Saturday, June 27, 2009

Grande Latte-via

Saturday morning. Coffee. A stone ramp that connects the loft of the Alabama Building to the ground below.

Camp Wesley is a beautiful place to be on a Saturday morning in late June. The sun is shining through cotton-ball clouds and the air is cool and clean. The surrounding pastures are a green canvas dotted with wildflowers that wave in the breeze as if the artist were still moving them with the stroke of his brush. The birds are serious about waking up the world, each trying to out chirp the other. Their music gets louder and louder with the morning light, until some secret pre-appointed time is reached, and then they all go on break. There are some big honking birds in Latvia. They don’t really honk, that’s just an expression I enjoy using. But they are big. Long red legs that bend the wrong way at the knee, white neck shaped like a crook-neck squash, and a long slender bill that would fit down a milkshake straw. I told my fellow campers that they were the dreaded nocturnal eye pluckers. Fortunately I already have limited credibility with my fellow campers.

I like to lie down on hard surfaces and this one is particularly hard and enjoyable. The slope is about 30 degrees, perfect to lay back, take an occasional sip of coffee, and stare at the clouds above, or the country-side all around. Lying down is appealing right now because I didn’t sleep long last night, or the night before. While it is true that I am having a wonderful time in Latvia, that is not the reason I have not slept.

It never gets dark.

The sun has always been a dependable sort, the ultimate alarm clock. When the sun comes up I know it is time to think about getting out of bed. In Alabama. But the sun is a bit more restless in this latitude. It just never quite settles down for the night.

Last night we were singing in the sunlight at 11:00 p.m. Sunset lasted all night. At two o’clock a thin red and pink line highlighted the horizon. Shortly after that the crazy old sun started slowing rising. The sun never sets, it slowly bounces. I went to bed.

Lying on my back in my luxurious one man tent the sun I awakened in panic (okay, not really a panic, I just don’t do that). I thought I had overslept. The sunlight bounced from canvas wall to canvas wall, screaming “wake up, wake up.” So I did. And then I slithered out of the front of the tent onto the wet grass of morning. I stumbled to the shower, enjoyed the hot water, then got dressed, made coffee and sat down here on my firm slanted foundation for a little quiet time. Dan came and I asked him what time it was.

“Seven o’clock.”

So I figure I slept about four hours. If I lived here for long I would go crazy from sleep deprivation.

It has been an exhausting, exhilarating week full of adventure, and for me, very little sleep. So I will save the recounting of our adventures in Latvia for another time. Right now I’ve got a little time to lay my head back on the concrete slope and sleep in the sun.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Indigoing at City Stages

Saturday. Coffee. Sofa.

It is a classic Summer Saturday morning in North Alabama, already hot and humid, but not late enough in the day for clouds to form from the rising heat. The sky is pure blue and the rays of the sun are the only things with enough energy to do much of anything. Just right for a hot cup of coffee or two.

It was hot last night at City Stages. The asphalt and bricks of downtown Birmingham had absorbed the heat of the day and slowly, steadily released it among the thousands that roamed the streets, some practically running, some moseying, from one music venue to the next. Couples walked sweaty hand in sweaty hand. True love, or at least new love. Small groups of friends stood in imperfect circles, cold beverages in hand or pressed against the neck or forehead, talking of who knows what, but obviously content not to move on. Reunions were commonplace as familiar faces triggered recognition, at least of the face if not the name. Time to do the alphabet thing.

Topics of conversation were not the usual downtown fare. Where did you park? (okay, that could happen any day downtown). The quality of the funnel cakes. Can Styx still pull it off? What songs do I know by Plain White T's? How nasty are the portolets? How do you get in here? How do you get out of here? I'm sixty years old and you still want to see my i.d. How refreshing. How do people get to these churches on Sunday? Who is that playing now? How much fluid can one drink to remain properly hydrated in the heat without having to make a trip to the aforementioned portolet? Of course there were more personal conversations. But the good thing about loud, live music is that personal conversations can be had while standing among thousands and no one will hear, sometimes even the conversants. It requires a lot of eye contact.

