Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stimulus bill? Not if you have to read it . . .

I know. Today's Thurvey question (see last post) is not nearly so sexy as last week's. Last week a good Hallmark or Guidepost response was called for.

But today's Thurvey asks "what is the answer to the economic crisis?" I am about tired of it myself.

My fatigue comes partially from wading through the pages of the American Recovery and Reconstruction Act of 2009. I was hearing so many different things that I thought it would be interesting to go straight to the source. I was wrong. But I think I will continue to study a few pages every day as a Lenten act of sacrifice and repentance. Sort of like self-flagellation.

I was a bit hard on Governor Riley a couple of posts back. He is still, after all, the only Alabama governor who has ever proposed massive tax reform. That was gutsy. He has clarified his position on accepting funds from ARRA, saying that all funds received and disbursed will be closely monitored. A good move as well. I still don't understand his position on not accepting some of the unemployment compensation funds. I hope to find the answer in the ARRA before Easter.

But right or wrong, there is opposition to accepting the ARRA unemployment compensation monies for fear that ultimately, when the federal funds run dry, the State will have to raise unemployment taxes on businesses to fund the expanded benefits and beneficiary pool.

ARRA will raise basic unemployment compensation by twenty five dollars per week, which will be paid out of ARRA funds. That is in addition to the present benefit which is one half of the average pay of the worker, who also paid taxes into the system while he or she was working. The more controversial provisions would increase the number of potential claimants by including workers seeking part-time jobs and those who have chosen to leave their job for a compelling reason based on family need.

I am in favor of being careful about all this spending.

But it does say something about us that we are quibbling about giving tax-paying workers an extra $25 a week for a few months or helping out a worker who can only qualify for part time jobs or paying a mother who had to quit to take care of a terminally ill child when millions of bail-out dollars have been paid to executives of companies who may have had much more to do with our economic woes.

I don't know what the answer is. It may be cookies, or a dog, or me, as some of you have already suggested. Those are all good distractions. But I don't think we can stand by and let large numbers of our people slip into poverty if we can help it. At least until things get better. It may cost some of us some money.

But we are either in this together or we are not.

That's not the answer, but it is the necessary first question.



The response was so good to last week's survey question I decided to ask a question each Thursday. The Thursday survey. Thurvey.

To give your answer to the question, simply click on "comment" below. Wait for the comment window to open. Type your comment. Click on anonymous. Then click on publish. Sign your name to the comment if you wish. Or not if you don't.

What is the answer to the economic crisis?


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The lie of Riley

Seriously Alabama.

Alabama is a welfare state. We are in the top five states in taking money from the federal government compared to the money we pay in. We are not the fiercely independent,damn the federal government rebels that our bumper stickers, t-shirts, songs and flags imply.

If any Alabamian complains about bailing anyone out of foreclosure, he or she is an ignorant hypocrite. Every person in Alabama, even the most successful business folk, have been bailed out by the federal government for decades as transfused federal money flows into our economic arteries.

Governor Riley is one of those governors who is saying that on behalf of the good people of Alabama he will refuse some of the money from the federal economic stimulus program. Unemployment compensation. Probably nobody will need that in the next year or so. It's funny, I don't remember him refusing money in years past.

Governor Riley may have legitimate reasons for opposing the stimulus package. He may be right about some of his concerns. Nobody knows what will happen.

But the stimulus package passed. The policy argument is over. The money will be paid out to somebody. There are people in Alabama who need help. It is Riley's job to look out for our best interest.

There is only one reason Governor Riley would make noise about refusing the money. We know the word too well here in Alabama. POLITICS.

But I can't believe, as governor of the State, he is risking the very lives of Alabama citizens in the uncertain economic days ahead. Where will the money come from if our economy stalls?

Next thing you know Governor Riley will be saying that President Obama is not qualified to be president because he is not a citizen.

No, wait, Alabama Senator Shelby beat him to it. Yesterday.

Please, Alabama. We are smarter, and better than this.

We can still rise.

(Contact Governor Riley and give him your opinion


Saturday, February 21, 2009


I appreciate the responses to the survey a couple of posts back. That's probably worth doing once a week or so. You can go back and respond to it if you haven't, or again if you have.

Most of you thought the most important thing was relationship. Family, friends, God.

Saying that relationships are important is like saying oxygen is important.

I am a believer. I believe that God created everything and is omnipresent. I believe we are all in some kind of relationship with Him whether we want to be or not, whether we believe in Him or not.

But I know not everyone believes like I do regarding spiritual matters. So we'll put that aside for the moment.

Unless you are on a deserted island, you have relationships. And even then, you'd probably have to be comatose not to be in relationship.

Consciousness, or self-awareness, creates relationship, with yourself if with no one else.

That's just psychobabble, you may be saying. But to whom are you speaking?

I talk to myself. And I answer back. Occasionally out loud. But almost constantly in my thoughts. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I'm alone too much these days. Maybe none of the rest of you do that. But I'm betting you do. When you are alone and there is a full box of fresh Krispy Kreme's on the counter to take to a meeting and you really want one or two, but you know you shouldn't, but what harm could it do, but you'd have to run 800 miles to burn those calories cause you know you can't just eat one or two, who is that conversation with? When you can't find the car keys and no one else is home and you retrace your steps, thinking, when I came in I had to go to the bathroom bad and then the phone rang . . . who are you asking? When you have a pain in your sawdust and you know you should go to the doctor but your afraid cause it seems people that go to the doctor end up being sick so you talk yourself out of making an appointment, who was the argument with? When you've written a stupid mean email and the cursor is poised over the send button and your thumb is waiting for instruction, who offers the opposing positions?

