Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean everyone is not out to get me. . .

It is a sad and frightening state of affairs, but the truth is, truth, if actually disclosed and disseminated, sounds so much like the bizarre rantings of mad men, that we the people do not pay attention.

For your consideration (after all, the truth these days does sound like the twilight zone, for you people fortunate enough to remember the old TV show):

The major network and cable news outlets this week have been absolutely consumed with Jeremiah Wright. Hours and hours of Jeremiah Wright talking, or being talked about. A little bit of Jeremiah Wright coverage is probably warranted, but there has been room for nothing else. Very little coverage of a little war that is raging in Iraq, or negotiations for a Palestinian settlement, or any number of other insignificant events. Perhaps slightly more newsworthy than Brittany or Paris or Anna Nicole or Michael or Kobe, Rev. Wright has served the same purpose of using up precious news time.

The New York Times reported this week that almost every talking head retired general that appears on the major network and cable news shows as an expert, unbiased analyst of all things military (Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pentagon, weapons, etc.) is a stockholder, director, or employee of corporations that are major defense contract holders. These are the folks that the networks put in front of us to give insight and opinion as to government policy regarding war, military budgets, foreign policy, etc. Could there possibly be a conflict of interest?

As far as I can tell, the major broadcast outlets buried the story.

Perhaps this is not too surprising. I laugh when people talk about the "liberal" media, referring to every broadcast outlet other than FOX news. But if one does a very brief look at the owners of the major networks, it is easy to see that they are all subject to economic benefits from a healthy defense budget. GE, Boeing, Viacom, Sunsystems, and many other defense contractors are intimately connected to the major networks. They all make a lot of money from federal defense contracts. There are also ties to large pharmaceutical companies and others. Big media is now owned by big business. Not only are they owned by big business, but their revenues come from big business.

So why are we not told of these connections? Get real. Corporations have no conscience, other than to make a good profit for investors. That is not the fault of corporations. Wake up people. Corporations are not human. They are a creation of statute. They are doing what they were designed to do.

As an old school journalist wannabe, it hurts my heart. In journalism school we were taught that the ethic of the journalist was critical to the well-being of the country. Being a tough, ethical journalist was an extreme act of patriotism. All conflicts were to be disclosed, and if necessary, were to disqualify the journalist from the story. What a quaint notion.

What happened? Where did journalism lose its ethic, its fierce independence?

A few years ago the government lifted long time ownership restrictions on media of all types. There were rules about how many media outlets could be owned by one entity. One person or corporation could not own more than one broadcast station and newspaper in a given market, and all transfers were examined by the Federal Communications Commission to assure diversity of ownership. The idea was that the independence created by the limitations would assure that the truth would come out and a diversity of ideas and entertainment would result. There was no opportunity for big money to be made. But now, the restrictions are gone. Huge corporations own hundreds of radio and television broadcast stations, networks, cable systems, and newspapers, because they can make a whole lot of money. The independent news outlets are on the endangered species list and nobody cares, nobody knows, because the behometh media conglomerates are certainly not going to disclose a story that is contrary to their interests.

So big deal, you might say. We still get a lot of news.

But what happened to stories about the more than 100,000 private contract employees that the U. S. government has employed to do jobs formerly done by the military, including combat duties without the niceties of the Geneva and other conventions to slow them down. What happened to the stories about the billions of dollars of waste in the prosecution of the war? What happened to stories about pharmaceutical companies knowingly marketing drugs which are hazaardous to life? Where are the stories about how sub-prime loans became possible? What happened to stories about the destruction of the Bill of Rights as a result of the Homeland Security Act? What happened to stories about what really happens in war? What happened to stories about Saudi Arabia's connections to terrorist groups? I could go on and on.

You won't see these stories, or any that get to the heart of the matter.

Deregulation. It sounds good. Why put restrictions on creativity? Because corporations have no conscience except to serve shareholders with profit. As a result of deregulation airlines do not arrive on time, all radio stations sound the same, drug companies can put out defective product, oil companies can make record profits while disaster befalls its neighbors (see Katrina), and we the people have no media outlet we can trust for the truth.

