Thursday, September 10, 2015

Katrina remembrance, part 2

Much like Katrina relief in general, it has taken longer to get back to finishing this story than it should have.  The beginning is the previous post from last week,  Katrina remembrance, part 1.  So as I was saying . . .

The bus began to move as Charles followed the convoy under the overpass in a circular path around a temporary cul de sac created by trash, the refuse of emergency relief.  There were white plastic and paper bags, carry out boxes,  plastic water bottles, napkins and paper towels.  In the light of the bus headlights the white plastic and paper and the clear plastic bottles created an illusion of a heavy accumulation of snow, disturbed only by the tracks of our buses.  But it was only an appearance.  The illusion was shattered as the headlights flashed across the thousands of victims watching the buses circle and leave.  This was no pastoral snowfall.   This was New Orleans on Labor Day weekend after Katrina, and it was hot even at dawn.

The silence on the bus was heavy with unspoken testimonies.  In the dark of dawn underneath an interstate overpass each had boarded this unmarked bus for an unnamed destination occupied with unknown and unnamed strangers.  Many had clung to children, dragging them through the bus doors with the unbreakable grip of a fearful parent.  Their carry-on bags, holding everything they owned, easily fit under the seats.  Garbage bags are very flexible.  How horrific must the conditions be which they left behind to justify such a leap of faith . . . or desperation?

The silence lasted awhile, broken only by the sound of shifting bodies and plastic bags, quiet sighs and indistinguishable sounds that come from deep inside.  Shock best describes it.  But there was anger and sadness, fear and relief as well.  Charles pulled the bus into the truck stop/command center where we were given more bottled water and MRE's and free fuel.  The sun was up  and we were on our way out of New Orleans to Oneonta, Alabama.

We learned a few basic things pretty quickly.  It was going to be a hot day and a hot trip. Charles told us that our bus, as wonderful as it was, was overheating quickly, straining under the load we had placed on it. And the heat inside the bus, even in the early morning, was cooking the parts of New Orleans that had stuck to our riders, to the soles of their shoes, and to their bodies, as they waded and waited in the muck and the mud of Katrina for almost a week. It was a unique aroma.

We also learned what we already knew.  The southern half of Louisiana and Mississippi was torn up.  There was no electricity anywhere.  Perhaps it was our own shock, or lack of sleep, but we naively stopped at a few exits that taunted us with towering Hardee's or McDonald's signs only to quickly see that there was no one there.  But that was okay, because we had to stop anyway and let the bus engine cool for awhile.  Everyone got off the bus and walked, some smoked, some took off their shoes and rubbed their sore feet.  In the beginning the stops were quiet.  But with each stop things changed.  The indistinguishable sounds became voices and the voices spoke words, some just small talk, then more telling stories. Tommy was particularly good at getting some of the men to begin to talk, at first about nothing, but soon about everything.   Each time we reloaded the bus the atmosphere was different. Oh it was still hot and still stunk, but there was talking.  And then there was even some cautious laughing.  And then they were making good natured fun of these Alabama boys who had kidnapped them from New Orleans to take them back to Alabama, of all places.  Little Charles, who was about ten, came up and squeezed in beside me and the bananas and the water and began to tell me about his ride on the swinging cable under the helicopter. Then he just gave me a hard time for the rest of the trip.  Thank God for a bus that overheated and gave us more time to talk and to breathe.

Tommy, being a thoughtful man, realized that there was a critical issue that needed to be raised with our tour group.  This was a load of folks from the Big Easy.  They were headed to Blount County, Alabama.  Alcohol could not be purchased in Blount County, Alabama, at the time.  The revelation was met with disbelief.  I am sure many of them were longing for either a long cool or a short stout drink.  Consequently our remaining stops involved looking for the first establishment that sold liquor. We did not find a powered exit until somewhere south of Meridian.  The only open store was a cement block convenience store.  It had armed guards.  Friendly, but armed in a Mississippi sort of way at the door.  Their sales went way up that day.  And many of the plastic garbage bag carry-ons became a bit fuller and distorted by the shape of glass bottles.  But everyone seemed a little happier.

Meanwhile, back in Oneonta, folks had gotten busy.  Early in the morning Terri had launched out to find where we were going to house fifty or so guests from New Orleans.  She called the local Red Cross with whom she had worked before.  The Red Cross worker said that it was strange that she had called, because Johnny had just came by and said that his church in Oneonta (actually The Church at Oneonta was the name of it) had just decided to convert a huge part of their facility to create a shelter for Katrina victims if Red Cross became aware of any who needed shelter.  It could house about fifty.  Terri chased Johnny down and booked the beds for our bus load.  I cannot tell what all happened in Oneonta while we slowly made our over-heated bus tour of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that long Saturday.  But I can give testimony to the results.

Charles pulled up to Lester Memorial UMC parking lot late Saturday afternoon.  Standing in the parking lot to greet us were twenty or thirty Oneonta folk, from all different churches, at least half African American.  About ninety percent of our busload were African American.  About two percent of Oneonta is African American.  So the folks who had been working all day to prepare for our arrival decided to make our guests as comfortable as possible, even paying attention to the racial make-up of the greeting party. The were a couple of law enforcement officers there too, welcoming us as we arrived, with smiles on their faces and outstretched hands.  Hands that welcomed rather than carrying out the advisories that storm victim's clothes and belongings should be immediately confiscated and quarantined, and that humans should be directed to public showers before doing anything else. Many folks who had worked all day to get things ready voluntarily left before the bus arrived so that the crowd would not overwhelm the storm victims. They all understood that there had been too much overwhelming in these folks lives already.  We walked into the fellowship hall.  It had become a mall, outfitted with everything our visitors might need.  A department store of new clothes, shopped for and purchased by volunteers according to the extremely rough list of sizes and needs made by T.J., Tommy and me on the bus ride home.  There were doctors, nurses and pharmacists.  There were computers set up with internet. There wee Red Cross and social workers.  And there was food and drinks and folks to serve it. Not alcoholic, but drinks with church ice.  Church ice is the best.  Real dinner would be served later.

We gathered our guests in the contemporary worship chairs and formally welcomed them to Oneonta. I told them of the advisory that their clothes should be gathered and destroyed, trying to be sensitive to what they had been through.  Once again they laughed at me, asking how quickly could they undress.  Volunteers took individuals or families to their homes, or to hotels, and gave them a place to shower, dress in their new clothes, and rest for awhile.  Then it was back to Lester for a dinner.  A great dinner, even by New Orleans standards. Afterwards goodbyes were said and good, clean beds were found for all.

