Saturday, June 28, 2008

ASP 2008 and the Children of God

Jesus liked children. He healed them, held them, and maybe most remarkably, listened to them.

Sometimes, when I feel like I am right smack dab in the middle of doing God's will, honed in, spiritually atuned, when I know that God the creator of the universe is close to me, surrounding me, filling me, speaking to me, I feel like I should be in constant awe, stacking some stones, building a shelter, chanting some medieval chant, reading some scripture (maybe from the original Hebrew or Greek) lighting some candles, falling prostrate, donning some sackcloth, being reverently silent, maybe closing my eyes and humming . . . but instead I laugh. Something happens and I LAUGH. Not the kind of laughter that made the news a few years ago as whole congregations began to spontaneously laugh as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. No, I laugh the kind of laughter that usually results from some bodily function mishap (maybe that's what really happened to those congregations). Something silly. Totally not serious. Sometimes I am alone, but more often it is when I am in a group of like-spirited brothers and sisters who should also be acting reverent and serious.

Which brings me to the Lester Memorial UMC Appalachia Service Project trip for 2008.

Like a fresh breath of air the Lesterines ASP team moved across the earth, or at least 400 or so miles of it, (the last 800 miles of the trip being on winding roads across the Andes) to Trade, Tennessee, a quaint crossroads a couple of miles from the North Carolina line.

Adventures are far too numerous to recount here. But a few sound-bites, actually blog-bites, are:

In the mountains north of Mountain City, Tennessee, there is a legend somewhat like that of Sasquatch. There lives a woman. No one has seen her, or at least seen her and escaped to tell about it. But there is evidence that she exists. Hanging on a clothesline behind a house right off a switchback hangs a bra that would fit a B-10 bomber. The bra was spotted by several of our team members on the trip. Eric and Jeff considered going back to get it and use it for a two room tent. But the owner of the garment was not seen. We'll keep you abreast of the story as it develops.

In an effort to become closer to God, several of our young men exercised the spiritual discipline of shaving their heads as a sign of commitment and submission. Apparently not wishing to overdo it, they went for the Mohawk. The ritual was conducted right in front of the ice cream stand. All were welcome to take a turn with the clippers. No one was turned away. That's the way it is with the Body, shaved or not.

One of the concerns when so many youth and adults sleep in the same quarters and shower in the same showers is the possibility of wrongful sexual activity. This is a legitimate and serious concern. The staff at Trade had the answer. The showers were so cold that the water would have to warm up to freeze. Let me be candid. Sexual activity was rendered impossible. The only purple to be found (for those of you who are untrained in these matters, "purple" refers to activity of a sexual nature between boys (blue) and girls (pink), resulting in "purple") was the bluish-purple hue of the skin after one of these torture sessions they called showers.

If one was man enough to step fully into the shower, he wouldn't stay that way for long. . .right Rick.

(NO PICTURES due to safe sanctuary rules)

Being the deep spiritual person that he is, Steve took matters into his own hands on Friday, as the Clydesdale workgroup was faced with completely tinning a roof the last day of the week. It had to be done. So, into his own hands he took the tin. Without gloves. A blessing of blood flowed all about the worksite, from the roof where he was standing to the ladder, to the fascia, to the ground, all the way to the truck. The mark of Steve's blood was everywhere as an offering seeking a blessing. It must have worked. The tin went on quickly and perfectly. All was done when we left the worksite on time. The staff was a tad concerned about all the blood everywhere, one even began to gag. But not all can understand. Not everyone can be a Clydesdale.

As many of you may know, Meredith is our thespian. She is an outstanding drama student, having played major roles in Les Mis, that musical about the woods that I can't remember the name of, and many others.
But it was going a step too far when her face took on the look of happy and sad masks (Janus masks) that you see before some old movies and in theaters. The staff had mentioned that several people the week before had complained of an allergic reaction to the new pavillion. But we had culture night there anyway. One minute Meredith was sitting next to me, having a little trouble with her contact. The next minute the right side of her face blew up. Actually it was just her right eye, but it was really creepy. You had to be there. You didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Mostly we laughed.

