Thursday, April 30, 2009


Thursday. Survey. Thurvey.

If you could teach the world to sing, what song would you teach?

If you wish to answer, click on the comment button below, type your answer in the comment box, click on anonymous, click on publish. If you wish to remain anonymous, don't sign your name.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Precious and precarious life . . .

Swine flu is the topic of the day. Sounds a little funny, conjuring up visions of Porky Pig. But of course it's not. Like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, droughts, or tsunamis, swine flu is mother nature's most recent dose of Ritalin, temporarily causing us to focus. Today there is less talk about torture, taxes, bailouts, presidential handshakes and prosecutions. With every hour's report that the verified cases of swine flu are increasing, our focus narrows. All of us. All over the world.

It is not that the issues of torture, taxes, bailouts, presidential handshakes and prosecutions are not important. But not as important as survival.

Natural disasters remind us that life is precious, and more than we want to admit, precarious. We have made enough progress so that a significant portion of earthlings are not pre-occupied with basic survival every hour, every day. (Although huge numbers still are) Ideally that frees us to explore ideas beyond survival. Scientific minds are free to experiment. Artists are free to create. Philosophers, theologians, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and all the rest of the ers, ians and ologists are free to expand the universe of human thought. Thankfully we do not always dwell in the upper echelons of cognitive activity. We are also free to listen to music, watch Lost, go to races, spend too much time on facebook, work sudoku, play games, workout, avoid working out, . . . the list is endless.

No doubt many of us are still engaged in this freedom today. But if swine flu continues to become a more significant threat, it will capture our focus. I remember the blizzard of the early nineties. A huge section of the country was home bound for several days. It certainly changed our focus. Suddenly the stresses of work and society gave way to keeping the house warm, finding a way to cook whatever you had around to cook, and checking on friends and relatives. As we watched Katrina ravage the Gulf Coast and the growing crowds of homeless day after day on the news, our focus changed. We didn't know what to do, but we wanted to do something. It was difficult to think about going on with life as normal with the devastation of so many neighbors to our south.

And we in Alabama know how things can change in an instant during the tornado season. What seemed of ultimate importance in one moment is forgotten in the roar and aftermath of the dreaded funnel cloud as the only important thing becomes finding everybody.

When we are reminded of the precious and precarious nature of life, our focus changes. Priorities become reshuffled. Natural disasters are not the only reminders. The death of a too young friend. The illness of a loved one. Self-destruction by one with so much promise.

So it has been hard to write posts for a few days. The words are trite. The stuff I love to discuss, argue and joke about suddenly doesn't make much difference. I know it will come back around. I hope it does real soon.

But for now my world is smaller, focused by the whirling vortex of things beyond my control that can take or destroy a life.

I want to run and hide in a shelter, but somehow that doesn't seem right.

Keeping a ditch in sight may be the best I can do.


Thursday, April 23, 2009


And the Thurvey thays . . .
It is Thursday again (almost missed it) and time to hear from you. I encourage you to post your thoughts on the following question. Just Click on the comment button below, type your comment in the comment box, click on anonymous, and click on publish. Include your name with your comment if you don't want to remain anonymous.

Is torture acceptable for any reason? Why or why not? Does it matter whether torture is effective for discovering intelligence information? If you were responsible for writing the rules for torture, list two or three.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A light in the darkness . . .

It has been a day.

I was in court all day. For hours it seemed that every time I turned around there was a client, a district attorney or a judge needing my immediate attention. Forgeries, assaults, child custody and other assorted alleged wrongs occupied my mind. From court over to church to eat a quick supper and go to Bible study. Then after Bible Study another hour and a half discussion about solving the problems in the middle east and gay marriage.

But now I am alone at home on the sofa and my brain is finally slowing down.

Before the ridiculous craziness of the day began I was meeting early with some friends in a reunion group. We meet every Wednesday morning for spiritual accountability and whatever comes up.

As our meeting began shortly after seven we learned that our friend Stan had died. Stan had suffered from a variety of health problems for years brought on by diabetes. His eyes quit working several years ago and in the last few years he became dependent on a wheel chair.

Stan's eyes quit working because of the ravages of diabetes. But Stan was not blind. He "saw" more of the world around him than any of us with functioning vision.

Stan appreciated and relished the richness of life and the people in his community. In a world where cynicism and negativity are the rule, Stan was a shining beacon. If there was an antithesis of a "black hole," a 'white hole, " if you will, it should be called Stan. Where so many of us are capable of sucking the energy and life out of the space around of us after a tough day, Stan was the opposite. Enthusiasm and positive energy splashed on those who gathered around his chair. Stan would be justified in feeling that all of his days were tough, tougher than almost anyone who approached him. But you would never know it to hear him talk.

He loved to tell the women how beautiful the are. And they loved it too. His description of a good meal, whether it be at church, at someone's home, or a local eatery, made the New Yorker restaurant reviews seem like a mimeographed school lunch menu. He noticed things in live musical performances that the rest of the audience never heard. And if you were his friend, he only noticed the good notes, the grand things that you had done, and he would loudly proclaim them to all around.

