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Monday, July 31, 2006

Iris Dement at Cat's Cradle

I had the distinct honor and pleasure this past Saturday night to go over to the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill with my second daughter Heather (a rising third year student at Chapel Hill) to be a part of “An Evening with Iris Dement.” It was totally packed. Now if you don’t know who Iris Dement is, well, she is kind of hard to explain. Iris Dement is somewhere on the far other side of country. You might call her music folk/alt country with a dice of old gospel thrown in. But no matter how you try to classify her music, her voice defies any classification. Her voice is somewhere on the other side of the other side of the Ozarks. It is high and clear and non contrived and kind of twangy, yet full of pathos, and, well, totally unique. I don’t know if it grows on you or not. I liked it the first time I heard her sing one day on Prairie Home Companion. She writes her own songs, and they are about real life, and they hit home, at least for me.

She has four CD’s available, plus a collaboration with John Prine. Her CD’s, in chronological order, are Infamous Angel, My Life, The Way I Should, and Lifeline. The John Prine CD in which she does several duets is called In Spite of Ourselves.

Lifeline is mostly Iris Dement’s take on several old gospel hymns that she grew up hearing her mother sing. Indeed, her relationship with her mother, and her mother’s religion, are constant themes in her music. One sees a kind of progression through the CD’s. According to the CD insert for Lifeline, apparently she was going through a very hard time and was on the phone with her mother (who is now 88 years old) and her mother encouraged her to go to her piano and play the old songs, and she did...

Much of her music is about her past, about growing up, about relationships that blossomed and then went bad, about inner struggles, about finding her way, about the transitory nature of life, about what may or may not be around the corner. In other words, it’s about life, her life, but her life in its true and honest humanity, and thus about all our lives. It pierces.

About two thirds of the concert was Iris on piano and a third Iris on guitar. Did I ever say I love the name Iris?

Saturday evening was my first Iris Dement live show. I kind of didn't know what to expect at the concert in that there hadn't seemed to have been a lot of movement over the last few years in terms of her original music. I have to say however that I was more than moved and impressed by the show. The music, the moment, got into the back places of my mind and heart and just won’t go away. It was a special night.

Iris Dement is a very normal looking lady. She has a sweet smile with dimples, but she does not dress to impress, and she does not do flowery things on stage. She has a humble self effacing demeanor, and is honest about performing live being a bit nerve wracking. Yet she also has this soft and calm very-southern voice which is disarming (and totally different in tone and pitch from her singing voice). There is a presence about Iris Dement and her live music that is hard to define, perhaps that goes with the humanity and reality of her art, and the manner in which her voice matches her lyrics so well – yes her amazing voice – a presence which lends a sense of gravity and transcendence to her live show. There were a few moments in which I looked around, and people were sitting and standing transfixed, like they were in the presence of greatness. It was really amazing. I realized that there would be few times in my life that I would be that close to that level of artistic talent. I was honored.

She played many of the songs from her CD collection – just off the top of my head I remember My Life, Our Town, Mama’s Opry, When Morning Comes Around, These Hills, He Reached Down, You’ve Done Nothing Wrong, Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day, The Way I Should, Sweet Is the Melody (I think), and Let the Mystery Be. There were many others. She did this incredible strumming/picking thing on Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day that I’m still trying to figure out!

I was encouraged by all the songs I had not heard. It seems she has written some new songs since her recent marriage. I loved the new song about the hill near the Iowa farm where she now lives. And there were others I had never heard - the one about her Mama's truth, the song about learning how not to pray, the one about all the books lining her living room and having spent enough time on the inside, the one about the hotel room near the lake (the "documented" song about thinking about jumping off a bridge), the one about thinking the relationship was going to last (that was a very nice touch singing that song right AFTER the song about the relationship going down the tubes – You’ve Done Nothing Wrong). Anyway, I detected in the newer songs some new sounds - different chord progressions, different moods, different nuances. I can't wait until she comes out with her next CD.

OK, yes, there was a struggle here or there to find the right key (but what virtuosity in moving from key to key so effortlessly on piano), but I was actually pleasantly surprised at how good her voice was live – better even than on the CD’s I think. And she did a lot of songs on the piano, which I think is harder to sing to generally. The one song where she both struggled both to find a key that would work and also missed a lyric - Let the Mystery Be - really just provided a moment's smile, reminding me that this was not a slick Nashville gig – and she ended it with a really funny drawling "well that was a train wreck."

