Saturday, August 27, 2011

Fun raising . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is dark this morning. Apparently the days became shorter without me noticing.

But there is just too much to keep notice of these days. Surely I can be forgiven for not noticing the creeping darkness . . .

Just kidding. I'm not going there this Saturday morning, although I kind of like where it seemed to be heading, so I'll save it for later.

The problem is, I am happy this morning. Not a problem in the sense that I want to change how I feel. It is a problem in the sense that I don't really want to take on any heaviness this morning, be it political, social, cultural, theological, or even in the troubling area of edible plants. That significantly limits my options for a topic. It seems I often have this problem for one reason or another on Saturday mornings. I like it when the reason is happiness.

I think everyone within a hundred miles should go to Lipscomb, Alabama today for a hot dog. Since the town no longer receives revenue from bingo it is in a severe financial bind. So, today there will be a hot dog fundraiser in Lipscomb. They need to raise $250,000.00. That's a lot of hot dogs. Buy several. They'll keep in the freezer.

Perhaps the efforts of the fine folk of Lipscomb should be a positive example for us all. Local governments are suffering from the federal budget cutbacks and important services are being lost. So maybe it is time for some fundraising. Other than writing more traffic tickets . . .

In Oneonta, for instance, there is an intersection at which one could grow old waiting for the green light. Be sure and check your drivers' license and license plate expiration date before approaching this intersection because there is a possibility of expiration during the unexpected wait, maybe the license, maybe you. I envision city council members on roller skates hawking cold drinks or coffee, sandwiches, magazines, a gallon of gas, and possibly license renewal, voter registration or long term care for those who were not aware of how long this light stayed red . . .

Yard sales, bake sales, 10k's, karaoke contests, fruit cake sales, it's so much better than having a workable tax system and code.

But another idea crosses my mind this morning, at the risk of dampening my happiness. In some places, like my sweet home Alabama, it would be much more expedient to raise money for government services by selling public offices to the highest bidder. The only difference in the way it works now is that the money used to buy the office would go directly into the government's treasury and we wouldn't have to suffer through all the political advertisements. . . okay, there are still a few kinks to work out, but for a real discussion of this problem see this 2007 article in Harpers.

Enough of that. Almost took a negative turn.

But I am still happy so I better quit. I'll get meaner about things next week. But not hateful. That's a subject for another day. . .just not today.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The hits and misses . . .your choice

Now that I have noticed that I just rolled over the 500 posts marker a couple of days ago, I decided to mark the occasion by listing a few of my personal favorites. Then I started looking back and it was a bit daunting.

So I invite you regular readers, and you irregular ones as well, to take some time and look through the archives over on the far right and let me know, by commenting, which, of any, that stands out for you.


Goin' viral . . .

It is Monday and I have posted three days in a row so I planned on skipping today. The calendar was full all the way to eight or nine tonight. However, it seems that some sort of bug has hitched a ride in my bloodstream, and the results are not something to discuss in polite company, leaving me for the most part flat of my back, except an occasional necessary trip. I am working, but it's time for a break. Under these circumstances there's not much to do on a break.

I noticed that I recently passed the 500 posts mark on the One Day at a Time blog. Had I been writing on one of the eight or so great American novels I started (some just have titles), I would have at least one in the bank by now. Maybe this afternoon.

A couple of housekeeping matters (not my literal house, but the blog). If you want to be notified when a new post goes up, click on the appropriate button on the right where it says "subscribe to blog" or send me your email address. Otherwise I will continue to post the link on facebook, which I feel guilty about, subjecting the facebook universe to my neediness to be read. Until I remember what everybody else subjects me to, then I don't feel so bad. My name is Bob and I have been a bad facebook friend. I have never helped on a farm or with the mafia or accepted my gift of flowers or cupid cards, nor have I sent them, and I never repost even in the face of going to hell. I usually ignore such requests or comment sarcastically. My soul is tortured about this.

