Tag Archives: KC Star

A Mother’s Loss

The following Letter to the Editor was published today, April 27, 2018 in the Kansas City Star.  I wrote it after reading the tribute to Barbara Bush on April 21.  The essay/editorial struck a cord that is worthy of noting.  Please read.  Thank you to the KC Star for including it in today’s edition.

Mary Sanchez’s sympathetic and empathetic column concerning Barbara Bush is a testimony to the strength of character not only of Mrs. Bush, but her mom and all of us who experience the loss a child. (April 21, 11A, “Remembering Barbara Bush, grieving mother”)

My experience was a miscarriage of twins. But that was half a century after Robin Bush’s death and Sanchez’s mother’s first late-term loss. I was fortunate to have a community that understood it was a loss and allowed me to grieve.

Another generation later, our daughter-in-law lost a daughter, Faith, at 17 weeks. Fortunately, she was supported by a medical team that understood the need to allow her and her husband time with the daughter.

Loss is painful, but grieving is a process that one must experience, and a medical team that understands that need is exceptional.

Sanchez’s words and her insight concerning Mrs. Bush are evidence that our culture is learning to honor painful life experiences appropriately. Thank you for sharing such a personal and perceptive tribute to Mrs. Bush, but also to your own mom and all mothers who know the loss of a child all too soon.

Susan Annette Smith Warrensburg

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In reply: “Gone Missing” Letter to the Editor

In Re: Curriculum for the 21st Century: a reply to C.D. Rinck Sr.’s Letter to the Editor, March 21, 2018.

D. Rinck of Mission, KS, has a valid point. He asked, “ What happened to all those government checks and balances I was taught in high school?”

He goes on reflecting on his own education, “”They must have suffered the same fate as diagramming a sentence as I learned in English Class.”

Rinck should be concerned. Having taught for nearly 30 years before retiring in 2015, I have taught both—how to diagram sentences and the US Constitution. I also taught journalism.

The Constitution provides the clear separation of powers as a means of preventing any one branch from taking control. The checks and balance system is critical to a democracy including the republican democracy of the United States.

At no point should one branch have power over any other branch. In Sen. Jeff Flake’s comments to the National Press Club last week, the same topic of checks and balance is referenced.

Flake said, “Defending democratic institutions ought not to be a controversial idea, and hasn’t been until very recently. But recognizing that our institutions are under threat from within, with clarity, seems to me a basic obligation of the Article I branch of government—the congress, whose power is, in theory, equal to that of the president’s…”

Jennifer Rubin, from The Washington Post, was published in the KC Star editorial, “The problem: Flake can’t win in today’s Trump GOP” also focused on checks and balance.

American textbooks include the principle of checks and balance as a primary theme to be taught in civics and government classes. The class used to be taught juniors not freshmen as it is today. (And as an aside, I question whether freshmen are developmentally prepared to discuss the theory or to fully comprehend the value of the US Constitution.)

The American checks and balance system has also included an additional watchdog—freedom of speech that includes professional journalism. I taught journalism as the social responsibility as I was taught at MU during the mid-1970s. Journalists are to report the news objectively not subjectively, unless in editorials.

Our schools must teach students how to be critical readers, good communicators, and independent thinkers. I am concerned that emphasizing technology education and student achievement testing undermines what education must be.

Language curriculum needs to include sentence diagramming again. Diagramming teaches students how words communicate. Students need to understand value of the word, the difference in denotative and connotative meanings, and how to write clear statements. Sentence diagramming teaches analysis of language.

An example of applying critical reading and understanding language’s structure as evidenced in today’s KC Star article, “Trump’s phone call to Putin raises hackles,” about the President congratulatory phone call to Putin included one biased word: stubborn. Look at the paragraph.

“Trumps comments came five days after the White House imposed sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the 2016 election and other “malicious cyber-attacks.’ It widened what has become a familiar gulf between the Trump administration’s tougher actions and words toward Russia and Trump’s own stubborn reluctance to criticize Putin.”

Let the facts speak without adding the opinion.

Of course, our school’s curriculum and the emphasis placed on education must be a priority for our society, too. Our students will be left behind if the curriculum does not teach the skills to be critical readers, analytical thinkers, and good communicators.

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Read the news carefully

Reading this morning’s KC Star on-line, two articles had paragraphs that need careful reading. Both caught my attention by the words that could easily be skipped yet need careful reading.

First, in the news article, “Where’s Gov. Greitens? Not with Trump this visit” (March 15, 2018, p.4), about one third the way down, after explaining that Greitens did not greet President Trump in St. Louis like he did on the other two Missouri stops, came two paragraphs:

“Trump instead was welcomed by Attorney General Josh Hawley, the state’s top law enforcement official and the Republican front runner to challenge U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill in the fall.”

