Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Real People . . .

Last week I talked to a guy who runs a remodeling business. He has not done a real job in months. He has about three months left in savings. He was in a great mood. But he was just trying to figure out what to do about supporting his family when the money ran out.

A grandmother came in a few days ago, crying. She was raising two grandchildren. Her husband was laid off. She needed to talk about whether she should turn the custody of the kids over to the state.

A man I have known many years, always a hard worker, framing and roofing, a good man, came in to talk about a DUI he had been charged with. He hasn't had but a couple of jobs since last year. Just got where he sat home, watched television, and drank beer.

A couple I met both lost their jobs. They were about to be evicted. Out of their frustration they got into a fight. Not only did they lose their jobs and their homes, they lost their children for awhile. Time will tell if they lose each other. At least they didn't turn to meth, like so many others in the same seemingly hopeless situation.

I know it is important what Wall Street is doing. And citizens should be told of the abuses by corporate execs that result from deregulation and then from the wad of money that came their way from the bailout. It is important that we finally realize that the world of big business is a different world, with no conscience and no concern.

But we need to hear the stories of my friends as well. They are all around us. They are us.

Valerie Bertinelli and her bikini body at age 48 is featured on the cover of People magazine this week. I have nothing against Valerie Bertinelli's body (fill in your own off color thought). And there is nothing wrong with the escape that People and similar publications provides. Doctor's offices would be unbearable without them.

But I wish there was a "Real People" magazine that told real stories, stories of millions and millions of people that nobody tells and many of us never hear.

But I wonder who would read them.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Perhaps I should have said "Saturday Contusion"

Pondering coincidence was interesting last week.

I may have stumbled onto my own painful parable Saturday afternoon after I left the coffee and sofa behind and went out into the sunshine. I had been reviewing a court file for this week, but the sun came out and it just seemed sinful not to get out into it.

My yard is a disaster. Over near the tree line there are beautiful blooming azaleas, redbud and dogwood trees and wisteria. They surround what was formerly a small patio under two sweetgum trees. The weeds and undergrowth have taken it over, and the sweetgums are dead, having shed limbs onto the old patio. It looked like a good project to start on.

First I carried the old limbs and dumped them in the woods. As I got to the limbs at the bottom of the pile it was hard to pick them up because the wisteria vines had wrapped them up. I bent down and begin to pull the wisteria vines. They were stubborn, so I pulled harder, taking the traditonal tug o war stance and pulling and grunting . . .

I don't know what happened right after that. It felt like a truck hit my left temple and cheekbone. Everthing went red for a few seconds, and when my vision returned I looked at the ground, where eight feet of sweetgum log lay broken in pieces at my feet. I couldn't feel anything from the neck up for a moment, which, as scary as that may have been, was preferable to the pain that replaced it.

I lifted my hands to my face to see if it was still there. It was, but it seemed out of place. As feeling returned I realized my teeth were chipped. My jaw was out of alignment, and lumps were rising on my cheek and temple. Then I looked at my hands. They were full of blood.

As I am prone to do in situations like this I thought, "this is an embarassing way to go out. They'll find me dead here, and from now on they'll just shake their heads and lament how I died pulling wisteria vines." I heard voices of friends who would have reminded me to be careful had they been watching.

But I was still standing, and hurting badly, so I wasn't dead yet. I looked up and noticed that the top of the sweetgum tree was a lot shorter than it had been. As it turns out, it was now at my feet in pieces, broken either by my head or the ground or both.

I checked to see if anyone had seen the incident, then stumbled into the house and cleaned up the mess formerly known as my head. Then I returned to the sofa. The bleeding and oozing stopped a few hours later.

I didn't know the wisteria vine with which I battled was connected to the top of that rotten sweet gum tree. As far as I could tell the vine ran along the ground, underneath some of the limbs I had yet removed. But it didn't matter whether I saw the connection or not. It was connected. Believe me.

Sometimes that is the way life is. We tug and pull on something. We wrestle with it, change it, move it, as if it were connected to nothing else. And then we are shocked when a random tree falls on our heads.

I still believe that some coincidences are created by God. But sometimes we are just totally unaware of how connected we, and all of creation, are. So we just tug away, willy-nilly, only to be shocked by the results that we never anticipated.

The bright side is I looked really mean for court today with a deep cut on my left cheekbone.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday obtusion . . .

Saturday morning. Coffee. Sofa.

I don't know whether it is a coincidence or divine intervention, but I am glad for this Saturday morning convergence of the sofa, coffee and me. (See last two posts)

By the way, all my favorite coffee mugs were in the dishwasher this morning. I forgot to start it last night. So before I sat down to begin posting I had to reach up on the top shelf where I store old mugs that I don't use. Without looking I pulled one down. "One Day at a Time" was written on the side of the mug. Never noticed it before. Yes, that is the name of this blog site. Coincidence? Yeah, I think so. But it made me smile considering the theme of the week.

