Nebraska Feed

“We felt like no one was listening.”

A very good article in the Omaha World-Herald explores why the small town of DeWitt, Nebraska, an area that has traditionally leaned more Democratic than the rest of the state, went for Trump 2-1.  Also revealed are the complex reactions to his first month in office, including worried thoughts from some who voted for him.

I also found this section revealing:

Yet like a lot of people in DeWitt, Kracke said he was totally turned off by politics. And news.

“I don’t watch TV, I don’t read newspapers. If it has anything to do with politics, on Facebook, I don’t even look at it. If you email me something on politics, I will not read it,” Kracke said.

Instead, he prefers the company of his barbershop quartet and his cattle.

“That’s what keeps me sane,” he said. “Life is too short to be arguing with people.”

That’s also how Gibbs feels. The CEO of Waldo Genetics, a storied hog operation founded by her great-grandfather, said she treasures relationships in her local community. And as a self-described “nonpolitical person,” she laments the harsh debates. If only people could hash out their political differences politely, she said, they might come to understand opposing points of view.

I generally aim to be a well-informed person and to read much about politics and current affairs, including differing perspectives.  I'm bothered by people who pride themselves in being uninformed but still taking strong positions.

The Gem

Despite my disappointment in the Saunders County Historical Museum they possessed one gem which fascinated me--a parka.

The parka was owned by Fred Hirsch from Yutan.  He served in the Spanish-American War and this was his military parka.  But Fred did something interesting with his parka--he drew pictures on it.  Pictures of what he saw in old Havana.  A fascinating piece of folk art.  Here are some photos.



Poor Signal

Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

The words of Tennyson popped into my head today as I pondered the Confederate flag I saw flying in the village of Ithaca, Nebraska. I'm always puzzled by Confederate flags in states which fought to save the Union. No question that the person flying such a flag intends to be offensively, in-your-face a white supremacist, right? Part of me would be curious to interview such a person and ask them about their choices. But I don't think I have the temperament for it.

I thought of Tennyson because the poem is from Ulysses about the aged hero who was King of Ithaca. Surely the person flying this flag was violating something essential about the character of a town that would name itself Ithaca. Ithacans should not be afraid of a new world, right?

But, there are these great lines also from the close of the poem that maybe register something of the rebel impulse?

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Ithaca (Nebraska that is) clearly has seen better times. There isn't even a railroad track where it appears one once was. It's even a mile off the minor state highway that runs by it.

Earlier in the afternoon I had been driving west on Highway 92 and there were a number of small anti-abortion billboards in pastures along the roadway. These dot the heartland, of course. They've always puzzled me. That person I'd definitely like to interview, not on their views of abortion, but why they erect such a sign and have they ever considered that such signs might be emotionally harmful to people? That such signs strike me as unkind and uncompassionate. How would they react to hearing that from someone?

One of the times I was stopped today in a line of cars at a construction zone an apparatus used for center pivot irrigation was pointed toward me in such a way that it appeared momentarily like the skeletal remains of a prehistoric lizard.

I was getting a poor cell phone signal most of the day. After having gotten the airbag recall finally taken care of on the Corolla and done some shopping, I decided for an afternoon jaunt to Saunders County west of Omaha. The landscape could be in a Cather novel or the Nebraska locations Stephen King uses.

I wasn't quite west enough for the landscapes in Ted Kooser's poetry, but I was in an area of German, Swedish, and Czech settlement. Wahoo has a very large Catholic Church and a tiny, aged Congregational Church.

I'd never been to Wahoo. Like many smaller Nebraska towns it surprises you with how well it is doing. Surprises because coming from Oklahoma many smaller towns show little signs of economic activity. Those do exist here, though. Ithaca, being a prime example.


Wahoo, however, has a grand and gorgeous county courthouse—as many counties in the Plains do. Well-appointed and well-maintained Victorian homes lined the streets near the busy business district where the banks were still in buildings that look like banks. I was surprised by a vast area of large, ugly, and new suburban style developments south of town. Despite their ugliness, a sign of some economic activity.

