Chalk-free zones coming soon to a campus near you


There is no doubt as to what must happen following the Emory University scandal where students were traumatized after someone chalked “Trump 2016” around campus. Obviously, the time has come to ban chalk.

That’s right, Chalk Free Zones. No chalk permitted within 500 feet of a university campus.

Oh sure, I can hear some of you belly aching now saying, “Chalk doesn’t traumatize people; people traumatize people.” That line won’t fly. We saw them and we heard them. And Emory University President Jim Wagner saw them and heard them, too, which is why he invited them inside the administration building and gave them all milk and cookies (unconfirmed) to ease their distress.

It may have been Emory last week, but who knows where it will happen next. Breaking News! This just in – North Korea is dispatching regiments to chalk “Trump 2016” along the 38th parallel in an attempt to further intimidate South Korea.

Yes, we must ban chalk. Oh, put your pocket Constitution away, the right to keep and bear chalk is not in there. Until such a time as a chalk ban is in place, we will conduct chalk background checks (free eraser for saying that as fast as you can three times in a row).

What’s more, we will card those attempting to purchase chalk, although those under the age of six will still be permitted purchases.

Any schools that still have chalkboards in use must replace them with dry erase boards immediately. Governors, call out the National Guard if you must.

Furthermore, the makers of chalk must be held accountable. Senate hearings on the money-grubbing chalk producers must commence at once. It is time to drag their fingernails across the chalkboard. We will demand compensation for students traumatized by chalking and forced to seek their “safe place.” Makers of chalk must be fined heavily and forced to conduct chalk-safety programs.

Chalk aggression must end. Restaurants that chalk menus on the wall? Cease and desist. Hopscotch? No more, kids. All those crafters creating Pinterest boards on chalking? Delete.

What’s that? The President has just announced that mass chalking does not happen in other advanced countries.

No college student must feel unsafe—at any time or in any place – ever.

As for those of you howling that one in two people in some far away country have chalk and they have the lowest chalking rate in the world, I don’t believe the propaganda.

But I do believe that this group of students at Emory is our new reality. And so is this—some of tho se students may have a degree when they graduate, but they won’t have a clue.







Knowing everything is not enough

The first paper to run my column 25 years ago used to publish the Biblical text of the Resurrection every Easter on page one. Eventually, the text on page one was shortened and continued inside. Then the entire text moved inside. Soon, the text will likely disappear entirely.

Let’s be honest. We are outgrowing the need for faith. We’ve outgrown God. We’ve reached a point in science, technology and sophistication where many believe we can out-God God. We can do arm and face transplants. We can fertilize human eggs in petri dishes. We can erase portions of human memory. We revel in the triumphs of science. Behold the wonder of treeless paper.

We can now hear, know and see almost everything—into the far reaches of the galaxies and into the thoughts and minds of our fellow man. We can slip apps onto smartphones that allow us to access someone’s every move, text, email and phone call. Omniscience has been redefined by Silicon Valley.

Our ability to understand the human condition is unprecedented. We have a reason, rationale, therapeutic explanation, statistical analysis and talk show for every rotten behavior under the sun. The notion of sin is anathema.

A headline on the Salon website proclaimed Christians, evangelicals in particular, synonymous with bigotry and abject stupidity. (How’s that tolerance thing working for you, Salon?) Faith is openly disdained in many quarters, an embarrassing relic to be purged from the public square.

And yet . . .

And yet there are times we’re not nearly as omniscient and omnipotent as we thought. Sitting beside a loved one gasping for life’s final breaths, stunned by the news on the other end of the phone or engulfed by the unimaginable, every fiber of our being cries out. Those anguished cries are rarely for science or statistics, they are the deep cries of a human heart pleading with God to make sense of the mystery.

Likewise, in parallel moments of beauty beyond comprehension—the incoming tide, the sunrise, holding the loved one who survived or embracing the prodigal who has returned—our hearts burst with thanksgiving and wonder in gratitude to the God who is there.

Maybe we haven’t outgrown the need for God after all. Perhaps we’ve simply filled what French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal referred to as every man’s “God-shaped vacuum” with creature comforts, distractions, ease and entertainment.

In places where creature comforts are scarce and oppression is routine, the need is more palpable. Reports from Iran are that as many as one million Christians now meet secretly in underground churches, risking imprisonment or death.

Practice of the Christian faith may not be as safe as it once was, but there was never anything culturally safe about Christ. So why does the Christian faith not only continue, but continue to grow? Pascal claimed that the God-shaped vacuum “cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

This Easter, Christians circling the globe, in climates of both safety and danger, will celebrate with joyful voices and quiet whispers the cherished hope and promises of Christ.