This paragraph is a simple statement of the situation as a news report is designed to be, with the exception of one word “instead.”

That word becomes loaded with meaning when a news report last week stated that Trump asked certain state Republicans not be included—names not included.

In that previous news report, the comment was included that Hawley had not been invited to greet the president. The paragraph in today’s article implies that Hawley was invited to greet the President.

Hmmm. I would like a clarification, at least of when Hawley was included in the meet and greet.

The article continues with the next paragraph that is a quote from Trump:

“The state of Missouri was very good to me, I’ll tell you,” Trump said during a visit to Boeing. “And Josh, I think, is doing a fantastic job. I can tell you that. Just met him at the plane.”

Close reading of the President’s quote causes more concern for me as a reader.

First, the President said the state of Missouri was very good to me. The historic records can prove just how good when looking at the election results.

By going to the Secretary of State’s official website for the general election results of November 8, 2016 the results are posted:

Republican Trump/Pence took 56.772% or 1,594,511 votes

Democrat Clinton/Kaine took 38.135% or 1,071,068 votes

Libertarian Johnson/Weld took 3.466% or 97,359 votes

Additionally there were 45,667 votes cast for a total of 2,808,605 votes cast.

Yes, by the numbers, Missouri was good to Trump during the election.

But on with the President’s quote:

“And Josh, I think, is doing a fantastic job. I can tell you that. Just met him at the plane.”

Those short sentences are worth reflection. Look at the sentences in reverse order.

Trump just met him at the plane. Just? At? How much knowledge can one gain in that moment of meeting.

The middle sentence, “I can tell you that”, is clear enough as Trump is being quoted. But, look again at that first brief statement:

“And Josh, I think, is doing a fantastic job.” Even Trump’s own statement creates questions. He just met him. He thinks Hawley is doing a good job. But the qualifier ‘fantastic’ is Trump’s descriptor for what he thinks is the job Hawley is doing.

Where are the facts? Two small paragraphs in the first third of a news article is loaded with implicating statements. The reader has a responsibility to reflect on these words.

Journalism is reporting the news based on various elements such as timeliness, significance, proximity, prominence (i.e. name recognition) and human interest (as identified at http://www.pbs.org/now/classroom/lessonplan-05.html).

The active reader needs to be aware of these elements and to consider them as filters as to how a story is reported. Knowing this, the two paragraphs in this article are just part of the story, but need careful reflection by Missourians.

The second KC Star March 15, article to read carefully is in the Opinion section, “GOP’s Hawley launches campaign we don’t need” by Melinda Henneberger. Remember, this is an opinion or editorial.

Henneberger has an opinion, but she does develop that opinion with facts concerning candidate education and historical quotes. Yet, buried in the middle of the article is a paragraph for careful reading and reflection:

“Yet both there [out East] and here in the Midwest, where I grew up, blue and red bubbles are harder to penetrate because any news we don’t want to hear, we increasingly choose not to hear.”

Regardless of one’s political preference, referred to as ‘blue and red bubbles’, the message in Henneberger’s editorial is that we, the people, are making the conscious decision of what to hear or not to hear.

In casual conversations, opinions are voiced easily. The concern is how solid is one’s opinion based on facts, not hear say.

Read carefully.

Look for concrete support in an article.

Look beyond the headline grabbing attention.

Look at what is not being said.

Read carefully.

Do not just scan the headlines.

Take time to read the full story whether in print or on-line.

If you have questions, ask or look for answers.

Hennenberger’s article is an opinion, but read it carefully. Make the choice to know the facts. Do not choose to you do not want to hear.

The KC Star’s front page includes the teaser headline, but choose to ‘hear’ the story and turn to page 4. The headline develops into more than a story on Greitens non-appearance, but also a story about an election and the President’s knowledge.

Then choose to read on. Read others’ opinions and reflect.

Choose to read carefully.

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Journalism training rules

Reading the KC Star’s opinion column from Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times News Service,  I was reminded of some very important rules that the Mizzou’s School of Journalism included in our training.  My degree was in news ed, and the Columbian Missourian instructors really hammered at us to use some very primary rules of reporting:

  1.  Follow the money.  Whenever trying to investigate a story that seemed questionable, follow the money.  Another words, looking at city, county, state, or federal government, follow the money.  If an individual was living differently than one might anticipate for their position, follow the money.  If an organization, especially when using public money, could not explain its budget, follow the money.
  2. Get the story from three different sources.  If a reporter can substantiate a story from three different sources, the likelihood is that there is a true story to report.  Of course, the reporter must be responsible enough to locate three different, unrelated sources to substantiate the story.
  3. Check your quotes.  When taking notes, make sure they are accurate even checking them with the person before walking away.  When using a direct quote, read it back to that person to make sure it is accurate and to let them know that you are planning on using it.  When using an indirect quote, also check it with the person being quoted.

