Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

A Disciple of Jesus Christ
by Charlie Leck

I wrote the following essay in April 1995,
for a 50th Anniversary Celebration of
the death and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

On April 9th, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor and theologian, was executed in a concentration camp at Flossenbürg, Germany. Heinrich Himmler, the notorious head of the Nazi Gestapo, signed the order calling for Bonhoeffer’s death. The charge against him was treason and disloyalty to the Reich; however, his loyalty to Christ was never questioned. He had been arrested by the Gestapo two years and two days prior to his death. On April 12, 1945, three days after Bonhoeffer’s execution by hanging, the Allied Forces liberated the camp at Flossenbürg.

Pastor Bonhoeffer was 39 years old at his death. In his brief life he wrote profusely of his Christian Faith. He left us a distinguished library of his teachings. His most notable book, The Cost of Discipleship, was first published in 1937. It stands as a remarkable testimony to the dedication of his own life to Jesus Christ. In it, Bonhoeffer wrote... “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is universally recognized as a martyr of the Faith. I regard him as a hero. He considered himself a disciple of Jesus Christ.

He understood the dangers of National Socialism even before Adolf Hitler rose to authority. In 1933, the year Hitler came to power, speaking to a national radio audience, Bonhoeffer denounced Germany’s political system as corrupt and evil. He tried to warn his countrymen that they were raising the Führer to the level of a god. He called it idolatry.

As a result of a conflict over whether or not it should actively resist the rise of Nazi power, the German church was severed. This traditional church generally supported Hitler’s policies and adopted a slogan: “One people, one Reich, one Führer, one church!” In protest, Bonhoeffer disavowed his position as a pastor within the state church and became a leader in the newly formed Confessing Church, which was constituted in May of 1934. Soon, the Reich would declare this new sect illegal and the Gestapo made every effort to close it down.

In 1936, his government banned Bonhoeffer from teaching in the nation’s theological schools or universities. Nevertheless, he continued to serve as a pastor and to speak out against the rising power of the Nazi Reich. He went to Finkenwald to direct an illegal seminary set up to train young men to live a genuine life of brotherhood in a time of crisis. The college was shut down by the Gestapo in 1940.

After the outbreak of the war, Bonhoeffer worked for, and within, the underground resistance movement. He participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler. It was a difficult decision for him because he had lived the life of a dedicated pacifist (though he had never assumed the label). At the same time, between 1940 and 1943, he worked furiously in an attempt to complete a book which he considered to be his life work. The Reich Chamber of Literature forbade him to publish any of his writings and, early in 1943, the SS (Schutzstaffel) discovered and confiscated much of his manuscript. Parts of it, however, remained hidden in the gardens of monasteries at Kieckow and Ettal. Some of his friends, who knew of their hiding place, recovered these writings and, though never completed, a posthumous volume of Ethik was released in Germany in 1949.

Following his arrest in 1943, Bonhoeffer continued his ministry by working with those of his fellow prisoners who were ill, fearful or despondent. Many of those who survived Flossenbürg, spoke and wrote of Bonhoeffer’s heroism during his days in the camp. They said that he exhibited remarkable tranquillity and composure. The pastor also continued to write, and his guards smuggled many of his notes and messages from the camps. These were later published as Letters and Papers from Prison.

Shortly before his death, realizing the inevitable, he wrote the last verse of his poem, “Stations on the Road to Freedom.”

DEATH(Translation by J.B. Leishman)

Come now, solemnest feast on the road to eternal freedom,
and destroy those fetters that bow,
those walls that imprison this Transient life,
these souls that linger in darkness,
so that at last we see what is here withheld from our vision.

Long did we seek you, freedom, in discipline, action and suffering.
Now that we die, in the face of God himself we behold you.

Christ called Dietrich Bonhoeffer to discipleship and, hearing the summons, the pastor no longer lived for himself. He lived for his Lord. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

In an attempt to show the depth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s mind, and the dedication of his life, I have selected the following excerpts from his writings. Because they are out of context, it would be unfair to assume they represent the full, accurate thinking of Bonhoeffer on these matters. I purposefully chose a few of them to titillate your curiosity and to invite you to contemplate these matters of importance to our Faith. It seems to me that it would be helpful to your reading of these excerpts, and to your understanding of them, if you remember the historical circumstance in which they were written. The German scholars called this the Sitz im Leben (the place in life). Be mindful that Bonhoeffer wrote within a nation controlled by an irrational, godless government of hatred and cruelty.

The books from which these quotations have been taken, and the translations therein, are strictly copyrighted, and I have noted them in an appended bibliography.

from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

on Being a Christian

To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man — not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

on Prayer

God’s name, God’s kingdom, God’s will must be the primary object of Christian prayer. (The Cost of Discipleship)

On Earthly Possessions

Be not anxious! Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of all anxiety. (The Cost of Discipleship)

on Judgment

Judgment is the forbidden objectivization of the other person which destroys single-minded love. (The Cost of Discipleship)

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are. (The Cost of Discipleship)

on Grace

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. (The Cost of Discipleship)

Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. (The Cost of Discipleship)

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. (The Cost of Discipleship)

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. (The Cost of Discipleship)

We Lutherans have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ. It is true, of course, that we have paid the doctrine of pure grace divine honors unparalleled in Christendom, in fact we have exalted that doctrine to the position of God himself.... To be “Lutheran” must mean that we leave the following of Christ to legalists, Calvinists, and enthusiasts — and all this for the sake of grace. We justified the world, and condemned as heretics those who tried to follow Christ. The result was that a nation became Christian and Lutheran, but at the cost of true discipleship (The Cost of Discipleship).

on Optimism

It is wiser to be pessimistic; it is a way of avoiding disappointment and ridicule, and so wise people will condemn optimism. The essence of optimism is not its view of the present, but the fact that it is the inspiration of life and hope when others give in; it enables a man to hold his head high when everything seems to be going wrong; it gives him strength to sustain reverses and yet to claim the future for himself instead of abandoning it to his opponent. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

on Discipleship

The real trouble is that the pure Word of Jesus has been overlaid with so much human ballast — burdensome rules and regulations, false hopes and consolations — that it has become extremely difficult to make a genuine decision for Christ. (The Cost of Discipleship)

Discipleship means joy. (The Cost of Discipleship)

Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are they who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a font of mercy. (The Cost of Discipleship)

Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. (The Cost of Discipleship)

If we would follow Jesus we must take certain definite steps. The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. The call to follow at once produces a new situation. To stay in the old situation makes discipleship impossible. (The Cost of Discipleship)

The life of discipleship can only be maintained so long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves — neither the law, nor personal piety, nor even the world. (The Cost of Discipleship)

Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend — it must transcend all comprehension. (The Cost of Discipleship)

The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship. And it is hard to find. On either side of the narrow path deep chasms yawn. (The Cost of Discipleship)

To the question — where today do we hear the call of Jesus to discipleship, there is no other answer than this: Hear the Word, receive the Sacrament; in it hear him himself, and you will hear his call. (The Cost of Discipleship)

The life of Jesus Christ on earth is not finished yet, for he continues to live in the lives of his followers." (The Cost of Discipleship)

on the Church

The Church is One Man. All who are baptized are “one in Christ.” (The Cost of Discipleship)

It will remain impure so long as history exists, and yet in this its actual form it is God’s church. (The Communion of Saints)

This clearly means that the church is organized towards a certain aim, namely the achieving of the will of God. (The Communion of Saints)

Our age is not poor in experiences, but in faith. (The Communion of Saints)

We said that in the concept of the church there is a collision between two lines of thought; between the idea that the church is founded by God, and that nevertheless, like every other kind of community, it is an empirical community. (The Communion of Saints)

The church rests upon the Word. The Word is the absolute authority present in the church. (The Communion of Saints)

The structure of the church is such that where one of its members is, it is there too, in its strength, in the strength, that is, of Christ and the Holy Spirit. (The Communion of Saints)

A man is in Christ if he is in the church. (The Communion of Saints)

The church is God’s new purpose for men. (The Communion of Saints)

on the Confessing Church

The Church confesses that she has desired security, peace and quiet, possessions and honor, to which she had no right, and that in this way she has not bridled the desires of men but has stimulated them still further. (Ethics)

It is not good when the Church is anxious to praise itself too readily for its humble state. Equally, it is not good for it to boast of its power and its influence too soon. It is only good when the Church humbly confesses its sins, allows itself to be forgiven and confesses its Lord. Daily must it receive the will of God from Christ anew. (Christ The Center)

By her confession of guilt the Church does not exempt men from their own confession of guilt, but she calls them into the fellowship of the confession of guilt. (Ethics)

on the Incarnation

The Body of Christ takes up space on earth. That is a consequence of the Incarnation. (The Cost of Discipleship)

The question may not run, "How is the incarnate one thinkable?", but "Who is he?" He is not the one adopted by God, he is not the one clothed in human characteristics. He is God who became man, as we became man. He lacks nothing belonging to man. There is no gift of this world or of man that he has not received.... The man whom I am, Jesus has also been. Of him only is it valid to say that nothing human was alien to him. Of this man, we say: "This is God for us." (Christ The Center)

There is a very real danger of our drifting into an attitude of contempt for humanity. We know quite well that we have no right to do so, and that it would lead us into the most sterile relation to our fellow-men.... The only profitable relationship to others — and especially to our weaker brethren — is one of love, and that means the will to hold fellowship with them. God himself did not despise humanity, but became man for men's sake. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

on Good and Evil

I am so sure of God's guiding hand that I hope I shall always be kept in that certainty. You must never doubt that I'm traveling with gratitude and cheerfulness along the road where I'm being led. My past life is brim full of God's goodness, and my sins are covered by the forgiving love of Christ crucified. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

Man at his origin knows only one thing: God. It is only in the unity of his knowledge of God that he knows of other men, of things, and of himself. He knows all things only in God, and God in all things. The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with this origin. (Ethics)

I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

Rarely perhaps has any generation shown so little interest as ours does in any kind of theoretical or systematic ethics. (Ethics)

One is distressed by the failure of reasonable people to perceive either the depths of evil or the depths of the holy. (Ethics)

Still more distressing is the utter failure of all ethical fanaticism. The fanatic believes that he can oppose the power of evil with the purity of his will and of his principle. But since it is part of the nature of fanaticism that it loses sight of the totality of evil and rushes like a bull at the red cloth instead of at the man who holds it, the fanatic inevitably ends by tiring and admitting defeat. He aims wide of the mark. Even if his fanaticism serves the high cause of truth or justice, he will sooner or later become entangled with non-essentials and petty details and fall into the snare set by his more skillful opponent. (Ethics)

What is worse than doing evil is being evil. (Ethics)

Today there are once more villains and saints, and they are not hidden from the public view. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day we now have the black storm-cloud and the brilliant lightning-flash. The outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Reality lays itself bare. Shakespeare’s characters walk in our midst. (Ethics)

The man of duty will end by having to fulfill his obligation even to the devil. (Ethics)

on the Love of God

Love, then, is the revelation of God. And the revelation of God is Jesus Christ. (Ethics)

Love has its origin not in us but in God. Love is not an attitude of men but an attitude of God. (Ethics)

Ecce homo! — Behold the God who has become man, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world. God loves man. God loves the world. It is not an ideal man that He loves, but man as he is; not an ideal world, but the real world. (Ethics)

This is the decisive word which marks the distinction between man in disunion and man in the origin. The word is love. (Ethics)

on the Will of God

It is evident that the only appropriate conduct of men before God is the doing of His will. (Ethics)

The knowledge of Jesus Christ, metamorphosis, renewal, love, or whatever other name we may give it, is something living and not something which is given, fixed and possessed once and for all. For this reason there arises every day anew the question how here, today and in my present situation I am to remain and to be preserved in this new life with God, with Jesus Christ. And it is just this question which is involved in proving what is the will of God. (Ethics)

on Temptation

Temptation is a concrete happening which juts out from the course of life. For the physical man all life is a struggle, and for the moral man every hour is a time of temptation. (Temptation)

The devil tempts us in the sin of spiritual pride, in that he deceives us about the seriousness of God's law and of God's wrath. He takes the word of God's grace in his hand and whispers to us, "God is a God of grace, he will not take our sins so seriously." So he awakens in us the longing to sin against God's grace and to assign forgiveness to ourselves even before our sin. He makes us secure in grace. (Temptation)

on Self Discipline

If you set out to seek freedom, you must learn before all thingsMastery over sense and soul, lest your wayward desirings,Lest your undisciplined members lead you now this way, now that way.Chaste be your mind and your body, and subject to you and obedient,Serving solely to seek their appointed goal and objective.None learns the secret of freedom save only by way of control. (Letters and Papers from Prison, Stations on the Way to Freedom)

on Creation

In the beginning, out of freedom, out of nothing, God created the heavens and the earth.... God is in the beginning and he will be in the end. (Creation and Fall)

Man shall proceed from God as his ultimate, his new work, and as the image of God in his creation. There is no transition here from somewhere or other, there is new creation. This has nothing to do with Darwinism: quite independently of this man remains the new, free, undetermined work of God. We have no wish at all to deny man's connection with the animal world: on the contrary. But we are very anxious not to lose the peculiar relationship of man and God in the process. (Creation and Fall)

The man whom God has created in his image, that is in freedom, is the man who is formed out of earth. Darwin and Feuerbach themselves could not speak any more strongly. Man's origin is in a piece of earth. His bond with the earth belongs to his essential being. The "earth is his mother;" he comes out of her womb. (Creation and Fall)

on Death

Where death is the last thing, fear of death is combined with defiance. Where death is the last thing, earthly life is all or nothing. (Ethics)

We still love life, but I do not think that death can take us by surprise now. After what we have been through during the war, we hardly dare admit that we should like death to come to us, not accidentally and suddenly through some trivial cause, but in the fullness of life and with everything at stake. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

on the Resurrection

Easter? We're paying more attention to dying than to death. We're more concerned to get over the act of dying than to overcome death. Socrates mastered the art of dying; Christ overcame death as the last enemy (I Corinthians 15:26). There is a real difference between the two things; the one is within the scope of human possibilities, the other means resurrection. It's not from ars moriendi, the art of dying, but from the resurrection of Christ, that a new and purifying wind can blow through our present world. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

The historical nature of Jesus Christ has two aspects, that of history and that of faith. Both aspects are bound together. The Jesus of history has humbled himself; the Jesus who cannot be grasped by history is the one to whom resurrection faith is directed. (Christ the Center)

Is our faith then ultimately only faith in the empty tomb? (Christ the Center)

Belief in the resurrection is not the "solution" of the problem of death. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

What is concealed behind this idea of the presence of Christ is the decision not to consider the resurrection, but to stop with the Jesus of the cross, with the historical Jesus? This is the dead Jesus Christ who can be thought of like Socrates and Goethe.... Even as the risen one, Jesus Christ remains the man Jesus in time and space. Because Jesus Christ is man, he is present in time and space; because Jesus Christ is God, he is eternally present. The presence of Christ requires the statement, "Jesus is fully man;" but it also requires the other statement, "Jesus is fully God." (Christ the Center)

Bonhoeffer’s LAST known writing...

This is the end, for me the beginning of life. I believe in universal Christian brotherhood which rises above national interests and I believe that our victory is certain. (a message, left in a book, for his English friend, George Bell)

See now that I, even I, am he;there is no god besides me. (Deuteronomy 32:39)

Jesus said) “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord has need of it.’ (Luke 19: 30-31)


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Christ the Center: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978, 126 pp. (Translated by Edwin H. Robertson from the German edition of Gesammelte Schriftent, published in 1960 by Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Creation and Fall: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1959, 94 pp. (Translated by John C. Fletcher from the German edition of Schopfung und Fall, published in 1937 by Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich.)

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; The Communion of Saints: Harper & Row, New York, 1965, 256 pp. (Translated by R. Gregor Smith from the third German edition of 1960 of Sanctorum Communio, first published in Germany in 1930).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; The Cost of Discipleship: The Macmillan Company, New York, Macmillan Paperbacks Edition, 1963, 352 pp. (Translated by R. H. Fuller from the German edition of Nachfolge, published in 1937 by Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Ethics: The Macmillan Company, New York, Macmillan Paperbacks Edition, 1965, 382 pp. (Translated by Neville Horton Smith from the German edition of Ethik, published in 1949 by Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Letters and Papers from Prison: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1972, 437 pp.(Translated by Reginald Fuller, Frank Clark, John Bowden, et al, from the German edition of Widerstand und Ergeburng: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft, published in 1970 by Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Temptation: Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1959, 32 pp. (Translated by Kathleen Downham from the German edition of Versuchung, published in 1953 by Christian Kaiser Verlag, Munich.)

Gruchy, John de (Editor); Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Witness to Jesus Christ: Fortress Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1991, 308 pp. (The Making of Modern Theology series.)

Wind, Renate; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Spoke in the Wheel: Will B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992, 182 pp. (Translated from the German edition of Dem Rad in die Speichen fallen: Die Lebensgeschichte des Dietrich Bonhoeffer, published in 1990 by Beltz Verlag, Weinheim.)

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Truly Reverent Guy

Some people make me proud to be a human being!
by Charlie Leck

I was introduced to the work and writings of Albert Schweitzer as a young man. Before I could really understand it, I read THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS. As a teenager, I also read REVERENCE FOR LIFE. They were both remarkable books. They were among many reasons that compelled me down a path that ended up posting a REVEREND before my name. That was one of a number of mistakes I made in my life – wrong career choice and wrong path to take.

For those few years that I carried that prefix to my name, it was very odd to hear people address me that way. It was actually embarrassing.

Only a couple of years ago, my old denomination, trying to track me down, called the house, telling me that they were looking for an individual of my name.

“That’s my name,” I said proudly.

Reverend Mister Leck?” The woman pressed and asked.

“Well,” I replied, “rather irreverent really.”

The word is derived from the Latin, reverendus (to revere or to be deserving of reverence; to be regarded with awe, deference and devotion).

