Friday, December 31, 2010

Ten years (or eleven), that's a lot of coffee . . .

I was drinking my coffee this morning listening to the radio. Suddenly I heard the announcer say that it was time for the decade in review. My puzzle loving twisted ADD brain first wondered if NPR realized that this was a review of the first eleven years of the 2000's rather than the first decade. As I wondered I realized I missed the first part, so maybe they didn't cover anything in 2000. Perhaps I started drinking coffee too early.

But that thought only lasted a second.

Then I thought, "that can't be right." It's hard enough to believe that another year has passed, much less another decade, or eleven years, whichever.

But it is right. I checked.

I was reminded that the 2000's have been quite the roller coaster ride. The whole y2k scare which never materialized was about the only thing that deserved to be lessened to lower case letters. So much so that some of you probably had to think a bit to remember what y2k was.

We have suffered and celebrated through rapid fire capital letter events since then.

But 2000 set the tone. The big news events seem long ago. We worried because AOL (to refresh your memory that stands for America On Line, which featured that voice that said "You've Got Mail") was buying out media conglomerate Times Warner. It looked like AOL would forever control the Internet and conventional media and was a great stock to own if you were able to see the bubble before it burst, also in 2000. I don't get too many AOL generated emails anymore.

Foreshadowing horrific events to come, the USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers while refueling in Aden. Al Queda led by Osama Ben Laden, known by some but not yet household names in the United States, was credited for the bombing which killed seventeen military personnel.

Hillary Clinton, the long-suffering wife of the President for most of the nineties, began to show us how formidable she would become when she was elected U. S. Senator from New York. A young Illinois state Senator, Barack Hussein Obama, was defeated in his first bid for Congress, but made a quietly remarkable showing beginning the race at ten percent and ending at thirty one percent against a popular candidate. And he learned a lot about politics as we would find out an amazingly short eight years later.

2000 was a Presidential election year, probably the most infamous. Election night was a bonanza for political junkies as it came down to Florida, just as Tim Russert had been telling us all evening on his little handheld chalkboard. And Florida just wasn't too sure. After thinking he had won and then lost, Democrat and vice president Al Gore conceded, and then withdrew his concession. The folks in Florida gave us an education about chads, hanging and dangling like fruit from a palm tree. The recount was started and then stopped in an unprecedented (literally, they said so in the opinion) decision by a defiantly anti-activist U. S. Supreme Court. Gore ultimately conceded, and George W. Bush, later to better Elvis, Bono, and Charro by being known simply by one letter, "W", was elected President.

The winner of the 2000 award for irony had to be the United Nations, when it declared 2000 to be "The International Year for the Culture of Peace." Perhaps they should have made that "The International Decade . . ." But the foreshadowing of the warring and mayhem of the decade was obvious in 2000 with the U.S. Cole bombing, Iraq's defiance of the UN's insistence that it disarm, and the dramatic increase in Al Queda and other terrorist group activity. At least it seems obvious now.

"Genomes," a preliminary draft of the report of the Human Genome Project was completed in 2000.

The last original Peanuts comic strip was published after the death of Charles Schultz.

Looking at pop culture of years past is like looking at your old high school yearbooks. Just embarrassing. What were we thinking? Most of my personal embarrassment when looking at yearbooks involves fashion, or lack of it, but I can't remember anything distinctive fashion wise for 2000, nor could I find it in my arduous research for this post. Beer advertisements and an odd song written for Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival season by Anslem Douglas and made popular by Baha Men added much to our vocabulary. In fact, in some groups you heard little else.

Whassup????? Whasssup????

Who let the dogs out . . . Who, who, who, who, who.

And reality TV. Not my favorite genre, but some of my respected readers are avid fans. Survivor debuted, as did Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire, which many thought to be the absolute low for TV of any kind, reality or unreality. That later proved to be a great overestimation of the creative abilities of the American TV industry.

Pop music featured hits by Faith Hill, Matchbox 20, Savage Garden, Destiny's Child, Toni Braxton, Lonestar,N Sync, Backstreet Boys, Creed, Nelly, and a whole bunch more. It's easier to look for yourself if you would like.

Other newsmakers were Napster (remember when we all wondered if we would be arrested or fined for downloading songs?) and Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was the unfortunate subject of the most publicized child custody case in history (he's 17 now, wonder what he's up to?).

For you Alabama readers, you may remember that Tommy Blanton andBobby Frank Cherry were indicted for the Ku KluxKlan's unthinkable bombing of Birmingham's 16th St. Baptist Church some 37 years earlier.

University of Alabama football fans suffered through one of the most disappointing seasons ever in 2000, ranked number three before they started, but in fact it seemed they never got started, and ended with a losing season, causing the demise of head coach Mike Dubose. Auburn, on the other hand, saw a reversal of fortune and ended the regular season 9-2 and played in the SEC championship game.