Second, I wrote the intro to the blog when I first started. I apologize for the paucity of posts regarding edible plants as proposed. More guilt. I will work on that.

All of this internet and social networking means of communicating is fascinating, but, I have noticed, it can become a formidable source of guilt, such as the aforementioned failure to fulfill the promise of posts regarding edible plants and facebook callousness.

Or the failure to reply to emails and texts promptly. No one really believes all of those messages didn't get through.

A couple of years ago I signed up for a Twitter account. I have yet to utter a tweet. Occasionally I get a message from some random European woman who says she is following me on Twitter. Bless her heart. If she's following me she is standing still. I am such a jerk.

Not to mention offending people with what I think and write. I write a lot about my faith and a lot about politics. My faith tells me to be kind and compassionate. My politics tells me to be less so. It is a tough balancing act.

Well, it feels good to confess, to get all that weight off of my back.

Now if I could really get off my back that would be good.

Gotta run . . .


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Yes, I listened in church this morning . . .and remembered.

A thought struck me during church this morning as we celebrated the Lord's Supper. I imagine thousands of others have had the same thought, and most of them have written books, but just in case you missed them, as I apparently have, let me get it down before I forget. I may write a book someday, packed with original unoriginal thoughts, or unoriginal original thoughts, I am not sure. Someone else has probably already written that one too.

Matt Smith, pastor of Taylorville UMC in Tuscaloosa, was moving us from his sermon into the time of communion. He reminded us that Jesus had given us a means of becoming of one mind in the Body of Christ. He reminded us that as Jesus offered the cup and broke the bread to share with his friends He said, "Do this and remember me."

I like words. If I am in danger of jealous and envy, it is for people who can condense profoundness into few words. So in that sense I am most envious and jealous of Jesus. There aren't that many red letter words in the Bible. But the economy of words that produce such perfection and power are beyond my understanding, certainly my ability. This instruction at that last meal is so brief that its depth is almost lost as we skim the text, much like we hurry through the taking of the elements.

Break the bread. Do this and remember.

As Benjamin reminded me, sometimes I over think. The most obvious meaning is the meaning. Sometimes I strain to go deep in clear, shallow water. And of course it is here. Jesus knew He would not be present with his friends in the chaotic times to come. Using the most common things, food and drink and a treasured ritual from his own religion, he gave his friends a way to remember Him.

But this morning the sermon was on unity, the one mind of the Body. And another meaning struck me. This is when I really envy Jesus' communication skills.

Jesus broke the bread, a foreshadowing of his imminent fate as his human body would be tortured, whipped, abused, and ultimately cruelly destroyed. And he broke the bread as a foreshadowing of the future of His Church, as it suffered, and suffers, or should, for the condition of the world. And I believe he broke the bread for the times each of us have crumbled.

He blessed the bread and broke it. He told us to eat the broken bread, broken for us, symbolic of Him and us, and brokenness, and then, re-member.

I know all my seminary graduate friends will say I am taking license here, that the old French derivation of "remember" simply means to remember again, and that is what Jesus meant for us to do.

But re-member means something else. "Member" is also derived from Old French and means something that belongs, or is a part of. And the prefix "re" means again.

So the bread is broken. Jesus was broken. And we are broken.

But we all belong. We are all a part. And the promise and example of Jesus assures us that it can all be put together again, better than before. Fully whole, fully restored.

After the brokenness, remember, and then re-member.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

I believe I can fly . . .but I'll call Southwest just in case

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

One of the reasons I love Saturday mornings is that for three or four hours I behave as though I have nothing to worry about or stress over. The Saturday morning rule is "do what you want to, don't do it if you don't." On Saturday mornings I pretend. It may be the healthiest thing I do for myself.