I am just one of hundreds that was lifted by Stan's encouragement. More like thousands if you count the local radio audience that he often encouraged on Friday mornings as he enthusiastically exclaimed over the phone, 'TGIF Big D."
Then he would tell Terri how gorgeous she has always been. He would go on to tell about something great going on in Blount County. He made us better than we were just by reminding us of the goodness around us that we somehow could not see.

Stan was on my mind all day. While dealing with the darker side of humanity I thought of Stan's encouragement, his ability to find the good in people and bring it out. I thought of Stan in heaven, which I know is where he fully anticipated being, standing, walking, dancing, seeing all the glory with new eyes, and of course, offering his review of the heavenly banquet table after an adequate sampling.

And as usual, Stan made me smile.

Truth is, I can't do him justice. But if he were here he would make me believe I could. I'm gonna miss him.

So as I write I've been listening to some tunes in his honor. As I recall, he liked him some Keb Mo. So I've been listening. Here's one I think Stan liked, "Let Your Light Shine." Read it, and let your heart sing it to someone else tomorrow. Sounds a lot like Stan, except it rhymes.

You say,
You want to get over.
What are you gonna do?
Watch the world go by
In a corner of the room?
I know,
None of my business.
But there's something I need to say,
If you could see you
The way I see you
You'd start flying on your own.
Step aside and . . .
Let your light shine.
Let your love show
It's a short ride
Down the long road.
When the rains come
And the winds blow
Let your light shine
Wherever you go.
This world is ready and waiting
For you to break on through.
It's time to recognize,
To realize,
You're the only one like you.
Step on up,
Step into your greatness.
Don't be afraid.
There's a place where you will rise up to;
No one else could do what you do.
Get out of the way

Thanks Stan.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Late rendition . . .

There is no question now that the United States tortured. Some would say we tortured prisoners of war, others would say terrorist suspects. But we tortured, not by mistake or the over-zealousness of young soldiers, but by official sanction from very high in the command chain.

Now we are faced with what to do about it. Torture as committed was illegal, both under the laws of our country, and international treaties and agreements that the United States has entered into over many, many years.

The all news all the time networks are filling their hours this week with opinions about what should be done. Who is responsible? Who should be prosecuted, if anyone? If there is no prosecution, does that failure constitute a violation of international law?

And those are important questions.

But the truth is, we the people have known, or should have suspected, that we have been torturing. It has been in the news for years. The New York Times published articles about the use of torture by our government as early as 2003. In May, 2005, the Times published an article detailing our agreement with human rights villain Uzbekistan to provide a place for rendition, that is to say, a place for the u. S. to transport and detain prisoners for the express purpose of using interrogation techniques not accepted in most of the civilized world. The article was picked up and quoted in media all over the country. That was in May, 2005. Four years ago.

I did nothing. And I'm pretty sure I saw you standing right there with me.

That's the problem with living in a democratic republic. We all have responsibility for what our government does. Scary, isn't it? But it is true. We just forgot.

So, while it is important to investigate this ugly chapter in our story to find out who is responsible and how it happened so that it cannot be repeated, there is something else that is important that seems even uglier.

It sounds like the folks who were just following orders will not be prosecuted.

But not necessarily the ones who gave the orders. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush?

Don't look now, but that is ultimately you and I.

We have met the torturers, and they are us.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Why I oughta . . .

There seems to be a firestorm among patriotic conservatives today about President Obama's refusal to ask President Hugo Chavez out into the street to duke it out mano a mano, or at least to a one-on-one winner-take-all basketball game after Chavez said some bad things about the United States at the Summit of the Americas this week-end.

Chavez' tackiness was exceeded only by his brass. In his speech he unabashedly said terrible things about the United States as Obama listened intently. Then as President Obama was shaking hands with him later, he presented Obama with a book, "The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent." The book alleges European and American economic and political interference in Latin America. He conveniently made the surprise presentation in front of photographers.

The conservative talking heads are incensed. Obama should have retaken the podium and went vapulear on them. (google it). He should have opened the book, spit on it, thrown it on the floor and stomped on it. He was face to face with Chavez, close enough to use some of the famous three stooges moves Moe used on Curly, and sometimes Larry, when they did something stupid. You know, poke him in the eyes, grab his nose, bonk him on the head.

But thank God, this President is no stooge. As he entered the summit of the Americas, he already towered physically over his colleagues. But his refusal to stoop to the antics of President Chavez, his refusal to put bravado over substance, his refusal to let personal pride take his eyes off the goal, raised his stature to new heights, a stature that is now even more visible to the whole world . . .but not to a few micro-brained dinosaurs who were not buried by the landslides of the last American election.

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will pile burning coals upon his head."

What kind of liberal crap is that? Actually the words belong to that original evangelical Christian, Paul, formerly known as Saul. Be nice to your enemy cause that will really chap him. He often used worldly logic to justify a more pure message.

"Love your enemy."

Yeah. That was Jesus. He did not make excuses or try to justify what He said.

