Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Where I Live 5.0

Racing down the one straight-stretch road of any distance in these mountains, racing against the school-bus schedule to get my friend home in time to greet her daughter, my friend noted the smell and smoke coming from my car.



I had just put in a quart of transmission fluid that morning, hoping against hope somehow that I could continue to limp along.

Alas, it was not to be.

We bought some time cranking up the heat and slowing down – but not much.

Get to the corner of 84! Melissa cried.

We’re not going to make it! I've got to pull over now!  I responded.

But just then we crested a small rise and there was the corner of 84.  I put the car in neutral and we coasted in to the parking space in front of the house there.  Without a word, Melissa hopped out of the car, ran into the house and came back 2 seconds later with keys to the van in hand.  Off we flew to get Maggie, arrange for a tow, pick up Melissa’s car and drive back to the house at the corner of 220 and 84 and sit down for a visit with Carlton & Patsy, owners of the van.

Where I live, when your car starts to go, you do all you can to get to the house of someone you know – so that you can run into their house unannounced, say “car keys” with no further explanation and without remark be given the keys.  Because where I live, you see, the one being asked knows all they need to because they know the one asking.  A stranger would get a ride, but a neighbor gets the keys.


The more car-astute among you will correctly note that I said I put transmission fluid in the car.  What I didn’t say is that I put it in the radiator.  Sigh.  That’s right: I put transmission fluid in the radiator.  Poor car, you deserved better.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Peace with Me

I am my own worst friend
and best enemy

is it that way with you?

I love and hate me all at once
and it is not good

for the voices in my head
ringing the I’m-not-worthy
repeating knell are not mine
and not God’s – no, they are
yours – and whether you think
so or not, I hear them loud
and I hear them clear

and I know better than to
heed them but in the just
now of things when the armor
is worn thin and the body and
mind are tired, I have no
defense, no safe haven I can
find even as I know it’s there

like the other night when
sleep driven I could not find
the door knob in the dark
(who loses the door knob
in the dark?)

still, even, yet, but, though
the voices be yours, the
war is not with you but
with me – the struggle
is not to defeat you but
me – the worst casualties
are not yours but my own –
as I take on board your
vision of the me I know
and in taking on, forget
the me God knows, loves
and proclaims good

isn’t that a sin?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sermon Cliff Note: Love, Love, Love

READING:  John 13.31-35

Like The Band Perry says in their song Done, “Mama always told me I should to play nice but she didn’t know you when she gave me that advice.”

Aren’t you tired of the demand that we keep on loving each other?  I know I am.

Wouldn’t it just be so much easier to retreat into our bunkers of safety with all our food supplies and hunker down for a bit away from the storms?  Wouldn’t it be easier not have to worry about our neighbors and the hungry and the poor and the sick and the lonely and each other. . . and . . . and . . . and?  Wouldn’t it be easier to disappear into a television show, a video game, a sporting event, hours on the computer or any of the million other ways we have to tune out?  Wouldn’t it be easier to ignore it all?  Wouldn’t it be easier just not to care?


It would be easier – so much easier.

So what’s in it for us?

Nothing at all.

You may labor silently doing good works and never receive a thank you and you know you should do it for the work, but sometimes, a thank you would be nice, wouldn’t it?  But you absolutely cannot expect that because thank you is not part of the bargain.

You may put more money in the collection plate than anyone else, but the preacher doesn’t even look, so you will never be noted, let alone noticed for all your effort.

You may do good deeds for others only to have them resent you for it because they hate having to need the help and confuse the helper for the need.

You may play and preach and read and sing and only be noticed when you strike a wrong note.

And it’s not much consolation that Jesus took a crucifixion so that you could have the privilege of being treated badly, is it?

So long as the act, the sacrifice is about you, it will always fail to nourish.

Love has to be done for the other.  Has to be.  It is the one certain thing in life that must be given away, thrown away, wasted away, always away.  And maybe then there will be a return on the investment – but it’s a return for the other, not for you.  And there is a part of that that stinks.

After all, who invests their own money so that a stranger can earn the interest?  That’s just downright crazy talk.

But that’s what love, Christian love, Jesus love, is.  It’s investing for someone else to earn the interest.

Why, then, love?  Because you’re supposed to.  Because God said so.  And God is, after all, in charge.

Never doubt that it’s hard.  Jesus is really clear about that. . . we would do well to listen to the one who took the command to love right to the cross . . . Love, says Jesus, looks like surrender . . . like submission . . . like dining with enemies . . . like exposing your underbelly to an enemy’s knife . . . like being the hated one . . . like hanging out with the uncoolest of the cool . . . like making friends with losers . . . like being the butt of everyone’s joke . . . like understanding that God cares about the cruelest as much as God cares about you . . . like not arguing every point . . . love looks a lot like work . . . because it is.

Don’t do it so that you’ll get to heaven.  You’ve already got a seat on that bus.  You do it not so you get to heaven.  You do it so they get there too.

When challenged about his own welcome of the unwelcome, Peter simply says who am I to hinder God?  

That friends, is why we love.

We love because who are we not to?