Then I read the smaller print under the "One Day at a Time" logo.

"Make it a masterpiece . . ."

So now I am sure I vote for coincidence. If there were some sort of divine hand directing my hand toward that "One Day at a Time" mug, the selection of which made me smile, then I might also have to consider the rest of the divine message, "make it a masterpiece . . .".

I don't want to put in the effort to make today a masterpiece. I want to sit on the sofa, drink coffee, listen to NPR, and do a little blogging. If I get really industrious I might start the dishwasher. Actually I know I will if not starting it is going to lead to more of these demanding messages from random mugs on the top shelf. Maybe that's how I choose which mugs are in the rotation. The mugs that demand more of me I have stored on the top shelf, far out of reach.

My favorite mugs bear the logos "Krispy Kreme," "Cafe du Monde,", "O'Henry's", and "Paris." I didn't realize my mug selection would reveal such hedonism.

I am still intrigued by coincidence. I still don't know what I think.

I have a friend Deb who has a gift for observation. She seems to be able to absorb the stories of life that go on around her. And more life seems to go on around her than anyone else. (There is a link to her journal, "My Rambling," at the bottom of this blog site) After she absorbs these stories, she is able to retell them in an incredibly entertaining way. Then she usually draws some lesson of life or faith from the story.

Jesus did the same thing. He told stories based on everyday life and drew profound life and faith lessons from them. He wasn't as funny as Deb, but He did have that miracle thing going for Him, which so far Deb has held back, unless you count that obscenely high score on Pathwords.

It was not necessary for Jesus to create new situations to make His parable points. Weddings, vineyards, workplaces, farms and farmers, sheep, widow's, rebellious sons, oil lamps, lilies of the field, all already existed. No divine intervention was necessary. The message was derived from ordinary occurrences. But it was a divine message nonetheless.

On the other hand, He turned water to wine, multiplied fish and loaves, healed lepers, the lame, the blind, and brought a friend back to life. Not so ordinary.

So maybe the question is not whether an occurrence is coincidence or an intervention by the divine.

Maybe the question is whether there is a message for us, whether it be in the ordinary or the miraculous.

Or maybe there is really no difference. Ordinary is miraculous. Miraculous is ordinary. If we only have eyes to see, ears to hear.

I gotta go turn on the dishwasher.


Friday, March 27, 2009


Before or after you read this post I hope you will consider and respond to the Thurvey question, which appears in the post immediately below this one.

A question of faith has been on my mind for awhile now. I believe in God. I pray a lot. But if you don't I still think my question is something you may think about from time to time, just from a different direction.

I have been talking with God about a particular bothersome situation for a few months now. I am not asking that anyone's freedom of choice be affected, or even that the natural laws of physics be suspended. In Star Trek terms, the prime directive would not be violated by what I am asking. I just want to know how God feels about something, and how I should proceed. I have looked for answers written on the steamed bathroom mirror, the alignment of spilled coffee beans on the counter, the arrangement of pasta in a dish (it could be written in cursive if that were the case). But alas, no handwriting on the wall, or anywhere else.

But then when I least expect it some ridiculous convergence of events happens, which in my mind could not happen out of sheer randomness, that has direct relevance to my problem. But I don't know whether what I want to be a sign is in fact some sort of divine intentional message, or just a random occurrence that I seize as an answer out of desperation because I am looking so hard for guidance.

Lots of folks say that these coincidences are just random. They say that I attribute more value to them than they actually represent because I am looking for something that is not there. I think that is right sometimes. But I don't know about all the time.

But bizarre coincidences do happen in our lives. The question "what are the chances of . . . " is fairly common. Perhaps we notice them because they are relevant to something going on in our lives that is important to us.

Some of us think of these coincidences as miraculous because they are a departure from the normal course of events that we attribute to God. But maybe that's not right. Maybe they happen all the time. Maybe they are not the miraculous exception, but the norm. Maybe we think they are rare because we just do not live with our eyes open. We are only aware when we are desperately seeking answers to our own problems that we can't handle by ourselves. I don't know.

Or maybe our minds are more powerful than we think. Perhaps when two or more people are intensely thinking about the same thing there is some kind of collective power that tends to bring them together for resolution. I don't know.

But for today I know I feel better than I did yesterday because a ridiculous convergence occurred. I am thankful for that, whatever it is.



Okay, so it's Friday, but I was on the road too much yesterday to blog. I am trying to heed good advice not to text while driving, so I certainly couldn't blog. Hope you feel free to respond to the question of the week. Just click on the comment button at the bottom of the post, type in your comment, press anonymous, and click on publish. Sign your name to your comment if you wish.

The question of the week:

Coincidence, randomness, answer to prayer, intervention of a higher power in our lives, result of collective conciousness? How do you explain coincidences that appear to defy odds?


