Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Magical Mittsery Tour . . .

Governor Romney rightfully and unequivocally (sort of a new thing for him) claimed some of President Obama's legacy this week.

The Apology Tour.

For those of you who have forgotten, the newly elected President went on a tour of nations a few months after he took office in 2009.  Conservative spinsters (I mean spin-meisters) and broadcasters deemed the trip "Obama's Apology Tour," claiming that the new President left American shores and travelled the world making apologies for  the United States.  The clever right-wing campaign was debunked and called foul by countless political fact check groups and ultimately every news organization, including some at FOX news, but the theme was revisited as recently as last week by Mitt Romney in his address to the VFW shortly before he left for his own international tour.  Romney also said he would never apologize for American exceptionalism.

Romney's trip was certainly exceptional.

The only question that remains is whether his trip will result in just a stumble . . .or a fall. There's something about us that makes us laugh when someone trips.  But it doesn't feel so good to be the one laughed at, whether it be Romney, or us, as in U.S., in the eyes of a questioning world.

During what had been carefully planned to be a week of looking American and Presidential with no chance of making a mistake, most of the Governor's time seemed to be backing up from, you might say apologizing, for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and wrong place.

And to make it worse, Romney tripped over his own feet.  Brian Williams tossed him a softball, asking Romney for his view of the readiness of the Brits for the Olympics.  He could have said that Great Britain has a history of doing what needs to be done, or about their famous resolve, or he could have just said he thought they would pull it off swimmingly, if he really want to be glib.  But he didn't.  He said some of the things he had heard  about the preparations were  "disconcerting," and went on to painfully, arrogantly elaborate.

Romney spent the rest of his time in England backing up as if he were exiting an audience with the Queen herself.  His comments brought the sarcastic retorts of the Conservative Prime Minister and the colorful Mayor of London . . . and thousands of rowdy Brits.  He brought a new unity to the Empire. None of them like him.

Not even the warmth of Dressage could melt the hard feelings.

Then in Israel Romney blamed the poverty in occupied Palestine on Palestinian culture.  He inferred that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel (I don't have enough time to explain how big a  diplomatic gaffe that was) and one of his advisers was making Iranian policy on the side, within earshot of officials and microphones.

Poland was looking good, at least from a neo-con perspective, but still, it was being executed well, until Romney's aide told reporters to "kiss his ass", not in an affectionate way, and to "shove it."  All on video.

So give it up Obama.  The Apology Tour is now Red.

And not just from embarrassment.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Boycotts off target?

We live in a free country, or so I thought.  Free to express religious thought and belief without fear of intimidation.  Free to run our businesses and churches according to our understanding.  I thought we were grown up enough to understand that there would be people who interpreted faith matters differently, and that our Constitution would assure a safe space for differing opinions to exist and duke it out in the market place of ideas.

We may not live in a "Christian" nation, but no one can deny that the teachings of Jesus' are woven throughout the fabric of the Stars and Stripes.  We may not all attend our church every Sunday, but we know what Jesus said and did, and most of us still  want to be like Him.

That is why it is so hard to understand the criticism of organizations that simply make a statement about what they believe about the desires of Jesus for our lives, even if it presses a few of the "hot" buttons of social discourse.  Isn't that what Jesus' did when he stood up to the Pharisees?

And even worse, how is it American to suggest a boycott of such an organization for speaking out for its religious beliefs?  Speaking out for Jesus?

But let's try to have a Christian response to these ridiculous actions of the  NRA.  The National Rifle Association.  The national champions of the boycott.

Oh, perhaps you thought I was being critical of proponents of same sex marriage and their opinions in opposition to the Chick Fil A guy.  Nope. They are amateurs when it comes to boycotts, compared to the National Rifle Association.  So if you've been questioning the technique of boycotts, you should get after the NRA.

On its website the National Rifle Association maintains a list of businesses, organizations and individuals who have hinted that they may be in favor of limiting one of Jesus' most passionate tenets, the second amendment right to bear arms.  Please check out the list. You may be on it. Everyone from Art Garfunkel to the Church of the Brethren to Sprint to Sara Lee to the Kansas City Chiefs are named.

Ask Conoco Phillips, a huge corporation, or Primanti Brothers, a small local restaurant about NRA boycotts.

I guess it is ridiculous, anti-American, to suggest boycotts, unless you are defending something as clearly Jesusy as being able to possess an instrument of death in the name of protecting one's self or material possessions. I am sure Jesus was packin' when he stood with the outcast and oppressed. You can't be too careful with those types.

I will eat at Chick Fil A.  Or more accurately, I will drink the lemonade and the cookie dough milkshakes, which, by the way, are sinful in themselves.

I do not agree with the head guy's opinion, and will be glad to talk with him about it over one of the afore mentioned creamy delights. I will do what I can to understand.

But others may boycott.  That is as much their right as it was his right to take his stand.

Americans will disagree on very important issues.  But we must never suggest that one man's opinion has more right to be heard than another.  Even if you think the opinion is wrong, or crazy.  It needs to get out there and be tested.  It would be great if we could get to a place where opinions, rather than people, were being shot at.

This week has featured an exercise in the absurd.   One man in the chicken sandwich business expresses his heart-felt opinion about the nature of marriage of others.  Others express a heart-felt opposing opinion.  One is defended, the other is castigated.

Isn't it ironic?

Sort of like the last becoming first.

Doing good in secret.

Loving your enemy.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Going for the gold . . .and while you're up, grab me the Cheetos

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

NBC will broadcasting every minute of the London Olympics this year.  I watched the opening last night until I just couldn't stay awake. It appeared that the Queen might have had the same problem. I was afraid I might dream of gigantic Mary Poppins and Voldemorts doing battle, or my bed lighting up with a strange glow,  but was graciously spared.  I didn't need to stay up late watching the ceremony.  I had to rest up for the actual competition.  I've already watched some cycling and swimming this morning. Time for a rest.

For the next few days millions, maybe billions of couch potatoes world-wide will become experts at athletic events that we know nothing about.

Fencing will become more than post-holes and barbed wire.  Those of us who take pride in our finely honed swimming pool dives (cannonballs, watermelons, and can-openers), judged by the magnitude of the water splashed upon nearby sunbathers, will adjust our sensibilities, cheering splashless perfectly vertical entries.  Disregarding our history of being mired up to the axles in a recently rain-soaked field, we will offer critiques of whether gymnasts' landings have been properly stuck.  The flamingo pose of synchronized swimmers will replace our image of pink, plastic lawn decorations.  We will muse whether Michael Phelps is really the super-hero Elastic Man. Have you watched this guy stretch before he swims?  I think he could touch the other side of the pool without diving in . . . We will remember that Olympic Handball is not played against a wall down at the gym, and will try to understand that Dressage is more than regular horses playing dress-up because it may help us to better understand Mitt Romney.  And futball?  That takes some adjustment.

For a few days we couch potatoes will indulge in the fantasy that we know about the Olympics because we watch them and learn the language.  It will be fun. And we need some fun.

It is a wonderful thing to celebrate the achievements of the athletes.  It is inspiring to be reminded of the ability of humanity to go beyond what was previously thought unattainable.

And as much fun as we will have learning the lingo and judging the performances, we know that we are really on the outside looking in.  We know that most of these athletes have led a different life than us. These wonderful performances that we will see, some lasting only a few seconds, represent a lifetime of work, a lifetime of sacrifice.

Every athlete must be prepared.  But that's not enough.  When the game begins, there are decisions to be made that depend on the circumstances of the moment.  When to stay in the pack and wait for your chance. When to kick.  When to be conservative. When to take a chance.

More often than not, the gold will hang around the neck of the one who made the correct decisions during the games.   A fall or stumble or bad exchange may require a full sprint instead of a  comfortable pace. A great performance by an opponent may require an unexpectedly difficult dive or exercise.  I don't know what might be the considerations of a Dressage competitor, but I imagine the dynamics are the same.

And it is a general truth that there will be no  gold for the ones who rely on the way things have always been done, or the magnificence of performances past.  World records may last for awhile, but not forever.  Techniques change. Training regimens evolve.  Strategies adjust.

Resting on laurels will result in being run over.

C'est la vie.

Excuse me, I'm missing something I know, so back to the TV.

And finally, of course.



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thurvey 7/26/2012 ics . . .Olymp, Polit, and Philanthrop

Thursday. Survey. Thurvey.  I know I didn't build this blogsite all on my own, although I never have worked on it while on the interstate.  No, I have climbed to the this pinnacle of the world wide web on the infrastructure of you, the engaged and intelligent readership.  Once again it's time for your input on the Thurvey. Lean for the finish line, stick the landing, go for the gold.  Support the USA, answer the Thurvey.

#1   Will you watch the Olympics?  What is your favorite Olympic  sport?  What Olympic competition do you know the least about or care the least about?  If you could skip the torturous training and  just become a champion Olympic athlete, which competition would you wish to win?

#2   Both presidential candidates have now said that we don't achieve the goals and successes in life without help.  Where has your help come from?  A good chance to say something nice about somebody.

#3   What is a "negative campaign?"  Is it ever a good thing?  What do you think the limits should be?   Is it excusable for candidates to lie about their opponents?  What tactics of either presidential candidate would you consider to be beyond the bounds of decency, if such a boundary exists?

#4   Governor Romney is travelling this week to other countries.  Unfortunately for him the world will be watching him, so it probably won't be much fun.  What foreign country would you like to visit with Mitt Romney?  Why?

#5   You can enter a lottery to be invited to President Obama's birthday party. What do you think the theme of the President's birthday party should be this year?  Games?  Refreshments? Location?  Guests?

#6   About half of the residents of Oneonta have been on mission trips this summer. Have you ever been on a mission trip?  Where?  Do you have a favorite story about the trip?

#7  What question of your own do you want answered this week?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday sermon.Let's get political, political . . .let me hear the Body talk. . .

First, this post is from my perspective as a follower of Jesus trying to understand.   So, for those of other faiths or no faith at  all, I just wanted to warn you.  I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on your own struggle, if you have one, with the same issues.  For those of you who are also following Jesus, I welcome your thoughts as well.  Feel free to comment.

The church is no place for politics.  Politics has no place in the church.

I've heard that all my life. 

We know how Jesus told us to act.  You remember,  love each other, love our enemies, they'll know us by how we love each other.  Take care of the poor.  Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Visit the lonely. Take care of the children. Tend to the sick. Visit the prisoner. Give more than expected. Expect nothing in return. Turn the other cheek. Don't judge.  Throw a party, invite everyone. Stand with the oppressed and care for the alien.  Don't story (typo, but a good one which I will keep, but it was supposed to be "store") up treasures. Give away what you have to the poor. If you've been given a lot, you'll be expected to give a lot.   Put away the sword.

That just doesn't fit our politics.

So obviously, Jesus just didn't understand.  He is too nice for our politics.  He wouldn't survive.

It's not that Jesus can't handle politics..

Our politics just can't handle Jesus.

If we tried that, our politics would not survive.  Many of churches might not make it. And we might not do so well either, unless we change.

It's not that Jesus is too nice. One of his last times at his "church", the temple in Jerusalem, where the political power of his immediate world sat,  during a rather hard hitting week-long series of "come to Jesus" meetings, he said a lot of tough things, not to mention turning over a few tables of merchandise.  Take a look at Matthew, Chapter 23.  The whole thing is pretty scary.  But in case you can't handle more than a sixty second bite, here's an excerpt, verses 23-24:

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Talk about a negative campaign. Apparently Jesus misread the polling data.

Jesus paid attention to politics because the world he came to address was political.. The politics of his world to a great degree directed his earthly journey, his life.  And had a great deal to do with his earthly death. It still does.

 Think about words we hear in  political rhetoric every day.  Rich, poor, wealth,  health, sickness, justice, prison, taxes, war, peace, sexuality, immigrants, religion.

Jesus spoke the same words two thousand years ago.

And he wants them spoken today.  The way He spoke them. With the meaning that he plainly spoke them.  In truth. In love. Expecting nothing in return. No matter the costs.

But the politics of his day helped  nail him to a cross and Jesus, the man, died. But his Word did not.

Because He left behind a living, breathing body.  The Church.

And the only audible voice that Jesus has in this world is the voice of that Body.

That voice would never tell lies, but would speak in truth.  That voice would never be cruel.  That voice would always be uttered in love, and with love for the world, even when spoken with passion, yes, even anger.  It would always be sacrificial.

That voice would always speak out for the least, last and lost among us.

Jesus can handle our politics.

But can our politics handle Jesus?


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cool shadows, hot sun, red clay and other good things

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

There are good things.

I've probably been looking a little harder for them lately.

Take the photo on the right.  No, I am not claiming that a shrine should be set up in my den, at the foot of the sofa, based on the cross that appeared on my wall. I would have to really clean up the rest of the house if folks wanted to come in to await an apparition or visitation.   But as I sat on the sofa on a sad quiet morning last week the first rays of dawn projected this spiritual PowerPoint on my wall.   If my windows were a little cleaner, the image would have been clearer. But that's a different sermon.

The cross on the wall was just the shadow of the window pane as the sun rose. It happens almost every sunny morning on some wall in my house.

But that doesn't matter.  That morning I looked up and saw it, and however it happened, it reminded me of goodness and love and hope, and made me wonder whether a cross appearing above a painting of my guitar had any prophetic wallop.  It was a good thing for me.  A very good thing.

Barney was my dad's dog, an old, big, blind, black lab that rarely left my dad's side, spending most of his later years stretched out on the rug in the den beside Dad's recliner or by Dad's bed.  Barney had a cancerous eye which was spreading to the socket, and after taking him to the vet last week, we decided, since Dad had gone on, it would be okay to put Barney out of his earthly misery so that he could once again take his appropriate place with Dad.  A few weeks before Dad died, he told me he wanted Barney to be buried up on the hill behind his house.  I did not plan the day so well, so I found myself digging a grave for Barney at about 2:30 p.m. on a bright, sunny, July afternoon.  I had to leave for Tuscaloosa at 3:30.

Did I mention Barney was a big dog?   As I dug in I rediscovered a few things.  I had forgotten the purity of the red clay just under the thin layer of top soil in the yard above dad's house.  There were no rocks, no insects or worms, just solid, bright red clay that became smooth and shiny at the stroke of a shovel.   I remember seeing it when I was very, very young and the foundation of the house I am now living in was being dug. I remember crawling in and among it and am grateful now that my siblings thought more of me than Joseph of Hebrew Testament's siblings thought  of him, leaving him in the pit.  On the other hand, if I had an amazing technicolor dreamcoat it probably was a hand me down from one or more of them.   I remember the distinct smell of the clay, and how the redness would get on everything, which made me think of little league baseball, because baseball fields around these parts always had a high red clay content, which quickly turned white uniforms orange, which made me think of Benjamin and his widely acclaimed laundry prowess.  The bright, smooth, pure clay made me want to give pottery making a whirl, thinking I could create a pot and let it bake all in the same place. Did I say it was a hot day?  I was in a hurry.

Which made me rediscover just how much I could sweat if I needed to.  And how good water can taste when one's body really needs it.  I guess I haven't been working hard enough lately.  Anyway, the grave got dug and Barney was given a proper place and proper respect with a bouquet of black eyed Susans poked in the soil at his head.  I don't know that Barney was partial to any flower at all, but they grew close to where he lived most of his life, so I imagine he would have liked it.

This morning I had to make a house call around ten o'clock. It was a sad visit made necessary by a cruel illness suffered by a client. I did not have time to finish this post before I left for the appointment, so I just took it easy.  As I was thinking about what to write, thinking about my client, thinking about Dad, and Barney, and hearing in the background the continuous coverage of the Aurora tragedy, my cell phone vibrated.  I had received a text message.

It was from Rick.  He, Lynn and Sarah are with a bunch of Lesterines (members of Lester Memorial UMC, downtown Oneonta, services at 8:30, 9:02, and 11:00 every Sunday morning)  doing some mission work in the Philippines.   He said that they were among serious misery and chaos and so he was thinking of me.  Rick has a way with words.

But then he said, among the misery and chaos, he sees the face of God in the smiles of the children.

And it occurred to me that I have seen God in smiling faces thousands of times during the past month.

Which happens everyday somewhere in my life.  It's just that this morning, a text message from the other side of the world from a clumsy fingered operator, made me look up and see.

And that is a good thing. A very good thing for which I am thankful.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thurvey 7/19/2012

Open wide and stick the Thursday thermometer under your tongue, or elsewhere depending on the source of  your words, it is time for the Thurvey . . . the Thursday survey, taking the temperature of the nation, nay, the world, on the hot, cold or non-issues or the day.  Enter your response to any or all of the questions in the comment box below, include your name or nom de plume if you wish, click on the drop down menu and click on anonymous, and click on publish. If no comment box appears below, click on the little "comments" word below and the box should appear.

#1   I went to the Alabama Theater in downtown Birmingham a couple of Sundays ago, where the  matinee was "To Kill a Mockingbird."   If you haven't been to the Alabama in the past few years, you have missed an easy treat. Check the link for more info including an event schedule. Harry Potter and the Wizard of Oz are coming up this weekend.  If you could see any movie from the past in that incredible movie venue, what would it be?   What other easy getaways would you recommend?

#2 Speaking of Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), what literary character, movie or written fiction, would you like to see run for political office?  Why?

#3  Monday last the One Day at a Time Staff posted about the plight of the poor in Alabama.  On Tuesday the Mobile Press Register published a stinging editorial on the same topic. The New York Times also published an editorial on a similar national theme later Tuesday.  Surely when three such highly revered and respected outlets raise the same issues in such a limited time, something is going on.  Do you consider the plight of the poor an important issue?  Is it a matter to be addressed by the government, by religious institutions, or is it just to be ignored, since the poor will always be with us?

#4  President Obama said the following in Roanoke, Virginia earlier this week:

"I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something, there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help."
"There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

Do you agree or disagree with this proposition?

#5  On facebook some of my friends post that Democrats and/or liberals are "stupid", "naive", "evil", and "anti-American," which concerns me a little because I make no secret that my views tend to go that way (Democrat or liberal, not stupid, naive, evil or anti-American.)   How did we as Americans get to this place? Any suggestions? (other than de-friending, cause I personally think less dialogue is not the answer).

#6  One of the lesser, yet regrettable consequences of the sentiment in question 5 above is that it is harder to really enjoy the funny things that happen in politics.  Let's face it, Obama looked like a goober this week eating an ice cream cone with a spoon.  It is funny that the sport Romney is most known for is dressage, a fancy expensive dancing horse competition.  It is healthy to share a national guffaw, but partisanship is getting in the way of even that.  What has any candidate or public official done that has made you laugh or wish to poke a little fun?  It's okay. Do it for the sake of national unity.

#7  What question of your own do you want answered this week?



Monday, July 16, 2012

A poor excuse . . .

If you want a short, inspirational, somewhat troubling read for anytime, pick up Ron Hall and Denver Moore's "Same Kind of Different as Me."  This post is not a review of the book, but I was thinking about it today as I reviewed the Alabama news of the last few days.

The book is the telling of a real story by Hall and Moore, Hall being a rather wealthy art dealer and Moore being a homeless man,  and how their life-paths crossed. It will make you cry.

In part of the book Moore describes his childhood in Mississippi as the son of a sharecropper.  Slavery had been abolished after the Civil War.  But an insidious system took its place .  Education and opportunity were effectively denied to the former slaves and their descendants.  There was no escape from the former plantation lands of Mississippi for the poor black families who worked in the fields for a share of crops and a minimal existence.  Moore describes an economic system that, while better than slavery, was still oppressive and hopeless, trapping the descendants of slaves just as surely as the muck of a cypress swamp.

Do you remember that Tennessee Ernie Ford song, "Fifteen Tons?"  It was about coal-mining, not sharecropping.  But it describes a similar life.  Who can ever forget Ford singing the last line of that song,

"I owe my soul to the company store."

Many sharecroppers had the same deal.  They bought their meager necessities from the landowner for whom they worked.  The landowner charged convenience store prices and quick loan interest rates. Sharecroppers  often died owing the landowner.

Which brings me to the Alabama news of the week.

Alabama has the fifth lowest median income in the nation.

Alabama has the ninth worst poverty rate in the nation.

Alabama taxes its poor more than any other state in the nation. We are number one.

Alabama consistently ranks in the lower ten to twentieth percentile in public education rankings in the nation.

If you are poor in Alabama, you are among the poor of the poorest in America, you pay more taxes than any other of the poor in America, and your opportunities for escape through education are among the lowest in America.

You pay taxes on the food you need to live, unlike most of the rest of America.

And maybe you'll never read this blogpost, either because you can't read, or because you don't have access to a computer or the internet.

But I can write this, and some of you can read this, because not everyone in Alabama is poor.

Because Alabama is in the top ten, in fact number five in America, in another statistical ranking.

Alabama boasts the fifth largest income inequality gap in America according to Wallstreet 24/7.

We have chosen to ignore the poor.  Lately we have even begun to blame the poor.

So here's a very short read  for we who dwell in the buckle of the Bible Belt.

Headed for a goat barbecue if we don't change our ways.




Saturday, July 14, 2012

Lawn, tennis and love . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is a perfect summer morning up here on the hill, the cooler night air still lingering while the birds and the noisy bugs set off their alarms. Of course that will change by late morning. Everything changes. It is the nature of life.

Okay, that was a bit philosophical, but on Saturday morning here on the sofa with my coffee that is okay. The rule for everybody on Saturday should be that you do what you want to and don't do what you don't want to before noon,  unless your action or inaction is injurious to someone else.  I propose that as a constitutional amendment, a notion clearly articulated by our forefathers when they talked about the "pursuit of happiness" and "inalienable rights."

So,  I want to talk a little more about my dad this morning, because for the last year or two I would spend a portion of Saturday with Dad.  The last normal Saturday we shared was only a couple of months ago, when we attacked the formidable lawn together, riding the tractor and the lawnmowers, weed-eating and lopping, and taking breaks to fix whatever equipment we had broken that hour. It was a beautiful late spring day. The yard looked great after I gathered up all the tools and machines strewn about the grounds.  We worked together, yet apart most of the time. We would laugh, with and at each other, as the one riding the equipment that was still functioning drove by and waved at the other who stood, aiming and figuring about how to get going again. If the problem was formidable, there would be a conference, and we would work together to fix it or decide to park it.   What a great day.

I have been amused in recent decades at my dad's interest in yard work.  He accumulated an arsenal of equipment to use, break, and repair.  A tractor, two riding lawnmowers, weed-eaters, loppers and other instruments adorned his carport, tool shed, and pole shed in the last years.  He kept his acreage groomed and it seemed to be one of his favorite past-times.

This amused me because I never saw him touch a lawn-care implement while I was growing up. I saw Danny mow a lot.  My mom mowed from time to time. And it seemed like I mowed forever. With a lawnmower that was held together with a coat hanger. We had to get a new one once after I caught the old one on fire, but that's a different story.  I'm glad he finally got to share in the joy.

But there was a time when we did other things on summer Saturdays.  One of them was tennis.

If you were at the funeral, or read my last post, you might get the idea that my dad was this kind, thoughtful man concerned only about the well-being and happiness of others.

That may have been a slight exaggeration.  If you ever played tennis against him, you know what I mean.

Dad was not an orthodox tennis player.  In warming up, if he ever really warmed up, you never saw him stroke the ball cleanly with a little top spin.  His back-hand looked like he never really figured out how that was supposed to be done.  And that never really changed after the match started.

My dad loved to win.  But just as important, it seemed, was torturing his opponent. He was the master of spin. Perhaps this was a result of his political or broadcast or sales experiences, but it was most lethal on the tennis court.  He delivered thousands of serves that were never touched.   The ball would leave his racquet, rotating on its axis so fast that the seams of the ball disappeared, pass a micron or two above the net, bounce on the outside line of the service square, and scoot immediately, about three inches off the court, sometimes almost rolling, toward the side fence of the court, out of reach of the futile lunge of an uninitiated opponent.  A couple of these serves inevitably led a wise opponent to cheat to the outside, further and further until finally they got a racquet on the ball before the second bounce.  The next serve would then be straight down the center court line, with little spin, again untouched until the humbled opponent walked back to pick it up. He would laugh.

He was the champion of dinking.  Dinking is putting a shot just over the net, so softly that the ball barely bounces.  Young, athletic opponents would celebrate very brief victories as they raced, headlong, toward the net, scraping their racquets on the court before picking up the shot for the return.  Then they watched helplessly as Dad softly lobbed the ball over their head into the backcourt.  Dad would be laughing as the younger player would race backward to return the softly bounced ball back at the baseline. It seemed he was hoping that his opponent would be successful, because, if he were successful, there was another opportunity for the deadly dink, and the whole cat and mouse game could continue. An unexperienced player would be worn out after the first couple of points.

He loved to win.  But it almost seemed he loved to play the game even more. We played and played back then. It was important to win because there was only one court, and you got to keep playing as long as you won.

But most of all is that time we all spent together. Our whole family played. And lots and lots of friends played.  And laughed.  And sweated. And talked.

In scoring tennis, love means no point has been made.

The way dad played, there weren't too many love games.

I miss you dad.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Dad

My dad died a few minutes before midnight Sunday.

I've spent the time since then with family and friends, focused on planning for a Wednesday afternoon funeral.  We cried and laughed, called, texted and emailed, sifted through about a million photographs and papers, and took comfort in the kindness of others expressed in presence, food, flowers, smiles, stories, hugs and help.

And now I am alone, for the first time since Sunday night.

This is a post that I never wanted to get around to, but, I knew it was coming someday. It happens to everyone, I know.  But it never happened to me and my dad. I wasn't ready, even though I knew he was terribly sick.  So, if you will indulge me, let me say a few things about L.D. Bentley, since he is not around to help me sort this thing out.

First, let me refer you to the obituary written by my sister Emily.  I know many of you don't click on the handy links I provide, but please do so this time, even if you never get back to this post.  I called her and asked her to write that piece around 11:00 a.m. Monday morning.  She said she would be glad to do so. I told her we had a deadline of 4:00 p.m.  She still said yes even though she had a ways to drive before she could get down to it.  She finished a little after three and we made our deadline.  Emily is a truly gifted writer with newspaper journalism experience.  She knew about deadlines.  There is no way that even someone as gifted as Emily could write such a beautiful piece  in a couple of hours if she had to research the subject to find something to say.  I am sure she would tell you that her time was not spent finding things to say about her dad. The problem was deciding what to leave out.  Good material was not a problem.

L. D. Bentley did a lot of things not included in the obit.  He ran a sales barn, started a newspaper,  owned and operated coin laundries, invested in an oil well in New Hope, Alabama,  helped in the creation of the 4C program in Blount County, which served the needs of immigrant workers' children and others in need, served on the board of the Oneonta Public Library, served on the Board of Directors of the Blount County Department of Pensions and Security/DHR, assisted in the Blount County literacy program. If I left something out important or interesting, just let me know by commenting.  As I said, good material about what L. D. Bentley did during his life is not a problem.

But a life is not simply a list of what is done.

A life would be better defined by who someone is, if that were really possible.

To me, he was Dad.

I looked up to my dad, not just for all those wonderful things he did, but more for why and how he did them. It was never about him.  He would not let it be about him.  It was about helping other folks have a better life, particularly those who were powerless and needed help. True, that is not a formula for political success, which resulted in a short career in office, but a long life of respect. He had a strong, clear baritone voice, "network quality" he used to say, laughing, as we listened to his most recently recorded radio ad spot.  It was a voice perfect for radio.  But it was a strong, clear voice heard in many other places as well.

 It was heard in the halls of the Senate Chamber of the old Alabama Capitol building in Montgomery for hours and hours as he and 12 other Senators committed political suicide by filibustering until the clock ran out on segregationist Governor George Wallace's effort to change the rules so that he could be elected for a second term.

It was heard in Oneonta in the fifties as a new public school system was born, and later in the seventies as a new school complex was built.

His voice was clear in board meetings addressing the needs of adult mentally challenged adults and the concerns of their aging parents and worried family. It was strong when advocating for poor immigrant workers' children and their need for education.  He was generous with this gift of voice.

His voice was one of his best assets.  Not just the smooth sounds that resulted from "a set of good pipes." A voice that came from a deeper place, somewhere beneath his vibrating vocal cords, somewhere within his big, big heart.

The world, at least around here, will miss that voice. Will miss that heart.

I know I will.

 I do.

Because he was my dad.  He loved me and all his family with that same big heart, that same strong voice.

I was blessed to be with my dad Sunday night. I was looking directly into his eyes. Seconds before he died he lifted the oxygen mask (which he hated) from his face, weakly smiled the mischievous smile that he often used to lighten the mood, cut his eyes toward me as I stood by the side of his bed and said,

"Will you tell me a story?"

A few seconds later, I saw the light disappear from his eyes and he was gone in an instant.

I don't know what he meant when he asked me to tell him a story.  But he left us a story to tell.

And a lot of voice lessons.

I love you Dad.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday Sermon notes, family reunion and Sumatanga

It was a full week-end. So full that there was no sofa time for coffee on Saturday.

This morning Rev. Matt Smith of Taylorville UMC (just off Highway 69 South, 640 Bear Creek Rd., Tuscaloosa, Alabama, worship at 9 and 11 every Sunday) told us about the story of Jesus' miracle on the way to a miracle in Mark 5.   Mostly he talked about the power of touch.

Which got me to thinking, which is a good thing for a sermon to do. And there was plenty of time to think on the drive from T-town to Camp Sumatanga, which is about (actually exactly, unless other conditions intervene) an hour and a half long.

I spent the week-end at Sumatanga.  Sumatanga is a Himalayan word for "a place of rest and vision."  There was a lot to see and do there this week-end, but the rest part will have to wait for the next visit.

The Bynum family invaded the camp in Greasy Cove this week-end.  The descendents of Jasper and Beulah Bynum drove in from such remote places as Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Montgomery, Birmingham, Hartselle, and Oneonta.

It was quite a wonderful crowd.

I slept an average of six hours each night, and I don't think I was far off the average.  There were too many conversations to have, songs to sing, games to play, snacks to eat, cups of coffee to drink, and names to remember or learn to waste time on sleep.

And there were hugs of all varieties.  Manly hugs that began with a handshake and culminated in a back slap. Sideway hugs, especially for the first timers. Wrap around hugs. Gentle hugs.  Stooping down hugs for the youngest among us.

It is much easier to keep up with cousins than it used to be. Email and facebook make it fairly easy to know who is born, pregnant, graduating, engaged, married,  newly employed, having health problems, travelling, loving cute kitten videos . . .

But, there is something to this touch thing that Matt was talking about this morning.

There is something about being close enough to touch, to look into a face that you haven't seen for awhile, to hear a voice that reveals as much about life through it's intonation as it does the words that it carries. Music from the throat, from hands on strings, and from the heart.

And laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.  LOL or even LMAO just isn't doesn't quite stack up.

So, I loved being with the Bynum family this week-end.

And I loved being at Sumatanga again.  Saturday morning a few of us went for a walk.  A walk in the water of the creek that feeds the lake, when there is not a hole in the dam, but that's a different story for a different metaphorical point.  It was already getting hot, and the cold water of the spring fed creek was good medicine  for the body.  Camp looks different from that point of view.  Sort of like looking at it from a very personal place, from the inside out.

We slipped and slid as we walked a few hundred yards upstream under a sheltered canopy of green, walled with occasional pillars of limestone.  We paused along the way to examine turtles, frogs, plants and rusted frames of old chairs that someone probably lost years ago and didn't tell anyone.  And then we got to the old swimming pool.

The old swimming pool, for which the "pool camp" is named, is not in use as a swimming pool anymore.  The dam on the creek was removed years ago.  But there is still a deep enough pool to swim in, so we did.  And so did little fishes, frogs, tadpoles, crayfish (or crawfish, I'm never sure how that really goes) and all sizes of turtles, probably a couple of snakes, but we didn't see them.  Ignorance was good in that situation.

We visited with some camp friends (human) along the way, and then walked on the trail back to reunion central.

It was time for lunch.  It seemed like it was always time to eat something.  My shorts and shirt were still cool and wet from the walk/swim, and I had to leave my sand and gravel filled shoes in the sun to dry.  I didn't change clothes for awhile.  The cool creek water that remained was refreshing and I wanted to enjoy it a little longer.

There are photographs in camp brochures that show the creek and the beautiful plants and rock formations that line its course.

But sometimes you just need to go. To be there. To touch, and listen, and see.

From the inside out.

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