Sunday, December 27, 2009

Silent nights . . .

The traveling is over, for most of us (Ben and Kate are somewhere in Oklahoma winding their way back to Denver). The gifts are bought, delivered and opened. Friends and family have visited. Vows have been made to fast until the new year. The house is quiet.

Maybe that is the way it was for Joseph and Mary. The hard journey to Bethlehem was over, leaving behind the talk of the hometown about the young, pregnant, unwed Mary and her husband to be who had such a social, cultural, religious dilemma. I am sure he was not lacking for helpful advice. The beginning of labor. The struggle to find shelter. The odd assortment of visitors. The angels that kept showing up saying "Fear not."

I wonder if the fact that the angels kept saying "Fear Not" was one hundred percent comforting. If angels keep telling you to "Fear Not," maybe there is some reason to be afraid.

But for now all that had stopped. Now it was just Joseph, Mary and a brand new addition to the family, Jesus. Except for the animals noises, and Jesus' occasional crying, things were mostly quiet.

What was to happen now?

I received a few emails today from friends of different political perspectives than mine angling for a fight, or at least a bit of sparring. For a moment I felt the hackles rising.

But they laid back down. And so have I. On the sofa, looking out the window at the last light of the day, a beautiful, cold, bright sunny day.

And it is quiet at the house. Don't know what's going to happen next.

But for now the quiet suits me just fine.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve ramblings . . .

For a few years my dad read the Christmas story for the outdoor pageant at church. He has a great voice and I always loved to hear him read the King James account of angels, Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men.

I prefer modern translations of the Bible for most purposes these days. But I miss the beautiful, powerful, poetic words of the Christmas story that became part of my memory before I was old enough to know I was remembering. I think some of the modern translators feel the same way because they seem to have kept more of the King James language in this story than in other places. Some things are just too good to leave behind. The babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flock by night. The angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid. Fear not, for I bring to you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass. Mary pondered these things in her heart.

Read it for yourself.

Today I am reminded of a verse in the beginning of Luke, Chapter 2.

"And all went to be taxed, everyone to his own city."

In my own family travellers will come from Denver, Nashville, South Florida, Montgomery, Savannah, Hartselle, the Panhandle of Florida, and Tanzania. There will be a few from Birmingham.

To Oneonta. Hopefully not to be taxed, or to feel taxed. No, that is not the nature of our gatherings. It is a place of belonging, whether you are kin or not. Chaotic and loud sometimes. A bit competitive during play time, maybe. But everyone is welcome. Everyone belongs. All the taxation is left behind in the stores and malls, with the crumpled lists of things to do, on the office desks or lines of the day planner and on the crowded highways and freeways. This is a time to remember the things that have come to pass, talk of those things that we hope will come to pass, and savor this rare moment of the present that lies in between.

Home is that place of connection which familiar hearts seek because of what has come to pass and the hopes of what will be.

Bon voyage, on this Christmas Eve, for your journey home.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Even now in my older age, Christmas evokes a feeling of anticipation. While I would like to claim a heightened level of spirituality celebrating the coming of God onto our planet, that is not entirely true. Not even mostly true. It is a leftover feeling.

Like the leftover feelings of freedom I feel when school is out for the summer. Sure, I still have to go to work in my coat and tie, but when I see kids leaving the school on that last day before the summer break, that wonderful light joyful feeling comes back, just as if I too were walking out the door of the school with arms full of an academic year's worth of accumulated stuff from desks, cloakrooms and lockers, struggling to get to the car and get away as soon as possible.

When I was a child the anticipation of Christmas was almost more than a person could stand. In November or so the Sears and J. C. Penney catalogs, Christmas editions, came out, with huge toy and bicycle sections. Cousin Cliff of Channel 13 Popeye/Three stooges fame and Benny Carl of Channel 6, Bugs Bunny/Clutch Cargo fame hawked the latest toys from Mattel, Hasbro, and Parker Brothers. The window of Wittmeir Hardware, on the second floor of that building, which was kind of like Macy's in Oneonta, was decorated in green and red and sported bicycles, bb guns, and little red wagons. There were probably dolls, but I never noticed. Huge fake snow covered bells were strung across the streets of Oneonta, which was kind of odd because we never really got snow at Christmas and we never had any real bells anywhere, except for that one really big bell that rang at the elementary school for several years, but that had little to do with Christmas. In fact, the feeling it evoked every morning at 7:40 was the Anti-Christmas as far as I was concerned. Our school principal came around every Christmas to every classroom selling those wonderful looking Claxton fruitcakes. He was a Civitan. We always bought one. My dad and grandfather were also Civitans. I never really ate one until I was a starving college student and the brick of candied fruit and nuts was all I could find in my dorm room to eat. But it was great when warmed in a toaster oven.

But back to the anticipation. The tree was up and gifts began to appear. There was a whole lot of shaking going on, clandestinely.

So I watched. I watched the mail for the new catalogues. I watched Cousin Cliff and Benny Carl for the latest toy offerings. I watched the store windows and the decorated streets. I watched the Christmas tree and the gathering gifts. I even watched for our principal to come around with Claxton fruit cakes.

And I watched the calendar.

Watching is a part of Christmas. Joseph watched his young wife and wondered what this all would mean. Mary watched her stomach grow and awaited the blessed delivery. The shepherds were watching their flocks. The wise men were watching the star.

It is not Christmas yet. But it is time to make room. Room to wait. Room to watch. Room for the Holy child, who I think, being a child, would really love all this watching.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Scenic Christmas . . .make that cynic

Politicians battle for control and power. Religious leaders aren't much different. The world is changing as nations and economies are rising and falling according to their ability to wage war. The homeless wander the streets looking for shelter, many of them children. Only the wealthy can afford to be healthy. The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. One race blames the other. One nation blames the other. One religion blames the other. The only thing that is for sure is death and taxes, and it seems that the governments will only keep you alive if you owe them money.

Thus was the shape of the world when Jesus was born.

Thank you Jesus that we're different from those heathens.


Something competely different part 1, 2009

I posted last year's part of the story on December 14th. Let's see where it goes . ..

"Great," thought Michael, as the first huge drops of rain suddenly splattered against the windshield. He reached to turn the wipers on, but the turning indicator came on instead, a mistake he had made a hundred times before, a mistake which always brought laughter from Kristen and Joey. Jan would smile and look down at her lap. Is it his fault his wife drives a car with all of the instruments in the wrong place?

The windshield was a crystal blur as Michael fumbled for the real wiper switch. With one swish the rain was cleared away and he could see clearly. There was a road to the west up ahead. His indicator already being on, Michael decided to turn. This would drive Jan crazy. The road had no number, no name. But it was paved and it headed generally west. They didn't call him the human GPS for nothing. Actually no one called him that, except for Michael while everyone else rolled their eyes. But his naysayers were nowhere around, so, "turn left in fifteen feet," Michael laughed at his own joke, which was also something he had to take care of himself while others rolled their eyes.

Maybe it was loose gravel, or maybe the road had begun to ice over, or maybe Michael was just driving a little too fast to make the turn, but he almost missed the road as the rear end of the car fish-tailed. He felt the rush of adrenaline shoot from his toes to his head as he strained to remember whether he was supposed to turn into the direction of the slide or against it.

The cedar trees along the roadside whizzed by like evergreen Rockettes in the stage lights of Michael's high-beams. Finally the headlights were aimed down the road, and Michael slowed to a stop to gather himself. He looked over into the seat next to him where he had put Jan's gift. The bag had fallen over. The gift was still inside. No harm done. But a slight glimmer of light caught his eye. He reached into the dark floorboard to see what had fallen. His hand touched something cold and hard. He picked it up and looked at it in the soft glow of the dashboard light. Apparently the saleslady had given him a gift.

"You must turn it upside down and shake it up to see what it is really supposed to look like."

Michael laughed thinking that this was probably not the way the kind lady would have suggested to shake the snow globe. But in the glow of the soft light the snow was swirling around the carollers, and the warm yellows of the interior of the house seemed even brighter than in the store.

"I guess it doesn't matter so much how you shake it up . . ." Michael took his foot off the brake and started down the road as he was finishing his thought, his eyes still partially on the snowglobe.


Michael had run over something. And apparently what he had run over was still under his car as a horrible scraping sound vibrated through Jan's car. Once again he stopped the car and began to open his door, and even though it was Christmas Eve, he was cursing under his breath, though no one was close enough to hear even if he had screamed obscenities.

Except for the guy standing outside his window who did not seem to care who heard him curse. He was letting it fly. In the direction of Michael.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Some of the rest of the story . . .