Sound like the rantings of a madman? You are right. I am mad.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Signs, signs, everywhere signs . . .

The other day I was driving home from Birmingham. It was the middle of an intense week, and I was pondering the value of how I spend my days. Sometimes being a lawyer can feel noble and good. Other times it doesn't. Anyway, I was cruising north on 59 with the question in my mind as to whether I should continue doing what I do.

So, while in a prayerful state about that big question, I look up, and there it is. A sign. An orange sign with black letters. It said, "END WORK'.

I thought to myself, could that be some kind of sign? Of course it was. It was in fact a sign. I thought about it for about a millisecond, and then began to laugh. Sure it was a sign, but I don't think it was a dew on the fleece kind of sign (See Gideon). It was a sign that let me know I could drive faster now.

Sometimes we want a sign so bad we will make one out of anything. But God really does give us signs. Some of them are to give us assurance, some give us direction, and some, quite a lot I think, make us laugh.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

You don't know what you've got till it's gone . . .

Funny how quickly things can change. We live our lives taking so many things for granted. So many things must function correctly for us to live our lives as we do. I never think about that until something gets out of kilter.

I was thinking about my cell phone just this week. Amazing. That little lump of alloy and plastic has been dropped, both on concrete and in the toilet, coated with sand, sat in the car with a temperature range between 15 degrees to about a million. And it works, after two years, way past my upgrade date. It just keeps on working. How do they make something that good? But, if one little bitty connector wire gets bent or breaks, it won't work.

Like Vann's car. Most of it works. But yesterday afternoon the battery light came on, and it wasn't being charged anymore. It's still at the Summit.

Tonight, around 5:15, I felt a scratch in my throat. By the time I started singing at Hee Haw (one performance left, Sunday 5:30, Lester Memorial UMC, Oneonta, y'all come) around 5:45, my voice was clearly (or actually not so clearly) leaving. By the time I tried to sing Where or Where are you Tonight, phffllt, it was gone.

A small aggravation. But a blessing too. I'm a guy who is amazed that a cell phone works, that a car keeps running, or that jets can really stay up in the air. So to consider how a human body keeps on working is miraculous. I mean really. Miraculous. I don't think of that so much when it is just humming along as it usually does. But tonight as I sit in silence, I am thinking of that. Truly amazing.

And it does pretty good at fixing itself. Even my trusty Samsung won't do that.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A little help from my friend . . .

It's been a rough week. Not bad but rough. Non-stop lawyering. People with problems, contentious prosecutors (that means they disagree with me). Long hours, long trips.

So, when I took time to sit down and write funny script for Hee Haw, which is coming up this weekend at Lester Memorial (Sat. and Sun. dinner performances, 5:30, y'all come), I just couldn't come up with anything funny. The kind of stuff I could think of would not make anyone laugh.

So I called a friend and explained the situation. She asked, "what can I do to help?" Well, I couldn't think of anything. Then she said, "you want me to sing you a song?" Now that brought the first laugh from my mouth for a couple of days. So she sang "You are My Sunshine", mumbling through the verse when she didn't know the words. This is one of those friends that can sing, but she just doesn't voluntarily sing when cued by words in conversation, or just spontaneously, as some of us do. So, the sacrifice she made in singing to me on the phone in my time of need made me smile.

It may not seem like much, but my friend singing for me lifted me up to a place where I could laugh, and later on that evening, begin to help create a character based on the niece of Minnie Pearl. The jokes are extremely corny, but they are done.

That's what friends are for. Go ahead and sing it, I know you want to.

"Keep smiling, keep laughing,
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure,
That's what friends are for . . .

da, da, da,
da, da, da,
da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da da.
That's what friends are for . . ."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sumatanga sounds

Yesterday was a great day at Sumatanga. Sumatanga is a United Methodist Camp nestled in Greasy Cove at the foot of Chandler Mountain, just outside Gallant, Alabama. It is holy ground.