I never really got there. I don’t expect many folks do. So, I generally recoil from the ecclesiastical title. I liked Schweitzer’s idea about reverence. It is life that we ought to regard so highly – to hold in awe and devotion! Schweitzer told us that everything in creation commands our utter and unfettered respect and deference. Each beautiful and brilliant spider and each complex and confounding human being should be treated with respectful reverence.

Such ideals are beyond almost all of us. Only occasionally does a Ghandi or a Schweitzer – a Jesus or a Mohammed – come along.

So, I have rarely met a clergyman who I thought was really reverent of life and creation. Most, I have felt, are all confused about what or who God might really be and about who they, themselves, are in relation to their very confusing and abstract concept of God. They get their noses and brains all out of joint and out of whack trying to describe and rationalize the divine.

Larry, however, is different. His mind doesn’t worry about such complexities. He seems to innately understand. God is God! All else is creation. Creation’s role is to be respectful of the Creator and of all the other individual parts of creation. Love as deeply as your soul will allow and let your love be seen in your acts of goodness and kindness. Then you will be in sync with God and His creation.

Now, that kind of man I am willing to address as ‘Reverend.’ He deserves the respect and he has earned it. Through the very living of his own life, he is a witness to God and to what God expects of us. To know Larry is to know that one can not not believe in God. God, to Larry, is not a question; but God is a statement and a reality – a presence within him.

Larry began his ministry in a United Church of Christ in Fairmont, Minnesota. He moved on to a couple of tenures in parishes in Iowa and spent seven or eight years in Yankton, South Dakota. He is not a great preacher, but he speaks piercingly of all that is true and required of those of us who claim to be faithful. That’s a simple concept, really, and he doesn’t want to complicate it.

This gentle man has always looked like a middle linebacker. Even now, as he approaches his 70th year, he looks like one. He has broad shoulders on a short, muscular body. Gravity seems to be his friend. He’s thick-necked and large-jawed. His eyes are concentrative and piercing; yet gentle and kind. He appears to float softly through life, unaffected by turmoil and firmly convinced that right makes might and faithful discipleship will be rewarded.

The older this man gets, the more it seems veneration is due him to honor his life of commitment and service to his Lord. I have no trouble calling him ‘Reverend.’ Not at all. Nor do I have any trouble calling him ‘pal.’ Not at all!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An Extraordinary, Undiscovered Poet

If you love to read wonderful poetry, meet Arthur Mampel
by Charlie Leck
[23 April 2007]

Some nights I awaken in a fright caused by a recurring dream. I’ve dreamt that a great writer has been neglected and passed over and never discovered. Damn! It would be like no one with connections to the big leagues ever seeing Mickey Mantle play, so Mickey just winds down his youth playing town ball. He becomes a drunk and dies too early, but no one ever knows about it. Thousands and thousands who later fell in love with his game – maybe millions – never got to see him play! Can you imagine? Or what if none of Vonnegut’s books ever fell into the correct hands? A great author never gets read.

That’s about to happen in America. A really fine poet is going undiscovered. I sometimes lose sleep over it because I don’t know what to do about it. He’s got hot-shot friends who do know how to ‘market’ someone like this, but they won’t be moved. I paid quite a bit of money a number of years ago to have one of his books printed and published; however, there was never a marketing effort behind it even though I was told there would be.

Arthur Mampel is every bit as good as Billy Collins. He actually writes with a greater sense of the paradoxes and absurdities that exist in the world. He occasionally writes about the simplest of life’s beauty – that which exists closest to him – such as a grandchild.

Sudsy water now awaits
With wind-up frog and rubber duck,
That warm and ready bedtime date
When Claire jumps down, then splashes up,
That time before she goes to bed,
Before her Mommy lays her down,
Before this gentle word is said,
“Goodnight sweet Claire, may dreams abound.”

Mampel is better than Coleman Barks, the writer from Tennessee who has a small but loyal following. Don’t get me wrong, Barks is danged good. It’s just that Mampel is better. I’ve never met a person who has read Mampel’s poem, Come to Me at an Inconvenient Time, who hasn’t gasped at its beauty. A couple of really good contemporary music composers have put the poem to music.

So why does Mampel remain a virtual unknown poet? Why does he have this loyal following of several dozen who eagerly await each of his poems? Why aren’t hundreds of thousands awaiting his work? Do such important things come down to marketing? Mampel has no connections to a major, significant university. He certainly has a strong circle of friends who are leaders in the arts, however. That’s not good enough, I guess.

I’ve tried! Marketing poetry isn’t any easy task. Sometimes I awaken at night soaked in my own sweat, worrying about it and how I’ve failed. How can such a good poet slip away unnoticed and unacclaimed? One of the essential problems is that Mampel has no single ounce of desire to market himself. Somehow it doesn’t fit into or within the life of a real poet.

Thousands of copies of Ted Kooser’s books have sold. Kooser was National Poet Laureate in 2004. I don’t begrudge him the sales or the honors. I just know that Arthur Mampel is just as good a poet and should have been traveling America doing readings and signing copies of his work. I awake at night, thinking it is my fault!

Recently I read an article by Mampel: The Value of Poetry. It was published at the end of the year in a little intellectual/spiritual rag call Pietisten. Of course, Mampel begins the piece is his usual misplaced humility – claiming that he may not be adequate to the task of accepting the position of Poetry Editor at the Pietisten. [ ]

“How do you convey reality to people by the use of mere words? Well, I for one think we need to keep our speech lean and bare and meaningful – stripped of needless adjectives.”

That’s no different than the advice Mampel had for me 40 years ago as we sat around, sipping coffee and reading each other’s writing. I worked mainly in prose and he produced poetry almost exclusively. Way back then he wrote things that all of those who appreciate poetry should have been reading! Thousands and thousands should have read it. Probably, a hundred or so have!

my blood came to a halt
when it was said of her
that she was frequent
i found her rare
none like her among human variety

not one other dips
the hand to talk with words
or flings the head
to illustrate a mood
just so

This a poem that has left some of its readers stunned by its simple beauty. That’s just the first verse. (This blog won't allow me to space and line it as the poet did!) I wish I could produce the entire work for you here, but I can’t get such permission – or perhaps it’s just a marketing ploy on my part to get you to ask about Mampel’s books. I read that poem over coffee – maybe 35 years ago or more – and looked over at the waitress who had just filled my cup. It was of her that Mampel had written. She should have been made famous by these words. Mampel, in words so simple, had captured the mysterious smile of a Mona Lisa.

“When we communicate in a language of surprise, there is life! But when we communicate with clichés and tired language we communicate nothing fresh.” [Arthur Mampel]

Oh, the poetry of Arthur Mampel. It is filled with surprise. It is filled with life! I wish thousands – hundreds of thousands – could read the quiet, sensitive, surprising and bright words by this old man. He writes as young as he ever did! Like he, his writing is still as agile as youth. He writes like a poet who is in great shape, keenly alive and totally in touch.

What can I say to get you to read this wonderful poetry? Perhaps I can quote Saint Francis of Assisi, as Mampel enjoys doing: “Lift up your eyes, my friends, look at the moon!”

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Obama vs. Clinton

Who didn’t see this one coming?
by Charlie Leck [24 April 2007]

The New York Times of this morning portrays a worried Hillary Clinton campaign organization. Barack Obama is making in-roads. A bit of a political fight is on. The Clintons are bringing out the big guns now to try to hold on to a black vote that has been extremely loyal in the past. It is clear there is now a little leakage. I think Senator Clinton is making a mistake. It is the white vote she should try to secure; for, Senator Obama is gaining popularity very quickly among mainstream americans. There are several polls that show this. He is bringing a sense of freshness and newness to politics. He isn’t the same old, same old. His weakness, of course, is that very newness – called inexperience.

I remain convinced that the Democratic Party has three extremely good candidates in position. The most horrible thing they can do now is to begin a mean fight within the party for control. They’ll knock each other off to the delight of Republicans. So far, Senator Clinton has been very wise in continuing to praise Obama and to keep ties close. He could be a solid Vice Presidential running mate who she would be crazy to discard.

The front page of the New York Times this morning showed the black leadership, which has been so committed and loyal to Bill Clinton, rallying around Senator Clinton. Jesse Jackson was there. So was the ever-present Al Sharpton. Charlie Rangel wasn’t in the photograph, but he is working New York City’s black leadership, trying to hold on to their support.

The amazing part of this story, and I urge you to read it at is that Obama has not really campaigned in New York and hasn’t worked to tie down support among black leadership. Nevertheless, Obama is being watched very carefully and people are keeping open minds.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

How About that Garrison Keillor?

Free advertising that would have cost International Falls
a small fortune!

by Charlie Leck [21 April 2007]

I have a long standing grudge I hold against Garrison Keillor. It’s a strong enough complaint that it would be reason enough for me to not listen to his show and to not read his books and to not read his column in the Sunday paper. Nevertheless, I continue to do all of those things. I'm nuts about his radio show. He writes some wonderful books – Home Grown Democrat was about one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. I begin every Sunday morning by searching for his column in the opinion section of the paper. Then I go to the sport section.