The Saunders County Historical Museum was a disappointment. I have a weird fascination with county and small town historical museums. I particularly recommend the Lincoln County Historical Museum in North Platte, Nebraska, the Old Greer County Museum and Hall of Fame in Mangum, Oklahoma, and the National Route 66 and Old Town Museum complex in Elk City, Oklahoma. The latter, in its agricultural and blacksmith display has an excellent exhibit on wrenches. Michael uses this statement often to make fun of me. It is not that I have an abiding fascination with wrenches. I was unaware until seeing that exhibit that I could enjoy them.

Most such museums have a series of outbuildings—a one room school house, a settler's cabin, an old church. The ones in Saunders County were padlocked, making for a rather disappointing museum.

All such museums are also works of love and civic pride by mostly elderly people. The time, care, and affection are evident. Saunders County does have some notable hometown kids to highlight—Oscar-winning producer Daryl Zanuck, Nobel-prize winning geneticist George Beadle, Hall of Fame baseball player Sam Crawford, and Pulitzer-prize winning composer Howard Hanson. A Zanuck Oscar is even on display.

I was surprised that there was no David Letterman Home Office display.

What did not disappoint was lunch at the Wigwam Café. I had to order the unique "Grilled Cheeseburger Stacker" described on the menu as "1/3 pound burger sandwiched between two creamy grilled cheese sandwiches." I also couldn't resist a piece of the beautiful looking and quite delicious tasting banana cream pie.

In 2004 after the disastrous election—disastrous for the country and for LGBT people—I decided to drive to Oklahoma City from Dallas for Thanksgiving on the highway going through small towns instead of on the interstate. I did so because I was puzzled by my own people who had shocked me by their votes. I grew up a small town Oklahoma boy (I joke with Michael, quoting Marie Osmond, "I'm a little bit country"). I had even been a Republican for quite a while, so I didn't understand how I could see the world so differently than my own people did. And I was puzzled where the kindness, the fairness, the basic decency valued by those people had gone.

Unfortunately I had no major epiphanies on that drive. I did, however, see the decline of those small towns and wondered if they were struggling to hold fast to a world that no longer existed instead of embracing the new.

Something similar appeared to be happening on my drive today through Saunders County. Something similar seems to have happened in England yesterday.

As I drove west on Highway 92 this morning into a rich rural landscape dotted with anti-abortion signs and center pivot irrigation apparatus, I was listening to NPR and an interview with Don DeLillo speaking on the City Arts and Lectures noon forum from the Commonwealth Club of California. He had been introduced as a novelist who captures the paranoia of contemporary life.

Reading White Noise in Joe Hall's freshman English class at Oklahoma Baptist University had, in some way, awakened me from my dogmatic slumber and introduced me to postmodernism. Maybe something happened to me in 1992 to make me different, make me more likely to follow the call of the mythical Ithacan king.

Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.

For today, as in 2004, I had lost my connection.

Hoka Hey


I stood there admiring the eagle feather that Black Elk gave to John Neihardt.  The feather had belonged to Black Elk's father.  Then I noticed that the display also included Black Elk's coup stick, which surprised and amazed me.


I was at the Neihardt Center in Bancroft, Nebraska.  John Neihardt had been Nebraska's poet laureate, the author Black Elk Speaks, the Cycle of the West, and more.  Ever since I'd read the first six years ago I had planned to eventually get to Bancroft and the center and so part of my sabbatical is catching up on some of those things I've long planned to do.

When I read Black Elk Speaks I was struck by the power and authenticity of Black Elk's vision and have incorporated it into my own writing and preaching.  While on the Pine Ridge Reservation a few years ago, I visited Black Elk's cabin.