Mainly I went to hear the Indigo Girls. When the Girls play, it is like a family reunion. Amy and Emily treat the audience like old friends, and the audience claims that relationship. The result is a living room or dorm-room sing-along to songs that have become the soundtracks of lives, the dream of every songwriter/performer. They play guitars, banjo and mandolin. The instrumental arrangements, like the vocal arrangements, are technically solid, lush in harmony, and often feature a rare ability for counter melody, a contemporary madrigal sound. But the girls are not stuck in a rut. Their library of original works range from raw rock to blues to high energy anthems to lilting ballads . Amy's edgy anger can bring blood, as in "Go," "Trouble", or "1.2,3", but there is always a balm for the wound in songs like "Closer to Fine", "Power of Two", or the new "I'll Change." They sing of love, social justice, the environment, but mostly of life's stories. Since the first CD release in 1987, the Indigos have exhibited staying power, a tribute to the attention they pay to their craft and the creative talent displayed in the formidable original library.

The crowd at the Legacy Stage at 10:00 p.m. was not huge, so it was easy to stand close to the stage along with a few hundred family members. For a few minutes the baggage of the past and future weeks was left unattended somewhere on the curb between the beer and funnel cake booths as we sang the old songs, listened to the new songs, and caught up with each other. Conversation was impossible over the music, but that was perfectly alright, as knowing smiles were passed among friends and strangers when the familiar chords foretold the blessing of the coming song. No need to talk. It is a healing thing. If you haven't heard the Indigo Girls, give them a listen.

Then it was over. Way too soon. But they had to be dehydrated. I had a long, happy walk back to my car near the civic center. The parking lot was locked. My car was safe and sound inside. It was 12:45 a.m. But that is a different story.


Friday, June 19, 2009

This is how they will know you . . .

I've received several requests lately to join a group whose purpose is to remind President Obama that the United States is a Christian nation. It appears that thousands have joined.

I am for it.

Let's remind him by acting like Christ.

Pray in the closet, not on the street corner.

Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Clothe the naked. Give shelter to strangers.

Visit the imprisoned. Free the oppressed. Love enemies. Lend without expectation of return.

Sell everything and give to the poor. Do not store up stuff that will mold, rust and rot.

If someone wants your coat, give him a whole outfit. If someone needs a ride, go out of your way to take her where she needs to go.

Turn the other cheek. Put away the sword.

Don't judge. Unless you are perfect.




Take some time, amid all that goes with saving the world, to sit with friends and drink some wine.


Thursday, June 18, 2009


Yes it is Thursday once again and time for you the reader to 'spress yoself. If you wish to comment on today's Thurvey question, merely click on "comment" below, compose your message in the window, click on anonymous and then click on publish. If you want the world to know who you are, type your name at the end of the message.

Our government has said for a couple of years that there was no basis for detaining the four Uyghurians released last week from Gitmo last week, and yet there has been quite an outcry from a significant portion of the public about their release, and about the compensation paid to them for their detainment of eight years.

How do you feel and what do you think about the detention and/or release of these detainees, and others like them?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I can't Gitmo, satisfaction . . .

A couple of years ago I learned a secret of Homeland Security. Terrorists don't use credit cards. Having reached the limit on my credit card, I paid cash at the airline ticket counter. After leaving the ticket counter I walked around with a Green C (for cash, not credit) marked upon my chest (not literally, just an allusion to the Scarlet Letter). I was pulled aside at every security checkpoint, detained for a few minutes, and given a much more thorough search, while those obviously safe and sane credit card users hurried through. I did not figure out this secret until the second trip in two weeks during which I was detained, pulled aside, ostracized, wanded, and delayed.

These were business trips for which the schedule was extremely tight. I was frustrated and aggravated. This is the treatment I get for paying with U. S. Currency instead of a credit card that you have to call India to get straightened out?