A vivid memory of pre-school childhood is that of my friend and I pinning one end of bath towels around our necks so that the rest of the towel flowed down our backs like a cape. You got it, Superman's cape. On rainy days we would run down the hall, through a bedroom door, leap into the air and land on a bed. But on sunny days we would be outside, where the flying was much easier, our only limit the sky. We climbed up onto the long picnic table, gathered our formidable strength as we crouched at one end, then in a burst of hypersonic speed we raced the eight foot length of the table/runway before launching into space, capes flapping behind us. We knew with every lift-off that we were staying airborne a little bit longer, much like the pioneering Wright Brothers, and before the day was finished, we knew that we could really fly.

It really hurts me to admit it now, but we never really flew. We just wanted to real bad. And it seemed like if we talked about it all afternoon as if it were really happening, then it really was happening.

I'm glad we didn't launch from the tree house.

But we did consider it. We climbed up the ladder to the platform that I called a tree house, stood at the edge and peered over staring at the dusty, root laced, rocky ground below. We didn't move. We couldn't move. Reality overcame us. Our capes suddenly scratched like terry cloth dried in the sun. Even at our young age we knew that the soft grassy yard was only two or three feet below us as we zoomed off the end of the table, but to continue pretending from the height of the tree house would most certainly result in pain.

So we peed off the edge instead. That's what five-year old boys do in such situations.

There is a lot of pretending going on these days. But it doesn't seem to be limited to Saturday mornings, nor is their any hint that reality will set in.

There is a style of politics that depends on the ability to pretend that the truth is a lie and a lie is the truth. Those that are gifted at this style have a way of inciting the crowd with short, emotionally charged assertions that may or may not have a basis in truth and require a complete absence of conscience to utter outloud. I still remember a master at this, Alabama Governor George Wallace, when I was a child, speaking at political rallies.

"Ain't no pointy-headed liberal intellectuals from Washington gonna tell us here in Alabama what we gonna do . . ."

The crowds would go wild.

Governor Rick Perry has the gift. So does Michele Bachman.

Evolution is an unfounded theory. Global warming is not affected by the activity of man. Our men and women in uniform don't trust their president. The federal debt can be reduced without additional taxes. Government is bad. Corporations are good. Regulation is bad. The founding fathers who wrote the constitution fought tirelessly until slavery was abolished. Ben Bernanke is a traitor if he prints more money for quantitative easing, but Rick Perry is not for suggesting that Texas might leave the union. Homosexuals can be cured. Dependence on foreign oil is increasing at an alarming rate. Social Security is already bankrupt. Elvis was born on August 16 (that is the day of his death, which created another embarrassing gaffe at a Michele Bachman rally Tuesday when she kept wishing the King happy birthday).

The list is far too long and gets longer every day.

The thing that really sets Perry and Bachman apart is the ability to pretend that everything they say is true, even when their error is clearly pointed out. Reality is not welcome. It only gets in the way when you're on a roll and the crowd is with you. And this crowd won't tolerate any talk about being wrong.

But, reality will set in, sooner or later. Pretending does not change truth. At some point all pretenders stand on a ledge high above the rocky ground, a place that they have climbed to on a rickety ladder so unreliable it is frightening to climb back down, with no way to move forward except to take a step out into space as their bluffs are ultimately called. And they may have gathered a large crowd ready to follow them one more time, making it almost impossible to turn back.

When the stakes aren't so high, nobody gets hurt by pretending. But from this height?

I wish they'd throw in the towel and pee in the wind.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Say man, do you love me . . ..(allusion to John 21:15)

I had a conversation with a friend several years ago. He said that it was not the place of government to take care of everyone. At that time he was referring to the "welfare" system. He couched his concern in religious terms, saying that welfare was the work of the church, not government. I agreed with him, to his surprise, and told him that the church should surely get to work and handle the problem. If the church would handle the problem, the government could get out of the business. I asked him how we were going to start, because surely he did not mean we should wait for the government to quit before we got started, that just wouldn't make sense, too many people would suffer in the meantime. He still hasn't given me an answer.