And that was just the beginning of the adventure that came from New Orleans to Oneonta, Alabama, on Labor Day weekend, 2005.  In the next few weeks and months volunteers provided transportation for many of our guests to relatives homes' in other parts of the countries, helped wade through the FEMA paperwork, helped find employment, found houses and apartments and furniture, cooked and served meals, continued to work at the shelter at "The Church,"  and did whatever needed to be done.

And our friends from New Orleans became part of Oneonta forever, no matter how long they actually stayed.

There is so much more to the story.  Most of it I don't even know.  But twenty four hours after we got back from the first trip we made a second trip to New Orleans to pick up another bus load of guests.  It was a crazy Labor Day trip with my son Benjamin and Charles, and the U. S. Army and the Louisiana National Guard,  and hundreds of sport fishermen on a volunteer rescue mission, a time I'll never forget., but the story is too long.  You can ask me about that sometime. And it ended pretty much the same as the first story.

After the Gulf Coast came to Oneonta, Oneonta went to the Gulf Coast to work in clean up and repair.  The groups I went with were from Lester Memorial.  We cleaned out mud and muck, hauled out furniture and appliances, tore out walls and floors, sprayed hundreds of gallons of mold killer on bare frames of houses and more on ourselves, sheet-rocked and floored and painted and got lost and became at home on the floors and in the halls of two or three churches from Ocean Springs to New Orleans.  And laughed and cried.  We kept going back for three or four years.  We didn't finish.

And the job still isn't finished. 

Whether it be in New Orleans or anywhere else in the world where God's children are hurting or in need as a result of the storms of life.

So get on the bus Gus.  There are always folks who need a ride.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Katrina remembrance, part 1

It has been ten years.

We watched with a collective sigh of relief on Monday of that week. We were told that  this hurricane, which had weakened as it tripped over Florida, then strengthened to a monstrous Category 5 juggernaut in the middle of the Gulf, had now diminished to a Category 3 storm shortly before landfall along the Louisiana-Mississippi Gulf Coast. We knew it would still be destructive, but not the unthinkable apocalyptic force that we had feared.

But the sigh of relief quickly became a gasp.  And then hyperventilation.

The levees had failed. New Orleans was under water. And so were thousands of people.

Every morning that week we would turn on the news and watch as the stranded crowds at the Super Dome grew, waiting for help to come.   At night WWL-AM would broadcast continuous phone calls from those left in New Orleans, giving advice and seeking help from way down yonder in New Orleans.  Each day the numbers would swell as citizens struggled to swim and slog their way from their submerged homes to higher ground downtown, some being plucked from their rooftops at the end of a cable attached to a helicopter.  The news anchors and reporters would explain that help was on the way, that buses were coming to the rescue.  But after a couple of days it seemed that even they did not believe what they were reporting.  The whole country was watching in disbelief as no help came to the desperate Americans.  A city of a million or so was drowning in front of our eyes and no one was doing anything about it.

So Friday afternoon, I went to church.  That's what we do when we don't know what else to do, isn't it?  When I walked into the church office area at Lester Memorial UMC I was surprised to find my nephew, T. J. , already there.  For the same reason. 

"I'm going to New Orleans, " he said.

"I'll go with you," I said.

So for the next hour or so we got on the church phones looking for a bus to charter.  T. J. found one in Mississippi, owned and operated by Charles.  I think it was the last available bus east of the Mississippi.  Charles said he was ready to go.   David, the pastor at Lester, told us to go on, the church would underwrite our charter.  T. J.'s dad Tommy, my brother-in-law, after hearing of our proposed adventure, said he would go too.  I am pretty sure he just went to make sure we knew what we were doing.

We did not. But it was better than sitting at home and watching the TV, even if Katie Couric was still on the Today Show. So we jumped in the cars and headed west.  We were to meet Charles in Meridian at about eight o'clock Friday night and figure things out as we went.

We decided, being the sensitive folk that we were, that if we were able to pick up any folks in New Orleans that they would be hungry and thirsty, so we stopped and bought some fruit, cookies and crackers, and a few cases of water.  Charles showed up with his bus as promised.  I remember that we ate at a Chinese buffet restaurant before we left Meridian.  My fortune cookie read "The storms of life will not overcome."  Yeah, I know that's kind of corny, but it really did.   We locked our cars and loaded the bus.  Then we headed south out of Meridian in the excellent hands of Charles at the wheel of his bus..

As we headed south the lights of civilization disappeared.  I never really thought of Meridian as a light shining on a hill, the height of civilization, but, it was at the time.  It wasn't long before we began to see the devastation of Katrina.  The southern half of Mississippi and Louisiana were  dark.  There were no lights of convenience stores or fast food restaurants at the exits.  No lights from houses or farms dotted the landscape.  Then we turned west because New Orleans was inaccessible from the East. The Louisiana State Highway  was reduced  to a single lane.  The trees of the pine plantations had been broken in half and splintered like toothpicks, many of them lying across the road, for miles and miles, a path having been cleared by chain saws.  This was still fifty or so miles north of Lake Pontchartrain.   The bus ride was quiet.  There simply were no words.

We turned back south to approach New Orleans from the West.  There was almost no traffic.  It was close to midnight by then.  Then there were lights. Bright, bright lights.  The civilian and military authorities in charge had taken possession of a truck stop to prevent folks (like us as it turned out) from going into New Orleans.  We pulled in, still not knowing what  we were going to do. Generators were humming and personnel were scurrying.  It was hard to find someone in charge, but Tommy finally found someone to talk to.  We were told that no one was going into New Orleans for any reason and we probably would not be taking anybody out. They had serious looking weapons.  We explained that we had a fine bus and would be willing to take people out of New Orleans and back to Alabama, but the officer in charge was not impressed, but he said we could wait around if we wanted.  And so we did.  We took turns standing outside the bus in case anyone changed their mind.  We took turns dozing in the bus.  There were four other buses there. Five buses total.  We wondered where all those other buses that were "on the way" were located.  Turns out there were no more that night.

At about 4 a.m. we were told to get in our bus and get in line with the other buses and follow a military escort toward New Orleans.  No other explanations.   We were not sure what we were doing.  But at least we were heading in the right direction.   But it did not look like New Orleans, a city where the lights are never turned out.  Now there was nothing but inky, eerie darkness. The buses slowed and a military man slapped Charles' window and yelled not to open the door until he was given the word.  In the big windows of the bus faces started appearing, shadowy images passing by in the darkness like flipping through the pages of an old Life magazine full of black and white photographs.  At first there were just a few. All ages, all with looks of desperation and fatigue in the pre-dawn darkness.  Then there were too many to count, and the sound of hands slapping at the side of the bus broke the silence.  Finally we stopped under an interstate overpass just south of the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge.

