Some fresh faith-based books for you: 2-24-17
Arguing about the death penalty civilly: 2-27-17

A plea for humor in honor of Bill Vaughan: 2-25/26-17

The first time I was ever in the sanctuary of Second Presbyterian Church, where I've now been a member for 38-plus years, was to attend the funeral of my colleague Bill Vaughan (pictured here), The Kansas City Star's Starbeams columnist -- a post I took over several months after Bill died. (Bill wrote the column for some 31 years and I wrote it for some 27.) 

Bill_Vaughan-1Bill's death occurred 40 years ago this weekend in 1977, and I wrote the page 1 story about the death of this comic genius. I wish I could give you a link to it, but Al Gore hadn't yet invented the internet in 1977, so I can't.

The fact that both of us, at different times, were members of Second Church was simply a fluke. I knew Bill for almost seven years but we never discussed religion when we worked in the same newsroom.

But because I believe humor is a gift from God meant to keep us from taking ourselves too seriously, I thought this weekend I'd pay tribute to Bill by passing along a bit of his wisdom and humor. No, not his famous "Tell Me a Story of Christmas" column, which The Star reruns each year. But a few other things.

What I am offering you here, by the way, is taken from two books put together by Bill's son, Kirk Vaughan, and Bill's son-in-law, Robert W. Butler, who spent much of his career at The Star reviewing movies. One of the books is simply called Starbeams, and the other is called The Best of Bill Vaughan. From the links I've given you on the books' titles, you can actually still acquire copies of them.

First, a few of his "Starbeams," which are meant to be quips about life, politics and other daily annoyances.

-- A lot of people worry about the beginning of middle age, but the end of it is even more of a shock.

-- Don't be discouraged if, as you grow older, you forget more names; remember that you now know more names worth forgetting.

-- A father of boys says it seems like the twinkling of a second between the time you pretend that the child's fastball stings your hand and the time when you pretend it doesn't.

-- Matthew Brady covered the entire Civil War with fewer photographs than an ordinary wedding calls for today.

-- There is hope for the species as long as the burning of a book calls forth more outrage than the theft of a television set.

-- A real civic booster is one who can take pride in a new record temperature.

-- March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb, and in between not infrequently behaves like an ass.

Now, some samples from his essays, which is what you call a column that is dressed up for a night on the town:

From one called "There's No Place Like Home":

Mostly I understand what goes on in the movie and teevy drama because both are tailed for the nominal mind. But there are two scenes I have never figured out. Or rather it's basically one scene, but it differs somewhat according to the particular role of the sexes.

It is the one where he leaves her or she leaves him. In the first case he says, "I am going to my club."

Many an impressionable husband has tried this, storming out the front door into the rain, only to remember, while he is waiting at the bus stop, that the only club he belongs to is the National Geographic Society, which is in far-off Washington and, as far as he knows, doesn't have a spare bed. Being a husband, he has a total of fifty-three cents in his pocket and he has to squiggle back into the house in a rather wet and chastened manner.

Also, in these romances, the husband may pack a bag. Where does he find the suitcase? We are never shown. We just cut to the scene where he has the suitcase on the bed and is filling it with socks and shirts out of a dresser drawer.

Come on, now. You know where the suitcases are in the average home? They are in the attic and if a husband wants to run away he has to go up there in the indescribable mess and crack his head on the rafters, which is why lots of marriages stay together. If he does find the suitcase, it is full of his children's old arithmetic papers.

Finally, another reason to honor Vaughan is that he insisted on pronouncing the name of our state correctly as Mizzoura. Over the years he argued in print about this, especially with one Martin Quigley when Quigley was editor of an automobile magazine. So here's Vaughan in a column called "Missoura-e-i-o-u?"

He (meaning Quigley) called the grand old state "Missouree," which is plain wrong, and I told him so. I did not admonish him, because I think it is rather amusing to live in a state which has difficulty pronouncing itself.

Still, right is right, and friendship is friendship, so I quietly explained that the state whose Auto Club magazine he purported to edit is Mizzoura. . . .

I take my stand with former Governor Guy B. Park when he said in 1933: "I've lived in Missouri all my life and never heard any true Missourian pronounce the name in any other way but 'Mizzourah.'" The "rah," I'll admit, is a little strong. Actually that final "i" is more like the "a" in sofa. Although people who say, "Missouree" probably say "sofee."

The pronunciation "Missouree" grates on me in exactly the same way that the mispronunciation of my home state of Illinois as "Illinoise" does. Right, as Vaughan said, is right.

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Technology -- especially as it involves social media -- is changing Christianity (and other faiths) in various ways. How? This BBC story will give you a pretty good feel for all that. It's worth a read.

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On My Way Home: A Hospice Nurse's Journey with Terminal Cancer, by Joyce Hutchinson. This short (109 pages) book (which has a March 3 publication date) describes the personal, harrowing, hopeful journey toward death of a woman who spent much of her life helping others at the end of their lives. It pulls no punches. The lung cancer (it later spreads) she has is a killer that, in the end, will not be denied. But the author is a person of deep Christian faith, which she says makes the movement toward death more hopeful but still painful in physical, emotional and spiritual ways. Her insight is that because she worked in the hospice field for a long time she thought she knew what her patients were experiencing. When she was on chemotherapy, she wrote, "I thought about all the people to whom I had given these drugs. I had no idea they felt that bad or that it affected them in such a drastic way. I really spent a lot of time reflecting on the patients I cared for and how I thought I knew what they were feeling. I assure you, until you are walking the path of cancer yourself, it is impossible to know what it is like." A friend and Catholic nun, author Joyce Rupp, does a foreword and after afterword because Hutchinson died in May 2016, having dictated the final chapter a few weeks earlier. The writing here is honest and sincere but the author is a nurse, not a writer. Still, it's a compelling story.

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column now is online here. It describes Kansas City's important connections to the soon-to-open Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.


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