Much about yesterday was no different than other great days at Sumatanga. Creation praised the Creator as it exploded with the color and freshness of spring against the clear blue of sky and water. Children explored everywhere, discovering geese and turtles, rocks and streams. Couples, young and old, walked hand in hand down leafy lanes, each with similar memories of this special place. Old friends found time and place to visit, new friends did the same. Crafts were made, games were played, hamburgers and hotdogs were grilled, and there was music .

Music was the advertised reason for this day at Camp. It was called, "Sounds of Sumatanga." As one of the people who had the privilege of singing and playing on the stage with the lake as the backdrop and the rest of Camp as the concert hall, I was blessed. The sounds that came from the stages between 11 and 6 were wonderful, and timeless, echoing music that has filled the sweet air of that place for decades.

But other sounds were just as sweet and just as timeless. The laughter of children, the laughter of the rest of us, the conversations of friends, the shout across the way to an old buddy, the thump of a kickball as it soars into the outfield, the honk of geese, the rustle of new leaves in a spring breeze, the crunch of gravel under the tires of cars as the occupants arrive expectantly and leave reluctantly, the sounds of servants working together to cook for the multitudes, the insistence of a friend to use sunscreen, the insistence of a younger friend to slide down the castle slide, the request of an even younger friend to tie a knot in the cross being held together with yarn.

The sounds of Sumatanga. For me, it sounds a lot like home.

Friday, April 18, 2008

This is Tom Jones?

In preparing to play some music for Sounds of Sumatanga tomorrow, one of the Embers, specifically Alan Cheney, brought a disturbing image to mind. After I listed one of the songs in our set as "Days of Delilah" , Alan asked whether that would be the Tom Jones version, leading me to ponder a CD named "This is Tom Jones, praise and worship". I asked Alan to break out the old double knit pants and the big collar shirt sans upper buttons, and some plug chest hair. If you see him, ask him about it.

That's what's new, pussycat.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bringing home the groceries . . .

I called my state senator's office yesterday to ask him to vote for a couple of bills that would begin a process to amend our state constitution. You would think that would not be a particularly difficult thing to do, considering the hundreds of amendments that have been made to our constitution.

The amendments would remove the sales tax on groceries, and would remove the deduction for federal taxes in state income tax calculations.

The senator's secretary told me I was the first person to call her in favor of both bills. Many people supported the elimination of the sales tax on groceries, but most of them did not want to have the deduction for federal taxes abolished.

The folks who originally drafted this legislation did something kind of rare in politics and state government. They attempted to act responsibly and honestly. The abolition of the deduction for federal taxes would create enough tax revenue for the state to offset the loss of the sales tax from the groceries. I think it is called "revenue neutral". That is the responsible thing.

The honest part was telling the good people of Alabama that in order to bring overdue relief to the folks in our lower income bracket the folks in the highest brackets would have to pay more.

But we in Alabama are guilty of fraud. We learned well George Wallace's refrain that no pointy headed liberals from Washington could tell us how to run our state and are still whistling that tune. We are children of the South, the bastion of individual rights, where real men pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make it on their own. Wrong.

The Tax Foundation does a periodic study to determine how much federal money each state receives compared to how much federal taxes its people pay. In 2004 the study revealed that for every dollar paid by Alabamians to the federal government, we receive $1.73 in federal expenditures. Only five other states did better at soaking the rest of the country. Far from making it on our own, we receive almost twice as much money from the feds as we give to them. Not so independent, but a lot like children, calling on kind Uncle Sam to help us with our bootstraps.

What started out as an opportunity for a noble step toward fair taxation could easily become just another child-like refusal to take responsibility.

We really are good folks here in Alabama. It's time we started acting that way. Call your state senator and ask him to do the honest and responsible thing.

For more information go to: http://www.alarise.org/index.htm

A big shout out to Elwyn Thomas, representative from my district, who may have been the lone Republican to vote in favor of the bill. Excellent.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lift your eyes unto the mall, from whence cometh your salvation . . .