I started a Christmas story last year and ran out of time before I ran out of story, so I'm thinking of adding a bit more this year. There will still be other kinds of posts, but this is kind of fun for me, so please humor me. The following is what I started last year:

Michael stood self-consciously at the counter, trying to look like he knew what he was doing, running his fingers up and down the scarves hanging on the display rack. His eyes fell upon a memory. A glass globe sat in front of him. There was a tiny house with yellow lit windows, and carolers standing in the yard by a Christmas tree. It was not quite like he remembered. A slender hand picked up the globe, turned it upside down and shook it, then placed it back on the counter. “You have to turn it upside down and shake it up if you want to see how it’s supposed to be.” The snow swirled around the house, the tree, the carolers.The voice and hand belonged to a woman behind the counter. Michael spent the greater part of the evening with the cheerful saleslady guiding him toward the perfect Christmas gift. One would have thought she was an older sister preparing her little brother for his first date. Her smile as she helped him spoke clearly, “Bless your heart, you are so clueless.” As he turned to leave, possessing the perfect gift, tastefully wrapped and carried in a bag with a store logo that said “I may not know much, but I’m not cheap,” Michael’s new retail sister affectionately called out, “I know she’ll just love it.” It sounded like she really meant it. Above the store’s holiday music came knowing chuckles from a few women standing close by. Another man entering the store looked jealously at Michael’s bag, then pitifully at Michael’s saleslady. Michael joined in the chuckling this time.This was a Christmas tradition, enjoying the camaraderie of the last minute shoppers. There was a feeling of family among these procrastinators; the kind of intimate knowledge about one another that comes from shared experiences, shared weaknesses, struggles, and finally, hopefully, triumphs. Those who are not part of the family would not understand. So it was with a strange, sweet sadness that Michael left the store, smiling and nodding at his seasonal kin. The warmth of the experience spilled out onto the sidewalk as he passed the hard-core last minute shoppers who were only just arriving at the stores. Reaching into his wallet and tucking a ten in the Salvation Army bucket, he remembered doing that as a kid with the change his mother gave him. He missed the sound of the quarters clanging on the sides of the bucket. As Michael walked toward his car the air seemed colder. The chuckles and holiday music tracks were far behind him now. So far, the best feelings he had felt during this season of love were among strangers.

At the office, where Michael usually felt the most comfortable, everyone was stressed over holiday spending and end of the year reports. The office party last week was nothing more than an excuse to have a few drinks on the company tab, not a bad thing at all, but it was more of an occasion designed to help one forget rather than to remember. And then there was home. Not that Michael was the most qualified to comment on the status of the holiday atmosphere at home. He too, had been caught up in the end of the year rush at work, trying to get things wrapped up so that he could enjoy Christmas day with the family. By the time he walked in the door every night after work, the house was quiet. Everyone was either in bed, watching TV, or in their rooms doing whatever kids do in their rooms these days. Jan was usually at the computer, searching the world wide web for whatever toy was in short supply. There apparently had been time for someone to put up the Christmas tree, he had noticed one late night as he tip-toed in quietly. But he had not yet seen it with the lights on this year. There would at least be time for that on Christmas Day.

Suddenly Christmas Day was tomorrow. Michael would have to hurry to make it home in time for the Christmas Eve Service. If he could not make that, he simply had to get home in time to say good night to the kids and help Jan with the Christmas Eve duties. And then maybe, if he were lucky, there would be time for Mr. and Mrs. Claus to conspire by the fire. But she was probably already worn out from working on the pageant at church and cooking for all the family coming for Christmas dinner. Michael‘s mind wandered for a few moments, remembering the first time he used that “conspire by the fire” line on Jan. There were no children then; just the two of them in that little apartment. And there was no fireplace. But when Michael came home that Christmas Eve, the small potted Norwegian Fir was sitting in the middle of the dining table, decorated with tiny ribbons and a few homemade construction paper ornaments. The room was full of candles, Christmas music was playing quietly, and the smell of spice tea and cookies filled the air. And there was Jan, sitting on the sofa in a crimson velvet gown, holding out a glass of wine. Nat King Cole crooned, “Later on, we’ll conspire, as we dream by the fire, we’ll face unafraid the plans that we made . . .” The wine disappeared, plans and dreams were shared, and then the wonderful conspiring . . . now that’s a tradition worth keeping.

Apparently he was not the only one in a rush to get home. The expressway was a stream of red tail lights as far as he could see. Everyone in the world must be on the way back home. “Just keep moving,” Michael thought to himself. Tail-lights were fine. A long stream of brake lights was a totally different matter. “Fifty miles per hour. That’s not too bad if we just keep moving.” But as he topped a hill he saw the dreaded sight, brake lights, and tail lights, glowing red and white. When he was little he would have squinted his eyes almost shut and imagined a huge Christmas tree decorated with brilliant lights and ornaments, But now a sick feeling came over him as he thought of Jan and the kids going to the church without him. In desperation he jerked the steering wheel to the right, immediately hearing the thumping of the tires crossing the reflectors in the highway marking the lanes of an exit. It did not matter that it was an exit he had never taken, he just had to get off this road that was going nowhere fast. Michael could feel Jan grab his forearm and scream,”you’re going to kill us,” just like she had done a hundred times before. But she was not here now. “What if I die?” Michael thought. “If I die in this accident, they’ll tell her how it happened, that I jerked the wheel to take this exit. If I weren’t already dead, she would want to kill me. Then she would figure out that I was trying to get home for the Christmas pageant and for the kids and for conspiring. She would find her gift . . .”Michael was amazed to find that time slowed down to allow him to have this one man conversation in his brain. “Then she would be horribly, horribly sad and she would cry.”Jan with tears in her eyes had been the catalyst for some of Michael’s greatest moments, times when he became more than he ever thought he could. Now he would have to become a Nascar driver. He could not see much detail, everything was a blur as the car went into a spin. The orange and white stripes of the sign on the guardrail buttress whizzed by, then headlights and taillights. Then he saw them all again. All the while he was gripping the wheel, as if that made any difference. He braced himself for impact, but it never came. It was over as quickly as it began, and the car came to a rest.. Michael looked up, having no idea what to expect. What he saw amazed him. It was the yellow YIELD sign at the bottom of the ramp. He checked to see who had seen his ordeal, like we all do after an embarrassing moment. There were no cars behind him.“Now I can get somewhere”, thought Michael, smiling as he remembered something his dad used to say. “I’m not sure where we’re going, but at least we’re making good time.” . The numbers and names on the road signs were not familiar, but the cars were moving. Turning right, which would have been south, Michael figured he could find the way home by looking to the west a little way down the road.

The traffic became lighter and the driving was easier. There was no point in searching for different stations on the radio. “It’s Christmas Eve,” he thought. “All Christmas music, all the time.”“You better watch out, you better not cry . . .” Michael found himself singing along. “You better not pout . . .” “ A cruel conspiracy by parents to control their children,”, Michael thought, laughing to himself. He was the youngest of three children, his brother, his sister, then Michael. David was four years older than he, his sister two years older.“En guard,” and the fight would begin. No moment of life is wasted as a child. “Take up your sword and fight like a man.”At the end of an evening of wrapping presents just so that mother could re-wrap them according to her specifications, an emotional outlet was needed. For what seemed like hours mother gave instructions on how to cut paper straight, line up the patterns, tuck the ends of the packages just so, hide the tape, don’t throw the scissors, and not waste ribbons. Fortunately, the means of release were found as a natural result of the cause of the stress. At the end of every roll of wrapping paper was the remedy, a cardboard tube about three feet long, the exact specifications of a musketeer’s sword. Sister’s bedroom was the wrapping headquarters, her twin beds becoming wrapping tables for most of the days before Christmas. The beds were also the perfect staging area for swashbuckling sword fights. Usually Michael and his sister would team up against their older brother. Back and forth, thrusting, parrying, from floor to bed to floor again. Theatrical at first, almost a choreographed dance, but usually devolving into flailing the daylights out of each other immediately before knocking over a lamp. This could mean real trouble. Forgotten in the excitement of the moment was the admonition to watch out, a real dilemma during the days before Christmas. Knowing your behavior was putting your “good list” status in jeopardy was easily enough to make one cry, or pout. But that was not allowed at such a time as this. The evening usually ended in quiet, hoping that mother did not notice the damage, or the repressed pouting. So, the parents’ and Santa’s conspiracy was somewhat effective.

The four lane road was now two lanes. The stream of tail lights had become one set of dim lights that disappeared from time to time in the bends of the highway ahead. “There must be a turn toward home somewhere along in here,” thought Michael. He turned the radio off, as if the noise were somehow keeping him from finding his way. The night had turned quiet, and the lights of the city were miles behind. The stars twinkled against the velvet blue sky.“Which one is it?” Michael remembered the unexpected question. Joey was four. It had been a rough holiday season. Jan had some problems with her pregnancy with Kristen and had been ordered to stay in bed. Since that first Christmas in the little apartment Jan had taken care of Christmas at the Dennison house: the shopping, the decorating, the cooking, everything.. She loved to make it special for as many people as she could. But that year she could not. She was so sad. Joey and Michael struggled to get things done and wanted most of all to make Jan happy. But they did not know what they were doing. Michael wished he had paid more attention to his mother’s instructions on wrapping gifts. But they did have a couple of good sword fights. That made Jan smile. One night shortly before Christmas Michael was walking Joey home from pageant practice. Joey stopped and looked into the deep night sky. “Which one is it?” Michael did not know what to say, so he asked, “Which one is what?”“You know, the star. The one that the smart guys followed to find Bedlamb. It must be magic. You know, like the one in Pinnochio. Maybe if we wish on the star of Bedlamb everything will be all right.” They stopped right there on the street. Michael was not sure whether they were wishing or praying, but they looked for the star. Joey was sure he spotted it. “I wish that mommy be okay, and that baby Kristen be okay, and that daddy be okay . . .” Michael blinked and rubbed the tears from his eyes. He was straining to find a road that headed west..

