Master(s) of Disguise

I am already dressed for the speaking engagement I am attending tonight. Jonna Mendez is going to present her newest (and Tony Mendez’ last) book, 51bYPeOnLvLThe Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War. The reason I am already dressed and ready to leave is that I am inexplicably anxious.

Well, maybe not inexplicably. First of all, Jonna is credited as an author on this book, but she also assisted Tony & Matt (Baglio) on Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History.

For those who are scratching their heads at why Jonna and Tony have the same last name, it’s because they were married for 28 years. Tony’s death this past January hit me extremely hard. Part of my anxiety is knowing in advance that I could be emotional, and because I’m going to be in front of his wife, I feel that they’re not really my emotions to have. I mean, I never met him (I wanted to, and I know for sure that if he was still alive and his Parkinson’s was under control, tonight would have been the night- he and Jonna were/are on the board at The International Spy Museum).

Even though he was not a personal friend and I can’t say I knew him, there are these authors that get under your skin to the point where you feel like you do. Tony is that author for me, and I am so glad that his stories did not die with him- that there are still more of his words for me to discover. After I finish The Moscow Rules, I’m going to read Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War, which, according to Jonna’s web site, is often used as curriculum for new CIA recruits, and was the first book that the couple wrote together.

Attendees are encouraged to show up early, as Tony’s notes for this book will be on display. I will get to see his handwriting, his process, and hopefully some of his humor… which was always on display in real life. For instance, when Ben Affleck was cast as him in the movie adaptation of Argo, Tony said that he himself was much better looking.

It is in this portion of the evening, wandering around the glass cases, that I hope my emotions bubble up, because it will be more private. I’m not overly fond of emoting in front of a bunch of people, anyway. That being said, you cannot control feelings, and the more you try, the more they fight you to get out.

I am sure that I have mentioned this before, but one of the reasons that Tony’s books have become so precious is that my great uncle, Foster Fort, was in the military and later worked for both the C and DIA in different capacities.

He was killed in a helicopter crash when I was very, very young. I wasn’t old enough to have a real conversation with him after he retired, because he never got old enough to do so, and he couldn’t have told me anything while he was still working. In a way, he’s become a legend in our family, because when you work for either clandestine service, your family only gets to guess what you’re doing, and are often very, very wrong.

I mean, maybe he was just a helicopter pilot. I think that if you get tapped by the C and DIA, though, there’s probably more to it than that. When I think of Foster, I imagine him “putting on the last suit he’ll ever wear,” and I laugh to myself. I laugh even harder when I picture Agent O doing his funeral. But on a more serious note, it is comforting to feel as if our family has a connection to one of the stars on the wall at Langley.

I have no idea what kind of stories I would have heard, but I do know that I will hear some amazing ones tonight. You don’t get to be Chief of Disguise at CIA without living through a few. There are a TON of YouTube videos (this one’s my favorite– the Homeland gag KILLS me) of her talks and they’re all so interesting you wish they’d go on for three more hours. At the end of one video, the comment that literally sent tears and snot running down my face as I shook violently with laughter was, “who else was waiting for her to take off her disguise and find out it’s really a black dude?”

One of the best things she explains is “the quick change,” which is layering disguises so that you can take off clothing, glasses, etc. in 37 seconds, changing your appearance even while walking in the middle of a crowd. They have to be so precise that they are rehearsed beforehand, because as she says, you don’t want anyone to know you’ve escaped. You want them to think that they’ve lost you and it’s all their fault.

If Jonna doesn’t talk about it, I want to ask her if she was a consultant on Atomic Blonde, because for me, it personifies the Moscow rules. Even if she wasn’t, I still want to know if she’s seen it.

One of the Moscow rules that I learned from watching other videos (I’d give you a link, but I don’t remember which one) is that there was/is a shoelace code in the CIA. It’s to be able to pass messages to other agents without being noticeable. After I saw the video, I retied my Adidas Gazelles. I have no idea what they say, though. I hope I’m not telling other case officers that they’re being followed. Hey, in DC, you never know who’s next to you in a crowd.

Case in point: I once rode the Metro for four extra stops just because I got into a conversation with a female intelligence officer stationed in Germany during The Cold War. I don’t even remember how I got her to tell me that…. I just remember thinking in my head that she must be military or C/DIA because there aren’t that many black people in Germany.

