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.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

What's That Noise?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

I have one of those fancy coffee makers that holds the beans in a a small bin until the preset time comes to pass.  It is my alarm clock, this automatic grinding of the beans by the burr grinder.  It would be the most annoying sound ever heard on a sleepy Saturday morning except that the same grinding releases  the aroma that has been trapped inside the tiny pods to race out of the kitchen and down the hall to my bed, insisting that I get up with the same urgency as an overnight snow in Alabama.  But more importantly, the  grinder releases the grinds  into the tiny cascading, steaming waterfall that pulls that perfect flavor out of the ground bean and eventually into the rich dark pool of my mug.

So all of that has already happened this morning.  And I fed the cat.  Seems like that should be enough for the day. But I am awake now. So I might as well write something.

I have been thinking a lot about writing lately.  This is probably the reason I have not actually written anything lately.

There is something significant about the way many of us communicate these days. It is interesting and funny, in a way.  Also troubling and limiting.  It  is  short-hand, coded, and  its meaning  apparent only to those who think like us.  Only an insider will "get it."  Outsiders may be crushed by the irony.

My favorite examples of this comes from the use (or abuse) of the Bible. In conversation, in sermons and speeches, on social media,  you hear the coded messages.  For example:

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  
                                                   2nd Chronicles 7:14 

I believe in the truth of this rich and grace-filled promise of God .But here is the de-coded version that some of us intend to communicate:

"If you people, who call yourselves Christian, will admit that you are wrong and start acting like my favored child Bob says,  and seek forgiveness, I will forgive your sin and make your land be the way that Bob says it should be."

If you wear the same jersey and colors as I and  possess the team playbook, you will understand what I mean and shout "Hallelujah."  You will love my labels and covet my bumperstickers.   If you are different than me, you will also understand what I mean, and  get mad, get even, and then just ignore.

What a sad use of a magnificent promise of God.

We use the Constitution and other great writings the same way. And speeches of great orators. We find a remarkable statement of truth designed to move us forward, to advance humanity. We use it and pervert it, causing us to stand still, or perhaps retreat. We are convinced that the author was clearly supporting our way, and indicting the other as evil, or wrong, when truly, the author was attempting to take us, to move us in a different way entirely.  We turn a plowshare into a sword.  How much have we lost?

We are right because all those who agree with us tell us so.

And so we do not think anymore. 

We do not listen anymore. Except to the coded messages.

And anything other than our way is just annoying noise.

But sometimes that noise is a sign of something great brewing. It would be a shame to just stay asleep.  Better get up and see what all the noise is about.  

That's enough writing for the first outing. 
Gotta get up and do something before the game.  RTR


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