It was a good twenty years ago, or so, and Keillor and I were supposed to be co-hosts at a reception for a common friend who was just releasing a book, The Sheep Book, through Harper/Collins. The invitations went out to many, many of my friends: “Mr. Garrison Keillor and Mr. Charles Leck invite you to….” And then he didn’t show up – even though I had confirmed everything with his secretary just the day before. I, of course, was totally embarrassed – mortified! I got over it! I’m still a fan.

Last Saturday, late in the afternoon, my wife and I were driving to the airport to use the services of the 24-hour post office out there. It was tax time, you know. On the way, I heard this bit with the mayor of International Falls. That’s a small city, way up on the international border. It’s famous for its cold weather. The city has had a hard time attracting medical doctors and they’re having a real shortage. Keillor let the mayor make a pitch on the radio – right there in the middle of his extremely popular Prairie Home Companion Show. The big star closed the segment out by singing a little ditty he had written about how special just the right doctors would find it to be in this "just the right place. "

They don’t need a psychiatrist,
They’re basically all right
But one who
can remove fishhooks
And can treat frostbite

At the conclusion of the song, the mayor advised Keillor to have it copyrighted because it was really lovely.

“It’s yours,” Keillor told the surprised mayor. “Keep it! Use it however you want.”

I told my wife it was extraordinary and that something like that out in the market would have cost a hundred grand. She looked at me as if I was just a little bit crazy. I went on and on. “He’s done something very special for that town,” I emphasized.

Sure enough! The paper arrived less than a week later with a story about how there had already been calls from doctors around the world. They had heard Keillor’s show and they were interested. Over twenty of them requested more information and applications.

This is one of the wonderful feel-good stories of the year. It sure made me feel good. We might just have to take a drive up to International Falls this year. We’ll pass through Lake Wobegon on the way and stop at that pie place.

Friday, April 20, 2007

War Decisions Loom

Coming week will highlight direction of Iraq war
by Charlie Leck [20 April 2007]

One senses the build up! Senator Harry Reid made some very strong statements today about the futility of the war in Iraq. He sees it getting far worse as long as there is an American presence in that nation. The President is vowing to veto any bill that puts an end-date on the war. The Congress is threatening not to give him a funding bill without such a date.

This, of course, is the wonder of a divided government. Such circumstances lead to real debate and consideration of possibilities. Try to ignore the high winds next week and concentrate instead on the calmer breezes where real deliberation and give and take will happen -- where compromise is likely to happen if the President has an ounce of diplomacy in him (something he hasn't shown to date).

The Republican Senators will be worth watching also -- especially those who will be up for reelection in 2008. They clearly recognize how unpopular this war is and how low the President's approval rating is. They will need to cast their votes carefully.

The President will bellow a great deal, but he knows the handwriting is on the wall. Believe me, he knows! This war can not go on much longer. The violence builds everyday. So do the exhibitions of hate for America all over the world. We have lost our position as world leader and we probably need to regain enough respect to assume that role again.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Rules of Golf in a Flat World

Wendy Uzelak represented the United States Golf Association (USGA) at the Rules of Golf Workshop that I attended this past week. She did a great job and teamed well with the Minnesota Golf Association representative, Doug Hoffman.

Wendy has an interesting blog at

Hit the ball! Don’t touch! Hit it again! Hole it!
by Charlie Leck (19 April 2007)

Golfers, [You see, this is an essay specifically for golfers. It’s not that others might not enjoy it, but they likely will not! Yet, maybe they will.]…

I have a question for you. Read it carefully and give me an answer. Send it to me by email and I’ll have a bit of a response for you.

Fred was playing the 7th hole and struck his tee ball left and into a water hazard; however, he found the ball and it was playable, but lying very close to a stake marking the boundary of the hazard. The stake caused him to play the ball at an angle he did not like. He played the ball out of the hazard, avoiding the stake. He then realized he was entitled to remove the stake because it is a movable obstruction. So, he invoked Rule 3-3, which allows a player in a situation of doubtful procedure to play a second ball, and later allow ‘the Committee’ to determine which ball would count in his score. Fred announced that he would prefer to score with the second ball if allowed to do so by the Committee. So, he removed the stake, dropped another ball in the hazard and played it. He holed out with both balls. Not counting any penalty strokes, he scored 6 with the first ball and 8 with the second. According to the rules of golf, what was Fred’s score for the hole or was he disqualified?

Now isn’t that fun? That’s the kind of stuff I was doing for this past week at a golf rules workshop put on by the Minnesota Golf Association. It’s a gas! Would you believe? People are actually addicted to this kind of stuff. Create a difficult rules situation, throw it at them and they go into an unusual and strange mode of thought. Sit around doing it for days and see what it does to your mind. For that matter, see what it does to your body?

Earlier this spring I spent four days of this intense immersion into the rules of golf at the USGA headquarters in New Jersey, I chose to sleep on the 5th day. No, no, I did not say sleep late. I did not even say sleep a good part of the day. I chose to sleep on the 5th day for I was as exhausted as Yahweh must have been on the 7th day after creating the universe.

It would seem that the game of golf ought to be simple in its rules and governance. Start a hole between two markers, hit the ball and go find it. When you find it, leave it exactly as it is and hit it again. Do this until you have struck the ball into a little, round hole that is 4¼ inches in diameter. Hole over! Count the number of times you struck the ball and that is your score for the hole!

Exactly! That is the basic, governing principle of golf. Hit the ball. Find it! Hit it again. Never touch it with your hand or anything but the head of the club as you strike it. Eventually, hole it. The rules should fit on a page. Actually, they take up about 500 pages. Why? Good question. Let me try to answer it!

The Rules of Golf are written as an aide to the player and as a guideline to make competitive play possible.

For instance, what is a player to do if he loses his ball? That question is difficult under the principles of golf that I outlined above; that is, hit your ball, go find it and hit it again. So, a rule was devised not so much to penalize a player, but to enable him, in this situation, to continue his play of the hole. Rule 27-1 says that he must go back to where he last struck the ball, drop as nearly as possible to that original spot and hit it again (if he hit it from the teeing ground, he may re-tee the ball). In fairness to his opponent, the rule also requires that the player add a stroke to his score. The concept became known as ‘stroke and distance.’

Of course, this deviation from the basic principle of golf raised lots of questions that needed to be dealt with. What, for instance, constitutes a lost ball? How does one fairly drop a ball? What does it mean to drop it as close as possible to the original place from which the player hit the previous shot? To make all of this perfectly clear the rules began to be refined by a series of ‘decisions’ that were codified and became an integral part of the rules of golf.

Who was the first player to hit a ball into a burrowing animal hole, finding himself unable to retrieve it? How does he continue under the simple, straight-forward, original principle I outlined above? He has no ball to play? He hasn’t actually lost it has he? Must he go burrowing after it, tearing up the lovely golf course as he goes? This is clearly a fellow in need of aide. And, he’s also probably a bit agitated! The rules give him that assistance without penalty. Because this is such an unusual situation, the player may drop a ball as provided in the rules for such a situation (Rule 25-1b). How many questions must have been raised by this exception to not touching one’s ball during play and substituting another ball for the original ball without penalty. Just what is a burrowing animal? What exactly is a hole made by one? What about a hole made by a non-burrowing animal, such as a dog attempting to dig up something he knows is under that turf? Lots of help was needed to make all of this clear and manageable in competitive play. The governing bodies of golf began to sculpt definitions for all these terms.

Definitions? Yes, there are more than 50 definitions of terms included in the rules of golf and they are considered a fundamental part of the rules. They provide perfectly clear answers to some of the questions I raised above.

What, for instance, is a lost ball? “A ball is deemed lost if: (a) It is not found or identified as his by the player within five minutes after the player’s side or his or their caddies have begun to search for it; or (b) The player has made a stroke at a substituted ball; or (c) The player has made a stroke at a provisional ball from the place where the original ball is likely to be or from a point nearer the hole than that place. Time spent in playing a wrong ball is not counted in the five-minute period allowed for search.”

Each of the words italicized in the above definition also have definitions within the rules of golf. I struggled fiercely with understanding the rules of golf until I received and finally understood two essential pieces of advice. One came from Bill Homeyer, a distinguished local businessman and learned rules official. Bill told me to begin with the definitions and to understand them absolutely and completely. He can virtually recite them all from memory. I set out to gain such an understanding. Then Reed Mackenzie, former President of the United States Golf Association gave me more abstract but equally important advice. He suggests that one needs to understand the basic principles behind the rules of golf – the concept of one ball struck from a teeing ground, not to be touched it again with anything but a stroke with the clubhead until you retrieve it from the hole. Then, Reed counseled, you begin to understand that the rules ‘kick in’ when situations make it either impossible to do that or unfair in competitive circumstances.