My feet didn’t touch the ground for hours afterward, because even though I have no interest whatsoever in being a spy myself, I managed to engineer a conversation in which intimate details were spilled without her feeling as if a game was being played…. and there was. It was “how much can I get her to tell me in four extra stops?” It wasn’t like I was looking for secrets- she was retired and all her ops were UNCLASS. It felt like accidentally walking into Bletchley Circle.

Every time I think I would be a good case officer, I remember that I only speak English, I am often a little slow on the uptake, and more than likely I would trip, fall and die before I ever reached my contact…. which leads me to two scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

Elsa: It’s perfectly obvious where the pages are. He’s given them to Marcus Brody.

Professor Henry Jones: Marcus? You didn’t drag poor Marcus along did you? He’s not up to the challenge.

Walter Donovan: He sticks out like a sore thumb. We’ll find him.

Indiana Jones: The hell you will. He’s got a two day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody’s got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan, he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, he’ll blend in, disappear, you’ll never see him again. With any luck, he’s got the grail already.

[Cut to middle of fair in the Middle East, Marcus Brody wearing bright suit and white hat, sticking out like sore thumb]

Marcus Brody: Uhhh, does anyone here speak English?

Then, later…………………

[Indiana and Henry are tied up]

Indiana Jones: Come on, dad. Help me get us out of here. We have to get to Marcus before the Nazis do.

Professor Henry Jones: But you said he had a two day head start. That he would blend in, disappear.

Indiana Jones: Are you kidding? I made all that up. You know Marcus. He once got lost in his own museum.

If this isn’t an accurate depiction of me as a spy, I don’t know what would be…. and I promise, it’s not that I’m short-selling myself. I just know myself too well. One of the overhead pieces of audio at The International Spy Museum talks about people “living by their wits,” and I thought to myself that if it were my wits, we were all gonna die….. accidentally, of course, but it’s not the sort of situation where you can say, “oops. My bad. Should I leave a note?” Being a good case officer is learning to think 50 moves ahead- knowing how to checkmate the king before you’ve even opened…. like Jonna and Tony.

I am honored to be an audience member for Jonna’s current book tour, and am looking forward to more. There are a few other cities in which she’s speaking, so if you’re close to any of them, I highly suggest you go.

I am so honored, in fact, that I have changed outfits four times…. just not in 37 seconds.

Personal and Global

My gut is telling me I should write something. My mind is saying, “I got nothin.’ This is because so much has happened that the pictures from each event are swirling so fast that I can’t grab one long enough to describe it. As one Tumblr user said, “do you know how much braining it takes to make the words go?” I’m not sure I’ve ever identified more with any statement. Ever. I am much better one-on-one, so I’ve been writing a lot of letters… believe it or not, there are actually some things I won’t vomit all over the Internet. I know it’s hard to imagine. I mean, I’m so shy and retiring when it comes to talking about myself. But right now, so many things are internal that I literally can’t force them from the river that runs underneath my skin into my fingers.

What I can say is that my birthday was full of joy at having my family here to celebrate. It’s been years since I had a birthday party with my dad and sister. What’s even better than that is my sister is the good kind of lobbyist, so I see her almost as frequently as I saw her when we both lived in the same city. Now that Congress is winding down, I won’t see her again until possibly October and definitely in November, but it was great that this month’s work trip coincided with the transition from 40 to 41.

Movies and television about the CIA are so fascinating to me that I love that my age is the same as George H.W. Bush’s presidential number. No comment on how I’ll feel about 43. In this vein, I would like to skip directly from age 44 to 46.

Interesting sidenote about CIA television. Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime Video begins in Lebanon, so I’ve been able to look at amazing pictures from the real country (it wasn’t actually filmed there) thanks to Hayat’s upbringing. For those of us just joining us, I rent a room from a Lebanese family, complete with photos in country throughout most of the house. Because of them, Lebanon is on my bucket list- too beautiful to ignore.