The great Lakota holy man had spoken his vision to Neihardt who then wrote it down and shared it with the world.  The Neihardt center is Bancroft has preserved Neihardt's writing study, a garden he designed according to the Lakota image of the sacred hoop, and encourages the furtherance of Neihardt's and Black Elk's legacies.

I was the only visitor at the center while I was there.  Amy, the director, welcomed me with "Let me turn all the lights on for you."  Then she asked if I wanted coffee.  For the next hour or so we carried on a great conversation about Neihardt and Black Elk.  She said that there are quite a few ministers who come in or call, and some are writing about Black Elk.  I had told her about my "Theology of the Plains" project.  She said, "I think quite a few people would be interested in that."

I bought a number of book I had yet read and received a free tote bag.

In the morning I had driven US-75 north from Florence through rich farm country.  After Bancroft I headed northwest to Pender, then continued east to Walthill, on the Omaha reservation and then to Winnebago on the Winnebago reservation.  The development in the latter was striking.  I toured the sculpture garden which represents the various clans of the Ho-Chunk nation.



From Winnebago I headed south along the scenic route that is part of the Lewis & Clark Trail toward Macy, which is part of the Omaha reservation.  Three years ago our church had planted trees at the Omaha Care Senior Center as part of our denomination's Mission 4/1 Earth.  I was pleased to see that the trees are thriving.


I stopped in Decatur for lunch at a place church member Bob Vassell had recommended, but they had quit serving lunch fifteen minutes before.  I crossed the Missouri and headed south along Interstate-29, exiting at Missouri Valley in order to visit Desoto National Wildlife Refuge.

Okay, I should have gotten there a long time ago.  But often in our early years here it was flooded or recovering from flooding.  The visitor's center contains a remarkable display.  In the 1960's a sunken steamboat, the Bertrand, was excavated and what was discovered was that the mud had preserved the cargo from 1865.  Much of that, commercial goods and the possessions of travelers, is now on beautiful display.  According to the informational cards, some items are the only surviving ones in the world.


The refuge was beautiful on this mild, sunny day.  Birds were playing and singing.  I saw a deer while walking the trails.  I've been meaning to get there some spring during the waterfowl migrations and must resolve to do so in 2017.

Hoka Hey is Lakota for "Let's go!"

My Antonia

My Ántonia My Ántonia by Willa Cather
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Though I had read some Willa Cather well before the opportunity to move to Nebraska presented itself to us, and though I've been consistently reading Nebraska literature since we've moved here (Neihardt, Sandoz, Aldrich, Kooser, etc.), I had in fact never read My Antonia. I decided that was one thing I'd settle during the sabbatical.

But, I have to say, I didn't care for the book as much as I did O Pioneers (and I still think Death Comes for the Archbishop to be her greatest novel). Cather beautifully describes the plains and life upon it, but this particular time I wasn't as captivated by either her characters or her narrative structure for the book.

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The Lure

Sitting on my porch this morning drinking coffee and reading Wordsworth I was lured to cast aside the plans for the day and go hiking in the break between the predicted thunderstorms.  I decided to have an early lunch at Harold's in Florence and then head north along the River with the idea of going to Desoto Bend, but after my roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, and lemon meringue pie as I drove through the Ponca Hills listening to the birds sing, I decided to see how Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge was faring five years after the last catastrophic flood.  'Twas the correct choice.  Or, more pertinently, I followed the proper lure for today's adventure.


After the morning's rain everything was sparkling in the newly emerged sunlight.  Through the wetland meadows there were some sounds and smells that evoked childhood memories of walking with my parents--buzzing grasshoppers and the damp evaporating from the grasses.  Soon I realized I had forgotten to bring along my bug spray.

Undeterred, I walked over four miles through meadows and newly emerging cottonwoods and old dying trees and along the banks of the Missouri River where geese were sleeping.  Today I wished I was a birder who could identify the myriad species I saw and heard.



This is what a beginning of sabbatical needed--a day in sun and fresh air with birdsong and the smells of prairie grasses.  Clearly a cliche, but rightly so.

