastor Fred Phelps, country singer Charley Pride, one-armed Giants pitcher Dave Dravecky; a number of U.S. secretaries of agriculture, including Earl Butz; theologian Robert McAfee Brown; Oscar winning ‘Last Picture Show’ actor Ben Johnson; Braves slugger Dale Murphy; ex-Cardinal star Aeneas Williams; and Motel 6 pitchman “We’ll-Leave-The-Lights-On-For-Your” Tom Bodett.
I have sat next to baseball icon Joe Garagiola for dinner and Sheriff Joe Arpaio for lunch. At Iowa State, I wore a black arm band and walked in solidarity with those marching for civil rights in Selma, Ala., in 1964. I only experienced one earthquake — in Loja, Ecuador, where I lived for two months in 1968 and wrote a 1,200-word newspaper column 7 days a week in Spanish. I proposed to my wife in 1973 against the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re in Love” on TV and recorded the whole thing.
I have written thousands of newspaper columns and tens of thousands of newspaper articles. I have published two books of local history, a 277-page church 50-year history and a 306-page Tempe Kiwanis 60-year history, plus many booklets. I have kept up the pace to produce a weekly Kiwanis newsletter for more than 23 years — a newsletter chosen tops across the Kiwanis planet for mid-size clubs in 1995 and has won 20 district contests.
I’ve given innumerable speeches, including one to atheists. I been the judge for a National Pork Queen and local dairy princesses. I have served on a jury and won a Tempe clam-eating contest. I was dispatched to Iowa’s Boys State as a junior where I was a “sheriff” and “city councilman.” I’ve delivered Meals on Wheels, been a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay, served as the company clerk for a U.S. Army advanced infantry training company, once fell in love with a girl in Uruguay, worked in the food service of a university hospital, visited 46 of the 50 states plus 22 countries, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge in the rain, reveled in Mardi Gras in New Orleans, grew a mustache that has lasted 42 years, written and delivered many eulogies, worn contact lenses, climbed Piestewa Peak, and suceeded another editor who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting in 1978.
I watched the birth of both of my children and two of my four grandchildren. I have been married only once, and we will celebrate our 40th anniversary in July. I take comfort that my in-laws were married for 51 years and my parents for more than 55 years until took one of each pair.
I founded and edited a campus magazine when I was a college freshman. I was the first president of Ayres House at Iowa State University. A year later, I was first president of a 2,400-men residential hall system. I played tuba in high school, was editor of the high school newspaper and was class valeditorian.
I have correspondence from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Eli Wiesel, thelogian Norman Cousins, author Leo Buscaglia, Ed Asner, Lute Olson, Charles Kuralt, and Michael Dukakis.
I have stood on the equator in Ecuador, beheld the Leaning Tower of Pisa, gloried in the Sistine Chapel, and look upon the paintings of Mona Lisa, American Gothic and Winslow’s Mother. I have cleaned the pit of an outhouse, mowed fields of alfalfa and clover, skinny-dipped in farm creeks, milked Holstein cows morning and night for years, built large sheds, have seen, in person, the queen of Spain and seven U.S. presidents: Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama. I sat Chile’s congressional chambers and stood on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. I worked in the National Press Building in Washington, D.C. I attended Red Cross board meetings in the home of Bill and Erma Bombeck in Paradise Valley, and once met philanthropist Virginia Piper there. I have serve eight three-year terms as a Presbyterian church officer (elder, deacon and trustee). I learned to say the presidents of the United States and their years in office when I was age 8. I have served on a behavior health agency board of directors for more than 25 years.
I have spoken out in voice and print against prejudice and margination of women, discrimination against gay people and the cruel indecency of male infant circumcision. I have served meals at soup kitchens, read books to Head Start children and received the Golden Rule Award from Arizona Interfaith Movement. I was the 12th recipient of Tempe’s Don Carlos Humanitarian Award and third winner of Tempe Leadership’s Outstanding Community Leadership Award. I have 79 file drawers in my house, now paid off. I deeply love my wife and family.
I could die this day fully content that it’s been a full, rich, purpose-filled life — graced by good people doing good deeds and being forces to end the tyranny that comes with civilization and human failings.
