Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Little Schoolin'

The viral video du jour, actually three of them, show a white police officer grabbing a female African American high school student while she was sitting at her desk in class, then flipping the girl and the desk over and dragging both of them out of the classroom. Not surprisingly, these videos shot by fellow students in a South Carolina school on their cell phones has drawn universal outrage, and the reactions as we have come to expect from the right and the left of this country, are entirely predictable.

To one side, this is an obvious case of a racist cop egregiously overstepping his authority. To the other side, it's a case of a teenager disrespectful of education and authority, selfishly disrupting a class thereby denying her classmates the opportunity to learn.

These reactions came well before any context surrounding the confrontation were brought to light. After the actual facts were brought out into the open well... nobody changed their mind.

The facts, some of them at least, are these:
  • During class, the student was either texting of having a conversation (eye-witness reports vary) on her cell phone and the teacher demanded she stop. She refused. (Score one against the student).
  • After a standoff, the teacher requested help from a school administrator. The student refused to cooperate again. At that point the cop, a "resource officer" who was assigned to the school was called to the room. The officer asked the student several times to get up and leave the classroom. Again she refused. (Score another against the student)
  • After unsuccessfully convincing the student to leave her seat and the classroom, the cop grabbed the girl who continued to resist. This resulted in the ugly scene in the videos described above. (Score one against the cop and the student).
  • It was later revealed that the student's mother recently died and that the young woman was in foster care. (Score one for the young woman).
  • It was also revealed that the same officer has charges pending relating to incidents of a similar nature involving students of color. (Score one against the cop).
  • The officer's boss, the county sheriff, before firing him, released a statement that his employee was no racist as he is currently dating a black woman. (No idea how to score that one). 
  • Defending his firing of the cop, the sheriff also said that the officer's actions were "not typical of the job I expect (him) to do." (Score yet another against the officer).
Heard consistently throughout the coverage of this incident is the opinion that nothing the student did, at least anything apparent from the videos, justifies the officer's actions. Perhaps this is true. However, two critical questions that desperately need to be addressed, especially by police and school officials are these: why are policemen permanently assigned to schools in the first place, and secondly, what exact actions ARE typical of the job(s) that officers are expected to do when someone flat out refuses to comply with an essential and perfectly reasonable request?

I think it's safe to assume that the teacher's and administrator's reason for calling in a policeman was to remove a disruptive student from the classroom so the class could continue. It's highly unlikely they expected the officer to council the student, offer her words of encouragement, or invite her to tea. They could have done that themselves, perhaps they should have. When all else fails, short of building trap doors or ejector seats in classrooms (hmmm, maybe not such a bad idea), the only way to remove a student who simply refuses to leave, is by using the threat of force, and when that fails, use force itself. That's why the policeman was called. If the student responds in kind with force, as was the case with this particular child, things can get pretty ugly, which they did.

It has been stated over and over again that the officer acted irresponsibly and perhaps even criminally in roughing up the student, but no one, not even the sheriff could offer any clues as to how the officer could have acted responsibly while still doing what was asked of him.

A policeman's responsibility beyond dealing with bad guys and wayward students is to use proper judgement and restraint, and to act according to the rule of law while carrying out those responsibilities. Like other people who are paid to do unpleasant work, we expect the police to do a job that most of us are unwilling and/or afraid to do. Clearly the school administrator and the teacher felt the need to remove this student from the classroom, yet they didn't want to perform the messy, perhaps job-threatening work themselves. Perhaps they should have tried harder before taking the draconian step of calling in the police officer.

I asked my resident authority on such matters, my mother, (a long time teacher, administrator and principal of a large inner-city elementary school) what she would have done. Without missing a beat she said that if a student was stubborn about leaving the class and making a scene, she would have had all the other students leave for the library and left the student alone in the classroom to sit and think about her actions without the benefit of an audience. Had the situation been handled in that way there would have been no need to call in the federales in the first place, no violence, no viral videos, and of course, no blog post.