So even alone we are in a relationship. Maybe the most important one. The relationship with self.

And that is important. Because that relationship affects all the rest.

And the rest are significant. Family, friends, lovers, enemies, God, environment, the world.

You're right. It is important.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Bonus cause I can't sleep post . . .(spiritual centering)

Some time back I received some information about a conference on becoming spiritually centered.

The hard part is knowing who is doing the centering.

Is it God or is it me?

I have practiced centering prayer for awhile. Okay, a subtle distinction, I have practiced at centering prayer. I had read a couple of books and learned from others' experiences. But it was hard. I developed my own ritual. A single candle in the middle of the table, the rest of the lights out. The flame was my centering device. A couple of minutes of slow, deep breaths, feet flat on the floor, back straight, hands in front of me on the glass table.

So I started aiming toward the center. I was in a spiritual sprint. Squinting my eyes, furrowing my brow. Within a few seconds, my mind was racing off on some tangent about the events of the day past or the one to come. Failure. Then I would try again.

Just like water-skiing. When I was learning to water ski people kept telling me to just let the power of the boat pull me up and it would be a piece of cake. I thought that was what I did. But really I was pulling as hard as I could against the boat. It would seem like I was going to be able to pull myself up, but when I was almost standing, I would fall. Didn't really hurt the boat, but it just about killed me before the afternoon was over. Every muscle in my body was fighting to stay up. Arms bent at the elbow. Thigh and calf muscles trembling with fatigue. And I was not out of the water yet.

By sunset (yes, I am a bit stubborn) I was about to give up. I had no strength left to fight. Somebody in the boat leaned over and told me, "Try one more time. You're tired. You don't have to pull yourself up. Just hang on to the rope. Lean back and hold on. Keep your elbows locked. Wait till you feel the rope pulling you up." Sure, like I hadn't heard that before.

But this time it worked.

I had no more strength to do anything but let the boat pull me up.

The thing about having a God centered life is that God must do the centering. All those "good" changes I think I must make, and all those "good" things I think I must do, and the "good" person I must become are probably just my own creation, my own need for control, to be "good."

It is quite possible, I think probable, that some of the things I may choose to change are things that God has chosen to be as they are. I may be choosing against the center.

A few years ago a friend of mine told me that she was always careful when she found herself thinking, or saying "I should . . ."

She was right way back then.

The hardest part of becoming spiritually centered is doing nothing. See, it is hard to even think about it. Surely to become centered I must dooo something. But we are the creation, not the creator. The creation waits.

It is God Who centers.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

And the survey says . . .

From time to time I have put a survey over on the side of my post. But it really wasn't very satisfactory. The choices were just too limited and there wasn't anyway to expound on your answer.

So, if you will humor me, I would like for you, dear reader, to answer a survey every once in a while by making a comment. You do that by clicking on the "comment" link at the bottom of the post, wait for the "comment" window to open, type in your answer, and follow the instructions, which I think include typing in those swirly letters to prove you aren't some kind of machine, but maybe not. . If you want to be anonymous, just click on the dot that says "anonymous". If you don't want to be anonymous you can still click on anonymous and type your name at the end of the answer.

So for today's survey,

What is the most important thing?


Alabamians against Jesus . . .

Even as you have done to the least of these, you have done to me. Jesus' words in Matthew 25 are clear.

I usually think of Jesus' statement as a call for those of us who have material wealth to take care of those who have less. That seems obvious.

I want to do good things for Jesus and his children.

But we Alabamians need to take a closer look at the passage and at ourselves. Due to an antiquated Alabama Constitution that was written post reconstruction to protect the rights of wealthy landowners, we are all guilty of treating the least of these poorly. For those of us who follow Jesus, according to his words, we are treating Jesus poorly.

It is easy to get caught up in the tedium of legalese when debating the value of our constitution. Personally I feel it is indefensible at all levels.

But for Christians, here is a simple point.

Alabama depends on sales tax for a large portion of its revenue. The person who makes $20,000.00 pays the same sales tax rate as the person who makes a million. Presently that includes a sales tax on food. Unless you are a chicken or cow. If you are an infant human, you gotta pay up.

The technical word for this kind of taxation is "regressive".

The moral word is "wrong."

The roads, the schools, the public buildings, the state parks, everything you enjoy as a citizen of Alabama is being paid for on the pained, broken backs of the poor and powerless. They cannot change it. But we can.

Much needs to be changed in Alabama. The whole constitution should be scrapped and we should start over. But until we do that, at least we can address this simple, cruel wrong that we continue to heap upon the least of these among us . . . and for us Christians, upon Jesus himself.

There is no excuse. Contact your legislator today.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009


As I was packing up my guitar after church at Avondale Sunday, a slender, distinguished elderly gentleman in a dark suit was rising from his seat on the second pew where he had sat alone during the service. Thinning silver-white hair lay neatly combed, except for a mischievous wisp that had fallen across his forehead.

He slowly came to his feet, using the back of the front pew as a support, then paused for a moment, as if he had forgotten something and was trying to remember.

A pleased look crossed his face like the sunlight that chases the shadow of a small cloud blown away by the wind. He turned and slowly reached down into the maroon cushioned pew as if it were an open treasure chest. When his hand came back in sight it contained a familiar box. Girl Scout cookies.

He struggled to fit the familiar shaped box in the side pocket of his suit coat. But shortly he was walking deliberately out of the sanctuary, the green and red top of the cookie box standing out in contrast to his dark suit.

I don't know why the elderly gentleman and his girl scout cookies caught my attention. It was like a snapshot, a few seconds of real life. I know what I saw.

But I enjoyed thinking about what I did not see.

