Saturday, May 31, 2008

Shooting the messenger . . .

George Bush and his gang are sharpshooters, Dick Cheney's hunting mishap notwithstanding. A few of them are trained assassins.

Another messenger was shot at this week. But, perhaps the riflemen's arms are weary from holding position for too long, for it seems this week's rounds missed the mark necessary for a fatal shot.

For those who have been on planet Mars, or maybe now even farther out than that, George McClellan, former press secretary to W, wrote a book which was distributed this week. It explained, in some detail, how the Bush gang used propaganda and media manipulation to create public sentiment for the Iraq tragedy and repress public sentiment opposed to it. He also added detail to Valerie Plane story and less weighty stories. He told us that we have been lied to and manipulated consistently and intentionally.

Within hours the sharpshooters were ready, loaded and locked. Going for the heart, the sharpshooters ammunition assaulted the character of McClellan for his lack of loyalty to his boss, who had given him such a great opportunity. They appeared at their usual posts, in great numbers, never truly addressing or denying what McClellan said. These assassins have learned that the truth cannot be killed. But sometimes all that is necessary is to kill the one who carries the truth.

Harken back to Dan Rather prior to the 2004 election. Dan told us about George Bush's military record . . . of unexcused absences. Dan did not check his source and it turned out to be questionable. Dan was mortally wounded. Some would say at least in part self-inflicted. But what happened to the truth? It lay trapped under Dan's professional corpse. Was there ever a definitive explanation of the gap in W's military service? Nope. Not necessary. The evil Dan Rather, dark prince of the 4th estate, had been slain before he could do any further damage to the Republic.

I didn't really care about W's military service problems from 30 years ago, except that John Kerry's legitimate service was under attack. Even so, it was just political campaigning at its acceptable worst. I think this McClellan message is important. But what I deem important or what W deems important is not critical here.

It is critical that we the people can't handle the truth.

As a criminal defense attorney I have learned that witnesses necessary for the prosecution or the defense are never perfect. A witness that carries the critical evidence in the case will inevitably have a prior felony or two, or will have just left a drug deal or an illicit affair, or may even be a codefendant in the case. It makes hearing the truth difficult. I suppose I have been the assassin on many of those occasions. But the difference is, I have rules that I must follow, or I could very well end up having to defend myself to the same court. The juries and judges I have argued to understood that the discovery of the truth is the critical thing. The task cannot be conveniently avoided for comfort. That may require accepting the fact that the truth may have caught a ride with a questionable character. But finding the truth is worth the trouble.

But sometimes we don't want to hear the truth which reminds us of our own shortcomings. For instance, we don't want to know that we were wrong about the Iraq War. We want to continue to believe in the noble myth that was created for us and which we accepted without question. We don't want to accept the responsibility for the unspeakable damage that has been done by this war. It is our responsibility, after all. The military is only doing what we ask it to do. So it is tempting to pick up our own rifles and continue the attack on the messenger.

But before we fire on this messenger, or the next one that comes along, maybe we should hear and consider their final words. Many times great truths can be heard in final words, right before the sound of gunshots.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Summertime blues . . .

I love the beginning of summer. . . until I remember that I no longer get out of school at the end of May. So, oddly enough, the beginning of summer is a melancholy time for me. Now that I think of it, most of the year is melancholy. Don't cry for me, Art and Tina. I kind of like melancholy. Maybe it's not melancholy, but just memories.

Deb, whose ramblings may be reached by picking her journal link below, recently wrote about crying when she heard a song on the radio. I did that today. I was listening to WCRL, your Oneonta golden oldies station , and heard Dion's "Abraham, Martin and John,." by today's standards, and maybe even by the standards of the early seventies, a pretty cheesily produced record . I had the window down singing along as I was riding home from Birmingham . I made it fine through Abraham, John and Martin (that's the order of the verses. the chorus says Abraham, Martin and John). Then all of a sudden there was Bobby, walking over the hill, with Abraham, Martin and John. My voice broke, and tears filled my eyes. What was going on?

It is strange to me that we never really revisited, as a nation, what happened to us in 1968. I'm not talking about the debate as to whether it was a time that saved us as a nation, or almost destroyed us as a nation. I'm not talking about big, sweeping political or ideological shifts or shafts.