Charles was told to open his door.  When he did humanity poured into the bus like water into an empty bucket. Families struggled to stay together as they strained to fit through the crowded bus door jammed with desperate storm victims.  Charles was supposed to be counting. He knew how many his bus could carry.  T.J., Tommy and I directed our passengers down the aisle of the bus, filling all the seats and finding places for the garbage bags that held all of their earthly possessions.  Finally Charles closed the door. Reluctantly.  He was the one who had to look into the faces of those straining to get on his bus.  He was the one who couldn't close the door until his bus was about eight over capacity.

The bus was facing east and you could see the glow of dawn on the far horizon.  It was around 5 a.m. I called my sister Terri and told her we had between fifty and sixty folks in our bus that needed to be taken care of and we were headed to Oneonta.  That gave her about six hours to figure out what to do about that.  We had other things to deal with on the bus.

Tommy and T.J. elected me to speak to our new guests.  Everything was quiet. I told the quiet riders that this bus was headed to Oneonta, a small town in north Alabama, where they could be taken care of.  I told them that we knew that they may have thought all buses were going to Texas, and if they wanted to get off here or in Baton Rouge that would be fine.  Everything was silent for a few moments.  I could not imagine what they were thinking, what they were feeling.  Finally a lone, deep voice spoke out from somewhere in the middle of the bus.

"We don't care where the hell we're going, just get us out of here."

That was strangely comforting.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pendulum swings . . . a nerdy post

I am fascinated by pendulums, particularly the Foucault pendulums that can be seen in the towering halls of museums and chambers throughout the world.  (I tried to make one for a science project last century). A cable is suspended from a fixed point several stories above with a heavy weighted metal bob attached to the end close to the floor.  If undisturbed the bob hangs perfectly still above its perfect point of equilibrium, that place where the natural force of gravity holds it in place.  But it seems impossible to let the pendulum rest in its perfect place. It is just hanging there, doing nothing. Who wants to watch that?  Inevitably the bob is displaced several yards or meters,  pulled back like a swing at the park to get going, and then released.  This is what folks like me, hanging over the second floor railing, want to see. The pendulum slowly swings, back and forth, back and forth, passing its point of equilibrium in the center at its greatest speed.  It continues to swing, back and forth, constantly pulled by the force of gravity toward its point of equilibrium.  But the momentum of the weighty bob defiantly carries it past that point. It swings to the opposite side until the pull of gravity matches its momentum, where it seems to pause for a moment, then swing back in the direction from which it came, flying past the point of equilibrium and back to where it started, pausing, and starting the whole thing over again.  This goes on for a long, long time, much longer than I have to stand and watch. It is all as a result of that original displacement from the natural point of equilibrium.

There is another twist to a Foucault pendulum.  If the cable is long enough (that's why they are located outside or in multi-story halls), it is possible to observe another movement of the bob. The path of its back and forth course changes slowly.  For example, at some point, if the pendulum continues to swing, its path will become perpendicular to its original path, and then slowly move back to its original path.  The change in the path is due to the rotation of the earth.  Cool, huh?

When watching a pendulum it is easy to believe that the natural state of the structure is the movement of the bob, back and forth, back and forth, and that if it ever stops swinging it must be displaced again, to resume its familiar movement. It is easy to believe that the bob will find equilibrium only if it swings back and forth, from one side to the other, until it finds its proper place.  But the truth is, the back and forth is a result  of a disruption of the natural state of the pendulum, of being at rest in its point of equilibrium. The back and forth is merely visual evidence of the power of gravity and the fixed point, constantly pulling the bob back to its proper place, never letting the bob fully escape its grip.

I like it when the pendulum is displaced and I can watch it swing..

But in this world of humanity the pendulum seems to be swinging from extreme to extreme wildly. As it is moved by this displacement it is then subject to other pulls of this world that change its path.  The point of equilibrium is only a blur as we go screaming by at break-neck speed.  We pull against the other, displacing our world from its perfect place, as if we can win the contest with brute force, as if the bob will come to rest not at the point of equilibrium, but at the unlikely point at the extreme to which we, in our own interest, have pulled it.

But we can't.

When we exert power over another in any way, it is only temporary. The pendulum will swing. And, unfortunately, it will not stop at the point of equilibrium. The power of the other will pull it to the other extreme.  And so on and so on.

And the truth is just a passing blur.

Until we stop pulling against each other.

You go first . . .


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Listen for the bird songs. . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

 I stepped outside early this morning for no particular reason other than I could not sleep any longer.  The sun was still tucked under the covers of the eastern horizon.  Even so,  the sky was slowly lightening and the birds were tuning up.  They seem so loud early in the morning while things are still and grey, as if they are out of place, ahead of their time, prophesying that yes, another day will begin soon, no matter how unlikely or undesirable it may seem as we escape from our yesterdays under the warm, dark covers.

In times like these, it is helpful to listen for the songs of the birds.  Sometimes the songs are painfully annoying, sometimes peacefully soothing, sometimes solo, sometimes choral, sometimes melodic, sometimes just plain awful.  Sometimes it seems as if the songster is perched on your shoulder, allowing no escape from its message; other times it is so faint that this most quiet song is the one that finally makes you get up to follow its sound until you can hear it clearly.

Sometimes it seems like the darkness of night will not end.  The light of dawn is reluctant to rise. But even in the darkness, the birds begin to sing. 

Maybe the events of the past few weeks seem too dark for hope to survive.  And there is no doubt there is darkness on display:  violence, injustice, hatred, greed, corruption, prejudice, racism, hypocrisy and, the list cannot be exhaustive, just exhausting. You know the darkness. We all know the darkness. The darkness of the big world around us. Or maybe we are dealing with a more personal darkness.

But while we are yet in darkness, the birds sing.

Listen for their songs. They may seem insignificant.  But the birds still sing in the darkness, promising, prophesying of a new and better day.

It's a beautiful Saturday morning, so get up and get out.

The birds are singing.

Join them.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

For this guy?

In conversations and on social media the rap sheet of Freddie Gray has been posted and touted over and over again as a justification for his mysterious death, however it happened.  He is a repeat drug offender.  He is a thug. So why the big fuss over his death? 

"Look at this list.  It goes on and on. 8 or 10 ten cases.  Since he was 18.  How does one person have time to do this many bad things?  How can one person disobey the law so often?  This isn't a rap sheet.  It's more like a book."

"And you good people of Baltimore, this is the guy that drives you to action?  This is the guy that you are passionate about?  This is the guy that provokes you to confront power in the darkness, to risk your lives because of his death?  This is the guy that makes you come into the streets and turn everything upside down?  This is the reason you burned it all down? "

"For this guy?"

