Monday, December 29, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire Film Clip - Are You Nervous?

Slumdog Millionaire...and Hope

My friend, JJ Peterson, one of the funniest, most talented (hey, he danced in a Missy Elliot video!)and one of the most compassionate human beings on the planet, first recommended Slumdog, and I also read the reviews locally in the Austin American Statesman... but finally got around to seeing it with Ariele, Hannah and Calla last night. My expectations were high, which usually does not bode well, but when I left the theater I found myself wiping the tears away (yeah, I know you are shocked), but also wrestling with the tag-team emotions of exhileration, deep sadness, grudging admiration, simmering hope and unabashed joy. I don't know if it will win tons of awards. It wouldn't surprise me if it did, because it was beautifully shot, well cast, and brilliantly acted, but I don't know much about the technical side of the movie business. I just know what moves my soul, challenges my head and grabs my heart...and Slumdog did that. Perhaps, it was that I had just spent the week before immersing myself in the lives of the slumdogs of the 1st century Palestinian world, the shepherds, in preparation to talk at Journey Sunday morning. Maybe it is my basic inclination to pull for the underdog (Go Tribe and Baylor Bears), and my inability to detach myself fully from on the screen brutality and injustice when I know the same is happening as we inhale and exhale in this existential moment. I'm not sure I can explain it, but it worked for me...the fairytale ending for the beleagered protagonist was not a turn-off for me...and while I am a sucker for Bad News Bears and every other kids sports sadsack to city champ story, this seemed somehow differrent. Even if it wasn't, I liked it...

I believe that God doesn't kick slumdogs, shepherds, or any other marginalized outsider to the curb...there is hope, there is grace, there is justice...and there is love. That's what Jamal was ultimately chasing...aren't we all?

I encourage you to see it...and believe it.



Friday, December 26, 2008

Home for Christmas...

As far as I'm concerned there really only needs to be one guy singing Christmas carols every year...Bing Crosby. He sang a whole lot of other stuff in his illustrious career, but seems to get remembered these days primarily as the guy who sings White Christmas better than anybody, past or present, on the planet. The great debate every year at our house is which is better, "Holiday Inn" or "White Christmas" the two Bing Crosby Christmas movies released several years apart that prominently feature the song White Christmas. I prefer "Holiday Inn" because it was chronologically first, but my girls like "White Christmas" better because Fred Astaire is really mean in "Holiday Inn". By the way, I just reconsidered and the only other Christmas album that should be allowed is the "John Denver and the Muppets" Christmas album. I'm not is brilliant in every way! Animal rocks!

Anyway, my other favorite Christmas song to hear Bing sing is another World War II era song entitled, "I'll be Home for Christmas". It, of course, has been covered many, many times since Bing, but there is something about hearing that smooth, rolling, mellow, baritone voice promising that whatever it takes, he'll not let anything stand In the way of being with the ones he loves at home for Christmas. My mom and dad lived in the same house on Myrtlewood Street in Baton Rouge for almost thirty years. It was the place I came back to when I was in college and then after I was married with my own family. A number of years ago my parents moved to the woods in Mississippi and my mom still lives there presently, even though my dad passed away 4 years ago. I go there to see her, but it's not really like going "home". My girls are 25, 22, and 21 and have been off at college and across the country for the last several years. Because of traveling to different churches to minister and other financial reasons in recent years, they don't have a childhood homestead to come back to either. Almost 2 years ago I decided to downsize and leave the suburbs to move into the city to be nearer to the population center of Austin as well as nearer the warehouse. I moved into a two bedroom,one bath duplex that Brian and Lorraine generously rent to me for much less than it is worth, but as many who have done this will agree, moving from a four-bedroom house and all of the crap you buy to fill it up to a smaller place is an adjustment... a very healthy one, but an adjustment nonetheless. When it is just Cleveland and I we have more room than we need, but when all three girls are home as they have been for the holidays, it becomes very interesting. It still is no problem because I know that the space we are in is many, many times larger than the homes and shelters that the majority of the world live in, so, I am grateful on many levels. I guess what I am saying is that, for me, this Christmas I am reminded again that Bing had it right...I won't always have the gift of either being home or having my family all in one place at every holiday. As the years pass we lose family members to death and life. I pray daily for my friends Scott and Sarah who spend this Christmas without little Thomas who would have been enjoying his third Christmas had not cancer stolen him away last August. My dad was killed in an automobile accident in December of '04 and he loved family all of the time, but especially having as many of them around as possible at Christmas...mainly the kids who loved to argue with him about whether he was a "sweet-tater" or an "agi-tater".

So...I'm humming along with Bing...and enjoying my amazing daughters, and remembering not to take a minute of it for granted. And go rent "Holiday Inn"...Bing's heirs will thank you.



Saturday, December 13, 2008

Unapologetic Plugs...


On Monday evening I picked up my oldest daughter, Ariele, from the Austin airport. She has lived the the last two and a half years in the beautiful, incredibly hip city of Portland as a writer and editor with The Burnside Writer's Collective and part-time coffee barista at several local purveyors of java delicacies. She is moving back to Austin, which is a bittersweet experience for her, because of her acquired taste for the loveliness of all that is Portland, OR, and her deep love for the weirdness of Austin. On Tuesday we were hanging out and she was headed to a cool gathering that occurs every Tuesday night in this town at The Tavern, called Austin Inklings...a varied and diverse collection of folks nudged into conversations of life and faith over a pint or two by local book reviewer and renegade pastor, Kester Smith. Before I let her go I talked her into going to Book People, Austin's quintessential independent book store, with me to run an errand. She's already a Book People convert, so it did not take much coaxing, but it meant a great deal for me to have her there, because my mission was to pick up a book from the desk that I had ordered... Barack Obama: An American Story co-authored by Bob Carlton and Ariele Gentiles. Yup...that's right...Ariele's book. Well, Ariele's and my dear friend Bob Carlton, who was kind enough to ask Ariele to co-write with him. So when the clerk brought the book to me and rang it up, I casually mentioned, "Oh by the way...this woman right here...this is one of the authors...and another by the way...she's my daughter." Several weeks ago when I told Ariele I had her book on order from Book People she told me not to go pay for one because she had plenty of copies and she had planned to give me as many as I wanted. My response was...and every parent in the blogosphere will relate..."Dearest biological offspring, if you think you are going to rob me from the joy of informing the bookseller that the author of the book I am purchasing from his establishment is my brilliant, beautiful, talented are CRAZY GIRL!" So I've used the picture of the book cover above as my facebook profile for the last month or so, and this is unapologetic plug #1...the book was published by Zondervan and Youth Specialties targeting high school students who want to talk about the life and faith of President-elect Obama, but it is well written, (I am, admittedly, a tad biased) and stands on its own for adults as well and is available online at the YS website,, and all of your standard booksellers.


If you don't know the writing of my friend, Milton Brasher-Cunningham, then you are missing a rare treat in the literary world. A singer/songwriter, poet, novelist, pastor, and chef, Uncle Milty's blog Don't Eat Alone is a not-to-be-missed delight in the blog universe. He does an beautiful Lenten Journal entry each day during the season of Lent and is currently doing the same thing with a daily post in his Advent Journal. I recommend all of those things to you, but I particularly want you to be aware of a little piece of Christmas poetry that Milton wrote several years ago at the request of his amazing wife Ginger, who is the pastor of a church in the Raleigh/Durham area. The result was "A Faraway Christmas". The story is written in a Dr. Seuss kind of rhyme, with something to say to most any aged person about what would happen if we shared ourselves with one another. Milton has recorded an audio CD complete with musical background and other extras and if you are looking for a very special gift or something to use in a class or Christmas worship service, I recommend it highly. We used "A Far Away Christmas last year during our Christmas eve service at Journey, and it was a beautifully moving part of that special evening.
You can go to Milton's blog and look for the order box on the left.

The only other plug I will tell you about is the hair plugs that my Uncle Whitney got in the early sixties to combat his receding hairlines. I WILL apologize for that one... somebody needed to.



