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May 2004

April 2004

Some Introspection

Today was a tough day. I got to work with the intention of getting a powerpoint slideshow done for the Youth End-of-Year Banquet this Sunday night. This would involve scanning a bunch of photos (I had some stuff digital, but not everything). Well, in the last 6 weeks we've gotten all this new computer equipment. So, scanning should have been loads easier than what we had had. Used to I'd have to scan onto Susan's computer and burn a disc and then transfer to the computer I wanted to work on. Today we couldn't get the new fancy piece of equipment to scan properly. When we finally got that working (or figured out how to do it, after numerous phone calls to the techies who gave us a separate set of directions than the manuals or the directions they'd left before), we then discoverd that we couldn't retrieve them on my computer (all the stuff had not been installed) and that though the stuff was installed on Susan's, we couldn't retrieve them. The techies had to come out twice (three people total) before we got the problem figured out, around 3 p.m., when I had hoped to have this part of my work day done by 10.

In the process of the problems with the new equipment, I tracked down the old scanner, the chords weren't with it. Found some that would work after 30 minutes of looking in 3 or 4 places and numerous boxes of equipment that hasn't been moved back to the offices yet. Then realized I couldn't use it on my computer because the box of all our old software (with the scanner's driver) was missing. Then I took it to Ray's computer, which used to be Susan's, but somehow the program wasn't working on their, something happened to it during the moving around of the computers.

After growing increasingly grumbly and belligerent, I at one point threw some pictures across the room (like a four year old) and went outside to sit and cool down.

Okay, I'm not proud of this, quite ashamed in fact. And it troubles me in a lot of ways. For most of my adult life I've been a very laid-back person. I've been pretty stoic about everything but silly stuff (like tv shows, and then I'm non-stoic for the entertainment value). Even Marty said once that I was stoic when it came to the stuff that mattered, and I believe him. But, for some reason, as I'm getting older and more mature in some ways, I'm going backward in this matter. When I was young I had a violent temper. People used to laugh at me when I told them that, because they couldn't imagine it. I thought I had habituated myself out of the temper (the last bad outburst was on family vacation in 1992, sorry Kelli). Is my temper coming back? In recent months I have become increasingly prone to anger, frustration, stress, and sometimes even outburst. What's going on?

I think some of it is the accumulation of lots of stress in recent months. But for some reason I can't handle it this time like I usually have in the past. For example, each time I've bought a house, the situation with the processes involved had always turned bad at some point, but I've pretty much always kept my calm (to my own detriment in the buying of my first house in '98). And these situations always involved lots of really big issues, including potential financial ruin. So, I handled those okay.

And why this concerns me the most . . . oh wait, I just thought of another reason, I'll get to it in a moment. The first reason is that this is not the person I want to be. I used to tell my ethics classes, when studying virtue ethics, that you have to pick the kind of person you want to be and practice becoming that person, habituating yourself over time. I've always wanted to be, as an older man, the calm, cool, collected, guy who people listen to when he speaks, because he doesn't speak all the time. You know that guy. Ray Vickrey, for instance, is something like that; I'd love to be more like Ray. Or like the Van der Luydens in The Age of Innocence, or the image of the virtuous man in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. But, alas, I'm beginning to wonder if my temperment will never allow me to become that.

The concern that popped into my head a bit ago is this -- my Dad had quite a temper. It's where I got mine. And this is definitely one way in which I do not aspire to be like my father. I guess in some ways we can't help becoming like our parents. But I hope I can avoid this one.

So, there's the introspection.

The Gospel is Inherently Political

Hauerwas & Willimon write:

Christianity is mostly a matter of politics -- politics as defined by the gospel. The call to be part of the gospel is a joyful call to be adopted by an alien people, to joing a countercultural phenomenon, a new polis called the church. The challenge of the gospel is not the intellectual dilemma of how to make an archaic system of belief compatible with modern belief systems. The challenge of Jesus is the political dilemma of how to be faithful to a strange community, which is shaped by a story of how God is with us.

