Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Religious post. May prove harmful to certain readers.

We want certainty.

This post will be of the religious variety, so if that is not your cup of tea I will not be offended if you decide to move on, in fact I will not know it. I just wanted to provide as much certainty as I could for you.

In my religion, Christianity, we talk a lot about faith. In fact, faith is everything in Christianity. And yet we spend a considerable amount of time and energy on reaching for the unreachable certainty. (like when the rapture will occur) That is kind of strange when we are called to simply have faith.

But faith is a scary thing. Far scarier than most of us will admit. That is why we are so tempted to pursue certainty.

The Biblical story that troubles me most is in the Hebrew Testament, in the book of Genesis. I cannot speak from the Jewish perspective, but it ought to trouble them too.

Abraham and Sarai were old, too old to have children, and yet God blessed them with a beloved son, Isaac. It was quite a shocking occurrence, but joyful.

Just a few short years later, and only a couple of pages over, God speaks to Abraham. He says, "Abraham, take Isaac up on that mountain over there, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering to me." And Abraham sets out with Isaac toward the mountain to do what God had said. They gathered firewood (which Isaac had to tote, a small matter, but still it seems very harsh), and went up to the mountain. Isaac was still apparently clueless, but he did notice there was no lamb around to be sacrificed. Abraham told him that God would provide. They stacked the wood just so, and then Abraham bound Isaac up and placed him on the firewood that was stacked on the altar. Abraham place his hand on the handle of the knife and was ready to apply it to the throat of his beloved son Isaac when an angel yelled for him to stop, to not hurt the child. God was satisfied that Abraham would obey, no matter what.

We read that story knowing that it ends okay. God spared the child.

But in that moment when Abraham placed his hand on the knife, he did not know the ending. Isaac surely did not know what would happen. There was no certainty, except Abraham's attempt at obedience. There was no guarantee that the knife, poised and ready to descend, would be stopped.

That's the part we ignore.

Faith is not about knowing that the knife will not fall.

It is about not knowing.


Monday, May 30, 2011

World wide web . . .

I participated in a time/motion study when I was in junior high. I had to complete a simple task, making a sandwich in the kitchen, a process in which I had achieved a high degree of proficiency. The complicating factor was that I was required to take a roll of string along with me as I moved from counter to refrigerator to plate cabinet to silverware drawer, to floor and back, unrolling the string as I went. Each stop I made I had to tape the string down before I moved to the next stop. The result was a kite-string web filling the kitchen, attached to the counter, the refrigerator handle, the cabinet, the drawer, the floor and back and forth. Apparently my proficiency was not so efficient.

Life can be like that. In the living, we create connections and relationships as we move back and forth, person to person, place to place, task to task, creating a wonderful web. It certainly doesn't look so efficient.

Occasionally I need to step out of my web. As beautiful as it is, it can be tiring to negotiate through the web trying not to break any strings. One can almost get stuck. That's what vacations are supposed to be about. But there is no time for a vacation right now, so since I had to leave early yesterday morning anyway, I just stayed out of town for the day.

Anonymity can be a good thing. It is liberating to wander among crowds who don't know that one of the stops in your web was when you dropped the sandwich bread slice on the floor, peanut butter side down. . . and ate it anyway.

But it is impossible to escape the web, because it is much bigger than my little kitchen. We all create them as we move along, criss-crossing each other's path. As I try to step away from my web, I run smack dab into someone else's. Some strands run through many webs. Tornado experiences, financial problems, beautiful weather, Lady GaGa, there are common experiences that connect us. Hangover 2, for instance. I went to see it during my foray into anonymity. But there was community in that theater as much of the laughter was born of a common knowledge of the original Hangover, and a general perverted sense of humor. It is a good movie to see anonymously.

I guess I don't really want complete anonymity. Perhaps I want selective anonymity. I intentionally went to a church where I would see old friends. An old friend introduced me to his preacher whom I had never met. No strings attached. As she shook my hand she said, "I feel like I've met you before, we share a close friend . . ." So much for anonymity. But it made me feel good. Not anonymous at all.

So I don't really want anonymity. Because to get it I would have to drop my roll of string and never pick it back up.

And if I did that how would I find my way back?


