Oklahoma Feed

Between the Rockies and a Hard Place

Between the Rockies and a Hard Place: A Drive Along the 100th Meridian from Mexico to CanadaBetween the Rockies and a Hard Place: A Drive Along the 100th Meridian from Mexico to Canada by Alan Wilkinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this book up in 2016 while in Red Cloud, Nebraska intrigued by how an Englishman might perceive the Great Plains.

The book has some interesting moments, but there is not a lot of depth of exploration of terrain, culture, or people. In fact, the author keeps complaining that he doesn't have the time to do that.

The best chapters are near the end. He is better acquainted with Nebraska, for instance, and so writes well about it. The chapters on the Dakotas are good. The earlier chapters less so.

The chapter on Oklahoma was the worst. I felt he spent no effort on trying to understand western Oklahoma but was rather in a hurry to get through the state. He traveled along the westernmost roads in the state, but I too have traveled those roads and know that while bleak there are also interesting discoveries worthy of richer exploration than what is given here.

But I'm glad to add another title to my abiding interest in better understanding the history, culture, and geography of the Plains.

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A Letter to Rep. Sally Kern

Rep. Kern,

Many years ago when we debated on Flashpoint and in our few interactions afterwards, I was always very polite with you, believing that kindness and rational discourse are essential for democracy and because of my Christian faith.  In my sermons, public speeches, and private conversations with others I always encouraged them to speak kindly of you because you too are a beloved child of God and deserving of our grace and mercy not hatred or cruel speech.  Sometimes encouraging folks in this way was more difficult than other times.
Your words all those many years ago that gay people engaged in the democratic process were a bigger threat to the country than Islamic terrorists were reprehensible.  I never have understood your failure to comprehend that.  I was puzzled by what seemed like a form of irrational relativism in your insistence that the words didn't mean what everyone told you they meant, as if meaning is private instead of objectively created by a language community.  I was puzzled by your failure of Christian character--the lack of grace, mercy, and compassion in your stance, as if you had never experienced forgiveness or redemption.  For someone who had experienced God's grace and forgiveness would surely comprehend the need to ask for forgiveness for words that hurt and damaged others as your words had done.  And I was puzzled that an educator would seem to be so uninterested in learning about others and their perspectives and truly listening.
The truth is that I have pitied you.  You seemed so bitter and angry and confused, so closed off from the liberation and joy and hopefulness of God.  I have prayed for you so often over these years.
But always to no avail.  Watching from afar after my move to Omaha in 2010, your political stances seemed only to worsen, your attempts to harm others became ever more severe.  
And today, the world your words and actions helped to create has come into fruition with the largest mass murder in our nation's history committed by a terrorist against LGBT people enjoying and loving life.
We never were the bigger threat.  You were always wrong.  Your words and actions were always sinful.  And this is the evil wind that they have inherited.
May God have mercy on your soul, for I am too much of a sinner to be able to offer you mercy anymore.
Rev. Dr. Scott Jones

Oklahomo: Lessons in Unqueering America

Oklahomo: Lessons in Unqueering AmericaOklahomo: Lessons in Unqueering America by Carol A. Mason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I met Carol when she was teaching at OSU and I was living in Oklahoma City. She was presenting on the connections between anti-Semitic discourse and the anti-abortion movement, which figured into her previous book. Later she invited me to participate as a presenter at a conference at OSU on reproductive justice along with a number of significant figures in the movement. It was an honor to participate, especially the after hours discussions over cocktails in her home.

This book is about the attempt by religious and economic conservatives to "unqueer" America, focusing specifically upon Oklahoma. She begins in the present and works backwards, with state representative Sally Kern up first. Of course, I dealt with Kern in my years in Oklahoma City, including our appearance together on Flashpoint, a televised debate show. Plus, I have a published academic article on her famous "gays are a bigger threat to America than Islamic terrorists" speech. So, the chapter on Kern was very personal for me.

The entire book resonated with my own personal story, and I think contributes some of the historical background and academic analysis for understanding my still unpublished memoir.

After Kern comes Anita Bryant, a chapter which also includes the ways Green Grows the Lilacs was unqueered in the making of the musical Oklahoma! This is also a chapter about the rise of the New Right.

Next is a discussion of Billy James Hargis and his evangelical empire built first on anti-communism and later on opposition to the sexual revolution and how Hargis himself was exposed as a sexual hypocrite. The white supremacist connections of the anti-gay movement are revealed in this chapter.

That's followed by a discussion of Bruce Goff, the great architect who was ousted from his position at OU as part of the anti-gay red-baiting of the McCarthy era. But Goff himself stands for a level of acceptance of the queer in the rural heartland before McCarthyism. Though Mason doesn't draw on it, I once heard a historian speak to how Oklahoma had been far more gay tolerant from the 1890's to the 1940's largely because of its frontier status, oil boomtowns, and military encampments.

The final chapter is about how Wal-Mart (founded by Oklahoma native Sam Walton) created a global retail version of homogenized rural family values which unqueers the real stories of the heartland. Particularly in Oklahoma where Native American narratives were also erased.

A cursory reading of Oklahoma history introduces you to a wild and eccentric group of characters. And much of the early twentieth century is filled with progressives. My own essay, "Capitol Ironies", develops that theme.

Sadly the current image of my home state is a very homogeneous, white, Republican, evangelical fundamentalism that betrays our heritage.

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My Thirties: Place

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In 2007 as Oklahoma celebrated the centennial of statehood, I decided to immerse myself a little more in Oklahoma itself, reading its history and visiting places I'd only heard of.  The highlight of this endeavor was a November trip in Western Oklahoma.  Having grown up in Eastern Oklahoma, there was much of the western part of the state that I had never seen.  So, I packed up may car, took along a handful of books on Oklahoma history, and spent almost a week visiting places like Quartz Mountain, the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, Antelope Hills, Boiling Springs, Alabaster Caverns, Little Sahara, and the Gloss Mountains.