Maybe we look at Jesus' words all wrong. (I know I do from time to time). Maybe he wasn't calling us to an other-worldly set of pie in the sky idealistic notions. Maybe He was saying, okay, if you'll just try it this way, loving instead of always grabbing the sword, giving from the open hand rather than threatening with the closed fist, things will work like their supposed to, like you were created to be.

I had given up on ever seeing it tried, even a little bit, when it came to international relations. But at least at the Summit of Americas, when the pressure was on, our President acted like a Christian.

Apparently the coals of kindness are in fact burning the flesh of Obama's enemies. It is a shame that most of the smoke is rising from the heads of his own Christian countrymen.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's nothing to laugh at?

Saturday. Coffee. Sofa

Laughter is good for you. A study was just completed that if you laugh on a daily basis there are significant health benefits. That's the kind of study I would have volunteered for. Actually it's making me laugh to think that somebody felt a study was necessary to reach this conclusion. I imagine they are laughing all the way to the bank.

You know that feeling after you really lose control from laughing so hard. No, not the feeling of whether you really wet your pants or not; the feeling of feeling good, a bit more energetic, relaxed, well, happy. A feeling of release.

I have the good fortune to think that I am incredibly funny. Beginning when I look in the bathroom mirror first thing every morning. I had a friend who used to tell me to look at myself in the bathroom mirror every morning and say, "there is one good looking guy." I tried that. It made me laugh. That look would make anyone laugh, but I keep it to myself. I guess it was good advice. So I laugh a lot when I am alone, most of the time in the car. When the voice at the drive through window says "that'll be three dollars at the second window," I like to respond, "can I try for a better deal at the first window?" Or they sometimes say, "that'll be three dollars, please drive around." I can't help but say "okay, I'll run to the post office, but how long is this going to take."

I am sure the sound of my own laughter is the reason I haven't heard the drive through voice joining in the guffawing. They are so professional. By the time I pick up my food at the window they have completely regained their composure, as if they had not laughed at all.

And then there's always the laughter that comes at other's expense. I know it is wrong, but sometimes it can't be helped. Calamity is often hilarious. You know, the unexpected stumble and fall, a shirt worn inside out, a misspoken word in just the right place, usually in front of a large or important group of people. Apparently God wired us that way. A friend who is a good Methodist and University of Alabama fan called the other day having troubles. That was not the funny part. But the next call a short time later was funny. The car battery was dead. Okay, that's not funny either, especially when you're already having troubles. The battery was dead and the car was stranded in front of the Baptist Student union on the campus of Auburn University. I couldn't help it. I laughed. My offer of help was ignored. I am not sure it could be heard through my giggles.

But the best laughter of all is laughing with someone else. Even better than laughing at someone else. Sadly, probably the best laughter is laughing with someone else at another someone else. I am not proud of it, that's just the way it is.

Garth Tobler, a fellow Lesterine (member of Lester Memorial UMC), is an extremely funny guy in his own right. But a few weeks ago he embarked on a Kairos prison ministry weekend. The Sunday he was doing ministry in prison, there was a particularly large crowd at church. Tony Jones, our associate pastor, was leading the congregation in prayer concerns, and began to give a deeply heartfelt and serious explanation of the prison ministry. He said, "and so we need to remember to pray for our brother Garth Brooks as he ministers to those guys . . ."

I guess you had to be there. But it was hard to be serious for the prayer as an entire congregation was about to bust a gut.

I have thought for a long time that music was a mysterious gift from God. A language of the soul.

I think it's the same way with laughter. Not exactly a language of the soul.

More like a spiritual whoopee cushion.

You can join the Lesterines for an overdose of laughter at our annual Hee Haw extravaganza next Saturday and Sunday evenings at 5;30. Garth Brooks won't be there, but Garth Tobler will be in his much acclaimed cover of Charley Farkelson, KORN news . . ., and Tony Jones, pretty much as Tony Jones. The proceeds go to the Appalachia Service Project. Don't eat before you come, a big Grandpa Jones kinda dinner is served. No reservations necessary, although you might be wise to feel some. No admission charge.

We don't have a price for admission. But it costs big to get to leave . . .


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tea for two? Not at those prices . . .

Tea parties that were held yesterday in Alabama cost more than tea parties in other states.

Let me say that again if you missed it, this time with emphasis:

Tea parties that were held yesterday in Alabama cost more than tea parties in other states.


In Alabama the tea was subject to at least a four percent tax at the grocery store.

The partiers in the rest of the states did not have to pay that tax.
(Except Mississippi. Mississippi is like Alabama.)

This thought came to me as I listened to the inspirational leaders of the effort to abolish the Alabama sales tax on groceries.

I believe in public discourse about important issues. I liked the idea of the tea parties yesterday. I probably disagree with many of the folks who attended. But they were out there expressing their opinion. I hated the racial and ridiculous stuff. But protesting taxes and the power of government is kind of an American thing to do.

Sometimes you feel so frustrated you have to make some noise to be heard.

