Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A lesson for you younger players out there . . .

Twenty-four hour news networks require a lot of material. That is why we know a lot more about McCain and Obama than we have any other presidential candidates in history. The talking heads are constantly coming up with nuances and tidbits and nitpicks to fill those incredibly long hours.

So, it is with some pride that I believe I have noticed something that they missed. It is particularly hard to believe that Oberman missed it, considering his ESPN resume.

We see footage of Obama playing basketball daily on one of the news outlets, most recently in McCain's ad. Obama is smooth. He even beat a few young folk who depended on their own skills and never thought to look for Obama's weakness.

But after you get old (er) you learn that you must win by looking for the weakness in your opponent. Obama is awesome going left. But, it is a strain for him to go right.

To his credit, he seems to realize that in order to effectively use his best moves to the left, he must occasionally go right, even if no one really believes he could take it all the way to the hoop. It makes lesser opponents play him straight up.

But an experienced opponent will gladly give him his moves to the right, until he proves he can score, or until he dribbles off his foot.

You gotta be able to go to the left and the right, but ultimately you can't win playing your opponent's game.

What a great game.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Are those lambs horns or are you just glad to deceive me . . .

"Lord, protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will."

He went to the Western Wall in Jerusalem before dawn and folded and placed his prayer, written on hotel stationary, in the cracks of the stones as millions had done before him. The prayer was meant for no one but God.

It does not make him correct on his positions about war, the economy, health care or personal responsibility.

But if I were placing a prayer in the wall, it would be a lot like Obama's. And probably a lot like many people of faith, even if they disagree with him on issues of war, the economy, health care or personal responsibility.

So be for him or against him based on the issues.

But it's time to accept that he is a traveller on the journey like the rest of us trying to keep our eyes on the One we have chosen to follow. We are not always right, we are just trying to keep up.

The shame of the act of taking this personal confidential prayer from the wall and exposing it to the world is the ultimate expression of what we have done to this man. Maybe the malicious, evil, hateful, false emails and gossip will stop. Maybe those Christians who have acted so unChrist-like will pray that their sins be forgiven and repent.

Or maybe he's the anti-Christ. I heard that in church a couple of Sundays ago.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

He thinks he's all that and a bag of chips . . .

Once again Obama has proven that he is elitist. He went to Iraq and had an intelligent conversation with Prime Minister al-Maliki. He visited the green zone, without the press's knowledge. He talked with military leaders. He visited Israel and met with the Olmer and others, skillfully reassuring Israel without diminishing the Palestinian's complaints. He made friends with Chancellor Merkel (she seemed open to a back rub from Obama, proving that W's dissatisfaction rating is not limited to presidential performance), then two hundred thousand Germans, waving miniature American flags, came to see and hear him. French President Sarkozy welcomed him and joined him at the podium for a joint press conference. He never mispoke, never stumbled. Had there been a gaffe, it would have already been run and re-run on the news outlets. He looked stately, confident, and comfortable.

How dare he.

Schizophrenia is epidemic among the talking heads. While acknowledging the perfection of the trip, and especially Obama's performance, they struggle to present the negative, lest they be accused of being unfair.

So, the only criticism was that Obama was too good. Perhaps he could have taken a little off the speech in Germany. Perhaps he could have made a misstatement that offended the French. At least he could have bungled a couple of names or facts in the middle eastern leg of the trip, I mean, anyone could make that mistake.

We Americans don't really want the best leader. We don't want someone that might be better than us. We don't want no pointy headed intellectuals telling us what to do. Bunch of elitists.

I wonder why?

Possibly we are comfortable. Although we are faced with challenges and choices that may set the course of civilization, we are afraid of change. Gassing up the car is just so easy, so let's open up more oil fields. Military supremacy is such a beautifully simple solution to so many problems, so let's forget about working with the international community and diplomacy. The poor will always be with us so let's not question the causes of poverty. Health care is not a right, except for those who can afford it.

Or maybe we are afraid to once again hope for something better. It has been forty years or so since we looked to national leaders for hope of change. And that hope was cruelly and violently put down along with the leaders that had raised them. So maybe we don't want to be so disappointed and hurt again.

But we must take the chance. Dare to hope, again.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ripping up the fabric . . .

I was hooked on Star Trek, the Next Generation. I anticipated that hour each week when I would become part of the Enterprise gang: Jean-Luc, Worf, Data, Beverly, Deanna, Geordi, Riker and the rest. Together we would flit across the universe willy nilly at warp speed.

