Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The music is the message. Lessons of New Year's Eve past . . .

When I was in junior high my favorite New Year's Eve tradition was waiting until the sun went down and the ionosphere got just right, bouncing far away radio waves back to earth, back to an even more rural Oneonta, Alabama,  so I could tune in WLS 89,  the AM radio juggernaut out of Chicago, as they counted down the final hours of the old year by playing the top 89 songs of the year.  I think it meant more back then because we had to work so hard to hear the music through the static and interference. The Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, the Stones, the Grass Roots, the Mamas and Papas, the Temptations, Aretha,  the Four Tops, Buffalo Springfield, Sly and the Family Stone,  and, well I can't name them all.  Clear, cold nights were the best, so New Year's Eve usually worked out.

One thing that was different about radio back in that ancient time was that even rock and roll stations regularly broadcast the news. Not the kind of news you hear on talk radio now.  At the top of the hour every hour we heard the headline news of the hour.  The news of that era was not good, mostly dominated by war, riots, and assasinations.  Or at least it seemed that way to me. And back then they were All-American stories, tragically.

So it was an odd experience. The joy of the best music of the year.  The angst created by what seemed to be a crumbling society.

And the music reflected what the newscasts told us. CSNY sang of Four dead in Ohio. Dylan offered the invitation "Come Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call. The times they are changing.". Dion grieved the loss of great leaders to assasination, "Any body hear seen my old friend Bobby, can you tell me where he's gone,. I thought I saw him going up over the hill, with Abraham, Martin and John "  Edwin Starr asked the question that so many were wanting answered , "War, what is it good for?   Creedence decried the inequity of the draft, "It ain't me, It aint me, I ain't no senator's son, I ain't no fortunate one.  Sly and the Family Stone sang of racial, cultural and economic tolerance in Everyday People, " There is a blue one who can't accept the green one for living with the fat one for trying to be the skinny one."   Even Elvis sang of the social condition, "In the Ghetto."  I could go on and on.  Feel free to add my commenting if you wish.

Of course there was Sugar, Sugar by the Archies, or Temptation Eyes by the Grass Roots, or my all time favorite feel good song, Build Me Up Buttercup by the Foundations.   Thank goodness for the relief.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  It was all mixed up together.

Music and news.

Art and life.

And so here we are now, closing out another year, several decades later.  The amplitude modulated waves of WLS still rebound off the ionosphere to reach the hinterlands of North Alabama on cold, clear nights, but I never listen. I can hear the same talk radio out of Birmingham pretty much. And music stations don't dare give us any news.  It's just not good radio.

And, other than a few rappers, there is very little news in the music, it seems to me.  Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm old and I just don't know.

But, if I'm right, it's too bad. Because the music of those New Year's Eves of decades ago made a difference.  As Marshall McLuhan,  a pop communications guru of that time, famously penned:

"The medium is the message."

Even now, when I hear the first instrumental notes of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," I get a feeling that I'll never forget.  I hope.A couple of the verses are particularly timeless:

"There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speakin' their minds
A gettin' so much resistance from behind

Time we stop, hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and they carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side"

Or maybe that's our problem.

 Music does reflect society.

 Art does reflect life

And maybe we just don't care anymore..

Or maybe I'm wrong.

Feel free to let me know. 

Nothing would make me happier.



Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nuttin' Important this morning . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee

It is a perfect Saturday for the weekend between Christmas and New Years.  Cloudy, rainy, cool. There is little temptation to get up and get out and about. Maybe later. Maybe not. For now coffee, the sofa, and Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me on the radio give me a feeling of contentment.

I was reading the news sites this morning.  My favorite article this morning was on AL.com.  There was a headline on the newsfeed which read:

"Woman Stabs Husband with Ceramic Squirrel for Not Bringing Home Beer."

Unfortunately, the lack of beer for Christmas enraged the woman enough to cause her to seriously injure her husband with the ceramic squirrel, so I am somewhat ashamed that the article brought a smile to my face.  But it did. I am sorry.  I think I was reminded of a ceramic nut bowl that my grandmother made and gave me for Christmas several decades ago. I confess that at the time I was not as thrilled with the gift as I let on.  Again, I am ashamed of that feeling. Perhaps if she had included beer to go with the nuts the memory would have been completely different. I can assure you that would be a gift opening the whole family would still be talking about.  If you knew my Baptist grandmother, you would know what I mean.  She was so opposed to alcohol that she was convinced and adamantly insisted that there was absolutely no alcohol in her brandy fruit that she made, kept on the buffet and used for cooking. You could light that stuff with a spark from three feet away. But I must interject that my grandmother never used her ceramics to do harm.

The woman who enlisted the ceramic squirrel to do her dirty work was from South Carolina, thank goodness.

On the same page is an advertisement which made me proud to be from Alabama.  Someone from Springville, just across the mountain from me, has invented a lighted hunting knife.  If you've ever tried to field dress that deer in the dark, you know how hard it can be when you can't see what you're doing.  So this knife has LED lights embedded in the handle in such a way that light is projected onto the area being cut. I am serious about being impressed.  I am not a hunter, but if I were, I am sure that I would have tried to duct tape a pen light to the handle of my knife, which would be a constant source of frustration.  That is a common occurrence with other projects in my life. So, if you want to give a late gift to a hunter, this is your opportunity to be on the leading edge of hunting technology and support the Alabama economy.  From right over there in Springville.  Here's to you inventor of the lighted hunting knife. I would raise a beer in salute, but I don't have any either.

There are many other things in the news this morning, but all those big things will be there next week, and I will probably write about them.  But these small stories like assault with a ceramic squirrel and lit hunting knives don't have the staying power of healthcare, economy, war, and liberty.  I'd rather talk about the small things this morning because they probably won't be a big deal next week.

Which reminds be of a facebook post a friend of mine wrote this morning.  She said that she had a lot of important things that she really needed to do today, but for now, she was snuggling with her young son.

She is right. All that "important" stuff will be there every week-end.. But the small things, like young sons, won't be around to snuggle for many Saturdays.  She has chosen the better thing.

Okay, that's enough rambling. Gotta go see if I can find that ceramic nut bowl before someone gets hurt.



Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

It is a quiet and brilliantly beautiful day on my hillside this morning. Frost covers the ground and the roof, and the early morning sky is an indescribable royal blue. Hot coffee sends plumes of aromatic vapor into the air, its swirls and curls shimmering in the early morning rays of the rising sun that shoot through my house from east to west. It is a good morning..

The baby Jesus nailed it at the Christmas Eve Service at Lester Memorial UMC last night, with an assist from his supporting actress, the little angel played by his slightly older sister.

The hallmark of the service at Lester has always been its sheer warm simplicity. The Christmas story is read to children gathered around the Chrismon tree, while the holy family comes in and settles in at the front of the church. The family is played each year by a willing young family that has been blessed with a new addition during the previous year.

Mary and Joseph made the long journey down the aisle toward their place in Bethlehem, just behind the altar rail, mother Mary carrying the cherubic Jesus.  Along with them floated  a tiny angel, also cherubic, complete with wings and robe, dancing with every step she took, seemingly as excited as if she had just wakened to see what Santa Claus had brought.

As the Christmas story was read and songs were sung, the little angel could not be contained, dancing, jumping, up and down the step behind the altar, occasionally coming over to the baby Jesus and whispering something to him.  Jesus would look at her with delight, his face, framed with dark brown hair, beaming.  The angel took it all in, looking at the tree, the children, the singers, occasionally at Mary and Joseph, and at the Baby Jesus.  She could not contain her excitement.

And Baby Jesus loved it all. But especially the angel.   He would look at her and smile, and break into a baby laugh.  Sometimes it seemed to be more than he could take, his arms and legs beginning to dance as he sat in his mother's lap, his hands clapping with the joy of the night.