Saturday, May 28, 2011

We can't all be Bob Dylan . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Bob Dylan turned seventy this week. I attended his birthday party Tuesday. He wasn't there in body, but no doubt his spirit showed up, pulled up a chair, and leaned against the wall in the back at Moonlight on the Mountain in Bluff Park as a stream of local musicians each took ten minutes more or less to give expression to one or two of their favorite Dylan tunes. The inimitable Courtney Hayden (check his writing out in Birmingham Weekly) a Birmingham treasure in his own right, moved the evening along nicely, segueing between acts by dipping into his seemingly endless store of record industry lore, a gift gained from working in broadcast radio back when men were men and computers had not yet taken over. Thinking and talking and cueing and eating pizza at the same time were a necessary skill back in those days. He makes it look easy. Proceeds from the event went to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society whose expenses have skyrocketed as a results of rescue and assistance needs after this spring's tornadoes. There is still time to contribute.

I love Bob Dylan's songs. He is probably first on my list of people who wrote lines that I wish I had written. Then he set his poetry into such addictably singable settings. As the various artists played their choices for the evening, the crowd would begin to sing along, or at least move their lips mouthing the words, as if it could not be helped, most often smiling, but a few with tears.

But Bob is an interesting character and I wonder what he would think about all this. I have no doubt he would like it, after all, he still courts the crowds and fans, doing concerts at the ripe old age of seventy.

But I do have doubt that he would admit it.

Before allowing us to leave he would slowly rise from his tilted back chair and admonish us to find our own songs and sing them for ourselves.

Because we can't all be Bob Dylan.

But we can be us.

And then he might sing:

May God bless and keep you always, may all your wishes come true,
May you always do for others, and let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young.
May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth, and see the lights surrounding you,
May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young.
May your hand always be busy, may your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation, when the winds of changes shift,
May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young.
"Forever Young", Bob Dylan, Copyright 1973, Ram's Horn Music.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thurvey, 5/26/2011

Time flies. It is once again Thurvey day. The questions for this week are:

1. What is the solution for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

2.What is one line from a song, book, poem, etc. that you most wish you had written?

To answer the survey click on comment below and follow the instructions. It's fun, and besides, you may be the one to bring peace to the mideast.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Just call me Pollyanna

I was talking to a friend tonight who was telling me about two older women who had become friends. He said, "it seems that they forgot how much they used to hate each other."

We laughed and speculated on whether it was the wisdom of years, or the effects of dementia that allowed such an occurrence.

So maybe there is hope for us all. We are crazy and getting older.

The truth is, constant fighting will wear you out. And sometimes, after weariness sets in, you realize that the only others that can truly relate to how you feel and how you think are the people that were actually in the fight with you, both friend and foe. Not those people standing on the sidelines giving advice.

Take for instance Israel and Palestine. They have been at it for awhile. They both want a secure place carved out of a small, rocky, arid part of the world. They both want Jerusalem. They have dealt with the pressures of the conflict for as long as Israel has existed. They have fought and died in the process. They have persecuted and have been persecuted. Can Americans really relate to either side?

Take Democrats and Republicans in Congress. They all have to run for reelection back home every 2 or 6 years. That have to keep everybody happy, voters, contributors, the national party, while trying to remember why they went there in the first place. They take abuse, get no respect, and must constantly be on guard in case a live microphone or hidden camera is nearby. These days they may fear for their lives. They must leave their homes and families for long periods of time. All while they are making decisions that impact millions of lives, and sometimes the whole world. Can your average jimbob really understand what that life is like? What that pressure is like?

I am a lawyer by trade and have been at it longer than I can believe. The longer I practice the more I appreciate, actually the more I find necessary, the time I spend with my colleagues, often my adversaries, debriefing, de-stressing, and generally laughing at ourselves and how we do what we do.

No one else really understands.

I doubt that all swords will be turned into plowshares any time soon. That is more for the Harold Campings of the world to predict.

But I do sense a slight weariness among old foes, and perhaps a bit of wisdom too.

If two old women can do it, there's hope for everyone.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Food for thought? Let me figure the tax on that . . .

Many of you have been out in the past few weeks helping the victims of last month's horrible tornadoes. You have seen the devastation, and you know that in some areas, like Alberta and Pratt City, the houses that were destroyed or heavily damaged were not insured, because some of those areas that suffered the most already suffered from decades of economic struggle, a struggle that had become even more intense in the past couple of years. A struggle that requires choices among necessities. Do I insure the house or do I buy food and medicine or school supplies or gas to get to work? Or maybe landlords have chosen to cut costs by cutting insurance.