We remember teachers who were bold, experimental, inventive, real. John King was all of that. And for that he was fired at the end of my senior year in 1964. That wiry, high-energy teacher taught American history, government and sociology during his tenure at Parkersburg (IA) High School from 1959 to 1964.
We sheltered kids off the farm were held in rapt attention by this teacher who spent a number of days in sociology class seated on the front of his desk or at the blackboard informing us about the truly human side of sociology — things like sexual patterns and habits, deviancies and more liberal ways of Europe. We had never heard anything like it. It may have been the first time this high school senior heard about homosexuality. Mr. King told us about transvestites, rape, prostitution and open nudity in European films of the 1960s. We were transfixed. That 33-year-old Korean veteran with a bachelor’s degree from what is now the University of Northern Iowa had the courage and instincts to tell us what no other adult would do — and in an informed way in a classroom. He talked to us like adults in a high school of 160 kids.
Well, it didn’t take long for the word to get to the Parkersburg Board of Education, whose president, I recall, was Louie Dreyer, who owned the drug store in town and who was a Baptist. (His son was in our class and a good friend who came out as gay at our 25th high school reunion in 1989 and who died of AIDS a couple years ago in California).
I was editor of the high school newspaper that senior year, Mr. King’s final year at Parkersburg. The Top Talk pages were printed inside the Parkersburg Eclipse, the largest paper in Butler County and I relished how far and wide my writings went. On May 6, 1964, we published an article I wrote titled, “My Favorite High School Subject.” I queried 14 classmates.
Gretchen Kneppe wrote: “History courses because, I guess, it just comes naturally to me and I’ve always had a good teacher who made history courses interesting. Mr. King told us little details and things that aren’t mentioned in the book to make history seem real.” (On the side, my last paragraph noted, “Though some seniors didn’t want their names mentioned, they like study hall the most because they could sleep in study hall with no teachers lecturing.”)
Almost a half-century later, the details of this teacher controversy are vague in my mind. I think it was early spring when we learned that his contract would not be renewed because of what he was teaching. Nothing formal was said. My news clippings from April 22 carried a story “Eight Members of the Parkersburg School Resigned at School Year End.” The fifth on the list: “Mr. John King, social studies, will teach in the fine Mason City school system next year.”
Each week that school year, I wrote a column, identified as an editorial. My second editorial (“English Should Remain a Requirement”) infuriated the school supertendent and principal, who together sat me down in the principal’s office and told me their concept of high school journalism. My March 11 editorial was titled, “Social Studies Must Never Fall to the Elective Status as English Has.” I went into great words about the nobility of social studies, government and history. My last paragraph read, “We fortunately have had an instructor with a broad knowledge in these areas and others. With his articulation, Mr. King has competently revealed to us the aspects of our American heritage during the past five years. He has taught us much that isn’t taught in books, things that are important to us in enabling us to more capably take our place in society. Therefore, educators must use prudence and foresight when they plan the future of teaching young people in school.”
That 18-year-old writer, with an immersion that year in high school journalism, subsequently opted to launch into a 50-year career in newspaper journalism.
I remember during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 how Mr. King told us what to do if the Russians bombed us. In great detail, he discussed the showdown between Kennedy and Khrushchev. He had a major role in my love for public affairs, politics and world issues.
I always ranked Mr. King as my most gifted and talented teacher. He died Jan. 8 in Mason City at the age of 82. From 1964 to 1989, he taught at Mason City High School and also night classes at Buena Vista University.
I recall he came to one class reunion. When I published a 70-page booklet for our 40th class reunion in 2004, I reached out to John King for some bio updates and reflections. He declined. I shared my long-held admiration for him and for his being so candid and adult with us unworldly, insulated kids. He chose not to respond.
To be a great teacher must have untold rewards and gratification. Sometimes students deserve to know more than they are told to be told.
We so very much respected John King, and he won’t ever be forgotten.
I hold my new U.S. congresswoman, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, in high esteem for a lot of reasons, but especially for the character she played in a one-act drama on a Phoenix stage on Aug. 2, 2001. Nearly 12 1/2 years ago, she performed in “Jacob’s Gift,” playing the role of a new Jewish mother who passionately resisted family pressures to have her newborn son, Jacob, put through the ritual of circumcision, or the bris milah, almost routinely carried out on the 8th day after birth if a family is observant. I had seen the play promoted in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix newspaper. Being a longtime opponent of the crude, rude amputation of foreskins from helpless babies and minors for whatever reason, I was determined to see the play.