Of course Mary and Joseph played their part wonderfully as well, concern and a touch of anxiety on their faces, wondering what was to come next this night, and whether anything would ever be in their control again.  An angel whose joy was uncontainable, and a baby boy who seemed to understand and welcome, even join in the irresistible anticipation of the angel.

And that's the way it really began. With joy and excitement. Heaven came down. Unspeakable joy.

God is with us.

And we will never be able to control Him.  Might as well start dancing.

Merry, merry Christmas.

And a special thanks to the Holy family.


Monday, December 16, 2013

It looks Christmessy around here . . .

I am getting my house ready for Christmas.  Yes, I know it is a little late, but I did not start today.  I decided I would go for the "deep" clean a couple of weeks ago. It seemed like a good idea at the time.  That may have been poor planning on my part, as my schedule has not allowed for a lot of time at the house, and the depth required for this "deep" clean was more than I imagined.  It now seems that I am in the middle of an archaeological dig. That makes it even more difficult as I get distracted by interesting, fun, strange, troubling and wonderful historical relics that I have found as I sorted and sifted through drawers, shelves, boxes and stacks.

I am sure that this will ultimately be a good thing.  But tonight my house looks like my past has exploded and is scattered in pieces all over the place. Every room. Every piece of furniture. Covered.  Some of my past will survive. Some will be recycled. A whole lot will end up at the dump (landfill for the more proper among us).

 It is not beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here.

Not the kind of Christmas I enjoy as I walk through at the malls or on the busy streets of shops lined with twinkling lights, magnificent displays, and perfect trees, or in the beautifully, tastefully decorated churches I love to worship in.

Maybe I'll get there after I get to the bottom of everything.

But for now it is chaos. A mess. Nothing is in its place. Some of this stuff doesn't even have a place.

Kind of like when Jesus really came.  Things were a mess, centuries in the making. Wars, oppression, poverty, prejudice, perversion of God's way.

Hopeless.  A mess. chaos.  History lay heavily on the present.

And then He came.  Just a baby, at first, like the rest of us.  Born right in the middle of it on that first Christmas.

Nothing was in the right place.

Some things and some people had no place.

Including Jesus.

But the deep clean had begun, not to be finished overnight.

And it still goes on.

But ultimately, it will be a good thing.  The best thing ever.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wake up, wake up, it's Christmas morning . . .

When I was a child, my brother and I shared a bedroom directly across the hall from the living room, where gloriously stood the Christmas tree, a cedar we harvested from what seemed like the deep forest behind our house.  The living room contained a stocking adorned fireplace , that portal through which Santa Claus entered our home. We never had a fire in that fireplace when I was young, even though we almost always had one in the fireplace in the den. For years I assumed that was simply to make things easier for Santa, keeping him and the stockings away  from the heat of the flaming logs and glowing coals and the soot-lined brick.   He never chose the den side of the chimney to come down, just the living room.. So I guess it worked.

Those were the best Christmases ever, when my siblings and I were all still very young.  Like all families, we had traditions.  For us, the tradition was to get up before the sun on Christmas morning to see what St. Nick had brought us.  It seemed impossible to go to sleep on Christmas Eve.  The anticipation produced far too much adrenalin.  And we weren't exactly a low energy group, even on normal days. But this was Christmas Eve. However, the threat that Santa Claus would not come until we were asleep worked well.

But waking up was not easy either, even on Christmas morning, until the  fog of sleep cleared and I realized that my brother or sisters were up and moving around.  We would gather at the door of the living room, which was still inky dark.  The anticipation was unbearable. Quickly, someone would turn on the lights. And in that light we could see what gifts Christmas had brought for us.

It was always great.

A song that has been part of my Christmas for several years has a chorus that opens with the words:

"Wake up, wake up, it's Christmas morning . . ."

It always evokes in my heart that joy that was created in my childhood, as I remember the remarkable gifts revealed in the light of Christmas morning.

It's difficult to remember why we celebrate Christmas in all the busy-ness, the hustle and bustle.  I have been reading the gospel passages that relate the birth of Jesus during advent, just to try to get some perspective.  I am not a Bible scholar, and I realize that what I am about to do, taking part of a verse completely out of context,  is not  a good idea, but, it is what happened, so, that's just the way it is. I never went to seminary.

I suddenly noticed a part of Matthew, Chapter 1, that I never noticed before.  This happens to me often. I think someone must slip in at night and add stuff to my Bible. Anyway, the chapter deals in part with Joseph and Mary, their engagement, and her awkwardly timed, hard to explain holy pregnancy. Thankfully, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and explained the whole thing to him.  Verse 24 begins,

"When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him . . ."

 In another gospel, the Book of John, there is no story of Jesus birth.  John tells us about  Jesus coming into the world as the Word.  And light.. In Chapter 1, verses four and five, John says:

 " In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So that is what is on my mind this Christmas season.  A brilliant pinpoint of perfect light  first appeared in a manger in Bethlehem, and spreads like the flames from the candles at the Christmas eve service, wick to wick, heart to heart, revealing all that cannot be seen in the darkness.

But first, we must wake up.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

A sole worth saving . . .

Today  Nelson Mandela's body gave up after a lengthy battle.  His final well-deserved rest was slow in coming. But Mandela was accustomed to long battles and tortuously slow victories. And there were glorious triumphs in his earthly battles  won ultimately with strategies of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation, battles that spanned decades.  Almost three decades in prison while he waited..  The news will be full of details of his exceptional place in history, so I'll refer you to the historians lest I mess it all up.

I was in Jo burg, South Africa a few years ago with Vann, Meredith and Anna at a Methodist Youth International Congress. During the trip we learned much about Mandela and the history of South Africa. We visited museums dedicated to the history of apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela. We visited Soweto and caught a glimpse of the sad human condition that has not yet been resolved, but to which his life was dedicated.

And we visited a house where Mandela once lived. I am not a fan of these kinds of museums.  It seems so intrusive. So personal.  It could have been anyone's house. I remember only one vivid image from that house.

In Mandela's bedroom his shoes were on display,  obviously cleaned up and in a neat row.

I remember thinking he had really small feet.  And it seemed odd.  Why do you save someone's shoes?

They were just shoes. The floor of my closet looks similar to the display, except not as organized. I doubt anyone would save them.

The only thing special about the smallish shoes were where they had been, the places Mandela had chosen to walk,  where Mandela had stood, marched, suffered, and ultimately led others as they moved on a slow, arduous, historic journey.

I am moved by Mandela's life and death like millions of others, grieving for the loss of a extraordinary human, inspired by the difference one human can make.

 And wondering where I should walk, and with whom, that would cause someone to think my shoes worth saving.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's tough when you were born on Christmas Day . . .

So how did Jesus celebrate Christmas?

Or I suppose another way to put it, how did Jesus and his friends celebrate his birthday?

What do you get for the guy who has nothing, but lives like he has everything?  And forget about a surprise party.

I suppose cloaks and shirts were a popular gift for Jesus, even though everyone knew he would just re-gift them. Somehow he made that tacky practice holy.

Socks were out. I'm sorry, but, if you ask what would Jesus do, I don't think the answer would be wear socks with sandals. Pretty sure that's where the phrase "bare your sole" comes from. Jesus probably said it at a birthday gathering.

Birthdays are tough on us mortals. Rather than celebrate the life and graces we have been given, we often focus on the failures, of dreams not realized, goals not reached, opportunities missed.  After awhile we dwell not on the number of years we have lived, but on the dwindling number of years we have left.

While I do not know, I do believe that most days with Jesus were not quite as serious as we have been led to believe. It would be like a three year camping trip with the Men's Group from any church.  (United Methodist Men in my case).  Not exactly a monastic experience.

Wouldn't it be great to be Jesus, the Son of God?  Everything perfect. Every year a celebration. Joy to the World?  A Wonderful Life?  Happy, Happy, Happy .  .  . Birthday.