In the late 80's and early 90's I was turned off by the increasing level of politics in the conservative churches I had grown up in. That was part of what turned me to being a moderate. H & W write that there has historically been a public and a private church. The public church was mostly the mainline Protestants who had long been advocates for social issues. The private church was mostly the evangelical church that had stayed out of politics. I was raised in this private church idea. But the evangelical church has become quite the public church in the last 20 years.

Over the last three years of serving as a full-time minister I have come to conclude that the fundamentalists were right on this issue -- the gospel is inherently political. There is no way to live as a disciple of Jesus the Christ without confronting the political and social issues of one's day. It is because we are proposing a radically different way to live and a radically different way to be a community. Some have always understood this -- Christian abolitionists, Walter Rauschenbusch, the African-American churches, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoller, and the German Confessing Church, brave Southern ministers in the Civil Rights era, Mother Theresa, Riverside Church in New York, Bishop Tutu and the fight against apartheid, Habitat for Humanity, etc.

Clearly the church has failed over time to live up to being the embodiment of Christ. Clearly, we have not all lived as disciples. Clearly we also disagree on doctrine and practice -- there are on-going debates within the church. We can disagree on our politics -- as Southern Christians did during the Civil Rights era -- but we turn the attention of our Biblical scholarship and our theology to these issues and often we conclude what the proper interpretation of Jesus is.

What I'm saying here does not conflict with my view that the administration is wrongly using religious language and concepts to justify its positions. Living in a secular, civil society and then taking a position of leadership in that society compels us to not hold dogmatically to our view as the only right one and to not air our religion to the point of offending another. When I am in a civic, secular setting and am asked to pray I pray differently than I do in a Sunday school class or than I do at home in person.

Nor am I saying that the church should try to control the state or legislate its views. This would violate the sacred-to-Baptists separation of church and state. Plus it would involve the church in the sin of Constantianism that long plagued it. Since Constantine made the church the official religion of the Empire, the church had the state and the culture to support it and its goals, which led the church away from being the church and got it muddled in doing things it never should have done (Crusades, Inquisitions, the German national church supporting the Nazis, etc.).

No, the church needs to be the church. It does not need to try to be the state or to take over the state. But in authentically being the church, the church must live a radical life different from that of the surrounding culture. After all, this was what happened in the life of Christ -- his radical way of living led to his execution by the powers-that-be. And we, the church, are called to take up that same cross and follow Jesus.

So, I ask again, what should the church have done in the wake of the monumental event that was 9/11?

Failure of Imagination

In conversation the other day, Marty used the term "failure of imagination" to describe people, particularly Christians, not having enough imagination to see their way out of various problems or how to respond to various issues. In the Youth Department we have an AP Sunday school class that is reading Hauerwas & Willimon's Resident Aliens. They had a very similar discussion about the church's failure to see other options than those in the world. For H&W the church is the center of our discipleship -- our way of life -- and thus our ethics. In our discussion, I used Marty's term and we were talking about various things. Then the question was raised by me, who supported the war in Afghanistan, "What is the proper response of the church to 9/11? Because I can't see any other response than attacking the Taliban & al-Qaeda. Is this a failure of imagination?" Willimon had earlier suggested that a possible Christian response to Libya (the book was written in the late-80's) would have been for the church to send 1,000 missionaries to help to transform the country. And the class debated whether non-violence can work in the face of the Taliban (Gandhi used it against the British who at least had a history of democracy & human rights and were eventually appalled at what they were doing).

So, I want to throw this out to the on-line community, particularly those in the Body of Christ who read this page. Help the class, we could imagine nothing. What could be the response of the church to 9/11? Notice I'm not asking the state's response, that's a separate set of issues. Help the class, I'll take your thoughts back to them.

Napoleon Dynamite

A few months ago Phil attend the South by Southwest Film Festival and saw Napoleon Dynamite. He said it was the next Rushmore and the funniest thing he'd seen in year. A group of us went last night to see it at the USA Film Festival and Phil was right. It is hilarious. The film is set in the thriving metropolis of Preston, Idaho and is centered around a family of real losers. I know you've seen stuff like this before, but not quite like this. This film has its own set of quirks and oddities. You'll appreciate what happens to the steak.