That is the situation we have with the State Legislature reagarding the grocery sales tax bill. We in Alabama have become so disenchanted with our state government that we pay no attention to them at all. They rarely hear our voice, not because they don't listen. They don't get a chance. We fail to speak.

As a result, many times a legislator has no pressure from the home folks, or from concerned citizens. But he or she is constantly feeling the pressure or the influence of others, powerful others who have a lot of money for campaigns and meals. There is very little light cast on their votes, so it is easy to justify how they vote. But they are rarely called on to do so, unless they buck the money guys.

it is time for us to be the light that we have been called to be. Light that will illuminate the State House. Many legislators know that the grocery sales tax is horribly wrong, morally indefensible. If they must vote in the light, more of them will do the right thing.

If you don't try to make a difference because you think you can't, you are part of the problem. The time is short. Contact your legislator today and tomorrow and the next day. Get some friends to do the same.

What difference will a four percent sales tax make? Honestly, only a little. But to those who have so little, it could mean a lot; another meal for the family, medicine that had been impossible to afford; new tires for the car.

To those of us who have so much, it will be a good start.

go to for contact information for your legislators.


It's Thursday. You know what that means. Or maybe not. On Thursdays there is a survey question. Thus the post title, "Thurvey". To respond to the question, which I hope you will do, just click on "comment" below, type your response in the window, click anonymous and then click publish. Sign your name if you want. If you don't you will remain anonymous.

The word "socialist" is being thrown around as a description for the direction President Obama is taking us, or some say wants to take us. If you believe that, give specific examples and reasons. If you don't believe that, defend your position.

Socialist, liberal, conservative, ideologue. . . . labels. Do they do any harm? Are they helpful? Why?

Answer any or all, or something else if you wish.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


If you watched the news today, you must have seen coverage of the various tea parties across the country on this tax day, April 15th. As is often true in grass roots movements, the platform was not well defined. But all of them were not happy about paying taxes for things they weren't happy about.

Tomorrow is the meeting of the Alabama religious community on the steps of the State house at 11:00 to encourage the legislature to abolish sales taxes on groceries.

Most of the time when we complain about taxes, it is about our own liabilities. But tomorrow, we can encourage an oppressive, immoral tax to be lifted from the poor.

Just a reminder. If you can't be there, call your state legislator. Find his number at

Feeling flush . . .

I am a man of accomplishment, or at least I thought I was. I replaced my old toilet last week-end. The old toilet was original equipment in my late 1950's built house. The tank was cracked and the bowl was stained. I had put it off long enough.

It didn't take long to be fully committed to the project as the tank and the base of the old fixture cracked and fell apart as I started to remove it. But I bought a shiny new white one to replace the old mud toned original. It was going to be great.

If you have never embarked on this particular home improvement project, I would recommend it. There are so many things in life that we just use, never knowing how it really works. Toilets fall into that category for most of us. Maybe it doesn't matter to you how things work, but I enjoy it.

What I don't enjoy is the removal of the old wax ring that seals the connection between the toilet and the waste pipe. It is every bit as disgusting as it sounds. The old wax gets on everything around it, reminiscent of that stuff that gets all over the house in the original Cat in the Hat story, except its not pink and fluffy. It is brown and sticky.

But I cleaned it up, placed the new wax ring, and secured the new porcelain throne to the bracket on the floor. I connected the water lines and voila, the new toilet worked immediately. I was aggravated by the discovery that the seat and lid were not included in my purchase, but that was a minor setback. Just another trip to the store.

So for a couple of days I have been reveling in my handiness. But this morning, as I was ascending from the throne, it rocked. It is not supposed to do that. After a quick inspection I learned that one of the bolts securing the toilet was no longer doing its job. The old bracket had broken. My toilet, though still shiny and new, still looking good sitting there, will have to be removed. A new bracket must installed, and then the new toilet reinstalled.

That's not a big deal in the scheme of things. But I remember looking at that old bracket as I was removing the old wax ring. I remember thinking that it looked real old and a bit corroded. But I was in a hurry to get my shiny new toilet up and running, so I didn't think about it any more until this morning.

A good reminder for me. It doesn't matter how good or beautiful a new change, or project or improvement is; if the foundation is not sound, it will not last.

And it is not a good feeling to feel that foundation rock after you have committed to it.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Midnight in Montgomery . . .

Once again let me remind you that there is a gathering of the Alabama Religious Community at 11:00 a.m. Thursday on the steps of the State House (where the legislature meets) to encourage legislators to abolish sales tax on groceries. If you can't be there call your legislator and urge him to abolish the grocery sales tax. Or do both. More info at

A friend of mine had a conversation with a legislator today, expressing support for the legislation. The legislator was frank, and said he would be voting no. He said that he had to vote no because the legislation would hurt people who presently enjoy the State tax deduction for federal taxes paid. It is true that under the proposed legislation that, in order for the act to be revenue neutral, it would remove the State income tax deduction for federal taxes paid.