The Jesus whose birth we celebrate was born in a cave, the home of animals.  Before he could walk without wobbling the most powerful man in his world tried everything he could to kill him. His family was on the run.  As he grew older He probably heard the whispers of the people of the town as they counted back from the day of his birth to his parents' marriage date. He and most of his community lived in poverty and fear of cruel Roman oppression.  Jesus had little material security.  He had come to this world, divesting himself of the amenities of Godly omnipotence and those other omni's, to lead creation back from destruction.  As he did so he was hunted and threatened, criticized, ostracized, and misunderstood.  The world was not being saved. Even his disciples were arguing about power. Humanity was still inhumane, the hungry were starving, the sick were dying, the outcast were alone, and the imprisoned were shackled.

It was that way when Jesus was born.  And when he died. And every birthday in between.

And yet, I am sure, if birthdays were celebrated back in Jesus' day, that the disciples gathered, grilling fish, Martha made a wonderful cake, and Mary doted on Jesus,offering a gift of expensive oil that he loved but would never buy for himself.. . Jesus probably blushed at all the attention and the singing, and graciously accepted the gifts offered, not for the sake of the gift, but for the sake of the givers. Close friends lingered at the party and drank a little more wine.  And in the midst of his friends, Jesus' mind was probably turned more on the blessings of the present, if not the presents, as opposed to the hard scrabble past and the unfolding horrific future that only he was beginning to sense. (My theology. Feel free to disagree).

Our celebration of Jesus' birthday is not so different. In the midst of the happiness and joy there is always the other side.  It seems the woes of the world are highlighted against the backdrop of our celebrations. The contrast is troubling.

And so Jesus life was not simple. Joy and pain. Celebration and grief. Progress and frustration. Love and hate. .

Kind of like us.  Life is not simple. But there is time for joy in the midst of the turmoil. There is hope alongside despair.

And thankfully, there is a  light in the darkness.

As we begin this Advent season, what birthday gift can we bring?

It's seems complicated.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Point of no return . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is good to get away for just a couple of days, and D.C. is at its  peak for fall colors.  Our capital is a beautiful place  anytime, but today it is
perfect.  To make it even more perfect, to borrow a surprisingly little analyzed phrase ( If it is perfect, then can it be any better?) I am visiting Vann.

I was deplaning at National Airport after a short, but hurried day of travel.  I have an irrational fear when it comes to air travel. My  fear is not that the plane will fall apart, nor the closeness I share with my fellow travelers.  My fear comes later, when it is time to leave the terminal and go to the baggage claim or ground transportation area.  At some point, in leaving, it is necessary to pass the point of no return.  That portal in the terminal which, if you pass through, you may not come back.  It just seems so final.  I always hesitate for a moment and ponder, "Am I ready to let go?  Am I truly finished here? Have I left a bag or anything else unattended in there?"  I think it developed from international travel, but now arises at all such exits, no matter how familiar.

So I was striding through National after not eating all day, when directly in front of me, at the end of a tunnel, was an airport terminal version of  Dunkin' Donuts, shining like a bright white, brown and orange beacon, guiding me home.  I knew that the first thing I should eat at 3 in the afternoon was not donuts and coffee, but still, it seemed like a sign or something.  My eyes were fixed on the display cabinets. I could see chocolate icing and colored sprinkles. But then I heard an inner voice telling me not to do it.  Sure,  I had walked quickly through the airport terminal, but that was not the kind of workout that justified  a Dunkin' splurge. So I sadly, stoicly, pulled up for a second, stopping to get a last look at my tempter.

And then I saw it, exploding into view on my right side.

"Once you pass this point, you may not turn back, you must move forward."

Who am I to quibble about the security of our homeland?

So I moved on through, moving forward, as the sign demanded, which put me right at the Donut display case.

No need to argue with fate. Or with a clear sign.

More from the nation's capital later.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Muscle Shoals . . . you gotta see this film

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

First, and this is very important.  If you are a proud Alabamian, or an Alabamian who desperately wants to be proud, or a history buff,  there is something you must do. If your fingers  play air guitar ballet when you hear the signature riffs of the Allmans or Skynard, or if you belt it out with Aretha or Etta or Pickett or Sledge as if you are their backup singers, or if tears still come to your eyes when you join Clarence Carter in wailing the gut-wrenching lyrics "Patches, I'm depending on you son, to pull the family through, this time, my son, it's all left up to you . . .", . .if any of these things apply to you, or even if they don't, you must, you simply must see, hear and feel,

"Muscle Shoals"

"Muscle Shoals" is a documentary film about the mysterious, magical music industry of the small town in northwest Alabama, and the amazing handful of people that created the music we love.  I promise you, you will learn things that you don't know about Alabama..  And you will hear some great music that you may have forgotten. And you will hear and see a great, great true story, told by the delightful, gritty, real characters who wrote it. Folks that seem like us. They are us. They didn't leave Alabama to find the music elsewhere.  They brought the music world to Alabama. To Muscle Shoals. And they made timeless magic.

It is now playing at the Edge 12 theaters on Crestwood in Birmingham..  It should be playing everywhere in Alabama.  Maybe it will if you all go see it at the Edge.  Just a note about the Edge.  They greeted me more like I was coming in to a church fellowship dinner than a movie multiplex.  That set the stage for a wonderful evening at the movies.

I rarely make recommendations. Too risky. But do this.  If you have a miserable time, blame me.  Cuss me all the way home. It won't be on the big screen long, so don't wait.

Donna Roberts wrote "The Good Food Cookbook for Dogs".   I never met a dog that was into cooking, but that's a different story. The same Donna Roberts is credited with one of my favorite quotes that I wish I had said:

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”

This crowd from Muscle Shoals knew the songs of our hearts even before we knew them, and then they did what they had to do to make sure that we were able to hear them. I, for one, can never thank them enough.

The film is a wonderful reminder that there are things within us that define us,  that are important and powerful, and do not need to be forgotten.  And just as significant, it reminds us that there are things beyond us that are so much greater than we are, and yet, invite us to become a part.

These days it seems that it is easy to forget the song of the heart.  I went to the movie alone, except it didn't feel that way.  I was sitting among strangers and yet among family sharing common memories and feelings. For a few moments  we lost, or perhaps more accurately found ourselves, in the powerful reminders of old friends I never really knew, but who have always seemed to know me so well..

The movie ended. The crowd applauded. It seemed no one was in a hurry to leave. 

"Y'all have a good night now," the ticket lady said with a smile as I was walking out.

And I did.


Saturday, October 19, 2013


Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I woke up this morning.

It is finally my time of the year.  The house was cool, almost cold, this morning.  I refuse to fire up the heat pump when the daytime temperature approaches eighty.  So it was a chilly walk from the bed to the kitchen to conduct the spiritual discipline of grinding the beans and re-enacting the original creation story.

Let there be life.

As the coffee began to brew I stepped outside.  The grey cloudiness made it seem even chillier than it actually was.  The frigid concrete, like a natural defibrillator, shot a wake up jolt through my bare feet, radiating all the way to my still sleepy brain. All was quiet except for the rustle of the first harvest of leaves that have fallen the past couple of days. Everybody was moving a little slower than usual.  The deer down the way snapped to attention for a moment, briefly staring at me like I was a headlight, but quickly dipping their heads back down, as if saying, "oh, it's just you."  My cat, which shares my need to save the world, has taken in a friend, and they lie at the edge of the trees, waiting for the breakfast alarm of the rattling of the cat food bag before they bother to get up. Now they have a little kitten with them, apparently adopted. It is beautiful, sporting a light gray suit with a white shirt, and a bobbed tail.  The kitten is the only thing that seems to want to move.

I hated to come back in.  On the other hand, the coffee was ready. And my feet were cold.

I don't know what it is about the fall that energizes me.  It seems counter-intuitive, as the season is generally identified as that time of the year when things begin to go to sleep for the winter, or even die. And yet, when the coolness finally makes its way to the southland, it wakes me up. I feel more alive.

Things seem clearer without the heat. Without the sudden storms.

So it is good to be back on the sofa on a cool Saturday morning, drinking coffee, thinking about the possibilities instead of the problems, even though they may be the same things.  It just seems that the way I approach them depends on the temperature, on the heat.

So, at least for this moment, the heat is off.  I see more clearly. I breathe more deeply.

It's going to be a great day.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The right word . . .

I just can't write a terribly serious blog about all this.  Maybe next time.

I have a suggestion to help we the people deal with the madness in D.C.

And I have to give the Republicans credit on this one. A special nod to Karl Rove.

Republicans are brilliant at reducing messaging to one word, or a short phrase. The message machine  meets over the weekend (or more often in fast changing situations)  and comes up with a new word for the week or day.  This week, for instance, the word is "conversation".   The context, of course, is that President Obama is not willing to even have a conversation  with them about the government shutdown, the continuing resolution, or the debt ceiling.  Speaker Boehner used the word no less than fifteen times in the span of twenty minutes during a presser this week.  And he was not alone.  Republican officials, from dog catcher to U. S. Senator,  whenever they were on camera or in front of a crowd, used the same word.

It is very effective. Seriously. We Democrats are too prideful to participate in such a tactic. And we certainly don't like the idea of being limited to one or two select words. Despite what some think, we have a little libertarian bent. And, like others think, we like to talk.

But it can also be a means of help for we the people during this stressful time, a way to deal with our own frustrations over the situation, no matter your politics.

And you can choose how to use it.  If you believe you need to be more intentional with your spirituality, to increase your discipline of prayer, you can use the word or phrase of the day like a centering chime, or a call to prayer.  To use the name of God for something other than a prefix for a curse  during these frustrating times.  Each time you hear or read the word of the week, simply face the south wing of the Capitol Building and hit your knees.   If cable news watchers adopt this spiritual discipline, Dish network dishes will adorn monasteries as the monks just try to keep up. A big boost for EWTN ratings.

Or, if the whole thing has just depressed you and you desperately need to party, desiring more spirits than spirituality, then perhaps you would like to use the tactic as a basis for a drinking game.  You know the one.  Whenever a certain thing happens, or a word is spoken, a drink must be taken.  For instance, during Boehner's presser mentioned earlier, participants would have had to down fifteen shots in twenty minutes. It was numbing enough without the alcohol. Passing out might be a blessing.

So thank you, House Republicans, for the opportunity to pray more, and have a reason to take a drink or two.


Monday, September 23, 2013

There's no need to SNAP . . . just feed my sheep

.  As usual, I will give a disclaimer here.  This is written from the point of view of a follower of Jesus Christ.  Atheists, agnostics, and believers of other faiths are welcome to read and chime in if you want.

Sometimes I get all het up

Take for instance the present law proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives to cut funding for the SNAP., the federal program which provides food assistance for low income Americans. My friend R. G. Wilson-Lyons, United Methodist pastor of Church Without Walls in Birmingham's West End area,  wrote a well reasoned, brief and compelling post on the topic..  I would rather you read it than the rest of this, so, click here if you want to go straight for the good stuff..

The long and short of it, if the cuts proposed become law, is that millions of Americans will not get the food assistance that they need.  R. G. included relevant information about who the program really serves.

But I have had an epiphany.  It is all going to work out. God is good.

Here's how it works.

The funding is cut.  But, being the followers of Jesus that many of us claim to be, we will be true to Jesus' mandate.  No longer will the money we have be sent to Caesar to distribute to our hungry brothers and sisters to purchase food.  Like Jesus commanded, we will give it directly to them.

We have no choice.

Unless we are not really following Jesus.  He was all about feeding folks.  And not just the poor in spirit. If we stand with Jesus, we will be standing behind the serving counter, we will be gleaning the fields, we will be bringing home the groceries and giving them away,  we will be donning the hair nets. We will serve up the food. That is not in question. If we are followers of Jesus.

But don't worry,  here is how it works out for everybody.

Knowing that one of the primary commands of Jesus' is to feed people, then surely all of our churches already give at least a paltry twenty five percent of the budget to feeding the hungry, right?   So, twenty five percent of what each of us give to our church goes to feed the hungry.  If our annual income is fifty thousand dollars, then our tithe is a minimum five thousand, right?  So, the amount of our tithe that goes to the hungry is at least $1250.00 each year.

Here's the beautiful part.  Each of us is going to have to increase our giving to the hungry by a multiple of 23 times. Not 23 percent.  Multiply what you give the hungry by 23 times.  So, if you make $50,000.00 each year, in order to feed those who are fed by the government, you will have to increase your giving by somewhere around $27,000.00.

And you can deduct that on your income tax.


Lower taxes for everyone.  Hurray. Isn't that what's this all about?

And after we give that much away,  a lot more of us will be eligible for SNAP.

But of course, that won't exist anymore.

But that's okay, cause people like us will be glad to take care of people like us in hard times, right?

"But Bob," you may be saying. "Your figures are wrong.  There's no way that twenty five percent of my church's budget goes to feeding the poor."

Yep. Doesn't it feel good to be right?

The truth is, the Body of Christ could, and ideally should put SNAP out of business. It has always been that way.  But we haven't.  And there is no sign that we will. In the meantime the elderly, disabled, out of work, and children would be hungry, except for the government programs.

It is not the government that is failing Jesus, and the least among us whom he seemed to care for the most.

It is us.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

I say tomato, you say "what is that smell?"

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I was walking around the back corner of my mother's house to check on a leak in the sewer pipe that runs through the yard..  The plumber had come and unblocked the line, but the leak has not yet been repaired.

There was a thriving, creeping, lush, verdant tomato vine full of small green fruit and pale yellow blooms.

Growing out of the sewage. Not the edge of the sewage. Out of the hole that went to the leak.

I felt a surge of hope.  As well as a weird curiosity as to whether I could ever allow myself to eat any of the tomatoes that it is producing.

It is easy to find leaky sewage . . . you might not see it but you can smell it whether you want to or not. Turning your head away doesn't help once you've caught the scent.   A steady drip, drip, drip from a sewage pipe under a house or mobile home will slowly rot the joists on which it rests.  Sewage oozing openly through ditches or down alleys or streets breed deadly or debilitating disease.   It is easy to be discouraged by the messes that seem to surround us these days, that threaten to rot our foundations and weaken our being.

And then a tomato vine shows up.

Have you ever seen a tomato seed?  Probably not, unless you are a farmer or an avid gardener. Or unless you have looked at sliced tomatoes and wondered if those little bitty whitish-yellow specks were seeds. You would be right about that.

When I first saw the sewage leak, and smelled it, before the plumber came and unblocked the line, it was nothing but disgusting.  I will spare you the description.

And yet, even when I was certain that there was nothing redeemable in that sickening mess, the tiny tomato seeds were there, dormant.  Dormant, and yet full of life, waiting for the proper conditions to cause them to explode into being.

And so it happened.  The conditions were right. Everything came together for the tiny seeds. Everything they needed to become a beautiful, lively productive vine.  It all became perfect.

In the cesspool of a sewage leak, stinking to high heaven in the hot summer sun..

So, there's a lot of ways this parable could take me, and maybe it will on another day. But for this day let me just say, when you find yourself in the middle of a bunch of crap, do not despair. Consider what God did for the insignificant tomato seed.

Amen and Amen.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hello NSA, feel free to comment . . .

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God!  I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"
                                                                                   -Patrick Henry, St. John's Church,
                                                                                    Richmond, Virginia, March 23, 1775

I learned this quote in Mrs. Alexander's social studies class in eighth grade and performed it often in the ensuing years, with as much flourish and passion as a Shakespearean thespian, spittle and all.  You would think I could have remembered it perfectly for this post, but I was not sure, so I Googled it.

That google search may mean trouble.  If you don't see me for awhile, you might want to call Gitmo. No wait. Don't call. No reason for you to get involved. Oh crap, you're reading this post already. Sorry about that. Perhaps we can be roomies. Bring a file.

Considering the revolutionary bent of Henry's incendiary language, I would imagine my Google  search and perhaps this post might be perused by PRISM, or some other National Security Agency software, and potentially appear as a data statistic in tomorrow's security report to the President.

Something to shoot for.

Oops.  That probably didn't sound right either. I hope the computer program has a filter for folksy language.

The last couple of days the news has been dominated by reports that the United States government is snooping on we the people, sifting through phone records and Internet search engine records, mining data that might strike the terrorist mother lode.  Verizon and other phone companies have been under continuing secret National Security Agency subpoenas to provide  phone records.   Google and Internet providers were probably ordered to provide search records.

Apparently the records of all of us who have used the subject companies were turned over.  Probably all of us. Probably all of the U. S. of A. Wonder what they do with all those cute kitten videos.

Our government believes, if a government is capable of believing, that it is spying on us for our own good.  To assure our security. To protect the peace and our lives.

I'm with Patrick.  The suggested retail price for peace and security is getting too high for my liking.

The problem is, the snooping is probably legal.

No problem. If we the people, Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians are opposed to it, let's just change the laws.  Finally, something we can agree on.

Not so fast comrade. That's revolutionary talk.

 Unfortunately, the only thing in the universe which has strong bi-partisan support in Congress are these NSA actions to keep us safe. Democrats and Republicans alike have known what is going on, and are defending the actions en masse.

Still no problem.  Surely President Obama will stop it.  He never goes along with Congress.

Wrong again, traitor Joe.  The President agrees with Congress.  I'll give you a moment to ponder that.

*  *  *

Patrick Henry delivered his passionate speech to convince the Virginia Assembly to send Virginia militia to serve in the Revolutionary War against England  It worked.

His words seem timeless.  But now, it is not England that is taking our liberty.  And while I disagree with the stance taken by Congress and the President, I don't think it is fair to say that they have taken our liberty.

We the people have willingly given away our liberty for over a decade because we are afraid.  

Since 9/11 we have avoided the question.  What is the balance between liberty and security?

To be free or not to be, that is the question  .  .  .


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Confessions of a Straight as an Order of the Arrow Boy Scout

I was a Boy Scout.  Despite what my grandmother seemed to think, that was no merit badge of masculine heterosexuality in the circles in which I moved, despite those magnificent khaki green knee socks held up with red garters that made up the lower half of the summer uniform.  If it were the babe magnet she claimed, the young women that I knew showed great restraint, never letting me see their weak knees or anything else for that matter, a failure that would not have been shared around a campfire.

Adolescent guys talk about sex. A lot. Even Boy Scouts.  Even if we knew very little about it.  Maybe because we knew very little about it.

It seems weird to hear the big controversy about gay scouts.  I don't know which of my fellow scouts were  gay, but I would imagine some were. That fact made absolutely no difference in my scouting experience, which  may have been the best one ever thanks to one of the two best scoutmasters ever, Roy Wheat, of Oneonta's Troop 160. (The other best scoutmaster was my Uncle Ralph, scoutmaster in Talladega.  All those guys called him Uncle Ralph.  But he really was my Uncle Ralph).  But I digress, perhaps because a hard confession is coming up.

.I guess I am making excuses now.  More like confessing.   Calling each other fags and queers was commonplace at meetings and while hiking and camping, but certainly not meant to single anyone out.  I'm pretty sure that description was directed at each of us at some point or another. We couldn't be expected to be clever with our juvenile  repartee all the time.   Yes it was awful. Maybe it isn't a good excuse that we were just adolescents crazed with racing hormones.  But it was certainly not meant to be as hurtful as calling someone a virgin. . We could not be certain of everyone's sexual preference, but we were Boy Scouts, after all, and pretty certain everyone was truly a virgin, despite what was claimed around the campfire.  And the truth hurts.

Anyway, I am sorry I didn't speak out and say the right thing at the time.  But I would have just been called more clever names. I guess I was just scared.  I don't remember of what.   Don't act like you didn't do the same thing. That's another thing about adolescent guys.  We were scared of a lot of things.  But mostly scared that someone would find out we were scared.  So, I never said a word.

 I  seriously regret all that.  Because now I realize that some of my friends, who were just children at the time,  were probably truly hurt and isolated by the words that were tossed around so casually and derisively.  There is nothing I can do about that now, except try to do better.

But back to my point.  Percentages and common sense tell me that my scouting experience included friends who were gay.  And my scouting experience was great.  So what's this fuss all about now?  Does anyone really believe that scouting has not been inclusive of gays since its inception?  Does anyone really believe this is something that has come up all of a sudden?   What's this all about?

Two things it is not about.

It is not about the scouts.

And it is not about Jesus.

The Boy Scouts of America recently announced that the organization would accept openly gay children and youth as scouts.

Consequently, a couple of churches in the Birmingham area have decided it would no longer let the Boy Scouts use its facilities because to continue to provide such assistance would be a repudiation of the churches' belief that being gay is a sin, and gay people are unrepentant sinners.

Jesus, kneeling on the steps of the church, with His arms wide open, saying,

"Let the children come to me, do not keep them away .  .  . unless they may not be certain of their sexuality, or, heaven forbid, they are sure they are gay, in which case, send those little **** and ****** somewhere else, those perverted children have no place in my house, certainly not on my knee."

Sorry. I just couldn't let Jesus say the hateful  words that we used as youthful scouts, even my fictitious Jesus.  Even without those words spelled out, I know the image is rough. Perhaps heretical.  I agree. . The thought of it makes me want to cry.  Seriously.  Because there is no reason that gay scouts, gay children, who used to meet in those churches, would believe anything else about Jesus.  After all, it was His body, the church, who forbids them to come. Because they are evil, lost sinners. Forbid to show up in church in the name of Jesus.  

First, let me say, I do not believe that being gay is a sin.  Comment if you wish.

But the truth is, it doesn't matter what I name as someone else's sin.   And it doesn't matter what you name as someone else's sin..  Not only does it not matter, the act of defining the sin of others was not something you wanted to do around Jesus.  It never ended well for the accuser, who always ended up with a plank in the eye, or a pile of stones untossed.

But these churches are saying that they must preserve their integrity, must stand up for what they believe to be the desires of God in a world that is going to hell.  If you don't stand for something you stand for nothing.  And that is right.  Churches should try to do that.

So, as long as there are hungry, homeless, and poor people in the Birmingham area, and people drive up to the church on Sunday morning in cars that cost tens of thousands of dollars, after being on vacations that cost thousands,  after leaving homes that cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, those churches should be nearly empty.

Because Jesus talked a lot about the sins of greed, selfishness, and love of material wealth.  And about giving all to the poor.  And taking care of the homeless, the poor, the widows and the orphans.

And the children.

So, as long as we refuse to give up our wealth, renting larger and larger storehouses to keep it all in,  and fail to take care of the least, last and lost, we are sinning.  We are sinners.

And we shouldn't be allowed in church.

The weird thing, Jesus talked about that a lot.  A whole lot.  You know what he never talked about?

Being gay.

We are all sinners.  And we all belong in church.

 Jesus himself said the Scout motto on at least one occasion.

Be prepared.

Cause no one knows when or where He will show up.

Or as who.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Wrinkles in time . . . (Apologies to Madeleine L'Engle)

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I awoke early this morning and took a walk in the woods up the mountain behind my house. It had been raining heavily for quite awhile.  The sun briefly  broke through the clouds and the rain stopped, but the newly sprouted leaves of the forest canopy drizzled a gentle shower of glistening diamond drops, slowly cleansing me of the stress of the week I was still  carrying like an overloaded backpack.

My memory drew me toward a familiar sound before the rest of my brain understood its source..  But I quickly saw and knew..   Water was rushing down the mountain creating beautiful waterfalls and rapids as it cascaded over and around the limestone boulders and outcroppings, especially on the steeper slope about half-way up the hill.  Childhood memories surfaced, memories of finding a stick that seemed to look like a boat and watching it negotiate the hazards of the raging river, challenging it to make it safely all the way down the mountain to the culvert along Highway 75.  I think the wonder of this play was inspired by one of my favorite Golden Books, "Scuffy, the Tugboat.".   I tossed a twig in this morning and watched it disappear over the first small falls, not taking the time today to see how it fared farther downstream.  An old vine dangled above the torrent  from somewhere near the top of a towering shag bark hickory  leaning over the torrent below, challenging me once again to grab hold and swing across.

And I did.  No one was hurt.  It seemed nothing had changed in all these years.

I followed the stream up the mountain as I did years ago, drawn by curiosity of what I might find farther upstream.  Closer to the top there was something different.

Suddenly I was walking along a deep ditch with sides of red-orange clay punctuated by small stones, looking like one of the strange ice cream flavors at Ben and Jerry's.  Orange sherbet and chocolate chunk.

The ditch is about four feet deep and three feet wide and this morning contains a raging current.  This ditch was not here years ago.  Who in the world dug this ditch?

So I stood up and looked around, trying to get my bearings. Another memory surfaced.

A few decades ago a neighboring property owner cut some timber.  The logging road, really more of a trail, had been cut along our property line, sometimes running through our property as it wound around big rocks and avoided the steepest slopes..  One afternoon my dad and mom, my little sister Em, who was only four or five, and I, were taking a ride in our old Army jeep.  It was a pretty day and dad, as he was sometimes prone to do, decided to do something a little different.   He turned off our driveway and steered the jeep, with us in it, onto the logging road.  We headed up the mountain, being whipped by switches, briars and vines that reached out into the trail, giving high fives as we passed. The logging trail was no more than two ruts, a series of switchbacks requiring sharp turns.  It was a great adventure with just enough hint of danger to keep it interesting.  Occasionally we would reach a point in the road when dad would have to do some serious jeep driving to keep us moving. At one point Em, who had a flare for the dramatic even at her tender age screamed,

"We're never going to get back home."  I think she also referred to the fact the we were all going to die, but maybe that's just an older brother's embellishment.

But we did. Not die.  We made it home.  Just a few minutes later. In the couple of years  that followed, I made that jeep trip quite a few times by myself. . The old logging trail lead to one of my favorite places on the mountain, a wide flat area just before the steepest slope to the mountain top littered with small boulders perfectly set to sit on and be alone.

But, after I got my driver's license I could take the jeep on the real roads, and I abandoned jeep rides up the mountain side, up to the place where I was standing this morning.

The deep ditch with the raging water was one of the ruts of the old logging trail.  Like the wrinkles I see in the mirror every morning, it had grown deeper and deeper and wider and wider as it contained the raging torrents from years of storms that had come along.

It could no longer be used as a means of moving higher up the mountain. Now, it seems, it's only purpose was to contain the chaos of the storms and the waters racing down the hillside.

Our footprints, the shallow ruts we leave on the trail do make a difference. As we leave them behind we may not give them a second thought, but, they don't disappear just because we do.

The ditch and the raging waters present a puzzling question.  One might say that the water is controlled by the ditch, trapped into the one course, unable to escape the steep orange walls, it's freedom of choice being taken away.  Another might say that the ditch is the victim of the raging water, being constantly cut and formed by the relentless power of the rolling cascade, with no say in the matter at all.

I imagine the water and the ditch could argue about that forever. It's hard to declare the winner.

But the truth is, the fate of both is dictated by gravity.  And it's hard to argue with gravity.

This post has meandered about much like Scuffy the Tugboat, who longed to sail to exotic places, rather than be stuck in the small confines of the bathtub, the dismal domain of the childhood toy.  Scuffy ended up in deeper and deeper and more chaotic water as he floated downstream after escaping his child master in the waters of a roadside gutter.  But eventually, after being lost and alone in the open sea, he was returned to his home.

And so this post has meandered too long, the sun is shining, and the yard work is calling.  My wish for you this morning comes on behalf of Scuffy the Tugboat, my little dramatic sister Em, and all who have set sail through chaotic waters and deep ditches  .. .. .

May all your voyages help you find your way back home.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

To Tell the Truth . . and other sixties references

Richard Nixon was President during my high school years.  The sixties had just ended, yet the Vietnam War had not.  When I was about fifteen I remember sitting with a bunch of older guys as the results of the first draft lottery were announced over 89  WLS out of Chicago.  For you youngsters, that was the cool rock and roll clear channel 50,000 watt AM radio blowtorch with DJ's like John "Records" Landecker.  WLS  could be heard in far flung places like the Dairy Queen parking lot in Oneonta, Alabama late at night as its far away signal bounced like a perfectly placed billiard ball off the cooling ionosphere.  I still like to listen to Buffalo Springfield with a lot of digitally inserted static just to take me back to those days.  But I digress.  Anyway, for those of you who have forgotten, or maybe never knew, the future of young men in the United States was determined, to a great degree, by the draft board folks drawing the days of the year out of a hat.  Going first in the draft, in this case, was not a good thing for a college age guy..  If your birthday was drawn early, your chances of being drafted was higher. It was a somber gathering.   The draft lottery continued through the early seventies, although the number of draftees dropped significantly after the first two years.

In the preceding couple of years there were protests against the government, and against the war.  The 1968 Democratic Convention erupted in violence.  The Civil Rights movement had reached critical mass.  One of my heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis in April, 1968.  Then two months later another of my heroes, Robert Kennedy, was assassinated in June.  I avidly read  the writings of Thoreau and Gandhi on civil disobedience, and was inspired by King's use of those ideas coupled with the teachings of Jesus.

In other words, I was one of those sixties teen-agers that you read about.  By every standard I would have been graded a liberal, a child of the sixties.   Except that whole drug culture and  sexual revolution thing.  But that was mostly because I was scared..

President Richard Nixon was my president for all those years.  I should have been adamantly opposed to him, just because of my liberal politics and the fact that I was approaching a draftable age and he insisted on not ending the war..

Watergate started to break.   The hearings began. It became apparent as the days drug on that President Nixon had authorized and ordered a variety of criminal activities against his perceived political enemies.  But I just could not believe it.  I could not believe that the President of the United States had done what was being reported, even though I really opposed his policies.  It was contrary to what I knew, what I had been taught, what I believed. .  I had earned the Boy Scout Citizenship merit badge.  I had been taught by Ruby O'shields, perhaps the best Civics and Government teacher in the history of the world.   I knew what was what.

So I remember defending the President.  Hard to believe now.  But it's true.

 I was naive.

I did not want to believe the truth.

There is a lot of that going on these days.  Not wanting to believe the truth. But I hope that can somehow be changed.  That maybe we can all grow up. That we can be strong enough to handle the truth, regardless of party or position.

I still respect the office of the President.  And I respect President Obama. I worked for his election and re-election and as of today, would do it all again.  I support him and believe this country has been blessed to have his leadership for the last four tough years.  I expect that same leadership will continue for the next four years.

But, I will tell you now, I am not naive anymore.  If the truth is that President Obama is proven to have broken the law or intentionally allowed our nation to be damaged for his political gain, then appropriate action must be taken. I would be sad, of course. But this stuff is too important. It is not a game.

On the other hand, if the truth is that President Obama has done neither, then I would expect for others, even those who oppose his politics and policies, to accept that truth and move on in dealing with the important issues facing us. There is still plenty to have healthy arguments about.

But no amount of argument will change the truth. It may help reveal it. But it will not change it.

So support the policy you believe is best.  Vote for the candidate you think is best to lead us.  Argue passionately for important things. Open a shop in the marketplace of ideas.

But  seek and speak the truth. In today's world, that may take a little more work, because there are a lot of lies out there, and it is not okay to repeat a lie of another due to ignorance or laziness or self-interest.

Because as another of my heroes once said, the truth will set us free.

And isn't that what we all want?


Monday, May 13, 2013

With liberty and justice for all . . .

I have some libertarian leanings.  The IRS already knows me pretty well so I think it is safe for me to use the word "libertarian."   An IRS official, Lois Lerner (not a Superman character) said Friday that the IRS had used search methods that would have been directed at politically conservative 501(c)(4) groups.

When it comes to constitutional freedoms, I am somewhat libertarian. I am glad the rest of the country is waking up. Finally.  It is reprehensible and indefensible for an individual or group to be investigated simply because of their political or religious beliefs, or perhaps because they dress or look different than the rest of us. (Let's face it, the tea party has spiced things up a little with their public antics).

It is a horrible un-American thing for a person or group to be picked out and suffer the intrusion of the government for no articulated reason other than who they are or what they believe or who they associate with or the fact that some wing nut crazy who believes the same thing or looks or talks the same way does something crazy.  It is not right.  Not in this country.

So now maybe we can get some unity on this issue.

Being a black man must no longer be sufficient reason to stop and frisk..

Being Hispanic must not be sufficient grounds for reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

Being a Muslim must not be a reason to be investigated or suspected of terrorism.

And certainly, being of a particular political persuasion should not make you more likely to be scrutinized by the IRS.

Whoever is responsible for any and all these un-American activities should be fired and such actions should never be tolerated.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thurvey 5/9/2013: Spring cleaning

News outlets of all kinds are exploding like the weeds in my yard with opinions on the important and less important issues of the day.  Spring is the time when the sap rises, when it it difficult to contain what has been held inside, dormant, bubbling beneath the surface during the long winter months. Fortunately it is Thursday.  So to offer a civil outlet for expression of blooming opinion and spreading of needed fertilizer, here is the Thursday survey . . . the Thurvey.  Send the world a bouquet of wisdom by entering your responses as a comment to this post.

1.  Continuing the spring motif,  dandelions, wild onion, poison oak and a variety of other pesky weeds, vines and bushes are thriving after the rains of the past few days.  Which is your nemesis and what is your most satisfying remedy?   For the more advanced Thurveyer I offer this challenge:   Compare the political  or press public figure of your choice to the pesky weed of your choice and explain the correlation.

2.  Alabama PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh says environmental activists "have never done a hard day's work or hit a lick at a snake in their lives."   She said this in response to environmental groups insistence on transparency in the Alabama Public Service Commission's oversight of Alabama Power's rates and practices.  While it is true that an environmental activist would probably be less likely to literally  hit a lick at a snake, I don't think that is what she was trying to infer.  What is your opinion on Twinkle, how she is doing as PSC chair? How about environmentalists industriousness? or snakes?

3.  There is nothing more spring like than kicking back at a baseball game, eating a hot dog, and cheering for the home team.  Apparently folks in Birmingham agree as attendance at the Baron's new home at Region field has one of the best attendance records in the minor leagues so far this season.  What do you like about going to a baseball game, or to Regions field?  Tell your favorite baseball game story if you wish.

4.  There was a bill before the Alabama legislature to set up an Alabama Space Port Authority to insure Alabama's already substantial position in the aerospace industry.  Unfortunately I have not read the bill, but I like the sound of it.  What would you envision to be included and featured at the Alabama Space Port?  Use your imagination.

5.  Congress recently approved increasing the budget to assure that there would be no delays in airline flights due to airport staff shortages.  If you could choose one or two more specific things to exempt from the effects of sequestration, what would they be?

6.  Like it or not, it is time for spring cleaning.  What will be the priority at your house?  How about in D. C. or Montgomery?  What would you say is the priority for spring cleaning there?  Would you use the broom, a fresh coat of paint, simply reorganize, or some other instrument or method?  

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


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lighter side of the news . . .

There are a lot of important news stories to keep up with.  The following are not those stories.  But, I like them nonetheless.

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey has become a role model for other governors around the country.  In such hard economic times as these governors have had to find ways to cut the fat, tighten the belt, cut out the pork.

Governor Christie opted for lap band surgery, he announced today, in an effort to lose weight. The procedure reduces the capacity of the stomach by restricting it with a silicone band.  

The expanding size of the big governor will be arrested and ultimately shrunk by reducing the amount he takes in. A personal commitment to governor downsizing. Personification of conservatism.

Looks like he wants to run in the 2k16 race for the White House.  Fat chance?  Chances are thin?  Heavy favorite?  Political Lightweight?  We'll see.

In other news, libertarian radio talk show host Adam Kokesh has organized a march on Washington, D. C. for July 4th.  The only requirement for marching is carrying a loaded firearm.  What could possibly go wrong?  Kokesh says he has already received commitments from over a thousand people to participate in the Independence Day event. Giving assurances that the march will be absolutely non-violent, even in the face of arrests by local authorities, Kokesh said it would be safe, but on the other hand, he couldn't guarantee the behavior of that many people. Something could happen.  That's just life in America, according to Kokesh.   He did promise, however, that the event will be "well choreographed."

So dance, cowboy, dance. (not a reference to a form of a popular form of line dancing, but rather a reference to old cowboy movies in which the bad guy would shoot at the feet of some meek bit actor's feet and demand "dance, cowboy, dance." as Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny demonstrate here)

And finally, we all should hope, the infamous Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing hatefully at the funerals of American soldiers and pronouncing God's judgment on the evil-doers of the world, has announced a visit to the University of Alabama campus on May 18, claiming that the campus is an evil place, evidenced by the tragic tornadoes sent by God two years ago.   I'm not sure they understand how hard it can be to stand out on the strip.  Or how empty that place gets after finals. It will look like the rapture has come. Okay, it is up for debate whether the rapture will make that much difference on the UA campus population.  But whatever the case,  I am sure the Bama Nation will welcome Westboro appropriately.  Tuscaloosa's white picket fences as a backdrop for Westboro's insane picket lines.  They just think their picket line is offensive.  It would be nice for them to meet a real offensive line.  .  . 

  I doubt that this is an appointment they should keep. 

  I suggest that they schedule their next protest in Washington D. C. on July 4th.

What a great country to live in.  



Saturday, May 4, 2013

Of dogs and gopher barks, and reading the signs

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I am pondering this morning whether I could substitute privet for gopher wood.  I have plenty of it piled up around the yard unless it has been swept down the hill in the raging waters coming off the mountain.  Probably a little too late to do the cubit measurements for an ark, so I guess I'll just stay on the sofa, drink coffee, write, and listen to the rain.

Actually I was up early this morning to restrain some dogs before the Hometown Heroes Run through downtown Oneonta got started. While I doubt that these particular dogs would have felt strongly enough about the runners to brave the rains (they are no longer young pups) you never know.  If there is anything worse than a barking dog chasing you, it is a rain-soaked, smelly barking dog. So while I didn't actually run in the race, I got up early to make the path easier for those who did.  So I had to come home and rest.

Yesterday I made my way up Shuff's mountain, along what was to be today's Hometown Heroes Run  route,  to feed these same dogs.  I was driving, not running.   It had been a long, rather stressful week, and my mind had yet geared down.  About half way up the mountain something on the side of the road caught my eye.  It was a white sign staked into the ground, as if it had just been placed for me to see.  It said,

"Give Up"

Well that was a fine how do you do.  What kind of sign was that to put on the side of a road on a Friday afternoon of a long, stressful week?    I was perplexed for a moment.  What was I supposed to give up?  Or what was I supposed to give up on?  How does the sign know I should give up?  But then I arrived at the dogs' house (and their overseer, the cat), and I didn't think much more about the sign. 

So this morning was dark, grey, raining, cold and dark when I got up to go corral the dogs (the cat never chases runners).  I was not yet de-stressed from the week, and, in fact, was already pre-stressing a little about next week.   I had just punched the accelerator of the Prius to power up Shuff's Mountain again when something on the side of the road caught my eye.  It was a white sign, staked into the ground, as if it had just been placed there for me to see.  It said,


Dang.  It was like there was a negative sign troll living in the vines below the road, attacking the emotional health and ego of all who might pass.

What a pathetic message to start a miserable morning.

Then very quickly, something else caught my eye.  Another sign.  Oh great.  It said,


A real double negative.  But before I could begin to be more dismayed, something else caught my eye. Another sign.

"Give up."

A second passed while my processor was buffering the download.



"Give up."

"Never."   "Never."   "Give up."

"Never, never give up."

Well now, that's completely different.

Of course, the signs had been placed in order along the right of way a hundred or so feet apart, to encourage the runners as they attacked the steep, lengthy slope of Shuff Mountain.  "Never, never give up."  They were at perfect places and spaces to be seen by those who were truly running the journey, not cheaters like me  driving swiftly by, in Priuses, or Priae, whatever . . .

The complete message was revealed only to those who continued the difficult journey to the mountaintop. 

That's all from the sofa this morning.

Gotta run .  .  .

Sunday, April 28, 2013

My not so sweet gum tree, may it rest in pieces. Deep thoughts . . .

A sweet gum tree has made a couple of past appearances in this blog.  Calling this tree sweet in any way is misleading.  A few years ago the top of it fell  on my head. You can relive my account of that incident here, if you are bored on this rainy afternoon.  It has been dying for quite awhile.  It needs to be taken down.

The problem is that it is located about ten feet from the power line that allows me to cook and stay warm and watch TV and use the Internet. .  . and it grew leaning toward the line.  I have a chain saw, but I could not figure any way, given my limited lumberjack expertise and its previous effort to kill me, to cut the tree down without depriving myself of electricity, and possibly giving it another chance to finish me off.

So I let it be for the past few years.  It continued to die, its demise being accelerated by the evil poison ivy vines that choke it.  As you regular readers know, poison ivy is part of the axis of evil that has invaded my yard against which I have an ongoing battle, and is normally by enemy.  But, sometimes, as the ancient Arabic and Chinese proverb says,  the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

As I walked out of the house this morning the driveway was almost blocked.  The top portion of the rotting tree lie in a broken heap, tangled with poison ivy.  The weakened, decayed trunk that remains is considerably shorter, and I believe I can take it the rest of the way down without hitting the power line or allowing it to break off and bash my skull again.

There have been many times in the last few years that I hoped and prayed that since we were suffering storms full of straight line winds and tornadoes that the tree would be taken down by these otherwise unwelcome forces.  But a dying tree has few leaves and branches to catch the power of the winds.  So there were many times that, while looking at the fallen trunk of a beautiful hickory or oak with its sprawling branches full of lush green leaves lying in the edge of the woods, I cursed silently the ugly sweet gum tree, still standing, taunting me.  There was no justice.

The tree rotted from the inside out, it grew weaker and weaker, its bark and wood dying, turning into a mealy mush.  It was not high powerful winds that finally took the tree down. Last night, in the final stroke,  it was the torrential rain.  Without a canopy of leaves for protection, the rotten, dead remains of the tree soaked up the water like a sponge.  Eventually the added weight proved too much for the tree, and it fell into the heap that appeared on my driveway this morning.

So, I'll have to put on my hazmat suit to avoid the massive poison oak vines, and clean up the driveway.  Water-soaked dead gum wood is heavy.  And poison oak vines large enough to support a tire swing could be lethal to me. But I don't care.  The sweet gum tree, though not completely defeated, is now manageable.

It's strange isn't it?  Had the tree been alive, had the bark and wood remained strong and not decayed, it would have been strengthened by the rain.  But in its state of decay and death, the same rain caused its collapse.

I think its strange how the scripture and various proverbs say that it rains on the just and the unjust as if rain were necessarily a bad thing.

Rain is rain.  The question is us.

Whether we are living or dying.




Thursday, April 25, 2013

Brother Bert, a means of Grace . . .

I have been struggling with something for awhile.  I feel passionately about many things, things that I think are of grave importance.  

Things that other folks have passionate feelings about that are diametrically opposed to mine.

I want them to see the light.  I want them to learn the truth.

I want them to see how right I am. And admit it.

That's the way I feel much of the time.   But my better angels tell me that it is not good.  For anything.  Except creating chasms so wide between people that what is said from one to another can no longer be heard, unless conversations escalate to shouting matches. It is hard to hear anything when everyone is shouting..

So, I've been wondering for awhile, how does one express ideas and opinion and expect them to be heard and considered by those who disagree? 

I don't know.

I'm thinking about it tonight because a friend of mine died last night.  Bert Goodwin seemed to know the answer to my question.  

Brother Bert was a United Methodist pastor in the North Alabama Conference, ordained as an elder in 1960. A couple of years later he and Ella and Mike moved into the parsonage to serve us at Lester Memorial, where he was my pastor when I was a kid. I learned  about Christian fellowship around the table in the parsonage after the Sunday night service as our families gathered as friends to talk and eat and laugh . . .mostly laugh. As a kid, I always felt welcome at the adults table at the parsonage.   A few years later Bert was the director of Camp Sumatanga, which has been a second home to me for much of my life, a place of "rest and vision."  There was not much rest for Bert and Ella during those years as they nurtured and expanded the vision of that Holy place, as well as its sewage and water systems, roads, paths, and buildings. But it has been that place for thousands of others of all ages because of the investment of years of life the Goodwins made there.   He was instrumental in bringing the Walk to Emmaus to Alabama, at Sumatanga, and sustaining it.  He liked to say with that dry smile,trademark shoulder shrug and a voice he assumed when he was being sarcastic, that after the first Walk he thought the Walk to Emmaus would be a pretty good thing, that a few people would attend, and that would be that. That was about thirty years ago. Alabama Walk to Emmaus #413 will be going on at Camp Sumatanga this week-end.. I figure around 18,000 pilgrims have Walked to Emmaus from North Alabama, changing lives and energizing local churches.  

Bert and Ella served other churches.  He was a district superintendent in the North Alabama Conference.. There are a lot of other big and good things that Bert Goodwin had a hand in.  I just listed a few that directly affected my life. (Feel free to list additional things with a comment if you wish).  An exhaustive list would be just that . . .exhausting. And Bert would not like that.  

As amazing as Bert's life resume is, it still doesn't answer my question. But while his life resume may not answer it,  his life did. 

Bert had a way. No matter who you were, he would make time for you, even in the past few years when he should have been taking it easier.  But he did not always tell you what you wanted to hear.  He tried to tell you the truth.  Sometimes it was a hard truth.  Sometimes he spoke the truth to individuals.  Sometimes he told it to congregations. He was not afraid to speak it to power.  Because he knew there was no greater power than the truth.

Sure, he ruffled a few feathers along the way. The truth can do that.

But the amazing thing is, most of the time, it didn't work that way.  He spoke the hard truths.  But you loved him anyway.

Because he knew that something else was important.  He spoke of it often. I think it is my answer.


Truth spoken with grace.  When you left Bert, even if the truth skinned you up pretty good,  you knew you were loved.

And I pray, as he left us, he knew the same thing.

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