Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Judge not the judge . . .

Sonia Sotomayor. The name of the day.

For those of you who spent the last 24 hours in a cone of silence, Sonia Sotomayor has been nominated by President Obama to be a member of the U. S. Supreme Court.

Judge Sotomayor comes from a Puerto Rican family of modest means. Her mother worked hard to see that her daughter had a chance to do great things. And Judge Sotomayor did not disappoint her mother. She received a scholarship to Princeton, where she was graduated number one or two in her class. She was graduated from Yale Law School, perhaps the second best law school in the country (still quite a distance behind the University of Alabama School of Law), where she made the law review. After being graduated from Yale, Judge Sotomayor practiced law, became a prosecutor, was appointed a federal district judge, then a judge on the U. S. Court of Appeals. Now she has been nominated to be a judge on the U. S. Supreme Court.

Her qualifications for the job cannot be legitimately questioned. But it is proper to consider whether a nominee will be able to put aside personal agendas, causes and beliefs in the conduct of her or his job.

The most popular objection to Judge Sotomayor arises from a youtube video in which she makes reference to the fact that the court "makes policy." She then says she does not believe that is a correct function of the court. But this ten seconds of video taken out of context is being heralded as a basis of objection to Judge Sotomayor, who, on the basis of the video clip, would clearly be an "activist" judge.

The second popular objection to Judge Sotomayor arises from an opinion she wrote for a three judge panel, in which she upheld the dismissal of claims by white firemen in a reverse discrimination case. The opinion is brief, and does not address the constitutional questions raised by firemen.

The case has been heralded as an example of an "activist judge" in action, advancing her own support for affirmative action from the bench.

Be very suspicious when you hear the term "activist judge." What it usually means is that the one making the accusation fears that a judge will make decisions with which the accuser disagrees.

Referring to the firemen case people who should know better have accused Judge Sotomayor of being an activist judge, upholding affirmative action. But in making the decison, Judge Sotomayor was simply giving deference to the trial court and following the established legal precedent of the Circuit in which she sits. That is not being an activist judge. That is the opposite of being an activist judge.

Perhaps Judge Sotomayor should have done more in the firemen case. Perhaps she should have addressed the wrongs done to the Plaintiff firemen. But do not be fooled by the rhetoric of opponents to her appointment. To change the law, to help the firemen, she would have had to overturn the decision of the lower court and at least modified precedent of her own court. She would have had to be the "activist" judge that her opponents accuse her of being. You can't have it both ways, unless of course you just don't care about fairness and truth.

There are plenty of times that I would like to see an "activist" judge get hold of government policies that I would like to see changed. Instead, the kinds of "activist" judges I see are overturning the verdicts of juries who found in favor of a citizen over a big business, or decide that the plain language of a statute can be ignored if it is going to keep a person accused of a crime from being convicted.

And we all remember those activist Judges on the U. S. Supreme Court who decided the Presidential election of 2000. Perhaps the most blatant, ultimate example of judicial activism.

We will never know, but it is quite possible that the pitiful course that the United States has taken since 2000 can be blamed on that activist decision by the U. S. Supreme Court, a decision that named George Bush as President.

So don't be fooled by this "activist" judge accusation. It can mean nothing, it can mean anything.

Try to learn the truth. If you don't think Judge Sotomayor can be fair based on her past performance as a judge, be against her.

But don't just drink the kool-aid, whether it's red or it's blue,

or served up by pure white hands . . .


Monday, May 25, 2009

At a loss for words . . .and melody

I got tickled yesterday. Not the kind of tickled that is applied to a sensitive area of the body. The kind of tickled that comes from being out of control. Not the kind of out of control that comes from too much alcohol or other substance, but the kind of out of control that comes from your actions outpacing your thoughts.

It wasn't a big deal. No one was hurt. In fact I doubt that you will understand this at all. I had been playing a guitar and leading others in singing for a couple of days at Camp Sumatanga, with a break for a funeral thrown in the middle of the weekend. But I was in control. The words and chords to bout a million songs at Sumatanga came easily. The old familiar hymns I sang at the funeral remained familiar, but I did notice it was a little harder to remember the words. Then it was back to Sumatanga for another million songs.