In my book, the school officials are as responsible for what happened that day as anybody else. Calling in a police officer to handle a situation they probably could and should have handled themselves was only asking for trouble. Like I said, the officer was doing the job that was asked of him. Violent and ugly as those videos are, I am not in a position to judge if the officer acted inappropriately, and frankly with the unreliable information we have, I don't think most of us are.

As for the student, what if any responsibilities does she have? First of all I think it's reasonable to expect all students to act in the spirit of the class, if not by directly participating, then at the very least showing respect by refraining from disrupting the teacher and fellow students. Every student knows full well that using a cell phone in class is unacceptable. Except in an emergency, where the student should have excused herself from the class, there is absolutely no excuse for violating this obvious breach of common sense and respect for her teacher and her peers. It was the student's choice to violate both the spirit and the rules of the class by using her phone, refusing to stop when asked, and resisting the officer when he demanded she leave. Whether his actions were appropriate or not, the student brought upon the those actions entirely by herself.

This week, a friend of mine taught me a new word he encountered in his work in the field of social justice. That word is "de-opportuniteed", an adjective made up by social workers as a substitute for the term "at risk", used to describe children who have a good chance of falling between the cracks in society. The old term was neutral in that it didn't claim to place judgement on a child's circumstances, it merely flagged a problem. The new term by contrast explicitly states that the children in question are in their precarious position because something has been done TO them, thereby eliminating any trace of responsibility from the child.

Clearly we need to have compassion and empathy for children who lack the love, guidance, care and protection of a loving family. But there are two things that must be considered. First, not all "at risk" children are neglected by their families, and second, not all children with difficult backgrounds are at risk. At some point, all children regardless of their background must be taught to be responsible for themselves.

I see a great deal of harm in the attitude that this whole mess is entirely the responsibility of the officer and none of it belongs to the student. To me, that sends a very clear message to students all over the country that it is their right to behave exactly as they please in school, to ignore the demands of teachers, school officials and other authority figures, and that their education is entirely the responsibility of the school, and none of it their own.

And we wonder why we are falling behind the rest of the world in terms of education.

Finally, one last question has been raised over and over again in this discussion: "How would you react if that was your child?" To that let me state without any reservation that two of the most cherished people in my life are my son and daughter and if any harm came to them I would be devastated. While I refuse to lay a hand on either of my children in anger, I believe that in order to become engaged, successful individuals as well as good people, all children must be challenged to some extent in every aspect of their lives. At this point in their young lives, being a student is my children's job and they have the responsibility to do the best they can at that job. I think both of them understand that and both of them work very hard at school, even if they'd rather be doing something else.

To answer the question how would I feel if my kids were treated that way by a police officer: if one of my children at that age showed as little respect for their teacher, their education, their classmates and the police officer as the student in South Carolina did, then with much sorrow and regret I would have to say, yes, he or she would have had it coming.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Neighborhood

Last week on a balmy mid-October evening, I got home late after attending an event in the Loop. Shortly after I got off the train and began my walk home, I heard the sound of sirens coming from every direction. It was pretty clear to me what was going on when I noticed that the overwhelming majority of flashing lights headed my way were blue, not red. My suspicions were confirmed the next morning when I checked the news; someone had been shot.

Most of the police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck came to rest about two blocks from me. Other cop cars were patrolling the neighborhood in search of a perpetrator. Thinking back on it now, it was probably my safest walk home in the twelve years we've lived in our current home. Considering the pleasant weather, the streets were filled with people, many of whom headed in the direction of the incident. Perhaps twenty years ago I might have joined them out of curiosity, as I was a bit of an ambulance chaser back in the day. Now however, needing little to remind myself of my own mortality, I'm much less inclined to seek out the misery of other people.

Not so for my neighbors. I'd go so far as to say there was almost a festive atmosphere on the street as the excitement broke up the tedium of everyday life, or at least took people's minds off the Cubs who were at that very moment in the process of being eliminated form the playoffs.

