Thursday, June 30, 2011


First let me remind you to always check the Thurvey for the week which follows this post. It is a special Independence Day edition. Express yourself.

I just ate a watermelon.

There are certain experiences that in my mind are perfect. Watermelon is one of those experiences. Anticipation is the first attraction. Will it be a good one? Not ripe, too ripe? There is the simple, exterior beauty of the melon itself, each one unique; the smooth green skin with infinite variations of darker green patterns, or no patterns at all.

Then comes the moment when the knife pierces the rind and you hear the crack as it begins to split open and the first hint of light green and then red appear Too impatient to finish cutting with the knife you reach with both hands to pry the halves apart until the full feast is spread before you.

The eating of the watermelon offers great opportunity for personal expression. Before it is eaten the decision must be made regarding how it will be cut into smaller portions, or if it will be cut any further at all.

This decision has great social implications. A large melon laid open into only two halves brings people close together. Hurts can be healed. Deals can be closed. Decisions can be made . . .over a watermelon split into halves. But it can be messy. And so can the watermelon.

When less intimacy is better, the melon can be quartered and eighthed. Or, if one is in a liberal mood, rather than cutting the melon from end to end, one can cut it across the grain and create full, half, or quarter moon pieces by slicing it off like salami.

The possibilities are endless and we haven't even started eating.

But not yet. The proper utensil must be chosen. It is acceptable, if the melon is sitting in the driveway or on the tailgate of a pickup or kitchen counter or other like place to simply eat the melon with the knife it is opened with. This can be a matter of contention if there are more than a couple of people eating. On the other hand, this method maximizes the chance for serious, meaningful discussion over open halves as discussed previously. It promotes civilized discourse. When one person is using the knife to cut and eat a chunk, the other is free to express his or her opinion. When the knife changes hands, the roles reverse. World piece.

There is no set convention otherwise. Some prefer knives, some prefer spoons, a very few may prefer forks. I am a knife man myself.

Then there is the method of eating the meat of a watermelon. Some pick as many seeds out as they can before they start eating anything. Some pick them out as they go. Others swallow the seeds, but as we all know, they run the risk of a vine growing out of their navel.

Some people eat chaotically, with no rhyme or reason. These tend to be the spoon users. The knife eaters tend to plan the excavation of melon in three dimensions, creating cuts carefully to maximize chunk size and seed removal.

And then there are times when it is appropriate just to stick your face down into the watermelon and eat till it's gone.

There are a few other experiences in life that in my mind are perfect.

But none are as perfectly simple.


Thurvey 6/30/2011

It is Thurvey time. The Thursday survey. Your opportunity to tell the world what you think. Okay, it's really only a few hundred people regularly, except those poor souls who think they are finding Governor Bentley's website. And of course if you are one of them feel free to join in on the expression. Let the creative juices flow by answering one or all of the following in any way you wish by commenting in the box below and follow the instructions, or if there is no comment box below click on "comments" below and follow the instructions.

#1 In anticipation of Independence Day, what is your favorite constitutional right? Why?

#2 In anticipation of Independence Day, what are your favorite summertime foods?

#3 In anticipation of Independence Day, what is your favorite song that mentions "America" or "United States" or "U.S.A." or any other name for our country?

#4 What question in anticipation of Independence Day would you like to have answered?

Let freedom of expression ring.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

In the clearing stands my boxers . . .(subtle simon and garfunkel reference)

I had planned to spend the afternoon outside soaking in some vitamin d the natural way, and I did for a while, cleaning out my car sporting only my blue boxers. I live up in the woods, so I can do that sort of thing. But about 2:30 or so a big honking thunderstorm came over and put an end to my natural vitamin absorption. We were under a thunderstorm watch at the time, so as I always have, I felt an obligation to stay out and watch, staring up at the angry lightning-spitting clouds while the wind rustled through my boxers and the trees that surround the yard. It was awesome.

Had anyone seen me I am quite sure he or she would have assumed I had gone stark-raving mad.

And yet, standing in the rush of the cool, buffeting wind, looking up at the tops of the big oaks and hickories being whipped about as if they were mere seedlings, and becoming engrossed in the swirling white and grey clouds streaked with bursts of jagged white-hot light, I felt more sane than I had felt all week. Even in only my boxers. Maybe especially in only my boxers.

It reminded me that this play that I find myself in is set on a much larger stage than my piddling little part requires.

And somehow there is great comfort in that. Even in only my boxers.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

A healthy walk . . .

For the past few weeks I have said many things about Alabama's new illegal immigrant law. None of them were good, except for the part about it being a bonanza for Alabama lawyers. But tonight I saw the good that is rising up as a result of this ill conceived and ill advised action of our state legislature and Governor Robert Bentley.

I am no expert at estimating crowds, but I suspect that there were around two to three thousand people gathered at Linn Park in Birmingham at 6:30 tonight to peacefully protest the law. The march was organized by Greater Birmingham Ministries. The crowd was beautifully diverse in just about every way, except perhaps ideologically. I always like to work a room because you never know when you're going to run for office. This was a big room, or park, full of people who wanted to be there, wanted desperately to do something. Most of us regular folk were wearing white shirts. Clergy were asked to wear robes, although many just wore their stoles over their shorts and t-shirts. There was a myriad of Christian denominations represented in the crowd. My own, the United Methodists, turned out in a big way. There were Jews and Muslims. And I am sure there were other faiths and probably many who proclaim no religion but have a strong sense of injustice. It was a joy to mingle through the crowd, seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and talking to complete strangers who share the same passion. There was a sense of relief, and probably a little release, that at least and at last this was something that could be done, an action that could be taken.