Monday, November 10, 2008

Election Afterglow and Acrimony

I kept the front page of the Austin American Statesman from last Tuesday announcing the historic news...Barack Obama had become the nation's first African-American President. It has now been a full week since the results have had a chance to sink in, and frankly I am a little disoriented by the reactions...both positive and negative. In the interest of full disclosure, I voted for Obama and cheered when he emerged victorious from the fray...and I am not casually tossing around terms here...this election was a fray in every sense of the word. As a child of the 50's and a teenager in the 60's, I witnessed on television the struggles of African-Americans and those who stood with them in the quest for equality under the law. I saw with my own eyes the rage and bitterness in my own family and with my classmates as in my 7th grade year segregation was outlawed in Baton Rouge and my public school became open to students of any race. There were black kids beaten up in the bathrooms, behind the stadium after school as well as exclusion and ridicule at lunch and during assemblies. It was ugly for a while, but but by the time I became a freshman, the incidents in school (there were still many in the culture) became rare and quickly dealt with. One classmate that I admired the most was Agnes Jackson. She was smart and articulate and was genuinely one of the kindest people at our school. I kinda had a little crush on her, but never acted on it, mostly because I was a coward and knew it would be ugly at home with my dad and granddad. We had several classes together down through our high school years and we worked together on a English project in Ms. Peavey's lit class, and Agnes told me bad "knock knock" jokes...but that was the extent of our friendship... random, forced and not very authentic. It makes me sad to think that I really was an idiot and cluelessly overlooked the possibility of a valuable relationship. Of course she was probably saying..."OK I have to work with this loser in class but, after that, I'm outta here." Agnes graduated near the top of our class and went off to study at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, which at the time was an exclusive women's is now part of Harvard University. I haven't heard from her or about her since high school. My point in that long story is to say that after the news of the Obama victory, one of the first people I thought of was Agnes, whom I had not thought of in years. I think the reason she came to mind was that I remember believing back in high school, that if we ever could have a woman president, Agnes could be that woman. It made me sad that it had taken so long for the color barrier to be broken and, had me wondering how much longer it would be until we had a woman in that office. If Agnes is interested, I'm writing her in in 2012. It has made me proud to be an American to watch millions of citizens of all races exult in the long-awaited reality of a person being elected to the highest office in the land, without regards to race or gender.

The part that has particularly disoriented me, however, is the flood of ugly, mean-spirited, and outrageous things that have been said following Obama's victory. There will always be sore losers in any competition, from livingroom monopoly games and Little League contests on the sandlot, to the presidential race. I've been particulary impressed with John McCain's gracious and encouraging congratulations of Obama's victory as well as his pledge to work together with the President-elect in the future. But when conservative radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh declares that he is not ready to work together for the good of the country because he believes the new president cannot be trusted...that is something I have NEVER heard in my years on the planet. Buck Burnette, an admirable, healthy, seeming role model of a young man was dismissed from the University of Texas football team last week after placing a regrettably, racist comment on his Facebook status immediately following the election results. That was a costly oops... Speaking of Facebook, my beautiful youngest daughter pointed out to me a new poster that Facebook members can choose to post on their profile that has a tombstone on it that bears the inscription, "The United States of America...Born July 4th, 1776...Died November 4th 2008". You probably have seen or heard many more. I have always heard that you should avoid talking about three particular subjects if you want to keep out if trouble...race, religion and politics. Unfortunately for many, those three subjects have been inexorably intertwined throughout this election and keep the fires of bitterness and anger stoked.

While I supported Obama, I do not agree with him on every issue, and I do not think he is our next political or religious messiah. What I do think is that for the first time in a long time we have a legitimate shot at stopping long enough to examine the way we've done business with each other and with the world, and we have a man at the helm whose priorities are focused on the "least of these" as well as the powers that be. I'm reminded of a poet, Thiruvalluvar, who wrote a generation before the birth of Christ these words of prophecy, "The only gift is giving to the poor. All else is exchange." My prayer for our President-elect is that he will not be deterred from returning this nation to a people of service, compassion and generosity, and that he will surround himself with people of integrity and intellect and courage. The task is daunting and he will make some mistakes, but I long to follow a leader who is willing to err on the side of love and sacrifice, rather than control and ego. And, I'll readily admit to being naive and idealistic.

...Or I could just write-in Agnes Jackson's name for Commander-In-Chief in the next election.



Monday, October 20, 2008

First Vote...and more

Early voting opened today and I got the privilege of accompanying my youngest daughter Calla as she cast her first vote in a presidential election. We discussed the local races and who we might vote for, and then traveled down to the Shriner's Hall down the street to stand in line with a bevy of folks most of whom were 20+ years my senior. The dear lady monitoring the election told me that she had worked the polls faithfully for the last 40 years and she had never seen this kind of turnout on the first day of early voting. She said that they had over 600 early voters at that location in the morning hours alone. Reports tonight were that over 32,000 folks voted early today in Austin alone. I remembered the day I cast my first vote in the 1972 election...and I voted for...gosh I hate admitting this...Richard Nixon. Oh well...

These days are full of firsts... If Obama wins we'll have our first African-American President. If McCain wins we'll have our first female Vice-President. If the Tampa Bay Rays defeat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series we'll have the first team in major league baseball history go from being the worst team in baseball to the best in one year. If the Baylor Bears football team defeats the #1 ranked Texas Longhorns in three weeks it will be the end of the world as we know it.

But these are also exciting days for many more reasons than those obvious ones. Our economic woes, while they have been the cause of many financial and employment pains, may have forced us as a western society to think twice about the value of unchecked materialism. The unprecedented acceleration in the melting of the polar icecaps and the seeming constant barrage of hurricanes and tsunamis are forcing us to rethink man's abuse and neglect of the land and water that God has entrusted us to caretake. The institutional church has become ineffective and irrelevant as agents of transformation and change, and in the wake of its failure there has arisen an oft-criticized, but organically refreshing model of faith communities focusing on being loving expressions of the life and teaching of Jesus in the world. (This is not to say that there are not still many loving Catholic, Evangelical, and Mainline churches that are ministering faithfully) The Obama campaign has re-energized the involvement and passion of a young generation to the political issues of our world that is reminiscent of my generation's engagement in the 60's and 70's. I believe it is an exciting time to be alive!

Certainly there are problems... very serious problems in these days, but I believe that God is at work in ways that many of us have talked about for decades but probably honestly never thought we'd live to see. I'm glad Calla and I got to participate in a part of that together today. I believe in the Audacity of Hope...and that hope is bigger than Obama or any party. I believe.



Friday, October 10, 2008

Austin 3.5 Men's Singles Tennis Champion...sorta...

I've put off writing this post, because I know you guys will make fun of well you should. There's no real way to dress it up it, so I better just tell you the story and you can believe it or don't.

You may remember that a couple of months ago I posted a report from my participation in a new tennis league here in Austin called It is headquartered in Atlanta, and has been up and running here locally for a couple of years. The deal is that tennis players register with the league by skill level, 2.0 to 5.0 with the higher the number the higher the skill level. I self-ranked at 3.5, not because I knew what the heck I was doing, but because I went onto the USTA (United States Tennis Association) site, studied their descriptions of the different levels...and then guessed. Also, the league insists that you do not under-rank yourself (we called that sandbagging where I grew up) and therefore dominate lesser competition. I had never played in an official league before, so I had no clue how to rank my ability. As it turned out, I was fairly competitive in 3.5, but not nearly the class of the league. As the season wound down I found myself somewhere near the middle of the standings and even got a forfeit or two from better players who had injuries or had conflicts...I had fun...enjoyed the competition with guys half my age, but after my last match put the racket bag away until next spring.

About 3 weeks ago I got a call from the league office saying that the first place qualifier was not available to compete in the city championships, and that the league runner-up had missed a lot of matches, so they were removing him from consideration. Then she said that they had studied the league results and determined that Eddie (the guy I wrote about earlier that I had both beaten and lost to during the season) and I seemed to be the most committed participants in the league, and would we be willing to play for the city championships? I almost swallowed the phone! I asked if she knew that we were probably the worst players in the league, and she laughed and asked if we wanted to play anyway. Of course I said yes. As they say Louisiana..."My momma didn't raise no fool...but she sure missed a good chance!"

Two weeks ago tonight, on the final night of the ACL Festival weekend, Eddie and I agreed to face off for the championship. When the lady from the league office called, I asked sarcastically if we would get live ESPN coverage of this match with John McEnroe making the calls...She laughed and said, "no, but I see if I can get the winner a date with Maria Sharapova." Eddie thought that was a great idea, I said I was thinking more along the lines of Chris Evert. He had no idea who she was. I showed up at the courts a little early to get in a few practice takes a little longer than it used to to get the old joints limbered up. Eddie showed up a few minutes late, but it wasn't like there was a crowd waiting expectantly for the coin toss...actually there was no crowd...just Eddie and I, and we hit for a few minutes to get loose. I asked Eddie how he was doing and he said, "Man I'm tired!" I asked if he had to work all weekend and he said that he hadn't, he'd just been partying pretty hard all weekend with friends for ACL. I asked how he enjoyed the festival, and he said he hadn't attended the festival, he was just celebrating with friends during the weekend. I confess that the thought briefly crossed my mind to generously ask if he wanted to postpone the match until he was 100%, but I thought, "Hey, I'm old...he's hung over...sounds fair to me!" We both held serve the first four games and it was 2-2 to start the match. I proceeded to win the next four straight to win the first set 6-2. I then won the first four of the next set to go up 4-0. Eddie remarked that it was going to be really embarrassing if I bageled (shut him out) him and won the next game. I then closed out the next two games to win the second set 6-1 and the championship. So there you have it sports fan...who says that the old underdog can't sneak a win away from the younger stronger hungover opponent every now and then? It's beautiful isn't it ...kinda like "Rudy" with short pants.

So....I know that I'm not actually the best 3.5 men's tennis player in Austin...but I do have a t-shirt and a luggage tag that says I if you are looking for me in the next few days, I'm probably icing my old knees, humming Queen's "We Are The Champions..." and waiting on that call from Chris Evert,



Saturday, October 4, 2008

Robert Randolph And The Family Band-I Need More Love-Live On

More Love...More Robert Randolph...

Got invited to trek with fiends Mike White and Jack Morton to San Antonio to a music event benefiting Habitat for Humanity that was organized by John Foreman of Switchfoot. I knew that the lineup included, Jars of Clay, whom I've been a fan of ever since I got a pre-release copy of their first CD in early 1994 from a booking agent who was trying to push this interesting new band. I was hooked. Also appearing was a band called Red that Mike really liked but I had only heard on a recording, as well as the long-time Christian rockers, Third Day and of course, and the Switchfoot boys themselves that I heard at Stubbs here in Austin before they became a national crossover sensation. What I was not aware of was that also performing on the bill was Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I hope you know this band because if not, you are being deprived of a real treat. I stumbled on to them about 5 years ago when I saw a music video of the song you see them playing on Letterman in the video above, and the rest is musical love history. The RRB was placed tonight in the middle of the bill and frankly, I think don't more than a handful of the packed house at the Verizon amphitheater had a clue who he was, but by the end of his set, a mere 30 minutes, the place was up on it's feet and rockin...So if you know about RR&TFB, take this time to revisit unbridled musical joy...and if you have never had the privilege...hold on to your jingle bells...nuff said.



Thursday, October 2, 2008

...Be It Ever So Humble...

I have this friend who also is a part of the motley crew here at Journey. Her name is Julia and she is a real estate agent, but she is also a Section 8 housing specialist. I don't mean she just knows a lot about it, I mean she knows a lot about it and is a passionate advocate for those whom Section 8 housing is their only hope of having anything resembling affordable housing. Julia has been attempting to help this incredibly sweet, wheelchair-bound Austinite, William, with getting into a Section 8 apartment complex in Austin near the Journey warehouse. She has been his advocate, cheerleader and negotiator in this move and had lined up several folks to help William move a couple of Saturdays ago. The S8 folks said the apartment had not been inspected and delayed. Julia moved it to the next weekend. The following Saturday...more of the same as the S8 folks again said the inspection on the new apartment has not been completed and William couldn't move. Plan C was now in effect, but the only problem (OK, there were several) was that William had already given notice on his existing apartment and he had to be out by October 1st...yesterday. The other small detail was that the folks committed to help William move work during the week and since this move was going to have to happen during the week, they were not available. I was one of the original volunteers, but since I'm a minister and we only work on Sunday mornings, I and my trusty '93 F-150 pickup were available. The truth is I really do enjoy doing things like this because that pickup was my dad's and while he was alive he literally gave his life and resources away to whomever needed I kinda figure I'm just carrying on the legacy...and I think the old truck knows it.

So, yesterday morning I arrive at William's old apartment complex and Julia is already there loading up her van along with a friend of William's named Billy. Billy fills up his car with stuff and William's wheel chair and they head over to the new place as Julia and I finish loading our respective vehicles. You should know that since I was only a boy scout for about a month and a half, I opt for bungees to secure the loads on my truck instead of trusting my knot-tying with about 35 bungee cords criss-crossing the load we headed north to Rutland. When we arrived, the door to William's apartment was open but no William. Julia went to the office where she found him, understandably miffed and making motions like he was choking himself in frustration because the manager insisted that the S8 inspection still had not been completed and William could not move in. I wouldn't have said that to Julia if I were the manager, who calmly responded to her, "That's fine, I've got three cars loaded with William's belongings and if we can't put them in William's apartment, which incidentally I know the S8 inspection passed, then I'll unload them right here in the lobby of this office." Minutes later we were carrying things to their proper space in Williams new digs.

The next challenge was that Billy had gone on to work and we still needed to go back and get William's couch and another truck and van load of belongings. So, ever the industrious one, Julia asked about hiring some temp help form the neighborhood and we met Alejandro who agreed to go back with me in the truck and help load the sofa and the rest of the stuff still at the old apartment. Alejandro was a quiet, but proud man with two elementary-aged boys who was a painter by trade, but with the downturn in the economy was doing anything he could to bring in enough money to stay in his apartment and feed his family. I liked him instantly. He was a hard worker and we loaded the truck to the gills once again and headed back north. An hour or so later I took off to make an appointment, but Julia, William, Alejandro, and a Spanish-only speaking neighbor from upstairs were getting William all moved in.

I begin to think about what William's plight might have been without the tenacious concern for him by Julia, who not only made all of the arrangements, but physically worked all day to get him moved, and paid out of her own pocket to be sure we got everything out of his old apartment and wasn't charged for another month, and into his new spite of the lack of cooperation from the management. I know that many of the Williams of the world don't have a Julia...don't have someone willing to go the extra mile to do for them what they truly cannot do for themselves. I have been one of those folks who got a helping hand when I couldn't help myself. So who is your William today?



Monday, September 29, 2008

Veeps On Parade

The vice-presidential debate happens this week. Oh boy, this should be good...well, maybe "good" is a stretch, but at least, "interesting". I have been more than a little disconcerted at Sarah Palin ever since she cast aspersions upon the role of the community organizers as a way to demean Obama's experience in relation to hers, but simply dismissed it as her reading the script someone had written for her. It is a viable issue for me, however, because to discount the work of the community say, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and countless others, the majority of whom labor in utter obscurity, is a not only a travesty, but a complete lack of understanding of the role of the servant leader in culture. If a good leader is a demagogue who sits upon a pedestal and makes arbitrary and self-serving decisions without having to live among and alongside the people he is making decisions for, he is a nothing more than an elitist, out of touch puppet of power...but I digress.

I do want to see Palin and Biden, debate the issues. Palin has a particular philosophical position, which I have no quarrel with... and at least partially, is consistent in her talk and her talk. She is taking criticism for her inability to handle the press in interviews with network anchors, and the growing sense that for all her good looks and strong talk, there might not be any "there' there.

The democratic vice-presidential candidate, Joe Biden, is taking some pretty heavy blows to the body in these preliminary rounds as well...some from his own ticket. Biden has always had a reputation for having an opinion on every subject, and is often described as a "loose cannon' because he speaks occasionally without filtering his comments. It has happened several times in just the last week. I have a little different take on Biden's logorrhea, and in fact find his non-partisan honesty very refreshing. For example, several weeks ago he was asked about a political ad run by his campaign accusing John McCain of being computer illiterate. Biden, without missing a beat said that he hadn't seen the ad, but that if it was what was portrayed, he denounced the ad as unfair, unkind and out of bounds...He was absolutely right. Later that week he was asked in a New Hampshire town hall meeting about Hillary Clinton. Biden responded by saying that he wanted to make something perfectly clear...he thought Hillary was as qualified, if not more qualified than he was to be the next vice president. The opposition jumped all over it, but what is wrong with a little realistic humility and being willing to give another the pat on the back they deserve? I know...politics is politics...but sheeeeeeesh! Then last week, when asked about the AIG federal buyout plan, Biden declared that he thought it was a terrible idea and he was against it. The problem was that Obama had already spoken in favor of it and had to come out publicly saying that Biden should have waited to voice his opinion until later in the process. I'm no economist, but I agree with Biden...and by the way, McCain was also opposed to the plan early on until his campaign told him he wasn't.

I know that parties generally like to present a united front, and in organizations that is usually a good idea as well, but in this case, I am grateful for someone who speaks what he believes to be the truth even if it is not considered politically expedient.

So...hang on to your TV trays, Thursday may be a doozy...



Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My political wish-list...

I had been tempted to blog about the recent and now completed political conventions in the middle of them, but refrained for several reasons. First I wanted to have a bit of objectivity. I was blown away by speeches by Michelle Obama and Jesse Jackson Jr. along with a terrific benediction prayer by our buddy Donald Miller at the DNC. Obama's speech to end the convention in front of 50,000 responsive delegates and adherants was powerful. I had a real doubt whether the RNC could match that kind of juice. Then Alaska governor Sarah Palin was selected and the Republican ticket was energized with surprise and cvontroversy. I was wrong...they matched, if not trumped the DNC for impact. I am a lifelong Democrat who has always stubbornly and independently voted for the person I thought would be best for the office, regardless of their party affiliation. I have been a curious, but rarely faithful follower of conventions down through the years. My problem with them is that they most often seem to be little more than pep rallys and info-mercials for the ticket and the party...with everybody piling on the opponent, and everybody patting each other on the butt, saying "good game", regardless of their hatred for each other just a month earlier in the primaries. I get it...I know their intended purpose, but as beautiful as this democratic two-party system is, at this point in the contest we choose to resort to diversionasry tactics to hope the American peiople pay more attention to the side show than the least until that Monday in November when the votes get cast and we are stuck with whomever was the most facile with smoke and mirrors. I really wanted that not to be the case this time...I was hoping a Obama/Biden and McCain/Lieberman ticket would be so intriguing because there were both significant AND subtle differences between the two tickets, but instead we got a veep candidate who is so unknown and untested that the best we can do is be impressed with the fact that she can field dress a moose, and she looks way better than Hillary in a pantsuit. She is a persuasive speaker, she has decidely conservative Republican views which certainly balance out McCain's weakness on that front. However, her record of acromony with her fellow Republican officers in the state government,and the fact that her terms as both as mayor and governor were rife with controversy, might be seem to indicate that the highest priority in a running mate this time around was the even-bad-publicity-is-good-publicity theorum.

I want so desperately for Obama's grassroots, open-source, everyman political movement to be for real. I want the remarkable internet communication, facebook groups and twitter links to be an indicator that the small voice is as important as the rich lobby voice, and not just a bait and switch come on. I want a man or woman who does not return evil for evil on the campaign trail or in foreign policy. I need for opinions on hot button issues like immigration, abortion, and gay marriage to be based not on political expediency, close-minded bigotry, or personal comfort, but on constitutional clarity, a deep abiding reverence for both the sanctity of life and the quality of life, and a commitment to the dignity of every man, woman and child. That means that for me there will always be some gray ares where we cannot legislate morality.

So, I just want these last 7 weeks to be characterized by legitimate discussion and debate. I do believe that Obama is absolutely correct that Washington is broken and needs to be fixed. I also believe that McCain is right that it is way past time for the answers to come in a non-partisan partnership of cooperation. I also know that the odds of that actually happening are astronomical. Roughly the same odds as having a black man actually become president. But then, I've always believed in longshots. Heck, I've been a Cleveland Indians fan for almost 50 years.



Saturday, August 23, 2008

Olympic Opining

I'm one of those Olympic junkies...I watch everything from badminton to field hockey and check the medal count to see if the US is still ahead. I don't have any rabid patriotism-we're-better-than-they-are things going on...I suspect it is just my competitive nature kicking in. But as the games wind down to the closing ceremonies, I thought I'd offer an observation or two about a few names we've seen or heard in the past few weeks.

Michael Phelps - We'll get him out of the way first - amazing, monumental achievement with 8 golds, thanks to clutch performances by Jason Lezak on the anchor swim of two medleys...but is there anybody else that thinks he's a bit of a big inarticulate goober. I know he answered the same three questions a bazillion times and I can't blame him for zoning out to parrot the same things he said every time he got asked...and he is after all a swimmer and not a professional speaker, but then, I listen to 16 year old gymnast Shawn Johnson answer difficult questions with insight, passion and compassion, as well as a wise-beyond-her-years respect and graciousness for both her teammates and opponents. She's cute as a button and won't it be cool when she goes back to high school this fall and is sitting in English class just like everybody else!

Dara Torres - She's 41 and she's faster than almost every swimmer more than half her age...and oh yeah...she hot. But none of those things are the main reasons she impresses me. Coming back to competitive swimming after giving birth to her baby girl less than two years ago and winning a total of 12 Olympic medals in her career that began in the 1984 games in LA is impressive enough, but it was her joyful attitude and irrepressible smile that won me over. And then, just as her semi-final heat was set to begin, she had the presence of mind to lobby for extra time for an opponent who had a wardrobe malfunction and had to go back to change her suit. Dara, notified the officials so they wouldn't start the race without the absent swimmer and then calmed the rest of the field down as they waited. That's class...and maturity. And by the way...if she wants to marry me...tell her I'm OK with that.

Usain Bolt - I actually consider Bolt (is that not the most appropriate runner's name ever?) who won three gold medals by breaking world records (easily I might add) in the 100 and 200 the most amazing story of these games. The 22 year old Jamaican speedster, has such a contagious delight for life and running that it was hard not to smile every time he left the starting blocks. He is a rising star and an entertaining one at that.

The NBC broadcast team - OK, it is a little strange, perhaps, to mention these guys, but I think several deserve special note.

Bob Costas - I just love Bob Costas. He is the consummate professional, incredibly knowledgeable, but was never so serious that he couldn't laugh at himself or see the lighter side of many of the happenings during the games. And he's a baseball guy...need I say more?

Mary Carillo - This former women's tennis pro had really only done tennis broadcasts before this, but she appeared throughout the games as an analyst and commentator, often doing special interest reports. I've always liked her, but never seen the human, compassionate side of her...I think this should propel her to do more than just tennis in the days to come.

Andrea Joyce - Andrea has been around sports broadcasting for a long time, and mostly did sideline interviews with the athletes after their competitions. I've never been a big fan, but after she decimated American gymnast Alicia Sacramone, insisting on hammering her with inane humiliating questions over and over, I'd had enough. I don't understand why it is necessary to add insult to injury by asking obvious questions and seemingly intentionally hoping for a an emotional breakdown. No bueno.

So...we'll wait to see if the closing ceremonies are as mind-blowing as the opening ones and look forward to the games in London in 2012. Maybe I'll be in the stands at the pool there cheering on my recent bride, Dara. Well a guy can can have Olympic dreams can't he?



Friday, August 15, 2008

It's a Dad/Daughter Thing...

I was pondering several serendipitous events yesterday and wondered what to do with them. Most of you know that I have three daughters...and they are not just any three daughters, they are smart, funny, tough, talented and beautiful. You also probably know that our last 14 years together have been with me as a single parent and them training me every step of the way. So what I'm getting at is that we have a very special relationship. I know that the dad/daughter is very important in almost all families, even in the ones where it is characterized more by its absence than presence. Years ago I read that cultural phenom that was "Reviving Ophelia" by Dr. Mary Pipher. One of the observations she makes is in regards to the incredible void that gets left in the lives of pre-adolescent girls who developmentally need a father figure in their lives during these critical years to develop healthy self image, relational and sexual identity foundational elements. For many, the father wound is deep and devastating. I have two close friends (single parent moms) who have young daughters, one 5, and one 9, and who watch them cry when the random and and infrequent contact of the hit and run fathers of their girls send their daughters into an emotional tsunami. It breaks my heart knowing that scenario gets played out thousands of time daily in our culture.

But...that's not what prompted my pondering. Actually, and refreshingly, it is the other end of the spectrum. A couple of dear friends, Ginger and Milton Brasher- Cunningham from Raleigh/Durham NC were in Texas to visit family and help lead a retreat at Laity Lodge. We got to sit and chat for a couple of hours on their way up to Waco to see Milton's family and to Ft.Worth to see a Lyle Lovett Show before heading south again for the retreat. As we were talking about family, Ginger began to talk about her concern for her father who is wrestling with Alzheimer's and she is seeing this gentle, compassionate man slip slowly away from them. She commented that she is one of the rare women in the world who can boast about a wonderful loving father as well as a wonderful, loving husband. She's right.

Several hours later I was watching , along with millions of others, as American gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson won the gold and silver medals, respectively, in the women's all-around competition in Beijing. Shawn came in as the favorite on the strength of her victories at the World Championships and the US Olympic trials, but it was obvious to all those who watched the team competition that Nastia, the daughter of a dad who was a Russian gold medal gymnast 20 years ago, and a mom who was a competitive rhythmic gymnast, was getting better and stronger with every event. Since I am a sucker for these dad/daughter scenarios, I paid close attention to the way her dad, who is her coach and who was on the coaching sidelines during the Olympic events, interacted with her in the ups and downs of the team events. Dad/daughter relationships are one thing, but dad/daughter/player/coach relationships are a different animal all together. I coached Calla's softball teams for about 6 years and that tenuous balance between being a mentor and motivator and a supporter and cheerleader are easy to get dangerously entangled...and as we all know from watching little league games, can be downright ugly. I was impressed by Nastia and her dad's interaction during these days, but just fell apart, when following the official announcement that she had indeed won the gold, the first person she looked for was her dad and she raced to hug him and held on tightly for what seemed like minutes as she wept in his arms. At that moment she wasn't the top female gymnast in the world...she was just a daughter hanging on to her dad for dear life at the most important moment in her young life. There will be many more...most of them having nothing to do with gymnastics.

So, for all of those dads out there like Nastia and Ginger's who have had the courage to not just be a provider, but to be a friend, parent, coach, counselor, and cheerleader...I salute you. We need you...your daughters need you...the world needs you. Well done.



Thursday, August 7, 2008

Geezers Rule!

I'm 56 years November that bumps up to the next whole number digit...most days I don't feel like my head, my heart or my body agree with that chronological assessment... but on the other hand, there are days when my rickety knees outvote my brain and heart and Advil becomes my best friend. So, inexplicably, several months ago, my competitive nature kicked in and I signed up to play in a men's singles (as opposed to doubles, not not-married) league. I have played tennis recreationally since my best friend Cliff McArdle taught me to play 30 years ago, but have never, ever played in an organized league. So I went online, found a summer league that only cost $5 to join and decided to go for it.

Now the thing I didn't know was that you have to rate yourself as a player so that you can be placed in a league appropriate to your skill level. Since I've never played at any level I had to go to the USTA site and prognosticate what my level might be. I guessed at a 3.5...especially since you are warned to not sandbag and underestimate your ability to whip up on lesser opponents. I had my first match last week and my opponent was Mario, who was smart, successful, a very good tennis player...and oh yeah...half my age. I hung with him for a while, even leading the first set 3-2 at one point, but his strong serve, seriously tough topspin forehand and young legs prevailed and I lost handily 6-4 and 6-1. I limped home, put an icepack on the knee, took a couple of Advil, and wondered how I could ever have thought this was a good idea.

Tuesday was my next match, and I pondered the possibility that I might play the whole season without winning a single match...but what the heck, I would be building up the self esteem of others all across Austin...that's what servanthood is all about right? Yeah...I wasn't thrilled about being the Prince (I play with a Prince racket) of doormats either. So Tuesday I met Eddie, my next opponent. He was a very nice guy, had a booming serve...hit the ball like a rocket...and in case you were wondering...again, half my age. Eddie, while clearly a guy with better tennis strokes than moi, had a rough start and shockingly (for both of us and several folks watching as well) I won the first set 6-0. He won the first two games of the second set, I won the next three, and then the lights on these public courts just shut off. He asked if, in the event we might could get the lights back on, I wished to continue (he was no dummy...he knew that his youth and fitness would no doubt be a factor the longer we played). I agreed and after about a 20 minute delay the mercury vapor lights came on and we resumed. He proceeded to win the next 4 games and take the second set 6-3. We began the rubber match third set and with the score tied at deuce(40-40) in the first set the lights went out again. We decided to meet Thursday night to conclude the match.

Sooooooo... tonight we met to resolve the outcome, and I have to confess that while I have done a ton of stuff in my life in front of a lot of people, I was crazily nervous about playing this third set. I couldn't figure it out...this match has no real meaning in the larger scheme of the universe. It's a game that won't affect global warming (unless I fail to recycle my plastic tennis ball can), feeding the poor, addressing the human rights issue in China, the outcome of the Presidential election in November, or human trafficking in Cambodia...but I was nervous nonetheless. Bottom line, Eddie did not play well, and I avoided enough mistakes to win the final set 6-2. Go figure...the old man can actually win occasionally, even against the young guns. So, because I really do care about all of those afore-mentioned issues, and because I have friends who are experiencing devastating losses and family health and vocational crises, I will now turn my attention to more important matters, but for this moment my aching knees don't feel all that bad...and I'm kinda wondering if Centrum Silver and the AARP might do paid endorsements for a star tennis player like myself...



Friday, August 1, 2008


"Mr. T"... Sarah and Scott Bickle's feisty and precious toddler, Thomas, lost his two year battle with brain cancer yesterday. I was staring at the screen on my desk yesterday evening, wanting to say something, needing to say something, but unable to make sense of much of anything when a friend request from Facebook popped up. I was responding to that request when I noticed a string of recent updates on a number of folk's profiles (those of you who are FB addicts know of which I speak) indicating feelings or reports on what they are doing. I have trouble keeping up with my car keys much less updating my mood every few hours, so I rarely participate, but on this day I did have something to report, so I just typed in "sad". Curiously, within a few minutes several folks on my "friends" list checked in to see why I was sad. I guess maybe the Facebook "community" can actually occasionally act like a community. I was grateful that they were concerned and we chatted with short FB and e-mail notes, but I still am mostly wordless and clueless.

I'm not interested in talking the theology of the afterlife...although I believe with all my heart that Thomas is now pain free and sitting in the arms of Someone whose arms feel lovingly like his mom and dad's. I'm not interested is debating whether they should read "The Shack" or "90 Minutes in Heaven" even though I know those have both been helpful resources for folks who are grieving. I'm just sad. Sad that a wonderful mom and dad had such precious little time with their beautiful son and even much of that was nursing him through pain and surgery and chemo. I'm sad that I was seldom present with them through any of this except by phone and e-mail...OK I also feel guilty about that. And I'm sad I can't articulate any better why I'm sad. Talking and writing for a living is what I do. It's a good thing I'm not being paid by the word today.

I love you Scott and Sarah. I do know that... and I can say that with certainty. And I can pray to a God who gets it even when words don't.



Monday, July 28, 2008

The New Old Slavery

I attended a screening tonight for a documentary to be released to theatres this October entitled "Call and Response...The Concert to End Slavery". It is a project of love for a friend I met a little over a year ago, Justin Dillon, from Oakland, CA. Justin is singer/songwriter who had this issue of human trafficking almost dumped in his lap and he responded by putting together this truly amazing body of work that has to be seen to be appreciated, addressing this reality of 27 million people in slavery around our world TODAY! To see an articulate insight into the film see Shelton Green's wonderful perspective in his blog post (In Reformation) tonight. Justin is headed to Nashville on Wednesday and Washington DC on Thursday and Friday to pave the way for the film's release with screenings similar to tonight's. If you have any interest in this grassroots, open-source movement then visit the film website at As Dr. Cornnell West says in the filom, "justice is what love looks like in public"! Pling...Pling... dg

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Broken Bread and Vanishing Saviors

Several weeks ago I wrote about an amazing trip to Colorado with my friend Sam Vaugh. In the post I mentioned that each night after dinner, in the blissful absence of television and Internet, we both read for several hours. Sam was reading an unfinished manuscript that a local Southern Colorado author had let him preview. I was reading a book recommended by my friend Bob Carlton, "Take This Bread", by Sara Miles. Sara Miles grew up in a home where her parents, partly as a reaction to devout missionary parents, partly a response to the lack of relevance of the mainstream church to the pressing social causes and needs of the 1950's, raised their children as practicing agnostics. When Sara reached adulthood she spent time as a chef in New York City, and then as a respected writer and reporter who spent much of the 1960's living and reporting in Latin America during that incredibly volatile, but culture revolutionizing decade. She gave birth to little girl while she was in Latin America, then when the violence became too risky for her daughter she moved back to the US settling in the San Francisco area. One day while walking down the street in her neighborhood, she passed the open doors of an Episcopal Church, a particularly intriguing one architecturally, and she decided to go inside to see more. When she entered she found that they were observing Communion, the Eucharist, The Lord's Supper. She was somewhat familiar from readings about religion, but she had never experienced it personally. She got in line and curiously, and apprehensively approached the ministers who were serving. One of them broke off a piece of bread, whispered to her that this bread was the "body of Christ". She watched as the person in front of her dipped the bread in the chalice of wine as the next minister said, "and this wine is the blood of Christ shed for you". Sara Miles says that in that moment of hearing and tasting, she was transformed. She didn't know anything about what had happened or what it meant, she just knew that when she left that room...she was a different woman. Because she had no frame of reference for what this was supposed to mean she began to ask herself, and in a desperate need for some answers, this God that she had always assumed did not exist, for help. The only thing she could come up with was that, her experience as a cook taught her that food has a deep, primal, and spiritual connection to the soul. She thought that this experience was telling her, God or no
God, she was supposed to feed she began a food pantry for the homeless and the working poor out of that same Episcopal church. I won't ruin the rest of the fascinating should read it yourself...but the other thing Sara Miles discovered was that just when you get a handle on what God wants from you, he seems to get a little harder to box up and pin down.

I'm reminded of the post-resurrection story in Luke 24 that tells of the now-you-see-him-now-you-don't nature of keeping up with Jesus. He appears to two fringe believers (Cleopas and his companion)early Easter morning. They see him and don't recognize him, hear him speak and don't recognize him, listen to him exegete the entire of Hebrew scripture that has to do with the coming of the Messiah, and don't recognize him. Now my hunch is that they are crazy numb with grief and are in the throes of emotional shock. They even say that they had so pinned their hopes on Jesus being the promised Messiah, only to watch him die and be be buried. Loss will do that to you...disappointment with do that to you...betrayal will do that to you...fear will do that to you...the crush of failure will send you to a place where you wall yourself off from anything that has the slightest potential of dealing out more pain. It is also significant to me that according to my less than stellar mathematical abilities, Jesus made five appearances after his resurrection (not counting the ascension). They were all to people who already believed. If I had been put in charge of the post resurrection public relations campaign of the Messiah...I do things a little differently. I get him on Larry King and Oprah. I get him to throw out the first pitch at the World Series and I get him to be a contestant on Dancing With the Stars. Oh...and he is in both an iPod and a Geico commercial. But I was not in charge and God chose not to scare, frighten, or overpower our human will or our have to come to faith with your head, your heart and your willing volition.

So... Jesus has walked the several hours-long trek to their home village and they still are clueless, and yet...they have enough sensitivity to the needs of a stranger to invite Jesus in to eat and spend the night. They sit down to eat, asking Jesus to bless the food and when he prays and breaks the bread...they suddenly recognize him. Now what was it in the breaking of bread that revealed his identity when seeing him face to face, hearing his voice and hearing him teach failed to do the trick? I don't know but I think my friend, chef Milton (Don't Eat Alone), and Sara Miles, have it right. The power of breaking bread and sharing a meal together opens doors to the soul that stay slammed shut and resist the most adept lock pickers. Then, of course, just when you are ready to systematize and quantify the magical experience you had with God he vanishes, and you are left with a holy heartburn ("didn't our hearts burn within us as he explained the scriptures to us along the road") and not even a Polaroid snapshot for the scrapbook. He is illusive and don't put him in a choker collar and leash, get him to roll over and play dead, and follow obediently at your heels. That's not the God of Creation... that's Lassie...

So take a bite outta that...



Monday, July 14, 2008

Wilcox and Ariele

Worship at Journey had many notable elements last Sunday, including Dave Madden singing Cake's "The Palm of My Hand", listening to Nicole Nordeman's "What If", hearing excerpts from NPR interviews with noted scientists and opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum, Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins, Rick being brilliant as usual; and, a talk-back time with the community that asked them for questions they always felt were not allowed in church that got responses like, why do we talk about love and still live like bigots, why do we fell it necessary to still consider God masculine, why are we so afraid of homosexuality, why does God allow children to be abused and neglected, among many more. The highlights for me though were a great David Wilcox song, "Beyond Belief" sung by Judi Sawyer (check out Wilcox performing it himself on the youtube video) and Ariele (you can see her work at Saint Vespertine) poetry she wrote specifically for this service and sent it on to us.


I’m the question Mister; no more answers for the breadth of mortals
still unsure that something somewhere pale and mild will arrive to save
this day, tomorrow, eternity. Concerning the care with which you query,
there is no more hope than heart for this flesh foundry calling out
with carefully-crafted throats, thrush muscles mastered by hands neverseen.

Or how true is it?
Am I
Are we,
All is love and tragedy.

(And though chance’s cruel schooling
may convex our spines with sickly greenstick precision,
we’ll not contemplate stopping, stalking
sanctuary back-aisles, cellars and bell spires,
pressing tenderly the walls of these hallowed places to our palms--
with heads hanging bent, but hearts calling up,
we splinter-souled Quasimodos of hope.)

...There’s a place for you within my heart marked
with curlicue catastrophes, where cacophony
builds quickly like Babel, then collapses
in cool blue pools of neverknowing

Just another Sunday at Journey...



Sunday, July 6, 2008

Into the (Mild) Wild

I mow the grass...I play a little tennis...I even occasionally make a run by the batting cages to take a few cuts...and every night my trusty canine companion, Cleveland, and I take a stroll around the block. But even with that impressive list of outdoor activities, no one has ever accused me of being a woodsy, musky mountain man...until last week. My friend Sam Vaugh, on the other hand, is equally at home orienting an obscure mountain trail, shooting the rapids in an open kayak or sleeping under the stars at 13,000 feet on the side of a craggy peak ascent. Last week, Sam invited me to go with him to hang out at a mountain cabin beside the rushing Canojes River in Southern Colorado. Sam's family,(Bev, Matt and Hannah)usually accompany him every summer, but they had other commitments this summer so I got to go along. In addition to being a wilderness wizard, Sam is legitimately one of the kindest, most gentle men on the planet, so it was a genuine treat to get to spend a few days with him, period.

We rose every morning at 5:30 to ride down to the reservoir to fish for rainbow trout. We managed to catch plenty every morning to have fresh fish to eat every night. I am not a hunter...haven't picked up a gun to hunt since I was in college...It is not for particularly noble justification...I'm not very good at it, and getting up at the crack of dawn to freeze in the woods while I waste bullets didn't seem particularly fulfilling for me. I do enjoy fishing does seem a bit more sporting and I love to eat fish. We would return to the cabin, clean our catch and then have breakfast. The first morning after breakfast we put in our kayaks just near the cabin and floated several miles through moderately turbulent waters...I was exhausted after the run (Sam didn't even break a sweat) but even though I'm not much of a water guy, and the river kicked my butt, it was a blast. We ate lunch and then went for a 4 hour hike that challenged my wind and my terribly abused knees, but again a wonderful day. We had fish for supper, both read until around ten pm (no television, Internet or cell phones) and went to bed, marking the first time in recent or otherwise memory that I have been to bed that early.

We rose early to fish the next morning, returned to clean fish and eat breakfast as usual, packed a day pack with lunch and headed up the mountain for the waterfall. It was supposed to be a 5 hour hike. Unfortunately it has been a spring with high winds and many many trees were down blocking the regular trails and the addition of snow still on the paths made it difficult to follow the trail, even for a veteran hiker like Sam. We had left the cabin at 9:30 a.m and hit the head of the trail up the mountain about 10 a.m. Because of alternative routes and a particular side trek that left us several hundred feet above where we were supposed to be and the subsequent back-tracking necessary, it was about three when we finally reached the waterfall. I was gasping for air and favoring my knee. Sam asked about aborting several times to go back but I am pretty stubborn about such things so we pressed on until we made it. The view was spectacular. No... I mean really spectacular...and worth every wheeze and hobble. We arrived back at the foot of the trail around 6 p.m., turning this 5 hour hike into an 8 hour marathon. When we got back to the cabin I couldn't move. I haven't been this sore or exhausted since high school football and Sam was apologetic about the extended route and offered to let me have all of our remaining fish for supper and the very last beer. I, of course, didn't let him do that, mostly because I was too whipped to move. We had talked about another long hike the next day on our way out before we headed home, but I convinced Sam that I was a wimp and couldn't force my body to hike another mountain trail, so we agreed to drive back through Sante Fe and look for Green Chile enchiladas...which we did.

So...I had a great time, caught and ate some beautiful rainbow trout, abused my feeling-older-by-the-minute body, and and got to spend some wonderful days with one prince of man in my friend Sam Vaugh. All in was a pretty good week... the trout we consumed might disagree, but it will be one of those experiences that I will treasure for a long, long time...and Cleveland is about as wild a creature as I want to face for a little while. And thanks, is a privilege to be your friend...



Monday, May 26, 2008

Blast from the Past

So on Friday I headed east to the thriving metropolis of McCall Creek, Mississippi (m-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-hump back-hump back-i...for all of you baby boomer elementary school students) to play my part(along with my brother and sister) in a devious bit of subterfuge designed to throw a surprise 80th birthday party for my spunky little Cajun mom. For those of you not familiar with McCall Creek, it is a rural (wow, that is a gross understatement)community about 20 miles west of Brookhaven and about and hour south of Jackson along US Highway 84. There is a post office, a general store next to the lumber mill and the little New Salem Baptist Church...and that's it...really. My mom and dad moved there about 15 years ago from Baton Rouge after my dad retired from the chemical plant. Mom mom stayed there after my dad died in 2004 and has lived in a tiny little home in the middle of the woods. I thought after dad's death that she would want to move in with one of us and escape rural life. As a matter of fact, when they were about to move from Baton Rouge to McCall Creek, I asked her if she was okay with leaving the city and going to Mississippi. Her reply was, "when I left the bayou and the farm at 18, I left on purpose." So I knew she was going because dad wanted to go. At any rate, now she is solidly entrenched in the life of that little community and specifically in the life of that little church. She also feels a strange loyalty to the 45 or so acres that she and dad owned and wanted to always have to pass down to the three kids. That is very sweet and incredibly loyal to dad's legacy...but here's the reality. My sister and brother-in-law have lived for 30 years on property that his family owns in central Louisiana. My brother and sister-in-law, have lived in south Texas for the last 20 years and are in ministry and I don't ever see them moving to that area to serve...and both of their kids live in the Dallas area. As for me...I love Austin and don't have any desire to live anywhere else. But I digress...

So...the three of us plan this little soiree to surprise mom, and invited are family members form Louisiana, church members past and present form both states and a motley little crew of people who were pals and compadres of us three kids from our growing up days at Glen Oaks Baptist Church in Baton Rouge in the late 60's and early 70's. It was a great turnout, and a bunch of all of the afore-mentioned groups made the trek to little McCall Creek (we held it at the New Salem Baptist Church) bringing pot luck dishes aplenty and old stories and pictures to tell and retell. Mom was thrilled and blown away by the presence of faces she had not seen or heard from in years and to think that they had traveled all of this way to honor her was overwhelming. I was pleased and delighted at the crowd, and that it was a fitting living honor for a lady who loves Jesus with every fiber of her 4'11', 80 year old frame, and who not only knows how to pray better than anybody else I know, but genuinely cares more deeply than anyone else I know as well. But...and it is true confession time here...all of these people who were teenagers the last time I saw them...were old. I know...I'M OLD if they are even close to the same age I am, they are old too, but my mental pictures of them were all as teenagers in the 1960's. The truth is I was the oldest member of that crew, so they are probably all writing blogs about how old I looked, but...and this shouldn't surprise any of you...I don't feel as old as they looked. That's not a slam on them or their aging is just the truth...I can't possibly be 56...I know that is what the birth date on my driver's license adds up to, and I did actually get into the Arbor Cinema at the Senior Citizen's price last month, and I have been a member of AARP the last several years to get cheaper auto insurance rates...but those are extenuating circumstances. I am still a young man. I still go to the batting cages once a month and take three rounds of cuts on the 70mph machine, and still make good contact. My girls keep me listening to great music and I genuinely enjoy putting it beside my Beatles, Dylan, Eagles, and Simon and Garfunkel albums. The blast from the past was fun, it was entertaining, it was a connection back to much simpler times...not better necessarily, but important nonetheless. It did seem though, that some of those folks who were there were so enamored with the past, or maybe it was that they are so dissatisfied with the present, that they not only reveled in those memories, but that they longed to stay there and to rekindle the magic of yesteryear. I'm sorry, I like who I am today...I like where I am today...I like what God is doing in the family and the friends around me today...and a quick trip back in the time machine is a delightful break, but I don't want to live there. There is a line from and old Billy Crockett/Milton Brasher-Cunningham song called Walking on the Earth, that says, "...there is no practice life, this is it...". I believe it. I respect my brothers and sisters who believe in reincarnation, but there is no hope whatsoever for me in the notion that I have to keep coming back until I get it right. I honor and cherish the past, but I have been given this day...these relationships...these gifts...these injustices...these opportunities to make amends here and now for my mistakes, and this mercy, grace and forgiveness. I don't even like watching old ball games on ESPN Classic...the time is now... and to quote the the old CCR front man, John Fogerty, "Put me in coach...I'm ready to play..."



Saturday, May 17, 2008

Axe of God?

Wednesday evening Calla and I were returning to Austin from Arlington with the old-school truck loaded to the gills with her college apartment paraphernalia and a tarp appropriately protecting the semi-precious cargo from the elements. All was well until we cleared Waco and began to hear emergency reports on the radio warning of gale-force winds, softball-sized hail, and funnel-cloud activity all up and down the I-35 corridor from Temple to Austin...only the exact route we were traveling. We kept driving...I know...I know...kinda stupid, but I figured that the only way the weather was better was where we had just left and I didn't want to go back there...and the bad weather was supposed to stay in the area for another 3-4 hours, so on we went. Part of my stubbornness is attributed to dad was particularly mule-like in many ways, and my momma didn't raise no fool, but she sure missed a good chance. I got my driver's license when I was 15 in Louisiana and was driving way before then. I have driven broken down old school buses loaded with kids cross-country, towed trailers full of sound equipment on icy mountain passes headed to and from youth camp and made more 25-30 hour non-stop driving treks than I can count. So...what's a little inclimate weather, right?

As we got close to Temple the rain began to fall in torrents and I had to slow to 45 miles an hour just to see the road in front of me. The wind began to come in gusts that were being reported in the 60-75 mph range. Every half hour I had to find a covered place to pull over because the wind was blowing so hard it was tearing the grommets away from the tie-downs on the tarp. As we entered Temple I managed to position myself between two semis who didn't seem to mind that they were shielding me from the brutal wind. I was concentrating on the road, so I didn't notice immediately when the truck on my right peeled off to take a different highway just outside of Belton. What I did notice came a minute later when a huge gust of wind literally picked my truck up and set it down about 3 feet to the left...right where the other semi that had been escorting me was sitting. Fortunately the same burst of wind moved him a little as well...I don't think you could get a piece of paper between the space between my driver's side mirror and the side of his rig. I looked over and I think his eyes were as big as mine as I managed to slide back over into my side of the dotted line. About that time a brilliant cloud to ground lightning strike hit and I saw a monstrous wall of rain and wind off to the right that looked like it was out of the movie "Twister". From that moment on I kept expecting to see random objects flying toward me like in the movie; cows, tanker trucks, whole trees, Starbuck's billboards that talk to your cup holders... but it was just lots of rain, occasional hail and a number of "low" water crossings where curiously, the water was very "high"...go figure.

Obviously we made it home, the tarp was in shambles and we had to dry out the mattress, but other than the truck driver and I having a fear connection, we fared well. Others were not so fortunate, with Hannah's best friend (who just graduated from the Engineering School last night...congrats Kate!) having a window blown out of their apartment near the UT campus and other property damage here in Central Texas. Tornadoes and flooding have destroyed lives and property across the United States in the last two weeks. The devastating consequences of the cyclone in Myanmar and the earthquake in Southern China are almost too incredible to get your head around.

While the insurance companies refer to these things as "acts of God", I can't help wonder, global warming and depletion of the ozone layer notwithstanding, what the response of people who claim to "act like God", should be. We certainly are to respond to the suffering and need of the victims, that is a given...but there has got to be a deeper, basic, systemic response as well for those of us who claim to value all of the created world...not just our narcissistic navel gazing. For God so loved the WORLD...



Monday, May 5, 2008

Idiota De Mayo

Today is Cinco De Mayo, and here in Austin there have been festivities all weekend in preparation for a lively celebration that is not limited to the Hispanic population in this city that never unweirds. However, my singular most memorable Cinco De Mayo reflection has little to do with the holiday, and is actually fairly embarrassing... so it is only fitting that I tell you about it. Three years ago, my middle daughter, Hannah, was living in West Oakland, California, working with an organization called Mission Year. She and five other young adults had committed a year to live, work, play and love their neighbors in The Lower Bottoms, one of the toughest inner cities in America. Hannah decided to make this commitment right out of high school, she was 18... her five housemates, two other young women and three young men were all 22 and younger, and operated under the motto of Mission Year, "Love God...Love people... Nothing else matters". Hannah had been living in Oakland since August of 2004, so she only had about four months remaining, and her birthday was approaching. Driving to work on that Cinco De Mayo 2005, It occurred to me that it was her birthday and I had forgotten to call her. I knew she got up early since she was working every day as a teacher's aide in a kindergarten class there in West Oakland, so I decided I would just leave her a message that she would probably get later in the day. I drove in to work, sat down and wrote down some lame birthday lyrics to the tune of La Bamba (I think) and left her this dramatic, marginally funny birthday message. It was later that afternoon that I realized, Hannah's birthday is not the 5th of is the 10th of May. Yeah...I know, I'm an idiot. I can't even remember my daughter's birthday...So I now I have to call her back and admit that I have forgotten that her birthday is not for another five days, and as soon as she picks up the phone she is laughing because she knows I know that I have screwed up. She forgives me...after telling me she has played it for about 50 people who know know for sure (not that they didn't already suspect it) that her dad is a goober. Of course, five days later I called and sang her another song to the tune of The Beatles' "You Say It's Your Birthday" because how could I not sing for her actual birthday?

So there it is...I managed to not call her here on Cinco De Mayo 2008 and still have several days to write this year's musical tribute to the woman, the myth, the legend that is Hannah...I'm thinking a nice Hannah Montana tune might be appropriate... naw...not a chance.

Happy Birthday Hannah!



Monday, April 28, 2008

Yael Naim - Far, Far

"Take a deep breath and dive...there's a beautiful mess inside"



Saturday, April 12, 2008

Connecting the Dots...

"It takes one hundred billion interconnected cells to conjure up a coherent story of the world. But if neuroscience concludes anything, it’s that sensing and feeling and thinking and perceiving and hundreds of other seemingly separate processes are all conjoined in a huge, dynamic, and continuously revised narrative network. The brain is the ultimate storytelling machine, and consciousness is the ultimate story. Our neurons tell our selves into being." - Richard Powers

The last three weeks have been a little disorienting...that's one of the reasons I haven't blogged. First there was Easter...and while the jokes trickle out about it being the church's Super Bowl, there is a sense of this season for me, even aside from me in my minister's disguise, that always leaves me trying to recover from spiritual jet lag...if there is such a thing. Then my younger brother had to have two blockages stinted from the major blood vessel in the heart...and the well meaning friends of his in the room look at me and say..."don't heart issues generally run in the family?" Thanks...I was not aware of that tidbit of medical insight...just strap me on the gurney now as soon as he's done with it and get it over with. Then on Tuesday his daughter (and my niece) gave birth to her first child... a beautiful girl named, Lily. My niece had been on doctor's ordered bed rest for the last two months...Precious little Lily had been having some issues and baby momma was having to be very careful...but, everything turned out beautifully. On Thursday I went out to Blue Rock Texas, this remarkable artist's retreat and recording studio that was the brainchild and birthchild of Billy and Dodee Crockett . They do a house concert there once a month and some of the finest singer/songwriter/poet/canvas artists in the world have performed there. This month it was the New Agrarians, a super group of sorts with Pierce Pettis, Tom Kimmel and Kate Campbell...all established, respected and gifted singer songwriters in their own right...but couldn't wait. I have heard Pierce and Tom lots of times but only knew of Kate's work on CD. I was not disappointed..they were funny, and insightful and Tom also read some of his poetry, and vocally and musically they were in a groove.

It was close to the end of the first set Thursday night when I became aware that something was sneaking up on me in that room. I came to enjoy music and see friends, but as Pierce, Tom and Kate sang song after song about life in the South, I began to get pulled back involuntarily to the pictures, sounds, smells, voices, heartaches and glories of growing up in South Louisiana in the 50's and 60's. It is not that I ever really have given much thought to discarding those days as an unfortunate prison of ignorance and runaway bigotry...but the truth is, I can talk fondly about Cajun culture and share the recipe for my mom's seafood gumbo...and even tell stories about sneaking out to go see the some of spectacular black marching bands of the 60's at Southern University, Florida A&M University and Grambling. about getting bootlegged tickets to see James Brown (yes...THE James Brown) and being the only white faces in the arena, but, the reality is that those days were dots I wanted to selectively connect, while leaving out some of the others. The mosaic of landscape and experience, the quilt of personalities and nightmares, brought a growing crescendo of memories that made me both ashamed and deeply proud. Sitting at age 6 or 7 on the porch of my Cajun grandmother and grandfather's white frame house at the edge of the bayou in White Castle, Louisiana... drinking coffee out of demitasse cup of coffee so strong that it was three parts milk, two parts sugar and one part coffee, while my 7 uncles (my mom's brothers) all played zydeco music complete with accordions, steel guitar, harmonica, acoustic guitars, electric guitar, and drum kit...It was fabulous, and I was treated to a an imaginative reunion concert in my head while I listened to Pierce, Tom and Kate play on.

Tonight I read an interview with novelist Richard Powers concerning his latest work, The Echo Maker, that was passed along to me by my friend, Bob. It was this line "it’s that sensing and feeling and thinking and perceiving and hundreds of other seemingly separate processes are all conjoined in a huge, dynamic, and continuously revised narrative network" that got me to thinking about the connectedness of all the events of the last three weeks. Donald Miller, in "Searching For God Knows What" contends that perhaps the reason narrative is so intricately intertwined into our existence is that God, the Creator, purposely designed the hardware of his creation, not for robot-like obedience, but flesh and blood improv players in the great story and stage.

Today I performed the wedding for a young woman a who was in the youth group I served a number of years ago. She was kidnapped by her estranged father as a preschooler and didn't see her mother again until over a decade later, when in novella-like fashion, a random correspondence led to the revelation of her whereabouts and her ensuing rescue. She literally had to be reintroduced to normal teenage existence and her mom, faithful school officials and loving church volunteers patiently helped her take baby steps back to normality, and then to graduate from high school and then from college... and today I got the privilege of officiating her wedding.

So what is the connection between civil rights songs of the 60's and a baby being born in 2008? What does listening to a family front porch zydeco band have to do with my brother's heart surgery? What does watching the Drum Major from Florida A&M raise his scepter to the sky and lean back so far that the tip of his fuzzy hat touch the ground behind him, and a wedding in Austin, Texas have to do with each other? It's the is my is our is the STORY...that lives deep inside of every living creature, painted indelibly by the Artist, and recounted in the depths of the soul by the Storyteller.

Once upon a time...



Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Delusion God...

So I'm sitting in the entryway at Journey a little after midnight greeting folks who are here for a slice of time in our annual Easter prayer vigil. We start on 3 p.m. on Good Friday and go through 8 a.m. on Easter morning. Different folks sign up to take anywhere from a half hour to two hours praying. The other thing you need to know is that since we began doing this two years ago, Steve Fenech has created some amazing environments for prayer during these times. Two years ago we had a guided path of multicolored fabrics that led to a meditative candle-lit room. Last year Steve and his crew created a labyrinth to walk with stations a long the way. This year he has created a path to walk that is sand for one third of the path, dirt and soil for another third and sod/grass for the final third. The pray-ers take off their shoes and socks to walk, and there are marked stations along the way to guide the is beautiful, and folks come out from their time moved and in some cases with tears because of the power of their time there.

Which brings me to my query...On Wednesday Calla, Brian Hill and Bob Carlton and I attended a book signing at that wonderful Austin independent book store called BookPeople. The author was Richard Dawkins, the author of "The God Delusion". The place was packed and Dawkins did not disappoint as he delivered his apologetic for his own particular brand of atheism and disdain for religion of all shapes and sizes, but in particular, Christianity. He is a brilliant, well-read, passionate, funny, articulate ambassador for unbelief and it is no wonder his is the public face and voice of the anti-religion movement. He has been interview on public radio and television, on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report and has a huge following and readership. I can understand why...some of his criticism of the church and religion is warranted...many of his accusations of intolerance and bigotry aimed at organized religion are dead on accurate. I found myself wishing there was such an articulate voice from the God Squad who could speak intelligently as an advocate for Jesus and his followers who was also not a misogynist, bigoted jerk...who spoke and lived like Jesus...with love. I still think Dawkins has thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and when he gets to the nuances of issues like Christians and Jews who accept evolution as the work of an Intelligent Designer, he resorts to double speak, dismissive generalities and a rather sad resignation to a nihilist inevitability. But he is very good, and I enjoyed listening to him.

So just as I am ready to chalk the time listening to this able ambassador for atheism as beneficial but off target, I watch ABC's Nightline that very evening and they are running a story about a group of fundamentalist men who take children to the museum to look at the exhibits concerning the formation of the earth and the development of man and using those displays to teach creationism and biblical inerrancy. Dawkins was right...again...the world is full of idiots and many of them flaunt their ignorance in the name of religion. I performed a wedding tonight out at Horseshoe Bay before I drove back into town to take my shift a the warehouse. It was a delightful night with a delighful young couple, but sitting at the reception , I got into an interesting discussion with a man simply because he knew I was a minister and he wated to debate theology. I'm perfectly willing to do so...I certainly am not a Biblical texts expert, but I know some crap and enjoy every now and then talking about the crap I know. Except tonight, because again, Dawkins was right...there really does seems to be a delusion in force, and it comes not as a delusion about there being a god...but rather in the delusion of some who follow God who think that they are God...or at least they know him well enough that they can speak for him and pass judgement on all who don't agree with their rules...not God's mind you...their rules. I really don't blame Dawkins...he has plenty of case studies to prove his point...BUT...I watch these folks come out of the room from their time with God, and there is no doubt, intellectual or otherwise, that they have encountered a mysterious, unpredictable, un-tameable spirit being and no clinical research, scientific hypotheses, or categorical deniability could convince me otherwise... There may be another kind of delusion at work here...but I'll let Dawkins figure that one out for himself...



Friday, March 7, 2008

And, Oh Yeah...Pack a Little Courage

The South by Southwest Film Festival began today, so since I was at a meeting in downtown Austin at noon today I couldn't help but notice the 6th Street/Congress area getting that festival vibe again. There were celebs everywhere including Morgan Fairchild, Luke Wilson, Mike Judge, ZZ Top, Mariska Hargitay, and those were just the ones getting a soy latte at Progress Coffee. While I don't have the cash to get a film festival badge, I always peruse the Chronicle to get a description of as many of the films as I can...The critics and festival goers are anticipating the viewing of such movies as "21", "Baghead", "American Teen", "Goliath", and "Lou Reed's Berlin" to name a few... There are a couple more that I know of that are not getting the critic's buzz, yet, I am really interested in how they do. They both have to do with the subject of human trafficking and, in my mind the display of great courage. Justin Dillon, who along with "Not For Sale's" Dave Batstone were at Journey in September to share the call to respond to the international issue of human slavery. If you remember Justin was working on a documentary film entitled "The Concert to End Slavery" which included interviews and music performances by writers, musicians, politicians, actors and actresses. We got to see excerpts from the film which was in progress...well Justin is having his first screening of TCTES this Wednesday March 12 at The Village Alamo Drafthouse. Our buddy, Brandon Demaris, has been talking with an Austin filmmaker who is showing a documentary this week in which he spent several years chronicling the story of several young boys who were forced to become child soldiers in Uganda.

One of the interesting aspects of immersing oneself in the story of the last days of Jesus' ministry is the inescapable realization that he began facing the inevitability that his refusal to play by accepted standard religious operating procedure was going to get him killed. Before the spectacular raising of his friend Lazarus from the dead, the scriptures tell us that while talking to Lazarus bereaved sisters "Jesus wept". I believe that he partly wept because he loved his friends, and when your friends are sad, you are sad...even if you know you are about to bring one of them back to life. But I also think that it could have been more than that...I think Jesus knew that if he does this public magic, and does the unthinkable...reclaim someone from the grave and put them back among the breathing...he has crossed the point of no return with the Jewish religious leaders...they will kill him to silence him. A few days later around a campfire in Caesarea Phillipi, Jesus drops the foreboding bombshell by telling them that they are going to head for Jerusalem and Passover...and when they get there, he will be killed. To which Simon Peter responds.."Well that's a no-brainer, we just won't go to Jerusalem!" Jesus' corresponding words are some of the most passionate and emotion filled in all the scripture as he screams at Peter, "Get behind me Satan!" Courage...the courage to make films about human be brave and courageous to take the steps to stamp out human slavery...the amazing courage to risk your life to escape being trafficked in the 21st century. The courage it takes today to live like Jesus in a world that killed him once and would do it again if it had the chance. Love rattles the cages of power. Courage gives a voice to love even in the very moment it is being betrayed and bought off for 30 pieces of silver...or less. Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor says, "Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." Martin Luther King Jr., said, "Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question,'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right."

As we travel the Lenten Journey together, our path is headed straight for Jerusalem and to sure opposition and danger. Courage is not the absence of fear or is proceeding to follow the voice of God in spite of the presence of fear and anxiety. Jesus wept, and then set his face toward Jerusalem. Not sure where you are headed tomorrow, but I pray for your courage to love in the face of hate and evil...and that you will be joined by a bunch of us who pledge to walk and love with you.