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's a Wonderful Lifetime . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

We have had several cool, wet days lately and I have been holding off a head cold. I'll use that as an excuse for having watched more made for television Christmas movies this year than all previous years combined. I have ordered the Fa la la la Lifetime Alert pendant necklace which automatically changes channels when my seratonin levels dip after an all night Lifetime session, and the Hallmark value pack of kleenex and Welbutrin should arrive anyday now.

It is interesting the picture of Christmas that these movies create. I cannot justify any condemnation at this point because I confess that I enjoy a good, or even a really bad, Christmas movie or two.

But according to the cinematic gospel Christmas can be reduced to three basic plot lines.

First, a romantic relationship that is ordained to be is facing some worldly obstacle and the magic of Christmas is required to make it work out right.

Second, weary travellers go through trials, adventures and often comedic mishaps to arrive at the place they are supposed to be for Christmas.

And third, a question of belief.

Hmmmm. This post isn't turning out like I thought it would.

Unlike most of the movies.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let your lights shine . . .

It is common to wonder whether what we do at Christmas has much to do with the birth of Jesus. And sometimes we are probably right to wonder as we wander around the streets and malls fretting about finding the right gift for the right price, or wander from party to party, or become so stressed as we wonder which will run out first, our money or our time.

Truly a season of wonder for us poor o'rnery people wandering around.

But maybe we are a bit hard on ourselves.

When my sons were small and even now that they are not so small one might hear an exclamation from our car as we wander.


The warning is set off by lighted Christmas lawn decorations, the gaudier the better. Baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, cattle, sheep, wise men, camels, Rudolph, Santa, Frosty the snowman, and an inflatable Grinch.

One of our favorites in the past was outside of Oneonta on a small side road. A former city employee had salvaged years of worn out municipal decorations and strung them all over his yard. It was great. Big silver bells, snowflakes, a veritable history of Christmas light bulbery, and random Christmas icons were creatively placed in glorious splendor. The display was only a mile or so from the Oneonta municipal airport. I am sure many pilots were guided through cold foggy advent nights toward the place where they should land.

I loved it. And I still do, although my sons reside in other more sophisticated cities which I am sure are not quite as advanced in this particular art form.

As long as I remember one of the highlights of my Christmas season was looking for the big star on the side of Pine Mountain in Remlap, visible from Highway 75, the route for our Christmas pilgrimage to Birmingham. I still don't know who did that, but it was quite a feat. I wonder how many people waited to see the star each year just like me?

So is looking for the light shows just another one of those traditions that have little to do with Jesus that just makes me feel good?

Nope. At least I don't think so. Check the story in Matthew 9. The wise men had been looking for Jesus and had spotted a star that in their studies was a sign of the Messiah. Suddenly they arrived at the place where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were. There was the brilliant star, right above it, the first lawn decoration.

10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

I suppose it seems silly to give such spiritual weight to lawn decorations.

But the whole improbable story is full of silliness. God, creator of the universe, entering this world as a poor, ordinary baby lying in a feed trough in a cave, being born to a virgin, visited by mysterious visitors from the East who followed the star, and a bunch of rough shepherds coming to see a brand new baby because angels told them to.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.
3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood

John 1: 1-5



Monday, December 7, 2009

Art History

I walked up to the judge's bench before court started one day last week where I noticed a docket from the previous day. When I picked it up to look at what I may have missed I saw something on the back of the docket. The judge had sketched two faces in pencil. He had copied them from a rehab brochure sitting on the clerk's desk. If I had drawn portraits like that they would be framed and hanging on my den wall. But he just left it to be thrown into the trash.

When I was in first grade we received pictures to color. I sat next to a pretty girl with long blond hair that she used as a weapon while standing in our single file line, swinging her head from side to side, lashing anyone who came close with golden razor wire. Okay, that was a little strong, but it did sting. But I tried to get in line beside her anyway. But I digress.

Her dad owned the local dime store. For you younger folk, Dollar Tree and Dollar General are like dime stores adjusted for inflation. Actually dime stores were more local. Japan rather than China was the major manufacturer of the stuff we wanted. There was generally a popcorn machine, a candy counter, a great toy and trinket section, comic books, and, before school started each year, everything a student would need to matriculate. Shiny book satchels, compasses, protractors, rulers, pencil sharpeners, mechanical pencils, notebooks (all the current year models), paste, glue, fountain pens . . . and crayons.

Being the daughter of the dime store magnate you can imagine that the little blond haired siren had all the latest and coolest school supplies. She had a faux patent leather candy apple red book satchel with green plaid lining.

But best of all, she had the box of 64 Crayola crayons with the built in crayon sharpener right on the box.

I had the box of colors that the school supplied. They were not the small, precise sticks of waxy, nuanced chromaticity that Crayola was known for. They were more the size and smoothness of a small raw carrot, with no real point, just a blunt end, and came in packs of eight.

About this time of year our teacher handed out a coloring sheet. It was Santa Claus. We were to color in the lines of our Santa Clauses which would then be hung with Scotch tape along the chalk holders under the chalk boards all around the room.

I don't know who taught that little blond haired girl to color, but she was a first grade Dorothea Lange. Santa came to life. You could see the twinkle in his dark eyes and the blush on his cheek was subtle enough to indicate exposure to cold air rather than intoxication. I think his eyes followed us, judging the naughty and nice, as we moved across the room.

My Santa looked like I had left red and black crayons too close to the radiator and cleaned it up with our assignment paper. And my hands and face had also become part of the canvas. It was awful. Horrible. Traumatic. I'm glad my mother did not waste good money on buying me the deluxe 64 Crayola crayon collection with built in sharpener. I think she knew of my artistic deficiency from the whole paint by numbers/spilled apple juice debacle. But that's another story.

So I have known I have no gift for the visual arts for quite awhile now. But an artistic friend chastised me last week. She said I just haven't really tried.

There was a time in my life that I didn't like turnip greens. For years the thought of them made me gag. But at some point in time all that changed. Now I love them.

So, my friend, who is artistic and acted like she knows stuff, convinced me to try again. I thought perhaps my artistic muse had just been delayed. Maybe it would be like my taste for turnip greens.

I did. Try that is. It was like ripping open old first grade wounds. It was horrendous even in the much maligned stick figure genre. I sent my effort to my friend as a Christmas card. She deserved it. I wish I knew the little blond haired girl's address. I would send her a copy too. Perhaps that would put an end to my demons.

I think one of the reasons I love to watch sports is that, having played at a few games, I marvel at what real athletes can do. Things that I could only dream about. I still dream of dunking a basketball, in slow motion. One of my favorite dreams. But these are real people, not dreams, doing these amazing things.

And I love visual arts. Partly because it is such a mystery to me how people create such amazing things, creations that I could only dream about.

And that's okay. I bet most of those artists cannot play tunes by hitting their skull with their fists and adjusting the notes by manipulation of the mouth. We all have our gifts. I'm working on a Christmas CD now. Stay tuned.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Of Jesus, America, Family and snow. . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It snowed last night, a wet soupy snow. The weather guys called it a dusting. A bit paradoxical.
There is nothing dusty about this stuff. Very pretty, but so sloppy to walk in. Being a southern boy I still get excited when I get up and see something white on the ground. It requires personal inspection simply because it just doesn't snow much around here. But I've done my inspection and am back on the sofa.

I am too lazy this morning to look a bunch of stuff up. But if I had a little more energy I might write about any number of things.

"C Street" for instance. It is a brick building on the edge of the capitol complex, designated as a church, where many U. S. Senators and Congressmen reside. They are members of "the family" or as some of them have called themselves, "the Christian mafia." I have read a little bit about the group, and it disturbs me greatly. My own Congressman, Robert Aderholt, is a member of The Family. One member explained their view of bipartisanship.

"Jesus didn't come to take sides. He came to take over."

That's wonderful, you may be thinking. But I hope not.

Another topic this morning might be Uganda. There is a constitutional provision proposed in Uganda that would criminalize homosexuality and make certain offenses capital. Having sex with someone of the same sex could be punished by death under certain circumstances. Touching someone in a gay way will get you put in jail. No kidding. And this is not lunatic fringe stuff in Uganda. It is mainstream.