I pictured one of the sweet little girls of the church putting the box of cookies into the man's hands earlier that morning at church. The little girl proudly delivered the cookies, and nervously spoke her thanks to the man who was seventy years her senior. The man accepted them with a smile and gratitude and extended his hand for a handshake. The shared moment made life better for both of them.

And I am sure that this week will find the elderly gentleman enjoying cookie breaks from time to time, maybe with coffee, maybe with milk, but always with a memory of the smiling face of the little girl who placed them in his hands at church.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Treutels of Carnival

Saturday morning. I now have coffee.

Despite all of the dispensation of wisdom regarding Valentines Day in earlier posts, I am not qualified to participate. But you know the old saying, those who can, do, those who can't, teach.

So it was good to go to a gathering last night that was not Valentines. I had been to Huntsville yesterday afternoon, so I was a bit late getting to Bill and Rita's house. Unlike Valentines Day, I am ignorant about Carnival and Mardi gras and related traditions.

After checking the internet this morning, I realize that there are extensive traditions with some ancient and some fairly recent roots. It is far more complicated than I thought. Kings and krewes and balls. Youl'll have to look it up yourself. It can get complicated.

This was no ball at the Treutels, at least not in the tradional New Orleans sense of the word. There were beads hanging around, but you didn't have to do anything to get them. There were no costumes, or Kings, although the Treutels are quite a krewe just by themselves.

Rita made gumbo. With oysters. She learned how to make it from her mother in law, who learned to make it from her mother in law. That is not a mardi gras tradition, but it is cool. The gumbo may be the best I ever had. I brought some home.

A tradition at the Treutel's, not necessarily mardi gras, is the breaking out of the hot sauce. I have been present for both the chili and gumbo versions. Actually there is no difference. Bill possess several varieties of extremely hot sauce, but one is particularly caustic. It requires asbestos shelf liner just to keep it from burning a whole in the cabinet. He has had the same bottle for years. One drop provides enough heat for a city the size of Terlingua. In every crowd there is a newcomer who ignores the honest disclosure that the sauce will remove varnish from old furniture. I'm not proud of it, but it's always funny. I hope they never run out of that stuff.

One of the mardi gras traditions that we did observe was the King cake. The King cake tradition is an amalgamation of ancient and modern themes. It is similar to coffee cake baked in a ring shape, covered with icing and purple, green and gold sprinkles. (Rita was out of purple, so this particular cake was blue, green and gold . . .so I'm told.) Somewhere in the cake is hidden a little plastic baby, which in some circles represents the baby Jesus. Mardi gras is a spiritual holiday after all.

The cake is sliced into pieces. The person who bites into the Baby Jesus is named the King of the party, and has the obligation of hosting the party next year. I think that is in the Bible somewhere.

Mike was being his helpful self, and began to cut the cake into pieces. There was the horrifying scraping sound of metal against plastic. Something was said about circumcision. Mike agreed to host next year's party. It was the least he could do, I would think.

I thought I would get all serious at this point about how much damage we can do searching for Jesus with a knife in our hands.

But, this night was about friends laughing. And gumbo. And raw oysters already shucked.

A good way to forget about a hard week. And Valentines.


Valentine shopping follow up . . .

I had to put on some jeans and run to the evil empire to pick up some coffee. It was 7:30 a.m. Saturday. There were no less than twenty men and boys milling around the Valentine's card and candy sections, and the Valentines stuff had not been marked down yet. True love.

I stopped for gas yesterday at Mark's. For those of you who were not aware until my apparently eye opening post last time out, here are a couple of photos.

Mark's convenience store had a wider selection than displayed here, but this display rack was representative. There were stuffed animals, key chains, dolls, and jewelry. You can see the jewelry on the right.

I was about to take a picture of some convenience store roses charmingly displayed in a cardboard box. As I moved closer I discovered these were no ordinary roses. In fact they were not roses at all. Apparently they were not big sellers, which is a tribute to Mark's customers.

Enough of that. I would just again remind you last minute romantics to pay at the pump today and avoid going inside the convenience store. Convenience should not be the primary criteria for the expression of true love.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentines musings . . .

St. Valentine was a martyr. Actually several St. Valentines were martyrs. At one point in history there were more than ten St. Valentine's Days on the church calendar. They died the death of martyrs. There is no historical evidence that any of them brought chocolate, roses, or went to Jarreds. (I hate that commercial). They were not known for being romantic. They were just martyrs. The romantic mythology came along with Chaucer, and it was based on an incorrect interpretation. But it was a lot more fun than martyrdom, so it stuck.

Before February 14 became St. Valentine's Day, a celebration of martyrs, it was a Roman pagan festival of fertility and all that comes with it. It seems the two celebrations continue to co-exist even to this day.

So for many it has become a day to martyr yourself in hopes of surviving to celebrate the pagan festival.

Okay, that's a bit extreme. But it is tricky.

But here's a tip guys. Women watch television too. One of the gazillion ads offering suggestions to helpless men is the pajama gram. I think that is a pretty cool idea. The tv ad is tasteful. Comfy pajamas for the woman you love delivered right to her door. It is intimate yet functional (unlike the traditional red lacy lingerie purchase so popular among men). But then the commercial gets stupid. The announcer says, " Delivery on Valentine's guaranteed if your order is placed by Friday. She'll think you've been planning this for weeks." Unless of course she watches television too.

What about chocolate? Absolutely necessary, but it just keeps you in the game. Even gas stations have valentine candy for sale. Not having it may be fatal, but having it means you have only done what is expected. Remember, women are more knowledgable about chocolate than men. There are degrees of chocolate. There is chocolate that says you are cheap, and you probably don't even know it, except for the great deal you got on two boxes for five bucks.