With all the rhetoric about making government smaller by cutting spending, I wonder if the national discussion is missing the point.

Perhaps a more basic discussion needs to be had. Perhaps we need to be honest.

Should the hungry be fed? Should the homeless be provided shelter? Should those in poverty be helped? Should widows and orphans be cared for? Should the elderly be given help? Should equal opportunity for quality education be provided for all? Should the sick get medical care if they cannot afford it?

I'm not asking whether government should do it or not. I think it might be helpful to have an honest, outloud discussion as to whether Americans believe these are things that should be done, by the government, the church, the Civitans, or not at all. I wonder, if we are honest, what the answer will be.

There are logical public policy arguments as to why the government has an interest in addressing these questions. But that will be a subject for another post, if I can remember. Tonight I just want to ponder, are these things we believe should be done, or not? Because if a majority of the people truly do not believe that these things should be done, then maybe the government should not do it.

I ask these questions because right now the government provides health care for the poor and elderly, food assistance for families, aid for those in poverty, and public education. If the government does not provide these things, then either someone else will have to do so, or they won't be provided.

I wonder, is that what we as a country are really saying? That we do not care whether the hungry are fed, the sick are cared for, children are given a fighting chance, those in poverty are lifted up, homeless are given shelter, and the elderly security in their final years?

That is the first question. Do we really care?

Then we can decide who will do it.

In years past I worked in a prison ministry. (The ministry I worked in was called Kairos, one of several great programs). While I was working that ministry I was struck by the depth and commitment of the Church within the walls of the prison. Being a practicing Christian was not exactly the coolest thing in the eyes of a large number of residents of the institution, and their opinions could be expressed quite brutally. But the committed believers just kept on believing, trying, transforming and caring. I wondered if I would be so faithful under the same pressure.

About the same time one of the parables of Jesus' began to really get after me. It is called the parable of the wedding feast , found in Matthew 22. It is an odd parable, particularly the end, but the main story line involves a man who was throwing a wedding feast for his son. He sent out save the date cards and invitations to all the right people. On the day of the feast he sent his attendants to tell those who had been invited that the dinner was done and it was time to come. No one showed up. He sent them out to tell the invitees once again. Again they didn't show up. So the angry father killed them all and burned their city. He told his attendants to go out into the streets and invite anybody who would come to a good party. And that crowd showed up. The country club was full. Jesus ended the parable by saying, "Many are invited, but few are chosen."

What has the got to do with anything, you might ask.

The majority of Americans still claim to be Christian. As Christians it is indisputable that we are called to feed the hungry, tend to the widows and orphans, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the lonely and imprisoned, to love and serve, and to do so without condition. If Jesus is the way, as we so often like to say when we are planning our route to heaven, then we need to remember this is the way Jesus is. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and all the rest. And that is the way Christians are too. If we are not like that, then, well, let's just say it's something to think about.

Because the invitations to the banquet have been sent out. And if we don't respond, someone else will get our place at the table. I expect several of my prison buddies will get seats close to the front. And at times I wonder if I will make it past the velvet rope.

It would be nice if government did not have to do all these things Jesus asked us to do.

Asked us to come and do.

Invited us.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Exxon Mobil, just plain folks . . .

"Corporations are persons."

Mitt Romney. Bless his heart.

He makes Al Gore look cool.

Sporting his khakis and button down dress shirt, the man who should be king of the Republican presidential wannabees looked about as comfortable as Robert Bentley at a Cinco de Mayo fiesta, one foot propped up awkwardly on a bale of hay as he spoke to a crowd from the "soapbox," a rather clever idea of the Des Moines Register, a stage from which politicians could address and converse with the Iowa State fair crowd.

"Corporations are persons."

Romney had been talking about no new taxes on the people. A member of the crowd suggested that taxes could be raised by closing large corporate loopholes. That's when Romney said,

"Corporations are persons."