Echoes.  From another discussion that began a long, long time ago. And every day since.

"Look at this list."  He opened the book and gripped the binding so hard the ancient spine began to crack and break, flaking off and floating downward.

"How can one person have broken the laws so often?  Why should you care about what happens to him?  He doesn't seem to care, why should you?"  The book slammed shut, the sound echoing down the endless hall.  "Why should you try?  He will never amount to anything.  He will never change.  Let him die. What difference would that make?"

"You know this could hurt.  Those streets are mean.  Those people can be mean. They kill. You could be killed.  And why? For the likes of him?"

"Are you truly going down there with all the violence and hate?  Are you going to that place knowing you will be surrounded by hopelessness in the darkness?"

"Are you going to risk it all, to give all you have, for the likes of a low-life like him?

His back had been turned as he listened to the angry, tempting words of the handsome speaker.  As he turned his eyes were full of tears.

"Yes, I am."


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bend but don't break . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is a perfect spring morning.  Birds are singing. Honeysuckle and wisteria are creeping.  The sky is cornflower blue,  my favorite color for the sky.  The early morning air was icy, but it is warming up now.  The view out the window behind the sofa is beautiful and daunting as I take stock of yard work that needs to be done. 

I tried to do a little yard work last Saturday, beginning with removing some leaves which had piled up on part of my roof during the winter.  With my trusty leaf rake in hand I climbed the ladder and mounted the roof and quickly got to work.  The leaves were water soaked and heavy, stubbornly clinging together and holding their shingles.  I pounded the tines of the leaf rake into the brown mass, pulling harder and harder on the wooden handle as it strained and bent against the task.

As it turns out the wooden handle was not meant to bend like that.  It suddenly snapped.  The Herculean force I had been exerting on the handle had to go somewhere.  Amazingly it was transferred to my right fist which was still gripping the short piece of the upper handle.

As a result of the laws of physics I slugged myself with a stunning right cross to my jaw which sent me reeling as I stood on the roof.  It was an impressive lick, the kind that makes you check to see if your jaw joints are in place and your teeth are still there.  It was a TKO.  After lying on the roof for a few minutes I slinked down the ladder, went back into the house and decided to put off yard work for awhile.

Looking out the window this morning I am reminded that I need to clear some saplings that have grown up on the hill right behind the house.  There are hardwoods and pines and I need to thin them out.  

There is a difference between the hardwoods and the pines.  Several of the young pine trees are bent over and twisted, some with almost ninety degree bends in the slender trunks.  These bends are permanent.   These trees were very young a year ago, and when the February snows came and stayed, the needles of the pine trees collected the heavy snow.  The trees were helpless to dump the snow themselves, and as the days went on they bowed down under the weight.  By the time that long February ended and all the snows finally melted, the young pines were bent and twisted permanently, unable to straighten up even though the heavy weight of the snow had melted away.  I remember during those days looking out my window to the frigid white hillside and the crystalline needles of the young pines.  I remember thinking that I needed to go out and shake the snow from their branches so they would stand back up, but I never did.  I assumed that when the snow melted they would be okay, that they would straighten up.  They never did.

The hardwood saplings, on the other hand, stand straight.  In the winter they have no leaves to catch the heavy snow, and never have to suffer from the crushing, cold weight.

The next generation of these trees may not look the same.  The seeds of the bent and twisted pine trees will not create bent and twisted trees.  They will spring from the earth pointed straight to the heavens.  There will be nothing within them that causes them to twist or bend except the innate need to survive if the snow comes.  Their fate will depend on the chance of snow, and if anyone will be there to clear the snow if it comes so early in their youth.

The laws of physics are relentless.  Excessive force can have two results.  The object of the force can be damaged, sometimes beyond repair, sometimes beyond recognition.  And sometimes the object of the force will snap, or explode, transferring the energy of the force indiscriminately, with no regard to who or what is damaged nearby.

Either way, I have learned it is wise to heed the warning, the bending that comes with the weight, that comes with the pressure.

Because ignoring that bending in the world around us, or even within ourselves,  can result in some strange and painful things.

It's like slugging yourself in the face.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Like Putin, I just needed to get this off my chest and Bebe free. . .

Lately I have been trying to be sensitive in my writing.  But I am in a really bad mood for a variety of reasons, and the suppressed anger is bubbling up.  So consider this post akin to a mental rioting in the street.  That's about as crazy as I get.  So, in no particular order, let me toss a few metaphorical Molotovs.

The State of Israel is a small country that is dependent on the U.S.A. for its existence despite having achieved one of the strongest and most secure economies in the world.  The United States pays 3.15 billion dollars in direct military aid to Israel each year, almost one quarter of Israel's annual defense budget.  Israel receives millions of additional dollars in indirect aide.  One quarter of that military aide has been used to build one of the strongest military weapon industries in the world.  The only benefit that Israel offers to the United States is a strategic location and a stable sympathetic government in an unstable region.   It is a right and good thing that we support a secure country for Jews after the horrors inflicted on them during WWII.  I support that right and good thing.  But giving Israel political input into our foreign policy  has no basis in reason.  There is even less basis in reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to appear before Congress to speak. It was Prime Minister Netanyahu who testified before Congress in 2002, enthusiastically exhorting the Congress to approve the invasion of Iraq, based on what turned out to be gross misinformation.  He also predicted that it would not be a difficult or long mission.  That turned out well. A reasonable argument can be made that the horrors that plague that region today are a result of that faulty reasoning he shared with American leaders at the time.   Netanyahu is a politician who is in trouble in an election at home in two weeks and desperately needs help.  And who can blame him for thinking that he can turn to America for help in his personal campaign.   I suppose some think that the State of Israel is the same as the nation of Israel in the Bible. I do not. No more than I believe that my client Jesus' is the son of God.  I believe the State of Israel is not unlike most countries, seeking security and prosperity for itself, doing some good, and some bad along the way to achieve those goals. Again, I am in favor of supporting Israel.  But this irrational, romantic, intellectually baseless attitude that the State of Israel and its leader Prime Minister Netanyahu know what's best regarding the United States foreign policy is sad at best, and very dangerous at worst.

On a related note, what is the deal with some Americans need to idolize foreign leaders?  First Putin, now Bebe. (I did once have a crush on Princess Grace of Monaco, but that was different)  Putin is considered a terribly scary yet comical bare chested buffoon by the rest of the world.  Netanyahu is not really considered much at all.   As opposed to President Obama, who is a reasoned, intelligent, even-keeled leader who speaks of and exhibits Christian values as he struggles to lead American forward in unprecedented treacherous international times. He is also probably the most respected leader in the world.  A serious, smart, Christian guy.  America reminds me of the girls in high school. Always falling for the bad boys.  It is true.  We'll be sorry in a few years after the bad boy gets fat and lays around all day and won't get a job.  The serious, smart, Christian guy will be looking pretty good then. At least that's what my mother used to say.