Roses? Same as chocolate. But enhanced with an original poem or love note. It's better to not try to write the note using the steering wheel as a desk while sitting in the driveway. Somehow it's hard to summon your muse under those circumstances. I think muse are usually female and would probably would be disgusted at your lack of effort. Stay away from the convenience store roses. Nothing wrong with them, but she will know when the vase of green stems is surrounded by fallen petals the next morning.

It's just hard on a guy these days. A romantic dinner out . . . with the thousands of others spending an intimate night out crammed into the normally pleasant bistro waiting for a table? Now that's a recipe for romance.

Then there's jewelry. Same as chocolate and roses. Don't shop at the gas station.

Here's the most important thing. Go ahead and try. Because love makes all things better than they are.

Standing together over a heart shaped box of chocolate on the kitchen counter, taking test bites to see which ones are good. Watching beautiful hands unwrap roses, cut the stems, search for the right vase, and place them where she can see them. Being asked to help fasten a new necklace around your favorite neck, even though you know she does it perfectly well by herself almost every day.

And the comfy pajamas?

She'll think you're a saint.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Law of Too Bigness . . .

Bigger is not necessarily better.

There are rules that are generally true. An object at rest will tend to stay at rest. Energy (matter) can be neither created nor destroyed. The need to use a saved object only arises shortly after it is finally discarded.

In the modern era another rule has become obvious. Institutions naturally tend to combine and consolidate, increasing the size of surviving institutions and reducing the number of institutions.

We are suffering from an economic crisis. A part of that crisis is a result of the merger and consolidation of financial institutions, reducing the number of institutions, and increasing the size of the remaining institutions. The societal benefit for this consolidation was said to be efficiency. Duplication of administration and the costs therefrom were reduced as many smaller institutions performing the same function were merged into super institutions. The power of larger and larger accumulations of capital under one authority created an optimum bargaining position. Perhaps there were valid efficiencies achieved. Certainly huge profits were made. Inconceivable amounts of capital were placed under the control and authority of a handful of institutions worldwide.

There is an old rule that is still good. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. If you do, and the one basket gets a hole in the bottom, you lose all the eggs.

Okay, that may be a bit too simple. Take AIG for example. AIG controlled an obscene amount of capital. More than most countries. More than most continents. AIG got into big trouble. The problem was, AIG was so large that there were no other private institutions large enough to invest in AIG and make any difference. AIG could only be propped up by an international effort, mostly governmental. Because AIG was so big, because it controlled so much of the world's capital, it could not be allowed to fail. At least that's what I've heard.

Or take broadcasting. Please. There was a time not too many years ago when ownership of radio and television stations was limited within a given market. One owner could own one AM and one FM within a market. The idea was that the limitation would produce diversity, public interest and creative programming. And it did. There are hundreds more broadcast stations now. But there are virtually no rules about how many stations a corporation can own. As a result Cox and Clear Channel may own more than half of all of the stations in a given market and hundreds nationwide, all of which sound alike. Efficient? Oh yeah. You can visit six radio stations under one roof. Diverse, interesting, informative, edgy, risky, local? Just press the seek button and decide for yourself. It will sound the same no matter what city you are in. If you need any further evidence, it is what allows one former powerhouse station to be all Christmas all the time starting the day after Thanksgiving. Nuff said as far as I'm concerned.

Mega churches. Thousands of peoples in an intimate fellowship, one with the other. With budgets of millions of dollars and campuses that reflect that wealth and power. Struggling to break down into "small groups," because the mega church experts say that is necessary for survival. Sucking the life out of the smaller churches that surround them or the downtown churches they encourage people to run from.

Schools. Wal-mart. Newspapers. I could go on.

Again I say, bigger is not always better. It is dangerous if bigger creates dominance, sameness, and arrogance.

But maybe the worst thing that this tendency toward bigness creates is powerlessness for those whom the institutions were originally designed to serve.

But have no fear. I think another rule is becoming apparent. The merger and consolidation continues until the institution collapses from its own weight..

Just try to get out of the way before it does.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fair fight

This week President Obama got out of D.C. and ventured back into the real world. At least as much as an American President can do anything that approaches reality. If I were president I would get one of those hooded sweatshirts and some glasses and maybe some fake teeth and go out every once in a while and hang out. Maybe sell knives door to door. But that's a different story.

He ventured to Indiana and Florida. No hooded sweatshirt or fake teeth. He was dressed as coolly as usual. He spoke to the people. He listened and answered a few questions. He even hugged a questioner who had broken into tears as she told of how she and her children were living in her car.

President Obama's motives for the excursion are being analyzed, lauded and criticized. Why would he be doing this right now? What's his motive? What is the angle?

The Republicans in the Senate voted almost unanimously against the economic stimulus bill. Three of them voted for it, making them the three most powerful people in the country right now. The Republicans motives are being analyzed, lauded and criticized. Why would they be doing such a thing? What is their motive? What is the angle?

I love politics. Those of us who sit in the stands have chosen folks to go and do the hard work of government for us. And then we love to jeer and boo. I am guilty of the search for unspoken motives, of dissection, of criticism and looking for the angle, no matter how obtuse. I know these matters are never so simple as we like to reduce them to. And I think it is a good thing to hold my representatives accountable.

But sometimes I have to remind myself that it is possible that the main, if not the only, motive for the President's trips and the Senators' votes is that they honestly believe they are doing the right thing. Both of them. Now that's a hard thing to swallow, I know. It is much easier to assume that people that disagree with us must have an angle, an ulterior motive. Otherwise they would obviously be choosing the right way, our way.