But the thing I didn't do so well for the first forty eight hours or so was sleep. All of that keeping under control combined with really good coffee late in the days kept sleep away until shortly before it was time to rise and shine once again. More coffee and I was good to go.

But about the sixtieth hour I was singing along, strumming the guitar, singing an old familiar song, and my mind just went completely blank, like the white screen that appears on my cell phone sometimes when it just doesn't want to work anymore.

I couldn't remember the melody to the song, so the thought of the right chords was hopeless. The words that came out were to a completely different song. When you are all alone and this happens, it is no big deal. When you are leading seventy or eighty folks who are spiritually pumped, it is still not a big deal, but it is a bit hard to hide the fact that your brain has suddenly ceased to function, that you are out of control.

Weirdly, it was a good feeling, not being in control all of a sudden. I started laughing at myself, and then I noticed the looks of the people who were laughing at, or with me, it doesn't really matter. Fortunately my fellow song leaders were not out of control and kept right on playing and singing despite the loss of the right engine. I never did get back on track with that song. I just laughed at myself until I cried. It felt good. It appeared that it was entertaining for those in my immediate area as well. One told me it was one of her favorite moments of the week-end.

Sumatanga is a "thin place" for me. A place where the veil between the world we live in and the spiritual realm is very thin. A place where the glass we look through is not quite so darkly.

And so God reminded me, in the laughter of losing control, that I never was really in control anyway. And that's okay.

I feel better, so much better. Glory Hallelujah.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Respond, if you please . . .

Civilization will not advance by reacting the same way to ancient problems that recur in every generation.

In the animal world the strongest animal, the one that can physically control the others, sets the rules. It has been that way forever. And in the animal world it will apparently be that way until the end of the earth.

But humans are different from the rest of the animals. We can choose other rules. The question is whether we ever will. So far the main difference between humans and the rest of the animal world is that we have used our highly sophisticated higher developed brains to create and invent highly sophisticated methods of intimidation and destruction to maintain our might. We have become incredibly efficient at heaping destruction and terror not only upon our own kind, but on the rest of creation as well, usually under the guise of security, but just as often in the name of greed.

Fear is a formidable motivator. When we feel threatened, our oldest instincts rear their ugly heads. Might makes right. I am going to take both your eyes and render you toothless before you have a chance to take mine.

Killing and oppressing those who disagree with you never works. One side may have the might on their side right now, but the pendulum always swings. Always. Then the other side of things gets to do the killing and oppressing for awhile. Who is going to take the leap for humanity? To take us to a higher level. I wish it were my side. It's going to be shameful if it is another.

Especially for all who want the United States to be a Christian nation. I assume that means that we, as a country, would follow the tenets of Christ. That would be turn the other cheek, love your enemy as well as your neighbor, be a servant. That's what Jesus said. He could have changed everything, squashed all those who opposed him in the twinkling of an eye, but he didn't. And a short time later he told Peter, "put away your sword."

So what if it's the Muslims that choose peace? What if it is a secular society? What if the invitation has already been sent out and we American Christians were too busy with our own lives to come to the real party? Who will be invited in our place to be the messengers?

It could happen. God will always love his children. He knows we are not perfect. But He won't wait on us forever to answer His call. Not the selfish answer that is required to save your soul. The call to be the Body of Christ to the world, to reveal the Kingdom as He described.

What an honor to hold the invitation to that party. What an honor to be asked to deliver it to the world. What a tragedy if we leave the invitation on the counter so long that someone else gets to fulfill this incredible role.

The invitations cannot be delivered by torturers, or oppressors, or the greedy. They will not be accepted, just tossed aside like so much junk mail.

Torture is wrong. Hate is wrong. Bigotry is wrong. Ignoring the pain of others is wrong. Oppression is wrong. Greed is wrong. Arrogance is wrong. War is wrong.

The only way it will change is if we decide to be different. Even if it hurts for awhile.

Can't we be the ones? The ones that stand up to our fears? The ones that surprise God and the world by choosing a different way?



Time for the Thursday survey question. If you wish to comment on the question or on anything else, just click on "comments" below, type your comment in the box, click in anonymous, then click on publish. If you want the world to know who wrote this brilliant, insightful comment, type your name after your comment in the comment box.

