The Scripture reading in church Sunday gave me a jolt - Exodus 32, which refers to the Chosen People wearing earrings, men as well as women, and I twitched when the lector read it. Yikes! Moses got his ears pierced? What else didn't we know?
And then a bigger jolt. God is so furious at the C.P. for worshiping the golden calf (forged from their earrings) that He talks about consuming them with fire, but Moses talks Him out of it, which sort of dents one's faith in divine omniscience, does it not, the Lord taking a sharp turn like that? ("Oh, I hadn't thought about that - OK, cancel the thunderbolt!") But I didn't jump up in my pew and point this out - we like to keep things moving along in church, recite the Creed, confess our sins, pass the plate, sing the doxology, not stop for questions along the way - so I just brood over it, as I do about more and more these days. Walk at night down misty streets through yellow leaves and question everything and keep it to myself.
I let other people carry the conversational ball when it comes to religion or politics these days. I've known enough old bores to want not to be one of them. Old honkers who hold everyone hostage and make their point 16 times and lay waste to the dinner hour. Not me, dear hearts. As I write this, the sun is coming up over the Mississippi Valley, and in the orange swashes at the horizon is a long string of clouds that one could imagine are mountains. It rises on people facing challenges far beyond anything I've known in my rackety life. A beautiful, cheerful woman of 26 has been handed a jagged diagnosis of cancer like a big wet albatross on a necklace. A friend struggles with severe depression, slogging through the day, wishing the meds would kick in. And then there is Patrick, whom I met on Saturday, a very bright boy who lies speechless on a gurney, a trach tube in his windpipe, a pump humming softly on a shelf below. His parents explain that he was stricken by a rare neuromuscular disease, and that's all they say about that. They're animated, buoyant, and Patrick smiles and raises his eyebrows - and suddenly one's tiny troubles aren't worth mentioning.
The existence of human suffering seems to me to affirm the Christian faith. It's the sacred duty of the faithful to uphold the Patricks of the world and their heroic parents against the prevailing Darwinist forces, but a Patrick shouldn't be asked to sit by the roadside waiting for a kindly Christian motorist to stop - he is entitled to mercy as a basic human right, and it is merciful of Christians to expect government to carry out this duty.
The safety net has become seriously frayed, as the parents of the Patricks of America know very well, and now the sun has risen on an October day of pure blue sky and yellow and red boughs raised against it, and the day must be acknowledged. What a gorgeous life we lead, here in this gaudy forest.
The American people are poised to do something that could not be imagined 10 years ago, which is to vote for the best man regardless of his skin color and elect him president. The campaign against him is not one that anybody will point to with pride in years to come. It is a long trail of honking and flapping and traces of green slime. But Barack Obama's cool poise in the face of blather is some sort of testament to American heart and humor. The man has walked tall.
Onward, America. We've all seen plenty of the worst - the sly cruelty, the arrogant ignorance, the fascination with trivia, the cheats, the weaselish and piggish and the buzzardly - but we can rise above it if we will only recognize a leader when one comes along and have the sense to let him lead.
Garrison Keillor's column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is oldscout@