There was nothing in my neighbors' reactions that would indicate anything bad or even all that unusual was taking place. The next day as I walked my regular route past the scene of the crime, leaves fell from trees, kids were on their way to school, and adults on their way to work headed to their cars or like me to the train. A large American flag hung from a flagpole in front of a tidy clapboard house which stood near the spot where the shooting took place. Halloween decorations, your typical pumpkins, ghosts and spider webs, adorned many other homes. There was no indication at all that anything bad happened the night before, no police tape, no dried blood or body outlines in the street, no TV crews or reporters scoping out the scene.

The sad fact is that shootings are not unusual events in this city. The news reports I saw the following day informed me this was one of three shootings in Chicago that day. Doing the math, that number is low. From a quick search of the web, so far this year there have been 2133 shootings in Chicago. Given that roughly 300 days have gone by in 2015, on an average day over seven people get shot in our fair city. Just for the sake of argument, 377 of those who got shot in Chicago this year died, while there were 43 non gun related homicides in the city in the same period.

From the news report I read, in this particular shooting, a man walked up to another man on the street and shot him in the chest. The victim was taken to the local hospital a few blocks down the street from our house. At last report, he was in serious condition. For all I know he could be back on the street looking for payback, as medical science is so amazing these days. Another sobering item in the report was the time of the crime, 8:12PM. I distinctly remember looking at my watch as I got off the train that evening. It was just short of 8:15, meaning that had I left the downtown event a few minutes earlier and caught the previous train, I very likely could have been walking by the scene as the crime was taking place.

But it was the sheer banality of the experience that troubled me the most, including my own attitude. By the time I got home and was embraced by my children, the whole experience was put on the back burner where it has been bubbling over for almost one week.

I don't particularly fear for my own safety in my neighborhood, but I certainly fear for the safety of my wife and kids who could someday find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. I fear for my neighborhood and the city I love dearly. And I fear my own attitude which shows little compassion for gang bangers who feel compelled to kill each other, or anyone else who happens to be in their way. After all they're still some poor mother's child, human beings just like the rest if us, despite the way they behave.

On the other hand, I'm sick and tired of the stupidity of guns and violence, of street gangs and teenagers having indiscriminant. unprotected sex and giving birth to children they have no intention of caring for. I'm tired of our society rejecting the idea of personal responsibility and blaming everyone and everything but criminals for their crimes.

As much as I love our life in the city, sometimes I wish I could take my family away, far away. This evening as I walked home from the train past the site of the shooting, it was raining and about twenty degrees cooler than last week. The goons who typically roam the neighborhood looking for trouble when the weather is nice were conspicuously absent. For some reason the crime rate goes down whenever the weather gets bad meaning things should temporarily be getting better.

I never thought I'd say this, but winter can't come soon enough.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Not quite ready to turn in my card

I've always prided myself on my card-carrying contrarian ways, but there is a limit.  It's fine to march to the beat of your own drummer, that is until the drummer leads you off the edge of a cliff. That's why I never identified myself with any political party or ideology as I value the freedom of thinking for myself, rather than having my opinions determined by my affiliations. Like Groucho Marx used to say, "I'd never belong to a club that would have someone like me as a member." That can be a rather lonely existence, sometimes I think my life would have been much easier had I not chosen to be the square peg so to speak. Well so be it, that's who I am and after 56 years on this planet, I don't think that's ever going to change.

I've been thinking about that quite a bit these past weeks as the Chicago Cubs have entered into somewhat uncharted territory for the team, success. There is every reason in the world why I should be a Cubs fan. I've lived my entire life north of Chicago's Madison Street, the official dividing line between the north and the south sides of the city. The Cubs play on the north side, while the other Chicago team, the White Sox play on the south side. It's true my baseball fandom didn't have deep roots as my European father couldn't stand the game. But my mother who by and large is indifferent to sports, considered herself a Cubs fan and took me to several games at Wrigley Field in the sixties. Most of my friends while I was growing up were Cubs fans and heck, even I was a Cubs fan during one of the most trying seasons that anyone can remember, 1969.

The disappointment of the epic collapse of that team prepared me well for the slings and arrows of life; one could say I grew up considerably in that, my eleventh year. Unfortunately the experience soured me on the game and I lost interest. When the flame was rekindled a few years later, I re-emerged as a White Sox fan and have been ever since.

