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May 2004

Plan of Attack

Last week Garrett & Kevin asked why I hadn't blogged on Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack since I was finished reading it. It's one of those blogs that I've had in the back of my head and just haven't yet gotten around to. But now I have!

I really recommend this book, and for people on all sides of the political spectrum. I think that it is overall pretty balanced, fair, and objective. Probably whatever lens people bring to it, they will use to interpret it. I will say that for this person who was against the war from the get-go, it did make me appreciate some of the planning process and the things leading up to the war, though it still reveals, I think, that the administration did a poor job and ended up going down a road that they hadn't necessarily chosen to go down, just once they began to plan for the possibility, then the possibility became a reality.

The best way to look at the book, is to see what it says about different characters. So, here's my take from the book.

Powell comes off the worst. He looks weak and timid, never wanting to really strongly advance his position, which is in disagreement with the president. Richard Armitage, Powell's best friend and number two, is more openly opposed to the rest of the administration, but to the point that I wonder why he didn't resign, unless it was to help his best friend. To Powell's credit, he does seem to spend a lot of time reflecting and considering the best course of action.

Cheney looks bad too. Woodward quotes both Powell and Karl Rove saying that Cheney had a "fever" for the war (though the president disputed that characterization). He seems bent on the course of action and will consider no debate or discussion of the matter. He loathes going to the U. N. (one battle that Powell did win) and even undercuts the President on a few matters (remember some of his strong pro-war speeches?). He also digs into the intelligence on his own. Lots of the stuff that has now proven to be false, was pushed by Cheney and his office. Most of it was stuff that even the CIA had discounted and they kept wondering how it ended up back in the adminstration's speeches, etc.

Though Tenet looks horrible too. The CIA seems to waffle on the intelligence. When they finally prepare a briefing for the President and Condoleeza Rice in December 2002, afterward the President says "Is this it?" The presentation just wasn't convincing that Saddam had WMD and was an imminent threat. So, the president turns to George Tenet and asks him for his opinion, asks if we've really got a case, and Tenet says "it's a slam dunk." So it seems that this was what the president finally went on, and it was just conjecture from the DCI.

Rice looks absent and not in control, fitting everything else we've heard about her. She's hardly present in the book other than noting that she was present at various meetings or that she got pissed at her mentor Brent Scowcroft when he attacked the administration in August 2002.

General Franks comes across as a very good general. He is loyal and faithful to his civilian bosses, though he gets pretty pissed at them at times (his use of cuss words is fun). He concocts a brilliant strategy for the actual invasion and deftly maneuvers men and equipment to the Middle East, all in a very short amount of time.

Donald Rumsfeld comes out looking the best in the book. He is clearly brilliant at formulating a military plan. Though he pushes the buttons of the military, I think often they are the right buttons to push. His only negative seems to be that he doesn't ask the bigger questions. He doesn't reflect on whether they should go to war or not. He's not concerned about the evidence for WMD. He doesn't spend time on a post-war plan. But, I don't think that he thought these were his job. His was to get the military ready for the invasion, not to ask the big questions.

And what about the President? George W. Bush does look strong, decisive, and in command. He doesn't appear weak or incompetent. But what he does appear is unreflective. There is no debate over a new Iraq strategy in the administration, at least not recorded in the book. The president orders Rumsfeld to draw up a new war plan in November 2001 and that seems to start the ball rolling and it never stops. Preparing a contingency war plan is not a bad thing, the US has multiple contingency plans. But, they never stop and really debate what they are doing. He only asks two people if he should go to war -- Condoleeza Rice and Karen Hughes. He says he didn't need to ask Cheney, Powell, & Rumsfeld because he already knew their answers. Yet, it would be nice to think that they actually sat around and debated the new strategic plan, considered all the consequences, prepared for the various outcomes, etc. Maybe that would have made the post-war situation go better? He doesn't look weak, which some of us feared in 2000, but he looks certain to a fault.

