Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bend but don't break . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is a perfect spring morning.  Birds are singing. Honeysuckle and wisteria are creeping.  The sky is cornflower blue,  my favorite color for the sky.  The early morning air was icy, but it is warming up now.  The view out the window behind the sofa is beautiful and daunting as I take stock of yard work that needs to be done. 

I tried to do a little yard work last Saturday, beginning with removing some leaves which had piled up on part of my roof during the winter.  With my trusty leaf rake in hand I climbed the ladder and mounted the roof and quickly got to work.  The leaves were water soaked and heavy, stubbornly clinging together and holding their shingles.  I pounded the tines of the leaf rake into the brown mass, pulling harder and harder on the wooden handle as it strained and bent against the task.

As it turns out the wooden handle was not meant to bend like that.  It suddenly snapped.  The Herculean force I had been exerting on the handle had to go somewhere.  Amazingly it was transferred to my right fist which was still gripping the short piece of the upper handle.

As a result of the laws of physics I slugged myself with a stunning right cross to my jaw which sent me reeling as I stood on the roof.  It was an impressive lick, the kind that makes you check to see if your jaw joints are in place and your teeth are still there.  It was a TKO.  After lying on the roof for a few minutes I slinked down the ladder, went back into the house and decided to put off yard work for awhile.

Looking out the window this morning I am reminded that I need to clear some saplings that have grown up on the hill right behind the house.  There are hardwoods and pines and I need to thin them out.  

There is a difference between the hardwoods and the pines.  Several of the young pine trees are bent over and twisted, some with almost ninety degree bends in the slender trunks.  These bends are permanent.   These trees were very young a year ago, and when the February snows came and stayed, the needles of the pine trees collected the heavy snow.  The trees were helpless to dump the snow themselves, and as the days went on they bowed down under the weight.  By the time that long February ended and all the snows finally melted, the young pines were bent and twisted permanently, unable to straighten up even though the heavy weight of the snow had melted away.  I remember during those days looking out my window to the frigid white hillside and the crystalline needles of the young pines.  I remember thinking that I needed to go out and shake the snow from their branches so they would stand back up, but I never did.  I assumed that when the snow melted they would be okay, that they would straighten up.  They never did.

The hardwood saplings, on the other hand, stand straight.  In the winter they have no leaves to catch the heavy snow, and never have to suffer from the crushing, cold weight.

The next generation of these trees may not look the same.  The seeds of the bent and twisted pine trees will not create bent and twisted trees.  They will spring from the earth pointed straight to the heavens.  There will be nothing within them that causes them to twist or bend except the innate need to survive if the snow comes.  Their fate will depend on the chance of snow, and if anyone will be there to clear the snow if it comes so early in their youth.

The laws of physics are relentless.  Excessive force can have two results.  The object of the force can be damaged, sometimes beyond repair, sometimes beyond recognition.  And sometimes the object of the force will snap, or explode, transferring the energy of the force indiscriminately, with no regard to who or what is damaged nearby.

Either way, I have learned it is wise to heed the warning, the bending that comes with the weight, that comes with the pressure.

Because ignoring that bending in the world around us, or even within ourselves,  can result in some strange and painful things.

It's like slugging yourself in the face.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Like Putin, I just needed to get this off my chest and Bebe free. . .

Lately I have been trying to be sensitive in my writing.  But I am in a really bad mood for a variety of reasons, and the suppressed anger is bubbling up.  So consider this post akin to a mental rioting in the street.  That's about as crazy as I get.  So, in no particular order, let me toss a few metaphorical Molotovs.

