Saturday, April 19, 2014

Yes, it's called Holy Saturday

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Saturday has once again become a day of sleeping late.  I will forgo the explanation for this change, but suffice it to say the explanation would be enough to help you sleep a little later as well.  Nothing exciting here. I'm just tired..

But I do enjoy the sleeping late.  It has been a long time since my body wanted to do that, to lie in bed after the room gets light and turn over, adjusting the pillow and the covers,  trying to find the darkness again.  Not a bad darkness. A good darkness.  A cocoon-like darkness that wraps me up and invites me to stay asleep under the warm covers and dream.  Kinda makes me want to go back to bed just thinking about it.

But even in my sleeping late this morning I woke up from time to time after the sun crashed in uninvited, invading my cocoon,  as it does on these clear-skies days.   And the birds.  I think they have discovered an amplification system.  They were raising a ruckus this morning.  Not enough to wake me up completely.  More like a natural snooze alarm. Except I couldn't reach over and slap them off. One of my favorite choir anthems for Holy Week is "And No Bird Sang."   Apparently the birds on my hillside haven't heard it.

In terms of Holy Week, I am not sure what we call today.  Hold on, let me do a search on that. Yes, it is Holy Saturday. That would have been my educated guess during Holy Week.  Holy _______.    Sort of like guessing Andy Warhol for every pop art question in Trivial Pursuit.    The Church has created traditions for this day. Some have changed over the years.  Fasting for some. No fasting for others.  No communion served except when it is allowed.  That sort of thing.

But the Holy Bible does not tell us much about Holy Saturday.  From the gospels (actually one, Matthew) we learn that officials placed guards and seals at the tomb of Jesus on Holy Saturday to prevent his followers from stealing his body and claiming he was resurrected.  That's about it for Holy Saturday, scripture wise.

We don't really know.

We don't really know what to do.

What we do know is that Jesus is dead, having suffered an unthinkably painful, humiliating public execution. His body is in a tomb, sealed with a huge stone, guarded by soldiers.

And we know that the last few days have been horrible. Violent. Mean. Cruel. Disappointing. Confusing. Not just for Jesus.  It has been hard on us.

More than enough to make us want to find the safety of the darkness and hide, with souls shivering in the absence of the light.  And wonder, just to ourselves because of what others might think, what do we want?

Do we want him to stay in the tomb?

He turned everything upside down.  Those who love Him are hated by others. And those others can get pretty mean, obviously.  He said he came bringing Peace, but it is hard to find it right now.    We are afraid.

We are afraid that he will stay in the tomb.  We are afraid that he won't.

And so we seek the darkness.  Not a bad darkness, really.  Just the kind that wraps us up and invites us to stay, sleep, and  maybe to dream.

Until something wakes us up.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bethany . . . a Holy Week thought.

Holy Week.

 I doubt that Jesus thought of it that way. Holy, I mean. Jesus visited the Temple first, the place that he might have expected to be Holiest in Jerusalem.  But the temple had been  turned into a market place, a robbers' den.   This was Jesus' first order of business in Jerusalem, to clean up the mess in that place that should have been the most Holy, to turn over the tables, to run the robbers out with a whip made of ropes.

Holy something, maybe, but it sure didn't seem like Holy Week. It did not help  that there were powerful people who wanted  Jesus dead. Some of those people were also at the temple.


 Because that was where Jesus decided to set up for the week.  At the Temple.

Jesus held nothing back. Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, you brood of vipers. Yep, the gloves were off.  His words infuriated everyone who possessed the power and the desire to see him killed. And yet, Jesus was in absolute control, unstoppable, untouchable for four days. Until he had said what needed to be said.  Every day was filled with a growing tension.

But today I was struck by something else.


That's where Jesus went when he got off work during not-so-Holy Week. Bethany.

 I assume that Jesus was staying at the Bethany home of his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha.  After all, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.  I suspect that bought him a lifetime of hospitality. A favor that's a little difficult to repay.

Can you imagine being Martha, working busily preparing dinner, while Jesus sat on a stool at the counter talking about his day at the Temple Court, emptying a bowl of olives that were meant for dinner?

Or Mary, standing in the doorway and listening and watching, and worrying,  asking questions,  wondering what would become of Jesus, and maybe all of them?