It was in part my contrarian nature that drew me to the team on the south side. While it wasn't always so, by the late sixties and early seventies, the Cubs were the team that got the lion's share of attention in this town. It was a bad time for the Sox as the team was going nowhere, and the perception that the neighborhood where they played was dangerous kept fans away in droves. Things got so bad, they played several of their home games up in Milwaukee after the Braves left that town for Atlanta and before the short lived Seattle Pilots were re-christened the Milwaukee Brewers. Meanwhile the Cubs were making a serious push for the pennant, with a team that featured four future Hall of Famers including Ernie Banks, whose infectious personality and effervescent enthusiasm did more for the organization than the highest paid public relations firm could ever dream of doing.

Another big difference was the Cubs' affiliation with WGN, the local TV station who broadcast every one of their games, while the Sox were relegated to a less accessible UHF station who only carried a handful of games. It also didn't hurt that the Cubs played in the relatively glamorous and affluent north side which attracted more media attention than the working class south side.

Then there were the ballparks. Wrigley Field with its ivy covered walls and spectacular views of the city and the lake, was a family oriented place back when all games there were played in daylight, and a large number of fans in the stands were children and their parents. Old Comiskey Park, the home of the White Sox by contrast was cut off from the outside by double deck grandstands that surrounded the field, save for a very small bleacher section in deep center field. Even during the day, the ballpark seemed dark, and at night when the average fan age was about thirty years older than Wrigley's, a permanent cloud of cigarette smoke blanketed the ballpark, giving the joint the ambiance of an oversized pool hall.

It was that edgy, subversive feel of going down to the south side to see the Sox that appealed to me in the time when I also dabbled in radical politics and the counter-culture. Given that, it shouldn't come as a surprise that my biggest hero on those Sox teams was one of the baddest of baseball's bad guys, Dick Allen, the diametric opposite of Ernie Banks. It felt like being a grown up going down to old, dark and seedy Comiskey with its colorful characters and idiosyncrasies. The choice between the White Sox and the Cubs in those days could be compared to the choice between Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and Sesame Street. For me there wasn't much of a choice, left to my own devices as a teenager, it was a no-brainer that I would fall in love with the White Sox.

As the word would imply, being a baseball fan (short for fanatic), has nothing to do with rationality. Any true Chicagoan will tell you that you can't possibly be a Cubs AND a White Sox fan. Actually it's like being in love with two women at the same time, it can be done, but it's not worth the trouble. However I never bought into the idea that being a fan of one team meant you had to hate the other. Hatred of the Cubs is palpable on the south side where during this past National League Divisional Series between the Cubs and the Cardinals, a south side bar got national attention for offering drinks on the house for every St. Louis home run.

The hatred for the Cubs in that part of town is understandable as the feeling that both the Sox and the south side get no respect cannot be denied. Ten years ago when the White Sox won the World Series, the Cubs, then a lackluster team, still got more media attention and drew more people than the Sox. Passion for the White Sox on the south side of Chicago can be best compared to that of Brooklynites for their Dodgers before the team was taken away from them in 1957. Sox fans like Brooklyn Dodger fans before them, perpetually wear a chip on their shoulder.

On the other side of town, I'd say the general feeling about the White Sox is indifference rather than genuine loathing, although there are Cubs fans who for some reason unknown to me. boldly profess their hatred of the men in black. Talk about irrational.

Personally I never root against the Cubs unless of course they're playing the White Sox, which they do six times a year. Since the two teams play in different leagues, they do not compete against each other in the standings, and since both teams are usually bad, those games are meaningless, except as bragging rights for their fans.

The only relevant bragging right at the moment is that one of the two teams, the Cubs, are still playing baseball in mid-October. I admit to having jumped on their bandwagon a few months ago when it became evident that they would have a serious chance at getting into the playoffs and possibly beyond. At this writing, they are unfortunately two games down to the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. If the Cubs manage to come back and win that series, they will have accomplished something they have not done for seventy years, make it into the World Series. If they win that, they will be baseball champions for the first time since 1908.