President Obama's Iran strategy is the best chance to control the nuclear advancement of Iran.  It has been moderately successful so far and is at a delicate and critical stage in negotiation.  The most significant threat to that success has been  Congress pressing for more sanctions on Iran and now the State of Israel Prime Minister pressing for what appears to be a military option, with the United States taking the lead.  He offers no other option.  Perhaps I just do not understand. If someone can explain to me how any military threat or even sanctions that stop the negotiations from proceeding are going to effectively prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon, I hope you chime in.  Actually I always hope folks chime in.

What part of "judge not lest you be judged,"  "cast the first stone, if you think you're good enough," or "do not look for the speck in another's eye until you remove the plank from your own," do we not understand?  I'm talking about us Christians now, so those unaffected can skip down if you wish. It is not my job as a Christian to name someone else's sin. It is not yours either.  Take the LGBT issue that consumes so much of the time and energy of the institutional church these days. I do not believe being LGBT is a sin.   But it really doesn't matter what I believe. And it doesn't matter what you believe.  At least in the Christian spirituality sense.  God is the judge of all such things.  Jesus was pretty clear, abundantly clear, that we are not to judge.  Stones and planks. Judging is more often the sin  that Jesus spoke of in such situations.  Strangely he scolded the accusers and not so much the accused. I don't want to be scolded by Jesus. So if I err, I pray that it will be on the side of too much grace.  I can't judge anyone else about this judging issue I suppose.  I am obviously failing miserable tonight.  A real double bind.   But I do believe that the decline of the institutional church is not what we are being told.  The decline is caused by us, the Body of Christ, wasting God's time on gathering stones that should never be thrown.  Let's don't judge. It's a sin. Let's go, follow,  love. serve. forgive. pray.  That should burn up all our time and energy. If we finish all that up, maybe then we can judge. Or maybe just leave that up to God.

The Death Penalty cannot be justified.

Health care for everyone is a good thing. Medical insurance for all is a way to accomplish this.  Why is this not a worthy national goal?  If Obamacare is not perfect, why do away with it? Why not fix it, unless we don't care whether everyone has quality medical care.  Why celebrate the possibility that millions of people who have obtained medical insurance will lose it?  Again, this next note is for Christians.  Jesus said, "heal the sick,"  "tend to the poor."   If that is not being done for everyone, we are responsible.  And for me, that failure is a sin.  Check the goats and sheep story of Matthew 25 one more time.  It is instructive on these things, but really, really scary.
What is the big deal about the Keystone Pipeline?  It's construction has required and is still requiring the government to come in and force some landowners to sell some of their land to private business.  That does not sound like something the tea party conservative or the libertarian would be supportive of.  It poses a risk to the environment.  Maybe there could be a positive economic impact. But it might well be an expensive investment in a dying technology.  But really,  it's just not as big deal to our country as someone is making it.  And certainly not big enough to outweigh the rights of the private landowners and the risk to the environment.

Why do we in the State of Alabama insist on doing silly, stupid, mean things that keep the rest of the country and world from knowing what a great place we live in, with great, kind, loving people, with great creativity and talent and intelligence and abilities.  Why do we celebrate ignorance?  We are so much different and better and smarter than that.  When are we going to admit it?

A good way to begin would be to end the tax system which is overtly regressive and cruelly oppressive to the poor among us. 

Yea, that would do it.  

Let's do it this year.

Thanks for listening.  I feel better.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Among the ashes (Ash Wednesday rambling)

There was something different about my popcorn this evening.   After I had a few handfuls I noticed some black specks, as if I had burned it on the stovetop.  But I had not.  I pride myself in a perfect pot of corn on a regular basis.

But there it was, tiny blackish- gray specks in the handful of kernels I held close for examination.  And then I saw it.  Not on the corn.  On my fingers. With which I had scratched my forehead.  Which was covered with ashes from the mark of the cross drawn on my head earlier this evening at an Ash Wednesday service.  A little gross I know.  But ashes are disinfected, right?

The ashes did not have a taste and added no noticeable texture to my popcorn.  They made no difference at all.

From ashes I was made and to ashes I will return.

After my time has come to return to ash, it will be too late for me to make a difference in this world. But in the meantime there is much to be done, much flavor and texture to add to this world while I still can.  Forget the shadowy greys and blacks of the ashes, I want a neon electric rainbow.

That's what the Ash Wednesday Service means to me.  Not the beginning of forty days of gray, but rather a reminder that I have been given a few moments in the in between of important, vibrant, precious  life in this world, and all of its miraculous wonders.    So, what is required of me?  How best to spend these brief moments between the ashes?

To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.  At least that's what Micah of the Hebrew Bible said.  And I like that.  It is a short, simple and elegant statement of the calling of humanity, and how the Creator wants the created to turn out.

Perhaps it seems too tame too spend a life on. Especially when time is too short.

But there are few who can make that criticism with integrity.  Because few of us have tried it.  Most of us have become spectators,  too afraid or prideful to be in the world. We keep a safe distance and yell our critiques. The Creator said nothing about requiring that we watch. Or that we yell our commentaries.   We are called to act, to love, to walk.  All require action.  All require interaction.  In the world. With people.  With God.  Not a whole lot of spectating called for.

To work for justice and to show mercy will be no tame matter.  It will probably be the craziest thing we have ever done.  It will take us to countries, or even tougher, to neighborhoods that we have never been,  to do and say things we have never said, to people we never would dream of challenging or even harder, loving.     It requires either a confrontation with power, or standing with the oppressed,  or both, wherever they may be found.  

 And walking with God?  It really helps as we try to do the first two things.  I often joke that being in relationship with God is not so easy.  It's tough loving somebody who is always right.  On the other hand, God never gets lost.  But God likes to go everywhere.  Yes, it is a comforting thought to believe that God watches over us.  But God is a God who has a reputation for coming, for showing up.  Anywhere. Everywhere.  Shaking us awake. Helping us lighten our load so we can move quickly.  God wants us to walk along. 

That is what the time between the ashes is supposed to be.

A walk with the Creator.



Saturday, February 14, 2015

We hold these truths to be flexible . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It is a beautiful day, perfect to get outside and load some firewood and bring it up to the house in preparation for the pending Winter Storm.  It will be a little tricky because before I left the hospital Sunday night without my appendix, the nurse told me, she even wrote it down, that I should not lift more than ten pounds for two weeks.  My immediate thoughts were to question her as to how it would be possible to lift this body out of bed each morning. or whether that ten pounds was cumulative or started over with each lift, or a couple of questionable, yet hilarious quips which I will continue to keep to myself. (I was still a little drugged so give me a break)  But she had the power to release me from my confinement so I kept the sharp sarcasm inside.  It hurt. No, literally. It hurt.