Before the crowd moved through downtown Birmingham with candles lit, several religious leaders offered prayers from their respective faiths and in Spanish and English. An Imam from the Muslim community, a Rabbi from the Jewish community, a Priest from the Episcopal diocese and a priest from the Catholic diocese offered prayers. Instructions were given and we began to walk, supposedly in silence, but it wasn't really silent. We just had to talk a little bit. We circled four blocks and came back to the park for closing prayers. Stephanie Arnold of First United Methodist of Birmingham and Ferdinand Del Castillo of Riverchase UMC delivered powerful benedictions, Stephanie in English and Jaime in Spanish. The crowd the slowly moved back to their cars and went home or to places like Formagio's in Southside.

The program was simple. The words of the prayers sometimes hard to hear over the white noise of the big fountain. Some candles would not light. We didn't walk eight abreast as directed. Some didn't get the memo about the white shirts. And we talked more than we should.

But it was a perfect night.


I'm staying home with the armadillos (a subtle Jerry Jeff Walker reference)

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It has been an odd week. And this will be an odd post. A bit personal, so you don't have to read it if your looking for a fight or anything relevant. I just need the cheap therapy.

I walked out of my house Thursday morning and there was a community of armadillos mining for grubs in my front yard. (I wonder if that is the derivation of the old gold mining term "grubstake") I walked toward them, thinking they would turn tail and waddle full speed away, but they didn't. They looked up at me with disdain, apparently irritated by my presence, but feeling no compulsion to move on. I walked up to several of them and the reaction was the same, each looking up their scary little noses covered with some kind of scaly shield at me for a second, turning their back, and sticking their snouts back into the ground.

This is the point in the post that I usually draw an analogy from the experience. I am just too tired this morning to think that hard. Feel free to complete the exercise if you wish. I know there are many ways to go with it.

Part of the oddness of the week resulted from a doctor telling me bright and early Monday morning that I had to rest for a few days. Take it easy. No stress. If he wasn't one of the nicest people I know I probably would have slapped him upside the head, another indication that I had let things get a bit out of control. The week was fully booked with things that absolutely had to be done. And my brain was fully occupied with other troubles, rolling down a track like a fully loaded coal train. Once it gets rolling that fast it is a bit ridiculous to stand in front of the engine waving your arms and expecting it to stop. But that is what he wanted me to do. And when this gentle doctor said my current situation was "intolerable" I knew he was serious. He is not an alarmist. So I sort of jumped off the train.

I suppose if you are on a runaway train the options are limited. The momentum of the train is formidable, created by the weight of a long line of fully loaded cars. If there were only one, stopping might be an option. But the train is long and the course is set so taking a different direction is not an option. Staying on the train may be okay for a little while longer, but when it reaches the washed out trestle over the deep gorge nothing good can happen, and jumping off at that point really won't help.

So jumping off early is the best option. But the landing hurts.

But, after jumping off and the tumbling landing ended, I noticed something.

The world around me wasn't moving so fast. In fact it seemed to be quite still. The fastest thing moving is the kudzu growing at the edge of the yard, followed closely by the poison oak. And the armadillos didn't seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere. I guess the reason they weren't afraid is that they had been there for days, it was just hard to see them from the window of a speeding train.

I have complained that the world is moving too fast, that it is hard to keep up with everything. But it may not be the world that is moving too fast. It is me.

And the problem with moving faster and faster to get to the next important destination is that everything in between is just a blur if it is noticed at all. And that it is too bad because the stuff I am missing may be the most important stuff. Or maybe it is not important for everything to be important.

I couldn't stay off the train. There really were important things to be done and troubles to be addressed. So I cautiously stepped back on late in the week. But I'll keep my hand on the brake and won't stoke the coal burner quite so full in hopes that it won't be so hard to get off from time to time.

For friends and family who may be reading this, do not worry. I am not terminal (the train analogy is really popping this morning). At least no more than we are all terminal, as far as I know. Just a small blood pressure issue which I am addressing.

But if ever I seem to be moving too fast, please, reach up, pull me from the train, and slap me upside the head.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thurvey 6/23/2011

It is Thursday once again and time for the survey, the Thurvey as it has become known because that is what I named it. Just a few questions for you the reader to express your opinion on a range of issues of diverse gravity. To comment simply follow the instructions below.

1. What really makes your blood boil, your blood pressure go up? It can be anything, world events to roommate's toiletry habits.

2. What are your three favorite restaurants?

3. On a twist from last week's Thurvey, what is your favorite song with a question title? For example last week's Thurvey mentioned "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart."

4. What question of your own would you like answered?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I'm sure there'll be Putin jokes . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I am about to head to Nashville to see my sons and daughter in law for a Saturday Father's Day visit. There are a few things to do before I go, like emptying the Prius of the trash that has accumulated during the week so that I can have room to pick up illegal immigrants and give them a ride.

See. That is the problem. Not with the world, but with me. This is Saturday and I desperately need to be funny, silly, not so serious. I need to get away from the heavy issues of our society and the files in the office, at least for Saturday. I need to guffaw, to laugh until my body spasms, beverages spew from my nostrils and bladder control is questionable. I need to quit being so serious for a little while. I am a funny guy, right? I can't hear you . . .