I will just have to find a big, strong man to accompany me, because I’m a feminist and I’m also not stupid enough to ignore the rules in a Muslim country. Lebanon is not as strict as some of the others, but I’m not taking any chances. Because I’m such an introvert, I’d probably be the most comfortable in a burqa, and I’m not kidding. I’m a writer and observer. Not so much with the talking to strangers, and although I am generally delightful in conversation, for the most part it is me overcoming my natural shyness and jumping into The Leslie Lanagan Show.™ You don’t generally get the real me until we’re at a secluded table, cups of coffee between us… and even then, we have to have known each other a while. I don’t feel entirely comfortable with people until I’m assured that they know the real me, and for better or for worse, love me anyway. But no one I’ve ever come across dislikes The Leslie Lanagan Show.™ It comes from years and years of practice. Fake it til you make it and all that comes with it.

It is probably for this very reason that I spend so much time alone, because I want to spend my time as an authentic person, able to walk around in my own gargantuan inner landscape. I think mostly about where I want to go from here, not career-wise, necessarily, but who I want to be as a person. As my anxiety goes down, my capacity for love goes up. It’s easy to love people who love you back. Hard to love the irritable, the angry, and the unknown.

My authentic self wants the capability to love the world where it is, how it is… and at the same time, so angry about the things that divide us as a country and as citizens of the world.

For instance, it is inconceivable that people are having trouble believing that Bob Woodward’s book, Fear: Trump in the White House is just a basic hatchet job, when this is the same reporter that broke the Watergate story and has also covered seven other presidents in addition to Trump and Nixon. For instance, my favorite Woodward book is Obama’s Wars, where he doesn’t even blink in his critique of the president, and presents some information that tempers unfettered adulation, such as his own Syrian blink of 2012-13. No president is above reproach, and while I admire Barack Obama greatly, and would do basically anything he asked, that does not transfer into thinking he is a perfect person. No one ever is. We are all angels & demons, depending on the choices we make and when.

Trump… opens with staffers stealing things off the president’s desk, knowing that if the papers aren’t there, he’ll just forget about the issue… and one of them involves instigating conflict with North Korea. I am not kidding when I say that almost literally, the bombs start dropping in chapter one.

So, to discredit a reporter and non-fiction writer who has an amazing reputation is infuriating to an enormous degree. If anyone is capable of telling this story, it is Bob Woodward.

Write it down.

So, to put it mildly, my thoughts have moved past the personal into the global, which is probably what is driving my interest in intelligence-gathering. One of the points that Woodward makes, which is very relevent at this time, is that the FBI and CIA have different standards for espionage. This is because CIA evidence is rarely used in court cases, and “the Feebs'” evidence often is. Therefore, vetting in the CIA doesn’t have to be quite as high, because it does not have to meet the “beyond a reasonable doubt” or “preponderance of evidence” requirement- the former in criminal cases, the latter in civil litigation.

This, of course, bit CIA in the ass during the WMD years, which has, in turn, made them even more cautious now… in the words of Martha Stewart, “a very good thing.” Now I’m just pleased with myself. I made a complete sentence using CIA and Martha Stewart. #touchme

But, of course, it’s not just thinking about the world that has me interested in intel. I am just one of those people who likes Knowing Stuff.™ To be in a room full of journalists or government workers is being invited to sit at the cool kids’ table for me… the reason I know DC is where I belong.

One of the great joys of my life is when Dan and I meet for lunch, and I get to walk her back to her office in Foggy Bottom. I’ll let you guess what that means. More fun to figure it out on your own. However, I will say she’s not a spook. But she’s sure as hell smart enough to be. Also, because she’s so small, it tickles me to think of her back in her Army days, running around in full battle rattle. I have no doubt that one of her main strengths was running right at the enemy and knocking them off-balance. 😛 (Oh, am I ever going to catch hell for that one…)

Now I’m back to thinking about the personal, all the light my friends bring into my life. I am one lucky, lucky 41-year-old. I’m not sure how the next trip around the sun can top this one, but I’m sure going to try. It seems easier when I feel like I’m literally lifted off the ground, the warmth of friendship holding me aloft.

The Leadership Breakfast

Barbara Bush died, which really isn’t that sad if you think about it. She lived to the ripe old age of 92. I think that’s about as much as anyone should expect in terms of time on earth, and her kids were lucky to have her that long. I mean, when someone dies it’s always sad for their families in terms of not being able to communicate anymore, but 92 is close to immortal in today’s terms of longevity. No one is going to say, “dear God, they took her too soon.” As a fellow Texan, I would like to be able to regale you with a story about how we met, but unfortunately, that never happened. We did go to the same church when I was in college, so I have met her husband. That will have to do.