There are probably ways around the ten pound limit.  Did she mean ten pounds per arm?  Did she account for the mechanical advantage created by a fulcrum point?  Is it ten pounds if the wood were green, because it's dried out now?  We'll see.

I'm thinking of taking my bathroom scales out into the field with me, and roll each log onto it before I lift. If it's 10.00 pounds or less I'll lift away.

Because clearly, it would never hurt me to lift 10.00 pounds or less.  And clearly, if I lift a nanogram over 10 pounds (yeah, I know I mixed my mass units, but I don't know the word in the English system) my abdomen will explode through my navel.

And if I could wait until that fifteenth day I could lift and throw the biggest log I could find.  But if I try to lift a smidgen over 10 on the 14th day it will be entrails everywhere.

Because that's what the nurse said.  She even wrote it down.

Actually what she wrote down was:

Lifting Restriction: >10 lbs for 2 wks.

It's pretty clear the real truth she was trying to say.

"You just had surgery.  Don't be stupid. Don't lift much of anything for a few days."

It was as if she knew me. It was a truth.

Writings that are meant to help, to explain, to instruct, are perverted by our selfish, short-sighted, self-centered perspectives.  I want to go load up all the firewood today despite what the nurse's order says. I want to dissect and pick her words and orders apart, instead of accepting what I know the clear message in context to be. I want to find loopholes, exceptions, acontextual interpretations that will let me do what I want. I want to use her words as my tools, my weapons, my way to get what I want.

As if the writings were the truth here, rather than just an attempt to describe and direct us to an unknowable, indescribable truth.  

The Biblical gospels, which are the accounts of Jesus' life and teachings, death and resurrection are the most obvious targets of our need to make exception.  You may have noticed this lately.

Love and serve everyone, no exceptions, especially your enemies.  Include everyone in your love and service, no exceptions. Judge no one. Forgive everyone.  Feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, stand with the oppressed, be kind to the foreigner. Take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan.   Do not store up treasure. Sell what you have and give to the poor. Your love is how they will know you. 

It is pretty straightforward.  And yet, we continuously try to make exceptions.  Several have been in the news lately.   "It is obviously necessary to judge  in order to make good decisions for our country, our families, our children."  "The evil our enemy has done calls for an equal response, a head for a head."  "They don't appreciate anything and waste what we give them."  "Why should we welcome someone whose very presence here is a violation of our laws."  "Welfare just encourages laziness."  "The Lord helps those who help themselves."

I was guilty just this morning. It was on purpose to make a point, and I have asked for forgiveness.  In pointing out how the Bible is being used to defend all kinds of non-Jesusy behaviour lately, I found support for a friend's direction for someone to kiss her ass.  Matthew 5:39. We are told to offer, or turn the other cheek.

It is a horrible and sad thing this perversion of the Gospel of Jesus.

Or the U. S.  Constitution  (14th Amendment):

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Equal protection?  State governments must treat every person equally under the law, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  Therefore, if the State makes laws regarding marriage, it cannot make distinctions based on those designations.  Crystal clear. 

But wait, we say. Surely the government can say that marriage can only be between a man and a woman?  Or surely the government can make a law to keep another Mosque from being built close to Ground Zero in NYC?  Or surely a Chief Justice can keep a monument to the ten commandments in the rotunda of a State Supreme Court?  Or surely a governor can keep black folks out of our schools?  Or surely judges can presume that women are naturally superior to men to have custody of children?  Or surely a state can pay women employees less than men, or discriminate against women in hiring if it chooses?

The U. S. Constitution is clear. Neither the state nor the federal governments can. It's not hard to understand.  We all, and each of us, have equal rights under the law.  We should all be celebrating that to the rooftops.

We do it all the time. I'm a lawyer. I'll admit it. It's a lot of what I do. We attempt to find a way around the clear language of a contract, a statute, or a judge's order.  Alabama Probate Judge's did it all week, with absolutely no legal leg upon which to stand, as they pretended to be confused about an abundantly clear Federal Judge's Order.   

We all do it. We do it to get what we want.  Even if what we want has nothing to do with Truth.

And all when we really know, in our hearts, the Truth.

Love. Include. Serve. Forgive. Do not judge.  

All are equal under the law. 

What men or women have written down, others will pervert.  And so writings, however great, will never save us.  

But the Truth that inspires them  will.

And all that may have been just a little too heavy a lift for me today.  But at least the firewood will seem light by comparison . . . oh yeah, I think I'm on to something there.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Appendectomies, personal and social . . .

Saturday evening, at half-time of the Alabama-LSU basketball game, I admitted to myself that I might have appendicitis and probably should go to the doctor.  I had not felt well for a week, but Saturday the pain intensified as the day went on. I struggled to straighten upright from the sofa and shuffled off to the car.  Five or six hours later the ER doctor confirmed my diagnosis, had me strapped to a gurney and hoisted into an ambulance which whisked me to St. Vincent's East, lights flashing and sirens blaring.  I was delivered directly to my room. It was after midnight by then. The EMT guys dropped me off at the door of room 614 and left before I could tip them.  No one was around.  It is an odd feeling to be completely alone in a hospital. Seriously, there was no one around.  I knew I was at least supposed to get one of those nifty peek-a-boo gowns before getting into bed, but there was no gown to be found.  So I just lay down, fully dressed.  I had appendicitis after all. It was an emergency.   Ultimately a nurse came, gave me the peek-a-boo gown to put on and an I.V. and left.  I went fitfully to sleep, waking myself with my own snoring from time to time because when you have a raging appendix you have to sleep on your back or die. The rest of the hospital stay went very well and Sunday afternoon they removed the offending appendix.  I was back home on my sofa, sans appendix, a little more than 24 hours after I left it, in time to watch the end of the Grammies.  Amazing.

I had to fill several of those 24 hours with something other than pain.  So I did a little Internet research on appendicitis to make sure things were going according to the book.  It was.

Vestigial organ.   The term has nothing to do with the rise of contemporary church music. No, it is a physiological term which describes an anatomical structure which has survived evolution despite having ceased to perform it's purpose.

It has outlived it's usefulness.  Like my appendix.

There was a time when the appendix was important.  It probably was a place where huge amounts of good bacteria were stored which helped our ancient ancestors digest a diet which included much more cellulose, found in raw plants, leaves and grasses. It was necessary for survival. Thousands and thousands of years ago.

But we stopped eating that stuff a long, long time ago.  We did not need that bacteria anymore.  The appendix got smaller, but never disappeared.  Even though it does not do anything anymore.

Except cause trouble.

It is hard to choose to get rid of things.  Just check my kitchen drawers.  No, please don't.  Sometimes it  hurts a lot to get rid of a useless thing because  the thing is so embedded and entwined with things that are still doing very important things.  It is easier just to let it be, to not disturb it's useless existence.

Until it causes trouble. Until it becomes inflamed and enraged, and causes everything around it to become inflamed and enraged. Even though there is no longer any purpose to its rage at all, except perhaps that it is now has no purpose.   So it threatens those things around it that still perform a vital purpose.

We can deny the discomfort, deny the irritation, but when the pain becomes unbearable, and the danger of destruction imminent, we must remove the useless thing or suffer the serious consequences.

Things change. Sometimes we need to help the change along before it becomes so painful.

Physical organs are not the only things that become vestigial.

Vestiges of feudalism. Vestiges of colonialism. Vestiges of apartheid. Vestiges of slavery. Vestiges of segregation. Vestiges of racism. Vestiges of sexism.  Vestiges of Reconstruction. Vestiges of the Confederacy. Vestiges of . . .  a few more should easily come to mind.

It is often a painful thing to deal with the vestiges of harmful social and cultural institutions which have met or are meeting their demise.  The  harmful remnants of useless or destructive things that themselves have been rendered non-functional are sometimes stubborn and will not go quietly. So we must help them leave.  And we must find ways that cause the least harm (like laparoscopy, Hallelujah).

It is important that we do.

Because when they are gone, we all feel a whole lot better.


Monday, February 2, 2015

It's Only Make-Believe (Apologies to Conway Twitty)

I have a few recurrent dreams.

In one I am under the basket on a basketball court,  in a real game because we are all wearing uniforms. I catch the ball on the low post, a dream in itself, then gather myself and explode upward, breaking free of the defender's arms that are grabbing and slapping. Upon reaching that height which, in the real world, was always my limit, I keep ascending, higher and higher, in slow motion, hanging in the air for seconds before coming down to slam the ball through the hoop, doing a pull-up on the rim and dropping neatly to the floor.

It is a great dream.  And I wish it were true.  But it is not.

Gravity is real.

In another dream I am swimming under water.  Someone is waiting to shoot me when I surface. As I begin to panic I start to breathe . . . underwater.  Suddenly I realize that if I suck water in slowly through my clenched teeth I can breathe just fine, stay under as long as I want, and convince my enemies that I have drowned.

It is a great relief, this ability to breathe underwater.  I wish it were true. But it is not.

If I breathe in water, I will drown.

When I was a child I would climb on top of our long picnic table, run the length of it with my terry cloth towel cape flapping behind me, and launch myself into space at the other end of the table, sure that I would be able to break the surly bonds of earth and fly.  I believed that my new P. F. Flyer tennis shoes with the secret built in wedge would make me jump higher and run faster.  I would walk down the hall of our house punching the wall after eating a bowl of cheerios or gagging down a helping of spinach because the Cheerios ad and Popeye told me I could.

When I was 13 I watched the TV in horror as my hero, Robert Kennedy, lie on the floor of that hotel in California, blood flowing from his head after being shot. His eyes were open. The news later said the wound was most likely fatal.  But his eyes were open as he lie on the floor. That was what I saw. That meant he was obviously doing better than they said.  His eyes were open. The doctors were wrong.

But I could not really fly, or run or jump higher or punch holes in walls (a blessing in retrospect).  It was make-believe.  Great fun. But make-believe.  And Robert Kennedy died that night.

I am never hurt in my dreams. I wake up just fine. My child-hood make believe flights and sparring rounds with the wall offered little chance for serious injury.  And there was nothing I could do for Robert Kennedy.

But living in a dream or playing make believe or thinking that we can do nothing about the problems that face our grown up world is dangerous, and deadly, for us, and even more sad, for the generations that follow.

Climate change is real.  Vaccinations are essential for the safety and health of our children and pose little risk.  Water is a limited resource.  Pollution threatens the health of our environment, and the health of humanity.  Oil extraction, on land and water, exacts a devastating toll on the environment.  Coal extraction is no better.  The burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate change, and air and water pollution.  Alternative fuel sources are viable.  Corporate agriculture is polluting our rivers and the Gulf of Mexico with fertilizer and insecticides, subjecting our crop land to over use, and threatening our health with livestock additives designed for heavier weights in less time.  And much more.  Add by commenting if you wish.

Some of you are already denying, finding the exceptions to the general rule to prove your point.  You may be right about the exceptions.  You may be wrong.  As might I.

But there is this thing about facts.  They are self-confident.

What you or I believe about them makes no difference.

But what we do about them makes all the difference in the world.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sack the Grocery Tax

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

In the spirit of what sadly is the week's most major news story, a softball will not be allowed  to be thrown this morning.  No air will be let out and it may sting a little to try and catch it.

Sometimes things are hard because they are supposed to be.

The news this week was dominated by the mysterious loss of air pressure in the footballs thrown by Tom Brady in last week's NFL playoff game.  If air time, column inches, tweets and search engine entries are any indication, we are more concerned with the deflation of the Patriots footballs for that one game last Sunday than we are with the wars and violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria . . . well we have never really been too concerned with our current wars. But really, what difference has a decade of war made in our lives.  Especially when compared to football.

Here is a hard truth. It should sting.

If you are a citizen of Alabama who has the good fortune to not be financially poor, then you are enjoying and using good things paid for by your poor, invisible Alabama neighbors with money they need to buy food or necessities for themselves and their children.  Our roads are repaired with money that is needed for medicines or milk.  Our schools are funded with money that might have purchased fresh vegetables and fruit. Our prison systems and law enforcement are bought with money that might have paid for healthier, yet more expensive choices.  State supported recreation areas or cultural projects are paid for with money that might have bought a healthier baby food.  You get the idea.

The State of Alabama imposes a sales tax of four percent on groceries. Municipalities add even more tax on top of that. If you read this and think, "well that only amounts to four dollars out of a hundred. Just cut out the coke and candy on the way out and you've got it made,"  then you are clueless, and that is nice for you.

But you need to be hit in the head with a hardball. It needs to sting.

Poor people must make hard choices.  Sometimes it is whether to buy fresh fruit and vegetables or pay the power bill.  Sometimes it is whether to buy a child a pair of shoes or have meat at a couple of meals a week.  Sometimes it is whether to skip the dentist visit or buy enough milk for the month.