So, at my clubl, I pulled a ball hard off the teeing ground and I saw it go into a little tree just to the left and only 50 yards ahead of me. After my fellow players hit their fine tee shots, I walked up to that tree and, yes siree, I see a ball pinched between a couple of branches at the top of the tree. The tree is pretty small, as trees go, and I think about shaking it to dislodge the ball so that it will fall to the ground. Then I realize I will violate a rule if I do that. I will have moved a ball at rest and (under Rule 18-2) I will need to take a 1 stroke penalty and put it back where it originally lay – in the branches of the tree. Oops, I better not do that. What if I just ask to declare this ball unplayable. Rule 28 tells me that a “player may deem his ball unplayable anywhere on the course except when a ball is in a water hazard. The player is the sole judge as to whether his ball is unplayable.” Using that rule I ought to be able to take the spot on the course directly beneath where my ball is stuck in the tree and drop it within two club lengths of that spot and no nearer the hole and go ahead and play it, taking a single penalty stroke.

Okay? Am I good to go? No, I am not. In order to substitute another ball and put it into play I must be able to identify the ball that I abandon as truly mine. That ball up in that tree is probably mine to a certainty in the 99 percentile. Yet, when I look up there I can see no markings and not even a brand name. Even though it would be better for me to go back to the tee and take the stroke and penalty under this situation, I want to take the one stroke penalty and play from here, 50 yards in advance of the tee. So, I announce that I am going to attempt to shake that small tree and I declare that, if the ball falls out and it is mine, I will then play it under Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable). I do. It is. I drop it in the deep rough under the proper procedures. I hit it for the second time on this hole and I am now laying 3. I would have been equally well off and, perhaps, better off to return to the tee, but I am a stubborn sort.

The rules of golf provided me with a number of routes of escape in the above situation. They aren’t written to specifically punish me for having hit such a terrible pull-shot. They are written to assist me – to allow me to keep playing – but with an eye to fairness in terms of my score against the golf course and my opponents.

Every time I run across a rule that I think is silly in a pedantic sort of way, I stop to consider first that it was likely written to assist the player – to help him out of a difficult situation. Then a penalty was probably, but not always, added to bring the playing field back to level again. Looked at this way, the Rules of Golf lose most of their mystery and some of their complexity. One of the best examples of this is the water hazard rule, specifically Rule 26-2 which is often referred to as the ‘regression rule.’ What happens if a player hits a ball into a water hazard and finding a rather good lie, decides to play it in order to avoid a penalty; and, in so doing, only hits it out of bounds? Rule 27-1 (Ball Out of Bounds) tells us we must drop another ball as near as possible to the spot from which the original ball was hit and play from there with a stroke penalty. Ooops! The player now finds he had taken a large divot there, the water has rushed in deeper and the mud has been so churned up that it will be forever before the water clears up enough for him to see the ball if he drops one there. What a revoltin’ development! Rule 26-2 to the rescue. The player may ‘regress’ back to the spot from which he played the shot that went into the water hazard. He may drop at that spot and play the ball from there. Now, however, he has to add the stroke penalty he would have had had he dropped in the water hazard and a stroke penalty for regressing back to the spot from which he originally hit the ball into the water. It’s fair to everyone. The player is helped out of a sticky situation and his opponents are protected because he is going to incur two penalty strokes in that situation and also the distance back to the original shot that started the mess. [My critics will point out that there is actually another option the golfer could take in this situation. I know that. I simply don’t want to make this essay too long or too sticky.]

The Decisions of Golf are so wonderful because they allow us to visit a number of situations like the one above in order to see how the rule applies in various situations. One just goes to the Decisions Book and looks under those decisions codified under 26-2 (the rule we dealt with just above). They will be numbered 26-2/1, or 26-2/2. That same well organized system applies to the decisions about all the rules.

One can either look at the Decisions Book and recoil in agonized fear or one can realize that this book provides hundreds and hundreds of interesting situations or predicaments in which golfers have found themselves. It is fascinating to see how the Rules of Golf are applied in these decisions. It is even more fascinating to see how the Rules of Golf helped players to extricate themselves from seemingly hopeless situations.

The Decisions Book makes excellent and fascinating winter reading – especially if you enjoy mysteries!

Some appended reading for the truly interested…

Remember Craig Stadler, in an attempt not to soil his slacks, laying down a towel in order to kneel on it to play a shot from beneath a tree? What a silly penalty the galleries said! Yet, there was no option. The Rules and the Decisions are clear on the point! Remember Paul Azinger in a water hazard, trying to take a level stance and pawing and scraping rocks away with his feet and golf shoes in order to do so. He was moving loose impediments in a water hazard. The Rules and the Decisions are clear on the point!

How important are the rules to you as a golfer? I was playing a strictly fun match with a fivesome or so one autumn at my club. Everyone was playing everyone else for a couple of bucks. I hit my tee shot on the short par 3 second hole on to the steep bank on the left side. I could barely see my ball. I stubbed it forward a foot or so. I addressed it again and, as I laid my wedge upon the grass behind the ball, the ball rolled down the hill 5 or 6 inches. I picked it up, explained to my fellow players what had happened and conceded the hole to everyone. They chortled at me. “We’re not playing in the U.S. Open for gad sake!” Except, these are my competitive championship moments and I want desperately to win; however, I must win within the nearly sacred rules of golf or I have not won at all. To me, it’s simple. We were playing match play. I called the penalty on myself. I was clearly out of the hole. I had the perfect right to concede the hole and pick up.

One of the great USGA wizards of golf decided to play one weekend morning at his club and drove out there to find a game. He asked to join a threesome preparing to tee off. “Okay,” they said, “but don’t pull any of this silly rules stuff on us. We’re just playing for a few bucks and we’re out to have fun. On the first hole, the stuffy USGA rules guy hit his ball into a bunker fronting the putting green. As his fellow players watched, he walked into the bunker, picked up his ball and threw it back behind the bunker. He raked his foot prints smooth and then clipped his ball cleanly and it stopped on the lip of the hole. “That’s par,” he announced to his companions. They looked at him aghast. “You can’t do that,” they all cried in unison. He chuckled at them and said: “But I thought you said the rules are silly!”

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Obama Book is Fine, Man

by Charlie Leck
[17 April 2007]

This is a review of Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope; however I must come to this essay’s real purpose only after making a wide, sweeping turn that will eventually bring me back to my task. It’s my blog! I’ve got my rights!

I think the objective person would admit that the Democratic Party has three very good, viable and electable candidates competing for the presidential nomination that will we awarded in the summer of 2008. I could not only vote for any of them or each of them, but I would be proud to do so and confident that any one of them will lead this nation exceptionally well.

For the record: As of this day, 17 April 2007, I am leaning toward Barack Obama as I watch him campaign for the presidency of the United States. The Senator from Illinois has impressed me in so many ways. Though I’ve been impressed by his natural charisma and his remarkable speaking ability and the patience he shows toward both the general public and the press, I am most pushed to him as a result of reading his very good book, The Audacity of Hope.

Why do certain people have that remarkable ability to catch people’s attention and hold it – charisma? The American Heritage Dictionary (4th Edition, 2000) defines it as “Personal magnetism or charm” and further calls it “a rare personal quality attributed to leaders who arouse fervent popular devotion and enthusiasm.” It comes from the Greek: kharisma – for “divine favor” or “to favor.” I’m not sure it should be reserved to describe attributes only of leaders. I’ve met rather unknown housewives and a bartender who have it. There’s just something about certain people who can, like a magnet, draw people’s attention and interest. John Fitzgerald Kennedy had an overdose of charisma. Princess Diana had nearly as much of it. Billy Graham interestingly had it, too. I was attracted to Graham even though I didn’t appreciate his approach to religion or Christianity. Jesse Jackson had loads of it when I met him the first time. He sprung a leak somewhere along the line and it got away from him.
Obama stopped at a few campaign gatherings early in his campaign not expecting anything near a crowd of people. The new campaign staff hadn’t had an opportunity to plug the events very forcefully – it’s called advance work. Nevertheless, there wasn’t room for all the people who showed up. Thousands showed up at some of his book signings where plans were laid out for a few hundred. The same thing happened during his campaign’s first major fund raising effort this year. Most all expectations were that he wouldn’t come close to matching Hillary Clinton’s efforts, but neither would he be embarrassed. In fact, he matched Hilary nearly dollar for dollar – and, Obama’s totals were spread out over a far larger number of individual donors. It shows Obama appeals to the little person.

There will be many more tough tests ahead, but let’s just say that he will probably meet them all quite well. I hope he avoids any major gaffs so that he will be in contention late into the race. If he does, the stretch run will be quite exciting.

Now, to the book. I’ve read it twice – twice very carefully. The reports are that he wrote it himself – completely. Of course, an editor at the publishing house would have carefully combed through it, removing stray hairs and those with split ends. This book reads like Barack Obama speaks (talks). It has a strong and clear voice and it doesn’t stumble. It moves along very smoothly and the reader won’t find himself stumbling and needing to go back to reread sentences. The book gets an A+ for reading style and the smoothness of its writing.

As far as I’m concerned, there are two other elements by which I judge such a book. (1) Is it interesting – captivating – and does it hold my interest? (2) Is it logical and do its arguments make sense? He gets another A+ and an A. I’ll tell you why.