So, it’s Easter Sunday in about 1999 or 2000 (I am really bad with dates). The men’s group was serving breakfast before service, and the president was going around with a pitcher of coffee for warm-ups. The Secret Service guys were stationed strategically around the room, constantly talking into their wrists.

The president comes over to me and fills my cup, and when I realized exactly who I was talking to, I began gulping down my coffee as fast as I could so he would have to come to my table multiple times, early and often. I am sure he knew my game, but didn’t seem to mind. We had very good, very short talks. I wish my memory was flawless, because I’d love to tell you what they were about. I do remember telling him that I was a political science student at University of Houston, and he told me he used to be a professor at Rice (like I didn’t know that. Didn’t tell him, though……).

I don’t think I’ve disagreed politically with many presidents besides him, although I definitely have a list. I was too young to care what was going on with Reagan, and I love Clinton & Obama. It was just exciting to meet anyone who’d been leader of the free world, as well as being Director of Central Intelligence the year I was born (1977), although he left in January and I wasn’t born until September. Close enough for government work. I don’t know how you get to be DCI if you don’t have any experience with espionage, so my guess is that he was OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the modern CIA) during World War II, and as a cook, I pretend that anyone who was OSS during that time was Julia Child’s best friend.

I was a spazzbasket of excitement, information, and caffeine. At this point, I have conservatively had, like, five cups of coffee trying to talk to him. I debate going over to talk to the Secret Service as well. However, they are designed to look absolutely unapproachable. They definitely pull it off.

What I hope I didn’t pull off was being desperately impressed, because no one that well-known wants to be “on” all the time. He was just there to be part of the men’s group, and I hope I respected that. But so many of my questions just swirled in my head. Did he like Helen Thomas? What’s it like being a wartime pilot? Was he ever under cover? Did he actually know Julia Child, or is that just wishful thinking?

There are so many things I would ask him now that I didn’t think of then, like what was it like for your wife and kids while you were president? It can’t have been easy to be in the public eye, whether there were things you liked about it or not. Also, what was it like to be president when the wall in Berlin fell? Was Ronald Reagan just as funny in private life as he was on television? At the time, all that was swirling in my head was about treating him like a regular human being.

….just like he is right now, dealing with the death of his wife.

Get Off My Lawn

I am terribly cranky today.

Yesterday’s pardoning of Scooter Libby was the last straw. The guy committed treason. No punishment the USG could come up with would be good enough. When he outed Valerie Plame, it was damn lucky he didn’t get her killed. Do all intelligence employees under cover have to be afraid of their own employer now? If I was in their position, it would incense me that even people who commit crimes against national security can almost assuredly get away with murder, both literally and figuratively. Not only was Libby’s personal case a red flag, the precedent it sets is even more scary.

It’s probably against the Geneva Convention so this is absolutely a hypothetical situation, but say there was a black op to take out Assad so that citizens wouldn’t be harmed. You could absolutely argue that the ends justify the means, but someone leaks that information to the New York Times or the Washington Post while Special Ops is in country…. not only the op, but the names of the soldiers involved. How long would it take before their heads were on a spike in Damascus? If you said “10 minutes,” I would answer, just like James Comey, that it was nine minutes longer than I expected.

The most frustrating thing about this whole situation is that no one asked me what I thought (that was a joke).

No one asked me what I thought about confirming Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, either. If the confirmation goes through, we’ll have someone in charge of foreign relations that believes in the Bible more than the Constitution. His view of homosexuality is that it is a perversion, and that his belief is not wrong-headed, but a persecution of all Christians. This is not something I want broadcast all over the world, because the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatry Association disagree with that, and have since the 1980s. It is terrifying that only some people’s beliefs have progressed since then because a book that was meant to be a living document, changing over time as we understand more about medicine and science, in their view must remain literal and stagnant. It is generally believed by progressive theologians that the real abomination in the Bible concerning homosexuality was an ancient Canaanite practice of temple prostitution [by both adults and minors], tarnishing a place meant to be holy ground.

