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January 2015

"Yes I'm a fool for you..."

Post eleven in a series I'm writing as I listen through our (mine and Michael's) cd collection in alphabetical order.

Michael and I were in Dallas for the weekend.  I don't remember what year it was, much less what particular reason took us to Dallas that weekend.  We were often there, for work and for pleasure and often both.  Dallas is an easy and common weekend for residents of Oklahoma City--a great chance for shopping, eating, clubbing, and more.  This particular weekend someone (was it Charlie Bates?) told us that Erykah Badu, a resident of the city, would be performing a free concert that night at one of the record stores in Lower Greenville.  "I want to go," Michael said.

Parking in Lower Greenville is almost never easy.  One usually has to drive up and down residential streets blocks from the restaurants, stores, and clubs in order to find a spot.  We grabbed dinner at one of the nearby eateries and I regaled him with boring stories of my own experiences in the neighborhood when I was a resident of Dallas.  

Badu performed outside, on a temporary stage.  There were a few hundred people assembled.

Though I recognized her and some of the songs, I had never paid much attention to her music.  Neo-soul wasn't my thing in the mid-90's.  But this was now the era of Bush-hating, and she was primed for that.  Her words were deeply critical of the American imperial enterprise.  And the music was layered.  Her voice has often been compared to Billie Holiday, and it is an apt comparison.

The concert was ruined by two things.  One, she talked too much.  Plus she invited Bill Wisener of the famous Bill's Records to speak.  I wasn't completely sure why at the time.  The second thing that ruined it was that the police made her quit at 11 p.m. because of the sound ordinance.  So, most of the limited time had been ruined by the talking.  She did convince the police to let her do one more song acapella, which was probably the most magical moment of the night.


We only have one Erykah Badu album in our collection--2010's New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh).  I haven't listened to it very often.  There was a time I think it was in the car cd player for months.

Listening the last couple of days, I'm intrigued by the complex sounds, the mix of soul, hip-hop, and r&b with lots of creative sound effects.  The song I'm most drawn to is the final one "Out My Mind, Just In Time."  It begins as a blues ballad and then goes to multiple different places.

I'm a recovering undercover over-lover 
recovering from a love I can't get over 
recovering undercover over-lover 
and now my common law lover thinks he wants another 

And I'd lie for you 
I'd cry for you 
and pop for you 
and break for you 
and hate for you 
And I'll hate you too 
If you want me too 
Ah, Uuu... 
I'd pray for you 
crochet for you 
Make it from scratch for you 
Leave out the last for you 
Go to the store for you 
Do it some more for you 
Do what you want me to 
Yes I'm a fool for you... 

This video is just a snapshot--the opening minutes of a song that is over ten minutes long on the album. 

One reviewer said that it "starts as a fairly boring ballad but gradually unravels into . . . tripped-out weirdness."  Another wrote "the three-part ballad . . . luxuriates in the exquisite confusion, recalcitrance, and reluctant independence that arrive in rapid succession, sometimes simultaneously."  Indeed.

A Turn In The South

A Turn In The SouthA Turn In The South by V.S. Naipaul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've long admired Naipaul's prose and the keen observational ability he brings to his travel writing. This book from the late 1980's is about a few months spent in the American South, traveling through the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. This was at a time when the "New South" was emerging and the generations of the Civil Rights struggle were still around. Naipaul covers these trends, mostly through a series of interviews that include politicians, preachers, teachers, farmers, poets, and a number of ordinary people both black and white.

As an Indian raised in Trinidad but thoroughly British, he floats through these communities in ways that someone more obviously either black or white would not have. He writes with a deep curiosity and desire to understand everyone. Most interesting in this regard are his efforts to understand "rednecks."

He realizes early in the trip that the American southeast has many similarities to Trinidad and the Caribbean culture he was raised in. This is not something I seen brought to such clarity before. It is his opinion that the great difference between the South and the islands is that when slavery ended in the islands that the white planter class mostly departed, returning to Europe, which allowed the island cultures to develop black leadership much earlier. Also, the American South had an entire class of poor and working class whites which were largely absent in the islands. This had set up an on-going conflict between poor whites and poor blacks for limited resources, especially as the agricultural economy that had sustained the region was collapsing.