And then there is Uganda and C Street.

The Family is playing a major role in the Uganda legislation to criminalize and incarcerate homosexuals.

It would be nice if U. S. Congressmen who are also members of The Family strongly condemned the proposed legislation. Some have. But it is difficult. A devoted member of the family, Senator James Inhofe (R, OK) has taken many trips to Uganda, befriending the sponsor of the legislation, and brought him, as well as other leaders in Uganda, into "The Family."

Jeff Sharlet, whose new book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power", exposes the existence and complexities of the Family, also explains these connections with other countries more fully.

The story seems too crazy. But it is true. I think that is one of the secrets of the continued existence of powerful secret groups in America. Most of us normal folk just can't believe it can really happen.

Kind of like when it snows in Alabama. Hard to believe. But it calls for inspection.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ezekiel saw the wheel, with a cute little hamster running in it . . .

I saw a news item the other day about a theme hotel where one can go and live the life of a hamster. Guests receive a hamster uniform, drink water out of a little plastic tube hanging from the wire walls of the cage, eat from a little trough, and play on a little hamster playground including the ever-popular hamster running wheel.

Those wheels always disturbed me. In a caged hamster universe the wheel becomes more than recreation. It appears to become the hamster's raison d'etre. The successful hamster gets on the wheel and churns away on his cute little hamster feet. I wonder if he ever wonders why he never seems to get anywhere. Maybe he just never knew any different. Neither did his parents, or their parents. Hamsters have run on the little wheel for hundreds of generations.

Kind of like a couple of things we humans have been doing for generations.

War, for instance. What is it good for, after all? (Reference Edwin Starr )

A war may have an end. But War does not, or at least it will not until some good and brave people are willing to risk another way. Because winning a war has nothing to do with what is right and good. In war might makes right. The violence may end for awhile, as long as the victor can oppress the vanquished. But so far in human history, the oppressor cannot hold on. Inevitably the weak rise up, re-arm and re-load, and the wheel just keeps on spinning.

And when we step off for a moment, we realize we've gotten nowhere.

No war? A ridiculous, naive notion, I know. Only an idiot would suggest that there is another way. It's always been this way.

What fool would suggest that we shouldn't fight back? Or that we should give away what we have to an enemy who asks for it? That we should put away the sword? That we should love our enemy? That the way to be first is to become last?

Come on, you know. Surely you've heard about Him as you've wandered through the malls the past few days.

Time to get off the wheel and follow Him.

Now we're getting somewhere.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Even as you have done to the least of these . . .

I made faces at one of my clients in court today. And he made faces back at me. Of course he is about eighteen months old so I suppose he had a good excuse. He had a choke-hold on sponge-bob square pants with one chubby little hand, waving him around with delight and yelling out "Bob" "Bob". Of course that made me laugh. Like the rest of him his blond hair would not behave, especially in the back where it couldn't decide where it wanted to lie, something I could relate to. So naturally, I made faces at him and he responded admirably in a like manner.

It is not going to make one bit of difference to my blond haired buddy whether our roads are in perfect condition, free of all pot-holes or whether our legislature or courts have new buildings to occupy. I doubt whether it is going to make his life better if we pursue military actions in the middle east, or anywhere else in the world right now.

You see, my young friend's parents are addicted to drugs. They did not even show up for court today. But he is luckier than some. He has a loving relative that is going to take care of him. Too many don't.

Like another of my clients today, a little girl even younger than sponge bob's friend. She will never know her brother, who would have been just a little bit older than her. He died at birth due to problems caused by his parents' drug habits. She lives in a foster home. But at least she is alive.

I was involved in two more similar cases today. And those are just the ones I was involved in.

For those of you who don't know, I don't practice in Los Angeles or New York, or even Birmingham, if I can help it.

This stuff happens every day of every week in Blount County, Alabama. Hundreds, maybe thousands of children are hurting from neglect and abuse because their parents are addicted to drugs, primarily methamphetamine.

It would be nice if we decided to do something about it out of a sense of morality or spirituality.

But for some reason we haven't.

So let's take a different approach.

Addiction to drugs, particularly meth, costs us a boatload of money. Law enforcement must not only enforce the drug laws, they are also called on to handle the domestic violence cases, the assault cases, the sexual violence cases, the theft and robbery cases and the murders which have drug addiction at their core.

Our court system is dominated by cases involving drugs in one form or another. Our health providers, both physical and mental, must deal with the ravages of drug addiction both on the parents and their children, often being paid out of the public coffers. Our education system must deal with the children who are handicapped by their parents' drug addictions. Our labor force is weakened by addiction. Our crime rate is multiplied by addiction. And now with meth labs springing up as a major cottage industry, environmental clean-up costs will keep going up. Our property values go down. Our tax base goes down. Our opportunities for economic development are lessened.

That being the case, surely our governments have a plan.

No they don't. I haven't asked them to make one, have you?

But that pot-hole crisis is under control. Roads are being paved and widened, new government buildings are being planned, and our interests in Iraq and Afghanistan will protected, cost be damned. Thank God. A smooth, cheap ride is important after all.

I am sure we'll get around to addressing our own human crisis when we can afford it, but until then, children be damned.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

I'll be home for Christmas? . . .Two percent Christmas (cont)

Saturday morning. Sofa. Coffee.

The humongous bells are now dangling from the roof in the glassed atrium at the Galleria. It's beginning to look a lot like a two percent Christmas. But I like them. And I like the omni-present Christmas music that follows shoppers wherever we go.

"I'll be home for Christmas. You can plan on me."

I find myself doing my best crooner imitation as I walk along. No one has stopped me for my autograph. Harry Connick Jr. is safe.

Home for Christmas. It is the theme of thousands of small town parades, Christmas cards, school plays, Hallmark movies, Hallmark commercials, and of course, songs.

But what about Jesus?

He certainly was not home for that first Christmas. Nor was his family.

And his homeless condition did not end in Bethlehem.

"Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Luke 9:58

We are afraid of that. As we speak and sing of the comforting thought of being home for Christmas, we who say that we follow Jesus are secretly afraid. We turn up the volume when Bing Crosby reserves his place at home for the holidays.

Partially because we don't want to hear another familiar voice quietly patiently saying, "Put down whatever you are doing and come follow me." After all no one ever wrote an endearing song about the joys of being on the road for the holidays. (Although Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a great movie).

Christmas is a celebration of God's willingness to come to us where we are. And He came with an invitation. Jesus said "Come and follow me."

In our simple minded arrogance we either boast of our sacrifices for the small steps we take outside our doors or even worse we take no steps at all convincing ourselves that surely God would never ask us to leave the Godly homes we have created and maintain.

Our sad mistake is that God's invitation is not for us to leave home . . .

It is an invitation to truly come home.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Two percent Christmas

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

A few weeks ago as we were preparing the Friday morning prayer breakfast Joe was pouring his coffee. He poured something into it from a carton. The carton read, "Fat-free half and half." I have been disturbed ever since. Half and half is supposed to have fat. If it does not have fat, it cannot be half and half. Whatever it is may turn the coffee golden, and may have a pleasant flavor, but it is not half and half, is it?

A recent article in the Atlantic caused quite a stir. It had nothing to do with half and half.

The article is primarily an anecdotal account of how the Christian prosperity gospel contributed to the economic meltdown. I think most of the buzz was created by the provocative title "Did Christianity Cause the Crash?"

I would recommend that you read the article. It is not nearly as edgy as the sensational title would lead you to believe. If you choose not to read the article then I will refer you to old Janis Joplin hit "Mercedes Benz":

"Oh lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz.
My friends all drive porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends.
So oh lord won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?"

This morning I define Christianity as a religion focused on the revelation of God incarnate through Jesus.

But half and half is supposed to have fat. And here it is being called half and half even without its well known essence . . .fat.

And Christianity is being called Christianity without its apparently lesser known essence . . . Jesus.

The author of the Atlantic article and other media surely cannot be blamed for its use or misuse of the Christianity label. We Christians love to stick our brand on almost anything . . . nation, war, capitalism, socialism, health reform, opposition to health reform, taxes (more and less), discrimination, persecution, pest-control, dry-cleaners, attorneys, auto-repair, political parties, schools, day-cares, gun safety training, music; I could go on, but perhaps I already have.

Sometimes Jesus truly is the main ingredient.

But other times all that is present is an artificial Jesus flavoring.

Christmas lite.

Great taste.

Less filling.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Autumnal" . . .I love that word

These are the days of my life. There are about 28 days or so in late October and November that are perfect, at least in my book. They are some of the reasons I love where I live. Sometime in mid-October the thick, warm, humid summer reluctantly and slowly releases North Alabama from its heavy hand , and within a few days the sky is blue, the sun is golden, and every day is an adventure in creation as the trees first hint of the coming change with a red leaf here, a yellow leaf there. Then overnight the artist spills the paint, and in the perfect light of the lower sun the colors explode.