Everyone would get a tax reduction by doing away with the sales tax on groceries. State sales taxes are four percent (most municipalities impose varying additional sales taxes). So the amount of taxes you save will depend on how much you spend on groceries. The truth is, wealthier folks spend much more on groceries than poor folks and therefore will save more on taxes. But everyone will get this break.

And everyone will lose the State deduction for federal taxes paid. Obviously those people in the lower income brackets will not lose much. Those who make more money will pay more taxes.

The legislator's response made me angry. I understand not wanting to pay more taxes. That is expecially on my mind today.

But I don't want my tax deduction paid for by the least among us, a tax deduction that is paid for by Alabama children not having healthy food, or adequate clothing, or a senior citizen having to choose between medicine or the power bill. We are better than that.

We talk of morality. This tax on the basic necessities of life for those who barely get by is immoral.

It shouldn't wait. There is no excuse, even if it means that the burden on our less fortunate brothers and sisters must be lifted and borne by the rest of us. That would be the right thing to do.

For years we have done much more for big business and large landowners, some of whom are not even residents of our state. That is one of the main reasons Alabama ridiculously relies on sales tax on food for revenue.. We have demanded so little from them. But big business and large landowners have money. And money buys influence. Influence with friends in the statehouse. Big money has a big voice.

The poor have no voice no influence, except yours.

This is one of those urgent things. Do the right thing, the good thing. Let your voice be heard, not just once, but again and again until this simple thing is done. Do it today and tomorrow. Tell everyone you know.

It won't solve all our problems. But it is doable. And it is a great start.


A cool cup of water . . plus tax.

There will be a gathering of the Alabama religious community Thursday, April 16, at 11:00 a.m. on the steps of the Alabama State House in Montgomery to show support for legislation which will remove the state sales tax on groceries.

To review the issue briefly, the State of Alabama is one of only two states which fully taxes the sale of groceries. That means that those Alabamians who are in the lowest twenty percent in income, pay approximately eleven percent of their income in sales tax on groceries. Those who have the highest income pay about four percent of their income.

To put it another way, those Alabamians who do not have enough money to purchase all of their basic needs are paying eleven percent of their income in sales taxes for groceries. If their after income tax annual income is twenty thousand, then up to $2200.00 is paid in sales taxes on groceries.

So looking at the monthly budget it looks like you have $1700.00 to work with.

Rent: $500.00
Power: 200.00
Util. 50.00
phone: 50.00

So far you have conservatively used $800.00 of your $1700.00. That leaves $900.00. Should be a piece of cake, right?

If you are trying to work, you need transportation. You have no savings, so you have to try to find a used car to finance. The lowest monthly payment you can get is $200.00 a month on a real clunker that will probably need repairs soon, but it is the best you can do. That leaves $700.00.

Even without making repairs, it still costs money to run the car. Just driving to work and back will cost $75.00. That leaves $625.00.

Pinching pennies you can get by on $500.00 per month for groceries. That leaves $125.00.

$125.00. For medicine, clothing, daycare, car repair, car tags, school supplies and activities, insurance. Can't even think about cable, internet or movies.

So what do you do? Can't buy the car? Then you may not be able to work. Clothes for the kids? They're growing too fast. Cut out medicine? Maybe. No daycare after school? No job. I guess eight and ten are old enough to fend for themselves after school. . . .

I am sure the real picture is much more complicated and much harder.

Those of us who have much more pay the same tax rate. Sounds fair for everyone to pay the same rate, doesn't it? But the choices are different. Where to go on vacation. Whether to cut down on eating out. Whether to have two or three cars. Whether the children go to the expensive summer camp or the church camp. Which clothing brands to buy.

Not whether to have basic food, medicine or child care.

Many of us consider this and say, "I don't see how $170.00 per month will make that much difference."

We are the problem.

So there will be this rally on Thursday at 11:00 a.m. at the State House in Montgomery to encourage legislators to support this legislation.

Part of being a good neighbor is providing a voice for those who have no voice. The poor have no voice.

Won't you speak out for them? Hope to see you Thursday. If not, contact your legislator. The contact info can be found on the Alabama arise site below.

For more information on the topic go to and and

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Early on the first day of the week . . .

I woke up early this morning. The coffee was set to start brewing at 5:00 a.m. as a back-up to my alarm clock. But my eyes opened around 4:45 a.m. and I could not go back to sleep. The sunrise service at Palisades Park was to begin at 6:00 so I got up, manually started the coffee, and got ready to go. The tub o' coffee tankard was called for on such a morning as this, so it was pulled from the top shelf and filled to the brim. I threw the guitar in the front seat shotgun and headed out.

The moon was brilliant in the high western sky, which even at that early hour was turning from velvet blue to that next lighter shade. Feathery clouds framed it, their edges a silver outline.

In the valley it was pleasantly cool. But when I stepped out of my car on top of the mountain at the park, it was different. The wind was howling and the temperature was in the forties. It felt like the teens. Doug got there just ahead of me, and for several minutes it seemed like we might be sharing an intimate sunrise service, just the two of us. We walked to the edge of the cliffs and looked out over the valley. A crimson line defined the eastern horizon for a few minutes. But the valley was still dark, with fog tucked like a blanket among the small hills.