That Sunday afternoon, my wife, my daughter and one of her friends from Arizona State University went to On The Spot Theater on North Central Avenue for the 50-minute production. Kyrsten had the lead role of Eileen Mendelson Levi. The small cast of six included Eileen’s husband, father-in-law, mother, a mohel and another woman. The cast notes said, “Kyrsten Sinema – Eileen: …Kyrsten is a social worker in Phoenix who aspires to win the upcoming City Council seat in District 8. She loves shoes and purses and hates macrame owls.” (Kyrsten would lose that election, but later win Arizona House and Senate races and then her race for Congress for District 9 last November). A question was asked on the program cover: “How can 5,000 years of tradition be changed in one afternoon?”
Throughout the play, I was heartened by this young mother’s resolve to protect her son from religiously prescribed genital mutilation. Her angst and her motherly instincts were powerfully demonstrated. Her courage and her skills at voicing her objections lifted my hopes that, yes, Jacob would remain intact. But it wasn’t to be. The old grandfather delivered the case that an ancient rite trumps pain, body alteration, penile reduction surgery or self-determination of one’s body. In my theater seat, I felt as if a knife went through my heart. SHE CAPITULATED! NO! NO! The tyranny of family tradition and religious history won the day. Isn’t humanity suppose to progress out of its ruthless habits?
Well, I went home and wrote lengthy letters to Kyrsten Sinema and to the playwright, Judith Eisenberg of Phoenix. I told Judy, “Both curiosity and dread commanded my thoughts as we sat down in the front row of ‘Jacob’s Gift.’ I feared we would be given a long, Old Testament harangue on the total necessity of the bris milah, with all the cliche puns and jokes about circumcision weaved in. I expected to be cursing under my breath at tired, ancient pretexts for circumcision. I cannot tell you how heartened I was to follow the words of Eileen Mendelson Levi. Her courage of expression, powerful delivery, compassion and grit promised new hope and a new day for the 8th day naming ceremony. … Thank you for creating a strong, intelligent character who could be believed with such iconoclastic thoughts.”
In my two-page letter, I informed Judy Eisenberg of my decades of circumcision prevention writings, education and advocacy. I pointed out how many Jews and Jewish writers had written on the topic “to awaken Judaism to what is needlessly happening to their sons.” I supplied her with a partial list, like Edward Wallenstein’s 1980 book “Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy”; Ron Goldman’s books, “Questioning Circumcsion: A Jewish Perspective” and “Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma”; or Rosemary Romberg’s books, “Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma” and “Peaceful Beginnings.” I named other Jews working to end such body alterations. Then there were such high-profile men of Jewish heritage, radio shock jock Howard Stern, and radio medical host Dr. Dean Edell who don’t miss opportunities to debunk and discredit the repulsive practice.
Judy Eisenberg later called me and we had a rich discussion. In 2006, she told me she was reworking the ending and hoped to have it staged again.
Kyrsten wrote me a long letter days after the play. “Although I am not personally involved in the movement to end male circumcision, I have followed it over the past four or five years and agree with the arguments against it and am in total agreement there is no medical or hygienic need for the procedure.
“I was more interested in Judy’s play for somewhat different, but related reasons. As an agnostic who has studied world religions for almost 10 years, I am interested in religious thought, customs and rituals and have always been fascinated with the idea that people in societies do things just because ‘they’re supposed to.” Organized religion, by its very definition, prescribes a set of rules and then tells its ‘followers’ to live by these rules.”
Kysten said there were parts of the Eileen character she was “not fond of….For instance, she makes her final decision about the circumcision after having a spiritual experience even though she had obviously been having questions regarding the procedure prior to that event?”
“However, Eileen, like so many in organized religion, buckles under to peer pressure of her family and culture. Every night, I wish that Eileen wouldn’t back down. She made a decision. She was sure — positive — that she wouldn’t do this. Then why did she do it? Many people in organized religion, while criticizing some aspects of it, are yet reluctant to actually do something about their thoughts. Instead, they pay lip service to their questioning and then capitulate, going back to the comfort zone of the prescription.”