The State of Israel is a small country that is dependent on the U.S.A. for its existence despite having achieved one of the strongest and most secure economies in the world.  The United States pays 3.15 billion dollars in direct military aid to Israel each year, almost one quarter of Israel's annual defense budget.  Israel receives millions of additional dollars in indirect aide.  One quarter of that military aide has been used to build one of the strongest military weapon industries in the world.  The only benefit that Israel offers to the United States is a strategic location and a stable sympathetic government in an unstable region.   It is a right and good thing that we support a secure country for Jews after the horrors inflicted on them during WWII.  I support that right and good thing.  But giving Israel political input into our foreign policy  has no basis in reason.  There is even less basis in reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to appear before Congress to speak. It was Prime Minister Netanyahu who testified before Congress in 2002, enthusiastically exhorting the Congress to approve the invasion of Iraq, based on what turned out to be gross misinformation.  He also predicted that it would not be a difficult or long mission.  That turned out well. A reasonable argument can be made that the horrors that plague that region today are a result of that faulty reasoning he shared with American leaders at the time.   Netanyahu is a politician who is in trouble in an election at home in two weeks and desperately needs help.  And who can blame him for thinking that he can turn to America for help in his personal campaign.   I suppose some think that the State of Israel is the same as the nation of Israel in the Bible. I do not. No more than I believe that my client Jesus' is the son of God.  I believe the State of Israel is not unlike most countries, seeking security and prosperity for itself, doing some good, and some bad along the way to achieve those goals. Again, I am in favor of supporting Israel.  But this irrational, romantic, intellectually baseless attitude that the State of Israel and its leader Prime Minister Netanyahu know what's best regarding the United States foreign policy is sad at best, and very dangerous at worst.

On a related note, what is the deal with some Americans need to idolize foreign leaders?  First Putin, now Bebe. (I did once have a crush on Princess Grace of Monaco, but that was different)  Putin is considered a terribly scary yet comical bare chested buffoon by the rest of the world.  Netanyahu is not really considered much at all.   As opposed to President Obama, who is a reasoned, intelligent, even-keeled leader who speaks of and exhibits Christian values as he struggles to lead American forward in unprecedented treacherous international times. He is also probably the most respected leader in the world.  A serious, smart, Christian guy.  America reminds me of the girls in high school. Always falling for the bad boys.  It is true.  We'll be sorry in a few years after the bad boy gets fat and lays around all day and won't get a job.  The serious, smart, Christian guy will be looking pretty good then. At least that's what my mother used to say.

President Obama's Iran strategy is the best chance to control the nuclear advancement of Iran.  It has been moderately successful so far and is at a delicate and critical stage in negotiation.  The most significant threat to that success has been  Congress pressing for more sanctions on Iran and now the State of Israel Prime Minister pressing for what appears to be a military option, with the United States taking the lead.  He offers no other option.  Perhaps I just do not understand. If someone can explain to me how any military threat or even sanctions that stop the negotiations from proceeding are going to effectively prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon, I hope you chime in.  Actually I always hope folks chime in.

What part of "judge not lest you be judged,"  "cast the first stone, if you think you're good enough," or "do not look for the speck in another's eye until you remove the plank from your own," do we not understand?  I'm talking about us Christians now, so those unaffected can skip down if you wish. It is not my job as a Christian to name someone else's sin. It is not yours either.  Take the LGBT issue that consumes so much of the time and energy of the institutional church these days. I do not believe being LGBT is a sin.   But it really doesn't matter what I believe. And it doesn't matter what you believe.  At least in the Christian spirituality sense.  God is the judge of all such things.  Jesus was pretty clear, abundantly clear, that we are not to judge.  Stones and planks. Judging is more often the sin  that Jesus spoke of in such situations.  Strangely he scolded the accusers and not so much the accused. I don't want to be scolded by Jesus. So if I err, I pray that it will be on the side of too much grace.  I can't judge anyone else about this judging issue I suppose.  I am obviously failing miserable tonight.  A real double bind.   But I do believe that the decline of the institutional church is not what we are being told.  The decline is caused by us, the Body of Christ, wasting God's time on gathering stones that should never be thrown.  Let's don't judge. It's a sin. Let's go, follow,  love. serve. forgive. pray.  That should burn up all our time and energy. If we finish all that up, maybe then we can judge. Or maybe just leave that up to God.

The Death Penalty cannot be justified.

Health care for everyone is a good thing. Medical insurance for all is a way to accomplish this.  Why is this not a worthy national goal?  If Obamacare is not perfect, why do away with it? Why not fix it, unless we don't care whether everyone has quality medical care.  Why celebrate the possibility that millions of people who have obtained medical insurance will lose it?  Again, this next note is for Christians.  Jesus said, "heal the sick,"  "tend to the poor."   If that is not being done for everyone, we are responsible.  And for me, that failure is a sin.  Check the goats and sheep story of Matthew 25 one more time.  It is instructive on these things, but really, really scary.
  