Check it out.

Close Calls Part Two

Well, I tempted fate. I don't believe in fate, but I still tempted it. No kidding, this isn't a British sitcom. I did get hit today while running errands. Yeah. Pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot (I go to Wal-Mart like once every two months here because they aren't nearby and are crappy here) a women backed out, never saw me, I saw her backing in enough time to swerve violently to the left (sliding on the wet pavement) and honk my horn. Her bumper met mine. She was a nice lady. There is a dent, but it is in the curve that was already there and really isn't noticable unless you know it is there. So, I saw no reason to add to her or my insurance and no reason to go through the mess of having anything done. The look of a car isn't that important to me and this one will not be worth any trade-in value, anyway, when I'm done paying for it. It's now a five year old car with over 75,000 miles on it.

Close Calls

This has been a season of close calls & other issues for my family. On Easter Sunday my uncle Glenn almost had a heart attack and spent the night in the hospital. Mom had skin cancer surgery Wednesday. They got all the cancerous tissue, but prior to surgery were very worried that they'd have to take significant amounts of tissue, maybe even bone. On Monay my aunt Rhonda had a very close call with a semi. Kelli had a harrowing day at work on Wednesday involving an employee's attempted suicide. And now Pappoo's WWII wound (shrapnel embedded in his back that they could never remove) which hasn't bothered him for 60 years is causing serious back pain.

I'm worried to go driving in Dallas today to run my errands and go shopping.

On Blogging and Other Miscellany

I was quite excited earlier this evening. With typepad you can see from what webpages people connected to your own. I had been noticing an increasing number connecting from Google with the search "former Republican." So, I went and googled the phrase and, low and behold, I'm the first website link! And two links down from that is some on-line debate that occurred about what I had posted. Who's the person who got that going? If you read my original post "Getting Started" I talked about wanting to get ideas out like printing broadsheets in the 18th century and hanging them in the town square. So, I was more than a little excited.

And also, Marty posted. For those of you who don't know Marty Peercy (say "Hi" Marty), he's a good friend from post-college days. He now lives in Chicago. Marty and I used to debate lots of things, usually being on completely different sides of lots of issues. But lately we are a lot closer in thought. I've moved more to the left since I've become a minister and he's started going back to church regularly (he's got a cool church he goes to). Marty suggested, and I agreed to it, that he and I are going to set up another blogsite where we will debate/discuss/discourse over the great issues of our times. Probably only our Shawnee friends will really care (if they care at all). It will be like sitting out on the deck late at night in 1999. Oh, that needs to be the page's title "On the Deck." Okay Marty?

My sis Kelli also posted. I'm not sure what she doesn't remember. I am actually quite proud of that post. I think it is one of the best things I've ever written -- the use of subtle humour and irony and a folksy Oklahoma voice that i've been striving for in my writing for over five years. Kelli was a hero this week.

Jennifer Hudson got voted off American Idol! Either the show is rigged, America is full of idiots, or . . . wait, it's the second one (and probably something of the first one).

Yes, I'm in Dallas. I went to a cast party tonight after a musical variety show at one of the high schools of some of my youth. It was in the home of parents of one of the kids. The burgers were being grilled by The Hamburger Guy -- a couple of guys who you can hire to come grill burgers at your parties.

I do have a few concerns about blogging. I think it plays to my worst trait -- thinking too much of my own thoughts. But I'm really liking keeping up with other people and what they write and how they respond to what I write. I'm really enjoying the blogs of my youth who have them. I have these really intelligent, creative teenagers. And I think they like me for some weird reason. My other blogging concern is that we are creating an exclusive group within the group. Last Sunday night at a youth thing those of us who blog were discussing various posts. The non-bloggers didn't understand what was being talked about.

Tonight I was pleased to see two of my suits in the musical show. Barrett wore my god-awful red suit that I picked up at the "Thrifty Thrift Store" in Sherman, TX in 2002. And Asheesh wore my cool brown leisure suit that Toni helped me pick out for the 2001 Dorland Awards. But they didn't give me a costume credit in the program.

Is this enough miscellany? Maybe so. Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Hey! We Made Time Magazine!

On Tuesdays when I get home from work (or wherever), I get Time and Newsweek out of the mailbox and usually give them their first overview while sitting on the toilet. I looked at Time first, since it had a special issue naming the Time 100 for 1994 (the 100 most influential people in the world). I'm sure once I've looked at this and talked it over with Laura Picazo, I'll have lots of opinions to share about it.

I started scanning through the rest of the magazine and was surprised to come across a four page article with a cool picture entitled "The Tragedy of Tar Creek." Hey, that's my home county!

The article is about the failure of the Superfund program -- the effort of the US government begun in 1980 to clean up the worst environmental disasters in the U. S. The article says that there have been 1,518 sites on the priority list since 1980 and 2,500 other sites eligible for listing, but that only 278 sites have been cleaned up. Stunning record. Seems the fund went bankrupt in October (due to the Republican Congress not re-authorizing certain things back in 1996) and that the Bush administration (of course) has a horrible record of dealing with such sites.

But I don't want to talk about the government's massive failures. It was exciting to see the home area in Time, it really was. The article uses the Tar Creek Superfund site as its example. The site centers around Picher, OK, a small town in the extreme NE corner of Oklahoma, north of Miami, the town I grew up in. You see, in the early to mid-20th century the whole region of NE Oklahoma, SE Kansas, and that area of the Missouri border regions was full of mining. Today, if you drive through certain of the backroads and remote fields you can see landscapes that look like you are on the moon. The "chat piles" left over from the mining are huge; they are called by locals, "the mountains of Oklahoma." The article says the tallest is 13 stories. And I know they were taller when I was younger (they are being worn down by wind and rain, part of the environmental problem).

The funny thing about these chat piles, is that even when I was growing up (after they were already a Superfund site) no one really knew they were poisonous. People rode their four-wheelers on them (and the old mines often got dead bodies dumped in them). I never played on them, my mother (fortunately) never considered the area safe. But generations of NE Oklahomans had played on them. Or used the chat for driveways and stuff (I wonder if grandpa's driveway was from one of these piles?).

We did always know that people from Picher were different. People in Ottawa county treated them like people everywhere treat Arkansas. Of course I feel awful now that maybe Picher folk couldn't help being like they were -- they were poisoned. Laura Picazo had heard enough funny stories about Picher, that when she first visited Miami she wanted to go drive through Picher and see the chat piles and all.

Of course there were things we knew were dangerous. Like every now and then one of the mine shafts would give out and houses or buildings would fall into the earth. This didn't happen as often as we may have imagined it did as kids. So, there was always this mysterious region of the county North of us where murderers dumped their corpses, Satanists made their sacrifices, and "whole city blocks" could fall into the earth never to appear again. Add to that that that part of the county also had lots of great Indian legends (Lover's Leap, the Spook Light) and an old haunted mansion and cemetary, and you've got lots of good stories to entertain you for years.

We also knew that Tar Creek was polluted. Well, that was obvious. When I was a kid it was orange. Bright orange. I mean, bright, bright orange. And water just shouldn't be that color. We didn't play in Tar Creek, though folks my grandparents age talked fondly of when you could. Tar Creek did flow on into Miami and along the edge of the nicest part of town. In fact, you entered the nicest part of town by driving over the Tar Creek Bridge. Just down water from the bridge, the creek flowed past the practice fields of the college. The soccer team I was on as a kid practiced in those fields. When you got home you had to wash off all the orange dust. Tar Creek flooded every year or two. This flood was usually part of a flood backing up from the Neosho River or even from Grand Lake. Usually it could be blamed on the dam not being let open enough, the river not having been dragged in years, or the railroad company (I don't remember why, but I remember they were at fault once). When it would flood and recede you'd have orange stain on everything (attractive!). Houses would have orange lines on their walls or foundations. Usually the movie theatre would flood and sometimes it would be months before it re-opened. Gosh, I wonder how poisoned I was growing up? If I ever get cancer, I'm going to sue someone.