When most of these Republican Senators were originally elected by their States, a Republican was president. The voters chose a candidate who talked of tax cuts and smaller government, a legitimate point of view. The crazy part is that they were almost as frustrated as the Democrats during the wild spending and closed doors of the last administration. They had only a little louder voice than the Democratic Senators.

Perhaps they still believe in the reason they were elected. Perhaps they feel it necessary to apply pressure to keep the pendulum from swinging too far too fast, even if the ultimate outcome is unavoidable.

And how can anybody question how President Obama behaved this week? There are thousands of hours of video from the past two years of campaign that look and sound exactly like the way President Obama presented himself and his case in Indiana and Florida. He has not changed. Perhaps he really wants to hear what everyone says, be it the lady that lives in her car with her family, or the Republican governor of Florida that will probably be in the Senate soon. Perhaps the President really wants to be bipartisan like he said. Maybe he feels it necessary to apply pressure to move things more quickly than folks in the beltway are used to because he believes it is the right thing to do.

There are only a few things of which I am certain. The main one is that I am not right all the time. That is to say, I am sometimes wrong. And so is everybody else.

To complicate things further, I cannot be certain when I am right and when I am wrong. Neither can anyone else about their own convictions. We just have to do the best we can.

Assuming that I am right about that (sort of a conundrum in itself), then it might be wise for us all, me, you, the Senators, the President, (maybe not Coach Saban) to listen with an open mind, respect and civility, to the ideas of all. In the tradition of Franklin and Jefferson, that is the way that the best ideas, the best thoughts, the right ways, will be tested, refined and discovered.

It has become vogue in the last decade to attack the messenger rather than the message. If the messenger can be slain, his idea will be trapped and smothered under the weight of his dying corpse. The message, the truth that may have been carried, becomes irrelevant. The only important thing is the skill, weakness and strength of the opponent. I like to call it the Rovian gambit. For instance it would be like settling this stimulus package issue in Congress by letting a Republican and a Democrat arm wrestle for it.

But from what I've seen of the Senate, that would not be pretty, So let's avoid that.

What the truth needs is a fair fight. Let the messengers release their messages freely and get out of the way.

Come on man, let 'em play.


Monday, February 9, 2009

You b log to me . . Be my valentine

This is Valentine's month. I realize that it is supposed to be limited to one day, but during this time of economic impotency one day will simply do no good. Perhaps the purchase of cards, candy, flowers, pajamas, jewelry, dinner and wine will provide a much needed stimulus for the economy if we keep it up for a whole month.

I loved Valentine's Day when I was in elementary school. We made "mail boxes" out of sacks or envelopes or construction paper, decorated them and put our names on them and taped them to the classroom walls. Art was never my forte', so my mail box was always pathetic. The girls' mail boxes on either side of mine in the alphabetic order always looked like something you would buy at a Hallmark store or bid on at an auction. But a pathetic guy is somehow attractive to some females no matter the age. Thank goodness.

There was a dime store in town that had all you needed for Valentine's Day, if you were in the first grade. There was a bin full of those chalky candy hearts with messages on them. They would scoop them into a small white paper bag for you and you bought them by the pound. Back then the messages were innocent, unless you were in the fifth or sixth grade. Fifth or sixth grade guys could make a sexual innuendo out of anything.

The store carried a wide selection of Valentine Cards, usually in packs of 25 or so. If you had the courage to pick out a big single Valentine for a girl you might as well have been buying a ring and scheduling a preacher.

I would examine the assortment of packs of Valentines at the store a good while before I made the purchase. This was serious business. No time to check out the toy or comic book section on this trip. Then when I got home, I would open the packs, spread all the cards out on the desk, and carefully decide which card to give to which person. All this had to be done in secret to avoid the ridicule of older siblings.

I had a system. First, no person in the class was left out. Back then we gave Valentine's cards to everyone regardless of gender. At least that's what my mother told me. I hope she was right.

Then I would pick out obvious cards for my closer friends. My friend who loved football would get the one with the football and some clever saying like, "Be my valentine, it will be a ball." Only good for pre fifth grade for aforementioned reasons. You cannot say or write ball or balls after the age of 7 or 8 without trouble. My friend who was known for being smart would get the one with the owl wearing eyeglasses, sitting on a stack of books, that said something clever like "Make the grade, be my Valentine."

After I had painstakingly chosen the proper card for my close friends I would sign cards for everyone else in the class and stuff them in the envelopes.

So now everyone was taken care of . . . except that one . I maintained a crush of some sort for most of my school years. Most of the time the crushee never knew. I was a bit shy. Actually I was more like invisible. But Valentine's was my opportunity. It was great. A day that you were supposed to express romantic notions to the object of your affection. And better yet you did it by putting a card in an envelope. So this last task was important. Cute, cuddly animals were good. Superlatives like "best" and "most" were good.

And for the piece de resistance for that special girl I would go to the candy heart bag, or what was left of it. Usually the drive home from the store involved the eating, and occasionally the throwing at my sister, of a few of the hearts.

"Hugs and kisses." Too forward. "Love me?" Never ask a question you don't know the answer to. "You're the one." Yea, that's about right. I would carefully check the message, then slip the heart into the envelope with the specially chosen card.

I doubt that any of those girls ever knew the effort I put into those Valentines. None of them ever let on that they knew. But I knew. I am sure they read the clever messages with the cuddly animals and looked at the words on the candy right before they ate them. Somehow that made me feel good.

Lately I've complained about our emphasis on buying stuff in order to save our world. I rebel at the notion that consuming more and more makes the world go round. Cause I learned at Camp Sumatanga as a child, probably suffering from a brand new camp crush, in the words of a deeply serious song, "It's love that makes the world go round." It had motions. Showing love certainly takes more than buying the right candy, card, jewel or automobile, as nice as that may be.