And we all remember the ten commandments. Not because we should as good Bible Belt citizens, but because then Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore (not to be confused with Judge Roy Bean, although their view of the law was similar in some ways) refused to take a plaque with the big ten of Mosaic Law off the wall of his courtroom. It was the beginning of a long, entertaining and troubling story, resulting in Judge Moore descending from on high to deposit a large stone inscribed with the commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court foyer. It turned out to be much easier to remove Judge Moore from the building than to remove the huge stone.

A record setting drought and a killer December tornado. Unfortunately that history repeats itself quite often in Alabama.

That's where we were in 2000. Yes I know I left out a lot. You may fill in the blanks by commenting if you so wish.

When I listen to the news each day sometimes I wonder how we got here.

I guess I forgot.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

I spy something . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee. Christmas. Snow.

Snow on Christmas Day in Alabama. You don't see that every day. Well of course you don't because every day is not Christmas, a factor which greatly reduces the odds. I, like everyone I have met this morning, friend or stranger, am a bit giddy over the transmergence of these events. I am so giddy I am making up words . . . good words like transmergence, or verbirth (creation of new words). See what I mean? Giddy.

One of the themes of the original Christmas story is that God, the Creator of everything, decided to enter our world as one of us. A pretty big deal by any one's standards one would think. But when it happened, very few people noticed. Or if they noticed, they didn't really care much about it.

So on Christmas eve, yesterday, I vowed to myself that after my 8:00 a.m. appointment I would forget about work, open my eyes and see what's going on in the world. I headed to Nashville to visit Benjamin and Kate, my son and daughter-in-law. It was a beautiful winter day in north Alabama and central Tennessee. The radio broadcast of the festival of nine lessons and carols from King's College in Cambridge was rocking the Prius on the way northward.

Just south of Nashville there is a huge house just a short distance off of the interstate. A beautiful fence surrounded the beautiful grounds. Inside the beautiful fence that surrounded the beautiful grounds around the beautiful house was a herd of buffalo.

Or bison, I never know which, especially when running at 75 mph. The Prius, not the buffalo, or bison.

I suppose it is no big deal, but there was a herd of prairie animals in a yard in suburban Nashville.

Score one for open eyes. I spotted the buffalo/bison.

I was running a little behind and lunch was waiting on me at Kate and Benjamin's.
So naturally I decided to cut a minute or two by trying a different route after leaving the interstate. I know what you are thinking. The new route did cut about two minutes off the trip, so ha. My lostness is not the point this time. I was not exceeding the speed limit, but was concentrating on the unfamiliar road. A train track ran parallel to the road, and a freight was click-clacking along like they do right before they block the roads in suburbia. There was a break in the trees ahead and a railroad crossing sign. Here it comes. My short-cut might have a drawback, unless you are a crow. And I am not, although I often eat it after doing things like taking strange shortcuts when people are waiting on me. But the train kept going straight, not across my road. (Just to clarify, it was still on a track) As I looked through the break in the trees down the railroad track not taken I heard the shutter click in my brain and suddenly I had a snapshot. A red camping tent was almost hidden in the trees right beside the tracks. Farther back, in the tunnel that goes under the interstate, figures slowly moved, some sitting, some standing. I'm guessing they were homeless.

I suppose its no big deal. But homeless people on a cold Christmas Eve right there in suburbia.

Score another one for open eyes. I spotted the homeless.

Maybe I'll start trying to find car tags from all fifty states.

I don't want to play this game anymore.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fear not . . .what?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee

"Do not be afraid."

That is the angels' Christmas greeting to Zechariah, Mary and the shepherds. And I left poor Joseph out of Wednesday's post. When he was ready to call it quits with the mysteriously pregnant Mary, an angel showed up in a dream and said "do not be afraid . . ."

I've been thinking about these fearful greetings this week.

Before fear can be felt there must be some awareness of danger, actual or perceived.

Since my sudden realization last week that the goose is getting fat (therefore Christmas is a'coming), I have enjoyed some of the traditions of the season: church Christmas programs, parties with great food and drink and fellowship, caroling, decorations, and a tiny bit of shopping.

I found none of that truly scary. (Moments of concern, sure, but no real fear)

I love the Christmas season. People actually seem to be more friendly. That is a miracle in itself. Oh sure, there are exceptions. A couple of impatient drivers came close to taking out a few young carolers last night, and shoppers can get combative when fatigue sets in or money runs low, but for the most part, the world is a bit jollier, a bit more gentle.

Much of what we enjoy at Christmas is memory. It is a wonderful time after all. Like generations of ornaments on the family Christmas tree, traditions accumulate great stories and remembrances of childhood, family, friends, romance, and gifts given and received. As I was looking up the hill behind my house this morning I remembered the hikes up in those woods with my brothers and sisters when we were young searching for a Christmas tree. I am the number four child, the youngest along on those trips, and I loved them, even though it was difficult for short legs to keep up over the rocky limestone briar-filled pathways of the little mountain behind our house. The only trees suitable for Christmas native to our hill were cedar. We would drag the perfect tree home, along with the deserted bird nests from past springs. Cedars were scratchy and made me itch and their delicate branches were not the best for holding up bubble lights or ornaments, but they were somehow more real than the ones trucked in to the fruit stand. Cedar trees are looked down upon these days, not nearly so stylish as the trees shipped in from up north or transplanted to our local tree farms. But when I see one now I remember good and wonderful things, material for later posts.