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Alabama has a government too . . .

I find it hard to write about national politics and the federal government these days. I think it is because everybody is already talking about it. I think that's great even if it seems a bit messy and unseemly. But I am sure something will provoke me soon.

But tonight I want to talk about some things going on at the State level in Alabama. Legislation has been reintroduced abolishing the sales tax on groceries. Only one other state in the union taxes groceries. There is a reason for its rarity. It is horribly, morally wrong. Everybody has to buy groceries. Therefore the poorest among us pay the same tax rate as the richest among us . In other words, some of the poorest among us cannot afford the food they need for their families in order for the rest of us to enjoy state services. For more information, visit the Alabama Arise website.http://www.alarise.org/index.htm

Another piece of legislation did not make it out of committee. It was defeated in committee by Republican legislators. The legislation, which was supported by Alabama's Supreme Court Chief Justice, would have made the election of Alabama appellate judges non-partisan. That is to say, candidates for those offices would have no party affilation for purposes of the election. The second part of the legislation would restrict the amount of contributions to appellate judge candidates. Apparently the legislation will not see the light of day. That is a shame, because Alabama's Judicial elections are a laughing stock to the rest of the country. It is embarassing. We all hated those elections. If I saw one more judicial candidate talk over the strains of Amazing Grace on slickly produced tv ads I thought I would scream. But our legislature refuses to do anything about it. If you want something done about, let your legislator know.

And finally, there is a proposal that there be a three year moratorium on executions in Alabama while the process is reviewed for fairness. The statistics are almost irrefutable that race and income level play an important part in whether you will be put to death in Alabama as a criminal defendant. That is not right.

The good news is that our state government is actually looking at these issues. The bad news is that most of us don't even know they are in session.

Give them some encouragement, whatever side of these issues you favor. Give them a call. The number is 334 242 7600 for the House of Representatives and 334 242 7800 for the Senate. Leave a message.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Mexico chooses not to kill anymore . . .

New Mexico has outlawed the death penalty. Not by judicial order, but by act of the state legislature, by the will of the people. It is only the second state in the union to have done so since the death penalty was re-instated in the mid seventies by the U. S. Supreme Court.

After both houses of the New Mexico legislature passed the legislation doing away with capital punishment in that state, its fate was in the hands of former presidential candidate Governor Bill Richardson for his signature. Richardson had been a proponent of the death penalty for his entire political life.

I am against the death penalty. But that is not what this post is about. I just found it refreshing the process that Governor Richardson went through to reach his ultimate decision to sign the legislation, making it the law of New Mexico as of August 1 of this year.

First he went to mass at the Catholic Church he attends and prayed.

Then he went to the prison at which executions were conducted in New Mexico. He talked with prison officials, looked at the conditions, and reviewed the history of those who are sentenced to be killed by New Mexico.

Bill Richardson did not speak of any big revelations, or transformations in his own beliefs. He spoke in practicalities. He said that he did not have sufficient faith in the criminal justice system that the decision of life or death should be in the state's hands. He said after visiting the prison, he was convinced that life without parole was a more just option for the most heinous offenders. So based on these practical observations, he signed the bill.

Executions in the United States have dropped dramatically in America in the past five or six years, mostly due to the realization that the justice system is not perfect. Perhaps it will go away quietly by attrition.

But it is refreshing to hear of a government acting bravely and proactively to do the right thing, taking a stand. We are not yet used to seeing government act as government should, leading instead of following, or worst not moving at all.

Thank you New Mexico. Thank you Governor Richardson.

I hear voices . . .

I texted a friend Saturday, thinking I would create a bit of envy, saying that I was putting the top down on the golden Sebring and taking a ride in the beautiful spring day to Sumatanga. I made it sound like it was just going to be a pleasure trip, spending the afternoon riding the backroads of Greasy Cove and Chandler mountain. It was so inviting I made myself envious, and I was the one going.

The simple text immediately came back. "I hope you have new sunscreen."

I smiled as I read the text, because only minutes before, as I had put the top down and headed up highway 75 to town, I heard this same friend's voice in my head, "If you don't put on sunscreen, don't expect any sympathy from me when you die of skin cancer." So I had stopped at CVS and bought some and smeared it on my forehead.

I love those voices. Little mental recordings from friends who care enough to tell you the truth, or who know you well enough to know your weaknesses. "You're not texting this while you drive, are you?" "Remember to eat something." "You didn't cancel that doctor's appointment, did you?" "Adults shouldn't be on facebook, it's just weird." "If you're not happy doing what you do, remember, it's your choice." "You worry too much about things that aren't important."

So yeah, I hear voices, My head is full of them. I don't know how I would get along without them.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring forward . . .

Saturday morning. Coffee. Sofa.