To make it special, you always gotta give a little heart.

Happy Valentines week.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Music of the heart . . .a conversation

I'm restless. It's one of those days that I want to do something. But there's nothing I want to do. I've been doing a couple of necessary things around the house while listening to some music. That is not a bad thing. In fact I desperately need to do a lot more, around the house that is. I probably listen to enough music. Today perhaps I've heard too many songs. There are songs that are like photo albums. They carry the memories of wonderful times and precious people. For some stupid reason I chose to open those albums this afternoon. I suppose I thought I could just enjoy the music.

Sometimes you can have a conversation with anyone. Sometimes conversations with a stranger are just what you need. A new perspective. Evidence of a larger world.

But sometimes the world seems a bit too large to handle. That's when you need a conversation with one who already understands. Words aren't called for, just a familiar curve between a familar neck and shoulder where your head fits perfectly, and the only conversation is between two hearts, one reminding the other of the true rhythm of life.

I better get back to the laundry.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Converse . . .and I'm not talking Chuck Taylor All Stars

Saturday morning again. Sipping some wake up coffee after sleeping later than I have in as long as I can remember. I visited with Vann at Vanderbilt this week so maybe it was the college influence. It was high quality sleep, except I finally was awakened by a dream about my car spinning out on the interstate. Nobody hurt. But I think I'll stay at home this morning.

There seems to be themes that appear in my life if I pay attention. This week the theme word is "conversation."

I posted about conversation earlier in the week. I did not mean to. The word just came to me out of the blue as I rambled through thoughts trying to bust through a writer's block.

This week I had conversations with a couple of friends that had been on my mind. One is a lifelong friend. The thing about being a lifelong friend is that you don't have to go through much preamble or explanation. You can just cut right to the chaste. When your earliest memories include contests about who can pee the highest and farthest there is a knowledge that never goes away. Sometimes when I feel like I have lost my way as a fifty something adult, I can find myself by talking and listening to a friend who knew me before all the scars of the journey took their toll or knocked me off the trail. They remind me who I really am. It is hard to bluff a life long friend. The contests have changed (peeing contests are for younger prostates). But I hope the conversation never ends.

The other friend I have known for a few years. But in that few years this friend became a best friend. We know things about each other that no one else knows. We had not conversed in a couple of months. The thing about best friends is that no matter what else is going on, the best friend status is the bedrock. It is the non negotiable item too precious to jeapordize, because it is no small thing to be able to share your true self with another human being without fear. This conversation was just sharing: work, family, the stuff of life. We shared enouragement, concerns and laughter. The conversation was as warm as the golden sunlight streaming into the window that afternoon. I hope that conversation never ends.

Then there was the David Wilcox interview I posted about yesterday. One of the cool things he said was that songwriters do what they do to start a conversation. I know that is true. The same is true of bloggers.

I am spending my traditional Saturday morning on the sofa, drinking coffee, listening to Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, and getting my political fix watching the Senate debate about the financial stimulus package. When I wrote that line, "stimulus package" I suddenly thought of both of the above referenced friends. As different as they are, their initial response would have been, with appropriate motions, "I"ll show you a real stimulus package," or something equally as inappropriate. Or in fairness I may have beat them to the punch. None of the Senators have used that line. At least in front of the cameras.

Anyway, on the floor of the Senate there is a debate that is just a microcosm of the debate that is taking place all over the country; what to do about our national life, our economic security. Each Senator, no matter how caustic or pointed his or her remarks may be about the opposition, addresses the other Senator as colleague and friend.

I like it. The problem is that we are not used to it. There has been no real national conversation for a decade, so we are a bit out of practice. The talking heads salivate as they pick apart the debate. Disagreement is somehow viewed as a bad thing. Compromise is seen as weakness or loss. Holding ground on a position is seen as unnecessary stubborness.

But that's what good conversation is sometimes. Disagreement. Unique postitions. New information. Calling bluffs. Expression of disappointment or anger. Challenging motives. Reminders of true self. Arriving at the best solutions, which usually comes from compromise from both parties. And ultimately preservation of the relationship, which is the bedrock.

This debate and national conversation is a good thing. We just have to get used to it again.

So I have had my alone time this morning. I'm off to find a conversation. Just not on the interstate.

Friday, February 6, 2009

David Wilcox

I had a great sabbatical (20 minutes may not truly qualify for a sabbatical, but the quality was high) this afternoon. I needed one. Court has been particularly dark this week. I got word that David Wilcox, my favorite songwriter/performer/good guy would be doing a live radio show on wkze out of New York on a live stream.

The guy is really good. He is a gifted acoustic guitar player, and a poet. If you have never heard his music, go buy a couple of his songs on itunes or some other online source. I would recommend Love Will Find a Way, Hold it Up to the Light, Just Get On, Eye of the Hurricane, Start at the Ending . . . I hate recommending songs. I would start with the Live Songs and Stories CD. Just listen. He comes to Workplay once or twice a year. Watch for it.

So right out of the blocks he is casually shooting the breeze with the announcer about a CD he did with his wife Nance. He said that he really didn't want to sing one of those because Nance sang such beautiful harmonies. He had tried to do a couple without her at concerts, but the melody he sang was just never the same without her harmony.

I wonder if he would get mad if I stole that line for a song. I would like to have the stuff he shoots at the garbage can.

But when he said that about Nance his voice revealed more than just an excellent hook for a song.

He meant it. That's why his songs are good. They express real things he loves, hates, laughs and cries at. They express life. Yours and mine. Even songs about the Waffle House or various automobiles that have affected his life. Some are a bit crude, but they are so funny and clever you find yourself singing along even if you don't want to.