I was pleased by one episode in the book. I'm such a fan of GHWBush that I have long wanted to sit down and talk with him, off the record, and simply plead with him to assure me that he did not support the plan of his son. The episode in Woodward's book that answered my question for me is in regards to Scowcroft's attack on the administration in August 2002. Scowcroft is very close to HW (they co-wrote a wonderful book on the foreign policy of the first Bush administration that argued why the US should not remove Saddam from power), so any comments from Scowcroft would be viewed as coming also from the president's father. Woodward says that before Scowcroft published his op-ed, that he sent it to HW to look at. When he got no response from HW, he knew that it was okay for him to publish it. So, finally, my fear was answered. No, the former president didn't support this plan of the son's. That was nice to know.

Mowing the Lawn

This morning I mowed the lawn. And weed eated. And trimmed the hedges.

I really enjoy this exercise. I'd prefer to do it on Fridays, like I did in Shawnee, but it seems to have become a Wednesday morning exercise of late.

I became responsible for the weekly mowing of the lawn for my family when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. We lived in Grove, Oklahoma on 103rd Street on a lot that was eight tenths of an acre. The riding lawn mower (that we had forever) was the main instrument of mowing. Dad thought I was too young for the push mower, so he did the trimming until I got to be in the fourth grade, when he bought me a new push mower for our house in Miami on F Street.

By junior high, I had tired of doing the mowing, so Kelli started doing it some of the time (when she was in fifth grade or so). See, the amount of money Dad paid me at that point wasn't an incentive for me, but it was for Kelli, who was always more business-minded than I was.

After Dad died, Mom did most of the mowing. She found it stress-relieving. That's how she broke the front glass door the day I moved to OBU. She and Kelli and I had gotten to Shawnee sometime after 9 a.m. We unloaded the two cars worth of stuff into my dormroom in the basement of Baxter (one wing of Brotherhood). Alicia Morris was the Tri-Dub who helped (Welcome Week Worker). And Matt was already there (first time we met). After unloading we said our goodbyes (without crying) and Mom and Kelli left. I got a little teary-eyed heading back to the dorm. I think Mom cried while walking back to the car. Not sure what Kelli did. Mom drove the three hours home. When she got there she decided to mow in order to relax. While mowing in the front, she threw a rock through the front glass door, shattering it. It was the cathartic moment she needed, because she broke down laughing and crying.

That's a little bit of the history of Joneses as we relate to lawn-mowing.

Mom's Wedding

This is a post I was going to write last week, but other topics got ahead of it. Sometimes it is nice to have a post or two sitting in waiting.

Mom and Revis were married a week ago Saturday (May 15). The wedding was really lovely. Mom was pretty and was clearly happy. The party the night before and the wedding itself were fun. I had gone up a day early to take Dorothy, Revis' Mom, sightseeing. We had a good time. At the family cookout on Friday night my uncles prepared brisket, ribs, chicken, grilled shrimp, grilled portobello mushrooms, and boiled crab legs. That for 22 people; we had lots of food.

The day of the wedding I had still not written the blessing I was to do at the end of the ceremony (I didn't do the ceremony itself). I was dealing with a welter of emotions, so I simply just left the house -- I didn't even tell anyone I was leaving. I drove over to Lake Hefner and sat on a bench. There I prayed, meditated, and read scripture. It is amazing to me how effective these spiritual practices are. I soon was feeling completely better and was finally in the mood to write the prayer. I based it on the book of Philippians, which is what I read while sitting on the bench. Let me share it with you:

Today I read the Book of Philippians. It is a letter of joy, fitting for this occasion. Now we go to God in prayer to bless this marriage. Open yourselves to teh joy that is found in Christ.

God of grace and peace,
We thank you for Revis & Cheryl and we thank you that they have found each other.
We are confident that this today is a good work, a good work that will continue to grow and to bless those who encounter it.

Our prayer is that their love would overflow, producing a harvest of blessing to the glory and praise of you.

May Christ be exalted in this marriage and be the true center of this union.

May we all find encouragement, consolation, compassion, and joy in this marriage. May it not only flow into their relationship, but outward to the benefit of others. May they shine like stars in this dark world.