It held my interest because it is personal. Obama deals honestly with his own human weaknesses and strengths. He tells us stories about his own family, his childhood, his education and both the big and little people he’s met along the way. His campaign for election to the U.S. Senate from Illinois gives the book its foundation, but it sends branches out here and there into other times and periods in his life.

I was captivated by most of these anecdotal interruptions. They were always used with great purpose, but I wouldn’t have cared if they had not been because they were just plain interesting to read. His account of a trip to Omaha to meet with the monstrously wealth Warren Buffet was one of my favorite moments in the book. I’d say it was worth reading the book just to come across this remarkable and helpful account. Buffet decided last year to give away about 34 billion dollars to various foundations and charitable endeavors – approximately 29 billion of it to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
I just wanted to remind you how astronomically wealthy Buffet is.

“If there’s class warfare going on in America, then my class is winning” [Warren Buffet, Page 189]

That’s what Buffet said to Obama as he sat in the wealthy man’s office in Omaha – a simple office with no special ornamentation. When Obama entered, Buffet’s secretary hollered to him, directing him to “come on back.” Buffet wanted to talk taxes. He wanted to know why he was paying so little and his secretary was paying so much. He wanted to know why the Republicans in Washington wanted to keep cutting taxes for the rich. Buffet wanted some of the great wealth of the nation and its wealthiest citizens to get “plowed back into education and infrastructure and for the few who lose out in a market economy.”

“It just makes sense that those of us who’ve benefited most from the market should pay a bigger share.” [Warren Buffet, Page 190]

That’s what I tried to tell one of my brothers on the night in the year 2000 that he called to gloat over the election of George W. Bush to the presidency. I was in a bad mood and not prepared to take any of his ribbing. I couldn’t believe the nation had elected George W. Bush. Why, I wondered, was my brother, a hard-working, middle-class kind of guy, so interested in policies that were only going to make the wealthier even more wealthy? Why did he favor cutting way back on educational programs and the general infrastructure of the nation in favor of giving tax breaks to the wealthiest three or four percent of the country? And why was my brother so interested in getting rid of the estate tax – a benefit that would only profit the top one or two percent of the nation? People like my brother already had an exemption on the first 7 million dollars that wanted to leave to their heirs. Did he need a bigger exemption than that? It didn’t make sense to me and, now I was learning, it didn’t make sense to Warren Buffet either. If you don’t read anything else in the book, read the account of Obama’s conversation with Warren Buffet (pages 189 – 192).

There are some very touching anecdotes that reveal some of Obama’s very soft side as well. I was moved by an email he reproduces in the book that had come from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School. I wish I could also reproduce the email for you; however, it would be more than copyright law would probably allow (see page 195-196 to read the email). The doctor had voted for Obama in the primary. He questioned whether he could in the general election because he didn’t like Obama’s position on abortion – not so much that Obama favored a woman’s choice policy, but that his web site reflected a position that those who oppose abortion are “driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women.” The doctor complained that that wasn’t very fair-minded and that he, himself, opposed abortion but with no such desires.

Obama was quite stunned by the email, checked his web site and was aghast to find the doctor’s words to be true. A staff member had gotten a bit too enthusiastic as he wrote the section on abortion. Obama ordered it immediately changed. He apologized to the doctor. The climax of the account, however, comes at a political stop in southern Illinois when a group of right to life supporters protested outside the hall. Obama’s staff had recommended that he avoid the protestors because of the bizarre events that had taken place surrounding the issue. Obama, instead, walked into their assembly and invited them into the hall. They refused. He stayed with them for a time, inviting them to speak their minds. He tried then to explain his position and the protestors politely listened. It was a strong and dramatic presentation of the Obama belief that dialogue and communication must happen between people of differing opinions and each side ought to be humble enough to know there might be some logic in an opponent’s views. This is one of the characteristics of the Illinois Senator that make him so inviting as a presidential possibility.

Should Obama be elected to our highest office, he will bring to office with him a startling literacy regarding the constitution. He will be more knowledgeable about the constitution than any president in my life time. He taught constitutional law for a considerable period at the University of Chicago Law School. In this book he writes about the constitution and the various approaches to interpreting it with great clarity and depth. As a matter of fact, the third chapter in the book is titled, Our Constitution.

Obama explains how he sought out Robert Byrd in his first days in the Senate, so he could meet this man who is so closely identified with our nearly sacred national document -- a man who had “come to be seen as the very embodiment of the Senate, a living, breathing fragment of history.” It is a very touching and moving moment when the two men come together – Obama a raw rookie to office and Byrd approaching his 50th year in the Senate. Byrd carried a pocket size copy of the Constitution with him wherever he went.

That first man to man meeting between Byrd and Obama must have been something unique and extraordinary. Byrd, the elderly, gigantic figure in Senate history and, as a very young man, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and Obama, the product of a Caucasian and African parents, young and intellectual.

“Senator Byrd’s life – like most of ours – has been the struggle of warring impulses, a twining of darkness and light. And in that sense I realized that he really was a proper emblem for the Senate, who rules and design reflect the grand compromise of America’s founding: the bargain between Northern states and Southern states, the Senate’s role as a guardian against the passions of the moment, a defender of minority rights and state sovereignty, but also a tool to protect the wealthy from the rabble, and assure slaveholders of non-interference with their peculiar institution. Stamped into the very fiber of the Senate, within its genetic code, was the same contest between power and principle that characterized America as a whole, a lasting expression of that great debate among a few brilliant, flawed men that had concluded with the creation of a form of government unique it is genius – yet blind to the whip and the chain.” [75-76]

The recounting of this meeting between Obama and Byrd [99-100] is equally as brilliant as the paragraph above. As a rookie to the Senate, Obama asked Byrd for advice. Byrd told him to learn the rules of the Senate and to learn the precedents also. He told Obama not to rush. He reminded Obama that the presidency was not the top of the heap – that it was the Senate that was supreme. And then he confessed his only regret to Obama and that was “the foolishness of youth.” The conversation went into a long pause at that point and the old Senator sat in great silence. Obama understood. “We all have regrets,” he told Senator Byrd. “We just ask that in the end, God’s grace shines upon us.”

The book is loaded with these kinds of delightful anecdotal stories. I could recount dozens of them, each zeroing in on an important point in the current life of our country or simply telling us more about this apparently lovely man.

It is not often we are brought so intimately into the meetings and conversations that take place between great and important human beings. Nor, are we often allowed into their family circle, learning that the Senator needed to make a stop on the way home to buy ant traps or that his chore was to do the dishes while his wife put the girls into bed. We are also allowed to see many moments of touching intimacy between the Senator and his family – accounts that reflect the fear he has that total emersion into politics will eat away at that precious and beautiful moments he has with his wife and children. I am embarrassed to tell you that they brought a few tears to my eyes. So did the account below of a lonely walk Obama took to the Lincoln Memorial.

“At night, the great shrine is lit but often empty. Standing between marble columns, I read the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. I look out over the Reflecting Pool, imagining the crowd stilled by Dr. King’s mighty cadence, and then beyond that, to the floodlit obelisk and shining Capitol Dome.

“And in that place, I think about America and those who built it. This nation’s founders, who somehow rose above petty ambitions and narrow calculations to imagine a nation unfurling across a continent. And those like Lincoln and King, who ultimately laid down their lives in the service of perfecting an imperfect union. And all the faceless, nameless men and women, slaves and soldiers and tailors and butchers, constructing lives for themselves and their children and grandchildren, brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, to fill the landscape of our collective dreams.” [361-362]

This is not an ordinary book by a political candidate trying to make an impression. This is an extraordinary book because it has feeling and depth and is written clearly and intelligently. It is a book that every man who wants to be a good parent should read. It is a book that every person who wants to better understand the Constitution of the United States of America should read. It is a book that should be read by everyone who wants to understand the god-awful difficulty of the political grind with which our nationally elected officials must live.

If you do not read this very special book, it is your very great loss!

Obama, Barack: The Audacity of Hope [Crown Publishers, New York, 2006, ISBN-13: 978-0-307-23769-9]

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Eric Bruntjen's Book

A Book Review
[A Hot Blue Sea
by Eric Bruntjen]
I wouldn’t have dreamed
this little kid would be an author
by Charlie Leck [15 April 2007]

I remember Eric Bruntjen as a little boy. He was kind of a sniffling kid; that is, his nose was always running and he was forever trying to snuff it back up inside and occasionally he’d wipe stuff that wouldn’t snuff on his shirt-sleeve. Even then, he had a gangling, clumsy look about him. He was quiet as a church-mouse and every time I glanced at him he seemed to be staring at me, wondering what kind of critter I was anyway. He had a big brother who was loud, clumsy and adventurous. I got to know his brother quite well because he went and married into the family and became a son-in-law. However, Eric remained quiet and mysterious to me and then grew up and went away somewhere. I virtually forgot about him. And now he’s an author. And, I’ve read his book.

The little kid turned out okay. I learned a lot about him from the book. He’s bright and witty. He’s kind and passionate about love and life. He’s also mature and level-headed and has got all his priorities straight.