There are ironies here. Mining was the huge economic boon of the region at one time. Back in the day the population had been bigger. There was a trolley that ran from Kansas to Miami to bring people to town for things like the two opera houses or the grand Coleman Theatre Beautiful, our gorgeous movie theatre built in 1929 and now on the Naitonal Historic Registry. The Coleman's were the leading mining family. Irony of ironies, their mansion in Miami sits on Tar Creek (right next to the Tar Creek Bridge). So their land would get the orange stain after the floods. The mansion was valued at over $8 million in the early '90's. The last Coleman (the old maid Ann) sold out and moved to the family's compound in Florida. The highlight of Halloween was walking up the long driveway of the mansion and having the private security guard give you big handfuls of candy. And at Christmas they had a big, bright star that they attached to the balcony. I got to go in the Coleman Mansion once when the new owners lived there. It wasn't as impressive as I imagined. Rich people made due with smaller rooms back then than most upper middle class people do today.

I wonder how many generations of us have been harmed by corporate and government failure? Uncle Art, the athiest, died of emphysema. He worked in the mines as a young man. We didn't know at the time to explore a connection.

The great corporate villain when I was growing up was Carl Icahn. I bet he's never heard of Miami. In 1986 in order to thwart a corporate takeover attempt by Icahn, the infamous corporate raider, BF Goodrich corporation decided to close its largest and most productive factory in order to cut costs and raise the money to stop Icahn. That factory was in Miami. For generations it had supplied the economic base of the area. A young person could go get a job right out of school, a good union job. And with no education he could spend his time in the factory working blue collar but with the combination of the low standard of living and the good salary he could end up owning a good home, maybe a boat and a lake home, maybe a Country Club membership. No kidding, Miami was full of blue collar families with these amenities of the well off. Imagine ripping that out of the heart of the area. For Miamians you remember distinctly where you were on that day in 86 when the company closed the factory. I was sitting on the couch when Mom got a call from my aunt Jan (who was from Picher by the way). I could tell that Mom's voice got distressed. Then she started to cry. She got off the phone and told me. Even though I was 12, I knew immediately the great tragedy that had befallen the town. We went over to Mammoo's and Pappoo's (my grandparents), because you just needed to spend time with other people, comforting each other.

So, now that I read in Time I realize that we've all gotten screwed over by industry and government a handful of times. Thanks guys.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . .


No matter how frustrated I get with church stuff, worship is always worship -- it usually saves me and turns my thoughts to things that transcend. Today I was contemplating the little plastic cup of grape juice, when I looked up at the ten deacons serving communion. And here was an African-American, a Cuban, white folks, gay folks, straight folks, young adults, older folks, and in that moment everything felt alright with the world because I was in church and that's who the Body of Christ is.

Eternal Sunshine

Last night I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the second time. It is as good or better the second time, despite the fact that it is a COMPLETELY different viewing experience. The first time I was struck by its ingenuity and sheer brilliance. This time I found it scary.

I love the final message. It's okay. Relationships are so much a part of who we are that despite the fact that more often then not they end and/or include really awful, painful moments, they are worth it. As my friend Debi Wooten said last night, "It's so real."

If you've known me for any length of time, you know that to love and to be loved has been my prime motivating desire since I was in Junior High (I guess it is for most people). Yet relationships remain such a mystery to me.

In my early 20's I had a pretty good sense of what I wanted and where life was heading and then that came crashing down. Laura Picazo was worried about me at the time because she thought I was adrift, and I was. I came close to falling off the edge emotionally in 96 & 97.

But then things got substantially better. The best year of my life was my 25th (1999). And relationships had little to do with this, I had just chosen to be patient and enjoy life. I had such a great network of friends who were immediately present at that time.

Fayetteville was tough, though. I had lost that network of physically present friends my age. And I suffered some blows on the relationship front.

Dallas has been better, though not easy. What has been good here is that I think I've finally really begun to mature. Over the last year I've learned a lot about myself and also a lot about how to do relationships. David Breckenridge told me last fall that I'd moved into a place in my life where it was more natural for me -- I was just ready.

So, back to the movie. Debi's right that it is so real. And it is so right. It's okay.