I was listening to the news this morning. Probably a bad idea for one who needs to escape, but it is too late. Just part of my Saturday routine. But I lucked out this time. There was a story about the upcoming Republican House Speaker John Boehner's golf date with President Obama. The reporter asked Boehner about it and the Congressman began to laugh and said he was really looking forward to spending time with the President. Then those around began to laugh at the thought of the two political adversaries enjoying time together. Continuing to laugh, Boehner, in a tickled yet sincere voice set them straight. "No, I'm serious, I'm really looking forward to it. We're getting to play golf."

The potential one-liners the match sets up are limitless. Obama always hooks to the left. The Budget isn't the only thing Boehner slices. For once Boehner will inflate Obama's numbers. And when one of them loses his ball . . .It's just too easy.

And Joe Biden is playing too. A big **** score. Let's pray for the nation's sake that there are microphones.

I hope they have a great day. I hope they guffaw as described above, at each other and at themselves, and I suspect they will. And I hope if that happens we get to see the pictures.

And I suggest that as a nation we join them in seeking the guffaw this weekend. I know I will as I head to Nashville. But I won't take it too seriously.

I have made Biblical references in discussing the serious matters of the past few weeks. So today will be no different.

We have plenty of things to cry about.
But as the wise King Solomon reminded us,

"There's a time to laugh, too."

Maybe today is the day.


Friday, June 17, 2011

That about covers it . . .

It has been hot in Alabama for weeks now. We slow down by necessity. It is just too hot to move quickly. Maybe that is why we speak with such a slow drawl. It is just too much effort to let go of the words and force them from our lips.

But as the heat of summer slows most everything down, there is one thing that comes to life and moves with alarming speed.

Anyone who lives in the south or travels on the highways through the south in the summer is familiar with the deep green vine that seems to run continuously from the Mason-Dixon line to the Gulf of Mexico. Kudzu, a native of southeast Asia, was introduced to the Southern U.S.A. as a means of soil erosion prevention and enhancement in the first half of the twentieth century. Millions of seedlings were distributed to Alabama farmers who were paid by the government to plant the vines on their soil-worn acreage, depleted from too many years of cotton. I am sure they would give the money back if the kudzu would leave.

Kudzu liked it here. As we all know it wore out its welcome quickly. But it was too late. Kudzu had found a home.

As a kid I liked kudzu. First, if kudzu was around that meant it was summer, and school was out. As it grew and covered trees and shrubs it created tunnels and chambers for exploring and hiding out and whatever mischief might come therefrom. And in late July and early August the blooms would come out. Deep purple blossoms that smell just like Grape Kool-Aid. It grew so fast that when playing hide and seek it wasn't necessary to run and hide. You could just crouch down at the edge of the yard by the kudzu patch, and by the time fifty Mississippi's were counted, the Kudzu would have covered you up. Of course young parents had to watch the toddlers at play in the yard lest they be lost to the quickly creeping vine. At night, after the sun was down but before it got dark one could see all manner of things in the silhouette of the kudzu covered trees . . . dinosaurs, elephants, Bear Bryant.

Although Kudzu is considered a nuisance to adult landowners, if one can forget that prejudice for a moment, it creates a beautiful landscape, a lush green carpet that rolls with the contour of the ground and whatever else it covers.

But that was also a problem. You can't really tell what is under the kudzu. Sometimes, if a baseball was hit into the kudzu, you obviously had to go in after it or be called a sissy. The top of the kudzu was beautiful, as I just said, but who knew what was under it, other than the lost baseball. I always figured it was the perfect environment for rattlesnakes and copperheads. And it was. But you just couldn't see them from the top. You had to stick your hand down under there and feel around. Or sometimes it covered junk. Old forgotten parts of tractors, bikes, cars or metal tubs, or remnants of an old burn barrel, jagged tin cans and broken jars and bottles, and big rocks, rotten logs, or deep holes. Any foot speed that I ever had is partially due to stepping through the kudzu as quickly as I could and getting out.

But it looked so nice and cool on the top. So smooth and beautiful and it smelled so good. Grape Kool-Aid after all.

A beautiful, sweet smelling surface covering a world of ugliness, foul-air, snakes and dangerous traps.

Kudzu. It's right at home.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thurvey 6/16/2011

It is hard to believe that only a week has passed since the last Thurvey (Thursday survey) was taken. Our staff is still compiling the comment that was received on that one.

In these few days between Flag Day (June 14th) and July 4th (4th of July), let me encourage you to exercise that most cherished American right, the first amendment freedom of speech, by responding to the Thurvey. It is the patriotic thing to do. We'll see who are real Americans. Or you may want to exercise that other cherished freedom found in the 5th Amendment, the right not to speak. If you choose to comment, it is easy. Click on comment below and follow the instructions. If you comment on facebook that is okay, but the entire world wide web will not get the benefit of your wisdom. Answer any or all.

#1 Much of the disagreement about the Alabama immigration act seems to come from what people believe to be priorities, e.g. security, economy, religious, justice, etc. What priority do you base your opinion about the immigration law upon? Explain if you wish.

#2 Musical Question of the Day (New feature of the Thurvey out for a test run) Answer, if you can, that probing question posed by the Bee Gees in 1971: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

#3 Other than hunkering down in an air conditioned room, what is your favorite way to beat the heat of this summer?