I slept late this morning after not being able to get to sleep last night. That happens after an intense week, which seemed heightened by the contrast between the courtroom atmosphere of this week versus the wonder of the Latvia/Lithuania Chrysalis trip of last week.

You have probably had similar weeks; not necessarily bad, just intense. My brain suffered from one of the laws of thermodynamics. An object in motion tends to remain in motion. Or if you could picture a hamster in a cage continuing to run in my brain that would probably be more accurate. My brain needs some maintenance today. Clean out the cookies, temporary files, defrag the memory, remove virus and spyware (for those of you who use your computer but never worry about maintenance, this was a clever computer maintenance metaphor).

So today I am going to do some spring cleaning, not in my brain but in my carport and beyond. That is a function I can do while my brain reboots.

I will have to get rid of some stuff. And I notice as I start that even Mother Nature is against me. There are piles of leaves and fallen branches in my yard and even in drifts in my carport. I confess blame in this for failing to rake leaves and haul branches last fall, but I just wasn't in the mood. So now I must uncover the stuff on my carport before I throw it away.

It is funny. I passed this pile of crap every day for the past few months as I got in and out of the car. I never noticed how it was growing. Occasionally I thought that I should get around to doing something about it, but other things were more important.

So after stopping to look at the problem this morning, I realize that the clean-up will be a formidable task.

But just as Mother Nature added to the problem, she has given me inspiration today. Delicate green leaves unfurling from their buds, green blades of grass and weeds waking up and stretching their arms, straining to reach the sunlight, azaleas, yellow-bell, dogwood and pear trees hanging a rainbow of decorations to greet the vernal season. A beautiful, sunny spring day with life exploding in color all around.

Quite a contrast to the piles of brown, dead leaves and limbs I am about to remove.

So I too must get to work. Perhaps I will uncover something new, waiting to come to life.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

When you laugh, the whole world laughs with you, when you cry, you cry alone . . .

I lost my favorite pajama pants in Lithuania.

When I got back to Dan and Courtney's apartment in Riga Sunday night and started to get ready to retire on Big Brown, my sofa home away from home, I couldn't find my flannel orange plaid pajama pants, my favorites. Panicked, I turned my suitcase inside out, but no pajama pants. Dan was good enough to loan me some sweats for the evening, but it just wasn't the same.

So when I got back to the US, I sent out a mass international email alert about losing my favorite pajama pants in Lithuania.

If you want to bring out the comedian in anyone in the world, just tell them you lost your favorite pajama pants in Lithuania.

Sure, laugh at me. Make snide comments about my fashion sense, sexual innuendos about my misfortune. I can assure you there was no good fortune involved in the loss, no matter what your gutter dwelling minds may think. But if it makes you smile, I suppose that is okay.

So now I am reduced to blogging in my boxers and a sweatshirt. Consider that visual image as payback for your laughter.

I maintain hope that the lost pj's will be located. The preacher of the Birzai United Methodist Church has been told that I lost my pajama pants at his church. I'm sure he is still laughing.

It is getting late, and although my legs do not yet feel like they have returned home without the comfortable familiarity of the orange plaid flannel softness, I must try to rest.

To sleep, perchance to dream . . . of orange plaid flannel goodness.




The Thurvey is back after the Lithuanian hiatus last week. If you wish to comment on the question click comment below, type your comment in the window that opens, click anonymous, and click on publish. If you don't want to be anonymous, type your name under your comment.

We spend so much time looking for answers these days. The economy, foreign policy, health care, war and peace, social justice. Family, career, faith, relationships, where to eat, Alabama's basketball coach, what movie to rent, etc.

But are we asking the right questions?

What are the right questions?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Baltic wrap up

The drive from Riga, Latvia, to Birzai, Lithuania, was more direct than the one in November. (Check that post if you want to know more. I won't be hurt if you don't). We avoided the roundabout vortex in Riga, and chose not to go visit the elderly lady whose driveway we thought was the way to Birzai. I owe the quick and easy exit from Riga to Sanita. She wasn't much help after that, but she got us out of the city and we were on our way.

I had reserved a standard size rental van because I knew that David, Courtney and I, and a couple of others, with my guitar, our bags, and some Chrysalis supplies would be making the journey. The couple of others became three others and a baby stroller. I had been concerned about bringing David into a Chrysalis without knowing anyone on the team except me. But God provided some serious bonding time on the road to Birzai.

While I drove and Courtney rode front seat shotgun, David sat in the second row of our VW van with Janis, Sanita and Sniedze. David had no choice other than to bond. After the two hour trip, he was an intimate part of the team.

For those readers who don't know what Chrysalis is, a brief explanation. Chrysalis is a Christian spiritual growth community for young adults, designed to strengthen participation in local churches. Participation in Chrysalis begins with a three day weekend apart from the world, during which there is sharing, learning, praying, worshipping, laughing, crying, eating, singing, and not much sleep. This was Baltic Chrysalis #6 for guys. We had 14 caterpillars (new participants) and a team of 27 or so.