You've seen the victims coming to get food and household necessities at the local distribution centers. You may have put them in their cars or delivered them to their door. You have seen the looks of desperation, of weariness, of determination and of gratitude.

And the next time you see these same folks at grocery stores in Alabama, they will be paying a four percent sales tax on the necessities of life.

We have patted ourselves on the back here in Alabama for our neighborly response to the April disaster, and it has been inspiring.

So what sense does it make to give a few dollars worth of canned goods and diapers to a family, and then require that they pay a few hundred dollars in taxes on food in the next year as they try to restart their lives?

It would seem to be a no brainer. If you believe the signs at protests and the statements of the politicians you would think that abolishing the sales tax on groceries would be on every political party and candidate's platform in big, bold emphatic letters.

But instead, unless the people of Alabama continue to do the right thing they have started with the response to the tornadoes, the next time you see these folks at the grocery counter they will still be paying a four percent tax on the necessities of life. That amounts to about two weeks worth of groceries a year.


So the rest of us can get a tax deduction. So that we can afford to buy those SUV's and minivans we use to deliver canned goods and diapers to the distribution centers.

The deduction we get on our state income tax for federal income taxes paid is paid for by sales tax on groceries. So that the rest of us who need a deduction because we make enough money to worry about deductions instead of income can afford something more than the necessities of life.


That's it.

Poor, victimized Alabamians, the ones we have been straining to help for four weeks, the ones we have tried to lift up will spend hundreds of dollars in taxes on food this year so that the rest of us can get a tax deduction.

We need to do another kind of right thing. Get rid of the grocery sales tax now. Call your legislator now.

Only one other state taxes groceries like Alabama does. You guessed it. Mississippi.

Please, please, please don't let us be the last. We are better than that.

To those who have been given much, much will be expected.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

What's the hurry?

"Younger Next Year" by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge is a book a friend of mine gave me awhile back. It is based on an interesting premise that actually makes a lot of sense. The idea is that our bodies are created to know when it's time to start winding things down, to make final biological arrangements. The body gets its signals from our activity, or lack thereof. Theoretically this is some leftover genetic baggage from eons ago. So the authors strongly advocate rigorous exercise on a regular basis so that the body understands that you still have a little fight in you. Sounds right to me, so, I started on a fairly rigorous exercise program, actually restarted a rigorous program several weeks ago. Not the kind I usually do, where I get to the point I throw up and then quit, but rigorous nonetheless.

So tonight I was on the last lap when I passed some friends' house. As it turned out they were just coming in from a walk. My friend yelled, "you want some banana pudding?"

"Are you serious?" I asked. I meant was she just being nice. Because when it comes to food, and particularly food like banana pudding, I am serious.

"Sure I'm serious," she said. So we all went in and had banana pudding.

At first I was concerned that I was backing up. It took an hour and ten minutes to burn a few hundred calories, and about five minutes to replace them.

On the other hand, I am hoping my ancient gene structure understood what was going on here. I had run/walked up and down mountains and had tracked down my prey . . .banana pudding. Surely they get the idea that I'm still alive and kicking as a hunter-gatherer.

But that's just the way it is with life, the detours and distractions. And sometimes that frustrates me when my plan is interrupted. I'm on my way to do one thing and all of a sudden something else pops up, takes me down an alternate route, or at least makes me stop for a moment. There are two choices. I can get all anal about accomplishing the thing I set out to do, the three laps for instance, or I can stop and eat banana pudding with friends when it becomes available.

Sometimes I'm afraid I reduce life to a race, an obstacle course to race through, straining for the finish line. But that's crazy.

Cause when you cross the finish line the race is over, and I haven't had my fill of banana pudding.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pretend end

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

So what if Harold Camping is right about the rapture? What would I want to say today as I sit, sip and type? Other than Hosanna. That is what I would say to Jesus. I am wondering what I would want to say to everyone else.

A friend of mine coined a phrase to describe the feeling after a major disaster. Frantically frozen. Desperately wanting to do everything needing done, and being able to do nothing. If the rapture were really coming I think the feeling for me would be similar. So many things I meant to do, meant to say, meant to fix, and now only a few hours are left. Since I am not a believer in the current prediction, it is difficult for me to imagine what I would do or say without the real pressure being on. Adrenalin is a necessary element in my ability to perform life. That's something I've been meaning to do something about. No point now.

There are thousands of those things as I ponder priorities of what to address. It becomes quickly apparent that most of them now seem ridiculously unimportant or sadly impossible at this late date.