I'm talking about two young, charismatic, hopeful, smart, driven, committed, handsome men who were brutally murdered virtually right in front of our eyes within a few months of each other, and less than five years after the assassination of JFK. I'm talking about people like me, one of the Wonder Years generation, watching the news, seeing their children, and hoping and praying that these young men could be saved. I remember that MLK was pronounced dead very shortly after news of the shooting broke. But Bobby was different. We saw the pictures of the shooting. Weren't his eyes still open as he lay on the floor? He remained alive overnight. At least that's the way I remember it. With every passing hour I remember thinking, I think he's out of the woods. He's gonna make it. But he didn't.

When you're living through a five year period as a child and adolescent, it seems like an eternity. But looking back on it now, what a ridiculously painful and traumatic time we lived through in such a short time. What mindless, real, cruel, hateful violence played out right in front of our eyes. These guys looked like our fathers, and their children looked like us. It is no wonder that we as a country wanted to get all that behind us. But maybe there were a few of us who most would think were too young to really understand who should have had a little more time spent in dealing with what we had seen.

Or maybe I was just weird. OK, I was. But I bet there were others that feel like I do.

But there are good memories that come up this time of year. I walked out of the house early one morning last week. The sun was shining. There was a light cool breeze blowing, but the heat of the sun felt more like summer than spring. For a moment I felt like I should be walking to the car to load up and head to the beach. But I headed to court instead. I felt like crying.

Or, the other day I was in a mall and passed by a shoe store. The smell of leather was strong, and all of a sudden I was taken back to my carport when I was nine or ten. There was a new baseball glove in my lap, purchased with s & H green stamps, and I was working some saddle soap into it. What a smell. There's nothing like it. That made me tear up a little too.

I better stop now. I don't think my keyboard is supposed to get wet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Don't worry God, we've got your back . . .

An email was forwarded to me this week declaring that I should read it so that I would know about my roots. It was a rather lengthy message, with many portraits of presidents, supreme court justices, patriots and Jesus. It contained quotes and references to support the notion that our founding fathers and later great patriots clearly were of the Christian faith.

It was interesting information. I was somewhat put off by the "portrait" of Jesus that was interspersed among the other portraits. It was the same portrait that hung in the hall of my elementary school, just as you walked in the front door. Even as a very young child I was skeptical about Jesus sitting for the portrait.

But generally it was interesting and informative. But there was another thing that bothered me. The intro and close of the email included an ominous message about how I should read the email and pass it on before it's too late. Well I certainly didn't want to be the one who didn't act before it was too late. But I wasn't sure why. As it turns out, the last part of the email, which I didn't get to the first time around, explained that the Supreme Court had taken away our right to be a Christian nation. Here is how Mary Jones ended the message:

"Most of what you read in this article has been erased from our textbooks. Revisionists have rewritten history to remove the truth about our country's Christian roots. I, Mary Jones, the designer of this web page, encourage all who read and agree with the words herein, to share it with others, so that the truth of our nation's history may be told."

I have been worrying about the poor martyr Mary Jones. I am sure the Supreme Court has tracked her down and made her disappear by now. But the bravery she has shown by putting out this email alert is inspirational. Sort of like a modern day Paul Revere. "Alito is coming, Alito is coming."

What is the point? Who are we worried about here? Are we worried about God? That seems a little silly. Who else might we be worried about? Could it be us? Do we have a need for everyone to know we are right?

Did Jesus call us to be insistent about these things? Paul, who was much more wordy than Jesus, and a little prideful it seems to me, still had the insight to say, "love does not insist on its on way . . ."

So, why is it important that we get everyone to finally admit that we are a Christian nation, or that most of our founding fathers were Christian? I just wonder if God really wants us to spend a lot of time on this.

I've been thinking about this since yesterday. I have a tendency to get a little judgmental and sarcastic sometimes. I don't think Jesus likes that. Well at least not if it is directed at other people. He did have a little sarcastic bent when he spoke. Like, the "plank in your eye" statement, or the "camel through the eye of the needle" statement. But He was never ugly for ugly's sake. He had a real advantage being God and all. But I do not have the divine discretion that Jesus had. Nor can I turn a phrase quite as nimbly. So I tried to cut the judgmental and sarcastic stuff that comes so naturally. This was a really long blog before I did that.