The Chrysalis was great. Perfect. It is common in Chrysalis to say that the week-end is being led by the lay director, Gatis for BC 6, and the Holy Spirit. Gatis did his job well. He had the responsibility for pulling together a team from three countries, four counting David and me from the US. He did everything he could. There is a Spiritual Director for each Chrysalis. Grazina was our director for BC 6. She did her job well, as always. And the Holy Spirit did the rest. I really cannot describe the results. I can say we all were changed. I wish you all could have been there. We could have made room in the van in the front seat with Courtney and the Randall child.

The setting in Birzai was beautiful. A snow covered, small East European town. A new church constructed on the frame of a former Soviet military training building. The church was perfect for Chrysalis with the conference room downstairs, the kitchen and dining area on the second floor, and the caterpillars dorm on the third floor. The team slept all over the place. Our chapel services were held in the original church which was across the street. It was an old, basically one room building. The short walk through the snow in the cold air moved us seamlessly from the excitement and fun of the conference room to the meditative and prayerful atmosphere of the chapel.

Words do not do BC 6 justice. I just wanted you to know a little bit.

My own particular part in this was being on the music team. I had the joy of working with Liva, Sanita, and Jess, an American friend of Grazina's from the Duke years, and now a friend of mine. A song leader's job is to give the songs away to the people as quickly as possible and let them become their own,. Young men are young men, and they were a bit reluctant at first, but as our time together went on, they sang. And played guitars. And keyboards. And wrote songs. One of my favorite songs to lead with groups is Prince of Peace, because it sneaks up on you. You think at first, this is just a silly camp song, the guys singing against the girls. But after the second time through, the awareness of God's presence is raised somehow. Probably because the song is just a series of phrases invoking the Biblical names for God and Jesus. Anyway, I wish you could have been there for that. And Sing Alleluia, and How Great is Our God. Even, maybe especially for A la la la la la la le lu ia.

But song leading is hard work sometimes. Especially in the beginning of something like a guys Baltic Chrysalis where the song leader's job is to pull the music out of folks who have the song inside them but are a little afraid to let it go. I have to admit I was tired at one point early on, wondering if I could do this. Then the prayer vigil came out. So many praying for us. So many that I didn't know. But when you're far away from home, to see the familiar names of close friends reminding you that you are not in this alone is like a spiritual Red Bull. Thank you all for praying.

BC 6 was over as quickly as it started. Tearful goodbyes were said, several times, and we all left Birzai behind. We crammed our part of the team back into the van and headed back to Riga, where we once again said goodbyes at the Riga 1st UMC.

Back at the Randall home we ate another of Dan's meals. Courtney, sleeping for two, turned in shortly after we ate. David and Dan and I talked and dreamed about Wesley Camp. Then it was time for bed to catch four or so good hours before rising to get to the airport. The trip back was as easy as the trip over. And we were home.

I am thankful to get to do this kind of stuff. I am thankful to have been able to share this time with my preacher David. I am thankful to all of you in Alabama who have supported Baltic Chrysalis for these formative years and ask you to continue to pray for BC. It is vibrantly alive and well and is strengthening the Body of Christ in the Baltics in real and wonderful ways. I am thankful for all the friends I have because of BC, some old friends now, and some brand new. There is so much to tell.

But it is time to go to work.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Baltic stuff

It was seventy six degrees when David and I boarded the plane in Birmingham late Tuesday afternoon carrying heavy winter coats over our arms. According to the weather forecast the next time we stepped outside it would be dark, freezing, snow on the ground, and the city would be Riga, Latvia.

The only hitch on the trip was being parked in our plane on the tarmac for an hour or so in London before taking off. We had been in London for four hours already. The wait made the flight from London to Riga seem longer than it was. But all in all a very easy trip. It is just a long way and there is not much one can do about that.

U. S. Air was a pleasant experience. We sat on the two seats in the very back of the plane. I don't think they were even real seats, just extra folding chairs to make up a few bucks on a couple of extra passengers. The plane was full. We sat next to the flight attendant. Her horse had just given birth and she was showing photos of the foal to all around, which was basically David and me. I don't know if she was always that pleasant, or if it was the birth of her horse, but she even made the trip seated across the aisle from the bathroom a positive experience, which, if you have ever had those choice seats, is no small task. Of course, it was only fifty four minutes to Charlotte. To add to the pleasantness of the whole trip, every security person we met from Birmingham to Riga was in an amazingly good mood. We zipped through every line. My favorite was in Riga, where customs amounted to being directed to walk by a large black dog. I suppose that was only a good thing if you were not muling.

U. S Air was deficient in one respect. Their plane did not have one of the monitors that constantly reports your position on the globe, time to destination, airspeed, temperature, altitude, in three languages. It took me a while to get over it, but, I had a window seat so I just shot a couple of azimuths to assure our course was correct, worked a couple of crossword puzzles, read a bit, and finally went to sleep.