Naipaul also traveled in Muslim countries, trying to understand the religion and its adherents. I've read and deeply admired one of those books. He begins to realize on this trip that the fundamentalism of the American South also has many points of similarity to Islamic fundamentalism. I doubt many were making this connection in the 1980's.

Overall the book is not as well-structured as some of his others (There seems to be too much material). And some of the observations are, of course, now dated. But I also enjoyed seeing this familiar region through different eyes.

View all my reviews

Pragmatism: An Introduction

Pragmatism: An IntroductionPragmatism: An Introduction by Michael Bacon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Last semester I taught William James' Pragmatism in my intro to philosophy class. I also used video clips of Cornel West and Richard Rorty (both pragmatists) discussing truth. Researching for those clips and other materials to use, I realized a need to catch up on more recent work in Pragmatism, as my understanding was still focused mostly on what I had learned of James and Peirce in school (I never cared much for Dewey). I even had a limited understanding of Rorty despite having read his major work (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature) and also having been taught by Don Wester who was very into Rorty.

This book is a nice survey of more recent trends in pragmatism while also discussing how figures such as Quine, Sellars, Davidson, and Habermas are pragmatic.

One thing I did notice was that I'm much more of a Jamesian than a pragmatist as this book understands it. And to me process philosophy was always the systematization of Jamesian intuitions (another connection was Charles Hartshorne's role in editing Peirce's collected writings). None of the figures from the process tradition or the American philosophers we had read with Don Wester (like Richard Neville and Frederick Ferre) figured in this book. Nor did West, who has himself written books on pragmatism. So, while the book claims to demonstrating the breadth of the pragmatic tradition, I felt that the aspect of the tradition that I resonate with was not covered.

The best section of the book is its discussion of Rorty. I have decided that I need to read more Rorty, especially his works on contingency and democracy that were published in the late 80's and 90's. I may also look up some of the more recent writers the book discussed, particularly Cheryl Misak, a Pierce scholar.

View all my reviews

The Joy of Man's Desiring

Tenth in a series of listening through our cd collection alphabetically.

Mom noticed in the newspaper that Gibson's was having a music sale.  "Do you want to go?" she asked.

"Yes," I answered.  I had been saving my allowance money, and I guess I had told her at some point that I wanted to purchase some records and tapes of some of the music I had heard at school.  It was 1984, and I was in fourth grade.

My parents were not collecters of music.  They would have viewed that as a luxury--there were far more important things to spend money on.  That said, there were a few albums in our house--John Denver, Neil Diamond, The Oak Ridge Boys, some Christian singers, and Christmas albums (of course).  So, it was a little decadent for me to spend my allowance money on music.

Gibson's was on Main Street in the same shopping center as the Consumer's grocery store.  It competed with the TG&Y and Wal-Mart, all of which were regional companies at the time.  Gibson's did have the best music department of the three.  

As Mom hovered nearby, I sorted carefully through the cassette tapes and LP's looking for what I wanted.  Initially there were more things than I had money for, so I had to prioritize my selections.  Mom helped me to decide.  Then we checked out, with me handing the money over to the clerk--maybe the very first time I made a "big" purchase of my own choice.  When we got home, I rushed to show Dad what I had bought.

  • A double LP of the New York and Boston Philharmonics playing the best music of Beethoven
  • A cassette of Sir Neville Mariner conducting Handel's Messiah
  • A cassette with a mix of classics entitled "Classic Gold" that included things like the "1812 Overture" and the "Great Gate of Kiev"
  • And a cassette entitled "The Best of Bach"

Mrs. Moffatt was our elementary school music teacher (she also taught P. E. and health, including the sex ed classes that began for girls in fourth grade and boys in sixth).  Once a week she came into our homeroom and taught us about music.  That year one unit had been a basic introduction to classical music.  We had studied Bach and Handel, Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, Chopin and Tchaikovsky.  Mrs. Moffatt would tell us about the composer and play us excerpts of their music.  It was the first time I heard many of these pieces.  I remember thinking they were beautiful.

Growing up middle class in small town Oklahoma, I wanted to be sophisticated.  I wanted to know and experience so much more than what I had so far.  That year I asked to begin taking piano lessons, which my mother arranged with Elaine Cherry, a church member.  Elaine taught me piano until I graduated from high school, though I was not a talented pianist by any stretch of the imagination.  (Here's a photo of Elaine and I taken in 2011.)


Today, as I listened to my Bach cd's, I remembered how much I treasured those first music purchases, often listening to them in bed at night where all alone and in the quiet of the house I could listen attentively.  Imagine how listening to the Toccato and Fugue, St. Matthew's Passion, Air on the G String, and Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring would open up a whole new world of beauty to a child. 

The "Jesu" was played as the prelude the first time I was installed as an Associate Pastor.  The "Air" played as Michael and I walked down the aisle on our wedding day.  And hopefully some Bach will accompany me into the grave.

"I'm frightened by those that don't see it"

Ninth in a series of listening through our entire cd collection alphabetically.

Avett brothers

I'm not certain where I first encountered the music of The Avett Brothers, but my guess is listening to KGSR, the great Austin radio station.  It was David Breckenridge, the pastor I was associate for in Fayetteville, Arkansas, who first turned me on to KGSR in the early Aughts, when it had just become possible to listen to radio stations across the internet.  What was this new wonder!?  I wasn't trapped listening to the crummy stations wherever I lived, I could actually listen to the great stations from around the country.  So, for fourteen years, with must consistency, KGSR has accompanied my working life (though last year I shifted to listening mostly to the Spy from Stillwater, Oklahoma because I'd tired of the Austin commercials that now invade the stream on KGSR more invasively than they used to).  

Their Wikipedia article describes them this way: "the Avett Brothers combine bluegrasscountrypunkpop melodies, folkrock and rollindie rockhonky tonk, and ragtime to produce a novel sound."  Yeah, that pretty much describes it.  They really don't sound like anyone else, even the other new folk bands like Mumford and Sons.  

The enjoyable and intriguing musical sounds accompany lyrics that aren't your normal fare for popular music, such as "Shame," which has this great, tuneful rhythm that's easy to sing along to, though you are singing this chorus:

Shame, boatloads of shame
Day after day, more of the same
Blame, please lift it off
Please take it off, please make it stop 

There's a point in that song where they sound like The Beach Boys.

Some songs are much moodier like "Ill with Want" which opens:

I am sick with wanting
And it's evil and it's daunting
How I let everything I cherish lay to waste
I am lost in greed this time, it's definately me
I point fingers but there's no one there to blame

I need for something
Not let me break it down again
I need for something 
But not more medicine


One of their richest songs lyrically is "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise," which begins:

There's a darkness upon me that's flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what's wrong and what's right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I'm frightened by those that don't see it

These lyrics impress me:

There was a dream and one day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid with a head full of doubt
So I'll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

There's a darkness upon you that's flooded in light
And in the fine print they tell you what's wrong and what's right
And it flies by day and it flies by night
And I'm frightened by those that don't see it

I'm also frightened by those who don't see it.  Like this woman


"What a wonderful world"

Eighth in a series of listening through our entire cd collection alphabetically.

 Michael and I were planning our wedding reception.  "What do you want to use for the first dance?" he asked.

"Well, we dont' really have a 'song' that is ours."

"I was thinking Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World.'  What do you think about that?"

"I like that a lot."

Unfortunately the day of the wedding reception the sound system didn't work.  We never got that first dance.  But every time I pop our Louis Amstrong album into the cd player while we are cleaning house or cooking dinner, I grab my husband and dance.



Joshua 1:1-9

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

25 January 2015



    Before I read today's scripture lesson, let me set the stage a little bit. The reading is form the Book of Joshua which tells stories about the time when the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land for the first time. They had been slaves in Egypt. After crying out to God for deliverance, God sent Moses to lead them to freedom. They spent forty years in the wilderness of the Sinai, receiving the law and entering into covenant relationship with God.

    Now Moses has died, and it has fallen to Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land where they face opposition from those people who already live there. In the twenty-first century we should have a complicated moral response to the Book of Joshua and its stories of conquest that verge on genocide. That said, I am still drawn to these words of encouragement spoken by God to Joshua as he assumes the mantle of leadership. Hear now these words from the Book of Joshua.


After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying, "My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."


For the Word of God in scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.


    Who are the courageous people you've known?

    I pondered that question this week and a long list of names jumped to mind.

    There was Herbert Holcomb, a church member of mine in Fayetteville, Arkansas who chose not to receive treatment for his pancreatic cancer and spent the last year of his life enjoying time with family and friends.

    There's Clara Luper, who I only met in person once. She organized the sit-in movement in Oklahoma City in the 1950's when she was a school teacher. She and her students would sit at segregated lunch counters and receive much abuse. She was a tiny woman, with amazing strength.

    Or Michael Barth, the high school kid from Gordon, Nebraska who last year won at the state speech tournament but the state activities director barred him from delivering his speech on NET, a decision later overturned after great public outcry. I don't think I've ever seen a teenager, who didn't choose to become a news story, be so eloquent and brave in the midst of the spotlight and to then publicly discuss how he had been bullied and shamed because he didn't fit gender norms.

    I thought of my own mother. I watched her make difficult decisions, mostly alone, in the months after my father died. You could tell that she really wanted to escape from it all, but she knew she couldn't, and she faced those trying days with fortitude.

    Also my mother-in-law. She immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in order to marry Michael's dad, bringing with her her oldest son, Allan. It's a brave act to leave everything one has known, travel around the world, and begin a new life.

    I would also place my husband Michael on the list of courageous people I've known. We met through our activism; that week he was arrested as part of a protest at Oral Roberts University. Michael has always been a brilliant combination of passionate conviction and smart, strategic thinking. He also shows courage every single day by living with me. (By the way, I'm convinced that anyone who stays married has to learn courage.)

    In this congregation I've known courageous people. Like Bob Runyon who flew surveillance planes over the Atlantic Ocean at night during the Second World War. I can't imagine being out there alone in the dark over the vast expanse of water night after night.

    Also Rick Zaiss who faced cancer with bravery.

    Or Dr. Phil Smith and his work with Ebola patients.

    Or Marilyn Hammond who I knew for years and never even realized she had a disability.


    As I was pondering this question—"Who are the courageous people you've known?"—I posted it to Facebook, and I enjoyed the many responses. Here are what members of this congregation shared.

    Stephanie Cameron: "My mother! She's seen the best and the worst of people and traumatic situations and yet she still has a positive spirit. Love her."

    Sara Sharpe: "My son Jake."

    Bonnie Sarton Mierau: "My clients, young and not as young, who face their past traumas and turn the corner to redefine themselves as whole beings worthy of love and respect. I often stand in awe of the courage and grit it takes to do this hard, hard work."

    Tara Obner: "The homeless people courageous enough to walk into a shelter and ask for help."

    Kelly Beaman: "Anyone willing to go public to make a difference."

    Eventually a couple of church members made broader comments. Bonnie Harmon wrote, "The most courageous people I know would never realize what courage it takes to be them. They know life is hard, but it doesn't occur to them that it's harder for them than it is for others. They think that there is something they can do that will make someone else's life better and they try to do it."

    And Randy Solberg said, "Anyone who gets up every day, goes to work and keeps on going regardless of how much they hate it because someone depends upon them to eat, for a roof or for life. Courage is about facing life every day and doing it every day without fanfare or thanks - because you have to. It is about people doing dirty jobs that no one else will do and not giving up."


    This week as I was thinking about this question and watching the answers appear on Facebook, I began to wonder if courage is in fact the most common of the virtues, for I seem to see it everywhere, in all types of people? Even before Randy posted it, I began to wonder, Is it possible that each of us demonstrates courage every day just by getting up and going about our lives?

    Here are some of the various descriptions I read of courage and fortitude:


"the ability to confront fear, pain, risk/danger, uncertainty, or intimidation."


"the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement."


"to have the courage of one's convictions, to act in accordance with one's beliefs, esp. in spite of criticism."


"Courage is the resolve to act virtuously, especially when it is most difficult. It is acting for the good, when it would be much easier not to this time."


"firmness of spirit, especially in difficulty."


"a willingness to freely go beyond the call of duty, to make sacrifices, to act on your convictions."



    This season I'm preaching a series on the virtues entitled "The Good Life." Every week, I've talked about how we cultivate the virtues and what practices will instill the habits of virtue within our character. But as I was writing Thursday morning, I kept realizing how many of you already demonstrate this virtue. I thought of Margaret Hole and Barb Switzer, of Melanie Naughtin and Sam Pfeifer, of Shelley Kiel, Jeannie Bates, and Eli Sturek, of Tara Obner, Scott Hoyt, Bruce Garver and Pam Finley, of Rick Brenneman, Peg Peterson, Pete Peterson, and Bonnie Mierau . . . and very soon I realized that this list could go on and on and on.

    So instead of preaching about the importance of courage and how to acquire it, I want you to simply realize how strong and brave you already are. How you choose every single day to persevere through difficulty. How you already choose to do what is right and good, even when it isn't easy.

Bless you. Bless you for your courage and fortitude, your moral and intellectual strength that you demonstrate each and every day of your lives. Thank you for being good people who together are helping one another become even better people. Thank you for making this world a better place.

Marcus Borg

I've only read three Marcus Borg books.  I wasn't one of those people who needed to be convinced of a historical-critical reading of the New Testament, as I had been persuaded of that during my college education.  In the mid-90's I read John Dominic Crossan's magisterial The Historical Jesus.  Borg's books, at least the ones that people were often recommending to me, were written for a more popular audience than Crossan's more scholarly work.

I first read his Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, but it didn't tell me anything I hadn't learned already.  Though I did like his way of wording things, particularly how he presented Ricouer's analysis of faith moving through phases that are pre-critical naivete, critical, and post-critical naivete.  Borg located himself in the latter, so he wasn't a bomb-throwing reductionist or minimalist.

Which gets to his strength.  He was an actual churchman who cared about his topics because he valued the church.  Watching a video or interview with him, one was struck immediately by his generosity and grace.  Brian McLaren has written a nice essay about his personal experience of Borg.

The book I liked best was The Meaning of Jesus co-authored by N. T. Wright.  Wright accepts the same historical-critical method, but comes to different, more Orthodox conclusions about Jesus.  This book stimulated me intellectually.  

A few years ago I read The First Christmas, co-authored with Crossan.  This book has been very helpful in preaching and teaching on the Christmas story.  It does not bog down in questions of "did this really happen?" but explores the theological meanings of the birth stories recorded in the New Testament (including the story in the Book of Revelation that involves dragons and a war in heaven--the nativity story that most people overlook).

Christianity will miss this kind and gentle scholar, who cared for the church and it's people, and encouraged many to understand Jesus in ways they had not before.  McLaren wrote the following:

Immediately after that panel, lines formed with people asking Diana, Marcus, and me to sign their books. My line, being the least popular, left me standing there somewhat awkwardly for long periods, but it also gave me the chance to eavesdrop on what people were saying to Marcus. Person after person said almost the same words, “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be a Christian today ... I dropped out of church but came back after I read one of your books ... I’m still a Christian because of you ... I became a Christian because of your books.”

Their effusive comments brought me back to the Evangelical revival meetings of my childhood where people “testify” to how they were “saved,” how they once were blind but now see, how they saw the light and were born again. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, it turns out that Marcus Borg is an evangelist too, just in another way and to another community of people.”