Kyrsten talked about her conversations with playwright Judy Eisenberg: “Judy says that Eileen respects the history, the culture represented by her grandfather and knows that circumcision is an integral part of this. I disagree. … Judy, as you know, is Jewish and loves her religion. She talks about the things she doesn’t like within her religion, such as circumcision, the patriarchal nature of authority, etc., However, she feels that these can be reconciled within the relgiion. I do not agree. …. A person with conviction who gives in still gives in, and that is what is remembered in the end. I hope that one day she does not give in…..If Eileen were real, I believe she would regret this decision throughout her life. … I was heartened to receive your letter and plan to discuss it with the other cast members. No matter what the outcome of the play, it is refreshing to know that it caused others to think, which is, after all, the first step toward action.”
Now more than a dozen years later, that social worker and one-time actress is a United States congresswoman, still intent on helping make America a better civilization. All of us who have been fighting on many fronts for the end to the repugnant practice of circumcision have been encouraged by many, many Jews who simply don’t see cutting off health body structures from defenseless children as humane or to be carried out on loved ones. So what if it was performed in the time of Torah or that the whole tribe had to undergo it? Jews have abandoned all sorts of harsh things acceptable 4,000 years ago.
We find it utterly outrageous that females in the U.S. are protected by law from genital mutilation while there is no legal protection in the U.S. for males from having a nerve-rich, protective covering of their penises excised against their will. It is medically unethical and a form of sexual assault. Where is enforcement of the 14th Amendment calling for equal protection under the law?
It time for lawmakers like Congressman Sinema to take a look at proposals first introduced in Congress 10 years ago — the MGM Bill – that extends the protection of females from genital cutting to males who shouldn’t have their privates redesigned out of custom or misguided medical quackery. As is said so often, if God or nature wanted males to have foreskins, they would be born with them.
I am glad I escaped from Iowa in 1984. I think all of us sometimes imagine how our lives would have gone if we had stayed where our lives began. Some of us have stayed there, flourished and not given it another thought.
But how rueful it might be, too, for those who dreamed of other vistas. It conjures the forsakeness of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Maud Muller,” about a country maiden raking hay in a field who has a brief encounter with a judge on horseback to whom she gives cold water. After a brief chat, he rides off. It leaves Maud dreaming of being his bride, yet recognizing her own dreary, humble estate in life. “The sweet song died, and a vague unrest And a nameless longing filled her breast. A wish, that she hardly dared,” Whittier writes. The maiden, the poem continued, ”wedded a man unlearned and poor, And many children played round her door.” The judge, in turn, ”wedded a wife of richest dower, Who lived for fashion, as he for power.” Both spent their lives thinking back to that epic moment under a tree in the hayfield, and how it could have turned out differently by taking some step, some overture that would have let love develop.
Out of Whitter’s poem comes the classic line: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”
I might have remained in Iowa, closer to family and friends, our farm, the cemeteries. I think back now. I might be newly retired from an daily paper in Iowa where I would have labored 40 years. A different set of news stories, features and columns written. Different outcomes for my children, blizzards, and more.
I remember while growing up how Iowans took pride in being true “Middle America.” I remember how it was 25th in size and ranked 25th in population — and how its ethnicity was a hardy European mix. Planted between the two great American rivers — the Mississippi and Missouri – Iowa bridged so much of the American experience. We are reminded of that every four years with the interminable Iowa political caucus process.
I earned most of my early education there — a small town school into second grade, then a one-room country school for the rest of second grade and all of third grade, then to the town school in Parkersburg in 1955 when the state shut down most of the rural schools for not providing adequate education. I came out valedictorian of my class of 1964 with all of 47 students. I attribute that achievement to parents with high expectations and my deep love of books and reading and all the escape that goes with it for a farm boy. I got through Iowa State University in exactly four year despite drowning in campus extracurricular programs and commitments that muted my academic work. Then came three trips to South America, capped by the Peace Corps, two years of the U.S. Army (all spent in Lousiana) and a master’s degree program at Northwestern University in Illinois. So I launched my career at the daily newspaper in Waterloo, Iowa, in June 1972, leading to a 40-year career writing for dailies. I moved my family to Arizona in 1984 for a lot of reasons — a better editor job, the weather, a new start, escape from too many community and church commitments, the political landscape of Iowa.