The leafy carpet of golden hickory, amber oak, and maroon maple are the recipe for an autumn potpourri that in the cool morning air smells of spice and memories. After an early autumn storm, which have been plentiful this year, the scent of broken pine spikes the recipe, creating an aroma that cannot be stored or saved. It must be enjoyed in the moment.

Autumn is intoxicating for me.

I love discussions of religion and politics: health reform, war, economics, social justice, poverty. You know the list.

But this is a time apart for me. A precious time. A rare time. A short, short time.

There will be time in a very few days to sit in the house on cold days and dark nights to ponder the weighty issues of the day.

But today I will walk on that carpet of gold, amber and maroon, and let the creation ponder me.
I hope you make time to come along.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

For All the Saints . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Tomorrow is All Saints' Day. Lots of folks at the church have been planning our services for a couple of months now. It has become a special tradition at Lester Memorial UMC, as it has at many United Methodist Churches, a day on which we celebrate the communion of saints, and in particular, those who have died since last All Saints' Day. Our church has suffered more than our share of loss this year. Twenty one members died in a church that averages 300 or so in worship each week.

Lester Memorial has been for me what Paul so eloquently described in Hebrews 12:1:

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

For a long time I identified this verse with the living congregation at my church. I still do. But the truth is that great cloud of witnesses includes those saints who have moved on from this world. In fact, that is exactly what Paul was talking about. In Chapter 11 of Hebrews he recounts the heroics of many Hebrew Scripture figures, all of whom answered their Godly calling, and yet Paul makes this observation in the last verse of that chapter:

39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

One pastor I know often pauses during communion liturgy when he is offering the invitation to the Lord's table. He describes a table that is set for us in this moment, but that also extends backward in time for all who have come before and forward into the future for all who will be, all feasting together at the Lord's table, miraculously at the same time, or perhaps, miraculously outside the bounds and bonds of time altogether.

Such a great cloud of witnesses. There are the famous ones . . . Augustine, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Bonhoeffer, Wesley, Nouwen. I am sure you have your own list of those well recognized heroes and heroines of the faith whose lives and perhaps writings have informed and inspired you.

But just as we all have our own list of famous saints, we each have our own list of unknown saints, at least unknown to the rest of the world. Some helped us with their wisdom, some nurtured us in our childhood, some inspired us with their art and creativity or perhaps their angelic voices, some warmed our hearts with their courage, encouragement and smiles, some taught us the strength of humility, some simply taught us, some helped us grow by taking us into uncomfortable places, and some simply loved us and lived with us.

Those saints that have gone before, famous or not, are a light to us, a light that is not extinguished by death. They no longer walk this earthly journey with us, but their light still burns brightly from the trail behind, illuminating the way ahead. They have not been on the part of the road that we are on now, no one ever has. It is new territory.

But thank God,

there is light.

The journey is now ours to take. Sometimes in our need to stand tall, all we do is cast a larger shadow. May God give us the wisdom to occasionally get out of the way and let the light of the Saints of the past shine clearly onto the path of the future.

Until hopefully, we will also be blessed to shine the light.

Thanks be to God . . .for all the Saints.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The gospel according to John . . .Cougar

Saturday morning. Sofa. Coffee.

There's a little ditty about Jack and Diane, two American kids growing up in the heartland. You've probably heard the 1982 John Cougar smash hit (some of you probably can sing it all, along with clapping rhythm and a capella chorus) but if you haven't, the chorus begins with the line "oh yeah, life goes on . . ."

Whether I am with a bunch of folks or singing all alone, the line is sung defiantly, almost triumphantly.

And life does go on. A blessing and a curse.

I think that the line should be re-written to say "oh yeah, my life goes on," or "oh yeah, our lives go on." Because while the flowing river of life carries most of us along to the sea, there are those who get caught up in the eddies, the whirlpool traps that go round and round in circles (a Billy Preston song from the seventies, but just a coincidence), or stuck in those stagnant pools close to the shore behind logs and stones where mosquitoes breed, where no current is present to pull them out of the quagmire.

A number of friends and friends of friends have suffered tragedy in the past year. I have been a part of the crowd of support for some of them in their time of immediate crisis or loss. I have also been a part of the crowd that moved on with our lives, more times than not leaving my hurt and injured friends stuck in the eddies and stagnant pools.

Being able to move on is a blessing. We could not survive without it. No matter what great tragedy or grief has struck today, tomorrow still requires food and water and the stuff of life.

But with that blessing comes a curse. The curse of becoming blind to those left behind, to those for whom life is not moving on, to those the current does not reach or whose heavy burden locks down like an anchor and chain.

Last week a bunch of Lesterines* went back to New Orleans to work on houses. Yes, there are a few houses that are still not repaired. Somewhere between a thousand and a million. The house that the Lesterines worked on belongs to an 84 year old woman who works every day in a nearby elementary school and presently lives in a FEMA trailer behind her house where she has resided for fifty or so years.

Four years. This dear, strong, smart eighty something year old American citizen has been waiting four years to get back into the house where she and her husband raised twelve children. She is still raising one grandson. In a FEMA trailer.

Our national life moved on. The news crews speed ahead on the river of life racing to stay ahead of us and each other, creating a cruelly short news cycle. Those eddies and stagnant pools on the sides of the river become an insignificant blur from their vantage point. Human tragedy is only interesting when it is fresh.

If only tragedy were so short-lived.

In today's world the temptation would be to dredge and channel the river. Straighten the curves and remove the logs and rocks. That way no one would ever get caught in the eddies and stagnant pools. We would all be flushed to the sea at an efficient speed.

But it is necessary for the hurt and injured to stop and repair. The current of life is too strong to allow healing of wounds.

There really is only one good answer.

Sometimes those of us in the mainstream must paddle over to the eddies, even though it may be a little dizzying and a little dangerous. We must wade into the stagnant pools, though it may be murky, smelly, and expose us to things we want to avoid.

Sometimes we must voluntarily join those that have been left behind in the places that hold and harbor them in hopes that one day they will be able to return to the center of the river where the current is strong and life moves on. We must offer our encouragement and support, praying for the wisdom to know when it is time to help them test the deeper waters.

I never really liked the next line of John Cougar's song:

"Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone."

The river ride can get pretty boring out in the main channel through the deep waters, safe from rocks and rapids.

The thrilling river ride is through the rocks where whitewater sprays and whirlpools grab hold.

But to get there is risky. You gotta occasionally get out of the mainstream.

And head to the edge.

"So let it rock, and let it roll . . ."

* work team from Lester Memorial UMC, downtown Oneonta, Alabama, a fresh breath of air.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Crazy eights

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is raining this morning. As I sit on the sofa and look out the window at the constant downpour, I think of similar days when I was a child, trapped in the house on a Saturday morning. Our television antenna could only catch two channels out of the air, three if you counted Channel 10, Alabama Public Television, which I did not. (My appreciation for APT programming has been an acquired taste.) Saturday morning cartoons were good, but they could not overcome the anticipatory boredom of a full Saturday spent indoors.

Sometimes games would break out. When we were not making up our own games, lesser board or card games would do. One of the card games we played was crazy eights.

For you who are culturally deprived, crazy eights is a card game in which each player is dealt seven cards. Each player in turn discards a card, following the suit of the previous player. If a player cannot follow suit of the previous player, he must draw new cards until he can. The player who first discards all cards wins.

But there are two more important rules. One exception to the requirement of following suit is that a player may play a like card of a different suit, a seven on a seven, queen on queen, etc. This obviously changes the suit which the next player must play.

The other rule is that an eight of any suit can be played at any time. A player playing an eight may name the suit which the next player must follow. Crazy, right?

I still remember the anticipation of the win as the number of cards in my hand dwindled. One more card left and it was the right suit. Almost there. Then, bam, the player to my right played a three on a three, or maybe even a crazy eight. The suit was changed. I would have to draw a few cards and start all over. Or give up and start crying, which sometimes happened back then.

The folks on the right have been putting down a lot of crazy eights lately. When the President was explaining his health insurance proposals Congressman Joe Wilson yelled out the now famous "you lie."

The President was not lying. But Wilson had played the crazy eight. Suddenly the game shifted. The suit to be played was no longer the details of health care proposals. Now the suit to be played upon was integrity and truth, who had it, who didn't.

Wilson turned out to be a formidable crazy eights player. When the leaders of his party played their own crazy eight, requiring him to follow suit with an apology to the President, he immediately followed with another, changing suit to the persecution he was now suffering at the hands of the liberals. He made a lot of money with that clever play.

The key to this kind of crazy eights is the emphasis on "crazy." Truth is certainly not a requirement. In fact, the purpose is to turn attention from the truth. Calling the President a liar. Declaring the existence of "death panels." Not recognizing the citizenship of the President. Perhaps this game should be called "crazies hate."

It is not a new thing. Remember swift boats. Crazy. Untrue. Effective.

And now, to make things even more complicated, a new card has been played.