I am a songwriter wannnabe. Actually its just another part of my cheap therapy program. But David, in his self-deprecating way, once again spoke for me, as those of us who are his fans know he always does. He told the interviewer that the folks who stands or sits on a stool in front of people and sing songs they have written while staring into the pit of an acoustic guitar do so because they have no other social skills. But the songs are ususally an effort to start a conversation the only way they know how, to speak to people about important things.

He's got a point. But some are better conversationalists than others. He is one of the best. And he loads his own equipment sometimes. And he will stop and talk to anybody, if he doesn't have to get right back on the road. But in case you haven't heard him before, here are two or three of his lines . I would say they are my favorites, but he has just written too many good ones. Enjoy the conversation.

From Hold it Up to the Light . . .

I said God, will you bless this decision?
I'm scared, Is my life at stake?
But I see if you gave me a vision
Would I never have reason to use my faith?

From Show the Way

For it's Love who makes the mortar
And it's love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play...
For in this darkness love can show the way.

From Just Get On

Cause I'm sitting at the station
And I'm lost in contemplation
But this ticket's only good for just so long,
If I wait in indecision it will be gone,
So I just get on. . . .


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We're all five stars . . .

The day started early with reunion group, an accountability group of guys that meet each Wednesday morning to check our discipleship. In the midst of my brothers in Christ sharing our souls before 8:00 a.m., an occasional alert from a cellphone would signal the triumphant signing of a coveted high school football star recruited by our favorite Universities. Another moment close to Christ.

I love college football, but I have traditionally refused to take much interest in the recuiting season, a hold-over from disappointments several years and coaches ago.

But even in my relative ignorance, I enjoyed the spirit of the day. On this day there was no negative talk, unless a young man defected from an early commitment. The chatter in the halls was how fast, big and strong a signee was; how he could run, defend, rush, block, catch or pass. There was no disappointment in anyone who signed on for a favored school. By signing on the dotted line (actually it was probably solid) a recruit became one of our own. For today, he has no faults. Nothing but great promise for great things.

What a great idea to come out of something as strange as recruiting madness.

No negativity. Hope. Anticipation. Acceptance. Celebration.

At some point today I remember making the observation that if the whole world could sit down together and watch "Stripes," "Blazing Saddles," and "Animal House" with free refreshment, we could probably live together in harmony and solve our common problems. I didn't get to eat today, so I was a bit light headed at that point.

So maybe that isn't the answer to the world's problems.

But this recruitment day attitude may have promise. The world would be changed if we saw each other as we see the recruits on signing day. We would look for the gifts, the talents, and promise in each person. There would be no negativity. There would be hope and acceptance for all. We would celebrate each person.

I remember when I was a child in elementary school, we would divide teams for the game du jour by choosing sides. The waiting was horrifying. Would I be chosen? Would a girl be chosen before me? (actually they should have been, the fastest runners in our class were girls). Would I be chosen last, having to endure that absolute aloneness of standing solitary in the middle surrounded by two teams already chosen?

I think the best words in the world are "I choose Bob." Right up there with "I love you." I love to be loved, but you can love me with all my faults. You're supposed to love me. But if you choose me, that's different. You want me to be part of you because I have value to you. You think I am something.

Jesus said a lot of challenging things. But He said affirming things too. In John, chapter 15, Jesus says:


Jesus said, "I choose Bob."

And He said that to you, too. All of us. At the same time. He chose us all as He breathed Adam into existence. He chose us all as He was dying on the cross pleading for our forgiveness. We don't have to wait to be chosen. We all made the team.

So it's time to move out of the middle and join the team.

We just gotta put on the right cap.

Recruiting is over. It's time to play.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Can we talk?

I just chatted with my little sister. She is forty-ish now, but that birth order thing is forever. So in some ways she will always be my "little" sister.

I ran right into a writer's block tonight. I was telling Emily the reason for that, which included a bit of a sad situation. Emily is quite a writer herself, and she told me I should try to write anyway.

But nothing comes to mind to write. I don't feel like writing, I feel like conversing.

I think we were created to converse. In fact I believe we were created by conversation. According to the wonderful creation story in Genesis, God "spoke" creation into being. Our inception was a conversation with God and the palette of His creation.

The rest of the story, no matter where you get it, is a story of conversation. Pairs, couples, families, tribes, peoples, nations, all in conversation as the path of civilization was cleared.

No doubt great thoughts were thought and creations were created by individuals in isolation. But until they were communicated, until they were the subject of conversation, they did not matter much.

Life is full of wonderful things, like beautiful worship services and emerald green rivers and setting suns and basketball. It is also full of serious things like relationships, finances, politics, poverty, injustice, work and religion. All are great to write about.

But none of it matters much until there is a conversation.

I won't have a conversation tonight. But I have written, at least a little bit.

Maybe you can use it as a conversation starter. That would be nice.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Press on toward the goal . . the right goal.

I shot at the wrong goal.

When I was in Jr. High basketball I shot at the wrong goal. I can't tell you how it happened, thankfully the full memory has dimmed. I do remember that up until that moment I had played better than I had ever played before. Fortunately, I suppose, I missed the shot. We won the game comfortably. At least everyone else was comfortable. I was so embarassed I wanted to hide under the bleachers.

I took a huge amount of abuse from my team, all good natured. I didn't blame them. They even made me laugh about it. If it hadn't been me I would have done the same. But it passed quickly. In the world of jr. high you can always count on someone to screw up at least once a day. The news cycle was very short.