For those of you who have not heard Iris Dement I encourage you to go over to iTunes or wherever you like to buy individual songs and spend $10-15 on a sample (or if you’d rather purchase one CD to start out I think I’d suggest “My Life”)

If you go the sample route, here is a suggested list. I think this would be a good sample of 15 songs and would fit on a burned CD just fine.

My Life off My Life
Mama’s Opry off Infamous Angel
After You’re Gone off Infamous Angel
He Reached Down off Lifelines
Our Town off Infamous Angel
I’ll Take My Sorrow Street off The Way I Should
You’ve Done Nothing Wrong off My Life
Wasteland of the Free off The Way I Should
No Time to Cry off My Life
The Way I Should off The Way I Should
Sweet Is the Melody off My Life
I’ve That Old Time Religion off Lifeline
Easy’s Getting Harder Every Day off My Life
God Walks the Dark Hills off Lifeline
When My Morning Comes Around off The Way I Should

Thursday, July 20, 2006

You Never Know What a Day Will Bring

Well, you never know what a day will bring…

Or a week…

One week ago I came back from vacation to discover two nice big fat bills from Sprint/Nextel. There was also a “letter,” yeah, one of THOSE. We only owed them $5000. So, someone had used our basic public church info plus a phony EIN number to set up an account at some kiosk in town. Did the clerk ask for any ID? Any proof of connection? Of course not. Well, to make a long story short, I reported it to the police and to Sprint's fraud division and we’ve been cleared of responsibility. Why do these companies make it so easy for people to defraud others?

Oh, and did I say that almost all the calls were one or two minutes or less? Yep…drugs…

Well, a week later, this past Monday, I was checking my personal bank account to get a number for an expense report issue, and was surprised to find my checking account was empty. I scrolled down and there was a check for pretty much all I had, written to a lady in Texas, all typed, no signature. That freaked me out a little. I called Wachovia, and after waiting a very long time I finally got a guy in their fraud division, or loss division, or whatever they call it. This guy was like a secret service/FBI dude. I kept wanting to say, "yes sir" or "yes, officer." He took one look at the online photo of the check and said, “Mr. Gillespie, this is what has happened.”

He went on to tell me that I probably had a key logger virus or Trojan on my system, that it had hijacked my username and pass code and sent it probably to somewhere in Russia or Iran or Iraq. Seriously, he said these schemes were usually terrorist related and were a huge big deal for Homeland Security. Then someone used the numbers to log into my online account, set up bill pay, and write the check to the lady in Texas, whom he said was also likely a victim, someone who had fallen for some sort of phishing scam run by the same outfit, and they just link two “victims” together. Thankfully I caught it before the check had time to get to her, and they were going to take care of notifying her. Plus they refunded all the money to me. He told me to take both computers (home and office) in to a place that could use more powerful software than what I had, and have them deep scanned. I did that, and we found the key logger Trojan! Nasty little devil. Then I had to go to the bank, change all my numbers, and of course contact the gazillion companies that draft out of my account. So, that was my week. I just got set up and am ready to work again.

So, I decided to move to upper Manitoba, right? Wrong. I decided never to do online banking again, right? Wrong.

As I was telling a friend, I have been rear ended six time since I have lived in Greensboro (no, I don’t have a bumper sticker that says hit me! And every time I was stopped at a light or a stop sign!) So, am I not going to drive because of that?

There is a risk to “being connected.” I have about as much software as my 1 gigabyte of RAM can manage with which to protect my systems. I did get yet one more even more powerful spyware program that uses so many resources I can only have it “on” when I actually run it. But that’s about all I can do. You spend $120 or so dollars a year on this software you get $120 dollars a year of protection. I can’t really go to the next level.

I’ll be more careful with what I throw away. I am going to get a shredder for home. I might even stop putting checks out in the postbox. But life goes on, and everything carries a risk.

OK, yes, it used up a week of my life. But I got to talk to so many nice people…

And yes, I know, I should have been running a Mac. Send me 5K and I’ll get two good ones.

Joel

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Christian Prayer for Our World

Heavenly Father, you have called us as followers of your Son Jesus Christ to remember to pray not just for ourselves, but for the world, your world. Lord, please, in your mercy hear our prayers.

We pray for the poor and hungry and oppressed peoples of the world, that you would intervene, and bring justice and relief. We pray that you would show us how you would use us to make a difference. Lord, please, in your mercy hear our prayers.

We pray for the peoples of Iraq, Israel, Labanon, Gaza, Sudan, Congo, Korea and all places where military conflict abounds, that you would intervene and bring peace and safety. Lord, please, in your mercy hear our prayers.