A few weeks ago when the stock market spiraled downward after a major financial institution crumbled and it became apparent the U. S. economy was in trouble, the woeful predictions of doom were dominating every news outlet. It was breaking news. You know that things are serious when they use the tympani drum intro. Our way of life was in jeopardy. The talking heads were in shock. One expert appeared and said:

"The only thing that will save us is for Americans to buy more stuff. The consumer can save us."

I am not opposed to commerce. A fair price for a good product is a good thing. But the longer I live the more I realize that Jesus was right. I know He is pleased to have my endorsement.

Jesus enjoyed food and drink. He probably had at least one pair of sandals, maybe two. Perhaps he had a shirt and a cloak. Maybe a couple of pair, or set, or outfits, or whatever they were called. I figure as he talked about these things He probably was pointing to his own possessions as illustrations. You know, if a man demands your shirt (here he would grab the edge of his shirt) then give him your cloak also (here he would grab the edge of his cloak, whatever that is, I know we had cloak rooms in elementary school, but I never really knew what a cloak looked like). In the story of the Good Samaritan it was a good thing that the Samaritan was able to pay for the services rendered by the innkeeper. Jesus' dad (Joseph, the earthly dad) was a carpenter. I am sure Jesus was fed and clothed with the money Joseph earned from people buying his product. So I don't think that Jesus considered commerce an inherently bad thing.

But I do think He would have trouble with our infatuation with consumption. Now we have come to the point that our very way of life depends on us stepping our consumption up a notch for the the salvation of all mankind. Or at least for the good of the U. S. economy.

It just doesn't feel right. Jesus talked about not storing up our treasures here on earth. We have to rent extra storage just to warehouse the stuff we wanted at one time or other but can't fit into our houses. Jesus told the disciples to leave their nets behind. Later he told them to travel light as He sent them into the mission field. He just did not have much stuff. It would have slowed him down.

Just as it slows us down.

We are only awake about 112 hours each week. I don't think it would be a stretch to say that many of us use as many as 20 hours a week choosing, buying, transporting, protecting, insuring, cleaning, repairing and storing stuff we do not need.

But all we have is time. Time is too precious to spend on stuff.

More stuff will not be our salvation. It will be our damnation. And quite possibly we will take the rest of the world with us if we keep consuming at the present rate. But that's a subject for another day.

Wouldn't it be amazing if a talking head said, "our salvation will come if we Americans learn to love each other and love the world, even if that means consuming less."

Shoot, that would be amazing even if it came from a pulpit.

Social Mythology

So many years have passed since my political science classes at the University of Alabama that today's students of that science (?) would probably think we believed the political world to be flat. And they may be right to a degree, but that may be a topic for a later effort.

Details of what I learned in those classes with Dr. Bennet and Dr. Snow, among others, have faded. One thing I do remember is the idea of the "Great Social Myth." It has intrigued me since I first read about it lo those many years ago because it seems to be so obvious and so true, and so very, very useful.

I am sure there have been books and blogs written about it, and I'm sure that I am not aware of the nuances of the concept. The basic idea is that throughout history there have arisen social myths within societies against which the people could unite, usually rallying around a leader whose declared purpose was to eliminate the evil of the social myth of the day. The leader used the fight against the social myth to maintain his (I'm not aware of any hers who did this, for you who are gender sensitive) position and power.

For example, the witch hunts of early New England fame fit the definition, unless you believe there really were a bunch of witches that needed taking care of. A number of people were accused of being witches. The fires of fear and hatred were fanned by the religious leaders. The entire community became engaged in the identification, pursuit and elimination of any "witches" among them. Today we still call wrongful accusation and prosecution "witch hunts."

This seems to occur in all cultures. Hitler raised it to an extreme level in identifying Jews as a national enemy of Germany and the superior race, unless of course you believe the Jews were the cause of all the ills of Germany at the time.