Yes, I remember in law school learning about the principle that corporations are persons, an idea expanded by the SCOTUS a couple of years ago in the Citizen's United case. But the Iowa state fair with bales of hay for ottomans may not be the place to assert such contrivances of law.

I am a democrat. Some people say I am liberal. So I am sure I see the tax question differently than Mitt Romney. But I am not sure what bothers me most, his position, or the complete lack of wisdom exhibited by his response.

Will that be the intelligence he will use when he gets the call at 3:00 a.m.?

Equating corporations with human beings is not a pretty proposition for most voters, Democrat or Republican.

So today must have been tough for Romney. It was Texas Governor Rick Perry's first day on the campaign trail in Iowa. Perry was suffering from a minor self-inflicted political injury in Iowa as a result of his decision to announce his candidacy from South Carolina on the same day as the Iowa straw poll. Some Iowan Republicans considered it to be a bit rude. And Iowans are polite. Remember Radar O'Reilly of Ottumwa?

But it looked like Perry was quickly healing the wound. When he propped his foot on the bale of hay, it was at home as a goat on a spit. When I closed my eyes I thought I was listening to W, except his words fit together, even without the use of a single "g" on the end.

I don't think he has said it yet, but I expect it has already been considered. It would be for sure if I were advisin' him. Somethin' like . . .

"Mitt said that corporations are persons. He caught a lot of flack about that, but I know what he meant and so do you. He's talkin' bout that Supreme Court case upholdin' the first amendment. I don't know about all that, I'll let those judges work that out. But what I do know is that those corporations were started by real folks just like you and me, and they provide jobs for folks just like you and me, and the folks that own and run those corporations will be the ones to get us out of this economic mess we're in. I sure don't think we want 'em to have to pay more taxes right now, do we? I think I'd rather them pay out pay checks to real folks like you and me than tax checks to the government, wouldn't you?"

Corporations may be persons.

But they aren't folks.

And that is why Romney is in trouble.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gimme some kind of sign . . .

I saw a sign today. It is not an unusual sign. I have seen hundreds just like it. But for some reason this time it seemed to pulse like a beacon, drawing my focus to its sudden clarity.

I sometimes pray to God for a sign, and then withdraw the request, not wanting God to think that my faith is somehow weak because I want a sign. I believe God sometimes grants my request even if it has been withdrawn. But, as is God's way, the sign is often as cryptic as the dilemma for which I was requesting a sign. If I am faithful to ponder the meaning of the sign seriously, an answer, guidance, peace or at least incredible amusement is forthcoming.

When I pray for a sign, I imagine divine guidance written in the condensation of the bathroom mirror revealed after the morning shower, a pattern in the swirl of half and half in my coffee cup before it is stirred, a yes or no spelled out in jagged bolts of lightning, or maybe the classic revelation in a dream. None of those have happened, except maybe for the dream, and I am not sure about that. I was asleep.

I never imagine a traffic sign.

But yesterday there it was, filling my vision as if someone had pressed the zoom button on my optic nerve.

One Way
Do Not Enter

Part of the problem is that I have not asked for a sign lately. I have been satisfied being on a need to know basis with the Holy One. So now not only do I have a cryptic answer, I don't even know what the question is.

Perhaps it is my age and stage in life, perhaps it is a need to run away from some recent hurts, perhaps it is boredom, or maybe is is simply a chemical imbalance, but I have had a sense lately that it is time for a change. So when a traffic sign behaves the way that one did yesterday, I wonder if it has anything to do with that vague feeling, or whether it is something else entirely.

Benjamin reminded me the other day that sometimes the most obvious, logical, simple interpretation is the correct one. Sometimes we over-think, we go too deep. Perhaps I am occasionally guilty of this. You regular readers of this blog know it's true. So, what is the most simple interpretation of the sign?