So seriously, what if our Christian founding fathers had the strong idea that the United States was to be a "Christian Nation" as Mary Jones suggests? What brand of Christianity would our government have adopted? Would it have been the Puritan version? If so, would it have been the separatists version? Or would it have protected the versions that came out of the Great Awakening? Would that have been the 1st or the 2nd Great awakening? Would it have made preacher vestments illegal? Would communion liturgy have been codified? Or women's participation in leading worship illegal? Would liturgy have been limited? Would the book of Acts have been the model for all churches? What exactly would the early founding fathers have chosen to be the Christianity for our nation?

We are just stupid sometimes. OK, so that is a little ugly, but so be it. We are stupid in that we can't see what a wonderful, magnificent, miraculous thing our constituition and its development have been. Especially in the development and growth of the Christian faith in our country. Not because the government chose to protect a particular religion, but that it chose to protect the idea that all individuals and groups were free to explore and pursue their own spirituality.


After the 2nd Great Awakening Churches in America continued to evolve and change with the country. Some grew and changed in direct responses to the significant cultural issues of the age, like slavery, alcoholism, civil rights, war, and more recently homosexuality, abortion, war, immigration, and on and on.

Do we really believe the Church of 18th century America had it all right? What if that version of the church had been adopted as the Christian church of the USA? If we know anything about government, it is that once it gets hold of something, it is very reluctant to turn loose

What a ridiculous thought, you may be thinking. And so am I. Our founding fathers probably were religious, and many, maybe most, were of the Christian faith. But they had the wisdom to see that religious faith prospered and flourished not by being endorsed by the State. They knew what that was like and it was not good. Instead they were careful to create a legally protected space for individuals and groups to explore relationships with God freely. How incredible was that?

What we have here is a crisis of faith. We feeble mortals have somehow decided that God must be protected. I don't believe we were ever asked to protect God from the world. If you want a Biblical example, you may recall Jesus response to Peter right after Peter whacked the ear off the Roman soldier. Jesus didn't need, or want, Peter's protection. Jesus could handle that quite nicely, thank you very much.

What Jesus wanted was for Peter to follow Him, to stay with him, to remain true to Him. But that was too hard.

And that, I think, is the point. It is much easier to spend our time and energy protecting God than to follow Him.

How bout passing that on . . . before it's too late.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Yesterday Max called me from New Orleans, looking for the best directions to the 9th ward. I was north of Knoxville headed home from Mary Ellen and Matt's wedding in Banner Elk, North Carolina. I am not the one to ask for directions in New Orleans. I consider myself to generally be quite good with directions. Some have called me a human global positioning system. OK, that is me that says that. But something about New Orleans confuses me. I think it is because I am a directional literalist, and the river winds around the city so that the East Bank can be on the west side of the river.

It had been a weekend of seeking direction. The wedding was at the Banner Elk Presbyterian Church. Each group of Bentleys, Hillers, Stocktons, Sparkmans, Lowrys, and other relatives and friends, were in accomodations scattered from Banner Elk to Boone. The after rehearsal dinner was at the Apple Barn, the reception was at the Winery, the brunch was at the Gamekeeper Inn. This is Appalachia, where you can meet yourself in the curves of the road, where even a crow can't fly a direct route, where maps habitually lie, or at least play practical jokes. This is my kind of place. It is easy to get lost.

The short weekend was great. Mary Ellen had chosen a place for her wedding that she wanted to share with her friends and family. It was great because Mary Ellen and Matt had already spent time there, not just in getting ready for their wedding, but before that, enjoying themselves and the unique places and people of that mountain community. When Matt and Mary Ellen invited their friends and family to Banner Elk, they knew what was there, because they had spent time there.