#4 What question would you like answered? (Not just of the first three of today's Thurvey. This is your chance to have the whole world consider the thing that puzzles you)

Let freedom ring.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's the law. Deal with it.

The Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act , or simply the Alabama Immigration Act is law. So what do we do now?

The discussion on the United Methodist North Alabama Conference Website, which I referred to last night, makes clear the diversity of opinions about the Act, even by Christians of the same denomination. Thankfully there is a clear effort of the adverse commenters, strained as it may be, to remain grace-like in the discussion. Virtually all of the commenters, pro and con, agree that it does not absolve us as Christians from treating those illegal immigrants with compassion as commanded by Jesus, even as the act is enforced.

So what will that look like?

When a family cannot find a place to live because the Act makes it a criminal offense to lease housing to someone a landlord should reasonably know is here illegally, what will Christians do? Report them to the authorities? To find them shelter elsewhere is a criminal violation for the immigrant and the Good Samaritan. Is the most compassionate thing we can do, if we choose to follow the law, to pray for them as we lead them to the jail for shelter? Do we stand with them as they attempt to explain to their children what is happening and do nothing as they are led away? Is that the best we can do?

When an illegal immigrant is sick or injured, what are we going to do? It is not a violation of the Act for an illegal immigrant to be provided emergency medical care by health providers. So, as Christians are we to wait until the medical problem becomes an emergency before we take them to the hospital?

When a family of illegal immigrants can find no work at all, because even the most simple day labor will result in criminal charges for the immigrant and the one who hires them, how will they live, how will they eat? The Act exempts soup kitchens and like organizations from criminal liability for providing non-cash in kind help, only if the assistance is necessary for safety or to preserve life. So, are we to stand by until the children get sufficiently malnourished before we get them to a soup kitchen?

When does medical care become an emergency? When does poverty require assistance to preserve safety or life? What creates a "reasonable suspicion" that someone is an illegal immigrant?

I don't know. And I don't know if those who may choose to transport illegal immigrants to and from these services are exempt from the aiding and abetting provisions of the law.

Another thing we need to know, since ignorance of the law is no excuse, is that the act makes it illegal to obstruct traffic by stopping at any location to pick up day-laborers, illegal immigrants or not, to transport them to another location for work. It is also a misdemeanor to be the laborer picked up. Being the cynical lawyer that I am I suspect the provision is intended to give a basis for the checking for identification after a heinous violation of this provision. It removes that troublesome requirement for "reasonable suspicion" that someone is an illegal immigrant before being able to demand documentation. I don't believe it would include carpoolers, but you better check with your attorney just to be safe.

"What part of "illegal" aliens do you not understand, Bob?" is the most common response I get to my opposition to the bill. I get that.

But the topic tonight is how do all of us as followers of Jesus, whether we support this law or not, respond to these outlaws, who have thumbed their nose at our law?

I'm not sure, but maybe the same way Jesus responded to the rest of us outlaws.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Gladly I admit I was wrong . . .

Sunday's post could be viewed as critical of the leaders of the Church for failing to speak out publicly about things Jesus would be speaking out against, like the way illegal immigrants will be treated under the new Alabama immigration Act.

Perhaps I was a bit premature. I was not going to post anything tonight, but thought some of you might be interested in reading the discussion among United Methodist leaders, preachers and non-preachers, about the issue, and the proposed action some of them intend to take. The discussion is taking place on a blog on the North Alabama Conference Website. Just click on it and join in if you wish. I'm not sure they meant for the discussion to be reposted, but it is very interesting.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hearesy . . .(yes it is misspelled, I'm trying to make a point)

And before Jesus ascended He spoke to his disciples, saying,

"There's only eleven of you left that I have trained, so I'll be careful not to say anything that might offend you and cause you to leave this group, because this group is the most important thing. I want you to love each other and take care of each other's needs, and as you do that, study and talk about the things that I have said to you, learn what your spiritual gifts and strengths are so that you might speak eloquently and spiritually from the pulpit, and sing beautifully of your love for me in this beautiful upper room y'all have fixed up, but be careful to avoid those things that might offend and cause discomfort to any of you, because there are so few of you, and we don't want to lose anybody.

"You don't have to worry about the poor. All they have to do is get out and work and they can make it. Besides, they are usually dirty and may be a drain on our finances and plans for a new meeting room, which they would probably mess up anyway."

"And the sick? Everybody gets sick, it's just part of life. Don't worry if someone cannot afford to go to the doctor. It's not your problem. They should have taken better care of themselves and saved up a little money. Why should you sacrifice for their failings? And if we get too close, we might catch it. Like I said, I don't want to lose any of this group."

"And the foreigner in your land? He has no right to be here. You don't have to do anything at all for him. In fact, things would be a lot easier if he wasn't here, so, why don't you just try to get rid of him?"

"In fact, I am telling you, don't worry about anyone that is not part of this group. Just take care of each other, support one another in our group and compliment each other on your goodness, and everything will be alright."

"And the government? Like I told you, let Caesar do what he wants to, that is not our concern. If we bother him too much we might lose our tax free status."

Jesus didn't really say that. I just made it up.

But if you are listening for the voice of the Body of Christ, that is, the Church, to tell you much different, you will have to listen very closely. At best you may hear truths. But too often you will only hear silence or perhaps beautiful, satisfying platitudes. At worst, agreement.

I can hear you thinking, Bob has gotten all het up and gone off the deep end again.

I only wish I had the courage to really do that . . .go off the deep end. I wish we all did. But like most everyone else, all I got so far is just so many words.