The race card.

Joe Wilson and his friends on the ultra-right are playing the race card. They say that any time they criticize the president's programs they are accused of being racist. The persecution and unfairness is so painful. Where is Martin Luther King when you need him, right Joe?

What program were you calling a liar, Joe?

What program was kept from talking to the school children of America?

What program is being accused of lying about its citizenship, its faith, its belief in democracy?

And when did President Obama play the race card? When he wisely held his tongue when you said he lied? When he graciously accepted your apology?

This does no good. The craziness just keeps on coming.

The easy thing to do would be to start crying and quit.

But there are plenty of cards yet to play.

And if the President and his supporters will play the game, continuing to be civil, persistent, honest and informed, we will ultimately win the game.

Because the likes of Joe Wilson will never be able to follow that suit.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Invoice of Rights?

The case of Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission is before the U. S. Supreme Court in a special early setting. The issue is whether corporations' first amendment rights to free speech are being violated by campaign finance reform laws (McCain-Feingold, I think) which limit the amount of money a corporation can contribute to a political campaign.

It is a very interesting case arising out of an anti-Hillary Clinton movie made by conservative groups to be used during the past presidential election. It could not be shown because it's cost would violate the statutory limitation on corporate political contributions.

Maybe I'll revisit the case when the court rules.

But tonight I have an idea.

It has long been recognized that corporations have first amendment rights. Something about that doesn't seem right to me, but it is the way that the U. S. Supreme Court protected corporate owned newspapers from liability in reporting the news. The protection now extends to all corporations.

So corporations have constitutional rights. These creations of statutory law are afforded the protections of the Bill of Rights. For legal purposes, the creation of a corporation is the creation of a legal person.

So here's my idea. I think the draft should be reinstated. Corporations should be drafted. I mean, if they are considered to be legal persons with rights protected by the authority of the government, then they should qualify to serve their country. Sure, we could send them to war.

But even better, we could draft them and require them to do whatever the country needs and pay them the same money that we have paid draftees in the past, adjusted for inflation of course.

Ridiculous you say? We have paid Haliburton/Blackwater untold millions, perhaps billions of dollars in the past six years. Think how much money we could have saved if they received a g.i.'s paycheck. The Iraq war would have been a bargain.

Stealth bombers for one tenth the price.

Prescription drugs for next to nothing.

Health insurance premiums about the price of a large supreme pizza.

Wait a minute, government take over of corporations? That sounds a little like socialism, or facism, depending on whose definition you use. We can't have that. We believe in free market capitalism, free enterprise, and the American Way.

Instead we settled on the corporate take-over of our government.

And now our government works for them.

And so do we.

There is nothing free about this market. It has a very high price.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Yeah, its old news, or at least it should be . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Congressman Joe Wilson heckled President Obama during the President's speech Wednesday night before a joint session of Congress. Congressman Wilson yelled out, "you lie," in response to the President's assertion that his health insurance plan would not cover illegal aliens.

Obama was relying on Section 246 of proposed HR 3200, entitled,


The section is obviously intended to confuse the innocent citizen with its verbose legalese, but in an effort to inform I will print it in its entirety:

"Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States."

Whew. I hope the eyestrain isn't too bad from reading all that technical jargon.

The provision reaffirms the law as it has been for years.

Illegal aliens (a horrible term) will not be allowed to participate in the health insurance reform act.

The President was not lying.

Undocumented aliens will, however, continue to be able to get minimal emergency health care at emergency rooms. That has been the law for awhile now. It is not part of the health insurance reform act. Perhaps this old law is what Mr. Wilson and many of his defenders would like to change by requiring a government ID before medical treatment is received.

It is ironic that those who eschew bigger government are the proponents of a federal identification card for all citizens.

Sounds a bit facist.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Race to the finish . . .

I am generally an easy going guy. In fact if it were not for coffee I might appear dead. I am not a knee-jerk reactionary.

But I am worried. Not because Obama spoke to our school children today. I am worried about the worry about that, and other worrisome things.

A significant number of Americans protested the President from speaking to their children at school today.


Because obviously he was going to fill these young minds with the romantic notions of communism and socialism and demonize capitalism and the American way. After all he has done this so many times before in all his writings and speeches. Right?

When the economy was imploding his true fascist and socialist identity was exposed as he nationalized the banks and large corporations, leaving businessmen and investors out in the cold, making one anti-capitalistic decision after another willy nilly in an attempt to destroy American business, right?

He is determined to weaken the military and therefore submit the USA to the dangers of being taken over by a thundering horde of red commies streaming across the Bering Strait (despite the constant vigilance of Sarah Palin, now that she doesn't have a full time job) exemplified by his lack of support for the military and his refusal to consider military options, like those in Afghanistan. Right?

He is not a good role model. He is a bad husband, father, son and friend. He never had to work for anything. He is always losing his temper and treating people badly. He never did anything for anyone. He could have been a very wealthy lawyer, but instead chose to be one of those subversive community organizers. That's pretty suspicious. Right?

He smokes?

That must be it. He smokes, and parents don't want their children being influenced by a president who smokes.

I mean, that is the only obvious difference between him and his predecessor, isn't it? I can't think of any other difference that sets him apart from all other presidents that would make people think of him differently, can you?

At least one that is true.

You know what I mean. He'll never mention it. And I guess I won't either.

But it is shameful. Shame on us.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Waiting on the rampture . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Sorry about the week-long interruption. It is hard to believe I walked you out to the end of the unfinished wheel chair ramp and left you for so long. Fortunately the ramp did not take nearly so long to finish as this blog story. A few of the Ramp It Up guys were successful with their aiming and figuring, created a 45 or so degree turn in the ramp toward a higher elevation and finished up. Believe me it was not that simple nor that quick. The ramp is beautiful, and it works.

At the point we realized we had a problem, that the ramp would be considerably longer than we thought it would be if we continued with our original plan, we stopped and considered our possibilities. We did not want to stop and think too long, as our new friends who were anticipating the completion of the ramp were patiently encouraging us as they visited with us from the porch. During this process it occurred to me that the reason surgeons have us asleep during surgery is not because it is necessary for our health. It is because that most often the process of construction or repair or even creativity is far messier than the final product. No one would have surgery if we had to watch it all. And I began to wonder if anyone else would want a wheelchair ramp. While our jokes and singing did provide somewhat of a numbing affect, the process was still right there in front of our new friends. Their confidence never waned. Or at least they were kind enough not to let it show.

The ideas considered during the intense period of aiming and figuring produced several suggestions. For those of you not experienced in these matters, aiming and figuring is a technical construction term for that period of time that elapses between the discovery of a construction challenge and the commencement of work on the chosen solution to that problem. Aiming and figuring involves keeping one's eyes focused on the site of the problem for long periods of time, as if maybe the problem will somehow change on its own. The posture of the aimers and figurers changes, much like an intense golfer lining up a putt. Standing, hunkering, bending over with hands on thighs, turning one's back on the project and taking a few steps away, the aimer and figurer seeks physical changes in perspective in search of the right course to take. I suspect surgeons do the same while we are asleep.

Several propositions were thrown into the market place of ideas as we stood in the darkening evening. Perhaps we should simply continue with our original plan and build a much longer ramp that would end close to the street. If we turned ninety degrees to the right the ramp would be heading back into a higher elevation in the middle of the yard, requiring only a short section of ramp to finish. If we turned ninety degrees to the left there was very little slope, so the ramp would be longer than the turn to the right, but still not as long as continuing straight, and the landing area was not nearly as soft. All choices had to be considered in light of accessibility from the parking area and preservation of the lovely yard in front of the house.

For aiming and figuring to be effective, it is necessary that the participants advocate their positions strongly in the beginning. I, for instance, initially advocated the ninety degree right turn into the higher elevation of the yard. All of the positions were considered and promoted and critiqued. It is not a time to be reticent. All possibilities deserved proper and zealous representation so that the best could come to light, which was getting a bit more difficult since by that time there was no more natural light to assist us.

Amazingly, the dialectic process of group aiming and figuring once again provided the solution, which was the 45 degree turn to the right. A compromise of the original ideas, it maximized the positives and minimized the negatives. A bit unorthodox, the plan presented some challenges, but our course was set, and the project was finished, the posts were set in concrete, and the ramp was attached to the porch.

The final product is beautiful. And most importantly, it worked.

Our group of ramp builders is made up of different personalities and construction skill levels. But all voices were heard. No one person had thought of every important consideration on how to finish the ramp. But together, we ended up with the best solution.

When our problem first presented itself we were tempted to consider cheating on the slope to solve the problem. The slope of a wheelchair ramp is supposed to be no more than one inch of rise for every foot of length. An easy solution would have been to simply make the ramp a bit steeper. That would have shortened the ramp considerably and we could have finished much quicker.

But the sole purpose of a wheelchair ramp is, after all, to allow independent access for a person who cannot have it otherwise. A ramp with a steeper slope would have been much easier to complete and people passing by on the street would have looked at it and thought, "my what a beautiful ramp."