Needless to say, journalists have taken a beating considering the entire tirade calling the news “fake.”  But, I firmly believe that trained journalists who remain faithful to the Canons of Journalism, the Journalist’s Creed, and the principles the universities taught, are reporting real news.  If they are responsible, then no one can support such accusations.

Sadly, the immediacy in which the news is transmitted leads to mistakes–many times a listener’s misunderstanding rather than the report.  At all cost, the headlines need to be direct and unbiased.  Listeners need to turn to fuller reports whether through further web research or through more traditional sources as the written word in newspapers and magazines (which are sadly unable to sustain the cost of publication).

Recently a news article concerning the deportation of a professor more fully explained the circumstances that lead to ICE’s attempt to deport him.  The story continues, but as so often is the case, the full story is not able to be broadcast in the 30-60 second sound bites.  The story is complicated, and it takes study to follow and understand it.  We still do not have the whole story, I am afraid.

But back to Friedman’s editorial, Whatever Trump is hiding is hurting all Americans now. Regardless of one’s personal stand, the article reminds us to follow the money.  In our government, serving in an elected position places one’s life under the microscope.  If reporters cannot follow the money, that leaves so many questions unanswered.

My fear is that by the labeling of news as fake, the work of our journalists is compromised.  If the profession of journalism is not allowed to function freely in our democracy, then how can we check the three branches of our government.  We need ethical journalists to keep our elected officials accountable now, just as we did during Watergate.

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Breaking Sin’s Code

given on Sunday, February 17, the first Sunday of Lent.

         Have you ever tried the Cryptoquips in the newspaper?  This is one of the brainteasers or games that appears daily in the KC Star.  The point of it is to identify the statement that is coded in a mixed up pattern of letters that do not meet our personal language expectations.           These challenges are not easy for me, but I have worked with a couple of others who seem to know how to break the code.  They are able to take one small clue and work through the jumbled words and find the solution.  Following the process leads to a sense of exhilaration when the code is broken and the solution appears.

Cryptoquips lead me to thinking about how sin likes to hide in all the words of our lives.  God sent out messages over and over and over, but His children could not figure it out.  There must be a way to break sin’s code and make sure everybody knows the message.

What is needed to become cryptologists?  First we need the alphabet—or do we?  During World War II, language in two battle theaters ranged dramatically.  No common alphabet, no common language, no common ground for all the various messages being sent from one ally to another or one enemy to another.  Intercepting those messages meant finding solutions to the battles.

The necessity of communicating ideas is undeniable; it is essential if we live side by side with others.  Breaking sin’s code is key to living the Christian life that God so desires for His children.  The Garden of Eden is attainable if we can break sin’s code and live by God’s code.  We must make sure that we understand the message in order to arm ourselves for life in a world that challenges our beliefs.

With that as a starting point, the process begins.  God first told Adam and Eve that their needs were provided as long as they took care of creation.  Adam and Eve represent all humans regardless of race or gender.  We are all God’s children and we all must accept responsibility to preserve God’s law.

The Old Testament is one of our tools to breaking sin’s code.  Thousands of years separate us from creation and the Old Testament recorded humanity’s battles to preserve God’s law.  Unfortunately, sin seems to co-exist with human will.  The battle is on.

In the Cryptoquips, only one rule is provided:  I is A.  That is all the clue there is for the problem solver to work out the solution.  Of course if I replaces A and A replaces I in the message, then the foundation is there and all the other values must be discovered.

As 21st century Christians, we have a wealth of clues provided us but there is only one that we need to begin the process.  One          rule.  Adam and Eve were told simply do not eat from the tree of knowledge and all their needs would be met.  God gave them a garden filled with all the perfect solutions to their needs.

Time and time again, the people of God found themselves in a battle with sin.  God provided them a key to the solution; yet some did not listen, some did not follow the solution, and some chose to go in another direction.  Being given the rule for living a sin-free life is no guarantee that it is going to be easy to solve the battle with sin.

Consider this question:  What triggered God to send Jesus?  The first step in learning this answer is to unlock all the messages of the Old Testament, and one way to make that more clear is to consider the Bible in chronological form.