Don't turn my car up that street. Okay, I didn't. But I never considered going up that street. In fact by the time I saw the pulsating warning I was well past the point of making that illegal turn. So I don't think the most obvious interpretation is what I am looking for on this one.

So what about the literal interpretation of the message, not necessarily to be applied to driving my car? There is only one way. And you can't go there. Now that's a depressing thought. What am I supposed to do? Just stay where I am?

Possibly . . . but it just doesn't feel right. While that may be my answer, more pondering seems called for.

What was I doing when I saw the sign? It is sometimes helpful to put the sign in context. I was driving in Nashville, trying to get back to the interstate. There were several one way streets and even a dead end or two. Had I been able to go directly toward the interstate by going the wrong way on the one way street I could have been there in a few seconds. But I had to go a different way, a way that took me out of the way, it seemed to me, several blocks, up music row, around a roundabout with statues of large naked people, by a couple of publishing houses and in the midst of a bunch of offices of the United Methodist Church General Board of Discipleship. Then I was back in the flow of traffic headed the right way, back toward the on-ramp.

Hmmmm. If you have any ideas what that might mean, let me know, but be gentle. Maybe the sign was telling me there is a right way to go, but there are no shortcuts. You can't just jump into the middle of a race. It is important to run the course that is set.

I still pray for signs sometimes. But not as much as I used to. More often I pray for the truth. While my writing and speaking are strictly amateur, I do a lot of it. I have a tremendous fear of misrepresenting the Truth. Yes, the Truth with a capital T. I find I cannot be fully truthful, even in my prayers. There is always a hint (sometimes more than a hint) of manipulation, of pride, of selfishness, even when I am talking to God, and much more when I am communicating with people. It is difficult for me to discern the truth in these contentious and mean-spirited days. Days when being right is more important than being good. Days when my way is the only way, and if you're not going my way then you're going the wrong way and you may as well stay where you are and be left behind. Days when the truth that lies beyond the prescribed path is never heard or seen.

Days when the world tells me there is only one way to go, and if I try to do or say differently, then I'll get run over.

I don't know. But the sign was there jumping out at me. I am sure it is worth pondering . . .


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Banana peels . . . I had you all wrong. (Thurvey)

I have a deadline to meet, so the obvious thing to do is to read the news and post a blog.

One of the puzzling things I remember from my childhood involved taking out the trash. My mother, trying to be polite I suppose, would say "do you want to take out the trash?" Even at a tender young age I was a bit rebellious, though never where she could hear. "Why of course," I would grumble under my breath, "who wouldn't want to haul a load of old coffee grinds, egg shells and banana peels out back, it is my pleasure." In my defense I was a bit of a scrawny child so taking out a full, ripe kitchen trash can required that I hug it up against my body, which positioned my nose in close proximity to the top of the can. I can still remember that wonderful mixture of aromas of meals past.

One of the signature smells of that kitchen garbage was old banana peels. It wasn't a rotten smell, as old milk cartons or rotten vegetables might produce, it was much less pungent. And yet, I identify that essence of banana peel with trash that needs to be removed from the house.

Banana peels suffer from poor public relations strategy. And it is not just the association with trash. If one believes the common lore, the banana peel is the cause of most of the world's injuries from slips and falls. But I've never really known anyone, other than Elmer Fudd and his colleagues, who ever suffered from such an accident. Dweadfully unfair when you think about it.

So it was heartening that today's news contained a story of redemption for the banana peel. Somehow a scientist figured out that banana peels could be used to soak up heavy metals from polluted waters. Things like copper and mercury and lead. Banana peels do it better than anything being used now and they cost virtually nothing. At least until someone figures out that banana peels really smell a lot like money in light of this discovery.

So maybe I, maybe we all, have been wrong about the lowly, laughable banana peel.

It makes me wonder what else we are wrong about.

So, for those of you who have missed the Thurvey, that is to say, the Thursday survey, that can be your question.

What might you, or we, be wrong about? (Not rhetorical. Please comment if you are so inclined).