As others arrived the sun was rising. The thin crimson outline of the horizon exploded into streaks of red and pink against a golden sky that faded into brightening shades of blue.

I love the sunrise service at Palisades. In sweatpants and jeans, most of us look like we just rolled out of bed, because we did. Some appeared to bring the bedspread with them on such a cold morning. All ages, all sizes. Some came alone, some came in families. But every face had one thing in common. Each came to see and celebrate once again the rising of the sun and the rising of the Son. It is not a formal thing, like in church. As the crowd gathers there is smiling and laughing, handshakes and hugging, and sometimes simply staring speechless in wonder into the glory of God's re-creation.

I learned a long time ago that at this particular service you cannot plan a program that is sufficient. Up against what God has offered for the day, every effort seems so feeble. But we come, read our scriptures, recite our readings, play our guitars and sing our songs.

We have no illusion that we bring a worthy offering. But we are reminded every year as the sun rises over the hills that God is perfectly faithful.

And in maybe what is our best moment, we want to let God know that we are faithful too, in the rising of the Son.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday

Saturday. Coffee. Sofa.

At the Ongoing Bible Study this week Doc Joe reminded us that it is easy to want to jump directly from Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. But, he reminded us, to better understand the meaning of the resurrected Christ, it is important to explore what happened in between.

Honestly, I don't have that particular problem. (I savor the moment when I hear of a problem I don't have.) I am amazed by Holy Week. Jesus being welcomed by the adoring crowds. The power and urgency of Jesus' preaching and actions during the week. His absolute control of the events around him in the temple. The discourse with religious authorities and government officials. His constant awareness and closeness to the least of these even as he engaged the powerful. The strength Jesus exhibited in humility. The tragedy of religion gone wrong. The frustration of a spineless politician. The fickle nature of humanity. The cruelty of man. Fear. The determination of Christ. The pain of a mother. The friendship of Mary. The humanity of Christ. The divinity of Christ.

The week starts with a parade that seems to run downhill as the week progresses. Events come faster and faster. So much to do before the end. Faster and faster. Actions, stories, prophesies and confrontations. Throw in a meal or two with friends. Then a trial and an execution. Suddenly, the apparent end on Friday.

Everything stops.

So it is Saturday. We are told that Jesus' friends did nothing because it was the Sabbath, and it would be improper. The only activity is the Roman officials watching the tomb to prevent the body being stolen to set up some crazy story about a resurrection.

So today is a day of waiting. Fear, sorrow, frustration, heartbreak. We who are followers in the 21st century know that Sunday is coming. But maybe it would be helpful to us to take a moment today to feel the intensity of emotion, or the absolute numbness, of those who were devastated by Jesus' apparent horrible, meaningless end. They did not know what Sunday would bring. If Jesus had only spoken more clearly.

Today is the ultimate in-between, that time that exists between certainty, a dimly lit way filled with doubt. Nothing is left but faith, and that is feeling slippery.

Sounds a little familiar to me. Like the hyphen on the tombstone. The time between birth and death.

Like life.


Friday, April 10, 2009

It was about the sixth hour . . .

I was working at home this afternoon. It was about the sixth hour. Sometime between the sixth and ninth hour as a matter of fact.

I do that on Good Friday. I carry on with work. From time to time through out the day it crossed my mind that this is the day we remember the trial and death of Jesus. I had to be in court at eight this morning. The verdict would have been in for Jesus by the time we got started good. It was surreal carrying on as usual while remembering the events of Jesus' day. Our activities seemed so trivial, so meaningless. I suspect it wasn't much different in Jerusalem. We concentrate on the few folks who were paying attention. But I'm betting most in the city didn't have a clue that the history of the world was turning on a dime (or a mite i suppose) right down the street. But then, sometime around the sixth hour, the sky turned dark as night. Lots of weird things happened. Darkess, earthquake, dead folks walking the street. Lasted about three hours.

So this afternoon I was working on some pleadings at home. The sky was not particularly dark, but the wind started to howl. And it did not stop. I looked out the back window up into the woods and watched as the trees seemed to bow almost to the ground. I've never seen anything like it. Remembering the sweetgum tree incident of a couple of weeks ago, it got my attention.

But I needed to finish my work; my attention waned.

Until something cracked like a rifle shot, followed by an explosion. Then it got dark. At least in my house. The power had gone out.

I ran outside, thinking that the rest of the sweetgum tree had fallen on my car. But it had not.

Then I looked down the hill at my parents' house about fifty yards away. I could barely see it. Not because it was dark, but because a big red oak had fallen across the yard, taking down the power lines, and crushing part of the roof. I could not tell how bad the damage was. As the wind still howled I was paralyzed with fear for a few seconds. I did not want to have to go see what had happened.

But my parents were in the house. I had just left them a few minutes before. I had to go see what happened, if they were alright.

Avoiding fallen power lines and a big old tree blocking the whole front of the house I made it to the back door about the time my dad was coming out. They were fine.