There are the day to day things that would generally be categorized as organizing my life. That will not be necessary now. I would need at least another millennium to complete that task. I will, however, clear a path to the door just to be sure I can be reached.

There were things I wanted to learn. Violin. Saxophone. Several languages. Dance. All the words to Alice's Restaurant.

There were so many things I wanted to do. See the whole world. Return to Elrod Falls. Argue a case to the Supreme Court. Write the good American novel. Possibly great. Watch UA play in the final four. Eat dinner with the Obamas. Play a part in a Shakespeare play, make that a lead. Dunk a basketball (afraid it will take the rapture to get that one done, if I can do it on the way up).

But it is silly to think about those things at this late date, although thinking about them has given me some pleasure.

Suddenly I don't like this exercise.

It is not the list of things to do or that I meant to learn that will bug me.

It is the list of people. That I meant to give apology. That I meant to affirm. That I meant to help. That I meant to forgive. That I meant to hug. That I meant to call. That I meant to spend time with.

That I meant to love.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Taking a drive to Normalville

I was in Tuscaloosa for a meeting that went late last night. Yes, it really was a meeting and no, it wasn't a fun kind of meeting. After the meeting I dropped by a fast food place and then gassed up the car and headed north. Eight gallons in the Prius. Good for another couple of weeks. Not relevant, I just like to think about it. . .

Tuscaloosa, historically, has more traffic/miles driven per capita than any place in the world. You can't google this statistic, at least until now, because I just made it up, but I'm pretty sure it is right after about three or four decades of observation and participation. I really can't figure out where everyone is going, they just seem to be moving from place to place in their automobiles. It may be that if everyone decided to park at the same time there would not be enough space. Some may be still searching for a parking place for the last home football game.

I was almost brought to tears when, while in the left turn lane I was swept along with the crowd as the cars moved as one, beginning with the green arrow, the yellow arrow, and then the red don't go anymore light. We kept going and going. It is an automotive ballet. Organic traffic. Another statistic. In Tuscaloosa more cars in the left turn lane turn left after the arrow turns red than anywhere in the world. I am pretty sure you can get a ticket for being the car that actually stops for the red light too early.

Then I left Tuscaloosa and went to Birmingham, stopping off at O'Henry's Coffee in Homewood for a late night decaf light latte. Folks were in there studying, or just talking around the tables. People were strolling on the streets, in and out of the restaurants and bars that were still open. I sat at one of sidewalk tables in the perfect night air and people watched for a few minutes. I wouldn't mind living around a place like that.

And I just got back from Walmart tonight, where I ran into several friends as we zig-zagged from aisle to aisle in the grocery section playing the game that Walmart marketers set up by changing the location of necessary food items from time to time so that you have to pass all the stuff that you don't really need. The place was full.

I did not see one case of water in any cart while I was there. I didn't hear anyone talking of roof damage, or power outage, or chain saws. There were almost no cars in the parking lot from Cullman, Etowah, andMarshall Counties, where there had been hundreds three weeks ago.

For most of us, things are getting back to normal, and that is a good thing.

But let's not forget that is not so easy for a whole lotta folks to get there. They still don't have the time or the means or physical strength to return to the traffic, to the shops, even to WalMart. Truth is, the heaviest lifting and the deepest giving is probably yet to come.

It's good to get back to normal. Maybe even a better normal after we have learned a lot about helping our neighbors.

But as we get back, let's make sure we bring as many folks with us as we can. It's like being in that left turn lane in Ttown, this is no time to stop.


Thurvey, 5/19/2011

Welcome once again to the Thursday survey, Thurvey for short. A couple of questions available to you this week related to the preceding post about Camping's prediction of the rapture coming Saturday.

Question No. 1: Some of us are not Christian, some have no religion at all, so let's just say a giant asteroid was definitely going to slam into the earth in a couple of days. How would your list of things to do change? What would you add, what would you mark off? Why?

Question No. 2: What person or event has the media wasted too much time on? Why was it a waste of time?

To comment on either question you can send in a postcard, but it would probably be easier to click on comment below and follow the instructions. But hurry. Time is running out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Camping out, far out . . .

Sometimes on road trips I am likely to run the radio dial for something different. After sundown and into the wee hours of the morning are the best times for this diversion. For years I have run across a religious program hosted by Harold Camping. He is certainly different. His show is one of the call-in variety, sort of a Paul Finebaum Bible Study. (For those of you outside the confines of Alabama, Paul Finebaum is a popular radio sports talk host, now on Sirius XM if you want to give it a listen) About half of the times I have heard Camping's program he has discussed his prediction of the end times. He has now narrowed it down to Saturday. This Saturday. May 21.