Like eating, I tend
to talk when I’m happy . . .
and when I’m sad

when I’m energized . . .
and when I’m tired . . .

when I’m healthy . . .
and when I’m sick . . .

It’s the constant of
this being me amid
all the variables –
I sort my life and
by voice

So it is the silence
that is the surprise

silence does live
within this soul I call mine
the sitting kind of silence
that welcomes the day
like an old friend on
the front porch

Yet there is a chasm
of difference between

Silenced I am
in the face of
that which I cannot

where the fathoms
and I do not meet –

there –

that’s the silenced place

garden-variety cruelty
it isn’t – no, it’s the
the one that comes
bidden or unbidden –
just like God –
in the place that was
wide open, hoping
for something else

not all surprises are good

Saturday, April 27, 2013

I Have Nothing to Offer

Most days I’m sure there’s no devil
no external power convincing me
to the bad that I do against my own
otherwise desires . . . most days

but some days I doubt – it comes
in ways peculiarly suited to me,
this doubt – convincing me I have
nothing to offer – nothing anyone
would or should or could want
to know, to hear, to learn

those days I should just go back to bed

Friday, April 26, 2013

There's a War a-Comin'

Can you feel it?
The winds of war are in the air
no one yet bands together
to begin the songs of hope
and opposition that are the
sure signs that war is upon us,
but upon us it is

and this time, it’s name is Syria

and the Republocrats
and the Democans
band together
for war makes common
cause of us all (well, almost)

the case is making and made
righteousness walks the land
concern for brothers we do
not know the justness of whose
cause we cannot weigh become
our pole star

and I sit and wonder why
it is so much easier
so much more necessary
to kill those who kill
than to protect those
who would be killed

is it really so simple
that all the big boys and
girls can so easily turn
fodder into money? as they
align to arm one against the

do the reasons matter as we
align and realign and realign
yet again to wage yet another
blood bath in that part of the
world my own people call
the Middle where the only
centrality we can find is the
desire, the need, the rage,
to kill and kill and kill again?

I want to tell God we’re better than this.
Seems I was wrong – again.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Swords and Plowshares

The sword ends half way down the hilt
the pointed end of the plow sticks out
solder joins the two – more sword
and plowshare joined at the hip
than one turned into the other

and somehow this image stays intact,
more real, than the melding other
of biblical proportions . . .

and so it is that the hands squeezing
around my neck do not so much
melt as meld into love and peace

peace - a concept bound and defined
by its opposite – no violence, we’ve
no need, no desiring, for this thing
we call peace . . .

What do I do with that?
I remember the violence
and I remember that I survived it.
And that, at least, for now, is good.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Birds Insist

The birds insist I get up
and greet the new day
for they will give me
no rest – their symphony
erupting, as it does, into
the morning sub-conscious
strata of my oh-so-happy-
to-be-in-a-warm-bed mind

I jump up like a ninja
I’ve still got it!
and fall gracefully
back into the warmth

Sunday beckons and
I will get up – just
not yet, not now

but the birds insist

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Vigils & Bombs

It felt bad – real bad – last night to be watching moment-by-moment developments in Watertown.  If I lived there, I’d need to know.  But as it was, I truly felt like a voyeur.  And I had to remind myself that these were events about real people unfolding in real time.

With that reminder, I was able to do the one constructive thing I had to offer – pray.  And so I prayed – for the young man probably still a boy in many ways . . . for the police . . . for the folks living there ejected from their homes or ‘sheltering in place’ (such a benign-sounding phrase for being held hostage to a situation not of their own making) . . . for a peaceful end to such a horrific beginning . . .

Thus did my watching move away from atavistic curiosity to vigil.

And thus did I give thought to those all over the world living with such dangers every day.  Having spent some time in Baghdad, I considered the difference of bombings that happen daily versus those that happen so rarely.

As a civilian in Baghdad where bombings are a regular and often daily occurrence, you stop briefly to
determine where, in relation to you, the bombing happened.  When the first one goes off, if it’s close, you retreat because experience has taught you that another is coming soon.  In the immediate aftermath, you only go closer to help the wounded if you’re already so close that you know you can’t run far enough fast enough.

And if it’s some distance away, you simply resume what you were doing before the blast after checking to find out where it was and calling those you know in that area to make sure they’re okay.  And if you’re a praying person, you offer up a prayer as you go about your life.

Like anything else, violence quite easily becomes a norm to which we adapt.  That isn’t to say it doesn’t change us – it does.  But the needs and desires of day-to-day life simply work themselves around the reality, much like a tree engrafts a rock into its root system.

The only problem is I’m not sure which is the rock and which is the tree.

So today I pray for all the peoples of the world: Lord, enable and empower we human beings to work, to strive, to dedicate ourselves to make violence such a rare thing that no one need adapt themselves to its reality, its demands, its reactions.  May fear find no place in our lives.  May vengeance be left to You.  May all children grow into the reality You dream of for us all.  May it begin with me.