We pray for our own leaders, those of all political parties, that they would make decisions in keeping with justice and goodness and peace. Protect them all from the evils of power and from political scheming, and work through their decisions for the greater good. Lord, please, in your mercy hear our prayers.

We pray for the leaders of the United Nations, that they too would lead in ways uncorrupted by power and self interest, that peace would more quickly come to our world. Lord, please, in your mercy hear our prayers.

We pray for the Church throughout the world, for her protection, for her ministers and her people, that you would protect them from persecution and terror, and use them as agents of good and light wherever they are. Lord, please, in your mercy hear our prayers.

We pray for the good and safety and health and pace of all peoples of all nations and faiths; yet we also pray for the success of the ministry and message of the good news of Jesus Christ, that for your glory disciples of Christ may increase in number and influence in every nation. Lord, please, in your mercy hear our prayers.

We pray for our community and the many issues which divide and hurt us. I call upon you to bring good and truth and wholeness and peace to us all in this place, in this city, that we would all live peaceful and tranquil and loving lives together in this place. Lord, please, in your mercy hear our prayers.

I pray for myself, as I relate to and contribute to the good or to the evil of this world. Make me into a vessel of good and peace that my life will be for the good of others and not of myself; that you might be glorified through me, and others lives made better because of me. Root out of me all that would bring harm, sadness, or evil to others. Lord, please, in your mercy hear my prayer.

Heavenly Father, the problems of this world seem so great, and we seem so small; yet you are greater than all of us. We humbly acknowledge our helplessness and our need of your work in our hearts. Lord, please, in your mercy hear our prayers.

A Christian Prayer of Affirmation

A Prayer of Affirmation

Heavenly Father, you are the Creator God, the Maker of heaven and earth, you are my Creator, my God, you made me, and you have redeemed me.

Father, I want to claim the truth this morning that I am your child. Father, how great is your love for me, that I should be called a child of God.

Father, I believe that Jesus died on the cross for me, and that I have been acquitted of guilt before you, and that you, my judge, have become my Father, and have adopted me into your family.

Father, I believe the Scriptures that you chose me to be your child before the foundation of the world, that you predestined me to be adopted as your child through Jesus Christ.

Father, I embrace the truth this morning that you love me more even than the best human father or mother loves their child, and that you will never stop loving me.

Father, I desire in my inmost being to live and think and act as your child today.

Father, I believe that you will go with me through this day, that you will provide for my needs, that you will watch over and protect me, and that nothing can happen to me that you do not allow for my good.

Father, I know that you love me too much to let me go my own way. Father, I accept and desire those changes you need to bring about in me, and I accept the hardships of this day as loving discipline from your hand.

Father, I thank you that you are present with me today through the Holy Spirit whom you have sent. I thank you that the Spirit will not only make your presence known to me, but will pray my unspoken prayers back to you, when I just don’t know how to pray.

Father, I believe that I am an heir, a co-heir with Jesus, of the bounty of your kingdom, and I go forth into this day knowing that your future for me in your kingdom is greater than my highest dreams, so I wait patiently for that bounty to come.

Father, I affirm that my adoption will not be complete until I receive a new resurrection body, and that even all creation longs and waits for that day. Give me patience today while I wait. Come Lord Jesus.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What I'm Saying What I'm Not: Marcus Kindley, Homosexuality, and Pedophilia Revisited

In response to Roch’s comments on my previous post, and to Ed’s post today, and the N&R article today, I wanted to clarify a few things as to myself, though of course I am a virtually irrelevant player in the large scheme of things.

I appreciate Roch’s basic suggestion. If we together can guarantee that legalizing homosexual marriage will not lead to looser laws regarding pedophilia, then we have a negotiating starting point so to speak, a starting point for working together for new laws in North Carolina regarding homosexual marriage. But, I think Roch is saying, if anti-homosexual marriage folk who raise the pedophilia issue won’t agree to such a “deal,” then the pedophilia matter proves itself to be a red herring.

I believe that Roch and I both understand a red herring to be a bunny trail argument, a kind of phony distraction.

What I personally am suggesting is NOT a red herring argument. I am opposed to the legalization and legitimization of homosexual marriage for multiple reasons which have nothing to do with pedophilia.

My point is every argument I have heard for the legitimization of homosexual marriage will lead to the legitimization of many other things. This is most true regarding the “argument” from nature, or "desire," or “natural” sexual preference (we do need to do a work over on that word “natural” – it has SO many possible meanings).

What I am saying to the homosexual advocacy groups amounts to help frankly. Not that they asked for it. This argument will damn their cause. It will do that because it will damn us all to many things we do not profess to want. Mark my words. It will do so.