What are you afraid of?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday rambling . . .

I spent the weekend writing a script for a roast of a dear friend. Or he was, before the roast. Writing humour based in fact while working under a deadline is perilous. You can't force funny. Or a least I can't. In fact humour seems to resent guidance and control. It is a fearful thing, much like waiting to see if a cake turns out right. By the time you know, it is too late to do anything about it. You just try to form the crumbs or the lopsided layer into something presentable, slap on some extra icing to hold it in place, and begin apologizing. And if it is a problem with taste, there is no solution.

So between minor chores on the may-do list, I tried to remember funny things about the roastee, and about my friends who were to be the vessels for my script. At first it was hard. That was my fault. I have been in such a serious mood, generally speaking, for so long.

Finally one of my friends, the only one who was concerned about appearing foolish, reminded me of a few specific memories that were mildly amusing. Even though the disclosure was motivated by pure self-interest, it was helpful. A couple of the other actors put in their thoughts and we were on our way. In thinking of them I began to laugh to myself. The laughter broke the hardened ice of my self-important seriousness, and helped me laugh more as more memories came to life.

Our part of the roast turned out okay. We didn't have to use much extra icing to make it presentable. And generally it was in good taste. A little salty in one or two places, but acceptable.

Memories are great. But, like humour, they resist control. Sometimes the only way to control memories is to shut them out all together, to freeze them, like I have been doing. Because even good memories can be painful, when memories are all that remains.

One of my friends got a new car and gave me the tour. Shiny and kinda cool looking. Great gas mileage. Bright headlights like new cars have these days. Good safety features. Brilliant dashboard. We sat in the new seats for a moment and talked about how great it was.

But we both knew there was a bit of dishonesty in what we were saying. We missed the old one. We missed the memories.

And that is an option you just can't buy, except with time.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Coffee for the Tillerman . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee

I love Saturday mornings on the sofa with coffee and a whole day in front of me that will not be directed by the lines of an appointment calendar or the orders of a judge. Make no mistake, there is a long to-do list, but it is not mandatory, and I wrote it. (Not literally, it is just in my head) Maybe it is more accurately a may-do-if -I-want-to list, but that is a bit cumbersome. May-do list works well.

As you can discern from the length of time and consideration I just put into what to call my list, I have little desire to do anything right now but sip my freshly brewed cup of joe and write. It is good to admit and enjoy the gifts and talents that God has given us. He gave me an extraordinary gift for sipping and appreciating coffee, His unmerited flavor. And I am cultivating a gift of sofa sitting.

I was watching the Colbert' Report a couple of nights ago and was transported to a different place. I love Colbert, but he was not the driver of the transport.

His guest was Yusuf Islam. Back in the day we listened to him as Cat Stevens. I was a music parasite in college, depending on my roommate Doug for his music library. Fortunately it was very good, and eclectic. I already was a fan of Cat Stevens pop music, but the three minute radio blurbs were just a tragic tease when compared to fading off to sleep to all of the cuts of the classic albums "Tea for the Tillerman" and "The Teaser and the Firecat."

"Where do the Children Play," "Father and Son," "Wild World," "If I Laugh," "Bitter Blue," "Moon Shadow," "Morning Has Broken," and "Peace Train," to name a few, were soothing lullabies, even with the subtle pointed messages they carried.

So it was good, very good to see my old friend Cat, now Yusuf, on Colbert. He converted to Islam at the very peak of his career in the late seventies. Selling his guitars and other worldly possessions he spent years doing work among the poor and oppressed, an expression of his understanding of Islam. He has become recognized internationally for his work beyond music.

Yusuf is a very humble man, soft spoken and bright. Even Colbert was reluctant to give him the full Colbert treatment. Uncharacteristically he let Yusuf complete a few sentences. Colbert is obviously a member of the same club as I.

Yusuf said a few things about what he had been doing, answering Colbert's accusations that he had no right just to quit putting out music as he did, when so many of us had claimed him as our own.

But he just said there were other important things he had been called to do. He said the writing of songs was just a gift, something that came to him easily, which he always appreciated and loved. So from time to time he comes back to it.