I hope they do it. Should they lose to the Mets, I'll be bummed, just as I was back in 1984 and especially in 2003 when they came so close to the World Series. For me, rooting against the Cubs right now would be the same as rooting against my mother, my friends, my family, my community and my city. It would be nothing more then contrarianism only for the sake of being contrary, petty, pointless and dumb. 

Still there is a little part of me that would love to rebel against all the Cubs hoopla, especially TV interviews in bars with drunk yuppies waxing poetic on the history of a team they know nothing about, the nonsense of curses, and the attention paid to every knucklehead who brings a goat to the ballpark.

In his wonderful book The Boys of Summer about the Brooklyn Dodgers, Roger Kahn wrote the following about the Dodgers vis-à-vis the Yankees:
You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.
Despite their lack of success on the field over the years, the Cubs are to Chicago what the Yankees are to New York. Not only have the White Sox been perennial losers just like their crosstown rivals, but they did it in relative obscurity, all the more reason to love them.

This is the baseball cap I've been sporting around town lately:

To the uninitiated, a blue cap with the letter "C" embroidered on it no doubt is a vintage Cubs cap, but it's actually a reproduction 1949 White Sox cap. That team was special for nothing other than it was the year the great pitcher Billy Pierce who recently passed away, joined the club.

Wearing it, especially on the north side is my subtle way of showing solidarity with my favorite team in a time when they are all but forgotten. It's also my way of saying that I haven't completely gone over to the dark side.

Such is the life of a north side White Sox fan, still crazy after all these years. With that I conclude:

Go Cubs, seriously.

POST SCRIPT: The day after I wrote this, the Cubs were unceremoniously swept in four games by the Mets and as I predicted, I was bummed. Lots of folks brought up the rift between Cubs and Sox fans; many Cubs fans seemed genuinely hurt that Sox fans rooted against their team. As for the Sox fans, my guess is that most of them secretly rooted for the Cubs against the Mets if for no other reason than they would be able to continue to root against the Cubs in the World Series. With no Chicago team in the World Series this year, which of course is the normal state of things, only real baseball fans in this town will have any interest in what hopefully will be a good series.

Who am I rooting for Kansas City or New York? Well let's just say I'm rooting for the series to go seven games with game seven being decided in extra innings. I'm not quite ready for the chill winds of autumn yet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Goodbye Old Friend

As if the change of seasons wasn't depressing enough, we came upon this scene at Navy Pier a couple weeks ago. The Ferris Wheel that was the centerpiece of the renovation of Chicago's old Municipal Pier over twenty years ago is coming down.

It's a part of the reconfiguration of this city's number one tourist site which in all honesty never quite lived up to expectations or potential. The current, soon to be former attraction will be replaced by a fifty foot taller wheel with gondolas that will accommodate ten passengers compared to the current six. Those gondolas will be enclosed meaning the new wheel will be able to operate year round rain, sleet, snow or shine, the obvious cost being the thrill of exposure to the elements while swinging in a basket some fifteen stories above the ground.

I only rode the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel a handful of times but the mere sight of the structure always gave me a great deal of pleasure, a very happy landmark in the skyline. This is probably true for the majority of Chicagoans who, as pointed out by Rick Kogan in his piece in the Tribune from the other day, probably never set foot on the thing, as Navy Pier is almost the exclusive domain of tourists.

That's a shame because the Pier has some truly worthwhile attractions such as the Skyline Stage, the Grand Ballroom, the unfairly maligned Children's Museum and the redoubtable Shakespeare Theater.

Unfortunately, mixed in with all that is a collection of schlocky retail establishments targeting the least common denominator of tourists. Perhaps in its attempt to have a little something for everybody, nobody is completely satisfied.

Here's a piece I wrote about Navy Pier four years ago. Of all the changes to update the Pier suggested in the study that inspired my post, ironically the most conspicuous change that will take place is the replacement of the most successful feature, the Ferris Wheel. I can't for the life of me understand why a new Ferris Wheel is necessary as the old one was perfectly wonderful in my opinion. In addition to being enclosed, the new gondolas will, for the attention span challenged, be outfitted with video monitors.