But for those of us who had not yet spent time in Banner Elk, there was a lot of cell phone time. I discovered that one of the keys to getting good directions was finding someone who had already been to, or arrived at, a destination. Otherwise the conversation was just high-minded, scholarly speculation. But, when you talked to someone who had actually overcome the wrong or missed turns, the obtacles and perils and made it to the Apple Barn, or the Gamekeeper Inn, or the Mast General Store, there was a heroic, inspirational quality in his or her voice, saying, "you can do it, here's what to look out for . . ."

I think that is one thing weddings are all about. We are all on the road together. Some have gone far, some a short way, some have backed up a bit. Detours have been common. But all have learned something along the way.

The wedding liturgy included a part which required those of us in attendance to be responsible to Matt and Mary Ellen in supporting them in their marriage. Perhaps at that point the service should stop, and everyone should give the new couple their cell numbers and email addresses. Doesn't seem very Episcopal. Not even very Methodist.

Being temporarily lost is not always a bad thing. Sometimes we learn important things, or discover wonderful new things in the detours. It can be a hilarious thing. Especially when you're travelling with the one you love.

But there are times when we need directions from those who have been that way before, because things can get turned around, like the east bank and the west. Or the Apple Barn from the Conference Center.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The problem with steel bumpers . . .

I was waiting for a 5:00 appointment yesterday. My client was running late, so I stepped out the front door of the office to get a little fresh air as I waited. When I stepped out of the door a young woman pointed at my truck parked across the street and said, "Is that your truck?" I told her it was. She said, "I just hit it with my car." My truck was parked in a diagonal space right where I left it, and her car was parked beside it. The vehicles were not touching. I was confused.
As I walked toward her and the vehicles I asked her where she hit it. She pointed to the back bumper of my '95 Silverado and said, "Right there on the corner. I've already called the police to do a report."
I looked at the bumper and a saw little sliver of rubber about the size of a toothpick , torn away. I said, "Is that all it did? Look at this truck." The front bumper of my truck is still twisted from an accident a few years ago. The paint is splotchy. Old firewood, a selection of boots and shoes, and a mildewed beach towel were in the back. Neither door will open from the inside. I told her I didn't think a police report was necessary. If that's all that happened, it was a good day in the life of my truck. I don't drive the truck much anymore. My car uses about half as much gas, and the doors open from the inside. But yesterday, as I was hoppiing into my car to get to court right on time, I turned the ignition key in the car and nothing happened. The battey was dead. So after airing up the flat tire on the truck, I drove it to work.

She said, "Go to the other side of my car and take a look." The right front quarter panel of her car was creased from the headlight to the door seam. "Good grief,' I said. "How did you do that?" She told me she turned left at the light, turned a little too wide, and caught the very edge of my truck's bumper on the right side of her car. She needed a police report to turn in for her insurance.

Ironically the same young woman had been helping me all day at the bank. I was trying to set up a trust checking account for a client, and she had gone out of her way to help me. I began feeling guilty for driving my truck. I'm sure my car would have caused much less damage.

I thought to myself, that's silly. I parked completely in the parking space, my truck was not moving, and I was no where around when the accident occurred. .

But later I was still thinking about it. My truck is a big, heavy, strong vehicle. The bumpers are bascially steel covered with chrome. There's nothing wrong with that.

The young woman was driving a mid-compact. The bumpers were plastic. If she hit anything, her car was going to be damaged.

We both chose our vehicles. So why shcould I worry about it at all?

So what if I've got a bigger, stronger vehicle. I parked it within the law. I was no where around it. Why should I worry at all about what happens to someone who drives a smaller, more fragile car?

There are a lot of things that may not be our fault. But some of us are blessed to travel this life in the big strong vehicles with the strong bumpers, while others travel in vehicles that can't take much of a lick.

Some of us live in a country where the poorest among us would be middle class in much of hte world. Some of us were born into a race that has never suffered slavery, and the generations of oppression and inequality that follows. Some of us have lived lives free of physical or sexual abuse, as a child or as an adult. Some of us never suffered depression or mental illness.

Some of us have done nothng wrong. But even so, people that are more fragile can suffer damage just by running in the same race with us. So watch those elbows and stay in your lane. At the very least maybe we can give those more fragile a safe place to run this race.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Do not disturb . . .