But one episode revealed a horrible problem. All our flitting around at warp speed was weakening the fabric of space, forming dreaded rips in the space-time continuum. I have forgotten what we did about it, but for awhile, it looked like the rest of the episodes would have to be shot in locations that could be reached without the use of warp drive. Dullsville. But by the end of the hour, something was figured out.

My crew and I did not have to make changes. We warped around the universe for several more seasons.

But we the crew of the spaceship earth do not have the luxury of writing in a solution deus ex machina to the problems we have created .

This energy crisis for instance. We have been riding the petroleum based economy train willy nilly for 100 years or so. It would be comical if it weren't so sad, how we simply refuse to accept that we have a problem. This week there have been more proposals for opening up new oil fields. At best that might hold us a couple hundred years. At worst it will eontinue global warming, pose other disastrous consequences for the environment, and, worst of all, cause us to hesitate seeking and investing in real solutions. And even worse than worst of all, it could be the efforts of a lame duck administration to give one last windfall to buddies in the oil business before the window of opportunity at long last slams shut. That's what I believe. Nothing else really makes sense.

Or there's the consumer economy. We in the U.S.A. have been involved in this Ponzi scheme for a century or so, accelerating since WWII. To sustain our economy we work more so that we can spend more on things we don't really need and that we don't have time to enjoy, depleting the world's resources to sustain this ridiculous runaway ride. Now we are told if we try to pull back, if we refuse to spend and consume, our economy will fail and the results will be disastrous. We cannot afford to jump off. The fall would kill us. So, we pass this curse along to the next generation, selling it as prosperity and a better way of life.

Or there's the environment. For a century or so in this country those who suggested that protection of the environment was critical to our well-being were effectively characterized as kooky tree-huggers. Somehow even the American church was generally opposed to those who attempted to protect the environment. The dust bowl was an obvious environmental wake up call. The affect of DDT on wildlife and the environment was proven by the results of its banning. The damming of free-flowing rivers created disastrous results downstream. The stripping of the tops of mountains in the Appalachia coal fields is creating floods, destroying wildlife habitat, and causing health problems for children who must drink the water contaminated with high concentrations of minerals washed from the stripped mountains into the valley rivers. And then there's the depletion of the ozone by the over production of CO2. It's all real. It's not rocket science.

What's the deal? We are smarter than this. What is the common denominator?

Money. Greed. Power.

These problems seem to have grown to crisis proportion in the past century. What happened? There is another thing that has grown to crisis proportion in the past century. The power of corporate America, especially its power over our government.

Don't believe it? Of course you don't. Billions of dollars have been spent to make sure you feel otherwise. But corporations have no conscious. And they have no children. All those people on the advertisements are just actors, or maybe even animated birds. But with mergers and takeovers and the demonization of regulation, big business now has more control than government. And its only conscience is profit.

The answer is not to destroy corporations or to rebel against the government (at least not yet).

The answer is to think. To speak. To act. We can figure this out. But we may be in our final season.

Monday, July 21, 2008

ABBA prejudice shattered . . . .

In a past life I was a radio dj. It was the family business, so from the age of about 13 to about 20 I was on the air. It was great fun. That was back in the day when radio people really worked. None of these computerized satellite assisted new fangled devices. We just heated up the old vacuum tubes and did everything that had to be done. But that's another story.

In my last year or two of radio I played ABBA. Now there was nothing wrong with ABBA. But when you have to play the same songs over and over and over, which is what happened during their rather short span of popularity, you just get sick of it. For years the same thing happened to me with Christmas music. We would play all Christmas music for a couple of weeks prior to Christmas. It wasn't a satellite or a continuous play CD machine. It was just a dj putting holiday record after holiday record on the turntable. You wouldn't believe how many different covers of Little Drummer Boy there are. I got sick of Christmas music . . .and I love Christmas. So ABBA shouldn't be offended.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I went to see Mama Mia. The trepidation was increased when I learned that Pierce Brosnan actually sang in the production.
It is a musical, fully and completely. Ususally I am disappointed by musicals made into movies.
But in MM the Greek Island setting, and the close ups of the faces of the chorus members (the townspeople) actually are an improvement over the stage.
For me, the "Dancing Queen" scene was worth the full price of admission.

The reviews were not great. But, it was fun. And fun goes a long way with me. So, go ahead, Take a Chance (a clever ABBA reference for those of you who know nothing of their music), if you just need to feel good for awhile. For those of you who read my stuff often, you probably know that I get a little intense about the world sometimes. So a feel good movie is important to me every once in a while.