It made for an interesting Good Friday afternoon. Surrounded by the awesome power of God's creation as the wind forced the trees to bow, and some to break, I was still able to ignore it all and retreat into my own importance.

Until it all blew up and trees blew over. I couldn't ignore it any longer. Things changed in an instant.

My world is back to normal, except for the big honking red oak tree lying across my parents' front yard, sidewalk and steps.

But on that original Good Friday, with the words "It is finished," everything changed.

And nothing would ever be the same again.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lord I want to be in that number?

First, let me remind you to check the Maundy Thurvey in the post that follows. The world would love to read your thoughts.

Earlier in the week I ranted a bit about the need to have the numbers. Popularity equals right. Popularity equals power.

Jesus had the numbers as he started the week riding into Jerusalem on the prophesied donkey. A large crowd welcomed him shouting "Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna, blessed is the Christ, the Son of David.'

He could have kept the crowds. He could have done a few more miracles, embarrassed the Romans, sucked up to the Pharisees and chief priests. He could have established himself in Jerusalem as the messiah they had been looking for, had been waiting for. He could have set up a nice little kingdom for himself right there, right then.

But something happened on the way to the coronation. Jesus went horribly off script. At least the script so many unholy ghostwriters then, and now, had written for him.

He threw the good businessmen out of the temple. He told stories in front of large crowds that embarrassed, even condemned the chief priests and pharisees. He talked of kingdoms and social revolution, which did not set well with the Romans. And Lord, where did he come up with the seven "Woes" speech? It made everyone mad.

So mad that it was obvious he was in trouble. Even those who might have wanted to hang in there with him were afraid for their life. If he wasn't committed to "winning," he was just going to make life hell for everybody who followed him. Trouble from the religious authorities and the Roman authorities. Who needed that?

So it was kind of remarkable that he had one hundred percent attendance at the Last Supper on Thursday night. But they came. Frightened. Confused. Not the large crowd. Just his real friends. The twelve.

The ones he served the sader, the ones whose feet he washed, and the only ones, as far as we know, to whom he spoke the words, "this is my body broken for you, this is my blood shed for you. As often as you eat and drink these simple things, probably every meal, remember me and what we have shared."

Only twelve.

Not big numbers.


Maundy Thurvey

It is time once again for the weekly inquisition. I encourage, nay, beseech you to post an answer or comment to this weeks question. Simply click on the comment button below, type your comment in the comment window followed by your name unless you want to remain anonymous, click anonymous, then publish.

Time magazine's investigative report of the decline of Christianity in the United States was picked up by the major news outlets this Holy Week. Interesting timing as many Christians meditate on a similar dynamic as the original Holy Week progressed from triumphal entry to desertion.

Do you have an explanation for the decline in the number of professing Christians in the US? Is it a good thing or a bad thing or both? Why? Does it matter at all? If you are a Christian, how does that decline make you feel? If you are not, same question?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Numbers don't lie, . .

On a basketball fast break the player with the ball will ideally look at who is ahead and beside him or her (some of the more amazing ones seem to see what is behind them), then instantly assess the wisdom of pressing on toward the goal without waiting on the defense to set up, or pulling up and setting up a half court offense. The correct decision creates some of the most spectacular offensive plays on ESPN highlights. The incorrect decision creates some of the most embarassing.

It's all about the numbers on a fast break. If the offensive players outnumber the defensive players as midcourt is crossed, the offensive team should be able to score.

It's all about having the numbers.

We are obsessed with having the numbers. Politicians will lie in order to get the numbers. Actors will get undressed in order to get the numbers. Churches will turn into country clubs in order to get the numbers. News editors will censor content in order to keep the numbers. Baseball players will inject illegal dangerous steroids into their bodies to keep the numbers. CFO's will alter the books in order to keep the numbers.

I often wonder about the first person to think of an idea, or make a discovery that is absolutely contrary to the accepted thought of the day. Galileo expanded on Copernicus' heliocentric cosmology. He offered scientific proof and observation that the sun was the center of the universe, as opposed to the earth, as most good church going folk believed at the time. He was found guilty of suspicion of serious heresy by the Roman Catholic church and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. He couldn't have felt too badly, as Giordano Bruno, another supporter of Copernicus' theory thirty years earlier, was burned at the stake. The numbers were with the church. The opinion polls overwhelmingly supported the fact that the earth was the center of the universe.

But it was not the truth.

One of the most haunting questions of the original Holy Week was uttered by Pontius Pilate:

"What is truth?"

He said he had found no guilt in Jesus. Then he turned to the crowd and asked what should he do with Jesus. He counted the numbers.

And the survey said, "Crucify him."

He went with the numbers.

Not with the truth.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Warning. Urgent feeling to preach. A bit rough for Saturday morning


It is sad when a great word, an important word, first conjures up images of commercials for treatment of overactive bladder syndrome, prostate enlargement, or incontinence.

I don't mean to diminish the seriousness of that kind of urgency. In fact maybe I will use it as a metaphor this morning. A bit risky in the literary world to use the need to urinate as a centerpiece of an essay. But St. Augustine back in the 4th century uttered a famous prayer, "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." Pretty good company I think. Let's see how it goes.