I love Star Wars. I am no Matt Smith, mind you, but I still watch whichever episode that is running on Spike TV or TNT. Last night I ran across the original episode. Needing to gather my strength for the coming week, I settled down with peanut butter and crackers and watched the whole thing, which lasted about six hours when you add in commercials.

That first episode inspires me now just as it did when I first saw it a hundred years ago in a galaxy far, far away. Sure, Luke and the Princess look a little hokey now. Hans Solo aged pretty well, actually. Chewbacca is timeless. And Obi-wan Kenobi, what can I say?

As an idealistic youth I was blown away by the religious undertones of the first movie. And while not blown away, I was still troubled by the message last night.

During the past week tornadoes took the lives of twenty plus and the homes of hundreds in the U. S. Earlier in the week more than 6,000 died in Myanmar as the result of a cyclone. Today, at least 10,000 died in an earthquake in China.
Every day, thousands of children in the world die for lack of food, water, and simple vaccinations or other medical care.
Every day, children in the U. S. kill or maim each other with guns.(This week-end in Birmingham about 10 or 11 people were shot)
Every day, lives are destroyed by the use of methamphetamine.
Every day, children in some parts of the world are enslaved.

This year, China has killed or persecuted untold numbers of Tibetan monks.
In Haiti, just a couple hours plane ride from Miami, poverty and violence are unchecked.
In Africa, civil wars break out because there is no water, a problem which could be partially solved by the simple drilling of wells.

When did we put out the big "Do not Disturb" sign? Why don't we feel the disturbance in the force?
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans. Lester Memorial UMC, my church, has continued to go to the Gulf Coast to work on houses since that time. Sometimes it seems a little like the old starfish story. You know the one where the man was walking down the beach and saw a figure far down the shore picking something up and throwing it into the surf. As the man continued to walk toward the figure, he saw what looked like hundreds of starfish, stranded on the beach. The figure was a little boy, picking up starfish, one at a time, and throwing them back into the ocean. The man said to the little boy, "You'll never make any difference, there are just too many of them." The little boy picked up another starfish, looked at the man, and said,"It'll make a difference to this one."
There are thousands of houses to be repaired in New Orleans. Sometimes you wonder if working on a couple of houses every 3 or 6 months makes any difference. But, having had the blessing of meeting the owners and inhabitants of the houses we work on, we know it makes a difference to them. We still feel that huge disturbance in the force that occurred because of Katrina in August, 2005. But Lesterines are not Jedi. We just had the good fortune to meet and share the lives of a lot of displaced New Orleaneans who lived with us awhile in Oneonta. We didn't have to feel the disturbance. We saw it in the flesh.
It is astonishing to me that here we are in a Presidential election and no one speaks of New Orleans. We are less than three years away from that horrible tragedy. Where is the outcry for the failure of we the people and our elected government to offer real help? Is the problem solved in New Orleans for the thousands of people who suffered deaths in the family or loss of home and property? No.
We just have a tendency to forget. We work to pay our mortgages, we take care of our children, and unless disaster affects us directly, our memory is short-term. We convince ourselves that we can't make any difference anyway. The problem with most of the people who can't recover from a disaster is, they are the ones that had no voice before the disaster; the poor and the powerless. Their plight becomes a victim of our rapidly moving news cycle. They are probably not going to vote or make political contributions anyway.
I believe that we have the desire to do good. Our government makes extreme efforts to assist the rest of the world in times of disaster. That is a truly wonderful thing.
But we individuals are the ones who can, or should feel the disturbance. Our government will and probably should only respond to those things that we deem important. So why is New Orleans not on the radar? It is not because our government is unfeeling. It is because we the people are. And instead of encouraging our government to continue offering help to victims of disaster, we use our government to insulate ourselves from the disturbance which might disturb us as individuals, as groups, as churches, to offer ourselves as part of the solution.
Katrina is just an example, a model fairly close to home. I don't know the answers. I do know a couple of things. First, I know I am not spiritual enough to simply "feel" the disturbance in the force. But, when I am forced to engage the victims of disaster or prejudice or injustice on a personal, individual level, I am disturbed and it is very hard to forget.
Second, that is not going to happen if I sit and wait on the victims of disaster, prejudice or injustice to come to me, or to walk into my church, home or office. I must go to them.
Jesus said a couple of pertinent things on this subject. You can ferret them out for yourself. But the simplest version can be condensed into a few words, "Come follow, go into the world, serve and love."