After my hike I stopped at Zesto's for a vanilla ice cream cone dipped in chocolate.

Nebraska missing out

A thorough report in yesterday's World-Herald about the major financial gains that Nebraska's missing out on by our failure to expand Medicaid.

A World-Herald analysis shows that hospitals in states that have accepted the federal funds are seeing major drops in uninsured patients and corresponding reductions in the cost of caring for those who can’t or won’t pay. Health care finance experts say much of those costs historically have been passed on to those with insurance as a kind of hidden tax.

Hospital stays for the uninsured have fallen by almost two-thirds in expansion states. In neighboring Iowa, an expansion state, the cost of caring for non-paying patients has fallen by almost 40 percent.

The analysis also found job growth in health care has been higher in Medicaid expansion states. And personal bankruptcies, which frequently can be caused by a pile of big medical bills, also have dropped most in states that expanded Medicaid.

Article on ruling

Reading today's Omaha World-Herald article on Judge Bataillon's ruling, there was something I really liked and a paragraph that was factually incorrect.

I was pleased that the article opened with the judge's primary concern--children of same-sex families.  For the last two years this has become a staple of the rulings (which it appears that our opponents never actually read).  This section was my favorite part of the ruling.

But then the article has a paragraph full of factual errors.  Here is the paragraph:

Bataillon struck down the state’s gay marriage ban Monday but stayed the implementation of his order for a week to give the state time to appeal.

Actually, Judge Bataillon rejected the state's motion for a stay.  He did declare when his ruling would go into effect.  It is often the case that a ruling does not go into effect immediately in order to give people time to prepare for implementation, which is what the judge did.  Here is the relevant paragraph from the ruling:

Because the standards for staying the injunction mirror the standards for issuing the injunction, the court's findings of likely success and severe irreparable harm make the court disinclined to stay the injunction. For the reasons stated herein and in the court's denial of an earlier motion for a stay, the court finds the State's oral motion for a stay should be denied.18 However, in an effort to assuage the State's concerns with respect to administrative turmoil, the court will delay the effective date of the injunction.

Note that he rejected the stay.  And unlike the World-Herald article's misleading paragraph, he did not do it in order to give the state time to appeal.

Also, a footnote explains why he did not grant a stay: "That stays have been granted in other cases in this Circuit pending appeal is of no consequence to this determination because those cases did not involve any showing of the sort of irreparable harm these plaintiffs (especially the Waters family) will suffer."

Bataillon's Ruling

The best part of Judge Bataillon's ruling that Nebraska's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional is this:

To the extent the State's position is that it has an interest in promoting family stability only for those children who are being raised by both of their biological parents, the notion that some children should receive fewer legal protections than others based on the circumstances of their birth is not only irrational—it is constitutionally repugnant.

The conclusion of the ruling deserves to be quoted as well:

Nebraska's “Defense of Marriage" Constitutional Amendment, Section 29, is an unabashedly gender-specific infringement of the equal rights of its citizens. The State primarily offers as its rational basis for this gender-specific discrimination the encouragement of biological family units. The essence of this rationale has been rejected by most courts and by no less than the Supreme Court. With the advent of modern science and modern adoption laws, same sex couples can and do responsibly raise children. Unfortunately, this law inhibits their commendable efforts.

For the majority of married couples, those without children in the home, marriage is a legal and emotional commitment to the welfare of their partner. The State clearly has the right to encourage couples to marry and provide support for one another. However, those laws must be enforced equally and without respect to gender.

It is time to bring this unequal provision to an end.


LandlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, when will this book be turned into a film that becomes a Christmas classic? That was the question I had after finishing it during the early morning insomniac hours.

Rowell does have a way of capturing universal aspects of our relationships (Eleanor and Park did that well). Her characters and writing are funny as well.

This is not a sophisticated book, but it didn't need to be. It was an enjoyable read.

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