24 -- Approaching Antelope Hills from the South

Also that autumn, our congregation was visited by Susanna Labsch on an ecumenical visit from the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany.  Over dinner at Iron Star Urban Barbeque, we were discussing Oklahoma history and how the stories were biblically resonant when she mentioned that it was filled with suffering and displaced persons.  I found these intriguing theological concepts.

That conversation, combined with my fascination of the bison skull with the red lightning bolt discovered at the Cooper Site and on display at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History (something I've spoken, preached, blogged, and written about numerous times), fired my imagination to compose an "Oklahoma Theology."  An idea that expanded, once I moved to Nebraska, to write a "Theology of the Great Plains."  This remains an idea in the works and maybe a liftetime project, though I do continue to work on it in a more informal sense, mostly in themes developed in my preaching.

51-Salt plain

While in Oklahoma, I began to enjoy spending my days off hiking and visiting places--Fort Reno, Roman Nose, the Great Salt Plains, Chickasaw National Recreation Area, the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, etc.  And, fortunately for me, Michael was also into inexpensive little trips in the area and excursions to quirky sites and fun diners.  Memorable was our night in the Price Tower during a thunderstorm.  Or the St. Valentine's Day weekend spent at Quartz Mountain.

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St. Valentine's Day Weekend 027

When we first arrived in Omaha, we made a plan to see sites in the area every other weekend.  That didn't last once we got to know more people and got busy with other things, but we've continued to enjoy the excursion here and there (and have made plans to renew this idea this year).  We've enjoyed eating at the Black Crow in Beatrice, admiring the State Capitol, and visiting the Antiquarium in Brownville.  We also get into Iowa some, where we've enjoyed weekends at Lake Okoboji, shopping for antiques in Walnut, driving through the Loess Hills, and I even went fossil hunting in the Nishnabotna.

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Our first day in town, we went to Barnes and Noble and I bought travel guides and books on Nebraska history.  I've also immersed myself in the rich literary tradition of the state--Cather, Neihardt, Sandoz, Aldrich, Kooser, etc.

So, one theme of my Thirties has been the development of a richer sense of place.

Oklahoma Senate Race

So, it appears that the GOP primary race for Tom Coburn's seat is now set.  And no Democrat has yet announced.  

What surprises me is the list of who are not in this race.  Oklahoma has prominent leaders and politicians who are taking a pass.  

On the GOP side there is the former Governor Frank Keating who was once on the short-list for Vice President.  And there are former Congressmen such as J. C. Watts, Steve Largent, and Mickey Edwards who held more prominent state and national profiles.  Even Earnest Istook, whose electoral success I never understood, would make some sense.  And of the sitting Congressmen, Tom Cole would be the more obvious choice, and was the name floated when Coburn first announced.

The obvious Democrat candidate is popular former Governor Brad Henry.  That he is sitting out the race is quite the sign of the times.  I was never a fan of former Congressman Dan Boren, but there is a time when someone with his record would have been a potential candidate.  I've always said that in the Oklahoma I grew up, Robert Henry would be a long-serving Senator (one can dream).  There are so many skilled Oklahoma politicians who have no current hopes of moving up the ladder of public service, though they would have once -- Susan Savage, Drew Edmondson, Kathy Taylor, Jim Roth -- not that all of them would be potential Senate candidates of course.

Normally these are the sorts of folk who would run.  That they aren't is a sign of how very different politics in Oklahoma now is from what it was in living memory.

Oklahoma Ruling

Judge Kern's ruling in the Oklahoma marriage equality case is not as eloquent as those written by other judges, but he does do two things which are interesting:

1)  He very effectively uses the anti-gay language of the anti-gay forces against them to prove bias and discrimination.  The Prop 8 case did something similar.  This should have a powerful effect on politicians in the future (note: I wrote "should" not "will").

2)  He ruled the amendment to be unconstitutional under the 14th amendment.  The SCOTUS ruling this summer was under the 5th amendment.

Summer of the Monkeys

Summer of the MonkeysSummer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I was reorganizing some bookshelves, this childhood favourite was atop a pile on the library table. It enticed me to re-read it, for the first time since elementary school. This copy, given to me by my aunt Rhonda, is inscribed "Scotty Jones 6." I don't think I was quite that young when I actually read it.

Set in Eastern Oklahoma, not far from the area I grew up in, this is the tell of a young boy, Jay Berry and his dog Rowdy who in the late 19th century experience a great adventure one summer. Some circus monkeys and a chimpanzee have escaped from a circus train and are hiding out in the Illinois River bottoms near their home. Jay Berry sets the goal of capturing them and winning the prize money so that he can finally buy the .22 and pony that every boy desires.

Jay Berry must also contend with his Mama's fears and anxieties about his boyhood adventures and the sometimes annoying presence of his crippled twin sister Daisy. He finds help primarily from Grandpa and support from Papa, who is busy farming all day.

I was intrigued by how much the story reflects on gender stereotypes. I think it does fit a boys idea, especially a 19th century boy's, of how lame girls and mom's can be, but it was a little troubling to me.

There is also a syncretism of Christianity and paganism that reminded me some of Steinbeck's To a God Unknown. Daisy, in particular, is attuned to the animals and the forest and communes with the Old Man of the Mountains. A fairy rings figures prominently in the story. Maybe this is reflect of folk religion?

The adventure is fun. The final chapters of denouement were less so. The final page seemed to be an odd way of wrapping up the story. A bit to sentimental.

I enjoyed reading the book again.

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