Those of us who adhere to a religion that has, most of the time in retrospect, accepted that prophets are often sent by God to give us some tough news, find it troubling to make light of such a seemingly wild prediction. For those of us in the Christian faith it is still troubling, even though it would seem counter to Jesus' clear statement that nobody will know the time until it happens. But still, I don't believe it, even though something about it gets to something inside of me. Maybe I'm the only one. But it's silly, isn't it?

Then yesterday I heard Camping interviewed on NPR.

It must be serious.

I don't know whether May 21 is the last day or not. It would be good to know. No worries about next week's schedule. Preacher friends could forgo the Saturday ritual of "finishing" their sermons. Which bills to pay would be a bit easier. The list of things to do would get quite short. Or at least different. Yard work would somehow seem inappropriate on that last day.

But he was on NPR.

On the other hand, so was Donald Trump as a serious presidential candidate. So were hours of time devoted to discussions concerning President Obama's birth certificate and religious beliefs. Sarah Palin got more public radio airtime than Nina Totenberg. I could go on, but, since time may be truly getting short, I'll move on.

It is interesting how this prediction of the "rapture" effects us. Perhaps, in a serious moment, even though we don't believe it, it has made us think of whether we spend our time wisely, or goodly.

But there is another view. The "left behind" view. My mother had a great notion of this when she was a child. After hearing the Biblical prediction that when Jesus returns some will be taken up to heaven and some will be left behind, two will be working in the field, one will be taken up, one will be left behind, she decided she would always try to hang around people who were clearly not as nice as she was. I have used that illustration so many times I am sure she wishes she hadn't told me. But it deserved this one last time for the ages.

It is a sad thing that a religion based on perfect love can become so twisted. We begin to be concerned whether we have done enough to be on the first celestial bus out of here, of whether there is a seat for us. Never a thought that perhaps the Jesus thing to do would be to let someone else have our seat, if that is possible. There surely won't be room for everyone.

But there is. At least that's what I believe.

After Katrina I rode along on a bus with my brother in law Tommy and my nephew TJ and our new friend Charles, the driver of the bus, to New Orleans four or five days after the hurricane hit. The idea was to see if we could get a few people out of there. After a lot of waiting and talking we were finally allowed to go to the Causeway Bridge. It was about four in the morning and it was still inky dark in that place that was usually lit up 24 hours a day. We slowly approached the bridge with a few other buses escorted by the national guard. Suddenly the bus was surrounded by thousands of people trying to get in.

That bus had a capacity of about 45 or so. When they told us to open the doors, humanity flowed in like the flood waters over the levees. One of us was supposed to be counting, but when we passed 45, Charles didn't close the door. He kept letting them in. Looking at the faces of those desperate people, he couldn't close the door.

Of course, he ultimately had to. But it was love that made it so hard to do. And he was just Charles, not God.

God's bus is perfect. Seats for everyone. What does it take to get in?

Maybe just grabbing the outstretched hand of the driver as He looks into your desperate face. I don't know.

It's late and I am certainly rambling. It's been a tough week and it's just Wednesday.

But time may be getting short.

Of course it is, for all of us, every day, whether it's May 21 or not.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Great Scott

Yesterday I worked a shift at Scott School distribution center on Highway 78 at the edge of the Pratt City tornado devastation. It is an amazing place, consisting of the traditional brick school with a long hall from end to end, classrooms lining both sides, and the parking lot in the back.

It was Sunday afternoon, two and a half weeks after the storm hit. Volunteer groups streamed in and out, some working at the center, some going out into the neighborhoods to remove debris and replace tarps. A continuous line of cars, vans and trucks slowly moved through the back parking lot, some dropping off needed items, some picking up. An interesting place for people watching. The Church of Scientology had a volunteer group there to do anything they could to help. The Seventh Day Adventists brought two trucks and trailers packed with a few hundred hygiene boxes. The driver pridefully displayed his backing skills as he snaked the trailer through a small gate, around a corner, and close to the back steps. A church van from an independent Church of God brought bags for children, filled with books, crayons, paper, and fun stuff. The list is long.