Dan met us at the Riga airport. So did my luggage and guitar, which was great. I did sort of miss the free bag of underwear and toiletries AirBaltic gives out when your bags are delayed. But, on balance, it was good to have everything I needed because we were scheduled to head out to Birzai Thursday morning at eleven. Dan chauffeured us in our rental vw van into Riga, once again claiming a prize parking place right in front of the apartment building.

Courtney had made a trip on the train to visit the Hope Center and was not yet back when we arrived. So Dan made us supper. Not as elaborate as the Thanksgiving spread, but perfect for weary travellers coming into town on a cold wet evening. Courtney made it home, we finished eating and continued talking, and before we knew it, it was time for bed. I retired once again on big brown the sofa. David took the newly arranged guest room digs. Sleep came easy. Have I mentioned how great it is to know Dan and Courtney Randall?

We were to leave Riga for Birzai at eleven. But first we needed poster paper and mime make-up. Driving and shopping in Riga is always an adventure. After a couple of missed turns and the resulting lengthy detours, we filled our shopping list. We met other Chrysalis travelers at the Riga first UMC, loaded six of us and our luggage and guitars and one baby stroller into our VW van and headed out of Riga, southward toward Birzai, Lithuania.

It had in fact snowed in Riga all week, and despite the rather moderate mid thirties temperatures, the snow was still several inches deep. Snow in a big city is different than snow in the country. It is nasty and it gets nastier every day that it doesn't melt. It makes sidewalks slippery, curbs insurmountable, and puddles of disgusting muck to be splashed on pedestrians.

But in the country it is beautiful. A smooth sheet of brilliant white, undisturbed except for the occasional farmer or animal footprint. For the moment what lies under the snow does not matter so much. The rough places are made plain.

It was through that country side that we transitioned to our time of Chrysalis.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

riga arrival

I have reacquainted myself with "big brown" , Dan and Courtney's sectional sofa. It is as if we never parted. .

I am in Riga, Latvia, once again staying with my friends Dan and Courtney Randall . Everyone else is asleep, so maybe I better do that as well.

More in a few hours.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Today was nonstop. No time to do anything except the next thing that I was scheduled to do. Unfortunately nobody scheduled lunch. So by six o'clock, I was hawngry (technical term expressing extreme hunger, usually pronounced with a slow, growly voice with emphasis on the first syllable, and wrapping the mouth completely around the aw).

I went to the drive-in at Uncle Sam's BBQ and ordered a jumbo barbeque chicken sandwich. The voice said with sincere regret, "I'm sorry, we are out of . . ."

I was sure he was going to say they were out of barbequed chicken. I was crestfallen, if one can be crestfallen at a barbeque joint. But the voice finished, "jumbo buns."

No problem. "Just give me two regular size." It seemed like a logical compromise. Especially when your stomach is collapsing faster than Rush Limbaugh's polling numbers.

I rushed into the house with my sack 'o sandwiches, lay back on the sofa out of sheer weakness, unwrapped a sandwich on my chest, and started to take a bite. One thing about Uncle Sam's, they don't skimp on the portion of meat they stuff in a sandwich. That is a wonderful thing. However, it does not work well when eating a sandwich while lying on one's back. Before the sandwich reached my waiting, quivering mouth, my neck straining to lift my head forward like one of those gunslingers who had been shot in old westerns and somebody tried to give them water out of a canteen, about a quarter cup of chopped barbequed chicken fell onto my chest, which was still protected by my white cotton dress shirt.

After eating the chicken off of my chest, a bit like fine dining at a table covered in a white cotton table cloth, I got up and changed clothes, a bit too late. I then wolfed the two sandwiches down.

Now my stomach is too full. Sleep will be more difficult.

My mistake was that I had no discipline when I ordered. One sandwich would have been perfect, but the decision born of hunger skewed my judment. I took more than I needed, so much that it was actually bad for me, because a few minutes before I had nothing. Then for a second I thought even Uncle Sam's could not give me relief. My insecurity was raised. The answer was to get more than I needed. My hunger made me impatient. I should have changed clothes. Some would say I should have eaten sitting up, but I'm still not so sure about that . . .

I had nothing, so when I could, I took more than I needed, so much that it was harmful to me.

You ever notice how the pendulum swings? It is often said about power that shifts from one side to the opposing other and back and forth and back and forth. Or opposing ideologies.

Political parties tend to mark regaining power by grabbing far more than they need, so much that sometimes it hurts.

And the pendulum swings from extreme to extreme, with little consideration where it should actually stop.

I gotta go soak my shirt now.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Saturday sap . . . . . .

Saturday morning. The world outside my den window is showing hints of spring this week as the daffodils suddenly jumped out of the ground, the maples painted the treeline with a whisper of red, and my early crop of weeds claimed their turf.