Or Lazarus, who already owed Jesus his life, sitting with Jesus outside for awhile after dinner, drinking another cup of wine, listening intently, wishing he had something wise he could say or do to help his friend?

Or all of them, as sleep didn't come, kept away by whatever it was that was energizing Jesus, getting stronger and clearer with each passing day,  keeping him talking or asking them about their lives, as if he were soaking in all that he could with his dear friends. And Jesus friends, doing whatever they could to help, even if they had no idea what to do except be in the present.

I  cannot imagine.

We talk so much about who Jesus is to us, to the world, especially during Holy Week.  Teacher and Prophet,  Healer, Lord, Son of God,  Messiah, Savior.  All important to ponder.

And sometimes; like I wrote about a few posts back, we think about who we are in the story of Holy Week.

But wouldn't it be great to be Jesus' Bethany?  To be that place where the Son of God himself chooses to come and be when he is off work.

I am sure Bethany is a perfectly lovely place, but I doubt that Jesus came to Bethany for the local scenery.  He came to Bethany to be with Lazarus, Martha and Mary, his friends who he loved and trusted.

And who loved and trusted Him with all they had that week.

And that is why he came.

Oh to be worthy of being Bethany.


Saturday, April 12, 2014


Saturday. Sofa. Coffee. This is one of those posts that is just personal therapy. No politics. No causes. Not much humor.  So feel free to move on to cat videos if you wish.

Normally I try to slow things down on Friday to get a running start for the weekend. More like a jog or a steady walk. A warm-down.   My success in that effort varies from week to week. It did not work this week. Full sprint all day.  I think I pulled something.

Friday was surreal.

Friday morning I stood alone for awhile at a grave site in the Birmingham area, waiting on a hearse to arrive.  The funeral, a graveside service, was scheduled for 11:00 a.m.  Like many large cemeteries, it was difficult to know where to go, especially when there was no crowd gathering, no hearse, no anything.  So when I arrived I drove around the winding lanes, straining my eyes.  There were several tents set up for burial services throughout the beautifully landscaped grounds, in full bloom with beautiful flowers, some of which were real..  There were no signs or names posted, so as I drove close to the various tents  I looked for how things were set up.  I was looking for a plot set up for a cremation, so if I saw the huge heavy lid of a vault sitting near the tent, I knew I was in the wrong place.

The other clue was chairs.  I passed two or three sites.  They all had the traditional two or three rows of velvet covered chairs set up in the shelter and shade of the tents, a place of rest for a crowd of grieving  family and friends.  Then I spotted one down the hill. It was different.

It had no chairs.

I walked down the sloping sod and there was the headstone of the previously deceased husband lying on the side of the AstroTurf covered hole. The last name correct.  I had arrived. But no one else had. Not even the deceased. There were a couple of guys close by trimming the grounds with weed-eaters, and they nodded and smiled comfortingly as their machines droned in harmony like huge bumblebees among the artificial decorations.

The sun was shining, a brisk spring wind was blowing, as if scripted.  Gunshots rang out in rapid fire That didn't seem so scripted. . I was happy to find out later that the cemetery's neighbor was a Jefferson County firing range.  After a few minutes of standing there alone, the black hearse rolled up with one car following.  A man and woman who had befriended the deceased and visited her in the nursing home exited the car.  The three of us walked with the funeral director to the back of the hearse, watched as the urn was removed and carried to the grave site, and collectively wondered what to do next.

The gentle man who had arrived in the car pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, a copy of a poem that he knew she liked.  He spoke a few words. It only took a minute or so. And he offered a prayer.  The words he spoke and the prayer he offered made it clear that this was a couple who had taken time out of their lives in the past couple of years to learn something about another life that needed company.   It was a moment of grace in what seemed like a graceless morning.

Because of the funeral the rest of my day was compacted.  The afternoon was full of other strange things, but just the kind of things that normally come up at work.

So it was with a sense of relief that I put the work week in the rear view mirror and headed back to Birmingham to see John Prine in concert.  He was even better than my expectation.. His band was spot on.. His warm up act, a newcomer from Huntsville, Alabama, Shelly Colvin, sang her own songs beautifully, accompanied by a guitarist from the Old Crow Medicine Show. I  was so impressed I went out to the table during intermission and bought her CD. (The artists make more money if you do that instead of downloading). As it turns out she was standing alone at the end of the merchandise table, where she had been signing her CD's.  She was still in disbelief that she had been the warm-up for John Prine.  I would not be surprised if someone will be warming up for her someday. She signed my CD, "to mom" because she thought I had said "mom" instead of "Bob."  We laughed and decided to leave it that way, and then I won't have to worry about Mother's day shopping.