But my coach didn't even mention it. I brought it up the next day as I was cleaning the basketballs with a toothbrush. That's what basketball players did during P. E. during basketball season if we weren't studying. Those basketballs were cavity free.

Anyway, as I was toothbrushing the basketball I brought it up to my coach about shooting at the wrong goal. He barely acknowledged it. He said something about how I was playing well, for a guy with one leg. He was making fun of me about that. I had broken my leg at the end of football season (actually someone else gave me a lot of help). I had sort of lied about how quickly the doctor said I could come back and play basketball. (The day the cast came off. I'm pretty sure he didn't know about that lie) As a result, I limped up and down the court the rest of the season, waiting on spring for time to heal.

But I wasn't sure. I mean, after all, I had shot at the wrong goal. It was just poor shooting that kept me from hitting it. That was on my mind as coach called out the starters for the next game. He had not mentioned it, but surely he hadn't forgotten it. I mean, it was the wrong goal.

But he called out my name. Yelled at me during the game just like usual. Seemed like he had forgotten.

I think about that from time to time.

Turns out everybody shoots at the wrong goal once in a while. Parents, children, brothers, sisters, spouses, teachers, preachers, entertainers, congressmen, governors, presidential candidates, and anybody who does anything, makes mistakes, does the wrong thing.

There is only one way to avoid mistakes; that is to do nothing at all.

But the world has become a hard place. I did some quick figuring, and within forty years or so, most of America will be incarcerated if we keep going the way we are headed now. Okay, I made that up, but we have become an unforgiving culture.

The truth is, I don't much trust someone who hasn't messed up. Either they're lying, or not living.

We deny ourselves the benefit of some of our best thinkers, doers, and friends if we exclude those of us who have messed up, even badly sometimes.

Where would Jesus have been if he had looked for followers among the perfect? If he went by what they said, probably a bunch of Pharisees. If he went on what He knew to be the truth, He would have travelled alone.

But He didn't travel alone, and asked us not to either. Maybe that's so, when we're heading for the wrong goal, there'll be someone to turn us around.

And then maybe help us laugh a bit.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

A little help from my other friends . . .

It was sunny today. I was not .

After church I came home, loaded the dishwasher and the washing machine. Then I sat down. But the sunny day was coming in the window. So I decided to leave.

I got in the truck and headed to the farm. The farm sits in a bow of the Locust Fork River northwest of Snead, Alabama. It's not so much a farm anymore. No animals, domesticated at least, and the barn has collapsed. It is on the southern edge of Sand Mountain, away from the rolling hills of Oneonta. When you are at the Bend of the River, you feel like you're away from everything, protected by the river on three sides. That is what I wanted today. To get away. To be protected.
After the obligatory stop at the Snead BP, I made my way to the farm, through the gates, and stopped the truck at the fishing pond. As I got out of my truck one of those really big birds (probably in the heron/egret/ibis family) that I usually walk up on in the river was standing at the edge of the pond. When he heard me he unfurled his huge wings and soared into the air. These birds look grey as they stand in the water, but as he flew along the edge of the tree line, the sun reflected off of his formidable wingspan, and he looked kinda blue. Not like me. I mean the color blue. He was beautiful. I wish he had not felt the need to fly away, but he did.

I walked on up the path by the pond. A big beaver was swimming with his head out of the water about 20 feet from the shore. I fumbled for my camera in my pocket, and raised it to shoot. I thought I was being absolutely quiet, but he heard me, did a half twist sort of like a solo synchronized swimmer, slapped his tail on the water, sounding like a gunshot, and disappeared under the water. I passed his stick and mud home on the way down the path. But he didn't show himself again.

After passing the pond I headed straight to the river. There are winding trails that will get you there, but I prefer to go straight through the woods. It is a lot quicker, but you have to negotiate the briars and undergrowth. But usually you get to see more wildlife. And I did. I walked up on a deer. She was surprised to see me. I was surprised to see her. All I could see was her white tail as she bounded through the woods. I don't see how she bounded through that thick undergrowth, but I doubt she could do so well in my house, so I guess I understand.

I had not been to the river since we have had the heavy rainfall. It was beautiful . . .emerald green and flowing gently. The floods had deposited mounds of new sand mountain sand all along the banks, making it difficult to keep my footing as I slipped and slid down the steep slope to the edge of the water. Only after I got down there did I consider that it might not be so easy to get back up. But I would worry about that later.

In In the fresh sands I found evidence that I was probably not alone. Clear tracks of racoons, the dogs that run the banks of the river hunting them, deer, the big heron birds, and others that I am not sure about. And there was evidence that I had scared the crap out of something as I walked up. The fresh crap was the evidence along with other evidence of freshness, and deep prints of the animal that had scrambled up the steep sand banks.

After no small effort I also scrambled up the steep sand bank and found my favorite place to sit on the river. It is on a higher place, right in the bend of the river. From there you can see upriver and downriver for a good ways. It was late in the evening by then, and when I looked downriver I could see the light of the sinking sun reflecting off the rippling water, sparkling and dancing like diamonds tossed on a marble floor. The light was too bright to look at for long so I looked upriver, where the trees and rock ledges were awash in the gold of the same setting sun. I sat very still for awhile in the quiet coolness. I always feel like it is a place that I am supposed to be.

But the sun was setting. I like walking through the woods . . .but not in the dark. So I headed back a different way through the woods. Squirrels were making noise and another deer ran away almost before I saw her. I made it back to the pond as the sun was already below the horizon. But on Sand Mountain evening lasts longer because the sky is bigger. I jumped in the truck and headed home.

Yesterday was a great day with a lot of people. But this afternoon was pretty great with no people, just the sun, the breeze, the river, and the ones who call it home.
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