I don't know that I have ever experienced such graciousness as exhibited by the volunteers who run the center, almost all of whom live in Pratt City. Everyone is welcome. Every donation is honored (even all those clothes, for as long as they could possibly take them) Every volunteer is given work to do.

And they smile. And they laugh. Especially if a volunteer shows up whose name is Robert Bentley. Sometimes the weariness shows through, but it never overcomes the deep joy of these neighbors helping neighbors.

And every few hours a cook-out breaks out. Hamburgers, hot dogs, fish, whatever is available.
It wouldn't be right to insult anyone, so I sampled it all.

I overheard a couple of red cross workers talking. They were saying that the system that the center was using for distribution was the best they had seen. Everything was organized, sorted and stored in classrooms along the hall, delivered and distributed from grocery carts that roll up and down and outside and back. And they developed a strict registration system to hold folks accountable for how much aid they received from day to day, which is kind of touchy for outsiders.

But that is one of the beauties of this place. There are some things a friend and neighbor can get away with saying that a well intentioned outsider just cannot do.

I was amazed at how much activity there still is at that place. But there is still so much work to do. There are still so many people trying to salvage severely damaged homes. It will be so for a long while.

But if anyone can make it happen, those folks at the Scott School can. For more information on volunteering, visit Hands-On Birmingham


Saturday, May 14, 2011

We can see clearly now . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

(Warning. While I really wanted to be funny this morning, it just didn't happen. A bit preachy. Turn back now if you wish. Just needed to hear it myself, I suppose)

You can't rest on your laurels, or your piled up oak branches at least a three point line away from the basketball goal.

It has been a week since the chain saw excursion to clean up tornado damage. I won't write anymore about what happened on that one, at least on the blog. A new rule for myself. I won't post about any tornado relief work older than one week. You, dear readers, have been nominated to be my accountability group for this issue. We need to stay in this for as long as it takes.

Last week we broke out the bright green disaster relief shirts supplied by the United Methodist North Alabama Conference to wear on such trips. I had three stuffed back in the closet. Two of them were customized with white spots created by the bleach we sprayed on the stripped framing of houses on the coast after Katrina. That was five years ago. There is still plenty of work to do there, even now. And we need to be praying that there won't be massively more by next week as flood waters roll down the Mississippi toward the Delta.

During times like these I have a desire to escape to "normal", whatever that is.

But maybe times like these are normal.

We just can't avoid it anymore. Huge disasters have always happened. We just couldn't see them. What we don't see we can ignore.

In my faith, Jesus talked a lot about eyes. Some were blind. Some were just closed. Jesus almost never changed the circumstances surrounding people. But he was all the time changing folks to help them see their circumstances.

Some disasters are sudden and awesome, like tornadoes, earthquakes, and sunamis. Some move painfully slower, like approaching hurricanes in the gulf or floodwaters advancing down the Mississippi.

And some disasters move so slowly we hardly notice them at all. Poverty, malnutrition, oppression.

Our eyes have been splattered with mud and dirt from whirling winds and raging waters, but as the mud is dissolved with our tears of frustration and sadness, perhaps the blessing is that now we can see.

So now, maybe we should pray for the other most common miracle from the gospel stories of Jesus. That we are no longer paralyzed. That we will lie still no longer. That we will walk.

That we will get up and go.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Thurvey, 5/12/2011

Blogger would not allow us to post yesterday, Thursday, and so the Thurvey comes to you on Friday. For the uninitiated, the Thurvey is a survey taken on Thursday, a Thursday survey. If further explanation is required then it's not going to matter much to either of us.

The Thurvey question is:

In the spirit of community good, the people of Alabama have agreed to conduct fundraisers to raise revenue for the state government. What ideas for Alabama fundraisers will you pitch?

To comment, just click on "comments" below and follow the instructions.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chainsaw parables, chapter two

It was mid-afternoon as we first weaved our way around and over fallen trees and broken limbs behind the house.

The chains saws were cranked (at least those that still worked) and we went to work. It seemed an impossible job, especially with the amount of time we had left. The testosterone was gone, replaced by a holy stubbornness that is a trademark of Lester Memorial UMC workgroups. Cutting and hauling, cutting and hauling. The stack of tree trunks and limbs in the middle of yard began to take shape. It got bigger and bigger as our limbs grew more weary.

About that time the owner of the place came up beside me, as he had done with most of the team while we were there, letting us know what he needed done if we had time.