Now in 2013, I sit in amazement that Iowa has not yet elected a female governor nor a female member of the U.S. Congress – House or Senate. It holds that distinction only with Mississippi, long considered a back-water state for lots of things. They say it’s because Iowa has a strong elderly population that is less inclined to break the tradition that males hold major public offices. It is also said that Iowa has sizable numbers of religious fundamentalists who do not want to see women overshadowing men in public positions.
I read much about why some of us stay true to the forces surrounding our upbringings and don’t depart much from the thinking of our families or communities. Those who have broken free and look back celebrate what they found beyond the prosaic landscape of their formative years.
I just finished “Falling Upward – A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” by the Rev. Richard Rohr, a prolific Franciscan priest in New Mexico where he founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1986. Much of the book calls on us to take advantage of our years to break free from the past and its safety and humdrum. He terms it “hating family” and says Jesus directed just that in terms of having the courage to strike out on one’s own and discover the true self.
“…First of all, do you recognize that he is actually undoing the fourth commandment of Moses, which tells us to ‘honor your father and mother?’ He writes, “Many people are kept from mature religion because of the pious, immature or rigid expectations of their first half-of-life family.
“…One of the major blocks against the second journey is what we would now call the ‘collective,’ the crowd, our society, or our extended family. Some call it the crab bucket pulling you back in. What passes for morality or spirituality in the vast majority of people’s lives is the way everybody they grew up with thinks. (Rohr’s emphasis). Some would call it conditioning or even imprinting. Without very real inner work, most folks never move beyond it. You might get beyond it in a negative sense, by reacting or rebelling against it, but it is much less common to get out of the crab bucket in a postive way.”
Rohr says it takes courage, work and self-doubt to achieve a “separation for people to find their own soul and their own destiny apart from what Mom and Dad always wanted them to be and do. To move beyond family-of-origin stuff, local church stuff, flag-and-country stuff is a path that few of us follow positively and with integrity….We all must leave home to find the real and larger home…The nuclear family has far too often been the enemy of the global family and mature spiritual seeking,” Rohr notes.
A woman followed me home today. I pulled into the driveway, and she parked her expensive sports car on the street at the end of the drive. “I had to ask you about what your bumper stickers are about,” she informed me.
There were the four that caught her eye, plus the personalized license plate (NOCIRCM) on a child-abuse prevention plate (“It Shouldn’t Hurt to Be a Child). The bumper stickers say: 1) Circumcision – A Cruel Ripoff; 2) We are Helping Stop Routine Circumcision; 3) Stop Cutting on Defenseless Babies – Circumcision is Wrong; and 4) Circumcision Destroys A Key Part of ManHOOD – His Body. His Choice. Cutting is Wrong.
So I informed her. “Circumcision is a violatiion of human rights. It destroys an important body structure. It’s cruel and denies the male infant the right to decide for himself.” She said she was a school nurse. When her two sons were born at separate times, they asked her whether she wanted it done to the babies. They didn’t just do it, she stressed. Well, did her sons give consent? Did you realize the ramifications of having your boys altered forever? Of course, not. I told her a very, very small number of intact males grow up to seek and get circumcisions. Why would they want a sensitive, protective, lubricating, movable part of their penis amputated? Why would they submit their manhood to the knife? Why would they want part of their privates turned from an internal structure to something exposed forever to air and clothing, to keritanize (get calloused) and lose sensitivity.
She was listening intently. I noted that females are protected by law in the U.S. from having the genitals cut on to satisfy some cultural or religious notions. She noted how African women are subjected to horrific cruelty through female genital mutilation to satisfy their culture. Yeah, I said women die, have their sexuality stunted and suffer all the rest of their lives. Tragically, feminists (and I am all for feminists) get huffy to bring up male circumcision in the same breath as female circumcision, as if it somehow trivializes the brutality of cutting women’s privates.