As theologian Jim Rigby once said, Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, so it cannot be essential to his teaching. Ancient desert people would never have known same sex orientation as an identity. The word homosexual was not even coined until the 1900s. It is an identity because even queer celibate people still consider themselves as such [using queer as a catch-all for the entire community and not as a derogatory term. I’m gay, so I can use it. Straight people can’t get away with it. Sorry.]. It is absolutely the last thing a follower of the Christ should embrace, because Jesus was constantly widening the net of acceptance, something that has been twisted since the New Testament, where Paul condemned homosexuality.

Paul had other beliefs that were equally toxic, like the prohibition of women speaking in church… something mainline Christians have moved past, so why is being gay different? Additionally, if you believe in one Talmudic law, you should believe all of them, so advocate for shutting down the NFL because players are consistently touching pigskin. You have to ask yourself whether someone who has an international platform should be able to hold these untranslated views, because even if you don’t support our community, do you really think it’s wise to bolster countries who still execute people for these “crimes?” Do you believe in ending lives and devastating families? The stakes are higher than you think.

In the United States, it means a disbelief of the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. If I am truly equal to everyone else, I am a citizen who should be protected by the law, not persecuted by it.

Everything gets messy when the law goes from national to personal, because people can wrap their heads around discrimination of a group, but not their own relatives…. where, often, they fall short in making the connection.

There are still some extremists in this country that are every bit as violent toward the queer community as Sharia law, validated by people who don’t believe in internment camps and execution but aren’t vocal in speaking out about it……….

This leads me to believe that were those things to happen, it would be swift. Ten minutes at most, nine minutes longer than I expect. World issues are literally making me ill.

I am terribly cranky today.

Folgers

Today has not been the best (so far, it’s only 11:30 AM). I generally get a cold at the beginning of spring, because my allergy medication just can’t keep up (gross out warning) and snot just runs continuously down the back of my throat until it’s raw and scratchy. I haven’t lost my voice, but when I woke up this morning, I did have that sexy Debra Winger rasp going on.

It’s gone now, after a really long, hot shower and something warm to drink- hence the title. I normally wouldn’t be caught dead drinking Folger’s Classic Roast,â„¢ but I ran to 7-Eleven for essentials and it’s what they had. Seriously. That’s it. I’ve never been to a store in my life that only carried one type of coffee, and it just happened to be the Budweiserâ„¢ equivalent. However, desperation made me buy it, anyway. I haven’t had coffee in a couple of days, and like most of the population, I’m so addicted to it that withdrawal is a thing. Hey, it’s my only vice. At least give me this one.

To my surprise, when I made the coffee the way I like it (one level scoop per cup), it was more than drinkable. Probably the reason I thought I hated it was the way churches tend to make it……. not calling anyone out on the carpet, but I have had my fair share of shitty brown water that they called “coffee.” To be fair, it’s hard to know the ratio for a 40-50 cup urn.

IMG_0037As I am singing the praises of this blessed event (coffee is divinity), the playlist in my headphones is called Stranger Than Fiction on Spotify. It’s all the soundtracks from Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, all the Bourne movies, and The Kite Runner. It’s killer, if I do say so myself…. and it’s public if you want to check it out. Even though I put it on shuffle, I always start with The Bourne Identity‘s main theme. The English Horn solo just blows me away…. probably the only iconic English Horn solo on record for those who aren’t classical music nerds (like me). As for the Bourne series, my favorite is Supremacy, and the only thing I really liked about Jason Bourne was the soundtrack and the picture my dad took of me with the movie poster.

For instance, I was sitting in the theater doubled over in that silent laugh where you’re just shaking violently with snot and tears running down your face, because someone is hacking a computer for information on a black op, and transfers the files from a folder called Black Ops. Because of course all intel agencies hide the documents regarding black ops in a folder called BLACK OPS.

And of course, that led me to think about what I would have named that folder. Probably something like birthday_party_pictures or cat_photos. At the very least, something that someone wouldn’t click on immediately after logging into my computer. HELLO!

Of course, as a computer nerd, it’s probably something only I and my IT peeps would pick up, because it’s supposed to be exposition for the audience. That didn’t not make it hilarious.

It was especially fun to go to the International Spy Museum and to see Jason Bourne with my dad all in the same trip. I don’t know if it was a special exhibit or in their permanent collection, but there was a fantastic James Bond adventure.