Sometimes things are so bad you just have to laugh. The center we had was great. Only three real drawbacks. The showers which I have already addressed, and then there was the food. Let's just say that oatmeal should never be served as a leftover, unless you scorch the eggs, and leave it at that. And, the sleeping areas were just a bit too small for our group, even with Eric and Jeff sleeping on the upper deck outside, after that big bra thing didn't pan out, and Robert sleeping in the van. We were packed in that sleeping area like sardines. I was between Joe and James. James talked in his sleep. . .particularly scary when his head was 3 feet away from me and I was trapped until morning. But that wasn't as bad as the other side. You remember the old optical illusion about the hag and the lady? If not, here it is.

If you look at the picture one way you can see a fair young woman looking away from you to the left. If you look at it another way you can see a hag with a big honking nose and chin looking down and to the left.

Now I will share with you what I had to look at every night by opening my eyes and looking 3 feet to my right.

I tried desparately to see the fair young lady, but no such luck. Just Joe's nose, no matter which way he was looking.

ASP 2008 was wonderful. Our staff at Trade was incredible. The folks from Swanson, North Carolina and Inman, Georgia were beautiful. We played, worked, sang and shared all the joy of life lived in common. And we laughed. And I think I heard God laughing with us, children that we are, after all.

For more info on the amazing Appalachia Service Project, visit

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Coyote not so ugly . . .

For awhile now I have had the same morning ritual. I get up about 6:00 a.m., grind my coffee beans, put on the coffee, prepare my breakfast du jour, and sit on the sofa, where I can look out the window up into the forested hillside right behind my house. In the fall and winter I enjoyed the daily visit of the deer that grazed at the edge of the weeds I like to call my back yard.

As warm weather has arrived the deer don't join me anymore. I still enjoy watching the first rays of morning light the hillside. Every morning is different. This morning was really different. As I sat down with my coffee I looked out the window. I had a new guest for morning coffee. It was a coyote. He stood there, very still. He stayed for several minutes before turning and heading back into the woods.

I suffer from a prejudice about coyotes. Let's face it. They do not have a good image. Their most famous representative is Wiley Coyote, of Roadrunner fame, who was always strapping some Acme explosive device to his body, or in the path of the roadrunner, resulting in his great misfortune. In the non-cartoon world the coyote is even more maligned. Farmers hate coyotes. Lately, even suburbanites have reported coyotes roaming in the subdivisions, scavenging for food or feasting on small family pets.

But this morning, as the coyote stood as still as a statue for several minutes, he looked noble. His coat was a golden brown, his eyes were bright, and his mouth looked like it had been frozen in a perpetual smile, like a character from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

My prejudice is based on truth. (Not the Wiley Coyote image. I know that's not real.) Coyotes do cause trouble for farmers. They do occasionally dine on family pets. They can be a nuisance as they invade the suburbs.

But coyotes are not bad or evil. They are just coyotes. And they rank right up there with cockroaches and armadillos at being incredibly adaptive, which has allowed them not only to survive, but to thrive.

But we often define evil as something or someone whose interests seem contrary to ours. I don't mean to glorify coyotes. For all I know they may consider humans to be evil because our interests seem contrary to theirs.

We are living in a time when we must deal with others whose interests seem contrary to ours. One of the reasons our gas prices are high is because all those pesky people in China and India have the audacity to think they might want to drive automobiles to work. Folks in Georgia want to take too much water out of the river before it gets to Alabama and Florida. Textile workers in the southeastern part of the U.S. lost their jobs to workers in southeast Asia. Automobile manufacturing jobs have moved out of Detroit to foreign places like Japan or Alabama. A Republican cannot be President if a Democrat wins the election. A Democrat cannot be President if a Republican wins the election. I could go on, but iI won't. Feel free to think of a few examples that may come to your mind.