Our advanced civilization has developed medications that dull the physical sensation of urgency, not only in the matters described above. There are pills that dull hunger pangs, sex drive, the need to sneeze or cough, the need to slug somebody, and a host of other natural urges. They have their places.

But it seems much of our society has been medicated against urgency to act.

All over the world, this very minute, as I am sitting on my sofa drinking coffee and mindlessly blogging, children are dying while their parents watch, if the parents are still alive. Governments are committing horrible acts of oppression which result in pain and death for innocents, at this very moment. In other places, children are dying by the thousands for lack of vaccinations that cost less than five dollars per child. A whole continent, Africa, suffers from a dreadful lack of safe drinking water, a primary reason for the spread of fatal or disabling disease, especially for children. Much of the continent could be provided safe water from new wells for what America spent on the Iraq war. Places like Haiti, just a hop flight from American shores, suffers from unimaginable poverty, resulting in pain, death, and desperation that is being felt today, with no hope for tomorrow.

Millions of living, breathing human beings, most of them children, suffering, hurting, dying, right now.

One of those commercials promotes the use of its medication "if you are always feeling like you have to go . . ."

When we are reminded of the horrible pain and suffering of millions, do we feel the need to go? As, "go into all the world?"

If not, what medication are we on?

Complacency, busyness, judgmentalism, hopelessness, selfishness?

It is uncomfortable to get off the meds, to once again feel the natural sensations that were meant to motivate us to action. Sometimes it means we have to feel the pain again. It's a tough choice to make. If we do, we can change the world.

But if we choose to avoid the feeling of urgency to help the least of these . . .

Well just piss on them . . .


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Getting to know you . . .

When I was in Lithuania I was walking down the snowy sidewalk one morning and came to a stop on a corner. Crossing the street on the other side of the intersection was a young woman walking briskly. She was pushing a stroller. When she passed me I looked into the stoller to look at the beautiful baby bundled up inside. The woman slowed down, then stopped. I told her that her child was beautiful. Our attempt at conversation quickly proved that we did not speak the same language. But as I admired her baby, a big smile broke out on her face. That was a language I understood. Anyone in the world would have understood. We went our opposite directions, both feeling a little warmer I think.

I talked with a friend today who just returned from a trip to the middle east. Today's conversation was just a brief talk by our standards (less than an hour). But there was one thing she said that struck a chord with me. She reminded me that the world is so beautiful and so big, and most of us have created a world for ourselves that is so small. She reminded me that people are basically the same all over the world. I sense, and hope, that it will be impossible for my friend to fit herself back into the small world she left a couple of weeks ago. She seems to have found herself again as she rediscovered the world.

I was eating lunch with another friend today. We had been dealing with the darker side of humanity for most of the morning. So we had to talk basketball for a few minutes just to regain some balance. Then my friend jumped from the backcourt into the deep end. "Is it part of the Muslim faith to hate Christians?" he asked. I told him I didn't think so. He said he didn't think so either. "Then why do so many people say that like, 'of course you know it's true'. Why is it we have to come up with people that we can hate?"

I don't know. I admire my friend because instead of accepting the assertions of others he has been trying to learn the truth. But I have been thinking about what my friends said today. Both conversations were much more than I will relate. It is grace to have friends who challenge you.

It is true you know. Wherever you go in the world, mothers hold their new babies and look into their eyes. Parents worry about the health, safety and future for their children. Children love to play. Everyone loves to sing. Everywhere you go people laugh and cry, love and grieve, worry and celebrate.

A while back I said that you are welcome anywhere if you have a box of Krispy Kreme's in your hands as you enter. I don't know if that is universally true. Some cultures may be a bit more health concious. But most places, i imagine so. Or flowers. Or coffee. Or wine. Or bread.

The problem is we don't know who we don't know. That can be the neighbor across the street, the folks from across town, up north, or in another country. I think one of the reasons we are so willing to believe lies about others is so we have an excuse not to try to know them. Relationships do not come cheap. There is a cost. The safe boundaries we have drawn for ourselves must be crossed. It is painful to get close to others who are in pain. Perhaps we will have to share the pain. Or do something about it. Something must be given. Or, God forbid, given up.

What we have forgotten is that so much more is gained.

Our humanity.


Thurvey 4/2

It's time for the Thursday survey (Thurvey) again. I exhort you to enter the world of commentary, letting your opinion be spread throughout the cyber-universe by responding to the question of the week. Just click on the comment button, type your comment in the window, press anonymous, (type your name after your comment if you wish to be known), and click on publish.

The United States is now finding, borrowing, and printing trillions of dollars, most of which is being applied to rescue huge business institutions the survival of which has been deemed to be necessary to the economic survival our America and possibly the world. In the past six years America has found hundreds of billions of dollars to begin and prosecute a questionable war.

Why has comparable money not been available for education, health care reform, new energy systems, meaningful foreign aid to close neighbors such as Haiti, (or others that you may wish to raise)?
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