We know that their effort is not in vain. The resurrection is our hope that the good and beautiful things of this world will find an eternal home.

Let us press on toward the goal, in agreement, conforming to the glory of God.

Rejoice in the Lord always. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, willl guard your hearts and your minds in Chirst Jesus.

Amen. Alleluia.

Those Stupid Southern Baptists

Ray and I are thinking alike. His article for our church newsletter is on the same subject I was planning on writing about next. So, I'm going to go ahead anyway.

The Texas Freedom Network (always linked on the left over there), sends out regular e-mails about issues of the fundamentalists trying to take over public education. Here in Texas the textbooks for the entire state are approved at the state level by the state Board of Education. In Oklahoma and Arkansas we didn't do such things. But here that gives the state board significant influence on textbooks for students anywhere in the country, because if a textbook can't be sold in Texas it isn't economically viable for the publishing company. So, students in Vermont and Hawaii are affected by the decisions of the state Board of Education of Texas.

The fundamentalists figured that out and have had a concerted effort for years to gain control of the board. The Texas Freedom Network was partially created to oppose this effort. Last year we battled over science textbooks. I signed a clergy petition supporting the teaching of evolution, for instance. We won last year's battle! It was quite exciting. The creationists were unable to change the textbooks. This year is health books! Seems they even want to change teaching of math and other basic subjects to remove critical thinking skills. Scary!!!!

Anyway, back to the stupid SBC. Here's info on one of the resolutions that will be proposed at the meeting of the convention this summer:

The resolution urges all officers and members of the Southern Baptist Convention "to remove their children from the government schools and see to it that they receive a thoroughly Christian education."

It encourages churches to "counsel parents regarding
their obligation to provide their children with a Christian
education" and to "provide all of their children with
Christian alternatives to government school education,
either through home schooling or thoroughly Christian
private schools."

The resolution's co-sponsor, Bruce Shortt, an attorney and home-schooling father, told the conservative Web site that many Christian parents are in denial about the dangers of government schools. He said the time has come "to focus on rescuing our children from Pharaoh's schools."
James Dobson of Focus on the Family, a frequent guest speaker at SBC annual meetings, urged on his radio program in 2002 that parents in California pull their youngsters out of public schools. Dobson and Pinckney are among leaders to endorse The Exodus Mandate, a movement started in 1997 with the mantra, "Every church a school, every parent a teacher."
"Just as it would be foolish for the warrior to give his arrows to his enemies, it is foolish for Christians to give their children to be trained in schools run by the enemies of God."

My objections are not simply religious/theological. I have a serious objection as an American. I think that if the fundies succeed in their efforts to destroy public education (of course this resolution might fail to pass at the SBC, but they are assaulting schools on various fronts), at least to destroy it in certain parts of the country, then they will have succeeded in decreeing the end of the American experiment.

You see, Jefferson was the first to emphasize that democracy was impossible without public education. Our effort at creating a secular, civil, democratic society rests on a common public education. One of those quotes I memorized in school as a kid that sticks with you is this by Adlai Stevenson, "The most American thing about America is the free, common, public, school system."

Who knew that when we moderates in the SBC lost the battles of the 1980's that that meant that 20 years later we'd be fighting for control of the administration, schools, and the whole culture with the same folk?

In the article about the resolution, the most interesting excerpt is this:

The resolution says the Bible gives parents the responsibility for educating their children, yet Christian children in public schools "are converted to an anti-Christian worldview rather than evangelizing their schoolmates."

That is one factor, the resolution claims, behind the
statistic that 88 percent of children raised in evangelical
homes leave church by age 18, never to return.

Do kids (I guess I'm one of those stats) leave these churches because it is the fault of the schools or is it because it is the fault of the churches for being so wrong about so many things? I'm encouraged that 88% are leaving. I just wish that instead of wondering outside the church that they knew of all the religious options open to them. We'd take them at Royal Lane! :)

The Simple Life

Yesterday my blood pressure was high. In the morning I got into an argument with my uncle and grandfather over politics. I've become rather strident these days on this topic; I find it difficult to stay calm and cool when "good" and "evil" are at issue.