In addition, in my opinion, rooting the argument for homosexual marriage in loose ideas of nature or desire is, in my mind, demeaning to the integrity of the choices that homosexuals (and everyone else) makes. I do not wish to see our culture go down the path of legitimizing behaviors on the grounds of desire or genetic predisposition or “feelings of love” or whatever. It will make us a poorer culture. Ultimately it involves a denial of personal responsibility. It is childish.

So, pedophilia issues aside, yes, I oppose the legalization of homosexual marriage. I think the current most-oft used argument for homosexual marriage will also bring about many results even most homosexuals won’t like. And, sad to say, it will open up the door to comparisons to pedophilia, at least the kind of relations with older minors that are already quite OK in much of Europe. I think this approach will prove a deal killer and a dead end for the homosexual lobby.

Though I disagree with Roch on how the issue of “equal protection” is to be understood and how it should apply, it would be much better for all, in my view, if the case for homosexual marriage were based in legal arguments such as Roch’s.

In the event that homosexual marriage will eventually be approved, which I think (sadly) it will, it will be much better for everyone to have its approval grounded in constitutional arguments and not silly “arguments from desire.”

As to the N&R article, and Ed Cone’s piece, and other commentary on Marcus Kindley’s blog, I don’t think a close reading of the now oft quoted sentence actually will substantiate the claim that Marcus was saying that homosexuals were pedophiles or were no different than pedophiles. I think his inability to state things well has been used by others to have him say what he did not mean to say. Taking advantage of his blundering use of words to make political hay is a problem unto itself.

I wish Marcus would come out with a statement like this – “I am sorry that my poor choice of words gave our community the impression that I or the Republican Party believes that homosexuals are pedophiles or like unto pedophiles. I am sorry for the offence my words may have caused. I do not believe that homosexuals are predisposed to be pedophiles or are pedophiles.”

Now, were it me in this mess, I might wish to write a long philosophical discourse on the use and meanings of the word “natural” in order to clarify what seems on all fronts a murky subject. Hey, I think I will.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Marcus Kindley, Homosexuality, and Pedophila

There has been much commentary around the blogosphere regarding Marcus Kindley’s comments about gays and pedophiles. One can check out Matt’s featured story on greensboro101.com, the debate over at Sue’s place, and the debate on Chip’s new Blogger site. I’m sure there is much being said elsewhere too.

Personally, I think Mr. Kindley’s comments were unhelpful and hurtful and politically stupid. It is a disservice to say the least to decent law abiding homosexual men and women to throw them in with pedophiles. And that is being said by someone who believes homosexuality to be morally wrong.

I actually agree with Matt. One can’t let such comments stand just because a bumbling blogger says them. I think an apology is in order. It would certainly be politically wise.

Having said all that, there is a legitimate danger of the issues of homosexuality and pedophilia being confused or conflated, and that danger rests in the “argument from desire” often used by homosexuals themselves.

I have always thought that such an argument does a disservice to homosexuals and to their moral/political goals.

There is this tendency to equate or not equate “sexual preference” with “desire.” As I said elsewhere…Sexuality determines desire....Desire determines sexuality...Words...What is sexuality (unless we're talking about gender confusion) if it does not include “desire” as a most fundamental component? To say that desire comes out of sexuality is to say that desire comes out of desire. It says nothing at all.

In the sense, everyone makes decisions all the time whether to be true to their "desires" or not. I happen to believe that most heterosexual men are inclined or "bent" to "spread their seed" far and wide. Most men have an insatiable desire for sexual variety. Every day involves decisions whether to act in thought or deed on those inclinations or not. Thus, as to our common experience of "heterosexual male sexuality," having many and multiple partners could be considered a defining aspect of our "sexuality." Monogamy could be considered downright unnatural. But whether we act in mind, heart, or deed on those desires is a choice involving whether we go against our base level "sexuality."

Add to this the fact two common experiences I have come up against on many occasions in counseling others.

First, many men because of having been abused sexually by males as children, have a confused libido. They have a base level sexuality such that they "get up" by anal and oral intercourse. They are drawn to homosexual pornography. This may be extremely distressing to a wife or a woman. The man may be fundamentally heterosexual, but it is hard for them to have appropriate non confused libido when it comes to sex with women. It is hard for them to “get up” for normal intercourse. The point is, their “sexuality,” in terms of what turns their sexual crank, should not be the defining issue when it comes to their sexual actions.

Second, many people who have "let fly" sexually, and have let down the walls and barriers through all kinds of group sexual encounters, find that any kind of sex will do just fine. This problem is often exacerbated by pornography. The point is that their desires are spread all over the map. Acting on sexual impulses even "against one's normal grain" actually changes that grain, changes one's "sexuality." Again, choice is always there.

The bottom like in that the arguments for homosexual sex based on desire or some vague notion of sexuality eventually become arguments for all kinds of sex. Ultimately we have to draw lines based on some sort of moral compass. and, corporately as to laws, on some sort of moral consensus. The argument rooted in "desire" takes away all such compasses. It is a bad argument for homosexuals because it takes away the dignity of their choices and opens them up to the very kind of comparisons as have been made by Mr. Kindley. It also makes them out to be children, non grown ups, people who cannot live counter to their desires. Much better to say one chooses to be homosexual in terms of one’s way of life. There is more dignity there. The argument rooted in "desire" is also a bad argument culturally because it leads quickly to moral and sexual anarchy, including, eventually, as we will see soon enough, to cultural acceptance of some forms of pedophilia. See the article on pedophilia in Wikepedia to get a glimpse of what might be next). It’s coming. The argument rooted in "desire" will help it get here.
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Monday, July 10, 2006

Race Matters

I have been away for a few weeks, and came back to all the commotion regarding "A Declaration Against Intolerable Racism."

I have read the Declaration, and in a minute will comment on it.

I wanted to share a different experience however that I had recently. I was in an Ikea store north of Dallas – with my daughter. During that three hour plus stay we looked around, shopped, stood in a line along time for lunch, and had lunch. I was struck by the amazing diversity of people in line for lunch. There were English speaking white people, English speaking Hispanics, Spanish speaking Hispanics, English speaking black people, black people speaking non English languages, and oriental people of different nationalities speaking English or oriental languages. It was a people-potpourri for sure.

All rubbed shoulders in line, were nice to each other, sat at adjacent tables, and no one seemed to care a twit about the color or language of the people next to them.

I find the same basic experience everyday in countless stores and restaurants where I rub shoulders with people - black, white, Hispanic and Asian.

OK, racism no doubt exists in the hearts of many people. It probably exists in some minor form in the heart of every person. But we have come a long way.

And yes, racism is very bad. But other things are also very bad. Like classism. Like consumerism. What united all the people in the Ikea that day was that they were all consumers, they all apparently had the means to consume, and they were all goo goo eyed over all the STUFF.

I think overall that classism is more prevalent and more insidious these days than racism. The fact that there may be some overlap between these does not mean that they are not different matters.

I am a white guy, so what do I know, but I think most white people don’t care all that much what color another person is. But I think that all kinds of people, white and black, care too much, in a bad judgmental way, whether another person is poor, shares or does not share certain “middle class values,” dresses shabbily or smells bad.

I think we judge others more on class than race.

Which gets me to the Declaration. First of all, what a totally lame name. Sounds like a Jim Carey movie title.

Secondly, I think REAL racism, and its seriousness, is cheapened by false charges of racism.

I am a pastor of a Presbyterian Church. We believe in the devil and in demons, but we aren’t as inclined to see them in as many places as some of our Christian brethren. We might be inclined to say, if asked, that we “don’t see demons behind every tree.”

Likewise, we should not see racism behind every tree. The Declaration has been well critiqued by others. I concur with many others that most of the items are just silly. Well, it is silly to pull out the “R” word as a cause for the problems which themselves aren't silly. The problem with doing this time and time again, is that it discredits those who may have insight into or be working against real racism. I concur that the tendency here in our city and county to pull out the racism card, and to hype racism as the source of so many evils, does not contribute to the decline of racism, nor does it solve the problems of real racism. Indeed it polarizes and possibly even creates and promotes racism.

If a bunch of white people continually say stupid divisive things, it provokes similar divisive thoughts and emotions in some other people, it deadens others to whatever the white folk are saying, and it may even cause some people to come to dislike white people, just by association. I think Dumb Declarations can have the same effect.

Is racism still a part of the structure of our culture? Yes. Does it need to be rooted out? Yes. Is it found in all the places as claimed in the Declaration? No. And eventually, with all the yak yak from the same crowd about racist boogeymen behind every tree, people will just stop listening. And that is a disservice to Black or Hispanic or Asian people who are in fact the victims of real racism.

I take comfort in the fact that in the general culture, at lunch at the K&W, at dinner at The Outback, waiting in line at the DMV, at the movies at the Carousel, there is much less regard to or thought of race as compared to a generation ago.

And meanwhile, we should all look into our hearts, not only for signs of racism, but for signs of classism as well. Because it is the natural inclination of the human heart to look for ways to feel superior to others. None of us is immune. None of us.