I told my driveway visitor that I have worked for decades with people across the U.S. and beyond in this compelling human rights fight and that circumcision is simply medically unethical — a rude, repulsive sexual assault on a helpless human. And it’s legal! I told her the billion-dollar circumcision industry has foisted a great fraud on parents with fear-mongering about diseases or sanitation. The United States has the highest circumcision rates in the world and one of the highest HIV-transmission rates. Go figure! In Europe, where circumcision is regarded as so much cruel foolishness, the HIV rate is far lower than in the U.S. It is a red herring that circumcision reduces HIV. But it makes the circumcision industry obscenely rich– and especially it is being palmed off on unsophisticated African cultures where HIV and AIDS have ravaged the population. (Condoms, sexual responsibility and education are the real answers to reverse the scourge).
Mothering, the longtime magazine that champions basic and traditional parenting practices, has long carried definitive stories on the repulsive practice of circumcision. I have quite a collection of their articles — and once they published my letter about one of their articles. Their online discussion currently is getting comment on the topic, “If you regret being circumcised….” Men tell of their discovery of what had been done to them and their resentment and realization of how their sexuality has been compromised. But women, too, are commenting. Take this one:
I am the wife of a circumcised man and it has impacting me negatively. After years of marriage we are realizing that his lack of foreskin is causing me pain during sex. I always thought the chaffed, burning and raw pain that I feel for several days after sex was my fault. I tried everything to make sex more comfortable, but nothing significantly helped. Now, we are realizing that circumcision is the cause. I am so angry over what circumcision has taken from our marriage! I am so upset that my husband and I cannot enjoy each other the way we are meant to! His parents made this decision for him, but I do not feel it should have been their choice. Now my husband and I have to live with the consequences of that decision for the rest of our married life. Male circumcision impacts women, too.
It is encouraging that European countries are playing hardball with the circumcisers, outlawing it where they can and coming to the support of minor males. Deaths from the surgery and botched circumcisions revile Europeans as they should in the U.S. Only the Jews and Muslims are pushing back, but even the more enlightened people among them see no value in slicing foreskins.
Many have spotted my bumper stickers and pulled out their camera phones and snapped photos to post. I watch them in my rear-view mirror. I watch them laugh or stare with their mouths open and start spirited conversations with carmates. Mission accomplished.
I am sometimes asked, “There are so many injustices and so much suffering in this world, so why don’t you go after something more important?” My life’s work show I have actively worked on many causes. But protecting helpless, defenseless baby boys from the madness of the cutting on perfectly healthy body parts without the consent of the owner is a no brainer. Such latitude is not permitted for any other kind of medical procedure. Shame of the medical industry that capitalizes on screaming, non-consenting infants. If I resent that I was circumcised — and I know I am not alone — how can the torture and violation be allowed. Check out what James Stewart writes on the “Saving Our Sons” site about his realization. Insurance company must stop paying for this cosmetic surgery. Parents need to respect their sons’ bodies — not perpetuating a repugnant practice that has no place in a civilized world. The medical industry needs to research, educate and understand the intricacies of the foreskin, a structure that women and all mammals have.
Community service has proven to be a shortcut to meeting and knowing effective people who are engaged with life and they often can be authentically identified as the movers and shakers of a community.
I have long admired former Tempe Mayor Rudy Campbell, who is about as decent and as giving a human being as one could know. I received Tempe Community Council’s Don Carlos Humanitarian Award in 1995, and Rudy took it home in 1996. Each year, we are both on hand to honor the newest honoree.
A few months ago, Rudy called me to tell me that he and wife Greta were at a concert and sat next to a woman, a stranger. They started up a conversation. They said they were from Tempe. The lady said she had a former high school classmate who lived in Tempe. Did he know Lawn Griffiths? Why, sure, Rudy said.
Denise White turned out to be part of our tiny class of 47 graduates in the Class of 1964 at Parkersburg (Iowa) High School and star forward basketball player who took us to the Iowa Girls Basketball Tournament in Des Moines that year. Greta occasionally recruits me to be a fill-in driver for the Tempe Meals on Wheels routes she oversees every six weeks. (I’m a regular driver for the week my own church have the four routes).
Recently, my wife found Rudy’s book for sale at her dentist’s office in Tempe. She called me and asked whether I wanted it. “Absolutely, pay the $10 and bring it home,” I told her. She did. The book is a treasure. “My Four Worlds – Autobiography by Rudy E. Campbell” was published in 2011. The 156-page book is dedicated to his parents, Napoleon Bonaparte Campbell and Jodie Campbell, and his sister Imogene Campbell. All three died in a car accident when a train struck their car on the tracks on Rural Road north of Broadway Road in Tempe on December 30, 1942. The 70th anniversary of that tragedy comes in a couple weeks. Rudy will turn 90 on Feb. 9, 2013.