What is the big deal about the Keystone Pipeline?  It's construction has required and is still requiring the government to come in and force some landowners to sell some of their land to private business.  That does not sound like something the tea party conservative or the libertarian would be supportive of.  It poses a risk to the environment.  Maybe there could be a positive economic impact. But it might well be an expensive investment in a dying technology.  But really,  it's just not as big deal to our country as someone is making it.  And certainly not big enough to outweigh the rights of the private landowners and the risk to the environment.

Why do we in the State of Alabama insist on doing silly, stupid, mean things that keep the rest of the country and world from knowing what a great place we live in, with great, kind, loving people, with great creativity and talent and intelligence and abilities.  Why do we celebrate ignorance?  We are so much different and better and smarter than that.  When are we going to admit it?

A good way to begin would be to end the tax system which is overtly regressive and cruelly oppressive to the poor among us. 

Yea, that would do it.  

Let's do it this year.

Thanks for listening.  I feel better.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Among the ashes (Ash Wednesday rambling)

There was something different about my popcorn this evening.   After I had a few handfuls I noticed some black specks, as if I had burned it on the stovetop.  But I had not.  I pride myself in a perfect pot of corn on a regular basis.

But there it was, tiny blackish- gray specks in the handful of kernels I held close for examination.  And then I saw it.  Not on the corn.  On my fingers. With which I had scratched my forehead.  Which was covered with ashes from the mark of the cross drawn on my head earlier this evening at an Ash Wednesday service.  A little gross I know.  But ashes are disinfected, right?

The ashes did not have a taste and added no noticeable texture to my popcorn.  They made no difference at all.

From ashes I was made and to ashes I will return.

After my time has come to return to ash, it will be too late for me to make a difference in this world. But in the meantime there is much to be done, much flavor and texture to add to this world while I still can.  Forget the shadowy greys and blacks of the ashes, I want a neon electric rainbow.

That's what the Ash Wednesday Service means to me.  Not the beginning of forty days of gray, but rather a reminder that I have been given a few moments in the in between of important, vibrant, precious  life in this world, and all of its miraculous wonders.    So, what is required of me?  How best to spend these brief moments between the ashes?

To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.  At least that's what Micah of the Hebrew Bible said.  And I like that.  It is a short, simple and elegant statement of the calling of humanity, and how the Creator wants the created to turn out.

Perhaps it seems too tame too spend a life on. Especially when time is too short.

But there are few who can make that criticism with integrity.  Because few of us have tried it.  Most of us have become spectators,  too afraid or prideful to be in the world. We keep a safe distance and yell our critiques. The Creator said nothing about requiring that we watch. Or that we yell our commentaries.   We are called to act, to love, to walk.  All require action.  All require interaction.  In the world. With people.  With God.  Not a whole lot of spectating called for.

To work for justice and to show mercy will be no tame matter.  It will probably be the craziest thing we have ever done.  It will take us to countries, or even tougher, to neighborhoods that we have never been,  to do and say things we have never said, to people we never would dream of challenging or even harder, loving.     It requires either a confrontation with power, or standing with the oppressed,  or both, wherever they may be found.  

 And walking with God?  It really helps as we try to do the first two things.  I often joke that being in relationship with God is not so easy.  It's tough loving somebody who is always right.  On the other hand, God never gets lost.  But God likes to go everywhere.  Yes, it is a comforting thought to believe that God watches over us.  But God is a God who has a reputation for coming, for showing up.  Anywhere. Everywhere.  Shaking us awake. Helping us lighten our load so we can move quickly.  God wants us to walk along. 

That is what the time between the ashes is supposed to be.

A walk with the Creator.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

We hold these truths to be flexible . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is a beautiful day, perfect to get outside and load some firewood and bring it up to the house in preparation for the pending Winter Storm.  It will be a little tricky because before I left the hospital Sunday night without my appendix, the nurse told me, she even wrote it down, that I should not lift more than ten pounds for two weeks.  My immediate thoughts were to question her as to how it would be possible to lift this body out of bed each morning. or whether that ten pounds was cumulative or started over with each lift, or a couple of questionable, yet hilarious quips which I will continue to keep to myself. (I was still a little drugged so give me a break)  But she had the power to release me from my confinement so I kept the sharp sarcasm inside.  It hurt. No, literally. It hurt.


There are probably ways around the ten pound limit.  Did she mean ten pounds per arm?  Did she account for the mechanical advantage created by a fulcrum point?  Is it ten pounds if the wood were green, because it's dried out now?  We'll see.