I should post on matters of great import. But spring is in the air, and I would rather not get into economics, religion, social justice, or war and peace this morning. Those problems will always be with us.

I think the spring-like weather this week has made my creative sap rise.

Everywhere I look there is a story or song seeking composure. (Alright, I know that sentence was a bit off, but the creative sap tank is not yet full, or maybe it is too full, it is a tricky balance).

I made an early trip to Mark's Food Shop this morning (regular readers will remember Mark's as your one-stop Valentines Day shopping center and gas station). Opening paragraphs of short stories crowded the parking lot and store.

Two pretty little girls, one obviously the big sister, were sitting in the back seat of an SUV, both faces pressed closely against the same window, talking intently about what they saw, as they waited on their dad, who was coming out of the store with mountain dews and snacks.

A lean, elderly man with a full head of curly, silver hair tucked under a cap decorated with U. S. Navy insignia, was standing next to his pristine, forest green, early nineties compact pick-up. His jeans were bright denim blue, especially against the white of his walking shoes and socks that connected his feet to the bottom of his pants legs. As his tank was filling he turned to the trash can next to the pump and reached deeply into it with his right hand. His hand went deeper and deeper until his arm could stretch no further. It was as if there was a convenience store gremlin inside the trashcan pulling him downward into the dark depths of the can.. I was afraid that the gentleman might lose the battle and suddenly disappear entirely, being pulled headfirst into the mass of floorboard refuse.

The store clerk complained, "Can I sue them for raising taxes on cigarettes again?"

Then I dropped by Hometown Market to get a bag of coffee beans. I could have stayed there all day. There is a story in every check-out. But I had not yet had coffee, so it was time to go home.

Earlier in the week I was in a fast food restaurant. There was a man and a woman sitting at a table in deep conversation. They didn't appear to be on a date; she was in sweats and he was in work clothes. People were coming and going around them, but they never appeared to notice. They occasionally smiled, but mostly they just talked, taking turns speaking and listening, listening and speaking. As they talked across their food they moved closer and closer together, leaning forward against the table. But it was if they were afraid to leave the protection of the table, which kept them from getting too close. I came back into the same place two hours later, they were still there talking, still separated by the safety of the table.

Stories springing up everywhere like daffodils or crocus . . . or onions or dandelions.

But as I have been writing and remembering these and other moments of the week I realize my original premise this morning was wrong.

The stories of people are the things of the highest import.


Thursday, March 5, 2009


Yes, it is Thursday again, and time for the Thursday survey. If you wish to participate, and I hope you will, just click on the comment button below, type your answer in the comment box when it opens, click on the anonymous button, (give your name if you wish, or not if you don't), and then click on the publish button. Today's question which arises out of the last post is:

If you believe God exists, why?

If you believe God does not exist, why not?

If you believe Alabama will win the SEC basetball tournament, how did you achieve that level of faith?

Mental flab . ..

I missed my monthly (ideally) book club the other night. But I read the book, "God Delusion," which, according to the writing on the spine, was authored by Richard Dawkins, an evangelical atheist.

I never saw nor met Richard Dawkins as I read. He never appeared in the room with me. I've never seen or met the man anywhere else. So I have to assume that he does not exist.

To make matters worse, these words that are written in this book bearing the name of this imagined Dawkins have caused a lot of controversy and ill will among people who disagree about the existence of God. It has driven some to violence and hatred toward those who disagree. It is a shame that such harmful things are occurring because of the words of someone who apparently does not exist.

Yes, I am being silly. Of course Richard Dawkins exists. I enjoyed reading his book. It was entertaining.

I asssume that Mr. Dawkins is intelligent. He certainly does.

But it is quite an assumption. Almost an act of faith, if faith is the belief in something in the absence of evidence.

I do not make such a harsh observation because Mr. Dawkins does not believe as I believe. He makes some interesting and helpful observations about the historical failures of religion. I love a good discussion about the existence of God and related topics.

Sadly, his work lacks intellectual integrity.

It is sad because he seems to believe that he is introducing intellectual integrity to those who choose to believe in a supernatural God.

Dawkins attacks the baseless assumptions of all religions. They have no basis in fact or evidence. I don't know about other religions, but mine makes no bones about it, the belief is absolutely not based on fact. It is ultimately based on an assumption. Faith.

The existence of God, or His character, if He exists, is not affected at all by what Richard Dawkins or Bob Bentley thinks about it. It is what it is or isn't.

The ironic and irritatingly disengenuous characteristic of Dawkins argument is that his "logic" is the same as the most ardent, narrow, Bible thumping, close minded Christian of which he is so condescendingly critical. The Bible says it, I believe it, and that's all there is. But a Christian who is being true to the teachings of Jesus must admit that he cannot prove what he believes. It is all by faith.