Here's a DNA Chicago piece on the history of the Ferris Wheel, including a great video of the original wheel built for the Columbian Exposition of 1893 and later moved to Lincoln Park. In case you're wondering, the new wheel would still be dwarfed by the original which topped off at 264 feet. By comparison, the London Eye, excuse me, the Coca Cola London Eye on the River Thames, is 443 feet tall. For what it's worth, there's a 550 foot Ferris Wheel in Las Vegas which currently holds the record.

When I saw the Ferris Wheel ready to be dismantled the other day I couldn't help be reminded of something that Rick Kogan alluded to in his article.  Nearly fifty years ago, in 1967, Chicago lost its happiest place. It was an amusement park called Riverview that was located only a few miles from where we lived. We'd go there four or five times every summer and I distinctly remember as an eight year old, bitterly crying when I heard the news of its imminent demise. With it went a piece of my young childhood As Kogan pointed out, the twenty odd years of the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel may not have been enough time to etch it into the collective conscious of Chicago history, but it was certainly there long enough to have made a distinct impression on several generations of the city's children.

Next year there will be another wheel but it won't be the same with its hermetically sealed cabins subjecting their captive audience to video messages which will no doubt be aimed at selling stuff. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that, commerce is what makes Navy Pier exist in the first place and is the thing that enables it to support truly worthwhile institutions like the Shakespeare Theater. Still there was an innocence about the old wheel that won't be there anymore, and lost with it, will be the childhoods of yet another generation of Chicagoans.

Not the end of the world certainly, but a little sad just the same,

Saturday, October 3, 2015

She's Back

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, who should show up again unannounced but Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who has steadfastly refused to grant marriage licences to gay couples. Davis if you recall, openly defied a federal court order forcing her to do her job, which resulted in a five day stint in the local pokey. On her return to work, she agreed not to interfere with her deputies granting marriage licences to all comers.

In a sane and rational world, that would be the end of the story and we could all go back to our lives worrying about normal things like ISIS, the latest school shooting, and fantasy football.

But we live in anything but a rational world and Davis continues to be a lightning rod, symbolizing the egregious ideological rift in our country that seems to grow on a daily basis. To the folks on the right, Davis is a modern day Joan of Arc, fighting "under God's authority" the brave battle of conscience against the evil doers who would defy scripture by imposing the sacrilege of gay marriage upon this country. To the left, she is a bigoted homophobic criminal, a hypocritical religious zealot who is imposing her own backward beliefs on her constituents and the rest of the country. To both sides she is a cause célèbre, nobody it seems can get enough of her.

Well except for me that is and perhaps a silent majority of people in this country who believe that all the ruckus over Kim Davis amounts to much ado about nothing.

It's all very simple really, gay marriage is a divisive issue and no one should be the least bit surprised that there would be some government officials who feel compelled to refuse enforcing what they consider to be an unjust law. Frankly I'm surprised there aren't more Kim Davises around. Our country has a long, proud, and sometimes not so proud history of people defying the law in order to stand up for what they believe. Call it conscientious objection, political dissent, or civil disobedience, this country would be a much different place were it not for people who have stood up to the government in one form or other.

Of course it's easy to support people who break the law when they do it for something you believe in; it's a whole other matter when they do if for a cause you find objectionable. 

In the case of Kim Davis, she felt obligated to break the law because she believed her religion compelled her to do so. For defying the court order she was sentenced and served a brief time in jail. This is entirely just and appropriate, the system worked this time and no one should have any problem with it. After all in the end, no one was really harmed, right?

I personally don't agree with Davis's cause. Yet as a matter of principal, I don't object to her actions; she made her point and paid the consequences. It seems her time in jail however was not enough for some people who felt the need to ridicule, lambast and excoriate Davis by bringing up events in her personal life that suggested she wasn't as good of a Christian as she let on. I found these allegations to be reprehensible, as they were irrelevant to the matter at hand and amounted to nothing more then character assassination.