After the concert I walked out of Alys Stephens among the crowd that was still feeling the effects of a brilliant performance.  I was part of the crowd, but as we fanned out toward our cars, loneliness, which seemed to be the theme of the day, grew stronger and stronger as the voices of the people faded.

Maybe that's not a bad thing to experience for awhile, even for a season,  especially as we approach Holy Week and contemplate the betrayal and loneliness of Jesus. But I don't like it.

Most of the way home I found myself singing to myself the words I had just heard from John Prine, and his great song Angel from Montgomery:

" .  .  . Just give me one thing, that I can hold on to.  To believe in this living is just a hard way to go."


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Alabama and Medicaid: Give till it hurts . . .

Sometimes I think folks are a little too hard on us here in Alabama.  The truth is, we are givers. Even while hundreds of thousands of our own citizens work hard every day and still cannot afford health insurance or health care,  we provide huge amounts of  money for health care for hundreds of thousands of working poor in other states without taking an extra dime for ourselves or our fellow citizens..

No, instead we place posts on face book about friends and relatives in need of money for surgery or cancer treatment. We raise a few hundred dollars with bake sales, pot luck suppers and gospel singings.  We place jars on the counters of convenience stores with pictures and labels asking for spare change and spare prayers. We use emergency rooms as a clinic.  We go bankrupt. We go without needed treatment until a simple matter becomes life threatening.  But we send our hard earned tax dollars to other states so that their poor can be cared for properly.

Hard working Alabamians and their children, citizens who pay taxes, are in danger of health or economic disaster resulting from illness.

We are saints. Sacrificial some might say. I just want to know who is placing us on the altar, and why.

If Alabama decided to participate in Medicaid expansion, 200,000 (very conservatively) of our citizens who can't afford health insurance or health care would immediately be taken care of.

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding out there in the Heart of Dixie.  Perhaps we assume that because we have decided not to take the medicaid expansion, then our tax obligation will be less. That is wrong. Our taxes are the same whether we expand medicaid or not. Please correct this if it is wrong.

I have heard the debates.  In three years the federal government will pay ninety percent of the bill instead of one hundred percent.  And that ten percent is a lot of money. But that ninety percent is far, far more. It just makes good sense. But even if it costs a little, what is the price of the misery we could avoid for our brothers and sisters?

While we are debating, people are suffering, and dying young.  Some are children. They  could be fully covered for no extra cost for three years.  Probably save untold physical  and economic disaster. Lives could  be saved. Families could be saved.

But for some reason, we just want to keep on giving to others, not thinking about ourselves.

For some reason.

Please, please, tell me what that good reason is.

Alabamians are dying to find out.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Give me Barabbas . . . it ain't pretty

Lent is normally a time of self-examination for me,  increasing my time spent in spiritual disciplines, re-visiting the gospels' telling of the ministry of Jesus from his Baptism through the Crucifixion.  It just hasn't happened for me this time.  I am dry as the bones in the Ezekiel passage Pastor Stephanie preached about Sunday morning.

Have you ever wondered, if someone made a movie of your life, which actor would be cast to play  your part?  When I think of who I would want to play me in a movie of my life I think of Tom Hanks or Gregory Peck (Atticus Finch portrayal in particular), or maybe Mathew McConaughey just because of the obvious uncanny resemblance. If you want to offer your friends a source of amusement, let them answer that question for you.

Every year during Lent I cast myself in different roles in the gospel story.  Am I  Judas, who betrayed Jesus for his own gain?  Am I  Peter, the everyman disciple, who spoke his mind, even to Jesus, even when he was absolutely wrong, the one who wanted to defend Jesus with a sword, and yet ran and hid in fear denying he knew Jesus three times?  Am I Pilate, who knew that Jesus had done no wrong, but did not feel strongly enough about it to stop the killing?

Isn't that typical?  I choose the big stars, the main characters when I think about my role . . . Tom, Gregory, Mathew, Judas, Peter, Pilate.