Most of the intel agencies around here now have entertainment departments (CIA was the last to get on board), so recent movies like Salt and Atomic Blonde, as well as TV shows like Homeland and The Looming Tower have real-life advisers that make the shows fictional-yet-believable. According to a book I read on the subject, the lives of spies are blown way out of proportion, sometimes to make the movie better and sometimes to divert the public’s attention from the way The Agency really works. For instance, it’s not as interesting to watch a movie about espionage if all that happens is a huge amount of paperwork. Also, no intel agency is ever going to publish in any form the way they operate, because lives depend on it….. publishing it all for us is publishing it all for “them,” whomever they are.

…which invariably leads me to my white hot hatred of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. Disagree with me all you want, but I’m not going to change my mind. Not only did they put American lives in danger, but all the friendlies we’d managed to turn in other countries as well. People seem to forget that they’re called “confidential informants” for a reason…. mostly because they could be executed by their own governments. I haven’t read every single document that was leaked, because first of all, I don’t want to. I’d prefer to stay frosty and let the professionals handle it. I couldn’t spy my way out of a paper bag. Second of all, I am sure that it wasn’t just American covers blown, but Mossad, MI-6, etc. and I don’t want to read about it because it will just feed the anger I already have. I have enough anger in my life. I don’t need to add anything on top of it.

That being said, the Julian Assange biopic, The Fifth Estate, is very good. Even the title is clever- moving us forward from newspapers to the Internet. I don’t know how much of it is real, but I liked it, anyway. The biopic about Edward Snowden (called Snowden, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role), however, kept me up for three days, because I would be frightened to learn that even a third of it is real. Don’t watch it at night. Hold someone’s hand. It will creep you the fuck out. I’m serious. Take my advice or don’t- at your own peril (safety not guaranteed, no refunds, you break it you buy it, etc.).

As you can tell, I’m a fan of intel movies, mostly because now it generally involves computers and hacking (BLACK OPS folder…… hahahahahahaha). I am not clever enough in that arena to figure it all out (and don’t want to), but fictionalized versions are awesome. In my daily life, I am just a regular geek who loves Linux, but would crap my pants if asked to write any sort of program. In terms of the logic behind the languages, I’m barely a step above “Hello, World.” It is not my calling to learn to hack, crack, or program…. but that doesn’t mean I don’t love a good piece of media about it.

The only intel show that I have problems with is Homeland. I watch it anyway, because it’s a good story and I like all the actors (particularly Mandy Patinkin). But I just get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time Carrie Mathison goes to her “crazy place.” I realize that she’s Bipolar I and I’m Bipolar II, so basically nothing she does is something I would do. But there’s a part of me that knows her portrayal of that kind of crazy is dead on, and to me, it is not comforting in the slightest that I understand. I feel like I get her in only the way another bipolar person would, and in those moments, watching truly sucks. It’s like a train wreck- I can’t look away. I’m too invested in knowing what happens now.

Leaving out the part that nearly everything Carrie does would, in real life, have landed her in federal prison (or a dark site) long ago.

But it’s just a TV show. Suspension of disbelief and all that.

Am I crazy, or is this Folgers really working for me?

Yes.

The FDB

Fanagans’ Daily Briefing

Getting into the spirit of living in DC………

  • I can’t decide if I am more or less afraid of Donald Trump being impeached. There are just too many people we’d have to get rid of in the line of succession before we reached the legal definition of “a reasonable person.” The news that Mike Pence thinks we can end abortion in America is what did it for me, because he’s not going to make it happen by creating a social safety net for poor mothers. If Republicans were actually pro-life, they’d be lined up around the block with bottles and blankets for the children living in poverty right now. The classic line about not creating a government safety net is “that stuff should be taken care of by private charities.” It won’t, because charity donations are dependent on a good economy, and even then, there’s no guarantee that people will donate enough.
  • Jared Kushner having his security clearances revoked is the best news I’ve heard in a long time, because he never should have gotten them in the first place. That being said, it literally makes no difference because the president has no qualms about saying whatever he wants without a filter. Well, I guess it does make one difference. Bad things happen to people who leak Top Secret information to ordinary citizens, and it only has to happen once to get on intel’s radar. Additionally, I didn’t mean to or I didn’t know is completely invalid. Idiocy and malice are treated exactly the same way.
  • Since the idea of arming teachers has been tossed around, one has accidentally shot themselves in the classroom, and one has barricaded themselves into a classroom, waving a gun to keep the children out. This is obviously a brilliant idea, as is Florida’s idea to budget $67 million to give teachers hand guns. Thinking they should probably start with pens & pencils….. maybe some Crayons. If they want to get really crazy, why not raise teachers’ salaries to six figures, because without them, we can’t do anything else. Before you can run a Fortune 500 company, my guess is (and I’m just spit balling here…) you have to learn how to read at some point.
  • I’m starting to hope that Eli Pope and Jake Ballard exist.