Thankfully Ms. Davis disappeared from the news for about a week, as she
was pushed out of the headlines by Pope Francis and his trip to Cuba and the United States, Many Americans, at least those left of center, were all gaga about the new pontiff's openness, humanity, and his perceived liberalness. They oooohed and aaaaahed over his comments about global warming, and they swooned over his pronouncements on immigrants, the poor, and his steadfast opposition to the death penalty,

Full disclosure, I did those things as well. Do yourself a favor and read some of his comments made while he was in the United States. For their part, many conservatives all but labeled Francis the Antichrist.

Then something strange happened. As the pope boarded his plane for home, the news broke that while he was in Washington, he met with you know who. Liberals turned on The Holy Father quicker than a twig in a tornado. All the good will that he generated with the American Left evaporated in the blink of an eye. Even Catholics whose faith was renewed by the pope's visit were left perplexed. How they felt, could a visit that was intended to draw people together by avoiding the pitfalls of extreme ideology conclude with a secret meeting with one of the most divisive characters in the country?

Well it's becoming quite clear that Kim Davis's visit was not all that it seemed. It appears the visit was arranged by some Catholic bishops who were sympathetic to Ms. Davis and her cause, not by the pope. For her part, Ms. Davis milked the visit to the extreme, telling anyone who cared to listen that the pope's friendly demeanor and his parting words to her, "be strong", sent a clear message message of justification and solidarity with her cause. What she failed to mention is that her "audience" with the pope was shared with several other people. I wouldn't be surprised if Pope Francis's parting words to all who attended the audience were to be strong as those words most likely are to the hundreds of prisoners he visits each year. My guess is that not one of those prisoners take the pope's kindness and words of encouragement as a justification for their crimes.

It seems likely that Kim Davis, her husband and her lawyer used their visit with Pope Francis for their own ends, which in my book is deplorable.

Having said that, I'd like to forget about her for a moment and concentrate on Pope Francis. The motivation and circumstances behind his visit with Kim Davis are quite irrelevant to me. His papacy so far has been dedicated to love, compassion and inclusion. This means inclusion for ALL, not just for those who we deem are worthy. If this sounds at all familiar, you might be reminded that the paradigm for Pope Francis is none other than Jesus, who continually astonished his friends and followers with the company he kept. No he didn't hang out with the upstanding members of the community, more often than not, those people were the subject of his wrath. Instead he hung out with the outcasts of society, the infirm, the unclean, the sinners, the prisoners and yes, even the tax collectors.

There is something important that those who first embraced then rejected Pope Francis this week need to understand. His approach to the role of pastor may be very different from that of his two immediate predecessors, but his theology is not. The current pope criticizes the excesses of materialism and capitalism, and so did John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Those two talked about our obligation to the poor and denounced the death penalty, as does Francis. One difference is that the two popes before Francis railed excessively against abortion and gay marriage. Francis does not, saying that Catholics have become obsessed with those two issues at the expense of others. However that cannot be taken as an endorsement of gay marriage and abortion, as the church's position under Francis in opposition to those issues, as well as many others close to the heart of liberals such as the ordination of women, is unequivocal. Whether you agree with those positions or not, the pope finds scriptural basis to support them, just as he does for environmental issues, caring for the poor and other things liberals can easily relate to.

The pope is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, liberal nor conservative. His mission, if I may be so bold as to put words into his mouth, is first and foremost to preach the truth of the Gospel (literally meaning the good news) of love and forgiveness that Jesus taught. Once we have that conquered, no easy matter, everything else should fall into place or so the theory goes.

What we must understand, and in my opinion cherish in the current pope, is the manner in which is he lives the Gospel by loving, respecting and embracing all individuals, recognizing that each one of us is a sinner who falls far short of perfection, and made worthy only by the grace of God. "Who am I to judge?" Pope Francis once said, specifically referring to gay people, but he could have just as easily been referring to any one of us in that statement, yes even Kim Davis.

Our hostile reaction to the meeting between Pope Francis and Kim Davis, whatever that encounter may have been, speaks very little about the two of them yet volumes about us. Pope Francis more than anything has challenged us to come together, to follow the freedom of open minds and hearts, compassion, love and forgiveness, rather than the spiritual and intellectual prison of ideology, in whatever form that takes.

If we are to follow him, we apparently have a very long way to go.