Well this year it just has not happened.  There is only one thing that keeps ringing in my ears, that keeps appearing in bold as I read and as I pray.  It is not a person. It is a phrase.

"Give us Barabbas."

Barabbas was a zealot, as far as we know. Pilate offered the crowd gathered at the trial of Jesus an opportunity to free one man.  He asked the crowd, "Free Jesus, or free Barabbas?"

"Give us Barabbas."

So that's the way it is. No big star. No main character. I am just one of the crowd.  The crowd, that when offered the choice, cried out,

"Give us Barabbas."

"Give me Barabbas."

Do I  want Jesus, who refused to judge or condemn, and worse still, refused to let me condemn?  Even the homosexual, the rich, the poor, my enemy, the foreigner or any of those who just don't deserve grace?

"Give me Barabbas."

Do I want Jesus, who told me to love my enemy, to forgive those who have done me wrong, and told me I was wrong if I didn't do both?

"Give me Barabbas."

Do I want Jesus, who told me to give what I have to the poor, and preached more about the sin of my love for material wealth than any other wrong?

"Give me Barabbas."

Do I want Jesus, who said I had to love and serve everyone, without condition, be they Republican or right wing conservative or arrogant or obnoxious or different than me, no questions asked?

"Give me Barabbas."

Do I want Jesus who said I had to follow him to find,  love and take care of the poor, the sick, the homeless, the imprisoned, and the oppressed, without condition, without question?

"Give me Barabbas."

Do I want Jesus, who said the last shall be first, and told me to invite the least among us to my finest parties and give them the best seat in the house?

"Give me Barabbas."

Do I want to save myself?

Hell yes. Give me Jesus.

Yeah, this year, I'm just one of the crowd.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Goin' fishing . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It was quiet when I first awoke this morning.  But when the sky  lightened with the promise of the sun the birds on the hill began to warm up, like an orchestra.  But that's all they ever do.  Warm up. They never seem to worry about singing from the same page.  In fact they don't seem to worry 'bout a thing.  As if every little thing really is gonna be alright. Thank you Bob Marley. If all you do is click on that song and feel good today,  then my work here is done.  But  I will go ahead and finish this post anyway.

Then came another sound.   The rustling of weeds and vines cracking through the winter-hardened soil of my yard, creeping along the ground and wrapping around my house, trapping me inside.  I hope that was just my imagination.  Just in case I will spend a couple of hours in the yard later.

But, if the weather holds, I will go fishing at the farm. Forget the weeds and vines. It will be alright. At least I'll be trapped outside.

Actually, I will probably be watching a couple of other guys fish.  If I fish I might catch something.  And I don't have time to go to the doctor.

One of the fishermen today will be a young man from Nashville.  It is my understanding he hasn't been fishing much  during the decade or so that he has been alive.  But  what he lacks in experience he will make up in enthusiasm.

So we are planning, on this first fishing trip, to bring him into my house, find several good articles and even videos on the Internet, and let him study up on all he needs to know about fishing; about fish and bait (live or artificial)  and rods and reels and hooks and lures and line and when to fish and where to fish and .  .  . I don't know if we can get all the studying done in one day.  It could take several.days perhaps weeks of study to learn all he needs to know about fishing.  Maybe later in the course we'll invite some experts in to give some talks on the subject. We can probably have him fishing by Labor Day.  I am sure he will be able to pass the exam.

That's just silly.

Everybody knows you learn to fish by fishing. Our young guest may catch the biggest fish of the day the first time he drops a hook in the water, regardless of whether he did everything right, or everything wrong.  Don't get me wrong, it is important to learn from others who have been fishing for awhile.  The hook we toss around is sharp and barbed after all, and the fish seem to be much smarter than their scientific reputation would predict.  

But even that learning usually comes as you fish . . . with someone else who can teach you.

So, in a few hours, a baited hook will plunk into the water up around Snead, Alabama, and the lesson will commence, as will the fishing.

When Jesus called his first disciples, they were fishing. Jesus told them that from now on they would be fishing not for fish, but for people.

You can only sit on the bank and mend the nets for so long.  You can tie the prettiest flies and create the most beautiful lures, but until you hear that "plunk"  as the nets and the bait hit the water, you're never gonna catch a fish.

  And then he said, "Come, follow me."

The lessons, teaching and learning began immediately.

And so did the fishing.


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