I did not hang on his every word while Pope Francis was visiting the U.S. in late September, but I followed news accounts rather closely. I also stumbled across some comments on social media that I hope the pontiff didn’t see. The postings were made by individuals who self-identified as belonging to a certain conservative southern denomination, and they were hateful. The opposite of hate is what Pope Francis is about; in the beginning, it’s what Christianity was about.
The pope is a scholarly man and a world leader. That uneducated minds in these parts have an unfiltered forum like Facebook to display their ignorance is a sad commentary on our culture. Rather than try to glean some knowledge from what Francis might say during his visit, they chose instead to cover their ears and shutter their minds, the way a cur would rather wallow in mud than walk in a light, cleansing mist.
So let us move to the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill … where Rep. Paul Gosar announced on Facebook that he would “boycott” Pope Francis’ address to Congress. That should play well with his constituents back in Arizona, but he embarrassed his country.
If the pope had stayed in the U.S. a few days longer, he could have followed the news coverage of a couple of tragic events too commonplace in our current landscape.
On Sept. 29, Kelly Gissendanner was put to death for plotting to kill her husband in 1997. The event got extensive news coverage because it was the first time Georgia had executed a woman in 70 years.
A few things got lost in the sensational-ism: Georgia is planning to execute three more people before New Year’s Eve. They’re all men, so the news probably won’t be front page. Executing men is rather old hat.
I am as suspicious as the next guy of death-row conversions, but Gissendanner was one of those who, by all accounts, truly repented and was rehabilitated. She spent her jail time trying to help other female prisoners get their lives together. Her prison guards even thought her life should be spared. No less a personage than Norman Fletcher, the retired chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, now residing in Rome, opposed the execution.
Gissendanner’s boyfriend back in 1997, who actually carried out the murder, is eligible for parole in a few years because he plea-bargained. Gissendanner’s incompetent lawyers didn’t go for a plea bargain, as they should have, thus rolling the dice on her life.
Her children did not even get to spend her final hours with her, clamoring for last-minute clemency.
Two days later, on Oct. 1, in Roseburg, Ore., a young man named Christopher Harp- er-Mercer, carrying six guns and wearing body armor (ready for armed resistance), began methodically shooting people one by one at Umpqua Community College. He seemed to have a perverted religious motive. Nine died.
It is but the latest in a string of such very public slayings on campuses and in churches, places we once thought were sanctuaries. Harper-Mercer won’t have anyone plead- ing his case, as he killed himself when SWAT teams descended upon the school.
I understand how an educated ethicist can argue “an eye for an eye,” but I am stuck on the fact that taking a life, even if state-sanctioned, is a killing.
If Pope Francis had been on this soil those two days, he might have had words of enlightenment for us. But some of us would have covered our ears and shuttered our minds.
Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based and ubiquitous (at least in the suburban South) fast-food chain has opened its first restaurant in New York City to a crowd such as you might expect on Broadway on a Saturday night. Sidewalks became impassable. At least one enterprising reporter sought out transplanted southerners in the long lines and asked what this meant to them. They played along. “Like a southerner’s dream in New York,” one said. “A little taste of home far away,” said another ex-southerner.
The comments were embarrassing to read, knowing that New Yorkers already have misperceptions about southerners. Chick- fil-A is OK but it’s only fast-food, bearing no resemblance to a southerner’s dream, which is: my late mother’s cornbread, field peas and a big red slicin’ tomato from the garden, my late Aunt Emma Kate’s pecan pie, and Miss Irene’s sweet tea.
NASA scientists have confirmed that there is water on Mars. That is great news for our great (times 10)-grandchildren, because that is roughly when we homo sapiens will have the means to colonize Mars and also have finished making Earth uninhabitable. NASA’s discovery was aided by students at Georgia Tech. I happened to attend Georgia’s other large public institution of higher learning and I can report that students in
Athens back then also made a significant discovery that was liquid-related: store clerks who would sell you beer without asking for ID. Playboy magazine has decided it will no longer publish photographs of impossibly voluptuous, air-brushed, perfectly lighted, naked women. It seems the marketplace, as it sometimes does, has taken the route that moralists demanded and failed to reach. It’s not that there’s no longer a market for pictures of naked women; it’s that there’s the Internet. And for men past adolescence, something called reality.
Hugh Hefner achieved, in his unique way, more for free speech than beleaguered writers such as Henry Miller or James Joyce. For example, 50 years ago I probably couldn’t have used the phrase “naked women” in this column once – much less twice.
J. Bryant Steele has won awards for business reporting, feature writing and opinion columns, and is based in Rome.
*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine.