Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas clean-up?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I suspect that this is the kind of day that many a Great American Novel was written. Rainy and gray and cold.  Why not write?  Or many a great American nap taken, also a great achievement. There is nothing else to do.

Of course that is not true, there is much to do. It is just not stuff that I want to do.  Suddenly I feel like I did as a child right after Christmas.  No more presents to unwrap.  No more parties and family gatherings to go to. Nothing new to anticipate.  It's raining. I'm bored. But it's best to stay out of the way and not make noise lest I be required to help clean up the aftermath of Christmas.

The aftermath of Christmas?

What do we do with this mess?  Everything is out of place. It's hard to remember what day it is. The carefully edited calendar is useless.  And just a week ago everything was in order. It all looked so pretty, so nice, when everything was wrapped and tied with a bow.  Every decoration was perfectly placed, every nativity or St. Nick-nackery positioned just so. The tree was decorated with the perfect balance of lights, and ornaments, top to bottom, side to side.  The glistening china was out and the table was set. The stockings were hung not only with care, but geometric perfection.

Then Christmas exploded all over everything.  Wrapping paper, ribbon and boxes are everywhere.  Stockings are ransacked, empty and wadded on the floor.  The tree looks lonely and slightly off center without the gifts as its foundation.  Used coffee cups and tea glasses and cake plates are scattered on the mantel and the buffet and the coffee table, with wadded up napkins and forks and chicken bones.  Chicken bones.  And crumbs. And plastic things that may be packing parts or may be a critical piece of electronics lie waiting as traps on the floor for the unwary bare foot. 

Christmas happens, thank God.

(For the sake of accuracy, I did not experience all of that stuff this year. Some of it, but not all of it.  It is a compilation, not exhaustive, but exhausting enough,  of several years of experience. Call it artistic license. Historical fiction.)

More than once during this Christmas season I watched parents squirm and frown as their small children, filled with anticipation and wonder, could not sit still in worship services, or ran through stores, or cried and screamed on Santa's lap while cameras and long lines waited, or spilled juice on a frilly dress, or disrupted adult conversations in the living room, or burned stuff in the candle flames, or constantly photo-bombed parents' serious portrait attempts. 

They were out of control.  Or at least out of their parents' control.  The children knew exactly what they were doing.

And so it is when Christmas happens. When Christmas explodes. 

 Love was born into this world as a child.  A child that his parents could not control.  That Love child grew into a man, into a Love that the powers of the world could not control, and they still cannot.

But we still try.  We try to keep things in order. People in their place.  Everything and everyone boxed and wrapped and tied up pretty. Even ourselves. Maybe especially ourselves.

But this Love is uncontrollable. It explodes. It makes messes. 

What are we supposed to do about the mess?

Live with it.

Live in it.



Thursday, December 25, 2014

Wake up, Wake Up, It's Christmas Morning . . 2014

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

Okay, it's almost Christmas afternoon. But traditionally I take it easy on Christmas morning.  It's been quiet around my house.  Nice.

But life has not been quiet as it sprinted toward this Christmas Day.  There were the normal things, the parties and presents, families and friends, music and more music, lots of glorious church services.  I loved every bit of it. It seemed like there was more to do this year than ever before.  Maybe I was looking for more to do.  But however it happened, I felt like I had run out of calendar, never knowing for sure where I was supposed to be next. It was a fun, challenging, entertaining, meaningful and loving time of Advent. Thanks to everyone who helped it be that way.

But there were other things. Important things. Life things. Things that I prayed hard about during Advent.  A wonderful new grandson Charlie who was coming to visit.  Benjamin and Kate who had recently moved to Denver (with the aforesaid Charlie).  Vann, who is approaching his last semester in law school.  A close friend who found out he is seriously sick. A client who received miraculous news about a life or death case, literally.  A conversation over coffee that spilled over into something different.  The coffee didn't spill over. The conversation did.

And all of it seemed to be aimed toward this day.  The celebration of the moment in time when God came. Jesus was born.  Everything changed.

The parties and presents will stop. Gatherings with families and friends will wait until the next special occasion.  And even the music will fade a little into the background of life.

But this other stuff. This real life stuff.  It's not going anywhere. It is just beginning.

And that is Christmas for real.

Christmas is that point in time.  That focus point, where everything became clear.  The light was set against the darkness, a pure, indescribably brilliant, inexhaustible light, that could never be extinguished, and would forever reveal the paths of truth, love and goodness, as well as the evil that enjoys the dark shadows.

The work of love and light had just begun.

I am sure Joseph and Mary felt like they had been through enough to have reached the end of a story when Jesus was finally born and resting in a manger.  Perhaps they offered a prayer of relief.  You know that kind of prayer, "Thank God that's over." Maybe some are saying that today after all the rush of Christmas.

But it wasn't over.  It had just begun. For them. And for Jesus.  And for us.

Some are critical of emphasizing the Christmas story without including the Easter resurrection story.  I agree, both are essential.

But I dwell in the in between.

Where children grow up and new ones are born, where sickness and failure come and stay too long, where success or healing surprise us, where good fights are fought, where love and life can be messy but worth the spillage.

And that is what I celebrate today. Not so much the beginning and the end.

But that God comes to be with me in the In Between.

Merry Christmas.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

A light shining on the darkness . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I woke up early this morning, before the sunrise.  There is much to be done, much that has been pushed back.  It has not been procrastination, but prioritization.  The fire that burned hottest got the immediate attention.  Today the fires are under control, at least.  But it seemed wise to get up early in the dark when  glowing embers can be spotted more easily.

So it was dark when I plopped down on the sofa for this Saturday morning ritual of writing and coffee.  The perspective for dawn is different from here.  Normally I see the sunrise from my bedroom through windows facing a tad south of east.  It is an original  miraculous work every day, as first a tiny ribbon of crimson outlines the horizon, separating it from the sky that is imperceptibly giving up the indigo blue of night. Dawn comes quickly and powerfully as the blazing deep orange ball cautiously peers above the far ridge-line for a moment and then, as if seeing that the coast is clear, explodes boldly, sprinting out of the mountainous starting blocks, each step taking it higher in the heavens, casting its brilliant rays farther and farther west with each passing second.

But I could not see that this morning.  I could not look directly at the rising sun.  I was on the wrong side of the house.

It was different from this perspective.  Looking up the mountain side from the den windows all was dark. It was hard to see the sky at all because of the forest that begins directly behind my house.  But then I thought I saw something.  It was so subtle that I was not sure.  Probably nothing. But I could not stop looking.  Far up, at the very top of the tallest trees, there seemed to be a faint glow.  Not much.  Just a touch of pink against the grey bark of the highest tips of the forest spires. There was no explosion of light, no dramatic display of separating and changing colors and shafts of light.  Just the faint reddening glow. The glow of the tree tops intensified slowly, and crept lower until it reached the ground. And reached everything.

And I realized it was morning.  It was light.

I didn't see the sun when it appeared this morning.  I was on the dark side of the house.

But I saw the world reflecting it's light.

And I knew that the light had come.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

And it came to possum . . .

I stepped down the steps into the carport a few minutes ago and heard a rustling noise. Reaching back through the kitchen door, I turned on the outdoor light.

It turned on me. A few feet from the bottom of the steps.   A possum. Or opossum, for more formal meetings.  His beady eyes flashed as his pointy little teeth, bared by almost non-existent lips, glistened like razors through a smile that could never be trusted.. As he turned,  his hairless dark pink tail slashed across the concrete like a leather whip.  His coarse hair was mussed and grey and in need of a wash.

He was ugly.

No wonder he was in such a bad mood.

I have yet to begin decorating for Christmas.  But it is on my mind. I am giving it some thought.  And so, after my encounter with the possum, I wondered.  Some might say I wandered. As I wondered.

You just don't see possums in nativity sets.

You see lowing cattle, woolly lambs, donkeys, camels, and occasionally some dove.

But no possums.

From the Latin translation of Luke:  "And it came to possum . . . "

This oversight just doesn't seem consistent with the gospel of Jesus.


Not the absence of possums from nativity scenes.  This discussion about that absence is ridiculous (although I hope entertaining and descriptive).

This particular Christmas season is filled with ridiculous discussions.

Exactly how much torture is acceptable?  How much pain can be exacted without crossing the line?

Is killing by drone more moral than face to face combat?  What about bombs and missiles? Snipers?

Why in the world are all those black men upset?  A healthy percentage of them have free housing and meals at the state's expense. Why all the whining?

Why should those foreigners get to stay?

Why can't they do something about these homeless people lurking around everywhere? I hope they know to come to the Christmas meal at the church.

Why should my taxes pay for those freeloaders health insurance or their childrens' lunches?  I hope they know to come to the Christmas meal at the church and that we got the kid's sizes right.

And on and on.

It is ugly.  No wonder we are in such a bad mood.

And ridiculous.

And contrary to the gospel of Jesus.

Makes the whole possum in the nativity set discussion seem downright holy.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent: Love, you can't stop it, you can only hope to contain it

I was talking with a couple of friends today.  Each of them declared if they ever got married again, they would marry for money.  Don't try to figure out who it is. They did not mean it. It is one of those kind of things that you laugh about over coffee and pound cake, but you know it isn't true.  They married for love. There wasn't much they could do about it.

Like it or not, love cannot be controlled. If you can control it, it is not love. You know I'm right.

And that is what God unleashed on His precious world a couple of thousand years ago.

Love. Real Love.  Uncontrollable. Uncontainable. Unpredictable.

And contrary to our understanding, all powerful.

It is the most awesome gift, this love that came down.  It may be represented in a tiny way by gifts perfectly wrapped, tied up with ribbons and bow.  But there is no box nor ribbon that can ever contain it.  And if it ever appears to be perfectly boxed and tied up, it is just an illusion, ready to explode. It can be perfectly messy.

It was God's answer. To everything.

And it still is.

We just think we are too grown up to believe it, as if it were just another Christmas myth, more for the children to believe in so that they will behave in a more tolerable manner, or to provide the plot lines for the Hallmark channel.

And that is so sad. And so very wrong.

Love gave us, and gives us, the real answers.  Love is the answer to hate. To war. To Poverty. To racism. To oppression. To injustice.To violence. To loneliness. To condemnation. To judgment. To pain. To death.

Love is the only thing that can cure the human heart, and the collective heart of humanity.

But as I type it, love is just another word.

But what we contemplate during this advent season is that God changed all of that.

The Word, this love, became flesh, and came to walk among us. And invited the rest of us fleshy folk to embody the same love and take a walk.  With no idea where we are going.

But first this gift of  love was embodied in a tiny new born baby, who couldn't walk at all..

Seemed harmless enough. Powerless. Helpless. Pointless. What kind of answer is this to the horrible ills of a dark, dark world? Thanks God, but can we return it for something we might really use?

And you won't believe what happened next. . .

And that, sweet people, is our problem.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

People walking in darkness have seen a great light . . .

It's the first Sunday in Advent.  In the traditional Christian church calendar it begins a time before Christmas for preparation, for expectation, and for waiting.  Today in many churches there will be wonderful, visible, symbolic elements of this season, based on centuries of tradition.   The first candle of the advent wreath, the prophecy candle, will be lit as the story begins again, probably echoing the ancient yet contemporary words of Isaiah to "Prepare the way of the Lord."  and the prophecy that  "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light." . Perhaps tonight there will be the hanging of the greens in sanctuaries, cedar for strength, pine for eternal life, and holly and ivy for the passion and suffering of Christ.

Thursday I was driving home late after a full day of eating and being thankful (thankful to as well as thankful for the cooks and food respectively).  As I approached my driveway I saw a great light.   The lights could be seen in the dark night sky long before I got there,  the lights of Wal-Mart and the headlights and tail-lights of hundreds of cars of those that had been drawn there  For a moment I was concerned that the place was on fire. So I turned in there instead of to my home on the hill.

There were lines of cars the likes of which I had never seen, lined up to receive the blessings of the night, flat screen TV's, computers, bicycles, bags and boxes of all shapes and sizes,  all being fitted into back seats and trunks in a manner that would make the best Tetris champion proud, until there was no room to fit anything else in.  There were no parking places anywhere in the huge parking lot.

Mesmerized I parked on the edge of the lot and went inside. Christmas music was playing.  Bright strands of Christmas lights and garlands of evergreen highlighted the aisles full of bargains, marked with signs clearly declaring the way to savings.   There were hundreds of folks inside the store. Every check-out was open.  The way for the early Christmas shopper had been made straight. And the prices made low.

And all were exalting.

We were all exalting. Yeah. I bought something.

There were thousands of people in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Every house, room and inn were full of people gathered by family name. But there was no room to fit Him in anywhere.

And very, very few noticed the true Light in the dark that night.

The true white hot blue light special. The Perfect Gift. Unimaginable saving.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Just waiting on kick-off . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Gameday. RTR. Coffee.

I won't be going to Tuscaloosa today unless a ticket just falls into my lap, which is highly unlikely here on the sofa. .  The last time I paid more than full price for a college football ticket (more than full price for a good used car) was in 2010.  It was a great first half for Bama.   The last thing I remember is going to get a hot dog at half-time. I have a hazy recollection of fumbling the hot dog on the way back to my seat.  Cam Newton ran up into the stands and ate that too.  So I don't pay too much for tickets anymore.  Bad karma.

The first UA-AU game that I remember attending was in 1967.  I was a schizophrenic fan at the time, having been an Alabama fan for all of my 12 years, but now facing the troubling fact that my brother and my future brother-in-law now stood on the Auburn sideline.  But it didn't really matter too much that day.  My nerdy attention was more directed to the airline jets flying low over Legion Field in their approach to the airport.  They seemed to be flying sideways like  wild geese in a hurricane.  Great moves were not limited to the gridiron as the huge crowd was forced to avoid umbrellas that had been ripped inside out by vicious wind gusts and converted into lethal missiles.  It was a miserable day.  I was watching the field, however, as Kenny Stabler slogged through the mud for the winning score for Bama.   7-3.

I was an Auburn fan for five years after that  It was hard for a Junior High guy to resist the perks of  having a brother and future brother in law on football scholarship.  Hanging at the athletic dorm, practice footballs with the AU branded on them. Auburn swag.  And lots of  games on Saturdays.

 When I was in ninth grade I broke my leg in early November.  My brother got me a sideline pass to the Auburn Alabama game that year.  I was standing on the sideline at about the 35 yard line when Connie Frederick ran right by me as he took a fake punt around right end about 99 yards for a touchdown. Auburn won handily.

I was there in blue and orange when Alabama with Johnny Musso trounced Auburn and recently annointed Heisman winner Pat Sullivan in 1971   I was there yelling War Eagle, actually mostly bored, then stunned,  for Punt Bama Punt in 1972.

But the next year I went to Tuscaloosa as a UA student and my birthright was restored for life.  My timing was great.  Bama won the next decade.

As I write this I think about how much fun it is to remember where I was and who I was watching the Alabama Auburn game with.  Everybody can describe the great plays and the great games. Bo over the top. Wrong way Bo.  The Kick. Punt Bama Punt. The Great Camback.  Whatever we're calling last year . . .still too painful for me to talk about or listen to anyone else talk about.

Yes, everyone knows all those big games and plays.  But there are lots of other things I know. I know how hard it is for a skinny ninth grader on crutches to survive a mob on a field after an Iron Bowl.  I know how hard it is to get out of a seatbelt that is locked and will not open and you are in a hurry to get to kick-off, and why you should always carry sharp scissors or a knife in the console.  . I know what it is like to drive a car full of slightly inebriated friends through hostile crowds as they make crude proposals of marriage out of the open windows. I know how good it feels to crawl inside the fireplace at Cracker Barrel at exit 76 after an Auburn win in the frozen rain and sleet.  I know that the concentration required to watch the game on TV actually accelerates the painting of a room.  I know that it is best for me to watch the game with about 100,000 other people, or by myself (or with another who is wise enough to leave me alone while I watch).  I know that you can listen to the game in Latvia, but nobody there cares about it.  I know that after the game the bars on the strip are great if you win, and pretty good even if you lose. I know that we shouldn't act like we never won before.   I know the patience that comes after a loss, with no chance for relief for a full year.

I am sure you have also learned valuable life lessons from the Alabama-Auburn game.

It is, after all an educational experience.  It is held right in the middle of two great university campuses (I originally typed campi.  Turns out that's not correct, just another example of the educational component of the game and its extensions).

Some say college football has become too important.

Yeah, I might say that some days.

But not today.  Not about the game that has taught me so much.

And it is just too much fun.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Give thanks to who?

The collards are cooking and the pastichio is baking and the coffee is just right. It is hard not to be thankful.

Early this morning I realized that I had forgotten to get any pork for the collards, so, much to my disliking, I girded my loins and took a trip to Wal-Mart. It was amazingly quiet there. I guess everyone else had enough sense to buy what they needed yesterday.  But as always I ran into a friend, one of those people who add color to your life. We spoke for a moment.  Then I went to the checkout where the cashier greeted me and smiled at my purchase, immediately knowing what I must have forgotten, and wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving, even as she was beginning a full day of work on the line.  In the parking lot I saw an old friend across the way, a friend who has worked there for years gathering buggies, who threw up his hand and yelled "Happy Thanksgiving."  He always greets me as he works, whether it be in the heat of summer, or the cold of winter, rain or shine.

As I left to head home I thanked God for them.  But oddly the prayer was not very satisfying. It didn't seem like enough.  Odd.

The past couple of weeks I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what I have to be thankful for.  The list is endless once I take a little time with the exercise and get on a roll. The collards, pistachio and coffee are just the tip of the iceberg. A really nice tip, but just the tip all the same.

But this morning I was struck with a thought.  Shocking I know.

For days, really for my whole life, in times such as these,I have concentrated on what I am thankful for and have been quite impressed with my faithfulness to the discipline.

Maybe it is time to think more about who I am thankful to.

It changes things,  this shift in focus about gratitude, from thankful for to thankful to.  My list suddenly changes from a list heavy  with things, to a list primarily of names.

To think about who I am thankful to makes me remember, maybe even admit, that the blessings in my life, the goodness that I enjoy, are grace.  They are not something I earned or deserve.  More often than not the contrary is true.  To remember who I am thankful to is humbling even as it blesses.  I cannot fool myself that I am somehow responsible and deserving of the things for which I am thankful. Someone else has offered me graces and gifts.

And that is what I am thinking about this morning.

Of course I give thanks to God.  And the truth is, it was during that early morning conversation as I was tearing and washing collards, putting stuff on to cook that God asked the question.

"It's really nice that you are thanking me, but what about those folks at Walmart, and all the other flesh and blood people, who have loved you, corrected you, taught you, listened to you,  helped you, made you laugh, or worked so that your life could be better?  When are you going to start thanking them?  They have been doing my work for me, for you."

It is not always easy being in a relationship with someOne who is always right.

So I began to think about it.  It changes everything, what God has asked this morning.  Because if I take it seriously, I know that I must be thankful to too many people, many of whom I would like to not have to thank.  Folks that are disagreeable, or that disagree with me or I disagree with them.  Outrageous people. Conservatives. Republicans. IRS agents. You get the idea. Your list of disagreeable people may be different than mine. It might even include me.  But, the idea is the same.

God wants us to find that thing in each other that is graceful, that is giving, that is good.  Because we are all creations of that loving God to whom we all give thanks. And He wants us to be thankful to them.

Even white policemen or black thugs. Muslims or conservative Christians, agnostics or atheists or Bible thumpers. . Tea Partiers or radical liberals. Felons or saints.

It is too easy to simply give thanks to God for the goodness in everyone, although that is important.  It is time to give thanks for all of God's creation.

But just as important to give thanks to that creation, human and otherwise, for as little or as much of God's grace as they have given with their existence.

How do we do that?

I don't know.

But I guess that's something I have to think about now. And I know it will change things.

Happy Thanksgiving.  Thanks be to God.

And thanks to you too.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Get the picture?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

When I was young I got my first camera.  Back then it was a big deal. Now, of course,  the common can-opener comes with photo capability.  But as a child I was excited to have my first camera.  I would take it on trips, or pull it out for the rare southern snowfall. Recently I discovered a few of those early photos.  There were about fifty shots of old faithful in different stages of faithfulness, panoramic shots of snow in the backyard, the Rocky Mountains from what seemed like about a hundred miles away, fuzzy frames of the traditional beach sunsets, and a dot in a deep blue sky which I am sure was a large bird, probably a buzzard which I had hoped was an eagle.  But from that distance it was impossible to tell.

 In those days  film had to be dropped off at the drug store to be developed.  Then there was a day or two wait  before they were ready to be picked up in sealed white packages.  Only then could you hope to see again the beauty of what you had seen in person.

 Generally speaking I was disappointed.

The photos I took never captured the moment.  I was either too far away or too close or I was moving to quickly as I quick-drew my camera, resulting in a blurry mess.

But the biggest disappointment now is that I failed to include the people around me in most of the photos.   My photos back then were all context.  All stage scenery.  But very few actors.

Things have certainly changed.  Most of us have excellent cameras in our pockets which also operate as phones.  And most of the photos stored on those phones are close-ups of people's faces, quite often including our own.  Wonderful pics of smiling faces.  Definitely better than my childhood photo archive.

But even so, the selfie explosion has also created an amusing exercise.  Was that when were were together at that concert? Or at that ballgame? Which concert or ballgame?  Or that trip? Or at that birthday, wedding, graduation, or whatever party?  Where was that taken? It's hard to tell, except maybe for the presence of sunburn or clothing or the brand of beer sitting on the bar.

I  prefer these close-ups of  faces, happy to be posed so closely together..  But still, context and scenery are important too, especially as we try to remember.  So the best are the ones that capture both.  The actors and the scenery.

I've got a bunch of favorite photos, if it is possible to have more than one favorite.  There is one that sits on my mantle made three or four years ago.  My sons Benjamin and Vann are on either side of me as we walk up the hill through the pine trees in front of my mother's house. We are all walking toward the camera, smiling the way that Bentley boys do,  each with our hands in our jean pockets.  Or a  black and white close-up of my dad and Vann sitting close on the sofa at my sister Terri's house at a holiday gathering, facing each other in deep conversation, a few months before my dad died. Another is one of those random phone pics that I took at Bryant-Denny stadium a few seasons back on a beautiful fall afternoon. I was in the nose bleed seats and noticed the Vanderbilt flag, one of the SEC banners that adorned the rim of the stadium, a scrim backlit by the sun and flapping in the breeze.  I was going to send it to Vann, who was a student at Vandy at the time..  Accidentally, and to my great fortune, the picture also captured my game companion, her face and hair shining in the sun, totally unposed and unprepared for a picture.

And of course every picture of my grandson Charlie.

And so it is with our life view.  There is value in huge, sweeping panoramic views.  And value in close up personal shots.  But sometimes both views are necessary to get the real picture. It can't always be all background. But the background is where we live and love after all, and tells a story that explains the smiles or the tears of the close-ups, and helps us to remember.

My Saturday morning routine around the house generally involves listening to some news shows while I piddle around.  This morning the news is dominated by stories about immigration and race.  Specifically President Obama's executive action regarding immigration and the anticipated grand jury report  from Ferguson, Missouri, regarding the shooting of Michael Brown..

I have my own strong feelings about both.  But for this morning I am just reminded that it is important to get the whole picture.  Panorama is important. The sweeping background of history and present context is necessary to understanding. We all choose which panorama vistas are worthy of a pic. And those choices say much about us.   But close-ups are what  make it truly personal. The things  we have chosen to get close enough to for a close-up also say much about us.

Both are necessary to make the good decision. Depending on one or the other too much can result in a lost opportunity for progress in the panoramic view, and justice for the individuals.

And of course some of our shots are blurred by our haste or by unsteady hands shaken by fear or cold. And sometimes we miss the best thing about the picture because it got in there by accident.

And sometimes we get the better view by  looking at someone else's album.

I love my pictures.  I've got thousands of them.  But they are all snapshots of a moment. There is not a one of them that explains what happened next.

I guess that is what journals and blogs are for.

Get out and find some close-ups in your panorama on this beautiful day.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can I get a warm up here?

Sunday. Sofa. Coffee.

 As I pour a cup of coffee and let it sit on the coffee table while I get ready to write, it is amazing how quickly it cools on this frigid morning. Meanwhile, back at my beloved coffee pot on the counter, the precious liquid is still steaming, the heat being retained by the larger body of liquid in the carafe, and continuously restored by the coffee maker,  the source of the heat in the first place.

It is perfect as it sits in the beautiful glass and stainless steel carafe.

But as I try to write, it is worthless to me over there..

For the coffee to help me it must be poured in my cup and carried out into the cold, cold world of my living room.

A dangerous thing, this separation, this pouring.  But it is necessary, even if a little chilling,  if I am to drink from the cup.

There will be thousands of sermons delivered this morning. And that is just in Alabama.  Some of them will be part of a cleverly worded series advertised and marketed on social media, church newsletters and signs,  designed to attract the faithful back into the sanctuary for another Sunday, with the hope that somehow the artwork and wordplay will attract new numbers, seekers, the curious about God, to find that church and give it a try.   Come to us, all who are thirsty, and learn to be like us. Come here to share a hot cup in the welcome center. But come to us.  We are surely not going to bring it out to you. No curb service here.

It will get cold out there.

Out there.  The world.  The evil place. Certainly no place for the church, the Body of Christ to be hanging out.  The world might rub off on us if we rub up against it.  No, it is much better, much safer, much warmer, if we stay in this place, this sanctuary, this welcome center, that God has clearly created  to set the blessed apart from the world, so that we may not become of this dirty, dirty world. Jesus wants us to stay here, stay close, where the coffee is always hot.and the filth of the world never contaminates.

There will be some in the pulpit this morning who will blame the world for the woes of the church. Attendance is in decline.  Commitment is lacking. Sin is rampant.  It is the fault of the satanic entertainment industry, or the godless government leaders. It is because of the demon possessed gays and lesbians, or the Muslims, or the outcast and oppressed others, and especially because of those so-called Christians who stand up and stand with them, apparently with no regard for what may be rubbing off on them.  Some pastors will proclaim that the world out there is the problem, the cause of our chilling cold, and we must not risk tracking the dirt inside. Close the doors, the heat might get out.  Were you born in a barn?

Some will even point out that the world is an abomination to God.

The world that God so loves.  The world that Jesus came to, rubbed shoulders with, ate and drank with, wrapped his loving arms around despite abominable sin and filthiness of body, mind and spirit.

The world that is us.

The world that Jesus came not to condemn, but to show the way to live and die.

And most importantly,  to show the way to love.

In the world. In this world.

The world is not the problem, all who are preaching and listening today.  The world is who we are to love, wherever that is, and no matter how dirty it gets.

Because that is where Jesus is.  And he is not lonely. He loves it out there with his friends.

It is so sad when the glass that we are looking through darkly has become the windows of our churches, those of us on the inside unable to see clearly Jesus loving on the world in need of love. The world He came to save, whether we choose to be with Him or not.

My coffee is growing cold and I know where to go to remedy that.

And the same for my heart, despite what you may hear from a pulpit today.

Into the world. That's where Jesus is. And he doesn't just serve a drink of cool living water.

He gives warm-ups as well.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Changes (a little political for Saturday morning, but give me a break, we got shellacked)

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It has been over a month since I have been home on Saturday morning.  Way back then the leaves were still green, with a little brown, and I worried if we were going to see reds and golds this year.  On that Saturday morning I didn't have a leak in the pipe to my water heater and Bama was still undefeated, if only by a few hours. It seems that things change while I'm not looking.   On that Saturday morning in early October, the sun rose close to the middle of my bedroom window.  It rose all the way to the left this morning.

I am a wreck. I don't know what to do. First the leak in the water heater, Bama has a loss,  and now it appears that either the sun or the earth has shifted radically while I was not watching. Heaven or earth has moved.

Surely the end is near.

So I might as well not fix the leaky water heater pipe.

Other things have changed since last week..

Last week our nation was under an imminent threat of an ebola epidemic disaster of Biblical proportion. But since then the massive outbreak of ebola in the United States has been brought under control. Other than health workers who were brought home from Africa for treatment, there have been a total of four people in the U. S. infected, two while administering treatment to a patient in Texas. Two contracted the disease in Africa, one of whom died.  One doctor, Craig Spencer, is being treated in New York and is in stable condition. There has been an international effort to assist the beset countries in west Africa in bringing the ebola outbreak under control.   The United States sent military troops to construct treatment infrastructure, offered the expertise of the CDC,  and provided economic aid, supporting those countries in giving the world hope that the corner is being turned at the source of the viral outbreak.  While thousands are still infected and being infected, there is cautious optimism that the virus is being contained.

ISIS, which as recently as last week was reported to be poised on our Mexican and Canadian borders to invade our country, seems to be concentrating its activities in Iraq, and appears to be weakening. The group has been exposed for what it is and isolated when it left the confines of Syria, even among Muslim nations in the region. The international coalition, put together primarily through American efforts and which includes several Muslim nations, appears to have turned the tide against the inhumanely cruel terrorist organization.

As recently as last week the American economy was in freefall.   But miraculously changes have occurred.  The U. S. economy is humming.  Unemployment is at 5.8 percent, the lowest since mid-2008.  The economy is on track to produce more jobs than any year since 1999.  The U. S. economy has produced private sector job growth for 56 consecutive months, the longest such period since these matters have been recorded. Government employment has shrunken significantly. Inflation is minimal.  The stock market remains at record highs.  Corporate profits are off the charts. The U. S. budget deficit has declined every year since 2009.  The GDP increased by 4.6 percent in the 2nd quarter, and 3.5 in the third quarter, both much higher than expected, and indicators of a growing economy.

As recently as last week the oil industry was under attack in the United States, making it virtually impossible to conduct business.  But this week American oil production is at record levels. America exports more than it imports. Oil prices are down.  Gasoline prices are down. Russia's economy  which depends to a great degree on the sell of oil is suffering because of the falling prices.  It is the same issue that was the demise of a couple of Putin's predecessors in office.  That might be even better than cheap gas.

I can't imagine what happened, how all of these disastrous things and so many more could have changed so abruptly.  I heard and watched for myself the awful reports of a disastrous freefall economy, the ebola outbreak unchecked, the imminent ISIS takeover of our homeland, the attempt to destroy the oil industry.  It was all on video, narrated with creepy Halloweenish voices, proving that all of the assertions of doom and gloom were true. And all apparently President Obama's fault.

I was in Colorado.  And I was watching political advertisements on TV.  And every one of the assertions, and more, were corroborated by reliable Facebook posts here in Alabama.. How in the world could things have changed so quickly?

There is only one answer I guess, as much as I hate to admit it. I guess it was the Republican wave victory on Tuesday.  I just couldn't have dreamed of results so quickly.

And no doubt they will quickly correct the issue of the liberal sun moving so far to the left.

I guess I'll have to fix the water heater pipe after all.  I feel like I need a hot shower.

Just kidding. I pray for nothing but wisdom and good things for all those elected. And a return to a political environment which allows us to laugh together.  Otherwise this whole writing thing is not nearly as much fun.




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Afraid in the dark . . .

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
                                                                                                -President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 
                                                                                                 First Inaugural Address, 1933

When I was very young, about three or four years old, my brother and I shared a small bedroom.  The walls were stained pine tongue and groove boards.  At night a faint light from the bathroom down the hall weakly rested against the doors of the closet and released the true terror contained in the grain of the boards.  The beautiful natural  wood grain of the day became nocturnal wolves with fangs bared, or bears or dinosaurs with teeth and claws, all poised to spring on all who would dare to leave the bed and pass by to the hall, which is where the bathroom was located.

And if that were not enough, there was a hole in the window.  A hole through which snakes would probably be crawling  from the back yard into my bedroom and onto my bedroom floor in the middle of the night. The reptilian portal was created by the impact of a bb shot from a Daisy air rifle (accident).  The hole might have been as much as 1/32 of an inch in diameter.  Everybody knows that snakes can crawl through really tiny holes if they want to. And I knew they wanted to.

So sometimes, in the middle of the night, in the middle of all of that fear, I was faced with a dilemma.  I needed to go to the bathroom.  But that would require getting out of bed, carefully avoiding the writhing snakes on the floor and the beasts lurking in the dark shadows of the walls.  I could have turned on the light, but my brother would yell at me.  And that was scary too. All those fears only heightened my need to go. But I would just lie there most of the time, hoping I could  go back to sleep and hold it until the morning light scared the demons of the dark away. 

Sometimes I couldn't hold it.  So, my fear caused me to wet my bed. 

 And that really stinks.

In the light of day I knew that was right.  It wasn't real wild animals that kept me in my bed. It was just fear.  Of nothing real.  

But in the dark of night, I just couldn't think right. It was scary.

And that is still true. Not the me wetting the bed part.

The fear. And the darkness.

In  darkness created by ignorance, and prejudice, in darkness created by the absence of the light of love with a capital L,  scary illusions appear.   All young black men are thugs.  All young white police officers are bigots  Illegal immigrants are taking over the country. Their children are spreading disease willy nilly.   All politicians are crooks.   All government is corrupt. All government is inept.  Gay marriage will destroy the family.  Muslims secretly want to kill us all.  Ebola will eat us all up by next week.  ISIS is taking over the world.  Someone is  coming to take our guns. .The homeless and poor are scamming us.  All  Democrats are communists. All Republicans worship money and war.  All Tea Partiers are nuts.   We will all have implanted computer chips in a couple of years.  President Obama is . . . there is not enough space to address the lies about him born of irrational fears..  Facebook is taking my picture all the time . . . okay, that might be absolutely true. You get the idea.  Feel free to add your own favorite irrational  fears in the comment section.

Sure, there are things in the world that are scary, and real.  LIke the snakes and wild animals I had been warned about when playing outside were real.   But my fears that kept me shaking fearfully in bed in the safety of my house were irrational and  ridiculous.

We can only know which is which by having the courage to pull our heads out from under the safety of the covers, get up and turn on the light.  But sometimes we  prefer to stay in the dark.    Because light will reveal the truth. And the truth is not always easy.

There are people who will yell when we try.  They want to keep the light turned off, and the irrational fears to mount.  They want us to be scared enough to be paralyzed, to keep us where we are, to keep us in the dark, to make us wet the bed.   Because let me tell you, wetting the bed is not exactly an empowering experience.  

And that is really what some people want.  To create fear.  Ridiculous, irrational fear. Of something that doesn't exist.

Because if you are controlled by fear, you are controlled. You are powerless.

And that really stinks.

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear . . ."
                                                                                            I  John 4:18 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Meet me in St. Louis

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

As it turns out, my sofa this week is in St. Louis.  I hope we get to look around town a little before we hitch up the wagons and head west  seeking a better life.  The giant Gateway Arch, the Gateway to the West, was surreal, looking more like a giant croquet wicket to the West as we motored into town last night.  For a moment I pictured Vulcan standing next to it with mallet in hand, in a sister-cities kind of joint effort between St. Louis and Birmingham.   Something to think about.  I've wanted to see the Gateway Arch up close since I first read about it in a fascinating "Weekly Reader" article a few years ago.  It is impressive, even from a few blocks away. Perhaps I can convince my traveling companions to indulge me and make closer inspection.

Our mini wagon-train of a 4-Runner and an Outback are on a one way road trip to Denver as my son, his wife, and my two month old grandson are moving there to pursue a wonderful career opportunity. The dad in me is proud of their achievements, but the grand-dad in me is sad to see my brand new grandson move so far away.  So, the offer to be a driver on this long trip was immediately accepted as  a great opportunity to get to spend some time with them on the way to the west.  And so far it has been.

I got my coffee this morning and sat down to watch a little news before I started writing.  As it turns out, crowds are gathering in St. Louis this morning and will grow for the rest of the day.  It is not to see the Gateway Arch.

It is a day of protest.  The protesters are gathering a few blocks away for the "Justice for All" march to bring attention to the now nationally famous case of Michael Brown, who was killed during an encounter with a policeman in nearby Ferguson. The crowds are protesting the killing itself,  the reaction of the law enforcement and justice system to Brown's death, and other similar cases throughout the country.

I have an opinion about Michael Brown's death.  But opinions so often get in the way.  And that is not what is on my mind this morning.

During the news coverage of the events at Ferguson several photographs of Michael Brown were displayed, over and over again.  They showed a young man of a large size, but with a face that looked more like a junior high kid. .His mother and father, family and friends were interviewed and their grief for their loss was on national display. Stories of Brown's life and personality filled out the picture.

 Michael Brown was not perfect. Nor was he a demon.

He was just a kid.

A son.

So today, as I look out the hotel window toward where the protesting crowds will gather I offer an awful prayer.  A prayer for Michael Brown's parents and their grief.

And a prayer of thanksgiving for my sons, my daughter-in-law and my grandson. And I feel guilty for that. Because I don't have to live in the fears known too commonly by the protesters in St. Louis today.

But guilt is a useless balm that convinces us that our self-inflicted punishment is action enough.

But it is not.  Guilt will never change anything.

But something or somebody must. Change something.

So anyway.  Time to load up.  Gotta make Salina by Bama kick-off. Westward Ho the wagons.  Have a good Saturday.  Love your children today.

And everyone else's too.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thurvey 10/2/2014

It's Thursday.  Once upon a time that meant it was time for the Thurvey . .  .the Thursday Survey.   So just for old times sake the Thurvey is back.  Traditionally the questions range from light hearted to serious.  Try not to be mean or hateful, but well crafted satire is welcome.  Enter your response to any or all of the questions by commenting on this post, or comment in facebook if that is how you got here. There are no wrong answers except those that you do not write, or something like that.  It's okay to answer the questions on Friday or Saturday, or even Sunday.   Let the world hear your voice:

#1  Aretha Franklin has just released an album of cover songs . . . songs made famous by other "divas" of the recording industry.  For instance she covered "Rollin' in the Deep by Adele.  If you were making an album covering the great songs of others, what songs would you cover in your own inimitable stylings?.

#2  A pastor friend asked this question for sermon prep recently.  I won't mention any names, but this is the kind of preparation pastors do at Birmingham First United Methodist Church where all are welcomed home.  Name two things that are better together. Like fall weather and a convertible.

#3 I was blessed this week by a couple of parking deck attendants at the Birmingham Employees parking deck as I was walking down the sidewalk to court, preoccupied and a little tense.  They made me look up and laugh with their laughter and encouragement.  Then one did the Hump Day woop woop. And then said "God Bless you, it's gonna be a great day today."    When or where or by whom were you surprised by laughter or encouragement this week?

#4 The Blount County Fair is underway this week.  What is your favorite thing about a fair?

#5  My last post was in part about Congress' decision to be in session for only 12 days during the months of August, September and October, despite the nation considering war and fighting an epidemic, and weighty important issues left unaddressed.  How do you feel about the decision?

#5  The Alabama Legislature will go into session in mid-January.  I have learned that if you want to have a chance at getting them to take action on something, you must start early (apparently I never start early enough.  I don't think that early exists)   Anyway, enough whining. What challenges or opportunities would you like to see the Alabama legislature address in their next session?  Big dreams, serious problems, and of course, satire, are encouraged.

#6  What  other question would you like answered this week?

Ready. Begin.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Congressional Autumn Leave Tour . . .

It is autumn.  It is my favorite time of year, mostly for all the reasons that everyone else gives. In the past six years I have written a books-worth of Saturday Sofa Coffee posts about my love of this golden season, detailing my favorite things about fall.(See Chillin', from last year,  for example.)   But one event not included in many top ten favorite-things about-autumn lists is the November elections.  

I like it.  I think it is a wondrous thing that we the people collectively make choices that determine the future of our town, our state, and our nation. It is exciting. It is a privilege. It is an opportunity to advance civilization.

No really, it is.  I hear your snickering. I see your eye rolling. Shame on you.

Electing our representatives is our part, and the most important part, of making sure our representative government is exactly that, representative.  

And that it works.

And so it is important that we do our part of the work.  Dig for the truth and when you find as much of it as you can, make a reasoned decision.  We complain about government not working.  I suggest that is our fault. We have not done the serious work of being voters. There are plenty of elections when most of us don't even vote. And when we do, we may not be voting based on truth.  There are a lot of people spending a lot of money to control the things we watch, listen to and read who have no regard for the truth.  They are well trained at pushing our emotional buttons, with no regard for veracity.  They are hoping for our ignorance. And far too often we oblige.

Consider a couple of tonight's sobering headlines:  

A person who was infected with Ebola is hospitalized and quarantined in Dallas. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) is the primary agency of the federal government addressing the crisis.  Two weeks ago special American troops were deployed to Africa to assist in controlling the epidemic.

ISIS continues to hold its ground in Iraq despite continued air strikes from the United States in Iraq and Syria, and the UK in Iraq, assisted by other middle eastern nations.  Questions abound in the minds of Americans, like others world wide, about whose boots will be on the ground.

Domestic violence and particularly violence against women, failure of the secret service to protect the President and his family, and continuing incidences of violence that appear to be race based are the secondary stories.

The economy, which everyone is concerned about, barely makes the news. Immigration, minimum wage, fair pay for women, tax reform, poverty, health care,  the budget, the debt, all hot topics in the past few months, struggle for attention.

Struggle for attention, not only from the news outlets.  Not only from us.

But these critical issues long for attention from Congress.  The folks we will be voting on.  

We wonder whether we are at war.  We wonder if more is needed in the Ebola fight. We wonder if our nation's capital is safe for public officials and American citizens.

And during the months of August, September, and October, while the nation is facing crisis after crisis that cries out for the input of the people, our representatives are silent.

Congress has chosen to be in session for twelve days in the months of August, September and October. While we don't know if we are at war, in Syria and Iraq, or against a horrible virus, Congress is AWOL.

Fortunately, microphones can pick up their sound bites from anywhere.

But not in the halls of Congress.

It is empty.

I guess they're just chillin' the autumn away as well.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Daylight saving . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It was still dark as I dragged myself out of bed.  I would like to think that I am becoming more industrious, more Ben Franklinish in my early-to-risability.  But it is the sun that seems to be getting a little lazy once again. It is an annual thing, this solar sloth, inevitable after months of late nights and early mornings, rising and setting on the beach and the mountains and the playgrounds, keeping company with anyone who wants to stay out or get up and play.  It is a little irritating that these days become shorter with each sunset, because they are the best, the prime, the solid golden and deeply blue, these days between now and the middle of November.

This is my time of the year. I wake up. I breathe deeply.  I savor the gifts of this season, the long golden rays of the sun,  the deep blue skies that reappear after the summer humidity heads south for the winter, the inimitable potpourri of the forest floor, the cooling air that proves to me that I am still breathing, that I am yet alive,  and the ever changing palette of nature.

 I tend to think about more serious things.  Maybe the shortening days instinctively remind my inner consciousness of the need to prepare for winter, or perhaps of the brevity of life.

So maybe it is the season's fault. Or the sun's fault.  But it seems to me that there is a lot of silliness going on.  Don't get me wrong. I am a fan of appropriate silliness, even in these days.  Throwing a loved one into a pile of leaves. Tricking someone into eating a persimmon before the frost.   Football fanaticism.  And all things Halloween.

But seriously.

Time is running out.  The days are short. Daylight is fading.  And there is much to be done.  For the sick, the poor, the homeless, the oppressed, the imprisoned,  the widow, the orphan, and  the lonely.

Sure, the time is running out for them.  If help does not come soon, the pain will be greater, death will come quicker, or for some, not quickly enough.

But it is running out for us also, those who are not in such dire straits.  Those of us who are invited to help, are invited to come, to whom so much has been given..   Clever political soundbites, or bumper stickers will not ease the pain.  Sinful judgments by religious hypocrites  will not save anyone..

Not those in pain.

And not us.

Wow, I didn't mean to get so serious so early.

But really, it's later than I think.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pax time

Pax is a Latin word meaning peace.  

I have a friend who suffers from anxiety and depression. He takes a prescription medication that helps him find a little peace. I am glad for what it does for him.  The medication is not magic,  It does nothing to change the external factors in my friend's life.  It just affects the way his brain reacts to the world around him.  The chemical name for the drug is Paroxetine.  

The most famous brand name is Paxil.  I suppose the brand name could have been derived in part from the chemical name.  But I am sure the marketers were thrilled with an anti-anxiety/anti-depressant whose very name means peace. 

Wouldn't it be great if we could buy a prescription for peace. Peace with a capital P. World peace. Peace between nations, races, political parties, families, friends, couples . . . everybody. An international six pax to take the edge off of a very edgy world..

We already have. Over and over again.  It is not a modern drug. It is a home remedy that has been in use since the beginning of uncivilization. .  Instead of dealing with the causes for the lack of peace from which we suffer, we turn to the primitive potion of cave men wielding sticks and stones.

The rich and powerful oppress the poor and weak to the point they can offer no resistance. Truth and justice hold no sway in declaring the winner.  But there's no more violence. That's peace, isn't it?  

A very expensive prescription.  And a fraud worthy of a snake oil huckster.   It gives the illusion of peace. An absence of violence resulting from destruction and intimidation.  Hegemony.  But it does nothing but suppress the anger, depression and violence until the balance of power shifts, the oppressed becomes the angry oppressor, and the whole cycle begins again, with violence escalating to higher heights by the righteous indignation of the formerly oppressed. 

This prescription of power and violence is used by the good guys and the bad guys.  One of the side efffects is that it might make it difficult to recognize which is which after repeated use. 

And it is addictive.  The pains of withdrawal will be intense after such prolonged use.

But for humanity, survival does not depend on its continued use, as the foolish addict normally believes.  

Survival requires intensive long term rehab.

Jesus is often called "The Great Physician."  He offered  a new prescription for peace.  But it was radically different from the world's remedies of the sticks and stones of the cave men and the chariots and swords of the Romans.

 "You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 
                                                                                              Matthew 5:38

Sounds crazy doesn't it?  But I guess either we start believing the guy and taking his medicine instead of the world's home remedies .  . . or we don't.

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
                                                                                             John 14:27

Pax out.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hold still . . .

Sunday. Deck. Coffee.
It is a beautiful morning on Lake Murray. It is one of those sights that tempts me to continue taking pictures of the rising sun and the lake, still, except for the ripples of the wake of the ducks and the occasional turtle head disturbing the glassy surface as it pokes its head up for air.  But photos are futile.  I cannot do the subject justice. Moments like these cannot be captured.  No more than I could catch the wild geese flying low across the water, breaking through the rising mist.  And I miss so much when I try (taking pictures, not catching geese)

Yesterday Alan Storey presented a one day version of Manna and Mercy at Meyers Park United Methodist in Charlotte.  He came all the way from South Africa to lead us in considering the story of God and us through the lense of Jesus, more specifically the prayer of the Rabbi Jesus, the one we know as the Lord's Prayer.  Alan's program is based on a book, Manna and Mercy, written by Daniel Erlander. The subtitle is:

 "A Brief History of God's Unfolding Promise to Mend the Entire Universe."

That is a lot to cover in one day.

And of course we didn't.
Because some things, like the wild, noisy geese, are impossible to capture in a snapshot, in a moment. And we miss too much if we spend all our time trying. But still, the photos, imperfect and incomplete as they are, cause us to remember. And it seems like that is an important thing.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fanning the blame . . .

For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to find out who is to blame . . .

It is hard to keep up with the news.  We race from crisis to crisis.  Things are moving so fast it hardly gives us time to properly place the blame for our problems and release the scape goat into the desert.  Ferguson, NFL domestic violence, Ukraine, Syria, ISSIS all have exploded since the beginning of summer. There are many more I am sure I have missed. It is not easy to keep up with all that is going on, of all the people to be blamed.

Because, after all, finding someone to blame is the answer to the problems.  

In Ferguson, we almost had it solved, We had reduced it to two blameworthy possibilities.  It was the hate-filled white policeman who was just waiting for an opportunity to shoot a black guy and the white municipal system that supported him and oppressed the African Americans.  Either that or it was the lawless, self-centered young black man who pilfered cigars and attacked a police officer and incited all those African Americans who saw an opportunity to create a distraction and loot and burgle the hard earned property of whites with the blessing of the liberal elite.

That's about as far as we got before we had reached the other side of our short attention span where the next crisis was revealing its enticing, intoxicating opportunity for casting guilt and thus the resolution of another societal problem.

Do not misunderstand.  Focusing on events like Ferguson should be a necessary and ultimately helpful exercise. And painful. Discovering where we went wrong and are going wrong would be invaluable. 

But that is the problem. We don't like to discover where "we"  went wrong.  We work very hard to discover where "they" went wrong.  

Because when we have established that "they" are to blame, our job is done. Let's move on, to the NFL and domestic violence.  Obviously professional athletes are responsible for the millions of instances of domestic violence that have occurred every year since the days of leather helmets and no face guards.  This one seems easy. Mission accomplished.

I am sure millions of victims of domestic violence are relieved.

Doesn't it feel good?


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Put me in coach, I'm ready to play? (apologies to John Fogerty)

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is a September Saturday, so part of my plan for the day is football.  Today I will be watching on television. Even a remote viewing day like today requires certain things from me.  An early check-in on ESPN Gameday (looks cold in Fargo this morning).  A final review of the schedule of other televised games of the day that may be beneficial for scouting. Assuring that all games are set to record, including the Bama game in the event I suffer injury and need to watch later. A run to the store for appropriate snackeration. Choosing the ever important gameday shirt. (Going with the crimson polo with white and black horizontal stripes, circa 2009)  A last minute searching of the soul to finally determine whether I should go to Tuscaloosa anyway and buy a ticket on the street.   I do have a life, so I review my Saturday list of things to do, setting priorities to determine which items must be done and which can be postponed if my game attention requires more than I anticipated.  My preference is to watch remote games alone.  I don't like conversation while the clock is running.

  A couple of Saturdays every year I enjoy watching in person. Needless to say that requires a different, perhaps even more critical routine, considering the heightened responsibilities of a stadium fan. Timing and logistics become even more important, but the basic elements remain. Preparation, food, apparel, contingency preparation, and ultimately execution. And focus. Always focus.

I love being a fan.  It is a great diversion from real life. It is on my thankfulness challenge list.

On the other hand, I won't play a down of football today or ever.  I have not suited up for a single practice this year (or any year for that matter).  I have some decent skills as a fan, if I do say so myself.  But if Coach Saban called my name to get into the game, or even practice, it would be laughable at best, and more likely result in a tragic early end to my life, as well as a setback to the beauty of the game in general.

It is tempting to live my life as a fan.  It sounds good. Encouragement is a wonderful thing.

But someone has to coach. Someone has to practice and play.

There are choices that must be made by individuals, some far in advance, some in a split second, that will determine the success or failure of the effort of everyone involved.  There are hundreds, thousands of hours of practice, sacrifice and preparation which have nothing to do with outward appearances, with snackeration or gameday apparel. That preparation is necessary to maximize the chances for success. It provides a wealth of knowledge based on history, observation and study that the fans will never know, and most would not comprehend, because we have not invested the time and life required.  But even then, success is not guaranteed in the moments of choice.

It is a lonely place, that moment where the critical choice is made. Some moments come after time for study and consultation. Which offense and defenses to run, which players to recruit then ultimately play.  But when gameday comes the choices are different. What plays to run and when?  Whether to go for it on fourth down or kick a field goal?  Whether to throw the ball or eat it? Or break on the ball for a pick or play it safe?  These moments of choice come with relentless speed and frequency without time for or benefit of endless video slow motion replay or the benefit of the opinions of experts perched in recliners all across America. These moments of choice are unforgiving, especially with thousand watching, the results being recorded for all of history.

It is tempting to avoid the moments of choice. Play it safe. Play to the fans.  Do what everyone expects even when preparation suggests taking a chance or doing something different could yield the best results. If you see T. J. Yeldon running your way slow up a little bit and avoid those thundering thigh pads. No one will notice.  Punt.

Fans don't participate in the moments of choice.  We suffer no consequences for what we do. We can indulge in fantasies of facts that do not exist, of a mythical universe created by our own desires and allegiance and prejudice for our team.  Our wisdom comes on Monday. We can be ridiculous and suffer no consequences. In fact, the more ridiculous we are, the more attention we get.

But because we haven't done what it takes to get there, fans never truly play the game. The results would be laughable at best, and tragic at worst.

But someone has to practice and play.  A stadium full of fans will never get it done.

And no, I'm not just talking about football.

But when I do talk about football . . . RTR.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Life is a highway . . . gonna need more leg-room

If you share a journey with the  right companions, the destination does not seem quite so important . . . in fact, you might wish you had chosen the longer, scenic route.

What I mean is, people are important.

Like the people that I ended the week-end with at Rogue Tavern.  Stan and Beth and I and about 150 others gathered and ate, and drank, and laughed and talked and shared  deeper than we expected as Birmingham First United Methodist Church began going Rogue , and will continue to do so every Sunday evening in  September.  We pulled up a couple of more chairs at the tall bar table so that six of us could huddle around a table for four.  The crowd was about twice as large as expected so it took a little longer than usual to get our food.  But that was okay, in fact better than okay, as it gave us an excuse to sit longer and talk more, and laugh, and get to know each other better, whether we entered the place as long time friends or complete strangers.

Or like Charlie, my brand new and only grandson, who drove down from Nashville to visit with his Vestavia grandparents Bob and Patsy.  He brought his mother Kate along.   On Monday and Tuesday nights, after days full of court -induced stress, I drove down and visited in Bob and Patsy's home.  I love to hold Charlie.  The stress just flows out of my body, as if he finds my pressure release valve and turns it wide  open.  And the grace and hospitality in that home so freely shared only added to my transformation back into a normal person.  And Kate, well Kate is simply the daughter I never had, if that is okay with her parents.

Or like my sons Benjamin, who is Charlie's dad, and Vann.   They are simply the best sons in the world.  No, really.    But even better, they are good people.

Or like my office family Shannon and Lenicia,  who make sure I am where I am when I am supposed to be and with whom,  and with what I need, counsel with me and just generally keep me straight .Or like the judges and attorneys, secretaries and clerks with whom I spend most of my life,  the only group who can truly empathize after a crazy week in the law.  

Or like my brothers and sisters, who cannot be fooled nor do they need to be, because they have always known me,  and upon who I know I can depend no matter what happens.

Or like my friends.

One of whom died yesterday.  Ronnie was a lawyer.  That is how I got to know him and that is the reason we spent most of the time together that we did. He was a year younger and a foot taller than me.   We spent hours waiting together. Waiting on judges, waiting on clients, waiting for lunch.  And as we waited we talked.  And laughed. Sometimes we sang.  And played seventies and eighties rock licks on air guitars. We made fun of each other, I of his ugly stork like legs and he of my stubby dachshund legs,  of our personal and social lives, and other more sophisticated things.  We ranted or cried on each other's shoulder about the judge or client or woman that just did us wrong.  We shared  hilarious gut busting irreverence and  deep, spiritual gut wrenching reverence.  We talked of basketball and God, of ZZ Top and politics.  

So the truth is, Ronnie provoked this post. It is much like the kind of road we might go down in our conversations while waiting. Now that I think about it we often talked about the people in our lives that make the journey worthwhile. Okay, we also made fun of them a little, but in a loving way. 

And you are right, Richard, I should mention you in my blog. And all the traveling companions that make this journey a worthwhile and  wonderful, or sometimes simply tolerable adventure.  But the truth is, we are all blessed with too many to name.  But tonight I  will get a good start, not in the blog, but in my prayers. Of thanks.

And I will start with Ronnie.

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