We in the United States suffer the phenomenon on a regular basis. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the South against the evil presented by freed slaves in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries (unless you believed the African-Americans were evil). The Red Scare and the demonization of labor unions and the McArthy era (unless you believed that all those people who were deemed connected to communism were out to destroy our country).

Liberals. Conservatives. Gays. Immigrants. Terror.

Unless we really believe. God help us.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Perfect Children

I spent the weekend with a bunch of great people, some of whom were young men who are residents of a local juvenile facility. The rest of us were not juvenile, we just acted that way.

Life in the juvenile facility is tough, but probably not as tough as life outside the juvenile facility for most of these guys. That kind of life requires close attention to self-protection; protection from harm, physical and emotional. That kind of life requires one to build a wall of protection. It may not be made of steel and concrete, but this wall of protection is just as real and just as formidable as the walls that surround the facility in which they spend their days.

But for a couple of days this weekend, some of the walls were compromised. Some walls came crashing down, others simply cracked enough to allow a peephole to be formed. But for a few hours we were allowed to see these children of God as He intended them to be. There were smiles, laughter, chatter, singing, stomping, sharing ,compassion and tears.

I've always had trouble with Paul's analysis of the human condition as "filthy rags". I believe that each one of us is really a child of God, just as perfect as He created us. We are merely hidden by the walls we build, or the baggage we stack around us. The only things filthy about us are those with which God never meant for us to be encumbered. We started out as perfect children, and it is God's desire that we all be restored to that perfection.

There is nothing so beautiful as the faces of the children of God in those moments when they are revealed. There were a bunch of us revealed this weekend, those who live in those dorms at Vacca, and those of us who were just visiting. I'm not sure that heaven will be much more than that, all of us being together, restored to the perfect children that God created.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bees a blessing

When I was a child, I went barefoot in the summer, unless I was playing baseball, or mowing the lawn (and that was only if someone made me). There is freedom in being shoeless. The freedom is not without a price, however. One time I was running after a football I had thrown to myself (a sad story in itself) and I kicked the claw end of a crow bar hidden in the green grass of summer. But the more common problem was the bees that enjoyed the clover in our lawn. So at an early and formative age I developed a dislike, or at least a distrust of bees.

So I was shocked yesterday at my reaction to some bees I watched move among the blossoms of a crab apple tree and a blueberry bush. I stood and watched them for a few minutes, thinking how wonderful it was to see them.

Why the sudden change of heart?

The plight of bees, in particular honey bees, has been all over the news lately. They are simply going away. That's bad news for all of us who enjoy food. Scientists have yet to come up with an explanation, and it is a serious problem.

So, with the knowledge that the bees were in trouble, I saw the bees in a completely different light. I had assumed they were part of this world that would never change. They would always be doing what they are supposed to do. I had no idea that they could have such problems that they would become so weak, or perhaps even go away.

But when the bees started failing to show up for work, their absence was noted. They were probably having problems long before they didn't show up, I mean, they have a pretty good work record. But no one noticed. No one noticed that they were weaker, or a little slower, or that their wings had little tears.

But now at least there are some honey bees in Oneonta that are working, and looking healthy. I stood there for a few minutes, appreciating their work, and thanked God for the bees . . . out loud, so they could hear.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Party elections . . .

A funny thing happened on the way to a party last night. The party was for
Benjamin and Kate, to celebrate their upcoming marriage. I was going to be a little late. I called Benjamin earlier in the day to get the instructions to the home where the party was being held. He said to take a left off 31 at the drugstore across from the Vestavia City Center, go past the Methodist church, take a left, then an immediate right. The party is just down the street a short way. Look for all the cars. I was pleased. Much easier to find than I had thought.

So I followed the intructions. They were perfect. I made the turns, went a short way, and there were the cars. The house where the party was being thrown was obvious, you could see people in the large window. So I parked, walked up the sidewalk, and not wanting to disturb anyone, let myself in. The host and hostess greeted me and introduced me to a few folks. Then they led me to an elderly lady in a wheel chair and said " and here is the birthday girl."