But if it were built too steep for our new friends to pull the wheelchair up the ramp, it would be worthless. Worse than worthless, it would be a monument to our group's lack of understanding and compassion for our new friend's situation. While it may have made us who never have to use the ramp feel good about what we had constructed, in reality it would have been better had it not been built at all.

So that's the story of the ramp. And much more, I think.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ramp it up, or down, depends on which way you're headed . . .

Saturday. Coffee. Sofa

We built a wheelchair ramp this week. Actually it is not quite finished but maybe today is the day. The slope on a wheelchair ramp must be no more than one inch rise for every twelve inches of length. That means that if the edge of the porch is 30 inches above the point where the ramp ends, the ramp must be at least 30 feet long.

Fortunately we have several folks who are talented in construction and carpentry. We got together at the first of the week after work and pre-constructed sections of the ramp, loaded them on trailers and took them to the house. Rick had cut all the pieces himself which was pretty amazing.

Everything went well. We had only one little setback. In our planning for this ramp, we did not take fully into consideration the slope of the yard away from the porch. The ramp was planned as if the yard was flat. This meant that the place the ramp was supposed to end was not 30 inches lower than the porch. More like 42 inches. Doesn't sound like much, but that meant 12 more feet of ramp, which, under the present plan, would have taken our friend and his wheelchair directly into the middle of the street.

That's when the aiming and figuring started.

Sorry, I've got to finish this tonight. I'm going to hear Shane Claiborne (Irresistible Revolution) . He is at Trinity UMC in Huntsville all day today. Start at 9, but come when you can. Program ends at 4. Bring a canned food item for admission.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I can't believe it is Thursday again and time for the Thurvey. To comment on the Thurvey question just click on "comments" below, when the comments window opens type your thoughts, click on anonymous, and then click on publish. If you wish to be known to the world then put your name at the end of your comment.

The Thurvey topic is:

Many good things have been said about Ted Kennedy since his death. It is too bad that he didn't get to hear them while he was alive.

What would you like to be said about you when you die?

What would you like to say to your friends before you die?


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Lion sleeps tonight . . .

I heard Ted Kennedy speak at the University of Alabama in 1971. As a young teen I thought I was being pretty radical. He was a Kennedy, a name synonymous in the south with the Civil Rights Act and racial integration, not exactly the most popular developments in Alabama. Add that to the delicious moral outrage of southern gentility in response to the Chappaquiddick incident and you wonder why he came to speak at the University at all.

When you are young, eight years is an eternity. At the time I did not appreciate the epic drama of this Kennedy's life as he stood before us. Chappaquiddick was less than two years past. Robert had been murdered three years before. He broke his back in an airplane crash in 1964. Only eight years had passed since President Kennedy's assassination. And there he was in Foster Auditorium, that place of infamy in the eyes of the world where eight years earlier George Wallace "stood in the schoolhouse door" to prevent Vivian Malone and James Hood, African American students, from enrolling at the University of Alabama. That place where Wallace was forced to back down from his pledge to prevent integration because President Kennedy, at the insistence of Robert Kennedy, ordered the National Guard and the U. S. Marshalls to intervene on behalf of the young students.

That was thirty eight years ago.

It is easy to see, looking back, why Ted Kennedy became one of the greatest Senators in American history. He had been taught compassion for the less fortunate by his father, who believed that along with privilege came responsibility. But that alone was not enough.

I cannot comprehend surviving the sorrow of the unspeakable tragedies that beset the Kennedy family. Add to that personal failures scrutinized by the entire world: Chappaquiddick, loss of the Democratic Presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter, divorce and rumors of infidelity and alcohol abuse, and one would think that Ted Kennedy had every reason to retreat to Hyannis Port and live the life of privilege.

But he did not.

Senate colleagues past and present praised Ted Kennedy today. Two comments stuck with me. Ted Kennedy was never petty, and he did not hold grudges. Unfortunately those traits seem to be counter to the current political climate.

But those traits allowed him to get things done, from civil rights, to title IX, to education reform, to the rights of the disabled, and hundreds of pieces of legislation which directly improved the lives of millions of Americans who traditionally had been overlooked.

When you have suffered such great personal loss, petty things lose their importance.

When you have been judged by so many for personal failures, it is often difficult to be judgmental or hold grudges against others.

He could have easily quit, many, many times. Most of us probably would, especially when our financial future was never in question.

But he never quit. He fought for those who never had the privilege or power that he had been born into.

Ted Kennedy was certainly not perfect. It seems that he understood that. But it wasn't about him. And since it wasn't about him, his lack of perfection was irrelevant. So he fought on.

Maybe in the end that was his greatest strength.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) said it best in 1973. . .

I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
I'd have said the right thing
But I must have used the wrong line
I'd a took the right road
But I must have took a wrong turn
Would have made the right move
But I made it at the wrong time
I been on the right road
But I must have used the wrong car
My head was in a good place
And I wonder what it's bad for . . .

Well that was fun.

The posts on health insurance and toting guns to presidential town hall meetings generated some commentary.

A long-time friend sent me a message on facebook about the health care reform act. She has been a nurse for seven or eight years now, since she and I graduated from high school. She is against the government getting involved any further because so much time is already being required for paperwork under existing regulations. She fears the new act will add greatly to that burden and inhibit further the delivery of health care. Now that's the kind of concern I can understand. More inefficiency should not be part of the solution. I am going to find out if the present reform act addresses this problem in any way. If it doesn't, it should.

As far as the second amendment post, the responses were revealing. I never denied the second amendment's' validity, or the present right of the individual to own weapons. I was simply trying to point out that the few people who treat such rights in a frivolous manner jeapordize the enjoyment and exercise of those rights by those who act responsibly.

Comments are good. Listening is good. Keep them coming.

There are at least three things I am certain of. The first is that I am not right all the time. The second is, neither are you. The third is that none of us can know for certain when we are right and when we are wrong.

That makes what you say pretty important to me. Unless I am wrong about that. If you think I am, let me know.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

What to wear to a town hall meeting, or Rights erroroni . . .

Saturday morning. Sofa. Coffee.

"Honey, I don't know what to wear to the President's town hall meeting. Are slacks okay, or do you think I should go with a dress?"

"Both would look great on you dear, but you may want to know I'm wearing the brown tooled leather USA leg holster for my 9mm Smith and Wesson. I thought about the AR-15 with the black strap, but that seemed a bit pretentious. Besides, you know Harry. He'll probably be wearing his. He's so tasteless. He's the kind of guy that makes you question the second amendment. But remember, we may be moving into the church at some point, so watch the cleavage."

During the past week it became popular among second amendment enthusiasts to sport unconcealed weapons at or near President Obama's town hall meetings. In New Hampshire, the first place this happened, a man with a Smith and Wesson 9mm strapped to his leg was in the crowd. He had been given permission by a church near the town hall meeting to stand in its yard so that he could not be arrested. I can hear Jesus now, "I wore my instrument of death upon my leg, and you came to my defense . . ." I think that part of Matthew was left on the cutting room floor. The NRA was apparently not as strong with the Constantine administration.

I am not a fan of the second amendment as presently interpreted. I would defend Michelle Obama's right to bare arms, but that's about it. But it is a problematic amendment, and until it is amended or interpreted differently by the Supreme Court, it is the law of our land.

Expounding a rather creative defense, some of the folks who were packing heat at the town halls said they had no intention of using the weapons. The action was more of an expression, or a statement, that they wanted to make. Exercising both the first and second amendments at the same time. Sort of a whole body constitutional work-out.

I am going to make an assumption here. I think that most of the folks exercising the first and second amendments in their display, if not use, of their personal arsenals, are constitutional strict constructionists. That is what they say when someone tries to suggest that the right to own and carry firearms be restricted. One wonders then if they have ever really read the second amendment:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

It was the stated reason by the authors of the constitution that the purpose of the amendment was for the benefit of the state, not the individual. The right is couched in the State's right to regulate it's militia, and the State's right to maintain its security. If the members of the U. S. Supreme Court were to act as the strict constructionists that most of them claim to be, things would have to change. A citizen's right to bear arms would be subject to conditions.

Are you willing to be called into the state's militia at any time and bring your weapon with you?

Do you support the state in what it is doing?

Do you have any notion that your right to bear arms gives you the right to do anything in opposition to the will of the State?

Many of us have the belief that the second amendment was written to allow individual citizens the right to own and bear arms to keep the power of government in check. That romantic notion belongs in a Nicholas Sparks novel. The right of the citizen to bear arms is clearly conditional on it being for the benefit of the state and it organized militia.

Clearly, under the amendment, the government, at the very least, reserved the power to the state to regulate the ownership and use of firearms.

So just a bit of advice for you who desire the unfettered right to bear arms. Look for some of those evil "activist" judges. That is what you truly need.

Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, always good for a sound bite quote in his opinions, wrote now famous words regarding freedom of speech in his opinion in U. S. v. Schenk (1919):

"The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent."

The case involved the challenge of a statute which made it illegal to protest against the draft for WW I. The insidious behavior in question was the handing out of flyers in opposition to the draft.

We have rights of expression and rights to bear arms. It is our responsibility to use them wisely. The most serious threat to our rights is not the government. It is the stupid, irresponsible exercise of those rights that ultimately cause the wisdom of those rights to be questioned. Carrying firearms, loaded or not, to a presidential appearance is the kind of infantile behavior that will require more restrictions. Like parents of irresponsible adolescents, the government will be forced to put us in time out, and take away our toys.

And a church that thinks it glorifies the Body of Christ to allow a person to carry a firearm to a presidential town hall meeting is a topic for another day. While I know I have a first amendment right of expression, for the moment , I am rendered speechless, probably by the grace of God.


Thursday, August 20, 2009


Time for a Thurvey. Thursday survey. If you wish to comment on the question simply click on "comment" below, type your comment in the comment window, click on the anonymous button, and click publish. Include your name with you comment if you want the world to know who wrote that brilliant commentary.

The Thurvey question:

Is health care insurance reform needed in America or is it a contrived issue? On what do you base your opinion?


Where do you get your information regarding the health care insurance legislation? Do you feel like you know what is in the proposals?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2nd lie: No choice of doctors

Andrea Mitchell, an NBC person, has been asking folks this morning on her show whether President Obama is doing a good enough job in dispelling the misinformation (lies) being spread about the health care reform act. No longer is the President simply responsible for health care reform. He is somehow responsible for the lies of the opposition. That disturbs me.

She spent a good bit of time on it, asking several people. It seems to me her formidable journalistic skills might be better spent on explaining or exposing the truth of the proposals. But she is representative of the media, which apparently have collectively decided that what people think about an issue is the main story. And a lot more fun. The issue itself is somehow secondary. And a lot more work.

Sunday's post featured the lie that the health care reform proposal created "death panels" or in less severe terms, some type of mandatory counseling during which the elderly and disabled would learn the limitations of treatment based on their age and disabilities. It is still a lie.

The featured lie for today is that under the proposal you will no longer get to choose your physician. Another lie. There is nothing in the bill or any other proposal being seriously considered that mandates or even suggests any reduction in the patient's ability to choose their own doctor.

It is just not in the bill. It is a lie. A lie calculated to keep things the way that they are.

So here we go again. We "liberals" or "progressives" are going to be so dang open-minded we won't stand up and insist on a significant health care reform bill. We will listen to all sides. And before the conversation is over the vote will have been cast and the opportunity for meaningful change will have passed. Not only will it have passed, but the weak legislation that will pass will become a barrier to any progress in the foreseeable future. No one will want to revisit that political hot potato.

A significant bill will provide an option to private insurance. It is the only thing that will effectively keep costs down.

Write, call, email or tweet your congressman now. When someone lies, call them on it. This is too important to too many people.

If I'm lying, tell me.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fact 1: Health Care Reform Bill Does Not Create Death Panels

I am supposed to be participating in the spiritual discipline of the Sunday afternoon nap. But Jesus and his disciples gleaned a meal and He said it just made sense to get an ox out of the well (always wondered how that happened) on the Sabbath, so I suppose blogging is permissible. This week I will be discussing several lies, and sometimes the liars who propogate them, being used to undermine the effort to reform the health care system in America. Most of the lies are so ridiculous I cannot fathom how anyone would believe them, and worse, repeat them. But I am constantly surprised.

The first lie which received an irresponsible amount of print and airtime was that the proposed health care bill in the House created a system by which elderly citizens were required to meet with a government bureaucrat at regular intervals to discuss which end of life treatments they would qualify for and when the plug was to be pulled by the government for the sake of the public good. This lie eventually evolved into the alleged creation of "death panels" for the aged and disabled, to schedule their death and relieve society of the burden of their continued existence.

There is no such provision. Not even close.

There is a provision that would provide insurance coverage for consultation with one's personal physician regarding end of life medical treatment. The provision is not new. It simply facilitates the elderly in making informed decisions regarding medical directives. It is absolutely voluntary. It is done with one's on physician. It has been supported at some point in the past ten years by most of the congressmen and senators who now oppose it for purely political reasons. It was co-written and co-sponsored by a Republican physician congressman.

All that death panel crap was just a lie. A horrible, fear creating lie. Horrible for the elderly and disabled who heard it from people they trusted. Horrible for the public servants who crossed party lines to try and do something that was obviously good for citizens.

Why the lies? Follow the money. Huge profits will be lost if the system is reformed. Profits that come directly from the insurance premiums and medical bills paid by Americans. Profits that continue to go up because they can. We will always need medical care. And we will pay whatever we have to for it.

So the lies are paid for. By the profiteers. And many of us have bought it. I just don't get it.

If you don't believe government should have anything to do with health care and are willing to let the free market take care of it, or if you are satisfied with the current system, that's great. Everybody is entitled to their opinion.

But don't lie. And don't spread "facts" if you don't know whether they are true or not.

We are better than that. If we deal with the truth, we will come to a good solution.

The only things that need to be allowed to die without further treatment are the lies.

Rest in peace.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Can I go to the restroom?

Saturday morning. Sofa. Coffee

Oneonta is a small town. When the Highway 75 traffic increases by a couple of hundred cars and a fleet of yellow buses twice a day it is noticeable. School has started.

It has been awhile since I had to worry about starting back to school at the end of the summer. But I still sympathize with those kids in the buses and in the back seats of cars headed down the highway on these first few days. I get nauseated for them. Life is changing again. It is time to pack away the freedom of summer with the bathing suits, baseball gloves and clothing that would not meet any school's dress code.

Under penalty of law these sweet children must get up every morning with the sun, leave the security of their home and arrive at school by 7:50 or whatever the random time is this year. They must dress according to rules set by the man or be subject to punishment, and after repeated offenses, suspension. They are told what items of personal property they can bring with them.

And they must behave properly in class. All of a sudden they are expected to sit at a desk for the greater part of seven hours and do what someone else tells them to do. They are required to be quiet most of the time, but when called on to speak, to speak correctly and with respect.

They are graded by their ability to deliver correct answers to the prescribed questions in the manner requested.

Bunch of Nazi educators. Where is the ACLU? What about the rights of these poor children? First amendment freedom of speech . . .gone. Second amendment right to bear arms . . .gone. Fourth amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures . . .gone. Fifth amendment right not to incriminate oneself and the right to due process . . . gone. Sixth amendment right to a jury of peers . . . gone. Seventh amendment right to bail upon detention . . .gone. Eighth amendment right to question cruel and unusual punishments . . .gone. Ninth amendment right to exercise those rights not specifically denied . . . gone.

Ridiculous argument? You betcha.

As ridiculous as the behavior of some of our citizens during the past few weeks during town hall meetings held by Congressmen and Congresswomen across our country.

Like the children of summer, a handful of citizens, supposedly adults if that is determined by chronological age, unrestrained by rules of law or civility, have appeared at town hall meetings, a beautiful tradition in America. They have spoken rudely, out of turn, and with no respect for truth. Many were not even residents of that school district, having come from places far away. As a result the rest of the citizens gathered to discuss and learn about the important issues that confront our country were deprived of meaningful opportunities to present their own positions and intelligently pose questions, many of which were sympathetic to the unruly, loud, rude, lying adult delinquents.

Freedom is a hard thing sometimes. I personally respect a good protest, even if it is against something I believe in. That is the way we are supposed to roll in America.

But as teachers constantly remind students, the problem with class disruptions, behavior that may be perfectly acceptable elsewhere, is that it is an impediment to the ability of others to learn. That is the reason for all the unreasonable rules.

It is not illegal to lie or speak out of turn in public. You will not go to jail for acting rudely. No one wants to arrest anyone at a town hall meeting. Okay, that's not true, I am sure the desire to cuff a few people and have them hauled away was a common fantasy among a few congresspeople and a few citizens last week. But we are not supposed to do that in America. Freedom of expression in the public discourse is a cherished right, even if that expression is rude, false, and mean-spirited.

But with that right should come a moral responsibility. Certainly not a responsibility to lie down and acquiesce to the beliefs of others without protest or comment. But there is a moral responsibility to be truthful. To be respectful. To speak in turn. To work and play well with others.

There is a time and place for the freedom of summer. We would be a miserable people without it. I am sure that some of our best ideas and creativity find their origins in those times and places with little or no restraint.

But at some point we must come together and intelligently agree on the best ideas. Everyone must be heard, from the powerless, meek and quiet, to the loud, assertive and rude.

It is time to raise our hands and be recognized before we speak. ( If we are never recognized, then maybe a little protest is appropriate.)

It is time that we are graded on the correctness and truth of the information we give.

Summer can't last forever.

It is time to get back on the bus.


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