"Try to stack that pile from the other side, if you can," he said quietly. "Don't let it come no farther this way, if you can," he paused and looked to the right of the now mountainous pile of green. "Don't want you to get it over there close to the basketball goal. Don't want it burning up when we burn that big ol' pile of brush." He waved his arm farther over to the right.

One of the trees that was left standing had a weathered basketball goal attached to it, a foot or two higher than regulation it appeared, or maybe my legs were just so tired it seemed that much higher. I smiled and nodded, and went back to hauling limbs, spreading the word about not moving the pile any farther toward the basketball goal and its treesupport.

I have to admit my pace had slowed a bit, allowing me a bit more time to take a look around. Underneath the branches you could see a couple of old rubber basketballs, one flat and the other just a little low on air. Then in a pile of branches about twenty feet away from the goal was a an old street light still attached to a fallen trunk of a tree.

I bet there had been some serious ball played there. After the work of the day was done and on into the night.

We didn't get to see that place before it was torn to pieces.

I thought it was a little funny when he asked me to keep the pile away from the tree with the old weathered basketball goal. I thought it was a little crazy considering all the damage around us.

But I was stupid.

Like everywhere that hellish wind set down, nothing looked the same. Everything was changed. Years of life just vanished.

Except for here. There was an old basketball goal nailed up on a tree with a serious homecourt advantage.

We weren't clearing ground.

We were uncovering a little bit of home. And that may be the most important thing some of us do.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Chainsaw parables, chapter one.

Right after Katrina hit New Orleans I went to an emergency responder training course. I believe Jim Robey was the trainer, but I can't remember if he uttered this observation. "To those people in charge of disaster relief, there is nothing more frightening than a truckload of the men's club of first methodist wheeling up, cranking their chainsaws as they jump from the truck."

I know what he meant, but almost everyday for the past couple of weeks those truckloads of wild at heart folks (some women are just as crazy) have been helping thousands of Alabamians see a little daylight in the darkness. Not all methodists, mind you, but all of the same heart.

I was in one of those groups Saturday. Rising early I gathered my gloves, my "wildthing" Poulan, a fuel can and my straw hat, jumped in my old pick-up truck, cranked up the radio, and headed toward the church parking lot. Country music was blaring from the speakers, or speaker, the left side doesn't work. 'I'm gonna love you, forever and ever, forever and ever, Amen." George Strait. Dang straight. The morning air was cool blowing into the open window as I drummed the side of the truck with my fingers. There was no point in rolling up the window as I would just have to roll it back down when I stopped since you can't open my truck door from the inside. Perfect Saturday morning. I had my tankard of coffee by my side.

The testosterone level was on the rise as I wheeled into the parking lot. The level sank just a bit as I remembered to get my 50 spf sunscreen to avoid the ridicule of a friend who admonishes me about such things.

A group of ten or twelve gathered, aimed and figured awhile, and headed to the Guntersville area. We worked all day. Two work groups. Four sites.

My work group started with four chain saws. We left the first work sight with one operable. But we kept on working.

There were many, many amusing, inspirational and downright scary moments Saturday.

But I saw something happen that I never saw before. I saw it happen twice. I had heard it could happen, but I thought it was one of those things people say can happen, but it never really does, like when you cross your eyes and they never really stick in that position.

The first time it happened was the most memorable because it was the first time. We were all working on clearing huge trees and limbs from a yard and fence behind a mobile home. Dalton was cutting into pieces a large trunk which had fallen, starting from the top of the stripped trunk and working his way back toward the huge root ball. At the same time Keith was working around a fence that he was trying to clear, right beside the big hole left by the root ball from the tree that Dalton was working on. When Dalton had shortened the trunk to about fifteen or twenty feet, the strangest thing happened.

The tree, which had practically been lying on the ground, slowly at first, began to rise. It picked up a little speed, and then all of a sudden, the huge trunk was standing back up, not quite straight, but standing back up just the same. Fortunately Keith was not standing in the hole where the root ball had been, because all of a sudden there was a tree in it. It was surreal. The same thing happened with another tree a bit later.

When Dalton removed enough of the weight that was holding it down, the tree was able to stand back up on its on. Not completely straight, but standing on its on again.

These few days after that ridiculous Wednesday have been full of frustration all across Alabama. We've been knocked down so hard it seems impossible to get back up. So many want to help,but the damage seems too much.

But don't give up. Just go out and keep lifting whatever weight you can off your neighbors.

Before long, you'll get to see them stand back up on their own.

It really happens.



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