And he has again. There was no apparent effort to change with the times. With the first strokes of his jumbo acoustic guitar and that soft, familiar voice that always sounds like he just woke up or stayed up too late, you knew it was Cat, or Yusuf.

He sang a new song called "Roadsinger," the title song of his new album, which will not disappoint old friends, and will probably gain new ones. It seems to be a veiled autobiography of his time away from us.

It was good to see and hear my old friend.



Friday, May 15, 2009

Believe what you want?

I want to believe what I want to believe. I try to remind myself of this often. Take for instance Nancy Pelosi. In the news this morning the nearly starved conservative pundits are licking their chops over Pelosi's accusation that the CIA misled Congress in 2003 over the use of torture, water boarding in particular, and her revelation that she was advised in a classified briefing that it had been used.

I am a Democrat. So I want to believe that all of Pelosi's actions and inactions were reasonable, if not laudable. But of course they were not. It is never that way when it comes to governance, especially in matters of war and intelligence gathering.

But I am not alone in my prejudice. It is obvious that the conservative pundits want to believe what they want to believe as well, that is, that all of Pelosi's actions were unreasonable and unlaudable. Using the Rovian gambit, the conservatives are now trying to blame Pelosi for not pushing back against illegal interrogation practices in 2003, and equating that somehow, in the public psyche, to responsibility for the whole sad affair.

Whatever Pelosi's knowledge was, it was classified. She could not fight back publicly. So what is being criticized is her failure to push back within Committee and against the administration, both of which were absolutely controlled by the death grip of the ideologues of the Bush Administration, known for making bad things happen to people who challenged policies. Resistance would have been futile. But I often enjoy a good exercise in futility.

I believe Pelosi and others, primarily Democrats, did fail the nation by not standing up to the Republicans after 9/11 . I believe the patriotic thing to do would have been to risk persecution and perhaps prosecution in order to expose and challenge the tragic and destructive policies of the Republican juggernaut. But the Democrats were at best weak, and at worst, more concerned about self-preservation than about the nation itself.

But the Democrats did not do the evil deeds. That was the Republicans, no matter how you cut it. Democrats were just spineless.

This time the Rovian gambit is risky for the Republicans, who apparently are prepared to go all in on what appears to be a desperate gamble. They have not quite figured out President Obama. They are not used to dealing with honesty and openness. It confuses and confounds them.

The gamble is that by bringing Pelosi into the waterboarding controversy, the President will somehow be less likely to investigate the whole affair. So far, prior to this Pelosi moment, he has been reluctant to do so, fearing a distraction to the legislative initiatives he wants to accomplish early on. But if anything, bringing Pelosi into the controversy increases the chances of the President seeking an investigation. If there is going to be a distraction anyway, the President might prefer to add the investigation to his impressive leadership record thus far. And the President has made it clear he does not tolerate incompetence, even among his own.

I think we all want to believe what we want to believe.

I am as guilty as anyone.

Maybe someday we can get to the point where what we want to believe is to believe the truth, not matter who speaks it.


Thursday, May 14, 2009


Time for the Thurvey. The world wants to read your commentary. Just click on "comment" below, type your thoughts in the box, click anonymous, and click publish. Add your name to the comment if you want to be known.

What is morality? What is your own personal basis for your sense of morality?

For instance, if I am a Christian, I am commanded to love and serve all without exception. But I accept arbitrary international boundaries between countries that define how people are treated. So some of my basis for morality may not be from my faith.

I imagine folks of other faiths and those who claim no faith at all suffer from similar inconsistencies.

Similar issues arise about health, poverty, war and peace, and many more.

Yes, I know it is kind of deep and perhaps obtuse. But give it a whirl.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wheat or tares?

Monday morning, a new week.

Yesterday I happened up on a good friend who is going through some hard problems. The problems dominated our conversation for the first few minutes of the conversation.

Then she made a comment about the problems, that if said in a crowd, might have seemed inappropriate. But her face broke into a smile and she began to laugh. She is beautiful when she laughs. And I began to laugh.
And she said, "sometimes you just gotta laugh to get by. And besides, some things are just funny, once you get over how bad things are."

She's right.

Friday afternoon my middle sister Deb and Daniel, one of her sons, came to my mother's house to deliver a mother's day present. They were going to weed my mother's flower bed which had been overtaken. I decided to join them in the effort. Weed-pulling at the end of the week can be cathartic. After surveying the project a few minutes we began pulling what we hoped were weeds. We were pretty sure about iris and peonies and mint, but sometimes weeds look like non-weeds and vice-versa. And then there was poison oak and one snake.

We debated plant identification and pulled weeds, we avoided poison ivy and ran from the snake, we took breaks for fudgsicles and coffee, we got all het up about church and politics. Everything ended in laughter, pure, eye-tearing, pee in you pants laughter. Laughing has always been one of the best things we do.

The flower bed looks better. We didn't quite finish, mostly because of the aforementioned distractions. Then we decided it was a noble thing to leave some for our other siblings to finish.

I will finish it this week. It will probably go quicker. But not nearly so much fun.

Yesterday I noticed a couple of small bumps of poison oak on my arm. My sister and her son both have the same. A small price to pay for a good afternoon.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Freedom of choice?

As I have mentioned in past posts, I occasionally am guilty of getting all het up. You may have sensed that I have been a bit het up the past few days about big issues, like social injustice, torture, religion and politics. And I hope to get even more het up.

But it is important to keep balance.

So in being consumed by the big picture, I have neglected some of the smaller things. I ran out of a few essentials and was forced to make a late night run to the evil empire, also known around these parts as wal-marks. I don't know why so many people call it wall-marks. The big sign says Wal-Mart. I think it is the same reason that people I went to elementary school with called vomit, vomick. Although in their defense there was no big lighted sign prompting the correct pronunciation. There was an inordinate amount of vomick in elementary school. In fact I threw up the very first day of first grade, right there next to Kay or Carol. I hope they don't remember. Or at least they don't remember that it was me. But I digress.

I needed toothpaste. I should have packed some snacks and water. Rows and rows of toothpaste, all claiming to do important things, but apparently none doing all things. Do I want healthy gums, whiter teeth, tartar protection, sparkly breath, fewer cavities, lower sensitivity, stronger enamel, less plaque, coffee, tobacco and wine stain protection? Do I want a tube? If so, what size? Or do I want one of those things that isn't a tube? Do i want all natural toothpaste ? (makes me wonder about the rest of the unnatural toothpastes.) Do I want baking powder toothpaste? Or is that baking soda? It was overwhelming. i stood and stared, paralyzed.

I bought the 97 cent travel tube of Crest. Thank God I don't need a new toothbrush.

Then I went around the corner and found the deodorant section.

I decided to get it tomorrow. Need to do some on-line research before I make that decision.

Back to thinking about social injustice, torture, religion and politics. I could use the rest.



I was a bit disappointed in last week's response. I mean, it was a softball. Apparently there was not that much interest in teaching the world to sing.

But it is once again Thursday, and time for a survey. If you wish to comment on the question, or if you now know which song you would like to teach the world to sing from last week's question, click on "comment" below, type your comment in the comment box, click on anonymous, then click publish. If you wish to remain anonymous, disguise your handwriting. Give us your name if you want the world to know. Today's survey topic:

The news, talk radio, and the religious books racks contain an increasing amount of opinion about the Israel/Palestine conflict (fueled by the argument of whether the political entity known as Israel is the same Israel as the chosen people of God of the Hebrew Testament), and the perceived takeover of the world by Islam.

What's the answer? Or at least, what do you think about these propositions?

Now doesn't that make you want to teach the world to sing? If so, what song?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The poor will always be with us . . .unless we starve them to death.

The Alabama Legislature, or more correctly, the Republicans in the Alabama House of Representatives, could not have been more clear.

Fairness is only for the wealthy.

About an hour ago the Alabama House Republicans, voting as a block, prevented the bill abolishing the sales tax on groceries from coming up for debate. That killed it. By one damn vote.

But don't worry. Those who make more than a couple of hundred thousand a year are safe. Their taxes won't be increased. They won't have to settle for a cheaper vacation destination, or a less prestigious college for their child, or a sensible vehicle.

And the poor? They have been having to deal with choices for years. Medicine or food. Rent or car payment. Child care or no care.

No one will have to change.

The Alabama Statehouse, where the legislature meets, is historically known as "Goat Hill."

And today they lived up to the name.

How perfect. See Matthew 25:31.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

You can wash swine flu from your hands, but not this . . .

It is a little late on Sunday to begin a post, but it may be an important week for the soul of Alabama, and I wanted to get a head start.

A couple of things that Jesus said have really been on my mind lately.

"Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God."

"What you have done to the least of these my children, you have done to me."

If you live in Alabama, many of the state services you enjoy are paid for by the excruciating choices of the poorest among us; food or medicine, insurance or tires, shoes or jackets, necessities or absolute necessities.

We in Alabama tax food so that we can have the state services we want. Four percent of the grocery bill may be insignificant to those of us to whom much has been given, but to the least among us it could mean life, or at least a more bearable life.

It is morally wrong to tax food. There is no excuse.

But for a follower of Jesus, it should bring grief.

We could change it this week as the legislature will probably consider abolishing the state sales tax on groceries. Call your legislator. Call all the legislators. It may be brought up as early as Tuesday. Call Monday. Call others to call. Then call on Tuesday.

If we do nothing, they will do nothing.

It is easy to wash our hands of this injustice. That crazy legislature just won't do right. We've given the responsibility for justice or injustice to Caesar haven't we?

But they might do right, if we ask them. Do it for the least of these. But don't do nothing. Because that responsibility cannot be given to Caesar. It is mine. It is yours. If nothing is done, it is because we did nothing. If the least among us are saddled with cruel injustice and oppressive tax on the necessities of life, it is us that are inflicting that pain on them and the One who loves them. But at least we won't have to have tougher choices about what vacation to take, what car to buy, or where to send our child to college.

What we do or fail to do for the least, the last and the lost affects them. But it defines us.

Let's begin to re-define Alabama. Call some legislators today, and tomorrow.

Go to for phone numbers.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Older man and the sea . . .

Saturday morning. Coffee. Not on my sofa.

I just came in from a sit/walk on the beach. I would have posted directly from the surf side, but I don't need any more foreign matter clogging my keyboard or clinging to my screen. I won't go into detail, but having an allergy plays havoc with computer hygiene.

Living in North Alabama, I suffer from a landlocked neurosis. There is something deep inside me that draws me to the sea like those creatures on Discovery Channel or National Geographic or Animal Planet that defy physical common sense to make the pilgrimage to the briny deep. Most of the time there is some mating ritual involved. In their journey, not mine. Shells are the only thing I pick up.

It has been too long since I have been here. So I was up early, as the eastern sky began to lighten. I hurried through the hotel lobby, where I filled my coffee tankard, and headed out the back door to the beach.

At the edge of the water I stood still, not knowing what to do next, like a date with an old friend who years ago had known everything about me and me them, but so much time has passed.

Turning my eyes from the gulf, I began to walk along the beach, looking only at the sand in front of me where my next step would land. But the waves kept breaking a few feet away, unrolling like a carpet of foamy, bubbly ripples to soften the path.

Like a good friend the sea let me walk on in silence for awhile, walking as if I had somewhere I had to be, some distant goal to achieve. Actually I had already set my sights on the long pier that jutted into the gulf about a mile away. My pace quickened.

But something in front of me caught the morning light and threw it back at me. For about thirty feet there were piles of sea shells. White and red, bluish grey, sandy brown. Perfect and flawed. Whole and broken.

I stopped.

My first thought was to find the best ones and take them. Suddenly I felt tired. I walked a few more feet, beyond the shell deposit, and sat down.

For about an hour I sat down, sipping coffee, staring into the face of my old friend. Occasionally something inside of me would say "you need to get up and walk, or go back to the room . . .you need to do something."

But that voice, the voice of my everyday, was quickly lost in the endless sound of the waves, as if my friend were saying, "don't go yet, it's been so long. there is still so much to talk about, or not to talk about. Just sit still with me a while longer."

And so I did. Thinking of nothing and everything.

As the sun grew higher, others came and walked along the beach. All of them offered a "good morning."

And they were right.

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