It is time for the Body of Christ to go out into deep water as Jesus really said. Out of sight of land. Out where it is too deep to touch bottom, where the strong currents run, where we must depend on an anchor that must be far weightier than our own bodies, our own strength, out where chances are taken for the sake of the catch, out into the mystery, where there is no certainty, but only faith in the one who invites out of the safety of the boat and into the water, out to where He has called us to go. And you have to travel light when headed into deep waters.

Did you hear the voice of the Body of Christ from a pulpit today telling you to go out and stand with the Foreigner in your land (that would be Alabama, for those who don't recognize subtlety), even at the risk of being oppressed yourself?

Did you hear the voice of the Body of Christ from a pulpit today insisting that the sick must be cared for now, even if you have to make it happen, whether they can pay for it or not?

Did you hear the voice of the Body of Christ from a pulpit today command you to go feed the hungry or better yet invite some over for dinner because millions are starving today? Or open your home to the homeless because millions have no place of safety tonight? Or stand between the oppressor and the oppressed because thousands are being killed?

Did you hear the voice of the Body of Christ from a pulpit today say that you must not remain silent in the face of injustice?

We spend a lot of time and resources in churches attempting to determine our spiritual gifts and our natural strengths, ideally for the purpose answering God's call. We learn whether we can teach a Bible Study, work with children, run the sound system, greet worshippers, or maybe preside over the Administrative Council. But we seem to be waiting for that person that is called or suited to do the big things, the preposterous things, the impossible things. He has already come. And He asked us to follow Him.

It is a preposterous thing to truly follow Jesus. He is headed for strange lands. He will lead us into deep water. He is waiting for us to get up from our pews (or padded chairs) and come.

I was inspired this spring and continue to be inspired by the willingness of people to be sacrificial in offering help to those hurt and injured in the tornadoes of April and May. Some put themselves in danger. Some gave out of scarcity to those who had even less. The Body of Christ, the Church, was a major part of that effort. Didn't you feel how right that was? Haven't you been amazed at what has been accomplished?

It was exceptional.

And that is a problem.

Because that kind of living and loving is not supposed to be the exception.

It is supposed to be the way we are, always, and everywhere. It is the personality of Jesus.

But we need to hear the chosen, ordained voices of the Body courageously put the mission into into words. Every Sunday.

And the rest of us must have ears to hear.

Even if it offends us.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hot enough for you?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I woke up early this morning and stumbled into the kitchen to put on the coffee. But there was no coffee. So I jumped in the Prius to go get some. The weather seems eager to make a statement here in the South this year. The rare white Christmas we enjoyed in December was a pleasant foreshadowing of unusual and not so pleasant things to come. Snowstorms came in January and shut us down for a week or two. Then shortly after the threat of winter weather was safely behind us the obscene display of power and destruction of tornadoes rolled over us like a giant bush hog. Now the oppressive heat of July and August arrived unfashionably early in the last week of May and like unwelcome company seems prepared to stay too long.

But, if you get up early enough, you can catch a few pleasant moments outside. The air is still but almost cool as the sun peeks above the eastern horizon. It doesn't last long, but in that moment it is perfect. It happens almost every day even during a heat wave. You just have to get up and out earlier than usual to find it.

We talk about the weather a lot, even when it is not so extreme. We write songs about it. We greet people with short weather bulletins, "Hot enough for you?"

The weather seems to make us more human. Or humane. We offer extraordinary, even sacrificial help to neighbors after tornadoes. We take dangerous trips through the snow to make sure folks are okay and have heat or food. We take fans to the elderly and sick during heat waves. And it makes us feel really good.

What is it about weather that brings out the best in us?

It is something we all understand because we all experience it. None of us escape it. No conversation or explanation or analysis is required to know the effects of extreme weather nor the problems it causes. The weather is no respecter of persons.

It rains on the just and the unjust. That covers all of us.

In my recent rant about the new Alabama immigration bill I complained about the severity of the legislation in the treatment of other human beings. But even this draconian legislation includes a provision that would allow emergency responders to assist illegal immigrants during disasters.

The hardships created by weather brings out the best in us because we all understand it. We all experience it. And we don't believe that anyone hurt by the weather has done anything to deserve it.

There is a lot of disagreement about our societal problems and how to address them.

We don't know the answers.

But maybe we could start to find better ones if we behaved like we did in the face of a natural disaster. When the tornadoes hit we had to go and see for ourselves to really understand. We had to sit on the curb and look into the faces of people still in shock and help them sift through the rubble to look for pieces of their lives that might still be salvaged. We desperately needed to figure out how best to help. The answer quickly became obvious. We had to go and ask what was needed. There was no substitute for that conversation.

We cannot do that with our other challenges by building more walls of separation. We can only do that by getting out and being with each other, getting to know each other, even those, especially those, that we believe are not like us, whatever the issue.

Because no matter how formidable the problem seems, how oppressive, there are always good moments to be found, even among the most heated battles.

It requires effort.

Like getting up and getting out a little earlier than usual.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

The three men I admired most, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, will be thrown on a bus to Mexico . ..

Apparently the Thurvey is not the juggernaut outlet for free exchange of ideas that I had anticipated. Give it a whirl if you want, but in the meantime I am going to write something.

I've decided I may flip-flop on an issue that I feel strongly about. Teaching the Bible in public schools. I love my constitution and respect others of different faiths or of no faith at all, but it seems to me quite a few notches of the Bible Belt are clueless about the Bible. So maybe we need some schooling on the matter, so that we might better represent such a good name.