I’ve got a lot to tell you about this book, but I’ll try to be brief. First off – getting the difficult stuff out of the way first – it’s a darn good book. At least it is from my perspective – which is the only way I can judge a book. I enjoyed it immensely and when I finished it up and put it down, I was completely glad I’d read it. Any book I can say that about gets lots of stars.

He says somewhere, in some little corner of his book, that it isn’t really a book because he just wrote it as a gift of love to his wife and because he wanted to repay her some little amount for the great gift she’d given him. Well, he’s wrong! It is a real book because real people have gotten hold of it in one way or another and they limbered it up by bending the spine a bit and rolling the pages; and then they put their feet up and began reading it; then, after a while, they put a bookmark in it and set it down so they could go to the toilet or get another cup of coffee; and finally they finished up the book and set it aside and had feelings about it. That, my quiet, modest, good young man is what a book is – by definition.

This book was presented to Melanee, his wife, as a Christmas gift. I, therefore, declare this book to be a Christmas Book. Since I am one of only a very few authorities on the subject, everyone is going to have to take my word for it and also consider it such. Therefore, also, it goes into my own very substantial collection of Christmas Books. These are not books about Christmas, mind you, but they are books that were written and published in small numbers to be given to friends, family and loved ones at Christmas. Among many others, in my collection I have Christmas Books written by one of my daughters, Robert Frost, Grantland Rice, William Styron, John Updike and me. Young Eric Bruntjen’s book is now on the shelves where I keep my collection of Christmas Books. So, don’t go trying to tell me it’s not a real book. It most certainly is and that’s the end of that discussion.

What makes it officially a Christmas Book? The following is found on the book’s dedication page.

Merry Christmas Melanne.
Thanks for a great adventure.

I wondered a little bit how that little kid – the one I was remembering from years ago – could come up with a wife like Melanee. I got to meet her this past Thanksgiving and she really is an extraordinary woman.

To be married to a truly great traveler
is a gift that can never be repaid.
This book, however, is Eric’s first feeble
attempt at settling up anyway.
Merry Christmas Melanee!

The book, A Hot Blue Sea, is a very well written travel diary, retelling the adventures that Eric and Melanee shared as they traveled across southern Greece in the summer of 2006.

As I read the book, I regularly found myself chuckling. I hollered out to my wife that it was a dang good book and really charming. A few moments later, because I’d set it aside momentarily to go fetch a piece of cheese, the little woman swooped up the book and began to read. I didn’t get the book back for the rest of the day because she never let it get out of hand. She read it cover to cover, laughing merrily as she did and saying, every so often, that I was going to really enjoy this part or that part. Having been robbed of my book, I had to settle in with the Sunday edition of the New York Times.

On Monday it was all mine again and I eased into a comfy chair and prepared for some more chuckles and set about finishing it up. I had been earlier delighted by some of Eric’s simple, yet descriptive, accounts of their travels.

“Pedestrians in Greece accumulate on the median like penguins trapped on an iceberg. Bobbing and weaving for a better view of oncoming traffic, they stare at the road with wide eyes before risking everything in a mad dash from one island of safety to another.”

Well, that’s pretty good by any writer’s standards and it wasn’t a singular example. Time and again I came across sentences and paragraphs just as good and just as descriptive.

The two adventurers (I think this is a better descriptive noun than ‘travelers’ would be) tried to spend their nights camping as often as they could. That’s good in this case because one is not likely to meet some of the characters and critters in hotels that these two youngsters met in campgrounds; and then, therefore, the narrative would not have been so exciting and humorous. Take the blood-thirsty spider as an example. So named by the author, the creature paid a visit to Eric’s sleeping bag as he slept beneath the stars on a hillside near the town of Delphi. It caused Eric to awaken with a start and to start “screaming like a little girl.”

“In order to put the speed of this thing into perspective, consider that the fastest human can run a hundred meters in about ten seconds. That corresponds to roughly two body lengths per second. In other words, damn fast. The arachnid spawn from hell that was attacking us ran up the full length of my six-foot-six-inch frame in no less than two seconds. The spider was about four inches long so, essentially, it was covering ten body lengths per second. Whoa!”

In defense of human speed, Eric forgot to point out that the blood-thirsty spider from hell had many more legs to work with and, therefore, his comparative calculations are not so impressive at all.

Now I’ve only introduced you to this encounter with one of dear Charlotte’s ancient relatives. It goes on for considerable length and kept me giggling all the way to its final conclusion – what must have been a very comical race between an unencumbered spider and two human beings with unraveled, comatose sleeping bags dragging along behind, to the safety of a tent. Considering the speed of this monster, which Eric had earlier described, I don’t know how he expects the reader to believe that they really got there before he; unless, of course, the explanation of a waiter they met some time later is to be considered accurate. “They are as afraid of you as you are of them,” the fellow said. The spider was probably running in the opposite direction.

Let me assure you that this book is not all giggles and guffaws. There’s much more than that. There is plenty of serious and well-done description of the country-side through which they traveled. Though he’s no John Updike, Eric has a handy way with words. He’s delightfully folksy and he’s thrifty with words the way Hemingway was.

“…the top of Mount Parnassus was a series of rolling hills and small, spoon shaped rocks with an occasional stone outcropping or jagged gash thrown in for good measure. It was an incredibly complex landscape with a rich and vibrant contour; almost organic and globular the geology was fascinating…. Walking the mangled line between terror and comfort was something we grew accustomed to during our stay in Greece. The jagged, deadly shoulders of Parnassus were just the first in a long line of places where we stood with success on one side and ruin on the other.”
Well, maybe not Hemingway either, but certainly very fine and precise writing and many leaps better than most all travel diaries. Besides, how many travel accounts will tell you about an encounter with magnificent goat poop and urine eating larvae and how they rather “saunter with a stumbling, rolling motion.”

Eric’s very precise description of a painting that depicts a gigantomachy that must have taken place near Delphi, during which a giant is having his very private parts consumed by a famished lion, is worthy of his concluding comment: “…the look on his face is priceless.” Whose face, Eric – the lion or the giant?

A couple dozen really excellent photos add some deliciousness to the book. The images make it abundantly clear from whence cometh the book’s title. Indeed, the photographs alone made the price I paid for this book well worth it.

I probably should have pointed out – no certainly should have pointed out – early in this essay that the writer is no casual or novice traveler. He was well trained by his father in the art of travel and has explored the Amazon River, parts of Africa, traveled through China, roamed many regions of Mexico and climbed more mountains than most of us have seen. He knows how to rate a travel experience. He knows the value of spending as much time as possible on foot in order to truly savor and consume the experience. I would sign on to travel with him or his big brother any time.

Sailing along on the blue Aegean Sea with him and Melanee and their skipper, Paris, was a truly wonderful experience and I was able to viscerally feel the sea mist and wind on my face. How wonderful the day, while we were on our way to Mykonos, that we shut down the engine and sought our power from the wind alone.

“…It was a fabulous experience, one that more talented writers than I have failed to adequately describe. The wind was strong and true to our heading, it powered us along at seven knots, easily pushing the Jasmine up over the consistent swells. When sailing it occurs to me that the winds, a product of the very spin of our planet, are on my team. They work for me. It’s a potent feeling; that the whole planet is behind you. There’s not an engine in the universe with more horsepower.

“Minutes after switching off the motor a half-dozen dolphins leaped through the waves toward us. They moved like superheroes, bounding effortlessly through the water. Right then I knew why ancient mariners considered them a good omen. They move with such grace and precision that a sense of pride swept over me. Surely I’d done something right in this lifetime to deserve this gift. They were a pleasure to watch, their energy contagious and inspirational.”

Okay! Let me wrap up the package. All in all, I’d count it as one of the really good reading experiences I’ve had. The book could have used one work-through by a careful editor who, while not changing the wonderful, easy going style of the author, would have caught a half dozen sentences that needed smoothing and clarifying. It’s the only criticism I have and, understanding the circumstance and the sweet goals of the book, it is a very unimportant thing to say. Here, to explain my point, is one of the few paragraphs that should have been reworked only slightly. It is a lovely account and one doesn’t want to come away from it having stumbled over a word, wondering if that word or phrase should have been something else.

“About a kilometer from where the asphalt road faded into dust we passed a shepherd riding a disheartened burro. The shepherd was skinny and leathered to
the point of caricature. He had a thick black moustache and wore filthy white pants and a buttoned shirt. He rode sidesaddle and smacked his steed on the ass with a stick. He could have been any ethnic peasants from Chile to Mongolia. It was like I’d seen him a thousand times before. Unlike the other shepherds we’d seen in Greece, this old man waved enthusiastically as he comically bounced past us on his tiny animal.”

Don’t get me wrong! The author has penned an exceptionally good book. The mistake almost every writer makes is thinking he doesn’t need an editor. I have found it is virtually impossible to read one’s own writing critically without setting it aside for a month or two or more, and then going back to it and reading it more like a stranger than a parent.

[A Hot Blue Sea: Adventures Across Attica] This is a very, very good book and I think you could order a copy of it by going to

Thanks, Eric. I’m proud to have this book in my Christmas Book collection. And, I’m proud of you for writing it.