It's not about whether to buy a coke and candy.  Or to put off buying the new outfit. Or the new car or latest phone. Or about having to skip a vacation or a concert. Or whether to sit in the end zone or in the box seats.

It is about which necessity of life to cut back on because the State of Alabama  taxes those necessities.

We tax food.

The State of Alabama taxes the necessities of life, even for the poor. Especially for the poor. We raise money for what we want by taxing what even the poorest among us must buy to survive.

Some say that we just can't afford to make the change now, since the State is in such a financial bind.  My God, have mercy on us if that is our excuse.

Let the poor and the powerless be our safety net till things get better.

Someone said the poor would always be with us.

Thank God. Otherwise we'd really be in trouble.

Go to to see how to get involved in repealing Alabama's sales tax on groceries.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A tax on groceries is nothing to laugh at. Time to end the bad joke.

I have an idea.

The State of Alabama can solve much of our revenue problem by charging Jon Stewart for comedy material.  If we are going to be laughed at, we should at least get paid for it like all successful clowns and jesters.

And we are successful.  We take serious matters like Sharia Law and Abortion and make them laughing matters. And ourselves as well.

So why give our dignity away when we might make a little money.  Perhaps we could then finally fund the new "Pistols for Preschoolers" program or  insure that Alabama is the number one toxic landfill for North America.

Perhaps all that is a little harsh.  But I am tired of my home being laughed at.  And I am tired of deserving it.

So let's do something about it.  This year. In the next few months lets do something  that is right and good and doable and that everyone should agree with. Even Jon Stewart, even if it's not funny.

Yes, it is once again time to do away with Alabama's  sales tax on groceries.  This time comes every year as the Alabama legislature goes into session.  Let's make it the last year I have to post on this topic. It should be fairly easy to get the legislature to act.  Taxing the food that poor people struggle to buy does not make Jesus happy.  And according to most of the candidates, they were nominated by Jesus for the job.

The issue hasn't changed.  Here is part of a strange unpublished post from last year 2014.  Apparently I was a little angry at the time. Skip it and scroll on down past the italics below and you won't miss much except perhaps an insight into an a weary psyche:

I am inspired by Cliven Bundy, the rancher in Nevada who rallied armed and cooly uniformed militias  to come to his defense against the United States of America, which was trying to steal his cattle over the silly little matter of Bundy failing to pay for grazing rights on federal land to the tune of  a million bucks or so.

I'm ready to bring that franchise to Alabama.   Call it AlaCliven Arise, or  or Alabundy Possible or something like that.

So here's what we do.  You go into a grocery store. Put  your groceries on the conveyor belt at the check-out..   When the check-out clerk tells you how much you owe, quickly check how much of that is State of Alabama and municipal sales tax. Pay them what you owe, minus the sales tax.  If the clerk, lackey of the government, demands that you pay the sales tax, grab the bags and take off, shouting something like, "Give me free Spam, or give me Chef . . . Boy Ardee ," or "Free Tangelo's,"  or "Viva la Yams,"  or "Don't Tread on Peas," or "We dare defend our fries."  . If they come after you, grab a banana from the bag, hold it on the stem end and wave it around wildly.  It will look like you are armed and dangerous, ideally. That will slow them down for a little while, especially if you shop at night.  There will be militia men and women close by who will join in your defense in the parking lot.  You may not be able to see them, but they are there, they are there. And they are just itchin' to shoot them a check out clerk, collection agent for the government.

 But here is 2013's post.  It is not so crazy.  Actually pretty informative.  Food for thought . . .plus nine percent sales tax.

And 2011's post. Food for thought, let me figure the tax on that.

And 2009's post.  The poor will always be with us, unless we starve them to death.

And 2008's post.  Bringing home the groceries.

And I skipped a couple.

Please. Call your legislator.  Write your legislator.  Go see your legislator at the capitol.  I've got other things I want to write about.  Let's do something good. It may not make anyone laugh.

But there will be a whole lot of smiles.

More later.  This is the year.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Someday kind of Sunday

Yesterday was one of those perfect January Sunday mornings in Alabama.  The sky was shocking blue with not a whisker of a cloud to be seen. The early morning air was cold, but by church time, which everyone knows is Biblically set at 11:00 a.m., the temperature had risen, but still cool enough to encourage that extra quickness of step on the sidewalk, hands in the pockets of the coat drawing it tight and close as the intermittent shadows of buildings remind of how cold the air can still be without the warmth of the sun.  On a day like this the sun and the shadows make a noticeable difference.  Strange how the same thing can be said in the hot Alabama summer, except when it's hot we long for and linger in the cool, dark shadows.

But it was cool yesterday.  We relished the comforting warmth of the sun as we walked up the street into the sanctuary of St. John AME church, clueless of the simmering embers of warmth waiting to be fanned into flame in that holy place.   I just walked from my car, which I parked in the next block.  Many members of Birmingham First United Methodist parked at their church and walked the few blocks over to St. John.  It was a beautiful sight, this crowd that was walking the streets and avenues around 16th and 17th street, skirting Kelly Ingram Park, the Civil Rights Museum and the 16th Street Baptist Church,  moving toward St. John AME.  It wasn't organized. Far from it. Just groups of happy people of diverse everything you can imagine, walking together, smiling and laughing in the warm winter sun of downtown Birmingham, Alabama. It was almost good enough to be church on this day. All these beautiful folk headed to church.

And then we had it.

Church that is.

The truth is, neither of these downtown churches fills up its sanctuary pews on Sunday mornings.   But another truth is, when we worshiped together yesterday, unity in diversity, one making the sacrifice of leaving home, the other making the sacrifice of opening its home, everything was full.  The sanctuary, the music, the dance, the scripture, the prayer, the sermon, the hearts . . .

And my eyes.

I was surprised by grace once again.  I cried. We cried. Tears of joy and inspiration.  I believe music is a language that God uses to speak to the soul and heart of things that words cannot convey.  The Aeolians, a choir from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, sang special music from the high choir loft above the chancel. I cannot describe it. At best I struggle to hold on to what it spoke to my heart in that language without words. There was a bold liturgical dance by a courageous young artist, set to the recorded voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. as he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, timeless words that pierce the heart with the past and then heal it with hope for the future.   There was prayer, and scripture, and a sermon, all inspired by the Spirit in that moment.  Rev. Mashod Evans is the pastor at St. John.  Rev. Stephanie Arnold is an associate pastor at First UMC Birmingham.  They have been friends for awhile.  And they allowed the Spirit of God to move through them to move us to that place and time.  It was indescribable.  Which is hard on a guy who likes to describe things with words.  

So as much as I would love to describe what happened, I just am not capable.

It was like living a dream.

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