Sermon for Proper 28, Year A: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

In 1983, a developmental psychologist named Howard Gardener published a scholarly article posing that there are nine different types of identifiable intelligence:

  • Naturalist
  • Musical
  • Logical/Mathematical
  • Existential
  • Interpersonal
  • Body/Kinesthetic
  • Linguistic
  • Intrapersonal
  • Spatial

Therefore, it would be inadvisable to hire someone who is linguistically brilliant as an accountant if they do not also possess that talent.

Talent. Where have we heard that word in the Gospel before?

If you are a churchgoing person, you’ll probably already know that Jesus told a parable about a master who entrusted his slaves with different amounts of talents. To one he gave one, to the second he gave two, and to the third he gave five.

Let us first clear up the idea of slavery before we go any further. In those days, even doctors were considered servants while citizens of Rome lived lives of opulent indolence. In order to talk about this parable, I do not want you to relate the use of the word slavery as equivalent to how black people are treated in the United States from 1776 to the present. That is another sermon entirely, and one that I will preach, just not today.

It says in the Gospel that the master entrusted this property to them, the message being to go and multiply. Two of them did. The third, the one that was only given one talent, buried it in the ground so that it would not change… and in his mind, this represented safety- it was better to hide the money than to risk losing it all.

Indeed, a talent was a representation of money, although a weight more than a value. For instance, the weight of the silver is what revealed it. The value of even one talent was more money than a servant would see in his or her lifetime.

However, this parable is only about money when taken at face value. You can argue that the pericope is all about investment, and how that investment can be directly correlated to believing in yourself or not… whether you are willing to take the risk of showing your light to the world, or hiding it under a bushel………. and if that’s all you take away from this sermon, it’s a good place to start. It is no less valid than other interpretations.

I just don’t think that’s what Jesus was getting at- as always, his message was much more subversive than that. His story was not about money, but the powers that be.

The servant who was given one talent represents the Pharisees and other orthodox Jews who wanted nothing to change about the law. Bury it in the ground, leave it alone, don’t touch it. It will stagnate, but it will not disappear, either. It is the epitome of the saying, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

If there is no risk, there is no reward, either. For this servant, risk was too scary to contemplate, a feeling that I believe is universal. How many of us are afraid to change our lives, even when the lives we lead no longer serve us? How much greater would we be as individuals, and thus, a community, if we reached out for more?

For the servants that were given two and five talents, they were richly rewarded when they dared to invest. This is a direct tie-in to the start of the new church, one without focus on the law and emphasis on grace, mercy, forgiveness, and most of all, becoming a servant yourself. Humility is the hallmark of the new church, because Jesus was always dedicated to the idea of soft power, that you can more effectively lead from the back. In writer’s language, show, don’t tell.

It would take more courage than a lot of people had to create civil disobedience to the Sanhedrin, or for members of it, to try and change from within. The battle would be arduous and…….. unpleasant. It would take all types of intelligence to overthrow years of history in which the law was more important, in a lot of ways, than God.

This is why I believe there are three servants in the parable to begin with. Not all of us are given the same types of intelligence, and we all use them in different ways.

If you are a person who thinks, I’m not smart enough to take risks, remember that there is no such thing. You just haven’t identified the types of intelligence that you possess.

If there is anything that this parable tells us above all else, it is that you are only punishing yourself with your inability to try. Action begets inertia, so the more you invest, the more work you are capable of doing.

For the early Christians, it was leaving behind the people in their lives who adhered to the letter of the law and would not take the risk of trying something new.

What will it be for you?

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces