Thursday, August 30, 2007

Amazed, Humbled, and Grateful Tonight...

The same Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons that voted 5 to 3 against at the last clemency hearing on behalf of Kenneth Foster voted 6 to 1 for clemency today and sent that decision on to Governor Rick Perry who still had to make the decision to stay Kenneth's execution...a decision he frankly had not made in several cases previously when the BPP had recommended clemency...But today...just hours before Kenneth Foster was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection, Governor Perry, with a great deal of personal and political courage, made the decision to commute Foster's sentence from death to life imprisonment, essentially stating that the laws under which Kenneth Foster were sentenced to death needed to reevaluated... I am stunned...I am awed at the power of single small, but significant voices, joined with some culturally significant voices like Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu who made pleas on Kenneth's behalf in the last few days...I am moved by the power of prayer...I have no idea how God had his hand in this other than the spirit of justice and compassion of a army of people who would not give up speaking the truth of their convictions on behalf of this man...a man, the vast majority of that army have never and probably will never meet face to face. I am absolutely convinced God was at work...and I am a little ashamed that it took the life of a man on death row to wake me up to the responsibility I, and we all, have to see the world the way God sees the world. To see what acts of injustice and abuse and manipulation anger him...and ought to anger us. To see what acts of neglect, misfortune and indifference break his heart...and ought to break ours as well.

Some of you know that I traveled to Cambodia last September...I saw many beautiful wonderful Cambodian people and many beautiful wonderful people of all nationalities investing their lives in this country still heartbroken over the genocide Pol Pot and the Killing Fields inflicted a mere 30 years ago. A country that had it's parents and grandparents wiped out so that it is a nation of young people and young adults with little to point them to a legacy of generations gone before. It is also one of the places that has become a breeding ground for evil men who have made slaves of children and young adults. Last night I wrote a letter to the head of the department of Tourism in Cambodia to ask him to help put a stop to the sex trade enslaving young boys and girls, men and women. I don't know that it will do any many of us wrote letters to Governor Perry suspecting that it would have little effect on an execution that most people thought would happen at 5:30 this evening...and tonight Kenneth Foster is alive in his cell...It takes my breath away...not in a Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis TopGun sort of way, but in a deep deep soul searching way that sees that our connection with God and with each other all across this planet mattered for Kenneth Foster, it mattered for Rick Perry, and it matters for us...

Thank you for praying, and for writing, and for feeling the heart of God...



Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not Even Remotely Proud To Be A Texan...Today

I grew up in Louisiana, came to Texas to go to college at Baylor, returned to Louisiana to go to graduate school and eventually moved back here 10 years later...and have not wanted to leave since. I love this state, and love even more living in Austin...the coolest city I've ever been a part of...but today...I'm not proud to be a Texan today...The reason is that in two days this state is set to execute Kenneth Foster based on an ambiguously subjective and morally questionable statute called the "law of parties". My friend Melinda send out this call to prayer and explanation of what is going down this afternoon...


This Thursday, the State of Texas intends to execute Kenneth Foster,
who is not a murderer. The background on this case is summarized in
an excerpt from Sunday's Dallas Morning News Editorial 8/26, which
calls for the State to reconsider its decision to execute Mr. Foster:

"Ours is the only state in the country to apply the "law of parties"
to capital cases, allowing accomplices to pay the ultimate penalty
for a murder committed by another. Mr. Foster was driving his
grandfather's rental car when one of his partners in crime killed
Michael LaHood.

That night in 1996, Mr. Foster and three of his buddies appeared to
be looking for trouble. They robbed a few folks, chugged some beers
and smoked marijuana. But, as all four have testified, murder was
never part of the plan. Mr. Foster and two others sat in the car
nearly 90 feet away when the fatal shot was fired.

They had followed an attractive woman into an unfamiliar
neighborhood, where they encountered her boyfriend, Mr. LaHood. The
other passengers have testified that they had no designs on robbing –
let alone shooting – him. And the admitted triggerman said that his
friends did not know what he was doing when he approached the victim.

But using the law of parties, prosecutors argued that Mr. Foster, who
was 19 at the time, either intended to kill or "should have
anticipated" a murder. For this lack of foresight, he has been
sentenced to death."

ACTION: Please pray for wisdom and godly justice to prevail. The
Governor has the power to stay Mr. Foster's execution, so a miracle
IS possible.

Just so you know where I stand, I am not a death penalty Gandhi says "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind"...and Derek Webb in his poignant lyric offers, "It's like telling someone murder is wrong, then showing them by way of execution". But this is clearly a case, based on sworn testimony, of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being sent to the firing squad for it. Why do we as a state government insist that we follow the letter of the law when clearly we are the only one who seem to think the letter in question promotes life and communal highest good...Moral is at the heart of every mean-spirited and bigoted action or thought. Somebody, somewhere thinks that they have the right to speak for God...or they think they know exactly what God thinks...or they think they are God...Moral, spiritual pride...The very first Beatitude in Matthew chapter 5 says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit...". In other words, blessed...on the right spiritual path...are you when you recognize that you have absolutely nothing to brag to God or anybody else about...humility and servanthood, not pride and arrogance are the characteristics of those who shall, "see God". I have to put my sadness and anger under that same microscope tonight.

Kenneth Foster has become a man of peace and humility in these last 10 years in prison...he has helped work to change the system peacefully from the inside with the very little power he has as an inmate. He is also a poet that is approaching the seemingly last few days of his life with passion and gut-wrenching honesty. Like this...

a lone star statement
by Kenneth Foster

unbossed & unbought
i don't bow to the
lies concot by
belligerent's slithering tongues
seeking to systemize
my meditative system of
serene silence
allowing me to elevate above this
mental, physical & spiritual violence of
Texas Corrections molestings—
checking me in
boxes of neglected

my seeing came w/
over 300 murders
pacified by fries,
burgers &
whatever you want except
your life,
your rights,
your freedom,
a chance to hug
your mama
who'll die twice after this drama
unfolding on a new age cross.

season tickets are bought
in a new kind of box w/
plexi-glass &
front row seats to gas,

So tonight, along with my friend Melinda, we join our hearts to pray for Kenneth Foster and his family, for Governor Rick Perry who could stay the execution, for a state who should prayerfully consider how it administers its most severe punishment, and for each of us to seek everyday to be "poorer in spirit".



Saturday, August 25, 2007

But Officer, It Was Self-Defense...

It's been a long week...nothing earth-shattering, I've just been on the road most of the last week getting my two youngest collegians squared away at their respective institutions of educational highway robbery...but college costs are a rant for another time...and since we're talking about highways, I spent a lot of time on them this week, and at very wee hours of the morning. Now if I owned satellite radio, this blog would have a different twist, but I don't, so instead, I was relegated to driving with one hand on the seek button looking for signal satisfaction along wide stretches of nowhere. Some of you know what that is like...much Tejano music, various and sundered preachers and evangelist on various and sundered soapboxes, talk show hosts who were living up to their moniker by conversing, some more intelligently than others about UFOs, bleeding heart liberals, Michael Vick, the price of pork bellies, online dating, and how much jail time should Nicole Ritchie, Paris Hilton, and Lindsey Lohan really deserve. It was a virtual broadcast wasteland...Now there was an occasional sane preacher, political pundit, or sports host who had a degree of modicum and a lick of sense, but it became perfectly clear that the vast majority of folks on the radio at 4a.m. are either incredibly stupid or deathly afraid...and I suspect that the latter was much more the case. The propensity to lash out in anger seems to directly correlate to a lack of trust in somebody or something that really wants and is capable of acting out of love, compassion and our best interest. So, apart from the folks who are playing this game for entertainment value, we have a whole lot of people, and not just ones on early morning radio who choose to erect walls, build fences, drop down into foxholes and fight out of self defense. Now, don't get me wrong...there are times when self-defense is necessary for survival, but I don't think it is the paradigm that should define the way we go about life. One of my favorite bands The Daylights, 2/3 of which is made up of two dear friends, Ricky and Randy Jackson, have a song entitled "Weapons" that features these lines "I walked alone to the edge of town, and there I threw my burdens down...and looking up at last I felt, you'll never love if you protect yourself. Lay down, lay down your weapons boy...right now, right're sure to change the world..under it all you're not so tough, every one, everyone wants to fall in love..."

I think they are matter how loudly we rant, or how much we posture, or even how definitively we make our case...we all just want to love and be loved...and our walls of self-defense get in the way of knowing and being down your weapons boy...I really believe that's the way to love...and speaking of love, after this week on the road I have several new websites for hair regrowth, weight loss, male enhancement and refinancing my home courtesy of early morning radio...


Friday, August 17, 2007

The Fat Lady is Christ...

Profundity sneaks up on you in the most surprising places...I'm not just talking about the occasional line of brilliance that fights its way to the surface, drowning amongst the flood of drivel in an Adam Sandler movie...or even the gem of songwriting that gets lost in the pervasive mediocrity of pop music. I had lunch today with a young lady, now a college student, that I met at a youth camp when she was an eighth grader. At that time she was being raised by a single mom who a drug addict and who was not only using, but thought it was a cool thing to do to supply them to her daughter and her daughter's friends. Even at that young age she knew what was going on wasn't good for her, so she left home...moved in with an aunt and uncle who took her in and provided the stable loving home that she craved... and has become an amazingly strong, bright, and productive young woman. As we talked today she was making some observations about relationships that were not only unexpected, but brilliant and profound given what she has had to endure and fight through.

Hannah has been working with less than privileged kids this summer at Austin Sunshine Camps, a wonderful summer long camp sponsored by the Austin Young Businessman's League that brings in 80 kids each week who otherwise would never get the chance to have a summer camp experience. Hannah has told me all summer about a remarkable young man, Paul Mosley who has spent a huge amount of time at the camps even though he is not officially a staffer. Some of you from the Austin area might remember Paul as a standout high school running back at Anderson High School. Paul went on to play for the Baylor Bears and Longhorn fans will remember the long touchdown run he ripped off against UT last year. Paul left the camp Monday to fly to Detroit for a tryout with the NFL Detroit Lions...all of that may not surprise you... what did me was Hannah's accounts of Paul's selfless and consistent time and energy poured into these kids when he could have been hobnobbing with his agent or hanging out at training camp with the big boys (literally). Instead, he finished his tryout and then flew directly back to Austin to be with the kids the last full day of camp for the summer. Now Paul attended Sunshine Camp as a camper, and later returned as a counselor so he has some history with this camp and organization, but I was fascinated by his humility and commitment to this camp of kids who would be far, far from the thoughts of most potential NFL players the second week in August. I don't really know him, but I respect Paul Mosley.

Most people know the work of author J.D. Salinger, deservedly, through his most celebrated writing...Catcher in the Rye, a profound coming of age story, but last year Ariele gave me a copy of another Salinger work, Franny and Zooey. It is another piece of classic Salinger that I certainly enjoyed reading, but when I got to the last two pages I, literally dropped the book and even though I was on an airplane at the time, exclaimed "no way!" After I assured the flight attendant that I was OK, I picked up the book and reread this passage, "...And don't you know--listento me now--don't you know who that Fat Lady (in the audience) really is? Ah, buddy. Ah, buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy."

Billy Crockett released a record a little over 20 years ago entitled, Surprises in Disguises. I like that. It really is true that God shows up in and around and in the middle of the strangest people, circumstances and events. I still don't expect it much in an Adam Sandler movie, but He keeps on surprising me with disguises every day...and that makes following him all the more the adventure it really is supposed to be...Heck, the fun of the faith is often just keeping up...and looking for him in the eyes of the college student, the running back, the Fat Lady in the audience...Which is all the more reason they should bring back Joan of Arcadia...but don't get me started, buddy...



Monday, August 13, 2007

Eagles- Wasted Time

Wasted time?

One of my all-time favorite Eagles' songs came from the Joe Walsh era and was entitled "Wasted Time". The lines that always got me in those days were, "You never thought you'd be alone this far down the line... And I know what's been on your mind. You're afraid it's all been wasted time." Well I was in my twenties then and not married...a few years later I met the girl of my dreams, got married, had three beautiful daughters and 13 years later, watched the girl of my dreams walk out of my life and our marriage. The girls stayed with me and the last 12 or so years have been wonderful, excruciating, amazing, exhausting, and exhilarating all at the same time. In those years, I managed to continue to work 50-60 hours a week as a minister with teenagers and still be a single parent for three young girls. The job and the parenting was all I had time for...or maybe it was all I rationalized that I had time for. Money was always, always tight and there didn't seem to be enough to go around for housing, food, clothing for three maturing young ladies and school expenses, without doling out more to be dating and entertaining. It wasn't a huge sacrifice...and I'm not just saying just didn't ever make it high up on the priority list most of the time. There were a few romantic scares that had me thinking about that kind of relationship again, but they never lasted long and maybe I sabotaged them before they ever got a chance...I'm not sure...I just know that my oldest now lives on the other side of the country in Oregon, my middle daughter finishes up her summer camp counselor job this week and we make the 14 hour drive on Saturday to haul her stuff back up to Nashville for school. And then my youngest gets home on Saturday also coming back from a camp counseling responsibility and we haul her stuff up to Arlington on Monday to get her back in school as well. So, I'm sitting here some 25 plus years after I first listened to those lyrics and wondering if they don't REALLY apply to me now, way more than they did when Don Henley first sung them. It is true that in one sense, I never thought I'd be single this far down the line, but in a very very true sense, I really am not alone, even if I'm still single. I wouldn't trade anything for the relationship I have with my daughters now...I repeat ANYTHING! There are certainly things I would do differently now if I had it to do over...I would probably would still do the paisley shirts and the beard and Afro...the mullet, probably not, the bell bottoms...not so much...bell bottoms on a 5"4" guy look like calf dresses...not so attractive. But, I have way more friends than I deserve and the relationships along the way that still bless me 5, 15, 25 years later are incredibly humbling. So when Hannah and Calla head off for school this week, I'll check in every week or so, Ariele puts up with talking to me every couple of days... and my big lug of a dog, the Great Pyrenees named Cleveland, slobbers on my pants leg every night when he puts his humongous head on my knee...and I have this ridiculously understanding faith community that allows me to do my thing with them and a staff of friends who work beside single maybe...alone...kinda...wasted time...not a chance!



Friday, August 10, 2007

A Portland Poetress

Just a quick opening word...Mr T...Thomas Bickle, the gutsy little two year old who is battling cancer that I mentioned in an earlier blog, had his surgery today to remove another tumor, and his mom reported this afternoon that the surgery went well...I'll keep you updated when I find out more...

And while we are speaking of children, I have three of the grown-up variety, at least they are 20, 21 and 24 years into being grown-up, and I am equally proud of all three. I know parents are supposed to say that even if one of them is an evil Chucky child...which none of mine are...they are, in fact, all beautiful, all smart...occasionally smart-asses...refreshingly cynical, and remarkably independent and free-thinking young adults...and I wish I could take credit for it, but everyone who knows us knows they are just pretty special. Anyway the eldest of that trio is Ariele, which is pronounced like the letters R...E...L... It is Hebrew for "lioness of God", but the traditional pronunciation comes out sounding like "aerial" (you know the thing sticking up on the front or back of your car that lets you listen to annoying talk radio) so we softened the beginning "a". One of our friends early on called her "REL Speedwagon" which regretably, never quite stuck. Ariele lives and works in Portland, Oregon with an organization called The Burnside Writer's Collective. She has been a writer since she was old enough to collect thoughts and put them down on paper, walls, encyclopedia margins and anywhere else she could find. When she was in the 7th grade, she was a part of the gifted and talented program for a school district outside of Austin, and the teacher who worked with that program called me one day and said, "Mr. Gentiles, I'm a little worried about Ariele's choice of reading material for this special literary project we are doing which involves choosing a book regarded a "classic" and then constructing a tangible representation of the great themes and messages of this work." When I asked her what the issue was, she replied, "Well...she has chosen Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" and frankly Mr. Gentiles that is a book most students don't read until upper level college courses, and then they are usually English majors specializing in Russian literature...I'm just concerned that the reading will be too difficult and it would only set her up for failure." I thanked her for her concern and diligence, but assured her that Ariele could handle it...which she did beautifully. When she was a sophomore in high school she submitted a paper on Herman Melville's "Moby Dick", making the case that this classic work was, in fact, an example of one of the first literary works of postmodernity. Now that was in the late 90's when theologians, philosophers and educators had just begun to debate the postmodern cultural paradigm shift. I was not surprised. She entered her college undergraduate work as a pre-med/forensics major. She was CSI before CSI was cool, but at the end of her sophomore year changed her major to English because she missed the outlet that writing and literature provided in feeding her soul...and today she is one of the rare English graduates actually doing work in her field... I don't know all that awaits her along her journey, but her unique passion and insight has left an indelibly written impression on this dad's heart... I'm proud of who she is and who she is becoming.

Here's a example of a post from a few days ago on her own blog Saint Vespertine to give you some insight as to why I love her and her writing so...

human beans.

i like to playtend that we human beans
are more than just ivory sinew and skin,
more than thewless puppets on
stringsSuspended from clouds
dancing us onward to mortal fate’s end.

and those

red beating hearts sagging on shirtsleeves,
stitched and re-stitched with gossamer threads
of hope and the like, repairing the rends
split by those knock-about kinds of dreams
and sinister forces seemingly unseen.

yet then there’s

the art of growing up into cleverish beasts
of vague and clawing responsibility,
stretching our skin and excavating our bones
into adult-sized tombs, long red claustrophobic rooms
to lie and wait, lighting fires for heat
against the cold prospect of death and defeat.


i hold my red kite against the blue of the sky
and count the dust clouds as the ambly pull by.

Roar on "Lioness of God"...



Sunday, August 5, 2007

Baseball Bean Berry Berry Good to Me...

Barry hit 755 and A-Rod hit 500 over the weekend...One more and Barry breaks Hammerin' Hank Aaron's all-time homerun record, which Henry wrestled away from The Babe in April of 1974. Barry will most certainly hit the inevitable "records-were-made-to-be-broken" magical #756, perhaps before this blog is posted,, and his less than warm, fuzzy relationship with the public and press, and his alleged juicing notwithstanding, it will be a hallowed baseball moment...At least it will be for me. See, I had this love affair with baseball long before I recognized how deep blue Vickie Roy's eyes were sitting beside me in my 4th grade class at Howell Park Elementary. Aaron, Mays, Mantle, Ford, Dean, Feller, Dimagio, and Williams were the objects of my affection. I had all of their cards, I combed the boxscores every daybreak in The Morning Advocate just minutes after the paper boy deftly deposited it at the foot of the holly bush beside our driveway... and they were the ones who had me out on our neighborhood sandlot, every daylight hour of every summer vacation day. I loved baseball...I still yes, I care about the homerun record, but it is much more for me about Hank Aaron's name resurfacing for another generation of baseball fans to know and appreciate a genuine real life superstar and sports hero. He came along just a few years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, so he also faced many of the same injustices and endured many of the same hardships that all African-American players faced in those early days. His first professional baseball paycheck came with the Indianapolis Clowns of the storied Negro leagues. He led them to a championship in his rookie year and was signed by the Boston Braves who moved to Milwaukee not long after Hank became a Brave. He was a natural 5-tool (hitting for average, hitting for power, catching, throwing and running) gifted athlete, and although he had great success in the Negro League and the minors hitting crosshanded...left hand over right... he still became a quiet, but powerful leader in the game. I distinctly remember the fall of '67 when Robert "Hiya" Didier came back to our one of our fall baseball practices. Hiya had been an all-state catcher for us the two previous years while I was a freshman and a sophomore. In those two years we were the Louisiana state champions the first year and we had been eliminated in the state semis the next. Hiya was one of the main reasons for our success. He was smart behind the plate, handled pitchers like a sports psychologist, had a cannon for an arm and literally attacked the ball when he was at bat. He was the finest all around player I ever was on the field with in high school or college. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves right out of high school and he was back that fall to visit us and tell us what his first spring training was like with the Braves. We wanted to talk about him and his first training camp...all he wanted to talk about was Hank Aaron...what a classy guy he he yanked pitches a foot off the plate 450 feet into the left field upper deck, and how he had the strongest, quickest wrists of anyone he'd ever seen. I wasn't there to see Hank, but listening to "Hiya" I sure imagined I was, and my respect and admiration for him grew. Everyone knew, both during and after Hank was quietly chasing down Ruth's record, that he endured ridicule for his audacity as a black man to erase the hallowed Babe Ruth's longstanding record,and even received death threats...and yet he handled it all with dignity and class.

Yup. Barry will break Henry Aaron's career homerun record by a few...maybe even a lot... and that record will probably be broken by the same A-Rod who hit his 500th homerun on Saturday when Barry tied Hank, but neither will ever replace the gentleman hero, Hammerin' Hank hero 45 years hero today...



Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Clueless (but learning) Single Parent Dad

I have been a single parent DAD for the last...oh...twelve and a half years...with three kids...with three kids who were GIRLS...yup...I'm bad, I'm BAD! Actually the truth was...there were times, especially early on, when I wasn't very good at it at all. Now, I think I was always a pretty good dad, just not too hot at spinning all of the plates that single parents have to keep an eye on. Because I have worked with teenagers all of my adult life, and I talked with and worked with families of all kinds, I thought (I really did) I knew kinda what the issues were, and that single parents were just like two parent families with a few minor challenges. I was an idiot (on more than just that issue, but that one in particular), because I quickly found out that the dynamics and unique challenges of being out there on a limb by yourself with little or no backup in the daily routine of life is something you don't really understand until you have been there. My girls were 7, 8 & 11 when we started this adventure together (they are now 24, 21 & 20) and they have grown into incredibly amazing young women in spite of the laborious chore of having to help me have a single parent clue, as well as do their own work of growing up in this crazy culture.

So....since I'm new to this blogging thing, I don't know what protocol is, but I think I'll spend a while on this blog talking a little about the single parenting experience, telling a few stories on my girls (with their permission) and myself, and maybe it will be a help to somebody who needs a laugh or a little encouragement for a similar situation...doesn't mean I won't break in from time to time with something I can't stand not talking about it...but that's the call for today. Come along for the ride if you'd like...