Four Uyghurians were detained eight years ago for being Uyghurians migrating from Afghanistan to Pakistan as the Americans began their action in Afghanistan in 2001. They have been detained at the American prison at Gitmo for eight years. No charges. No trials. No evidence. No guilt as far as anyone knows. They have been cleared for release twice. First by the Bush Administration, then by the Obama administration.

We Americans get indignant if the State Trooper makes us sit for a few minutes while he is writing a speeding ticket. We are impatient, as I was, when detained for a few moments at airport security.

So you would think we Americans , in solidarity, would take up our much cherished arms against the government who is detaining living, breathing human beings without charge or evidence. Or at least complain. Detaining not for a few minutes, but for eight years. Eight years. Knowing there is no basis for detention. This is the stuff the American Revolution was made of.

But instead Americans are questioning why these innocent people are being released. We are afraid of them. Apparently American fear, whether it has rational basis, trumps human rights and the rule of law.

Or maybe we have come to believe that human rights are only for Americans. And if the truth really be told, only for some Americans.

Those who use credit cards.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Of beauty queens and lesser things . . .

A cloudy, rainy, thundery Saturday morning. Looks like I'll just have to sit on the sofa and drink coffee. Dang.

I watched my news shows last night and this morning. I am dealing with an addiction to cable news programming. But it is the week-end, and I went a little crazy. I was alone, which was a mistake. Of course, with an addiction to news programming, it it not surprising that I am alone a good bit.

Anyway, my personal issues aside, thank God for the Iranian elections. I never thought I would offer thanks of any kind to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but this morning, he may get a fruit basket. (If you haven't checked the news, Iran held elections yesterday. Ahmadinejad apparently won the election by a large margin, a margin that greatly exceeds the pre-election predictions, which has caused supporters of the opposition to fill the streets in protest.)

As a result, the news channels have reluctantly cut the coverage of Miss California losing her crown to about fifteen minutes each hour. That leaves only another fifteen minutes per hour to cover the history-changing feud between Sarah Palin and David Letterman.

The heart-wrenching saga of Miss California's rise and fall is a compelling story of a young woman (who just happens to look really nice in, or partially in, a bathing suit), who would not compromise her moral standards in answering a judge's question. That would be a beauty contest judge. Hers is a story that must be told . . . apparently over and over and over, along with her professional photographic portfolio.

And the Palin/Letterman controversy is central to the raging freedom of speech debate. Palin is on a noble quest to bring to the nation's attention the shocking revelation that late night television talk show hosts tell jokes that are in extremely poor taste. As a result, the terribly tasteless joke of which she complains has been re-broadcast over and over and over again, now in prime time, which is obviously not what Palin intended. In her attempt to raise the moral standard of public broadcast media she has inferred that David Letterman is a pedophile himself. What a breath of fresh air. Straight from the Alaskan wilderness.

So it is no wonder that the television news outlets, including the ratings leader Today Show that featured a Matt Lauer exclusive interview with Sarah Palin, have been able to let real reporters take vacations for the past week. (More likely unpaid leaves of absence). It is just not that hard to get the news from a politician and and a beauty queen who are looking for face-time on the tube.

But this morning, thankfully, there was rioting in the streets of Tehran. At last, something interesting enough to place that world changing election on equal footing with the sagas of two beauty queens scorned.

I do not mean to diminish the legitimate concerns of Palin and Prejean.

I do mean to diminish the editorial judgment of those whose job it is to determine what is news and what is not.

I guess the ratings guys pointed out that the public just won't watch a steady diet of real news about the economy, taxes, supreme court appointments, war and peace, social justice, and other such mundane matters.

Maybe the ex-Miss California should be in charge of the news. At least she didn't care what the judges thought.


Thursday, June 11, 2009


There is more going on here than meets the eye. The whole is often much bigger than the sum of the apparent parts.

Sometimes five loaves and two scrawny fishes feed thousands of people.

Sometimes a whole lot more wine is poured from vats that held nothing but water and before that were just embarrassingly empty.

Sometimes a home is repaired in Appalachia that seemed beyond repair.

Sometimes a human heart is changed.

Sometimes strangers become friends.

Sometimes there is healing, when there was no hope.

Sometimes a simple song becomes worship.

Sometimes a prison gym becomes a beautiful sanctuary.

Sometimes we are better than we are.

Sometimes things just turn out way better than they should. It is as if there is something else going on that we can't see. It seems that there are unseen hands at work.

Sometimes I forget that. And it causes me a lot of unnecessary stress.

There are things going on that we can't see. We can't understand.

Camp Sumatanga is the thin place, more than any other, that reminds me, that re-acquaints me with the other side of the glass darkly. It is a comfortable place, a welcoming place, a place of rest and vision. The calm beauty and peace of Sumatanga is deceptive. Sometimes in the stillest of moments there is more going on than in the most chaotic moments elsewhere. It is a place where one is touched by unseen outstretched hands, where one hears the faint sounds of the spirit at work, where hearts are strangely warmed. Sometimes fuzzily, sometimes not. It is a place of expectation. For both sides of the glass. It is a place where a gentle breeze sometimes lifts the veil and for a brief moment one can catch a glimpse of heaven.

Maybe you've heard that Sumatanga is running out of money, that it may have to shut down at the end of the summer program.

The thing about Spiritual places like Sumatanga is that we take them for granted. It is easy to forget the importance of what is not always visible. But ask around. If you had time you would learn that tens of thousands of people in North Alabama and beyond have had profound experiences with the Holy right there in the heart of Greasy Cove. At Sumatanga. Among the chiggers and snakes and trees and rocks. Among the music and games and dances and crafts, It is notorious for providing the places to hear the call for your life.

Sumatanga has been a catalyst for spiritual growth in North Alabama for all ages. The Spirit is strong there.

I do not believe that strong Spirit will let Sumatanga close. The Spirit seems to enjoy it there.

Nor do I believe that those of us who have felt the touch of the unseen outstretched hand, heard the sounds of the Spirit at work, felt our heart strangely warmed or heard the call for our lives will let it close.

Sometimes we get it all wrong. We are talking of saving Sumatanga. But we are the ones that let it get to this desperate point. It is debatable who really needs saving here.

There's a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

Go to to make a donation.



Thurvey is back after virtually no demand. If you wish to comment on the question or some resulting tangential thought, click on "comment" below, type your wisdom in the message box. Click on the anonymous button and then click "publish". If you wish to be know, include your name at the end of your message.

Governor Bob Riley recently announced that the state of Alabama would limit the number of refugees it would accept in the event of a Hurricane. In fairness to the governor, the announcement was in the context of assuring that the needs of Alabamians displaced by a storm would be met.

How do you feel about the limitation? How do you feel about the public pronouncement of the policy?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

History unmade . . .

History was made in Birmingham Saturday. Artur Davis, Congressman from Alabama's 7th Congressional District, held a gubernatorial campaign kick-off rally in Linn Park. It was a typical Alabama gubernatorial rally. There were free hotdogs and drinks, live music (Ruben Studdard and a great cover duo), hot sun, young enthusiastic volunteers, and other politicians taking advantage of a gathered crowd.

But Artur Davis is African-American. That is not so typical. Perhaps it is obvious that his candidacy is historic, considering Alabama's record on race.

But to Mr. Davis' credit, he did not dwell on that particular historical significance. He talked instead of a new direction for Alabama. He talked of education and economy, of environment and opportunity.

Perhaps equally as historic was that a significant portion of the crowd of five hundred or so was not African American.

But maybe the most significant thing of all is that at this point, Artur Davis is the candidate with the best campaign organization, the most money, and the support of several of the most powerful political forces in the State of Alabama.

It is far too early to predict anything about the governor's race, especially with the Roy Moore wildcard sitting out there.

But Saturday, the historic event in Linn Park didn't seem so historic.

It seemed like a typical political rally in Alabama.

That is historic.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

We are stuck on band-aids . . .

It is a perfect Saturday morning in Oneonta, Alabama. Clear blue sky, light breeze, low seventies. The only thing wrong with a morning like this is the difficult choices it presents on how to spend it.

But I shall began with sofa and coffee.

When I was three or four years old I loved band-aids. Back then band-aids came in all kind of cool colors with all kinds of designs. Superman. Mighty Mouse. Stars. Huckleberry Hound. But I only got a band-aid if I had been hurt. The hurt I usually suffered was a skinned knee resulting from getting in too big a hurry. I was always shocked and maddened by my fall, so it was a good thing that at least I might get a band-aid out of it.

The problem is that my mother is a nurse. She knew that for the wound to heal quickly and properly all the dirt and grit had to be removed before the band-aid was applied. That meant that the fresh, tender, bleeding scrape would have to be rubbed and scrubbed, which was a painful event, almost as painful as the original fall. But my mother knew that putting a band-aid over a dirty wound only contributed to the growth of infection, no matter how cool the band-aid was. For healing to take place, the dirt and germs had to be removed.

Our world has been covered with band-aids for too long. We are constantly falling and skinning some body part. Some band-aids have been quite cool. Foreign aid and treaties, alliances and accords. Nothing wrong with the band-aids. But underneath the band-aids the wounds are festering. The dirt and the germs were covered without the pain of the rubbing and scrubbing. Religious intolerance, human rights violations, economic injustice, tyranny, and governmental corruption were allowed to remain. They were just covered with band-aids, often decorated with stars and stripes.

It hurts to remove the band-aids and start over. It takes a gentle soul with a firm hand to reduce the pain.

The edges of some of the band-aids were lifted by a speech in Cairo this week by President Obama. It may have changed the course of history. Listen to it now if you haven't.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lots of serious stuff to cover, but not now, I had a good morning . . .

I was in Birmingham for a court hearing this week. It was a beautiful early summer morning.

Opposing counsel and I were standing in front of the judge who inquired about a particular trial date. My colleague said he wasn't sure. The judge smiled and looked at him and said, "Well how can you become sure?" The young attorney said, "I don't know whether it is a Jewish holiday or not." The judge replied, "I'll be glad to work around it, but I don't know whether it is a Jewish holiday, I am not a Jew, but I assume you are." My colleague said, "I'll have to check with my wife, she is the one who keeps up with these things." The judge graciously said he would be glad to make an adjustment in the date if the wife requested. As we walked out of the courtroom the young attorney complimented me on my tie and sportcoat. Apparently civility in the legal system is not dead.

I took a little time to take a walk. I am one who likes downtown Birmingham. I walked by the First United Methodist Church. There was a lady in the exterior doorway of the church office. She had a broom and was intently cleaning the porch. I was curious about what seemed to be a bit of overkill when it came to sweeping a small stone porch. I don't know why, but I walked through the iron fence gate to see what she was doing. Seeing my curiosity, she began to laugh and pointed upward. Not toward heaven, but toward the light fixture on the porch ceiling. There was a bird sitting on a nest atop the fixture.

"I'm trying to clean up after them every day, otherwise it's just too big a mess. They nested here the last few years."

She was smiling and laughing as she explained. No complaints. No suggestions that there were any other choices in the matter. That was where the birds wanted to nest and she was happy to clean up after them. I chatted with her a few more seconds and wished her a good rest of the day. I've got an idea she did have a good rest of the day. As did the birds.

Then I walked over to the Harbert Plaza. O'Henry's has a downtown location there, and a latte was calling my name. I was still smiling about the young Jewish attorney, the bird clean-up person, the cool air, and the sunny day.

As I entered the Harbert Plaza I began to whistle. The acoustics created by the polished stone walls, floors and high ceilings are perfect for whistling. I didn't realize I was whistling. It just comes naturally, especially in such a perfect setting. A woman passed by me and then I heard her say something. I turned toward her.

"It has been a long time since I heard someone whistle like that," she said.

"I don't know whether that is good or bad, but I really didn't realize I was whistling," I responded, still not sure how she felt about my lip music.

"Oh it is good, it is very good," she said, smiling.

"Well thank-you," I said, as we walked on by each other. I didn't whistle anymore, feeling a bit self conscious.

But I was happy.

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