That is our intellectual choice. It may be a simple child like choice, or it may the the reasoned choice of someone like C. S. Lewis. But ultimately it is a choice based on faith in things not seen. Perhaps it is foolish. But it is our choice.

Just as it is Dawkins' choice, and it appears to be a reasoned choice, to believe there is no God. But he can no more prove that assumption than I can prove mine. He just refuses to admit it.

In the beginning of the book, Dawkins co-opts Einstein as if he were his associate. (Dawkins is also quite a name dropper). He distinguishes Einstein's view of God,using Einstein's quote about God that includes the line: "A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate . . ." Einstein did not believe in a personal God. He believed in the harmony and structure of those things that we know to exist, and in the wonder and awe of knowledge that there exists a reality that we have not yet penetrated.

Dawkins assumes that there is no intelligent creator. He assumes that there is much of reality that we have not yet, as Einstein said, penetrated. He assumes that God is not part of the unknown reality. But he never admits that what he believes about the unknown is by definition an assumption. Faith.

It is just intellectually lazy. I expected more.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New Orleans ramblings . . .

As I hinted in my last brief post, I drove to New Orleans Friday night to work with the crew from Lester Memorial UMC mudding and sanding sheetrock, spraying texture (something new for me, it was very Martha Stewart), and installing flooring. The rest of the crew went down Thursday night and worked Friday, Saturday and half the day Sunday. Some went in the church van and trucks, a few took the Silver Crescent. I was just a slacker and drove down Friday night on the water flume formerly known as I-59. Saved gas by just cutting the engine and riding the current from Birmingham to Meridian.

New Orleans is not fixed yet. I must have been missing those reports on the news the last three years. Tens of thousands of housing units have not been repaired or replaced.

But this Lesterine group is trying to finish it up, one wall at a time, just like hundreds of other churches, colleges and civic groups. And I imagine most of them are having a ball doing it. Not as much fun as the Lesterines, because we are an extraordinarily pleasant group, but I am sure they all enjoy themselves in their own ways.

The Metairie United Methodist Church was our host. Our beds were prepared with clean linens. A dinner was spread on Friday night. Shower facilities had been built next to the church building just for volunteer use. They lived up to the tradition of New Orleans hospitality.

As I was driving into Metairie on I-10 about 11:30 p.m. it took me back to the Friday night after Katrina hit back in 2005. I drove on down to the causeway bridge where thousands of New Orleanians had stood in the eerie darkness broken only by generator lights, rushing up as buses approached, straining to keep parents and children together. They had been there for hours, some for days, waiting on a way out. The road way looked like there had been a heavy snow, but the ruts in the road were not formed by natural elements, but by the refuse and trash of the emergency supplies used by the gathered masses. When the bus doors opened humanity flowed in like water into a bucket. Charles couldn't close the door until ten more than the bus's capacity had entered. Then there was silence.

A little farther east on I-10 I had easily sped over a raised area that spanned a canal. It took about 5 seconds. I had sat on that interstate with Benjamin and Charles and a few others on Labor Day 2005. All day long. It was supposed to be a rescue effort. Mostly we just sat and waited in our bus. Interstates look much different when you are parked on them or pacing on them or sitting on them instead of speeding along at 65 mph. Maybe that's why we don't hear so much about New Orleans anymore. It is easy to speed through the areas in need without even looking.

So I arrived at the church late Friday in a thoughtful mood, thankful for rich memories and experiences, but remembering the pain of all those thousands of people that week in New Orleans, and to a lesser degree, every trip down since then.

I think that's one reason the Lesterines return time after time to New Orleans. We met the people in paralyzing pain as they fled the hurricane itself and came to live with us. Now we will continue to go to live with them, 2 or 3 days at a time, until things are fixed. I am thankful to those whose commitment have made these continuing trips possible. You know who you are.

We Lesterines dine out one night on these trips. This time we went to Dragos. They sat all 20 or so of us in one room upstairs. We enjoyed good food, good drink, laughter and conversation. Our waiter, at one point, asked, "Are y'all sure you're a church group?"

I promise you we weren't doing anything bad. The sad part is that he asked the question because we were obviously having so much fun. I don't think he was used to that from "church" people. That's tragic. Maybe that's why people speed on by our churches without stopping.

Cause I believe Jesus is always with us on these trips. He was always hanging out with the least, the lost and the last. We have certainly been lost on these trips from time to time. Jesus was great at mixing mud. He patched a lot more than walls. And I know I heard him laugh as we dined in that upper room.

Come join us sometime.


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Saturday excuse

I skipped posting Saturday. But I did have coffee. New Orleans coffee. New Orleans coffee in the sense that it was made in a coffee maker in the fellowship hall of the Metairie United Methodist Church.

Battery going fast. I'll finish when I get back to the snowy northland.
Real Time Analytics