I'm thinking of taking my bathroom scales out into the field with me, and roll each log onto it before I lift. If it's 10.00 pounds or less I'll lift away.


Because clearly, it would never hurt me to lift 10.00 pounds or less.  And clearly, if I lift a nanogram over 10 pounds (yeah, I know I mixed my mass units, but I don't know the word in the English system) my abdomen will explode through my navel.


And if I could wait until that fifteenth day I could lift and throw the biggest log I could find.  But if I try to lift a smidgen over 10 on the 14th day it will be entrails everywhere.


Because that's what the nurse said.  She even wrote it down.


Actually what she wrote down was:


Lifting Restriction: >10 lbs for 2 wks.


It's pretty clear the real truth she was trying to say.


"You just had surgery.  Don't be stupid. Don't lift much of anything for a few days."


It was as if she knew me. It was a truth.


Writings that are meant to help, to explain, to instruct, are perverted by our selfish, short-sighted, self-centered perspectives.  I want to go load up all the firewood today despite what the nurse's order says. I want to dissect and pick her words and orders apart, instead of accepting what I know the clear message in context to be. I want to find loopholes, exceptions, acontextual interpretations that will let me do what I want. I want to use her words as my tools, my weapons, my way to get what I want.


As if the writings were the truth here, rather than just an attempt to describe and direct us to an unknowable, indescribable truth.  


The Biblical gospels, which are the accounts of Jesus' life and teachings, death and resurrection are the most obvious targets of our need to make exception.  You may have noticed this lately.


Love and serve everyone, no exceptions, especially your enemies.  Include everyone in your love and service, no exceptions. Judge no one. Forgive everyone.  Feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, stand with the oppressed, be kind to the foreigner. Take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan.   Do not store up treasure. Sell what you have and give to the poor. Your love is how they will know you. 


It is pretty straightforward.  And yet, we continuously try to make exceptions.  Several have been in the news lately.   "It is obviously necessary to judge  in order to make good decisions for our country, our families, our children."  "The evil our enemy has done calls for an equal response, a head for a head."  "They don't appreciate anything and waste what we give them."  "Why should we welcome someone whose very presence here is a violation of our laws."  "Welfare just encourages laziness."  "The Lord helps those who help themselves."


I was guilty just this morning. It was on purpose to make a point, and I have asked for forgiveness.  In pointing out how the Bible is being used to defend all kinds of non-Jesusy behaviour lately, I found support for a friend's direction for someone to kiss her ass.  Matthew 5:39. We are told to offer, or turn the other cheek.


It is a horrible and sad thing this perversion of the Gospel of Jesus.


Or the U. S.  Constitution  (14th Amendment):


All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


Equal protection?  State governments must treat every person equally under the law, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  Therefore, if the State makes laws regarding marriage, it cannot make distinctions based on those designations.  Crystal clear. 


But wait, we say. Surely the government can say that marriage can only be between a man and a woman?  Or surely the government can make a law to keep another Mosque from being built close to Ground Zero in NYC?  Or surely a Chief Justice can keep a monument to the ten commandments in the rotunda of a State Supreme Court?  Or surely a governor can keep black folks out of our schools?  Or surely judges can presume that women are naturally superior to men to have custody of children?  Or surely a state can pay women employees less than men, or discriminate against women in hiring if it chooses?


The U. S. Constitution is clear. Neither the state nor the federal governments can. It's not hard to understand.  We all, and each of us, have equal rights under the law.  We should all be celebrating that to the rooftops.


We do it all the time. I'm a lawyer. I'll admit it. It's a lot of what I do. We attempt to find a way around the clear language of a contract, a statute, or a judge's order.  Alabama Probate Judge's did it all week, with absolutely no legal leg upon which to stand, as they pretended to be confused about an abundantly clear Federal Judge's Order.   


We all do it. We do it to get what we want.  Even if what we want has nothing to do with Truth.


And all when we really know, in our hearts, the Truth.


Love. Include. Serve. Forgive. Do not judge.  


All are equal under the law. 


What men or women have written down, others will pervert.  And so writings, however great, will never save us.  


But the Truth that inspires them  will.


And all that may have been just a little too heavy a lift for me today.  But at least the firewood will seem light by comparison . . . oh yeah, I think I'm on to something there.


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