The days before Christmas are filled with memories.

Nothing wrong with that. Mary and Zechariah proclaimed memories of ancient prophets as they looked toward the birth of Jesus. Priests explained to Herod that the birthplace of the Messiah was to be Bethlehem as prophesied by Micah centuries before.

Looking back for explanation of the present is a reality of the gospel account of the birth of Jesus.

Looking back was affirming for Zechariah and Mary. The prophecies of the past were being fulfilled. Looking back for us is also often affirming. We forget the hardships of the past and remember the wonder and warmth of times gone by.

So why the admonition to fear not?

We should be affirmed by the past. Looking back it is easier to see the activity of God in our lives, in the history of the world.

But what of the future? The unknown?

The birth of Jesus is not the end. It is a new beginning.

Everything changed when God once again came to walk among us. Things would no longer be like they were. Traditions were shattered. Institutions would crumble. Old rules were repealed. The first became last and the least became great.

Nothing would ever be the same again.

And that is scary.

Or it should be. At least the angels thought so.

So when the angels say, "Do not be afraid" and the response is, "why would I be?" maybe we don't completely understand Christmas.

It is not simply about the past, good or bad. Nor is it simply about the present, or the presents.

It is also about the future. A future that is different because God comes. A future that calls us to change, that calls us out, that calls us to put down our nets and go.

That's a little scary, isn't it?

But if we are to be part of the story, that's the way it is. It would be cool to be part of the story. What if in the big cosmic Christmas creche you became one of the figurines? You know, like the wise guys or shepherds or animals or angels. Okay, that's a bit out there, but it is Saturday morning and I am allowed to digress.

So, fear not . . .


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You heard something . . .?

So the shepherds are sitting around the fire staring at the shimmering embers, letting the warmth radiate deeply. Suddenly an indescribable musical sound fills the pasture. Much louder than the normal night sounds, even normal day sounds. Unbelievably loud but not painful. So beautiful it is almost unbearable. It is coming from a light, a light that only a moment ago seemed to be a distant star, but now is just above, a light filled with the outlines of what can only be described as angels. The shepherds freeze. Not too many angels come out this way. An angel says,

"Do not be afraid . . ."

A few months before an angel appeared to a young woman named Mary and said, "Greetings to you who are highly favored. The Lord is with you." This bothered Mary. The angel said,

"Do not be afraid . . ."

About six months before that a priest named Zechariah was in the temple of the Lord, where he had been chosen by lot to go into and burn incense. He was alone. He thought. Then an angel of the Lord appeared at the altar of incense. Zechariah was understandably startled. The angel said,

"Do not be afraid . . ."

Had the angels heard something? Was something coming that the shepherds, Mary and Zechariah might fear? Was it just the angels' response to mortals startled by their heavenly appearance? Or was that part of the message they were assigned to bring?

"Do not be afraid . . ."

For unto you, Zechariah, will come the son you prayed for . . .

For unto you, Mary, will be born the Holy One, the Son of God . . .

For you, shepherds, and for the whole world, a child is born who will change everything so that you may live . . .

"Do not be afraid . . ."

So what is there to fear in the news of the birth of a couple of baby boys?


Monday, December 6, 2010

Keeping watch . . .

It is cold tonight. I took a quick walk out into the yard to find some pine kindling to start a fire in the fireplace. The stars hung like frost crystals against the velvet blue canopy. I would have stayed and stared up into the heavens longer if I had not been in danger of accumulating a few frost crystals on my own canopy.

I like to sit in the quiet of the evening and look into the glowing embers of the fire. The dry split red oak logs burn hot and bright. An hour or so ago I watched the news and got wound up tighter than I was when I got off work. I don't want to talk or think about that now. I just want to get still and quiet and warm.

There are things that change. That is what the news was all about. Changes. That's not a bad thing at all. Hopefully a few of the changes are improvements.

But occasionally I need to sit and be quiet, to find a place where change is not quite so furious, so persistent.

Like a star filled sky on a winter night, or the glowing embers of a fire in the darkness. There is something timeless about the stars and a fire. In the quiet, with just the fire and me, or the stars and me, I am no different than countless generations that came before. All have experienced the unfathomable enormity of the star-filled night sky, or the mesmerizing glow of a hot crackling fire.
For the moment, there is no difference. For the moment, we are connected.

Christmas is less than three weeks away. For some reason I haven't thought much about it this year. There is much to do. Good things. But they will wait for another day.

For tonight I join a group of shepherds tending their flocks in a far land, years ago. I imagine they spent a lot of time out in the fields, spending the cold nights under starry skies. I bet they often stared into the fire, in the quiet, listening.

And waiting.

Because change is coming.

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