A Little of Me Died Today

Kurt Vonnegut died today at his home in New York City;
however, Elliot Rosewater and Kilgore Trout live on!
by Charlie Leck [12 April 2007]

Here on the bookshelves in my library, behind me, I have first edition copies of all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books – or should I have said “of each” of Kurt Vonnegut’s books? Vonnegut would have known. The extraordinary man and author died today “at his home in Manhattan” as they said on the radio. (So it goes!) They played a long clip of Vonnegut reading a chapter from his block-buster novel, Slaughterhouse Five. I remember first reading that book. It was sometime in the early 1970s, I’m sure. It was a number of years after it was published. Though I can’t remember the year that I read it, I certainly do remember how the book stirred and rattled me. It was one of the finest novels I had ever read to that point, ranking right up there with such extraordinary works as Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Old Man and the Sea and The Grapes of Wrath.

Here’s the point. I fell in love with Kurt Vonnegut. We didn’t have this incredible, wonderful Internet back then, and it was difficult for me to come up with stuff. At the Minneapolis City Library I met a delightful librarian who told me about some of Vonnegut’s early work – Player Piano (1952) and the Sirens of Titan (1959). I immediately read those and found them quite delightful but nowhere near as powerful as Slaughterhouse. For some reason, the librarian hadn’t mentioned God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. When I found that and read it and reread it, I knew Vonnegut was a person who was very special and important to me – and always would be.

“… laughter… God knows, that’s the soul seeking some relief.” (Vonnegut)
Eliot Rosewater, President of the Rosewater Foundation became one of the most important characters in life or fiction for me. He became a pal and a nearly constant companion. He had a moral compass that I wanted to duplicate. Rosewater, however, had a soul that I sadly knew I couldn’t replicate in my own life. Nevertheless, I tried.

“And Eliot became a drunkard, a Utopian dreamer, a tinhorn saint, an aimless fool. Begat he not a soul.” (Eliot Rosewater, writing of himself)
Obviously, the man’s opinion of himself is not as elevated as mine is of him. You should decide if I am correct about this matter by introducing yourself to him through a thorough reading of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel.

Eliot’s father, Lister, became a member of the House of Representatives, for a time, representing Rosewater County in Indiana, and then was elected as one of Indiana’s U.S. Senators.

“That he is or ever was an Indiana person is a tenuous political fiction.” (Eliot Rosewater, writing of his father)
Eliot, like his parents, was born, raised, educated and indoctrinated as an easterner. He was highly educated (Harvard) and sailed often on Cape Cod and skied winters away in Switzerland. On the day following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he dropped out of Harvard Law to join the infantry. He distinguished himself and rose to the rank of Captain. Suffering combat fatigue, he was sent to Paris to recuperate. There he “wooed and won” a Parisian beauty, Sylvia DuVrais Zetterling, for his wife. By Eliot’s own admission, “she came to hate him.”

After the war, he returned to Harvard Law and received his law degree and then went on to get a doctorate in international law. Soon after, he was “handed” the head job at the Rosewater Foundation, which had been set up several years earlier by his father. The foundation controlled approximately 87 million dollars, which was a lot of dough in those days.

Under Eliot’s leadership the foundation “…fought cancer and mental illness and race prejudice and police brutality and countless other miseries, encouraged college professors to look for truth, bought beauty at any price.”

“Many, many good things have I bought! Many, many bad things have I fought.” (a couplet composed by Eliot Rosewater)

Eliot drank heavily. One time, while on a binge, he crashed a convention of science-fiction writers. This incident seems to have made all the difference.

“The hell with the talented sparrowfarts who write delicately of one small piece of one mere lifetime, when the issues are galaxies, eons and trillions of souls yet to be born.” (Eliot Rosewater, on science-fiction writers)

It’s at this point that I begin to really love Eliot Rosewater. He introduces me to Kilgore Trout, a science-fiction writer who Eliot calls “the greatest writer alive today.”

“I leave it to you, friends and neighbors, and especially to the immortal Kilgore Trout: think about the silly ways money gets passed around now, and then think up better ways.” (Eliot Rosewater, concluding a speech he delivered upon interrupting a convention of science fiction writers)
Eliot’s wanderings began in earnest after that convention. He would hitch-hike from coast to coast, spellbound by volunteer fire-fighters, spending some evenings in jail and certain that a revolution was coming to America that would redistribute the nation’s wealth.

“In America – among the rickety sons and grandsons of the pioneers.” (Eliot Rosewater, telling his wife about his wanderings and that he had returned home to Rosewater County, Indiana)

You must read about Eliot and Sylvia setting up their residence in the old Rosewater mansion and their lives among these common folk of Indiana. And you must read about Eliot’s constant wanderings and meanderings and his divorce and his practice as a notary public in the town named after his family. There, in that grungy office, he receives phone calls day and night from people in need – in need of all kinds of help. He personally takes every call. He also answers the emergency phone for the Rosewater Volunteer Fire Department.

“I think it’s terrible the way people don’t share things in this country. I think it’s a heartless government that will let one baby be born owning a pig piece of the country, the way I was born, and let another baby be born without owning anything. The least a government could do, it seems to me, is to divide things up fairly among the babies. Life is hard enough, without people having to worry themselves sick about money, too. There’s plenty for everybody in this country, if we’ll only share more.” (Eliot Rosewater, speaking on the phone to his father, Senator Lister Rosewater, who has asked Eliot if he is a communist)

Move on to the part where Eliot is threatened by a snake of a lawyer, representing the Rhode Island Rosewaters, vowing to have the courts declare the head of the Rosewater Foundation legally insane and therefore forcing Eliot to give up control to the lawyer’s clients. Read how Eliot whips the lawyer and confounds again his dear, old dad.

“Go over to her shack, I guess. Sprinkle some water on the babies, say ‘Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of babies: God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’” (Eliot Rosewater, explaining to Sylvia what he will say when baptizing the twins of Mary Moody)

Who, please tell me, could declare such a person insane?

To read more about Kilgore Trout and Eliot Rosewater, move on to Vonnegut’s novel, Breakfast of Champions. As the back fold of the dust jacket on the first edition of that book says, “This book answers once and for all the question, ‘To what extend are human beings sacred, and to what extend are they machines?’”

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis (1922), the son and grandson of architects, and he attended Cornell University in up-state New York. Both of those settings appear time and again in his work.

Here’s the great dream I’ve carried through the last 35 years. I wanted to write like Vonnegut. I wanted to write serious stuff with plenty of bold fiction and lots of pointed humor. I wanted to write about people with lots of heart and soul. I wanted to write about justice and injustice and about goodness and evil – all with a sense of humor. I tried a half-dozen times. I mean, seriously tried. I produced long, carefully written works of fiction. When I’d compare them to Vonnegut’s work I’d nearly throw-up and I stuffed them into desk drawers and cabinets here and there and everywhere.

Vonnegut was a writer with inestimable consciousness and a sensitive conscience. His sense of morality was gigantic. He thought being good and just should be easy.

And how he could write! He owned each book he wrote and he believed he could break the rules when he wanted and twist and bend a plot to serve a moment. He did it with a talent that will not be read again.

“Robert Kennedy, whose summer home is eight miles from the home I live in all year round, was shot two nights ago. He died last night. So it goes.“Martin Luther King was shot a month ago. He died, too. So it goes.“And every day my Government gives me a count of the corpses created by military science in Vietnam. So it goes.“My father died many years ago now – of natural causes. So it goes. He was a sweet man. He was a gun nut, too. He left me his guns. They rust.” (Kurt Vonnegut, in a literary interruption of his novel, Slaughterhouse Five)

Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday at his home in New York City. Unfortunately, so it goes!
So many called him a cynic. He wasn’t a cynic. He was our conscience, calling us to be just and good and fair – talking to us as if we were Mary Moody’s twins.

I have to admit that I also loved him because he was a compassionate and sincere liberal who believed government should be there to help people who can not and could not help themselves. He wasn’t afraid to speak out and he often did.

“American ‘conservatives,’ as they call themselves, on Wall Street and at the head of so many of our corporations, have stolen a major fraction of our private savings, have ruined investors and employees by means of fraud and outright piracy. And now, having installed themselves as our federal government, or taken control of it from outside, they have squandered our pubic treasury and then some. They have created a public debt of such appalling magnitude that our descendants, for whom we had such high hopes, will come into this world as poor as church mice.”

“Humor,” he told Christian Century Magazine, “is an almost physiological response to fears…” And, that is how he wrote. He was deeply afraid of injustice and maniacal world leaders. He saw what they could do in World War II, in Vietnam and in Iraq.

“What are the conservatives doing with all the money and power that used to belong to all of us? They are telling us to be absolutely terrified, and to run around in circles like chickens with their heads cut off. But they will save us. They are making us take off our shoes at airports. Can anybody here think of a more hilarious practical joke than that one? Smile America. You’re on Candid Camera.”

Oh, his will be a voice that will be missed; a sense of humor that we’ll sorely miss; and a sense of creativity that we’ll not easily replace.

Kurt Vonnegut did not believe in a life after death. As he said more than once: “I love sleep, don’t you?”

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince; and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” (Horatio in William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, scene ii)