Monday, August 8, 2011

Why there are so many songs about rainbows . . .

Sometimes you just have to be there. A storm blew up quickly this evening. When I walked outside after the rain had ended the world around me glowed with sunlight filtered by low hanging clouds and leaves heavy with raindrops. As I looked toward the horizon a rainbow divided the heavens. Above the bow the sky was a dark blue-gray. Below the bow the space glowed a fiery red. I was alone and had no one with whom to share the moment, so I ran to the car, grabbed my camera and took lots of pictures, knowing this kind of display is fleeting.

And it is impossible to capture. Sometimes you just have to be there.

When I was in junior high I went to a Boy Scout National Jamboree in Idaho. We spent the night at Yellowstone. As all good tourists must do, we gathered around Old Faithful to view the geyser erupt. Sure enough, true to its name, it erupted, more or less right on time. When I got home I had about fifty pictures of Old Faithful erupting.

In the photos Old Faithful looked a lot like a lawn sprinkler.

Sometimes you just have to be there.

(I realize that part of my problem is that I have never invested in a camera capable of capturing much of anything except Christmas gatherings, snow pictures, and beach shots, but work with me here for the deeper point).

The birth of a child. The depth of a relationship. The romance of a perfect moment. The heat of a battle. The thrill of victory. The disappointment of defeat. The grief of a loss. The perfect concert. The best game ever. The devastation of a tornado. The breaking of a heart.

Sometimes you just have to be there. Photographs fall short. Words are inadequate.

There are all kinds of relationships. We know about the ones with other people. But there are other kinds that are important to our people relationships.

There are relationships with the moment. These kinds of relationships connect people and things, time and timelessness, movement and stillness, intellect, senses and emotion, and the only images or recordings are encrypted on the soul. Sometimes one soul. Sometimes two. Sometimes millions. Connected by the moment.

A moment that cannot be photographed or recorded or explained.

Only shared by those who were there.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

That cloud looks like Jimbo . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee. This one is a bit personal. But that happens, especially on Saturdays.

Tuesday I wrote about the great cloud of witnesses that surround us as we move through the course of life, offering encouragement, wisdom and companionship. After reviewing the news sites this morning I was discouraged. Standard and Poor's reduced the nation's credit rating, Alabama's gambling/bribery trial is wrapping up while Alabama's government is strangely quiet waiting for the sound of the next shoe dropping, a fighter jet was shot down in Afghanistan, and everybody is blaming everybody else for everything. If you believe the news, the only clouds that surround us are dark and dangerous.

So I took a break, stumbling back into the kitchen to warm up the coffee, and then being distracted by a box of old photographs. With nothing else to do I checked facebook. I am a parasitic facebooker, contributing nothing except the occasional sarcastic comment when one is deserved. But this morning I checked on a few friends that were on my mind.

I am glad I did.

Part of the cloud of witnesses is moving.

Jim and Lisa are moving to North Carolina. Lisa posted that she had secured a teaching job there.

Jim will be entering Duke Divinity School to formally begin the process of becoming an ordained minister. The informal process has been going on for years.

My friendship with Jim began on the first Appalachia Service Project Mission trip that Lester Memorial UMC went on to Bartley, West Virginia. Jim was a freshman or sophomore in high school, I was older than that. We were on the same work team repairing an old house built on a cut out ledge on the side of a mountain in remote coal country. Jim was a skinny young man with the ability to grow a beard in half a day. He took heed of my advice that women loved a guy who could play the guitar. He possessed a sense of humor in a league with Joe Hastings, an ability to figure out how to repair old houses on a par with Randall Conn , a laugh as recognizable as Max Blalock's (although not as loud), and a goodness of spirit all his own.

Jim was active as a youth at Lester and continued to go on summer mission trips to Appalachia. After he went to college he worked on summer staff with ASP, where he met Lisa, who came as a volunteer to his center. They married and now have two wonderful boys, Andrew and Reece. Jim is a civil engineer and Lisa a teacher. They are wonderful parents, loyal friends, and dedicated church members. They have faced challenges in life the past few years, challenges that continue even today, but have continued to grow through the struggle. Jim has known he was called by God for a long, long time. Sometimes God seems to leave out details when He first calls. I think He does that on purpose. But Jim and Lisa knew the call was there, and answered as much of the call as they could understand as they lived their lives. And now it seems they are ready for the next big step.

I teared up as I read Lisa's post about their move. Not out of sadness because Jim and Lisa are moving away. But out of joy because they are moving on, running the race with perseverance the course that has been set, and now made clear.

So some of my cloud is moving toward the horizon. But the distant clouds make the rising and setting of the sun more beautiful, and give us hints of things to come.

I love those guys.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jogging in the clouds . . .

My dad is 85 years old. I don't think he would mind me mentioning that since he mentions it to me almost every day. I often visit with him late in the afternoon and catch a couple of the cable news programs while bumming a few nacho flavored Doritos and reprogramming the TV remote.

"I just can't keep up with everything anymore," he told me today. "I'm sorry, but I just can't keep up with it all . . . especially this crap." He said that last part as he pointed toward the TV with the remote, more specifically the cable news/political shows, which at the time were wall-to-wall ceiling, debt-ceiling that is.

I don't believe he can't keep up with it anymore. We have had too many recent discussions about it that have given great evidence to the contrary. He understands more about it than I do. But he is so frustrated with our "public servants" that he just doesn't want to keep up with it. In my eyes his life has been one of public service, something I wish I could emulate and will write about more fully sometime. We talked about the recent developments and critiqued the various news hosts and guests. Then I left to take a little jog. He told me it was too hot, but to be careful.

It was a dumb idea. The temperature was still about 92 degrees. About a mile into the jog I saw a familiar figure up ahead coming toward me, actually sort of like a stick figure. It was Bert, an old friend who lives at the end of the street I was running down. Bert has got long legs. I think they attach directly to his neck. And they are skinny. Birds that passed by looked at them with envy. Bert is in his mid-eighties. I always thought of him as very wise, and his counsel has always born that out, but, since he also chose to be out exercising on such an evening as this I began to wonder. He was sporting a bright yellow "Mule Days" cap from Ider, Alabama. I was sporting my bright crimson super baggy University of Alabama basketball shorts. We stopped for a moment or two in the middle of 4th Avenue to chat. But not for long. We both were on a mission. To get some exercise. As we parted I told him I hope to see him again soon when we could talk a little more. I don't know if he heard me. He was already on his way.

My jogging route took me part of the way up Shuff's mountain, through a little cut-through known by some as the "preacher's trail", and back down. As I jogged breathlessly I remembered the words of a friend who used to run that route regularly. Perhaps my brain was now overheated to the point that I was seeing visions, sort of like in one of those sweat lodges that some Native Americans use in religious cleansing rituals.

"You seem to think you are stuck," my friend told me a few years ago, somewhere close to the beginning of that trail. "But you are where you are, doing what you do because that is what you choose to do. You always have a choice." That simple advice changed my life forever.

Later in the jog I was greeted by an old friend parked at the ball field who offered me encouragement and told me it was unnecessary to try to speak. As I cooled down from the jog with a walk toward the Prius a loud honk of a car horn from a passing SUV startled me. I looked up and two friends were smiling and waving as they headed down the road.

When I got back to the Prius there I had a message. Rita called at 7:23 to tell me she loved me.

That's the way life is supposed to be I think. Sort of like a 10K or half marathon or just a pitiful jog, with folks along the way, both present and past, cheering us on, giving us advice, or running alongside us as long as they can. A Bible verse came to mind, so I came home and checked it out. Hebrews 12:1:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us . . ."

Maybe the jog wasn't such a dumb idea after all.


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