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Top 12 Favorite Musicians

In no particular order, my favorite makers of the magic that is music:

1. Beethoven - what can I say?  A deaf man who ‘hears’ the way he did is not magic, but miraculous and always prompts me to wonder at where the music comes from.
2. Leonard Cohen - love his voice and his words
3. Lyle Lovett - same with Cohen.  And I love the stories he tells in song.
4. Emmy Lou Harris - she makes me cry
5. The Boss - anyone who can make a white t-shirt a fashion statement while singing the rhythms of your being has got to be on the list
6. Andrew Lloyd Weber - I’m a sucker for show tunes
7. Midnight Oil - music and politics - a powerful mix.  And to my kids, by the way, which one of you has my CD?
8. Jack’s Mannequin - songs written out of pain and sung with pathos
9. Bonnie Raitt - a gal who rocks
10. Willie Nelson - isn’t it obvious?
11. Johnny Cash - definitely an acquired taste of my old age, but what a fine, fine, wine
12. YoYo Ma - introduced me to classical music as fun

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Bombs of Our Own Making

I think on what happened in Boston and want to ask who does that to children?  Who does that to anybody?

But the truth is we all do, all the time.  All the time we plant bombs, with little regard to the fallout, to who will be injured.

Think not?  Consider your own behaviors just this month.  This month, have you spoken an unkind word about one person to another?  Whether it is true is beside the point.  Have you taken a thought for how your words will affect the other person’s judgment and interactions with the one you spoke about?  Have you considered how your words, whether true or not, will affect the one about whom you spoke?

I confess I have spoken such words and I have not given them such thought.  I have not considered how those words will shape how others see the person spoken of.  I have not considered the damage done.

That’s the problem with bombs, even word bombs.  We don’t know who will be there when the blast goes off.  We don’t know the extent of the carnage we will leave behind.  We do know there will be carnage – after all, we planted the bomb.

And so this week, while I mourn the dead and wounded in Boston, I am rededicated to searching out and defusing the bombs of my own making, for I too am a bombmaker.

How about you?

Monday, April 15, 2013

It's Tax Day: A Lament

It’s April 15, the deadline in the United States for the filing of individual tax returns and the annual settling of accounts between the citizenry and its government.

At heart, I am a tax protestor.  Not because I don’t want to pay nor because I quibble with the stewardship of our monies (both are true of me but not my primary motivator when it comes to federal taxes).

Rather, I am a pacifist work-in-progress (daily failing to live up to my own ideal).  Thus do I begrudge the military dollars we as a nation spend.

When the war waged against the people of Iraq was in high gear, AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) had a white paper that noted the amount of the US federal budget dedicated to military spending: 42 cents of every tax dollar.

Today I received an e-mail from Peace Action, which states in part, “As we file our taxes, fifty-seven cents of every dollar spent in the annual discretionary budget feeds the Pentagon.”

It may be a question of wording.  I certainly hope so.  I hope that the already large proportion of federal tax dollars dedicated to the military has not increased in the last ten years.

Logic would dictate that it’s far cheaper to not be engaged in war than to be.  And the US maintains that it is no longer engaged in war in Iraq and is winding down its involvement in Afghanistan.

If this is true, why would the Pentagon require yet more of the federal pie, both in raw dollars and in the percentage of the total?

Presumably, the replacement of the materials of war has been an on-going effort since 2002, so it’s not as if we must start from scratch to replace tanks and planes and bullets expended in Iraq and Afghanistan, for surely most of that work has already been done.

I suspect that what is happening is an ever-increasing remit to the military: in addition to the protection of our borders and the nefarious protection of ‘our interests’ abroad, the big money is going to things like drones, satellite surveillance, spy planes, cyber war, and whatever else anyone employed there can imagine.

Who is left to quantify the cost-benefit of the spending of these monies?

Decades ago, as he left office (shame on him for not doing something about it when he actually had the power to), then President Eisenhower warned the nation to beware of the power of the military-industrial complex.  It was an important warning and one that we as a people have continued to ignore.

It’s difficult to cut back on military bases and civilian contracts to the military sector not only because of the felt need for protection but also because the people of the nation have come to have a vested interest in their continuation by way of jobs and aid to local economies.

Prior to WWII, we were largely a nation that ramped up production of military hardware as and when needed for direct conflict rather than in anticipation thereof.  This approach helped significantly to minimize our felt need for what these industries provide.

But now, if my job is dependent upon this industry, of course I will perceive the industry as ‘essential’.  It’s almost impossible to argue against my own economic interests.  And it’s equally hard to hear any challenge on the moral front to these activities when that’s how I make my living.

Military production is a moral as well as economic compromise.  And it is costly.

And thus I am left to wonder at my more conservative Christian friends, who all too often in my view, rush to the naming of personal sin as the root cause of attacks against and the sufferings of us as a nation, but are troublingly silent in naming our collective sins, such as the sins of national hubris or pride, our collective violation of the commandments against killing another, coveting what another has, stealing (or taking by force, which is the same thing, really) from another, and failing to tell the truth, all of which we do through the offices of our military adventures around the world.

It’s tax day and I am a coward.  Thus like most of us, I will pay Caesar more than what Caesar is owed, because I am not prepared to go to prison not to.

It is tax day and my hands and my conscience too are bloody.