In Rudy Campbell comes the quintessential model of self-realization. Born into a dirt-poor rural family in Oklahoma, Rudy and his family scraped for pennies work in the fields picking cotton and melons. Driven west by the great Dust Bowl of the 1930s, they landed in Mesa in 1935 with little to their name. “We were really one big family of Gypsies in our migration,” he wrote. “We never ate in a restaurant or slept anywhere except on the ground at the side of the road…. Several times I killed a rabbit with my beanie flipper soon after we had camped. I would clean and skin it before bringing it into camp for Mama to cook.”
Rudy found Mesa to be a Mormon-dominated town where he did not fit in and where his shyness prevented him from much engagement with others. With great detail, he writes about his family’s going to Colorado to harvest crops in the summer months and back to the Valley for the winter. Rudy changed schools constantly. His heart was back in rural Oklahoma hills, wood and small-town life.
A great voice for singing and some athletic skills helped him gain self-esteem. The family lived in various tiny houses in the poor neighborhood on Macdonald south of Broadway Road in Mesa, and Rudy tried hard to not reveal how poor he was to his schoolmates. He developed numerous skills from knocking around, landed jobs here and there. He was too poor for college. Resonating in his mind was his mother’s command to make something of himself. Rudy got jobs in a Mesa tire store and later managed and kept books for a Mesa oil and gas supplier.
The abrupt and tragic loss of his parents and sister in 1942 left him with his 5-year-old brother to care for. In time he re-connected his with Colorado girlfriend, Greta, who moved to Mesa. They would marry in February 1943 and struggle economically in their first years together.
When the draft came along, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in early 1945 but only had to serve part of a year because the end of World War II came quickly. The last half of the book showcases Rudy Campbell’s tenacity to find jobs and then move to better ones. From a tire store to selling farm machinery to a 20-year career in banking and then the rest of his working years as owner of his own insurance agency, later teaming with Bob Schoneberger in the Campbell Schoneberger and Associates firm. Rudy would find himself in the thick of civic life, starting with the Mesa Jaycees, then Rotary, Toastmasters community theater, church choirs and Chamber of Commerce roles. He moved to Tempe in 1953 and his life flourished. He was named vice president and manager of The First State Bank of Tempe at 617 S. Mill Ave.
Rudy would take over Tempe with his business savvy, easy personality and hard work. By 1956, he ran for the Tempe City Council and ran alongside two charter members of my Tempe Kiwanis Club — Jim Harelson and its charter president Harry Burger. Only Rudy, among them, won a seat on the council. He would be president of the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, later a charter member of the Tempe Diablos and leader for the Tempe Rotary Club. He would note repeatedly in this book that somehow he always seemed to float to the top of the countless groups and take his turn as president or chairman. And so it was when governors named him to the Arizona Highway Commission and two separate stints on the Arizona Board of Regents. He was in the thick of creation of the Arizona State University Research Park, the Karsten Golf
Course, the redevelopment of parts of Williams Air Force Base into ASU East and now ASU Polytechnic Campus. He shares his joys of wide travel, of hunting, golfing, camping and developing summer homes on the Mogollon Rim. He amassed numerous awards, including an honorary degree from ASU, even though he never earned a college diploma.
In the mid-1960s, Rudy helped the city transform to a City Charter system. And in 1966, he would be the first mayor of Tempe elected by the people under the Charter system. Theretofore, the members of the City Council had chosen the mayor from among their ranks. He chose to only serve for one term, or two years, a time where he confronted a messy city workers’ strike. During his term, he pushed hard for expansion of the city and attracting industry. He was involved in the alignment of U.S.60 through Tempe and the development of the industrial parks on the west side of the city and The Lakes community. He was involved in decisions to build a new City Hall (the upside-down pyramid) downtown while the library/community center would go down to the “center” of the town at Southern Avenue and Rural Road.
With Rudy coming up on 60 years as a Tempean, his prints are everywhere.
In the title, Rudy’s book talks of his “Four Worlds.” I think he’s had a universe of experience on his road from poverty to success.