With an almost religious zeal our legislature passed, and our governor signed into law the new Alabama Immigration Act. I can't remember the formal name, you can look back a couple of posts for that if you want.

It is designed to make life so isolated, so harsh, maybe hellish, for illegal immigrants that they either die or leave.

Living, breathing human beings. "Foreigners" " Women and children." You might want to look these up in your concordance. We were told how to treat them. And it wasn't to make life a living hell.

Here is one of the many, many, many admonitions about such behavior in the Hebrew Testament, from that great wheel man, Ezekiel:

The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.
Ezekiel 22:28-30

It didn't go well for those people of that land.

But, the argument goes, we can't run the government according to the rules of our religion, that would be wrong. That makes for interesting and beneficial conversation. Except when it is dishonestly pulled out and dusted off when useful to those who might need it for the moment.

For example, in this same legislative session several provisions restricting abortion were passed. The rhetoric of legislators left no doubt that the basis for their votes was their religious beliefs.

I'm not talking politics, government or policy.

I am talking about the Bible. God's love letter to mankind. Foreigners, women and children, the oppressed, the outcast. The least, the last and the lost. These are the people that Jesus hung out with much of the time and the people he was the most gentle with.

Jesus made it clear in Matthew 25:31-46 that we will find Him in the persons of the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned and the stranger. Read the story.

So, it is not much of a stretch, if you believe this Gospel stuff at all, that in today's Alabama, Jesus will be standing among the strangers among us, the oppressed among us, the hungry, and the lonely. Today in Alabama we further identified that group as illegal immigrants. So, I imagine, no, actually I am as sure as I am about anything I believe, that Jesus will be among those for whom we are creating this hell. He will be among the parents who cannot find work. He will be among the families as they scrimp for food, he will be among the children as they suffer from it all.

He will even be among those that are imprisoned and ultimately returned to the land from which they came.

It is ironic that so many Alabamians have complained that we have thrown God out of our schools.

Cause that is nothing compared to what we are doing now.

We are deporting Jesus.


Thurvey 6/9/2011

It is once again time for the Thursday survey, or Thurvey, as it has become to be known among the masses. This is your opportunity to let your opinion be heard on the questions of the day. Simply click on "comment" below and answer any or all of the questions.

#1 Should the U.S. withdraw from Afghanistan quickly? Under what circumstances should the U. S. commit its military to another part of the world?

#2 What legislation passed by the Alabama legislature this session did you like or dislike the most? Why?

#3 What is your favorite way to handle the intense heat of this early summer? What would you do about it if money was no problem?

#4 What question do you have that you want an answer to?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

No one left to guard the jailhouse . . .

On behalf of the attorneys of the State of Alabama, I would like to express my gratitude to the Alabama State legislature for its recent lawyer bail-out program.

It is cleverly disguised as the more popular Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act , or simply the Alabama Immigration Act. I read Senate Bill 256. It may have been amended before being passed by the House, but I think it contains most of the basics.
After perusing the legislation, sponsored by my Senator Scott Beason, I realized that perhaps I will be able to retire in a few years after all.

I cannot think of any previous single legislative act that creates more civil causes of actions, and more new criminal charges than the new (wink-wink) immigration bill.

And most of the new civil causes of action and criminal charges will not name illegal immigrants as parties. No, the parties will be law enforcement, landlords, businessmen, farmers, medical providers, school officials, and any number of other good, formerly law-abiding citizens who will need the assistance of legal counsel, lest they suddenly become felons.

And it is not just the accused that will need lawyers. The law provides that any person aware of a potential violation of the law may file a civil suit in the appropriate circuit court. A whole new world for those evil "trial" lawyers. This should be interesting. Any person aggrieved by a judge or a sheriff now has a claim to make against them if they just watch closely and hire a creative lawyer.

Most of the actions will be heard in Circuit Courts. The same Circuit Courts that have been forced to cancel weeks of trials for the remainder of the year due to a lack of funds. And the sentences imposed against illegal aliens for violation of this state provision must be served. In other words they must do time. The bill requires that all of the time be done in the State of Alabama Department of Corrections. State prisons, not local jails.

The same prisons that Circuit Judges have been told are full and to find something else to do with convicted felons who have actually killed, maimed, burgled, pushed or thieved.

Under this law, unless this provision was removed after the Senate passed it, it will be a crime to enter into any commercial transaction with an illegal alien. Listen up Wal-Mart, all convenience stores, automobile salesmen and the like. The money may look good, but law enforcement will have to come after you, because if they don't, they may be charged or sued themselves.

Landlords, real estate agents, insurance agents, watch out. You could be facing jail time, or at least a real hassle in court.

And anybody, sheriff or judge or government official of any kind who does not fully enforce this law is subject to all these penalties plus losing state funding for your department.

As excited as I am about the revenue prospect, I will miss my peaches and other fresh Alabama produce that must be picked by hand. But that's no big deal. I am sure the local farmers can find replacements.

I sure hope that the ACLU isn't successful in asserting those pesky constitutional issues that run throughout the legislation. That could really derail this gravy train.

There is one troubling phrase that I will have to research further. It keeps repeating that any "officer of the court" who inhibits the enforcement of this provision in any way will suffer the penalties set out.

Now who is it that I've heard called "officers of the court?"

