Okay. So raise your small hands (or medium or large ones) if you’ve never even heard of the Al Smith dinner until last night.
Aha. I see those hands, as the Southern Baptist revival preachers used to say from the pulpit during the altar call or “invitation” as we called it back then when we sat on the small wooden pews with the large ceiling fans moving too slowly to stir the air in the Texas summer heat – even in a church as tiny as ours was in the 1950s. The revival preacher would be hotter than a two-dollar pistol when he was preaching about the fire and brimstone hell would bring to all sinners who refused to repent that very night – who knew if you would make it until the next night of the week-long revival…
“Bow your heads. Close your eyes, and pray,” he would say as he grabbed for the white handkerchief in his suit pocket to wipe the sweat dripping from his forehead to the tip of his nose. “Now with every head bowed and every eye closed, just raise your hand if you know you are a sinner bound for hell unless you get right with God tonight. That’s it. Just slip that hand on up right where you are without anyone looking. Yes, I see that hand.”
And so did I.
Because of course, I had to look. My head was bowed, but my eyes were not closed. I confess I wanted to know who was going to hell. I wanted to make sure all the people I loved weren’t raising their hands and I was always particularly focused on one of my uncles who was suspect.
Last night’s Al Smith Catholic Charities dinner also ended with a prayer, but it was a benediction – not an altar call. The Al Smith fundraiser takes place every four years during the political campaign season and gives the two presidential candidates an opportunity to meet on neutral ground breaking bread together and sharing a few jokes to make fun of themselves in front of a thousand people who paid $6 million dollars to hear them. You know, jokes, as in funny hahaha or lol if you prefer.
Unfortunately, this year’s Al Smith dinner was the night after the final presidential debate which was the conclusion of three such meetings that were all notorious for the brutal exchanges between the two candidates. Mean, mean and not a dancing machine between them. But here they were having dinner at a long table with only a Catholic Cardinal between them. I pitied Cardinal Dolan. He tried so hard to divide his conversation evenly between the two of them that his head was actually spinning and his little red cap fell off. Uh, oh. Bad sign.
The candidates both proved they weren’t comedians but did get a few laughs – and a few boos. It’s really difficult to be booed at the Al Smith dinner, but DT didn’t get the memo about the event being just for fun and engaged in inappropriate behavior and mean-spirited attacks against Secretary Clinton that provoked loud boos. Imagine that. Rudy Giuliani didn’t get the memo to smile when he was on camera. Tsk. Tsk. Rudy, Rudy, Rudy.
I have a really good friend named Donna who didn’t see the dinner on TV last night but woke up this morning to the clips that showed the jokes that were more insults than funny haha and she texted me that she was so disgusted with the campaign she was going to shut down her Facebook and TV altogether until the election is over…maybe forever.
I totally get that. But here’s the thing. We are now less than three weeks away from November 8th. We are in the home stretch. This will end for almost everyone on election day so don’t throw up your hands whatever size they are now because I will be looking to see if you have stayed focused and voted.
That’s right – even in cyberspace I will keep my eyes open to make you heed the altar call to vote.
P.S. My dog Charly is unaffected by the political turmoil of this campaign season – I hope your weekend is as laid back as hers.