So, it raised my blood pressure and was causing gastro-intestinal problems. And through 1/3 of the drive back to Dallas I could do nothing to calm down. The current problems of the world and the country seem insurmountable, and it is difficult not to become personally depressed. What can I do?

Then I had a big epiphany. The third big one of the past four years. Finally a whole series of my personal thoughts came together. I now have a plan.

Within the next few years, after some financial and other preparation, I'm getting out of this rat race. I don't need more stuff. I don't need to continue to work to get money to get more stuff. I don't need to pursue an ambitious career path.

What I really want is to live simply. I want to live with my family in some setting where we have only one car because we walk or bike to all our needs. I want to grow much of my own food (I'm drawn back to the plans I developed in 1997 to live on my own land). I want to live in touch with the land (that's my Oklahoma roots and, deeper back, my Cherokee and Irish roots). I want to re-learnd all those skills we've forgotten. Why do we work to make money to buy things that we humans used to produce for ourselves? Why don't we make our own things? I want the spiritual disciplines of working in my own garden, farming my own animals, making my own blankets, sewing my own clothes, etc.

I want to entertain myself by taking walks in the country, reading books to one another, playing music and singing along.

I want to drop out of this culture and find the old ways of living.

There'd have to be one family member working, but I don't want to have to live on two incomes. So, that means finding a place where one income will support a family.

My first instinct is to live in a small rural Oklahoma town. It would be great if one person were a school teacher and the other stayed home to maintain the household and family.

My second instinct was a university town, because of the intellectual and cultural stimulation.

My third instinct was profound. I could meet a person and we could adopt a different plan, but here's my plan as of May 17, 2004. I will move to Helena, Arkansas. I will live in one of the poorest counties in the U. S. The cost of living there is cheap. My friend, the Rev. Dr. Mary Olson, owns a huge two story home with five bedrooms that was built by a Confederate general. She paid $50,000 for that home.

Elaine, AR is just outside of Helena. Elaine is a small, poor town. A hundred years ago there was a race riot there that resulted in the massacre of as many as 8,000 African-Americans. The town still lives under that stigma. It is the poorest and worst-performing school system in the state of Arkansas. So, I'm going to figure out how to become certified to teach in the state of Arkansas. This school system could use my education and gifts.

And maybe there will be some folks who will want to be church to each other. Not an institution. Not a place where I have to generate programming. But just a group of people who want to minister to each other and to the world around them.

After establishing my beachhead, I'm going to invite others to join me. I'll try to get Ben and Kim to come. Good health care is an issue there. Doctors who want to make money don't go to such places. Kim isn't motivated by money; she could come be a doctor. And Ben could come teach science in the school system. And Marty could teach. And others of you could do other things. If you couldn't come and live, then it could be a retreat place.

So, I will help by opting out of this culture and by living with the poor.

A Culture of Sadists?

It feels like we've reached a significant moral moment. The commentary in last week's magazines is pretty strong (and that's before the death of Nicholas Berg). Jacob sent me an e-mail the other day that forwarded a piece written by Pat Buchannan that said we had finally reached the moment where we lacked no moral authority and that hopefully the ideas of empire and pax americana were dead. Time magazine had strong statements. Joe Klein wrote a piece entitled "The Perils of a Righteous President". Klein criticizes the "righteousness" of this administration that has blinded it. He closes with:

Abu Ghraib made a mockery of American idealism. It made all the baser motives -- oil, dad, Israel -- more believable. And it represents all the moral complexities this President has chosen to ignore -- all the perverse consequences of an occupation.

But even more powerful in Time was Nancy Gibbs back page essay "Their Humiliation, and Ours." You should read all of this essay, she starts with the difficulty of explaining the photos to her daughters, of exmplaining that the "bad guys" were the Americans this time. Here are some excerpts:

Others . . . argued that "they would do the same to us" if they had a chance. When we are reduced to insisting that our depravity isn't as bad as the other guy's, we have fallen deep into a pit of moral equivalence that reveals what we have lost.
You could track the stages of grief, because something precious had surely died: a hope that the world might one day come to see Americans as we see ourselves. Instead, we have had to see ourselves as the world sees us.
Our enemies call the U. S. godless, depraved and corrupt, and now they have a p. r. weapon of mass destruction that they will use as another reason to kill any other infidels they can.
And as for the violation of American values, we must recalculate the cost of the post-9/11 instinct to change the rules we play by, detain whomever we need to, forget due process and forgo the Geneva Convetion. If this is indeed a fight to the death, what is it we are fighting for, if not the values we seem so ready to sacrfice on the grounds that this is a different kind of war?

The other day I was watching tv and a commercial for Fear Factor came on. This one is a "family" Fear Factor with parent and child engaging in the humiliating treatments. It showed one kid sitting in a box having roaches poured over him.

I've never even liked the idea of this show and have never watched it, but suddenly watching this commercial it hit me. We've become a society of sadists. When you think about what the "contestants" on that show undergo, these are humiliating sometimes fearful treatments that could be used as torture in a different setting. Yet, here it is undergone for fun and financial gain and for the entertainment of the masses. The juxtaposition of the Abu Ghraib pictures with the Fear Factor commercial just leaped out at me.

And it's not just this show. Almost all the reality shows have a level of sadism as we enjoy watching the pain or discomfort or trial of another person. Even Simon Cowell is so popular because he tackily criticizes teens and young adults in front of an audience of 25 million people.

So, is it then not so much a stretch that these soldiers engaged in this behaviour? After all, it might be done for fun at a fraternity party. One article I read said that the military does this kind of stuff to new recruits out of fun initiation. Maybe they are posing for the cameras and such because they are used to seeing people humiliate themselves on national television and then laugh it off.

Nancy Gibbs is right, we have seen ourselves as the world sees us. And it is not a pretty picture.

Prisoners and War Powers

The news that continues to filter out about the prison abuses just seems to get more horrific.

There seem to be SO many issues surrounding our detainment of prisoners in the Wars on Terror, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Right now there is all this press about the abuses to the Iraqis.
Concerns have been raised about Gitmo and the tenuous legal position of the U. S. in its designation of "enemy combatants" who don't merit treatment as "prisoners of war."
Plus I've wondered for some time what is going on with those high ranking prisoners of the war on terror who have never appeared at Gitmo. I remember reading at one time that there was speculation that we had taken them to Syria, a land with little respect of human rights, so that we could interrogate them without impunity. I don't know if this is true or not, but I wonder what might start to leak out now that attention has been turned to our treatment of prisoners.

The administration has argued that it can treat the Gitmo prisoners differently because of precedents in World War II and other American wars. They argue that this is a war power of the President.

But there is a very serious problem here.

I would be able to entertain the notion that there are special powers granted to the government, particularly the military and the executive branch, in a time of war. But the President currently has no legal grounds to execute his war powers. Despite the rhetoric, we are not in a state of war. Yes, we are in a de facto war, but we are not in a de jure war. It takes two thirds of the U. S. Congress to place us in a state of war and to grant the President, the executive branch, and the military war powers. It is a stringent test because we don't want to easily grant those powers. And according to our Constitution they can't just be assumed, even in a time of crisis, they must be granted.

This has been a problem for me since Operation Desert Storm. I thought then that we needed an actual Declaration of War in order to keep the legal parameters clear. And it is even moreso the case in the War on Terror. The government has assumed many powers that are not within their purview without a Declaration of War. After 9/11, if we were going to engage in war, then we needed to declare war -- follow the rule of law.

Of course, some ask who we were supposed to declare war on. One would only ask that question if trapped in a modernist worldview that views the world as a bunch of competing nation-states. However, war existed long before nation-states existed and will continue to exist long after. In this postmodern world there are international organizations that function much as the modern nation-state and many international organizations (corporations, religious groups, terrorist organizations, charities, UN agencies) who wield great influence and sometimes great power. Al-Qaeda is an entity and could have been the object of a Declaration of War.

That last paragraph was really a tangent. My main point is that we need to be upholding the rule of law. So we should follow our own laws. The administration is currently exercising powers that it cannot legally execute without a Declaration of War.

Loretta Lynn, Signs, and Pop Theology

On the fabulous new Loretta Lynn album, Van Lear Rose, there is this song "God Makes No Mistakes":

Why, I've heard people say
Why is this tree bent
Why they dont' have God enough to know
That's the way it was meant
Why is this little baby born
All twisted and out of shape
We're not to question what he does
'Cause God make no mistakes

And, then, there was the movie Signs.

The earth is being invaded by aliens. But, that’s really not what the movie is about. It stars Mel Gibson as a minister who has lost his faith. His wife has died somewhat earlier in a freakish accident. As a result, Gibson’s character has left the church and denounced his former faith and the God that he had believed in.

The most difficult scene to watch, is when the family is preparing to eat their last meal together. They assume that it will be their last meal prior to the alien invasion, so they cook all their favorite foods. The table is covered with spaghetti and french toast and mashed potatoes and chicken teriyaki and cheeseburgers and bacon. The family sits still. The son, Morgan, says, “Aren’t we going to pray?” You feel his dread. If we are about to be attacked, don’t we want to seek the blessing and protection of God? But his father grows suddenly angry and will have none of it. “I will not waste one more minute of my life on prayer,” he says. “Not one more minute.”
Earlier his brother had sought comfort. Worried that this might be the end of the world, he wanted his minister brother to provide solace. But Gibson cannot. He says that we are alone, that there is no one to help us.
There are two kinds of people, he says. There are those who are the people of faith. They do not believe in coincidences. For them, life is full of miracles. They believe that there is something out there on our side. The other type of people do not believe in miracles. They think that life is full of luck and chance and coincidence, that ultimately we are alone and that the world is what we make of it.

So many religious folk are of the first type. They thank God and rejoice when they are blessed. They don’t see anything as coincidence. If something good happens, then it must have come from God. Much popular religious language makes it sound as if God has predetermined everything good that happens to Christians. I grew up Baptist and went to a Baptist college, so I became quite familiar with this God-talk. You hear things like, “God gave me an ‘A’ on that test.” Makes me wonder what the person would have said if they had earned a ‘C’? Or what we are supposed to think about those people who did earn a ‘C’?
To me this sort of God-talk is ridiculous. And rather than affirming faith, it leads to the loss of faith of people like Gibson’s character. Because the flip-side of this view is that God is also responsible for all the bad actions that we suffer. If God is the reason that you got an ‘A’ on the test, then isn’t God also the reason that the other guy got a ‘C’? If God is the reason that person X got well, then isn’t God also the reason that person Y died?

I am not satisfied with either of the two choices that the movie Signs presents for us. I am not a person of type two, I do think that there is something or someone out there who is helping us, who is on our side, who seeks to bless us. But neither am I a person on type one. The movie settles on the side of type one. The final message of the movie is that God has planned every detail of their lives. The brother is a baseball player for a reason. The son has asthma for a reason. The daughter is picky about water for a reason. And the even the wife died for a reason. I cannot accept that idea of God. It is an idea that rejects human freedom and human responsibility. It is an idea that makes God responsible for the evil of this world.

So, if I reject these two choices, what do I accept? I think that there is a third image in between.

The scene that is at the heart of the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring occurs in the Mines of Moriah. Frodo, the ringbearer, sits talking with Gandalf the wizard. Frodo is bemoaning his fate in life. He really is a homebody. He really would rather be back in the Shire, enjoying his ordinary life. But the times have found him engaged in a journey to save the world. He bears the responsibility of carrying the ring of pure evil with the assignment to destroy it. And on this journey he will face great trials and great heartache.
Gandalf tells Frodo that just as there is evil in the world, there is also a force for good. And it is this force that has brought the ring to Frodo. It has come to Frodo because he of all the creatures has the ability to carry this burden. And Gandalf also says that we do not choose the times in which we live, but we are responsible for what we choose to do given those times. It is an unfortunate burden that has come upon Frodo, but it is a duty that he must fulfill.
Tolkein’s story is more subtle than Shyamalan’s. For Tolkein, God works within the story, within the lives of these characters. God works to help in an effort for good to overcome evil. But these characters are responsible for their own actions. Ultimately, the fate of the world is in Frodo’s hands. Should he fall to temptation or draw back from his duty, evil will triumph.

Drivin' to the Beach

That's the title of a cool song by the band "Be." I met them in Fayetteville and performed one of their weddings. I hummed it a lot this weekend as I went to the beach!

Wednesday morn Fran Patterson, the youth minister at Broadway in Fort Worth, showed up at my office and she, Ray, Harry, and I went to lunch at our new favourite place -- Fish City. I had some great trout. Then Fran and I drove to Beaumont. Along the way we noticed some noticeable things. First, not far out of Dallas there was a car parked along the side of the road and some guy jogging back down to his car down this really steep and high hill along the road. The weird thing was is that there were four worn paths in the grass along this hillside that the guy was coming down. Hmm? What was up there? We have various theories.

There were these really intense yellow flowers a shade of yellow that just wasn't natural. We also enjoyed various signs along the way in some of the small town when we turned off the highway. I can't think of any really funny one's at the moment, though. Sorry. There was a REALLY weird mural on the side of a Catholic church in one of the smallest towns. It had Jesus with arms stretched out in front of him and in his hands was a glowing ball -- looking like a crystal ball. Hovering over and above Jesus, and not as boldly painted, was a man who I assume was supposed to be God. On Jesus' left (our right) was the Virgin Mary. And on Jesus' right (our left) was Mother Theresa.

We also really enjoyed the town of Cut and Shoot (also spelled Cut & Shoot or Cut n Shoot). We kept hoping for a Cut and Shoot High School, but the schools seemed to be named after people (a smart choice). And we never did see the hoped for Cut and Shoot Baptist Church. But there was a Cut and Shoot Post Office, which could be problematic, what with folk "going postal."

In Beaumont we went to Calder Baptist Church. I finally learned why it is named that. The part of town it is in was once called Calder Place, but isn't any longer. So, the name's just confusing then. Our friend Brian Abel is youth minister there. We ate fried chicken and the most amazing biscuits (I had three!) and got a tour of the church (you know us church geeks!). Then we went and played bocce ball with Brian's youth at a youth parents' house. Then to Brian's to load up the car and head to the beach house of Mrs. Wanda, one of his church members. Yeah!

The weekend was incredibly relaxing. We walked on the beach. We gathered shells. We saw decaying jellyfish and fishheads. I played in the surf a bunch and built sand castles. I even one flew a kite to 500 feet while playing in the surf. I had never thought to do these two things at the same time, but really loved doing it! We spent a lot of time just sitting in lawn chairs at the edge of the water just looking out at the sea. Oh, and we saw dolphins!

Tommy and Kevin were supposed to join us, but they are putzes and didn't come!

In the evenings we watched tv. I thought the Friends finale was pretty good, but I don't like the idea of Ross and Rachel together, though I know they have to be. I would have ended it with her answering machine message though, and him running off to Paris. We quickly tired of EVERYTHING on tv being about the Friends the past few days.

Friday we drove to Galveston to eat and shop. We found a Pier One going out of business and all bought really inexpensive gifts for Mother's Day (my Mom doesn't read this every day, so let's hope this is one she skips!). And I got some lawn furniture really inexpensively!

We did lots and lots of eating (we had bought food for more people and felt a need to eat it all). We we full the whole weekend.

Today we packed up, dropped Brian off in Beaumont, and drove on home. Now I'm done checking everyone else's blogs and replying to e-mail and posting my own, so I'm going to go watch tv, read, talk on the phone or something else not too involved. Peace!