For instance, my favorite movies include any Marx Brothers movie, National Lampoon's Animal House and Vacation, Dumb and Dumber, Stripes, and others of like weight.

So, now there is Mama Mia. It's all right if you want to wait till it comes out on DVD. You can save a little Money, Money, Money.

Then last night I went to see the Dark Knight. That's a completely different story for another time.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Assume as possible . . .

Assumptions are necessary because everything is not known. It just bugs me when people who claim to be intelligent will not be honest about assumptions.

I have always been hard on we Christians for not admitting that our faith includes some assumptions. That may sound heretical, but I think it is really a fairly common method of discovery that is different from the scientific method. For instance, I believe in God as revealed to me through Jesus and the Spirit. My faith did not begin as a result of seeing, hearing or feeling God. It started with an assumption that God is real. After I allowed myself to be open to that assumption, then God became more and more obvious to me in my life and in the world around me. I have still not seen, heard or touched God, but I have sensed His presence and seen the results of His power. Because my assumptions about God may not have been entirely correct, my knowledge of God is a continuing process of learning and unlearning. But my faith necessarily began with some assumptions on my part.

I think it is harmful to discuss our belief without admitting that we are operating on faith, not fact, and our faith may be said to have begun with our acceptance of certain assumptions. If a Christian is not strong enough to admit this, if his or her language is of the "The Bible says it and that settles it" school of thought, then most thinking people will reject him or her as dishonest, and may reject the God we so much want to represent. We must acknowledge that we act out of faith, not fact.

Christians receive this criticism often. But we are not alone. Aetheists assume that there is no creator. But some aetheists cannot admit that their view is based on an assumption. Nothing in creation or science supports any certainty about what, if anythng, created all this. It is difficult, maybe impossible, for us in our finite understanding, to understand the beginning. If I am wrong about that, let me know.

I often listen to Interfaith Voices, an NPR program that explores a broad spectrum of religious issues. Today's program featured a discussion between Christopher Hitchens, an atheist that wrote a book and is on all the talk shows, and a secular humanist, Edd Doerr.
The debate raised a lot of good blog fodder (I guess that could be called 'blodder', you saw it hear first). But the substance of the debate is not what I want to talk about.

Hitchens uses evolution theory as a case study. He says that the large number of religious people, Christians and others, who insist that God created the earth a few thousand years ago in seven days, have closed their minds to obvious scientific evidence to the contrary. I agree with him on that.

And Hitchens makes a logical argument when he says that if the literal seven day creation story is made a necessary tenet of a religion, then the overwhelming evidence that it did not happen exactly that way affects the credibility of the whole of the religion's beliefs.

We Christians are guilty of doing God a great disservice when we give the world the idea that we have God all figured out, that we know all there is to know about God. On many days my favorite Bible verse comes not from Jesus, but from a poor blind beggar who had been healed by Jesus and was being grilled by the local authorities about who Jesus was and what He did to him. The formerly blind man became exasperated, and in a retort to authorities that was almost as miraculous as his healing, the beggar tells the Pharisees, "look, I don't know much of anything about the man. What I do know is that a little while ago I was blind, but now I can see."

The Pharisees could not argue with the blind man. He assumed that whatever Jesus did, whoever Jesus was, He cured his blindness. Nothing more.

We cannot prove the existence of God. God never meant for us to do so. Jesus gave us some helpful instruction though.

"This is how they will know that you are my disciples . . .that you love one another."

It can't be that simple, can it?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sleep well America . . .

Wake up America. Our continued sleep will only bring nightmares from which we may not be roused. The lullaby is just too sweet.

When modern patriots are honored, the list is usually limited to those in military uniform; those who have faithfully obeyed the will of those in authority to protect and defend American interests as defined by those authorities. To be sure, the offering of one's life, or a part of it, to serve one's country in its military, is patriotism.

But there is another form of patriotism that is just as old, and maybe more uniquely American. The original American patriots were first rebels. Rebellious against oppression and exploitation by the King. Rebellious against suggestions that the America they invisioned would be more of the same.