But in our hearts we know that there is nothing inherently evil about people in China, India, Georgia, southeast Asia, Japan or Alabama. There is nothing inherently evil about Republicans or Democrats. There is nothing inherently evil about any of us who share this earthly home.

Humans are not inherently evil. Sometimes we are noble. Sometimes we are scavengers. Sometimes we do crazy things like trying to blow each other up. Sometimes we adapt to survive in tough circumstances.

Humans are not evil. We are just human. All of us. If we could all adapt to that notion, we might not only survive, we might thrive.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An Obamination . . .

I had a conversation this week with a friend I respect. This friend is not a political junkie like I am, so my friend asked me who I supported for president. I said that I am fully supporting Obama. This intelligent, educated person looked me right in the eyes and said, "you would vote for a Muslim?"

My brain went into overload processing the question and myriad of responses that I might give. All I was able to say was, "Where did you get the idea that Obama is a Muslim?"

"I got an email that said he was."

We are still racist. Bigoted, frightened, ignorant racists.

After Obama became the presumptive democratic nominee last week he was approaching the podium for a victory speech when he was stopped for a moment by his wife, who held out her fist in a playful way for a fist-bump. It was a sweet, fun, deserved moment of joy between a couple who was taking a brief respite from the intense campaign trail that up to that point had been 16 months long.

A Fox news talking head questioned whether the dap was appropriate, suggesting that it was a greeting used by "terrorists". I laughed. I watched it over and over and laughed every time. Then I remembered my friend who believed the email. Surely no one could believe such a ridiculous suggestion.

But, when we want to find a reason to reject someone, we will. And we don't have to be bothered by the truth. We don't need a reason that contains reason. Any old reason will do. Obama is smart, articulate, even-tempered, polite. He ran a brilliant campaign. He refused to go negative. He graduated from Harvard and went to work for the middle and lower income citizens of Chicago instead of chasing the big bucks that would have been his for the taking. He is an advocate for military veterans. He is for fair trade. He has been an active member of a Christian church for more than a decade. He has been a member of a Christian church with a controversial preacher for more than a decade. He does not believe we can win the war in Iraq. He is more liberal than conservative. He does not have as much federal government experience as McCain.

He is black. That's the truth. But it is not a reason.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Prayers we don't mean, Part I: "God Bless America . . ."

This is the first in a series of ramblings about Prayers We Don't Mean (PWDM). I doubt they will come one right after the other, but from time to time, the topic will be revisited. I invite you to post a comment for pwdm's that come to your mind to add to the discussion. For you first time blog visitors, commenting is easy. Just click on comment and follow the instructions.

If God gave wedding gifts, I don't think He would feel restrained by the list of gifts the couple had chosen at the local department stores. I think God takes a lot of time in picking out just the right gifts. Sometimes he gives gifts we don't think we need or want . . .but we really do.

God Bless America. It is sung by celebrities and amateurs, in moments of incredible crisis and before some sporting events. It is used as a sign off by politicians and government officials. It punctuates our prayers and liturgy around Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veteran's Day.

Kate Smith's velvet voice singing Irvin Berlin's song has brought tears to my eyes.

But it is a prayer. It is a request for a gift, a blessing, for a country. As a nation there are a lot of blessings we have registered for: remaining the most powerful country in the world, winning the Iraq war, keeping our soldiers safe, safety from terrorists, cheaper oil, maintaining our way of life for ourselves and our children.

If we are just saying the words, basically violating one of the big ten, you know, don't take the Lord's name in vain, then the best thing that can happen is nothing.

If we are truly praying the simple three word prayer, which is a great one I think, then we are submitting our nation to the will of God. The blessing of being a Godly country may look nothing like our list of blessings we registered for.

I believe that God's blessing for our country would be for our country to do His will. . .not necessarily ours. His will does not look like ours. God might bless us to be servants,to take care of our neighbors, to love our enemies, to not resist the evil doers. To be blessed is to be poor in spirit, to be peacemakers, to hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, to be persecuted for His sake and the sake of his children. To be blessed requires the strength to choose to be last rather than first.

God Bless America. It's kind of scary.

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