Oh yeah. Attorneys.

Well dang.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Yap on, Yap off . .

I have a route that I run/walk every two or three days in Oneonta. I park the Prius at the Lester Memorial United Methodist Church parking lot (3rd Avenue and 1st Street, join us Sunday for worship at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m.). From there it's an good steady climb about halfway up Shuff's mountain, then down and back around 4th Avenue. The lap is about 1.4 miles, which I do three times.

I pass many houses with dogs. Some are big and goofy and slobber on my legs as I try to get by them. A couple want to trot along for awhile till they get bored or realize that humans apparently jog along for no good reason, no squirrel or cat involved, so what's the point. I sometimes wonder myself.

But then there are these little yappy dogs. In the past six weeks I have passed their house about 48 times. Each time I pass it is as if they have never seen nor smelled me before. Their little pointy ears perk straight up as they lift their heads, stretching their necks, eyes bugging out, every sinew taut, and then they spring into action with everything they have, which is mostly a high pitched yapping, but also includes running at a full sprint until they get within a couple of feet of my ankles, at which time they stop, let me get a little ahead, and yap at a safe distance until I am up the hill a ways. After I am clear they prance home with with a look of satisfaction on their yappy little faces that they have once again repelled the intruder. They did it the first time I passed, and they still do it. The rest of the dogs in the neighborhood don't even look up anymore.

I have a good friend who lives next to a yappy dog. I have discouraged her from offing it under the cover of darkness. So you see I have nothing against them. They are what they are.

But they remind me of some of our public officials' approach to public policy and solutions to our problems.

We have problems in Alabama. We cannot pay for what we need. We cannot even decide what we need, or at least it seems like the ones we have hired to do that job cannot decide. They just yap for awhile until the public tires of watching and then prance pridefully back to wherever they came from to rest.

Take for instance education. Section 256 of the Alabama Constitution declares it to be the policy of the state of Alabama to foster and promote the education of its citizens in a manner and consistent with its available resources. (It then goes on to make sure that the only right that the Alabama constitution assures regarding education is the right to send your child to a school with children of your own race, but that's a different story that hopefully will soon come to an end with the act of the legislature and the vote of the people).

It is the constitutionally declared policy of the State of Alabama to foster and promote the education of its citizens.

I may be naive, but this seems simpler than we make it. We know approximately how many students we will have in primary and secondary schools. We can make decisions on how much space per student and how many students per teacher we think would be best. We could determine where new schools must be built, where some should be expanded and remodeled, and where some should be closed. The costs could be estimated with acceptable accuracy. And then we pay for it.

But we never do that. The legislature is beating their chests this term for reforming the teacher tenure law in Alabama. It probably needed reforming. I'll leave the discussion of whether this is reform or not for another day. I may have to find a guest writer for that one.

But it does painfully little to address the issues of primary and secondary education in the State of Alabama.

It is a lot of yapping about very, very little.

But it is enough to get them by until the next lap.

(Please comment if you have any thoughts about solutions. Or tell me why we can't address our real problems. Not just in education. I'll forward them on to the other Robert Bentley).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ramblings (or followings)

It is just too hot today to do anything healthy. It is really too hot to do anything. As I entered Birmingham a few minutes ago I broke triple digits on the dashboard thermometer. Naturally that compelled me to detour to Homewood and drop into O'Henry's for an afternoon latte. Yes, the latte is a hot drink, but the air conditioner is working fine and the ceiling fans are on and O'Henry's is a cool place by all definitions, so the heat of the latte is no problem.

Which reminds me of the sermons I heard this morning. Perhaps the challenge of the sermons is partially the reason for my stop here. I tend to think better and deeper while sipping coffee. The preachers were throwing a bit of heat this morning. Not the hell and brimstone kind of heat. The kind of heat that actually suggests that followers of Jesus are called to do that.


"Following Jesus" has become cliche. The words that is. Not the actual doing. That is anything but cliche.

Apparently Jesus likes his coffee hot. As one of the preachers, Michael Miller at St. Mark's UMC in Northport reminded us this morning, if it's lukewarm, He would just spit it out. But he was talking about us.

And Matt Smith, of Taylorville UMC in Tuscaloosa reminded us that Jesus left the world in our hands as stewards to finish the work that He started. Jesus gave us good directions for the rest of the journey. Then Matt asked,"So how are we doing with that?" "No, really, how are we doing?"

Following has a couple of different meanings. The first is a physical action. Getting behind a leader and going where He goes. It is impossible to follow when you run ahead of the leader, or when you get so far behind or off to the side that you lose sight of the leader, or when you just stop.

Following requires going. From a place that you know to a place uncertain and all the places in between.

We as followers are not converted into new creations solely at the trail's head. We change along the journey. If we do not follow, if we do not climb the hills, trip over the rocks, cross the rivers, stump our toes, pop a few blisters and continue until we grow weary, we do not change, we do not grow. We miss the joy of the journey.

The other definition of following is to adopt the beliefs and ways of the leader. Jesus begins his relationship with us with grace, with divine forgiveness. But that is just the beginning of his belief, His ways. He said a whole lot in not so many words. They were radical statements when He lived and are radical today.

Give up your life. Don't live your life to gain material things. Be willing to give all you have to whoever needs it. The first are last. Judge not. Forgive. Love. Serve. Go.

Come and follow me.

Those directions are among His ways. His preaching created quite a bit of heat in His day.

And it still does. For those who will follow if they stay close enough to the source.