How do you spell master communicator?

File this under our ever-growing chronology of amusing stories of the increasingly hearing-impaired.

I am making dinner and the husband is working on his computer at the kitchen table when one of the grandchildren runs into the kitchen and breathlessly asks, “Grandpa, how do you spell Kate?”

She is clutching an index card and marker. Clearly it is a matter of great urgency. The kids are playing school and making a nametag for the youngest (the youngest in any crowd routinely having little-to-no say in the roles which they are cast).

“What was that?” he asks, looking up from the computer.

“How do you spell Kate?” she asks.

“I’m not sure I understood you,” he says.

His ears aren’t what they used to be, but whose are? Many older people seem to struggle with their hearing as they grow older, however, there are ways to make communicating with grandchildren easier. Sometimes, people with hearing issues find that hearing aids, like tvears for example, can help them to better understand what is being said. These might make all the difference for Grandpa. However, the girls do have high-pitched voices that often sound like teeny tiny squeaky little mice which can make it worse sometimes.

I momentarily consider intervening and spelling Kate for the child, but decide it will be far more entertaining to let this play out on its own.

“How do you spell Kate?” she asks a second time.


“No, KATE!”

Still not comprehending, he says, “Use the word in a sentence.”

“Ok,” she says. “How do you spell Kate?”

She’s got him now. He said to use the word in a sentence and she did use it in a sentence—and a fine one at that.

“No, no,” he says. Having perfectionist tendencies, and insistent on thorough communication (communication so thorough it can sometimes rewind to the previous 30 minutes, or even the previous two centuries), he attempts to illustrate.

“Let’s say the word you want to spell is car. OK?” he says.

“OK,” she says.

“When I say ‘use it in a sentence,’ I would say, ‘I am going to take a trip in my car.’ See what I mean?”

“Yes,” she says.

“OK, so use the word you want me to spell in a sentence.”

“OK. How do you spell Kate?”

His head is on the table and his shoulders are heaving. I think he’s laughing, but he could be sobbing. He can’t possibly make it any clearer. Or any more confusing. But that doesn’t mean the man will stop. He is about to illustrate with yet another example when her twin sister barrels into the room to serve as interpreter.

“Grandpa!” she shouts. She waits for eye contact. Good move. You can tell she has worked with the man before. “Grandpa — Kate like in KATIE!”

“Oh,” he says in a here-to-save-the-day tone of voice. “K A T E.”

A short while later, the youngest appears in the kitchen wearing a nametag that says Kate Love. Apparently they went out on a limb and spelled Love on their own. They’re fast learners.




Knowing when to step up

A poem fell out of the back of my desk calendar along with some sweet memories. “Somebody’s Mother” is a tender poem from long ago about a young boy helping an old woman cross the street. As a girl, my mother used to give a dramatic reading of the poem to her youngest sister, knowing full well that it would make her cry. My mother was satisfied with her job as orator once she saw the tears.

Some years ago (because quirky runs in the family), our youngest daughter and a friend, then in middle school, were hanging out for the day and I came across that poem by Mary Dow Brine. I told them I could read them a poem that would make them cry. They were game. I gave my best reading and by the closing line there were indeed tears. But the tears belonged to me, not the girls. Quite naturally, the girls were amused that I had made myself cry.

The poem is about the milk of human kindness, having the vision to see beyond ourselves and practice the not-always-so-simple “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Flash forward and that same daughter, a lovely young woman who was then in high school, had gone downtown one evening with six classmates to an Indiana Pacers game. The game ran long, and afterward they wanted to get something to eat. One of the boys suggested they go to Hooters, and “not just for the wings.” Our daughter and the other girl in the group said they were not going to Hooters. The girls determined they would go elsewhere and meet up with the guys later.

As they were about to go their separate ways, one of the boys stepped out of the pack and said it wasn’t safe for the girls to be walking alone downtown late at night, so he’d go with them.

That young man will never know what his actions meant to us as parents until one day he has a deeply loved, teenage daughter of his own. I should have written a poem titled “Somebody’s Daughter.”

Instead, I wrote the young man a note explaining the etymology of the word virtue. (Word people can be so dry.)  His actions had modeled virtue. I thanked him for exercising concern for the welfare of another at the expense of his own standing among his peers, not to mention forgoing the scenery at Hooters. I explained that virtue comes from the Latin “virtus,” the root of which is “vir,” which means man. By exercising virtue, he had proven himself a man.

How amazing that there was a time when even in language, virtue and goodness were inextricably linked to what it meant to be a man, to what it means for any of us—man, woman or child—to be fully human.