When the rebels met in Philadelphia to address the problems created or unadressed by the Articles of Confederation, they did not arrive in lock-step. There was disagreement about whether the minutes of the convention should be taken by the secretary or by a committee. And so began the debate. And when the boys in Philadelphia thought they had hammered out a pretty reasonable document, they took it home to the states. It seems that the folks at home were still stinging from the last few years of George's (King, not President) reign. Many refused to accept the document fully. Though it was ratified, the dissent of the people was so great that the Bill of Rights, amending the constitution with protections for the individual against the excesses of the new centralized government, was added within five or six years. Later other rights would be fought for and won; the rights of slaves to be free and the rights of women to vote.

These rights were not gained by the benevolence of the government. They were fought for and wrenched from the clenched fists of the government by stubborn rebels. Patriots.

But now it has become patriotic to give away those precious gifts entrusted to us by our forefathers. Habeaus corpus, protection against search and seizure, the right to confront the accuser. Things that just get in the way of the government protecting us.

It is treasonous to question wiretaps, to suggest that detainees are entitled to habeas corpus, to complain about the use of torture, or to support a way that is different than the government has ordained.

So sleep well Patriots. And never notice that the lullaby sounds a lot like taps.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Thoughts on watermelon . . ..

There were news reports last week that watermelon contained a natural substance that had the same effect as Viagra. (Sounds like the first line of a joke from David Letterman or Jay Leno, and if you want to complete the joke, you are certainly welcome to post it.) To get the proper dosage you have to gnaw on a considerable amount of rind, where the substance is more concentrated. Maybe those pickled watermelon rinds my grandmother used to make would have a bigger market now. Wonder if I can find a recipe card?

But that's not why I bring up watermelon. I was riding down a county road on July 3rd when I came upon a pickup truck with a load of watermelon to sell from the tailgate. I couldn't resist. I stopped, spent considerable time choosing the best looking and sounding melon, paid my money, and left with my hefty purchase.

As I was choosing my watermelon, I found myself talking to the farmer, using terms that I had accumulated from a lifetime of hearing older, wiser folk discuss the qualities one should consider in choosing a watermelon. And he responded, nodding knowingly, affirming my astute analysis. I could tell he was impressed.

I cherish all those conversations which are reminders of slow summers and hot afternoons when the most pressing issue of the day was the quality of a watermelon. But there are other conversations I cherish.

In my world half of a watermelon sitting on a counter, tailgate, or picnic table is an invitation to conversation. The watermelon half is never cut into pieces. it remains intact, the centering device of a conversation pit.

As one person speaks, the other uses his or her utensil of choice (some prefer knives, some prefer spoons, but fingers are not really suitable) to carve a bite size piece and remove the seeds, listening intently to the speaker, and ultimately eating the prepared bite. As the bite is swallowed, it is as if a timer is turned over, and it is time for the other to speak. As he speaks, responding to the first speaker's thought, the first speaker takes up his or her chosen utensil, and carves out a bite size piece. The conversation is slow and quiet as the watermelon slowly disappears and understanding appears in its place.

All that is left after a while is the rind. We used to just throw it out into the woods. I'm not so sure now.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Life, liberty, and . . .

I love Independence Day, July 4th. Honestly, the first wonderful things that come to my mind about the day are accumulated memories that have more to do with the holiday being the absolute pinnacle of summer than its historical significance. When I was a child growing up in Oneonta, Alabama, July 4th brought a full day of baseball at the Jaycee field, and the anticipation of pork barbecue cooked for hours and hours on a pit a few yards from the diamond. There were no organized fireworks. Something far better. Like Christmas in July, we would all bring fireworks we had been able to talk our parents into letting us get, or perhaps had obtained without actual parental consent. Some of the explosives we had access to back then would be declared WMD's now. The M-80's, cherry bombs, and silver salutes combined with the launch capability of a sling shot make me shudder as an old careful adult. Sometimes we moved all of that fun to a lake or river that someone's parents had a house on. Then you had explosives on the waterfront. A boy's dream, a parent's nightmare. That is why most children lie to their parents. It is not completely out of fear of not getting permission. It is out of compassion. Parents simply couldn't handle the truth, and children are compassionate enough to believe they shouldn't have to. I could go on and on about the comparative effects of M-80's and cherry bombs on different types of fruit and other important experiments, but I still don't want my parents to know all that went on, so I'll stop.

I intended to write something really profound about our Independence. But as I am lost in the nostalgia of great summers past, I would just say that I firmly believe that the Declarants of our Independence did us a favor in immortalizing the notion that it is a good and noble thing to encourage, and even protect, the pursuit of happiness.