I am an active member of a liberal/progressive Presbyterian church in Tempe, Ariz. For most of 29 years, I have been heartened by the men and women who pass through our church as members or visitors with a track record of social justice, peace and human rights work.
Margery McManus Leach has been a paragon of the earnest and tenacious citizen of the planet with a fearless heart for the welfare of humanity and the end of tyranny of the poor and defenseless. The twice-widowed grandmother, one-time librarian and poet came to our church in 1991 and spent her winters in the Valley until 2007 when she permanently settled in her summer place in Gloucester, Mass.
People like her find human cruelty and heavy-handed governing something the world must know about and condemn. She said she had a conscience that dictated it could not be silent when she saw injustice.
Margery’s latest book is “On Being Born Again and Again – How Grief, Gratitude and Faith Led to New Life.” It chronicles the 88-year-old activists’ tireless work since the mid-1970s to try to gain a first-hand awareness of injustice, poverty and denial of democratic rights in Latin America and Asian and Pacific countries. I previously read and wrote a newspaper feature on her first book, “Sanctuary in Phoenix! A Narrative History of the Valley Religious Task Force on Central America and Its Role in the Sanctuary Movement in Phoenix Arizona, 1981-1998.” She had the willingness to set aside everything to join delegations and travel to remote villages where armed government soldiers or militia had to be reckoned with.
Early in “On Being Born,” Margery writes, “Now, after Don’s death, the search for a worthy purpose and ways of expressing gratitude for the continuing gift of life took on more urgency. An early spur to my quest for purpose came with a renewed interest in Christian missions.” A son-in-law stationed in South Korea invited her to see that country as well as Japan. She did so in 1976 and instantly caught a bug for traveling, learning and taking stands on the plight of people. In 1982, she was on a National Council of Churches-sponsored seminar in the South Pacific. U.S. nuclear testing on the islands had caused cancer. Decades later, people had tumors in their necks and “babies (were) born looking like jellyfish.” She returned to the U.S., ever-researching the issue, and starting to make public presentations. And so her odyssey began.
A prolific writer of letters to the editors of newspapers about her findings, Margery spent much of her winter months each year as a volunteer with the Religious Task Force on Central America, as well as CAMBIO (Central American Bureau of Information and Outreach). She was able and willing to sign up to go on international fact-finding and peace witness trips, places like Korea, the Philippines, Pakistan, Cuba, Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. The disciplined and detailed journals she kept allowed her to richly chronicle each trip in the book.
She writes, for example, of a trip in 1995 to Chiapas, the southern-most state of Mexico beset by struggle with the oppressive government as people sought land reforms and the quest of the Zapatista National Army of Liberation to gain greater democracy among the people: “On Sunday morning, December 3, we left for San Carols Hospital in Altimirano. The current sister in charge reported that the government had moved camps outside communities, but soldiers still came in. Excuses were made for entering such as offering soccer games or to buy bread. They came in numbers out of proportion to the population. They befriended or harassed, depending on the community. Molestation of women had become more frequent, and recently alcohol and prostitutes had been brought in along with sexual diseases and AIDS….”
Margery’s heart for refugees, for the rights for self-development of all people and for peace over violence are reinforced again and again in her book. The title of her book about being born “again and again” describes her repeated decisions to leave the comforts of her homes in New England and the Southwest and once again check out trouble spots, suck things in and go tell the story to others and raise awareness. She was a new being after each eye-open trip, that much closer to God’s truth.
I take some pride that I took her once on a “water run” to the deserts of Arizona. She accompanied me and a West Valley man on a Humane Borders trip to the Organ Pipe National Monument south of Ajo where we filled water tanks so that migrants crossing the desert might find the water and avoid hydration and even death. She wrote, “This was my opportunity for me to enjoy the desert once again and see what was involved in providing water that could save the lives of desperate immigrants. Before signing on, I warned the leader that I wouldn’t be of any help hauling as this entailed pushing a wheelbarrow with two large jugs from the dirt road maybe a quarter of a mile to the water stations….When we went to the second station, because I had a hard time keeping up with those pushing the wheelbarrows, I stayed back at the road. It was lovely communing with nature as I waited for my partners to return, but I knew I was not likely to go again.”