May the force be with you. And may it sometimes disturb you.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hillary, Barack, John, Bertha, & me . ..

I am a political junkie. I rarely have the strength to admit that in public, but I doubt that my blog could really be called public. Maybe it's more like talking with a few people at the kitchen table. . .without the coffee. Actually I have mine. A latte. It is Saturday morning and I have scheduled nothing today. So I was able to get up at my leisure, and conduct one of my favorite rituals; the making of the latte. And, believe it or not, I'm not proud to admit it, I've turned on my "shows". My grandmother used to have her "shows". They were soap operas that came on between 12:30 and 2:00 in the afternoon. She owned a dry goods store most of her adult life, so she came to the daytime soaps only after retirement. And she loved them. She was a gracious host and loved to cook lunch for her family, but, at 12:30, no matter what else was happening, she would graciously ask one of us, "go turn on my shows for me." That was it. You could finish eating if you wanted, but in the pre-tivo days she could not afford to miss a minute of her "shows". She often spoke of the characters just as she would of the people in town. And she was perfectly sane. Anyway, I digress. It was good for me though.

Like my grandmother, I love my shows. My "shows" are those cable news programs that are almost all politics all the time. Usually there is nothing new. But I, like most Americans, am now treating our potential future presidents with familiarity, perhaps as though we are at the kitchen table. "Hillary, I know you are ready for a latte. You were ready on Day One." "Barack, I got a new bag of beans in one of those stupid plastic bags on the counter, could you find it for me? Yes you can." "John, well, don't try to get up, John". Everybody laughs.

And I am perfectly sane.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Another tome bites the dust . . .

Tonight I walked by a beautiful church. The lights were on inside, which made brilliant the colorful murals of the magnificent stain glass windows to those of us walking on the dark sidewalk outside. It really was beautiful and I stopped a moment to enjoy the sight.

After a minute or so I walked on. As I passed the front of the church curiousity got the better of me and I walked up to the front door. The glass in the door was not stained and I could see clearly inside. At the front of the church stood a couple of groups of people, smiling and laughing with each other, just as I have done a few hundred times after church meetings or studies or worship. I stood for a moment to enjoy the sight.

At one time I thought of writing a book using stain glass windows as a theme. The idea was that stain glass windows symbolize what is wrong with our churches; creating these beautiful works of art so that we do not have to see the world around us, and to prevent the world from seeing us.

I have passed by that same church at night when nothing was going on. The lights were not on. The stained glass appeared to be ordinary dark windows. But at this church, when people are there worshipping, fellowshipping, studying, there is light. Beautiful light filtered through stain glass.

Dang it, I guess I'll never get a book written. I don't know how the Bishop does it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Post-wedding remarks. . .

I went to a wedding this weekend that, when it was time to leave, I was not quite ready. I suppose I could psychoanalyze myself (I am lying on my couch) and speculate that my desire to stay awhile at the wedding resulted from the realization that my little boy is now a married man, so, what does that say about me?

No doubt that is true, but it's not what I'm talking about right now.

It was just a good time. For weeks before the wedding through the time they got in the car to leave the Garbonza Manor, Benjamin and Kate created a comfortable, fun, loving environment for the rest of us as they allowed us to join them in their adventure.

They made fun all the stuff that so many find so stressful. Neither shopping, nor parties, nor invitations, nor photographs, nor threat of tornadoes dampened their joy. And to be with them was to be included in their joy. It is a good place.

Of course that good place will soon be in Denver. But, that's OK. It just feels good to know that there is such a good place, and that Benjamin and Kate are there.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A deep breath . . .

Sometimes I get all het up about things. It comes out in the blog sometimes. Sometimes it comes out in conversation. And then I just stay all het up for awhile. I'm pretty sure that's not good. Like today, I got all het up cause of politics.

So sometimes I have to regroup. What is important? To love God and His children, and to serve them. Doesn't make great blog material. Too few words. Not glib or funny or sarcastic.

But, that's all there really is.

Good night sweet people.
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