I was in the wrong party. Fortunately they were wonderful people and I am quite sure they had a wonderful time. But it was the wrong party for me. I told them of my error, wished the birthday girl happy birthday, and made my humble exit.

I got back into my car, rode about 100 yards further down the street, and there was a bunch of cars. I could tell there was a party going on, cause I could see the people through the window. I parked the car, walked up the sidewalk, and, not wanting to disturb anyone, let myself in. The hostess greeted me and introduced me to some folks standing close by. For a split second I wondered, "Could this be another wrong party?" Then I saw Benjamin and Kate and some other familiar faces, and they welcomed me. The party was great. I met some new friends and had the pleasure of catching up with a couple of old friends I had not seen in years.

There are a lot of great parties going on in this world. Good people, loving each other, who wouldn't question, but would welcome a lost stranger. You know they are good parties because of the crowds that park outside the doors. Every party is not the right party for everyone, and that's okay.

I just thought it was great that on that street on that night, there were two parties, each celebrating life with friends and family, brought together in love. Maybe in some way they were all the same party after all.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

How did they get all that on one little coin?

Have you killed anyone lately?

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Jesus said that. How nice of Him to give us this free pass. He must have known that we would not be able to live like He told us. He could not have really meant for us to treat our enemies with love, to not resist the evil doer. He could not have meant that we have no right to exact vengeance for wrongs that have been done.

So, he gave us an out. He let us have Caesar. Give it to Caesar, he'll do anything. And we'll wash our hands. Thank God we don't have to pull the trigger that is sending a bullet towards a person that may be the enemy, may not be. May be an adult, or maybe not. Caesar does that for us. Thanks Jesus, for giving us this way out.

Thank God that we don't have to decide whether the destruction of an entire country and the killing of thousands is justified to protect our way of life. Caesar does that for us. Thanks Jesus, for giving us this way out.

Thank God we don't have to kill a person for committing a crime. We don't have to pull a switch to electrocute, we don't have to inject the poison, Caesar does that for us. Thanks Jesus, for giving us this way out.

If only we could get Caesar to take over all the awkward things that are causing us discomfort.

If only he would put all the abortion providers and abortion seekers in jail, then we wouldn't have to struggle anymore with why there are so many abortions in the first place . . .

If only he would tell those who protest abortion that they must stop, then we wouldn't have to hear those things that trouble their hearts . . .

If only Caesar would create a comprehensive welfare and medical care system then we wouldn't have to deal with what creates and perpetuates poverty in the first place. . .

If only Caesar would do something about all these deadbeats on welfare, then we wouldn't have to deal with what creates and perpetuates poverty in the first place. . .

If only Caesar would do something with all these gays and lesbians then we wouldn't have to try to understand them . . .

If only Caesar would do something about these narrow straights and their prejudice, then we wouldn't have to try to understand them . . .

If only Caesar would kick all these illegal immigrants out of the country, then we wouldn't have to try to understand what made them leave the home of their birth . . .

If only we had embraced Jesus' other instructions as fully as we have this one.

Perhaps Jesus should have been more clear.

Maybe we should ask Caesar to tell us what Jesus really meant. Or maybe we already have.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Old hearts should be tougher . . .

I'm getting older. Some would just say old. I don't feel that way, but, it's just a fact. When I was younger I thought of myself as a romantic. I wrote songs about love, talked about the beauty of sunsets and oceans, and offered my heart up to be squashed on a regular basis. And it was. Most of the time the squasher didn't even know she had squashed anything cause I was too shy to let her know I was seriously interested.

I assumed that there would come a time when the old heart would toughen up a bit. That the chances of it breaking would be greatly reduced as I became older and wiser, more experienced in the ways of the world and therefore able to remain in control, especially of my own emotions. I thought that passions were for the young.

But I still write songs about love. I proclaim the beauty of sunsets and oceans more than ever. And while still a tad uncertain of myself, I have actually exposed my heart a little more openly. Let me tell you, it still breaks. I guess some things never get old.
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