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Right after 9/11, I did a strange thing — I wrote a funny Halloween story. It was part of a contest, sponsored by our local PBS radio station. I wrote it because it occurred to me that horror had suddenly become such a routine part of our lives. We were living horror every day. What we needed, desperately, was laughter. My story was later read on air…but that’s not the point. The point is, here we are again. And I haven’t got anything funny to say.

It isn’t funny that LGBTQ persons have been attacked in what was, for them, a safe space…perhaps the only one they had.

It isn’t funny that they still need safe places in this day and age.

It isn’t funny that, among the huge outpouring of love and concern over the deaths in Orlando, there are still a few bad seeds who so misread the Gospel as to believe that God does not love everyone, no matter whom they love.

It isn’t funny that no matter how many people are killed by firearm in this country, we cannot effect meaningful dialog on gun control.

It isn’t funny that I am certain our founding fathers did not mean for this to be so.

It isn’t funny that the easiest way (by far) to murder so many people in so short a time is by gun.

It isn’t funny that the NRA is happy to accept money from terrorists and the mentally ill.

It isn’t funny that someone on the “no fly” list can buy a gun with ease and that so many of us refuse to even discuss why this isn’t funny.

It isn’t funny that the idiotic hysteria of “They’re coming for our guns!” still seems to work. When has anyone come for your guns? When has that happened?

It isn’t funny that we can wait for a marriage license, a driver’s license, for the ability to buy the car we want with the options we want, but we can’t wait a single minute to own a gun.

It isn’t funny when a politician’s takeaway from a mass murder is “I told you so.”

But the least funny thing of all is that this will happen again. The US suffers more gun deaths than any first-world nation on earth — innocent people, little kids. And we won’t even stop for a moment to analyze why because we’re too afraid to. Not funny, folks. Not even a little.

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Driving from Kansas to southern Indiana (and back) is an interesting experience. As you wend your way through the heart of the Midwest, you see things. You learn things. Like what’s important to the people of the heartland. How? By simply looking around at the signs and billboards we post.

Politics, for instance, energizes us. Is “right to work” right for Missouri? I imagine the people of the Show Me state will have to work that out for themselves. Whom should earn your vote for judge in Terre Haute, Indiana? Perhaps a native could decipher an answer from the signs — I could not. (Though I liked the ones shaped like donkeys.)

We are a commercial society. Just about every town off the interstate attempted to draw me in with their antique shops, fireworks outlets and restaurants. Mile-high pie! Clean restrooms! All of these little towns proudly tout their heritages, as well. Come see the magical caverns! Walk the historic district! We are proud of where we live and what it has to offer.

We are proud of our faith, too. We like to advertise our churches and post random admonitions — scriptural and otherwise — in fields and on roadsides. The Midwest is keen to know whether or not I am saved. Anonymous sources exhort me on my sinfulness. Several cities advise me that I cannot possibly love babies enough. (Once the little rascals grow out of infanthood, I can only surmise that they are on their own.)

I love the Midwest. The weird juxtaposition of “Jesus saves” signs next to billboards for fast and discreet gun sales. The Burma Shave-like buildup for a café that may or may not exist anymore. The constant road construction and revamping.

I wonder what God sees when God looks at America and Americans — at our hearts, our good hearts, mostly in the right places. Does God laugh at our foibles, our quibbles, our vanity? No doubt. But God loves these things about us, too. God loves the giant cross in Effingham, Illinois, just as God loves the burgers and sundaes at the local Culver’s.

We are a big, loud, bombastic bunch, we Americans. We’ve got things to say! And that’s what makes the trip worth it: Taking in the come-ons, exhortations, admonitions, lures and wheedles and using our own moral filters to discern our paths.

I-70 runs through the heart of America, good, bad, ugly and righteous. It is up to each of us to decide what to buy…and what to speed on past.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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