Included in today’s bulletin is an abbreviated reading plan that puts the Old and New Testament into a chronological format.  At first glance it does not seem so re-organized; but begin working with the plan and surprises develop.

As an example one of the first questions that sprung up in my mind is what triggered God to send Jesus.  The Old Testament covers a time span of almost 2,500 years and is filled with examples of God’s frustration with His creation mishandling sin.  His warnings go unheard.  His threats were delivered.  Sin still wins battles though.

Look at the chronological listings.  Find the first entry from the New Testament and then back up one—the final entry in the Old Testament.  It is Malachi, the record of the Prophet Malachi.

To place Malachi’s prophecy into a timeline, the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt over 100 years prior to Malachi’s warnings.  In a society, which places so much importance on the temple, especially the one in Jerusalem, one might expect the behaviors of the people to match that of the teachings.  But the behaviors did not.

Malachi, as God’s messenger, made one more effort to break sin’s code by explaining how God had reached a frustration level that action was needed and needed now!  The time:  430 BC.  Four hundred years before Christ was born, God sent one more message.

Malachi simply told the people that God had lost hope in His people.  He was angry with the priests.  He was angry with the people and He was coming.  Four major points are presented in this last Old Testament book.  Certainly Malachi expected God to appear any moment, but He did not.

Again, we are confronted with another mystery.  We learn that God is coming and yet in the middle of the fifth century BC, He does not appear.  What happened to the message?

Let’s review a few things.  Adam and Eve were told not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and they did.  Then God delivered Moses just ten simple rules or commandments to follow.  Moses’ story is recorded in Exodus chapters 1-5,12-14 and 20, around 1450-1410 BC.  And Exodus is just the second book of the Old Testament.

Obviously God is not quick to temper, God is patient.  As the stories of the Old Testament continue to demonstrate how a small group of people works to carry God’s messages to the others, sin continues to win battles.  Sin is a force confronting humans daily.   There must be some secret to unlocking sin’s code.  There must be some simple rule that can lead God’s children in the battle against sin and winning life of the faithful.

After Adam ate the apple, sin won.  Sin started filling the story of humankind with conflict.  Good versus evil.  Evil wins.  Good versus evil.  Good wins.  A thousand years passed between creation and Moses’ delivery of the Ten Commandments.  God replaced one simple rule with ten more specific rules.

The next thousand years records the many examples of sin versus God.  The prophets are recorded.  The warnings were given.  The battles continued—some with sin winning, some with God winning.  One thing that is evident is God’s love and patience.  Why did humans fail to break the code?

Malachi told them.  He identified the problem in the first chapter, verse 6:

“A son honors his father. A servant honors his master. If I am a father, where is the honor I should have? If I am a master, where is the respect you should give me?” says the Lord who rules over all.  . . .

Malachi’s words sound familiar.  Have we not heard those words in our own homes in a context all too familiar yet today?  Malachi was breaking sin’s code.  In the tight-knit family units and the tribes, the analogy of a son honoring the father is a clue that was recognizable, and still is today.

Yet, so many still did not listen to the messengers.  Malachi continued his explanation to the people, but even his plain language did not unlock the code.  At the close of Malachi 4:4-5, a final warning, a final clue to what the future holds:

“Remember the law my servant Moses gave you. Remember the rules and laws I gave him at Mount Horeb. They were for the whole nation of Israel.

“I will send you the prophet Elijah. He will come before the day of the Lord arrives. It will be a great and terrifying day. Elijah will teach parents how to love their children. He will also teach children how to honor their parents. If that does not happen, I will come. And I will put a curse on the land.”

As Lent continues, consider the keys already provided for breaking sin’s code.  We are so familiar with the Old Testament and New Testament stories that one would think the code is broken.  But look around your corner of the world.  Is sin still lurking around?  While you listen to the news?  Is sin still winning?  Look at all the influences in our lives and evaluate them.  Is there a clue to sin’s code?

The Bible provides many clues, many examples, and many methods that should break sin’s code.  But here it is 2,000 years after God personally stepped in to break sin’s hold on His children.  Did it work?  Does it work?  Will it work in the future?

Lent continues and so will we continue to be cryptologists.  We have one key:  Love one another.  If we replace all sinful thoughts and actions with that one principle, will we break sin’s code?

Dear Forgiving and Loving God,

We fail to break sin’s code.

We cannot identify your message.

We follow the wrong paths,

     and make the wrong decisions.

Open our hearts so we may love one another.

Open our minds to identify sinful influences.

Open our hands to change this world

     by doing what we can to break sin’s hold.

Thank you for prophets of old and of today.

Thank you for your patience.

Thank you for loving us

      and forgiving us unconditionally.  –Amen


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