But Christians are like lattes even on a sweltering June day in Alabama. Hot is a good thing.



Saturday, June 4, 2011

Numero uno

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I don't have great week-end plans. But at least I am not Alabama governor Robert Bentley. He has promised that he will spend the week-end reviewing the illegal immigration bill sent to him for his signature by the Alabama legislature. Bless his heart.

I have yet been able to read the proposed law, but have read the news reports of its parts, and the boast of its primary author, Kris Kobach, Secretary of State. Not of Alabama, but of Kansas. According to Kobach, Alabama is now Number One, a phrase that does not normally trip easily over the lips of a Midwesterner.

Alabama is Number One in tough legislation regarding illegal immigration. Woo-hoo. Buy me a t-shirt. You better sell a lot.

How to deal with illegal immigrants is controversial, but let's try to put that aside for this morning. Let's take a look at what seems to be the primary focus of every other consideration in state government right now.

Alabama has no money.

When I have been in traffic court lately I have given a couple of my state trooper friends a hard time. There just aren't that many on the roads of Alabama at the same time these days. There are limitations on how many miles they can drive each shift. A driver with good timing can speed all the way across the state, or worse, and the percentages heavily favor the driver. Serious accidents occur and our Troopers doing their best are too far away to offer help or even timely investigation.

Alabama has no money.

When I have been in felony court lately I have seen defendants who a few years ago would have been destined for substantial prison time be placed on probation. I'm not complaining. It's my job to keep folks out of prison. But it wasn't my brilliance keeping them out. We have no place to incarcerate them, nor means to staff existing prisons properly.

Alabama has no money.

Teachers jobs are being cut while student population grows. Programs cannot be funded without private sources. School facilities in some places cannot keep up. In other places the facilities cannot stand up much longer without repair. All of this is happening as it becomes more important than ever to develop a skilled, educated work force. But instead of making progress, our school's struggle.

Alabama has no money.

The recent cuts in state employment reached deep into Alabama's juvenile justice system. In many smaller counties, like Blount County, the cuts by the State would reduce the staff by fifty percent. These offices were already running lean. So without getting too complex, a juvenile probation officer who was handling a hundred juveniles would now be handling two hundred juveniles, unless one of the cuts is the one administrative assistant, and then the whole thing falls apart. Juvenile officers monitor and counsel each youth according to his or her unique situation, and find resources that might be helpful. Suddenly the case load is doubled. The good news is that looking for resources takes less time than before as well, because many of them no longer exist because . . .

Alabama has no money.

The immigration law will cost a so far undiscussed huge amount of money to implement and execute. Before that it will cost money to defend in court.

We hear a lot of talk about fiscal responsibility in government. We are told we must set priorities and cut budgets accordingly.

So this is our priority? To attempt to remove illegal immigrants from our midst whether they have violated the law or not, whether they are a benefit to society or not? This is the thing that we will celebrate spending our tax money on? This is what we will find the money to do?

This is more important than our basic security and safety?

This is more important than the present and future of our children?

What is "this" that is so important anyway?

Maybe the governor will have an answer for us Monday. No wait, that's Jefferson Davis' birthday. It's a state holiday.


Friday, June 3, 2011

These my children . . .

I will be in juvenile court today, as I was yesterday. No, not for any outstanding matters from years ago, just part of my job. I get to represent children.

One of the advantages of being in juvenile court is that what happens there is confidential to protect the young person from a stigma that might inhibit his or her chances from moving beyond the child's present situation. It is terribly important to maintain that.

But one of the problems with the confidentiality is that the public simply does not know the number of lives and heartbreaking severity of the problems that are dealt with in our State of
Alabama juvenile system, yes even in Blount County, that we tout as a perfect place to raise children.

In Blount County alone, the system deals with, well I'm just going to say hundreds of children each year, because I don't really know. I suspect it is more than a thousand. Some more informed reader may let us know by commenting. They come through the system in two primary ways, delinquency and dependency. Delinquency is when a child under the age of eighteen is charged with a crime. Dependency is when a child is in a situation when he or she has no one appropriate to take care of them, or suffers abuse or abandonment.

This is where the confidentiality is a problem. The public needs to know how much our children are suffering and the horrible, deplorable things that happen to them. But the details offer too much chance of identification and that is prohibited.

So I will post a fictional story every once in a while for the next few weeks describing some common situations of drugs, abandonment, abuse, neglect, and the predictable yet horrible behavior that those circumstances elicit from a child. Unfortunately they have become common to me. But they should be shocking.

For now I would like to raise this issue because the State of Alabama is cutting back on services. You may have heard.

And right now, one of the main areas for the cuts is in the services we provide to our troubled and endangered youth. Thousands of kids in life or death situations will be without needed services, protection and guidance.

At graduations around the world, and certainly across Alabama, the cliche was piously proclaimed thousands of times during the past month:

"Our children are our future."

We'll see.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thurvey 6/2/2011

It is time for this week's survey taken on Thursday, known around the world as the Thurvey. This is a time for you the reader to speak your mind to the world. There will be three questions for comment this week. If you wish to answer any question on the Thurvey, click on comment below and follow the instructions.

#1 If you were in Congress, would you vote to raise the federal debt limit? Feel free to explain your answer.

#2 Times are hard and vacation time is here. What are your favorite, cheapest forms of entertainment or vacation?

#3 What is a question that you want answered? This is your chance. Just put it out there.

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