So in honor of the founding fathers, enough of this indoors computer stuff, I'm on my way outside to begin the pursuit.

May you catch your happiness today.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A short short story . . .add to or finish if you want.

“I can make a difference for you there.” The words were slow getting to whatever part of my brain is supposed to handle that kind of thing. I was walking briskly through the airport getting from one place to another, while thinking about the next place I was supposed to be, how I was going get there (you know, taxi versus shuttle versus rental. I would like to be more worldly and know about all these things, but I never do. People in movies never ask such questions. They just walk confidently to the curb with their luggage and their lives all organized, throw up a hand with the index finger pointed upward and hail a taxi which is appearing even before it is hailed, or to the nearest subway, which I figure is about 1200 miles from here. I am assuming that those characters did not pay for their airline ticket with cash because their credit card was maxed out, and therefore, avoided the curse of the cashpaying air traveler . . . being pulled out of the security line and given the full treatment. Shoes, belt, bags, dignity, everything removed, revealed and rearranged. Who could look confident in hailing a cab after such an intrusion. I just hope the terrorists don’t catch on and start paying with a credit card.), and what I was going to do when I got there (sorry about that unacceptably long parenthetical, but sometimes, most of the time, my brain operates parenthetically. Some might call it ADD. I like to think of it as multi-core processing).

“I can make a difference for you there.” By the time I realized the words were directed toward me there was no one around.. I stopped and looked back and to my right, immediately finding the source of the offer of assistance. The shoe shine man. A force-field of confidence surrounded him as he looked first at my face, and as if clicking and dragging my gaze, he lowered his eyes to my shoes. With a quick nod of his head he released me, as I stared at my flat-finish black dress shoes.

I stopped in my tracks, without signaling, upsetting the woman who had apparently been tailgating me as we negotiated the heavy pedestrian airport traffic. She passed on by, muttering something under her breath. But I was still looking at my shoes.

What does he mean he can make a difference for me?

"Your shoes, I can make a difference for you there."

I told him I was on a tight schedule and did not have time. He did not insist. He just smiled and still looking at my shoes said, "next time."

For the rest of the day, everyone I passed was looking at my miserable shoes.

Jesus from the cheap seats . . .

A couple of weeks ago a visitor at "the ongoing Bible Study" at Lester made the observation that he was a Methodist, and Methodists had learned how to be Christian without the persecution. He was speaking a truth while smiling (a tired smile, but a smile nonetheless). It is not just we Methodists. It is most all American Christian churches. This is partially because we live in a country that does not, ideally, persecute anyone for the exercise of religion. Jesus did not mean for us to seek out persecution for persecution's sake. But neither did he mean for us to be so timid about joining in His journey to love and serve the world. Maybe we are not persecuted because we are careful not to be in positions that might bring persecution. Obviously some do. We usually hear about them and pay attention to them for a day or two after one of them is killed.

Often I hear somebody complain about the persecution of Christians in America. No prayer in schools. No Bible passages on courtroom walls. We cannot get the car tags we want. This is the stuff of which martyrs are made?

So I find it ironic that the those American Christian martyrs who are suffering these unspeakable persecutions (some of which are not real) generally have been critical of Barack Obama for his church membership.

Obama apparently has been a member of the same church for 20 years or so. It is a Christian Church that does amazing acts of love in the city of Chicago, serving thousands of people who are not its members. It claims Jesus as Savior, and actually seems to attempt to follow Him as Lord. Perfect. No. Radical. Yes. But so was Jesus. But if you belong to a church that is never criticized, you are going to a church that is not following Jesus. Maybe watching Jesus. But not following. Like Peter when he denied Jesus. If he had been named a follower, he might have had problems. He might have been persecuted. So he stood and watched.

It is ironic that the person in America whose Christianity is being scrutinized perhaps more than anyone in the history of the world, is one who is being persecuted for living his Christian faith . If he had not been so faithful a member, or if his preacher had not been so important to him in his life, if he had just been willing to throw his church under the bus, he would have no political problem. But he has suffered greatly for the sake of his decision to follow Jesus.

His commitment to his church made the rest of us uncomfortable for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that we have become comfortable as spectators. We like it up in the stands where no one gets hurt (at least in America). I heard good Christians suggest that Obama should have left his church before he started his run for president. We do not want a leader of principal, of calling, of commitment. We do not want a president who will struggle with the truth instead of avoiding it. We are afraid of a leader that calls us to something higher.

So, pick up your stones. Give us Barrabas.
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